Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day Weekend Recipe-Vegetable Potato Salad

Hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend!
I decided to spent a part of my extra long weekend making another attempt at cooking. This time, my latest concoction was an always popular summertime dish, potato salad.

Potato salad is one food that I never hesitate to indulge myself in whenever I see it as menu item at a restaurant. I've always been strangely addicted to it (my addiction can probably be attributed to the simple fact that potatoes are my favorite veg), and it's a dish that I've always wanted to recreate in my own kitchen. Unfortunately, it's something that I never got around to trying until now. It was perfect timing actually considering that it's an ideal summertime favorite and I was coming across all these articles on how to create the "perfect" potato salad. I finally came across a Delicious looking potato salad recipe in Southern Living. What made it so appealing was that it contained a variety of vegetables aside from the potatoes and it contained less calories. A "lightened" up version of potato salad made my health nut side excited.

Here is the recipe for a veggie potato salad courtesy of Southern Living. You can also find this recipe on (another great site).

2 1/2 pounds baby red potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup whole buttermilk
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise with olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 carrots, grated
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup sliced radishes
1/2 cup steamed, cut fresh green beans
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 garlic clove, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


  • 1. Bring potatoes and salted water to cover to a boil in a large saucepan; reduce heat, and simmer 7 to 10 minutes or until tender. Drain. Place potatoes in a large bowl; sprinkle with vinegar and oil, and toss gently. Cool completely (about 1 hour).

  • 2. Whisk together buttermilk and next 3 ingredients. Stir in carrots and next 6 ingredients; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon buttermilk mixture over potato mixture; toss gently to coat. Cover and chill 1 to 24 hours before serving.

  • As with all my recipes that I've shared with you all, it's relatively easy to make and most of the ingredients are readily available in my kitchen. I decided to exclude the radishes, the celery, and the green beans because I'm not a fan of any of these vegetables. That might have been a mistake because I think having more vegetables in the salad would have given it more flavor. Another problem I noticed with my take on this dish was that it tasted too sour. This might be attributed to the excessive lemon zest that I added. To combat the sour taste, I continued to add more sour cream(I used fat free sour cream instead of reduced fat. Both taste the same though). I think that backfired on me because it made my salad soggy, and I think it lost all of its flavor. One significant ingredient that was missing from this version of potato salad is the eggs. Now, I know eggs are an important ingredient in many foods, but I've always wondered if it was necessary for potato salad. When I was making this, I did wonder if eggs would have made it any better. Overall, my attempt at this recipe was mildly successful. I haven't decided if I'm going to attempt this recipe again. Maybe I'll just continue to enjoy it at my favorite restaurants.

    Here are some restaurants around Birmingham that offer delicious potato salad:
    1) Zoe's Kitchen
    2) Kairos Katering
    3) Kingler's European Bakery and Cafe
    4) Olexa's
    5) Max's Delicatessen

    If anyone has any tips for making a fabulous potato salad, I'd love to hear from you!

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Lunchbox Recipes-Black beans with Saffron Infused Rice

    Almost every Sunday night nowadays, I have a habit of staring blankly into my fridge and my pantry trying to decide what I'm going to eat at work for the next few days. Usually, I try to make something that will last me Monday-Wednesday or just Monday and Tuesday, and then I'll go through the same process of deciding my meals for the rest of the work week. Last week, I made some black bean dip in spirit of Cinco de Mayo. Well, it turns out I had an extra can of black beans sitting in my pantry so I decided why not make a meal out of this again. This time around I decided to make black beans and rice flavored with saffron and other spices that are common in Indian cooking. (Mom would be so proud of me because I'm embracing my heritage).

    Like my other cooking attempts, this recipe is relatively easy to make. It just takes a few extra steps,  but still not at all time-consuming. As usual, I had all these ingredients at my disposal. There are plenty of ways to make this simple dish, but given my usual time crunch and my desire to make things as simple and as quick as possible without compromising the taste of the dish, I left out most of the ingredients.

    For those of you who may not know a lot of saffron, it's a spice commonly used in Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. It may not be an ingredient that you'd typically find in your spice rack. Also, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the market, so some of you may not want to buy it for that reason. The good news is that there is a substitute for saffron although it may not do the dish justice. Turmeric is an alternative to saffron. It still provides the dish with a yellow color, but it is stronger than saffron so use it sparingly.

    1 (16 ounce) package white rice
    1 (15 ounce) cans black beans, divided
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 jalapeno pepper, minced
    1 garlic cloves, minced
    1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
    2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon pepper
    1/4 tablespoon ground cumin
    1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
    Garnishes: additional chopped fresh cilantro

  • Prepare the white rice according to the package directions,using the amount of oil/butter and water as indicated on the package.

  • While the rice is cooking, rinse& drain the black beans in a mesh strainer to remove all the sludgey canning liquid and dump them into a small saucepan.

  •  Pour the entire contents including the onions and  chili peppers,liquid and all,into the same pan with the beans and stir to combine.

