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Fruit and Veg Therapy

28 Sep

There’s a part in the movie “Up In the Air” where George Clooney’s character comments that he is surrounded, rather than isolated, in the traveling life that he leads.  Physically, yes.  There are people everywhere!  But emotionally?  I think he needed a bit of a reality check.

That’s just what I got the last two days.  I have always enjoyed traveling, even for work.  Educational conferences are usually beneficial and have me leaving with a sense of cognitive renewal.  At 6:17 tonight, I returned from one of those conferences that, while started out a bit rocky, ended up leaving me with some new insight and information.  But the travel?  I needed my own bit of therapy at the end.

It started with a four-hour drive, mostly in the dark with the first Oregon Autumn rain.  Pouring rain.  Then, arriving to our destination close to 11:00pm, I drove up and down the same ½ mile of street looking for the small motel that would serve as our residence for the following two days.  Once the motel (that shall remain nameless due to liability reasons) was found, and we were properly checked in, the overwhelming smell of cigarette smoke and pet urine overwhelmed the fact that there were no doors on the bathroom.  I’m not recalling a four-hour rain-soaked delusion – it really smelled.  And had no doors on the bathroom.  Really.

So, with a few quick phone calls and a small argument with the lovely lady at the front desk, another hotel was promptly booked, which, in educational standards “met” (rather than “did not meet,” nor “exceeded”) what we needed for our stay.

After two NyQuil-induced nights, one of which was restless, another four-hour drive home, and the residual effects of conference food (while tasty at the time, you know what I’m referring to), there was something left to be had: my own therapy.  Veggie therapy.

So I whipped up a spesh.  A lovely fruit and veg salad that not only hit the spot, but reminded me that the lovely fall air was still crisp and comforting.  Combined with my favorite sweatpants, a good glass of wine (Oregon’s first Baco Noir), and a DVR’d Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, the night erased all travel stiffness.

Please, don’t wait for a memorable travel experience and vegless conference food to make this salad; it’s easy, comforting (thanks to the oh-so-wonderful sharp cheddar cheese), and slightly unexpected on the taste buds.  It’s good for any night, not just a veggie therapy night.

Fruit and Veg Salad with Lavender Balsamic Dressing (serves 2) 

For the salad:

  • 2 c torn baby red lettuce (I prefer the tender tops rather than the inside ribs) 
  • 1 medium sweet apple, cored and diced (I used Gala – their season is just starting up here)
  • ½ small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 c red grapes, sliced
  • 1 med head broccoli (or two small heads), stems removed and cut into florets
  • about 3 oz sharp cheddar cheese, diced (really, use as much cheese as you want – the cheddar flavor pairs perfectly with the onion, apple, broccoli, and apple).
  • 1 large sprig basil, leaves removed and thinly chopped

For the dressing:

  • 1 tsp good quality honey
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ tsp fresh lavender buds, rubbed between your hands to release oils
  • 1 ½ extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

Mix the dressing by adding the honey, vinegar, and lavender buds.  Pour in the extra virgin olive oil while whisking to emulsify.  Season to taste, and set aside. 

Put all of the ingredients for the salad into a bowl and quickly mix to combine.  Pour over the dressing, and toss again, just so the dressing lightly coats the ingredients.  Taste for seasoning (I found I needed more pepper), and serve.


A Pantry Dinner

5 May

Despite the many eye rolls from a number of the men I know (including my husband), I was one of the thousands of fans who woke up in the wee hours of the West Coast morning to watch Prince William wed Kate Middleton.  While the workday last Friday was filled with much caffeine and stifled yawns, I wouldn’t have changed a thing about spending my sleeping hours awake and wide-eyed.

As I’ve mentioned before, this Royal Wedding holds a place in my heart, not because I have any ties to royalty, or because I am one of the millions of screaming 20-something women grabbing their hearts and wishing it was them becoming a princess.  It’s because at point I truly thought I was going to marry Prince William (there is an interesting story behind that thought).

At 5:00 in the morning, right before the much anticipated Royal kiss, I made and ate my Royal Rosemary and Maple Bacon Buttie, and marveled at how such a good thing just happened in the world.  With so much bad news these days, it was a breath of fresh air to simply watch traditional British Royalty in action, combined with genuine, true love.

Little did anyone know, but only a few days later another day would go down in history for the U.S. as a long awaited great accomplishment – the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Rob and I were finishing up his grilled Ribeye with Herb Butter birthday dinner when we heard the news Sunday night.  Glued to the TV, our dirty dishes went un-clean as we watched our President officially deliver the news that would change history books forever.  While our world is still nowhere near safe, at least one bad guy is burning in you-know-where. 

On the brink of all the world’s recent good news, another great merriment came when we officially celebrated Rob’s 27th birthday on Monday.  We had his favorites: pigs in a blanket, Kelly’s guacamole with chips, pistachios, and Argyle Brut.  Low key, flirty, and fun, we had a great time together with our low budget appetizers and fancy Brut.  By 6:00pm, we were cuddled up on the couch, already in our pjs, with a Waterford crystal champagne flute in one hand, and a pig in a blanket in the other; I’m sure we were quite the sight to see. 

