Thursday, July 29, 2010

Back on Track

Okay, so we're back from Denmark and the month is drawing to a close. I was supposed to cook approximately 12 times, and only managed 6. But truthfully, that was still more than the whole rest of the year, so I'm going to go ahead and consider it a success. I also have to just acknowledge that in past months, I was so stuck on fulfilling my goal that I kept trying to continue to meet unmet goals. But the point of these months was to try to focus on things I wanted to do for myself. And I've done that. So from now on--anything that doesn't get done by the end of the month, falls off the list. If it didn't stick, it didn't stick. I will acknowledge it and move on.

So yeah, cooking 3+ nights a week...never going to stick until I'm either a) the mother of kids who need balanced meals or b)have a lot more time on my hands. But I did find that I liked when I cooked and I seem to be fairly talented at following--and tweaking--recipes. Go figure. I can cook!

And--I didn't forget about the cleaning plan. I've been developing one and have an appointment to talk to Michael about my proposal tonight. I have two options to offer him. Option 1--and my preferred option--is a chart of weekly and monthly household tasks that need doing. We'd decide together at the beginning of each week/month who would be responsible for which tasks, trying to roughly divide the work in half. The nice thing about this plan is that I can be assured that most of the important things will get done regularly, and so can be more flexible about when it gets done. As long as it's done once a week, I can't try to control when.

There are a lot of benefits to this system, but honestly, we might be too old for chore charts. It's hard to know if it will stick. Maybe it will feel patronizing.

The second option is committing to 15 minute "cleaning frenzies" before dinner 4 nights a week. We would both just see how much we can get done in 15 minutes and leave the rest. Probably work room by room. This would work better to control clutter, I think, but we'd probably never have time to vacuum or dust and laundry wouldn't ever be a priority. Also, we don't seem to do well with this type of commitment, because we never find time.

OR we could do one hour-long cleaning frenzy on a specific day.

Both would allow us to each choose the jobs we hate less, assuming we both don't hate the same things equally. Both would probably require roughly the same amount of time commitment per week. I think it's reasonable that we spend an hour a week maintaining our home...what do you guys think?

Anyway--I'm going to present the pros and cons and see if Michael has any better ideas or improvements to offer. And then we can put it into place and see how it goes.

August is going to be creating month. It was originally slated for writing month, but I think maybe I can build in time for writing during the school year, but I'll never get these creating projects done during the school year. I want to print, frame, and hang pictures from the wedding and vacations of the last two years. I want to edit our wedding video. And make some glass. And figure out how to use my damn camera correctly and consistently. That's a lot, considering I'm gone for a week and a half and then have to start getting the dorm ready. (AGH)

But, I'll just see what I can do.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lemon Pudding Cake with Berries

So today was a whirlwind day. It started at 5:20, getting ready for a Body Pump class. I VERY nearly cancelled because I only got about 5 hours of sleep, but knowing Melissa was coming to pick me up kept me moving and I was glad. It was a good class, and according to my scale, I actually am building muscle. YAY.

So that was followed by 8 totallyfranticstressedout hours at work. For the first time in WEEKS I made sure to leave on time so I could run to the store and get the makings for the Lemon Pudding Cake and slaw I was planning to make for tonight's Dorm Parent gathering. Yes, the same slaw I made twice last week. Well, almost the same. I keep tweaking it, so it might be fair to call it my own by now. =)

I got home and immediately set to work and finished justintime to head to the BBQ. It was so nice to see everyone, but we felt rushed because we found out today that we had to pack up our entire office/back room today (remember the one from decluttering month?) in preparation for the new closet they're going to start putting in. Which we are excited about. But having our house in such disarray leaves me kind of anxious. And we're starting to figure out that there's no good way of fitting the furniture we want in the spaces we have. So putting it all back together when we are back from Denmark should be interesting.

Anyway, I added crushed peanuts and a little lime to the slaw today. Look how bold and adventurous I'm getting! I couldn't really tell the difference with the lime, but I actually really liked the peanuts. It seemed to be a pretty big hit at the dorm parent party. Melissa had also made an asian slaw with jicama (sp?) and I liked that she used cucumbers and sliced peppers in hers. I'd like to add cucumbers to mine next time!

