Monday, January 31, 2011

Almond Cupcakes With Apricot Preserves Filling

MmmmmmmMMM!  If you love cupcakes, you should seriously get Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World - I don't care if you're vegan or not, they are awesome.  Just make sure you substitute agave for sugar in the recipe (and in doing so, reduce all liquids by 1/3, and use 3/4 the amount of sweetener [agave] the recipe calls for [sugar]), because I think agave is the secret to why the cupcakes turn out so tender and delectable.

I replaced 1/2 of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour and loved the results.

I love these cupcakes because I happen to adore marzipan, and apricots, and the cupcakes with their addition of almond extract (which should normally be used VERY sparingly if at all because it's just so strong) and almond meal were very much like the cake version of marzipan candy, and the filling/glaze just compliments the nutty taste so perfectly.

Please forgive my poor photos and my poorer decorating skills. ;-)

I wrote to Whole Foods about genetically engineered alfalfa. Here's my email and their response.

I know you all heard about the USDA's decision to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa, despite cries of outrage from those entities that represent organic food, local farmers, and quality produce (with real taste... tasteless tomatoes, anyone?).

Well, upon reading THIS, I was horrified and immediately emailed Whole Foods.  Here's my email, and Whole Foods's response.  Please take the time to follow the link at the very end of this post, to voice your concern (if you feel concerned) to the "powers that be."

"Due to your recent decision to support Monsanto and the mass commercialization of GE crops, I will no longer shop in your store. I am sure you've performed adequate research into Monsanto and their unethical business practices. I'm just so upset by your decision. You were a trusted leader in Organic food. No more. Your brand is severely tarnished and diminished in my eyes and in the eyes of people who care enough to pay the price for quality food - the people who [used to] shop at Whole Foods."


Whole Foods responds:

Hello Helen,
Thank you for being passionate about genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops and for expressing your concern about the availability of non-GMO foods. We are very passionate about this too and are extremely upset that our position has been distorted out there. 


