For someone who writes about food and enjoys cooking, I really don’t own many fancy or specialized kitchen tools. I keep things pretty basic. I do own a Kitchen Aid stand mixer (strange, since I don’t bake) but that was a wedding gift from an aunt. I own a food processor, but I inherited that from a friend after she decided to purchase a fancier one. The only really specialized things I own are my immersion blender and my slow cooker.

Until now.

Readers, I am now the proud owner of a “spiralizer.”

What is a spiralizer, you ask?

A spiralizer is a funny looking gadget with funny looking blades which basically takes any food (namely, fruits and vegetables) you put in it and turns it into long, spiral, noodle-like strands.

That’s it. That’s the only thing this gadget does; it’s totally useless for any other purpose except making spiral-looking food.

Why on Earth would I waste my cash and my pantry space on such a ridiculous piece of equipment? Have I lost my marbles?

Well, the jury’s still out on the marbles, but the reason I felt the need for a spiralizer is so I can make Zoodles.

Yeah.

Zoodles are “noodles” made out of zucchini. I can’t remember where I heard about them, but the purpose of zoodles are to trick yourself into thinking you’re eating pasta when you’re actually eating zucchini ribbons.

P1050673                               ^Zoodles, yo.

 

I know, I know, it’s a stupid idea!

But here’s the thing. When it comes to die-hard, vicious, foam-at-the-mouth cravings, pasta is tops on my list (right next to French fries and guacamole with chips). I love the stuff, I want the stuff, I need the stuff.

My thighs don’t love the stuff so much. Face it, frequent pasta dinners aren’t the best thing for the old figure, especially if, like me, once you start eating a plate of pasta you cannot stop eating it until you’ve just about eaten yourself sick. I fork that stuff down my gullet like a starving mongrel dog. It’s not ladylike, not one bit.

So what’s a pasta-craving girl to do when she’s trying to watch her calories?

She goes online like a fool and orders a spiralizer.

Now, longtime readers take heart–I’m still a pasta eating girl and always will be. Zoodles will never replace noodles, because let’s face it, zucchini ain’t pasta. Even spiralized into noodlish strands, zucchini is, at best, a fairly poor substitute.

I know some die-hard dieters who down an entire plate of zucchini noodles with clam sauce and call it dinner, but that’s not me. What I’m using my spiralizer for is to stretch my plate of pasta farther, so I can eat more of it. Or at least trick myself into believing I’m eating more pasta.

I’m unhappy when I have to limit myself to a mere cup of pasta on my plate. It looks paltry and it feels stingy. Stingy pasta stinks! When I tuck into a plate of linguine, I want abondanza!

So how do I get abondanza without getting enormous in the process? I replace half of the pasta on my plate with Zoodles. I still get my cup of pasta bliss, but I also get an entire extra cup of food on my plate, in Zoodle form.

That’s a pretty good deal.

I’d seen a Zoodle recipe on one of my favorite blogs, White on Rice Couple (you guys do follow Todd and Diane, right? They are amazing photographers and cooks and human beings. I adore them. You really should follow them). Todd and Diane came up with a recipe for pad thai using Zoodles, and it looked delicious (although with their mad photography skills, they could make a plate of poo look tempting).

Asian noodle dishes are among my most favorite things on the planet. In my dreams, I eat huge piles of pad thai and peanut noodles and bun bao. Me lovva my Asian noodles.

Todd and Diane made their pad thai with strictly Zoodles, and I admire their virtuous souls, but I still wanted my noodles. So I adapted their recipe, adding prepped and soaked rice noodles to the stir-fry step of the recipe.

The result was delicious and satisfying and yielded a very generous amount of food on the plate, which made my gluttonous soul happy.

Todd and Diane gave very specific instructions for cooking the Zoodles, and I’m glad they did, because otherwise, the Zoodles would have been watery and less than stellar, so pay attention to their instructions to stir fry the Zoodles and then let them rest in the pan for a few minutes. That resting time allows them to release excess water–and they will. Once they’ve rested, you drain your Zoodles and proceed with the recipe.

Nobody wants soggy Zoodles and diluted sauce, right?

So yes, readers, I am the silly girl who ordered herself a goofy spiralizer thingy because she has a noodle addiction. And a silly preoccupation with the size of her backside. I’m weird and vain and hungry.

And Spiralizing! Everything! Because I hate to waste a new gadget. Look for more whirly, curly, spiral-shaped madness in the future…because it’s coming!**

P1050682      ^messy-looking but delish!

