Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Kale and Chickpeas with Cashew Cream

I'm obviously going nuts.  Ha ha, yeah in that way, but also in a good way, too.  What with the Almond Milk, Almond Dipping Sauce, and all the general nuts and seeds that play a big part in my daily diet, I get plenty of calcium, iron, protein, good fats, and fiber.

I never realized how versatile nuts are, until I started using them more often in cooking.  I'm still amazed by the fact you can milk an almond (anyone else thinking of Meet the Parents when Greg says "oh yeah, you can milk anything with a nipple"?).  I couldn't find any nipples on my almonds, but the milk sure is delicious.  (I'm SO sorry....I warned you I was going nuts).

Now I've discovered cream made from cashews.  And it's delicious.  Especially paired with some sauteed kale, red pepper, onion, and chickpeas.  I actually was trying to make a recipe that Cassandra sent me for kale with cashew butter but I was too lazy and cheap to go buy cashew butter so I improvised with some cashews from my freezer.  It was a cinch to make and it tasted great.

Kale and Chickpeas with Cashew Cream
Serves 4

1/2 onion, diced
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed and chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 can chickpeas, drained
1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked at least 30 mins in boiling water
3/4 cup cool water
1 clove garlic, grated on the microplane
salt, pepper, grated nutmeg, and hot sauce to taste

In a large skillet, saute onion and red pepper in olive oil over medium heat for 4-5 minutes with salt and pepper until soft.  Add kale and chickpeas, nutmeg, and a splash of water or stock.  Cover and cook 4-5 more minutes over medium-low heat to wilt.

In a blender, mix soaked and drained cashews, water, and garlic together and blend until creamy.  Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and hot sauce and blend again.  Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

Add cashew cream to wilted kale mixture and stir to combine and heat the cream.

Serve as is, or over cooked quinoa.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Green and Lean Smoothie
TWO YEARS AGO:  Oatmeal Pecan Pancakes
THREE YEARS AGO:  Salmon Cakes

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lentil Meatballs

I've got a whole lotta jars of roasted tomato sauce in my freezer that I need to use up this winter.  Usually, I eat it simply with grilled bread and poached eggs.

This time I wanted some spicy vegetarian meatballs to go with that yummy sauce, so I improvised this recipe with what I had on hand.  They turned out really great.  Probably would have been good with pasta, too, but I didn't have any.

Lentil Meatballs
Makes about 12 small meatballs

1.5 cups cooked brown lentils (I didn't have enough so I added green split peas too)
1 shallot, or 1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 sundried tomatoes in oil
1/4 cup kalamata olives
1/4 cup oats
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Reserve 1/2 cup cooked lentils and blend everything else in a food processor until smooth.  Mix back in the reserved lentils.  Form into golf-ball sized balls and place on oiled baking sheet.  Drizzle, brush, or spray tops of balls with more oil and bake for 20 minutes, turning halfway.

Ready to eat when golden brown and hot through.  Serve with tomato sauce and add cooked pasta if desired.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Florentine Eggs Benedict
TWO YEARS AGO:  Grilled Polenta with Spicy Black Beans
THREE YEARS AGO:  Spicy Green Bean Saute and Clementine Granita

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Lettuce Wraps with Almond Sauce

My 16-day food experiment (in which I eliminated meat, dairy, wheat, soy, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes, high GI fruits like melon and pineapple, and common allergens like peanuts) is over.  I didn't have any great epiphanies about my nutrition during this time, but most of the time I felt healthy and not deprived so I consider it a good learning experience.

The main things I learned about myself are: 1) I love bread/pitas/tortillas/crackers and really missed them, 2) I like green cucumber/celery/apple/lemon/ginger juice in the morning, and 3) I didn't miss sugar and caffeine as much as I thought I would, which tells me I was consuming too much for the amount of enjoyment it brought me.

In the beginning, I was very clumsy and unimaginative with my food planning - lots of roasted sweet potatoes with sauteed kale and beans and rice with avocado.  Now that I'm in the groove, I'm making more elaborate dinners.  This is a recipe that fits the plan, and it doesn't feel like you're missing out on anything.

This would be a great appetizer for a Superbowl party - bring the stir fried filling and a pile of lettuce wrappers and let people make their own wraps.  I brought some wraps to work for lunch and they're a little messy, so the next day I just ripped up all the lettuce and made it into a big salad to eat with a fork.

