Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Spaghetti Squash + Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella



I've been on the hunt for great recipes using tomatoes. After all, it's summer, right? I've had a tendency in the past to buy boxes of cherry tomatoes, only to forget about them, finding them wrinkly and moldy (gross) in the back of the fridge weeks later. Not this time. 

I'm settling comfortably into fellowship and really starting to get into the groove of things. My husband is on a somewhat less friendly schedule, in the surgical intensive care unit. It's funny how easily we have gotten used to him not having to take in-house, overnight calls (thanks to a night hospitalist team). Now, he has to take in-house call once a week for this month - and it's like, say whaaa???

Despite the fact that my fellowship hours are very lifestyle friendly, the summer heat is making me sluggish...and less apt to turn on the oven. So when I came across this recipe calling for roasting tomatoes at 400F for 20 minutes, my first thought was "no way - I'm going to broil these in half the time". It worked. Yes, I know - broiling on low heat is also 400F, but I'm impatient. And in the dead of July, just the thought of cooking by convection is painful. Plus, I hate having to wait for the oven to beep when it's done preheating. I know it's not right, but sometimes I just shove everything in there before it's officially preheated. Ok, you get my drift.

I like this recipe because although it requires a few steps, you don't have to do them all at once. I accomplished this by roasting the squash one night (along with some sweet potatoes). That night, I shredded the squash and kept it in the fridge. The next day after work, I quickly broiled the tomatoes, threw everything together, and had a delicious, healthy bowl of veggies ready for dinner. Even my husband (who often protests "too many veggies!!!") liked this one. I already knew he was keen on spaghetti squash, so with the addition of some pizza-esque flavors (tomatoes, basil, mozzarella), failure was almost impossible. In fact, I'm pretty sure if I put tomatoes, basil, and mozzarella on...I don't know, say - a piece of celery, he would somehow find it delicious. 

I also like this recipe, because I'm fairly certain my Dad would love it too (right Dad?). I definitely inherited my food preferences from him, because we share a strong preference for healthy fruits and vegetables, especially starchy ones (sweet potatoes, and his all time favorite: kabocha squash). That, and a love of all things sweet - especially carrot cake.

Back to the healthy stuff:

Spaghetti Squash + Roasted Tomato & Mozzarella 
Adapted from Midwest Living

Makes approximately 2 cups & serves 2 (you will have plenty of leftover squash)


Ingredients:

One 2 lb spaghetti squash, halved and seeded

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Salted butter, approx 1 tbsp

1 pint cherry tomatoes

Oregano

One 8 oz container of cherry sized mozzarella balls

Handful of basil leaves, roughly chopped

Pecorino romano (optional)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Brush squash halves with olive oil, and roast for 30-40 minutes until tender. Remove from oven, cool, and shred squash

2. While squash cooks, brush cherry tomatoes with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and oregano. If completing this the same day as the squash, you can simply bake the tomatoes for 20 minutes alongside the squash. If on a different day, set broiler on low and broil for 10 minutes until tomato skins are just starting to split



3. Remove tomatoes from under the broiler; gently press down on tomatoes to release their juices (careful, they will squirt)

4. Mix 2 cups of spaghetti squash (reheat if necessary) with 1 tbsp butter. Then toss in tomatoes and mozzarella (top with as few or as many mozzarella balls as you like. Since they come refrigerated, you may need to heat them up slightly before you add them to your dish).

5. Season with more oregano, salt, and pepper to taste. Top with chopped basil leaves, a dusting of pecorino cheese (optional), and serve

You will have several cups of leftover shredded spaghetti squash - I enjoyed mine the next day with some butter, herbs, edamame, and pecorino (ran out of tomatoes, but was still delicious).

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoy this easy, beautiful squash recipe! Let me know how it turns out for you.

-R

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Edamame Guacamole

Have you been to the Whole Foods Market blog? They have some great recipes...and this is one of them. Lately I've been on an edamame kick - usually, I add them in my salad at lunch. I love the nutty flavor and texture, plus more importantly - they're a great source of protein and fiber, which keeps me full.

We are really trying to incorporate more fruits and veggies into our meals (well, who isn't these days?) We're having a good go at it, although there are times when fellowship schedules are less than conducive.  When time permits, I methodically plan out our grocery shopping list, cook over the weekend, and plan meals for the week. Of course, as we all know, there are other weekends: weekends on call, or weekends out of town, or too-tired weekends that simply do not lend themselves to meticulous planning and cooking. 

