Garden Pasta Salad

or a base to build on, a pasta salad for daily use.

I apologize for the short post today, but it turns out that these last 5-6 weeks of pregnancy do a number on me both physically and mentally.  I thought I would at least take a moment to share one of my favorite vegetarian lunches of recent weeks - a base for pasta salad.  This one is kind of nice because it doesn't make an over abundance of food like you would need for a party, it makes enough for dinner and maybe a lunch or two depending on how many you are serving and if it is a side or main dish.

The ingredients here are what I have used most recently, but the great thing about this is that it can work with just about any veggies you have in the fridge (though you may need to steam or blanch them first).  That is why I call this a "garden" pasta salad, that and because I really like the flavors of the multicolored garden rotini with it since it brings its own base flavor to the party.  I personally like the salt factor of the green olives but if that turns you off just switch to black olives or omit it entirely.  Check it out, I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

4 servings

Pasta - 1 cup (garden rotini)
Mayonnaise, reduced fat or olive oil - 1/2 cup
Sour Cream, reduced fat - 3 tbsp
Sugar - 2 tbsp
Cider Vinegar - 2 tbsp
Green Olives - 1/4 cup
Paprika - ½ tsp
mustard - stone ground - 1 tsp
Salt - 1 tsp
Pepper - to taste
cherry tomatoes - halved - 1 cup
cucumbers - diced - 1 cup

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.

2. Whisk the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until the sugar has dissolved. Add the tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese and pasta, folding in carefully until the salad is evenly covered with the dressing.

3. Store in refrigerator or cooler until served.


Simply Pressured Corned Beef Brisket

or Americanized Irish Food is a breeze

I don't get all rowdy in celebration of St Patrick's Day, but I do enjoy making a good Irish-American meal as my mom did when we were growing up.  In the past I have sought out Irish bacon to make a form of this dish that is truer to its origins but unfortunately this year I seem to lack both the time and the energy to complete the task.  So I am returning to the tried and true corned beef and cabbage that I grew up enjoying, the benefits of the nostalgia factor are incredible even if the authenticity of the dish is not.

I believe that part of the reason some people are turned off by corned beef is that it takes an endless amount of time to cook and the results are something that is more foreign than familiar in flavor and texture.  Part of this can be resolved by changing the cooking method.  I am not a huge fan of the boiled or slow cooker methods, while it does soften it up some it doesn't quite infuse the flavor enough and I just don't like waiting that long, so I take the pressure cooker approach.  It is fast, easy, and delicious!  There's no need to save this for once a year when it can easily become a standard weekend meal.  I can devour an entire 2 lb brisket myself so I usually opt for the slightly larger size even though it takes a little longer.  Check it out:

Corned Beef Brisket (2-5 lbs)
Seasoning packet (comes with the brisket)*

Hardware: Pressure cooker

1.  Remove the brisket from the package and set aside the spice pack.  Rinse the brisket under running water to reduce the salt factor.

2. Place the brisket in the pot of the pressure cooker and sprinkle the spices over top.  Add enough water to cover the brisket.

3. Secure the lid and bring to pressure according to manufacturer guidelines.  Cook for 40-50 min for 2-3 lbs brisket, 60-70 min for 4-5 lb brisket.

4. Turn the heat off and allow to release pressure naturally per manufacturer guidelines, the kitchen will smell delicious at this point, hang in there the wait is worth it.

5. Remove the brisket from the pot and trim off the top layer of fat.  I like to reserve the liquid from the pot (after skimming the fat off and filtering out the spices) to make reuben soup with the corned beef stock that results.  Slice across the grain and serve alongside boiled potatoes and steamed cabbage.

* if there is no spice packet, alternative suggestions for seasoning include: pickling spice blends or a combination of mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, bay leaf, and peppercorns.  You can also supplement the packet with some of these spices if desired.


Baked Oatmeal Cups

or how I contaminated a previously healthy breakfast

A good, easy breakfast or mid morning snack can be hard to find.  It is easy to get lost in sea of pre-made options from the frozen foods section or burn yourself out on peanut butter toast.  And if you are in a state of pregnancy, such as myself, or just in the apparently rather healthy habit of eating 6 small meals a day in place of 3 large ones having something homemade that you can reach for at a whim is essential.  Now I am sucker for freezer meal options and cooking once to satisfy a multitude of meals so anything that results in a moderate bulk of food is right up my alley, so I went in search of breakfast options that reheat well and can last 3-4 days in the fridge before turning on you and attacking when you open the door.  There is a multitude of homemade breakfast sandwich options out there in freezer cooking world, but I haven't come to terms with the concept of freezing and reheating cooked eggs at home yet so those were out.  And there are a lot of bulk slow cooker breakfast casseroles out there, but they aren't all that great reheated in my opinion (sadly, I have tried).  So I went more towards a carb focused approach.

I found a fair amount of recipes out there for baked oatmeal and that seemed like something that was just crying out to be reheated since oatmeal is a pretty hearty substance to begin with so I thought that would be a great place to start.  Most of the recipes called for a single large baking dish method, not the best for my grab and go concept, so I continued to look around.  I found some single serving options on healthy eating blogs and settled on the one by Sugar Free Mom, diabetic friendly and focused on creating a healthier you.  That's all well and good, but since me and oatmeal are not long time friends I needed to sweeten up the deal.  I started by halving the recipe, then I added a bit more applesauce (I used homemade because I had it on hand), added a touch more milk, and infused it with refined sugar.  Frozen cherries were my filling of choice for a bit more sweetness, albeit natural this time.  The baking time is a bit longer, but that is probably from the extra liquids I used.  I was really happy with the texture at the end, though this is definitely  a spoon or fork dish and not one I would recommend picking up with your hands.

Here is my, much less healthy, take on the personal sized baked oatmeal recipe from Sugar Free Mom:

1 egg
1 cup applesauce
2 ½ cups rolled oats
1 ⅓ cups low fat milk (1-2%)
1 small banana smashed, or ½ of a large banana smashed
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ cup sugar (or 2 tbsp depending on preference, I like it sweet)
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
24-36 frozen cherries
cinnamon sugar blend or dark chocolate chips for topping

Hardware: cupcake/muffin pan, cupcake liners
Makes 10-12 cupcake sized servings

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. In a medium bowl mix the egg, vanilla, applesauce, mashed banana and sugar until well blended.

2. Next add in the salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and mix well with wet ingredients.

3. Stir in the oats until well blended and then pour in milk and combine.

4. Place 10-12 cupcake liners in the muffin pan.

5. Pour some of the mixture into the liners, filling each a little less then half way. Add 2-3 frozen cherries per cup, pressing down so they are partly submerged, and then add more of the mixture to cover.

6. Sprinkle the tops with a cinnamon sugar blend or dark chocolate chips (because it was just a little too close to looking healthy, and it is a nice touch of flavor).

7. Bake 35-40 minutes or until they look set. Cool and enjoy, refrigerate, or freeze individuality and then combine them in gallon freezer bags.

I like them reheated as is, just remove the cupcake liners first. But if you mash up the muffins and add a couple tablespoons of cream or milk you can have a thick oatmeal texture for some variety.

Ready for reheating at work:
(not the best photo, but it gives you the idea)