Welcoming Spring with: Seared Cod and Ratatouille


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Today is the first day of spring, which also happens to be Persian New Year, marking the first day in the Iranian calendar. “Nowruz,” the Persian New Year, begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator and winter ends.

I mention this because my boyfriend is Persian, and it’s an important holiday celebrated by his family. Every year I’m invited to his parents’ home to enjoy a feast of traditional, delicious Persian food, and I must say that I am super excited for dinner tonight.

Beyond all the food, I know little about the new year traditions, so I spent some time online today to read about the holiday. Apparently it’s tradition to do an intensive, complete cleaning of the house in the weeks before the new year, signifying the “rebirth of nature.” I guess Persians used to believe that guardian angels and spirits of the dead would come down to earth to visit their human counter parts, so they cleaned and prepared a welcome feast for their visit. Well…I definitely won’t be expecting a visit from “spirits of the dead.” Since I didn’t get the spring-cleaning memo, my home is in no condition for special visitors.

On the last Tuesday before the new year, bonfires are made and people jump over the flames, believing it will rid them of illnesses and misfortunes in the new year. I wasn’t invited to this important ritual, so now I fear for my health and fortune this year.

It’s also custom to buy at least one set of brand new clothing or shoes for the new year. (Do two new pairs of running shoes count?)

Persians set up an elaborate table setting of seven symbolic items, called Haft Sin, each item corresponding to one of the seven creations and the seven holy immortals protecting them.

sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbolizing rebirth

samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ – symbolizing affluence

senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree – symbolizing love

sīr – garlic – symbolizing medicine

sīb – apples – symbolizing beauty and health

somaq – sumac berries – symbolizing (the color of) sunrise

serkeh – vinegar – symbolizing age and patience.

But above all else, like any other holiday, it’s about enjoying friends, family and feasting. Now that–I can appreciate.

In honor of Nowruz I get a night off from cooking. But since it’s custom to eat fish for Persian New Year, I thought I’d share a fish recipe. It’s not a Persian dish, but it will feel like spring when you eat it!

Seared Cod over Ratatouille

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Makes 4 servings.

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (I used yellow tomatoes)

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent.

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Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

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Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc. Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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RECIPE- Makes 4 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound cod filet

1 large eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 can diced, fire roasted tomatoes

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 T balsamic vinegar

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 portabella mushroom, chopped (or 1 cup sliced mushrooms)

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped

½ tsp. paprika

1 lemon

1-2 T olive oil

cayenne (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When the pot is hot, add onions, and sauté until translucent. Add eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini and bell pepper and sauté until soft. Turn heat down to medium and add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, paprika, cayenne. Simmer on low about 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the ratatouille is cooking, salt and pepper the fish. Squirt on juice from half of the lemon. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Sear the cod for about 3 minutes on each side, just until it has a nice brown crust and flakes easily with a fork.

Just before serving, salt and pepper the ratatouille to your taste, and stir in chopped basil. You can also add other fresh herbs to this dish, like parsley, oregano, thyme, etc.

Serve the cod on top of the ratatouille, squirt the other half of the lemon on top of the cooked fish, and enjoy!

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Surviving Pi Day with: Orange Chicken


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It’s Pi Day, and I guess the thing to do is celebrate the day by eating pie (If you don’t know what Pi Day is, read about it here: http://www.piday.org).

In my opinion, it’s a genius, loosely related excuse to gorge on all things pie. My coworkers decided to make an event of it by having a pie potluck at lunch…with a total of 35 sweet and savory pies to share. Strawberry-blueberry thyme pie, chocolate peanut butter pie, lemon mascarpone pie, sweet potato bacon pie, cheese and spinach pie, smore pie…and just about every other pie you could dream up. Amazing, right?

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BEFORE

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AFTER

Well…no. I’m on day 17 of my dessert-free Lent, and I have “bad reactions” to dairy, so I forced myself to celebrate at a safe distance with my veggie curry and spinach. So far I’m surviving OK, enduring just a few difficult times resisting a fudgy brownie cake at a wedding, and a homemade coconut cream pie that my little sister begged me to eat. But, I prevailed!

I’ve refocused my sugar-craving energy on real food, fueling my body with what it needs to run better, and finding inspiration to try new recipes.

I decided to try a new recipe that recently caught my eye—Paleo orange chicken. Except it’s not Paleo, because I used soy sauce, rice vinegar and rice wine. (If you really want to make the recipe Paleo you can go to: http://www.health-bent.com/poultry/paleo-orange-chicken.)

This meal took me less than 30 minutes to make, and it was full of flavor! I served it with sautéed snow peas, mushrooms and zucchini, and a side of brown rice. I barely missed dessert at all.  Well, OK, some ripe mango and juicy pineapple slices also did the trick. 😉

Seventeen more days to go!

Healthified Orange Chicken

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Serves two.

