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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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.

Cooking with Corneal Abrasions: Italian Moussaka


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My mom just celebrated her 50th birthday this past weekend. I agreed to throw her a party, as I do every year. She invites about 15 of her friends to my house, I make a variety of food and order her a nice bakery cake, and we drink wine and laugh the night away.

Well this year, she wanted to go big. A “memorable” party for her big 5-0…because apparently my previous parties for her weren’t memorable enough. So she invited about 50 people, forcing me to find a venue to rent for the party—and a strategic way to prepare and store crazy amounts of food in my fridge.

In Filipino culture, the worst, most tragic, embarrassing, shameful thing that could ever happen to a party host is to run out of food. So when I host parties for about 20 people, I prepare enough food to feed 30-40 people. I leave out Ziploc bags and aluminum foil, and Filipino women happily pack up the leftovers to bring to their husbands.

So this year, knowing 50 people were on the guest list, I planned a menu for an army. I shopped at one of those grocery stores that are designed for restaurant owners and left with a 19-pound pork loin, 18 pounds of chicken legs, 5 pounds of ground turkey for tamale casserole, 4 bags of rigatoni and giant aluminum catering serving pans.  I even asked people for HELP—which I rarely do.

Friday night before the party, I started prepping all the food. As I was chopping onions, my eye started burning like I rubbed jalapeno into it. I figured it would go away in a few minutes, but it continued through the evening. I woke up with a red eyeball, twitchy swollen eyelid, blurry vision and tears uncontrollably streaming down my face.

My plan was to shake it off, power through the day and hope it would just go away. But my boyfriend convinced me to go to urgent care, and I found out that I gave myself a “corneal abrasion,” a scratch on my cornea from rubbing my eyes too much with my contacts in. I spent the rest of the day twitching my right eyelid while trying to maneuver around the kitchen practically blind, cooking and transporting ridiculous amounts of food.

Despite this setback, once the numbing eye drops and ibuprofen kicked in, everything went well. The food was good, my mom had a good time, and best of all—the party is over!

The next day, my abs were sore and my body felt bruised from lifting the serving pans. My eye still isn’t 100 percent, but at least I didn’t lose it.

Somehow, after all that, I was able to get myself back in the kitchen again. I’ve been craving moussaka, a traditional Greek dish, that I make not-so-traditional. So I’m calling it “Italian moussaka”…or maybe even “Greek lasagna.” It’s basically a lasagna made with eggplant and potatoes in place of noodles. And, since I’m dairy free, I made a non-dairy béchamel-type sauce. I was nervous about how it would turn out…but it turned out well, and I will make it again! It takes some time to prepare, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a quick weeknight meal. You can also make it a day ahead.

Italian Moussaka

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Feeds 4-6

INGREDIENTS:

1 medium eggplant

2 large red potatoes

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

2 small cans tomato sauce

1 cup spaghetti sauce

1 15 oz can fire roasted tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

2-3 T chopped parsley

1 pound ground chicken sausage

Bechamel-type sauce

3/4 cup vegan cheese (I used Daiya)

1/2 cup nutritional yeast

1 cup non-dairy milk (I used plain almond)

1 egg white

5 oz. silken tofu

3-6 T soy sauce

pepper to taste

1-2 T dijon mustard

fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

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While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize.

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Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through.

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Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer until it’s time to assemble the moussaka. Stir in parsley.

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To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. *Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha.

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Nutritional Yeast

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The sauce has a pretty color here….but once it’s cooked it looks weird and brownish green…

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

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To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan.

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Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture.

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Spread on a layer of potatoes.

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Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

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Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. Cut into slices and serve with a side salad, or roasted brussels sprouts. Or enjoy alone, it’s a complete meal!

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It’s not very pretty since it’s not real cheese…but I promise it’s good!

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Italian Moussaka Recipe:

Cut eggplant into 1/4- inch thick slices. You can leave the skin on or peel it off, it’s up to you. Spread eggplant slices out on a tray, in a colander or on cutting boards. Sprinkle generously with salt, and let them sit for about 30 minutes, or until you can see the liquid pool at the top. Rinse the salt off the eggplant and try to squeeze out excess liquid. This is supposed to remove some of the bitterness from the eggplant.

