Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Rancheros, Less Huevos

Another sunny beautiful morning. But still too cold to venture out for brunch. I found one lone potato hiding under some cilantro in the fridge, and decided to concoct some sort of huevos rancheros and home-fries. Neither my husband or I really like the taste of eggs all that much, and only really eat them for quality protein. So my huevos rancheros were more rancheros huevos. I think the name of this breakfast is supposed to mean hearty eggs enjoyed by those in working on a ranch, however if you look up the literal translation it means 'eggs mess orderlies'. Which is what mine kind of look like. What a mess, you wouldn't even know it was eggs, but man, was it delicious! I tied the home-fries into the idea by seasoning them with flavors I would normally put into black beans, and threw the black beans into the eggs. After this high-protein breakfast, I am a little more prepared to head out into the cold, but not quite sure I actually will.

(2 small servings or 1 large)
1 Tbsp margarine or butter
1/4 C Spanish Onion, chopped
2 Vine-ripe Tomatoes, chopped (divide in half: 1 goes in pan, 1 goes on the plate)
1/2 can Low Sodium Black Beans (approx 3/4C)
3 to 4 egg whites, salted and peppered, lightly beaten with fork
Salt & Pepper
Fresh cilantro, chopped (divide: 1/4C for cooking, 1-2 Tbsp for garnish)

Melt butter in a nonstick saute pan over med-low heat and add onions. Saute for about 2-3 minutes and add black beans and tomato. Turn heat to low and cook about 10 minutes while tomatoes break down. Add salt and pepper to taste. A few minutes before serving, turn heat up to medium and add the cilantro and egg whites. Cook a few minutes, folding everything together, until eggs are opaque all the way through. Serve with tomatoes on the side and garnished with cilantro (hot sauce optional).

Latin-spiced Home-fries
(2 small servings)
1 Large Russet potato, cut into small 3/8"x3/8"x1" pieces
Olive Oil
Cumin (ground)
Cayenne (powder)
Oregano (dried)

Preheat oven to broil (or very high heat 500F), and drizzle a sheet pan with olive oil. Lay potatoes on pan and drizzle more olive oil, tossing around to coat. Sprinkle very lightly with salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne and oregano. Broil about 15 minutes, flipping and mixing potatoes every few minutes to brown all sides.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Smoked Chicken & Turkey Italian Sausage with Zucchini-Mushroom Tomato Sauce

I jumped off the subway at Union Square on the way home yesterday, in search of some items that are hard to find. The Food Emporium on 14th is kind of crazy, and expensive, but I seem to find everything there. As I browsed the meat section, knowing my husband is super busy this week and probably won't be home for dinner, I happened upon an expanse of packaged sausages. There are endless possibilities in the sausage section these days. I've had some great Aidells chicken sausage in the past, so I decided to try the Italian version. They're great to have on hand in the fridge for an impromptu dinner - I never get much heads-up when I find myself on my own for dinner. Tonight it was an 8pm call to say don't wait up. So here I am with my sausages, cleaning out the vegetable drawer and making a concoction.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Enchiladas, brought to you by the color WHITE

Chicken-Less White Bean Pepper Jack Enchiladas

What's white filled with white and red all over? Chicken-less White Bean Pepper Jack Enchiladas! Yesterday, my husband requested enchiladas. Unfortunately, the "don't leave the apartment all weekend" rule was in effect, and we were out of melt-able cheese. So today on my way home I picked up a bit of Pepper Jack cheese from the deli downstairs. I came home and started to gather my ingredients, when I realized I had a choice of black or white beans. I thought about the other ingredients going into the mix: a relatively white cheese, and white onions. I also have a stock of fake chicken I've been meaning to experiment with. Hey... all these things are white? Sometimes an easy way to put new things together is by color, so I decided to go with it, and use the white beans today. Heck, even the tortillas are white corn. Add a little garlic, throw in some of that white wine I'm drinking and voila! At the end, however, I couldn't resist the addition of a little green, as the pan of protein flavors was begging for cilantro and lime juice.

