Friday, September 30, 2011

French Green Beans with Herbs

Its so easy being a french green bean!
Oh boy it's haircot verts! Skinny mini grean beans that are so cute, I want to make clothes and hats for them. Unlikely I ever will because who has that kind of time? Guess I'll have to dress them up with butter and herbs, that's about as fancy as I get.

Haricot verts, aka french green beans, are in season right now along with their thicker counter part, good ole regular green beans. Green beans hold a special place in my vegetable heart, being they are one of the few vegetables I've always loved. Of course I used to only eat green beans when they were smothered in cream of mushroom and had crispy "onions" on top, but now I even eat green beans without the casserole. Not that there is anything wrong with green bean casserole, still being one of my favorites at Thanksgiving. Though now I'm just as happy eating green beans steamed, no cream needed.

I looked at a few different recipes for cooking haricot verts with herbs and they all looked as if they used roughly the same method. Par boil, place in ice bath, cook onions in butter, add the beans and finish with herbs. As far as the herbs go, if you have an herb garden use all the herbs I added. Each herb adds a nice flavor, but don't feel required to use every herb listed below, especially if you fear any unused herb is likely to be trash bound.

For me learning to cook is about being conscious of my food choices. So buying 5 different fresh herbs, using a tablespoon of each and then trashing the rest, is not what I call conscious eating. If you have a plan for the rest of the herbs, rock on, go get a satchel of each; but before you go to the store, think about each item you are buying and what you will be using it for. The waste in this country is frustrating, mostly because people don't think to care. Of course it's annoying to plan all your meals. Food is precious, but the wasteful path we as a society our on is not sustainable. So why not start thinking ahead? Everyone has their own unique excuse of why they "just don't have the time". Food, in one way or another, is essential to most living things survival. Food is literally life, why not treat it with the respect it deserves?
Well that turned it to a bit of tangent, but I hope you think about the ideas behind it. Sometimes I feel discouraged about the future and about the lack of foresight I see in humanity. One meal at a time I suppose.

Getting back to green beans, feel free to use the herbs you have. I used parsley and chives, because those were the only two healthy boyfriend could find at the market. Listed below are all the recommended herbs, but my previous paragraph said enough about using herbs the smart way. This is simple way to serve green beans if you are having guests and want something that looks fancy, but is easy and quick. Cooking the onions first gives them time to caramelize, which obviously adds a light sweetness to the dish. In general I don't go to this much trouble for beans, being happy to eat them steamed, but now I have a go-to side for future dinner guests. Now I just need more guests.....

This recipe is adapted from a few different sources and can be used with traditional green beans. But remember if you get french green beans you can practice saying "Haricot Verts" in the most ridiculous french accent you can think of. Worth it.

French Green Beans with Herbs

The Goods: Serves 4 as side dish
1 pound thin green beans (haricot verts) trimmed
1/2 cup red onion, diced
3 tbsp butter or earth balance
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh chives, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
Lemon Wedges (optional)

The Deal: 

1. First we blanch (a fancy way to say boil, chill and slowly reheat vegetables): Bring large pot of salty water to a boil. Fill a large bowl of ice with water. Boil the beans for 2-3 minutes until tender but still crispy. Quickly remove beans with slotted spoon and plunge into ice bath to stop cooking and retain the color. Pat dry with cloth or paper towl.

2. In a large saute pan heat butter on medium high heat. Cook onions until translucent about 3-5 minutes. If you desire the onions caramelized cook an additional 2 minutes until lightly browned. Add the green beans, tossing to evenly coat with butter. Cook until tender about 4-6 minutes.

3. Add herbs, salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Cook for an additional minute.

Serve hot with lemon wedges on the side if desired. Eat with your fingers if extra sillyness is needed.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cheese Straws

Cheese, Basil, Puff Pastry. All I can ask for.
Growing up in Winston-Salem meant a few odd things. In the middle of downtown there is a giant bank that looks like a penis, we are the only city in the country that has a hyphen in our name, and we have a mini historic town, Old Salem, that makes the best damn cheese straws in the land.

Old Salem is a town, roughly the size of a mall, purposefully frozen in time. So us future looking folk can get a feel of how products were made before electricity and see people in funny old timey clothes.
We had to go every year in elementary school, and while the history was interesting and it developed a fairly serious love of the bonnet within me, the memorable part was the cookies and cheese straws.
If you have never experienced a moravian ginger cookie, than your mouth is shedding a tear right now. Not drool, they are tears. The cheese straws are little sticks of crack, and it was not uncommon for a box of those straws to disappear in our house in one evening. Even if the only person home was me. Oooppps.

What drew me to this was the simplicity. Well obviously it was the cheese that called to me, but simplicity was a close second. The only thing that takes some thought is defrosting your puff pastry. Making sure they cook up flakey and delicious, you cannot rush defrosting. There are many variations, if you want to add cayenne to spice them up, different herbs or seeds to deepen the flavor, there really is no end to what you can do. To defrost puff pastry you can leave it in the fridge overnight (at least 8 hours) or sit it on the counter for an hour or so. It should be soft, but still cold.

