Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Happy Ending Peanut Stir Fry

Here's an embarrassing confession: I am not the best cook in the house. My husband is. And that annoys me to no end. That guy is skinnier than me, cuter than me and better in the kitchen. How is that at all fair?

That being said, there's something seriously hot about a guy who knows his way around the kitchen. And this dish is my favourite thing he makes. In fact, it's my favouritest, bestest meal ever, hands down. The writer in me named it Mark's Happy Ending Peanut Stir Fry. The "happy ending" is when the food reaches my belly.

What? Is there another meaning to "happy ending" that I don't know? Quit trying to corrupt me.

By batting my eye lashes a few times, I was able to hover around the kitchen recently and disturb the creation process in order to help bring this fine recipe to your own table. That's what great journalists do, you know: bother people doing their jobs so they can write about it. Or, in this case, so they can give other people happy endings.

.. What?!

Now, let's get a few things out of the way. First of all, this is not a low-cal, low-carb, low-sodium, low-fat kind of dish. And it has peanut butter in it, so you can't eat it if you're allergic to peanuts unless you have some sick ER fetish. It's a somewhat time-consuming dish; all told, you might spend an hour in the kitchen making it. Some days I have to beg pretty hard to get him to make this for me.

What I can tell you is that it's delicious, it's gluten-free and easily modified to suit your dietary needs and/or what happens to be in your fridge that night. We make this stir fry with chicken, but you can make it with any kind of meat or no meat at all. You can choose rice instead of rice noodles, or leave out the starch altogether and up the veggie content/add tofu. You can add jalapeno pepper to the peanut sauce to spice it up (delish!). You can top it with peanuts or sesame seeds. Like I said, whatever floats your boat.

Here is a complete list of the ingredients you're going to need on hand to make 2 big servings or 4 smaller servings:

1 wok
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 cups of fresh vegetables of your choice (some of my favourites for this stir fry are broccoli, red pepper, zucchini, shredded carrot, and green or yellow beans)
1 package of Asian style rice noodles, such as vermicelli. (You won't need the entire package. Maybe 1/3 or 1/2)
2 limes or some lime juice
Peanut butter (smooth or crunchy, both are fine)
Black pepper
Soy sauce (gluten-free folk, make sure you have a safe brand on hand. We also use low-sodium)
Ground ginger
Garlic powder

Have all your ducks in a row? Okay, here we go:

Step 1. Make the sauce.

Insanely. Freaking. Good. Sauce.

This sauce is amazing. Like, seriously amazing. It was hard to get hubby to give me exact measurements because he usually eyeballs it, but we managed.

In a bowl, add 1 cup peanut butter. Mix it quickly with a spoon for about 30 seconds until it takes on a creamier, whipped consistency.

Now stir in 3 teaspoons of ground ginger and 1 1/2 tablespoons of garlic powder.

Finally, add 5-6 tablespoons of soy sauce and 5-6 tablespoons of lime juice or the juice from 1 1/2 squeezed limes. Mix until thoroughly blended. Set this bad boy aside and let's proceed to step 2.

Step 2. Givin' the Chicken a good lickin'*: 

(*Disclaimer: Like, as in "cooking the chicken well", not actually licking it. Please don't lick it. First of all, Salmonella is not your friend. Secondly, lawsuits are not my friend.)

Place 2 chicken breasts in the wok. Basically, you have to cook the chicken. How you do this is up to you. Husband of mine puts in a cup or two of water and boils the chicken on high for a few minutes to make it tender. Once the water is mostly gone, he reduces the heat to medium, cuts up the chicken breast into bite-size pieces, and adds the following:

1 teaspoon of garlic powder
2 tablespoons of lime juice (or 1/2 a lime)
1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

Stir and fry for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the flavours have taken hold.

While the chicken is cooking, cut up your veggies. On to step 3!

Step 3: Mama Says Eat Your Vegetables.

We were a little low on veggie variety that day. Oops.

Add a bit more oil to the wok and toss in the veggies. You can do them all at once or add in the harder ones first so they can cook longer. Your choice. Once all the veggies are in, stir fry 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

Remember that sauce you made in step 1? Time to add about 2/3 of that sauce in. Mix thoroughly and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, careful to stir regularly so it doesn't burn. You now have your stir fry topping. Congratulations! That was the hard part.

Looking at this picture makes me salivate.

 Place the veggies and chicken mixture in a covered bowl and set aside. On to the final step: noodles.