As for the cake, I think it was only so-so. It came from the cooking light book, and I just doubled the recipe. Everyone said it was good but it was the only dessert there so the bar was set pretty low. =) It had good flavor, but the texture seemed a bit dense to me. I think I was expecting a fluffier cake with pudding oozing out. Which is funny, considering I made it and knew full well that the pudding was all mixed in with the cake. It was still pretty good once topped with fat-free cool whip and fresh berries, but I'd only give it a 3.5. Michael gave it a 3.75. I forgot to ask the other diners. (You ate it, you rate it!) I'll have to remember next time. I might try a main course next time, since there's only one more BBQ that we'll be able to attend in July.

The slaw, however, is still hovering around a 4.5. In fact, someone asked for the recipe tonight which is a pretty good sign, I'd say.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Thai Stir Fry a la Chef Michael

Tonight I decided to take a break from my new cookbook. I was in the mood for Michael's famous stir fry, so I asked him to teach me how he makes it. He wasn't allowed to touch anything...only to walk me through it. He won't be HGTV's Next Food Network Star or anything, but he was a decent teacher.
I don't have an actual recipe to share, but I can summarize and you can play with it if you want to make your own. We started with a bit of sesame oil in a pan (you can use any kind of oil really). When it got hot, I added a little garlic (I used two cloves) and let that sit for a minute. Then I added a "heaping teaspoon" of yellow thai curry paste. This adds a LOT of the flavor. If you like things spicy, use red curry paste adds a lot of heat. The yellow curry paste adds lots of flavor with only a little heat. If you use red curry paste, you'd probably want to use about half as much as if you use yellow. Then we added our meat (we used sirloin, cubed) and cooked it until browned on all sides but definitely not done. I removed the meat in a separate bowl (it will keep cooking while resting) and put sweet potatoes in instead. They were cut thin and quartered and needed about 12 minutes to cook. Every few minutes, I'd sprinkle on a little water or soy sauce, to sort of steam the sweet potatoes. Then came the baby corn and bamboo shoots, then mushrooms, then snow peas. After the veggies were pretty well done, I added the meat back in and also some soy sauce, and some oyster sauce. Michael usually adds a little Mirin but we were out and I didn't really notice the difference in the end. Then, I added some chopped cilantro, a dash of nutmeg, a little ginger, and some turmeric. And some cashew nuts, which added a really nice texture. I served it over rice, but there wasn't a ton of liquid so it probably didn't need the rice. Obviously you can use whatever veggies you like. I hate cooked onions and peppers, but they'd probably be good in here.

We both wound up rating it 4.5 stars. It was pretty easy, though it took some time to prep all the veggies. And also pretty healthy, especially if not served over rice. AND there's enough for leftovers tomorrow. Yay.

Tuesday we have a dorm parent BBQ on campus and I need to decide what to make for that. I could make the Asian Slaw I like so much, but I have made it twice already. It's hard to make a protein/entree for that many people...tricky. Maybe I'll do a fancy dessert! Any suggestions out there?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My First ★★★★★ Dinner!

Tonight I cooked my third meal of the week: Teriyaki Salmon with Mushrooms, Orange-Ginger Sugar Snap Peas, both from the new Cooking Light Cookbook (page 199). I also made more of my Asian Slaw because I bought too much slaw mix yesterday and had to use it up.

This one was supposed to take 20 minutes, and it took 60.

So I'm improving. Plus I didn't injure myself on any produce.

And I got to use the Salmon that Michael caught on Saturday, so this was FRESH! I feel like we could live off the land!

Okay, just kidding.

But I did learn that because salmon is a fatty fish, you don't need to cook it in oil or anything. And you can get a really nice sear in a pan, and it only takes about 10 minutes. And apparently it's hard to screw up. Because even though Michael was 15 minutes late, it was somehow still cooked perfectly! Seriously. The sauce was AMAZING too. We both gave it 5 stars. I might use a tad less sherry next time, but it was seriously good. And easy. I swear. If I can do it, you can too.

In fact, I recommend it so highly, that I'll include the recipe at the bottom of this post. Someone else already posted it online, so I figure it's probably okay. But I encourage you to buy the cookbook anyway.

