Friday, July 31, 2009
Shortly after Zach and I first met, I discovered that he loved guacamole. Along with the other dishes I was rapidly adding to my mental list of Zach's favorites - Cheesecake,
and Balsamic-Drizzled Salads
- along with all these other bits of deliciousness, I immediately began preparing guacamole on a ridiculously regular basis. Zach would show up... and there would be guacamole waiting for him. One would think he would have tired of the endless retinue of avocado, but somehow, he didn't... and, over the months, and now years, we've created an equally endless variety of guacamole variations. One of my favorites is Zach's curried guacamole, but by far the one we prepare the most is our Pure and Simple Guacamole.
If by now you've scanned down to the recipe, you might be puzzled and even a bit indignant... Guacamole without onions? Unthinkable, right? Or tomatoes, how about some tomatoes? Or maybe a bit of garlic?
While we love guacamole with all of the above, and more, there is something so alluring, so sensual, about the pure taste of avocado dancing solo. Just a little lime, a little chili powder, a little sea salt... Heaven.
The next morning, savor the leftovers for breakfast or lunch with spinach and Swiss cheese on whole wheat toast...
Our Favorite Pure and Simple Guacamole
1 ripe avocado
1 T lime juice
1 tsp chili powder
Plentiful good sea salt to taste
~ Mash everything together, and savor with baked corn chips or whole wheat pita, or dolloped on top of a salad...
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Last week, I did a deliciously naughty thing. I took a study break to do a bit of baking, which was actually not the naughtiness to which I refer - I'm an ardent proponent of taking study breaks for baking...
(especially when vintage FireKing baking pans are involved...)
No, the naughty part was making a really healthy cake... and then making it not so healthy by dressing it in layers of frosting.
You see, I started with the simple idea of a peanut butter cake, since peanut butter cookies are Zach's favorite. I tinkered a bit, and soon a lovely, vegan, whole wheat cake graced with applesauce, peanut butter, and banana emerged from the oven, rising even lighter and puffier than I could have hoped.
Then, the moment of peanut butter inspiration seized me... How could I have not yet told my blogger friends about our peanut butter frosting? You see, I am madly in love with using peanut butter to create a creamy, fluffy, vegan "buttercream" frosting...
"Well," I reasoned with myself, "using peanut butter instead of butter in the frosting does make it healthier..."
"and cocoa powder does have a nice dose of antioxidants..."
Soon, a chocolate-peanut butter vegan buttercream frosting had turned the humble peanut butter cake into a splendid layer cake.
"Hmmm," I thought to myself... "Wouldn't it be pretty to garnish the cake with a variety of nuts?"
"After all, nuts are a good source of protein and unsaturated fats..."
A mere moment later, a walnut and almond crumble danced merrily across the cake, and Zach arrived home that evening to find a glorious confection of nuts and chocolate awaiting him...
While all of my above nutrition statements are true, the one thing I truly can't justify is the plentiful quantity of powdered sugar in the frosting. That said, however, this cake is far healthier than most layer cakes... and, well, it's also healthy to indulge once in a while!
So go ahead! Bake a cake... Why not? It's a Wednesday! Zach and I are from Louisiana, where some days there are parades just because it's a Tuesday... so let's celebrate!
Vegan Peanut Butter Cake with Chocolate Peanut Butter Buttercream and a Walnut-Almond Crumble
*For the Peanut Butter Cake*
1 cup applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil or olive oil
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup raw sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1/2 tsp salt
2 T light vanilla soymilk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
6 T potato starch
*For the Chocolate Peanut Butter Buttercream*
2 cups creamy peanut butter
Confectioners sugar "to taste"
Vanilla Soymilk, as needed (probably approx 2 T, depending on the moisture in the air)
Cocoa powder to taste
*For the Walnut-Almond Crumble*
1 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup ground almonds (I usually just pulse whole nuts in the food processor until they're ground - so much more economical than purchasing already ground nuts)
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
~ Let's start with the cake... Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F, and coat a 9X11" baking pan with cooking spray.
~ In the food processor, blend the applesauce, canola oil, and banana until nice and foamy.
~ Add the peanut butter, raw sugar, 1 cup whole wheat flour, salt, and vanilla soymilk to the food processor, and whir again until well combined.
~ Add the remaining 1 cup whole wheat flour, the all purpose flour, the baking soda, and the potato starch, and blend again in the food processor until you have a smooth batter.
~ Pour the batter into the cake pan, and bake for approx 40 minutes - until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
~ Let the cake cool in the pan (strange, I know), then, once it's cooled, flip the cake out of the pan, slice in half horizontally to make too layers, and you're ready for the frosting!
