Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spiced Lentil Cabbage Casserole

The other day, I was hankering for some cabbage. I had planned to make lentil cabbage pilaf, but wanted to try something different, and found this recipe. Once I assembled in, and was going to put it in the oven, I was thinking, this is going to be pretty boring. Turmeric really doesn't do anything for me as a spice, but I couldn't think of anything to add, so I just went with it. As it turns out, it was pretty darn good. There's something about the combination of brown rice, lentils and cabbage that really works. And sometimes, you just let the ingredients speak for themselves and not add too many spices or complex flavors. I added Bragg's liquid aminos to mine when I was eating it, but Todd did not, and he liked this dish quite a lot, too.

Spiced Lentil Cabbage Casserole
3 cups cooked brown lentils
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup veggie broth
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper (I used yellow, but if you like green pepper that would work well)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 tspn red chili flakes
1/2 tspn turmeric

1. Cook the brown rice and lentils according to directions in separate pans. The rice will take a little longer than the lentils, so start that first. (For rice, bring 1 cup of rice and 2 cups of water to a boil, then simmer on very low, covered, for 40 minutes. For lentils, clean about 1 1/2 cups dried lentils, put in pan and cover with water, by at least an inch, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes).
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add chili pepper flakes and turmeric. Stir for 2 minutes. Add garlic, bell pepper, onion and cabbage. Sautee until cabbage is soft, about 10 minutes. Add peas, and some salt.
4. Add vegetables, rice and lentils to casserole dish, mix and add veggie broth. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts and Lance Armstrong

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Austin to run a half marathon. I thought training for a February race would be a fun diversion to cycling, yet not interfere with spring training, and keep me in shape throughout the winter. Upon reflection, I can't really say the training was fun. While the long runs were more enjoyable than those I have done in the past because I had Sallie for company, the weather conditions really made it tough. Between snow, ice, wind and really cold temps, it made for some not so pleasant training days. Because of the weather, I also didn't get out for shorter runs as much as I intended, and I only had planned for 2 per week. I finally succumbed to the treadmill in a panic during the last couple of weeks before the race. In terms of keeping me in shape, it turns out that I gained 4 1/2 pounds in the process. I was a bit surprised when I hopped on the scale recently since not only was I training for this race, but still getting on my bike trainer consistently. The race itself was, however, fun. I felt great, had the best time I could've expected, and broke two hours which was my main goal. And, I also got to check out Austin, which is a pretty funky little city.

The day after the race, we went to Lance Armstrong's bike shop, Mellow Johnny's. It's a great shop. We rented some Trek Madones and went for spin around Austin. After riding around in circles for a while and almost getting on the highway, we finally found our way onto a nice bike route. When we got back there was a t.v. camera set up in the shop, and while we were shopping for t-shirts, the woman who was with the cameraman asked if she could interview us for the news. She wouldn't tell us about what because she wanted our answers to be spontaneous.

I should take a moment here to point out that I had just finished a ride, taken my helmet off (think: helmet hair) and had crusty snot on my nose (Sallie later verified this). At least it wasn't my t.v. debut. That was several years ago when I was walking home in my running clothes after doing a road race in the middle of July (think: humid, sweaty hair), and was stopped to be interviewed. I never saw it, but many people I know did and they were all kind enough not to mention my appearance.

After these two experiences, I now understand why people often sound dumb when they are on the news. You are standing there in front of a camera and several people, and expected to spontaneously come up with an answer to a surprise question (while you are pondering the crusty snot on your nose and weather it will be visible to the home viewers). The topic they wanted to discuss at Mellow Johnny's was Lance's $10,000 time trial bike which had just been stolen at the Tour of California. Did we know about it? What did we think about it? He was using Twitter to try to locate it - was that a good idea? So, while it wasn't anything that required any deep thinking, one of my answers still haunts me. When she asked what I thought about his bike being stole I said something like that was too bad that someone would do that and it could mess up his race, but I was pretty sure he could afford a new one. Now, that wasn't very nice, was it? It doesn't really matter if he can afford a new one. The point is that someone stole his property, and not only that, but something that he needed for the race, and would be hard to replace. It doesn't matter who he is or how much money he makes. Well, that was cathartic for me. I've been carrying that around for a couple of weeks. I'm not sure what a really good answer would've been, but I'll ponder that.

