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Spinach Omelet

August 14, 2014 Leave a comment

Tonight I tried my hand at making a healthy and tasty recipe. Thanks to myfitnesspal.com getting the calorie counts was a snap. We gobbled it up too fast to get pictures!

Ingredients:

1/2 medium sweet onion, diced
2 Tbsp canola oil
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1 roma tomato, diced
4 egg whites
2 eggs
2 Tbsp water
2 Tbsp grated parmigiana cheese
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
pepper to taste

In a large non-stick skillet, sauté onions on low heat until they start to turn transparent. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Transfer onions and spinach to a separate bowl and add tomatoes.

In a bowl, mix egg whites, eggs, salt, water and parmigiana, Pour into skillet and cook covered over low heat until eggs begin to firm up. Sprinkle mozzarella on top of eggs and then spread spinach mixture on top. When eggs are mostly set, fold or scramble omelet. Cook to desired doneness; I like the outside to be lightly browned.

Yields: 2 servings, 390 calories each. Serve with toasted Italian bread (60 calories each).

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Categories: Recipes Tags: ,

The Brave Little Toast

June 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Toast has probably been around for as long as there were people well-fed enough to let bread get stale, and other people hungry enough to want to find a palatable way to eat it. Toasted bread also holds together better than the fresher, fluffier stuff, making it good for transporting soups and dips from bowl to mouth. So it’s not surprising that over time it’s appeared in many popular forms:
Read more…

Categories: Essays, Recipes Tags: , ,

“Healthy Mix” Should Have Been Warning Enough

May 12, 2010 6 comments

When I’m at work and say “I’m stepping out for a few minutes,” what I usually mean is “I’m hungry and I’m going to the CVS.” Sometimes it involves going out to lunch with a side-trip to CVS for something I didn’t realize I desperately needed (like a Spinz pen) until I got there. But most times it means “I’ve already eaten my lunch but I’m still hungry so I’m going to see what’s on sale at CVS.”

I recently had one of these hungry days — at seven a.m. I’d breakfasted on a bowl of bran flakes and a banana in Vanilla Silk, by nine I’d eaten my orange, and by ten I’d finished off my peanut butter and strawberry jam sandwich. By one o’clock I was feeling like Eric Carle’s very hungry caterpillar.

Now, I work on a fairly large college campus so my food options come in all three varieties: fast, very fast, and out of my price range. Yet for some reason I keep gravitating to the CVS, partly because it’s one of very few establishments which hasn’t changed in the more than 30 years since I settled here, partly because I’m cheap and there’s usually something on sale. But I think it’s mainly because it reminds me of my childhood trips around the corner to the candy store (I called it that, but it really was a stationery shop) where I’d deliberate for many minutes among the jujubes, wax soda bottles and those strips of paper with the candy dots on them.

I always start with the candy aisle, checking out the twofers. From there it’s the snack section (CVS has a new line of pita chips which are actually quite good and 50 cents cheaper than Nancy’s) and the wall-o-cookies, where I can often find discounts on CVS’s worthwhile and cost-effective Gold Emblem brand (I highly recommend their chocolate covered biscuits and shortbreads).

On this day there was a half-price sale on one of their snack mixes, located with the nuts. I vaguely remember having gotten this before, but it had been a while — probably because it was over my snack-price threshold of $2.99 when not on sale. It had sesame sticks, dark chocolate covered cranberries, almonds, and I really didn’t have to see what else was in it because those three had already aroused my taste buds and like I said I was still hungry.

Back at the office, I removed the plastic lid and enjoyed the reassuring “whoosh!” as I pulled back the foil seal. The sesame sticks definitely delivered (they were honey roasted, yum) as did the cranberries and the almonds, which were sufficiently plentiful. I ate half the can and saved the rest.

Now, I’ve been a non-meat-eater for thirty years, and am well acquainted with many varieties of soy-based food. I’ve happily consumed tofu, tempeh, the above-mentioned soy milk, textured soy protein, and all manner of veggie burger, bacon and weiner. I’ve had my soy blended, scrambled, grilled and puffed. But no matter how many times and ways I’ve tried them — salted, smoked, wasabi or cajun spice — I’ve never developed a taste for roasted soy “nuts.” There’s something about the flavor that I find fundamentally unappealing, and I suspect I’m not alone — other than in mixes like this one, I’ve never encountered them outside the bounds of the health-food aisle.

