Archive for the ‘Spice’ Category

Kale and Quinoa Salad

Friday, October 4th, 2013

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This is my new go-to salad.  The recipe is inspired by a salad Suj had at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs.  The caramelized onions, dates, and cranberries add a wow factor, and it is both delicious and inexpensive to make.  We have been making large batches without the dressing and dividing servings into tupperware containers.  We take the salad to work the next day and throw some dressing on it before eating.  The pre-dressed salad keeps pretty well for a couple of days. The Ace’s salad is served with marcona almonds, but we substitute for peanuts because I am apparently allergic to everything delicious.  The peanuts are still great, though.

 

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Ingredients
4 c. Kale, chopped, loosely packed
2 c. Quinoa, cooked
1/2 c. Cranberries, chopped
1/2 c. Dates, chopped
1/3 c. Slivered Almonds or Peanuts
1 Onion
1 tbsp. Butter
1/2 tbsp. Sugar
Italian dressing

Method
1. Cook quinoa according to package. I like to substitute vegetable broth for the water because the broth gives the quinoa more flavor.
2. Slice the onion into thin rings then caramelize by sautéing with butter over low-medium heat for about 15 minutes or until onion is soft. Sprinkle onions with sugar and cook about 5 more minutes.
3. In a large bowl, combine kale, quinoa, chopped cranberries, dates, almonds or peanuts, and caramelized onion.
4. Toss with Italian dressing before serving.

Balcony Garden: things we learned the first time around

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

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Suj and I are fortunate to have a huge balcony at our place in DC. It is really a ton of outdoor space in the city, so as soon as we moved in we knew we wanted to take advantage of it by planting an urban garden.  We considered building a medium sized planter box for a more traditional-type garden, but since we are just renting we decided that probably wasn’t a practical option. We settled on planting in a variety of mismatched pots, and we are pretty happy with the results.

I did a lot of research about when and what to plant, but I didn’t find much helpful information. Most of the posts I read suggested talking to a local garden store. We decided to just wing it and plant a random variety of veggies. We started in early spring (I think about mid-April) when the weather started to warm up.

We planted a few varieties of tomato, classic and purple basil, rosemary, lots of hot peppers, red and green bell peppers, and zucchini. The rosemary died immediately. We seriously had it for a few weeks before it totally shriveled and died. Apparently it is temperamental with heat and watering. On the other hand, the basil has done quite well. Suj’s sister had a garden last year and her basil plants grew into these crazy 4 foot tall monstrosities. Ours is only about a foot tall, probably due to the fact that it is growing in a small planter. In any case, we have had plenty of fresh basil this summer.

We have had mixed results with the tomatoes. One of the plants is an heirloom variety, and while it has given us a lot of tomatoes, they have a tendency to crack. We did some googling, and apparently the cracking is a result of inconsistent watering. This summer we have had a ton of rain storms followed by intense heat, so we haven’t been able to control the water exposure for our plants. Beside the heirlooms, we also planted a few cherry tomato bushes. These little guys were gifted to us and had been specially bred to be high-yield and compatible with DC conditions. These have been fantastic. I absolutely recommend the cherry tomatoes over the regular size. Not only have they grown well, but they are ready to be eaten so much sooner. I was shocked to learn that it takes over two months for a regular tomatoes to ripen!

The zucchini was a horrible idea. The plants were so tiny when we got them, so we planted them in a long container alongside our bell peppers. We soon learned that the zucchinis are basically plant terrorists. The leaves grew so fast and so big that they took over the place. In addition, we had to wait a long time before we ever saw zucchini growing. When we finally harvested one it was all goofy shaped, not like the ones at the grocery store. It is still in our fridge.

The jury is out on the bell peppers. We got one pepper from each bush and they were tiny. That said, it is unclear whether the problem was the bell pepper plant or the insane zucchini that basically grew on top of them.

The hot peppers have done the best by far. We have a couple bushes: jalapenos, serranos, and red peppers. The jalapenos and serranos have given us more than we can possibly use–and we love us some peppers. I would definitely recommend those for an urban garden.

Bottom line: My urban garden recommendations are hot peppers, cherry tomatoes, and basil. Mid-sized planters work fine. Make sure to water them every day.

