Someone’s Hungry.

organicspread
I’m on a cleanse. A surprisingly stringent clean-eating detox from sugar, caffeine, gluten, and a bunch of other delicious things. Today is day four. Things look grim. Sentences are short.

The Why: reconnected with old high-school friend who’s a consultant for the company that makes the detox products, facebook post called for bootcamp recruits, I was feeling pudgy. An email and a phone call later I found myself looking optimistically at thirty days without coffee, bread, sugar, most fruit, and a commitment to eat only organic produce and grass-fed meat. It’s January, after all; the parties season is over and I bore quickly. As noted, I’ve thickened a bit over the holidays and have been feeling rather sludgy. Why not take on a complete lifestyle change I know nothing about? My main concern was having to clean my blender so frequently.

Right now my main concern is not emptying the half-gallon bucket of organic almonds I’m cradling like a newborn directly into my mouth with the aid of a shovel and a mallet. My next greatest concern is that I can’t put off my second trip to Trader Joe’s any longer. I am the only person I know who loathes the Trader Joe experience, and would like to sit down with Trader Joe, cousin Trader Giotto, brother-in law Trader Jose and third cousin once removed Trader Ming, and make them justify the layout of their space, which gives the impression that Rodney Dangerfield raced through the store in a naked, meth-induced rage while strewing about the contents of three enormous duffel bags.

The produce section’s open floor plan translates into shopping cart traffic chaos, but you’re still safer there than if you’re stuck in bumper to bumper cart traffic within “the grid.” Two and a half actual aisles constructed out of various shelving materials, wood planks, metal woven baskets, wooden barrels and wicker containers aplenty offer the most nerve-wracking, cart-inching, categorically confusing dry goods shopping experience possible. Organic dark-chocolate-covered boysenberries wink ironically at their neighboring bags of quinoa and flax, and an open freezer counter casts a pallid and not at all tempting glow from beneath. I almost lost my handbag, so to speak, when I finally reached the four-foot wide designated rice shelf, and found they were out of brown rice. It’s enough that I’m expected to wash it, I don’t need the main carb of my daily plate (YES, PLATE) to be difficult to obtain. I’ll see you in hell, eventually, Trader Joe, but for now I’ll see you next week.

The daily plan involves a shake and some tea for breakfast, then either the same shake or a meal for lunch. Here’s the catch. “Meal” doesn’t mean a nice grilled tomato, bacon and cheese with some Cape Cod chips, or a small spread of muenster cheese, pepperoni, club crackers, pickles and grapes. No, “meal” means that half of the plate’s real estate is flat-out lost to non-starchy vegetables. A quarter of the plate should be a fist-sized portion of lean protein, which gives you an idea of the plate size we’re dealing with from the start. The last quarter of the plate is 2/3 high-fiber carbs and low-glycemic fruits, and 1/3 healthy fats. So much fun that I opt for the lunch shake and a bonus handful of almonds. What’s that sound? Pay no attention, it’s just my fury. I can’t seem to overcome a block involving the allowed grains, so I’ve been going full-fruit (rather, full-green apple) on that section. Healthy fats really just means nuts, so I’ve been getting by for the first few days with the following salad, accompanied of course, by my meat fist, as my sole solid meal.

The Healthiest Salad I’ve Ever Eaten

All organic:
One substantial handful of spring mix
1 diced green apple (organic green apples are tiny)
1 small of handful almonds, cut in half
1 small handful of diced veggie mix (carrots, peppers, radishes, cabbage, jicama, broccoli)
1 to 2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Mix the greens together with the salt, pepper, lemon juice and olive oil until all leaves are coated. Add other ingredients and toss. Appreciate that this is only for thirty days, and that this particular lack of enthusiasm is the feeling of getting a little healthier. Enjoy!

Aside from my irritability and general snark toward the diet part, I’m keeping with it because I’ve noticed a significant change in my energy-level, and I’ve already lost a pound, not surprisingly. I’m blessed and cursed with an innate one-day-at-a-time outlook, so I’m always aware that tomorrow may find me in my van, parked outside Market Basket, with half a dozen of their store-baked blueberry muffins and a carton of buttermilk.

I hear it’s fantastic, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Best Vegetarian Chili I Never Tasted

I love a challenge. I hosted a baby shower for the radiant and ever-gracious Jess D last Sunday, and it was a rare occasion to find more vegetarians and vegans on the guest list than otherwise. Regretfully, I may have harbored a tinge of culinary resentment toward the sans-meat crowd back when I had endless, uninterrupted prep time before parties to spend on crown roasts, sushi, and various fowl. But now that I average two diaper changes while waiting for my morning coffee to percolate, I’m grateful whenever the time-consuming task of meat preparation is rendered null.

Obviously, my tried and true Vegetarian Appeasement made the spread, but I needed one more vegetarian entree, having been physically unable to hold back from applying the bacon topping to You Ain’t Leavin’ Mac & Cheese. Somehow, I was able to locate the recipe for a meatless chili I made six Labor Days ago, combing through search results on Epicurious until I found one with a familiar, ridiculously long list of ingredients.

‘Vores of all walks claimed to enjoy the chili, but one should never take guests’ compliments as honest criticism. I’ll admit that I don’t eat chili of any kind, ever, so I had no idea what was going on in those bowls. However, Mr. P revisited the leftovers twice, legitimizing it as an official victory.

I find it inordinately satisfying to approach meals I prepare and events I host as competitions with myself. None of my children put up a fair fight at anything other than Candy Land, and I no longer work in an office environment (where competitive baking is always encouraged), so I have no choice but to set my own bar progressively higher in order to routinely best past selves. A disconcerting side effect of my approach to staying sharp has been my inner monologue’s shift to a dialogue, with definite manager and underling roles.

In addition to barking orders at my underling and maintaining a high level of hustle in the kitchen, my manager enforces our unnecessarily rigorous weekly schedule, ensures everyone is dressed and fed by eight, and gets us all strapped in the car and on our way by nine. My underling wonders if my manager has been overbooking us lately, but the former doesn’t get a say. Fortunately for my underling, my manager (who’s also in charge of menu planning) is a voracious carnivore, and while this chili is now a standard in our vegetarian repertoire, we’re still not eating it.

One of more than a hundred recipes I have for soup. I’m not kidding.

Spicy Chickpea Soup with Curried Vegetables
Inspired by this.

I'm strong to the finish 'cause I eats me spinach.

While I like to elicit a few oohs and awes at dinnertime, I am a busy lady, and can’t spend my entire day chiffonading in the kitchen. The best recipes, to me, impress with the barest minimum of effort. You end up with more time casually drinking wine and talking to your dinner guests. Or, you know, watching Animal Cops and petting the cat.

This soup takes 15 minutes, start to finish, but I get compliments every time it’s served. Here I’ve paired it with some simple curried vegetables, which are also great stuffed into a whole wheat wrap/pita for a super tasty lunch the next day. Go to hell, PB&J. (You know I didn’t mean that, PB&J. Please forgive me.)

Spicy Chickpea Soup

2 16 ounce cans chickpeas, drained
1 14 ounce can light coconut milk
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1 1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup vegetable broth

1. In a blender, combine the drained chickpeas with the coconut milk, salsa garam masala and ground ginger and puree the mixture until smooth.

2. Transfer the puree to a medium saucepan. Stir in the broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes until flavors combine.

Slurp.

Curried Vegetables

3 small red potatoes, cubed
2 small zucchini, halved and sliced
1 ½ tsp olive oil
¼ cup vegetable broth
1 Tbsp. curry powder (or a little less if you’re not a curry fiend like me)
3 cups of spinach

1. Boil the potatoes until just tender. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and sauté until tender.

3. Add potatoes, vegetable broth, and curry powder Simmer for 3-5 minutes.

4. Add spinach, cook until just wilted.

Fast Food At Home (minus the clogged arteries)

Veggie Burger and Fries

Seconds before ravenous eating commenced.

Oh, how I love french fries. Of course, what goes better with fries than a burger? Why not put the real star of the show at the beginning where it belongs? To me, that’s all a burger is, really–something I eat so my dinner doesn’t wholly consist of a greased-up potato. But what I don’t love is the stomach ache that is sure to follow a trip to your local fast food joint. Those little wedges of starchy joy instantly make me feel like I need to wash my face and go to the gym.

I’d never give up fries, but I could sure do without the guilt. These fries are parboiled, baked, and broiled for ultimate crisp, served with a veggie burger that’s 1000 times better than those hockey pucks you find in the freezer at your local grocer.

Veggie Burgers

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1/2 small onion, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, shredded
1 small zucchini, shredded
1/2 cup instant oatmeal
1/4 breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons shredded Cheddar cheese
1 egg, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/4 flour

1. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in a skillet over low heat, and cook the onion and garlic for about 5 minutes, being careful not to brown. Add the carrots and zucchini, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, let cool slightly.

2. In a bowl, mix oats, breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, and soy sauce. Add in cooked veggies. Refrigerate 1 hour or until cool.

3. Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-low heat.

4. Place the flour on a large plate. Form the vegetable mixture into 3 or 4 (depending on how big you want them) patties. Drop
each patty into the flour, lightly coating both sides.

5. Grill patties 4-5 minutes on each side, or until heated through and nicely browned.

Fries

2 large potatoes, sliced into 1/2 inch strips
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Salt, pepper, garlic and onion salt

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Put sliced potatoes in cold water and bring to a boil. Boil for 3-4 minutes ONLY. Potatoes should not be completely cooked, otherwise you will end up with very mushy fries.

3. Drain in a colander and place under cold running water. Shake off excess water, and dry potatoes on paper towels.

4. In a medium bowl, add the potatoes, olive oil, and your seasoning preference to taste, stirring to combine.

5. Lay fries on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Cook for 25 minutes, turning fries once halfway through.

6. Place fries in broiler for 2-5 minutes–please watch carefully, these fries burn easily. Serve with ketchup or nothing at all.

An Intro and A Confession

Zucchini Quesadillas
Inspired by this.

My plating skills are lacking.

I suppose it might go without saying, but I’m really excited to start contributing to this blog. I love to cook, especially for other people. Even if I can’t stand at everyone’s stove in the literal sense, at least I can pass along a good recipe.

Before you scoff at the origins of this dish, let me say that my grandmother gives me her magazines when she is finished reading them. Every. Single. Blessed. One. While I do nothing more than recycle Diabetic Living (Really, Grandma? Really?) I flip through some of the others. I happened upon this recipe while deep in a Mexican phase, and in the time it takes Domino’s to deliver I had this on the table. Goes great with black bean soup, rice, and a stiff margarita.

The inside goodness.

2 tsp. olive oil
½ small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced (or ½ tsp garlic powder)
2 zucchini (about 1 lb.), cut in half lengthwise, then into ¼ slices
Fresh Ground Black Pepper and Salt
2 plum tomatoes
1 8 oz can of sweet yellow corn, drained
Four 10-inch whole wheat tortillas
Cooking spray or olive oil or butter
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Sour cream (optional)
Salsa (optional)
Guacamole (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and garlic, sautéing for 3-5 minutes. Add zucchini slices, and season with pepper and salt to taste. Cook for an additional 5 minutes or until tender. Turn off heat.

2. Cut tomatoes in half, and squeeze out seeds. Roughly chop and add to zucchini mixture. Add corn to mixture, and set aside.

3. Heat a small, nonstick skillet on medium-low heat. On one side of a tortilla either brush lightly with olive oil or spray with a cooking spray like Pam. Place one tortilla at a time, oiled side down, on the skillet. Tortilla will puff slightly.

4. Once tortilla is slightly browned on the bottom, fill ½ of the tortilla with zucchini and tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Carefully fold over, and cook for about 1 minute per side. Remove from heat.

5. Cut into wedges and serve with sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole. (And if you’re my husband, hot sauce.)

A Do-What-I-Say Christmas: the greenery

Fo-Show Green Beans

In the holiday spirit of let’s make the best of it, I strive to identify redeeming characteristics in those I would otherwise write off as “unfortunate.” It’s with that spirit that I execute my annual attempt to make amends with the legume. In fairness, green beans are so visually pleasing on a plate that their lack of flavor (save for a hint of rubbery bitterness) is almost excusable. On the other hand, Yorkshire pudding manages to both look and taste fabulous, and that’s after going to considerably more trouble, so the haricots verts can play their tiny violins in someone else’s kitchen. Moving along, here’s how I make something out of not much of anything.

1 lb green beans, rinsed, tips snapped
2 tbsp butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 C slivered almonds
1/4 tsp pepper

Set your oven to 350. Spread out the almonds on a cookie sheet and toast them for 5 minutes. Fill a medium or large saucepan with 2 inches of water and add the beans. Bring it to a boil over medium-high and cook for 7 minutes to preserve the snap. In the meantime, heat the butter in a small pan over medium heat. After it stops foaming, add the garlic and almonds, and cook for 1 minute, then remove from the burner. When the beans are done, drain them and return them to the pot. Add the garlic/almond/butter  and the pepper and combine well. Hopefully, you’ve pulled the rest of the meal together; there’s nothing so specifically reprehensible as cold cooked vegetables.

Ay! Dios mio, this is a weird dip.

Whitey’s Mexican Bean Dip

My mother gave me this recipe for a multicultural club potluck in high school. While all of the layers are based on Mexican fare, the presentation is undeniably WASP. That seems multicultural to me. This is always the first to go at our get-togethers, so sometimes I’ll make two and wait to serve the second. I’ve become hesitant, however, since witnessing late-night guests hovering around the dish with spoons after the Tostitos ran out.

1 can refried beans
2 avocados
1 lemon
1 large jar chunky salsa
1 small container sour cream
1/2 C mayo
1 packet Old El Paso Taco Seasoning
1 C shredded white cheddar cheese
1/4 C finely clopped scallions
1/4 C finely chopped black olives
salt and pepper

Using a spatula, spread the beans into an even layer in a glass pie plate or shallow, round serving dish. The following substances should then be layered evenly from the bottom up.

Guacamole. Before removing the skin, give each side of the avocados several good whacks on a hard surface to preliminarily mash the pulp. Cut them open, remove the pits, and spoon the fruit into a medium mixing bowl. Add the juice of 1 lemon, then use a fork to mash until you’ve eliminated all of the fibrous strings. Stir in salt and pepper.

Salsa.

Mystery Layer. Rinse out the bowl used for the guacamole, and in it combine the sour cream, mayo, and 3/4 of the taco powder packet. Mix it up until it’s an even pale peach.

Finally, sprinkle on the cheese, followed by the olives, then the scallions. Wrap it up and chill it for at least an hour before serving.

Hello, Newman.

The Make-the-Most-of-It Salad

To my lament, some occasions call for a salad. Barbecues, daytime bridal or baby showers, and dinner with those “healthy” parents are just several instances where edible green leaves are expected. It’s difficult enough for me to work so closely with a group I generally dislike, and to make things even more awkward, iceberg lettuce infuriates Mr. P. I don’t know why, but sometimes we have to respect our partners’ secrets. Originally based on neuroses and compromise, this salad is accidentally fantastic.

1 bag baby spinach leaves, washed and drained
1 cucumber, sliced into 1/4″ discs, discs cut into quarters
1/2 C thinly sliced radishes
1/3 C chopped walnuts
1/3 C golden raisins
1/4 C thinly sliced red onion (slice thin rings, then slice the rings into quarters and separate the layers)
1/8 C olive oil
1/8 C balsamic vinegar
1/8 C maple syrup
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper

Put the vegetables, raisins and nuts in a big bowl and toss well. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, syrup, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Don’t dress the salad until just before serving, as spinach leaves wilt quickly. This recipe makes a big salad; if you want to halve it, just use half a bag of spinach and half the dressing. The extra chunks won’t kill you.

