Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Soba Noodles with Sweet Ginger Scallion Sauce

I just love this recipe. The sauce is a perfect balance of sweet, spicy and sour. Soba noodles are also gluten free, so this is a great recipe if you're dieting. This dish makes great leftovers, perfect to bring to work since they won't need re-heating.

Makes 4 servings, 450 calories each.
  • 8 oz soba noodles
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 cup thinly sliced cucumber
  • 9 oz cooked chicken
Sweet Ginger Scallion sauce:
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped scallions
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • salt & pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients for sweet ginger scallion sauce and set aside for flavors to develop.

Boil soba noodles according to package directions. If you want them cold, rinse with cold water. If you want them hot, just drain. (I like them cold) Be sure to drain them very well, or you'll end-up watering down your sauce

Add the sauce, chicken, sesame seeds, sliced cucumber and toss well.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Pho Bo

Pho, pronounced "fuh", is strictly speaking a Vietnamese dish, but there are similar beef noodle soups to be had all over southeast Asia. I have literally tried over a dozen recipes, some that take all day, and others that can be completed in less than an hour. This version isn't exactly traditional, but yields a delicious dish in only a few hours.

The key to good Pho is a starting with a rich, flavorful beef broth. I usually make a big batch and freeze it in smaller containers. Since making the broth is the most time consuming step, Pho can easily become a "weeknight" dish when you have the broth already prepared.

Beef Broth (makes about 2 quarts)

  • 3 pounds beef short ribs
  • 6 quarts water
  • 1 cup peeled and chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and smashed

Combine the ribs and 3 quarts of the water in a large pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and drain and discard the liquid. (this helps reduce the amount of "scum" in your broth) Return the ribs to the pot and cover with the remaining 3 quarts of water.

Bring to a boil again, then decrease heat to medium. Skim the surface to remove any scum. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 2-3 hours. Drain through a sieve and discard the solids.

(serves 2)

  • 3 cups of beef broth
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough skin removed and minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons chili paste
  • 2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, smashed lightly with the blunt side of knife
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 pieces of star anise (whole)
  • 4 ounces of beef rib eye, strip steak, or tenderloin sliced very thin
  • 1/4 thinly sliced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 5 ounces dried rice noodles
  • 1 cup bean sprouts
  • 6 Thai basil leaves (regular basil is okay too)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro

Add a small amount of vegetable oil to a saucepan and heat to medium. Add the lemongrass, ginger, and chili paste and saute for about a minute. Add the cinnamon stick, star anise, and beef broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain through a sieve and discard the solids.

Return the broth to the saucepan and add the sliced onion, fish sauce, and soy. Season to taste with salt & pepper and keep warm. Add lime juice right before serving.

Cook the rice noodles in boiling water according to package directions. Drain, and divide into 2 bowls.

Place the sliced beef on top of the noodles *, then pour 1 1/2 cups of broth over the top. Garnish with the bean sprouts, Thai basil, and cilantro. If you like your Pho spicier, add some Sriracha hot chili sauce.

* if your beef is sliced thinly and the broth is hot, the beef will get cooked just fine by the hot broth. If your squeamish about it being too rare, though, dip the beef in the hot broth while it's still on the stove. About 10 seconds per piece should be all that's needed.

Although not traditional, I sometimes add fresh spinach to my Pho. It wilts nicely in the hot broth, and gives you an extra serving of veggies.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Korean JaJangMyun

When it comes to Korean food, I was in a rut. Pretty much BiBamBap every time! One day while perusing reviews on Yelp I saw several people mention this dish and how delicious it was. Next time I went out I tried it, and was hooked!

Makes 3 servings: 582 calories per servings


  • 1/2 pound pork, diced
  • 1 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried Thai chili (optional, and to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons Korean black bean paste
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 large potato cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium onion cut up into small cubes
  • 1 zucchini cut into small cubes
  • 2 tablespoons potato or corn starch
  • 6 ounces of Korean wheat noodles (or udon)

Get all your ingredients prepped. The jar on the left is the Korean black bean paste.

