Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Having My Own Aarti Party: Massaged Kale & Mango Salad

Last weekend, Aarti Sequeira, recently crowned the latest Next Food Network Star, made her official Food Network debut with her new cooking show, Aarti Party. Since I had already been following Aarti's fun and unique pre Food Network Star "Aarti Paarti" cooking vidoes over on Youtube, I was pretty certain all along that she would be a serious contender all along and was so elated when she won. It was awesome to see a fellow food blogger win such a big competition!

Aarti is really quirky and friendly and all of her videos are so approachable, with really clever interpretations of Indian fusion dishes. Her recipes are not the wild and crazy attention grabbing type of fusion, but rather the more comfortable, yes-you-can-make-this-at-home type, each given Aarti's unique personal flair, with usually a hint or more of Indian spices and ingredients.

I watched her first Food Network episode, which featured a chicken tikka masala inspired version of sloppy joes, Bombay Joes, as well as some incredibly easy and beautiful looking Early Grey & Pistachio flavored kulfi ice cream pops, and a Massaged Kale & Mango Salad. I chose to make the salad, which immediately intrigued me, having previously been scared to death to try making anything with kale at home. I will usually taste anything, and have no fear of eating new foods, but sometimes cooking with them is another matter entirely.

I am not really sure why I feared making kale, although I'm quite certain that, in part, it had to do with an utter lack of knowledge about properly preparing it. I had visions in my head of sloppy, murky, mushy overcooked greens. This cool crisp light & fruity salad instantly erased that unpalatable image from my mind and I overcame my kale inhibition, rushing to the market to grab a healthy, fresh bunch of cavola negro kale. If I was going to give kale a go for the first time, I wanted to try the supposedly most flavorful variety.

The salad was indeed easy to prepare, with only a handful of simple ingredients ... kale, some freshly squeezed lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, Kosher salt, honey, and some freshly diced mango. The aroma released from deep green leaves while giving them their "massage" was heavenly, and as Aarti had promised, almost banana like. The salad had a really nice crispness to it and the flavor was so unique, slightly sweet without being sugary, light and tropical. Addictive and refreshing on a hot Florida night.

I measured absolutely nothing accurately; this was one of those easy recipes you can make using your eyes and measure by feel and taste alone. I left out the pumpkin seeds, since my daughter would not even consider taking a bite otherwise. And besides, pumpkin seeds aren't the sort of thing I typically have hanging out in my pantry anyway. I did not miss them at all. This is a great salad and I hope to give more of Aarti's recipes a try in the future.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nature Valley Granola Bars Giveway Winner Announced

A big thank you to all of the folks who stopped by to enter my Nature Valley Granola Bars Giveaway. I wrote out all the entries on pieces of paper, including extra entries for anyone who chose to use multiple methods to enter the giveaway, and had my daughter mix them up and draw the winning name.

Congratulations to Karen Harris.

Please send me an email using the "contact me" link to the left with your mailing info so I can let the folks at My Blog Spark and Nature Valley know to send you your prize.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My First Giveaway (Thanks to Nature Valley Granola Bars)

When the folks at Nature Valley Granola Bars and My Blog Spark offered to sponsor a giveaway on my blog, I have to say that I was thrilled. Since I already really do eat and enjoy Nature Valley granola bars fairly regularly, it is pretty easy for me to recommend them to you. I, of course, eat them as they are intended, as a crunchy portable snack. They are handy as a mid afternoon salty-sweet energy pick me up, easily tucked into your purse or backpack.

However, I actually usually use them more often in recipes, grinding them up into a graham cracker type pie shell base or sprinkled over ice cream. I have even made a delicious creamy and crunchy chicken salad recipe that uses Nature Valley granola bars crushed up and stirred into the mixture. The chicken salad recipe was actually based on a Pillsbury Bake-Off finalist's recipe and is one I have been enjoying for a few years now. I will share a new recipe I created for the giveaway below, but first I want to tell you about the giveaway!

Nature Valley is sponsoring a special event called The National Parks Project, a fundraiser to help promote and preserve the many beautiful parks across the US. Nature Valley sent me a box of their granola bars, which have specially marked wrappers that you can send in to help raise money for the charity event. They also sent me a really nice gift pack complete with a backpack, a compass, a flashlight key chain, a bright neon green water bottle, and a book called 1000 Places to See Before You Die. They have also agreed to send one lucky Lavender Blue reader the same gift pack.

If you would like a chance to win this cool gift pack, then please follow the instructions below. You can enter once for each method. You may enter any time starting now until Wednesday August 11 at 11:59pm Eastern US time. The winner will be announced sometime the next day, Thursday August 12, so be sure to check back to see if you have won. If you are the winner, you will need to contact me via email so I can get your mailing info. If I don't hear back from the winner within 3 days, a new winner will be drawn.

How to enter the Nature Valley Granola Bars Giveaway (you may choose one or all of these methods, each method counts as 1 entry, for a total of 4 possible entries per person) :

  1. Post a reply to this thread commenting on this article. Only genuine responses will be accepted, not spam.
  2. Post a message about this giveaway on your own blog and link back to this article (be sure to post that you have done so in a reply here).
  3. Sign up to be a Follower using the Google Friend Connect link on my blog and mention it in a reply here (if you are already a follower, just mention that you are).
  4. Comment on this giveaway, mentioning Lavender Blue, on at least one social networking resource (Twitter, Facebook, whichever you participate in) and post that you have done so as a reply here.

Here is what the gift pack looks like - I thought it was really quite nice.

Now I couldn't just post about a giveaway and not provide you with some sort of recipe, so here is what I created with one of my free sample granola bars.

I bashed up one of the granola bar packs, which actually contains 2 bars, leaving some large chunks. I used the crumbled chunks of granola bar as crunchy layers in my parfait, with alternating ribbons of berries, and red, white, & blue colored yogurt. It is very simple to make and of course can be altered to suit your own tastes with different fruits and yogurt flavors. Since the event is honoring our National Parks, I thought it most fitting to stick to a patriotic theme.

