Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Sick Day Ramen Noodles

Laying in bed today with the cat, sick with a cold, and its my regular day off. I should be cleaning the house, doing laundry, reorganizing the closets, or something productive...I can't even have a productive cough today! Actually, I should be holding my four-week-old grandson and cooing at him, but I can't go see him...because I am sick.

Everybody is this house has had it, but I swore it wouldn't affect me! I tried. I took my vitamins, ate lots of oranges, and got fresh air, but they got me. My husband is actually sicker than I am. He went to the doctor earlier in the week and was told he was in the early stages of pneumonia. At least he got antibiotics for that. But he had to go in to work this week. At least I have the option of taking some sick days if I need them. Tomorrow is my "Monday", so I am holding out until later to see how I feel. That's what a "menial" clerical job with a government agency will do for you.

I am drinking chai tea, because I don't have any more ginger tea, and making ramen noodles dressed up with fresh vegetables: carrots, onions, celery, parsley and cilantro. Its my best effort to combat this cold. My trick is: I chop the vegetables and put them into the saucepan of boiling water and let them cook for a few minutes. Then I add the seasoning packet and the noodles, stir it around to break up the noodles, and put then lid on the pan and turn off the heat. Five minutes later, its perfect. I used the whole beef-flavored seasoning packet, too. If the preservatives in that don't kill this illness, I don't know what else will.

It looks pretty good, right? I actually really crave this sometimes. Salty noodles with some crunchy fresh vegetables. I should have added some turmeric for its health benefits! Dang, next time. I even found a recipe site for more insipiring ideas with ramen noodles:

(Sorry its not a hyper-link or whatever you call it. I can't do that feature on my cell phone or tablet, and I am not getting out of bed to fire up the desktop to edit this post.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

Today I found a recipe for deconstructed cabbage rolls. The author is Turkish and she was trying for the flavors her Turkish grandmother created in cabbage rolls. One difference from what I am used to is she added dried mint to her meat mixture, so I might try that today. Unstuffed cabbage. I noticed a lot of times people eat the filling out of the rolls and leave the cabbage, so this way maybe with the cabbage incorporated more into the entire dish, it will be more palatable. Eat the cabbage, man! It's healthy!
SLO Veg came through with all the essentials for my Ukrainian cabbage rolls
As I am sure I have mentioned a thousand times, my Mom was an American-born Ukrainian, and her signature recipe was stuffed cabbage rolls, which she called "holopschi" (or holubsti). Its what she made for every church potluck, family picnic, or large gathering, because she could make one or two large pans full and tote it to wherever we were going. I remember church potlucks becoming a smorgasborg of cultural dishes, from the Filipino pot stickers, Italian spaghetti and meatballs, Greek dolmas, Irish potatoes and Polish perogies. Our town was a bit of a melting pot, and each lady would always bring her specialty--it was expected. "Our next potluck dinner will be __________". "Mary, are you going to bring your cabbage rolls?"

My new cookbook
My Mom's birthday was in February, and its the perfect time of year to celebrate her heritage in our family by having a Ukrainian-themed family potluck in her memory. My brother makes his version of cabbage rolls, spicing it up with sausage, while my sister likes to make borscht. I usually make sides and desserts. I have been trying different recipes that I find online, but this year I received a cookbook gift from a cousin in Philly, "Ukrainian Cuisine", by Bohdan Zahny, featuring a huge assortment of dishes from appetizers to desserts. It gives a good feel for the hearty type of foods the Ukrainians eat, with lots of pork, veal, fish, eggs, rice and millet, cabbage, onion, mushrooms, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes. Sauces are creamy, using sour cream or mayonnaise and seasonings are basically salt, pepper, dill, parsley, and lemon. Sweeteners are usually honey or raisins and a lot of recipes call for Farmer's cheese, which I guess is similar to cottage cheese. 
Simple cabbage rolls