Probably the best thing here is the almond dipping sauce.  It's super easy - just blitz a few ingredients in your blender and you're done.  The flavor is outstanding and it's a thick enough consistency that it makes an awesome dip for raw carrot or celery sticks.  I'm making a second batch of this filling tonight to make more wraps because it's so tasty.  That should tell you all you need to know!

Lettuce Wraps with Almond Sauce, adapted from Meghan Telpner
Serves 4

Almond Dipping Sauce:
1/2 cup raw almonds, chopped (to help your blender)
1/4 cup cool water
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp soy sauce or tamari
1/2 clove garlic, grated on microplane
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
dash cayenne
pinch kosher salt

Lettuce Wrap Filling:
1 Tbsp soy sauce or tamari
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1 clove garlic, grated on microplane
1 inch ginger, grated on microplane
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups veggies, any kind - diced fine (I've used onion, red pepper, mushroom, snap peas, broccoli slaw, cabbage, celery, green beans, and they all work great)

For wraps:
1 head iceberg lettuce, bibb lettuce, or cabbage, leaves separated
grated carrot
chopped almonds
hot sauce

First make your almond dipping sauce by blending first 9 ingredients (almonds through salt) until smooth and set aside.

In a small bowl whisk together the first 5 filling ingredients (soy sauce through crushed red pepper) and set aside.

Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat with 1 Tbsp neutral oil (not olive oil).  Add your diced veggies and cook over screaming hot heat for 2-3 minutes or until they start to get some color and soften.  Add your reserved whisked filling mixture and cook 30 seconds.  Remove from heat.

Assemble your wraps by filling lettuce leaves with veggie mixture, garnish with carrots, almonds, and hot sauce, and dip in almond dipping sauce.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Chocolate Chickpea Cake
TWO YEARS AGO:  Mushroom Bourguignon
THREE YEARS AGO:  Split Pea Soup

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Banana Oat Pancakes

I had two very lovely houseguests this weekend, one of my very best friends from birth (Amy) and her nearly 6-year old daughter (Miss Elli).  We filled our time with plenty of games, a freezing walk to see some Pond Hockey, and lots of girl talk.

One area in which I'm culinarily deficient is in kid cuisine.  Even when I try to think ahead, I can not come up with kid-friendly healthy food.  Those little buggers are too smart!  One time I made from-scratch macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets for my nephew.  He wouldn't touch it - he's no dummy, he knew that macaroni didn't come from the blue box!  And he even refused my decadent dark chocolate pudding for dessert because he thought I hid broccoli in it.  Yep, I've scarred him for life.

When I asked Miss Elli this weekend what she wanted for breakfast, she said "cereal."  Oops.  I totally forgot about cereal.  I had bought bread, bananas, and eggs.  But cereal never crossed my mind!  I offered to make some granola she could eat like cereal with almond milk, oatmeal, egg-in-a-frame, scrambled eggs, french toast, waffles...all a no-go.  Finally - I asked about pancakes and she said yes.

I found a recipe that's simple and very healthy.  And the best part?  She ate it.  Whew.

I made these pancakes vegan, gluten-free, and sugar-free, and they came together in about 2 minutes.  You can of course sub in regular flour, regular milk, and add sweetener if you don't care about the wheat, dairy, and sugar.  They are not sweet at all (isn't that what the syrup is for?), and I think they taste like a bowl of banana oatmeal in pancake form.

I tried adding blueberries but they just fell apart when I flipped them, so I'd recommend just adding blueberries to your syrup if you want the extra antioxidents (just boil blueberries in a little maple syrup until soft then crush with a fork).  I did cave and added chocolate chips for Miss Elli (I'm not fooling myself, I know this is why she cleaned her plate!).  Oh well, if a tablespoon of chocolate chips gets her to eat all the good nutrients in the oats and bananas, it's worth it.

Banana Oat Pancakes, adapted from Colourful Palate
Makes 7-8 large pancakes

1 1/4 cups oats
1/2 cup oat flour (or other flour)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2-3 dates (optional, for added sweetness)
1 1/2 cups almond milk (or other milk)
2 ripe bananas

Add-ins (optional) like nuts, berries, or chocolate chips.

Blend all ingredients (except add-ins) in a blender, or mix together well in a large bowl until bananas are mashed and everything is mixed well.