Thus it was that the next day I was heartbroken to learn that eight and a half ounces into my ten ounce can of snack mix, I’d hit soy. I was overcome by a feeling of deja vu… a feeling of disappointment similar to first hearing the one Phil Collins song on an old Genesis album, or finding that the only unbroken crayon left was green-blue, a color I’d never encountered outside the 64-crayon box (the one with the built-in sharpener).

That 85% empty can of fail stayed on my desk for two more days — during which my attempts to nibble out the last non-soy crumbs remained consistently futile, as it is very difficult to distinguish between an intact soy nut and a fragment of honey-roasted sesame stick — before I finally admitted defeat and threw away an ounce and a half of perfectly good and completely inedible soy nuts.

I know I sometimes have trouble seeing the common thread in my failures in life. I don’t know how many times I need to learn that buying the wrong thing is never a bargain at any price point. I just hope that next time it doesn’t involve soy nuts.

Categories: Essays, Whining Tags: ,

Trust Me I’ve Done the Eggwork: Fridge Cleaning 101

April 26, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been sprinkling my ideas here and there on the internet for a pretty long time, but until I started using “tag clouds” I never realized that the single biggest subject I wrote about was food. So while I’ve been a huge fan of this here blog that’s unfolding, I was mildly disappointed by the lack of posts about, you know, frying stuff in butter. My mistake was mentioning this to Snarky’s Machine, who of course decided that I was just the person to correct this discrepancy.

Keeping with Snarky’s suggestion, I thought I’d start with eggs, which I do in fact rather frequently fry in butter. I don’t eat meat, so along with legumes and dairy, eggs provide a significant part of my protein intake. I like them because they’re cheap — even organics are just two bits a pop — versatile, and widely available, at least before 11 AM.

I do enjoy going out to breakfast, and I plan on writing about that soon. But right now I want to talk about cooking, particularly that kind of cooking I learned when I was first on my own — the kind I resort to when I haven’t done much shopping lately, and the state of the refrigerator is hovering somewhere between raidable and Fight Club.

  • As a kid, I spent a lot more time watching my mom cook than out in my dad’s garage. So while I didn’t know how to drive or check my oil until I was 24, I knew at an early age that eggs make a great refrigerator cleaner. Not in the Arm-and-Hammer sense, but as a way to tie together small quanitites of accumulated leftovers. One of my favorites of these has always been potatoes and eggs, consisting of eggs, salt, a little romano or parmigiana cheese, and whatever potatoes have been hanging around. Anything works: I’ve used baked, boiled, post-Thanksgiving roasted potatoes, tater tots, even McDonald’s french fries — and trust me (I’ve done the eggwork) they always turn out great. I heat the spuds (in butter of course) in a frypan at medium heat and then add in a few eggs scrambled with the cheese and salt, flipping once when it starts to brown at the bottom. When I can’t keep it together (which is most of the time), I find scrambling the heck out of it doesn’t affect the taste at all.
  • Once I mastered the basic technique I found that pretty much anything else could be added after the potatoes and before the eggs: onions, cubes of cheese, broccoli (though I usually save larger quantities of it for quiche), red or green peppers, green beans, peas (though if you have kids be careful as I find the addition of peas often makes anything I cook inedible) and sausage or bacon or really any kind of meat if you’re so inclined.
  • A little less versatile but still useful is my spaghetti omelette, which is the only way I’ve found to dispose of leftover spaghetti that doesn’t involve wiping sauce off the sides of the garbage pail or the kitchen floor. It’s the same idea as potatoes and eggs, except that I mix the pasta, cheese and eggs together in a bowl before pouring it all into the buttered pan. The long strands of spaghetti work like a polymer resulting in the only kind of omelette I’ve ever consistently been able to flip. Something I’ve figured out only recently is that this also works as a casserole, baking the whole thing at 375° until it’s solid in the middle.
  • Keeping with the “mix something starchy with eggs and fry it in butter” motif, another favorite nothing-in-the-fridge dish is fried matzo which, growing up in an Italian/Jewish section of Brooklyn, I was exposed to at an early age. The main difference from the other dishes is that the matzo needs to soak in the eggs ahead of time. Some recipes I’ve seen call for dunking it in water first, but I prefer just using eggs, even if it takes a bit longer and cooks up a bit drier. I also like to add a little onion — onion powder works great when the cupboard is bare of anything fresh — and some ground pepper.

