Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Searching for the Perfect Stir Fry - take 5

I have posted stir-fries on here before. I have complained about how everyone says they are an easy dish to make and to personalize and yet, I consistently fail at them. Well, today I made stirfry and it was good! It was a pretty exciting moment for me. So exciting, I forgot to take pictures. I am not sure if I had said it before, but I think I have figured out the rules finally to making a decent stir-fry meal:

  1. Always use fresh vegetables - I have tried many, many times to dump frozen veggies into my stir-fries and they are always very blah. I guess if you have to, a little bit of frozen veg may not hurt, but this time I used all fresh and you could tell.
  2. Don't over complicate the sauce - Stick to one or two main flavours. I think with many of my previous attempts, I have tried to get that perfect sweet, salty, sour, spicy mix and let's be honest, I am not a trained chef and I have not mastered this technique. This time I let ginger be the main flavour and didn't add tons of other ingredients. When you aren't sure, keep it simple. Good rule to live by.
  3. Add veggies in the right order - Sometimes I get impatient. I am usually hungry and it's late by the time I start cooking, so I dump everything in at once. You can't do this and get a good stir-fry. It is not possible. Carrots, onions, celery take a lot longer to cook than bok choy and mushrooms. Add the base veggies and let them cook a bit before adding in other items.
  4.  Add the grain right into the stir-fry as it is cooking. This is simple, I usually will not do this unless I   am adding noodles, but it helps meld all the flavours together.
  5. Finally, Make enough of the marinade to add right in the stir-fry and no steaming - OK, maybe this is two final things. Luckily because you have chose to cook vegan, you can just dump your leftover marinade right into your meal and not worry about food poisoning. Now, after adding the sauce, don't steam it. It really just helps keep the food bright and crisp which is much better than a soggy mess. When I have rushed, dumped all my ingredients in at the last minute, I usually have to steam them or they won't be cooked. Try to avoid.
So, we now have some rules. Let's get to what I did to finally get a stir-fry that didn't suck.

Barley Tofu Stir-fry
Makes 3-4 servings, 20 minutes if the barley is cooked, 60 if not

  • 1 1/2 - 2" piece of ginger, peeled
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp agave or brown rice syrup
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp lime juice
  • 1-2 spoonfuls of miso
  • 2 tbsp of oil (I used sesame)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 block of tofu, pressed and sliced however you like

Stir-fry (Really, you can add what you want, but this is what I did):
  • 2/3 cup of cooked barley
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1-2 stalks of celery
  • handful of mushrooms
  • 1/2 orange pepper (more if you like pepper, I do not, but keep trying to learn)
  • 3-4 leaves of bok choy
  • Oil for frying
If you are wanting to make this quickly, do some prep. The morning or night before making this cook your barley and make the marinade. I made the marinade in my magic bullet. If you are using a blender, you should mince the garlic and ginger first. If magic bullet is your thing, add the ginger and garlic and pulverize it. Next add the remaining ingredients and blend. Pour the Marinade on your chopped tofu and let it soak overnight. If you are making this the day of. Make the marinade and then get the barley cooking so it can marinade for an hour.

Now make your stir-fry. Chop all the veggies into bite-sized pieces. Put the oil in the wok and get it hot. I usually go on medium heat because my stove is kind of hot. Add in the carrots, celery and onion and cook until they are softened, about 5-7 minutes. Now add in the Tofu (Not the marinade though) and cook another couple minutes or until the tofu starts to brown a little. Now add the mushrooms and peppers. Cook another 5 minutes or so. Next, add the bok choy, barley and the leftover marinade. Toss it well and cook until the bok choy softens.

Who knew a simple stir-fry would cause me so much trouble! 

As a last thought, barley in a stir-fry is amazing. I almost always stick to noodles, but this was such a good addition. When you are trying an easy stir-fry, mix it up and use a different grain. Quinoa, Rice, Barley, Millet, Wheat Berries would all be excellent choices. It kind of shakes things up, just a little bit.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Homemade Gnocchi and Spinach Pesto

It feels like it has been, so, so long since I have blogged. Really, it has been. It has been a truly busy fall and I am finally back at home. It feels good... and feels not so good all at once. It is definitely nice to be back and see friends and family, but I miss being away. I think I am one of the few people that would prefer to be away 50 weeks a year with 2 weeks at home.

