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 :)

Going Vegan for 30 Days and Grapefruit Brulee

After a week of gluttony in NYC during the week of Christmas [oh, who am I kidding, it was really a month of gluttony], we realized during the last few days of our trip that we never consumed anything “green.” We ate our way through Manhattan and had some of the most amazing foods ever, but it was all “brown” as my partner would say. It was true. We had yakitori meat skewers, steamed mussels, bagels and lox, Korean food, xiao long baos, roast duck over rice and roast duck noodle soup, Indian meat curries, Cuban food, pastrami reuben sandwich, and more. So before we left NYC, we made a pact to go vegan to detox from the Holidays for 30 days.

I’m happy to report that we are 16 days into it and still going strong. There are days where we are madly craving sushi or a cheeseburger [or both :)], but the urges haven’t been as bad as I thought they would be. I’ve been trolling the food porn websites and I’m queuing up all the meat recipes to try as soon as we’re done with this detox diet.

Before this diet, I was always interested in cooking with the vegan “meats,” but I made excuses that I would do it tomorrow, and that would get pushed to the next day, and so on and so forth. Well, I’ve been experimenting with different seitan recipes and it’s been really fun and challenging. We’ve incorporated plenty of “greens” to our diet since we started this. And let me just say, we feel so much lighter, less bloated, and more energetic. My partner who usually consumes 6-8 cups of coffee a day, has cut down her coffee intake to about 2 cups a day, which means more $$$ saved from the frequent trips to Starbucks in the middle of the day! Seriously though, we feel much healthier since starting this diet. And I think we’ve even lost some weight, which is always good news :)

As we are more than halfway into our veganism, we were discussing what we want to do after we finish this diet. Our first idea was to celebrate with a HUGE sushi/sashimi dinner, followed by a greasy cheeseburger. [Although, I do worry how that's going to sit in our stomachs after not having meats for a month.] But I think we’d like to keep up this veganism on an every other week basis because we do feel better.

Anyway, I was really craving pancakes, bacon, and hash browns for breakfast this morning when I woke up. But I made grapefruit brulee instead because it was the right thing to do :)

Grapefruit Brulee

2 red grapefruits, halved crosswise
White sugar
Kitchen torch

Remove all the seeds from the grapefruit, and cut the segments with a knife so that it’s easier to scoop out. [I never knew to cut the segments with a knife until recently when my partner said that's the way people eat grapefruit.  All this time up until now, I always struggled with eating grapefruits and actually gave up eating them because it was "too much work."]

Sprinkle each half evenly with sugar. Melt the sugar with the blowtorch until the sugar becomes golden brown and crispy.

Grapefruit “broilee”

If you don’t have a kitchen torch, turn the oven to the broiler mode. Place the halved grapefruits with sugar under the broiler for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the sugar has melted to a golden brown crispy surface.

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.

Ecstasy Bars (aka, magic bars on crack or salted caramel magic bars)

It’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m exhausted.  The caffeine is starting to wear off.  Do you ever feel nauseous when you are lacking in the sleep department?  Well, I just reached that point.  One more hour and I will have been awake for 24 hours.  I worked 13 hours today.  Thirteen!  It wasn’t really by choice either.  It was mandatory over time.  You may (or may) not be wondering why I am still up at this ridiculous hour of the morning.

I’m still up because I’m forcing myself to stay awake so that I can sleep soon.  I am working the graveyard shift the next two nights.  And guess what?  I have NEVER worked a graveyard shift before.  So my brilliant plan is to stay up as late as I can so that I can sleep until about 4:00 p.m., have dinner, and head off to work for my 12 hour shift that starts at 7:00 p.m.  I have another brilliant plan to take pseudoephedrine (i.e., the derivative to methamphetamine) and coffee to keep me awake through the wee hours of the night while I work tomorrow and the day after.  In fact, that used to be a favorite cocktail combination of mine while I was in pharmacy school trying to stay up for midterms and finals.  However, do as I say and not as I do, in that I do not advise anyone to take this drug combination.  It can really get your heart racing and blood pressure rising, which can be a no-no especially for those with a pre-existing (or even unknown) heart condition.  Therefore, avoid this.   Actually, just pretend you didn’t even read the last half of this paragraph.  Anyhow, I digress, as usual.