One of the wonderful things is that all these recipes scale from one person to a whole family, making them one of the few pieces of information from my college years that I still use on a more or less daily basis.

This was originally posted at I Fry Mine In Butter.

Categories: Essays, Recipes Tags: , , , ,

Fast Fish

April 2, 2010 8 comments

The only way I’ll ever become a real vegetarian will be if I get sick from eating bad shrimp. More than once. Like, maybe a half-dozen times. Unlike the God of Deuteronomy, I really like shrimp.

I’m no snob about my crustaceans: I like everything from oxymoronic and redundant jumbo shrimp scampi, smothered in garlic and oil, to those tiny ones in the can that are only good for tossing with mayo and chopped celery. Fried shrimp are a comfort food that hearken back to the Christmas eves of my youth — if shrimp can be said to hearken; I know that lobsters kinda scream when you throw them in boiling water but I believe shrimp to be silent on the subject of their demise.

And as long as I’m not giving up shrimp, I figure I may as well continue to enjoy other kinds of seafood. But other than grilling the occasional salmon or indulging in the guiltiest of guilty pleasures — Gorton’s fish sticks — I rarely cook fish at home. Which is why I found myself cruising the boulevard a few nights ago in search of the elusive fast fish. I was so wonderfully surprised to have satisfied my Davy Jones with Taco Bell that I was moved to rate their offering against some of the other underwater fare I’ve sampled.

Long John Silver’s

In my opinion this is the gold standard of fast fish. Super salty, crunchy and never dried-out. I’m not a big fan of their fries which tend to be soggy, nor their cole slaw though I do give points to any fast food place that by default offers an uncooked vegetable with their entrees. I do miss the days when the fish would come on a bed of the little bits of fried batter that got away, but at least there are still hushpuppies — I usually get an extra order because, hey, you can never have enough hushpuppies. If I really want to splurge, I get the fish and shrimp platter — did I mention that I liked shrimp? My only complaint is there isn’t one within an hour’s drive of where I live.

Burger King Big Fish

Even when they offered the more modestly proportioned and thoroughly misnamed Whaler, I’d always preferred BK’s fish sandwich to Mickey D’s. BK’s generous patty is thick and juicy, only lightly tartared and mercifully cheeseless. I usually add tomato and pickle to make this into a seafood equivalent of a whopper but it’s quite satisfying even at its default settings.

McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish Sandwich

Occasionally I find myself forced to eat at Mickey D’s, which offers no veggie burger, leaving me with the options of either their fish sandwich or a salad. I’m never happy about the choice — salads just don’t satisfy my fast food craving. But the filet-o (abbreviating “of” just screams cheap, like those big bags of Malt-O-Meal cereals) patty is thin and chewy, and feels like it’s made from a piece of dried fish that was reconstituted before its final swim in the fryer. To make matters worse, they attempt to camouflage their patty’s pathetic fail with a layer of gelatinous orange cheese-food product and a fistful of tartar sauce, which I’m forced to scrape off when I’m in too big a rush to remember to customize my sandwich.

Arby’s Fish Sandwich

A worthy contender, my main gripe is that this tends to sporadically appear and disappear from Arby’s menu. Why my local Arby’s didn’t even have it during Lent is beyond comprehension. Anyway, the patty is a little bigger than BK’s plus I can get it with Arby’s yummy curly fries.

Taco Bell Shrimp Tacos

I’d never heard of these before but when Arby’s failed me and I was too hungry to drive to the other end of the Boulevard, I stopped into Taco Bell thinking I’d get my standard ration of hippie-chow, aka seven-layer burrito. But I was intrigued by the concept of fast food shrimp, so throwing caution to the winds I ordered two of these petite and (relatively) expensive concoctions. I’m glad I hadn’t read any of the reviews first because I found them to be delightful, somewhere between a declasse fajita and an upscale taco. The only issue I have with them is that, at only 180 calories each, I’d need to eat six of them to get the bellyful satisfaction of a single Big Fish and fries.

IHOP Shrimp Basket

On my last visit to IHOP I was very sad to learn that not only have they discontinued their never-skimpy shrimp basket — they don’t even have a fish sandwich anymore! It’s a shame because I’m a big IHOP fan but sometimes I tire of my usual fare of pancakes, eggs and hash browns and am in the mood for some hot steaming prawn.

