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So much for my BIG SURPRISE. It’s a slider, or a whole bunch of them, what I had in mind for your Labor Day festivities. The simplicity of the dish is just to laugh at. There’s no recipe even needed. You get a pound of ground beef, ideally organic and grass fed, cut it in four even squares. Then those squares get chopped in half. And guess what, the meat is READY! Cook each little bastard for 3-3.5 minutes a side, having seasoned them previously with salt and pepper of course.

OK, let’s make it even EASIER, if possible. I found this video on youtube, where chef John from foodwishes.com reveals his dirty little secret of how to keep your mini burgers all identical and perfect.

Saw it? Got it? Let’s move on to all the additional goodies that come with the meat then.

First and foremost, you need a platform that will showcase and carry your slider. Traditionally it’s a small bun. There are choices after choices of various bread options at grocery stores across the board. You can also go the more adventurous and holistic route I took and make your own rolls.

But who’s got the time for baking on a Sunday night, when your Labor Day BBQ crowd is already popping the beer caps off the bottles?

Once the meat and bread are taken care of, focus your mind and heart on the works, as they call them. My sliders came in all colors and flavors as you can see, as I couldn’t decide on one theme. I sautéed leaks for one. Another mini burger got a bed of caramelized onions to rest upon. And the third one was planked in a pool of pesto. For the topping I chose Fontina cheese, as it melts like butter and tastes nothing like the plastic cheddar thingy they sell you at most of the groceries. It actually tastes like cheese, surprise-surprise. Also, only because I had it lying around, I sliced mango and grilled it for the heck of it. It made a lot of sense in the ned, and I didn’t know it till it was already made.

These are only a few ideas to get you started, but you know the sky is the limit. Using blue Stilton and sautéed portobello mushroom will change the entire experience of a slider. Different sauces, different vegetables–from pickled to raw to grilled ones, will make the slider your very own, depending on your selection. Even the bun os not all that important. You could serve the meat in a cup of bibb lettuce, and that would be wonderful, too. And so much kinder to your love handles!

Think outside of the box, break the rules, get of the old beaten path in order to experience something new, whether in life in general, or simply in your kitchen. My discovery of the world of food has been amazing thus far. It’s a rare thing that I truly love what I’m eating, whether I made it or someone else. (Yes, I’m that picky and discriminating.) But then, when I do find the food that speaks to my soul, it really equals an orgasm. Ask Jason, he’s witnessed both. So keep at it, cook away, look for what tickles you, try new things, explore, and never limit yourself by what you don’t know. That’s the point of learning. Stay open. And who knew half a glass of wine would get me that tipsy?

Happy Labor Day!

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Super Bowl Sunday – one of the very few and rare moments in time when Jason is home for a full day and a whole night. No work calls, no office madness, he’s all mine. The fact it’s the Super Bowl Sunday (which to me it’s just as thrilling as the Groundhog Day) has nothing to do with Jason’s freedom. It’s a pure coincident, serendipity if you will.

I’ve turned down invitations to various parties involving beautiful people, gourmet food, belly dancers and notables such as celebrity stylists and monarchs of whole countries! Ok, I kid, silly. However, I did make sure that the only thing we had planned for today was NOTHING. And then I got this email from Leslie:

Not only did I love the remix, but also I could not say no to Leslie, except we pushed it to Sunday. Had she lived closer, I’d probably have her hang on to the spare key to our house so she can come visit more often. And believe it or not, I’ve never baked potatoes the way she described. Back in Poland, we do it Neanderthal style – we set up bon fire and bury potatoes under its flames. Those babies taste like nothing you’ve ever had in your life.

So I bought a bag of Russet potatoes for later today. I’ll give them such a makeover their own mother won’t recognize her Russet babies. There will be make up, and glitter involved, mani/ pedi, and hair spray. I’ll then record the session on a series of color photographs and post them along with my next entry.

Speaking of potatoes, I went through a meat-free week and in the process reinvented a couple of veggie dishes from my repertoire. When Friday glanced into our refrigerator, a day before our habitual grocery shopping spree, there were only 2 bell peppers left, green beans, mustard and one sad bunch of greens. I was to make dinner out of those bustards.

