Monday, December 30, 2013

Quinoa Adzuki Bean Veggie Burgers

My son, Ian, turned one in October. If you can relate, you know that the one year mark is a big turning point for many aspects of a kid's development. So many things change!

Daily life is quite different now. Instead of peeking over the kitchen island to see where Ian has crawled, I am chasing him on foot from cupboard to cupboard, as he explores. He's actually really good, at this point he understands commands and where he is and is not allowed. I have nothing to compare, but I'm told over and over that he's a very obedient and "easy" child. Lucky for me, anything more and I may have melted down long ago. You, with the "difficult" kids, must be a very special breed of hero.

No longer do I purée and strain batches of colorful veggies, fruits, beans and grains. Long ago, Ian demanded only flavorful concoctions, and lately has refused anything served on a spoon. In some cases this makes life easier: quickly cubing some cheese, slicing a banana or slicing an avocado doused in lime juice. And he requests all these items by name, or something close to it. I toss them on his tray and go about my business nearby. However, getting vegetables, legumes and grains into him has become a challenge. Being a growing vegetarian boy, these are very important food groups!

My answer to this problem has been burgers, or "ber-ber" to Ian. I started out with Trader Joe's falafel (freezer to table in under 1 minute) drizzled with tahini. I tried out a few ready-made products on him, and what he really loved were these great quinoa-adzuki bean burgers by Hilary's. I spread them with yogurt and a spritz of lime, and he devoured them. But, at $2-$3 a pop, quite an expensive little gourmet habit! At least I could eat what he had left over, because they are very tasty.

I set my sights on learning to make veggie burgers at home. It seemed like a basic procedure, so I started with my trusty-rusty Bittman book: How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. October was my test-kitchen month for eggless cake. November was all about the veggie burger. I followed the loose rules of combining beans+oats+flavorings, with an egg or slice of toast thrown in here and there to thicken it up. 

I started out with a basic black bean and cheese burger. Those went over real well, and I'll share next time I make them. My second batch, I went for imitating the store-bought quinoa burgers. Ian liked these very much. He would point at the plates of cooling burgers and say "ber-ber", or if he refused all other foods at a meal he would just point at the fridge and say "ber-ber, ber-ber!". Low and behold, microwave 10 seconds, and he would devour it in minutes.

This is still a recipe in work. I have tried it twice now, making some improvements. The first batch I sautéed and the second I tried baking to avoid oil, frying and standing to cook several batches. I do prefer the fried version, but baking is a good hands-off alternative for a large batch. Either way, you'll need some significant kitchen time, but the payoff is worth it. Pop these in the freezer and you'll have a nutritious finger-food meal in minutes for the weeks to come. 

Oh yeah, and to state the obvious, you can eat them too. There's nothing that makes them specifically toddler fare. My husband had taken a bite of Ian's quinoa burger one day and said, "hey, those are really good can we eat these too?" Of course, silly, they're veggie burgers not baby food!

Quinoa Adzuki Bean Burgers
approx. 20 small patties

2/3 C dry quinoa (red, white or mixed)
1 1/3 C water

1 C sweet potato, peeled and chopped

½ T olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño, finely diced (remove ribs and seeds)
¼ C plain whole yogurt
2 T lime juice
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
14 oz can adzuki (aduki) beans (low or no sodium), rinsed and drained
3 T whole wheat flour

For serving: lime, plain yogurt, sour cream. Pairs well with diced avocado, cucumber or tomato.

1. To prepare quinoa, rinse well and drain. In a small pot, combine water and quinoa with a dash of salt. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer, covered for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a pot of water, boil sweet potatoes until tender, about 15 minutes.

3. In a skillet, sauté onions in oil over medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes. Add garlic and cook 3 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

4. Reheat the skillet and add jalapeno, cooking 5 minutes. Set aside.

5. In a food processor, combine potatoes, cooked onion mixture, yogurt, lime and spices. Puree together.

6. Add cooked quinoa, flour and beans to the processor. Pulse to combine. If the mixture is too wet to stick together, add more flour, or some whole wheat bread crumbs. Fold in the jalapeno and pulse a couple more times to combine gently.

