Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving Thanks

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone which means we're nearing the end of yet another year.  The older we get, the more swiftly the years pass and I long for the days when a school day seemed a week long.  This past year, like many recent ones, has been wrought with hard times: emotional, financial and medical - the all too sudden death of my grandmother (which I am still learning to cope with daily), the untimely passing of an uncle (my mother's younger brother), unexpected (and costly) car repairs, six plus months of fighting a stubborn illness.  I could go on, but when I really think about it, this year has been replete with happiness, rebirth and celebrations as well - incredible vacations, a  fairy tale wedding (I still can't believe my "baby" brother is married), a new job and one more important thing to be thankful for...a new oven!

If you recall from my second post, when Doug bought the house, we had a hole in the island where the oven should be. A hole that was too small for a conventional oven to fit without many renovations.  A hole that even with renovations would not accommodate a conventional oven due to the inconvenient placement of the gas line.  A hole in which we were told said ill placed gas line could not be moved or capped.  A hole in which we were told it was nearly impossible to run the right kind of electric line to support an oven.  A hole in which it seemed only an Easy Bake oven would ever reside.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Stuffed Cabbage and Rain Storms

I know I've said it before, but what is with the rain this year?! I can't help but think of the nursery rhyme I grew up singing.  Rain rain go away, come again another day? Maybe not. Rain rain go to Spain, never show your face again? That's more like it!  

I spent a good part of the summer looking for the silver lining to all the rain.  All I came up with was that it must have made home gardeners quite happy.  I can't be sure, though, because I have a green black thumb.  It's all I can do to keep my potted basil plant alive but my father fancies himself quite the gardener and I'm inclined to agree.  So maybe all the rain this year was good for dad's garden because he procured quite a bounty: a plethora of peppers, 2 types of eggplant, green, yellow and butternut squashes, never ending tomatoes, broccoli, herbs, cabbage and I think I saw the beginnings of a few small pumpkins! On a trip home in late August, I made sure to plunder the family farmer's market of some precious booty! In all honesty, it wasn't so much a plundering as a Hurricane Irene induced hand-out.  Fear of the impending hurricane had left dad scrambling to harvest as much of his garden as humanly possible and I (along with the rest of his neighborhood) reaped the benefits! 

Thursday, August 25, 2011


You've gotta love technology.  We've come so far, yet sometimes it seems like all this progress does nothing more than hamper interpersonal communications.  I admit it; I'm guilty of falling prey to the instant gratification communication needs of the cellular technology age.  I am an avid texter.  I'd rather shoot off a quick text message than have a lengthy chit chat.  No small talk, no pleasantries - why should I pick up a phone and actually talk to someone when I can get my message across in 160 characters or less? And, with the advent of smartphones with Swype and Slide-It keyboard technology it's become that much easier to send messages.  I can swipe out a text message in seconds flat (she says with pride)! There's only one problem.  My smartphone isn't as smart as it claims. 

For years, I had cell phones with T9 technology to predict and auto-correct my typing errors.  But could it be?  Was there something better?  A phone that would seemingly know what I wanted to say almost before I did? I had to have it! Welcome 2011 and enter my very first smartphone with Swype.  Simply slide your finger across the touch pad keyboard, drawing the pattern of the word you want to spell, and the phone will correctly predict what you are attempting to say.  A lot of the time, it's surprisingly accurate.  But then there are those times, the times that there's been an entire website (which can be lewd) devoted to, when auto-correct seems to take on a mind of its own and your intended sentiment becomes one big fail. Which is exactly how we ended up having nurgers for dinner one night.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Easy Way Out

I'm still feeling pretty crummy.  Saw the doctor yesterday and he said I'm about 60% recovered and wants me on continued rest throughout the week- not exactly the prognosis I was looking for especially when I'm sure things are piling up at work. Reactions from friends and family have run the gamut from "60%! That's great!" from the Little Mary Sunshines to "60%??? That's all???" which is more in line with how I'm feeling about this illness.  I understand it's going to be a long road to being 100% myself again but when even doing nothing is exhausting, it's hard to be excited about slightly better than half.

All these percentages got me thinking about the proportions of me.  How, exactly, does one embody 60% of themselves? And currently what 40% am I missing?  It didn't take much introspection to realize what 40% of my personality has gone missing lately.  Sense of humor, optimism, carefree and fun-loving have been replaced with stress about being sick and the ramifications on other aspects of my life, worries about how to ensure I don't relapse into this illness again, sadness about being stuck in the house and missing events like my future sister-in-law's bachelorette party and sheer exhaustion from, well, all of it.  Oh yeah, and patience.  I'm definitely lacking some of that these days.  I want to be well.  I want to have the energy to walk the dogs. I want to laugh without coughing.  And it's not happening fast enough.

After a half hour conversation with a girlfriend this afternoon I hung up the phone, my voice fading and in need of a nap. I awoke a little refreshed and in the mood to make dinner.  I whipped up an old favorite, Spicy Asian Glazed Chicken and a simple fried rice side dish. This quick and easy side is great to make when you have leftover rice in the fridge, which we just so happened to have this evening.  What I didn't have was a variety of fresh veggies on hand, so I just tossed in the basics but included some yummy alternate options below. My perfect variation of this dish would include all of the veggies listed but feel free to use whatever combination you have on hand!  You can also make it a full meal by adding a cup or two of chopped grilled chicken, cubed steak or cubed tofu!

Disclaimer: In keeping with the theme of the day, between the recycled main course and the day old rice, I have determined this post to be roughly 60% new.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Veggie Tales

I am, without a doubt, a meat eater. A full fledged, card carrying carnivore.  I once approached a guy in a bar and told him to take me to the meat (which I learned, ladies, is not an altogether horrid pick up line depending on your intentions).  I was not, however, trying to pick anyone up and in my defense, I was at a bbq festival and he appeared to be wearing some sort of V.I.P. all access pass. I thought I had just met my new best friend! Turns out he wasn't a V.I.P and had no more access to the meat than did I (or any other paying customer) but you can't blame a gal for trying!

I tried vegetarianism for a full 9 months when I was younger before falling shamelessly off the chuck wagon and crawling wantonly towards a chuck steak.  It became quite clear - I need meat in my life.  That said, I do love me some veggies and there are many times I enjoy eating vegetarian (even vegan).  It just will never be a way of life for me.  Nor will it be for Doug.  He may be an even more devout meat eater than I which is why I relish the nights he's away, like tonight, to make a hearty vegetarian meal for one.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A River Runs Through It

I have finally discovered the poached egg.  Don't ask me how I'd gone 35 years without eating one - I can barely fathom it myself, but up until recently nothing was more disgusting (and terrifying) than eating runny yolk.  Eggs were to be scrambled (dry), deviled (my now second favorite way to eat them), made into an omelet (the more cheese the better) or as an addition to a recipe but never ever ever were they to be wet and runny.  The mere thought gave me chills.