Don’t be fooled by the OCA (Organic Consumers Association) as it often twists the truth which confuses consumers. This time, OCA is misleading you by implying that we have “surrendered” to Monsanto and “cut a deal” for co-existence and that we’ll receive “compensation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Whole Foods Market, along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, United Natural Foods and many others in the organic community, were trying to secure protections for organic farmers so biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable if GE crops polluted non-GE crops and would be forced to pay for the damages. (No money would ever go to us!) We were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GE alfalfa supplies could be maintained.
Unfortunately, none of those protections were approved as, to our utter disappointment, the USDA decided to completely deregulate GE alfalfa without restrictions. This means farmers will now be able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa beginning as soon as this spring without having to take into consideration its potential to contaminate neighboring organic and other non-GE alfalfa fields intended to be sold in markets demanding non-genetically engineered products. This is a huge loss for organic and non-GE farmers and consumers who want to have access to non-GE foods.
For the OCA to widely spread misinformation and lies about Whole Foods Market and other organic companies by saying that we are joining forces with the biotechnology industry (Monsanto) is beyond ludicrous--especially at a time when we all need to come together to support our goal of ensuring the availability of non-GE foods in the marketplace. To help clarify our overall position, we think it is helpful to see how Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the NON-GMO Project, describes the coalition efforts:
Leading up to the ruling, a broad coalition of organic organizations and companies were working around the clock in an attempt to influence the USDA’s decision. The USDA had already made it clear that alfalfa would be deregulated, but hope remained that there might be some way to soften the blow. Organic ValleyWhole Foods and Stonyfield Farm, along with many others in the organic community, were doing everything in their power to secure protections for organic farmers so that if their fields were contaminated once the GMO alfalfa was released, biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable for their pollution and would be forced to pay for the damages. These groups were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GMO alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfathomably, these tireless organic organizations are now being criticized for their efforts. In total denial of the incontrovertible fact that the USDA was never even remotely considering a full ban on GMO alfalfa, some are suggesting that these group’s efforts to make the most of a bad situation *somehow* (though no one is very specific on how, exactly) signals corruption, and are even calling for boycotts. HOW ON EARTH is taking this out on 1200 organic family farmers going to help anything?!  This is divisiveness we cannot afford.
You can read the full article here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/
Additionally, you may have seen strange accusations saying that Whole Foods Market has agreed to sell genetically engineered foods. We haven’t agreed to anything! This is another attempt to twist the facts. The reality is that no grocery store in the United States, no matter what size or type of business, can claim they are GMO-free. While we have been and will continue to be staunch supporters of non-GMO foods, we are not going to mislead our customers with an inaccurate claim (and you should question anyone who does). Here’s why: the pervasive planting of GMO crops in the U.S. and their subsequent use in our national food supply.  93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton, and 93% of canola seed planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered. Since these crops are commonly present in a wide variety of foods, a GMO-free store is currently not possible in the U.S. (unless the store sells only organic foods.) 
Since the U. S. national organic standards do not allow the use of GMO ingredients and practices in the growing or production of organic foods, choosing organic is one way consumers can avoid GMO foods. The other is through labeling, of which we are strong supporters. Here is a look at some of the other things we have done on the non-GE front over the past couple of decades:
  • We have advocated for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 1992, even before they were made commercially available.
  • We were founding members of the Non-GMO Project, which works to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard to create a non-GMO labeling program that can be fully substantiated.
  • Our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid GMOS, and our partnership with the Non-GMO Project will enable us to verify and label both natural and organic products. In fact, we have enrolled our store brand food products in this pioneering product verification program, which ensures the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard. These include products that natural as well as those that are organic.
  • Beyond our stores, we have publicly advocated for clear labeling of GE food and shared our concerns that the USDA and FDA’s policies on GE foods are not consistent with our consumers’ expectations.
We will continue to work aggressively on this issue because we believe that GMO food ingredients should be clearly labeled, and that consumers who want to avoid them should have an actionable way to do so. While the USDA’s decision will make our work more difficult, we are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GMO food remains available and we will continue to advocate for our farmers and for our shoppers on this issue.
Thank you for the opportunity for us to present the more complete picture on Whole Foods Market and our position on non-GMO foods. If you’d like to take action, we encourage you to write to Washington to express the importance of preserving organic and non-GE farming. Simply click this link and follow the directions:

If you have any further questions please use our on-line response form.
Best regards,

Rachael

Rachael Gruver | Global Customer Information Specialist | Whole Foods Market | 550 Bowie Street | Austin, Texas 78703

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rustic Potato and Leek Soup (With Kale) from Love Soup

Rustic potato and leek soup (with my addition of kale) is the second recipe I've made from Love Soup.

We thoroughly enjoyed our soup tonight, especially with the suggested additions of fresh lemon juice, parsley, and scallions.

But this recipe isn't my favorite for potato soup.  See, I expect potato soup to be creamy and slightly more "mashed," with chunks of potato.  This recipe didn't call for any pureeing; instead the diced potatoes float in a vegetable broth.  I did a little pureeing with the submersion blender (thus the greenish color, since some of the kale got pureed too), but not enough to suit me.

Granted, the recipe called for heavy cream, with the option to omit it, and naturally I omitted it.  But potato soup shouldn't have to rely on heavy cream to be creamy.

Now that I've voiced my complaints - I still have to say, the soup was yummy, and I'm already looking forward to taking it to lunch tomorrow.

UPDATE: I just let the soup sit for about 30 minutes to an hour... then tasted it again.  YUM.  I guess it had time to cool a little, and thicken, and the flavors meld a little better.  It came together so much better after having that time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coffee Free for Eleven Days

Eleven days have passed since I had my last sip of coffee.  Any withdrawal symptoms supposedly should have passed.  While I felt amazing the first few days after quitting coffee, I now have been feeling tired and unfocused.  I am thinking about rest, blankets, cuddling with Meeks, cozy pajamas, and other comforting things.