Chicken-less White Bean Pepper Jack Enchiladas
1/2 C Spanish Onion, chopped
1 Clove garlic, minced
1 14oz can Great Northern beans (or Cannellini, but i prefer Great Northern for the milder flavor)
2 Tbsp Dry White Wine (I used Indaba Chardonnay)
1 package imitation chicken strips (or real chicken, seasoned with adobo or salt/pepper/garlic)
1 Tbsp Adobo seasoning
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp dried oregano
1/4 C fresh squeezed Lime Juice
1/4 C chopped fresh Cilantro
Salt, Black Pepper, Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
8oz Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded (about a 1-1/2" thick block from the deli)
4-6 Corn Tortillas

Enchilada Sauce:
3 Tbsp Canola Oil
1 tsp Arrowroot (Or 1 Tbsp Flour)
2 Tbsp Chili Powder
2 8oz cans Tomato Sauce (no salt added)
1 Tbsp Cayenne
1/8 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp oregano
Salt, to taste (about 1 tsp)

Heat 1 Tbsp Canola oil in a deep skillet and saute the onions and garlic about 4 minutes. Add the beans, wine and seasoning. Simmer until wine evaporates, about 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and add lime juice a little at a time until it's to your taste, and season as needed. Stir in cilantro and set aside.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by heating canola oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the arrowroot or flour and chili powder, and stir to dissolve. Add tomato sauce and seasonings and heat through.

Lay tortillas on a plate, cover with a damp paper towel, and microwave on low (30%) for about 15-20 seconds, so they are more pliable. Fill each down the center with bean mixture and cheese, reserving some cheese for the topping. Fold closed, secure with toothpick and place in glass or ceramic baking dish (because the acid in tomato sauce does crazy things to a nonstick pan). Top with generous amount of sauce and cheese (you may have sauce left, save or use for a condiment). Bake at 400F for about 20 minutes.

Serve with sour cream or guacamole (see below).

Fillings: Pepper Jack cheese, Chardonnay, White Corn Tortillas, Chicken-Less strips, Great Northern white beans, onions, garlic

Chicken-Less Strips from Trader Joe's

Hot Filling

Prep for assembly

Chunky Avocado & Lime: Mash together avocado, fresh cilantro, lime juice, salt & pepper.

To cut an avocado: Cut in half & remove pit. Score almost to the skin with a paring knife. Scoop out chunks with a tabelspoon.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kale As A Main Course

Green Beans and Kale

Leftovers as omelette filling

This week we discovered Kale. Kale is a super-nutritious leafy-green that is rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants. I searched for a way to make this a main course, since braised Kale is popular, but probably not that satisfying all alone. I tried this recipe from Giada for Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale, and for once followed it to the T, and it came out really good. Definitely the first time my husband has gone back for seconds of a green vegetable. The key, however, was to eat it with crispy baguette toasts to add something crunchy. We were left feeling like we were craving something afterwards, and couldn't place what it was, so I'm thinking next time we'll add some fake meat to the mix or maybe some potatoes or pasta on the side. However, this recipe was very flavorful, and we were still impressed by it today when we used it as filling in an egg white omelette.

Recipe: Spicy Parmesan Green Beans and Kale

Friday, January 22, 2010

Seared Scallops on Sweet Potato Chips

Wednesday night I was on my own for dinner. My husband had an impromptu work event, which he informed me of at the last minute. As usual. When I don't have to feed him, it's a free pass to cook whatever I want for myself. Unfortunately, my groceries arrived very late - it never fails that when you're depending on the delivery, it doesn't show up. Every other time, it's early. So despite my big dreams for the boxes filled with foods, I was starving, and had to come up with something that took almost no time to cook (I'm kind of always starving). I looked through my barren fridge while I waited, and found a lone sweet potato at the bottom. I heated the oven, started to slice, and made a plan to rip into the boxes as soon as they arrived. Lucky I ordered scallops, since they take about 5 minutes to cook.

