Quick and Simple Recipe: Meditteranean-Style Bulgur Wheat Salad (AKA Not Tabbouleh)

I didn’t make tabbouleh this weekend.

I made a salad that tastes a whole lot like tabbouleh. And it looks…a little bit like tabbouleh. But it’s not tabbouleh, in the truest most traditional sense. And I’m okay with that.

Start with bulgur wheat, cooked. I get mine from the bulk bins at my local grocery store. Cook 1 cup of bulgur in 2 cups of water at a low simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Set aside and let cool.

Now get to chopping. Seed and dice 1/2 english (hothouse) cucumber, finely dice one half a red onion, dice 4 plum tomatoes, mince 2 cloves of garlic, and finely chop a large bunch of italian parsley.

Toss all vegetables with the bulgur, dress with 2 TB olive oil, the juice of two lemons, and season with salt and pepper. Serve as is.

Or throw tradition totally out the window and top with a little crumbled feta cheese.

Because who doesn’t like a little culinary anarchy every now and then?

Meditteranean Style Bulgur Wheat Salad

  • 1 cup bulgur, cooked
  • 1/2 english cucumber, seeded, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bunch of parsley, chopped fine
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • crumbled feta, optional

Cook bulgur according to directions. Set aside and let cool. Add all vegetables, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir together and refrigerate for a few hours to let flavors combine. Top with crumbled feta (if desired) and serve.

That Long-Overdue Oscar Party Post

So this post has been…a little delayed, but I still wanted to talk about my Oscar party, because a friend of mine took such nice photos for me and it seems such a shame not to share them.

See? Thanks, dude. You’re my official party photographer from now on.

This is about the fourth or fifth year that I’ve hosted an Oscar party, and it is hands down my favorite to plan. I’m always trying to make or do something different than the year before, and this year was no exception. I tend to go with finger foods for my Oscar parties — just a tad more upscale than your run of the mill chicken fingers and pigs in a blanket. Not like caviar or foie gras on toast points, but something different and fun. Another factor this year was the necessity for a few make-ahead dishes. Thanks to an overnight shift at Job 2 the night before, I made a conscious effort to cut down on the amount of work I would need to do on the actual day. It’s smart to do this any time you’re entertaining, but it was a necessity for me this time around.

For my “main” offering, I (with the help of my friend Sara via text), came up with Mediterranean style sliders with all the fixings.

I used regular ground beef for the patties, adding garlic, onion, parsley, montreal steak seasoning, and some traditional kufta spices — allspice, coriander, and a tiny bit of cardamom and cinnamon. I served the sliders with mini pita rounds (OMG SO CUTE), and toppings like sliced plum tomatoes, caramelized onions, homemade tzaziki sauce, store bought harissa, and some homemade dakkous, a mild spiced tomato sauce, so kindly made by Sara. (Side note: I also had some crumbled feta to go with these, but totally forgot to put it out when the time came. We didn’t miss it.)

These were fun and super tasty and I will be making a regular burger sized version of them this coming summer, you mark my words.

My next offering was a tasty nibble I found via Pinterest, these sweet and spicy chicken/bacon bites. Diced chicken, wrapped in bacon, rolled in a brown sugar/spice mixture and baked. Easy to assemble, a great make-ahead option (I would not roll them in the spices until you’re ready to bake though), and just damn delicious. A hit all around.

I might need these again soon. For the protein, you know.

Because I can’t host a party without something on top of a slice of baguette, I threw together these crostini with sun-dried tomato jam and herbed goat cheese, an old favorite of mine. The tomato jam is better when you make it a few days ahead of time, and all you have to do to serve is toast the bread slices, stir a little fresh thyme into softened goat cheese and have at it.

I assembled mine a little differently than Giada did hers, but I won’t tell if you won’t.

Not pictured: Requisite crudite tray, because vegetables are boring. 

One thing I’ve started to do when entertaining is to offer a signature cocktail. Instead of assembling a full bar (which, let’s be real, my tiny kitchen is not equipped for), I serve just one main drink alongside a couple basic spirits, beer, or wine. This time around I crafted a pear sangria, made from pear juice, white wine, and a touch of St. Germaine. Fresh sliced pear to garnish.

Boozy! Careful with that one, it’s dangerous.

