From The Cupboard

Every few months I challenge myself to only cook and eat what I already have on hand. Sometimes the challenge will be for a week, or two weeks, even a month. I love these challenges because it’s a great way to save money, be inventive, and use up stuff that’s been in my cupboards or freezer for quite a while.

I’ll usually allow myself to buy a few staples like eggs or onions if needed, but the goal is to be creative with the food on hand.

I think it’s about time for another “no shopping” challenge.

Let me see…What do I have to work with? I have lots of dried lentils, brown rice, and quinoa. I have canned peaches, various gluten free flours, hot dogs, eggs, copious amounts of homemade sauerkraut. Time to get creative!

Speaking of sauerkraut – that’s an awesome way to use up veggies that are past their prime. I recently made my mom a small batch of sauerkraut from a couple of partial heads of cabbage, a handful of sugar snap peas that weren’t very snappy, a few partial bags of carrots, a red onion, and a few cloves of garlic. I have a feeling it’s going to be delicious!

So how do you make delicious nutritious meals with limited ingredients? Seasoning is key. It’s amazing what salt and a few herbs or spices can do to transform seemingly boring ingredients.

When I do these little challenges, I tend to eat a lot of Asian or Mexican-style dishes. Beans and rice are nutritious and a cheap source of protein – and a bonus of dating the guy who owns Black Market Hot Sauce is that I always have hot sauce on hand!

Another type of meal I lean towards is breakfast food. Pancakes, muffins, french-toast-in-a-bowl… all things that I can scrounge up with the random flours in my cupboard.

Google Search is my friend when I’m trying to use up stuff. Who knew there were so many different ways to use lentils?! If I can come up with a falafel recipe that uses brown lentils – I’ll be in heaven!

Usually one of the first things I run out of during one of these challenges is fresh vegetables. I’ll normally “splurge” and buy some kale or spinach – something green that packs a powerful nutritional punch. If you don’t want to spend extra money but still wanted the health benefits and variety that fresh veggies provide – you can grow your own sprouts! I’m not talking about growing vegetables from the ground up (although that is also an option), I’m talking about soaking and sprouting grains over a few days to get that added healthy green goodness. Lentils and quinoa both work, as do countless other grains and seeds.

Cooking from the cupboard/freezer can be challenging, and at times frustrating – but I think it’s worth it! It’s a chance to save some money and reduce kitchen waste. It’s a great way to learn how to cook new dishes and discover new food combinations that you haven’t thought of before. And it will naturally pull you out of any cooking rut you may have been stuck in!

So what do you think? Is this something you would ever do? Want to get creative and join me in a “no shopping” challenge?

Don’t Miss It

Sometimes…often…inspiration escapes me. Laziness gets in the way. Little distractions and excuses fill my mind and leave me bored and uncreative. I want to write…and cook, inspire and create. I want to fill my days with beautiful moments and delicious food. How do you begin when the excuses are many and energy is lacking?

I have to start small and hope it grows.

Pay close attention to the tiny happenings nearby. A sparrow lands, momentarily, to snatch a seed from the new window feeder.

Joy comes with each new seedling that pushes it’s way up from the trays on the table. Go check – are there any new tips of green? Pet the sleeping kitty on the way.

Don’t let the desire for perfection get in the way. Just write. Don’t edit. Now is not the time.

Bake some chicken thighs just so you can eat the crispy skins. Eat another piece of salted chocolate just to make it’s dark flavor last a little longer.

Pay attention. Don’t miss it.

Life and creativity is everywhere. Sometimes we have to work a little harder to find it. This is where I start. These few paragraphs are my attempt to begin again.

Taste Tease

I know it’s been a little while since I’ve done a post. I just started a new job and have been training all week! Plus, I don’t have regular internet access anymore. Once I get my new work schedule sorted out, I’ll be posting regularly again.

I just wanted to share a few snapshots of some of the meals Dan and I have made recently. I’ll be posting recipes (and hopefully better pictures) in the near future, so stay tuned!

We’ve been making Pierogi by the boatload! So good. SO good. IMG_20160131_221732674

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We’ve also made Texas Chili with smoked peppers. SPICY but delicious!IMG_20160131_221741591

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Here’s a picture of the best Chicken Bacon Cheddar Jalapeno Ranch Burger I’ve ever had. We used chicken thighs instead of white meat and we ate it with an awesome creamy coleslaw. IMG_20160204_214205444

Last but not least, Dan bought Ahi tuna steaks again and made me this gourmet salad! (He ate a tuna burger that looked fantastic.) IMG_20160206_011443311

Keep an eye out for recipes and another Taste the World post soon!