In the meantime, my cousin, who also lives in Texas, (wasn't that a fantastic segue?) has asked for the brussel sprout recipe I made for Christmas. Her fiance liked them and so she wants to make some. She's even considering eating them herself. So, of course, I'm happy to oblige and support the eating of brussel sprouts. I wonder if Lance likes them? I'm not exactly sure how I cooked them on Christmas, but it was probably something like this. I like sauteeing them, because it's fast, but roasting them is even more tasty.

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts
Brussel sprouts - I'd probably figure about 6-8 per person, unless they are really small, then a few more
1 tblspn olive oil
water or veggie broth for moistening pan
salt and pepper
a few splashes Balsamic vinegar (optional)

1. Trim the brussel sprout stems. This is a little tricky. You need to cut of the tough part, but I find if you cut off the whole bottom, then the brussel sprouts fall apart as you cook them and you have lots of stray leaves. Once you trim the bottom, peel of and discard at least one layer of leaf and discard. Cut the brussel sprouts in half.
2. Heat a skillet/frying pan on medium heat and add the olive oil. Let that heat up for a minute. (You don't want to make the pan too hot or else the outsides will brown too much before the insides cook.)
3. Add the brussel sprouts. Sautee for about five minutes on one side, then use a metal spatula to flip them and get the other side. If the pan gets too dry, then add splashes of water or veggie broth. Stir every couple of minutes.
4. Cook until tender. This should only take 10 or 15 minutes if the sprouts are fresh. If it's later in the season, it may take longer. After 10 minutes of cooking, if they are not done, you can put a splash of water in and then cover the pan for a minute which will help to steam them. When just about done, add salt and pepper to taste.
5. Optional: when the sprouts are done, splash with a bit of balsamic vinegar, and turn off the pan. This adds a little sweetness to offset the bitter taste. Or, shut off pan and add some grated parmesean.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Blog

Today is my blog's first birthday! I just decided to have a party for it. To celebrate, we are going to have treats and cook something yummy for dinner. We are about to walk up to Quebrada Bakery and choose an appropriate sweet for the occasion. I'm not sure if my blog would prefer chocolate or vanilla? Cake or cupcakes? But, I guess that doesn't matter because let's be honest, the celebration is really for me.
Each year in January, my friend Elizabeth puts together a book, a combination journal and scrapbook of sorts, that captures many of the events and memories from her past year. It includes pictures, things she has written, emails and letters that remind her of things she has done and interactions that took place. She has it professionally bound and has them lined up on a bookshelf - each year of her life in review. It reminds me of those LIFE magazine year in review books that used to be published, but focused on one person. I love that she does this.
This year, Elizabeth sent me a note as she was putting together her journal. I had sent her an email at the beginning of last year telling her about my life and my aspirations for the year ahead. I had decided to: focus on exploring my relationship with Todd, instead of heading to the Nutritional Therapy Institute in Denver like I had originally been planning at the time I met him; get better at cycling; and start writing a blog. I did all those things. Todd and I have had a great time getting to know one another and interweaving our lives. We even decided to share a living space and moved in together last summer. For cycling, things took an interesting turn when I started to race. This came about when I took the NEBC spring clinic last year and was inspired by the women racers I met. I have since tried road and 'cross racing with close to 20 races under my belt, and took on a coach. Also, as you can witness here, I have kept a blog consistently for a year, and had a lot of fun with it.
I was thankful to Elizabeth for reminding me of these things, and that despite having a particularly lousy year at work, I had managed to keep things in my personal life on track and fulfilling. One recent highlight was that someone I didn't even know and wasn't related to me not only read my blog, but commented on it! She was even from another country - Australia! Anyway, I am inspired to keep on cooking, and writing.
This year, my focus will mostly be a continuation of last year. I would like to actually fully unpack our apartment, and make it a cozy nice place so we can have our friends to dinner without having to eat at TV tables. I will continue with racing and see if I can make improvements and have more fun with it. Last year I considered it an exploratory mission. This year I'd like to make some progress with my performance, but remember to keep some fun, epic, social rides in the mix as well. I will also make some changes on the career front so I can enjoy myself and learn some new skills. In addition, I'm turning 40 this year, and haven't quite decided what to do to mark that milestone. A big trip? A significant ride or hike? A party with friends and family? I'm not yet sure.
So, happy birthday, blog, and I look forward to 2009 with you.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Roasted Curry Butternut Squash Soup

