Monday, November 23, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

What do you call a person who volunteers to make an elaborate wedding dinner for 60-70 people? Ambitious. Crazy. Out of their mind. Or.... Brenda.

At the start of September, my sister Angie got engaged... then decided she wanted to get married sooner rather than later. She and Ben are expecting a new baby in February, and with all the hustle and bustle that a new baby brings, coupled with the fact that Angie is planning to begin pursuing her nursing degree in the fall, she decided it was now or never. So originally, she wanted to do something really small. And I mean SMALL. She was perfectly happy at the thought of having just parents, siblings and her daughter and his son there. I thought it sounded great. Small, simple, and nothing like the zoo that surrounds most weddings. Don't get me wrong, I am a photographer and shoot weddings fairly regularly, but my personal style is much simpler than most weddings I am at.

My mom, however, had other plans. See, my older sister, Mely, got married at the town hall in Fayetteville, NC, days before her soon-to-be husband, Aaron, was deployed to Iraq, and I don't plan on being married anytime soon, to say the least. So she saw this as her big chance to have a beautiful wedding for one of her daughters. She wanted to invite family, friends, you name them. So, we made a list, and it turned out to be about 60-65 people. Ok. But then there was the October 18 wedding date that Angie and Ben had decided on. And the fact that planing a wedding in six weeks was a really daunting task, especially when it wasn't something any of us had planned for, in terms of budget. We began working out the details. Angie wanted to be married outdoors, and the arboretum at Conn College was perfect. Ben could rent the clubhouse at the local marina where his grandfather owns a slip at, for the reception. Then there was the matter of the food. My mom had a lot of ideas, and so did I. I thought that a fall themed menu would be fitting, and planned everything out. Here is the menu I created:

I started testing out my recipes, adjusting them to our tastes, I priced all the ingredients, and created a calendar of the week of the wedding, planning out each step of each recipe. My mom still worried that I couldn't do it. For some reason, she was under the misguided impression that I thought I was going to do it all by myself. I assured her and reassured her that I would delegate responsibilities as I saw fit in order to have everything prepared on time.

About three weeks before the wedding, my main concern was getting the ravioli made, because I'd insisted that because of price, we would have to make them ourselves. I would have just dropped it from the menu, but my sister and Ben tried the ones I'd made while testing my recipes, and loved them. So they stayed on the menu, and in the span of about one week, I made about 450 raviolis, with some help from my mom and roommate Melissa. It was a HUGE task for a novice to pasta-making, but we did it and they were delicious.

And then, the unthinkable happened.

About a week and a half before the wedding, we did a final count of guests. Our guest list of 60 had ballooned to 80 people, with relatives who live long distances away, who we had thought would never be able to make it, RSVPing that they would attend. In my book, the more the merrier, but when we went down to the marina to figure out where we would squeeze the extra guests, we realized it just wasn't gonna happen. We went into panic mode. What the hell were we gonna do?

We started calling around to area hotels, knowing we were going to totally blow our budget, but not having any alternative. Through a stroke of luck (and because the wedding was on a Sunday) the Mystic Hilton turned out to be easiest on our wallets (also, it helped that since it was just a week away at this point, the wonderful event staff there waived the room reservation fee). We ended up having a fairly standard wedding buffet catered by the hotel, all crises were averted, and it was a beautiful wedding.

But now I have 450 Pumpkin-filled Spinach raviolis in my mom's freezer. I decided I would package them in family sized quantities in ziplock bags and give them to family, friends, etc. And now, I think that pumpkin ravioli is SO appropriate for Thanksgiving.

If you've never made pasta before (which I'm going to assume you haven't, I mean, really, who does that, besides a little old Italian granny?), it is intense. You have to make the pasta dough, let it sit for a couple hours, make the filling, roll the dough out, portion the filling on the dough, CAREFULLY seal them closed, and cut them apart.

