Fresh Start Breakfast

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Although I am not a morning person, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I would be lying if I said that I don’t love mornings. I do love mornings, on weekends and vacations only. Perhaps my feeling that “I’m not a morning person” stems from my experience of most mornings: frantically running late, rushing to work, gulping down coffee and breakfast, sitting in traffic. . . then spending the rest of the morning enclosed by cubicle walls with no window to the outside world. Who could possibly get excited about that?

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On my days off, I love mornings the most. I enjoy the calm quiet and the feeling that I am at the fresh start of something new. Mornings can be full of hope, energy, and plans for the rest of the day. I rarely feel disappointed or rushed on a weekend morning; I simply enjoy the opportunity to take my time. Some prefer their coffee cold, some prefer it hot. Some like their coffee French pressed, cold brewed, or poured over. All I know for sure is that I like my coffee slow. Slowly sipping a cup of coffee at the beginning of my day is a gift that I do not give myself often enough. Under that category, you could also file: stacks of pancakes, syrupy French toast, fresh oranges, fluffy croissants, and bubbly mimosas.

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I have fond memories of vacation and weekend mornings that were completely unrushed. On Labor Day weekend last year, we rented a cabin in the mountains with friends. I remember waking up before everyone else and brewing coffee in the quiet, cool kitchen, then sipping a steaming cup on the wraparound porch, while listening to the morning sounds of the woods. On the day before our wedding, Kyle and I carefully drove along the Blue Ridge Parkway in the thick morning fog and hiked to Humpback Rocks at sunrise. Fresh starts on cool mornings are priceless.

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I recently had several wonderful mornings in New York City, and something about moving the conventional routine of breakfast to a variety of exciting places made an impression on me. I seized the moment each day and had a delicious breakfast in a new place, with no agenda or deadline. This, of course, negatively impacted the number of activities I could cram into each vacation day, but that was okay with me. The first breakfast at Le Pain Quotidien set the tone for the rest of the mornings on my trip.

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I had a flavorful and filling yogurt bowl from Chobani SoHo.

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On another morning I went to Chavela’s for a spicy brunch with friends.

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On my final morning in the city, I had a fresh, hot everything bagel with a crispy, crunchy outside and a soft, doughy inside.

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The breakfast that made the biggest impression on me was the warm organic quinoa and pear cereal at Le Pain Quotidien. Topped with Bosc pears, dried fruit, nuts and cacao nibs and drenched in warm soy milk, this cereal was exactly what I needed after a chilly run that was cut very short.

The day before, while rushing to get out of the house to make my train to New York, I slipped on our wooden stairs, went flying with my suitcase and bag, and landed flat on my back. As I lay on the floor, loudly cursing and wailing, I thought, “the universe is telling me to slow down.” Nevertheless, I popped some ibuprofen, threw an ice pack in my bag and headed to the train station, grinding my teeth in pain the whole way.

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Fast forward 18 hours, after a lot of icing, massaging, and wishing on stars, I suited up for a run across the Brooklyn Bridge. With subway directions to Brooklyn, a route scribbled on hotel memo paper in my pocket, three layers of clothing, and some gear strapped around my waist, I was determined to make my 8 mile run for Team in Training. After 3 scenic miles over the bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan, through the financial district, Chinatown and SoHo, I found myself warming up in Le Pain Quotidien on Grand Street, suffering from killer back pain, and ordering breakfast for one with a cappuccino on the side. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the beginning of a mandatory three week break from running.

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Over a delightful bowl of quinoa and pear cereal served by an extremely attentive and courteous waiter, I finally received the message that I had been trying to ignore. Slow. Down. While the pressures of my job, way too many commitments, and half marathon training left little time for me to stop and smell the roses, I started thinking about the things I could control and began to work on a plan for less stress and more happiness. Getting slammed with a bad cold and increasing back pain over the next few days helped to reinforce the message. I’m not quite there yet, but I have made some changes for the better.

