I’ve Lost that Love and Feeling, and Lebanese Fattoush Salad

lebanese fattoush salad, fattoush salad, pita bread salad, lebanese bread salad, lemon vinaigrette, vegetarian, salad
It’s true.  I’ve lost that love and feeling for my job.  Have you ever wondered why you are in the profession that you are in?  Or have/had feelings of being “stuck” or stagnate?  Not feeling as satisfied and excited about your job as you once did?

Well, I’ve been feeling this way for some time now about my job.  I used to be so passionate about what I do.  I used to wake up in the mornings excited about going to work.  I would be upset when it was 30 minutes until I had to leave because I knew I was going to miss interesting patient cases that I could learn from and assist with.  I was like a dry sponge waiting to expand with knowledge of cases that I had only read about in textbooks.  Work was like my playground for a few years.  I loved the excitement and (organized) chaos in the ED.  I loved the challenges presented to me on a day-to-day basis.  I especially loved the feeling at the end of the day of knowing that I made a positive difference in the patient’s care with other members of the multidisciplinary team.

The thing that attracted me the most to the ED was the chaos and working under extreme pressure in an emergent manner.  Unfortunately, that honeymoon period has been long gone.  The funny thing is that I tend to get bored easily with projects, tasks, work, really just about anything, so the ED was originally a right fit for my personality.  But now I’m bored.  I don’t feel challenged.  I don’t feel like things are as intense and under pressure as they used to be.  I’m getting too comfortable and that scares me.  My mentor once mentioned to me before I finished my residency training, and it was that you open yourself to mistakes at the patient’s expense when you get too comfortable.  It is a critical piece of information that has been engrained into my brain, and it holds much value especially in the medical profession.

But something changed recently.  A patient case that sparked, recharged, rekindled the passion that I once had for my job.  It was a feeling that I had been longing for a very long time. An attending ED physician requested my immediate attention on a little boy who was given a foreign medication to help treat his diarrhea by his grandmother. The little boy was very sick. Foreign medications can be difficult to identify, especially since they do not require the stringent identification codes that are required by the US FDA on OTC and prescription medications. A quick side note, vitamins and herbals do not adhere to the same laws as OTC and prescription medications because these products are NOT regulated by the FDA. Interesting, right? So you could be taking echinacea because that’s what the label says, but one formulation can vastly differ from the next echinacea product because it’s not standardized and/or regulated by the FDA.

Getting back to my story… foreign medications can sometimes be the same thing as a medication prescribed in the US with the same generic name, but different brand name. Majority of the times, foreign medications will differ completely all together from what we have here. luckily, Mom came in with the little boy and was able to tell us the brand name of the pill he was given. She was a very reliable historian, which was a relief, because the patients I see in the ED will have no clue what medications they are on. I was given the task to identify or do what ever I could to find something on what the pill could possibly be. After a few minutes of going through my resources, I found the answer! I was able to identify the pill, AND was able to give a recommendation on how to treat the toxicity. A few minutes after administering the treatment, the little boy was 95% recovered from what he originally came in for. The ED is such a fascinating place to work for because you get to see the positive changes from the treatments initiated right then and there. You get to see how medicine works. That my friend, is why I enjoy doing what I do.

Lebanese Fattoush Salad

3 whole wheat pita pocket breads, cut into strips about 3/4 inch wide
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup white onion, minced
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (if you find it is too acidic for your taste, add a little less lemon juice and use red wine or pomegranate vinegar in place)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons powdered or ground Sumac, plus more for sprinkling on individual salads if desired
2 heads Romaine lettuce, chopped
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 cup diced tomatoes (let drain a minute or two if extra juicy)
1 cup diced cucumber (same size as tomatoes)

Preheat oven or toaster oven to 400 degrees F.

Mash together the minced garlic with the salt in a mortar and pestle, or on the cutting board, into a paste. Put garlic-salt paste into a small bowl, and add to it the minced onion, lemon juice and sumac. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing has emulsified.

Cut whole wheat pita into strips about 3/4 inch wide and arrange on baking sheet. Bake until pita strips are crisp but only barely starting to brown, less than 10 minutes. Once the toasted pita breads are cool enough to handle, crumble in medium-sized pieces.

Remove the outer leaves from the romaine lettuce, trim off the stem end, and then wash. Chop lettuce into small pieces. Dry the washed lettuce in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, dry the lettuce leaves with a paper towel before chopping. Put chopped romaine lettuce into salad bowl large enough to toss all the ingredients.

Chop the tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers, and add to the lettuce. Add about half of the dressing and toss. Then add crumbled pita chips and toss again with more dressing. Let the salads sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend, but also so that the pita chips can absorb some of the dressing. To serve, arrange salad on individual plates and sprinkle with a little more sumac.

