What the Heck is a Chayote Squash, and What to Drink for Cinco de Mayo?

IMG_0787

These weird little squashes have been staring at me from a bin in the produce section of my grocery store for far too long. I have passed by the bright green chayote squash dozens of times, wondering how to cook them and what they taste like. I finally picked up three of these weird little gourds last week, and I stumped the cashier when I went to check out.

“Excuse me, what is this?”

“Chayote. C-H-A-Y-O-T-E.”

“I don’t see the code for that, are they pears?”

“No, they’re labeled ‘chayote squash’ on the bin. Maybe they’re under ‘squash’?”

asks coworker in next lane: “Do you know the code for these?”

coworker: “No, they look like pears. Charge her for pears.”

Pears were $3.99 per pound that week, and I have no idea how much the chayote were priced per pound. I guess chayote is not a fast-mover at the Carytown Kroger. In the cashiers’ defense, the chayote does look a bit like a pear that is trying to eat itself.

IMG_0788

The chayote originates from Mexico, where the fruit, leaves, blossoms, and roots of the plant are eaten. The squash has a very thin green skin attached to the green-to-white flesh. The skins and seeds are edible, although I found that many recipes call for the skins and seeds to be removed. The flesh is very crisp, and the raw squash has the texture of a potato and a very mild flavor like a broccoli stalk. The chayote can be eaten raw, but it is often cooked and seasoned, or eaten in a sauce with other more flavorful ingredients.

IMG_0789

I found a great vegetarian recipe for Chayotes Rellenos from world-renowned chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, of The Border Grill in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and Santa Monica. I had never tried one of their recipes before, so it was an evening of firsts.

IMG_0791

The chayote was very easy to work with. I left the skins on, but boiling caused them to peel off. The texture and flavor of the cooked chayote was similar to summer squash. I loved that this recipe incorporated epazote, and the crunch from the almonds added an unexpected and pleasant texture to the filling, which probably would have been pretty mushy otherwise, due to the cooked squash and mushrooms.

IMG_0794

I topped the cooked stuffed squash with some fresh pea shoots, which were an impulse purchase from Relay Foods. I normally would have tossed some cilantro on there, but I was out (rare occurrence!). One thing that recipes for stuffed squash or eggplant NEVER tell you is what to do with the extra filling. Am I the only one who always has extra filling after stuffing my vegetables?

I put the extra filling in a glass baking dish, topped it with cheese, and baked it at the same time and temperature indicated in the recipe. It worked out great.

IMG_0797

If you’re feeling inspired by Cinco de Mayo and you want to try out a Mexican dish besides tacos or nachos, I suggest that you give chayotes a try. Although they do not pack a ton of flavor on their own, they are very versatile and do soak up the flavors around them. Next I would like to try them in a really spicy curry, topped with chopped fresh mango, and I do not intend to wait for another holiday to do it.

What to Eat on Cinco de Mayo

If you are feeling less ingredient-adventurous but you do still want something Mexican-inspired on your table this week, check out my recipe roundup from last week.

What to Drink with Mexican Cuisine

If you want to branch out from the standard Corona, Sol, or Tecate that are very popular this time of year, head to your local craft beer store. Kyle and I collaborated on this list of brews drink with Latin American food.

For an authentic Mexican beer that is a cut above the rest, seek out Negra Modelo or Bohemia.

For a local Virginia alternative to the Mexican light lager, try Blue Mountain Brewery Lager or Legend Brewing Co Pilsner.

If you like hoppy beers, try Cigar City Brewing Jai Alai or Smuttynose Finestkind IPA.

If you intend to sit on a porch and sip beer for a few hours, pick up Sierra Nevada Summerfest or Lagunitas Daytime.

And if you just want a beer that looks great in a Cinco de Mayo party spread and is refreshing on a warm evening out on the back deck, pick up Breckenridge Brewery Agave Wheat. When you choose a beer that is infused with an iconic Mexican ingredient and labeled with a skeleton wearing a sombrero, you get an A+ for sticking to a theme!

 

5 Vegetarian Recipes for Cinco de Mayo

1943_585486094266_9705_n

Cinco de Mayo will be here next week. Do you know what you’re making for dinner yet? Nah, me neither.

Luckily, I consider tacos to be a major food group, so I have plenty of vegetarian taco and burrito recipes here on Vegology. I never grow tired of coming up with new combinations, and Kyle and I have some variation of tacos for dinner on a weekly basis. I love them so much that I cannot possibly convey to you how extremely excited I was the first time I was linked to by F*%$ Yeah Vegan Tacos. I have several taco recipes here under the tacos tag, and some other fun Mexican inspired recipes in this post to help you plan for your Cinco de Mayo celebration. The first five recipes are Vegology originals, then there is a bonus Serious Eats recipe at the end for elotes, which are my current obsession.