Friendly’s Fishamajig

Silly name? Check. Taste successfully hidden under layers of greasy tartar sauce and cheese-related substance? Check. But wait, Friendly’s goes Mickey D’s one better by replacing the bun and instead surrounding their hapless patty with greasy toasted white bread. As far as I can tell, the main effect of this is to move the Fishamajig firmly into the “slow food” category.

Categories: Essays Tags:

Pressure Cooking

February 14, 2010 2 comments

I’m pretty comfortable in the kitchen, but occasionally I manage to forget that (1) I have three hungry kids waiting for me at home and (2) I haven’t gone shopping lately, which tends to make me anxious about preparing dinner. Ordering pizza is always an option but, in the interest of inflicting a death of a thousand cuts upon the debt monster, I prefer to reserve pizza and take-out for special occasions or emergencies.

It was on one of these brain-addled evenings that I was checking the larder when I got home. There are certain ingredients I try to keep on hand at all times for such situations; one of these is broccoli, which holds the honor of being the healthiest food that is also enjoyed by every member of my household.

A few other staples I had were eggs, milk, cheese and frozen pie shells — I know that pie crust isn’t that difficult but I have a hard time tolerating the mess — making broccoli quiche another option. But that would have taken about an hour and a half to prepare, bake and cool, and I don’t like pushing the evening routines too late, both for my kids’ sakes and mine.

Digging deeper, I found a few boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese — actually the Wegmans equivalent — but it’s one of the foods the kids can prepare by themselves when I can’t get home in time. Besides, it’s not a comfort food I grew up with — macaroni were made either with sauce or garlic and oil, never powdered neon-colored cheese — so I’d prefer to declare a pizza emergency than go the box-dinner route.

Fortunately there were also a few cakes of extra-firm tofu in the fridge and several packets of ramen noodles in the pantry, meaning I could make another family favorite: tofu and broccoli stir fry with ramen. I tend to avoid this dish on weeknights because I usually get too OCD about the preparation to do it quickly. But on this evening, I was pretty motivated and managed to throw it together efficiently (though accidentally leaving out the garlic) with a minimum of mess, stress and grumbling. In the end, there was good food that everyone liked, ready at a reasonable hour, without spending lots of extra money.

Tofu Broccoli Stir Fry

ingredients:
3 broccoli crowns
1 red or green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1 pound extra-firm tofu
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
5 packages any flavor ramen noodles (throw away the flavor packets unless you have kids, in which case put one packet at each place at the table)
.25 mg Xanax (optional)

marinade:
juice of 1/2 medium lemon
3/4 cup soy sauce
2 cubic inches fresh ginger, grated
1 medium clove garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons honey

If you opt for the Xanax, take it first with a tall glass of water. This will help keep things under control later on when you have to clean up the mess, set the table, and serve the food before the noodles get gummy and the vegetables get limp.

Mix the marinade ingredients together with a whisk or fork.

Drain tofu and cut into cubes about a half inch on each side. I try to keep the entire block intact when I cut it so I can put it back into the plastic package it comes in, and then pour the marinade over it. If this is too anal-retentive for you, just toss the tofu and the marinade into a plastic ziploc bag and shake it up.

Cut broccoli into florets and stem chunks. Florets should be no larger than about an inch across, stem pieces roughly 1/2 inch cubes. Steam until bright green and still firm but not crunchy. You should be able to pierce it with a fork, but with significant resistance.

Slice the onion and pepper into strips about 1/2 inch by 2 inches. You can also use carrots, celery, bok choy, pretty much any firm vegetable, just cut the pieces about the same size. Or you can leave these out entirely and just use more broccoli, it’s up to you. Put the veggies aside. You’re done with the prep, so rinse the cutting board so you don’t get food chunks running around the dishwasher. And make sure you scrape the inside of the garlic press because you know how icky it is to empty the dishwasher and find soggy washed garlic inside the press.

Put up a big pot of water for cooking the ramen. By the time it boils, you should have the stir fry part done.

Heat oil in large frying pan or wok. Drain off marinade into a bowl, and mix in the cornstarch. Pat the tofu dry with a paper towel to avoid splattering oil when you drop the tofu into it.