I know quitting caffeine isn’t solely to blame, and the way I’m feeling must be a result of other things, like my diet of white flour and sugar this weekend… but I also think if I had my cup of coffee in the morning, I may be able to mask the exhaustion.

I have to wonder if my body has become truly dependent on coffee in some way, so that now it isn’t able to function properly without it.

One thing is certain; I plan on sticking this out.  I suspect my energy and concentration will return 10-fold after some good sleep, a regular exercise routine, and dedication to eating healthy every day.

Sorry if I sound like one of those sickly complainer types; I’ve never thought complaining about feeling sick did anything but make a person keep on being sick!  But I think it is very important to document the transition from drinking several cups of coffee every day for years, to drinking only a cup of green tea each day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

I'd Rather Be With Him.

Today I am feeling exhausted, grouchy, and kind of sick.  Plus I have a headache.  Could it be all the sweets I ate this weekend?  Or the dreary weather outside?  I don't know, but I would rather be at home curled up with this little guy, watching Little House on the Prairie.  Or something.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Green Tea

When Chris was in San Francisco, about a year and a half ago, he went into a Chinese tea shop and bought what I came to refer to as "fancy tea."

It's fancy, that's all I know.

Anyway, I like having a cup of it around lunchtime, since I stopped drinking coffee.

...since i stopped drinking coffee...

Suddenly I love the taste and experience of drinking a cup of fancy green tea.

So are all the tea fanatics out there just caffeine addicts, no different from coffee fanatics?

I'm not discounting people's appreciation of gourmet things.... I'm just saying, why do I suddenly LOVE the way this tea tastes and feels when I never gave it the time of day while I was sucking down coffee?

Maybe my palate is more refined, delicate, sensitive, now that I'm off the strong black stuff, the way I love the taste and feel of simple brown rice after I gave up cloying, icky Krispy Creme doughnuts over a decade ago.

Maybe we all need a vice, an addiction, an obsession, a simple pleasure, a security blanket, a substance, to cope with and enhance our stressful lives.

Or maybe - stand back, genius observation ahead - the reason is a little of both.  Mmmkay, bedtime.

Slow-Rise Pancakes from Vegan Yum Yum

Listen, if you read the last two posts, arrived to this third post, and wondered if I might be carb-loading in preparation for an endurance race, I have only to say:

1. I don't believe in carb-loading before endurance sports because it slows me down and I truly don't understand the purpose; I believe in carb-loading in spontaneous bursts of utter indulgence, controlled chaos, you might call it, which can sometimes stretch over the course of a few days, but is easily and happily reined in on Monday, with a refreshing run, nourishing steamed brown rice and kale, and plenty of water, and...

2. Don't judge me.

Review for Vegan Yum Yum's slow-rise pancakes: I'll be saving this recipe.  It isn't QUITE perfected in my kitchen, because I found it a little "eggier" and less fluffy than the pancakes my mom effortlessly threw together on Saturday mornings (but cruelly never wrote down measurements for), and I wasn't sure about the slight "yeasty" taste in my pancakes, but they were probably the best pancakes I've ever made, not being the greatest pancake maker, especially with bananas and/or chocolate chips, and I really appreciated that I could make them the night before and them be ready to pour in the morning (genius!).  I'd recommend these pancakes to anyone looking for a pancake recipe... but I still need to watch my mom make her pancakes and try to learn a thing or two.

At least I'm not still in Spain, trying to convince my Spanish roommate that pancakes don't contain a cup of sugar and are actually not crepes... ugh... that's a story for another day.

Grandma's Dinner Rolls from Love Soup

Light, fluffy, yeasty, warm... right out of the oven, with some honey butter, and a hot bowl of soup, these dinner rolls can not be beat.

That's the trick though - timing it just right!  I ate five of them straight away - SHHH!

