Passover Eats

When I was younger, I loved Passover.  Sure there was envy when the other kids at school would pull out gooey looking brownies or yummy sandwiches and I was stuck with matzah and some fruit or cheese, but there was no other holiday (not even birthdays) when I was allowed to eat cake for breakfast and often lunch.  The boxed mixes of Passover cakes usually provided our main source of sustenance during Passover, supplemented by salads topped with bland kosher-for-Passover salad dressing and an entree of either meat or cheese.  Passover was never the healthiest holiday, but I sure did love the excuse for eating cakes all the time, especially the cakes topped with frosting that amounted to little more than cocoa and butter.

I still love Passover, but for other aspects, and the limited diet and multiple restrictions were frustrating when I was cooking for myself and attempting to eat healthily.  For those of you who don’t know, the restricted diet for Passover says no grains, beans, or legumes during the seven days of Passover.  Corn counts as a grain, so that means no corn syrup or corn starch, which appear in many more products than I ever imagined (I feel a whole new level of sympathy for those with corn allergies), and no soy.

This year, Passover falls during a work week for both my husband and I, so I wanted to make sure we would be able to pack filling and healthy lunches to take with us to work, which meant I had to get beyond the cake-eating, “use matzah as a carrier for either cheese or butter” dependency that got me through college keeping kosher for Passover.  I looked to some of my favorite healthy recipes and was pleasantly surprised to find a few that included no grains at all.  For example, my slow-cooker ratatouille recipe was perfect for Passover and made a great partner for the ubiquitous matzah.  I also checked out some Jewish Cookbooks and found some recipes that I could adapt so they no longer required nuts.  For example, I adapted a recipe for Double Nut Torte from Marlene Sorosky’s  Fast and Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays by replacing the half cup of toasted almonds and half cup of walnuts with one cup of cocoa nibs from Scharffen Berger Chocolates.  The substitution worked out perfectly and made the recipe nut-free while letting it remain kosher.  I also had to sub in bittersweet chocolate for the semisweet since all of the chocolate available at Safeway, save one type of bittersweet chocolate bar, included soy lecithin as an emulsifier, making it all un-kosher for Passover.   It did not require any additional sugar to balance though, and created a rich, creamy dessert.  I chose not to glaze the cake, instead topping it with fresh rasberries with a berry sauce I made from frozen mixed berries, 2 TB orange juice, 2 TB blueberry juice, 1/4 cup sugar, and some potato starch offered on the side.

So here are my kosher-for-Passover, easy to take to work, meals so far:

Monday:

Breakfast: non-fat Greek yogurt topped with some berry sauce

Lunch: Tuna with diced zucchini, bell pepper and onion and some dried parsley, slice of muenster cheese, matzah, mini-wedge of chocolate torte with sauce.  When it was time for lunch, I nuked the cheese and tuna mixture then used the gooey tuna melt to top my matzah.

Tuesday:

Lunch (actually fit perfectly in my bento container):

Bottom tier: Matzah

Top Tier: Ratatouille

Under the lid: broken pieces from a slice of muenster cheese

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Warm weather + shopping = Gardening Time

Costco had three packs of small blueberry plants for sale recently.  With Spring’s warm weather and the promise of fresh picked fruit through the summer beckoning, I could hardly resist.  When we brought the blueberry bushes home, we realized that they were actually three different varieties of blueberry: Sunshine Blue, Jewel, and Emerald.

All three are Southern Highbush variety that will supposedly thrive in warmer weather.  We don’t get much frost in Northern California, so I’ll have to hope that the few cold days we do have are enough to encourage the plant to bear fruit.  Since they prefer acidic soil, I added the fertilizer I use for my gardenia and azalea plants.  Since I don’t have much room for plantings, one blueberry was planted in the empty spot of soil next to the gardenia where we grew zucchini last year (never again!) and the other blueberries are in pots.