Seared Scallops on Sweet Potato Chips
1 Medium sweet potato, thinly sliced
Olive oil
Seasoning: Kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, or seasoning salt

1/2 lb Sea Scallops, patted dry
1-2 Tbsp unsalted butter
Salt & Pepper
Toasted Pistachios

Preheat oven to 450F. Drizzle oil on a large baking sheet and lay the potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle tops with oil and season. Bake for about 20 minutes total, flipping each slice after 10 minutes. Toast the pistachios in the oven for about 3 minutes.

When potatoes are almost done, heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Season the scallops with salt & pepper. Melt butter in the skillet and when it starts to bubble, add the scallops flat side down - working largest to smallest scallop. When they start to turn opaque, flip each one. Remove small ones as soon as they are totally opaque and browned on each side, as not to overcook.

Serve as an appetizer, with scallops set onto the potato slices and garnished with pistachios. Serve with a green salad with citrus vinaigrette for a meal, and toss the extra potato slices into the salad.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pear Maple Walnut Crisp

I sorta feel like we're re-visiting fall during this January thaw. To go along with last night's butternut squash risotto, I made a pear crisp to use up some lingering fridge items. I mostly made dessert as an answer to a question my husband always asks about one-dish dinners: "what are we gonna eat with that?". He always wants to put it on bread, whatever it is.

I can't give you exact quantities, as I just threw in what I had: 2 different types of very ripe pears, the last few raw walnuts, half a lemon, less than a handful of hardening golden raisins, and a few teaspoons of maple syrup left in a small container... was it a wedding gift, maybe, from more than a year ago? Don't worry, my Vermonter friends, there is another big jug in the cupboard.

Here's the gist of it:

Pear Maple Walnut Crisp

(4 small ramekins)
2 Pears, peeled and cut into equal chunks
Golden raisins
Maple Syrup
Lemon juice

(referred to my apple craisin crisp but was lazy and omitted some things)

¼ C quick cook Oats

1 Tbsp margarine

1 Tbsp flour

2 Tbsp brown sugar

Chopped Walnuts (or in my case, I beat what was in the package with the bottom of a saucepan to crush them)

Combine filling in ramekins. Melt butter in a bowl for the topping, and mash all ingredients together. Sprinkle over ramekins. Bake at 350F for about 25 minutes - when pears are bubbling.
Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Barley Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash & Pearl Onions

I'm trying to come up with healthier vegetarian meals lately. This week I'm trying out barley in place of white rice (which I like to call "evil" since it sticks to your belly in the worst way). For some reason, brown rice just doesn't cut it and takes too long to cook. I was inspired to try barley by some ready-to-eat meals I've gotten from Fresh Direct lately. They have a vegetable barley risotto that's not half bad alongside some chicken. Risotto is pretty popular in our household, but we rarely eat it for two reasons: white rice + cheese = fattening, and we always have too much leftover. The barley was much easier to work with. It did take a long time to cook, but it's much more forgiving. It doesn't stick down or stick together, yet it doesn't get mushy either. I followed this recipe from Food Network for methods, but changed up the ingredients for what I had in the fridge.

Barley Risotto with Roasted Butternut Squash & Pearl Onions
(approx. 4 servings)
3/4C Pearl Barley
1/4C dry white wine
3 C Vegetable Stock
2 cloves Garlic, diced
15 Pearl Onions, peeled and halved
2 C butternut squash, (about 1/2 a medium squash) peeled, cut into roughly 1"x1" pieces
Olive Oil, Margarine (or butter) Salt, Pepper, Sugar
Fresh nutmeg
Grated Parmesan (about 1/4C + garnish)

