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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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. 

 

Detoxing from Vacation Food Crimes with Chicken Lettuce Wraps


 

My boyfriend and I recently celebrated our five-year anniversary. Five years seems like quite a long time so we decided to plan something exciting to celebrate. A friend of mine suggested we take a mini road trip down to Jacksonville, a cute little town in Southern Oregon. She mentioned wine tasting, a steam shower and champagne brunch so that was enough to convince us. We packed up our bags, arranged a kitty-sitter and headed south.

Jacksonville is about a 5 hour drive from Portland, Oregon and just 20 miles from Ashland and the award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was the first town in America to be named a National Historic Landmark, founded in 1851 following a discovery of gold deposits. Naturally, the town has an “old west” feel, with a corner saloon and a gun shop. Adorable! But I must say I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Jacksonville is an outdoor, wine, food, music and art lover’s paradise. It is home of the Britt Festival, a summer outdoor music and performing arts festival, where you can bring your own picnic, beer and wine! Countless vineyards and wineries are just minutes from town, with several tasting rooms just steps from our hotel.

Wine tasting at Red Lily Vineyards, just 10 minutes from downtown Jacksonville.

We were lucky enough to stay in one of the 8 rooms at the Jacksonville Inn. We stayed in the Patrick J. Ryan room, the only one equipped with a steam shower. I had no idea what a steam shower was before I came to the inn, and let me tell you, the experience changed me. Imagine…a steam room…in a shower. You can shower…and steam! At the same time! In the mornings I enjoyed runs with views of vineyards and farmland, then came back to the inn for a refreshing steam shower. In the evenings after a long day of hiking, eating and wine tasting, I would unwind and prepare for sleep with another steam shower.

This was my view on my morning runs! Then afterwards…I drank wine at this vineyard!

Mr. Steam is his name! My best friend.

Each morning until 10 a.m. the inn provided freshly baked biscotti, hot coffee, and tea, so after my morning runs we spent the remainder of the mornings before breakfast laying in bed, reading magazines and watching cable TV while enjoying our coffee and biscotti.

Every morning should start this way.

A delicious made-to-order breakfast was included daily in our stay, with options like belgian waffles, breakfast skillets, omelets, blueberry pancakes, croissant french toast and more. On Sundays the inn serves a special brunch menu with free flowing champagne, assorted pastries and fruit.

Smoked Salmon Frittata

Smoked Salmon Benedict

Denver Omelet

Me getting excited for assorted breakfast pastries!

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I love when my toilet paper rolls are made into roses.

View from the summit of Lower Table Rock in Central Point, just 15 minutes from Jacksonville.

Just a 15-minute drive from Jacksonville is Table Rocks in Central Point where we burned off our breakfasts on a one hour round-trip hike up Lower Table Rock to a breath-taking view of the Rogue Valley. Then following the hike…I piled the calories back on with this mondo slice of chocolate mousse cake at the Jacksonville Inn…which I ate by myself and thoroughly enjoyed.

The rest of our trip was enjoyed this way…with lots of good, local wine, delicious food (Including the best burger of my life) and relaxation. Needless to say…I am now on a ‘diet’ after all the food crimes I committed…detoxing with healthy food to undo all the damage of vacation…starting with Chicken Lettuce Wraps!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients

1 pound chicken, diced (I used boneless thighs, but you could also use chicken breast)

3/4 cup celery

1 small onion, diced

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced bell pepper

1 cup diced mushrooms

1 cup diced water chestnuts

3/4  cup chopped green onions

2 to 3 T light soy sauce

2 to 3 T oyster sauce

2 to 3 T hoisin sauce

2 to 3 T rice vinegar

2 to 3 T sambal oelek or chili sauce (optional)

3/4 cup dried black fungus (optional-can be found in Asian grocers. Soak for about 5 minutes in boiled water.)

1 head red leaf, romaine or bibb lettuce

1 large spaghetti squash, roasted (optional but highly recommended)

Instructions 

Chop up vegetables. If using spaghetti squash, poke holes in squash using a sharp knife. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Scrape out the flesh using a fork; it should come out fairly effortlessly. If it’s too hard to scrape out put back in the oven for a few more minutes. The squash will look like spaghetti noodles! Set aside squash for serving.

Dice chicken into small, bite sized pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be to wrap and eat out of the lettuce leaves.

Heat about 1 T of oil in a skillet over high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned. Add onion and garlic and saute for a minute or two. Add the remaining vegetables (except spaghetti squash) and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t overcook the vegetables or the lettuce wraps won’t have that nice “crunch.”

Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce. You can modify the sauce amounts to your taste…If you like it saucier, add more of each ingredient. Pluck off whole lettuce leaves from the head, wash thoroughly and shake off excess water. Pat down with paper towels if necessary. Add chicken mixture to lettuce leaves, top with spaghetti squash, wrap up and eat!

 

Enjoy!

My Sis: Pooping Machine to Pretzel Baker


This is Alexis. My 10-year-old sister/mini-me.

 She was born when I was almost 15, so I watched this girl grow from a pooping machine–to a tattle tale–to a little baker and craft addict that she is today.

Once a month I invite her over to spend the night for some sisterly bonding. We dine out, take her to do some fun kid activity (this time we chose dodge ball trampolining) and bake.

In the past when “we’ve” baked together, I would demonstrate how to measure flour or to beat an egg properly, but she’d lose interest and end up in the living room to make “crafts”–taping long pieces of paper together with one of my wrapped tampons on the end–as a toy for our cat. (Yes it’s weird. But tampons are the cat’s fave and there’s no stopping her.) To see what I mean, see figures 1-3.

Figure 1: Alexis finishing up kitty's tampon toy. Kitty, to the left, watching from afar.

Figure 2: Tampon toy close up, already disheveled with bite marks.

Figure 3: Tampon toy in action, kitty lurking in the shadows.

So… I gave up trying to bake with Alexis and instead supported her “craft making” as a hobby. (Thankfully, she took up knitting and made a nice scarf for the cat instead.)

But this last visit, something suddenly changed. She insisted that we make soft pretzels and coffee cream brownies, and that “we have to go to the store now to get flour, butter and whipping cream, and chocolate chips, and and and…”

Well excuuuuuse me, little missy. But being the amazing big sister that I am, I complied. Yes, I was skeptical that once we got in the kitchen history would repeat itself. I gave it a chance because my mom told me that Alexis recently baked an apple pie all by herself, and my dad said that she has been baking so much that with his gallbladder issues he can’t possibly eat everything she makes–so he was forced to put a stop to it.

And thankfully, they were right! Phew. Alexis dominated the kitchen and those pretzels. She recently discovered baking tutorials on YouTube, which revived her interest for baking. Apparently watching her big sis give a baking tutorial IN PERSON doesn’t cut it. Oh well.

Now that she’s an independent baker, I just need to get her trained on cleaning up a mess…

Homemade Soft Pretzels

This recipe is from Alton Brown, Food Network, and got 5 star reviews: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/homemade-soft-pretzels-recipe/index.html

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 package active dry yeast

22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups

2 ounces unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil, for pan

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Pretzel salt (We used Fleur de Sel)

Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.

Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined.

Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

The dough just after mixing.

The dough after it has risen 50 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

It might seem like a lot of baking soda...because it is.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 to 12 equal pieces.

Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.

Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt.

Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Freaking. Yum.

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!

Valentine’s Day Gluttony: Brownies with Salted Caramel Sauce


Today a friend asked me how my weekend went, and I was excited to tell her about it–until I realized how gluttonous and shameful it was.

I told her how great date night was at Benihana and how it was so good I scarfed every last bite on my plate, including the fried rice with extra globs of garlic butter…I told her how cool the Valentine’s Day weekend wine tasting was, each of the 13 wines paired with a different chocolate dessert, sometimes two…I rambled about how we went to happy hour at McMenamin’s afterwards, the burger and Cajun tots hitting the spot after all that wine…but I left out the part about having a second dinner a few hours later of brown rice, chicken pot stickers and broccoli to “balance everything out.” I also told her we celebrated my mom’s birthday at The Old Spaghetti Factory for lunch on Sunday, but left out the part about devouring a whole plate of spaghetti and meatballs, a loaf of french sourdough and spumoni ice cream.

I also failed to mention that–as if to mock me–after all the damage was done, my mom gave me my souvenir gift from her recent trip to Panama…a frilly teensy weensy bikini…in a size or two too small.

I drowned my sorrows on the couch Sunday night with Chinese takeout, season 4 episodes of Breaking Bad and…Brownies with Salted Caramel.

To continue my shame, after I finished baking I stood at the stove dipping pieces of brownie that fell off the cookie cutters directly into the salted caramel pot and popped them in my mouth like potato chips.

When I went to bed I had to lay on my back like a beached whale because laying on my side made it impossible to breathe. While running 30 miles a week does increase my appetite, I need to figure out where to draw the line. But that will have to wait until after Valentine’s Day, because I’ve still got these brownies to eat, and a jar full of salted caramel in the fridge.

