Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Oven-Dried Apples

Dried apples 5


We had some summer-like weather yesterday, and I wasn't in the mood to spend much time in the kitchen. This technique requires you to be home for a while, but is very hands-off. Also, the technique should be applicable to a number of fruits and vegetables; feel free to experiment!

Dried apples 1

Dehydrating fruits and veggies doesn't require a fancy dehydrator. If you set your oven to the lowest temperature, you can dry produce. The time this takes will vary based on your oven and the produce you choose, but have some patience, and check on it regularly.

I decided to start by drying a few apples. I sliced them on the mandolin, and I found that the 3/16ths inch slice dehydrated better than the 1/4 inch slice. I'll try 1/8th inch slices next time, and see how those do - I imagine they'll dry faster.

Dried apples 3


Then, I laid the slices out on a baking sheet lined with a silpat liner (parchment paper would also work).  I baked them for an hour at 200 degrees, flipped, and let them go about 30 minutes more. That's it! I left them a bit soft, but you can keep going until they are crispy if you prefer.

Dried apples 4

Properly dehydrating foods is a method of preservation. I can't make any guarantees about success with this technique as a preservation method, but the end result is delicious.

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744B3EAGD8PB 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pumpkin Gnocchi

pumpkingnocchi2



Today marks the first post in my Meatless Mondays series - vegetarian meals that you can prepare on a weeknight. Gnocchi probably aren't the first thing that come to mind when you think of simple, weeknight meals - more likely, they conjure images of an Italian grandmother slaving all day in the kitchen. But really, they can be quite simple to make, especially if you think a bit outside the traditional.

These gnocchi are made with canned pumpkin, so there is no cooking, mashing, or cooling prior to starting to make the dough. You could make them with basically any mashed root vegetable or squash, as long as you let the mashed veggie cool before you start the dough (otherwise, it will cook the egg).  I'd like to try a sweet potato and parsnip version sometime soon.

Once you have the gnocchi made, you can serve them several ways. Pictured is how we ate them, with a sage cream sauce (recipe below). You could also just toss them with a bit of melted butter and parmesan. Or brown them in a pan with a bit of olive oil.

You can always only make a half batch of gnocchi, if you only need to serve 2 and don't want leftovers. I plan to brown the leftovers with some kale for lunch.  But this recipe makes 4 servings, because that uses up the whole can of pumpkin, which I find convenient.

Pumpkin Gnocchi
For a more traditional shape, you can roll each gnocchi over the tines of a fork before boiling if you like. 
Yield: 4 servings

INGREDIENTS
1 14.5 oz can pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp salt
2-2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

DIRECTIONS
1. Set a large pot of water on to boil. Salt the water.
2. Combine pumpkin, egg, and 1 cup of flour in a bowl. Stir until combined. Stir in the second cup of flour. Add the last 1/2 cup of flour if needed. The dough should be soft, but not overly tacky.
3. Working with 1/4 of the dough at a time, flour a work surface, and roll the dough out into a snake shape. You can decide how thick or what size you would like the gnocchi to be. Using a sharp knife, cut the gnocchi to your desired size. (I rolled out the dough to about 1 inch diameter, then cut every 1/2 inch or so. I didn't roll them over a fork, like I mention above, because that is time consuming.)
4. Place the cut gnocchi into the boiling water using a slotted spoon, and cook until they float, about 2-3 minutes. While you boil the first 1/4, roll and cut the next portion. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon.

To brown the gnocchi, heat some oil or butter in a skillet over medium heat, and transfer the cooked gnocchi directly to the skillet. Or remove them to the sauce below.

pumpkingnocchi1

Sage Cream Sauce
Made without any actual cream, this sauce works beautifully on pumpkin gnocchi. 
Yield: 2 servings

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp butter
2 tsp dried rubbed sage

1 shallot, minced
1/2 cup white wine (or vegetable broth)
3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or any milk except skim)

1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add sage and shallot, and cook about 30 seconds. Stir in wine or broth and milk, and bring to a boil.
2. Add cooked gnocchi to the sauce, and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens. Serve, sprinkled with parmesan cheese.

We ate this over crispy kale. To make crispy kale, combine 2-3 cup chopped or torn kale leaves in a skillet with about 1 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Cook about 5 minutes, until crispy. (Source)

This meal should come together in around 30 minutes - not bad at all for a weeknight!


