Friday, June 24, 2011

Great Escapes

This has been a long week. You know those weeks, something unexpected happens (and not in a good way) and then the week just never seems to end. Unfortunately I really let this week get me down and as the week draws to a close, its time I reflect on some of the things that have helped me through this week. 

 Yes, that is the pink panther in the background as our scarecrow.

1. Gardening. One thing I have always wanted but some severe bouts of poison ivy have kept me away from, is my own garden. That is something I have been truly blessed to have this summer. We are staying with Drew's parents this summer who have an awesome space for a garden and have graciously lent us some of their gardening space. Overall, our garden has done pretty awesome this summer and is finally starting to look like a real garden! We have two more plots around the one above that we tilled up and planted this week so we should have a couple rounds of good produce! Another awesome perk of being in the country: chickens, a.k.a. "the girls."

The Girls.

2. Cooking, of course. This week I had a pretty good go in the kitchen but one dish I want to highlight is the veggie potpie. This was my first attempt at potpie and it turned out pretty great. I have already been brainstorm ideas to perfect this pie but it definitely hit the comfort food spot. When things get stressful I tend to shy away from doing things I love but this is a perfect example of how doing something I love  really can lift the spirits. Fortunately for me, this recipe turned out well, otherwise this would be a different story right now.

3. Cooking Scrabble. This morning's activities included a game of scrabble with some coffee and homemade vegan banana bread. Perfect combo! Seriously, this game is awesome. This takes my love of scrabble to whole new level.  A perfect start to the weekend. 

So, it's true. I have a lot to be thankful for. Thanks to my friend, The Confounded Cook for inspiring me with his wonderful blog. I should also probably thank Drew for humoring me with a game of scrabble at 9 o'clock in the morning. Now, on to some bridal shower fun this weekend! 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Today Drew and I decided that instead of sleeping until the last possible minute before we needed to be somewhere, we would actually get up early and get something done. Now, I am not going to admit to what time we actually got up because for most people it is not early at all, but at this uncommonly early hour for me, I found myself wondering..."so what am I supposed to do now?" Of course I a can always resort to baking to keep myself busy so I decided to use some of my fresh rhubarb to whip up some rhubarb crisp. This is a seriously easy dessert (or breakfast) to make and it is so good. I tried a recipe from the Old Threshers "Sweet Tooth" cookbook from Mt. Pleasant, Iowa and it turned out great!

Now this recipe is anything but healthy but rhubarb does come along with some healthful benefits. According to EatingWell magazine, "a cup of fresh, chopped rhubarb delivers healthy doses of vitamin C, potassium and bone healthy vitamin K, for just 26 calories." This article actually does include healthy recipes and I will include one that I have tried below. The Oatmeal-Rhubarb Porridge is an excellent and extremely tasty way to start your morning.

If you have never tried rhubarb, please don't waste any time! The sweet tartness will keep you coming back for more.

Rhubarb Crisp

4 cups rhubarb chopped
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick margarine ( I used vegan butter)
1 cup sugar*
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
Vanilla ice cream, optional

Preheat over to 375. Grease an 8x8 baking dish. Melt butter and set aside. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb with the sugar, 1/4 of the flour and cinnamon and transfer the mixture to a baking dish. In a bowl, combine the remains of flour, brown sugar, oats and melted butter. Sprinkle the streusel over the rhubarb mixture and bake in the middle of the oven for 35 minutes. Let dessert cool and serve with ice cream.

* I have been wanting to substitute sugar for agave nectar in recipes but I am not sure how differently they behave. I took a baby step today and used 3/4 sugar and 1/4 agave nectar. I am sure it doesn't make much difference but it made me feel a little better to use a little less white sugar. The crisp still turned out just fine!

Oatmeal-Rhubarb Porridge

1 1/2 cups nonfat milk or nondairy milk, such as soy or almond milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup 1/2-inch pieces rhubarb, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar, pure maple syrup or agave nectar
1 tablespoons chopped pecans or other nuts, toasted if desired

Combine milk, juice, oats, rhubarb, cinnamon and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a oil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat, cover and cook at a very gentle bubble, stirring frequently, until the oats and rhubarb are tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in sweetener to taste. Top with nuts.

Friday, June 10, 2011

My old friend, the Food Coma

We all know the signs....fullness to the point of discomfort, lethargy, laziness, and a burning desire to take a looong nap. That's right, a food coma. And I have to say, I have been experiencing them entirely too much this past week. Usually you can equate a food coma to the aftermath of a Thanksgiving meal, but you don't often notice them in June. Or maybe you are just used to the feeling. I am beginning to think I was.

The past 24 hours I have pretty much been eating whatever I wanted, from a banana bread split (above), cheesy Imo's pizza goodness, to goat cheese spinach and artichoke dip with a side of beer. My old friends cheese and unhealthy carbs have been moonlighting a little too much lately. Honestly, I have been letting my diet slip to "treat" myself and I feel terrible. If I had any questions about trying my vegan diet before, they are gone. The side effects to my old diet are astounding and don't waste any time rearing their ugly head. In one week I have gained back all weight that I have naturally lost in the last month, drained my energy, and have been left with a feeling of absolute disgust after what I just ate. I am not saying I felt guilty about eating dairy, I literally felt disgusting. The worst part is, the feeling lasts for hours. Drew and I commented after downing an Imo's pizza that we felt terrible and we hoped we learned our lesson in eating food that we knew wasn't healthy for us. Lo and behold, the next night we were eating out and taking in whatever sounded good to us and we felt the worst we had in months. I think it is safe to say we have finally learned our lesson.

