Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken

The Thai basil plants in our garden are starting to go crazy, so I thought it high time to find a way to use some. For dinner tonight I did a quick version of one of my Thai recipes, basil chicken. This recipe uses mainly cupboard staples with ingredients that are becoming more common in the international section of our market, mainly the fish sauce and sweet chili sauce. Sweet chili sauce is becomming one of my favorite ingredients---I use it for more than just Thai food. It's a great dipping sauce to be used in place of sweet-and-sour sauce, so it's a great staple to have on hand. For more traditional basil chicken, you would use sweet soy sauce, but I haven't been able to acquire that ingredient so I just used soy sauce and a bit of sugar. Feel free to use sweet soy sauce instead if you have it.

Thai basil is so fragrant. It's more flavorful than even the usual sweet basil that's in traditional basil pesto. I was reading on the Cooking Light website that if you can't find Thai basil, you shouldn't substitute sweet basil. The flavors honestly do not compare, in my opinion. Thai basil is more licorice-y and minty and less lemony-sweet than sweet basil. Cooking light suggests using mint rather than sweet basil as a substitute. I am curious as to how the substitution would taste myself. The basil really makes this dish. I gave this stir-fry a taste test before adding the Thai basil and I couldn't even tell if I was close to the mark of getting the flavors right, but once I added the basil it was easy to tell how I needed to adjust things. The basil is more than just a flavor enhancer, as some herbs serve in recipes. It's a full-on ingredient, also as if it were another vegetable in the stir-fry, not only a subtle accent.

I can't believe I was able to throw together a recipe together that tastes so close to my favorite restaurant's version of the dish. It just goes to show you that it's important to keep a well stocked pantry. Of course, that's not to say I always do a good job of that...just the other morning my cabinet was so bare I contemplated eating croutons for breakfast. A sure sign that a trip to the supermarket is necessary!

Spicy Thai Basil Chicken
Printable Recipe

1 tsp canola or vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 sweet onion, sliced lengthwise
1 cup sliced bell peppers (use multiple colors)
2 chicken breasts, finely diced
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp Thai sweet chili sauce
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup shredded Thai basil leaves (about 4 3-inch sprig's worth)

1. Heat a skillet over medium heat, then add the oil. Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper and cook until starting to soften.
2. Add the chicken to the skillet. Toss the chicken with the vegetables, then add the fish sauce, sugar, chili sauce and soy sauce and stir-fry until the chicken is opaque.
3. Add the basil to the skillet and toss with the chicken and vegetables until it is lightly wilted. Serve the stir-fry with jasmine rice (I used brown rice for extra fiber).

  • Servings per recipe: 2 generous servings
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 419
  • Fat: 15.1 g
  • Saturated fat: 3.9 g
  • Cholesterol: 151 mg
  • Sodium: 1001 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 16.4 g
  • Sugar: 1.6 g
  • Protein: 51.1 g

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Dirty Red Beans and Rice Pilaf

I can't remember if I mentioned this yet, but I recently made a facebook page for Chow Bella! You can check it out on the sidebar here. It would be a great way to interact with anyone who stops by as well as give sneak peeks to what I'm planning in the future.

Here's a recipe I prepared while I was at home, which was weeks ago now. Time flies by so fast. I have been busy writing my thesis, the defense of which is coming up soon...but I still have two whole months to work on it, thankfully. Until then I imagine a lot of my recipes will evolve around fast, easy, good-for-my-brain foods. Lately, it's been a lot of instant brown rice, which is quick to cook and has more nutritional value than white. Because beans and rice together lend a lot of nutrition and are very economical, they have been on my menu a lot. This particular recipe was a combination of three rice dishes: dirty rice, red beans and rice, and rice pilaf. This is a hearty, spicy rice pilaf full of red beans. I toasted orzo pasta, which is small rice-shaped pasta, along with instant brown rice to add a toasty layer of flavor, just as I would if I were making rice pilaf. The small portion of meat added makes this dish economical, however it still lends a lot of flavor and the grey-brown color that helps give dirty rice its name. Finally, the link between red beans and rice is obvious. The beans add a creamy texture, which I love.

What are your favorite fast, nutritious, and economical meals?

Dirty Red Beans and Rice Pilaf
Printable Recipe

1 cup uncooked instant brown rice
1/4 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup green bell pepper
1/2 lb lean turkey sausage
1 15-oz can red beans (or pinto beans) drained and rinsed
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
cayenne pepper, to taste, optional
1 3/4 cups water
non-stick cooking spray
salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, add the rice and pasta and dry-roast them until they are toasty brown and fragrant. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
2. Spray the saucepan with cooking spray and add the onion, garlic, bell pepper and sausage. Brown the sausage, onion,bell pepper and garlic, then add the beans and all the spices including some salt and pepper. Coat the sausage mixture with the spices, then add the water. Turn the heat to high, bring the liquid to a boil, then add the toasted rice and pasta.
3. Cover the saucepan with a lid and lower the heat to a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat and allow to sit with the lid on 5 more minutes, until all the water is evaporated. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

