Thursday, January 29, 2009
Sometimes, I make ridiculous mistakes. I like to attribute my episodes of absentmindedness to excessive multitasking and an ability to stir white sauce, read a textbook, and talk on the phone simultaneously, but it's far more likely that I just have, you know, the occasional moment where all reason goes out the window... Last week, I made an inordinately silly mistake - I washed a granola bar with the laundry. I'd put half a granola bar (mercifully still in the wrapper) back in the pocket of my scrubs while at my OB clinical rotation on Wednesday, and, when I went to wash those same scrubs that night, forgot all about the granola bar's existence... until I went to transfer our clothes from the washer to the dryer and noticed what looked like oatmeal scattered across shirts, jeans, and tank tops alike...
Having now washed a granola bar, I can report that the softer bits, such as raisins and chocolate chips, somehow magically dissolve during the washing process, sparing clothing items from smears of black gooey sticky stuff. The majority of the granola bar was actually still intact in the wrapper, and tucked inside its pocket, it just looked rather, well, clean...
Recently, though, I've been toting homemade oatmeal breakfast cookies instead of purchased granola bars, so I'll need to take extra care not to wash one of them, as, in true homemade eco-friendly style, they have no wrapper to guard them from the spin cycle...
(Yep, I just said breakfast and cookie in the same sentence! These barely sweet, deeply and cozily flavorful little bursts of oatmeal are packed with fiber and protein, and are just the thing for breakfast - in cookie form!)
Breakfast Oatmeal Cookies
1/2 cup vanilla soymilk
2 egg whites, optional (you can leave them out to make vegan cookies, with difference in the cookie whatsoever)
1/3 cup honey
2 T olive oil
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat 2 cookie sheets with cooking spray.
~ Whisk together the soymilk, egg whites (if you're using them), honey, olive oil, vanilla, and salt until well blended.
~ Stir in the oats and whole wheat flour until well-combined into a stiff batter.
~ Shape the batter into balls approx 1 1/2" in diameter, and place them on the cookie sheets.
~ Bake for 10 to 14 minutes - until golden on the outside.
~ Serve warm or cooled, ideally with a glass of soymilk, milk, or a mug of coffee... :-)
Monday, January 26, 2009
Last Friday morning, Zach and I went to give blood. Zach was called back first, and by the time I had finished answering the myriad of questions Zach had completed his donation and was cheerily waving to me from the waiting room. I'd given blood before, so I wasn't too worried about the process - or too shocked by the huge 16 gauge needle... After the initial "ouch" I sat peacefully, contentedly reading the latest issue of Cooking Light, until right around the time the tech commented "great, you're almost done, just a few more minutes." "Um," I said, "I'm feeling really nauseous... Is that, er, normal?"
Before I could say another word, they flipped the head of my chair down until my forehead was almost parallel with the floor, and left me there until I was convinced I had returned to normal (or perhaps was just desirous of alighting from the upside-down chair). I waved to Zach that I was on my way, walked down the hall to gather my coat... and everything promptly went black.
When I returned to my faculties, I was more than a little embarrassed to find myself lying on a cot in a small room with the tech and Zach looking at me with worried expressions... After all, people give blood every day without passing out, for goodness sakes... So, I sheepishly followed Zach's directions to take it easy for the rest of the day, and plan on giving blood without keeling over next time.
Needless to say, I've been focusing on increasing my fluid intake lately, as the whole experience was likely a poignant reminder of the importance of maintaining proper hydration. We always keep a big pitcher of decaf, unsweetened herbal iced tea in the fridge, so I've been drinking plenty of pear tea and nibbling light, hydrating foods - vegetable soup for lunch, soothing potato and mushroom soup for dinner...
(On a side note, I almost didn't post this recipe, because the soup is Very Gray... Alas, when you take unpeeled potatoes and a lot of mushrooms and puree them together you wind up with A Lot of Gray Mush, somewhat resembling 18th century gruel... No matter how I tried to photograph our steaming, comforting bowls of soup in such a way as to highlight their glories, they just emerged looking, well, gray... but this soup is so healthful and so unfussy and so delicious that I had to post it anyway... with concessions to its appearance...)
