Here Be Monsters

24 Jul

I don’t really like vegetables.

I mean, they’re ok, and often quite good prepared certain ways, but I can’t say I get excited about them. I do see the irony in this, yes: a vegetarian blog by someone who doesn’t love vegetables? If I had my druthers, all the vegetable nutrition in the world would be contained in russet potatoes, corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and onions. Carrots and celery are acceptable if they have been cooked long enough to take on the flavor of whatever they’re in–soup, pot roast–i.e., they must not taste like carrots or celery. My husband happily munches spinach straight from the bag. I kind of want to punch him.

I want to make it clear that I do not lead a vegetableless existence. I do eat salads, last night’s dinner had eggplant, asparagus is great in frittatas, and so on. But my vegetable consumption, especially greens, is too low for any reasonably health-conscious adult. So how could I get the greens without needing to sit dejectedly in front of a pile of kale?

Smoothie-making, and its cousin, Juicing, are getting a bad rap, and in some ways they deserve it. Sugar is sugar no matter how you slice it, and fruit has a lot of sugar. So, smoothies can be a glycemic disaster, and juicing is even worse, because you’ve lost the regulating benefits of fiber. And the fat content can vary wildly, in either direction: add fruit to frozen yogurt and you might as well have a milkshake; add only fruit to water and you’ll be hungry in an hour.

So how can you avoid a monstrous concoction that will give you nothing but trouble? Keep a few things in mind:

Is there fat or protein?
Fat and protein = full. Most smoothie recipes use banana to make them, well, smooth. But try avocado instead. Yes, it’s high in fat, but not that kind of fat, and it’s lower in sugar, which means you’ll feel satisfied longer. Avocados do require a little planning  to give them time to ripen, and once they’re ripe they need to be used quickly, but it is possible to freeze them for ease of use. Just puree in a blender with 1 teaspoon of lemon juice per avocado, and then use an ice cube tray to freeze individual portions. The cubes should be good for about three months.

Plain greek yogurt or protein powder work well too–you’re unlikely to notice the “grit” that protein drinks made with water have. And for heaven’s sake, none of that Dannon or Yoplait stuff if you go the yogurt route. Avoid added sugar in whatever dairy or protein you decide to incorporate (plain yogurt, unsweetened almond milk, plain nut butters, etc.).

Is there fiber?
Fat and protein and fiber = a smoothie that will keep you going until lunch, or dinner, or whatever. Don’t forget that even a “good” smoothie has as many calories as a meal–they’re not snacks. (Unless you can allot 350 or so calories per snack, in which case you are probably hanging around the Olympic pool this week.)

Is there sugar?
Trick question. Unless you’re doing an all-veg smoothie, your fruit is contributing plenty of sugar. I do find that  some frozen fruit (pineapple, raspberry) is less sweet than fresh, so I sometimes add a little raw honey if I’m using a greens mix that is particularly…assertive. I can’t comment on things like stevia, as I haven’t branched that far into alternative sweeteners.

So, there are about a million green smoothie recipes floating around the internet, some good, some bad, but here’s what I’ve been drinking these days to help myself feel a little more like a responsible adult. Would I be better off with a salad? Sure. But what should happen and what is likely to happen, are, as we all know, two very different things.

color-coordinated green straw poking up Loch Ness style

Green Monster Smoothie

  • 1 granny smith apple, diced
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple bits
  • 2-3 cups greens (Trader Joe’s just came out with a kale, collard, and spinach mix!)
  • 1-2 cups water (start with one and add more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey


Black & Blue

19 Jul

Ever have one of those days that’s not truly bad, but not quite good either? One of those days when your plea to the universe is less “Why me?” and more “Come on, really”? A day when you realize that your grown-from-seed, vibrant-when-you-left pepper plants did not survive your weekend away? And the train pulls away the second you get to the platform, and you break the impossible-to-replace headphones you’ve used nearly every day for seven years, and your pizza crust fails for the fifteenth time? And the dryer is broken and you’re left with a pile of wet socks and underwear? Just one of those days when you’re feeling a little pushed around, a little bruised and black and blue?

Yeah, me too. Here’s some dessert to make us feel better.

Black & Blueberry Galette

for the filling:

  • 1 pound fresh mixed blueberries and blackberries (I used about 2/3 blueberries and 1/3 blackberries)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (3/4 cup if you prefer or if your berries are really tart)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

for the crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tablespoon white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup ice water

to assemble:

  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • coarse sugar

To make the crust, combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until it’s evenly distributed in pea-sized bits. Add the vinegar to the ice water and slowly pour in, stirring gently. Use just enough water to make the dough come together; it’s ok if it’s a bit crumbly. Divide the dough in two and place each pile on plastic wrap. Use the plastic wrap to shape the dough into discs. Refrigerate the wrapped dough for at least 1 hour. (This will make 2 crusts, so you’ll have one to freeze.)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Gently stir together the berries, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, salt, cinnamon and cornstarch.