Being a vegetarian for four years, I never thought I had an unhealthy diet. I thought I was doing pretty good by not eating meat and cooking for myself, even if it was whatever I wanted. Maybe all I needed to do was add some more fruits and vegetables. Maybe this vegan thing is an extreme and I just needed to balance my diet better. Who knows. What I do know is that I now know what it feels like to feel awesome by a few simple diet changes and I need get back to that ASAP.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Spiced Mexican Corn

Today was a delicious food day in my world. So good, it brought me back to blogging. It has been a LONG time. There are really no excuses — I moved across the state and just sort of got out of the swing of things. So here we go.

The highlight of the day was Mexican Spiced Corn from Saveur magazine. I have just recently become acquainted Saveur and this is the first recipe of theirs that I have tried. I can't wait to try more! I have seen a lot of recipes for grilled corn, but this recipe was a little different. In this recipe, you cook the corn with the husks for an hour in boiling water. This recipe also called for some ingredients that were new to me, cotija cheese, ancho chile sauce, and epazote. On that note, this recipe also called for my first trip to a Mexican grocery store. I have to admit, I was a little nervous, but I went in with a list and probably had one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had at a grocery store. Here, I was able to find most of my new ingredients. Unfortunately, I forgot to refrigerate the epazote so it stunk up my place before I even got to use it. This was a huge disappointment. Even more disappointing, according to most online sources, there is no comparison when looking for a substitute for epazote. Some sources suggested Mexican oregano and baldo (whatever that is), and coriander seeds or leaves. So I decided to go out to my garden and do the best with what I had. I substituted 8 sprigs of epazote with about 5 sprigs of cilantro and 5 leaves of oregano. This seemed to work out just fine, granted I had nothing to compare it to.

The next new ingredient to me was cotija cheese. This cheese has a grainier texture than most cheeses. It has a slightly salty taste and doesn't really react to the heat — it softens but doesn't melt. The ancho chili powder compliments the cheese really nicely. It has a mild, sweet flavor. There was really very little heat to it. Over all the combination of ingredients creates an explosion of flavor in your mouth. Be sure not to forget the lime wedges. I did at first and the tang adds an extra kick when you didn't even think it was possible.

One more thing I would like to comment on before leaving you with this delicious recipe is that Drew and I are still moving in the vegan direction, but not entirely. For this recipe, we used vegan butter and vegan mayonnaise but obviously did not substitute the cojita cheese. In my opinion, there are just some flavors you just have to experience before you mess with an alternative. So we have been experimenting with our vegan options as much as we can, but are trying not to limit ourselves with experiencing other new ingredients as well. Alright, on to the recipe.

ELOTE (Spiced Mexican Corn)

Kosher salt, to taste
4 ears corn, in husks
8 sprigs epazote
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 1/3 cups crumbled cotija cheese
4 tsp. ancho chili powder
1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add corn and epazote, and cook (adding more water, if necessary) until corn is tender, about 1 hour. Remove from water and let the corn cool briefly.

2. Peel back husks and spread 1 tbsp. butter evenly over each ear, then brush with 2 tbsp. mayonnaise and sprinkle with 1/3 cup cheese and 1 tsp. chile powder. Serve with lime wedges.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Leaning into Vegan

I apologize for letting such a long time go by since my last post — not a very good start to a new blog. However, I have been making a lot of changes in my diet lately so I have had a hard time deciding what exactly to write about. One might say that changes in my diet would be the perfect thing to talk about. Oh well. Here goes.

Currently I am working at Barnes and Noble and, of course, one of the perks of my job is always know what the new great reads are. One book that really caught me by surprise was Kathy Freston's Veganist on the bestseller list! As a vegetarian, I have been interested in the vegan diet for a while but have still remained skeptical. The skepticism did not cease with this book. But it was a bestseller, and that intrigued me so I decided to check it out. I was hooked from the first page. I am almost finished with the book, but from the first few chapters I couldn't help but think, "why wouldn't I be vegan?!" Seriously, the health benefits are amazing. The first chapter is on losing weight and the second chapter is on the health benefit regarding cancer and other diseases. I don't want to get into a book review here, but it should be said that this book is an excellent resource for information on improving your health.

