I love comfort food. Who doesn't? Comfort food means different things to different people. It could be a meal that puts you at ease in times of high stress. A particular dish your mother made for you as a child growing up. Basically, comfort food evokes an emotion of safety and ease, is simple to make, and typically a classic like hot hard dough bread with a knob of butter. It could be rice and peas done just right, a bowl of heart-warming soup, creamy mashed potatoes, tender oxtail meat that slides off the bone, a slice of pizza, a piece of crunchy fried chicken, a hotdog encased in a fresh bun lathered in ketchup or a delicious helping of macaroni and cheese. On the sweet side, indulgence can be found in a slice of cake with ice cream, bulla with pear, bun and cheese, or a bar of chocolate.
Invariably comfort fare, high calorie count and high cholesterol go hand in hand, so I'm offering lighter versions of these options. Take for example macaroni and cheese. I make mine without egg, and use one per cent milk or soy versus full fat to prepare my cheese sauce. My soups are pureed, without cream, to still get creaminess in the texture. In those dessert recipes which ask for copious amounts of sugar, like cookies, for instance, which typically call for one or two cups, I will decrease by half and include other components such as dried fruits and chocolate so as not to lose the sweetness but to make me feel less guilty. For fried chicken, I do mine oven-"fried" to retain the crunch without the oil.
Learn these little tricks so that you won't be deprived of your comfort foods. Be smart about your cooking habits. As I said last week, it is how we approach our cooking style and views on food. Learn how to balance. It will take time, so be gentle with yourself. Incorporate something new each week. Look for substitutes which are similar to dishes you want to try based on availability in your area or budget. I used to love potato chips and dips as a comfort snack, but realised I would feel hungry later. Now I love to snack on hummus and pita bread. I feel fuller longer because chickpeas are protein. I know hummus has become almost cliché, but it is healthy. If you don't have access to chickpeas you can use broad beans or butter beans, it's just as good.
Today I share a yummy chocolate brownie which uses black beans instead of flour, but it still has full-on chocolate flavour and contains protein. A bowl of sesame noodles is my go-to when I am tired of pasta but still crave some carbohydrates, which are often maligned but needed for energy.
JuicyChef's Sesame Noodles
One of the food trends of 2013 are Asian noodles. I absolutely love sesame noodles. There are various renditions of this dish, so make it your own. This is one of those recipes that you have to adjust to your own personal taste, so my measurements are merely a guide. They can be eaten hot or cold, on their own or with vegetables. It's fantastic as a side dish as well and an alternative to pasta. Noodles are relatively cheap and can be found with the Asian/Chinese items in supermarkets.
Eggs or rice noodles or even linguine can be used as a substitute. This recipe serves 4
6 tbsp soy sauce
1 to 2 heaped tbsp brown sugar
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp Thai chili sauce (optional)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp warm water
Chopped green parts of escallion, for garnish
Sesame seeds (optional) for garnish
Cook noodles according to package directions, drain and keep warm.
Mix soy, sugar, garlic, vinegar, sesame oil, chilli sauce, vegetable oil and water together until well combined.
Add noodles to a bowl and pour over sauce, tossing to combine.
If you want to add vegetables, add them at this point.
Garnish with escallion and sesame seeds if using.
Flourless Chocolate Black Bean Brownies
The other day I had this serious chocolate craving. I know it's a result of me trying to be disciplined and not eat so much chocolate, but the deprivation has been driving me mad. I was very good until my brother went overseas, asked what I wanted and I said simply, chocolate. As I am trying to manage my health and watching what I eat, I wanted to prepare something a bit healthier because, although delicious, brownies can be packed with calories. Scouring different sites, I noticed that black beans, pumpkin and zucchini were vegetables used to make brownies by individuals with gluten problems or vegans. Enjoy this tasty treat without the guilt; trust me, you won't remember beans are in there.
1 standard can of black beans, rinsed and drained
3 eggs (vegans can use egg substitute found in health food stores)
75g/ 1/3 cup butter (vegans can use oil instead)
30g/ 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp vanilla
100g/1/2 cup brown sugar
100g/1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, plus extra for garnish
Grease one standard square baking dish (8 X 8)
Preheat oven to 3500F
Add all the ingredients except chocolate chips to a processor and blend until smooth.
Stir in the chocolate chips.
Spread mixture into prepared tray and scatter some extra chocolate chips on top.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until centre is just set and remove, allow cooling down before cutting into squares.
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