Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Honey-Brownie Pie

I know you have all heard me gush about how much I love my job as a nurse in a rural North Georgia hospital, and how grateful I feel to be able to look forward to going to work every day! Regardless, though, sometimes life shifts you in unexpected directions... Despite the best intentions of my doctors my hip remains a mystery and continues to get steadily worse, the hospital won't allow me to continue working in my temporary position in the operating room forever, and I'm not likely to be physically able to return to my regular job on the medical-surgical wing in the near future, if ever. Thus, last Friday was my last day working in the job I've loved so dearly for the past year.

I can't remain sorrowful for long, however, because I have truly been showered with blessings - without even searching for a new job, God provided one for me... One of my dear friends from nursing school, Chalete, told me months ago that the pediatrician's office where she works wanted to hire a new nurse, and when I recently came to the difficult decision that I needed to change jobs, and asked Chalete if the position was still open (not hoping for a minute that there was a chance it actually was still open...) Chalete responded that the job was indeed still available, and was mine if I so desired! How fortunate I am... I might not fully understand why I'm supposed to change life plans and experience an elaborate variety of medical tests, but I know my path leads me on a purpose, towards good things. I'm confident I will love my new job as well, and I still plan on visiting my friends at the hospital on a regular basis!

Knowing I was mourning my departure from my current job, Shari, one of my co-workers in the operating room, so kindly told me that she would make sure my last day at work would be a celebration of my new future, rather than a day of tears! Inspired by her kindness and wise words, and also longing to find some small way to tell my co-workers how much I treasure their friendship, I decided to bake something totally grand to bring to work on my last day... Honey-Brownie Pies! I baked one of these decadent pies last weekend for our barbecue day with Emily and Aaron, and I just knew this was the sort of dessert I was going to be fixing again quite soon... With complex notes of honey, the creamy texture of pudding, and the decadent, fudgy lusciousness of brownies, this dessert transformed our taste-buds. Forever.

Little did I know that I would arrive at work on Friday morning to be greeted with a going-away feast my co-workers had prepared! Lentil stew, biscuits, cinnamon-raisin bread, and other such gorgeous culinary delights ensured that we did indeed have a party amidst our busy day of surgeries! I'm so, incredibly honored and touched by my co-workers' thoughtfulness. I hope they know this little treat I baked for them is really love and warmth and friendship, wrapped inside a fluffy confection of cocoa and honey...

Honey-Brownie Pie

3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup SmartBalance Light
1 1/4 cups raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
3 T skim milk
Graham cracker pie crust pressed into a round 9" pie pan

~ Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
~ Stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cocoa powder, and salt, and set aside.
~ In a large bowl, cream the Smart Balance Light and the turbinado sugar until light and fluffy.
~ Beat in the honey.
~ Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
~ Gradually add the flour mixture to the creamed mixture alternately with the milk, stirring after each addition.
~ Pour the batter into the graham cracker crust. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes - until a toothpick inserted 1 inch from side of pan comes out clean. Cool the pie on a wire rack, and serve with whipped cream!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Vegan Saffron Cream Soup

Goodness, it's Monday evening already. That's quite alright, though, because not only was the entire weekend wonderful, but Friday night was especially glorious for a number of reasons. First, Lele, who writes the utterly gorgeous, inspired, buoyant blog, Lele Lurves Plants, highly recommended a cookbook entitled The Philosopher's Kitchen - a collection of recipes based on the philosophical writings and the cuisines of ancient Greece and Rome! As soon as I read about the cookbook, I knew it would make the perfect present for Zach. I simply couldn't wait all the way until November for our anniversary or December for his Birthday to give him the cookbook, though, so I decided it would be a "welcome home with love gift" when he came home from his clinical rotations for the weekend, and I could hardly wait to give it to him on Friday night. Not only did Zach love the cookbook, but he even treated me to dinner by fixing an absolutely glorious, heart-stopping marjoram chicken recipe from the book! I promise I didn't give him a cookbook in order to tempt him to fix dinner for us, but it was a delightful surprise nonetheless! :-)

The second bit of surprise on Friday night was my sudden decision that tequila shots would be an excellent idea. I should first preface that, with my college days long departed, I hardly ever drink anymore - the entirety of my alcohol consumption usually consists of half of a really good, top-notch beer on a weekend night, and perhaps, if I'm feeling really daring, a whole one. I can't even remember the last time I've had tequila shots, in the plural sense. But we had this amazing, 100% agave tequila sitting on the shelf, and I love the smokey, fiery taste of really good tequila, and, in a moment of irrational reasoning I decided that taking shots would at least avoid the added simple-sugar empty calories of drinking, say, a strawberry daiquiri.

