Let’s Get STEAMY

The New Year is a time for all of us to reflect on our lives, contemplate our achievements and failures, look into the future and pledge resolutions for making us better people, and to LOSE WEIGHT!

Just kidding! ( but not really…) On New Year’s Day the whole nation realizes that eating Halloween candy, stuffing, English toffee and buttered rums nonstop for three month’s causes some unflattering bulges and a serious case of lowered self-esteem due to ill-fitting pants. I personally did a decent job this Fall up until December 10th. Then, I just went crazy and ate star-shaped sugar cookies for breakfast. It was like Hansel and Gretel in my apartment for three weeks. But now the fairy tale is over, I’m 5 pounds heavier, and it’s time to shift back into a more veggie-centric eating plan.

This leads us to today’s dinner: “A boring, vegetable soup.”

At least, that’s what I thought as I lifelessly began chopping carrots. But, surprisingly enough, it wasn’t boring and turned out to be quite tasty and filling. Plus it is  worth 1 Weight Watcher’s point a cup.

To make a tasty soup, all you need to do is throw a mix of your favorite vegetables into a soup pot. I used broccoli, celery, spinach, carrots, zucchini, onion, garlic, red pepper and cauliflower. Pour in enough chicken stock so that the vegetables are covered and then bring it to a boil. Once it boils, turn the heat to low and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. Season with thyme, lemon juice, pepper and (lots of) sea salt. You can also add in some noodles or rice if you need your carb fix.

What is YOUR favorite low-calorie dinner? I’m taking suggestions for upcoming posts. In addition to the vegetables, I’m starting up Pilates again, which I’m really happy about! I’m so sore I can barely manage to do basic functions. No matter how much walking or running you do, nothing will leave you more sore than a Pilates class.

Now I’ll leave you with this hilarious, and kind of inappropriate, “morning warm-up” workout video. I had visions of myself making a video of me attempting this, but then I realized I would live a life of shame from then on… so I decided against it.

Gifted Food: Shrimp Inari Rolls

A family sent me home with a plate of homemade shrimp inari rolls a few weeks ago. Yum. These were fabulous, and such a great idea. I could totally imagine lots of different fillings for these bad boys. Eating the typical sandwich or wrap for lunch gets so boring, so these are a great alternative. [sorry I don’t have a snazzier photo sans cellophane]

The same family also sent me home with these huge steak and crab rolls last month, which I thought was a bizarre combo. Well, let me tell you– it isn’t.

It tasted like a $15 roll from a restaurant. It was stuffed with crab, steak, veggies and topped with a sweet mayo. Just another perk of being an in-home voice and piano teacher. I’m planning to start making more rolls. It’s perfect because you can pack them with a little brown rice, lots of protein and it’s a filling and tasty midday meal.

Time to make my run to the Ranch 99 market in Irvine.

Life After the Microwave & Some Zucchini

I returned from Cayucos, CA with Dhiren a couple days ago. We spent Friday through Tuesday with his family at an awesome 5-room house steps away from the beach in Central California. We had a fabulous time, but life has felt unbalanced since the return. Adjusting to life post vacation has never been easy. Even when the bags are unpacked and laundry done, it’s SO hard readjusting. Going back to teach on Wednesday felt like being stuck in quicksand.

Anyhow, the other day as I was making the cookie dough to bring to the vacation house, our microwave exploded!!!! Literally, it just started randomly popping and smelling like a nuclear disaster before we left on our trip. I tested it with a microwave safe plate and butter, and while empty and it just malfunctioned.SO scary. One of my “in-laws” friends was a microwave engineer, and he told them that he would NEVER use a microwave, even though he built them. He said it literally changes the atomic  structure of the molecules in the food and radiates the food we put in our bodies. Sounds like something from a Vonnegut novel. So, instead of running out to replace it, I am going to ditch microwaves for good.

“Microwave (or RF) Radiation is thermal. RF radiation can enter deep into the body and heat human organs.”

My organs don’t need radiation heating, thank you! I’ve also been doing more resarch about cell phones, and it’s super scary. I’ve heard some people (defeatists) say “Everything causes cancer” but I disagree… things that literally heat up your brain or body with radiation need to be seriously considered.

But, now the problem is how to survive without one?? How do I heat up leftovers, cold coffee or soften my butter in a zap for cookies?

It’s going to take some readjusting.

