Thursday, September 29, 2011

Fruity Carrot Salad

Growing up in New York and Ohio, I never was around a Chick-fil-a. When I went to school in North Carolina, one opened just before my freshman year, and everyone raved about it. They were very generous with their coupons being handed out around campus, so JJ and I went one night. It was by far the best fried chicken I've ever had from a fast food restaurant, and the pickles just make the sandwich that much better, in my opinion! After the novelty wore off, we rarely went. But it always seemed that when we were craving Chick-fil-a, it was a Sunday. Does that happen to anyone else??

I hadn't been back in a couple years, but JJ had a gift card to use, so we went on Saturday afternoon. I decided to just pair a few side dishes and make a random meal. I was intrigued by the carrot salad, hoping that it was similar to my favorite carrot salad from Bloomingfoods (I miss you!), which has a bit of tang. When I took a bite of Chick-fil-a's, it was like candy! It was good for a few bites, but then far too sweet for my liking. Turns out, this is quite a popular salad combination! I looked online and found that most recipes called for carrots, raisins, pineapple, sugar and mayo. I don't like mayo, and didn't think it needed added sugar, so I tried to make it a bit healthier and not quite so sweet. The result was a very earthy salad with bits of sweetness. Exactly what I was looking for! 

Fruity Carrot Salad
inspired by Chick-fil-a

2 lbs. carrots, peeled and shredded
1/4 pineapple, in a small dice (you can also used canned, tidbits or crushed, I prefer fresh)
1 c. raisins
1 c. plain yogurt
2 tbsp. - 4 tbsp. honey, depending on taste
Pinch of salt

In a small dish, whisk together yogurt, honey and salt.
Add carrots, pineapple and raisins to a bowl, toss with yogurt mixture.
Refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours, serve

Monday, September 26, 2011

Spicy Lentil Vegetable Soup

When my husband and I were freshman in college, and had just started dating, we discovered that we both loved the restaurant Carrabbas. There wasn't one in Hickory yet, but we found one right outside Charlotte. Of course we wanted to spend as much time together as possible, without really saying that to each other, so driving to Charlotte "for Carrabbas" was our favorite date. I didn't have a car at school, but JJ did. One Saturday night each month, he'd pick me up at my dorm room (on the third floor, his was on the second), we'd walk down to the parking lot and he'd even open the car door for me.

We would almost always order the same exact thing, I'd get Chicken Marsala with Mashed Potatoes and Lentil and Sausage Soup, he'd get Pollo Rosa Maria with the same sides. While I can't proclaim my love for Mushrooms in Marsala anymore than I already do, the lentil soup was just as delicious. It was so spicy, full of flavor and very hearty. These days we rarely go to Carrabbas, and I wouldn't eat those dishes anymore since I went back to vegetarianism, so I'm left with trying to recreate the flavors at home. 

The basics of this soup were easy to imitate, lentils, vegetables, tomato broth and spice. What was a bit more challenging was getting the sausage flavor in a vegetarian soup. To do this, I added sage and fennel. Those two distinct flavors scream sausage! I didn't add any sausage texture, but you could chop some Field Roast Italian Sausage, crumble in some tempeh, or even add some rehydrated TVP flakes. Since my husband is always in need of a soup dipper, I pulled some artichokes, roasted red peppers and mozzarella from the fridge and made a simple Italian Quesadilla, but some plain crusty bread would be equally delicious! 

*To speed up cooking time, I simmer lentils separately while soup gets cooking, but you can also add all ingredients to a crock pot and cook.

