Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The ideal gift for a foodie is, naturally, a cookbook. After a year or so of stringently maintaining that I had more than enough cookbooks, even Zach finally gave in kindly and now nods politely when I explain how each volume occupying shelves and shelves of wallspace opposite our kitchen has a unique niche and purpose, and even adds to the collection, knowing a cookbook present is always guaranteed to bring squeals of delight.
Even more special is a cookbook with a sample recipe alongside! When my parents visited us a few weekends ago, mom kindly treated us to Mollie Katzen's adorable little latest volume, a pocket-sized collection of salad recipes. Since they drove to Ohio for their visit, mom also brought along a generous tupperware of Lentil-Bulgur Salad! Such a lovely gift! She technically brought the acurate recipe, in deconstructed form so it wouldn't become soggy on the car ride, but, in light of the already chilly nights here, I requested a modified version of the recipe as we set about assembling in the kitchen here, so that we could serve the salad warm instead of cold the way the recipe initially suggested.
One of the reasons I'm so excited about this cookbook, is that I am inordinately fond of warm salads. Even in the summertime, I just love the way vegetables become instant comfort food with a simple saute or steam, plus a light dressing. In a culture of maccironi and cheese comfort food, I like to think of warm salads as my revolutionary healthy alternative... Lentil and bulgur fans, unite!
Lentil and Bulgur Salad
(Adapted from Mollie Katzen's Salads)
1 cup dry brown lentils
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry bulgar wheat
1 cup boiling vegetable broth
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp oregano
1/8 cup minced parsley
1 bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 lb olives
~ Place the lentils, garlic, and 2 cups broth in a sauce pan, and bring to a boil. Decrease the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes - until the lentils are tender but not mushy. Drain well, and transfer to a large bowl.
~ While the lentils are cooking, place the bulgur in a bowl, add the boiling broth, cover with a plate, and let stand 10 to 15 min.
~ Add everything to the lentils, stir gently, and season to taste with fresh ground pepper. Serve warm! We topped ours with Greek yogurt...
Thursday, August 25, 2011
I am acutely aware that Summer is drawing to a close. I am aware of this, because while back in the South temperatures remain balmy and unchanging, here in Ohio the nights are now chilly (by my fragile standards), the mornings brisk and cool, a new, crisp wind making me shiver as I walk to my car on my way to work.
I know soon, I will come to terms with this unavoidable changing of seasons, I will celebrate Fall and the glorious opportunities for pie baking and apple cider brewing - but not quite yet. For a little longer, I'm keeping company with Summer. I'm cherishing each week of our CSA box's continued explosion of Summer vegetables, and walking dreamily between the stalls at the farmers market each Saturday. Come saute simple summer salads with me a little longer, shall we?
2 T SmartBalance Light
3 medium cucumbers, cut into 1/2" pieces
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/8 cup minced chives
1/2 tsp dill
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
~ In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the SmartBalance light and saute the cucumbers until they are very tender, stirring in the salt, sugar, chives, dill, and lemon zest as you saute.
~ Remove from the heat, and stir in the feta cheese just until it melts a bit and coats the cucumbers. Serve warm!
Beets and Sugar Snap Peas with Basil Butter
1/2 cup Smart Balance Light
1/8 cup minced basil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 T lemon juice
3 large beets
2 cups sugar snap peas
1 cup baby carrots
~ In the food processor, blend the SmartBalance Light, basil, garlic powder, and lemon juice until smooth. This will make your basil butter. You'll have much more than you need for this one recipe - scoop the basil butter onto cling wrap, press to seal, and store in the fridge.
~ Cook the beets as you prefer - if you have time, you can roast them in the oven, otherwise, I microwave them in 1 cup vegetable broth for 15 min, then drain the vegetable broth. If you're using the microwave method, cut the beets into big chunks before cooking. After the beets are cooked, cut them into 1/2" pieces.
~ Steam the sugar snap peas and baby carrots (I do this in the microwave also).
~ In a large bowl, fold together the beets, sugar snap peas, and baby carrots with 2 T of basil butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve warm!
Monday, August 22, 2011
When I'm apprehensive about something, I bake. When I'm nervous about an upcoming medical procedure, I bake. When I'm anticipating surgery, however minor, I bake A Lot. Fortunately, as the days slipped past while waiting for the removal of a mercifully benign small chest mass last week, I found at least one recipe that's both remarkably speedy and has nicely healthful qualities, so I didn't inundate our kitchen in too much indulgence or become utterly incapable of attending to more mundane household chores...