As far as puff pastry, Martha Stewart doesn't even make her own. If Martha doesn't, neither do I. Essentially this decadent dough, consists of pastry dough wrapped around a block of butter and folded slowly over many hours, which creates light buttery layers. Sure that sounds like what I imagine heaven to taste like, but who has the time to make it? The french, thats who.

I use pepperidge farm puff pastry, but hope to find a better alternative. Pepperridge farm uses HFCS, which I prefer to keep out of my body, but am limited by the options available. Trader Joes has a great puff pastry, as does whole foods, though the price difference at whole foods is noticeable.

If you are looking for something to serve at a party, or need an appetizer that is simple yet fancy, look no further. These puppies are it.

Cheese Straws

The Goods: Serves 6-8 as appetizer
1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated (Use a food processor for quick grating)
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
A good dash of sea salt and fresh ground pepper

The Deal:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Be sure you puff pastry is fully defrosted and fold out onto a smooth surface. If it cracks, pinch the cracks together and use a rolling pin to smooth out into a 10 inch square. Evenly sprinkle cheese, basil, sesame seeds, salt and pepper on the pastry. Using another sheet of parchament, place it over the pastry and use your rolling pin to gently press the cheese mixture into the pastry.
The dough and cheese before slicing and baking
3. Cut into thirteen 3/4-inch-wide even strips. Holding opposite ends of the strip, gently twist the pastry so it forms a twirl, then transfer to the parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining strips. The cheese mixture many crumble off, no worries, just place the twist on the baking sheet. Once you have twisted all your sticks, press any cheese into places that lost some. They do not need to look perfect, in fact a few of mine split in half. A little twist goes a long way.

4. Place baking sheet on the upper rack of your oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Reverse the position of the baking sheet to the lower oven rack halfway through. Remove from heat and serve warm.

They will keep in a airtight container for 48 hours, but are best served hot. Let cool completely before storing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Butternut Squash Soup

 I heart soup.
Food has a way of comforting my soul. A warm bowl of soup on a cold frustrating day slowly slides down every limb, filling me with a calm I cannot find anywhere else.

In the unforgivably frigid winter months in Boston, I lived on vegetable soup. I wanted it every night, with crisp buttery toast or saltines. Of course back then I ate Campbell's vegetable soup and would pick out the "vegetables" which are barely anything but mush and HFCS at that point. Though when you desire soup, nothing else will do.

This past Saturday I felt miserable. Mistake number one was going to the farmer's market before I'd had coffee or eaten. After about 15 minutes of shopping, I started to feel dizzy and hateful of all things that weren't coffee. I scarfed down a breakfast sandwich from a local vender and begrudgingly sipped on some watery suck ass coffee, but still my head ached and my body yelped to stop moving.

Determined to buy new fall vegetables, I spent more time than I should talking and buying from the farmers, finally taking myself home to rest. And by rest I mean clean, recipe plan for 2 hours and grocery shop some more. Finally around four o clock I forced myself to lay down, but only for a bit because I had promised healthy boyfriend a fresh local meal prepared by yours truely.
Hey squash, looking pretty cute. 
After cooking for about 2 hours, I felt a bit better, though still grumpy and nautious. Healthy boyfriend called to inform me he was running late. Frustrated but trying to keep calm, I finished most of the dishes and was thankful I chose soup, because it smelled happy simmering in its pot. An hour after the initail late call, I recieved a text he still had not left. My mood was edging towards passive aggressive land which equals a no fun evening all around. It never feels good to spend a long time cooking and have someone show up late. At the same time, I did not fall in love with healthy boyfriend for his being on time skills. When he arrived he knew I was pissed, the oversized kale chip on my shoulder made that clear.
Luckily within the first bite of this soup I felt better. I could feel the silly frustrations melting away, and all that was left was a rich butternut taste.
You did it again soup. Well done.

This is the first, of what I imagine will be many butternut soup recipes. Different herbs, perhaps an apple or pear, and homemade broth can transform a soup. Butternut squash is another vegetable peaking its large penis shaped form out of baskets on every table at the markets. This squash is available for most of the winter, and the hardest thing to do is slice it. I try to buy smaller squashes, because the 2 pounders require the muscle of healthy boyfriend. Im not saying Im weak, but those squashes don't play.

Most traditional butternut soups add cream or buttermilk at the end, making it even creamier. I did not include this step because I was curious to see how it tasted without the cream. Fan-squash-tastic is how. Im sure the cream would enhance the flavor, and I'll try it one of these days, but for now I'm happy leaving the cream for my coffee. I believe the rice helped add starch and a richness to the soup that usually comes from cream.

