Thursday, June 05, 2014

Salad of Randomness

Yes ... we've all made a Salad of Randomness before.  And I'm sure we can all agree they are always good, right?  :)  Nobody really needs a recipe for Salad of Randomness ... why blog about it, you ask?  Well, I think we foodies need to remember that sometimes it's okay to just throw a bunch of food in a bowl and call it supper.  (I know I need that reminder from time to time!)

Salad of Randomness

Greens (mesclun, mixed leaf lettuces, romaine, spinach, arugula, finely shredded kale, etc.)
Vegetables (anything raw or lightly steamed that you have on hand -- clean out the crisper!)
Fruits (fresh or dried, if you like a little sweet with your salty)
Protein (beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, hard-boiled egg, cheese, mock meats -- again, clean out your fridge!)
Dressing (oil and vinegar, something deliciously homemade, or whatever bottled dressing you like)
Crunchy toppings (nuts, seeds, coconut bacon, croutons, etc.)
Other good stuff (olives, capers, etc.)

Throw all of your salad ingredients in a bowl.  (Or artfully arrange them.  You choose.)  Eat!

For supper tonight, I enjoyed a Salad of Randomness containing mixed red and green lettuces (from the farmer's market,) radishes (also from the farmer's market,) cucumber, carrot, leftover steamed asparagus (FM again,) Craisins, toasted sliced almonds, half a breaded mock-chicken patty, a drizzle of poppyseed dressing, a little coconut bacon, and a few croutons.  Colorful, healthy, filling, and delicious!

If you were to make a Salad of Randomness right now, what would be in it?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Crepes with Asparagus and Cheese

I began learning the French language in 6th grade, and continued all the way up through college, declaring a minor in French.  I learned how to make crepes in high school, and often brought them to French class parties, separated between layers of waxed paper, layered in one of my mom's large Tupperware containers.  We would smother our crepes in strawberry jam and Nutella, or fill them with chocolate mousse, and finish them off with whipped cream and powdered sugar.  French club would sell crepes at the school's winter carnival, cooking them "to order" with our teachers' electric crepe pans.  (I still kind of want one of those ... I loved flipping the domed griddle over, dipping it in the cake pan full of batter, and turning it back over just in time to flip the paper-thin, expertly browned crepe, ready to be cooked on its second side.)

I have long since lost my ability to read, write, or really even speak the French language, (tragedy, I realize ... a skill I could one day regain, if I so chose -- right up there with my ability to read bass clef,) but my love for crepes remains.  Strange that I have a tendency to forget about crepes, isn't it?  However, last night I remembered these beauties work just as well in savory pairings as in sweet.  I had picked up a bunch of asparagus at the farmer's market, we always seem to have some cheese, butter, and eggs hanging around, and there was some milk lingering in the back of the fridge for too long, about to expire.  Sounds like the makings of an excellent dinner!

Crepes with Asparagus and Cheese
yield: 12 to 16 crepes, depending on size

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 cup butter (1 stick,) melted, plus more for the pan
2 cups + 2 tbsp milk
pinch salt
steamed asparagus, sautéed mushrooms, and/or sautéed spinach
shredded cheese (Gruyere would have been amazing, but cheddar was what we had on hand)

1. Make the crepe batter.  You can whisk all of the ingredients together vigorously in a large mixing bowl, or alternately, blend the ingredients using an electric mixer or blender.  (I used my blender -- this works really well.  You will get a beautifully light, bubbly, perfectly blended batter.  I had to pause a couple times in the blending and scrape down the sides -- sometimes lumps of flour get stuck.)

2. Preheat a nonstick frying pan or crepe pan over medium to medium-high heat.  You want the pan hot enough to brown butter on contact, but not so hot that it burns.

3. Make yourself a butter "crayon" with an extra half-stick of butter --

(Yes, that's a technical term.  Ha.)