Noodle and Zoodle Pad Thai

serves 2-3

recipe slightly adapted from White on Rice Couple

original recipe here

 

Sauce:

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 tablespoons fish sauce

3 tablespoons ketchup

1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar

1 teaspoon Sriracha or chile garlic sauce

 

Pad Thai:

2 medium or 3 small zucchini

2 ounces pad thai (rice stick) noodles, softened in water for 10-15 minutes and drained

2 tablespoons oil, divided

1/2 pound your favorite protein (I used leftover rotisserie chicken)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 red bell pepper, sliced thinly

3 scallions, sliced

1 beaten egg

2 cups bean sprouts

1/3 cup roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

cilantro or basil, chopped

 

Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

Using a mandoline, vegetable peeler or a spiralizer, make zucchini ribbons. Set aside.

In a bowl of very warm water, soak the rice noodles for 10-15 minutes or until softened. Drain and set aside.

In a large wok or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Add the zucchini noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes or until just crisp-tender. Take the pan off the heat and let noodles sit for about 3 more minutes or until they release some of their excess moisture. Drain the noodles and set aside.

Wipe out the wok or skillet and heat the remaining tablespoon oil. Cook the garlic for a couple of minutes, being careful not to burn it. If using a raw protein like chicken or shrimp, add it and stir fry until just done.

Add bell pepper slices and scallions, cook 2 minutes. Add beaten egg and cook through.

Add zucchini noodles and softened rice noodles and stir fry for a minute or so. Add bean sprouts and the sauce mixture and toss, cooking another minute or two more.

Serve garnished with the peanuts and chopped herbs.

**Feel free to make me feel better by sharing the most ridiculous kitchen gadget you own…

{ 8 comments }

I live in health-obsessed Boulder County, land of the lean, mean, green-smoothie chugging, mountain-bike pedaling, gluten-free folk.  Seriously, it’s kind of nuts. I think I’m the only person in my neighborhood who consumes any and all of the following: gluten, meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, carbs. I consume those things with relish. And…shhh, don’t tell anyone: I don’t even own a Vitamix.

It’s shameful, I know.

I do pay attention to my diet, and I try to eat fairly healthfully, but it’s not a religion. You can’t throw a container of hummus in this county without hitting a vegan. When did food become the enemy?

It didn’t used to be this way.

Growing up, I didn’t really know any vegetarians. The first vegetarian I encountered was after our move from North Dakota to Colorado. Her name was Jan, and she was our next door neighbor. Her daughter was in my fourth grade class and Jan and Mama soon became thick as thieves. I still remember listening to them whisper and laugh in our living room, glasses of iced tea sweating in the afternoon heat. One summer afternoon, the ladies were particularly rowdy and full of mirth, and when I entered the room, they quickly shushed and became slyly secretive. A few days later, I opened a drawer in a living room cabinet and discovered the source of all that giggling: A dog-eared copy of the book The Sensuous Woman.

Even at the tender age of ten, I could tell that The Sensuous Woman was one of those books you read cloak-and-dagger fashion; naturally, I did just that. Armed with my trusty flashlight, I fled to the basement to see what that tempting, well-read tome had in store. Hoo-Boy!! Seriously, ladies? Those women in the late 1970’s had it going on. I came whizzing out of that basement a while later, eyes a-buggin.’

I thought Jan was quite glamorous; she had luxurious red, thick hair and green eyes and was always tanned. She also had the slowest, most God-awful metabolism on the planet. I never saw Jan eat more than a few bites of food. Two bites of a tuna sandwich, a nibble of an apple slice. It boggled my mind–how could she survive on those rations?

One summer she abandoned meat entirely, subsisting on leaden, cardboard-colored pita pockets stuffed with avocado and wild, sprouty stuff that looked like hair. I watched her chew those concoctions slowly, amazed that she could gag them down.

Luckily for the Veggie Vixens of today, we no longer have to eat Bedrock Bread and shit that looks like hair. There are some lovely options out there now for the meat-averse. It’s a wonderful thing. Even I, a card-carrying carnivore, sometimes opt for a plant-based meal, just to lighten things up.

When I do eat a vegetarian meal, I usually turn to beans or chickpeas for my source of protein, because I’ve never really warmed up to tofu or tempeh. And you’ll never get me to try something called Soyrizo. Fake sausage? Whaaa?

But hummus is lovely. Tucked into a wrap with some fresh, grilled vegetables, hummus makes a lovely little lunch.

