Pineapple Fried Cauliflower Rice

pineapple fried cauliflower riceI’d like to interrupt my Sichuan fest for something a little sweeter (and a lot healthier, to be sure).

But first, some back story…

I have this awful habit of buying a ton of vegetables all at once with nothing but good intentions… anyone who has opened our fridge to see a vegetable garden staring back at them can attest to that. I rationalize these purchases with ambitious recipes: “I’m going to use this gigantic surplus of green beans and make three separate dishes with them!” “I’ve always wanted to make a recipe involving Chinese eggplant.” And so, I return from the market with armfuls of vegetables and a list of future dishes in my head.

The inherent flaw in all of this, of course, is that James and I are only two people and two people cannot possibly eat a fridge full of vegetables in the time it takes for these vegetables to go past their fresh date. And if that weren’t bad enough, I’ll routinely forget about vegetables I’ve bought if they’re obscured from sight by other vegetables. It’s a terrible cycle of waste… and it can get pretty gross, too. A few days ago, I threw away a red onion that was as soft as an over-ripe peach…

pineapple fried cauliflower rice

I’ve gotten much, much better about this over the past few months (yes, only a few months–imagine all of the food I’ve wasted!) but sometimes it’ll come back to haunt me. Today, I was re-arranging the fridge to fit a few more things in it and I found a cauliflower head that I had “bought and forgot” last week. Aiya. Thankfully, I happened to have the ingredients for a pineapple fried rice just lying around… so I whipped up a version with cauliflower rice instead. And it was delicious!

Curry and cauliflower are already great friends, but throw fresh pineapple and raisins into the mix, with some cashew crunchiness… and it’s low-carb heaven. And because it’s rather healthy, I don’t feel any shame in admitting that I ate this entire thing myself! (Not in one sitting though… pretty sure I would explode if I tried to eat that much all at once.)

I love shrimp in fried rice/fried cauliflower rice, but you can easily substitute it with the protein of your choice. I forgot to add the green onions on top–but I think it’s worth adding them because I love the fresh crunch they add to the dish! And lastly, while canned pineapple is a great substitute, nothing beats the taste and mouthfeel of a fresh pineapple–so if you can, use fresh instead!

The cauliflower rice recipe I use, by the way, can be found here.

And if you like what you see, you may like my other cauliflower rice recipes:

Happy (healthy) eating!

pineapple fried cauliflower rice

 

Sichuan-style Mapo Tofu/麻婆豆腐 (Má Pó Dòu Fu)

sichuan mapo tofuThis is my second in a series of Sichuan recipes–yes, I’m obsessed–and it’s a dish I’ve actually posted on here before, albeit a different style (Japanese-style, to be specific). So what’s the difference? Why post the same thing twice?

Sichuan mapo tofu has a heartier taste, with an emphasis on both the spiciness of the chili flakes and the numbing spiciness of the prickly ash. I might be biased, since I’m in the throes of passion for all things Sichuan right now, but I’m inclined to like this version of mapo tofu better… to each his own, though!

sichuan mapo tofu

I’ve definitely been influenced by my first recipe, though–a lot of the Sichuan recipes I found online omit the garlic, ginger, or both. I am disinclined to leave out what I view as staple aromatics for Chinese cooking, so I decided to keep them as ingredients and use them in the same way I did for the Japanese recipe. And while recipes varied widely on the amount of ground meat used, I decided to stick to my guns and continue to use 5 oz. It’s just what we prefer at home–if you want to put more emphasis on the tofu, feel free to add less.

sichuan mapo tofu

The most important part about cooking Sichuan food is making sure your ingredients are specifically from Sichuan or are Sichuan-style. Japanese and Korean stores both carry versions of doubanjiang and dou chi (spicy fermented bean paste and fermented black beans, respectively) but neither will have the same intense flavors that are so characteristic of Sichuan cooking. If you can, drop by your local Chinese market and look for these two ingredients. They are literally two of the cornerstones of Sichuan cooking, and are completely worth the search. (And while you’re at it, make sure you have Sichuan red peppercorns, okay? Remember how I mentioned that roasting and grinding them makes crack powder? Go get ’em!)