Preheat oven to 425F. Arrange squash on baking sheet and drizzle with oil and season with salt & pepper. Bake about 15 minutes, flipping the pieces a couple times to evenly brown. Add the onions, drizzled with oil, salt, pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar sprinkled over. Sprinkle just a tiny bit more sugar over the squash. Bake until all are turning golden brown, and squash is tender, flipping once or twice (about 10 minutes). Remove from oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the stock in a small pot over medium heat, and keep at a simmer. Also, heat about 1T oil and 2T butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and barley and stir constantly while it browns (about 3-5 minutes), careful not to burn. Add the wine (watch out it will steam), and stir until absorbed. Lower the heat and add about 1C of the stock to the barley and stir in. Simmer until liquid is absorbed, and then repeat the process stirring in 1 ladle of stock each time and waiting for it to absorb.

The whole process will take about 40-60 minutes, depending on how well done you like the barley - I err on the side of mushy so I cooked mine an hour, but barley stays pretty firm no matter what.

When the barley is cooked to your liking, and it seems it won't absorb much more liquid, stir in 1/4C Parmesan and season with salt & pepper (I use a LOT of fresh ground pepper). Then add the squash and onions and stir in to just heat through. Serve with grated Parmesan.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wonton Pierogis & Oven-Fried Panko Zucchini Sticks

I'm trying desperately to come up with healthy, interesting, vegetarian dinners. You can only eat so much fake meat, spaghetti and curry. My husband doesn't mind repeats, but I just get bored way too easily. I've been searching for some new staple items I can keep around the house to dress up with different ingredients. This week I decided to revisit won ton wrappers. I'm always coming across recipes for ravioli made with them, but I tried that once and failed miserably. A whole lotta work for a pile of empty soggy wrappers in a cloudy broth (and no back-up plan).

My husband and I had been discussing meals I haven't made in a while, as I placed a grocery order. I've totally forgotten about pierogies! They only have the ones we like in certain stores that I haven't been to lately, so I wondered if I could make my own using the won ton wrappers. The project was probably a little too ambitious for a Monday, but we got surprisingly good results. I usually try to get some colorful vegetable on the table as well, but I have a hard time getting the husband to eat them - so I tried a healthier version of zucchini sticks and it totally worked! (To quote him - "Anything panko crusted is good!")

Oven-Fried Panko-Crusted Zucchini Sticks
2 zucchini, cut into thin wedges
2-3 egg whites (2 extra large, 3 if smaller)
Seasoning salt (I used Vermont All Purpose Country Seasoning)
Black Pepper
Panko bread crumbs
Marinara sauce (try my Sweet Garlic Pizza Sauce)

Mix egg whites, seasoning salt and pepper in a shallow bowl. Pour about 1/4C panko into another shallow bowl (add more as needed, since the panko absorbs the egg and then won't stick to the zucchini after a while). Toss zucchini in egg and then turn to coat in bread crumbs. Arrange on a wire rack over a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Serve with warm marinara dipping sauce.

Jack Cheese & Potato Pierogies
Wanton wrappers
2 large Russet Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2 Tbsp Milk
2 Tbsp Fat Free Sour Cream
1/3 C shredded cheddar / jack cheese
Salt & Pepper (to taste)
2 Tbsp chopped chives

1 large onion, sliced (any kind will do - I like Vidalia or Spanish)
2-3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
Black Pepper

Boil potatoes. Drain and mash together with milk, sour cream, cheese, salt & pepper. Follow package directions for the won ton wrappers, and spoon a small spoonful of potatoes onto the center of each square. Wet two edges and fold into triangles, pressing to seal the edges. Fold each point back on itself by wetting and pressing. Bring water to a boil, and then reduce heat so it's not bubbling vigorously. Gently slide each pierogi into the water. Cook for 2-3 minutes - it may also help to do them in small batches, so the pot doesn't get crowded.

Meanwhile saute the onions in butter over medium-high heat. When they are translucent, add seasonings and continue to cook until they start to turn golden.

Serve pierogies topped with onions and chives, and crushed red pepper, if desired.

