Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gingery Beef Lettuce Wraps

Gingery Beef Lettuce Wraps
Here's another Asian style recipe, quickly adapted from a Weight Watchers recipe that I made for dinner last night. Believe me when I say that eating this feels NOTHING like dieting -- these lettuce wraps are full of flavor, texture and have the elusive "umami" we all hear so much about. I changed the recipe slightly, adding ingredients that upped the flavor. I keep most of these things on hand, because I love cooking this way! (See some more takes on lettuce wraps HERE and also HERE)

Once you've purchased the needed spices and condiments, you can create so many healthy meals. This is not difficult cooking so please don't be intimidated by the  number of ingredients. They are mostly inexpensive and easy to find in a regular grocery store! So here we go -- the only ingredient I added that will add Smart Points to your total -- if you are "counting" -- is the Hoisin Sauce, which adds 1 point to the 3 specified by Weight Watchers. The Hoisin Sauce adds a richness and slight sweetness which interacts nicely with the salty soy sauce and the rice wine vinegar, which I added as well. I've also added Sriracha Hot Sauce, because we like things a little spicy, but leave it out if you don't. Use low sodium selections if you are sensitive to salt or have high blood pressure.

Gingery Beef Lettuce Wraps
4 servings

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
1 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
2 Tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 Tablespoon minced fresh garlic
2 cups Bok Choy, thinly sliced
2 cups shiitake or white button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced, stems chopped
1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons soy sauce
2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
Sriracha Sauce (may be omitted if you don't like spicy)
Lime wedges, iceberg or butter lettuce, cucumber pieces and fresh cilantro for serving

Wash 6 - 8 large lettuce leaves and chill in the refrigerator. Dice half a cucumber and cut up a little cilantro to top lettuce wraps. If you don't care for cilantro, use either fresh basil or mint. You  only need a little, the fresh herbs add some extra special flavor on the wraps!

Spray a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and add the beef over medium high heat. Using a wooden spoon, break the beef apart and crumble it. When it begins to brown add the onion and ginger. Sprinkle over 1 T. of the soy sauce. Cook a 4 - 5 minutes and add the garlic. Saute' briefly to incorporate garlic, then add the red pepper, mushrooms and bok choy. Cook the mixture until the bok choy begins to wilt.  Stir in the remaining soy sauce, Hoisin sauce and rice wine vinegar. Squeeze Sriracha sauce over the top, if using, about 1 - 2 T. Cover the pan, turn down the heat and let cook for 5 minutes.

Gingery beef stir fry mixture
Put a lettuce leaf or two on a plate and top with 1/3 - 1/2 cup of beef mixture. Top with cucumber, herbs and a squeeze of lime. Squeeze on extra Sriracha if you really like spicy -- my husband did! Enjoy!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Summertime Means Gazpacho!

Gazpacho, chilled and full of vegetables!
I am a lucky woman. I have a neighbor who gives me fresh vegetables from his garden. It seems like everything comes at once, especially tomatoes. I was the recipient of a huge bag full of tomatoes and green peppers just yesterday. I ate a big plate of sliced tomatoes with my dinner last night and today I made gazpacho. I've made gazpacho for years, it's super healthy and low calorie as well as very tasty.  I make mine like a salad -- lots of chopped veggies, a little vinegar and oil, and some salt and pepper. Try it topped with cold, cooked shrimp or sliced avocado. I like a few sliced green olives on mine, but you eat it the way you want to. Some folks like crispy croutons on top. For dinner tonite I made a little "gremolata" of diced olives, celery, green pepper and a few cherry tomatoes, and that's what's in the picture above.

As hot as it here in central VA it's great to make something that doesn't involve turning on the stove OR oven! Cold soup on a hot humid summer evening? Yes, please!

Gazpacho Vegetable Mix
Makes about 6 cups

2 - 2 1/2 lb. vine ripe tomatoes, peeled
1 medium cucumber, peeled with seeds removed
1 small yellow onion, quartered
1/2 medium green pepper, cut into chunks**
2 cloves garlic, about 1 heaping tsp.
1 rib celery, sliced
1 small carrot or 3 baby carrots, scrubbed and sliced
1 1/2 cups V8 or tomato juice (I prefer V8)
1 T. olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. salt
a pinch of black pepper

Peel the tomatoes by cutting an X in the bottom and dropping them in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove to your cutting board and let cool a minute or 2. The skin will slide off easily. Core them to remove any tough parts.
Peel the cucumber and halve it lengthwise. Score the middle with a paring knife and push the seeds out with a spoon or your finger. Chop it roughly to fit into your food processor or blender.
Put all the veggies into your chopper bowl or half into your blender. Blend until the mixture starts to get smooth but still has some texture. Remove to a large bowl and add tomato juice or V8, salt, pepper, vinegar and oil. Whisk to combine. Chill at least 2 hours.