Here is the recipe:

Spinach Pasta Dough:
  • 1 1/2 cups semolina flour, finest grind
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin oil

Pumpkin Filling:
  • 1- 16 oz. can of Pumpkin
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2-4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • Salt and Pepper

Other Ingredients:
  • 1 egg, beaten, to brush pasta dough with
  • Flour, to dust pasta and pasta roller with
  • Semolina flour, to dust cookie sheets with

To make the dough:
Put the flours, and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend.
Add the eggs, spinach, and olive oil into the covered processor and blend until a ball forms. Cover dough tightly with plastic wrap and let rest for 2 hours at room temperature before rolling out or refrigerating. To make the filling:
In a saucepan, melt the butter, then add the pumpkin and cream. Stir until combined. Add the herbs, and simmer over low heat for an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the liquid has evaporated. Let cool before filling the ravioli.

To assemble the Ravioli:
Start by cutting your ball of pasta dough in half.
Then, begin rolling it into long strips by first shaping it into a long, flat piece. Then roll it through your pasta machine, starting on the thickest setting and gradually working down to the second thinnest setting. Once your strips are made, put about one teaspoon of filling for each ravioli about 1 inch apart on half of your rolled dough. Then, brush the other half with the beaten egg, and carefully lay the brushed side down over your filled pasta, being sure to seal the edges with as little air as possible left inside. Using a ridged pasta cutter or a sharp knife, trim the edges and cut your ravioli into squares. Lay finished ravioli on a cookie sheet dusted liberally with semolina. Freeze and package in ziplock bags.

I had never even considered making my own pasta before. The thought just never entered my mind. But I found this Wolfgang Puck recipe I thought sounded REALLY good, and wanted to try it, so I did. It was a lot of work. It took forever, even after I bought a pasta roller for $34.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond (I originally tried to roll it out by hand, which was a BAD idea. It was really hard to do and I couldn't get it anywhere close to as thin as I needed it). I ended up using my mom's entire dining room table to do it, (since I was making such a large quantity- I made 8 batches!), and lined the whole table with sheets of parchment paper. I figured out that I was best off cutting the long strips into foot-long sections, so they would be easier to handle. I eventually got the feel for sealing them properly, without air inside (they can potentially burst when cooking if they have air in them), and found that if I let them freeze for about an hour I could transfer them to ziplock bags for more long-term freezer storage.

The original recipe includes a sage cream sauce to serve them with, but I think they are delicious with just a little melted butter, parmesan, salt and pepper, and a few sage leaves for a garnish.

Anyone interested in a bag of frozen, handmade, pumpkin ravioli?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Julie and Julia

Ok. Let's get this out of the way first. I haven't written since July 2nd. I no longer work for The Middletown Press..... loooooong story. Anyway, I have been focusing more on gaining more clients for my photography business, and in the mean time, I have been substitute teaching at New London High School. Although I absolutely loved my time at The Press, the excitement of doing something different every day, I don't miss the neurotic personalities or the demanding schedule that makes having any semblance of a personal life next to impossible. Basically, I made up my mind, and haven't looked back, or even wanted to look back.

Now, just because I havent written in four months doesn't mean that I haven't been cooking. Actually, I've been cooking any and everything I can think of. Pomegranate Chicken, Apple-Cornbread Stuffed Pork Loin (I didn't eat it though! Haven't eaten pork since I was 12 and don't intend to start now), Pumpkin Ravioli, Baked Potato Soup, Rosemary-Chicken Soup with Dumplings, Tiramisu Cheesecake, Pumpkin Bread with Maple Pecan Glaze, you name it. Not that I didn't want to write about all these things... I just couldn't bring myself to do it. It was part of my life at The Press, and that's not who I am anymore.

But this past Thursday, I decided to visit the library, to stock up on reading material. I went to the Waterford Public Library, which I'm not all that familiar with. I wandered through the large print book section, and my eyes fell upon the title, "Julie and Julia," which you probably remember from movie previews over the summer. I really wanted to go see it, but was dissappointed when I read reviews of it that said the Julia (who by the way, didn't learn to cook until she was nearly 40) parts were amazing, but the Julie parts, kind of lackluster. So I decided I wouldn't spoil it by seeing the movie before reading the book, and then promptly forgot about it, either way. I excitedly pulled the large print copy off the shelf, and flipped through it. LARGE PRINT. Ooops. So I searched on the online catalog, and located a regular print copy, in the biography section. Much better.

