Friday, August 28, 2009

Ode to Trader Joe's

While I muster up the energy to use hubby's Mac, I'm still computerless. I have gobs of pictures sitting on my camera so hopefully I will figure it all out. I know I'm being an old curmudgeon. I need to get with new technology! Embrace the no-right-click mouse! Until then, I have a picture-less post for you today :) Since Trader Joe's is within walking distance of my house, I frequent the store quite often. Despite my near daily trips to the store, I find myself continually surprised by someone mentioning their favorite Trader Joe's product. Usually, one which I've never even seen! I typically aim for my old favorites each trip and though I love TJ's, the aisles can sometimes get a little cluttered. Maybe it's the organization freak in me, but I will never understand why cookies & crackers are placed on the shelves above frozen meats. In any case, here are my can't-live-without products from TJ's. Please share your favorites with me as well so I can branch out!

TJ's Must-Have List:
*Thai Shrimp Gyoza- numero uno on our list. We consume these like we're never going to eat Asian food again. They're delicious. Second only to my momma's homemade stuff. Serve with sweet chili sauce and experience a little heaven.

*Pollo Asada Chicken Breasts - a very recent find thanks to some yummy in-store samples. Great on the BBQ and they're thinly sliced so they cook in no time and stay very juicy.

*Bag of Sliced Cremini Mushrooms- I love throwing these in stir-fries and have found the price per oz to be much cheaper than anywhere else

*TJ's reduced fat version of Wheat Thins - you know my obsession and dare I say I like these even more than the "real thing"?! Go through a box a week. Gross, but true.

*Cat Cookies - comes in a tub and are highly addictive. Not sure why they picked cats, but whatever. They're yummy nonetheless. These come in three flavors: cinnamon, chocolate, and 'normal' :)

*Dr Praeger's California Style Veggie Burgers - You can probably buy these elsewhere for those of you unlucky folks without a local TJ.

*Eggplant hummus - Eat me with Wheat Thins & you'll be happy.

*Love/hate relationship - Par baked Ciabatta bread: I really love this bread. As the name implies, it hasn't been baked fully so you can recreate freshly baked bread in your home. I've found that if you don’t eat this right away it gets moldy quickly...very quickly. So buy it only if you're gonna eat the whole thing!

If this post just left you hungry for more Trader Joe's, check out Trader Joe's Fan, a fun site with TJ's recipes, reviews and new location rumors!
So...what's your favorite??

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Lemon Mint Yogurt Sauce

Sad, but true. Over the weekend I ran over my laptop's power cord with the vacuum. Darn dog sheds too much! Oh, and I don't pay enough attention. Alas, I am computer-less. Hubby stays mentally fit with a Mac yet while I consider myself tech savvy, I just can't jump on board.

So, my internet time has been drastically cut short. Perhaps that will be a good thing so I can spend more time cooking?

We loved these Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs but missed out on the one key Moroccan ingredient: ras el hanout, a mix of about 12 spices like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, paprika, coriander, cumin, mace, nutmeg, peppercorn, and turmeric! I figured that in a pinch a blend of garam maslala and curry powder would suffice. Don't ask how I came to that conclusion but it worked :) Hopefully you'll find it easier to locate in your town; I went so far as to email a local Moroccan restaurant for a recommendation but she didnt know of any markets in the area that sell it. Next time, I'll plan ahead and order on the internet.

To top off the meatballs, we made a lemon mint yogurt sauce that nicely complimented the meat. I really never had any idea I would love the mint / lamb combo so much but it just works. And I can't really explain why, so just try it. Find some top quality pita bread and you have yourself a very tasty and exotic meal! I found this recipe in the same Sunset magazine I keep oohing and ahhing over {that I swiped from the gym.oops.}

Moroccan Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Lemon Mint Yogurt Sauce
Adapted from Sunset Magazine

1 1/2 cups (14 oz.) low fat Greek yogurt
finely shredded zest of 1 lemon (use a Microplane zester)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp minced garlic

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and set aside until ready to serve meatballs. Chill, if desired.

2 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp ras el hanout (or 2 tsp curry powder and 2 tsp garam masala)
1 tsp salt & 1 tsp pepper
1 1/2 lb ground lamb
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 tbsp olive oil

1. In a large bowl, combine ginger, garlic, ras el hanout, salt and pepper. Add meats and gently combine with hands until spices are just evenly distributed. Do not overmix.

2. Gently roll meat into 1 1/2 inch balls and set on a rimmed baking pan or jelly roll pan. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and line another baking pan with paper towels.

3. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Brown meatballs in batches on all sides, turning as needed for about 10-12 minutes (medium rare). Transfer meatballs to towel lined pan.

4. Transfer meatballs to serving dish and serve with yogurt sauce & pitas.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Feta Avocado Tomato Dip

When the sun is blazing and our non-air conditioned house heats up, spending time sweating in the kitchen seems like a dangerous proposition. While I may be a bit of a baby when it comes to cold temperatures, I get equally cranky when the temps rise. I suppose its a good thing we're in San Diego now, huh?

