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Archive for January, 2012

Wanting to make a light pasta dish to accompany some freshly grilled fish, I prepared a simple noodle salad with subtle Asian undertones. Unlike the Shrimp and Bean-Thread Salad I posted about a while back, this noodle salad is simpler to make, because it has fewer ingredients. Although, it lacks the complexity of flavors that the Bean-Thread Salad has, it makes up for it with its clean fresh flavors and its ease of preparation. It’s a delicious side dish for grilled seafood or grilled chicken and this recipe makes enough to feed a small crowd.

Asian Noodle Salad

Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon Asian red chili paste
1/4 teaspoon salt

Salad Ingredients:
16 ounces dried rice noodles
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped

Directions:
1. Combine salad dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
2. Fill a kettle full of water and bring it to a boil. If you don’t have a kettle use a large pot to boil water.
3. Open up the package of noodles and place the noodles in a large mixing bowl.
4. Carefully pour the hot water over the noodles until they are completely submerged. After two minutes, very carefully stir the noodles to loosen up the noodle bundle. Stir periodically and make sure all noodles remain submerged.
5. When noodles are limp, taste a few to make sure they are cooked (or softened) enough. The noodles should be firm, but not hard and chewy or soft and mushy. Let soak a few minutes longer if they are not yet ready, checking them every couple of minutes.
6. When the noodles are tender, drain them in a colander and let cold water run over them.
7. After they are well-drained, pour the noodles into a bowl and immediately pour the salad dressing over them. Toss gently with your hands.
8. Add the grated carrots, chopped cilantro and chopped peanuts. Toss gently and serve.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. This salad tastes best when eaten fresh. Rice noodles tend to absorb any liquid available and then dry out. Store in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.
2. In lieu of steps 2 through 4, you can bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the noodles and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring and checking them for the right degree of tenderness.
3. My family likes spicy food, so I either add a bit more chili sauce to the dressing mixture or I sprinkle in some red pepper flakes.
4. To make this a main dish, cooked prawns, grilled salmon, or grilled chicken breast strips can be easily tossed in during the last step.
5. Buy Asian chili paste that has chili flakes floating in it.
6. This recipe makes enough to fill a large mixing bowl.

Enjoy!

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Grocery lists, to do lists, inventory lists, wish lists, guest lists, etc. – they seem to fill our lives, but what would we do without them? Would we stay focused on what we have to accomplish, if we didn’t have any lists? Would we feel satisfied at the end of the day, if we didn’t have anything checked off? Would we realize the magnitude of our lives – our organization, abilities, collections, thoughts, and everything else we put down on our lists? Love them or hate them, everyone makes lists.

#1 – 100 Calories
If eating a tad bit healthier and watching your weight are part of your New Year’s resolutions, then browse through this list of 88 Unexpected Snacks Under 100 Calories. Not all items are on the super healthy list, but there are some great ideas and recipes worth trying.

#2 – Does Your Clutter Control You or Do You Control Your Clutter?
Hmmm . . . that’s an interesting question for me and my fellow pack rats. I’d like to claim that I’m in control of my clutter, but as I look around my desk, I think the clutter won. Demanding Joy, a lovely blog to visit, has a list of 60 Ways to Get Organized & Take Control of Your Life. Much of it is common sense and needed reminders. Other aspects deal with prioritizing and breaking down daunting jobs to doable tasks. So if you’re motivated to start out the New Year more organized, check out this list!

#3 – New Life for Old Yoga Mats
If you are a devout student of yoga, you may wear out your yoga mat over the years of study. The question is: What do you do with your old mat? It seems counter to the yoga culture to toss it away, so that it can become part of a giant landfill and take centuries to decompose. Need a few ideas? Check out these 20 Creative Ways to Repurpose Old Yoga Mats.

#4 – Elliptical Machine Mistakes
Are you an elliptical machine junkie? Well, if you are, you might want to read about the Top 10 Mistakes You Make on the Elliptical Trainer. How many are you guilty of?

