Saturday, July 31, 2010

Almost Famous

Baby, my friends are goin' places! And I'm using the vast readership of my own blog - yes, all five of you - to tout their well-earned glory. Support these incredibly talented ladies!

One of my absolute favorite blogs (which happens to be written by one of my absolute favorite people) is getting recognized! Word, yo.

If you don't already read the Seattle street style blog It's My Darlin' you simply have to start. Now. Right now. Do it. The Fashion Editor of New York Magazine's website reads it, so why shouldn't you? Dana Landon, the fabulously stylish gal with the eagle-eye-of-style behind the scenes of It's My Darlin', recently received an email from said editor asking permission to regularly use her blog in a weekly compilation of the best street style posts from around the world. Yeah, they've got taste. Because, lo and behold, mere days later, It's My Darlin' became a featured blog on New York Magazine's Street Comber for the first time. The first of many times, I'm sure. Yeah, and her image is the first in the slide show. I'm one proud buddy. No one deserves it more.

Screenshot of It's My Darlin's NY Magazine image.

On to the next awesome pal o' mine.

A couple months ago, at Sonoma International Film Festival, I was privileged to see the world premiere of the most delightful movie, Leading Ladies. I went because it stars my high school friend, Laurel Vail, along with the lovely Nicole Dionne (who was a BLAST to hang out with that weekend), So You Think You Can Dance's second season winner Benji Schwimmer, the incomparable Melanie LaPatin, and more. What a superb cast! I originally went to support an old friend, but I would love to see this film again and again, even if I didn't know a soul who worked on it.

Leading Ladies is a heartwarming and fun tale of family, love, and dance. This SYTYCD fan was in HEAVEN, and not just because Benji sat right behind me during the viewing. The dance numbers made me want to get up and shake my booty, the family dynamic brought to mind the entertainment of a John Waters or early Baz Luhrmann film, and the love story between Laurel and Nicole's characters showed such chemistry and compassion to melt even the hardest heart.

Made for a song (or should I say a dance?), you won't find a film more indie than this. Leading Ladies has met with an amazing reception as it makes the festival circuit. But, in catching the distributors' eyes, they have strong competition against better-funded films with much larger marketing budgets. Watch the trailer (below), go see it at a local festival, and talk about it with everyone who'll listen. The more the hype, the better the chance it will soon make it to a theater near you! New York readers, you can see it August 29th at 7pm at BAM Rose Cinemas (Brooklyn Academy of Music).

And now for the final achievement I wanted to tout: MY OWN!

Nothing as big as starring in a quality feature film or getting featured on New York Magazine's website, mind you, but still pretty fun for me. Another awesome lady, with whom I also happen to be friends, has a cool blog of her own, Gamer Girl Gets Thin, in which she chronicles the journey of a geeky girl (my pal, Jenn) as she reaches her fitness goals. Jenn and I are alike in not only in our geek tendencies, but in our food fetishes. Turns out she's been reading my recent food posts and decided to feature la V en Rose on her blog! Jenn, you're my first linker! It's enough to make a gal blush, really. And, given our many common interests and the parallelisms of our blogging, we have big plans to guest post for each other. Yep, my first guest post on another blog and my first guest poster on my blog. Oh, big things are happening. Big. Huge.

P.S. Jenn - Next time we're in the same city at the same time, I will totally make you my Grandma Rose's Tabbouleh. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Power of Soup

Eating at home alone while the husband man dines at one of Google's 18 gourmet cafes gives me a lot of freedom. I cook what I want, when I want, without worrying about whether or not it suits his preferences as well as my own. His common complaints about most of my cooking often come out "it needs more meat," while my common complaint about his cooking resounds with "it needs more vegetables." He likes starchy white grains, like white rice and white pasta, while my likings tend more toward whole grains. Even when he did eat at home often, we still often ate separate meals.

But, within this freedom, I have found constraints. For instance, I have a whole stack of recipes I want to try, but the stack never gets smaller because they always seem to feed 6-8. What if I don't love it? I'll be stuck eating it all week or let it go to waste! Even if I do love it, 6-8 servings of even my favorites is asking a lot of me. I found a solution to the problem.

