Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Talking about Craftsy Class, Favorite Asian Dumplings from Scratch with Andrea Nguyen

Today is the day we gave up Television in our house.  With The Ancient (a great fan of Jeopardy) in long term care at hospital, and not likely to return home soon, it didn't make sense to keep the idiot box hooked up.  So we took our cable gadgets down to the company and said - thank you, no thanks.

Aside from my daily dose of Columbo, I don't think I'll miss it.  There are so many other exciting things to do, like cleaning the house (okay, that one's not exciting), trying new recipes, sewing bags, playing with yarn, reading books... and so on.  How do people get bored?

And when it happens that I do miss TV, I can always borrow a film from my local library or better still, watch videos online of people telling us how to cook stuff (which doesn't happen on TV much these days anyway - reality cooking competitions are repetitive).

Not long ago, I signed up for one of Craftsy's promotional deals and decided to take a couple of their classes.  I started with knife skills, and it made a huge difference to my confidence in the kitchen.

The Craftsy classes include in depth videos, usually some sort of instructional document, and a question and answer section where you can discuss what you watch with the instructor and other students.  It's quite clever really, and long over due.  Finally, a place that gathers together some useful expertise and makes it available (for a price) to an Average Jane like me.

They are suppose to look like a nurse's cap

The Favorite Asian Dumpling class by Andrea Nguyen has inspired me greatly.  For some reason, I didn't even imagine that people could make dumplings in their own home.  Why this never occurred to me, I don't know, it's just one of those blind spots I guess.

This class has been so inspiring.  Nguyen has great enthusiasm for her cooking, and lots of little tips to share about how to improve your technique.  What I like best is how easy she makes it look, but what amazing results she creates.

What's even more amazing is that it really is that simple.

This is the shrimp wonton soup.  It took me about an hour the first time I made it, but most of that was getting over my trepidation at trying new techniques.  Second try was considerably faster.

To be honest, I found shrimp dumplings a bit bland on their own, so I decided to add some finely diced pickled ginger to the second batch - much better.

And look, I got a new steamer!  I have a big project coming up where I need to steam a few pounds of barley, so I took a trip to China town and brought home big and little steamer sets.  The little steamer is for practice, and the big one for ... well, big steaming.

Apparently dumplings overcook really quickly in a steamer and get chewy.  Now I know something new.

Is it affordable to make dumplings?  I think it depends on the filling.  4 servings of dumplings took 200g of prawns, which comes to about $10 here.  Plus another $1 for the rest of the ingredients (plus $5 for the soup).  But a different filling (like pork or kimchi - recipes and videos also included in the class) would be a lot more affordable.

On the whole I'm thrilled and am eager to try some of the other recipes included in the class.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

An experiment in frustration, or the first and last time I count calories

Lately, I feel as if I've been eating less but am still gaining girth.

I wonder, am I actually eating less, or does it just seem that way?  Am I over eating to compensate during this time of stress?  Is my desire to cook my way back to a happy place actually doing harm?

Food is my joy-path, so I'm not giving up on the kitchen.  However, I can make better choices with what I cook.  I already love cooking vegetables and live culture foods... but there is always room for improvement.

But do I need to improve?  One moment, I think yes, the next I think no.  What marks and measures can I use to see where I am health wise?

How do I feel?  Over-stressed and run down.  I also feel energetic and hopeful that this will end eventually.  I feel motivated to take small, positive actions.  I feel momentum towards self improvement.  My knees hurt a bit which they usually do once I top a certain number of pounds, and my gut feels a bit bloated.

How much do I weigh?  I weigh about smack in the middle of where I should for my height and age.  I don't think I'm over-worried about weight.  I get the scales out four times a year (equinox and solstice).  The doctors on the other hand constantly obsess over it.  The medical community says that I have a narrow range to keep my weight in - too much and I greatly increase my risk of cancer, too little and I won't have enough energy stored up if I get sick again.  Way to give a girl issues, you silly doctor people.

Mostly I just ignore them and eat what I like.

How much do I really eat?  If I am thinking about modifying my eating behaviour, I had best start by figuring out what it is right now.