Enjoy!

CIMG3163

Try out these MexiKali wraps that add a healthy dose of leafy greens to your standard black bean burrito. Plus there is a onus recipe for my Chipotle-style cilantro lime brown rice in that post as well.

2012-05-13_18-41-19_700

Embrace Springtime and make a batch of Radish Salsa to tide you over until fresh tomatoes are in season. Serve with corn chips, pita chips, over tacos and nachos, or just eat it plain like a salad!

2013-05-01_21-12-17_524

These Cilantro Lime Seitan Tacos feature a great vegetarian meat substitute that, as the old cliché goes, “tastes just like chicken!”

2012-01-31_20-36-18_23

If you’re still experiencing winter weather and want to curl up with some fall and winter veggies, try these Spicy Cauliflower Tacos with Sunchoke Hash. It is amazing how much grated and sautéed cauliflower can resemble meat when seasoned the right way.

2012-05-28_18-14-47_428

For a sweet and springy dessert, try these Strawberry Goat Cheese and Black Pepper Empanadas, which make for a unique and tasty end to your Cinco de Mayo meal.

Bonus recipe!

photo(6)

My current obsession is Mexican street corn, and this recipe from Serious Eats is perfect! Make this one as soon as you can get your hands on some fresh corn this year. You will not regret it.

To see what I’m cooking this weekend (and to get sneak peek photos of test recipes like the grilled corn above), make sure you are following Vegology on Instagram and Twitter.

Pecan Crusted Tofu with Raspberry Mustard Sauce

pecan tofu2

Lately I’ve been working hard, eating breakfast and lunch on the go, and craving comfort food for dinner. A plate full of vegetables with a side of crunchy pecan crusted tofu was exactly what I needed one night last week. I used a handful of fresh raspberries to make a sweet and tangy mustard sauce that complemented the pecan crusted tofu pretty well. The color of the fresh raspberry sauce was so bright that it definitely got me into the spring spirit!

Raspberry season is right around the corner, and I expect to start dipping everything in this bright red sauce very soon. I have breaded and pan-fried tofu before, but haven’t found a great breading that holds up in the oven. This pecan crust sticks to the tofu and hangs on through baking, and it stays crunchy in the oven without getting dry. Sure, it would probably be fantastic pan-fried in oil, but it works great for baking too.

pecantofu1

Pecan Crusted Tofu

Ingredients:

  • 1 block of tofu (12-16 oz.), drained and pressed
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or sub pecan milk or soy milk)
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Pour almond milk into a shallow bowl.
  3. In another bowl or deep plate, add all other ingredients and stir to combine.
  4. Cut pressed tofu into 1/2-inch thick slices. Dip tofu slices in milk, then cover in pecan/panko breading on all sides.
  5. Place breaded tofu in a single layer on a lightly oiled baking sheet.
  6. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Raspberry Mustard Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raspberries, chopped
  • 1/4 cup honey mustard
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup

Preparation:

  1. Puree raspberries in a food processor.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, honey mustard, and maple syrup. Heat, while stirring, until sauce is bubbling, then remove from heat.
  3. Strain sauce through a fine mesh sieve to remove seeds and pulp from sauce.
  4. Serve sauce hot, drizzled over pecan crusted tofu.

Have a wonderful week!

Mung Bean Pasta

mung5

I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.

mung1

The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.

mung2

After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.

mung3

I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables

mung4

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.

Ten Recipes So Easy That You Could Make Them with One Hand Tied Behind Your Back

The sun is finally out, spring is in the air, and here in Richmond, most of us are enjoying the opportunity to be outside before the thermostat goes from reading “warm” to “do-we-live-in-a-brick-oven?” We’re spending more time out reading on the patio, meeting friends for happy hour, or squeezing in a trail run or bike ride after work and before dinner. We’re not spending much time in the kitchen preparing meals. Sound familiar? If so, you may be looking for some quick and easy recipes this spring.

Ever since I flew off a bike five months ago and fractured both hands, I have had limited or no use of my left hand, which had the more severe injury. After my first surgery, I had no use of either arm for several weeks, so cooking meals, no matter how quick or easy, was out of the question. After some rehabilitation, I was able to use both hands but my left wrist fatigued easily so I had to keep things simple in the kitchen. I also had to stop writing outside of my day job because typing all day at work was all I could handle. That is why things have been pretty quiet around here lately.

