Saturday, May 31, 2014

Plan for a week of Healthy Lunches

I bring my lunch to work almost every day. Both of us do.
Makes us a bit dull perhaps, but people always comment on it and say "I never have time for that".  So here's what I do in case you need a kick start to start doing it.

The key to your success is doing prep on Sunday for a week of lunches so you are ready to go out the door quickly every morning.   

Here are the reasons I like to bring my lunch:
#1) Your lunch is ready when you are.  When you’re at your desk, starving, with no time before your next conference call.
#2) Your lunch is more healthy
#3) Your lunch is cheaper, more economical (which BTW, means you have more $$ to spend on other stuff, like vacations!). I figure two people bringing their lunches every day for 90% of the work days save about $4,000 a year if you figure lunch out is $10 a day. 

Here’s what the TWO of us do on Sundays…

#1) Make bags of veggies: carrots, celery, pea pods, pepper slices, cherry tomatoes, green beans, jicama, whatever you like (see picture above) . Have some fruit ready too, either chilling in the fridge, or cut up in bags.

#2) Make small containers of Greek Yogurt (for me) or cottage cheese (for him)

        #3) Hard boil some eggs, or make some Make Ahead of Breakfast Muffins  on Sunday morning and have a couple of days extra.

#4) Put soups, and/or, leftovers in containers for your entrée.  If there are two of you at home, it’s easy to make a regular ‘family’ recipe and prep the leftovers.  

Hey, lots of people don’t like leftovers, but I prefer my own stuff over waiting in line for something fattening and expensive.  You decide, okay?
Above- Here's a view of our fridge on a Monday morning.
Below- A batch of Make Ahead of Breakfast Muffins 

One thing I DO recommend is to label your leftovers... 
I use these Corningware covered mugs and small serving dishes, I love them because they are easy to reuse and reheat, having a little vented lid.
I mostly use the "post It" notes that are sticky all over, and stick nicely to the containers.  
As you can see, this one is Split Pea Soup
However, it is very, very sad to get to work and think you are having French Onion Pot Roast for lunch when actually it is nothing but plain Homemade Chicken stock.

Here's another crazy view of my fridge.
Why yes, besides Soups, cottage cheese/yogurts, bags of veggies.. you can also see I have a funny little assortment of curry paste, tom yum soup paste, salsa and what have you.

Here's a week with both muffins and hard boiled eggs.
Makes it easy to grab and go.
It's good to have some protein in the morning.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Caulitflower Pizza Crust

Cauliflower crust pizza.  
Hmmm.  I had to try it. I wasn't convinced it was going to be good.
However, we are now believers.  I'm going to be doing this more often.

There are many recipes out there for cauliflower crust and varying techniques.  
I did the easy one first, using my food processor to chop it into a mealy texture.  
This is a very messy endeavor so be fore-warned. 
As you take off the cover to your processor to check out the progress, all the little bits of cauliflower explode all over the place.  I mixed the "raw" (uncooked) cauliflower with the rest of the ingredients and baked it.  This made a softer crust, even with the pre-baking, and definitely needed a fork to eat it. Still. It was yummy.

The other method is microwaving the cauliflower for 8 minutes and wringing it out with a clean dish towel. Wow... that was messy too. However, getting some of that moisture out of the cauliflower will make for a crispier crust, and be something you can pick up.
As to that messy dish towel... I'd recommend shaking it out outside and letting it dry out there.  Otherwise...  you're going to have more little bits of cauliflower all the way to the washing machine and then stuck to all your clothes.  Sigh...

Makes 1 pizza

2/3 head of cauliflower, chopped in a food processor makes about 2-3 cups
2 garlic cloves (chopped with cauliflower above)
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese, grated
1/2 cup low fat mozzarella cheese, 
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 450

Chop cauliflower in a food processor until a fine and a consistent texture.

Then, you can pick a method:
  • Crisper Pizza- Microwave for 8 minutes, drain off any liquid you see (or even wring it out using a clean dishcloth). Let it cool a bit and then mix with the rest of the ingredients.
  • Softer "Fork" Pizza- Mix uncooked cauliflower with all the ingredients.
 Spray baking sheet, or pizza stone, with cooking spray, olive oil or a sheet of parchment. Shape into one large patty about 1/3 inch deep and cook for 20 minutes, then top with pizza sauce, veggies, meat and mozzarella. Cook for 15 minutes more. 
It was surprisingly wonderful.
We made more yummy noises the following day when we ate it cold, standing in front of the fridge... hahaha.

I used a piece of parchment on top of my pizza stone as I was worried that all that cauliflower stuff would stick..

