Fairy Tale Breakfast Foods

Ahh the elusive day off. Is there anything in the world better than a day of no earthly responsibilities after a too-long work bender? After working 11 straight days, including about 35 hours just this past weekend, I had huge aspirations for my day off. I was going to stay in bed at least until the p.m. hours, and then watch 8 to 10 hours of TV on DVD. Sadly, my body was not really into that idea and I woke up at 9, feeling like I had an overwork hangover.

I stayed in bed a little longer, checking social media, election polls, online gossip magazines–basically the entire Internet, but really, lounging in bed until mid-afternoon just was not as appealing in practice as it was in my head. Not to mention I was starving. So, I got up to scavenge the kitchen for food, which was a little tricky because groceries were pretty sparse.

The best thing about taking a day of rest and actually planning on wasting the whole day is that if a project ends up being way longer than I want it to, who cares? I’m just getting a little behind in my schedule of nothing. Oh man, breakfast took an hour to make? That only gives me two hours to sit around listening to music and playing Spider Solitaire until I need to start marathoning tv shows instead. It’s gonna be tight, but I think I can still squeeze everything in!

So I was looking through the fridge, determined to find something satisfying that wouldn’t require putting real pants on leaving the house. Also, since it was my day off I wanted something kind of extravagant. We’re not talking eggs benedict or a full Irish breakfast, but just something more satisfying than a glass of grapefruit juice and a banana.

Blueberry Almond Porridge

During the fridge hunt, I found several fruits and vegetables that are, to me, more later day foods. Why is it we’re programmed to associate certain foods with certain times a day? If an apple is too heavy for breakfast why would anyone ever want a pancake?

The only “breakfast fruit” I found were some blueberries that needed to be used asap. They looked like they must’ve been on their last good, mold-free day. But since I wanted something more than raw fruit, I reserved the blueberries and took to the pantry. I found a box of steel cut oats, which I had tried in something else a couple months ago. I remembered liking them the other time I tried them, but I didn’t remember anything else about them.

So to jog my memory, I read the box, which informed me the best method for making steel cut oats is to make a porridge!

Seriously, I thought porridge was not a real food but just something they talk about eating in little kids’ stories. Next you’re going to tell me that curds & whey is a real thing too.

Without even knowing really how it would turn out, I felt like porridge was exactly what I was looking for. Something warm and bold and vaguely rustic. The perfect thing for a cool autumnal day where you refuse to wash your hair and intend to stay under a blanket forever.

To be honest, I’m still not positive this was actually “porridge” or if there is a difference between porridge and steel cut oatmeal, but whatever it was, it was delicious.*

*Okay so based on a Google images search I might have overcooked this, but my instructions are for legit porridge. Promise!

Blueberry Almond Porridge

Serves: 3-4. Prep Time: <;5 minutes. Cook Time: approx 45 minutes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Cup Dry Steel Cut Oats
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 2 1/2 Cups Unsweetened Almond Milk
  • 1/4 Cup Raw Sliced Almonds
  • Dash Salt
  • 1 Cup Blueberries, washed
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey
  • 2 teaspoons Vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Stevia (or light brown sugar)
  • 2 Tablespoons Chia Seeds

In a medium saucepan, add water & milk and bring to boil. NOTE: I recommend doing this on the notch below high heat because I learned the hard way that almond milk is a very um, needy boiler.
While the liquid is coming to boil, combine honey, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and stevia, stir until the spices are blended in, and set aside.
Once the milk and water are boiling, add the oats and almonds. Continue boiling the oats (and almonds) until they don’t look like little pebbles and start to look more fluffy. Expect this to take about 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently while this is happening to avoid a) the oats sticking to the bottom of the pot and b) the liquid running over.
Once the oats seem thicker and softer, add in the blueberries and sweetening mixture. I poured the blueberries into the pot in a big lump and then poured the sweetener directly on top of them before mixing everything in with the oats.

Turn the heat down to low, and let everything simmer 25-30 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. At about the 20 minute mark of simmering, stir in the chia seeds. Make sure to mix until they are evenly distributed.
Now that I’m thinking about it, and writing this all out, it’s really a matter of preference how liquid-y you want your porridge to be. I let mine simmer for a full half hour, but next time I will probably take it off the burner five minutes earlier so it’s creamier. Then again, it was super tasty the way I made it so maybe it doesn’t matter that much. Just don’t forget to keep stirring regularly.