  • Cover the saucepan with lid,turn on the heat to low, and let bean mixture heat while the rice cooks, stirring occasionally- it should be ready when the rice is done.

  • When the rice is fully cooked, pour it into a deep, medium sized casserole dish.

  • Pour bean mixture into the center of the rice, leaving a border of the yellow rice peeking out arounds the sides.

  • I did not include tomatoes or onions in my version of this recipe, so you might find this a bit drier. Also, onions and tomatoes add an extra flavor to this dish. This can easily become Pilaf with just a few additonal spices and vegetables. I also skipped the jalepeno because I didn't have any in my house. Skipping the pepper made the dish less spicy. For once, I was actually okay with eating a relatively mild dish.

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    Lunch Box Recipes-Cinco De Mayo Style

    Happy Cinco de Mayo!
    In honor of this day, last night I made an awesome layered spicy black bean dip to enjoy as a late afternoon snack and a possible (actually probable) late night munchies meal that I’ll be sure to have later tonight after the evening’s festivities. I might even eat this for tomorrow’s lunch!
    I came across this recipe on For those of you who haven’t checked out this awesome site, I highly recommend it. Any recipes that you might find in Cooking Light, Southern Living, and so forth can be found on So have a look!
    Like my previous attempts at cooking, this recipe is easy to make and most of the ingredients were readily available in my kitchen, so no extra trips had to be made to the grocery store. For this recipe, I only added one extra ingredient which isn’t necessary. I decided to add a chipotle hot sauce to this because I wanted to kick the spices up a notch. It gave the dip a smoky flavor, but I loved it.
    1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
    1 (16-oz.) jar spicy black bean dip
    1/2 (8-oz.) package shredded Mexican cheese blend
    Toppings: sliced green onions, chopped tomatoes, sliced black olives
    Assorted tortilla and corn chips
    Layer cream cheese, dip, and cheese in a 1-qt. serving dish. Add toppings, and serve with chips.

    Please note the image is from Southern Living. I was so excited to try my recreation of this dish that I forgot to take a picture.

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Lunch Box Recipes: Spicy Ranch Dip

    I know it has been an absurd amount of time since I last updated this blog. Unfortunately, I can't provide a legitimate excuse other than lacking the motivation. Shame on me. As some of you might know, I started working as a temp for a well-known magazine in my hometown back in January (I can't disclose the name due to privacy reasons). While I've been working, I've started bringing my lunch from home as a way of being kind to my bank account and saving my body from eating 2 meals of unhealthy "stuff" to put it nicely. In the beginning, I was eating lots of mac and cheese and fried foods, and frozen meals (organic of course). Now that I've adjusted to my work schedule, I'm finding time to do a little bit more cooking. I'm lucky in that I receive A LOT of food magazines so I don't think I'll ever be short of finding inspiration for cooking ever again.

    Besides looking for healthier alternatives for lunch, I've also started choosing recipes that allow me to use ingredients that I already have in my kitchen, which saves me taking multiple trips to the grocery store just to buy a few random items. I realized that I had some ranch dressing cups (don't worry they hadn't expired) from a recipe that I had tried randomly on some unknown date. I came across a recipe on that was called spicy ranch dressing dip. It looked easy to make and I already had all the ingredients in my kitchen cabinets.

    Here is the recipe for spicy ranch dressing:


    • 1 cup mayonnaise
    • 1 cup buttermilk
    • 3 tablespoons dry ranch salad dressing mix
    • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red bell pepper
    • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
    • 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
    • 1 dash hot pepper sauce 


    1. In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, ranch dressing mix, bell pepper, cilantro, jalapeno pepper and hot pepper sauce. Pulse until blended.
    The first time I tried making this I was a little overenthusiastic with the hot pepper sauce (FYI: I used Choluha hot sauce, but I'm sure any will do). To make it even spicier, I also added crushed red pepper to the recipe. I don't recommend doing this the night before you actually eat it because I think the dressing absorbs the pepper and it makes it spicier than it should be. For the record though, it tasted AMAZING with carrots and organic blue chips.

    Instead of using ranch dressing mix, I used the ready-made ranch dressing. I don't think it really makes much of a difference though. I also used green bell peppers instead of red because that is what I had in my house. I don't think it would really change the flavor if you decided to use a yellow bell pepper.

    This is a recipe that I plan to make more regularly simply because it requires very few ingredients (most already being readily available at home) and it's quick to make. Plus, if you love that feeling of your tongue burning just a bit, then I think this recipe does that as well. Enjoy!

    Thursday, December 9, 2010

    Basil Cream Cheese Bruschetta

    I've decided it was time for me to make another attempt at cooking. Yesterday, I decided to do something more simple and healthier. I've always love eating bruschetta in Italian restaurants, and it always looked easy to make, so I decided why not attempt a homemade version of it.

