Baba Ghanoush

We just finished a 30 day pescatarian diet with no dairy, carbohydrates, or sugar.  Oh.  My.  Word.  That was an incredibly hard challenge.  It was harder than our 30 day vegan challenge!  The no dairy thing wasn’t the issue.  It was the no carbohydrates or sugar that I had a hard time with.  We used fruit as a way to satiate our cravings for an after-dinner dessert, but that only lasted for a little while.  By the end of the second week, I was jonesing for bread and butter, frozen yogurt, cookies, and chocolate.  And do you know what was the worst tease?  My work place had a Strawberry Day event with all things strawberry desserts, and a few going away parties with the best cake from my favorite bakery, and I couldn’t have a lick of it.  Ugh.  I think I was drooling as I watched my coworkers eat cake, pies, tortes, strawberry punch, and cookies.  Such a tease.  Sigh.  The diet was worth it, I guess :)

To celebrate our first day of eating carbohydrates, I decided on a Middle Eastern and Greek meal centered around a filthy amount of pita bread.  Yes.  I said it.  I am a glutton for pita bread.  Okay.  So, honestly, we only ate one pita bread for the vegan seitan gyro sandwich, alongside a few wedges of pita dipped in some baba ghanoush.  But nonetheless, I still heart carbohydrates.

Baba Ghanoush

3 medium globe eggplants, cut lengthwise (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to your liking
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush cut side of eggplants with extra virgin olive oil. Place eggplants cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until until very tender, about 40 minutes.

Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl, and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork until it is smooth, but still has some texture. Stir in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pita, pita chips, vegetables, or however you fancy baby ghanoush :)

Quinoa Tabbouleh Salad

Have you ever noticed how much your taste changes as you get older?  I used to loathe cilantro, parsley, and carrots when I was younger.  Loathe is a pretty strong, and that’s exactly how I felt about those *things*.  The taste of cilantro used to make me gag.  The thought of carrots would send me running into the other room.  My Mom used to relate to me by telling me stories of how much she hated cilantro, too, when she was younger.  But she’d follow the story with telling me how my taste would change as I matured, but I didn’t believe a word that came out of her mouth!

I ate my words.  My Mom was completely right… “Mothers know best,” right?  I love cilantro now.  My affinity for it changed when I had my first tasting of Tom Kha Gai at my first Thai dining experience.  It was love at first bite.  However, it hasn’t been that easy for acquiring the tastes of parsley or carrots.  I don’t recall when exactly I started to come around enjoying carrots, but it definitely has been in the recent years.  I hate raw carrots, but I don’t mind stewed or roasted carrots.

Enjoying flat-leaf parsley has been a tougher challenge for me.  Flat-leaf parsley has such an overwhelming flavor to begin with.  I initially needed other stronger flavors to mask the taste of parsley, like basil pesto.  This has since changed as we’ve been eating and cooking more  Mediterranean foods that call for flat-leaf parsley.  We recently dined at one of our favorite local Mediterranean restaurants and sampled their vegetarian Meze plate, which included tabbouleh.  OMG, how could I have been missing this all these years?!  I’ve become addicted.  So much so that I made a LARGE batch a few days ago.  We’ve had quinoa tabbouleh several days in a row for lunch AND dinner :)

Quinoa Tabouleh Salad

2 1/2 large bunches flat leaf parsley, stems removed, finely chopped
3 roma tomatoes, seeded, and cut into 1/4-inch dices
3″ inches small English cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch dices
1/2 small white onion, finely diced
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

In a large bowl, combine everything except for the lemon juice, oil, and salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil. Season with salt, to taste.

Toss the salad with the lemon vinaigrette.

Serve with falafels, hummus, pocket bread, and anything else you’d like.

Makes 4 servings.

Vegan Yukon Gold Potato Poppers for the Big Game Day!

We were invited to the big game day on Sunday and wanted to bring some vegan party food since we didn’t know if there would be vegan options for us.  When I think of party food, I immediately think of bacon in/on jalapeno poppers, pizza, potato skins, chicken wings, and nachos.  It was easy to rule out the chicken, pizza, and nachos.  So that left us with the options of bringing either jalapeno poppers or potato skins, and the latter just sounded tastier.

So as I got to making these, the potato skins morphed into twice-baked potato poppers.  They are a bit painful to make because the skins of a yukon gold potato is more delicate than that of a russet potato, but the outcomes are certainly worth it!   And ya know, it tastes just like the “real” thing, but better!

Vegan Yukon Gold Potato Poppers

14 small yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to season
4 slices of vegan bacon
3 tablespoons unsweetened almond milk
1/4 cup plus vegan sour cream
1 tablespoon vegan butter, melted
2 stalks green onion, chopped
1/3 cup vegan shredded cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Toss potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place potatoes on a baking sheet, and roast for about 45 minutes, or until a fork can be inserted into the potato easily. Remove from heat, and allow them to cool for about 15 minutes.