Anyone can make this soup, and I encourage everyone to get their own penis shaped vegetable, make at least 3 inappropriate jokes, and then simmer away.

I forgot to use the parmesan, so it is not pictured below. I FORGOT to use cheese, thats how annoyed I was. Anyway Im sure it's delicious, I enjoy licking parmesan straight out of my hand, so no doubt in this soup it's nutty and rich. I did use the kale chips I made the same night, which added a nice green to this orange soup. A good one to keep in mind for halloween.

This recipe brought to you from a few sources. Part Jeanne Lemlin's Vegetarian Pleasures, Part America's best test kitchen family style, and part me!

Butternut Squash Soup
B Soup with Kale "Chips" or Kale-tons?
The Goods: Serves 4-6
2 tablespoons butter
2 medium onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, minced
A good dash of nutmeg
6 heaping cups (about 2 1/2 pounds) butternut squash, peeled and diced
8 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white basmati rice
1 teaspoon salt
A few good dashes of fresh ground pepper
Freshly grated parmesan

The Deal: 
1. Heat butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until onions are golden, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Stir in squash, rice, thyme, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and bring soup again to a boil, stirring often. Reduce it to a simmer and cook it about 35-45 minutes, until the squash and rice are very tender.
Must use a big pot.
3. Once ready, puree the soup in batches (careful not to fill up your blender, hot liquid expands) in a blender or food processor. Return pureed soup to pot and keep on low heat until ready to serve. Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese, and additional nutmeg if desired.

This soup will keep for several days, though it made need additional broth when reheated on the stove.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Kale Chips

Oh chips. How I love the crispy, salty, no nutritional value chip. I don't know if I've met a chip I didn't like. My stomach on the other hand, has meet plently of chip binges it did not appreciate. Though I enjoy plenty of sweets, it's my salt tooth that often wins in the late night naughty snacking battle. While healthy boyfriend craves ice cream, I dream of flavor blasted goldfish, sour cream and onion chips, and cheez its. I must find a way to control my need for salt, while also finding healthy recipes that curb the ever present craving.

Now begins my exploration of vegetable chips. I've read a lot of recipes, so I decided to start with one of the healthiest vegetables there is, KALE.
Such a rich green, and mine had purple stems.
There are websites devoted to this fall rockstar vegetable. Kale is like the valedictorian who is also good at soccer and volunteers on weekends. It's a super vegetable, you just can't believe how good for you it is. Especially because many people don't eat it often enough. Dark greens in general are great for you, high in magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and Vitamin A, E, K, and C. Kale is also full of fiber, folic acid and micro nutrients; clearly its just showing off now. Kale, and other dark greens such as broccoli and collards, get you the most bang for your nutritional buck.

If you want more info on kale, here is one of many wesbite that has additional information of this dark green beauty: Kale 4 Life!

It is important to buy organic or local kale if possible. It is one of the "dirty dozen" which are 12 fruits and vegetables that absorb the most pesticides, making them possibly unsafe even when washed. On the other end of the spectrum are the clean 15, fruit and vegetables that you can buy non-organic and not have to worry too much about pesticides. With all the research coming out about pesticides, more and more showing how harmful and unsafe they are for everyone and especially young children, its good to know what to buy organic and what can go either way. I know organic can be pricey, but it's worth it. Of course local is best and cheapest, but you are always limited by your location and season (As we should be, but most of us do not stick to the 50 mile rule). Especially pay attention if you are feeding babies or toddlers. There is research showing the pesticides they spray on food can damage neurological development. Yikes.

Currently I'm buying about eighty percent of my vegetables from the farmer's markets, and encourage everyone to do the same. Nothing better than buying local, supporting your local farmers, and getting food fresh. If you are unable to do this, try your best to pay attention to where your fruit and vegetables are coming from.

I keep a list of the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen" in my wallet so can refer back to it when shopping. To view and print out your own list, click here: Dirty Dozen and Clean 15.

Thank goodness I have a few blog readers because I am terrible at is reading blogs. Of course I do it, and have a few I read regularly, but I would much rather read a cookbook. In fact almost all the blogs I read are ones other readers suggested to me. This recipe comes from an amazing food website Two Blue Lemons. Click on the link to go explore this inspirational site. I've seen a few recipe for kale chips and been meaning to try them for months.
I want a dress made the color of kale. So. beautiful.
Currently kale is brimming baskets at the farmer's market so I will be trying several kale recipes. I bought some this weekend, knowing I this would be the first of many kale purchases.  I'm not nuts about the flavor, I would much rather eat green beans or broccoli, but I will persevere! Your body loves variety, so give it some new nutrients in a different package. Kale is a great fall/winter vegetable, and this particular bunch had purple steams, adding to its already vibrant color. Healthy boyfriend loves kale (why doesn't he just MARRY it?), though does not like it cooked with apple cider vinegar, which is fairly popular way to prepare it around Asheville. So I'll be searching for recipes that use other forms of liquid or flavor to make healthy boyfriend a happy boyfriend. I mean he is with me, so I suppose his happiness is kinda implied given my general super wonderfulness :)-

These chips had a suprising texture when cooked, they almost dissolved in your mouth. Picking up the first chip, I was reluctant to eat it. I want to like kale, but I still am getting used to the taste. I'm in a very eating this because I know its good for me, but not really enjoying the flavor place with Kale. I'll admit these chips were tasty! And what a fun color. Any autumn parties or potlucks should have a bowl full of these so people can munch something green and leafy. They were best hot, but tasted fine at room temperature.

