Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kale and White Bean Caesar Salad

I highly recommend this salad! Just not the dressing (I tried a healthy raw vegan caesar dressing which turned out to have a check beside every important category except 'tasty' - it wasn't bad, the salad was still yum, but we can do better).

Go find yourself a good caesar dressing recipe (UPDATE: I suspect this one might be perfect!!) and make this delicious, beautiful, healthy salad.

Kale & White Bean Caesar Salad

1. Chop up a whole ton of dinosaur kale.  I mean really chop it. I hate big leaves in my salad, and for kale you especially want to "tame" it by chopping it to bits with a big chef's knife.
2. Massage the leaves with your (good) caesar dressing. Besides coating the leaves very well, massaging helps tenderize the kale, so they say.
3. Toss in some sundried tomatoes (in oil, or dried ones reconstituted by soaking in warm water for 15 minutes), navy or other white beans (isn't it ironic that navy beans are white?), and homemade croutons (cut bread into squares, toss with oil and salt, toast under a double broiler).
4. Season heavily with black pepper. If your caesar dressing isn't salty enough, you can add salt to taste to the salad.

Sexy tattooed arms not included.

Monday, June 27, 2011

sweet little apples... in june?

I don't know why my parents' tree produces apples in June. But these little apples are perfect, with just the right amount of crispness and sweetness.

I'm not the only one who loves these apples. They're just the right size for my beautiful niece Abby!

Quick Lunches: Miso Soup

Lately, I've been running home from work for lunch.  When I get there I usually have no idea what I'm going to eat.  And though we often have leftovers, we usually have nothing ready-made unless you count frozen veggie burgers.

I've been throwing together some pretty fast, yet satisfying meals lately.  This one may have taken 5 minutes of my time.

Miso Soup with Collards, Broccoli and Leeks, + Crunchy Nori Garnish

Get a little water boiling. Toss in fresh collards (i chiffonade them, really small), broccoli, and leeks.  Simmer until just tender.  Remove from heat and stir in a tablespoon or so of miso paste until dissolved.  Garnish with toasted seaweed crumbles (you can get these in the Asian section at Whole Foods; they're often toasted with sesame seeds, salt, and sugar - they add a nice crunch).


There's little I love more after work than cooking an easy, healthy, delicious meal while having a cocktail or glass of wine.  The routine of it is so comforting to me.  And the process is very therapeutic.  I love cooking for myself and it's even better if I have someone else to cook for.

One night last week I was alone and needed to figure out dinner.  I also had a big bag of vegetables from my mom's garden.  Here's a sample of the types of veggies in the bag.
Perfect for ratatouille, right (minus the cucumbers)?  So I made two huge pans of super flavorful ratatouille, all for me, and had them for lunch all that week.
Of course, I couldn't let the cucumbers go to waste.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pizza from My Father's Daughter

On Sunday, I wanted a simple, delicious way to enjoy my mom’s garden-fresh tomatoes for dinner.  Obviously, my first thought was a tomato sandwich, but I wanted really good bread, preferably homemade.

I thought I might bake some bread, then I thought I might make a pizza crust (seemed a little quicker and more no-fail).  A simple homemade pizza crust with tomatoes, basil, cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Truly, nothing in this world can beat that flavor combination.

I used Gwyneth Paltrow’s pizza crust recipe from My Father’s Daughter.  Despite my lack of proper tools – you know, pizza peel, wood-fired brick oven – the crust came out tasting (I said tasting, not looking) restaurant-quality.
Before baking, we brushed the crust with olive oil, then adorned our pizza with sliced tomatoes, rather than sauce, to appreciate the amazing flavor of our homegrown tomatoes in “wholer” form.  A few slices of buffalo mozzarella, torn basil leaves, and salt and pepper, then into the oven at 500 degrees on a preheated pizza stone until the crust starts to brown and the top is bubbly and melty.

So simple, so perfect.
*I thought I should address the cheese.  I know throughout the course of this blog, I started out omnivore, then went vegan, then started to slacken up a little, eating dairy and seafood on occasion.  I'm sorry if that is confusing to anyone.  But for many of us, our diets naturally shift and change over the course of our lives. If you want to know where I stand, here it is: I believe that a vegan diet is the best diet.  I think we should all strive to eat as close to vegan as possible.  I admire those who truly stick to their vegan diets 100% of the time.  We all have our reasons for eating what we eat, whether ethical, health-related, taste-related, or all three.
I have seen enough science and research to be convinced that I should not support the meat, poultry, and dairy industries.  Not only are their factory farming practices often cruel and unsustainable, but their marketing dollars go so far as to lie and convince us their products are a healthy, and even necessary part of our diets - not so.
I know there are many kind farmers out there.  Ideally, if we want to eat animal products, we ought to go to them.  But lets not fool ourselves: there's nothing kind about killing a cow when we have plenty of other food that's much healthier for us and does not require a living creature dying.
Do I still love lobster? Yes, I do.  I love it, and oysters, and shrimp, and fish.  I eat them without giving much thought to whether or not I should.  But I don't eat them often.  As for meat and poultry, I do have some on very rare occasion, but I wouldn't care if I never tasted them again.  I prefer gentle, pretty plants and delicate tofu that treat my body well, to heart-clogging animal products any day.
As for cheese and eggs... they're a very occasional treat that I could easily live without.  Either I choose to buy them for a very specific recipe, or they slip into my diet when I eat at others' homes and am not in charge of the menu.
The most important thing is, I've learned I don't need these foods that for some reason, are considered staples in the American diet, and I've learned to use delicious, healthy plants to create exciting meals that taste as good or better than their counterparts.  I feel I've found a happy medium and am making a difference to my and my loved ones' health, to the planet, and to animals.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Broccoli and English Pea Soup

