Guest Post: Spicy Peanut Chicken and Cucumber Cold Noodles

Mattster Chef is back on the blog! Tonight, Matt will be writing about one of our easy weeknight meals.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written anything for Our Happy Jar, and April wanted me to post this recipe because it’s one of our favourite cold noodle dishes and also super easy to make.

Spicy Peanut Chicken and Cucumber Cold Noodles

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It tastes better than it looks!

 Ingredients (Makes 4 servings)
  • 1 package of spaghetti or noodles
  • 2 pieces of chicken breast (cut into small pieces)
  • 1 English cucumber (julienned)
  • 4 tablespoons of natural peanut butter (crunchy)
  • 3 cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce + ½ tablespoon to marinate chicken
  • ½ tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sesame oil (split into halves)
  • Chili oil to taste
  • Water (varies)
Directions
  1. The first thing to do is cut up your chicken into small pieces. I try to cut mine into long, narrow pieces to give it a shredded chicken feel.
  2. Once your chicken has been cut up, marinate it with the minced garlic, ½ tablespoon of soy sauce, and ½ of the sesame oil, and mix it up. Once mixed, let the chicken marinate for as long or as little as you would like. Obvious rules apply: the longer you marinate, the more taste the chicken will have.
  3. While the chicken is marinating, start to julienne the cucumber and make the peanut sauce.
  4. For the peanut sauce: in a large bowl, add the peanut butter, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, ½ tablespoon of dark soy sauce, ½ sesame oil, and chili oil. Once all the ingredients are added, stir them together. The mixture will be thick, which is where the water comes in; slowly add water little-by-little and stir it into the peanut sauce.  This will gradually reduce its thickness, and you can stop adding water when it has enough of a saucy consistency (basically, you need it to be able to easily coat your noodles).
  5. When the chicken is done marinating, boil the water for the pasta and heat a pan for the chicken. The chicken can be cooked and set aside while you’re making the pasta. Once the pasta is done, run it under cold water to cool (if you have time, you can also let it cool naturally).
  6. After the pasta is cooled, get a large mixing bowl, and throw the pasta, cucumbers, and chicken together. Pour the peanut sauce over everything and toss thoroughly so everything is mixed well.

And then you’re done! This is a quick and easy meal that practically anyone can to make during the week, which is a requirement for us because we both work all day.

Healthy Snacks: Kale Chips

The first time we had kale chips was during a trip to San Francisco a few years back, and we’ve been hooked ever since! There are delicious store-bought ones (Solar Raw Food makes amazing Better than Cheddar kale chips covered with bell peppers and cashews that taste just like cheese!), but they’re usually pretty pricey. Homemade kale chips are a lot less expensive and really easy!

Kale Chips

Before: Ready to Bake

Kale Chips

After: Kale Chips! 

Ingredients

  • A bunch of kale
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt or other seasoning to taste

Directions

  • Cut or rip the kale leaves off the stems, then tear the leaves into smaller bite-sized pieces
  • Wash the leaves and dry thoroughly
  • Once dry, put all the leaves into a bowl and toss with olive oil and salt
  • Spread evenly on a baking try lined with parchment paper, foil, or baking sheet
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 300°F

Tips 💡

  • Make sure the leaves are completely dry! Any moisture will make the kale soggy. In addition to air drying the kale, we used a salad spinner and paper towels.
  • You don’t have to tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces, but it makes it easier for the kale to crisp in the oven.
  • Try not to stack/layer any leaves on top of each other while baking because it’ll prevent them from crisping.
  • Some people suggest adding salt after the kale is baked (salt draws out the moisture from the leaves and can make them soggy).

Easy Plastic Wrap Poached Eggs

We’ve tried a few ways of poaching eggs, including using an egg poacher and the swirling method, but I personally like the plastic wrap method the best—it offers consistent results and pretty perfectly poached eggs (the homemade kind, anyway).

Instructions

  1. Line a ramekin or small bowl with a small sheet of plastic wrap.
  2. Brush a few drops of oil (I used olive oil) onto the cling wrap and add any herbs or spices.
  3. Crack an egg onto the plastic wrap.
  4. Bundle the egg in a little package, tying the top with twine (I didn’t have any, so I improvised with our silicone food ties).
  5. Put the bundles into boiling water, and boil for 3 to 4 minutes.
  6. Pull the bundles out, unwrap the eggs, and serve!
Notes:
  • The oil prevents the egg from sticking to the plastic wrap; it should slide off easily when you unwrap the packages.
  • When bundling the egg, try to minimize the amount of air inside because it’ll make part of the package stay afloat, which causes it to cook unevenly. This happened to me, so I used a spoon to submerge the package and to turn it over.

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4 Easy Herbalicious Recipes!