I paced through the kitchen scratching my forehead, nodding along as I threaded back and forth, with an occasional hum breaking that intense silence. Half an hour later, as I was juggling a pot of boiling water with potatoes and green beans and simultaneously stirring caramelizing onions and red bell peppers in an iron skillet, Jason walked back from work and asked:

What are you making?

I don’t know. Ask me again when I’m done.

Then I dove again into the refrigerator and surfaced back holding the lettuce with my teeth and squeezing a half-empty jar of mustard in my armpit. I put together all the dressing elements and let the Magic Bullet do its magic. I drained the potatoes and beans and tossed them together in a large bowl with the vinaigrette, chopped Romaine lettuce and parsley. I seasoned it with more salt and pepper, and then topped the mountain with my caramelized onions and bell peppers. The sugar and balsamic vinegar turned them into that sweet and tart cherry that tops the proverbial cake. Loose leaves of mint perfumed the dish, giving it a new twist.

Here’s the summary:

POTATO AND GREEN BEAN SALAD

WITH CARAMELIZED PEPPERS & ONIONS

–       red skin and purple potatoes, cut in thick slices

–       green beans

–       Romaine lettuce

–       large onion

–       2 red bell peppers

–       1 tbsp ground fennel seeds, for caramelizing

–       fresh parsley, roughly chopped

–       fresh mint, roughly chopped

–       3 tbsp of raw cane sugar, for caramelizing

–       3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar, for caramelizing

–       olive oil, for the dressing

–       white balsamic vinegar, for the dressing

–       1 tsp Dijon mustard, for the dressing

–       1 tbsp honey, for the dressing

–       salt + pepper to taste, for everything.

Fill a small BOWL with the SALAD and be assured this will be plenty for a full, nutritious and satiating meal. You don’t need to be a fan of football to enjoy your own  SUPER BOWL.

Bye, bye, Year 2009. You have brought us many changes, moments of overwhelming joy … and sheer terror. (Remember the Mashed Rutabaga with Cauliflower?) I have discovered my pyromaniacal tendencies and started to play with fire in the kitchen on a regular basis. Knives excite me just as much.  Bring it on, Angelina! Who knew? All that led to turning our house into a science lab of food making. There have been plenty of experiments (steaks from a toaster oven is just one example), and so far Jason hasn’t complained.

We have serious reason to be concerned about the future of our kids on this planet (Koyaanisqatsi), but there’s still hope with the growing trend of getting fresh produce from local farmers (Feeling Peachy) and turning to alternative energy sources. We can get healthier with every bite of real food we put in our mouths and what we feed to our offspring. Preparing hearty meals with a variety of vegetables is not that difficult, and never boring. Every time I look at the photos of the Butternut Squash Risotto I made for dinner one night, or my Brussels sprouts on a Bed of Quinoa with a layer of Caramelized Onions, I experience such intense drooling that Jason is inclined to run for a stack of towels to cover the floor around me.

Do you want to hear about the best part? I lost about 15 lbs over the last year WITHOUT DEPRIVING myself of any food. There’s no diet plan, no counting calories, NO STRESS! Sometimes I may overindulge a tad, but who wouldn’t when served those scrumptious Veggie Balls over a bowl of Spaghetti Marinara? Duh! I eat whatever the hell I am in the mood for, and whenever my tummy screams HUNGRY. I hate fast foods with a passion. I avoid processed food products like the plague. However, I am on good terms with a bit of butter here and there. Cream poses no threat to me either. There are no sweets lying around the house, but it doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally get in the car and drive to the bakery for a piece of crunchy pastry when the craving strikes.

What I wish for myself, and for every single one of you, in 2010 is to live more in balance with Nature, stress less, laugh louder, breath lighter, and to age slower. Also, let’s not forget to bring the inner monkey out to play more often.

May all of us see a major shift in the collective consciousness and finally learn how to live symbiotically with Mother Earth so our kids and future generations get to experience the joy and innocence we were granted when growing up.

Thank you for being a part of my 2009. I hope we’ll be able to share and interact more in the upcoming year, and beyond.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

Nothing, and I mean nothing makes me happier than the smell of onion slivers sautéing with marjoram on a hot pan greased with olive oil and a touch of butter.

