Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sweet Potato Surprise Soup

I don't cook all that much these days. There are some reasons for that, but mostly I just don't feel very inspired to be in the kitchen. I assemble simple meals, but I don't find myself pouring over cookbooks or perusing the internet for the next recipe or ingredient to try. That's fine by me. Maybe I'll get a rejuvenated interest. Who knows? I was never a great cook, but it fancied my interest for a bit. It's like having had a friend I hung around with a lot for a bunch of years, but then life swept us both into other directions.
Today we had a snowstorm that kept me in the house much of the day. I did go out and play on my bike for a bit. I didn't have either a long nor a smooth ride, but it was still good to get out and practice snow riding skills. It was also fun to receive my 9 year old neighbor's reaction. Upon finishing a snow angel, she looked up and said, "Are you going to ride your bike in the snow?". When I told her I was she said, "Are you a biker?". I told her I supposed I was. I showed her my studded tires and she seemed impressed. Perhaps this will plant a seed and she will someday find herself riding her bike in the snow too.

My trip to Whole Foods this morning was a comical scene really. The parking lot was a chaotic mess (I believe due to a small collision) and the inside was not any better. The lines were longer than I had ever seen and extended down the aisles. I observed that the express lane seemed to be the only line moving very efficiently, so I made some choices, narrowed my basket to 8 items and returned the rest to their respective shelves. The carrots could wait until another day, but the sourdough bread and Cholula hot sauce were coming home with me. 
So I tell you all this, because when I went to go assemble dinner, there was not much to assemble. I was pretty hungry, so what to do besides eat more snacks? I've probably mentioned before that when I belonged to a CSA farm, on volunteer days we would make a stone pot soup. Everyone would bring one ingredient, toss it in the pot and it would simmer while we worked. Today, I did a similar thing where I took some ingredients I had on hand without much rhyme or reason and put them in a pot with some broth. I hoped for a result at least somewhat satisfying, but kept my expectations on the low end.
The soup was colorful and also turned out fairly tasty, so I thought I'd record it in case I wanted to replicate it down the road. I made this again on 2/7, added celery, used kale instead of spinach and garnished with Parmesan cheese. I ended up liking the kale better than the spinach. Perhaps because it gave it more bite and texture.

Sweet Potato Surprise Soup
1 stalk celery (optional) 
2 tblspn olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 small sweet potato chopped
1/2 cup quinoa
1/3 cup of frozen peas
several handfuls of baby spinach or chopped kale
small handful grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 tspn dried basil
a few shakes of garlic powder
5 cups water
1 bouillon cube
Parmesan cheese, finely grated (optional)

1. In a soup pot, saute celery onions, carrots and sweet potato in olive oil over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Be sure not to brown the onions.
2. Add water, bouillon, basil, garlic and quinoa. Bring to a boil. Then, turn to low heat, cover and let cook for 15 minutes, so the quinoa cooks.
3. Turn the heat back up to a lively simmer, add peas, spinach or kale, tomato and a bit of salt to taste. Put the cover on to let the spinach wilt. Then remove cover and let simmer another 10 minutes or so.
4. Garnish with Parmesan.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Cauliflower "Fried Rice"

In my last post I mentioned (again) that there were not enough picnics in my life. I'm happy to report that with a bit of focus, determination and seized opportunities, that has changed! Since writing that, I've had three pretty fantastic picnics. One was at Halibut Point in Rockport, one of my favorite spots in Massachusetts. We had the sun setting on the water on one side of us, and the full Blue Moon rising on the other. We had some wine and ukulele playing along with our food. The menu consisted of caprese salad, bread, cheese, crunchy veggie salad and a Thai noodle salad. It was a perfect setting despite a fairly short-lived mosquito frenzy. The second picnic took place on a log to the side of a hiking trail in Parc de la Jacques-Cartier outside of Quebec City. We stopped in a market in Quebec City to purchase some fantastic local cheeses, a baguette, truffle chips, tomatoes and strawberries. After a short kayak in the park, we hiked up a trail until we found a suitable spot to enjoy our wares.

 The third picnic took place on Georges Island on Labor Day weekend. A quick stop at Whole Foods on the way to the ferry yielded some more tasty cheese, a mix of heirloom tomatoes, a baguette, and apple and some soba noodle salad. What I've taken away from these experiences is that all you need is a nice spot and some good bread & cheese and tomato and you've got yourself a great picnic. It's the simplicity of it that I enjoy. A nice well thought out picnic with elaborate dishes and one of those lovely picnic baskets is nice too, but a baguette, some fresh goat cheese and a farm fresh tomato provide a tasty meal.
As the blur of summer winds to a close, I feel pretty good about my picnicking status. I also had a chance to make this dish, which I had learned about from one of my British colleagues earlier in the summer. Apparently, both this and zucchini "spaghetti" are all the rage over there. I made some of that too, which I will post later.

