30 Second Snacks: Jicama Sticks

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Put the French fries down.  Seriously… nobody needs that in their body.  Instead, try a snack of fresh sliced jicama sticks.  Delicious!

WIN_20150228_114833What is jicama, you ask? It’s one of those veggies you walk right past at the market… it looks like a potato on the outside, looks like a radish on the inside, and tastes a bit like an Asian pear.  My pint size diners call jicama a “fruit vegetable” because it’s sweet.  Even better than the taste is the nutritional punch – jicama is starchy, with enough calories and carbs to make a filling WIN_20150228_115040snack, and offers a LOT of fiber and vitamin C.  Take that, French fries!

Simply cut a jicama in half, trim off the peel, and slice into French fry size sticks. Sprinkle with cinnamon (not sugar, just cinnamon) and enjoy. Sometimes, healthy eating really is this simple!

Yes, you really do need chili vinegar in your life!

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Why? Because it is the most stone simple pantry staple you will ever make, it is eternally replenishable, and amazingly versatile!  Simply add 1/2 cup chopped Thai chili peppers, seeds and all, to a pint jar – then fill the jar with plain ol’ white vinegar.  That’s it.  Store it in the refrigerator and use abundantly (more on that in a moment).  Within a day, your chili vinegar will offer up a delightful Hot & Sour flavor! As you use up your chili vinegar, simply add more white vinegar to the jar… there’s no need to purchase new peppers, as those babies stay HOT!

“How can I use chili vinegar?” You might ask.  Here are a few ideas…

1) Make fast ‘n fiery pickles! Combine 3/4 cup hot water, 1/4 cup chili vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Pour over sliced cucumbers, bell peppers, or green beans, and refrigerate for a few hours.  Delicious!

2) Make a spicy vinaigrette dressing!  Whisk together 2 tablespoons chili vinegar, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/4 teaspoon powdered thyme, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Enjoy over a fresh green salad.

3) Make a Thai-inspired Easy Peanut Cabbage Slaw!

The sky’s the limit! Have fun with chili vinegar, and be sure to comment with any fun uses you discover in your kitchen!

Chinese New Year Noodles

 

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Today marks the celebration of Chinese New Year, the most grand holiday on the Chinese calendar.  2015 is the Year of the Sheep (or goat or ram, depending upon the source).  If you were born in 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, or 2003, tradition suggests this will be a lucky year for you!

Chinese celebrations are famous for their traditional foods, and Chinese New Year feasts are laden with an amazing variety of dishes.  Feasts may vary from village to village, but will always, always include noodles.  Long noodles are said to represent long life, and must never be cut! Great care should be taken to cook and eat the noodles whole.

While I cannot claim any Chinese heritage, I see Chinese New Year as an opportunity to sample wonderful new (to me) foods and learn a bit more about the almost indescribably rich cultural history of China.  In that spirit, we are making Chinese New Year Noodles today.  I hope you enjoy them!

WIN_20150114_180605Ingredients (Makes 6 servings)

1 package rice vermicelli noodles (8 ounces dry)

1 cup snow pea pods, sliced into matchsticks

1 red pepper, diced

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon (more or less to taste) chili paste, such as Nam Prik Pao

Directions

WIN_20150114_182203Step 1) Boil vermicelli noodles according to package instructions (they only take a few minutes, like spaghetti noodles).  DON’T BREAK THE NOODLES!

Step 2) While noodles are cooking, use a fork to “whisk” together the peanut butter and vinegar. This will look like a gloppy mess for the first minute or two, but just keep mixing… soon the mixture will be smooth and uniform.

Step 3) Stir the sugar, soy sauce, and chili paste into the peanut butter mixture.  The end result should have a consistency like salad dressing.  If the mixture is too thick, add a tablespoon of water.

Step 4) Gently mix together the cooked noodles, vegetables, and sauce.  That’s it!  For a heartier dish, top with a few cooked shrimp or pieces of cooked, cubed chicken.

Happy Chinese New Year!

 

 

Mardi Gras Lemon Sweet Rolls

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Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, and Pancake Day, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Christian observation of Lent.  The forty days of Lent are considered by followers of many Christian denominations to be a season for reflection, penance, and atonement. As such, it is also a time when many Christians forego indulgent foods including butter and sugar.

Mardi Gras is “the last hurrah” – the last opportunity to participate in revelry, including the joyful consumption of rich and fatty foods – before settling into an extended period of austerity.  This recipe is perfect for Mardi Gras, being laden with butter, eggs, and sugar.  These Lemon Sweet Rolls are really a cross between a yeast roll and a donut.  I used my German Great-Grandmother’s stollen recipe as a base for the dough, adding candied lemon, a boozy lemon icing, and decorations appropriate for this festive day. Enjoy!

WIN_20150128_150210Ingredients (Makes approximately 50 small rolls)

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 cup butter

WIN_20150128_1521312 envelopes yeast

4 eggs, lightly beaten

6 cups flour (plus more for kneading)

1 cup diced, candied lemon peel

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

WIN_20150128_1529553 tablespoons Lemoncello or other lemon-flavored liqueur

Green, Purple, and Gold decorations (colored sugar sprinkles, or whatever else catches your eye!)

