Sunday, September 27, 2009

To Serve with Love :)

This past week, the two most important people in my life made the trip to see me in Switzerland. Having had the privilege of good friends come to wish me well, see my life, and explore the country this summer was something for which I was grateful beyond words. It also helped me become a better host, because I realized a) I can't control everything according to my own predetermined plan and b) that's completely OK. Some of the best time spent with people you love occurs effortlessly. With this in mind I planned little (OK, well less...) except for one detail: their welcome dinner.

Part of the challenge is just hoping guests coming in on a red eye hold up until dinner time! I have to say everyone of them has done well so far, including this time around with my family arriving before 8am (ouch). After a trip to my flat to drop suitcases, a ride back into Zürich to see the sites, and a couple of waves of exhaustion I was finally in the kitchen. The appetizer: grated cucumber and sun-dried tomato salad with a soy-sesame dressing, surrounded by goat cheese on pumpernickel (thanks to one Parisian lunch June).

For dinner I started with a bag of gluten-free rice noodles and went with a Thai classic - with my own spin! (Though we were too busy enjoying the dish to take a good shot, scroll to the bottom for another pic.)
Coconut Chicken Pad Thai
Pad Thai:
Chicken breast
1 pack of rice noodles
1 cup beansprouts
2 shallots
1/2 garlic clove
Shiitake mushrooms (I used dried)
2- 3 eggs
Walnuts, crumbled
Green onions
Fish sauce + tamari (wheat free soy) sauce
Sesame oil

1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup soy sauce
Sesame oil
Tamari sauce
Tamarind (paste)
Stevia (I use SweetLeaf packets; see comments for a note on Stevia)

  • Cut the chicken breast in small pieces and marinate in a couple of tablespoons of the fish and tamari sauce, and set aside.

  • Soak the rice noodles in warm water until somewhat harder than al dente. I left mine about 20 minutes, and recommend you do the next couple of steps while you wait :)

  • Chop the shallots and garlic finely. Cut the mushrooms into strips, or if working from dried mushrooms as I did soak in salted water and then press dry.

  • Prepare the sauce by heating some coconut milk over a medium-low flame for a little while. Remove from heat, let cool slightly, and add the tamari sauce. I then seperately mixed the tamarind, fish sauce, and Stevia (you can use any sweetener) and added a couple of tablespoons to the sauce mixture.

  • When the noodles are softened a bit and your sauce is mixed, time to cook! Heat a pan or wok to very high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Add chicken and stir fry for a few minutes until nearly cooked.

  • Add shallots, garlic, and mushrooms and stir fry for a couple of minutes (you may need to add a little more oil as you go).

  • Add the rice noodles and about 1/4 cup of the sauce (continue to add sauce as it sizzles and cooks).

  • Push cooked noodles to one side and crack eggs, one at a time. Let them set before scrambling with the rest of the mix.

  • For the final minute, add the walnuts and beansprouts. Mix and cook well, and then remove from heat.

  • Give a nice stir, add any unused sauce, and then serve! Top with some green onions and more crumbled nuts.

Interestingly, originally I made a classic sauce of fish sauce, tamarind and sweetener. It wasn't working at all, but I'm happy with the modifications. Garnish with some fresh coriander if you'd like (which I didn't have time to do with my hungry guests, and self). This was in my opinion the tastiest dish I've pulled off to date, and I think my fam appreciated it - and the effort - as well. With all they've done for me, they only deserve the most ausgezeichnet (excellent) of food...I wish I could say my kitchen was as synchronized afterward :) Please do let me know how you like this one.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Zucchini and Spinach Pancakes

Continuing on the eternal theme of reinventing classic food with a healthier bent, I was interested by the idea of melding vegetables and pancakes after seeing a recipe in one of my cookbooks. Originally I had planned on making zucchini fritters, which are quite popular and similar to crab or salmon cakes. However when I saw how much oil was involved, I thought - what a way to kill the benefits of the veg! I ended up melding spinach and zucchini to procure something entirely different, and equally delicious IMO. By using chickpea flour it's not only gluten-free, the entire batch (2 generous servings) uses less than 1/4 cup of olive oil.

To serve, I made a balsamic salsa the first day. The second day I spread these savoury pancakes with Philadelphia cream cheese..yumm.

Zucchini and Spinach Pancakes
1 medium zucchini
3/4 cup fresh spinach
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup chickpea flour
garlic powder
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil

Salsa dressing:
1 medium tomato
1/2 onion
2 - 3 t olive oil
2 t apple cider vinegar
1 t herbes de provence

  • Grate the zucchini into a colander and sprinkle with a little salt. Using a spatula, press to squeeze out excess water and allow to drain for a little while. Meanwhile, chop the spinach into thin strands. Add grated zucchini and chopped spinach to a medium bowl.

  • In a smaller bowl, beat together the eggs (FYI I had the yolk left over from a prior recipe and am useless at making my own mayo) with a little salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add to the vegetables.