Regardless of my away-sickness (I don't know if that's what you call the opposite of homesick; I am going with it), it was time to get back in my own kitchen and make something... anything. I really missed cooking while I was gone!

With a quiet night at home, I figured it was a good chance to try out some comfort food. For me, pasta is comfort. It's warm, easy, quick and goes with almost anything. However, boiling some pre-made pasta would have made a pretty boring blog post so I stepped it up a notch and had my first attempt at making gnocchi.

Gnocchi is not really a pasta, but more of a potato dumpling, but it plays the part of pasta really well. It is really easy to make and it freezes well, so you can make a big batch and save some for a day you are pressed for time. I think the only things that are tricky about gnocchi is you have to be careful with with the consistency of your dough. Too dry and it can be gummy. Too soft and it can fall apart a bit. Regular gnocchi usually has eggs in it to help bind things together. Most vegan versions use oil for the same effect.

Nutrition? Well, gnocchi is potatoes and flour mainly, so I don't know how nutritious I can make them sound. They are a treat, when you are looking for something warm and filling. They aren't really a diet food. They are also really filling, so remember, a little goes a long way. However, they do have some nutritional benefits. Potatoes are a decent source of  vitamin C, vitamin B6, copper, potassium, manganese, and fibre. They also have lots of phytonutrients. All of these are good things. I think the main reason why people think potatoes are not good for is that we usually eat them as french fries and potato chips. The potato is not the problem here, it is how we are cooking it.

But, back to gnocchi. Now that I proven that potatoes are kind of good for you. Let's add lots of flour to them and make them into dinner! To make this a bit healthier and keep the comfort food vibe, I made a spinach pesto to go with my gnocchi. I took the recipe for regular pest (basil, pine nuts, garlic, oil) and switched out the main flavours for spinach and walnuts. It is a lot cheaper and to be honest, I thought it was just as good as basil pesto. Feel free to add other herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, spice.. whatever. I kept it simple.

Gnocchi with Spinach Pesto
*takes about 20 min, serves 3-4

  • 2 large potatoes, baked and skinned
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning (or other herbs if you have some)
  • salt and pepper
  • approx 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of fresh spinach, lightly packed
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil

If you have potatoes already bakes, this will take no time at all. If not, Bake your potatoes for about 45 min at 400 F. Let them cool completely, about 30 minutes for this. Skin the potatoes and put them in a big bowl. Add the oil, herbs and salt and pepper. Mash the mixture well. It is ok for a few lumps, but they should be pretty mashed. Now, add the flour a little bit at a time. Mix it together until it starts to get the consistency of dough. You can take the dough and put it on your cutting board and add the remaining flour and kneed it until it isn't too wet, but also isn't too dry.
Mashing the potatoes... once you add the flour it will start to look like dough
Two minutes later... dough!

Now separate the dough into four pieces. Roll them out on a floured cutting board until they are about 1" ropes. Cut the ropes into 3/4 - 1" pieces. Now take the pieces, one-by-one in your hand and roll them on the back of a fork so they get little grooves in them.
Make the ropes about 1" in diameter

When you are done you should have a whole bunch of little gnocchi's. Freeze them or cook right away

Now, get your pot of water on the stove and prepare to make your pesto. Get your food processor out and add in everything except for the oil. Process everything so it is almost a paste. Now add the oil slowly and process to the consistency that you want. I like my pesto thick, so add more oil if yours is too thick. This should take just a few minutes.
Love pesto. Through it in the food processor and sauce is made.

I like my pesto thick, but add more oil if you prefer it to be more, saucy

Once your water is boiling, add the gnocchi. It will only take a couple minutes to cook. Wait for the gnocchi to start to float. When it floats, it's done. Remove it with a slotted spoon, dish it with the pesto on top and toss.

I dare you to tell me this was difficult.