Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bird Bars

I'm a person that looks for and thrives on routines. Especially with food, seasonal routines have helped me stay on my healthiness journey. I have a very standard breakfast routine on weekdays in the summer. I bring a either a green smoothie or bowl of yogurt and fruit to work, and eat it topped with granola at 9:00 am. There is always a jar of that granola in my desk drawer, and I make a fresh batch about every other week or so (same time I make my yogurt).

My lovely little routine imploded on me in the past couple of weeks. Like the rest of the Midwest, Minnesota has been scorchingly hot nearly all of July with temps at or near the triple digits often. In the 576 square feet of my tiny house, cooled only by window A/C units, that means no oven usage. Seriously, using my beautiful vintage gas oven means at least 2 days of unbearable residual heat. So I've been going without granola and the lack of fat, crunch, and sweetness in my morning meal has been bugging me. I feel hungrier before lunch and it makes me cranky.

Last Saturday after an early morning stop at the Mill City Farmer's Market, I stopped to pick up a few additional items at the Seward Co-op. As I was refilling my coffee cup, my stomach growled and I spotted a tray of treats that they make on site. I picked up a Bird Bar (priced at $8.69/lb, my bar was $1.82) and took it home to eat with yogurt and raspberries. It was delicious!

The ingredients on the Bird Bar wrapper are: sesame seeds, honey, sunflower seeds, peanut butter, coconut, cashews, salt. Well, I can make that! And I can do it without turning on the oven! It took me two tries, but I've got the recipe just right (note: maple syrup is not always a good substitute for honey because it's not sticky enough). I think my version tastes even better than the co-op's. I'm thrilled to have a summer alternative to baked granola.

Also, I was at my little local grocery store yesterday and the customer in front of me was buying bird seed. I had to smile because it really did look like these bars!

Bird Bars, inspired by the Seward Co-op
Makes 12 bars

4 cups of your favorite mixture of mostly seeds and some nuts (I used 1 cup sesame seeds, 1/2 cup flax seeds, 1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds, and 1 cup slivered almonds)
1 cup unsweetened coconut
pinch of salt
1/3 cup peanut butter (mine was crunchy)
2/3 cup honey

If your nuts and seeds are not already toasted, toast them in a large dry skillet over medium heat on your stovetop, stirring occasionally until golden brown. Put toasted nuts and seeds, coconut, and salt in a large bowl.

In a small pot, heat peanut butter and honey over medium heat until boiling. Pour over seed mixture and stir well.

Pat into a lightly oiled or buttered dish. An 8x8 size pan would work well, or press into individual muffin tins (this is genius, just thought of it now). I used a 1.5 qt corningware casserole dish.

Let cool to room temperature and cut. I like to keep my Bird Bars in the fridge after cutting to keep them firm. You could individually wrap each bar in plastic wrap or tinfoil for quick grab-n-go breakfasts.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles

In these dog days of summer, ice cream seems to be an acceptable dinner. I've done it, and I'm not ashamed to admit it either. The Pumphouse Creamery in Minneapolis is my go-to ice cream shop where the ingredients are locally sourced, the real ice cream is full of fat and flavor, it's all-natural and handmade, and it's within walking distance of my house. The place is awesome.

However, sometimes I feel the need to indulge in a sweet frozen treat that's a little lighter and a lot cheaper. Using free, local, and organic raspberries freshly picked from just outside my back door and freshly made homemade yogurt sweetened with just a smidge of sugar, I made myself a lovely snack (or dinner).

These popsicles were creamy and slightly sweet. But what you really notice is the pure summery tartness of those raspberries. A perfect dinner on another steamy Minneapolis night.

Raspberry Yogurt Popsicles, from Orangette
Makes about 10 small popsicles

Recipe note: if you don't have a popsicle mold (mine was $1 from Target), get creative and use shot glasses or muffin tins. Also, I did strain out the seeds from the mashed berries. It's not necessary but it makes for a sweeter and fancier popsicle.

1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt
1 cup raspberries, mashed with a fork and seeds removed (optional)
2 heaping Tbsp sugar
squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together and pour into popsicle molds. Freeze.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Green and Lean Baby Food

I'm very lucky to have a bunch of really great kids in my life. My two godsons Nathan (3, he's also my nephew) and Tripp (2), and my niece Kaitlyn (1) are pretty much the most awesome kids I could ever ask for.

