Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spinach Salad with Chickpeas, Pineapple, Almonds & Green Onions

I hope that many of you are enjoying your Memorial Day weekend at the beach or with family. Personally I'm stuck in the city for another week before I head home to Cape Cod (YAY) for a visit, and it is very much school finals week for those of us on the inexplicable quarter system, so quick & fresh warm-weather dinners are the name of the game lately.

And of course, when it comes to quick and warm-weather-friendly, salads are the way to go.

Baby spinach - I used about 2/3 of a bag
Pineapple chunks, canned in juice. You could also use canned mandarin oranges.
Slivered or sliced almonds
about 1 cup cooked or canned chickpeas. If using canned, rinse thoroughly in a strainer.
1 green onion, sliced
Asian or Italian vinaigrette salad dressing

1. In a large bowl, combine spinach, chickpeas, green onion, and pineapple
2. Gradually drizzle with dressing and mix (with your hands, if you're willing), until everything is just coated.
3. Plate salad, sprinkle with almonds, and serve.

The contrast of the bright, tart green onion with the sweet, mellow pineapple is super tasty. You could use sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts instead of the almonds, if you want. I did plan this salad, so it's not exactly an "Odds and Ends" salad, but you can definitely experiment with different fruit and nut combos to find one you love. Of course, feel free to use fresh pineapple, if you're up for the challenge of hacking into one. I'm especially fond of spinach as a salad base because it's one of the most nutritionally-dense greens out there.

For lunch on this warm, lazy Sunday, Brady and I shared a Jewish Hoagie from possibly the best deli in all of Philadelphia, Koch's at 43rd and Locust. They use absolutely the best meats and cheeses and boy, do they know how to use them. I was planning on making this salad tonight anyway, but after having even half of one of their specialty subs for lunch, a lighter dinner was very necessary. Try it!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cheese Ravioli with Fresh Tomato & Artichoke Sauce

You won't hear this on your local news, but the planet is hurdling towards the sun, Philadelphia-first. Or at least it feels that way. It has topped 90 degrees already in the last two days, and we have a hot weekend ahead, which makes me grateful for tasty dinner recipes that require very little actual cooking time. Especially because we haven't installed our air conditioner yet. Gross.

about 1 lb Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
about 6 oz of quartered, marinated artichoke hearts
1/2 onion, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, thoroughly smashed
9 oz-ish package of cheese ravioli (we used three-cheese agnolotti)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Cook the ravioli according to package directions, and drain.
2. While the pasta cooks, combine tomatoes, artichoke hearts, onion, green onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and about a pan-turn's worth of olive oil in a medium to large skillet. Cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until veggies are heated through.
3. In a large bowl, toss the ravioli or agnolotti with a bit more olive oil. Add half the tomato sauce, and stir CAREFULLY to combine pasta and sauce.
4. Serve pasta and top with remaining sauce. If serving family-style, do the same on a serving platter.

As I was getting ready to serve this, I wished I'd had some fresh basil on hand. Next time I will chop some and sprinkle it over the pasta just before serving. With a little Parmesan instead, it was still very tasty.

The only part of this recipe that takes any time is the peeling, chopping and seeding of tomatoes, and as long as you cook your pasta with the lid on, you won't mind making this light, fresh, yummy dish on a warm evening. This made just the right amount for the two of us.

Quote of the Day: "A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins." ~ Laurie Colwin

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Semi-Asian Slaw Salad & Chicken Kabobs

My Mom makes this super fab salad with a bag of broccoli slaw, Ramen noodles for crunch, and some kind of magical and mysterious dressing that is tangy, slightly salty, and sweet. It's a really good salad. Like eat-a-giant-bowl-of-it-in-front-of-the-TV-late-at-night good. It could almost take the place of popcorn, in that regard. But not quite.

For my dressing, I started with a sesame soy salad dressing. I also marinated the chicken for the kabobs in some of the same dressing. I used an all-natural one made by Olde Cape Cod, just because I couldn't stop myself from buying the bottle with the lighthouse on the label. And I regret nothing.

For the salad, I added a few other things to the dressing partially to thin it out, and to give it more of that tangy-sweet kick. You want the consistency to be quite thin so that it just barely coats all the slaw-ed veggies without being too heavy. I truly wish I'd had some sesame oil on hand, but since I didn't, I improvised. Just be sure to add each ingredient in small increments so you can get to exactly the flavor that you want.

Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar
Sesame/Ginger/Soy type salad dressing (For marinating the chicken and as a base for the salad dressing)
Chili oil - Just a few drops
Soy sauce

Sesame seeds
Slivered almonds
1 green onion, sliced
Crumbled Ramen noodles
1 small can mandarin orange slices, drained
1 bag broccoli slaw veggies. (For an easy egg roll recipe using the same veggies, try this. You could even use leftover slaw salad!)

