Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “vegetarian”

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.

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Presto Pesto!

I hate myself for writing that title. Yet I can’t bring myself to delete it. Such is life…

Anyway…I’ve wanted to make my own homemade pesto for some time now. I’ve been waiting until I had access to a food processor (which I do not own), until I realized that I could probably attempt this in my bullet blender. And while the final product isn’t perfect–there are some chunks and unground nuts here and there–it’s still pretty darn good!

The other key component for homemade pesto was, obviously, basil. It’s hard to get my hands on fresh basil for some reason. They don’t sell it in regular bunches at the grocery store like they do parsley, cilantro and mint. It comes either as a big bunch with roots on the end in a package, which says to me that I’m meant to replant this. And since I have the gardening skills of a doorknob, I’ve always steered clear.

But recently I discovered a much more user-friendly version: already potted basil! Yup, I just have to take it out of the package, plop it in a larger pot or on a dish (something to catch the dirt and water) and water it from time to time. And then tada! A never-ending supply of homegrown basil.

I bought this wonderful creation yesterday, though it’s still sitting on my kitchen table because I’ve yet to transfer it to the big pot in my front yard.

Well, now that my major two pieces of this puzzle came together, it seemed like there was nothing left to do but make pesto!

This is a pretty traditional pesto, but not completely authentic. For one thing: I added parsley in with the basil to add a fresh, crisp brightness. There are also no pine nuts. (SAY WHAT?) Really. Pine nuts are expensive, and I’ve never exactly sat down with a bowl of pine nuts for a snack, so they’d really become quite a one-trick pony. So I substituted nuts I had sitting in my pantry: almonds. That’s the great thing about a sauce like pesto–you can tweak and customize to your tastes, dietary needs or pantry supplies!

Also, like this is a surprise, I didn’t measure. I grabbed things and tossed them into the blender cup. And it was tasty. It was different each time too, but that’s the beauty of experimenting. Make this to your tastes.

Basil-parsley pesto

Several large handfuls of whole, fresh basil leaves
Small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Large handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 small garlic clove, peeled but whole
Handful of slivered or whole almonds (I had slivered on hand so I used them to cut down on the chopping once in the blender)
Generous pour of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Add everything to the cup of a bullet blender or jar of a regular blender. If using a food processor, add everything but the oil. Blend well, shaking and scraping down the sides as needed, until well incorporated and evenly chopped or puree to smooth, depending on personal preference.
-Add more oil as needed, or, if using a food processor, drizzle in oil and the dry ingredients mix. Continue to blend to desired consistency. Finish with salt and pepper.

*(Just a note if you’re using a bullet blender like I did–I used the flat chopping blade, not the regular blade that sticks up. I use that one to puree and make smoothies.)

I made my pesto pretty thick, almost paste-like, to be more versatile. I can add olive oil to it to thin it out for use as a sauce or keep it thick to use as a sandwich spread.

So what did I make first with my homemade pesto? Pasta pesto, of course!

Cook pasta (I had elbow macaroni on hand), mix with olive oil and pesto, top with more grated Parmesan and enjoy!

And for lunch the next day, I mixed a tablespoon or so of pesto into plain hummus to make pesto hummus! I used store-bought Sabra hummus, but this would be even better with homemade!

Yesterday, I made a bigger batch of pesto and used it to make a pesto pasta salad for my Memorial Day picnic! But more on that tomorrow…

Has anyone made their own pesto before? Do you go for the traditional recipe, or do you add your own tricks and tweaks? I’m seriously contemplating a cilantro pesto, since I have a cilantro obsession. What’s your favorite spin on pesto?

I suck. Seriously. But I’ll try making it up with a hummus salad.

I suck.  I mean, I really, really, suck.  It’s been almost two weeks and I haven’t written, haven’t cooked, haven’t gone out to a great new restaurant. Rather, I’ve been taking way too long to adapt to a new (albeit, temporary) schedule, since I’ve decided to try my hand at theater again while still working and writing. It’s clearly not going so well. Most of my weekdays involve getting to work by 8, home between 5 and 5:30, then at rehearsal by 7. That leaves me a very small window to eat, change and run whatever necessary errands I have.

There has certainly been one change for the good. For the past 10 months, I’ve been a waitress. When I went back to work, I became a part-time waitress. But even that once-a-week shift typically took up my entire Saturday. Well, I’m no longer a waitress, so, thankfully, my metaphorical plate is a little less full now.

