Sunday, April 29, 2012

Best Boxed Lunch EVER- Japan

I'm sure you've been given a boxed lunch at a business event before, right?
Cardboard box, soggy sandwich, chips you shouldn't eat, a cookie big enough for three, nothing but enough to put you into a carb stupor the rest of the day. What a great way to do business in America eh?

So, how happy was I when I received this 'box lunch' in Japan on a recent business trip?
Very, very happy. Smug happy. All mine happy.

I was ready for lunch when the doors opened and two of the office ladies came in lugging a huge cardboard box between. They were struggling, it obviously was very heavy.  They had to get one of the guys to help hoist it onto the banquet table. They left the room quietly (probably catching their breath...) to return with another. Wow! What the heck is in there?

Inside each large cardboard box was eight big lacquered boxes, probably measuring 10x17 inches.  Each shiny box was delivered to the table where we'd spent the morning concentrating on data, charts and discussing future situations. These boxes were pristine, not a scratch or chip in the finish. I immediately wanted to keep mine... forever.  I lifted my lid, not sure what to expect, hoping for the best.

Inside revealed six compartments, each containing a beautiful Japanese china dish. Uh oh, now I wanted the little dishes too. Dish envy. 

The food was artistically placed, there was no dribbles or leakage from any of the dishes. If I hadn't seen those gals struggling with that big box (and I know that they came up the stairs with it too) I wouldn't have believed a lunch like that would arrive in such perfect condition.  

The box contained:
1) Tender Meat dumplings with a peanut sauce
2) Pork with Cabbage (one of the few spicy dishes I had in Japan)
3) Beef with Broccoli and Baby Corn
4) Perfect rice with pickled radish and sesame seeds.
5) Tender sliced chicken over salad with a perfect, glorious strawberry.
6) Tofu in a wonderful brown sauce

I ate every single bite.

There is just something special about Japan. Perfectly done, each detail thought through and beautifully done.  This is a place to visit and enjoy.

Here are a couple more images from my trip:

Cherry Blossoms in Niigata, they were finished in Tokyo, but it was still cool enough up in Northern Japan to view them in late April.

Outside the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, I walked in the park early one morning in the rising sun and mist in the gardens.  A perfect way to start your day and get over your jet lag.

Also the picture below is from the same Imperial Palace Gardens, very close to Tokyo Station.

While you are in Tokyo, you MUST try a Tokyo Banana cookie!  There are many "all banana" varieties, but the banana cream filled sponge cake is my favorite. The Japanese make the most delicious cookies I have ever tried, go there and eat cookies.... many, many cookies.  I brought back a couple of boxes to share, they come at a price we don't usually spend for cookies. I paid about 953 yen, which is about $11.00, for 8 cookies.  Worth it, totally worth it.

Here's my bed at the traditional hotel we stayed in for one night. Way more comfortable than you would think, though it might have been the sake night cap. Or maybe it was the evening of singing karaoke wearing the hotel provided yakata (Summer Kimono) that everyone (I mean everyone!) wears to dinner. The hardest part of that bed?  Trying to get out of bed in the morning. My advice? Roll out of bed onto your hands and knees and slowly try to rise. It's not that I am old, but maybe a little stiff in the morning, and this bed is very, very low to the ground.  I don't believe it would be possible to jump out of this kind of bed.

I did manage to roll out about 6am and go to the Hot Springs in the hotel grounds. Bathing garments are NOT an option, so I got naked with about 12 of my closest, Japanese grandma friends and got to scrubbing. 
That will clear any cobwebs from your mind! 
Wash, scrub and enter the hot springs.  It was posted as 40 degrees Celsius, so of course, I doubled it and added 30; you did know that's how to convert to Fahrenheit, right? 
Hot, Wonderful, relaxing and invigorating at the same time.
After a very hot soak, you get out and do more scrubbing and washing.  
Obviously I don't have any pictures of that experience!