Cut or fold a piece of parchment paper to the size of a rimless baking sheet. Lightly flour the parchment. Roll out the dough in a rough circle to 1/4″ thick.

Pile the fruit mixture into the center of the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a ring about 2″ wide. Working in one direction, gently fold up the sides of the crust over the fruit. Brush the dough with the beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Slide the pastry onto the baking sheet. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbling. Cool on a wire rack.

Cold Lunch For a Hot Day

7 Jul

There were several reasons why this recipe seemed like a Very Good Idea for lunch today:

  • Chicago has been flirting with 100 degree temperatures this week.
  • Turning on any heat-producing device (stove, oven, hairdryer…) seemed like a Very Bad Idea.
  • Cold lunches usually = sandwiches, and I don’t really care for sandwiches. (I know.)
  • I should eat more greens.
  • My basil needed pruning.

And lo, all my problems solved in a single recipe!

Cannellini Bean Salad with Spinach and Lemon-Basil Dressing
adapted from Heather’s Dish

I made some adjustments to fit my preferences and scaled down since I was the only one eating. Multiply as needed to serve as a main dish or as a side for a group.

  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced
  • 3 good handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • juice & zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 small or 1 large clove garlic, minced or microplaned
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • kosher or sea salt to taste

Combine the beans and the sliced scallion in a bowl.

In a blender, pulse the spinach a few times until it’s coarsely chopped. No need to worry if some whole leaves remain. Add the spinach to the bowl with the beans.

Put the rest of the ingredients in the blender and pulse until the dressing has emulsified. Pour over the beans and spinach, mix gently, and salt to taste. Eat, and be very, very glad you decided not to use the stove.

Grandmothers and the Internet (Mostly) Can’t Be Wrong

5 Jul

So the first item on my Summer 2012 list  is a lattice crust pie. I didn’t set out to go in order, but you know what’s really good? Cherry pie. And you know what’s in season in the Midwest? Cherries. Nearly every stand at the farmer’s market last week had pints and pints of shiny purple-red Michigan cherries.

Choosing the fruit was the easy part. Now I had to decide on a crust recipe, and oh my goodness is that a touchy subject. Butter, no butter, all shortening, some shortening, egg, no egg…

I immediately rejected any recipes that included egg. That just ain’t right. And I would have sworn that all pie crusts used vinegar as a tenderizer, but the internet reveals this is not so. Well then. I hoped Smitten Kitchen could clear things up. Pie Crust 101 is Deb’s take on a Cook’s Illustrated recipe. While CI is one of my favorite resources, they can be a little fussy, and I did object to their inclusion of vodka. I wanted a classic crust—the kind of thing someone would find on a brittle, yellowing index card in grandma’s recipe box, including my own. (I don’t know, maybe more grandmothers than I think keep vodka in the freezer? For pie crusts.)

My preference for streamlined recipes also steered me away from any that called for both shortening and butter. I wanted one or the other. In Pie Crust 102, Deb comes down firmly on the side of butter. In most things I usually defer to her wisdom, but…well, I decided I wanted to use shortening, for two reasons. Shortening simply seemed right. Something about Crisco strikes me as particularly American, something that sets pie apart from tarts and galettes. My grandmother’s kitchen always had a can of Crisco in the cupboard, and so does my mother’s. As I sat wondering if I had been unwittingly taken in by patriotic branding campaigns, I remembered that one of my other Summer 2012 list items is a fruit galette. I plan to use a Martha Stewart pâte brisée recipe, and pâte brisée is always an all-butter crust. (Crisco in a French kitchen? I think not.) So why not give myself the chance to play with two different doughs?

What you’ll see below is a composite recipe, the ingredients and measurements chosen from among what seemed to be the most common. Many recipes called for 2 ¼ cups flour, many for 2 ¾ cups flour, so why not try 2 ½? But maybe that 2 ½ cup recipe didn’t include vinegar—now it does. And so on. I’m not going to tell you this is the perfect pie crust, the quintessential crust, the epitome of flakiness. It might not be. But my taste-tester-in-chief was happy, so who am I to argue.

On to the pie!

Lattice Crust Cherry Pie

recipes and procedures are for a 9” double crust pie

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cold shortening
  • ¾ cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the shortening until pea-sized chunks remain.

Add the vinegar to the water. Stir in gradually until the dough just begins to come together—don’t overwork it. You still want to be able to see streaks of shortening. Divide dough into two pieces and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least an hour.

When your dough is nice and cold, flour your rolling surface and the rolling pin, and keep a bowl of flour close by to dip into as needed. Roll out one crust, keeping it and your pin well floured, until it’s about a ¼” thick and the diameter is at least 2” larger than your pie pan.

