Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Roasted Five Spice Chicken

Johanna and I were sitting outside of Little Vietnam Cafe just off of Clement Street in San Francisco, enjoying delicious Vietnamese food, the beautiful weather, and summer solstice, when I suddenly remembered that I had made no plans at all for that night's dinner. Perhaps you've had a similar experience; "mmmm... Green papaya salad; crispy, refreshing papaya shreds, zesty dressing, crunchy peanuts and sesame seeds. Mmmm.... grilled five spice chicken.... Dang! I have to go grocery shopping! What should I make tonight?"

So, as I considered the excellence of five spice, the Asian spice blend of star anise, cloves, Szechuan pepper, Szechuan cinnamon (cassia bark) and fennel, dinner formulated in my mind; I would stop at Berkeley Bowl on the way home and pick up some organic chicken thighs and figure out how to marinate them with five spice powder for dinner.

I consulted a few sources and formulated a recipe; Super tasty? Check. Fast? Check. Easy? Check. Ingredients already in my pantry? Check. In short, a winner, and another fantastic recipe to join the roasted chicken recipe collection. I will be making this dish again - and again.

Five Spice Roasted Chicken

3 pounds of chicken parts (I like thighs)
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 TB dry sherry or rice wine
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 TB five spice powder
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
4 cloves minced garlic

optional: 1/4 cup brown sugar
hot sauce to taste
1 chopped green onion

Wash and dry the chicken parts, and cut off any obvious excess fat, leaving the skin on.

Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a large container and stir to mix. Add the chicken parts, turning them to make sure they are well covered in the marinade. Cover the container and put in the refrigerator. Marinate for at least two hours, turning the pieces occasionally to ensure even marination. You can marinate overnight, which makes it that much more convenient, and will probably make it even tastier. (I'll do this next time and report back!)

Pre-heat the oven to 400 F, and take the chicken out of the refrigerator while it comes up to temperature. Spread the pieces of chicken on a roasting pan skin-side up (I used the broiler pan that came with my stove; it drains the fat away and helps the skin get nice and crispy.) Reserve any leftover marinade to baste the chicken with. Roast the chicken until it is done and the skin is nice and crispy, basting occasionally with the marinade, about 45 minutes.

Serve it with brown rice which has been cooked with chicken broth, and an aromatic white wine such as a Riesling. (We like "Big House White;" while you can get it in a bottle for about $8, you can buy a box of it, equivalent to 4 bottles, for $20. It's cheaper, keeps the wine from going bad, convenient, and earth friendly, as it uses so little packaging.)

Where can I get Five Spice Powder? Most grocery stores now carry it, and around here we can get a little box of organic Five Spice made by Spicely.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

High Protein (Low Carbohydrate) Bread

High Protein, Low Carb Bread with Sugar-Free Strawberry Jam

With that first batch of ultra-delicious sugar-free strawberry jam that solved my "boo-hoo, no more jam for me" moment, (also fig jam and raspberry jam) I inadvertently created a new boo-hoo moment. Because, of course, jam must go on something, and the item it seems best designed to go on is bread. And even the 100% whole grain, organic lovely stuff I've been buying at the Vital Vittles bakery up the street from us (day old - $2.50 a loaf!) has plenty of carbohydrates. Sure, I can pile on the jam, but one piece of bread a day? Only open faced sandwiches? Humph.

Fortunately, the boo-hoo bread moment went by as quickly as the boo-hoo jam moment; like the little red hen, I knew I would have to make some myself.

How do you make low-carbohydrate bread? I mean, bread means flour means carbohydrates, right? Well, I've been practicing by substituting out 50% of the flour in my quick-breads (banana, sweet potato, apple sauce) with an array of proteins, and I realized that I had what I needed right in my freezer drawer. I dusted off my bread machine ($15 at Salvation Army) got out some bread recipes, and got to work. The first try, where I substituted 50% of the flour with protein, was very good. But as usual, I wanted to push the envelope; how much protein could I substitute in before it stopped being bread? Version II, which left just 1/2 a cup of whole wheat flour, was fantastic - way better even than the bread I used to make with flour; more tender and chewy, rather than the crumbly dense stuff you get with whole grain. Protein-packed, but still full of fiber, plus the goodness of the Omega three fatty acids flax seeds bring to the party. Peanut butter and jam sandwiches, here we come!

