Sunday, July 3, 2016

Trail Mix on the Marsh - Vegan and Gluten Free (and Easy)!

Sticky, goo-ey goodness, guilt-free!
This recipe is so easy, and it will take you all of 15 minutes, tops, to prepare.  I created these bars out of need... I have been stock-piling the new vegan (gluten-free) marshmallows from Trader Joe's, and wanted to make a quick treat to bring to work, that would satisfy both my vegan and gluten-free co-workers.  I had in mind something along the lines of rice krispy treats, but I didn't have any rice krispies, and I didn't have time to run to the store, so I did a pantry-raid, and more or less dumped everything into a pot.  My favorite kind of recipe!  Everyone kept asking me what the recipe was called, which I didn't have a name for, and if they could have a copy of the recipe, so I had to make it another time!  You can find all but one of the ingredients at Trader Joe's, but these are also things that I keep stocked for making things like Acai bowls, baking, etc.
Stock up before they're gone!
All of these ingredients are good to have in the pantry. 

- 10-oz. bag vegan marshmallows (Trader Joe's brand is vegan, gluten-free and kosher)
- 3 Tbsp. Earth Balance, original buttery flavor
- 8-oz. package Trader Joe's Super Seed & Ancient Grain Blend
- 1 C. dried cranberries
- 1 C. raw unsalted pumpkin seeds
- 1/2 C. cacao nibs (available at Whole Foods or most health food stores)
- 1/2 C. dried tart cherries
- 1 C. vegan dark chocolate chips
Stir, stir, stir!

1. Prepare 2-quart glass baking dish with nonstick spray.  Melt Earth Balance in large pot over medium-high heat.  Add marshmallows and melt over medium heat, stirring occasionally to keep marshmallows from sticking to bottom of pan.

2. Once marshmallows have completely melted, and resemble a smooth, creamy texture, add all ingredients except chocolate chips.  Turn off heat and stir, stir, stir to combine ingredients and ensure all ingredients are mixed thoroughly throughout.

3. Spread marshmallow mixture in baking dish.  TIP: Spray off-set spatula with nonstick spray, use to press mixture evenly into pan.  Top with chocolate chips.  Set aside to cool.  Slice into squares after cooled.  

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mushroom Miso

Miso soup is my go-to cure all.  Allergies, cold, sinus infection... a steamy bowl of homemade miso soup is an instant pick-me-up.  To bring out the umami taste, I decided to add a few different varieties of mushrooms, which also made for a rich broth.

Garlic scapes - 4 stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Mellow White Miso - 5 Tbsp.
1 Tbsp. freshly grated ginger
1 32 oz. carton low sodium vegetable broth
1 1/4 C. variety of chopped mushrooms (I used oyster, shiitake and maitake)
OPTIONAL: Kimchi to serve on top, cooked millet and brown rice ramen noodles

1. Sautee garlic scapes and crushed garlic in one inch of broth over medium heat for 4-5 minutes.

2. Add remaining ingredients, including remainder of vegetable broth carton.  Bring to a low boil.  Turn heat down to medium.  Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Do not over boil.  If serving over ramen noodles, cook noodles in a separate pot of water while the soup is cooking.

3. Serve over noodles, or plain.  Optional: top with a tablespoon of kimchi.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Big Salad

If you were of fan of the show Seinfeld, a "Big Salad" will bring back memories of Elaine and the diner scene, when she asks for a big salad, in a big bowl, with lots of things in it.  For me, a big salad makes me think of my friends Benis and Hugh, who live in Boston.  I stay with them every summer, and they always start every meal with a "big salad," in a bowl that I would consider the size of a serving bowl.

I got in the habit of eating my salads out of a large bowl at their house, and there is something comforting about it... being able to toss your salad properly, see everything in it, and make a salad big enough for a meal.  Lately, I start dinner with a big salad, and make two salads at once -- one for dinner, and a smaller salad to take with me to work for lunch the next day.  (Before Logan left for school I also made her lunch salad at the same time.)