I was so anxious about not being able to stay up tonight that I bought a new movie and a new Nintendo Wii game to keep myself entertained/awake until I can go to sleep.  Well, instead of watching TV or playing video games (which I had every intention of doing), I entertained myself by concocting yummy things in the kitchen.  I’m making my version of magic bars (aka, seven layer bars), except that my magic bars are on crack.  They have been finished with a generous drizzle of my salted caramel sauce.  So they’re not just any magic bars… they’re magic bars on crack.  Actually, they’re even better than that.  They are ecstasy bars.

And as I sit here while blogging this post and listening to the snores of my sleeping dog, my brain is slowly shutting down and my eyes barely open.  I think it may be bedtime soon…

Ecstasy Bars

1/2 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup dark chocolate morsels
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 1/3 cups flaked coconut
1/2 cup salted caramel sauce

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Coat muffin tin with cooking spray.

Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottoms of muffin tin.  Layer evenly with sweetened condensed milk, chocolate chips, and butterscotch chips, followed by the shredded coconut.

Bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from muffin tin.  Drizzle with salted caramel sauce.  Store covered at room temperature.

[If you don't want to go through the hassle of using a mini muffin pan, use a 13x9 inch baking pan.  Line the pan with foil, coat with nonstick spray, and layer as directed above.  Allow to cool, and then simply lift up the foil up and out to remove from baking pan.  You're left with perfect magic bars.  Cut into squares and devour.]

Makes 36 servings (small, as these are very rich)

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.

There’s No High Fructose Corn Syrup Here!… Apricot-Mango-Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups.

I just watched Food, Inc. yesterday, and it’s making me look at food in a whole different way.  I think my jaw was on the ground from start to end of the documentary.  I was shocked and disgusted.  I’ve never really given much thought about how food is grown, how it’s processed, and where it comes from.  I just went to the grocery store and bought what I needed with my savings card to get the best bang for my buck.  Now I’m not feeling so guilty about the $100 I spent for some groceries the other day at one of the more eco-friendly, green markets.  The movie just reinforced the need to buy from local farmers, organic products, and from eco-friendly markets.  It’s also left me feeling the need to eat more veggies, and less meat.  Ugh.

Have you seen Food, Inc. yet?  If you have, did it change the way you buy food?

Apricot-Mango-Strawberry Fruit Roll-Ups

4 apricots, diced
1 1/2 cups strawberries, diced
1 large mango, diced
2 tablespoons water
Agave Nectar

Preheat oven to 150 degrees F one hour before dehydrating the fruit roll-ups.

[Just as a side note, my oven did not have a setting for 150 degrees F. Instead, it has a "warm" setting, which I used, and worked out great. Also, as an FYI, you will be using this "dehydrating" setting for about 6 to 8 hours. It may be tempting to use a higher temperature to quicken the process, but you'll just bake the fruit roll-ups rather than dehydrate them. So patience is key with this recipe.]

In a sauce pan over medium heat, add water and diced fruit. Cook until the fruit breaks down so that it is soft and mushy. Allow the fruit mixture to thicken (the syrup should coat the back of the spoon and shouldn’t be runny or thin), almost like the consistency of a chunky applesauce. Adjust sweetness with agave nectar to your liking… I used about 1.5 tablespoons of agave nectar because the fruit was already really sweet.

Carefully pour the fruit “compote” into a food processor or blender, and puree the liquid until it is smooth in consistency.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly grease with non-flavored oil, such as corn or vegetable oil. Pour fruit mixture onto baking sheet and spread evenly across the baking sheet, about 1/4-inch thick.