Feel free to add some honey, syrup or brown sugar to it once you’ve served it. I totally did (1 teaspoon honey).

I really enjoyed this porridge. Hot cereal with fruit has become one of my favorite brunch-hour items. I’ve read reviews where people don’t like steel cut oats because they are too hard or chewy. I think for a lot of people it’s one of those things where they eat them because they are trendy amongst the healthy-eating crowd. But I liked them a lot. I think this slow boil-to-simmer technique (and using milk instead of just water) really helped soften them up. I like that they are a more substantive food than regular oatmeal. A little tiny bit of chewing never hurt anyone. Unless you’re being eaten by a predator, I guess. Back to the recipe, adding the vanilla really brought out both the almond and the blueberry flavor.

Plus, it is really very clean and diet-friendly. The whole thing is about 290 calories, with 9 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein (for about 3/4 of a cup after it’s finished). All the protein and fiber make it very satisfying. (Other than a banana it was the only thing I ate until dinner.) It helps that it is very flavorful so it was a nice thing to take my time with. Like I said, it’s perfect for a lazy, leisurely day off kind of day.

It’s nice too that even though it takes a while, it also takes very little effort. I am definitely going to keep this one around for later occasions.

-lj

It’s the Great Pumpkin

Three posts in one week! Can you tell I’m procrastinating on my actual work?

Working from home has both costs and benefits. The benefits are that I can wear sweatpants whenever I want and if I want to run errands or workout (or write a blog post) in the middle of the day and work in the evenings, that is totally fine as long as I meet my deadlines. The costs are that I am always near the kitchen and there is endless opportunity for distraction.

One of those distractions this week was pumpkin carving! It’s Halloween and for the first time in a long time I live in a neighborhood with kids around so I thought it’d be nice to be a tiny bit festive. So, I braved the residual wind and awfulness we are getting from Sandy in search of a pumpkin. Sadly, it turns out when you wait until October 30 to buy your pumpkin, there are not a lot of options left, which meant the one I found was smaller than I’d hoped. But, on the bright side the lovely but disgruntled Target employee at checkout didn’t bother to weigh mine, so I got it for about 80% off asking price. Bonus!

When I got it home I sketched out some different design ideas and finally settled on one of the easier ones. But apparently pumpkin carving is a much more involved process than I thought it was. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in like two decades, and back then I’m pretty sure my mom did all the prep stuff for me. (This time she refused.)

Pumpkin Night Light

When I was done carving I was very pleased with myself for making such a cute (or at least not-terrible) pumpkin, and so was still in a creative mood. I looked to the mess of pumpkin guts still laying on a cutting mat on the table, and it occurred to me that just tossing all of it would be super wasteful. I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I started by at least cleaning it up. I took a fork and combed all of the seeds out of the pulp.

I wanted to use both the seeds and the pulp but there was not very much of the latter. Or at least it didn’t look like much to me. The seeds, however, looked relatively ripe and plentiful. So I washed them off a bit and laid them out flat on a plate to dry while I finally got back to work figured out what to do with them.

Deciding what to do with them was sort of a process. At first I had some really grand ideas for using them as an ingredient in a couple of different elaborate autumnal dinner entrees, but I am pretty busy this week (despite contrary evidence) so I set those ideas aside for another time. I also wanted to make sure the pumpkin seeds were actually featured in whatever I was going to make, since the whole point is that I personally culled them from this fresh pumpkin. Just adding them as a garnish to my salad was not a good enough showcase.

Then I thought about making a trail mix. I love trail mix. I have a bag of fresh cranberries in the fridge and thought about learning how to make craisins, but again, I’m busy and this is supposed to be about the pumpkin seeds. I needed to shift focus. Finally, I accepted Occam’s culinary razor, and decided to roast them.

Plain old roasting is boring though. Definitely not worth an entire blog entry, nor all the consideration I had already given them. So I had to at least spice them up a bit.

