Thursday, November 25, 2010

My Thanksgiving Contribution

I'm not going to kid myself -- I'm not up to turkey status yet.  Nonetheless, I wanted to dip my toe into the water, so to speak, and make a Thanksgiving contribution at my mother's holiday dinner as well as my future mother-in-law's dinner.  So, I chose to make cornbread -- it's not particularly difficult, nor does it take a long time to make.  As I begin almost every culinary adventure -- I headed over to Google and did a search for "Best Cornbread Recipe" -- and this is what I got: Grandmother's Buttermilk Cornbread.  I followed the recipe to the letter (although I used an iron skillet instead of a pan) and got a beautiful result.

I can't wait to eat it share it with everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pollo Saltado -- The first of MANY Peruvian Inspired Dishes

I'm a lucky girl.  I was born in Peru and although I've lived in the US most of my life, I've always been surrounded by that culture.  The music, the customs, and most importantly - the food, God, the food.  Now I may be somewhat biased, but I honestly believe that some of the best cuisine in the WORLD can be found in my little country in South America.

 I could go on and on about the delicious meals like Papa a la Huancaina, Aji de Gallina, Ceviche (that's ours by the way, not Ecuador's), and the delectable desserts like Mazamorra Morada, Torta Helada, Alfajores and tons more... but I won't -- I'll get to the point. 

Today is the first day that I attempted to make a Peruvian influenced meal.  Lomo Saltado is a super traditional Peruvian meal that consists of sliced meat sauteed with onions and tomatoes and is served with rice and french fries.  Some people also put the mixture in a roll and eat it for breakfast -- something we did in our house on many Sundays.  Unfortunately, red meat has way more calories than chicken and since I'm trying to fit into a Monique Lhuillier wedding gown by April, I had to adjust.  I made the dish tonight with sliced up chicken instead.  I took this recipe, modified it a bit and replaced the meat with chicken.  And I've got to say, it was absolutely delicious.  And even M, who shies away from unknown foods, loved this as well.  Also, I've got a little extra in the fridge to put in a pita and eat for breakfast or lunch tomorrow! 


Pollo Saltado
3 Servings, approx 390 Calories per serving

Ingredients:
  • 2 pieces of boneless, skinless chicken breast (approx 14 oz) cut into 1/4 inch slices seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 10 Campari Tomatoes, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 Red Onion, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup White Distilled Vinegar
  • 1 tsp Aji Amarillo (Yellow Chili Pepper Paste)
  • 1 tsp fresh lime juice

Directions:
  1. Sautee chicken strips in Olive Oil until fully cooked (usually you don't do the same with red meat but with chicken, I didn't want to take any chances)
  2. Remove chicken from pan and put aside.
  3. In the same pan, saute the onions until they are transparent.
  4. Add the tomatoes, vinegar and aji amarillo and cook until the tomato softens and vinegar and other juices reduce.
  5. Add the chicken back into the pan and cook for an additional 5 minutes. 
 Serve with rice (and if you're carb friendly, serve with fries as well) and enjoy!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Sandwich

It's been quite a while since my last post, which indicates that I wasn't being very housewifey.  And this is partly true.  You see, I'm very low maintenance when it comes to feeding myself.  When I lived alone, I was always able to throw something together for myself at the last minute.  However, M's very particular preferences require a lot of thought and planning.  And while I enjoy it (and cooking is great fun), I sometimes long for the simplicity of a sandwich.  But I hardly make what you'd call a typical sandwich.

M went away for business this week and I thought I'd revisit my love for sandwiches.  Now this isn't an explicit recipe -- just an idea for you to spice up something that might otherwise seem boring.

I always start out with either whole wheat bread or a whole wheat wrap.  And then I usually add some turkey breast, or chicken breast, or ham -- whatever sliced deli meat I have on hand.  Sometimes, I even use two.  Then, the cheese (it's my favorite food group) -- sliced deli cheese or fresh mozzarella or sometimes even shredded cheddar.  And then the fun begins.  A dry sandwich is not a good sandwich so next I look for something to moisten it up.  I love mayonnaise but my waistline doesn't so I usually look for an alternative.
Alternatives to mayonnaise:
  • Hummus
  • Sliced advocado
  • Sun-dried tomato paste
  • Pesto spread
  • Salad dressing (although sometimes it gets a little messy so use it sparingly.)

And sometimes, I'm in the mood for something else entirely and I look for something to change it up.  I've added slices of apple, pear or mango to my sandwiches and it always gives it just the right amount of sweetness.