The sugar snap peas were only a 3 or so. I don't love orange zest in my veggies apparently. And they were a little oily because when I first put the ginger in the hot oil, it splattered so much that I couldn't get near the pan to keep cooking. So I added more oil. Live and learn.

Anyway, this was even more successful than the Ahi Burgers...and I did it totally myself! In fact, it's funny, because I was beginning to think that I only liked cooking as a social experience. My mom helped with the prep work for the Ahi Burgers, and Gina and I chattered away for the two or so hours it took to cook and eat last night's meal. On both occasions, it felt like half the fun was just the shared experience of being together in the kitchen.

But today, I was totally alone. I cranked up some Melissa Etheridge, and got to work. I cleaned as I went, which made me extra impressed with myself. I managed to finish everything at the same time. I felt accomplished. And I wasn't thinking about work or anything really. I was very in the moment. Thich Nhat Hanh would have been proud. I was. And it was just as much fun by myself.

Teriyaki Salmon with Mushrooms (Cooking Light/page 199)


    1/4 cup dry sherry
    1/4 cup of teriyaki sauce
    2 TBS light brown sugar
    1 tsp canola oil
    8 oz pkg of sliced baby portobello mushrooms
    4 - 6oz salmon fillets (I only used two, and I thought the rest still worked out fine as toppings. More mushrooms for me!)


  • Combine first 3 ingredients in a bowl and stir to disolve sugar.
  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over med-high add mushroom and saute 4 min or until tender.
  • Add 1/3 cup of the sherry mixture to the mushrooms. Reduce heat and simmer 2 min or until liquid almost evaporates. Spoon mushroom mixture into a bowl and set aside.
  • Heat pan over med-high heat add fish. Cook 3-4 min each side until browned. Add mushrooms and remaining sherry mixture to pan, cook 2 min, and transfer fish to a plate and top with mushrooms.
Number of Servings: 4 (*2 the way I made it)

In their version: 335 calories, 14.3 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber.

You Ate It, You Rate It!

Last night, Gina came over and we talked our way through a supposedly 15-minute recipe from my new favorite cookbook. It took an hour and a half.

The cookbook is Cooking Light's new Fresh Food Fast Weeknight Meals, and each recipe is EITHER 5 ingredients or less (not counting salt/pepper/water) OR takes 15 minutes or less. I'm not quite confident I can not make anything in this book in under 15 minutes, but I figure as long as it's tasty and healthy, that's okay with me.

Tonight's recipe was for Pan-Fried Shrimp served with Tropical Slaw. I couldn't find the recipe for the shrimp online, but I wouldn't worry about it, because they were kind of bland. They got 3 stars out of 5 from all three raters. (Gina tried to abstain from rating, but I explained July's rule: "You ate it, you rate it!" and she couldn't really argue with that. Mostly because she was laughing.) The only cool thing about them was mixing chopped cilantro into the panko crumbs before breading--that was a good idea. And I learned something else, too! The recipe said to chop the cilantro and then put it and the panko in a food processor.

I paused, interrupted Gina mid-sentence, and asked, "Um...if I'm going to put it in the food processor, do I really need to chop it first?"

Gina said no. So I didn't. I just put the cilantro in my Cuisinart mini-food processor for a second and it was magically, perfectly chopped. Which caused me to exclaim: "I don't know why anyone ever chops anything!"

Ah, the cooking epiphanies I have.

Anyway, the I made the Tropical Slaw according to their recipe but I tasted it and thought it was pretty darn boring. I loved the pineapple and mango, which I didn't think I would, but the slaw lacked punch. So I looked up some recipes online and improvised. I LOVED my version, which was pretty close to this:


    3 1/4 cups packaged coleslaw
    3/4 cup chopped fresh mango
    1/2 cup chopped fresh pineapple
      1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
      3 tablespoons minced ginger
      1 tablespoon minced garlic
      2 tablespoons brown sugar
      5 tablespoons soy sauce
      4 tablespoons mirin
      1 teaspoon sesame oil
      1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
    1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro


Toss first 11 ingredients, cover and chill 15 minutes, stir in cilantro.

Number of Servings: 3

I liked my version A LOT better. It was SO good. And I thought using packaged slaw mix was genius. This is something I can ACTUALLY make in under 15 minutes. My version of the slaw garnered 4.5 stars out of 5 from our guest judges.