#5 – Wanted
“When I see the Ten Most Wanted Lists . . . I always have this thought: If we’d made them feel wanted earlier, they wouldn’t be wanted now.”
Eddie Cantor

Enjoy this last weekend in January!

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Ernest Hemingway allegedly wrote a compelling work of fiction using only six words. A seemingly tragic story, complete with a beginning, middle and end, unfolds with these simple words: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Following Hemingway’s format, I’ve come up with my own semi-tragic six-word story: Party planned, game lost, theme changed. Not really being an ardent football fan, I surprised myself with thoughts of hosting a Super Bowl party if the San Francisco 49ers beat the New York Giants. After Sunday’s overtime loss, I was in no mood for a party. But since, in my head, a menu had already taken shape, it seemed a shame not to put part of it to good use. Here’s a recipe for pulled pork sandwiches that’s easy, doesn’t smack too much of mustard or vinegar, and can be made in a slow cooker ahead of time! Australian Open party, anyone?

Easy Pulled Pork Sandwiches
Adapted from a recipe found on allrecipes.com

Ingredients:
1 Boston Pork Butt Roast
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Enough root beer to cover roast (not diet version)
About 3 cups of your favorite barbecue sauce
1 dozen onion rolls, sliced in half and lightly toasted
1 large can of French’s French Fried Onions, optional

Directions:
1. Rinse roast under cold running water and pat dry.
2. Rub salt and freshly ground pepper over roast.
3. Place pork in slow cooker and pour root beer over the meat until it is covered.
4. Cover with lid and cook on low until meat is well-cooked. Meat should fall off the bone and should be easy to shred. Length of cooking time will depend on the size of the pork butt roast and the type of heating element in your slow cooker. Plan on at least 8 to 10 hours for this portion of the cooking.
5. After meat is cooked, shred it and discard any fatty pieces.
6. Pour out the cooking liquid in the slow cooker (skim the fat off first, so that it does not go down the sink drain) and put the shredded meat back into the cooker. Stir in the barbecue sauce and gently mix until evenly distributed. Cook on low for one more hour, being careful that the sauce and meat does not burn.
7. Add salt and pepper to taste.
8. To serve: Let guests mound the pulled pork onto toasted rolls. Sprinkle french fried onions on top of meat, if desired. Put tops of rolls on sandwiches and make sure to provide plenty of napkins!

Serves about 12.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. The last time I made this I did not have root beer on hand, so I used some ginger beer that my brother-in-law kindly brought back from Australia for my hubby. I poured ginger ale soda in to cover the rest of the pork roast.
2. I used a 40 ounce bottle of Sweet Baby Ray’s Award Winning Barbecue Sauce, because I had it on hand. Obviously, the tastier the barbecue sauce, the tastier the pulled pork.
3. The pork can be cooked, shredded, cooled and refrigerated ahead of time. On game day, put the meat back in the slow cooker, add the barbecue sauce and cook on low for about one hour.
4. The topping of french fried onions gives the sandwiches a nice salty crunch!
5. Serve with some coleslaw and you are all set to go!

Enjoy!

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It was so cold outside that the birds looked all puffed up in their little down jackets. For me, dressing up like Nanook of the North and going out in the freezing cold at midnight is not something I like to do, but the weather forecaster on T.V. said, “There’s going to be a hard freeze tonight.” Difficult as it was to leave the warmth of our home, my hubby and I got out our bin of burlap pieces and clothes pins and went outside to cover our frost-tender plants. While I was outside draping and pinning, I thought about all the homeless people trying to stay warm on that cold, cold night. Shame, guilt, and sadness struck me. Here I was protecting plants when people – men, women, and children – were freezing in the night.

#1 – Ways to Help the Homeless
If you are looking for ways to help the homeless, but don’t know where to start, check out these links:

Donate Old Gear to “Homeless Gear” & Help Keep the Homeless Warmer on Cold Days
35 Ways You Can Help the Homeless
Homeless Teens: How to Help
How YOU Can Help End Homelessness

#2 – Reduce Food Waste
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli offers six tips on how to reduce food waste. And remember that some of the food you waste also can go into compost piles. Want to start a compost pile, but don’t know how? Read Earth Easy’s article on composting.

