Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dueling Black Bean Salsas

I posted a recipe for a black bean salsa the other day, and in response to that, I got a recipe for a similar black bean salsa, but this one has avocado. And I LOVE avocado. I haven't made this yet, but it looks delicious. It also has tomato in it, and as I had mentioned before, it's nice to have a salsa option without tomato sometimes too. This one also requires more chopping, so that is a consideration. If you are looking for a really easy recipe, I'd go with Black Bean Salsa #1. I will post this so you can have options, and choose which you think you might like best.

Black Bean and Avocado Salsa

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
2 1/2 tblsp sugar
1/2 tblsp of Hot Sauce (ex. Franks, Tabasco)

1 14 oz. can white corn, drained
1 14 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 bell peppers diced (green, red, yellow or orange)
1/8 cup minced scallions
1 avocado, diced
l large tomato, diced

1. Mix the dressing ingredients and let sit.
2. Mix all the salsa ingredients except for the avocado and tomato. Add the dressing and mix.
3. Wait until you are ready to serve the salsa, and chop the avocado at the last minute. Add the avocado and tomato.

Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans and Tomatoes

My mom made this for me the last time I was visiting with my parents. I am always looking for ways to incorporate more swiss chard and kale into my diet, so I plan to try this soon. I have to admit, I recently bought some swiss chard to put into a minestrone soup I was making, and ended up throwing the rest out because I couldn't come up with anything good to do with it, and I had forgotten about this recipe. Swiss chard or kale sauteed with garlic and cannellini beans is a very common recipe, but the addition of the tomatoes and crushed red pepper give it a nice kick. I think this would be good served over pasta.

Swiss Chard with Cannellini Beans and Tomatoes
1 bunch of swiss chard
2 tblsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tspn crushed red pepper
1 tblsp tomato paste
2-3 plum tomatoes, chopped (some canned diced tomatoes would work also)
1 14 oz. can cannellini beans
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large sauce pan, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil
2. Rinse chard thoroughly. Cut off the stems at the base of the leaves. Slice the leaves crosswise into 1 inch wide strips.
3. Drop the chard into boiling water. Cover and when the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat slightly and simmer the chard for 15 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander.
4. In a large skillet, heat 1 tblsp of the olive oil with garlic and red pepper over medium heat. Stir constantly for 2 minutes, until the garlic begins to turn golden. Immediately stir in the tomato paste. Stir constantly for 1 minute more.
5. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to high, and stir constantly for 1 to 2 minutes to soften the tomatoes. Add the beans and the chard. Continue cooking over medium high heat for 3 minutes more.
6. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the other tblsp of olive oil. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Simmer for 2 more minutes.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Black Bean and Corn Salsa

It seems most holiday feasts are filled with startchy heavy sorts of side dishes, vs. light or "crisp" types of veggies. So, after several of these kinds of meals over this holiday week, I find myself craving green things. I just had to make a stop on my drive home from Maine to get a salad with raw spinach. I couldn't get it into me fast enough. Where we stopped, by the way, was this little burrito place we love in Portsmouth, NH. They have great add-in selections and also have burritos in a bowl, which is what I had tonight. While we make our own version of a taco salad that I've talked about before, I got some new ideas tonight to spiff it up a bit. The burrito place is Dos Amigos and you should try it if you're there.

I often try to bring a big green salad to these occasions, which I did to one of my holiday gatherings, and I've decided to make that my standard dish to bring because I miss it when it's not there. I also tried a new appetizer that I liked - a tomato-less salsa. It was a fun alternative to the ho-hum tomato salsa. A friend at work, Doug, had made it for a potluck, and I liked it so much I had to give it a try. It is super easy to make, it seemed to go over well, and a couple of people asked for the recipe, so here it is:

Black Bean Corn Salsa
1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of shoepeg corn, drained (I think this variety is sweeter which is why it's used. I may try regular yellow corn to see how that goes)
1 bunch of scallions, peeled and minced - white parts only
feta cheese to taste (optional, but is very yummy) use at least 1/4 cup

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup extra light olive oil or canola oil
1/2 tspn garlic powder (or more to taste)
salt and pepper.

1 bag of scoop tortilla chips (these work best because the salsa is so chunky)

1. Mix salsa ingredients in bowl.
2. Mix dressing and add to salsa.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tofu for Sandwiches

I admit it- I can be a tad "bah humbugh-ish" regarding Christmas. It's really just a yearly Consumer Olympics. Retailers and shoppers alike perform all kinds of special feats to sell and buy. It's not that I don't like gift giving. I do. I just don't like it in mass quantities. Getting ready for Christmas becomes a series of a million different errands and chores, and I really don't like doing errands or chores- driving from here to there; in and out of the car; sitting in traffic; waiting in lines; making a lot of different decisions about what to get and where to get it; writing out cards; putting up lights and decorations. And the whole thing just gets so out of hand. When you're buying gifts for someone that maybe you don't spend that much time with, and really have no idea what they want, but you have to get them something so you get them a gift card, or you have to buy a generic gift for that Yankee Swap at the party you're going to, it kind of loses all it's meaning, doesn't it? If we really need this holiday to keep our retailers in business and keep the economy healthy, then I vote that it becomes mandatory that we only buy gifts for kids ages 18 and under, donate some clothes and food to a local shelter or family that is really in need, and we all go out in the month of December and buy ourselves a few things we've been wanting.

It is, however, great fun to find just the right gift for someone, and maybe something they wouldn't have bought for themselves, or vice versa to open a gift that you love, that someone picked out especially for you. And not something that you sent them the information for and told them exactly where to get it when they asked you what you wanted for Christmas. Something that they saw, and because they know you well, they knew you'd enjoy it.

I know I sound like an unthankful, horrible person, so it's a good thing no one reads my blog. I do appreciate all the gifts that my friends and family buy for me. And I think the idea of Santa Claus and creating that story for children is really a lot of fun. We have this big secret that everyone above the age of 10 is in on. It's great that we can keep that going. What frustrates me is the societal pressure around Christmas, and people doing things and spending money and going through the motions of certain traditions because they feel they have to do these things, even if they can't afford it and/or it causes a lot of stress for them.

Perhaps I would miss Christmas and all the hoopla if we were to no longer have it. It's not that I want to get back to the true meaning of Christmas, because I'm not a religious person. I just want to slow it down a bit, both in terms of pace and consumption. I heard somewhere recently that the average American consumes something like 700,000 calories in a year, and half of those calories are consumed from Thanskgiving to the New Year. Gross. And let me tell you, I've had my share of calories this month. (The aforementioned cookie swap really did me in.) Maybe something more along the lines of a Winter Solstice celebration with a little Santa mixed in would work for me.

A couple of weekends ago, I took the T into Harvard Square and roamed around the artisan fair they were having there, and poked in and out of stores. I did enjoy myself there without the traffic and mall parking lots. And I got a few gifts that I'm excited to give to people. I also got a great recipe. At one point, I was standing at an earring booth for about an hour staring at stuff. I finally felt compelled to tell the owner of the booth that I was not trying to steal anything, but that I was trying to choose gifts for four different people, and I was starving, so having a tough time. Instead of just nodding his head or something, he instead said, "You know, I'm hungry too. What are you hungry for?" I thought about it but couldn't come up with anything specific. He proceeded to describe the most delicious sounding sandwich to me which included tofu! I then asked him questions about how his tofu was cooked, and came home and made it immediately so I wouldn't forget. I ended up eating it, not on a sandwich, but on it's own, and really enjoyed it.
Anyway, I'm off to do some more Christmas shopping...

Fried Tofu with Nutritional Yeast
1 block of tofu, pressed to get most of the water out, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce or Bragg's liquid aminos in a bowl
1/2 cup nutritional yeast in a bowl
1/4 cup canola oil

1. Dredge each slice of tofu in the soy sauce, and then in the nutritional yeast.
2. Sautee in oil on medium to medium high heat until brown on both sides.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chocolatey Pumpkin Bars

When someone brought up the idea of doing a cookie swap for our departmental holiday celebration at work, I immediately resisted. But mostly everyone else thought it was a fabulous idea, so I relinquished, and tried to get myself in the holiday baking spirit. I also decided that a cookie swap was much better than a Yankee Swap (I hate those things), and that I should embrace the idea.