  • Servings per recipe: 4
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 362
  • Fat: 12.1 g
  • Saturated fat: 0 mg
  • Cholesterol: 45 mg
  • Sodium: 418 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 68.1 g
  • Sugar: 7.6 g
  • Fiber: 1.6 g
  • Protein: 22.1 g

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gâteau au Yaourt aux Myrtilles (French Yogurt Cake with Blueberries)

Several weeks ago, I posted a recipe for French Yogurt Cake with Raspberries. One person who commented said she would add blueberries because it's what she had on hand, and ever since that comment I wanted to give it a try! Blueberries and lemon are a great combination, plus I really love the original recipe, so I knew it would turn out great. I really loved the flavor of the blueberries with the lemon--it's the perfect contrast. The yogurt definitely works to keep this cake soft and moist, plus the lemon syrup seals in the moisture. On the second cake, I actually added the syrup while the cake was still warm instead of waiting for it to cool, and it still turned out great. If you are impatient (like me) I think there would be no problem in adding the syrup before the cake was cool, as opposed to my original recipe.

Also, we found the best way to have this cake is with a dollop of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, so have that on hand if you are serving this!

While I was home recently, I made two cakes, each substituting blueberries:
This one I made for a family get-together. I have to confess, I accidentally put the fruit and batter in the wrong order (see recipe) and the fruit ended up at the bottom. I wouldn't recommend doing that, because it makes the base of your cake unstable. It still tasted good, however.

This one I did in the batter and fruit in the proper order, so you can see all those pretty, glossy berries on top. I made this one for the people at my mom's office.
Even my dog Domino got in on the action. I let him taste the cake in the empty cake pans. He really enjoyed it!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Julia Child's Poulet Poele a l'Estragon (Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon)

I can't believe it's been a whole year since my last blog about this topic, but it's time again to honor the birthday of on of my chef heroes, Julia Child. Her birthday is August 15th, and just as last year I decided to make something special in her memory. Last year I made her savory mustard marinade for chicken and pork, done with loin chops. This year I decided to go a little more extravagant with a full-on roasted chicken. This chicken is special, because it features an herb that quite honestly seems to be overlooked quite often. The herb is tarragon, which has a fresh anise flavor. The method of cooking this chicken is unique because you first brown it on all sides, then roast it along with vegetables sauteed in the chicken drippings. This helps the skin from looking too flabby once cooked in the casserole. I couldn't help but feel a distinct French vibe as I the fragrance of the chicken, tarragon, and vegetables filled my kitchen. And yes, I did roast a chicken on a 97 degree day. It may be crazy, but anything for a good meal, right?

I even took an extra trip to go to a local butcher's shop to buy fresh, local chicken instead of just getting one from the supermarket. I felt that Julia would appreciate this extra step...

I didn't do anything too involved to truss the chicken (ie: chicken bondage to help it cook more evenly). After the cavity of the chicken was filled, I just used some cotton butcher's string and criss-crossed the legs. I also wrapped the string around the legs around the tail nub, then finished with bow. Sometimes chickens have the tails removed or are really small, so you can't always do this. I also pulled the wing in the opposite direction so they held tight across the back. I don't think it's necessary to do any involved trussing because the casserole method pretty much ensures even cooking. I do want to comment that you should be sure to use cotton butcher's string. You don't want to use some questionable string and end up having melted plastic in your food a la Bridget Jones's Diary, where she used blue plastic string and ended up with blue soup!

Another thing to note is that I in no way needed all the oil and butter recommended in the recipe. I'm sure Julia would disagree with me, but I regulated the temperature while browning the chicken well enough that I didn't need to use more butter when browning the vegetables.

*Be sure to save the chicken bones after the chicken is cooked. I save several chicken's worth of bones in zip-lock bags that I store in the freezer to make broth. Also, do you see all those amazing juices from the chicken and vegetables mingling with the melted butter? Save those for your broth, use them for a sauce, or serve them as jus with the sliced chicken! Those pan drippings are full of flavor!

Edit: please check out the food blog Champaign Taste for a view of other great Julia Child recipes contributed by other food bloggers in CT's 5th Annual Julia Child Birthday Celebration!

Julia Child's Poulet Poele a l'Estragon (Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon)
Printable Recipe

1 3-lb roasting chicken
7 tbsp butter (I only used a scant 3), divided
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp dried tarragon, or 8 fresh springs, divided
3/4 tsp salt, divided
pinch black pepper
1/2 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced carrots

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
2. Add one of the tbsp of butter into the cavity of the chicken, then sprinkle in 1/4 tsp salt, some pepper, and 1/2 tsp tarragon. Truss the chicken.
3. Heat 2 tbsp of the butter and the oil in the casserole dish over medium heat. Add the chicken and brown on all sides; regulate the temperature so that the butter doesn't brown too much. Set the browned chicken aside.
4. Add the vegetables to the chicken drippings and butter mixture. If the butter became too browned, drain the grease away and add the 2 tbsp fresh butter, then add the vegetables. Sweat the vegetables over low heat with the remaining tarragon, 1/4 tsp salt, and some pepper.
5. Set the chicken breast-side up on top of the cooked vegetables, then sprinkle with the remaining salt and pepper and dot with the remaining butter.
6. Roast for 1 hour and 10-to-20 minutes until the chicken is opaque and the juices run clear.