Fill each with small spoonful

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beer Butter Shrimp and Sugar Roasted Vegetables

I made the best sautéed shrimp today. I've had them in the freezer since August, and haven't managed to use them since. But tonight we were set to order tacos from the new (and only) restaurant in our neighborhood, Loading Dock. But their hours are spotty, and tonight was not a night they operate, which ruined our plans. So the husband ate the stand-by Trader Joe's BBQ fake chicken on buns, and I thawed out the emergency shrimp and roasted some vegetables.

Yesterday, we spent the day snow-tubing up in Connecticut and beer-tasting at Captain Lawrence Brewery in Pleasantville. So tonight we popped open our 64oz jug of their Liquid Gold, which I used in place of white wine while sautéing shrimp. It was the most AMAZING shrimp I've cooked in a long time!

Beer Butter Shrimp
(1-2 servings)
½ lb Medium Shrimp, peeled & de-veined
¼ C beer (Captain Lawrence Liquid Gold)
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
Seasoning Salt (Vermont All Purpose Country Seasoning)
Kosher Salt
Olive Oil

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp,sprinkle with seasoning, and then beer. Cook until beer is almost evaporated, and add butter. Stir to coat until liquids are evaporated and shrimp is opaque. Total cooking time is about 3-5 minutes.

Sugar Roasted Asparagus, Pearl Onions & Grape Tomatoes
1lb Asparagus, trimmed
7-10 Pearl Onions, peeled
15-20 Grape Tomatoes
Kosher Salt, Pepper, Sugar, Olive Oil

Preheat oven to 425F. On a baking sheet lay out the asparagus and onions. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and sugar and toss to coat. Roast about 10 minutes, tossing half-way through, and then add tomatoes and dress them with the same seasonings. Return to oven and bake another 5 minutes until tomatoes start to pop.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Needs work: Black Bean Cakes and Jicama Salad

I feel bad for leaving my sick husband high and dry for dinner two nights in a row. I just haven't had the appetite for dinner. I'm also pretty sick of the usual fare, and making or ordering pizza every time I feel lazy is getting old. So tonight I decided to try some new things. I made a black bean cake from a recipe we saw on NY1 last weekend. I also experimented with jicama, which I've had in Malaysian restaurants, but never at home.

Both dishes kind of missed the mark tonight. I added corn and some seasonings to the black bean cakes, but the consistency was a bit more mushy than I expected. Another problem is that they were fried in canola oil, which makes the whole kitchen-living-dining area smell wicked. As the cakes barely held together in the oil, I worried we'd be sticking to the jicama-beet-carrot salad for sustenance. But I was wrong. The salad had a mustard, lemon, rice vinegar dressing that just doesn't go well with jicama, and the pre-cooked packaged beets I used were not crunchy enough to match the other components. The bean cakes were actually pretty good with the cilantro-sour cream. This was not a dinner for the books today, but the concepts are worth a try-try again some other day.

Black Bean Cake with Cilantro Sour Cream
Jicama Carrot Beet Salad

The husband's version with Frank's hot sauce - he thought these cakes tasted like my enchiladas "deconstructed" (which I guess is a good thing?)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

After Work Snack: Vella Dry Jack & Raspberry Jam

I'm always starving when I get home from work, and need a snack before I can think about doing anything at all. Crackers and cheese is always a good stand-by, but I like to experiment a little. This week we're trying out Vella Dry Jack, and we have some good raspberry jam that my parents brought at Christmas, so I piled them on a Ritz cracker. The sweetness of the jam cuts the sharpness of the cheese a little. It's not as good as Manchego and quince paste, but it will do for now - it's not half bad!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Get Well Soon Soup

I've been sick since Christmas eve. It starts with a fever, followed by extreme throat clearing, followed by an awesome sinus infection. I'm on day 5 of a Z-pak and I'm about 95%, save for the upset stomach it gives me. However, even without any sneezing or coughing, it appears I've managed to pass it to at least 3 people so far.