  • Slowly whisk in the 1/2 of chickpea flour - thoroughly! Chickpea flour requires extra whisking. Allow the batter to sit for roughly 20 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, prepare the salsa by chopping the tomato and onions. Mix with the remaining ingredients (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, herbes de provence) and chill.

  • When ready for the first batch, heat a teaspoon of oil and drop a tablespoon of the batter into the pan for each pancake. I did a couple at a time. Allow to cook for a few minutes on one side (less time as your pan heats up), and then flip for about one more minute.

  • Remove onto a paper towel and keep warm. Continue until you run out (I made 8 largish veggie pancakes.

  • Top with salsa and serve.

I look forward to adding more vegetables, such as onion, red bell peppers or perhaps a handful grated carrots. The salsa was delicious touch, and as they were not greasy at all I topped the the pancakes with a dollop of plain yogurt.

As a plus, all the protein was terrific brain food when I got to work :)

Kids and Health Food

I have the most adorable nephew in the world. No, really. Really :) In fact, one of his doctors described his appearance as such, literally "an adorable little boy with glasses and big, brown eyes." OK, I suppose I'm somewhat biased having not met all the planet's 6-year-olds (and I'm the strict aunt!) but this kid is quite a charmer. He was diagnosed with ADHD and shortly thereafter Asperger's syndrome a couple of years ago. While some of his behaviors are virtually indetectable from other young children (an enduring fascination with trains!), his repetitive behaviors and speech, physical patterns, and limited social ability are sadly more pronounced now that he's in first grade. It's quite heartbreaking, though above all he is such an intelligent and good natured little one....

It's highly recommended that kids with these conditions eliminate sugars and refined foods from their diet. I couldn't imagine eating plain Quakers oatmeal at 12, let alone giving up the sweet, instant stuff altogether. Still, I'm determined to reinvent healthy foods in ways that he is familiar. My first try was a simple recipe of zucchini fries with flax. Fine for me, but kid friendly it was NOT. So I tried something both he - and I - could enjoy.

Chickpea Fries with Romesco

Lunch included some eggplant meatballs, romesco sauce, and of course the chickpea fries. Click here for a basic recipe for the fries - Sara cooks it without adding breading or cheese that mask their simple, delicious flavor. I recommend you leave the panisse ovenight for best results. For the sauce, see my earlier post. Take or leave the chili. In my nephew's case, I'd leave it - he knows what he likes :)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Ideal Complement

I've still been dining out a lot lately as I had some good friends come visit last weekend. A double treat, great conversation over some great meals. I took them to a Thai restaurant here in Rapperswil that I'd been eyeing as it purportedly has a Michelin. Plus I was charmed that the waiter decidedly gave me a German menu and yet was sensitive to bring English menus to my friends (I'll excuse the fact that in mine rice was 1 franc more...isn't that the reverse of how it's usually done ??).

Of course it's always challenging to avoid sugar, gluten, and refined food when dining out. Although less so in Switzerland than back home, there are still bowls of white rice and bread rolled out even if it has little to do with the meal. At the meal above, my coconut milk soup still came with a possibly larger plate of rice. Moreover, we are so used to this that we're often convinced that these complement the dish. The other day I had to insist three times that I didn't want Kartoffeln (potatoes) with my 15 franc salmon filet :) In fact for our digestion, it's best not to combine heavy proteins (steak, pork, etc.) with starches (cereals, breads, pasta). Read here to find out why.

Still, as planes flew off and I went back to my full time cooking :) I realized it is important to eat a diverse range of foods. Also concentrated foods may realistically leave the plate a bit..well..empty looking. One way to circumvent this as you make the transition is to focus on taste, savour your food - and add another complementary element, namely, the sauce.

Almond-Avocado Pesto
I made a great avocado dressing with my bean salad. This thicker version is a true pesto, and went well with a lunch of seared scallops and roasted green beans.

1 ripe avocado
2 T olive oil
2 T plain yogurt
2 bunches fresh basil
1 T gran padano (or parmesan, pecorino)
1 T ground almonds
1/2 t salt
1 t lemon juice

  • Cut the avocado lengthwise, discard skin and pit, and add to food processor.

  • Add all other ingredients and pulse until smooth and creamy.

  • Serve accompanying poultry, seafood (as pictured above) or combine with plain yogurt to create a pesto sauce for rice or buckwheat noodle pasta.

Balsamic Mustard Dressing
I made some almond and flax crusted turkey breast recently, paired with a fresh cole slaw salad. I decided it needed something more, and used an organic mustard as a base for this dressing. Try the different tastes and textures to come up with something you like.

  • 1.5 T yellow mustard seed

  • 1 T dry ground mustard

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 2-3 T water

  • salt and black pepper

  • ground coriander

  • ground cumin

  • cinnamon

  • stevia

  • 2- 3 T blanc battu (or greek yogurt)

  • Simmer all ingredients (except the yogurt/blanc battu) for roughly 15 minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, salt, pepper, coriander and cumin as you go.

  • Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Add the blanc battu/yogurt to desired consistency. Also add more pepper if you'd like, and a teaspoon of parsley.

  • Refrigerate or eat at room temperature, drizzled over lean meats or as a dressing for vegetables.