While the cookbook features over a dozen recipes for borscht and even more fillings for vareniky (filled dumplings similiar to perogies), I was disappointed to find only two recipes for stuffed cabbage rolls, and they were both very simply seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar. My Mom didn't have a recipe; she tried to recreate the dish her mother had made so often when she was growing up in Philadelphia in the 1920-30s, where they lived amidst a Ukrainian population in their neighborhood. After moving across the country with my Dad, she didn't have anyone to ask, as the small West Coast town we lived in didn't have any Ukrainians other than my Mom that we knew about. Mom seasoned her filling with onion, garlic, oregano, dill or thyme. She cooked the ground beef first and then mixed it with the cooked rice, whereas a lot of recipes I see call for raw hamburger formed into little balls, then wrapped in cabbage and baked for a longer amount of time. She usually made her sauce with tomato soup mixed with sour cream, but I am sure my Grandmother didn't have Campbell's tomato soup back in the 1920s. Sometimes Mom added cheddar cheese to the top, but I don't think that is all that traditional. I have seen recipes with a brown gravy, slices of bacon, tangy tomato sauce spiked with lemon, or just bare, with maybe a squeeze of lemon. Here is another Holubsti recipe I found online that sounds more like what Mom made, except for she seasoned her's more:
Note: this site contains a variety of cabbage roll recipes, some meatless. This author is a Canadian Ukrainian, and she says recipes vary a lot by region, as it does in the Ukraine and surrounding countries. Makes sense.

I started by browning the ground beef and seasoning it with salt, pepper, and granulated garlic. Then I added a mirepoix of onions, celery and carrots, along with some freshly minced garlic and let that all cook together to blend all those wonderful vegetable flavors with the meat. I added one can of diced tomatoes, one can tomato sauce, and one cup of chicken broth. Meanwhile, I had a pot of water boiling and blanched the cabbage for one minute, then chopped it up and stirred it in with the meat mixture. I added a little more salt-pepper-garlic seasoning, a tablespoon of dried oregano and a pinch of dried mint, and gave it a taste. Oh, lemon juice! I sliced one of my beautiful Femminello Italian lemons that came in yesterday's box delivered by SLO Veg, and squeezed the juice into the mixture.

So let's see: I have Turkish mint flavoring with Mexican oregano and Italian lemon. Nothing especially Ukrainian, but from the recipe I found in the Ukrainian Cuisine cookbook, those rolls seem so nondescript they need some influence. They don't even have any tomatoes, for crying out loud! There are plenty of other recipes to try in this cookbook, starting with the borscht. But that's a blog for another day. Or the archives, because I have blogged about it before. Whatever suits your fancy! Maybe I will research the dumplings some more. That could become my Ukrainian speciality! Even though my mother never made them that I can recall. One of my brother's comment last year, "I don't remember Mom ever making vareniky." True, that. Sigh!

When I tasted my mixture today, it was good. I guess I could have used dill instead of mint for a little more tradtional Ukrainian taste, but this was fresh and tangy and satisfying. I put it into a glass casserole dish and will heat it up later tonight for our dinner. Some rye bread rolls would sure be good to go along with this. My Mom loved her dark rye bread, for sure. I miss my Mom!

Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls

1 head green cabbage
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1/2 yellow onion
3 ribs celery, with leaves
3 carrots
3-4 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp. Santa-Maria style seasoning blend
     (salt-pepper-granulated garlic)
2 cups cooked rice

15 oz. can diced tomatoes
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried dill (or mint, if you prefer)
1 cup chicken broth
juice of one lemon

1) Prep the vegetables: slice and chop the onion, celery and carrots. Minced the fresh garlic.
2) Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the cabbage for one minute. (I halved the cabbage so I could slice it up more easily after.) Let cool in a strainer, then quarter and slice into ribbons.
3) Put a swirl of olive oil in a saute pan and brown the ground beef on medium heat. Season with 1 tsp. Santa Maria-style seasoning. Add the mirepoix (onion, celery, carrots) and the minced garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the rice, tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano, dill and chicken broth. Squeeze in the lemon juice. Add the chopped cabbage and cook for a few more minutes, adding more salt and pepper to taste.
4)Put some olive oil in the bottom of a glass casserole dish. Spread the meat and cabbage mixture in the dish. At this point, you could top it with some grated cheese or more tomato sauce with a little lemon juice mixed into it, or a sour cream and mushroom gravy sauce. Heat in the oven for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Beefy Golden Beet Borscht

Golden beets were a wonderful addition to our vegetable box last week. I loves me some golden beets!

A quick survey of the refrigerator contents revealed all the makings for a hearty beefy vegetable borscht, which was one of the favorite ethnic dishes my mom use to make for my dad. Borscht contains a lot of root vegetables, including beets, carrots, potatoes, and onions, plus celery and cabbage. The main seasoning is dill. My sister likes to make a vegetarian version using the traditional red beets, but I like a hearty beef stock for the base and I have become partial to the golden beet variety that we often get in our SLO Veg deliveries. The only thing I needed from the store today was a cheap cut of beef with some good bones! I found a small rack of beef back ribs--four good bones and enough meat for pot of soup.

