Feeling Strangely Fine

2012!

When I logged onto this site I knew it had been awhile but was surprised to realize it had been well over a year (having to retrieve my forgotten password should have been my first clue).  Somehow between preparing to purchase, purchasing, and settling into my new home time has slipped by at exponential pace.  Having lost 2011 here I am in 2012 remember how much I enjoyed cooking and how better I felt eating primarily whole foods with limited processed and fast food in take.  I spent much of this first week of 2012 picking new recipes to try and cleaning out the cupboards of junk.

Given the newness of it all I’ve probably over done it with the cooking/baking and new recipe trying but enjoyed a weekend full of whole food plant based eating. Thanks to my friend Nikki, I’ve been inspired to investigate the Happy Herbivore and thanks to an amazon lightening deal my first issue of Vegetarian Times ($5 for the year) came this past week offering more yummy fare to try.

For Friday night dinner I wanted something fairly quick and simple after a long week of work and late arrival home from post-work Wegmans stop.  I settled on Polenta Pizza from the Fat Free Vegan blogsite I added rosemary to the polenta and left out the vegan sausage for a veggie-ful pizza. Mine was not quite crust-like enough (or perhaps to loaded with veg) to actually pick up like a slice of pizza but was quite good and worth adding to the recipe box.

Saturday I decided to take some left over pumpkin I had sitting in the fridge and make maple kissed pumpkin muffins. I halved the recipe since I only had about 1/2 cup pumpkin leftover from making pumpkin waffles New Year’s Day. The house smelled divine while baking and these vegan muffins were wonderfully moist and delicious and perfect for an afternoon cup of tea. Dinner brought a lighter eggplant recipe than my typical fried eggplant (I do love fried eggplant!), pistachio crusted eggplant is baked and breaded in pistachio’s rather than breadcrumbs.  I stacked mine in a casserole dish rather than individual slices so it took longer to cook (~40 minutes).  Another recipe to keep and make again, really enjoyed this and a bit of sauce made it that much better.

I’ll be ending off the week with chickpea piccata.  I had high hopes for this one given my love of chicken piccata but realization that there’s a reason food network does not put nutritional information on their website.  The chickpea cakes are a bit dense for my liking (I’ve never had chickpea cakes before so nothing to judge against) but the sauce was great.  I used the little bit of leftover polenta from the pizza to pan fry some polenta sticks in a tablespoon of olive oil.

The Vegetarian Experiment

As the New Year arrived I vowed to get back to adventures in new foods with an emphasis on whole foods healthier living.  I apparently should have also vowed to blog more but I’ll focus on one thing at a time for now.  As spring creeps in making me all too comfortable that we have passed the possibility of a blizzard (you know a nor’easter is going to sneak up on us when we least expect it) I figured it was time to capture progress.  It’s not just the coming of spring that made me take to the blog, but it’s my one month anniversary of meatless living.

I am a horrible Catholic.  If weddings and funerals don’t count then I cannot recall the last time I stepped foot in a church but would venture to guess it was probably a Christmas mass some years ago.  Despite this, Lent remains a time of year that is a time of reflection; somewhat of a restart.  Much like the New Year, Lent comes as a self-assessment of how did I get here and what should I do to be closer to who I really am and want to be.  For me anyway.  This Ash Wednesday I made a decision to give up meat for Lent.  Why?  I have no moral judgment on the matter-humans have canine’s for a reason and there is a food chain in the animal kingdom, I get that.  However, I have over the years read books like Fast Food Nation and The Omnivores Dilemma, and watched movies like Food Inc and Forks Over Knives with interest and curiosity as to how we came to eat what we eat and how it’s impacted society and public health.  The personal choice to partake in this Lenten experiment was really to make myself be more cognizant and committed to the dietary choices that I make.

I live alone, I work a high-stress, thought consuming job.  It becomes easy to develop habits and grocery shop without thought; rarely trying new recipes or foods and eating convenient foods on the go.  So Lent took my whole foods New Year’s resolution to the next level-whole foods plant based living.

I must say one month came and went quite quickly and it’s easier than I thought it would be.  In the beginning I did spend some time looking for recipes to try and grocery shopping took longer as I tried to find new ingredients (once posting on facebook where do they keep the tahini? in a cry for help).  It also cost more the first couple of weeks as I stocked up my pantry.  Now, I have my go to bloggers like Fat Free Vegan, Engine 2 Diet, Healthy Happy Life, and Happy Herbivore for recipe ideas and I’m getting used to the grocery staples so shopping goes much faster (and is much cheaper).  One month in and I have a lot more energy, feel generally better, and am happy to be spending more time on me, planning my menus and cooking.  I’ve discovered a lot of recipes that are definite keepers and only a few that I probably won’t revisit.  I’ve even introduced the family to some new recipes by bringing some meatless fare to our St. Patrick’s Day celebration; the Shepherd’s Pie (with Lentils instead of meat substitute) and calcannon puffs were a big hit!