While you let the eggplants sit, chop onion and garlic. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until they just start to caramelize. Add the ground chicken sausage and saute until browned and cooked through. Add garlic, fire roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce and wine. Turn down heat and let the sauce simmer.

To make the bechamel sauce, add all the ingredients to a blender or food processor, except the vegan cheese. Blend until creamy. Stir in the vegan cheese, and set aside. Note: If you sample the sauce before cooking it, it won’t taste very good. Once it’s baked it tastes good, haha. 

Slice potatoes as thinly as possible. Lightly salt each slice.

To assemble, spray a coat of non-stick spray in an 8×11 pan. Spread a layer of eggplant on the bottom of the pan. Top the eggplant layer with about 1 cup of the chicken sausage tomato sauce mixture. Spread on a layer of potatoes. Top with a cup of the tomato sauce mixture. Repeat until you run out of eggplant and potato. Finish with a generous layer of the tomato sauce.

Bake the moussaka for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees.

Pour the bechamel sauce over the top. You may not need all of it, I had about a cup leftover that I will use later for mac n’ cheese. Bake another 25 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through and the bechamel sauce is set. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving to let the casserole firm up, and it won’t be a runny mess. 

 

Undoing ‘over-doing’ with: Dal (lentils)


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I recently came to the realization that I’m an over-doer.

The past month, I’ve been battling a hamstring injury that resulted from “over-doing” it. After a few lazy weeks, I felt inspired to get a jump-start on my marathon training with a 12-mile hilly run (after doing a 9-mile run two days earlier). Followed by a 4-mile walk on the waterfront, and dancing the night away in strappy heels.

On Christmas Eve, I hosted a “small” brunch for 13 friends. While people were still mingling over mimosas, I was in the kitchen whipping up coffee cake for my boyfriend’s family–one of six baked goods I planned to bring them for Christmas dessert. Why six things, not one or two? I have no idea.

And last year, we celebrated Valentine’s Day three times, for three entire days.

Three.

…Birthdays, anniversaries and promotions are celebrated the same way.

So I’ve decided to simplify things–starting with this simple lentil dish, dal. It’s so simple, it only has 3 letters (sometimes 4, daal). It’s as simple as simple can get: lentils, water, onion and spices.

It’s not exactly an authentic Indian recipe, but I’ve adapted this recipe from how my Persian boyfriend and his mom prepare it. You can serve it as a side dish, or eat it as a vegetarian main dish over brown rice with a side of roasted veggies of your choice.

This is as simple as it will get for me…my mom’s 50th birthday party is this weekend, 50 people are coming, and I will be over-doing it. So at least for today…I can just breathe. Ahhhhhhh.

Dal

Serves about 8 as a side dish, 4 as a main dish

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2 tsp. cooking oil

1 cup imported red lentils

1 cup yellow split peas (optional, add 1 more cup of lentils if you omit these)

6 cups water

1 large onion, diced and/or chopped (I like to do half diced, half chopped in bigger chunks or strips)

2-3 T turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

*Note* If you don’t want to buy a bunch of different spices, you can buy curry powder from the grocery store and omit all the other spices, EXCEPT the turmeric. Use about 1 to 2 T.

Use imported red lentils. I get these from my local middle eastern grocer. You might also be able to find them at a regular grocery store, either in the bulk aisle or the ethnic foods aisle. They’re smaller and flatter than regular lentils, and they become creamy when cooked. I also like to use yellow split peas for texture, but you don’t have to. Just add an extra cup of red lentils if you choose to skip the split peas.

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Dice or chop your onion. I failed to grocery shop so I ended up having to use half of a red onion and half of a yellow onion. Doesn’t really make a difference. I like to dice half my onion, and chop the other half in bigger chunks. Just adds texture, but it’s ultimately up to you!

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Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onions. Saute until slightly softened. Add spices to onion, mixing to coat onions with the spices, and saute another minute.

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Add lentils and split peas to the onion and spices, and mix well.

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Add about 3 to 4 cups of water to the pot. Cover and let simmer about 10 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot because the lentils will soak up the water, and the lentils could burn to the bottom of the pot (You may have to add more or less water than the 6 cups this recipe calls for, depending on how quickly your lentils soak up the water. Turn down heat if necessary.). Add remaining 2 cups of water and simmer another 15-20 minutes on low to medium-low heat.