7. Refrigerate the mixture 10-30 minutes.

8. Form small patties to prepare for cooking. Refrigerate pre-made patties, or make them as you go.

9. To cook, pan fry or bake. To pan fry, heat 1 T olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Place patties in oil and press down, cooking 5 minutes. Flip, press down again, and cook at least another 5 minutes depending on the thickness. To bake, heat oven to 375F. Place patties on baking sheets (use parchment or cooking spray). Bake 20 minutes on each side, about 40 minutes total until firm.

*note: the smaller and thinner you make the patties, the easier they are to cook. Start with a donut-hole sized ball and flattening as you go, to 1/4" thick and 2-1/2 round, seems to work ok. 

Serve with your favorite toppings or salsa.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to Make Okra Burgers in 2 to 24 Hours

Mommy, Daddy and Ian all had delicious, freshly fried, Okra burgers today! Ian's favorite!

Flash back to yesterday morning:

I pick up a smiling toddler from his crib. He's saying "hi!" and handing me his frog toy. I bring him to his playpen in the kitchen and take Misty out on her leash to pee. But she doesn't go. So we come back in.

I set him Ian in his high chair, facing out the window, and he happily sips his milk. I make him a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter and strawberry-rhubarb preserves. He eats some, tosses some, and smooshes some in his hair. It's fine.

Then Misty begs to go out. Obviously she wants to do the business she didn't want to do the first time. She somehow escaped the yard two days ago and has been on lockdown, but considering Amit is around I let her out to see what she does. 

3 minutes later, no sign of Misty. She didn't even pee. She just bolted for the exit, the invisible exit we can not find. The inmate escapes the horrible prison of her loving home, once again. 

I haven't had coffee or gotten dressed, but I walk to the back of the property and see her on the other side of the fence. "Misty, come back, come on, let's play". She wags her tail, looks at me, and runs through the hole in the second fence. The neighbor's patio furniture obviously smells more interesting than me. 

I jump in the car and drive around to the other street, and she gets right in. Phew! Time for coffee.

Amit takes Misty out and finds a hole under part of the fence where she pokes her head out. So he blocks it with a log and we go about our merry day. Problem solved. Until I'm halfway through my breakfast at 10:30, and he exclaims, "oh shit, she's f'ing gone!" 

He drives, I call out, we can't find her anywhere. Finally he drives back in with her, as she'd been trapped in a yard with 2 dogs and locked gates with no one home. So we spent Ian's mid-day naptime trying to figure out where our crazy security-hacking dog breeched our perimeter AGAIN.

She was literally pulling leaves and dirt from under the logs against the fence and pushing her head through. It's hard to explain but she would dive right through feet of leaves under the fence (on a hille) and push out the other side. The leaves just close up again, hiding the evidence. More logs were laid, and she is under supervision going forward. 

So the Okra burgers I planned to serve for lunch yesterday did not happen. Around 1 pm I decided to prep the burger mix so we could have it for dinner instead. I chopped and simmered everything for a long time, and pulsed it all together to put in the fridge to cool.  

But, as the day took us, we never made it home for dinner yesterday. As usual it took us an hour to leave the house to run errands at Home Depot and Costco (btw this is life now). But we didn't make it THERE either. One of the car tires was making a bumping noise and we pulled over a couple times and called the tire place that just installed them and just headed there. After telling us to come, those assholes refused to look at the car and told my husband just leave it there till the next day. We would, all 3 of us, have to find our own way home tonight. 

Obviously he didn't leave it, but we were hungry and tired and closer to the in-laws house than ours. So we popped in for a surprise visit, and like King, Queen and Prince, were treated to royal dinner service without a moment's hesitation. Grandparents rock. 