So, after much discussion and a little more research, Drew and I decided to give this vegan thing a go. Kathy Freston suggests "leaning" into the diet, and that is exactly what we have been doing. In a short clip from when she was on Oprah, she says it took her three years to be completely vegan and if she would have done it any other way, she probably would have giving up. We have been been a little lenient with ourselves when going out to eat, especially with Indian food, but we have also been experimental in trying meat alternatives. We were both a little hesitant with these but they were surprisingly tasty. Two products we have tried and enjoyed are Amy's California Burger and MorningStar Buffalo Wings. The buffalo wings aren't completely vegan but a step in the right direction. I was especially surprised by the buffalo wings. I have had veggie burgers before so that was no big deal but I haven't really gotten into the "fake meat" thing. The buffalo wings weren't exactly wings, more like buffalo chicken nuggets, but the flavor was there. And the insides looked as questionable as regular chicken nugget ;). We also love bean burritos and have decided to try them without the cheese and sour cream. We noticed the sour cream being gone more than cheese but it was easy to substitute the flavors with more veggies so that hasn't been a problem. We have actually not really had a problem with substitution but have found it rather fun to experiment. And best of all, we have felt SO MUCH better. Drew has also been losing a noticeable amount of weight. I should add, at this same time we also decided to quit drinking coffee. That being said, we have still had a significant amount of more energy, which is a pretty awesome feeling. While being vegan obviously isn't for everyone, it's worth looking into. Do some research. I think Mario Batali says it the best:

"While we can't expect everyone to go vegetarian or vegan entirely, read Kathy Freston's new book, Veganist, and be surprised at how simply and amply you can benefit from just changing a few things in your daily intake. This is powerful stuff with long legs into our shared future."

I will end things here with a savory recipe from America's Test Kitchen, Southwestern Black Bean Salad.

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 scallions, sliced thin
1 1/2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chiles in adobe sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey
Salt and pepper
2 ears corn, kernels removed from cob
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large avocado, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tomato, cored, seeded, and chopped medium
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Note: Honey can be substituted for agave nectar. I also used frozen corn instead of taking it straight from the cob seeing as how it is still winter. I have made it before with fresh corn and while it is delicious as most fresh ingredients are, frozen corn is an equally tasty alternative.

1. Whisk the lime juice, 1 tablespoon of the oil, scallions chile, honey, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper together in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the corn and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer the corn to the bowl with the dressing and set aside.

3. Add the beans, avocado, tomato, and cilantro the the bowl with the corn and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Biscuits and Mushroom Gravy

Growing up, I loved biscuits and gravy. Unfortunately, in the midwest there is typically only one variation of this meal and it is very meat heavy, which doesn't bode well for my grown-up vegetarian diet. Drew and I finally decided to remedy this craving with a hearty mushroom gravy and homemade biscuits. I hesitantly put Drew in charge of the gravy and it turns out he is a gravy master. I was in charge of the biscuits and discovered that making biscuits is something to be achieved. They were delicious but as you can see in the photo, flat. If you can resist really kneading the dough, you will have discovered the secret to fluffy, flaky biscuits.

Betty Crocker Baking Powder Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk

1. Heat oven to 450˚

2. In medium bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in shortening, using pastry blender ( or pulling 2 table knives through in opposite directions), until mixture looks like fine crumbs. Stir in milk until dough leaves side of bowl (dough will be soft and sticky).

3. Place dough on lightly floured surface. Knead lightly 10 times. And I am very serious when I say need lightly. The dough should just barely come together. Much more than that and you will get very flat biscuits. They will still be delicious but who really likes flat biscuits. Roll or pat 1/2 inch thick. Cut with floured 2- to 2 1/4-inch round cutter (I used a cup). Place on ungreased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart for crusty sides, touching for soft sides.

4. Bake 10 to 12 minutes of until golden brown. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Serve warm.

On to the gravy. If you can get your hands on a flat gravy whisk, do it. Those things work wonders. Another product we found that worked very well is Gold Medal Wondra. I also suggest using baby bella mushrooms. They have a very hearty texture and give a very savory flavor to the gravy. We tried button mushrooms another time and it just wasn't the same. With button mushrooms, the gravy still had a slight mushroom flavor but the mushrooms seemed to just blend in with the sauce. This recipe really is very adaptable.

Drew's Mushroom Gravy

5-6 baby bella mushrooms
2 cups water
4 tablespoons Wondra
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups broth

1. Slice up mushrooms in 1/4 inch slices. Boil in two cups of water.
2. In another pan, stir flour into 1/2 cup cold water. Heat to boiling over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Stir mushrooms from broth. Salt and pepper as desired. Makes about 2 cups of gravy.

America's Test Kitchen Chocolate Chip Heaven

If you ever need any chocolate chip goodness to cheer you up, these cookies will take your winter blues away. I needed a little cheering up today after hearing I had to make some hefty repairs on my car. For those of you who know me well, bad news = baked goods in my kitchen. I have recently acquired America's Test Kitchen Family Baking Book and have been dying to use it — since chocolate chip cookies are better half's favorite cookie, I decided to give it go. ATK usually never fails me but they have truly outdone themselves on this one. Try this one out and discover some chewy, chocolaty goodness.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk the flour, baking soda, and together in a medium bowl.

2. In a large bowl, beat the melted butter and sugars together with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Beat in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl and beaters as needed.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the flour mixture until combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chips until incorporated.

4. Working with 2 tablespoons of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls and lay them on the prepared baking sheets, spaced about 2 inches apart. Bake the cookies, one sheet at a time, until the edges are set and beginning to brown but the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet the baking sheet halfway through baking.

5. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then serve warm or transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.