Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

I got this recipe from my sister who got it from some website.  I tweaked it a bit to make it vegetarian friendly.  Rough list of the ingredients you’ll need:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes.  Dice them in little cubes so they boil quickly and so you can eat sooner.
  • 1 large onion.  Dice it up.
  • 1 package of Trader Joe’s Beef-less Ground Beef
  • 1 package of Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome.  It’s a frozen medley of carrots, peas and corn.
  • 2 tbsp of butter to mash the potatoes

Boil and mash the potatoes

First thing, preheat the oven to 400F.

Next, bring a pot of water to boiling.  Add the diced up potatoes and boil them for around 12 minutes.  You want them soft.  Once they’re boiled, mash them up in a bowl with the butter.  Set them aside.

Sautee and cook the onions and then add everything else

Heat a pan up, add some oil and then sautee the onions till they’re golden and shiny and they look delicious.  Add the ground beef and while it’s cooking I’d add a generous portion of sea salt and maybe something else from the spice cabinet.  I tried cumin this time and it was ok.  Black pepper may be a better call.

The ‘meat’ is already cooked so after a few minutes you can add the Foursome.  Once you’ve got it all in there, I’d add a cup of water to make things cook better.  Eyeball it and see what it needs.  Lower the temp, cover it and let it do its thing for 10 minutes or so.

Layer into the casserole dish

This is the easiest part.  Take the beef, veggie, onion mixture and put all of it in a casserole dish.  Smooth it out.  Then add the mashed potatoes across the top.  I like to get it pretty well covered all over and then with a fork bring up a few peaks to give it some texture.

Cook for 30 minutes; broil for 10 minutes

Place it in the oven, uncovered.  30 minutes will cook it.  After that, turn it up to Broil and let it cook for another 10 minutes.  This should make the potatoes a bit browner and firmer.

How to be ridiculously productive in an hour

What do Facebook, email, text messages and Perez Hilton all have in common?  They are great distractors from getting real work done.  If you’re like me, you’ll be in the middle of working when out of nowhere you’ll wonder if someone has commented on the funny picture you just posted on FB.  So you open a new browser tab, go to facebook and thirty minutes later you’re not sure how you quite got to looking at your prom date’s profile and wondering what if….  

So if you ever feel like you should be getting more work out of the time that you put into your work, here’s a way I’ve found to get a very solid and productive hour of work:

1) close all browser tabs not related to what I am working on. so no interruptions from gmail or facebook can happen.
2) exit out of Skype and IM clients so no interruptions from friends or questions from coworkers.
3) put my phone on airplane mode so no text messages or phone calls to interrupt
4) set a timer on my phone for 60 minutes and start working

60 minutes sounds like a long time but i’m always surprised how quickly it passes. the hour is always very productive and my level of concentration very high. and to reward myself, i move on to the final step:

5) immediately undo steps 1-4 and see what you missed in the world while you were being productive 🙂

Starting a new career as a software contractor

I recently switched from a full time employee with benefits, stock options, 401k, dental, vision and all that stuff we need to working as a contractor with none of those benefits.  I decided to make the change for a couple of reasons.

First, I found that I can’t work at a high level of productivity for 8-10 hours straight.  I typically have a good 2-3 hours in me before I need a break.  Second, spending the day time part of every one of my weekdays in an office just started feeling too restrictive.  On days when the sun is out and all I want to do is be outside at a park or at the beach, instead I’m in the office and closing the blinds to keep the sun out.  Not fun.

Third, this gives me a chance to start something myself.  I’m not starting a startup with a hot new product but I am working for myself, and this means I will need to promote myself, network a lot more and learn how to run an LLC.  All new stuff, all good stuff to learn.

Fourth, I want to spend more time with my family in Michigan.  With 2-3 weeks annual vacation, I find I get very stingy with my days off and that seems very backwards.  It’s my time, and I should be able to choose where and how I spend it.  And of course the freedom to travel abroad for a few weeks without having to ask permission. 

And finally, I want to try something new. I’ve been working as a full time corporate employee for the past fourteen years and have yet to start something on my own.  I’m already excited about the opportunity to start something new now and excited about the possibilities that may arise out of this.  

So with that, time to go meet a friend for coffee and then head to Kezar Stadium to run intervals for a few miles before coming back home and doing a bit more work.

Home made Salsa

I’ve made several attempts at a home made salsa and it’s starting to get there.  I’ve got the preparation down and still need to experiment with the spices and flavors.  The last batch I made I took to a bbq and it was a hit.  Yes, this is a sign of maturity.  I’ve always been the guy who brings a bag of Tostitos and a jar of salsa to any event, but now I’m raising my game to another level.  I think I’m at junior varsity now.

Back to the salsa…

Buy these things:

  • half a dozen tomatoes
  • lime
  • FRESH cilantro.  Avoid the jarred stuff.  Actually just throw that stuff away.  I’ve tried it and it’s bunk.
  • half an onion
  • one fresh jalapeno pepper
Do these things:
  • cut the tomatoes length wise in half.  De-seed them.  This is probably the most important step.  If you don’t de-seed you end up with a watery mix of something that you’d still eat but you wouldn’t bring out at a dinner party.
  • chop the tomatoes into small squares/cubes.  Making them small improves the eatability.  I’ve experimented with bigger chunks and the experience isn’t as enjoyable.
  • chop up the onion into small pieces.  Again, you don’t want your guests to be biting down on large chunks of onions.
  • go to town on the cilantro.  Chop it up, destem as much as you can tolerate and then chop it to fine pieces.
  • stand the jalapeno up and cut it down length wise.  The seeds bring the fire so keep a lot or a little of them, as you wish.  Chop the flesh into very small pieces as these will have kick in them and you don’t want to overwhelm your guests.
  • Mix everything together really well.
  • Roll the lime around under your palm on the counter top before you cut it.  Then squeeze the entire thing over the salsa.
At this point it’s ready to eat, but if you give it 30 minutes or so and let everything meld together, it’ll be worth it.
No picture for this recipe unfortunately.  I was in a rush to get to the bbq.  Next time!

