Wednesday, March 28, 2012

5 of My All Time Favorite Recipes

I know I haven't been posting much. Unfortunately, I've had to tighten my budget up and can't really spend money on materials or ingredients for blog posts right now.

Today, I decided to write a blog post about 5 recipes that I have made over and over again. They have become staples in our dinner menu rotation over the past 5 or so years. These are all from - one of my favorite recipe sites.

Links are provided as well as a description of each recipe and the things I have done differently than the original recipe's author.

This is one of those recipes that's so easy, you can throw it together in just a few minutes from stuff you might already have on hand. It makes flavorful, juicy chicken breasts with a nice crunchy exterior.

Tip: The only thing I do different for this recipe is to pound the breasts out so they are nice and thin. I'm not a big fan of a low crunchy outside to meaty inside ratio and pounding it thin solves the problem. If you are going to do this, you need to decrease the cooking time or it will overcook.

I absolutely hate the way Campbell's tomato soup tastes. It's sickeningly sweet and the texture is globulous and just all wrong. I use this recipe for my tomato soup needs and it's amazing. It tastes exactly the way tomato soup should taste. The pesto sets off the whole dish perfectly.
Tips: Make sure the soup is cool before blending it. This recipe once caused my blender to explode from the build up of heat within. I had burns up and down my arms. It wasn't good. Secondly, use the pesto to taste. The amount you need will largely depend on the brand you use so add it and taste it til it's perfect.

This recipe makes you look like you really know how to cook, even if you don't. It's elegant and super tasty. It has a nice lemony flavor that complements the fish perfectly and baking it in foil keeps all the moisture sealed in perfectly.

Tips: I substitute some of the butter for olive oil to make it healthier. I also top each fillet with very thinly sliced lemon with the rind still on it. The 1/8 inch slices add more flavor and make it look fancier. I also make sure to wrap each fillet in its own small foil pocket instead of putting them all in one together. Lastly, you can make rice to serve the fish over and dump the liquid from the bottom of the foil over it.

(sorry this pic is awful, hopefully I'll have a chance to make this soon and do a post on it)
I've used multiple types of fish for this recipe and have discovered that any type of mild fish will work. It's soooo yummy! I've always had it with sun-dried tomatoes, not sliced or canned. This recipe produces fish that eve fish haters are likely to enjoy. It's rich and flavorful yet is still low in calories.

Tips: watch your fish carefully when in the broiler! At least 6 inches from the flame is a must! I've never tried it with Roma tomatoes and I really don't want it any other way after having it with sun-dried tomatoes on it!

This is my fiance's favorite meal. When I first started making it, I thought the ingredients were a bit weird. Over time, I didn't care what was in it. It's yum!

Tip: This recipe can be used on other mild fish as well. You'll want it 6 inches from the heat source when broiling.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Balcony Container Garden

I shop for groceries 3-4 times a week. I like to buy the freshest meat and produce and that requires going to the store frequently. Day after day, I am faced with the choice to buy the pricier organic or the pesticide laden conventional produce. Living on a budget is hard, especially when it's important to you to eat clean, organic food.

To solve this problem, I decided to plant my own garden. I live in an apartment with a long narrow balcony. I started to research how to make a container garden. It's simple really and the materials I used, while unconventional, seem to be working out great.

I used 3 rubbermaid type tubs along with other pots to plant my garden. The most important thing when using any type of container is drainage. Your plants need moist soil but their roots can't be sitting in water for a long period or they will rot. I cut triangular holes in the bottom of my rubbermaid containers. To get the holes started, I used a nail heated with a lighter and then pounded into the bottom of the container with a hammer. It wasn't the simplest way to do it but it did work with the limited materials I already had. Once the nail had penetrated the container, I used a sharp knife to cut the triangular holes. They were about 1/2 - 3/4 inches wide.

I layered lava rock across the bottom of each container. I tried to stick to the larger rocks with a diameter of around 1-2 inches. I then topped the rocks with coffee filters before pouring organic soil on top. I also mixed in a little organic fertilizer into the top 2-3 inches of soil.

Currently, I have strawberry plants (which are already producing fruit), a cherry tomato plant, cucumber plant, multiple types of lettuce, basil, mint, chives, and onions. The things that seem to be taking the longest to grow are the lettuces. The tomato plant is starting to bud and has shot up nearly a foot since I planted it three weeks ago! It's all going really well, and that's saying a lot for a self proclaimed plant killer. I guess I just never took the time to really research how to properly garden.

During research, I found that these were the most important things to consider:
1) Drainage! You're plants will die if their roots sit in water for too long. They will start to rot. Drainage is not just about making holes at the bottom of the planter, it's also about making sure the holes don't get clogged with soil and that containers are off the ground where they can't drain properly. I have my large containers on bricks so that the water doesn't build up underneath.
2) Amount of sunlight. Make sure when buying plants to check how much light they need and how much light the area you want to put them in gets. All the plants I chose were full sunlight since my balcony gets light all day long.
3) Use potting soil! You need soil specifically for potting. If you get regular soil for planting in the ground, you won't be getting enough nutrients to have a thriving container garden.
4) Use fertilizer. I found organic fertilizer/plant food at Wal Mart.
5) Do your own research! This post is just to give you an idea of how to go about container gardening. Trust me when I say, I am not an expert at this... in fact, this is my first thriving garden ever.

