Sunshine!

It was a beautiful day in Seattle – finally. We’ve had a bit of an extended winter, with only a handful of somewhat sunny days, which have conveniently mostly taken place on the weekends. So when I woke up this morning to the sun shining in my window, I was thrilled to be going up to Ballard for my hair appointment.

My hair looks awesome, by the way. I love my hairdresser – I’ve been going to her for a few years now and, not only does she consistently do an amazing job, but she always tells me how much she loves my hair (I’m a total sucker for compliments). And I kind of like visiting Ballard, too – it’s got a quaint feel to it. I’d been meaning to try one of the restaurants up there, so after my appointment, I went off in search of good eats.

I searched for a long time. 1) I wasn’t hungry because I’d had a late breakfast, and 2) it is very difficult – though not impossible – to find a restaurant that serves reasonably sized portions that don’t leave me either uncomfortably full or with leftovers. I walked… and walked… and took a bus… and walked some more… and took another bus… and ended up at U Village. That’s four miles from my hairdresser. I probably walked about three and a half miles, and all in search of food.

Here’s where I ate:

Don’t be fooled by the name – Pasta & Co has quite a few options that don’t have anything to do with pasta, and they’re all delicious, at least the ones I’ve tried. Today, I had 4 ounces of “Gobble It Up” (a turkey/Italian chicken sausage meatloaf) and a black eyed peas and mustard greens salad.

I will admit, I felt a little ridiculous asking the server for 4 ounces of the meatloaf instead of just taking a whole slice like everyone else, but the I realized – I don’t know her. I don’t care what she thinks. I may be an American, but that doesn’t mean I have to eat like Americans are expected to eat (at least, judging by how much restaurants serve). Portion control is a concept that many of us haven’t mastered because there haven’t been good examples of it. Sure, I grew up eating my mom’s cooking, and she always seemed to have a good grasp of how much to eat, but I never really grasped the concept – so when I got to college, I just ate everything, and as much of it as I wanted. I also didn’t cook, so I’d go out to eat a lot. It’s a miracle (and a sign that I won the genetic lottery) that I wasn’t absolutely huge as a college student.

I would also like to know why it is that the cheaper the food, the more of it they give you. This is counterintuitive. You’d think if you paid for smaller portions, you’d be paying less, but that’s only the case at places where they charge based on food weight (which makes total sense, doesn’t it?). If you go to, say, a Thai restaurant and order pad kee mao and crab rangoon, you’d need at least one other person to split it with, and you still end up feeling a little overstuffed. I like the concept of eating tiny portions of many different things, like at kaiten sushi restaurants.

Which brings me to tonight’s dinner. After the delightful lunch, I ventured over to QFC to pick up a few grocery items (mostly fruit). While there, I noticed they had unagi in their seafood case. Pre-cooked, pre-flavored unagi strips, without evil white rice, staring up at me, begging me to take it home. So I did.

This was tonight’s dinner:

That’s a mixed greens salad with a few cherry tomatoes and Japanese black sesame dressing, miso soup, the rest of the noodle salad, about an ounce of unagi, and the salmon cakes and ponzu sauce from last night. I warmed up the salmon cakes in the oven because I was afraid nuking them would cause a loss of crispiness. It was a delicious and light dinner, even though it looks like a lot of food. I really like my meals bento-like.

For my bedtime snack, which has quickly morphed into dessert (go figure), I perfected my baked apple recipe. Or at least, I’m getting closer. The almond milk works really well, I’ve found – complements the apple and spices nicely. I drowned the apple pieces in it this time and I think it made all the difference.

I’m also currently working on a frozen yogurt recipe… will let you know how that one turns out tomorrow (it’s currently in the freezer).

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The cure for impending illness? Japanese food.

My throat is getting scratchy. My head is foggy. Miso soup? Yes, please!

I’ve been craving sushi all day anyway, so a Japanese dinner seemed the only possible solution. I also didn’t want to go grocery shopping again (I went yesterday for the quesadilla accoutrements), so I did something I rarely do: I used ingredients I already had. And after a day of perusing food blogs working really hard, I was ready to get creative.

The end result:

The menu:

Wild Salmon Cakes with Ponzu Sauce (I didn’t have kaffir leaves or wasabi paste; I used Splenda instead of brown sugar for the ponzu sauce, and shoyu for the soy sauce; I used a 14.5-ounce can of wild salmon instead of fresh. It still ended up being nothing short of amazing – good thing I have leftovers!)

Spinach Gomae (again, used shoyu; made half the recipe for the sauce, since I am only one person; used about half a clamshell case of spinach, which was all I had left. Also delicious, and really very easy to make.)

Japanese Sesame Noodles (with shirataki noodles instead of soba – have you tried them? They are little zero-calorie miracles! I get them at Uwajimaya, an Asian supermarket in the International District.)

