In the last few years, through a dramatic health-related life event, I have (a)become a little more acutely grateful of being alive at all, and (b)felt a more urgent need to put in the time investments now to ensure a longer and healthier life. So in that vein, after the unhappy consequences of Reduced Sugar Challenge October, November is Sustained Exercise Month, with a weekly minimum goal of 150 minutes of exercise activity (also smaller portion month, but that’s a different post). It feels like an uphill battle with the increasingly dreary overcast weather outside and waning hours of daylight, but also a necessary one to get a jump on holiday eat-o-ramas (not to mention snowboarding season).
I prefer tricking myself into exercise, like getting outside running before you are awake, so you have no choice but to continue running, or accidentally agreeing to long hikes with friends when you imagined a 2-mile flat path. Happily, this weekend a good friend of mine agreed to try out Cranksgiving Seattle 2013, a charity bike scavenger hunt that donates to the Rainier Valley Food Bank. So I got to fulfill my remaining 30+ minutes (bike commuted to and from work once, and yes, I counted the 40 minutes of raking too) while getting some sun, and helping some other folks who need it more get fed.
It was a pretty nice day for a ride, a little chilly but sunny. I like to tell myself that trying new routes (a.k.a. getting really lost) helps exercise your brain cells to ward off Alzheimer’s later too. The gathering place was Gasworks Park, and it was darn scenic:
My co-worker/friend Jillian was nice enough to be my last-minute date to a charity auction dinner. She was still game when it turned out the power was out in the neighborhood, and we had to bumble our way to the dining hall entrance in the dark. I did not dupe myself (for a good cause) into any 3-day weekend getaway rentals during the live auction, thanks to the other bidders a generation or two older than me, but I did score a basket full of cooking goodies!
Included among them was a garlic chopper, which I was very very excited about, as I already have one, but it has broken slightly, and it is oh so fun to use. Note: I am not being paid at all by the manufacturers to laud this product (findable on Amazon as a “Chef’n Garlic Zoom Rolling Garlic Chopper”). My socially adept dining companion a demo here, so here it is:
Step 1: Peel garlic cloves. Step 2: Deposit in top hatch and close hatch. Step 3: Roll garlic chopper back and forth so the blades spin and chop the garlic. Step 4: Open entire top half of chopper and remove garlic. Ta da!
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars Likelihood of Repeat: 100%
Certainly, you could mince garlic without this, but it’s quite the entertaining time saver if you have more than a couple cloves to chop. The same size pieces (or smaller) could be achieved by slicing one way while leaving the stem of a clove attached, then turning 90 degrees, slicing the other, and then chopping all the pieces (like this except not slicing all the way through, so it’s easier to hold on to the whole piece together before you mince it all pieces with the final step). That method works even better for onions.
There are some days when I miss spaghetti, as my household doesn’t eat much pasta at home any more (well, even if I made it, the other half would likely abstain). If it happens to be a chilly Fall day when I’m plotting a meal to make, my mind goes to spaghetti squash. I was only introduced to this intriguing squash variety a couple years ago, when to help while away a lengthy chemo session, a steadfast childhood friend stopped by with some, miraculously procuring something that appeared both vegetable and pasta-like! How novel! I could feel my brain stretching as I ate it…
That brings us to today’s recipe, an amalgam of internet advice and my squash baking experiences. Note: I’ve starred a couple options that I consider more fattening (and therefore tasty).
(1) Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Zucchini Sausage Saute: looks like spaghetti, still tastes like healthy..
1/2 spaghetti squash (you can bake the whole thing, but the rest of this only needs half the squash)
1/2 sweet onion
2 cloves garlic
1.5 zucchini squash, sliced and halved
chicken apple sausage, sliced and halved (or polska kielbasa sausage*)
butter* or olive oil (for squash baking)
saffola oil (for frying)
salt & pepper (to taste)
thyme (to taste)
parmesan, grated or thinly sliced (your choice)
cheat ingredient: bottled pasta sauce
makes: 4 servings
Preheat oven to 350
Cut spaghetti squash in halve lengthwise, de-seed (shortcut option: poke squash with a fork and microwave for a few minutes to presoften before you fight the rind to cut it, this may result in a mushier end product, though)
Oil or butter (I was feeling decadent so I used butter this time) the flat surface of the squash and lay, cut sides down, on a baking sheet.