Preparation super easy, but the thing that really complimented this borscht was the dill rye bread I located on the grocery shelf. My mom really appreciated a good rye bread. I guess her mother use to make bread every Saturday for their entire week. Dark rye was her real favorite. The rye bread it is tonight!

I first sliced an onion and put it on the bottom of the crock pot. Then I seasoned the rack of ribs with a salt-pepper-garlic blend and laid it on top of the onion rings, fat side down. I set the crockpot on high and let that all cook for a bit. That method browned the onions a bit, and got the meat browned as well. After about an hour, I added six cups of water, four diced potatoes, three sliced carrot, and two diced ribs of celery, along with some dill weed seasoning, and let the crockpot do its magic. Meanwhile, three beets were in the oven wrapped in foil to roast for an hour at 400 degrees. I find roasting the beets really brings out a nice flavor. I would add the beets to the crock pot during the last hour of cooking, along with the shredded cabbage. Just prior to adding the beets, I pulled out the rack of ribs and removed all the meat, which at this point literally fell of the bone. The meat all went back into the crock, along with the beets and cabbage. A little more salt and pepper, plus a dash of red wine vinegar, completed this soup.

I use some large-sized pasta bowls for serving and put out some sour cream on the side. I will try to upload a picture on Facebook, because this blog will only allow one photo these days.

Beefy Golden Beet Borscht

Small rack beef ribs

One onion, sliced into rings

6 cups water

1 tsp ea salt, pepper and granulated garlic seasoning

3 golden beets, roasted, diced

3 carrots, sliced

2 celery ribs, sliced

4 russet potatoes, diced

1/2 head green cabbage, chopped

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

Wrap beets in foil after drizzling with oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Bake for one hour at 400 degrees. Cool, peel and dice into bite-sized pieces. 

Put sliced onions in crock pot. Place seasoned rack of ribs on top, fat side down. Set on high and cook for one hour. Add 6 cups water, potatoes, carrots and celery, plus 1 Tbs dill weed. Cook on high for 4-5 hours, or low for 7-8 hours.  

Remove beef ribs and pull meat off bones. Disgard bones. Put meat back into crock. Add beets and cabbage and red wine vinegar. Cook on high for 30 minutes until cabbage is wilted. Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream and some buttered rye bread.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What's in Season? It's What's for Dinner!

Since I have been blogging here for almost two years about our SLO Veg produce, I am starting to notice I am repeating some recipes. Often there is a new twist or two, but its, you know, the same kind of vegetables or fruits, more or less. Its season-driven, and I am beginning to learn what to look forward to getting in the box.

One of the best ways to plan a menu is knowing what is in season. Usually its whatever is featured on sale in the grocery store ads. For us these days, its whatever comes in our box, since the produce is all locally grown. That's fun! Its why we have watermelon and berries in the summer and pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving, with a mainstay supply of kale, strawberries and broccoli and bok choy, because they seem to have an almost year-round growing season here. We also get lots of apples, oranges or other citrus on a regular basis. Since we also signed up for the fresh fish from the partnering SLO Fresh Catch, we are able to sample a nice variety of ocean fish caught right out of Morro Bay. Yes, we are spoiled!

I do have to supplement from local markets, because every week I need a variety of onions, potatoes, carrots, and salad ingredients. I also need things like eggs, yogurt, canned tuna, mayonnaise, mustard, peanut butter, chicken, cheese, tortillas, butter and bread. Some shrimp, pork and beef are nice to have, as well. Pantry essentials include rice, quinoa, pasta, flour, sugar, salt, pepper, broth, diced tomatoes, beans, vinegar, oil, and bread crumbs. I try to keep my pantry and freezer stocked with these staples.

But when we get our delivery of seasonal produce, it all comes to life! We can have fish tacos with fresh cilantro and red peppers, zucchini and tomatoes with basil, lettuce wraps with Asian turkey meat filling, green peppers stuffed with rice, apples and onions with brats and so on.

Getting this produce delivered has certainly expanded my cooking repertoire and sent me in search of recipes, spices and cooking vessels to create dishes with just the right flair. It brought me out of a deep cooking rut where I made the same 10 meals right out of my battered Betty Crocker cookbook. I have learned a lot about flavor profiles, so I know better what to combine or substitute in my recipes and I can whip up a meal almost effortlessly.