4. Use your butter crayon to lightly butter your preheated pan.

(If it's especially hot in your kitchen, which it was in mine last night, you may need to stick your butter crayon on a plate in the fridge in-between uses, or you'll end up with a puddle.)

5. Pour in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of crepe batter, depending on the size of your pan.  Pick up the pan, tilt and swirl, until you get a thin, even layer of batter covering the pan.

6. When the first side of the crepe begins to brown and look "lacey," flip and cook the second side.  (I find a long silicone spatula works well for me; use whatever works best for you!)

7. After the second side browns in spots, flip it back over and sprinkle cheese down the middle.  Allow the crepe to cook for just a few more seconds, to help melt the cheese.

8. Transfer the crepe to a plate, fill with asparagus, and fold!

You can choose to garnish with more cheese, sautéed mushrooms in their juices, a sprinkling of chopped fresh chives, or if you are feeling really indulgent, hollandaise.  :)  (Wouldn't that be tasty!?!)

9. Continue cooking until you have used up all of your crepe batter, re-buttering the pan before adding more batter each time.  (Or, if you are feeding only one or two people for dinner, cook all of the crepes and fill only the last four.)  Pile up the crepes on a plate in-between layers of parchment or waxed paper (otherwise the butter you cooked them in will solidify in storage, glueing your crepes together forever,) cool, then cover and refrigerate.  Crepes reheat beautifully in a warmed skillet or even the microwave!  (I have also had good success freezing them -- just get them wrapped really well in plastic wrap and sealed tightly in a Ziploc bag, otherwise you'll end up with dry, crispy edges upon thawing and reheating.)

What are your favorite crepe fillings?  Although I love them savory, as we enjoyed them for dinner last night, I love them more leftover the next day, cold from the fridge, smeared with homemade strawberry jam, folded into quarters, and dusted with powdered sugar.  (Ahem ... second breakfast, anyone?)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Vegetarian Cobb Salad

At the social service agency I work for, we have monthly all-staff potlucks.  It's an opportunity for the 100 or so of us who work together to come together for a meal and listen to some agency-wide announcements.  I'm on the committee that organizes the potlucks, and we've come to realize, (I think,) that the potlucks are better attended when there's some type of "theme."  We have had comfort food themes, chili cook-offs, and most recently, to usher in spring, a "salad" theme.  As interim chair of this committee, I penned a haiku, celebrating salads, that went something like this:

Veggies, fruit, pasta,
Beans, grains, Jell-O or Snickers,
Tossed in a bowl.  Yum!

(Yes, there is such a thing as "Snickers Salad."  I'm scared of it.  Has anyone ever tried this?  Is it a Midwestern thing?  A Minnesota thing?  I had never heard of this edible food-like substance until moving to Minnesota.)

Anyhow, I digress.  :)

Personally, I think of salads as something . . . healthier, produce-packed, downright nutritious!  However, my husband is very much an "eggs-n-cheese" vegetarian -- he prefers his food heavy, comfy, and filling.  What's a veggie-loving wife to do?

Enter: Vegetarian Cobb Salad

Ingredients for one salad:

Salad greens (mixed baby greens, romaine, leaf lettuces, whatever you prefer)
Hard-boiled egg
Avocado, cubed
Tomato, chopped
Blue cheese, crumbled
Vegetarian mock chicken patty, cooked and cubed
Coconut bacon
Red wine vinaigrette (I made my own and added plenty of chives, as most of the traditional Cobb salads call for them)

This salad achieves that perfect balance -- plenty of nutritious greens, healthy fats, and quality vegetarian protein, yet heavy, rich, and substantial enough for even the heartiest eaters.

What are your favorite "pleases everyone" meals?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Whole-Wheat Banana-Buttermilk Pancakes

It's been so long since I've had a chance to make a weekend breakfast!  (John's been working some crazy hours lately . . . resulting in a wacky sleep schedule for him, and little time for a leisurely breakfast on the weekend for either of us.)  This past Saturday, however, I managed to whip up a quick batch of pancakes!