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The lentils should look thick and creamy like this when it’s done. The split peas take longer to cook than the lentils, so taste one of the split peas to check if it’s done. It should be soft! You can always add more water if it seems too thick, or if the lentils seem to be sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

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Serve over brown rice with roasted veggies to make it a meal! Or, serve as a side dish. I ate it with lemon saffron chicken that Novin made…recipe to come, later!

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Enjoy!

RECIPE

Dal

2 tsp. cooking oil

1 cup imported red lentils

1 cup yellow split peas (optional, add 1 more cup of lentils if you omit these)

6 cups water

1 large onion, diced and/or chopped (I like to do half diced, half chopped in bigger chunks or strips)

2-3 T turmeric

1/2 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne (optional)

1/4 tsp paprika

1/4 tsp coriander

1/2 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper to taste

*Note* If you don’t want to buy a bunch of different spices, you can buy curry powder from the grocery store and omit all the other spices, EXCEPT the turmeric. Use about 1 to 2 T.

Use imported red lentils. I get these from my local middle eastern grocer. You might also be able to find them at a regular grocery store, either in the bulk aisle or the ethnic foods aisle. They’re smaller and flatter than regular lentils, and they become creamy when cooked. I also like to use yellow split peas for texture, but you don’t have to. Just add an extra cup of red lentils if you choose to skip the split peas.

Dice or chop your onion. I failed to grocery shop so I ended up having to use half of a red onion and half of a yellow onion. Doesn’t really make a difference. I like to dice half my onion, and chop the other half in bigger chunks. Just adds texture, but it’s ultimately up to you!

Heat oil in a pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add onions. Saute until slightly softened. Add spices to onion, mixing to coat onions with the spices, and saute another minute.

Add lentils and split peas to the onion and spices, and mix well.

Add about 3 to 4 cups of water to the pot. Cover and let simmer about 10 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on the pot because the lentils will soak up the water, and the lentils could burn to the bottom of the pot (You may have to add more or less water than the 6 cups this recipe calls for, depending on how quickly your lentils soak up the water. Turn down heat if necessary.). Add remaining 2 cups of water and simmer another 15-20 minutes on low to medium-low heat.

The lentils should look thick and creamy like this when it’s done. The split peas take longer to cook than the lentils, so taste one of the split peas to check if it’s done. It should be soft! You can always add more water if it seems too thick, or if the lentils seem to be sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Serve over brown rice with roasted veggies to make it a meal! Or, serve as a side dish. I ate it with lemon saffron chicken that Novin made…recipe to come, later!

Quitting TV with: Teriyaki Salmon and Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw


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It’s 17 days into the new year, and I’ve been completely TV-free. NO Modern Family, no Happy Endings, no New Girl, no Mike and Molly, no Two and a Half Men, no Two Broke Girls, no Whitney, no Big Bang Theory, no local newscast at 4, 5, 6…and….WOW…I could go on….but it’s just now hitting me that we had a bit of a TV problem.

Giving up TV wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t really my vice either.

It was my boyfriend’s.

It all started when he got the ability to record TV shows. One-by-one, he added shows to his queue whenever a new one came out that looked interesting. Once we started watching them, he felt the need to watch EVERY episode and keep up with them weekly. When his queue started to fill up, he’d panic. If we didn’t watch all the recorded episodes and delete them, the queue would fill and stop recording new episodes. Tragically, we’d miss out on all the new episodes and have to watch them on Hulu…with commercials. Oh, the horror!

(*Novin, if you’re reading this: the next time you get the urge to start watching TV again, take note of how ridiculous this all sounds and refer back to this blog post regularly. Please and thank you.)

So anyway, he resolved to stop watching TV during the week and instead use his evenings to work on other projects, and learn! It’s working out quite nicely, even for me. For one, I have much more free time for cooking special meals…and blogging! And we actually sit at the table while we have dinner and….talk! Converse! What a concept! Even our cat joins us at an empty seat.

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Said cat joining us for dinner.

We get to enjoy every bite of the meal in front of us….sloooowly. Well, I eat slowly. He finishes several minutes before me then stands on the heating vent, or takes a couple laps around the kitchen until I finish dinner. Ha.