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Green juice with beet leaves

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

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I’m juicing and I love it! So a few weekends ago I watched that juicing documentary on Netflix. I know I am about two years behind everyone else on stuff like this (like when I discovered Pinkberry in 2012 and could not stop talking about it), but I don’t care. I am jumping on the juicing bandwagon! Since I have been eating “cleaner” and exercising  more, I have been concerned that I am not getting enough calories. I feel like I am eating a lot, though. Juicing is a good solution for me because I can get a ton of nutrients without feeling too heavy. Anyway, I have been using the Breville I got for Suj’s last birthday. It is really intense, and I end up finding little bits of fly-away fruit in my hair sometimes, but it does the trick. It is sort of a huge pain to clean every time, but I can deal with it. I am, however, wondering what in the world I can do with all of the fruit and veggie remains. Composting maybe? I also remember hearing a long time ago that you can use the stuff in breads or cakes. I am going to have to do some research. In the meantime, cheers!

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Last week I made some grilled sweet potato fries, but I grossly overestimated how many I needed.  So, I had a few cooked sweet potatoes in the fridge that were just itching to be turned into something fantastic.  Sweet potato soup is sort of a hearty dish for summer, but it has been rainy and gloomy in D.C. so I was in the mood for something warm.  This is the sort of dish that you can modify  a million different ways, but the recipe below provides a pretty basic starting point.  And I usually have most of the ingredients on hand, which is a bonus.  The recipe calls for unsweetened soy milk, but all I had in the fridge was vanilla flavored soy milk and it turned out just fine.  I suppose you could also use “cow” milk if you are not on a vegan challenge.  So versatile.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup
 
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Author:
Cuisine: Soup
Serves: 1
Ingredients
  • 1 sweet potato, diced
  • ½ c. vegetable broth
  • ½ c. soy milk
  • 1 tsp. chipotle seasoning or cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • diced avocado and cracked pepper for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a blender or food processor, combine diced (cooked) sweet potato, broth, and soy milk and blend until smooth. Add chipotle (other other preferred spice) and salt to taste. If needed, transfer the puree and warm in a sauce pan over low heat. Top with avocado and cracked pepper (or basically anything you want).

 

Plant Based Diet Challenge

Monday, June 3rd, 2013

I have to admit, I have been feeling a little … well, unhealthy lately.  I’ve never been very diligent about diet or exercise, but I have a pretty active lifestyle and generally eat okay, so I have gotten away with a lot of bad habits (ahem, cheese-related habits).  Last weekend, however, I had a little beach time on Lake Michigan and realized I am not in my best beach body shape.  I decided to get proactive and dive into a plant based diet.  My parents have been eating this way for a few months and they love it.  The guidelines I’ve adopted are basically consistent with a vegetarian or mostly vegan diet, but with a little wiggle room.  I am eating meals with fresh, non-processed foods.  This should explain why my recipe posts will be a little “cleaner” for a while.

I’ve been hitting the gym more often as well, and with a little luck maybe I will actually start to enjoy running.  We’ll see.

{Cannellini Bean Salad}

{A little cheese-cheat}

Easy Quiche Two Ways

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Quiche is such a great brunch choice because you can throw it together quickly and it is always a crowd pleaser. This weekend I had some extra veggies that needed to be used, so I whipped up two versions of this simple dish. In one quiche I used asparagus and bell peppers and in the other, sautéed spinach and sweet cherry tomatoes. That’s another thing that makes quiche so great–you can basically thrown in anything!

 

Asparagus, Bell Pepper and Gruyere Quiche
 
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Author:
Recipe type: 001
Cuisine: breakfast
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • ½ c. chopped asparagus
  • ¼ c. diced bell pepper
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 c. grated gruyere
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c. milk
  • pie crust
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Saute asparagus and bell pepper in olive oil for about 6 minutes. The vegetables should still be slightly crunchy.
  3. Combine eggs and milk in a large bowl.
  4. Transfer vegetables to pie crust. Top with cheese. Pour egg mixture into pie crust.
  5. Bake for 50-55 minutes.

 

Mini Tarts with Cookie Cutter Crust

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

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Mini fruit tarts are a fun and easy treat, perfect for dessert or a party snack. I went the super-easy route with these tarts and used instant pudding for the filling (follow the directions on the box for the thicker pie filling version). I topped them with fruit and whipped cream, but you can get really creative with these babies.

