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Inspiration and the Waffle Iron

26 Mar

Inspiration. It comes from many places. A sweet smile from your child. The scents wafting out of a bakery. An impassioned speech from a respected figure. A plate with artfully arranged food.  Walking through a museum. Beautifully arranged flowers brightening a room. Inspiration, when it comes, affects us all differently.

Admittedly, I am a bit quirky, so when I get inspired it usually sends me into the kitchen. My kitchen represents an ideal arena for self expression, and allows creativity to be channeled in wonderful ways. Take, for example, a recent weekend morning. Inspiration came in the form of wonderful weather, the promise of a great bike ride, and a powerful hunger.

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The morning was a lovely temperature and getting outside to enjoy the budding day was in order. So Denis and I decided to take a long trail ride on our bikes. But first we needed to power up with a breakfast that would provide much needed energy for our ride. Eggs, Canadian bacon, and hash browns sounded delicious.

The thing is, I am not a big potato fan-unless it is breakfast. I just adore hash browns. They are crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and just plain yummy. But they can be a pain to make, and take a bit of talent to make well.

I’ve tried pulling out my cast iron skillet, oiling it up, shredding potatoes, seasoning them, they frying the heck out of ’em. That was my best attempt at delicious home made hash browns. And they were just so so. Then inspiration hit in the form of my trusty old waffle iron. And I made the Best.Hash.Browns. Ever.

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This is how I started-my waffle iron, potatoes, and some cooking spray. I also had salt and pepper on hand as well. I plugged my waffle iron in and set it to preheat at a medium temperature. While that was heating up I pulled the preshredded potatoes out of the freezer and quickly defrosted them. I squeezed out the excess water.

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When the waffle iron was good and hot I sprayed it with a generous amount of cooking spray. I then placed roughly 2 handfuls of shredded potatoes on the bottom plate of the waffle iron. I sprinkled salt and pepper on top, then placed the top plate over the potatoes.

The potatoes started sizzling away. Denis was busy working on the eggs and Canadian bacon while I fussed over the hash browns. Since this was an experiment with no recipe, I was not sure how long to let the potatoes cook. I watched them closely. After about 6 minutes I gently lifted the top of the waffle iron to take a peek at breakfast project. What did I find?

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Perfection. Absolute deliciousness. I used a spatula to remove the “potato waffle” from the iron. It slid off the iron and onto a plate with ease. The waffle iron made amazing breakfast potatoes. This paired with our eggs and bacon very well. The trail ride, with inspiration from the breakfast, was a rousing success.

Will I try this again? You bet! But next time I will mix in some diced bell peppers and maybe even some cheese. I can’t wait for my next inspiration!

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Basics

12 Feb

If you don’t have one, run out and get one. What in the world am I talking about? A cast iron skillet. It is a kitchen must have. A basic. But don’t go to an expensive kitchen store to get one. Go to your local hardware store. You will find the best brand at your good old hardware store-Lodge.

As I love to cook, I have a couple cast iron skillets. One  of my favorites has ridges to sear a lovely tenderloin, grill some delicious hamburgers. or make a creamy warm panini. There are a zillion ways to use your cast iron skillet. If you keep it seasoned, it will also become something you can hand down through the generations. Here is one of my well seasoned cast iron skillets.

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How do you season it you ask? It is easy. But remember, you need to continue to season your cast iron skillet every so often. Here are some tips to season your skillet:

  • Wash the cookware with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse and dry completely.
  • Apply melted solid vegetable shortening (or cooking oil of your choice) to the cookware inside and out. Too much oil will result in a sticky finish so keep your application thin.
  • Set oven temperature to 350 – 400 degrees F.
  • Place cookware upside down on the top rack of the oven to prevent pooling.
  • Bake the cookware for at least one hour. After the hour, turn the oven off and let the cookware cool in the oven.
  • Store the cookware uncovered
  • Repeat as necessary
  • When I use and wash my skillet, I dry it not with a towel but over low heat on a burner.

I recently used this skillet to sear some zucchini for dinner. I simply split the zucchini lengthwise, and sprinkled it with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Next, I got my cast iron skillet good and hot on the stove. Then I seared the zucchini halves with the flesh side down first.

Grilled zucchini in my (very inexpensive) cast iron grill pan.  It was sizzling and searing.  Yum! I seared it much like a piece of meat. After searing one side, I turned it over and seared the second side. I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top. Ooh! So yummy!