My Favorite Cupcakes from The Kind Diet

When you're trying to impress a Little One, you don't make green tea cupcakes with a honey lemon glaze.  You make vanilla cupcakes with sprinkles.

They're so pretty and festive - I loved making them and I felt like a little kid myself, impatiently anticipating "time to decorate."

I also love playing with color, and, colorfully speaking, there's nothing I like more than pure white with bright, pretty pops of color.
These cupcakes worked as I'd hoped, because when adorable, not-quite-three Olivia arrived, she spotted them right away, and refused to let the subject die until she'd had one.

Normally I bake cupcakes (and cakes) from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.  It's a wonderful cookbook.  But I decided to try Alicia Silverstone's "Favorite Cupcakes" from The Kind Diet this time, except I made vanilla buttercream frosting instead of her recommended fudge frosting.  Her cupcakes are yummy, but I think her fudge frosting would stand up to her whole wheat cake recipe better than my airy vanilla frosting... next time I'll go with the empty-calories theme and use a bleached out flour for such a silly cupcake. :-)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Love Soup by Anna Thomas

My sweet coworker gave me this book for Christmas.  It's full of vegetarian soup recipes, elegantly simple yet creative menus, and perfectly complimentary bread and dessert recipes.  The best part is, Anna takes the time to tell stories behind her recipes, and describes very well what makes each soup unique and good.

Sometimes you make so much soup until you think you know everything about soup, and you just can't think of another possible combination of vegetables and liquid... that's when you need to buy this book.

My creative juices are totally flowing and I can not wait to try some of these recipes!  Fortunately, the weather has been cold and icy - perfect for soup.  And, we have family coming to Atlanta all the way from California this weekend.  I can't think of a better greeting in this cold weather after a day of driving than some sort of stew and homemade bread.

That's what my Grandmama Newberry used to make on Friday nights in the wintertime, when we were little and came to visit for the weekend.  She'd have her vegetable soup and cornbread waiting.  We loved it and it was such a comfort sitting around the table dipping cornbread in soup.

Black Bean Burgers from Veganomicon

I've heard such good reviews for Veganomicon's black bean patty recipe, so it must be a matter of personal taste that I didn't like them.

1. While I love vital wheat gluten for seitan or other dishes that mimic meat, I don't like it in my black bean patty.  Because black beans aren't meat, and they don't pretend to be, and they're supposed to have that chunky, almost falling apart, crispy-on-the-outside texture.  They're not supposed to be rubbery or gummy or any of those adjectives that describe things that unnaturally don't fall apart.  So I could have done with a dusting of vital wheat gluten, if any at all. Not 1/2 cup.

2. Something was lacking.  My burger didn't taste savory and flavorful and mouthwatering.  It tasted kind of bland - to me.

The quest to find the perfect black bean burger recipe continues.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Waking up (sans café)

After being snowed and iced in for going on four days, I am attempting to go back to work today... just a little later, once the sun has had a chance to melt any ice on the road.

For now, Meeks and I are sitting here enjoying the sun and a cup of hot water.

Drinking hot water may sound strange to you.  But I have to have something hot to drink on winter mornings, and I find that hot water actually does a lot of things for me that I attributed to caffeine. I'm not claiming hot water gives me a caffeine buzz here.  But all this time I thought caffeine was responsible for the warm, buzzy "wakening" of my body, but it was actually just hot liquid.  So, therefore, hot water does the job and is probably better for me.

Potential side effect of quitting coffee to report.  I have said that since I quit drinking coffee (after the initial few dumb days) I've had more sustained energy throughout the day.  Well, that goes for night, too.  And I'm not sure if it has anything whatsoever to do with coffee, but I haven't been able to sit still at night, and I am waking up increasingly early in the mornings.  Basically, I can't relax.  I'm sure this will pass, and there are a number of other factors that could be the cause.

