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black bean & quinoa veggie burgers

May 20th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

I have an embarrassingly high number of veggie burger recipes neatly tucked away in a three-ring binder in the kitchen cupboard where all my cookbooks reside. There are more on my Pinterest site where I stash all the tidbits and delicacies found on the Internet. Every time I come across one on someone’s blog, I’d gaze at it longingly, mouth watering, as I glance over the ingredients.

But up until last week, I had made exactly ZERO of these recipes.

Come in to my kitchen…

whole wheat irish soda bread with bulgur

March 16th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

If you’re a traditionalist for your Irish Soda bread, then this loaf isn’t for you. But for those of you who love a good, chunky loaf of bread that’s warm from the oven in slightly more than an hour, studded with deep, hearty flavor, then feel free to stay a while.

Come in to my kitchen…

red rice pulao with roasted vegetables

March 31st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

When I was 15 or 16, my Mom broke her left elbow roller skating. Outside of the fact that my MOM -gasp!- was roller skating (and apparently getting rather cocky about it) she happened to be left-handed, and in breaking her elbow, this rendered her incapable of doing much of anything. She lamented one day, as I helped her in the kitchen, “I wish I had learned to use my right arm more.” and somehow this struck a chord with me, as did her inability to manage even the most mundane of daily tasks.

It’s been in the back of my mind since then to train my hands to work equally. Although my left handed writing looks like an overly caffeinated six year old, and my knife skills in my left hand are nothing compared to my right, I can whisk, scoop, stir, twist, grind, mix and pour from either right or left. I can reach and function and do just about anything needed during the course of my day without having to switch gears, hands or mindset.

There is always more that your body can do, when allowed. If you’ve learned how to type on a standard keyboard, then you can teach your non-dominant hand to do any number of things. Even though one side of our brain dominates, and we develop a set of skills with that dominant hand, there is far more that one is capable of if you’re willing to put your mind to it.

That goes for recipe usage too. Recipes are not cut in stone; they should serve as a guideline, a base from which we can expand exponentially in many different directions. I love recipes because someone else has already done most of the work for me, but I am free to remove this and substitute that, increase this or decrease that or look at how it comes out in one form and think “I know this can be better.” and then trust that my skills can take me there. These skills have been especially useful in the re-development of this incredible Red Rice Pulao.

The origin of this recipe comes from Robin Asbells New Whole Grains Cookbook, which, in a soft yet grand way simply changed my life in 2008. Long before the intense embrace by food lovers of all things whole grain, I’d run through a bookful of recipes using quinoa, millet, bulgur and various rices, finding great things to love about these simple staples. Grains are one of the easiest foods to work with in any kitchen, and require no special treatment. Particularly fond of the vibrant rices available, this Red Rice Pulao made for an chewy and delicious experience, and like many wonderful recipes on this blog, I simply posted it once and never went back. What a mistake.

Because that means no one’s ever going to see it, as really, does anyone look in to the archives of a food blog? Rarely. And I loved the recipe when followed to a ‘T’. As I thought about it again, with more capability to be flexible in my cooking, I decided a second go of this dish was in order and am I ever glad I stepped up and made a few changes because this 2.0 version is light years better than the original. No offense to Robin, but the very task of cooking is to learn to feed oneself in the manner that makes you happiest. No cookbook author outside of us knows what makes us happy; only we do, and we owe it to ourselves to learn just enough kitchen skills to take the humblest of foods, such as rice and vegetables, and make them extraordinary. Let the recipe author be your guide, but let your imagination, your tastes and your skills drive you to cook with instinct instead of blind faith.

Task-wise, this has a few moments of chopping and prep, but largely you are passing a great deal of idle time as rice simmers, and vegetables roast, while heady fragrances take over your home. This isn’t high-tech stuff here; with the heat of an oven and the magic alchemy of boiling water with rice, you can make an exceptional dish that tastes far more grand than it’s humble beginnings. If you’re unfamiliar with red rice, it’s an intensely chewy rice, often found labeled as Himalayan Red Rice, or Wehani. Properly cooked, it takes up to an hour, all hands off. Finished, it’s a really hearty and satisfying grain, deeper in flavor than brown rice, not as earthy as wild rice. This dish is easily a main course, or can be eaten as a side with any number of proteins. I can vouch that it’s especially good with grilled pork tenderloin.