I had plans for my good friends, Alan & Mel, to come over for dinner so Mel could borrow a book for an upcoming roadtrip. A couple of us had nursed one or the other of the summer yucks that have made the rounds in the city. It's been mostly foggy and cool (hello, it is summer in San Francisco, after all). For once, since the visit didn't center solely around food, we didn't already have in mind what I should make. (Usually our dinners come out of conversations like, "Oh my gosh, we HAVE to have a carne asada taco party!" or some such idea). So I gave them three options of what I could cook. All options fit my requirements of something soothing, comforting, that I wouldn't make for just myself, that came from my stack of Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated recipes I wanted to try, and that I could cook in my dutch oven. Okay, that last one was a little selfish on my part. I adore the Le Creuset dutch oven I got as a wedding gift and will use any excuse to bust it out. It's quite large, as a dutch oven ought to be, so I don't get to use it as often as I'd like when cooking for myself.

The options: Quick & Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup, Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup, and Almost Hands-Free Risotto.

The winner: Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup from our good friends at America's Test Kitchen.

My mom is going to croak if she reads this. Growing up, we loved to make a simple lunch and read at the table while we ate - a habit I still have today. She and my brother often dined on Campbell's tomato soup during these meals, but, contrary as ever, I alone would insist upon Cream of Mushroom. Aside: over the years, Campbell's has gradually reduced the sodium content of their condensed soups, you know, so they wouldn't slowly kill us. The theory was that, while customers won't buy cans labelled "Reduced Sodium," we wouldn't notice if the change happened gradually without our knowledge. I don't eat as much canned soup as I did as a kid, but a few months ago I practiced my old ritual of Cream of Mushroom, saltines, and a book. As I hadn't been eating the soup regularly, the change certainly did not happen gradually for me. It tasted way blander than I remember. Blech. Now I have to learn to make my own Cream of Mushroom soup. Project! But anywho, back to the topic at hand... My mom would never believe I CHOSE to make creamy tomato soup! The thing is, I actually like a well-made bowl of tomato soup. I just hate when it's either bitter, or the cream used to cut the bitterness also cuts the tomato flavor. Unfortunately, one of the two usually seems to be the norm.

ATK's recipe sounded like it addressed both issues. Of course. That's why I love their entire line of shows, books, and magazines. Instead of cutting the bitterness of the tomatoes with cream, they used a classic alternative: bread. Another Aside: I won't reproduce the recipe in its entirety. I love ATK and Cook's Illustrated too much to plagiarize. Instead I will encourage you all to visit their website and register to use the free content. Trust me. I use their site more than any cookbook at this point. Want a new way to cook salmon? Type "salmon" in the search field and discover their shallow poaching technique. Need a fresh new way to prepare green beans? Want recipes that let you bust out that new kitchen tool you've been itching to use? ... Well, you get the picture. I even pay for the premium content, I love their stuff so much. But payment is unnecessary. Give them your email address and you too will have access to such wonderful recipes as Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

The recipe is very easy and only took about 45 minutes, start to finish. Start with sautéing onions, garlic, and bay leaf in olive oil. Then add canned whole tomatoes (check out their taste tests to find the best brands of tomatoes, as well as bread and olive oil) and mash with a potato masher.

Add chunked sandwich bread, crusts removed, and cook briefly until the bread is thoroughly saturated and breaking down.

Puree in the blender with a little more olive oil for a few minutes in two or three batches and strain through a mesh strainer (optional). Add a touch of brown sugar, some chicken broth, and salt to taste. Return to a boil. I garnished with fresh ground black pepper, olive oil, and chives.

And it just wouldn't have been proper not to serve this creamy tomato soup with grilled cheese and a side salad.

It's just not the classic tomato soup experience without a little dipping, now is it?

Do you have a beloved Cook's Country/America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated recipe you think I should try next? They really are my favorite. I constantly get trapped reading their cookbooks like novels, reveling in their tales of trial and error. They make the mistakes so you don't have to! And, no, they don't pay me. They don't even know who I am. I'm just big ol' fan girl who geeks out for good food.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sesame Soy Ginger Salad

Aaaaaaaaand another summer salad! For lunch today I made the Sesame Soy Ginger Garbanzo Bean Salad I mentioned in my Things to Keep Around post. I thought I would throw together a more specific recipe while it was fresh in my head. I like the creaminess leant by the Smart Balance mayo, but I prefer the flavor of the peanut oil, so I used half and half. To sweeten, today I chose agave nectar. Also, I used a Walla Walla onion because I NEVER pass up the chance while they're in season! Still a NW girl at heart; I just happen to live Cali.

