Junior Mac

E948D0E4-B029-44BD-8C78-881885E45A2CAs a child of the 1990s McDonald’s was a major pillar in the structure of my life. Because my family was very frugal with their money, my sisters and I often dreamed of dolls and toys from television commercials knowing that they were never coming home with us. Now that I am an adult I realize what a huge waste of money these overpriced toys are. But as a young child, these seemed to be the end-all be-all of life itself. You felt like you had to have a Barbie doll, Furby, and Tomagachi to fit in with the other kids. Anyway, this was why I looked forward to Happy Meals as a kid. It often came with a toy that otherwise would never have reached my eager hands. As I grew older, I began to appreciate food for its own merits as opposed to its role as a bridge to coveted toys. I realized that the Big Mac tasted so much better than the cheeseburgers in Happy Meals. Back in those days, supersize was the way to go. Of course, at the time we did not realize that this would contribute to an already growing obesity epidemic. I remember the joy and reckless abandon with which I approached each Big Mac combo.

Unfortunately these eating habits led to alarming weight gain into my early twenties. I realized that I could not eat McDonald’s on a regular basis if I wanted to live a long healthy life so I changed my eating habits and exercise habits. Nowadays my typical lunch and dinner plates are filled with veggies and lean proteins. But every once in a while, I crave food that transports me back to the simple days. I return to my childhood favorites, and the Big Mac is definitely #1 for me. Something I’ve learned about food is that nothing improves the taste of food more than nostalgia. Well….nothing beside extreme hunger. So, in attempt to relive fond childhood memories, I made my own Junior Mac. It is a very easy recipe, and unlike the original Big Mac, it only has 1 slice of cheese, 1 patty, and 1 bun. It satisfied my craving without breaking the calorie bank. My husband was definitely a happy camper when I made this for dinner. Hope you enjoy it too!

Cooking Tips

The fattier the ground beef, the more juicy and tender it is. 85% lean ground beef would probably yield a juicier burger, but for health reasons, I usually choose 90-95% lean. The choice is yours.

Do not smash or press your burgers as they cook. That will release all the juices and result in a dry patty.

I like to season my ground beef and mix it together, then form a patty. It gives the meat better flavor. Some people choose to form the patty and then put the seasoning on top. It depends on personal preference, but I am always in favor of more flavor.

For burger patties, always make the patty the same size or a bit larger in circumference than your bun. Burger patties shrink when they are cooked, and if yours is too small it throws off the ratio of your cheeseburger.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
1 lb ground beef, 90% lean
1 tbsp seasoned salt (I used the Trader Joe’s brand) or to taste
ground pepper to taste
4 burger buns
4 leaves of lettuce
4 slices sharp cheddar or American’s singles
½ cup onion, diced
8 tbsp Thousand Island dressing
Optional: sliced pickles

Place buns in toaster oven and set to light to medium darkness.

Season ground beef with seasoned salt and pepper, then form into 4 equal patties. Use the burger bun as a reference point for the size of your patties. Make your burger the same size or a bit larger than your bun.

Heat large skillet and spray with a bit of cooking oil. When pan is hot place burger patties on skillet. Fry on each side for 3-5 minutes depending on desired level of doneness.

After flipping burger patties, place a slice of cheese on top of each patty and cover pan with a lid to allow cheese to melt.

(Optional step: sear some additional cheese directly on the pan for 1 minute for a gooey burnt cheese addition to your burger. )

When burger patties are done, spread Thousand Island dressing on both sides of buns.

Place burger patty on bottom bun. Layer lettuce, onion, and pickles on top. Then top with the top bun.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

Pulled Pork Sliders with Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing

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Ok, brace yourselves. This recipe has multiple components, but with a little patience and the help of a slow cooker, you will get through. I love Mexican flavors and spices, and will oftentimes use them in recipes that are my own versions of some traditional dishes that I’ve tasted growing up in a Chicano community. I do not pretend to be an expert in Latin cooking, but I definitely have a fond appreciation of it and try my best to emulate some of the flavors that I’ve tasted.