2 chicken breasts, cut into pieces and marinated in sesame dressing

1. Stick chicken onto bamboo or steel skewers and cook in a grill pan or skillet over medium-low heat until cooked through. (You could also use a George Foreman Grill, too).
2. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl until you are happy with the flavor.
3. In a large bowl, combine veggies, mandarin oranges, and sesame seeds. Drizzle with dressing and combine until ingredients are just coated.
4. Plate the salad, then sprinkle with slivered almonds, Ramen noodles, and green onion. Serve with kabobs.

To the dressing, you could also add fresh ginger, hot sauce, or some garlic, if you're in the mood.

For us, this made three servings, which to me is just about perfect. We had a yummy dinner and Brady will have a yummy lunch tomorrow. When I'm home during the day I enjoy my lunchtime meal experiments, so this works out well for everybody. 

In other news, tomorrow is my birthday! I suppose I'm not mentioning this for any particular reason other than to say that we will be having dinner at my very favorite Philadelphia restaurant, The White Dog Cafe, which I am very excited about. We don't go there often (I think I've been four times or so) but each time has been a fantastic experience. I can't wait!

Quote of the Day:
Maturity has more to do with what types of experiences you've had, and what you've learned from them, and less to do with how many birthdays you've celebrated.” ~ Anonymous

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Last Night's Dinner: Warm Pasta Salad with Tuna & Other Things

It hasn't been very long since I last posted about a pasta salad type of meal, but I find the light-yet-satisfying nature of these dishes perfect for this time of year. They're quick, easy, and also super versatile, and since you can add basically anything you want, you won't get sick of them. Adding a "fancy" salad ingredient like marinated peppers, artichokes, or kalamata olives will make your version seem much more sophisticated than the actual effort that went into it. Which is always nice.

For this one I tossed together:
1/2 box of whole wheat Rotini, about 7 oz
2 cans of tuna, packed in water, drained
1 green onion, cut on the bias
3 pepperoncini, thinly sliced (medium-hot peppers, sometimes called Tuscan peppers)
handful or two of chopped asparagus
a few marinated artichoke hearts
salt and pepper
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Add the asparagus for the last minute of cooking time, then drain.
2. In a large bowl, combine about a tablespoon of olive oil, a drizzle of juice (vinegar) from the pepperoncini jar (or regular vinegar if not using peppers), salt and pepper. Add tuna, and break it up.
3. Add pasta, asparagus, and remaining ingredients to bowl and toss until completely coated with dressing. Add more oil and/or vinegar if needed.

Instead of the pepperoncini you can use their less spicy cousins, banana peppers, or even marinated bell peppers if you prefer. Personally I'm all about spicy food lately, so I was more than a little bit excited about the peppers. I ate two of them whole - seeds and all - while I was preparing dinner, which caused Brady a little bit of shock and horror. It was worth it. 

I didn't actually think about adding balsamic vinegar until we were ready to eat, so I just served it alongside. It worked out fine, but I think the flavor would be better dispersed if it were combined with the other dressing ingredients from the beginning. The sweet tartness of the vinegar is a nice contrast with the mildness of the tuna. This is something that Italians have known... possibly forever. In the opinion of the Food Network, this is what an Italian tuna salad is, but in my experience it is something too delicious to describe. But I'll try anyway. In another post, someday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Last Night's Dinner: Bean & Veggie Wraps with Guacamole

In some ways, I am super proud of this dish. It's fresh, easy, healthy, and meat-free. In other ways - specifically, the fact that I used canned beans and purchased guacamole - I don't feel it's fit to post. But I made it, and it was good, and I'm going out of town to see Brady's grandparents this weekend, so I'm going to tell you about it.

I'm not sure if this can properly be called a "burrito," or if it more properly a wrap, as I've called it. Since I used "wraps" instead of tortillas it seems more like a wrap to me, but the overall effect is definitely that of a healthied-up burrito. This recipe serves up to 4 people, or 2 if they are very hungry.

1/2 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 can black beans, rinsed well
1-2 cups lettuce, cut into strips
2-4 wheat wraps, depending on number of people
1 package guacamole, or home-made, or 1 fresh avocado, chopped
1 tomato, chopped, or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
Grated cheese (optional) - We used Monterey Jack
Dash of lemon or lime juice (optional)
Few shakes of cumin
Your favorite salsa
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. Saute onion in olive oil. When onion begins to soften, add pepper and garlic, and continue to cook for a couple more minutes. Add a few shakes of cumin.
2. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add the beans and cook until they are heated through. Add lemon or lime juice, if using.
3. Spoon bean mixture onto tortilla, and serve with remaining ingredients as toppings, family-style.

This is one of those add-whatever-you-like things. You can use more and/or different veggies in place of the pepper, queso instead of the grated cheese, and hot sauce, if you want to. If you've got some fresh cilantro around, you can chop it up and serve it with your toppings. Overall it was quick, tasty, healthy, and also kind of fun. Make these! You'll like them!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quinoa with Sauteed Spinach & A Fried Egg on Top

Tomorrow is a 5:00 alarm day, so tonight's post is kind of a short one, but that's fitting for this recipe. It's simple, easy, and one of the quickest dinners I've come up with so far.

