Archive | May, 2012

On Permission, and a Recipe

29 May

I’m graduating from a master’s program in June, and boy am I ready. I have two major projects to finish this coming week plus my part-time job at the university, which this quarter involves an assignment that takes up a significant amount of my off-campus time. On top of that, it’s job application season. That means I’m spending several hours each week carefully crafting cover letters to send off into HR black holes. I’m trying to transition back into the field I was in before graduate school, which, lucky me, is incredibly popular with my demographic. I’m competing with hundreds of other people just like me for a handful of coveted positions.

So what I should have done Sunday is put one of those projects to rest and fill out one more job application. What I did Sunday is give myself permission to do some of the things I enjoy, which this weekend meant planting my sprouts and making a noodle bowl. I try not to eat pasta too often–I think defaulting to pasta and pizza is one of the traps new vegetarians fall into–but this recipe was too perfect. Crunchy snow peas, whole wheat pasta, sweet-and-salty dressing–it needed to get made, and made now. As is my habit, I made several adjustments based on what I had in the pantry. Next time I’m going to experiment with adding a few handfuls of shitake mushrooms, but the clean, crisp taste of the snow peas on their own is hard to beat.

Snow Pea Noodle Bowl

adapted from Naturally Ella

  • 8 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 pound snow peas, ends trimmed and patted dry
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 4 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds

In a large bowl, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, honey, and ginger. When the noodles are finished, drain and toss with the dressing.

In a large skillet, toast sesame seeds over medium low heat until lightly browned. Set aside. Add coconut oil to the skillet and turn heat to medium high. When the oil is hot, add the snow peas and toss until well coated with oil. Continue to sauté, stirring frequently, until peas are bright green and have a few browned spots.

Add the snow peas to the noodle bowl and toss. Sprinkle sesame seeds over each serving.

The Sprouts in their new home.

Summery Corn Cakes with Tomato & Avocado Salsa

26 May

Last week was not kind in terms of having the sort of schedule that would have allowed me to cook real meals. It was starting to make me twitchy and cranky, so I decided that Friday night must involve a from-scratch dinner. With the weather warming up again after a string of gray days and the holiday weekend ahead, I decided it would be a perfect evening to make this recipe from Ezra Poundcake (I know!), who adapted it from Sarah Foster’s Southern Kitchen. I made a few tweaks of my own: the sweet corn in stores this early is pretty sorry looking, so I used frozen, and I hate buying ingredients just for one or two tablespoons of something. I’m sure the official version is fantastic, but this is none too shabby. The corn cake recipe as I made it is relatively low fat, but the avocado means it’s still a filling, satisfying meal without being heavy.

This recipe makes about 8 largish cakes, but if you have the patience to stand at the stove long enough, small cakes with a tiny spoonful of the salsa would be a great appetizer.

Summery Corn Cakes with Tomato & Avocado Salsa

  • 2 cups corn kernels
  • 1 cup white whole wheat flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • ¼ cup diced red onion
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch or two of kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • canola oil spray

Put 1 cup of the corn in a blender and pulse until slightly pureed but still chunky. Add to a large bowl with the remaining kernels. Mix in the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda, salt, and pepper. Slowly add in the eggs and milk and stir until just combined.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Spray with canola oil (or fry them in a bit of oil if you prefer). Spoon batter onto the skillet; the amount of batter will depend on how large you want the cakes. Cook 1-2 minutes each side until golden.

Keep them warm in the oven until ready to serve, then top with the salsa.

Tomato & Avocado Salsa

  • 4 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 2 tablespoons diced fresh basil*
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 avocados, peeled and diced

Mix together all of the ingredients except the avocado. This will keep in the fridge for a few hours or a day.

Just before serving, gently fold in the diced avocado and top the corn cakes with the salsa.

* The original recipe calls for 1 tablespoon basil and 1 tablespoon cilantro. I avoid soap (sorry, cilantro) whenever possible, but if you like it, that would provide a more authentic taste profile. Fresh mexican oregano is a good substitute for cilantro too.

Conscious Box: May 2012, Part II

17 May

While I’m very happy with my first Conscious Box and I’m already looking forward to June, there were a few products I wasn’t in love with.

Ultima Replenisher: I couldn’t quite tell from the packet what this is, aside from the fact that I’m supposed to mix it with water. It’s high in vitamin C, but a little internet research reveals that it’s an electrolyte replacement drink mix. Not bad, but a glass of water would have done just as well, unless there’s a real possibility you’re low on electrolytes. But most people have to be ill or work out like a professional athlete for that to be the case.

Natural Vitality Organic Life Vitamins: This was a 1 oz liquid version of a multivitamin. I thought about putting it into a smoothie, but for the sake of science I tried it chilled and straight as the package suggests. It was, um, not so good. Plus, why would I need 1,667% of my daily value of vitamin B? Or 670% of vitamin E? This is precisely why I take a children’s multivitamin: two vitamins (ok, gummy vitamins) puts me right around 100% DV. There’s a debate as to whether the average adult needs multivitamins at all–recent research is starting to oppose the practice–but unless your diet is seriously deficient I don’t think there’s a reason for these “super vitamins.”