Mushroom Potato Soup with Rosemary
4 T olive oil
8 oz button mushrooms, sliced
8 oz portabella mushrooms, cut into 1/2" chunks
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 T rosemary, crushed a bit with your fingers
3 cups vegetable broth
3 large potatoes, unpeeled, cooked (in the microwave is the easiest), and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tsp salt
~ In a large soup pot over medium-high heat, saute the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and rosemary in the olive oil until the onions are limp and translucent.
~ Pour in the broth, and bring to a simmer.
~ Add the potatoes, and return to a simmer.
~ Stir in the salt, and pepper to taste.
~ Making sure to allow and outlet for steam, puree half of the soup in the food processor, then return the pureed soup to the nonpureed soup, and stir to combine. Serve comfortingly, steamingly warm...
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Notice anything unusual about this spaghetti recipe? It's my current favorite - breezy to prepare, ready as quickly or leisurely as you desire, packed with deep flavors - and complete with a secret twist. I'll give you a hint - watch where the red wine goes... ;-)
Red Wine Spaghetti
1 lb ground sweet Italian sausage OR 1 lb. sausage style soy crumbles
1 lb ground turkey OR 1 lb. tempeh, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb button mushrooms, sliced
6 cups of your favorite marinara sauce - when I have time, I like to roast the tomatoes and some red bell peppers in the oven before turning them into the sauce. When I have a little time but not much, I leave out the roasting step. When I don't have any time at all, I use a good-quality store bought marinara sauce!
1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
3 bottles red wine (please, don't use expensive wine for this recipe... We use an inexpensive Trader Joe's wine that still very tasty, in keeping with the wise "don't cook with it if you wouldn't drink it" adage, but we certainly, certainly don't need to go broke over pasta - it will still taste delicious.)
~ In a very large skillet or pot coated with cooking spray, brown the sausage or soy crumbles and the ground turkey or tempeh. Remove from the pan, and set aside.
~ In the same pan, adding a bit of olive oil if needed, saute the onion, garlic, and mushrooms until the onion is completely limp.
~ Return the sausage and turkey or soy and tempeh mixture to the pan, and add the marinara sauce. Bring to a simmer, and simmer until heated through.
~ Pour all 3 bottles of wine into a separate pot, and bring to a boil. (Yep, I just told you to boil wine. Hang in there with me...)
~ Once the wine is boiling, add the spaghetti, and cook as per package directions until al dente.
~ Drain the spaghetti, and rinse with cold water just for 2 seconds to stop the cooking process.
~ Serve the now dark purple spaghetti with the marinara sauce on top. Sprinkle with Parmesan or cheddar cheese - or both!
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Last weekend, as we were discussing just how much homework was facing us, Zach laughed and said: "Let's go to Florida!"
I'm not sure what possessed me, but instead of laughing too, I grinned and replied "Let's go!"
"What about homework?" Zach asked, certain I was still joking along.
"It'll still be there when we get back..."
(For the record, this is not my usual MO - I'm usually the student who types her notes twice, highlights and underlines every page in the textbook, and writes down every single syllable the professor utters. And this is just to study for a quiz.)
Zach stared at me for a moment to ascertain that I was truly serious... "Well, um, Florida's a bit far... How about the casino in the mountains?"
(We currently live in Georgia, so mountains are a bit more accessible than if we were still living in Louisiana)
So, we went! We drove for 3 hours, the road slowly climbing towards the snow-dusted mountains of Western North Carolina, until we reached our destination. Along the way we left behind first towns with shopping centers and gas stations, then towns with only a lone gas station, and then towns altogether, until we arrived at a sort of crossroads, dangling on the side of a mountainside, consisting of a casino, a lovely little hotel, and a roadside diner.