Lastly, here’s one of my favorite dishes and recipes for the week: Zucchini & Orange Chicken. I’ve started Weight Watchers this week, and it’s been great, though I’m keeping it on the hush hush until I have some results to go along with the goals. So I’m going to begin posting the points so I can meet WW friends and have a place I can later reference!

This has 5 Points for the Chicken, 3 Points for the Sauce (estimated) and 0 points for as much zucchini as you need to fill you up! I use olive oil to get in some healthy fat, and it has 7 points for 2 tbsp. I also use Pam as well, to help coat the skillets.

-1 cup Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken (5 points)
– a couple zucchini, sliced (0 points)
– 1/2 packet of Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken Sauce (3 points)
-2 tbsp olive oil (divided, 1 for the zucchini, and 1 for the chicken)

1. Using a nifty garlic crusher, crush a couple cloves of garlic. You can also use shallots to add flavor.

2. Heat up 1 tbsp of olive oil, then add the garlic. After a minute, toss in the squash and zucchini (I love using yellow summer star squash as well).

3. Prepare the Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken as directed.

A filling, amazing meal, costing you around 15 points. Now, I’m personally eating a whopping 40 points starting out on Weight Watchers, so for those people eating 29 or so per day, I would reinvent this so that it’s fewer points. Probably cut back on the oil by baking the chicken. Enjoy!

Eggplant & Zucchini Lasagna

While at a student’s house a couple weeks ago I was talking to a parent about ideas for a lasagna. She described a delicious zucchini and eggplant lasagna that she makes sans lasagna noodles.

I decided to make the naughty and high carb  version though and include the pasta this time. I used the Eggplant & Zucchini Mélange from Trader Joe’s at the recommendation of the parent. This has become my product-of-the-month! You can find it in the frozen section for $3.99. A little pricey compared to prepping the raw vegetables yourself, but it saves you time and is delicious!

Ingredients:

  • Lots of sauce (6-7 cups)– make it yourself if you have the time!
  • Package of lasagna noodles– I recommend the no-boil kind
  • 1-2 packages of Eggplant Vegetable Mélange (I supplemented one package with a medium, sliced and grilled eggplant… one package isn’t enough for larger pans)
  • Ricotta (one medium container)
  • Parmesan, grated (1-2 cups)
  •  Mozzarella, grated (1-2 cups)
  • Basil (optional, for garnish)Recipe:

1. Set the oven to 375. Take out a 13 x 9 Pyrex dish.

2. Prepare lasagna as directed on the package. Mine required submerging in warm water. Some noodles require you to boil and partly cook the pasta though, so make sure you check what type of pasta you get (I’ve made this mistake before, and came out with undercooked lasagna…ick).

3. Grate a couple cups of mozzarella and parmesean and mix with the ricotta.

4. Spread some sauce on the bottom of the pan. Then layer pasta, cheese, vegetables, sauce, pasta, cheese, vegetables, etcetera… ending with pasta.

5. Sprinkle some cheese on the top layer. Cover with foil (or not– depends on whether you like the burnt cheese look). And bake until noodles are fully cooked and everything is bubbly and delicious-looking. (Mine took an hour.)

Added benefit is that it lasts for several meals or can serve a big group with minimal effort. Just the way I like it! Enjoy.

Eggplant Sandwich Replica

Since I finished classes at UCI this past December, there’s been a void in my life, and its name is “Chicken Eggplant Sandwich.” Most people who have attended UCI at one point or another stumble on Le Diplomat Cafe and try one of their (cheap) delicious sandwiches.

I decided to try and remake their vegetarian eggplant version (sans chicken).

The recipe:

– 4 tbsp mayo (makes extra aioli)
-1/2 minced garlic from TJs. You can use real garlic if you have a food processor and want it to be that much more fresh- I’d normally use real garlic, but I sadly don’t own a processor (hint, hint… birthday is on September 6th….)
– 1/2 tsp lemon juice,  freshly squeeze.
– French French baguette
– Feta cheese
-Eggplant (I use the Eggplant/Zucchini melange from TJs. Kind of expensive at $3.99, but it’s really good, and all you gotta do is heat it up. Time vs. Money and all…
– 1/2 Roma tomato.
– Sea salt to taste

1. Combine garlic, mayo and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix well.
2. In a small frying pan, heat the eggplant (or grill it/ fry it if using fresh eggplant), add some thinly sliced tomatoes to the pan a couple minutes before taking off the heat.
3. Cut baguette to whatever size you can eat & coat the inside with the garlic mayo.
4. Crumble feta cheese inside.
5. Put baguette open-faced in a toaster, and toast for about 5 minutes, or until feta is soft and gooey.
6. Layer one/two small pieces of eggplant and tomato in the baguette and lightly salt to taste.