I flipped the fleshy side of the zucchini up and put a little freshly served parmesan on top.  Ooh!  So good!

This recipe is a keeper.  It was super quick, hardly any ingredients, and so very tasty!  It was beautiful on the plate as well.  So look for variety not only in your food, but in ways to prepare them.

 

 

 

Soup Time!

30 Dec

Cold weather is soup weather. When the chill sets in, the soup goes on. I decided to try making a soup I had never made before. And I wanted to make it from scratch. My darling Denis talked about his sister Kathy’s Italian Wedding Soup. He remembered it being quite delicious. Decision made.

Italian Wedding Soup has meatballs, so my first order of business after finding a recipe that I could start with (while making it my own) was to make meatballs. I used a couple of types of ground meat, bread crumbs, a beaten egg, and some italian seasoning. While some epicureans fry their meatballs, I bake mine. I cooked up a big batch so there were extra to put into the freezer for another day.

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While the meatballs were cooling, I assembled the rest of my ingredients. Cooked meatballs, chicken stock (both homemade and store bought), shredded carrots, celery, arugula and spinach, orzo, eggs, parmesan cheese, and finally salt and pepper were set to come together in one magnificent soup. The homemade chicken stock was loaded with succulent herbss-and would perfectly season the soup.

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Next I started chopping. I like everything ready when I begin making something, It just makes it easier to assemble.

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Just a little FYI…when I use celery in a recipe, I use both the outer stalks and the leafy insides. I don’t waste any flavorful tidbit when I cook.

Next I sautéed the carrots and celery in a little butter. Then I added the stock. My first  ever soup kettle of Italian Wedding Soup was underway. The tantalizing aromas floating through the house brought my darling Denis to the kitchen. One of the many things I love about cooking…the kitchen becomes an impromptu gathering place.

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The soup was bubbling away, and the scents wafting through the house made the frosty day outside fade away . Next, more building of the flavors when the chopped arugula and spinach went into the broth.

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Then it was time to froth up the eggs. When I add eggs to any recipe, they sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to come to room temperature before adding them to a recipe. Eggs work better in recipes when they are room temperature.

 

After whipping the eggs, I stirred the soup and slowly drizzled the eggs in-they cooked slowly as they were added. The soup was coming together beautifully.

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The house was filled with the warmth of bubbling soup.

In went the meatballs. They just had to be heated through and the soup was complete. Time to dig in!

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Freshly grated parmesan garnished the soup. Cripsy garlic bread completed the meal. While it was chilly outside, inside it was warm and oh so delicious.

Soup lends itself to personal csutomization. It can be easily tailored to taste. Love pepper? Grind some flavorful heat into the soup. Want more veggies? Chop them up and toss them in. Is vegetarian soup your preference? Use tofu and vegetable broth. Easy Peasy. Let your food express your personality and have fun!

 

Roasted Veggies 3 Ways

23 Dec

The other day I had two things:  a lot of good fresh vegetables and a little extra time.  So why not roast up those vegetables! I started peeling, chopping and layering.  This was going to be a big honking batch of veggies!  Mushrooms, bell peppers, squash, onions…Yum!

A big batch it was. My largest kitchen bowl was full of colorful vegetables. What next? I dusted the vegetables with salt and pepper. I sprinkled basil and parsley on the vegetables as well.

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Olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar completed the prep work.  After a good healthy stir, I poured them onto a lined baking dish and placed them in a preheated 400 degree oven.  Almost immediately, warm succulent aromas began to fill the air.  My mouth began to water with those decadent scents wafting from the oven.

I checked the vegetables after 15 minutes in the oven and couldn’t resist sneaking a taste. What a delicious bite!  Back into the oven for a few minutes, and then they were ready.  The roasted veggies were delicious that night for dinner with lovely grilled salmon.

Did I mention that it was a big ol’ batch of roasted veggies?  And that I love leftovers?  Did we ever have leftovers! And like spaghetti, the vegetables were better the next day. How did they get used up?

Leftovers day one: Roasted veggies made an amazing addition to an omelet the next morning.

Leftovers day two:  I cooked quinoa to mix into the vegetables.  That created  a protein and nutrient dense powerhouse that were perfect after a workout.

Leftovers day three: Roasted veggies piled on a turkey sandwich.  Who needs mayo?