High Protein (Low Carbohydrate) Bread

Makes 1 large loaf; 1 pound 11 ounces

Special Equipment: A large capacity bread machine

Bring all your ingredients to room temperature:

Lowest Carb Version

1 TB regular yeast
1/2 cup psyllium husk fiber (available at health food stores in the bulk aisle)

1/2 cup flax meal - packed (Bob's Redmill is available at Trader Joe's)
1/4 cup whey protein concentrate (unsweetened, unflavored) Be careful - not whey powder, whey protein concentrate - lowest carb, highest protein)
1/2 cup almond meal - packed - (available at Trader Joe's)

3/4 cup vital wheat gluten (available at health food stores in the bulk aisle)
1/2 cup soy protein powder, hemp protein, or coconut flour

1 tsp salt
3 TB Agave nectar OR brown rice syrup
3 TB flax oil
approximately 1 3/4 - 2 cups water - more as needed

1/3 heaping cup sunflower, flax, poppy, or other edible seed or nuts

Put all the ingredients except for the seeds in the pan of your bread machine. Program the machine for the white bread cycle, light baking, and large size. The machine will go through two kneading cycles. If the machine complains, add a little more water. The texture of the dough should be VERY soft and spongy, maybe even a little sticky; when you prod it with your finger it should give easily, like a fat tummy. If it's a little moist, that's okay; the seeds will absorb some of the water. At the end of the first cycle, the machine will stop and give a beeping sound; add all but 1-2 TB of the seeds. At the end of the second kneading cycle, sprinkle on the rest of the seeds. (If you add them at the beginning they will be pulverized, if you add them all at the end, many of them will fall off.)

Let the machine do its thing, and in a few hours you will have truly delicious bread; bread so good that you will have to fight the rest of your family for it.

Notes from Christine: Why a bread machine? Frankly, I don't hold much truck with one-trick equipment; that might fly in one of those fantasy kitchens, but my un-remodeled 1920's kitchen has so little space in it, everything must earn its keep. But a few years ago, my mother and all my sisters went out and bought bread machines at thrift stores for $5-$20, and I was much taken with being able to have fresh delicious bread even in the middle of nowhere, so I went off to the thrift store, too. I keep it on the floor, under my worktable, behind the trashcan. It deserves the spot, now more than ever.

What's with the gluten? I keep reading about how gluten is bad for you.
Gluten is a protein which naturally occurs in wheat; gluten forms chains when it is exposed to warmth, water, and kneading. The chains are what give bread that characteristic chewiness. Some people have sensitivities or auto-immune reactions to gluten; this recipe is not for them. For most of us, gluten is not a problem at all.

Psyllium Husk Fiber  This stuff is insanely high in fiber and low in carbs. It is available in bulk in health food stores; here in Berkeley, I can get it at Berkeley Bowl or Berkeley Natural Grocer. It does absorb a LOT of water, and it takes a while to absorb it. When I make the bread, I use 1/2 cup of psyllium and the higher amount of water. At first it seems too wet, but after I've added the flax seeds, and by the time the kneading cycle is done, it's just the perfect consistency; spongy, springy, but not sticky.

Where do I get all this stuff? A really well-stocked grocery store or health food store carries all of this stuff. I bought all of it at Berkeley Bowl; Bob's Red Mill makes all of these products. Trader Joe's also sells almond and flax meal.

Why are you using agave nectar or brown rice syrup instead of a sugar-free sweetener? I like to cut carbs and sugar wherever I can, but yeast likes to eat the real thing! Choose a low-glycemic sweetener to make everyone happy. In fact, if the sweetener is too low in carbs, the bread turns out short and dense; I used coconut palm sugar for a little while there and it just didn't rise properly.