At first, I tried to think of a creative way that I could turn chips and salsa into a dessert item, since my chip and salsa addiction is well known amongst my co-workers. But, I couldn't figure out a way to make that work. Then, I thought of a dessert item I realized many years ago I could make pretty easily because it required so few ingredients: macaroons. But if I recall from those days, I am one of only about 4 or 5 people who actually like macaroons (I even dipped them in chocolate). Keeping on the coconut theme, I thought this might be a good time to try making Needhams - something I only learned existed last year. My boyfriend's mother makes them each year for the holidays and they are delicious. When I saw her recently, she even gave me the recipe and all the ingredients I needed to make it. But it requires a double boiler and a lot of work, and I got intimidated. I did plan on making them before the holidays though, and I don't know if the rest of you have realized this, but Christmas is in 10 days.

Anyway, my friend Kathy had made some pumpkin bars to bring to our girls weekend recently, and I really liked them. She promised me they were easy, so I figured I'd give those a whirl. It calls for a jelly roll pan, but since I don't have one, I used a glass baking pan. Once they were in the oven, incident free, I panicked. Wouldn't a glass bake pan require a different cooking time than a metal one? (See - I have learned something from all the baked items I have ruined in my past.) So, I used one of my life lines. I checked to see if Sallie was on chat. Joy! She was. Sallie is a friend of mine who used to be a professional baker. She talked me through my situation and told me to add on a little time. I should also mention that she offered to give me the two dozen almond cookies she had that were all assembled. I could just bake them and pass them off as my own! I was momentarily tempted, but remembered I aspired to be a better baker, so I forged on with the pumpkin squares. They came out fine, and I feel a bit better about myself. Next: The Needham Project.

Chocolatey Pumpkin Bars
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup pecans, very finely chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tspns baking powder
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn baking soda
1/2 tspn salt
4 large eggs, beaten
1 15 oz can 100% pure pumpkin
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup 1% lowfat milk
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (or more, if they just "happen" to spill into the bowl)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 15X10X1 baking pan (jelly roll pan).
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix all dry ingredients (except chocolate chips)
3. In another mixing bowl, beat the eggs then add all wet ingredients. Mix wet ingredients into the large mixing bowl, add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.
4. Spread the batter evenly** into the pan and cook for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.
** this is important. I did not take care to really smooth it out and it looked a bit like a topographical representation of a moutainous region.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mashed Potato Pancakes

I know I'm probably starting to sound like some kind of mashed potato freak because I talk about them quite a lot. I promise I'll stop after this, but I figure you might have some extra mashed potatoes laying around your fridge after Thanksgiving and need something to do with them. Last night I made some pancakes with my leftovers. They were tasty and went well paired up with a yummy salad (greens, toasted walnuts, cranberries, red onion and a balsamic vinaigrette) and some leftover soup. I had some corn in the same container, so I mixed it right into the pancakes. You could also make some of the gravy from yesterday's entry to pour on top.

Mashed Potato Pancakes
2 cups cold mashed potatoes
1 egg slightly beaten
1/4 c butter or vegan margarine
1/2 c flour for dredging
salt and pepper to taste
1 small onion minced (optional)

1. Mix the potatoes, onion and egg together and form into 6 lean patties or 4 fatter ones. (I didn't include the onion. I was afraid it wouldn't cook enough)
2. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Dredge the patties on both sides in the flour.
3. Sautee in the pan, browning both sides and making sure the patties are heated through.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Mushroom Gravy

Even when I did eat meat, I don't recall liking gravy all that much. It just never did much for me. Maybe it was just that I so enjoyed my mashed potatoes, I didn't feel the need to smother them with anything. I suppose if you grew up eating fake mashed potatoes (the kind that come in a box as little flakes that you rehydrate) you would certainly need to put something on them to make them taste good. In which case, the potatoes just become a vehicle for eating gravy.

I remember watching my grandmother making the gravy in the pan, whisking it all around in a frenzied manner. I didn't know then what all the action was about, but I now realized she was trying to work all the lumps out of the flour. If you're serving dinner to my cousin's husband, you don't even need to go to all the trouble to make gravy, because his gravy of choice is ketchup. I often watch in awe as Derven takes the bottle of ketchup and pours it all over the entire Thanksgiving dinner his wife just took all day to prepare. Now that I think of it, maybe he uses gravy AND ketchup. I'll have to pay more attention next time. But, hey, to each his own. I enjoy a good squirt of ketchup on many things as well, and sometimes plan a meal just as an excuse to eat some ketchup. I'm not knocking him, just making an observation is all.

I've tried a few vegetarian gravies before, a couple out of a package and a couple made from scratch. The last time I had the packaged kind, I didn't like it at all. It tasted very artificial. When I was planning my Thanksgiving dinner, I got the idea that I should include gravy just because it seemed like the right thing to do. So, I went searching for a recipe, and found this one. I liked it and it was easy to make. I would definitely use it again. I think it would be a nice complement to the vegetarian shepherd's pie I make. I should mention that even Barry liked it. This is significant because Barry is a carnivore AND a picky eater, so if he likes something, I know I've got a winner!

This Thanksgiving has left me with a newly found appreciation for gravy, and will be looking for some more opportunities to utilize it. Maybe if I'm feeling really adventurous, I'll even try mixing gravy and ketchup!

Vegetarian Mushroom Gravy
3/4 cup white or button mushrooms, chopped small
1 small yellow onion, minced
1/4 cup vegan margarine (I use Earth Balance)
2 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I use Imagine No Chicken broth - it's not tomato based)
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tspn each of sage, thyme and marjoram
salt and pepper to taste (it's pretty salty already, so salt is probably not necessary)

1. In a large skillet, melt the margarine and add onion and mushrooms, Sautee for just a minute or two over high heat.
2. Reduce heat to medium and add veggie broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat.
3. Add seasoning, stirring consistently. Allow to cook 8-10 minutes, stirring regularly until gravy thickens.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

If butternut squash wasn't such a darn pain to peel, I'd probably cook with it more often. I know, I know, I can buy it already cut and peeled at the store. But, I just don't feel right about that. And, isn't it less fresh that way? Maybe there's actually a better way to peel it that I don't know about. I usually just use a potato peeler to take the skin off, and I peel away until I can see orange. It's also sometimes a Herculean effort to cut the squash into chunks, but maybe my knives just need to be sharpened.
But, it's worth the effort. These odd shaped winter squashes yield some pretty tasty meals. Tonight I tried a curried butternut squash soup. I originally thought of roasting it, but that takes more time. Plus, I had been told that last year's cyclocross race in Northampton (where I spent this whole past weekend) had Curried Butternut Squash Soup, so I was disappointed they didn't have it this year, and I had to settle for a mediocre veggie chili. So, I figured I'd just have to make my own curried squash soup.
I'll give you the recipe as is. I had cut back on the apples thinking it might be too much, but I actually think it would have been o.k., and it might give the soup a thicker consistency than mine had.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped
4 cloves
garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Red (cayenne) pepper to taste
2 1/2 pounds
butternut squash, peeled, seeded, halved lengthwise, and sliced thin
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
3 cups water
1 pound tart
apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large soup pot over medium heat, heat olive or vegetable oil. Add onion and saute until golden brown.

2. Add garlic, curry powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds.

3. Add squash, vegetable or chicken broth, water, and apples. Bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, 25 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove from heat and cool 15 to 20 minutes.

4. Puree mixture in a blender or food processor, in batches, and transfer back into soup pot. Season with salt and pepper.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Not Your Mother's Meatloaf

I've mentioned before that while my mother was no Julia Child in the kitchen, there were a few things that she made really well. One, as I've told you, was mashed potatoes, and another was meatloaf. Put these things together and it was a pretty darn good comfort food meal. I also used to look forward to making meatloaf and mustard sandwiches with the leftovers the next day. (Other people do this, right? This isn't some weird thing I did that I just admitted to on the internet?) So, when I took up being a vegetarian, meatloaf was one of the things I really did miss. I've tried a few different meatless loafs over the years, and there are many different ways to approach it. I think I like the lentil, brown rice base the best, but I'd need to experiment some more before I could say that for sure. (And yes, I have tried to make sandwiches from the leftovers. It's not quite the same.)
On Sunday night I was thinking of making a vegloaf, but it got too late and I really didn't have all the ingredients I needed. So I decided to take this task on last night. It really isn't a weeknight endeavor - especially since I worked late, had to go to the grocery store on the way home and needed to get on my bike for at least an hour as well. But, my grand plan was to get the pan in the oven and hop on my trainer, since it needed to cook for an hour anyway. I did follow through on this plan, but once again, we were eating dinner at 10:30. There are versions that use crumbled up veggie burgers, which would be far less time consuming.
I took a recipe and messed around with the ingredients, since there are many variations on a theme when it comes to the vegloaf. Feel free to mess around with this one yourself. The important thing is to have something that binds it together so you don't end up with a pile of mush. This one uses eggs, but for a vegan version, I noticed a lot of recipes used quick cooking oats. I may try that next time.