Stir fry tofu for a few minutes until it starts to brown a little — you’ll need the heat pretty high or else you’ll just be sauteeing it. Add the cut up veggies and continue to stir fry until the onions start to get translucent. Add broccoli, lower heat to simmer. Add the marinade, stir and cover.

Serve with ramen. It’s good with rice too, but then you should make sure you start the rice before steaming the broccoli or else you’ll end up with soggy vegetables and nobody likes soggy stir fry. You’d end up throwing the whole thing out and ordering pizza after all.

Categories: Essays, Recipes Tags: , , , , ,

On Pancakes and Fatherhood

February 13, 2010 2 comments

Dad at the grill, circa 1971*

I was 24 years old when my father died on Valentine’s Day in 1982. He was 56, only five years older than I am now. I think that’s when I first started to consider myself a grownup — I’m still considering it, but over the years I’ve come to accept some of the trappings of adulthood. Like driving, which I only learned after my father’s death — mildly unexpected for the son of an auto mechanic. I decided I needed my license after figuring out I wasn’t likely to make any more progress toward a PhD and so needed one of those job thingies, which were generally not located within walking or bicycling distance of my off-campus apartment. I inherited his living-room-sized pale blue ’77 Chevy Impala, and promptly dented all four corners of his last baby the week I took ownership.

I’m also disinclined toward household repair projects — though I have, with great effort, fixed a bathroom subfloor and installed flooring that’s nearly even if you don’t look too closely. On the plus side, I don’t eat red meat nor do I smoke two packs a day of unfiltered Camels — or any quantity of any cigarette for that matter — so the chances are good that I’ll live a bit longer than he did.

But one place where I think I compare favorably with my paragon of adult masculinity is in the kitchen. My dad liked to cook. Once he recovered from his first major heart attack at 49, he started to take over the grocery shopping and dinner preparation which had previously been my mom’s job. But even while he was working and all the kids still lived at home, there were two meal-related tasks that were his purview exclusively: barbecue and pancakes.

I may not be much for grilling dead animals, but I do a pretty good job with breakfast, and so was thinking about my dad this morning while preparing the breakfast that was the final event of my middle son’s fourteenth birthday party sleepover. After making some fresh strong coffee to get myself motivated, I put together my weekend special which I call “IHOP at home” — orange juice, pancakes, hash browns, eggs, bacon. I made veggie bacon for me and my youngest son — who is a stricter vegetarian than I am — but also regular pork bacon because I’m that kind of good dad. Besides, nothing associated with fatherhood disgusts me anymore since getting through the bottom-wiping stage.

Sure, I cut a few corners. I used frozen hash brown patties, partly to save effort but mostly because I have never made hash browns that didn’t end up a soggy oily mess. And I used a pancake mix — my favorite, New Hope Mills Buckwheat — but then I’m really honoring my dad in this respect, since he always used a mix. Granted his mix of choice was Bisquick, which I don’t ever recall being used for anything but pancakes — but I’m sure he would have loved these too.

Thinking about Dad’s meticulous attention to detail — getting all the lumps out of the batter, precisely adjusting the temperature under the griddle, making sure the pancakes turned out perfectly round and lightly brown — I recognize the source of my own OCD. Which was probably as helpful in his career as it is in mine, though probably also making neither of us the kind of guy you’d want to share a kitchen with.

I don’t know if he did much cooking before he got married, but at about the same age as he was when he got busy in the kitchen — though for very different reasons — I find myself taking pleasure in fixing my favorites again. I make a mean cheddar and broccoli quiche that my kids as well as my partner consume with enthusiasm, and which only needs a salad or some raw carrots to be called a meal. I can nail an eggplant parmigiana with varying degrees of difficulty — everywhere from slicing and breading and frying the eggplant to buying it pre-sliced, pre-breaded and frozen — and am nearly always happy with the results. I’ve devoted an entire post to my banana bread, and I think maybe writing about cooking is how I share my pleasure with those of you I may never even meet. Dad may not have been much for writing, but he sure did love to feed his friends and family.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Dad.



*My dad graciously posed in the chef’s outfit which, including the bellows, was a gag gift someone gave him on his birthday. This was in the Catskills where we spent summers while I was growing up. He rarely smiled as much as he did when he was there. On the drive up, once we got off the highway, he’d roll down the windows and exclaim “Smell! Smell!” It sure did smell a lot better than Brooklyn back in the day when most apartment buildings burned trash in residential incinerators.