Bake spaghetti squash in oven about 30 minutes (check after 20 if you microwaved before cutting), until barely tender when poked with a fork.
While you wait, you can work on sauteing the other stuff per directions below, or go do a little yoga (I did the latter this time, since then the saute wouldn’t cool too much while I was scraping out the squash).
Remove squash from oven, let cool to a temperature to handle, then scrape the squash flesh out with a fork. As you scrape, it will come apart into spaghetti-like shapes. For most squash sizes I’ve seen, if you scrape out only half the squash, that will be enough for this recipe to serve 4, so the other half can be scraped out and put aside for a recipe another day, or frozen.
The Other Stuff:
In a large frying pan on medium, saute onions 2 minutes in saffola oil.
Add garlic, stir a bit.
Add zucchini and sausage, saute 7 minutes or until at desired tender-crispness of zucchini and browning of sausage.
Add the squash to the pan, fold ingredients together, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper to taste.
Pour the pasta sauce and mix until warmed through.
Serve with parmesan on top. You can also try it with goat cheese.
This week’s trial recipe #1 rating:
Novelty Rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’ve made this before. I get so excited when it’s plated like spaghetti, but the texture and flavor really aren’t anywhere close, it’s pretty crunchy. In retrospect I may have undercooked it, for fear of overcooking it into mush. Booooo. Likelihood of Repeat: 35%
I’ve made this a few times, and my spouse’s reaction when he hears I’m making it is always, “that seems like a lot of effort for small gain.” So I think the spaghetti squash + pasta sauce combination is on its way out. Since I’m not on the Paleo or Atkins diets, why make spaghetti squash when you miss spaghetti?
Also, why did I make squash (spaghetti) with squash (zucchini)? C-razzy.
I think I need to find another spaghetti squash recipe that just treats it like spaghetti, and stick with Nom Nom Paleo’s Zucchini Spaghetti on those days when I can’t bring myself to cook actual pasta, but have time to julienne zucchinis. You got any?
In general, I am big proponent of eating things for the sake of their own taste, something I like to mention to my vegetarian friends when I agree on the tastiness of tofu, fried gluten, or quorn. Unfortunately, this seems to be an instance where I forgot about that in my enthusiasm for (a)my love of pasta and (b)the novelty of a weird squash that yields fun.
1/2 a spaghetti squash
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (more lactose-intolerant friendly)
1/4 cup almonds, roughly chopped and toasted (was out of pecans)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1 green onions (white & green parts), thinly sliced
Roast spaghetti squash per steps 1-4, and 6 in other recipe above.
In a small bowl, whisk together, olive oil, vinegar and salt.
Pour vinaigrette into the spaghetti squash and toss. Add cheese, pecans, cherries, and most of green onions, stir well, and serve cold.
This week’s trial recipe #2 rating:
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5 stars
May have baked one too many spaghetti squash this season for it to feel novel.. Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I still have some left over in the freezer and I plan to defrost and use it as a salad later. The slight tartness of the balsamic vinegar makes me less expectant that it should be heavy and filling, and therefore I found it more satisfying to eat. My friend I shared it with also gave positive reviews.
It is extra funny because of how a normal-sounding sentence in Chinese gets distorted when literally translated into English as a somewhat pithy exclamation. For the record, despite being raised in the Midwest, I still had no idea chicken fried steak was not chicken until this year. How the heck are you supposed to ever guess that?
Through the magic of the Internets (i.e. user manuals online) I know that my fancy Sanyo 5-cup rice cooker (a long ago wedding registry gift) can also steam food, make porridge, work like a slow cooker, do all of these things at a set time in the future, and, in theory, make tofu.* Sorry in advance for the length of this entry, but the number of steps and attention to pay corresponds..
Why would anyone make tofu? That’s gross!