Lentil Loaf
1 1/4 cups lentils (brown or green)
1 small to medium chopped onion
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I used a little more)
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
3 small eggs
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (optional - this was a last minute addition. I thought the mixture looked a little soupy and thought some cheese might help.)
1 14 oz can tomato sauce
1 tblspn olive oil
1 tspn dried thyme
1 tblspn mustard
1 pinch cayenne pepper
salt to taste

1. Measure the lentils into a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover them by at least an inch. Make sure you use a big enough pan because they will get bigger. Bring to a boil , and then simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.
2. Cook the rice at the same time the lentils are cooking.
3. Preheat the oven to 375. Grease an 8x4 loaf pan.
4. In a mixing bowl combine the onion, carrot, bell pepper and wheat germ. In another bowl mash up the cooked lentils, then add to the veggies, and mix in the rice, bread crumbs, walnuts, eggs, cheese, 1/2 the can of tomato sauce, olive oil and spices.
5. Spoon the mixture into the loaf pan and cover with remaining tomato sauce. (You may not need to use all the remaining sauce.)
6. Bake for 45-60 minutes, until cooked through and brown on top. (I cooked for 50 minutes, turned the oven off and let it sit in the oven for at least another 20 minutes. )Cool slightly before slicing and servings

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Potato Leek Soup

I'm guessing that most people don't get super excited at the prospect of eating Potato Leek Soup. It probably doesn't sound that appetizing. Maybe it's the word "leek". Something about it just doesn't say "yummy". A lot of folks don't even know what a leek is, in my experience. It's in the onion family, yet milder than a yellow onion, and looks like a giant scallion. If you were to eat Potato Leek Soup cold, it's actually a French dish called "Vissychoise". That sounds a little more elegant than "leek".
This soup is tasty, comforting, and nutritious. Leeks are a good source of iron, vitamin C, and folic acid. It really only calls for about 4-5 ingredients in it's most basic form. Most traditional recipes call for cream, but I rarely put any dairy in it. It's creamy enough without it. I've tried several different recipes, but here's the one I used tonight:

Potato Leek Soup
1 tblsp olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced into 1/4 inch rings, and washed
1 medium to large yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large Russet or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch cubes
4 cups of veggie broth (I like to use the No-chicken broth for this, since it is not tomato based)
a couple of pinches of dried rosemary or 2-3 tspns fresh
salt and pepper

1. Heat 4 qt saucepan and add oil
2. Sautee leeks, onions and 1/2 tspn salt in oil for about 5 minutes on medium heat
3. Add garlic. Sautee another minute.
4. Add broth, potatoes and rosemary if using dried
5. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or so, until potatoes are tender.
6. Put the soup into a blender, or use an immersion blender and puree. If you're using fresh rosemary, you would add it here. If you were using cream, you'd put the soup back in the pot and mix it in now. Sprinkle with fresh ground pepper.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Cranberry Pepper Jelly Snacks

I've often admired the little jars of interesting jellies in Whole Foods and in country stores, but shy away from them because I'm afraid to spend $9 only to have jar of apricot blueberry jelly go to waste in my fridge when I have no idea what to do with it. But a couple weeks ago, feeling a little frivilous as the autumn air was going to my head, I decided to splurge on a jar of cranberry pepper jelly. And, believe it or not, I've already used up the whole thing! I got into a routine of making little cheese and cracker snacks that are quite tasty. My favorite combo is whole grain crackers, with a smear of the jelly and a piece of cheddar cheese on top. But, it works quite well with goat cheese too. I got so excited by this that I also bought a jar of apple pepper jelly, but we haven't enjoyed that quite as much, and I'm not sure of it's fate. I will probably use some more of it, but not with the same fervor as the cranberry.

I also took to using it as a condiment on my Tofurky sandwich wraps and it was a nice addition. I'm thinking that it could be incorporated into a cheese and cracker appetizer at a party by taking a log of soft cheese and pouring some of the jelly over it, so guests could spread it onto crackers. It reminded me that several years ago, I used to do something similar, but made my own jelly concoction by mixing marmalade with pepper relish. Anyway, if you like cheese and crackers, you should definitely try it!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins

Cooking freestyle is the way I like to roll. I may look at recipes for ideas, but then I enjoy messing around with them or combining a couple of different recipes for the same dish, taking certain elements from each and adding my own twists. I don't typically measure unless it seems critical. This is why baking makes me crazy. I am in panic mode the whole time worried that I am going to totally mess up a recipe, wasting time and a bunch of ingredients, because I am 16 granules of sugar short because I didn't quite level off the measuring cup. God forbid I reach for the baking SODA, only to find out I only have POWDER, and I've already got a mess of eggs, butter and brown sugar ungracefully mixed together in a bowl, so I need surge forward, baking soda or not.

And speaking of mess, I usually make a pretty big one when attempting to bake. Cleaning up the flour tornado that seemed to have passed through my kitchen, and getting the goop off the wire beaters is laborious. Then, there's the whole cooling process that I need to be patient about so I don't lose half the banana bread (for example) because it's still stuck to the bottom of the pan, and then have to try to squish it back together. I also worry every time I'm greasing a pan since I'm usually trying to use something that's not aerosol or made of lard, so I'm never sure my substitute greaser is going to do the job. I find the whole process exhausting, really.

On a positive note, there is something appealing about the scientific side of baking. Perhaps if I took the time to understand it better, I might enjoy it. I've erroneously thought this about football though, too. The major difference I can see with baking, however, is at the end of a couple of hours, I have a tasty treat to enjoy. With football, I'd only be left with the feeling that I just wasted many hours of my life that I can't get back.

Last week, I was left with four very ripe bananas, and already had plenty of frozen bananas to use for smoothies, so something had to be done. I ended up making a banana bread AND banana chocolate chip muffins. If you had tried either of these, you'd probably be able to tell that I am fond of chocolate and banana together. I added chocolate chips to the bread as well, and was a bit heavy handed. I found I like making muffins because they don't take long to cook, and they are cute.

I got this particular recipe from my friend, Kathy. I think the actual recipe calls for more all purpose flour than whole wheat but I flipped it, because that's what Kathy does. I consulted my friend Sallie about this, since she used to work at a bakery. She told me you can substitute whole wheat flour for all purpose. It will just be more dense and a little drier.

Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
1/2 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 tspn ground flax (optional)
2 tspns baking powder
1/4 tspn salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/3 c canola oil
1/3 c 1% lowfat milk (I used soy milk)
1 tspn vanilla
1/2 c mini chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
2. Lightly oil 12 muffin cups
3. Whisk together both flours wheat germ, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
4. Combine the eggs, sugar, oil milk and vanilla in a medium size bowl.
5. Pour the wet mix into the dry mix. Fold together and add chocolate chips.
6. Pour evenly into muffin cups.
7. Bake for 20 minutes.
8. Let cool on cooling rack for 10 minutes before taking the muffins out.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Stuffed Acorn Squash

Yesterday was Part 2 of the cyclocross clinic I am attending. While being frustrated at my inability to dismount and remount my bike in anything close to a graceful manner, I rolled over some crunchy leaves in the field we were practicing in. A wave of excitement ran through me as I had the realization - it's almost autumn! During my moment of glee, I nearly forgot how appalling I looked getting off and on my bike, and how fearful I am of trying this in an actual race situation. But no matter what the outcome of my performance, I'm pretty sure I'll enjoy 'cross as it has at least one hugely redeeming quality since it happens in the Fall.

Fall is one of the primary benefits of living in New England, and I know it ranks up there as many people's favorite season. Let's take a moment to consider what it is that makes Fall so great. The weather in early Fall is perfect. It's warm and sunny and dry, not hot and humid. We can start pulling out our sweaters as the nights become cooler. It's perfect running weather. It smells good as the air gets a bit crisp and the leaves start falling to the ground. The scene of cheery orange, red and yellow leaves against the backdrop of a blue, or even a grey sky is quite beautiful. There's lots of yummy things associated with Fall. It's apple and maple syrup season. The squashes harvested this time of year are colorful and delicious. Kale and swiss chard are still abound. Basically, Fall appeals to all the senses. It feels, looks, tastes, and smells good. Hmm. I missed one - hearing. There must be something about fall that sounds good too. Marching bands at football games?