That's why I'm always on the lookout for an easy, healthy recipe that's downright unfussy. This edamame guacamole fit the bill. I almost never buy fresh edamame pods; I prefer the frozen beans, so I can have a permanent stash in the freezer. Avocados are a little bit less robust than frozen beans, but they keep pretty well in the fridge. 

This guacamole takes about 5 minutes to make, and roughly chopping some onion is all the prep work you'll need to do. It has the familiar rich and creamy taste of avocado guacamole, but it feels a little more solid with the edamame. This dip will fill you up - no surprise, since it's packed full of healthy fats, protein, and fiber. We enjoyed ours as part of a light vegetarian meal. If you love edamame, try this one out! 

Edamame Guacamole
adapted from the Whole Foods Market blog

Ingredients

1 small avocado

1 cup frozen shelled edamame, thawed

1/4 white onion, roughly chopped

cilantro (optional)

juice of 1 lime


Directions

Put edamame, avocado, cilantro, onion, and lime juice in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Serve with crudités. 


This is really the perfect 5 minute recipe for these hot, humid mid-summer days, when the last thing you want to do is turn on a stove! Thanks for stopping by, and hope you are staying cool!

-R

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Big Sodas are back...

I was sad to learn that New York's ban on big sodas was rejected by the NY State Court of Appeals last week. Yes, it's a little bit paternalistic. Yes, it's not perfect - milkshakes and juices were not restricted, for example, nor were certain locations like convenience stores. Yes, people could just buy 3 small drinks instead of 1 large drink. But you know what? There's clearly no panacea for the obesity epidemic in this country, and I think this was one small step in the right direction.

As far as people complaining about having their personal rights infringed upon, there's nothing stopping anyone from buying 2 smaller sodas (or walking across the street to an "unrestricted" location). The ban would no doubt have been an inconvenience for some, but a potential benefit for the larger populace. I would liken the city's efforts to reduce massive overconsumption of processed food in this country to an individual trying to lose weight by simply not keeping certain foods in the house.  If we can't control ourselves (myself included - there's a reason why I don't buy Oreos...), I'm ok with the government stepping in a little bit to help. I know not everyone agrees with the ban, but I was really rooting for it! What do you think? Leave a comment!

Thanks for reading,

-R

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Creamy Bacon & Pea Orzo


Hi guys, I've been meaning to share this for awhile, but I've been in a strange limbo between the end of residency and the start of fellowship. The days of summer break are far gone,  but these past couple of weeks have been the closest thing we've had to those beautiful, uninterrupted 3-4 month stretches of break. I'll take it! 

We just had a wonderful weekend in Boston with my Dad, brother, and his girlfriend. It's these kinds of gatherings - plenty of good conversation and laid back lounging, that recharge us. I only wish we could all get together more often!

I was inspired to make this when I came across some spring pea recipes a few months ago. There's something about the bright green leaves on trees that makes me want to eat something that looks just as pretty and fresh. This rich pasta is such a great comfort food - loaded with veggies and a little bit of indulgence with bacon. It is of course, easy and quick to make. While the orzo cooks, simply prepare the sauce, and within 10-15 minutes, you'll be tossing the finished product together. If you want to make a double batch, I'm confident that this would freeze well and make for an effortless weeknight dinner down the line. 

Creamy Bacon & Pea Orzo
Yields approximately 3-4 cups


Ingredients:

1 cup orzo (uncooked)

3 cups water

4-5 strips bacon

1 cup frozen peas

1 large shallot or 1/2 white onion, diced

Parmesan cheese

Truffle oil (optional)

1 1/4 cups whole milk



Directions:

1. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium sized pot. Add orzo and cook until al dente (approximately 5-7 minutes)

2. Fry bacon in a medium saucepan until crisp. Remove bacon strips from pan, chop roughly into small pieces

3. Cook shallot/onion in the pan with bacon fat for ~1 minute

4. Return bacon to pan, adding whole milk and frozen peas. Simmer until slightly thickened, approximately 5-10 minutes; see below for desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper to taste


5. Once orzo is cooked, remove it from the pot and drain

6. In  a large serving bowl, combine orzo and cream sauce; toss to combine thoroughly

7. Top with grated parmesan cheese and serve immediately

I topped ours with a light drizzle of truffle oil - it was delicious! The truffle oil is completely optional - a simple dusting of parmesan is more than enough to bring everything together into a savory mouthful punctuated by the sweetness of peas. I hope you'll enjoy this easy pasta dish - thanks for reading!