Here I am waiting for the bullet train back to Tokyo!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Pavlova with Three Berry Sauce

I've had this in Scotland years ago, made as a big cake for parties; one large yummy, crunchy meringue on the bottom, topped with lots of pillowy soft whip cream and topped with sliced fresh fruit like raspberries, strawberries, kiwis, peaches. OMG, it's wonderful. It's messy to cut and serve, but that makes up for the look of sheer happiness of everyone eating the cake!

I saw this recipe in the most recent Sunset magazine and had to try it.  Since it's still grey and rainy here, I used frozen berries from Costco, instead of fresh. I served it to friend's on that same rainy night and was a little disappointed that my meringues weren't as crisp and lovely as when I pulled them from the oven, so beware of moist, humid days for this dessert, it's best suited to a clear beautiful day.
Serves 6-8

3 egg whites, at room temperature
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

6 cups berries (such as blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), or 4 cups frozen
1/3 cup sugar

1 cup whipping cream

Preheat oven to 250°. Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites with cornstarch on medium speed until very foamy. Sprinkle in 3/4 cup sugar, about 1 tbsp. at a time, while beating; beat until meringue holds stiff, shiny peaks, about 15 minutes. Add vanilla and vinegar and beat 30 seconds more.

This is how stiff this stuff is!

(See my cute nails that my daughter did for me? A thin copper line of polish to liven up a french manicure!)
Line 2 baking sheets with waxed paper. Using a large spoon, drop meringue onto paper in 8 equal dollops 2 in. apart. Press back of spoon into dollops to make shallow bowls about 3 in. wide.

Bake meringues until a pale golden crust has formed (surface shouldn't be sticky), 40 to 50 minutes. Turn off oven, open door wide and let the meringues cool slowly in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  This helps avoid a “crash” of the meringues from cooling too quickly out of the oven.

Put berries in a small saucepan with remaining 1 tbsp. sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat, uncovered. Simmer, stirring gently every now and then, until berries begin to break down, 5 to 10 minutes. Let cool.

Whip cream. Top each cooled meringue with cream and berries, dividing evenly.

Make ahead: Pavlovas, up to 1 week airtight at room temperature; sauce, up to 1 day, chilled.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lemon Chicken & Kale Saute

We've been trying to eat more healthily.  I think many of us are. Sometimes it's hard, isn't it?
My last post wasn't healthy... it was booze,  a "What the Pho" martini- - well, at least that was non-fat!

I was inspired to make this recipe from a Weight Watchers recipe card I got in the mail for Lemon Chicken and Broccoli.  Well, if the truth be told, broccoli is ok, but not my all time favorite like kale! Plus, I had kale in the fridge I needed to use.

This whole dinner came together quickly after work one night. We both enjoyed dinner, plus there was enough leftovers for some yummy lunches. You could serve it with brown rice, quinoa, noodles or potatoes.  To save time making brown rice which takes over 45 minutes, I usually make a big batch of brown rice and freeze it in ziploc bags and press each one flat.  They defrost in the microwave in about 2 minutes and I always have brown rice ready to go! This method also works for couscous and for quinoa

Serves 3-4

2 large chicken breasts, cut into slices or chunks
2 bunches kale
1/2 white onion, diced
1-2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 lemon, juiced and zested
2 garlic cloves, minced or crushed
1/2 cup chopped, roasted red peppers (or 1/2 cup diced fresh red bell pepper)
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and Pepper

In a skillet, (I used my cast iron pan!) heat some olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken, turning to get both sides. It's much, much easier to brown your chicken if you pan isn't overcrowded.  As you can see below, I did overcrowd it! 

When the chicken is almost all browned, add the onions, garlic and lemon zest to the pan.  Let the onions become a bit softened.  Add the lemon juice to help deglaze the pan and loosen all the yummy bits in the pan.  

While your chicken is browning, chop us the veggies.  Be sure to cut the kale in thinner strips and then chop those, otherwise you will find long, awkward shreds of kale in your dinner! That can be messy to eat... 
If your pan is big enough, add the kale, tomatoes and bell pepper.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the kale starts to wilt and is heated through.  Serve immediately over rice, quinoa or whatever else sounds good.

Friday, April 20, 2012

What The Pho Martini

Thank God it's Friday! That's all I'm saying!  How was your week?