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Friday, January 27, 2012

Meatless Mondays Series: Introduction

Malaga Goats






For the next few weeks, I plan on doing a "Meatless Mondays" series of posts. This series will feature recipes that are vegetarian, and sometimes vegan or vegan-possible (a few simple swaps makes it vegan).  Although I am neither vegetarian nor vegan, many people are.  Others simply want to reduce their meat consumption or branch out and try new things. There are as many reasons to go meatless as there are people who do so - environmental, ethical, health, preference - you get the idea!

The recipes in these posts will be simple enough to make on a weeknight, since this is meatless Mondays, not meatless rainy Saturday afternoons. I'll try to stick to ingredients that are pretty widely available, or suggest a substitute ingredient. The ingredients will be real, whole foods, and the end results will be delicious. Finally, these recipes should pack in the nutrition - although I'm not a nutritionist/dietitian/etc., I'm pretty sure eating your veggies is good for you!

If you're looking for some recipes to get you started, I've posted a few options already. Check these out: (both are vegan)
Curried Peanut Soup
Simple Avocado Soup

And one more promise: they won't all be soups! I find it's easiest to toss some veggies in a pot with beans and call that a vegetarian dinner, but I want these recipes to be exciting. Maybe even a bit adventurous. To expand your palate and culinary horizons, without expanding your waistline or breaking the bank.

The first recipe in the series will be coming up on Monday! 

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Our Windowsill Garden

Sprouts




I know what you're probably thinking. "Um, Grace, it's January. Isn't a gardening post a bit out-of-season?" Especially if you consider that I live in Nebraska, and the ground is pretty much frozen solid right now. But give me a second here: we're not talking about dig-up-the-backyard-gardening, we're talking about windowsill gardening. In containers. Indoors.

I mentioned that we hope to start a container garden outdoors on our deck once the weather warms up, but freezing temps haven't put a stop to our culinary cultivation.  There are a handful of things that can easily grow on a sunny windowsill.

Now, I'm NOT an expert at gardening. In fact, I'm a total novice. We're just starting this experiment ourselves! But I thought I would let you know what we're doing, how it's going, and see if anyone out there has some sage advice (get it?!? HA!) for us.

Things that are going well so far: Sprouts!
First harvest
Although we started out with some properly purchased packets of seeds, dirt, and even a few ceramic flowerpots, I decided to wing it completely with one of our containers. I took a handful of mung beans, which had been purchased in the bulk bins at Whole Foods, soaked them in water, and stuck them in dirt in a re-purposed (extra large) yogurt container (with holes punched in the bottom, because plants like that sort of thing). I didn't even bother really giving them enough space, because I had little confidence in the success of this experiment. But wouldn't you know it, these have been some of our most prolific producers! It took them a bit to get started, but now they've taken off. I can harvest a handful of sprouts once or twice a week - and I plan to put a few more beans in the dirt soon so our supply becomes continual. 

Speaking of sprouts, we've also had luck with broccoli sprouts. I'm trying to get some lettuce sprouts to develop a bit more into micro greens, but they're all growing well at this point. 

Broc and mesclun sprouts

My swiss chard babies are just to the point I think I need to thin them. If I can get a few to develop, we can eat them while they're small, then dedicate the whole pot to one (hopefully thriving) plant.  Apparently, you can harvest the outer leaves of the mature plant, while the inner leaves develop, creating a steady chard supply.

Parsley has done well for us - not even kicking it when we accidentally abandoned it for almost two weeks (we were home for the holidays! Oops!).  But our cilantro hasn't sprouted yet. I'm starting to have doubts about it. 

In the "requires patience" department, we have one (single, solitary, uno) chive that has sprouted. It looks quite healthy, if a bit lonely. Hopefully a few more spring up here soon! Our Tom Thumb lettuce seeds show signs of germination, but no sprouts yet. 

Chive

Come spring, we'll be starting some seeds indoors, then setting up a container garden on our deck. I'm hopeful we can get some herbs to grow. I've also purchased an ambitious variety of other seeds - if only a few other plants really produce for us, I'll be happy.  I figure, because this is our first year, experimentation is the name of the game. Give a variety of things a try, and figure out what will actually grow for us. 

Seed packets

My [admittedly ambitious] Seed List: 
  • Herbs: 5 (FIVE) kinds of basil, cilantro, mint, dill, parsley, chives
  • Lettuces: Kale, spinach, swiss chard, butter lettuce, tom thumb lettuce
  • 2 kinds of bush beans
  • Black Krim tomatoes
  • Squash: patty pan squash, and "ronde de nice" zucchini
  • 2 kinds of carrots
  • "Little Fingers" eggplant (tiny eggplants!!!)
  • Belgian (sweet) red peppers

Overkill? Probably. But if even half of it grows well, I'll be pleased as punch.
I've been using this book: (Grow Great Grub: Organic Gardening For Small Spaces, by Gayla Trail) for guidance in container growing. It's very clear and thorough, and I'll let you know how the advice pans out for us as the experiment continues! 