Last night we had pulled pork with roasted brussel sprouts and spaghetti squash on the side. Tonight we are having an Italian beefy vegetable minestrone soup so I can use up the last of my zucchini and spinach (also because the foccachia bread I had got hard and is more of a crouton-perfect for soup!). Wednesday it will be pork carnitas tacos with sauteed peppers and onions, and Thursday will be some kind of pasta with lots of veggies in there. I want to roast the cauliflower, but that might have to wait. I saw Rachel's post for a Buffalo cauliflower. How great is that? Need to try it, for sure, with bleu cheese dressing for dipping. Maybe I will share that one with my girlfriends when we get together.

The recipes ideas are endless, always with a twist. Here is to happy eating!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Thai Fish Tacos with Peanut Sauce and Carrot Slaw

Last Saturday night, I somehow found myself home alone, with no men-folk to feed or fuss over, no daughters to hang out with, and no girlfriends to rehash our lives with over coffee, so....I decided to take myself out for dinner and a movie. 

I checked out the movie listings and spied the new Robert Downey Jr. movie, The Judge, was playing at a downtown theater. Perfect! Robert Duvall was also on the ticket, along with Billy Bob Thornton, so it had to be good. Of course, I could just judge that for myself, now, couldn't I? (he he).

Dinner first. What was nearby? Oh, just my personal favorite, Splash Cafe. Its a local eatery that specializes in clam chowder, fish n chips, and burgers, but they also bake breads and pastries, and their lunchtime combo of a half sandwich and cup of chowder is hard to beat for under $10 (or over $10, for that matter). But fish tacos were on special this night for $2 apiece, with a small bread bowl of chowder for another $5. Perfect for my solo date night with myself. They offered the tacos in their original, Baja or Thai styles...Thai??? Sounds great!

What I got was tender, grilled chunks of cod served on two corn tortillas with cabbage, shredded carrots, diced green onions, strips of red bell pepper, and leaves of basil and cilantro, all drizzled with a spicy Thai peanut sauce that made me lick my lips, my fingers, and my paper basket liner. I would definately be ordering these tacos again, but better yet, I could try to recreate it at home! 

Then I went to the theater and cried through most of the movie, with some intermittent laughter at the surprises woven into the lovely human interactions. Romance, struggle, laughter, redemption...everything I look for in a movie. I thought it was a well done movie and enjoyed it all the way through the last of the credits. In all, a great date night.

So on Monday night, when my hub had returned from the car races and our roommate and our son would be home for the evening as well, I made this:

I had some Sand Sole from our SLO Veg delivery that had been put in the freezer for just this occasion. Thin, white fish filets that I coated in seasoned flour and pan fried in butter until the coating was crisp and the fish was flakey. I was out of cabbage, so I lined the heated tortllas with butter lettuce and layered on a carrot slaw that I had mixed with a couple of tablespoons of sesame-ginger dressing right out of the bottle. I searched the refrigerator's vegetable bins for slaw additions: I chopped up some green onions, red bell peppers, basil and cilantro leaves and added a dash of celery seed, which was the roommate's idea. He has some pretty good food instincts, for a guy. I made my own peanut sauce, however, using a cup of peanut butter, some soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, sweet chili sauce, Siracha sauce, garlic, ginger, and brown sugar. I could have made my own slaw dressing with sesame oil, ginger and rice vinegar, but I think I mentioned that I was out of rice vinegar. Could've used white vinegar, I guess, but I had the bottled stuff. I think you can follow heating the tortillas, mixing up a carrot slaw with anything else you have in the frig and pan-frying some fish filets, but here is the recipe for a wonderful, finger-licking and versatile, no-cook Thai peanut sauce. 

Thai Peanut Sauce


1 1/2 cups creamy peanut butter

1/2 cup coconut milk

3 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon Siracha sauce

1 tablespoon sweet chili sauce

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro


1. In a blender, mix the peanut butter, coconut milk, water, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, ginger, and garlic. Mix in the cilantro just before serving

(I am using the leftover peanut sauce on some Thai chicken and noodles tonight. Just cooking some pasta, browning chunks of chicken breast, and mixing it all together with the peanut sauce. Might add some leftover green beans, too.)