-R

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Monday, June 16, 2014

The Big Island - Part II

We've been back in the States for about a week now. It's always weird making the transition back to work when you've been on vacation for several days, but I think I've snapped back to reality. Being on frozens shortly after our return certainly  helped rip me out of any lingering jet lag. I just wanted to share some of our favorites from the rest of our trip: 

Kula Kai Caverns: Located in the southwestern portion of the island, these caves are really a labyrinth of underground lava tubes that extend for approximately 30 miles. We descended into the caves and explored them for 2 hours with our guide Gary, who was so much fun and taught us so much about the history of the area and the native populations who used these caves for water collection, cooking, etc. We marveled at the adaptability of life when we saw ohia tree roots in the caves - truly amazing how living things will find a way to flourish anywhere, even on a desolate lava field! 

Entrance to the caves
Top left: Ohia tree roots, which grow straight through the ground into the cave, subsisting off of damp air 

Crawled through this narrow tunnel! 



Honu (sea turtle) napping on Punaluu beach 

Drive down to South Point 

We learned from our cave tour that the southwestern portion of the island has been very arid since 2008, when the crater floor of Kilauea (the active volcano) collapsed. Previously, the floor had been acting as a sort of filter for volcanic gases, but with its collapse, many more gases were released into the air, eventually affecting precipitation. As a result, this part of the island is actually under drought conditions. With the rolling grasslands and windswept fields, you could easily mistake this for part of the Midwest (until you see the ocean in the distance).

Mare and foal

Peace and quiet on the way to Naalehu
 Waipio Valley: We almost missed the short hike into this valley. We're glad we didn't. On the drive from Kona to Waipio Valley, we drove through Waimea, which is Hawaiian paniolo (cowboy) country. There were lush, green pastures and some very happy looking cows. When we arrived at Waipio valley and hiked down to the valley, we were rewarded with almost complete solitude on a pristine black sand beach surrounded by towering green cliffs. It was marvelous...and for reasons unknown to us, a local dog volunteered himself as our tour guide. He casually strolled a few steps ahead, patiently waiting for us to make the steep descent into the valley. If you're ever visiting the Big Island, do this hike on a weekday, and you'll likely have the place to yourself. It used to be a retreat for Hawaiian royalty, and today is a secluded, quiet farming area (lots of taro). We spotted a wild horse roaming.
Waipio Valley from above
Our guide dog

 We spent a lot of the latter half of our vacation doing water sports -  kayaking to sea caves, and an unforgettable snorkeling tour on a retired Navy Seal vessel, where we snorkeled with manta rays and spotted some dolphins. Seeing manta rays beneath us was surreal....they're so big and look like they're flying lazily underwater. If you're on the Big Island, I would highly recommend Wild Hawaiian Ocean Adventures. All of our snorkeling memories are on our GoPro camera, so I won't be able to share them here.

We spent the last few days of our vacation visiting some of the top beaches in the area. 


We enjoyed this beautiful sunset on our last evening in Hawaii. After that, it was a grueling 10+ hour flight back home. We are so thankful that we were able to take this refreshing trip together. Now we're re-energized and ready to tackle the next years of fellowship! 

Thanks for reading. I hope you've enjoyed some of the beauty we shared! 

-R

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Strapatsada
















I love simple recipes, as you can probably tell by now. So when I came across Mark Bittman making Strapatsada, I knew I had to give it a go. Strapatsada is Greek recipe - essentially eggs cooked with fresh tomatoes. It's perfect for this time of year when stores are overflowing with beautiful, lavish red tomatoes. This is also a great recipe to have on hand when you have extra tomatoes you don't know what to do with, because odds are you have some eggs in your refrigerator. Other than that, all you need is some oregano, garlic, olive oil, and feta (if you like it). Not only is this simple and easy, but it's very nutritious and filling. I love the slight sweetness and tartness that the cooked-down tomatoes impart to the eggs (probably because my mom used to cook a similar egg dish with roughly chopped tomatoes). In keeping with the simplicity of this recipe, that's all I really have to say about strapatsada, so let's get started....


Strapatsada 
(from the NYTimes)

Ingredients

2 ripe, firm tomatoes

2 tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tbsp oregano

4 large eggs, slightly beaten

1/2 cup grated cheese (optional)

salt and pepper to taste


Directions

1. Slice off one of each tomato. Grate both tomatoes, collecting the pulpy juice into a bowl. Discard the skins.

2. Heat a olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute, being careful not to burn it

3. Add the tomatoes. Cook until most of the water evaporates, for approximately 10 minutes. 

Before

After
4. Keeping the heat on medium-low, pour in the eggs and oregano. Cook the eggs slowly and gently - this will ensure that they form soft curds

5. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and top with grated feta if desired. Enjoy!

