Saturday, January 26, 2013

Spicy Chicken Thighs with Cucumber Noodle Salad

I've been meaning to make this dish ever since the hubs gave me the Best of Bill cookbook last year for my birthday.  Bill Granger was Australia's first Masterchef winner, and he's built a big name for himself through his Aussie-fresh food with a southeast Asian flair.  This recipe looked like a pretty simple way to pack lots of flavor into a dinner dish-- I loved the idea of creating a vermicelli noodle salad full of vegetables as a base for marinated, grilled meat. I added some grated carrot and chopped Chinese cabbage, and substituted fresh basil for the mint (our mint plant met a wilted death during our time away for Christmas).
Southern Spoon blog: spicy chicken thighs with cucumber noodle salad
spicy marinated chicken thighs with noodle salad and fresh vegetables
We loved the noodle salad/grilled meat combination so much that we've been making variations of it ever since.  We'll prepare a batch of vermicelli noodles, cool them under cold running water, and toss in whatever chopped or shredded vegetables we have on hand. Then we top with grilled chicken thighs, sliced rotisserie chicken breasts, or sautéed shrimp.  Easy.
Southern Spoon Blog: chicken over noodle salad with basil
another version with purple cabbage, bell pepper, and carrot noodle salad,
topped with sliced rotisserie chicken and fresh basil
Fish sauce is a great way to add lots of flavor to a meat marinade, but use it sparingly as it's extremely salty.  I reduced the amount called for in the original recipe to cut down the sodium a bit in this dish.  Bill recommends topping the salad with chopped cashews, and chopped macadamia nuts or toasted sesame seeds also add a nice crunch.

Spicy Chicken Thighs with Cucumber Noodle Salad
adapted from Best of Bill: The Ultimate Collection of Bill Granger's Recipes
4 generous servings

2 tablespoons fish sauce
freshly ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons dried chili flakes (to taste)
1 teaspoon sugar
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I use rice bran oil)

3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sugar
7 oz vermicelli noodles
1 cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
4 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup thinly sliced Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage)
handful of fresh basil, coursely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
optional: 2 tablespoons chopped cashews, macadamia nuts, or toasted sesame seeds

In a small bowl, whisk the fish sauce, black pepper, garlic, chili flakes, and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Rinse the chicken thighs and trim any excess fat (kitchen shears make this an easy task), placing the chicken thighs in a shallow dish. Pour half of the fish sauce mixture over the chicken thighs.  Cover the chicken with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

To the remaining fish sauce mixture add the 3 tablespoons lime juice and 1 tablespoon sugar to make the salad dressing.  Set aside.  

While the chicken is marinating, prepare your salad.  Bring a pot of water to boil, add the vermicelli noodles, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.  Drain noodles in a colander and run under cold water to cool them down.  Using kitchen shears or a knife, chop the noodles up a bit so that they will be easier to mix into the salad.  

In a large serving dish or bowl, mix the cucumber, carrot, spring onions, chopped cabbage, and basil.  Add the cooked vermicelli noodles and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper.  Toss together so that the noodles are evenly distributed amongst the vegetables.  Drizzle the dressing evenly over the salad, and, if you'd like, toss it again to coat.  

Now cook the chicken thighs.  Heat the 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the chicken thighs, in two batches, cooking for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.  Use the back of a spatula or turner to press the chicken thighs down as they cook so that the outside develops a bit of a crisp coating.  

Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board and slice into thin strips. Arrange the strips on top of the prepared salad.  Sprinkle with chopped cashews, macadamia nuts, or toasted sesame seeds if desired.  Serve immediately.

The salad and chicken will keep for 2 days in the fridge in an airtight container. The leftovers make a delicious lunch.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pepita Granola with Dates and Molasses

This week saw the hottest day in Sydney since we've lived here, with a muggy high of 105F.  The next day it was back in the 70s, pleasant and breezy, even cool in the early morning.  So don't blame the blogger for today's post, homemade granola, when last week's was crispy salad.

I think of granola as a cold-weather comfort food, but maybe that's because I associate it with Colorado, which is, in my head, always covered in snow.  (I've spent time in Colorado in the summer, too, I just love the snow-covered mountain version).  But really, a handful of granola over yogurt or with cold milk is as appropriate in an Australian heat wave as anything else.  Northern and southern hemisphere readers alike should make this one to have on hand no matter what the weather is like where you are.  If you need any more convincing, add up the cost of the ingredients you use and compare it with the price of store-bought granola... such a deal.
pepita granola with dates and molasses @ Southern Spoon
toasted granola goodness with pepitas, dates, chia seeds, sweetened with molasses and dates
My sister-in-law makes a legendary granola, which I've heard about many times but haven't yet had the privilege to sample.  Today I adapted the recipe out of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook she gave me for Christmas.  I'm sure the original recipe with walnuts and dried cherries would rock, but this version with pepitas and chopped dates is delicious.

Play around with the recipe and substitute any combination of nuts, seeds, and dried fruit for what's called for.  I didn't have maple syrup, so I used rice syrup and a little molasses its place-- the amount is perfect, not very sweet and just right with the dried fruit.  I also added dashes of allspice, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg in addition to the cinnamon-- I have trouble sticking to only one spice in a recipe. For a gluten-free version, ensure your oats are gluten-free, and substitute ground flaxseed for the toasted wheat germ.  Looking forward to munching on this throughout the week.

Pepita Granola with Dates and Molasses
lightly adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes 7 cups

3 cups rolled oats (not quick-cooking; make sure gluten-free if necessary)
1/4 cup wheat germ, toasted (or ground flaxseed for gluten-free)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds), coursely chopped
1 cup flaked coconut (unsweetened)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
dash each of ground nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger (or any combination of warm spices that suits your fancy)
pinch of freshly ground sea salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I use rice bran oil)
1/3 cup rice syrup or agave syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 egg white
1 1/4 cups coursely chopped dates

Combine first eleven ingredients together in a large bowl (through molasses). Keep stirring until the oil, rice syrup, and molasses are as evenly distributed as possible.

In a small bowl, whip the egg white with a whisk or fork until white and foamy.  Pour the foamy egg white into the granola mixture and stir until everything is evenly coated.

Scatter the mixture onto a large baking tray lined with parchment paper (baking paper).  Bake at 300F/150C for 40-50 minutes, carefully turning the mixture over halfway through with a wide spatula. Remove from oven when lightly browned.  Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then stir in the chopped dates, breaking the granola into chunks of your preferred size.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 2 weeks.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Crispy Cabbage & Sugar Snap Salad with Sesame Dressing

New Year's Resolution: update blog more regularly.  This shouldn't be difficult with the inspiration from the three cookbooks I've been given over the last two months.  Thank you to the hubs and my two wonderful sisters-in-law : )

new cookbooks @ SouthernSpoonBlog
banked on the birthday/Christmas gifts
I spent a couple of days deciding what to make first out of the Smitten Kitchen cookbook (all of them look mouthwatering, and Deb Perelman offers sage advice for variations on recipes as well as clever introductions on how each was created).  Finally settled on a salad of sugar snap peas, cabbage, and radishes with an incredible miso-sesame dressing.  Oh my.  Hardly needed to clean the blender after making the dressing because I'd licked up every bit using the spatula.  This salad is awesome.  It was the highlight of our dinner, the main attraction, while the seared tender, sashimi-grade salmon I picked up from the fishmonger was an adequate side.  The hubs declared it the best salad he's ever had, and asked if we could have it every night.

Southern Spoon blog: crispy cabbage and sugar snap salad with sesame dressing
crispy salad with tahini-soy-honey dressing: delicious
I couldn't find miso paste that didn't have lots of scary-looking numbers in the ingredient list, so just used soy sauce instead. I also added a grated carrot for more color.  Our grocer didn't have Napa cabbage, so I used Chinese cabbage instead, which is similar in its light green color and mild taste.  Once I'd chopped the green onions I was a little overwhelmed by the large pile, but they mixed into the salad very well.  I tossed the vegetables together and served half of it for dinner with half of the dressing, reserving the remaining salad and dressing separately so we could toss it together for lunch today.
Southern Spoon blog: crispy cabbage and sugar snap salad with sesame dressing
thank you Smitten Kitchen for our favorite salad recipe yet
Can't wait to make this crispy salad again.  I'll be repeating the dressing to use in other salads, as a marinade for chicken, and to mix into stir fries until we get sick of it.  Which I can't foresee happening anytime soon.