Luckily I have an arsenal of light, no-heat recipes that save hubby and me from eating out every night...or having cranky me heat up our kitchen and house. This dip is one of my all-time favorites that I like to make after a trip to the farmer's market. Best paired with crackers, pita, or baguettes, I particularly love this dip because it gives me a reason to indulge in my most absurd obsession: Wheat Thins. Mmm...of all the good things on the earth, I would pick Wheat Thins over almost any snack as my last on earth :) Enjoy this cool & fresh snack!

Feta Avocado Tomato Dip
courtesy of Ralph's recipes

2 avocados, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup olive oil (I used a little less)
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. kosher salt

Combine avocados, tomatoes, and onion in a bowl. Mix gently & stir in the cilantro. Add feta, olive oil, vinegar, cumin and salt. Mix until combined. Cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Saffron Couscous and Chicken with Apricots and Chickpeas

The other day I found a Sunset magazine just chock full of great recipes. Before living on the west coast, I thought it quite pretentious that a whole magazine was dedicated to the lucky people living on the picturesque west coast, already drenched in good weather. I mean, I was stuck in the middle of the country and spent more than half of my year in freezing temperatures. Instead of taking weekend road trips to picturesque coastal towns, I drove through traffic. Well, needless to say I have fallen in love with Sunset magazine and become "one of those lucky people." Yay for California :) After having these recipes hanging on my fridge, I finally got around to making them and am quite happy with the results.

I particularly loved this dinner because it required no grocery trips for me. Having quick and easy recipes that can come straight out of the pantry are always a lifesaver during the week. We grilled up some chicken and simmered it with a zesty sauce full of diced apricots, chickpeas, tomatoes and a hint of spice. Though I can't say I love spicy food, there is just something special about the sweet & spicy flavor combination. As a side, we whipped up some saffron couscous from the Sunset magazine article I have hanging on my fridge. While this was yummy (I love all couscous, so am rather easy to please), I think next time I'll add another spice yet to be determined to add a flavor kick.

I couldn't seem to get a great photo, but this chicken is uber yummy and definitely worth a try!

Chicken with tomatoes, apricots & chickpeas
Adapted from Sunset Magazine

1 pound chicken tenders
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with garlic
1/3 cup dried apricots
1 tbsp sugar
3 minced garlic cloves
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1. Sprinkle chicken tenders with kosher salt & ground pepper
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet/saucepan over medium high heat then add spices (cumin through cayenne). Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly.
3. Add chicken and cook until golden brown, turning once. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. Add tomatoes, apricots, sugar and garlic cloves to the skillet. Return chicken to the pan and simmer until chicken is fully cooked, about 10 minutes. Stir in garbanzo beans and parsley. Cook until beans are heated through.

Saffron Couscous

Also adapted from Sunset, Feb '09

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp plus 1/2 tbsp butter, divided
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups couscous
1/3 cup shredded carrot
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
1/4 cup raisins
ground pepper

1. In a medium saucepan, bring broth, 1 tbsp butter, saffron and salt to a boil. Stir in couscous. Remove from heat & cover tightly. Let stand 10 minutes.

2. Melt remaining 1/2 tbsp butter in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add carrot and cook, stirring occasionally until carrot is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add raisins and saute an additional 2 minutes.

3. Stir almonds and carrot raisin mixture into couscous, fluffing with a fork.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Coconut Banana Bread with a Boozy Twist

coconut banana breadSome days I wonder if my sweet tooth mysteriously disappeared, would I become a supermodel?? OK, ok. I'd have to grow about a foot, get a few tweaks here and there, find myself a new hairdo, but seriously...I live to eat dessert. Case in point - tonight I decided a slow leisurely jog would be best because of the hot temps. Upon arriving home a hot & sweaty mess, I decided it'd only be appropriate to satiate myself with a huge slice of Coconut Banana Bread. Do you think the slow jog canceled out the bread? Fat chance (no pun intended)!

coconut banana bread
Lucky for me, this bread is based on a Cooking Light recipe so all is not lost! I've made Coconut Banana Bread before, last time using coconut milk but no real coconut. This time, I decided to shake things up. With 3 bananas and lots of shredded coconut, this one is so full of flavor and quite tropical. You wouldn't even guess what kind of booze I snuck in there. It works, I promise.

I say if we can't be supermodels, eat bread baked with booze! :)

Coconut Banana Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar (use baker's sugar if possible)
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
3 mashed ripe banana
1/4 cup vanilla yogurt
3 tablespoons Kentucky Whiskey (can use dark rum)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut + 1 tbsp coconut, divided
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl and stir with a whisk.

3. Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Add banana, yogurt, whiskey, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Stir in shredded coconut. Spoon batter into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1 tablespoon coconut.

5. Bake at 350° for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pan.