I'm not really sure where the idea for this dish came from, which might be obvious by the seemingly random nature of it. But I promise - it's tasty! And as a bonus, it's vegetarian and super nutritious, with lots of iron, protein, and fiber.

...But photogenic, it is not.
 This recipe serves two:

2 eggs
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed in a mesh strainer
1/2 onion, chopped
1 bunch spinach, washed
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
Grated Parmesan cheese
Pat of butter
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. In a small pan, boil about 2 cups of water, and add quinoa. Bring back to a boil, then simmer until water is gone.
2. In a large skillet, saute onions in olive oil (about 1 1/2 turns of the pan) until they start to become translucent. Add the garlic and saute another two or three minutes.
3. Start heating up a frying pan, melting a small pat of butter.
4. Add spinach to the garlic and onion, add about a tablespoon of water, and cover. Cook until spinach is fully wilted. Add cooked quinoa and salt and pepper, and saute with spinach for one or two minutes, or until combined.
5. In the frying pan, crack and fry an egg - one per serving, up to 3 - and cook them according to your preference. To serve, just plate the quinoa, place an egg on top, and sprinkle it with a little Parmesan.

Since I have half of a bunch of asparagus left from last night's dinner, I was tempted to add that. I didn't but you definitely could add some, chopped up, with your spinach. Sliced yellow squash would also be good, and would add another pop of color to the plate. This dish is tasty with hot sauce on the egg, if you're into that.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Warm Tortellini Salad with Cherry Tomatoes & Other Good Things

This is a very tasty, flavorful meal that takes almost no time at all. If you know you'll be in a hurry you can cut up the tomatoes, onion, and asparagus beforehand, and you've got dinner ready in about 5 minutes.

9 oz cheese tortellini
1/4 of a red onion, sliced (I chopped mine, for some reason)
1/2 of a 14 oz jar of marinated artichokes, drained
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 bunch of asparagus cut into 1 1/2 inch-long-ish pieces (about 1/2 pound)
Fresh parsley or basil, chopped
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Apple cider or red wine vinegar

1. Cook tortellini according to package directions. Add asparagus to cook for the last minute of the pasta's cooking time.
2. While the pasta is cooking, mix a good drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar with a splash of apple cider or red wine vinegar in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper and other veggies.
3. Drain tortellini and asparagus and add to the dressing and veggie mixture. Turn to coat everything, sprinkle with parsley or basil, and serve.

I used parsley mostly just because I didn't have basil on hand. I think basil, or some combo of the two, would be ideal. To be honest, parsley is just a tiny bit grassy for this dish, but I love fresh herbs of any kind so it didn't bother me at all.

What I didn't add, which I think I should have, is a bit of grated Parmesan cheese right before serving. You could also add some arugula or baby spinach if you were feeling adventurous. Still, this was very tasty, and obviously super easy. I love cold pasta salad, even for dinner, but I think the fresh, warm pasta really makes this dish. The pasta warms the veggies up, but just slightly. This will make a great summer meal. For us, this made two generous servings, though to be honest, we could have made it three, especially if it were served with some crusty garlic bread.

A word to the wise: It's asparagus season! If you're into the stuff, which I sure am, now is the time to get the best flavor at the lowest price. We are about halfway through the season, with a month to go. Steam it, grill it, boil it, whatever you like - just don't miss it!

Quote of the Day: "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." ~ Federico Fellini

Monday, May 16, 2011

Spaghetti with Spicy Turkey Meat Sauce from Rachael Ray

I have a love-hate relationship with Rachael Ray, in that I love most of her recipes, and hate nearly everything else about her - her persona, her catchphrases, her trademark abbrevs. I find her disingenuous and frankly, a little scary. But when it came to this turkey meat sauce, my girl didn't let me down.

I halved recipe, though that wasn't my original intention. Turns out, in my grocery-list-making haste, I had just written down "1 can diced tomatoes," not "1 28 oz can diced tomatoes."So naturally I ended up with 14 oz and decided to cut down the recipe. This was a wise choice. Even halved, this made three generous servings, one of which will be tomorrow's lunch. If you're cooking for fewer than 6 people, which I suspect most of you are, you will certainly want to do the same. I also used whole-wheat spaghetti, which makes this dish even more satisfying while cutting down on white carbs.

My only grievance with this recipe is the lack of purported "spice". For our tastes, I could have easily doubled the amount of red pepper flakes - that is, kept with the amount in the original recipe - and we would have been a little more impressed. We both added a few more flakes at the table, though, which you may prefer to do rather than doubling the heat straightaway.

I am a big fan of turkey versions of traditionally fatty foods, which you probably figured out if you saw my post about turkey burgers with veggies mixed right in. (Except bacon. Don't mess with my bacon). After trying "regular" pork sausage several months ago, Brady and I were both so disgusted with the sheer quantity of fat that we vowed never to cook them again. But turkey sausage, especially hot Italian-style turkey sausage, we are very fond of. Using 97% lean turkey for sauces like this is a fantastic way to get your comfort-food-fix without feeling.... Well, disgusting. And it is so easy and delicious! Thumbs up.