Well, maybe on days when Jason comes home at a civil hour from work, and we watch “Modern Family” and “The Daily Show” together while he rests his head on my lap, then I’m a little happier. New lingerie makes me super happy, too. Come to think of it, I get also fired up when I manage to touch my nose with the tip of my tongue, as it doesn’t always happen. I think it depends on humidity in the air or something.

And then, when Cosmo sings I experience the highest levels of delight. He’s not a very outspoken dog, if you know what I mean. Between the few barks here and there and an occasional “Hi, whassup”, hardly ever does he use his string cords. Hence, I’m particularly elated on those rare moments when he feels the blues and acts on it.

But those onions! When the slices hit a hot sautéing pan and utter that violent sizzle that they do, I get the chills. I instantly sprinkle them with a dash of salt and a generous serving of dry marjoram, previously crashed in my hands. The herb then opens up as a blooming flower and releases its aromatic oils, thus flavoring everything around it. Can you smell it yet? You should get the first whiff right as you stir them together with a wooden spoon. Just close your eyes and inhale… Oh…

The romance begins. The arches of the onion loosen up, as if they were melting in the arms of the marjoram, giving in, and letting the herb lead on the dance floor. Slow heat from the gentle flame beneath their feet is soothing and relaxing. The herb brings out what’s best in the onion – all its sweetness comes out for the world to see. Time stops for them and they think they could go on like that forever, but I know 10-15 minutes is all they have in them before they burn out.

Caramelized onions make the world a better place. They give any dull dish a Cinderella spin. Spread a spoonful of those onions on your boring chicken breast, and it turns into a Supermanchicken. Feed them to that dry sandwich with leftover pastrami, and it’s as if you splashed it with Redbull and gave it wings. You want to bring more vegetarian meals to your table, but you’re afraid it could be dreary and monotonous? Top your Quinoa & Brussels Sprouts with the onions, and you’ll never bitch about vegetables again. Is your ice-cream too vanilla? Give it a scoop of caramelized onions and forever change the meaning of dessert. Ok, maybe that’s going too far, but in most cases sautéed onions are the reason I get out of bed every morning.

This time I used them to kick life into my SALMON WITH LENTILS dish I made for dinner the other night.

Cooking lentils is pretty straightforward, just follow the instructions on its packaging. If you want to jazz it up like I do, get a carrot and two celery stalks. Wash ‘em, peel ‘em, and chop ‘em finely. Then sauté the veggies in a hot pan with a teaspoon or two of olive oil, and – what the hell – a little butter, too. Season it with salt and pepper, and give it 5-6 minutes. Next, add a cup of green lentils and toast them for a minute or two along with everybody else in the pan before adding any liquid. You could simply use water and 2 bay leaves, or chicken stock, or a veggie broth, about 1.5 cups of it. Clearly, you need a pan with some depth to it to fit it all in. Add more salt and pepper, maybe a dash of cayenne, maybe a teaspoon of nutmeg and cumin, cover with a lid and let it simmer over a low heat until fully cooked. You may need to add more liquid, so keep an eye on the lentils. Minutes before the legumes are done, add a splash of red wine vinegar to give them that extra zing.

On a separate pan, grill the salmon fillets seasoned with salt and black pepper. Depending on their thickness, you may need to give them 3-4 minutes per side. You never want to keep the fish over that fire till its completely cooked, because it will get dry. Turn the heat off BEFORE the fish is done, and just let it sit for another five minutes on its own. It will get there, I promise.

No dinner is complete without a fresh salad. Whisk a quick DRESSING in a cup (extra virgin olive oil + lemon juice or vinegar at 3:1 ratio, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp of honey, salt and pepper) and pour over your greens. You may want to add chopped tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, radishes, shallots, what have you. You may also keep it clean, if that’s your preference. All’s good as long as you get your vitamins in their natural form.

Salmon with Lentils

Tah-dah! Your dinner is ready. Scoop a little bit of lentils onto your plate. Then gently lay the grilled salmon over the kernels with the green accent of your salad to its side. DO NOT FORGET THE CARAMELIZED ONIONS! Perfection.

Happy Lentils Everybody!

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