This martini isn't for sissies, ok?  
Don't complain because this isn't my normal girlie martini recipe.  
Savory, spicy and intense... like my week, and probably many, many other people that give it their all every working day. To you, I salute you.

You like the flavors in pho, or any spicy food? Then you will like this!

I also bought a muddler today on the way home... it was just enough to inspire me to go home and smash up some stuff for a martini.  If you don't know what a muddler, keep reading. I bought mine at World Market for $4.99, and it made me happy.  When is that last time $4.99 made you happy

Well, have a "what the pho" martini and I am sure you will join me in that happy place.

Makes 2 martinis
4 jiggers vodka
2-3 springs basil, any kind, but Taiwanese is traditional in Pho
2-3 springs cilantro
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Sriracha garlic hot sauce
2-3 jalapeno slices
1/2 Lime, juiced
2 jiggers of sparkling water, or seltzer (if desired)

In a martini shaker, smash up the basil, cilantro, jalapeno slices and line juice until the jalapeno is mostly smashed.  Add the sriracha, soy sauce, vodka and lots of crushed ice. Shake, shake, shake.  Strain into glasses and top with some seltzer.  Garnish with a slice of lime and jalapeno. 

Here's my new muddler.  If you can't get one, you can successfully use the end of a thick wooden spoon!


Too much for you?  Here's some other very popular martinis from my blog:
Blackberry Raindrop Martini

Burning Ring of Fire Martini
Coconut Water Martini
Honey Badger Martini

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Rustic Lentil Vegetable Soup

This was so good last weekend, I decided to do it again this weekend and to blog about it.  It's almost all vegetables, very flavorful and satisfying. About a month ago I made an Egyptian Red Lentil Soup that was quite delicious, but this has some additional flavors and textures which make it even easier to make.

This makes quite a bit of soup, which is always a problem I like to have. It will freeze nicely if you want to put half of it away, but it can keep in the fridge all week too.  I packaged mine up in my Corningware covered mugs to take to work this week; easy, nutritious and filling for lunch.

I even used water instead of broth because there are so many flavors in this soup, you really don't need the extra flavor from the stock. If you don't like Curry or heat from Cayenne, use some other herbs and spices that you do like!

(Forgot to photograph the Canned Tomatoes)

Serves 6-8

1 Tbsp olive oil
4-5 small inner celery stalks, including leaves, chopped
1 large onion, purple or white, chopped
2 leeks, white and green (about 6" total), sliced thin and rough chopped
3 large carrots, quartered and chopped
1 jalapeno, minced (remove seeds)
1 cup red lentils
2 medium potatoes, small dice
1 14oz can diced tomatoes and juice
3 cloves garlic, minced or 1 tsp granulated garlic
1 tsp cayenne pepper, or red pepper flakes
2 tsp curry powder
10 cups water
1/2 lemon, juiced or 1 Tbsp vinegar

Chop all the veggies as directed. Over medium high heat in a 6 qt, or larger, stock pot, add the olive oil and saute the veggies (everything except the potatoes) for 5-10 minutes until they are softened and the onions are starting to brown.  Add the canned tomatoes, lentils, diced potatoes, the 10 cups of water and the spices.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low, cooking for 40-50 minutes until the lentils are soft and starting to break down.

Here's some of my other favorite soups that are full of veggies and good for you!
Broccoli, Cheddar & Potato Soup
Carrot Ginger Soup
Chilled Curried Mango Prawn Soup
Chilled Zucchini Buttermilk Soup
Curried Cauliflower Soup 
Lazy Girl Crock Pot All Veggie Chili (Vegan too)
Mediterranean Tomato Soup 
Moroccan Vegetable Stew
Split Pea Soup

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cooking Light Creamed Spinach & Mushrooms

Just bought the new Cooking Light magazine for April 2012.  This isn't a magazine I subscribe to (though I probably should.... wince), but I really, really enjoyed being inspired by the recipes. I love reading a new magazine on a plane... enforced reading, no interruptions.  I "tagged" a bunch of recipes while sitting there.