Subsequently, somewhere amidst conducting the radio with a wooden spoon and setting the table while Zach worked his culinary magic, I decided it would be an excellent idea to make a vegan cream of cauliflower soup. Right Then. That Very Instant. And somehow, despite multiple instances of me succeeding in getting lost in my own kitchen, the soup was amazing. Rich, decadently creamy, smooth and melting on the tongue, and without a single drop of cream... Casting modesty aside, if I can cook this while under the influence, man, I must be good... ;-)

Vegan Saffron Cream Soup

1 onion, chopped
3 T light, nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, such as SmartBalance Light
4 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/8 tsp saffron threads
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 (14.5 oz) can cannellini beans
Minced chives, for garnish

~ In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute the onion in the SmartBalance light until the onion is limp and translucent.
~ Pour in the broth, and bring to a boil.
~ Stir in the saffron threads, remove the pot from the heat, cover, and allow the saffron to steep for 10 minutes.
~ Return the pot to the heat, add the cauliflower, bring the mixture to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a lively simmer. Simmer until the cauliflower is crisp-tender.
~ Stir in the cannellini beans, and continue to simmer until the cauliflower is very soft.
~ Using a food processor or immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.
~ Serve warm, garnished with minced chives!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Stir-Fried Eggplant and Noodles

For those of you who may have been wondering how I've been doing on my quest to actually eat supper while Zach is out of town for clinicals, I'm delightedly proud of myself this week! I went out for sushi with my friend Jessica for one night, brought back an abundance of gorgeous leftover steamed edamame pods which turned into dinner the following night, along with some brown rice and a Morningstar Farms veggie breakfast patty (the maple ones are brilliant!), and last night I had another lunch bowl similar to my late night emergency rice bowl, with tofu and lots of simple vegetable heaven - steamed broccoli with fresh cracked black pepper! As far as the actual shuffling of pots and pans and lighting of the stove, I seem to have been in primarily a baking mood this week, perhaps because it's a bit cooler than it was the previous week, when summer seemed to have eclipsed spring altogether. While my meals have been basic, fundamental, uncomplicated, I've successfully resisted the urge to dine on bran flakes or skip supper altogether (Not at all healthy! Especially after working-out!), and I'm feeling thoroughly energized and content as a result.

So much so, in fact, that I decided to fix some zesty, energized eggplant last night... As one who's mentioned on more than one occasion my fascination with the idea of a recipe as a narrative, a story of experience, I am always particularly interested when I'm able to accompany a recipe on a journey across multiple food blogs, watching eagerly as the recipe evolves, gains new flavors, novel spices, and more chapters, more tales of the eyes that selected it, the hands that sought the ingredients.

When I discovered that two of the blogs I admire, and read with delight, had sung the praises of the same recipe, I knew this was not a time for trifling - I needed to fix this dish immediately! First Joanne of Eats Well With Others, known for her flawless wit and incredible ability to create stunningly gourmet dishes while studying anatomy for her MD-PhD program, and also the originator of this recipe, followed by Nicole of Prevention RD, an ever-inspiring source of insightful nutrition advice, high-energy stories of gardening and hockey-playing alike, and
gorgeously creative meals, both made this recipe sing. I owe both Joanne and Nicole gratitude for the joy they share through their blogs - and for this recipe, with which I'm now completely enamored! Eggplants hold a fond place in my heart and fridge, and this recipe takes the simple, creamy qualities of eggplant and lets them dance with spice and tang, and comforting whole wheat noodles. As always, the evolution process continued due to my pantry and fridge, which took me on a journey and yielded my version here... Who knew an entire journey could begin with the simple, purple globe of an eggplant?

Stir-Fried Eggplant and Noodles

(Inspired by Nicole's Recipe and Joanne's Recipe)

1 1/2 lb eggplant, sliced into matchsticks
1 lb pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes OR 1 lb firm tofu, pressed dry and cut into 1" cubes
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 1/2 Tbsp canola oil
1/3 cup vegetable broth
8 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1/2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp Sriracha hot chili sauce, plus more to taste, if you like
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 lb whole wheat pasta noodles, cooked according to package directions
2 T sesame seeds, for garnish

~ Soak the eggplant slices in a big bowl of salt water for 15 - 20 minutes, then drain well, rinse, and pat the eggplant dry.

