From Frozen to Fabulous - Transforming A Trader Joe’s Pre-Packaged Dinner: Wow, what a catchy title, right? Are you intrigued? As a college student, with no meal plan, living off-campus you realize how hard it is to make a dinner from scratch every night. While some nights I will roast some veggies and have a protein, most nights I am stuck gazing into the freezer wondering what Trader Joe’s meal I should defrost. While my Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger phase lasted a scarily long time (try them), I find myself needing to spice up the semi-bland Trader Joe’s options that I am often left with for dinner. One of my favorite Trader Joe’s items is the Japanese Style Fried Rice. It is much better than Trader Joe-San’s (it kills me to type that) Shrimp Fried Rice and provides a great base to add some veggies and egg. The Japanese Style Fried Rice already has edamame, tofu and hijiki seaweed but I always add more tofu (I love Trader Joe’s Organic Baked Teriyaki Tofu), two big handfuls of Trader Joe’s ‘Organic Power to the Greens’ (baby kale, chard and spinach) and a beautiful soft-boiled egg. While I may be the first person to ever type out a recipe for essentially defrosting a bag of rice, I feel like it is necessary to achieving a great Trader Joe’s meal.
1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan (this is for the egg)
2. Once water has come to a boil, put in the egg and turn the heat down a bit, let cook for about seven minutes
3. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet and pour in desired amount of rice
4. Let the rice defrost for about one minute and add in the two handfuls of greens
5. Keep stirring the stir-fry (ha) and add in the tofu (I usually cube it)
6. Stir in some soy sauce for a little extra flavor
7. Let rice cool
8. If it has been seven minutes - take the egg out and shock it in some cold water with ice
9. Put stir fry in bowl, place peeled egg on top, finish with salt and pepper and enjoy!
Cool that you now know how to defrost a bag of rice, but I promise that your friends will be impressed with how gourmet the final product looks!
Pickle Crazy: I have always been obsessed with pickles. I still remember when I was younger ordering a “gobo handroll” every time from our favorite Japanese restaurant - gobo is pickled burdock root. I also have a feeling that when I get pregnant my only craving will be pickles (because even as a non-pregnant person I crave them every day).
Here are a few recipes I have tried in my pickling escapades:
Recipe 1: The Mile End Cookbook is a great resource for updated and classic versions of Jewish recipes. The first two pictures above are from the Half-Sour Pickle recipe. I don’t love posting recipes from cookbooks because I think this one is so good and you should all go out and buy it! But here is a recipe for their Quick Cucumber Pickles (which was already published online) that is a lot less labor intensive than the one I used from the cookbook.
- 1 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 4 teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- ½ English cucumber (about 8 ounces), skin on, sliced very thin, ideally on a mandoline
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Toss the cucumber with 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the spice mixture (save the rest; it will keep for months at room temperature). Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
The next recipe I tried was from Bon Appétit and was the Crunchy Sake Pickles
recipe. As a lover of sake (specifically nigori) I was pumped at the thought of boozing up my pickles with it. These turned out really good and can be eaten as a snack or chopped up to add an extra crunch to a salad or sandwich.
Toss 2 lb. mixed vegetables, such as 4x1/2-inch spears of English hothouse or Persian cucumbers, 4x1/4-inch spears of peeled carrots, and quartered radishes, with 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt in a large wide nonreactive bowl. Press plastic wrap on surface of vegetables. Place a small plate over, then weigh down with two 28-oz. cans (such as canned tomatoes). Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
Remove cans, plate, and plastic wrap; transfer vegetables to a colander. Rinse well with cold water. Transfer drained vegetables to a large bowl. Add 8 thinly sliced shiso or large basil leaves, 1 red Fresno chile or jalapeño cut into 1/2-inch rings, 3 tablespoons sake, 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons sesame seeds, and 1 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger.
Toss to coat; cover and refrigerate, tossing occasionally, for at least 1 hour. DO AHEAD Pickles can be made 1 week ahead. Keep chilled, tossing occasionally.
Also, if I am not making my own pickles I buy the koshers from Sonoma Brinery. Yum!
Leftovers for Breakfast: One of my favorite hobbies is finding different ways to transform leftovers. I hate re-heating and re-eating something I had the night before. Here are two examples of me recycling and reinventing some leftovers the morning after.
Egg on a Pizza: By turning leftover pizza into a gourmet breakfast I feel a lot less guilty about eating a slice of pizza for breakfast. This pizza happened to be burrata, arugula and pine nuts, so it already had a lot going for it, but adding a fried egg on top turned into a lovely and delicious brunch option.
Salmon Eggs: I have to admit - transforming salmon into a breakfast food is not too hard. My mom had cooked it the night before and it was already marinated perfectly. When scouring the fridge for something to spice up my eggs I knew some salmon and dill would do the trick. Pair it with some avocado toast (toast with avocado, olive oil, lime and salt) and you are in good shape.
Easy Hors D’oeuvres: Before departing for Italy our family hosted a lunch at our house for my Aunt’s birthday. I offered to make some appetizers and my mom was happy to hand me over the responsibility. I decided to go with some caprese sticks along with my infamous bacon wrapped dates (I’ve never made these and had leftovers, just sayin’).
Mozzarella Balls (ones that have been marinating in oil and herbs are preferable)
Sweet Cherry Tomatos
(The amounts for each varies depending on how many guests you are serving)
Take a toothpick put on a mozzarella ball, a little piece of basil, and the cherry tomato (you can either halve the tomato or leave it whole). Repeat these steps until you have enough sticks. Then divide up the skewers onto two plates. On the first plate drizzle some pesto onto the skewers. On the second plate drizzle some balsamic (reduced balsamic is the best for this) and a little olive oil. And you’re done! This recipe is super easy and always a hit.