Three weeks ago, I had my second surgery and a second medical leave, which left me with some time for reflection. I decided that I wanted to start writing and cooking sooner this time. I committed to the struggle, knowing that a lot of utensils would be dropped and a lot of joints would get swollen in the process. In the kitchen, I focused on dishes I could make with one hand. I still had a lot of help from my husband Kyle, but I was surprised to find how much I could do myself one handed.

Of course these recipes go even quicker with both hands, but if you’re in a cast like I was, you can pull them off pretty easily with just one. If you are fortunate enough to have the use of both hands, but you’re just in a rush and want something quick and easy, you’ll love these recipes too!

Tips for One Handed Cooking

  1. Get an electric can opener, or a friend who will open several cans at once and dump contents into easy-open reusable containers for you to pull from the refrigerator throughout the week.
  2. Buy pre-chopped vegetables. These are a lifesaver.
  3. Choose meals with few ingredients and uncomplicated preparations so that you will not have to juggle too much at once.
  4. Cook in large batches so that you can have leftovers for other meals and save yourself cooking time.
  5. Replace your salt and pepper mills with plain old pre-ground sea salt and black pepper.
  6. On the stovetop, use heavy bottomed pans that will stay in place while you stir, without someone holding on to the handles.
  7. Be patient! Focus on what you CAN do and don’t dwell on what you CANNOT do (I’m still working on that one myself.)

Easy Recipe Roundup

Eating Bird Food Green Elvis Smoothie – smoothies are a great way to boost nutrition in a quick and easy way

onehand smoothie

 

Lazy Egg and Cheese Sandwich from Smitten Kitchen via A Cup of Jo. Confession: I have had so many egg sandwiches in the last few months. Try adding some Everything Bagel Sprinkles.

Vegology Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta – substitute whole grape tomatoes if you can’t/won’t slice the Roma tomatoes

2013-08-12_20-41-53_500

NoBull Veggie Burgers – or substitute patty of your choice, serve on store-bought buns with baby carrots and hummus, or baked-from-frozen sweet potato or zucchini fries

Vegology Vegetarian Gumbo with Brown Rice – all ingredients can be purchased pre-chopped, frozen, or canned

Real Simple Stuffed Poblano Peppers – instead of stuffing, I chopped the roasted poblanos in a food processor and added them to the rice mixture

onehand peppers

AllRecipes.com Unsloppy Joes – all ingredients can be purchased pre-chopped, frozen, or canned

Budget Bytes Quick Fix Salad Bar Pizza – the salad bar is definitely your friend for finding pre-chopped ingredients. Substitute a store-bought pizza crust for tortilla if you want a thicker, breadier crust.

Sweets too! Baked doughnuts are a really easy dessert and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could make these with just one hand.

onehand doughnut

Joy the Baker’s Double Chocolate Cake Doughnuts

Vegology Supercharged Coffee Doughnuts

**********

Thank you to those readers who have patiently forgiven my three month hibernation and are still around for this revival of Vegology! I am thrilled to have found a way to keep writing and I am excited to rejoin the amazing blogging community after some time off. I hope you are excited too!

Moroccan Kamut Salad

kamut2

I was recently perusing the grains at the grocery store and came across one that I had never seen before: KAMUT®. It looked like wheat berries, which I love, and it came in pretty packaging, an attribute for which I will eternally be a sucker, so I tossed it in my basket to try at home after a little Internet research. The brand I bought was Bob’s Red Mill Grains of Discovery series.

Ancient grains are supposedly hot this year (who decides these things?), so I have completely bought into whatever marketing scheme placed the attractive bag of wheat on the shelf and subsequently into my cart. . . then into my kitchen, onto my dinner table, and. . . within this blog post. Should I have named this post “Meta Kamut® Salad?”

I can guarantee you I am not being paid by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Grains to write this post, so let’s learn something, shall we? First, KAMUT® is the trademarked name for a certain type of Khorasan wheat (turanicum variety Q-77). The exact origin of Khorasan wheat is unknown, but it is believed to have been originally cultivated in the Fertile Crescent. According to one legend, Khorasan wheat was once near extinction until an American airman mailed some seeds found in Egypt back home to his family in Montana in the late 1940’s to cultivate, thus reintroducing the grain to modern cuisine. It’s a nice story that I don’t think I believe, but it does make for good dinner conversation. If you are blessed with a table full of dinner guests who believe in dining without smart phones, you could really embellish this tale into a great story, without fear of someone fact-checking you halfway through the main course.

Khorasan wheat grains are roughly twice the size of the common wheat kernel which makes them very attractive in salads. They have a nutty flavor with a pleasant chew when cooked properly. They can also be milled into flour for use in baked goods. One clear advantage of Khorasan wheat over common modern wheat is that it has a much higher protein content; at seven grams per serving, it has up to 40% more protein than common wheat. Khorasan wheat also contains a higher percentage of selenium, zinc, magnesium, and amino acids. Full nutritional information is available on the Bob’s Red Mill website.

