Sunday, March 9, 2008

Canned Tuna Improvisations

I haven't been able to post nearly as much as I'd like to lately. This mostly has to do with the fact that I'm working out again, mostly running and yoga with some other activities thrown in. As much as I love kicking the crap out of myself with a good workout, it takes away at least an hour from my evening, and usually I'm drained enough afterwards that I find myself incapable of cooking, cleaning, writing, and being generally productive. Even worse, my already fast metabolism goes bonkers when I work out, and I'm almost always hungry, and my newfound desire to not eat so much processed food is not jiving well with my need to eat something marginally tasty every two hours.

I've been trying to balance my time properly and not eat like crap (the last time I was working out a lot I ate a lot of fried eggs and ramen), so I've been improvising a bit lately with a giant pack of canned tuna I got from Costco. I had one meal of canned tuna with cheddar cheese melted on top, and that wasn't so hot. I wanted to make a tuna melt, but well... no bread. I stopped buying bread when I realized how cheap it is to make it, but with the aforementioned busy-ness, I obviously haven't made any bread.

The time after that, I tried to make tuna salad, but I had no mayo. I had what I needed to make mayo, but wasn't exactly motivated enough to do so (I'd just run five miles), so I looked in Joyand it suggested whisking some extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice together instead, which I promptly did. Their tuna salad recipe just has that, a can of tuna, and some celery in it. I added some scallions from Z's garden and it was still mighty bland, so I threw in some salt and pepper and hot sauce and god knows what else until it was somewhat edible. Oh, and pasta. For carbs. I need carbs. But still, not so great.

That meal prompted me to go out and buy a four-pound jar of mayonnaise from Costco. I wasn't going to originally because it was "Best Foods" mayo, and I only like Hellman's, but then I found out they're actually the same thing (thanks, internet). Also purchased on that trip to Costco: four lbs of grapes and four lbs of pretzels for healthy snacking (so I don't go eat a bag of pork rinds before a run like I did last week), 3.5 lbs of mahi-mahi (since Costco's frozen salmon is farm-raised Atlantic - uck), 3 lbs of organic ground beef (!), 3 lbs of walnuts for baking, some cereal, organic chicken stock, 5 lbs of organic frozen corn (snack food), and 2.5 lbs of mushrooms (I don't know what the hell I bought these for).

So armed with 4 lbs of mayo and some canned tuna, I made tuna-pasta salad again tonight. And it was actually pretty good! Here's what I did: Make some pasta (something with small shapes like ziti or rigatoni or elbows - no spaghetti). While you're waiting for the pasta to cook, take a can of tuna and flake it with a fork and throw it in a big bowl. Chop up two ribs of celery and put that in your bowl. When your pasta is done, rinse it off with cold water and let it drain well. Throw the pasta in the bowl, then put two big spoonfuls or however much mayo you think is necessary into your bowl, and mix everything up. Add some freshly ground black pepper and some glugs of tabasco sauce, and you've got a pretty quick (however long it takes the pasta to cook), somewhat healthy fast meal. You could make it healthier by putting in that olive oil & lemon juice mix instead of the mayo, or by using whole wheat pasta if you wanted. Hell, you could probably throw some other vegetables and maybe even some fruit in it too. Maybe I'll try that next week.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Cheesecake Brownies

I love cheesecake. I love brownies. I really love cheesecake brownies, which I was first introduced to in the college dining hall. My school had pretty heinous cafeteria food, but for some reason they had some outstanding desserts, including the chocolate death cake, the chocolate devil's food cake roll, and their cheesecake brownies, which were made with a pleasant looking swirl and were normally served on chicken finger day (which was also spring roll and hot and sour soup day, for some reason).