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The lessons I have learned from weekend breakfast are finding their way into the rest of my life and I do feel like I am inching backwards from an almost certain nervous breakdown and toward a happier place. Less working on the weekend, less guilt about unfinished to do lists, and more quality time with friends and family. Of course there are risks involved. I may fall behind at work, let down my team and lose my job. I might be less prepared for the half marathon and hit the wall on race day. Maybe I will never finish my name change paperwork, hang art on the walls of our house, or plant a vegetable garden this year. But for now, I won’t worry about those things. For now, I’m making breakfast. And sipping my coffee slowly. And thinking about the things that matter.

Here is a simple recipe for a simple fresh start to your day.

Warm Quinoa Cereal with Fruit and Nuts

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  1. Combine 1/3 cup rinsed quinoa + 2/3 cup water + half an apple or pear, diced in medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat, keep covered 5 minutes.
  3. Heat 1/2 cup milk of your choice (almond milk is great).
  4. Add to a small bowl: cooked quinoa + dried fruits, nuts, and seeds + drizzle of maple syrup or honey + 1/4 tsp cinnamon + warm milk.

 

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Protein Power! Recipe Roundup

Thank you to everyone who came out to my Protein Power cooking demonstration at Ellwood Thompson’s tonight. I hope everyone learned at least one new thing about cooking vegetarian proteins. I had a ton of fun and learned a lot from the great discussion we had while I cooked four of my favorite protein-packed dishes. Here are links to the four featured recipes, and a full recap will follow soon!

Greek Spinach Salad with Herbed Tempeh

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Engagement Tofu

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Quinoa with Olives and Parmesan (or nutritional yeast!)

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Chili Maple Glazed Tempeh

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Quinoa with Olives and Parmesan

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Okay, confession time. When I was a kid, one of my favorite things to eat was cheddar broccoli rice. Yes, the kind from the box with the dehydrated spice and “vegetable” packet inside. Another favorite was boxed (flake) mashed potatoes, with either butter, salt and pepper, or melted shredded cheddar cheese. I haven’t tasted either one in years, but every once in awhile I have a craving. Sometimes when I have a headache, a cold, or a particularly stressful day, I crave the boxed, dehydrated comfort food of my childhood.

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The great news is this: I don’t have to turn to the box with the sodium bomb spice packet to get my fix! I made the most delicious side dish the other day with whole ingredients from my own pantry. This version has more protein, less sodium, and more flavor than the original, and as an added bonus, I can pronounce all the ingredients. I suggest that you use this as a base recipe and add your favorite vegetables into the mix. Both broccoli and peas work really well in this. I think chopped greens would be great too. If you would prefer to make it vegan, simply substitute nutritional yeast for the cheese. Your choice!

Quinoa with Olives and Parmesan

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • vegan option: substitute 1/4 cup nutritional yeast for Parmesan

Preparation:

  1. Heat olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.
  2. Add scallions and garlic to hot pan and saute until fragrant.
  3. Add quinoa to pan and stir to mix. Add 2 cups of water to pan and increase heat to medium-high.
  4. Bring to a boil, cover, and lower heat to medium-low. Simmer until water is absorbed, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Stir in olives and pepper to taste. Add either Parmesan or nutritional yeast and stir to combine.

Harvest Quinoa Salad

Here in Central Virginia, we have been blessed with a funny in-between season this year that feels a lot like fall. Sure, it’s been a little rainy at times, and the temperatures have been all over the place as the mercury jumps up and down again every few days. Usually we have about three days of fall per year, but this year it feels like we have had fall for two or three day stretches every week or so for the last month and a half. Fall is my favorite season and I feel a little cheated every year in this climate. So this year, I have savored these spells when they come, and then I have tried to appreciate the warm sun or cool rain in between, knowing that fall will be right around the corner soon. . . once again.