Here’s where you get to decide what you do with this recipe, because if you want, outside of making the rice you can experiment wildly, with everything else. Instead of carrots and cauliflower, add whatever vegetables you have on hand, or swap almonds, walnuts, pecans or peanuts for the pistachios. This is your base, and when you read through it, your tastes will direct you, just as they should. Trust those instincts. And enjoy.

Red Rice Pulao with Roasted Vegetables

1 T. oil of choice
1 T. chopped ginger
1 T. brown mustard seeds
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 t. chili powder
1 t. ground turmeric
1 c. red rice or brown basmati rice
2 c. water
1 T. brown sugar
1 t. salt
2 T. lemon juice
1 head of cauliflower, cut to bite sized pieces
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/2 c. shelled pistachios or toasted slivered almonds

In a 2-qt saucepan, heat oil briefly and add ginger, mustard seed and shallot. Cook for a few minutes, until the ginger is fragrant and the seeds are popping slightly, then add chili powder and turmeric. Stir it up well and cook for a few seconds until the smell is amazing. Add rice, water, brown sugar and salt, stir it up good to combine it all and bring to a boil. Cover tightly, reduce heat to low. The amount of time needed to cook the rice will depend on what rice you use. Test the grains after the time specified on the package, and adjust to your personal taste. Allow to cool slightly. If you are using a true red rice, be patient with it. The time required for me to make mine was slightly over an hour. And every minute was well worth it.

While the rice cooks, heat the oven to 400°, and toss the vegetables with a bit of oil and salt. Since these two cook differently, I put the cauliflower on one pan, the carrots on another and roast until each are tender, shaking the pan often, and stirring to insure even browning. They can hang out in their finished state, until the rice is done.

If you love a good deep flavor for pistachios, take a few minutes and toast them in a skillet over medium heat. It’s well worth it, and that rice gives you plenty of time.

When the rice is done and cooled, dump it all in a large bowl and add the roasted vegetables. Toss together gently and add a few tablespoons of those nicely toasted pistachios. Toss a bit more, taste and add salt and pepper if you wish, then serve it, topped with more pistachios. This dish is good whether served cold, hot or at room temperature. You can garnish it with chopped scallions too, for a bit more flavor.

whole grain banana ricotta bread

February 5th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

This post could also be aptly titled “The end of searching for the perfect banana bread” but that just seemed too long and a bit too final.  I should never think I’ve ‘arrived’ at any destination, be it a quest for knowledge, a higher level of health and well-being or never-ending search for perfect banana bread, as somewhere out there, a recipe may exist that could bring this loaf to shame, but for now, I’m sticking with what I’ve got.

I grew up eating banana bread, from the earliest memories that I have. My Mom made it almost weekly, in fact, I’m pretty sure she bought way more bananas than she needed just so she’d have an excuse. She put walnuts in it, which I despised, so these days, my banana bread is always without nuts. When I got old enough to make my own banana bread, I turned to her tried and true recipe from my youth, and as an adult, I found it sorely lacking, so I moved on. And on. And on.

The goal that I’ve strived for, over recipes and time and growing older, was pure banana bread bliss and perfection that existed as a mental taste somewhere in my mind. And with the first bite of this grain-studded loaf, rich with banana flavor, I about leapt in the air with delight, shouting ‘Eureka!! I have found it!’ while my son chuckled in delight at my antics, he himself wide-eyed and excited over the taste of his piece. This IS pure banana bread delight, and I don’t say that lightly. Folks,  I have made and eaten A LOT of banana breads in my lifetime, as I sought out that elusive fine balance of moist and tender crumb, ultimate banana taste and now, a higher level of health than a loaf crushing the scales with sugar and fat. After researching low-fat, and healthier banana bread options for over an hour, I settled on one recipe that gave me a pretty good start, and then started tweaking it to my liking.