No my friend, I love tofu. Not the flavorless, grainy, mealy-textured stuff you find at the Western groceries, no, the soft, velvety smooth (still pretty flavorless) stuff from the Asian groceries, or the stuff they sell in the back of Northwest Tofu, a Seattle-based Taiwanese breakfast establishment. A light, refreshing snack if you cut it cold in chunks, pour a little soy sauce over, and sprinkle lightly with MSG-laden furikake (admittedly not the healthiest choice). ..or a good melt-in-your-mouth mild complement to spicy pork and sauce in mapo tofu. ..or fried tofu, crispy and salty on the outside and melty on the inside, like a deep fried cheese curd but probably better for you. Still not convinced? That’s okay, you can just skip this entry. As for me, I’m stickin’ to my roots and giving this another try (mainly for the novelty).
INTRODUCing first..in the left corner, hailing from Sanyo by way of the internet, our rice cooker tofu-making method,
Northwest Tofu soymilk (unsweetened)
Nigari (leftover from the first failed attempt in my house)
For this one, I just tried to follow the manual instructions to the letter, only moderation was that I started with just-boiled water from the percolator.
1. Rinse tofu container with hot water just before adding ingredients.
2. Add 500 ml (2 cups) boiled water to the outer rice cooker bowl.
3. Add .34 oz (wtf?! Who uses ounces? google told me this was about 2 tsp) nigari, which apparently is “a natural coagulant of magnesium chloride made by evaporating seawater,” per Pat, of The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook.
4. Set rice cooker to ‘tofu’ setting.
5. Push Start.
6. 1 hour later: done.
It looks like so:
Hahahahaha. Steps 4 and 5 are zingers if you don’t have a fancy schmancy rice cooker, right?
AAANNdd in the OPPOSITE CORNER, our manual method, ALSO hailing from the internet, from The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook, Homemade Tofu – No Fancy Equipment Necessary!
Northwest Tofu soymilk (500 ml)
~2 tsp epsom salt (who knew you cooked with it?!)
“tofu press,” compliments of Whole Foods’ goat cheese container plus drainage holes:
I’m not going to list all the instructions here since the aforementioned link does it better. Just know that I did half the portions. As I was pouring the soymilk (only bought one day ago!) into the pot to boil, I could smell the aromatic deliciousness and chickened out of making the full 4 cups prescribed, choosing selfishly instead to hoard an additional 2 cups to drink in my morning coffee, or maybe even just warmed up with a little sugar stirred in..mmmmm. Maybe it was the halving of portions (but still boiling in a large pot), or maybe I added too much nigari, or too little, but this one turned out a little firmer than expected. Since I used an old Whole Foods container as a makeshift tofu press (just stuck holes in the bottom for drainage -had to pause while draining to poke the holes bigger-) and I ended up with a surprisingly small amount to work with, I ended up with a bit of a funny round shape, which did not photograph well. However, the flavor was delicious. As of the writing of this I have already ‘snacked’ on half of it!
..and back to the rice cooker tofu:
I noticed I had 8 minutes to spare after making the manual stuff before the cooker was due to be done.
manual (1 hr 5 minutes): 1
rice cooker (42 minutes, may be less because I made so little): 0
How did these two methods stack up?
Time: it’s sort of a toss up, since the manual is shorter, but you don’t have to touch the rice cooker one after you set it. Flavor: manual tastier. About 2/5th of the rice cooker tofu was eaten for dessert at dinner, but only out of politeness and with honey to mask the odd chalky taste. Texture: the rice cooker tofu was lighter and more airy, which is the way I like my tofu. I shouldn’t be too surprised since the other recipe mentioned how the author likes firmer tofu.
Ultimately, manual method wins!
I think taste always trumps texture, since you can do something about texture, but if you start with an awkward taste, it can be hard to escape. If I made a lot more, I could totally turn that manual method tofu into mapo tofu and you wouldn’t care about it being a little firmer. I think next time I’ll try the rice cooker method with epsom salt and see how it goes. It’s possible it has a different coagulation rate and it won’t work at all, but it’s worth a shot.
Also of note: happy birthday to my friend whose birthday was on Sunday! It was an honor to treat you to delicious brunch, and have an excellent excuse to pick up fresh soymilk from Northwest Tofu. You seem wiser and happier with each year, and I wish you many more.