There is something about fall that fills me with excitement. Maybe it’s the weather that keeps me on the edge of my seat. Or maybe it’s the great range of sensations that we get to experience during the transition to winter. The crackly crunch of leaves beneath my tennis shoes, then the slippery splash of my yellow rain boots in an unexpected downpour. Wrapping big soft scarves around my neck and buttoning up a cropped trench on a cool morning, then shedding my layers for a warm stroll on a sunny afternoon. The crisp crunch of a fresh apple, and the spicy smoothness of warm pumpkin pie.

This Harvest Quinoa Salad can be served warm or chilled and it offers both the sweetness and the spice that we love about this time of year. I hope it finds a place on your table while the apples are still perfectly ripe this autumn.

Harvest Quinoa Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 small apple, diced
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 1-15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Optional Dressing:

  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:

  1. Bring vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2.  Add quinoa, curry powder, apple, and raisins to vegetable broth. Stir to combine. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Stir in chickpeas, cover and cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve hot. For a chilled version, combine honey, lemon juice and olive oil and toss salad in dressing to coat. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

 BONUS Beer Pairing

Serve with Sixpoint Sweet Action for a hoppy-malty-bitter-sweet experience you won’t soon forget. You’ll have the best of both worlds. . . all around!

Cauliflower Steaks

Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt your regularly scheduled programming for an important message. . . about cauliflower steaks.

I have a thousand and one things to write about my big trip to New York, but at the moment I simply have to tell you about dinner. I was driving home from work today with no clue what to make and no food in the pantry. I called Kyle for suggestions and he offered one of the usual suspects: gazpacho or gumbo (his favorite meals to suggest out of season – gumbo in the dog days of summer and gazpacho in the dead of winter). I explained to him how long it took to make a proper roux and why gumbo was neither quick nor easy (nor cheap) to make for two on an evening that you have gotten out of work an hour late. He settled on “hearty vegetables over rice.” He didn’t exactly get that, but he got something better.

Today was one of those days that wasn’t sweltering hot, but it wasn’t cool either. It was one of those days that I struggle to decide on windows versus A/C for my drive home. A tad too warm for windows and just tolerable enough to make me feel bad about turning on the A/C in my gas-guzzling car, the evening was just a cool breeze away from the perfect temperature. I wanted a frosty adult beverage and a summery appetizer. I wanted to make Avocado Chimichurri Bruschetta. It had been so long since I had mixed up a batch and it felt like the perfect night for it, but I also wanted to make a more complete nutritious meal than just bread and avocado.

As I passed through the toll booth on my typical evening drive, a not-so-typical series of thoughts popped into my head. Chimichurri sauce goes on steaks. Cauliflower can be made into steaks. Cauliflower goes perfectly with tomatoes and chickpeas. I knew I had to give it a try. You need to give this a try too.

We all but inhaled the first plate of this stuff. Kyle declared this one a keeper. If I can maintain this last-minute recipe success, he just might decide that I’m one too. Sorry to interrupt the inevitable week-long torrent of New York themed posts, but this one couldn’t wait. Put this on your dinner table this week.

Cauliflower Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce and Quinoa with Chickpeas and Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 4 (or 2 really hungry travelers, with a little leftover for BYOBB lunch)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry quinoa
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 Tablespoons cooking oil (I used EVOO)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1- 15 oz. can diced fire roasted tomatoes with garlic
  • 1- 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided (1-1/2 tsp plus 1/2 tsp)
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh parsley, packed
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, packed
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions, using a rice cooker or stove top method.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and heat cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  3. Starting at the middle, cut the cauliflower into 3/4-inch thick slices. The middle slices will stay together pretty well and the end slices may break up into florets.
  4. Dust the hot cooking oil with chili powder and simmer for about 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower pieces to the hot pan. Pan fry the cauliflower steaks in batches, for 5 minutes per side, adding salt and pepper to each side when it is face up.
  5. Transfer the cauliflower to an oiled or nonstick baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 8 minutes, or until a knife cuts easily through the center of each piece.
  6. While the cauliflower is baking, add tomatoes and chickpeas to the same pan that the cauliflower was fried in, adding oil if necessary. Scrape up any browned cauliflower bits into the chickpea-tomato mixture. Add 1-1/2 tsp cumin and the cooked quinoa to the pan, stirring to combine. Lower the heat to low-medium and simmer uncovered for 5-8 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Combine the following in a food processor: parsley, cilantro, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, 1/2 tsp cumin, crushed red pepper, 1/2 tsp salt. Pulse until combined to create a chimichurri sauce.
  8. Pile the quinoa on plates, top with the cauliflower steaks and slather on the chimichurri sauce.