I think my biggest disappointment with banana bread has always been that it just doesn’t have as much banana flavor as I want. I add more banana to any number of recipes, and I get mushy bread that turns soggy after a few days, so clearly, without some changes to the base, that’s not a workable option. And I needed a substantial heft other than what flour and leavening can offer in order to stand against that large dose of delicious bananas. When making muffins, I’ve turned to the use of cereals and grains to add more heft, and to make them a bit more nutritious. When faced with adjusting a banana bread recipe in the same way, that’s where I went as well. This recipe has whole rolled oats, All-Bran cereal and a commercial 10-grain cereal as a majority of the dry base. Cutting back on the use of eggs, I added some ground flaxseed for binder (you could also use unsweetened applesauce for this as well). The ricotta cheese, along with a small amount of milk, provides a richness in the texture that’s particularly pleasing to the mouth. The sugar was another matter; I took a gamble, using only a mere half cup in a recipe that makes two loaves. Most tea-bread recipes that I come across have, at least in my opinion, way, way too much sugar, and this amount was perfect. The end result is a bread without the teeth clenching sweetness, so the rich banana flavor just shines through. The cereal and grain base makes the texture nubbly and firm, and helps it retain a lot of moisture. Best of all, the loaves are simply packed with banana flavor.

A lot of this was pure kitchen chemistry, mixed with a lifetime of learning why the recipes I tried were so disappointing. After so many experiments, it’s nice to finally land on something that lifts your heart and elevates your taste-buds, all the while being reasonably healthy enough to enjoy without much guilt.

If you’re like me, when bananas get past the point of consumption in your house, they get tossed in the freezer to await a baking urge, and this recipe is perfect for when you’ve gotten a large stockpile of them.

 

Whole Grain Banana Ricotta Bread

Yield: Two loaves. It can easily be cut in half.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 9×5 standard loaf pans with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the following:
6 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c. ricotta cheese
1/3 c. milk of choice
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. grape-seed oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
1/2 c. commercial 10-grain cereal, such as Bob’s Red Mill (sub 7-Grain, or 5-Grain if you can only find those)

Whisk this until well blended and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to soften the grains.

In a large measuring cup, combine the following:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached AP flour
1 t. sea salt
1-1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the banana mixture, and with a rubber spatula, gently fold them together until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Be careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and smooth the top. Drop the pans on the counter a few times to settle the batter and release any air pockets. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow loaves to cool in pan for up to a half hour before turning them out to cool completely on a rack.

 

RECIPE NOTES: I use All-Bran cereal a lot in baking, and it keeps a long time in your cupboard. Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal is not only a delicious breakfast cereal, but it’s wonderful for breads too, and I’ve also used it in muffins. I keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer and it lasts indefinitely. I also keep a baggie of ground flaxseed in the freezer.

If all you have on hand is whole rolled oats, this recipe would work just fine to use those in the full amount.

If you wish to cut the recipe in half, don’t use the flaxseed, as it acts as a second ‘egg’.

 

 

baking bonanza, quick bread style

November 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

There are dozens of recipes in my Recipe Index. I’ve been writing this blog for 5-1/2 years, and the content is huge, but my audience doesn’t go back that far. I could write forever about what’s been covered in the past, but instead, for this post, I’m culling together an entire array of quick bread baking options- muffins and tea breads alike- for you to enjoy. There are a lot of really good recipes for warming up your kitchen on these chilly November days.

I think there is nary a food item more perfect than a muffin; and I don’t mean a muffin so sweet and cloying that you might as well slap buttercream on it and call it a cupcake, I mean a MUFFIN. I real, honest to goodness muffin, made for breakfast, or a snack. I mean a substantial, hand held baked good. I’m talking MUFFINS, one of the baking world’s most perfect little foods, in my well-explored opinion. I love a good muffin, and have no less than eight in my Recipe Index. Muffins lend well to just about any flavor, take only a few minutes to put together and let’s face it, everyone loves them, right? Got flour, baking powder and a few spotty bananas? Make a muffin. Leftover grains from dinner? Make muffins! Blueberries? Raspberries? Nuts? Oats? Bulgur?? It’s all good for going in a muffin.

And oh, how I do love these fragrant and simple little things!!

 

Oatmeal Sweet Potato Muffins

 

Apple Bran Muffins


Fig Muffins with Honey-Lemon Cream Cheese

Whole Grain Blueberry Muffins

 

Squash and Quinoa Muffins with Toasted Coconut

 

Chocolate Graham Muffins

 

And then there are a few recipes without photos:

Pumpkin Maple Muffins
Apple Cheddar Muffins 

And….. because quick breads are created the same way, only baked in a loaf pan, they too can be stellar muffin options and I have plenty of those as well.