Soy Sesame Ginger
Garbanzo Bean Salad

1 Tblspn grated ginger
2 Tblspn soy sauce
1 Tblspn peanut oil
1 Tblspn Smart Balance mayo
1 Tblspn agave nectar

Blend ingredients together with fork. Makes 1/4 cup of dressing; just enough to top salad below.

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
2 handfuls Sweet 100 or other cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 onion, chopped
1 Tblspn toasted sesame seeds

Toss salad makings together. Add dressing and toss again. Serves two as an entree, four as a side. Toss just before serving to ensure good coating.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bittersweet Good-Bye

I finally announced on Facebook a tragedy of which I've known for awhile. Bittersweet Chocolate Cafe on Fillmore has closed. Now that I've let my closest friends in on these sad San Francisco tidings, I send my grief out into the whole of the Internets.

I've planned on writing posts about my favorite places and treats in the city. My first of these posts would have been my favorite of all, Bittersweet cocoa. The thick, rich beverage special to this cafe stands unmatched, in my experience. A special blend of premium chocolate and cocoa powder in a variety of concoctions: the uncompromising classic, the refined bittersweet, the kick of Aztecan chile, the modern mocha, the creamy peanut butter, the adrenaline pumping Bicerin, the sweet white chocolate. Not to mention the seasonal options, like the Coconut Chiller, mulled cranberry cider, and the Salted Caramel Cocoa - the invention of which I still insist came about as an answer to my prayers. Yes, the entire menu is indelibly etched in my brain from so many trips to this happy-making cocoa bar. I have friends from out of town who insisted on stopping by every day they were in SF. But no more.

This is not the post I planned on writing. Alas, the economy had a different plan. The storefront that used to promise warm happiness has joined the ranks of many others abandoned in these tough times. So, instead of a post heralding the chocolate of all chocolates in the hopes of recruiting new loyalists to the fray, I now write a post of farewell to share my mourning with fellow friends of the foam.

I heard rumor of this closure weeks ago. Unfortunately, a nasty injury and crutches prevented me from immediately running the mile from my house to the beloved chocolate cafe to confirm. And I couldn't bring myself to announce this loss to the world until I saw for myself. I made the husband man take me by the location recently so I could see with my own eyes. And this is what my own eyes found:

It is true, fellow cocoa-nuts. Our haven is no more. I wish I could say this revelation came as a surprise. The last few times I patronized the establishment, they'd been out of my favorite local chocolate bars, Poco Dolce and Tcho. The shelves usually lined with hundreds of kinds of chocolate from around the world stood painfully empty, a distressing omen of what would come to pass. The confused baristas said they didn't know when new shipments would come in. If only they'd known. If only I'd known. I could have stocked up on tins of their delectable cocoa to enjoy at home.

But, again alas, I found my last tin down to the dregs. Today I savored my final mugful. One cup of soy milk in my special Botticelli mug, melted with enough cocoa mix for 1 1/2 servings - a good-bye is no time for moderation. I didn't wait for a special day. Like Paul Giamatti in the fast-food booth surreptitiously sipping his cherished Pinot from a paper cup in Sideways, today is special BECAUSE of this steaming ceramic chalice of chocolate.

I cherish my final farewell with a good book and a purring cat before announcing the news to my Facebook network. Creamy liquid courage before breaking a few hearts.

But, what is this? Are my eyes mistaken? Is this some cruel joke? Have I actually found a bit of sweet to add to the end of this bitter tale? Does Bittersweet's website prove that one of their three locations is STILL OPEN? Will my girlfriends and I be making pilgrimages to Oakland for our fix? Can it be that the existence of this oasis allows for online ordering of treasured tins of this nectar of the gods? Can my mourning truly come to a halt in the midst of deepest grief?