I had a house warming party for my husband’s cousins about a month ago. I took requests for what they wanted to eat and my nephew Miles requested something with slow cooked pork using Latin spices. Which is how I came up with this Latin-inspired pulled pork slider. The pulled pork is actually quite simple to make because I use pre-made salsa as the sauce/marinade for the pulled pork.

Because the pulled pork brings spice and savory meatiness, I wanted to have a contrast of flavors and textures. I wanted some sweetness, which was why I chose to serve the pulled pork on Hawaiian rolls. I also wanted an acidic sharp brightness to lighten the heaviness of the pulled pork, which was why I added some pickled red onion. Lastly, the cilantro lime cotija dressing brings everything together with a nice creaminess that adds a zing and cools the tongue after it’s been tantalized with those wonderful spices in the pulled pork. So there you go: every component serves a purpose and helps to make this a complete dish.

Cooking tips:

Usually slow cooking results in lots of liquid left in the pot. I decided to pour out this liquid, remove most of the fat, and then boil it on high heat to let it reduce to about half its volume. I then added this reduced sauce back into the pulled pork to soak in. The result? Amazing depth of flavor. I highly recommend doing this to any slow cooked meat dish you make in the future. Do not waste those yummy juices! They just need a little tweaking and help from heat to concentrate their deliciousness.

To dilute the harsh spiciness of raw onion, soak it in cold water for at least an hour before using. I did this for the pickled onion prior to marinating it in its pickling brine and it worked really nicely.

For better depth of flavor and richness, use full fat Greek Yogurt rather than reduced or non-fat. You will not be sorry.

Cotija can be substituted with feta cheese, but the cotija gives this dish the Latin flair that I was aiming for.

A leaner cut of meat would not do well with this recipe because slow cooking can really dry out the meat, resulting in a tough product at the end. For example, a pork loin center cut would not be recommended.

Since this is a crockpot recipe, it can be done ahead of time and would even be more delicious the day after making the pulled pork. Meat dishes that are slow cooked tend to taste better 1-2 days after the initial cooking time.

Serving suggestions for leftovers (as you all know that I do not like to waste food): the pickled onion is great in salads and on other sandwiches if you have any leftover; the cilantro lime dressing is something that I make for dipping veggie sticks or as a kind of green goddess dressing for my salads and/or pita wraps; the pulled pork can be frozen and later used as a filling for quesadillas and enchiladas, even tamales if you are up to the task.

Recipe
Serves 20
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Passive Cooking Time: 6 hours

1 dozen Hawaiian rolls

Pulled Pork
10 lb pork butt
4 tbsp BBQ rub (salt, black pepper, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper)
½ tub of Del Real red salsa (or your favorite red salsa)
4 whole tomatoes, diced

Rub pork with BBQ rub, then place into a large crockpot.

Pour salsa and tomatoes into the crockpot surrounding the pork.

Add 1 cup of water.

Turn crockpot onto high heat and slow cook for approximately 6 hours, or until pork is tender and can be easily pulled apart with a fork.

When pork is ready, remove from the crockpot and allow to cool before starting to pull pork apart.

Remove fat from the liquid left in crockpot and place the liquid in a saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10-15 minutes or until liquid reduces in volume by half.

When pork is cooled, use fingers to pull pork into small 1-inch pieces. Remove any excess large pieces of fat remaining on the pork. When pork is completely pulled, add in reduced cooking liquid. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

Pickled onion
1 red onion
2 cups water (for soaking)
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt

Thinly slice onion and submerge into a cold water bath for at least an hour.

Then mix water with vinegar, sugar, and salt until sugar and salt crystals dissolve. The mixture should be somewhat salty and sweet, with a sour bite from the vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Then place soaked onions into this pickling liquid.

Pickle onions at least 2 hours. For better results, pickle overnight.

Cilantro Lime Cotija Dressing
1 handful fresh cilantro
juice and zest of 2 limes
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
½ cup cotija cheese, crumbled (can be substituted with feta)
1 tsp black pepper
pinch of salt to taste
1 tsp sugar

Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until it becomes a smooth green mixture.

