Arlene Poma

One-Pan Moussaka

In Recipes on April 14, 2014 at 9:35 pm

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As far as vegetables go, you can say eggplant is meaty as well as filling.  Here is a simple dish that is so easy to make in a skillet. When I finished making the dish in a cast iron skillet, I popped the skillet into the oven.  I make a mess whenever I cook and bake, so I am always looking for one-pan or one-pot recipes. 

One-Pan Moussaka

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef

1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2/3 cup water

1 cup Parmesan cheese

olive oil

salt and pepper

Instructions

1.  In a large skillet with about two tablespoons of olive oil, lightly fry eggplant slices on both sides.  Place eggplant slices on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350-degree oven until eggplant softens.

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2.  Brown meat in the same skillet.

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3.  In a bowl, thoroughly mix cornstarch and water.

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4.  Move half the ground beef to one side of the skillet, and place eggplant in skillet.  Cover the eggplant with some ground beef.  Place remaining eggplant on the other side of the skillet.

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5.  Cover all eggplant slices with ground beef.

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6.  Top with remaining end pieces.  Pour cornstarch and water over meat and eggplant mixture.  Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Place skillet in 350-degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

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7.  Serve immediately.

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Welcome to Our California Drought Garden

In Gardening on April 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

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This year, there won’t be a vegetable garden at my home.  I won’t be planting any flowers or shrubs because the extreme California drought is still here.

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The name of the game is saving water.  Like many of my friends who garden, I have agreed to limit the number of plants around my home.  Mister Jack planted a tomato plant.  I have a garden box of onions and garlic.  That’s it!

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Sure, I’m very disappointed, but there is nothing I can do.  I can only admire what I have, and they’d better be bulletproof. 

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I miss digging, weeding and planting, but I’m beyond throwing tantrums and pouting.  You can plant in pots, but when the valley heat hits as high as 115 degrees in the summer, you are stuck watering potted plants each day.  That’s how fast the soil evaporates.  If you want your freedom, it is best to plant directly into the ground.   

Spring is the best time for colorful growth, so I don’t want to miss a thing.  In the morning and in the evening, I stand in my front or backyard and take in the view.  The drought is just a test to see which plants can survive on weekly watering.  I was ready to lose a few roses, but they are still blooming.  After all, I see them as weeds with thorns.  They grow and somehow survive where they are planted.

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While waiting for this drought to end, I’m planning a front yard with more drought-tolerant plants.  At the same time, I also want plants that will attract hummingbirds and beneficial insects.  We have turned our front yard into a bird sanctuary by constantly keeping clean water in the birdbath.  And stocking our bird and hummingbird feeders.  Watching the birds has become our entertainment.  This practice will continue long after the drought is over.         

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For me, there will always be room for another rose.

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Quick and Easy Chicken and Black Bean Stir Fry

In Recipes on April 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm

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 I will turn 56 next month, and I am still learning how to eat vegetables.

What???

Yes, that’s right.  My father was a carnivore who ate nothing but meat and desserts.  That’s only one sad part of my nutritional journey, so I’ll spare you the rest for now.  Like father, like daughter.  Poor eating habits are hard to break, but any bad habit can be broken.  It takes determination and putting your goal into practice.  So far, so good.  These things don’t happen overnight.  

Stir fry is a great way to get your vegetables, and as a home cook, I can easily prep and stir fry a meal in less than half an hour.  We have not gone to our favorite Chinese restaurant in months because Chinese food can have ingredients that me and Mister Jack don’t need.  MSG, excessive sugar in sauces and fat are a start. 

I am retired, and I have time to shop and cook.  I no longer want or need to go to a restaurant or some fast food joint because I am on a medical diet.  There’s food that I cannot eat, so by making our meals at home, I can pick my recipes, control the ingredients and the way the dish is prepared.  I know what’s in our meals, but you are not totally sure of what’s in your food (or how it’s prepared) when you eat out.       

Since I’ve been cooking and baking since I was four, I don’t really measure.  Most people who are used to cooking usually tweak recipes to make them their own. I cook with what I have, and I don’t need to rush to the store for missing ingredients.  I either substitute or do without.  Depending on what you have around the house and what your family likes to eat, you can use one or more vegetables to go with the chicken.  As you can see, I happen to be a big fan of sugar snap peas, but I didn’t have mushrooms available.  Maybe next time.  

Easy Chicken Stir Fry

Ingredients

Stir Fry Base

Two chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (or smaller)

1 teaspoon minced ginger

1 teaspoon garlic

1 onion, sliced

3 or more cups vegetables (your choice).  The more color, the better.  Use bell pepper, mushrooms, carrots, celery, cabbage, bean sprouts, sugar snap peas, water chestnuts, etc.  Think of your favorite stir fry dish and go from there.  

Cornstarch

1 -2 teaspoons oil

Salt

Pepper

Black Bean Sauce

2 heaping teaspoons black bean sauce

1/2 cup water

Siracha (optional)

You can do without the cornstarch in the stir fry base and the black bean sauce.  A lot of stir fry dishes include a thick gravy, but I am beginning to appreciate the taste and the crunch of certain vegetables.  Black bean sauce and Siracha are both common ingredients, and can be found in Asian markets, your favorite supermarket or any supermarket that specializes in international food.  I use the black bean and Siracha sauce for flavor.

Instructions 

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1.  Get all of your vegetables together.  Wash thoroughly and chop into pieces.  Set aside until ready to stir fry.

2.   Make sauce by mixing black bean sauce and water in a small bowl.  Add Siracha if desired.  Set aside.Image

3.  Roll chicken pieces in a small amount of cornstarch.

4.  Add oil to skillet or wok. 

5.  Fry chicken pieces until brown, using salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.   

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6.  Scrape and remove brown bits from skillet.  Add more oil if needed.

7.  Add ginger, garlic and onions to skillet.  Stir over medium high heat until onions soften.

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6.  Add vegetables.  Stir constantly over high heat until the firmer vegetables (like carrots and celery) are slightly softened.

7.  Add chicken to vegetables.  Add sauce to stir fry mixture.  Stir until chicken meat and vegetables are coated in sauce.

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8.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.  You can serve stir fry by itself or in lettuce cups.  Or with rice or noodles.

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