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Now that the weather has finally been getting better, I’ve finally started a little herb “garden” at home. My awesome coworker V gifted me some sweet Thai basil, and we’ve recently added regular basil to the mix. Mint is next on the list! Matt and I have been making the most of basil and mint lately, so I thought I’d share 4 easy recipes:

freezies

1. Mint-Watermelon Tequila Freezies: Inspired by this Buzzfeed list (I literally want to make everything on there), which cited this recipe from Hungry Girl por Vida. Mint? Gooood. Watermelon? Gooood. Tequila? Even better! This was SO easy to do and perfect for our weekend at the cottage.

gin-tonic

2. Mint-Cucumber Gin & Tonic: I am very much a gin and tonic girl. While I usually just have it with a bit of lime, muddling some mint and cucumber makes for an awesome and super easy-to-make refreshing summer drink!

caprese-salad

3. Insalata Caprese (Caprese Salad): Matt made this salad with his homemade spinach burger patties and steamed sweet potatoes. We didn’t follow a recipe, but it’s pretty simple: layer sliced tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella, and basil, then drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (we didn’t, but you can add salt and pepper to taste). Perfect for summer!

thai-basil-chicken

4. Thai Basil Chicken: Of the 4 recipes I’ve posted here, this one was probably the most involved, but it definitely isn’t as hard to make as it might seem! We adapted this Foodie Crush recipe, and the dish turned out really well—we’ll definitely be making it again!

So there are my 4 easy recipes… How do you use herbs in your cooking?

Easy Meal: Quinoa-Stuffed Bell Peppers

Over the weekend, I was reading this Buzzfeed article, which sparked a craving for stuffed veggies. We had a lot of ingredients kicking around that were perfect for quinoa-stuffed bell peppers, so I decided to do it!

Ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of quinoa
  • 2 bell peppers
  • 2 small cocktail tomatoes, diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • Cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Before Baking

Directions

  1. Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package (we actually use the quick-cooking setting on our Zojirushi rice cooker)
  2. Sautée onions and celery until soft, season with salt and pepper, and mix them in with the quinoa and tomatoes
  3. Cut the tops off the bell peppers and remove the seeds
  4. Spoon veggie-quinoa mixture into the bell peppers and top with cheese
  5. Bake in an oven-safe dish or tray for 15 minutes at 350°F

You can swap in whatever veggies you like (if I had corn or jalepeños, I would have used them), and I added cheese throughout :). The peppers can also be baked for another 5 to 10 minutes longer if you want them to be softer.

We had our stuffed bell peppers with butter-lemon pan-fried fish—Matt got the perfect fry with our new fish spatula—and steamed asparagus, which is a perfect way to cap off a Monday night! Stuffed Peppers with Pan-Fried Fish

Next on my stuffed veggie making wishlist: this falafel-stuffed eggplant recipe!

Fine Dine-In Fridays: 3-Course Meal on a Budget

Work has been absolutely insane, and I’ve been starting to feel really burned out. Fortunately, home life has been the opposite—Matt has been doing a lot of little things to make my life easier and this week was no exception: he cleaned the house from top to bottom, and on Friday, he planned and cooked me a surprise 3-course meal!

Matt did his shopping at St. Lawrence Market (one of our favourite spots in the city), and the 3 courses x 2 people cost less than $40… not bad!

First Course: Gruyère, Duck Pâté with Pistachios, Roasted Bone Marrow, and Sliced Baguette

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All of this cost us just over $20. The cheese and the pâté made up a good chunk of that, but the marrow bones were surprisingly affordable (under $6 for the 2!). This was the first time we made roasted bone marrow, so I didn’t realize how easy it was (Matt used this recipe). Obviously, we can’t eat all of this stuff all the time, but it’s good to know that we can make it at home for a fraction of what we’d be paying at a restaurant!

Second Course: Filet Mignon with Caramelized Onions and Figs and  Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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The steaks were $5 each. After pan searing and baking them, Matt served them with caramelized onions and figs (yum!), as well as our easy roasted Brussels sprouts (see our go-to recipe here).

Dessert: Chinese Steamed Egg Pudding (燉蛋)

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When it comes to Chinese desserts, this is one of my absolute faves, which is why Matt chose it! As desserts go, it isn’t too hard to make (I’m not sure what recipe Matt used, but here’s one in case you’re interested), but getting the right consistency can be tricky. Matt’s first attempt was unsuccessful because the heat was too high and the tops should have been covered, but the second try was redemption: they were perfect!

All in all, a great way to spend my Friday night!

Fine Dine-In Fridays: King Crab and Veggie Risotto

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This time we just winged it, but last time we used a variation of this recipe

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but one of the most budget-friendly (and healthiest) ways to cook is to use a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables. For the most part, fresh produce is inexpensive, and one bunch or package of vegetables can often be used for multiple meals.

Case in point: almost all of the veggies in tonight’s risotto were from other meals made earlier this week. We included some spinach from a bunch that we also used for chicken-spinach patties (based loosely on this recipe) and as part of a quinoa salad. We also used some pea sprouts and honey mushrooms that were used as sides for other meals.

Even the parts of the risotto dish that weren’t fresh were budget-friendly in that they were already in our pantry—we had previously purchased the frozen peas and Arborio rice from this meal! So really, the only items purchased specifically for this meal were the king crab (a splurge), the no-salt-added chicken broth, and an onion (half of which is in the fridge for another meal!).

