January 27, 2012

Not Lasagna, Not Cannoli, Just Healthy YUM

Let's Cultivate Food. Let's enjoy more veggies!
Ever since I was little, I never enjoyed eggplants, mushrooms and liver.
As an adult, I love mushrooms: button, shiitake, porcini, oyster, enoki, wooden ear, you name it.
I still cringe at the thought and taste of liver though. I recently discovered Kale, Swiss Chard
and eggplant. I made these... um, I guess I would call them rolls. It's not really lasagna but
I guess maybe a veggie stuffed cannoli...?
Either way, whether you need to fake someone out to eat more vegetables or you simply enjoy healthy and delicious veggies- this dish is for you to try. It's great because it is so hearty that you almost think there is some ground beef or some meat in there.

The veggies that went into the filling of these rolls were: mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, spinach, artichoke and ricotta cheese to combine them all together. You will also need a little tomato sauce and your favorite shredded cheese to top at the end. I took a handful of mushrooms and diced them up small.

 I then did the same to about 1/4 of a yellow bell pepper. (You can use any kind of mushroom and any color pepper as well) I just happened to have a yellow one on hand.

 You also will need about 1/2 of a diced up medium sized onion.

 I also added artichoke pieces that are marinated in olive oil from the jar.
(I gave these a quick chop)

Artichoke and spinach go hand in hand especially in many dips... so it made sense and makes it even healthier by adding some bright fresh green into the mix. Give the spinach a quick chop also!

Then it's the roll/skin part of the roll. You are basically using the eggplant in place of pasta
like you would if you were making lasagna. After washing the eggplant, carefully hand cut
or use your mandoline to cut thin slices of the eggplant.

You want to do a quick fry of the eggplant slices and you can simply do that by adding
a little olive oil into your pan and cook the eggplant on both sides so they the pieces
are a little more pliable and it wont take as long in the oven.

 Take all the diced up veggies and toss them in a little olive oil in the frying pan as well.
Once the veggies are cooked about half way or so...
you can turn the stove off and fold in your ricotta cheese.

 Take the filling and lay it on your slice of eggplant and simply roll.

 I laid the veggie stuffed eggplant rolls on an oven pan on tomato sauce.
Once all the eggplant cannoli rolls were on the oven pan- I drizzled a little olive oil,
piled some shredded mozz. and cheddar cheese on top and threw the pan into the oven
for about 30 minutes on broil with the oven door once again, propped.

Once the cheese is melted and starts browning a little with a little crusty texture...
your rolls are done!

Healthy YUM!  As we ate this, we didn't say "where's the beef?"

January 25, 2012

Enjoying Pho Noodles at Home!

Pho. Most of us know that it is pronounced Fa- the "a" being long
but quick, but we usually call it Pho (Fo).
Among all the wonderful Vietnamese dishes that have
migrated to the USA, the most known and popular is the
acceptance of Pho.  Pho is actually considered the
national dish of Vietnam. I bet you didn't know that.
I think the western world is fascinated with Pho
because of its deceptive simplicity.
You taste it and think,  hmmm, what is in this broth....?

All kinds of soup can be a great comfort food and when you add
noodles to the soup it's even greater and more fun.
Restaurants that serve Pho are usually very inexpensive which
people love.  Good food + cheap prices = a giddy smile while
happily rubbing the tummy.

The history of Pho only goes back about 100 years.
Many people may not realize but it is almost impossible to go to
2 different restaurants that serve Pho and have the same tasting broth.
It's so close but so different at the same time.
Another thing you should know is that there is MSG in Pho noodles.
As we know many restaurant foods have MSG in them.
Don't be fooled with the no MSG message or the fact that they will
leave it out if you request it. MSG is already put into the sauce/broth
that later gets ladled in at some point to your food.
MSG also comes in other names as well,
"Accent" being a popular one.

Anyways, you can have fun making this deceptive yet simple
noodle dish at home with family or friends.

Now, it's not as simple as making ramen noodles but it's the same
concept of a broth and then adding noodles with a flavorful garnish.
For the beef  stock you simply get a pot of water going.
Let it heat up and the more broth the better. (you can store or freeze the
broth if you even think you will have any leftover)
As your water is boiling, you want to add a stalk of lemongrass,
about an inch of ginger, a garlic clove or 2 and a few Star Anise.

With the lemon grass, I usually just give a quick chop and slice the ginger.
(Keep in mind this is just for the broth- these items will be strained out
once the stock is done) I also add some beef.
I used the cut of beef with the round bone in the center
because good broth comes from the simmering of bones for
a long time. What's nice is that it has enough meat on the outside
that I can cut into thin slices and put aside the slices so I can use
it as a topping at the end with the noodles and I don't have to
buy separate beef just for the topping.

Once the beef, garlic, ginger, star anise and lemongrass have been
boiling away you can drizzle some hoisin sauce and fish sauce
(about 2 TBSP of each).  The broth should come to a boil and then
you can turn down the heat a little to medium low and as you taste
the broth you will notice that familiar taste from the restaurants.
I recommend the stock to cook at least  45 or so minutes (at least)
If the broth is too brown and not as opaque, I recommend adding
a little more water.  You want the stock to be a  brown-ish hue
but also see through if that makes any sense.

After the stock has been cooking for about an hour, you can strain
everything out of your pot. Put just the broth back into the pot
and with the stove turned to medium high- add your rice noodles
and let them cook for just a few minutes (maybe 4-5)
and then you are ready to garnish and slurp away.
(This is the time to add your thin slices of beef into the pot as well.
(The beef slices will cook right before your eyes in the heat of
the hot broth- it doesn't need any extra heat turned on from your stove)
 Add your noodles and broth to your favorite over-sized soup bowl
and then garnish it with Thai Basil (sweet basil is a perfectly fine
substitute as well) and lots and lots of cilantro of course.
Add a handful of sprouts to the top for that healthy crunchiness and
then add your favorite hot sauce, Sriracha sauce, drizzle some more
hoisin sauce if you'd like, even a sweet chili glaze sauce is good as well
and lastly some people like to squeeze some lime into it also.
Make it your own- the way you love it!

Not too difficult ay?  The combination of the star anise with
lemongrass and ginger is the complexity of this beef broth.
Oh, and there is no MSG in this one when you make it at home,
 just fresh yummy goodness.

ingredients for stock:
~ beef with a bone preferably
~ 1-2 stalks of lemongrass  (cut to about 2 inches)
~ 4-6 star anise (whole)
~ onion (optional- chopped)
~ handful of cilantro and basil
~ 5 TBSP of hoisin sauce
~ 3 TBSP (or your liking of spice) of sriracha
~ 3 TBSP of fish sauce
~ 2 limes (juice)
~ 4-5 whole cloves of garlic (cut in half)
~ 1 inch of ginger (sliced to infuse more quickly)

condiments:  to your liking and are optional
~ sprouts
~ onions
~ more fresh cilantro and or basil (sweet or Thai)
~ drizzle of hoisin
~ drizzle of sriracha
~ lime wedges
~ protein of liking
~ slices of hot peppers

Zestfully, Let's Cultivate Food

January 21, 2012

Roasted Shrimp on a Bed of Sea Salt

Ok, who loves seafood? Who doesn't like shrimp? In the summer-
it can be just a short day trip to the Jersey Shores,
Delaware or even Maryland but when it's winter...
here is a very easy option to try at home.
Sea Salt roasted Shrimp!  It's quite simple to cook.
I've found that the hardest part is trying to devein the shrimp
with the shell still on. I suppose you can devin your fresh
raw shrimp with the shell off... BUT the shell actually gives it remarkable flavor.

After I brought my fresh, raw shrimp home, I turned my oven to about 350
and started by laying some coarse sea salt on an oven safe pan. As my sea salt
started to warm up on the middle shelf and started getting hot- I patiently
de-veined the shrimp with the shell still on. By the time the shrimp was deveined,
the salt was hot! I then moved the sea salt pan on to the top shelf and turned the
oven to broil with the oven door propped.
Have you ever noticed your oven door kind of stops and can be propped on it's own?
Well, that's what it's for... literally. It's for circulating the air.
As the really hot temperature from the 500 degree broil feature is on,
by propping the door it allows for the room temperature air in your kitchen
to enter the oven and circulate. If you have a newer oven that has the
convection feature or option... then you don't need to prop any doors and aren't you fant-cee!

 The little yellow is clumps of grated garlic. (Optional to grate fresh garlic)

These babies haven't been deveined yet so as you can see the shell is still comfortably intact.

You can simply take a tong and lay your shrimp on the heated sea salt.
I like to change it up each time to see which way is better and for this most
recent time- It kind of made sense to sprinkle garlic powder
and of course some Old Bay Season Salt.

This picture is from the very first time and no Old Bay.
Once you lay the pan in in the oven with the shrimp- simply turn the oven off
(still keeping the oven door propped) After a few minutes, you'll quickly
notice the shrimp is turning pinkish- that's when it's time to take it out of the oven
and let it sit for a few minutes.  I also like to sprinkle some dried chives.
Change it up and add whatever dry seasoning you favor.

Lastly, take some butter and melt it for 30 seconds in the microwave, and once the
butter is completely melted, sprinkle a little garlic powder right into the butter
and stir it so that the garlic powder is mixed in well with the butter.
Once you peel the shells off your plump, juicy shrimp, dip your sea salt roasted shrimp
in some melted butter... if you like shrimp... you will DEFINITELY not be disappointed in these!
You can also make some garlic bread to eat along with these or your favorite salad,
extra spicy kimchi etc...

January 16, 2012

Buffalo Chicken Mac N Cheese w Caulifower

True buffalo sauce is made from butter and Frank's Hot sauce with
(optional drizzle of Agave or any form of sweetener)

I decided to take some simple favorites and combine them together.
Buffalo Chicken with bacon, steamed cauliflower and Mac and Cheese.

I laid some bacon in my new bacon tray cooker that I received recently as a birthday gift.
(The spatula has a pig on the end---cute huh!)

So after placing the cover over the bacon tray and placing it in the microwave ....
literally 4 minutes later---it looked like this...

It worked out so well and it is SO easy to clean. I now don't have to cook bacon
in the oven with racks and worry about all that hassle of  fat drippings  etc...

I chopped the bacon up and put it aside to use later for the mac and cheese. 
I also boiled some pasta in salted water, strained the water and set that aside for later as well.
I also cut and steamed some cauliflower to add with the mac and cheese. 
(A little less carbs can go a long way)

For the cheese sauce of the mac and cheese I simply took some heavy cream, 
Ricotta cheese (because I had some leftover - the ricotta is totally optional) 
I started stirring the cream while adding some paprika powder.  
(Paprika is made from sweet, red peppers so not only is the color
vibrant but adds a heartier taste as well. 

I then added whatever cheese I had in the refrigerator. I added some shredded
cheddar and Gouda along with a few slices of provolone and lastly a little drizzle
of olive oil to help with the the thickness of the cheese and cream when I stir it.

I then took the chicken tenders that I bought from the hot foods section of
the supermarket and cut those into small bite size pieces. I made my buffalo sauce.
and tossed the chicken tenders in the sauce.

Don't you want to devour the buffalo chicken pieces....?

I then added all the friends together in a large mixing bowl before laying it into
an oven safe pan. If your not positive of all the friends... they are,
Buffalo chicken tender pieces, chopped bacon, elbow (macaroni noodles)
and steamed cauliflower. Once everyone is comfortable in the oven pan...
sprinkle some more shredded cheddar and add a sprinkle of bread crumbs on top.
When the bread crumbs get toasted in the oven... that's when you know
the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese is done and ready to chow down on!

January 9, 2012

Kale and Mini Meatball Soup

Although it was around 60 degrees here the other day...
I do know that winter is officially here and here to stay until at least early April is my guess.
When it's cold outside, I naturally want hot, warm food whether it's a hot chai
or hot chocolate or of course some hot soup.
I only recently discovered Kale. I made a very easy soup that
I call kale and mini meatball soup.

Kale is in the cabbage family along with broccoli, cauliflower, collard greens and brussel sprouts.
Kale is known to have a lot of vitamin C, vitamin K, Lutein, beta carotene and is rich in calcium.
I'm sure you've seen the flowering Kale as well- which is often seen in flower beds and it really 
does look like a head of cabbage.

As far as the Kale Soup with mini meatballs-
I started off with boiling some chicken broth. That was the base of my soup. 

 There really is not too much to this soup. It's chopping the vibrant green Kale.

After rinsing and cutting the Kale into about 1-2 inch pieces, I cut one potato into small squares.

I tossed the Kale and potatoes in the pot first so that they would get cooking. 
(You don't want a crunchy potato in your soup, well at least not this soup)
I then took some ground beef and added, salt, pepper, a sprinkle of bread crumbs and some dry basil
leaves and mushed them all together with my hands and then rolled very small mini meatballs.


You can see how each meatball is unique in its own way. (No two are the same)
I often hear teachers say: "You are unique, just like everyone else"   Did you get that?
You (individual) are unique (one of a kind) just like EVERYONE  ELSE!   haha

The meatballs don't take that long to cook especially because they are mini-sized so I toss the
meatballs in once the potatoes are completely cooked. I throw in some diced tomatoes
(1-2 tomatoes) once the meatballs turn the tan-brown color they turn once they are cooked.

I stir everything around to mix it all up and turn the stove off and put a lid on the pot
so they can all stay nice and hot until I decide which bowl to ladle it into.
I've also made the soup with sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes as well.
Both are good, the sweet potatoes or yams are healthier than the regular potatoes though! 
You can also add diced onions to the soup as well.
(If you're using onions- you only need half of a medium sized onion and you can throw the
onions in first so they cook all the way through. (The onions are merely to give the broth
a even better flavor- surely not the superstar in this soup)

Kale soup with mini meatballs, potatoes and tomatoes!
Good and healthy on a cold winters night.

Tumble.... Trip, I mean Tupperware

Everyone has an expression or even a phrase when they come to realize something,
something they probably might of even known but just never thought of and
that moment might be called... something.  For example, just like the way
Oprah Winfrey has her "Aha Moment"
I have a phrase that I use, called  "7 years".  It's basically the same as an "Aha Moment"
but I just say seven year-uhrs. It's not a question or a statement really.
It came about when my mom used to own a flower shop many, many years ago.

It was one year during Valentines season (yeah it was a season especially the prep part of it)
We realized we could hang pre-made ribbon from the ceiling rather than stacking them
in large bins where they would get smushed and just take up space...
(we're talking about making and storing about 300 pre-hand made ribbons)
Anyhow, we realized it and quite simply, it was into year 7.  So I then commented
with "7 year-uhrs"- seems quite uneventful I know, but it's totally one of those
you had to experience and be there--- kind of moments.

So I wanted to share something that was a 7 years moment for me over
the Christmas season. My sister-in-law Julia was in the process of wrapping
some left over Shrimp Mac and Cheese when I noticed she went over to the
side table that she has and took a tupper ware container out of a large plastic bin...
that's when it hit me. Here is the reason why- one of my bottom cabinets
in my kitchen looks like this---during a good week...

Something always falls over EVERY. SINGLE.  time I open this cabinet.
Even though it gets organized and stacked nice and neatly, it's only a matter of-
literally the next time when something falls over AGAIN!
So when I saw she took out a container from a large container...
it made sense and it would only be a matter of purchasing a large bin.
The other week I noticed there were bins on clearance for 75% off. Cha-ching!
So I cleaned out my cabinet and stacked all the lids in one bin and
the containers in a second bin.

After stacking them all snuggly into their new home, I felt nice and clean and knowing
I now have an entire extra cabinet... hmm, what to put in there!?!

P.S.  I love organization.   It runs in the family.