Taste for seasoning and adjust to your taste.

After all pulled pork, pickled onions, and cilantro lime cotija dressing are prepared, assemble sandwiches using Hawaiian rolls. Garnish with cilantro leaves.

Serve to your guests and enjoy!

Tomato Cucumber Avocado Toast

868A05A6-5D3E-4EDA-B98D-747EF0092292 (1)I am a person with many unpopular opinions and preferences. For one, I dislike Hello Kitty. * Gasp* This one has always shocked my friends. I also dislike Disneyland because I feel that it is an over-commercialized theme park that drains honest working people of their money and creates a vicious cycle for parents and their children. How does this relate to my post for today? My last unpopular opinion that I dare to share is that I dislike most breakfast foods. It’s not that I hate eating in the morning; I just do not enjoy the super rich foods that are popular as American breakfast items: scrambled eggs, omelets, pancakes, sausages, breakfast burritos. For breakfast, I usually enjoy lunch/dinner foods. People often give me strange looks when they see what I bring for breakfast. Growing up in a Cantonese/Vietnamese family, breakfast was often a savory affair that consisted of whatever leftovers we had from the previous night. Or we would have rice porridge (i.e., congee) flavored with chicken, pork, and various herbs.

Anyway, I’ve had to re-think what I find acceptable for breakfast because it is not ideal to start the work day on an empty stomach. I am someone who experiences pretty extreme hanger (defined as anger precipitated by hunger). It would definitely not be ideal to snap at my coworkers just because I have sworn off most breakfast foods. I like simple foods for breakfast that are not overly heavy or rich, and importantly, do not take too much time to prepare. So, toast with different types of toppings is a perfect solution. I really enjoy the freshness that lime juice, tomatoes, and cucumber bring to this avocado toast. It makes breakfast feel lighter, while also providing adequate nutrition to start your day. Ironically, there is a running joke about Millennials and how much money we spend on avocados. Who knows if my extravagant spending on avocados will prevent me from ever being a home owner? But I do know this: I will be smiling in the mornings because of the satisfaction from eating this delicious and satisfying breakfast. And happiness is what life is all about, right?

 

Cooking Tips

This is a ridiculously simple recipe, so no, there are no “real” cooking tips for this specific dish. But I think that seasoning is so important for this dish because of its simplicity and “cleanness” of ingredients. I made sure to lightly season all the layers of veggies with a sprinkle of garlic salt to infuse the avocado toast with flavor. If you only season on top, the rest of the toast will be bland and then you will be hit with a wall of salt on the top. That is definitely not yummy, nor is it pleasant. So, with this dish as with others, season your components individually and then as whole. Always season along the way.

With certain dishes using cucumber, you would want to cut the cucumber in half length-wise and spoon out the seeds in the center. In this casual breakfast dish, feel free to leave the seeds in.

Recipe
Servings: 2
Prep Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients
2 slices whole wheat toast
½ avocado sliced
1 Persian cucumber, thinly sliced
1 Roma tomato, thinly sliced
squeeze of lime juice
pinch of garlic salt
pinch of fresh ground black pepper

Place toast in a toaster/toaster oven and allow to toast for 5-10 minutes at 300 degrees F.

Slice avocado, cucumber, and tomato thinly. Set aside.

When toast is golden brown and crispy, layer cucumber on and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Then layer tomato and sprinkle sparingly with garlic salt. Lastly, top with avocado.

Add a little splash of fresh squeezed lime juice on top of avocado toast. Add a small sprinkle of garlic salt and fresh ground black pepper.

Enjoy!