Spicy Lentil Vegetable Soup
inspired by Carrabbas

1 c. dried lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tbsp. EVOO
1 yellow onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 celery stalk, minced
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. white or red wine (I used Malbec)
1 28 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes (crushed or whole, depending on your chunk preference)
4 c. vegetable stock
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp. dried rubbed sage
1 tsp. whole fennel seed, crushed with a mortar and pestle (preferred, or use ground)
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
Parmesan Cheese, for serving

Fill a stock pot with water, bring to a boil, salt heavily and add lentils.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
Heat a soup pot over medium. 
Add EVOO, onion, garlic, carrots and celery. 
Season with salt and pepper, saute' for 10 minutes, until slightly caramelized and softened.
Add wine, reduce, and tomatoes. 
Use a potato masher, if whole, to crush tomatoes to large chunks.
Drain lentils.
Add vegetable stock, lentils, red pepper flakes, sage, fennel and paprika to soup pot.
Bring to a light boil, reduce to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes, or until lentils are tender.
Taste and adjust seasonings. 
Serve with grated Parmesan cheese. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tropical Chop Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

Every time I log on to Facebook,and especially when I talk to my sister in Cleveland, I'm hearing about how Fall has hit Ohio. I get it, you can drink a hot Pumpkin Spice Latte while wearing a sweater. But I'm not jealous. Yet, anyway. 

As far as I'm concerned, summer can stay for another month or two as long as the produce keeps coming! See, when I was pregnant, vegetables hated me. I still loved them, and when I was stupid, I'd eat them, but inevitably I'd be sick for hours or even days.  I'm finally able to go to the Farmer's Market every Saturday and buy more than peaches and watermelon (though those were my #1 craving), I'm buying peppers, cucumbers, beets, squash, and above all, fresh, sweet, delicious tomatoes! 

This past weekend, I went nuts buying up produce. When I got home, I decided to throw a random bunch of my finds together into a salad. Once I had the peppers and tomato chopped, I decided to add some black beans I had in the fridge, and take it in a different direction. At first, Tex-Mex seemed to be the way to go, but then I decided to add some fruit for the sweet-savory combo I love, and finally I had a bunch of cilantro that needed to be used up. This salad just happened by chance, but was absolutely delicious! 

Tropical Chop Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette

1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 heirloom tomato, seeded and diced
2 c. black beans (I used cooked, dried, but canned is fine too)
1 c. chopped pineapple
1 star fruit, sliced

2 c. cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. EVOO
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. honey 
1 tbsp. pineapple juice

Add all salad ingredients except star fruit to a bowl, line with star fruit.
Add all vinaigrette ingredients to a blender, puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve salad with vinaigrette on the side. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

Back when I was 37 weeks pregnant and planning to go back to work at my old job (8-5 with a 40 minute commute), I thought it might be smart to have a freezer stash with some dinners, so I spent a weekend cooking up a storm! When I found out I was hired for the new job, I thought all of the freezer meals seemed to be a waste of time. 

How wrong was I?! Having a stocked freezer is wonderful! In the past 2 weeks, even though I hadn't been working, I still found myself exhausted at dinner time and wanting to get pizza or takeout. Then I remembered I had my freezer stash! And I'm sure that in the weeks and months to come when I'm working all day, even though it's from home, these meals will be lifesavers! 

Now when you think of summer and freezer meals, soups, stews and casseroles just don't sound good, right? I had to really do some brainstorming with summer-friendly freezer meals because honestly, summer lasts until November in Florida. For this meal, I just roasted some okra from the farmer's market to serve along side the sloppy joes, quick and easy! 

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes
inspired by The Vegan Stoner

1 c. TVP (I use Bob's Red Mill brand, this is dehydrated soy protein found near beans in health food stores)
1 c. vegetable stock
1 tbsp. EVOO
1 yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 15 oz. can tomato puree
2-4 tbsp. light brown sugar (taste and adjust, as necessary)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
salt and pepper
4 English muffins, split and toasted

Bring vegetable stock to a boil, add TVP, remove from heat and cover.
Heat a skillet over medium heat. 
Add EVOO, onion, garlic and bell peppers.
Saute for 10 minutes, until softened and caramelized.
Add tomato puree, brown sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and TVP, which should have absorbed all the stock.
Season with salt and pepper, bring to a bubble and turn to low.
Simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste and adjust seasonings once more, serve on English muffins or cool and freeze in a freezer safe tupperware container.