Patriotic Picnic Parfaits
(serves 1-2)

1 packet Nature Valley Granola Bars (2 crunchy bars inside the sleeve), bashed until crumbly
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup fresh strawberries, diced or sliced
1 container vanilla yogurt
1 container strawberry yogurt
1 container blueberry yogurt

Per serving: Place a layer of granola on the base of a tall clear parfait glass, then add a few spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt. Sprinkle some blueberries on top, being generous, then add a few more spoonfuls of yogurt, only this time use blueberry flavor. Repeat layers using strawberries and strawberry flavored yogurt. Garnish with more mixed berries on top.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Strawberry Mango Muffins and The Crazy Fridge Disaster

My morning yesterday began quite normally. I woke up, made some coffee while still half asleep. I wandered around unpacking a bit and checked my email before starting my day. It was supposed to be a somewhat lazy Saturday morning, after a grueling week of doing nothing but searching for jobs, applying for jobs, driving around looking for job signs. /sigh I needed to relax big time!

My grand plan was to do some therapeutic baking, something I hadn't done in what felt like ages. Between low carb dieting, moving, and a general paring down of ingredients over the past month, I hadn't really had time to bake much of anything. Besides, now that I have such an adorable and fairly roomy kitchen to work in, I wanted to play.

The first sign of trouble surfaced when I opened the fridge to grab some eggs and milk. Instead of a bracing, cool breeze, I was hit with a fairly tepid not quite cool feeling when I opened the fridge door. I assumed that I must have left the door ajar when I grabbed the creamer for my coffee earlier. Oh if only that were the case! But at the time, it was certainly far simpler to assume I had been my usual clumsy self and, not being used to my new side by side opening fridge, must have not shut the door tightly.

I wanted to make some muffins, but I still hadn't decided which type of muffins I felt like making. Looking around in the fridge, I noticed that I still had a small amount of fresh strawberries left over from my purchase at the farmer's market earlier in the week, and the few that remained were not looking very happy. I picked out the ones that were too far gone and salvaged about 6 decent sized berries. I also still had a ripe mango, another of my farmer's market purchases. I didn't have a recipe for strawberry mango muffins, but it sounded like an appealing combination, so I went with it and started creating.

I assembled some basic muffin ingredients on the counter... flour, milk, eggs, baking powder, salt. I have a favorite blueberry muffin recipe that calls for mashing up some of the blueberries into the batter, and thought that might serve as a good starting point for these muffins. My mango was very, very juicy and parts were just a bit mushy, so I mashed up about 1/2 cup, and diced the rest into bite sized chunks. I was hoping the mashed mango would provide a nice balance of moisture and fruity flavor to the batter, and possibly brighten the color as well. My tiny handful of strawberries only amounted to roughly a half cup, which was really less than I would have liked, but there wasn't much I could do about it at the time. I also chopped up some macadamia nuts I had lying around, thinking they would add a nice bit of crunch to the streusel topping I was planning to sprinkle over the batter.

I realized at this point that I had forgotten to grab some butter, so I went back to the fridge, laid my hands down on the sticks of butter and felt them sink a bit under the pressure of my fingers. While the butter was still cold to the touch, it was clearly a lot softer than it should have been coming straight from the fridge. Concern set in now as I began to feel the contents of my fridge. Everything was definitely still cool, but definitely not as cold as normal and the entire interior felt like a cooler at the end of a long picnic, after the ice has started to melt. Opening the freezer door, I breathed some sighs of relief.. everything inside still seemed frozen and cold, and the fan was running. I turned the temperature control a bit cooler on the fridge side and proceeded with my muffins, hoping that would solve the problem.

I mixed up a quick and easy streusel topping by rubbing a small amount of butter with flour, sugar, and the chopped nuts. In retrospect, I would not use salted macadamias again, as their salty bite was too strong for these muffins. I would either try to find unsalted, or use a different nut .. perhaps Brazil nuts or almonds.

Unfortunately, after my muffins had been baked, cooled, and sampled, my fridge was still not cooling properly, so it was time to give the landlord a call and see about having a repairman come out. I found the manual to see if I could troubleshoot in the meantime, but I had already checked everything suggested in the book. I poured myself a soda, reached into the freezer for some ice and my heart sank. The ice bin had water in it... meaning the freezer was beginning to thaw out as well.

I spent a few hours waiting for the landlord to call back, which felt like an eternity. All of my perishable foods went into cooler bags with the remaining ice. Finally, around dinner time, the serviceman called and gave me the bad news... he had been swamped all day with emergencies and was not going to be able to fix my fridge until Monday the earliest. All I could think of was all of my food melting and spoiling over the next couple of days, and how I wasn't going to be able to replace it since my finances are so very tight right now.

Luckily, the repairman was awesome and was able to take the time to talk me through a temporary fix over the phone. I have never in my life done any sort of handy repairs on household appliances, so I was pretty impressed that he was able to get me to do this on my own. After figuring out which breaker switch to turn off (a feat in itself... why do those breaker panels NEVER seem to have things labeled correctly?), I had to remove all of the food, pry loose all of the trays, scrape away some ice buildup covering six tiny metal screws in the back of the fridge interior. It isn't like I have a huge arsenal of household tools to work with here folks, I was working with my cheap pink girly tool kit I had thankfully picked up at the local discount store. I wasn't working with quality equipment and my experience level was zero.

My task was to pry free the screws, remove the long metal plate, and find out what the metal coils and wiring looked like behind the panel. The serviceman was expecting .. correctly as it turned out.. that they would be covered by a wall of ice at least 3" thick. The only way to get my fridge to work at all and have any hope of saving my food was going to depend on me being able to remove that ice, since it was preventing the fridge from operating correctly. My next step was to lay out some towels, grab a power strip and my hair dryer and start melting that ice in intervals. It seems that a hair dryer can be powerful enough to actually melt the metal components of the freezer motor, something to think about next time you are blasting your hair.