Then finally the last and most important step -- pop it in the panini press.  And if you don't have a panini press, you can put it in a skillet at low to medium heat and press it down with another heavy pan.  Another alternative, my favorite one, is to pop it in the George Foreman grill! I don't have a panini press either and the GF does an amazing job at pressing everything together and toasting the bread.


God I love sandwiches.  If you have any more tips and tricks for enhancing them, please share!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Grilled Caesar Salad

I know what you're thinking.  The first time I read the name of this recipe, I thought they forgot the 'chicken' too.  But there's no mistake.  The recipe I'll be sharing with you today is for a delicious Grilled Caesar Salad -- courtesy of the folks at Taste & Technique.  It couldn't be any simpler and it's super-tasty.  Let me know if you try this and what you think.  Enjoy!

Ingredients (serves 6):
    video
  •  1 large garlic clove cut in half
  • 6 oil packed anchovies
  • 3 tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup water (or more, if needed to thin vinaigrette)
  • 3 hearts of Romaine lettuce
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese



Directions:
  1. In a food processor, add garlic, anchovies, grated cheese, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, lemon, and pepper.  Process until fully blended and then scrape down the sides of the processor.
  2. With machine on, slowly add olive oil.  If vinaigrette is too thick, add a small amount of water.  Transfer to a bowl with a pastry brush.
  3. Adjust oven rack to top shelf and preheat boiler. 
  4. Trim ends of Romaine hearts leaving the core intact. Cut in half lengthwise and place on baking sheet cut side up. 
  5. Brush dressing over the lettuce making sure that it goes between the leaves.  Sprinkle pine nuts on top. 
  6. Set sheet pan on top shelf in the oven and cook for 4 - 6 minutes.  The lettuce will start to wilt and brown lightly.  
  7. Remove promptly from oven and sprinkle the Parmesan shavings on top. Serve warm.

Cooking Resources

I admit that Google and I are best friends.  Any time I have a culinary question, Google is right there to help me find the answer.  However, this week's cooking class made me realize that there's nothing like hands-on experience and a little conversation with veteran chefs to enhance one's cooking. So, I thought I'd share a list of some places you check out if you're interested in a cooking class or two.

National:

Williams Sonoma Store Events: 
Technique Classes, Product Demonstrations & Cooking Classes
Locations Nationwide


Whole Foods Market Culinary Centers:
Cooking Classes
Locations Nationwide

New Jersey:

Taste & Technique Cooking Studio
Cooking Classes for Adults, Kids, Groups for many different events!
597 River Rd.
Fair Haven, NJ 07704

Kings Cooking Studio
Technique Classes, Diploma Classes, & Cooking Classes
778 Morris Turnpike
Short Hills, NJ 07078

Classic Thyme Cooking School 
Cooking Classes, Private Cooking Parties, Cooking Camps
710 South Avenue West
Westfield, NJ 07090

If you've had any experience at any of these places or there are any that you'd like to add, just put the comments section.

A visit to Taste and Technique

Recently, the company I work for started a new fiscal year. And what does that always mean? Time for a team building activity.  This year, our management decided to make us bond over making a meal.  We went to Taste and Technique in Fair Haven, NJ and made a delicious 6-course meal.  Sure, I blew my calorie budget that day, but the good time had and the techniques that I learned made it totally worthwhile!  I'll be going over the recipes in subsequent blog posts but for now I just want to highlight a few of the tips and tricks that I learned. 

Tip #1: The easy way to chop fresh herbs [video]:

video

Tip #2: Double Burner Grills are awesome! Invest in one.  I got the All-Clad one from Williams Sonoma and I have to say it was worth every penny.  I've heard people complain that the less expensive ones are harder to clean.  This one is a breeze to clean.

Tip #3a:  To prevent sticking when grilling meat, wait until one side is well cooked before moving it around.  If you move it too early, it will stick. [video]

video

Tip #3b: Once meat is sufficiently grilled turn it at a 45 degree angle and let it cook a few minutes more to get beautiful grill marks.  (Gorgeous!)



I was really amazed by the things that I learned and how much fun I had in this 3-hour class -- which prompted me to look into available cooking classes in my area.  I was surprised to find that the King's (local supermarket) by me has a wide array of classes available.  You should check out your local markets as well if you're interested in classes.

Bon Appetit!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

M's Perfectly Brewed Iced Tea

After the lasagna debacle, I decided I'd share something simple, healthy, and delicious. 

Recently, M decided that he was going to give up soda.  I'm sure those of you that know him recognize that this is a very wise decision -- he definitely doesn't need any more sugar.  As for me, I've started counting calories as a weight loss method (in addition to exercise) and I realized how many I was wasting on beverages.  So, we were both motivated to find a healthy, and tasty, low calorie drink that was not as boring as water.  This is what we (mostly M) came up with. 