  Here's a view of the crust after I pre-baked it before adding the sauce and toppings.

Here's what's been happening on my blog around, or on, this date over the years...

One year ago: Cherry Tomato Margarita
Two years ago: Mexican Cauliflower Soup for the Soul
Three years ago:  Apricot, Cherry, Almond "Addin" Muffins- Base recipe

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kauai Pie

Aloha.... How about a like slice of awesomeness that will take you away like a trip to Hawaii?

This pie might remind you of pecan pie in a way, but it isn't as sweet in my opinion.  The recipe does have a lot of sugar, but somehow the pineapple and coconut keep it from being too much.  Of course, you would have to like coconut to like this dessert.

I'm looking forward to making this one again! 
No need to mahalo me when you like it.

Makes one pie, serves 8-12

1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp corn meal
1 Tbsp flour
5 eggs
1 cup macadamia nuts or pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
1 cup flaked coconut
1 stick butter, melted
1 tsp of vanilla, or rum, extract
1/4 -1/2 tsp salt (optional)
1 pie crust, or graham cracker crumb crust

Beat the sugar, corn meal, flour, eggs and salt together. Gently stir in the macadamia nuts or pecans, pineapple and coconut. Stir in the melted butter and extract and mix well.

Bake at 325 degrees in an unbaked pie shell approximately 60- 65 minutes until the pie is set in the middle.

A couple of notes:

A 20 oz can of crushed pineapple is about two cups (drained) of pineapple.  I just freeze the other cup and use it later on, either in my Greek yogurt or My Gram's Carrot Cake.

In full disclosure, this filling made too much for my quiche dish, but if you use a regular pie dish, you can probably fit it in there.  I baked the extra filling in a little ramekin and added some chocolate to see how that was.  We felt the pie was better without chocolate... still GOOD, but better without the chocolate richness.

Here's what's been happening on my blog around, or on, this date over the years...

One year ago:  7 minute Microwave Caramels
Two years ago: Mexican Cauliflower Soup for the Soul
Three years ago:  Three Cheese Mushroom Strudel

Saturday, May 24, 2014

French Onion Pot Roast with Cheesy Toasts

We love French Onion soup.
We love pot roast.
So... why not do them together?
Oh,  I know just about everyone has used a packet of instant french onion soup mix at some time in their life to liven something up, but REAL french onion soup is so different and way more delicious, especially with pot roast. Think of it like a "de-constructed" french onion soup with loads of tender beef, and accented with cheesy bread that's not soggy. 

The sweet smell of cooking onions is a fantastic way to enjoy the coming dinner, however, if you don't want that permeating your entire house, I've heard of people doing it outside on their deck, though you better make sure it's under cover, just in case it rains.

One note, about the whole garlic, I did that in order to be able to easily remove it at the end, as I wanted a sweet onion flavor, and not a ton of garlic.  You could even omit the garlic, or if you love it, go ahead and slice it up and leave it in.

Serves 4-6

2-3 lb pot roast, trimmed of excess fat
salt and pepper
olive oil

5-6 onions, sliced
3-4 springs fresh thyme
3 garlic cloves, whole
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup white wine (it's sweeter and more tangy than red)
salt and pepper

8-12 slices of firm french bread
Some butter
White cheese- Gruyere, Jarlsberg, Mozzarella, Monterrey Jack or Parmesan
Chives, optional 

Spray a crock pot with some olive oil.  Slice onions and add to the crock pot.  Add whole garlic and fresh thyme.

Salt & pepper the outside of the pot roast, and sear in a hot pan over medium high heat until it's browned on both sides.  Add to the crock pot.  Add chicken stock and white wine, and about a teaspoon of salt.  Cook on High for 6-7 hours, until the onions are softened and the beef is very tender. Add additional salt and pepper, if needed.

After 7 hours, mine looked like this.  I removed the garlic, and the thyme stems, and carefully broke the meat into pieces.

To make the cheesy toasts, spread butter lightly on the bread, toast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes until lightly browned.  Add cheese, and chives, and toast again until they are bubbly.  Serve at once.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

POG Martini, Hulu Mama

I do have to say... this martini would look a WHOLE look better with a beach and a palm tree as the background.

I always wondered why there wasn't a POG martini.
It's like the national drink of Hawaii.  Why not do more with it?
I remember when it was a novelty, something you never ever got on the mainland.
Now you can buy POG (Passion, Orange Guava) at any grocery store.
So... why not a martini?
There is a drink called "a Bahama Mama" which is essentially this drink below with a combination of Orange and Pineapple juices.
But, I'm talking HAWAII, therefore I have named this the Hulu Mama "POG" Martini.

of whatever makes your hips sway slowly from side to side.