INGREDIENTS: 

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T ginger, minced

4 T soy sauce

2 T mirin wine

2 T rice vinegar

1 tsp. orange zest

juice of two large oranges

1-2 tsp. spicy chile sauce or Sriracha, or modify to your taste

sliced green onions, optional

1 T sesame oil

pepper, to taste

 In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook chicken in sesame oil until browned on all sides. Scrape up browned bits on the bottom of pan.

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Turn down heat to medium and add garlic and ginger. Mix with the chicken quickly so the garlic and ginger don’t burn to the bottom of the pan.

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Add soy sauce, mirin wine and rice vinegar. Gently stir and let cook for a minute or two. Add orange juice and chile sauce, and simmer until the sauce thickens. This recipe doesn’t really make extra sauce, so if you like to have sauce to spoon over your rice, you can easily double the sauce recipe. When the sauce is thick and the chicken is cooked through, turn off the heat, and add orange zest and green onions. Top with fresh-cracked pepper, if desired.

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Yeees…

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Yeeeeeeeess…almost there..

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Mmmmm.

 

Orange Chicken Recipe

Serves two.

Ingredients:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 T ginger, minced

4 T soy sauce

2 T mirin wine

2 T rice vinegar

1 tsp. orange zest

juice of two large oranges

1-2 tsp. spicy chile sauce or Sriracha, or modify to your taste

sliced green onions, optional

1 T sesame oil

pepper, to taste

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook chicken in sesame oil until browned on all sides. Scrape up browned bits on the bottom of pan. Turn down heat to medium and add garlic and ginger. Mix with the chicken quickly so the garlic and ginger don’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Add soy sauce, mirin wine and rice vinegar. Gently stir and let cook for a minute or two. Add orange juice and chile sauce, and simmer until the sauce thickens. This recipe doesn’t really make extra sauce, so if you like to have sauce to spoon over your rice, you can easily double the sauce recipe. When the sauce is thick and the chicken is cooked through, turn off the heat, and add orange zest and green onions. Top with fresh-cracked pepper, if desired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yay for Fat Tuesday: Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


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Today is Fat Tuesday, so I get to eat all the cookies, cake, chocolate and ice cream I want. In fact, I’m eating a brownie as I type this. Lent begins tomorrow, and I’m giving up desserts for the second year in a row. Six weeks with zero sugary goodness.

I was raised just “semi-Catholic.” I attended Catholic mass on occasion with my mom, but I never participated in Communion, Confirmation or anything else that makes you an official member of the Catholic church. But I still feel like it’s a good practice to give up something difficult for a short period—not only for spirituality—
but for the sake of my mind and body.

Giving up dessert seems silly, but it’s a huge huuuuuuuge challenge for me. When I feel happy, I crave something sweet. When I’m depressed, I crave something sweet. When I’m stressed, angry, relaxed, excited….I crave something sweet! So giving up desserts not only detoxes my body from sugar overload, it also forces me to deal with my emotions in a different way.

Last year was difficult. I ended up eating a loooot of whole grain cinnamon-sugar cereal with strawberries after dinner to replace my usual dessert of chocolate or ice cream. But now I feel like that’s just cheating. Yes it was healthier, but I was still trying to find satisfaction by indulging in something sweet—and too much of it. That defeats the purpose.

This time around, I’d really like to replace the act of “having dessert” with something more productive. Maybe it’s going for a walk after dinner. Maybe it’s blogging. Or just learning something new. It sounds completely ridiculous, but that’s how big of a problem dessert is for me, really!

And OK. I’ll confess, I’m already going to cheat right off the bat. Lent begins three days before my highly-anticipated, Carribbean cruise vacation. I know God would be so much more proud of me if I were to stay on Lent during my cruise….lol. But I can’t. I won’t! Only because this will be my last real vacation before things get crazy at work, and I’m spending a ton of stinkin’ money for this trip. So I will eat desserts on my vacation, and will start Lent as soon as it’s over. I might even extend it past Easter to even things out. HA. WISH ME LUCK.

I’ve been obsessed with clean eating lately, so I’ve been avoiding flours, processed foods, butter and unhealthy fats as much as possible. I found this recipe for Paleo almond butter chocolate chip cookies, and I swear I may never make regular cookies again. They’re AMAZING, and you cannot tell whatsoever that they don’t have any flour, butter or oil! Plus they’re dairy free.

I adapted this recipe from Fast Paleo: http://fastpaleo.com/almond-butter-dark-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Ingredients:

1 cup almond butter
3 T honey
4 T liquid egg whites (or 1 whole egg should do)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used dairy free chocolate chips)

In a bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients. Stir in shredded coconut and dark chocolate chips.

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Place spoonfuls (a little smaller than golf ball size) of the cookie dough about two to three inches apart on a greased baking sheet.