Anyway, this stimuli is probably what makes me feel so alive in the Fall. I think there's also present for me an element of nostalgia. It's reminiscent of the days of being young when all these things were signs of the beginning of the school year. I always enjoyed school so I associate the sights and smells of fall with the first couple of months of meeting new teachers, being reunited with friends and starting new classes.

So, when I got up this morning, I knew it was time. I went straight to Whole Foods and bought an acorn squash. On the menu tonight: Acorn squash stuffed with a cous cous and vegetable mixture; a salad with mesclun greens, toasted walnuts and raisins with a Maple dijon vinaigrette; whole wheat crackers with cranberry pepper jelly and cheddar cheese; and, Field Roast brand Veggie Artisan smoked apple sage "sausages".

The stuff squash came out pretty bland, but I know what I did wrong. I forgot the salt and pepper on the squash itself when I baked it, and I added WAY too much cous cous (It's just like making pasta. I always make too much even though I know I am making too much. I can't seem to stop myself.)

The veggie sausages were good. They were pretty expensive relative to some of the brands (i.e. Tofurkey, St. Iyves), but the texture and flavor were very good. They had a couple other flavors I'd like to try. The jelly was by New England Cranberry and very tasty. I also put it on my Tofurkey sandwich I had for lunch. I'm not sure what else I'd do with it besides the cheese and cracker combo, but I'll try to think of something.

You can stuff and acorn squash with so many different rice or cous cous and veggie mixtures. I plan to mess around with it, but a basic recipe follows:

Stuffed Acorn Squash
1. In an oven preheated to 350 degrees, bake the acorn squashes. The squash should be cut in half (cut them horizontally which is opposite of the natural lines found on the squash). Scoop out the seeds and flesh with a spoon. These can be discarded. Rub the surface of the squash with some olive oil and sprinkle some salt and pepper on them. If they are fresh they will be soft in about 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook some rice or cous cous. I cooked the cous cous in veg broth instead of water to give it a bit of flavor. Sautee some veggies chopped up small: onions, yellow pepper, carrots, corn, kale or spinach. Chickpeas would be a good add in for some protein. You could also mix in a crumbled up veggie sausage. It just depends on weather you want the squash to be a main dish or a side dish. When the rice or cous cous is done and the veggies are cooked, mix them together.
3. Take the acorn squash out, stuff them, and put them back into the oven for a few more minutes to let it all heat up together.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Blueberry Cake

When we were in Acadia a couple of weeks ago, one of the simple little pleasures we got to take advantage of was spontaneous blueberry picking. Often, when we got off our bikes on the carriage roads to check out a view, or during a hike, we would happen upon blueberry bushes. It was nice to have a tasty little treat while out and about. I never got to do any picking more involved than that, but I observed some beautiful and large blueberries of others who had. I have yet to make the blueberry and goat cheese salad combo I've been meaning to make all summer, either. But for those of you who did go picking and froze your remains, here is a recipe you've got to try. My co-worker, Kim, brought some of this blueberry cake in to work one day this summer. I nearly melted all over my cubicle when I ate it, it was so yummy. As you know, I am not a baker, but I had to ask for this recipe. I thought for sure there was going to be some super secret ingredient in it, but it's pretty basic. If you do try it, can you bring me some?

Blueberry Cake
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tspn salt
2 tspn baking powder
1 cup milk
3 cups blueberries, floured
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

1. Cream together shortening and sugar. Add eggs, beating after each.
2. Combine 3 1/2 cups flour, salt and baking powder and add alternately with milk to creamed mixture.
3. Stir in blueberries and pour batter into a greased and floured 9X13 baking pan.
4. Mix brown sugar, 1/3 c flour, cinnamon, and butter, and sprinkle over batter.
5. Bake at 350 and check after 40-45 minutes. (I think "checking" means to stick a toothpick in it, and that gives you some indication as to it's readiness. I never have toothpicks, so often try to use a fork or something and I usually flub this up.)

Summer Veggie Wind Down/Summer Squash and Goat Cheese Pasta

Co-workers are still bringing in the occasional surplus tomato to offer out to anyone who wants it, but it's not like a couple of weeks ago when they were bringing in baskets of them. So, I am guessing the harvest is tapering. I didn't get to make it to a farmer's market this week either where I thought I might load up one more time on summer veggies. Therefore, I was forced to buy summer squash from Whole Foods tonight to get my fix.
Why didn't I grow a basil plant? It seems so easy and I could do it on my back deck, and pick some whenever I needed it, instead of buying a big batch and inevitably throw half of it away because it wilted before I could use it all. The littlest bunch of it was $2.99 at Whole Paycheck, and it didn't even look all that great. I decided to forego buying it, and instead, either try to hit a farmer's market this weekend, or maybe I'll get lucky and someone will bring some into work tomorrow.
The reason I need basil is to try this recipe my MOTHER passed onto me. I have to emphasize this because it is a big deal. Cooking is not my mother's favorite thing to do, and I believe she would eat in a restaurant every night of the week if she could. She has a repertoire of relatively simple dishes she rotates through, and she gets by, but when people reminisce about their moms having cookies coming out of the oven when they came home from school, or some special dish they made for Christmas Eve, I can't relate. She does make excellent mashed potatoes and a mean potato salad though. For her to actually seek out, make, and pass on a new recipe, and one which required her to purchase goat cheese, is something that piqued my attention. I plan to try it this weekend, but in the meantime, I thought it worthy of posting. (By the way, I don't think she would mind me revealing these things about her, especially since she is the only one who reads my blog.)

Pasta with Summer Squash, Basil and Goat Cheese
4 tblsp olive oil
7 small summer squash, thinly sliced
20ish fresh basil leaves, torn in half
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb rigatoni (I'm thinking penne or ziti might be better. Rigatoni is just so big.)
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese, crumbled

1. In large skillet, over low heat, heat 3 tblsp of the olive oil. Add the squash and cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until the squash soaks up the oil and is not all watery. As the squash cooks, use a wooden spoon to mash it against the side of a pan. Stir in half of the basil leaves.
2. Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and put in serving bowl. Toss with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
3. Tip the squash mixture into the pasta and toss gently. Top with goat cheese and remaining basil leaves.
Serves 4

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Feel Boring and Tired, and Newly Inspired

I haven't prepared any food worthy of note in quite a while. I was on vacation and then when I got back, I was tired, busy and lazy. Last week, many of our dinners were extracted from a box. Sad, but true. It's also been tomato season, so I've been very happy to munch on garden tomatoes, sometimes several times a day. I just eat them solo, or slice them up and put them into some yummy bread for a sandwich. There's only a short window of opportunity each year to do this, and I usually take full advantage of this. The result of this type of binging often results in canker sores from all the acid.
I'm wondering if my tomato frenzy could currently be causing a different issue: tiredness. I just came from eating at a macrobiotic restaurant in Greenwich Village while I'm in NYC on a business trip. My meal was fantastic: seitan cutlets in a mushroom gravy with brown rice, a yam salad, and some steamed veggies, including kale and kombucha squash. Everything was delicious, but I was most excited about the kombucha squash. It looked like acorn squash, but tasted sweeter, and it was steamed instead of baked. I must try this at home.
So, anyway, I was reading about macrobiotic diets a little, and one of the things omitted from this kind of diet are nightshade vegetables (ex. green peppers, potatoes, eggplant and tomatoes). I already knew some people had a hard time digesting these foods. They are called "nightshade" because they do their growing at night, and contain toxins that are meant to keep bugs away. The minimal research I've done so far includes mixed opinions, and it looks like particular storage and preparation may help reduce the potentially negative effects of the nightshades.
Either way, it caused me to give pause and think about my diet. I've allowed a lot of dairy to creep back in, for one. Last week, while eating from boxes, we had white pasta a couple of times. Then, my tomato binge along with some other random things I've been eating while traveling. While I think, any of these things are fine in moderation, I also think I've overdone it with a mix of not great things over the last couple of weeks. So, I plan to clean up my act a bit and do some more investigating of this macrobiotic diet. There were so many tasty things on the menu tonight I was having a difficult time choosing just one dish.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Pineapple Preparation

Last night, I cut and peeled a whole pineapple for the first time in my life. It seems like this is something I should have experienced prior to now, given my 39 years on this earth. Then again, there are a lot of things I probably should have done by now, yet haven't. I have yet to purchase a couch, or a house for that matter. Most people my age have done that. I have never had my eyebrows waxed or had a baby, and these are popular activities amongst the 2o and 30 something female set. Yet, I am sure there are a couple of things I have done that many of my peers have not, so I guess it balances out. ( I am now wondering what some of those things might be that could set me apart from my peers, but am drawing a blank. Hmm. There must be SOMETHING. I'll need to ponder that and get back to you. Fortunately, nobody actually reads my blog, so if I don't follow up on this particular item, no one will be looking for an answer. And, anyway, "should-shmud". I don't really believe in any kind of prescribed life formula. I would like a comfy couch though.)