When I made the cauliflower "rice", I didn't get at all fussy about it. I'm sure you could get tastier results with some sesame oil, scallions and other veggies, like asparagus, but, I just wanted it as a quick side dish. Shop around on the internet for different variations of this recipe if you're in the mood for something a bit fancier.

Cauliflower "Fried Rice"
1 head of cauliflower, grated with the large holes on a cheese grater
1 egg
1 cup of peas
1 large carrot, diced small
1/4 inch piece of ginger, grated or 1/2 tspn dried
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos, to taste

1.  In a large skillet, heat some canola oil on medium high heat.
2. Crack egg into the skillet. Let it fry for a minute or so, then scramble it up, breaking it into small pieces. Then keeping it in the pan, just push it to the side.
3. Add carrots and peas, sautee those for a few minutes, until the carrots begin to soften. Add ginger and garlic to them and stir.
4. Add cauliflower. Let that cook for 3-5 minutes, until soften. Then add soy sauce/ Bragg's. I probably used a few teaspoons or maybe up to a tablespoon. Add some then do a taste and adjust.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Chopped Crunchy Veggie Salad

I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again - there are just not enough picnics in my life. I very much enjoy having a meal on a blanket in a nice patch of grass or at picnic table in a lovely outdoor setting. Somehow I don't seem to find the opportunity to make this type of thing happen more often. Tomorrow night is the Blue Moon full moon and I am coordinating plans to watch the moon rise with some friends. I have put out 3 possible options for moon viewing and 2 of them include picnics. So, I am making a valiant effort here. If we do picnic, I will likely make this salad. I pulled it together several weeks ago when I had a bunch of mint and some limes that I needed to use up.

I liked several things about this salad. First of all it's chopped. There is something very satisfying about a salad with finely chopped ingredients. I appreciate that it's versatile in the veggies that can be used and what can be added together so you can use up some things in your fridge. It doesn't include lettuce, so it's a good variation on a salad and probably a safe option to bring to a cookout where there will likely already be a lettuce-based salad. Also, it kept it's crunch for several days. I thought it might get soggy, but it didn't. I deem this salad picnic friendly.

I didn't measure anything and sort of figured things out as I went along, so my amounts not be just how I made it the first time, but I'll do my best...

Chopped Crunchy Veggie Salad
4-5 cups chopped vegetables (I used: red cabbage; sugar snap peas; green beans; cucumber; carrots; celery; corn; red bell pepper. Other options to consider: radishes; fennel; other color peppers; yellow beans.)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, toasted
1/2 cup crumbled feta
1 cup of black beans (optional, use if you want to bulk up the salad. You could also add quinoa for this purpose)

2 tblsp olive oil
juice from 2 limes (I like lime so added a lot)
3 scallions, chopped
3 tblspn fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
1/4 tspn chili powder
1/4 tspn cumin
black pepper and salt to taste

1. Chop veggies.
2. Lightly steam any veggies that you think might benefit from softening slightly. I did the corn, carrots, green beans and sugar snap peas. Let cool.
3. Make dressing. 
3. Mix veggies, feta and sunflower seeds. Add dressing and toss to coat veggies with dressing.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Quinoa Bowl

One career dream I have is to be a salad consultant to restaurants. There's probably a fancier name I could come up with. Greens Adviser? Salad Improver? This job doesn't exist as far as I know and I don't think I could do it as a full time gig, but I think I could provide something very important to the world: satisfying meal salads. Don't get me wrong - things have come a LONG way over recent years and at least more places offer salads that are interesting and more than just a first course. But there is still lots of room for improvement. Often, a salad will be almost there, but fall down on one or two aspects.

There is a restaurant near work that I used to go to regularly and they didn't have lots of veg stuff on the menu. They did have a dinner salad that was almost great. It's what I ordered every time I went. It had some nice mixed greens, lentils (yeay!), roasted red peppers, hummus, a nice vinaigrette (lemon?), pita bread and I think some roasted portabellas. All good things, but do you see the problem? Everything in it is mushy. Some texture please! It took everything I had in me to not walk back into the kitchen and beg the chef, for the love of God, to add some toasted walnuts.

