Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Recently it occurred to me the importance writing had in my life. I was in Logan airport heading out to the Denver/Boulder area for a quick visit, when I suddenly found myself in a state of panic - I had forgotten to pack a journal in my carry-on bag! I was going to be on a plane for 4 hours with nothing to write on. I had to think quick - was there anything else in my bag I could at least use as scratch paper if I needed to? No. Did I even have a pen in my bag? No. Maybe if I felt the urge, I could just type some notes into my iPhone or iPad. I tried to imagine that. No, that would just not suffice. Before I went through security, I found a bookstore where I purchased a package of 2 pocket-sized turquoise colored Moleskin writing pads and a nice pen and stored them away in my backpack. Aaaaah. Much better.
I began thinking about the role writing played in my life. It's not something I do in a very serious way, nor am I very good at it, but it's hard to think of my life without it. My first diary entry is from December 24, 1977 when I was 8 years old and I've kept some form of a journal ever since. There have been times when I've written more than others, and gaps of time when I haven't recorded much, but it's always been an outlet for me. I use writing to sort things out in my mind. I find I journal more when I'm feeling down, and also when I travel.
Recently, I've considered trying to be a little more disciplined about it, and maybe writing a bit every day, but not just about whatever is going on in my mind. I'd like to try my hand at some fiction. I probably mentioned I took a children's book writing and publishing class that I loved. I still have a manuscript I pull out every so often and make some changes too. I also found a writing class at the local Adult Education program that I almost took this Fall, but decided to hold off til winter.
In the meantime, I recently tried once again to do something I've proven not to be good at - baking. But this time, it wasn't awful. While I was perusing recipes for Thanksgiving ideas, I came across this one for Pumpkin Bread Pudding. Given bread pudding is one dessert that I do like quite a bit, I thought I'd give it a go. I made a few adjustments, but stuck to the recipe the best I could and the results were quite tasty. Vegans and anyone with a heart condition beware - this is not a recipe for you. This may be one of the more fat laden recipes I've ever made. And, as if there wasn't enough dairy already in the recipe, we had leftovers last night topped with some vanilla ice cream. Thank you, cows.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding
8 oz of French bread, torn into small pieces, about 5 cups (I used quite a bit more bread - about 80% of a 16 oz loaf)
2 cups half and half, or half milk and half cream
3 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1 cup dried cranberries
3 tblspns melted butter
1 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground nutmeg
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1 tspn vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350. Butter an 11X7 inch baking dish. (I used a bigger baking dish since I used more bread. I also added a little more milk and a tad more sugar and cranberries.)
2. In a bowl, cover the torn bread with the half and half. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, combine eggs, sugars, pumpkin, craberries, melted butter, spices and vanilla. Blend well.
4. Pour egg mixture in with bread mixture and blend.
5. Pour mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until set.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Three Grain Pilaf

This morning I tried something new. It's called Nia. I've been wanting to go to the Arlington Center to check out their yoga classes since I can walk there from my house, and my yoga studio doesn't have a class I like on Sunday mornings so it seemed like a good day to venture elsewhere. The schedule just said Nia/Yoga so I went without really knowing what I was getting myself into. Imagine my surprise when I was told I wouldn't really be needing my yoga mat and I could put that aside. It turns out Nia is a combination of dance, martial arts and healing arts. Today's class was to Indian music and it was a lot of fun. Some of the dance moves were reminiscent of the jazz classes I took as a kid. You really have to let any inhibitions go in order to get something out of this kind of class. The focus is on moving and strengthening your body and I don't think there's a part of our body that went unmoved.
This was a good distraction for me since I'm feeling a bit sad about not having raced 'cross this year. I remember feeling similarly at the same time last year after only having had done a few races. It's been a gorgeous autumn - weekend after weekend of pretty Fall days, and as I was putting together the slideshow for tonight's NEBC banquet, I found myself really wanting to jump into the photos to ride my bike on some of those courses.
Last night I did my best to help our friend, Steve, prep for his race today. He came over for dinner equipped with brussel sprouts. In addition to sauteing the sprouts and making some other stuff, I cooked a big pile of grains to help him carbo-load a bit. This is a good basic grain dish that you could add to. It has a nice nutty, buttery flavor on it's own and would be good served with something that has a sauce so it could soak up a bit of that. To use up the leftovers, I sauteed some mushrooms, onions, fresh parsley and peas and added the grains to make a slightly different side dish.
I got this from the Modern Vegetarian Kitchen, and if you're looking for a new cookbook to liven up your collection, I think this is a good one to get. I've cooked a bunch of things from it and haven't been disappointed yet.

Three Grain Pilaf
2 tblsns olive oil or unsalted butter
1/2 cup scallions, white and tender green parts, minced
1 cup white basmati or jasmine rice
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cub quinoa, rinsed
3 cups vegetable stock
3/4 tspn sea salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. In a 2 to 3-quart ovenproof saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the scallions and saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rice, millet, and quinoa and continue to saute, stirring, for 3 more minutes, or until the grains are fragrant.
3. Add the stock and salt. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Cover the pan and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Remove the pilaf from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Butternut Squash and Feta Muffins



Savory muffins are a new and beautiful concept to me. Apparently, they are popular in Australia and New Zealand. I read about this recipe on my favorite cooking blog, 101 Cookbooks, and she got the recipe from a cookbook, Martha Goes Green. I've made the muffins twice and I ordered the cookbook, which I received the other day. I must admit, the first bite is weird. I am so accustomed to sweet muffins, that I was surprised initially by the taste. But, I quickly got over that. These are great accompanying soup. And just imagine all the other possible combinations. A few things to consider:
  • I was so focused on browning the tops that I overcooked them the first time, so they were a bit dry.
  • The second time, trying to avoid them being dry, I added an extra egg, another cup of squash, and I didn't brown them as much. This worked, but I'm not sure if the extra egg was really necessary with less cooking time, but the extra squash can't hurt.
  • I think these are better just cooked or re-warmed. They didn't seem as tasty when eaten cold.
It's always exciting to get mail that is not a bill or some catalog you've never ordered from. So, imagine my delight when I received this adorable cookbook all the way from Australia, complete with a handwritten note. It's a self published cookbook and the illustrations are playful and a little eccentric. I will be making more from this cookbook soon, so I'll keep you posted. In a few hours I'll be boarding a plane to go to one of my favorite places, Boulder, CO, but I didn't want to leave without sharing these with you.

Note: 11/21 I tried freezing the remainder of this batch to see how they'd fare in the freezer, and they did quite well. I just had one on the side of a salad with pears, cranberries and walnuts. It was a nice combination.

Butternut Squash and Feta Muffins
2-3 cups diced butternut squash
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 large handful baby spinach leaves, chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp sunflower seeds
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup feta cheese, in small cubes
2 tsp whole grain mustard
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
2 cups unbleached flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
black pepper, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 405 degrees. Toss squash in oil, salt and pepper, then place in roasting pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until cooked through and slightly mushy.
2. Transfer cooked squash to large bowl, add spinach, parsley, sunflower seeds, parmesan, feta and mustard. Mix.
3. In separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together and add to squash mixture. Sift flour and baking powder into mixture, add salt and pepper and fold together, being careful not to over mix.
4. Spoon mixture into a greased 12 hole muffin tray and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Earth Diet Nine Day Challenge

During my lunch meeting the other day, my co-worker turned to me, looking incredulously at my empty container and said, "Did you actually just eat ALL of that?" She was referring to the ginormous salad which included, among many other things, an entire avocado, that had just moments. Yes, I had eaten all of that. But, I needed to fill up on lots of greens and veggies, because the scope of what I can eat at the moment is pretty limited. My friend, Lauri, and I decided to take the Earth Diet 9 Day Challenge. The premise of this diet is eating things from the earth. Nothing processed. You should eat raw as much as possible. No wheat gluten, no soy, no dairy. No alcohol. No caffeine. (It's partly a detox too. On a longer version of the diet coffee is acceptable. There's also a focus on eating mostly alkaline (vs. acidic) foods.
This last concept is most interesting to me. I've read a little about this, but will continue to explore it. There are those who believe your body won't get sick in an alkaline state, only if it's in an acidic state. I by "sick" they mean cancer, diabetes, things like that. Of course, many things I love (vinegar, condiments) fall into the acidic category. So, I've replaced vinegar with lemon juice to dress my salads (I know, lemon juice seems like it would be acidic, but it's not).
Anyway, I'm on day 5 and I was doing ok up until the little Halloween gathering put on in my division today. I walked in the room and it almost seemed like some sort of cruel joke being played on me. There must have been at least 50 dishes of different kinds of treats, both salty and sweet. Trifle, chips and dip, homemade cookies, bowls of candy bars, chips and salsa - you name it. It was like the office version of Willy Wonka's factory. I daydreamed about floating in the Wonka chocolate river, but in my rendition there tortilla chip plants growing along the river bank and little bowls of salsa floating by on lily pads. I came back to reality and ate my apple.
To try to make myself feel better on my way home I stopped, for the second night in a row, at a raw food cafe that opened last year in Newton. When I was there last night, I noticed they had chocolate pudding (in a raw vegan form) and raw "chips" and salsa. That was what I wanted for my dinner. As it turns out, they only do the chips for lunch, so I got a raw pizza instead. They do a nice job and the presentation is lovely, but let's just say that raw pizza is not for me.
In fact, eating mostly raw is not for me. I have a salad most every day and I think I could get into juicing if I decide to drop $300 on a juicer, but beyond that I think I feel better eating warmed food and cooked grains. I see the benefits of eating raw, keeping all of the nutrients. However, I think especially in the cold weather my body wants warm food. And life without hot soup? No thank you. A couple winters ago, I found myself suffering from acid reflux. When I told my doctor about this and he asked me some questions about what I was eating. I told him I ate a big salad every day for lunch. He said certain Asian food practices say that in the winter when your body is trying to keep warm, eating cold foods can be upsetting. So eating lightly steamed veggies, etc is preferable. I tried that and the acid reflux went away.
Eating raw also makes eating in season difficult. Raw butternut squash? I didn't see that on the menu tonight. The zucchini lasagne I had last night (see photo) was tasty and I could eat that in the summer, no problem. But for now I'd like a steaming bowl of stew.
I had originally planned to post some decadent thing that I can't eat just to show how strong I am, but I just can't do it. Maybe tomorrow...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tofu Balls with Red Sauce

While I'm very much enjoying the cooler days and nights, I feel a bit anxious knowing what comes next - lots of darkness. The days are getting shorter and soon we will turn the clocks back, so it's nightfall by 5 p.m. Every year I have a tough time with this. When, at the beginning of November, it's time to get motivated for my evening run or yoga class, I often find it hard to muster up the energy to do so. I eventually settle in and get with some kind of routine, but it's rarely with the same enthusiasm as on a warm summer evening or sunshiney day . And, of course your body does need a little down time to transition into the new season, so I want to honor that too.
This year I'm trying a new tactic. I'm going to try to do the morning thing. My goal is to do some sort of physical activity four mornings a week. So far this week, I've attended two 6:30 a.m. yoga classes and done one short yoga session at home with a run that evening. I know for hard core morning people 6:30 is late - a good portion of the day has already passed by. But for me, being alert, active and social at this hour is a little bit of an effort. I don't mind being awake at that time, it's being out of my comfy bed and out of the house doing something that creates a challenge. Getting to bed early enough to feel rested when getting up before 6:00 is another hurdle. I asked my yoga instructor how many times I have to do this before I'm considered a morning person. She said it's when I no longer think about it. This could take a while.
Someone recently asked if I had a recipe I like for tofu "meat" balls. I haven't made them in a while, but I've used this recipe out of Everday Tofu. I don't really like to refer to veg items as the meat in quotation mark fashion, so I'm trying to think of something else to call them. Tofu balls just isn't right. Tofu spheres isn't necessarily accurate. Todd suggested "medallions", but I'm not sure about that. So for the moment I've landed on "orbs", but I'm open to another suggestion if you have one. Scratch that- I tried "orbs" for a while, but it both looks weird and sounds unappealing, so "balls" it is.

Tofu Balls with Red Sauce
1 lb firm tofu mashed with a fork (soft tofu is easier to mash but I found the orbs to be mushy using the soft)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup fine bread crumbs
2 tsp beef-flavored bouillon (I think I just used veg bouillon)
1/2 tsp onion salt
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning or 1/4 tsp each dried oregano and basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbs dehydrated onion flakes
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 olive or canola oil
your favorite red sauce

1. Mix all ingredients except for red sauce and oil in a large mixing bowl.
2. Form 1-inch balls.
3. In deep sautee pan, heat the oil on medium high heat and brown the balls.
4. Place the balls in a medium sized baking dish, cover halfway with your favorite red sauce and bake at 350 for 30 minutes. (It'd probably be ok to skip the baking part and just add the orbs to whatever you're eating and cover them with sauce.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Champagne Vinaigrette on Salad with Israeli Couscous

My evil plan has worked! Mwah ha ha ha. Todd revealed to me the other day that he now likes the iced tea I make for him better than the kind in the bottle! I guess it's not that evil, but it is gratifying. I may have mentioned previously that Todd is not a coffee drinker, but instead has a morning iced tea. Well, early on I became a bit concerned about the amount of things he drinks from a bottle given his Nantucket Nectar's Half and Half usage, and the Vitamin Waters he drinks each day. My concern was with the amount of waste in the bottles. Even though we recycle them, it'd be better to not produce the waste at all. Secondly, I wanted to be able to curb the amount, as well as the form of sugar he was taking in. I made several batches to find the right amounts of tea bags, sugar and lemon to suit his taste. I've been using that same concoction for a while, but I (secretly) cut back just a tad on the sugar every few times. My hope is to wean him down to a less sugary mixture. Next up - a Vitamin Water reduction. Please don't tell him though. This is going to be a more difficult intervention, so my moves will have to be subtle.
Speaking of sweet, here is another salad dressing. A while back, Todd had a salad at the Cambridge Commons he enjoyed so I tried to replicate it at home. The more atypical ingredient was the Israeli couscous which makes for a heartier dinner salad. I tried many dressings before I got one that I think is close to the one at the restaurant. From what I remember, it was equally tangy and sweet. It also had chicken on it, so I use a chicken replacement. We should probably go back and have the salad again if it's still on the menu. I may have morphed it into something completely different over time.

The salad:
Greens of your choice (I usually use green leaf or romaine)
Chopped cucumber
A bit of red onion
Some chopped tomato
Cooked Israeli couscous
Goat cheese
Pistachios or some toasted pine nuts(this is an improvisation to the original)
Quorn brand chicken breast

The dressing:
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tblspn dijon mustard
1/4 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
2 tblspns lemon juice
2 tblspns honey
2 or 3 dashes of hot sauce
1/2 tspn salt
1/2 tspn pepper
1/2 cup canola oil

Monday, September 6, 2010

Corn Chowder

It's 9:00 on Monday night of Labor Day weekend. This signifies the end of many things. It's the end of a long weekend. It's also the finale to summer - while not yet the autumnal equinox, it's time for the kids to go back to school, and office chairs will once again be full - including mine. My 2 plus weeks of vacation is very quickly coming to a close. I am grasping at the last few minutes here. I realized I never wrote a single blog entry the whole time, so I am doing a little vacation cramming.
My vacation was not necessarily all I hoped it would be, since it was rainy, cold and dreary for four solid days during the first week, but I had a really nice trip to Colorado with perfectly sunny, dry days every day that made up for it. And, most importantly, I was able to fully disconnect from work and relax. In fact, I did such a good job at this that I'm really anxious about returning to a structured lifestyle tomorrow. Just the thought of having to get up, get dressed for work and be someplace at a specific time seems a little on the hectic side to me.
We had many tasty meals while on vacation. Appearing on the list of most memorable for me were the Olathe Farm Corn soup we had at the Timberline Restaurant in Crested Butte and then the Organic Carrot & Thai Red Curry soup from Root Down in Denver. I really do love eating and making soup, which is why I'm so happy that we are embarking on soup weather here. To celebrate, I made some corn chowder yesterday. I originally set out to make a soup like the one we had at Timberline, but I think I became influenced by the book I was reading The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry. It's about a woman who is let go of her corporate type job, and uses the opportunity to follow her dream to attend cooking classes at Le Cordon Bleu. Since many of the recipes discussed were meat stuffed meat or swathed in butter and cream, I think I felt the need to do something at least a bit decadent.
I'd never cooked with fresh corn before, instead reaching for the bag from the freezer. I am now going to try to fit in as many corn dishes as I can before it's totally out of season. Cutting the kernels from the cob was much easier than I anticipated and the effort is definitely worth it.
This is a very basic recipe and one you could add to.
Edit: I have made this subsequently and used a stock made from the corn cob. If you have the extra time I highly recommend doing this.

Corn Chowder
3 tblspns of butter
1 tblspn olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all purpose flour
6 cups non tomato based veggie stock (or see recipe for corn cob stock)
2 cups heavy cream
2 Russet potatoes, diced
6 ears of corn kernels removed from the cob
salt and freshly ground black pepper
chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1. In a soup pot, heat the butter and olive oil on medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and thyme, cook until soft, 8 to 10 minutes.
2. Dust the vegetables in the pot with the flour and mix to coat everything.
3. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
4. Add the cream and the potatoes. Bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes start to break down.
5. Cut the kernels from the cob and add to the soup. Add salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 minutes.
6. If you want add parsley and stir in a bit more olive oil.

Monday, August 2, 2010

French Barley Salad

After a recent trip to Europe (Brussels and Paris), it got me thinking about Parisian way of life and their lifestyle vs. the average American's. It's not that I haven't thought about this before, but as I am in the process of exploring different ways of eating (i.e. Ayurvedic, macrobiotic, etc), I am considering different elements of all these different approaches that I may want to incorporate into my own. Of course there have been all kinds of things written about why French women are so thin when there are so many rich foods in their diet, and while I haven't read any of them fully, a few of the more obvious points are:
1. Portion control- you can eat rich foods when you're just eating tasting portions of them and not super-sizing everything.
2. Sit down to eat and enjoy your food (sitting in the car doesn't count).
3. Use your feet as your main mode of transportation.

One observation I made was I didn't see a single person walking around drinking coffee out of a to-go cup. In Europe, they sit down and drink their coffee. In addition to taking time to eat/ drink their food, they are also much more "green" there than we are here, so that probably contributes to this factor as well. But, the next time you walk down a busy city street here in the U.S., take note as to how many people are eating or drinking something while they're walking. The same goes for the car. There is quite a bit of mindless consumption that takes place.

I had two of the best salads I've ever eaten while in Belgium, one in Brussels and one in Bruge. The one in Bruge had mozzarella that was so light and delicious it melted in my mouth. In Brussels, Wendy and I were hoping to eat some form of protein that was not cheese. In my experience, this is very difficult to do in Europe. There doesn't appear to be a big vegetarian crowd as far as I can tell. It's not that I didn't adore the toasted goat cheese I had on a couple of occasions, or the aforementioned mozzarella, but I'd prefer to not eat that much dairy. So, when we sat down at Birdie Nam Nam, the cafe in Brussels (can you even stand how cute the name is?) and started to decipher the French menu, I nearly shrieked with delight when I saw "lentils" as part of the ingredients. As it turned out, this was not the best part of the salad. The highlight was these little tomatoes that were either partly dried or partly roasted that were so delicious, I had to ask Wendy to be quiet every time I ate one, so I could have a "moment". Luckily she totally understood, and I did the same for her. I wish I could take some home with me (see the picture at the top if you want to know what they look like). I would take these any day over the many pieces of Belgian chocolate we sampled (I know, this is blasphemy to some.) It makes me sad that I may never eat one of those amazing little bundles of goodness again unless I can figure out how they were cooked.

The consistent element to most of the salads I ate was the simple vinaigrette they were dressed in. You could probably feed me sawdust, but if it was covered in a tangy vinaigrette I'd be happy. As a tribute to the salads I had while abroad, I made this barley salad from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special Cookbook. I used cucumber instead of green beans since I didn't have any on hand and I toasted the walnuts instead of cooking them in butter, though I'm sure that would add some nice flavor. Barley is a great base for a cold salad because its consistency holds up very well. I like the chewy texture a lot.

French Barley Salad
1/2 cup raw pearled barley
6 cups water
1/2 tspn salt

Dressing
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 tspn Dijon mustard
1 tblspn chopped fresh dill (1 1/2 tspn dried)
1 tspn salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup halved or quartered mushrooms
1 cup peeled diced carrots
1 cup cut green beans, trimmed and halved
1 cup thinly sliced red or yellow bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tspns butter
2/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Bring the water to a boil, adding the 1/2 tspn of salt. Rinse the barley in a sieve or strainer. Add it to the boiling water, and cook for about 30 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water to arrest the cooking and put aside to cool.
2. While the barley cooks, whisk together the dressing ingredients and in a small bowl, pour half over the mushrooms and let marinate.
3. Blanch the carrots in boiling water for about a minute. Remove with a slotted spoon,
drain and set aside to cool in a large serving bowl. In the same water, blanch the green beans for 3 to 4 minutes. Rinse in cold water and set them aside (do not add to serving bowl).
4. Stir the peppers and the mushrooms in with the carrots and green beans.
5. In a skillet, heat the butter, when it sizzles, stir in the walnuts so they are coated in butter and begin to brown, then immediately remove from heat.
6. Add the drained barley and remaining dressing to bowl and mix well. Let marinate for 30 minutes. Just before serving add the green beans and walnuts (it's best to add these in just before serving, otherwise the acidity from the dressing will start to soften them).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carrot Sauce

What's the opposite of a Domestic Goddess? A "Domestic Delinquent perhaps? Whatever it is, that's me. I suppose I could be worse. There are certain things I get done regularly, like grocery shopping, cooking, and doing the dishes. I could be feeding Todd and I dinners of Ritz crackers and Cheese Whiz from the corner store and letting dirty takeout containers pile up in the sink. But, I could never admit to you the number of times in my life that I've, for instance, thoroughly cleaned a refrigerator , or how regularly I mop my floors or dust. I'm sure there's things I'm should do that I don't even have any idea I should be doing. And, when I do these sorts of things, I'm really not efficient at it due to my lack of practice.
I want to turn over a new leaf, however. Well, sort of. I know I enjoy the house being clean, I just don't enjoy the process or want to take the time to do it. I can ALWAYS find something else to be doing. So, I hired someone to clean the apartment every other week. It took Todd and I a bit to wrap our head around the idea that this was a justifiable thing to do. It is, after all, only the two of us, and our place is small. But, reality is we both work a lot of hours and don't want to spend our weekends taking care of that stuff, so it just doesn't get done at the frequency it should. We've had our apartment cleaned three times now and so far it's great. I know it's a luxury that I won't always be able to have, but I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts. And with the dusting and floor washing done, it leaves me time to be scouring the fridge and all those other things I'll have to figure out. Feel free to advise (Mom). I should also mention here, for the record,that my mother keeps her house very clean, and this is not something I've inherited from her.
But, back to one of my more redeeming household qualities- cooking. I made this sauce specifically to go over some five grain croquettes I made a couple of months ago, but the sauce is versatile and would work well over most grains and some veggies as well. The recipe calls for carrot juice which I had to buy at the store because I don't have a juicer, but prefer to be able to make my own.

Carrot Sauce
2 tspns olive oil
2 scallions, trimmed, white parts thinly sliced
1 tspn finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
sea salt
2 cups fresh carrot juice
2 tspns freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 2-inch strip lemon zest
2 tblspns arrowroot powder
2 tblspns cold water
2 tspns finely chopped fresh parsley

1. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the scallions, thyme, and a pinch of salt. Saute for 1 minute, cover and cook over the lowest possible heat for 5 minutes. Do not let the scallions brown.
2. Add the carrot juice, lemon juice and lemon zest. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered for 2 minutes.
3. In a small bowl, dissolve the arrowroot in water. Add it to the pan and stir continuously until the sauce thickens. Remove and discard the lemon zest. Add the parsley and simmer for 1 minute. (If you want something with a little more kick, you could add a pinch of cayenne here as well.)
4. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and refrigerate. The sauce will keep for up to 2 days.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sweet Potato Walnut Salad

Today was a gorgeous day. I started it with a trip to a farmers market, my first this season. I went with two missions: 1) get some veggies 2)take some portrait shots for this week's photography class assignments. I did just a little of both. I walked away with bok choy, swiss chard, red leaf lettuce, strawberries, a greenhouse tomato, and maybe one portrait shot that I can turn in for this week. Later I was regretting not getting some arugula because it would be so good with some strawberries and shaved Parmesan. Well, maybe next week.
Mike gave me a lesson on shutter speed and aperture amidst the hanging tomato plants and lettuces. It helped a lot, and I'm still trying to wrap my head around it all. I think it's going to take a while.
Speaking of strawberries, I cannot stand putting them in the fridge, but I also can't stand having them go moldy after a day. Any ideas on this? I came home from the market and had to spend time throwing away some old produce that had gone bad before I got a chance to use it, including some lettuce. Mike also gave me a good suggestion regarding keeping lettuce fresh: put a paper towel in with your lettuce. It will help absorb the moisture and increase the life of the lettuce pretty dramatically. I will try it this week.
Of f to see my parents tomorrow to celebrate Fathers' Day. We will be making this salad as part of our meal. I made it a couple of weeks ago and it was better than I had anticipated. This also came from Moosewood Cooking for Health.

Sweet Potato Walnut Salad
Dressing
1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
2 tblspns white vinegar
2 tblspns chopped sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil (I did not use these)
1 tspn dijon mustard
1/2 tspn salt
1/4 tspn ground blk pepper

3 large sweet potatoes (I used 2)
2 cups trimmed and halved green beans
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
salt and black pepper

1. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a bowl and set aside.
2. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Steam until just tender.
3. Steam the green beans until just tender.
4. In a bowl, toss the sweet potatoes, green beans, walnuts, parsley and dressing.
5. This can be served, warm, at room temperature or chilled. Serve it as a side or over arugula.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Granola

Ooooooooooooooooommmmmmmm. I repeated that many times this week, along with lots of downward facing dogs, deep breaths and goddess poses (Kathy M, if you read this, please do not critique the pose I am portraying in the picture. I know it needs work!). For my time off this month, I decided on a practice that's become popular in the sluggish economy - a "staycation". I didn't stay home all week, but I did stay local. I had originally considered going to Boulder to visit my friend Lauri and spend a night at a yoga retreat center outside of Fort Collins, but I traveled a couple of times for work in May and I just didn't feel like getting on a plane again. So, I looked into Kripalu, a yoga center out in the Berkshires, less than a 3 hour drive from Boston. I had heard lots about it over the years and thought it was time I check it out. They offer lots of topical programs that focus mostly on yoga and health, but I decided to just go for the program-free Retreat and Renewal where you can attend yoga classes and other talks and workshops throughout the day.
When I first made my reservations, I booked a three night stay, but then I was hearing mixed reviews about the place, and realized I was going to miss Bike Night at Redbones, so I cut it back to two. I went in with very low expectations, and I think this tactic worked because I ended up having a very nice time. I enjoyed the yoga classes I took, had a couple of healing arts treatments, learned about Ayurvedic practices, sampled lots of the healthy food options, and met a new friend, Jennifer, from Maine.
The first thing I noticed when I got there is that everyone was walking around and looking up, totally aware of their surroundings, meaning they weren't texting or talking on the phone while going from one place to the next. There are very strict rules about where one can talk on a cell phone. Even as a self-proclaimed text addict, I found this to be very pleasant. In many ways they try to draw you into the moment, to be mindful of what you're doing. Even breakfast is totally silent. Imagine being in a large dining hall, with hundreds of people in it, and they are all just eating - not even reading or playing games on their phone. I'm all for technology, but it was nice to have a break. Of course, I'll admit I was playing Scrabble and texting the second I got into my room, but I put my phone away the rest of the time.
I'm not sure if I'll text less now that I'm home, but I am looking to work meditation into my daily routine. I also bought a cookbook to continue my exploration on the topic. You may see some recipes in the near future. Again, I was reminded to eat fresh food as much as possible. While I do a decent job with this, I think I can do a bit better.
Since I had some free time upon my return, I decided to make my own granola. I've been meaning to do this for a while and thought it a perfect task during a staycation. It came out pretty tasty, so here it is. I took it from one of my Moosewood cookbooks (Cooking for Health). I hope you enjoy it. Namaste.

Granola
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup honey or pure maple syrup ( I used agave nectar)
1 tspn salt
1 tblsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups coarsely chopped nuts
6 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup sunflower or pumpkin seeds
2 tbslpn brown sesame seeds (I didn't have any, so didn't use)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (optional, but I did use)

1. Preheat the oven to 325.
2. In a small saucepan on low heat, warm the oil and sweetener of choice. Stir in the vanilla.
3. Place the oats nuts and seeds in a large bowl. While stirring, gradually pour in the warm oil mixture until everything is coated.
4. Spread the granola on an un-oiled baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring after 20 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven and stir every 10 minutes or so, until cool to prevent clumping.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Crunchy Quinoa Salad

I'm in the midst of Birthday Week. So far, I have to say, I'm having a lot more fun celebrating 41 than I did 40. It's not that I had a bad time for my 40th. I think I just felt compelled to do something really memorable and I couldn't decide what that should be so I just became paralyzed with indecision and didn't plan much of anything. This turned out to be the year of the Ipad. I bought Todd one for his birthday a couple of weeks ago, not knowing he had already ordered one for me. It's probably a good thing, because I don't think either of us would be into sharing. And besides receiving that and other great gifts, I'm really enjoying myself. Thursday, my actual birthday, was Mission: Ice-cream. Imagine my delight when I realized one of the flavors for the month at J.P. Licks was fresh banana oreo, just like last year. Todd, Steve and I went for a casual dinner in Davis Square, followed by a calcium fix. To my relief, fresh banana oreo was just as good as I remembered it and I'm going to have to get over there at least once more before the end of the month. Friday was my real birthday dinner. Todd, Sallie, Mike, Catherine and I met at Oleana. I've heard many times how fantastic this place was and made the reservations 2 months ago. I ordered the vegetarian tasting menu and everything was great. I think the table favorite was the falafel appetizer Sallie ordered. Each falafel ball was laid out in it's own adorable little wrap. It's perfect for a special occasion and we will be going back. Hopefully next time we will get patio seating. Tomorrow, I go see Patty Griffin with Susan. We haven't had a music date in a while so I'm looking forward to it. Then, next week, I'm on vacation.
I found this recipe in a newer cookbook of mine, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. I needed something to bring to a Memorial Day cookout. In the midst of making it I suddenly panicked as I realized, "Oh no, I've done it again. I've made some weird thing that no one will want to eat." As it turned out, my worries were unfounded because most of it was not only consumed, but enjoyed. Sarahjoy, the host, was particularly fond of it. I mentioned her in my last post as I had volunteered to bring a veggie dish to her wedding weekend party. It looks like I will now be bringing quinoa salad instead! It's great for a picnic or outdoor setting because it stays pretty crunchy. Be warned, there are quite a few ingredients, so it requires a bit of time to make, but it's worth the effort.

Crunchy Quinoa Salad
Salad:
1/3 cup hulled sesame seeds
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cups water
1/2 tspn sea salt
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
Kernels from 2 ears of corn, or 1 cup frozed corn kernels defrosted
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
4-6 radishes, trimmed and cut into matchsticks
1 large carrot, grated

Marinade:
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small bunch cilantro (about 1 cup), trimmed, leaves and tender stems chopped
2 scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
1 garlic clove, minced
sea salt
fresh milled pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375.
2. Spread the seeds on baking sheet and toast in the oven for 12 minutes or until golden brown (Not too much though! There is a fine line between toasted and burned.) Pour them in a bowl and set aside to cool.
3. In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the 1 1/2 cups of water and salt to a boil. Add the quinoa. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until all of the water has been absorbed. Spread on a baking sheet to cool.
4. In a pot with a fitted steamer, combine the corn kernels with the red onion. Steam for 3 to 5 minutes until tender crisp. Remove to a colander and chill under cold running water. Drain thoroughly.
5. Make marinade. In a large mixing bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, cilantro, scallions, jalapeno pepper, garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste. Whisk well.
6. Add seeds, quinoa, steamed vegetable, red pepper, radishes, and carrot to the marinade. Mix well. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to blend flavors.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brown Rice Curry Salad



Welcome to our new home! I am writing this from my adorable new-used writing desk in our dining room that is actually going to be used to eat in, rather than ride bikes in, set in our cozy little apartment. For all of this, I am very happy. It's a smaller place than our last and we've still got a lot of unpacking and organizing to do, yet already I can feel the "qi" washing over me as we exhibit better Feng Shui. Our new place will be less cluttered and more inviting than Melrose Street. Most of the walls are a pale steel gray vs. the stark white that surrounded us in every room of the old place. This provides a warmer feel. I don't think I realized just how much I didn't like that apartment until now.
We have the best of both worlds with the neighborhood. We are still close in proximity to our neighborhood friends and the fun stuff we could walk to. But the new neighborhood is slightly cuter and so far seems more friendly. It's almost got a Portland, OR feel to it. And, of course, there's my favorite part: a Corgi lives right across the street. I think I scared my new neighbor a bit when I overenthusiastically expressed my joy at the realization that Noodle the Corgi lived that close by, but all seems well now since they've invited us for a barbecue once we get settled. If I can't have my own dog, I'll adopt the ones in the neighborhood for now.
I am giddy with excitement as I anticipate future dinner parties, game nights and conversations that will be had at our new-used dining table. (I've been spending a lot of time on craigslist these days in the furniture section. I'm trying to both be green and save money. I'm trying to be in the moment and enjoy the process of setting up our new place, but I am eager to get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Neither Todd nor I have ridden our bikes in quite a while. The routine I get back to, however, will be a bit different than my old. The injury I've been dealing with has slowed me down quite a bit, but forced me to get yoga in my life and in general I'm re-thinking how to spend my time. My change of scenery is going to bring about some positive changes, of this I am sure.
Over all the move went smoothly and I am thankful for many factors: going from one first floor to another first floor; the rain holding off on the big move day, and mostly, the friends and family who eagerly jumped in to help us. Gary, Juan and our parents all lent a helping hand. The Superstar Moving Help award goes to Nate Gallagher, our neighbor, friend and former co-worker of Todd's. Without his packing and moving skills and his many days of help, I'm not sure where we'd be right now. I only hope we can return the favor as he and Sarah Joy prepare for their upcoming wedding. They are prepping the grounds and doing much of the cooking themselves. I have offered to make some food for them as they have a few other vegetarians attending, and this rice dish is one of the things I plan to make. (Photo added later when I lived up to my word and made this salad from said kitchen!)

Brown Rice Salad
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup chopped green onions
1 cup chopped bell pepper diced (I used a mix of yellow and red)
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 carrot, grated
1 green apple, cored and diced
1 cup finely shredded red cabbage
1/2 cup golden raisins

Dressing:
1/2 cup of mayo (can use vegan)
3 tblspns rice vinegar
2 tspns Dijon mustard
2 tspns curry powder

1. Once rice is cooled, mix all salad ingredients, then toss with dressing!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Veggie BBQ Bowl

For the last few months, I've been looking forward to Mondays. No, I haven't been totally brainwashed by the corporate powers so that I'm eager to get back to the office on Mondays. Rather, I was taking a class about writing and publishing children's books at Cambridge Center for Adult Education in Harvard Square. Oh, how I loved my Monday evenings! The class started at 5:30 so in order to make it on time, I had to leave work before 5:00 which is a rarity for me. The class was made up of a dozen or so people of different ages and backgrounds, all possessing a love of children's picture books. I was so inspired by all their creativity. We each had to write at least one manuscript, read it to the class and get feedback from our peers. Our "guests" included otters, spotted pigs, a fallen baby star, and Little Red Book. Some revealed themselves through poems and others prose, and each was a joy to listen to. We would also bring in and share some of our own favorite picture books. This was how I discovered the fun of Stinky Cheese Man, and other tales by Jon Sciezska.
And the fun didn't end in the classroom. Afterwards, I would head to Le's, my favorite Vietnamese cafe, get a bowl of Pho or a noodle, veggie and tofu plate, and read or write over dinner. Next, I would poke around Harvard Square, hitting a book store or other shops.
I plan to keep working on my manuscripts and hopefully keep in touch with my classmates, a couple of whom I am quite sure will get published. I would like to take another class too, but now that the weather is warming up and it's time to get outside, I may be distracted by other things. I'm also trying to get yoga back into my schedule regularly, so that may be my new Monday night routine.
Between that and the class I was supposedly going to on Tuesdays, Winter Cycling Training Intensive (I wasn't as diligent about making it to this class), I found my weeks busy and I had less time for cooking and menu planning, so I relied on things that I know how to make and/or came together quickly. I think I must've made tomato soup at least 10 times this winter. In my last entry, I mentioned being inspired by The Friendly Toast's BBQ Veggie Bowl. I have made it a couple of times and I still have some tweaking to do to it. For the sauce, I've just been using some Whole Foods brand Steak sauce and a little hot sauce, but I want to find something better. I also think there's potential with what to add to the bean mixture. But, in it's most basic form, it's still a good alternative when you want some comfort food, but don't have the time to bake a Shepherd's Pie.

Veggie BBQ Bowl

4 large potatoes, russet or yukon gold
3 cloves of minced garlic, sauteed briefly in a bit of olive oil
milk, butter or whatever you typically put in your mashed potatoes
salt and pepper
1 14 oz can black beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 carrot grated
some kind of steak or bbq sauce
1 cooked veggie burger, per person

1. Peel and cut potatoes and put them on to boil in salted water. Reduce heat once they come to a boil and simmer for about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, in a sautee pan, heat up beans, corn and carrots in whatever sauce you are using. You will probably need about a half cup. You don't want in swimming in it, but enough to flavor the bean mixture and maybe to wet the mashed potatoes in the bowl.
3. Cook the veggie burgers according to package directions.
4. Mash the potatoes however you like.
5. In a bowl, scoop in a layer of mashed potatoes, topped by a layer of bean mixture and crumble a veggie burger on top.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

White Bean Sautee with Roasted Veggies

We don't eat out all that much, maybe because I don't mind cooking, but I do find eating in restaurants to be a good source of inspiration for recipe ideas. I was reminded of this over the past couple of weeks. First, when we stopped at The Friendly Toast in Portsmouth en route to Maine and I ate a veggie barbecue bowl. If you haven't been to The Friendly Toast, it's fun and funky, and they often add creative twists to casual type food. The barbecue veggie bowl was a perfect example of this. It was basically an unbaked, updated vegetarian version of Shepherds Pie. Our other recent meal out was at Flora, our neighborhood fine dining venue, where we visited for a belated Valentine's Day meal. It's only our third visit there, but we've had an excellent experience each time. There I had a white bean cassoulet with roasted root veggies, wild mushrooms and greens. I have since made versions of both of these.
At the risk of being boring, I will post the white bean dish even though my last post featured the same main ingredient. But, I am loving cannelini beans these days and I want everyone else to feel the love! Perhaps it's because I eat so many black beans and chickpeas (of course), that they are a nice change. But they really do have a nice texture and lend themselves well to fragrant herbs. When I researched cassoulet recipes I found they were more like soups and included sausage as well as beans. The dish at Flora was definitely not soupy. I also wanted to include some Israeli couscous since I thought that would add some nice texture and make a heartier meal. I'm not totally sure what they had for roasted veggies, but I'm pretty sure they had some butternut squash and turnip in there. I used white and sweet potato and a delicata squash. If you've never had this kind of squash, you MUST try it. It's nutty and light, not as sweet as butternut, and you don't have to peel it. (And you may already know how I feel about peeling butternut squash. Just for the record, I would still adore delicata squash, even if it needed to be peeled.)
I originally thought I would assemble all the three pieces after each had been cooked, then bake it for a bit. But in the end, I decided not to. Instead I just layered them in a bowl and served. It's still not quite what I want, but it was tasty enough that I would make it again. I will still go back to the drawing board though and see what I can come up with.

White Bean Sautee with Roasted Veggies

Bean sautee:
1 tblsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 large or 3 small ribs celery, diced
4 cloves garlic
2 14 oz cans cannelini/ white kidney beans
1/2 can diced tomatoes
1 cup veggie broth
a few leaves of kale, de-stemmed and chopped
2 tblspns dried herb de provencal or a mixture of thyme, sage, oregano and a bay leaf

Israeli couscous:
1 cup Israeli couscous
1 1/4 cup veggie broth

Roasted Veggies:
2 tblspns oil
4ish cups of a mixture of good roasting veggies diced (I used white potato, sweet potato delicata squash and crimini mushrooms
1 tspn sage
salt and pepper

1. Toss the veggies to be roasted with the oil, sage, salt and pepper to taste. Place in a baking pan and roast at 425 for 40 minutes or more til tender, tossing every 10 minutes or so.

2. Heat oil for bean sautee in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add onion, celery and garic. Cook five minutes until soft. Add beans and herbs, toss for a couple of minutes then add broth and tomatoes and simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. At the end, you just want a little liquid left in the pan, so you may find you'll need to add more broth. You all may want it more tomatoey, but I wanted the tomato to be subtle.

3. Bring the couscous and broth to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer covered for 10-12 minutes, until broth is absorbed.

4. After the bean sautee has been simmering for about 15 minutes, add the kale and put the lid on the pan.

5. On serving dishes, ladel a layer of beans, then a layer of couscous. Top with roasted veggies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pasta with Cannelini Beans and Spinach

While my lack of blogging might indicate a lack of cooking, that's not necessarily so. I have recently purchased a couple of new cookbooks after not having bought any for quite some time. I am finding them inspirational. It's time to take my cooking up a notch and I'm confident these books can help me. I got another Moosewood: Cooking for Health. I've made several dishes from that so far. I also just received Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. I spent some time reading it yesterday, but haven't cooked anything from it yet. The author gives a lot of great tips and explanations and so far, I like what I see.
I've also had a fairly busy schedule. On Mondays I am taking a class in Harvard Square on writing and publishing childrens' books. On Tuesdays I do a cycling/ core strengthening class at the Training Room in Somerville. Wednesday nights is group trainer workout in Cathy and Mike's basement with potluck dinner after. Thursdays I usually work late and do a run. Then, we're back to the weekend. There hasn't been much time for experimenting in the kitchen, so I've been falling back on many of the usual suspects.
I'm pretty sure this dish could become a regular. It's one of those things you can make even if you haven't made it to the grocery store in a bit, because you'll have everything on hand in the pantry or freezer. You'll note that the recipe calls for a 1/4 tspn of salt. Due to a little mishap, I put about 6,ooo times that amount into the pan. As I was shaking a "bit" of salt in right at the end of cooking, the lid came flying off, dumping the entire contents of the container onto the pasta. After hearing some expletives emerge from the kitchen, Todd came running in thinking I had perhaps caught my hair on fire. When he saw what actually happened, he said, "I know you're upset, but you have to admit, it's pretty funny. We should take a picture of it." So we did and then we salvaged a portion of it. I guess if you spend enough time in the kitchen, you're going to have days like these. And, I now understand why on cooking shows the chefs pick the salt from a little bowl and sprinkle it on with their fingers. Lesson learned.

Pasta with Cannelini Beans and Spinach
10 oz frozen chopped spinach
8 oz of fusilli or rotini pasta
1 tblsp olive oil
1 small onion chopped
4 cloves garlic minced
pinch red chile pepper flakes
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can cannelini beans
1 tspn dried oregano
1 tspn dried basil
1/4 tspn salt
1/4 tspn ground pepper
a few tblspns feta, parmesan or asiago cheese

1. Cook the spinach. Heat it according to package directions, drain it and press out the excess water. (If using fresh, wilt in some boiling water, drain press excess water from it and chop it coarsely.)
2. Cook pasta according to package directions.
3. Heat oil in a sautee pan over medium heat. Add onions, garlic and chili pepper flakes. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are soft. Add tomatoes, beans, and spices. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered, until liquid is reduced. Add spinach and pasta. Let simmer for a couple more minutes. Serve in bowls and top with cheese.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheesy Penguins


My effort to incorporate pictures on my blog isn't going very well. It's not just food I'm neglecting to photograph, but pretty much everything else too. Todd and I got this great new camera, a Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Elph which makes picture taking a much better experience than with our old cameras. I think I just got so out of the habit of taking pictures that I'm having a hard time getting back into it. Also, when I look at other cooking blogs, they seem to have really nice kitchens and cookware which makes a pleasant backdrop for the food. Our ghetto kitchen and boring dish set, not so much. However, I am inspired by some of the fantastic photography on these blogs and that of some of my photographer friends, so I will continue to make an effort. This website was the inspiration for the cocktail penguins we brought to a Three Kings party last night.
http://arecipeforaperture.blogspot.com/
These little penguin guys were kind of fun to make. It was like being veterinary chef, operating on these little food animals. They rated pretty high on the cute factor, and in that sense were a hit at the party. They taste o.k., but were mostly just a fun food item.
Earlier in the day we had some fun photographing our city pet filling himself up on the various snacks we left out for him. I think his favorite were the almond crescent cookies I put out, but he had eaten the whole thing before I could get it on film. I was hoping he'd have some confectionery sugar dotting his face for a photo.
If anyone has anymore ideas for animal foods, pass them along. I'm thinking there's got to be something you could do with cherry tomatoes.

Cheesy Penguins
Cream cheese
Goat cheese (one with garlic and herbs is good)
1 can of black olives (I think canned works best since they are firmer)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
cocktail toothpicks

1. Mix up some cream cheese and goat cheese to taste. You don't have to use goat cheese, but it gives a better flavor.
2. Slice the carrots, not to thin and not too fat. Cut a triangle out of each one. The triangle will be used for the beak.
3. Slice open an olive and stuff it with the cheese mixture. This is the hardest part. It's difficult to do without getting the cheese everywhere. I tried several different gadgets to perform this surgical procedure.
4. Assemble the head, body and feet with a toothpick and insert the beak.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Applesauce

In Led Zeppelin's song Over the Hills and Far Away, Robert Plant muses, "Many times I've wondered how much there is to know." I can relate to this. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by how much there is to know, and just how little of it I do know. Further, I get frustrated by my limited capacity, time-wise, resource-wise and ability-wise to learn (and do) more. For instance, tonight on Fresh Air, George Lucas was being interviewed and he was asked about the mythology behind his films. He explained how he was an anthropology major in college and became interested in the psychology supporting the myths and when creating films he was exploring whether that psychology still resonates in current culture. He was also discussing that mythology is really storytelling. I'm probably misrepresenting precisely what he was saying, but the point is that while listening, what was going through my head was: I would love to be able to study anthropology and know more about various cultures; I would like to read mythology and be familiar with more of the classic myths. I remember being really interested in the little mythology I studied in grade school; I would like to pursue storytelling as an art form. I took a workshop a few years ago, but never did anything with it. Then, in this typical line of my thinking comes the part where I get frustrated thinking that at my job, while I learn knew information, it's nothing terribly interesting and I feel like I'm getting dumber by the day, rather than smarter and wiser.
The next step in this thought progression is usually my getting down on myself for not being disciplined in using my free time more productively - studying and researching (formally or informally) the litany of topics I'd like to explore. On the contrary, I end up being less scheduled than I could be and just falling back on the usual suspects to fill my time: biking, running, cooking and reading fiction (with the smattering of non-fiction mixed in). It's not like I'm spending hours wasting time in front of the t.v. or anything, so I suppose I could be far less productive,but I have do my time wasters: flitting about the Internet and playing my favorite iPhone app of the day (i.e. Boggle). I guess I long to possess a little more Type A personality, and be a morning person, as I've mentioned before (I think they probably go hand in hand), but I'll have to work with what I've got and make the best of it.
When I do make a meal that is spontaneous, creative, tasty and efficient all at the same time, I must admit, I do feel a good sense of accomplishment. This very thing happened the other day when I made potato pancakes from leftover mashed potatoes, applesauce from the softening apples that were no longer good to eat on their own, and a tasty side salad to use up the greens in the fridge. I was just about to throw away half a bag of McIntosh apples when it dawned on me that applesauce would be a good accompaniment to the pancakes. It cooked so quickly and did work well with the meal.

Applesauce
3 to 4 lbs peeled, cored and quartered apples (not all apples are good for cooking, but McIntosh, Fuji, Granny Smith and some others work well.)
4 strips of lemon peel
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
up to 1/4 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 cup of water
1/2 tspn salt

1. Put all ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, take out lemon peel, and mash with a potato masher or a couple of whirls of an immersion blender.

Would be good warm over vanilla ice cream or put it in fridge for a snack all on its own!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Squash Soup

Butter totally rocks.

I'm finally figuring out that this is one of the reasons why everything in nice restaurants taste so much better than my own cooking. They put butter and cream in pretty much everything. While I don't choose to cook like this all the time, it's a nice treat once in a while. On Christmas day, we chose to stay home and have a quiet day by ourselves. We also defied tradition in a few other ways. I didn't put up a single Christmas decoration (cutting back from the few I scattered about last year), and we didn't partake in much gift giving. I exchanged gifts with a few friends and Todd's parents gave us gifts, but other than that, we abstained. I must admit, I really enjoyed it. I had more appreciation for the few gifts I did get and it made the holidays a little less frenetic. I plan to do the same next year. We also went to the movies on Christmas evening at the Boston Common theatre to see Sherlock Holmes with my friend, Sallie, and her three boys. It was a nice way to end our non-traditional Christmas.
For our quiet dinner at home I had planned to have a romantic candlelit atmosphere, and make something decadent, outside of my usual simple repertoire. I searched around trying to find something French and vegetarian, but couldn't find anything to get terribly excited about. As the day drew closer, I had settled on a menu that was far less intriguing than I had intended and then the day of, that got scaled back even more since we ended up in a bit of a time crunch due to unexpected activity. So, no candlelight, and we rushed through our rather standard type meal.
The only thing I did do a bit differently was to use butter and cream in both the mashed potatoes and the soup I made. The soup was from the Pickety Place cookbook, a cute, homey type restaurant in NH with lots of savory dishes that Todd took me to when we were first dating.
Normally, I would make the same type of recipe without the butter and cream, but I went for it and the results were good. It reminds me, I would like to go visit Pickity Place again (hint, hint Todd).

Winter Squash Soup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 large Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups veggie broth (non-tomato based)
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
3 cups acorn squash, peeled and diced
1 tspn fresh thyme (remove leaves from stem and mince)
1 tspn fresh sage, minced
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tspns brown sugar
Salt and white pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add broth, herbs and squash. Cook on medium heat until squash is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Let cool a bit and puree until smooth. Whisk in cream and brown sugar. Reheat on low, being careful not to scorch cream.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili

Happy twenty ten! I am writing this entry as a means of avoiding the cleanup from yesterday's Chili New Years Day Ride/Party. Our day started with about 30 more degrees than it did last year. Despite that, we actually had fewer people join us for the ride. There were 10 serious competitive cyclists and me, for a total of 11. Last year we had at least 13. While last year's ride was frigid and in the snow, it sort of evened out the playing field a little better. Yesterday's ride was mostly spent with me falling off the back and the rest of the group waiting up for me at the tops of hills. After about 90 minutes of this, I begged the group to go on without me while I toodled back on my own. Pathetically, I was actually lost for a while in the sense that I had no idea where I was even though I was about 5 miles from my house. In the end, it was good because I found a new way home from Lexington and I realized I get stuck in the same routes and need to venture out. I will look forward to some new roads in 2010.

Another 20 or so people eventually joined us back at the house for some food, hot cider, conversation and Rock Band. Typically, Todd has made two versions of the same chili (see last year's post), one with meat and one without. This year I decided to venture out and make a vegetarian chili that was distinct from the other. I chose this recipe because it was a bit sweeter, and doesn't have as much heat, to have an offering for people who want something a bit more mild. Apparently it was good. I never actually got around to trying it, but several people commented on it. The basic recipe has very few ingredients and you can use this as a base to play around with. I added corn, carrots and some cider vinegar. You could sub sweet potatoes for the sqaush and kale or spinach for the chard. Add more spices if you like. Topping this with fresh cilantro would probably taste great.

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili
2 tblspns olive oil
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped into half inch pieces
2 tblspns chili powder
2 tspns ground cumin
1/8 tspn cayenne (more if you want heat)
3 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups veggie broth
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
3 cups packed of roughly chopped swiss chard

Other stuff I added:
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 carrot, sliced
1 tblspn cider vinegar

1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic (and carrot if using). Saute until tender and golden, but be careful not to burn - about 7-9 minutes.
2. Add squash, stir. Cook about 2 more minutes.
3. Add chili powder, cayenne and cumin, and mix.
4. Add tomatoes, broth and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat, and simmer until squash is tender about 15 minutes.
5. Add chard or kale and corn (if using). Cook about 5 more minutes until greens are tender.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste and cider vinegar. Blend and serve.