July 31, 2011

Recipe - Quick and Easy Summer Meals and Snacks

I have a confession to make... I love to cook. That is such a weird thing for me to write! Growing up I had absolutely no desire to try my hand in the kitchen (though my sister and brother both always loved to cook and are both fabulous at it). When I moved out on my own, I existed on Trader Joe's prepared foods and dinners out with friends. Cooking a full-on meal just for myself always seemed like such a hassle: the grocery shopping, the dishes, the leftovers that inevitably grew mold and got thrown away. Not to mention there was no one there to tell me if my meal was great or sucked - like the whole "if a tree falls in the forest" scenario, ya know? But when Johnny and I moved in together, some dormant June Cleaver-ish part of me awakened and I found myself wanting to cook more. WEIRD.

In the beginning, I relied heavily on recipes. I had a cookbook called "How to Boil Water" and I pretty much needed that level of instruction! There were definitely some failed meals in those early days (most involving undercooked meat which I no longer have to worry about!), but over time I became SO much more confident in the kitchen. Through trial and error, I figured out how to cook a great batch of rice on the stovetop and how to substitute spices if I ran out of something seemingly crucial. Our bank account thanked me for easing off of expensive take-out meals and it's always made me feel accomplished to cook a great meal and actually look forward to eating the leftovers the next day!   

That said, there are more nights than I can count where I go into the kitchen thinking I'll have dinner prepared in an hour, and by 9:00pm I'm still not done. This does not make me happy and Johnny wisely asks once if he can help and then scurries away when I bellow "NO." So I'm going to start making more of an effort to plan one or two easy meals each week that can be ready to go in 60 minutes or less. I have come to terms with the fact that this means I may need to rely on prepared foods sometimes. I love cooking everything from scratch, but honestly we all have days where we've pushed ourselves to the limit in the 10+ hours preceding dinner prep. Routinely adding an extra 2-3 hours to that just so you can feed your pie-hole is no fun.

Here are some ideas for quick meals and snacks that I've been loving for the past few weeks:


Johnny is in the early stages of giving up diet soda (yay!) so we tried out an alternative last night. We mixed up some chopped mint, some peeled and diced ginger, a sliced up lemon, and a few packets of stevia with sparkling water and ice in a big pitcher. He was so in love! So much healthier than diet soda and super refreshing for a summer day. 


Brown Rice Cakes and Nut Butter

I'm the type that gets home from work and has to have a snack before I start dinner prep. Quite often, I'll turn to chips or crackers and get carried away and before I know it I'm not even hungry for dinner anymore. My nutritionist made a great suggestion: brown rice cakes with nut butter. The portion is controlled and just one is super filling and satisfying. It has that salty/sweet taste that I love and is so easy to throw together. I am a big fan of Lundberg's Organic Lightly Salted Brown Rice Cakes and Brad's Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter (I love everything by both of these companies, actually!). You can jazz it up by topping with jam, bananas or other fruits, raisins... you get the idea.

Hummus and Crudites

Hummus is an institution in my family. For realz. We take that shiz seriously! My mom's hummus is widely regarded as the best in the world, so I'm always trying to recreate hers. It is so easy to whip up a big batch of hummus and snack on it all week or use as a spread on sandwiches and wraps. It's way cheaper than buying the not-as-tasty pre-made stuff from the store, too.

Here's the quick recipe: in a food processor, chop 2 cloves of garlic into tiny pieces (use 3 if you really like garlic!). Add two cans of drained and rinsed chickpeas, the juice of 2 lemons, 4 tbsp tahini, 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tsp salt. Begin blending and pulsing and get things as mixed as you can. Continue blending and start adding water a few tsps at a time. Don't overdo it, but add as much water as necessary until the hummus is creamy and very well blended - about 1/2 cup. Taste and adjust as needed. You can eat it right away, but hummus is best when it's been chilled overnight and the flavors have really had a chance to mingle. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and some dried mint and serve with fresh veggies, crackers, or whole wheat pita bread. Variations on this recipe are endless - add in some kalmata olives, roasted red peppers, roasted garlic, pickled jalapenos, mushrooms, etc. Just decrease the oil and water a bit if you add any of these.