While the potatoes are cooling, heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spray the pan with a little cooking spray, and “brown” the vegan bacon until it has crisped. Remove from heat and set aside. Once cool enough to handle, crumble the bacon into small bacon bits with your hands.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, slice potatoes in half lengthwise. Carefully scoop out the flesh and place into a small bowl. [Be careful not to break the skins especially since the skins are more delicate on yukon golds.] Place the skins back onto the roasting pan.

To the innards, add the almond milk, sour cream, butter, cheddar cheese, green onion, and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly using a fork, while mashing the potatoes. Spoon the mixture back into the potato skins, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. [You might be wondering why I didn't add the bacon bits to this mixture. I did this on purpose because I don't like my "bacon" soggy. I've always liked crunchy bacon for its taste and texture. Feel free to add the bacon bits to the mixture if you'd like.]

Remove the baking sheet from the oven. Top the potato poppers with bacon bits and green onion. Arrange on platter, and serve immediately by itself or with vegan ranch dressing.

Vegan Ranch Dressing

1 cup vegan mayonaise
1/4 cup vegan buttermilk, plus more if needed (1 cup of unsweetened almond milk + 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh chopped chives
Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl using a whisk. If the dressing is too thick, add a little more vegan buttermilk to desired consistency. Cover and refrigerate. Use as necessary and enjoy!

Spam Musubi… the ultimate comfort food.

Spam is such an underrated meat.  It really deserves more attention than how much credit it’s given.  It’s such a versatile meat, just like it’s salty counterpart, bacon.  If I could, I would eat it all day long.  I love Spam.  And I’m not afraid to admit it either.  I love the combination of white rice and Spam.  Yum.  But my most favorite way to consume Spam is when it’s pan-fried in a teriyaki glaze, pressed against white rice, and wrapped tightly with nori.  Double yum.

When we were in Hawaii, we spent an entire day driving and exploring the Big Island.  And by exploring, I mean eating our way through the Big Island.  Forget the beaches, give me the food!  I was determined to find the best Spam Musubi on the drive.  After a few disappointments, we stumbled across a little store that had the BEST fruit smoothies and Spam Musubi.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell you where it was because I didn’t even think to write down the name.  I was too busy gorging myself on the Spam Musubi and chasing it down with a fruit smoothie.

Spam Musubi

1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons mirin
1 can lite Spam, sliced into 8 equal pieces
2 cups white rice, cooked
3 sheets of nori, cut into thirds lengthwise
Furikake
Spam musubi mold

In a small glass bowl, combine the sugar, mirin, and soy sauce. Microwave the marinade for about 45 seconds. Whisk to dissolve sugar completely.

In a shallow square baking dish, lay the slices of the Spam at the bottom and cover completely with the marinade. Set aside to marinate for about 1 hour.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium-high heat, and lay the slices of Spam to pan fry. After about two to three minutes or until the bottom has caramelized, flip onto the other side to finish cooking. Repeat until all slices of Spam have been cooked. Transfer cooked Spam onto a plate.

While you are cooking the Spam, in a small saucepan, cook to thicken the marinade as a dipping sauce. Once it has thickened, pour into a small bowl. Set aside until ready to serve.

On a clean cutting board, lay down one strip of the nori sheet. Lay the musubi mold on the middle of the nori sheet. Scoop a generous amount of the white rice into the mold. Press down hard on the rice with the handle of the mold. Remove the handle carefully, and gently lift the mold from the rice. Sprinkle with furikake, and lay a slice of the Spam on top. Wrap the nori tightly around the rice, and seal the edge with a little water.

Serve with dipping sauce and devour immediately.

Makes 8 Spam musubis.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

We had a small tasting of a similar dish at a backyard wedding we recently attended.  The original was made with red and yellow beets, and butternut squash with a lemony vinaigrette with a hint of truffle oil.  The salad was very tasty, but a little mushy from the butternut squash.   So while I was consuming my large plate of food [It was, in fact, a very large plate of food... my eyes were bigger than my stomach.  But what's new?], a light bulb came on… roasted sweet potatoes.  It would be the perfect substitution flavor- and texture-wise.  And so what did I do two days after the wedding?  Well, I recreated this dish, of course, and it was perfect.

Inspiration.  It such a lovely thing.

What inspires you in the kitchen?

Roasted Sweet Potato and Beets Salad with a Lemon-Truffle Vinaigrette

4 large beets
3 large sweet potatoes, skinned and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 small shallot, finely diced
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon truffle oil, plus extra for drizzling
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chives, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Wrap each beet tightly in foil. [I usually like to double wrap mine in foil.] Drizzle the sweet potatoes with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the sweet potatoes in a singe layer on the baking sheet. Place the foil-wrapped beets on the same baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until tender, but slightly crispy in the outside. Stir the sweet potatoes once or twice during roasting. [Watch the sweet potatoes closely, because they can go from perfectly roasted to imperfectly burnt.] Roast the beets for about an hour (or once you can poke a knife all the way through).