Carefully drape your crust over the pan. If you get a few tears, just patch them with the excess crust you’ll trim from around the sides. Pop the pan back into the fridge while you make the filling and roll out the top crust.

And for that filling…

  • 5 cups pitted tart cherries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
  • coarse sugar like demerara or turbinado (optional)

Preheat oven to 400°F.

In a large bowl, stir together the cherries, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch with just enough water to make a thick slurry – about a tablespoon or so. Stir into the cherries and set aside until you’ve decided what to do about the top crust.

And about that top crust…

You’ve got several options here. You can roll out the remaining piece of dough just as you did the first, drape it over the pie, trim the excess, crimp the edges, and cut a few slits in the top to let excess steam escape.

Or you can be an overachiever and make a lattice crust:

Roll out your dough just as you did for the bottom crust: ¼” thick, 2” larger than your pie pan. With a pasty wheel or pizza cutter, slice the crust vertically into even strips. You can make the strips as wide as 1” or as small as ½”—I’ve settled on ¾”. They really do need to be the same size though, so if you’re like me and your first freehand attempt looked like a drunk toddler’s work, find a plastic ruler, mark off each cut, and then use the edge of the ruler as a guide.

Now that you have your nice, even strips, go to your computer, click this link, and print Smitten Kitchen’s extraordinarily helpful illustration. I’ve tried typing out the method several times, but honestly, you’ll want a visual aid the first time. It’s really not as hard as it looks, I promise.

A third option would be a mock lattice crust. Still very pretty, but a little less time consuming, as you’re skipping the over-and-under part. Roll, measure, and cut your crust as in the full lattice procedure. Evenly space every other strip vertically across the pie, and then evenly space the remaining strips horizontally across the pie. Trim the excess and pinch together the edges.

So! Now that that’s settled…

Fill the bottom pie crust with the cherry mixture. Place the bits of butter over the cherries. Top with your chosen style of crust. Sprinkle the coarse sugar over the crust.

Bake at 400°F for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350°F and bake for 25 to 30 minutes more, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. This bubbling part is important – thickeners like cornstarch need to reach a minimum temperature to do their thing. If the crust looks done before the filling bubbles, cover the perimeter with aluminum foil to keep it from browning any more.

Let the pie cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

That wasn’t so bad, was it?

On Summers

21 Jun

Today is the first full day of summer for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. And whooooo boy can you tell. But I’m not going to complain, no ma’am. I spend all winter (and late fall, and most of spring) whining about how cold I am to anyone who will listen. So when summer comes I feel obligated to keep my mouth shut. Mostly.

Every summer I make a mental list of things I want to do before the days shorten again. I rarely do any of them, and then when September rolls around I feel like I failed at summer. (Yes, in my world I can fail at a whole season.) My stomach sinks a little when I start seeing Fourth of July themed recipes all over the internet, and by the time I see ads for back-to-school sales I’m really bummed.

But this summer will be different, oh yes. This summer my list will be right here on the blog, and I’ll update as I make progress.

Summer 2012 at Sticky Green Leaves

  • make a lattice crust pie – DONE!
  • make a fruit galette
  • go to the Green City Market at least a few times
  • go here for dinner—the back patio in summer is the best thing ever
  • attend a free concert in Millennium Park
  • drink mojitos on the porch
  • take some sort of weekend trip to some sort of place – BOOKED! 
  • picnic in Lincoln Park
  • walk the lakefront path from our place to Grant Park (5 miles) – Almost! We did the reverse with a route that comes in at 4 miles. And it was our second 3+ mile walk in a week – not bad!
  • make honey & lavender ice cream

Now, some of these items require the participation of certain other parties. But according to this list I am making several desserts, so I think we can work something out.

View from my table at the Printers Row Lit Fest, June 2011

Sprouts! Update and a Recipe

19 Jun

My container garden is doing really, really well. I didn’t lose anything to transplant shock, and, after an early attack on the seedlings before I planted them, the starlings that nest in the roof beams of the porch have left everything alone (though I do get an earful from mother bird whenever I go out to water).

This is my first attempt at growing anything from seed, and I’m pretty proud of my work–work that began way back in early April. The tomatoes especially–from tiny seeds to sturdy plants that seem to get bigger every day. The jalapeño peppers and basil are doing well too, as are the two cucumber plants that survived the bird raid. I’m not sure about the lettuce yet–it’s growing, but it’s hard to imagine such delicate leaves turning into anything I can use for a salad, unless I go the trendy microgreens route.

I did decide to buy my perennial herbs from the garden center. I had oregano from seed, but apparently oregano seedlings are a bird delicacy. In addition to the oregano, I have thyme, lavender, and rosemary. The downside to purchasing was that I couldn’t find the particular varieties I wanted (Mexican rather than Mediterranean oregano, for example). But on the upside, these plants are large enough to cut from, so last night’s dinner featured our favorite salsa with oregano from our very own backyard. (Fine, our porch. Semantics).

