Friday, February 27, 2009

Book #4: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

This has actually taken me a while to blog about because, honestly, I haven't had a book affect me this way in a long time. I should have known, as an adult who lost a parent at age 7, that reading this book about a parent facing terminal cancer would be emotional for me. I think that after all the press this book had gotten, I had made myself believe that this would be more of an advice book written by someone with a unique perspective on the fragility of life. The book has great advice written with humor and humility, but when it is all said and done, this is a goodbye story from a father to his young children, and I wasn't quite prepared for that. I kept reading it as though my mother was speaking to me and my siblings, so needless to say, I was actually crying (not tearing up, but crying) when I was reading the last chapters. Randy Pausch was a well spoken, highly intelligent man who found a way to speak in a special way to all of us in the special club of children who lost parents too soon. I volunteer to help children like this now, and I hope that others who read it may hear the voices of their own parents, saying the things that were never spoken. This has made it to my "Always Keep" bookshelf. Great, great book.

Oh My God I Made Tofu!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have conquered my fears. Tofu has always been the scariest food out there for me. Even as a foodie, the first time I have ever tried tofu was only a few weeks ago at a Thai restaurant, and even then, I wasn't so sure about it (I only had a bite). So talk about risk when today, after 9 days of houseguests, looking for something simple for just the hubby and me, I decided to run to the store and grab something for dinner and decided I would try to cook tofu in honor of the Catholic part of my "mutt" religious upbringing. Folks, this is the 1st time I have ever eaten an entire meal of tofu, and this was really good. I had some tips from some nest posts I had seen, plus I did as much internet research as I could to get the best texture (I fear weird textures). The results are below and even my husband, who does not fear tofu and so has tried many dishes enjoyed this dish. Aside from the process of getting the tofu really dry, the recipe itself is simple and quick.
Teriyaki Tofu (My recipe, which is more technique than recipe)
1/2 of a 12 oz tub of Extra Firm Tofu, sliced very thin (1/4 inch) and then into diagonal triangles
4 Tbs Teriyaki Sauce (we used a Spicy & Sweet style)
1/2 bag frozen mixed veggies (we used California Style, pick your favorite mix)
1 1/4 cups hot cooked rice
Place tofu triangles between 2 cutting boards layered with towels (lots of paper towels or a couple dish cloths). If you are using lighter cutting boards, add a couple of cans to the top of the boards to weigh everything down into a good press (but not too heavy). Allow to press for about 20 minutes. Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat (no oil or cooking spray). Add tofu and cook until as dry as possible (press down periodically with a spatula to remove as much water as possible). Tofu will be golden (not browned) when done. Allow to cool and then add to a bag with Teriyaki Sauce to marinate for about 30 minutes. Steam veggies until cooked but still firm. Stir fry tofu triangles over medium high heat (no oil) until sauce begins to carmelize on the tofu, about 5-7 minutes. Add remaining marinade (or more from the bottle if desired) and bring to a boil. Add steamed veggies and mix well. Serve over hot rice. Makes 2 servings.

Nutrition Info for Rice & Tofu mixture: Calories: 335.8, Fat: 7.7g (1.2 Sat, 4.2 Poly, 1.6 Mono), Carbs: 49.2g, Fiber: 3.3g

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tour of California 2009

Sorry I haven't updated in a while, we have been entertaining houseguests and (more importantly) enjoying the Amgen Tour of California. As many of you know, we are a cycling family and have been thrilled to have had 4 years now of the world's top professional cyclists in our home state and here in Santa Barbara. This year was more crowded than usual, but with my new camera and very new lens, I was able to take the best pictures I've ever taken of my heroic riders. My sister in law and I always stalk nearly every team bus and by choosing to avoid the Astana bus this year (where Lance and Levi are), we were able to get great pictures of nearly every other rider. I also got great action shots of Lance & Levi during the time trial anyway, so there was no need to be trampled at their bus before hand. Keep in mind, these guys were going ridiculously fast at this point and I took the pictures from decently far away with my zoom:

Lance & Levi
Here are some of my favorite pics of the other random stalked riders:

Jens Voigt and George Hincapie warming up before the TT
The two best sprinters in the world, Mark Cavendish and Tom "The Hottie" Boonen

My sister in law posing with Tyler Hamilton and me with Mark Cavendish
The amazing thing was what a zoo it was out there. When we went to the start in Santa Clarita on Saturday, here is what it looked like:

All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. We're hoping that Lance retires again after this year so that some of the insanity dies down. They estimate that the viewers in Solvang doubled due to Lance's appearance at this race. I'm still glad I got a few pictures of him, though!

Monday, February 16, 2009

2009 Book #3: "Suite Francaise" - Irene Nemirovsky

I like most books, but a pet peeve of mine is when a book ends without a real ending or resolution. I avoided this book for a while just due to the fact that I knew it would not be resolved as the author originally intended. Quite unfortunately, the author was taken by the Germans in the middle of writing this novel in WWII and was killed due to her Jewish heritage. Her daughters were hidden and survived, but throughout their underground existence, carried their mother's last, unfinished manuscript and only just recently published it. The author finished 2 of the 5 planned mini-books that were to make up the final novel, but I didn't mind the abrupt ending too much (although I wish she could have finished what would have been a fabulous tying together of all the pieces). What was great about this novel is that it is historical fiction that was written at the time that history was taking place. The honesty that the author uses to describe a horrible time in France's history was profound to me. It offered a different perspective than the one we are taught in school, truly showing the reality of how people will act when faced with the true horrors of war. This was a bit of a departure from the types of books I usually read, but I was glad I took the chance on this one.

Garlic Roasted Potatoes

I am sorry to admit it, but I have issues with baked potatoes. I went through a 4 year period of not eating them at all because of a bad science experiment in Jr. High that involved potatoes and I just couldn't bear to eat them after that. I got over it soon after leaving my parents home when I realized that they are a really cheap side dish. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to master the baked potato. My husband likes russets and I like white rose potatoes. I can't cook either one to the right consistency to appease both of us (I like a creamy baked potato, he likes a flaky baked potato). I tried this recipe this weekend because I was grilling some steaks and wanted to serve potatoes, but didn't want our potato differences to get in the way of a great meal. I made this up based on our preference for some garlic flavor without being overwhelming, and we don't really like rosemary, although most people would probably use that instead of oregano.

Roasted Garlic Baby Potatoes
1 lb baby potatoes, sliced in 1/2
1 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
Combine oil and garlic in a gallon size ziploc bag. Add potatoes and shake until all pieces are lightly coated in the oil/garlic mixture. Pour onto a shallow baking dish or sheet pan. Season with oregano, salt & pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until just golden. Makes 4 side dish servings.
Nutrition info: Calories: 137.4, Fat: 3.5g (.5 sat, .3 poly, 2.5 mono), Carbs: 24.9g, Fiber: 1.7g

Valentine's Day 2009

For about 2 years of our relationship, my husband and I have done the whole "going out somewhere special" for Valentine's day. The remaining 10 Valentine's Days have been me cooking for him, usually something comparable to what we would order if we were going out. Tonight, I made the same Sauteed Halibut as I did last year because it was just so good. I also made whole wheat couscous with sauteed vegetables, which was new to my husband, and I made it with all red veggies in honor of the holiday. Finally, I found some adorable baby artichokes to serve as my veggie. My parents used to get these for my family in bags when they went up to the Monterey bay area, and we would eat them almost daily. They are so easy to eat in comparison to regular artichokes, and I have been raised to love artichokes since I was very young. Even better, my husband doesn't like the heart part, so I get to eat extra hearts! He is my perfect match! On a separate note, my husband had a seriously horrible day on Valentine's Day (busy at work and a completely broken down car) and almost missed dinner entirely, so it was really neat for him to come home to a relaxing candle-lit dinner and a bottle of wine. That is how we do Valentine's day, it is enjoyable time together with no pressure on either of us to come up with the perfect gift, reservation, etc.