#3- Date a Girl Who Reads
In the essay below, Rosemarie Urquico espouses the many reasons for dating a girl who reads. I loved it when I first read it – how could I not, since it’s all about reading and writing! Supposedly, it was written in response to Charles Warnke’s You Should Date an Illiterate Girl. Make sure you read both pages of Mr. Warnke’s piece.

You Should Date a Girl Who Reads by Rosemarie Urquico

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.

#4 – Repurposing
A while back, I wrote about Pinterest, the online pinboard. Many, many great ideas on numerous subjects can be found on Pinterest boards, but I especially like the ones that display truly creative ways to reuse things.

#5 – Do Something For Someone
“You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~John Bunyan

Stay warm!

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A soft, yet crusty, bread surrounds succulent pieces of chicken and savory bits of celery, mushrooms, green onions, and bamboo shoots in these big and hearty Chinese Chicken Buns. Soon after you bite into a freshly baked one and let the flavors flood into your mouth, you’ll pat yourself on the back and say, “Damn, I’m a good cook!” It had been years since I last made these buns, but while deciding what to make for a Chinese New Year’s post, I remembered these delicious buns and it occurred to me that they would make fabulous Super Bowl fare, too! They can be made ahead and frozen for future use. But seriously, after you’ve taken your first bite of one, you’ll want to live in the present and not the future!

Chinese Chicken Buns
Adapted from a Sunset Magazine recipe

Ingredients:
2 loaves (1 pound each) frozen bread dough
6 dried Asian mushrooms
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken meat, breast and thigh meat
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2-3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
3-4 stalks of green onions
1 8 oz can of sliced bamboo shoots
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 eggs, hard boiled
Cilantro leaves, optional
Flour
Butter, melted

Sauce Ingredients:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1/3 cup water


Directions:
1. Remove frozen bread dough from the package and thaw as package directs, rubbing surface with a little bit of oil and covering with plastic film. Thaw just until pliable, about 1-2 hours at room temperature.
2. Hard boil the eggs and let cool.
3. Rinse and soak dried Asian mushrooms in enough hot water to cover them until soft and pliable, about 20 minutes. Cut off and discard tough stems; cut remaining mushrooms into thin strips.
4. Cut chicken meat into 1/2-inch-thick strips, each about 2-inches long.
5. Combine chicken with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, minced, and 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger.
6. Thinly slice celery stalks on the diagonal.
7. Wash green onions. Cut into 2-inch lengths (including tops).
8. Drain can of bamboo shoots.
9. Stir together sauce ingredients (listed above).
10. Pour 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch frying pan and place over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the marinated chicken; cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.
11. Add celery; cook, stirring for 1 minute.
12. Stir in sliced mushrooms, sliced green onions, bamboo shoots, and sauce mixture. Cook, stirring until sauce thickens. Let cool.
13. Peel the eggs and cut in quarters, lengthwise.
14. With a lightly-floured knife, cut each thawed loaf into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a round about 7-inches in diameter.

15. Place 1-2 sections of hard boiled eggs in the center of the dough. Top with 1/2 cup of the cooked chicken filling.


16. Gather edges of dough up around filling, being careful not to stretch the dough. Pleat in the edges and tightly pinch together to seal.

17. Turn on oven to 350 degrees F.
18. Place, buns, pinched side down about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased or parchment paper-covered baking sheet. Lightly cover and let rise in a warm place until puffy, about 30-45 minutes.
19. Brush with melted butter and bake for 30-35 minutes or until browned. Serve warm.
20. If made ahead, cool thoroughly on racks, then cover and refrigerate or freeze. To reheat, bake uncovered, in a 350 degree oven until hot, about 20 minutes if chilled. If frozen, bake for 35 minutes.


Makes eight.