Cherry Tomatoes

Thyme, peppers, and lavender

Lavender Buds

Roasted Salsa

With the exception of the onion, all the vegetables in this salsa are roasted, giving it a deep, rich flavor. It’s a nice contrast to a bright pico de gallo if you’re looking for variety.

  • 1 can roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen won our household taste test)
  • 3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup chopped oregano*
  • 1 lime
  • kosher or sea salt

Place the diced onion into whatever bowl you’ll use for the finished product. In a skillet, roast the garlic and peppers over medium high heat until black spots develop. When cool enough to handle, slice off one end of the cloves and squeeze the softened garlic into a blender. Core and seed the jalapeños and cut into chunks. Add to the blender, and give it a few pulses to chop the peppers and garlic. Add the can of tomatoes and pulse until it reaches your preferred consistency.

Pour the contents of the blender into the bowl with the onions and stir to combine. Season to taste with lime juice and salt–I use at least half the lime and a four-finger pinch of kosher salt. Gently stir in the oregano.

When tomatoes are in season later this summer, I’m going to try roasted them myself. This will either go very well or very badly.

* Cilantro is of course the herb of choice for salsa, but I really recommend trying the oregano even if you’re not a cilantro hater like me. If you can find the Mexican variety, all the better. I wouldn’t use dried herbs in this recipe unless I was really desperate.

Oregano and Thyme

Conscious Box: June 2012, Part II

17 Jun

June Conscious Box, Part II

Artisana: Organic Cashew Butter
So I have a thing about nuts. Basically, I don’t eat them. I’m not allergic, and I never bother asking the Thai takeout place to leave the peanuts off my pad thai, but I will pick around them. However, I do like the flavor of most nuts. Walnuts in brownies causes me great sadness, but if you somehow made a walnut-flavored brownie, I could get on board with that. Long story short: I have never eaten a cashew, nor had I tried cashew butter. And now I know that I don’t like cashews. I will say that the butter was very creamy and not at all gritty like some minimally processed nut butters.

kō denmark: Jasmine Neroli Rose Body Lotion
I’m not a big fan of jasmine, so I’m not the best person to evaluate this product. Coconut oil is a primary ingredient, and felt a little more like I’d moisturized with a light body oil that a lotion. It wasn’t greasy and it absorbed well, but it’s not something I’d try again.

Savvy Bohème: Allons-Y! Natural Deodorant
Last year I decided to switch from traditional antiperspirant deodorant to plain old deodorant. I’m not convinced about a connection between aluminum and breast cancer or Alzheimer disease, but 1) I never felt like antiperspirants were that effective anyway, and 2) bodies are designed to sweat, so why not let them. So I went to Whole Foods and bought about a billion different deodorants, from Tom’s (fail) to those crystals (bigger fail). I finally settled on Lavanila’s Healthy Deodorant. It’s expensive, but it actually worked.

The expensive reign of Lavanila might be over. I’ve been using the Savvy Bohème sample for a few days, and I love it. I even did a comparison test for a day. (Such dedication!) It’s not cheap, but it’s still less than Lavanila, and I like the idea of buying from small business owners when I can. Bonus points for the 10th Doctor reference.

Natural Newborn: Bug Stopper Soap
As a city dweller, I don’t have much need for insect repellent. I’ll try it if we end up going to a concert or something in the park this summer, but that would mean remembering to lather up before we leave, and, well…It smells nice, though—like citronella, which I expected, but more lemony.

Nuti-Masu Life Ocean Salt
Apparently this salt is very popular in Japan (it comes exclusively from the water around Okinawa) and is just beginning to make headway over here. It’s a very fine, fluffy powder rather than granules or crystals, which is something I’d never seen before. The flavor is less aggressively salty than table or kosher salt, and I could see using it on something delicate like fish or in a salad dressing.

Natural Vitality: Energy 28
Last month’s box had a slightly different version of a Natural Vitality drink packet. That packet was essentially a liquid vitamin, whereas this formula is a “superfruit, veggie, and antioxidant blend.” I’ll probably add it to a smoothie just because it’s here, but this is one of those “can’t hurt but I’ll never seek it out” products. What is 200mg of a blend of fifteen different vegetables really going to do for me?

Soap Hope $5 off coupon
Soap Hope, an online retailer for an assortment of natural home and health products, describes itself as a “Peace Corps for money.” The company invests 100% of its profits in programs that benefit women in developing countries; after the money has spent a year “in service,” it’s returned and the next year’s profits are invested. Pretty neat. They carry well-known brands in addition to smaller companies, some of which I already use on a regular basis—I’ll probably start buying my BioKleen laundry detergent through them.