Southern Style Tempeh with a Side of Hushpuppies

May 29th, 2013 :: 2 comments :: permalink

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Oh, how time has flown the last few months. I’ve been behind on logging my cooking projects, largely due to the fact that the sight of food wasn’t very pleasing for the first half of my pregnancy. Now that I’m over that hurdle, I’m raring to eat.

Fried foods are great for a recovering stomach, but I felt I could use something healthier than the usual deep frying method. I first fell in love with hushpuppies when I was eight years old and living in Fort Polk, Louisiana. My dad would order a six-inch high plate of crawfish when we went out to eat. Being a vegetarian in the making, I refused to eat any fish or seafood. I would instead order a tower of hushpuppies and ketchup. I remember always leaving two hushpuppies on the plate, resolving myself to eating every one of them the next time. No hushpuppy should be left behind.

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BAKED HUSHPUPPIES
INGREDIENTS: 1) 2/3 cup yellow cornmeal 2) 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 3) 1 teaspoon baking powder 4) 1/2 teaspoon salt 5)1/2 cup finely chopped onion 6) 1/3 cup milk 7) 1 tablespoon vegetable oil 8) 2 egg whites, beaten 9) vegetable cooking spray 10) 2 stalks chopped parsley INSTRUCTIONS: Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; make a well in center. In a separate container, combine onions, milk, vegetable oil, and beaten egg whites. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Spoon 1 tablespoon batter per hush puppy onto a cooking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from pan immediately.
Recipe slightly modified from cooks.com.

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BREADED TEMPEH
INGREDIENTS: 1) 1 brick tempeh, sliced into thin triangles 2) 2 cups all purpose flour 3) 1 tablespoon baking powder 4) 1 teaspoon salt 5) 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder 6) 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 7) 1 cup corn starch 8) 12 oz water mixed with 1/8 teaspoon of yeast and a pinch of sugar (in place of beer)
INSTRUCTIONS: Heat a pan on medium heat with a generous amount of vegetable oil. Place the corn starch on a plate and set aside. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper in a bowl. Slowly add the water/yeast mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing until batter is smooth. Coat tempeh pieces in the corn starch and then dip the in the batter. Place the coated tempeh in the heated pan and fry until golden brown on each side.

Everyone in the household, vegetarian and carnivore, tried this and thought it was pretty tasty, especially considering the hushpuppies were baked and the “fish” was really tempeh. Next time I may brown the tempeh before coating it in batter to give it a little more complexity, but other than that, this hit the spot. Here’s hoping you can create a healthier version of an old favorite recipe of your own.

First Trimester Update

April 10th, 2013 :: 6 comments :: permalink

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The last few months have been quite an eye opener when it comes to my thoughts on pregnancy. It’s definitely not like the movies. There are lots of great milestones though, such as hearing a heartbeat for the first time and seeing sonogram pictures of the little one using your bladder as a bouncy house. Those milestones make everything seem worth it, even at the worst of times, and there were a lot of not-so-fun moments in my first trimester.

Last week, which was my 16th week, was a turning point for me. Dustin and I tried every home remedy for nausea that was recommended to us. Through trial an error, we found a few things that gave me some comfort, but I was still having a lot of trouble. I really wanted to be free of chemicals and over the counter drugs for at least the first trimester, but after losing five pounds by the start of my second trimester, the doctor recommended an anti-nausea drug. We of course did our research to convince ourselves of its safety and ultimately agreed that it was time to give it a try. The first two days on the medication I gained five pounds, got a lot of energy back, and started to feel more like myself. I usually try to be as natural as possible, but sometimes modern medicine just kicks ass.

Now that I am back to myself again, I can begin all the fun baby planning. I’ve started a registry on Diapers.com while simultaneously researching what half of the products on the site do in the first place. And, of course, I’ve been reading all the baby books that seem to contradict each other. Although my first trimester wasn’t what I would call fun, it was of course worth it and I’d do it again.

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1. NETI POT
A week before we found out I was pregnant, I had horrible congestion and nose bleeds. After doing a little research online I found out that 30% of women get this symptom from higher amounts of estrogen, which then causes swelling and more mucous (lovely). I was a little scared to try this, but it doesn’t hurt if you get the salt concentration right. Just feels a little odd. It really does help. I boiled the water first to kill germs and kept the pot as sterile as possible.