Step 4: For the best Happy Ending, Use your Noodle.

I like these. Not too big, not too small.

Put enough water in the wok to boil the amount of noodles you'll be adding. Set the burner to "high" and place noodles in before the water starts boiling to cook them slowly. Different noodles have different cook rates - some take as little as a minute, some take much longer. Keep an eye on them and taste test regularly. (Mmmmm, taste testing...) You don't want a soggy noodle.

... What?!!

Drain the noodles when done. Put them back in the wok on low heat and add in the remaining 1/3 of the peanut sauce. Stir until thoroughly blended.

Hot damn. That's some carb porn right there.

Place in bowls and add stir fried veggie and chicken mixture on top. It might look a little like this:

Hubby placed these on the mat. Who's the food blogger now?

Happy eats!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Check out my Kitchen (dis)Organization

(I almost called this post "Please laugh at my kitchen so you'll feel better about yours" but that was too long.)

Just as it's practically impossible to blog when your children are home and bored and fighting with each other on Christmas vacation (*twitch twitch*) it's also nearly impossible to get down and dirty with your bad baking self in a kitchen that lacks organization.

I would know about both of these things firsthand. My little snarlings still have a few days before school starts and I have stopped just short of buying myself a one way ticket to Crazytown. Many colourful words are being uttered under my breath, but it's making writing down anything blog-worthy rather challenging. Furthermore, I've done nothing but clean, organize, and re-clean my kitchen over the past few days. There are two reasons for this:

1. There are five people here who are constantly adding unwelcome decor to the countertops, and,

2. If I don't know where anything is, I can't be constantly feeding their boredom and my stress.

Back before I was gluten-free, I used to think my kitchen needed organization; it did, but not as much as it needs it now. I can't speak for everyone, but when I took wheat flour and other typical staples out of the equation, I entered a new dimension of Hell in which I now have an overwhelming number of ingredients in my life. I'll write about some of these in more detail in later posts, but for now let's just say that I've inadvertently become one of those weird collector types. You know those eclectic sorts who collect figurines or creepy little dolls or vintage mannequin parts?

Well, apparently I collect flours.

Don't believe me? I figured you might not, so I went and counted up what I currently have (like a crazy person would. Did I mention it's week 2 of Christmas break?) Not including pre-made mixes or blends, I have the following:

  • White rice flour
  • Brown rice flour
  • Tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour)
  • Potato starch
  • Potato flour (not the same thing)
  • Soy flour
  • Corn flour
  • Millet flour
  • Sorghum flour
  • Quinoa flour
  • Coconut flour
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Chickpea flour
That's 13 different flours in all. And I'm still hunting all over the city for garbanzo bean flour, which eludes me (if you're in Ottawa/Gatineau and know where to hook a sister up, please share). 

Where the Frigidaire do I store all of these, you ask? Allow me to introduce my not-at-all patented organizational system:

You can stop being unimpressed any time now.
It's more organized than it looks, I swear.

Yep, that's red electrical tape and a sharpie.
And when I lost those I used a post-it note and a Crayola marker.

Flour on the 2nd floor, all other baking essentials on the 1st. And yes, all 13 flours and various pre-made mixes are up there; the more often used ones in large, labelled containers, and bags of everything else in a large container behind the boxed millet and sorghum flours.

What you're seeing here is my hodgepodge use of birthday gifts, Easter baskets and magical finds from thrift and dollar stores. It's so ugly it might make Martha Stewart pop an Ativan, but it's surprisingly functional. And until I get a rich person job or slap on some hooker boots for a few weekends in a row (my classy kitchen reno budget plan), I will not have cupboards overflowing with matching Betty Homemaker perfection. 

Someone pass the Ativan.

I started the container system a few weeks ago after I got sick of digging through plastic bags. I buy most of my flours at a bulk food store, which means they don't come in nice, easy to use packages. I fixed that problem.

Except - oh, you knew that was coming - I'm a slob. A huge, messy slob. A lot of the flours I deal with are very light and dusty - tapioca and potato starches, for example, are as bad as icing sugar - and I get them all over myself, invariably when I'm wearing dark clothing and am about to go out somewhere. Even transferring the stuff into containers was a problem because it would spill all over everything. So, I came up with this idea:

It's revolutionary.

Great, right? Untie the bag, twist up the top, place the bag upside down into the container, then gently lift and shake the bag. I am so fucking smart.

