Mmmm – Don’t Mind If I Do!

It’s been a bit too long since I posted a recipe – most likely because it’s been a bit too long since I cooked anything that I got really excited about. It’s not that I haven’t been cooking. It’s just that exhaustion, pregnancy, the terrible twos, and extensive home projects have kept me pretty close to the basics in the kitchen lately – sticking to what’s quick, easy, and healthy. Sadly even this last criteria often gets sacrificed for the sake of the first two. But Saturday night, thanks to some ideas planted in my mind by my friend Maddy, inspiration found me again and developed into a night of family cooking, photography, fun, and feasting. The result – not so quick and easy, but delectable…

Salmon Cake Melts

1.) Bake the Salmon – I actually used the leftovers of a large filet of salmon that I had baked a couple of night prior, but if you are not so fortunate to have this step already completed, you will need to bake the Salmon in the oven first. I always buy my fish frozen (for cost efficiency) and follow the instructions on the package for temperature and time as this will vary depending on the thickness and size of the filet. If you buy it fresh, ask some advice from the market, or Google it and use your intuition. I baked the original filet with a cream sauce on the top that I believe enhanced the flavor of the salmon cakes later.  The mixture was of of equal parts mayo (I use canola mayo) and Parmesan cheese, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tsp garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper. The amounts will vary depending on the size of the filet but the overall consistency should be thick enough to practically ice the fish, not pour over it.

2.) Prepare the Bread/Setting for the Salmon Cakes – Using a loaf of french bread, slice it diagonally into the largest possible slices. Butter both sides of the slices (I use heart-smart margarine) and broil on a cookie sheet until barely golden. Top each slice with a small amount of grated mozzarella cheese and a slice of fresh tomato. Set aside.

3.) Make the Salmon Cakes – As soon as the french bread is finished broiling, put about 5 slices of regular, inexpensive bread into the oven to broil with nothing on them. Broil them dark and crispy as they will be crumbled to use for bread crumbs. When they are done, crumble them as small as possible and set half aside. (You can also use ready-made bread crumbs to save some time. I just didn’t have any, so I went the made-from-scratch route.) Take the salmon you baked previously and flake into small pieces with a fork, carefully removing the skin first. In a bowl, combine half of the bread crumbs (about 1 to 1.5 cups), 2 beaten eggs (I use an egg substitute), 1.5 tsp of dill, 1.5 tsp of parsley, 2 tsp of dried onion, 1/4 tsp of ground black pepper, and 1 tsp of lemon juice. Add the salmon to the mixture and knead with your hands as you would a meat loaf. Be sure to remove your rings first or they may smell like fish for days ;). Once well-mixed, form into patties approximately the size of the french bread slices. Coat each patty with the remaining bread crumbs on all sides. Heat about a 1/4 inch of canola oil in a skillet over med-high heat. Fry the patties for about 2-3 minutes on each side till they are browned and crispy. Allow to dry on a paper towel.

4.) Put It All Together – Place each salmon cake on top of a slice of prepared french bread. Top each with a slice of Swiss cheese (I use fat-free Swiss, but I’m sure the real thing is even better.) Broil in the oven over low heat just long enough to melt and slightly brown the cheese. Serve with a fresh vegetable such as steamed broccoli or asparagus on the side.

5.) Sit down and enjoy!

As always, if you try this recipe, I’d love to hear how it went! Tell me what the family thought, what modifications you made, or any ideas you might have. And share it with your friends! Bon Appetite!

Today I Am Grateful For…

A husband who loves me immeasurably and would do anything for his family and our happiness.

A son who is constantly growing and developing and encouraging me to do the same.

Another healthy baby on the way who is bound to change our lives as much as Aiden did in new, exciting, and challenging ways.

The ability to splurge on loved ones at Christmas time.

A lovely and warm home that defines comfort in chaotic times.

Two stable and good jobs in this tough economy.

Consistent health for me and my family.

Two cars that are nearly paid off and run well.

Tons of good food cooked by someone other than me ;)

The diligence, accountability and encouragement I receive to write regularly, both for my own benefit and for others’.

