Thursday, August 6, 2015

Adventures in homemade bread crumbs and roasting veggies

Most of you know how much I love farmers markets. Going to the one in Montclair is one of the highlights of my weekend because it usually sets my menu for the week.

This year I've noticed one of the market hilights is green tomatoes. A friend once made tried green tomatoes for me last summer and I've been dreaming of then ever since, so I've started eating them as a side dish for lunch. The difference is that I've taken to roasting instead of frying them.

I've done the same with eggplant recently. I bought two eggplants at the farmers market this past Saturday. Yesterday I breaded and roasted one of them to eat with penne arrabiata.

Why roast? Well, for starters, I kind of suck at frying food. I don't know why, but whenever I try to fry something it either burns or doesn't fully cook. Plus, cleanup with roasted vegetables is a little easier. Also, its a little healthier. That all being said, I'd love to try grilling green tomatoes in the near future.

The real trick I've learned with these recipes is that good breadcrumbs are key. This past week I've started making my own from scratch. Its beyond easy to do and I highly recommend doing this with stale bread instead of throwing it out. If you don't have stale bread on hand, all you have to do is toast some bread until it's crispy. Rip the bread into pieces, then chop in a food processor until you have crumbs of equal consistency. Some bread might produce bigger crumbs than other. I recommend using sandwich buns for a finger crumb. Next is seasoning. The seasoning is entirely up to you. For the green tomatoes I used salt, pepper, and cayenne. For the eggplant I used salt, pepper, basil, and oregano. Just be sure not to overseason!

To roast green tomatoes or eggplant, follow these steps:
1. Preheat the oven to 425. Grease a baking tray.
2. Slice the vegetable (you should get 6 slices out of the tomato and 8 out of the eggplant). Prepare two bowls by putting the breadcrumbs in one and an egg whisked with a tablespoon of water in another.
3. Dip each slice of the vegetable in the egg, then the breadcrumbs. Coat evenly and place it on the baking tray.
4. Roast for 10 minutes, then flip each slice over and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.

If you have any other favorite breadcrumb or roasted vegetables recipes, please share!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

recipe: whole wheat sweet potato gnocchi

Full disclaimer, I've only tried to make pasta once before in my life. I made an attempt at making pumpkin ravioli in 2009. To call it a disaster would be an understatement. Not to say that my first attempt at gnocchi wasn't a slight disaster, but I'm chalking that up to the fact that I was on my third glass of wine by the time it was ready. No regrets, it was hot in my apartment, the wine was chilled, and I was getting a little frustrated! That all being said, the end result was incredible.

To make this recipe gluten-free and paleo friendly, simply substitute the whole wheat flour with one cup of arrowroot powder.

Whole Wheat Sweet Potato Gnocchi

2 large sweet potatoes
2 cups almond flour
5 tbsp whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of garlic powder
1 egg white

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Bake for 50 minutes or until soft. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. Peel the potatoes and place into a large bowl. Mash well (Side note: if you don't have a potato masher, a sturdy metal whisk will do the trick). Add the almond flour, whole wheat flour, salt, baking soda, and garlic powder. Mix well to combine.

3. Whisk the egg white until frothy. Gently fold it into the sweet potato mixture. Refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

4. Dust a work surface with whole wheat flour. Roll out a handful of the chilled dough into a long, thin rope. At this point, if you know that you will not be eating the entire recipe's worth of gnocchi in one sitting (it serves four), separate the dough into four equal ropes, wrap whatever you want to save in plastic wrap, and place it in the fridge. It keeps better this way. Cut the dough into one-inch segments. Use a fork to slightly flatten each segment.

5. Prepare a pot of boiling water.Working in small batches, drop each piece of gnocchi into the water. Let cook for about one minute. When they float to the top, remove with a slotted spoon. Place in colander to drain.

At this point, your gnocchi is done. If you'd like to take the recipe one step further, I recommend pan searing it. You can use butter, ghee, or olive oil for this. I chose a tablespoon of olive oil and seared each piece for about two minutes on each side. I then browned some garlic in the oil to make a quick aioli sauce to put on top of the gnocchi. For added protein and iron, I threw in some chickpeas and wilted spinach, then topped it all with some grated parmesan.

If anyone tries this recipe, please let me know how it turns out!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Deception of Processed Food

The FDA posted a letter to their website yesterday (04/14/2015) declaring the packaging for Kind bars are misleading and need to be changed. The packaging for these bars claim that they are healthy and use a "+" sign for the names of certain bars.