Whenever I get very sick, I make a certain carrot-ginger soup. It's the kind of soup that makes you feel better no matter what's wrong. It works so well (I have friends who will testify to this), that you hesitate to vary the recipe one bit, for fear you'll delete the magic ingredient. My husband is just starting to experience the adventurous journey of the illness I've passed him, so last night I made him a new version of this soup. It was our dinner, so I added a potato to make it a little more hearty this time. I also served it with peppered toasts from a leftover sourdough loaf. I'm not sure it's as powerful as a Z-pak, but hopefully it eases the symptoms!

Get Well Soon Soup
2 T Unsalted Butter (*use Earth Balance or Olive Oil for vegan*)
1 medium Yellow or Spanish Onion
2 cloves Garlic
1 T Ginger
1lb Carrots
1 large Russet Potato
2 small/medium Tomatoes
4 C Water
2 tsp+ Kosher Salt
20 grinds+ black Pepper
Juice of 1 Lemon
Zest of 1 Lemon

Roughly chop all the vegetables, as everything will be blended in the end. Start with the onions and continue to prep after starting to cook them (in order of the list above).Sauté the onions 3-5 minutes in butter in a stock pot. Add the garlic and cook another minute or two before adding ginger for another 1-2 minutes. Add water, and then carrots, potatoes and tomatoes. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes).
Transfer to blender and puree in batches until smooth.

Zest the lemon (or rub it through a micro-plane) over a container or measuring cup, just scraping the yellow part and avoiding the white pith. Juice the lemon into the container, removing any seeds that drop in. Stir the juice and zest into the soup, taste, and season with salt & pepper as needed.

Pepper Toast
3/8" thick slices of bread from a loaf or baguette (I used sourdough)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper (fresh ground)

Lay bread slices on a cookie sheet, drizzle lightly with oil. Sprinkle sparingly with salt and as many grinds of black pepper as desired. Place under broiler (about 4 minutes - check constantly) until golden-brown. Great for dipping in soup or with butter.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Health is not a resolution, just a way to find balance.

I think I know why so many New Year's resolutions have to do with health. There's nothing new about resolving to be healthy every January 1st. In fact, if the New Year fell in May, I think our resolved paths would vary much more wildly. Maybe it's only here in the U.S., and maybe only in the colder parts - I wouldn't know as I've lived here in the Northeast all my life (save for 5 months abroad). Heck, it may even be just Christians. But what I can tell you is, that our common resolution to be more healthy has little to do with the calender, and more to do with it's annual events and the changing weather.

Naturally, we begin October by coming indoors to socialize as the weather gets cooler. Progressively, we eat heavier foods and crave fats as the temperature drops. Apple and pumpkin season gets us ready for pies, and soon enough we're feasting our faces off at Thanksgiving. The social pull of the holidays is in full effect by the beginning of December and we get distracted from our routines by dinners, parties, planning and shopping. Parties and dinners lead to leftover food, sweets and wine which we finish either out of guilt or pure gluttony. Soon Christmas arrives with more of the same and then New Year's Eve is kind of a grand finale to the holiday season, offering us an opportunity to celebrate shamelessly.

The New Year's resolution to return to a healthy lifestyle is just the natural response to the overindulgence of the holidays. It is natural instinct to balance ourselves by resolving to act in the opposite manner as the previous months. Suddenly we're reminded very physically by our stress, weight gain and fatigue that we must get back to where we started. Other cultures or religions (for example Hindu, Muslim, and Jewish faiths) seem to be wise to this balance, and feast only after fasting and abstaining - almost as a reward. In a way, it's a cheat to pass off renewed interest in health as a resolution, when in fact we're just going around in a natural circle - even if it is backwards compared to other cultures.

What would we all come up with if we chose a different day to renew our goals? I've always been one to re-balance constantly, at the first sign of negative experience. So for now, I resolve to be more mindful of my workout routine and eating. This is only because I am feeling fat, tired, sick, and lazy, and not because it is January.
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