Recipe for Sauteed Halibut is here.

Whole Wheat Couscous with Carmelized Veggies
1 cup Whole Wheat Couscous
1 cup Chicken Stock (or Broth) - Sub Veggie Stock for Vegetarian Meal
3 Large Shallots, sliced into very thin rings
1 Bell Pepper, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 Tbs Chopped fresh Basil or Parsley
2 tsp. Olive Oil
Bring Stock to a boil with Basil mixed in. Meanwhile, heat oil over medium heat. Add Shallots. Cook until carmelized (when they start to get really golden brown). Add Bell Peppers, cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add Tomatoes, cook & stir for 1 minute. If Stock is at a full boil, add Couscous and veggies. Stir, cover and remove from heat. Allow couscous to steam for 5 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve immediately.Makes 6 1 cup servings.
Nutrition Info for 1 serving: Calories: 161.8, Fat: 2.6g (.3 Sat, .2 Poly, 1.3 Mono), Carbs: 28.6g, Fiber: 4.2g

Saucy Creole Chicken

I tried this recipe for Saucy Creole Pork Chops a few weeks ago, but we both knew that it could be improved. I really thought the concept would work a lot better with chicken, which is healthier and has a better texture to work with the sauce. We both enjoyed this version much better and liked that with the chicken, it was a lot lower in fat. I also used more of the cajun seasoning than the recipe calls for. That seasoning is just really good!

Saucy Creole Chicken
(Adapted From Campbell's Kitchen pork recipe)
4 Boneless Chicken Breasts, pounded thin
1 1/2 tsp Creole or Cajun Seasoning (I used about 3)
2 Tbs Olive Oil (separated)
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic gloves, minced
1 can condensed lowfat cream of celery soup
1/3 a cup of water1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes (I used petite diced)

Season Chicken breast with Cajun seasoning. Saute in 1 Tbs oil over medium high heat until cooked through. Remove from pan and keep warm. Add remaining Tbs oil and saute onion and garlic for about 1 minute. Add tomatoes, soup, water and parsley and stir well to combine. Place chicken breasts back in sauce, cover and simmer until warm & bubbly, about 5 minutes.Makes 4 servings

Nutrition Info: Calories: 311.2, Fat: 10.3g (2.1 Sat, 1.4 Poly, 5.8 Mono), Carbs: 12g, Fiber: .9

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Giada's Chicken & Pastina

This is the second time I've cooked this dish. We enjoyed it the first time around, but this time, my husband said "This doesn't even compare it is so much better, you shouldn't even talk about the first time this was made." I only made a couple of changes, and most of them were to try and lighten up the dish, actually, but something about this just really came together this time. I think part of it was using the smallest high quality pasta I could find (De Cecco's Farfalline, so cute!), which really absorbed the sauce much better than the small shells I used the first time. Giada's recipe can be found here. My changes are that I use two 6 oz chicken breasts instead of just a 1/2 cup, I use basil instead of parsley and I add about a 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes to make the flavor a little more grown up. My "healthy" changes this time around were using low fat mozzerella cheese (okay in this application because it is mixed in and not melted on top), using 1 Tbs of olive oil instead of two, spraying the pan with Pam instead of buttering, and using a Tbs of "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" stick instead of butter to brown the top.
Nutrition Info with changes listed above: Calories: 377, Fat: 13.1g (4.8 Sat, 1.1 Poly, 4.1 Mono), Carbs: 29.6g, Fiber: 2.1g

