Happy Friendly Friday, Folks!
It’s Fall, and the start of a new school year for many. What do you do to keep everyone fed and full of healthy energy to get things done?
I explore one option here.
While hosting family this summer, we gave those partially-prepped ready-to-cook meals a try, and started with Amazon’s kits, newly on the market. The lucky couple getting married Washington, Alanna & Alex even played guinea pig, and Kris picked up the slack when I started to feel a little spun around running multiple meal trials at once.* Continue Reading
Double-feature bonus posts this week! My offering to you, Dear Reader, for being a faithful audience. Enjoy!
A few years ago, I found myself buying one of those cup-salads from Whole Foods a lot in the summer. I liked it so much I figured I should start making it, so I can (a)get it without cilantro and (b)stop feeling like such a yuppie for buying a salad I could clearly reverse-engineer to make myself. Now when I’m up for more than throwing together some greens with nuts (read: up for more chopping), I’ll use this mix as the base recipe and improvise from there. I was actually pretty surprised when I couldn’t find a blog entry for this. Perhaps because it’s so straightforward, it didn’t feel like a recipe. This week’s weather in Seattle is sneaking up to the mid-80s, which counts as hot, so here’s a good option for those hot late Summer days when you don’t want to add another degree to your house by turning on cooking appliances. Air conditioning is a luxury, yo.
These days, my household tries to eat less carb-heavy things on a regular basis, and I’ve taken to making lettuce wraps regularly. One of the first google search results will give you a copycat of the P.F. Chang’s recipe, so that was my jumping off point. Frankly, that is where I’ve eaten most of the lettuce wrap dishes in my life. Not vouching for the authenticity of it here, going there kind of drives me nuts sometimes (okay, every time). I also halved all the sauces from original recipe for a full one pound portion of pork. You’ll want to adjust it to your taste, other people probably like more sweet, oozy sauce than me.
From there, I added things I actually wanted to eat..
(Insert Protein Here) Lettuce Wraps
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
For protein base:
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 pound ground chicken, pork, turkey, salmon, beef or tofu*
For the sauce (portions adjusted from original recipe):
2 Tbs hoisin sauce
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1.5 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Optional: Sriracha sauce or red peppers, to taste
To serve with protein base:
1 head butter lettuce, rinsed.
2 green onions, thinly chopped
1 orange, rind peeled and pieces sliced (see video below)**
a handful of toasted cashews, or raw cashews if you can’t find toasted.
1/2 an avocado, cut in bite-able chunks
Heat oil in a saucepan over medium high heat.
Add ground pork and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the meat as it cooks; drain excess fat/liquid. NOTE: adjust this time for other proteins until browned enough and reached safe eating temp.
While this cooks, you can toast the cashews on the side.
Stir in mushrooms, garlic, onion, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, ginger and Sriracha (optional) until onions have become translucent, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in green onions until tender, about 1-2 minutes; season with salt and pepper, to taste. It may already be salty enough before you add salt.
To serve, spoon several tablespoons of the pork mixture into the center of a lettuce leaf, add cashews, avocado, orange and green onions, and enjoy!
*Note: I’ve tried this with ground chicken, turkey, pork, and salmon chunks so far, but you could pick any main protein base, including pressed tofu for the focus. For that reason, I’ve tagged this recipe as vegetarian, and paleo. I also marked it gluten-free -standard hoisin and soy sauce ingredients are NOT gluten-free, but you could buy or make a gluten-free version of this if you were up for it and I don’t think it would impact the taste much.
This Week’s Trial Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 4 of 5
I still haven’t made this dish enough for it to feel old hat, and every time the outcome is a little different. Likelihood of Repeat: 80%
Also, always a different outcome if you try different proteins with it! Chopped up chicken rather than ground chicken would probably work too, and as long as you don’t get too carried away with add-ons, it doesn’t take hardly any time at all. Interested to try tofu too. Lesson Learned: For this recipe, salmon is at the bottom of the priority list. Meh.
The portions of the recipe say four servings, and in fact it was enough ingredients that I ended up having to split it in half when sautéing -halfway through the process-, in order to get the mushrooms and onions to sear rather than boil. However, if the flavoring turns out good, you may end up with barely 1 mouthful left to put in the fridge between two hungry adults. Success! I think this otherwise could have fed a family of four if said people waited 10-15 minutes after having a few wraps, to feel full. You may also end up with leftover butter lettuce if you buy it in the live form I do, so a follow-up meal of tacos or sandwiches may be good later in the week.
This is definitely a somewhat messy affair to eat. Bring wet naps or be prepared to wash your hands after.
Also: I added the cashews for crunch, you could also try fresh, chopped daikon radish, raw carrots if you like carrots, or other toasted nuts.