Along with our savory finger foods, I also served up some small(ish) desserts to finish up the evening. The first, which there’s no photos of because they were the last thing I served and we were all stuffing our faces full of sliders and bacon wrapped chicken deliciousness at that point, were my peanut butter tandy cakes. Always a hit.

Next were some white chocolate dipped strawberries. Simple, pretty, and…healthy? Mer. Maybe a little.

Also cute.

My final dessert was the result of seeing something on Pinterest and adapting it to suit my own cravings. I saw these mini cheesecake cookie cups and thought they would be perfect, but at the time I was planning this shindig I was craving lime. Specifically, key lime…anything. So I nixed the cherry pie filling from the original recipe, whipped up some key lime curd instead, and voila. Key lime cheesecake cookie cups. Big name. Tiny dessert. Freaking YUM.

Seriously, these might warrant a post of their own in the future.

Until then, I am working on ideas for my next party. Which is next week, so I might post about it by September.

“So, Like…What Do You Actually *Eat*?”

If you only knew how often I’ve been asked that question since having my surgery last year. And the answer is, honestly, anything I want. Within reason of course. I try to focus on protein and healthier options, obviously, but there have been days where I’ve…made less than stellar choices. I have binged on snacks, both salty and sweet, and there was that one time I was leaving Job 1, headed to Job 2 and *needed* a quick lunch so I said to hell with it and got a double cheeseburger, and boy howdy, did I pay the price. Dearly.

I’ve decided to – occasionally – start sharing my daily intake, A sort of “Day in My Pouch” type of deal – should anyone who is considering having a VSG stumble upon this here blog and wonder exactly how much and what type of food someone a year out of surgery can eat – well, here you go.

Coffee, 7:15 am: I was scheduled at our new scanner in the Allentown office today, so I brought my coffee from home instead of making it at work. One coffee, three Splendas, fat free half and half (Yes, I KNOW. Save the lecture, naturalists. I like it.) Pre-surgery I was a two or three cup a day person, but now a second cup is rare for me – maybe on Mondays, or I’ll have a cup of this chai tea in the afternoon if I want to warm up. I stick with water all day (I shoot for 8-9 glasses, but it doesn’t always happen), and will have the occasional diet iced tea at home.

Breakfast, 9:45 am:

1/2 cup Fage 0% fat greek yogurt, 1/4 cup Bear Naked Honey Almond Protein Granola

Greek yogurt is my usual breakfast. On my days off I’ll do scrambled eggs and candian bacon. Yogurt is much easier for work days, especially if I do a little food prep on Sundays – then it’s just grab and go in the morning. On work days I tend to eat breakfast late, even though I’m not “supposed” to. I find myself more snacky in the afternoon at work, so lately I’ve been saving my snacks for between lunch and dinner, lest I go trolling for mozzarella sticks from the hospital kitchen at 4 in the afternoon.

I’ve learned that my stomach can’t tolerate some foods as well as it used to, and since those foods are the majority of what I’m not “supposed” to be eating anyway, it’s easier just to cut them out of my life entirely. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t still bake. I do. I made cookies and macarons aplenty this past holiday season, and I’ll be damned if anyone else is going to make birthday cupcakes for my coworkers. Do I still partake of these goodies? Of course. Just much much less than I used to. If I bake a batch of cupcakes, I’ll have one. I log it in MyFitnessPal that day, and I’ll try to atone for it the rest of the week.

Lunch, 12 pm:

1 Arrow Everything Flatbread with 2 oz. Wegmans Honey Roasted Turkey and 1/2 oz. Adams Reserve White Cheddar Cheese and dijon mustard, 1 oz. Good Health Veggie Stix snacks (from the vending machine at work). 

These flatbreads are good but I’m rethinking using them regularly – I might switch it up and do lettuce wraps for lunch instead of sandwiches. I don’t usually do snacks with lunch but I was craving something crunchy today. I could have stopped after half the bag, however – I was pretty full after this. Another thing I’m still actively learning – head hunger vs. actual hunger, or Just Because It’s There Doesn’t Mean You Need To Eat It. Jennifer.

I’ve struggled, absolutely. I’m in the midst of a plateau I’ve been experiencing since mid-January. Am I giving up? Absolutely not. I’m re-evaluating my habits, making meal plans, making sure I get my water and exercise (even just a little) in, and I. Keep. Going. I did not go through this surgery to lose 90 pounds and stop. I’m not getting complacent. Complacency is what got me where I was in the first place.

