Thursday, June 2, 2011

Creative Cooking

Being in Japan, it's sometimes difficult to find the comfort foods of home.  Things that I once took for granted, like my favorite cereals, breakfast foods, cheese, specialty health foods, and Mexican ingredients, suddenly became luxuries.  It's an odd feeling to be the one scouring the "Foreign Foods" section of the department store hoping that they have tortilla chips this month.  Added to the fact that I often can't find my favorite foods, I typically cannot read what foods are at the grocery store if I cannot tell what something is just by looking at it.  

On top of this dilemma, I'm still a relatively picky eater- I don't like fried food, mayo, ketchup, mustard, most BBQ sauces or BBQ flavors, pickled anything, anything that looks regurgitated (such as the popular Japanese dish Okonomiyaki or natto, feel free to Google them) or textures that invoke the gag reflex (like mochi).  Unfortunately, mayo is very popular here, used on everything from rice dishes, to salads, to pizzas and is a lot harder to avoid than I expected. 

It's been both good and bad for my diet.  On the one hand, fresh fruits and vegetables are safe for me to get because I don't need a sign or directions telling me what they are or how to eat them.  On the other hand, I am not very adventurous with trying new foods here.  I've looked into trying some Japanese dishes, but they use ingredients that I don't know how to use, and usually can't identify in the grocery store.  Thus, I've tried getting creative with the foods that I do know to get healthy, nutritious, and easy meals.  

Here are some of my favorite.  For most of them, I adapted the recipes from things I've made in the past.  Feel free to try them yourself!

Spinach Taco Rolls

Ingredients: Ground Beef, spinach leaves (or romaine lettuce leaves for larger rolls), tomatoes/salsa (I used Tatefully Simple's Simply Salsa), cheese, and avocado sliced into chunks. 
Directions: Brown the beef with taco seasonings (I used Tastefully Simple Fiesta mix) and add a spoonful to each spinach leaf.  Top with cheese, avocado, and salsa or tomatoes.  If you have toothpicks, use them to keep the roll shut until serving.
**This is a good recipe for the times when you're craving tacos but don't have access to tortillas!  Or if you're watching your carbs.  Either way, it's good.**

Failproof Egg Breakfast

Ingredients: 4 eggs and about 2 cups of veggies - I make this recipe when I have veggies that I need to use quickly so in this picture it's made with mushrooms, asparagus, green peppers, and onion.
Directions: Chop up vegetables and put in a smallish size ceramic cookware.  Whisk eggs with some salt and pour over the vegetables, making sure that all the veggies are coated or covered with the egg mix.  Bake on high at 180C or 350F for 25-35 minutes or until eggs are set. 

Hot Chicken Salad

Ingredients: Thinly sliced chicken, I used about 120grams, onion slices, green pepper, mushroom, and spinach leaves.  I let the chicken soak in some spices while I was at work in the morning (I used Fiesta mix again)
Directions: Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and add the onions.  As they start browning add the chicken.  After a few minutes, flip the chicken and add the green peppers.  In the last minute of cooking, add the mushrooms and spinach leaves.  If needed add a little water to keep the chicken moist.  When finished serve immediately. 

Summer Sandwich 

Ingredients: bread, tomatoes or salsa, spinach leaves, cheese, and an avocado.  
Directions: Slightly toast the bread before adding the ingredients.  Add a large slice of avocado, the spinach leaves, and cheese and finish toasting.  Before putting the two slices of bread together, add a few slices of tomatoes or a generous amount of salsa. 

Blueberry Loaf 

This one was used with frozen blueberries (which are still quite expensive) and made almost step by step from the online recipe  Totally delicious though!

Grilled Eggplant Sandwich

Ingredients: Eggplant, bread, cheese, tomato, onion, dressing (I used the popular creamy sesame salad dressing)
Directions: slice the eggplant and lay the slices out on a paper towel.  Lightly salt the exposed side of the eggplant and let it dry for 5-7 minutes.  Flip and do the same to the other side.  Then, put the eggplant in a toaster oven or grill for 10 or so minutes.  While it's grilling, chop onions and tomatoes and mix the vegetables with a few tablespoons of the dressing.  When the eggplant is evenly toasted (you may want to flip the eggplant at some point) put it on the bread, top with some cheese and the veggie mix, and lightly toast for 1-2 more minutes to partially melt the cheese.  

I don't normally make plugs for companies, but I always love it when my mom sends me Tastefully Simple products, especially the spices that last a long time.  They're easy to use and flavorful.  The only products that the company does that don't really work here are the cheeseball packs because things like cheese, cream cheese, and sour cream are really really expensive. 

So far these are my favorite go-to recipes and are relatively easy to make.  Usually the cleanup takes longer than the preparation and consuming part of it! I often make these dishes when I come home during my usual lunch break on a work day.  I only wish that I had a dishwasher to make things easier...


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