Serves two. Goes well with ginger ale. 😉


Result: the garlic mayo at Le Dip is whole fat (I used reduced fat) and I don’t think that they put lemon juice in their aioli.  So mine was  tarter and a bit more acidic, but still pretty damned good, if I do say so myself! I forgot that eggplant is an acidic vegetable, so you really don’t need to add lemon. I think it would be better to add lemon if you plan to use the sauce on a chicken sandwhich though. I also  added extra veggies, whereas Le Dip’s is more sauce & cheese.

The main different was that I didn’t put NEARLY enough garlic compared to the original, so if you don’t mind offending everyone around you for 24 hours, add twice as much garlic and it’ll be more like Le Dip’s. Letting the mayo sit for a couple hours in the fridge after incorporating the garlic is probably a good idea too!

Hope one of you Le Dip lovers tests it out and let’s me know what you think!

Enjoy!

I hope you like lamb

 

I’m not a serious meat person, but the thought of a lamb chop always makes me excited. We never had lamb for dinner in either of the homes I grew up in. Instead, I was raised on chicken, beef and turkey with the occasional veal cutlet and fish thrown in. Trying lamb for the first time was a taste-bud meltdown. (The same is true for duck!) The thing I love the most about lamb is its simplicity and fat content. Lamb is so flavorful on it’s own, that there’s not much more you need to do to it.

Here are three pretty simple recipes for lamb: Simple Lamb Sliders, Oliveri Lamb Stew and Lamb Chops with Apricot Compote. MMM. Enjoy!

SIMPLE LAMB SLIDERS
Sometimes you want to cook a meal in 10 minutes. You’re tired, cranky and not in the mood to mince garlic, measure out herbs and unload the fridge, but, you also want pizazz. Well, then this recipe is for you. I personally think lamb is good enough on it’s own without seasoning, just be sure to splurge on a good-quality, fresh ground lamb. It’ll be a little pricey, but well worth the extra cash. You’ll need:

Ground lamb
English muffins (whole-grain-it-up for your <3) or typical mini hamburger buns
Apricot jam (or a chutney of your liking)
Onions
Olive Oil

1. Form the lamb into small 1/4 inch balls and smash together while you heat up a portable grill (godbless my George Foreman) or use a real one if you have it.

2. Heat up olive oil (1-2 tbsp) in a small frying pan. Chop some onion into long slivers. Once the oil is ready, throw in the onions and caramelize.

3. Grill the lamb to your liking.

3. Toast the English muffin. Once done, top with a thin layer of apricot jam or chutney. Fix the lamb on top and then put some caramelized onions on it. Delish.

Serve it alongside fresh arugula with balsamic oil and you’ve got a complete meal.

OLIVERI LAMB STEW

This is a quintessential wintry fall stew, so bookmark it for a cold, rainy day (which we probably won’t have here in California for another eight months…)

My friend Steven made this for me about three years ago and it changed my life. Steven is one of the best chefs & bakers I know, and I wish he’d put together a food blog of his own so we could all cook a little better.  This is his recipe verbatim, so thank you Steven!!

1 lb fresh green beans
1/4 C olive oil
3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2 in cubes
1/2 C chopped onion
salt
pepper
1/2 C red wine vinegar (good quality)

1. Trim, wash, and drain beans.

2. In large pot, heat olive oil on medium high. When hot, brown meat deeply on all sides. ( several pieces at a time so as not to crowd the pot… ) Then transfer meat to a plate.

3. After all meat is browned and on the plate… cook the onion in the pot until its a pale gold color. Return lamb to pot. Add salt, pepper, and the vinegar. Bring the vinegar to a brisk simmer for about 30 seconds, turning the meat and scraping loose browning residues from the bottom and sides of the pot. turn the heat down to cook at a slow simmer. Add the green beans and cover the pot. Lid slightly ajar.