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pumpkin Focaccia

We've had some crazy weather mood-swings the past few weeks - from single digits to a few days in the mid-50s, the weather can't seem to decide what it wants to be. The nice thing is that this means any ice that forms doesn't stick around for more than a few days. Oddly, however, my cooking can't decide if it's winter or spring. Winter means hearty, warm, comforting meals. Spring means fresh, herb-y creations. I suppose every season needs some good baking though, because that's about the only thing I've gotten creative with recently.

Pumpkin focaccia 2

It seems like everything I've posted the past few weeks is bread. Or baking. No real entrees! Our meals have been fairly simple, with lots of leftovers, and repeats of things I've already posted. Like bagels. Or this potato salad.  Grilled fish. You get the idea. I'm planning to try a few new, more creative ideas this weekend - so here's hoping I'll have some real meals to show you soon. In the meantime, enjoy the baked goodness!

The pumpkin here doesn't really lend much flavor to the bread; I added it for moisture and softness. It makes the bread a beautiful golden color. The flavor is much more from the herbs and pumpkin seeds, which give a hearty, substantial feeling to this bread.

Like I mentioned before, you can always just use more rosemary in place of the lavender. Or use whatever herbs you like best. I imagine some fresh basil would be a delicious addition.

Pumpkin focaccia1

Pumpkin Focaccia
This hearty flat bread is ideal for dunking in soups.
Yield: 2 loaves

INGREDIENTS
2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups white-whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp lavender
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
2 tsp instant yeast
1 - 1 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

mortarandpestle

DIRECTIONS
1. Crush rosemary and lavender in a mortar and pestle (or, in a bowl, using the back of a spoon).  Combine flours, salt, crushed herbs, seeds, and yeast in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the water and pumpkin puree. Stir until all the flour is incorporated, adding extra water 1 tbsp at a time if the dough is too dry. (You may need to switch from a spoon to your hands at some point.)
2. Knead the dough for 5 minutes or so, on a clean surface, until it is smooth and elastic. Add some flour to the surface if your dough is sticking too much.
3. Lightly oil a large mixing bowl. Place the dough in the bowl and flip once (so the dough gets a light coating of oil). Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or so, until the dough has approximately doubled in size.
4. Divide the dough into two pieces, and shape each into a flat bread about 1/4 inch thick using your hands. I made two oval-shaped loaves, so they would fit on my round pizza stone side-by-side. Place the doughs onto a lightly oiled baking sheet, and brush the top with olive oil. Sprinkle on the pumpkin seeds. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until puffed, about 25 minutes.
5. While the dough rises, place your pizza stone in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. When the dough is done rising, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees, and carefully transfer the dough to the hot pizza stone. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool loaves on a wire rack.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rosemary Lavender Cornbread

This is the cornbread we took to the potluck over the weekend. It's not a huge departure from traditional cornbread, but rather a subtle variation that makes it extra delicious.You get a slightly sweet, very flavorful cornbread that's perfect alongside whatever soup or chili you dream up. Or drizzle with some honey and eat it for dessert!

mortarandpestle

Rosemary and lavender are very complimentary herbs, lending a sweetly herbal/floral note to the bread. They smell amazing when you crush them together.  Trust me, the whole effort of making this bread is justified by that smell.

I used a mortar and pestle to crush my herbs, as pictured above, but you can use the back of a spoon in a bowl with curved sides to crush the herbs, or just leave them whole. You don't want them reduced to a powder, but you want to avoid huge pieces. I imagine fresh lavender and rosemary would be amazing here, if you have them.

If you don't have/can't find/don't want to buy lavender, you can substitute an equal amount of rosemary - it should still be quite tasty.

rosemarylavendercornbread2

Rosemary Lavender Skillet Cornbread
The herbs add a subtle sweet and floral note to this classic bread. 
Yield: 1 12-inch skillet sized loaf

INGREDIENTS
1 cup whole wheat bread flour
1 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp rosemary, crushed
1 tsp lavender, crushed
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup milk

rosemarylavendercornbread

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 12-inch cast iron, oven-safe skillet.
2. Crush the herbs in a mortar and pestle (or use the back of a spoon in a bowl) until slightly crushed and very fragrant. 
3. Combine flours, salt, baking powder, and herbs in a large bowl, and mix together. Make a well in the center, and add the remaining ingredients. Stir until just combined.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula, so the batter reaches the edges of the pan.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top of the bread is golden brown. Let cool slightly before slicing or removing from pan.

