Friday, September 19, 2008

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel

Mr Wonderful likes fennel, but I haaaaaate black licorice, so I was a little leery of cooking with it. I figured if I mixed in some orange juice, and cooked the fennel down a bit, it wouldn't be so strong. It ended up being delicious, with just a little hint of heat from some cayenne pepper. Plus it gave me a chance to put my new All Clad pan through its paces!

Pork Chops with Orange & Fennel
2 Tbsp EVOO
2 boneless pork rib chops
1 small onion, cut in half and then sliced radially to make thin wedges
1 fennel bulb, sliced thinly
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
juice and zest from one orange
1/2 c chicken stock
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
salt & pepper

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Season the pork chops with salt & pepper, and when the oil is hot, add them to the pan, and then don't move them for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, flip the chops over and brown the other side for another 3 minutes. Remove the chops to a plate and cover with foil.

Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet, and then throw in the onions and fennel. Let them cook for about 5-6 minutes, until they get soft and begin to caramelize. Add in cider vinegar and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Then add in the chicken stock, orange juice and orange zest. Let the veggies cook for another minute or two, then add in the nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Add the pork chops back into the pan and cook until the interior temperature of the chops reaches 145.

I served these garnished with supremed orange wedges. I'd show you a picture of it all plated up beautifully, but I had to pack it up into tupperware and take it over to the hospital because Mr Wonderful was working the swing shift. He started working at the local hospital a few weeks ago, and I've taken dinner to him a couple of times now. It's nice to share dinner together, even if it is in the less-than-romantic atmosphere of the laboratory break room.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Tom Yum Soup

I was craving some spicy Thai soup but needed something low-cal (and low-carb!) so I picked up some lemongrass and threw together some Tom Yum. It turned out to be really quick and easy to make, not to mention absolutely delicious.

South Beach Tom Yum Soup
5-6 c chicken stock
1 stalk lemongrass
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
2-3 small cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 c sliced mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 red bell pepper, sliced (slices cut in half so they're not too long)
1/4 c thinly sliced green onions, white and green parts divided
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp Sriracha
2 cans light coconut milk
1 lb cleaned, shelled shrimp
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro

First, prepare the lemongrass: remove the tough outer leaves, trim off the root end, and then thinly slice just the ivory-colored part. Take the thin slices and either pulse them in a blender or food processor, or do what I did, and have your Rugrat mash them well in a molcajete. The lemongrass should end up looking like little bitty threads.

When the lemongrass is prepared, put the chicken stock into a large stockpot or dutch oven over medium heat. I used about a box and a half of chicken stock (about 6 cups). To the chicken stock, add the lemongrass, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, bell peppers, and the white parts of the green onions. Add the fish sauce and Sriracha, and then let it simmer for about 5-7 minutes, until the veggies are tender and the flavors have had a good chance to combine. Add in one can of coconut milk and taste the soup. Mine was very strong at this point, so I added another can of coconut milk to mellow out the flavor a little bit. If you need a bit more salt, add another shake or two of fish sauce. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and add in the shrimp. Let the shrimp cook about 2-3 minutes (if your shrimp are on the small side; 4-5 minutes if you've got bigger ones), until they're opaque, pink, and curled up. Take the soup off the heat, stir in the green parts of the green onions and the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Note: You could add some fresh shredded basil to this and it would be wonderful; I just didn't happen to have any and it wasn't looking all that hot in the grocery store.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Black Bean Soup

This soup is based on the recipe in the South Beach Diet: Super Charged book, but I made a few changes.

Black Bean Soup
2 Tbsp EVOO
1 stalk celery, diced
1/2 onion, diced (or one small diced onion)
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 wax peppers, chopped (I had these in my CSA box last week)
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cans black beans, rinsed & drained
1 large tomato, chopped
2 c chicken stock
1 Tbsp cumin
2 tsp Sriracha
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a fairly large pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the celery, onions, bell peppers and wax peppers. Season with salt & pepper. Saute until the veggies begin to soften, maybe 4-5 minutes. Add in the serrano pepper, garlic, and the white parts of the green onion, and saute for another minute or two. Add in the black beans, tomato, chicken stock, cumin and Sriracha, and stir well to combine. Let the soup come up to a simmer and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Then, using an immersion blender, blend up the soup until it's only a little bit chunky (you can transfer about half of the soup to a blender and puree, then return the blended soup to the pot, if you don't have an immersion blender).