Not bad for a random Monday night. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming of All New York All The Time.

A Resolution and Quinoa Burgers

Happy Monday!

Whew, I have been running like crazy lately to get back in the groove of things. I started a fantastic new job last week (woo-hoo!) and I committed to a few lifestyle changes to get back on track to being the best possible version of myself, so I have been a little busy. All good things though, so I can’t complain.

One of the household resolutions that I share with Kyle is to create more healthy and economical meals at home, and to eat those meals at a reasonable hour. For the last few months, dinner has gotten later in the evening and I have sacrificed nutrition for convenience. Consequently, we aren’t getting the fuel we need and we are crashing into bed immediately after dinner every night. With the new job comes a new schedule (a better schedule), which leaves us no excuses to get in the way of achieving our goal every day.

We, Lauren and Kyle, do solemnly vow to quit ordering take-out and start rolling up our sleeves together in the kitchen in order to get a healthy home cooked meal on the table (almost) every night.

We stumbled a little the first night when a late trip to the grocery store, oven problems, and poor planning resulted in a dinner disaster. I was so excited to use my new mandoline to make eggplant parmesan rolls, but the rolling and baking process took so long that Kyle was falling asleep in the living room chair before dinner was even close to finished.

I was able to refrigerate them and heat them up the next night just in time for dinner so it was not a total failure. I modified the recipe quite a bit, substituting mache for chard and basil for mint, and they were excellent albeit time consuming. It was that night, as we ate the previous night’s reheated eggplant rolls, that we revised our resolution from “healthy, economical, home cooked meals” to “healthy, economical, home cooked meals. . . at a reasonable hour.” It just takes a little planning and teamwork and we are confident that we will be successful soon. The next night, we achieved our daily goal for the first time, and we have been going strong ever since.

We were inspired by the delicious veggie burgers from Boylan Heights in Charlottesville.

I found the recipe online but with a ton of ingredients and a super involved process, the recipe didn’t meet my time restriction. Plus, among the ingredients are Ritz crackers and other questionable things, AND the whole burger is deep fried which I refuse to do in my own kitchen. We liked the incorporation of quinoa and various vegetables though, so we modified another recipe to work for us.

If you can pan fry them all in one batch, this recipe is super easy to pull off on a weeknight.

We baked some sweet potato fries and green bean fries at the same time, and they were the perfect accompaniment. We are still working on getting a healthy, inexpensive meal together by 7:30 every night, but we have already made quite a bit of progress. It turns out that planning our meals at the beginning of the week, knocking out the grocery shopping on the weekend, and sharing the responsibility for prepping the meal is working for us. Basic stuff, but giant leaps toward our mastery of domesticity!

Quinoa Veggie Burgers (adapted from Whole Living)

Makes six burgers (makes perfect leftovers for lunches!)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup rinsed quinoa
  • 1 medium carrot, diced
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 15 ounces great northern beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed
  • 1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • Coarse salt
  • Ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 whole wheat sandwich thins
  • Toppings (optional): fresh spinach, sliced tomato, stone ground mustard
Preparation:
1. In a small saucepan, bring 3/4 cup water to a boil; add quinoa, cover, and reduce heat to low. Cook until liquid is absorbed, 12 to 14 minutes; set aside.
2. Combine diced carrot and zucchini in a medium bowl. Add cooked quinoa, scallions, beans, breadcrumbs, egg, cumin, paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Stir until thoroughly combined.
3. Form mixture into six 3/4-inch-thick paties. If too soft, refrigerate 10 minutes to firm. In a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium; cook burgers until browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes per side.
4. Serve on sandwich thins with the toppings of your choice.
Sweet Potato and Green Bean Fries
Ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb green beans
  • 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4 inch thick sticks
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Seasonings of your choice: salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, garlic powder, etc.
Preparation
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Toss green beans and sweet potato sticks in olive oil (together or seperately).
3. Spread out in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with the seasonings of your choice.
4. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes, turning once during cooking.
To everyone else who is trying to make their resolutions last longer than one week – keep up the good work! And have a delicious week!