We were out of eggs (!) so I quickly whisked 2 tbsp ground flax seeds into 1/4 cup of warm water and let that sit for a few minutes to thicken.  However, in my opinion, flax seeds can impart a strong flavor to what would otherwise be a delicate baked good.  Bananas and whole wheat flour to the rescue!  Pairing the flax seeds with other assertive flavors definitely masked their strong flavor; John noted that he couldn't tell there were flax seeds in the pancakes.  Score!

Whole-Wheat Banana-Buttermilk Pancakes
Makes 8 to 12 pancakes, depending on size

1/4 c warm water
2 tbsp ground flax seeds
1 c whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 large, very ripe banana
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp oil (canola, sunflower, coconut . . . any light, neutral-tasting oil will do)
1 c buttermilk
chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, and/or blueberries (optional)

1. Combine the water and ground flax seeds, stirring well with a whisk or fork.  Let stand at least 5 minutes, or until thick and gelled.
2. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
3. Peel and mash the banana.  Whisk in the sugar, oil, buttermilk, and flax mixture.  Whisk in the dry ingredients until well-blended.
4. Pour batter onto preheated, lightly-greased griddle.  Sprinkle tops of pancakes with chocolate chips, walnuts, or blueberries.  Cook until dry around the edges and bubbles pop all over the surface of the pancake.  Flip, and cook the second side.  Keep warm on a baking sheet in a warm oven until ready to serve.
5. Serve with your favorite pancake toppings!  (I added chocolate chips to the batch I made last weekend, and topped my share with peanut butter and sliced bananas . . . a delicious, healthy, protein-packed breakfast!)

What do you like on your pancakes?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Apple-Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

It's spring!  Well, not really . . . it's still sort of winterish in Minnesota.  Truthfully, I feel like I need to qualify this time of year as "early spring" -- the days are getting longer and the weather is slightly warmer, but you still need to check the weather every single day to figure out how to dress.  Some days, you need your wool coat, some days you need a fleece, some days you need an umbrella, most days you still need a hat and mittens.  It snowed last week, today it's going to be 60 degrees outside.  You know . . . THAT time of year.  :)

Regardless of the weather, the increased sunlight makes me feel lighter -- and consequently, I want to eat a lot lighter, too!  Planning for big lunch-sized salads a few times per week helps ease the transition, and this week's salad was beautiful and light, but still hearty enough to get me through my afternoon.

Apple-Fennel Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette

Serves 1, with plenty of leftover dressing

For the Vinaigrette:
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic
1/2 small shallot
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 tbsp white-wine -or- champagne vinegar
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 c olive oil
1/4 c walnut oil
2-4 tbsp fennel fronds (optional)

For the Salad:
your favorite lettuces/salad greens (about 2 cups)
1/2 c thinly-sliced fennel
1/4 c sliced celery
1/2 an apple, chopped or sliced
1 oz walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 oz blue cheese, crumbled

1. Make the vinaigrette: combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a wide-mouthed pint mason jar, (or really any wide-mouthed jar -- old salsa and peanut butter jars work fabulously for dressings,) and whiz with a stick blender until creamy.  Alternately, you could use a regular blender and transfer to a jar or bottle after blending, or finely mince the garlic and shallot by hand, then whisk the ingredients together in a bowl until emulsified.
2. Assemble the salad: layer your greens, fennel, celery, and apple on a plate or in a large salad bowl. Drizzle about 1 tbsp of the vinaigrette over your salad, or more or less to taste.  (I find that a little goes a long way with most dressings!)  Top with walnuts and blue cheese.

I love the crispy, crunchy, creamy, nutty, sweet, sour, and bitter balance happening in this salad -- there's a LOT of flavor going on, but the flavors all compliment each other beautifully.  This is also pretty filling, given the protein in the walnuts and cheese, all of the fiber-rich veggies, and the healthy fats in the walnuts and dressing.  Definitely a lunch to look forward to!