Since I stopped eating junk food and processed food for the most part after the New Year, I may be more sensitive to other things, like juice right before bed, or a chocolate peanut butter cup... perhaps?  Or maybe my lunchtime cup of green tea has powers I do not know about.

Or maybe there's no reason at all!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Moroccan Couscous With Saffron from The Kind Diet

First time I've ever cooked with saffron, and it made this dish so warm and yummy!  I like this picture, because you can see the steam coming from the couscous, and the little red saffron strands, and it's such a warm sunny contrast to the grey snow and ice outside!

Moroccan couscous with saffron, I recommend it, but follow the instructions exactly.  I've discovered in most of Alicia's (I figure we're on a first name basis by now) recipes, she calls for just enough water.  I'm pretty sure this has something to do with macrobiotic cooking and retaining as many nutrients as possible, but it doesn't leave room for a heaping cup of couscous or any other such discrepancies.

I always marvel at how pretty and colorful veggies can be while I'm prepping them, but I rarely stop to take a picture.  I had to take one of the yellow kabocha squash and green leeks and zucchini (I had to alter the veggies in the recipe according to what I had in the kitchen, because I'm not up for a hike across the glacier that is Atlanta to the grocery store).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Millet and Sweet Vegetable Porridge from The Kind Diet

This might be the first time I've tried millet.  I think this recipe is in the superhero breakfast section of The Kind Diet.  Which makes sense, because I had it for lunch and it seemed more like a gentle breakfast porridge, except savory - not sweet like most breakfast porridges - which I actually prefer a lot of times.

The recipe calls for millet, kombu, kabocha squash, celery and onion to be simmered in water until cooked. During the last few minutes you stir in miso, so as not to kill the enzymes.

Very mild, tasty but not bursting with flavor.  I think it'd be even more soothing and replenishing than chicken noodle soup for someone under the weather.

I find that a little splash of soy sauce in my bowl was a good compliment.

Bye Bye Coffee

After a 5 days of gradually reducing my cup of coffee down to 1/4 cup of weak coffee, I took the weekend to do away with it altogether.

I am really excited.  I had SO much energy this weekend.  I doubt that has anything to do with my body being less caffeinated.  It's because I've been eating really well all week - no junk or crappy processed food, and tons of whole grains, beans, leafy greens, and other vegetables.

What I did notice, from not drinking coffee, is that I never hit that horrible caffeine wall.  It's like, the first cup is so awesome, then you want another... it isn't as good, then suddenly you feel weird.  Kind of tired and your muscles feel very tense.  Instead I felt amazing all day.

On Saturday and Sunday, around lunchtime, Meeks and I took a long walk to a little tea shop, and bought a hot green Darjeeling.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wine Slushy

We've been experiencing some wintery conditions this winter in Atlanta... Snow Day tomorrow!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups from The Kind Diet

Chocolate peanut butter cups from The Kind Diet. :-D

Couple of tips if you make these (which you should because if you like regular peanut butter cups you will LOVE these, but that's no surprise):

1. make sure you let the peanut butter layer set up a bit before pouring on the chocolate; otherwise the chocolate sinks in a bit and doesn't spread out evenly, as you can see in my pictures - although... who really cares?

2. The recipe is perfect, but you could play around with proportions according to your taste... I think next time I'll cut down on the Earth Balance and add more graham cracker crumbs, plus a few chunks of cracker (I like the crunch).  I say this because it would cut calories a little, and I think it would be just as yummy.

Chili

When it comes to traditional tomato-based chili, for me there is no other than this recipe, the one I grew up with, that my dad made almost once a week during the colder months for as long as I can remember (it is among maybe three dishes he knows how to cook), and that my mom made too (except she preferred hers a little less spicy and a little more soupy).

We ate it with saltine crackers.  It needed no other garnish.

It's one of very few recipes I can't imagine messing with or improving upon (except for of course I used a ground meat substitute, and it made no difference to me - the meat part is about texture and the substitute worked fine).