Miso Soup (also from Uwajimaya)

It was a lovely meal – both pretty and tasty. It helps that all my plates have a Japanese-influenced design. I don’t know why, but I’ve always preferred Asian food. Don’t get me wrong, I will scarf down spaghetti with Italian sausage (on spaghetti squash, of course) and you know how I feel about Russian food, but there’s something about Asian flavors that really appeals to me. Except Indian. For some reason, it’s always been my least favorite.

Then there was dessert, which was not Japanese at all…

That’s a baked apple concoction, with Splenda instead of sugar, gluten-free flour instead of all-purpose and almond milk instead of whole milk. And right next to it is cottage cheese with vanilla extract, cinnamon, and Splenda. Oh, and the cinnamon almonds. Clearly there was a cinnamon theme.

And then I had a piece of 72% Godiva dark chocolate… because dark chocolate is good for you. What? It’s true!

Tonight’s Latin-themed dinner.

As planned, I made these shrimp and avocado quesadillas for dinner tonight, using the spicy shrimp, extra thin yellow corn tortillas (no gluten, low carbs), and a combination of cotija cheese and a low-fat Mexican shredded cheese blend from Trader Joe’s. Photographic evidence:

I tried to flip them fearlessly when instructed to do so, but I think they were stuffed a little full and some of the innards decided to flop onto the pan. I then learned that cheese cooking directly on the pan smells delicious – not sarcasm. I think next time I’ll not-so-accidentally sprinkle some cheese between the pan and the tortilla for some crispy cheese tortilla action.

This lovely quesadilla was accompanied by Cuban black bean bisque, fresh pico de gallo, and the remainder of the avocado and tomato (the portion that wouldn’t fit in the quesadilla). More photographic evidence:

It was almost Perricone-friendly… except for the tortillas and the cheese. But you can’t make quesadillas without tortillas and cheese… it would be foolish to attempt such an endeavor.

Earlier today, I treated myself to smoked salmon from Pike Place Market. I watched the guys throw my fish to each other behind the counter as French-speaking tourists looked on in amazement. I love buying my groceries at Pike Place – I always end up getting something for a discount. Today, I asked for – and paid for – 8 ounces and got 10. When I went on Saturday, I managed to get $17 worth of berries for $15. The only problem is that I usually have to fight my way through slow-moving tourists to get where I need to go, and I don’t usually have the patience. Today was special.

I also picked up a few more cookbooks at World Market on my way home, and finally got the copy I ordered of Nothing Beets Borscht when I arrived at home. What an exciting day of food-ing I’ve had…

And now, to peruse my new cookbooks. Yay!

How a hatred of carrots became a tasty treat for my coworkers.

I know, I know. My recipes and I have been mysteriously MIA for the past few days. It’s mostly due to work – that evil, energy-sucking force that takes me away from everything good and happy for five days at a time. I perused new recipes today, however, in the midst of my exasperation with work-related trifles. I believe I would like to make this tomorrow night so I can use up more of that shrimp I got from Whole Foods last weekend. I also really want to try some variation of this at some point; I have rice wrappers and salmon, I think I could put an interesting spin on it (and I do love frying things). I could also make this; I have all the ingredients except the ketchup.

Oh, and I’ve also recently discovered the wonder that is endives. Endives! You can put anything in them and they become healthy little vessels of deliciousness. I’m taking the remainder of the salmon filling from the kulebiaka to work tomorrow in adorable little endive wraps. Next time I make kulebiaka filling, I’ll 1) use olive oil instead of butter, and 2) use endives instead of puff pastry. Or rice wrappers… I haven’t decided.

So much cooking to do… so little time!

Anyway, I was feeling restless and creative earlier today and caved to my baking impulses. Don’t worry, though; it all worked out in my favor. In an effort to get rid of the leftover carrots from the borscht I made this weekend, and to get rid of this granola cereal from Trader Joe’s that I shouldn’t be eating because it’s laden with sugar, I created a recipe for carrot cake cookies – the results of which I will be feeding to my unsuspecting coworkers tomorrow. I know, I’m a hypocrite. Whatever. I really hate carrots, to the point where I believe I’m literally allergic to them, so I know I won’t eat them (nor will I eat the cookies), and I also really hate wasting food.

They’re too orange… I don’t trust them.

I will preface this by reiterating that I really do hate carrots, so try to disregard my obvious bias against these. They smelled quite good while they were baking, doubtlessly due to the cinnamon, sugar, and butter, and I’m sure if you don’t have a severe aversion to the suspiciously orange root vegetable, you would probably enjoy these immensely. If there’s one thing I know, it’s how to bake cookies. I would not lead you astray.

Carrot Cake Cookies
(yields 12 gigantic cookies or 48 tiny ones – I opted for the former) 

Ingredients

2 cups flour (1 1/2 cups all-purpose, 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 shredded carrots (yields about 1 1/2 cups)
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1 cup Trader Joe’s Loaded Fruit and Nut Granola
1 cup chopped blanched almonds
powdered sugar and cinnamon (for decoration)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt until well blended. Add the grated carrots and stir until thoroughly mixed.

Add the water, butter, and eggs to the mixture and blend with a hand-mixer. When mixture forms a dough, add the granola and almonds and blend thoroughly.