**If you’d like a demo on how to cut citrus fruit to avoid the bitter pith, check out this random video I found of a charming guy with an entertaining shirt. Fight scurvy -eat more oranges!
3 tablespoons good olive oil 1 small French bread or boule, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups) 1.5 cups croutons
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (used a mix of heirloom cherokee purple, cherry tomatoes and a couple romas)
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
Added: avocado, chopped in large chunks 3 tablespoons capers, drained (I don’t like capers)
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar sherry vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Steps
0. Heat the oil in a large saute pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed.
1. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together.
2. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend.
Today’s Trial Recipe Rating:
Novelty Rating: 3 of 5 stars.
This was a nice, relatively low maintenance way to still be able to see the different kinds of tomatoes I put in and the pretty colors from the cherokee purples. Likelihood of Repeat: 30%
I think there might be too much delicious salty crouton in this recipe for it to be good for me, plus they get soggy after a little bit so this is not a salad for next day unless you separate things out. Plus, I almost never have bread around to make croutons or buy croutons or basil on their own.. Lesson Learned: meh.
Mark Bitterman’s Gazpacho recipe and some tips from my friend K_______ got me to try making gazpacho about a year ago, and tonight’s continued hot humid weather in the Northwest called for a revisit of cooking without heating elements. Unfortunately, I failed at that last bit, since I like my onions and garlic sautéed instead of raw and heart burn-y. See modified recipe below. But you, my friend, could make it with raw garlic and onions if you so desired, and even without the bread if you wanted to go Paleo or gluten-free (although cave men didn’t have blenders).
Gazpacho, Fast and Simple
Makes: 4 servings
Time: About 25 minutes
2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped, or one (today: fresh beefsteaks)
28-ounce can (include the juices)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded if you like, and chopped
2 or 3 slices bread, a day or two old, crusts removed, torn into small pieces (today: a toasted leftover hamburger bun from July 4)
1 /4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 Tbs minced red onions
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional: sliced scallions for garnish, and/or dollop of greek yogurt (skipped the latter this time, but it would be tasty)
0. Lightly saute onions and garlic for a few minutes on stovetop with olive oil and butter.
1. Combine the tomatoes, cucumber, bread, oil, vinegar, onions and garlic with 1 cup water in a blender; process until smooth. If the gazpacho seems too thick, thin with additional water.
2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately (or refrigerate and serve within a couple of hours), garnished with a drizzle of olive oil and scallions or greek yogurt if desired.
Today’s Trial Recipe Rating: Novelty Rating: 2 of 5 stars.
Made this once before without the bread a year ago, I liked it better this time. I’m hoping the novelty will really kick in in the next few days when I am still eating delicious chilled gazpacho without turning on the stove on a hot day. Likelihood of Repeat: 75%
I ended up with enough for 4 more individual meals, so I’m looking forward to finding out how it does frozen and defrosted later. Lesson Learned: Less complicated than it feels to grab a ladder and retrieve the blender from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet..
Wheat Berry Salad
1 cup soft white wheat berries
2 cups water
dash of salt
1 orange bell pepper
1/3 red onion
2 roma tomatoes
1/4 cup nuts (pine nuts shown here, I think pecans or almonds would work fine too)
1. Toast the wheat berries in a skillet for ~4 minutes on medium high heat. Stir often, for the wheat berries will begin to brown and even start popping. You may want to get a lid or splatter screen just in case.
2. Soak the wheat berries in water for 1 hour, or in my case, overnight in the rice cooker with the timer set for 5:30 PM. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can bring the wheat berries to a boil in a pot of water on the stove top and then let simmer for about 45 minutes.
3. While you’re waiting for it to finish, finely chop: 1 orange bell pepper, 1/3 red onion, 2 roma tomatoes, and 1 cucumber.
4. Lightly toast nuts.
5. When wheatberries are done cooking, dress the cooked wheatberries with a bit of sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, and a little black pepper to taste.
6. Finally, mix in vegetables, onion, and nuts into wheatberries, can be served warm straight from the rice cooker, or cold.
When I prepped it, I kept the onions and pine nuts separate, since the raw onions could be a little heart burny, and I added the pine nuts at the last minute so I could keep them crunchy for lunch.
This week’s trial recipe rating:
Novelty Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow, these wheatberries have a delightful pop when you bite down on them! All the bright-colored vegetables I added made it a really appealing-looking dish to eat, with just the right crunch from the peppers and cucumbers. It was also super easy to bring for lunch and eat cold, but still feel satisfied. Score one for small portion efforts. Likelihood of Repeat: 90%
I’m definitely going to make this again, and maybe even branch out to try a different vinaigrette combo with it, or add goat cheese or craisins. Besides the time it took to cook the actual grains, the rest of the prep was super fast since it didn’t require any more cooking.
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?