I generally am more in favor of salty snacks than sweet ones. But I kind of wanted to keep the pumpkin-y thing going and use pumpkin spice flavors. Which led to the decision to just do both! Why not? Cinnamon and cayenne are both great detoxifiers and have been used together in the past, in molé for instance. Not that I know how to make that. Basically, in this recipe I added a bajillion different flavors and just hoped for the best.

I will admit that if you are really trying to watch your sugar then these should be a rare indulgence rather than a regular treat, but in comparison to all the processed Halloween candy and baked goods floating around this time of year, these Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds are certainly a healthier option.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Now, I have never “candied” anything before. If you happen to be a gourmet chef, culinary school student or otherwise very in tuned to cooking vocabulary, then maybe these are not candied per se. But who cares, they are freaking delicious.

Spicy Candied Pumpkin Seeds

My pumpkin yielded almost exactly 1+1/2 cups of uncooked seeds, which is almost exactly 1 cup of cooked seeds. A serving size is 1/4 cup of cooked seeds. (I wanted to eat the whole cup all at once, but we’ll stick with 1/4 for calories’ sake.)

Serves: 4

  • 1+1/2 Cups uncooked Pumpkin Seeds (if from an actual pumpkin then they should be washed and mostly dried)
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tablespoon Dark Brown Sugar (or Brown Splenda, if you prefer)
  • 1/8 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cocoa Powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 teaspoons Honey
  • 1+1/2 teaspoons Vanilla Extract (Quick Caveat: I actually spilled the vanilla into my mixture accidentally so there might have been more (or less). But I’m saying 1.5 t.)
  • Sea Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 325.

In a small bowl or mixing cup, add 1 teaspoon brown sugar, plus all spices. Mix together. Add the vanilla, honey and 1 teaspoon EVOO. Mix it all until it is the consistency of a dressing.

It looks like brownie batter. It was hard not to lick the spoon.

Spread a piece of parchment paper over a baking sheet. Lay out the pumpkin seeds on the paper. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of oil over the seeds, stirring them to make sure all the seeds are coated (at least a little). Spread out the seeds so that they are as close to a single layer as possible. Add salt. Drizzle the spice mixture over the seeds. Use a brush or spoon and stir to even the sauce over all the seeds. Again, spread the seeds into a single layer if possible. (The seeds will stick together so just do your best.)

Bake seeds for 15 minutes. At 15 minute mark, stir seeds, and again spreading them as flat as possible, sprinkle the remaining two teaspoons of brown sugar over the baking sheet. Bake for another 10 minutes or until they are done. (You can do a taste test. They are done when they are crunchy and do not split apart when you bite into it.) Make sure to watch them in the last 5 minutes to avoid burning them.

Remove from the oven when they are finished baking, and let sit, on paper, another couple minutes. Stir them around a little to make sure they are all done, and to break them apart if they’ve stuck together.

I highly recommend eating them while they are still warm. They are good later on as a cold snack but the warm ones were phenomenal. (I suppose you could re-warm them in the oven for a few minutes.) I had to tear myself away before I ate 3/4 of the batch in one sitting.

Even if you eat two servings though, it won’t be the end of the world. One 1/4 cup serving is about 190 calories. Since they are seeds, they have around 14g of fat, but they also have 10g of protein and 5g of fiber. Those are some serious seeds!

I enjoyed this whole pumpkin thing. I like any project where you can use the refuse for something completely different and just as exciting! Making a pumpkin-related food was not my starting goal, I just wanted to do something artsy. But I’m glad my art project was edible, because man those seeds are delish.

-lj

Heatin’ Up

I hate cold weather. Especially when it is cold and gray. So every year I dread midwestern winters, where the sun hibernates from November to March. Even with the excitement of the holidays, I can’t help the sense of impending doom when I can’t walk around the house barefoot anymore and I have to get out an extra blanket for my bed.

Last week it was 80 degrees and sunny, which was beautiful and refreshing at the time, but now that it’s back to 50 and cloudy the nice weather seems more like a tease, and the cold gray weather feels somehow worse. Of course, it could also have something to do with the fact that I’ve had a minor sinus infection for like two weeks, which I also blame on the cooler weather. I will say I am lucky at least that I’m not living in the middle of a superstorm, and my sincere condolences (and apologies for being a sissy) to anyone who is.

