Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Extra-Ordinary Juice!

I've recently discovered that freshly juiced oranges are way tastier than freshly squeezed oranges. I have one of those fancy juicers that claims to get more juice out than any other contraption of its kind while removing all the pulp and spitting out dollar bills at the same time. It was a gift that I've actually come to enjoy very much, though I would never have thought to buy it myself.

Orange juice is a semi-standing item on my grocery list, so I've not really had the need or desire to juice my own. It has, however, been a few weeks since my fridge has seen a carton and I was starting to crave the substance. Luckily for me, I had a couple Navel oranges, which I decided to put through my juicing machine to help get a quick fix.

The resulting product was something that resembled typical orange juice, except was thoroughly more enjoyable. It was delightfully sweet, but had a somewhat thick and creamy texture that reminded me of a frozen yogurt smoothie. It was also full of bubbles that not only looked pretty, but helped add dimension to a beverage that usually provides for a much less interesting drinking experience. Spoonfuls of the frothy top layer were quite satisfying.

If you have a juicer and have never tried this simple recipe, I do recommend it!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Quick & Easy

Today is the first day of an 8-week long Fitness Challenge within my office. This has become an annual event for my work team--I think this is the fourth year.

In the spirit of the challenge, I decided to go to the gym today. The goal is to workout at least three times per week for the 8 week period. It seems like there is never enough time in the day for me, especially when I go to work and try to work out at the gym on the same day. Squeezing in a decent dinner on those days can be hard, even though I know it's especially important to refuel when exercising.

Anyway, I looked in the fridge and saw a bunch of leftovers. There was some Swiss cheese J left for me to eat, as well as an opened jar of spaghetti sauce, an open container of baby spinach, and half a loaf of bread.. In my head, it all came together as a "Grilled Leftovers & Cheese" sandwich.

The sandwich was actually toasted (on a non-stick frying pan), and the contents' status as leftovers is questionable, but it did make a tasty sandwich. I realize that a grilled cheese sandwich is almost the antithesis of what one should eat when thinking about health and fitness, so I promise that next time I will use more spinach!

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Yes, that "s" is meant to be there. Feeling a little nostalgic, and also slightly peer-pressured, I was suckered into buying Girl Scout Cookies today. It has been years since I've had the things, and the cuteness of the "Lemonades" caught my eye.

There was only one box of Lemonades left. The Brownie offered me a sample. They were shaped like little slices of lemon. They tasted like a little lemon-y fresh slice of goodness. Having a small taste of the cookie made me a customer! I was left wanting more of this shortbread deliciousness dipped in lemon icing. Who knew first graders could be so strategic with their selling tactics?

Lemonades have only been around since 2007, so that explains part of my curiosity--I had never seen them before. In fact, I don't remember the last time I bought Girl Scout cookies. I do, however, have very fond memories of pigging out on Caramel deLites and Thin Mints in my younger years. I worked at a Girl Scout Summer camp for a few years, and we had a seemingly-endless supply of the cookies back then.

As cute as the cookies are, and as much as I'd like to support troops of Girl Scouts, I have to go into a bit of a rant about these cookies. It seems like an organization that has such great impact on the lives of thousands of girls across the country should be a little more conscientious about the ingredients in their product.

In the days when I would eat scores of cookies without remorse, I had never heard of trans fats. Therefore, it was a bit sad, upon returning home with my newly acquired Lemonades, that I realized they are made with partially hydrogenated oil. One semi-redeeming factor is that they don't contain High Fructose Corn Syrup [like my old favorite "Caramel deLites" cookies]. Would Juliette Low or the creators of "Girl Scout Cookies" approve of today's manufacturing methods?

I think that next time I support the Girl Scouts, I'll let them keep the cookies.

And for fun, here is the original 1922 recipe for Girl Scout Cookies:

1 cup butter, or substitute
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla
2 cups of flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Sugar, for sprinkling on top

Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Homemade Bread

For many years, my dad baked bread on a near daily basis. With the help of his trusty bread machine, we had delicious and fresh bread for our daily sandwiches. My dad's whole wheat bread was really soft and tender on the inside, but still had some spring-yness to it. The crust was perfect--crispy, but thin enough to bite into with ease. At lunch, my sandwiches were the envy of my friends, who had no choice but to eat the plain old flavorless store bought white bread their parents procured or -worse- the cafeteria food.