For some reason, these pictures came out extremely bright although it didn't appear so on my camera's screen. These are just a few photos of when I first planted the garden and then a few more of the garden after 3 weeks. There were a few lettuce plants that were a little wilted in some photos but I'd like to report that they are all doing fine now.

Arugula- week 1

Arugula- week 3

Strawberries - Week 1

Strawberries - Week 3

Lettuce - Week 1

Lettuce - week 3

Basil - week 1

Basil - week 3

Tomato - week 1

Tomato - week 3

Chives - week 1

Chives - week 3

Cucumber - week 1

Cucumber - week 3

Overall - week 1

Overall - Week 3

UPDATE: It is now week four and a half and some of my plants are ready to eat! The arugula is more than ready.

This morning, I went outside a took a close look at the leaves of my lettuce and what did I find? Only hundreds of aphids!!! Hurdle number one is here and I'm going to do my best to correct the problem. I'll update in a few days.

Friday, March 9, 2012

St. Patty's Day

Ladies and Gents, we are lucky this year. St. Patty's Day is FINALLY falling on a Saturday! It's been a long time coming and I am thoroughly looking forward to it this year. In past years, finals have always seemed to create a conflict with the holiday. This year, no finals, and... on Saturday!

St. Patty's is especially important for me. It is my anniversary - the day that my fiance and I became more than friends and started on the wonderful journey that is us. This year is our 6th and I'm determined to make it the best. He will also be completing his final two classes for his bachelor's in Biotechnology on the 16th. Congrats Love!!!

In honor of St. Patty's, I've found some great party ideas. Take a look at these recipes for cool looking food and drinks: (Links to each recipe are in titles)

St. Patty's Day Food and Drinks:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sushi Rice and Rolls

I absolutely LOVE sushi! But, as we all know, it can be really expensive. I wanted to learn how to make it on my own so I started with cucumber rolls. Sushi rice is really good and not as incredibly complicated as it might seem. I found a good recipe on and have used it many times. I find that I have to adjust the vinegar to taste and usually only put in 3/4 of what the recipe calls for at first, and then continue adding it until it's just right. Sometimes that means adding more and sometimes a little less.

Now finding sushi grade fish was a more difficult task. At first, I would go to a sushi restaurant and ask them to charge me for a chunk of fish. It was expensive though- not as expensive as eating in the restaurant but still too expensive for a home cooked meal that I had to spend lots of time and energy to prepare. Then, someone told me about a store called Marukai. It's a Japanese grocery store that offers sushi grade fish at a much lower price. You have to pay a yearly membership fee of about $10, but it's totally worth it! They have tons of really interesting products that you can't find at regular grocery stores. The nearest one is about 25 minutes away from my apartment so I don't go all the time, but when I do, I stock up on Enoki mushrooms, shiso leaves, various sauces, roasted seaweed, and udon soup.

Here is a link to Marukai's website:

If you do't have a Marukai near you, you can always order sushi grade fish off the internet:

Okay. Time to learn how to make some sushi. Please note that I am not Japanese. There are probably things I don't do the traditional way in this tutorial. Think of this more like a born-and-raised American's attempt to make a traditional dish with the limited resources available in America. My intent is not to offend anyone or to sully the rich tradition of making sushi.

To start, I'm going to provide the link to the sushi rice recipe. Rather than retyping it, it makes more sense to give the original link so you can read the reviewers' comments at the bottom of the page:

Sushi Rice Recipe: (you will need to click on this link. It will not work to cut and paste it into you address bar.

Now. You'll need a few things for the rest of the recipe:

Kitchen Materials:
- A bamboo rolling mat (Makisu)
- Cutting board
- A sharp knife
- A wooden spoon or spatula

- Filling for rolls, cut into long strips (can be cucumber, avocado, fish, etc.)
- Seaweed sheets big enough for rolls
- Wasabi
- Soy Sauce

Directions to make rolls:

Step 1: Make sushi rice according to directions.

Step 2: Lay bamboo rolling mat out on hard surface. Place seaweed sheet on top. Apply layer of rice to 2/3rds of the seaweed (see photos) about 1/8-1/4 inches thick. I usually combine a little rice vinegar with water in a cup and wet my hands before touching rice. It makes it really easy to spread evenly. Wet seaweed that is not covered in rice with a little of this water as well so that when the roll is completed, the seaweed on the end will stick.

Step 3: Add fillings (see photos). Apply small amount of wasabi to finger and run finger over rice you that you have the faint taste of wasabi in every bit of roll. Roll bamboo mat over so that seaweed starts to roll. You'll want your fillings to be at the beginning of the roll. Curl back bamboo mat and continue to roll so that bamboo mat does not go into seaweed roll (see photos). Continue to roll until all seaweed is incorporated then give one last tug on the bamboo mat, holding bottom of mat and pulling the portion still around the sushi tightly. Please note that this step takes practice. Unless you are just meant to be an amazing sushi chef, your first rolls will likely come out lop sided and sad looking. It took me some time to figure it out and my rolls are still not perfect. No worries, they still taste awesome! Below are photos of how to roll the sushi but be aware that I put too much rice on this one. The photos above are a better guide to how much rice shout be in the roll.

Step 4: Remove from bamboo mat and place on cutting board. Wet a very sharp knife with some vinegar water and cut through rolls to make bite sized pieces.

Directions to make Sushi Bowls:

Step 1: Add sushi rice to bowl. Cut up fish or other toppings into 1 inch pieces. Place on top of rice. Add other ingredients if desired (strips of seaweed, sesame seeds, seasonings, etc.). Serve with wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce on the side.