I began reading it Thursday night. I got through about 100 pages that day, and managed to read the remaining 200 on Friday. Honestly, I couldn't put it down. Julie Powell was a 29 year old temp, a little lost in regards to her purpose in life, and didn't find it until she embarked on a mission to "Master the Art of French Cooking," by cooking (and blogging about) every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child's defining manual on French cuisine in one year. Oh, and she was a Buffy fan. (Have I ever mentioned my obsession with the show? I taped it every week in high school, have seen every episode WAY too many times, and now have the entire series on DVD.)

By the end of the "Julie/Julia Project," Powell realizes the lesson in it wasn't learning to cook French food, but having the courage to do something that makes you happy (and maybe a little crazy, sometimes) and to live life the way you want, no matter how off the deep-end it may seem. For her, the process of learning it, "mastering" it, translates to living, having a purpose beyond just being a secretary everyday.

For me, it's kind of the same. And reading the book really reminded me of that. And so, my return to blogging:

I picked up a Tyler Florence book with at the library this week. It was full of delicious sounding, un-fussy recipes that would be great pretty much any time. However, I kept reading over the same recipe, over and over. Pork Dumpling Soup with Chinese Greens. Maybe, because I have been on a bit of an Asian kick lately (I've really honed my stir-frying skills), and maybe because it the book seemed hardwired to open to page 124, over and over. Maybe the last borrower kept it open to that page the whole time it was loaned to them? Whatever the reason, I was dying to make this soup. So when I stopped by my moms and overheard my father call out of work sick with a sore throat today, I thought, great, an excuse to make it. And of course, I changed the pork to chicken.


  • 3/4 lb ground chicken
  • 4 oz shitake mushrooms, stems removed
  • 1/2 medium turnip, peeled and grated
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 T grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 t cornstarch
  • 1 T low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 T sesame oil
  • 2 t dry sherry
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/4 t ground white pepper
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/4 c low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 inch peice of ginger, quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 green onions, halved
  • 1 dried red chile
Other Ingredients
  • 12 oz package square wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • 4 heads baby bok choy, halved lengthwise
  • 4 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced
Put all of the filling ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring the broth ingredients to a simmer.
After simmering for 10 minutes to infuse the flavor, turn it off and cover.

Begin making the dumplings. First, brush the surface of a wonton square with the egg white, then put a teaspoon of filling on the center.
Fold two opposite corners together and seal edges to form a triangle. Then, take the 2 side points and dab with egg, then bring together, to form a "pope's hat" shape.

When dumplings are completed, strain the solids from the broth and bring it back to a simmer over medium heat. Add the dumplings and boil for 12 minutes. Then, add the bok choy and shitake mushrooms and continue boiling for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve garnished with sliced green onions and crunchy chow mein noodles.

I served the soup with store-bought frozen egg rolls and sweet and sour sauce. My dad, who is notorious for being a big, BIG baby when he's sick, stopped coughing for long enough to eat the soup, saying that the broth was really good. And it was. You could taste subtle notes of ginger, onion, and just a hint of spicy pepper at the end. The dumplings, which looked pretty small when they were made, absorbed the flavorful broth and grew to at least twice the size they started at. The filling was delicious, I'm not normally a huge fan of sesame oil, but it was really good in these dumplings. I've never cooked with bok choy, and I liked it. The texture of it, along with the shitake mushrooms really added to the depth of the soup.

And just like that, in a weekend, following the lead of a 29 year old secretary, who followed the lead of a woman who learned to cook at 37 years old, I am back to Downtown Dish.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A fine line between love and hate?

I hate cilantro. I think it tastes like soap. To me, it ranks right up there with Jello, sushi, and chick-peas on the grossness scale. But, I am a big believer in second chances. As in, I’ll try it again, and maybe it won’t be so awful this time.