Unfortunately, the nutritional content of four of types of Kind bars do not stand up to the claims made by their packaging. According the FDA, food cannot be considered healthy unless it has less than 15% of calories from saturated fat. This is violated by  Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot, Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut, Kind Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Kind Plus Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants, all of which contain 2.5 grams of saturated fat, which exceed the percentage of calories from saturated fat. Furthermore, the FDA does not support the claim that these bars are rich in protein or antioxidants, let alone the use of the "+" on the packaging. Using this sign suggests that the bars contain at least 10 percent more of the daily recommended intake for vitamins and minerals as compared to an appropriate reference food, or that the food is fortified with vitamins and nutrients in accordance with certain FDA policies.

What this really brings up, though, is how oblivious we are as consumers when it comes to processed, packaged food. For the most part, unless you see a nutritionist or study nutrition, it is easy to ignore that handy nutrition fact label and just believe whatever claims a company makes on the front of the packaging. As more companies have made the move to put nutrition labels on the front of the product, they're still giving you the bare minimum (and can you blame them?) The problem is that every time we as consumers become hip to how food is packaged, the very smart marketing teams hired by these ridiculously large companies still find ways to sneak unnecessary sugar and fat into their foods without the majority being aware of it. Think about many people fell victim to the "all-natural" scheme from a few years ago? Sure, your chips are just made of potato, oil, and salt, but it's still high in fat and sodium.

Really, the only way to avoid falling victim to these schemes is to give up processed food altogether. I know people who do this, and more power to them. I'll be honest, I am not one of these people. The difference is that I'm aware of what I eat by reading nutrition facts carefully and keeping portions of processed food under control. My point is, we as consumers need to make a more conscious effort to read nutrition facts and be more aware of portion control when it comes to processed food, especially those that contain high levels of saturated fat.

You can read the warning letter from the FDA here:

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

five year reflection and the importance of comfort food

Today is the five year anniversary of this blog. Though it's been updated sporadically for the past few years, this blog has shown just how much I've grown since 2010. When I first started this blog, I was a year out of college, supporting myself financially for the first time, and dedicating myself to my year of service as an Americorps*VISTA and my love for cooking. Since then, I've experienced a lot. I've been a graduate student and a substitute teacher. I've lived in apartments with tiny galley kitchens and apartments with incredibly spacious kitchens. I've worked my arm to no end beating cake mixes before my mom handed down her kitchenaid mixer.

This blog has also been there as I've experienced loss. Halfway through my first year of graduate school, I lost my dad. It was very sudden, but I took comfort in the therapeutic aspect of cooking. Despite my ridiculous schedule with work and class, I found time to take care of myself by cooking from scratch as often as possible.

And when the grief was still too much, I found myself in Israel.

I had two clarifying moments: one on Mount Masada, and another in an open market in Jerusalem, Both of these moments reminded me that grief is part of life and that I needed to find something meaningful from the experience. 

I found the meaning in my grief by volunteering for a bereavement camp for children who have lost a sibling or parent. Volunteering with this camp led me to discover running by training for their fundraising 5k. I found myself back at camp last year a few weeks after losing two family friends to a car accident. Being there has reminded me that like cooking and running, being there is one of the constants in my life I've come to depend on.

This coming weekend will be my return to camp in the first time in almost a year. It's caused me to reflect on what I've experienced in the past few years. Since 2013, I've started my full time teaching job, moved into my own apartment for the first time since 2010, and found the time to rediscover my love for cooking. I did most of this reflecting when I went out on a solo hike in the Palisades. 

I've gone trail running by myself before, but always at the same park. This was my first real solo hike and the first time I've ever been to the Palisades. My clarifying moment was looking down the steep incline I was moments away from creeping down, and all I could do was reassure myself that it was nothing I couldn't handle. I feel like I've been doubting myself lately, and it was what I needed to remind myself to stop doubting myself so often and trust my instincts.

I find that this happens to me when I'm cooking, too. As fun as it is to try a challenging new recipe, I sometimes find myself unsure of what I'm doing. Whenever this happens, I can't help but feel like I need to go back to comfort food.

For me, comfort food is rooted in its simplicity. It's simple to make and tastes so good without being complex.

Recently, my go to for comfort food is usually lentils. It's hard to screw them up and with the right amount ginger and spices it feels so good to eat. This week I've been eating red lentil curry with brown rice, which is exactly what I need right now.