And that is what you do with leftovers my friends.  When you have a bit of extra time, cook big. Then enjoy good food and time savings later! Let me know what you do with your leftovers!

Epicurean Evenings

29 Oct
My education and career trajectory is in clinical nutrition, dietary management, and healthcare business strategy, but cooking is definitely my passion. I love the creativity of decadent ingredients, plate presentations, fresh flavors, and lingering over home cooked meals filled with spirited conversation.  My enthusiasm for food, at times, mingles with my love of writing, and that dwells in the core of my spirit.
I have several outlets to feed that need, and at one point I spent time writing for a food and wine magazine. Sometimes my editor (and friend) Katherine would come over to chat about upcoming assignments. I was not inconvenienced by having to answer the door when Katherine stopped by. Always welcome and with a quick “hello I’m here” knock, in she came.

A few years ago on a cool fall afternoon she popped in. A few steps in the door she stopped, her head slowly floated back as her eyes closed, and drew in a deep breath. Then her eyes slowly opened and she said “I just love coming into the house of an epicurean. It always smells so good!”

At the time I wasn’t completely sure what an epicurean was. When I finally understood what it meant, the comment from Katherine turned into an intuitive compliment-one that I savor to this day. What is an epicurean? If you go to the dictionary you will find something like this:

adjective
1. fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating.
Yup, that describes me. I am an epicurean. But what was I cooking on that cool fall afternoon that elicited such a reaction from Katherine? I was teaching myself how to make a brown butter sauce. Dinner that evening included wild mushroom ravioli, and I had decided to stretch my skills by learning a new sauce.
Want to know how to make a brown butter sauce? You’ll be happy you did-it has endless possibilities! High quality European butter is the key here. I always use unsalted for 2 reasons: Salt is a preservative, so unsalted butter is fresher, and I like to adjust my own seasonings.

So here is what I did. Into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, I started melting a half pound of lovely french butter on low heat.


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Soon the butter started to brown. I began removing the foam to clarify the sauce. The aroma that began filling the house was amazing. Warm, nutty, rich!

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My sauce continued to deepen. The flavors were concentrating. And the scents wafting around the house were incredible. I kept stirring.

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Do not walk away from this sauce, as it can burn quickly. Let it deepen slowly and keep your eye on it. But that is it. Simple.

The real beauty in this sauce is the ability to adjust it to any taste. You can add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, almost anything to customize it to your taste. Add it at any point while browning the sauce. How easy is that? Fabulous!!

The first time I made the sauce, I drizzled it over wild mushroom ravioli and sprinkled it with some fresh parmesan cheese. Since I like acid, I also drizzled a balsamic reduction over the ravioli as well. A garnish of fresh basil perfected the balance. I added a salad and some crusty bread. It was a decadent dinner.

I continue to use the brown butter sauce for a variety of finishes. What can you do with it? Send me an email and let me know!

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Dinner in a Pot

17 Sep

This is the story of an easy, savory, nutritious one pot dinner. Why one pot? A simple reason: it was a busy weeknight and I did not want a lot of dishes. Keeping a well stocked pantry and freezer is key to quick easy meals. I also like to keep fresh produce on hand so I can pull meals together without those pesky after work visits to the grocery store.

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For this dinner, I started out with broccoli and cauliflower in a bowl. Then I tossed it with some olive oil, salt and pepper. I put it on a parchement lined baking sheet (remember…few dishes!) and roasted that for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Then I put some sweet little cherry and grape tomatoes into a pot, again with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I then let that simmer a bit. These cook down to a creamy delight. I also added a clove of chopped garlic.

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As that was simmering, I chopped up some fresh spinach and arugula. When the tomatoes were thick and bubbly, I added the greens. I like to mix arugula into my spinach because of the sharp peppery flavor it adds. I gave all of that a good stir.

Now dinner was really smelling delicious. Savory fragrance was wafting through the house, and I was getting really hungry! I took the veggies out of the oven when they were a little brown on the edges, and let them rest not the counter (on a hot pad) for a few minutes. Next it was time to add the pasta.

Angel hair pasta was going to be my pasta of choice because of its short cook time. I wrapped the pasta up in a clean dish towel, then ran the towel over the edge of the counter. This broke the pasta up efficiently and neatly.