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Bake at 350 degrees for nine to 12 minutes.

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Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla coconut milk ice cream. Yum!

RECIPE:

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup almond butter
3 T honey
4 T liquid egg whites (or 1 whole egg should do)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used dairy free chocolate chips)

In a bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients. Stir in shredded coconut and dark chocolate chips. Place spoonfuls (a little smaller than golf ball size) of the cookie dough about two to three inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for nine to 12 minutes.

Rejoicing new Photoshop skills with: Mini, Smoky Turkey Meatloaf and Mashed Cauliflower


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Well hello there. Happy……Halloween, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, New Year, and any other holiday you may have celebrated in the last four months, because that’s how long I’ve been gone from this blogging business. Yeesh.

I’ve still been hard at work in the kitchen, but a new job, marathon #3, and a web design class at my local community college left me with no motivation to pick up my camera. I may have neglected my food blog for months, but at least now I know how to erase the appearance of wrinkles on an old lady’s face in Photoshop. I can also alter an image of my lazy cat in a pink hippo suit on the couch, to appear as if she’s adventurously leaping off Pier 39 in San Francisco.

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Hey. Don’t judge. It’s a valuable skill I might need to utilize someday. If not, well, I still have this blog.

Now that it’s 2013, life is back to normal and I’m starting off the year with healthy, satisfying, complete meal ideas––in preparation for my Caribbean cruise vacation next month.

To start, I decided to make mini turkey meatloaves and mashed cauliflower. It’s much lighter than traditional meatloaf and mashed potatoes, but still tastes like comfort food. With this meal, you’ll be able to survive through chilly, dreary January, without packing extra poundage. It’s so tasty, you won’t even miss the mashed potatoes! Serve with a side of salad greens with balsamic vinaigrette and you’ve got one tasty weeknight dinner.

Mini, Smoky Turkey Meatloaf 

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Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

19 oz. ground turkey (That’s just the odd, prepackaged amount I bought. I’d highly recommend substituting half the turkey for ground chicken sausage, for more flavor.)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 of a medium onion, diced

1/2 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)

1/2 – 2/3 cup quick-oats oatmeal

1 egg

1/2 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)

1 can tomato sauce

a pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. salt (or to your taste)

generous amount of fresh cracked pepper

ketchup (optional)

You can add seasonings such as basil, oregano, thyme or parsley if you want to add extra flavor.

You don’t have to do this if you want to save time, but I started by sautéing the onions until they started to caramelize, just for some added depth of flavor. In a large bowl, mix together spices. Add the oatmeal, egg, milk, onion, liquid smoke, and mix. I got too excited and threw everything on top of the meat…but then the flavor doesn’t distribute as evenly. Don’t do what I did. Ha.

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Don’t do this.

Add the ground turkey to the mixture (and the ground chicken sausage if you choose, which please do), and mix well. Add about 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce to the meat, and mix in. If for some reason you find that your meat mixture is too wet, you can always add more oatmeal.

Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray.  Press some of the meat mixture into each of the muffin cups, leaving a little bit of room at the top of each cup, to add sauce later.

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Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Add the remaining tomato sauce and/or ketchup to the top of each mini loaf, then cook for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with mashed cauliflower (recipe below). Enjoy!

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Mashed Cauliflower

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Makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower, washed

1/4 cup cheese (Trader Joe’s vegan cheese for me!)

1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

2-3 cans chicken or vegetable broth

2-3 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp. garlic powder (optional)

Cut a whole head of cauliflower into big chunks, and put in a large pot.

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Add 2-3 cans of chicken or vegetable broth, garlic and water.  The cauliflower doesn’t have to be completely covered by liquid, but most of it should be.  Cover the pot with a lid to keep moisture in, and boil for about 15 minutes or until soft enough to mash easily with a potato masher. When cauliflower is soft enough, pour out most of the liquid, leaving just a little for moisture and flavor. Mash until creamy like mashed potatoes.

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You can get creative with your seasonings. I like to add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper and vegan cheese to keep it simple.

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P.S. I am now making it much easier for you to follow my recipes without having to scroll up and down through the images. Hope that helps!

Mini, Smoky Turkey Meatloaf

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

19 oz. ground turkey (That’s just the odd, prepackaged amount I bought. I’d highly recommend substituting half the turkey for ground chicken sausage, for more flavor.)

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 of a medium onion, diced

1/2 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)

1/2 – 2/3 cup quick-oats oatmeal

1 egg

1/2 tsp. liquid smoke (optional)

1 can tomato sauce

a pinch of cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/2 tsp. paprika

1/2 tsp. salt (alter to your taste)

generous amount of fresh cracked pepper

ketchup (optional)

You can add seasonings such as basil, oregano, thyme or parsley if you want to add extra flavor.

