October 24, 2011

colorful quinoa salad

You know those weeks days when you just don't feel like doing anything?

Saturday was that day.

I'll spare you the not-so-exciting details and just tell you that the highlights of the day included a lengthy Starbucks visit and this salad. That should give you an idea. It's a shame that Saturday was such an absolutely perfect day and the most I made of the weather was an hour spent in Starbucks' courtyard. It was a nice hour though.

I was so hungry for dinner but felt so lazy but still wanted something so delicious and so good for me. I think I may have used the word 'so' enough in that sentence but I'm not sure. Maybe one more would have been good.

But this salad was just the thing. It was super easy, especially since I found a container of already-cooked plain quinoa leftover from earlier in the week. I wouldn't have wanted to like actually get out a pan and boil something, so that was fortunate.

This is goood stuff, and also, conveniently, good-for-you stuff. Everyone knows that quinoa is the ultimate health food right? And then you have things like mangoes for sweetness, black beans for delicious protein, pomegranates for a nice crunch and some antioxidants, avocado for healthy fat and because they are basically the best food/fruit/vegetable ever.

Your stomach will thank you.

Colorful Quinoa and Black Bean salad 
Serves 1-2

1/2 cup cooked quinoa
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup mango, diced
2 T. cilantro, chopped
2 T. pomegranate seeds
1/2 an avocado, diced

1 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. olive oil (I used lemon-infused)
1 tsp. agave nectar (or sugar)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. pepper or lemon pepper

Add salad ingredients to a bowl except for the avocado. Add dressing ingredients and toss. Adjust seasonings and ingredients to taste. Add avocado and toss gently. If you will be storing some of the salad for later, I'd suggest leaving the avocado out until just before serving.

(You'll notice that I accidently left the avocado out for most of the photos anyway...got it in this last one though.)

October 20, 2011

spicy sweet potato and coconut soup

Last week I didn't cook...or at least I don't remember cooking anything. It was one of those weeks.

We had frozen pizza, we went out to eat, we ate at people's houses (by invitation)...

I just wasn't in the mood for it. Does that happen to you? The thought of making a mess in the kitchen (usually something that makes me pretty happy) sounded hugely unappealing. I didn't have anything I really wanted to make. I was completely uninspired. (violins)

This week was looking like it was going to be another one of those weeks. Monday was busy and I didn't get to the store to stock our empty-from-last-week fridge, so we got fried chicken for dinner. Yup. We even did a fried chicken tasting: KFC vs. Popeye's, just because we thought we'd better figure out once and for all where we need to be getting all of our future fried chicken. (In case you're wondering, KFC won for chicken, but Popeye's had the better mashed potatoes. Biscuits were a toss up, but I think it goes to Popeye's as well.)

high-qual iphone pic

 So Monday night, after our fried feast, as I sitting on the couch doing whatever it is that I do on the computer, my husband started this movie. I was all, "what are we watching?" as I looked up from the computer. Then suddenly I became completely engrossed in the movie. I think I even put my computer down. Watched the whole thing.

It was called Forks over Knives. Maybe you've heard of it. It's a documentary about our meat-and-dairy saturated culture and how so many of our health problems can likely be treated by a plant-centered diet.

Okay. Normally I find these things interesting at best, I give them a listen, maybe a smile and a nod, an "I-appreciate-your-point-of-view" eyebrow raise, but inside I know that I couldn't give up juicy hamburgers and milkshakes for quinoa and green beans. I don't like to get too radical or extreme about these things, and I most certainly don't like limitations.

But suddenly veganism had never seemed so appealing. Naturally a movie like that will make meat look horrible, and it did it's job.

After the movie, I asked my husband what he thought about trying a plant-centered diet, just for a week. (Who am I?) He agreed. (What a guy!)

Apparently that was what I needed to be inspired to cook again. I stayed up for another hour or so, researching vegan recipes to make for the week and assembling my grocery list. I was PUMPED.

So we embark on this mini adventure...emphasis on mini. We're doing this for fun/experimentation, to see how we feel and to see how it works for us. We're not going to be strict about it. If some feta finds it's way into my vegetarian sandwich, I'm not going to kick it out. If hub needs an egg for breakfast, I ain't gon stop him. It's the only way I could do something like this anyway. If I were to adopt it as a lifestyle choice, it would be more of a guideline than a rule. I told you how I feel about limitations. Same goes for deprivation. Is that the same thing?

I'm pretty excited about it though. Highlights so far include: some absolutely killer butternut squash fries, marvelous carrot cake oatmeal, and this sweet potato and coconut soup. I just realized those are all orange foods. Weird.

Anyway. This soup is so so good. (I seem to have run out of adjectives at this time. Forgive me.) It's creamy and a little sweet with a nice kick to it from the ginger and red curry paste. I would make it any day, vegan diet or not.