Here’s a recipe for my teriyaki salmon and cabbage slaw, one of the meals we had time to prepare together because we weren’t watching TV!

Teriyaki Salmon

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Makes 2-3 servings

Ingredients

1 pound salmon (we kept skin on, but you can remove it if you want)

½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

½ cup mirin (can be found in the vinegar section of Asian grocers)

2 T sugar

1 T rice vinegar

1 garlic clove

2 thin slices of fresh ginger

salt and pepper, optional

green onions to garnish, optional

To make the sauce, add soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic clove and ginger to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, while stirring. Turn down heat to low and simmer the sauce another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should begin to thicken (When you remove it from heat it will continue to thicken). Remove the garlic clove and ginger chunks.

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Lightly brush your salmon with sesame oil, and lightly salt and pepper your salmon on both sides.  Heat a pan (preferably cast iron) to medium-high heat. If you are using salmon with skin on, put the salmon in the pan with skin side down first. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip over to other side. Brush salmon with a little bit of teriyaki sauce. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so. Your cooking time will vary depending on how thick your salmon is.  Rule of thumb is to cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

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Transfer the salmon to a plate as soon as it’s done cooking so it won’t over cook, then brush a desired amount of the teriyaki sauce on top. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

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Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw

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Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients

½ head cabbage, shredded or finely chopped

1 to 2 carrots, shredded

1/3 cup red onion, finely sliced or diced

2 to 3 T toasted sesame seeds

1 to 2 T sesame oil

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup water

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne (optional)

green onions to garnish, optional

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar, water and sesame oil.

In a large bowl, add shredded/chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, 1 T sesame seeds and red onion. Mix in dressing. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to your taste and mix well. You can also add more sesame oil if you like that strong flavor. Garnish with 1 T sesame seeds and sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with teriyaki salmon and brown rice for a complete meal!

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ENJOY!

Teriyaki Salmon

1 pound salmon (we kept skin on, but you can remove it if you want)

½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

½ cup mirin (can be found in the vinegar section of Asian grocers)

2 T sugar

1 T rice vinegar

1 garlic clove

2 thin slices of fresh ginger

salt and pepper, optional

green onions to garnish, optional

To make the sauce, add soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic clove and ginger to a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil for 2-3 minutes, while stirring. Turn down heat to low and simmer the sauce another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sauce should begin to thicken (When you remove it from heat it will continue to thicken). Remove the garlic clove and ginger chunks.

Lightly brush your salmon with sesame oil, and lightly salt and pepper your salmon on both sides.  Heat a pan (preferably cast iron) to medium-high heat. If you are using salmon with skin on, put the salmon in the pan with skin side down first. Sear for about 3 to 4 minutes, then flip over to other side. Brush salmon with a little bit of teriyaki sauce. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or so. Your cooking time will vary depending on how thick your salmon is.  Rule of thumb is to cook until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Transfer the salmon to a plate as soon as it’s done cooking so it won’t over cook, then brush a desired amount of the teriyaki sauce on top. Garnish with sliced green onions, if desired.

Asian Cabbage ‘Slaw

½ head cabbage, shredded or finely chopped

1 to 2 carrots, shredded

1/3 cup red onion, finely sliced or diced

2 to 3 T toasted sesame seeds

1 to 2 T sesame oil

½ cup rice vinegar

¼ cup water

salt and pepper to taste

cayenne (optional)

green onions to garnish, optional

In a small bowl, whisk vinegar, water and sesame oil.

In a large bowl, add shredded/chopped cabbage, shredded carrots, 1 T sesame seeds and red onion. Mix in dressing. Add salt, pepper and cayenne to your taste and mix well. You can also add more sesame oil if you like that strong flavor. Garnish with 1 T sesame seeds and sliced green onions, if desired. Serve with teriyaki salmon and brown rice for a complete meal!

Feeding a Crowd with Vietnamese Salad Rolls


I’ve been feeling lately like marathon training has isolated me from friends and social contact, so this last weekend I decided to have a party. I didn’t really have a particularly good reason to throw a party, but I like to cook and I like to entertain. I figured it was the first week of fall…and my cat’s 3rd birthday…so that was all the reason I needed. So I did what I normally do when I throw a party: cook a ridiculous amount of food, and send the leftovers home with my guests. My original plan was to make “fall” foods, but when I researched recipes, everything involved squash or apples, which I then voted against. Instead, I chose a menu with warm, spicy foods that still make you feel cozy but not like it’s Thanksgiving day.