No one thinks creamed spinach is "light"... do they?
This tasted fantastic, and not "light" at all. I will do this again and again for steak dinners and holiday events too. I made this and then popped it into the oven while I baked the salmon we had with it.  It would also be a great dish to make ahead and then re-heat and bake until bubbly for a dinner party, or holiday event.

Serves4- 6

4 teaspoons canola oil, divided
8 ounces sliced cremini, or baby bella, mushrooms
1 (10-ounce) package baby spinach
1/2 cup finely chopped onions, or shallots
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced or crushed
3/4 cup fat-free milk
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Salt and black pepper
Dash of nutmeg
3 ounces 1/3-less-fat cream cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil; swirl to coat. Add mushrooms; cook 6 minutes or until liquid evaporates. Remove mushrooms from pan. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add spinach; cook 1 minute or until spinach wilts. Remove from heat. Set aside while you make your sauce.

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil; swirl to coat. Add onions (or shallots) and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Combine milk and flour, stirring with a whisk. Add milk mixture, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to pan; bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened, stirring constantly. Add cheese; stir until cheese melts and the mixture is mostly smooth.

Add mushrooms and spinach to milk mixture, and toss gently to coat. Serve at once, or bake until bubbly in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes.  If you weren't into the "Cooking Light" party, you could add cheese and buttered breadcrumbs for a nice crispy topping.

Here's our dinner, all ready to go:

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Strawberry Lemon Curd Trifle

I'm so pumped that Spring is here.  I am ready for fresh berries and better weather.

I made this for Easter but this is a great recipe for any get together!  
I'm thinking I will make this with blueberries and strawberries for Fourth of July too. 
Don't worry about the cake getting soggy, it's supposed to be saturated with the juices from the berries (and the booze, if you use it), it's what makes trifle, well... trifle!

A classic English trifle is a beautiful thing.  Delicious rich custardy pudding combined with a sponge cake, berries, sherry and whip cream.  I love that, but I wanted to have something lemony!  Most people lust after chocolate, I lust after lemons!

I made this on Easter Sunday morning with a minimal amount of effort, but I won't lie, a considerable amount of dirty dishes.  It depends on whether or not you make your own pound cake. I would say go for it, it's not that hard and tastes better than store bought.

Serves about 12

2 lbs strawberries, washed and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Grand Mariner

1 Pound Cake, cut into cubes (about 4-5 cups), use store bought or my easy recipe below
2 cups lemon curd, recipe below
2 cups whip cream
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup sugar

Lemon Curd Ingredients:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp lemon zest
1 cup sugar
1 cube butter, cold and cut into cubes

Mix the egg yolks, the lemon juice & zest and the sugar thoroughly.  Over medium low heat in a rounded bottom saucepan, stir the mixture continuously with a whisk.  Keep the mixture moving, or it will cook into a scrambled egg sauce!!!  When it starts to thicken, remove from the heat and beat in the cold butter, 2-3 pcs at a time.  Chill until firm and cooled. If it is too thick when you are ready to assemble the trifle, then add some whipped cream and fold in, or stir in 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt to lighten the texture and make it easy to spread into the layers.

Whip cream until soft peaks appear, add sugar, and finally the cream cheese.  Beat until the whip cream mixture hold their shape nicely.

In a clear glass bowl, layer the cake, the berries (and their juice), the lemon curd and the whip cream: repeat.  Top with a nice display of whipped cream, and more berries, if desired.  Refridgerate until ready to serve.

Orange Pound Cake
Makes one 8x13 sheet pan (for trifle cake cubes).

1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup yogurt
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs

1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.
Generously butter and line a 8x13 sheet pan with parchment and cooking spray.

Combine juice, yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and oil. Stir or whisk to combine. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Pour batter on the parchment lined sheet pan and bake for 20-25 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack for 5 minutes.When completely cool, cut into 3/4" cake cubes.   (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap and store at room temperature.)