4. Cook for about 1 1/2 hours until the meat is very tender.

Lamb Chops with Apricot Compote

Saw this in a magazine a few years ago and tried it. Turned out to be really scrumptious. Sorry for the kind of gross-looking photo– took this picture before starting the food blog.

1/2 cup apricot preserves
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 teaspoon soy sauce (low sodium)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon (ground)
1/8 tsp black pepper
lamb chops, trimmed

1. Combine the first four ingredients (apricot, mustard, garlic & soy sauce).
2. Combine the salt, cinnamon and pepper and sprinkle over lamb on both sides.
3. Heat a large skillet and then spray with Pam or cooking spray.
4. Cook lamb for apprx. 5 minutes on each side (or however well-done or not well-done you like it)
5. Add the apricot, lowering the heat to the lowest setting. Let it cook for another minute.

I served this with carrots cooked in olive oil and some fresh bread fried in the skillet with a tiny bit of olive oil and garlic.

Now I’m in the mood for a little Lamb Chop’s Playalong! Did anyone else grow up with this show? Love it.

“Bounce your bottom in your chair!”

Mañana is good enough for me

In my last post I mentioned that I would be taking a hiatus from sweets and decadence. Well, that didn’t happen for long. We had some friends over for dinner last night and decided on a Mexican feast, which of course means margaritas, carne asada, tostada bar and tres leches as the finale.

The boyfriend was ridiculously nice and went out to buy all the fixings and ingredients at El Metate Market, which was introduced to be by Iris last month. Their carne asada is uh-mazing and cheap! I got the approval from our friend Sabrina, whose family comes from Mexico City and her boyfriend Terry, who is half Mexican and… Dutch? Being half Mexican myself and raised in a family that almost opened up a taco chain called California Taco Company, I know a little about good carne as well.

Anyhow, my poor vegetarian boyfriend went to El Metate, and in broken Spanish ordered 2lbs of carne asada, which was delivered to him in a nice, juicy plastic bag. Many thanks to him for this sacrifice.

To make a delicious tostada bar, you can use: cheese, carne asada, tomatoes, homemade pico de gallo, refried beans, cilantro, onion, a spicy salsa (El Metate has a great one), guacamole, extra avocado and some rice. I made cilantro rice, with a little butter, cilantro and lime added in. Have all the fixings out so everyone can top their tostada with their choice of toppings, and that’s that.

This is a vegetarian tostada for lunch since I packed up the left-over meat for our guests. I personally think the vegetarian version is just as good. The boyfriend loves these.

Pair it with some Jarritos (and tequila) and some colorful flowers in a plastic water bottle, and you’ve got yourself one tasty and colorful lunch.

Now, onto the pastel:
I could not find my beloved Joy of Cooking (hint, hint: gift idea) which is sad since I love their version and have made it many times with success. Instead I used a recipe from Pati’s Mexican cooking blog, which seemed pretty legit, but it came out really dense. I normally like my tres leches to be super moist and soggy, but this was quite cake-like and spotty with dry spots even though I doubled the milk. A perfectly textured tres leches requires a really light sponge cake. If you’re tempted to try this dessert be careful when scouring the internet for a recipe: tres leches should NOT have oil or butter in it, and AllRecipes top pick is not doing justice to this dessert.

The cake is simple enough. Beat nine egg whites until soft peaks form. Then, add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form (you should be able to turn the bowl upside down with the egg whites not moving). In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks until they are creamy and light in color. Add 1/2 cup of sugar to that along with a teaspoon of vanilla and beat for 3-5 minutes. Slowly add the yolks to the bowl of whites with a spatula, folding them in. Add 2 cups of flour (I might add less next time) and fold in until incorporated. Bake for 20-25 minutes at 360.

Once it is finished, poke holes in the cake with a chopstick or skewer. Mix together 2 cans of evaporated milk, 2 cups of heavy whipping cream and 2 cans of condensed milk with a whisk. Pour over the cake slowly, trying to get the middle drenched first. If you double the milk you will probably have extra, which is always nice to serve on the side. Let the cake soak for at least an hour in the fridge, if not overnight.

You can top it with fresh heavy whipping cream and cherries. Someday I’m going to make a coconut version of this with coconut milk, maybe for my step-mom who loves coconut and tres leches.

I’ll leave you with this lovely, semi-racist song by my all-time fav, Peggy Lee. I’m definitely waiting until mañana to put desserts and refried things behind me.