Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fluffy Omelet

For those times when you'd like something a little different for breakfast, try a fluffy omelet! A fluffy omelet is light and airy, but not as much as a souffle.
  • 6 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup finely diced ham, cheese, or both
  • 2 tablespoons oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Separate egg whites from the yolks and put into large bowl, yolks into medium bowl.  Be careful not to get any yolk in the whites.  Beat whites with mixer until light and airy. Add  the rest of the ingredients to the yolks and combine thoroughly. Slowly fold yolk mixture into the whipped whites. Go slow and make sure you mix thoroughly. 

Heat an oven-proof skillet on the stove. I use a #10 cast iron skillet. When the skillet is hot, add 2 tablespoons oil. Pour in egg mixture when oil is hot, and cook until bottom of eggs start to set, about 2-3 minutes. Place skillet in preheated oven and bake. Depending on your oven, this could take 7-10 minutes. The best way to check when the omelet is done is to shake the skillet gently and see if it is set on the top. You can also insert a toothpick in the top and see if there is any uncooked egg on it when you remove it.  After the omelet is cooked, I put it under the broiler for a few seconds to give it a light brown color on the top.

Remove the skillet from the oven, run a blunt knife around the edges of the omelet to loosen and turn it out onto a large plate. Serve with some cinnamon bagels or any other breakfast accompaniment you wish.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Snow Peas

Snow peas are an edible pea pod that are a staple of Chinese cooking, and can be found in many produce sections and markets.  Don't confuse them with sugar snap peas. Snow peas are smaller and flatter while sugar snap peas are rounder and fatter.

Peas are perhaps one of the oldest cultivated vegetables, as evidence of peas were found at a stone-age lake village archeology site in Switzerland.  The wild variety of peas are believed to have been native to western Asia and eastern Europe.   Peas weren’t really popular in Europe until after 1600. They were thought to be extravagant and were eaten only by royalty.

With their crisp texture, they are perfect for stir-frying as they take only a minute or two to warm through.  They have a unique flavor, slightly sweet with just a hint of bitterness to the larger pods, especially when eaten raw. They can be added to main dish meals or served as a vegetable side, added to soups or served raw in salads.

They are very high in Vitamins A and C and are loaded with iron and potassium. When shopping for them, select pods that are no longer than 3 inches, that have a good color, are firm and have no dark spots on them. To prepare them for cooking, remove both ends by pinching and wash thoroughly and cook them whole.

If you like to garden, try growing your own.  Snow peas are very easy to grow. They need to be planted early in the spring, before the last spring frost as they grow very well in cooler temperatures. They can even handle frost. Just follow the directions on the seed packet, provide them a fence or lattice to climb, and you'll have a good crop of snow peas as a reward.  Keep the pods picked, and the plants will continue to produce for quite awhile. Snow peas are easy to preserve by freezing. Just prepare them as for cooking, but dry them and spread on a single layer on a cookie sheet and put into the freezer. When frozen, put them in a zip lock bag and store in the freezer.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Asian Food Condiments And Sauces

The practice and art of cooking in the orient utilizes a variety of combinations, textures, flavors, colors and techniques. A large part of this style of cooking has to do with sauces and condiments that are used for cooking and at the table. What follows is a short list of the more common items:

Soy Sauce - Soy sauce originated in China around 3,000 years ago. Basic soy sauce is made by fermenting soy beans with water, salt, and specific types of molds. Sometimes other substances like wheat are added.  There are many different varieties of soy sauce. Every country and region seems to have their own variation on the basic sauce. But all soy sauces are brown, salty,  and earthy.  They can be added to stir fries, soups, and can be used as a marinade.  Soy sauce has been incorporated into more western types of recipes as an ingredient in barbecue sauces and other uses.  Standard soy sauce is very salty,  and contains over 900 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon. It can be a problem for those who need to restrict their sodium intake. There is a low sodium soy sauce that cuts the sodium per tablespoon by roughly 30%.   Whatever type of soy sauce, use sparingly until you become more familiar with it as it can overwhelm a dish if overused.

Sweet and Sour Sauce -  A mainstay of Cantonese cooking. It  can be used to cook with or for a dipping sauce. As with soy sauce, there are many different versions of this sauce but the basic sauce is made with vinegar and honey or sugar.  This sauce can be bought ready made in most grocery stores, but it is quite easy to make at home.

Hoisin SauceThis is  a dipping sauce and is also used as Chinese barbecue sauce.  It has a very salty and sweet flavor.  It can be used in stir-fry recipes as a thickener as well as for its flavor.

Plum SauceA thick sauce similar to Hoisin and used in the same ways. It is tangy, sweet and spicy and is often made with vinegar, sugar, chili peppers and plums.  Some Plum Sauces have a slightly smoky flavor to them.

Oyster Flavored Sauce The original of this sauce was made by cooking down oysters and adding salt to the mixture. The modern version is made with oyster extract, caramel for color and thickened with corn starch. It is very thick, salty and savory, a perfect sauce for adding to beef or pork.  If used with chicken it can overwhelm the chicken flavor.   A dollop added to a stir-fry can really add a lot of flavor to the dish.

Duck SauceA type of sweet and sour sauce usually made from apples, but can also be made from plums, apricots, or peaches. Salt, vinegar , chili peppers and ginger are also added. It is usually very thick and translucent with an orange color.  This is used primarily for a dipping sauce and is very sweet, tart and fruity.