Channa Tofu Masala with brown rice

If you’re vegetarian and you’re keeping an eye out to make sure you’re getting enough protein, give this recipe a shot.

One of my goals this year is to use less jarred sauces and to make more of them from scratch.  That said, I’m still not ready to make my own masala sauce, because I’m a newbie when it comes to Indian spices.  So for this recipe I use a jar of Trader Joe’s Masala Curry.

The recipe is straightforward:

  • chop up some onions and start lightly browning them
  • drain a can of chickpeas
  • cube off some tofu, or make half-finger length pieces
  • get some of those sliced mushrooms from your fridge
  • once the onions start browning, bring the cavalry.  Add the jar of masala sauce, and add the chickpeas, tofu and mushrooms.
You can add any other vegetables you have lying around.  I’ve done this recipe a few times and I find that three vegetables is a good number, otherwise it can get a bit noisy.  By noisy I mean you’re not sure if you’re eating a poor man’s chile con carne or Indian food.  Make some brown rice (I use Trader Joe’s Thai brown rice) and serve and enjoy.
I hope you like the dish.  It’s a great source of protein and has good flavor.  P.S. the pic below shows some spinach and red kidney beans.  Again, adding some left over veggies I had in my fridge and violating my no-more-than-three veggies rule.
Update: I found this great similar channa masala recipe but using less of the sauce, which makes a big difference.

Breakfast at Midnight

What to do?  It’s 1 a.m.  You just came back from the bars and you’re hungry.  You’re quite sure you won’t make it up before actual breakfast hours, so, why not make a midnight breakfast?  Before getting into the details of this late hour recipe, I should add a disclaimer:

Disclaimer: I was sober when I did this.  You could probably get by with 1-5 drinks and still complete this recipe.  With each drink over 5 drinks, the toast gets a bit more burned, the eggs get a bit drier, unless you’ve completely forgotten to crack the shell open.

Here’s what you do: warm up your favorite frying pan.  Once it’s a bit warm, pour some oil (or use butter, more below) and crack 2-3 eggs into the pan.  Since it’s midnight we don’t want to get too involved with chopping up onions, peppers etc.  I would suggest chopping up half a tomato and adding that for some variety.  Otherwise, grab a wooden spoon and just keep mixing stuff around.  We’re going for an egg scramble since it’s easy and hard to screw up, provided you don’t pass out on your kitchen floor.

When you take the eggs off is a key moment.  You want to wait till they’re almost completely done, but you’ll still wonder whether they are raw or not.  They’re not really raw, they’re just waiting to complete being cooked, and this is when you take them off, as they’ll be done by the time you’re forking them into your mouth.

Brown a couple pieces of whole wheat toast and bring your favorite pure fruit spread (I go for ones that have less than 5 ingredients, with fruit and sugar *always* the top two ingredients).  I’d also suggest bringing along your favorite hot sauce.  I discovered Valencia hot sauce in Mexico recently and it’s got a great, hearty flavor with good heat.  Not as exotic but I’ve seen it at Target for $1.22.

Brew yourself a mug of tea, something without caffeine, like one of those ‘Sleepy Time’ brands.  We don’t want to be still be awake when real breakfast time rolls around.

A recent discovery I made is that using butter instead of oil gives the eggs a different flavor.  I prefer eggs cooked with oil.  Eggs cooked with butter look better but they’re also heavier.  They look like eggs you get at breakfast diners.

Dead simple home made pasta sauce

I’ve been on a mission of late to learn how to make basic foods from scratch.  My first couple of attempts at making a salsa turned out okay, but tonight I had much better luck making a home made pasta.  To put it in Norcal terms, it was hella good.

Here’s how to make it.  Basically, it’s about two things:

  • the tomato base
  • the additions
We’ll start with the additions.
The Additions
This is what really makes the sauce special and unique.  Look in your pantry and your vegetable drawers and see what you want to add to the mix.  I chopped up and fried onions and garlic, then added mushrooms and a can of pitted and sliced black olives.
You could easily chop up some zucchinis, spinach, corn, whatever.
Moving on.
The Tomato Base
Add a can of tomato sauce and a can of diced tomatoes to the onion-garlic-pantry-emptying mix you’ve got going on.  You’ll want some of that water from the diced tomatoes.  I find recipes with specific measurements either too boring or too rigid so see what works for you.  We’re not baking a cake here so you’ve got a lot of leeway.
I used a full can of tomato sauce with half the can of diced tomatoes, because that’s all I had.  More would have probably made a lighter sauce (not as thick).  Think Ragu vs Prego.
I would have added oregano had I had it but instead added some thyme, red cayenne pepper (quite a bit of this stuff because it is GOOD) and added salt liberally.  Oh yeah, and a generous portion of shredded cheese to thicken it.
The Final Result
That’s about it.  Heat it up for a while, low-medium heat will do.  Add it to your pasta, put on Netflix streaming and enjoy yourself a wonderful dinner.