What if I'm a vegan?
The only animal product in here is the whey powder. You can easily substitute soy protein for that, instead.

What if I don't have a bread machine? Here are alternative directions:

Warm the water up to 105-115 degrees F, and pour it into a large bowl. Add the sweeteners and the yeast, and whisk to combine. In another bowl, whisk all of the flours and solids. Ad the flax oil to the water. Add the flours, and using either your hands, a wooden spoon, or a mixer paddle attachment, mix until everything is well incorporated. Add all but 1-2TB of the seeds to the dough. Switch to a dough hook if using a mixer, and knead for 10 minutes, or knead by hand until dough has become elastic. Oil the bowl to keep the dough from sticking, make a ball out of the dough, cover with a cloth, and let rise until it is doubled in size, about an hour. Punch down the dough, and shape into one large or two small loaves. If you have pans of the right size, use them. Otherwise, put the loaf on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with the remaining seeds. Cover with the towel and let rise until it is doubled again. When it is getting close to time, preheat the oven to 350 F. When it is doubled and the oven is pre-heated, uncover and bake the bread, about 45 minutes.

Ch-ch-ch-changes: If you visit this blog often to use the recipes, from time to time you may see a change. I am always experimenting with my recipes, trying to see how low I can go on the carbs, and how high I can go on the protein and fiber. As I improve it, I update the recipe.The latest (as of 1/22/14) is that I upped the amount of almond meal by 1/4 cup. I really can't believe how much tastier it is from the change - and it was plenty tasty before! That extra 1/4 cup of almond meal rendered the crust chewier and more satisfying, the center moist but not spongy, the flavor delicious. I just ate a slice with butter and sugar-free homemade jam - divine! The only problem is now it is so yummy I want to eat more of it.....

Nutritional Analysis:  Friends have been asking for this for a while - "how many carbs does this bread have?" And I really wanted to know, too. So I finally sat down and did the analysis; if you use ONLY the lowest carb options above: flax meal, psyllium husk, whey powder, etc., the results are phenomenal!  One loaf of bread weighs about 1 pound 14 ounces, and yields 13 very generous slices. How generous? One slice is enough for my breakfast, and back in the day I would have eaten two slices of regular bread.

1 slice of bread (2 1/2 ounces): 7 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 9 net grams of carbohydrate, 1.75 grams of omega 3 fatty acids - just from the oil alone! 150 calories. Compare that to one 2 ounce slice of Vital Vittles Organic Flax-Seed Oat Bread: 4 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber, 21 net grams of carbohydrate, 140 calories. And mind you, this is fabulous, ultra whole-grain stuff; not processed smoosh bread.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sugar-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

I confess; when my friend Mimi (who's also living a low-carb life) told me that she and her friends had made 75 jars of strawberry jam for a fundraiser at our elementary school, I wound up feeling a teeny bit sorry for myself. You see, I love that jam. There's just nothing like homemade jam, and homemade strawberry jam - well, you know. And since I'm living a sugar-free life, I just couldn't see myself eating any of that lovely jam, or even making jam again. Sniff. Apricot. Sniff. Plum Butter. Sniff. Strawberry Rhubarb. Sniff, sniff.

And then I thought - ha! Of course - I can make my own jam! I've seen ads for sugar-free jam, but the commercial products just sound so.... fake. And unappetizing. But every sugar-free thing I've made so far has been, well, FABULOUS. (My Mama told me never to brag, but well, you know - "no brag, just fact."

So, I went out and bought 7 quarts of gorgeous organic Swanton Berry Farm fruits, a big bunch of fresh rhubarb, looked at recipes, decided what my ratio of sweeteners ought to be, and set to work. I admit, I was nervous. What if it was lousy, and I'd wasted all that lovely fruit? I made one batch, using about half of the strawberries and all of the rhubarb. OMG, it was amazing, it was so good. So as soon as I canned it, I plowed back in and made an all-strawberry batch. The whole thing took hardly any time at all, and afterwards, I felt like I had a treasure-trove of rubies. Ahhh.