Rice Wine VinegarThis is a vinegar made from rice wine. It can be clear or various shades of red and brown. It is not as acidic as Western vinegar and it has a slightly sweet taste, so when a recipe calls for rice wine vinegar, do not substitute regular vinegar. It is used as an ingredient in many of the sauces previously mentioned, as well as for cooking and for dipping.

Sesame OilSesame oil is extracted from sesame seeds, and is used in South India as a cooking oil.  In Chinese and other cuisines it is used as a flavoring agent.  Regular sesame seed oil is amber in color and has a  nutty flavor. Dark sesame seed oil is made from tasted sesame seeds and is darker and has a stronger flavor.  All sesame oils have a robust flavor, so only a few drops can flavor a pot of soup or stir -fry. Use too much, and it can easily overwhelm the dish. Always add sesame oil towards the end of the cooking process. If it gets too hot and burns the flavor is ruined. 

Sriracha Sauce - A chili sauce made from jalapenos, salt, sugar, garlic and vinegar. The original Sriracha sauce of Thailand is different than the more common Sriracha found in most markets in the United States. Also known as rooster sauce because of the rooster on the bottle, this sauce is known around the world and is made in the United States by immigrants from Thailand. this is without a doubt my favorite chili sauce of all. It is a tad bit sweeter and not as acidic as Tabasco,  and goes good with eggs, stir-fry, almost anything.  When cooking with Sriracha, some of the heat is lost but the flavor remains. It is great stir-fried with shrimp or chicken.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pickled Cucumber Salad

A light and simple salad that is very refreshing on a hot summer's day. A great way to use up  those cucumbers from the garden!

  • 3 medium sized cucumbers
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill weed
  • red wine vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
Peel cucumbers. Slice thinly with a knife, or a mandolin. Peel carrots, and slice thinly. Slice onion into thin rings.  Peel and finely dice garlic and put into glass bowl that has a lid.  Add some salt to the garlic and blend together with a fork while pressing mixture to the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add cucumbers, carrots, onions and dill.  Add  3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar and 6 tablespoons of olive oil. Blend together with vegetables and add salt and pepper to taste.  Add more vinegar if desired, and always add twice as much olive oil as vinegar.  Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar can be substituted for red wine vinegar. Each one has its own flavor. Other raw vegetables can be added such as green peppers, celery, etc.  If you find that this salad is too sour for your taste, add a teaspoon of sugar to it to cut the acidity.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sweet Peppers - History And Facts

Sweet peppers originated in South America and Mexico. Evidence of them dates as far  back as 5000 BCE. Some facts and history about the Jalapeno pepper's mild cousin:
  • Sweet peppers are in the same family as eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and deadly nightshade, a toxic plant. 
  • The first explorers of South America were from Portugal and Spain, and they carried sweet peppers to their native lands and around the world. 
  • The most common type of sweet pepper are bell peppers, so named because of their bell-like shape. They all can be eaten green, or for a sweeter taste they can be allowed to ripen.  Depending on the variety, fully ripened bell peppers can be red, yellow, brown, black, or orange.
  • The other type of sweet peppers come in a variety of colors and are shaped more like a banana.  
  • Bell peppers are not hot, even if you plant a bell pepper next to a hot pepper plant, the bell pepper will not cross with the hot pepper. But banana peppers can cross with hot peppers if the plants are too close together. 
  • Sweet peppers are very high in Vitamins C and A. These two antioxidants work together to break up free radicals which cause damage to cells.  Including sweet peppers in your diet can help prevent or reduce asthma symptoms, arthritis, diabetes-caused nerve damage, and other ailments. 
  • Peppers were named by Christopher Columbus, namely the hot varieties because they reminded Columbus of the heat of black peppercorns.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chicken Salad

Who doesn't like a chicken salad sandwich for lunch on a hot summer's day, or any other day for that matter! The key to making good chicken salad is to begin imparting flavor all the way through the making of it.  My recipe is just as much about method of cooking as ingredients:

  • Split chicken breasts with skin, on the bone
  • 2 celery stalks, one halved the other diced
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 6 small carrots
  • 1 clove garlic or garlic powder
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 small dill pickle finely diced
  • 1 small bunch grapes cut in half
  • 1 small apple, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • mayonnaise or Miracle Whip salad dressing
  • salt and pepper to taste
Place chicken breasts, carrots, one stalk of celery, 1 clove garlic or sprinkle of garlic powder, and onion in stock pot. Cover with water and simmer until chicken is completely cooked.  Take out chicken breasts and place them in a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.  When breasts have cooled, take the skin off  the meat and de-bone.

Place apple,  diced celery, halved grapes chopped green onions, pickle and walnuts in a bowl.   Rough chop three or four of the chicken breasts and add. Use enough mayonnaise or salad dressing to make the salad the consistency you want, add salt and pepper to taste.

This salad goes well with most any kind of bread that has some body to it. A home made whole wheat bread or crusty french bread is ideal.  The cooking method of simmering in a pot with vegetables not only gives great flavor to the chicken, but it also gives the added bonus of the water the chicken was cooked in, which of course has been transformed into chicken broth!  Strain it and use it to make chicken soup or stew.

My Zimbio