If you’re worried about the spice level, you can always dial back the amount of chili flakes you add in the recipe; the amount I’ve listed is moderately mild. If you’re crazy like me and James, you can always add more chili flakes and experience that numbing heat that makes Sichuan so addictive for us!

sichuan mapo tofu

 

 

Kung Pao Chicken / 宮保雞丁 (Gōng Bǎo Jī Dīng)

kung pao chickenI am in love with Sichuan food, and I don’t care who knows it!

Actually, I’m pretty sure anyone who has talked to me within the last few months would know this…

The real love affair (sorry, James) started when I finally got a clue and figured out how to really enjoy Sichuan peppercorns:

  1. Dry-roast the peppercorns until they are pungent in a wok
  2. Grind the peppercorns in a spice grinder at the “fine” setting
  3. Pour through a sieve into an airtight container (to filter out the stems and husks)
  4. Sprinkle that sh–um, I mean stuff –on everything!

The ground, roasted Sichuan peppercorns stay crisp and fresh in flavor and scent for a month; I dry-roasted ½ cup a few weeks ago and I’ve still got a few tablespoons left over, so I would suggest roasting much less if you don’t favor Chinese or Sichuan food as much as I do (2-3x a week). But I can assure you it’s totally worth it; you won’t experience the richness of flavor that Sichuan peppercorn/prickly ash is famous for unless you roast it first. At first, I thought it was the inferiority of the brand I was using… turns out that most any brand regardless of price will taste heavenly if you roast it first. (But I still believe spending a little extra on higher-quality peppercorns will only help!)

roasted Sichuan peppercornsWith that said, I’ve been trying different recipes of Kung Pao chicken for a while now–always looking for something a little more authentic, a little more spicy. I finally found a few Sichuan-based recipes recently, and have created something based on my preferences that I wanted to share! It’s definitely on the spicier side, so feel free to use fewer chili peppers than the recipe calls for. The bell pepper and diced onions are definitely more American-style Kung Pao than the traditional recipe (which simply calls for diced chicken and scallions), but I liked the sweetness that the vegetables lent to the savory spiciness of the dish.

As I mentioned earlier, I literally do sprinkle the ground Sichuan peppercorn on anything that may conceivably taste good with it, and this recipe is no exception. The numbing spice of Sichuan peppercorn and the heated spice of chili peppers have always paired well together, but they are especially delicious with the kung pao sauce here. The aroma of freshly stir-fried kung pao chicken, dotted with the ground peppercorn, is both exotic and mouth-watering. Much, much more appetizing than the standard kung pao you’ll find at American Chinese restaurants, I guarantee it.

kung pao chickenMy favorite part of this dish has always been the roasted peanuts; I love the mix of both flavor and consistency that peanuts bring when added. I cheated and used dry-roasted, non-salted peanuts for this recipe… but if you have the time and the energy, shelling and frying raw peanuts gives a stronger, smokier flavor to the overall dish that ready-made peanuts can’t quite accomplish. Just be sure to be vigilant and stay at the stove when frying them, as they will burn very quickly if not under constant watch!

If you prefer using chicken thighs over chicken breast (and I almost always do), you can skip the marinating if you’d like. But I would do it anyway, as I think the small amount of xiaoxing or cooking wine used gives the chicken complexity. I know most people prefer how much easier breast is to cut through than thigh… no fat to trim or uneven pieces to measure. In this case, the marinade “velvets” the drier chicken breast meat and makes it more appetizing to eat.

This main dish is on heavy rotation in our kitchen, and I hope it finds its way to your as well.

kung pao chicken

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

spinach artichoke hummus

Prepare yourself… a million variations on hummus flavors are coming.

I mentioned when I made the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus recipe that I was literally astounded at how easy it was for me to make hummus, and how ridiculous it made me feel for spending money on tiny amounts of hummus at the store over the years. Well… that opened up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities to me, and so I’ve started making my way through all of my favorite hummus flavors.

The beauty of making your own hummus is choosing the strength of flavor you’re trying to impart in the hummus. Commercial companies have to make something that pleases most people’s palates; but when you make hummus at home, you get to cater to your own taste buds. That was the happy case with this recipe for me. I’m in love with the combination of spinach and artichokes in all kinds of things (lasagna, dip, pasta, etc.) but I always felt that the spinach artichoke hummus that I’d bought in the past was a bit bland. So, I ended up using the leftover water in the artichoke can instead of the chickpea water to intensify the artichoke flavor… and I loved it!