Would all of these spices marry up with this ancient grain, feta cheese, kale, carrots, and pomegranate arils anywhere in the world besides my kitchen? Who knows, but the combo tastes pretty awesome. This salad is tasty served warm or cold. Plus the salad is a nutritional powerhouse that would make for great make-ahead lunches that would leave you satisfied all afternoon.

I enjoyed the flavor and texture of the Khorasan wheat so I think I will use it again. However, this ingredient does require a little planning, as the wheat berries have to soak in water overnight. Not a quick go-to pantry ingredient, but one that is worth the wait if you plan meals better than I do most nights.

Moroccan Khorasan Wheat Salad (serves 4)

kamut4

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup KAMUT® brand Khorasan wheat berries
  • 3 cups low sodium vegetable stock
  • 4 threads saffron
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil, divided (2 + 1)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 bunch of kale, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 4 ounces crumbled feta
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Cover wheat berries in water and soak overnight, or at least six hours.
  2. In a medium pot over medium heat, bring vegetable stock to a boil. Add saffron and wheat berries and simmer, covered, for 50-60 minutes or until tender.
  3. In a large pan, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and carrots and saute until onion is translucent. Add spices (ginger through cayenne) and saute for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.
  4. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add garlic and kale and saute until wilted. Add lemon juice and turn heat to low.
  5. Add carrot-onion mixture and wheat berries to large pot with kale and cook until warmed throughout.
  6. To serve cold: remove from heat to refrigerator, chill this mixture for at least one hour, then add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste.
  7. To serve warm: remove from heat, add feta, pomegranate, and salt and pepper to taste, then serve immediately.

Do your goal setting skills need a tune up?

bikeCOoct2012

It’s a new year, and with new beginnings come resolutions and goals. The local gyms are packed with ambitious resolution-makers, home organization paraphernalia is on sale at Target, savings accounts start to grow again, and the grocery store is sold out of all my favorite health food. I think rebooting at the beginning of the year is a very positive thing, and I always take this time to set some goals for myself for the coming year.

However, we all know that resolutions and goals usually fade after a month or two. This is evident when I no longer have to wait in line for a cardio machine at the gym, or have to visit three grocery stores in order to find fresh kale. I don’t always follow through with my resolutions either, but I have learned a few things about setting and meeting goals, which I think may be helpful knowledge for you, especially at the beginning of a new year.

I recently learned a lot about goals while recovering from my bike accident last October. Almost immediately after being discharged from the hospital, I wanted to know when I could do my favorite things again. I actually tried to convince Kyle that I may be up for a hike later that week. Yes, both my arms were in casts, I likely had a few broken ribs, I was on a hefty dose of painkillers, and I had two surgeries on the horizon. When it all sunk in, I realized that I would not be able to live an active lifestyle that week, or for the next several weeks, until I had met some recovery goals.

I have always been a very goal-oriented and determined person, so I visualized the things I wanted to be able to do after recovering from my injuries, and I focused on those things to get me through the first few weeks. Cooking a meal unassisted was at the top of that list. I couldn’t even hold a fork for the first few days, and my family had to take turns making my food, feeding me, and doing self-care tasks like brushing my teeth. Because I am a very independent person, this was pretty tough for me to handle. I was pretty helpless, and a home cooked meal felt very far away.

spinachpasta1

I started physical therapy one week after my surgeries, and the therapist asked me what hobbies, aside from daily activities and work, I wanted to be able to do after recovery. Yoga and riding a bicycle were right below cooking on that list. The slightest touch to my wrist sent pain shooting up and down my arm, but I wanted to be able to hold a downward dog when this was all over.

warriorpose

For a week or two, these goals gave me hope and inspired me to work hard on the simple therapy homework I was given. Then these ambitious goals made me frustrated. I spent a lot of time thinking about how long it would take for me to achieve them, and it made my situation feel hopeless. When I expressed this to one of my good friends, she told me that I should simply make smaller goals for progress, instead of getting hung up on the big goals that were so far away.

This immediately made a lot of sense to me. After all, I didn’t run a half marathon earlier that year by setting out to run 13.1 miles in the first week. For three weeks, the longest distance I ever ran was 3 or 4 miles. I knew I would get to 13.1 eventually, but I set a goal for each run in my training plan and I focused only on that accomplishment for the day.