Linnell’s Notes:
1. Dried Asian mushrooms can be found in most grocery stores and in Asian markets. The most common ones are the dried Shitake mushrooms. To soak dried mushrooms, place them in a bowl and cover them with hot water. Place a smaller bowl or plate on top of them to keep them submerged in the water.
2. I always double the recipe! Eight is never enough!
3. I tend to always add a little more of everything – more mushrooms, more celery, more green onions, more meat . . . and I usually double the amount of sauce.
4. I cut the 2-inch top segments (white part) of the green onions in half lengthwise, so that there are no thick pieces of onion to bite into.
5. Although the inclusion of slices of hard boiled egg is typical in a Chinese Chicken Bun, you can always choose not to include them if they are not to your liking.
6. I like the taste of cilantro in these buns, so I sprinkle a few cilantro leaves on top of the dough before adding the meat mixture.
7. Sometimes for an added rich and exotic flavor, I add pieces of Chinese Sausage into the chicken mixture.

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

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New Year resolutions speak of hopes, dreams, and new starts, but shouldn’t every morning bring with it the same potential? Why wait a day, a month, or 12 months to start something new or to create the life you want? There will never be a better time than now to eat better, to sharpen your mind, to make a difference, or to see the world with all of its colors!

#1 – Walk Through a Rainbow
Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson designed an enclosed circular rainbow walkway above a building in Denmark. I wonder, along with another commenter, if your mood changes as you walk through the colors?

#2 – Fast Food Reality
Is the food shown in ads the same as what’s served? Here’s an interesting side-by-side photo comparison. On the left are ad photos and on the right are photos of food actually served. Why do we eat fast food when it’s not so great to begin with and is even less appealing than promised?

#3 – Online Jigsaw Puzzles
When I was a child, my mom and I would sit for hours working on jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are addicting because you can’t stop searching for that one particular piece you need. When I found out that National Geographic’s website had a jigsaw puzzle generator, I immediately bookmarked it on my computer and sent the link to my mom. Although they do not contain very many pieces, these puzzles, made from National Geographic photographs, are difficult because the image disappears once you start working on the puzzle and you must reconstruct it from memory (unless you cheat by using the preview function). On top of that, your effort is being timed!

#4 – In the Beginning . . .
Watch this charming 4 minute story about global warming with its amazing painting by Alice Ninni and soothing background music by Matteo Negrin.

#5 – Don’t Stop Changing
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” -Benjamin Franklin

Have an enjoyable, but safe holiday weekend!

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I never knew what the big deal was about butternut squash soup until I tasted some at a Zagat-rated restaurant. It was thick and creamy like most squash soups are, but what made this one stand out was the surprising taste of apple in it. As soon as I got home from dinner that night, I searched the Internet for a similar soup recipe. None of the recipes I found was exactly what I was looking for and I was disappointed. Then at the end of a long day of Christmas shopping, I came across a cookbook for soups and stews that contained a recipe for a butternut and apple soup. Although, I was supposed to be buying gifts for others, I quickly snatched up the cookbook and bought a gift for myself!

Winter Squash and Apple Bisque
Recipe from the Williams-Sonoma cookbook Soup & Stew

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 Pippin, Granny Smith, or other tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 butternut squash, about 2 lb, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch chunks
6 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus whole leaves for garnish
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme, plus whole leaves for garnish
1/2 cup half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup sour cream

Directions:
1. In a soup pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Sauté the onion and shallots until softened, about five minutes.

2. Add the apples and squash and cook until nicely coated, about 3 minutes longer.

3. Add the stock and rosemary and bring to a simmer. Add the thyme.

4. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, covered, until the vegetables are very tender, about 25 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat. Using a handheld or standing blender, purée the soup until smooth.

6. Stir in the half-and-half and season with salt and pepper.

7. Reheat gently over medium-low heat.

8. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the sour cream and rosemary and thyme leaves.

Makes 6-8 servings

Linnell’ Notes:
1. Just a reminder, butternut squash are easier to peel if you microwave them on high for two minutes first.

2. I would have liked this soup even more if it had a more pronounced apple flavor. The next time I make this soup, I will add one more apple. Also, I think I will experiment with different varieties of apples to see which one gives the soup the best flavor.

3. Other dense, orange-fleshed winter squash could be substituted for the butternut squash.

Enjoy!

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