Easy-Peasy Pasta Supper

Sometimes you don’t want the fancy stuff. No escargots, no lobster cappuccino (it’s rather good), nor turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey, awesome eh?) can satisfy the inner simpleton in you. Sometimes you just want the good ol’ mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, or a quick pasta supper. No hassle, no dressing up, no empty wallet. This easy pasta dish is just for one of those days. It’s filling, flavourful, and healthy. Tell me what else you want? My firstborn? No I can’t give that to you, but you can have my food, or pictures of my food. 😉

Rainbow Garlic Chicken Pasta
(makes enough for 4, at least, maybe some leftovers too)
1 lb skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 Tbsp. corn starch
1/2 tsp. pepper
a generous pinch of salt
2 tsp. dried parsley
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. garlic powder

1 lb box of whole wheat spaghetti
2 small zucchinis
1 medium carrot
7-8 white button mushrooms, about 4 oz.
3 green onions
1/3 cup of frozen peas (hey, can’t be easy PEAsy without peas, right? Bad, yes I know)
1/3 cup of frozen corn
half a can of white kidney beans (or any color really, even blue :))
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter (I used a butter spread to cut back on some fat)
1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar (or if you are lazy like me, hack off a good chunk of that cheese and just slice into odd shapes, it’s fine, no need to get out the grater)
extra salt, pepper, garlic powder to taste

First, dice your chicken, and mix with the herbs and cornstarch and seasonings listed above. Work the mixture through well and set aside while you chop the vegetables.

Slice carrots and mushrooms and the zucchini and the green onions (run-on sentence anyone?). Bring a large pot of water to boil. Dump in the pasta, cook for about 8-9 minutes, or until just before al dente. I’ve found that whole wheat pasta, in addition to packing in some fibre and protein and great nutrients, are more resistant to over cooking. It’s awesome, try it.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil on medium high in a large pan. Stir fry the chicken with the green onions until about half cooked and slightly brown on the outside. Add vegetables, fresh and frozen. When everything is just about cooked, add a little over half a cup of pasta water, ladled out of your boiling pasta. Season to taste. I added extra garlic powder.

When pasta is done, add it to the chicken and vegetables along with the beans. Reduce heat to medium low and toss the pasta until water is mostly absorbed. Stir in the cheese and let it melt. Give it all a good toss. You don’t need much cheese, or any cream at all to make the sauce creamy. The secret is the pasta water. Now eat and be happy about how simple life can be.


Cloud Nine Bread

I love low effort, high quality when it comes to cooking. I also love bread. I have this whole theory that bread is all you need in life. I mean, Jesus said that “this is my body, and this is my blood” right? He was referring to bread and wine. What else do you want? Bread, to me at least (and I suppose I’m a bit of a nut case when it comes to good bread), symbolizes love, faith, and happiness in life. Think about it, you bake bread for people you love, I definitely put a lot of love in my loaf. And the people who eat the bread you bake, have faith in you that you will do it again.

And you will. At least, you will with this one.

Back to that low effort, high quality thought. This bread is called Cloud Nine Bread for a reason. A bite of it sent my happiness through the roof. I told you bread has everything to do with happiness right? All you need in life is bread…some butter doesn’t hurt either. 😉

This bread is light, fluffy, soft, and moist. Perfect for snacking, sandwiches, or toast. Look at that crumb!

Now, go to your kitchen, simply mix, pour, watch a little TV, bake, and bee happy! (No kneading involved) No I didn’t misspell “be,” that’s just the way it is. In my book that is. 😀

Cloud Nine Bread
(makes one 9 x 5 loaf)

4 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast, or 1 packet
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 cups milk, warm
5 Tbsp. melted butter, or oil

In a large bowl, mix the milk and the yeast, let stand for about 3 minutes to dissolve. Add everything else and give it a good mix. Do it for a few minutes. The batter will be thick and hard to pour. Dump the mess into a well-greased loaf pan. Let rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until puffy and doubled.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 30 minutes, or until well browned and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Let cool, slice, slather with butter, and ascend to cloud nine. 😀

Add some spice to your life…Cumin Pork

Okay, I didn’t mean it literally. Although, if you have recently added some spiciness in your life, good for you! 😉 For the rest of us, the kick in Szechuan dishes is quite enough.