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.

Scrumptious Silver Dollar Vegan Pancakes

So I haven’t owned a nonstick skillet since 2003. I can’t believe I’ve been deprived for that long. When I bought a house, my partner’s Mom bought me a stainless steel cookware set because I thought that’s what the fancy professional chefs were using. After a few weeks, I thought it was one the greatest gifts ever. Well, I soon realized how little use they were when I set out to make scrambled eggs and omelettes one afternoon when we were craving breakfast. Only about 10% of our scrambled eggs and scrambled omelette ended up on our late. It was so sad. So I was soon disappointed. How quickly disappoint can set in. But I trekked on stubbornly with my stainless steel cookware. I just didn’t think I needed a nonstick skillet. That’s what butter is for, right?

We were on a mission to find a nonstick pan yesterday and headed to Sur La Table to check out their huge annual sale.  I was originally looking at a teflon-coated nonstick pan for $49.99, but with the wonderful customer service, we were directed to the Scanpan collection.  They had me at the non-teflon nonstick surface.  I was going to settle for the professional line, but was awe struck with the CTX line and decided to splurge a little more for the CTX 9.5 inch fry pan.

I had extreme buyer’s remorse after purchasing such an expensive nonstick pan.  I wondered if I made the right decision for that amount of money.  Don’t get me wrong, I love useful and innovative kitchen gadgets.  But I never imagined that I’d ever buy an expensive skillet/pan.  I thought one could purchase a decent pan for below $100.  I even thought about returning it a few times after we got home.  Boy, was I wrong!  This was one of the best investments I have ever made for my kitchen.  It lived up too all the hype and then some from the salesperson at Sur La Table.  I want to buy the entire Scanpan CTX collection.  If you are in the market for a nonstick skillet, forget the teflon-coated crap.  Go buy yourself a Scanpan nonstick skillet!  You won’t regret it!

We got home from Sur La table and I immediately started searching for recipes where I could take advantage of the nonstick surface.  Now I realize that you can cook anything and everything with this pan, but I wanted to make something that I haven’t been able to with my stainless steel cookware.  Making pancakes or eggs on my stainless steel skillet basically meant the majority of the batter or egg stuck to the pan.  And it’s a terrible mess to clean up.  So I was between a fried egg sandwich and pancakes.

Silver Dollar Vegan Pancakes

1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Coconut oil

Mix all the dry ingredients together.  Add wet ingredients and mix just enough to combine.  

Heat one teaspoon of coconut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Pour the batter around the skillet into 2.5 inch diameter pancakes.  Of course, you can make larger pancakes if that’s what you prefer.

Cook for about a two minutes on the first side or until the surface is covered with small bubbles and the underside is nicely browned.  Flip and cook for about a minute on the second side.  While cooking the pancakes, place the finished ones directly into the oven on the plate. Stack the pancakes as you go. This will keep the whole stack warm while you’re cooking them.  Repeat the process until you run out of batter.

Serve with maple syrup or any of your favorite toppings.

Makes 2 servings of 12 pancakes each.

Calories per serving: 390.

Ahi Poke Tartare

I don’t have very much time to experiment in the kitchen because I work every other weekend, and work very, very long shifts where I’m home anywhere between 9:00-10:00 p.m.  And when I get home from work, I’m usually preparing a sandwich wrap, salad, or something quick for my next day’s lunch and dinner for work.

So when I finally do have some time off, it’s usually a race in the kitchen to cook anything and everything that I have been pondering for some time.  I eat, dream, and think food every moment I can.  Some say it’s an obsession.  I call it a favorite past-time.  I digress.  I will spend most of my day at various grocery stores or farmers markets looking for the perfect ingredients that I need, or that might inspire me to create or recreate something new.  Grocery stores are what art stores are to artists.  Liquor stores to alcoholics.  You’re probably thinking “wow, I can’t believe she just went there.”  Yes.  Yes, I did.  I think you get the point.    Again, I digress.

Well, I finally had a chance to stock up on some supplies that I’ve needed for my kitchen at Sur La Table.  One item in particular was a 2.5 inch round cookie cutter.  You would think that this was standard in any kitchen.  But cookie making was never something my Mom did while I was growing up.  And if she did make cookies, fancy cookie cutters and such were not necessary.  Her style was rustic.  So it never occurred to me to keep a cookie cutter around.  Well, I had been wanting to make ahi tuna tartare and a few other ingredients, and finally found the perfect opportunity to buy a cookie cutter.  I know.  It’s silly.  You’re probably thinking, “who needs a reason to buy kitchen supplies?”  It’s the Asian in me.  Is that a reason?  Okay, maybe I’m stereotyping.  It’s the way I was brought up in my family, where saving every little penny and spending very little was hammered into us.  So I like to justify the reason for such a purchase 🙂

