5 Reasons Why I Haven’t Blogged in 5 Days

…inspired by this post.

  1. I took Friday off from work. No real reason, other than the obvious fact that vacation days and three-day weekends are awesome. Also, I didn’t use enough vacation days this year and they will all disappear at the end of December… so, like everyone else at work, I’m rushing to use them all up!

    I slept in, went for a bike ride downtown, ate here, shopped here, and listened to Christian evangelists yell at us while I enjoyed my grilled cheese sandwich here.

    I took a glorious nap when I got home!

  2. I was busy busy busy giving tours in the morning on Saturday. Needless to say, after 5 hours on my feet I took another glorious nap! But, before I did, I ate here… yes, for both breakfast and lunch!
  3. I packed. A lot.

    More about this in a future post!

  4. Sunday = football… preceded by a little bit of shopping. I’ve tried drafting blog posts while watching my beloved Giants, but I can’t focus and/or come close to spilling adult beverages on my laptop. Not safe at all!
  5. We have no food. Well, obviously that’s not entirely true, but we don’t have much going on in the kitchen lately. The boy and I are planning on going grocery shopping today so maybe – just maybe – we’ll be able to eat something that didn’t come from a box or from the freezer.

    Then again, not everything boxed and bagged is all that bad…

Wannabe Vegan Pho
Makes one serving.

  • 3 oz firm tofu (I used Trader Joe’s Sprouted Tofu), drained and patted dry
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Salt
  • Non-stick, 100% natural cooking spray
  • 1 oz soba noodles (rice noodles can be substituted)
  • 1 cup Pacific Natural Foods Vegetarian Pho Base
  • 1 cup water
  • Toppings of your choice: traditionally cilantro, fish sauce, sriracha, bean sprouts, etc.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Cut tofu into 2″x1″x1/4″ rectangles and place the pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spray the top of the tofu pieces with non-stick spray and sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper on top. Rub into each piece, place the sheet into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through. Turn off the oven and let the tofu sit for another 5 minutes inside the oven.

In a small pot, heat water and pho base until it boils. Add noodles and lower heat to medium-low. Let cook for 3 minutes or until the noodles are done. Add the tofu pieces and let simmer for 2 minutes.

Serve in a bowl topped with whatever you’d like! All I had on hand at the time was sriracha and dried cilantro… but it was still delicious!

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Hamburger Helper… All Grown Up!

For decades, Hamburger Helper has been one of my favorite dinners. We didn’t eat it much in our home when I was a kid, but on those days when mom didn’t want to cook and dad didn’t want to spend money on Chinese or pizza, we’d bust out a box of Hamburger Helper, defrost a pound of ground beef from the freezer, and soon enough we’d be enjoying a high-sodium, saturated fat laden, cheesy, hot, abso-freaking-lutely delectable dinner.

As recent as college (wow, has it already been 3 and a half years since I graduated??) I would make and enjoy Hamburger Helper on my own terms… which was much more frequently than when I was a kid! My boyfriend and I would easily polish off a box of the stuff between the two of us. And, yes, each box has 5 servings… at about 330 Calories each… you do the math!

Now that I’m a bit less naive, I understand that this stuff isn’t exactly the best thing for you. Although wisdom comes with age, a change in certain tastes does not! I still long for that yummy dinner that I adored so much way back when! Well, it’s time to make my Hamburger Helper grow up.

I’ve been a fan of Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo for a long time. Though salty, a little goes a long way and its texture and flavor are absolutely identical to real chorizo. I knew this would be better than plain seitan for this dish because of the spice and flavor it adds to everything it is with.

As far as the cheese sauce, I needn’t look any further than The Kind Diet‘s vegan “cheez” sauce. I use this recipe so often that I am almost to the point of needing to buy nutritional yeast in bulk! I don’t follow her recipe exactly, but the ingredients are pretty much the same.

As far as the pasta goes, I could’ve gone with macaroni… but where’s the fun in that? We happened to have fusilli pasta (little bowties) on hand and figured this would be a great, grown-up alternative to the plain ol’ macaroni we’re all familiar with.