Scoop rounded spoonfuls onto lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until bottoms are brown and cookies are set. Allow cookies to cool for a minute before  sprinkling with sugar and cinnamon.

Kulebiaka (кулебяка)

And now, for the pièce de résistance…

(For the record, my kulebiaka did not look like that at all, but to be fair, that’s not what I was going for, so it all worked out.)

I made a few changes to the original recipe to make it simpler and save myself some time, and I was impressed that the end result yielded no appreciable difference in taste or quality. In fact, aside from the puff pastry, it tasted exactly like the kulebiaka I got at my favorite St. Petersburg bakery. If this didn’t go against all the diet rules I’ve established for myself, I’d make it all the time. Seriously.

(Serves 8 really hungry people)

Ingredients

For the pastry:

2 packages (4 sheets) frozen puff pastry (I recommend Pepperidge Farm)
a little flour

For the salmon filling:

4 tablespoons dry white wine
1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1/4 of an onion)
2 tablespoons dill
1 1/4 lb fresh salmon
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion (about 3/4 onion)
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/6 cup dill
2 hard-boiled eggs, finely chopped

Directions

To prepare the salmon filling:

Preheat oven to 400˚F. Prepare each salmon filet in parchment paper and drizzle with the wine, coarsely sliced onion, and dill (use more or less as desired – I used about 1-2 tablespoons of the wine per filet).

Close the parchment paper over the filets, creating sealed pockets. Once oven is preheated, bake for 20 minutes or until salmon is cooked through (it should easily flake when tested with a fork).

With a slotted spatula, transfer the cooked salmon (minus the onions) to a large bowl, remove the skin and bones (if necessary), and separate into small flakes with your fingers or a fork.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are soft. With a slotted spoon, transfer the mushrooms to a small bowl and toss with lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few grindings of pepper.

Melt 2 more tablespoons of butter in the skillet over high heat and drop in all but 1 tablespoon of the finely chopped onions. Reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring occasionally, cook 3 to 5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not brown.

Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper with a rubber spatula and scrape in the mushrooms.

Now melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the skillet over high heat. Drop in the remaining tablespoon of chopped onion, reduce the heat to moderate and, stirring frequently, cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until soft but not brown. Stir in the rice and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring almost constantly, until each grain is coated with butter. Pour in the chicken stock, bring to a boil, and cover the pan tightly. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 12 minutes, or until the liquid is completely absorbed and the rice is tender and fluffy.

Turn off the heat and stir in the dill with a fork. Add the cooked mushrooms and onions, rice, and chopped hard-boiled eggs to the bowl of salmon and toss together lightly but thoroughly. Taste for seasoning.

To prepare the pastry:

Defrost the pastry dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. When defrosted, unfold and place dough on clean, lightly floured surface. If there are any cracks in the dough, use water to smooth it out.

Assembling the kulebiaka:

There are many ways to do this. Traditionally, kulebiaka is made as one large pastry, like this one:

My aunt made individual-sized square ones with rounded corners. I decided I’d do something different and make them triangular – smaller and easier to handle. They ended up being the perfect size for me and my guests, especially with all the other rich, heavy food I served.

First, cut the two pastry sheets into four equally sized squares.

Prepare egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, scrambled in a bowl). Fill half of each square with salmon filling, on a diagonal.

Brush seams and press together to seal; crimp sides with a fork.

When all the pies are formed, refrigerate for a few hours.

Remove from refrigerator and brush top with egg wash. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until pastry is flaky and golden (I recommend keeping an eye on it after it’s baked for 15 minutes to make sure it doesn’t burn). Remove from oven, let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Serve with sour cream and dill. Careful, the inside will be hot when you first cut into it – sour cream helps with that, too!

Another warning: eat slowly, or you will want to eat all of them. Trust me, I know this from experience.

Back to Perricone.

So, I was really bad yesterday. The holiday was my day off from Perricone and I took full advantage – I ate sushi with the white rice, I ate a BBQ pork hom bow, I ate cheesecake, I ate chips… not to mention the Russian feast and even more cheesecake later. And chocolate. Don’t forget the chocolate.

I’m resuming a normal eating schedule today, fortunately – all the less-than-healthy food yesterday has made my stomach not very happy. It was worth it, but I learned that I can’t/don’t want to eat the way I used to. The rice in the sushi rolls, which I used to believe to be integral to the sushi experience, seemed extraneous and a detraction from the delicious raw fish. I could’ve gone without the bread on the hom bow and just eaten the BBQ pork filling. The mini cheesecake from the market, while thoroughly delicious, proved to be too much sugar and rendered me useless for about an hour while I tried to get over the jitters (seriously – not cool). I can’t say I regret the kulebiaka, though. It wasn’t all that healthy, what with all that sauteing in butter (and let’s not even touch the puff pastry), but it was too amazingly delicious to have any regrets.

The point of all this? I needed a day to eat badly to realize how much better I feel when I eat well. So today? I’m mostly back to Perricone, and will be completely back when I eat the rest of my leftovers from last night.