Overall, this probably equated to less than $20 per person for this meal, which could potentially be a lot more if we went out to a restaurant!

Extra Splurge: Matt also surprised me by bringing home gruyère and pâté, which we put on these delicious raisin-walnut cinnamon mini crisps from ACE Bakery. I love almost all types of cheeses, but I have a special place in my heart for gruyère and any strong, sharp varieties. Because most of these are a bit on the saltier side though, I can only have it once in a while now, and tonight was one of those times! Little slices of heaven…

“It’s like crack!”: Me sampling the cheese in Napa Valley (and feeling the shame after nibbling the goodness off the rind)

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As a side note, I’m super excited for tomorrow; we’re hitting up Hopgood’s Foodliner in Roncesvalles Village. Stay tuned for the post-meal blog post!

Baked Lime & Basil Fish with Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Matt and I usually plan out our weekday meals when we do our grocery shopping, but we often decide on the flavoring of those dishes on the fly (especially because we’re finally building enough of a stock of spices and herbs to do that!). Last night, we decided to bake fish in parchment paper (en papillote)—an easy, healthy method that I’ve relied on for years now—with lime and basil. I also happen to love Brussels sprouts (my mom and I used to have them all the time), so we roasted some with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

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Baked Lime & Basil Fish

  • 2 fillets of fish
  • Basil (chopped)
  • 1 lime (sliced)
  • 3/4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Dash of unsalted garlic and onion powder

Directions:

  1. Brush melted butter over fillets and season with garlic and onion powder.
  2. Cover fillets with chopped basil and lime slices.
  3. Create a parchment paper packet (see link mentioned above).
  4. Bake in oven at 450°F for 20 minutes (this may vary depending on the size and type of fish).

Roasted Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

  • 2 to 3 cups of Brussels sprouts (cut into halves)
  • 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Lay the halved Brussels sprouts on a baking pan (I usually also use a sheet of foil or parchment paper).
  2. Season the sprouts with salt and pepper and drizzle with Balsamic vinegar and olive oil; gently toss to coat.
  3. Bake in oven at 450°F for 20 minutes (this varies between roasted Brussels sprout recipes, but we chose to do this to time it with the baking of our fish).

Fine Dine-In Fridays: Butternut Squash Soup with Cajun Shrimp Crostinis

Okay, so this isn’t as fine dining-y as the lobster risotto, but comfort foods can be just as amazing if done right! To me, fall is perfect for things like root vegetables, pumpkin, and squash, so today seemed like a good time to whip up a batch of our tried-and-true butternut squash soup and Cajun shrimp crostinis. It was also a chance to test out the newest addition to our kitchen (more about that at the bottom of this post)!

squash

Soup Ingredients

  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 1 butternut squash (cubed)
  • Cloves of garlic (minced)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Chicken or vegetable broth*
  • Butter*
  • Salt and pepper to taste

*I personally think that the butter and broth can be added according to your own preference. More butter obviously gives it a nice flavor, but we only added a little this time to keep it healthier. Similarly, the broth should be enough to cover the cubes of squash, but how much you put in depends on how thick you want the soup to be!

Directions

  1. In a pot, cook the onion, garlic, butter, and squash in the olive oil over low heat.
  2. Once they have softened, add in the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it simmer while covered until the butternut squash is tender.
  3. Pour the contents into a blender and purée until smooth (unless you like your soup a little chunky!)
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cajun Shrimp Ingredients

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 lime or lemon
  • Peeled raw tiger shrimp (as many pieces as you’d like!)

Directions

  1. In a bowl, marinate the shrimp with all the other ingredients.
  2. Pan-fry the shrimp in a nonstick pan or skillet over high heat until done.

The rest of the crostinis were made using a recipe similar to this one I posted earlier, only with low-sodium mozzarella and larger sweet cocktail tomatoes instead of grape/cherry tomatoes.

From Magic Bullet to Vitamix? Almost…

My blender story is a bit of a complicated one (well, as complicated as kitchen appliance shopping can get… actually there’s a weird story behind how we got our BBQ too, but maybe another day!), but things worked out in the end. For those of you in the market for a new blender or who care to hear about the whole ordeal, read on!

Continue reading

Fine Dine-In Fridays: Lobster Risotto with Peas

As we continue to pay off a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand for our delayed honeymoon, Matt and I are trying different ways to save up. While we love trying new restaurants and hitting up our favourite food joints in Toronto, we’ve been taking baby steps to cut back on eating out Fridays and Saturdays. More recently, we’ve started a new Friday at-home cooking tradition, which will hopefully save us a few bucks!

We’ve also been on a mission to prove that eating at home–and eating healthy–doesn’t necessarily mean boring meals. I recently had a high blood pressure scare (more about that later), which kickstarted our efforts to think about the ingredients we use, read nutritional labels, and splurge in moderation.

This week, Matt tried making lobster risotto with peas, based off a modified version of this recipe. It was delicious! While risotto isn’t something we can always eat, we can have it once in a while. The reduced-sodium broth we used is also definitely something we’ll keep in our arsenal for the future!

Lobster Risotto with Peas