“Meat”? Check. “Cheez” sauce? Check. Pasta? Check.

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Vegan Non-Burger Helper
Makes 3 servings.

  • 3 cups fusilli pasta (or macaroni)
  • 1/2 Trader Joe’s Soy Chorizo
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened soy milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1 tbsp tamari (or regular soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp Earth Balance (or other vegan margarine)

Prepare pasta according to directions. While pasta is boiling, heat Earth Balance in a large pan on medium-high heat until melted. Add minced garlic and cook until garlic is fragrant and turns golden, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Add all remaining ingredients except pasta, whisking until combined and hot. If the sauce is too thick or begins to dry up, add a bit more soy milk one tablespoon at a time; if it is too thin, add more nutritional yeast 1-2 teaspoons at a time. Lower heat to medium-low and add pasta. Stir until pasta is completely coated in the sauce. Serve hot.

Note: If you plan on storing this and reheating it later on, be sure to add at least 2 tbsp of milk per serving when reheating, because the sauce will dry up while reheating if you don’t!

To say that this was a trip down memory lane was an understatement. I’ll never have to buy another box of Hamburger Helper again!

Sweet Potato Trio: Part II

So, the other day I had a minor fail. It was an edible creation, but that baby food consistency of what I hoped would be soup made it a little unappealing.

Time for a renaissance.

The reason why I love cooking more than baking is that when you cook, even if you mess up you can fix it (most of the time). A baking disaster is almost impossible to fix, but as you will see below, with a little bit of creativity, you can turn a minor cooking faux pas into a delicious creation (or two)!

Curried Sweet Potato & Zucchini Stew
Makes approximately 4 servings.

  • 3 cups of leftover curried sweet potato stew *
  • 2 cups of vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 zucchini, cut into cubes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 tsp dried cilantro

In a large saucepan, brown the garlic in sesame oil on medium-high heat until fragrant and barely golden brown. Add cubed zucchini and cook until zucchini begins to soften and get browned on some sides.

Add sweet potato, vegetable broth, and cilantro stirring until completely combined. Continue to stir until soup begins to boil, then lower heat to medium-low, cover, and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve hot.

* NOTE: You can use store-bought pureed sweet potatoes or plain sweet potatoes that you’ve processed yourself. If so, add 1.5 tbsp of yellow curry powder, 2 tsp of smoked paprika, a good tablespoon of garlic powder, and a tablespoon of cumin. Follow the rest of the directions as written.

“Hollah”!

One of my favorite things about being Jewish is the food. (Hell, food is one of my favorite things about life in general!)

Every holiday has its own delicious foods: Passover is all about charoset; Chanukah has latkes; and Rosh Hashanah has challah.

Rosh Hashanah is the kick-off to the Jewish new year. The foods you eat to celebrate usually involve sweetness and roundness. The sweet foods consumed include honey and apples (usually together) and are supposed to represent “ringing in a sweet new year”. Round foods (apples, and round-shaped challah) are symbolic of how cyclical time is.

I’m not much of a bread-baker, as it tends to take a lot of time. Mixing, kneading, rising, kneading, rising again, kneading, shaping, baking… waiting… cooling… waiting…! I’m too much of a lover of instant gratification for me to do this all the time! But, I suck it up when Rosh Hashanah rolls around!

For those who are like me, you may be nervous to try baking bread for a number of reasons, but believe me when I say that this recipe is idiot-proof! All you have to do is make sure you have all the ingredients and that you have about 3 hours to spare.

Challah, like everything else around this time, is commonly eaten with honey, but it’s delicious by itself, too. Also, challah makes the best french toast. Seriously.

You’ll love challah, I promise!

