Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-Recipe Challenge: Day 2 — Veggie Style!

Something pretty amazing happened on Saturday, aka Day 2 of my 31-recipe challenge: I got the carnivore (well, omnivore) to go herbivore and LIKE IT!

That’s right, I got my meat-loving man to eat a vegetarian meal and admit that not only did he like it, but he would eat it again! *cue happy dance #2 for the weekend*

Only two days into this thing, and I’m already seeing some pretty amazing things happen.

Sweet potato taco 1

I’m sure you’re wondering what the magic recipe was that turned this T-Rex into a Brontosaurus. Well, it was two! It was these Asian-fusion sweet potato tacos from Love and Lemons and this winter kale salad from A Tasty Love Story.

The sweet potato tacos with avocado involved several steps, but none were terribly complicated. If anything, I became more a victim of my apartment-sized kitchen’s lack of prep space more than anything else. Basically: make glaze, chop veggies, glaze veggies, roast veggies, prep toppings, eat. Said toppings include goodies like sliced avocado, cilantro, sprouts, toasted pepitas and scallions.

However, this dish almost wasn’t quite the same due to my own trepidations. As I stood in Wegmans on Friday staring at the refrigerator shelf that housed those few sad containers of miso paste, I, well, freaked out. Thirteen ounces?? Seven dollars?? I only need two tablespoons! What am I going to do with 13 ounces? Seven dollars is WAY too much for something I’m only going to use a tiny bit of! Once! Alas, then Kevin said (via text) those magical three words that somehow made such a seemingly outlandish purchase alright: “We’ll make soup.” Ah, ok, we’ll make soup. Yes, we’ll make soup.

And so there you have it. I bought miso paste, a very key ingredient for what ended up being a fairly brilliant miso-maple glaze, and sometime in the near-ish future (i.e., after February), I will make miso soup. A lot of miso soup. And probably more sweet potatoes.

Sweet potato taco 2

Oh! P.S. sidenote…fresh toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds) smell pretty darn good. But not as good as toasted balsamic-honey almonds. (I’ll get to that in a moment, stick around.) Also, can we take a moment to appreciate and applaud my lovely hand model? (The aforementioned T-Rex.)

Extra sidenote…the recipe includes a fresh, bright, somehow summery coconut-cilantro sauce to top the tacos (yum!) You can optionally add Sriracha and sugar to this sauce; I added neither. It didn’t need it. (And as I admitted on Day 1, I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to bringing the heat.) But really, if you know me at all or have read my blog even a little, you probably know by now that anything that combines avocado, lime and cilantro is A-OK in my book.

But that was not all! Oh no! There was that beautiful winter salad of pomegranate, kale and apple to attend to.

Somehow, despite the fact that the five pomegranates left in the produce section seemed truly sad, and I settled for the least bad of them, I ended up with some really lovely, delicious pomegranate jewels. Seriously, I should’ve taken a picture of them, because they looked semi-precious.

This salad is fun and fast, and plays with flavors in an interesting way. It also calls for shredded kale, rather than big leaves, so I stuffed torn leaves into my Magic Bullet (in small batches), and whizzed it with the chopping blade for a hot second. It was like kale confetti. (I don’t want that coming out of my pinata, though.)

The most involved part of the salad were the aforementioned balsamic-glazed almonds. Basically, toast raw almonds, add balsamic vinegar and honey, and stir to coat over the stovetop. Then they harden up and get deliciously glossy and sticky. And I have leftovers sitting in a bag at home. I call it the base to the world’s best trail mix. (Oh yes, they are that good. Seriously, go home and make these! They take, like, five minutes and it’s like a way more sophisticated version of those yummy-smelling glazed nuts stands at the mall.)

Pomegranate, apple, kale salad

Toss kale, pomegranate arils, thinly sliced apples and glazed almonds with a quick homemade vinaigrette and enjoy! Just don’t make too much dressing and then hand it off to someone else and let them finish the salad. They won’t realize you’ve made more dressing than necessary and they WILL just dump it all on. Then it will taste like balsamic with a little salad. Not that that happened, of course. (Totally happened.)

Still, it was clear these flavors were meant to be. And boy was it pretty! It was like a winter season fashion show–jewel tones everywhere!