But, how can one profess to be a foodie (foodista?) and food blogger whilst being scared of a little egg? Preposterous! I admit, over the past year or so, I've been tempted.  I mean, the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict my girlfriend ordered for brunch in DC last summer almost swayed me and if we hadn't drank so much fun the night before, I may have caved. It was coming, it was...inevitable; and my world was changed forever on Sunday July 10, 2011 at roughly 11am at Shea's Cafe in Absecon, NJ.  Their Eggs Benedict shamelessly took my poached egg virginity with reckless abandon (or maybe that was just the way I devoured my brunch) and left me wanting more! Since then, I can't get enough of that drippy, velvety, buttery yolk. I want everything I eat to be slathered in nature's gravy. Poached eggs on buttered toast has become my new weekend go-to breakfast - and for those of you who've never poached an egg before; don't believe the hype it is NOT difficult! I've been poaching eggs like a fiend over the past month and putting them on everything from toast to salads to creamed spinach; which has to be, hands down, the most comforting dish there is! Maybe it's because it's so new to me but this dish is more comforting than mashed potatoes, more comforting than macaroni and cheese, more comforting than dessert - ok maybe not, I've got to draw the line somewhere! But you get my point - this is divine!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Something From Nothing

To say that my not-so-new job has been draining me is a bit of an understatement, but it's not just the new job that has had me so run down lately.  The little summer cold I came down with in early May has taken up residence, simply refusing to leave, landing me at the doctor's office more times than I care to admit in the last three months and culminating in a chronic sinus infection and nasty bronchitis that has me unable to walk more than a few feet without becoming short of breath (damn asthma!).  Add to it Zumba classes, nights and weekends spent visiting friends, late evenings with the boy, a mild stomach flu that plagued me for most of June and it's amazing I haven't collapsed by now.  Being this sick for this long, I welcomed the doctor telling me to stay out of work for the week and do nothing.  But how does one so used to doing everything do nothing?  Recumbent in bed, with the laptop, updating her oh-so-neglected blog - that's how!

So, for those of you who've missed me - I'm sorry, I will try not to stay away so long again.  For those of you who may not have known I existed before this post - welcome, you've missed a bit!  Go back, read through some recipes and try your hand at some yummy dishes!  And, for those of you who didn't even notice I was gone - I'll just assume it was because you were too busy cooking your way through my past posts to realize I hadn't posted anything new!  ;)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Put a Stick In It!

Is it me or does food on a stick just taste better?  I really think that's why corn dogs have such appeal.  Put that sucker on a bun and it's a whole different animal - and not nearly as tasty a one! I mean, think about it.  Little chunks of meat and veggies that could be stew - add a skewer et voila! Shish kebab - how fun! Corn, ice cream, those deep fried twirly cut potatoes at local fairs, fondue (ok that might be a bit of a stretch but you know I'm right); all better on a stick. And think about what a stick and the freezer did for plain old pudding!  Even comedian Jeff Dunham has a schtick on a stick.  Yep, food on a stick is funnier, funner (aren't made up words great?) and just plain yummier!  And what could make food on a stick even better?  Grilling it!  And dipping it! Put that all together and I get so excited I can hardly eat - or is it hardly wait to eat?!

I'm the kind of person who will grill year round.  And I have. But there's something about grilling on a late spring (or early summer) evening that just makes everything right in the world.  Firing up the grill as the sun slowly heads for the horizon, eating outside, tiki torches ablaze; realizing just as you finish your last bite of dinner that it's cooled off a bit and is a great night for toasting marshmallows and making s'mores.  It's so much better than grilling surrounded by snow - although that has surreal attributes that make it almost as much fun.  Almost.  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Burgers, Burns and Bites

Memorial Day Weekend 2011 - where is this year going? Mother Nature seems to be taking her cues from National holidays this year ushering in the sweltering summer heat just in time for the "unofficial start of summer".  Personally, I'd be thrilled with 4 more weeks of spring, but I decided to play along with summer's early arrival and head down the shore yesterday to celebrate one of my oldest and dearest friend's birthdays.

At 10:30 a.m. Jimmy and I donned our bathing suits for the first time this season, packed up the car with beach chairs, towels and sunscreen and hit the road.  What should have been less than a 2 hour drive delivered us shore front at roughly 2pm.  Anxious to hit the beach, we quickly found parking and were on the beach in no time.  After an inaugural dip (only ankle deep) in the icy Atlantic, I lathered up with sunscreen and settled in.  Even though it was in the high 80's, there was a cool breeze coming off the ocean and before long I was snoozing on the warm sand. I awoke a couple hours later hungry from the heat and ready to hit the shops and restaurants.  Upon first examination, I didn't appear to be burned but a closer look revealed that my right arm, and only the outer side of my right arm was lobster red. Ugh!  Note to self: apply sunscreen before sun exposure - and yes, hanging your arm out the passenger window on a 31/2 hr drive is sun exposure! As I brushed the sand from my body I noticed I was getting kind of itchy and discovered quite a few welts on my legs and one HUGE one on my forehead.  I initially dismissed them as mosquito bites but when the swelling on my forehead became such that it appeared as if I got conked with a baseball bat and the itching turned to a dull stinging sensation I knew these were no normal mosquitoes (I later found out that I'd been bitten by horseflies - ew!).  Not insect bites nor sunburn were quelling my appetite though so Jimmy and I headed for a quick bite to eat at a local greasy spoon before heading farther south to Atlantic City to continue the birthday festivities.  We returned home around midnight (after doubling my gambling budget on the slot machines - woo hoo!), and after a quick shower and a liberal application of aloe I was more than happy to fall into bed for the night.  I awoke this morning in a bit of a sunburn haze, happy to have the day off from work  and happier yet to be inside in the air conditioning.

Did you know that this weekend is not only Memorial Day, but also another National "holiday"?  It's National Burger Weekend!  As if we didn't already have enough of a reason to fire up the grill and celebrate!  Usually the thought of an unctuous burger dripping with melty cheese and thick slices of bacon is my food porn, but after the damage I did at the beach yesterday (What? Can you blame me? I'm sorry, but strolling down the Boardwalk munching on carrot sticks is not nearly as refreshing as a twisty cone or freshly squeezed lemonade!) a greasy burger is the last thing I want.  But, I'd been kicking around an idea for a lightened up Greek inspired burger with a refreshing Tzaziki sauce for a while now and what better excuse to give it a shot than National Burger Weekend?!

Monday, May 23, 2011

I love a rainy night...

             Or is it rainy days and Mondays always get me down? Usually it's the former,  but after a week of this rain and no end in sight, I'm leaning towards the latter.  And after yet another dreary day in the city, what's better than a bowl of soup?