Beyond Ramen and Udon: Why Soba is King

I’m a proud, proud carb-a-holic. I have no problem having a piece (or two…) of garlic bread alongside macaroni and cheese. I am guilty of eating ice cream for dinner. I’ll eat oatmeal with a super-sweet soy pumpkin spice latte without being fazed. Have no fear! I usually eat a more balanced diet than this, but I also listen to my body (which seems to be desiring grains at the moment) so if carbs is what I want, carbs is what I’ll have. As a back-up, I do have a multivitamin every day. *flexes wannabe muscles*

Our pantry is full of grains in many forms: oats (rolled and steel-cut), rice (basmati, brown, and arborio), cereal grains (amaranth, quinoa, and bulgar wheat), and pasta (the common enriched Italian-style varieties, udon, ramen, soba, and rice noodles). Each has its own purpose, but one is the latest discovery of mine and now reigns supreme in my carb-cooking kitchen: soba.

Soba is a Japanese noodle that is unlike any other. It’s thin and elegant, but sturdy enough that it won’t flop around and fall apart like ramen (another thin noodle) does. Like other Japanese noodles, soba cooks in very little time and requires precisely two neurons to prepare.

I mean… no measuring water? Sweet. I’ve never been one to measure 6 cups of water to boil for macaroni: I just eyeball it. The first step in the soba instructions is to put it into “plenty of [boiling] water”. Awesomely easy, no?

Soba is fabulously vegan and packed full of nutrients because it’s made with the superfood buckwheat. Yes, it’s high in sodium, so I wouldn’t make this an everyday food item, but I think the fiber, iron, and protein it contains (as well as the cholesterol and sugar it doesn’t) outweighs the 40% of your daily intake of sodium!

If this didn’t prove my point, just look at the stuff!

Tell me it’s not packaged in the cutest way ever? (I rarely use the word “cute” but I think this is an occasion that warrants it.) It has a little sash around each bundle so, unlike spaghetti, a serving size is really easy to measure. Yeah, I bet different brands of noodles have different packaging, but I officially love this one!

Previously, I’ve simply tossed freshly-cooked soba noodles in tamari soy sauce, crushed red pepper, and shredded zucchini. This time around, I wanted to do something different.

Orange-Scented Soba and Kale Salad
Makes two generous portions, or four side-dish-sized servings.

  • 4 cups kale, chopped into very thin shreds (about 3-4 large leaves)
  • 120 grams soba noodles (one bundle, if using JFC brand)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce (or regular soy sauce if you don’t have tamari on hand)
  • 2 tbsp orange juice
  • 1 tsp dried cilantro (use fresh if you have it available to you)
  • 1/2 tsp sriracha hot sauce (optional if you don’t like heat)
  • a couple of dashes of fresh-cracked black pepper

Cook the soba according to directions. Strain, then rinse in cold water until noodles are completely cool. Set aside.

In a medium glass bowl, whisk together all ingredients except soba and kale. When combined, add kale and toss until coated. Add soba noodles and toss again until all ingredients are evenly distributed. (Don’t be scared to use your hands!)

Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

If I had other veggies in my fridge, I would have used them! Maybe next time I’ll shred carrots, zucchini, and summer squash and include these in the recipe. Regardless, I plan on eating this for lunch the next few days, topping it with some tofu and/or kimchee, or maybe I’ll be weird and add some falafel!

But leaving it just as-is would be fine, too. Nom.

Five of My Favorite Family Dinners

I’ve always, always been a fan of family dinners, so I’ve been fully supportive of the new-found initiative by many organizations and agencies promoting such a thing. When I heard about Blog for Family Dinner, I knew I had to write a post about this!

In my world, current and past, family dinners are a given; in fact, I never really thought of not having dinner with my parents at the kitchen table every night! Every afternoon I would come home from school and hit the books to get my homework done asap. (I’m a dork, so sue me!) Up until 7th or 8th grade, my mom stayed at home, so she’d be brainstorming and preparing dinner before I even got home. When I got older, however, she would come home from work at least an hour after me, so dinner planning was a bit less… planned. Regardless, 90% of the time we’d have a home-cooked meal. (The other 10% would be those nights where we’re both not in the mood, and simply ask my dad to pick something up for us on his way home!)

Age two -ish, eating something while at the beach with my parents.