Of course, it goes without saying that this sauce is definitely not veggie-friendly. But, I do think that these simple ingredients would be just as delicious with some chopped zucchini or squash in place of the meat.
That's a very gloomy, rainy Philadelphia in the background.
Quote of the Day: “SAUCE, n. The one infallible sign of civilization and enlightenment. A people with no sauces has one thousand vices; a people with one sauce has only nine hundred and ninety-nine. For every sauce invented and accepted a vice is renounced and forgiven.” ~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Veggie Stir-Fry with Chicken & Brown Rice

I've shared this idea before, but it has everything to do with this post, so I'm sharing it again:
As a kid, I used to watch The Frugal Gourmet on TV with my Dad fairly often. I recently read a quote from the chef on the show, Jeff Smith: “Please understand the reason why Chinese vegetables taste so good. It is simple. The Chinese do not cook them, they just threaten them!"
When it comes to anything Asian-ish that involves vegetables, this seems to be the key. Even with Indian dishes like vegetable curry, I find the more al dente versions much more satisfying. So tonight I tried to keep this in mind while I was putting together a super-tasty stir fry.

Of course, the sauce is also of huge importance to the success of your stir fry, so you could say that I sort of cheated. I used a couple tablespoons of plum dipping sauce that I had left over from these fabulous baked egg rolls that I made last week. (I know, there's lots of sugar in it, but I'm careful with sugar so I'm okay with that). I added a drizzle of soy sauce, a little sesame oil, and a tiny splash each of apple cider vinegar and hot chili oil. To thin it out just a tad, I added a splash of water (just a second under the tap) and about 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch. I know, I just said I was trying to thin it out - but the cornstarch will let the sauce evenly coat your veggies before thickening back up into a delicious sauce. Since I didn't really "make" the sauce, I'll leave that bit up to you, and focus on the yummy veggies. We had ours with brown rice, which you'll cook according to the package directions.

3 carrots, peeled and cut on the bias
3 stalks of celery, cut on the bias
1 green or red pepper, or some of each, sliced
1 handful bean sprouts
1/2 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1-2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips (ours came from an extremely well-endowed chicken, so I used just one)

sesame oil
olive oil

1. Heat sesame oil, olive oil and garlic until it just starts to crackle. Add chicken and saute until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Set chicken pieces aside and cover, leaving juices in the pan.
2. Add chopped vegetables, except for the sprouts. Over medium heat, stir-fry the veggies for about 4-5 minutes, or until JUST tender. Test a piece of carrot if you're not sure.
3. Add stir-fry sauce to the veggies, mix in the sprouts, and cook for about one more minute, or just long enough for the sauce to thicken a bit.
4. On each plate, add a scoop of brown rice, and put veggies on top. Then add the chicken, and drizzle remaining hot stir-fry sauce over it. Dinnertime!

You could use shrimp or sliced pork tenderloin instead of chicken, or make it vegetarian by skipping the meat and adding a handful of cashews to your veggies while they're cooking. To be honest, I was surprised at just how juicy the chicken was. In this case I think the sesame oil is the key to keeping thinly-sliced chicken moist and tasty.

Stir-fry is a staple quick, easy, and relatively healthy dinner. With brown rice, you have everything you need. Yes, as a student I have considered making stir-fry veggies with a side of Ramen noodles in the past, but when the cost-per-serving of brown rice is so low, I can't justify all the empty white carbs that Ramen brings to the table. (Get it?) ... (Sorry.)

My only real regret is that I didn't have any ginger, fresh or dry, on hand to add to the sauce. I definitely recommend adding about 1 tsp fresh grated ginger root for a little kick. We both added a little Sriracha at the table.

Quote of the Day: "This country isn't a melting pot. Think of this country as a stir fry. That's what this country should be. A place where people are appreciated for who they are." ~ Jane Elliott 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Crock Pot Beef Roast with Potatoes, Onions & Tomatoes

I know what you're probably thinking right now - beef roasts don't exactly fit with the premise of this blog, especially the "healthy" bit. But this blog is also about real life, and in real life sometimes you have a crap day at work and decide to make a juicy beef roast for dinner because a salad just wouldn't cut it. Also sometimes your job is great and you just want some beef, and for all of your sakes I hope that this is the case. Not to mention the numerous benefits of a crock pot for anyone with a "real life" schedule.

You'll just have to trust me when I say that I made much healthier food in between the butter-loaded mushroom balls with gravy, and the beef roast... also with gravy. Because I did.

... But I digress.

One of the most wonderful things about crock pots, and slow cookers in general, is that you can slow-cook a very inexpensive cut of meat and turn it into a tender, juicy, buttery meal. For this roast I used a just-under-two-pound center-cut chuck steak.

seasoned or kosher salt
garlic powder
thyme or paprika
2ish lb center-cut chuck steak
1 onion, chopped
2 potatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 can whole or stewed tomatoes (I used about 14 oz of whole tomatoes, and I think more would be even better)
1 packet onion soup mix
about 1 tablespoon cornstarch, or white flour

1. In your crock pot, toss in 2 large-chopped potatoes, a chopped onion, the garlic, and some whole or stewed tomatoes with all their juices. Combine the soup mix with about a cup of water, and pour it in.