Another mistake, in my humble opinion, is putting too much sweet stuff in. I am SO over dried cranberries. And then sometimes, the salad will contain nuts, so you get the texture aspect, but then they are candied! Gross! Or it will be dressed in some sickly sweet raspberry vinaigrette. I am also tired of balsamic vinaigrette for this very reason. They are often too sweet. One sweet thing in a salad is enough. Some pear or apples, or maybe some golden raisins. This can be nice, but it often goes overboard. I dunno, maybe some people like to pretend they're eating dessert while they are eating salad, but I really do enjoy a well constructed salad more than I enjoy dessert.

Toasted sunflower seeds, pepitas, pistachios, almonds are all great ways to add some crunch and nutrition. The other night I had a kale salad at a local spot. It looked fairly promising on the menu since it had some crunchy chickpeas on it. It only had a few ingredients on it, so was less exciting as a meal, and it had an apple vinaigrette that I was a bit afraid of. But, you could add several different proteins to it, including crunchy tofu, so I went for it. The dressing turned out to be nice, not too sweet. But the chickpeas had the life cooked right out of them. I've made crunchy chickpeas before and there is a fine line between them being crunchy or completely dried out. These crossed that line. This salad also had zero color. It had some feta or goat cheese as the third ingredient. A little carrot or tomato could have brought things to life.

Also, add something interesting, like a grain, an egg or some baked tofu. This also makes it more substantial. A little quinoa, barley or brown rice on a salad works really well.

So, I won't blather on anymore, though I could. But, the bottom line is balance in texture, color and flavor and nutritional value. The recipe for this post isn't even going to be for a salad, but instead for the quinoa bowls I've been making a lot lately. The same guidelines apply to make a good bowl. These, of course, could also be made with brown rice, but I've been favoring them with quinoa. I'll make some up and keep it on hand to make for a quick dinner assembly.

Quinoa bowl
You can have fun with what you put in here, but here are a list of ingredients I most often choose from, because it's often what I have on hand. I usually put the quinoa in first and then everything else on top, and give it a couple of good stirs to mix things up.

1/2 to 1 cup of warm quinoa*, depending on how hungry you are
baby spinach or arugula, chopped
1 egg, hard boiled (chopped), fried or poached
carrot, sliced
tomato, chopped
avocado, chopped
pistachios or toasted sunflower seeds
sesame seed/seaweed mixture (gomasio)
walnut or olive oil
hot sauce
a little sea salt
garlic powder
cider vinegar ( a little, don't drown it)

 *cooking quinoa: Rinse 1 cup of quinoa in a sieve (very important to remove the bitter taste) .Place in a pan with 1 3/4 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 15-20 minutes until all the water is absorbed. Let stand covered for at least a few more minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Green Smoothies