After this first month I find myself seriously considering continuing turning this adventure into a lifestyle beyond Lent.  I’ve started a Pinterest board to keep track of recipes I’ve tried or want to try.  Check it out and comment if you have other blogger/recipe favorites that I might give a try.  I’m really enjoying discovering new foods and new recipes.

My 1st Home

That’s right kiddies, it’s time to stop wasting money on rent and enter the scary world of homeownership! At the very least it’s time to start considering it :D So there won’t be many new foods as I am now officially on the PB&J down-payment diet. My lease isn’t up until the end of November so this summer is all about narrowing down neighborhoods.

I am not a Philly native so it’s a fresh start. The desirables are commutable to my current job (and other local opportunities given the acquisition); safe; preferably decent shops/dining area (I”m not looking for play-dates and PTA meetings); affordable is a given. So far I’ve been a Trulia addict and have found some reasonable listings in Conshohocken, Bryn Mawr, Ardmore, and KOP. In the next few weeks I’m going to have to actually go on some excursions and get a better feel for the neighborhoods. Any Philly-folk have neighborhood recommendations???

Green Rice Goodness

This is the best rice I’ve ever eaten.  Consider this your warning that if you’re trying for carb control you shouldn’t make this as you may not be able to stop eating it once you start.  That is, unless you are one of those strange cilantro haters.  How can you hate the greatest herb God ever made?!  Some do, my parents for instance.  I luckily did not inherit this hatred and love it.  I have made herbed rice before by stirring in some cilantro and lime after it was cooked and thought that was good.  So I was intrigued when the new issue of Everyday Food had a recipe for green rice, which called for cilantro.  Simple and delicious, my favorite combination.  I served with lemon chicken and veggies.
 

Green Rice
(May 2010 Everyday Food)

In a blender combine 1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, 1/2 cup packed fresh parsley leaves, 1/4 white onion, 1 clove minced garlic, and 1-3/4 cups water.  Season with coarse salt and black pepper and blend until smooth.  Heat 1 tblsp of olive oil in medium saucepan, add 1 cup long-grain white rice and stir to coat.  Add herb mixture and bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook until water is absorbed.  Add 1 tblsp lime juice and fluff with fork. 
 

Adventures in New Foods_Tuna Steak

It’s been a month since my last post!  Where has the time gone.  Sadly, I have not been doing much cooking of late and have reverted back to whatever is handy and readily available, which as you can guess is not necessarily the healthiest or yummiest.  Oh well, spring has sprung and it’s time to spring clean the house and the pantry.  

There was one new food that I never posted, tuna.  I had tried canned tuna fish a few years back and hated it.  Other people seem to like it; they voluntarily buy cans of tuna or tuna fish sandwiches at sub shops.  So, being a poor post doc at the time, and tired of PB&J and ramen noodles I thought I’d give the protein-packed, cheap canned fish a try.  GAG.  

As I embarked on this new foods adventure many insisted tuna steaks are nothing like the canned version and I should give it a try.  So, as my Aunt made tuna nicoise salad from the Cook This, Not That! Cookbook for her boyfriend while I was visiting one weekend she gave me a bite to taste.  Well, I didn’t gag.  However, not my favorite of the fishes I’ve tried.  I will recommend the Cook This Not That cookbook.   I ended up getting it for Easter and now that I’m back to cooking will be using it!  For those of you that do love tuna, the cookbook version has 350 calories and 11 g fat compared to Subways tuna salad that has 610 calories and 54 g fat.

There won’t be as many new foods to post.  Spring has sprung and summer is coming so it’s back to veggie burgers and salads for me :D  Maybe once I get my grill I’ll start experimenting with marinades.

Irish Soda Bread

Happy almost St. Patrick’s Day!  In honor of the occasion I will share with you the “family” Irish Soda Bread recipe.  At least that is what I had always considered it to be until recently.  For as long as I can remember St. Pat’s Day was celebrated with Mom’s Irish Soda Bread, which she only ever made in the month of March.  At some point I asked and was granted this recipe and now I too make it every St. Pat’s for colleagues to share.  

Suffice it to say it was a bit disappointing to learn that this traditional family fare was originally sourced from the back of a Star magazine, which my paternal grandmother bought religiously for the crossword puzzle (as she swore was the only reason she bought the tabloid weekly).  So, this is the Irish Soda Bread recipe that some random Star reader shared some years ago and is now made annually by my mother and I.  I guess this is how family traditions begin really, you borrow other people’s ideas and make them your own.  So enjoy and start your own St. Pat’s day tradition!