Image from Bittersweet's website.
I admit. My first instinct was to withhold this information, to save it for myself, so that I could surprise my Bittersweet converts with gifts at birthdays and holidays, to see their eyes gleam at me with gratitude and awe. But I must act for the good of the many. Shout it from the rooftops! Spread the news! And buy buy buy! We've lost so much already, let's not let this last ounce of hope slip through our fingertips, another victim of the economic downturn. Consumer power! Let's keep hope alive, through shopping. And chocolate.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Grandma Rose's Tabbouleh

Aaaaaas promised! It's not summer in my house until a big bowl of my Grandma Rose's tabbouleh resides in my fridge. We usually ate this alongside "grape leaf rolls" (dolmades) - which we have pictures of me rolling in my high chair - and "tortillas" (fresh-baked pita bread), and for dessert, cream of wheat cookies (a version of mamoul my Grandma's family invented with the new ingredients available in the New World). Grandma's Lebanese background plus Grandpa's Mexican/Southwestern background meant we didn't always call things by their traditional names, or even in the right language. I always wondered why the tortillas we used for tacos and stacked enchiladas were so different from the pocketed ones my grandma made. Hmmm. Things make so much more sense as an adult.

Anyway, this week I didn't go all out with the big feast, much to the husband man's chagrin. This fresh, whole grain salad suited my cravings to perfection all by itself. With ripe tomatoes, a tart lemon dressing, filling garbanzo beans, and plenty of fresh herbs, this salad stands up well as a lunch entree, or even a hearty breakfast.

Sorry no specific recipe. Grandma likes to keep her recipes in the family. But here are a few tips if you want to give your own version a shot at home.
  1. Go heavy on the grain. Restaurants always seem to use more parsley than bulgar. I don't know if one way is more traditional than the other, or if their way is typically Greek and ours is more Lebanese. Just speculation. Whatever the reason, it's not Grandma Rose's Tabbouleh if the cracked wheat doesn't get top billing.

  2. Invest in a garlic press. Between owning a garlic press and my discovery of pre-peeled tubs of garlic cloves in my grocer's fridge, my prep time has dramatically decreased. All those years I spent peeling, mincing, and crushing garlic by hand - a total waste. The first time I used a garlic press reminded me of the time my mom let me chop a massive amount of nuts for baklava (which we pronounce "bah-LAY-way") using a little hand chopper. Only after I finished, my wrist ACHING, did she mention that I could have used the food processor. Oh really, Mom? So, I wonder, why did no one tell me about garlic presses sooner? Clean hands, one step, way easier to mash into salt. Sigh.

  3. Crush crush crush! Crushing the garlic with a press isn't just easier, it releases all the juices for a heartier flavor than mincing. Similarly, crush the chopped herbs with the flat end of a knife to release all the fragrant, flavorful oils.

  4. Think FRESH! Fresh mint, fresh parsley, fresh lemon juice, fresh tomatoes, fresh onions. In a pinch, we've all subbed canned, dried, or bottled options. It's just not the same.

  5. Go for quality. Nice olive oil (my family tends to go for strong, even pungent, olive oils) and the best tomatoes enhance the dish tremendously.
But even if you don't want to enter the tabbouleh fray yourself, fret not. I may not feel comfortable posting my Grandma's recipe online for all the world, but I'm more than happy to share the food. Friends are more than welcome to come over and partake! I make the whole feast at least a couple times a year; it's a Christmas Eve tradition. There's always more than enough to go around.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Quinoa Craziness

This morning, the husband man sent me a recipe, Spicy Quinoa, Cucumber and Tomato Salad, from the New York Times. Ahhh, he knows me so well! I can't wait to give this recipe a go. I have a bit of a fetish for whole grain salads. And why not nurture this excitement over something healthy?

My mom, who lives with diabetes, has been wanting to delve into the world of whole grains more. Their carbs, which the body metabolizes more slowly than the simple carbs in processed grains, can actually help stabilize blood sugar rather than causing spikes. Last time I was home in Idaho we went on a little adventure to find quinoa for her to use at home. At last we met success when we found bulk quinoa at Winco, a discount grocer that's as large as the entire city block in which my local market is nestled. Idaho may not have delis with vast selections of pre-made whole grain salads (or a selection of any salads not glopped with mayo, for that matter), but it sure does have the real estate.