This photo is actually my broccoli and pea soup on Day 3.  Not bad for leftovers, right?

This bright green soup is tasty, healthy, pretty, and a snap to make. Garnish with croutons or whatever you like.  Chris had his with tangy feta the first night.  I like mine plain or with toast.

Broccoli and Pea Soup:

olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large heads broccoli, chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
1 package frozen peas
Coarse salt & fresh ground black pepper

Saute the onion and a generous pinch of kosher salt in a bit of olive oil until translucent.  Add the garlic and cook a minute or so.  Add the broccoli and the vegetable broth, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until the broccoli is just tender and bright green.  Turn off the stove and remove from heat. Stir in the peas and allow to warm through.  Puree in batches in the blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Home Alone Dinner

Home alone (well - not totally alone, as you can see) dinners mean giving in to whatever craving I'm having, in whatever way I want, no matter how odd the final manifestation.

I present to you: brown rice with chopped kale, slow roasted tomatoes, anchovy vinaigrette (from My Father's Daughter), and fresh ciabatta straight from the oven.  To the right, a vodka orange juice to wash it down.  With lots of pulp.

About the pulp.  See, I normally buy Low Pulp because my roomie doesn't like pulp.  However, he is insane.  I finally experienced this moment of realization as I stood by the Kroger cooler, reaching for Low Pulp, when Lots of Pulp was what I really wanted (according to Tropicana there is no in-between), and so suddenly changed my mind and thought I'd try a little experiment and put myself first.  Now my loony roomie is using a fine mesh strainer to strain his own orange juice.  You'd think he'd just go buy some Low Pulp.  See, further evidence he is nuts.

I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gwyneth Paltrow's Corn Chowder

I did it, naturally.  I bought Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbook.  I knew I'd love it before I bought it.

On a side note - how can someone be so impossibly blonde, thin, and beautiful???  Could it be all the slow roasted tomatoes and anchovies she's eating, if her cookbook is any indication of her actual diet?

First recipe - corn chowder, made from fresh corn I bought at the farmers market on Sunday.  Verdict: delicious.  And a cinch to make, even with shucking the corn. Obviously I made the vegan version, which calls for smoked paprika instead of bacon, and unsweetened soymilk instead of milk.

That's right, no cream.  I do get tired of every soup recipe calling for cream.  I mean, yeah, if I top every meal I make off with cheese and cream and bacon, it will probably taste good.  It takes a little more skill to make something decadent without all that stuff, right?

*One tip. I grew up harvesting, shucking, creaming, and freezing corn every summer.  Creamed corn, if you don't know, basically involves running the cob down a cheese grater.  That way you get all the creamy starch from the cob.  Whereas simply using a knife, you just get the intact kernels.  I like to use a knife to remove the kernals, then run the cob over a grater to get the rest of that good sweet starch out.

More recipes to come.  I've got slow-roasted tomato and anchovy pasta, teriyaki tofu and shiitake lettuce cups, and warm potato and radish salad with lovage butter on the menu for this week.

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fatoush

I'd never even heard of Fatoush, but my friend Jenn gave me a recipe.  It's basically the Lebanese version of Panzanella, or bread salad.  It calls for pita, feta, mint and parsley, and a lemon vinaigrette - all classic Middle Eastern/Mediterranean flavors (food cultures do all fade into each other, don't they?).

This salad would be so perfect as a side dish at a Greek barbecue and it makes a perfect light, flavorful lunch.  It also works just fine for dinner on a hot summer night.

Green Bean, Shell Bean, and Sweet Onion Fatoush

2 lemons, 1 zested and both juiced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
coarse salt
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for brushing (I actually use less olive oil and more lemon juice)
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup shelled fresh shell beans, such as cranberry or lima
3 rounds (6-inch) pita
1/2 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
4 ounces feta, crumbled
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1. Make vinaigrette with lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil.  Let stand while you prepare the other ingredients, tossing out the garlic right before you pour over the salad.
2. Blanch the green beans (1 minute).
3. Blanch the shell beans (takes longer than the green beans depending on your beans, about 18-20 minutes)
4. Grill or toast the pita with oil, salt, and pepper. Cut into squares.
5. Toss all ingredients together and serve.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stir Fry Tips

Since I didn’t have a picture of my stir fry, I thought I’d offer this consolation-prize-of-a-picture, as proof of my stir fry’s goodness.

