Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rachael Ray's 24 Days of Dinner

A friend of mine took on the Epicurious 90 Meal Challenge in January to cook 90 meals in one month which essentially means 3 meals a day for 30 days giving her only 3 meals out for the entire month.  More power to her as she actually completed the challenge and at the end was even a little sad that it was ending.  First of all, that would never be achievable for me since my breakfast is normally just milk and toast so seldom “cook” breakfast. 

I definitely do cook as you can tell with this blog and I highly encourage others to as well for many reasons.  Economical as you save so much money cooking vs. going out or even take out.  Most of my dishes end up being about $2-$3 per serving buying my ingredients on sale and in season.  Well being as you can control what and how much of something goes into your food allowing you to flavor your food with herbs and garlic for example vs. salt and butter. 

Just like New Year’s Resolutions which I have a habit of keeping, the same philosophy applies here especially for newer cooks.  It needs to be achievable and never overwhelming to the point where you will want to quit.  So when Rachael Ray, who is the reason why I cook as much as I do, came up with the 24 Days of Dinner, I thought it was a brilliant idea.  You cook 6 days a week and still have a day off each week to treat yourself and she was even flexible enough that you can cook lunch vs. dinner or make multiple dinners in one day during the weekend when you have more time so all you need to do is reheat during the week. 

Once the goal is achieved, you will find that it is easier to maintain going forward as it has now become a habit vs. a challenge.

Note:  Although the number of blog posts does not accurately reflect 24 meals a month, I do tend to reach this goal most of the time since half of my meals are repeats of previous dishes and seldom reposted. 


Greek Style Casserole

Not one to waste food, I have become astute at repurposing leftovers including ingredients used in previous recipes.  So when Rachael did a recipe that is “suppose” to use many leftovers to create a Greek Style Casserole, you would think it is right up my alley.  Of course none of what went into it was sitting in my refrigerator except for the cooked rice and after seeing how it was made, I much rather prefer to use orzo anyways. 

So since I probably would rarely have these as “leftovers” in my refrigerator and it did look quite appetizing, her “Almost a Free Ride Casserole” is “Not Quite A Free Ride Casserole” for me but one I am glad I got to try at least once even though I had to make it from scratch. 

Almost a Free Ride Casserole Greek Style Rachael Ray Show Recipe

Price:  $14 for 6 servings  =  $2.34 per serving

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Potato Strudel

Less than a month upon returning from Leavenworth -, I still have a longing for it that lingers.  Still checking out the Downtown webcam weeks later of the lights that stayed up until V-day and of the spot I stood at capturing my own presence to be streamed worldwide and even the breakfast casserole we had the first morning at the Alpen Rose Inn.  With a lowered occupancy the last night we were there, we got tableside service for breakfast before checking out vs. buffet style during the earlier part of our stay and a chance to talk to our “chef” that whipped up our hot breakfasts and the evening sweets to wind down our day.  Upon hearing about what we thought about the creativity of the potato strudel we had the first morning, he immediately gave us a copy of the recipe so we can replicate at home.  Of course since the original recipe below (good sized rectangular, fairly deep pan 2” x 10” x 15”) is more to serve an inn of guests vs. just 2, I improvised so I can scale back the recipe to a more manageable portion size and is delicious as a BLD, for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 


1-2 lbs of bacon cut across the strips to ½ inch long pieces
2 lbs of Monterey Jack (may also combine with cheddar and/or parmesan cheese).  They use about 4 cups each of Jack and cheddar. 
Fillo dough
2 tbsp butter melted
Bundle of fresh parsley chopped
Dried onion, black pepper, chopped dill (optional)


1.      Peel and shred enough potatoes to fill the pan about 7/8 full.  Boil the shredded potatoes just enough to barely cook, then drain and cool.  (You can also use frozen shredded potatoes thawed)

2.      Fry the bacon (may add a little onion and/or German sausage), let cool a little.  You may add red wine vinegar and let soak.  Strain off as much grease as possible before use.

3.      In a large bowl, mix the shredded potato and grated cheese together until ingredients are evenly distributed

4.      Open defrosted fillo dough and take 4-6 layers and place on wax paper.  Using a brush, spread melted butter on each sheet.

5.      Place buttered side down in pan leaving an inch or so above sides of the pan.  Use enough to cover the entire pan.  Brush butter on inside of dough in pan. 