I worked my first full week at the new job last week and it rained every single day. And not just little showers, full on storms - pelting rain, driving wind and a chill in the air more reminiscent of October than May.  In the afternoons, when it wasn't chilly, the air hung stale and heavy with humidity; making each breath on my walk to the subway suffocating. 

I have a love hate relationship with the city.   I've learned that we are, in the most literal sense, fair weather friends. Unless it's sunny and hovering in the low 70's, I haven't much use for Manhattan and she, likewise, isn't altogether kind to me.  Rain and humidity make me wonder why I bother to do my hair each morning.  When summer comes the stifling heat in the subway will render any make up I've applied completely useless.  And winter - I'm already dreading the bone chilling winter and we've barely begun spring. But, Manhattan isn't without her charms.  The draw of Broadway, the street corner cafes, the wine bars and beer gardens, the quaint streets of the west village, the insomniatic nightlife - all attributes I love to love.  And, once the weather isn't so gloomy, I plan on loving them fully!  In the meantime, though, I think I'll curl up with a bowl of soup, dry and comfy on the couch, and listen to the rain.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Happy Pounds and a Blog Award

I've been a little absent from blogging over the last month but I promise it's been for very good reasons.  Last we knew, I was unemployed, a little lonely and getting very frustrated with my job search. While that's as good a place as any to pick up my story, I think I need to go back even farther.  To summer 2008. It was a big one.
You know how people always tell you that once you get your own life in order and stop looking for things, those things will inevitably find you.  Well, it's true; as evidenced by my experiences in late spring/summer of 2008.  I was happily working for a company I liked and had made some great friends there.  I had gone back to school at night and my work schedule allowed me to work full time, take night classes and still have a social life.  I had a great new apartment and I had just met a great new guy (one who I've come to share my life with today).  With all this happiness, stability and comfort in my life, it seemed like the stress pounds that had decided they wanted to be a part of my journey during the previous years were just melting off and by summer of 2008 I was at my goal weight and getting comments such as "holy skinny!" from good friends who hadn't seen me in a while.  Life was good and it only got better for the next 9 months.  Nights out for drinks, dinners and desserts with the new boy, who truly didn't mind a curvier version of me, had started to put on a few "happy pounds" here and there and I found myself back at "within 5 pounds of goal weight" and telling myself "eh, it's only 5 pounds and they're there for the best of reasons!". Then in early 2009, due to company cut backs, I lost my job and became veiled with a slight depression.  It was quickly replaced, however, with the realization that I now had even more time to spend with the boy - and, of course, most of that time was spent consuming yummy deliciousness of the liquid and solid variety.  The ups and downs continued for the next year and a half to 2 years, battling fruitless job searches, one truly horrific job that lasted only a short time, one truly horrific break up that lasted only a short time, one truly fantastic job that lasted only a short time and another unemployment that lasted much longer than it should have - which brings me to where I left off with my last posts.  

On a Friday in late April, I received a call from a recruiter in NYC wanting an interview to discuss my experience and what I was looking for.  We scheduled an interview for the following Monday.  I'd worked with this recruiting company before without much success so I was expecting the interview to go as such: "It was a pleasure meeting you. You have an impressive resume. I'll put my feelers out and we'll be in touch." then go weeks without hearing so much as a peep.  Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised when I left my recruiter's office with an interview with his client scheduled for 3pm that same afternoon! By 4pm I had the feeling that I aced my first interview and my suspicions were confirmed before I had even exited the subway with a voicemail from my recruiter saying they loved me and wanted to schedule a second interview a.s.a.p.  We had it scheduled for Wednesday morning as I boarded the train home.  Doug and I celebrated my successful interview with dinner out and a bottle of wine that night.  Wednesday morning's interview came and went in a flash and I had that same feeling of success as I walked to the train station. I boarded an early afternoon train home and by 3pm I had an offer letter in hand.  I happily accepted and Doug and I celebrated with an impressive fondue dinner (and many drinks) at the Melting Pot.  I started my new job on Monday, May 2nd.  

Three days later Doug and I left for a week long vacation to Northern California.  It was a whirlwind trip  from San Francisco and Oakland to Reno, NV to Lake Tahoe to Napa Valley and back again.  The week was filled with many drinks, much wine and some of the best food I've ever eaten - and lots of it! And, as I'm sure you've gathered, a few more "happy pounds".  But, now I'm back to the grind.  Finding my days are much longer than ever before and the temptation to just grab something on the go greater than ever.  It's time to buckle down and do what I do best - cook healthy foods that are just as tasty as they are balanced and good for us - with the goal of losing a few pounds but keeping the happy!  

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beef Stroganoff and Daddy Issues

Living an hour away from my family and friends can sometimes be harrowing.  Doug works long and erratic hours. I don't work at all.  So, I spend a lot of time alone, or with the dogs.  If I lived back in NY, I'd be surrounded by a bevy of family and friends.  Instead, simple girlfriend get-togethers require much more planning than ever before - partly due to evolving lives and growing families, still I can't help but believe the added distance is a factor.  Family dinners are reduced to mostly holidays and special occasions. For the most part, I'm not complaining.  Even with it's occasional pitfalls and difficulties, I love my life.  I have a wonderful supportive man who allows me just enough wallowing before lighting a motivational fire under my tush, the time we spend together is filled with love and laughter and when I do get to see my family and friends, it's usually somewhat of a grand event.  

There is just one thing that's been eating at me.  It's been eating at my father too, but not in the way he'd prefer.  It's something he mentions with every new blog post and the physical distance between us is, without a doubt, the culprit. A staunch supporter of my blog, as is the rest of my family, dad loves reading my prose but simply reading the recipes just isn't cutting it.  Culinarily challenged, he is a bit gun shy about attempting my recipes but exhibits no hesitation in reminding me (with great regularity) that "dear old dad" has yet to sample my dishes.  

However, last December, Doug and I had the pleasure of hosting my parents for a simple dinner.  It was a lovely evening and this dish was the star - at least for us carnivores (mom, being pescevegetarian, feasted on a huge salad and some noodles (next time they come for dinner, though, I'm making this)).  Dad raved about dinner then, and can now say that he's tasted (at least one of) my recipes.  So, dad, this one's for you!  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Toaster Oven Chicken Tenders & Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Sometimes you just need comfort food.  Today was one of those days.  Actually, many days lately have been one of those days. I've been really needing to cloak myself in a big, enveloping comfort food hug.

You see, I lost my job last year.  A job I loved, working for a company I believed in, where I was successful and well respected. You know, a rarity!  I'd only been with the company for a few short months but had already been promoted, was an integral member of the CEO's management team and had forged some really great friendships.  I was, dare I say it, happy.  Wait...what?  She's happy? Cue disaster. Get misery and depression on the phone, we need them on stand-by. And so, on that balmy Monday afternoon in mid-July, when disaster apparently had nothing better to do, it all came tumbling down.  