Serve cold, topped with anything you like or just plain. Keeps for about 4 days in the refrigerator.

**Cooks note: If you want your gazpacho to be spicy, add a small to medium jalapeno pepper to your vegetable mixture. If you remove the seeds and membranes, it will tone it down a little. Leave them in for more heat.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Lemon Drop Martini

I have been craving one of these babies for several weeks now! The Limoncello I had in Florence almost satisfied it, but it wasn't quite the same! Here how to make it, in all it's chilled, lemony goodness!

Lemon Drop Martini
makes 2

1.5 ounces Smirnoffs Vodka
1 ounce Stoli Citron Vodka
1/2 oz. triple sec
3/4  ounce lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup**

Lemon Twist 
Sugar for rimming the glass

Place 2 martini glasses in the freezer for at least 15 minutes. In a cocktail shaker, add Smirnoffs, Stoli, triple sec, lemon juice and simple syrup. Add 5 - 6 ice cubes. Shake well for at least 2 minutes. Rub rims of martini glasses with the lemon twists and dip them into a little sugar to make a rim. Strain martinis into the cold rimmed glasses. Add the lemon twists. Enjoy!

Lemon Drop Martini
** To make simple syrup, add 2 ounces of water and 2 tablespoons of white sugar to a microwave measuring cup. Microwave on high for one minute. Stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Cool.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ginger-Garlic Shrimp and Chicken

I've continued working on my Asian cooking skills this week with another Weight Watchers recipe that I only tinkered with slightly. The original recipe called for chicken, but since I made it on a Saturday night I used shrimp, which made it seem a bit more special, or "date-night" worthy! (Is it still a date night if you've been married over 30 years? hhmmmm....) AND since I had some leftover grilled chicken, already conveniently cut into cubes, I threw in a few of those for the last minute of cooking. That upped the point total from 6 to 7, if you are a Weight Watchers member, but it was worth the extra point, believe me!

This dinner came together quickly and really was delicious. I subbed sriracha sauce for the sambal oelek chili paste that the original recipe called for, because that's what I had in the pantry. I also used slightly less teriyaki sauce, because I didn't have the lower sodium kind. I added some soy sauce, because I like it, but you can leave that out if salt is a problem for you. My choice for the sliced green onions in the original recipe was to use a plain yellow onion. I scattered a few pieces of green onion over the dish when I plated it. Served over brown rice, it was healthy and good -- good for you and good to eat! Like most stir fry dishes, the key is to get everything prepped and ready to cook. Once you begin to cook, things move really fast. I start my rice about an hour before I am ready to cook the stir fry.  I like to cook brown rice in some of the same low sodium, fat free chicken broth that I use in the stir fry. It's always a 2  to 1 ratio: 2 cups liquid to 1 cup rice. Bring the liquid to a boil, add the rice, cover and turn down to low. Leave it on low heat for about 30 minutes, turn it off and let sit until you are ready to eat.

Ginger-Garlic Shrimp and Chicken
4 servings
1/2 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 lb. cooked, cubed white breast meat chicken
2 T. Teriyaki sauce
1 T. soy sauce
2 tsp. canola or vegetable oil
2 cups small broccoli florets
1 red or green pepper, quartered and thinly sliced
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 cup water chestnuts, drained and roughly chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
4 scallions, green part only, thinly sliced, for garnish.
1/2 cup low sodium, fat free chicken broth
1 T. finely chopped fresh ginger root
1 T. minced garlic
1 T. Sriracha sauce (optional, or use less if you don't like spicy)
2 c. cooked brown rice

Place the shrimp, teriyaki sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl, stir to combine. In a large, non-stick frying pan, heat 1 tsp. of the oil. Add the shrimp, which you've fished out of the marinade. Cook them over high heat for about 3 minutes.
Searing shrimp.

Remove the shrimp to a clean bowl and add the other tsp. of oil. Add the green pepper, broccoli and carrots to the hot pan. Stir fry for one minute.

Stir frying the vegetables

Add the onions and stir in. Pour the remaining marinade over the vegetables. Stir for a minute, put a top on the pan and let steam for about 2 minutes, until the veggies are just crisp tender. Add the garlic, ginger and sriracha sauce to the mixture and stir them in. Lastly, add the water chestnuts, chicken broth, reserved shrimp and cubed chicken. Cover to heat through, about 2-3 minutes. Serve over rice, scatter a few green onions over the top. Makes 4 servings, 1/2 cup rice per serving.