I don't claim that our family chili is the best according to all tastes, and it definitely is not the fanciest, but it just IS chili for me, and nothing else tastes right.

Chili:
olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, diced
glug red wine (optional)
1 lb ground meat (I use a vegan substitute... tastes about the same)
2 cans Bush's chili beans and their juices (it has to be Bush's... or a quality brand)
1 can Bush's kidney beans, rinsed
1 large can whole tomatoes (break tomatoes apart with your spoon in the pot)
1 cup or so water (use your judgement)
1 pack McCormick chili seasoning mix
Cayenne pepper (to your liking)
Extra chili powder (to your liking)
3 Tbsp tomato paste

Heat the oil in a big heavy pot.  Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and cook about a minute.  Deglaze with the wine. Pour in everything else.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least two hours.  Serve with lots of saltine crackers.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Barley Stir Fry

I went to the farmers market a few days ago and stocked up on grains, so I decided to make a quick stir fry with barley instead of rice... it didn't turn out so well because I forgot to fry the vegetables one at a time. I impatiently threw everything in there and ended up with something kinda of sticky... but it still tasted good and we had no leftovers.

Gotta work on my stir-frying skills.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Starbucks's New Logo, Just In Time for My Breakup

Why Starbucks, what perfect timing you have!  You must have known I was going off the pill... the caffeine pill, that is, that comes in the form of enough hot dark brown liquid to fill a cup.

It's Day Four, and I feel great, and so should Starbucks about their cool new logo... maybe I'll buy some tea... nah, why would I pay $4.00 + tip for tea when I can just make my own.

More Dream Kitchens

More dream kitchens.  What I love about this one is how open, airy, and connected with nature it is... while still being cozy.  It's a nice blend of rustic and modern.  And the island is obviously a piece of art.
I love the contrast of dark, almost black wood floors, with an otherwise white kitchen. There's so much room for fun pops of color in this kitchen, like the little green kettle on the stove.  Very different kitchen from above, but they share an airy freshness... which is crucial! I think, anyway. :-)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dinner Alone

Sometimes it is so nice to be alone for dinner.

I normally prefer company, but the occasional night or two alone is good for me.  There's a certain abandonment that goes along with it; you can really let your hair down the way you can't with others, and the way you never will again for 18+ years once you have a kid (so that is something to think about).  Consideration for anyone but yourself goes out the door, and you can do things like leave your shoes where someone might trip on them, were there a someone to trip, or eat a dinner of plain tofu, straight out of the package, with no concern for others' less refined tastes.

You can go to sleep in a big silence, and hear your quietest thoughts.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

My Meals the Past Two Nights

When I somehow get distracted from healthy eating, I feel it, and I'm always so happy and excited to return to nourishing foods.  These were my meals tonight and last night (not the exact pics; these are from a previous meal, but the same dishes more or less, with some variance according to what i had on hand).

Above is Indian cauliflower, potato and greens masala.  So, so very delicious! It fills you up; it's total comfort food... yet you never feel heavy and it goes right through you. Best food ever. (I know that may sound weird, but I do not like food that sits in my gut and makes me want to sit on the sofa in a coma for 3 hours - I like food that fills me up while energizing me and making me feel ambitious).

Tonight I had 5-minute lentil stew... literally - this dish requires five minutes tops of hands on time... maybe more like three minutes! Then you just cook for 30 minutes or so, depending on your batch/variety of lentils.

Caffeine

I'm addicted to caffeine.  I haven't been able to imagine a morning without a cup of coffee for years.

I did quit, once.  I quit cold turkey.  It was a painful week.  Here were my symptoms:
  • intense headache
  • slow reaction time
  • inability to focus
  • fogginess
  • confusion
  • sluggishness
  • inability to think straight
  • squinty-eyedness
Yet, I made it through that rough week, motivated by curiosity, mostly.  I was so excited to experience the effects (whatever they were to be) of being caffeine free after so long of not.