It took a while, but eventually I did manage to get all of the ice thawed and cleared from the motor without getting the water all over my hair dyer and electrocuting myself. The panel back in place, I cleaned up the water, turned the breaker back on and had a running fridge again, at least for a few days. The repairman explained that until he is able to fix the real problem, the one causing the ice to build up like that in the first place, it will just continue to create a new layer of ice. But yay.. at least my food was saved!

And now, finally, the muffin recipe....

Strawberry Mango Muffins
(12 servings)

dry mixture:
2 cups all purpose flour or plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 Tbsp poppy seeds (just 'cause I thought they'd look pretty)

wet mixture:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar or caster sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup mashed mango pulp
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
1 cup diced mango
1/2-1 cup diced strawberries

Streusel topping:
4 Tbsp all purpose flour or plain flour
4 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4-1/3 cup chopped unsalted nuts (macadamia, almonds, brazil, whatever you prefer)
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the center. In another bowl, using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in one egg at a time, mixing well after each. Add the mango pulp and the extract and combine well. Stir in the diced mango and strawberries, being careful not to crush them.

Mix together the streusel ingredients in a smaller bowl, adding the nuts last. Personally, this is easiest using your fingers to rub the ingredients together into clumps, making sure to leave the mixture very crumbly.

Pour the wet mixture into the well you made in the dry ingredients and stir just enough to combine the ingredients together, leaving no pockets of dry flour. Overmixing will result in tough chewy muffins, so don't use your electric mixer here.

Spoon the batter into 12 greased muffin tins and sprinkle the crumbly streusel topping evenly over each. They should look like snowy rubble-topped mounds.

Bake in a preheated 375 F oven for about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick tests clean when you stick it into the largest looking muffin. Allow to cool in the tins for at least 10 minutes before attempting to pry them free. Enjoy warm or cool.

Notes: The muffins turned out beautiful and their texture was light and fluffy, with just enough crumb to make them true muffins and not cupcakes. I was very happy with their light sweet but not too sweet flavor, and the streusel topping was soft and powdery. The only things I would change would be to add more strawberries (a full cup) and unsalted nuts, as I already mentioned above. Oh... and perhaps almond extract instead of vanilla, especially if I went with chopped almonds in the topping.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Balsamic Drizzled Strawberries

Fresh ripe plump red strawberries
always seem to scream summer to me. When I was a kid growing up in New York, there were many local farms within a days drive where we could go pick our own berries. Actually, in New York, there are tons of "pick your own" type places for just about everything that can be locally grown. To let a kid loose in a field full of fresh strawberries growing in low bushes in the sun was such a great adventure and a thrilling experience. There were bugs to chase, farm rows to run wildly through, laughing and giggling, and everywhere you could look, little green bushes spotted heavily with delicious red berries.

We always ate more than we ever managed to take home, as our juice-stained mouths and fingertips easily proved. It was a great way to spend a lazy summer day.

I haven't been to a pick your own farm in years, but the next best thing is to pick up a box at a local farmer's market. As I did when I was a kid, I ate nearly half of them just out of hand, but the rest I sliced, sprinkled with the tiniest bit of sugar, and then drizzled with a touch of strawberry basil balsamic vinegar. I know this may sound a bit weird, but the taste was really quite amazing. It was slightly tangy, but the sugar brought out the sweetness of the berries, and the hint of basil was a really nice touch. The vinegar tasted so good, I even tipped my glass to drink every last drop.

Balsamic Drizzled Strawberries
(serves 1-2)

1-2 handfuls fresh strawberries, hulled, sliced
1 tsp sugar, to taste
1 tsp strawberry basil balsamic vinegar (I used Archer Farms brand)

Slice berries, then sprinkle with sugar and drizzle with some of the vinegar. Allow to macerate a few minutes, if you can stand to wait that long. Spoon into serving dishes and enjoy.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Ultimate Bacon Sandwich, Fresh from the Farmer's Market

You may recall that I recently made a trip to my local farmer's market and picked up some gorgeous fresh fruits & vegetables, to include a huge vine ripened meaty beefsteak tomato. A real tomato, not one of those yellow-orange almost plastic tasting grocery store tomatoes. Truly fresh tomatoes that have actually grown in a field under the shining sun have a lovely aroma and a luscious, juicy taste and texture. The kind of tomato that when you slice into it, juices flow freely down the sides of your counter, your arms and makes your kitchen smell like a garden.

My grandfather used to grow beefsteak tomatoes in his back yard. I can fondly recall grabbing the bright red globes whole and chomping down into them like apples. They were so sweet and delicious, they tasted just perfect right off of the vine.

A childhood favorite of mine has always been a Bacon, Lettuce, & Tomato Sandwich aka the Classic BLT. I can remember my dad making them for me in the summer, and I am sure that my grandma fixed her fair share of bacon sandwiches for me as well.

A bacon sandwich hardly needs a recipe, but here is a mouthwatering pictorial of my step by step How To Make a Bacon Sandwich, mainly because the photos turned out so yummy looking that I had to share ;)

Step 1: Grab your handy dandy Hello Kitty toaster & insert bread. Seriously, I am such a girl.

Step 2: Slice one huge ripe farm fresh beefsteak tomato, season with salt & pepper. Summer in a slice.

Step 3: Slather toast with some mayonnaise or Miracle Whip (Yes, I am one of those people).

Step 4: Layer on some crispy lettuce....

Step 5: The beefsteak tomato slices.....

Step 6: Bacon.... Crisp delicious bacon

Step 7: Stack, slice, and devour. Yum. Are you hungry now?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Farmer's Market Haul

One of the very cool things about my new home is its proximity to a local farmer's market. It is quite literally around the corner, just down the street from where I live, less than a few minutes drive. Almost close enough to walk to if it wasn't so incredibly hot and humid out.

