Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Going Green

Over the last few months I have been making an effort to be environmentally conscious. It wasn't something imposed to me. It can't be. It should be something coming from your heart. One day, several months ago, I was taking my garbage out and I found myself mesmerized by the amount of trash I generated in a couple of days. Multiple that by 365, you do the math...
My approach has been "one step at the time". I knew I couldn't make major changes overnight. I have been taking baby steps, but even baby steps made a huge difference sooner than I thought. Every time I went to a home improvement store over the last few months, I bought fluorescent light bulbs. I have replaced all light bulbs, 3 at the time. I now buy concentrated cleaning products and try to find everything as natural and biodegradable as possible. I look for locally grown and organic produce. I am eating more meatless meals a week. I take my own tote bags to the grocery store. And the usual, recycling everything I can. I still have a long way to go but I feel that I am on the right path.

Friday, April 20, 2007

It's Strawberry Season

The grocery stores are filled with fresh strawberry. Some have signs "First of the Season". I bought two boxes but it didn't taste sweet as they advertised. What to do with them? Strawberry Sauce came to mind. My husband is crazy about Angel Food Cake and Strawberry Sauce goes wonderfully with Angel Food Cake. This sauce is also great with pound cake, shortcake, and over ice cream.

Strawberry Sauce

2 cups sliced strawberries
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup sugar (use only 1/4 cup sugar if you are eating with something very sweet such as ice cream)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Combine sliced strawberries, water, sugar, and balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; simmer until reduced to 3/4 cup (about 15 minutes). Cool. It's even better the next day. Keep in the fridge.

Bye Bye Cold Weather

This season has been unusually cold. We had snow over Easter weekend! I heard it's the coldest April since 1975. Finally, the weather forecast is calling for glorious spring days ahead. I made some Turkey Chili last night as a farewell to what seemed the last cold and gray day of the season. This chili was healthier than most recipes. I used lean ground turkey and low-fat cheese and sour cream.

Turkey Chili (light)

1/4 yellow onion, chopped
4 ounces turkey breast, ground
2 teaspoons olive oil, extra virgin
1/2 cup canned tomatoes, diced
1/2 cup kidney beans (canned without salt)
1/4 cup corn, yellow, frozen
4 slices jalapenos, sliced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon seasoning, cajun
1/2 ounce low-fat cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons sour cream, fat-free

In a medium saucepan, saute onion in olive oil until light brown. Add ground turkey and cook until tender and the liquid has evaporated.

Add tomatoes (undrained), kidney beans, corn, jalapenos (chopped), chili powder, and Cajun spice; stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary to maintain stew consistency.
Garnish with shredded cheese and sour cream.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Balsamic-Glazed Tuna Steak

Planning menus ahead is making my weeknights so much easier. I go grocery shopping with a few dishes in mind and also open to buy anything else looking good at the store. I found gorgeous tuna steaks when I stopped by to get shrimp for another dish. I wasn't sure how I was going to make it. The requirements were the same as always: quick, healthy, and easy. The Balsamic-Glazed Tuna Steak recipe definitely fit the bill.

Balsamic-Glazed Tuna

Cooking spray
1 1/4 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon course sea salt
2 tuna steaks (about 3/4 inch thick)
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
4 teaspoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Preheat a grill pan coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Sprinkle pepper and salt generously over tuna. Place fish in pan; cook 3 minutes on each side until medium-rare or desired degree of doneness. Remove from heat. Using the same pan, combine broth, vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and cornstarch. Bring to a boil; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Spoon over tuna steaks.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Fresh Basil

Live basil on my kitchen counter. They are sold with their roots intact in a bag with water. However, they aren't meant to be potted. They are kept in water but last only a few days. At least I will have some fresh basil at my finger tips this weekend. My kitchen smells so basily.

Today from Whole Foods

I was browsing the wine isles at Whole Foods and bumped into a small wine tasting of Portuguese Wines. I tried a white wine and was told that it goes well with shrimp and feta cheese. It's such a coincidence that I am having a dish with shrimp and feta cheese for dinner tonight.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Easter Sunday

I had a very rough week before Easter. My son was sick with a respiratory infection that kept my husband and I busy 24 hours a day. He finally started to get better on Friday but I had a ton of work to catch up to. The last thing in my mind was cooking. I even considered ordering something for Easter. Then my memories of Easter Feasts in Brazil changed my mind -comprised of traditional Portuguese dishes, desserts, and chocolate. I sure wouldn't have the time and energy to make anything time consuming. I decided on Salmon because it's easy and doesn't usually require marinates and such. The chosen recipe was "Salmon with Brown Sugar and Black Peppercorn". Brown sugar added a nice color and flavor to the dish without making it sweet. I served with a side of Roasted Asparagus.