~ Stir together the 3 T soy sauce and 1/2 tsp sesame oil, and use the mixture to coat the pork tenderloin cubes or tofu cubes.
~ Heat the canola oil in a large wok or frying pan over high heat, and saute the pork tenderloin cubes or tofu cubes until they are just browned on the outside (if using the pork, make sure the pork cubes are cooked through). Remove the cubes from the frying pan.
~ Adding a bit more canola oil or cooking spray if needed, and add the eggplant and garlic, stirring constantly until the eggplant just begins to brown.
~ Reduce the heat to medium, stir in the 1/3 cup of broth, cover the pan, and simmer until the eggplant is very tender.
~ Stir in the ginger, remaining 3/4 cup broth, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, honey, and Sriracha. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the eggplant starts to fall apart - just a few more minutes.
~ Stir in the tomatoes and the pork tenderloin cubes or tofu cubes, and simmer until heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Serve warm, on top of the whole wheat noodles and garnished with sesame seeds!

Soundtrack for the day's commute: Old 97's, Alive and Wired
On the blog this time last year... Caramelized Onion Soup with Carrots and Tofu!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Flax, Pecan, and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

I am overjoyed and relieved to be able to report that my bone scan results were normal! The scan was investigating possible bone cancer, so I am grateful beyond words to know this fear has been removed from the list of my possible diagnoses. Perhaps this is why I arrived home from work at 6PM last night, having arisen at 4AM as usual, still feeling filled with energy and vivaciousness. (Trust me, as much as I truly love my job, this is still not my typical post-work-day state.) Amidst the idyllic weather I channeled my energies into mowing the lawn, yet even after the grass was evenly carpeted and order had been returned to our front and back yards, I still felt the urge to bounce up and down like a toddler after an afternoon nap. Most of all, I felt like baking!

Since I'd already planned on baking a welcome-home treat for our next-door neighbor-friend and her two young sons, who all return home from her long business trip tomorrow, I seized the impulse and decided it was officially cookie-baking time! I also had a large bag of flax-seed that longed for a higher purpose in life beyond being sprinkled on morning cereal, so into the mixing bowl went some flax seed, along with oats, a variety of whole-grain flours, and some hand-chopped chunks of extra-dark, 80% cacao chocolate. I was so enthused about the recipe emerging in the bowl before me that I decided to live dangerously and double the recipe in order to save some cookie dough in the fridge for baking when Zach arrives home on Friday, despite not yet being assured of the cookies' success... As I often do with new cookie recipes, I sampled a wee pinch of dough as I was rolling the cookies into balls - I always have an inner struggle with the biology-oriented side of my brain that informs me of the dangers of raw egg every time I nibble uncooked dough, but I dare not risk baking an entire batch of cookies without first ensuring that they taste like actual cookies instead of, possibly, a train-wreak in dough form. These particular cookies were so delectable in their pre-baked state that the utmost willpower was required to keep me from nibbling a much larger second piece of dough... I couldn't resist sampling a cookie when they emerged from the oven, though - after all, I felt it was my duty to ensure the delectable-ness of the cookies before gifting them to friends...

Oh My Goodness. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, with a texture simultaneously light yet hearty, the nutty flax and oats complimenting the bold richness of the dark chocolate... Healthful, nutritious, and utterly seductive...

Flax, Pecan, and Dark Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

4 tablespoons light, nonhydrogenated vegan marg
3 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup quick cook or old-fashioned rolled oats
1/8 cup ground flax seed
1/8 cup whole wheat graham flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
6 oz 80% cacao dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans

~ Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

~ In a large bowl, whisk together the vegan marg and oil until completely blended.~ Beat the sugar, egg, vanilla and salt into the oil-marg mixture, and set the wet ingredients aside.

~ In a second large bowl, combine the oats, flax seed, graham flour, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and baking powder.

~ Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and stir to combine. The dough will be a bit thick and sticky.

~ Fold the dark chocolate and pecans into the dough.