I am pretty sure all you cooks out there recognize these words - this ___ is amazing! - as music to our ears.

After many failed attempts at stir fry I finally got it right.  You know by now I hate writing recipes, so instead I’ll provide some tips you could apply to any stir fry recipe with success.

1. Dry fry your tofu first, using this method.
2. Don’t have soba or udon noodles, or rice?? Whole wheat angel hair pasta works great! (I learned this from Jennifer Morgan, whose mom uses spaghetti noodles for stir fry sometimes. I still remember Jennifer cooking up peppers, broccoli, and spaghetti in her wok when we lived together).
3. Get the wok super, super hot first. When you add an ingredient, flip it around quick and it’ll be done fast. We’re not caramelizing or simmering here, we’re flash-cooking for crisp veggies!
4. Only cook one ingredient at a time, transferring to a plate when done, before adding the next ingredient. Add them all back in the pot at the end. Then, you…
5. Add this sauce (halve the recipe; it makes too much for a 4-serving dish).

There ya go! The hard-learned lessons that helped me make a stir fry good enough to prompt this reaction.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A little on running this morning

This morning, I woke up at 7:30am (right when I usually start my run), and decided I would not run as I was tired and could use another hour of sleep.

But.  My neighbor’s dog was yowling as if being tortured (he’d been doing this since about 5:00am and I’ll go ahead and say I do not care for this particular neighbor or her miniature pinscher and he does not care for my Meeks – there’s your red flag; who could not love Meeks??).

And, I started regretting the fact that I hadn’t run this morning before suddenly realizing that I was regretting not running while I still had time to run.

So I got up and threw on my clothes fast, as I was now running (pun!) late.

Goodness, there is just no better way to start my day than with a run!  Even when it’s hot and humid and I wipe out while people in cars and on bikes watch and I know they’re giggling as I pick myself up quickly and examine the big bloody scrapes on my knees, hands, and elbows.

After the wipe out, I skipped my ipod to Michael Jackson’s Bad and continued running, faster this time.  As I passed other runners and bikers going the opposite direction they glanced at my bloody legs with varying expressions of disgust and what I imagined in my mind could only be admiration. That girl is hard core!

Yes. I guess so, I guess I am.  I picked up my pace but only for a few seconds because honestly I was getting tired towards the end of the run.

There are so many things I love about a morning run.  The beautiful red female doberman pinscher I stop and pet (and drool over) almost every morning.  The surge of energy I experience afterwards as I shower and dress for work.  The iced espresso I reward myself with on my way in to work.  The endorphin buzz that carries me into the afternoon and makes me a generally more cheerful person to be around.

What I don’t love: Getting up and going straight out the door before my muscles warm up.  How after a hot run I continue sweating sometimes as I blowdry my hair.  How my face sometimes stays red – not just the cheeks; that’d be cute, but my whole entire face including nose, eyelids, forehead, etc.  Less cute, more Oompa-Loompaish.

Anyway, now I’m sitting here on my lunch break with big white bandages on my knees looking silly and I’m here to tell you that the bloody knees, the getting up early, the sweating, and the red face are all worth it.  Besides, you only wipe out like once a year.  Last time I busted my ass was May 2010.

Party Food

You can not know how much it pains me to put a photo I'm not happy with on my blog.  Yet, those have been the photos I've posted for the last few months!  I LOVE a photo of food in natural light; in contrast, a photo of food in artificial light pains me.

But, I DO want you to know about the hummus platter and blackberry macaroon tart I made for a bridal shower this past weekend.
As I said, the photos do not do them justice.  They - particularly the hummus tray - were beautiful!!  The hummus tray was so fun and full of unexpected colors.  It is definitely one of my favorite things I've ever made.  I love it so much I want to make it again, soon, and take lots of pretty pictures in natural light.

The tray contained: toasted pita, cucumbers, french radishes, stuffed grape leaves, baby orange and yellow carrots, peppadews, kalamata olives, and homemade hummus.

The blackberry macaroon tart got rave reviews (especially since I remembered to prebake the crust this time) and could NOT be easier to make.  You can find the recipe here or here, depending on if you'd like a larger or smaller tart, respectively. Note: These recipes don't mention it, but definitely replace 1/3 of the flour with almond meal if you can get it; I love the taste and texture it adds.

Well, there you go, two of my now go-to party contributions.  I'll be making this tart again and again, but with different fruit variations.  I think cherries would be great, and also mixed berries.