So go on, buy some kale and try them out. You can give yourself a nutritional five when you finish.

Kale Chips
A bowl full of chips that are GOOD for you. Score. 
The Goods: Makes about 3-4 cups
1 bunch kale
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste, a good pinch of each

The Deal: 
1. Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

2. Strip the kale leaves from their stalks and tear into manageable chunks, but not too small. Wash the kale and drain in a salad spinner. You can also use a flour sack (or paper towels) and let dry out for 10 minutes. Try to get rid of as much water are you can.

3. Place kale on the baking sheets and pour the olive oil, sesame seeds, salt and pepper over the kale. Using your hands massage the oil and seasonings into the kale, being sure to evenly distribute the oil to all the kale nooks and crannies.

4. Spread kale on a baking sheet and bake for about an hour. Time varies depending on how much water is in the kale and how hot the oven is. Remove kale when all the leaves are crispy and crunchy. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Classic Cinnamon Buns

'Dem some good buns. 
Well I've been wanting to make these for quite some time. Below I will list the health benefits of these delicious buns. Ok there is....... now wait, they are loaded in........and lets not forget........ Dammit, they have no nutritional value at all. While chock full of happiness, these buns are severely lacking in any  vitamins or nutrients.
A friend of mine, Christine who is loves reading food blogs, showed me a similar recipe for cinnamon buns that just pushed me over the edge. Once I started reading recipes and saw how easy they were to make, I knew these sugary treats would be gracing my kitchen in no time.
Try to resist.....muahahahaha. ha.
The good news is they are so delicious you are guaranteed lots of friends and possibly even lovers. At least for the time it takes to eat them. The bad news is they should not become a weekly staple. I will definitely try to make these for every major holiday because they were just. so. damn. good. My mother has already been informed that we will be having them for breakfast Christmas morning.  I honestly couldn't believe I made them, they tasted better than almost any cinnamon bun I've ever had.
I am busy working on finding healthy seasonal recipes for the upcoming weeks, but an occasional treat is what lazy Sunday mornings are for.
These buns were surprisingly easy to make, and fairly inexpensive. Most kitchen pantries should have a lot of the basic ingredients, flour, sugar, butter, etc, and they only took about an hour. These are much better for you than those chemical filled junk traps you buy at the supermarket and the difference in taste is WORTH the extra time. I used organic sugar, unbleached flour, and almonds to try an add some redeeming qualities to this super indulgent treat, but again there is no way to get around they are mostly sugar, butter and flour.
Are you drooling yet? 
One each was more than enough for healthy boyfriend and I, in fact the overdose of sugar first thing in the morning left our bellies a bit grumpy. Next time I may have to serve them later in the day, my body is not used to that much sugar before noon. Not anymore anyway! That's growth baby!

If you are looking to impress, look no further. Colder weather is making its way towards us, bringing with it the instinct to snuggle with our loved ones and share a warm treat. Hope these sweet buns come to a kitchen near you soon!

Classic Cinnamon Buns
I know. I wish they were made of spinach too.
The Goods: Makes 8 large cinnamon roles

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup of raisins (optional)
1/2 cup almond pieces (optional) Walnuts and Pecans would work great

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for sprinkling counter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar

The Deal: 
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees. Generously coat both a 9 inch nonstick round cake pan and a wire cooling rack.

2. Make your filling: Combine brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, cloves, raisins and almonds if using, salt and then 1 tablespoon of melted butter together in a medium bowl until the mixture resembles wet sand.
Filling Mountain with a butter fall :)
3. For the dough: Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of melted butter together. Stir in the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon until absorbed (the dough will look shaggy and its suppose too), about 30 seconds. Turn the dough onto the counter and knead until smooth, about 1 minute.