Stay tuned for more vegan-week adventures and a recap. And less-wordy posts.

Spicy Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup 
Recipe lightly adapted from here

Serves 6

1 1/2 pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch chunks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 (2 inch) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 (15 ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk
3 cups vegetable broth
3 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt (or more, to taste)
Fresh ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro 

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger; cook and stir until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the curry paste and heat for 1 minute, then whisk in the coconut milk and vegetable broth. Add the potatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 20-25 minutes, or longer if necessary. 

Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth. (Or transfer the soup to a normal blender, in batches, then return it to the pot when blended.)

Stir in the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings to taste. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a drizzle of the sesame oil and some cilantro.

October 15, 2011

'stuff you didn't see' saturday

I eat every day. Yup, every single day.

this squirrel wants my food.
...Except if I have the flu. Flu is an unwelcome diet plan. I only appreciate it when it's over.
I always think of the girl in "The Devil Wears Prada" who says that she's only one stomach flu away from her goal weight.

I may be two flus away.

Anyway. Point is, I don't post about everything I eat. That would mean I was only eating like twice a week, and only eating sweets, apparently. Though if I had to pick a food group to live on it would probably be sweets. And fruit. Sweet fruits.

I don't even take pictures of everything I eat. I don't have that kind of patience.
But. Here are some of the things you didn't see. That I ate.

Iss for fun.

These became...

...this. Herb-baked egg cups inspired by this and this. Mine was simply tomatoes, parmesan, fresh basil, cream, and dried herbs de provence. And eggs of course. 

A most wonderful buffalo dog: hot dog topped with homemade coleslaw, crumbled bleu cheese and Frank's Red Hot sauce. Oh yes.

Chicken chili roughly adapted from here

Small tomato stack. Just goat cheese sandwiched between slices, topped with salt and pepper, fresh basil, and a nice drizzle of balsamic (not pictured).

Friendly breakfast on our tiny deck. Cinnamon rolls from here, breakfast hash from here. Later, I would make that breakfast hash again...

...for breakfast in bed.
Here's a burger that we stuffed with cheese. Jack cheese. Accompanied by homemade sweet potato fries.

Aannd easy spaghetti dinner on the (tiny) deck. 

Have a wonderful weekend full of good food and pumpkin-y things.

October 11, 2011

pumpkin white chocolate chip cookies

Did you have a nice weekend?
I'm not sure what day it is. But I think we just got finished with the weekend.

We went to support a friend who ran the Chicago marathon on Sunday. She did really well, I'm so proud of her! It was inspiring to be there, to say the least. And surprisingly emotional. I have so so much respect for people who do that. I hope to be one of those people someday. It's kind of a bucket list thing for me, but I haven't done anything about it. Eeep.

When the race was done we had to walk like 18 blocks to get back to our car and I was complaining about it, and then I had to check myself because people just ran 26.2 miles and all I did was watch and eat cookies. Literally, I brought these cookies with us. That doesn't even make sense.

Okay so these are more like cakies, if we're being honest. But oh man.
They are so wonderful.
I know I just said that about the pumpkin scones I made, I know I may be getting repetitive be getting repetitive. But I also know you want to use pumpkin in everything right now, like I do.

Pumpkin pancakes? Yes.
Pumpkin cream cheese? Okay.
Pumpkin coffee? Grande please.

Just to let you know, I'm pretty sure white chocolate chips were made to be in this cookie.

I used Ariela Pelaia's recipe from here, with only a couple very minor changes.

Pumpkin White Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup)
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ¼ cups light brown sugar, packed
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 Tablespoons milk (I used whole)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup canned (or fresh!) pumpkin puree
2 ¾ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt (I used kosher)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon allspice or ground cloves
2+ cups white chocolate chips (depending on how chippy you want your cookies)

Melt butter in the microwave until just melted. Set aside.
Sift flour into a medium bowl and add salt, baking soda, and spices and combine.
Pour the melted butter into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. (You can also use a large bowl and a hand held mixer.) Add both sugars and cream on medium speed until slightly fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the whole egg, egg yolk, milk, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Mix well.
Add the flour mixture ½ a cup at a time, mixing between additions. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill dough for approximately two hours in the fridge, or more. (even overnight)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Remove dough from fridge and use an ice cream scoop to scoop generous, rounded balls of dough onto baking sheet, spacing them two inches apart. (you can spray your ice cream scoop with baking spray if you want.)

Bake for 14 minutes at 375 degrees.