Hummus is an amazing dip–it’s already packed with its own distinct flavor, but still functions as a blank canvas for all kinds of flavor combinations. Like I said earlier, you’ll probably see a lot of different types of hummus flavors pop up on here from time to time. Forgive me in advance, okay? :)

spinach artichoke hummus

Spicy Chicken Kebabs

spicy chicken kebabsIn the past, I’ve been more than happy to pass the grilling responsibilities onto James. I figure that I do a vast majority of the cooking, so asking him to be in charge of grilling was only fair. (James, being an incredibly agreeable husband, has never had an issue with this assumption.) But now that he’s back at the hospital for 60+ hours a week, I’ve lost my grillmaster! It’s not that I haven’t grilled things before in the past–it’s just that I’m lazy and I don’t prefer to and I dislike smelling like smoke and man, that grill is so hot and stuffy… the list of excuses goeth on. But when the craving for chicken kebabs came rolling in, I had to suck it up and become my own grillmaster.

We have a communal grill at our apartment complex, and I had never used it before… so my attempts at lighting the propane gas were an embarrassing comedy of errors. I was keenly aware of the people walking around the common area; while I’m sure they were just carrying on with their lives, my eyes kept darting up to them as they walked by. Do they know? Can they tell how much I suck at this? And I think there was a part of me that hoped they could sense the increasing waves of desperation. Somebody put me out of my misery and tell me what I’m doing!

Thankfully, I was able to get the grill going after a few minutes of struggle (I kept trying to light the side of the grill that was broken–figures!) and life was beautiful… and I was redeemed!

All of that (self-imposed) drama aside, these kebabs were the first thing I grilled on my own–and they were completely worth the embarrassment. The yogurt marinade is so flavorful and really helps the chicken from drying out. The combination of paprikas, along with the coriander and cumin, adds complexity to the tangy flavor of the yogurt and make these kebabs absolutely addicting.

You can absolutely make these kebabs with chicken breast meat if you like, but I prefer chicken thighs. They’re a bit more work since you have to trim fat and fascia, but they dry out much less easily and their flavor is more concentrated.

Well, enough of my chatter. Get to it, fellow grillmasters!

spicy chicken kebabs

 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

roasted red pepper hummus

 

I don’t know when it started, but somewhere in the last two years, hummus became a staple in our fridge. We tried different brands, different flavors, different things to eat it with… and all the while, I always complained about how expensive it was relative to other less healthy dips. And yet, without fail, hummus would still end up in the fridge regardless of my moaning and groaning.

I mean… hummus is freaking delicious, so it’s worth it in the end… right?

Well, that’s what I told myself until I finally decided to stop being so lazy and make hummus on my own. Now that I’ve made a few batches, I definitely feel silly about putting off making my own hummus sooner. I chose to make our hummus with roasted red bell pepper because I think the sweetness of the roasted pepper tempers the sharpness of the raw garlic.

The most important tool for making hummus at home with little effort is a food processor–very, very important! It doesn’t have to be fancy; even the cheapest one should suffice since the toughest ingredient you’ll be chopping up is chickpeas. You can make hummus without a food processor, of course… but it’ll be way more labor-intense (think hand-grinding the garlic and chickpeas into a paste).

Tahini paste is a little expensive up front–I bought mine at the grocery store for $7.00–but seeing that you only use 3 Tbsp. of it in this recipe, it’s pretty cost-effective to have it around (especially if you eat hummus as much as we do). I’ve made dressings as well as hummus with the paste, so I think it’s a worthwhile purchase. You should be able to find it in the “Ethnic” part of your grocery store; I encourage you to check out a smaller, ethnic food store if you can. If all else fails, then Amazon sells it… then again, what does Amazon not sell?

I’m sure no one else needs this reminder except me, but garbanzo beans and chickpeas are two names for the same thing. So if you can only find one or the other at the store, don’t worry–that’s what you need to buy!