Makes one large martini

1 oz Coconut Rum, like Malibu
1/2 oz Banana Liqueur
1 oz Spiced Rum
4 oz. POG (Passion, Orange, Guava juice)
1 teaspoon Grenadine

Combine all the ingredients and mix them in a cocktail shaker. 
Serve in a martini glass. 
Garnish with Orange and/or Pineapple wedge & a Maraschino Cherry 
As you can see... I didn't have any garnish, but it didn't stop me from talking about it.

Need some more inspiration for the coming Summer, or a kick off to a tropical vacation?
BBC- Bananas, Bailey's and Coconut Colada
Blackberry Raindrop Martini  
Blue Lagoon Martini
Clementine Cranberry Martini 
Coconut Cream Pie Martini
Coconut Water Martini

Monday, May 19, 2014

Lime & Jicama Salad

Sweet, tangy, spicy, crunchy.
Low calorie too.
A great fresh salad that is different from the rest. 
OK.. so maybe it doesn't photograph so well but it tastes great.
Maybe some slivers of fresh red bell pepper would be a pretty addition. 

Serves 2-4

1 large Jicama, peeled, then shredded
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1-2 Jalapeno, seeded and chopped/minced
1-2 limes, juiced
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Chili powder
Salt & Pepper to taste

Peel the jicama... it's just easiest to use a paring knife to trim the skin off.  I've tried using a peeler, but it's very thick and fibrous, so it doesn't work as easy as you'd like.

I used a madoline to cut mine into thin strips, but you could use a grater, or a paring knife to cut into very thin matchsticks.

Squeeze with a lime, or two, add the chopped cilantro, and the minced jalapeno.  Sprinkle with cumin, and chili powder.  Toss to coat, add a teaspoon of olive oil, if desired.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.

Serve with any Mexican food, or just as a low calorie, crunchy side dish for soup and a sandwich.

Need some other Mexican salads?  What about these?

Lemon, Onion and Cucumber Salad 
Mexican Chilled Prawn Salad
Southwestern Edamame Salad
Spicy Coleslaw

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Rome Cooking Class

Artichoke filled ravioli, topped with fried artichoke.  Fresh pasta and filling, made by moi!

Potato gnocchi with simple, fantastic tomato sauce.

But let's start at the beginning not the end... shall we?

While in Rome recently on business, I was lucky enough to have a weekend of "free time".  I chose a cooking class to best enjoy my day, learn something and meet some new people. 

We met at the Campo di Fiori marketplace to shop for our class. It was a rainy morning, but that added to the fun.

 Artichokes are in season, and Rome is well known for some pretty fantastic dishes.
We needed some of these, of course.

We hit the cheese and dairy market to get some fresh ricotta and some basics.

Then the meat market.  Everything we wanted was in this place, but it was too small for all of us to get in there.  The whole shop would have fit into my kitchen.

Really this class was more about the doing and enjoying and less about a "lesson".  Federico made a point of saying that Italian food was very simple, usually only 3-4 ingredients per dish. He said to focus on the freshest, best quality ingredients, which is good advice for lots of things.

We didn't walk away with a recipe book of things to re-create, but really learned some simple techniques for success. I liked that..

Here's one example recipe:
Pork and Roasted Pepper Ragu Sauce 
Our cooking class was on Tiberina Island in the river Tiber that runs through Rome.  It's the only island in Rome and the Ponte Fabricio, is the only original bridge left in the city, connecting the island to the rest of Rome. This isn't my photo, but you get the idea.  The island is very small, and houses two hospitals (old charming ones), a church, a restaurant, a gelato place, a pharmacy (cute!) and TWO apartments.  

Our cooking class was in one of those apartments.  I can't imagine one of these units comes cheap.  Our kitchen window opened out towards the church square, where we got to enjoy the comings and goings of a local wedding from the window.  You can't see the bride in this photo, but the crowd was stomping their feet and singing, asking the new couple to come out.  We loved that.  It was so fun to see many generations in the crowd interacting and having fun.

The apartment was beautiful with cloistered ceilings and arches throughout each room.  The kitchen had a large island just the right size for 9 class attendees.  I came by myself as I was traveling for work, and this was my weekend getaway.  We had 6 Americans; 3 young gals from California, 3 older friends from Texas, a Brazilian and and an Israeli lady, plus me.

We loved the red aprons that looked like sleeveless chef's coats. 
Fresh artichoke... smaller and rounder than the ones we see around the West Coast.

