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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mama Masha's Kitchen - When you JUST don't know what to have

I know it happens… We all have days when we know we should eat something, but nothing really strikes us. This happens to me a lot, when my husband is out of town – eating alone is never fun. …Or when I am not feeling well. ...Or when I am a bit depressed. ...Or too busy. The last two are particularly bad: most people tend to eat when they are sad or stressed, but I forget to eat. It just doesn’t occur to me, until I start feeling dizzy and realize: oh, my last meal was EIGHT HOURS AGO!

If any of this sounds familiar, you – like me – need to have an emergency delicious and nutritious stash, that allow you to prepare some quick and easy dishes that are healthful enough to keep you rocking and rolling. You will notice that the stash includes things that are not easily perishable or can be kept in the fridge for some time. …That is not to encourage you to keep things for so long that you can no longer identify them. Let us all make a deal – reaching for the bag of chips or the box of cookies is just NOT an option, even when you’ve got the culinary blues.

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Quick salad

What to keep in stash:

• Shallots in your crisper

• A couple of different cheeses (refrigerated)

• Diced prosciutto (refrigerated – you can find that in the gourmet cheese and meat section of the grocery store.)

• Canned mushrooms

• Canned sliced beets

• Olive oil

• Good balsamic vinegar (try www.bittersweetherbfarm.com)

• A few bottles of wine (pick some red, some white and some rose to have a good variety)

What to quickly run out for:

• A pack of rolls or a nice crusty French baguette from the store’s bakery (not the bread aisle!)

• A container of fresh baby greens or spinach leaf salad.

Prep:

• Chop up a shallot.

• Drain the mushrooms.

• Sautee shallots, mushrooms, and chopped prosciutto in a small pan with olive oil.

• Drop a few handfuls of the salad leaves into a fairly deep serving bowl.

• Once the sautéed stuff is ready, tip it from the pan straight on top of the leaves.

• Shred some cheese on top (don’t hesitate to mix a couple of different cheeses as long as they compliment each other).

• Add a few beet slices.

• Mix everything thoroughly.

• Add a touch more of olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Mix again.

• Eat with that good crusty bread (the olive oil, balsamic and veggie juice at the bottom of the salad is going to be AWESOME to sop up with a bit of crust) and a glass of crisp white wine (try Yellow Tail chardonnay).

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Healthy rice dinner

What to keep in stash:

• Organic 90-second bag rice (Seeds of Change basmati is yummalicious!)

• Pre-cooked spring rolls (international section of the freezer aisle)

• Stir-fry frozen veggie mix

• Sweet and sour dipping sauce (international section of the dry goods aisle)

• Sake (I know Harris Teeter sells it in the wine aisle – I am sure Trader Joe’s has it too, as does EarthFare)

What to quickly run out for:

• Not a DAMN thing!

Prep:

• This is an exercise in task stacking, so keep things organized. It won’t take long – I promise.

• Pop the spring rolls into the microwave to cook.

• Heat up some peanut oil in a small pan and start sautéing the frozen veggies. The stir-fry mix has broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, onions and mushrooms – all of which are good for you AND will give you a nice mouthful.

• Pull out the spring rolls and cover them with a paper towel to keep them warm.

• Pop in the 90-second rice to nuke. Keep an eye on those veggies – peanut oil burns easier than olive oil. Turn the heat down to keep from scorching.

• Put the rice on a plate, spread the veggies on top and place the spring rolls on the side.

• Serve with the dipping sauce and the sake (hot or cold – your choice).

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Baked sandwiches

What to keep in stash:

• A mix of lunch meats, including diced prosciutto

• A couple different cheeses

• Mayo

• Sweet onion

What to quickly run out for:

• A couple of small fresh tomatoes

• Hoagie buns. One bun makes a serving, so get as many as the number of servings you need to make.

Prep:

• Start pre-heating the oven to 400 deg F.

• Cut a hoagie bun in half the long way.

• Scoop out the soft portion of the bun to create enough of a “bowl” but without damaging the crust.

• Put the scooped out bread crumbs into a small mixing bowl.

• Finely chop a fourth of a large sweet onion, one small tomato, lunch meat and cheese and mix with the bread crumbs in the mixing bowl.

• Add a couple of table spoons of mayo to the mix and mix thoroughly.

• Divide the mix evenly between the two scooped-out halves of the hoagie bun.

• The oven should be pre-heated by that point. Place the two halves of the hoagie buns on a cookie sheet and slide into the oven (mid-level).

• Bake for 10 – 12 minutes.

• Carefully get the sandwiches out of the oven and serve with some crisp white wine.

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Emergency desserts

What to keep in stash: • A couple of blocks of Brix wine chocolate (yes, there is such a thing)

• Good organic sour cream

• Dessert spices, like cinnamon and vanilla bean

• Dessert wines, like Marsala, ChocoVine, Bailey’s Irish Cream

What to quickly run out for:

• Fresh berries: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries – whatever you like

• Fresh biscotti

Prep – dessert 1:

• Mix two-three different kinds of berries into a pretty crystal dish.

• Add a teaspoon of sour cream.

• Shred some chocolate on top.

Prep – dessert 2:

• Put biscotti onto a pretty plate.

• Carefully melt chocolate (you can create a double boiler with two small cooking pans).

• Pour melted chocolate over the biscotti and garnish with some berries.

Prep – dessert 3:

• Slice up the strawberries and make a little pile in a pretty dish.

• Melt some chocolate and fold it into sour cream, mix until its uniform. Give it a little whisk.

• Put on top of the berries.

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For true emergencies…

Ok, I realize that sometimes you are SO tired that a mere thought of cooking makes you sick. So, for those cases:

• Preemtion is key. When you are NOT in a state of culinary desperation, drive around the area and identify a handful of inexpensive places that deliver or do good take-out. I had just such an epiphany when I was dropping off some give-aways at Goodwill in Gastonia, NC and discovered a really awesome Chinese food place. I would have never expected to find something that yummy in the middle of nowhere, North Carolina. I was particularly impressed, considering it was in a not-so-good neighborhood. That orange chicken was DEFINITELY worth braving the surroundings.

• Find an on-line grocery delivery service and stock a freezer shelf with some goodies. One of the best places for that in the US is www.homebistro.com. It’s not inexpensive, but their meals are fantastic, well-packaged, and healthful. There is an entire section of meals specifically designed for diabetics. They also have some amazing packages available, if you want to stock up, including the positively seductive dessert package.

• Study the deli section and salad bar (if there is one) of the grocery store. Many stores offer fresh salads, rotisserie chicken and other goodies. You can put together a gourmet little meal by mixing and matching foods, the same way you mix and match pieces of clothing (you do know, how to do that, right? Right?) The lucky saps who live in the American north-east have Wegmans, which is like a take-out Mecca – they can get ANYTHING there. The rest of us have to do some investigating and trying and tasting and figuring out what we like. But trust me – it’s worth it, when you are tired and have zero desire to be the next Emeryl.

Happy cooking everyone!

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