Since we bought the blueberries, we had to buy some additional pots this weekend.  While we were pot shopping, I got distracted by the annuals and we ended up buying some plants, necessitating a couple more pots.  By the time we got out of the store, we had a lot of gardening to do.  We spent Sunday workin and have the garden almost set up for the Spring/Summer season now.  This year, we’ve got the following in the garden:

Continuing from last year:

Potted:

– dwarf Meyer Lemon tree

– Two full size roses

– succulents

– mint

– jasmine (finally managed to keep it alive longer than a year!)

– asparagus fern

– some Astilbe bulbs I planted over a year ago that didn’t sprout last year, so I gave up and threw away the tags but now are sprouting like mad

In the Dirt:

– Azalea

– White Bacopa

– Alstroemerias planted from tubers

– Gardenia

New Additions:

– Basil

– Cilantro

– Radishes

– Blueberries

We’ve had an on-going battle to enjoy our backyard/back patio.  First of all, it’s incredibly tiny so if the space isn’t planned well, there is no space to do anything.  I’ve seen what some neighbors did with their similarly minute spots, and their efforts range from leaving it basically empty except for cement and a chair or two, using the space as storage and never going in unless looking for an item or passing through to the back door, to planting so much in there that it is an elaborate jungle into which only the neighborhood cats dare enter or some combination of the three.  One summer, everything in the backyard died because Monkey and I got married, left on a fairly long honeymoon, traveled for a bit, then left again to participate in a friend’s wedding.  By the time the summer was over, almost everything had wilted.  The lone survivor was the white bacopa the previous residents had stuck in the dirt, still in their pots.  If you are ever thinking of trying this: don’t.  While the small white flowers are pretty, the green tentacles the plant will spread out dig themselves back into the ground and spread, making it very difficult to pick up the pot again to move it.  Anyways, cutting back all of the dead and dying plants made me feel horribly guilty and determined to do better the next growing season.  I was going to water my plants, pamper them!

The next summer, we renovated our kitchen, which meant we had to renovate the whole downstairs (small house, open floor plan), which meant a lot of construction occurred on our tiny little patio.  The plants were not only coated with  sawdust and powdered granite, but they received no water.  My only excuse is that I couldn’t get to the plants!  So much stuff was stored out there that I couldn’t see the plants, let alone get to them with a watering can.

Finally, last summer, we realized something had to change.  After spending several hours digging up dead plants and amending the little soil we had, we put in a drip system.   I also came to the realization that I don’t like bacopa that much.  Don’t get me wrong, I like bacopa.  It’s cute and pretty, and so darn hard to kill it was the only thing left alive and growing in my garden at that point.  The problem was that since it was the only thing left alive and so incredibly hardy, it had taken over almost all the available soil and was growing everywhere.  Monkey’s step-mom had some extra alstroemeria tubers on her hands that she had dug up but didn’t want to toss (gotta love recycling plants), so I finally gave myself permission to dig up the one plant I hadn’t already killed.  I did leave some, but I freed up enough space for us to grow mini-tomatoes and zucchini, as well as plant the azalea we received from Monkey’s mom as a gift and a gardenia.  The tomato and zucchini plants loved their spots in their dirt.  The cherry tomato plant, called Sun Sugar, went crazy and grew over 6 feet tall, 8 feet long, 3 feet wide.  I couldn’t reach all of the ripe tomatoes, which fortunately turn a bright orange color when ripe, so we happily shared some with the birds.  If you’re looking for a cherry tomato plant that will produce insane amounts of fruit from only one plant, Sun Sugar is the one for you.  We gifted bowlful after bowlful to everyone around us and still had more than enough for our own consumption.  We’ll be planting another Sun Sugar tomato plant soon.  The zucchini also grew to huge proportions, with leaves that easily could have served as diapers for small children had they had a nicer texture.  Unfortunately, we didn’t like the taste of our home grown zucchini and preferred the taste of those we could buy at the local farmer’s markets or grocery stores.  At that point, why grow it at home?