When I went to college, I did not often have the luxury of fresh bread. It was nice to come home occasionally on the weekends and be able to eat my dad's bread. For breakfast, I'd have it was homemade bread with Nutella. For lunch, I'd eat it in jaffel/jaffle-form. It was a treat to be able to go home and enjoy homemade bread.

During my senior year, a good friend of mine started making his own bread. I was roommates with his girlfriend, and we lived across the street from each other therefore we ended up cooking and eating together frequently. It was always fun to go over and make fresh bread together. It would be devoured almost as soon as it came out of the oven.

I have a container of active dry yeast sitting in my fridge, hardly used. Thinking back to the days of my fond homemade bread memories, I decided I needed to make my own bread and put that yeast to use.

My bread was incredibly easy to make. No fancy equipment (i.e. bread machines or KitchenAid stand mixers) required.

1.5 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
2 T. honey
1.5 cups Whole Wheat flour
1.5 cups All Purpose flour
2 T. wheat gluten
1.5 tsp. kosher salt
2 T. olive oil

Mix the honey and warm water, then add the yeast. Stir until bubbly and yeast is mixed in.

Mix all dry ingredients into a bowl, then add the water-honey-yeast mixture. Next, add the olive oil.

When mixture starts to stick, remove from bowl and knead on a flat surface for up to ten minutes, or until it comes together well.

Place dough ball in a greased bowl (if using the same bowl, you may need to wash first in order to get any remaining dough/flour clumps off the sides). Cover with a tea towel and let sit in a warm spot for about half an hour, or until dough doubles in size.

Once doubled in size, remove dough from bowl and need a few more times, shaping dough into desired form. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, letting dough rest during this time.

When oven is heated, bake your bread for 40 minutes.

Next, enjoy how simple it is to make your own bread and how much more flavor your bread has compared to the store-bought kind.

I think this bread would be great with some Italian herbs for added flavor. Perhaps next time, I'll try being more creative!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

This is the obligatory cupcake post for Valentine's Day. I actually decided against baking my own cupcakes this year due to the fact that most people I work with and otherwise associate myself with are trying to cut back on sweets and other goods that are not-so-good for their waistlines. Fortunately, my lack of baking cupcakes did not mean that I had to go without cupcakes on this February 14th.

While Valentine's Day is associated with so much commercialism in America today (think Hallmark cards, flower deliveries, and mass candy sales), I think there is still some merit to the holiday. I decided to use Valentine's Day to thank some of the people at work who frequently help me accomplish my day-to-day tasks. The four women who I sought Valentine's Day gifts would not appreciate flowers like many women (nor would I appreciate giving flowers, as I can't bear to spend so much money on something that dies in a couple days). Furthermore, they are all adverse to eating candy for reasons ranging from needing to lose weight, needing to monitor sugar, or being diabetic. If both candy and flowers are out, what else is left in terms of choices of Valentine's gifts for coworkers?

In a spur of random thinking, I ended deciding upon a hummingbird feeder and Crystal Light iced tea mix. They are all frequent iced tea drinkers, and Crystal Light seemed to be one of their indulgences for times when they wanted a switch from regular iced tea. The hummingbird feeder was a very unique blown-glass design, and I thought it went with the "sweet without being fattening" theme.

The gift actually went over *really* well with all of them. Not only were they pleasantly surprised to be receiving a Valentine's Day gift at work, they all appreciated both the Crystal Light and the Hummingbird Feeder and thought it was much more thoughtful than getting candy or flowers, which would not have been enjoyed as much. Proof that celebrating Valentine's Day well doesn't have to consist of falling for the usual consumer traps.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Pierogi Experiment

It's not quite Casimir Pulaski Day yet, but I had had pirogi in the back of my mind for a while and wanted to try my hand at making them from scratch. What are pierogi you ask? Essentially, a pierog is the Polish incarnation of a dumpling. Italians have their ravioli, Chinese have gow (potstickers), and Polish have pierogi. Pierogi are crescent-shaped objects with an outer shell of pasta bursting with things like potatoes and cheese, cabbage, fruit, or meat.