Each year at Christmas, I find myself both delighted by people's generosity in gift-giving and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of "stuff"that comes in and out of my house. Living in a fairly small apartment, it's always a challenge to find space for new things. This year, I was motivated to purge post-Christmas for various reasons.
On New Year's Day, we had our usual Chili Ride party and needed to clean and prep the night before. While trying to find the surface of my dining room table, I had an enormous mail pile to contend with (I've written an entire blog post on this daunting task in the past.) My first instinct was to hide it in the "organizational basket" I have stored under my desk. However, much to my dismay this was filled to the brim, probably from preparing for the party the year before. So, I had no other choice but to tackle this ginormostack of catalogs, bills, magazines and solicitations. One by one, I chose between the shredder, the recycling bin or the filing cabinet.
  I know, you're envious of my rockin' New Year's Eve. It's important to know that I had an adult beverage while completing this task. Admittedly it was one of the most, if not THE most blase New Year's Eve I've ever had. It was less exciting than even an ordinary week night. But that's OK. We had a fun party the next day and Kathy, Janet and I had a nice, albeit chilly ride together in 17 degree temps with a pit stop at Ride Studio Cafe for a mocha latte. 
Shortly after 2014 rang in, I was scheduled to attend two different clothing swaps. The clothing swap has now become a regular occurrence amongst my girl crowd.  It's a nice way to give some of your things a second lease on life and to maybe get something new yourself without have to shop or spend money. Anything not taken goes to charity. On MLK Day, I used the holiday from work to do a deep clean of my closet and bureau in preparation for the swaps. So here, my decision points were: 1st clothing swap; second clothing swap; straight to Goodwill; straight to the garbage.
The pile was enormous and I found the experience was a bit unpleasant.  It made me frustrated as I weeded through so many things that I had barely worn. I questioned my buying habits. While I don't consider myself a shopper as it's not something I often enjoy, I clearly had purchased many things over the last several years that were not put to good use. I felt wasteful and a cog in the consumer wheel that is embedded in our culture. I pictured my things in one of the garbage heaps that Wall-e, the main character in my favorite Pixar film, would have compacted into a neat cube of trash. I wondered how I could be more efficient yet have the clothes I need for all aspects of my life and in all seasons. I have no answers, but I know that each time I go through this, especially when moving, for a while I become much more judicious in my purchases and ask, "If I moved cross country, would I want to take this with me? How important is it?" (Not that I have ever moved cross country, but I've imagined it about 1 million times. Oh, Portland, please save yourself for me. I may be there someday.)
The third thing I've purged thus far this year is my habitual breakfast. For many many years now, my typical breakfast has been either granola and yogurt with some fruit, or oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter mixed in. For some time now, I've been thinking about reforming my breakfast to be a little more nutritional and a bit less carb focused. I'm not trying to eradicate carbs from my life, but to reduce them some. I could have been doing worse and been eating Lucky Charms and a bagel with cream cheese each day, but I could be doing better.
Several years ago, I asked my parents for a very expensive juicer as a Christmas gift. I tried it a handful of times, but I quickly learned juicing was not for me. I didn't find it at all satisfying as a breakfast and I found it a giant pain to clean the appliance after each use. So there the juicer sat and sat, week after week, month after month taking up very precious counter space.
During our trip to Portland this summer I had a "green smoothie" most every day. I found them very tasty and liked getting a blast of kale or spinach to start my day. When I returned I looked into getting a nice blender that could blend the greens enough to make them drinkable. The one that everyone raved about was the Vitamix, but it came with a hefty price tag of over $500. Would it join the Land of Unused Expensive Appliances on my teeny counter? I couldn't bear the thought of it. Months went by as I continued to ponder this, when a co-worker told me about the Ninja - same wattage but much less expensive. I found myself a coupon for Bed, Bath and Beyond and purchased my Ninja BL820 that day.
Also, we ended up posting my Breville juicer for sale on Twitter and it sold the same day! The timing was impeccable being ripe for New Year Resolutions. I was able to put that money towards my blender and free up the counter. 
The outcome? I've used it almost every day for the last three weeks, since I set it up. Now, I'm not a nutritionist and I can't vouch for this being the healthier way to go. As a matter of fact, I worry that if I'm not careful I'll be eating a 900 calorie breakfast. And, it turns out that one of my favorite combinations has oatmeal in it. But I'm enjoying it and getting some greens into my breakfast most days.
Here are a couple of my favorite combinations. Quantities are estimated since I have never measured a thing. So far I haven't been able to go wrong. No combination has tasted bad to me.

Green Almond Butter Smoothie
2 cups of kale or spinach
1-2 tblspns of almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
up to a tblspn flaxseed meal
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple of drops of vanilla
a half or whole frozen or fresh banana
a small handful of blueberries or a short pour of pomegranate juice (optional)

Oatmeal Smoothie
1/2 cup oats
1-2 tblspns almond butter
1/2 cup almond milk
1 cup kale or spinach
1/2 to whole fresh or frozen banana
1/2 tspn cinnamon
a couple drops vanilla
pomegranate juice works well here too

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Buffalo Baked Tofu

I finally belong to a book club that actually meets regularly and discusses the book that most, if not all, the people in attendance have read. I'd made a few attempts at book clubs before, but they never lasted long, for one reason or another. This group, we call ourselves simply, The Good Book Club, meets about every 4-6 weeks and we have a regular crew of about 8 women, and a few others that come from time to time. We actually do discuss the book, and we eat dinner together. This typically takes place on Sunday evenings, although we mix it up once in a while, and we take most of the summer off, but may get together just to hang out or see a movie. I like this group more and more each time we meet and we've had a pretty good streak of books. Some that stand out in my mind: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller; The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery; A State of Wonder by Ann Patchett and The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. In full disclosure, I never finished this last one because I was finishing up my yoga certification at the time, but what I read I liked. It's a true story of a serial killer during the 1893 World Fair and includes lots of interesting detail about the history of architecture in Chicago and other cities at the time.
I do hope our momentum of both books and building friendships continues into 2014. The next book we will discuss is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I saw her Ted Talk and liked what she had to say, and have been wanting to read the book. We are also pairing our next meeting with a clothing swap.
As for our next book, I'm a little bit behind schedule on reading it and also having a less than pleasant time walking Zuree multiple times a day in the single digit temperatures we've been having. Given this situation, I decided to make the best of the walking and also meet my deadline by listening to my reading assignment via audiobook. I loaded it onto my phone and now have 10 hours of listening enjoyment to accompany me while Zuree stops, smells, and meanders. Given my average walk is 30 to 45 minutes, and I walk her three times on the weekend and twice during the week (the dog walker gets the third shift), I will have the book completed in no more than 20 walks, or a little over a week! Perfect. This book would have taken me a lot longer than that to read. It's very interesting, but definitely not like a novel that I would get lost in or wouldn't be able to put down.  So all is well in our polar vortex and both dog and mama are happy.
In the winter I crave lots of warming foods, like curries and similarly spicy things. I've made this buffalo baked tofu several time and like the texture and flavor quite a lot. I like the texture even better as leftovers, cold. I often have it on top of a salad or as a snack. I have found that buying fresh, locally made tofu makes a big difference, but I know of only one place to get it around here, so don't always have it on hand. 

