Monday, November 26, 2012

The Blue Dragon Awakes!

Meet Rick Green: Talented cook, writer, and editor at Say hello to Moi: Rick’s nervous sous chef, writer and editor at Nicole Parton’s Favorite Recipes

If you're unsure, Rick is the good-looking one on the left
                                                               - Michel Chicoine photo
As one of seven competitive teams cooking in aid of a charitable cause (see Note), Rick and I recently partnered to try a line of foods that are best-sellers in the UK, but new to North America. To say we were impressed with these products was putting it mildly. I can’t speak for Rick, but WOW! was the first word to fall out of my face.

It took only a few minutes for Rick to create and plate the fabulous salmon recipe that he invented on the spot using a line of fragrantly spiced Asian cooking sauces called Blue Dragon. Reminder: This blog accepts no advertising and doesn’t sneak in any promotional cross-my-palm-with-silver “mentions.” Anything you read in this space is my unvarnished, tell-it-as-I-see-it opinion.

Currently featured in sensible supermarkets in the north-eastern US, in Quebec and Ontario, and in the UK, Blue Dragons Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai sauces and condiments should soon find their way into grocery stores on Canadas west coast, particularly as Chinese New Year approaches. 

East meets West: The WOW! factor
I absolutely loved every product I tasted. Here’s why. Reading the ingredient listing for these products is like reading a restaurant menu - in fact, you can replicate Asian restaurant meals with them! The Blue Dragon products we tested were low-sodium and low-fat - completely natural, with no additives, preservatives, or artificial colors. Reflecting the bright colors of Asia, the products and their packaging are colorful, too. 

The products’ names are so enticing (example: Sweet & Sour Cooking Sauce, Chinese Curry Cooking Sauce, Tomato & Sweet Chilli Cooking Sauce …) that they draw you in and make you want to cook! 

Theres a recipe on almost every package, but you can still let your imagination soar, as Rick did in making his excellent Thai Coconut-Curry Salmon. I accompanied this with stir-fried carrots and snap peas, as well as with the Fried Rice I blogged for you May 6, 2012. Ricks recipe appears below. He prepared it to serve three, but you can make this gorgeous dish in any quantity you choose. If yourather use a fish other than salmon, do!

Note: Our team took second place to the outstanding Cod Brandades in Chilli Coconut-Cream Sauce that Mark Busse and Ben Garfinkel prepared. Both winning cooks hail from foodists.caMark directed his prize money to the Museum of Vancouver, and Ben to BC’s Children’s Hospital. Told in Rick and Bens own words, both prize-winning recipes follow todays blog.

Cod Brandades in Chilli-Coconut Cream Sauce

Here, in Ben Garfinkels own words, is Mark Busse and Bens prize-winning entry that took first place in Blue Dragons cooking competition! Improvising with the ingredients on hand and using no recipe (as per the competition’s rules), Mark and Bens excellent dish certainly caught the judges attention!

Cod Brandades in Chilli-Coconut Cream Sauce

Our Vietnamese-inspired “brandades” (see Note) were a mixture of cooked white rice, cooked/chopped rice noodles, egg, salt and pepper, chopped green onion, sautéed white onion and garlic, fresh ginger, cod poached in coconut milk and Blue Dragon Chilli Coconut Stir-Fry Sauce (save these combined liquids!). These were formed into patties in ring molds and baked at 400 deg. F. for 20 min.

We used prawns shelled and marinated for 30 min. in a mixture of Blue Dragon Vietnamese Nuoc Cham dipping sauce, Sweet Chilli Sauce, and pepper. They were then flash-grilled for 30 sec. per side.

Slicing pineapple into wedges, we marinated it with Blue Dragon Sweet Chilli Sauce and grilled it for 5 min. To accompany our dish, we sliced Shanghai bok choy in half, brushed it with a little oil seasoned with salt and pepper, and grilled it 5 min.

Reducing the reserved coconut-milk poaching liquid (above) with a little white wine, we spooned it over the brandades and prawns. We finished the “brandades” with a flurry of roasted, chopped cashews and a sprinkling of julienned carrot and yellow pepper.