I suppose, if you're the kind of person who believes in signs, you may have seen this coming.  What began as a sunny morning commute foretold what was to come when no sooner did I set foot out of the car in the office parking lot than the sky took on an ominous shade of gray.  Every trace of blue vanished and clouds rolled in as I walked into the building, down the hall and towards my office. Plunging the key into the lock on my office door, I turned the handle in synchronicity with the first thunderclap.  The skies opened up and rain pelted my office window, hard.  I gazed outside as my computer booted up, too distracted by the cacophony of the storm to notice the prescient text message that had arrived from my closest work friend.  "Whatever happens today, I love you Jour and am glad you are a part of my life.". Concerned, I frantically dialed Jessica's number. Voicemail, damn.  

Moments later she came sweeping into my office with breaking news, a look of despair on her face.  The CEO's daughter, she had information about events that had transpired over the weekend, and behind closed doors, with teary eyes, we talked about the impending death of our beloved corporation.  Long story short, we were forced into a chapter 7 bankruptcy by lenders and private equities firms who saw us as a write off.  The livelihood of close to 100 dedicated employees reduced to little more than black numbers on a white page.  The shades of gray lie in the bewildered glances exchanged.  In the line of former employees sitting on the curb, boxes holding months and years of their professionals lives next to them, wondering how to get home to loved ones who were hours, if not many states away, when our company cars were no longer company property.  In the farewell hugs and the abundance tears.  In the taxed looks on the faces of people who were, simply, a tax write off.

That evening was one of the hardest nights of my life.  I couldn't take phone calls from concerned friends and family because I couldn't stop crying long enough to talk.  I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep.   Hell, I could barely catch my breath. That was 9 months and countless emailed resumes ago.  In this time, I've gotten, if I'm being generous, maybe 10 responses.  Most emails get ignored leading me to believe that the digital age has done little more than give us yet another medium with which to be rude.  Phone calls go unanswered, messages unreturned and the couple of recruiters I've actually spoken with have been kind enough to make the decision for me that either a) the commute was too far or b) the pay was too low.  Head, wall,  I believe you 2 have met.  Bang, bang bang.

I had my first interview since being laid off last week.  If you ask me, if went really well; I'm perfectly qualified, they didn't blink at my salary requirements, the owner and I are both dog lovers (his Jack Russell even spends time in the office). Yet, here it is, a week later and...nothing.  Obviously, there are good days and bad and I know things will eventually change, but I'm just not feeling the love on the job front.  So, you know that feeling of love that comes from having a belly full of homemade comfort food?  The kind that takes you in, wraps you up and makes you feel like a happy, protected 5 year old?  That is what I needed (albeit with slightly fewer calories)! 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bean Curd and Bucket Lists

Recently, a fellow blogger got me thinking about bucket lists. We all have one, whether scrawled on the back of an envelope, meticulously enumerated on a "to-do" list or not so indelibly etched with our mental pencils. Mine was the to-do list variety; bulleted points, each carefully printed with an extra fine tip Sharpie (my "this is important" pen).  Sadly, my actual list was lost during one of umpteen moves in as many years.  I don't think it's lost for good, but more likely is packed away with half of my life in a storage unit in NY. I remember never keeping the list readily accessible, preferring instead to hide it away somewhere where I'd only come across it once or twice a year. It was fun to see not only what I'd accomplished and how far I'd come, but as the list got older, the kinds of things I'd aspired to all those years ago. It was always good for a teensy feeling of accomplishment as well as a chuckle or 2 at my younger self. The last time I stumbled upon the list, I was able to cross off a couple of items, one due to accomplishment (get a tattoo - I now have 2) the other due to physical restrictions following a car accident and subsequent injury (go skydiving). I got to thinking how sad it was that I'd had so many opportunities to skydive prior to my accident and never took any of them. The excuses were plentiful albeit, if I'm being honest, lame. Once, I was too busy at work. Another time I couldn't justify spending the money.  Yet another time a friend gave me too little notice.  Looking back, all I can tell myself is: work to live, don't live to work, what good is the money if you can't enjoy it and a little spontaneity never hurt anyone.

These days, I don't often think about my bucket list but my goals have evolved over the years.  Seeing as my first list was created in my early 20's and contained such deep and discerning ideas such as "get a tattoo", "swim with dolphins" and "name a star", I decided to establish (at least the beginnings of) my new 30-something bucket list right here. In no particular order, here goes:

  • Re-master my command of the French language
  • Master another language (Italian)
  • Test my mastery of both languages by returning to France, and visiting my family in Italy
  • Travel more - eat my way across the country and around the world
  • Learn more about wine
  • Go back to school and pursue a career change involving either my first love (science/medicine) or my enduring love (cooking/baking)
  • Do/learn something new every day 
  • Write a cookbook
  • Start a family
  • Commit fully to a healthy lifestyle 
  • Make time for the people who enrich my life
  • Learn to let go of the toxic people who don't
That's a pretty ambitious start, but there's room for one more:
  • Find new and exciting ways to create protein rich, meatless meals like this one

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Italian Style Quinoa and Sausage Stuffed Peppers

I've never considered myself particularly trendy, preferring instead to play the chameleon and attempt to blend in in most situations.  However, I will say this:  when it comes to culinary creations, I do like to stay on forefront of emerging eating and cooking trends.  So I was pleasantly surprised when I hopped online today and saw an abundance of recipes featuring quinoa on some of my favorite sites.  I have to admit, I haven't been cooking with quinoa for terribly long, but I enjoy it immensely and have SO many ideas for recipes featuring this amazing little seed!  It's nice to know I'm in good company.

Quinoa has been touted as a "superfood" and the more I work with it, the more I'm inclined to agree.  If you're a quinoa newbie, here are a few things you should know:

1. It looks like a grain, but is actually a seed.

2. It is a complete protein (containing an almost ideal balance of all 9 essential amino acids), is high in fiber, is nutrient rich (calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, vitamin E and B vitamins) and is gluten free.

3. It's a good idea to soak/rinse it before cooking. Quinoa has a coating called saponin on it's surface that can produce a bitter soapy quality when cooked.  Granted, most of what you'll find at the local grocery store has already been pre-washed and dried, but in my opinion, a little prevention never hurt anyone.

4. There are 3 color varieties: white, red and black.  I've only come across the white variety to date but you can rest assured that as soon as I see either of the others they'll be on the dinner table that very night!

5. Working with quinoa is very similar to cooking rice, and a bit like couscous. There are a couple different methods for cooking it: boiling (like pasta) vs absorption (like rice).  I'm still trying to find my preference.