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Chiles Rellenos Casserole

Since this was going to be one of the only nights I was going to have time to cook something fun this week (we’ve had a lot going on), I thought I would take on Chiles Rellenos Casserole from my Cooking Light cookbook. Well, my husband came home from his bike ride just as I was thinking about getting started, and wanted to take a walk to tell me all about his fun rides today. Since I love going for walks and he really did have a good day of riding, I accepted. However, this meal does take a really long time to make! We didn’t eat until after 8:00. I can’t post the recipe because Cooking Light likes to hunt down bloggers and frighten them for “stealing recipes.” I followed the linked recipe pretty closely, but I used an extra can of chiles (which meant using slightly less batter at the end), I used black refried beans and I used ground turkey instead of ground chicken. The results were fantastic, I loved the additional chiles! The batter creates a nice soufflĂ© texture around the turkey/beans/chiles filling. This also tastes really good as leftovers, which is good, because I’m getting a little tired of my standard lunch fare this week and I’m ready for leftovers for lunch!

Nutrition Info: Calories: 335, Fat: 9g (4.5 Sat, 1.6 Poly, 2.7 Mono), Carbs: 37.7g, Fiber: 5.5g

Balsamic Honey Glazed Pork Chops

Sorry for the lack of posts lately, we have been pretty busy with nights out and gym nights that left me with nothing interesting to post (although I must say, Trader Joe’s has great quick meals in the freezer section!). Now, on to today’s recipe, which is really from Saturday night. I found this recipe on a great blog, EllySaysOpa. She took the recipe for Giada de Laurentiis’ Balsamic Glazed Chicken and transferred the idea to pork. I have to agree with Elly that this recipe is way better with the pork instead of the chicken (although I have never had the chicken, I just KNOW). A couple of things that I did differently (read: wrong): I didn’t have much time to marinade the pork, so it only got an hour’s worth of flavor instead of the 3-4 recommended, and I also overcooked the pork a bit, which I always do for a new pork recipe due to my hubby’s fear of all things pork. Now that the recipe has passed his inspection with flying colors, I look forward to cooking this again to the proper specs. It isn't the healthiest, but keep in mind that the nutrition info. is for 1/2 the sauce per person, which is kind of overkill.

I'm not going to repost the recipe, since I followed it to a tee, but here is what mine looked like:

Nutrition Info for Pork Chops and 1/2 sauce (you don't really need that much sauce): Calories: 513, Fat: 18.1g (Sat: 4.3, Poly: 3.3, Mono: 9.1), Carbs: 67.7g, Fiber: .1g

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Restaurant Review: Lucky's SB

Every once and a while, I think I will be throwing in pictures and comments from restaurants. Yesterday was my husband's birthday, and we went to Lucky's here in Santa Barbara (Montecito, the glamorous celebrity area of town, to be exact). This was a very special treat and pretty much my entire birthday gift for my husband. We don't treat ourselves like this very often. I wish I had more pics of the actual food, but we inhaled most of it. Our meals started with an Ahi Tuna Tartar appetizer which reminded me of Hawaii (I want to go back!). Our main entrees were NY Strip steak for each of us with clarified butter on the side for the hubby and peppercorn cream sauce on the side for me (we pretty much didn't touch the sauces, the steaks are just that good). Since the menu was a la carte, we chose our own sides, and we got the creamed corn (sounds like amatuer hour, but probably my favorite part of the meal) and onion strings (cooked in a way that they actually seem appropriate for such a high caliber restaurant). Much thanks to my friend & coworker who steered us in the right direction on the sides. You know who you are, and girl, you know your fine dining! They surprised us at the end with a fancy sundae served in a martini glass, which is unfortunately, the only real chance I got at taking pictures. We just aren't that patient when it comes to food. I did get a picture of one lone corn kernel that escaped my wrath (I ate every other kernel!) and we had the server take our picture, too. My husband loved his birthday, and I hope it helps him make it through the next couple of busy weeks we have ahead of us!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Baked Breaded Chicken

This is a staple for us. It is like Shake-N-Bake, but it is more homemade and it is probably my favorite way to have chicken. I especially like that I can customize the underlying flavors to my husband's likings (lemon pepper) and my own (garlic powder). It is a great trick I learned from Paula Dean that if you season the chicken before egging and breading, it locks in the flavor.

