Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blogging Thoughts and Potato Salad

I've now been blogging for 3.5 months and I'm thoroughly enjoying it! I've been working on my photography and feel I'm improving (disclaimer: pictures on this post were taken a while ago!) As part of improving my photography, I was shopping with my mother and picked up a variety of plates and textured backgrounds. My <unbiased> mother informed me that she thought my photos were fine, but I thought they needed improvement in order to make a successful blog. Then she asked why I needed a successful blog. Wow! What a question! Umm... I guess because I'm passionate about food and cooking and would like to share with others. (Eventually, a cookbook deal or sponsorship would be nice, too.)

My current food philosophy has changed my life dramatically. I used to have stiff joints every morning. Now stiff joints are a rare occurrence. It's amazing to me that a change so simple as the food you eat can make such a dramatic difference in your life. But, I guess that's why they say you are what you eat.

So, what am I getting out of this blog? My writing has improved. I'm beating the stereotype about engineers and writing! Maybe all engineers should blog...

I'm also pretty excited about having had almost 2,500 hits (granted, over 500 are from this post.)

What does the future hold? More posts, more recipes, more gadget reviews, more menus, and more Engineering Desserts. I've also started a Facebook page and Twitter account. (Links to like/follow are on the right.)

Today I'm sharing my potato salad recipe. My mom used to make a potato salad that marinated in a vinaigrette first and then the mayo was added. We would sneak pieces of potato before she put the mayo in, so she stopped adding the mayo altogether! There are a variety of ways to make it by changing the vinaigrette, but this version is my favorite.

Potato Salad
Serves 4

  • 4 to 6 large new potatoes (or other type)
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp brown rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp mustard
  • 1/2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/4 tsp sage
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Slice potatoes into bite sizes pieces. I will typically cut into quarters lengthwise and then 1/4" slices.
  2. Cook potatoes in boiling water until easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, cook potatoes in a pressure cooker. It takes about 3 minutes in mine at 10 psi.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, mix the remaining ingredients together to form a vinaigrette. I use a jar so I can shake it, but a bowl and whisk work, too.
  4. Drain potatoes in a colander.
  5. Transfer potatoes to a bowl and stir in vinaigrette while the potatoes are still warm. You won't necessarily need all the vinaigrette, based on the number of potatoes.
  6. Serve warm, room temperature, or cold.
Note: The potatoes can be cut the night before. Place sliced potatoes in a container and fill with water to cover the potatoes. Store in the refrigerator. Drain and cook. The vinaigrette can also be made the night before, just bring to room temperature and give it a good shake before dressing the potatoes.

This recipe has been shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs' Wellness Weekend, and Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Fridays.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cold Weather = Comfort Food

Wow has it been cold here! The high has been 20°F the last few days (yes, I realize that this is significantly warmer than other parts of the country!) I have been persistently cold which makes me want comfort food: soup, sloppy joes, hot chocolate...

Food was an integral part of my upbringing. My mom is a great cook and she prepared quality, homemade meals almost every night (though I totally understand now why she kept fish sticks and tater tots in the freezer for those nights!) All three of us girls were encouraged to help with meal prep and she even had us each make dinner one night a week for a while. She would help us pick a recipe and figure out what needed to go on the grocery list -- a good skill to learn (thanks, Mom!)

By the time I was in my last three years of high school I made some of the weeknight meals. My parents had their own business and would get home just in time for dinner, my oldest sister was away at college, and my middle sister was going to college locally and rarely made it home in time for dinner. I enjoyed cooking, though, so it wasn't really a chore.

Since I enjoyed cooking I decided to focus on it for my Girl Scout Gold Award project. I created a cookbook for a local food pantry. The cookbook was based on easy, inexpensive meals that used a lot of the staple ingredients at the food pantry. I sent letters out to family and friends asking for recipes and put together a decent cookbook.  I still have a copy of it and use it mainly for the comfort food recipes.

My comfort foods growing up were beef stew, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, sloppy joes, and something we called goulash. Today I only really make the meatloaf and sloppy joes; a result of my changed food "philosophy" (I refuse to call it a diet.) It will be interesting to hear my son's comfort food selections years from now; if I had to guess they're Cuban-style black beans with brown rice, Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with basmati rice, and sloppy joes.