Snack 1, 2:30 pm:

 Blue Diamond Toasted Coconut Oven Roasted Almonds, 28 pieces. 

Almonds are another go-to for me, especially the different flavored ones that are available now. These are super tasty.  

Snack 2, 5:15 pm: 

1 Bartlett pear, 1 Cabot Seriously Sharp white cheddar cheese stick. 

This was a little late for my second snack due to a shit storm at work, but I think in the future I might try to keep it as such, so I’m not wolfing down dinner as soon as I walk through the door — which usually results in me snacking the rest of the night away at home.

Dinner, 7:45 pm: 

1/2 cup homemade turkey chili with fixings.  A little heavier than my other meals, but it’s rich and satisfying, perfect for the cold and snowy week we’ve been having. I had been craving chili for a while so I made a pot on Sunday and it should last me through Saturday. And yes, that is full fat sour cream and shredded cheese. Since I’m only using a little I figured the splurge was worth it.

Snack 3, 9:30 pm: 

Dole dark chocolate banana Dippers, 1 pack. These were a welcome discovery at my local BJ’s – just that perfect sweet little bite before bed.

I’m usually in bed by 10, so this will be the last thing I eat tonight. Late night mindless eating is definitely a problem for me – especially the Saturday nights I work at Job 2. I’ll buy one or two healthy snacks at the local Wawa before I go in and I try not to keep cash on me so I don’t hit the vending machines. Drinking a lot of water helps, too.

So there you have it. A day in the life of my surgically-altered tummy. Next week? Who knows, maybe I’ll show you how I put on my socks. You should be so lucky.

My Weekend Project

In the day-to-day minutiae that has become my post-operative diet, I do get the occasional craving for a certain food or meal. I try to stay as vigilant as possible, but I’m not averse to treating myself to something tasty from time to time. This weekend was one of those times, and I blame Jon Favreau. Last week I watched the movie Chef on Netflix, forgetting just how much food porn was involved. If you haven’t seen Chef, you should. It’s totally funny and adorable, and one of my favorite movies of 2014. The soundtrack is pretty swinging, too. But the best part about the movie? The Cubanos.

Have you ever had a Cubano? It’s a hot pressed sandwich brought to the states by Cuban immigrants in Florida. It’s a soft fluffy roll, spread with good old yellow mustard and stuffed full with roasted pork, deli ham, swiss cheese, and pickles, and traditionally toasted on a flattop grill, or a plancha. It’s heaven on a bun, and damn it, I wanted one this week. So, while I was avoiding the arctic tundra outside, I set to making Cubano magic this weekend.

We start with a mojo (mo-hoe), or citrus marinade for the pork roast. Zest one grapefruit, two oranges, and two limes, juice all the fruit, and toss it all with the pork roast along with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Allow to marinate for about 25-30 minutes. Truss pork shoulder with string (or do like I didn’t and leave it in the string it comes in, silly goose), sprinkle all over with Goya Adobo seasoning, and spread minced garlic over the top (I honestly prefer the jarred garlic for this). Roast at 400 for an hour and a half to two hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the middle of the roast reads 140-145 degrees (or however done you prefer your pork).

Cover with foil and allow to rest. Slice thinly and set aside. The pork can be made ahead of time – you can even make this as a main dish and use the leftovers when you’re in the mood for Cubano goodness.

Mmm, pork. Porky pork pork.

Now, time to make the sandwiches! Grab your other ingredients. 

Sliced deli ham, deli swiss cheese, mayonnaise, yellow mustard, sliced dill pickles, and a soft roll. I used small club rolls to keep the sandwiches surgically-altered-stomach-friendly, but any soft roll will do.

Cubanos assemble! Spread each side of the roll with mayo and mustard, and layer the pork, ham, pickle, and cheese from bottom to top. Top with remaining half of roll. (Note: I heat the roasted pork and ham in a pan slightly before assembling, to make sure the sandwich is warm all the way through.)

Now, heat up your grill, griddle, or pan. I used my good old panini press. If you have a press with flat plates use that instead. If you don’t have a sandwich press, you can make these between two pans, using a couple large cans to weigh the top pan down. Spread the outside of the sandwich with some softened butter (I KNOW. You can skip this, but your bread might not be as toasty good as one would like.), and press on the grill until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted and gooey.