Well, that was a long time ago, but here's what I remember of my short caffeine-free stint, after the withdrawal symptoms had worn off:
  • compliments galore on my skin
  • feeling more peaceful and zen
  • able to wake up without a short leash between me and the coffeepot... that was liberating
Anyway, I slowly, socially, started drinking coffee again and that was that. You know how it goes.  But here I am, finally determined enough to quit again.  I had only half a cup yesterday, and half a cup today.  Tomorrow, 1/4 cup.  That's right, no cold turkey this time.  Not right after a week-long vacation and clients expecting me to have a brain this week.  I've definitely experienced withdrawal symptoms, just not as severe.  And by the end of this week (that means Sunday) I will be coffee free, though perhaps still a little miserable.

Can't wait for that zen feeling to return!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brown Rice and Tahini Sauce

Two foods you need in your life, if they aren't there already.

1. Brown Rice.  Now, don't believe all the low carb BS you hear... and let me tell you why you can trust me on this.  Because I understand what it is like to go crazy with carbs and sugar.  I have experienced the tiredness, grouchiness, and overall ickiness that come from too many refined carbs.  Brown rice is not a refined carb.  It won't give you any of the above undesirable symptoms.  It will make you feel the complete opposite: energized, comforted, light.  So eat it.  Cook a huge batch and eat all you want over the course of a week, with soy sauce, stir fry, tahini, or serve it hot with cold tomatoes and herbs for a really satisfying contrast.  You can even make it into a breakfast porridge (it is much yummier than oatmeal, in my opinion, though I do love oats too).

2. Tahini sauce.  I use the recipe in The Kind Diet, but you can find recipes online.  Tahini sauce is basically tahini (sesame butter), lemon juice, water, and a teeny bit of garlic.  The Kind Diet recipe includes a dash of ume vinegar (highly recommended in pretty much everything you want to be delicious) and soy sauce.

Keep the sauce in one of those cute jars in the fridge for up to four or five days.  Put it on steamed vegetables, brown rice,  anything.  I put it on steamed beets, leeks, and asparagus the other day.
You could also serve it over cauliflower steaks (from The Kind Diet, but honestly, common sense... coat in olive oil, salt, and pepper, the bake on 375 for 15 minutes per side).

Brown rice and tahini sauce are two foods that make healthy eating easy for me.  The key is having them prepared and on hand.  As long as I have them in the fridge, they're like my secret weapon to feeling good... the problem only comes in when I'm not prepared, and end up resorting to eating out or eating packaged food.

Still not convinced? Read more about my favorite food combo here.

It's January 2nd, and We All Know What That Means!

That's right, time to break out the cabbage, tofu, and brown rice.

Actually, it's not all that bad. :-)  It's actually pretty delicious and refreshing.

I've got two recipes that I hope, hope, hope you'll try!  And how often do I say that?  So you have to listen to me this time!  Here's the first one, for lettuce wraps.  Second one, for brown rice with tahini, will be in the next post.

Lettuce Wraps
1 head napa cabbage, chiffonaded, with 8-10 leaves reserved
1 block extra firm tofu, pressed and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 scallions, chopped
2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp plum sauce
1 tsp brown rice vinegar (optional)
2 tsp toasted sesame oil
fresh ground black pepper
black sesame seeds

1. Start by slicing the tofu into four horizontal sheets. Separate each sheet with a dish towel and place the tofu under a heavy pan to squeeze out the water, for about 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prep and combine your vegetables.  Whisk together the liquid ingredients.

3. After the tofu has drained, dice it into small cubes, add to the veggies, top with the plum/soy/sesame sauce, and toss.

I like to make this in advance and let it marinate a while, before serving it in the reserved napa cabbage leaves.  You can top it with black sesame seeds and/or additional plum sauce (I've made my own before, but this time used store-bought).