Directions

WIN_20150128_164417Step 1) Heat milk, sugar, and butter in a saucepan over low heat just until butter melts.  Allow to cool for a few minutes until mixture is not hot, but is still lukewarm.

Step 2) Add yeast. Stir and let sit for 2 minutes.

Step 3) Add eggs, then add flour, stirring in WIN_20150128_171620one cup at a time.

Step 4) Turn loosely combined dough onto a floured countertop and knead for 8 minutes.  If dough is sticky, knead in a bit more flour. Knead in candied lemon peel.

Step 5) Place dough in a large, greased bowl. Turn over once so that both sides of the dough are greased. Cover bowl with a clean towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Step 6) After 1 hour, cut golfball-sized pieces of dough and shape them into smooth balls. Allow to rise on greased baking sheets, 2 inches apart, for 30 minutes.

Step 7) Bake in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until tops just begin to brown. Place rolls on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Step 8) Stir together powdered sugar and Lemoncello. Dip tops of rolls in the icing, and add decorations! Voila!

Salmon Nori Maki

WIN_20150114_185930Delicious, nutritious, simple, and elegant – what’s not to love? Dried nori sheets are available in most supermarkets now, and are (or should be) very reasonably priced. Pick up a package, and have some fun in your kitchen today!

picture669Ingredients (Makes 6 rolls, or 48 bite size pieces)

2 cups sushi rice

3 cups water

1/4 cup rice vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

WIN_20150114_1750351/4 teaspoon salt

8 ounces of frozen salmon fillet

1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Directions

WIN_20150114_182051Step 1) Rinse rice several times in cold water until water drains clear.

Step 2) After rinsing, combine rice, 3 cups water, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large pot with a tight fitting lid.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low, cover, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Step 3) While rice is cooking, slice frozen salmon into 1/2 inch slices. Place salmon slices on an oiled baking pan.

picture670Step 4) Stir together soy sauce and brown sugar.  Using a basting brush, coat salmon slices with mixture.  Bake salmon in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Step 5) Gently transfer cooked rice to a large bowl and spread rice up the sides of the bowl (gently!) with a rubber spatula.

Step 6) Combine rice vinegar and sugar in a small bowl.  Microwave for a few seconds until lukewarm.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Then, drizzle the vinegar mixture all over the rice.

Step 7) Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the rice over a few times to distribute the vinegar as evenly as possible without mashing the rice.  Spread the rice up the sides of the bowl again.  The rice should look glossy.  Cover the bowl with a slightly damp cloth and let sit at room temperature for one hour.

WIN_20150114_183953Step 8) Center one sheet of nori in the middle of a bamboo sushi roller (very inexpensive; sold in markets next to the nori sheets).  As an alternative, try using a thin, flexible silicon baking mat instead of the bamboo.

Step 9) Carefully spread 1/2 cup of rice all over the sheet of nori, except for 1 inch at the top.  I find it is easiest to drop small teaspoons of rice all over the sheet and then spread them together – this helps avoid tearing the nori sheet.

picture680  Step 10) Place your salmon pieces end to end over the rice about 1/3 of the way up from the bottom of the nori sheet, as shown.

Step 11) It’s time to roll up your Nori Maki!  This takes a bit of practice, but it’s not rocket science.  Using your bamboo or silicon mat, fold the bottom of your nori sheet up until it just barely covers your salmon.  Press firmly and evenly along the bamboo or silicon, to give the roll a tight, uniform shape.  Continue rolling the nori sheet, being careful not to roll the bamboo or silicon “into” your Nori Maki.

picture681Step 12) When you get to the top inch, dip your finger in water or vinegar and run your finger along the top edge of the nori.  This will help to seal your Nori Maki.  Set aside, seam side down, and continue with your next roll.

Step 13) Slice each roll into 8 pieces using a very sharp, non-serrated knife.

Step 14) After the effort that led you to this last step, be sure to respect the Japanese tradition of presenting food in an artful manner.  Have fun with this!  Put some thought into arranging your Maki Sushi on individual serving plates or a buffet platter, and garnish as you see fit.  Remember that wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce are traditional condiments, but don’t be afraid to experiment with other dipping sauces and toppings.

Valentine Snack Mix

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A month ago, I had ambitious plans for Valentine’s Day treats – plans that involved hours of baking and decorating. Somewhere over the course of a month, real life snuck in, and I just flat ran out of time.  So, I improvised.  Valentine Snack Mix is fast and festive!  If you stop at the market tonight for just a few ingredients, you’ll be able whip up a treat in no time! Have fun!

WIN_20150212_184918Ingredients (Makes enough snack mix for a classroom or office break room)

1 pound bag of pretzel twists

1 bag of white vanilla candy melts (sold by cake decorating supplies) or white baking chips

Red sugar crystals

1 bag of chocolate chips

1 bag of red gumdrops or other small, red candy

Directions

Step 1) Melt the candy melts or white baking chips in the microwave. Stir every 30 seconds until fully melted.

WIN_20150212_210445Step 2) Dip tops of pretzels in melted white chocolate.  Then, dip into red sugar crystals. Allow to harden on baking sheets.

Step 3) Mix together pretzels, chocolate chips, and gumdrops. Serve in a large bowl, or in individual muffin liners.