We enjoyed this with corn chowder, and I've been snacking on pieces straight from the fridge.

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend review

It was a busy weekend, but here are some of the things we've been up to lately.

I made this dill potato salad at the end of last week, and we both loved it. Super simple, no mayo/etc., perfect flavor. I made a few substitutions to the original recipe, based entirely on what we had on hand. Russet potatos instead of red skinned, red kidney beans instead of cannelini beans (aka white kidney beans), extra virgin olive oil for walnut oil, and white wine vinegar instead of white vinegar.  It tasted great hot or cold.
Potato salad 1

Our church had a soup and salad potluck on Saturday night, and our contribution was winter corn chowder with skillet cornbread. The soup recipe is from Desperation Dinners, and is one of my favorite winter soups.

wintercornchowder

Cooper and I enjoyed a run on what turned out to be a sunny, pleasant Sunday. The weatherman said it would be freezing rain and/or snow all day long, but he was oh so wrong, and I was oh so glad.
Cooper run

Post-run, I enjoyed some home-made bubble tea:

Bubble tea

And I harvested the first edibles from our windowsill garden: a handful of mung bean sprouts!

First harvest



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Friday, January 20, 2012

Steak Piadini with Gorgonzola and Creamy Horseradish Sauce


Today I have a special treat for you - a post from Nick! 

grill

Although it took some initial convincing, my wife quickly relented and allowed me to purchase our first grill.  So, soon after we were married and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, I purchased the grill.  Although I would have loved a Weber Performer charcoal grill, we live on the second floor of an apartment complex, so a gas grill made more sense for us.  After some research, I settled on a Char-Griller Grillin’ Pro gas grill for around $160.  After nearly five months of use, I have been happy with the grill and would recommend it to anyone on a budget. 

Although I have always been capable of grilling the basics, I recently began to attempt more complicated recipes.  Tonight marks my first foray into preparing a complex entrĂ©e on the grill.

piadini

Steak Piadini with Gorgonzola and Creamy Horseradish Sauce
This is a combination of two recipes, the steak sandwiches with grilled onions and creamy horseradish sauce and the steak and gorgonzola piadini, from Weber’s Way to Grill by Jamie Purviance.
Yield: 4 Piadinis

Piadini dough
INGREDIENTS
1 ½ cups warm water
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
2 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
2 ¼ cups bread flour
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt

DIRECTIONS
In a stand mixer bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast.  Allow to sit until a thin frothy layer forms, approximately five minutes.  Add the flour, oil, and salt and mix on low speed using a dough hook until the ingredients combine, approximately 1 minute.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and continue to mix until the dough is slightly sticky, smooth, and elastic.  You may need to add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time to get the correct consistency.  Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours.  The dough should double in size.

Punch down the dough in the bowl.  Transfer the dough ball to a lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal sized pieces.  Roll each dough piece into 8 to 10 inch float rounds.  Lay each round on an oiled piece of foil and lightly oil the top of each round.  I like to use our Misto oil sprayer for this.  Stack the rounds and set aside.

Marinade
INGREDIENTS
2 cups red wine (I used a malbec)
1 cup soy sauce
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ teaspoon baking soda

Steak of your choice – I used rib-eye, but New York strip would work as well
2 red onions, sliced into ¼ inch rings
8 ounces crumbled gorgonzola cheese

DIRECTIONS
Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until the oil combines.  Pull out 1 cup and place in another bowl.  Add the onions to the 1 cup of marinade and gently stir to coat them.  Pour the additional 3 cups of marinade into a non-reactive baking dish and add the baking soda.  Put the steaks in the baking dish and turn to coat the steaks.  Allow to marinade at room temperature for 30 minutes, turning once.

Creamy horseradish sauce
INGREDIENTS
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup prepared horseradish
Thyme
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
Combine the ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover and place in the refrigerator to allow flavors to meld.

GRILLING DIRECTIONS
Prepare the grill for direct cooking over high heat on one side and direct cooking over medium heat on the opposite side.  Grill the steaks over direct high heat until done, approximately 6 to 8 minutes for medium rare, turning only once.  Remove the steak and allow to rest for 3 to 5 minutes.  Slice the steaks on the bias into thin strips.  Grill the onions over direct medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, also turning only once.  Remove the onions from the grill and return to the bowl of marinade. 

While the steak rests and onions marinade, prepare the grill for direct medium heat.  Lay two dough rounds on the rill with the foil side up and remove the foil.  Grill until the rounds are golden brown on the bottom side, 2 to 3 minutes.  Flip the rounds and spread ¼ of the gorgonzola on the cooked side of the round.  Continue to grill until the round is crisp and the cheese is melted.  Repeat with the remaining dough rounds.

To assemble the piadini, pile onions on one half of the round and layer with steak.  Top with arugula.  Using a spatula, spread the creamy horseradish sauce on the other half of the piadini.  Fold the piadini in half and cut in half using a serrated knife.  Enjoy!

About


I started this blog as a simple way to share my kitchen adventures, keep track of recipes I love, and encourage myself to continue experimenting. 

collage-1

I’m an avid runner and probably a bit of a health nut. I want my food to be delicious, but I also want it to fuel my body so I feel my best. That said, I definitely enjoy treats too. I plan to run a marathon in the near future, having already completed several half marathons.  You can find me on Daily Mile if you want to see my running. 

Run with cooper

I love to cook, bake, and try new flavor combinations. All of the fresh produce available in summertime makes me extremely happy. We’re starting a garden this year, beginning with a few pots on the windowsill, then taking things out onto the deck for a container garden.  Hopefully we will have our own supply of vegetal goodies this year. 

Sprouts

My husband, Nick, is also a runner, and a master of the grill.  Professionally speaking, I’m an attorney and Nick’s a PhD student. We’re both Ohio transplants, and have some serious love for the Buckeyes. 

DSC01855

Our dog, Cooper, is our running partner and free-range vacuum cleaner. He volunteered for the position of official taste tester for the blog, but that position was already taken by Nick.  

Cooper

That’s all for now! If you have questions, ask away in the comments section.
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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Apple Oat Scones

As much as I love to bake, that love is tempered by the amount my jeans will stretch. So I'm always looking for a way to healthy-up a baking recipe - reducing the sugar and butter, and making sure there's lots of nutrition packed in. Granted, my holiday baking doesn't reflect this at all, because I think christmas cookies just need to be the real deal. But most of the time, a few simple tweaks can make a recipe both tasty and healthy enough to eat every day.

Some of my favorite tricks are substituting part or all whole-grain flours for white flour, reducing sugar by 25% or so, or replacing sugar with honey or maple syrup, swapping butter or oil for applesauce or pumpkin puree. Adding some form of nuts and/or fruit both adds flavor and nutrition content. And in short order, I can have a whole new recipe. Occasionally, a few too many swaps will turn the recipe into something unrecognizable. But other times, the recipe is a definite keeper, like these scones.

Apple oat scones

Enjoy these for breakfast or as a snack. They're best if you warm them for a few seconds in the microwave. Top them with butter and honey if you like, but I enjoy them just as they are. 

Apple Oat Scones
These are slightly sweet, with a fantastic nutty flavor from the grains. To make oat flour, process oatmeal in a food processor until you reach a flour-like consistency. 
Yield: 16 scones

INGREDIENTS
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups oat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c sliced almonds
1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup applesauce
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
1/2 cup milk or almond milk, plus additional for brushing.

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine flours, baking powder, salt,  and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Cut the butter in using a pastry cutter or a fork, until the mixture is slightly crumbly. Stir in the almonds and apple.
2. In a second bowl, combine maple syrup, applesauce, eggs, vanilla, and 1/2 cup milk. Stir to combine, then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until the mixture comes together. It will be fairly dry, but be sure all of the flour is incorporated.
3. On a baking sheet lined with parchment, scoop out about 1/4 cup dough at a time, and shape each into a slightly flattened disc. Brush the top with milk, and transfer the sheet to the freezer. (Note: you can put all the scones on the same sheet for this step, then separate them for baking). 
4. Freeze for about 20 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
5. Remove the scones from the freezer (divide between two trays if needed, leave about 2" between each scone), and bake for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let cool for a few minutes on the sheet, then remove to a wire rack. Enjoy warm. 


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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Hummus Recipe

Hummus used to be something that I only bought at the store. Once I found out how to make my own, however, I never went back to store bought! It is extremely easy to make your own hummus, and there are endless flavor variations to dream up.

This is my favorite basic hummus recipe - it seems that every person who makes hummus has their own. Mine only uses tahini for the fat/oil component; many others I have tried use some olive oil as well. I think using only tahini results in a better flavor.

A few notes about tahini: First, what is it? Tahini is a paste made from ground up roasted sesame seeds - kind of like peanut butter is ground up peanuts (except made with sesame seeds, naturally). It has a distinct, nutty flavor that makes a great addition to all kinds of dressings and spreads. Second, where can you find it? It is available at most supermarkets; look in either the natural foods or international aisles.  I have found that a 1-lb jar runs around $7-8, which will be enough to make several batches of hummus.

It's easy to change up the flavor by adding various spices for flavor or heat, fresh herbs, or a handful of fresh vegetables. If you want to get really crazy, you can try using green peas instead of chickpeas! One of my favorite variations is honey curry hummus (I add 2 tablespoons of curry powder, a pinch each of cumin and cayenne, and 2 tablespoons of honey to my recipe, and omit the paprika). Get creative with it!

hummus

This recipe makes a big batch, so you might want to try making only a half batch if you don't eat hummus very often. Alternatively, you can freeze some of the hummus for later.

I call for 2 small lemons here. To me, "small" means a lemon about the size of two golf balls, that fits easily in my palm. If you have larger lemons, more baseball sized, you might only want one lemon. 

Grace's Hummus
This hummus is flavorful and well balanced, with a hint of garlic and a lemony tang. 
Yield: about 4 cups

INGREDIENTS
3 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), from 1 cup dry, OR 2 14.5 oz cans, drained and rinsed well
1/2 to 1 cup water
1/2 cup tahini
Zest and juice of 2 small lemons
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt (start with less if you use canned beans)
1/2 tsp smoked paprika

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine all ingredients (start with 1/2 cup of water) in a food processor or blender. Process until well blended and slightly fluffy. Add a bit more water if needed.
2. Store, refrigerated, in an airtight container.

We eat this on carrot sticks and crackers, of course, but it is also great for making hummus melts: top a slice of bread with some hummus and sliced cheese, then place under a preheated broiler until the cheese browns and bubbles. Make it healthier by putting a layer of spinach or other greens under the cheese. Irresistible.

Hummus melt

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Friday, January 13, 2012

Banana Walnut Pick-Me-Up Muffins

I was feeling a bit stressed over the terrible quality of the photo with my curry post, particularly because I think the recipe is both delicious and practical, and I'd like people to consider making it. I made a promise to myself to try to take better photos. Now, I'm not a food photography blog, but I do like pretty pictures of food.

Banana pick-me-up muffins 3

I made these muffins at night but decided to wait until the next morning to photograph them so I could use natural light. Because we have no windows in the kitchen, I decided to photograph these out on the porch. Of course, when I woke up, the wind chill was -4. I braved the elements, and captured a few shots I really like. I hope you enjoy them!

Banana pick-me-up muffins

I feel like these photos do justice to the absolute deliciousness of the muffins. The toasted walnut flavor combines with the hint of coffee to take basic banana to a whole new level. There is enough butter that it lends a rich flavor to the whole muffin, but these are not greasy at all. With whole wheat, healthy fat from the walnuts, and an extra touch of protein from Greek yogurt, these muffins are sure to keep you moving all morning.

To toast the walnuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir often, and keep an eye on them because they will burn easily. Use your nose to tell you when they are done (they will smell delicious!). You could also use pecans in place of the walnuts.

Also, if you have espresso powder, use that in place of the instant coffee. While I think that instant coffee prepared as a beverage is generally vile, I find it lends a good flavor to shakes/smoothies and baked goods, and is an acceptable substitute for the more expensive and difficult to find espresso powder.

If you don't have white-whole wheat flour, you can try substituting equal parts all purpose flour and whole wheat flour. I found my flour at Trader Joe's. 

Banana Walnut Pick-Me-Up Muffins
These muffins were inspired by Super Natural Cooking's Espresso Banana Muffins.
Yield: 12-18 muffins, depending on size.

INGREDIENTS
2 cups white-whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 1/4 cups chopped walnuts, toasted
1 tbsp instant coffee
6 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar, not packed
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 very ripe bananas, mashed

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and line a muffin tin with paper liners. Or, to make mini muffins, spray the mini muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray.
2. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, coffee, and a little more than half of the walnuts in a bowl.
3. Cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla, then add the yogurt and mashed bananas.
4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry, and stir until just combined. Do not over-stir!
5.  Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. To make 12 muffins, you need to fill the tins all the way to the top. I filled to the top of my muffin papers (which were slightly shorter than my pan), and had enough batter leftover for 8 mini muffins. Alternatively, fill each tin about 2/3 full, and make 18 muffins. Sprinkle the top of the muffins with remaining walnuts.
6. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the tops turn golden brown. For mini muffins, bake 12-15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.