Hawaiian Yellowfin Poke

Oooooh man… If you ever get your hands on some really good fresh tuna, don’t be afraid – eat it raw! Sushi, Sashimi, Poke – three delicious ways to eat raw fish. Dan and I made our own awesome version of Hawaiian Poke – super easy and no cooking (wink wink) involved.

If you get fresh tuna and absolutely have to cook it, please try to keep it on the rare/medium rare side of done. Overcooked tuna is a sad thing.

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However, if you think you’re up for it – go the raw route!  Poke can be served with rice, salad, cucumbers, sprouts, or anything else you come up with. We ate ours with additional dipping sauces (soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil/hot sauce), pickled ginger, bean sprouts, and wasabi paste. (We, of course, used Black Market Hot Sauce for this recipe – Chili Garlic Lime to be precise.)

There are so many different recipes for poke – look at a few and come up with your own combination!

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This recipe would be a S if you follow the Trim Healthy Mama plan.

Hawaiian Yellowfin Poke

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb sashimi grade tuna
  • 2-4 green onions – thinly sliced
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro – chopped
  • 1/8-1/4 c toasted sesame oil (sesame oil can be over powering so start with the smaller amount and ad more if desired)
  • 1/4 c dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 T grated fresh ginger
  • 2-3 T hot sauce
  • 2 T sesame seeds

Instructions

  1. With a sharp knife, dice tuna into 1/4 inch cubes.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, and hot sauce. Taste and adjust flavors to your preference.
  3. Add tuna and remaining ingredients to marinade.
  4. Cover and let marinade in refrigerator until ready to serve. (Can also be eaten immediately.)

Enjoy!

 

 

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Taste the World – South Korea

So uh….we jumped ahead in our journey. Because, well, Dan was craving Korean short ribs. I’m pretty sure Korean short ribs are at the top of Dan’s “Favorite Meals” list so I was more than willing to skip half the alphabet in order to make him happy.Capture2
Along with the ribs we also made spicy Korean kidney beans aaaand kimchi!! Oh. My. Word. I think I’m in love. Fresh kimchi is possibly the best thing ever. I’ll definitely be making it again, and soon.
All of the dishes were pretty easy to make, albeit somewhat time-consuming. Although the recipe looks complicated, the kimchi was much easier than I expected. We followed this video and recipe from Maangchi – a talented Korean chef who was very enjoyable to watch. I can’t wait to see what other videos she’s put together!
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Once again, our photography skills are lacking nonexistent. Hang in there! Some day we’ll figure this out.
Speaking of pictures, you may notice a hot dog in one of them. Dan and I will put anything and everything on a hot dog, and if it’s spicy or pickled – so much the better.  Naturally, we had to make a kimchi dog. Totally worth how stuffed we were after eating so much food. I’ll write a post in the near future focusing on hot dogs and all of the crazy and delicious combinations we’ve discovered!
I’m not entirely sure how authentic the spicy kidney beans are to traditional Korean cuisine. Regardless – they were a tasty, easy side dish.
There are so many Korean dishes that we still want to try – we’ll most likely post at least once more about South Korea. We’ll also do a post about North Korean cuisine. Although the dishes and flavors are very similar between the two countries, I’ve read that North Korean dishes are generally less spicy and often utilize seafood, broths, and noodles. Capture4
For those of you in the know – what is the one Korean dish we HAVE to try?
 

Korean Short Ribs

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: intermediate
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Ingredients
  • 5 lbs Korean style beef short ribs
  • 1 c brown sugar, packed (alternative sweetener and 1 T molasses can also be used)
  • 1 c soy sauce or Braggs Aminos
  • 1/2 c water
  • 1/4 c rice vinegar
  • 1 medium onion – finely diced
  • 1/4 c fresh minced garlic
  • 1-2 T minced fresh ginger
  • 2 T toasted Sesame oil
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2-3 sprigs Thai basil – minced
  • 6 Serrano peppers – minced, optional
  • 3-4 green onions – thinly sliced, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Let it sit until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add short ribs and marinade to a large zip lock bag (remove most of the air before sealing).
  3. Turn bag over a few times to coat ribs evenly with marinade.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
  5. When you are ready to cook the ribs, preheat a grill or a cast iron pan to high heat.
  6. Drain off excess marinade.
  7. Cook ribs 3-4 minutes on each side, turning once.
  8. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Enjoy!

Notes:

  1. When looking for short ribs – try to buy the thinnest, widest, and leanest ribs available. (The ribs will still have some fat, which is good, but many of the ribs for sale have excessive amounts.)
  2. Serrano peppers are optional, the longer the ribs marinade – the spicier they will be.