We promptly lost a few rounds of blackjack, but, being broke students and thus having not bet any sum of significance, instead of being alarmed we felt incredibly fortunate to be able to afford such an occasional luxury. Besides, the point of the trip was the journey, the simple delights of being someplace new, someplace unexpected... We quickly reconfigured our ideas of having salads for dinner, as the diner did not seem to possess anything containing greenery. Although it might not be our usual fare, when one is at a roadside diner, one, well, does as roadside diners do, and one has scrambled eggs and hash-browns for supper! Which is exactly what we did, along with steaming mugs of coffee and a shared pecan waffle.
Nearly a week later, the cozy, relaxed feeling of a weekend in the mountains still lingers... Although, now that we're back home again, we've returned to cabbages for comfort food... and, lest you feel that we might be pining for those incredibly delicious and very deep fried hash-browns, I would argue that the deep flavors of red wine and brown sugar are equally comforting indeed...
Braised Red Cabbage
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 head red cabbage, thinly sliced
1 large tart or semi-tart apple, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
2 T brown sugar or date sugar
~ In a large pot or wok, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until the onion is translucent.
~ Stir in the cabbage, apple, bay leaf, red wine, vinegar, and raw sugar or date sugar. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for around 20 minutes, depending on how tender or crisp-tender you like your cabbage.
~ Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm! Ta da! Easy!
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Notice something new? Food for Laughter is undergoing an aesthetic update, with the help of Zach's computer expertise! Darlin', my gratitude is beyond words...
Amazingly, it's been over a year that we've been operating in cyberspace - a year packed with scrumptious flavors and joys! Sharing recipes with friends, conversing throughout the deeply uniting process of food preparation, seems to dissolve the distance between states and countries... Weeks may go by in our hectic schedules, and we may not always be able to afford plane tickets to narrow the distance physically, but we can share tastes and flavors and the stories of suppers...
One of my dear kindred spirits with whom I share recipes across the miles, my friend Kathleen is not only an incredible chef and one of the most glamorous people I know, but she's also incredibly kind... Last week, at the end of an especially frazzling day in class, I was chatting on the phone with Kathleen, and she happened to ask what I was fixing for supper that night.
(Kathleen and I catching up over the holidays :-)
"Well, I really fancy fixing some spaghetti, because we haven't fixed spaghetti in ages, but I have this spaghetti squash I really need to use instead..."
It would have been perfectly understandable if Kathleen had assumed a sarcastic tone and observed, "well, it is spaghetti squash, you know... as in s-p-a-g-h-e-t-t-i... So you could, um, fix spaghetti with the spaghetti squash..."
However, Kathleen said no such thing. Instead, she paused for a moment, then contemplatively and gently commented, "hmmm, maybe you could put the spaghetti sauce on top of the squash?"
I am grateful to Kathleen not only for sparing my dignity, but for reminding me of one of spaghetti squash's greatest charms - you really can season spaghetti squash with anything you would normally bestow upon pasta.
(Kathleen, Zach and I celebrating the second night of Chanukkah!)
In the case of this particular spaghetti squash, I soon discovered that I would have had difficulty fixing any form of traditional spaghetti that night, as nary a tomato was to be found in our kitchen... Instead, though, I fixed another pasta-style sauce - a garlic butter sauce, with some feta cheese, for good measure... Why not? :-)
Here's to sharing our meals with all of our friends across the blog world...
Spaghetti Squash with Garlic Butter
1 spaghetti squash, cut in half with seeds removed
4 T butter or light vegan marg
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
~ Place the two halves of the spaghetti squash, cut side down, in a baking dish. Pour 1/2 cup water into the baking dish, and microwave the squash for 15 minutes.
~ Using a fork, scoop out the strands of cooked squash into a bowl.
~ In a small skillet, saute the onion, garlic, and rosemary in the butter/marg over medium heat until the onion is very limp and just starting to brown around the edges.
~ Scoop the onion mixture into the bowl with the squash.