After a crazy start to the week, and as Tuesday rolled around, the hype of the Royal Wedding still hanging in the air, and Bin Laden’s death story continuing to evolve, we realized that a check back to reality was in order.  Our little house needed a cleaning, bills needed to be paid, and laundry desperately needed washing.  As much as I wanted to continue living in the fantasy land of weddings and birthdays, I knew the house couldn’t go unclean forever. 

So Tuesday night, Rob and I partnered up and divided tasks, and we cleaned house.  At one point while cleaning hair out of a drain, I found myself wondering about the new Duchess Catherine – despite royalty, she is still a wife.  Officer’s wife at that.  Do she and William make house?  Does she cook dinner for, or with, her man? 

Well, just the thought of dinner reminded me that while Catherine probably has people who can fancy up a dinner for her if she or William don’t feel like cooking, I, in my commoner ways, do not.  On top of which, with not much in the fridge to work with, I had to become creative.  After cleaning a toilet (that a boy also uses), it’s hard to be creative.

To the pantry: rice and beans.  While slightly boring, they are still healthy.  There’s salsa.  Mexican?  No, Cinco de Mayo is coming up.  Thai curry sauce.  Not enough veg in the fridge for a full curry.  Fashion up a secret sauce?  YES. 

One of our favorite sauces has to be Eugene’s Café Yum sauce.  It’s unique and creamy and tangy.  They do sell bottles of the sauce now, thus giving away its recipe.  Café Yum is such a, well, yummy place to eat with really easy and satisfying food, and they put their sauce on almost everything.  But due to lack of time, energy, and resources (and the fact that Eugene is two hours away), I decided to create my own. 

With the scent of Pine Sol still in the air, I whipped up our own little “Yum Bowl” inspired by Café Yum.  It was delicious!  Maybe even better than the actual Café Yum!  And healthy!  And so easy to make (I keep pantry staples, like salsa, beans, and microwave rice, around for times like these).  So easy in fact, maybe I’ll contact the Duchess of Cambridge just to give her a good, quick, easy, pantry home recipe.  It could be a wedding present!  Or, maybe not.  🙂   

 Rob and Jill’s Yum Bowl (makes 2 bowls)

  • 1can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 package frozen, microwavable brown rice (or make your own, about 2 cooked cups)
  • 1 small head broccoli, cut up into florets
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 2 c baby arugula
  • 1 scallion, white and light green parts thinly chopped
  • ¼ c your favorite jarred authentic salsa, preferably not chunky.
  • 2 tbsp good mayo
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • s&p
  • a wedge of lime, for serving

 Boil a small pot of water; salt when boiling.  Toss in the broccoli florets, and blanch for about 1 minute.  Remove from water, and put into a salted ice bath to stop the cooking. 

To make the secret sauce, mix the salsa, mayo, and cumin together in a bowl.  Taste for seasoning (may need pepper, but probably not any salt because the salt content of many jarred salsa can be pretty high).

Cook the rice per microwave instructions, and split into two bowls, positioning in one-third of the bowl.  Add the beans to the middle of the bowl, and then add the arugula to the third side of the bowl.  Top with broccoli, red peppers, and sprinkle with a bit of s&p.  Top with desired amount of secret sauce and the scallions. 

Serve with a squirt and a wedge of lime.


Endless Sushi, A Bloody Nose, and Lamb Two Ways

26 Apr

It’s been a busy weekend, to say the least.

It all started last Thursday with one of the best days I’ve experienced since moving to Oregon: Momiji’s all-you-can-eat sushi night.  They were celebrating their one-year anniversary (I remember being just as excited when they posted their Grand Opening sign), and Rob and I definitely took advantage.  For about $28 a person, we were able to order and eat as much sushi, sashimi, and cut-rolls as we wished.  Sounds like a great deal, right?  Well, by itself, $28 worth of sushi is still a whole lot of sushi to eat, and we started realizing this as our bellies quickly expanded.  But did that stop us?  Heck no!  It’s all-you-can-eat sushi, baby!

An hour and $126 worth of sushi later, we rolled ourselves out the door, drove home in a foggy state of fullness, and plopped on the couch to let digestion do its thing.  While, Rob can avidly tell you, I was a kid in a candy store in the restaurant, it’s going to be a long time before I eat hundreds of dollars worth of sushi again (by a long time, I mean, like, maybe a week).

As Good Friday called for its traditional Fillet O’ Fish (and late-night helping of moose tacos – not so traditional), and the weekend rolled around, I was given another opportunity to indulge in fantastic food.  After all, it was Easter weekend.  Growing up, Easter was always a big deal in our house.  My sister and I searched the house for hidden eggs, only just a few years past the point of being “too old,” and my mom would always give us a Cadbury Cream Egg, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of them (it looks like a chocolate covered raw egg!).  So this year, while I knew we wouldn’t be searching for eggs, I thought we could still celebrate the season with great food.