Today is better, although it's become dreary and stormy. The troublesome car is fixed, and lesson learned to stay in the Oyster Bay/Glen Cove area whenever you need a good service of any kind (as opposed to the more crowded central areas of Long Island). People up here (North Shore folks) are much more laid back, tend to know their neighbors and have that kind of local relationship incentive that make them just so much fricken NICER. 

So around 1pm I started frying batches of Okra burgers. The mix holds up well in the fridge overnight, and there's no raw egg involved to worry about either. 24 hours after I started, and we finally got to enjoy the finished product.

Okra Pinto Bean Burgers

yields about 12  3" patties 

1 T vegetable oil
¼ C onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
*1 T jalepeno (no seeds) optional
*2 T roasted red bell pepper, finely chopped,  optional
2 C fresh okra, ends trimmed, cut into ¼” rings
1 C carrot, trimmed, cut into ¼” rings
15 oz can pinto beans (preferably no or low-sodium), rinsed and drained
1 tsp chili powder blend
¼ tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cayenne
¾ C water
salt & pepper to taste

1 C old fashioned rolled oats

vegetable oil for pan-frying

Toppings: yogurt or sour cream, lime or lemon juice, hot sauce

1. In a skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in oil for 5 minutes. Add garlic, and jalapeno, if using. Stir in roasted pepper, okra, carrots, beans and spices. The spice amounts given are minimal, up to 1 tablespoon of chili powder would be fine if desired.

2. Add ¾ C water and simmer, covered, over low heat for 45 minutes. Carrots should be tender and okra should be darker green and soft. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

3. Place the okra mixture in a food processor and add oats. Pulse to combine, leaving it slightly chunky. Cover and chill the mixture until ready to cook (30 minutes or overnight).

4. Heat 1 T vegetable oil in skillet over medium heat. Scoop tablespoons of the mixture and use a second spoon to slide the mixture into the oil. Flatten the patties slightly and cook about 5 minutes. Flip and flatten again, cook another 5-7 minutes or until firm and not squishy.  Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to cool Work in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.

Serve warm with toppings of your choice, over greens with vinaigrette, or in a bun with some pickles and such.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Where Did 2013 Go?

As 2013 comes to an end, I realize I neglected this little blog, Libra Loves. 347 posts over 4 years and over 35,000 hits. And then nothing. 

So many reasons:
1. Baby
2. Lack of sleep
3. Moved to a new house
4. Lack of energy
5. Lack of content or ideas (boring meals)
6. Useless shitty photos and bad lighting
7. Toddler

It was a rough and exciting year. So much happened. If days were 27 hours long, I may have gotten to a handful of posts. And I say handful because that's how many times I created something good, new or interesting worth writing about. To be honest, I make a lot of microwave meals now. Oh the horror of who I've become! 

I've had a few moments of inspiration and motivation, unrequited creative energy. And I just haven't gotten back on this horse quite yet. The closest I have been to sharing content was creating pinboards, yeah, lots of pinboards. I get sidetracked sometimes, and Pinterest doesn't require too much thinking.

And then, in November, my neighbors gave me a grocery bag full of persimmons from their tree. Whoa! Lightbulb! What to do with all these persimmons? Battle persimmon! What would an Iron Chef do? What would I have done a year ago? Must find ideas! Maybe start a new, better, brighter, more focused blog. I even selected a title, and wrote an about me section. 

...and then I waited for the persimmons to ripen... and waited... and waited. 

In December, I overcooked a beautiful Persimmon Cake

I never started that new blog. 

Here we are about to start a new year. There are many things I hope I have time to achieve going forward, including reviving Libra Loves. I think if I just start writing, good posts will come eventually, like when I started in 2009.

So here you go - I've started writing. Now I just have to come up with something interesting to share, so stay tuned!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Sweet Potato Chicken Mash for a Pup's Upset Tummy

It's not often Misty gets to partake of my kitchen handiwork. But, when she gets sick, she gets to enjoy the same home-cooking any other family member would benefit from.