Stuffed Mushrooms Appetizer

**Recipe to come**  Appetizers instead of big ole dinners are an increasing trend in the U.S. and in my kitchen.  Here's why (I think):

1. We are all becoming foodies, and we love celebrating what we eat. Appetizers feel celebratory, and they're so darn cute... plus we get to taste more things, and form more opinions, than if we were eating one big dish.

2. We all have A.D.D.  We like quick hits before we lose interest and move on to the next thing.

3. We're all on diets. Eating small bites gives us the illusion that we're eating less.  Or, in some cases I guess, we do actually eat less without leaving a big portion of uneaten food on our plates, thus looking ungrateful in the eyes of whoever we imagine to be judging our plates.

4. Those of us who love to cook get to cook more things.  And that is fun.

5. We are obsessed with miniature things.  Miniature dogs, miniature people, miniature kitchen sets, cakes, and cars. Etc.

6. Globalization. (what, isn't it the reason for everything?) (no, really, we're exposed to more food from more parts of the world, and Spaniards love their tapas.)

Apple Pie With Apple Caramel Sauce

**Recipe to come for pie in this post, I'm too lazy to do it right now.**  I rarely make apple pie the exact same way.  Sometimes I slice the apples paper thin so they layer densely in the pie, other times I prefer chunks of apple.  Sometimes I'll use all granny smith apples, other times I'll use 6 different varieties in one pie.  I also change up the seasonings, either accidentally or on purpose.  Once I made a pie with my mind somewhere else completely, so I forgot to add any liquid or butter whatsoever to the pie filling - which happened to consist of granny smiths, a drier apple - and ended up with a dry pie.
Anyway, I do consider myself a good apple pie maker, and I've lost count of how many I've made over the years.  The one I made yesterday (pictured) ended up a tad too sweet, because I added sugar as if I were using all granny smiths, when I was actually using two granny smiths, a honeycrisp, a fuji, a pink lady, and a braeburn... and so should have used way less sugar.
I also normally use more apples, so the  top crust forms a dome, rather than being flat.

Anyway, I was most proud of the apple caramel sauce I made by boiling down the peels and cores with water until I had a syrupy reduction, then adding sugar and boiling into caramel, then some milk and vanilla and I had a perfect caramel sauce with a hint of fragrant fresh apple.

Wow, I've really patted myself on the back here, haven't I?  I need to go run some of this off.

New Year's Day Meal

Black-eyed peas, cornbread, and collard greens... plus apple pie with a homemade apple caramel sauce.

This is as basic and traditional as Southern New Year's Day meal gets... except for the missing pork, of course.  I definitely didn't miss it.  In the past, when I ate pork on New Year's Day, I only ate it because it was injected with salt, encrusted with herbs, and smothered in plum sauce.  I can have all of those yummy things without the vehicle of meat... it could be my personal taste, but I think people would be surprised just how little they missed meat if they included a wide variety of other foods in their diet, and new how to cook properly, meaning, knew how to achieve those satisfying flavors and textures with plants.  Vegans - at least the ones I know - aren't subsisting off the over-boiled brussels sprouts which may have turned you off to vegetables...

Anyway, I can promise you one thing - my collard greens yesterday could hold their own next to collard greens cooked with pork.  That's because they were just as smokey and salty and tender as those cooked with meat.  Recipe: De-stem and chiffonade a huge bunch of collard greens. Cover with water. Add a dash of hot sauce and apple cider vinegar, a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a vegetable bullion cube, some salt and pepper, a couple drops of liquid smoke, and a pinch of smoked paprika.  Cover and cook the hell out of them (I think the reason this works just like meat is because the fat from the oil breaks down the greens like animal fat would, but is supposedly more heart-healthy, or so they tell us, and doesn't support cruel animal farming practices and other such stuff...)
Also, I provided the recipe a couple days ago for my black-eyed peas, which are the best ones I've ever had, in my opinion.  Just please use your own judgement with measurements, as I detest measuring and writing recipes... I'm hoping you'll get the basic idea and go from there (also included is a very old cornbread recipe from a 97-year old expert cornbread maker).