Yum.

Slice in half and serve your new favorite sandwich.

Cubano Sandwiches

  • 3 lb Pork Shoulder Roast
  • 1 grapefruit
  • 2 limes
  • 2 oranges
  • 4 TB olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 2 tsp Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 2 TB jarred minced garlic
  • Soft sliced rolls
  • Sliced deli ham
  • Sliced domestic swiss cheese
  • Sliced dill pickles
  • Mayonnaise
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Softened butter for toasting

Place pork roast in large bowl. Zest all fruit and set aside. Juice fruit and pour into bowl with pork and toss with zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Truss pork and place on roasting pan. Sprinkle Adobo all over roast. Spread minced garlic on top of pork and roast in oven at 400 degrees until a meat thermometer inserted in the middle of the roast reads approximately 140 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest. Slice thinly and set aside.

Heat a slice of pork and ham each in a small pan until warmed through and slightly browned. Spread mayonnaise, then mustard over each half of roll, top bottom half with pork, ham, pickle, and cheese, and top half of roll. Spread softened butter on outside of roll and toast sandwich on a panini press or sandwich grill for 3-5 minutes until the roll is toasted and cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

Eccentric Feline Female.

It’s been a couple months since I’ve posted, again. I blame myself.

The holidays came and went. I spent time with family and friends. I cooked and baked and partied and celebrated and I am ridiculously glad they’re over. Holidays are fun and all but they’re also exhausting as shit.

Having two cats in the house with a Christmas tree and all my other decorations was a real experience. The first night was an experiment in “What the hell is rolling around on the floor NOW?”, followed quickly by “Cats stay in the basement whenever mom’s not home or asleep,” so that was a trial. I felt bad for doing it but I ultimately slept better knowing things weren’t being knocked over and batted around the living room. Besides, it was only for three weeks. I took all my decorations down New Year’s Day, mostly because I was tired of looking at everything and the tree was dropping needles every time I breathed near it, but also because I was missing my morning snuggles with the boys.

Ugh, I’ve become one of those cat people. How did this happen??

Oh, right.

In Case You Missed Me.

The past few months have gone by in such a blur I don’t even know where to start. Let’s get the boring stuff out of the way first.

I definitely worked too much. Between extended hours at Job One and almost every Saturday night shift at Job Two, I hardly had any time to myself from June til September. The extended hour deal at Job One is over but I’m pretty much stuck with the Saturday night thing at Job Two for the foreseeable future, should I want to continue earning that lovely second paycheck. I’ve resigned myself to it, honestly. I do give myself one weekend a month off (sometimes two, depending), but those weekends are usually crammed full of so much awesome I barely have time to breathe. I don’t nearly see my parents as much as I should, and it’s a damn shame, considering all my mom’s health issues this year. They’ve done so much for me I wish I could reciprocate and help them out too. I visit when I’m able and run errands (mostly picking up prescriptions and the like), but it still seems like so little to me.

Daughter guilt is a sonofabitch, I tell you.

Anyway, the Saturday night shifts aren’t always bad. Some nights can be rougher than others, but I don’t exactly work at a Level One Trauma Center, so there is some down time. I leave Sunday mornings, go to Wegmans and get my weekly groceries, go home and nap, and it’s all good. Mondays I might be a little tired and draggy but that’s a price I’m willing to pay for per diem rate work.

Onto more fun news:

I won a trip! Well, okay, not a trip, but I did win a free flight. Round trip, domestic flight from Jet Blue, all thanks to Birchbox. I have until July 2015 to use it. I’m thinking about San Francisco and wine country, probably mid to late spring, depending on the blackout dates and cost. If California doesn’t work out I might just do a few days in New Orleans instead, but no worries, mom, I won’t be trolling for beads.

I became a drag queen fan girl. It all started with this year’s season of RuPaul’s Drag Race. I’d watched the show in the past, but always forgot when it aired so I missed the past couple of seasons. My friend Sara mentioned that this season would be featuring a queen who was called “The Don Rickles of Drag” and I should check her out. I can safely say it wasn’t even ten minutes into the first episode and I was in love with Miss Bianca Del Rio. So glamorous (obviously), so hilarious, and so super sweet in person.