Poor little Misty has more issues than any dog I know. In fact, she's more of a handful then our new baby, in some ways. We're talking about a pooch who's got her very own (very full) shelf in the medicine cabinet. She's had it all, from ear infections and allergies, to tick bites (ehrlichia) and montezuma's revenge (giardia).

Speaking of the latter, almost all dogs are going to experience some tummy trouble from time to time. The first thing my vet's office advises is to give her chicken and rice and call back in a couple days if she hasn't improved. Sweet potatoes and canned pumpkin are also good for the runs. And, from my own experience with Misty, you also have to make sure your little friend drinks plenty of water to replace any lost on her "runs" outside. Easier said than done, especially in Misty's case. Seeing her with a fluid injection (looks like a blobby hump on her back) once was enough to make me do anything to get fluids into her since.

Misty is also the only dog I know who could care less for food and treats. When we adopted her, she would eat on her own schedule, no matter what we did. Even if that meant eating once every two days. We tried scheduled meals, leaving food down for 2 hours at the same times every day. But she continued to starve herself. We had to, and still do sometimes, hold her food bowl up to her nose and coax her to please eat.

She's eventually gotten better about eating, but it has to be on her own terms. So we've become the people that leave the food out all day, and just gave up on stressing about her weird habits. She fits into our family so well in every other way, but she just doesn't enjoy food like the rest of us.

The one exception however, is fresh chicken. It's magical. So when she is feeling ill, she gets her very own fresh chicken to entice her to eat and settle her tummy. I've tried adding pumpkin and sweet potato in the past, but she will only pick the chicken out. I'm reading up on homemade baby food, so I must have purees overloading my brain. Why shouldn't Misty get her own "baby food"?

Misty has been having a tough time dealing with the bad weather lately, and to top it off this morning we had an emergency run outside at 5am that lasted 30 brutal minutes. As I cooked my own lunch, I decided to make her a special meal. I blended the sweet potato with the chicken so she couldn't separate the two. It worked awesome - she loved it so much. And she licked up every last bit of that sweet potato, since it was so intermingled with chicken she had no choice. So far, it's doing the trick and she's feeling much better.

Sweet Potato Chicken Mash for Dogs
makes 4-5 cups

2 large chicken breast halves (boneless, skinless)
1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 2" chunks
Pinch of salt

Heat oven to 400F. In a baking dish, place chicken and sweet potatoes. Season with just a pinch of salt. Cover with foil and bake 1 hour. Cool at least 15 minutes, and cut the chicken into small pieces.

In a food processor, add chicken, potatoes, a couple spoonfuls of the liquid from the baking dish and about 1/2 C water. Puree until well blended, just for a few seconds, to combine potatoes and chicken. 

Doggy sit! Serve with love!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Which Came First: The Chicken, Or The Deviled Egg?

I'm very behind on posting here lately. Life has been just too eventful, too busy, in both good and bad ways. But, I promised myself that I would post my new Chicken Deviled Eggs before Easter. So I'm squeezing in 15 minutes to quickly share this recipe I concocted back in January, for my "meet the baby" day.

Scroll straight to the recipe below, if you have as little free time as me. I won't be offended.

Friends who follow Libra Loves are always asking how can I possibly manage to keep the blog up. I must be pretty organized, pretty amazing. Truthfully, I don't feel amazing at all - I've hardly been keeping up! Now, when I do post, the turnaround from creation to publish is muuuuuuch longer.

In my pre-baby freedom days, I would spend time researching, perfecting, and experimenting with foods. Recipe and procedure would be noted simultaneously. As dinner time neared, I'd get out a fancy dish, maybe a few props (although not as many as I aspire to use). Food would be plated, photographed and eaten. Kitchen would be cleaned (or my husband would help). And then my lovely functional noggin would craft some sort of back story to be written up within the next day or so, and everything would come together on the blog rather quickly.