The point of all this mid-autumn whining is that last night I needed some comfort food. Something warm and delicious and soothing. We have a couple of family recipes for soup, but nothing I was really in the mood for. Lately, I am perpetually hungry for Mexican food. We also have a great family recipe for tacos, which I frankly cannot believe I haven’t posted before. That sounded good, but again, I really wanted soup! Tacos are more of a summery food to me. So I thought about how I could compromise, and I thought of a nice, creamy tortilla soup. Since I had never made it before, I did what I always do and took to the Internet.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I based my recipe off of the chicken tortilla soup by the Pioneer Woman but I made some changes to make it a little healthier and a little cleaner. (Although the original recipe is pretty healthy in its own right.) Mostly I just added some vegetables and cut some sodium. I also added Greek Yogurt (surprise, surprise) to give it some creaminess.

This soup is fantastic. It is the ultimate diet food success: it is super healthy but doesn’t taste like it. It is low fat, low sodium and low carb, which is quite an accomplishment for such a hearty soup. Altogether a one and a half cup serving has 350 calories, but considering how much goes into it, I think that’s pretty light. It is definitely a meal all on its own. I also avoided using any processed foods, and stuck with (almost) all fresh ingredients instead, so I could keep it clean. Especially considering how good it tastes, I would say it is a diet-friendly success.

Pre-garnishing

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Serves: 5 (makes about 7.5 cups)

  • 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Taco Chicken (See Below)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Cup Diced White Onion
  • 1/4 Cup Diced Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Diced Green Bell Pepper
  • 1 Cup Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon Finely Diced Fresh Jalapeño
  • 2 Cups Organic Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock
  • 2 Cups Water
  • 1 Cup 0% Organic Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 2 Cups or 1 Can Organic Black Beans, rinsed
  • 1/2 Cup Corn (I use Fresh Market Organic Frozen Yellow Corn Kernals)
  • 1 Cup Finely Diced Zucchini (Basically 1 whole small one)
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Coriander
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • Dash Cayenne
  • 1 Tablespoon Cornstarch, mixed with 1-2 Tablespoons Water
  • 5 Corn Tortillas (1 per bowl)
  • Avocado Slices for garnish (optional)
  • Organic 2% Grated Cheese for garnish (optional)

Taco Chicken (This is specifically modified for the soup. It’s basically halved from my normal recipe, and usually I use diced chicken instead of shredded, so no broth in that one.)

  • 2 Cups Broth or Stock (I used Organic Low-Sodium Vegetable Stock)
  • 2 Boneless, Skinless Organic Free Range Chicken Breasts (about 12 ounces total, raw)
  • 1 Teaspoon EVOO
  • 2 Teaspoons Chili Powder
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Cumin
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Sea Salt
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Black Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Cornstarch, mixed with 1 Tablespoon Water
  • 1 Cup Water

Directions for Chicken: In a medium saucepan, bring broth and chicken breasts to rapid boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes or until chicken is cooked enough to shred. Drain the broth. With a fork, pull on the chicken breasts until it comes apart into shreds. It should be broken apart enough to work as little pieces in the soup.

In a saute pan, heat oil on medium-high heat. Add the chicken, followed by the spices. Stir until the chicken appears covered in the spices, then add the water. Let simmer just a few minutes (maybe 3) then add the cornstarch. Stir well, so chicken is evenly coated in the liquid. Let simmer another 5 minutes or until the water evaporates enough so it is a more sauce-like consistency. But make sure not to let the chicken overcook. It should not be in the saute pan more than 10 minutes total.

