The last few months in food

While I’ve stuck to my resolution to try at least four new recipes each month, I’ve done a terrible job of sharing them here. Since I have neither the inclination nor the data to figure out everything new that we’ve cooked since, oh, April, here are some highlights:

The Best Lentil Salad Ever – My New Roots
YOU GUYS, we ate this one to death over a couple of weeks of Sunday night picnics followed by several weekdays of lunches. The ingredient list is long, but that’s because the dressing is complex and wonderful and only improves the next day. If you are open to the possibility of a lentil-based salad, get you to the kitchen (and maybe the spice aisle to stock up) and make this right now.

Secret Ingredient Frozen Hot Chocolate – My New Roots
Let’s get this out of the way: the secret ingredient is frozen cauliflower. But I assure you that you won’t taste it at all. Really. This was delicious, especially with a dollop of coconut cream. If you’re less strict about refined sugars or dairy products, I bet you could doctor this up to be sincerely wonderful while still containing sneaky vegetables/fiber.

Roasted Cauliflower Tacos with Chipotle Romesco – Minimalist Baker
This romesco will blow the socks off your Taco Tuesday. This recipe requires relatively little effort unless you are like me and think that making tortillas from scratch is a reasonable thing to do on a weeknight with a broken finger.

Quinoa Cauliflower Tabbouleh – In Pursuit of More
Oh hello, another grain salad obsession. The combination of herbs, fruit, nuts, and a citrusy dressing is perfect for summer.

Vegan Banana Cake – Imagelicious
$1 bags of bananas from Open Produce sometime mean that we make a spontaneous cake. This was simple and delicious and will likely be revisited for the toddler’s birthday in a few weeks. I omitted the walnuts because: why.

Spring Cabbage Wraps with Couscous, Za’atar, and Spicy Tahini Dressing – My New Roots
The toddler likes saying “couscous”. I like that this took about 20 minutes to put together WITH the toddler from start to finish, including making the couscous, the spice mix, and the dressing. The red cabbage we used was a little too tough, but otherwise, this was a winner.

Red Earth Beet Burger – Harvest & Honey
I’ve been fumbling around trying to find a recipe for homemade veggie burgers that I really like. We had leftover beets and lentils from the Beet Party (see below), so I used this recipe as a guide. Good stuff.  This burger recipe from Blue Apron was somewhat less successful.

Fairy Tale Eggplant and Mozzarella Pizza with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes and Summer Squash – Blue Apron
We had two really solid pizzas in our Blue Apron boxes this summer. The flavor of this eggplant was really superb. This pizza was also nice.

Sundown Carrot and Grilled Corn Salad – My New Roots
One of many solid picnic dishes from this summer, especially with in season Midwest corn.

Watermelon Fattoush – Blue Apron
Another great picnic dish, though unfortunately this yielded a ton but didn’t keep all that well.

Beet Party – My New Roots
Another solid picnic dish, though I made all kinds of substitutions with what we had on hand. The recipe is vegan, but crumbed feta is an excellent addition for non vegans.

Poke-Inspired Beet Bowl – My New Roots
We eat fish, so I can tell you that this is not a substitute for actual poke, but it was a nice weeknight dinner. I like composed bowls of things, even if they require a bit more prep up front, in part because everyone can take as much of the things they actually want.

Summer Tian with Chermoula – Harvest & Honey
While I didn’t make exactly this, I made something extremely similar to this, and while it was gorgeous, it was also hard to serve.

Sweet & Savory Korean Rice Cakes – Blue Apron
This was interesting! I didn’t know what to expect from the Korean rice cakes, so it was a nice opportunity to try an ingredient we never would have worked with on our own.

Cod & Tomatillo Salsa with Summer Squash & Sweet Potato Hash – Blue Apron
While we eat fish, we rarely buy it, so this was a nice treat – an easy fish dish complemented by a really nice vegetable hash. N doesn’t tend to like sweet potatoes, but he liked these!

Sesame Soba Noodles with Gai Lan, Mushrooms, & Ginger Lime Peanuts – Blue Apron
A nice stir fry, but nothing to write home about. This dish sort of exemplifies my dissatisfaction with Blue Apron – the meals are generally good, but definitely not worth the $10 per-portion cost.

Blueberry Cardamom Chia Pudding – My New Roots
This was nice, but the volume did not work with our Vitamix. Alas.

Chilled Hiyashi Chuka Ramen – Blue Apron
This Blue Apron meal was a solid dud. The noodles were stuck together. The eggs popped while boiling. My attempt to make sesame mushrooms with $1 bag produce only sort of worked.

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January Eats

One of my resolutions was to try four new recipes each month. Here’s what I tried:

1. 1 Pot Kale Sweet Potato Curry – Minimalist Baker
We used to eat a lot of curry, but after two bouts of food poisoning from curry in two years (once at home, once at a restaurant in Antwerp), it’s been out of rotation for awhile. We had everything on hand, though, so I tentatively suggested this for dinner last week, and oh, I’m so glad I did. I substituted butternut squash for the sweet potato and served it over quinoa – and we ate the entire thing. The toddler finished his and asked (repeatedly) for more cubes. N liked it enough that he suggested we make it again two days later. It was equally good over brown rice, and with twice as much curry as I initially used. We’ll definitely be making this again.