Except - oh, you knew that was coming - when I'm not.

Sometimes I buy too much flour and I don't realize it until after I've tipped the bag into the container. This creates a little problem. I can't exactly take back the action of flipping the bag over. I've crossed the point of no return and I need to finish the cycle. Then I get this:

Not sure if the Ativan would mix well with
my apparent cocaine habit.

Kitchen work is messy. Good thing I'm hot when I'm doing it.

PS: A big word up to the JenJens at 2FitGals for not only trying, but loving the green smoothie recipe - and for mentioning it on their blog. How cool is that? I feel like a celeb. They added some protein powder to make themselves all badass and I celebrate that. You have to take smoothies and make them your own, I always say.

Actually, I've never said that. Not once. I'm just trying to impress the JenJens because that's their name and it reminds me of the hot popular girls in every high school that always had the same name (the Trishes, the Kristens, the Mackenzies, the JenJens). They're getting gorgeously fit, too. That's what their blog is all about. And I just sold my treadmill today because I hated it so much. So yeah, I'm trying really hard to look cool, here.

Up next time: a recipe of some kind.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Green Smoothie

When my friend Robyn first told me about drinking a green smoothie every morning and suggested I try it, I nodded politely and thought she had fallen off her earth mama granola mountain and hit her head, thus obviously skewing her view of what should be consumed before lunchtime - or, like, ever. Anything green in my glass seemed about as unappealing as a Charlie Sheen Playgirl spread. (I have no interest in seeing his double rainbow, thanks.)

But Robyn is one of the smartest people I know, and also one of the healthiest, gorgeous-est people I know. So I figured there must be some truth to her green crap in a cup theory. I like spinach quite a bit, I just didn't like the idea of putting in a blender and, well, drinking it. Barf-o-rama.

I carried around the recipe in note form on my iPhone for a year before giving it a shot. And when I did , I did so very reluctantly. But what I have noticed is more energy, fewer sugar cravings, a smaller appetite, clearer skin and a much happier digestive system. I can't thank my friend enough for introducing me to these.

This is the original recipe given to me:

Green Smoothie

1 frozen banana
3 handfuls of baby spinach
1 juiced orange
1 tablespoon of chia seeds
8 oz of water

Blend and drink.

Here are some tips and tricks and don'ts from me:

Peel the bananas and throw them in a freezer bag before freezing them. This may seem logical to most of you, but you are not me. I had to ask how to freeze the fruit because I lack the foresight to guess that peeling a frozen banana probably wouldn't be a fun chore.

When it calls for 3 handfuls of baby spinach, give 'er. I mean it. Don't wuss out and put little baby handfuls in. Back when we were the hunter gatherer types, our ancestors used to eat several pounds of greens a day. The nutrients in them are vital, and yet it's rare to get more than a single serving in a day for most of us. Imagine what three handfuls of spinach every day can do for your body. This is such an easy way to reclaim your health, so put your big girl panties on and man up.

I have never juiced an orange for this recipe. I'm far too lazy and I have my work clothes on half the time; the idea of getting juice all over me just isn't appealing. However, the juice plays an important role: Spinach is high in a chemical called oxalic acid, which makes the calcium and iron in its leaves harder to absorb. By adding in the vitamin C from an orange, you're unbinding the goodies and letting them get more easily absorbed into the body (keep this in mind each time you have spinach). I use juice containing vitamin C to get the job done - pretty much whatever is in my fridge at the time.

This recipe calls for chia seeds. Yes, the ones they used to advertise on TV as cute little plant pets. If you don't know what they do, read up on them thanks to the handy dandy link I provided. They're definitely a superfood, they taste like nothing, and they keep your digestive system nice and happy. When I first started making the smoothies I used ground flax seed because I didn't have any chia seeds (I later found them at Bulk Barn, and they can also be found in most health food stores). If taste is what you're going for in a smoothie, don't use ground flax seed. I still shudder when I think about all the times I downed a glass in the name of health. Chia seeds for the win.

I generally use less water than in the original recipe because I like a thicker smoothie. You can decide what works for you.

The recipe makes two good sized glasses. When I'm feeling like a good girl I drink both of them down. When I'm feeling like a naughty girl or I'm rushing out the door, I fill a travel cup with some and give the rest to my husband. It's win/win either way.