There are certain times when I’m in the kitchen, or when watching one of the many cooking competition shows on TV, and think nothing bad better happen right now.  It’s usually during crucial moments of poaching or toasting or can’t-walk-away-from whisking.  Usually, nothing bad happens.  Usually.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel quite right.  The weather had graciously changed for the better, and I was still a bit sinusy from the past week’s cold.  As I was making breakfast – one of my favorites: poached egg on top of mustardy roasted asparagus with English Muffins – I decided to take a moment to relieve some of the pressure in my sinuses by blowing my nose.  So, with water starting to boil, asparagus almost finished roasting, and the English Muffin nestled warmly in the toaster, I quickly ran to the bathroom.  What followed was the definite oh-bleep moment I had in past times wondered about.  A bad thing had happened at the wrong time in the kitchen.

To spare any of my more queasy readers (and, this is a food blog after all), I’ll skip the gory details just to say that I had a nose-bleed of epic proportions.  Simply, it was gross.  Also a mess.  And as I’m standing over the sink trying not to faint from rapid blood loss, the very familiar ring of the smoke alarm sounds, reminding me that 1) I have very specifically-timed food cooking, and 2) I’m about to burn the house down.  Again.

So with tissue rammed against my face, I ran to yank the over-heating toaster cord out of the wall, push some button on my range hoping it turned off the oven, killed the flame on the stove, and started wildly flapping a towel around the air near the alarm, trying to herd the smoke towards the open back door.  Finally, silence.  With a physical and audible sigh, I made my way over to the kitchen to survey the damage.  The only burned items were some small asparagus spears and a beyond-crisp English Muffin.  At which point a second realization kicked in – oh yeah, my nose was still gushing.

After a rest on the couch, and waiting for platelets to do their clotting thing, I tried breakfast again.  This time with success.

Easter diner was much less dramatic, and much more comfortable.  But it did test my skills in the kitchen. We had Lamb Two Ways: shanks braised in red wine, and a leg roasted with herbs.  Simple spring veg of green beans, asparagus and mushrooms in a simple white wine and butter sauce accompanied just perfectly, with a sweet potato and thyme soufflé to round out the meal.  Dessert was also a hit (that is, after a boil-over of butter and milk) consisting of Almond and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Compote.  With enough Easter candy to go round, our friends, their 2-year old son, Rob and I had a great time.  In taste-testing the two techniques used on the lamb, we preferred the texture of the Roast better, but both had amazing flavor.

So, after an exciting weekend, last night was easy: Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with homemade Tomato Soup.  It was fast, easy, comforting and yummy, so I’ll include it here for you to enjoy.  But while cooking, please don’t hope for something bad NOT to happen – you just might jinx yourself and end up with a bloody nose!  Enjoy!

Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (makes 2 sandwiches) 

  • 4 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
  • 1/2 c Broccoli Pesto (recipe to follow) 
  • about 3-4 slices Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1 slice prosciutto 
  • 1 tbsp butter, divided into fourths 

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 1 med head broccoli, florets cut off 
  • 4-5 bunches fresh basil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil 
  • s&p 

To make the pesto, boil water in a small pot and drop in the broccoli florets.  After about 1 minute, strain the broccoli and “shock” them in ice-cold water (this is called blanching – it keeps the bright green color of the veg).  After completely cooled, dry the broccoli as best you can, and add it, plus the basil leaves, garlic, and a pinch of s&p to a food processor.  Add some olive oil to get the blade moving, but then slowly pour in the rest of the oil while processing, until the mixture resembles a paste.  Taste for seasoning, and either use immediately, or store in fridge for 2-3 days. 

To make the sandwiches, spread a layer of broccoli pesto on each slice of the bread.  Add the cheese and slice of prosciutto, and top the sandwich with the other slice of bread.  Butter the top of the sandwich before putting on the grill.  Place the sandwich on a hot grill pan, butter side down, with a weight on top (another heavy pan or heat-proof dish).  After browned on the bottom, butter the other side, and flip, and weigh down again.  After both sides are golden, cut and serve with Tomato Soup. 

Tomato Soup (serves 6) 
Note: this is a very bright, tomato-y soup.  If you enjoy a richer soup, roast the tomatoes for about 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees beforehand, and add cream after blending the soup.   

  • 10 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c fruity white wine
  • 2 c low sodium chicken stock 
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • s&p 
  • grated parmesan cheese for garnish, optional. 

In a large pot, saute the onions in the olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper.  Once translucent, add the garlic, and stir (do not let the garlic burn).  To deglaze the pot, add the white wine, and then add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium, and cover, until tomatoes have popped and given off a significant amount of their juices in the pot.  Add the herbs and the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Then, turn down heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  

To blend the soup, either use an immersion blender, or process in a blender in batches.  Once blended, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and serve.  


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