Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Coconut Basmati Rice Pudding

 Usually, when I decide to make a dessert, I go all-out.  Sugar, butter, eggs, chocolate, layers, filling, frosting, glaze... it's go big or go home!  My original plan for Valentine's Day was mini layer cakes √† la Sprinkle Bakes (which I still want to attempt!), but once I found out that V-Day was out and a time-limited homemade anniversary dinner was in, the game plan had to change to something simpler.

Enter rice pudding.  Which just happens to be one of Jon's favorite desserts :)

I might be the world's biggest fan of brown basmati rice.  It's just so nutty and delicious, and it's got all those great health benefits since it's a whole grain!  Score.  It also makes a killer rice pudding.

Pre-cooked brown basmati rice gets a long bath in coconut milk, maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla.  When it comes out, its natural nuttiness combines with a smooth creaminess that essentially becomes heaven on a spoon.  And bonus?  If you have leftover rice in the fridge, you've got dessert in half an hour!

Additional bonus: this recipe, especially if served with dried fruit and nuts, is healthy and filling enough to serve as breakfast!  Pudding for breakfast for the win!!

But for dessert, if you really want to take it to the next level, layer it into a parfait with sweetened angel flake coconut and some mini chocolate chips while it's still warm.  Magic.

Coconut Basmati Rice Pudding
Source:  Kale and Cardamom

2 cups cooked brown basmati rice
1 14-oz can coconut milk (I used lite)
1/8 tsp sea salt (if you did not use salt when cooking the rice)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
Toppings of choice (Suggested: shredded coconut, chocolate chips, chopped toasted nuts, and/or dried fruit)

Combine rice and coconut milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Lower the heat and add the salt (if using it), cinnamon, and maple syrup.  Allow the mixture to simmer, stirring it often, until it's thick, creamy, and pudding-like - about 20 minutes, give or take.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla - I suggest you use something high-quality if you have it, since the gorgeous flavor won't get cooked out :)  Serve immediately, or chill until cold, and eat with toppings of choice.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Roasted Hazelnut Brussels Sprouts

Can I let you in on something?

I've never celebrated Valentine's Day.

Ever.  In the history of ever.
Even though I've been in a relationship for the last three years.

Why, you ask?
Because our schedules never line up.

See, I was super excited the first year we were together because my single girl dream was coming true: I would finally have a date for Valentine's Day.  BUT then I got my company schedule and realized...umm...kidding.  We had a 10-out-of-12 (all-day tech) on February 14th.  The following year, I had class all day, followed by tech rehearsal for several hours.  I finally got home at 9:45, a gross sweaty mess.  That night, Jon and I split a red velvet cupcake from Starbucks and watched TV.

This year?
Well, this year, my schedule was finally clear on the 14th - after classes ended early in the afternoon, I was free!
Jon was not.  He had bowling after work.  So by the time he got to my apartment at 11:30...I was falling asleep.

Can I tell you something else?

It could be worse.
Because the last two years running, we've both had the day off on our anniversary... February 12th.
And this year, that day was perfect.

I woke up to a warm plate of homemade French toast with pure maple syrup next to my bed.  We went to church, went boot shopping, did some things for the wedding, and went grocery shopping - nothing monumental, but what truly made a difference was that we did those things together, which is a luxury we rarely have.  Later that night, we retreated from the snow under warm fuzzy blankets and watched Netflix, just quietly celebrating the wonderful three years we've had together and all the years to come.
And then there was dinner.

Ohhh, dinner...

Instead of going out, we cooked a gourmet meal together:

Filet Mignon, simply seasoned and cooked to absolute juicy perfection
Mashed Redskin Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Mascarpone Cheese
and these Roasted Hazelnut Brussels Sprouts.
(For dessert, there was rice pudding...I'll be sharing that soon :)

Now, historically, I have not been a huge fan of brussels.  They're kinda bitter, and the only way I'd liked them before was when they were doused in butter and bacon grease...which is not something I could really afford to do with a show coming up.  But I found this gloriously simple recipe on Cheeky Kitchen and was struck hard with the urge to try it!  I am, after all, on an eternal quest to find more vegetables I lurrrve.