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Kale soup

I found a hearty kale soup recipe the other day that fit my needs perfectly, because its fast to make on a week night after work. I had the curly-leaf kale, some carrots, potatoes, onions and beans on hand, plus a nice fresh loaf of French bread. Soup makings if I ever saw it!

I pretty much followed this recipe, except I only used the one kind of bean (red kidney beans) and added some cooked, diced brat sausage chunks. I also did not bother to blenderize the beans that were leftover from another meal. I flavored the broth with fresh rosemary and mint, and some red wine vinegar, and it had a nice degree of complexity for all of its simplicity.

An added bonus was having enough soup to take to work the next day!

 Two-Bean Soup with Kale | -

Kale Soup

2 Tbs Olive Oil

2 Tbs butter

1/2 onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

3 carrots, peeled and diced

1/2 tsp salt

2 cloves garlic, smashed

4 Cups water

2 tsp vegetable or chicken boullion

5 small red potatoes, diced into bite-sized chunks

1 15oz. can red kidney beans, undrained

1 large bunch kale, chopped

2 links cooked chorizo or other sausage, diced

1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

1 Tbs. red wine vinegar

1 tsp fresh rosemary and mint leaves, minced

Cooking directions:

Boil potatoes in water with boullion added for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, saute onions, celery and carrots (mirepoix) in olive oil and butter until onions are translucent. Add salt, garlic and rosemary and cook for one more minute until fragrant. 

Add mirepoix to potato pot; then using the same saute pan, saute the chopped kale for 2-3 minutes until it just begins to wilt.  Add the kale to the soup pot, along with kidney beans, red wine vinegar, mint, and sausage. Season with fresh ground pepper to taste.

Serve with hot, buttered French bread slices and a glass of your favorite wine.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lemony Mediterranean-style baked fish with vegetables

Since the husband and I are on a continual journey to optimize our health, we try to eat fish for dinner at least once a week. That is a big improvement from our old habit of maybe going out to have fried fish and chips every other month or so. I mean, that is good too, especially since we live near the Pacific coast, and there is a plethora of fine fish restaurants, but its more of a treat, something to have on our "free" day one day a week where we can eat whatever our heart desires. The rest of the week, the plan is simple, heart-healthy variations, like chicken and fish prepared in a Mediterranean style. We had fish, lemons, basil, green beans, cherry tomatoes from our weekly box of goodness from the local farmers, so dinner practically made itself.

So last night it was a lemony baked fish, lemon-zested green beans, tomato-artichoke-cucumber salad. We did have one indulgence: cheesy olive-topped french bread. That was mostly to fill up the other two eaters at our table who don't need to watch their calories like we do. Lee and I had one slice, they had, like, six each. I didn't show you the bread here, because it was already gone. 

I got an idea to line the baking dish with basil leaves from another recipe site, and I had a bunch of large leaves that came in our tote box from SLO Veg, so it was perfect! I drizzled a bit of olive oil into a rectangular glass baking dish, then Lee lined the dish with basil leaves under my instructions. I was busy making the cucumber salad. He laid the fish on top of the basil, seasoning it with coarse sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and then grated on some lemon zest. The juice of the lemon was squeezed on top, followed by some sauteed onion rings and halved cherry tomatoes and slices of lemon. Then the fish went into the oven to bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes or so. We had about one and a half pound of fish filets, which also came in our weekly tote in co-op with the Central Coast Fisheries, and that was plenty for four people. I checked it after 20 minutes and decided to let it go another five minutes. Then it was perfect and flakey and wonderfully infused with basil.  

The tri-colored green beans, also provided by our local farmers, were boiled for 15 minutes in a pot of salted water until tender; then drained and drizzled with olive oil and topped with salt, pepper, and lemon zest, same as the fish preparation. The salad consisted of sliced cucumber, halved cherry tomatoes, diced red onion, marinated artichoke hearts, Kalamata olives and dressed with olive oil, Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. So simple a Cave woman could do it...if a Cave woman had a nice sharp knife and some good vinegar. 

The bread that I keep talking about but did not photograph was a loaf of French bread, sliced lengthwise, and spread with a mixture of mayonnaise, butter, parmesan cheese, garlic, green olives and green onions. It gets toasted under the broiler for about 5 minutes until slightly browned and bubbly. Then you slice it into 2-inch pieces and devour it. 

Anyway, everybody ate and was happy. That's always the goal. Goodnight.