Cocktails!

Zingy Toms

These little cherry bombs can be prepared well in advance, clear all dietary restrictions aside from non-carbon based, and serve as the ultimate palate cleanser between mixed drinks. I should mention these are based on a recipe from the Martha Stewart H’ors D’Oeuvres Handbook  (1999), a book I highly recommend, both for its fantastic recipes and over a hundred pages of saliva-inducing close-ups bordering on food porn.

24 large cherry tomatoes
1/4 C finely chopped black olives (French or Italian, your choice. Not that there’s no difference, I’m just not much of an olive person.)
1/4 C finely chopped green olives (again, they just need to be green)
3 finely chopped white button mushrooms
1/4 C finely chopped red onion
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper

You can prepare the tomato cups up to 24 hours in advance, then keep them wrapped and chilled. The tapenade can also be made ahead of time, but it gets zingier by the hour.

The top of the cherry tomato is the flattest part, so this will be the bottom of the cup. Using a small sharp knife, slice the not-stem end off, far enough up the tomato to hit seed. Use whatever you have on hand to gut the tomatoes; I use a metal quarter-teaspoon, Mrs. H prefers a melon baller. Place the cups face down on a dinner plate lined with a paper towel, wrap the whole thing up and stick it in the fridge for at least an hour to get the tomatoes firm and chilly.

To make the tapenade, mix up all the other ingredients. An anticlimactic ratio of prep work to execution, right? Stuff the tomatoes as full as possible without splitting the skin in your vigor, and plate them up on something fancy.

Don’t get excited, that’s not chicken.

Vegetarian Appeasement

Growing up, our dinners generally consisted of three minimally touching food group representatives, and since I automatically hated the vegetable component, it never occurred to me to eschew one of the remaining categories. Is there a term for a strictly dairy and carb diet? That said, those of us who find nothing at all disturbing about the meat wall at the supermarket should keep in mind that any dinner or cocktail party we throw will likely have a few guests who would appreciate a vegetarian option other than potatoes and salad. This one uses several often overlooked ingredients, making you look creative and thoughtful, leading your vegetarian diners to feel special. And that they are.

1 box cavatelli pasta
1 10 oz jar sundried tomatoes in olive oil (julienned will save you time), finely chopped, oil reserved
1 12 oz jar artichoke hearts in oil or water, drained and finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp pinenuts
2 tbsp capers
3 fresh basil leaves, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
freshly grated Parmesan
olive oil
salt and pepper

Set the oven to 350 and prepare the pasta according to the package directions.

Heat 3 tbsp of the reserved tomato oil in a large, deep pan over med-high heat. Saute the onion, garlic and pine nuts just until the garlic begins to turn gold, then grab the pan away from the heat and give it a few seconds to prevent the garlic from burning while you turn the heat down to medium. Put the pan back on the stove and add a little more tomato oil, followed by the tomatoes and artichokes. Cook and stir until most of the water released from the artichokes has evaporated, somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes. Stir in the remainder of the reserved tomato oil – yeah, it’s a lot of oil – and toss in the capers, basil, salt and pepper. Stir the sauce well, scraping up any sticky bits at the bottom. Cover the pan, turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.

The pasta should be done right around the same time, figuring in the time required to boil a big pot of water, so assuming you pulled it off, combine the pasta and sauce in a large bowl or the pot used to cook the pasta. Stir until you’re certain you’ve eliminated any sticky colonies of uncoated cavatelli. Transfer the pasta to its serving dish or bowl, and serve the Parmesan in a nearby bowl with a spoon. This has got to be at least close to vegan? Is there eggless pasta? I’ll be working on that in my sleep tonight.

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