Applesauce Banana Bread
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
Cherry Fig Tea Bread
Moist Date Nut Bread
Harvest Tea Bread
Peanut Butter Banana Bread
Cranberry Orange Date Bread

 

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

simple stuffed peppers and a thick skin

November 11th, 2011 | 4 Comments »

I’m not sure if everyone with a blog is receiving an undue amount of spam comments lately, but every day I open my Dashboard, I see upwards of 100 or more spam waiting for me to delete. I rarely look them over to see if anyone real has been caught up in the filter; i’m trusting they haven’t, but my apologies if you’ve left a comment that hasn’t appeared. I am too impatient to sift through the drivel.

But today when I opened the spam, and readied myself to hit ‘Delete’, one comment caught my eye, and I had to wonder if it was actual, or not. It said “I’m not sure how you can survive on this dreck. For pete’s sake would it kill you to eat a little meat now and then?’ The sender’s name seemed authentic, the email was normal, and the website looked legit. Still, after a moment of shock, I deleted it with the others. Even if it was real,  harsh criticism of my blog, my words and my life have no place here. This is my home, and I’m not interested in anyone bringing their scorn in to it.

My friends and I have had a discussion about this type of intolerance a lot. I am blessed with a bevy of amazing women in my life that share a desire for good health and well-being through our food and lifestyle. Through changes in our diets, my friends and I have found incredible health benefits that we never expected to be possible. We don’t avoid certain foods because it’s trendy and everyone is doing it; we avoid them because our bodies have clearly shown us that this is what they want. And we don’t get it, this bashing of choice. Not at all. Our choices, regardless of how anyone else views them, whether they understand or not why we do them, or really, any opinion about them, these are OUR decisions, and should never be vilified for being different than someone else’s. And since giving up meat, I get this a lot. The worst part is when it comes from family. I don’t expect anyone outside of myself to agree 100% with what I choose to do, and I consider it to be great fortune that Mike is completely on board with our healthy eating habits. I find it odd, and also disheartening though, that others feel they can impart their beliefs on me, or dump a whole lot of disrespect on my choices. They’re MY choices. Choices made for reasons of health and well-being. Choices that took time to develop, and that my body has made very clear, are correct for me. I don’t ask anyone else to believe it, accept it, or even participate in it. I just ask that it be respected.

Is that really so difficult?

I mean, really, does that pepper there LOOK so terrible? Stuffed with whole grain wild rice, legumes, vegetables and cheese, this has “Delicious!!” written all over it. You can eat it and still feel light inside, yet fully satisfied too. And it will stick with you, despite it’s feathery appearance. This is comfort food through and through.

I realize that everyone has the sense that their choices are the right ones, and that sense, as deeply ingrained as it is, seems implausible that others don’t share the same vision. What they do, what anyone does, is the right one however, for those making the decision. And this bashing about of others, a dressing down of someone who chooses differently for their life and health, can we all just agree to stop so much judging? What does it really say about someone who thinks that muscling their beliefs on others is acceptable? Does it make them seem secure in what they preach? Or does the very act of questioning someone else, of scorn and laughter over another person’s choice speak to an insecurity they have about themselves?

I don’t have the answers. I doubt this conversation will end, ever, and that makes me sad. The consumption of food has become such a hot-button issue, and everyone thinks they have the right way of doing it. We make very powerful statements by what we put in our mouths, and it seems that instead of it polarizing us, it’s turning us against each other.

What food choices do YOU make for your health? Do you ever feel like those choices are questioned by others?
How do you respond to those questions? 


Wild Rice Stuffed Peppers

3 colored peppers of choice, sliced in half and cored
1 cup wild rice, washed and picked over
1 small shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15-oz can great northern beans, rinsed
1 c. frozen corn kernels
1/2 c. canned tomatoes, or 2 chopped fresh Roma tomatoes
1 c. panko breadcrumbs
1 c. shredded cheese of choice, plus more for topping (I used cheddar and pepper jack together)
1/3 c. shredded parmesan, with more for topping
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the wild rice, return to a simmer and cook, covered until the rice is tender 30-40 minutes. I used long grain, or regular wild rice so it took longer than if you use the cracked version. Adjust simmering time accordingly. Once rice is tender, drain excess water in a wire strainer and set aside.