My family's sloppy joe recipe is delicious and easy. You can have it on the table in 20 to 25 minutes, or make it the night before and reheat it! I have no clue where it came from, but is likely a tweaked version from one of my mom's older cookbooks. Enjoy!

Sloppy Joes
serves 4
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground beef, ground turkey, ground bison, or Quorn grounds
  • 1/2 c ketchup
  • 1/2 c chili sauce (Organicville makes a HFCS-free version)
  • 2 Tbsp sucanat or palm sugar (the original recipe called for brown sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp vinegar (we've always used white, but others would be good)
  • bread of choice (Scrumptious Sandwich Bread from Alana Amsterdam's The Gluten-Free Almond Flour Cookbook for me, potato rolls for everyone else)
  1. Saute onion in oil over medium until translucent.
  2. (Skip this step if using Quorn or another vegan meat substitute.) Add meat to pan and brown. Drain excess liquid.
  3. Meanwhile, mix the remaining ingredients for the sauce. (I like to use a 2 c liquid measuring cup and measure the ketchup and chili sauce directly in it, then add the other stuff.)
  4. Mix the sauce into the meat mixture. (If using a vegan substitute, pour the sauce in with the onions and then add the meat substitute.)
  5. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes then serve over your choice of bread. I typically reduce the heat to medium-low to keep it at a simmer.

This recipe has been shared on Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Fridays and The Daily Dietribe's 5 Ingredient Mondays.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mindfulness and The Week Ahead... 1/21/13

I received the two cookbooks by Alissa Sergersten and Tom Malterre for Christmas this year. If you're not familiar with them, they have a blog called The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen over at Anyway, I've been reading through their first book called The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook and found this great quote on page 42, "Enjoy the entire process of meal preparation including shopping for, preparing, eating, and cleaning up afterwards. Every meal is a celebration of life, the seasons, and rhythms of nature. Enjoy being alive and having the opportunity to eat!" This is actually an excellent goal. I like preparing and eating, but am not too keen on shopping and cleaning. I think I will strive to be more mindful of the whole process in the weeks to come! Here is a menu that I enjoyed creating and shopping for, especially since it is an easy week!

Menu for the week of January 21, 2013

Monday: leftovers
  • make Scrumptious Sandwich Bread (source)
Tuesday: Curried Spinach and Chickpeas with rice (sweet potato for me)
  • prep sloppy joes
Wednesday: sloppy joes, wilted chard
  • soak quinoa
Thursday: leftovers
  • cook quinoa, prep cakes
Friday: Spinach Quinoa Socca Cakes, roasted cauliflower

Saturday: out for my husband's birthday!

Thursday, January 17, 2013


I've always told myself that I'd write on my blog how I was feeling. And, today I'm doing it, even though it's not bouncy and cheery, it's what's inside of me, needing to be expressed.

This week has been rough. An extended (by marriage) relative's father has passed away at way too young an age. The relative is about the same age I was when my father passed away. I remember those first few days and thinking of all the moments we would all miss with my father... him never getting to hold my child, not getting to walk my sisters down the aisle on their wedding days, not getting to celebrate the next big wedding anniversary with my mom, not getting to enjoy retirement and do all those things he'd planned to do. Then there were the feelings of concern for my mother. How was she going to handle it? They'd been married for so long that it would be difficult to not have him there. I remember the pain and hurt that came from deep within and kept me crying off and on for days... weeks. I still carry that pain and hurt with me. It aches right now thinking that someone I know and love has to go through the same thing.

But, it gets better, slowly but surely. The pain subsides. The thoughts are of happy memories instead. Like when it was my turn to go motorcycle camping with my father and we came back from the evening park ranger's program to find a skunk in our campsite. That was the first time I saw the Milky Way. Or the Halloween when he rigged up a ghost to fly in front of kids as they came up the front walkway. Or Halloween of 2003 when he set this up in the front yard:

There are so many things he taught me: how to change out faucets, change the oil in my car, rotate my tires, plumbing projects with PVC pipe, the basics of HVAC, patch a gypsum board wall, paint, plant bushes and shrubs, drain a pool (or any liquid) by siphoning it out, drive, and, most importantly, be a good person and care about others.

I remember watching the Jerry Lewis MDA telethon one year and deciding I wanted to make a donation. My father said it was a great idea and that he wanted to give money, too. So, we got on the phone together and he gave me his credit card and made me do all the talking. That was one of his lessons in being a good person and caring about others.