Buffalo Baked Tofu
1 package of firm tofu
4 tblspns nutritional yeast
4 tblspns panko bread crumbs
6 tblspns hot wing sauce
2 tspns salt
1 tspn chili powder

1.  Press the tofu (do this ahead of time).  Place a couple of paper towels on a plate and put the brick of tofu down. put another paper towel on top of the tofu and another plate on top of that. Take a large can 64 oz can of tomatoes (or something similar) and put it on top of the plate. Put the whole contraption in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. A couple of hours would be better, but 30 minutes is just fine.
2. Preheat the oven to 375 and put a little oil into a baking dish. Remove the tofu and cut it into pieces about "1/4 thick and 3X3".
3. In one shallow bowl, pour the wing sauce. In another mix the bread crumbs, nutritional yeast, chili powder, salt and a little pepper.
4. Take each piece of tofu, and dredge it first in the wing sauce and then in the bread crumb mixture.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. The original recipe I used called for flipping the pieces halfway through but I found all the coating would come off, so I just leave it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Baked Mushroom Risotto

In a cooking class I took with Helen Rennie, we made this dish and I have made it at least five times since, probably more. I have made risotto many times the traditional stove top way and much prefer the way it comes out in the oven. I like the texture better. I also love mushrooms and this with the mushroom broth is quite good. Here is the link to Helen's post since she includes many other variations. I am partial to the mushroom version and want to have it easily accessible.

Helen's post on baked risotto:

Baked Mushroom Risotto

2 oz of dried porcini mushrooms
3 cups boiling water

1/3 cup chopped shallots (about 2 medium)
2 tblsp olive oil
1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice (do not subsitute with another kind of rice)
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tblspns butter sliced into 4 pieces
2 tblspns freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
1 lb of sliced and sauteed mushrooms (see recipe just prior to this one)
salt to taste

1. In a heat proof bowl, pour the boiling water onto the dried poricini mushrooms and let sit for at least 30 minutes. While that is sitting chop the shallots, measure the rice and start chopping mushrooms.
2. Preheat the oven to 400. Once the porcini mushrooms have sat for 30 minutes, drain them using a sieve and a paper towel lining the sieve. Put the liquid into a pan bringing it to a simmer.
3. Place a heavy bottom 3 qt pot with an oven safe lid on the stovetop and set it on medium low heat. Add the olive oil, shallots, and a generous pinch of salt. Cook the shallots, stirring occasionally until soft and translucent, but not browned. This should take 8-10 minutes. If they start to brown turn the heat lower.
4. Salt the stock to taste. I use at least a couple of teaspoons.
5. Raise the heat to medium and add the rice to the shallots. Cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes until the grains are shiny and translucent around the edges.
6.  Add the wine and stir constantly until it is absorbed, about 2-3 minutes.
7. Add 2 1/4 cups the hot stock and stir well. Once it comes to a simmer, cover it and immediately transfer it to the oven.  Cook for 18 minutes. Reserve any leftover stock in case you want to add more at the end.
8. While the risotto bakes, cook the mushrooms. You can use the recipe posted prior to this one or cook them any way you like. I've also added small pieces of the mushrooms used for the stock near the end of sauteeing them.
9. Remove the risotto uncover (USE AN OVEN MITT), and taste. Depending on your preference and how al dente or liquidy you like it, you can mess around with it here. If you want to cook it more on the stove top, add more stock (or water if you ran out) over medium heat stirring constantly until you like the consistency. I usually like it the way it is right out of the oven. Sometimes I add a little more stock, but don't cook it anymore. I just want a little more liquid.
10. Stir in mushrooms, butter and cheese. Adjust the salt and stir.