After this trip, I sent my mom this little encouraging email about a recent quinoa success story. Looking back, I love this experiment because it demonstrates how you can make something delicious and fresh using what you have on hand. You don't have to make an extra trip to the market with a shopping list as long as your arm just so you can copy an interesting recipe EXACTLY. Take what you want from an existing recipe and twist it to your liking, and to the contents of your fridge. Here it is, Quinoa, Mango, & Black Bean Salad (which I summarily turned into Quinoa, Mango, & Kidney Bean Salad - I tend to do that).


I don't know if you've tried cooking the quinoa we bought you yet or not, but I wanted to share this recipe I just made. I chose it for 3 reasons:

1. It happened to mostly fit what I had in the kitchen & already had in mind to make.

2. I like the quinoa cooking tips. I know from experience how bitter quinoa can be if you don't rinse, yet most recipes seem to skip this step. Toasting the quinoa until crackly & fragrant (like popcorn!) was new to me, & I liked the results.

3. I like that the dressing is juice-based instead of oil-based.

Of course, I made a couple of adjustments. I wouldn't be me if I didn't! To bump up the zip, I added a couple pinches of dry mustard and a few drops of chili oil to the dressing. To use what I had in the house, I substituted cucumber (and a little onion powder) for the scallions & red pepper, plus I used kidney beans instead of black beans. I'm positive it's great the original way, I was just trying to use what I had on hand. 

My version:

 Anywho, Mom - I thought you might find this helpful for your first foray into cooking with quinoa


P.S. I used black quinoa because, last time I was at Whole Foods, they were out of white & red in the bulk department. So I tried black. It tastes exactly the same.

Mmmmmm. All this talk of summer salads is making me crave my Grandma's tabbouleh. I just can't get enough of these whole grain, summery delights. How about you? What summer salads do you love that I've just gotta try?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Summer Shake

There may be fog out my window, but I have sunshine in my glass. I've stumbled upon the perfect summer smoothie.

8 ounces fresh orange juice
1 fresh or frozen banana, chunks
2-4 tablespoons light coconut milk
1/2 cup fresh or frozen pineapple chunks
small handful ice, optional - only needed if none of the fruit is frozen

Blend in the magic blending machine and voila! Summer in a glass!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Things to Keep Around

Have you seen Molly Shannon and Ana Gasteyer's Delicious Dish spoof of NPR? When I was really young my parents listened to the show that must have been the inspiration for this sketch. It was truly infuriating, listening to this oddly low-key woman discussing the merits of different types of bagels. We couldn't stand her, but listened anyway, just so we could roll our eyes and snort derisively at the inanity. Once she did an entire show on the merits of always keeping a tub of toasted sesame seeds in the house. An entire show! I mocked this episode relentlessly. But I'm old now, very very old - almost 30! - and I'm humiliated to admit that I find I agree with her completely. I adore having large quantities of toasted ingredients on hand whenever I need them. Almond slivers, shredded coconut, and, of course, sesame seeds. Especially sesame seeds. Not only do they come in handy, but boy they sure do smell nice when you're toasting up a big batch on the stove. I reach for these yummy ingredients quite often.

I grab my tub of sesame seeds for one of my favorite munchies: Sesame Soy Snap Peas. I used to stop in at Bryan's, a superior market down the street, when I wanted my fix, but their deli carries them only intermittently, often leaving my craving unfulfilled. And, honsetly, I can eat such embarrassingly large quantities it only made fiscal sense to start making it at home. De-string snap peas, toss them with soy sauce, drizzle with sesame oil, and shake on lots of toasted sesame seeds. Toss it all together and you get a crisp, salty vegetable dish of which I just can't get enough.

Another of my favorites for these nutty little treasures is Sesame Soy Garbanzo Beans. I'm really creative with these names, huh? My mom actually invented this one, though I'm not sure she'd remember. This random combo just stuck with me because I enjoyed it so much the first time. You can use store bought Soy Ginger dressing, but it's so simple to throw together - Smart Balance Mayo or peanut oil, freshly grated ginger (store the roots in the freezer and you don't even have to peel before you grate!), sesame oil, soy sauce, and sugar or other sweetener. It's a cinch! Pour over garbanzo beans, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped onion, and, of course, copious amounts of toasted sesame seeds.

Both slivered almonds and toasted coconut add a pick me up to dull salads and cereals. You can toss the almonds in with a batch of green beans or a bowl of crispy napa cabbage slaw, or sprinkle coconut on top of fish tacos or fruit and granola parfaits. They're both so versatile! But there's one dish I find myself making over and over again that uses both: Coconut Curried Brown Rice Salad.

Since I always have brown rice either leftover in the fridge from a Thai outing or in the freezer from Trader Joe's, I make this often and with many variations, depending on what currently occupies my cupboard. Start with 2 cups cooked and chilled brown rice. Into the rice, mix just about any combination of fruits, nuts, and vegetables you desire: toasted coconut shreds, toasted almond slivers, peanuts, or cashews, fresh or dried cranberries, apricots, mango, and/or grapes/raisins, fresh apple chunks, pineapple, or pomegranate seeds, green onion, bell peppers... Get creative! I often even make this with the plan to add shredded chicken breast, but I find I almost always end up sticking to the fruity vegan version. For the dressing, mix about 1/2 cup coconut milk, roughly 1/4-1/3 cup rice vinegar, 1 clove crushed garlic, and curry powder to taste. I've seen recipes call for as little as 1 teaspoon of curry, but I throw in as much as 1 whole tablespoon, so it must be a personal preference thing. I usually go with the light version of the coconut milk to save calories and fat - coconut milk is good for you and all, but with all the coconut curry and Tom Kha I eat, I think I may already surpass the bounds of its nutritional benefits vs. its saturated fat content. In a pinch you can even skip the coconut milk and use oil or SmartBalance mayo, instead. Then it's just "Curried Brown Rice Salad." In this case, I recommend replacing a couple tablespoons of your fat of choice with extra vinegar plus agave nectar or sugar to reclaim lost sweetness.

So now I've become one of those wacky Delicious Dish gals in real life, babbling on and on about toasting vast quantities of ingredients in advance so they're always at the ready. But with so many wonderful things like this to eat, can you blame me?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Half a Week of Cooking

A friend suggested I blog about a successful three days in the kitchen. We all struggle with keeping our meals healthy, affordable, and interesting. As we've all discovered, dining at home is no cheaper than going out if you don't actually eat the leftovers. But who wants to eat off the same dish all week long? Even your favorite lasagna or casserole gets old on the third go around. I've found that, with a little creativity, one batch of groceries - including full crispers and fruit bowls - can deliver a myriad of delicious dishes much of the week. When you pick an ingredient at the market, think about a few different ways you can use it BEFORE the first meal. This week I've been playing a lot with my George Foreman counter-top grill during this process. This isn't so much a list of recipes as an inspirational guide.

Day 1

Salmon Fillets & Corn on the Cob

I always wished my counter-top grill could tackle corn on the cob, but it's nowhere in any manual or cookbook. This week I said "screw it!" and gave it a try myself. It worked beautifully and I'm filled with tauntings of singsong nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nahs in the cookbook writers' general direction. Rip the leaves and silk from corn. Brine for 10-30min in a bath of water mixed with a couple of tablespoons of salt and sugar (tip from either America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Country, I don't remember, but does it matter? Either way, same great group of folks!) Preheat grill to 375. Close cobs in grill perpendicular to grooves. Cook for 30 minutes, turning partway around every ten so they blacken evenly. Spread with your favorite butter substitute (or the real thing) and sprinkle with fresh ground salt & pepper. For the salmon, dust fillets with your favorite seasoning. Layer the top of each fillet with lemon slices. Grill according to manual. Enjoy 3 or 4 ounces of salmon and a cob of corn for your first lunch. Keep leftover salmon and uncooked cobs in the fridge.