10mile

For me, the first few mini-goals were things that most people with two functioning arms would take for granted. Brush my own teeth. Take a shower without help. Pick up a cup of coffee and drink it. I dropped the toothbrush, spilled the coffee, and took a 90 minute shower the first time I met each of these goals, but I achieved them nonetheless, and celebrating my progress made me feel that I was one step closer to that downward facing dog.

bike

Six weeks after the accident, I was cleared for limited cardio, and only on the stationary bike. My doctor was worried I might fall doing anything else, including using the treadmill. It was a big moment when I jumped back in the saddle and started to pedal, and an even bigger one when I successfully completed 30 minutes on the bike. I re-entered society soon after, showing up to classes at Boho Cycle Studio here in Richmond and feeling inspired by the tough workouts and energetic, hyper-motivational instructors.

Another mini-goal was being able to chop vegetables, and although I did not have full range of motion or much strength at all yet, I chopped a head of cauliflower in week 7. You can see in the picture below that the form is horrible, as I couldn’t fully grip things yet, but being able to finally contribute to dinner preparation again meant a lot to me. In the same week, I was cleared to drive a little too, which gave me a great sense of independence and a boost to my self-esteem.

knife

I had an ambitious goal in mind around mid-November, and that was to help prepare some of Christmas dinner. I ended up helping out a lot in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had not completely achieved my goal of cooking on my own yet, but this felt like a big step in the right direction.

Christmasdinner

And now I am thrilled to announce that after nine weeks since my surgery, I have finally prepared a dinner by myself, start to finish, with no assistance from my husband or anyone else. This weekend, I made a Mediterranean-inspired spinach and artichoke pasta dish and it was really good! Simple, but good! Progress!

spinachpasta3

Goals are achieved one day at a time. When you have really big goals and dreams, it is good to keep them in mind for motivation, but sometimes it can get overwhelming and frustrating to think about the long road ahead. If you struggle with this like I do, you should set smaller milestones for yourself, and celebrate progress along the way.

If your goal is to lose weight this year, make a promise to yourself that today you will spend 30 minutes at the gym, or today you will pack a healthy lunch for work tomorrow. After a week of good days, reward yourself with a fresh juice and celebrate your progress. If you are setting out to be more organized, don’t bury yourself under a pile of home organization systems and tackle the whole house at once. Instead, set a goal for today to organize just the bills, or just the kitchen utensil drawer, or to pick up and put away twenty things before you go to bed.

With a long-term plan in place, and a series of small goals accomplished day by day, you will eventually reach your big goals at the end of the road, and be much happier and motivated along the way. Good luck, and happy 2014!

spinachpasta2

Spinach & Artichoke Pesto Pasta

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. fresh or dried pasta (I used Bombolini pasta shells)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 14 oz. can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto (my favorite recipe here)
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • 2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic to pan and saute 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add artichoke hearts and olives to pan. Saute for 3 minutes or until warm.
  5. Add tomato, spinach, and pesto to pan and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. If spinach and tomato are dry, add a half cup of water to pan.
  6. Add cooked pasta to the pan and season with lemon pepper, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until warmed.
  7. Top with a drizzle of olive oil if needed and serve with crumbled feta on top.

The Walking Dead Season Premiere Dinner

2013-10-12_19-32-37_765

The fourth season of “The Walking Dead” premieres this weekend and I have been dying to put together a celebration meal to kick off the new season. When Kyle and I did our first Richmond Zombie Walk in 2007, we noticed that a few of the zombies were eating “blood”-stained heads of cauliflower while lumbering down Cary Street. I have not forgotten what a great stand-in the cauliflower was for a human brain, so I knew I wanted to use that as  main element of my dinner. We ate this meal a night ahead of time, because we weren’t sure if we would be able to stomach the beet juice stained cauliflower while watching the very graphic show. I have a lot of respect for anyone who tries! Here are three great recipes inspired by AMC’s “The Walking Dead” for your own gory premiere celebration or spooky Halloween dinner.

2013-10-12_19-22-41_769

We started off with a mock-tail that reminded us of the setting of the show. For a spiked version, I recommend adding sweet tea flavored vodka to the mix. But go easy on the sweet tea vodka, *I heard from a friend* that it is delicious and can be very dangerous!

2013-10-12_18-14-07_45

The base of the drink is peach flavored iced tea, which is reminiscent of the series’ Georgia setting. I combined the iced tea with sweetened blood orange juice and soda to give it a bloody twist.

2013-10-12_19-14-13_847

This Martinelli’s blood orange juice comes sweetened and it was all I could find at the grocery stores in Richmond this week. If you have better luck than me finding it, you could use fresh blood orange juice and sweeten to taste if you prefer to control the sugar content.