I wish I could say that I'm going back to frequent updates, but my schedule still doesn't allow that. I'm planning on gardening again over the summer and plan on focusing on meals made with the vegetables I'm growing (still has not been determined as of now). Regardless, my focus will still be cost-efficient healthy meals that most people can enjoy. Though I've changed in the past five years, the purpose of this blog will be the same as it was in 2010.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Recipe: whole wheat pumpkin honey muffins

The recipe I used for these muffins is unintentionally vegan. I only had two eggs left and had already gone grocery shopping, so I had to make the decision to either use my last two eggs for the muffins or make the scrambled eggs I was craving for brunch. I don't regret my decision...the eggs were delicious!

If you feel strongly about making these with eggs, simply cut the amount of oil in half and beat in two eggs with the liquid ingredients. You can also use half the oil and a 1/2 cup of applesauce. I've been told you can use pumpkin puree, though I've never tried that so I can't vouch for it.

1/2 cup raisins
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12 cup muffin pan or line with paper liners.
2. Place the raisins in a cup and add enough hot water to cover. Let stand for a few minutes to plump.
3. In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
4. Make a well in the center and put in pumpkin, oil, and honey. Mix just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Drain the excess water from the raisins and stir in.
5. Spoon into muffin cups so they are about 2/3 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the tops spring back when touched.

Yields 1 dozen muffins

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Recipe: teriyaki tofu and veggie stir fry over brown rice

I love to make stir fries! It took some trial and error, but I've figured out the correct cooking time for tofu and various vegetables. It's easy to buy marinades and sauce to use, but for this recipe I decided to make my own teriyaki marinade in order to reduce the amount of sodium in the marinade.

A good wok is key in making stir fry. I'm lucky enough to have an electric wok that was handed down from my mom. If you don't have a wok, I suggest getting an electric one. If you can't afford one, a stovetop wok will work just fine.

Teriyaki Marinade
2/3 cup mirin (if mirin is unavailable, dry sherry is a good substitute)
1 cup soy sauce
4.5 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1/3 cup granulated sugar
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced fresh garlic
1 dash red pepper flakes
black pepper, to taste

Bring mirin to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour in soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar. Season with garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and black pepper, simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.

Stir Fry
1 block extra firm tofu, drained and pressed
2-3 heads broccoli
1.5 cups snow peas
12 baby carrots or 3 regular carrots, peeled
1 large red bell pepper

1. Cube tofu and marinade in 4 tablespoons teriyaki marinade
2. Heat wok to 300 degrees. Chop vegetables.
3. Cook tofu in wok for 6 minutes, stirring constantly.
4. Add broccoli and snow peas, along with 4 teaspoons marinade. Cook for another 4 minutes.
5. Add carrots and bell pepper, along with 4 tablespoons marinade, then cook for an additional 5 minutes.
6. Divide among 4 plates with one cup of brown rice on each plate. Add one tablespoon of marinade to each plate before eating.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Recipe: Green Bean Curry

This recipe was my first time making yellow curry. I will say now that if you plan to make this or any other yellow curry dish, finding yellow curry paste is anything but easy. I had to go to three grocery stores before I found it. Once I found it, though, it was super cheap - I bought a huge bottle for a couple of dollars!
Consider yourself warned that this recipe is not for those who cannot handle spicy food. You can try to alter some of the spices, but I wouldn't try it if spicy food isn't your thing.
The original recipe called for a Yukon gold potato. However, I opted to use a sweet potato since I already had one laying around. The contrast of sweet against the spiciness of the curry was wonderful, so I recommend making it this way.
  • One pound sweet potato (or Yukon Gold potato), peeled and cubed
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into half moons
  • 1/2 pound green beans, cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 Tbs canola oil
  • 2 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 1/2 Tbs yellow curry paste
  • 1 Tbs peanut butter (if you're allergic, you can replace it with any nut butter)
  • 1 13.5 oz can light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbs thinly sliced basil leaves
  • 1 Tbs lime juice
  • Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook potatoes 7 minutes; remove with slotted spoon, and drain. Add carrots, cook 10 minutes; remove with slotted spoon, and drain. Add green beans, and cook 5 minutes; remove with slotted spoon, drain, and set aside.
  • Heat oil in pot over medium heat. Add shallots, and cook 7 minutes, or until starting to brown. Stir in garlic, curry paste, and peanut butter; cook 
1 minute. Add coconut milk, 1/2 cup water, and sugar; bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in potatoes, carrots, and bell pepper; simmer 10 minutes. 
Add green beans and basil, and cook 2 minutes more. Stir in lime juice just before serving.
Serve over rice. Serves 6.