This week’s trial recipe ratings: Novelty Rating: 5 of 5 stars Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I think next time I’ll try the manual tofu recipe with a little less epsom salt, but in the rice cooker.
*Oh, and you can make hard [over]boiled eggs. Just throw it in with the rice next time and see. Also learned from my manual-reading: turns out my oven has a “Sabbath Mode.” Who knew?
Incidentally, in the course of checking directions on how to steam soft-boiled eggs the other day, I found this article: Surprising Things You Can Cook with a Rice Cooker, with a bunch of appetizing pictures with recipe links. I’ve saved the wheat berry salad and mac & cheese recipes to try later, although I am still a little wary of trying to make anything that needs crunch in a rice cooker. The mac & cheese may be too many intermittent steps, and the delicious-looking Lemony Risotto with Shrimp definitely was. Then you might as well do it on the stovetop.
Let me know if you try any of these and want to do a guest blog post!
Monday was one of those bonus days in life, with a little extra time for good living. Thanks, US Holiday schedule and indescribable sacrifice of military service members. A friend of mine convinced me it would be a good idea to bike to brunch on the south end of Lake Union, then bike back, and a good idea it was. My back pain may disagree, but I’ll blame that on the yoga.
During tea break at her house, besides helping to knead some delicious-smelling bread dough, I was gifted with a leek!
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts only, cut in half lengthwise, sliced and rinsed of sand
Salt and freshly ground pepper 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle or a spice mill
1/2 tsp dry dill
3 large Yukon golds, scrubbed and sliced 1/4 inch thick 3 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated (3/4 cup, tightly packed)
3/4 c Mt. Townsend Campfire Jack cheese 2 1/3 cups low-fat milk
1 cup almond milk
The drawback of this recipe is that it takes at LEAST 1.5 hours, if not closer to 1 and a half hour for the full portion. The original recipe has you baking for 45 minutes, add cheese THEN baking for 30-45, THEN cooling 10-15, and that’s all only after you’ve chopped and processed all the ingredients. That’s absurd. Who the heck bakes potatoes for that long?!
I baked for 45 minutes, added cheese, switched to Convection Bake for ~20 minutes, then took it out and started eating. It was delicious. The only drawback was my own error, which was to only cut the leek lengthwise and start sautéing, thinking, “why would they have you do that? It cooks all unevenly….oh, they didn’t,” so I pulled it half way through, sliced it up and finished sautéing. Phew, that was close. This is why recipes are so much easier with photos, people. I was also worried the almond milk would be funky, I just don’t have milk in my house since I’m lactose-intolerant (the cheese I can’t give up), but it turned out delicious (to me). I hate cumin, that’s why it’s dill instead.
Now the only problem is that I live with some one who doesn’t eat a lot of potatoes, and it wouldn’t be right for me to eat them all myself. Thankfully, I found takers at work, so my lactose-intolerant self doesn’t suffer through it for three more meals.
This week’s trial recipe ratings: Novelty Rating: 85%
I see leeks at the markets, but rarely bother cooking with them. This recipe combines them with one of my favorite foods -potatoes! Likelihood of repeat: 55%
Not sure who I might make it for, but it sure is delicious..
You know those recipes I keep on file (these days, via iphone)? A few years ago I started sorting them by time, since sometimes I’d find myself two hours later on a weekday, finally eating. In the case of today’s recipe, this goes in the sad, “60+ minutes to Multiday” folder. This one I try only to dredge up on weekends, holidays, or special occasions. Weekdays are generally restricted to the “30 minutes or less,” or maybe “30 to 60 minutes” folder. That’s total time, not time to cook, because prep time is still your time. It’s not like it’s any less tasty in those folders, but at least then I get a few minutes between finishing dinner and going to bed. Yes, dessert has its own separate folder. I don’t need to touch that on weekdays anyway.
What do you do to make sure you don’t awaken from a cooking haze only to discover it’s four hours past when you might have liked to have finished and gone to do something else (like eat, or talk about food, or plan your next meal)?
I had leftover cucumber from that tzatziki (and leftover tzatziki too, but that’s a different puzzle), so I figured I’d make some delicious but simple cucumber salad, Japanese style. The recipe I’ve been using since 2007 is from this website with cucumber recipe files.