Here's some other favorite lemon desserts:
Lemon-Lime Basil Shortbread Cookies
Lemon White Chocolate Tart

Moist Lemon Bread
Lemon Bundt Cake

Friday, April 6, 2012

Irish Coffee Martini with Bailey's Whip Cream

Would you feel sorry for me if I told you I've been doing research on an Irish martini since St. Patrick's day?
I figured as much.
It started with an idea for an Irish Car Bomb Martini.  An Irish Car Bomb drink is kind of an Irish boiler maker.... take a pint a Guiness drop in a shot of whiskey and a shot of Bailey's and CHUG it.  I'm not too much of a chugger, but I like the idea of the combo.
Except there is a huge issue... the Guiness immediately curdles when you add Bailey's and whiskey. It's totally disgusting, which is why, I guess, people chug that drink.  Making a curdled martini cured me from ever, EVER, drinking an Irish Car Bomb.

Here is a much prettier, safer and more delicious martini to enjoy after dinner instead of dessert!
I think I might even make the coffee simple syrup with decaf Starbucks Via next time, so I can sleep like a baby. 

Makes 1 martini (whip cream serves 2)

2 jiggers Jameson whiskey
2 jigger coffee simple syrup (easy recipe below)
Note: If it's too sweet for your liking, add 1 jigger cold coffee or 1 jigger sparkling water.
I liked it both ways!

1/2 cup whip cream, whipped into soft peaks
2 Tbsp Baileys

Coffee Simple Syrup
1 cup sugar
1 cup white
1 package of Starbucks Via instant coffee (any flavor)

Here's a little photo bomb for you, from someone who was impatient to sample the goods. I was actually pretty annoyed with him. But, he was pretty complimentary about the drink, so he is forgiven.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Egg Foo Yung with Tofu & Veggies

I didn't have Egg Foo Yung until I was about 25 years old. 
I am sure I looked down my nose when my husband assured me that it was great. 
My Mom always said Egg Foo Yung  wasn't real  Chinese food.
I only ate real Chinese food.
I may have been a food snob.... Hahaha...
When I tasted it.  Hmmmm, not bad... in fact, I liked it. 

I made this the other night and never mentioned to 'that guy' that there wasn't any meat in it.  Usually he's onto that so fast and mentions that he knows I am trying to pull something over on him.  This had so many flavors and textures in a big manly portion, he never even mentioned it.  It was like eating a fantastic spicy Asian omelette for dinner with spicy gravy.
Isn't the GRAVY the weirdest part?
Maybe it is, but it does add something to the dish, and I mixed up my own with lots more flavor and zing.

Hey, I know this is ugly, so please no comments.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4-6 as a side dish

5 eggs
1-2 tsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup celery, sliced very thin
1/2 cup carrots, sliced very thin
1/2 cup onions, sliced very thin
1 jalapeno, minced (optional)
1 cup firm tofu, cut into a 1/2" dice, or strips
1 cup mung bean sprouts
1/2 cups mushrooms, portabella or black asian wood mushrooms
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 tsp soy sauce
1-2 tsp garlic hot pepper sauce
Salt & pepper

3-4 tsp cornstarch
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp garlic hot pepper sauce (optional)
1 cup vegetable broth

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large deep skillet (about 2") over medium heat, add the sesame oil, garlic, onions, celery, jalapeno (if using) and carrots. Stir to combine and soften a little over the heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the soy sauce to the veggies and cook for another 1-2 minutes..  Add the tofu, mung beans and mushrooms.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs with the soy sauce and garlic hot pepper sauce, add a little salt and pepper.   Pour the eggs over the sizzling veggies and continue to cook, undisturbed, until the edges start to set, about 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and place in the hot oven for 10 minutes, until the middle looks set and the eggs are cooked.  I have used the broiler to make this a little quicker, but keep your eye on it if you do this.

While the egg mixture is cooking, combine the soy sauce, cornstarch and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl.  In a small saucepan heat up the broth, while stirring the broth, slowly dribble in the soy sauce, pepper, cornstarch mixture.  The mixture should thicken and make a nice gravy.  Adjust seasoning by adding more soy sauce or hot pepper sauce to your desire.

When the egg foo yung is finished in the oven, carefully add a dinner plate, face down, on top of the skillet and invert it onto the plate.  It should come out easily... 

Top with sliced green onions and serve immediately with hot Chinese "gravy".