Unfortunately, I cut myself on the garlic while making it.

Yup. You read that correctly.

I. Cut. Myself. On. Garlic.

Stop laughing. It could happen to anyone.

Okay, no. Really only I could do that. I was peeling the outer layer off with my fingernail and I guess it was sharp because I started bleeding! It still hurts.

But that's okay. I'm a chef. I can handle a little food injury here and there.

The Shrimp had 295 calories, 12.6 grams of fat, and 1 gram of fiber. The slaw...well it had 87 calories before I messed with it, but I have no idea. I did take out the mayonnaise they used though, so I think it's still pretty darn healthy. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Amazin' Asian Ahi Tuna Burger Recipe

So I have this ethical dilemma because I want to post recipes here of the dishes I try this month, but suspect book publishers might not love that idea so much. But I found a link to the recipe for the Hungry Girl Ahi Tuna Burgers online, so that seemed like a fair compromise. If you're interested, click here. I added some chopped cilantro to the top of our burgers, which made ALL the difference as far as we were concerned. (Except for dad, who declined, claiming that cilantro tastes like soap.) Mom and Michael both said they'd add a little salt to the burgers prior to cooking...maybe a touch of garlic. And I cooked them on the grill, but my panel of experts explained that I probably could have gotten a nicer coloring and sear by pan cooking them. You'll have to do the tinkering yourself...but seriously--don't leave out the cilantro!

PS--each burger has approximately 246 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of fiber.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Amazing Asian Ahi Tuna Burgers!

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking it's July 5th and you haven't seen me cook three times in the last week, right? But the thing is, I like for weeks to start on Monday. So July starting on a Thursday--especially when we were heading out of town on Friday--really wasn't a good start to cooking month. How could ANYONE cook that much? (My apologies to all the real women out there who actually cook on a regular basis--my hat goes off to you.) is Monday.

And so I cooked.

After spending the afternoon on the lake with dad and Michael, I came home and whipped out my Hungry Girl cookbook, and made Amazin' Asian Ahi Tuna Burgers. Not totally by myself--mom helped with the dicing and dad got the grill going and Michael documented the momentous occasion. =) The kitchen in our tiny "lakeside" cabin is super tiny and the utensils were super challenging.

But I rose above.

And the Ahi Tuna Burgers--when topped with cilantro, wasabi-mayo, and cucumbers--were FREAKING AMAZING.

Mom and Michael both gave them a 4.25 out of 5 stars. I give them a 4.5 though. Especially because they were so hard to screw up. I like that in a meal.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

It's July.

It's true. I'm not sure quite how it happened, but July has arrived. I could tell you all about how "Boundaries, Balance, and Choices" worked out in June, but you probably already know how it went based on my (lack of) posts. Why lie? The truth is that while there were a handful of times--maybe 6 or so--that I actively tried to reframe what I was doing so that I was mindful of choices and balance...well, most of the time I was just trying to keep my head above water. It was a hard month. I could tell you why, but then I'd get bogged down in negativity, and that won't help move me forward. We'll chalk it up to something I need to come back to at a later time. Perhaps after my meditation retreat in August. For now...Onward!

July is going to be cooking (healthily) month, with perhaps a bit of cleaning thrown in. The goal of cooking is to increase my repertoire (which currently has about 4 dishes in it) and my confidence AND the likelihood that we will eat more healthily. The goal of cleaning will be smaller, but possibly more challenging--to find a system that will work for both Michael and I. Something that will allow for a "clean enough" home that won't drive me crazy, and yet a system that won't inherently drive Michael crazy.

Another goal is to keep up with the blogging. One of the weak aspects of June was that the crazier and more frustrating and all-consuming work got, the less I did the things I needed to do to stay sane: blogging, exercising, eating healthily, and getting enough sleep. So this month, I'm going to keep that in mind and try to carve those out as priorities.

Here are the goals:
  1. Cook, at minimum, 3 nights a week. I want to shoot for more, but I also want to set myself up for success here and we have to remember that I've probably cooked all of 6 times in the past year. *stop laughing*
  2. Find a workable cleaning solution and implement it
  3. Blog about it all...even the failures, so you can all share the experience. And maybe the recipes.