First, trim up the outer leaves.  They're tough, and gotta go.   Leave the stem as a "handle" for the next part. 
Then cut off the top 1/3 or so, and scoop out all the inner leaves, digging down to remove the "fuzzy stuff" from right above the heart of the artichoke.

Now, cut the stem short to about 1" and peel until you get to the white inside. Each artichoke was filled with mint, and then steamed until tender.

 Here's a picture of the finished dish again...

The filling was minced artichokes, ricotta and Parmesan cheese.  Our chef made the sauce for these with a little leftover filling and some of the artichoke cooking stock. Simple creamy delicious, with no cream added. I will blog this recipe soon.
Onto the gnocchi...
We cooked the whole potatoes in very salty water.  Federico told us that the salt uses osmosis to dry out the potato, as the moisture from inside leaches out into the cooking water, making the potato the right consistency for making tender gnocchi.  You aren't supposed to poke the potatoes, because you don't want them absorbing the salty water. He used a ricer to get the potatoes ready to make pasta.

The ratio to make gnocchi is 4 parts potato, 1 part flour and 1 egg yolk.  Mix, mix, mix until soft and pliable.  
Make a rope of the potato gnocci and cut into small pillows.  Put the pillow on a ridged paddle, and push and roll your gnocchi.  These little suckers soaked up the sauce and were the most tender and delicious gnocchi I've ever had.
One cup of all purpose flour and one egg = pasta.  That's the only recipe in this blog today.

We also made a semolina pasta that was just semolina flour and water (with lots of fresh pepper inside).  Federico told us that the poorer South of Italy was more known for semolina pasta, and the "richer" North used eggs in their pasta.
These are cavatelli, easily made by squishing and rolling your finger on a small pellet of fresh dough.
The pasta we made with this was sausage, mushroom and roasted, pureed red peppers- yep, just three ingredients of amazing yumminess.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of that dish. 

Here we are making long pieces of pasta for our ravioli.  Of course, you can make these smaller, but then we would have missed the photo opp and the fun too.

The day is done...
Our class has been together for about 5 hours, starting as awkward strangers and leaving as friends.  A nice day spent shopping, walking, learning and cooking, drinking wine and eating together.  We made three pasta dishes, plus a simple sauteed lemon veal main course, and finishing with a dessert of balsamic marinated strawberries. A lot of wine was consumed too. I very much recommend Federico and Fabiolous Cooking Day, they offer other cooking classes in different locations that I would love to try when I go back.

The cooking day is over, as I walk from the class, I enter the mostly deserted square of San Bartolomeo all'Isola.  The wedding party is long gone, and all that remain are a few tourists and the cleaning crews for the church.

Just a couple more shots from the day.  
There is a reason that Campo di Fiori is named for "field of flowers".  Besides all the produce markets, there are crafts and lots of fresh flowers. The square is ringed with outdoors cafes and people enjoying the outdoors. 

We walked from the Campo di Fiori, through the Jewish Ghetto to get to our class.  I came back Sunday and had a late lunch at one of these outdoor cafes.  I had an amazing spinach gnocchi with gorganzola cream sauce. I sat for almost two hours and watched the world go by.

This is not far from the Sant' Angelo, the Jewish Ghetto, on the way from Tiberina Island. 
Beautiful red poppies in bloom everywhere.

My advice?

Most of all... Enjoy your day, take it easy and soak in all the sights, culture and tastes around you.  

I sat in this alley way off of the main square in the Travestre, right next to the Bascilia di Santa Maria, one of the oldest churches in Rome. It has beautiful 13th century mosiacs inside, and out. Not a bad place to chill.

In this photo, the square opens up to a fountain with steps all around.  Local performers were "performing" for donations.  It was very orderly and civilized as they taking turns as there were many groups. People milled about with cones of gelato enjoying their day.
After wandering through the church, I enjoyed a glass of Moscato for 6 euros and sat for about an hour watching all the people go by. 

I can't wait to get back to Rome.

Want to know about some other travels? Check these out:
Thai Cooking School Adventure
Elephant Handler for the day in Chaing Mai, Thailand
Victoria BC Food Fest
Meat Anyone?  A trip to Hamburg
Japan- Best Boxed Lunch EVER
Japan Adventure- Part 1
Japan Adventure- The Food- Part 2
Iceland- The Weekend Adventure
In n' Out Burger "Animal Style"
Singapore Flying Crab 
Singapore Fruit
Turkish Spice Market Delight
Jamaica's Blue Hole and Jerk Lunch