Then I added chicken broth to the tomato mixture. After that, in went the pasta. It was that simple. Again, a couple of quick stirs and I let this cook on medium heat. I then went to  pour a glass of wine to accompany this delicious dinner.

When the pasta was al dente (firm to the bite) I was ready to complete the meal. I added the roasted vegetables along with shrimp as the protein. The shrimp was raw, and it only took about 3 minutes for them to cook-any longer and they would become rubbery.

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And Voila! Dinner was ready. It was a complete meal in a bowl. I grated some fresh parmesan cheese on top, grabbed my glass of wine, and enjoyed a healthy weeknight meal. And my one pot meal left me with very few after dinner dishes.

This meal is customizable. Don’t like cauliflower? Try zucchini. Shrimp isn’t your thing? Add some leftover cooked chicken. Want a more robust flavor? Add red pepper flakes and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Want a vegetarian meal? Use vegetable broth and leave out the shrimp. Craving an italian twist? Toss in some fresh parsley and basil. The possibilities are endless-but the after dinner dishes aren’t!

Superfoods!

3 Sep

Superfoods! First we covered cabbage, and now the avocado.

I am confident that you have embraced that superfood, and are ready to add another one into your diet. Ready? Here we go! Bonus…the next superfood is not a cruciferous vegetable, so no worries about the, ahem, gas issue. It is avocado. This is a fun one.

Avocados, like cabbage, are a flexible food and super easy to prepare. An avocado has about 4 grams of protein per fruit and is low in sugar. Plus, they are rich n vitamin k, b vitamins, and have more potassium than a banana. Still need convincing? Consider that an avocado also contains half of the daily recommended amount of fiber, about 11 grams. (Okay, so maybe the fiber may be a bit gas producing, but you gotta consider the benefits and not just the…uumm…possible farts). This is a nutrient dense food.

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This Florida avocado graced my kitchen (although not for long!). Ugly but delicious!

Some folks shy away from this powerhouse fruit because it contains fat. True, it does, so adding it in the diet needs to be in moderation. But the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated, the “good” kind of fat. This fat can actually lower cholesterol, some studies suggest. So indulge.

When shopping for avocados, do not be deterred by ugly fruit. I actually prefer ugly fruit because it is less processed or sprayed than pretty perfect fruit. Go with an organic avocado if you can afford it. And check for ripeness. The avocado is ripe when is gives slightly to pressure. It should be a bit soft. Choose a softer avocado if you want to use it right away. If it will be in your fruit bowl for a few days, then opt for a more firm fruit and give it time to ripen.
What to do with an avocado you ask? The easiest thing to do is cut it up and eat it. Or layer it on a sandwich. Or dice it up and toss it in a salad. Avocado’s are delicious any way you eat it.

I had it for breakfast one morning for a powerhouse post workout meal. How? I turned the oven to 375 degrees. I sliced an avocado in half and took the pit out. Then I added a raw egg to the “divet” where the pit was.  Yup. Sure did. Then I put it on a baking sheet into the oven while I showered.

After about 20 minutes the egg was cooked in the avocado to perfection. I pulled it out of the oven added some low fat cheese, then popped it back in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! A breakfast packed with nutrients, protein, and flavor. Treat avocados like a baked potato and load ’em up!

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My baked avocado breakfast. So flavorful and nutritious. A fantastic post workout breakfast.

Whats next? Predictable but never to be overlooked, the avocado is the star of guacamole. If you have the fixings, making guacamole is a must with any avocado. And it is so simple. Lime, tomatoes, cilantro, and maybe some hot peppers if you are adventurous . Thats all you need for great guacamole. One of the best things about making this is that it is totally customizable. You can make it as spicy, as creamy, or as chunky as you prefer.

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Stir in lime, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado. Nothing short of delicious!

If you want a quick guacamole, you can do that too. Mash up fresh avocados, add some salt and pepper, and squeeze a fresh lime over it. Since you are in a hurry, stir in your favorite salsa, and you are done.  Then load up your chip, your taco, or spread it on your sandwich.

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Fresh guacamole! Fabulous and flexible!

When making anything with avocado, keeping the pit in it, such as in the guacamole, keeps it from turning brown. So does adding a bit of lemon or lime juice to it. Either way, enjoy this fantastic nutrient packed superfood in many ways. Let me know what you do with your new superfood!

If you want to check out my blog on another superfood, go here. https://busymomswellness.com/2014/05/26/blast-into-super-foods/