I've never met a soup that didn't taste better the next day. That is also true with this soup. It's not that it tasted bad last night, but it just wasn't moving me. However, when I re-heated it for lunch today, I was feeling a little more love for it. I still don't think it's exactly what I'm going for, but it was pretty good. I'll have to try another recipe before soup season is over and see if I can find one that really knocks my socks off.
I had made a similar soup a couple of months ago, and had ranted for a bit about the peeling of butternut squash. Well, I found a way around that - roasting the squash. If you cut it in half, and lay it on a pan, you eliminate the need for peeling! The downside is that it takes longer to cook, then you have to scoop the squash out after it's cooked and cooled down a bit. This can also be a little messy, especially if you're me and have a knack for making messes. I'm noticing a bit of dried up squash on my keyboard right now. This is what happens when you use your laptop as a cookbook.
The upside is that I think roasting the squash gives it a slightly richer flavor. Also you only need to cut the onions in quarters and the garlic doesn't need to be chopped at all because you roast those too. Another benefit is that you can put the squash in the oven and hop on your bike trainer for an hour while it cooks. This was my intention last night anyway, but got distracted by Facebooking, IMing, and other very crucial things. It was Friday night, after all. If I'm not going out to socialize, at least I can do a little internetalizing.
I think this soup is worth a try. I fed it to some very hungry cyclists today, post-ride, and they seemed to like it. Although, they were probably just happy to eat something that was warm and not having to be made by them!

Roasted Curry Butternut Squash Soup
1 large butternut squash, cut in half and seeds scooped out
2 onions, peeled and quartered
1 small to medium head of garlic
6 cups of veggie broth (preferably a non-tomato based one)
1 bay leaf
1 tspn brown sugar
1 tspn mild curry powder
1/2 tspn dried oregano
1/2 tspn dried cinnamon
1/4 tspn ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
plain yogurt

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Cover baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. Place the squash halves and quartered onion on the baking sheet. ( I started with the squash pulp side down, then turned it half way). Wrap the head of garlic in foil and place that on the sheet as well.
2. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, until squash is tender. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Put the broth in a soup pan and bring to a simmer.
3a. If you have an immersion blender (like I do, yeay!) you can scoop all the the squash out of it's skin and add it right with the broth, then squeeze each garlic clove out if it's skin and put that in there as well. Then add the onion, bay leaf, brown sugar, oregano, cinnamon, curry powder, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes, then puree with the immersion blender.
3b. If you don't have an immersion blender, you can either borrow mine, or follow this step: Scoop the flesh from the squash right into a blender or food processor along with the garlic paste (squeeze each clove from it's skin). Add a little broth and puree. Add to the broth in the soup pot along with all the spices, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
4. If you want a creamy soup, you can turn off the heat and add a cup of plain yogurt. I just added a spoonful in the bowl as I ate it. It doesn't need it, but it makes it a bit more mild and creamy, so it's just personal preference.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Acorn Squash with Quinoa Filling