Shaggy Dough
4. Press the dough into a 9 by 12 inch rectangle using your hands. This is a bit bigger than a sheet of regular paper. Brush the the dough with 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle the dough evenly with the filling, leaving a 1/2 inch border then press firmly into the dough. See pictures below.
I measured, super dork here
Spread filling, leaving a 1/2 inch border
5. Loosen dough with a bench scraper, or your hands. Starting at a long side, roll the dough, pressing lightly to form a tight log. Pinch the seam to seal. Slice the dough into 8 pieces and place in the prepared pan. Brush with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Bake until the edges are golden brown, 20-25 minutes.
Roll dough firmly
Place 8 rolls in a pan and brush with butter
6. Use a knife to loosen the buns from the pan. Flip the buns onto the prepared wire rack, then turn upright an let cool for 5 minutes before glazing.
Baked Buns! Yums!
7. For the glaze: Set the buns over a sheet of newspaper. Whisk cream cheese and buttermilk together in a large bowl until thick and smooth. Slowly stir in confectioners sugar over mixture until smooth. Spoon glaze over warm buns. Serve warm.
Place cooling rack on newspaper, for easy clean up :)
These are good next day, but not AS good as hot out the oven.
One bite just isn't enough

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Roasted Fall Vegetables

So cute.
Fall is here! Which means fall colors, in all their vibrance and rich earth-tones, reminding us that every end means a new beginning. Crunchy leaves, pumpkin pie, and stained-glass landscapes make this season magical. Luckily the farmers markets are open until November, so we still have plenty of time to enjoy the autumn harvest!
The season's colors even come out in the FOOD: orange squash, purple potatoes, red onions, and dark green kale; everything at the farmer's market screams fall!
I mean this could be a painting..a delicious painting....
Last week at the market I spotted this adorable (albeit phallic) butternut squash and just had to have it. Good local vegetables need little more than heat and oil to become delicious. I am a fan of roasting vegetables, but you can always sauté them in a pan. This recipe is just vegetables I happened to see while walking around; just use what is local in your area. The dressing is a local-made Greek-style dressing that makes all vegetables super crazy yummy, but again, use what you have. Like I said above: think simple. Olive oil, a little vinegar, and a fresh herb or two can go a long way. You never want to overpower the dish, what I like about this Greek dressing is that it isn't overpowering. The dressing gives the vegetables enough oil to keep them moist, but you still taste the natural flavors. Do not miss out on all the incredible root vegetables in season right now. As the “storage bin” for a plant’s nutrients, root vegetables are powerhouses of vitamins, phytonutrients, and complex carbohydrates. (curious about root vegetables? Click that last sentence!) This dish, or any roasted vegetable is as easy as it gets, and will please vegetarians, vegans and meat eaters alike. Go do it now! Now, I say!

Roasted Fall Vegetables
Not as colorful once cooked, but the flavor pops!
The Goods: Serves 2-3
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into bite sized pieces
1 large red onion, sliced into eighths
3-4 medium red and blue potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite sized pieces
1 tablespoon of Greek Vinaigrette, (olive oil and balsamic vinegar works too)

The Deal: 
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. While you're waiting, place all your vegetables in a large bowl with the dressing. Mix well to coat evenly adding more dressing if needed.
They are all dressed up! Someone stop me.....
2. Place all your vegetables on a large baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the onions are lightly browned and a fork is easily inserted in all the vegetables. Rotate the vegetables at least once to ensure even baking. 

Serve warm over rice, couscous, quinoa or just eat straight. Vegetables 4-EVA!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tofu "Chicken" Salad

Creating an healthy inspired lunch can feel as if Im trying to sleep on jello; exhausting, funny, but mostly confusing. I am having a serious no salad phase, for no good reason besides I have no desire to eat one. Or the energy to make a good one. Salads come and go with me, there are months I can't get enough, and then large chunks of time where I barely want to look at one. I long for the time in my life where I crave salad every day, where my hunger for rabbit food overrides my desire for bread and cheese. Probably referring to salad as rabbit food doesn't help my cause. Dammit.

What I am currently craving is chicken salad. ALL. THE. TIME. I think once a day I have a food day dream about it. As we all know, thats not the really the type of salad that makes for a healthy body. Its not the gross kind at a regular supermarket, but they light mayo rotisserie chicken salad at our organic markets that barely have anything but mayo, herbs and chicken. Dammit. Now I want one, thanks ME.

As always Jeanne Lemlin, author of my favorite Vegetarian cookbooks, to the rescue. I swear if I ever
meet her I will need for hugging and crying on a perfect stranger to be ok. I just want to hug her while she makes me food and stokes my hair. Lets all be honest, we all feel that way about her. It can't just be my Mom and I, right?

I had seen a Tofu "chicken" salad recipe that I had been wanting to try for a while, and finally did. Welcome to one of my new favorite staples. The damn tofu does taste pretty freakin close to chicken. Obviously not exactly, but the way you prepare it is clever, simple and makes a damn good fake chicken base. Then you can add the ingredients you love in your traditional chicken salad as you usually would, though next time I will probably try to make it more asian themed. The chicken is flavored with Braggs aka soy sauce, so I'm thinkin sliced orange, toasted sesame seeds, some food that is good at math would really make this salad sing. I like grapes and and any fresh herbs in my chicken salad, but everyone seems to have a a different favorite type of chicken salad. You must mix in what you feel is right FOR YOU :)

Actual in the kitchen time is only about 15 minutes, but you do need to let your tofu chill for at least an hour. If you try to make it warm it will turn out gross, so if you like gross stuff, then you shouldn't let it sit. The salad tasted best the first day I made it, but kept tasty for at least 3 days. I'm not sure how long it keeps, as always the sooner you eat something the better. Actually that is not always true, but it is for this, so there.