Speaking of justifying costs, I couldn’t bring myself to spend about $200 on Lowel Ego lights.  I have been scoping out Lowel Ego lights for months now.  Reading user reviews, perusing through foodie blogs that utilize the lighting system, and basic information on the product.  The lights are an ingenious idea to use in a home studio.  Albeit, natural light is always the best; I, unfortunately, do not have the best natural lighting through our home to utilize.  So, I needed a home set-up.  I had a hard time bringing myself to buy the lights, because there were other items at the top of my list that I needed.  So, one glorious night after work, I was unwinding by looking at do-it-yourself light set-ups, and came across a website for do-it-yourself Lowel Ego lights!  Low and behold, my project after my first day off, I made my way to four different hardware stores to gather the supplies, and constructed two look-a-like Lowel Ego lights for $40.  Yep.  Read and weep.  Heehee 🙂  I was extremely excited to photo my first subject… ahi poke tartare!

Ahi Poke Tartare

1 pound sushi-grade ahi tuna, diced into small cubes
3 stalks green onion, chopped
1 (0.4 ounce) package of NOH Hawaiian Poke Mix
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tobiko
Sriracha sauce or La-Yu Chili Oil
1 medium avocado, cut into thin slices
1 sheet of Nori seaweed, cut into thin strips

2.5 inch round cookie cutter

Rehydrate the ogo (seaweed) in a bowl of water, and allow to steep for about 2-3 minutes.  Squeeze the water out of the ogo, roughly chop it, and place it into a bowl with the ahi tuna.

Add two teaspoons of sesame oil, green onions, tobiko and the rest of the NOH Hawaiian (Hawaiian salt and red chili flakes) package to the bowl of tuna.  Mix well.  I didn’t find the red chili flakes to be spicy, and we like our poke spicy, so we added a tablespoon or two of Sriracha to spice things up a little bit.

Place cookie cutter onto small plate.  Spoon poke mixture into cookie cutter and pack it down with the back of the spoon.  Gently lift cutter up and away from stack.  Place a few slices of avocado on top of the poke, and top with a few strips of Nori.  Make 5 more servings in the same manner.  Enjoy immediately.

If time is of the essence, or you just don’t want to have to mess around with cookie cutters and such, simply enjoy the poke out of the bowl.  We made some poke handrolls with rice, Nori, thin strips of cucumbers, and thinly sliced avocados.  It was yummy.

(Healthy) Chicken Enchilada Casserole Verdes

In my quest to make healthy, almost authentic, homemade Mexican food, I’ve thought about a few things I wanted to try.  Mostly, I’m hoping to make dishes that will satisfy and satiate my partner’s cravings for Mexican food.  If you haven’t read my two previous posts, my partner’s one vice in life is Mexican food.  I originally thought (or hoping) it was Chinese food, but have learned over the last several years that it’s Mexican food.  She is a glutton for anything Mexican, but mostly nachos, burritos, tacos, beans and rice.  She can eat Mexican food for several days in a row when she gets on her Mexican food kick.  And she’ll try to satisfy these cravings from Mexican restaurants to Taco Bell.  I know.  I know.  Taco Bell.  Sigh.  She eats very healthy majority of the time, but it’s the Taco Bell that drives me crazy.  No.  Actually, it kills me.  Like a slow painful death.  So we struck a deal as of yesterday, and that was if she stops eating Taco Bell, I’d cook her healthy Mexican food more regularly.

So I found a really tasty recipe for homemade chile verdes sauce, and had lots of leftover shredded chicken, and thought chicken enchiladas verdes would be the perfect first Mexican food dish to start off with.

Don’t let the title fool you.  I know that “healthy foods” can sometimes mean lacking flavor; however, this is anything but lacking of flavor.  This recipe beats out the chicken enchiladas verdes that I get at Mexican restaurants.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

24 Mission Foods’ Extra Thin Corn Tortillas (taco size)
3 chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled
6 cups homemade chili verdes sauce
2 cups shredded low-fat Mexican cheese blend
Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), optional
Guacamole, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss together the shredded chicken, 1/2 cup of chili verde sauce, and 1/3 cup of the Mexican cheese blend.

Spoon a thin layer of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of the 11×7-inch baking dish.  Place 4 corn tortillas, overlapping as necessary, in the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover with one-third of the meat mixture; top with 2 cups of chili verde sauce; sprinkle with 1/3 of the cotija and shredded cheese.  Repeat layers twice, then top with remaining tortillas.  Pour chili verde sauce over tortillas; sprinkle evenly with cotija and remaining shredded cheese.  Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Makes 3 servings of 2 casserole squares each.

Calories per serving: 400 calories