I’ve been eating a few more meatless meals than usual, because I have a sunny, 3-day getaway planned for mid-February, and the prospect of getting into a swimsuit is a little daunting right now. It’s time to put down the steak knife, at least a few days a week.

This wrap is so tasty and satisfying, though, that I don’t really feel that deprived when I eat it. If you’re looking to lighten things up or if you’re a fan of all things veg, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Bring on the sun and the swimsuit!

 

 

 

 

Hummus and Grilled Vegetable Wrap
serves 4
from Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave

2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick-slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 cup store-bought hummus*
4 pieces whole-wheat wrap bread, about 9 inches in diameter, such as Flatout
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 jarred roasted red bell peppers, drained, rinsed and sliced
2 ounces baby spinach leaves or romaine lettuce leaves (2 cups lightly packed)
1/2 cup red onion, thinly slices into half-moons
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves

Preheat a grill pan over medium heat. Brush both sides of the zucchini slices with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Grill until tender and slightly browned, about 4 minutes per side.

Spread 1/4 cup of the hummus over each piece of bread. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the pine nuts on top. Top with zucchini slices, red peppers, 1/2 cup spinach or romaine, a few onion slices and 1 tablespoon of mint. Roll each of them up and slice on the diagonal.

* You can use any kind of Hummus you like. Personally, I think the Sabra brand hummus kicks everyone else’s ass.

 

{ 13 comments }

Slow-Cooker Ropa Vieja

January 15, 2015

slow cooker ropa vieja

As a native Chicagoan, my Daddy-o is fan of all things sports. Hockey, baseball, football, basketball–you name it–Daddy loves it. When I was young, Daddy would tote me to any game he could score tickets to, so I grew up with sports in my blood. Some sports I liked more than others. Hockey was hoo-boy fun, as was football. Basketball games went by fairly fast, so that was acceptable, but baseball? Pure torture. Let’s face it, watching an entire baseball game is a serious commitment of both time and energy, and as a kid, those games seemed endless. I feel the same way to this day. If you ask me, baseball is SIX innings too long.

Football remains my favorite, probably because that’s Daddy-o’s favorite, too. We didn’t have many football opportunities when we lived in North Dakota, save for a few University of North Dakota games and they stunk, but when we moved to Colorado, things got a lot more interesting. We were in Broncos territory.

For a few years, Daddy and a huge group of co-workers chartered a Greyhound bus on home-game Sundays. Those games were quite the learning experience for a little kid. Attending Broncos games with Daddy taught me a lot–not only about sports but about human nature.

Broncos Sunday festivities always began with Mai-Tai soaked brunches at a dingy Polynesian-themed restaurant named Tommy Wong’s.

Tommy Wong’s served drinks with paper umbrellas and food they’d light on fire–not a bad deal for a kid. I always tried to finagle a seat next to a couple named Rita and Marvin. Rita and Marv were fascinating. Rita wore brazenly false eyelashes, smoked menthol cigarettes and had impossibly long, crimson-lacquered fingernails. She told dirty jokes that I didn’t understand and sneaked me wedges of rum-soaked pineapple from her Hurricane glass, winking slyly. As brunch progressed, Rita’s jokes got dirtier, her laugh grew raspy and Marv would tug on the collar of his shirt, pink-faced.

You’d think that after a warm-up like that, the game itself would be a letdown, but it rarely was. The football was rotten– it was a rough period for the Broncs–and on-field action was downright sloppy. Off-field antics, however, provided top-notch entertainment. Frustrated to the point of blind fury, fans began behaving badly by the second quarter. By game’s end, the spectacle was enough to keep a 3rd grade girl bug-eyed for a week.

There was the gray-bearded man, two aisles down, wallet chained to the back pocket of his jeans, who chewed Red Man tobacco with frightening vigor.  He’d fidget in his seat, spitting brown goo into a cup until, suddenly reaching his limit, he’d lunge to his feet, spittoon in hand, scream “Morton, you fucker!!” and flail his arms around his head, as if he’d wandered into a wasp’s nest.  If the quarterback was having a particularly dismal day, I’d be treated to at least 5 “Morton-you-fuckers” a game.  That was stupendous fun, but I pitied the fans seated in “the spray zone” nearby.