I guess, there are some things I like that are generally made with cilantro. It is a key ingredient in most salsa’s, and is the base in the sofrito or recaito that starts off many Puerto Rican dishes that I grew up eating -although those are often made with cilantro’s cousin plant, culantro.

(Below left- cilantro, below right- culantro, seen in a market in the Dominican Republic)
But in those, the cilantro takes a backseat to the other flavorful, fragrant ingredients. When it’s in the forefront and all I can taste is soap, that’s when I have a problem.

My mom, and several aunts like to rave about how delicious cilantro is, and the more the better. But to me (and my sisters for that matter)- it’s kinda like topping an ice cream sundae with seaweed. It ruins it. And I’m not the only one that thinks so- check out - these people are serious!

So imagine my surprise when, flipping through a copy of Real Simple magazine, I came across a whole section devoted to burgers (it is summertime, after all), and decided the one that looked absolutely delicious, that I HAD to try, was a salmon burger, topped with avocado, lemon juice, and cilantro. Yes, that’s right, CILANTRO. I’m not sure exactly what about it that made me think it wouldn’t make me gag. Maybe the fact that salmon and lime are two strong flavors, and even in my imagination, I envisioned them being the dominant tastes? Whatever the appeal was, it was strong enough to make me decide to try these burgers out, cilantro and all.

  • 1 1/4 lbs fresh salmon, skin removed
  • 4 green onions, sliced
  • salt and pepper
  • 5 bakery rolls (I used egg rolls)
  • 1 haas avocado, sliced
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • cilantro

Cut the salmon into 1-inch cubes.
Put in a food processor and pulse 3-4 times (it will still be a little chunky). Add the green onions, about a 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper, and pulse one or two more times, until combined. Form the mixture into 5 patties, and cook on stovetop or grill on medium-high heat for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until opaque throughout. Flip only once and do not press or flatten. Serve on toasted bakery rolls, and top with 2-3 slices of avocado and cilantro, and squeeze the juice from one or two lime wedges over it.

This is one of the easiest, and quickest recipes I’ve ever made. The burger itself is incredibly simple to make, and took only about 5 minutes total. The fresh flavor of the fish, green onions and lime shines through, with the avocado and cilantro adding depth and a little sophistication. And, as strange as it feels for me to say this, it wouldn’t be the same without the cilantro.

Thank goodness for second chances.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Feeding a Small Army

My dad has 10 brothers and sisters, and my mom has three. As you can imagine, I have a TON of cousins- I think over 30 when you count cousin’s children. When my family gets together, it’s a little bit of a mob scene. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course, food is always a major element of those gatherings. Being both Puerto Rican and Filipino, and having family members that span just about every ethnicity from white to black to Native American, we always have a huge selection of cuisine’s to choose from. And, as you probably realize from the varying recipes I’ve written about in previous entries, I’m game to cook anything and everything.

One of my favorite things to make to feed a bunch of people is lasagna. In fact, last December, when I invited my Auntie LaLa and Uncle Ringo (…your probably thinking “their names are what?!?!” Well, really, their names are Dolores and David, but that’s no fun now is it? I’ve never called either of them by their real names and never will!) over for dinner before they went to Virginia to spend Christmas with another aunt of mine, that’s what I made. I would have loved to invite more of my family over… but realistically, it was a tight squeeze having my aunt and uncle, parents, sister and niece in my kitchen at once.