 

Chicken and Roasted Vegetable Wraps

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I am a huge fan of leftovers. Throughout my childhood, my parents taught me the importance of minimizing waste. This was because they grew up in less than ideal circumstances, often going hungry due to not having enough food available. When they came to America, they were horrified by what they saw their fellow neighbors do with excess food: toss it in the trash. I recently ate at a Middle Eastern restaurant with my husband, and we were dazzled by the delicious variety of dips that came with our pita bread. Eating out is a huge challenge for our health goals because portions in America are ginormous! So we’ve tried to make it a habit to enjoy ourselves fully while eating out, but also not overdoing it. Instead of clearing all of the food that is in front of us at a restaurant, we choose to stop eating right when we no longer feel hungry and box everything up to enjoy later on. This single change in behavior has been so instrumental in helping me lose over 30 lbs and keep it off (for the most part) over the years.

So our dinner featured eggplant and caramelized onion dip, tzatziki, and hummus. I wanted to find a way to utilize these dips by breathing new life into them. So in the spirit of re-using leftovers, I made these chicken wraps using roasted chicken from Costco. Ready-made hummus, tzatziki, and baba ganoush would be perfectly suitable dips for this wrap. I roasted zucchinis, red peppers, eggplant, and caramelized onions for some freshness and flavor. Roasting is one of my favorite simple ways to prepare veggies. My friend gifted me a grill pan when he was getting ready to move out of the country. And I am happy to say that I have given his pan lots of love through the years. It can be a lot of work to start a fire in an outdoor grill, so a grill pan is a nice and easy substitute that also provides a similar flavor profile.

Cooking Tips

Honestly, this recipe is incredibly simple to put together since many ingredients are store bought. It is challenging to think of a good cooking tip…. I guess the tip that I have is related to sandwich architecture, about which I am a huge stickler. Don’t you hate sandwiches that become soggy and fall apart when you go to eat them? That is one of my biggest food pet peeves. To avoid these pitfalls, make sure that you DO NOT let dips or wet vegetables (e.g., tomato, cucumber, lettuce) touch the surface of the bread. Instead, let drier veggies (e.g., avocado, roasted eggplant), meat, and cheese (or some dry cheese spreads) sit at the base of the bread and neatly stack other ingredients on top of these. Place dips/wet ingredients in the middle of your sandwich and place drier ingredients at the top. This creates a barrier for the top and bottom of your bread and protects it from wet ingredients and allows your bread to stay intact/relatively dry.

 

Recipe 
Servings: 4-6
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients
Lavash bread
1 cup roasted chicken
2 tbsp hummus
1 tbsp tzatziki sauce
1 tbsp eggplant dip/baba ganoush
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red bell peppers
1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise
1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise
1 tsp garlic salt
½ onion, sliced
1 cup salad greens
optional: 1 avocado

Roast bell peppers whole in toaster oven on broil for 15-20 minutes, until peppers have softened and skin has black spots. When they are done, place into a large bowl and cover the bowl to allow steam to help loosen the skins. When bell peppers have cooled (5-10 minutes), remove skin and seeds from the inside. Slice and set aside for use.

Cut zucchini into ½ inch thick slices lengthwise. Cut eggplant into ½ inch slices lengthwise.

Heat pan on medium high. Spray pan with olive oil. Place zucchini onto pan evenly. Roast for 3-5 minutes each side, until brown grill marks have formed. Repeat for eggplant. Remove from heat when grill marks are golden brown and season with garlic salt.

Heat another pan on medium. Add olive oil and add onions. Saute until golden brown and caramelized, occasionally moving onions around ~5-10 minutes.

Once veggies are cooled, begin to assemble sandwich.

Place lavash bread on a clean flat surface length-wise. On the left or right side, begin stacking 2 slices of roasted eggplant and 2 slices of zucchini neatly. Then spread sauces on top of roasted veggies: hummus, tzatziki, and baba ganoush. Place roasted bell peppers on top of the sauces. Neatly stack a handful of shredded roasted chicken next to the stack of roasted veggies. Then, next to the chicken, neatly pile a small handful of salad greens. Optional: top salad greens with a few slices of avocado. Spread a thin strip of hummus on the other end of the lavash bread to act as glue for the roll. Begin rolling from the side that has veggies on it. Roll over the chicken and veggies, making sure to keep the roll tight. Roll until you reach the end with hummus, which will seal the roll and help it keep its shape.

Enjoy!