I planned to make my own mayo but simply ran out of time. Of course I only add enough mayo to hold the salad together, so its better to make your own, but not essential. Or maybe I'm just lazy. Serve on bread, or lettuce. I cannot say enough about how easy and tasty this was.

Be sure to get organic tofu without GMOs. GMO's are bad bad bad. Bad for the environment, bad for bodies, bad for land, they are evil and there is no law in the US requiring companies to label foods that contain GMOS. Here is site you can read all about them: NO TO GMOS!  Look for products that state they do not use GMOs especially products that use soy beans. Braggs liquid Amino Acids is a wonderful soy sauce equivalent for many reasons, including they do not use GMOs. I never use soy sauce any more, Im a Braggs girl through and through.

Tofu "Chicken" Salad
So yummy!
The Goods: Makes about 2 cups
1 package extra firm tofu, organic
1 tablespoon Braggs liquid Amino Acids (or Soy Sauce)
2-3 tablespoons mayo
1/4 cup grapes, quartered
3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon basil, chiffonade
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil (vegetable or canola is fine)

The Deal: 
1. Drain your tofu. Place your tofu in a kitchen towel (or paper towels) between two plates. Press out as much liquid as possible. The dryer the better. Once dry, place tofu on cutting board and finely chop into pieces about the size of small peas.

2. Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add tofu and shake pan to evenly coat and prevent from sticking. Then using a spatula move it around until it is evenly browned, which should take 8-10 minutes. The pan may start to smoke, that's fine, but keep the heat high and stir frequently.
Just starting to brown
Browned and coated in Braggs
3. When tofu is golden brown, drop the tofu in a bowl and drizzle soy sauce over tofu, making sure to toss well. Let cool for 10 minutes. Then refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour.

4. Stir in remaining ingredients and keep covered until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pizza Two Ways: Peach, Tempeh Bacon, & Goat Cheese or Margarita

Two different pizzas united to defeat bland flavor
Certain foods are a part of me. As much as I try to change my eating habits, more vegetables, less cheese and bread, I am atomically drawn to pizza. Many of my eating habits come from the foods I loved growing up, and I don't think there was a week in our house where we didn't have pizza. Compared to many normal American households, we ate fairly healthy, but my mother is a fan of cheese and bread. And in turn, so am I. Vegetables and healthy food were staples as well, as Mom was a vegetarian most of my childhood.

 My poor mother had a the most stoubborn daughter (that's me) when it came to eating vegetables. If it wasn't fried, smothered in cheese, or involving barbecue sauce I refused to eat it. Even when forced to eat vegetables, I would often go to the bathroom after dinner and vomit them up. REEEEE. DICULOUS. Thank goodness I had other good qualities, because I have no clue how she put up with me all those years. I was a terror at the dinner table. Not until college and traveling did I open my culinary mouth to all the remarkable tastes out there. I remember my mother came to visit me in Holland, where I studied abroad for a semester, and was shocked to see me eat food without knowing what it was. A mother's patience finally rewarded.
Holy peaches this was a good pie.
Margarita (with needed to be used mushrooms)

All that being said, it still feels wrong to go a week without pizza. Im always working on making them healthier, but I still like cheese on my pizza. I see those vegan almost all vegetable pizzas out there; well done to those who can eat them and be satisfied, but a pizza without cheese is like summer without strawberries. Now making my own sauce and dough, and using all vegetarian toppings does makes it healthier, but it's still no salad on a tortilla. Yes, I saw a recipe for "pizza" that was literally a whole wheat tortilla with a tablespoon of sauce, mixed greens and like 5 different steamed vegetables. Call me fat, but that AINT pizza to me. Thats a salad with a tortilla bowl. 

Margarita pizza is the most classic type of pizza, showcasing what makes a pizza great. Good mozzarella, quality sauce and basil, its all you need. I added mushrooms because I had some about to be wasted, as always better to eat it then trash it. 

The second pizza was possibly one of the best pizzas I've ever had. For someone who's eaten pizza almost every week for 27 years, thats SAYING something. Peaches, goat cheese and tempeh bacon, my mouth is literally mouth dreaming about it right now. Healthy boyfriend was skeptical, in fact said "Peaches on pizza? Really?" To which I replied, "Really!" and the rest was delicious history. He hates pineapple on pizza ( I know who IS this guy?) but he loved this peach pizza creation. Combined with the goat cheese and tempeh bacon, yall I am telling you, you NEED to make this pizza. You're mouth and happy tummy will thank you. 
Never thought you would make your own pizza crust and sauce? Well neither did I! Honestly it was cheaper than buying the same pre-made items, and just took a little time and effort. Dough does have to rise for at least an hour, but it only takes 10 minutes to make, so you can let it rise while preparing the rest of your meal. Use bread flour if you can, it has the most protein of any other flour, which makes a difference in the oven. All purpose will work, just not as well. Nothing was difficult, just needed a little forethought. If you are one for potlucking or cooking with friends, making your own pizzas never fails. Everyone brings ingredients, you prepare the sauce and crust, and viola, fun times ahead!