I'm already feeling long-winded, and precious time is slipping by as I write...

Long story short, posting takes much longer on a baby's schedule. I get 15 or 30  minutes to myself here or there during the day, which usually are used up taking care of my needs - eat, sleep, shower. Or Misty's needs - eat, walk, poop. Or cleaning the house, half a task at a time. So dinner is often something quick, easy, a tried-and-true standby, and prepared and eaten whenever the baby falls asleep (and stays asleep). Don't get me wrong, my husband helps a lot, and is the only reason I ever get to post at all.

I do get bored eating the same things all the time, though, and naturally I try to keep things interesting. Once in a while, I manage to muster creativity from my foggy brain, have an extra cup of coffee and skip a nap, and throw together something new. If we are not starving, and the baby isn't crying, I manage a quick unglamorous photo to remind me what I'd done. I forget things a lot these days, so I do try to write something down within the next day or two, about how I made the dish. And then, sometime in the next few weeks, or months, I upload the photos to my computer, eventually re-touch, eventually type up the recipe, and finally insert all components into my blogger form.

Unfortunately, long-story-short is not one of my strong skills.

The short story of the chicken deviled eggs is that I only set out to make a few snacks for an afternoon of visitors. I could have made normal deviled eggs, but I wanted them to be extra filling and healthy to make the most of a limited spread. So instead of packing them with mayo and yolks, I decided to fill them with chicken salad. Low carb, high protein finger food. They were a hit!
(I know you are curious - the other major snack was pizza-bites: small balls of dough filled with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Thus the eggs to balance out the hot, high-carb snack.)

Chicken Deviled Eggs
In short, these are simply hard boiled eggs, filled with finely chopped chicken salad using a little bit of yolk in the mix. You could take that idea and run wild with it, but I kept the ingredients simple and minimal to save time. This takes 30-45 minutes, depending on your egg-peeling skills (mine are not so good, but the fresher the eggs the more luck you'll have).

1 dozen large eggs
1/2 lb chicken breast, cut into strips
1-1/2 C chicken stock, or 1-1/2 C water with 2 packets of chicken bouillon (2 tsp)
1/2 C celery, finely chopped
1/4 C light mayonnaise
seasoning salt (Mrs. Dash)
salt & pepper
dried parsley or dill

1. Hard cook eggs: place in pan, cover with cold water and set on high heat. Bring to a boil, cover and then remove from heat and let set 15 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to peel. Cut each egg in half and remove yolks and set aside.

2. While eggs are cooking, bring chicken stock to a boil in a shallow pan or skillet. Add chicken, cover, and poach over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. When cooked through, remove chicken and chop into very small pieces.

3. Assemble chicken salad by mixing together chicken, celery, mayo, 4-5 egg yolks and seasonings to taste. Arrange egg halves on a platter and spoon the salad into the eggs. Garnish with parsley or dill. 

Refrigerate 1 hour, or until ready to serve.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Vegetarian Harira Stew

My husband requested chili last night. This means vegetarian (bean) chili like my mom makes every time we go to Vermont to visit. The objective tonight was something healthy and filling - in response to his elevated cholesterol, and our fatigue from overdoing it the previous night at dinner in Manhattan.

When I went to the pantry, all the cans that I thought were various beans were not. I had assumed that my "bean section" was full - but apparently the hearts of palm, coconut milk and chickpeas had migrated into the empty space. So my husband suggested, "What about that soup we had at Bodouin Tent one time?" (a Middle Eastern restaurant here in Brooklyn). It turns out the soup was Harira, and I have a recipe for that... and all the ingredients!

Vegetarian Harira is extremely healthy. There's nothing remotely bad about it, except maybe the salt. Chickpeas and lentils provide tons of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. The various spices have many positive health effects, and add deep, rich flavor. And tomatoes may be the biggest asset of all, with all their vitamins, folic acid and cancer-fighting lycopene.