Canfo Flush Me Quick Cleanse capsules: These contain aloe vera and mangosteen extract and a blend of dandelion, cassia, dong-quai, licorice, and ginseng. I did not actually try these, nor will I.

And here’s why: I think “detoxes” and “cleanses” are, frankly, bunk. Assuming you’re a healthy, nonsmoking adult who doesn’t spend a lot of time around, say, lead paint, your body is “detoxing” itself just fine every day. And notice that supplement manufacturers never tell you exactly which “toxins” their product is “cleansing.” But people do report feeling better after completing one of these detoxes, and I think there’s a very reasonable explanation that has nothing to do with capsules and concoctions.

Let’s say I decide to do a “cleanse.” I spend money on supplements, juices, teas, whatever other supplies are required. I go grocery shopping and stock up on the fruits and vegetables I’ll consume while completing the cleanse. While I’m doing said cleanse, I don’t eat heavy, fatty foods, and I don’t drink alcohol. I also don’t eat a lot of food, as the cleanse prescribes taking in only a certain number of calories per day. I make time for the gym and other relaxing activities.

At the end of my 5 or 7 or 10 days, I’ve lost two or three pounds. I’m proud of myself for prioritizing healthy eating and exercise. I have more energy, and I’m sleeping better. The cleanse was a success!

Or not. I think being mindful of healthy eating and exercise will lead to feelings of well being with or without the “detox” products. Whenever we have to spend more time thinking about what we put in our mouths, we’re going to make better decisions. No one is going to choke down lemon juice with cayenne pepper in the morning and finish the day with a burger and a beer. I’ve been feeling pretty peachy since my husband and I decided to go vegetarian at the beginning of the month–I’ve simply had to think harder about what I eat, and that’s led to a greater awareness of healthy options.

I have absolutely no beef with Conscious Box including these types of products. I still love the idea and can’t wait for the next round. And I don’t think all supplements are bunky–there’s solid evidence backing extra vitamin D and fish oil, both of which I use, and a quality cup of peppermint or cinnamon tea can do wonders. But a product purporting to correct something I have no evidence my body is failing to do? No thanks.

Now that I’ve stepped down from my soapbox, I realize that I forgot to mention a few other nice items: Mate Factor Yerba Mate tea, Good Nature Cranberry tea, and a packet of Vaska laundry detergent. I’m looking forward to using these products–just didn’t have a chance to try them yet.

Conscious Box: May 2012, Part I

15 May

I finally jumped on the sample-box-by-mail trend. Those who follow makeup and beauty trends are probably familiar with Birchbox, but now the genre has expanded to include wine, art, gourmet food, and DIY (For the Makers is just about the best thing I’ve ever seen and I desperately want to sign up). I wasn’t particularly interested in Birchbox, and wine and gourmet food are things I know a fair amount about and feel comfortable experimenting with. Where I’m not so sure sure of myself is the organic, eco-friendly world. I have a few brands that I buy regularly–Method, Biokleen, Amy’s, Seventh Generation–but the labels “natural,” “green,” and “organic” are so flexible and depend on who’s doing the labeling. And, I hate to say it, but there’s just as much snake oil salesmanship going on in the granola market as in regular retail. And there is nothing so sad as getting excited about a new product and bringing it home only to find it’s inedible, smells to high heaven, or makes your house dirtier than it was when you began.

Enter Conscious Box, a monthly sample box filled with vetted products and a handful of coupons for that month’s manufacturers. I just received my first box, and so far I’m very satisfied. I’ve already identified a few things I’d like to purchase. I’ve also identified a few things I’m never going to purchase, which is part of my plan too.

Mayesa Cacao Original: This is a dairy-free, soy-free, gluten-free based drink. Those are all “frees” I don’t need to go out of my way to avoid, so this is a product I never would have looked twice at. I had heard a bit about hemp protein as an alternative to soy or almond, but again, never gave it much thought. Honestly, I was surprised I enjoyed this so much. It has a very rich dark chocolate flavor with cinnamon undertones–it reminded me of mexican hot chocolate. 170 calories, 5g protein, and 3g fiber is a pretty good deal for this much chocolate flavor. I can see this helping me get through my 3pm slump, when I’m mostly likely to wander over to the vending machine or find my way to some godawful pastry at the student center.

Wembe Amazonian Soil Assai Soap: Those who know me know how much I love soap. I have far more opinions about soap than any normal person. As such, I was thrilled to see a whole bar of soap in my first CB. I was not so thrilled with the soap itself. But that’s not the soap’s fault–I just don’t care for the scent. I’ve been using it on my hands and I’m impressed by how moisturizing it is, so if I run across the brand again, I’d try another variety.

