Wasabi Salmon and Soba

Maybe I need to change the name of this weblog to “Fast and Furious Gourmet.” Here’s another quick lunch option I threw together with leftovers. It’s like a cooked sushi noodle bowl.

Cook the noodles according to the packaging, drain, and run under cold water to cool. Lightly toss with sesame oil if you need it to sit a bit. When ready to serve divide among bowls.

Make sauce: Combine sugar, water, wasabi, and soy sauce; mix well.

Divvy up the salmon to your liking, add the cucumber strips, and pour a bit of sauce in each bowl. Garnish with ginger if you want to. Sprinkle (in my case, generously) with the furimake. Instant sushi bar…at home.

Veggie Sandwich

Hummus is great. Protein, flavor, easy-to-use dip or spread. Quick lunch (especially for mommies) doesn’t have to be your kids’ leftover mac-n-cheese, PB & J, or a handful of chips. Try this healthy and super fast alternative…and its many variations.

  • 1 container hummus (I use Eggplant Hummus from Trader Joes)
  • Ripe tomato,
  • sliced Seedless English cucumber (regular is fine),
  • thinly sliced 3-4 basil leaves
  • Alfalfa sprouts (optional)
  • 2 slices of good, multi-grain bread
  • Sriracha hot sauce (optional)

Spread hummus generously on one side of both slices of bread. Layer sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, then alfalfa sprouts on one slice of bread. Dot with hot sauce, and cover with other slice of bread. Voila! Lunch.

Variations:

  1. Use Middle Eastern flatbread, and pan toast with a little spray olive oil. Fold in half, and spread hummus, followed by vegetable layers.
  2. If you have time, substitute garden veggies with grilled eggplant and red peppers…ratatouille inspired.
  3. Try tuna or canned chicken for a little more protein.
  4. Go Greek: use sun dried tomatoes, feta and kalamata olives.

Insalata Caprese

This is truly one of my favorite things. For those of you who only know mozzerella in pizza form, this will will be an adventure. The cold, fresh, salty, tangy, and sweet flavors meld to form a delectable appetizer or salad.

  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers (optional)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil dash or two of balsamic vinegar

Alterate layers of mozzarella, tomato slices, and basil leaves, overlapping them as you go. Drizzle oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle on capers if you like them. Serve immediately.

Baked Tilapia with Mango Salsa and Cream Cheese Wontons

Mango salsa Tilapia

Summers seem to be for those who live on the beach, by the lake, or along a river. I live in the desert where it is a special occasion and a luxury just to send the kids out with the slip ‘n slide. Nevertheless, one can pretend. For me, basking in the glow of summertime is less about home fashions and decor, (who can redecorate her house seasonally?!) and more about serving up flavors that celebrate the cool-warm-spicy-sweet-tropical-fresh taste of beach volleyball and collecting seashells. This is one of my faves if you are looking for oceanfront property in New Mexico:

Baked Tilapia with Mango Salsa and Cream Cheese Wontons

  • 6 filets of Tilapia olive oil spray salt/pepper rice

For Mango Salsa:

  • 2 ripe mangos, cubed into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 1 large avocado juice of one lime
  • 1/4 tsp. tikka masala spice (cumin will also work)
  • 1/2 jalepeno, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • salt/pepper

For Wontons:

  • 1 package wonton skins
  • 1 package cream cheese
  • 1 jar sweet and sour sauce (you could make your own, but I buy mine from Trader Joe’s, of course.)

Preheat oven to 365F.

Make rice as directed. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Spray both sides of each piece of Tilapia with olive oil spray. Place on cookie sheet. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until fish is white and flaky. Meanwhile, mix all ingredients for mango salsa in one bowl, and chill until ready to serve. Heat oil in deep fryer or saucepan. While oil is heating, make wontons. Dab 1/2 tsp or so of cream cheese in center of wonton skin square. With your finger, run a strip of water along two edges of skin; fold skin in half, forming a triangle. Be sure to press air pockets out of filling prior to sealing completely. When oil is ready, fry each wonton until golden brown. Serve with sweet and sour sauce. Assemble spoonful of chilled mango salsa over baked fish. Serve with rice and a few wontons. Instant vacation to Puerto Vallerta…enjoy.