I made coconut lemongrass grilled chicken, thai curry soup, honey garlic turkey/chicken meatballs, a chili-apricot grilled pork tenderloin, a pickled napa cabbage salad, and potstickers. (I found myself racing around the kitchen all day that I didn’t have the energy to photograph everything or keep track of the ingredients I used.)

I realized the only thing missing from this Asian-themed dinner was Vietnamese salad rolls. So I asked my beloved half-Vietnamese friend Alex to come over as my “guest chef” and make them for me so I could blog about them and make her famous. Well, she agreed, and she was at it for about 3 hours while everyone else just relaxed, ate, drank and made conversation. Sorry Alex, but we greatly appreciate it!

The beauty of salad rolls is that you can fill them with basically anything you want, they’re super easy to make, and great when feeding a crowd of people. Just be sure to prep all your vegetables and meats before people show up to make the process easier. Otherwise, you’ll end up like Alex here, busy at work while the rest of us were stuffing our pie holes. 🙂

Ingredients:

1 package thin rice noodles (package might say rice threads, found at Asian grocers)

1 package rice papers (or tapioca papers, found at Asian grocers)

1 bell pepper, any color you like best

a bushel of cilantro, cut off stems and use only leaves

carrots, shredded or thinly sliced

your favorite lettuce (we used romaine)

cooked shrimp, cut lengthwise

1 large piece of ginger, sliced into thin matchsticks

1 package fried tofu, sliced into thin pieces

mint leaves

thai basil leaves

Slice and prepare vegetables, shrimp and tofu.

Remove lettuce stems, reserving only the leaves, like so:

Meanwhile, in a pot, boil water and cook rice noodles until soft. Add warm water to a large bowl or pot, big enough to dip in rice papers. To assemble a salad roll, dip one rice paper in the warm water.

Put on a flat surface. Layer on shrimp, bell pepper, tofu, carrots, ginger, cilantro, mint and basil, then noodles onto one side of the wrapper. Don’t put in the middle of the wrapper, but in the outer quarter of one side. Don’t fill the rolls too much or they will be harder to roll and keep intact.

Tightly roll the end of the wrapper (closest to the filling) over the filling. Make sure the wrapper is tight enough over the filling so it won’t fall out. Next, fold each of the two sides over the filling (like an envelope). Roll rice paper like a burrito. Serve with peanut sauce. (Should make at least 20 rolls)

You can try this peanut sauce recipe from Allrecipes.com: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/the-best-thai-peanut-sauce/detail.aspx

Enjoy!

Great work, Alex!

Adrienne approves!

No salad roll for the birthday girl, just a kitty food cake.

Our kitty's birthday party (one and only) guest, Valentino. All dressed up in his party wear! But kitty was too busy hiding in our room to even come down to socialize. Rude.

Feeding someone with food allergies…Stuffed Portabellas?


Last night we had my grandfather, his sister and her husband over for dinner. I was really looking forward to having them visit, but there was one challenge: Alice is allergic to gluten. And dairy products. And she doesn’t usually eat meat, only fish. And soy makes her angry. Oats give her arthritis…and I know the list goes on. But I was up for the challenge! So after a lot of thinking and searching for recipe ideas, I came up with stuffed portabella mushrooms. Usually stuffed mushrooms involve loads of dairy and gluten, especially since most of the recipes I find use breadcrumbs. So this recipe was an experiment for me, and the results were great! I figured chicken sausage was a safe bet, since she’s not technically vegetarian, and it added a lot of flavor. Well, I think I did well because she cleaned her plate! And those mushrooms are huuuge. I haven’t received a phone call yet about any emergency room visits…so I think I’m in the clear.