So, as I've been conscious of utilizing fruit in salads more, I have also been thinking of using fruit in other things. The other night I made a stir fry with seitan, veggies and a thai peanut sauce, and thought to myself, "this would be darn good with some pineapple in it". Then I started thinking about other rice dishes that would go well with some pineapple added to it. While fulfilling my grocery list in Whole Foods the other night, I first checked out the already cut and peeled pineapple. I normally do not buy fruits or veggies already prepared, but I was intimidated by the pineapple so thought I'd explore my options. For the most part, I am de-senstitized to the prices at "Whole Paycheck", and have no idea what groceries even cost in regular supermarkets anymore. But I must still have a little sense of reality left because I did feel shocked when I looked at the price of the tiny containers of pineapple pieces. When I saw whole pineapples were actually on sale, I decided to go for it.

What I found is that cutting a pineapple is really not bad at all. I think I was anxious because I anticipated it was was going to be similar to cutting and peeling butternut squash, which I HATE doing. I have never figured out a good or efficient way to go about that task. Pineapple is much softer. It's pretty juicy and messy, but easy and fast to cut. I have a friend who works at Crate and Barrel and she tells me there is a special gadget to core pineapples, but you already know how I feel about having lots of special gadgets...

There is now a large container of chopped up pineapple in my fridge just waiting to be used and it only required $2.99 and a little chopping effort! Let the fun begin! I'll be sure to report back on any exciting dishes.

On a side note, I saw a bumper sticker I thought was cute while riding my bike today. It said: "Good Planets Are Hard to Come By". How true. Let's take care of this little one that we already have.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Pine Nuts, Part II or When Good Pine Nuts Go Bad

Bleck. That describes the horrible taste still lingering in my mouth from the terrible dinner I just made. As I am on my mission to find a great orzo salad, I stumbled across a Mediterranean one that looked promising. The main ingredients: orzo; spinach; feta; red onion; pine nuts and a vinaigrette dressing. How can you go wrong with that? I will tell you - by using rancid pine nuts.

I guess I have finally figured out the problem from last week. It had nothing to do with cooking the pine nuts in oil. I just did some research and realized you need to be fairly particular about how you store them. Just from my little bit of research it seems like there are two good options: (1) Store them in a paper bag, not a plastic bag or plastic container, in a cool, dry area. (2) Store them in the fridge.

Not only am I going to have to throw this salad out because it is inedible, but I think it's going to give me nightmares, and I don't think I am going to be able to use pine nuts for quite some time. It really was that bad. I am telling you this because I like you and I never want you to experience the horribly bitter acidic taste of rancid pine nuts. (Can something be bitter AND acidic?) I'm going to eat some frozen soy creamy cherry chocolate chip yumminess from Trader Joes to make myself feel better.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cabbage Lentil Pilaf

I've always had a soft spot for characters in movies or books deemed the underdog or pathetic types. Also, as a kid, I had a thing for stuffed animals that were raggy or strange looking. I felt compelled to love them because no one else probably would. Truth be told, even my dog is probably a bit funny looking to others, and perhaps this is why I love her so much and find her impossibly cute. This same principle applies somewhat to food. I seem to adore some of those things that the majority of people find unappealing. A couple that come immediately to mind are cabbage and lima beans. Who else can admit sincerely that they thoroughly enjoy, and even crave either of these lesser chosen items? I don't seem to be finding cabbage or lima beans highlighted on the menu in any restaurants that I know of. The one exception of course, is cole slaw, and while I do enjoy a well made cole slaw, cabbage has been pigeon-holed as the main ingredient to this side salad when it has so many other uses.

I learned this one summer when my CSA farm had an abundance of cabbage, and we were told we could take as much as we wanted. It's known to keep pretty well, so I helped myself to a bunch. Then, what to do with these heads of cabbage? Since I seemed to be lacking an underground storage area where I could bury the rations for the winter, I realized I did need to use it up somewhat quickly as it was taking up most of my apartment-sized fridge.
I experimented with several kinds of slaw - from traditional to more hip, modern versions with cashews and cilantro with no hint of mayonnaise. But, then I learned that cooked cabbage can be very tasty. I hadn't realized this was the case because the only way I had ever had it cooked was when my grandmother cooked the bejeezus out of it to make the traditional St. Patty's day dish: corn beef and cabbage. Truth be told, I actually even kind of enjoyed it cooked beyond recognition. So, my love for cabbage isn't just a whim or a new phase I am going through. This love is one that lasts.

During this cabbage experimentation period, I found a few dishes I liked quite a bit. I went to a farmers market yesterday where there were some beautiful heads of cabbage. I was reminded of these dishes I found and made one tonight.

Cabbage and Lentil Pilaf
There's two parts to this. You braise the cabbage in one pan and make the rice lentil pilaf in another, then mix them together.

Braised cabbage
1 tblsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 onion, chopped
4 cups shredded cabbage
salt and pepper

Lentil Pilaf
2 cups water
2/3 cup of white wine or veggie broth
1 1/3 cup rice (white basmati)
1/2 cup dried brown lentils
1/2 tspn dried tarragon, more if using fresh
salt and pepper

cherry tomatoes (optional)

1. Sautee onion in olive oil until soft, 5 minutes. Add cabbage and garlic. Cover and simmer on medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't stick. Then take the cover off and cook for another 20 minutes.
2. Bring water, broth and 1/2 tspn salt to a boil. Add lentils and rice and tarragon, cover and cook on low for 20-25 minutes, until the water is absorbed.
3. Mix the cabbage into the pilaf. Add cherry tomatoes cut in half if using. Serve.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How Not to Cook Pine Nuts

What exactly is a pine nut, anyways? Is it a nut? Actually, I'm pretty sure it's in the seed family. I looked it up a while back and now I'm not sure.
Anyhow, while I am on the topic of things to put into salads, pine nuts came to mind. Of course, they HAVE to be toasted. Most nut and seed type things are a gazillion times better in salads if they are toasted. My favorite thing these days are toasted sunflower seeds. If I already mentioned this 10 times, I apologize, but I really, really enjoy them in my salads.
With my recent move, I acquired a toaster oven, which makes the seed/nut toasting thing a lot easier since you don't have to turn on the big oven to toast just a handful of something. Prior to my toaster oven ownership, I would sautee my sunflower seeds in a small fry pan with a little olive oil and that worked out great. Last week, I cooked up a summer medley of zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes and fresh basil, and thought some toasted pine nuts would be a great addition with this when served over pasta. It was hot and I didn't want to turn even the toaster oven on, so utilized my pan/olive oil sauteeing method. The results were not good. I found it gave the pine nuts an unappealing flavor - bitter? too oily? I'm not sure how to describe it, but I wouldn't try it again. It may be because the pine nuts are oily to begin with, so adding the olive oil was too much. They also sat in a covered container overnight, so maybe they just soaked too much of it in. Whatever the reason, straightforward toasting is the way to go and adding a handful of these little guys can jazz up even the most basic of salads.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Nectarines in a New Light

I only eat nectarines in the summer and don't think about them much for the rest of the year. When they are good, they can be so yummy, sweet and messy. I typically just have them as a snack and don't think to consume them as part of anything else. However, I recently remembered that I've had them in a salad before. I bought a bunch of them last week, so thought I'd try it. I put them in a salad with a balsamic vinaigrette the other night, and thought that was tasty. Then, last night I made "taco salad" again (see prior entry), and thought I'd try them in that. I was a little hesitant, not knowing how it would mix with the fruity salsa. I ended up liking it a lot and thought it was a great addition.

While I eat lots of veggies, I don't necessarily eat as much fruit as I should. Most days I eat a banana, and I go through periods where I will eat apples regularly (usually in the fall when they are in season). But, this experience with nectarines has inspired me to experiment more with fruit in my salads. I sometimes add cranberries, or chopped up apple in specific salads I make, but I think there's a lot more opportunity for fruits to make an appearance as part of dinner. There's a salad I had in SoHo once that had pieces of tangerine in it. I made it a bunch in the past and will dig that recipe up. Also, a co-worker recently told me about a combination that sounds great - blueberries and goat cheese over greens. Strawberries and raspberries have lots of potential. And what about plums? Pineapple? Mango? Would they work well in a salad? I'm guessing bananas wouldn't be the best, but who knows? I just may try it to satisfy my curiosity...