Iced Blood Orange Georgia Peach Sweet Tea

recipe for 1 pitcher – serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 4 bags Celestial Seasonings Country Peach Passion herbal tea
  • 1-1/2 cups sparking water
  • 1 cup sweetened blood orange juice
  • Ice
  • Optional: 1/2 cup sweet tea or peach flavored vodka

Preparation:

  1. Boil 2 cups water. Pour hot water over tea bags in large pitcher. Let steep 4 minutes, then remove tea bags.
  2. Transfer pitcher to refrigerator to cool.
  3. When cooled, add sparkling water and blood orange juice to pitcher. Optional: add vodka. Stir to combine.
  4. Serve over ice.

2013-10-12_19-32-29_672

Last season of “The Walking Dead” left us with summer turning to fall. Our next two dishes teamed up to serve us a combination of the sultry, smoky flavor of Southern summer turning to fall, and the raw blood and guts that zombie flick fans have come to love. Here are the final two recipes, that taste great on their own but also go really well together. Scroll the past recipes for a throwback photo and my best zombie joke.

Spicy Roasted Cauliflower “Brains” with Citrusy Beet Salad

Ingredients:

  • 3 beets, greens removed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 orange
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Wash the beets and slice off the tops. Lay beets cut side down in a glass baking dish. Add a few tablespoons of water to the dish and cover with aluminum foil. Roast beets in preheated oven at 400 degrees F for 50-60 minutes or until tender. Remove cover and let cool.
  3. Meanwhile, grate the orange to get about a tablespoon of orange zest. Then slice into segments and dice the orange, discarding the peel.
  4. Once beets are cooled, remove the skins. The rough skins should slide right off. Set beets aside. Reserve the cooking water in the bottom of the pan.
  5. Trim  the leaves off the cauliflower and place on a cutting board stem side down. Slice the cauliflower into 1-inch slices, cutting from top to stem, working right to left. You should have several cross-sections in which you can see the branches. (See my post on Cauliflower Steaks for a visual)
  6. Spread the sliced cauliflower in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  7. In a small bowl, combine 2-3 tablespoons of the beet juice from the baking dish, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, liquid aminos, cumin, smoked paprika, 1/2 teaspoon of orange zest, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  8. Brush the cauliflower slices with the beet juice mixture. Roast the cauliflower slices at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, turning halfway through cooking.
  9. While the cauliflower cooks, dice the cooled beets into small cubes. Toss with diced orange in a medium sized bowl. Add the remaining orange zest, parsley, balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and a dash of cumin and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  10. Serve cauliflower slices topped with beet salad for a gory beet blood stained meal!

Smoky Chipotle Butternut Squash and Butter Beans with Adobo Brown Butter Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons unsalted butter (I told you this was Southern. . .)
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • 1 chipotle in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed

Preparation:

  1. Heat butter in large pan over medium heat until browned and foamy.
  2. Add the squash to the pan and toss in butter to coat.
  3. Add the chopped chipotle in adobo sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 10 minutes or until squash begins to brown.
  4. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook an additional 10 minutes over low heat.
  5. Add butter beans to pan and cover. Cook 5-10 minutes more or until squash is tender.
zombie1

What do vegetarian zombies eat? GRAAAAIIIINS!!!

Due Stagioni and Beer Dinneroni

2013-09-15_18-57-26_28

This is a tale of two seasons and two pizza recipes.

Kyle and I hosted a potluck vegetarian beer dinner at our house Saturday night. The theme was Farewell Summer, Hello Fall and the guest list approached twenty, for the largest Vegology beer dinner yet. For a month, we tasted and tested beers. Two weeks before the event, we began to prepare the house, yard, and décor.  One week before the dinner party, I realized that merely a wish and a dream would not get twenty people to fit into our house and around the same table, so I placed my order with Party Perfect to rent banquet tables and folding chairs for the patio. By Friday afternoon, the only thing I had not prepared for yet was what dish to make. It was the element I was least worried about, since I’ve thrown together my dishes for the last two beer dinners at the last minute.

2013-09-14_18-46-14_391

As I drove home from work on Friday evening, I started to think about what dishes I could prepare. The loose guidelines I imposed on myself and the guests – “summer or fall, any kind of small plate” – were not focused enough, so I had way too many ideas floating around in my head. I started to think about transitional seasonal dishes, ones that could bring you from summer into fall, and foods that I could make ahead and reheat at party time, and then it hit me. Four seasons pizza.

Quattro stagioni is a pizza with four different ingredient sections, representing the four seasons: artichokes for spring, olives for summer, mushrooms for fall, and prosciutto for winter. I decided to make miniature pizzas, or pizzettes, and do them in two seasons, due stagioni. Because I couldn’t think of a beer that would pair well with both olives and mushrooms, I did seasoned zucchini for summer on one half, and mushrooms for fall on the other, with a basil pesto base and fresh asiago melted on top (thank you,  Dany Schutte of Ellwood Thompson’s for the cheese suggestion!). The zucchini seasoning I used was the Village Garden piquant spice blend, which can be purchased locally at the South of the James farmers’ market or the Carytown farmers’ market.