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Cookie Cutter Tart Crust

Ingredients

1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup fine granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 teaspoons cold water

Directions

  1. Sift flour, sugar and salt into mixing bowl. Cut chilled butter into pieces into the bowl. Using your fingertips, quickly rub the butter and dry ingredients together until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks, vanilla and water. Add to the flour/butter mixture and fold together with a fork or hands. Roll dough into a ball and chill 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 24-cup mini muffin tin with cooking spray to keep the crusts from sticking to the pan.
  4. Roll out dough on a floured surface. Use flower-shaped cookie cutter to create shaped dough. Gently place shapes into the mini muffin tin so that it forms a cup with the “petals” pointing up.
  5. Bake the crusts for about 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove to a cookie sheet and cool. Add filling of your choice and enjoy!
Original recipe from Mama’s Gotta Bake

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5 Tips for Outdoor Dining

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

This month our book club read Gone Girl, which we discussed over a beautiful alfresco dinner. The book is sort of a “beach read” which was appropriate since I finished it during my last beach trip of the summer.

The weather is cooling, which made dining outside so enjoyable. Erin made coconut shrimp with pineapple salsa, which we had with cilantro rice and a ginger tomato salad. For desert, we had warm brownies with ice cream and fresh strawberries. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was very romantic. Throwing an outdoor dinner party can be very easy with a little planning.

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Tips for Outdoor Dinner Parties

  1. Scout for the perfect space. We are fortunate to have a balcony large enough to comfortably fit our dining table, but I love the idea of throwing a dinner party in a unique outdoor location.
  2. Setting the mood. Simple holiday lights went a long way in setting the mood for our dimly-lit, twinkling scene. We took mosquito precautions with this (worked great). We also lit some candles and streamed background music via a Kings of Convenience Pandora station.
  3. Planning the menu. The hardest thing about dining outside is timing—i.e., serving a warm meal on location. We didn’t have too much trouble with this since our table was so close to our kitchen. For a more distant location, I would try something portable like a steak salad with fresh berries and cheese for desert.
  4. The table. Last year I purchased a tablecloth from Target and picked up a few sets of cloth napkins from Marshalls. They were pretty inexpensive and I’ve used them over and over. I worked as a caterer in college so I love any excuse to break out my napkin-folding skills (though it is pretty easy). A nice table setting is an easy way to make a simple dinner feel special.
  5. Guests! At our house, we look for any excuse to entertain, but book club nights are some of my favorites. It is so rejuvenating to laugh, cook, and catch up with the girls. And sometimes we even manage to discuss the book!

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Perfect Pesto in a Blender

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

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I love pesto. Okay, I basically love anything that involves basil, olive oil, and garlic; so pesto was an easy sell.  The sauce can be made with either pine nuts or walnuts, but I stick to the former thanks to a walnut allergy.

While in Michigan this weekend, Suj’s sister gave us a huge bundle of fresh basil from her garden.  With so much basil, we needed a recipe with instructions for blender preparation (rather than a food processor).  About an hour before my flight home, Suj prepared a delicious batch of fresh pesto sauce: a little to eat, a little to freeze, and a little to send along with me.  He made some minor tweaks to this recipe and the results were perfect.  Even Erin approved; though she said he cheated by using parmesan cheese.  But come on, cheese makes everything better!

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Classic Pesto 

Ingredients
4 cups fresh basil leaves (from about 3 large bunches)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (toasting optional)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Fresh lemon juice to taste (about 2 tsp)

Directions
Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add cheese, salt, and lemon; blend until smooth. Serve or freeze for future use. Stays fresh in fridge for a couple days.

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Top Chef Challenge

Friday, August 24th, 2012

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The roomies and I love elaborate challenges and competitions (e.g., the great frugal challenge), so we were all really excited about Chris’s suggestion for a Top Chef style cooking challenge. It turned out to be a wild (and delicious) success!

The rules: each of us picked a day (over a two-week period) to prepare a meal for the house with a maximum budget of $40. We initially had a whole scoring system in place. The diners were to assign 1-5 points in the areas of taste, creativity, presentation, and difficulty. In the end, we threw out the voting system since there was a pretty clear winner.

I tried to set the bar high by cooking first and presenting a four-course menu. I started with a chilled corn soup, followed by pear salad, with homemade spinach ravioli for the entre and fruit cobbler and cream for dessert. Erin wowed us with baja fish tacos and fried ice cream. Chris made some impressive gourmet ramen with grilled kabobs. But Alex really blew us away with an eggplant starter, chimichurri tenderloin, and bananas foster flambee for desert. Seriously, when he lit that pan on fire at the table, we all knew it was over for the rest of us … until the next challenge!!

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