I make my lasagna with whole wheat noodles ( I know that doesn’t surprise you), a mixture of sautéed ground chicken, spinach, mushrooms, onions, and garlic, fresh basil and parsely, sliced roma tomatoes, and sliced fresh mozzarella cheese, on top of a few ingredients that I think lasagna wouldn’t be lasagna without. I make it so that you can taste the fresh, classic, Italian flavors, but it still tastes like comfort food. Here’s my recipe:

  • 12 whole-wheat lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 pound ground chicken
  • 1 can mushroom pieces and stems
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 16 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 24-oz jar of pasta sauce, I like Classico Cabernet Marinara
  • 5 roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, I use 2%
  • 1/2 of a large ball of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Boil a pot of water and cook lasagna noodles according to package directions. While the noodles are cooking, brown the chicken over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, then add the chopped onion, garlic, spinach, and mushrooms. Sauté for another 5-10 minutes, until onions are translucent, then remove from heat.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, and chopped basil and parsley. In a 13x9 inch pan, begin layering your lasagna. Start with a layer of sauce, then noodles (three for each layer, lengthwise), ricotta mixture, chicken mixture, sauce, then shredded cheese and roma tomatoes, loosely spaced. Next a layer of noodles, then all layers except for tomatoes. The third and final layer should have everything, including tomatoes. Finish it off with a layer of noodles, ricotta mixture, shredded cheese, then top with sliced mozzarella and tomatoes. Cover loosely with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees, until bubbly. After 40 minutes, remove the foil and turn the oven up to broil for an additional 5-10 minutes, watching closely so that it doesn’t burn. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Makes one 13x9 inch pan.

Like I said, I normally make at least two pans of this to feed my army-sized family, but this time, I made it just for me and my sister, and sent some over to my parents too. I use a mandolin slicer to slice both the roma tomatoes and mozzarella (I got mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $11.99). Also, if you ever use a mandolin slicer, don't follow my lead in the picture below and hold whatever you're cutting by hand- I'm lucky I didn't slice off one of my purple tipped fingers!Angie kept me company in the kitchen while I made it, so I had her mix together the ricotta mixture. She quizzically asked me why in the world she was mixing an egg into it, and I explained to her that it helped hold it together. I had tons of leftovers, which was fine with me- I brought it to work for dinner for a few nights.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Solitude and Glowing Sea Creatures

This week, I have my apartment all to myself.

My roommates, Jon (who has been my best friend since we were teenagers) and Melissa (who I’ve gotten to know since the two of them began dating six years ago) are away on vacation, and while, in theory, having a whole week to myself is great (and I am enjoying it), it gets sort of lonely. Not that I spend every waking moment with them or anything like that. They both work day shifts, and I usually don’t leave the newsroom until 9 p.m. then make the 45-minute drive back to New London from Middletown. So, a lot of times, when I get home at night, they are already holed up in their room, and leave for work before I’m out of bed in the morning. So I see them mostly on weekends, when I am not spending time with my sister, niece, mom, etc. Despite all of that, Jon and Melissa are family to me, so just knowing that they are not in the next room when I get home leaves me feeling, well, alone.

Added to that was that my sister was working night shifts all weekend at the hospital, and I wouldn’t even get to enjoy my weekly dinner with her. I was kinda bummed, but I spent Saturday afternoon with her at the beach, where I flipped through the most recent Everyday with Rachael Ray magazine (I know, I know, I have to start getting recipes from other places, too.) I came across a recipe for Sausage and Mussel Spaghetti, which I thought looked really good. Angie agreed, though she’s never eaten a mussel in her life- and I’ve only had them once or twice, nevermind cooked with them (those food stylists really know what they’re doing, I guess!) So then and there, sitting on the beach, I decided I’d be cooking a romantic dinner of spaghetti with mussels for myself for dinner that night.

Angie brightly suggested I jump in the water and look for mussels to take home (growing up, we used to come home from a day at the beach with TONS of mussel shells that we found lying around in the sand).Laughing (and kinda grossed out by the idea), I said,”…..Um…. I think I’ll get them at Stop and Shop. Thanks for the suggestion though.” I could just imagine a fridge full of freshly harvested mussels, straight out of the Thames River, glowing neon with all the wonderful stuff leached into the water from nearby Electric Boat and Millstone Nuclear Power Plant. Ok, well, maybe that doesn’t and wouldn’t happen, but still… I prefer to get my seafood from the grocery store. Let’s just leave it at that.