2. TAKEYA GLASS WATER BOTTLE WITH SILICONE SLEEVE
Before I was pregnant, I liked my water room temperature. Now anything less than ice cold water curdles my stomach. These modern glass bottles are cute and fit in most medium sized purses. I also like that it’s not plastic. Pregnancy teaches you to think of everything.

3. SAN PELLEGRINO SPARKLING MINERAL WATER
Periodically, I craved something bubbly and San Pellegrino sparkling water did the trick. It was also nice that it made me burp, which got rid of some not so needed gas.

4. NETFLIX
When horizonal is the only angle that doesn’t make you feel like tossing your cookies, you tend to have a lot of time on your hands. Netflix was my lifeline. Dustin and I completely nerded out on the entire series run of Battlestar Galactica.

5. HEALTH AND PARENTING APP
This is a nice app that gives you so much useful information. Week by week it tells you how your baby is developing and gives picture and size references. It also talks about doctor visits and helps you organize. Some weeks I would cheat and look ahead to the next week. It was like looking into a crystal ball!

6.THE BARF BOUTIQUE BAGS
One of my worst fears was throwing up in public. It made me feel better that the icon on the front of the bag was a pregnant lady, so hopefully the people around me would be more understanding if I had to use it. Luckily, I didn’t throw up in public since Dustin was nice enough to drive me to and from work everyday. I did use the bags at home and in the car though. They did the job.

7. FOLIC ACID AND DHA
Depending on the day, prenatal pills were not always easy for my stomach to handle. Those days, I opted to just take Folic Acid and DHA (which is omega-3, nix the fish oil).

8. WHOLE FOODS POPSICLES
Cold things like popsicles or icees were the only thing I can say I really craved during my first trimester. They hydrated me, put me in a good mood, and didn’t make me feel sick.

9. MOTHER’S SPECIAL BLEND ALL NATURAL TONING OIL & BURT’S BEES CHAPSTICK
My skin and lips became very dry after I became pregnant. After searching through a lot of natural creams and oils, I found Mother’s Blend at Whole Foods. Every other oil I tried had a really strong scent that irritated my newly sensitive nose or just took forever to absorb. This toning oil works great. Burt’s Bees chapstick always works well too. Now I just use it more often.

Sitting & Knitting

March 11th, 2013 :: 14 comments :: permalink

Announcement

Hello out there. Hopefully this explains why I’ve been absent for so long. It took two home tests and a trip to the doctor to convince us, but on January 15th, Dustin and I got the happy news that we were expecting. We were both excited, yet fully terrified. A human being was going to be here in nine months. How do we prepare for something that huge, yet tiny?

Well, before I could start my usual type-A planning, morning sickness, along with a few other first trimester symptoms, knocked me off my feet and onto the sofa. I decided to pick up knitting since it required very little movement and I could do it from the comfort of my lovely couch.

The last few months have been full of so many changes. Engagement, marriage, the loss of Dustin’s dad, and last week…hearing a new little heart beat for the first time. Every month seems to bring a new surprise and we’re trying to take it all in.

As for now, I knit.

 

Thank you to Nina (a local Chicago knitting shop) for helping me learn to knit.

 

Tofu and Veggie Miso Noodles

January 29th, 2013 :: 10 comments :: permalink

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Every winter in Chicago I find a new favorite food that gets me through my vitamin D withdrawal. Last year it was XOCO , Rick Bayless’s take on upscale Mexican street food. This year, it’s all about Asian food. Dustin and I have been to Slurping Turtle, a local trendy Japanese noodle shop, at least five times in the last month. That’s a lot for us since I usually cook at home. The first time we went, it was still very new and only a few people had heard of it. Now, my favorite noodle dish comes with a 45 minute wait. It only made sense for me to make my own noodles for my impatient days.

The most important part of this dish, the part which also has the most ingredients, is the sauce. Your sauce has to be flavorful otherwise you’ll be eating a bowl of dry noodles and veggies (lame). Once you gather all the ingredients, it’s easy to make.

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INGREDIENTS: 1) 2 tablespoons rice vinegar 2) 2 tablespoons miso paste 3) 1 teaspoon honey 4) 1 teaspoon grated ginger 5) 1 cup water 6) 2 cloves garlic, finely sliced 7)1 tablespoon olive oil 8) 1 teaspoon salt 9) 1 tablespoon lime juice 10) 1 Thai Pepper, finely chopped (very hot, optional)
INSTRUCTIONS: Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and let it sit at room temperature until the rest of your food is ready.