2013-09-15_19-19-38_835

I knew the pizzette idea was a winner. I woke up Saturday morning and floated to Project Yoga at the VMFA feeling confident. After a relaxing practice in the cool autumn-like morning sun, I purchased my ingredients, some fresh flowers for the table, and a few more pieces of décor, and headed home to prepare for the party. Kyle was at work so I had to tidy up the patio, set up the tables and chairs, decorate, clean the house, and prepare the food all by myself. Everything was going really smoothly and I even had time to practice my introduction speech for the Due Stagioni Pizzettes, and decide whether to curtsy or bow when our guests gave us a standing ovation and declared the dish the most clever and delicious thing they had ever had the pleasure of tasting.

Then, suddenly, it was forty-five minutes before party time and I hadn’t made my dish yet, three people had cancelled, and Kyle was stuck at work. I frantically sliced zucchini, rolled out and cut dough, and preheated the oven. I was still assembling my dish as guests started to arrive and I distractedly pulled it out of the oven as the first course was being served. By the time my turn came around to serve, my award-winning pizzette idea had made a spiral descent down the drain and turned out to be an oily, crispy mess. A mess that left me wishing that I had chosen a stronger beer to wash down my soggy burnt crust, instead of that light, crisp pilsner, served with a side of hubris.

I made some mistakes, and I am going to outline them here so you don’t have to make them yourself. Because the next day, I repurchased all my ingredients and made the whole dish over again to prove to myself that it would work. And it was good!

2013-09-15_18-58-07_361

So here are the don’ts of making miniature pizzas, besides the obvious ones (don’t wait until the last minute to test your recipe, don’t cook during your dinner party, don’t shut off your brain while entertaining in your kitchen).

  1. Don’t roll out your crust too thin. I used a thinner crust the first time, thinking that a thicker crust would swallow up or spit out the delicate toppings as it rose. On the remake, I cut out the pizza rounds from a thicker sheet of dough and it worked much better.
  2. Don’t forget that your pesto has oil in it. Don’t use too much oil when sauteing your zucchini. I used way too much oil overall in the first batch, and when I pulled the pan from the oven, the oil from the pesto and the zucchini had seeped out and formed a slick on the baking sheet.
  3. Don’t second guess browned edges. I checked on the pizzettes at one point and saw browned edges but the top of the dough still looked soft and wet, so I left them in the oven for a few more minutes. Big mistake. The pesto pizzettes turned into hockey puckettes very quickly.

2013-09-14_19-46-19_750

Lucky for me, we had a beautiful evening with great food and beers and excellent company. Hopefully the nightmare of the failed pizzettes haunted only me that night, as everyone else seemed to have a wonderful time. Here is a rundown of the courses we enjoyed at our fourth ever potluck vegetarian beer dinner:

Avocado and Grapefruit Salad with Crispin Cider – Liz and Alex from I Heart Vegetables – deliciously fresh and tart, with sweet dressing and two kinds of nuts for crunch, a great start to the meal.

Eggplant, Chickpea, and Potato Curry with Three Brothers The Great Outdoors – Sydney and Andrew from chic stripes – perfect as the sun started to set and the temperature began to drop, a dish with summer vegetables and fall spices to keep us warm, and a beer that reminds you of camping.

Cracklin’ Cauliflower with home brewed rye pale ale – Brittany and Isaac from Eating Bird Food – Brittany is right that this cauliflower is great at any temperature, and the flavor went really well with Isaac’s impressive home brew. I’ve made her recipe before, and it’s a keeper.

Due Stagioni Pizzettes (improved recipe below) with Victory Prima Pils – me and Kyle – thank goodness Kyle’s sense of humor and optimism pairs well with my high-strung perfectionism, so when the first attempt fell flat we could laugh it off and have another beer. . . then try again the next day!

Cauliflower “Cous Cous” Salad with Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild – Paul and Leah – I need to get this recipe and I’ll link to it here. We loved this pairing of a dish and a beer that both came with a twist – the “cous cous” is actually cauliflower and the beer is actually Lagunitas Little Sumpin’, with an additional wild yeast strain.

Skillet Apple Pie with Left Hand Nitro Milk Stout – Shannon and Evan from Thirsty Richmond and Boho Cycle Studio – so decadent, this apple pie was perfect, not an exaggeration, and it elevated my appreciation of this milk stout, as well as cast iron skillets. Oh, and blogger husbands, who are (in my humble opinion) the very best.