Eight Ball Zucchini

I have been almost completely absent from the internet for about one week due to my beautiful and relaxing vacation at Massanutten! I make no apologies for neglecting my facebook posting and blog reading/writing duties because: how could you spend your time on the laptop when you get to wake up to this every morning?

I was super excited to arrive at our condo last week for my first trip to this resort, especially since we were going to have a full kitchen in the unit. I decided to try making the eight ball zucchini that I picked up at the farmers’ market over the weekend. The plan was to prepare stuffed zucchini in my apartment kitchen, place them in a baking dish, and then pop them in the oven when we arrived at the resort to enjoy for dinner after unpacking and such.

I wrote a little about these zucchini in my last farmers’ market post. The zucchini I used were about the size of a softball, and colored forest green with  yellow-orange striping. They are the perfect size for one person, unlike the mammoth sized zucchini that I often see at the market in summer in Virginia. I like how easy it is to scale recipes using eight ball zucchini. You can just throw in one per person, whether you are cooking for one or cooking for a crowd.

First, I sliced off the tops and scooped out the insides, leaving about a 1/4″ thick wall around the outside of the squash. I used half of the zucchini pulp in the stuffing and saved half to make zucchini bread later in the week. I kept about a cup of zucchini in this adorable little container that I picked up at Fishs Eddy in NYC.

Next I prepared quinoa as a base for the stuffing. Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) is a grain-like plant which is harvested for its edible seeds. It originated in South America and was grown in the Andes mountains by the Incas. It is sometimes referred to as “Inca Gold” based on the gold color of its seed coat.  The quinoa that is commercialized in North America is often sold with its bitter casing removed so that it can be more easily prepared at home. The quinoa that I purchased had already had its casing or “saponins” removed through soaking and rinsing. I usually give it a quick rinse in a fine mesh strainer before cooking anyway.

Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice. I measured one cup of quinoa to two cups of water in a saucepan and cooked it over low-medium heat, covered, for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Quinoa is a good ingredient for vegetarians, so Kyle and I incorporate it into our diets as much as possible. It is a great source of protein, fiber, and essential amino acids. Besides, we love the nutty flavor and grainy texture. Here is what it looks like after cooking. The seed becomes soft while the white spiral remains crunchy.

To the quinoa I added fresh corn kernels, diced tomatoes, diced green bell pepper, minced onion and garlic, black beans, cilantro, olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and black pepper, and a bit of this Mrs. Renfro’s salsa verde that is one of my new favorites.

I also tossed in a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese for good measure.

Finally, I stuffed the zucchini balls and wrapped them in a baking dish to transport them to the mountains. I had a ton of leftover filling (on purpose) in a separate container for us to heat up and enjoy throughout the week. We drove the two hours to the resort with the faint smell of stuffed zucchini wafting from the backseat of the SUV.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into our spacious condo to discover this:

No oven!

Luckily, I remembered how my Dad used to make me and my sister “baked” apples in the winter by microwaving fresh apples stuffed with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, walnuts, and raisins. So “baked quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini” quickly became “microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini.” No harm done, they turned out beautiful and delicious after seven or eight minutes in the microwave, followed by four minutes of rest.

And, by the way, nothing pairs better with microwaved quinoa-stuffed eight ball zucchini (with a side of kitchen-appliance-induced panic) than a bottle of South Australian Jim Jim Shiraz.

Thanks Mom and Dad for cheating on your baked apples, or I might have been completely lost on this one!