You don’t have to do this if you want to save time, but I started by sautéing the onions until they started to caramelize, just for some added depth of flavor. In a large bowl, mix together spices. Add the oatmeal, egg, milk, liquid smoke, and mix. I got too excited and threw everything on top of the meat…but then the flavor doesn’t distribute as evenly. Don’t do what I did. Ha. Add the ground turkey to the mixture (and the ground chicken sausage if you choose, which please do), and mix well. Add about 3 tablespoons of the tomato sauce to the meat, and mix in. If for some reason you find that your meat mixture is too wet, you can always add more oatmeal. Spray a muffin tin with non-stick spray.  Press some of the meat mixture into each of the muffin cups, leaving a little bit of room at the top of each cup, to add sauce later. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Add the remaining tomato sauce and/or ketchup to the top of each mini loaf, then cook for another 10-15 minutes. Serve with mashed cauliflower (recipe below).

Mashed Cauliflower

Makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:

1 head of cauliflower, washed

1/4 cup cheese (Trader Joe’s vegan cheese for me!)

1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

2-3 cans chicken or vegetable broth

2-3 cloves garlic

1/4 tsp. garlic powder (optional)

Cut a whole head of cauliflower into big chunks, and put in a large pot. Add 2-3 cans of chicken or vegetable broth, garlic and water.  The cauliflower doesn’t have to be completely covered by liquid, but most of it should be.  Cover the pot with a lid to keep moisture in, and boil for about 15 minutes or until soft enough to mash easily with a potato masher. When cauliflower is soft enough, pour out most of the liquid, leaving just a little for moisture and flavor. Mash until creamy like mashed potatoes. You can get creative with your seasonings. I like to add Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper and vegan cheese to keep it simple.

On a Budget: Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Burgers


I’ve been feeling poor lately.

Six months ago I made a wish: I wished that my friends would start getting married so I’d finally get invited to weddings.

Silly, I know. But…I’d get to drink lovely wines, eat delicious cuisine, taste fancy cakes and dance the night away under the stars. Well…I got my wish…sorta…but my dwindling bank account wasn’t part of the wish.

It seems like all our friends decided that “Summer 2012” was the perfect time to get married, so Novin and I have attended four weddings in three months, with more still to come…That doesn’t include the engagement parties, bridal showers and bachelorette parties! I’m sure many of you could beat that number, but at age 25, this is just the start of friends getting married. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining…I’m EXTREMELY happy for all of them (and love weddings), but I can’t help but notice the toll wedding-gift giving is taking on my bank account. Not to mention…costs associated with being in the bridal party and travel and hotel expenses for destination weddings.

I decided that some serious budget cuts were in order. No more $4 pints of coconut milk ice cream stocked up in the freezer. Fewer caramel soy lattes, more french press coffee at home. Less Friday night happy hours, more cooking at home. Poop. Where did all my fun go?

To the kitchen, that’s where. I’ve always loved to cook, but sometimes life gets so busy that it’s hard to find motivation to cook after a long day.  I often find myself in a cooking rut, bored making the same old things, and a lack of inspiration to try new dishes. Last week I cooked five nights at home and rediscovered my enjoyment for cooking (and saved some $$$!). I remembered that cooking doesn’t always have to be complicated or fancy. It just has to taste good! Wow. What a concept.

Monday night I quickly cooked up some stuffed buffalo chicken burgers and baked kale chips, and dinner was done in 30 minutes. Easy, quick, healthy, budget friendly and really yummy!

I didn’t include exact measurements in my recipe because you really can’t screw these up. It’s just a matter of forming patties and stuffing as much as you can between the patties without creating an oozing mess. You can get creative with it. And if you do end up with an oozing mess, it will be a delicious oozing mess. Don’t see a problem there.

Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients

1 pound lean ground chicken

Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (probably 2-4 tsp.)

Shredded mozzarella or blue cheese crumbles (approx. 1/4 cup)

Garlic powder (a few dashes)

Hamburger buns

Your favorite chicken or steak seasoning (I actually used a few dashes of Montreal Steak Seasoning)

salt and pepper to taste

1 T butter or canola oil (I used Smart Balance)

In a bowl, mix together ground chicken, 1 to 2 tsp. hot sauce, 1 tsp. of your favorite meat seasoning, 1 tsp. garlic powder, and a few dashes of salt and pepper. (The patties will be pretty sticky to handle. If it becomes a problem you can coat the patties with bread crumbs)

Form into 1/2- inch thick patties (4 patties if serving 2, 6 patties if serving 3). Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cheese to the middle of half of the patties, and top with desired amount of hot sauce.

Place remaining patties without the cheese on top of the patties with cheese. Gently seal outsides of patties together with fingers to make one patty…(not sure how else to describe it! lol).  They will likely be very soft and fragile, be careful not to handle them too much or you’ll have hot sauce and cheese everywhere (might not be a bad thing)!