Note: A traditional “brandade” is an emulsion of salt cod and and olive oil, originally from France. Mark and Rick's version is their interpretation of the traditional.

Thai Coconut-Curry Salmon

Inspired by the Blue Dragon cooking competition (see above), Rick Greens delicious salmon recipe serves any quantity you choose. If yourather use a fish other than salmon in this gorgeous dish, do so! Heres how to make it, in Ricks own words.

Thai Coconut-Curry Salmon:

To make the sauce, I added some oil to a saucepan and about 1 tbsp. per-person of the Blue Dragon Thai Red Curry Sauce which I cooked until fragrant. Then I stirred in about 2 tbsp. of coconut milk per person, cooking it until it was heated through. The proportion of curry sauce to coconut milk can be altered to suit the desired degree of spiciness.

I thought the seasoning needed some adjustment. Normally to do this, the Thais will use a combination of sugar and nam pla (fish sauce). Unfortunately, neither was readily available, so I added about a tablespoon of fresh, peeled slivers of ginger root to lend a little spicy sweetness. To infuse the liquids with the flavor of the ginger, I brought the sauce to a boil, then simmered it about 15 minutes.

To prepare the salmon, we seasoned it with salt and pepper 10 minutes ahead of cooking. I then added some oil to a sauté pan, heating it on medium-high until the oil easily slid around the pan without smoking. Adding the salmon, skin side up, to the pan, I cooked it 2-to-3 min. per-side. The cooking time, of course,  depends on the thickness of the salmon filet. 

One of our filets was half the thickness of the other two, so I added it to the pan when the others were half-cooked. Just before plating the salmon, I spooned some of the coconut-curry sauce mixture over it, cooking a little of its flavor into the surface of the fish.

I plated the salmon filet skin-side down, napping a little of the coconut-curry sauce over it. I topped this with a few cubes of fresh pineapple that Id diced and sautéed with a whisper of oil in a hot skillet. I then spooned on a little more coconut-curry sauce, integrating some of its flavor into both the fish and the pineapple. 

If I were to do this again, I like the idea of grilling the pineapple and cooking it with some of the sauce on the stove top. Garnish with sliced scallions or green onions (spring onions).

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Butchart Gardens’ Currant Scones

I was 12 years old when I first saw Canada’s privately owned Butchart Gardens: I have never forgotten their breathtaking beauty. Carved from an old limestone quarry, their 55 acres (22 hectares) rank among the world’s finest gardens. Planned and planted more than a century ago, the gardens hold a place on Canada’s register of National Historic Sites. 

These are the delicious Currant Scones the gardens once served. Regrettably, they’re no longer on the menu - but you can easily make them yourself.

The Butchart Gardens Currant Scones:

1-½ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. granulated sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cream of tartar
⅛ tsp. salt
¼ c. cold shortening
⅓ c. plumped currants (see Note)
½ c. milk
1 tsp. cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Sift dry ingredients to combine and and set aside. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in currants. Make a “well” in dry ingredients. Combine milk and vinegar, quickly adding to dry ingredients and mixing with a fork. Gather pastry into a ball, patting and rolling into a ½-in. thick circle on floured surface. Slice into 8 triangular pieces or into 2-in. diameter circles with a biscuit cutter. Bake 20-to-25 min. until pale golden brown. Serve warm, with butter. Yields 8 or 9 pieces.

Note: See Index for How to Plump Dried Fruits.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beef ’n’ Broccoli Stir-Fry

The big challenge in stir-frying is to be quick - slice everything in advance and you’ll be less likely to overcook what you prepare. The big exception to the short-cooking guideline is bean sprouts (and other sprouted greens) … but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Many people make stir-fry dinners almost every night. Although having plenty of vegetables appeals to me, I prefer a little more variety than nightly stir-frying allows. If I can avoid it, I also prefer a little less sodium and fat than the usual stir-fry offers. But as a treat …? You can’t beat a stir-fry with rice and a lightly steamed side dish!

On the night I made this easy Beef ’n’ Broccoli Stir-Fry, I also made the Ginger Rice I blogged Nov. 10, 2012, accompanied by baby bok choy prepared in our handy kitchen steamer. I’ve given you the yada-yada-yada on this great little appliance before, so you don’t need to hear it again. Besides, adding a spoonful of water to the veggie/s of your choice in a covered, microwave-safe dish will produce the same result. Let’s get to it, Dollinks!