The problem is that they all live 100-200 miles away from me and I don't see them as often as I should, and I missed out on their first bites of baby food. Now my friend Alicia has a new little one and he's about 3 months old already. This little cutie I get to see quite often! And in the next month or two, he will probably be ready for his first taste of something other than breast milk.

Good, real food is important to me (clearly! I've dedicated over 2.5 years to documenting it on this blog!) and I think babies should get the good stuff from the start. I decided I'd like to make him some wholesome, local, organic, baby food from ingredients I find at the Farmer's Market this summer. I'm sure the jarred stuff from the store is nutritious, but it's probably expensive, likely includes some type of preservative to keep that long on the shelf, and produces lots of waste with all those tiny jars.

If you want to make your own baby food, don't listen to me. Do some research and talk to a doctor (I'm not one, nor am I even a mom). But in general, the internet says you should avoid allergen-prone foods (like eggs, nuts, honey, soy, wheat, etc), don't add any salt or sugar, puree things very well, and strain anything that appears too fibrous for very young babies.

I found carrots and green beans at the Farmer's Market this week, steamed them in a bit of water, pureed them in my food processor, and froze them in ice cube trays. I thought the pureed vegetables tasted great, so I think the baby will like them too. Then as a treat, I used very non-local bananas and a mango from the grocery store for baby's dessert. This was so good, I had a whole bowl of it myself.

In the end, I got 53 servings of baby food (1 oz each) for a total cost of $12.50. That's 23.5 cents per serving for homemade baby food made from in-season local and organic vegetables (and the fruit too). All Alicia needs to do is each night put one frozen cube of baby food into a small glass container in the fridge for the next day. By morning it should be thawed and ready to be fed to the baby straight or mixed with rice cereal or breast milk.

My goal is to track what's in season for the next 2-3 months and continue to make more portions of squash, sweet potatoes, beets, spinach, applesauce, and anything else I can get my hands on! All recipes inspired by or taken directly from Smitten Kitchen Baby.

Green and Lean Baby Carrots
4 small bunches carrots from the Farmer's Market, washed, peeled, and chopped into 1 inch chunks
1/2 cup water

Bring to a boil, then simmer covered for 35 minutes or until carrots are soft, adding more water if needed. Scoop out carrots and puree in food processor, adding water as needed to get a smooth consistency. Freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to a labeled freezer storage bag.

Green and Lean Baby Green Beans
1 basket of green beans from the Farmer's Market, washed, stems removed, and cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 cup water

Use same method as described above for carrots, but only need to simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

Green and Lean Baby Banana-Mango Dessert
1 mango, diced into 1/2 inch chunks
2 bananas, sliced into 1/2 inch coins
1/2 cup water

Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes or until mango is soft. Cool slightly and puree. Because mangoes have stringy fibers, you should probably press the mixture through a fine mesh strainer if the intended eater is a young baby (under 6 months). This is a pain in the butt, but worth it. Then freeze in ice cube trays as described above.

ONE YEAR AGO: Creamy Cucumber Salad

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Quinoa Patties with Poached Eggs

My prediction of no cooking came true during this recent 4-day heat wave in Minneapolis. I ate lots of radish, snap pea, and tuna salads drizzled with raspberry vinegar. Tonight is a different story because although the heat is still here (upper 80's today), we have no more wicked humidity (a curly-haired girl's worst enemy).

So I'm ready to use the stove again, and decided to throw together these Quinoa Patties with Poached Eggs from random things I scrounged from the fridge/freezer. This recipe was originally included in Heidi Swanson's (of the 101 Cookbooks blog) book Super Natural Every Day. I think a million bloggers have made their version of it, but this is my favorite photo of it.

I now understand why this has been such a popular recipe. It's quick, easy, infinitely adaptable to what you like or have available, healthy and satisfying, and it's beautiful and elegant.

I used quinoa I had cooked and frozen a few weeks ago, also frozen bread crumbs, garlic, parmesan cheese, scallions, chives, and hot sauce. You can mix and match pretty much any ingredient here (even substituting rice or another grain for the quinoa) and the recipe is quite forgiving.

Quinoa Patties with Poached Eggs, adapted from Heidi Swanson
2 cups cooked quinoa or rice
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
3 scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp chives, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce (Cholula) to taste
poached eggs

Mix all ingredients together until it's moist and the right consistency for making patties. I got 4 big patties out of this batch.

In a skillet, heat a bit of olive oil. Cook patties about 3-4 minutes on each side over medium-high heat. It's OK to use a spatula to press down to get more yummy brown bits on the patties.