Meanwhile, set your oven to Broil. Line a baking sheet with foil. Place prepared peppers on sheet, cut side up and broil for about 5-7 minutes, until edges are slightly browned and peppers are softened just a little. Remove from oven, set aside and set oven temperature to 400°.

In a deep skillet, saute shallot in oil for about 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook about a minute longer. Add the beans and corn, and heat through. Stir in the tomato and wild rice until just combined and remove from heat. Add the cheese and panko. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When mixture is cool enough to handle, pick up a generous handful and press it together slightly, then mound it into a pepper half. Repeat with remaining peppers and filling, mounding the peppers full. You may not use all the filling but be generous. In a small bowl, place about a half cup of the shredded cheese and several tablespoons of shredded parmesan. Add two tablespoon of panko bread crumbs and toss to coat. Top the peppers with this and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the filling is hot and the cheese on top has melted. Serve immediately.

 

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

cherry fig tea bread, round 2

November 10th, 2011 | 2 Comments »

The last two years for NaBloPoMo I’ve gone back in to my Recipe Index and re-introduced items that are worthy of a second look. Most people following my blog now weren’t doing so a year ago, and if readers are anything like I am, finding a new blog usually means going forward with what they post, not going back in the archives to find the hidden gems.

And it’s also a way for me to remember what I’ve posted to these pages over the past 5-1/2 years. There is a great deal of content in my Recipe Index; way more than one could ever browse through, and a lot of it from way back when contains poorly photographed foods that I would be a bit embarrassed to even show you. Part of me often thinks about re-doing some of these recipes, with updated photos of better quality, and that’s still in the back of my mind. 

This bread made an appearance in my kitchen last Spring, and I loved it immensely, forgetting it until today, while scrolling through to find something interesting to share. Dried figs and cherries gave it a wide appeal of flavor, and tea breads are one of my favorite items to make because they are so simple to put together. Mix a bowl of wet ingredients, then a bowl of dried and blend them just so. A greased pan, a hot oven and an hour later, a steaming and fragrant loaf awaits you and a cup of tea or coffee. I could probably do a month alone on tea breads in all their various forms and still not exhaust this easy item.

What I love about this recipe is that it has a lot of healthier options for baking. I’ve tried to get away from using refined sugar in my baking for much of the past year or so, experimenting with honey or maple syrup, and actively seeking recipes that offer delicious flavor without a ton of food items that our bodies can do without. This recipe relies on the cooked dried fruit to provide sweetness, along with a small amount of honey. Whole wheat flour and wheat bran make for a healthier base too. I’m not fooling myself that this is good enough to eat all the time; the bread still has a lot of calories, but overall, if I’m going to make myself a treat, I want it to be better for me in any way I can manage.

Because deprivation just isn’t an option.

Do you have a favorite baked good that YOU like to make??

Cherry Fig Tea Bread

1 c. dried tart cherries
1 c. chopped dried figs
1 c. orange juice
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. honey
1/4 c. wheat bran
2 t. freshly grated orange zest
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
2 large eggs
2/3 c. plain soy milk
3 T canola oil
1 t. pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Combine cherries, figs and orange juice in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 1/3 cup of the fruit-cooking liquid. Set the fruit and liquid aside in separate bowls.

Stir together flour, sugar, wheat bran, orange zest, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs, buttermilk, oil, vanilla and the reserved 1/3 cup fruit-cooking liquid in another large bowl. Add to the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined. Fold in the reserved fruit. Turn the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the top is golden and a cake tester inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Loosen edges and invert the loaf onto a rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Original recipe from Eating Well magazine.

What’s on YOUR plate this month??

the Engine 2 challenge

May 9th, 2011 | 3 Comments »

May is looking a bit different around the kitchen. It’s a lot more green. And red. And purple. Don’t forget orange and yellow.