Place baking sheet into oven and dehydrate for about 6 to 8 hours. The amount of dehydrating time varies depending on the thickness and the amount of sugar in the fruit mixture, so check every two hours until done. You don’t want crispy fruit roll-ups. When the fruit is dry and no longer sticky to touch, remove baking sheet from oven, and allow to cool at room temperature. If you find that the edges are a little crispy, just rehydrate by dabbing the edges with a wet paper towel.

When cool to handle, carefully peel the sheet of dehydrated fruit and lay it on a cutting board, and cut with a knife or pizza slicer into 2″ by 6″ strips, or whatever size you want. Cut wax paper or parchment paper just a little larger than the strips, and roll the strips of fruit into fruit roll-ups. Store in the pantry in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Spicy, Lime-y, Cilantro-y, Chunky Guacamole

I looked in my refrigerator yesterday and freaked out over all the container-filled left over foods.  Usually that’s a good thing right?  Most people probably wouldn’t get stressed out over left overs.  In fact, most people probably think it’s a good thing to have left overs.  But I have a fear of left over foods.  It all started when I moved away for Pharmacy school.  My parents would come visit me in San Francisco and would stock my refrigerator with good ol’ Mom’s home cooking.  It was truly a great and generous thing that they did.  I think they thought I was starving and/or didn’t have enough time to cook for my own.  Little did they know that I gained a lot of weight partying, and eating.  Anyhow, after they went back home, I would freak out about all the foods that I would have to eat before it spoiled.  I grew tired of left overs after 3-4 days of straight left overs.  It wasn’t even an enjoyment.  It was just a process of shoveling food down my mouth for lunch and dinner.  And trust me, I LOOOOOOOOVE my parents’ cooking!  I also hate wasting food period.  Wow.  I just went off on a tangent.

I had a lot of cilantro from over the weekend that I didn’t know what to do with.  I also had a lot of limes, tomatoes, and avocados hanging out on my kitchen counter waiting to be hacked up for my weekly sandwich wraps for work.  But the avocados and tomatoes were getting just a little ripe, and I knew I wouldn’t eat the tomatoes because I hate mushy tomatoes.  It’s true.  The texture is just gross.  Luckily, I found half of a red onion in a tupperware container in the refrigerator, and decided to make guacamole… the perfect way to NOT waste these ingredients!

Just a side note, do you remember how expensive avocados were about a decade ago or more?  I was just reminiscing recently how expensive some fruit and vegetable items were and how difficult they were to find at times.  I used to beg my parents to spend some money to buy me two or three avocados for $4 per avocado just so that I could make guacamole.  I’d maybe get to taste half an avocado once or twice a year.  But now that the prices have come down significantly, I can make guacamole any time and any day of the year.  There’s always an abundance of avocados no matter what grocery store you shop at now.  It’s absolutely wonderful and convenient.

So getting back to my original post, I love my guacamole extra lime-y.  And spicy, and chunky, and cilantro-y.  It’s the only way to eat guacamole.  No garlic, no cumin.  Just love.


Spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y, and chunky guacamole

4 avocados
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
3 limes, juiced
2 jalapenos, minced (remove the seeds and pith if you don’t like it spicy)
1 teaspoon salt

Cut avocados in half, and remove seed. Scoop out avacado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash the avocado, while leaving it chunky. Add the chopped red onion, cilantro, tomato, and salt. Mix together. Next add half of the lime juice, mix well, and adjust to your likings. I like a really lime-y guacamole, so three limes is perfect.

Chili peppers vary individually in their hotness, even with the seeds and pith removed. So, start with a half of one chili pepper and add to the guacamole to your desired degree of hotness.

Enjoy immediately with your favorite tortilla chips. I cut and baked my organic corn tortillas at 400 degrees in a small toaster oven for a few minutes, and they turned out perfectly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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