Now I just have to figure out how to make low-carbohydrate bread to go with it....

Sugar-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

You will need:

11-12 8 oz (half pint) canning jars, lids and rings
8 quart heavy stockpot for the jam
Another 8 quart (or larger)stockpot for sterilizing jars
1 box pectin for low-sugar jams (I use Pomona brand)
wide-mouthed funnel (optional, but super useful)

4 cups rhubarb, (app. 2 lbs) washed, dried, cut crosswise into 1/2" slices
6 cups strawberries, (app. 3-4 pint baskets) washed, dried, hulled, and cut into quarters
3 TB lemon juice
5 tsp calcium water (from pectin kit - or follow instructions from package)

2 cups erythritol
1 1/3 cups xylitol
28 tiny scoops stevia
5 tsp low sugar pectin (or follow instructions from package)

If the jars are brand new, wash them and the rings and lids to remove any chemicals left from processing. If they have been sitting in the basement, check them for dust, and wash off any you find. Put the jars and rings into a very large stockpot or canning pot and fill with hot water to cover by an inch or two. Put them on the rear burner of the stove over high heat and bring them to a boil. When they come to a boil, turn the heat down and keep them hot and ready.

Following the instructions in your low sugar pectin kit, make calcium water. (I use Pomona brand.)

Prepare the fruit: wash it, dry it, cut it up (1/2 if small, 1/4 if medium, 1/8 if large) and put it in an 8 quart, heavy stock pot, along with the lemon juice and calcium water. Put it on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full boil and the fruit is softened. (The rhubarb will take longer than the strawberries.)

Meanwhile, measure the sweeteners and the pectin into a medium sized bowl and whisk them all well to combine.

When the fruit is ready, get a long-handled wooden spoon ready, and gradually add the sweetener mix to the hot fruit, stirring constantly as you pour in the sweeteners. Stir well and frequently to combine the pectin with the fruit and prevent lumping. Bring it back to a full boil. When it looks lovely and thick, turn off the heat and get ready to can. (Don't worry if it isn't as thick as jam; it thickens as it cools.)

Clear a good sized work surface near the stove, and cover it with clean dishtowels (preferably ones you don't care about!)

Turn the heat off under the pot of jars and move it to the front of the stove so you can reach them easily, and move the jam to the back of the stove so you don't get water into it by accident. (Put the lid on the pot if necessary.) Using tongs or a jar lifter in your dominant hand, and a clean dishtowel in your other hand, carefully remove the lids and rings and drain them on the towels. Lift each jar out of the hot water, dump the hot water back into the pot, and carefully guide and transport the hot jar over to the towels. Turn it upside down to drain out the extra water. Repeat until all of the jars are drained and ready.

Turn the heat back on high underneath the pot that the jars came out of, and bring it back to a full boil while you can.

Now, again using your tongs (or a clean towel, oven mitts, or tough hands!) turn the jars right side up, and line them up to be ready to fill. If you have a wide-mouthed jar funnel (which I so highly recommend - available at any good hardware store, Bed Bath and Beyond, well stocked grocery stores, etc., for less than $5) put it on top of one of the jars.

Grab your best ladle, and bring the pot of hot jam over to your work surface. Carefully fill each jar, leaving 1/4" of space at the top. If you have a wide-mouthed funnel, the bottom should come to just the right spot. If you don't, do your best! If necessary, spoon some out to reach the right level. After you have filled all your jars, use a clean, moist towel to wipe the ring area and the top surface of the jars clean. If you have less than a full jar of jam, put that one straight into use and don't bother to can it.

Put the lids on, followed by the screw tops, and screw them down.

When the water bath comes back to a full boil, and again using your tongs, carefully lower the jars back in one at a time. Boil them all for 10 full minutes, then remove them with your tongs and let them cool on the toweled work area. If necessary, work in batches.