Ready to put over the rice. Doesn't that look good? 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Seared Sashimi Tuna with Cold Cucumber Noodle Salad

Grilled Sashimi Tuna Steaks with Cold Cucumber Noodle Salad

Looking at my blog recently, you'd think we are on an Asian kick around our house, and to some degree, we are! When you've been cooking a long LONG time, like I have, it's fun to try new dishes, and to that end, I've been working on my Asian repertoire. I'm on a self improvement kick and while I love the local "Chinese" take-out, I KNOW it's loaded with fat and sodium. SO, to still get my fill of what I want to eat and keep it healthy, I've started making take out food at home.

I found this recipe in a Weight Watcher's brochure. It looked so good, I had to try it! I only made one or two adjustments, and none that would affect the overall calorie count, which is quite low. If you are a Weight Watcher, it adds up to just 6 "Smart Points" the current exchange rate on that eating plan. This recipe also has the advantage of being very simple and quick to make. Once you have your ingredients on hand and laid out, it's 30 minutes, tops, start to finish. You will need a non-stick ridged grill pan if you don't plan to cook the tuna on the outdoor grill. It was COLD here last night, so we opted to cook the tuna inside. If you do cook on the outdoor grill, use the olive oil to oil the grill and keep the tuna from sticking. I made this for 2 of us, and put the noodle salad away for lunch later this weekend. The salad was slightly spicy, sweet and sour all at the same time! If you are totally against spicy food, the original recipe only called for 1 tsp. of Sriracha sauce. Mine was only a little bit hot, so don't be afraid! It was so good the first time, but I'll let you know how the noodles hold up! ***Cooks note, several weeks later: I've made this again and saved the leftover noodles both time for lunch later in the week. They held up really well and tasted great! I held them 2 days the first time I made this and 3 days the nest time. The rice noodles were just slightly softer, not much. New, great pasta salad recipe! 

I'll be making this again soon, I promise!

Seared Sashimi Tuna with Cold Cucumber Noodle Salad
serves 4

3 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons rice  wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon Sriracha sauce
3 tsp. Kikkoman Soy Sauce, divided use
a pinch or two of Kosher salt
1/2 c. hot water
4 oz Annie Chun's Pad Thai Rice Noodles (thin)
6 radishes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
1/2 English (seedless) cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 c. loosely packed cilantro leaves
4 Sashimi grade Tuna steaks, about 5 oz. each
1 tsp. olive oil
pinch of fresh ground black pepper
Lime wedges for garnish

1. Put a large pot half full of water on to boil for the rice noodles.
2. In a medium size non-reactive bowl, whisk together lime juice, sugar, vinegar, Sriracha sauce, 1 tsp. soy sauce, a pinch of Kosher salt and hot water.
3. Add the cucumbers into the salad dressing mixture.
4. When the water begins to boil, add the rice noodles and cook for 4 - 5 minutes.
5. Drain the noodles and rinse well with cold water. Drain the cold water off shaking the colander to make sure they aren't watery. Take your clean kitchen shears, and snip the noodles in a few places. The noodles I bought came in one long strand, so I wanted to make them easier to toss and to serve.
6.While the noodles drain, preheat a non-stick ridged grill pan over high heat.
7. Add the drained noodles, radishes, onion and salt to the salad dressing. Toss well to combine.
Noodle salad, flavors melding, before the cilantro is added. 

8. Sprinkle the tuna with the remaining soy sauce and a little salt and pepper. Add the olive oil to the grill pan or oil the outdoor grill.
9. Place it in the pan, on an angle over the ridges and press it lightly into the pan.You want the tuna to make good contact with the ridged grill for a good sear.  Don't move it for 1 minute. After 1 minute, rotate it to "cross hatch" the grill marks (if you feel like it, I enjoy a challenge), pressing it down again to make good contact with the pan. Turn if over after 1 additional minute. It should look like this:

Grill marks on the tuna, it only stuck a little! 
10. Cook on the other side for 1 minutes, again pressing the tuna down, for rare, 2 minutes for medium rare. I wouldn't take it farther than that, as the tuna is delicate and may dry out.
11. Add the cilantro to the noodle salad, tossing well. Using a slotted spoon, to drain the excess dressing, divide the noodle salad evenly between 4 plates. Or do half of it between 2 if it's dinner for for 2!
12 Place the tuna on the plates next to the salad, and thinly slice the tuna. Garnish with limes if desired. We squeezed some over the dish, but I forgot the limes as garnish for the pictures! It just looked and smelled so darn good! Enjoy!
Umami! Yum! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry

I have to confess that it took me a while to get my stir fry dishes to taste the way I thought that they should taste. I think part of  my problem was that I under seasoned the dish and that I had a reluctance to use some of the prepared sauces -- such as hoisin, oyster or teriyaki -- that are readily available in the grocery stores. These items allow you to get some almost authentic taste without purchasing a bunch of different spices that you'll only use now and then. Another revelation for me has been purchasing and using fresh ginger. You can freeze a "knob" of ginger, which means it will last a really long time. By freezing it, I've got it on hand when I need it. Fresh ginger makes the same fantastic difference in a dish that fresh garlic does, as opposed to using garlic powder. It is, however, spicier than you think, so proceed with caution. Use a  microplane grater for grating the ginger --you'll achieve better results than with a box grater. You must peel off the tough outer layer before you begin to grate it and you'll need a really sharp knife to do that. You can also mince it, but be sure to mince it very finely.

This beef and broccoli stir fry hits the spot on a cold winter night. It evolved simply from what I had on hand in my freezer and pantry. It's pretty quick and easy, and delicious. Skip the take-out this week and try my tasty Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry! The key to successful stir frying is to do the prep work in advance. Once you begin to actually cook, it will take very  little time. Since rice takes longer -- especially if you use brown rice -- start that first, 30 minutes or so before you begin to stir fry. I like to add a cube of bouillon to the water and use that in place of salt in the rice, but either way works fine. You can also serve this over rice noodles if you prefer.

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry
serves 4

For the stir fry: 
3/4 lb. lean sirloin or tenderloin tips, cut into bite size pieces  
1/2 tsp. Chinese 5 Spice Blend (always at my grocery store) aka "Pae-Lo" Powder                               1 T. soy sauce
2 cups broccoli florets, fresh or frozen (if frozen, rinse them and let them thaw a little bit)
1 medium onion, halved and sliced (no need to be too thin)
1/4 c. carrot cut into match sticks or shaved with a vegetable slicer
2 tsp.  minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
1 - 2  tsp. grated fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp. ginger powder)
1 c. quartered (if very large) or halved mushrooms (shiitake if you can find them, otherwise use button or baby bellas)
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, optional
Peanut oil for frying

For the sauce:
1 cube beef bouillon
3/4 c, water
2 T. hoisin sauce
1 T. soy sauce
1 T. sriracha sauce
2 tsp. seasoned rice wine vinegar
1T. teriyaki sauce
pinch of salt
a pinch of dried red pepper flakes (if you like a little heat)
1 heaping T. corn starch

2 cups rice for serving ( I used a 1/2 brown 1/2 white rice mixture)

Cut your beef into bite sized pieces and lay them on a paper towel to dry. This will help with the searing.   While the beef is drying off, prepare your vegetables, ginger and garlic.
Drying the beef.
Veggie prep.

Get out your wok or a big, heavy frying pan and preheat it on medium high heat. You want the pan to be HOT. Prepare your ingredients in advance, this goes quickly!

Get the sauce ready before you begin. Heat the water and dissolve the bouillon cube in it. Add all the remaining ingredients -- except for the corn starch! -- and stir well to combine.

Big ol' wok with beef and onions.
Pour enough peanut oil to coat the bottom of the pan's' surface in a thin layer. When the oil begins to shimmer, you are ready to begin the stir fry. Add the beef to the skillet in a single layer. Sprinkle the beef with the 5 Spice Blend. Let the beef sear before you begin to move it around in the pan. This happens pretty quickly so be ready with a long spoon to stir with.  I always wear an apron when stir frying. The oil is hot and it will splatter! When the beef is light brown all over, add the onions.

When the onions start to turn gold and soften, add the soy sauce and then the broccoli, carrots and garlic. Continue to stir for about 3 minutes, then add the mushrooms. Be careful not to break them up -- that's why I recommend quartering or halving them as opposed to slicing them. Lastly, add the water chestnuts, if using. They add a nice crunch!
Ready for the sauce.
Now it's time to add the sauce. Stir the corn starch into the sauce right before you pour it over the stir fry in the skillet. Make sure all of the corn starch is dissolved. Mix the sauce gently in the skillet and turn the heat down once it begins to bubble. Cover the pan -- I have an extra large lid, but a sheet of aluminum foil will work fine. Let everything cook together about 5 minutes -- or until the vegetables are as soft as YOU like them. Serve over rice  (or rice noodles if you prefer).