SUCCESS!  These suckers were chock full of flavor, texture, and overall deliciousness, without being drowned in fat!  A simple short roast at a high temperature with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, with chopped hazelnuts thrown in just at the end to toast up to perfection, and vegetable bliss was attained! It was the perfect side dish, served as part of a perfect dinner, to cap off a perfect anniversary.

Roasted Hazelnut Brussels Sprouts
Source: barely adapted from Cheeky Kitchen

3 cups brussels sprouts
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 500˚.  Yes, this sucker's gotta be HOT.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a medium bowl, drizzle sprouts with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper as desired, tossing to coat.
Spread the sprouts out on the baking sheet and roast on the middle rack for 15-20 minutes, until the edges of the sprouts begin to char.  Toss the chopped hazelnuts on top and return to the oven for another 5 minutes, until toasty and aromatic.  Serve with essentially any meal you want, though I highly recommend meat and potatoes.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cashew Chicken with Broccoli & Mushrooms

I've learned a lot during my four years in Buffalo.
- Never expect a snow day.  Expect snow.  Every day from December through March, maybe even April or May.  But don't expect a snow day.
- Wind is evil.  And everywhere.
- Taking food photos in the winter when you can't afford studio lighting gets...complicated.
- "Buffalo wings" = wrong.  "Wings" = right.
- Tim Hortons' Roll Up the Rim month will make you spend waaaay more money than you mean to spend.  But hey, you could win a car!!  Or a free donut.
- If you live in the Buffalo area, you're a Bills and Sabres fan.  Even if you hate either football or hockey.
- Paula's Donuts are heaven.  HEAVEN, I tell you.

And this one I find particularly important to anyone who grew up in DC or NY:

- Thai food in Buffalo is brilliant.
Japanese food in Buffalo is awesome.
Chinese food in Buffalo SUCKS.  With a capital SUCKS.

I love Chinese food.  But I have not even tasted a single truly good batch of Chicken Fried Rice since I got to UB - the flavors are off and all you get is egg, bamboo shoots, a few chunks of chicken, and HUGE pieces of virtually raw onion.  I'm sorry, but if the Chinese place you're ordering from also delivers pizza and wings...don't order from them.  I beg you.  Save yourself.

If I ever get a craving for Asian flavors, I stick with Thai, hibachi, or I just make my own mock Chinese food.   I always have a bottle of low-sodium soy sauce in the fridge for those nights when dangit, nothing but stir fry will cut it!

And this recipe has officially cut the line to the top of my list of favorite weeknight recipes.

Not just Asian-style weeknight recipes.  Weeknight recipes, period.

It's that good.

The combination of flavors and textures is just such a win.  Don't bother letting me explain in detail - make it for yourself the next time you want takeout!  It'll be ready just as fast, and your wallet and tummy will thank you :)

Cashew Chicken with Broccoli and Mushrooms
Source: adapted slightly from Cheeky Kitchen
Serves at least 4

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp garlic powder, or to taste
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper, or to taste
4-6 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp cornstarch
1/3-1/2 cup water (use less for a thicker sauce, more for a thinner sauce)
2-3 cups bite-sized broccoli florets
1/2 cup salted cashews
Rice or noodles, for serving

In a wok or large saut√© pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Toss in the chicken pieces and stir fry until cooked through.  Add the mushrooms and allow to cook briefly.  Sprinkle the mixture with the garlic powder, crushed red pepper, and desired amount of soy sauce.  Whisk together the water and cornstarch in a measuring cup and pour over the chicken and mushrooms, stirring to coat.  Add the broccoli florets, cover the pan, and allow to cook until the broccoli is bright green.  Toss in the cashews and serve over rice or noodles.  Enjoy!