Storage: These cookies will keep in an airtight container for 1 week.
Freezing: To save cookie dough for later baking, freeze raw balls of cookie dough on a cookie sheet before transferring to a freezer-safe airtight container. Dough will keep for 1 month. To bake, place frozen dough on lined cookie sheet and proceed as above, adding 2-5 minutes to baking time, depending on your oven.

October 7, 2011

pumpkin scones

My pumpkin was blurry. I bought it that way.

Apparently Starbucks sells pumpkin scones.

I wouldn't know.
I either ignore the display case (except when I need the very berry coffeecake), or I eye it up and down with cool disregard (except when I need the petite salted caramel square). 
You can't tempt me, gooey apple fritter. Keep wishing, old-fashioned donut. I'll spend 500 calories elsewhere, perhaps on something that I won't inhale in under 3 minutes.

But then I made these pumpkin scones, allegedly a la Starbucks. And then I think I ate 3 of them the first day. They are so light and fluffy and not dense that I really don't think it counts. Psh. And stuff you make at home is way better for you, obviously.

These scones have just the right amount of spice, and with the hint of pumpkin and the added sweetness of the icings, well, they're irresistible. Not unlike potato chips, or peanut butter m&ms.

P.S. I made my own pumpkin puree (using steaming instructions from here), which was kind of fun, and then I roasted the seeds, which was also fun and made me feel resourceful and old-fashioned. My pumpkin puree was enough for two batches of these scones (I made another batch a couple days later but don't worry, I gave some away), and some pumpkin white chocolate chip cookies, which are waiting to be baked as we speak, and if they are delicious, I will surely let you know!

I used this recipe from Moms Who Think (without any modifications), but I will copy it for you here:

Starbucks Pumpkin Scones
Makes 6 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
7 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
6 Tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
3 Tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg

Sugar Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons whole milk

Spice Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons whole milk
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 pinch ginger
1 pinch ground cloves

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2. Lightly grease a cookie sheet or line with parchment paper.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large mixing bowl.
4. With a fork, pastry knife, or food processor, cut butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no chunks of butter remain. Set aside.
5. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk pumpkin, half and half, and egg.
6. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball.
7. Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle (about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide).
8. Use a large knife to slice the dough into three equal portions. Cut diagonally to produce 6 triangular slices of dough.
9. Place on prepared baking sheet from step 2.
10. Bake for 14–16 minutes until scones turn light brown.
11. Place on wire rack to cool.

October 4, 2011

butternut squash, poblano and chicken quesadillas

Some people complain that Chicago has three seasons: Winter, Summer, and Construction. 

 In a town that is hailed for it's lack of transitional weather, I just have to say: We have been having the most amazing Fall. Let's try to remember this next time we want to cry about how it went from 70 degrees to blizzard overnight. The Fall of 2011 was wonderful. 

 It has been sunny and 60s-70s for a few weeks now, almost without exception. (A couple rainy days but whatevs). Apples and pumpkins are popping up everywhere and just generally bringing good cheer. And it's squash season. So here I present you with a squash quesadilla. It's sweet, spicy, cheesy and gooood.

That is all. That is my transition from blog post to recipe. Not as smooth as the weather.

Notes for this Quesa-dilla:
-All filling ingredients are according to taste. If you like more cheese, for example, by all means use more cheese.  But you knew that.
-I found the poblano to be slightly bitter in this recipe. Next time I may try corn instead for a sweeter flavor.
-I think black beans could make a welcome appearance in this quesadilla as well. You could subsitute them for the chicken and have yourself a nice vegetarian option.

Butternut Squash, Poblano and Chicken Quesadillas
Makes 2 Quesadillas

4 Tortillas
1-2 cups of shredded rotisserie chicken
1 roasted poblano pepper, chopped* (to roast, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally. Let cool before chopping.)
1 cup chopped cooked butternut squash
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2+ cups shredded jack cheese (I used pepper jack)
3/4 cup crumbled feta
Salt and pepper
Other seasonings of your choice (I used Trader Joe's South African Smoke, which is a blend of sea salt, paprika flakes, garlic and basil. It gave it a nice little kick.)

Sour cream and salsa, for serving, if desired

Prepare all ingredients. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter to heated skillet. Place a tortilla in the skillet. Sprinkle about 3/4-1 cup of jack cheese and 1/4 cup of feta onto the tortilla. Add 1/2-1 cup of chicken. Add the squash (about 1/2 cup) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 1/2 the poblano (or corn) and about 2 T. cilantro. Sprinkle with seasonings of choice or more salt and pepper. Add about 1/4 cup more of the jack cheese and a little more feta. Top with a tortilla. Once cheese on the bottom tortilla is melty and the underside is golden brown, flip carefully, adding more butter to the skillet if you want to/are able to. Cook until golden brown, about 3 more minutes or so. 

Serve with salsa and/or sour cream, or other toppings of choice.