Crispy Chick'n Salad with Creamy Dijon Dressing

I came up with this super easy and simple salad one night when I really didn't feel like cooking, but I also didn't want to order take-out. I didn't want dinner to be a big production, so I sent Johnny to the store for some veggies and I broke out a pack of Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders from the freezer. 20 minutes later I had an awesome vegan salad that I loved! Pretty sweet. 

To make this, prepare the Gardein tenders according to package instructions. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Chop up some lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers and divide between two bowls. Top with the Gardein strips. In a small bowl, mix together 2 tbsp Vegenaise and 1 tbsp dijon mustard with a small whisk or spoon until combined. Drizzle over your salad and enjoy!

Disclaimer: Johnny was not a fan of the dressing because he's got an aversion to Vegenaise. He's on the fence about mayo to begin with and lots of people are even more suspect of mayo made without animal products. For the record, the ingredients in Vegenaise couldn't be more normal: Non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil, Filtered Water, Brown Rice Syrup, Apple Cider Vinegar, Non-GMO Soy Protein, Sea Salt, Mustard Flour, Lemon Juice Concentrate. I can guarantee those ingredients are WAY more appealing than what's in regular mayo! Anyway, if you're cooking this for a non-vegan who isn't into Vegenaise, just sub in some of their favorite dressing.

Soft Tacos

These crazy kids just can't stand still for a picture!
One of my friends is trying to be gluten-free, vegan and sugar-free and I'm also trying to cut down in the gluten in my life. We all got together for dinner and I put my thinkin' cap on. We had a medley of foodstuffs including a watermelon and cucumber salad and some fresh and delicious corn my friends got from a farm that morning (summer!!!). The main course was  soft tacos and they came together in a flash. 

I started with some pintos using the quick method of soaking: boil 4 cups of water, add 1/2 lb of dried pintos, cook for two minutes, then remove from heat and allow to soak for 1 hour. I then drained and rinsed the beans and added enough water to cover, then brought it all back to a boil and simmered for about 1 more hour. (That sounds like a long time, but it's mostly inactive and you can be doing other things while they cook.) I tossed those with some salt, pepper and chopped green chiles. I then cooked up some Yves Meatless Ground with a tbsp of olive oil, 1/2 chopped onion, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tsp chile powder, and 1/2 tsp ground cumin until hot. This all got wrapped up in Ezekiel Sprouted Corn Tortillas, homemade guacamole, salsa and hot sauce. Nom nom nom!

What are your favorite quick and easy summer treats? 

July 28, 2011

Recipe - Tasty Taco Salad with Fresh Pineapple Salsa!

Oh my goodness! That was quite the hiatus! Johnny and I just got back from an amazing trip to St. John in the Virgin Islands. It was a delayed honeymoon - we've been married for about 1 1/2 years, but never got to take an official honeymoon. It was so worth the wait! Now we're both recharged and ready to take on the giant heap of things that life is about to throw at us. Bring it on!

The only negative about St. John is that their produce was not so good. I'm not sure if the climate or terrain makes it tough to grow produce there, but a lot of fruits and veggies are imported making them expensive and not so fresh. When we got home, the first thing I did was run to the grocery store and buy out the produce department. I've been like a little fruit bat the past few days chowing down nectarines, cherries, bananas, strawberries and loving the fact that summer brings so much yuminess. 

I picked up a pineapple at the store which I would normally just cut into chunks and devour with Johnny in one sitting.  But I had the urge to incorporate pineapple into a meal somehow. I'm still trying to steer clear of turning on the oven if possible, so another salad seemed like the way to go. Homemade pineapple salsa was born!

I also wanted to dress the greens a bit since I wanted to leave the salsa chunky like a pico de gallo. I made a simple Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette. It was such a pretty green color that I had to capture it!

I kept my salad simple with some pinto beans and crunchy tortilla chips, but this is endlessly flexible. Try it with black olives, Spanish rice, Tofutti sour cream, or even some marinated and crispy Tempeh. Whatever you do, MAKE THIS PINEAPPLE SALSA! It's so good and definitely the star of the show!