Heat 1 T of butter/oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook chicken burgers for about 3-4 minutes on each side to brown. Cover and cook for an additional 2 to 3 minutes to make sure burgers cook all the way through.

Oopsy, got a little carried away with the cheese!

Serve on a bun with guacamole and your favorite burger toppings (and maybe some extra cheese and hot sauce).

Enjoy! 🙂

Cooking Slow with: Slow Cooker BBQ Brisket


I’ve been a bad blogger lately, I know. I’ve done my part in the kitchen, but getting the camera out has been the challenge. The last few months have been a whirlwind…with special occasion after special occasion. After Easter there was my sisters birthday, then Mother’s Day, then my dad’s birthday, then my best friends bridal shower and Father’s Day.

Of course I volunteered to cook or bake for every single event, and I tend to get carried away. I like options. I like selection. I like to cook so there is something for everyone, no matter their taste. So when I have a dinner party, it’s not unusual for me to serve three or four main courses and five different side dishes–food occupying every inch of counter space–some dishes forced to remain on the stove top.

And I like to make everything from scratch. I know I don’t have to roast potatoes for 30 minutes when I could just boil them for 10 minutes to make potato salad. I know I don’t have to make my own whipped cream, and I certainly don’t have to make it with fresh, hand-picked-by-me-that-day strawberries. And I know I don’t have to make my own barbeque sauce from scratch, but I do, because it makes each dish taste extra special, and I feel good about what I’m serving my guests.

With summer upon us, I’ve been craving lots of barbequed meat. Steak, burgers, sausage, pork tenderloin and brisket. I’ve been eager to make brisket because it’s an easy and delicious way to feed a crowd.  So Father’s Day I decided to experiment and make my first brisket in the slow cooker, and finished it off on the grill. We don’t have a smoker, otherwise I would have gone that route. It was a huge hit with the family, and basically effortless to make! Looks like brisket will be on the menu again this weekend for Novin’s birthday barbeque. This time, BBQ Brisket sandwiches with horseradish. Stay tuned!

Slow Cooker ‘BBQ’ Brisket

Serves approximately 4-8

Ingredients

About 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce for cooking, plus extra for serving (The homemade recipe I like to use makes plenty: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/big-als-kc-bar-b-q-sauce/)

2 15 oz. cans of beef broth

2 T worcestershire sauce

3.5 pound brisket

About 2 T of your favorite steak seasoning (I used McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning)

2 tsp. garlic powder

2 tsp. chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

Put brisket in slow cooker (fat side up), like so:

Salt and pepper on both sides. Mix spices together in a small bowl, and rub onto both sides of meat.

Pour worcestershire sauce over brisket, and the 2 cups BBQ sauce.

Marinate brisket overnight.

The next evening before cooking, add beef broth, making sure the meat is completely covered by liquid.

Turn the slow cooker on low and cook for 12 hours, overnight. If you want, grill the brisket on each side for a minute and a half on each side for extra flavor. Don’t grill any longer because it will dry the meat out. (I marinated the brisket on Friday night, then started the slow cooker at 11 p.m. on Saturday, and it was perfect for Father’s Day lunch on Sunday. It takes some planning in advance, but it’s worth it!)

Slice brisket against the grain. Brush with extra BBQ sauce and serve!

Enjoy!

What to do with 25 lbs. of grits? Spicy Stewed Beef and Cheddar Grits


I recently inherited this baby:

No, that is not a Costco bag of dog food. It is a 25-pound bag of Bob’s Red Mill corn grits that has been sitting behind my office desk for about a month now.

Why would I have grits in my office, you ask?

Well, I work for a nonprofit that promotes Oregon agriculture, and every year we have a dinner and auction to raise money for the organization. Local businesses donate food products that we use to prepare the four-course meal for the evening, and I usually inherit the leftovers. So, Mr. Bag of Corn Grits needed a home, and I agreed to take him in. He had to sit behind my desk for awhile while I thought about what to do with him. He’s pretty heavy, and I didn’t want to do any unnecessary lifting.

So the other day I finally found a recipe worthy of moving Mr. Grits out of my office and into my kitchen: Spicy Stewed Beef with Creamy Cheddar Grits. I stumbled across it on The Pioneer Woman blog, and after one look at the photo, I immediately grabbed my keys and headed out the door to shop for ingredients (minus the grits, of course).

It had all the elements for a perfect dinner on a rainy, dreary night. Spicy and warm? Mandatory. Creamy? Yes please. Filling? Absolutely.

Now that I’ve made Spicy Stewed Beef with Creamy Cheddar Grits, I am very happy that I have 24.6 pounds of grits left to use. You will likely be seeing lots of grit-related recipes on my blog from here on out…

I’m open to suggestions for recipes for all things grits–besides cornbread. Please, please, oh please send me some suggestions!