Heat a non-stick pan or griddle over low and spray with cooking spray, or brush with olive oil or butter.  Pour a ladle of batter in a circle.  If you dare, sprinkle the pancake with berries, nuts, or chocolate chips at this point.

Let cook on low heat for 4-5 minutes until bubbles form all over top of pancake and edges turn golden brown.  Gently flip and cook on the other side for 1-2 minutes.

Serve hot with maple syrup.  Or, I like to spread cold leftover pancakes with with peanut butter and roll them up for a breakfast on the go.

ONE YEAR AGO:  What are the odds?  Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Syrup
TWO YEARS AGO:  Fennel Tangelo Salad
THREE YEARS AGO:  Beet and Goat Cheese Salad

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Beet Hummus

It's the little things that make me happy.  Like eating something as beautiful as this deep magenta veggie dip that's just loaded with nutritional goodness.

Beets are, quite frankly, a very ugly vegetable when raw (Sorry, beets! I still love you!).  But when roasted and peeled, they're stunning. Roasting also intensifies their sweet earthiness and makes them rich and delicious.  Add some tahini, lemon, garlic, and cumin, and you've got an appetizer that tastes as good as it looks.

Beet Hummus, adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini
Serves about 6 as an appetizer

2 medium beets, roasted (olive oil, salt, and pepper in 375 degree oven for 60 minutes or until easily pierced by fork)
2 Tbsp tahini (ground sesame paste)
1 small clove garlic, grated on microplane
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
about 1/4 cup olive oil

Add all ingredients except oil in food processor.  Pulse to combine, then turn on processor and stream in oil until you get a nice dip consistency.  Serve with raw veggies, or crostini/pita wedges.  Would be great as a sandwich spread.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Sweet Potato Shepherd's Pie
TWO YEARS AGO:  Orange Glazed Tempeh Cutlets
THREE YEARS AGO:  Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Almond Milk

I'm doing a very mild food experiment on myself this month.  For about two and a half weeks, I'm going gluten-free, vegan, caffeine-free, sugar-free, soy-free, and alcohol-free.  I'm right smack dab in the middle of the experiment now, which means I have a 100% plant-based, whole foods diet.

While the first three days were ROUGH (I had no idea I was so addicted to coffee, from only 1 cup a day), I now feel like a million bucks and have ridiculous amounts of energy.  One of the things I look forward to each morning during this experiment is oatmeal or a smoothie stuffed with fruit and nuts.  In both, I've been using almond milk to add creaminess, fat, and flavor.

All of a sudden, I had one of those slap-my-forehead-DUH moments today when I realized there was a boatload of sugar and preservatives in the carton of almond milk I was using.  It had never occurred to me that I could MAKE it from scratch, with a regular blender, for pennies compared to the carton from the store.  I feel pretty stupid for ignoring this for so long (pretty much exactly how I felt when I learned to make yogurt).

So, from now on I'll be saving money and making my own almond milk.  I use a regular blender (got a nice new one for Christmas!), but it's not one of those fancy Vitamix things so you don't need to go max out your credit card to get the equipment either.

Almond Milk, adapted from Meghan Telpner
Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup raw almonds (I used sliced, but whole works too)
2 cups cold water
splash of maple syrup, honey, agave, or a couple dates (optional)
vanilla (optional)

Put almonds in a large bowl and cover with boiling water (I used my teapot).  Let sit for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.  This softens the almonds to help blend.

Drain soaking liquid.  Add almonds and 2 cups fresh cold water to a blender.  Blend for 3-5 minutes on high or until no chunks remain.  If using, add your sweetener and vanilla and blend again.

Line a colander or strainer with a kitchen towel or cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.  Pour almond milk through cloth and squeeze out as much milk as you can.  Transfer milk to a mason jar and store in refrigerator for up to a week.

You could keep the almond pulp to use as a high fiber addition in baking.  I haven't tried it, but I heard you can dry it in a low oven to create almond flour.

ONE YEAR AGO:  White Pizza with Greens
TWO YEARS AGO:  Barley Risotto with Mushrooms, Kale, and Sweet Potatoes
THREE YEARS AGO:  Caprese Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Roasted Chickpeas

Let's talk about snacks.  I love 'em.  Snacks are truly my weakness - I used to be able to eat a mountain of Wheat Thins, a truck full of tortilla chips and salsa, and don't even get me started on Doritos.