~ Return the same skillet to the heat and deglaze the pan with the milk.
~ Add the brown gravy mix or flour to the milk and let the milk simmer, whisking constantly, until just bairly thickened.
~ Gently toss the spaghetti squash with the milk, the onion mixture, and the feta cheese until combined. Serve warm...
Friday, January 16, 2009
Along with our increased emphasis on veggie main dishes this new year, I've started to emphasize more fruit desserts. I confess that when I set out to fix dessert I automatically lean towards the magic of rising flour - there is something in the transformational chemistry of baking that draws me, enchants me. Fruit desserts are much more subtle - they don't puff up, change shape or color dramatically, or stubbornly refuse to rise if you forget the baking powder.
But I am leaning towards subtlety, lately. And fruit desserts are the perfect conclusion to a complete, healthful meal - a nutritious, light, cleansing way to end the meal on a slightly sweet note (that happens to come with plentiful vitamin C and antioxidents).
Hence, on Tuesday evening, I continued the food nostalgia series with one of my childhood favorite desserts - baked apples! These, of course, are southern baked apples, filled with pecans and cinnamon...
Maple Pecan Baked Apples
4 large apples, cored (I prefer a slightly tart apple for this recipe, such as jonagold or granny smith)
4 T raw sugar or date sugar
4 T maple syrup
2 T melted butter or light vegan marg.
1 tsp cinnamon
6 T chopped pecans
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Whisk together the sugar, maple syrup, butter/marg, and cinnamon until well combined.
~ Stir in the pecans until the pecans are coated with a smooth glaze.
~ Place the apples in a baking dish. Fill the apple cores with the pecan mixture. If there is any extra pecan mixture, let it dribble on top and down the sides of the apples.
~ Bake for 40 minutes - until the apples are tender. Serve immediately, topped with whipped cream or a little vegan yogurt...
("I want to go to the gym and have baked apples for dessert too!")
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Any cold weather naturally calls for soup, but soup season seems to heighten after the New Year, when we are craving both cozy, warming comfort foods, and light cleansing dishes to refresh and renew us as we embark on the gift of a new year.
I confess I haven't cooked beets very frequently in the past year, largely because of their lengthy baking time. When I came across a tip on microwaving beets in the most recent Bon Appetit issue, however, I was astounded that I hadn't thought of the solution earlier. I confess I was a bit skeptical at first (after all, beets are quite a bit harder than potatoes - I usually put my cleaver to use when chopping beets, even though I always feel a bit comically over-armed whenever I'm wielding a cleaver on beets, for goodness sake), but lo and behold, after 15 minutes, during which I was puttering about in the kitchen fixing the rest of our meal, the beets were perfectly tender and positively scrumptious, just as they were...
I decided they should have one more simple step, though... Our stuffed peppers seem to have brought on a rush of food nostalgia, for I found myself fixing yet another of my childhood dishes, borscht, with the lovely beets. Borscht is originally and traditionally an Eastern European dish, which has found its way into the giant soup pot of Jewish and Israeli cuisines as well. When I was growing up, my mother's borscht was very simple, consisting of just finely grated beets in a simple broth, which she always served cold with dollops of sour cream, even in the wintertime. Borscht was one of my favorite dishes, and I recall many a meddlesome cold being chased away by a cheerfully crimson bowl of beets and sour cream. It wasn't until I went away to college that I discovered, thanks to a fellow foodie professor, the heartier, warm version of borscht, complete with potatoes, onions, and sometimes cabbage. To this day, my borscht is still based on my recollections of the beautifully simple recipe she narrated to me as we sat in her office, supposedly discussing my progress on the latest research paper assignment...
Borscht (with gratitude to Dr. Regis)
8 beets, quartered
6 cups vegetable broth
1 T olive oil
1 large sweet vidalia onion, chopped
3 large potatoes, cooked (once again, the microwave comes in handy) and cut into cubes
Sour cream or vegan yogurt
~ Place the beets in a large, microwave safe bowl, and pour in 3 cups vegetable broth. Cover with a paper towel, and microwave for 15 minutes (until the beets are tender).