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the shallots, lemon, olive oil, and truffle oil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

Remove the sweet potatoes firstly from oven, followed by the beets when they have cooked through, and allow to cool just enough to be easily handled. Once cooled, peel “skin” off the beets. [They'll come off easily with just your hands... no need for a paring knife.] Slice beets into 1 inch cubes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beets, sweet potatoes, and vinaigrette. Gently toss to combine all the ingredients. Divide onto small plates, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with a little truffle oil, and enjoy!

Makes 4 to 6 small salad servings.

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips

Alright, so I have another new favorite obsession.  What’s new, right?  My obsessions don’t seem to last very long.  Out with the old, in with the new!  These truffle and parmesan potato chips are incredibly addicting.  And the smell of the truffle oil!  OMG, it’s intoxicating!  Our house was filled with the fragrant aroma of truffles!  These potato chips are hard to resist, so make a large batch!  Nosh on these bad boys by themselves, with a beer, alongside a sandwich or burger, or whatever you fancy.  Me?  Well, I like mine with a cold bottle of beer, but will eat them all sorts of ways.  I’m not picky :)

What’s your favorite way of devouring potato chips?

Oven-Fried Truffle and Parmesan Potato Chips (adapted slightly from The Family Kitchen)

3 medium to large baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white truffle oil
3-4 pinches of sea salt
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Using an 18×13 jelly roll pan, brush on two tablespoons of olive oil until fully coated. Place pan in the oven and heat for 10 minutes.

While the pan is heating in the oven, place the potato slices into a large mixing bowl, and toss with truffle oil and salt. Set aside.

Carefully line the potato slices on the hot baking sheet. Place pan into the hot oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 8 to 10 minutes. Flip the potato chips with a pair of tongs and bake them for another 5 minutes. The chips will darken a little as they bake, but just don’t let them burn. If the potato chips still aren’t crispy, flip those potato chips over and bake for another few minutes. [Do not walk away from these chips, as they can easily go from almost crispy, to burnt.]

Remove the pan from the oven, and transfer the chips to a payer of paper towels. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, and allow them to cool. The excess oil will be absorbed by the towels. The potato chips will also crisp up slightly as they cool.  Once cooled, store in an air tight container for a few days.

Life Changes and Mexican (aka, Spanish) Rice

It seems like forever since the last time I was in the kitchen or  blogged.  Life has gotten in the way.  It’s been busy and filled with lots of changes, all for the better, of course.

I had been experiencing this quarter-life existential crises over the last six months, and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing all this turmoil within myself.  After some serious soul searching, I realized that I was feeling unchallenged and bored with my current job.  My dream job.  The job that challenged me.  Excited me.  I actually looked forward to going to work.  I’m not kidding.  The job was perfect for me.  I get bored easily, it’s just my personality.  But this job kept me on my toes, and challenged me minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day.  It was a fast-paced environment with very little down time.  I didn’t think I was ever wanted to leave this job.  Ever.  If you asked me five years ago what my five year career goal was going to be, I’d quickly respond with my current job.  Patient care was my thing.

So as you can see, I really struggled with the idea of no longer feeling satisfied by my job.  I felt like I was (and still am) letting down my mentor who I admire, and helped mold me into the clinician that I am today.  I didn’t want to accept the idea of needing to find another job.  I thought this unsettled feeling of my career would pass with time, and so I let time pass.

Well, time didn’t resolve my problem.  As my lucky stars would have it, while at a mutual friend’s wedding, my coworker’s husband mentioned his company was looking to hire.  This intrigued me.  A light bulb went off and I realized that I needed a new career move.  So I applied for two completely different jobs within the pharmacy sector, and I recently accepted the position as a pharmacy IS (information systems) specialist within the company I currently work for.  I start my new position in a month and a half.

The job will be VERY different from what I do now.  I’m going to be a pharmacy computer geek, and I’m so excited by this!  It’s certainly going to challenge me in a whole different way, and I know it’s going to require a lot of my time and attention.  I won’t be involved in direct patient care, which doesn’t bother me anymore.  I’m actually relieved of not being heavily involved with patient care.  Patient care has burnt me out, as well as the nature of the emergency room, and long hospital work hours.

Let’s see, other changes… my brother and sister-in-law will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland, for amazing job opportunities to advance their careers.  They have committed to a two year contract.  So not only did we get the keys to their amazing condo in Manhattan, but we also get a free place to stay when we visit them next summer.  Viva la Europe!

And last but not least, my partner has decided to pursue a second Master’s degree, this time in fine arts.  She current has her Masters in special education, but her passion has always been art.  She’s a talented painter, and would benefit greatly with a MFA.  So, she’s planning to apply for the upcoming 2012 school year.  What does this mean for us?  Well, back for another long distance relationship.  Hopefully, she’ll only be 2.5 hours away.

Too many changes.  I wanted some comfort food today, and Mexican food was what I needed.

What are your comfort foods?

Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups long grain rice
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in a large skillet, and brown rice over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute, stirring frequently for about five minutes, or until the onions have softened.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Fluff the rice when the rice is cooked, and then cover with the lid for another five minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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