Or maybe just forward me your mailing address so I can ship some to you. Shipping costs not included. 😉

Spicy Stewed Beef with Creamy Cheddar Grits

Recipe adapted from: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2012/01/spicy-stewed-beef-with-creamy-cheddar-grits/

Makes about 4 servings

Beef Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon Canola Oil

1 Tablespoon Butter (I used Smart Balance)

1 to 2 pounds Diced Chuck Roast

1 small can Chipotle Peppers In Adobo Sauce (It WILL be spicy!)

2 to 4 15-oz cans of Low-sodium Beef Broth (Depending on how saucy you want it. I used two cans plus a little extra)

5 cloves Minced Garlic

2 tsp. Cumin

1 teaspoon Chili Powder

Grits Ingredients:

2 T butter or canola oil

1/2 of a small Onion, finely diced

1 whole Red Bell Pepper

1 to 2 whole Chilies (any Variety, Hot Or Mild)

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill corn grits/polenta

1 1/2 cups Low Sodium Chicken (or Beef) Broth

1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups Water

1/4 cups Half-and-half (I used soy milk since I can’t have dairy, works just fine!)

1/2 cup Grated Cheddar Cheese (I used Daiya vegan cheese, which works just fine too!)

fresh cracked pepper to taste

Spicy Stewed Beef Instructions:

Heat 1 tablespoon oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large pot over high heat. Throw in stew meat and brown for a few minutes.

Add chipotle peppers, beef broth, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Stir, then bring to a boil.

chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

 Reduce the heat to low, then cover and simmer for 1 to 2 hours, or until the meat is fall-apart tender and the liquid is thick. (Watch the meat occasionally and add more beef broth or water as needed.)

Grits Instructions:

Heat oil/butter in a pot over medium heat. Add diced onion, bell pepper, and chilies and cook for a few minutes or so.

Pour in grits, then add chicken (or beef) broth and water.

Stir, then bring to a boil . Reduce the heat to low, then cover and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add half-and-half. Continue to cook and stir until grits are tender.

Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese.

Serve pile of grits with stewed meat (liquid and all) over the top.

Enjoy!

Deviating from Dessert: Cajun Shrimp and Sausage Lentil Stew


Hi. My name is Misty, and I’m a dessertaholic. Since Lent started last Wednesday, I have been dessert-free. This includes all varieties of cake, cookies, pie, pastries, chocolate, candy, ice cream–and even the leftover salted caramel that is sitting in my fridge. It has been 7 days, 11 hours and…about 3 minutes since my last dessert, and I have about…oh…40 days to go. But who’s counting?

I decided to give up dessert for Lent because it was becoming a serious problem. It got to the point where I had to eat it in large quantities every single day. I do believe it is possible to have dessert everyday in a healthy way, but when it comes to dessert, all my portion control discipline goes out the window. Almost every night I would fill a coffee mug with my soy ice cream, top it with some sugary cereal, maybe a dozen or two of dark chocolate chips, then bring it over to the couch to watch TV.

Now, the average person is probably happier on the couch watching TV, and after finishing a bowl of ice cream will continue to lay motionless on the couch. I, on the other hand, have trouble sitting for long periods of time. I am an active person and I like to stay in motion. Novin always gets upset because he can never watch a single show without having to push “pause” at least twice, while I get up to do this, or that. So once I finish my first portion of ice cream, I have no problem building up motivation to get up off the couch…to get more ice cream. And of course I have to top it again with a little more crunchy cereal and a little more chocolate chips—maybe with some salted caramel sauce this time. But wait! I forgot I have some leftover peanut butter chocolate soy ice cream to finish off so I better top it all off with some of that. Yeeeeeeees. Then I end up tossing and turning all night from the sugar overload and wake up sweating. If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll notice this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned indulgent habits.

So you see, giving up dessert for Lent was imperative. And surprisingly, I’m doing just fine so far. Maybe it’s just because I started drinking more. And eating more cheese. It’s too soon to tell….

The only drawback is I am feeling less pressured to work out. After the first 3 days I got on the scale and found I was 5 pounds lighter, so I immediately started slacking. OK, by “slacking” I guess I mean I would run 6 miles instead of 10…but still. It’s slacking to me nevertheless. Last night I decided that no—NO I would not go to the gym. NO I would not go to yoga. Instead, I would stay home in my PJ’s, drink wine, listen to music and cook! And eat! I’m running 18.6 miles on Saturday anyway. I invited my friend Traci over–because cooking isn’t fun if people can’t enjoy the fruits of your labor—and made Cajun shrimp served over polenta, and a sausage lentil stew.

And for “dessert”—I ate an extra slice or two of Ciabatta olive bread to wipe up the leftovers at the bottom of the empty stew pot.