Beef and Broccoli Stir Fry, close up.
This batch didn't have water chestnuts in it, simply because there weren't any in the pantry! 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Baking Adventures in the New Year!

Happy New Year! I've take quite a break from blogging -- no blogging since March, 2015! There's no particular reason, simply a lack of inspiration. I've blogged lots of recipes for many years, and sometimes I struggle to think of something new to cook and therefore, worth blogging about. Life, too, gets in the way.

In the new year, I've felt compelled to improve my baking skills. I've always made cookies, and pretty good ones, but I came late to real baking. My first bread machine, given to me around 1990, was almost an epiphany -- I could actually make yeast bread that tasted great and didn't take the whole day to make. ( See my classic dinner roll recipe HERE)  I wore that machine completely out. I am now on my second machine and use it only on the dough setting. I've also purchased a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and it's expanded my baking even further. In the last few weeks, I've made buttermilk biscuits to go with our holiday Smithfield Ham and delicious  white sandwich bread for toasting and munching! It has a wonderful texture you simply can't find in store bought bread. More on that later!  One thing that I always wanted to make from scratch has been Cinnamon Rolls.

Even if you use a bread machine to do the kneading, there are still several steps you must go through to turn out these wonderful, tender, flaky and tasty treats. I opted to make the rolls the afternoon before and bake them off the next morning. That way my kitchen wasn't trashed first thing in the morning and I didn't have to roll out of bed and start the dough! Here's the recipe I used -- I found it on the internet at  and changed it only slightly-- and some advice and pictures, should you feel like you might be ready to up your baking game!

Cinnamon Rolls 
makes 12 full sized rolls 

For the Dough:
1 cup warm milk
2 eggs, room temperature
1/3 c. melted butter
4 1/2 c. bread flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 sugar
2 1/2 tsp. bread machine yeast (or one pkg.)

1 c, packed brown sugar
2 1/2  Tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 c. butter, softened
1 pinch kosher salt

3 oz. light cream cheese
1/4 c. softened butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract (only real extract, please)
1 pinch kosher salt

First, add your dough ingredients to your bread machine in the order suggested by the manufacturer. In most cases, that means the wet go in first, (warm milk, eggs, melted butter) and the dry go in starting with the flour, sugar, salt and yeast on top. Process mixture on the dough cycle. While the dough is working, clean off your counter and measure out a space of approx. 16X24". That's how big you need to roll your dough. Use plenty of flour! You don't want to do all this work and have the dough stick to the counter! I did this by making a flour rectangle directly on my granite island, like this:

I used a yard stick to measure and to square up the rectangle. I am challenged by measuring spaces accurately, so this was an important step for me. You may be able to "wing" it but I can't.

Turn the dough out onto your floured area and punch it down. It should resemble this:

Next roll it out evenly into a 16X24" rectangle. Make sure both the dough and the rolling pin are well floured. Here's what you should end up with:

Spread your filling mixture evenly over the rolled out dough. Leave about 1/2" around 3 of the edges, leaving none around the long side closet to you where you'll start to roll the dough up into a cylinder:

It will look like a lot of filling while you are rolling it, but don't worry about that. Make sure you roll the dough up as tightly as you can, and you ease it up off the counter as you roll, trying your best not to tear it!

When you've got it all rolled up, straighten the cylinder and cut off the ends to "square it up" so the your rolls are neat with clean edges. Cut the cylinder in half, then cut each half in half again, then each of those sections into 3 pieces, so you get 12 rolls total. Place the rolls cut side up into a well buttered 13X9" baking dish.

At this point you can cover the rolls with some plastic wrap and refrigerate them to bake off the  next day (that's what I did) OR you can cover them loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let them rise for about 30 minutes until they are almost doubled in size. Either way, you need to preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. If you've refrigerated them overnight, let them come up to room temperature, bu leaving them out on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. Bake them for 14 - 16 minutes. While they are baking, beat together the frosting ingredients. I used my small hand mixer. Let the rolls cool for 10 minutes before icing them This recipe  makes a GENEROUS amount of frosting! Don't be shocked at how much it is!

And remember those little ends I cut off to square off the dough? Here's what I did:

I made 4 little mini-rolls as a  cooks treat! They weren't as pretty as the other ones in the big pan, but hey, it's all about the taste, right?  I was taking the big pan of 12 to a brunch, but left these home with  my hub, and boy, he was one happy camper!


                    A little bacon, a big cup of coffee and a newspaper! I am not sure he noticed I was gone...