~ In a large soup pot, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is soft and translucent.
~ Stir in the beets, potato chunks, and the remaining 3 cups broth.
~ Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and add salt and pepper to taste.
~ Serve warm, with dollops of sour cream or vegan yogurt on top!
* This is my entry to the wonderful, delicious, inspiring food blog event No Croutons Required, created by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen, and Holler of Tinned Tomatoes. Lisa is hosting this month's event, which is themed, much to my delight, "nourishing veggie soups!" Be sure to visit Lisa's blog for the scrumptious round-up! *
Friday, January 9, 2009
Yesterday marked the first day of my clinical rotation at a Cardiology office. Having spent all of my previous clinicals in hospitals, it took me a few hours to adjust to the more peaceful atmosphere of a Doctor's office, much to the amusement of the nurses, who had quite a laugh over the site of me nearly bouncing on my toes, ready to dash off to a task at any moment, in contrast to their quiet, orderly, "next patient please" demenor...
Besides having an entire half-hour for lunch, another luxury of the doctor's office was having my shift end at 5PM, instead of 7PM, leaving me plenty of time to stop at the grocery on my way home, and fix supper in a far more leasurely manner than the usual post-clinical-shift "oh dear, it's already 8PM, I really shouldn't start baking bread from scratch right now, let's have casserole instead..."
Ever since we arrived back home from the holidays, broccoli has been calling to me on every single grocery shopping journey - largely because of the continual urge to recreate Scott's incredible, crispy, creamy, earthy, hearty, fresh, raw broccoli salad...
Raw Broccoli Salad
*This is a very multi-talented salad, capable of being prepared in both a purely raw and a non-raw version, as per your preferences*
1 cup chopped pecans
6 cups broccoli florets
1 cup dried cranberries
1 red onion, finely diced
1/4 cup sunflower seeds OR 4 slices smoked tempeh, cooked and chopped (for a non-raw vegetarian version) OR 8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (for a non-vegetarian, non-raw version)
1 T date sugar
4 T cold-pressed olive oil OR 6 T light mayo (for the non-raw version)
~ In a large, dry skillet, toast the pecans over medium heat until golden brown.
~ In a large bowl, toss together the pecans, broccoli, cranberries, onion, and sunflower seeds/tempeh/bacon (as desired).
~ Whisk together the date sugar and olive oil or mayo, then pour the resulting mixture over the glorious assemblage of broccoli and other good stuff.
~ Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy!
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I write this title with such enthusiasm because it's been so long since I've had stuffed peppers...
Stuffed peppers were a dish of my childhood - I have no idea of the origins of this food trend, but somewhere along the way stuffed vegetables became a decidedly Jewish food, and my upbringing was thoroughly populated with stuffed eggplant, stuffed zucchini, stuffed cabbage, and, of course, stuffed peppers.
Somehow, though, stuffed peppers had slipped somewhere into the margins of my mental catalog of familial dishes that I prepared in my own kitchen - until tonight, when I came home from class and Zach wandered out from the kitchen and said, "I want to make stuffed peppers - can you find me a recipe?"
(Chef Zach with his stuffed pepper creation)
Ah, the memories of stuffed peppers. We fixed a slightly different version than the one I grew up with - partly because my mother never wrote down the instructions she received from her mother-in-law, and more significantly because I wanted a dish somewhat lighter than the "traditional" stuffed veggies of my recollections, which were very rich...
Several scrumptious mouthfuls of stuffed pepper and one morning later, I am reminded of how perfectly stuffed veggies frame vegetables in a main dish role, quite fitting for a re-energized new year table. While I've honestly never made an official New Year's resolution, over the holidays Zach and I did decide that, upon returning to our home in 2009, we wanted to include a more extensive variety of veggies at every meal... We've always eaten plentiful veggies, but sometimes its easy to commit oneself to, say, a large pot of greens, and forget that having winter squash along with those greens would make the meal even more balanced. I was so proud of us last night - to go along with the stuffed bell peppers Zach was preparing, I fixed some lightly steamed green peas, whole wheat pasta with lots of sauteed mushrooms, and stewed beets...