Serve hot with low-fat shredded cheddar cheese, some plain low-fat yogurt, and the reserved sliced green parts of the green onion.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Slow Food Nation

In my big recap last week I forgot to mention my trip to San Francisco for the Slow Food Nation expo! Read all about it and check out my sad iPhone camera skilz here.

I gotta say, the South Beach thing isn't as bad as I thought it would be. We're on day eight now, and while I definitely have moments where I'm craving carbs in a big way, for the most part, it's not a big deal. You don't ever have to be hungry on this diet; you can eat pretty much all you want, as long as it's on the "approved" list. I have eggs just about every morning for breakfast and it keeps me full for several hours.

One thing I was really worried about was beverages. Missing out on my Dr Pepper is tough, but it's not as bad as I thought because of two glorious products on your local grocery store's shelves. First: Crystal Light. I hadn't tried it in several years, and vaguely remembered a very saccharine-tasting faux-fruity Koolaid substitute. But it's really improved a lot; I've found four flavors that I really enjoy - Sunrise Orange, Cherry-Pomegranate, "Hydration" Mixed Berry, and the White Tea-Blueberry. And at only 10 calories each, that cuts a lot of calories out of my daily intake. Don't get me wrong, I don't drink these all day long. I drink a lot of water, too, and I have a cup of green tea in the mornings when I get up (no sugar, no milk). But the Crystal Light really helps when I'm craving a glass of juice or just something sweet to drink.

The other thing that's helped a lot is Coke Zero. I HATE HATE HATE Diet Coke. I know it's got its devotees, but I cannot stand the aftertaste and how it tastes all sickly-sweet. Coke Zero is made with a different sugar substitute, though, and if you drink it ice cold, it has NO aftertaste (somehow it gets a bit weird when it warms up a little). Love this stuff. And it works quite well for the daily afternoon caffeine boost. It's no Dr Pepper, for sure, but I think I can live with it.

Spicy Seafood Stir-Fry

This is a great refrigerator-clean-out meal that you can throw all kinds of veggies into. It could easily be a vegetarian meal, if you omit the shrimp. And it is perfect for South Beach: for Phase 1, leave out the rice; for Phase 2, use brown rice instead of white.

Spicy Seafood Stir-Fry
1/4 c low-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp Sriracha
1/2 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp canola oil
1 zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/2" wide half moons
1 chopped bell pepper (I used red)
1 cup chopped mushrooms (I used cremini, but any would work)
3 baby bok choy, sliced in half lengthwise
1/2 container of tofu, diced (I used silken but I think firm tofu would hold up much better)
1/2 lb cleaned & shelled raw shrimp

First make the sauce: in a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, Sriracha, ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Add the tofu and set aside.

Heat the canola oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is rippling slightly, carefully throw in the zucchini, bell peppers, and mushrooms. After the veggies have started to soften and brown slightly (just a couple of minutes), throw in the bok choy, the tofu and sauce, and the shrimp. Cook just until the bok choy is wilted and the shrimp is done (opaque, curled up, and pink). Serve over rice (or not, if you're on Phase 1 of South Beach).

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Caribbean Dinner

I was having a craving for coconut rice a few weeks ago, before I started the South Beach diet, and came up with this easy, quick dinner.

I roasted the chicken bone-in, skin-on, as usual at 400 for about 40 minutes, but with a Jamaican Jerk seasoning on the skin rather than the standard salt & pepper.

The long grain white rice was cooked per package instruction, but instead of water, I used one can coconut milk and enough chicken stock to bring the liquids up to 3 cups. After cooking, I fluffed up the rice and tossed with some fresh cilantro and green onions.

But the black beans were my favorite part...