And after sitting down with a heaping sweet potato taco and a big, colorful bowl of kale salad, Kevin declared the meal a winner and even admitted he’d eat it for a meal again (without meat.) Of course, even after three tacos and the majority of the salad, he still finished off a bag of popcorn at the movies that night, so *maybe* I should take that with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, I declare it a victory.

Of course, my cooking for the weekend was hardly done. After all, Kevin hosted a Super Bowl party on Sunday, and yours truly was, effectively, the caterer. Cue the marathon cooking day that was my Sunday (more to come…)

Avocado-Black bean salsa

It’s August, which means there’s still a month or so of summer left (almost two, technically) and still plenty of grilling and barbecue opportunities. Also, it means we’re coming into the hottest days of the year, and hot, heavy food just doesn’t always sound so appealing. Sometimes, in the East Coast heat, I just want a cool and refreshing snack or light meal that will leave me satisfied but not weighed down. And that, folks, is how I got my avocado-black bean salsa.

I made this stuff on a whim one night after I bought ripe Haas avocados and some canned black beans. Served with some super-addictive Trader Joe’s plantain chips, I couldn’t put this stuff down! I ate it for dinner, a late-night snack AND lunch the next day!

It’s the perfect summer snack and an awesome side dish to bring to your next barbecue–a fun and nutritious way to mix it up from regular salsa or mayo-laden picnic salads.

Seriously, make this salsa and you’ll never want to stop! It will become a staple for your summer, for sure!

One thing I’d like to note: I always look for no salt added canned beans–they’re much more convenient than dried beans, but canned beans are notorious for their sodium content. Rienzi sells all sorts of no salt added beans, which I love, so my pantry’s stocked with black beans, cannellini (white) beans and chickpeas. I still rinse the beans, though, to get off any extra salt and to improve the texture (they’re still canned in liquid, so they are a little slimy otherwise.) By rinsing them, it also allows me to almost completely control the amount of salt that goes into my food.

Avocado-black bean salsa

2 small or 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
1-15.5 ounce can of no salt added black beans, rinsed (I buy Rienzi brand) or soaked and cooked black beans
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the first five ingredients together, being careful not to overly mash the avocado. Mix in lime juice, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, plantain chips or use as a topping for, well, anything you want! (This would go great over salad greens, steak, grilled chicken, burgers, you name it!)

This is so fast and so easy, and it brings a bounty of veggies and a healthy dose of protein and fiber to the party!

Happy August!

I couldn’t think of a title for this post. OR, The food’s more important than the title anyway, so here’s a post about smoothies.

We all have those snacks and meals that we keep coming back to again and again because they’re basically perfect.  My latest greatest go-to is a smoothie.  Well, all kinds of smoothies, really. They’re versatile, quick, healthy and filling.  Really, it’s a perfect snack, breakfast or light meal.

You can put pretty much anything your heart desires into a smoothie, but I have some basics that I always keep on hand–frozen bananas, frozen berries and plain Greek yogurt. (Vanilla or fruit-flavored works too, so does regular yogurt.  I’ll use whatever I have at the time, but I try to keep some plain Greek yogurt around when I can.)

Fresh fruit’s great, but it’s hard to find year-round.  Plus, frozen fruit eliminates the need to add ice to your smoothie, which streamlines the process (it’s all about efficiency, people!)  I like using frozen bananas especially, because they give an icy, creamy texture to smoothies.  I keep my freezer stocked whenever I buy bananas–inevitably, I never finish the bunch before they start to turn, so when it looks like they’re starting to go bad, I cut them up and freeze them in plastic bags. I also do this with leftover banana halves after I use them in cereal, oatmeal, etc. if I don’t want to finish them.

I’ve been so busy lately, running from work to rehearsal with little time for dinner in between.  So smoothies have become even more of a go-to for me lately. I whip one up and get some protein, carbs, fiber and vitamins all in one! Plus, it’s light enough that I can go dance and not feel weighed down.

You’d think I’d get sick of the same thing all the time, but that could only happen if I had the same thing all the time. Smoothies are so versatile, I mix it up each time. Two of my favorites: a chocolate power shake and a pb & j smoothie.