  1. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok or large saute pan. When hot add the garlic and dried chili (if using). Saute for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  2. Add the pork, and saute for a couple of minutes until browned.
  3. Add the potato and onion. 
  4. Make a well in the center of the pan and add the black bean paste and sugar.  (see below)
  5. Stir fry the bean paste for about a minute, then gradually stir it into the rest of the dish.
  6. Add 2 cups of water, cover and cook for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the diced zucchini, re-cover, and cook for 5 minutes more.
  8. Add 1 T of sesame oil
  9. Mix 2 T of cornstarch with 1/4 cup water, then add to the dish. If you're using the cornstarch, the sauce should thicken almost instantly. If using potato starch, cook for 1-2 minutes until thickened.
  10. Meanwhile, cook your noodles according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
  11. Add your noodles to the bowl and pour the black bean sauce on top. Serve!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Drunken Noodles

I have definitely been on a Thai food kick lately. This is another favorite recipe. The name doesn't refer to any alcohol in the dish, it's about the amount you'll want to drink to combat the spiciness. If you're using dried, rather than fresh Thai chili's, use half the amount.

Makes 3 servings

  • 7 oz dried wide rice noodles
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Thai chili's (adjust to taste, this is a lot!)
  • 3/4 pound ground chicken or pork
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon black soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon golden mountain sauce (or light soy sauce)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • 1/4 cup fresh Thai basil leaves (or regular basil leaves)

Cook noodles in large pot of boiling water according to package directions. Drain.

While noodles are cooking, heat oil in a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic and Thai chili's. Saute until fragrant. Add chicken, fish sauce, black soy, and golden mountain sauce and saute until chicken is cooked through, Add noodles and peppers, toss to coat. Transfer to a large platter, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Battery Backup Power

If you have a piece of equipment that you want to keep running in a power outage, you may want to invest in a battery backup system.

The most well known of these systems are UPS, which run computer systems in the event of an power outage. (or simply allow the computer to be shut down safely). Typical UPS systems do not have large enough batteries for more than a few minutes of power unless they are connected to additional battery banks. You can construct your own battery backup with the following:

  • A 12 volt deep cycle marine battery. The higher the amp hours (ah), the more power is available, and the longer you can run your equipment. Multiple batteries can also be connected in parallel to provide additional power.
  • A power inverter to convert the DC power from the battery to AC power for your equipment. *
  • A trickle charger to recharge the batteries and keep them topped off when not in use.*

* Also available are combined units, with an inverter, charger, and automatic transfer switch all in one.When grid power is available, it will use it to power your appliance, and keep your batteries topped off. When grid power goes out, it will automatically switch to battery power. This Tripp Lite inverter/charger is an excellent example.

This illustration show the basic setup:

How many watts?

In order to determine the size of the inverter you need, you'll need to determine the wattage of the equipment you want to run. This should be printed on a plate on the equipment, or indicated in the manual. To calculate the total wattage:

  • Record the number of watts (W) for each piece of equipment. If watts are not listed, multiply the volts (V) times the amps (A).
  • If your're powering an appliance with an electrical motor, (like a refrigerator) additional power will be needed to start the motor. This will be listed as "starting" wattage or "max" wattage. If this is listed on your appliance, also add this value.
  • Add up the wattage to get the total. Make sure you buy an inverter that can handle the total load. It's a good idea to buy a slightly larger inverter than you need, just in case.
Most inverters are able to handle a short burst of additional wattage without overloading. This will be listed as peak wattage.

Do I need a sine wave inverter? What is the difference between modified and pure sine wave?

Without getting overly technical, the power that you get from your electric company is a pure sine wave. It is smooth, even power, without any surges. A modified sine wave is not quite as good, but many electronics can deal with it just fine. Sensitive electronics like a computer, however, will require a pure sine wave. Even my pellet stove has fancy enough electronics to require a pure sine wave. So be sure to check your equipment manual and make sure you buy the proper inverter. Pure sine wave inverters are more expensive, but you'll have the peace of mind of knowing your equipment won't get fried.

Store your batteries correctly
Be sure to buy a sealed deep cycle marine battery. Unsealed batteries can off-gas, and this gas can ignite if the battery doesn't have proper ventilation. To be absolutely safe, you may wish to purchase a battery box to store your battery in.

I hope that you found this guide useful. I'm currently saving up to build a battery back up for my pellet stove. If and when that happens, I'll be sure to post a picture. =)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pad Korat

I just discovered this Thai recipe recently, and it's definitely a keeper! It's a wonderful combination of spicy and sweet. Links are provided for the harder-to-find ingredients.