6.  It's delicious!  The texture is somewhere between that of barley and couscous...light and fluffy yet with a toothsome bite and slight crunch.  The flavor has the earthy nuttiness of wild rice but, more reserved, not as aggressive.

7. It's versatile!  Breakfast, lunch or dinner , hot or cold, side dish or main course - quinoa can seamlessly integrate into almost any meal!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Smoky Southwest Turkey Meatballs

Sometimes necessity really does breed invention.  Such was the case with these meatballs.  It started with a package of ground turkey a few days shy of its expiration date.  I needed to get this turkey out of the fridge and fast so the brainstorm began.  Turkey burgers?  Not tonight and besides, they are so much better when grilled outside on a perfect 70 degree evening, 2 puppies playing at our feet, and with my grill master away for the night, this was not that perfect 70 degree evening. A Greek twist?  Maybe another night.  Spaghetti and...?  Nope...not in the mood to make sauce.  Our old standby with soy sauce and lime (recipe will be forthcoming)? Nah...I needed something different.

Have you ever had one of those moments where, blinded by hunger, nothing sounds good?  I know it barely makes sense but it's precisely how I ended up staring into our pantry, bemused and befuddled by the litany of spices looking back at me and desperately seeking inspiration.  Nearly an hour later, after sorting through and reorganizing said spices I emerged with a brand new bottle of smoked paprika, some ancho chile powder and an idea for a smoky southwest inspired meatball.  So I was off to Fairway for some fresh produce and to spend an exorbitant amount of time perusing the cheese case.

The last time I got pulled into the vortex of a fresh cheese case, I discovered baked ricotta with chocolate chips.  I'm finding it hard to put into words just how delightful this cheese is, not because there isn't enough to say about it, but because words simply can't do it justice.  The texture is velvety and smooth like traditional ricotta, only firmer, yet not quite as firm as ricotta salata.  Slightly sweet, it dances over your tongue as it warms in your mouth and the chocolate chips begin to melt, perfuming the cheese with an almost tart butteriness. It's almost as if someone solidified the filling to the most perfect cannoli - I'm sorry, cannoli shells, but your crunchy services are no longer needed.  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, on my way to Fairway, my intentions to gather a few quick items for my meatball experiment and then get lost in cheese (not too difficult for me, as I'm sure you've gathered).  What happened when I got there gave me pause.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

I told you all about my Valentine's dinner for Doug and the mayhem that ensued, but never mentioned what he did for me. Actual Valentine's Day started off with a kidnapping of sorts.  The instructions were simple:  pack a bathing suit, wear sneakers.  That's all I knew.  We hopped in the car and headed east towards Manhattan.  I had recently mentioned the free public pool at the Grace Hotel to Doug and we'd both expressed an interest in visiting sometime, so I was convinced that's where we were headed.  No need for a tropical weekend getaway, an indoor pool with a swim-up bar right in the heart of the city could be just as much fun!

When we crossed over the George Washington Bridge and continued onto I95 North, past Manhattan, I was confused.  When we crossed the Whitestone Bridge I was utterly dumbfounded.  I knew we had to make it back home, shower and change with enough time to make an 8pm dinner reservation (at an undisclosed destination); surely, we couldn't be going much further.  I was right, because shortly thereafter we exited the expressway and turned into a residential neighborhood in Queens.  At this point, I was positively bewildered!  We pulled up to what appeared to be a large hotel, complete with valet parking.  The facade read: Spa Castle.   A modern day castle (of sorts) resplendent with a multitude of spa offerings...ingenious!  I'd never heard of such a place and so my bewilderment continued during check in when we got our "watches" that ended up being waterproof locker keys (brilliant!), through the locker rooms when I changed into my Spa Castle uniform for the day (orange shorts and a pink t-shirt? Stacy London would not approve!) and up the huge spiral staircase that delivered me into a cafeteria where I met up with Doug (after we were relegated to his and hers locker rooms upon entry).

We spent our afternoon sweating in the saunas, cooling off with a cocktail (or 2) and lounging in the heated rooftop pools overlooking the city.  It was wonderful and a great way to spend a romantic, relaxing afternoon together.  Upon leaving Spa Castle, we realized that our departure was ill-timed (can you blame us for being hesitant to leave?!) and we were faced with NY traffic at rush hour.  There was no way we were making it home to NJ to shower and change and then heading back "in this general direction" (the only clue I got about our dinner whereabouts) by 8pm.  So Doug called the restaurant and asked if they could accommodate us earlier.  They happily obliged and we went straight to dinner.  He took me to a fantastic little Italian place on Arthur Avenue.   For starters, we split a couple appetizers, one of which was called Asparagus Fiorucci.  It was delicious and I immediately knew I needed to attempt to recreate it at home sometime.  Below is my interpretation of this lovely dish.   The slight crunch of the earthy asparagus blends so perfectly with the creamy cheese, the floral citrus flavor of the lemon zest and the salty prosciutto; it truly is a simple yet elegant appetizer.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Crock Pot Lasagna Florentine

                  Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a cheeseball, on so many levels, but probably most notably for my love of cheese.  I, seriously, have never met a cheese I didn't like.  Mild, sharp, creamy, crumbly, moldy, me, they are all manifestations of love. So, one of the hardest things to swallow when faced with the oven-less kitchen was the lack of ooey gooey cheesy baked goodness in my life.  No baked macaroni and cheese?  No stuffed shells?  No manicotti?  No lasagna?  You might as well throw the burlap sack over my head and march me to the gallows!  Surely a life without lasagna is a life not worth living, and I do believe Garfield would agree!

It became imperative that I find a way around this lasagna quandary...and fast! Initially I thought the toaster oven might be my savior, but as I mentioned before, it's teeny tiny. So, unless I wanted to make a lasagna amuse-bouche (calorically prudent, but really who eats 2 bites of lasagna?) it was practically useless.  Surveying the rest of my kitchen arsenal didn't yield a promising contender so I was left with the old stand by crock pot...not just for pot roast anymore (though stay tuned because I'll be posting my recipe for the pot roast that saved Christmas Eve soon).  