Beef ’n’ Broccoli Stir-Fry:

¼ lb. (about 115 g) lean eye of round steak, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. ginger-flavored or garlic-flavored peanut or corn oil, divided (see Note)
2 tsp. cornstarch
2 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. granulated or brown sugar
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into eighths
2 stalks celery, angle-sliced
Small head of broccoli (approximately 2 cups broccoli flowerets; see Further Note)
4 c. fresh, rinsed, well-drained bean sprouts (see Important Note)
1 tbsp. water
1 tbsp. dark soy sauce
1-to-2 tbsp. black bean sauce
1 tbsp. oyster sauce
Additional squirt of ginger- or garlic-flavored oil for “sheen” (optional)
1 green onion (“spring” onion), thinly angle-sliced

You will need a wok or large, deep skillet with a lid to cook this dish, which serves 4. Read recipe through and prepare meat and vegetables in advance of cooking. Have vegetables within easy reach, in the cooking order this recipe directs. 

Marinate sliced raw steak for 20 min. in a mixture of 1 tbsp. flavored oil, cornstarch, soy sauce, and sugar. This will not seem like enough marinade. It is. This will not seem like enough meat. It is. 

When meat has marinated, heat remaining 2 tbsp. oil over high heat until sizzling (If you have no flavored oil, fry a whole, peeled garlic clove or a large slice of fresh ginger in cooking oil for about 1 min. Discard garlic or ginger when brown, leaving hot oil in wok or skillet). Stir-fry one item at a time in order given, continuing to stir-fry on high heat as you add additional ingredients:

Stir-fry marinated meat until most - but not all - pink disappears and meat is still tender. Quickly sieve meat from wok or skillet. Set aside. In the same hot oil, stir-fry onions 30 sec., celery 30 sec., broccoli flowerets 30 sec., bean sprouts 1 min. 

In a small bowl, combine water, soy sauce, black bean sauce, and oyster sauce. Pour around edge of wok or skillet, quickly stirring into dish. Lower heat to medium, cover, and continue cooking until most of liquid is absorbed, 3 or 4 min. Remove lid and stir-fry vegetables until all liquid has disappeared. 

Add reserved meat, combining with vegetables just until heated through. Heap onto platter, squirting with additional oil, if desired. Garnish with angle-sliced green onion, serving immediately. Serves 4.

Note: See Index for How to Make Ginger-Flavored or Garlic-Flavored Oil

Further Note: Save and freeze the broccoli stems, onion skins, celery root, and washed peelings for soup stock (see Index for How to Make Soup Stock). 

Important Note: Bean sprouts are best used when you buy them. If that’s not possible, store them in an open container in cold, fresh water and use them as soon as possible. Bean sprouts and other sprouted greens are sometimes tainted with bacterial contamination that washing will not remove. Although they won’t be as crunchy as you might like, cook bean sprouts right through. 

Slice lean steak very thinly across the grain

Marinade 20 min.

Slice celery, onion, as recipe directs

Rinse broccoli ...

Trim into flowerets (save the stalks!)

Measure rinsed, drained bean sprouts

Stir-fry onion, then celery ...

Broccoli ...

Add seasonings, beef, and serve!

Asian plates enhance the mood:
I found ours in a Dollar Store! 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ginger Rice

I’m a fan of ginger in its many forms - especially in Asian cooking. 

Um … as much as I like dogs, I wasn’t really thinking of that Ginger.  

That’s it, doggie! You’re outa here! You keep trying to steal the show! On to the subject du jour - ginger. While I was shopping in an Asian market the other day, I came across a product that was new to me: Ginger Oil. “What a good idea for stir frying!” I thought, and then checked the ingredient listing. 

Ingredient #1: Corn oil. Ingredient #2: Ginger. Du-u-h! What part of “Ginger Oil” did I not understand? Dashed home. Found an empty jar with lid. Poured in ½ c. corn oil (see Note). Added 3 tbsp. finely chopped fresh ginger. Tick-tick-tick … One week later ... Ginger-Flavored Oil! Try it, Dollinks! 