Banana pick-me-up muffins mini


Despite chilly temperatures, my new workout program is going well, leaving me hungry for plenty of these muffins. Here's hoping for no more single-digit (or negative!) temps or wind chills - this Nebraska wind is serious stuff.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Potato and Chicken Curry

This is a sort of odds-and-ends recipe, that can - and should - be customized based on what you have in your fridge. Starting with a basic coconut curry broth, with onion, ginger, and garlic, I make this with whatever veggies and protein we have on hand. The potatoes cook up very tender, and take on a lot of the curry flavor, so I highly recommend including some of those. But feel free to use broccoli, cauliflower, beans, tofu, or whatever else you have to round out the dish. You can also toss a handful of chopped fresh herbs on top when serving.  If you don't use the potatoes, you can skip most of the simmering time, and this dish will be ready to eat in only a few minutes.

It is freezing cold here right now, and yesterday we had extremely high winds.  A hearty and comforting dish like this is just what we needed for a blustery winter day.


Potato curry 2
 
Potato and Chicken Curry
Feel free to substitute any veggies you like in this dish - it is a very flexible recipe. 
Yield: serves 4

INGREDIENTS
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 inch piece fresh ginger root, minced
1 medium russet potato, washed and chopped into bite-size chunks
1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp curry powder
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
1 can light coconut milk
2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite size pieces
Optional: cayenne pepper, to taste
To serve: cooked brown rice

DIRECTIONS
1. Heat a 3 quart or larger pan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, bell pepper, and ginger and cook until onion is translucent. Add garlic and potato, and cook 1 minute more. Add spices, and cook 1 minute more, stirring.
2. Add broth and stir well, scraping any brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in coconut milk and simmer 10-15 minutes longer, until potatoes are nearly done.
3. Stir in chicken, and cook about 5 minutes more, until chicken is cooked through.
4. Serve over rice. Enjoy!

Garden update: The sprouts are still looking great, and the swiss chard has started to poke up out of the dirt.  I'm hoping to taste a few broccoli sprouts today!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Riesling Poached Pears and Sorbet

If you're like me, you're always looking for something sweet to round off a meal. If you're like me, you also want your food to be healthy, so your body is properly fueled.  But eating healthily doesn't have to mean skipping dessert! Like so many other aspects of healthy living, all you need is a little shift in perspective. I've heard people complain that fruit can't possibly substitute for dessert, and I would agree that an apple won't satisfy a cake craving. But with a bit of creativity, a simple piece of fruit can be dressed up into something truly satisfying.

In the spirit of making simple food delicious, this recipe takes whole pears and makes them into a crave-worthy desert. And if the idea of cutting into a piece of fruit isn't dessert-y enough for you yet, you can take a few extra steps to make a gourmet sorbet to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Poached pear plated

Riesling Poached Pears
You can use any varietal of wine you like here, but Riesling pairs very well. Feel free to substitute fruit juice for wine in any proportion you like. Depending on the sweetness level of your wine or juice, vary the amount of honey added.
Yield: 6 poached pears

INGREDIENTS
6 whole pears (any variety), peeled
1 750ml bottle of Riesling wine
1-2 cups water (as needed)
1/4 cup honey
1 lemon, ends removed, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices
Optional, to serve: goat cheese and honey

Poaching pears

DIRECTIONS
1. In a pan large enough to place pears in a single layer, combine all ingredients and add enough water to let the pears float a little.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer 15-30 minutes, until pears are just tender.
3. Remove pears from poaching liquid. If storing, store with a bit of the poaching liquid so they don't dry out. Reserve lemon slices for serving if you like.
4. Serving suggestion: Combine about 1 oz of goat cheese per serving with a few teaspoons of honey. Place on a plate, and use the cheese to hold the pear upright. Garnish with lemon and honey.

Now, if you'd like to take things a few steps further (or if you have leftovers!), you can make sorbet with these pears following the recipe below. This was inspired by a great ice cream store, Jeni's, who make (surprise!) a Riesling Poached Pear sorbet.

Pear sorbet

Riesling Poached Pear Sorbet
Freezing the fruit before pureeing it yields a sorbet-like texture, rather than a too-solid block of fruit ice. The lemon that was in the poaching liquid lends a tangy note to the finished sorbet, so if you want something that is more purely sweet, you can omit the lemon in the poaching step.
Yield: about 3 cups, depending on the size of your pears.