Ingredients:

2 T butter or olive oil (I like to use Smart Balance “butter” spread to make it lighter)

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped almonds

4-6 large portabella mushrooms (I made 5 for this recipe and had a little filling leftover)

about 2 cups cooked brown rice

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup marsala cooking wine (you can substitute chicken broth)

1 pound ground chicken Italian sausage

2 tsp dried basil, or 2 T fresh basil

about 1 to 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce/your favorite spaghetti sauce

balsamic vinegar, soy sauce (soy sauce is optional, omit if feeding someone with gluten allergy) and oil to marinate mushrooms

about 2 tomatoes (optional, to roast on top of mushrooms)

salt and pepper, to taste

Using a knife, remove stems from portabella mushrooms, and scoop out some of the insides to create a hole for the filling. Finely chop stems and set aside. The stems will go into the filling. Marinate the mushrooms in equal parts of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and light soy sauce (the amount doesn’t matter, just needs to be enough to evenly coat the mushrooms; use only vinegar and oil if feeding someone with gluten allergy). Let mushrooms sit in marinade for about 15 minutes (just a few minutes is enough to really absorb all of the flavor)

While mushrooms are marinating, chop vegetables and almonds (I like to use a rolling pin to crush almonds, but you can use pre-sliced almonds).

Over medium heat, add butter (or olive oil). Saute onion, bell pepper and chopped mushroom stems until they soften. Turn up heat to medium-high, and add chicken sausage. Saute until meat is cooked all the way through.

Add brown rice to meat mixture. Add marsala cooking wine, almonds, and sun dried tomatoes. The last few minutes of cooking, add basil, parsley, and about 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce. Fill mushrooms with rice mixture.

Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. If desired, top with tomato slices brushed with olive oil, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve mushrooms with marinara sauce to top.

Herbs in a mason jar, my idea of simple table decor.

This is what I do with tomatoes when they are spewing out of the garden...cute decor for dinner guests.

Chocolate covered strawberries and bananas for dessert...with mint tea.

Boneless Buffalo Wings. “Put the food in your mouth, not up your nose.”


PJ’s housewarming…continued…the final recipe of the “series”…with guest chef BJ…

Boneless wings. What a perfect invention for the lazy eater like me.  I know there are some of you out there who will have an opinion on this, but: I hate any food that takes work to eat. Like: ribs, crab/lobster and chicken wings. I guess “hate” is a strong word. I love those foods. I just don’t have the energy to fight the meat off the bone, or out of the shell. When these foods are involved, it’s my mom or Novin’s job to feed me like a baby bird. I just want direct food-to-mouth action without getting my hands dirty, or pieces of chicken wing up my nose.

And that is why the boneless wing is so perfect. An oxymoron, yes. But difficult to eat? No. And you can keep your hands clean for important things–like holding your beer.

Ingredients: (serves 10-15 people; scale down ingredients for smaller serving; 2 chicken breasts feeds 2 to 4 people)

6 chicken breasts

2 eggs

1/4 cup milk

3 cups flour

1 to 3 T salt

1 T cayenne

1 T chili powder

1 T paprika

vegetable oil for frying

Slice chicken breasts in bite-sized pieces like so:

In a large bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Add chicken pieces to egg mixture and evenly coat.  Put flour, chili powder, salt, paprika, and cayenne  in another large bowl and mix well. Remove chicken from egg mixture and add to flour bowl. Toss chicken in flour to evenly coat.

Chicken should be dry, like photo on the top. If it looks like photo on the bottom, it needs more flour coating.

Add chicken pieces to a deep fryer. BJ fried her boneless wings at 355 degrees for 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden brown. Toss wings in your favorite wing or BBQ sauce.

She's delirious from all this cooking!

BJ by the end of the night...good work, Beege!

Steak Fajitas taste like Kraft Handi-Snacks? Call me crazy!


Housewarming party menu…continued…featuring my friend PJ as guest chef for this recipe…

Do you remember those plastic packets of crackers and highly processed cheese that you used to eat as a kid? You know the ones, with the little red stick to scoop up the said “cheese”? I believe they’re called Handi-Snacks.

Handi-Snacks!

I don’t know if it’s just me, but these steak fajitas taste like that cheese. And I mean that in a wonderful, delicious way, the taste nostalgically bringing me back to elementary school. I know it sounds crazy to say that marinated steak tastes just like fake cheese, but please give it a try and tell me if I’m right. If it doesn’t, well I promise it’s delicious anyway. There’s a good chance that I’m just cheese-deprived due to my allergy of milk products, and hallucinating the taste. Or it could be the fact that I haven’t had a Handi-Snack in at least 15 years. Ultimately, you can be the judge.