What I ate today:

rice milk
2 samosa
another samosa
red wine
stir fry
udon noodle

I'm using the calculator at CaloriesKing to guess how many calories I'm consuming.  I'm not fussing or weighing anything, just a rough estimate.  They have a little tool that can tell you the ideal daily calorie consumption depending on your height, weight, age, and activity level.  I choose moderately active since farming does involve at least some heavy lifting every day.

According to their magic formula, if I want to maintain my weight I should consume 1750 to 1950 calories a day.  Sounds easy enough.  To lose about a pound a week, I should limit my caloric consumption to 1450 a day.

Ideally I would like to lose a total of  10 to 12  pounds over the winter, for the sake of my knees if nothing else.  It's difficult for me to lose weight in the winter, as it's the natural time for the body to store energy and guard against the cold.  So why not put the goal for the spring equinox?  Spring is when I generally lose my weight anyway - the weather improves, more time outside growing the garden, less time inside cooking, &c.

Some of these foods were really simple to analyze like half a cup of yoghurt and two teaspoons of honey, but some much harder.  For lunch, I made Baked Samosas with a filling of leftovers - there is apparently no commercial equivalent on CalorieKing of a 'samosa filled with leftovers from my fridge'.  So, how do I guess what the calorie count is for this meal?

I found this Calorie Count tool which let me input the recipe and gave me not just calories, but also their opinion on the healthfulness of my ingredient choices.

The Samosa dough which makes 8 samosas (or servings) turns out to have 66 calories per serving and a 'Nutrition Grade B'.  Each ingredient got a letter grade depending on how healthy the site thought it was... however, I disagree with some of the assumptions.  For example, I used Ghee because butter has some amazing health benefits as well as tasting amazing.  I don't use a lot of ghee to make this dough, but it was enough to change my nutritional grade from a A to a B-

What I do like about this site is that it gives more than simply calories.  There is a lot of nutritional data available, and it's extremely simple to input ingredients.

Samosa Dough = easy, the filling on the other hand... far more challenging to calculate.  I had forgotten I was counting calories when I made the samosas, otherwise I might have measured better.  As it is, the recipe went something like this: All the leftover rice, all the leftover spicy lentil mush, a handful of raisins and a pinch of salt.  Unfortunately, the calorie counting tool doesn't understand these measurements, so I had to make a guess.  Another drawback, was I made enough filling for 10 samosa, not eight like I had dough for.  This was easily fixed by altering the number of servings and calculating the filling and dough separately, then adding them back together.

Best guess at my samosa filling gave me 120 calories per samosa.

One samosa gives us an approximate total of 185 calories (except if it's a small one, or a really big one, or one that didn't get as much filling, or...).  It's difficult and far too fussy to make them all the same size.  So how many calories I actually ate?  I have no idea.

On the whole, what have I learned today?

First, if I ate from a box or processed foods, then counting calories would be a lot easier.  Even if I just followed recipes instead of improvising based on the weird stuff in my fridge, that would make a life of calorie counting simple.

Second, calorie counting is not for me.  It is WAY too stressful.  I would much rather spend my energy growing, cooking and eating delicious food than stressing about how many grams of flour I used to dust the counter when rolling out the samosa dough.

Third:  On the whole, I ate far fewer calories than I expected. Even taking into account that simply observing my consumption has altered it, I'm surprised by how little I felt like eating.  For example, that third samosa was completely unnecessary - I wasn't even hungry by that point, but kept eating it anyway out of habit (and because it was exceptionally yummy - tomorrow's goal, write out new and improved samosa recipe for you guys).

Given what I've learned, what will I change?

I don't think I'm going to change a thing.  This seems to be right on track.

The goal is to keep buying healthy goodies and avoid all junk - much easier now that the burden of stress is shifting.  In fact, this week I've felt nauseous at the idea of eating sweets or processed foods, which makes it easier not to bring them into the house.  (I'm not going into what this big stress in my life is right now, it doesn't belong on a food blog).

Though I think I may keep an eye out for other methods of evaluating my eating habits and see what comes of it.  But counting calories - forget it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Baked Samosas with chickpea and leftover rice filling

My current culinary quest - to learn to cook and love Indian food.  Today's experiment: Samosa!