 

I’ve had a tough time cooking with tofu in the past. It would break into egg-like pieces that would stick to the pan. Now that I have a cast iron skillet and use firm tofu, the chunks keep their shape and brown perfectly. My veggies are mixed and matched and based on what I have available in my fridge. I do recommend using a green veggie, such as Brussels sprouts or bok choy, for a nice crunchy texture. These are my personal favorites.

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INGREDIENTS: 1) a handful of mushrooms 2) 1/3 cup edamame 3) 2 cups Brussels sprouts 4) 1 block firm tofu 5) 1/2 of a red bell pepper
INSTRUCTIONS: 1) Heat olive oil in a pan and brown Brussels sprouts 2) Remove the Brussels sprouts once they are slightly crispy 3) Cube the tofu and brown it in the same pan 4) Add edamame 5) Add thinly-cut red peppers 6) Add mushrooms and remove everything once browned.

 

I used regular soba noodles, but added shredded zucchini and beets to my final dish to make it a little healthier. In the summertime, I could easily just eat this dish with veggie noodles, but I like my carbs in the winter. The beets are also a bright and beautiful visual touch.

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INGREDIENTS: 1)1 beet 2) Soba noodles 3) 1 zucchini
INSTRUCTIONS: 1)Boil noodles according to instructions and drain 2) Shred zucchini and beet with a spiral cutter

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OPTIONAL TOPPINGS: 1) Scallions 2) Red pepper 3) Sesame seeds 4) Olive oil

Once everything was prepared, I started assembling: soba noodles first, followed by the zucchini and beet noodles, then veggies, my desired amount of sauce drizzled on top, and my optional toppings.

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This dish is full of flavor and beautiful textures. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Happy terrarium

January 16th, 2013 :: 14 comments :: permalink


This year I wanted to make Christmas gifts that were out of the ordinary. I overheard one of my friends at work saying he was going to make a terrarium for his mom. I didn’t even really know what a terrarium was, but decided to do a little research online. There were so many cool designs and each one was unique in its own way, so I quickly jumped on the bandwagon. Of course this was only a week and a half before Christmas and I had never made a terrarium before, but a little urgency never hurt anyone. Dustin and I have a different ideas of how well I work under pressure.

To begin, I ordered and scavenged for supplies. Some things, such as the little figurines of people in various poses, were specialized and had to be purchased online. While I waited for everything to be shipped, I painted a brightly colored instruction card, which came out doubly bright due to the psychedelic cold medication I was on at the time.


Most of these terrarium supplies can be found at Joann’s Fabric, Hobby Lobby or Michaels. I used moss, charcoal (to help prevent mold), rocks, potting soil, jars (some terrariums use lids and some don’t) and little HO scale figurines. Since I was crunched for time and it was freezing in Chicago, I didn’t feel like venturing out for moss, so I ordered it from Etsy.


Just a “common sense” note that I learned the hard way: softly place the rocks in your jar. I shattered my first jar when I poured the rocks in. Luckily enough, I had an extra mason jar sitting in the cupboard.

There are quite a few HO figurines to choose from to bring some human life to a terrarium. The figurines are usually used by model railroad hobbyists. Another note: Baby Jesus and nativity scene figurines are hot commodities in December.


Here is the order in which I filled my terrariums. Most of our family lives outside of Chicago, so I used metal pieces from Michael’s (found them in the jewelry section) to keep everything secure. I also carefully filled the jars with damp paper towels once I was finished, to keep the moss alive and in-place while it was being shipped. They all made it to their recipients in one piece.

The jar above was for my sister. She loves books and reads more in a week than I do in a year (sad!). I liked that the figurine is upside down, since my sister is juggling a new job and a big move to Chicago. Seemed appropriate.


This terrarium with a dancing couple was for Dustin. It feels like we had a whirlwind of a year with an engagement in March and a wedding in August, so I wanted to create a relaxing environment deep within the greenery (cheesy, I know).

I thought about painting the lady to give her a little tan like me, but time did not allow and I had to smile at myself for thinking it was perhaps a bit racially insensitive.


I found decorating to be my favorite part of building my terrariums. It felt like I was creating a little home for each of the figurines and I wanted my gift recipients to feel happy when they looked through the glass to these peaceful little worlds.

You do have to water them periodically, but otherwise they are, in fact, fuss free.

 

Dustin’s Dutch baby (pastry)

January 9th, 2013 :: 7 comments :: permalink

DustinsDutchbabyEvery Sunday, Dustin will make a breakfast creation. He takes this role very seriously. Even though New Years Day was technically on a Tuesday this year, it felt like a Sunday to us so he wanted to cook again. This breakfast was especially important because it was our first meal of the new year. Dustin measured each ingredient to a tee.