6.      Add about ½ the potato cheese mixture over the bottom layer of Fillo dough.  Sprinkle about half the bacon over the mix

7.      Sprinkle fresh parsley over bacon and optional toppings, herbs depending on preference.

8.      Add another layer of Fillo brushed with butter, remaining potato cheese mix, bacon, parsley, optional toppings.

9.      Fold over Fillo dough hanging over the top.

10.  Add last layer of Fillo dough (brushed with butter) to cover top

11.  Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for about 60 minutes.  Cover the dish with foil to prevent burning for most of the time, removing it for last 10 minutes to brown the top. 


1.      I did not have bacon so I substituted with a Portuguese Sausage which I diced and browned in a skillet before adding to the top of potato mixture

2.      Because I had 10 lbs of potatoes I got for just $1.50, I shredded my own but using thawing frozen ones would be much easier

3.      It takes at least a few hours to thaw the Fillo dough so plan accordingly

4.      Since I used a different type of pan, I did not cover with foil and instead just put in oven for 30 minutes total since everything is already fully cooked. 

Price:  $10 for 5 servings = $2 per serving

Monday, February 13, 2017

Spam Musubi Ssam Style

After almost over 8 months in my bookmarks, I finally got around to trying Aina in San Francisco for brunch last weekend.  The worst thing about a place like Aina, it is impossible to get everything you want as you want everything on the menu.  One item that intrigued me was a spam musubi ssam style served with housemade spam. 

Having only had ssam at Spice Kit, for about 10 years, I thought ssam meant a Korean burrito/giant fresh spring roll wrapped up in the rice paper.  It was not until I ordered the pork belly ssam at Bowl’d and I got a plate of filling and I asked for the wrappers did I realize I was suppose to wrap them in the kimchee and found out that ssam meant “wrapped” and normally with a leafy vegetable.  Such a novice!  Almost as embarrassing as thinking black olives were anchovies when I was a kid and the internet did not even exist to look things up. 

So when I saw the pictures of fellow Yelpers’ spam musubi ssam, I was not surprised that it looked like a deconstructed spam musubi in a lettuce leaf.  But after 2 savory entrees, the sweet guava malasadas won out so never got a chance to try this savory creation.  With the success of last year’s New Year’s resolution -, it is easier for it to become a part of my way of thinking vs. it being a chore.  So when I saw butter lettuce on sale for a $1 and just the week before discovered a can of Spam in my pantry expiring this month (goes to show how seldom I use it), I decided to make my own spam musubu ssam style inspired by Aina.  


1 can of Spam
3 Eggs
Cooked rice
1 Head of butter lettuce


1.      Leaf and wash one head of butter lettuce

2.      Scramble 3 eggs and add to a medium skillet with heated olive oil over medium heat and cook like an omelet (2-3 min each side, flipping once) and set aside

3.      Cut spam into ¼ inch slices (vertically) and fry in a skillet for about 2-3 minutes each side over medium high heat

4.      Cut your egg any way you like (I cut mine into triangle wedges like pizza)

5.      Assemble your ssam – cooked rice with a sprinkle of furikake, a piece of egg, and a slice of spam which I cut into 2 pieces

6.      Wrap and enjoy

Price:  $4 for 4 servings = $1 per serving (4-5 wraps) vs. $4.50 for one wrap at Aina (they do serve theirs with housemade spam)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Love Hate Relationship with Valentine’s Day?

I have known my husband now for almost 20 years, started dating 18 years ago and have been married 16 of those years and I still make an effort to celebrate Valentine’s Day.   Not the Valentine’s Day that costs $100 per person for a mediocre pre-fixe menu just because many restaurants can capitalize on the holiday, nor the $100 for a dozen long stem roses that in 2 weeks will end up in the compost bin.  In fact, I think both are a waste of money and therefore highly discouraged. 

I am talking about the Valentine’s Day that hopefully makes you consciously think about and appreciate your significant other if you are lucky enough to have one.  I know what you are probably thinking.  You should appreciate each other and make an effort everyday but aside from 3 super couples that I know, let’s be realistic.  If you are the less than 1% who makes the effort to show those you love that you thought of them throughout the year with thoughtfully planned date nights or small surprises or flowers just because, I applaud you.  For the other 99%, with busy schedules and how quickly time flies by each year, before you know it, another year has gone by and I hate to say it, you have taken your relationship for granted and may have even given the other person a complex in the process. 

