Bake me a cake

So, I’m a terrible baker. I mean, it’s probably for the best, because if I loved baking I’d be in real trouble. But you know, it’s the holiday season and I’ve been in this weird domestic mood lately. So I’m baking.

I have big plans for my baked goods. I am not that much of a dessert person, I enjoy it but it’s not the highlight of a meal for me or anything. But I love cake balls. Maybe it’s the intrigue. Maybe it’s the adorable packaging. Maybe it’s that they are virtually the only interesting thing I know how to bake…and they come from a box but don’t seem like they come from a box. So I have all these plans for cake balls, and maybe some chocolate chip cookies, and all these plans are making me exceedingly guilty. Carbs and I seem to have rekindled our love affair in the worst way, but like any abusive relationship, I know this is just a honeymoon phase until the next time I weigh myself.

To counteract…or maybe mitigate is a better word…all this completely indulgent baking, I decided to try something healthy as well.

Banana Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cake

Continue reading “Bake me a cake”

Picnic Food in the Wintertime…

Hello! It’s been a while since I posted. But that doesn’t mean I have fallen off the wagon, I’ve just been busy! In fact things have been going very well on the health front. I am hoping to post more about that soon.

In the meantime, I have a much less important success story to tell. I have been trying for literally months to make a successful black bean burger. Okay, this was only my third or fourth attempt, but none of them were really up to par until now. I had several goals for these black bean burgers, and you wouldn’t think any of them would be particularly hard to meet and yet, these elements have been elusive.

First, the burgers needed to stick together, like burgers are supposed to do. Second they needed to be healthy. It would have been a lot easier with eggs, cheese and flour but I was really trying to keep it strict. Third, despite the restrictions, they needed to taste good, obviously!

Vegan Black Bean Burger with Avocado Cream
Vegan Black Bean Burger with Avocado Cream

Continue reading “Picnic Food in the Wintertime…”

Pumpkin Up the Jams

Wow. I am so sorry about that title. But what can you do, it’s the fever talking. Yep. Still sick. Don’t worry, I’m on the mend. I have decreed it. I’ve given my body more than a week to get this shenanigans out of its system and now I’m ready for us all to move on. I’d like my lungs back, please.

The most annoying thing about being sick is that my grand plans for this month were totally neglected. Working out was a total bust, since I could only breathe for roughly half the days since Halloween. And creative cooking was just not plausible in my addled state. But sometimes we just have to muddle through.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip

Literally all month I’ve had this grandiose idea for pumpkin pie baked into a cored apple, a technique that you’re likely familiar with if you’ve looked at Pinterest ever in your life. I planned on taking it to a birthday party I helped plan for one of my BFFs on Saturday. But then Saturday came around and I slept through all of the hours I was supposed to be baking.

So, I considered my ingredients, started on a contingency plan, realized I didn’t have time for that either, and in the end accidentally created this very delicious (diet-friendly) Pumpkin Cheesecake Dip. Continue reading “Pumpkin Up the Jams”

Lentil Soup for the Soul

Well, I’m sick. It never fails, every year I deal with minor seasonal allergies on and off throughout the fall and then boom, Thanksgiving gets here and I get bronchitis or pneumonia or the plague (or whatever). Hopefully this year it won’t be that bad. Usually in the past I’ve been travelling for Thanksgiving, or I was busy with school, or both, so I always blamed my annual illness on stress. This year I’m not in school or travelling, so I’m really hoping it doesn’t get any worse. So far, I’m not so sick that I can’t function, but I’m still sick enough that all I really want in life is a big bowl of soup and my mommy.

Luckily, two nights ago I made a really great Lentil Curry Soup, which turned out to be even better this afternoon when I reheated it. I think my body predicted this illness and so it encouraged my brain to make a huge batch of soup ahead of time. That’s totally plausible, right?