For the recipe I already posted for Bacon Wrapped Dates or as I like to call them Dates in a Greasy Blanket click here!
For Superbowl Sunday (yes, I know that was awhile ago) I made pulled pork sandwiches. I woke up bright and early at 6am, butchered 4 pounds of meat (kind of), put it in, went to the Jason Wu for Target opening at 8am, stood in line, got bombarded by scary old people who wanted to buy it all to sell on eBay, got competitive with them, bought essentially the whole collection to spite them, came back happy that I hadn’t burnt the place down, brainstormed how to tell my parents how much I spent at Jason Wu for Target, waited another 7 hours or so (total of 9 hours of cooking time) and then I had pulled pork sandwiches!!! Kind of a crazy day, but the sandwiches turned out really good. Because I am in college and have no time to make my own BBQ sauce, I drove to Pomona to get my favorite Bone Suckin’ Sauce (it was fun calling 5 Stater Bros. asking if they had it). Anyways, I poured 1 and a half jars of the sauce on the pork butt in the slow cooker, put it on high for 9 hours and that was all. Super easy and came our probably better than if I had tried to make my own sauce. I then pulled the pork with a fork, put it in a saucepan with the sauce from the slow cooker and let it thicken. Overall, it was a successful day…Jason Wu, Pork and a little Tom Brady.
A Very Mozza Christmas Eve Dinner
I recently received the Mozza Cookbook and was dying to cook from it. Lucky for me, we were having our best family friends over for Christmas Eve and I knew this was going to be my big opportunity. I scoured the cookbook for a good week, coming up with the best (and healthiest) recipes. The recipes were hard and required about two shopping carts of ingredients but I was up for the challenge. I know I sound like some weird cooking super hero freak right now, but I like to build up the excitement because this was legitimately the best meal I have ever cooked. Unfortunately, you aren’t getting any recipes out of me because then you wouldn’t have to buy the Mozza Cookbook, which I want you all to do. The recipes are also too long and I am too lazy to type them up. Basically, drool over my cooking then buy the cookbook!
The final menu was as follows:
Olives al Forno
Prosciutto-wrapped Breadsticks with Truffle Butter
Simple Arugula Salad - oops didn’t take a picture but it was green and leafy
Margherita with Mozza Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Basil - oops didn’t take a picture of the final product but here is one of me making it. Extreme precision, as you can tell.
Meat Lovers - Sweet Italian Sausage, Prosciutto and Bacon
Tomato Jam, Burrata and Prosciutto - Ok, here is a recipe. Martha Stewart’s Tomato Jam. This was one of the biggest hits of the dinner. It tasted great on pizza and even better on crackers the next day. Definitely make this to keep around the house. This obviously wasn’t in the Mozza Cookbook but I had it at a friends house over summer and was looking for any excuse to try and make it for myself.
Shell Beans with Cherry Tomatoes and Oregano
Sautéed Cavolo Nero
Roasted Carrots Siciliana with Currant Relish (aka my prettiest, yummiest dish)
Pancetta Wrapped Radicchio with Aged Balsamico Condimento
Rosemary Olive Oil Cakes (aka holy shit you have to make these)
That’s all! Don’t you have a strange desire to be best friends with me now and have me cook you extravagant meals? Anyways, everyone should get the Mozza Cookbook, it has great recipes that are easy to follow but hard enough that you feel really proud of yourself afterwards.
Pan Bagnat: Le French Tuna Sandwich via Food52
If you are a tuna fan and are looking for a healthy sandwich, today is your lucky day. This recipe was light, flavorful and delicious. I kind of messed up the recipe but it all worked out because I am just that good. Anyways, the original recipe calls for the bread to not be toasted, then you wrap it up in saran wrap and put it in the fridge over night under something heavy. That sounds pretty chill, but I was hungry and didn’t do that. Anyways, here is my version of the recipe!
1/2 loaf of a French baguette
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
4-6 basil leaves
1 (6oz) can of tuna
3/4 cups of Kalamata olives
1/2 of roasted red pepper
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 jar or can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons of olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
PREP THE BREAD: Slice the loaf of bread in half lengthwise. Remove some of the insides of the bottom half to create a trough into which the filling will go. Brush both halves with a little extra virgin olive oil. Rub each with the garlic. Toast so edges are lightly browned. Line the half with the trough with the basil leaves.
MIX THE SALAD: In a mixing bowl, combine the tuna, olives, red bell pepper, onion, artichoke hearts. In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil until it is emulsified/combined. Pour the vinaigrette into the tuna mixture and stir to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
ASSEMBLE: Spoon tuna mixture into the trough of the baguette over the basil leaves.
Happy Halibut: Being at college without a kitchen has been rough on me. To be fair, my suite does have a kitchen but the first day there were spiders crawling in the fridge and on the stove so I vowed to never use it. Luckily, over fall break I was able to cook in my kitchen and prepare dinner for my parents. My mom has tons of cookbooks that I have been dying to dive into. For this dinner, I chose the Toscana cookbook, which is from one of my favorite Brentwood Italian restaurants (fun fact: my dad designed their sign!). Since we were making a pasta from the same cookbook the next night, I decided to go healthy and make the Halibut con Pomodorini (Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes). I am not gong to give the recipe because I want you all to go get the cookbook, but it was fairly easy to make and really tasty! I also made a side salad with baby arugula drizzled with my FAVORITE balsamic vinegar (it is from O&CO and is so sweet, syrupy and worth the high price) and olive oil and topped it off with shaved parmesan cheese. Judging by the last picture, I’d say my meal was a success!
Purchase the cookbook here! It has tasty, authentic and simple Italian dishes.