Directions for Soup

  1. Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.
  2. Prepare the chicken as described above.
  3. Dice vegetables and mince garlic while the chicken is simmering.
  4. In a large pot (I used a 4 Quart stock pot) heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat.
  5. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, bell peppers, jalapeño, tomato and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and tomatoes are a stewed consistency.
  6. Add in chicken, using a rubber scraper to add all of the sauce as well.
  7. Add the vegetable stock and water. Stir. Let everything cook together for a minute.
  8. Add the tomato paste. Stir well, until the paste is completely integrated into the soup. Let cook a minute or two to let the flavor of the paste sink in.
  9. Add the coriander, chili powder, cayenne and salt. Stir well. Again, let it blend into the rest of the soup for a minute or two.
  10. Add the black beans and corn. Stir until they are evenly distributed in the pot.
  11. Add in the Greek Yogurt. Stir until it is melted and blended and the entire soup has a lighter color and thicker consistency.
  12. Prepare the tortillas by laying them out on a large piece of foil. Brush them lightly, using the remaining 1/2 Tablespoon of olive oil. Each tortilla should be nicely coated in oil, but not too soggy with it. Then lightly salt each one. Stick them into the oven. Cook about 8 minutes or until crisp. (If you prefer a prettier display you can slice the tortillas into strips before baking, but I kind of like the crumbier effect of breaking them apart after baking.)
  13. Add the zucchini.
  14. Add the cornstarch. Stir well.
  15. Lower the temperature and let the soup simmer for a few minutes.
  16. When the tortillas are beginning to brown along the edges and appear crisp, remove from oven. Break apart if you did not do so before baking.
  17. Scoop soup into a bowl, top with tortilla bits.

*Garnish with avocado, cheese or whatever else you fancy. Or garnish with nothing at all! I will say the avocado was a fantastic addition because it cut a little of the spiciness and add some extra creaminess, so I highly recommend sticking with that.

All mixed up and ready for eating!

I really loved this soup. I am very excited about how well it turned out because there are a lot of cold months ahead before the warm ones come back to me, and I think this recipe will really come in handy. I know it looks a little daunting with the number of ingredients and steps in the recipe instructions, but basically here’s all it is–just put everything in a big pot, in the order it is listed in the ingredient list, stirring and resting a minute between each new step. So, it ended up being one of my easier and faster endeavors of recent memory.

Plus, even with the cheese and avocado garnish it is still very reasonable health-wise. I baked a couple extra tortilla chips to use in place of bread, and those suckers are tasty, too. The soup is fairly spicy, but it is easily adaptable. Add less chili powder or cayenne, or skip the jalapeno. On the other hand, you could add more of those things if you don’t think it’s spicy enough. It would go really great with some mixed greens and the spicy balsamic vinaigrette I wrote about the other day. It also is just as fantastic reheated the next day, so it is a great lunch option too.

I am a little worried about how I will fare in the cold months ahead. Last year I ran away to my parents’ home in Texas, but they moved back here recently and now we are all without refuge! Thus, I am sure I will be on a constant mission to find warm, comforting foods that still meet all of my requirements for clean and healthy living. I will just have to hope they all turn out as successful as this one did!

-lj

Clean and Simple

Have you ever had a junk food hangover? I have noticed in the last seven months that now that I stay away from things like fried food, gluten and sugar most of the time, when I really overindulge, I wake up the next morning feeling like I’ve gone on a bender. And I guess maybe I have. Sugar and carbs are major components of alcohol and junk food.

So, as the weekend before Halloween, I sort of expected that it would not exactly be diet-friendly. But then last night, I made the critical error of skipping dinner before I went out and of course the party we went to had an immaculate spread of all the best party foods. And, of course, a few hours and a couple of bars later, I was starving again, because brownies and spinach dip are not exactly power foods. That meant when I got home late night I wanted to eat some more, and I wasn’t really in the mood for fruit salad…In other words, it was not a health-friendly eating night. Oh, and I forgot to mention that earlier that day I’d gone out for lunch and had both white bread and French fries. Oops.

Now, I have always maintained that days like this are important to avoid going totally crazy and/or giving up, and also because it is nice to give your metabolism a little jolt so it doesn’t get too comfortable. But there are cheat days and then there are CHEAT DAYS. When I woke up this morning feeling groggy, sluggish and a little bit congested, I knew immediately that yesterday might have been full of deliciousness, but it was not full of good choices.

On mornings like this, part of me wants to keep up the junk food momentum. There was a pretty big lobe in my brain suggesting I go grab some Mexican takeout and watch football all day. But the rest of me rejected that idea. Even more than I wanted comfort food, I really wanted to feel healthy instead of disgusting. The best option then seemed like I should eat things that would counteract all the damage I did the day before. Kind of like a mini-cleanse to recover from the weekend.