You can enjoy this recipe with whatever you prefer–pitas, pita chips, various vegetables… James loves eating hummus with grilled chicken but I prefer to eat hummus with bell peppers. Whatever makes you happy!

roasted red pepper hummus

Taiwanese Cold Cucumber Salad (涼拌黃瓜)

taiwanese cucumber salad

涼拌黃瓜 (liáng bàn huáng guā), or cucumber salad, is a very common appetizer at many Taiwanese restaurants and is a personal favorite of mine. Because I love this simple dish so very much, I’ve gone through many a trial trying to get the perfect balance of tangy, sweet, salty, and spicy down pat. And the number of recipes I’ve found online have varied so wildly that I feel as if I’ve tried every conceivable version of this appetizer… really, you’d be surprised at how many ways you can make this (and how many of these versions are definitely not worth the time or effort).

The biggest thing I learned on my cucumber journey (which is what it felt like at times) is that these are not pickles, they’re a salad. Hello, Captain Obvious! But seriously, this tastes best when the cucumbers are freshly tossed with the sauce and served immediately after. The cucumbers are at their crunchiest, and their cool, fresh flavor still stands up well to the strong flavor of the sauce.

taiwanese cucumber salad

The second most important aspect of this dish is the way the cucumber is prepared. If you’re using your standard dark-green English cucumber, you’ll need to peel and de-seed the cucumber before tossing it with the sauce. The seeds hold a lot of water and dilute the sauce if you leave them be. And getting rid of the peel allows the cucumber to soak up the sauce on all sides… yum!

You can also choose to use Persian cucumbers; these do not require peeling or de-seeding and tend to have a much crispier texture. The flavor of Persian cucumbers is a little stronger, but I think it’s just as delicious–and less work! They’re a little more expensive, but worth it if they’re available to you.

These taste great as an appetizer before any Asian-style meal or even alongside the meal, especially if you’re serving it with rice or the main dish is especially salty or strong-flavored. I love these so much that I eat them on their own and can finish this amount in one sitting… but I wouldn’t use my habits as an example!

Taiwanese food is amazing, and this cucumber salad is just the very basic tip of the iceberg. Look forward to me posting more recipes as I work my way through them, and I hope you enjoy this one!

taiwanese cucumber salad

Kale Fruit Shake

kale fruit shake

 

Just look at how… how green that shake is.

Yum…?

Did I do a good job of guessing your initial thoughts on seeing my newest health concoction? Don’t worry, you’re not alone–my husband is not a fan of the appearance, either. But don’t let the color or those conspicuous little dark flecks of green fool you: this shake is basically strawberry-banana-flavored with a healthy dose of protein to boot.

So I’ll be honest: I can’t do juicing. I think that the green juices are especially… not enjoyable to drink. It’s all the rage in LA right now (and everywhere else at this point, I’m sure), but I’ve never had a problem with eating vegetables in the first place. If I like eating veggies, and enjoy preparing them in different ways, then why on Earth would I drink them instead–barring a medically-necessary all-liquid diet?

kale fruit shake

But when I wake up in the morning and I want a shake… well, why not take the opportunity to “power it up” with some healthy protein? Also: ‘Hm, what’s lying around in my fridge?’ And that’s how this shake came to be!

It’s a bit tart due to the greek yogurt, but the tartness balances out the sweetness of the pineapple and banana very well. And it’s all-natural, friends–no added sugar or 2% fruit juice here! The frozen pineapple, frozen strawberries, and yogurt give the shake body and prevent it from being overly thin, and the kale blends in so well that you can barely taste it. If you want to pump your shake up with even more protein, I’ve thrown spinach into the mix as well–but it definitely leaves more of a leafy aftertaste in the mouth.

The last thing I’ll mention is blender technique–yes, there’s technique to it! Make sure that you can always see a vortex at the center of the blender when it’s on. This ensures even mixing of the ingredients. If you don’t see the vortex or it looks like the ingredients aren’t moving around, try adding a tablespoon or two of water and turn the blender on again. That should do the trick!

Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

strawberry rhubarb barsApril has been the craziest month–no lie. With all of the traveling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been hard to muster the energy to make or bake anything in the kitchen (as you can see by my prolonged absence). It’s been even harder for me to convince myself to make anything more indulgent than vegetable soup or chicken breasts, since we’ve been doing nothing but gorging ourselves on junk whenever we’re away. But sometimes, I need a break: I need something that’s indulgent.