Why is this good news? (Besides the obvious salvaging of my sanity?) Because now I will have at least part, if not all, of my Saturdays free to cook, eat and blog! Because clearly, that needs to be a priority again.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I can devote some more weekly prep time, so hopefully my meals don’t end up being Lean Cuisines, convenience store sandwiches and coffee shop breakfasts. (Seriously, health aside, it’s not good on the wallet. And I’m out a job here.)

All that being said, I’ll make it up to, at least a little bit, right here and now, with a banked “recipe” (if you can even call it that) that I’ve been putting off posting.

It’s such a quick lunch or dinner, a super-healthy salad with an unconventional dressing you’ve probably never thought of: hummus.

Say what?

No, really. This salad was actually inspired by a favorite sandwich of mine. Anyone who’s read this blog or follows me on Twitter or Facebook has heard me mention the Twisted Tree Cafe, a vegetarian/vegan eatery two doors down from my office. This place makes even a meat-eater like me want to go veg. And they have this sandwich that I am just a sucker for called, simply, the hummus sandwich.

It’s pretty much just what it sounds like. Roasted red pepper hummus topped with tons of fresh veggies–spring mix greens, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, onion and avocado all on their homemade bread. Let me tell you, that bread really makes it. That stuff is just the best.

The first time I had this sandwich it totally changed my way of thinking–I had never thought to use hummus as the base of a sandwich before. I’ve used it as a condiment and spread plenty of times, but to actually make it the star of the sandwich? Preposterous! Or so I thought. Crazy in theory, perhaps, but genius in execution.

So, to wrap up a long story, I was craving some of this hummus-y goodness at home one day, but I knew my silly store-bought bread wouldn’t live up, so I wasn’t really feeling a sandwich. But I figured I could get all the key components of this in a salad, and I just went grocery shopping, so I had tons of fresh veggies lying around.

My salad’s not identical to the sandwich, and your salad won’t be identical to mine–I used what I had, and it was delicious.

(On closer inspection of their menu, I see they also offer hummus over their big garden salad. See? Not so crazy after all!)

Hummus Salad

Romaine lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Bibb lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Cubed tomato, seeds scooped out
Chopped avocado
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Arugula
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Roasted red pepper hummus (if you make this yourself, awesome! If not, like me, use a store-bought one. I promise I won’t tell.)

Combine all the veggies together in a bowl (after rinsing and drying well, of course) and in place of salad dressing, top with a heaping tablespoon or two of hummus.

That’s it. Really. So fast, so healthy, so yummy! And the hummus offers a great burst of protein that you’ll never get from regular salad dressing. Of course, you don’t have to use roasted red pepper-flavored hummus either. You can use plain hummus, or any flavor you like. I’m thinking sundried tomato, garlic or spinach-artichoke would be fantastic too! (And yes, all of those flavors exist. I highly recommend the spinach-artichoke! Like a way healthier version of the dip! Yum!)

I hope this redeems me at least a little. Now that I have some more time on my hands (and a holiday coming up! Memorial Day!) hopefully I’ll have a slew of new things coming your way.

WIAW: Meatless Tuesday

First off, thanks to Jen from Peas and Crayons for hosting, as always!

I know it’s usually “Meatless Mondays,” but without even trying, yesterday became a “Meatless Tuesday” for me. (“Meatless Monday” didn’t really work out, though.)

My day was also book-ended by Bolthouse Farms shakes–just a weird coincidence. I’m a huge fan of the Bolthouse line–their juice smoothies are almost exactly like Naked juice, but even better and much cheaper! And they have so much variety, it’s impossible to get stagnant. They also have a line of protein shakes, and I almost always keep at least one big bottle in my fridge for those on-the-go days when I don’t always have time to stop and eat. My current resident is the chocolate Protein Plus shake. It has even more protein than the regular protein shakes–64 grams per 32-ounce bottle.  For those who are not mathematically inclined (like me), that’s 16 grams per 8-ounce serving! That’s a pretty killer protein dose. And the best part is, it tastes like Yoohoo and isn’t gritty, like some protein shakes.

It starts off my day well every now and then, and Tuesday was one of those days.

If the photo looks like it was taken in a rush in my car on the drive to work, that’s because it was.