I use my bullet blender to make smoothies, which makes it even quicker! (And means less clean-up! Just one cup.)

Both of these use a base of plain Greek yogurt and frozen bananas. For the chocolate power shake, brew 6-8 oz. of strong coffee and let it cool (you can add ice to speed this along.) To the Greek yogurt and bananas, add about a tablespoon of chocolate syrup (Hershey’s and Fox’s U-bet are my favorites), a tablespoon or two of natural almond butter (I use Trader Joes’ brand) and the cooled coffee.  Blend until smooth.

You get a great mix of protein from the yogurt and the almond butter, sugar and carbs from the chocolate and caffeine from the coffee.  This is the kind of smoothie I make when I need a real pick-me-up after a long day of work or before a grueling rehearsal or workout. The almond butter-chocolate-coffee combo may sound a little weird at first, but it’s sort of like an amaretto coffee. The almond butter actually has a very light flavor and doesn’t come through very strongly through the chocolate and the coffee.

The pb & j smoothie really tastes just like peanut butter and jelly! Start again with the Greek yogurt and banana base.  Add whatever fresh or frozen berries you like–my favorite are blueberries and strawberries. Add one to two tablespoons of natural peanut butter (again, I use TJ’s. I go for salted, but unsalted would work well, too) and blend with skim milk until smooth.

Antioxidants, vitamins and protein, and it tastes like childhood! With the protein from the yogurt and peanut butter, the fiber from the fruit and a little natural fat, this smoothie can really keep you satisfied for quite a while.

The best part about making smoothies at home? It’s so quick, easy and cheap! It saves a whole lot of money over going to those smoothie shops in the mall, plus you have complete control over what you put in it. Vegan? Try silken tofu and almond or soy milk. Or just fruit–frozen bananas puree into a soft-serve like consistency. Let your mind wander!

All this writing about smoothies has really gotten me craving one now.  I think there’s a nice fruit smoothie in my future! (Sometimes just a straight yogurt, fruit, juice combo is perfect, too!) Or maybe a bit of extra nut butter protein to power me through a late rehearsal tonight. I’ll never get sick of these things.

Cinco de Mayo-style Steak Fajita Bowls and Homemade Guacamole! (UPDATED)

I said I would post this recipe later in the week, and I wasn’t just holding out–I was waiting to make it perfectly opportune for Cinco de Mayo!  If you’re not doing a big Cinco party, that’s no problem; you can still have a fun, Mexican-themed dinner at home!

I’m talking about yummy (and healthy!) steak fajita bowls with homemade guacamole!  To put these bowls together, you’ll need to start with the following:

Steak Fajita Bowls

1-2 cups Rice (I used brown basmati rice, and it’s great stuff! I’m falling in love with bulk bins.) Use as much as you need for the number of people you have–for 2 people, about a cup of dry rice should be good.  You can also use instant rice.
1 sweet bell pepper (any color, but orange was the pick of the day)
Half a red onion
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
2 small skirt steaks
Steak marinade (Now, you can of course make your own marinade, but, in all honesty, I took a shortcut and used a bottled fajita marinade from Wegmans. I did get one with pretty few ingredients, though–the fewer, the better.)
Salsa (Also purchased this, but not jarred–I got a fresh medium-heat salsa from Wegman’s salsa bar)
Manchego cheese, shredded*
1-2 fresh limes
Jalapenos (optional) (I did not use, Kevin did)
Fresh cilantro (optional) I didn’t use any this time, which is a shock for anyone who knows me and my borderline-obsession with cilantro. I’d recommend it.
Homemade guacamole (recipe below)

*Manchego cheese is a firm Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. It’s nutty and one of my all-time favorites.  However, it can be expensive. So, if you want a similar flavor, you can pick up some fresh Pecorino or, for something different but still fitting, you can get any good Mexican-style cheese, like Monterey jack, cheddar or pepper jack if you like a kick.

First things first, get the steaks marinating. I like to out the steaks in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with the marinade. Seal the bag and mix it around so the meat is evenly covered in the marinade. Place the bag in a dish or other container and put it in the fridge to marinate while you do everything else.