I do not love Valentine’s Day per se, as my favorite holiday is still the non-commercialized version of Thanksgiving but I also never hated Valentine’s Day even when I was single, which was a lot.  What I do love is having at least one day a year as a reminder that this person you chose matters and worthy of thinking about even if it is with a cheesy heart shaped pizza from Papa Murphy’s or donut from Krispy Kreme, both of which I will still appreciate. 

So this year make the most of it being on a Tuesday and on the actual day, do simple take out or better yet, make that effort and cook for each other.  Even if you burn it, it is the thought that counts but try not to burn it. 

Here are a few dishes to choose from that are not too time consuming and may look fancy but will cost you less than $10 a person, leaving you enough money to try a special occasion restaurant during the weekend where at least you will have free range of the regular menu to choose from, giving you a twofer and another excuse to make time for each other.     

Green Eggs and Ham and Open Faced Avocado Toast


Well Dressed Salmon


Chicken Pizzaiola


Roasted True Cod with Salsa Verde and Fig, Honey, Pistachio Cups

Heirloom Tomato with Anchovy Dressing


New York Steak with Mission Fig Tapenade Crostini

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Shepherd’s Pie with Sweet Potato and Turkey – Eat Well Challenge Day 5

After a Sunday or weekend of rich Super Bowl eats, it is time for a healthier dinner option to put you back on the Eat Well Challenge bandwagon.  From that same March 2015 issue of Dr. Oz the Good Life that gave us the healthier version of Mac N Cheese by adding butternut squash - he did it again by reinventing the Shepherd’s Pie using leaner ground turkey instead of red meat and topping it with nutritionally packed and full of fiber sweet potato vs. regular russets.  I did take a few short cuts and made some substitutions based on what I had on hand but overall, this is a dish that you can feel good eating. 
Dr. Oz Recipe 


2¼ lb sweet potatoes (about 3 large)
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¾ tsp coarse salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried
1 lb ground turkey (93% lean)
2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup low sodium chicken or beef broth
1 (10 oz) package of frozen peas and carrots mix
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce or tomato paste

1.      Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Wrap sweet potatoes in foil and bake on baking sheet until very soft, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours

2.      Remove and let cool, leaving oven on.  Unwrap potatoes, remove skin.  Place potatoes in bowl, mash flesh and stir in butter and ¼ tsp each S&P

3.      Heat the oil in large heavy bottom pot over medium heat.  Cook onion and celery with thyme and remaining ½ tsp S&P stirring occasionally until golden and softened (5-6 min)

4.      Add turkey and cook, breaking meat into pieces, until no longer pink (about 6 min).  Sprinkle flour on top and cook, stirring, 1 minute

5.      Stir in broth, frozen vegetables, and Worcestershire or tomato paste and bring to a simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring until all vegetables are tender and broth is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes

6.      Pour turkey mixture into a 2-2 ½ qt shallow broiler safe baking dish.  Spread mashed sweet potatoes on top and bake until bubbling (about 20 minutes)

7.      Heat broiler and broil dish 6 inches from heat until slightly brown on edges (about 3 min).  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving

Price:  $6 for 6 servings = $1 per serving


  1. Instead of baking the sweet potatoes which probably retains more nutrients, I took a short cut due to time constraints and peeled, cut into cubes, place in a pot of cold water, bring up to a boil and boiled the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes.  Then drain and mashed the sweet potatoes in the hot pot. 
  2. I did not have frozen peas and carrots on hand so I used frozen mixed vegetables instead
  3. I also just add a sprinkle of S&P vs. using the full amount in recipe

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Super Bowl Eats

I may have gone a bit overboard with abundance of food this Chinese New Year that I have been eating leftovers in between the different dinners during the Spring Festival celebrations including my dad’s oyster lettuce wrap that I look forward to every People’s Day (7th day of the New Year).  Quite labor intensive and time consuming having to finely chop so many different ingredients, one of these days I am going to challenge myself and try my hand at making it myself.  Hopefully it will be before next Chinese New Year. 

This Super Bowl Sunday, I will maybe be catching some of the game while visiting relative’s houses to bai nian but will not get a chance to try out any new Super Bowl recipes myself.  So here are a couple of suggestions for those who will get a chance to watch the game in its entirety including those cool Super Bowl Commercials!! 

Less Guilt Super Bowl Snacks

Italian Slow Cooked Ribs

Update:  I did get back home in time to catch the history making last quarter of SB51, a deja vu of both the recent NBA Championship and World Series.   

I made the quick and easy French Bread Pizza with a Jumbo Artichoke on the side.