The first time he made a dutch baby for me (odd statement, I know), I thought it looked very peculiar. It was monstrously huge and a bit eggy, not the usual sweet American breakfast I knew. This recipe has a little more sweetness to it, which I like.

DustinsDutchbaby_ingredientsThe ingredient list is very simple: Flour, salt, vanilla bean (or liquid vanilla), sugar, eggs, butter and milk. Dustin halved the recipe above for our small serving for two people.

DustinsDutchbab_tipThe cast iron has to be preheated for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30 or so. Deviating from the directions slightly, Dustin dropped room temperature butter into the pan while the batter was mixing in the food processor, a few minutes before pouring the batter into the pan. The butter will definitely burn if you add it to the pan too soon. Just be sure it’s not still cold when you do so, or you’ll cool the pan unnecessarily.

DustinsDutchbaby4Carefully pour the batter into your preheated cast iron and quickly transfer it to the oven. Better yet, try to pour the batter with the pan still in the oven so the pan doesn’t cool as much. I threw in a few raspberries at the last minute, mostly as an experiment to see what would happen. The pastry quickly starts to grow, so the pan you choose should leave a little room for this. When Dustin poured the batter, it was a bit more than 1/4 inch deep across the bottom of the pan.

DustinsDutchbaby5He opted to top our dutch baby with a easy to make raspberry sauce. He heated apple cider, cornstarch, sugar, raspberries and cold water together in a pan. You can also use orange juice in place of apple cider. We just had some cider left over from the Christmas holiday. Here’s a link to the full recipe.

After 4-5 minutes of simmering, the raspberries quickly break down. After letting the sauce cool, Dustin transferred it to the food processor, where he pureed it for about 20 seconds and then strained the puree to remove the seeds.

DustinsDutchbaby6Raspberry sauce, homemade whipping cream, and a squirt of lemon (which is the traditional topping for dutch babies). A sprinkle of powdered sugar was a beautiful final touch.

DustinsDutchbaby7We stayed happy and warm indoors on New Years morning and drank Earl Grey with our sweet pastry. It was a good start to the year.

Our dutch baby was based on a recipe from Alton Brown.

Happy Birthday

January 8th, 2013 :: 2 comments :: permalink

DustinCitrusy sweet lemons have always been Dustin’s favorite weakness. So much, that I had to hide my lemon juice for cooking, otherwise it would be empty in a few days. On his birthday I wanted to pamper him, so I appropriately chose lemon cake with lemon buttercream frosting as his birthday treat. I topped it with a slice of lemon and mint leaves.

Happy Birthday Dustin!

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2012 :: 5 comments :: permalink

Our Irish Wedding

December 24th, 2012 :: 5 comments :: permalink

It’s only been four months since our wedding in Cork, Ireland, but during the whirlwind of preparation and the butterflies, I had forgotten some of the small details of the day. Looking through our pictures makes it feel like it was just yesterday.

That morning I woke up a stressball, something likely expected by most who know me. I immediately started to clean my room and prepare for it to be taken over by our hair and makeup artists and female guests. The weather was rainy, but there were small peeks of sunshine through the clouds, so I knew the sun was in there somewhere. I secretly prayed that the weather would clear up just long enough for us to say “I do.” Thirty minutes before our ceremony, after almost a full day of rain, the clouds opened up and the sun finally revealed itself.

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Natural Beauty

December 6th, 2012 :: 4 comments :: permalink

When I shop for groceries, I read the labels of almost every product I purchase. As time goes on, it gets much easier to shop when you become loyal to a few good brands. With all this concentrated effort toward making healthy choices, I never paid that much attention to my cosmetics or personal hygiene products.

A few months ago, I started to look up some of my cosmetics on EWG, an online database that rates the toxicity of your cosmetics and also tells you the possible long term side effects. It was startling. Some of my products that touted being natural were rated moderate or high in toxicity. Some affected the respiratory system, some the reproductive system, and some even had cancerous side effects.

I wish I was one of those girls that can go cold turkey, but I unfortunately can’t. Instead, I have been slowly transitioning from a lot of my conventional makeup, lotions, cleansers and beauty potions to more natural products. I even stopped chemically straightening my hair a year ago. It has not been an easy process. After a lot of sampling and research, which I’m sure I’ll continue learning from, I’ve found a few products that work well for me.

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