When planning my garden, I tried to focus on bringing in all of the senses.  I wanted everything I planted to not only be beautiful to look at, but also appeal on some other level.  After all, with such a small garden, I wanted everything to count.  So I picked pots in beautiful shades of dark blue or copper glaze, with a few plain terracotta mixed in.  To keep it light, I also added some pots in a nice shade of teal, an appealing green blue shade, with some interesting glazing techniques.  Some of the plants produce beautiful scents (jasmine, gardenia, roses, meyer lemon), some are lovely to touch (asparagus fern, some fuzzy  succulents), and some are edible (basil, lemon, mint, cilantro).  To bring in sound, I hung a Soleri bell I picked up in Arizona and hope to someday find just the right fountain.  We also enjoy listening to the birds attracted to the flowers and fruit in the yard and plan to put up a bird feeder soon.

I’m looking forward to uploading pictures and watching to see how this summer’s garden grows.

Egg Hunt Lunch

We’ve been enjoying a streak of absolutely beautiful weather lately.  The trees are in bloom, my plants are growing, and I don’t have to wear a jacket to stay warm anymore.  I love Spring!  I tend to feel more creative during the Spring and Summer months.

This is a lunch I packed for my husband, so it not only includes foods I can’t eat, but also a lot more food than I would want to eat.  Instead of stopping for lunch, he sometimes snacks throughout the day, so I sometimes try to pack lunches that match his eating style while still ensuring he’s eating healthily.  We had just dyed eggs together for the first time, so it inspired me to make his lunch a mini-egg hunt.

Clockwise from the top left: Three silicone cups of fruit salad with dried cranberries, broccoli and grape tomatoes, wasabi dipping sauce hiding some hard candies, stacks of crab California rolls, dried mango wrapped around a hardboiled egg, chocolate and cadbury eggs hiding in broccoli, more mango with another hardboiled egg, and some baby carrots.

I liked the little tomatoes hiding in the broccoli with the candy and chocolates; they seem to be a bit egg-shaped themselves.

Reinventing Leftovers: Potstickers Part 2

Doubling the potsticker recipe from Rachael Ray’s website left us with a lot of leftover potstickers, but the accompanying Sweet and Sour Slaw didn’t make it past dinner and lunch the next day.  I did, however, have some leftover shredded red and napa cabbage, so I decided to try to recreate the flavors of the slaw without dirtying up a pan or cooking in the morning as I packed my lunch.

I filled the bottom of my lunch container with raw shredded red and napa cabbage and then sliced some green onions on top (using scissors/kitchen shears keeps it fast).  I poured a couple shakes of rice vinegar and a quick dash of soy sauce  into the cabbage and topped it all off with three of the leftover potstickers.  I wasn’t sure how filling the lunch would be, so I also added three defrosted onigiri from the freezer.  I made these guys with the leftover rice from our sushi making night the week before.  If you haven’t made sushi rice before, I highly recommend it.  Very easy (just one additional step!) and very tasty.  After mixing rice vinegar, sugar, and a little bit of salt over heat, you pour the mixture over cooked rice and mix.

Results: I was really glad I added the three onigiri, because I polished off the entire thing for lunch.  I had debated whether to reheat the meal for lunch, but decided to since the day was a little chilly.  The heating helped the cabbage regain the same consistency and flavor of the slaw I’d made before on the stovetop, but cooked it in the tupperware along with the rest of my lunch.  The results were delicious.

His and Hers Potsticker Lunches

I adapted a couple recipes from the Rachael Ray website: Potstickers and the Sweet and Sour Slaw from this link.

Adaptions:

Potstickers: Ground chicken comes in one pound portions at my grocery store’s butcher counter.  Wonton wrappers come with many more than just 16 in the package.  Both of these factored into my decision to double the recipe, in addition to the fact that the remaining ingredients were very easy to double.

Sweet and Sour Slaw: I found pre-shredded cabbage at the grocery store on sale.  It was cheap, fast, and easier, so I figured why not?  Additionally, Napa Cabbage alone looked a bit bland and lonely, so I added some handfuls of shredded red cabbage.  Since I’m allergic to raw carrots, I added them first and gave them some time alone in the pan over heat before pouring in the cabbage and scallions.