So, I look forward to messing around with different salad combinations over the next few weeks and will post my favorites. Let me know if you have any!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Black Bean and Couscous Salad

The other day I was looking to pack a picnic lunch (I love picnics - more on that at a later date), and I thought I'd like to bring something made with couscous. So, I pulled this recipe off the internet, and it wasn't until I was in the midst of making it that I realized it was almost exactly the same as yesterday's Quinoa Black Bean Salad, except with couscous. I figured it's still worth posting though because there are a couple of different ingredients, and this one has slightly less chopping and couscous cooks faster than quinoa, so it's a bit easier to make. If you were feeling especially daring, you could even mix up some of the ingredients between recipes, like put tomatoes in this one, and corn in the quinoa version. Whoa! (This is an indication of how exciting my 4th of July weekend has been.)
By the way, you will notice when beans are called for in my recipes I always list them as canned beans. While I would love to get in the habit of using dried beans and cooking them myself, I just don't have the time for this, or haven't made it a priority. I figure someday when that trust fund kicks in (I just know there's one out there from some long lost Aunt that wants to support my dream of opening a cafe), and I no longer have to spend a large portion of my days workin' for the man, then I will discontinue my use of canned beans and spend my extra hours planting my own herbs and soaking beans. Plus, I'm guessing that all two of my readers (one being my mother) are in the same boat and are more likely to use canned beans as well. But, if you have the time, by all means, use dried beans!

Black Bean and Couscous Salad
1 cup uncooked couscous
1 1/4 cups water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
8 green onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 15 oz. cans black beans, drained (the recipe calls for 2 cans, but I only used 1. If you're looking for a more beany salad, use 2)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the water to a boil in 2 qt or larger saucepan. Stir in the couscous. Cover, and remove from heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Note: Most couscous cooking directions usually call for a 1 to 1 ratio of couscous to water, but I find this makes for a dry couscous. I typically use slightly more water or put some olive oil in the water as it's boiling.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar and cumin. Add green onions, red pepper, cilantro, corn and beans and toss to coat.
3. Fluff the couscous well, breaking up any chunks. Add to the bowl with the veggies and mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Serve right away or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Black Bean and Quinoa Salad

Last week I went to a cookout and offered to bring a pasta salad. I was having difficulty recalling some of the usual summer salads I make, and was feeling like making something new, so poked around and found a recipe that sounded tantalizing. It was called something like Summer Citrusy Salad, and seemed like just the thing I was looking for. The recipe even called for cooking the pasta in turmeric to turn the pasta yellowy-orange, and I had never done that before so was excited to try it. The rind of one orange was needed and I couldn't find my rinder, but I figured I'd make do. I should mention that I didn't know most of the people at this cookout, and was meeting them for the first time. I'll cut this short by just telling you that the end result was not good. It was not offensive, just not tasty. I did learn a couple of lessons during this experience that I will share with you:
  • Consider your audience and don't experiment with new recipes on a group of people you are meeting for the first time, and are likely to see again at similar events in the future. I fear I will carry the reputation of the weird vegetarian girl who makes bad pasta salad.
  • There is no substitute for a rinder. You'd think a cheese grater might be able to stand in for a rinder, right? It doesn't. The salad may have actually been o.k. if I was actually able to use the rind it called for since it was an integral part of the recipe.
Anyway, I figured it was time to pull out some of my favorite summer salad recipes. Here is one of them that I got from one of my Moosewood cookbooks. If you start poking around for quinoa recipes, you'll notice quinoa is often paired up with black beans. They do make a good combo, but I'd like at some point to get more imaginative in regards to quinoa. This is basically the summer version of the Quinoa and Black Beans I posted this winter.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad
1/3 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 tspn olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1/4 tspn ground cumin
1/4 tspn ground coriander
1 tblsp finely chopped fresh cilantro (if you are a cilantro person, you could add a lot more)
2 tblsp minced scallions
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers (red, yellow, green or mixed)
2 tspns minced fresh green chiles
salt and pepper to taste

1. Rinse the quinoa in a sieve under cold water. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, cover and simmer on low heat, about 10 to 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Set aside to cool.
2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro and scallions.
3. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, bell peppers and chiles.
4. Add the quinoa, and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Taco Salad and the Return of the Salad Spinner

Moving is tough. Not only is it a lot of work, packing boxes and carrying them from one place to another, but it's also mentally exhausting. It forces you to consider how much stuff you have and mostly don't need. It's almost depressing, really. I find myself feeling weighed down by the burden of owning so many things and trying to figure out what to do with them. Do I keep it and bring it with me to my new place? Give it away? Who could I give it to? Sell it? Throw it away? There are so many little decisions to make in regards to all this stuff. Some of it has sentimental value or monetary value which complicates the decisions.
When I moved into my studio apartment a few years ago, I needed to simplify my belongings. I found this liberating, and for a long time I was very good about scrutinizing each of my purchases. In the end, I became more lax about this, and for that I am sorry. My recent move will hopefully rejuvenate my desire for simple living. The kitchen is one place where you can get especially out of control. There is a gadget or appliance for everything and every specific purpose: an avocado slicer; a rice steamer; plastic discs to make the perfect fried egg; a hand-held immersion blender; a mini food processor to chop small amounts of vegetables. When I downsized my kitchen space, I realized that what I needed were the basics: a good set of knives; pots and pans; a nice cutting board, and some basic utensils. All else seemed frivolous and unnecessary.
....O.k. ALMOST all kitchen gadgets could be classified as frivilous and unnecessary. There are a few exceptions. My little plastic lemon squeezer that allows you to squeeze the juice of the lemons without getting seeds in things is one of the better kitchen gadget inventions. Also, now that I have more space, I have been able to pull out my salad spinner. These two items have greatly enhanced the quality of my cooking life. Do you have any idea how much time I have spent picking lemon seeds out of salad dressings and drying lettuce with dish towels?
Tonight, in celebration of the freeing of my salad spinner from the box it's been in for the last several years, I decided to make taco salad. Actually, the driving factor was really that it was to darn hot to turn the stove on. Of course you can imagine that this is not the taco salad you'd find at Chili's with some big fried taco shell full of ground beef and sour cream. This is a slightly edited version. It probably has nothing to do with a taco, really, but I'm not sure what else to call it. There's lots of variations and options, so I'll give you the basics.

Taco Salad
Lettuce torn into little pieces. 2 c. per person. I typically use red leaf.
Onion: either red onion sliced into thin pieces or scallions.
Cheese: I've used shredded cheddar or crumbled feta
Black beans, rinsed, 1/4 of a cup per salad
"Dressing": A fruit/spicy salsa. Mango peach is a good option.
Bell pepper, red, yellow or orange, sliced into thin pieces
Tortilla chips. Rectangle strips work well, but anything will do

Other options for toppings:
Avocado, chopped into small pieces
Carrot, shredded
Cucumber, chopped into small pieces
Jicama, shredded
Lime juice

1. Lay greens onto separate serving plates. Add all other toppings except for salsa and chips and lime juice, if using.
2. Spoon salsa on top, and squeeze lime juice on top, if using. I usually start with about a 1/4 of a cup of salsa per salad, and add more as I eat it. Place chips all around side of salad or crumble on top.
3. I don't think I need to tell you how to eat, but I typically use a combination of a fork, and the tortilla chips to scoop up the salad. It's a fun salad to eat and the tortilla chips add a nice crunchy texture.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pasta with "Sausage" and Yellow Peppers

Between being busy at work and trying to get out every night for a bike ride or a run, I find myself eating dinner later and later. So far this week I am averaging long days at work, shorter runs and rides than I planned, and a 10:00 dinner time. Monday night was a deliberately planned menu. I made Salad Nicoise, veggie style. But last night and tonight I quickly scrounged around in the pantry and fridge to find what I could toss together for a quick meal.
Tonight's throw together was a pasta dish made with flax pasta that I buy at Trader Joes. If you've ever had whole wheat pasta, and disliked it as much as I did, you are probably hesitant to try flax pasta. But, I'm here to tell you that you should give it a go because it's much better than it's unappealing cousin. The texture is very good, and it works really well with a red sauce. Of course, it's also much more nutritious than regular white pasta. I used the rotini tonight, but have used the penne in the past.
I also tried another new product tonight: Tofurkey sundried tomato and basil "sausage". I liked it. It had a spicy kick to it which I was not expecting.