And so I set out to make Ginger Rice. Easy? You bet! Tomorrow, we’ll make a tasty Beef ’n’ Broccoli Stir-Fry to accompany it, but my wee brain can handle only so much shopping, cooking, and blogging in a single day. 谢谢 for being so understanding, Dollinks!

Ginger Rice:

1 c. white rice (although it’s South Asian rather than traditionally Chinese, I favor basmati rice)
1-¼ c. water or chicken broth
2 tbsp. ginger-flavored oil
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
1 small red or yellow bell pepper, thinly angle-sliced
1 small cooking onion, peeled and diced
1 or 2 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
½ tsp. additional ginger-flavored oil
Salt and finely ground pepper, to taste
1 green onion (“spring” onion), thinly angle-sliced

Rinse rice through a sieve until water runs clear. Drain and set aside. Pour 2 c. fresh, cold water into pot or rice cooker. Add rice but do not cook. Heat ginger-flavored oil in medium skillet or wok over high heat until sizzling. Add prepared garlic, bell pepper, and onion, stir-frying quickly for about 1 min. before stirring into rice and cooking (see my blog of Jan. 12, 2012 titled How to Cook Rice - in particular the sub-section headed How to Cook Long-Grain White Rice, which has both stove-top and rice cooker instructions)When rice has almost finished cooking, stir in fresh ginger and ½ tsp. ginger-flavored oil. Season to taste. Serves 4-to-6. 再见 for now!

Note: With its high smoking point, corn oil is superior to canola oil in any Asian stir-fry. 

Peel and chop fresh ginger ...

Thinly angle-slice a small bell pepper ...

And coarsely dice 1 small onion.

Comme ainsi, mes chéris!

Rinse starch from rice until water runs clear.

Add garlic, onion, and peppers to sizzling oil.

A few fast flips ... Done! Stir into rice in pot or rice cooker. 
Steam, adding ginger just before rice finishes cooking.

Season to taste before serving. Garnish with
angle-slicd green onions ("spring" onions).

If you like this recipe, also try my Coconut-Ginger Rice, blogged Jan. 17, 2012.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Not Your Grandma’s Cuppa Tea

Anonymous Woman: In her cups
(Not Nicole. Definitely not Nicole)
I was sitting around thinking how much I enjoy an afternoon cup of tea when I felt naughty (I’m not revealing any secrets here, but when youre my age, “naughty” doesn’t mean what it once did). I’ll tell you how I got naughty - or rather, I’ll start with a question: When was the last time you had tea with a kick? Last week? Last month? Last year? Me, too. Okay … so here are some suggestions. Maybe you’ll feel naughty, too!

Let’s talk tea, Dollinks - with a capital T and it rhymes with me and it spells Trouble! With innocent names like Long Island Iced Tea (elsewhere on this blog) and Blueberry Tea and - for the recovering tea-totallers among us - a delicious non-alcoholic Russian Tea (aka Friendship Tea) that Southern Hemisphere readers will appreciate in the heat of their summer, which is now. Tea time, Dollinks!

Blueberry Tea:

This old-time drink tastes remarkably like tea! Come to think of it, it does contain tea! Go figure.

1 jigger almond-flavored liqueur such as Amaretto
1 jigger orange-flavored liqueur such as Triple Sec, Cointreau, or Grand Marnier
Hot, strong black tea 

Place a teaspoon into a 6-oz. wine glass (the spoon prevents the glass from cracking as you add hot tea). Pour in liqueurs. Add the tea. Stir and serve. Serves 1.

Russian Tea (aka Friendship Tea):

1-½ c. orange-flavored drink crystals
⅔ c. instant tea (unsugared)
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. cloves
1-½ c. granulated sugar

Mix well, storing in air-tight container. To serve, add 1 heaping tbsp. mix to a 6 oz. mug filled with boiling water. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

French Cherry Cake

French Cherry Cake: No whipped cream ... still great!
I am not being a drama queen! Not, not, not! This is what actually happened as I made this lovely French Cherry Cake yesterday morning. Having sneaked away for a brief holiday in the mountains, I’d taken a few ingredients along to make this little cake. Just as I stirred in the canned cherries, the hotel’s fire alarm began ringing. Thinking it would stop as soon as it started, I asked Ron to photograph the cake-in-progress. 