We ate our strapatsada with some basmati rice - probably not exactly traditional, but delicious nonetheless. These eggs can easily stand on their own but would be great with a hearty slice of bread too. Hope you enjoy them!

-R

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Big Island - Part I


Aloha from the Big Island! We've been enjoying ourselves tremendously since we arrived. Being in Hawaii is such a sensory experience - the smell and taste of salt air, the breeze on our skin, the heat of flowing lava, the beautiful tropical flowers and music (especially the Hawaiian slack key guitar)....it's hard to capture it all via photographs or video. What it really is for us though, is a chance to quiet our thoughts and just soak in all the beauty together. It's so refreshing to be able to just sit quietly and just be here, away from the hustle and bustle of the hospital. We read the news, but it's minimal. I've heard my husband say a few things that I never thought I'd hear him say - i.e. "I'm actually kind of glad there's no internet in our room". If you know him, he likes to do things in a New York minute. 

We started off on the east side of the island, in Hilo. What you'll quickly discover is that the east and west sides of the island are completely different. The east is much wetter - a lush rainforest, while the west side is drier, with the classic beaches you think when you think of Hawaii. In the span of just a few days, we went from muddy rainforest to an otherworldly, space-like mountain peak (Mauna Kea @ 4200m), to beautiful pastureland replete with grazing cattle and horses, and to a beautiful green sand beach near the southernmost point in the country. Here are some of the highlights from the earlier part of our trip: 

Active Lava Flows - we hiked through the slippery mud and swampy rainforest for 6 hours (3 in 3 out) to get to the lava. Occasionally, you would get trapped in knee-high mud, which literally feels like you are standing in wet cement. It was all worth it the instant we stepped onto the lava flows - an alien, black steaming earth that was only 3 months old. A few minutes later, we saw active flows with hypnotizing, glowing lava flowing slowly at the leading edges - the red lava is estimated to be ~2000F! 










Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - we spent a leisurely day here hiking the Crater Rim trail from the visitor center to the Jagger museum. We were here the day following our Mauna Kea hike (See below). We were pretty tuckered out from Mauna Kea, so we took it easy and admired the scenery at the national park:

O'hia Trees

Steam vents



Halemaumau crater 

Mauna Kea Summit Hike: This one was a monster. 10 hours - roughly 7 up, 3 down. We fueled up with the snacks below, plus sandwiches. I made fun of my husband for eating a bag of Chex Mix on the lava flow hike, but I ate my words when my body almost crapped out on me towards the end of the lava hike - it was getting late, and after repeatedly slipping and sliding through the forest, banging my feet against muddy pools of mystery depths, I turned into a not-so-nice, exhausted person. I learned my lesson and even ate some Combos (I seriously don't think I've eaten Combos since 1995). They may not be a nutritional godsend, but they will get you through a 10 hour hike. Thank you Combos!

We prophylactically took acetazolamide to reduce our chances of acute mountain sickness, knowing that we would ascend to 4200m in just a few short hours. We had done the same when we hiked in Peru 2 years ago. There, we reached nearly 5000m, but with a gradual ascent over a few days. I'm thankful for the experience we had in Peru - at least we sort of knew what to expect. The landscape of the Mauna Kea hike can only be described as extraterrestrial, with very little vegetation and mostly black and red volcanic rock. If you scroll down below and mentally subtract the atmospheric blue, you could easily imagine being on a different planet. To sum it up, we got to the top of Mauna Kea. There was 40% less oxygen than at sea level. We hyperventilated to compensate. It was one of the hardest things we've ever done. I was very drowsy by the time we were at the Keck Observatory (two twin telescopes), likely a combination of the 7 hours hiking uphill and the hypoxic environment. We high tailed it down the mountain in 3 hours. By the end, my knees were killing me. I cried when we finished. Then wondered why we couldn't be like normal people and just take a driven tour to the top of the mountain. But all the pain makes life sweeter, doesn't it?



Keck observatories are the double telescopes on the right


This is our favorite photo from Mauna Kea - credit goes to my husband

Shouldn't there be a little rover driving around?















           That's it for now - mahalo nui for reading! More to come soon...

-R

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