Friday, September 16, 2011

White Bean and Vegetable Salad with Rosemary Vinaigrette

I've now got weeks of life with a newborn under my belt. I'm proud to say that cooking is getting quite a bit easier. I find that recipes with multiple short steps seem to work the best right now. Each morning, I think about what I'm going to make for dinner, then decide how every nap I can do a bit more. With this recipe, I had to cook the dried beans, harvest rosemary, make the dressing, chop the veggies, and let it sit and marinade. Of course this can all be done in a marathon of 10 steps, but for now, the 2-3 minute steps spread hours apart are working perfectly. 

One reason cooking itself is getting better is Violet is now happy to sit in her bouncer and watch me cook! Of course, her attention span is about 10 minutes, but I get to practice my cooking show skills on her. A newborn is definitely the toughest critic, I have to say. One awkward minute of silence and she starts screaming! Now I just need to figure out a way to get the photography portion of cooking down... It's still a struggle to time dinner perfectly that I can photograph it and eat it. I've had several great dinners lately that went unphotographed, but I do intend to make them again, and again, and again, if necessary, until it's photographed! 

Note: You can use canned white beans, but I find them mushier than cooked, dried beans.

White Bean and Vegetable Salad with Rosemary Vinaigrette

1 c. dried navy beans, cooked, drained and chilled
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, quartered, seeded and sliced
1/4 c. diced red onion
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese

1 roasted red pepper, jarred or fresh
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, about 1 tbsp. 
2 tbsp. sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave)
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. EVOO
Salt and pepper

Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a blender, puree until smooth.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Add all salad ingredients to a bowl, pour on vinaigrette, mix well.
Chill for 30 minutes and serve.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

I can't help but think the internet has really changed how often people bake, how much more confident people are, the different recipes they try, and unfortunately, how often people have a baking failure. It's just so easy to pull up Google and type in "Pumpkin Bread". Your search will yield hundreds of recipes, some from published sources, some from blogs, some from user submitted sites, it's recipes overload! This is both good and bad, because you can easily come across a great looking and sounding recipe, but when you make it, it's a big fat fail. I've learned to stick with recipes from sources I know are tested, but occasionally I'll go to a bloggers recipe or a user-submitted site. 

When I was looking for a pumpkin bread recipe, I found this one from all-recipes. What shocked me was it has a 5-star rating from over 4 thousand people! I think if 4,000 people like the recipe, I will too! I did read through the comments to see what people thought, any changes they made, and decided to implement a few of my own. Isn't it funny that I make sure I'm using a "good" recipe, but then make changes anyway? I found these changes to suit my taste and not effect the bread, so hopefully if you try them you'll have positive results, too! My changes were: subbing half the oil with yogurt, using milk instead of water, subbing some brown sugar for all granulated, and increasing the spices, because I love a spicy bread. I made 4 mini loaves of bread, 2 were frozen, but will need to be defrosted very soon! 

Pumpkin Bread

8 oz. (1 c.) pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/4 c. canola oil
1/4 c. plain, nonfat yogurt
1/3 c. milk
1 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 3/4 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350*
Spray 4 mini loaf pans with nonstick spray.
Fit a stand mixer with the paddle.
Add pumpkin, eggs, oil, yogurt, milk, sugar and brown sugar to the bowl. 
Turn on low speed until completely mixed, about 2 minutes.
Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg.
Mix again on low until dry ingredients are just absorbed.
Divide equally into loaf pans, place in the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes, use a toothpick inserted in the center to determine if loaves are cooked.
Cool in pans for 30 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack for another 30 minutes.
If freezing, wrap tightly in aluminum foil and place in a freezer safe bag. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blueberry-Buttermilk Wheat Pancakes

When I try out a basic recipe for something and have great results, I tend to use it as a baseline for creating many new recipes. I use the same basic chocolate chip cookie recipe with many variations, and now, this Buttermilk Pancake recipe. I first made the recipe back in February, and have since made it many times. When blueberries were abundant at the Farmer's Market this summer, I knew they would be destined for pancakes. Though the recipe isn't unhealthy, I did want to make a small changes to make it healthier. I did this by simply subbing half the flour for whole wheat pastry flour. I also added a tsp. of vanilla extract, just for a bit more flavor with the blueberries. These pancakes were still light and fluffy, full of sweet berries, and perfect for Saturday morning breakfast!