Rosemary Balsamic Portabella Sandwich

I marinated the portabella in a balsamic rosemary dressing (olive oil, balsamic vinegar friends brought us from Italy, crushed garlic, freshly trimmed rosemary, soy sauce) before grilling it on my George Foreman. I used some of the leftover marinade to make a quick aioli. Luckily, I had simmered rosemary infused olive oil earlier to drizzle over air-popped popcorn per a Giada de Laurentis recommendation. I used a few drops in a pan to toast the sandwich thins - a perfect touch to elevate a simple sandwich to restaurant quality. I topped it all with fresh ground sea salt and black pepper, spring greens, red onion, organic tomato, and thick slices of fresh mozzarella. I stored the leftover marinade in the fridge to dip tomatoes and mozzarella as a snack or to dress a salad. Notice the incorporation of tasty, healthy snack ideas within meal preparation.

Day 2

Soyrizo Burrito

I love me some Papalote. I crave their soyrizo burrito on a wheat tortilla with veggies instead of rice. I decided that, since I can buy soyrizo from the store just as easily as they can, I might as well make Papalote at home! I started with a warm low carb/high fiber tortilla, green chili refried beans (organic, vegetarian, fat free), soyrizo, mixed veggies grilled on my trusty Foreman (mushrooms, eggplant, red onion, carrots, zucchini, lemon juice, olive oil, fresh ground sea salt & pepper), plus my favorite brand - Casa Chicas - roasted salsa & guacamole. The California taqueria flavors I love packed with vegetables and fiber, and all coming in around 350 calories. Don't forget to make a lot of that veggie grill - we use leftovers in this household!

Salmon Pasta in White Wine Sauce

Time to use up some of those leftovers! I tossed leftover grilled salmon & veggie grill with a light but creamy white wine sauce & whole grain farfalle. A squeeze of lemon juice and a handful of cashews makes the dish spectacular. The best part is how easy it was since the salmon & vegetables were ready to go!

Day 3

Soyrizo Nachos

There's all that yummy soyrizo biding its time in the fridge, and that just won't do. It must be in my belly! A handful of Guiltless Gourmet Tortilla Chips in your choice of flavor, a scoop of those refried beans, a serving of soyrizo, a modest portion of shredded cheese, and the rest of those grilled veggies popped under the broiler for a few minutes comes out gooey and delicious. Top with salsa and guacamole to add another serving of vegetables to the mix.

Salmon Patties & Elote con Queso

Now that I knew my grill could tackle corn on the cob, I just had to begin experimenting with one of my favorite Mexican dishes: Elote con Queso, or Corn with Cheese. Traditionally, the corn is grilled with cayenne pepper, coated in lime crema, and di
pped in cotija cheese. Utilizing what I had on hand, I grilled the corn with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Right after it came off the grill, I drizzled it with a few squeezes of lime juice (I didn't have any sour cream and figured it was healthier this way anyway), and then rolled it in grated parmeggiano reggiano. For an even simpler dish, it was delicious enough without the cheese to skip it. We can always do the traditional recipe another day!

The salmon patties are a variation on crab cakes I saw Ted Allen do on Oprah years ago - way back when Queer Eyes were all the rage. It's a crunchy, baked alternative to the fried patties my mom made growing up. Basically, I mix salmon with a dressing of egg, SmartBalance mayo, lemon juice, Tabasco, and other seasoning & let it set in the fridge. Then I make patties coated with cornflake crumbs - the crunch factor. After another stint in the fridge, they get baked until crispy and hot. Serve with aioli or tartar sauce. Experiment with flavors - spicy dijon, Deliciously Dill, sweet & salty teriyaki, classic Old Bay. Whatever whets your whistle!

And that's 3 days of the same ingredients popping up over and over without things getting boring or redundant. Salmon 3 ways, soyrizo 2 ways, grilled veggies 3 ways, corn 2 ways, and so on and so on. Even minor ingredients make multiple appearances: lemons, parmesan, rosemary, beans, salsa, guacamole. Few items get used only once. Toss in healthy breakfasts and lots of fruit to snack on, and you're set!

We all have to stay on budget by eating our leftovers, but that doesn't mean our meals need to become predictable. Whatever it takes to pull you out of that rut, grab it!
Because if we're not excited about our food, why bother? So, what's next for me? Maybe a couple chicken breasts on the grill - shred one into a mushroom lentil casserole (using up the last of that giant bag o' sliced mushrooms!), save the other for curried brown rice salad... Getting inspired, yet? Or should I keep going?