I have to say, I went into this lasagna endeavor a little gun shy and skeptical, fully expecting a lasagna soup kind of outcome.  Imagine my surprise when after a few hours, I removed the crock pot lid to reveal a perfectly cooked lasagna!  Now, if you're one of those people who live for the crispy, crunchy edges that only an oven can produce, sorry Charlie, you're outta luck.  But, if you're in it for the right reasons (the cheesy deliciousness!) this recipe will not disappoint! One note: once it's finished cooking, turn off the crock pot and allow the lasagna to sit for a good 20-30 min or so.  I made the mistake of diving in too soon; partly out of hunger and partly because I'm a gluttonous cheese-lover and it's next to impossible for me to let a lasagna "rest",  so while I still didn't end up with soup, it was definitely too hot for the pieces to hold their shape and what resulted was a slidey, gooey, fantastic mess on my plate (hence, no plated pictures). So trust me....let it sit!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Sunken Sink

One more day.  One more day until I can do dishes like a human being loading them into the dishwasher.  I've felt very "Little House on the Prairie" lately, doing dishes in the bathtub. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to seem unappreciative of the indoor plumbing that has allowed me to do dishes without a large basin, a small fire and some melted snow or minimize the trials and tribulations of pioneer life, but hunched over the bathtub for 45 minutes scrubbing and scouring is not how I like to spend my time.  I don't even like to spend my time standing in front of a sink scrubbing and scouring but let's not split hairs.  And don't even get me started on the dishpan hands - as if winter wasn't taking enough of a toll on my skin I now have the hands of a dehydrated 80 year old woman! Swell.

Needless to say, I was quite pleased when Doug's uncle came by today armed with 2x4's, some sort of metal sander, a razor sharp chisel and heavy duty epoxy.  It took a couple hours to clean, sand and prep the granite but once we slid that sink into place and the epoxy started to ooze up, spill over the edges and drip down into the basin, I swear a chorus of angels sang.  Only 24 hours of "curing" until the garbage disposal and dishwasher can be reattached and the sink can go back to serving its intended function as a queue for dirty dishes awaiting their turn on the water ride.  Life is good.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

Several years ago, I spent 1 or 2 nights a week working as a bartender for an Indian gentleman at a Latin club (don't ask). While Abdul wasn't going to win any employer of the year awards, the man knew his way around a kitchen and seemed to love cooking for me, almost as much as I loved eating my way through his menu.  I spent the time before my shifts sampling Samosas, Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Saag and Chicken Vindaloo but no matter what I tasted, I couldn't shake my affinity for Chicken Tikka Masala. Maybe it's the simplicity of the spices, the perfect kiss of hot pepper or the touch of cream; maybe it's the way they all blend together and embody, to me, a cool evening in Mumbai, sitting at a street cafe watching the hustle and bustle of the city.  I wouldn't know, I've never been there, but in my mind it's as vivid as the brightest of saris.  Perhaps I'll get there someday, but until then, I'll forgo the sari and my Indian travels will remain the culinary variety.

This is my interpretation of the dish Abdul made for me countless times.  I've attempted to "healthify" it a bit by replacing butter with cooking oil spray and heavy cream with fat free half & half.  By doing so, I've slashed 67 calories and 8 fat grams per serving.  Not too shabby! Of course, if you're not feeling particularly health conscious, go ahead and saute your chicken in butter and replace the fat free half & half with 1/3 cup of heavy cream.

Chicken Tikka Masala

1 1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
salt and pepper to taste
cooking oil spray
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes (undrained)
1/2 cup fat free half & half
1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (more or less to taste)

Cal: 220  Fat: 9g  Carb: 10g  Protein: 25g  Fiber: 2g - Original Recipe
Cal: 153  Fat: 1g  Carb: 11g  Protein: 25g  Fiber: 2g - My Version
Serves: 6

Season chicken cubes with salt and pepper.  Spray a large, heavy saute pan with cooking oil spray. Over medium high heat, saute chopped onion and garlic until translucent.  
Add your chicken cubes and cook until the chicken is no longer pink (about 8-10 minutes).  Add all of your spices (except crushed red pepper) and the lemon juice.  Stir well and cook for about a minute.  
Remove chicken cubes and transfer to a serving platter.  

Reduce heat to medium, add canned tomatoes and stir well.  In a small bowl, stir the cream into your cornstarch to make a slurry. Slowly stir the cornstarch slurry into your saute pan, then stir in the crushed red pepper.  Allow liquid to come to a boil.  Once boiling, lower heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. 
Transfer your sauce to a blender and blend until smooth. Remove the cap from your blender lid to allow rising steam to escape, but cover the opening with a folded dish towel to prevent the hot liquid from splattering.  

Pour blended sauce over chicken cubes and serve with Basmati rice (rice not included in nutritional information).
A great veg accompaniment is cauliflower sauteed with a touch of fresh ginger, garam masala and turmeric. Yum!

Forgive the paper plates, we are still without a sink and I'm trying to minimize the amount of dishes I have to do in the bathtub! 
Bon Appetit!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Valentine's Day (Kitchen) Massacre

I suppose it had to happen.  Our day-early Valentine's celebration was going all too well.  Doug had a good day at work, got out on time and arrived home with flowers in hand (too cute!).  I'd cooked up a storm and the end result was well worth the effort.  The wine was tart, crisp and refreshing, dinner was positively divine, dessert was indulgent and we were altogether fat and happy.   Something had to go wrong.

After dinner, we'd retired to the bedroom to curl up with the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards and whatever we had recorded on the DVR.  But, about halfway into Muse's performance of Uprising, a cacophony of clatter rose up from the kitchen below. Something did not only go bump in the night, it was a full on crash! bang! boom! We jumped up from the bed and went downstairs to investigate. It was decided that I'd check on the dishwasher and Doug would head down to the basement to make sure the puppies hadn't gotten into any trouble (a much more likely scenario than the dishwasher imploding).  I checked, rechecked and reorganized the dishwasher ensuring it would have a smooth wash cycle and Doug emerged from downstairs reporting that all was quiet on the basement front.  Perplexed at finding nothing amiss, we returned upstairs, finished watching the Grammy's and had all but made it through Desperate Housewives on DVR when Doug had a craving for some more of my pulled pork ravioli .  We stood in the kitchen, happily munching on cold ravioli by refrigerator light and chatting about the awards show winners (Did Arcade Fire really deserve Album of the Year?  Honestly, in 10 years, who will have made a bigger impact on music and who will people remember more?  Arcade Fire?  Or Lady Gaga?  Just sayin').  Anyway, satisfied with the ravioli (and a chocolate covered strawberry or 2), we were about to head back upstairs when Doug found himself standing in a massive puddle in front of the garbage.

At this point, despite my earlier fruitless investigation, I was positive the dishwasher had sprung a leak and was set to stop it, mid-cycle, and resign myself to doing dishes by hand (unheard of!) when Doug found the true culprit.  It seemed the hullabaloo we'd heard earlier was not the dishwasher imploding, but the kitchen sink! The sink had somehow unglued itself from the counter and had fallen clear through the opening and into the cabinet below, taking with it all the dirty dishes that hadn't fit in the dishwasher!  A slow steady stream of water was trickling down into the cabinet, onto the cleaning supplies and out onto the floor.  We mopped up the flood, emptied the cabinet of the soggy, waterlogged cleaning supplies and after determining that the drain pipe from the dishwasher was most likely damaged by the falling sink, piled the remaining dirty dishes in (where else?) the bathtub.