Serve with a healthy drizzle of hot sauce, top with a poached egg, and give a final seasoning of salt, pepper, and chives.

ONE YEAR AGO: Refrigerator Pickles
TWO YEARS AGO: Collard Wrap

Friday, July 15, 2011

Raspberry Vinegar

If the forecasters are right, there won't be a whole lot of cooked food coming out of my kitchen in the next week. With estimated heat indexes up to 110 degrees, I'll be living off cool foods like green and lean smoothies and gazpacho.

Oh yeah, and raspberries. Lots and lots of raspberries, which continue to ripen in my backyard each day at a rate that I can barely keep up with. I eat giant portions of them with yogurt every morning, and give them away to neighbors and co-workers, and I still have tubs of them in the fridge. I do plan on making another batch of freezer jam this year, which will use up a whole bunch. And I like freezing lots of these pretty red berries for enjoyment later in the year when a tiny package of them are $5 or more at the grocery store.

This raspberry vinegar is another great way to preserve that fresh summery tart berry flavor. Also, I know I've mentioned it before, but I love vinegar intensely. Seems a good pairing.

The recipe is idiot-proof. Except I'm kind of an idiot and went into a panic when I didn't have enough white wine vinegar so I substituted regular distilled white vinegar and sugar and thought I ruined the batch. I tasted it and nearly choked to death on the fumes. Not to worry, after a night in the fridge, this vinegar mellows but retains it's tartness and tastes exactly like a fresh sweet summer raspberry. And, it's stunningly, beautifully, shockingly bright fuchsia.

I loved this vinegar and wanted to drink it straight up, but settled for mixing it with some olive oil (1 part vinegar to 2 parts oil) and pouring it atop mixed greens with feta, toasted slivered almonds, and more raspberries. Stay cool out there Minneapolis.

Raspberry Vinegar, inspired by The Kitchn

Recipe Note: You should really just do 2 cups white wine vinegar with 1 cup mashed raspberries. It's easiest. But this is how I did it.

1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups regular distilled white vinegar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (ruins the color a bit but I love the flavor with raspberries)
2 Tbsp sugar
1 cup mashed raspberries (or any other fruit of your choice)

Heat everything in a medium saucepan over medium heat on a stove and mash berries with a potato masher or back of a spoon. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain out seeds. Chill at least overnight before using.

ONE YEAR AGO: Asian Noodle Salad
TWO YEARS AGO: Carrot Salad

Monday, July 11, 2011

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad

Oh to be a Minnesotan in the summer is a wonderful thing! I love almost everything about summer in MN: the sun, the heat, wearing sundresses and flip flops, flowers, weekend art fairs and festivals, the LAKES (!), eating al fresco, walking and biking, fresh fruits and vegetables, and I could go on and on. The two things I could do without are mosquitoes and cutting the grass.

If I sound happy, it's because I am. I have just returned from the most blissful 2 weeks at a lake cabin in central Minnesota. I realize the rare privilege it is to be able to do this every year with my family. And believe me, I make the most of it and do not take one second for granted.

Before I left, I had a couple of dear friends over for a goodbye dinner. I made a zucchini carpaccio (beautiful but kind of bland), barbecue shrimp over quinoa (okay but slightly overcooked), herbed goat cheese with crostini (always a hit), and greek yogurt lemon mousse (I love this stuff).

But, the undisputed star of the night was this grilled corn and tomato salad. It was so good and simple, I made it again at the lake to more positive reviews. The sweetness of the corn with the tartness of the lime juice is such a great flavor combination. Leftovers are killer on a taco salad or burrito, as an homage to Chipotle's corn salsa.

Grilled Corn and Tomato Salad
Serves 6 as a side dish

5 ears sweet corn, shucked
1/2 red onion, sliced into thick rounds
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
4 Tbsp butter, preferably room temperature
juice of 1 lime
1 big handful chopped cilantro
salt and pepper to taste

In one bowl, add your tomatoes, butter, lime juice, and cilantro.

Heat your outdoor gas or charcoal grill, indoor grill pan, or broiler. Brush or spray corn and onion slices with oil and grill until charred all over. Carefully cut the kernels from the cobs and chop the onion. Add hot kernels and onion to tomato/butter mixture (this will melt your butter if you didn't soften it first).

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.

ONE YEAR AGO: Grilled Pizza - I made this again at the lake this year and it was even better! I found a ridiculously simple no-rise pizza dough recipe, making a double batch and substituting 1/3 wheat flour, 2/3 AP and I froze the doughs. They were delicious.