A lot of the so-called farmer's markets in this region are often just small stalls that sell a lot of not necessarily local produce. I had nearly given up on them altogether. But this particular stand is the real deal, located at the edge of a genuine farm, jutting up against the very fields where much of the produce sold was grown. Not everything was local, but they certainly put on a good effort and most everything was abundant and fresh. I found the prices to be fairly reasonable, and certainly a bit more economical than some of the local chain grocery stores in this area.

I picked up a couple of deep emerald colored poblano peppers, some bright orange fleshed sweet potatoes, a huge beefsteak tomato, a fat juicy red bell pepper, an enormous mango, and a box of fresh strawberries.

While the guy at the counter was ringing up my fruits & veggies, I noticed they also happened to sell Ale 8 One ginger soda, a specialty soft drink made by a tiny company in Kentucky. I had recently heard Betty over at bettyskitchen sing its praises, so when I saw it sitting in their tiny soda fridge, I picked up a bottle to try. My bottle was a tiny bit flat actually, but the flavor was still refreshing. It doesn't have the same crispy bite that ginger ale does, but is slightly more fruity. I liked that it wasn't overly sweet and syrupy tasting.

My grand total was a fairly reasonable $7.63. Not too bad for the quality and amount of items I purchased.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Own Personal Piece of the Key Lime Pie...

After what seemed like endless days of torrential downpours, it finally stopped raining long enough for me to take a proper look in my new garden and of course snap some photos.

I love the garden.. it is so private and shady and honestly feels a bit like my own secret garden, tucked away from the rest of the world, complete with a fountain, butterflies, a wall of whistling bamboo, and a slew of more plants and flowers I can't even begin to name, having little to no experience with tropical flora.

One thing I did recognize immediately is this adorable little Key Lime tree full of tiny bright green limes. They aren't quite ripe yet, as Key limes will get a more yellow hue when ripe. I am so excited about this tree! It has been so long since I have had a fruit tree, and this will be my first citrus tree ever.

There are a lot of beautiful tropical plants and flowers in my garden, most of which I am unfamiliar with. Hopefully some of you kind readers will be able to help me identify some of them and even offer some tips on how to care for them.

There are two different sets of these rather large leafy ground plants, their leaves bursting with pink and red tongues.

The center of the garden is covered in these mostly green plants, interspersed with tall shooting purple flowers that remind me of firecrackers. Butterflies love this section of the garden. They were unfortunately a bit camera shy.

There is also a small pond with a fountain. I love the Asian feel. The owner may bring over some Koi fish for the pond. My daughter is going to love that!

Next to the fountain is a tiny patch of pink speckled leaves.

This innocent looking red flowering plant covers a large portion of the back edge of the garden. It seems to have taken over and may be a weed or possibly native ground cover, I am not really sure. Even if it is a weed, it is really very pretty, so I don't think I will try to pull it up.

This wall of tall thin bamboo towers above the entire length of the back wall of the garden, providing much needed shade and excellent privacy.

One tree has a peculiar trunk... it seems to grow lengthwise along the ground. It has smooth shiny leaves and is just beginning to show some yellow buds.

The leaves seem similar to those on the lime tree, only there is no evidence of fruit and the trunk is very different. Any idea what this could be?

I seem to recognize these plants ... I think they might be called elephant ears? Not really sure.

This is yet another huge tropical plant with wide toothy leaves and a shiny surface.

Here is another tree, again with very shiny, almost waxy leaves with crisp edges. This also looks similar to the lime tree, but with slightly different leaves.

And finally, this small patch of ruffled leaves reminds me a lot of spinach, although I can't imagine it could possibly be edible.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Credit Crunch: Asian Lemon Stir Fry with Prawns

It feels SO GOOD to be cooking in my own kitchen again. No more cleaning up after someone else before I can begin, no more worries that someone devoured my ingredients before I could use them, no more having to maneuver around someone else's countertop clutter. Amazing, simply an amazing feeling! I felt so free and it was very inspiring, cooking-wise.

After a few hours of searching through my kitchen boxes, I had finally located my plates and some cooking utensils, so it was, at long last, time to get back to my normal routine of cooking at home. After a couple of weeks of far too many take out meals and tv dinners, I was really craving a home cooked meal. My budget is rather restricted at the moment, until my divorce woes are fully behind me and until I land a full time day job. Therefore, anything and everything I already have in my fridge, freezer, and pantry (mainly stuff I dragged with me when I moved out) has to be eaten up before I can even consider buying new ingredients.

Since I had been eating so much take out food, and my favorite thing to grab and go is typically something Asian, I had about a cup or so of leftover steamed rice and perhaps 3/4 cup of really lovely Chinese lemon sauce hanging out in the fridge, begging to be used. The sauce was what I had saved from a nice lemon chicken meal from my formerly local Chinese restaurant, where they actually make their own stir fry sauces and dips. It is a thick, translucent neon yellow colored sauce, very lemony, and quite sweet, but not so sweet that you feel as if you are eating a dessert. It has a nice sour tang from the fresh lemons.

Oddly, the remnants of the last meal I ate in my old home were converted into one of the first meals I created in the new one. There must be some weird karma at work here.

I dug around in my fridge for any vegetables that might work out nicely in a stir fry dish. I had a sweet crunchy yellow bell pepper, some celery, spring onions, a handful of button mushrooms, a clove of garlic, some pre-cooked frozen jumbo shrimp, some pickled sushi ginger, and some wok oil in my cupboard.

Just pretend the bottle of Japanese Mirin you see in the photo is actually wok oil - I had grabbed the wrong bottle for the photo and didn't notice until I started cooking. Yes, sometimes I really am that scatterbrained. I also added in a splash of Sriracha hot sauce to tame the sweetness of the lemon sauce a bit, which was an afterthought while cooking, so that also missed the photo shoot.

