Monday, February 28, 2011

Post-Yoga Mushroom & Spinach Soup

Just after camel pose in Bikram yoga class on Saturday, I began to think of what I would make for dinner. Visions of juicy steak, topped with delicate scallops, maybe a side of seared tuna, and a fat poached salmon fillet plated themselves in my head. I've come out of this pose, in the past, feeling energized and appropriately dreaming of greek yogurt mixed with applesauce, but this was not one of those days.

In Bikram's school of thought, your body tells you what it needs as you continue your practice. Your cravings will naturally become appropriate for your health and well-being. If I listen to those cravings, and eat all those delicious items, I should think I'd become one heck of a fatty-fat-fatso.

My husband usually stops at Garden of Eden to buy some berries or oranges on the way home from yoga. This time he was attracted to the mountain of O.N.E. Acai juice near the door, while I b-lined for the back to find me a big pink fish. As I passed the bins of over-priced mushrooms, I realized that my yearning to gnaw on large cuts of meat was really just a craving for protein, and maybe salt. I grabbed about a pound of the interesting 'shrooms (anything but cremini and button), but I still got the salmon, as well.

The soup and salmon made a nice late lunch / early-bird dinner for a Saturday. There was enough for leftovers, too - mushroom soup always gets better after a day or two as the flavors blend together. The mushrooms were chewy and meaty, as I wished for, and the potatoes added some weight. Spinach tricked us into eating our vegetables, but also went well with the hint of Asian flavor I added with the soy sauce and sesame oil. I topped the soup with some poached salmon for extra protein.

Mushroom and Spinach Soup
6 servings
1 T olive oil + 1 T unsalted butter (omit for vegan)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 C potato, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
5-6 C vegetable stock or water
½ lb Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps cut into pieces
½ lb Oyster mushrooms, thick stems sliced, caps torn into smaller pieces
2-3 C fresh baby spinach
2 T low sodium soy sauce
1 T toasted sesame oil
sea salt, pepper & red pepper flakes to taste

1. In a stock pot, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add onions and slowly sauté for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 3 minutes.

2. Add potatoes and stock and bring to a boil. Add mushrooms and cover, cooking about 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

3. Toss in baby spinach leaves, stirring in until they wilt. Add soy sauce, sesame oil and salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.

4. Serve with crusty bread, over rice noodles, or topped with salmon or chicken.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toasted Acorn Squash Seeds, Safety Goggles Required

Instead of posting a brilliant idea today, here is a food-fail story for your entertainment. Learn from my mistakes.

Ever toasted your own pumpkin seeds? It's pretty easy. I tried the same thing recently with acorn squash seeds, but it was a bit more challenging. I rinsed, dried and spread them on a cookie sheet, which I put in the hot oven. They started to get toasty, as expected, but then I heard snapping noises. The seeds were jumping off the sheet, popping open and shooting shells all over the oven! The seeds smoked as they hit the hot coils and bottom of the oven. I shielded myself and removed them quickly, wishing I had safety goggles to protect me from seed shrapnel.

I had my heart set on toasting the seeds, so I got the bright idea to put them in the toaster oven where they would be contained and pop back onto the sheet. This was even worse. It started smoking, seeds exploding, and I tried to open the door. Shells shot clear across the kitchen. I turned off the toaster and waited for the battle to subside, but it was too late. The seeds were hardly toasted, but the shells of some found their way into deep reaches of the toaster to burn more and more throughout eternity.

It may have been worth the trouble if the seeds were good. They tasted ok, but were hard to chew through the tough shells.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Power Brunch: "Corntatta" and Cumin Spiced Sweet Potatoes

Who gets up with a mild hangover on a Sunday and whips up an inspired power brunch? This girl!

At first I thought I wouldn't have enough energy to make the breakfast I really wanted: a thick frittata with vegetables and some hearty homefries. A few sips of coffee, and a few rays of sunshine later, I opened the fridge and decided to just go for it.

I had a few leftover orphan items from the previous week's cooking: 1 giant sweet potato, 2 ears of raw corn, and a few elderly jalapeños. The peppers provided a latin inspiration, so I sprinkled the sweet potato cubes with cayenne and cumin.

The "corntatta" came about because it was really more corn than egg - which I did on purpose. I had so much corn once it was cut from the cobs, and I really just wanted to stick it together somehow using the eggs. Plus, my husband doesn't care for eggs too much, so I only used two. Served with tomato sauce and Frank's Red Hot, he didn't taste the eggs at all - just the crisp, crunchy corn. Hence, "corntatta".