M's Perfectly Brewed Iced Tea

 
Ingredients:
Serves 8
      • 4 Tea Bags
      • 2 Tsp sugar*
      • 2 Cups Cold Water (for concentrate)
      • 1 1/2 Cups Cold Water (to dilute)
      • 1/2 lemon
      • 2 Cups Ice



Directions:
  1. Bring 2 cups of cold water to a boil.  
  2. Add 2 teaspoons of sugar and allow to dissolve. 
  3. Remove from heat and steep 4 tea bags for 20 minutes.  
  4. In a pitcher, mix concentrate, the rest of the water and the ice cubes. Stir until ice cubes have melted (at this point, entire mixture should be cold enough to serve.)
  5. Squeeze half a lemon into the pitcher.  
  6. Pour into a glass over ice and garnish with a lemon. 
*Although this iced tea is not completely calorie free it's only 6 calories per serving. 

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lasagna is a Weekend Food!

Last Thursday I was done with work relatively early.  Early enough in fact, that I thought it would be the perfect time to try out Tyler Florence's Ultimate Lasagna recipe.  A recipe that my mom endorsed.  Given that her lasagna is to-die-for, I thought I'd give it a try.  Don't let the 'Easy' difficulty level fool you though -- this dish is no joke. 

So, at 5:30pm I began with the sauce -- which had quite a long list of ingredients, mostly herbs.  These herbs were supposed to be processed but since I don't have a food processor, I chopped them as finely as I could with my trusty Wusthof chef's knife.  (Note to self: Register for food processor!)  I browned the meat, added the veggies, herbs, and tomatoes and let it simmer for a little bit.  Then I mixed up the filling ingredients.  Finally, after all that, I put big pot of water on the stove to boil.  I'm not sure exactly how, but by the time I did this, it was already 8pm and M was starting to parade around the kitchen with his hunger face.  At the rate I was going, the lasagna wasn't going to be finished until at least 9:30.  So, as much as I hated to do so, I made an executive decision and ordered a pizza pie.  As much as I wanted to conquer lasagna, I didn't want to starve my fiance in the process.  I decided I'd finish the lasagna but then freeze it until sometime this week.  So, while it came out exceptional-looking, I still haven't tasted it.  Although, if it tastes how it smells, it will definitely be worth the wait.
So, what's the lesson learned here folks? Lasagna is a 'weekend food.'  Only make it when you have several hours to burn -- and even then, only when you have a food processor because mincing veggies and herbs by hand is quite time consuming.  I think M & I are eating it tomorrow night.  I'll let you all know how it goes.

Update:  After all of that work, I hate to report that I was 'eh' about the lasagna.  I suppose I should have read the reviews on the recipe site and left out the cinnamon - it was really overwhelming.  And even aside from that, the sauce wasn't all that tasty (next time, I'm definitely sticking to my parents' meat sauce recipe.)  I should also mention that the measurements in Tyler's recipe are not precise at all.  All you really need is one box of lasagna noodles -- I had to throw away an entire second box because I followed the recipe.  So unfortunately, I have to declare this recipe a failure.  (Sorry Tyler, I usually love your work.)

At some point in the future, I'll try to make lasagna again.  Hopefully, the next time, it will be a success. 

If you're still interested, here is Tyler's Ultimate Lasagna Recipe:

Monday, August 23, 2010

Conquering Breakfast

If you take a close look at my meal planning template, you'll notice how truly pathetic our breakfast meals are.  Although they're actually very good, the ThinkThin bars that I came to depend on for my morning sustenance, are also the furthest thing from natural.  Unfortunately, they're super convenient and so they became my go-to morning meal.  Well today, I came across a yummier, healthier and cheaper alternative - Egg Muffins.  (This is where I give a huge shout out to Kalyn's Kitchen because she has some of the best and healthiest recipes with very thorough explanations and illustrations.)

After dinner tonight I spent about an extra hour in the kitchen making breakfast for the rest of the week.  I modified Kalyn's recipe just a bit considering what I had on hand: I skipped the Spike Seasoning, used regular shredded cheese instead of lowfat (1 cup), and added some diced red peppers.  Now, I have 6 servings of Egg Muffins (at 260 calories per serving) in the fridge packed up and ready to go in the mornings.

Although my egg muffins aren't as pretty as Kalyn's they are quite tasty and I can't wait to gobble them up tomorrow morning before a hectic day at work.

Here's the modified recipe I used based on the one from Kalyn's Kitchen

Egg Muffins (Revisited Again)
(Makes 12 muffins, recipe created by Kalyn with inspiration from The South Beach Diet book.)