Next, get water boiling for the rice.  Start with a one-to-one ratio of water to rice–watch it as it cooks, you may have to add more water as it goes.

Meanwhile, slice the pepper and half the onion and mince the garlic. Set aside a bit of the onion (about a teaspoon or two) and dice. Once the water boils, add the diced onion and about a teaspoon or less of the garlic. Add the rice and let it cook approximately 30 minutes.  (This varies depending on the type of rice you use–if it has a package, follow package directions.)  Add juice of half a lime into rice and water as it cooks.

While the rice is cooking, prep your cook surface for the steak–I used my George Foreman since my outdoor grill’s not up and running yet. You can cook the steak however you’d like–grill, pan, oven, broil. Just make sure you get the cooktop (or oven) nice and preheated. If using a grill (indoor or out), preheat to about a medium heat.

Go ahead and prepare the guacamole ahead of time (recipe below).

**Make sure you’re checking on the rice! Once it’s cooked through, fluff with a fork and add more lime juice, stir it in. If using cilantro, chop and add a handful into the cooked rice and stir through.

Now it’s time to get that steak on the grill! Take the steak out of the bag, and place on the grill or cooktop. Grill the steak on medium heat for about 3-5 minutes per side (depending on the level of doneness you like.) If using a George Foreman, grill about 5-7 minutes total. Remove from heat and put steaks on a plate. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Once rested, slice steak into bite-sized strips.

Get a frying or sautee pan hot on the stove with a little bit of oil. Add the peppers, onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Sweat the vegetables in the oil until just tender-crisp. Add some lime juice and sautee with the vegetables. Once they’re tender-crisp, remove from heat.

Now, time to assemble! Start by putting a scoop or two of rice in a bowl. Top with veggies and steak, then add all the fixins’: salsa, guacamole and jalapenos. Shred Manchego cheese over the top and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Delicioso! Now this is a fiesta!

Homemade Guacamole

I have a few secrets about my guacamole that I will share with you. First off, I use dried spices in my guac–dried garlic and dried onion. I find that the fresh, raw garlic and onion flavor is too strong and offputting in the guacamole and kind of overwhelms everything else. Using those ingredients dried still gives the flavor without being overbearing.

Instead of adding freshly diced tomatoes and other various seasonings, I add a tablespoon or two of prepared salsa (whichever I’m using in my dish.) This way, you get tomato, onion, cilantro jalapenos and whatever other flavors are in the salsa. Using a nice chunky, fresh salsa is best. Sometimes, when using jarred salsas, the flavor is there, but the salsa is very thick and red, and the two colors (red and green) mix to create a sometimes-offputting brownish hue.

Also, I use one spice that seems a little unexpected in a guacamole–just a pinch of lemon pepper. You don’t have to use it, but I love the flavor it adds.

Anyway, you’ll need:

1/2 a fresh avocado (a full avocado if making this for a crowd)
1-2 tbsp prepared salsa
Juice of 1/4 to 1/2 of a lime
Dried garlic
Dried onion powder or dried diced onion
Pinch of lemon pepper seasoning
1-2 tsp Chopped cilantro

To halve an avocado, take a large knife and cut along the middle of the avocado, along the outside. Avocados have a huge pit in the middle, so you have to cut around it. Twist the two halves to separate. Hit the knife into the pit with a bit of force and twist to remove. Scoop the avocado flesh out of the skin and mash with a fork. Add lime juice to soften and keep from oxidizing (turning brown.) Once mashed, add salsa and continue to mix/mash to get the desired consistency. Add spices and mix, tasting as you go. Add any salt and pepper and adjust spices if necessary. Mix in chopped cilantro, add a bit more lime juice and serve.

*To store leftover guacamole or avocado, sprinkle some diced red onion over the top, seal in a bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge. The onion helps prevent oxidation and keeps the avocado fresh and green! When you’re ready to serve again, either brush off the onion or mix it into your guac.*

This makes a fun, healthy and oh-so-tasty dinner any night of the week, but it’s especially fun for a Mexican-inspired Cinco de Mayo meal. If you’re really feeling the Cinco spirit, go check out my post on fun margaritas to pair with your meal. Or just pair it with a citrusy, summery beer like I did!

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

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