Lentil Curry Soup

Continue reading “Lentil Soup for the Soul”

100 Ways to Stock a Kitchen

Over the last few months I’ve been slowly collecting a set of cookbooks I’ve never opened. I always think they look like a great and wonderful idea, until I get home and realize I already have the entire Internet and my own imagination. But over the summer, a friend was getting married and to go with the little mixing bowls she had on her registry I got her this really cute cookbook from Crate & Barrel:

I thought it was so cute (and relevant) that I bought a second one for myself. Then it went on the shelf with all the other rarely opened cookbooks. But the other day I was bored and noticed it, so I opened it up, and in the first chapter, the author goes through all of the ingredients she thinks are absolutely necessary. No respectable cook, she says, should live without these things.

Going through her list, I found some of her must-have ingredients were no brainers. Cumin, duh. Sea salt, duh. Garlic & ginger, double duh. But then other things went from duh to “huh?” They were things that would never occur to me to keep, nor did they seem so vital, useful in enough different ways to warrant having these things constantly on hand. Some examples of the huh items were anchovies, tapenade and seven different kinds of vinegar. That seemed extreme to me until I realized I have four or five already.

So this list of kitchen essentials got me thinking, what are my own kitchen essentials? Are my must-haves totally weird, too? What is my kitchen’s equivalent to “seriously? tapenade?” Once every month or two I will go on a big grocery spree to restock all of the things I use all the time (which inevitably always run out at the same time, right?) and I realized, I definitely have my own list of kitchen ingredients I wouldn’t want to go without. Some get more frequent action than others, but I would be annoyed if I discovered any of these were missing. If you’ve read more than two entries of this blog I seriously doubt the list will feature any surprises.

 Notes:

  • 100 seemed like a lot to me, but then I thought about it and with all the little things like spices and condiments, it’s not really that much.
  • Okay it’s actually more like 103…I forgot some essential essentials and added them in.
  • There are a few things I will always buy organic–spinach and other greens, soy & meat products–and some things I never will, like bananas and avocados, because the part we eat is protected by the thick outer layer and because conventional tastes just as good (or better). Generally I specified if something should be organic on this list, but that is a personal decision depending on how paranoid environmentally-conscious you are and how much money you want to spend.
  • I also included things like English muffins, which I probably haven’t included on the blog before, but I do use at least once a week.
  • There were a couple other things I wanted to include because I use them frequently but only seasonally, like peaches, or that can’t really be kept stocked because they’ll go bad, like salmon.
  • Obviously this list is designed to my particular tastes. If you like a lot of meat or hate spicy things, this will need some tweaking.

The most important thing to note about my list is that there are very few things that are processed, and what is processed is only marginally so. A lot of things I would have bought from a conventional vendor I’ve started trying to make myself (like hummus and salad dressing). I have observed so far in my journey that cooking from scratch and eating as many whole foods as possible is really the best thing to keep me feeling strong and healthy. With the exception of a few additional items: granola bars, one or two organic frozen meals in case of emergency, and an occasional box of crackers, this is pretty much all I keep around. If I keep other things, I’ll eat them. Having a very specific list like this helps curb temptation.

I don’t know if this will be helpful to other people. But even if it isn’t, I think it’s a good idea to take a catalogue of all of the things you use on a regular basis. Making sure they are always on hand will a) make meal preparation way easier b) enable spontaneity in your kitchen goings-on and c) hopefully allow you to avoid opting for takeout because, “we’re out of everything, ugh!” or snacking on unhealthy stuff because, “there’s seriously nothing to eat!”

Personally this has been an important lesson for me to learn, and an on-going challenge to really adhere to. But honestly, organization has been key to my success so far. If I make sure I have everything I’m going to need for the week, and plan ahead a lot of the things I intend to eat, I am a lot less likely to stray from my goals. I will stick to the plan, when there is one. When there isn’t one–anarchy! Chaos! Nobody wins (except maybe saturated fat and the pizza industry). So far, this particular list has been good to me. Sticking to these foods, most of which are fruits, vegetables and nuts & seeds, I feel better physically than I probably ever have before. Even within the list, I use bread crumbs and brown sugar a whole lot less frequently than I use apples and spring mix. The goal of a good grocery trip, a stocked kitchen, and this entire blog is just to enable a lifestyle that is as healthy and nutritious as possible, and to cut out as many possible deterrents as I can from getting where I want to be.

-lj

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