Simple Cioppino

When someone says, “I made cioppino for dinner,” usually it means she followed a recipe for this Italian tomatoey-seafood medley. When I say the same thing, I really do mean, I made cioppino for dinner. I didn’t have a recipe, but felt brave–hey, I knew its basic ingredients. You might understand me better if I give you a bit of my personal cooking history, or revolution.

Growing up in a Chinese home, my family came to the supper table expecting simple, but delicious Chinese dishes each night. Chinese cuisine is such that you can look in your produce drawer, take inventory of your veggies, slice up some meat, and stir fry them up together; then, serve it over rice. So, naturally, I got married knowing nothing of meal planning, following a recipe, and making a list for the grocery store. For example, planning to make Chicken Cordon Bleu on Wednesday, and shopping for chicken, ham, swiss cheese, bread crumbs and whipping cream on Monday is out of the question. For the last nine years of my married life I’ve consulted my tastebuds and looked in the fridge and pantry for what was compatible. No one’s ever complained…except for the time I made french onion soup (from a recipe) and served up onions that tasted like rubber bands in beef broth. Somehow it always turns out that way when I follow a recipe. So instead, I buy cookbooks for the pictures, basic ingredients and inspiration. (For those of you who measure everything out, I regret that most of the recipes you’ll find on this blogsite will be approximations, and WILL require that you fiddle with the recipe.)

So, at about 3:30 this afternoon, I started scratching my head, wondering what to make for supper. Seeing that I had canned tomatoes, frozen calamari rings, ready to serve mussels, frozen shrimp, and tilapia on hand (no, really, it was all in my fridge), I decided to made cioppino for dinner. As made abundantly clear earlier, I’m Chinese, not Italian. For anyone out there for whom cioppino is a fave–consult an Italian before trying this at home. I also like to use ready made ingredients (especially from Trader Joe’s), to make the prep go faster. My best advice for what to fix for supper is always to follow your cravings and layer one loved ingredient upon another…it almost always turns out to be just what you were hankerin’ for.

Ruthippino Cioppino

  • olive oil
  • two cloves garlic, minced
  • big handful of shredded carrots (yup, also TJs)
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • good sprinkling of dried oregano and basil
  • Charles Shaw 2005 Chardonnay (award winning for 2.99 at Trader Joe’s! amazing!)
  • one can diced tomatoes
  • 3-4 cups Trader Joe’s Veggie Patch juice, or V-8
  • two handful of thawed calamari rings (can be found at TJs)
  • two handfuls thawed shrimp
  • 1 pkg. ready to serve mussels (also TJs)
  • 3 filets of Tilapia, cut into chunks
  • worcestershire sauce
  • Tabasco
  • red wine vinegar

Swirl around your stockpot 2 or 3 times with the olive oil on med-high heat. Add garlic, and stir. Once you smell garlicky goodness, add carrots, onion, basil and oregano. Saute and stir until onions are translucent. Add tilapia, and more olive oil if needed. When fish turns white, add about 1 cup of the chardonnay. Stir a bit. Add tomatoes and juice next and simmer for 5 min. or so. Add mussels and the juice it comes in. Adjust the flavor of the broth with salt and pepper, a few swigs of worcestershire sauce, about half cup red wine vinegar, and a good swig of Tabasco. You’ll probably want to add a little more white wine. Simmer off some of the alcohol. When broth is to your liking, add calamari and shrimp. They will cook in a minute or so…when shrimp are pink and calamari shrinks up a bit. You’re done! Serve up with crusty rustic loaf bread, and a glass of the Charles Shaw if you like….so impressive with so little effort. And you know the best part? My hubby was pleasantly suprised, and my five and three year olds enjoyed cioppino for dinner for the first time, minus the fancy place settings with wine glasses and the fancy tab.