2. Rub the meat with seasoned salt, a little garlic powder, and thyme or paprika. (I used thyme). In a pan, brown the meat on both sides, then plop it on top of the veggies and set the crock to "low". This is important: DON'T wash the pan. You'll want those crusty bits later.

3. Cook for about 5-8 hours on low, depending on your machine. 

My 5 quart machine was a bit large for this, but there was no way it would have fit in the 2 quarter. Just keep in mind that if your crock is less than 2/3 full, you should check on it occasionally to be sure nothing is getting overdone. After about 6 hours the roast was tender and juicy, and the potatoes were not over-mushy.

4. Gravy: When cooking is complete, switch crock to "warm," and ladle out about 1.5 cups of the brothy juices into the pan you used to brown the meat. Over medium-low heat, use a metal spatula to scrape the pan while the juices heat up. Then, whisking constantly, GRADUALLY add about a tablespoon of cornstarch, or some flour. Cook gravy until it has thickened and reduced slightly.

Yes, that is a paper towel pretending to be a napkin. Don't judge me.
Cut the meat, spoon out some veggies, pour a little gravy on top and enjoy! This should really be served with a good fresh bread to soak up the delicious juices. Of course, this made much more meat than we could eat, but I am looking forward to using in a steak & eggs creation for brunch tomorrow.

You can easily experiment with the veggies in this dish. Root vegetables will fare best, so think carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc. You could also use mushrooms, but I would add those about 30-40 mins before you want the dish to be done. They are otherwise apt to turn into mush.

Brady said that this tasted like something his Grandma would make, and though I've never had the pleasure of experiencing her cooking, I took it as a big compliment!

Quote of the Day: "The feeling of friendship is like that of being comfortably filled with roast beef; love, like being enlivened with champagne."  ~ Samuel Johnson

Sunday, May 8, 2011

7-Ingredient, 3-Step Mushroom Balls with Simple Gravy

In the spirit of full disclosure: These are loaded with butter, they're a little bit fragile, and I made mine much too big. None of these things are bad, per se, but your experience with making these little guys might be kinda different from mine.

They are also delicious. I mean really delicious. We both thought they tasted a bit like Swedish meatballs, which we are a little crazy for.

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/4 tsp garlic powder, or 2 cloves, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups seasoned dry breadcrumbs - I used plain whole wheat breadcrumbs with a 1 tsp dried oregano

[Preheat your oven to 350 Farenheit]
1. Mix together the first 6 ingredients. Gradually mix in bread crumbs until the mixture is just stiff enough to shape into balls. (You may not need the full 2 cups).

2. Form the mixture into 2 inch balls, and place on greased cookie sheets.

3. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned.
Or until they smell so delicious that you have the be held back from sticking your head in the oven.

I think I only ended up using about a cup and a half of breadcrumbs, because I was determined that nothing would overwhelm the mushroomy goodness. They were the slightest bit fragile, and they flattened out the tiniest bit when baking, but I still recommend playing around with what amount of breadcrumbs is right for you. If I wanted to eat bread balls I'd eat bread, but that's me.

Mushroom balls
Yeah, mine were too big. This recipe is supposed to make about 22 mushroom balls, and I made 15. Whoops! They cooked for more like 26 to 28 minutes.

We had them with whole wheat pasta in a quick gravy I made by sauteeing a small handful of chopped mushrooms, and the same amount of chopped onion with 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme in yep, you guessed it, butter - about 1 1/2 tablespoons. I added just under 2 cups of chicken stock, then gradually added about 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, whisking while adding to prevent lumps. If you don't have cornstarch on hand (I can't believe I did), white flour works, too, you'll just have to add it a little bit at a time to see how the gravy responds. Stir the gravy frequently until thickened, then toss with pasta. These would also be great with egg noodles, or alone as an appetizer. These can be made ahead of time and heated up in the oven.

If you know of a suitable substitute for eggs, you could make these vegan, but I don't know what you'd do about the butter. These need butter. I have never tried vegan butter so I can't recommend it.

Quote of the Day: Love is like a poisonous mushroom - you don't know if it is the real thing until it is too late." ~ Unknown

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Baked Shrimp & Veggie Egg Rolls with Dipping Sauce

I'm not too sure where the inspiration to make egg rolls came from, but I sure didn't fight it. Wrapping up food in other food is one of my favorite pastimes, so I guess it was just a matter of time before I tackled these crispy, tasty Asian treats. I remember making gyoza (potstickers) with my Dad when I was a kid, so I felt up to the challenge, even if I hadn't the slightest idea how to roll an egg roll.