Really, this is a delightfully cleaver little recipe. I'm not usually much of a recipe follower, preferring to read my beloved cookbook collection novel-style, using the instructions for inspiration rather than for literal following, but the idea, found in The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook, of using whole grain pancake mix for healthy blondies, struck me as so brilliant that I made very few changes to the recipe, as the technique is very basic. The end result, though, is enchanting. Much more textured than classic blondies, certainly, but pleasantly so given all the chunky good things stirred into the batter, and the dark chocolate and dried cherries add a grand, grown-up richness to the not-too-sweet treat. Even friends of ours with devoted sweet teeth gave these high praise, and asked for seconds!
So, with the gentle guidance of blondie baking, I faced my procedure, and am now gratefully back to normalcy, whatever that may be. Isn't it wonderful, however rare, when life simply lets you pick right back up again...
Trail Mix Blondies
(Adapted from The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook)
2 cups buckwheat pancake mix
1 cup raw turbinado sugar
1/2 cup SmartBalance Light, melted
2 egg whites, beaten
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (at least 60% cacao)
~ Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8X8" baking pan with foil or parchment paper, and spray the lining with cooking spray.
~ Stir together the buckwheat pancake mix, sugar, melted SmartBalance Light, egg whites, and vanilla until well combined.
~ Fold in the dried cherries and dark chocolate chips.
~ Spread the batter into the baking pan. Bake until set and cooked through but not dry - approx 30 min.
~ Serve warm or cool...
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Now that we live in Ohio, I finally got to meet in person my wonderful blog-friend, Gina of The Candid RD! After being blog friends for so long, it was such a treat to be able to chat at length in person, all while walking around the beautiful Eaton mall in Columbus,
(A Williams-Sonoma treat... vanilla bean paste!!)
and of course shopping at Trader Joe's!
Gina is incredibly sweet, and brought me a remarkably thoughtful package of her famous granola and granola bars! Gina, you truly need to patent these and start selling them online, because they are beyond amazing!
Back home in Dayton this week, I had the fanciful idea of creating a dish in Gina's honor... :-)
I started with sweet potatoes, because I purchased them during our trip to Trader Joe's! Then I added Greek yogurt, which Gina and I both agreed is amazing... and finally, I knew I had to include walnuts, because Gina taught me how healthful they are! Thus, curried sweet potato salad found its beginnings...
As always, I'm thankful for the inspiration of friends!
Curried Sweet Potato Salad
4 medium russet or Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
3/4 cup plain fat free or 2% Greek yogurt (I used fat free, but I would imagine the salad would be even more amazing with the slight upgrade to 2% Greek yogurt)
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce (I used a chipotle hot sauce)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 cup minced chives
1/2 tsp celery seed
6 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
~ Place the potatoes in a medium saucepan; cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.
~ Whisk together the yogurt, curry powder, hot sauce, salt, chives, and celery seed.
~ Fold the yogurt mixture into the potatoes.
~ Sprinkle with the walnuts, and serve chilled!
Monday, August 15, 2011
Two casual observations:
One: maintaining an Amish Friendship Bread starter is incredibly time consuming.
Two: Baking Amish Friendship Bread is utterly addicting.
An Amish Friendship Bread starter is basically the sweet version of a sourdough starter, a fermented mixture used to activate, rise, and give a delicate but distinctive flavor to a breakfast-style bread. I had never head of Amish Friendship Bread until we moved to Ohio, in an area known for its Amish heritage. Just as I was contemplating whether my bread baking had reached the stage when I really needed to venture into creating a sourdough starter, I was given an Amish Friendship Bread starter and launched into the merry-go-round of dividing and baking batter and bread in a process somewhat more forgiving than Sourdough, but precise and detail-oriented nonetheless. I always manage to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the kitchen, but since I've found Amish Friendship Bread starters Zach has noticed that I've been detained in the kitchen even longer than usual... However, having revamped the original recipe - which seemed to me rather excessively decadent for something designed to be baked every nine days - into a healthful, protein and fiber filled treat just perfect for breakfast muffins, the time spent seems quite worthwhile...
(A batch of starter, all ready...)
Amish Friendship Bread Power Muffins
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup hemp protein powder (I use Nutiva organic hemp protein and fiber powder)
1 cup raw turbinado sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 small (3.9 oz) box vanilla instant pudding mix
2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup Amish Friendship Bread starter batter (if you don't live in an area where lovely people tend to give you a bag of starter when they learn you've just moved in, you can, wonderfully, purchase a starter online...)
6 egg whites, beaten
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1 tsp vanilla
~ Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin cups with paper liners, and coat them lightly with cooking spray.
~ In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour through pudding mix).
~ In another bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (starter batter through vanilla).
~ Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Yes, the hemp protein powder will give your muffins a distinctive greenish-brown color...
~ Fill your muffin tins until they are nearly full. Bake for approx 20 minutes - until the tops of the muffins are just set, and a toothpick inserted gently in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool on wire racks, and store in the fridge in a closed container - or serve warm all at once for a brunch party! :-)
Thursday, August 11, 2011
I'm sure you've all noticed that I haven't been posting as frequently as before, and after much thought and reflection I decided to discuss the topic and ask for advice, as I know many of you, my wonderful blog-friends and readers, have also struggled with the challenge of balancing the blog with the rest of our hectic daily lives.