Results: Yum! The slaw was probably my favorite part, although the potstickers were delicious in their own right.  We’ve been trying different dumpling/potsticker fillings and so far found the majority of them rather bland and dependent on a tasty dipping sauce to make the meal.  These potstickers needed no sauce or dip; the Chinese five spice is pungent and flavors the meat and the potsticker wrapper.  Despite my delight in the potsticker filling, I found myself a little frustrated with the cooking instructions.  Despite watching the video demonstration twice and following the instructions carefully, it was near impossible to remove the potstickers from the pot without losing their bottoms (Hah-because they were sticking to the pot!  I think I get the name now).  The few that we did get to turn out whole were removed from the pan early and then finished in the microwave to ensure the chicken had fully cooked.  Doubling the recipe worked out pretty well; we cooked the potstickers in batches, which we would have had to do either way.  The main downside of doubling is that it felt like we were folding the little dumplings for hours and it got a bit tedious.

But let me get back to the slaw, which completely lived up to its name.  Tart from the vinegar, hint of salt from the soy, sweet carrots: it was so good I used the remaining cabbage in a faster mock-up recipe for the rest of the week’s lunches.  The addition of the red cabbage added some additional nutrients and color to the meal.  Pictured below are the lunches we made with some of the leftovers.

Sweet and Sour Slaw bed for the chicken-filled Potstickers.

I used the top layer to hide some of the ugly ones that fell apart when removed from the pan.  In order to make my husband’s lunch more filling with the same size container, I put in less of the slaw and more potstickers.  Mine is lower in calories and fat since I have fewer potstickers and a lot more of the slaw, which is low in fat but high in nutrients and flavor.

It’s all about the fruit salad

There’s other stuff in the bento, but really, who notices with all the yummy, colorful fruit in the first tier?

Top Tier: Two small rice onigiri, one large tuna onigiri on edamame.Bottom Tier: Chopped melons, pineapple, and dried blueberries for contrast. Dessert (ended up under the lid): a few of the horribly addictive strawberry chocolates and some panda cookies from Le Asia in Dublin which sadly shut down recently.

This bento is from a while back, when I was putting a little more effort into ensuring that I had all the colors included in my lunch.  Just looking at how colorful it is makes me want to start getting more melons to add into our lunches.  Well, spring is almost here, so there are bound to be more colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables available soon.

If you are assembling a fruit salad, I highly recommend trying it out with a dried fruit mixed in, preferably small.  Dried cranberries and dried blueberries add a great pop of tartness and flavor without detracting from the sweetness of the rest of the fruits in the salad.  Additionally, they tend to soak up a little of the juices that run from the cut fruit and become yummier and juicier, with the side benefit of you not having to open up your lunch and finding fruit juice sloshing around the bottom as much.  Since I’m so restricted on which fruits I can include in a fruit salad due to allergies, dried fruits also offer an easy way for me to easily “mix it up” a bit with the types of fruit salads I prepare so I don’t feel like I’m eating the same four fruits every day.  The other side benefit of keeping dried fruit on hand is that it provides variety without the same perishability of fresh fruit.  Only one caution: people often forget that dried fruits retain the calories and sugars of their fresh selves, so they are denser in calories and sugars.  You can fit a lot more dried fruit in a bento than fresh, but if you fill a tier of a bento box with dried fruit instead of fresh you’ll be getting much more calories and sugar than could be wise.  For my husband, I often use dried fruit as filler since it is so dense and he needs meals that are higher in calories.  For my meals, I try to include more fresh fruit and just a little dried since I don’t need the calories.

I won!

Being fairly new to the whole blogging thing, I haven’t really had too much interaction with other bloggers beyond lurking on their websites.  One vegan cooking/crafting blog that I follow, A Girl and Her Blog, hosted a giveaway of three adorable rice molds.  I won!  I’m very excited to test them out and love getting new bento accessories.  I’ll post pics of the lunch I make with the molds as soon as I get them, but at least the shipping time will give me the chance to plan out the first lunch. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be looking through Rachel’s past lunches for inspiration since she has posted pics of some very colorful and delicious looking lunches.  Check it out for yourself:

http://rachelkooy.blogspot.com/