Breaded Baked Chicken
4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 4-6 oz each
1 cup bread crumbs
1 egg
Preferred seasoning (try cajun seasoning, garlic pepper, lemon pepper, etc.)
cooking spray
Season chicken breasts with preferred seasoning. Dip in egg and then in bread crumbs and place in a shallow baking pan, coated with cooking spray (or "Misto'd" with olive oil). Bake uncovered at 350 for 25 minutes. Remove from oven and spray top of chicken with additional spray. Return to oven for 5-10 more minutes or until chicken is crispy and golden.
Nutrition Info for one breast: Calories: 303.1, Fat: 4.6g (.9 Sat, .6 Poly, .9 Mono), Carbs: 24.2g, Fiber: 1.6g

Grilled Glazed Asparagus

Asparagus has always been one of my favorite vegetables. I even liked the canned stuff as a kid (although that was back in the day when any vegetable dipped in butter or mayo tasted awesome). As an adult, I love it when asparagus is featured as a side dish at a fancy restaurant, whether steamed, roasted or (especially) grilled. As I've tried making fancier dinners at home, I've perfected my own version of grilled asparagus that I love as much as the restaurant version. This is completely my own, based on flavors that I enjoy. Marinating this kind of vegetable may seem a little weird, but the "treetops" absorb the liquid nicely, allowing for a little liquid to penetrate the entire stalk with flavor. I recommend grilling until each stalk has a little give, but still keeps its shape when held horizontally (see picture).

Grilled Glazed Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus
5 Tbs Soy Sauce
1 Tbs Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tbs Honey
1 tsp sesame oil
Combine all ingredients except asparagus in ziploc bag and mix with fingers until honey is well blended. Add Asparagus and allow to marinate for about 15-20 minutes. Grill on medium high heat or until asparagus starts to brown and reaches the appropriate tenderness. Makes 4 servings.
Nutrition Info. for 1 serving: Calories: 44.1, Fat: 1.3g (.2 Sat, .3 Poly, .6 Mono), Carbs: 6.4g, Fiber: 1.4g

Monday, February 2, 2009

American Chop Suey Revamp

So there was a recipe from my childhood that I enjoyed that is known in some families as "American Chop Suey" and known in others as "Goulash." While the American Chop Suey served in my family was quite enjoyable when I was little, two things have happened that have ruined the original for me. #1 was just the broadening of my taste buds (original recipe called for browned hamburger meat, a can of tomato sauce, cooked macaroni and dried parsley). #2 was a nanny we had that couldn't cook to save her life and decided that browned hamburger and a can of tomato sauce could qualify for dinner (yes, that's right, no pasta needed, folks). So Gross! American Chop Suey in its original family format now reminds me of that dog-food concoction and I was determined to revamp it tonight to make it more palatable for grown ups and to wipe the negative connotation from my mind. Oddly enough, my changes ended up making American Chop Suey 2.0 into something that resembles this recipe on my blog. Either way, we enjoyed it and it was similar enough to remind me of childhood comfort food without being gross.

American Chop Suey 2.0

2 cups small shaped whole wheat pasta cooked to package directions & drained
2 tsp olive oil, divided
1/2 lb Extra Lean Ground Turkey Breast
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 medium celery stalks, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, diced
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp fresh chopped basil
Salt & Pepper to taste

Cook all veggies in 1 tsp of oil in a large non-stick skillet. I recommend cooking celery & onion for a few minutes first and then adding the garlic & peppers. Remove from pan, add remaining tsp oil and saute turkey until no longer pink. Return veggie mixture to pan, top with canned tomatoes and crushed red pepper, stir well, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. Pour sauce over pasta and toss to combine. Top with fresh basil just before serving. Makes 4 large one dish servings.
Nutrition info for 1 serving: 199.3 Calories, Fat: 3.6g (.7 Sat, .4 Poly, 1.7 Mono), Carbs: 26.1g, Fiber: 3.8g