Bambooee Reusable Bamboo Towel: This bamboo-fiber towel is designed to replace paper towels (1 roll is supposedly equal to 50 or 60 rolls of regular towel). Paper towels have been one of the hardest things for me to “green” in our home. Sponges sort of gross me out; rags aren’t very absorbent; microfiber cloths need to be washed regularly–I need something reusable but also something I won’t feel too bad about tossing if it gets really gross rather than doing a load of laundry. These bamboo towels are great. The cleaning I did with my sample towel would have used up many, many paper towels, and the towel is still intact and ready for another round.

Better Life Cool Calm Collected Lotion – Citrus Mint: Love it. The box also included a 10% off coupon for clean happens.com, and I definitely plan to use it. It’s light, not too greasy, and absorbs quickly. It’s just-about-everything-free. I smell the mint more than the citrus, which is a plus for me.

Dr. Tung’s Snap-on Toothbrush Sanitizers: These are little caps that fit over the brush’s bristles; I’ve used a similar product on my travel toothbrushes for years, but not any that claimed to sanitize with “disinfecting vapors of essential oils,” and certainly not any shaped like lion paws and with stickers of cartoon lions on the front. Do they sanitize? Who knows. But they will keep my brushes protected, and, really cartoon lions.

So these are the clear winners for me in my first foray into sample boxes. Part II–the non-winners, of which there were a few–to follow shortly.

Variations On a Frittata

14 May

There are few things I love more than a one-dish meal. And one of those things is a recipe that can easily be adapted to the season or to whatever I have in the fridge. Enter the frittata. Vegetable frittatas have become one of our easy weekend meals–they’re warm, they’re filling, and they’re really hard to mess up.

The essentials are a cast iron skillet, olive oil, eggs, salt & pepper, and vegetables. Herbs and cheese are wonderful but technically optional. For a basic idea of the procedure, I’ll give the version I made tonight, followed by a few variations.

Vegetable Frittata 

  • 4 whole eggs
  • 8 egg whites
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 5 scallions, thinly sliced (including white stem)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound asparagus, chopped into 1” pieces
  • 2 small sweet potatoes, cooked,  cut into 1/4” slices
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs, water, and sliced scallions. Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Sauté the asparagus until it begins to turn bright green. Remove from heat and pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Swish it around a bit to evenly distribute the asparagus. Since the skillet is hot, the egg will begin to set. Arrange the sweet potato slices on the top of the egg–place them gently; they should “float” a bit. Sprinkle the parmesan on top.

Bake for 25ish minutes, until the egg is set but still shiny and the cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Garnish with the chopped chives and serve in slices.

I wanted to title this something like “Spring Green Frittata,” but the sweet potatoes nixed that. Tasty, sure, but not particularly springy. But that’s what I had in the cupboard, and that’s exactly what this recipe is great for. Since everything is baked together, you can use those vegetables that are a little past their prime cosmetically. In most cases, especially heading into spring and summer, I’d use new potatoes or yukon golds rather than sweet. Ooh, and how cool would purple fingerlings be?

Here’s a brief list of frittatas past and combinations I think would be great: 

  • Basil, cherry tomatoes (halved and seeded), sautéed garlic, mozzarella
  • Thyme, mushrooms, yellow onion, gouda
  • Cilantro, bell peppers, red onion, jack
  • Oregano, spinach, black olives, feta
  • Broccoli, cauliflower,  yellow onion, cheddar

Enjoy!

Fritatta

The Tofu Has Landed; or, Chocolate Pudding

13 May

I have never been into tofu. I didn’t even see tofu until I was in college and it was available in the stir fry line in the dining hall. At that point I figured why have tofu when I can have chicken? But now that we’re experimenting with vegetarianism, I can’t default to chicken anymore. One can only eat so many beans, and I’m not interested in meat replacements like TVP. So let the tofu experiments begin.

I decided to start with a recipe that is equivalent to dipping my toe into the tofu kiddie pool. That is, something that I could expect to neither resemble nor taste like tofu: chocolate pudding! It’s rich but light, high in protein, and stupidly easy to make. I’m hooked.

Chocolate Tofu Pudding

16 ounces silken tofu

8 ounces semisweet chocolate

6 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a blender, whip the tofu until it’s completely smooth. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan (or double boiler, if you want to get fancy or if your saucepan is flimsy) stir together the chocolate, water, cocoa, and vanilla. Melt over low heat until smooth.

Pour the melted chocolate into the blender with the tofu and process until well combined. Pour the mixture into six to eight small ramekins and refrigerate until set (at least an hour).

The recipe called for six servings, but the pudding is so rich that I parcel it out into eight smaller portions. I have a set of the tiniest ziploc plastic containers and they’re perfect for making this pudding lunchbox friendly.

Enjoy!

 

Adapted slightly from Moosewood: Cooking for Health. The recipe called for 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar; I made one batch with and one without and couldn’t taste a difference, so now I just skip it.

Sprouts! Update

12 May

The sprouts have really grown! The first warm, sunny weekend day will be transplanting day. I think my husband has a lot of dirt hauling in his future. (That’s ok, he likes it. I swear.)