Blueberry-Buttermilk Wheat Pancakes

1 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 eggs, slight beaten
2 tbsp. canola oil
2 c. lowfat buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 pint blueberries

Heat griddle over medium (about 350*)
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together salt, baking soda and flours.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
Add dry ingredients to wet, stir until moistened.
Add blueberries to batter and stir gently, careful to not break berries.
Spray griddle with nonstick spray, ladle batter onto griddle.
Cook for 3-4 minutes, until bubbles form all over pancakes, flip and cook for another 2 minutes.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Serve with pure maple syrup and butter.

Note: These keep well in the freezer in a food storage bag. To reheat, just place in a foil packet and cook at 350* for 10 minutes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mushroom Marsala Quinoa Bake

Back when I was an omnivore, I was still quite picky about what meat I would eat. However, one of my favorites was Chicken Marsala. I love the savory and sweet wine paired with mushrooms and salty pancetta. I've made quite a few mushroom-marsala dishes, hoping to capture the best of Chicken Marsala, but it never was quite the same. I struggled to find a protein for the dish, tofu was too soft, and I'm not a fan of faux meat products. I did some brainstorming and decided to try quinoa. I love how quinoa is so high in protein, but also resembles a starch. The end result was perfect, a bowl full of savory, sweet, salty and delicious flavors!

Mushroom Marsala Quinoa Bake

2 c. quinoa
4 c. vegetable stock
1 tbsp. EVOO
16 oz. mushrooms, any variety or mixed
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 c. dry marsala wine
salt and pepper
1/2 c. shredded Gruyere cheese

Place quinoa in a fine mesh colander, rinse under cold water for a minute, until water runs clear.
In a stock pot, bring vegetable stock to a simmer, add quinoa, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. 
Wipe mushrooms to remove dirt, quarter and place in a food processor fitted with the blade.
Pulse until mushrooms are minced (might have to do this in batches), or mince by hand.
Heat a skillet over medium, add EVOO, mushrooms, onions and garlic.
Saute' for 10 minutes, until mushrooms have released moisture and vegetables have begun to caramelize. 
Add thyme, marsala, salt and pepper. 
Cook until marsala has reduced by half, remove pan from heat. 
Uncover quinoa, turn heat off. Fluff with a fork.
Spoon mushroom mixture into quinoa, add half the Gruyere, mix well.
Pour quinoa into a greased casserole dish, top with remaining cheese.
Place under a broiler on low for 3-5 minutes, until cheese is melted and golden.
Remove from the broiler and serve. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Over the past few weeks, I've been getting back in the kitchen more and more. While the baby naps, I find myself with time to do some cooking and baking. It's a little tricky to get the timing perfect, I've had a few freak out moments where the timer is going off and she's eating, but my husband doesn't mind burnt cookies! Sadly, his season is in full swing now, so he's home less and less. On his first weekend of travelling, my sister and nephew came down to keep us company. To thank her for making the epic trip from Cleveland to Jacksonville, 4 plane rides with a 10 month old, I baked some cookies and packed them up for her. These cookies are just another version of my favorite go-to recipe. They're soft, chewy, a little cakey, and delicious! I was a little timid to eat chocolate since it was a major aversion during pregnancy, but these cookies confirmed that chocolate is back! 

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 c. salted butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
1 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 c. old fashioned oats
1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter.
Add brown sugar and granulated sugar, beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Add vanilla extract, mix, add eggs one at a time, mix until pale yellow and fluffy.
Scrape down sides of mixer, add baking soda, powder, flour and oatmeal.
Turn mixer on low until just mixed, add chocolate chips and mix until distributed.
Place dough in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as 24 hours.
Preheat oven to 350*
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Break off heaping tbsp. pieces of dough, roll into a ball and place on cookie sheet 3" apart.
Bake for 15-16 minutes, until just brown.
Cool on the cookie sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.
Repeat with remaining dough, makes about 30 cookies.