The habit of reading a new book every month.

A kitty that keeps my feet warm and always loves to play.

Family that visits me when we don’t have enough in the budget for travel.

Compliments from my son every night as I sing him to sleep and he strokes my face.

Old friendships that have stood the test of time, distance, and struggles.

The development of new friendships that are proving to be indispensable parts of my life as a young, working mother.

Private childcare from ladies who love my son and train him as one of their own.

The extraordinary luxury of technology (iPhones, the internet, Facebook, Netflix, etc.) that allows us to stay connected to distant and nearby loved ones.

The freedom, thanks to the sacrifices of so many others, to experience all of these things in such abundance!

The truth is, we should all be grateful every day of our lives for our extraordinary blessings, liberties, and abundances. Some of us are better at living a life of gratitude than others, but today is a wonderful reminder to all of us to stop, remember, and appreciate all that we have. Hopefully the effects of such a reminder will linger long through the holidays and into next year. And as we are tempted to grumble or complain or let cynicism get the better of us, we will direct our thoughts in a more positive and grateful direction, recalling these lists that we all tend to create on Thanksgiving or New Years and pledging to live more consistently by them.

I wanted to leave you today with a somewhat non-traditional Thanksgiving recipe. With a house full of family and friends, many of us are so focused on the BIG meal that we often forget that all these beloved bellies need breakfast too. And no one wants to present their family, who came from near and far, with boxes of cereal and a carton of milk. So here’s my easy and delectable breakfast recipe that’s sure to impress:

French Toast Sticks:

In a bowl mix:
3 eggs (or substitute)
Milk to thin
Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and a touch of Vanilla
Whisk till well blended.

In a second bowl mix:
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp of White Sugar
3 Tbsp of Flour (or more as needed)

Cut the crusts off of approximately 1/2 a loaf of wheat bread and cut each slice in half. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil. Dip each strip of bread in the first mixture and coat well with the second mixture. Fry evenly on both sides and pat dry with paper towels. Serve with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, and whipped cream. Voila!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May your day be blessed and full of happiness!

The End of My Cooking Hiatus!

After nearly a month and a half of barely stepping foot in my kitchen, at least not to do anything other than heat frozen meals or warm up leftover takeout, I am finally emerging from the fog of morning sickness and feeling inspired to cook again! I think my family is almost as relieved as I am. I braved the usually sickening interior of my local grocery store only to find myself excitedly picking up things I haven’t purchased in ages, like a bread mix for my bread machine, and walnuts to make several loaves of banana bread with my overly ripe bananas, and canned pumpkin for pancakes and muffins and bread, and most importantly, a roast! I have not cooked a roast in a very long time, certainly not since I found out about my cholesterol issues and quit buying red meat. But I found a small pork roast (for FOUR dollars!) and decided to give it a try. Let me tell you, I was not disappointed. It was better than any of the beef roasts I’ve cooked in the past and SO easy. I spent 30 minutes prepping it in the morning before I left for work, and when I returned home a little after 5, voilà! A fully prepared, absolutely mouth-watering meal was waiting for me. It’s too bad we didn’t show the house today because the smell alone would have sold it for us.  So, after many weeks of no recipe updates, I give you my recipe for

Crock Pot Pork Roast:

Rub salt and pepper into the outside of the roast and brown it on all sides in a skillet on high heat with a little oil. Remove the roast and poor some water into the hot pan and scrape all the yummy pork leavings into the water and set aside.

Place browned roast in the bottom of the crock pot and surround it with large onion pieces and minced garlic. Cover all of it with sliced baby Portobello mushrooms and one can of cream of mushroom soup, evenly spread.

Fill the remainder of the space in the crock pot with chopped potatoes and carrots. Keep them chunky. If they’re too small, they’ll over cook. Sprinkle the whole pot with a packet of Lipton’s Onion Soup Mix and poor the skillet water over the top.  Add extra water until it comes to the level of the potatoes. Cover and cook on low for 8ish hours depending on the size of your roast.  Mine was pretty small and it cooked for a full 8 hours and was not overdone.