~ Using damp hands, roll the dough into circles slightly smaller than golf balls, and place them on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until lightly golden brown - approx 15 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool on wire racks - or serve warm!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Grilled Tuna and Tempeh with Rosemary Vinaigrette

I've recently become obsessed with hiking. Perhaps it's the Appalachian trail only an hour from our doorstep, perhaps it's the inspirational fun of browsing at REI, perhaps it's the fabulous Georgia hiking websites I've recently discovered... Regardless, I have to admit that hiking, serious hiking, is not an appropriate sport for someone with a major hip injury. Hiking is not included in the boundaries of my doctors' instructions to "limit weight bearing on affected leg." Yet, somehow, all the circumstances conspiring against the idea of my tackling the mountains this year simply fuel my obsession all the more. This weekend, I officially decided: The sun is shining, the flowers are still in bloom, and I'm not just limiting myself to upper-body workouts any more - I'm lacing up my shoes and moving!

Ultimately, this weekend couldn't have been the more perfect combination of fitness and culinary fuel!

We fixed homemade mushroom and smoked cheddar pizzas... (Melinda's From Scratch Weekends, this is for you! :-)

We did indeed embark on a gloriously long Saturday hike through the woods... (which I'm paying for with major leg pain today, but it was worth it!!)

We invited our wonderful friends Emily and Aaron over for dinner...

and grilled tuna steaks!

Incredible, smokey, tangy, rich, flawlessly medium-rare, better than any restaurant, tuna steaks... Naturally, as they were based upon the Cooks Illustrated recipe! (I'm sensing a trend of Cooks Illustrated recipes on the weekends...) Our special twist, though, was to use the lovely vinaigrette marinade on some luscious grilled tempeh as well...

Even though Monday has now arrived, I still feel the energy of the weekend fueling me with happiness and enthusiasm for the adventures of the week... It's amazing how some time in the woods and sharing laughter with the ones you love solves everything, isn't it?

Grilled Tuna and Tempeh with Rosemary Vinaigrette
(Adapted from Cook's Illustrated)

3 T plus 1 tsp red wine vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T honey
2 T minced fresh rosemary
3/4 cup olive oil
6 tuna steaks, 6 oz each OR 6 large slices tempeh, each 1" thick

~ Whisk together the red wine vinegar, mustard, honey, and rosemary. Continuing to whisk, pour in the olive oil in a slow stream until the vinaigrette is nicely emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
~ Heat your grill to a a steady, medium flame. Coat the grill grates with canola oil.
~ Generously baste the tuna steaks or tempeh slices with the vinaigrette. Plate the tuna or tempeh on the grill, directly over the flame. Grill the tuna for 2 minutes on the first side, and 3 minutes on the second side, basting with additional vinaigrette occasionally. Grill the tempeh for 2 minutes on each side, basting with additional vinaigrette occasionally. Serve immediately!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Humble Food: Late-Night Rice Bowl

Sometimes it seems as though all possible forms of everyday drama assemble and present themselves simultaneously. Yesterday progressed innocuously enough, with a pleasantly busy workday followed by a drive home in the sunshine, knowing that an appointment to have my eyebrows done was awaiting me in cheerful anticipation of the weekend. Arriving home, I strolled down the street to our neighbors house, where I've been caring for her dogs while she's out of town. My first hint that something was amiss occurred when I heard ferocious howls through the door as I turned the key, yet neither dog was waiting by the door to greet me... Instead, I tracked the roaring barks and yelps to the dining room, where my eyes fell upon scattered broken crockery, and a ghastly pool of blood. For some unknown reason, one of the usually sweet, docile dogs was literally trying to kill the other, smaller dog. Unfortunately, the perpetrator is a huge dog who probably weighs more than I do, and I screamed at him, pulled on his collar, and shoved him in vain. In sobbing desperation, I finally started throwing dining room chairs at him until he at last released his grip on the other dog! I'm sure I would have made a comedic sight, shouting and throwing chairs about, but at the time the comedy of the situation escaped me, as I found myself being a dog nurse instead of a human nurse for the night. By some miracle, I had arrived soon enough that the little dog's wounds weren't too serious, just very much in need of cleaning and bandaging. I spent the next few hours stopping the bleeding, wrapping up his injuries (side note - a figure-eight bandage is far more challenging on a dog than on a human, who doesn't have extra appendages such as tails...), and then, finally, cleaning up the mess so our neighbor wouldn't find her house mimicking the set of a horror movie when she returned home from her business trip. After coaxing the injured puppy to eat a specially prepared bowl of soft, tempting puppy-food, establishing the big dog, with his food, in a separate part of the house where he couldn't cause any more damage, and assuring myself that the poor little puppy seemed to be stable and comfortable at last, I walked tiredly back to my house, grateful that the situation had been navigated and I was at least now returning to a quiet, nonviolent household... Only to step inside our house and discover that one of the cats had apparently consumed an entire jar of foam earplugs and subsequently vomited them all over the carpet. Honestly. I know I'm a nurse, but really, vomit and blood are supposed to stay behind at my workplace, thank you...