Clean Southwest Salad with Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

Of course, feeling sluggish and generally gross, I didn’t want to put in a whole lot of effort, so I just looked around the kitchen for something that would be quick but still healthy. What I came up with ended up being a huge success. I am super excited about the dressing, in particular. I will definitely keep this in mind for future weekends like this one. We still have several more holidays to go this season!

Clean Southwest Salad

Serves: 2

  • 1 Cup Garlic Quinoa
  • 1/2 Cup Black Beans (Canned, Organic is fine)
  • 1 Cup Fresh Organic Spinach
  • 3 Campari Tomatoes, Diced
  • 1 Small Avocado, Diced
  • Sea Salt & Ground Black Peppercorns to taste
  • 1 TBL Spicy Vinaigrette (see below)

Mix together the garlic quinoa and black beans. If the quinoa is already hot, it might be enough to warm the beans. Otherwise, microwave for 30 seconds, or until it is desired temperature. Top with spinach, tomatoes and avocado. Add salt & pepper. Drizzle with the spicy vinaigrette. Eat. Cleanse!

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

Serves: 2

  • 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Cold-Pressed if possible)
  • 1 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Sriracha (or to taste)
  • 1 Teaspoon Lime Juice (or juice from 1/2 a lime)
  • 1 Teaspoon 0% Fat Free Greek Yogurt
  • Salt to taste

Add everything to a small bowl, mix well. That’s it.

Spicy Balsamic Vinaigrette

I really enjoyed this salad. It was both light and filling, and it was flavorful enough that it wasn’t too shocking after a day of eating whatever I wanted. In particular, sriracha and balsamic vinegar may not seem like the best match on paper, but seriously, I love this dressing. It’s spicy and robust, but a little sweet too, so no single flavor is overwhelming. The addition of the teaspoon of Greek Yogurt gave it a nice creaminess, and gathered everything else together. The salad itself is nothing particularly innovative, especially since I have written about pretty similar things before. But, the sriracha is just what this combo has been missing, so I am very excited that I’ve evolved the ingredients I’ve always worked with so that now I’m actually looking forward to eating this salad again.

I definitely recommend this for a nice clean lunch either as a recoup or just because it is healthy and delicious. It helped reenergize me and break me out of my junkfood hangover, but I think it will serve just as well to energize me halfway through a particularly dull workday, or basically any time.

Life’s Spice

If you read this blog regularly, then it should not surprise you that I sometimes get into ingredient ruts. Oh, she’s on a honey kick. Oh, now it’s Greek yogurt. Just be happy I wasn’t blogging during the great sauce-less stir-fry season of 2008. That was a hyphenated snooze fest. So lately, I’ve been trying to think of new things to make. If I’m hungry for something, instead of just wishing I could go out and then drinking my dissatisfaction down with a smoothie, I’m trying to branch out and expand my culinary wheelhouse. Thus far, there have been successes and …lesser successes. Example: I am determined that I will perfect a black bean burger if I have to make them once a week for a year. (Ok, a year from now I might be over it.)

I’ve found I really like cooking. Just like I love writing, photography and Project Runway, I enjoy cooking because it involves creating something, and in order to have a successful result, you need to be patient and consider different angles. Creating things is the best way I know to combine puzzles and art, two of my favorite things. I have gone through minor cooking phases before, like the previously mentioned stir-fry craze, but the past few months have really been next level. Having this blog doesn’t hurt. Neither does the invention of Pinterest. But the more I learn about nutrition, the more I care about finding the best ways to marry good health and good flavor. Finding, tweaking and creating recipes is an exciting way to be actively involved in my personal health goals. Sure, going to the gym is also a hands-on approach, but that can feel more like a chore sometimes than cooking usually does.

So, last night, I was in the mood for something different. I was also in the mood for a challenge. I don’t mind cooking when it is just fixing some food, but I actually get invested in it as a pastime when I am developing the recipe and building it into something. This time, I thought I would try curry. I have used a packaged curry sauce before and added in ingredients, but this time I wanted to make the sauce as well. Especially because I think it is likely that my ingredients are at least marginally healthier than the ones I would find in the take-home foods section of the grocery store, and definitely healthier than in a restaurant. My favorite curry is Thai red curry, and I especially like it with fruit. So tonight, I went for a red mango curry that I am happy to say was a success! I was very proud of myself. I cooked for my parents this evening and my dad said this was his favorite of the things I’ve made for him so far.