Fawkes wants to be the taste tester...

Steak marinade

2 pounds flank steak

4 to 6 cloves garlic

1 T paprika

1 to 2 T cayenne

3 T olive oil

1/3 cup water

1 T kosher salt

1 to 2 T liquid smoke (a few glugs of it says PJ)

3 juiced limes

1/2 T pepper

1 T light soy sauce

1 to 2 T worcestershire sauce

Fajita veggies

A few red/green/yellow/orange bell peppers, sliced thin

1-2 onions, thinly sliced

1-2 jalapenos, thinly sliced

drizzle olive oil

Put all marinade ingredients in a large ziplock bag and marinate overnight. Let meat come to room temperature before grilling.  This will ensure more even cooking. Grill meat to desired doneness (we prefer medium or medium rare). This will depend on the thickness of the meat and cooking ability of the grill.

PJ’s technique: I just keep poking the meat with my finger, until it feels done (feels medium-rareish). If it feels like pushing on your cheek, it’s rare or raw. If it’s like pushing on a desk or dense foam rubber, it’s well done.  If it’s somewhat soft, like pushing on the front of your chin, then it’s medium rare.

When cooked to desired doneness, take the meat off grill and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing against the grain.

While meat is resting, saute onions in pan with olive oil over medium-high heat until soft. Add bell peppers and jalapeno and saute until they just begin to soften but are not mushy.  Serve with sliced steak pieces, tortillas and guacamole, or the Spanish rice coming soon in my next blog….stay tuned.

Perfect Housewarming Dessert: Oatmeal Carmelitas


PBJ

Friday night we celebrated the housewarming of our dear friend PJ. He just purchased a great house for entertaining and invited about 15 people over for dinner. He and his girlfriend BJ had an eclectic menu planned: boneless buffalo wings, steak and chicken fajitas, Spanish rice, eggrolls, salad, and oatmeal carmelitas. So I decided to show up 2 hours early, take notes and photos while they cooked, and feature them as guest chefs for my blog. Now I know that is a lot of dishes, and I lost sleep at night thinking about how to organize this blog post with so many dishes to cover. So I decided to cover my three or four-ish favorites: the boneless wings, the steak fajitas with Spanish rice and the oatmeal carmelitas–starting with dessert, of course.

(Disclaimer: This menu is not recommended for marathon runners in training the night before a long run. I barely made it to the port-o-potty before finishing mile 7)

Oatmeal Carmelitas

Oatmeal carmelitas are basically the best invention ever, combining melted chocolate, gooey caramel and a buttery, oatmeal nut crust. I’m not sure if it’s accurate to say that carmelitas are the best thing ever or is the best thing ever. I think carmelitas are meant to be cut into individual-sized bars, which would mean that they are the best thing ever, in plural form. But when I eat them the whole thing remains intact…in a fork-direct-to-pan fashion. So I think for me it’s more accurate to use the singular form and say that oatmeal carmelita is the best thing ever, even if it sounds funny.

But ANYWAY, back to the point. I love oatmeal carmelita. I love it warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top. The problem is I love it too much that I eat it until I feel sick. And then there’s regret…

So my advice is: Give them/it a try. But if you’re like me and inherited the Sweet Tooth Disease from your dad, make sure to actually cut them into small bars and just eat one or two. Not out of the pan. Put it on a plate, then leave the room. Maybe the building. And yes, I think STD (as in “Sweet Tooth Disease,” not the sexually transmitted kind) is a real disease. Lol.

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup quick cooking oats

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

3/4 cup melted butter

6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I really like them with dark chocolate too)

1/2 cup chopped almonds (walnuts or pecans would work great too)

3/4 cup caramel ice cream topping (BJ is pretty liberal with this)

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9×9-inch square pan. Combine the 1 cup flour, baking soda, oats, brown sugar, and melted butter. Mix to combine, mixture will be very crumbly. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 10 minutes.Let cool slightly then sprinkle over the crust the chocolate chips and chopped nuts.

Mix the caramel ice cream topping with the 3 tablespoons of flour and drizzle over the chocolate chips. Top with the remaining oatmeal mixture. You will need to break it into small pieces to cover. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Let bars cool before cutting (or eat warm directly from pan with ice cream on top if you don’t have to go running or leave the house the next day). Enjoy!