Pizza Two Ways: Peach, Tempeh Bacon, & Goat Cheese or Margarita

The Goods: Makes two 10 inch pizzas
1 recipe homemade pizza dough (see below) or store bought

Quick Pizza Sauce:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2-3 small cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
Crushed red pepper (optional)

12 ozs of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 large ripe peach, peeled and sliced 1/4
1/2 cup mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
4 slices hickory smoked Tempeh Bacon
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, chiffonade

The Deal: 
1. On medium heat, place olive oil in a large pot with garlic and crushed red pepper, if using. Saute until aromatic, about one minute. Add onions and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and simmer until sauce thickens about 20 minutes.
Sauteing onions

2. While you sauce is cooking, fry your bacon. Heat a dash of grapeseed oil in a medium saute pan on meduim high heat. When oil is shimmering, add bacon and fry until crispy, about 2 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool and then crumble. Begin to roll out your dough into two 10 inch round doughs. Be sure to make an inch border. Brush each dough with around a teaspoon of olive oil, being sure to get the edges. Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and place your cookie sheets or pizza pan in oven to warm.

3. Once your sauce is ready, remove from heat and let cool 5 minutes. To make margarita pizza, spread a thin layer of sauce over first dough, add mozzarella slices, mushrooms if using, and finish with parmesan. You will add the basil after the pizza is cooked. To make other pizza, spread sauce, then mozzarella, sprinkle peaches evenly, tempeh bacon, then finish with goat cheese.
Pizza One
Pizza Two
4. Place both your pizzas in the oven on pizza pans, or inverted cookie sheets. Cook for 12-16 minutes, rotating half way through to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat when crust and cheese are lightly golden brown. Sprinkle Margarita pizza with basil. Serve hot! But be careful of burning.

Simple Pizza Dough
The Goods: 
3 cups bread flour (all purpose will work), plus extra for sprinkling
1 teaspoon instant or rapid rise yeast
2 tablespoon olive oil, plus one teaspoon
1-1 1/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoon coarse kosher sea salt

The Deal: 
1. Combine the yeast, flour, and 2 teaspoons salt in a food processor or standing mixer. Turn the machine on and add one cup of water and 2 tablespoons of oil through the feed tube. Process for about 30 seconds, adding more water a little at a time until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If dry, add water a little at at time.

2. Turn dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few seconds to form a smooth round dough ball. Grease a bowl with remaining olive oil and place dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap or damp cloth and let rise in a warm, draft free spot until the dough doubles in size, 1-2 hours.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vegetarian Sandwich with Portabello Mushroom, Squash and Avocado

So delicious and good for you! 
Wouldn't you know some of the best ideas come when I get my crazy ass OUT of the kitchen. A few nights ago I asked healthy boyfriend to make dinner, because as much as I love to cook for him, sometimes I just want to sit down, read some YA fiction and drink a beer after work.

This particular evening I went running, which I'm very half-assedily trying to get back into, and I knew after my first run in months I would have cranky sore britches when I was done. So healthy boyfriend offered to prepare dinner, and I happily agreed.

Often when he makes dinner it's very simple and vegetable heavy. Which can be refreshing, but I do complain about the blandness of flavor. Of course when all I want is food, I try to keep my mouth shut about the particulars because someone making me food is always appreciated.
This time healthy boyfriend knocked my apron right off! Not literally, that was later. Me. Ooow.  Fa reals though; The ingredients and preparation was easy. The taste: SO. FREAKIN. YUMMY!

Sandwiches are one of my big weakness when trying to eat vegetarian. When I see club sandwich on a menu, my mouth begins to water. Turkey, ham, salami, OH the meats that make me forget the environment, animal cruelty, all my morals just for a delicious smoked turkey and havarti with a homemade aioli. Hopefully I can use this creation and others to curb the insatiable appetite I have for meat sandwiches. Huh huh....meat sandwiches.....dirty.... AND focus.

I tried not to add much additional flavor/spices to the vegetables, wanting to let their innate flavor shine. A little garlic for the zucchini and just a splash of balsamic to the mushrooms. I don't like when balsamic vinaigrette overpowers the flavor of a vegetable which is why I did not marinate the mushrooms, just splashed a little on to add a brightness to the already delicious taste of portobello mushrooms.