Vietnamese-Style Spring Rolls

Around our house peanut butter and jelly is actually cashew-macadamia nut butter and jelly from Trader Joe’s due to peanut allergy. Though still a favorite among the three boys, CMNB&J just doesn’t do it for me most days. My tastebuds crave adventure, sophistication, a paradox of flavors. The rest of me just wants it to be simple, affordable, low-cal, with almost no dishes to clean up afterward. This pan-toasted Vietnamese spring rolls lunch I fixed for myself today met the requirement splendidly. (Don’t let the preparation of the spring rolls discourage you…you take an hour to do them all, and you’ll have many days of hassle free meals to come.)

Vietnamese Spring Rolls (best prepared as a large batch and frozen ahead of time)

  • 1 package rice spring roll wrappers (not the pasta-like egg roll wrappers)

For Filling:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • grated ginger, about 1 tsp.
  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1/2 small head cabbage, shredded
  • 2 cups or so shredded carrots
  • 1-2 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 2 ounces bean thread noodles, soaked and cut into short lengths
  • 2 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1-2 tsp. sugar
  • salt & pepper to taste

For assembly:

  • 1 egg, beaten in bowl

For nuoc cham sauce (can be purchased ready-made):

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbs. white wine vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 Tbs. sugar
  • 1/2 c. fish sauce
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 2 red chiles, seeded and chopped

Filling: Heat 2 Tbs. or so of oil in wok or pan, add the garlic, ginger and green onions. Add the beef, stirring until meat is browned. Mix in all other ingredients and cook until carrots are tender. Set aside to cool.

Assembly: Beat one egg in bowl and set aside. Cut spring roll wrappers in half diagonally. Cover your stack of wrappers with damp paper towel as not to dry them out while working. Carefully remove one triangular piece of wrapper and place with base of triangle facing you. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of wrapper. Fold in both left and right corners of the triangle, and roll wrapper over filling until almost to the top of triangle. Seal the edges with dab of egg all along.

*I place my spring rolls on a cookie sheet and freeze, then store them frozen in a ziploc bag for individual use.

To make these low-cal spring rolls low-cal, I don’t fry them like traditional spring rolls. Instead, I spray a non-stick pan with canola oil spray, place the frozen spring rolls directly onto the pan, and heat on med-high heat. I spray the tops again with oil, and flip the spring rolls when underside is crispy. Serve immediately.

Vietnamese spring rolls are traditionally served with lettuce leaves and cilantro if desired. The spring roll and cilantro are placed in a leaf of lettuce and is dipped in the nuoc cham sauce…mmm….cold and hot….sweet and salty…sooo much more than PB&J.

Grilled Lamb with Mint Vinaigrette

Image by Jen R
Image by Jen R

Up until about two years ago, I thought lamb to be out of the scope of reasonable supper-time fare. It always seemed too gamy, too expensive, too Easter. My husband Troy loves lamb (any meat, really), so I’ve broadened my menu. Lamb is that unique je ne sais quois in such ethnic delights as Gyros, peppered Mongolian stir fry, or Irish mutton stew. The Chinese say that lamb is a “hot” food, meaning that your internal systems are therapeutically warmed or inflamed if you are gluttonous. Maybe that is why lamb pairs so well with mint. If you are like me, you love the contrast of flavors: sweet and savory, strong and subtle, warm and cool. Tonight I made boneless leg of lamb. The already marinated leg of lamb was purchased at Trader Joe’s (love that place!) for only $3.99/lb. While I waited for the lamb to grill (per instructions on the packaging), I made this tangy vinaigrette for our meal. This is also a great marinade if you were making lamb chops, which I highly recommend as a romantic meal for two (plus 3 in our case!)

Fresh Mint Vinaigrette

  • 1 1/2 cups packed mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup packed parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2-4 teaspoons sugar

Place all ingredients in blender or food processor;blend until smooth and thickened. Serve with lamb.

The grilled leg of lamb was served with the vinaigrette, a spinach-feta-cranberries-candied pecan salad, lemon-peppered asparagus braised in the oven, and crusty, multi-grain bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. If this is too much dancing for your taste buds, eliminate the lemon pepper from the asparagus, or simply drizzle olive oil over your bread. My only regret: too busy feeding the family to remember to document this elegant-for-a-Tuesday-night meal with a photograph…next time. Try it for dinner…on Wednesday!