 

For our beans we used a Soyaki marinade I found at Trader Joe’s. This replaced the sugar, soy sauce, water, and some of the ginger and garlic.

Spicy Korean Kidney Beans

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 standard size can red kidney beans – drained and rinsed
  • 1-2 T ketchup
  • 3 T brown sugar (alternative sweetener and a dollop of molasses could also be used)
  • 3 T soy sauce or Braggs Aminos
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 T garlic – minced
  • 1 T fresh ginger – minced
  • 1-2 green onions – thinly sliced, for garnish

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat.
  3. Cook until sauce has reduced slightly.

Serve as a side dish or over rice. Garnish with green onions.

Don’t forget to check out Maangchi’s recipe for Kimchi which can be found here: http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/tongbaechu-kimchi

 

Taste the World – Albania

Whew! I really struggled trying to write this post. It seems that all of my creativity has disappeared. The food this week was delicious, comforting, and challenging. My co-chef was attractive and entertaining. And yet – my brain is only stringing together boring sentences. For your sake, I’ll try to make this fast.
     Our Taste the World experiment took us to Albania this week. We actually spent several days on this country because we made two meals instead of one. The first meal consisted of Tav Ma Presh (a leek casserole), which we ate with smashed new potatoes and a common Albanian tomato and cucumber salad. The second meal required the majority of an afternoon to prepare because we just had to make Flija – a traditional dish with it’s own celebratory day!
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Tav Ma Presh is primarily made of leeks, along with some red peppers and minced lamb, beef, or chicken. It’s a hearty comfort food that reminds me of Shepherds Pie without the mashed potatoes. A lot of the recipes we looked at actually suggested serving it with mashed potatoes or just as a side dish for another meal. We tweaked the traditional recipe to utilize what we had on hand (ground beef and baby potatoes), and we both loved the result! We also wanted a tiny bit of spice so we added a few red jalapeños to our dish. You’ll find our recipe for this and the other dishes below.
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The cucumber and tomato salad was pretty basic but the addition of green onions and lemon juice made it a refreshing contrast against the rich and fatty Tav Ma Presh.
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Our attempt at making Flija was not entirely successful, but it was an interesting challenge nonetheless. March 18th in Albania is Flija Day and families invite their friends and relatives over for the day to prepare and eat Flija! A whole day for one dish? Flija takes at least three hours to prepare.
     Flija is a many layered “cake” made with a simple pancake-like batter that is baked in layers and brushed with a thin, creamy, yogurt batter. The finished dish can be eaten with either savory or sweet toppings. Flija is traditionally made outside, near an open fire. A large metal lid called a sac is placed over the fire and hot coals are piled on top to maintain the temperature. The sac is used to bake each layer of the Flija as it sits near the fire. The process is kind of difficult to explain clearly – I recommend watch one of the following videos to see how it is made traditionally.
 
To make our Flija, we had to improvise. We used my deep cast iron pan and baked each layer under the broiler in my oven. Mistakes #1 and #2. We also played with the recipe a little bit and combined several recipes that we found. Mistake #3. None of the recipes specified whether or not the pan should be preheated – so I preheated. Mistake #4.
     The bottom layers of our dish were burnt and crispy – a result of preheating and (I think) using cast iron. All of the edges were over cooked and each layer was denser and chewier than I think they were supposed to be – a result of being in a hot oven for 3 hours and the recipe we used.
Still – we were able to taste the potential in the edible parts of our dish. We’ll be keeping an eye out for a suitable pan and lid to attempt this dish again the traditional way. I’ve included our recipe below because I’m not entirely convinced the recipe was the problem. I’ve also included a few links to a few basic recipes in case you suddenly have an afternoon free and the desire to stand next to a fire or oven for most of the day!
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On to the recipes!

Tav Ma Presh

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • 3-5 large leeks, green parts removed and cut into approximately 1/2 in. diagonal slices
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 T tomato sauce
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  • 2-3 red jalapenos – sliced
  • beef stock
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a deep frying pan over medium high heat and sauté leeks until soft.
  3. Place leeks in a baking dish.
  4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and cook the onions and the ground beef.
  5. Add the tomato sauce, red peppers, salt and pepper to taste and enough beef stock to cover everything. Bring to a boil.
  6. Pour the meat mixture over the leeks and bake for 1 hour at 375.

Serve as a side dish or with choice of potatoes.