~ To make the frosting, beat the peanut butter with an electric mixer while adding confectioners sugar and little bits of vanilla soymilk (I add around a T of vanilla soymilk at a time while scooping in big spoonfuls of the confectioners sugar) until the desired thickness and fluffiness is achieved. The amounts of confectioners sugar and soymilk added can vary quite a bit depending on the brand of peanut butter you're using, how humid your geographical location can be, and your personal tastes in frosting. Once you've achieved the frosting texture you fancy, add cocoa powder to taste, depending on how much chocolateyness you desire. This is quite the personalized frosting! :-) After you've concocted the ideal frosting, spread it generously between the two layers of the cake, and across the top and sides of the cake.
~To make the crumble, fold together the nuts and all remaining ingredients until well combined. Sprinkle the crumble merrily across the top of the cake!
~ Your cake is complete at last!
*On a side note, I adored this cake, and its subtle, not-too-sweet peanut butter flavor, so much that I recently baked a second cake, unfrosted, for us to savor as a healthy sweet snack or light dessert... It freezes quite well, too, so we didn't have to worry about consuming an entire cake at once!
Monday, July 27, 2009
I love summer salads that seem to be the warm-weather cousin of their more wintry casserole counterparts, salads with a bit of grains or whole wheat pasta tossed in for added fiber and protein and texture, creating a one-dish meal both hearty and light and refreshing.
I've been intending to make a rice salad for a while, so last week when I came across a tempting-sounding farro salad recipe while happily perusing Bon Appitit over morning coffee, I thought "well, I could just make it with rice today, and farro the next time!" Assembling the salad components that evening, I whipped up the dressing, set it aside, and began putting the main ingredients into a sturdy glass bowl. Thankfully, when fixing a dish containing a sauce or dressing, through a few mishaps I've acquired the habit of sampling a tiny bite of the dish with the dressing before blithely tossing in the entire bowl of sauce. So, humming contentedly, I assembled a little fork-full of brown rice, green beans, and feta cheese, and added a few drops of the proposed balsamic-marjoram-Dijon sauce on top. Well, I don't know if the salad was simply perturbed that I had substituted brown rice for farro, but oh dear, while it wasn't bad... it certainly wasn't very good either. All of the ingredients, delicious in their own right, fought noisily for attention instead of playing politely together. Somewhere along the way the rice and feta cheese had started a dreadful argument with that dressing, and didn't seem inclined to make peace anytime soon. So, I set aside the dressing, and improvised...
Here's to rescued dishes that turn into fortuitous surprises!
Brown Rice Salad with Feta-Tomato Sauce
1 cup brown rice
2 cup green beans, cut into 1" pieces
1 cup corn kernels
1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups cubed cooked chicken OR 2 cups cubed baked tofu
4 oz feta cheese
1/2 cup part-skim mozzarella
1 1/2 cups tomato puree
1 T minced fresh basil
A bit of vegetable broth, if needed
~ Cook the brown rice according to package directions, and set aside.
~ Steam the green beans and corn kernels, and set those aside.
~ In a large skillet or dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium-high heat until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the brown rice, green beans, corn, chicken or tofu, feta cheese, mozzarella, tomato puree, and basil. Heat gently, stirring, until the salad is heated through and the cheeses have begun to melt. You can add a bit of vegetable broth during this process, if the mixture seems to dry.
~ Serve warm, for optimum melted cheese comforts, or cold, for a refreshing twist...
* On a side note, a humble request for advice... As you can tell from these photos, I'm having a bit of trouble photographing lighter colored foods without excessive brightness or overexposure in the end result. I've tried turning off the flash, using different lighting and background colors, or zooming out while taking the photo since I usually do a bit of cropping on the computer anyway, but I keep coming up with somewhat monochromatic brightness when I try to photograph things like rice, corn, etc. I can fix some of the contrast problems with photo editing, but the original issue still lurks and lingers. Dear readers, I send forth a cry for help! :-) How should I solve my photography conundrum? Words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated! :-)
Saturday, July 25, 2009
After years of reading about them, thinking about them, and gazing dreamily at beautiful blog-post photos of them, yesterday I finally made... A Green Smoothie.
I don't know what on earth took me so long - we always have baby spinach in the fridge, now in massive quantities thanks to the bulk foods store, we have a spinach salad with dinner nearly every night, (and there's usually a huge bag of kale in the fridge, too), and we adore smoothies - but somehow I would always seem to think "green smoothie" at inopportune moments, such as while driving down the highway with nary a blender in sight.