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2. Coconut Lentils – Budget Bytes I kicked off the year with a very strict diet after the indulgent holiday season – a week or so of no animal products, grains, artificial sweeteners, or alcohol. I like doing this from time to time in order to reset my habits (and my cravings) – I also find that it helps me get back in the swing of meal planning and cooking, very necessary steps especially when I eat at least one meal per day away from home. I made a big batch of these lentils for a week’s worth of lunches on a Sunday night. My kitchen smelled heavenly – but unfortunately they were really bland on their own, and by day two, I felt sad eating my bowl of porridge. I will make these again, but not as a main dish.

3. The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread – My New Roots I am madly in love with the My New Roots cookbook, and was excited to try this grain-free “bread”. It’s loaded with nuts and seeds and fiber – all good things, right? Except that it came out of the pan sticky, dense, and not really sliceable – and then sat in our bellies like a brick, which is what it also resembled. The LCLOB was apparently the recipe that launched the MNR blog into the stratosphere – but I would assert that it is neither life-changing, nor a loaf, nor really bread. The toddler liked it, but we stuck the rest in the fridge to feed to the squirrels.

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4. Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Black Beans
This was another serendipitous recipe that used up a lot of things that we had on hand. We didn’t go for the full in-the-squash presentation – not terribly practical when you’re serving three – but no one seemed to mind. This is another definite rerun.

Spicy spaghetti squash

5. Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup – Smitten Kitchen
I love cauliflower, and we all love Indian food, but I have to say that the strictly vegan version of this recipe was a little eh. The toddler and I had yogurt in ours which improved the flavor, but something was still off. Maybe it was too watery? We liked it enough to try it again, but not immediately.

6. Really, though, the big winner this month was the smoothie bowl, especially now that we have a fabulous (refurbished) Vitamix to do our bidding.

1/3/17 Green smoothie bowl 1/4/17 Pumpkin pie smoothie bowl

1/5/17 Eating the rainbow smoothie bowl 1/9/17 Froyo smoothie bowl

2017 Resolutions

1. Eliminate credit card debt.

Debt elimination has been a rolling goal for the last few years. I keep saying that this feels realistic, and then it keeps not happening. Last year I knocked out my student loan. This year the credit card debt has got to go.

2. Take action every week.

We all need to do all of the small and large things we can do to keep our country (or state or city or neighborhood) moving forward. I was stuck in terrible gridlock this morning (20 minutes to travel 20 miles), so I used the time to make (hands’ free!) calls to elected officials about House Republicans’ attempts to hobble the Office of Congressional Ethics.

3. Finish Brain Pickings book club list.

Along with a couple of friends, I’m making a book club out of the 2016 favorites list from Brain Pickings. First up: Hidden Figures.

4. Incorporate professional development into my schedule.

Attending a couple of conferences each year isn’t enough. I need to find ways to stretch and grow professionally every week.

5. Finish weaning.

I’m not in a hurry to do this – I’ve always said that I’ll be guided by the toddler’s needs and development – but it’s time to start the process.

6. PR at any distance.

I came really close to knocking out both a 5K and half PR in last year’s Illinois races. If I can make strength training and speedwork happen, I think this is feasible.

7. More regular visits with family.

It did my heart good to see the toddler interacting with his grandparents and cousins over the holidays and during our visit to Belgium in the fall. While we don’t expect to get to Belgium this year, we can get out to Rockford (and Michigan and Iowa) more often.

8. At least two blog posts/month.

This seems pretty straight forward.

9. Try at least four new recipes/month.

This should be relatively easy as well.

10. Make time for monthly dates.

This is hard but important, especially with a toddler! But we need to make it happen.

2016 Resolutions

1. More letters. I’m aiming for a letter each week.

2. More books. 16 sounds like a nice round number. I’m on track to finish my first this weekend.

3. More miles. Barring injury, I’m aiming for 750 running and 2000 biking. I also really want this to be my marathon year, but I’ve said that before…

4. More movies. We saw a grand total of 6 last year. 12 seems possible.

5. Less meat. I’m not ready (or interested, really) in going back to being vegetarian, but I am interested in expanding my repertoire of meat-free meals, particularly since Nicolas has been pescatarian for nearly a year.

6. Less debt. We’re on track to pay off all of my debt by the end of the year. I really want to make that happen.

7. Less complaining. This might be the hardest resolution on this list.

8. Less guilt and regret. This one is hardest to quantify, but I’m pretty over beating myself up about things I can’t control, or things that aren’t mine to begin with.

1129 Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu

I have mixed feelings about this dinner. It was good – and smelled even better – but it wasn’t a knock out, and I’m not sure how to fix it.