INGREDIENTS
6 Riesling Poached Pears (recipe above)
Optional: honey, to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Remove the core, seeds, and stem of the pears. Cut the fruit into 1-2 inch chunks.Place in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and freeze for a few hours.
2. Place pears in a food processor. Let run until smoothly blended, scraping down the sides several times.
3. If you want to, drizzle some honey over the blended pears, to create a honey swirl when you pack it. It won't stir in because the pears are too cold.
4. Package in an airtight container and freeze. Enjoy!


I mentioned on Twitter that our sprouts are starting to grow, and I'm pretty excited about our windowsill gardening adventure! The sprouts should start looking like baby plants soon.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Weekend Review

A handful of fun dishes came out of our kitchen this weekend! Of course there was pizza, but also:

Pesto French Toast:

Pesto French toast

Pesto in your french toast is a different flavor, but very delicious. I highly recommend it. I made some home-made pesto that we used in this; here's my basic pesto recipe.

Basic Basil Pesto Sauce
Yield: about 1/2 cup

INGREDIENTS
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor (you can try a blender, but it will be more difficult).  Pulse until desired pesto consistency is achieved.
2. Refrigerate in an air-tight container.

We had this Pasta e Fagioli soup last night, with homemade rosemary and garlic focaccia.

Pasta and beans

I also made a tasty and healthy dessert - poached pears! Recipe for this coming later in the week.

Poaching pears

Here's hoping the weatherman is right, and I'll have fifty-degree temps for my run this afternoon! Today marks the first day of a new training plan, designed to build strength and speed, so I'll be ready to really tackle some serious distance training when the weather warms up. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Carrot Salad: Bright Flavors in Winter

The past few days have been unseasonably warm here in Nebraska. As in, it was 67 degrees on Thursday afternoon. In JANUARY. But I'm not complaining - I'll take any hint of spring I can to get through winter. Naturally, I went for a run with the pooch outside, to take advantage of the sunny skies!

When I came back, we were in the mood for a summer-inspired dinner. Summer cooking for me, though, is about celebrating the bounty of fresh produce that is available. How do we bring those bright, fresh flavors into January? This carrot salad certainly did the trick. And because carrots are pretty much available (cheaply) anytime, you can bring a little summer to January too. We ate this with a chicken and prosciutto involtini that Nick made on the grill - and for once, it was actually comfortable to be outside grilling!

Carrot salad 1

I suppose the lesson I learned from this meal was to really celebrate the small moments - a warm day can be a huge bright spot in an icy winter.

Carrot salad 2

Carrot Salad
I call for fresh basil here, but you could use any combination of basil, parsley, and mint that you like - just use whatever you can get fresh. In the summer time, I might increase the amount of herbs, but here it lends a nice background note to the bright lemon and carrot flavors.
Yield: about 4 cups, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

INGREDIENTS
4 cups grated carrot (about 10 medium carrots)
Zest and juice of one whole lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp ground coriander
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or more, to taste)
2 tsp honey

DIRECTIONS
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for an hour or more.
2. Serve and enjoy! Refrigerate leftovers.

We saw a few sprouts starting in the windowsill garden this morning - hopefully I'll have a few baby plants to show you next week!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Whole Wheat and Flax Blueberry Pancakes

Some mornings, resisting the siren song of the snooze button is more than my sleepy will-power can manage. On those days, I motivate myself with the thought of the breakfast I'll be able to cook (and eat!) if I get up on time.  This recipe makes a healthy breakfast, equally suited to a sleepy Monday as a late-start Saturday. Although dragging out measuring cups on a weekday may seem taxing, I make these in the time it takes to brew the coffee. Simple and satisfying, these pancakes get me started on the right foot.

Whole Wheat Blueberry Pancakes 2

Whole Wheat and Flax Blueberry Pancakes
Yield: 4 pancakes, enough to serve 2 people

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp flax meal (ground flax seeds)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp honey
pinch salt
2 whole eggs
1/2 cup milk or almond milk
1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat.
2. Combine flour, flax, baking powder, and salt in a bowl; stir. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and honey. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Gently stir in the blueberries.
3. Spray the skillet with cooking spray. Add 1/4 cup batter to the pan, shaking a bit to spread if needed.  Cook for a minute or two, until the underside is browned, then flip and cook until done. Repeat with remaining batter.
4. Enjoy, topped with a bit of butter and maple syrup.

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