This stew is best served with flatbread, but I only had sourdough rolls - which are the least healthy component of tonight's meal. I also served a simple salad of avocado with lime and salt for another health boost that helps lower bad cholesterol. All in all, the stew was a success. It was richly flavored, filling and healthy. This ought to balance out all the unhealthy choices of the day before!

2 small onion , quartered
2 T olive oil
2 ribs celery, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cardamom
¾ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
3 C Vegetable stock
1 14oz can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
3/4 C green or brown (French) lentils- rinsed
1 28oz can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
½ C cilantro

  1. Roast the onions, drizzled with a little olive oil, on a sheet pan at 425F for 15 minutes. Chop and set aside.
  2. In a stock pot, heat 2T olive oil and sauté celery 5 minutes, until tender. Add onion, garlic, spices, salt and pepper 2 minutes. Add stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil.
  3. Add chickpeas and lentils. Cook over medium-low heat 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Adjust seasoning as needed and add cilantro immediately before serving.

Brussels Sprouts and Clementines

My latest experiment: roasted brussels sprouts with clementines. It sure was pretty. I had this big box of clementines, so I threw one in the pan of sprouts just for the heck of it.

The verdict? Meh. Clementines get very bitter when roasted. Stick to lemons and you'll have a winner, but this particular seasonal citrus is a "nope", in this case!

Anyone have creative ideas for using up this box of clementines? 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Lemon-Chili Asparagus Spears

Sometimes a busy day doesn't hold much room for creativity. So you have to find unique ways to exercise your right brain. Just a small experiment or miniscule project each day helps battle the numbness of routine. Something as simple as adding a new spice to something plain, like a vegetable, can be enough to brighten up a quick dinner. It only takes 15 more seconds to add some flavor, so why not play?

One night this week, I made a hands-off, oven-only dinner, so that I could manage baby and other tasks while cooking. I decided to make it more interesting by spicing up some asparagus. It came out pretty good, giving it a little kick in contrast to the rest of my bland-ish dinner. I'd definitely do it again, as it may even convert my asparagus-hating husband to give it another try.

Lemon-Chili Asparagus Spears

1 bunch of asparagus spears, trimmed
1 lemon
olive oil
pepper (I used white pepper for more spice)
red pepper flakes
cayenne pepper

Heat oven to 425F. 

Trim asparagus and arrange on a baking sheet. Drizzle with oil and juice from 1/2 the lemon. Sprinkle as lightly, or as heavily, as you like with salt, pepper, red pepper and cayenne. Toss together. Top with thinly sliced lemon.

Bake 15-20 minutes until tender.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Roasted Zucchini with Capers

Tonight we ate a very healthy dinner: mushroom barley risotto and roasted zucchini. I find that squash of any kind compliments risotto. It's also best if the side dish is cooked in the oven, since the stove top gets pretty busy with stock and the pot of risotto needing constant attention.

I decided to slice up a zucchini and bake it with some lemon and capers as an acidic contrast to the earthy risotto. It worked very well, especially with a dash of balsamic vinegar to finish. We polished off the whole pan!

Roasted Zucchini with Capers
2 servings

2 T butter (*use oil for vegan)
2 T onion, diced
1/4 tsp garlic, minced
1 medium-large zucchini (about 8" long), sliced into 1/4" thick rings
2 T capers
1/4 C lemon juice
olive oil
salt, pepper
2 T Italian seasoned bread crumbs
Balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 425F. Meanwhile, lightly saute onion and garlic in butter for about 5 minutes until tender. 

Spread the onion/garlic butter in a casserole dish and top with zucchini slices. Evenly distribute the capers and pour lemon juice over the zucchini. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Season by sprinkling a little salt, pepper and cayenne. Top with a dusting of breadcrumbs. 

Bake 25-30 minutes, checking tenderness with a fork. Turn heat up for the last couple minutes, or broil for 1-2 minutes. Serve with just a dash of balsamic vinegar. 
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