  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups sliced meat of your choice (I used pork)
  • 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground Thai chile peppers
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 ounces of rice noodles
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts
  • 2 cups bok choy, cut into bite-sized pieces


Soak the rice noodles in warm water for about 15 minutes. While the noodles are soaking, heat vegetable oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Add garlic, and saute until aromatic. Add sugar. Keep stirring until dissolved. Add ground chile, fish sauce, sweet soy sauce, and water. Bring to a high simmer, then add meat and cook until done. Drain the noodles and put them into the wok. Stir-fry until the noodles absorb most of the sauce. Add the vegetables and stir-fry another few minutes or until your vegetables are cooked but still a bit crunchy. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Amazon Add-On Items

I'm a regular shopper at The selection of items is truly amazing, and they are very quick to ship orders. I even spent $75 to get a Prime membership so I could get free two day shipping, even on small orders.

Amazon recently announced a new "Add-on" program. The help file explains that items marked as an add-on are too cost-prohibitive to ship on their own. So you must purchase a minimum of $25 of other merchandise in order to be allowed to purchase the add-on item.

I smell something fishy....

These are called "tub tattoos". They are non-slip decals for your tub. The clown fish variety above is an add-on item. They cost $5.99 for a package of five. There are many different styles to choose from, including these turtles:

The turtles are made by the same manufacturer and offered for the same price. But they are not an add-on item. How can these be cost-effective to ship on their own, when the clown fish are not?

What's really puzzling is there is no option to purchase an add-on item, except to buy $25 of other merchandise. Some customers on the Amazon forums said they even contacted Amazon and offered to pay extra shipping charges to purchase an add-on item by itself. Amazon still said no.

For this to come from a company like Amazon, who is well known for making smart business decisions, is a real head scratcher. My prime membership is up for renewal in another month. If I keep running into these add-on items, I doubt I'll be renewing it!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Losing Our Religion?

The 2012 Presidential election highlighted a shift in the religious affiliation of the country:

  • 16.1% - The percentage of Americans who identified themselves as religously unaffiliated
  • 25% - The percentage of Americans, ages 18-29, who identified as religously unaffiliated

Among Americans who have changed religious affiliation, those who are now unaffiliated with any particular religion have seen the greatest growth in numbers.

And the greatest net loss of affiliation was experienced by Catholics:

  • 31% - The percentage of Americans who were raised in the Catholic faith
  • 24% - The percentage of Americans who identify as Catholic today

Source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Has religion outlived is original purpose? When I think about the point in history that Christianity was forming, I think of the height of the Roman Empire. It was a time of great excess. Food, wine and other creature comforts were in abundance. Wealthy Romans held many slaves, threw lavish parties, and indulged in every sexual appetite. I believe that Christianity rose out of a need to rein in this behavior. The ten commandments created a baseline morality of how human beings should behave. And hell was the punishment for those who ignored the rules.

And while society has continued to evolve, the catholic religion has remained stagnant, still holding to the same principles it was found on over two thousand years ago.

If American society is becoming more secular, does that mean that we will deteriorate into the Roman time of excess? I would like to believe that humanity has evolved since then and that most people will choose to do the right thing without the threat of going to hell.

In a lecture on "A Good Heart - The key to Health and Happiness" the Dalai Lama emphasized that cultivating secular ethics - which he said has nothing to do with religion - benefits all human beings. He said strengthening inner values of warm-heartedness and compassion benefits both believers and non-believers in leading a happy and meaningful life.

Wouldn't our society be stronger overall, if we did the right thing because it was the right thing, and not because we feared what would happen if we didn't?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Shrimp Curry Rice Noodles

This is a conglomeration of several different red curry recipes I've tried. It's spicy, creamy, and very comforting. Whatever you do, don't use regular globe eggplants for this recipe, they have too many seeds. I usually use the thin Japanese eggplants or the small Thai eggplants.

I've also made this dish with boneless, skinless chicken thighs rather than the shrimp. Add the chicken when the broth first comes to a simmer, along with an extra 1/2 cup of chicken broth. Simmer for the full 20 minutes, turning the chicken once.

Serves 2

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon red Thai curry paste
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon lime juice
1 Japanese or 3 Thai egpplants, sliced into 1/2 inch thick slices
8 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 oz. dried rice noodles

Put the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and saute until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger, and red bell pepper and stir until combined. Add the curry powder and cook until it is absorbed, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, coconut milk, curry paste, fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime zest, lime juice, and a pinch of salt & pepper. Mix well, then add the eggplant slices. Simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Place the noodles in boiling water and cook according to package directions.