Pasta with "Sausage" and Yellow Peppers
1 1/2 -ish cups of pasta
2 tblsp olive oil
2 tofurkey sausages, sliced 1/4-1/2 in. thick
1 small yellow bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 cups marina sauce

1. Cook pasta
2. In medium saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute sausage for a couple of minutes, then add pepper. Cook until sausage is lightly brown, and pepper is slightly softened.
3. Add marina sauce and simmer.
4. When pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add it to the sauce mixture. Stir it up and let it cook over low heat for a couple of minutes to let all the flavors meld.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Balsamic dijon vinaigrette

It's a rare occurrence that I buy salad dressing in a bottle. I started steering away from them a long time ago when I realized they typically had a lot of added sugar. Now, there are a lot of better brands on the market, but it's pretty easy to make your own. I have to admit though, I am pretty boring and often fall back on vinaigrettes. I make different kinds of vinaigrettes (see the Maple Dijon vinaigrette in an earlier post), and on occasion, I do venture into something vinegar free. But the fact is, I love vinegar of all kinds. And this is reflected in the way I make dressings. The typical ratio of oil to vinegar in a salad dressing recipe calls for much more oil, at least 3 times more. I reverse this ratio and am pretty heavy handed on the vinegar. So, you may want to keep that in mind if you use this recipe.

I have also taken to using white balsamic vinegar, as opposed to the traditional purple color. The reason? Many ruined white shirts. I inevitably splatter dressing on myself and have not figured out a good remedy to take out the little purple dots that have plagued much of my white apparel. I do think the taste is slightly different. I'm not exactly sure how. Perhaps one is a tad sweeter, but I can't remember which one. Maybe it's my imagination though.

The amounts in this dressing are my best guess, because I usually just go by look and taste. The key to dressing is mixing it really well or else all you'll taste is olive oil. You can either shake it up if you have a dressing container, mix it in a blender, or stir it very well with a fork if you're making it in a cup.

Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette
3 tblsp olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 tspn salt, maybe a little more
1 tspn dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
a little pepper
perhaps a bit of dried basil if you'd like

1. Mix all ingredients except oil.
2. Drizzle in oil and mix really well in one of the above mentioned fashions.
3. Pour over salad a little before eating to let it settle.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Moroccan Chickpeas with Couscous

I try to keep the amount of processed foods I eat to a minimum, but it's difficult to avoid them completely. And, of course, not all packaged foods are created equally - some are better than others. The ingredients need to be taken into consideration. I do not buy anything with high fructose corn syrup or trans fats in it, for starters. When I see people lining up in the kitchen to cook their Lean Cuisines for lunch because they are trying to eat "healthy" and lose weight, it takes everything I have in me to refrain from lecturing them on what a disservice they are really doing to themselves, and that it's not at all nutritious or in any way good for them.

One product I really like, and may have mentioned before, is Quorn products. They are very tasty and no suspicious ingredients. They are also not a soy product. I eat a lot of soy in general, so like to have a variety of protein sources. It's made from a mycoprotein which is a fungi, in the mushroom family. I really like the texture of it. Unfortunately, their products are not vegan since most of them include some egg. Mostly I use Quorn's breaded patties and their grounds. The grounds are used in the recipe below.

I have posted this recipe before, but under the heading of "Peas", and I fear it may have gotten lost in the shuffle. I am posting it again because it's worth repeating. This dish is a good one pot meal, and requires little chopping, so it's pretty quick to put together. The original recipe also made quite a lot, so I am cutting this one down to be for two very hungry people with leftovers.

Moroccan Chickpeas with Couscous
1 tbslp olive oil
1 med onion, chopped
1 jalapeno chile, chopped (I usually use a little cayenne pepper instead)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tspn dried marjoram
1/2 tspn allspice
1 14 oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups apple juice (or 2 cups veg broth, 2 tblsp of apple cider and agave nectar or other sweetener)
1 14 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
One half of a 12 oz package frozen veggie burger crumbles (I used Quorn brand)
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
salt to taste
2 cups cooked whole wheat couscous (1 cup dried)
2 tblsp minced scallions

1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, jalapeno, and garlic, cover and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the marjoram and allspice. Stir in the tomatoes and apple juice. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Add the chickpeas, veggie burger crumbles, peas and salt, and simmer 10 minutes longer, or until desired consistency is reached. Mix in couscous until well blended. Serve and garnish with scallions.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Stuffed Shells

This is a nice time of year when it's warm enough that you want to get outside as much as you can during the day, but it's not yet too hot to turn on the oven in the evenings. You can go out and play all day, then when it's time to go inside, make a satisfying and comforting meal.

This dish fits nicely into that kind of scheme. You really need to like roasted red peppers to enjoy this. It's kind of a strange combination. It's almost like a hummus filling pasta shells, but it was tasty and easy to put together. It is good accompanied by a green veggie. I sauteed some green beans in olive oil and garlic.

As a side note, most recipes that use tomato paste typically only call for a tablespoon. Then, you're left with the rest of that little can that always gets thrown out. Each time, I save it, thinking I'll force myself to use it in the next couple of days, but then I never do. If anyone has any ideas on how to avoid this, please let me know!

Shells Stuffed with Roasted Red Peppers and Chick Peas
12 shells
19 oz. can garbanzo beans
1 1/2 cups roasted red peppers (You can use jarred. I instead got some from the olive and cheese section in Whole Foods)
3 cloves garlic
3 tblsp dried bread crumbs
small handful of walnuts
1 tblsp tomato past
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
14 1/2 oz. can stewed tomatoes
8 oz. can tomato sauce
3/4 tsp ground coriander
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tblsp chopped parsley

1. Cook shells and drain.
2. In food processor combine garbanzo beans, roasted red peppers, garlic, bread crumbs, walnuts, tomato paste, cumin, oregano, salt and cayenne, process until almost smooth, but with some texture.
3. In baking dish, combine tomatoes, tomato sauce and coriander.
4. Spoon mixture into shells. Lay filled shells on top of sauce in dish. Spoon some sauce over top.
5. Cover with foil and bake 20 minutes.
6. Uncover, sprinkle with mozzarella and bake for 4 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Persuading Spring to Come/Asparagus Risotto

It's technically spring, but it still sure feels a lot like winter. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to cook some asparagus. It seemed like the proper thing to do, to offer up this sign of spring. Secretly I was hoping Mother Nature will take some pity on us. If she saw us eating asparagus in this perfectly dreary weather, she would think, "this just won't do", and send some warmth and sunshine our way. Then, before you knew it, crocuses would be popping up everywhere and people would be walking about jacket-less.
A risotto seemed like the perfect way to combine comfort food with spring flair. Often I find people to associate risotto making with being a very laborious and painstaking task. As a result, they shy away from preparing it, and save it as something to order in a restaurant. Contrary to that belief, I think risotto is pretty easy. It's all in one pot, and I'm always fond of meals that don't produce a lot of dirty pans. The only seemingly tedious part is having to stand over it the entire time it's cooking, slowly adding broth and stirring. There is no room for multi-tasking here. You have to make sure your salad or whatever else you are serving it with is ready to go before you begin preparing the risotto.
The recipe I made called for fresh basil. Now that, I thought, was taking things a little far. This is something I associate strictly with mid to end of summer, and while I am feeling a bit desperate, and would do almost anything to bring about a sense of sundress-wearing weather, using fresh basil in April is not one of them. I do think it would be a nice addition to this dish though.

Risotto with Asparagus and Peas
4 cups vegetable stock (No-chicken broth is a good one to use)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter (I use Earth Balance which is non-dairy)
1 tblsp olive oil
8 shallots, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups of arborio or carnaroli risotto rice
1/3 cup white wine
12 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
1 cup fresh or frozen shelled peas
finely grated zest of 1 lemon (always use organic lemons when zesting)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the stock in a saucepan. Heat until almost boiling, then reduce the heat until barely simmering to keep it hot.
2. Heat the butter and oil in a deep skillet or heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes, until softened but not browned.
3. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until the grains are well coated and glistening, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine and stir until it has been completely absorbed.
4. Add 1 ladle of hot stock and simmer, stirring until it has been absorbed. Keep repeating this. After 10 minutes, add the asparagus, peas and lemon zest and mix well. Continue to add the stock at intervals and cook as before, for 8-10 more minutes, until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender but firm (al dente). (I usually find that I need more than the amount of stock than the recipe calls for. I'm not sure what I am doing wrong but it's good to have extra on hand, just in case. You can always heat up some water and use that if you get stuck without extra broth, yet your rice is not quite cooked enough.)
5. Add the Parmesan, salt, pepper and a handful of torn up basil leaves, if you are using. Mix well. Remove from the heat, cover and let rest for 2 minutes.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Stone Pot Soup

For several years, I was a member of a Community Supported Agriculture Farm (CSA). As part of your membership, you need to work a minimum of hours on the farm during the growing season. I liked putting in my hours on Saturday because a tradition they had was to start a Stone Pot Soup in the morning to be eaten at lunch. Everyone was to bring something as a contribution to the soup. The soup always tasted fine. It wasn't something you'd want to be sure to capture the recipe for so you could make it again, but it made for a tasty and satisfying lunch. You'd need to jazz it up a bit with some spices or liquid aminos, but overall it was fine.