    Overall, my version of this recipe turned out really pretty well despite substituing a couple of ingredients, forgetting to measure the ingredients, and slightley overbaking the bread. Instead of using French bread, I used multi-grain wheat bread. I have no real explanation as to why I chose to use multi-grain bread other than it was smaller in size. The french bread was almost a foot long, and I didn't want to keep it an additional day. I didn't use "ripe" olives either. Instead, I bought canned black olives with jalapenos because this recipe sounded a bit bland, and I thought the jalapenos would give it a little kick. It turned out to be a good decision! 

    As I mentioned earlier, I completely forgot about measuring the ingredients, so I basically estimated how much onions, olives, cream cheese, and basil should be added as the topping. I blame my absent-minded nature due to the bread. This recipe didn't tell me that you needed to add some olive oil and/or butter to the bread before you broil it. Evidently, this is "common sense" if you are kitchen savvy. In my first attempt at broiling the bread, I literally added one maybe two miniscule drops of olive oil to the bread. I ended up burning the edges of the bread, and the bread was hard as a rock. I realized that I needed to be a bit more generous with the olive oil if I wanted to soften the bread.

    Despite my mishaps, I learned a couple of things from my latest attempt at cooking:

    1) I need to transfer my organizational skills into the kitchen. Before I begin any recipe, I need to have all the ingredients set up and ready to go, so I won't be running around in a flustered state.
    2) I've realized that I need to learn how to properly meausure ingredients simply because it's a useful thing to know. It's   okay to experiment though! You'll be happy to know that I finally bought some meauring cups and spoons. =)
    3) I don't really feel comfortable using knives. Maybe it's because I'm clumsy, and I'm concerned about cutting myself (I have yet to do that though). In the future, I think I'm going to invest in a vegetable chopper like the ones I see on tv.  
    4) I don't recommend making large portions of this unless you are making this for a group of people. I was full after eating 4 slices.

    Here is the recipe for Basil Cream Cheese Bruschetta:
    • 12 slices French bread (1/2 inch thick)
    • 1/2 cup chopped seeded tomato
    • 2 tablespoons chopped green onion
    • 1 tablespoon chopped ripe olives
    • 4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
    • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
    Place bread on an ungreased baking sheet. Broil 6-8 in. from the heat for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the tomato, onion and olives; set aside.
    Combine cream cheese and basil; spread over the untoasted side Yield: 1 dozen.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Thanksgiving Treats

    Over Thanksgiving break, I decided to experiment in baking some yummy treats for my family to enjoy. Initially, I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to bake…cookies, cake, brownies? To help make my decision I turned to the one source that never seems to fail me and always makes me slightly less indecisive, the internet. I started googling Thanksgiving recipes, and I found two recipes that were calling my name. One was maple oat cookies, the other being spiced pumpkin mousse. Sounds intriguing right? =)

    I started with the mousse first. This was actually my second attempt at making mousse. My first attempt at making this classic dessert was not entirely successful. Instead of using measuring cups, I estimated the amount of gelatin that the recipe called for, and my little concoction ended up tasting my rubber. This time around I was determined to get it right.

    Overall, my attempt at this dessert was a success. I still don’t own measuring cups, so I was estimating the ingredients again (yes, I know…shame on me), and I think I might have added to much cream because it initially looked too much like a liquid instead of a mousse. However, I let it chill for about 4 hours, and after removing it from the fridge, I noticed that it had become mousse.
    Here is the recipe for Spiced Pumpkin Mousse (If you like pumpkin pie, then you will probably love this)
    1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/4 teaspoons)1/4 cup cold water1 (15-ounce) can pure pumpkin 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg1/4 teaspoon ground ginger1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 1/4 cups chilled heavy cream
    1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided
    Garnish: ground cinnamon (optional)

    Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small saucepan and let it soften for 1 minute. Bring to a simmer, stirring until gelatin has dissolved. Whisk together gelatin mixture, pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl.
    Beat 1 cup cream with vanilla until it holds soft peaks, then fold into pumpkin mixture

    Spoon about 1/2 cup pumpkin mixture into bottom of each glass. Chill until set
    Beat remaining 1 1/4 cups cream with remaining 1 tsp vanilla until it forms soft peaks.

    While the mousse was chilling in the fridge, I started on the maple oat cookies. Instead of using maple syrup, I substituted it for honey. I think that affected not only the taste of the cookies, but it also hardened the cookies much faster. If you are not a big fan of sweets, then I suggest using honey in this recipe instead of maple syrup. Next time I make these cookies again, I intend to use maple syrup because I have a major sweet tooth! Despite the taste, the cookies were delicious. I also managed to take them out of the oven without burning them (Whenever I bake cookies, I either underbake them or overbake them).
    Here is the recipe for maple oat cookies:
    2 cups rolled oats
    3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons spelt flour
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 cup canola or high-heat sunflower oil
    1/2 cup pure maple syrup
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    Preheat oven to 350°F. Place oats in a medium saucepan and toast over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until oats are slightly golden and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together oil, maple syrup and vanilla until combined. Add maple mixture to oat mixture and stir to combine completely. The dough will be warm. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Gently flatten dough with wet fingers and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool cookies on a wire rack, then store them in an airtight container.