Here's to a rejuvenated, healthful 2009!
Stuffed Bell Peppers
6 green bell peppers
3 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1 lb lean ground beef OR 1 lb. tempeh, finely chopped
8 oz smoked sausage, casings removed and sausage crumbled OR 8 oz "sausage style" soy crumbles
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
Barbecue Sauce or ketchup
~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Cut the very top off the peppers, and remove the seeds.
~ Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peppers and boil until they are just slightly softened, then remove the peppers with tongs and set them aside to cool.
~ Over medium heat, in the olive oil, saute the onions and garlic until the onion is translucent.
~ Remove the skillet from heat, and mix together well the ground beef or tempeh, sausage or soy crumbles, rice, tomatoes, oregano, and rosemary, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Coat the insides of the peppers with cooking spray, then place the peppers face down in a baking dish.
~ Fill each pepper with the rice stuffing mixture.
~ Generously coat the top of each stuffed pepper with barbecue sauce or ketchup.
~ Pour 1/4 cup water into the bottom of the baking dish.
~ Place the dish in the oven and bake for 45 minutes!
Thursday, January 1, 2009
After whizzing north and south for two glorious weeks of holidays, we're finally, blissfully, back in our own home. Now, it's time to unpack, head to the store to restock our fridge with fresh fruits and veggies, and stack up our textbooks for the restarting of classes tomorrow...
As I started my car for the first time since our arrival home, it dawned on me that over the last two weeks, I've driven far more cars than, well, normal. We've always driven home to Louisiana for the holidays, but this year's detour to Maryland left us with the enigma of attempting to proceed along two opposite directional vectors simultaneously. Clearly, air travel was the only solution to this logic puzzle.
I know I am technically not supposed to enjoy spending 2 hours folded and seat-belted into a 12" X 12" space while the passing landscape is startlingly monochromatic, aside from the occasional passing cloud, but nonetheless, I love flying. No matter how many times I've occupied a plane seat, I still catch my breath with awe and joy at the instant when the wheels raise above the tarmac, and you can feel your craft airborne at last.
We've also cooked in far more kitchens than normal over the past 14 days. Often this involved my randomly deciding to bake while we visited with various members of Zach's family - all of to whom I am grateful for not looking askance at my tendency to suddenly put their baking sheets and oven into use... but I suppose they had little about which to complain, since cookies and cakes and brownies were the inevitable result! Likely because of my fondness for co-opting their kitchen, Scott and Elise gave me a beautiful cookbook for Christmas, entitled Cookies and Bars, and filled with creative, beautifully photographed recipes. I promptly baked a batch of double chocolate cookies for everyone, but then another recipe caught Scott's eye... One the recipes, I kid you not, was entitled Nutty Drizzles. Sounds much more like an insult than a cookie, doesn't it? "How dare you behave that way, you nutty drizzle!"
Needless to say, we had to bake the cookies immediately. Because, however, I am a notoriously disobedient recipe follower, and because we were improvising with what was in Ed's pantry at the time, I wound up creating quite another cookie altogether - filled with raw nuts, oatmeal, and dark chocolate... but we couldn't resist borrowing the name. :-)
7 oz. butter or light vegan marg
1 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup raw mixed nuts
1 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
~ Preheat the oven to 230 degrees F. Coat two cookies sheets with cooking spray.
~ Cream together the butter/marg, brown sugar, and egg.
~ Add the flour, baking powder, and oats, and mixed until well combined.
~ Fold in the nuts and dark chocolate.
~ Scoop the cookie dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the cookie sheets.
~ Bake for 12 to 14 minutes - until golden brown around the edges. Allow to cool on the cookie sheets - if they last that long... :-)