These are not your typical egg rolls. In my opinion, they are much better - lighter, and just as crispy-flaky, but baked, not deep fried. This means less oil, which means less fat, and also much less cleanup. I chose to use carrots and bean sprouts with a bit of green onion, but you could also use Asian cabbage or even a cup and a half of an Asian bagged salad mix, like the kind with broccoli matchsticks in it. (That's a good idea, why didn't I think of that before?) You can use ground chicken, beef, or pork, or go all-veggie.

YUM. Also that is some sort of reflection in the sauce, not a foreign body.
I used Nasoya egg roll wraps, but you can use any brand of Asian style egg roll wraps. They provide a decent-looking recipe on the package, but I made a few changes. Instead of ground pork, I used shrimp, and I think I skipped a couple of ingredients altogether. No matter! These were delish, and MUCH easier than I was expecting, though I wouldn't really call this a "quick" meal fix. Most of the time of cooking these went into chopping carrots!

This recipe makes 6 egg rolls. Of course, if you use mini wraps, it will make more.

6 egg roll wrappers - Nasoya or other brand
12-15 shrimp, shelled, and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into matchsticks
1 green onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp. grated ginger root
2 T olive oil, and another T later
1 T sesame oil
About 1 cup bean sprouts

1. Combine 2 T olive oil with sesame oil in a frying pan or wok. Add garlic and ginger. Heat on low for 1-2 minutes, then turn off heat. (This gets the oils from the garlic and ginger to mingle with the olive oil, making the flavor richer and more evenly infused).

 [This is a good time to chop your veggies.]

2. Stir-fry shrimp in oil mixture until JUST cooked - entirely pink and white, and opaque. This should take about three minutes. Add veggies and stir-fry for another two minutes, then let the mixture cool.

3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

4. This is the fun part - really!
Lay the wrap on the counter with one point facing you. Spoon the filling across the wrap from left to right, leaving a bit of space from either side for wrapping. Take the bottom point of your wrap and fold it over top of the filling. Fold the sides in towards the middle and roll the filling towards the top point of the wrapper. The biggest threat to your successful wrapping will be bits of carrot trying to poke through, but this is easily fixed.
To prevent the egg roll from unwrapping, dip your finger in a little water or oil and use this as glue to seal the top point of your wrap and any openings where you feel the wrap needs to be glued together.
The risk of unwrapping is much greater if you're frying these, but it is still a good idea to make sure there aren't any major gaps in your wrapper. It's just not as critical.

5. Place egg rolls seam-side-down on a greased baking sheet, brush with olive oil and bake for 10-15 minutes. Ours took 12 minutes to get lightly golden and crispy. They definitely need a minute or three to cool down before they can be eaten, but they should be eaten as soon as possible thereafter for maximum deliciousness.

[While they're baking is a good time to throw together a salad, if you want to.]

Then there's the dipping sauce.

I can't claim much responsibility for the sauce, as fantastic as it was. I combined about half of a 7.5 oz. jar of Asian plum sauce (in the Asian condiment section of your grocery store) with about a teaspoon of soy sauce, and a half teaspoon of chili oil for just a little bit of heat. It. Was. So. Good. These even got a wordless, semi-comatose-looking mouth-full thumbs-up from Brady!

Plum sauce: The secret to maximum deliciousness.
These took about an hour from start to finish, and were well worth the effort. I will readily admit that mine looked more like "egg packets" than "egg rolls," so I guess I just need more practice! I served them with a green lettuce and radish salad with sesame ginger dressing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tuna Cakes & Baby Greens Salad

This recipe, which is from Web MD of all places, calls these tasty morsels "tuna patties." But for some reason I have always hated the word patty, so these will be called tuna cakes. At least by me.

My only grievance with this original recipe is its estimated portion size. Serves two, two cakes each, with one can of tuna? Please. I doubled this for the two of us, and it was still a very satisfying but sensibly sized meal. For me it made 8 cakes, we each had 3, and there were 2 left for some lucky person's lunch tomorrow.

This is another "get your hands in there" recipe. Mix it with your hands before making the patties, and its an even faster, easier meal to put together. Also, it is no mistake that this is the first recipe under Web MD's "cheap and easy" section. It is certainly both of those things, but it is also delicious and nutritious. (The new label for low-cost dishes is "Cheap Thrills").

I used dry whole wheat breadcrumbs instead of Panko breadcrumbs, and I didn't have any plain Italian salad dressing so I just used olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and a pinch of garlic powder.

Just started cooking. That weird green thing on the bottom left is an oddly large piece of pickle, from the relish.
In a hurry? You can make these ahead of time, layer them in a plastic container with wax paper and cook them when you get home from work. Or class. Or wherever you were. I also recommend cooking more than you know you will need, and eating two or three for lunch the next day in a whole-wheat pita with a mixture of Sriracha and either light mayonnaise or tartar sauce. Tartar sauce is preferable, if you have it on hand. This is a highly portable meal and/or snack.
Tuna cakes with baby greens salad
I served these with some baby spinach greens drizzled with light Caesar dressing, and some chopped radishes.