You'd think the destruction would end there. If only we were so lucky.  Before going back upstairs for what we hoped would be the night, we trudged down to the basement for one final check on the puppies and found another puddle in the middle of the basement floor.  Wearied by cleaning the kitchen and already frustrated, it was all too easy to just blame Rigby for peeing on the floor yet again, but closer examination of the puddle revealed no trace of a yellow tinge, so the little one was off the hook (this time).  A glance to the ceiling and we knew the kitchen flood had made it's way down through the floorboards.  Luckily (if there's any luck to be had in this mess), Jonas' bed happened to be directly under the flood stream.  So while the poor puppy essentially had a massive sponge for a bed (don't worry, I threw it away), it was our saving grace in minimizing the mess downstairs.  A quick wipe of the floors and ceiling and we could (finally) call it a night.  Dejected and thoroughly exhausted we returned upstairs, our inner OCD finding solace in the fact that at least now we had a matching set of appliance-less holes in the kitchen.

So, now we wait.  For the granite guy and plumber to come assess the damage, for estimates and repair, for the kitchen to make it's way back to "normal".  It's times like these though, when I know I won't be getting to the dishes immediately, that I am so thankful to have my Wolfgang Puck Stainless Steel Cookware Set - 18pc.  These pans can sit unwashed for days on end (not that I ever do that, of course) and they come clean with no more than a splash of hot water and the swipe of a soapy sponge.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a tub of leftover Valentine's Day dishes to wash! *sigh*

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pulled Pork Ravioli Two Ways - Sage and Toasted Walnut Beurre Noisette or BBQ Demi Glace

To some people holidays are nothing more than a source of stress. Gift buying and get togethers don't mesh with their busy schedules. I am not one of those people. Every holiday, for me, is an opportunity to shower those I love with cards and gifts and more importantly, every holiday is cause for a feast; at least in my house. Growing up in a mostly Italian family we treated births, deaths and any holiday as an occasion to eat. And I mean eat! Come to dinner without your "eating pants" on and you won't make it to the entree course. Seriously.

Holidays take on a slightly different meaning when unemployed, however. Gifts are harder to come by when you're scraping to make ends meet. So when faced with Valentine's Day and nary a gift for Doug in sight (nor funds for said gift in wallet), I figured I'd do what I do best - feed him. Honestly, what says love more than a full belly and a sated smile?

Ok, ok, now I know what you're thinking. "Second recipe and this is what she's throwing at us? Homemade pasta and crazy French terminology? Beurre what? Demi who?" Simmer down, the former is nothing more than a brown butter and the latter a simple sauce thickened and reduced to a glaze...they just sound fancier in French, don't you think?! Admittedly, this recipe is a touch more ambitious, but having said that, I've broken it down into 2 parts for you. If you're not ready to tackle the recipe in it's entirety just yet, simply stop at pulled pork, add a ciabatta bun, some slaw or a salad and a pickle and you're set. For those of you who want to take the plunge and attempt the finished product, I promise you it's so worth it, whichever sauce you choose!

Remember when I told you about our occasional splurges? The beurre noisette is most definitely one of them. So much so, that I'm not even going to calculate the nutritional information for fear of instant cardiac arrest. The BBQ demi glace is slightly less caloric, but still counts as a splurge in my book. This decadent recipe not only makes a fair amount (I used only half of the pulled pork and yielded 30-35 raviolis), it's quite filling, so feel free to halve the entire recipe if there are only a couple of you.

Pulled Pork Ravioli Two Ways
Pulled Pork

1 2lb boneless pork tenderloin

We love pulled pork.  The only complaint I have about it is that it can be really fatty and that just ruins the whole smoky, barbecuey, tender love-filled experience for me.  So, when making my pulled pork, I like to use a leaner cut.  I find that if you cook it "low and slow" in a crock pot it falls apart and shreds nicely.  Best part is, no hunks of fat to contend with!

drizzle of olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
cooking oil spray
3/4 cup barbecue sauce

Cut the pork tenderloin into 1 1/2 - 2 inch cubes and place in a bowl.  In a separate bowl combine cayenne, salt, paprika, onion powder, garlic powder and brown sugar.  Drizzle the pork cubes with olive oil, add the spice rub mixture and toss well to coat.  Really get in there and massage the pork so that all your little cubes get some spice loving.

Spray the inside of your crock pot evenly with cooking oil spray and transfer the seasoned pork cubes to the crock pot.  Set the pork for 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.  While it's cooking, your house will take on the smell of a Memphis barbecue pit; the savory garlic, warm cayenne and paprika and sweet sticky molasses aromas dancing through the air. It's amazing!

Once your pork is done cooking, transfer the cubes to a cutting board using a slotted spoon and shred them using 2 forks.  I find it easier and less messy to transfer the cubes in small batches rather than all at once and add my shredded pork to a separate bowl until I've finished shredding it all.  After you've shredded all the pork, return it to the sauce in the crock pot and give it a good stir.

At this point, you've got the makings of a fantastic meal.  A good bun, some salad or slaw and a pickle (or 4) is all it takes to make me deliriously happy.  If you're zealous enough to try the rest of the recipe, then read on. If not this time, (trust me, you'll be back), bon appetit!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Spicy Asian Glazed Chicken

This dish is one of our absolute favorites! Doug and I could eat it every night and never tire. It is (in my opinion) ridiculously easy to make, handles substitutions very well and is mostly things you'll have on hand in your fridge and pantry. And, the 1 or 2 ingredients you may not have readily available might become staples after just one taste!

When I make this for us, I use a combination of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (usually 3 that I halve) and boneless, skinless chicken thighs (usually 3, halved as well). I'm typically not a dark meat kinda gal, but I find this recipe lends itself very nicely to the darker meats. Doug prefers white meat though, so a breast or 3 always find their way into my pan. Feel free to experiment with other cuts of chicken (skinless legs work really well) and the spicy asian glaze adds a nice flair to boneless pork chops (you'll need to adjust your cooking time based on the thickness of the chops if you go the pork route). I haven't tried this with chicken wings yet, but it's definitely on the menu next time we have a finger food kind of get together!

Spicy Asian Glazed Chicken
Adapted from

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (halved)
3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (halved)
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3-4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger (grated)
4 tsp honey (Agave nectar or sugar can be substituted)
1 tbsp Sriracha
Sriracha is a Thai chili sauce that is readily available at most supermarkets. If you can't find it locally, you can easily find it online. It has an intense flavor and a real kick of heat, so feel free to adjust the amount to taste. You can also substitute another hot sauce but, personally, I like the flavor of the Sriracha best.