Once I was settled in at work and an hour or two went by, I grabbed my “second breakfast,” which I was actually very excited about–a Fruit & Nuts with Yogurt KIND bar.  I love KIND bars, but they’re usually fairly expensive in the stores by me, so I don’t but them very often. My mom stocks up when they’re on sale, but since she’s strictly gluten-free, I tend to keep my hands off her food, since I can eat anything and she has limited options.  But she was out of town and it was calling to me, so I snagged it. I think it was the thrill of the chase that made my KIND bar even more appealing!

I was (inexplicably) so excited by my late-night find that I had to snap a photo of my KIND-y victory in the moment. Only I would get this excited over a fruit and nut bar.

Lunch, unfortunately does not come with pictures but DOES come with an interesting story! The Twisted Tree Cafe is a vegetarian-vegan eatery right down the street from my office (like, two doors down), and, naturally, I’m there often, as are my coworkers. Well, the Twisted Tree was being featured on a new food show with Nathan Lyon about all sorts of healthy restaurants around the country. But, they were filming on a Tuesday, when the Twisted Tree is usually closed, so they invited a bunch of their regulars (us included) to come in for lunch that day. So, I got a free lunch (yay!) but unfortunately, no pictures. There was just way too much going on.

My lunch wasn’t huge, but it was filling and tasty (as always). I had a PB&J smoothie with bananas, strawberries, peanuts, oats and hazelnut milk. I don’t really care for hazelnuts, but the flavor doesn’t come through at all; it really just tastes like peanut butter and jelly. I paired that with one of their specials that I love–Quinoa Salad. It’s quinoa mixed with black beans, green bell peppers, cilantro and sweet white onions. We all know my feelings on raw onion, and yet I love this salad anyway–very crisp and refreshing, and so filling from the quinoa! (For those who don’t know, I don’t like raw onion, particularly the aftertaste. Scott Conant and I would make good dining buddies [reference for all the “Chopped” fans out there.]).

That being said, I’m going to be on television sometime this summer, as I was interviewed during the spot. I also sounded like someone significantly less intelligent since my whole knowledge of the menu–and vocabulary–seemed to fly out the window as soon as the camera was on. Let’s just hope good editing doesn’t make me look like a total spaz. But Nathan was really cool and it was fun to see how much staging and pre-production really goes into these shows.

I’ll make it up to you, though–I’ll post a picture of today’s lunch from Twisted Tree. (Yup, only my second week of WIAW and I’m already breaking the rules. I am such a rebel.)

Today was a Lentil-Grain burger with sundried tomato spread and a side salad. It was my first time trying this one and it’s so. good. Not that I had doubts.

Anyway, moving along. Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook knows Kevin made some very impressive orange-cranberry scones over the weekend (from scratch!) I brought the leftovers into work and they’ve been sitting in the office getting eaten ever since. And they made a lovely dessert yesterday. I promised I’d get you the recipe, and I will, once I sit down with him and get it.

After work I had to go to the eye doctor (no biggie, just getting my prescription checked out, as usual.) There’s this really great bagel place in the same strip mall as the office, and I was really looking forward to getting a bagel with walnut-raisin cream cheese before my appointment. This place makes the cream cheese with actual big chunks of walnut–it’s awesome! Unfortunately, when I got there at 5:30 I found out they close in the afternoons…sad. I was still pretty hungry, though, as it was about dinnertime, so I popped into the pizza place next door and had the strangest piece of Margherita pizza I’ve ever seen and a much-needed glass of water:

The slices were square, like a Sicilian pizza, but with a regular thin crust. And the cheese was just one big slice of mozzarella on top. I loved the amount of cheese, but the basil was a little lacking. But I was hungry, and this was fast, so it sufficed.

That actually tided me over for most of the evening, til I was craving a snack around 9. I couldn’t quite settle on one thing, so I ended up popping a couple of chocolate macaroons in my mouth followed by a bag of Popchips. Conventional? No, but it worked. I washed it all down with another Bolthouse Farms drink, though this one’s more of a juice. It’s part of their 50/50 line, which is half fruit juice and half vegetable juice. This one mixed berry juice with purple carrot juice. I bought it on a whim, but the berry flavor’s a little too intense and too sweet, so I cut it with a lot of seltzer. About one part juice to three parts seltzer. I know I’m not getting nearly as much nutrition that way, but it’s much more palatable. It has four servings of fruit and four servings of vegetables per 32-ounce bottle, though.

So, as you can see, it was a very Bolthouse-y and very veggie day for me! Also, VERY proud of myself for actually remembering to do this two weeks in a row!

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