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour
3 Tablespoons sugar, + some for dusting
4 Teaspoons Baking Powder 
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1 Cup Raisins
2 Cups Buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients, add in the buttermilk.  I separate into thirds and form a shamrock shape, as does my momma (was this part of the recipe or an add I wonder???).  Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before packing up to share!

Adventures in New Foods-Guinness

That’s right, I had never had Guinness.  I do love my beer and tend to prefer ambers but the darkness of Guinness has been a bit off-putting for me.  I figured it was time to give the stout a try and when better than now in honor of St. Patrick’s Day; so this week’s new food is Guinness.  Though technically a drink, I’ve prepared some edible delights to qualify it as food.  I did give it a try as a drink and despite my best intentions I do not find the chocolatey-rich beer very appetizing.  I actually don’t like any beer with undertones of flavoring, Lindemans didn’t fare well either in a taste test.  

As for my Guinness fare, for the main course it was stout-soaked beef with boxty (potato pancakes).  I found a number of Boxty recipes, most using equal parts raw and mashed potato.

Irish Boxty:

1 cup mashed potatoes (I used Russet potatoes)
1 cup grated raw potatoes
1 cup flour
1 egg
1 Tblsp Buttermilk
Chives
Salt and Pepper 

The chives were my addition.  Heat olive oil in a pan and drop potato mixture in cooking about 3 minutes per side.  The boxty was delicious.  The meat was ok.  I didn’t have any rosemary so that would have added more flavor.  The sauce didn’t quite thicken as the video showed either, mine was more of an au jus and not nearly as pretty to plate.  

For dessert I went with Chocolate Stout Cupcakes.  Again failure to check pantry before going shopping was a complication since I had no muffin cups and the only tin I have makes rose-like cupcakes, which is why they look upside down in the pic.  They’re yummy though, very moist and delicious.  

To continue St. Patty’s celebrations I have left over mashed potatoes for Shepherds Pie.

Adventures in New Foods-Scallops

This week I tried another new seafood, scallops.  Having not been raised a fish eater it’s all new to me, except shrimp that I started eating on a regular basis a few years ago now.  I decided to go with Bay Scallops solely because they’re smaller so if I didn’t like them it would at least be a little bite.  Standard prep of pan-searing and adding shallots, lemon, and white wine for a simple sauce.  Verdict, I liked them but will don’t imagine I will ever crave them.  All in all, not bad served over quinoa with lemony asparagus.

Adventures in New Foods-Meyer Lemons

A variety of a fruit is arguably not a new food but I was in a rush to get in and out of the grocery as the battered Philadelphians begrudgingly bought supplies in preparations for yet another winter storm; last week brought our fourth major storm for those counting.  I really wanted to make more Lemon Ricotta cookies and saw a bag of these little lemons within arms reach so here we are.  Meyer Lemons are slightly smaller than your standard lemon with an orange hue to their rinds.  They are native of China and thought to be a cross between lemon and mandarin orange.  

I had made these cookies during the week attempting to like cheese and though savory attempts at cheese were highly unsuccessful, I really loved these sweet and lemony ricotta cookies (as did my coworkers whom benefit regularly from my love of baking and conflicting desire to rid my home of sweets).  The cookies are somewhat cake-like and spread a bit so I tried to make them a bit smaller this time; I think they might work well in a madeleine pan, which I do not yet own.  I also tried a new recipe with a similar flavor profile, Lemon Ricotta Buscuits, another Giada recipe (Food Network is having server issues but hopefully the link works when they fix their site if not search Nonna’s Lemon Ricotta Biscuits).  I decided to make the buscuits in mini-muffin cups and they are delicious; very moist and yummy.   

You definitely do taste the mandarin flavor in these guys so if you’re looking for that lemony tartness you may want to stick with standard lemons.  They do offer a light, distinct flavor to baked goodies and will be purchased again.  March is nearly here, which means Guinness recipes!!!

Adventures in New Foods-Kiwano aka Horned Melon

Since half of this past week was spent staggering slowly between bed and couch with sinuses complaining I went the lazy route and picked my new food straight from the shelf based on ease of preparation (as in none).  I’ve seen these odd little melons in the grocery before so decided to give the ugly little thing a try.  As the checkout girl remarked, Kiwanos look like something from Super Mario Brothers; maybe this would make them an attractive treat for fruit-hating children.

After cutting the thing open I had to google it to figure out how one was supposed to eat it as it appears to be green slime with lots and lots of seeds…hmmm.  As usual Google didn’t let me down and right there in my search results was How to Eat a Kiwano!  The verdict:  it is in fact a lime-like flavor with a hint of banana as described in the first link.  Texturally, it’s very jello-like and the seeds have no flavor so are really just in the way and there are lots of them.  All in all not bad, not great but not really worth the effort for the little fruit you get after all the seeds.

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