Because, yes, I’ve met her. Twice!

My queen.

That photo was taken after her appearance at Lehigh Valley Pride Fest in August and is probably one of the best photos taken of me in my lifetime. It’s a shame the quality is so poor.

I also met another RuPaul season six alum, Miss Congeniality herself, Ben DeLaCreme.

Me and the fabulous Ben DeLaCreme!

An absolute treasure. Also, hello, there’s my bad side.

I have plans with Sara to see Bianca again later this month in New York, for the first show of her Rolodex of Hate stand up tour. We might have VIP meet and greet passes for that one, I’ll never tell.

I embraced the fact that I need physical activity in my life. Ever since my surgery in January, I knew it was coming. The day I’d have to suck it up and start exercising. I joined the gym all the way back in March but after one or two trips where I felt awkward and out of place I sort of avoided going. My weight was still coming off at a good rate so I talked myself out of not going back. After a few more months, however, it became increasingly obvious that something more was going to have to be done on my part. I started slowly, just walking at my local park a couple times a week. However, in August and September a few times a week turned into a few times a month and I actually saw a one or two pound gain the week of my birthday. Damn it, Cake. Damn it all to hell.

So with a renewed purpose I started walking more and more. Not just at the park, but around the neighborhood too. And when the temperatures started dropping in October I finally dragged my ass back to the gym that I’ve been paying ten bucks a month for. It’s not so bad anymore. I go two or three times a week, hit the treadmill, the bike, or the elliptical, work on my legs or arms, and I’m out in an hour. I can deal with that. Oh, and as of October I’ve lost 85 pounds.

I can definitely deal with that. I’ll talk more about my experiences and struggles post-surgery another time. This late summer/early fall recap has gone on long enough. But not before I tell you the biggest news of all!

I’ve become a mama again. Let me introduce you to the Winchester Brothers, aka Sam and Dean.

They have legs, I swear.

Yes, I decided my house had been too quiet for too long and jumped back into pet ownership. As much as I wanted a dog in my life, however, my schedule just would not allow it, so I went with a more low-maintenance option. I get all the snuggles, and I don’t have to worry about getting home at a certain time. Plus…

Snuggle time.

I mean…

COME ON, WITH THE CUTE.

So, there you have it. I think I kept the bitching the a minimum, right? Maybe next time.

Blueberry-Thyme Lemonade: The Perfect Summer Cocktail

I’m not one of those people that does well at growing things in the dirt. No matter how many times I’ve tried my hand at a patio garden with pots of herbs, tomatoes, or peppers, they all seem fated to die horrible, dry, brown, scraggly deaths. Whether this is due to a lack of skill or, you know, work on my part remains to be seen. Ahem.

Okay, so perhaps I could give a touch more effort on my part to ensure a long healthy life for my little green babies, but I’m already an excellent cook and baker with a sparkling wit and fantastic rack. Adding “good with plants” into the mix just seems unfair to the rest of the human race.

Anyway, lack of luck with gardening notwithstanding, I forged ahead this past weekend and decided to at least have a go at keeping some fresh potted herbs around the patio this summer. So my new “garden” of basil, thyme, mint, flat leaf parsley, and cilantro is currently chilling out on the table out back, and I remain cautiously optimistic that I will be able to enjoy a fresh caprese salad or pico de gallo at least once this summer. I’ve already put them to use in this cocktail, a fresh twist on lemonade that I can’t wait to make again.

Blueberry-Thyme Lemonade 

Makes 1 drink

2-3 TB Fresh Blueberries

2-3 small sprigs fresh thyme

Juice of 2 lemons

1-2 oz. simple syrup (or more to taste, I like my drinks a little on the sweet side)

4 oz. flat or sparkling water (or tonic)

1.5 oz Gin (I use Bluecoat, but again, whatever you prefer)

Muddle blueberries and thyme together in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon juice, simple syrup, water, and gin, and stir. Pour over ice, add a slice of fresh lemon, and serve.

This was super tasty, and so refreshing. You could absolutely make this drink with vodka as well, I was just more in a gin mood when I made this one. I never thought about fresh herbs in my homemade cocktails (other than mint, obviously), but if they all taste this good, I might just be a bit more invested in the health of my little patio garden project this summer.