I could go on and on about my father, but the bottom line is his memory lives on and, though I'd rather have him here with me, I'll take the memories.

And what about all the things he's missed? Well, I swear he's here sometimes with my son, especially when he was an infant. My oldest sister had our uncle, my dad's brother, walk her down the aisle. My middle sister had an aisle-less ceremony in a gazebo. My mother took the entire family on an Alaskan cruise to celebrate what would have been their 40th wedding anniversary. And, my mom just retired and is spending his social security and retirement funds and planning what she'd like to do in her retirement.

And, how's my mom doing? Though I'm sure she'd rather have him here, too, she's doing awesome! She has a busier social calendar than I do. She sold the "family home" two years ago and moved to a condo. She's living life to the fullest.

And, now to today's recipe. I'm not sure how much my father would enjoy it, but we sure do :-)

If you've never had halloumi before it's an interesting cheese. It has a high melting point so it can be fried and grilled but still maintain its shape. It's slightly briny and squeaks a bit in your teeth. I love it. The Wikipedia article is pretty interesting.

Halloumi Quinoa
Serves 4
total time: about 45 minutes

  • 1 c quinoa (I mix brown and white together and also soak mine overnight)
  • 1 package frozen butternut squash
  • 2 c water
  • pinch salt
  • dash of thyme
  • splash of olive oil
  • 1 package halloumi cheese (vegan alternative: I haven't tried it because I can't do soy anymore, but it seems like tempeh would be a good substitute or this), slice 1/4" thick
  • 1/2 c (approximately) frozen peas
  1. If you have a rice cooker, put quinoa, squash, water, salt, thyme and olive oil in it, turn it on, and wait for it to finish. If you don't have a rice cooker, put the quinoa, squash, water, salt, thyme and olive oil in a pot and cook it according to the package directions.
  2. In a separate saute pan, pan-fry the halloumi over medium heat (there's no need to add oil.) Depending on the brand, it may release a lot of moisture at first, but that will all cook off. Then the halloumi will start to turn a golden color. Turn it over and cook the other side until it becomes golden. Remove from the pan and set on a paper towel to drain. (If using tempeh, I would recommend sauteeing it.)
  3. When the quinoa has finished cooking, stir in the peas. Let it sit for a minute to defrost the peas.
  4. Break up the halloumi and stir into the quinoa. Enjoy!
Pan-fried halloumi

Final product!

This recipe has been shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs' Wellness Weekend, Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Fridays, Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays, and The Daily Dietribe's 5-Ingredient Monday.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Desserts and The Week Ahead... 1/14/13

I learned one thing from my last post... people like dessert! The post had over 100 hits the first day and will soon be the most popular post on my blog. I guess I should work up some more dessert recipes :-) I, too, love desserts. My Pinterest dessert board has almost double the pins of the next most popular board!

I distinctly remember making my first cake when I was 9 years old. It was a fudge swirl cake from a boxed mix with chocolate frosting from a can. The thought of a boxed cake is appalling to me now (and, likely to my mother as well.) Boxed cake mixes left our house when I was in high school. (Don't get the wrong impression, we did always make cakes from scratch, but we also used mixes.)

My mom taught me the art of making pies when I was in college. I can't find it now, but there's a picture of me with the first pie I made without my mother's help. It was in my college apartment and was a peach pie with a lattice crust.

Over the last few years I've made countless desserts for family gatherings. Now, I find it harder because gluten free desserts don't always taste the way I want them to and I don't have excess time to bake without a special occasion. I've starting to rely on pies more because I have a crust that works well and changing the filling makes it different. Maybe when I retire I can focus on baking :-)

Menu for the Week of January 14, 2013

Monday: huevos rancheros (using leftover cuban-style beans from last week)
  • prep Tuesday's dinner
Tuesday: Sweet Potato Foil Packet Tacos

Wednesday: quinoa with stuff
  • prep layer salad
Thursday: layer salad

Friday: hot dogs, baked beans, salad (we didn't get to this meal last week)

Saturday: Slow Cooker Vegetarian Greek Lentil Soup with Tomatoes, Spinach, and Feta

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Engineering Dessert: 5 Minute Chocolate Chip Cookie (grain free)

So, a few weeks ago a friend of mine pinned this:

I wanted one. Immediately. I don't usually like chocolate chip cookies. It must have been one of those days!