Red Mango Curry

Full disclosure: this recipe is not as diet-friendly as most of the things on this blog. It contains a little bit of sugar (like, actual brown sugar) and quite a bit of fat. Additionally, my giant neighborhood supermarket does not carry unsweetened coconut flakes, unless you want to pick up a whole coconut, get out a hammer and shave the flakes out of the shell yourself. So, I used a sweetened Baker’s coconut. However, everything else I used was a fresh ingredient, and it was certainly healthier than it could have been! I used one can of coconut milk and one can of lite coconut milk because I wanted the curry to be a little thicker. However, I think it would work fine with two cans of lite, which I will try in the future. Still, a fourth of the full recipe is only 375 calories, and it’s very filling. Plus it has quite a few fruits and vegetables.

Curry vegetables, ready and waiting!

Red Mango Curry

Serves 4

Prep time: 5-10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes (approximately)

  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil (or any good oil, really)
  • 1 Mango (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 Cup Shallots or Sweet Onion (or both…I ran out of shallots halfway through. oops!)
  • 1/2 Cup Red Bell Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar Snap Peas
  • 1/2 Cup Matchstick Carrots
  • 3 Tablespoons Red Curry Paste
  • 1 Can Coconut Milk
  • 1 Can Lite Coconut Milk
  • 1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon Low Sodium Soy Sauce**
  • 2 Teaspoons Worcester Sauce (I used an organic one to avoid the high fructose corn syrup)
  • 2 Teaspoons Brown Sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced (or Finely Diced) Ginger
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Cumin
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Curry Powder
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Lime
  • 2 Tablespoons Shaved Coconut
  • 5-6 Basil Leaves, Shredded

**Normal Thai curry calls for fish sauce, but since I don’t plan on making this all the time, I didn’t really want to spend the money on it. Luckily the good ole Internet told me that mixing Soy Sauce and Worcester Sauce would have basically the same effect. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, honestly, but they were good additions to this recipe anyway. Still, if you want to get authentic, you can use two tablespoons of fish sauce.

  1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat.
  2. Add the Curry Paste. Let it cook, stirring a little bit, until it mixes with the oil enough to become less pasty and more saucy, and becomes fragrant. (Just make sure it doesn’t burn.) This should take around 3 minutes.
  3. When the paste is melted down, add the Coconut Milk. Stirring frequently, let the milk and curry simmer together (still on medium-high) for 5 minutes. Throughout the entire process, use a rubber scraper to keep the coconut milk from sticking to the side of the pan.
  4. Add the soy sauce, Worcester, sugar, cumin, curry powder, garlic and ginger. Mix well, so that everything in the pan is one color. Let simmer, stirring pretty much continuously, another 5 minutes.
  5. Squeeze in most, but not all, of the juice of the lime half. (Set the rest aside.)
  6. Add onions, let cook until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add mango and vegetables, let cook 4 minutes (or until they reach the softness you prefer), stirring occasionally.
  8. Add the basil, shredded coconut and the rest of the lime juice. Mix well so that coconut is dispersed throughout the curry. Let simmer 3 minutes.

I developed this recipe by looking at a variety of red curry, coconut curry and mango curry recipes of both Thai and Indian origins, and took what I liked from them until I had the recipe that I wanted for myself. One of the recipes I found included avocado in the curry. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that, so I served avocado slices on the side. They were a phenomenal compliment!

I served the red mango curry over brown basmati rice and baked salmon. (Bake the salmon at 425˚F with a light coat of olive oil, salt and pepper, if interested.) It would be just as good with chicken, tofu, tempeh or on its own, too. I was just in a salmon kind of mood, and I’ve had it with red curry before and always loved it.

All in all, this recipe is definitely a win. I usually like to have a little more balance, in terms of carbs-fats-proteins, so I am feeling a little guilty about all the coconut, but with fish, brown rice, and veggies, it evens out well enough. Plus, it was delicious, and not terribly difficult. It does require a lot of stirring in the first half, but that’s not so bad. So, now I have a go-to recipe whenever I’m craving Thai food in the future. And I can feel good about myself for finding another fun recipe to make!