Traditionally, and typically found in Szechuan Chinese restaurants, cumin “meat” dishes are full of heat and numbness. The numbness that I’m speaking of here comes from Szechuan peppercorns, a mouthful of those babies could probably get you through your wisdom teeth extraction. Who knows, maybe give you a spice-induced high while you’re at it? The meat can be chicken, beef, pork, or lamb, although the last one is the most popular and pairs best with cumin. All the flavors explode on your palate all at the same time, competing for dominance. Best to have lots of water and rice on hand, as well as some “neutral” dishes such as simple greens. I added broccoli for the color and also for nutrition. Gotta eat your vegetables. 😀

Cumin Pork

(makes 4 ravenous people [Ian] servings or 6 normal people servings :))

1 lb pork tenderloin (you could easily substitute beef, chicken, lamb, or even firm tofu)
2 Tbsp. corn starch
2 Tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns
3 Tbsp. cumin seeds, or 2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. black peppercorns
1 Tbsp. red pepper flakes
Note: See how all the spice is in tablespoons? Not for the faint of heart. On the other hand, don’t be scared either. 😛

3 Tbsp. oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. ginger, minced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. Chinese rice wine
1 large onion, diced
1 small head of broccoli, cut into small florets (again, you can substitute any vegetable or omit)
1 Tbsp. cumin, ground (optional, for the extra kick)
1 Tbsp. chili sauce, with oil (老干妈 “Old Grandma” brand preferably)
Salt to taste

Cut meat into very thin slices, about 1/8 of an inch. This is most easily done when the meat is still semi-frozen.
Put all spices, except for the chili sauce and the optional cumin, into a pan. Toast on medium high for about 2 minutes, until you smell the aroma. (be careful, you may have a sneeze attack due to the chili pepper, no joke) Ground the toasted spices, I used mortar and pestle.
Rub the ground spices and corn starch into the meat slices until evenly distributed. Put it into the fridge and forget about it, 3 hours or more.

Heat the oil until hot, sweat the garlic and ginger until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the meat, soy sauce, and rice wine. Stir fry the meat on medium high heat until cooked, about 6-7 minutes. Season to taste and place on a plate. Add the onions and broccoli to still hot wok or pan. Stir fry until cooked through but still crisp tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the meat back to the wok, along with the chili sauce and extra ground cumin. Mix well and heat through.

Now dig in and prepare to be intoxicated! 🙂

Jelly Moulds

Guess what? I have jelly moulds. I’ve never owned jelly moulds in my life. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with them. I’m not even particularly fond of jelly. My sibling might be, so maybe I’ll be making heart-shaped jelly in the future?

When I was dropping the kids off at school this morning I broke routine and went to Dunkin’ Donuts to treat myself to a coffee. Have you ever had Dunkin’ coffee? If you live on the East coast I imagine you must have at some point. Nothing special, but fully caffeinated, and hot. I don’t ask for much. In coffee at least. In recent efforts to cut back on caffeine intake, I got a small coffee instead of the usual medium. Did you know that Dunkin’ Donuts small coffee is almost as large as a Tim Horton’s medium? Tim Horton’s is the popular coffee chain in Canada that I’m rather partial to.

There’s the coffee cup hiding in shame.

Anyways, I’m walking back with my coffee, enjoying the sunshine, when I spot what looks like a yard sale at a house beside the school. Odd time to have a yard sale, I thought to myself. I walk closer and see that all the odds and ends on the tables were free! The lady in the yard was on the phone but she motioned for me to go check out the tables. I’ve never been one to resist a yard sale, let alone a free one. 😀 So while perusing her collection of kitchen ware, I came upon these jelly moulds.

So now I am the proud owner of three interesting jelly moulds. Don’t worry, I will find something to make with them soon. Till then, they sit in my cupboard. 😉

Ahh…That was a good dinner…Sweet and Sour Ribs (糖醋排骨 Tang Cu Pai Gu)

As I am sitting here busily typing away, there are three happy bellies busily doing their jobs in this room. There would’ve been a fourth if my sister isn’t down with the hateful stomach flu. Indeed, I love Chinese food. Who doesn’t? Well, the good ones at least. Take a close look at the Sweet and Sour Ribs we had for dinner and tell me it isn’t good.