  • Servings per recipe: 6
  • Per serving:
  • Calories: 495
  • Fat: 23.4 g
  • Saturated fat: 8.4 g
  • Cholesterol: 217 mg
  • Sodium: 530 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 1.4 g
  • Sugar: 0.6 g
  • Protein: 65.8 g

Friday, August 13, 2010

Weekend Away in Cincy Part 2

As we drove back from Cincinnati, we visited a winery called Stream Cliff Farm in southeastern Indiana. Stream Cliff Farm is the oldest herb farm in Indiana, with a history dating back to 1821. While the farm has a rich historical past, currently it's been turned into a greenhouse, winery, and restaurant.

The farm house

Lush gardens

To the greenhouse, where you can purchase a wide variety of plants. Another highlight: I got to see their adorable chickens eating watermelon.

Twigs and Sprigs Tea room, where we had the most delicious meal on our trip in the Cincinnati/southeast Indiana trip

My family and I went to the restaurant for lunch. I had high expectations for the on-site restaurant, called the Twigs and Sprigs Tea room, because my mom said the food was delicious. I was definitely not let down. Everything was prepared fresh and full of herbs that this farm is known for. Everything was house-made, even down to the croutons in the salad! For my lunch I had the marjoram seafood salad. Marjoram is such an under-appreciated herb, which is what attracted me to this salad. My parents also had different salads, and we shared a dish of their dill coleslaw, which was simple yet unique...something I have to dupe myself! The piece de resistance was the double-crust blackberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream, served in a fancy glass dish. It was probably the best blackberry cobbler I've ever had in my life.

Dill coleslaw--awesome!

My marjoram seafood salad, complete with homemade bread and fresh herb butter.

Blueberry chicken salad. They serve several different iced herbal teas every day, too.

Chicken salad with cranberries and oranges. The lemonade was extra special because it was flavored with lemon verbena.

Blackberry Cobbler...so good you can't help but dance around in your seat while eating it!

Though many people may not know it, Indiana produces some delicious wines, and the ones at Stream Cliff were definitely impressive. Like most wineries in Indiana, they have wines made from fruits besides grapes such as blackberries and peaches as well as grapes wines. I tried quite a few of the wines, including their Sippin' White with my lunch, which is made with Niagara grapes. In their tasting room, I tried several of their sweet wines, all of which have cute names and labels. The most unique of the wines was called Pink Pig, which has raspberry aromas and is best served chilled with chocolate. Prancing Horse, a cranberry wine, Daisy's Delight, a white wine with a peach nectar aroma, and Fancy Filly, a Traminette wine, were also my favorites.

Tasting room

If you are in the southeastern area of Indiana, this is definitely one place to check out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weekend Away in Cincy Part 1

The first weekend home, my family and I decided to take a trip to one of my favorite cities in the U.S., Cincinnati. You just can't help but feel history when you go to Cincy. I have to confess that my primary reason for visiting Cincy was not a history lesson, but to visit one of the biggest grocery and specialty food stores in the country, Jungle Jim's. If you are a foodie, you will feel as if you have died and gone to heaven here. The selection is so vast I couldn't even fit everything I wanted into the frame of my camera, but I did attempt to, at least.

Jungle Jim's truly is foodie land...

This isn't your ordinary supermarket. They even tried to make it look like a jungle!

One of my favorite sections, the olive bar...actually, this is only half of the selection available...
Attention cheese lovers! JJ's has a selection of cheeses from nearly every cheese producing country you can imagine. This section is devoted to American and United Kingdom cheeses. There is a whole other section on the other side full of even more cheese!
Part of the wine section...there were about 10 other aisles behind me, too...
The vast produce section
Some of the tropical fruits such as dragon fruit, lychees, and one I had never heard of before: longons. I wouldn't recommend them, they tasted like what I imagine would be a fruity, slimy eyeball. Yuck! But, it seemed a lot of other people liked them...without JJ's I wouldn't have even had a chance to try something new!
Another decoration of the building...an old tram from Epcot Center wraps around the exterior
As you can see from these photos, if you are ever in the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio area, this place it totally worth checking out! This store is so vast, but I wanted to give you a snippet of the things I love about this store. I'm so jealous of the Cincy residents who get to shop here regularly!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Home Again

In between my summer term and the fall semester starting, I decided to visit my family in Indiana. No matter how far and few between my visits are, I can't help but feel a sense of "home" every time I walk outside the Indianapolis airport. This time I was welcomed with the most beautiful sunset...I haven't seen one this pretty since my last visit home. These photos were taken while we were going down I-70 (I was not driving, I should say, when taking the photos) and I'm so glad they turned out well!

I hope to update you all soon on all my foodie adventures. Until then, I leave you with the photos of the gorgeous sunset!

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