I was planning on making some brownies for the guys at work, since random acts of baked goods are always appreciated (and, uhm, it's review time) when I saw the 3-lb brick of cream cheese I bought at Costco a while back. Now, being somewhat devoted to responsible financial habits lately, I've restrained myself from buying a springform pan (even though the one I want is a mere $12) in lieu of going snowboarding, since the stuff is all going to melt soon with this warm weather we've been having. Anywho, soon-expiring 3-lbs of cream cheese and no springform pan? Cheesecake brownies. Gotta use it or else I'll lose it. Recipe: Joycomes to the rescue as always, except theirs doesn't include the happy swirl. I generally followed the recipe exactly, except I creamed the butter and sugar first, since that seems to give me a brownie density that I like.

Apparently, a lot of people have never had cheesecake brownies before. The work guys (I'm a programmer... I work with guys) were slightly befuddled, but like most people, they love cheesecake and they love brownies and consequently, they loved cheesecake brownies. Three-quarters of them were gone before lunch, and the rest disappeared shortly thereafter. They are extremely fudgey and chewy on the bottom, and the cheesecake is light and fluffy and a good contrast.

In experimentation news (aka "must use this damn cream cheese" news), these are also excellent if you substitute the vanilla extract in the cheesecake with some mint extract instead, making mint cheesecake brownies. They are kind of liked the baked-good equivalent of York Peppermint Patties.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Lentil Soup, Now with Heavy Cream

Remember how much I loved the lentil soup with bacon from JoyI made a few weeks ago? I found another soup lentil soup recipe to love: the Cream of Lentil soup from the Daily Soupcookbook. I might even like this soup better, as a good creamy soup on a cold winter's day (well, as cold as it gets in Phoenix - I went running yesterday in shorts and a tank top) ranks way up there on the comfort list. The soup doesn't involve any complicated cooking procedures and is really quite easy; even the fact that I was short a full cup of heavy cream (due to an awesome inability to fully read recipes sometimes) didn't detract from the soup's goodness (and might be a useful thing to know if you're trying to watch your weight).

Why all the lentils lately? They're cheap - a pound of normal lentils will never run you more than a dollar, even at Whole Foods (I think...). I'm frugal. They're really easy to cook in that they don't require any soaking, and cook in less than an hour. They're good for you with plenty of protein and no fat and are high in fiber (as the package of lentils I got from Fresh & Easy boldly proclaimed). They have a long shelf life. They don't make me fart. They might not make you fart. Lentils are good!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Heads Up: New Recipe Search Engine

Thanks to a tip from The Simple Dollar, I discovered my new favorite food site, which is simply a very well-designed (yes, it has a lot of Web 2.0 Ajaxy goodness) recipe search engine: supercook. You could probably figure out how to use it in the time it would take me to write a description, which I'm about to do anyway so you actually click the link and try it: it lets you list everything in your pantry, refrigerator, storage cabinets, larders (I just like that word), etc in a box. Then it polls a bunch of recipe repositories like allrecipes, epicurious, and recipezaar and links to a bunch of recipes you can make with what you already have at home, or what you can make with a select few extra ingredients. This is fantastic for when you're too lazy to go out to the store or just need to find something to whip up quickly. My favorite use for it is having it figure out what I can make with vegetables or meat that's about to expire. It's kind of like the webtender except with food instead of alcohol... and an interface that was built in this century.

I wish supercook had a feature where I could tell it to exclude recipes from certain websites (well, basically almost everything but epicurious), since I have something of a weird complex where I don't trust user-posted recipes from most big repository sites (this mostly has to do with being unable to check them off on a list, which I'll blog about later - yes, weird. mostly just OCD and a bad case of completism), even though they have multitudes of positive reviews.

The other night, supercook pointed me over to a Salmon Fillet with Soy Glaze recipe that I made since it was so mind-bogglingly easy. I simmered equal parts soy sauce and maple syrup (and tossed in some minced garlic and cayenne pepper for good measure), brushed it onto some salmon I got at Trader Joe's a while ago (finally a use for those pastry brushes I picked up for $2 at Target months ago), let it sit for five minutes, brushed it again, and stuck it in the oven for 12 minutes. I nuked a side of Trader Joe's soycatash that had been in my freezer since who knows when, dropped some butter in it. Dinner was done, and it was good.