As I usually do when I am creating something off the top of my head, I set out my ingredients in a line on my counter and just started cooking, first heating a bit of oil in my wok, then stir frying the aromatic ingredients first (garlic, ginger, spring onions), adding strips of bell peppers, slices of celery, and then the mushrooms, cooking each until they had just begun to soften up. I rinsed the frozen prawns under some cool water, a trick to rid them of that I've-been-hanging-out-in- the-freezer taste, then popped them into the wok and gave everything a good toss. Within a couple of minutes, the shrimp was fully thawed, so I added the lemon sauce (lemon slices and all) and let the ingredients simmer and meld just long enough for the rice to reheat in the microwave.

The results? Honestly, it tasted really good.. much better than I had expected when I first stared at that little tub of shimmering yellow sauce in my fridge. The bits of pickled ginger and lemon slices gave the entire dish a really nice bright, fresh and unexpected flavor.

Asian Lemon Stir Fry with Prawns or Shrimp
serves 1-2

2 tsp wok oil or any oil suitable for stir frying
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 tsp pickled ginger, chopped
2 spring onions, cut into 1 1/2" pieces, chopping a tiny bit of the green tops to use as a garnish
1 stalk celery, sliced thinly
1/2 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
5-6 fresh button mushrooms, sliced
1 handful frozen prawns or shrimp, rinsed under cool water and slightly thawed (cut into smaller pieces if desired)
1/2-3/4 cup Chinese lemon sauce (with some thinly sliced lemon)*
1 dash Sriracha hot sauce, optional
1 1/2 cups cooked steamed rice

Heat oil in wok. Saute garlic, ginger, and spring onions just a couple of minutes until they release their aroma. Add bell peppers and stir fry 1 minute, then add the celery and continue stir frying another minute or so, add the mushrooms, stir fry until all of the veggies are still a little crisp, but beginning to soften. Toss in the shrimp and cook until the shrimp has just heated through. Immediately add the lemon sauce (and some hot sauce) if desired and stir, dropping the heat some to allow the sauce to bubble and simmer gently. Serve over steamed rice, garnished with some of the reserved spring onion tops.

*NOTE: I would imagine leftover sweet & sour sauce or sweet chili sauce would work out just as well in this.

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Home of My Own

As I have been hinting at over the past year, big changes are in store for my life. While I wish these were all positive changes, they really aren't very pleasant at all. I am still looking for a good solid job that matches my education, skills, and most importantly... needs. Bills have to get paid after all! After numerous moves, and struggling to get out of a marriage that was failing fast and hard, I am finally at the top of the gigantic cliff I have been trying to climb. For some time now, I have been staring at what seemed to be a huge mountain of obstacles blocking my way, but at least one step has finally been accomplished... I have moved out. For the first time in a long time, I have my own place to live, my own keys, and hopefully, a piece of my life back.

I am still digging out from under a pile of boxes, bags, and clutter, without much time to really get to unpack and carefully set things up the way I would like to. My priority at the moment is to find a decent job that doesn't require me to say something like "May I take your order please?" or "Paper or plastic?" Freelance writing isn't going to pay all of my bills at the moment, so it is time for some heavy pavement pounding.

So for now, it is back to unpacking, job hunting, and legal headaches. I have a really cute retro-80s/early 90s kitchen that I am pretty excited to start cooking in, so never fear.. recipes and food photos are on the horizon. Just bear with me a little bit longer while I find some air to breathe, rest my feet, and find my plates that are buried in one of these boxes somewhere...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Welcome to my Whirlwind!

Just in case any of you have been wondering where on earth I have been and looking for more yummy recipes, please bear with me a little longer. Longtime readers of my blog may recall that about this time last year, I was in the middle of moving from London, England back to the US. Almost exactly one year later I am once again in the middle of moving, only this time it won't be overseas, but just 25 minutes away from where I live now. The good news is that after this move, I should stay put for a while (I hope). Once I am settled in and I get my kitchen set up, I will be back to bringing you more of my recipe creations and taste tests. So hang in there loyal readers and all of you new visitors...I hope to have things up and running again over the next month and hopefully be able to bring you video demos as well.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Childhood Cooking Memories: I'll have mine yellow & white please!

I can remember sitting around the table at the local Friendly's restaurant with my family on a typical Sunday. Sundays were very often the day we'd go out for breakfast or if we had slept in too late, brunch. On the day in question, I can recall quite clearly my reply to the waitress when she asked me how I'd like my eggs.

"I'd like a yellow & white please!" I declared.

She looked at me as if I had spoken in another language.

"Oh.. do you mean Sunny Side Up?" she asked.

"Nope, I want a yellow & white.. you know.. half white, half yellow?"

Still confused, the waitress turned and stared pleadingly at my parents for some assistance. They kind of shrugged and weren't much help, they didn't really have any clue about what I was asking for either. My dad asked me to explain and finally deciphered from my childish babble that what I really wanted was two fried eggs, their yolks popped immediately upon hitting the pan, and spread ever so slightly so that the yolks and the whites cooked through, but in separate clear patches of solid white and yellow. This would be what happens to tired parents who serve their kids food that turned out not quite right and tried to be sly and give it a cute name, in order to get their kids to still eat it. "I made you something special today... look.. it's a yellow & white egg, I made it on purpose, just for you! Because I love you!"

I'm pretty sure I ended up with scrambled eggs that day at Friendly's, a minor yet lingering disappointment.

Since I am still eating way more eggs than I thought humanly possible while trying to stick to a lower carb eating regimen, I have been trying to come up with new and exciting ways to serve my eggs. Having already long exhausted the standard varieties this month, today I produced a variation on the yellow & white, adding some chopped colorful bell peppers on top of the freshly cracked in the pan eggs, just after popping the yolks and giving the pan a slight swirl.

Yellow & White Eggs
serves 1

2 eggs
salt & pepper to taste
1 Tbsp bell peppers, seeded, finely chopped (any color you like or a medley)
nonstick cooking spray or butter

Heat a small skillet over medium, adding some butter or cooking spray if needed. Crack in 2 eggs (I left out one of the yolks but that isn't necessary). With the edge of your spatula, quickly pop the yolks, and swirl the pan gently, to give the egg a marbled appearance. Immediately sprinkle with the peppers and season to taste. After edges start to firm up, flip the egg over and cook for a few more seconds to brown the other side. Serve immediately.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grilled Steak Dinner.. this is healthy eating? Really!!

I have to admit, I have never been a big steak fan. I can vividly remember sitting at the dinner table as a child staring with great displeasure at the London Broil sitting in the center of the table. I absolutely dreaded steak night, and begged for only the very end bits that were hopefully so well done, they tasted more like charcoal than beef. Unfortunately, my parents are rather good cooks, so the steak was usually perfectly rare, not a charred bit to be found. The bright pink meat and its red juices scared the heck out of me and there was just no chance I was taking a bite.

My parents weren't the type to stand for rebellious or picky eating; it was eat your dinner or you may not get up from the table, period. Whenever I was faced with the dismal challenge of eating all of my steak, I would defiantly remain at the table for what seemed to me like hours, dangling my feet and playing with my fork, cutting and re-cutting my meat, trying to hide it in my napkin, or tuck some under my vegetables, sneaking some onto my unwitting younger sister's plate, anything I could think of to give my parents the impression that I had eaten whatever mystical amount "enough" was that evening. I begged, I bargained with offers of doing extra chores, I attempted pouty faces and tears, and I am certain threw a few fits (which of course only landed me in worse trouble).

I can recall a particular ride home from Girl Scouts in a friend's car, when somehow a conversation about food drifted to me talking about how much I despise steak for dinner, and complaining about how frequently we seemed to eat it. This baffled the other kids. The friend's shocked mother remarked "I really wish I could afford to have steak dinners often enough to be sick of them!" I felt a bit ashamed at that, it had never occurred to me that steak might be considered expensive or special, or that others might consider it a treat. The very next time, and every time thereafter, I ate my steak when served without complaint. I still didn't enjoy eating it, but I had been humbled by those remarks and wanted my parents to know I appreciated their efforts.

It took me many years to overcome my extreme distaste for steak, but I did come around eventually. It still isn't my favorite meal, but I outgrew the need to eat it burnt to a crisp and learned to enjoy the meat medium, not quite at the still mooing stage, but certainly still flush pink enough to be considered tender.

My daughter adores steak and could probably devour one every night and be quite content. It is her favorite thing to order at a restaurant, perhaps because she is so very rarely served one at home. Since steak is most definitely on the "good foods" list for low-carb diets, and they also happened to be on sale, I obliged my daughter's request and grilled some NY strip loin steaks, massaged lightly with extra virgin olive oil, and seasoned with Montreal Steak Seasoning blend, along with a side salad and green beans.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Eating Healthier: You say Potato.. I say Celeriac

I have to admit that I have always been a bit hesitant to try cooking with celeriac. This rather homely looking root vegetable isn't exactly the showiest item sitting in a bin on a grocer's shelves. It looks a bit more like something you might have dug up from your garden and tossed into the pile of tree branches, rocks, and other unwanted garden bed clutter. It hardly appears edible, and certainly doesn't scream to me "eat me eat me!"

As I was planning out which main dish recipes I wanted to try this past week, it was with an almost glum determination that I decided to finally give celeriac a try. I have actually eaten celeriac before, but only raw in a salad, and only at restaurants. Despite my lack of experience cooking with celeriac, quite a few of the low carb recipes I had been looking at called for this odd little veg, and I thought it might be high time to give it a real chance in my kitchen. I settled on a low carb interpretation of the Spanish tapas recipe, Patatas Bravas, which is usually some form of cubed potatoes tossed in a ruddy colored paprika infused sauce. Obviously, this being a low carb recipe, the potatoes were exchanged for cubed and sauteed celeriac. The recipe I used came from Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet Cookbook (page 133).

Basically, you peel and cube a medium sized knob of celeriac, scraping off all of the brown fuzzy bits until it resembles a potato. The skin was a bit stubborn and required a second go around with my vegetable peeler, but otherwise it was not difficult to prep. The next step is to saute the little cubes in some olive oil until they get all golden and tender. Honestly, despite the fact that these smelled nothing like potatoes cooking, they sure did look identical to the real thing. Visually, things were looking up already.

The sauce was a fairly standard patatas bravas red sauce.. a mix of tomatoes, sea salt, garlic, a bit of onion, fresh chili for a little hint of spice, and of course paprika. I have some wonderful smoked paprika that I had brought back with me from a little Spanish imports market on Portobello Road in London, which really helped bring a lot of rich flavor to the dish.

I thought the flavor was pretty good. It wasn't really all that comparable to a plate of authentic patatas bravas, but I still enjoyed it. The celeriac, when cooked this way, took on a very soft and almost creamy texture. I'd love to serve it without the sauce as a side to some eggs, as a healthier alternative to hash browned potatoes. The celeriac tasted much more like a parsnip than a potato however, and my daughter was unfortunately not fooled. She refused to eat more than a few forkfuls. Also, although this was considered a main course recipe in the cookbook I used, I have always thought of this sort of thing as more a starter or perhaps a hearty vegetable side dish.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Eating Healthier: Indian Spiced Eggs and other Breakfast Musings

Normally I am not much of a big-breakfast-eater kind of girl, certainly not on ordinary weekdays. Don't get me wrong ... on a cozy weekend morning I like nothing better than to enjoy a calm morning baking some blueberry muffins or savoring some fresh, homemade waffles. My typical weekday breakfasts usually would be a piece of fruit, coffee (there is always coffee in my world), and a serving of yogurt with a little bit of honey drizzled on top or a sprinkling of crunchy granola. If I can get my hands on a really good chewy, malty, truly NY style bagel, then a freshly baked seed coated or rye slathered with cream cheese hits the spot every time.

Weekday eggs for breakfast have never really been my thing. I do like eggs, I love them in quiches and omelettes or poached and dropped into soup or over a salad. I can't tell you just how many "egg-mayo" (aka egg salad in the US) sandwiches I used to eat in London, where you could easily grab one at just about any sandwich shop or grocery store. I am the first one to grab for a deviled egg on an appetizer tray, unless my daughter beats me to it. But I rarely feel like making one for breakfast on just an ordinary run of the mill morning. Like pancakes and waffles, breakfast eggs seem more like hearty weekend food to me.

It was therefore with some trepidation that I started out my week of lower carb eating facing what seems like an endless amount of breakfasts involving eggs. So far over the past 6 days (starting last Thursday), I have eaten eggs for breakfast nearly every day. It feels a bit discomforting to laugh in the face of my usual mindset of what is the "norm." Here is my diary of "what I ate for breakfast" so far:
  • prosciutto strips wrapped around buffalo mozzarella
  • poached eggs with sauteed baby bella mushrooms
  • baked avocado with salsa, crumbled bacon, and buffalo mozzarella melted on top
  • eggs "over easy" with crispy bacon strips
  • slices of ham wrapped around strips of more mozzarella and avocado
  • Indian Spiced Scrambled Eggs
The Indian Spiced Scrambled Eggs were based on a recipe from Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet Cookbook. They were certainly a bit more fussy than I would normally feel like bothering with on a weekday, but since I happened to have all of the ingredients, and because I had fond memories of eating similar dishes in the past, I gave them a try. And honestly, other than a bit of chopping, this was really quite easy to prepare.

The basic idea is quite simple, really: First, chop up a small spicy chili (I used a jalapeño, which I partially de-seeded, not wanting fire quite so early in the morning), a small tomato, a bit of fresh cilantro (aka coriander), and whisk that all up with a couple of eggs (organic & brown in my case). Season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and tiny bit of ground coriander seed and cumin. Next, slice up some onion and sauté in a bit of butter and olive oil, I used only a teaspoon of each and perhaps 1/4 of a smallish onion. Once the onion softens up and begins to turn a golden color, drop in the egg mixture and toss everything around scrambled eggs style until everything is cooked to your liking. A really nice breakfast, definitely filling, and it sure didn't feel like I was dieting.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Happiness & Sunshine

I have recently had the honor of being nominated for my very first blogging awards. Since I don't have much experience with memes and blogging awards, please forgive me for being a bit clueless about the process and for my slight tardiness in responding. As some of you may be aware of already, my life has recently been spinning a bit, well... erratically. I keep waiting for all of the craziness to go away, for my life to go back to some semblance of normal, but I still have to be patient a bit longer for that to happen.

The only way I know of to stay on top of all the stress and pressure and downright miserable-ness of it all is to try to stay cheerful. It is very easy to turn very sour or even a bit mean and grouchy when faced with seemingly endless struggles, and yes there have been times when I have cried myself to sleep over it ... or grabbed a bag of trail mix (my crutch food) and nibbled away nervously while thinking about what on earth I will do to resolve things. But mainly, I just try to wake up each morning as if everything was all a bad dream. I start over and try to do whatever I can to keep a smile on my face. Cooking and baking have always been one of my biggest outlets for creating some joy in an otherwise dreary day. After all, who can be that miserable when you can smell brownies baking?

I try to keep the details of my personal trials and tribulations fairly private, so forgive me for not going into great detail about everything that is going on in my life. I'd really rather share a smile and a cookie with you all anyway :) Since I am trying really hard to stick to this new diet I am trying out this week, I sadly have no cookies or other goodies today, but I can at least share this with you instead:

Chocolate Chip Ginger Cookies

Thank you to Karen of Eat Drink Wash Up, who blogs about her creative versions of recipes from both the US and England, and Judy of Bebe Love Okazu, who shares recollections of her Japanese and Chinese family recipes, for these two awards. Your kindness really brightened my day and I really appreciate it. I enjoy reading both of your blogs and you have both given me such inspiration to try new recipes.

As part of the Happiness Award, I have been asked to list 10 things that make me happy, so here you go:

10 Things That Make Me Happy

1) seeing my daughter's eyes sparkle and her face glow when she is doing something she truly loves

2) my best friend, who lives much too far away, but talks to me every single day

3) the sound of birds chirping

4) holding a baby in my arms

5) baking treats for someone I love

6) freshly brewed coffee, especially first thing in the morning

7) chubby bumblebees in a garden

8) cute cuddly animals

9) the scent of lavender

10) the color blue

As part of both the Happiness and Sunshine Awards, I have been asked to spread the joy around by mentioning some of the blogs that bring me happiness and brighten my days. I know that some of you don't participate in awards or tags, but I want to mention you just the same, even if you can only accept this with a smile. If you wish to, you may pass on either or both of these awards to some of the blogs that inspire you, or you can just have a seat and nibble a few cookies. :)

So here are my nominees, which will be for both awards, since each of your blogs have brought me both Sunshine and Happiness:

Marie from A Year from Oak Cottage - you have always been there to cheer me up and offer words of wisdom, and your Canadian and English recipes are fantastic

TulipFairy from Tulip's Kitchen - for giving me the inspiration to try out healthy recipes and reminding me to actually use all of those kitchen gadgets I bought

Edith from Precious Moments - seeing your lovely decorated cakes and all of your other amazing baked goods always makes me want to run to my kitchen and start baking something

Anne from Anne's Food - for sharing your delicious Swedish recipes and adorable photos of your beautiful cats and precious baby