I found this recipe in Everyday Indian by Bal Arneson.  A very enjoyable author who has a great selection of Indian-Canadian dishes with a Pacific coast twist.  I have a couple of books by her and I like how she isn't afraid to meld indian flavour with West Coast ingredients.  

Some of my modifications were to half the salt, change up the fats, and completely alter the ratio of the filling to match the collection of leftovers in my fridge.  Basically I took some leftover rice, leftover chickpeas, leftover fresh cranberries, replaced some of the whole wheat flour with white... &c. and used her recipe as a guide.  

stuffing the samosa

I'm not going to post my recipe here because it's a book well worth reading.  Your local library should have it, and if they don't have it, they should and you should tell them that they should.

The red sauce is Pataks mango chutney, which turned out to be a bit sweet for this meal.  The dark dot is tamarind chutney (recipe from the same book as the samosa).  Tamarind chutney is extremely flavourful, and impressively spicy.  

I'm very excited to find out what else I can stuff in these triangles.

Affordable Cooking:  The filling today was purely leftovers and spices.  Since the chickpeas I used were cooked from dry (about 1/4 cup when dry), it brings the price down quite a lot.  Even if I was starting with ingredients bought specifically for this meal, I estimate it would be between fifty cents to two dollars for eight samosas.  

Bento:  This looks like the type of food that will travel well.  I'm definitely trying this in bento.

Even though it's my first time eating samosas, I'm filing this under comfort food.  It's just that good.

Allergy friendly:  I don't know how well it would be with different flour, but just about everything else can be changed up, from oils in the dough, to filling.  

Health:  Yes!  Arneson talks about this as the health 'lunch to go' food that she often cooks for her daughter, a highschool student.  Chickpeas, spices,  whole wheat flour, are all good things and in good ratios.  I can't find any fault with the healthy aspect of this recipe... except it's yummy and makes you want to eat a lot of them.

Vegetarian and vegans:  The original recipe looks vegan friendly, but I added some ghee when I made mine (to replace some of the flavour lost from cutting down on the salt).  But even still, it's vegetarian friendly fare.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Comfort pasta: Yaki Udon in a miso sauce

I'm not going to go into what life is like right now, except to say that this last month has been a shit-storm ... and then it got a whole lot worse.

There is a dire need for comfort food in my life right now.  Something comforting, high in energy, but also healthy enough to keep me going.  Unfortunately, there has been zero opportunity to go shopping, so the pantry is getting sparse.  Thankfully I have a garden full of growing things.  

Comfort food for me starts with pasta.  You can have the chocolate and icecream.  I'm keeping the pasta.  

When I saw the udon noodles hidden under the chickpeas, I knew that's what I needed.  Yaki udon (basically meaning fried udon) sprung to mind.  Yaki udon always has cabbage, a protein and a sauce.  Usually a specific kind of sauce... a sauce that got used up weeks ago.  Too hungry to think of a better meal plan, I decided to improvize.

I found a wedge of cabbage at the back of the fridge, cut off the bad bits and shredded up enough for one serving.  The garden donated carrots, cauliflower, and green onions.  But what to use to make the sauce?  I have miso on the mind right now... so why not give it a try?

The results were delicious; albeit not photogenic.

Yaki Udon in a Miso Sauce 

(serves one)

1/2 brick of udon noodles
drizzle sesame oil
1/2 cup of shredded cabbage
1 small carrot, sliced thin
1 floret of cauliflower, sliced thin
1/2 tin tuna, drained
2 Tbs sake
1/4 tsp soy sauce or soy sub
1/2 tsp honey
1 tsp + miso or soy-free miso paste (chickpea miso tastes best in my opinion)
one green onion, chopped into rings

  • Bring a small pot of water to the boil and par-boil the noodles for about one min (this is a good time to chop the veg while you wait).  Strain the noodles and place to one side.
  • In a small fry pan or wok, fry the veg in sesame oil on high, until starts to brown a little around the edges.  Stir in the tuna and cook another minute.
  • Add the noodles and everything else except the green onion.  Stir well and simmer at medium-high until the sauce reduces.  Stir frequently.
  • Just before serving, mix in the green onion.
  • Enjoy!

Fast food:  All in all this took me less than 10 minutes.  That includes digging everything out of the cupboard and garden. 