Later that evening I couldn't help myself. I bought some Linzer cookie cutters for Easter and really wanted to bake something. As exhausted as I as, I was able to make one batch, staying up late and asking myself why I baked the cookies instead of going to bed early. Tiring but fun nonetheless.

Almond Linzer Cookies

1/2 cup almond, toasted and unsalted
1 cups flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick butter, unsalted
1 egg
2 tsp almond extract
Raspberry or Apricot preserves
Powdered sugar

Use a food processor or blender to process almond until it's the consistency of a fine meal.
Cream butter and sugar. Beat until sugar dissolves and blends into the butter. Add egg and almond extract, beat until light and fluffy. Combine dry ingredients and add to batter, stirring to blend. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
Roll the dough between parchment paper. Cut rounds with a plain or fluted cutter. With 1/2 of the rounds, cut out in the middle of each one using a smaller cookie cutter or Linzer cookie cutters.
Bake on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper at 400 F for 5-8 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Remove the cookies from the oven. Let cool completely.
Spread raspberry or apricot preserves on the flat side of each solid cookie. Dust the top of the cut-out cookies with confectioners' sugar and press the flat sides together, with the preserves in the middle and the confectioners' sugar on the top.

Salmon with Brown Sugar and Black Peppercorn

3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon finely grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns, lightly crushed
Olive Oil
8 salmon fillets, 6 ounces each

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Melt the brown sugar and butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and whisk in the mustard, soy sauce, half the peppercorns, and ginger. Let cool. Place salmon (skin down) on large glass baking dish lined with parchment paper. Brush fillets with olive oil and sprinkle salt. Coat fillets with brown sugar mixture and sprinkle remaining black peppercorns. Place in the oven for 15 minutes or until fillets are cooked through.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Super Light Version of Curried Shrimp

I missed my friend P's birthday celebration because my son was a little sick. The following Monday she raved about the Indian Restaurant they went to. She talked about the mouth-watering dishes and the dessert they made at their table. I couldn't stop thinking about Indian Food. However, going to an Indian Restaurant means overeating and I am trying to eat smaller portions and fewer calories. I remembered making a light curried shrimp a while ago that was delish and quick. So I went back to my recipe files and found it. Recipe - check; Shrimp - check; Curry - check; A few minutes later I had a satisfying and healthy dinner. I served with brown rice instead of white.

Light Curried Shrimp

1/4 yellow onion, whole
1/2 teaspoon olive oil, extra virgin
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined, raw
1 teaspoon flour, all-purpose
2 fluid ounces chicken broth, fat-free, low-sodium
1/2 garlic clove
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder

Wash and peel onion; chop coarsely.
In a medium skillet, saute onion in olive oil. Add shrimp to skillet and cook until pink and firm.
Slowly stir in flour. Add chicken stock and stir until lightly thickened. Add garlic clove (minced), salt, pepper, and curry powder. Stir over low heat for 2 minutes or until until gravy thickens. Don't overcook shrimp or else it will become rubbery.

2007 Cherry Blossom Festival on Saturday

The 2007 Cherry Blossom Festival is the 95th celebration of the original gift of the 3,000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, DC in 1912. Every year in February we start the cherry blossom watch. The experts monitor them, the TV stations and residents wonder if the winter was too harsh, if the spring will be mild, if we will have a frost after the buds begin to expand... But the cherry trees never disappoint us. It's a breathtaking sight. The trees are now covered in pink and white flowers. Hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world come to Washington, DC for the festival every year. The trees stay in bloom for up to 14 day, however this timeframe could be shorter depending on the weather.

We took a stroll around the Tidal Basin on Saturday. The weather wasn't great - it was cloudy and windy - but it was nice to walk 3 miles around the Tidal Basin having trees blooming above our head, a view of the Potomac River, the Washington Monument (pictured above) and Jefferson Memorial (pictured below).

The crowds can be a little daunting around this time of the year. The paddle boats are a great option for some quiet time. It's so much fun to be so close to the blossoms yet so far from the crowd.

During our lap around the Tidal Basin, we longed for a hot drink. We were 1 block away from my office, so I knew that area well. We didn't want to go to a packed coffee shop. I suggested a coffee shop inside a bookstore only 1 block from the crowds. Since the coffee shop is in the mezzanine level, you can't see it from outside. Total bliss! the tourists didn't know about that coffee shop. We had a latte sitting comfortably inside. My husband, our baby, a couple of friends with their adorable baby and I sat there, sipped our lattes, played with our babies, talked, and drove home. What a nice way to spend a Saturday!