What is your favorite meal-sized salad flavor combination?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

400-calorie dinners (vii)

Two more 400-calorie dinners we've enjoyed this week . . . 

Stir Fry:

So far, the "tricks" I've discovered to making a delicious, 400-calorie stir fry are these:

1. Use only a little oil (or cooking spray) to brown your tofu and cook up your veggies
(Let's face it . . . most stir-fries can end up a little greasy, can't they?)

2. Keep an eye on your rice portion
(I find 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup is plenty for me.)

3. Make your own sauce!
(Most commercial stir-fry sauces are loaded with salt and sugar, and probably some GMOs or other not-too-desirable ingredients.)
Here's my default stir-fry sauce recipe, in case you're curious:
2 tbsp low-sodium tamari
2 tbsp water
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 1/2 tsp chili-garlic sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
Combine all of the ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Add the sauce just as your veggies finish cooking, and boil/cook the stir fry until the sauce thickens and clears.  (This should just take a minute or two.)


I followed the recipe for "Neelam's Festive Rice Pilaf," from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen, nearly as written, making a few substitutions based on what I had on hand, (swapping in currants and dried apricots for the raisins and dried blueberries, and edamame for the frozen peas.)  I also gussied up some fat-free Greek yogurt with a pinch of salt, plenty of minced fresh ginger, chopped mint, and minced cilantro, and served the yogurt with the rice, as the recipe suggested.  Delicious!  The rice is fantastic on its own, (I love the sweet-salty-spicy-savory balance,) but the yogurt really makes the dish.  (Plus, most of us can always use a bit more calcium and protein on a daily basis, right?)

What are your favorite stir-fry ingredients?  I have a tendency to overload my stir-fries (and curries) with every vegetable under the sun, but really showed restraint this week.  :)  I loved the simplicity of using just red onion, broccoli, and shiitake mushrooms!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

mac and cheese interruption

I interrupt this regularly-scheduled blogging about healthy meals to bring you . . .

Mac and Cheese!  Homemade mac and cheese and I were at odds for years -- every recipe I had ever tried turned out greasy, stringy, lumpy, or otherwise unappetizing.  Cook's Illustrated, THANK YOU!  (Here is an approximation of the recipe . . . I wouldn't recommend making the changes the blogger made, though, as the evaporated milk and American cheese are both kind of crucial to keeping the sauce creamy and smooth.)  I followed the printed recipe nearly to a T, including the buttery, parmesan-rich crumb topping, (which the blogger did not add . . .) and added about 3/4 lb baby spinach to the pasta water at the end of cooking for an attempt at adding some nutrition to what I would otherwise consider to be homemade junk food. :)  (I also forgot to add the pasta water to the sauce, because I forgot to reserve any.  Does anyone else have this "problem" remembering to reserve pasta water?)  John has already requested this (sans spinach) for part of his birthday dinner . . . must be good!  ;)

I think my favorite part about this recipe, however, is that it's reasonably simple, especially for a Cook's Illustrated version.  (I often find their recipes unnecessarily complex, and only a little bit better than a much simpler version.  Not so with this one!)  The breadcrumb topping is whizzed up in a food processor, and the sauce is made in the same pot in which the noodles were boiled -- after draining, of course.  :)  No knife or cutting board required!  I love the meditative effects of veggie-chopping just as much as the next healthy eater, but sometimes, it's nice to throw a few things together and call it done, ya know?

This recipe makes a HUGE amount, (I believe the printed recipe says it serves 8, but we get more like 10 to 12 servings at our house,) and holds well as leftovers.  (Another flaw with most macaroni and cheese recipes . . . they are often awful leftover, but not this one!  Stays creamy and delicious all week long.)  I believe this would also be delicious after freezing, then thawing and baking -- score!