 

 

Smashed New Potatoes

  • Servings: variable
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients 

  • baby potatoes – 6-12 per person
  • olive oil
  • salt
Instructions 
  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. Lay potatoes on an oven safe pan and drizzle with olive oil. Stir to coat evenly.
  3. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
  4. Roast in oven for 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender. (Can also be cooked longer until skins start to get crispy.)
  5. Remove from oven and smash each potato with a fork.
  6. Pile potatoes on a platter and serve.

 

 

Tomato Cucumber Salad with Citrus Dressing

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients  

  • 3-4 large tomatoes – medium diced
  • 1 large English cucumber – quartered and diced
  • small bunch green onions – thinly sliced
  • 1-2 T good olive oil
  • 1-2 T lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Taste and adjust lemon juice and seasoning as needed.

 

 

Flija

  • Servings: 8-12
  • Difficulty: experienced
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Ingredients 

  • 5 eggs
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 3 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 – 8 oz package cream cheese – softened
  • 2-3 T butter – melted
  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • water – as needed
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to broil.
  2. Combine first four ingredients in a medium bowl. Consistency should be similar to a thin pancake batter. (Batter #1)
  3. Combine last four ingredients in a separate medium bowl. Add enough water to reach a very thin consistency. (Batter #2)
  4. Using a squeeze bottle or a spoon, spread a thin layer of batter #1 on the bottom of the pan as a base.
  5. Place pan under broiler until batter is cooked and starting to brown in spots. Remove from oven and spread a thin layer of batter #2 as the second layer.
  6. In a “star” pattern, add a layer of batter #1.
  7. Bake again.
  8. Repeat these two layers, alternating the star pattern so that the “cake” slowly grows evenly, until pan is full or batter runs out.
Serve with jam, cheese, spicy vegetables, or other choice of topping.
I’ve included a few “in progress” photos to help illustrate the recipe.
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Have you been to Albania? What was your favorite dish?

Satisfying Salmon and Kale

At this time of year, all I want to do is hibernate and drink copious amounts of creamy coffee. Christmas and New Years are past and the cold has officially set in here in the NW. Instead of embracing the grumpy bear persona – I should be taking brisk walks and eating delicious healthy fats and life-giving leafy greens.

Ha ha! Let’s not get too crazy now. One step at a time. Food first, walk later…maybe.

So the real question is: What’s for dinner? Answer: Baked salmon and wilted kale!                 Stay with me. It tastes better than it sounds.          Bake some salmon. Rip up some greens and add a little flavor. Enjoy! It really is that easy.

Wild salmon and kale are both considered super foods! Together they are full of iron, calcium, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, and vitamins D, B12, B6, B3, K, A, and C. I’m not even mentioning all of the other crazy nutrients salmon and kale contain.

I love salmon because it is just so satisfying and filling. And I love kale because I’m a little weird and I like the strong, deep, green flavor it has. I also like the fact that kale doesn’t disintegrate and get slimy the way spinach does when it’s cooked for longer than a minute.

20151231_175230This dish is so simple it doesn’t really need a recipe, but I’ll give you one anyway. This is a perfect deep S meal if you follow the Trim Healthy Mama plan.

But first, a few notes from my inner food/health nerd. Some vitamins, including A and K, are fat-soluble – meaning our bodies rely on the presence of fat to properly absorb them. Iron can only be properly absorbed when paired with vitamin C (found in vinegar), and calcium requires vitamin D (found in salmon). When you compare the nutrients found in these two super foods – you find a match made in heaven. You can find links to more detailed explanations at the bottom of the post.

Now the recipe!

Baked Salmon with Wilted Kale

  • Servings: 1+
  • Time: 20 min
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • salmon filet
  • fresh kale – 1-2 large leaves per person
  • salted butter
  • vinegar of choice (flavored, rice wine, apple cider, etc.)
  • toasted sesame oil
  • Braggs Aminos or soy sauce

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. Place salmon (skin side down) in an oven safe pan and dot generously with butter. Bake for 15 minutes or until the flesh flakes apart easily with a fork. Remove from oven. While salmon is baking, prepare the kale. Begin by washing thoroughly and shaking off excess water. Remove the tough center core from each leaf and cut or rip remaining greens into large bit size pieces. Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium high heat and toss in kale pieces. Stir to heat evenly and continue to cook until kale is slightly wilted. A couple of tablespoons of water can be added if necessary to prevent sticking and burning. Pile wilted kale on a plate and drizzle with a few splashes each of vinegar, sesame oil and aminos. Top with a serving of salmon and enjoy!

Reference Links

The Healthiest Way to Eat Kale

Salmon Nutrients

Nutrient Absorption of Spinach (sharing because it’s similar to kale)

Do you have a favorite way to eat salmon or kale? I’d love to find some new ways to enjoy these super foods!