Crispy Cabbage & Sugar Snap Salad with Sesame Dressing
lightly adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
4-5 servings

3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 cups sugar snap peas, untrimmed (about 1/2 pound or 225 grams)
3 cups thinly sliced Chinese cabbage (Napa cabbage) (about 1/2 pound or 225 grams)
4 radishes, sliced into matchsticks (about 4 oz or 115 grams)
1 carrot, peeled and grated (using the big holes of a grater)
3 large green onions (scallions), white and green parts thinly sliced on bias

1 tablespoon fresh finely chopped ginger
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce (make sure it's gluten-free if necessary)
2 tablespoons tahini (I use unhulled tahini, which is darker and a bit stronger tasting)
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or rice vinegar)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon olive oil (or any vegetable oil)

Toast the sesame seeds by pan-frying them (without oiling the pan) over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, or placing them on a baking sheet in a 300F (150C) oven for 5-8 minutes.  Set aside (remove them from the pan, as they will continue to cook in the hot pan/baking sheet and may burn).

Blanch the sugar snap peas in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes.  Drain immediately and transfer to a bowl of ice water.  When the peas have cooled, trim the ends and slice on bias (diagonally) into 1/4 inch slices (if any peas pop out just toss them into the salad bowl).  Add the sliced peas to the salad bowl along with the cabbage, radish, grated carrot, and sliced green onions.

Make the dressing by blending all of the ingredients in a blender until fully incorporated.  The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook calls for two additional tablespoons of oil, but I found that a thicker dressing using less oil clung well to the salad leaves (and mine may have been thinner than the original recipe because I used soy sauce instead of miso paste).

Sprinkle half of the toasted sesame seeds over the salad, and pour in the dressing.  Toss together until the vegetables are evenly coated with dressing.  Sprinkle the remaining toasted sesame seeds on top, and serve immediately.

* Storage tip: If you want to save some salad for another meal, reserve the salad and dressing separately in the fridge so that the vegetables stay crisp.

African Salad (Mango Avocado Salad)

First Christmas in 100F heat: check. Just returned from spending the holidays in the sparking sunshine and endless white sand beaches of Western Australia.  We had a fantastic time catching up with friends and family at bar-b-ques in public parks along beaches, down south in WA’s Margaret River wine region, and in the rolling gum-tree covered hills east of Perth.
curious black swans at our Christmas eve BBQ at Matilda Bay in Perth
In addition to the ubiquitous prawns on the barbie, we ate delicious and filling vegan meals, took advantage of WA’s excellent Asian food at Thai and Chinese restaurants, and enjoyed a beautiful meal overlooking a vista not far removed from Tuscany at Will’s Domain winery near Dunsborough (topped off by a sampling of cocoa nibs and chocolate bars at nearby Gabriel Chocolate). 
Will's Domain Winery, Margaret River, Western Australia
Grilled prawns, smoked salmon, gin-cured trout expertly prepared by my fabulous sister-in-law, and a range of salads made using summer’s best produce were welcome replacements for traditional American/British Christmas lunch fare.  I’ve been meaning to post the recipe for my in-laws’ famous ‘African salad’ for a while now, and as it featured on our Christmas table the timing seems appropriate.  

If mangos and avocados are out of season for you, book this recipe and make it when the weather turns warmer.  It’s the perfect accompaniment to grilled meat or fish.  For an easy main meal we throw in a big handful of sautéed prawns—chopped rotisserie chicken would also do the trick. 
SouthernSpoon blog: mango avocado salad with prawns
freshly cooked prawns with African salad

I’ve been making this salad for a year now based on the hubs’s memory, and only recently discovered that his mother also adds a little cream to dress the salad.  We think the salad tastes wonderful simply dressed with the juice from the chopped mangos, but if you prefer a creamy dressing, top the salad with a few spoonfuls of cream.

SouthernSpoon blog: mango avocado salad
African Salad: mango, avocado, and lettuce seasoned with a little garlic and black pepper
This salad turns to mush and the avocado quickly browns when refrigerated (though it still tastes great!), so try to prepare just enough for the meal by adjusting the amount of lettuce you use.  For a cleaner presentation, scatter the diced mango and avocado over the lettuce without tossing it afterward (as I’ve done for the photo above). 

African Salad
serves 5 as a side dish

1 clove garlic
1 head of lettuce, washed and coarsely chopped (oak leaf lettuce is pretty, but iceberg works fine)
1 ripe mango, diced into large chunks
1 firm-ripe avocado, diced into large chunks
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons cream (optional)

Peel the clove of garlic and cut it in half.  Rub the halves of garlic around the inside of your salad bowl, then chop the garlic finely and throw it into the salad bowl.  Add the chopped lettuce, and toss it to distribute the garlic. 

Add the diced mango and avocado, and toss very gently until distributed evenly.  (For a cleaner-looking salad, scatter the diced mango and avocado on top of the lettuce without tossing afterward). 

Top with a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, and, if desired, 3 tablespoons cream.  Serve immediately.