Cajun Shrimp and Polenta

This recipe is adapted from: http://myhusbandcooks.wordpress.com/2006/11/27/shrimp-n-grits-need-i-say-more/

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 of a medium onion, finely chopped

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1 ½ cups chopped tomato (I used grape tomatoes, cut in half)

1 to 2 tsp. Cajun seasoning (Or you can make your own. I used prepared seasoning then added a few dashes of paprika and cayenne pepper)

1 ¼ cup beer (a light beer works best)

1 pound shrimp

1 to 2 stalks celery, chopped

juice of 1 lime

1 to 2 T butter (I used Smart Balance)

1 to 2 T olive oil

½ tsp red pepper flakes (you don’t have to use if you don’t like a lot of spice)

1 tube prepared polenta (It’s easy!)

1 T cilantro, chopped (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

Chop bell pepper, onion, garlic, celery and tomato. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for a minute or two. Add remaining vegetables and saute another minute or two.

Add half of the Cajun seasoning, red pepper flakes, and saute for a few more minutes. Push vegetables to the outside of the pan creating a hole in the middle, and add butter to pan. Add beer while gently stiring, and bring to a boil.

I used an Oregon-made lager, Session, made by Full Sail Brewery.

Add shrimp, the remaining Cajun seasoning and lime juice. Let simmer, turning down heat if necessary, and cook about 5 minutes or until shrimp is pink and cooked through. Mix in cilantro at the end of cooking, if desired. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the shrimp are cooking, prepare polenta. Cut tube of polenta into 1-inch slices. In a pan over medium heat, drizzled with olive oil or nonstick spray, fry polenta slices for about two minutes, or until they begin to turn slightly golden. Flip over, and sprinkle with Cajun seasoning. Let cook another two to three minutes.

 Top polenta slices with the Cajun shrimp and sauce.

 

Sausage Lentil Stew

This was originally supposed to be a split pea soup, until I realized I ran out of split peas. Red lentils work just as great.

2 to 2 ½ cups red lentils or split peas

About 6 cups chicken broth

About 2 cups water

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cups carrots, medium diced

1 ½ sausages, chopped into small pieces (I used beer sausage, but kielbasa would work well too)

4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium potato unpeeled, medium diced

1/8 cup olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp fresh thyme

½ tsp paprika

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

Salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

1 to 2 T of red wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Sour cream for garnish (optional)

 Chop onion, carrots, garlic, potato and sausage.

In a large pot over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add onions and saute until soft. Add carrots, potato and garlic and saute another few minutes.

Add split peas, chicken broth, water and sausage. Bring to a boil, then simmer until lentils are soft.

Imported red lentils. I get these at a Middle Eastern store. They get creamier than regular red lentils.

Add oregano, thyme, paprika and cayenne pepper and ½ of the red wine vinegar or lemon juice, and continue to simmer until stew is creamy, stiring occasionally. If the soup is too thick add more water or broth. I let this cook about 2 hours to really give it time for the flavors to come out, but you don’t have to cook it that long. Before serving, add salt, pepper and mix in remaining red wine vinegar or lemon juice.

Top with a dollop of sour cream, serve with a slice or two of crusty bread, and enjoy!

So Loco for Loco Moco


Last summer a group of friends and I rented a house on the Oregon Coast for a weekend. Naturally,  we had late nights and a generous amount of drinking planned. After a long drive, a late dinner and a few beers at the local brewpub, My friend Traci said Loco Moco sounded good for breakfast the next morning.

“Huh? What’s that?” I asked. I had never heard of it before. Apparently I was missing out on something serious–something that could cure hangovers, extreme hunger, crankiness…and possibly even depression. We already had most of the ingredients on hand: hamburger patties, eggs and rice. The only thing that was missing was gravy. The little market in town was closing in 5 minutes, and Traci was determined to get there in time.  We had barely finished paying our dinner bill, and she was already speeding down the street to buy packages of brown gravy. Or maybe I was driving…so I guess I sped down the street while she jumped out of the car and into the store before they locked the door and our hope for Loco Moco would be lost forever.

Anyway…

Loco Moco is a Hawaiian dish that can be made in a variety of ways using bacon, spam, ham…the possibilities are endless. The basis of the dish is a big pile of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, topped with a fried egg (best when slightly runny in the middle), then topped with a generous helping of brown gravy. Genius, I say! GENIUS! Why hadn’t I tried this before?! So simple yet so versatile. It’s excellent for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Or an afternoon snack. Or maybe even dessert because it’s just that good.

After months of talking with Traci about Loco Moco and how we were going to have them “immediately,” and photo messages sent to my phone of Loco Mocos she was enjoying around town without me, I finally got invited over to Traci’s for dinner. And let me tell you, I ate white rice like I never ate white rice before. And I smothered it in that gravy, alternating bites of macaroni salad with bites of gravy-hamburger-egg-rice. I don’t think I slept well that night. And the next day, I ran 9 miles. But it was worth it.