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Pressure Cooker Pork Tacos

This is my husband's favorite meal. We don't have it very often because it takes a long time to make (even with the pressure cooker), it isn't exactly healthy, and we tend to eat a lot of it because we love it so much. My husband says "I don't care how unhealthy they are, these are damn good!" The recipe is from my in-laws, and I wasn't an official member of the family until I could not only make these well, but also chow down on many, many tacos. I am proud to say that I have now achieved the status of "Mom-Quality" tacos.

Pressure Cooker Pork Tacos
Step 1 Ingredients:
2 lbs Pork Chops, fat removed & diced into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water

Place above ingredients in pressure cooker. Once pressure regulator is gently rocking, cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow pressure to release of its own accord. Remove pressure cooker lid and shred pork until it looks like this:

Step 2 Ingredients:
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 - 3/4 tsp of ground red pepper (cayenne)

Add Step 2 ingredients and mix well. Stir well and allow to simmer on medium low for about an hour or until nearly all the liquid is absorbed into the meat. Serve with soft shelled tortillas and usual taco toppings (traditional for my inlaws include shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes, but extended friends & family like cheese and sour cream). Makes about 6 servings of 2 tacos (but good luck stopping at 2!).
Nutrition Information for pork taco filling with no tortillas or toppings: Calories: 293.5, Fat: 16.5g (5.7 Sat, 1.8 Poly, 7.3 Mono), Carbs: 3.1g, Fiber: .7g

Irresistible Guacamole

Everybody loves guacamole on Super Bowl Sunday, and I am no different. I even got the best batch of avocados ever for free from the family I mentor for, who has a tree in their backyard. Sure beats the overpriced, overpinched and usually unripe avocados I’m usually stuck with! I had one small problem: We are a biking family first, and then a football family. Today was the first bike race of the year, and a great day for it. So I decided to take a huge batch of guacamole to the day of races and offer it up to the racers and their families. I was a little worried that these extreme athletes would pass up my high fat treat, but I talked it up big, and once they took a bite, they couldn’t resist more. It was a great batch, using almost 5 avocados, and we really didn’t have much left to bring back by the time we were actually watching the Super bowl (we made it in time for the end of the first quarter). The recipe used is the winning recipe from a “Guac-Off” party held by the aid & government workers in New Orleans during the months immediately after Katrina (they worked their butts off during the day, but it was pretty boring at night). My best friend hosted that party and kindly shared the recipe with me and I have been using it ever since.

Irresistible Guacamole
4 Ripe Avocados (don’t mash them up yet!)
¼ large onion, very finely diced
1 large Serrano chile, minced very fine (careful with this, it will burn you)
½ tsp Kosher salt
2 Tbs Cilantro (optional)
Juice of 1 Lime
1 clove of garlic, minced
Slice Avocados in half, remove pit and scoop insides into a large bowl in large pieces. Squeeze lime juice over avocado and place one pit into bowl to avoid browning. Place onion, Serrano, Cilantro and salt in Mortar & Pestle and grind until juicy and mostly one consistency (When this is mixed into the guac, no one should be able to tell what pieces are what). This could probably be done in a food processor, but Mortar & Pestle really brings out the flavors. Here’s what mine looked like:

Add smushed mixture to avocados. Add minced garlic and mix very well WITH YOUR KNIFE, not a fork or spoon. There should be recognizable pieces of avocado in the mixture. It seemed to provide lots of good energy for the bike racers (my guys are Team Platinum, in white):

Nutrition info for 1/8 of mixture: Calories: 149.9, Fat: 13.4g (1.8 Sat, 1.6 Poly, 8.5 Mono), Carbs: 8.9g Fiber: 6.1g