About 2 minutes before the noodles will be done, add the shrimp to the simmering broth.

After draining the noodles, add them to the curry mixture and stir to combine. Serve immediately.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hurricanes and Gay Marriage

My favorite line from the HBO Show "The Newsroom":

“I’m a registered Republican. I only seem liberal because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not by gay marriage.” - Will McEvoy

I worry about political extremism in this country. Every day, my Facebook news feed features indignant posts by people who think they have all the answers. They're outraged by anyone who disagrees with them, and blame them for all the country's problems.

I guess you could call me a Liberal and a Progressive. I believe that as as long as no one is victimized or hurt by what you're doing, you should be able to live your life by your own moral compass. If you want to marry someone of your own gender, fine. If you don't, fine. But don't presume to tell someone else that they have to live by your values.

There's a lot to like about the Republican party. Fiscal solvency would certainly be great for the country. Smaller government and lower taxes - woo-hoo!! If they would only stop there.

Unfortunately, the Republican party insists on aligning itself with the Christian right. They claim that our country was founded by Christians, with Christian values. Here's a few quotes from some of our founding fathers, you be the judge:

James Madison:

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise." 

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." 

John Adams:

"Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years?"

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it." 

Thomas Jefferson

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

"No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever." -Virginia Act for Religious Freedom 

Just think, if we could truly separate church and state, and toss out all the soapbox issues of the Christian right like gay marriage, abortion, and the like, maybe we could finally get down to the business of running the country. And I could seriously consider supporting a Republican candidate.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Online Real Estate Guide for Buyers

With mortgage rates at historic lows, you may be thinking about purchasing a home. This guide will help get you started.

I do NOT recommend that you be your own Realtor. Realtor’s are an essential part of the process, and you need one in your corner. What I plan to cover is the legwork you can get done ahead of time so that when you do contact a realtor, you can hit the ground running.

Before you start looking at houses, some items to consider:


  1. School District - if you have kids (or plan to have them), are there certain school districts you want to target? To avoid?
  2. Commute - What would your drive to work be like? When you’re excited about a house you may think you’d be willing to sit in traffic for hours to get to work every day but trust me, it will get old.
  3. Traffic - Are you willing to live on a busy road, or do you value peace and quiet?
  4. Fun - Are there any extra-curricular activities you want to live near?
  5. Neighbors - Do you want other people living near you, or do you value your privacy?

  1. Besides the obvious items like number of bedrooms and bathrooms, what other amenities are important to you? Do you need lots of storage? If you live in a cold climate, what type of heat does the house have?  
  2. Renovations - DIY shows on TV can make home renovations seem quick and easy. In truth it’s a lot of work. Consider the reality in terms of time, energy and costs, before you purchase a house that needs a lot of work.
  3. Pets - If you own pets think about their needs as well. Do you need a place for a litterbox? A fenced yard for a dog?

  1. Yard - Are you up for cutting the grass in a large yard? Plowing the driveway of snow?
  2. House - What types of regular maintenance such as painting/staining will the house require?

Determine your price range:
Be sure to get pre-approved for a mortgage before you get started. Don’t necessarily go by the maximum amount the bank is willing to offer you, though. You need to consider all costs, as well as your own spending habits to determine how much you are able to afford to pay.

Start Looking
Once you’re clear about what you want, and how much you can afford, it’s time to start looking at listings. It’s a good idea to start looking at the web sites of local realtors, but I’d also recommend two other online services, both of which also have mobile apps:

Don’t be afraid to look at houses that are slightly above your price range. Everything is negotiable!

Next Steps:
Most real estate listings will include the address of the home. Before contacting a Realtor, drive by the house. It will often look different in person than it does in the picture. This also gives you an opportunity to survey the neighborhood, and the commute.

Once you’ve found a good group of houses it’s time to contact a realtor. Talk to your friends and co-workers to get some recommendations. If you can, avoid a realtor that is representing one of the houses you’re targeting. Those realtors are representing the seller, you want someone who’s looking out for your interests.

Other online resources:
Heating Options - This tool can help you estimate what your annual heating costs would be using different heating systems.

Renovation Estimates- This tool helps you estimate the costs of various home rennovation projects.

Mortgage 101- Mortgage information, including a calculator.

Last bit of advice:
Don’t completely drain your savings to make a downpayment on a home. Even if the house is in great shape, there are always items you’ll need to purchase in a new home, not to mention the expenses involved in moving.