Both the "corntatta" and potatoes came out awesome - much better than expected. The sweet potatoes balanced the crunchy/spicy corn really nicely. Next time I might add some herb to the corn, like cilantro or oregano - but it really doesn't need it, and I was too lazy to rinse and chop herbs today.

Serves 2 - 25 minutes

1 T margarine
1 small onion, diced
1 jalapeño, ribs removed and diced
2 C fresh corn (2 cobs)
2 eggs
2 T milk (or water)
Salt & Pepper
1/4 basic tomato (Pomodoro) sauce
2 T shredded cheddar cheese

Hot Sauce for serving
Heat oven to 425F.
1. In an 8" cast iron skillet, heat margarine over medium heat. Saute onions for 3 minutes. Add corn and jalapeño, stirring for 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt & pepper.

2. Whisk eggs and milk together with a fork and add to the pan. Stir everything together quickly so the whites don't separate. Remove from heat.

3. With a teaspoon, drop dots of tomato sauce onto the top of the mixture, reserving the rest of the sauce for serving. Sprinkle with a few shreds of cheese.

4. Bake at 425F for about 15 minutes, possibly longer if you've used a smaller pan or increased the recipe, because the mixture is deeper and may take longer to cook through. If you shake the pan side to side and the eggs don't jiggle in the middle, and they look puffy and stable, it's probably done - but you can always make a cut in the center to check.

5. Serve drizzled with tomato sauce and/or hot sauce.

*Basic tomato sauce:
Use whatever leftover tomato sauce you have on hand from pasta or pizza, such as this one I make often:
Saute garlic in olive oil for a couple minutes and add a can of tomato sauce or canned diced tomatoes (drained), or both. Season with salt, and chopped basil if desired. If using diced tomatoes, puree the sauce after simmerimg about 10 minutes.

Cumin Spiced Sweet Potato Homefries
Sweet Potato, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Cumin (ground)
Salt (preferably Grey Sea Salt)

Heat oven to 425F. Drizzle oil on a baking sheet and arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle very lightly with cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Bake until browned and tender, about 15-25 minutes. Flip them a few times to brown evenly.

Sweet Maple Carrots with Cranberries & Toasted Pecans

Sometimes I forget that carrots are good for anything besides soups and crudité. One night I found that they were all we had left in the crisper drawer, so they became a side dish. With a few sweet and crunchy ingredients to dress them up, they were almost like eating dessert for dinner!

Sweet Maple Carrots with Cranberries & Toasted Pecans
4 servings

2 C carrots, sliced
1/4 C orange juice
2 T dried cranberries
1 T maple syrup
2 T brown sugar
1/8 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 T butter (*use Earth Balance or omit for vegan)
1/4 C toasted pecans

Boil carrot slices about 15 minutes until tender, and drain.

In a saucepan, heat juice, cranberries, maple, sugar, and nutmeg until dissolved together and cranberries plump. Whisk in the butter and add the carrots. Stir over low-medium heat until liquid evaporates and carrots are glazed.

Top with toasted pecans.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cranberry Bean and Sweet Potato Stew

I've had my eye on cranberry beans since the fall. I have yet to try shelling and cooking them from scratch, but I just spotted them in Stop & Shop a few weeks ago in a can labeled "Roman Beans". Same thing. Identifiable by their light tan color and red spots.

Like any new item, I just buy it and ask questions later. I've been googling "cranberry beans" here and there over the weeks, waiting for just the right idea. During our ski weekend at Windham, my friend made both a lentil soup and a Syrian stew. When my friends made plans for a future dinner, both were mentioned again, and I realized PEOPLE LOVE SOUP. Yeah, I already knew that.

For the Roman bean stew, I started with a recipe I found for Porotos Granados, a Chilean stew. I used sweet potatoes instead of squash for an earthier flavor. It came out very hearty, like a thick vegetarian chili, without the chili powder.

The cranberry beans actually end up looking and tasting kind of like a kidney bean. The corn is key too - it gives some crunch to balance the tender potatoes and beans. The flavors mix together even better over a couple days, so you could easily make this a day or two ahead of serving.

Cranberry Bean and Sweet Potato Stew
4-6 servings, approx. 1 hour
1 T margarine or butter
1 T olive oil
   *for vegan, omit butter and use 2T olive oil
1/2 C (1 small) onion, diced
2 T (3 cloves) garlic, minced
1 T paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
3 plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 15.5 oz can of Roman Beans drained and rinsed (or fresh pre-cooked cranberry beans)
3 C vegetable stock
2 C (1 large) sweet potato, peeled and chopped into 1" cubes
1 C corn kernels (preferably fresh)
1/4 C fresh basil, chopped
salt & pepper

1. In a stock pot over medium heat, sauté onions in butter and oil 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in paprika, cumin, oregano, tomatoes and beans - cook 3-5 minutes.