15 eggs for silicone muffin pans
1-2 cups grated cheese
3 green onions diced small.
1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers

Preheat oven to 375 F. Use regular or silicone muffin pan, 12 muffin size. If using silicone pan, spray with nonstick spray. If using regular muffin pan, put two paper liners into each slot, then spray liner with nonstick spray.

In the bottom of the muffin cups layer diced meat, if using, vegetables, if using, cheese and green onions. You want the muffin cups to be about 2/3 full, with just enough room to pour a little egg around the other ingredients. Break eggs into large measuring bowl with pour spout, add Spike, and beat well.  Pour egg into each muffin cup until it is 3/4 full. I like to stir slightly with a fork. Bake 25-35 minutes until muffins have risen and are slightly browned and set.

Muffins will keep at least a week in the refrigerator without freezing. Egg muffins can be frozen and reheated. For best results, thaw in refrigerator before reheating. Microwave on high about 2 minutes to reheat.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Fish Novice

Growing up, we hardly ever ate fish.  The funny thing is, my parents liked it and I liked it, but my sister was horrified by the smell and would complain so much when they cooked it, that they eventually stopped making it altogether.  As a result, I was actually really nervous about cooking it last night.  Even more so when I unwrapped the salmon and the smell hit me like a ton of bricks -- it was not pleasant.  After donning a pair of makeshift freezer bag gloves (note to self, buy latex gloves), I got started on this recipe I found on allrecipes.com -- Healthier Grilled Salmon I -- which was really easy and quick.  I made 3 minor changes - I used raw cane sugar instead of brown because that's what I had, I used Lite Soy Sauce, and I used Polamers Ready to Use Chopped Garlic instead of mincing a clove.  I grilled it on my new All-Clad Double Burner Grill from Williams Sonoma (my new favorite kitchen item) and believe it or not -- the smell was not an issue.  I plated it up with a bit of brown rice and much to mine and M's surprise, it was actually pretty good. 


Here is my modified version of this recipe.  Let me know if you try it out and what you think:


Healthier Grilled Salmon I

INGREDIENTS: 
  • 1-1/2 lbs. salmon fillets
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Polamers Ready to Use chopped Garlic
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons Lite Soy Sauce
  • 1/3 cup Raw Cane Sugar
DIRECTIONS:
  1. In a 13 X 9-inch glass dish, stir together lemon juice and zest, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic and olive oil until sugar is dissolved. Place fish flesh side down in mixture and refrigerate 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat grill for medium heat.
  3. Lightly oil grill grate. Place salmon on the preheated grill, and discard marinade. Cook salmon for 6 to 8 minutes per side, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. 
Enjoy!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Weekly Meal Plan

My first task on the road to domestication was to figure out something that's always eluded me.  How was it that my parents' fridge was always fully stocked and mine was always bare?  How come their fruits were always fresh while I ended up throwing mine out after a few weeks?  And why was it that any single culinary inspiration always turned into hours of work that involved at least one trip to the grocery store?

Well, after picking the brains of some of my married girlfriends, and my dear mother, I found a common thread.  Planning.  Now, I know it seems like a no-brainer but it had never really occurred to me.  Up until this epiphany my motto had always been: When in doubt, boil some pasta.  Not only did that eventually get bo-ring, it was also not very waistline-friendly.  I attribute my 10 lb weight gain to this motto.

But I digress, so back to planning.  The first thing I did was google "weekly meal planning." After rifling through several meal plan templates and getting some ideas, I ended up creating this:
Weekly Meal Plan Template
I sit down every Sunday afternoon and plan meals for the week.  Although the menu is usually quite simple, I do like to throw in something new once a week -- keeps things fresh.  I also take into consideration M and my respective schedules and make a note of whether we might be out on any particular night.  Once I'm done, I peek in the fridge and list out the items we'll need in the 'Grocery List' column.  I copy/paste it into Evernote and can then access it from my iPhone when I'm at the grocery store later that evening.  It makes shopping quick and painless and prevents me from over-shopping. I also make sure to fill out the 'Prep' column. Here, I write down what I need to do the night before, like marinate meat or chop up veggies -- it makes the actual cooking process run way more smoothly.

I've been using this meal planning template for the past three weeks and not only have M and I been eating much healthier, we're also saving a lot of money by not eating out as often.  Eventually, I'd like to have a stack of weekly menus to choose from to minimize my planning time on Sunday. That is, up until we have kids.  After that, I imagine it's whole lot more complicated.

If you'd like a copy of the printable PDF of my template or the actual Excel file send me a message with your email address and I will send it on over.