-lj

Scouring the Cupboards

I am constantly asking this question, “what do I want to eat?” The absolute best strategy to avoid eating junk food and other foods I’m not supposed to eat is not to buy them in the first place. Junk food is only allowed in the house if the craving is just so bad I can’t stop wanting it (like today with some Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies…). These exceptions, however, are few and far between…they are exceptions after all! And since I try to stick to produce, whole grains and lean proteins, sometimes it is hard to find food to eat that won’t take me a half hour to prepare…and you know what, nobody wants to eat a salad for every single meal. Dinner is not a big deal. When work is not too hectic and time permits, I enjoy making an effort and treating dinner like a fun culinary experiment. Breakfast is easier because I keep it simple. Green tea and a piece of fruit, juice or a smoothie. So really, lunch is the problem child of meal preparation. Middle child syndrome, I guess. Sometimes I’ll have soup. Once in a while it’ll be homemade, more often it will be from a can, like my favorite: Amy’s Chunky Vegetable. Other times, I’ll have a hummus and veggie wrap or a salad.  But yesterday, I was out of hummus, wraps and greens, and I was too hungry for soup.

So, I assessed what I had in the fridge and pantry and tried to put together something that would taste good and last all afternoon, since I knew I was in store for a long work day. I think I’m going to call the result Super Yogurt.

Super Yogurt

Most of the things that were in my kitchen were things that I normally use as minor ingredients: yogurt, almonds, chia seeds. Nothing that really struck me as a meal. But then I thought about the bananas on the counter, and how they would go with all of those things, and lo, Super Yogurt was born.

I have been really into chia seeds lately. The Internet tells me that “superfoods” are not a real thing, but rather a marketing ploy by the food industry. I can kind of buy that. Big Agro is a huge industry, I bet they pay a lot of money for marketing. But even still, it makes sense to me that pound for pound, some foods are more impressive than others in terms of their quantity of good assets in a small quantity of food. Blueberries are a fine example. So are avocados. Greek yogurt even. Chia seeds though, are the Mighty Mouse, Rescue Rangers of the food world. There is a rumor that when you eat them, they expand in your stomach to make you feel fuller. That rumor seems to be unsubstantiated, but they are still pretty impressive. They have tons of omegas 3 and 6, plus fiber and protein. That’s like all the things, basically!

So, I’ve been trying to stick them into meals wherever I can. Their only flaw is that I can’t always think of uses for them. So yesterday when I saw the yogurt, I felt like the world’s most successful matchmaker. Unfortunately, a big bowl of plain Greek yogurt is not exactly delicious. But when you put enough things into it, it can get there.

Super Yogurt

Serves 1 – 2 (I was full about 3/4 of the way through)

Prep Time: Five minutes (including toasting the almonds.)

  • 1 Cup 0% Plain Greek Yogurt (Vanilla would be great, too)
  • 2 Sliced Bananas
  • 2 Tablespoons Toasted Sliced Almonds
  • 1 Tablespoon Chia Seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon Honey

Not a lot of instructions to this one. Simply put the yogurt in a bowl, put all the other things on top of it, and stir!

Ingredients

This concoction was insanely filling, and even better, it kept me full for hours. I mean, HOURS…like I was still not hungry yet when it was time to eat dinner. And usually, I get the urge to snack in the middle of the afternoon. But this is a really dense dish, so I ate it slowly and the snacking urge never came. The recipe could easily be halved or shared, but I wasn’t really thinking about that when I made it. I just knew I had a little individual container of yogurt and needed stuff to put in it. Two bananas may seem excessive, but I tried it with just one and it was too…yogurt-y. I think next time I try this, which will be soon, I might use pineapple because it’s sweeter and will cut the sourness of the yogurt a little better. But, on the other hand, bananas are probably more filling. Also, the banana-almond-honey combo was great.

So that’s it. Super Yogurt. Easy. Tasty. Filling. Nutritious. All the elements to a good lunch. And I am always on the lookout for good lunch options!

-lj