In college, my Polish roommates would frequently cook potato & cheese pierogi. These were the best ones, the claimed. Sometimes they would eat the kraut ones, but neither fruit pierogi nor meat pierogi were deemed "truly Polish" enough for their tastes. The traditional way to cook pierogi, or so they told me, was to pan fry in heaps of butter until slightly golden, then topped with a large dollop of sour cream. (Pierogi are boiled first, but if you purchase the frozen kind, they are generally pre-boiled, so you can go straight to the frying stage.)

So, I wanted to make vegan pierogi. And I didn't have a recipe, so I'd call it an experiment.

2 c. All Purpose Flour
3 oz. Silken Tofu (this is half of a standard-size asceptic container)
1 c. water
1 tsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt

Leftover mashed potatoes, pepper
Optional add-ins: Onions, Kraut, Cheeze of your choosing

Mash tofu well with fork. When the consistency is smooth, slowly add half of the flour and mix well. Add salt and olive oil. Continue adding the flour and mixing the batter. Stir in 1/2 cup of water. The mixture should be on its way to becoming a dough ball. If needed, add more water. The dough should be a consistency where it can be kneaded. It should not be sticky. Next, roll the dough out to a thin layer. Cut dough into circles with a cookie cutter or the upside-down rim of a glass.

Place a small spoonful of filling in the center of each dough-circle. Fold the circle in half, and seal the edges of your pierogi.

Next, place your pierogi in pot of boiling water, salted. Small batches work best for this. When the pierogi are ready, they will float to the top and you may fish them out. After removing pierogi from boiling water, dry well, and gently fry in your buttery substance of choice. When golden, enjoy immediately!

Make sure you enjoy your filling it its original form--pierogis are not meant to disguise a lack of yummy-ness.
Don't overstuff the pierogi. The pasta may tear, and they won't look as pretty.
Breaking tradition is okay. The next day, I ate leftover pierogi with leftover pasta sauce.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Happy Chinese New Year!

Going out to eat at a nice Chinese restaurant for the Lunar New Year celebration was a big part of my childhood. Traditionally, we'd go to the same restaurant every year. My grandparents would come along with us, and so would any other relatives who happened to be in town. Sometimes, we'd go with other family friends who celebrated the holiday, but usually it was just an event for our closest family to bond over feasting.

Though many of the things we'd feast on then are things that I no longer eat, I still associate the holiday with eating. I had fond memories of eating things such as Peking Duck and Moo Shu Pork. These were foods generally saved for special occasions in my household.

To my brother and I, who were quite young at the time, there were some things we looked forward to about Chinese New Year more than to the food and the company. Namely, the things my brother and I especially enjoyed were: dining at a particular restaurant Chinese restaurant that was actually an old (permanently docked) boat, the red envelopes (gifts of money!), and best of all was the lion dance. When the lights dimmed and the loud thumping of the drums began, we were both scared and excited! The magnificent creature parading around the restaurant with such rhythm was an incredible sight. When the lion commanded our attention, we were struck with awe. The lion dance was what made Chinese New Year actually Chinese New Year to us.

After living in a series of smaller cities, I was excited this year to be in a place big enough to have an actual Chinese New Year celebration.. with a lion dance! It was also nice to be able to share this part of my childhood with J. This year was hist first time celebrating, and his first time to see the magnificence of a lion dance.

Oh, and since I should mention the food, I had Szechuan Eggplant and Hunan Tofu. A little bit greasier and not quite as spicy as expected, but still quite satisfying. It also made great leftovers!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ginger Experiment

Lately, I've found myself buying a small piece of ginger root and having it go bad before I get to use it all. To prevent this from happening in the future, I had the idea to freeze it. By freezing it, I would be able to have access to ginger without having to run to the store or finding that my stash had gone bad. It's probably not a very original idea, but I've never done it before and haven't heard of anyone doing it with ginger, specifically.

Before freezing, I peeled it then minced it to the normal size I use. Then I split it out into sections of an ice cube tray and compressed each "cube" of ginger. I debated whether or not to use a little bit of water to ensure that it would stay in cubes, but decided I would just try it this time without adding the water. So then I covered it in plastic wrap and stuck it in the freezer. Next time I get the urge to use ginger, I'll be prepared!

Not the best picture, but want to illustrate anyhow: