Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Recipe Detour & Thai Peanut Sauce

Do your recipes ever take a detour?

On Sunday night we had a little mishap with the grill and it turned our hopes of tender, fall-apart, smoked beef brisket into a tougher-than-we-like-to-eat piece of steak. The flavor was really good, though. We were still pretty bummed.

Hubby suggested we make carbless tacos with the meat (or tacos with a lettuce leaf "tortilla"). Way to think positively! That's one meal we do when we're cutting the starch out of our diet.

Well, I looked in the fridge and pantry, and all I had was tomatoes, a can of olives, and beans. I don't know about you, but I have a hard time calling something a taco if it doesn't have sour cream and guacamole. Or at least salsa. I had none. I wasn't feeling it.

So, I thought...(careful, you're about to see how my mind works)..."Lettuce. I have iceberg lettuce. Lettuce wraps. Asian. Peanut sauce. I have peanut butter. I got carrots. Baby ones."

I looked a little deeper and continued my mind banter, "I don't have bean sprouts. But, ooh, I have tofu! Ok, I need something like a water chestnut or a bamboo shoot. Wait, I just bought hearts of palm!!" Score.

Julienned baby carrots and hearts of palm.
Seared tofu: it was better cutting it small first, then searing it with a little cooking spray.
Takes more of the moisture out of it.
I chopped everything up. I took the beef and the tofu to the saute pan and seared them a bit. Then I threw this sauce together:

Thai Peanut Sauce (for lettuce wraps, salad, or satays), makes about 1/2 cup
3T. peanut butter (crunchy or creamy)
2T. soy sauce
2T. lemon juice
1 1/2 T. agave nectar or honey
1T. sesame oil
1T. water (or more if you like it thinner)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

It was a TV dinner - with red wine and So You Think You Can Dance
The lettuce wrap with all the components
The lemon juice really makes it good. The next day I made the leftovers into a salad. It rocked.

Moral of the story: don't let a measly mishap mess up your meal. Sometimes life throws you a detour. Just keep going and enjoy the ride. :o)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Exploring K-town, Part 1

Last week we went with our friend Aaron to try Korean-Japanese food in L.A.'s Koreatown (a.k.a. K-town). Aaron was talking up this chirashi bowl that is served with only fish roe. If you've known me a while, you know I love me some caviar. I grew a taste for the salty beads of delight when I went on my first cruise at age 6. Yes, at 6 years old, I ate caviar at practically every meal for 7 days...true story.

We headed to A-Won Restaurant, got seated and ordered our dish of choice: a bed of sticky white sushi rice topped with a layer of marinated seaweed and a variety of fish eggs. Black ones, red ones, yellow ones, fatty salmon ones, sea urchin ones, and even green wasabi-flavored ones. I think I experienced a bowl of HEAVEN for a good 15 minutes until my bowl was clean.

I think I could make this at home. Virtually no cooking involved  (besides the rice)!

Perhaps the best part about Korean-Japanese food (and perhaps the one thing that distinguishes it from just plain Japanese food) is the side dishes. I didn't snap a photo, but we also got about 4 dishes of kimchee and other pickled goodies to munch on. A new love for just $16.95. Stay tuned because this week, I'm going to try Korean-Chinese food! Happy eating!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Simple Smoothies - A Four-Ingredient Fix

In the mornings, we try to do quick breakfasts to get hubby out the door and off to the office. Smoothies have been a staple for us, thanks to our Magic Bullet.
When we were engaged, I wasn't convinced that this gadget was something needful, but I've changed my mind. I think it's gotten more use than any other appliance in our kitchen.
You can use whatever goodies you find in your fridge and freezer, and in 60 seconds, you've got breakfast in a cup (with a cool lid to go)! This week we had harvested a bunch of oranges from the citrus tree in our yard. Our grafted dwarf tree produces limes, lemons, oranges, and mandarin oranges. Cool, huh?

I picked almost all of the ripe oranges, so there are mostly lemons and limes today.
I squeezed 4 oranges and got about 1.5 cups of juice. 
Perfect for a couple of smoothies! Isn't my juicer cute?!? I love it. 
The ingredients and the finished product on the left.
The frozen fruit I have now from Costco has pineapple, papaya, mango, and strawberries. 