For one, the original recipe called for the tofu to be tossed in cornstarch, fried, then set aside for most of the recipe.  I don’t love the texture of fried tofu – or the extra fat from the oil – so we sliced it, gave it a good dose of olive oil cooking spray, then broiled it – so it had better texture but not much flavor.  Perhaps a ginger-y marinade would fix this?

For another, there was too much liquid.  The original recipe called for 28 oz diced tomatoes in liquid plus 1/4-1/2 cup water or broth.  I used fresh tomatoes but only had about a cup on hand, so I supplemented with a couple of diced peppers.  This meant that I added significantly less liquid to the pan than called for, and it still was a bit wet.  I’m not sure where the liquid is supposed to go, as everything in the recipe is full of its own moisture and certainly doesn’t need any extra.  I’m also wondering if coconut milk might be a nice substitute?

Finally, the seasoning.  Adding more of everything that originally called for – plus a teaspoon of red pepper flakes – gave the recipe a nice heat, but we both found ourselves salting generously.  Perhaps more salt and the coconut milk previously suggested would help?

Regardless, this was a fast and healthy dish, and made enough for dinner for the two of us and three lunch portions when served with steamed Jasmine rice.

Indian Spiced Peas and Tofu
Adapted from Whole Foods, presented as I made it.  See above for suggested modifications.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (14-ounce) package extra firm tofu, drained, and pressed for at least a few hours to extract extra moisture
2 yellow onions, very thinly sliced
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 generous tablespoon garam masala
1 generous teaspoon red pepper flakes
1-2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers – I used green and red
1/4 cup water or vegetable broth
1 (1-pound) bag frozen green peas, thawed
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice the tofu into 1″ pieces, then slice again into bite sized triangles.  Spread on a broiler-safe pan lined with tinfoil, then spray evenly with non-stick spray or brush with olive oil.  Place under preheated broiler for about 8 minutes on each side, or until golden and a little crispy.

Heat oil in a large skillet, add onions and ginger and cook, stirring often, until golden brown. Add spices, tomatoes, and peppers and simmer for 5 minutes. Add water or broth, peas and tofu, reduce heat, cover and gently simmer for 10 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon over rice and serve.

1113 Tomato Bisque

Shane’s gone for the weekend – more moped stuff in Cleveland – and I’ve got a whole lot of nothing planned.  This morning I drank coffee, made a trip to the garden, and made a lovely soup for a late lunch while watching the Iowa game which, by the way, I don’t want to talk about.  I would, however, like to talk about this soup.

Lo these many years ago, in an apartment on 12th Street in Rockford, I started to get interested in food.  I knew enough to be dangerous to myself and others – I could scramble eggs, make an awesome batch of mashed potatoes, and follow the instructions on packaged food.  I had been vegetarian for a few years, so anything I might’ve known about preparing meat had long escaped my mind.  I was living with my boyfriend and two coworker friends, and while we all liked to eat, none of us liked to do the dishes.

When my roommates moved out and I didn’t have automatic Must See TV pineapple pizza ordering companions, I started to give the whole cooking thing a go.  This tomato bisque was one of the first things I mastered, one of the first recipes I could make without frantic trips to the store (where the hell are the pine nuts?) or phone calls to my mom (what’s something easy I can do with chicken?).  Paired with Jeff Perri’s grilled cheese sandwiches, it was my go to meal for the longest time.

So that’s what I did for lunch this afternoon: tomato bisque made from a whole bunch of the green tomatoes that finally ripened, with a bit of purloined dill for a more complex flavor.  I didn’t have cream on hand, so I whisked in a bit of yogurt – not the same, but good enough.  Add some crusty bread and a Spotted Cow, and you’ve got yourself a great afternoon.

Recipe:
Tomato Bisque from Fine Cooking

1109 TVP Tacos

I’m not sure what possessed me to pick up TVP the other day, other than that it seemed like it might be an inexpensive and healthy way to get a bit more protein into our diets.  Once I dumped the TVP out into a canister at home, however, I realized I had no idea what to do with it.  It’s pretty strange stuff – a soy protein extruded, in the words of Wikipedia, into “a fibrous spongy matrix that is similar in texture to meat”.  Weird.

Anyway, tonight I decided to give it a go.  TVP is notoriously short on flavor, but I suspected that rehydrating it while also rehydrating a dried chipotle pepper might give it a subtle kick – which mostly worked, though the TVP still had a ways to go before being palatable.  Using the same basic recipe as our tempeh tacos, I sauteed the TVP in some vegetable oil with a finely diced onion, a chili or two, cumin, coriander, and a fair amount of salt and pepper.  When the TVP was cooked through and starting to brown, I pulled it out of the skillet, then quickly stir-fried up a couple of cups of mushrooms in the skillet’s residual spices.  We rolled the TVP, mushrooms, and a cubed roasted butternut squash up into vegan burritos.  All in all, not outstanding, but a reasonably good first effort at using TVP.

Recipe:
Tempeh tacos