2. Add vegetable stock, sweet potato and about 1 tsp salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil, and then lower heat and simmer, covered, 15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

3. Add corn and basil, simmering another 5-10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Garnish with fresh basil and serve with crusty bread or toast.

Vitamin D & Sunshine

My husband just woke me from a dream I was having about smashing windows out of SUV's, walking down a hill through broken glass barefoot, and handing out fliers at a high school craft fair. He woke me up from my dreamy sleep in the dark bedroom to go sit in the bright East-facing guest room for a little while to drink the coffee he made me.

This is because Dr. George phoned me at 9:30pm last night (a Friday, mind you) to tell me to get 10 minutes of sun per day. After getting the annual lab results back, he realized no one had called me to explain a few flagged items. The very slightly high total cholesterol numbers, he said, were really not a problem at my age (must have been all that cheese!). But low vitamin D levels concerned him. That, and well, it seems my Hep B vaccine from 14 years ago "didn't take" or wore off... no big deal.

How could I not have enough Vitamin D? I take multi-vitamins and eat a variety of things rich in D! Dr. George told me I can take all the "sexy" vitamins I want, but they won't absorb unless I get at least 10 minutes of sun per day. This, from the guy who (only half-jokingly) offered to prescribe me Cialis for my honeymoon, and told my husband to drink red wine every day to lower his cholesterol (and trust me, each time the bottle opens he reminds everyone that it's doctor's orders). But facts are facts, no matter how silly they seem.

I guess there's a scientific reason to why I've been craving a couple days at the beach. I wish he could prescribe me tickets to Jamaica!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Beet and Honey Chevre Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette

Honey flavored goat cheese was one of our finds at Fairway tonight. After a weekend of skiing and eating healthy, balanced out by a healthy serving of LOTS OF CHEESE, I'm back on a cheese kick. I kind of forgot about it for a while. Great. Just when I thought I was gonna lose some weight!

We had some fatty butter-drenched chive gnocchi that we found tonight, as well. One the side, I made a salad using the goat cheese, some pre-cooked beets, walnuts for protein crunch, and a vinaigrette featuring lemon to balance the oiliness of the heavy gnocchi.  We're looking forward to the leftovers of the salad, but I'm not sure how quickly the gnocchi will go away.

Beet and Honey Chevre Salad with Lemon-Basil Vinaigrette
Baby Spinach
Pre-cooked beets, sliced
Honey flavored chevre (goat cheese)
Walnuts, toasted

Juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4C)
4 large basil leaves
Olive Oil (about 1/4C)
Pinch of sea salt (preferably Grey Salt)
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 tsp Dijon Mustard

Prepare dressing by placing lemon juice and basil in a small chopper or food processor. Pulse to chop the basil finely. Add olive oil in an equal amount to the lemon, as well as salt, pepper and mustard. Pulse to blend. Taste and add more oil if needed, and blend again.

Layer spinach, beets, teaspoons of goat cheese and walnuts, and top with dressing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

I'm Gonna Write About Superbowl Food, Because Everyone Else Is...

I haven't really jumped on the Superbowl-Spread bandwagon this week, unlike most other bloggers, cooks and party throwers. That's because we're really not doing anything this year, so I haven't thought about it much... besides the fact that I have a small package of wings waiting to be baked and sauced, simply for my own personal enjoyment.

However, for YOUR personal enjoyment, here are a few simple ideas that might help you out today with your Superbowl spread:


Vegetarian Proteins:

Finger Foods:

 Kalamata Tapenade with bread or crackers

Friday, February 4, 2011

Acorn Squash, Parsnip & Green Apple Soup

I like using acorn squash instead of butternut sometimes, because it's just a little more manageable. Number one, it's smaller - which is better for just two people. It's also round and even in shape and thickness which makes it cook more evenly when roasting. It's flesh is a bit thicker, which means it's easier to scrape away the flesh after a lengthy roasting.

When making a nice thick winter squash soup, an acorn squash makes the work just a tad bit easier. This time I experimented with a trifecta of acorn squash, parsnips and green apples. I wanted to dumb down the squashy flavor and rough texture by using parsnips - they make a more velvety soup. However, their taste can be a bit overpowering with their bitterness - so I used the tart green apple to counteract that. I created an even gentler flavor by adding the cashew cream for a nutty component.