Caribbean Black Beans
2 Tbsp EVOO
1 small chopped onion,
1 chopped bell pepper (I used orange, but red or yellow would be fine)
1 minced (seeded) jalepeno pepper
1 minced clove of garlic
1 can beans
1 large tomato
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro
2 green onion, sliced thinly
salt & pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Throw in the onion, bell pepper and jalepeno, and saute until the vegetables are softened. Add the minced garlic and saute for one more minute. Then add one can of rinsed & drained black beans and a large chopped tomato (I used an heirloom from our CSA box) and just let the beans warm up. Take the beans off the heat and toss in some chopped cilantro and green onion. Serve with the chicken and rice.

The beans are vegetarian, so I've tagged this post as vegetarian. You could easily omit the chicken and still have a filling, delicious meal.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Greetings from low-carb land

The last couple of weeks have been a whirlwind of back-to-school prep, board meetings, PTA volunteer duties and all kinds of things. Rugrat started back to school last week, and he's already had a clash with his new teacher. Big surprise. The kid is nothing if not strong-willed, and when the teacher asked the class to lay out their math homework a certain way, he decided that HIS way was better because it used less paper. And proceeded to argue the point with the teacher. So we had a little phone conference yesterday, and of course Babydaddy and I hammered the point home that following instructions is just as important as getting the correct answers. I love my son like crazy, but honestly that kid is not an easy one to live with sometimes.

I'm editing the monthly PTA newsletter this year, as a way to stay more in touch with what's going on at Rugrat's school, and because it was something I could do from the couch. You know how I am about my couch. LOVE it. Anyway, this is a bit of an adventure; there's lots of people involved in submitting articles, reviewing the draft of the newsletter, and sending me changes. There are a few people who (I have been warned) are consistently difficult to deal with: late submitting articles, etc. I've laid down the line in the sand though; I have said that I can work on this on weekends only since I have a full-time job, and if the principal of the school doesn't get me her article on time, oh well. The world won't stop turning.

I am also on the board of a new project that my supervisor at work is starting up: Classes for Causes. The basic premise is that people will teach classes, and the proceeds from those classes will be donated to the charity of the teacher's choice. The site is currently in development but we will be rolling out the beta version very soon, because we're planning to have our pilot class at the end of October. Supervisor is holding the first class: Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing. I am considering teaching classes in knitting and creating your own cell phone ringtones. Mr Wonderful is even getting in on the act; he'll be teaching a course in self-defense. Anyway, we've had two board meetings so far, and as the Board Secretary, I am responsible for typing up the minutes. Which took like an hour and a half last night, because we had a three-hour Strategic Planning meeting on Tuesday. My eyes were BURNING by the time I shut down the computer.

And things have been crazy busy at work. I'm desperately trying to get on top of things, but there is just SO much right now. So I'm working like a demon, trying to get done by the end of the day, so I can pick up Rugrat or go to the gym and fix dinner.

Speaking of dinner, Mr Wonderful and I have started the South Beach diet. Essentially it's a low carb diet for the first two weeks (meat, veggies and lowfat dairy only), then you add in complex carbs (whole grains, fruit) for the second phase. We started the diet on Monday, which was interesting because we were gone all day - since it was Labor Day and we both had the day off (joy!) we took a day trip to the coast. A nice drive through Sebastopol and Guerneville, out to where the Russian River dumps out. We saw a bunch of seals frolicking in the water, skipped rocks in the river, watched the pelicans dive for fish, saw a paraglider (is that a word?) jump off a cliff and float down to the beach, and ate crunchy veggies with a vegetable/ricotta dip.

Phase one hasn't been that bad, actually, although I do miss Dr Pepper and chips. Crunchy salty things are my downfall, and I've been missing the faux-cheese flavored snacky foods. But we've stuck to the plan (on day five now!) and have each lost five pounds already. We took measurements (waist, chest, hips & thighs) at the beginning and will compare when we take measurements again at the end of phase one. I'm pretty excited about this; I didn't think I'd lose weight this fast, and it's a great incentive to keep going. I doubt it will continue falling off at this rate (it must be mostly water weight, right?), but it's great to have some validation.