I halved it for my purposes tonight, but this is the full portion for ingredients below:
1 cucumber, peeled, thinly sliced
salt (haven’t found I feel there is much added value with salting it)
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp rice vinegar
1/4 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp sesame oil
Thankfully, the 30-day reduced sugar challenge I was doing with co-workers in October is over, so I am adding sugar to my heart’s (small) desire! I am either in denial, or I didn’t have that bad a sugar addiction as the books say most people have. I actually did quite badly last month, gaming the rules I was following, and the limit of 1 sugar item (like dessert) each weekend day actually turned into a quota, which I don’t think I was previously following. But enough of a tangent, back to the task:
1. Mix all the ingredients except cucumber together.
2. Add cucumber, toss to cover, and chill in fridge.
3. Eat (cold) in an hour, or tomorrow.
Hmmm, apparently I forgot all about the website’s recommendation to eat it with sesame seeds. I’ll have to try that too.
This week’s trial recipe ratings:
Novelty: 0, I’ve done this before. Likelihood of repeat: 100%, since 2007.
This recipe has proven itself a tasty snack, side, and picnic item. It keeps pretty well if you need something that’s made in advance, and doesn’t need to be warmed up to taste good.
In anticipation of potential consumers of my meal output going down by 50% this week, I went for a minor trial this time: tzatziki sauce. I found one from The Man Fuel Blog that at least mentioned the risk of heartburn, so I went with that, at half portion.
1 tsp garlic (went with pre-cut stuff from the jar to get something milder than fresh raw garlic)
1 cup greek yogurt
1 Tbsp sour cream
1/4 tsp dried mint
salt to taste
1/2 c finely diced cucumber (peeled first)
Didn’t take much mixing (for specifics, see the instructions linked above), and I just let this sit for about 30 minutes:
Thanks to my helpful co-chef, got some falafel (prepped “fresh from the box”) fried up with tomato, lettuce, cukes, and roasted butternut squash and potato to overload atop some pita bread for a tasty but vegetarian dinner, and lunch the next day!
This week’s trial recipe ratings:
Novelty: 4 of 5 stars Likelihood of repeat: 60%
Felt really good to have this for lunch. It was delicious, kept well, but didn’t feel over-filling. I really like the novelty of home made tzatziki sauce, since it is so simple to make, but I’m still wishing I could find a delicious yet non-raw-garlic version. You got anything?
(October Week 5 Trial)
I banked this Spanish Bread & Garlic Soup recipe in my Evernote recipe folder last April waiting for the right day, which apparently meant in the Fall, when I’m in the mood for soup. Having to watch the video for the actual instructions behind ingredients -including turning the heat up and down a bunch- may have had something to do with it.
I started with the prescribed ingredients, including some home made chicken stock from a Sunday a few weeks ago:
Baked the bread at 350 for 15 minutes and forgot to include olive oil, sliced tons of garlic thin by hand (my amateur area of expertise!), sauteed it, then sauteed the ham..
Added the bread to the mix, and paprika..
Brought it to a boil, salted, peppered and cayenned it to taste, and popped in a couple eggs* in to poach on low covered,
Voila! Bread and garlic soup!
This week’s trial recipe ratings: novelty: 4 of 5 stars likelihood of repeat: 75%
My test audience of one mentioned it was a little carby, and I have to agree. I was not expecting quite so much bread-to-garlic substance ratio. I think I’ll probably make this on a lazy weekend for half the portion size, and possibly when I’m the only one home. It’s definitely a good recipe for a low budget if you have some stale bread lying around, paprika, broth and garlic.
*Let’s just pretend the first egg was not lost to the bready, soupy abyss and got overcooked, and that this perfect, just-runny egg in the picture was the only final product.
Addendum: Four days later and I finally finished the leftovers, what was I thinking on those giant portions! A tasty poached egg with a just-runny yolk definitely makes the flavor right in this soup, which I found hard to replicate via microwave egg poaching at work (yolk gets cooked too fast too evenly). I may try this poached egg addition to some other soups too.