Why shouldn't our snacks be good for us?  Why can't they be loaded with protein and fiber?  Oh, but they can!  Try garbanzo beans, simply roasted until crispy and crunchy.  You can't eat a whole bunch of them (like you would with processed chips) because they are beans, after all.

I know you are wondering about how they taste.  They are very reminiscent of Corn Nuts (remember those?  another high school flashback!) and they taste like whatever you spice them up with.

I've made 4 batches of Roasted Chickpeas in the last 3 days.  The first was spiced with a spice blend I had in my cupboard - African Peri Peri. My second batch was a sweet version with maple syrup and cinnamon.  And my third batch (my favorite) was simply salt and smoked sweet paprika.  Batch 4 was a repeat of Batch 3.

Possibilities are literally endless for ways to flavor these chickpeas.  The Kitchn has a bunch of ideas.  A few more that come to my mind are chili powder and lime juice, barbecue sauce, or Hidden Valley Ranch powder (it'd be like making your own Cool Ranch Corn Nuts!)

However you choose to spice your Roasted Chickpeas, just make sure you do NOT underbake them, and don't be stingy on the seasoning.  These little nuggets are highly disappointing if they don't crunch loudly.  Put them back in the oven if they're not super crunchy.  

Roasted chickpeas are to be enjoyed as a snack.  They are also a great crunchy addition to salads, or on top of this beautiful split pea soup.

Roasted Chickpeas
1 can (or 2 cups) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp spice or spice blend of your choice (paprika, cumin, rosemary, etc)
(instead of salt + spice, you could substitute maple syrup or honey and cinnamon)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a baking pan with tinfoil.
Use a kitchen towel or paper towels to dry your chickpeas.  Toss with oil and spices.
Bake for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven before they burn.

Let cool and enjoy.

THREE YEARS AGO:  Chocolate Peanut Granola

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Crockpot Shredded Chicken Tacos

OK, here's the thing.  I've been pretty picky about my food lately - probably a result of the holidays - that it must be beautiful, colorful, and elegant.  Lots of pomegranate seeds brightening everything up, pretty salads, layered roasted vegetable crepe cakes, and such.

This is exactly the opposite of that.  This recipe is U-G-L-Y, and it ain't got no alibi, it's ugly.  Yeah, it's ugly.    But even though beauty-impaired, these chicken tacos are so stupid simple and easily adaptable for a family or a crowd, I just couldn't NOT post them! 

The recipe originally caught my eye in one of those junk spam emails I get everyday on healthy eating and wellness - something about a "2-ingredient chicken."  Those 2 ingredients are chicken breasts and salsa, cooked together in a crock pot.  See? I told you...stupid simple.  (I made it so much more difficult by adding onion, beans, and corn, oh my!)

My only complaint in this chicken is the spice level.  When you cook tomatoes for that long, they actually turn very sweet and hide any spice lurking in the salsa.  So these tacos were not as spicy as I like.  If you make this, I highly recommend using hot or extra hot salsa because it mellows so much during that long cooking period.  Or better yet, throw in some jalapeno peppers.  Like I said, this is a very adaptable recipe.  

No matter what you do, your chicken will fall apart and shred very easily, then toss it back in the crockpot to soak up all the salsa, then keep warm until ready to eat.  

I served my shredded chicken on a tortilla with some quinoa, avocado, yogurt, hot sauce, and cabbage slaw with cilantro lime vinaigrette.  It would also be good over rice or quinoa.

Crockpot Shredded Chicken Tacos
Serves 6

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (frozen or not, doesn't matter)
1 16 oz jar (or 2 cups) hot and spicy salsa
2 Tbsp chili powder + 1 Tbsp cumin + 1 tsp salt (OR, a packet of taco seasoning)
healthy pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 onion, sliced (optional)
1-2 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and diced (optional)
2 cups frozen or 1 can drained canned corn (optional)
2 cups or 1 can drained black beans (optional)

Layer all ingredients in a crock pot (chicken on bottom, salsa on top, everything else in between) and cook on low for 8 hours, or on high for 4 hours.  Pull chicken out before serving and shred with two forks.  Mix shredded chicken back in with everything else and keep warm until serving on tortillas with other taco fixin's.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Potato Leek Frittata
THREE YEARS AGO:  Kale and Egg on Toast