In the pictures, I cut the squash all wrong. Mind farts happen in the kitchen, so I just cooked them anyway. Cut the squash in thin strips because they lay better on the sandwich that way. Also be creative with your vegetables, these are suggestions, but use what you have. I do think the combo is dyNAmite, so if you can try this way first before tinkering with other ingredients. Obviously this doesn't really keep, so serve immediately.

Vegetarian Sandwich with Portobello Mushroom, Squash and Avocado

The Goods: Makes 2 sandwiches
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter or Earth balance
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2-3 small garlic cloves, minced
1 ripe haas avocado, peeled, pitted and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, diced
1 small zucchini, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 small yellow squash, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 portobello mushroom, cut into half inch slices
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Mayonnaise or Vegennaise
4 slices whole wheat bread
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)

The Deal: 
1. Caramelize ya onions. Place butter in a medium saute pan on medium high heat. Once butter is melted, add onions and stir to evenly coat. Saute stirring frequently until the onions begin to lightly brown 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and saute, stirring occasionally, reducing heat if they begin to burn.

2. Once your onions are close to being done, begin cooking the rest of the ingredients. On medium heat place 1 tablespoon of olive oil and garlic in a medium saute pan. Cook until garlic starts to smell delicious, about one minute, then add your squash, green and yellow. Saute on each side, stirring frequently, until browed about 6-8 minutes.
wrong cut, right colors :)
3. At the same time heat the remaining olive oil on medium heat in a small saute pan and add the mushrooms. Coat in oil then add a splash of balsamic vinaigrette and stir to coat. Saute, stirring frequently until a fork is easily inserted, about 6-8 minutes.

4. While your vegetables are cooking, toast your bread and spread mayo on the hot bread. If using sesame seeds sprinkle on squash a minute before you remove from heat.

5. Once all your vegetables are cooked, assemble your sandwich in this order: squash, avocados, portabello mushrooms, caramelized onions, and feta. Top it off with the second slice of bread and enjoy a healthy vegetarian sandwich that even meat eaters would love.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Caramelized Leeks, Tempeh Bacon, Goat Cheese & Basil Frittata

Frittata in the Hizzy! 
Another Frittata!  So simple and delicious, there is no end to the creativity. Saturday morning I woke up to my beautiful boyfriend who had come down with a case of the sniffles. He loves eggs, so I happily popped up and told him to stay in bed while I went to the farmers market to get healthy vegetables and local eggs to make us omelets.

Of course when I got to the market my brain started tinkering with other ideas, and I decided to make a frittata. I've been wanting to work with leeks for a while but been waiting until I could try local ones. Leeks are from the onion family, and since I have an obsession with caramelizing things I figured I should do that with leeks. There isn't much difference in caramelizing leeks and onions, except leeks have less moisture so may require a bit of water, to avoid burning. I added the basil, because Im trying to basil it up while I still can, anticipating the many winter months where basil is unavailable and/or super expensive.

The goat cheese and tempeh bacon where items I had in the fridge and both added a delicious flavor. In fact they worked so well I used both in a pizza I made on Monday(that post soon to come).
Leeks! Only use the bottoms, the tops are too tough
When cooking your leeks be sure to use a pan that works on the stove top and in the oven. Frittatas cook best when cooked both on the stove and oven, making sure the top bakes without burning the bottom. As always use ingredients you have and BE CREATIVE. Frittatas are a great way to use up eggs and vegetables that are headed for the trash can. They also sound fancy, while being easy as egg pie.

Caramelized Leeks, Tempeh Bacon, Goat Cheese & Basil Frittata

The Goods: Serves 3-4
6 extra large eggs
5-6 large leeks, leaves removed, white and light green parts thinly sliced
4 slices hickory smoked Tempeh bacon
1/4 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup basil, thinly sliced
2-3 tablespoons 1/2 & 1/2
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (olive oil is fine)
Salt and Pepper to taste

The Deal:
1. First you need to caramelize your leeks. Place 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Once butter is melted add your leeks and evenly coat with butter. Saute, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium low, and add a teaspoon or so of brown sugar. If the leeks are sticking, you can also add a splash of water. Saute leeks until lightly browned, 30-40 minutes.
Leeks part one
Brown and Caramelized
2. While your leeks are sautéing prepare tempeh bacon. Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed oil in a medium saute pan until the oil is shimmering. Fry your tempeh until browned on each side, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Crumble into bits. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

3. Once your leeks are crispy, start to prepare your frittata. Whisk eggs, 1/2 & 1/2, salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add goat cheese, basil and crumbled tempeh and lightly mix. Pour egg mixture into the leeks pan, then slowly move the eggs around to make sure they coat evenly. Once the bottom sets, place egg pan in the oven and cook until the top sets, 5-7 minutes. Watch carefully, a frittata is easy to burn.
Move the eggs around until a bottom forms
4. Once the top is set, remove frittata from oven and place on a plate. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.