Monday, October 28, 2013

Salad + Jar = Love

I'm always on the lookout for healthy and affordable lunches that travel well and are easy to make in advance. Just because you have to eat at your desk on occasion doesn't mean your food has to be boring. Admittedly, my go-to sack lunch these days has been a pretty boring arrangement of hard boiled eggs, pretzels, string cheese and fruit or whatever was leftover from dinner the night before. It does the job but I don't find myself too excited about what awaits me in the fridge when noon rolls around. That all changed when I finally came around to the salad in a jar craze that's been sweeping Pinterest.

(Source: Pinterest)

I'm no stranger to packing a salad for lunch, but I don't love eating soggy greens or having to carry a separate container for the dressing and praying it doesn't leak. The genius of the salad in a jar is that by stacking the ingredients in a strategic way, you can fit the dressing and salad in one container and keep everything crisp by confining the liquid dressing to the bottom of the jar. Salad in a jar will stay fresh for many days, so you can prepare everything on Sunday and have lunches saved for the rest of the week. Also, they're just so pretty to look at, aren't they?

I personally don't like eating the same thing five days a week, so I started out by only making two jars, inspired by this Asian Noodle Salad recipe. I've expressed my love for Asian salads before, and I always have some buckwheat noodles on hand, so it was the perfect place to start my salad in a jar escapades.

Just chop everything, cook and cool the noodles and edamame and prepare the dressing.

The dressing calls for sambal oelek, which is just chili sauce. I used jarred chili garlic sauce but sriracha would probably work too.

I also subbed toasted sesame oil for olive oil since it adds another element of great Asian flavor. When building a salad in a jar, you want to put the dressing on the bottom, followed by a sturdy ingredient that will benefit from soaking up the liquid and not compromise its texture. For example, I used two to three tablespoons of dressing topped with my buckwheat noodles then shredded carrot, halved mini heirloom tomatoes, edamame, red bell pepper and green onions.

Seal the jars and stash in the fridge for up to a week. At lunchtime, either shake the jar to combine ingredients and eat right from the jar or turn out into a bowl. With this thick dressing, I found it best to pour into a bowl and stir before eating. Now that's a lunch to look forward to!

Asian Noodle Salad in a Jar
Adapted from Foxes Love Lemons
(Makes 2 jars)

1 cup cooked buckwheat noodles
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 cup diced mini heirloom tomatoes
1/2 cup cooked and shelled edamame
1/2 cup shredded carrot
2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. peanut butter
4 tsp. chili garlic sauce
4 tsp. rice vinegar
2 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
1/4 cup sesame oil
1 tsp. sesame seeds

If using frozen edamame, cook in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes until tender. Remove edamame from pot with slotted spoon and cool. Use the same water to cook buckwheat noodles according to package instructions. Drain and cool the noodles, rinsing under cold water. 

In a small bowl, mix the peanut butter, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar and tamari. Slowly drizzle in the sesame oil while whisking until emulsified. Stir in sesame seeds.

Add two to three tablespoons of dressing to the bottom of each jar. Top each with half the buckwheat noodles, shredded carrot, tomatoes, edamame, red bell pepper and green onion. Seal the jars with lids and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Pumpkin Season is Here

Even though the temperatures are hovering in the 80's in LA, once the calendar hits October the pumpkin recipes start rolling out and I just can't resist jumping on the bandwagon. As you may recall, one of the items on my 30 Before 30 list is to make bagels from scratch, so I thought, "Why not pumpkin bagels?"

This being my first homemade bagel experience, I did some research and decided to combine elements from this pumpkin bagel recipe and this New York style bagel recipe. That way I'd get the flavor I was craving as well as the chewy texture I prefer.

First I placed the yeast in warm water with brown sugar and let it sit for 5 minutes without stirring. Then I stirred to dissolve the yeast and mixed in the canned pumpkin, 2 cups of bread flour, salt, cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice. This produced a very sticky dough, which I turned out onto a floured cutting board to knead and add flour to until no longer sticky.

Too sticky

In the end I probably added an additional 2 or more cups and then rolled the dough into a ball and placed in an oiled bowl covered with a kitchen towel to let rise.