So the recipe called for scrubbed and debearded mussels. DE-WHAT-ED??? Like I said I’ve only eaten mussels once or twice before, and certainly never cooked them, so this was a huge puzzle to me. Having to know right then and there, I Googled it on my phone, and found step by step instructions, with pictures, here. Basically, you have to soak them in fresh water to get rid of sand from inside them, pull the threadlike strands that come out of the mussel’s shell off before you cook them, and scrub the outside to get rid of any “oceanic” attachments?! It seemed like quite a process but I figured why not? It would be one more thing I knew how to cook. Later that day, I bought the mussels and went at it. It wasn’t too bad, since I was only cooking a half recipe, and only needed 12 mussels. But still, it took me about 15 minutes to get rid of those gross little strands and scrub them down…

The original recipe called for sausage… which you all know I don’t eat, so I used chicken sausage instead. I swapped out whole-wheat pasta for regular spaghetti. Also, it requires one bay leaf, which I thought I had at home but couldn’t find in the spice cabinet, so I subbed in about 10 fresh basil leaves, which is a whole different flavor… but I figured, basil makes just about anything better! Here is my altered, half-size recipe:


  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 pound whole-wheat thin spaghetti
  • 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 pound chicken sausage
  • 1 rib of celery, including the leafy top, finely chopped
  • 1/2 of a small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  • 1/6 cup white wine
  • 12 mussels, scrubbed and debearded

Boil and salt a large pot of water to cook the pasta in- about 7 minutes, then drain. While the spaghetti is cooking, coat a large pan with the olive oil over medium-high heat.
Crumble in the sausage and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the celery, onion, garlic, and fennel seeds, and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, turning the heat up to high and cook covered for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes burst. Lower the heat to medium-high and add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the parsley and basil, season with pepper and stir together. Add the mussels and cover the pan, cooking for 3-5 minutes, until the mussels open (throw away any that remain closed). Add the cooked pasta and toss together. Let the pasta sit for a couple minutes, then serve.

I ate my dinner alone, with a glass of the Riesling I used to cook it with, enjoying the relative silence, and… it was pretty good. Only thing is, I accidentally threw the basil and parsley in with the celery, onion, garlic, and fennel… so I didn’t have that fresh herb taste that you would get from adding them at the end of cooking. Also, you might have to help some of the tomatoes “burst” by squishing them a little, but be careful! I had exploded tomato juice all over the stovetop to clean up when I was done! It was pretty easy to prepare, aside from cleaning the mussels, and cooked very quickly. It is definitely something I will make again.

I saved half of the pasta for Angie, and brought it to my mom’s house for her to pickup before she went to work for the night the following day. But… she ate it a little sooner than that. Sunday morning, I arrived at my mom’s house before heading to work, to find Angie noshing on her dinner! I watched her as she tried her first mussel- ever- and laughed at the face of apprehension she had before eating it. She liked it though, and ate every last one.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cooking for One

In general, when I think of cooking, I associate it with a gathering of family, or friends, or both. But, in reality, often times I am cooking just for me. Over the years (since college, really), I’ve learned to cook small amounts, at most 2 servings (leftovers for the next day). So, while I am very comfortable cooking for my whole family, I’m just as comfy whipping something up just for me.

During the work week, I cook in the late-morning, and package my food up in Tupperware containers for dinner at work. Today, I decided to make chicken stir-fry with Thai inspired “satay” sauce. I originally got the recipe from the Food Network Web site- you can find the original recipe here.

  • 1 cup cooked stir fry noodles
  • 3/4 cup frozen stir fry vegetables
  • 2 chicken breast tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 of a small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon chunky peanut butter
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • sliced green onions, for garnish
  • chopped peanuts, for garnish

Boil the water for the noodles, and cook until tender. While they are boiling, chop the onion, garlic, and chicken. Cook in a preheated pan drizzled with olive oil.
Once the chicken is cooked through, add the frozen vegetables. While they cook, mix together the peanut butter, orange juice, lime juice, tamari, honey, ginger and garlic powder, and microwave for one minute, stopping halfway to stir. Add noodles and sauce to the pan of chicken and vegetables, and stir together. Serve garnished with chopped green onions and peanuts.