Until yesterday afternoon... I confess, sheepishly, after I whirred my impromptu concoction together, my first bite was tentative... and then, one moment later, as Zach was on call for his surgery rotation, and I was alone in the house with my anatomy textbook, I found myself resorting to informing the cats (as they seemed a bit more interested in the subject than my inanimate anatomy textbook) "Oh my goodness, this is SO insanely good!"
(Our cats might not request green smoothies, but they do seem to enjoy Vegetarian Times...)
While the cats still don't seem to share my new-found enthusiasm for green smoothies, I was simply delighted with the incredible melding of flavors. Somehow, the earthiness of the spinach adds a depth and richness to the blueberries, unparalleled in any fruit-only smoothie I've tasted, and the spinach leaves also contributed an additional bit of thickness and texture that allows me to savor my smoothie with a spoon - heaven!
I suppose, technically, I technically created a "Dark-Purple Smoothie," but since this exact shade of purple is one of my favorite colors, I am thoroughly content with my purple green smoothie.
I think I now have a "new favorite meal ever..."
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup baby spinach leaves, patted down a bit to make a full cup
6 oz fat free vanilla yogurt or non-dairy yogurt (for the VV - the vegan version!)
1/4 cup pineapple juice
3/4 cup vanilla almond milk
~ Whir all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender... Savor with a spoon... or let it melt a wee bit and then savor with a straw...
Thursday, July 23, 2009
"Please fix me a cranberry pie," Zach asked...
and so I did.
Cranberry Apple Pie with Oatmeal Vanilla Crust
For the crust:
1/3 cup honey
2 T olive oil
2 egg whites, beaten
1/4 cup vanilla soymilk or almond milk
2 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats
For the filling:
1/2 cup honey
3/4 cup pineapple juice
12 oz fresh or frozen cranberries
6 cups diced apple (I used a mixture of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious)
1/4 cup spiced rum
~ To make the crust, whisk together the honey or agave, olive oil, egg whites, vanilla soymilk or almond milk, and vanilla. Stir in the oats until well combined. Coat a 9" deep dish pie pan with cooking spray, then press the crust into the base and sides of the pie pan, reserving 1/2 cup crust mixture.
~ To prepare the filling, combine the honey, pineapple juice, and cranberries in a large pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes - until the cranberries begin to pop. Stir in the apples and spice rum, and simmer until the apples soften slightly.
~ Sprinkle the 1/2 cup reserved crust mixture atop the filling.
~ Pour the filling into the prepared crust, and bake for 35 minutes - until the filling is bubbly, the apples are completely tender, and the topping is golden...
Sunday, July 19, 2009
Remember the colorful sand art we created back when we were kids? Today, I had a moment of nostalgia as I made spice art instead...
As I'm sure you've already deduced from the long litany of biscuits and gravy, pecan waffles, and spinach-potato frittatas, Zach and I are a wee bit obsessed with weekend brunch dishes.
This weekend, Saturday morning arrived with classic breakfast burritos, including whole wheat tortillas, black bean and corn salsa, low-fat sour cream, low-fat cheddar cheese, scrambled egg whites, and homemade unfried refried beans:
I then worked last night, Saturday night, which, I have discovered, still provides the perfect timing for returning home Sunday morning, taking a refreshing nap, and then fixing brunch, of course...
This morning, though, I was in the mood for a little something different... I can't take full credit for the fiery spice rub, discovered within the current issue of Vegetarian Times, which inspired these mushroom sandwiches and was so perfectly and flavorfully balanced that even a notoriously disobedient recipe follower such as myself left the ingredients only a bit more than slightly altered, but I can take a modicum of modest credit for the end result...
Spicy Mushroom Melts
*Note: this recipe makes 2 main-dish sandwiches - feel free to double or triple accordingly...
*For the Vegetarian Times BBQ Rub (my version)*
1/8 cup raw sugar
1/8 cup paprika
4 1/2 tsp black pepper
4 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
~ Shake all the ingredients together in a spare spice jar until well combined. Store the extra for future spicy endeavors...
*For the Mushroom Melts*
8 oz sliced button mushrooms
2 T olive oil, divided
1 T Vegetarian Times BBQ Rub
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 cup shredded smoked cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese
2 whole wheat pitas (or oat bran pitas, if you can find them - we just discovered them and they're fantastic!), each separated into 2 halves and lightly toasted
4 tsp light canola or olive oil mayo
~ Drizzle 1 T olive oil over the mushrooms, and toss to coat.
~ Add the BBQ rub, and toss to coat again.
~ In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion in the remaining 1 T olive oil until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Add the mushrooms, and continue to saute, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms are tender and have released their juices.