Coleen from Coleen's Recipes - everything you have shared on your blog makes me so hungry, especially those yummy baked goods

Deb from Kahakai Kitchen - your photos make all of your recipes look so delicious, you always inspire me to try new ingredients and try out wonderful healthy fish dishes, soups, and salads

Charlene & Kevin from Welcome to Our World - for sharing your Malaysian recipes and your quick & easy US recipes, reading your blog makes me homesick for NY in a happy way

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Eating Healthier: Day 1 Ham & Feta Salad

I have a confession to make. I have had an extremely rough year and have found myself falling into the dreaded seeking-comfort-in-food trap. The person staring back at me in the mirror could, quite frankly, stand to lose a few pounds. I need to seize control before things get out of hand. So today I am attempting to turn over the proverbial new leaf and have started reading through my copy of Neris & India's Idiot-Proof Diet (as well as the companion cookbook), which is essentially a low-carb type eating plan. At this point, I am more interested in getting my feet wet, not taking the whole diet plunge just yet. The recipes sound pretty good, so I figured it was worth a try.

NOTE: Before I begin, I do need to clarify something. While looking up the link to share with you for the Idiot-Proof Diet I am trying out, I learned that there is actually another entirely different diet plan with almost the identical name (theirs does not have a hyphen). I know nothing about that other plan and thought I should mention it only to clear up any possible confusion. Also, I am not being paid by anyone to mention this plan nor do I personally know the creators and I have not been asked to mention their books. I am just sharing something I am trying out for myself.

My First Day:

Breakfast: The book had a list of no-brainer type quickie breakfast ideas. My typical breakfast would usually be a serving of yogurt, a piece of fruit, and some coffee - but today I went with the IPD's suggestion to have some slices of prosciutto wrapped around a small serving of fresh buffalo mozzarella. I'm not convinced that my usual breakfast is any less healthy, but I was willing to try something new.

In the IPD world, coffee with caffeine is supposed to be a no-no, but that is just not happening. Happily, a splash of cream is on the "OK to eat" list, although sugar is not allowed. I don't add sugar to my coffee anyway, so at least I was still on track there.

Lunch: Ham & Feta Salad (pictured above), based on a suggestion from the cookbook.

Basically, my interpretation was a hearty handful of mixed leafy greens, a farm fresh tomato cut into wedges, a small block of feta cheese (1 ounce) cut into cubes sprinkled over the lettuce, and a few slices of deli ham torn and strewn over the top. I had to break a rule here - I used fat free honey mustard dressing, but just a tiny spoonful. I don't even like fat free stuff, I bought it by mistake and now I am stuck having to use it up. Why is fat free dressing bad? It has a lot of added sugars. Oh yeah, and it doesn't taste all that fantastic either.

Dinner: (Note to self: Eating out is a real toughie when you are trying to stick to a new eating plan).

Thursday nights are when my daughter has her skating lessons. By the time skating is over, it is already past dinner time and she is usually fairly ravenous, so most of the time we plan to eat out afterward. Knowing that I wouldn't be eating at home, it was probably not the best day to start trying out a new eating plan. Then again, if I waited for the perfect night every day, chances are great that I would come up with a brand new excuse not to start each and every day.

I still tried to stick to my plan ..mostly. Since I knew Cracker Barrel has a low-carb section on their menu, it was at least easy for me to select something reasonable, which was Grilled Chicken Tenderloin Strips, with turnip greens, green beans, and sweet potato casserole. The sweet potato casserole was the only item that broke the "rules" so I didn't feel that bad about eating them. Oh yes, and the biscuit & corn muffins they bring out with your meal... temptingly delicious little things. I will have to work hard to resist them next time. Tonight however, I was unsuccessful.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Simple Comfort Food: Miniature Potato Kugels

Last night I wasn't feeling terribly inspired to cook anything particularly elaborate for dinner. I knew I had some really nice fat, juicy chicken & apple sausages hanging out in the fridge, so I decided to grill them up. To serve alongside them, I tried out a new recipe for mini potato kugels. This particular version of a kugel was the savory type; think of something similar to a potato pancake, only baked into a casserole. They are really quite scrumptious and very easy to make.

The concept of making individual portions of a potato kugel had never occurred to me before. I have to say that this was a brilliant discovery! I actually am quite excited to try making mini portions of all of the kugels I make, as this was such a convenient way to prepare them. I made just half the recipe and I really was kicking myself for not making triple the amount. These were really so good.

The basic idea here is to grate up a potato, a carrot, and a small amount of onion, mix it with an egg and some matzo meal to bind it, and heavily season with salt & pepper. How incredibly simple is that? For my half recipe I baked these for only about 40-45 minutes, just until the edges started to get really golden and just a bit brown and crispy.

Small Batch Mini Potato Kugels
(as adapted from Babycat's recipe here)
makes 6 individual portions

1 medium-large yellow skinned potato (Yukon Gold), peeled and grated, you will need 1 cup once grated
1 small carrot, peeled, grated
2 Tbsp onion, grated
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/8 cup canola oil
1/8 cup matzo meal or cracker crumbs or plain bread crumbs
1/2-1 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 tsp pepper, or to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 F and grease 6 muffin tins. Grab your grater (or a food processor) and using the larger holes, grate your potato, carrot, and onion into a large bowl. Whisk together the egg and oil, then add this to your grated vegetables. Mix together, then add the matzo and seasonings. Don't be too skimpy on your seasonings, as potato kugels can often taste quite bland. Be careful with the pepper, however. My daughter is always very quick to point out that I use too much pepper, so if you are not terribly fond of it, you might use less than I have suggested.

In any case, mix everything and portion the mixture out into your muffin wells. Bake for about 40-46 minutes, until they are golden and just beginning to brown on the edges. Serve immediately. They will be soft, savory and there won't be any leftovers.