A few rows down, to the left, was the young couple with sunglasses and the colorful pipe, which emitted a sweet and foreign-smelling smoke. They lit the pipe under the cover of a shared blanket and drank hot tea from a thermos.  They were the only ones around us who, by 4th quarter, seemed unbothered by the rants of “Morton-you-fucker” dude.

There was the Barrel Man, a jolly, rotund guy who donned nothing but  cowboy boots and a blue and orange-hued barrel, no matter the weather. My dad looked at him in disbelief in November and December. “That guy has anti-freeze in his veins,” he’d say, shoving gloves onto his red fingers.

My favorite, for obvious reasons, was The Mooner. The Mooner wasn’t on our Greyhound, but he was on another chartered bus parked in the same lot.  If the Broncos’ loss had been particularly painful, Moon-Man would treat our entire bus to a view of his blanco, fuzzy rear end, flattened against the bus window as it passed.  On warm Autumn afternoons, he’d lower the window down, so we could appreciate his gesture in unadulterated form.  Daddy would pat my shoulder, chuckle softly and say, “Well, your mother doesn’t need to hear about that, wouldn’t you say?”

Those years are cherished little nuggets in my memory.

Now that I’m an old married lady, I prefer to watch football in the warmth and relative safety of my own home. The most exotic I’ll get nowadays is a trip to the sports bar to watch the game.

This past Sunday, hubby and I compromised: we got some excitement and local color at our  neighborhood sports bar, but we left after the first half, before things got really sloppy and beer-soaked. It was a win-win situation–my husband got the bar snacks and the camaraderie of watching the game with a crowd, and I got to retreat after a while to my own comfy nest.

Alas, our beloved Broncos played like…donkeys. It was a little disappointing, but we licked our wounds and moved on, and by Super Bowl Sunday, we might even be recovered enough to invite some friends over for the big game.

Most of the time, when I’m feeding people for the Super Bowl, I’ll make a few big pots of different kinds of chili: Texas red, White chicken, Black bean. Served with a pan of cornbread and some guacamole and chips, it’s a crowd pleaser. But this year, I think I’ll load up my slow cooker and make a big batch of Ropa Vieja. Ropa Vieja literally means “old/ragged clothes,” probably because the meat gets so melty and tender that it’s reduced to shreds. It’s absolutely delicious on its own, served alongside some beans and rice, but I love to tuck my ropa into warm corn tortillas, top it with salsa, avocado and some soft queso fresco and a squeeze of lime. In the past, I’ve braised the ropa vieja in the oven, but I was eager to try out the recipe I found in my new Christmas slow-cooker tome.

I made the recipe exactly according to directions, and the meat was tender and yummy, but the dish just didn’t have enough heat/spice for me as written. I like some zing to my ropa, so I tinkered with the recipe until I got the flavors I was looking for. If you like things mild, feel free to leave out the jalapenos and the Ancho chile powder. You can also add those elements but downsize the measurements.slow cooker ropa vieja 2

 

Don’t skip the cider vinegar! I know it sounds weird, but somehow it balances things out nicely. It doesn’t make things puckery but it does add a brightness to the sauce that I wouldn’t leave out.

However you decide to serve it, I encourage you to give this one a try. I made my ropa the day before I planned to serve it and in general, I do that with most of my slow-cooker meals. I think an overnight nap in the refrigerator improves the flavor markedly.

Wherever your football loyalties may lie, you’ll look like a superstar if you serve this up on the big day.

 

 

 

 

 

Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

serves 6

slightly adapted from William’s-Sonoma Quick Slow Cooker by Kim Laidlaw

 

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 (15-oz) can crushed tomatoes with juice, preferably fire-roasted

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 yellow onion, minced

1 small green pepper, diced

1 small red pepper, diced

1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced (seed them if you want less heat)

3 minced cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons Ancho chile powder

1 tablespoon sugar

kosher salt and ground pepper

3 pounds flank steak, cut into 6 equal pieces

2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced

1/2 cup pitted, sliced green olives

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

 

In the slow cooker, combine broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, green and red bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano and sugar and stir to mix. Season the steak with salt and pepper and add to the pot, nestling them down in the liquid. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours or until the meat is very tender.

 

Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for ten minutes; shred the meat. Skim any fat off of the surface of the sauce with a large spoon. Return the meat to the slow cooker and add the olives, cilantro and vinegar. Mix together and adjust seasonings for salt/pepper. Add hot sauce, if desired. Warm through on the low setting for about 20 minutes.

Serve with rice and black beans or tucked into warm tortillas.

 

 

{ 12 comments }

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