So, since I am on a mission to clean out my pantry (see last entry), I decided a Stone Pot Soup was in order. Here is what I threw into the pot: onion; garlic; veggie broth; a can of diced tomatoes, a can of cannelini beans; a sweet potato; barley; kale; thyme; salt and pepper.

Based on my experience, I have a few tips for you:
  • A little barley goes a long way. If you put some barley into the soup pot and think to yourself, "That doesn't seem like nearly enough barley", trust me, it is enough barley. I had this thought, and then added triple that amount. I don't need to eat barley again for a while.
  • When you are choosing sweet potatoes to keep on hand, it is probably best to buy small or medium sized ones. Gigantic ones (like the one I put into my soup), are probably too big for most things.
  • When you are making a Stone Pot Soup, it is a good idea to limit the amount you make, especially if you live alone. Remember, they are typically not all that delicious. So, to eat it four days in a row for lunch, and let's just say my serving sizes were on the generous side, becomes laborious. Did I already mention that barley probably won't be on my hit list for a while? (Ever again?)
You may have surmised I am having some quantity issues. I seem to be eating much more than necessary lately. I'm going to blame it on winter. I think I am trying to comfort myself and I may just eat my way to spring.

Try a Stone Pot Soup! It's rather liberating to toss things into a pot with reckless abandon. You just may come up with a really great concoction. Let me know if you do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Winter Blahs/ Quinoa and Black Beans

I feel boring. My mood is matching the grey dismal skies. I haven't felt inspired to cook anything new in a while. I've also given myself the mandate to use up a good majority of the items in my "pantry" (Currently my pantry consists of a small closet with shelves, but I aspire to have a real pantry area someday.) before I can buy anything new. Unfortunately, I don't even know what some of the items are. I get carried away in the bulk food aisle sometimes and buy things that look interesting. Recently, I got in the habit of writing down what the item is, in addition to the store code on the tag so I don't end up with mystery grains or flours.

So lately I've been relying on my old stand-bys, instead of searching for new fun things to make. I love quinoa (which I do have and can identify), and I love black beans, so the two together are really a very nice combination. If you haven't tried quinoa, you should! It has the highest amount of protein of any grain (I'm pretty sure on this, but you can check if you want), and it only takes 20 minutes to cook. Here's one I make a lot:

Quinoa and Black Beans

1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
1 cup quinoa (rinse the quinoa in sieve before cooking, otherwise it can be bitter)
2 cups veggie broth
1 tablsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste
1 small zucchini, diced (optional)
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cans black beans
1/2 cup fresh cilantro minced

1. Sautee onion and garlic in a medium sized saucepan until light brown.
2. Mix in quinoa, broth, cumin, salt and pepper.
3. Bring to a boil. If using zucchini, add now. Let simmer for 20 minutes.
4. Stir in corn, black beans and cilantro. Cook another 5-7 minutes. If you don't have any fresh cilantro, you can use dried (a teaspoon, or a little more) and add it when you add the cumin in step 2. Another option I have starting using recently is frozen herbs. You can buy them in little trays with teaspoon sized cubes at Trader Joe's. They only have a couple to choose from, but they do have cilantro.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Carrot Soup

While I do love making soups, I am not sad to see soup season come to an end. No, it is not completely over, but it is winding down. We turn the clocks ahead this weekend, and the days will become longer, and soon warmer. I long for the kind of day that it is so stinking hot, you can't even believe you ever craved a bowl of steaming hot soup to warm your frigid soul. (If in the middle of July I am complaining of the heat and humidity, you can remind me I said this.)

I figured I might as well squeak in another soup recipe while there still is time to appreciate soup. Carrot soup is very simple and colorful. I usually make some basmati rice to add to it and make for a heartier meal, but you don't have to.

Carrot Soup
2 tblsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs of carrots, sliced
1 14 oz can cannelini beans
5 cups veggie broth
1 lemon
fresh cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup basmati rice
Note: I added some leftover sweet potato with the carrot and that added some nice flavor.

1. Put rice on.
2. Saute in soup pan for 5 minutes: olive oil, onion and garlic
3. Add carrots, cannelini beans and veggie broth and cook for about 20 minutes, until carrots are tender.
4. Puree soup, add the juice of the lemon, some fresh cilantro and salt and pepper
5. Put some cooked rice in each bowl and ladle soup over it.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

I haven't been eating as many salads in the past few months as I do regularly. I was having some stomach issues at the beginning of the winter, and when I discussed my eating habits with my doctor, he suggested I reduce the amount of salads I eat. The reason for this is in the winter, when your body is already dealing with the cold, putting lots of cold food into it can act as a stressor. Instead, eating soups and lightly steamed vegetables can feel better to your body. This doesn't mean you should never eat salad in the winter, but I typically have one for my lunch every day. This change in my diet seemed to solve the issue. (If you are wondering what the issue was, I was dealing with some acid reflux. I apologize if this is TMI, but for anyone who may be curious, I didn't want to keep you wondering.) I also took aloe vera juice for a couple of weeks. It tastes horrible but is helpful in soothing the stomach.

When I did eat salad, however, there was a new dressing I tried that I think is perfect for winter, especially on baby spinach or mesclun greens with dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, shaved carrot, red onion and feta.

By the way, there's only 20 days left until the first day of spring. Hopefully Mother Nature is aware of this and shifts the weather accordingly. I could use a sunny 70 degree day right about now.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette
1 tblsp maple syrup
1 tspn Dijon mustard
1tblsp red wine vinegar
1/4 tspn salt
1/8 tspn pepper
2 tblsp olive oil

Mix together all ingredients accept for olive oil. Then slowly drizzle in olive oil while stirring with small wisk or a fork. You could also use a blender on a slow speed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Sweet Potato or a Yam?/Sweet Potato Black Bean Wraps

Since the question came up in the comments yesterday and I had sweet potato (or a yam?) in my dinner last night, I thought I'd tackle this topic today. While the sweet potato and yam are technically different vegetables, in the United States the terms are used interchangeably. So, if you buy a yam, you are most likely buying a sweet potato. And if you buy a sweet potato, you are, in fact, buying a sweet potato. I'm guessing that there are probably some places where you could actually buy a yam if you wanted to, but most mainstream grocery stores carry only sweet potatoes. Here is a link that explains the history of this name-calling, and illustrates the differences of the two:

Whatever you choose to call them, they are delicious and very good for you. I think there are many people who have only experienced sweet potatoes baked into a casserole with some goopy marshmallow topping served at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I feel very sorry for these people. Here's a recipe I use when I want to make a quick dinner on a week night. I was skeptical the first time I sauteed a sweet potato in a similar mixture. I thought it would take really long time to cook, but it really doesn't.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Wraps
2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 large red or yellow pepper, chopped
1 medium sized sweet potato, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 oz cans black beans ( kidney beans would be o.k. too)
1 cup frozen corn kernels (optional)
2 cups kale or spinach, chopped (also optional, but a good way to sneak in some greens)
2 tspns cider vinegar (optional - gives a nice tang)
1 tblsp cumin
1 teaspoon cilantro
pinch of cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
feta or cheddar cheese (optional)
white or brown basmati rice
Whole wheat tortilla wraps

1. Put the rice on. White will take 15-20 minutes and brown 40ish minutes
2. Sautee onion, garlic and red or yellow pepper in olive oil for about 5 minutes.
3. Add sweet potato, cumin, cilantro and cayenne pepper. Cook until potatoes are tender. You will probably need to add splashes of water or veggie broth to keep the pan moist and help the potatoes to cook faster.
4. Add black beans, corn (if using), spinach or kale (if using), cider vinegar (if using), salt and pepper and cook another 5-10 minutes until beans are heated through and the spinach or kale has cooked down. You can put a lid on the pan if you're using the spinach or kale as this will help to wilt it more quickly.
5. Lay out wraps on individual plates. Place some rice in the bottom and then spoon sweet potato mixture on top. Sprinkle cheese on top, if using. You could also use salsa if you'd like.