~ Reduce the heat to low, scatter the cheddar cheeses on top, and allow the mushrooms to sit happily in the pan until the cheese has melted.
~ Spread each whole wheat pita with 2 tsp light mayo. Scoop half the mushroom and cheese mixture on top of 1 half of each pita, and top with the other pita half.
~ Serve immediately, all warm and gooey...
Thursday, July 16, 2009
After a whirlwind start to the week, including a stretch of time from Monday until yesterday during which I went 48 hours without sleep (thanks to going straight from work, to class, to lab, and then to work again over the course of those three days), I'm back, well rested, and returned to the land of the energetic once more!
and I am incredibly proud of this dish... It's not conceptually unusual, per se, but it looked so lovely, a tower of asparagus and steamed soft egg perched proudly on the plate, that I couldn't resist squeaking "look, look!" multiple times during the assembly, calling Zach over to witness the plating...
Then Zach took a bite, and proclaimed this dish his "new favorite meal ever."
Who could ask for more?
Asparagus with Lime-Parmesan Sauce and Soft Steamed Eggs
2 T lime juice
3 T coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp spicy brown mustard
6 T olive oil
1 lb asparagus, woody ends removed (and saved for something else scrumptious, like soup!)
4 slices lean smoked ham or turkey (optional)
~ Vigorously whisk together the lime juice, Parmesan, salt, pepper, spicy mustard, and olive oil.
~ Steam the asparagus for 3 to 5 minutes - until crisp tender.
~ If you're using the ham or turkey, stack the 4 slices, roll them up tightly, then cut the roll into 1/4" crosswise. Gently heat the little circles in the microwave or a small oil-less skillet until warm.
~ Coat another skillet with cooking spray, and place over medium heat. When the skillet has warmed, add the eggs, sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper, and cover. As soon as the top of the yolk regions begin to turn white, remove the skillet from the heat.
~ To assemble, place 3 or 4 medallions of ham or turkey on a plate, if you're using the ham or turkey. Neatly align 10 asparagus spear or so, either on top of the ham or turkey or on top of the plate. Place a soft egg gently atop the asparagus. Drizzle the egg and asparagus spears alike with 2 T or so of the dressing. Repeat the assembly for the remaining 3 servings, and, ta da...
Sunday, July 12, 2009
I adore whole wheat elbow macaroni. It seems like such happy food, and it makes me feel like a kid again - even though I didn't actually have elbow macaroni as a child, because my mother didn't like it for some reason, but I always imagined it was the sort of food children would love. I think my hypothesis about kids and elbow macaroni is true, too - the first time I fixed chicken Parmesan for my friend Chalete's adorable, sweet, wonderful 5 year old son, who's usually very shy about trying "new" dishes, I served it over whole wheat elbow macaroni and he inhaled two whole plates, roasted garlic and chiffonaded ribbons of fresh basil and all.
I especially adore the very grown-up flavors in the Macaroni and Paneer Cheese from Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen. Lisa is an incredibly talented vegetarian chef, able to delight the palate with Indian dishes, Indian-fusion dishes, and any other cuisine imaginable! Every time I visit Lisa's blog I find myself bookmarking a recipe, from curries to scones! As soon as I read Lisa's recipe for Macaroni and Paneer Cheese I did a little dance of delight, pressed the print button, and could hardly wait until Friday evening to prepare it for our supper! Well, silly me even took a study break Friday afternoon to go grocery shopping, and still managed to come home with another 5 lbs of mozzarella (yep, I went to the bulk foods store again!) and no paneer. Sigh. Thus began the emergence of a variation on Lisa's gorgeous original. While I fully intend to fix Lisa's recipe properly very soon, the results of my experimentations were so scrumptious that I absolutely had to share them, with gratitude to Lisa for the inspiration!
Whole Wheat Macaroni with Spinach and Mozzarella
(Inspired by Lisa's Macaroni and Paneer Cheese)
2 cups whole wheat elbow macaroni
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds
3 giant handfuls baby spinach leaves
1 large tomato, chopped
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp Cayenne
1 tsp paprika
1 1/2 cups grated part-skim mozzarella
~ Cook the whole wheat macaroni according to package directions, reserving 3/4 cup cooking water before draining the rest of the water, rinsing the macaroni, and setting it aside.
~ In a large skillet over medium heat, stir-fry the mustard seeds until they begin to pop.
~ Add the spinach, a handful at a time, allowing each handful to wilt as you stir in the next handful.
~ Once the spinach has wilted, add the tomato, salt, Cayenne, and paprika, and stir just until heated through.
~ Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the macaroni, reserved cooking water, and mozzarella cheese. Continue to stir just until the mozzarella is melted... Then serve warm...