Sometimes, a baker’s gotta bake.

strawberry rhubarb bars 2I was writing an article on how to make pie crust from scratch for DIYready.com (hello, plug!) and it put a little idea worm in my head–sure, making pie is a bit of a commitment for some, but making crumble bars is quick, easy, and easy to share. And since I’ve been mulling over the idea of using strawberries and rhubarb together recently… this recipe popped out of my head and into the oven!

If you really want bars but don’t want to make the preserves from scratch, I completely understand–you can easily substitute 1½-2 cups of strawberry preserves (or whatever you prefer) and still get a fantastic bar out of it. But if you’re willing to put in the ~10 minutes of work to get fresh strawberry-rhubarb preserves, I highly encourage it. I love the sour, spiky flavor of the rhubarb with the tart sweetness of strawberry. I love it even more with a little bit of cinnamon and pepper–yes, pepper!–to sharpen the flavor. The sharpness of the preserves, paired with the mild sweetness of the crumb and bottom crust, make for a very tasty bite.

strawberry rhubarb crumble 3If you do end up having leftover preserves after spreading them on the bottom crust in the baking dish, it’s okay–you can put them in an airtight container and use them up to a week. Or…

A Great Idea: pairing the preserves with vanilla ice cream.

An Even Greater Idea: pairing the preserves with vanilla ice cream and eating the ice cream with the crumble bars.

Hey, when I say I’m indulging… I like to go all-out.

I hope you get the chance to try these–they are pretty delicious! And they’re a great way to make friends at your next potluck, office party, or what-have-you. I made James take a large batch of them with him to his lab meeting today and they were a hit. Or, you know, you could just keep them at home and share them with yourself. I’m not here to judge…

strawberry rhubarb crumble 4

 

Chinese-Style Boiled Peanuts

chinese boiled peanutsJames and I are avid board game fans; yes, we still outdo our own nerdiness on a frequent basis. We always invite friends over to play board games and are often recruited to others’ places because of our board game collection. Recently, we were at a friend’s house playing Clue for nostalgia’s sake. Everything was going swimmingly until hunger struck…

…and then I, in my hangry state, murdered Mr. Body with the candlestick in the library.

Well, that might be a slight exaggeration on my part. My stomach growled like it wanted to kill something in order to feed itself, and we went on a scavenger hunt to see what we could forage from my friend’s snack collection. The final product? Crispy, salted seaweed and roasted peanuts. It wasn’t filling, but I think that actively eating something made me feel less murderous.

We started talking about how we enjoyed eating peanuts in various ways, and I remembered how much I loved eating boiled peanuts when I was younger. My mom would boil peanuts in salted water on the stove for hours, and I would eat them one by one, gorging myself on the boiled peanut bounty until I was peanut-bloated. I resolved at that point to boil some for myself the next day.

Right before I started to cook the peanuts, however, James pointed out that I should make the peanuts more interesting–and so I thought immediately of star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. Because it was late, I figured that I could let the peanuts cook in the slow cooker overnight as well. And so… this recipe was born!

If you’re not a fan of Sichuan peppercorns or that numbing-spicy (má là, or 麻辣) sensation, feel free to leave it out. Honestly, I’m in the middle of a twisted love affair with Sichuan food so I would double the amount I’ve listed… Also, I’ve done some research online and apparently these very closely resemble Hawaiian-style boiled peanuts. Since I’ve never had them, it’s hard for me to have a basis of comparison… but if you’ve eaten them before, it sounds like you can expect a similar concoction of flavors.

You can also use a pressure cooker to cook these peanuts (~1 hour) or a stovetop and pot (~4-5 hours on medium low, covered). I really liked the ease of “set it and forget it” that slow cookers bring to the table, however, and found that I was able to get the same kind of soft consistency in the peanut that I normally do when boiling it on the stove.

Regardless of how you cook them, these peanuts are amazing, flavorful, and hard to put down! Perfect for your next board game finger food list or just for snacking while watching something on TV.

chinese boiled peanuts