By the time I was able to think about dinner, or even realized I might have an appetite, it was 10PM! Something simple, nourishing, easy to digest, and utterly soothing was definitely appropriate... I briefly toyed with the idea of leftovers or some Trader Joe's soup, but with one inspiring glance at my favorite fleur de lis bowl a very comforting rice dish began to emerge...

The flavors are subtle, the textures are wonderful, the vegetables are abundant, and, I do believe, this rice bowl can make everything right in the world again! Or at least in my corner of the world...

Super-Comforting Late-Night Rice Bowl

* This recipe makes one serving - feel free to multiply as needed!

1/4 cup sliced zucchini
1/4 cup green beans, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
2 oz baked tofu or MorningStar Farms "sausage style" tofu crumbles
2 tsp nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, such as SmartBalance Light
1/4 tsp dried basil

~ Steam the vegetables according to your preferred method - I use a microwave steamer. Alternately, if you don't have a steamer handy, you could just simmer them in a little bit of broth until they're tender.
~ Stir together the brown rice and baked tofu/tofu crumbles, then warm the mixture in a small saucepan or microwave just until heated through.
~ In your favorite bowl, combine the steamed veggies along with the rice and tofu mixture. Gently stir in the vegan marg until melted, along with the dried basil. Season to taste with salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Curl up in a cozy spot, and enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Super-Healthy Banana Walnut Bread

On Monday morning, I underwent a full body bone scan in order to try to conjure some answers for the ongoing saga of Astra's Mystery Hip Injury. In the scheme of medical tests, the bone scan itself was pretty innocuous - although it did involve a dose of radioactive material injected into my veins, at least the process wasn't too painful! After receiving the radioactive isotope injection, I had to wait 3 hours before the actual scan could take place, during which the technicians mercifully allowed me to occupy myself as I pleased... Naturally, I decided to go grocery shopping for at least part of those 3 hours! I was also instructed to drink lots of water, in order to aid the distribution of the isotope throughout my body, and so, type-A diligent student as I tend to be, I proceeded to drink one and a half liters of water during just the single hour I spent in the grocery store... Suffice to say I felt well-hydrated for the rest of the day!

Now I simply await my next doctor's appointment on Friday... In the meantime, I decided the day called for something ultra-comforting to emerge from the kitchen: super-healthy banana bread! I'm a huge banana baked-good fan, and when I first read Michelle's recipe, on her wonderfully and very appropriately named blog Lucky Taste Buds, for a vegan banana bread with no added oil, I could scarcely contain my excitement! Just the simple goodness of applesauce, bananas, whole wheat flour, and walnuts turned into the moistest, tenderest, most tempting banana bread for which one could ever wish!

I changed the recipe a tiny bit, as my pantry usually causes me to do, and overall I find myself yet again enthralled and inspired by a fellow blogger's recipe... While eating healthfully is inherently rewarding, as one feels the satisfying results of fueling one's body with care, being part of a healthy living, delicious-cooking community elevates breakfast, lunch, and dinner even further beyond mere meals, and into a global event of sharing, laughing, and nourishing our souls together.

Super-Healthy Banana Walnut Bread

(Adapted from Michelle's recipe)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
4 ripe bananas
4 oz applesauce
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raw turbinado sugar

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9X5" loaf pan with cooking spray.
~ Whisk together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.
~ Gently stir the walnuts into the flour mixture.
~ Mash the bananas until smooth, then whisk in the applesauce, vanilla, and turbinado sugar until fluffy and creamy.
~ Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and stir until just combined.
~ Pour the batter into the loaf pan, and bake for around 45 minutes - until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
~ Allow the bread to cool in the pan, then serve toasted for breakfast, or with vegan whipped cream or vegan ice cream for dessert!

On the blog this time last year... Gooey Mocha Brownies!