Expect to uh, "clear out" a lot in the first few days. The toilet and I became well acquainted. Not in the urgent, gotta-get-there-now kind of way, but in the "again?!" kind of way. The combination of chia and greens really does a number on a sluggish digestive track. I just thought I'd be nice and forewarn you.

Finally, here's a handy dandy green smoothie chart I found (but can't find the source of now - oops) just in case you feel like switching it up a bit and making your own perfect breakfast creation:

Anyway, I am now hooked on these green goblets of goodness. If you give them a shot I bet you will be, too. They're surprisingly tasty and have become a staple in my life.

And yes, I still think they look like throw up in a cup. That part doesn't get better.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mind the (Hot) Mess

My name is Amanda, AKA The Maven of Mayhem, and I like food. I like food so much that it once tried to get a restraining order against me.

I have another blog - a personal, mostly parenting-based blog - that I love and yet can't bring myself to write in lately. I've given this a lot of thought and have concluded it's because I'm in a completely different place than when I started it over five years ago. Most notably, I'm far busier than I used to be. I was a stay-at-home-mom with three little gremlins and a daycare to run; I honestly didn't think it got more chaotic than that. But now I'm a part-time working-outside-the-home mom with three school-aged gremlins and a to-do list as long as the great wall of China. 

Sadly, no one ever pays for guided tours of my to-do list. 

Blogging has been one of those neglected activities I used to make a priority until all those other priorities of the loud/smelly variety got in the way. But I like to write, and I like to blog. Honouring the narcissistic exhibitionist in me is an important part of what makes me The Maven.

Thankfully, another big change just over a year ago may provide me with an answer to my conundrum. 

(I just wanted to use "conundrum" in a sentence. It's a fancy word that makes me look smart, and saying it out loud as I'm reading the post back to myself during editing gives me an ego boost. Did I mention the narcissistic tendencies?)

 In October 2010 I did something really stupid: in sheer desperation - and truly believing it would have no effect on my then failing health but why not give it a shot, anyway - I removed all gluten from my diet. And wouldn't you know it? That shit made a big difference. I never swore so much in my life when I realized I was gluten intolerant. Of all things to have to stop eating, it had to be the hardest to take out of my typical North American diet. Fuck. (See? Swearing.)

For those who don't know what this change entailed, it meant removing wheat, barley, rye and anything derived from those products from my diet - forever. Even a small amount makes me sick again. I have reluctantly joined the millions of people who are leading a gluten-free lifestyle.

Did you know I used to make bagels? I made really good bagels. I made bread, cinnamon buns, and pasta dishes that would make the angels weep. Gluten-based foods were a big part of my family's diet. Now I don't cook or bake with the stuff at all. I'm the only fully gluten-free family member - the rest will still nosh on crackers and other store-bought, wheat-filled goodies on occasion - but they only get the pre-made, boxed or bagged stuff so as to avoid cross-contamination. If your body has an auto-immune reaction to something, it's crucial that trace amounts don't invade your cooking surfaces, cutting boards, or other shared kitchen surfaces.

Anyway, all this to say that I'm now learning how to cook and bake all over again as a result of my allergy. It's been a steep learning curve. Add to this that I'm trying to severely cut back on sugar (another sensitivity of mine) and loosely follow a paleo diet for health purposes, and you'll see how my food life has turned into a form of culinary chaos.

And that's why I need this blog.

If there's one thing I'm doing more of these days, it's spending time in the kitchen. I cook from scratch out of necessity, and I need a place to record everything. I could do so privately by way of a quinoa flour-dusted binder on top of the microwave, but I don't want to. I scour the internet on a daily basis for tips and tricks from other folks, and I feel it's only right to give back by way of public display. Also, did I mention the exhibitionist tendencies?

This is not going to be your typical food blog. I am, at best, a terribly disorganized, risk-taking, mistake-making mess of a girl. All these, erm, qualities, will shine brightly in my posts. I will share my failures, I will proudly display my successes, I'll rant about how picky my kids are, I'll take realistic pictures of my creations, good and bad.  I might throw some decent links in here from time to time to explain why I'm doing what I just did with that thing in that picture (that sounded so much dirtier than I intended it). The internet is all about the recycling of information, after all. I'll swear when swearing is due, and I'll likely make you giggle a few times because I like to cover up my insecurities with humour (learned through years of being the fat girl.)

I am, in every way, a (hot) mess in the kitchen. Hope you'll stop in, pull up a stool and watch the freak show. Please bring coffee and some money to throw in my therapy jar.