Healthy treat:  All the ingredients are good for you.  The miso, honey, veg, even the tuna.  Of course, some of these ingredients are not so health in large quantities... the salt in the miso, the sweet in the honey, the whatever-it-is in the tuna... but truthfully, these are not large quantities.  Besides, it's comfort food. Any healthy that happens is purely accidental.

Affordable: 50 cent for the noodles (if you buy the expensive ones), Somewhere between 20 to 50 cents for the rest of the stuff.   Let's round up and call it a dollar per serving.

Cooking with allergies:  This is easily customizable to accommodate allergies.  I mentioned using the soy free miso and sauce, but you can change anything you want.  Gluten free?  Just use other noodles.  Vegan? Replace the honey and tuna with (vegan friendly sweetener) and tofu.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

One pot pasta comfort food or Un-recipe for pasta pottage

I've been in desperate need of comfort food lately, and when it comes to comfort food, there is nothing more soothing than pasta for me.

The trouble with pasta (aside from me eating too much) is that it's fussy.  Pasta wants specific timing, and water and sauce, and draining.  All of which requires my attention and additional dirty dishes.

As soon as I realized that it was possible, I set about finding a way to this recipe my own.  For starters, I cut down on the volume so that it's just enough to feed one hungry farmer.  I even started cooking it in the bowl I would eat it in - a special korean ceramic bowl specifically for cooking on the stove.

The beauty of this is that it's simple, doesn't mind being left cooking for an extra two hours, and of course, it's delicious.

My un-recipe for Pasta Pottage:

  1. Get a small handful of pasta from the cupboard and put it in the pot.  Add water so that all the pasta is covered.
  2. Go to the garden and fetch something that looks yummy.  Beans, tomatoes, whatever.  Chop them up and toss them in.
  3. Go to the cupboard and/or fridge and fetch something that looks yummy.  Sundry tomatoes, capers, olives, pre-cooked chickpeas or lentils, can tuna drained, leftover chicken breasts.  Chop it up and toss it in.
  4. Spice it up.  Salt.  Pepper.  Fresh or dry herbs.  A few drops of Spicy Rooster sauce. All of the above.  Whatever floats your boat.
  5. Put a lid on it.
  6. Cook on medium low for at least 20 minutes, or it comes to a boil and the pasta is tender.
  7. Add cheese.
  8. Mix it all up.
  9. Enjoy.
There you go, nine simple steps to delicious pasta.

It is an awful lot like an old fashioned pottage.  Only, unlike the pottage of old, this cooks up in as little as 20 minutes, not 6 hours.  Although, I have been known to leave it cooking for up to 3 hours.  The pasta is a bit mushy by then, but the flavour is great.

Affordable?  I think so.  Because I cram so much extra veg and stuff in the pot, I don't use much pasta.  Maybe a quarter cup at most.  And as for the additional ingredients, when I do the purely store bought stuff, I use two sundried tomatoes, half a teaspoon of capers, quarter teaspoon of chopped olives, and a few drops of spicy rooster.  Unless I have some other protein in it, I use about two tablespoons of cheese.  Somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar for a hearty meal.  Include leftovers and garden veg, replace some of the pasta with pre-cooked chickpeas, and the price plummets.  

Healthy?  That all depends on what gets tossed in the pot.  I use wholesome and simple ingredients, most of which were living plants just prior to cooking.  Of course I'm sure there is a way to make this unhealthy, but you would probably have to try really hard.  

I think this would be great for camping.  One dish, everything tossed in together: This really should be called pasta pottage.

How about allergy friendly?  A simple un-recipe like this is very simple to modify for dietary needs.  Chances are the pantry is already stocked with things you can eat, and probably also things you like to eat.  It's just a matter of going to the cupboard and finding something good.  By the way, pickles taste great in this for some weird reason - if you can find a pickle you can eat.

I think this is a fantastic dish for making use of local resources and therefore a great transitional food.  Of course when the balloon goes down, or up, or whatever they say, I imagine that dry pasta would be harder to come by as it's manufactured and shipped from far away.  But when that happens we can go back to the more traditional pottages of beans with a smattering of fresh pasta tossed in at serving time.