But man, I would LOVE to have a piece of fruit right now. I can't believe how much I am craving fruit these days, now that I know I can't have it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Slow Food!

Saturday I went to the Slow Food Nation expo in San Francisco, courtesy of Foodbuzz, the food blogger portal that I am affiliated with. I had a fantastic time, eating lots of great food and meeting the swell folks from Foodbuzz (why did I never put it together that "RyanTheGirl" is actually Ryan, the Managing Editor?), as well as some other food bloggers. In fact, the highlight of my trip was, of course, a visit to the CHEEEEEEESE pavilion, where I met Stephanie of The Grub Report. In my little Internet-centric corner of the world, that's like meeting a celebrity - she wrote recaps for TWOP once upon a time. She's got my dream life: a freelance writer, trained at culinary school, and she works in the best CHEEEEEEEESE shop in the world. Where, presumably, she gets to sample the wares all day long. Lucky, lucky woman. How she stays so thin, I have no idea.

Here's my quick recap of the Food Pavilions at the Slow Food Nation event (please excuse my sad iPhone camera skilz):

First up - cheese!
Of course, the cheese was glorious. That yellow cheese was STRONG - I can't remember what it was (and they didn't have a sticker), but it wouldn't be first on my list of cheeses to take to a desert island. The Northern Lights Blue was fantastic though, as was the fresh goat cheese crottin from Redwood Hill Farm & Creamery.

Next, I went to the wine pavilion. I don't have any pictures of the wine, but I had a lovely Stag's Leap Petite Syrah. Yum! I then headed for the fish pavilion, where they were serving (from bottom to top) calamari in a lemony vinaigrette, a sardine on a toasted baguette with sauteed onions and lemon, and albacore tuna with baby greens (I *think* it was arugula). Delish!

Then I went over to the charcuterie pavilion, where I had some amazing jerky made in Berkeley, a slice of salami, cotta, and a little bit of toast with "cured" lard with rosemary and garlic.

Next I wandered over to the pickles & chutney pavilion, but didn't stay for a taste of everything because me + pickles = ewww.

I decided instead to mosey on over to the beer pavilion, where I tried a Jamaican Red brew that was a bit hoppy for my tastes, but still quite yummy.

Then it was off to try some bread! Yummy, warm naan from the Indian side of the bread pavilion (there was also an Italian side, with brick-fired slices of pizza, but I was all about the naan on Saturday).

I wasn't too enamored of the potato-stuffed naan (it was actually too spicy for me, which is really saying something), but the other two were amazing. And the green dipping sauce was wonderful - verdant and spicy and fresh tasting all at once.

It was getting pretty late, so I decided to have a bit of dessert and tea, and head out. I stopped off at the honey & preserves pavilion and got this little bite of deliciousness: a honey mini-cupcake with rose-scented royal icing, topped with a half a pistachio. I'm sorry, but this is the best photo I got with my phone. You'll just have to trust me that it was beautiful and luscious.

And then it was over to the ice cream pavilion for one of the highlights of my day. I got to try salted caramel ice cream! And it was unbelievably good. It wasn't salty, but the salt brought out a kind of tang or something in the caramel that made it richer and fuller, somehow. I'm not even sure how to describe it, other than by saying that it was damn good, and if you ever get a chance to try salted caramel ice cream from BiRite Creamery, you should NOT pass it up. The other two ice cream flavors in my bowl were "Mr Espresso" and something called "Foresta Noci" or something like that. The coffee ice cream was good, but nothing earth-shattering, and the other one was just kind of odd, with these little crunchy bits of *something* in them. (Again, horrible photo, I apologize...)

Lastly, I visited the tea pavilion, which was lovely, but took a crazy-long time to go through, because each "tasting" is actually a 15-minute tea ceremony with a tea guide. The tea was good, but not something I'd probably drink on a regular basis, as it had very strong tannins. However, I did learn that your cup of tea is only as good as the water you use, and that mineral water is best to bring out all the flavor elements in your tea.

And that wraps it up! I headed for home full of new ideas and flavors, and happy to have been a part of this amazing food movement.