1/2-1 tbsp butter (optional)
2 medium scallions, chopped (for garnish)
1 tsp toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)

Calories: 286 Fat: 10g Carbohydrate: 13g Protein: 36g Fiber: 0.5g Serves: 6

In a 4 cup capacity measuring cup or medium bowl, combine chicken broth, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, garlic, ginger, Sriracha and honey. Stir well to combine all ingredients and let stand for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.

Add sesame oil to a large, heavy skillet or saute pan and set over medium high heat (if you've never worked with sesame oil before, it has a deliciously nutty flavor and aroma and a little bit goes a long way). Make sure your pan is nice and hot before adding your meat. A hot pan will assist in getting a nice brown on the chicken as well as help to prevent sticking. Never use a cold pan! Cook the chicken, turning once, until it begins to brown (about 3-4 minutes per side).

Give your liquid mixture a quick stir, pour onto the chicken and cook over medium high heat until it comes to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 15-20 minutes. Remove chicken from the pan and set on a serving platter (if you're using chicken breasts you will want to remove them from the pan at about the 15 minute mark to prevent overcooking).

Bring the liquid back up to a boil and cook until it reduces by about half and starts to thicken (a good point of reference is when the liquid coats the back of a spoon).

While you're reducing your glaze, keep a close eye on it. As the liquid evaporates and the sugars caramelize it can burn easily. Once your glaze is done reducing, add the butter and stir well until it is melted and fully incorporated. The sauce should take on a nice shiny and velvety texture once the butter melts. If you're worried about fat and calories, feel free to omit the butter, but if you want that extra little splurge that will take the sauce from yum to YUM! (for about 100 calories and 11 grams of fat for the entire recipe), go for it! Pour the sauce over your chicken, top with scallions and toasted sesame seeds and enjoy!

I usually serve this dish with a homemade "fried" rice (recipe to follow another me if you'd like it before I get it posted) and a steamed veg (broccoli is a fav). Tonight, I opted for plain white rice; brown rice also works well and if you're carb conscious, just add a veggie of choice and you've got a complete meal.

Bon appetit!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Challenge accepted!

Throughout the years, as I previously stated, I was hard pressed to find a culinary challenge that I wasn't excited to tackle. That said, not all of my endeavors were successful at first blush, but they were nothing a few practice rounds couldn't polish. Fast forward to the summer of 2009 when I was faced with a challenge I wasn't sure I could overcome.

Doug and I had been together for just over a year and I'd been helping him house hunt when I found a house online that I knew we just had to see. I emailed him the details and he arranged for a showing. I was unable to accompany him to the showing but he called me immediately afterwards to tell me about the house. A 4 bedroom, 3 bath that had recently been gutted and renovated; it sounded amazing. With lots of room, a full finished basement for his man cave, a gorgeous kitchen with granite counter tops, tons of cabinet space, an island with a cooktop and a breakfast bar; it was practically perfect!!! Except for the oven...or lack thereof. You see, the cooktop was built into the island and where the oven should have been (beneath the stove) there was a hole. No oven, just an empty hole.  See?

We were assured by the contractor that installing an oven would be an easy job; just purchase a wall oven and slide it right into the hole. So Doug made an offer, it was accepted, the house passed inspection (sans oven) and he was on his way to being a homeowner! Needless to say we were excited; he to be a first time homeowner and me to get my hands on that kitchen!

Months passed in the new house and I was tiring of stove top cooking. I longed to roast, broil and bake, so we began looking for an oven. What we were promised would be easy as pie (Oh how I longed to bake a pie!) became a wild goose chase (Mmmm...braised wild goose with oven roasted root veggies! You can see how oven cooking became a bit of an obsession). Here was our predicament. A standard oven measures roughly: 30w x 24d x 29h. The measurements of our "oven hole": 30w x 24d x 17h. 17 inches in height??? Design fail! Turns out, those measurements would perfectly fit a convection microwave which is so not an oven. After consulting Doug's handyman uncle, carpenter brother and much collaboration with the family, we decided the only option we had was to cut out the 2 small cabinets that were directly under the hole thus giving us 15 more inches of height to play with. New "oven hole" dimensions: 30w x 24d x 29h. Much better...until we realized that we didn't really have 24 inches in depth! The gas line that ran from the cooktop jutted out into the hole for the oven, consuming roughly 2 inches in depth. After a consultation with the local gas and electric company and yet more collaboration with family, our prospects were looking dim. For every corner we thought we turned, a big fat stop sign awaited. Maybe we could just remove the gas line and install an electric cooktop and oven? Nope...the electric line that was run to the island was short on voltage and to increase it would be a BIG (read: expensive) project. Well, what if we cut out the cabinets next to the dishwasher and put the oven there? Certainly there has to be the right kind of electric line if the dishwasher works. Guess again! Apparently dishwashers run off of 110v lines and an oven needs 220v. So we resigned ourselves to being stuck with gas (not a bad resignation in my humble opinion). Replacing everything with electric was out of the question, but with the gas line positioned as it is (honestly, who designed this mess?), we simply could not fit an oven into the hole. We found ourselves faced with replacing the (perfectly good) cooktop as well. What began as removing just 2 small cabinets became cutting out the entire cooktop as well as parts of the granite counter top in the hopes that an integrated "drop-in" range would be the answer. This was fast becoming somewhat of a renovation nightmare...and costly to boot!

Our research and discovery in attempting to find an oven spanned well over a year's time.  Despite my frustration with the lack of an oven, I'm not one to lose my sense of humor when things get tough, so I bought Doug an Easy-Bake oven for Christmas and wrapped it in the oven hole. He came home from work to find his surprise gift and for a split second thought I solved our oven debacle.  A little mean?  Yes. But very funny nonetheless and we enjoyed sharing a Lilliputian chocolate frosted cake one night. 

But seriously, no real oven?  I'd been making the best of cooking on the stove when I decided to put my creativity (and some other kitchen appliances) to good use. This was war!  The electric grill, deep fryer, griddle, crock pot, microwave and teeny tiny toaster oven would become my arsenal. I armed myself and prepared for battle! Emerging victorious, I learned that there are infinite possibilities in the kitchen, even without an oven! A dinner party for friends went off without a hitch, complete with a "baked" pudding cake. Christmas Eve dinner for 8 was a wild success thanks to dueling crock pots!

We've managed to eat well (and for the occasional splurge) for the nearly 2 years we've been in the oven-less house. I hold out hope that one day (soon) we'll have an oven and to be honest, the thought of tackling a Thanksgiving dinner without one is still a little daunting (I know, I know, you can always deep fry a turkey, but nothing recalls childhood memories quite like an oven roasted turkey on Thanksgiving Day).  But until then, I'll continue to sear, braise, grill, saute, poach, stew and stir fry my way to deliciousness!

So whatever your reason for cooking without an oven, I hope you can find some recipes, tricks, tips and techniques here to make your culinary adventure a success...and more importantly, fun!