Here's what I usually add to a 
Fruit Smoothie
1/2 c. orange juice
1/2 c. plain yogurt (I used Greek style yogurt)
1/2 c. milk (any kind of milk - regular, soy, almond, etc.)
1/2 c. fruit (frozen or fresh)

If I use fresh fruit, then I would add a couple of ice cubes to make it cold. But I find it's nice to always stock your freezer with some frozen fruit, that way it's always ready for the blender.

Another smoothie I like to make is from the South Beach Diet Quick & Easy Cookbook
Almond Energy Blast
1 c. lowfat vanilla soymilk
3/4 c. plain low-fat or fat-free yogurt
6 oz. silken tofu
1/4 c. dry-roasted almonds

For this one, I have even used firm tofu and raw almonds, and it's still good. Additionally, I prefer the "original" or plain soymilk, so I use that and add a sweetener like Splenda or sugar-free vanilla syrup. If you're trying to get healthy, you can add protein powder or a little wheat germ for an extra boost.

Blend away and be blessed!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Jamming

During the last week in June, the cherry farms closest to Los Angeles, up in Leona Valley, sent notices that the fruit was ready to harvest and it would probably be the last week to pick-your-own. I had gone last year with friends and had learned how to make jam for the first time. I was determined to make even more this year for holiday gifts. Oh, how I love to think about Christmas in July!

Because I work from home and can flex my hours, I went on a Tuesday morning...all by myself. I think I looked a little funny going cherry-picking alone. Most people bring kids or parents or someone with them as a fun outing. I, however, was there on a mission.

An hour and fifteen pounds of cherries later, my mission was half accomplished. I drove home (1.5 hrs), gathered up jars and pectin during the week, and anticipated the arrival of my helper - my mother-in-law!

Mom arrived on Friday night and we spent all of Saturday morning de-stemming, pitting, and chopping cherries.

 It's the pits! And the cherry-pitter on the left.

We kept about 10 lbs for jam and it yielded 22-8oz jars. 18 were made with regular sugar, 4 were made with Splenda sugar blend. The Splenda jam set really well compared to the sugar-filled jam, but it all still tasted good.

Lemon zest and juice to add to the cherries, sugar and pectin.
Two batches: one with sugar, the other with Splenda Sugar Blend
Boiling the filled jars to seal the lids.
Keeping the lids and seals in hot water.
Waiting for the jars to cool and seal.
Mission accomplished! Rhett approves. :o)
Canning is such a simple, fun way to make seasonal fruits and veggies last all year. And, they make excellent homemade gifts. And,'s a great activity to enjoy with friends, kids, or mothers-in law! Thanks, Mom!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Creamy Balsamic Dressing

We're back from another vacation and it's time to shed some "Hey, I'm on vacation" pounds. On Monday, my hubby and I typed up a meal plan for the next week so that we stick to the diet. This means that I'll be cooking more and I'm happy about that. I'm so glad I'll be home for the next 6 weeks with no travel.

Today I woke up a little early and started putting together a salad for our lunches. I'd been thinking about it since yesterday when I went on a Costco run and also received my CSA farm food. Romaine lettuce, (leftover) asparagus, cucumbers, feta cheese, rotisserie chicken, and garbanzo beans (I splurged and bought a Costco case of garbanzo beans!). All I needed to do was wash, rinse, and chop. And make a salad dressing.

Salad dressing is something that I rarely buy in a bottle. Growing up, my mom would always make her own vinaigrette from scratch (and still does!). I also learned how to make simple ones while I lived in Paris from 2003-2005. Since I learned how easy and delicious it was, I've never gone back to the bottle - except for ranch.

Recently, my husband asked if I could get a little more creative with my dressings. I didn't blame him. My standard is vinegar or lemon juice, Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a little honey. Sometimes I feel wild and will throw in some Herbes de Provence. Today, I decided I'd experiment a little further with something creamy.

 The ingredient list. Notice the jar of mustard is empty. I used it because it only had a little left.
 Remember to use what you've got!

I looked in my fridge and found sour cream and milk. I checked out my cupboards and saw balsamic vinegar. Hmm. Why not? I mixed them. Here's the recipe:

Creamy (Light*) Balsamic Dressing (makes about 1 cup)
1/4 c. (light) mayonnaise
3 Tbsp (light) sour cream
1/4 c. milk
3 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 Tbsp whole grain mustard (you could use dijon also, there would just be less texture)
1 tsp Herbes de Provence
salt & pepper to taste
*because we're trying to lose weight

Mix all the ingredients together. Top your favorite green salad. Enjoy!