Johnny was feeling a big too hungry to just eat a salad for dinner, so he melted some cheese on tortilla chips in the oven and ate his salsa with those. He was a huge fan of it - much better than the stuff you get out of a jar! Enjoy!

Tasty Taco Salad with Pineapple Salsa
Serves 4

1 large bag of organic greens (I used romaine)
1 can pinto beans, rinsed well
2 cups crushed tortilla chips/strips, divided
One recipe for Pineapple Salsa (follows)
One recipe for Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette (follows)

Pineapple Salsa
1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into small chunks
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 handful cilantro, rinsed well and chopped
1/2 red onion, diced
1 avocado, diced
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 tsp salt

Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
1 large handful cilantro, rinsed well (about 1 cup loosely packed)
3 green onions, ends removed and cut into large chunks
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar

Make your pineapple salsa first so it can chill and the flavors can meld. Once all your ingredients are chopped, combine them in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (Gee, that was hard!)

To make the vinaigrette you will need a food processor or blender. Pulse the cilantro, green onion, cumin, salt and lime together until well combined. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while blending and then add the red wine vinegar. Continue to blend until a uniform consistency is achieved.

Divide lettuce between four bowls and toss with the vinaigrette. Top with the pinto beans, some pineapple salsa, and some crushed tortilla chips. Serve chilled.

July 22, 2011

Hi peeps! Just wanted to let you know that I'm on vacation with my hubby for the next few days. I'll be back with a new post just as soon as possible. Hope everyone is staying cool and enjoying their summers!


July 7, 2011

Birthday Round-up AND Recipe for Johnny's Vegan Bolognese!!

Hi y'all! It was my birthday last Friday - yes I share a birthday with Canada Day (jerk always overshadows me) - which means that I got a whole three day weekend to celebrate. SCORE!

Wrapped gifts
On Friday, I got outta work early and Johnny and I went to see the new Woody Allen movie, "Midnight in Paris". It totally exceeded my expectations. Who knew it involved time-travel? Not this chick! It was very cute and trés romantic. Then we came home and it was time to open prezzies!! I had been receiving packages in the mail all week from my family and friends back in Arizona and it was REALLY hard to not tear into each of them as soon as they arrived. But I restrained myself until my actual birthday and it was sweet relief to finally be able to tear into those suckers! Here's what I got: "Crazy, Sexy Diet" by Kris Carr, "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr and a salad spinner from my parents; some ridiculously delicious smelling Fig Coco lotion by Sabon from my sissy; a great book that holds Playbills from Broadways shows from my parents-in-law; a gorgeous sweater from my Auntie Debbie; and some beautiful flowers from my BFF Jen and her husband Dave! Johnny got me a record player and albums by Nina Simone and Billie Holiday! Let me just tell you, we've been enjoying listening to them SO much. There's just something so amazing about the sound of an album... I dig it. And now we get to hunt for and collect records! Sweet! Thanks to everybody for the lovely gifts, you made my day so special! xoxox

The gifts have been freed!
After the present opening massacre Johnny made me a spectacular dinner of salad, vegan bolognese and bread. SO GOOD and his extra-special recipe is at the end of the post! You're welcome.  

He even made a cute pattern with the tomatoes and avocado... he's adorable!
Saturday we spent the day in Williamsburg. Williamsburg is a slightly hipstery area of Brooklyn (if you're not wearing a sweatband or have washed your hair recently, you'll probably feel low on the cool scale), but I love it nonetheless and it is an easy ride on the train from Manhattan. Our first stop was one of my favorite spots ever, Crif Dogs! We discovered this place the first time we went to Williamsburg and now we have to stop there every time we're in the 'hood. They have delicious veggie dogs with all kinds of toppings and also make the BEST waffle fries. There are skate videos playing on two TVs, lots of action figures on display, and a few sit-down arcade games. I feel like I'm reclaiming my youth every time I step foot in there and I like it!

Pondering life and hot dogs...