Quote of the Day: "I brought you a tuna sandwich. They say it's brain food. I guess it's because there's so much dolphin in it, and you know how smart they are." ~ Marge Simpson

[Note: This recipe was made with dolphin-safe tuna!]

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Sugar Added Crock Pot Applesauce & Apple Butter

I am never buying another bag of apples again. At least, not in Philadelphia.

A 3-lb bag of Macintosh apples that I bought last week looked great in the store: red, shiny, no bruises, skin intact. Then I got them home, and every point of contact between them boasted a very large, unattractive bruise. But there's a silver lining to all of this. In fact, just how spotted bananas make the best banana bread, I think spotted apples might make the best applesauce.

So about a month ago, over my school break, I decided to do an experiment involving home-made apple butter. I kind of adore apple butter, but most brands are full of sugar, and most homemade recipes are no different. For the sugar-free version, I basically just made a spiced applesauce in the crock pot, and reduced it on the stove.

Apple Butter Recipe
3 pounds Macintosh apples, skinned and chopped
1/2 cup unsweetened 100% apple juice or unsweetened cider
Two-inch piece of whole cinnamon stick - this stuff is powerful
The zest of one ripe tangerine
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1. Cook on "low" in crock pot - this one is a 5 quart size - for 7-9 hours.
Stir several times throughout. At the end of the 7-9 hours, remove the cinnamon stick.

2. To reduce, heat in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Adjust heat to the highest possible setting before spattering occurs. (Nobody needs that mess). This takes about 20 minutes, but may be adjusted according to how thick you want it. If you want it perfectly smooth, you can use an immersion blender, or process in a food processor, but I did not do this and it still came out quite smooth from all the stirring.

This made just the right amount to fill a 16 oz jar. Kept refrigerated, it'll keep for a couple of weeks. Spread it on your favorite toast and you will not be disappointed.

Today, I decided to give this another try, stopping at the "applesauce" point. I attribute this decision to the love that Brady and I share for childish snacks, like peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, tuna melts, and apparently, applesauce.

I'm not too sure why I used the 5 qt crock pot for the original apple butter experiment. This time I was able to fit a 3-lb-bag's worth of apples (peeled, and chopped into pieces that vary wildly in size and shape) into the 2-qt machine, to which I added 1/4 tsp of nutmeg, a 1-inch piece of cinnamon stick, a pinch of ground cloves, and about 1/3 cup of water.

My apples cooked for about 3 hours on high before turning mushy, but you could also cook them on low for 5-7 hours. This made about one large-cereal-bowl's worth of tasty applesauce. Be sure to pull out the bits of cinnamon stick while you're spooning it out of the crock pot. You can skip the spices, or experiment with new ones.

Yum! Snack time!
Of course, besides snacking, you can use applesauce for baking deliciously moist muffins and cooking with other things, especially pork.

Quote of the Day: Life is not orderly. No matter how we try to make life so, right in the middle of it we die, lose a leg, fall in love, drop a jar of applesauce. ~ Natalie Goldberg 

EDIT: I've revised the measurement of the spices to be more specific, but there is lots of wiggle room there. Taste and adjust accordingly!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Whole-Wheat Shells with Walnuts & Goat Cheese

This dish had me at "walnuts."

In short, this recipe is quick, easy, delicious, (mostly) healthy, and deceptively sophisticated. And did I mention economical? A big "thank you" to Good Housekeeping for this one.

This recipe can be adjusted for the number of people you're serving just by punching in the number, a feature I am generally much too impressed by. The numbers below are for 4 people. I roughly halved these for Brady and I, but things started to turn into weird fractions, so I kinda eyeballed everything.

Salt & Pepper
1/3 cups walnuts, chopped
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2/3 tbs. olive oil, or about 1 1/2 turns of the pan
2/3 box of medium whole-wheat pasta shells
2/3 pounds frozen peas
4 ounces goat cheese, softened

1. Heat covered 6-quart pot of water to boiling on high. Add 2 teaspoons salt. 

2. In an 8- to 10-inch skillet, combine walnuts, garlic, and oil. Cook on medium until golden and fragrant, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/8 teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

3. Add pasta to boiling water in pot. Cook 1 minute less than minimum time that label directs, stirring occasionally. Add peas; cook 1 minute longer. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and peas; return to pot.

4. Add goat cheese, 1/2 cup cooking water, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. If mixture is dry, toss with additional cooking water. To serve, top with garlic-and-walnut mixture.

The garlic and walnuts gave this a really rich, nutty flavor and the goat cheese became a creamy, effortless sauce that wasn't overwhelming or heavy. You could definitely use a flavored goat cheese, like garlic & herb, but I used plain. The peas are definitely a must for color. Yum!