After an hour, I punched the dough down and let rest for another 10 minutes. Next, I divided the dough into portions and rolled them into small balls (I ended up with 9 somehow). I tried both recipe methods for forming the bagels and preferred the Sophisticated Gourmet's suggestion of pressing your finger through the center of each ball and then stretching the ring from there.

I let the formed bagels rest for another 10 minutes on a cookie sheet covered with a towel while I put a big pot of water on to boil.

According to the New York method, you extend the boiling time to about 2 minutes for a chewier bagel, which is what I was going for. 

I noticed that the longer they boiled, the larger they got.

After transferring the bagels to a cookie sheet and baking for twenty minutes, my apartment smelled amazing and the bagels were beautifully browned. The pumpkin flavor was subtle and the texture was slightly crisp on the outside yet gloriously chewy on the inside. Now I just need to work on perfecting the shape of these babies...

New York Style Pumpkin Bagels

1 cup warm water
2 tsp. active dry yeast
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
3 1/2 cups bread flour (divided, plus more for kneading)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. pumpkin pie spice

Place warm water in a large mixing bowl and add yeast and sugar. Do not stir. Let mixture sit for five minutes before stirring to dissolve. Add pumpkin, 2 cups of bread flour, salt and spices. Stir to combine. A sticky dough will begin to form. 

Transfer to a floured surface and continue adding flour a half cup at a time and kneading dough until smooth (about another cup and a half or two cups and 8-10 minutes of kneading). Roll dough into a large ball and place in a bowl coated with oil. Cover with a towel and allow to sit in a warm spot to rise for one hour or until dough doubles in size. 

After one hour, punch the dough down and allow to rest for another 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 8-10 pieces and roll each portion into a small ball. Press your finger through the center of each ball and stretch a ring to the desired size. Place shaped bagels on an oiled cookie sheet and cover with a towel. 

Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees and set a large pot of water to boil. Reduce heat to a gentle boil and using a skimmer, lower bagels into hot water in batches. Let them sit for 2 minutes and then flip them over to boil for another 2 minutes. Once boiled, transfer bagels back to the oiled cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden. 

Cool cooked bagels on a wire rack. Slice one of those babies in half, smear on some cream cheese, and enjoy the freshest bagel you'll ever eat.

Monday, September 30, 2013

30 Before 30 Update

It's been too long since I've blogged about my 30 Before 30 progress. The deadline of my 30th birthday is drawing uncomfortably near, so it's definitely time to bang these out. Let's take a look at the tasks I've completed recently.

#11 Mail a handwritten letter/card to a loved one out of the blue

A few months ago I was in a nostalgic mood and went through a box of old cards, photos and letters that I've been collecting since high school. I found that a huge chunk of those cards were from my friend Kim, who used to send me written correspondence almost every month when I was in college. Kim worked at Hallmark back then, so this might explain her fondness for greeting cards. It reminded me how nice it was to get a letter in the mail every now and then so I decided she was the perfect person to reach out to via snail mail. I've already received a reply from Kim and I'm putting my response to her out in the mail today. So far I'm loving this new pen pal thing!

#15 Start saving for a house

Early in the year my dear friend Jane sent me her copy of Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover. She and her husband had been using Dave's tips to budget for their family of three and recommended his methods for paying off debt and saving up for the future. After reading the book I was motivated to take care of the small amount of debt we had and focus on a plan for setting money aside for a house in the future. With no debt, we've been able to fulfill an 'emergency fund' as well as start a house fund.

Some of Dave's methods are a bit extreme and not completely realistic for us right now, but the book has provided the motivation we needed and made us realize that even if we aren't looking to purchase a home in the next year or two, it's never too soon to start saving.

#29 Make our guest room more accommodating

So even though we've lived in our apartment for over two years, we never really got around to doing much with our guest room. Out of sight, out of mind, right? I once heard that the best way to determine what your guest room may be lacking is to spend the night in it. In doing so, I found that a few things like curtains, a bedside table, alarm clock and space in the closet to hang clothes would make guests feel more at home.

So far I've been able to work on all of those things but the closet space :) There is currently a large wedding dress that is taking up a considerable amount of space in the guest room closet, but that will be taken care of in a matter of months so I consider this task complete!

Who wants to come stay with us?