As the hours of my new job increase in length weekly, and at present I find myself awakening at 5AM and returning home at 7:30PM nearly every day, I've been forced to think about the role my beloved blog, and writing, should play in my weekly routine. Naturally, I desire for the blog to be a reflection only of joy, positive energy, and creativity, not a source of stress and anxiety. Thus, while in the past I've always found a way to prioritize the blog (usually choosing blogging over sleep :-), I find myself now pausing, thinking more deeply, and only posting when I find myself truly in a creative mind frame to genuinely write with passion and inspired energy. I apologize for thus not visiting you more frequently through the web, but I hope that when I do, my posts will be richer for the more meaningful time to which they have been devoted. Still, I miss the days when I was able to blog more frequently, dialog with this vibrant community on a daily basis instead of every 3 or 4 days, and share more of the stories about which I long to write.
I would thus very much appreciate advice from you, my dear readers and friends, as to how you balance blogging and daily life, how you find time to blog on a regular basis, and how one merges the desire for creativity and the desire to finish washing the piles of laundry...
Friday, August 5, 2011
As an 21st Century Urban Pioneer Woman, I may not be able to grow my own vegetables, but I sure do process a lot of vegetables - from our CSA box!
Moving to Dayton for us meant having access to a local organic CSA box that's affordable and reasonably sized to our two-person household, something that remarkably wasn't available in our area of Atlanta as far as I could discern (although we were blessed with farmers markets aplenty). After waiting years for access to a CSA, our first week's box was met with much joy!
So, what did we fix first? A salad, of course, celebrating the beauty of crisp, homegrown lettuce and flawless summer tomatoes... With buttermilk ranch dressing. Perfect for our own little inner-city ranch.
Summer's CSA Buttermilk Ranch Dressing
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup reduced fat mayo (I used Trader Joe's low-fat vegan mayo, which we love)
2 T white balsamic vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 T minced fresh chives
1 T minced fresh basil
2 tsp minced fresh dill
~ In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except for the herbs, then gently stir in the herbs. Serve over a crisp salad!
Monday, August 1, 2011
Recently, crossing the parking lot on my way home from work one fading evening, I concluded that I'm an urban 21st century pioneer woman. I'm not The Pioneer Woman, because that's Ree, and no one could begin to fill her shoes. I can't be A pioneer woman, because right now we haven't even a yard or a balcony to claim... In fact, our apartment faces a vast vacant building painted on one brick wall with bright primary colors and the words "seeking hope in the inner city." Definitely no corn fields in sight.
Still, with Zach embarking upon residency, leaving him with even less time than usual to assist me on the home front, and with the start of my new, very intense job, I'm feeling more and more connected to the women of an earlier time who struggled from sundown to sunup with laundry, scrubbing pots, starching uniforms, shopping for staples, etc. While my ancestors of yore had to do all this plus spin, weave, and can preserves for the winter, while I'm wondering if I can maintain a household and climb the corporate ladder, I like to fantastically imagine the struggles are at least slightly parallel across the centuries.
And since I don't know the answer, I hope for centuries we've been concluding "yes." We are invincible. We can conquer every last task on the days list, even if it means going with a few less hours sleep. We can log a hard days work, either in the garden or in the office, and still fly home in time to bake for the local potluck dinner. Or whip on a cocktail dress for a networking dinner. We're urban 21st century pioneer woman. And damn, we make a mean casserole.
Cheesy Polenta Casserole
2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons SmartBalance Light
1 lb sweet Italian sausage, casings removed OR 1 lb Sausage style tofu crumbles, such as MorningStar Farms brand
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, casings removed OR 1/2 lb Sausage style tofu crumbles, such as MorningStar Farms brand
1-1/2 cups 2% milk
2 teaspoons rubbed sage
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded low-fat sharp cheddar cheese, divided
~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat an 11X13" baking dish with cooking spray.
~ Stir together the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
~ In a very large skillet over medium heat, saute the celery and onion in the SmartBalance Light until tender. Remove from the skillet, and set aside.
~ In the same skillet, saute the sausage or sausage style crumbles until lightly browned. Reserve 1 cup, and stir the rest in with the vegetables.
~ In a very large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk, sage, and pepper.
~ Stir in the sausage-vegetable mixture.
~ Stir in the cornmeal mixture.
~ Fold in 1 1/2 cups shredded cheese.
~ Spread the battered into the prepared baking dish. Top with the reserved sausage or sausage style crumbles, and remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
~ Bake for 25 to 30 min - until golden brown. Serve warm, garnished with paprika, if you like!