My mom would start cooking dinner when my dad called on the beginning of his drive home which, thanks to the Long Island Expressway rush-hour, would take about an hour or so. My mom would do the majority of the cooking, but I was always eager to help. Usually my job was to make the salad and set the table, and my dad usually cleaned up the table while my mom put the dishes in the dishwasher. On the days where we wouldn’t cook, my dad would usually stop at this great Italian restaurant and get us linguine and clam sauce or pizza, or get Chinese take-out. No matter if it was cooked in our kitchen or not, we still ate it on our plates, using real silverware (or our chopsticks set), and at our table. My dad would come home at around 6:30-7:00pm, change out of his suit and into lounge-wear, and we’d sit at the table for dinner.

We’d talk about our day: mom about work (when she was employed) and/or the daily neurotic, one-sided, gossipy phone call with her mother or sister (when she stayed at home); dad about business-y sort of stuff that usually went over my head; and me about school (well, whatever my parents could drag out of me, as I wasn’t much of a talker). We did have a TV in our kitchen (*gasp!* sacrilege!) but we’d only have one of three things on, and at a low enough volume that we could still talk during commercials: Jeopardy!, the news, or 60 Minutes. Looking back, I think my parents wanted me to stay up-to-date on what was going on in the world. (Thanks, mom! Thanks, dad!)

When trying to come up with how to express my feelings about family dinners, I didn’t want to spit out the same stuff that everyone knows and reads about: eating together decreases children’s risks of obesity and getting into trouble, kids get better grades, the family unit is more stable, blah blah blah. That’s all good and all very valid, but what I want to share with you is simple: the memories. Having great memories of family dinners is why I know eating at a dinner table will without a doubt be a part of my future family’s routine. So, without further ado, here are my five favorite family dinner memories:

  1. The Night the Ladies Put Dad in His Place — I don’t remember this, but this story has been told so many times by my mother that I feel like I do! Just for a bit of back-story, I’m my mother’s only child but my dad had two children with his first wife: my half-brother and my half-sister, 18 and 16 years older than me, respectively. I was probably two years old and we were living in our “old house”. We were eating dinner at our wood-panel covered particle board dinner table in our classic 80s kitchen (avocado green dishwasher, corn husk yellow refrigerator, orange and yellow linoleum tiles). I was innocently eating dinner when my dad, assuming I had finished, started eating off of my plate. Well, I immediately start bawling and say, “Da-da-daddy… *sniffle*… I’m not done!!!” My mother, a professional at the sport of guilt-tripping, says, “Ed! You’re stealing off of your daughter’s plate!” You’d think he’d know I had the same food-loving attitude as my older siblings! How dare he!
  2. The Night I Learned About “Manitas” — My mom is 100% Puerto Rican and is the main reason why I love trying new things. Most of my experiences trying different Puerto Rican dishes growing up resulted in a love for them: pasteles, platanos, acapurria, yuca root, mofongo, avocado, mango, etc. But, I don’t love them all! One night my mom was preparing something for dinner that she said I should try, but forewarned me that I may not like it. She called it “manitas”, which means “little hands” in Spanish. I looked in the pot she had on the stove and saw what looked like little white, lumpy cubes simmering in broth. She saw the look of confusion on my face and told me, “They’re pig knuckles… well, pig feet.” Seeing me practically turn green, my lovely mother told me that I could call my dad and ask him to pick up a pizza for the two of us instead. She ate the “pig knuckles” over white rice while my dad and I held our noses, averted our eyes from what she was doing, and happily ate our delicious New York pizza.
  3. The Many Nights I Brushed Up on Spanish — As I already mentioned, my main supper-time job was to make salad and set the table. My mother always took it upon herself to make this educational: sometimes she would teach me to properly cut certain vegetables; sometimes she’d teach me a new salad dressing to make from scratch; and, many times she’d take the time to teach me new words in Spanish. Being Puerto Rican, my mother is fluent in both Spanish and English. Figuring it would be an easy A for me, I took Spanish in junior high school and high school (4 years total, in addition to one semester of it in college). Indeed, it was an easy A for me, and my mom is definitely a major reason for that. I learned “cucharra” (spoon), “servilleta” (napkin), and “arroz” (rice), to name just a few, far earlier than the curriculum in school would have me learn them. In fact, I basically knew nouns and verbs taught as far as my 2nd year in Spanish as early as elementary school! Of course, my father never picked up on the language like I did. Even after 27 years of marriage, my father knows nothing more than “garbanzo beans” and a few dirty words in Spanish!
  4. The Night I Ruled the Kitchen — For those of you who have always had siblings, hear this: as an only child, you really really have to learn to entertain yourself. This was very true for me, given that nearly all of my memories at home were of myself and my parents (my brother was a college freshman when I was born, and my sister left for college when I was a year and a half old). I’ve always loved food, so with an abundance of free time, imagination, and cookbooks at my disposal, it’s not surprising that I found many ways to keep myself occupied in the kitchen, far beyond my Easy Bake Oven! If memory serves me correct, it was my parents’ anniversary and I was probably no older than 10 or 11 years old. It was the weekend and I was hunting for something to do. I opened up my mom’s Betty Crocker Cookbook and desperately searched for a recipe with which to surprise my parents. I found something that I knew I loved at restaurants and for which we had the ingredients on hand: quiche lorraine. Not only did I make my first pie crust from scratch (something I honestly can’t do today), but my quiche came out great. I set our dining room table (not just our kitchen table… this was a special event, after all!), made a salad, poured glasses of Pepsi, and set my quiche on the table for my parents’ surprise. To this day, they still talk about “how Jessie made us a quiche when she was little”. My mom especially loves telling everyone that I barricaded the entrances to our kitchen with chairs and constantly proclaimed, “Don’t come in here! And I promise I’ll clean up everything!”
  5. The Night I Finally Got Final Jeopardy Right — I mentioned earlier that one of the only things we’d put on TV during dinner was Jeopardy! Well, when you haven’t even graduated high school yet, it’s hard to even understand the questions (or are they the answers??), nonetheless answer them. Well, one night we’re watching our show and my parents keep answering questions while I spat out responses that are very obviously incorrect. I think I was 14 or 15 at the time, so unless it pertained to basic trigonometry, I wasn’t going to gain any imaginary Jeopardy money anytime soon! Final Jeopardy came up, which I’d never even considered to be answer-able for me. I don’t remember the question (answer??) but I blurted out, “Habitat for Humanity”… and I was right! I’ll always remember the first correct answer I had to Final Jeopardy, and I’d like to think that I got an extra dessert that night.

When I think about the families that don’t have regular dinners together, I’m honestly in disbelief. It is such a norm in my life that an alternative to eating dinner with my parents every night just never entered my mind until probably when my siblings had kids, or when I met my boyfriend. I’m pretty confident my brother has dinner at a table with his family, and I’m sort of sure my sister does, too. My boyfriend’s family didn’t have dinner in the same way as my family did (kids ate different meals than the parents, and they eat much later than I do – around 8:30-9:00pm) and as a result my boyfriend and his younger brother are two of the pickiest eaters you’ll ever meet. (Don’t get me wrong – I love my boyfriend’s parents! They’re some of the best cooks ever, and they themselves eat a wide variety of yummy food! Unfortunately their kids fell far from the proverbial tree.)

My boyfriend and I both agree that eating together as a family will be something we will do with our kids, and he admits he doesn’t want our offspring to have his eating habits. (I guess he knows being a food flirt is a good thing!) I only hope that our kids have some crazy memories about family dinners just like I’ve had!

I hope they learn how to say “pepper” in Spanish (“pimienta”) and hand me three napkins when I tell them, “Dame tres servilletas, por favor!”

I hope they surprise us with a home-cooked meal of their own. (Dear future offspring: I still love quiche! Love, Mommy)

I hope they forgive me when I cook something they think stinks to high heaven and won’t touch with a 10-foot stick. (Don’t worry! Daddy will buy you some New York pizza instead!)

I hope I have the chance to bake them congratulatory cookies when they get a game show question correct for the first time.

Dinner is more than just food: it’s time spent taking in what will soon be distant memories!