The original recipe uses fresh vegetables and is paired with orange scented rice. It very good, but takes a little more time to make since you are chopping several different veggies and making a pot of rice. What I did was use the basic recipe for the satay sauce, but paired it with noodles that only take about 5 minutes to cook, and used frozen mixed stir fry vegetables instead of the fresh ones. It took about 20 minutes to cook and package up, and it’s waiting in the fridge in our offices cafeteria for later.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reliving my Childhood

Growing up, some of my most vivid memories are of visiting my grandparents in Puerto Rico. Waking up in my grandmother’s house, it wasn’t unusual to be up at 6:30 a.m. (which may explain my present early bird tendencies) with the smell of strong, Spanish coffee brewing, and the warm tropical breeze coming in through the windows. My sisters and I would join my mom and grandparents out on the front porch, as they sipped their coffee, and I almost inevitably, would train my eyes to the ground, looking for a lizard, coqui (the tiny tree frogs that are indigenous to the island), or even just a really cool bug- I was always fascinated by the tiny creatures that sent chills down my mom and grandmothers spines. But that’s what I remember, the pungent tropical air, while relaxing on the porch.

Today, I relive those memories by sitting out on my fire escape, sipping an iced latte (made with that same, stong Bustelo coffee), the air scented with the fragrance wafting from my container herb garden. Last year, I only grew basil and parsley. This year, I decided to take it a bit further and add chives, rosemary, dill, purple basil, and scallions. My plants are still small, but they are growing vigorously, and I’ve been taking clippings from them regularly to use when I cook.

The other night, Angie was over for dinner, and I was trying to come up with something that I could make pretty quickly. I toyed with a few ideas, and finally settled on grilling (yes, I got a grill!) some cumin rubbed tilapia along with veggie packets, and made herbed couscous on the side. And yes, I used fresh herbs from my little garden to make it!

As a side note, I don’t quite get what couscous is, exactly. A quick Google search tells me it’s coarsely ground semolina pasta… but it’s not something I ever ate growing up… In fact, I think the first time I ever had it was a few months ago, making dinner with my mom at her house. I just found a recipe online and went with it. But, I like it. I make it with chicken stock, onions, carrots, celery, rosemary, and dill.

  • 1/3 cup each chopped carrots, celery and onions
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup instant couscous
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 T chopped fresh dill
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Coat the bottom of a medium sized pot with olive oil over medium heat and added the chopped vegetables.
Once they are tender, add the chicken stock, season with salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Add the fresh herbs and couscous, and remove from heat. Let it sit covered for five minutes, then fluff with a fork.

  • 2 tilapia filets (I usually get the ones that are individually frozen in a bag of about 6)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 T cumin
  • 1 T chopped fresh parsley

Drizzle each filet with olive oil, then season each side with salt and pepper, cumin, and parsley. Grill on foil or a grill topper over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes on each side, until fish is opaque and will flake with a fork.

  • 1 cup raw vegetables, your choice (I used a frozen mix of green beans, wax beans, and carrots)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 slices of turkey bacon, cooked to a crisp and crumbled
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 T chopped fresh rosemary

Cut two 12 inch long sections of foil, and divide veggies between them. Drizzle each packet with olive oil and sprinkle the crumbled turkey bacon on them. Season with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
To fold packets, bring up the two sides of the foil and double fold leaving room for heat to circulate inside the packet as it cooks. Then, double fold each end to form the packet. Grill for about 10-12 minutes over medium heat, until veggies are tender.

Once I got the couscous all set to steam and had thrown a couple of Pillsbury dinner rolls in the oven I went outside to grill. All in all the meal took about 30 minutes from start to finish, with clean simple flavors throughout.

I’m really getting into throwing a few simple flavors together and seeing how it goes, and this meal was definitely a success. And… I’m sort of tempted to expand my herb garden a little more to see what other combinations I can come up with, although, I suspect, there is a lot more I can do with what I have. I guess well have to wait and find out. : )