I just finished listening to one of NPR's On Point shows for today. Tom interviewed Mark Bittman who is a food columnist for the NY Times and many years ago wrote a cookbook called "How to Cook Everything". More recently, after having several health issues and also some concerns about the environment, he changed his eating habits to be more plant based and unprocessed. He wrote a book based on his new lifestyle called "Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating". Of course, I am in favor of his new lifestyle, and while I already know and agree with most of the principles he follows, he did share a couple of pieces of data that still managed to shock me. He read a list of the top 10 foods that make up America's calorie consumption. Soda was number one. So, not even diet soda because there aren't any calories in that. I think cheeseburgers, beer and french fries also fell in the top ten. I can't remember what else. That's so appalling though. If we are what we eat, that doesn't say much about us as a culture, does it? We are a big glob of high fructose corn syrup. We are not going to stay the most powerful country in the world that way. We should be a lot smarter than that.

I hope his book is able to reach more of the masses. "China Study" and "Omnivores' Dilemma" are also convincing in promoting a plant based diet, but are probably too scientific for the average person to get through, and they are not cookbooks. Mark Bittman seems like a pretty average guy, and he was able to adopt this lifestyle pretty easily. He is not a hardcore vegan, but most of his meals are now free of animal products. It's alarming to me how many people say they can't go without meat for more than one or two meals (and that's just meat, not factoring in cheese or eggs, etc). I don't know what this is all about - if it's really some sort of image thing (especially with men), or if people just don't feel full enough without meat. I'm sure the "full" you get from an animal product free meal is a little different than one with meat. But, time and time again I hear from people that eat meat free for a while, but then "splurge" on a cheeseburger that they feel awful afterwards.

Bittman also made a good point about Vegetarianism: being a Vegetarian is not synonymous with being healthy and that being vegetarian can be just as bad, both health wise and environmentally as being a full time carnivore. Someone could eat nothing but Snickers bars and call themselves a vegetarian. Or, like many vegetarians do, one could replace all their meat with cheese and eggs. In this scenario, they are not doing their own health (cholesterol levels, etc.) any favors, and the dairy industry has the same farming issues (use of antibiotics and hormones) and treats animals just as poorly as the meat industry. As an aside, I believe he said that 18 billion animals are slaughtered each year in this country. Is that possible? I need to look into that.

Anyway, I am again reminded that I have let my dairy consumption increase over the last year, and I was reminded of this as I was sprinkling cheese on top of the stuffed squash I was making that really didn't need cheese. I am vowing right now, at the very least to change up my breakfast and stop eating yogurt every morning. I'm not even eating it because I enjoy it. I'm eating it for the bacteria and the calcium, but I can take acidophilus pills, and get my calcium elsewhere, like increasing my tofu intake.

Acorn Squash stuffed with Quinoa
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tblsp olive oil
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup veggie broth
2 acorn squashes, cut in half cross-wise, pulp scooped out
1 can black beans
1/2 cup cooked spinach (if using frozen), or 1-2 cups of chopped fresh spinach
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 tblsp cumin
salt and pepper

1. Rub some olive oil onto the insides of the acorn squash and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put flesh side up on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.
2. Rinse quinoa under cold water. Put quinoa and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 20 minutes.
3. In a tblsp of olive, saute onion, yellow pepper and garlic for about 5 minutes. Add black beans, cumin, and the veggie broth. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the corn and the spinach. When quinoa is ready add that to the mixture.
4. Take acorn squash out of the oven. It should be getting soft, but still not too easy to stick a fork in it. Put some stuffing in each. If you wanted to use some cheese, you would mix a little in now and sprinkle some on top. You will probably have more stuffing than you need, but you can have extra to eat on the side.
5. Bake for about 20 more minutes, until squash is easy to slide a fork into. It can be a bit "al dente". It doesn't need to be extremely soft.