It turned out quite well, although I made a bit too much and should have frozen half of it.

Acorn Squash, Parsnip and Green Apple Soup (Vegan)
1 acorn squash
Olive Oil
½ C yellow or sweet onion, chopped
2 large parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
4 C organic vegetable stock
1 C water
1/2C cashew cream *recipe HERE
salt & pepper

1. Heat oven to 425F.

Wedges of squash ready to roast
2. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Rinse them in a strainer to remove the strings, and set them aside on a paper towel to dry. Cut the squash in half again to create wedges. Place in a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour until tender all the way through. Cool for 15 minutes before scooping out the flesh.

Roasted squash
3. In a soup pot, heat 1-2T of olive oil and add onions. Cook over medium-low heat until softened. Add the parsnips, roasted squash, stock and water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes.

4. Add apples and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and puree until smooth using an immersion or standard blender.

5. Stir in cashew cream and season to taste with salt & pepper. Start with about 1 teaspoon of salt and 15 grinds of pepper and taste and season from there. 

Garnish with diced apple, toasted nuts or squash seeds. Serve with whole wheat toast for dunking.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Curried Cashew Burgers

They're not exactly a quick and easy weeknight supper, but these Curried Cashew Burgers I just made were pretty awesome. Maybe the texture inside was a little too smooth - some chunks of veg would add some texture- but overall the flavor was great. The red lentils work so much better than the beans or oatmeal I have tried in the past for making patties. Cashews make them tasty and filling.

I also messed up the Raita a bit because I didn't have limes and used lemon. Then I misread the recipe and put about 1/4 C of lemon where it called for 1 Tablespoon. That makes an already sour Chobani plain yogurt VERY tart. Plus I can not find mint anywhere and had to use cilantro. But it was fine once it mixed together with the bread and burger. My husband put the thin chip-like potatoes inside too, for some crunch.

Get the recipe from EATING WELL.

P.S. Pair this curry flavor with a smooth and casual Garnacha wine, like Evodia Old Vine Garnacha. Enjoy it while you make someone else clean up the mess you made while concocting these patties.

Mediterranean Chick'n Pockets

I've had this roll of Pillsbury crescent rolls kicking around the fridge since the holidays. I've been mulling over what to stuff inside of them as a meal. As I was stocking up on yogurt and milk before the ice storm, I noticed some Feta on the dairy shelf of the convenience store across the street. They have a randomly stocked dairy case, which ends up highlighting items I'd otherwise pass over.

I'd forgotten all about Feta cheese - and they had a sundried tomato and herb flavored version. So I brought it home to stuff inside crescents with other appropriate Mediterranean ingredients, along with some diced up Gardein Chik'n.

It turned into four beautiful, golden, fatty pastry pockets containing a counter-balance of healthy vegetables and protein inside. However, my husband took one look at the singular pocket on his plate and said, "So, what do we eat this with?" To which I replied, "What the heck do you mean? It's a meal in a pocket." Silently and sarcastically I thought to myself, "A fork, dummy". Maybe it was not the flavor explosion he looks for in every meal (yeah - he wanted to put barbecue sauce on it) but I thought it was a perfectly satisfying meal that took relatively little work to throw together.

Mediterranean Chik'n Pockets
40 minutes, 4 pockets
1 roll Pillsbury crescents
2 Gardein Chik'n cutlets, diced
1 clove Garlic, minced
1/4 C onion, chopped
1T-2T sundried tomatoes, diced
1/4 C marinated artichoke hearts, diced
3-4 C fresh baby spinach
3 T grated parmesan cheese
1/4 C crumbled Feta cheese (seasoned is best)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Dried Oregano
2T milk

Heat oven to 375F.

Prepare filling: 
In a skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and add onions and garlic. Cook until softened and add chik'n, tomatoes, and artichokes. Add spinach by handfuls, stirring, until all are wilted. 

Season with salt, pepper, oregano and cayenne as desired. Remove from heat and stir in the Feta and 2T of parmesan. 

Fill pockets:
Roll out the crescents onto a sheet pan and separate into 4 rectangles. Press the cut edges of the triangles together to seal. Stretch them gently wider with your hands so they are somewhat equal in size. 

Divide filling into four parts, piling in the center of each rectangle. Lift one short end of the rectangle and pull it over the filling, pressing the edges closed with a fork. 

Brush the tops of the pockets with milk and sprinkle with the leftover parmesan. 

Bake for 15 minutes until golden and puffy.

*The same could be done with storebought pizza dough, for Mediterranean calzones
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