Ribs is kind of a lie here. See, they are country ribs, which is just an euphemism for “HUGE chunk of meat attached to one small chunk of bone.” So I cut each huge chunk into smaller but still sizable chunks. The result was big tender pieces of meat to fully sink your teeth into. The sauce is sweet and tangy and contains all the good meatiness from simmering the meat. The lightly stir-fried greens provide the perfect crispness and cut into the grease of meat. (So we can have an excuse to eat more) Even the rice was good (once soaked with sauce). And I’m not much of a rice person usually.

This version does not involve any deep frying and is relatively healthy, which makes me happy since a lot of other recipes out there call for a cup of oil absorbed into the ribs (wholly unnecessary in my opinion). It bogs down the dish and adds to your waistline. Not this one! 😀

I won’t hog this goodness all to my self. Here’s the recipe.

Sweet and Sour Ribs (糖醋排骨 Tang Cu Pai Gu)

inspired by Steamy Kitchen

(makes 4 generous servings)

2 pounds meaty country or spare ribs, cut into chunks (baby-back ribs are also good)
about 9 slices of ginger, 1/8 in. thick, cut 3 slices into strips
4 green onions, cut into 2-inch sections, divided, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine, divided
generous pinch of salt
about 10 szechuan peppercorns
2 tablespoons cooking oil
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce (I used light because I didn’t have dark on hand, it would give a redder appearance)
4 tablespoons white sugar
2 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil

In a large saucepan, submerge ribs in water and bring to a boil. Skim off the gunky stuff that floats to the top. Add the peppercorns, salt, 1 Tbsp. of rice wine half the green onions, and the 6 slices of ginger. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until tender. Save one cup of cooking liquid and drain the rest.

In a large wok or frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil until fairly hot, add remaining ginger and green onions and fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the ribs to the pan and fry on medium high heat, for a few minutes, until lightly browned. Add soy sauce, sugar, remaining rice wine, and reserved cooking liquid. Reduce the sauce on medium heat while spooning it over the rib pieces continuously, for about 20 minutes, or until sauce thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Add the garlic and black vinegar and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until the sauce is sticky. Turn off the heat and drizzle with sesame oil. Garnish with green onions.
Don’t forget to prepare some rice to soak up all the yummy sauce!

Glutinous Rice Balls (糯米糍 Nuo Mi Ci)

My sister is sick with the stomach flu. She gets it a few times a year. It isn’t supposed to be anything serious, but something that happens to all kids (Carolyn is six). But looking at the perpetual frown on her darling little face, I can’t help but feel terrible. Since eight this morning I’ve had to help her throw up three times. 😦

So I’m sitting beside her on the computer, watching her watch TV, and trying to keep fluids down in her so she doesn’t become dehydrated. Poor Carolyn, not even Curious George is doing a good enough job at distracting her. I hope she gets better very soon, so she can enjoy the glutinous rice balls that I’ve made.

So, we have glutinous rice balls, called 糯米糍 (nuo mi ci) in Chinese, is a type of dessert or snack found in most Chinatown bakeries overseas. It is made of glutinous rice flour mixed with water or milk and sugar, and filled with various fillings such as red bean paste, black sesame, or peanuts. It is then rolled in shredded coconut and served in paper cupcake liners. There seems to be two ways of making these chewy snacks. One is by mixing the dough, putting the whole sticky mass onto a plate, steaming it thoroughly, then adding filling and  shaped into balls. The other way, the way I chose to make it, is by filling and shaping first, then cooking it. I boiled mine, although there are recipes out there that call for steaming.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with precise measurements for making my rice balls. It amounts to mixing some rice flour (found in Chinese grocery stores) with sugar (to taste) and adding enough warm coconut milk (found in cans also at Chinese groceries) to form a very soft, slightly sticky dough. Continue to work the dough until it is smooth and pliable. Divide into balls about the size of golf balls. Divide your filling of choice – I used red bean paste purchased from Chinese grocery. Flatten the balls of dough slightly in your hand, place a dollop of filling in each, and gather up the sides to seal. Roll between your hands to form an uniform ball (I wasn’t very good at doing that so mine are a bit lopsided XD). Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop the rice balls in, cooking until they float. Shake coconut flakes onto a flate and coat the boiled rice balls evenly on all sides. Place on cupcake liners to share with others, or place in your mouth for a delectable and cultural taste. 😉

I liked mine slightly warm, although cold ones taste just as good. Next time I will try to make them again using the steam method. 🙂

Happy cooking! 😀