If you really want to, you could try healthifying this a bit by using brown rice; and we used 93% lean ground beef. If you’re a runner like me–I assure you–you will have bounds of energy for your run the next day after this meal.

Thank you, Traci, for a great dinner and being my “guest chef” for this blog post!

Try it out and let me know what you think!

LOCO MOCO

Makes 4-5 servings

Ingredients:

Cooked white rice (About 1 cooked cup per person, which would be about 2-3 cups of uncooked rice. It’s good with a lot of rice, but that’s just me…)

1 pound ground beef

4-10 eggs (you need at least one egg per person, but some might want two or more)

1/4 of a medium onion, finely diced

A few dashes of Montreal steak seasoning (optional)

32 ounce carton of beef broth (or about two cans)

1 cup water

1/4 cup flour

olive oil or butter for frying eggs

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce

In a large bowl mix ground beef, diced onion, steak seasoning and a little bit of salt and pepper.

Form into patties.

Over medium heat, fry hamburger patties until they are cooked through. Set aside.

Add beef broth to the pan that you cooked the hamburger patties in, making sure to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add worcestershire sauce and bring to a light boil. Turn down heat to medium low.

Mix some of the water and flour together, making sure it’s not pasty or thick. The flour should dissolve in the water. Don’t use the whole thing at once. We started with about a half cup of water with a few tablespoons of flour mixed in well, and added it to the beef broth. Let the sauce simmer for a few minutes and see if it thickens. If it still isn’t thick enough, mix a few more tablespoons of the flour and water together and add to the gravy until you get the desired consistency. You may need more or less of the flour and water called for in this recipe. Once the gravy reaches your desired consistency, add pepper to taste.

In another small pan, fry eggs in a drizzle of oil and/or butter to your desired doneness. We fried the eggs over easy so the yolk could ooze over the meat and rice. Not everyone likes it that way. Your call.

Assemble. Put hamburger on top of rice, then the egg on top of the hamburger, and gravy over the top.

Hawaiian Macaroni Salad

Serves 4-6.

Recipe adapted from: http://www.inspired2cook.com/2009/09/30/hawaiian-macaroni-salad/

Ingredients

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

about half of a 1 pound box of macaroni or ditalini noodles

1 carrot, grated

1 celery stalk, chopped finely

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup milk

1 tsp of brown sugar

handful of shredded cheddar

3 boiled eggs, thinly sliced

salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Meanwhile, chop celery and shred carrot.

Add carrot and celery to pasta and toss together. Mix in vinegar. Add half of the egg slices.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk and brown sugar. Add to pasta and mix in well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and top with remaining egg slices.

Serve, and pig out!

Bravo, Traci, Bravo! 🙂

Back in the Kitchen with Manhattan Clam Chowder


After the holidays it was hard to get my motivation back in the kitchen. All the holiday baking I did was a success–but I needed a break. Hence, my lack of blogging lately. Instead, I did a lot of eating out. Pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, sushi and ramen, Thai pad kee mao, my favorites. One thing I ate during my kitchen sabbatical that particularly caught my attention was a red clam chowder.

It was at the cafe in my office building. I had ordered a cup of chili with no cheese–and out it came seductively smothered in a bunch of cheese. This originally would cause me to start smiling and clapping, but my dairy intolerance leaves me no choice but to turn it away. I saw someone else with a red brothy soup that looked dairy free and asked for that instead–holding back tears as the server took my cheesy chili away.

I’ve never tried a clam chowder like this before, known as Manhattan Clam Chowder. It was delicious! I forgot all about that cheesy chili after one bite. Better yet, it’s dairy free, and a lot healthier than a creamy clam chowder filled with fat.

So, now that I’m refreshed from my leave-of-absence and ready to be back in the kitchen, I decided to make it at home.

It’s incredibly easy to make, so give it a try!

Ingredients:

Serves 4-6.

1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium onion, diced

about 2/3 cup chopped carrots

about 1/2 cup chopped celery

2 cloves garlic, minced

5 pieces of bacon

2 cans low-sodium chicken broth

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 small can tomato sauce

1 to 2 cans of chopped clams with juice (I used only one can but recommend two)

4 small potatoes (or 2 large ones)

a sprig of fresh thyme (dried should work fine too, 1 tsp.)

1 tsp. garlic powder

a dash or two of cayenne pepper

2 T chopped parsley

salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Chop vegetables.

Cut bacon into small pieces. Fry over medium heat in a large pot until it starts to brown and crisp. Scrape up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add onions and saute until they begin to soften. Add carrots, bell pepper and celery and garlic. Saute for another minute or two.

Add broth, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, clams and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer until potatoes begin to soften. Season with thyme, garlic powder and cayenne and simmer on low. Total cooking time should be about 30 minutes to an hour for flavors to come out. Add chopped parsley and stir in. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a crusty whole wheat roll.

Enjooooy!