Quote of the Day: A piece of spaghetti or a military unit can only be led from the front end. ~ George S. Patton

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Veggie-loaded Turkey Burgers & Some Very Exciting News

I've made some version of these yummy, healthy burgers about a half a dozen times. Each time has been kind of a haphazard "throw in all sorts of herbs and spices and veggies until you're bored with it" endeavor, but since this blog makes it look like I should know what I'm talking about, this time I actually payed some attention to what went in, and how much. (Also, the one time I made them for anyone but just the two of us they ended up a bit over-garlicky, and I'd like to avoid this in the future with an actual game plan).

This recipe calls for two appliances: a small food processor (I used my Ninja), and a George Foreman Grill. Neither are necessary to the success of the recipe, though, and hand-mincing and pan-grilling or baking will work beautifully also.

With 1.3 lbs of turkey, this recipe yielded 5 good-sized burgers, and they freeze very well.

1-ish lbs ground turkey - I used a 1.3 lb package
1 clove garlic, chopped
.75 tsp. seasoned salt - or .5 tsp salt and pinch each of garlic powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper
1 tsp. black pepper
2 tsp. olive oil
1 tbs. dry parsley
1 tbs. dry cilantro
1 tsp. prepared mustard - that is, not the dry type. I used Dijon.
.5 red bell pepper, roughly chopped
.5 green bell pepper, roughly chopped
.25 onion, or 1-2 green onions
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped 
1-2 tbsp. breadcrumbs
slices of the cheese of your choice
1. Process garlic, onion, oil, mustard, herbs and spices in food processor until blended.
2. Add bell peppers, celery, carrot, and/or other vegetables and process until vegetables are minced
4. Break up ground turkey in a large bowl, add the vegetable mixture, and mix well
5. Form meat mixture into patties. If the mixture feels too wet, add breadcrumbs one tablespoon at a time combining between additions until you achieve the desired consistency. I used one tablespoon.

Since I am not fussy but I am impatient, I like to mix the burger mixture with my (clean) hands. It's faster, and I am convinced it is also more effective than mixing with a spoon or spatula. Plus you're going to have to make the patties with your hands anyway, so you might as well get in there sooner rather than later.

I cooked these on our George Foreman Grill for 10 minutes. At about 9 minutes I opened and unplugged the grill, placed the cheese slices on top, and let them melt before serving. When I feel like meddling I hold the grill lid about a half-inch above the cheese to make it melt faster. We used low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella.

There doesn't seem to be any limits to the vegetables you can use in these burgers. This was the first time that I used celery and carrot, and they did give them a decidedly more "vegetabley" flavor (according to Brady), but we both agreed they were just as delicious as ever. For texture and nutritional kick, next time I think next time I will try adding mushrooms. Adding a couple naturally-absorbent, fiber-packed mushrooms will probably eliminate the need for the breadcrumbs. You could also try zucchini, eggplant, or even greens like kale or spinach, though tough greens may need to be steamed and pressed ahead of time.

So maybe next time it'll be mushrooms, spinach, a little Feta, and Swiss on top. Maybe on crusty bread instead of a roll? With a side of baked oven-fries? Good thing I'm blogging this or I'd forget the next time I went to make a burger...

Brady mentioned this evening that he's never had burgers like "mine" in any other context. After being reassured that this was, in fact, a good thing, I started to think it was kinda cool to have a signature burger. And though I do sometimes make beef burgers (with lots of Worcestershire sauce), I'm glad that my "signature" is a healthy one. (I only made the ones with beef, cheddar and bacon the one time, so that doesn't count. Right?)

We ate these with a zucchini and tomato salad. Together, these would be a great meal for a summer evening. I often serve veggie burgers with steamed green beans, I think because of their similarity in shape to French fries. Somehow that seems right. But this salad was also great with the burgers: simple and fresh.

I can just about always count on Brady to pick a beer that will complement a particular dish, which we often indulge ourselves in on weekend nights. This was a GREAT pairing with Stone IPA.

Veggie-loaded turkey burger with zucchini and tomato salad & Stone IPA.
Despite my zeal for all things whole-grain, I can't resist a fresh, delicious-smelling bakery roll. Which is why we ate these burgers on fresh, delicious-smelling rolls. Which I did not bake. And I regret nothing.

Quote of the Day: "Chris: Have you ever tried a turkey burger?
Ron: Is that a fried turkey leg inside a grilled hamburger? If so, yes, delicious." ~ Parks and Recreation

Now for the more EXCITING part. I know you were curious. Which could be why you read this post in the first place. So I'll tell you. My fantastically beautiful, brazen and brainy big sister Alexandra became engaged this morning to her equally fabulous manfriend, Sebastian, of Sebastian Ebarb Designs. I know, right? Big news. It also happens to be her 25th birthday!

Since Sebastian is a staff member and student at the School of Visual Arts with another year to go, and Allie is about to graduate from Brooklyn Law School and take (PASS) the Bar Exam, their late spring/early summer wedding is probably two years away. And after a rather obvious "You know you're my maid of honor, right?," I think it's about time I find out just what a maid of honor is supposed to DO. My guess is "a lot," but I don't think there is anything that I wouldn't do for her. Except wear an ugly dress, but she wouldn't do that to me anyway. So here's to new chapters!