“But there’s a fire alarm!” he whinged. “Take the photo,” I growled. He did and I slipped the cake into the oven and set the timer. I was still wearing my bath robe when he peered over the balcony. “Smoke!” he yelled (this later turned out to have been mountain mist). The wail of the approaching fire engines was now audible over the scream of the hotel’s fire alarm. A little alarmed myself, all I could screech was: “My cake!” 

Throwing on some clothes, I barked panicky orders: “Pack the camera! Pack the computer! This is tomorrow’s blog!” But then things got serious. The lock on the fire door directly next to our room was broken, sealing us off from the nearest exit. We were on the fourth floor: In my mind’s eye, I saw us teetering at the edge of our balcony, flames creeping ever closer as TV crews recorded our dramatic rescue by a fire truck’s crane.

But that didn’t happen. The fire alarm stopped. The trucks departed. There was no fire. My cake was saved. And here it is!

French Cherry Cake:

2 c. “complete” pancake mix (see Note)
4 tbsp. icing sugar (“confectioners” or “powdered” sugar)
½ tsp. cinnamon
1-¼ c. water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Half an 18-oz. (540 mL) can cherry pie filling

Preheat oven to 325 deg. F. Combine pancake mix, icing sugar, and cinnamon. Beat in water and vanilla until no lumps remain. Pour into 9-in. or 10-in. greased flan or pie pan, smoothing with a spatula or the back of a spoon. Pour half-a-can of cherry pie filling over batter, running a knife or spoon through batter to create a “marbled or ribbon” effect. Bake 50-60 min., until cake’s surface becomes golden. Serve with a spritz of whipped cream on the side. Yields 6 servings. 

Note: “Complete” pancake mix contains powdered eggs and milk. All you need to add is water. 

Further Note: My French Cherry Cake looks a little thin in the top photo because I halved the recipe and used a smaller flan dish than the recipe called for. I did that because my small dish has a lid, leaving me able to tote the pancake mix, icing sugar, and cinnamon in a zippered plastic bag inside the covered dish. Because I made a small flan dish and only half the batter, the small cake that resulted yielded 4 servings. Because it was small, I reduced the baking time to 45 min. Because it was delicious, we ate it all!

Add water to pancake mix, sugar, cinnamon.

Beat until mixture is smooth.

Pour batter into greased flan dish.

Grab some cherry pie filling ...

Spoon it on ...

Marble it into batter with back of spoon or knife. 

Pop it into the oven! That’s all there is to it, Dollinks!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Three Crantini Cocktails

Dollinks? A word, please - a very important word. Enjoy these cocktails, but drink in moderation. It goes without saying that you should never, never drink and drive - but I’ll say it, anyway. Over the years, I’ve made and tasted each of these drinks, and each is excellent. 

Although this isn’t a political column, the people have spoken, and I’m going to raise a glass to the winner of the 2012 US presidential election! And then, at the bottom of this blog, I’m going to give you a thoughtful, well-considered political analysis of why I believe that winner was the better candidate and why he deserved to win.

Simple Cranberry Martini:

This drink is stirred - not shaken!      
2 parts cranberry juice
1 part chilled vodka

Serve in chilled glasses.

Deluxe Cranberry Martini:

This drink is shaken - not stirred!

2 oz. vodka
1 oz. Cointreau
1 freshly squeezed lime
Enough cranberry juice to top off ice-filled martini shaker

Shake well. Serve in chilled glasses. Yields 2.

The Classic Crantini:

This drink stirs and shakes the imbiber!

1 c. cranberry juice
2 oz. currant vodka
Fresh cranberries and orange rind twists, as optional garnish

Place cranberry juice and currant vodka in cocktail shaker. Top with ice, shaking well. Strain into chilled martini glasses. Yields 2.

Cheers to the winner!
Photo: Google Images
And now, the moment of truth! Google says I’m not allowed to do this because I write a recipe blog, but I’m prepared to defy that directive. Lift your glasses before I start my political analysis! Google would’t dare cut me off in the