I was invited by Whole Foods to take part in a 28-day challenge of consuming a plant-based diet, based on the best-selling book The Engine 2 Diet, written by firefighter Rip Esselstyn, who designed the plan to help his fellow firefighters lose weight and combat health issues such as high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. Whole Foods will be introducing this challenge to it’s customers in June, and four local bloggers will be chronicling their 28 days for the Whole Foods clientele to read about as they move forward with their own 28 day plan.

Rip’s book outlines all the benefits of a plant-based diet, and includes great testimony from people who have successfully used the plan to lose weight, lower their cholesterol and reverse the devastating effects of diabetes and heart problems. The premise of it goes like this; no processed or packaged foods, no added salts, no animal products, and no fats at all, including all oils. What you eat is a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes. The book comes with an extensive recipe collection, all simple and straight forward. There’s no need for any special cooking skills, or equipment or tools or anything. Just cut out the junk, and ramp up the intake of the good stuff.

I was intrigued by the idea of it, and enjoyed reading Rip’s book, sent to me free by Whole Foods. He’s got a lot of really bare bones information about the state of our health in the United States, and I don’t need to tell you that it’s really not a pretty picture. And I’m not going to get into any details. We all know how bad it is, even if we make like we don’t notice. My family eats really healthy foods, and I’m pretty diligent about purchasing items that I am comfortable with giving to my guys, but I’m always willing to do more and this challenge is giving me an opportunity to step up our game. As I see it, with what we do already, we’re about halfway there anyway, so taking it to another level won’t be that difficult. I don’t need to lose much weight at all, but we both have a strong desire to be as healthy as we can possibly be, and Mike has had issues with high cholesterol.

One of the nice things about Rip’s approach is that it’s really a very open-minded explanation, and it leaves a lot for each individual to interpret on their own. His suggestion, obviously, is to jump right in and start on the challenge, but he readily acknowledges that it’s often a tough step to take, and offers readers several options for easing in to it, and really, the best advice he gives is that it’s really something you can custom tailor to your own needs. And that’s what I did for us. Mike and I easily can give up almost all of our meat consumption, and so that’s where I’m taking our challenge. With the exception of a few social events for me where I’ve eaten meat, our home meals have all been meat free. With the gift card that Whole Foods provided, I stocked up on grains, brown and wild rice, lots of colorful vegetables and fruits and we’ve been enjoying some pretty amazing meals with our bounty. I’m not on board with Rip’s assessment of cutting out fat consumption, as I am firm in my belief and understanding that good fats are a necessity in good body function, for your brain and your autonomic nervous system. We need fat, and although there are many ways to get good fat through plant-based eating, I’ve kept the olive oil, but cut out the butter. I’m already missing my weekly popcorn fix.

But it’s a good thing though; we can all stand to do something better for our health. This is giving us motivation, and incentive to push to another level. We love vegetables, thank goodness, and it’s coming to the best time of year for vegetable love in Minnesota, as the Farmers Markets open and the bounty starts pouring in. And I made an agreement with my meat-loving son; I won’t mind if he wants to fix himself a piece of chicken, or a small steak if he’s willing to really try some of the new foods that come out of the kitchen. He didn’t even hesitate before he said ‘Yes’.

The first time Griffin tried quinoa he enjoyed it enough, even though he said the texture was ‘a little weird’. This time, when I loaded it with all sorts of grilled vegetables like baby bok choy, portabella mushrooms, red peppers and asparagus, he heaped his bowl full and really got into it. Upon finishing it, he sighed deeply and said to me “You know, that’s surprisingly filling.”

I don’t really have a ‘recipe’ for this. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette that I brushed on the vegetables, then I grilled them, chopped them up and mixed them with cooked quinoa, salt and pepper. It was really delicious, and yes, it was surprisingly filling. Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes and it goes with everything. If you haven’t tried this super little grain, I can’t recommend it enough.

Stay tuned for more posts about the E2 challenge!

 

Disclaimer:
Whole Foods provided the book and a gift card free of charge to me for agreeing to participate in the Engine 2 Challenge.
All opinions expressed here are mine.

Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets

November 21st, 2009 | 3 Comments »

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Pictures can be amazing, can’t they?

pilaf with farro and beets6919

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I sometimes surprise myself when I am going through the photos I’ve taken of my recipes. There are, without a doubt, the ones that hastily cause you to hit the ‘Delete’ key, shuddering in horror; they’re too close or too cloudy or they just don’t allow for one to discern what’s on the plate. They’re overexposed. Ugly. But those tiny slips caught in the wink of the shutter are evened out by beauties that can convey taste, aroma, and feel with one glance. The beauties that make you go ‘Wow’ and when you place them in your post, they literally tell the story without you needing to do much else. But every food has a story. Sometimes the tale tells of a feet-first plunge headlong into love with a certain food, a single bite causing your taste-buds to explode while the endorphins engulf your brain. You’re whupped and there’s no going back. Or it may be a telling of how we find a food that quietly asserts itself into our life, a slow and deliberate culinary courtship. Maybe the first exposure isn’t mind-blowing, but it isn’t a dud either. You look forward to the next time. You know there’s more to it than this. After a few meetings, the quiver in your heart starts to build and when you spy your current food crush, it’s silly how your chest seems to collapse in relief that you’ll be together again.

This past year I crushed, big time, into total infatuation with gold beets, and their greens. It didn’t take much. By routinely visiting the organic farmer at the local markets who carried these burnished lovelies and allowing them to roast to their full potential, I became fully acquainted with their earthy solid personality. We just clicked, those beets and I. It was quality time well spent. Mike gave me an enthusiastic endorsement for sauteed beet greens and we never looked back. Beets were in the recipe box, finally. We ate them so much that it was a turgid and satiated overkill. We sighed a lot during those dinner meals. Then high summer came, the corn took hold along with eggplants so shiny and purple, followed by a parade of tomatoes and zucchini and endless grilling adventures. Beets were nearly forgotten, sad as it was. But I was sold on the roasting method, and most days couldn’t even consider turning on the oven. They simply had to wait. I realized after a while that I missed them a great deal but I knew, like any solid friendship, that we would endure through our separation.

Then I found this recipe. It was the way back to my summer love of beets and caused me to drive across town just to find a bunch, greens attached, that would do this recipe justice. The moment we connected again was like any friendship renewed after absence. No lapse of time could remove the bond and the oven, once more, shared it’s warmth with my old friends and turned them soft and supple.

I was enamored…no, scratch that… bewitched by the flavors that came from this dish. It’s simple base of whole grain farro is more than capable of standing up to the lusty flavor and texture of beets and their greens, and the beets happily share their colors with the grain to diffuse the entire dish in sunshine-y warmth. Since 2007 I’ve been experimenting with whole grains, and I found farro to be an amicable and easy friend to bring into my life, a chewy and simple grain that mimics wheatberries and a heartier barley. Never mind that it was costly. Or that only one store I knew carried an affordable brand. Of all the whole grains I’ve encountered in the past two years, this one has become a good and trusted companion, steadfast, reliable and so so good for me. We all need friends like that in our lives, in both our hearts and our pantry.

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The original recipe for this dish was in salad form, but for a November meal, a cold offering wasn’t going to cut it. Even with the warm sunshine that’s been poured upon us, the chill and darkness comes quickly with the descent of the five-o’clock hour, and something steaming, whether a bowl or a plate, more appropriately fits the season. I’ll revisit the salad option next Spring when the markets open again, and I can once more hone in on that stand, with the kind bearded farmer behind the table, the dirt still stuck to his knuckles. For this time of year, and especially with the brisk wind that came up after several days of that limpid sunshine, a pilaf was exactly what we needed.

Farro is not a quick grain to cook, and you’ll find many recipes call for it to be soaked ahead of time, but I’ve discovered that to be unnecessary. Washed and placed in boiling water, the grain cooks up deliciously chewy in 35-45 minutes, and once cooked to that al denté stage, it freezes really well with little loss of texture. And maybe it’s the way it is with you too, but I roast my beets or I simply don’t eat them. Call me picky, but I never met a beet I wanted to devour before being introduced to those that mellowed in the oven, swaddled in foil, and so perfectly tender that the skins slipped off with hardly any effort. Again, this isn’t quick. I made both the farro and the beets the day prior to creating this pilaf. It worked for all of us.