Deconstructed Apple Pie with Cider – Brock (Isaac’s brother) and Alex from Quarter Life Cupcake – I did not know that a vegan, gluten-free homemade dessert could be so good! I am officially a believer now.

And then the after-dinner bonus beers came out, including Goose Island Harvest Ale from Al (and poor Adrienne who had to stay home with a cold), Dogfish Head Tweasonale, The Alchemist Heady Topper, Goose Island Bourbon County, and more. Thank you to everyone who made this dinner special!

Due Stagioni Pesto Pizzettes

2013-09-15_18-57-12_13

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces pizza dough, homemade or store bought, rolled out to 1/4 inch thick
  • medium zucchini, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces mushrooms, sliced – both shiitakes and maitakes are good (maitake mushrooms are our favorite)
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store bought
  • Italian seasoning or herb/spice blend of your choice for the zucchini
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 ounces fresh (soft) asiago cheese, or mozzarella, grated

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a medium pan. Add zucchini to pan and saute until tender, adding seasoning to taste halfway through cooking. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil over medium-high heat in medium pan. Sprinkle the oil with 1/2 tsp black pepper. Add mushrooms to pan and saute until tender, then remove from heat.
  4. Using a 2-1/2 inch round cookie cutter, punch circles in the rolled out pizza dough and transfer to baking sheet. This should yield about 12-15 pizza round.
  5. Top each pizza round with pesto, dividing evenly among all rounds. Place two zucchini slices on one half of each round, and a spoonful of mushrooms on the other half. Top with grated cheese.
  6. Bake in preheated oven 10-12 minutes until edges begin to brown – then remove immediately!
  7. Can be reheated from refrigerated in 350 degree oven for 4-5 minutes if needed.

How to Compose a Seasonal Salad, Featuring Fresh Arugula with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

2013-08-12_20-41-08_939

A commitment to seasonal cooking often requires a certain degree of improvisation. If you want to be the type of cook who can wander through a farmers’ market, purchase the best that the season has to offer, and then plan meals around your market haul later, it helps to have a few generic meal recipes in your back pocket that lend themselves to seasonal substitutions. I have thrown together a salad like the one pictured above dozens of times in many configurations, by substituting what I have on hand for the basic components and then pulling all the flavors together with a dressing. This version featured local arugula, spicy roasted chickpeas and tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and a lemon herb vinaigrette.

2013-08-12_20-33-34_687

If you have been eating fresh tomatoes all season, I recommend that you try roasting them to deepen and sweeten the flavors. These roasted tomatoes were like candy, offering the sweet component of my salad.

My basic formula for a seasonal salad is this:

  • Greens – tender greens like arugula, spinach, and spring mix are my favorites, but I occasionally change it up with romaine, kale, or cabbage
  • Something sweet – dried or fresh fruit, tomatoes, and carrots are good choices
  • Something crunchy – fresh vegetables work well, as do nuts and seeds
  • Something fatty – creamy ingredients like cheese and cream-based dressings are good; so are oily ingredients like olives and marinated artichokes, and avocado is always a welcome addition
  • Something acidic – vinegar and citrus based dressings are great for cutting through the fatty ingredient
  • Protein (optional) – to make my salad a complete a meal, I add a protein component like legumes, tofu, tempeh, or quinoa
  • Something salty or spicy (optional) – salt and spice are great for balancing a sweet component and these flavors are usually covered in the protein component, fatty component, or dressing.

One component can deliver a lot of these flavors and textures. For example in this salad, the chickpeas offer the protein, crunch, and spice, while the feta offers the fat and salty flavors. As summer turns to fall, it’s fun to experiment with different ingredients and preparations to modify the final product. My guess is that the deep, hearty flavors of the spicy roasted chickpeas will start to take over, as cucumbers and fresh tomatoes become a distant memory.

Scroll below the recipe to find another one of my tricks for preparing meals with local, seasonal ingredients, even when life gets hectic.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

2013-08-12_20-41-53_500

Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or sub chili powder)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 4 ounces fresh feta in water, drained and crumbled
  • Salad dressing to taste (try this Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the sliced tomatoes in 1 Tbsp olive oil, then spread out the slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt into the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chickpeas and toss to coat. Pour chickpeas out into a single layer on the same baking sheet as the tomatoes.
  4. Bake tomatoes and chickpeas at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, combine arugula, feta, and dressing. Add roasted tomatoes and chickpeas and gently toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Another one of my keys to quick seasonal food preparation is to pick up all my local ingredients in one place by using Relay Foods online grocery shopping, now available in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. If you have never used Relay Foods before, please enjoy $30 off your $50+ order by clicking the coupon on the left side of this page. Then please let me know how you liked it!