Once you remove the roast and all of the vegetables, use the broth in the pot to make gravy. Simply put it in a sauce pan on the stove over medium heat and add flour with a whisk till it reaches the desired consistency.

The roast was so tender it fell apart with a fork and the flavor was outstanding.  For so little effort, this is definitely a keeper.  Please let me know if you try it or make any modifications.  I’d love to hear how it worked for you or how to make it even better.

Spaghetti Squash Discovery

Every now and then I come across something so simple, so fresh, and so healthy, it’s hard to imagine how I could NOT share it. Particularly since I just posted an article about healthy eating and it’s effects on your body and life. This most recent find of mine may be old hat to many of you, but, somehow, in my 30 years of existence, I have only just discovered spaghetti squash! What an incredible and unusual little vegetable. If you, like me, are often prone to have some starchy side dish with many of your meals such as pasta or potatoes, this would be an excellent substitution with the same general aesthetic. And, let me tell you, preparation doesn’t get much easier!

There are a variety of ways to cook and season it, but I opted for the time-saving simplicity of microwave cooking. I cut it in half length-wise, scooped out the soft middle section that contained the seeds, placed it open side down in a baking dish with 1/2 cup of water, and covered it with plastic wrap. I then cooked it on high in the microwave for 10 minutes. When it was finished I let it cool long enough to be handled and then scooped out the spaghetti-like meat with a fork. I mixed it in a bowl with a bit of heart-healthy margarine, garlic salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese. As you’ll quickly discover if you google “Spaghetti Squash,” there are MANY ways to prepare it. You just have to find something that inspires you.  I served it with steamed peas and sautéed mushrooms and onions on the side.  It was a lovely and fresh vegetarian meal requiring VERY little effort.

I highly encourage everyone to give this remarkable little vegetable a try. And let me know how it goes!

You Are What You Eat

I have discovered, as of late, that what you put into your body has a profound affect on how well it operates. Just like a car is bound to experience mechanical problems if it is only run on the cheapest gas and old, gluey oil.

If we could see the effects of what we ate as clearly as these little guys, we'd probably be a lot more careful about what we put in our mouths!

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with very high cholesterol. I was only 28 years old and weighed 136 pounds – not exactly a likely candidate for such a problem. And none of my immediate family struggled with it either, making the excuse of “I can’t help it, it’s just in my genes” not altogether legitimate. Although genetics may have played a role, I had to look myself square in the face and acknowledge that I was part of the problem. I was all too often resorting to what was cheap and easy and emotionally satisfying rather than what was healthy and best for my body and life. I began to see a nutritionist at our local heart clinic and get my blood work done every few months to check on progress. And, let me tell you, it was remarkable. Here’s a snapshot of the numbers:

This last date is slightly higher on some of the numbers because I'm pregnant, which can raise cholesterol for women.

Once I started seeing significant results and sharing my success with others, people were constantly asking me if it was terribly difficult to change my diet and “deprive” myself of things that we as Americans deem to be innate rights, like fast food, and pre-made frozen meals, and FRIED everything. The truth is, it wasn’t! There is very little that I actually cut out of my diet and SO many ways to make substitutions. Like ground turkey instead of beef, olive oil instead of hydrogenated vegetable oil, heart-smart margarine instead of butter, egg beaters instead of eggs, 1% or fat-free cheeses, skim milk, canola mayo, high fiber cereals, muffins, pancakes, pastas and breads, and lots more vegetables and fruit. And, of course, less of everything to drink except water. All the things I used to cook and love, I can still cook with some modifications and we can barely, if at all, notice a difference. Everything is fresher, lighter. And if I need something quick and easy on the go, I get a sub from subway or a salad (without heavy dressing). And the best part – because this is a lifestyle change and not a diet – it’s OK to cheat every now and then. The important thing is to generally reform our habits. Learn to pay attention at the grocery store. Care about what we put in our body and not just satisfy our cravings. I still have a ways to go, but I thought I would share my success so far as an inspiration to others that making healthy choices can make a tangible difference even in a short amount of time.

I’d love to hear some of your healthy eating tips and ideas. What are some of your best kitchen secrets?