Farro Pilaf with Gold Beets
originally from The New York Times recipes for Health and Nutrition, March 27, 2009; adapted by Kate

3 large gold beets, roasted and diced, with greens washed, de-ribbed and rough chopped
2-3 c. cooked farro (can sub brown rice)
1 red pepper, seeded, cored and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small shallot, diced
1/2 c. crumbled feta or goat cheese
1/3 c. pecan pieces
salt and pepper to taste

{{Farro can be cooked like any other grain, with a 2:1 ratio of water to grain; 1 cup uncooked will yield the amount needed for this recipe. It should be tender to the bite, not too firm with a texture similar to barley. Be sure to rinse it thoroughly in a wire sieve prior to cooking. It can be very dusty.}}

In a deep skillet with a tight fitting lid, heat oil of choice and add red pepper, cooking for about 5 minutes. Add shallot, cooking until soft and slightly browned, maybe 5-8 more minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add the chopped greens and cook, stirring continually until just barely wilted. Stir in the cooked farro and diced beets. Add about 1/3 cup of water and combine. Cover the pot, turn heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally until heated fully through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve topped with cheese and nuts.

KATE’S NOTES:
The mellow flavors of the beets and farro simply beg for a good salty and robust cheese. Feta is perfect, goat cheese would be great but blue cheese and gorgonzola also would work nicely.

Can a food item be too healthy?

November 8th, 2009 | 4 Comments »

The FDA is pretty darn good at sounding the alarm over foods that one shouldn’t eat, or maybe not in excess. They’re just as good at recanting that advice after a year or so, more research and maybe some hand deep in their back pocket, but do they ever go the opposite direction? Can a food item be so stuffed with good ingredients, a high health quotient and incredible good taste that it’s possibly too good for you? Would the mighty FDA ever come at us like a pack of angry Chihuahuas for bypassing the french fry in favor of whole grains and fruit?

Eh, I think not. But this muffin might come a wee bit close to inducing a good health coma, if that is indeed possible.

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Muffins are one of my favorite snack items to make. There is so much that can be done to your basic muffin that I could spend from now until next November making a different variety each week and likely never run out of options. They tend to have a split personality though; as much as everyone wants to believe that eating a muffin is healthier, most of them sold in stores or coffee shops aren’t any better for you than eating a cookie or a croissant. And they’re HUGE, usually. Much too huge, and come on….who eats only half of those monsters? Uh, huh. That’s what I thought.

These basic whole grain muffins are one of my favorite recipes to play with, and they’re loaded with healthy ingredients. With their good hearty texture, they’re wonderful for any eating need from morning coffee to a late night indulgence and they adapt to any kind of extra I can dream up to mix into the batter. I’ve made them with zucchini, chopped pears and pecans, banana, blueberries and here in this version with apples. They freeze beautifully too, as any good muffin should.

Whole Grain Muffins
by Kate

1 ½ c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 T. butter, melted
¼ c. oil
¼ c. real maple syrup
1-1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
½ c. packaged 7-Grain cereal (like Bob’s Red Mill; 5-Grain or 10-Grain is fine too)
3 T. whole rolled oats
1-1/2 c. AP flour (can sub Whole wheat flour for half, if desired)
2 T. ground flaxseed
¼ c. brown sugar
1 t. EACH baking powder and baking soda
¼ t. salt.

Heat oven to 375°. Line muffin tins with paper liners, or spray with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, butter, oil and maple syrup. Stir in All Bran cereal, oats and the 7-Grain cereal. Let stand for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, brown sugar, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend in the wet ingredients and fold together until just combined. Scoop into muffins tins to 2/3 full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until tops spring back when touched. Cool on wire rack for about 10-15 minutes, then remove muffins from pan to cool completely.

Added ingredients- 1 c. blueberries, frozen (do not thaw) or fresh; 1 c. chopped pear like a D’Anjou or Bosc; 1-2 mashed ripe bananas, 1/2 c. of any nut you prefer; 1 c. shredded zucchini; 1 medium apple, cored and chopped or shredded (or about a half cup of chunky applesauce), 1/2 c. coconut (delicious with banana and pecans)  The possibilities are endless for what you put in these!!

And yes! Pumpkin, sweet potato or even squash is an option too, but check out this recipe for a delicious muffin idea with those ingredients.