The referenced blog no longer works, but someone had been nice enough to include the original recipe in the pin comment. On a whim, I made the recipe, switching almond flour for the all purpose. The result: decent, but WAY too sweet for my refined-sugar-free taste buds. Also, it's a bit annoying to have to separate an egg for such an otherwise simple recipe, and then you're stuck with an egg white.

Since then, I've been playing around with the recipe. Let me tell you, this has been hard work! It's rough having to eat a warm chocolate chip cookie every night in the name of science...

I finally got it to a place where I thought it tasted good, so I tried a shortcut. I still liked it, but my husband declared it "grainy". YIKES! That's no good! So, I tweaked it a little more, but have determined that the short cut just won't work. It can still be made in about 5 minutes, so the shortcut was a bit uncalled for.

And now I present Happiness in Five Minutes!

5 Minute Chocolate Chip Cookie
Serves 1
  • 1/2 tbsp butter (I use Earth Balance Buttery Spread)
  • 1 tbsp coconut palm sugar
  • 5 drops vanilla stevia
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 c (or 4 tbsp if you don't like creating excess dishes) almond flour
  • 1 tbsp (heaping) chocolate chips
  1. Melt butter in a ramekin or mug. (It takes about 30 seconds in my microwave.)
  2. Stir the sugar into the melted butter until well mixed. (This is the important step that impacts the texture.)
  3. Mix in stevia, baking soda, and almond flour.
  4. Stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Microwave for 45-60 seconds. (It takes 60 seconds in my microwave.)
  6. The hardest part... let sit for about a minute before enjoying!

This recipe has been shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs' Wellness Weekend, Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays, Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Fridays, and The Daily Dietribe's 5-Ingredient Mondays.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Favorite Things (Snacks) and The Week Ahead... 1/7/13

I've been wanting to share a few of my favorite snack foods, and since I'm having a bit of a writer's block, it seems appropriate for today's post!

Menu for the Week of January 7, 2012

  • prep batter for Monday night
Monday: Spinach Quinoa Socca Cakes, roasted cauliflower
Tuesday: chicken quesadillas, salad
  • prep beans and butternut squash
Wednesday: rice (sweet potato for me) and Cuban style beans (source) with avocado and tomato
  • prep sauce and assemble enchiladas
Thursday: Butternut Squash and Pinto Bean Enchiladas (source)

Friday: hot dogs and baked beans, salad

Saturday: I'm having a party and I haven't planned food yet, but I know these will be on the menu!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hello 2013!

Welcome to 2013! I hope everyone enjoyed their holidays and was able to spend time with family and friends. I hosted a lovely Christmas dinner that was all gluten free. One of my aunts is also gluten free, so we both enjoyed being able to eat everything!

My oldest sister and I made all the food, including a crown roast of pork with gluten free stuffing and gravy. We also had creamed pearl onions (made with goat's butter and milk), farmer's salad (a layered salad), and King's Arms Tavern (Williamsburg, VA) Sweet Potato Casserole, all of which are holiday staples in my family. We had cherry pie, and a new recipe that my oldest sister wanted to try, cranberry meringue pie. Whipped cream and whipped coconut cream rounded out the menu. The food was delicious and the entire day was lovely.

I gave up on making new year's resolutions years ago. I have always failed at them so I've decided to not even try anymore. That being said, after all the parties of the season, I am feeling a bit weighed down and eating simply and whole always makes me feel better. This is a great recipe if you're feeling the same way. It is something my gluten free aunt made over the summer while we were visiting and we've eaten it several times since then. This dish is simple, filling, and yummy. And, it saves for several days (although my aunt warned me to not save it with the sunflower seeds on it.)

Kale Salad
Serves 4
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 avocado, rough chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 c raw brown rice, cooked
  • sunflower seeds, whole or ground
  1. Remove the kale stems and cut into 1/2" strips.
  2. Massage the kale with avocado and lemon juice with your hands until the kale has broken down, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve over brown rice with sunflower seeds on top.
This recipe was shared on Diet, Dessert and Dogs' Wellness Weekend, Vegetarian Mamma's Gluten Free Fridays, and Allergy Free Alaska's Whole Food Fridays!