Hot dog on the left, veggie dog on the right and WAFFLE FRIES!
Next up, we walked over to Barcade. You can probably discern what it is from the name, but just in case you can't: IT'S A BAR AND AN ARCADE. Oh mama, this place is awesome!!! They have all the classic games from childhood including Centipede, Paperboy, Tetris, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Marble Madness, etc. and they all only cost a quarter a play! They serve some tasty craft beers for $6.00 a pint (Happy Hour is 5-8 everyday and beer is only $5 - hey, for New York that's pretty good). This place totally reminds me of Tucson, it would be right at home on 4th Avenue. Definitely check it out if you're in the area.

Our final destination was the famed 4 Course Vegan. For those of you not familiar, 4 Course Vegan is an awesome dinner club hosted by Chef Matteo at his loft every Saturday night. For $40/person you get four amazing, creative little dishes prepared by Matteo and the chance to mingle with some friendly people. We sat with the sweet Erica of Un Petit Oiseau, an amazing blog that features vegan and gluten-free baked goods. Here's a breakdown of the dishes we were served: an amuse bouche of jicama ravioli stuffed with cashew cheese and topped with pesto; chilled corn chowder with pumpkin seeds and cilantro créme fraiche; new potato terrine with fresh favas, micro máche and sour cherry marmala; black bean quinoa croquettes with stewed tomatoes and mustard seed aioli; and strawberry 'shortcake' with thyme biscuit, cocoa butter cream and lemon nectar. All I can say is WOW. As soon as the amuse bouche hit my bouche I knew we were in for a delightful evening. Johnny loved the ravioli and the corn chowder best. I was also a slave to the soup and also adored the croquettes. I thought the strawberry shortcake was divine - the perfect mixture of savory and sweet - but Johnny thought it was a bit too far on the sweet side. I did note that he cleaned his plate, however.

Corn chowder
New potato terrine
Black bean quinoa croquette
Strawberry shortcake
The quality of food is what you would find at the most expensive vegan restaurants in NYC and for $40 the meal is quite a bargain. You can bring your own wine or beer to enjoy which also keeps costs down. And Matteo sells his own line of homemade goodies - I got take home home a complimentary package of raw coconut and chocolate macaroons as a birthday gift. YUM! We will definitely be back to 4CV in the near future!

Israeli couscous tabbouli, tofu lettuce wraps and salad with avocado dressing. YUM!
On Monday we ventured to Park Slope to hang out with our rad friends John, Katie and Annie. They cooked up a gigantic birthday/ July 4th feast! We had crudités with avocado dip, mixed greens straight from their CSA, tofu lettuce wraps with fresh mango salsa, and Israeli couscous tabbouli. They even had stuff to make micheladas 'cause they know those are my favorite! So cute! It was the perfect light meal for such a hot, hot day. We then migrated to the roof to watch the fireworks take place all over New York and New Jersey. The main show on the Hudson was a bit obstructed, but we got to see quite a good display from the Chinatown area and from the crazy neighbors who were lighting bootleg fireworks all night. 

Sweet pic of the New Jersey skyline
Our new camera has a "Fireworks" mode. How crazy is that?!
Then it was back inside for the most AMAZING VEGAN CHOCOLATE CAKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD made by Annie! Seriously impressive stuff! Johnny ate about 12 pieces before I pried the fork out of his hand and make him sit in the corner. I'm getting breathless just thinking about how good that cake was...

I was careful not to spit on the cake.
Honey badger would freak out over this cake
Pretty awesome birthday, huh? Are you jealous? Thanks to everyone who sent me a gift or birthday wishes or spent time and effort cooking me something... I'm so lucky to have such wonderful people in my life!

And now for Johnny's delicious recipe!...

He made a heart out of the sauce! I think he's better at this stuff than me you guys...
Johnny's Vegan Bolognese Sauce
Serves a small army

 2 red peppers, seeded and finely chopped
1 yellow or orange pepper, seeded and finely chopped
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 container mushrooms, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic
3 fresh tomatoes, diced
1 package Boca crumbles
1 jar marinara sauce (we used Newman's Own and it was superfantastique!)

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Warm the olive oil for a minute or two then add the peppers, onions and mushrooms. Sautee on medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Push the veggies to one side of the pan, and add the Boca crumbles to the other side. Cook for another 10 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sauce and stir everything together allowing to simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the fresh tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more. 

Serve over your favorite pasta - we used bowtie. Mangia!