This brownie recipe is amazing! It’s as easy as making boxed brownies, and just as tasty! I adapted this recipe from the blog Ingredients Inc. To get the original recipe visit: http://www.ingredientsinc.net/2011/01/easy-valentines-day-brownies/

Easy Valentine’s Brownies

 

Ingredients

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup butter
1 cup raw cane sugar (you can use regular too)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the flour mixture, sugar, eggs and vanilla.


Spoon batter into a greased and floured 8 x 8-inch baking pan and bake for 25 minutes.

Cool in the pan on a wire racks. Cut into heart shapes with cookie cutters if desired. Drizzle with salted caramel (recipe below).

Salted Caramel Sauce

Recipe adapted from: http://lickmyspoon.com/recipes/salted-caramel-sauce/

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt (In honor of my heritage I used Philippine fleur de sel)

Heat sugar and water in a 2-quart or 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir to help the sugar dissolve, but stop stirring when the sugar comes to a boil. You can swirl the pan a bit if you want. PAY CLOSE ATTENTION THE WHOLE TIME. I turned my head a minute to cut the brownies and before I knew it the whole thing burned, my house was filled with smoke and I had to start over. 😦

When the liquid sugar hits a dark amber color, add all the butter to the pan. The mixture will foam up and thicken. Whisk until the butter has melted. Once the butter has melted, take the pan off the heat.

Add the cream to the pan (the mixture will foam up again) and continue to whisk to incorporate.

Add the sea salt and whisk until caramel sauce is smooth.

Let cool in the pan for a couple minutes, then pour into a glass jar and let cool to room temperature. Don’t worry if the sauce seems a bit too thin at first, it will thicken as it cools. Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Warm before serving to loosen it up again.

Enjoy!

Modeling the frilly, teensy weensy bikini top after a gut busting lunch.

Experimenting with Persian Cooking: Ghormeh Sabzi (Persian stew)


My boyfriend’s parents are from Iran, so I am often lucky enough to be invited to their house for a home-cooked Persian meal. But the invitations don’t come as frequently as I would like.

Lately I’ve found myself craving Persian food so intensely that I have begged Novin to call his mom and ask if she will cook for us. The first time he obliged (She loved that we came over and told us to do it more often). The second time he felt bad and suggested we go out to breakfast with his parents instead…which I can’t understand. I call my mom on a regular basis to invite myself over and put in special food requests–which she happily makes and sends me home with a week’s supply of leftovers–no questions asked. That’s what moms are for, right?

I tried to convince him that his mom ENJOYS cooking for us and LIKES that we are asking to come eat her food and spend time with her. She should be honored that we think her food is that good. 🙂 He didn’t buy it. So, I resolved to learn how to cook Persian food myself, starting with one of my favorites–ghormeh sabzi.

Ghormeh sabzi is a “Persian stew” that is served over basmati rice. Its base is made of cilantro, parsley, green onions and fenugreek, stewed for a few hours with beef or lamb (chicken is good too, but not traditional).  There are other variations using spinach or leeks. Don’t rush the process, it really needs the full two hours to tenderize the meat and for the flavors of the herbs to come out. I was thrilled with how this recipe turned out; it tasted exactly like Novin’s mom’s ghormeh sabzi!

I love Persian cooking because it is so light and healthful. The ingredients are fresh and simple, but it does take some time and patience.

If you’re adventurous, give this a try! It’s easy to make, just remember to make it on a day when you have some time. This is only the beginning of my Persian food exploration…more to come!

Ingredients

Serves 4-6.

4 bunches of parsley

2 bunches of cilantro

1 cup dried fenugreek (or fresh if you can find it!)

1 to 2 cups green onions or chives (green part only)

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed

3 dried lemons

juice of 3 fresh lemons

1 to 2 pounds of beef chuck, cut into bite-sized pieces

4 cups water

2 tsp.  turmeric

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions in oil over medium-high heat. Add turmeric and coat onions.

Add chunks of beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides. Add garlic and turn down heat to medium. Add 4 cups water and dried limes and cover. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, finely chop parsley, cilantro and green onions. Saute them over medium heat in a little bit of oil until they are fragrant.

After the meat has been stewing for an hour, remove dried lemons (or they will make the stew too bitter).  Add herbs (including fenugreek), cover and cook for another 45 minutes over medium-low heat; occasionally stir. Add beans and fresh lemon juice in the last 15 minutes of cooking, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Best served over basmati rice with saffron. Enjoy!

It's not very pretty but it tastes great!

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!