I like to use a few different varieties of lettuce, including mix of baby greens and the freshest arugula I can find.  I depend on local farmers markets to determine which varieties of lettuces I use, but if I have a hectic week and can't get to a farmers market, then I pick up lettuce and arugula at the Food Conspiracy Co-op on 4th Avenue.  The Co-op generally has lettuce from local growers.

I like a lot of color and texture in my salads, and they are never the same two days in a row.  Ingredients are dictated by what's in season.  Some of my favorite seasonal items right now are watermelon radishes and sun chokes (Jerusalem artichokes).  A few staples to keep on hand are hearts of Palm (I like the jarred variety from Costco, as they are not mushy and are packed in water) and Bhuja Snacks Original Mix for something crunchy on top.

I top my salads with two different balsamic vinegars, either fig balsamic and apple, or fig and grapefruit.  No oil needed!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Plant-Based and Oil-Free

You might have noticed that some of my blog posts have taken a more plant-based approach, which is no accident.  In the past months, my eating habits and choices are taking a conscious move toward a vegan lifestyle.  Beyond just vegan, I have been moving away from using any type of oil, either in cooking or in my diet.

Why, you ask, when for decades olive oil has been thought of as a "healthy oil"?  My cholesterol numbers have always hovered around the high side, even when I was in high school.  Although my ratio of good cholesterol to bad cholesterol is fine, the overall number has always been troubling to me  At the launch event for Veg Tucson, which is a coalition and resource group for people choosing a vegan lifestyle, while attending lectures and demonstrations I asked the question of multiple presenters why I never saw a change in my cholesterol numbers during times of following a vegan diet.  I learned that some people genetically produce more cholesterol than others, which makes sense, as there is heart disease on both sides of my family.  While it doesn't necessarily have to be for the rest of my life, for people like me who naturally produce more cholesterol, if I want to see those numbers go down, I need to take a break on the oil, which includes all varieties (olive, coconut, sesame, nut oil... simply put no oils!).

Balsamic vinegars from Alfonso Oils
Always good to have a few of these in the pantry

How exactly do you cook without any sort of oil?  It's actually quite easy and fun, and took almost no adjustment.  Quite surprisingly, I found that I liked the taste of my food even better, and could leave ingredients much more simple, while tasting more flavor!  Wherever I might use oil, I have switched to using broth or high-quality vinegars.

To start with, I went on a tasting adventure at Alfonso Oils.  Alfonso's carries a huge selection of delicious balsamic vinegars which are rich and thick enough to use on their own, without missing the oil.  The black mission fig is my favorite, hence the larger bottle.  I recommend investing in the speed pour bottle topper, which is sold there, near the register, as it is self-closing, and eliminates the need to remove the cork each time you want to splash some vinegar on a dish.  You can taste as many varieties as you like.  My favorite combination on a salad is the black mission fig with a splash of grapefruit white balsamic vinegar.

I am not necessarily recommending that everyone go oil-free if it is not for them, but do play around with eliminating oils where you can in your cooking.  You will be surprised at how much more flavor you find in your favorite dishes.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Something's Sprouting!

For the past three years or so, I have not been able to get enough of super-fresh sprouts and micro greens from the Santa Cruz River Farmers Market.  It's hit-or-miss, as the timing of the farmers market is not always convenient for me, so I don't go that often, and the vendor who was selling them had disappeared for a while.  I was buying my sprouts from Diana Elbirt of Arizona Sprouthouse.  I'm not sure if she's still growing her delicious sprouts and micro greens in Tucson, but part of the appeal was that she brought them to the market still in their soil, and trimmed them fresh for each customer.

Why am I so obsessed with these particular sprouts and micro greens?  First of all, they are ridiculously fresh... I mean ridiculously!  I have tried settling for second-best a few times, meaning grocery store options, and have been terribly disappointed.  The fresh option from the farmers market are so delicious, complex in flavor and crisp that I always start eating them straight out of the bag on the way home.

I was pleasantly surprised when I stopped by the market this week.  From what I can tell, someone has taken over Diana's business, or is selling a similar variety of sprouts and greens.  I will investigate further and find out for sure, but judging by my taste buds, the product is just as fresh and delicious as I remember.  The pricing and sizing is a bit different, as the large bag of micro greens was $15 instead of $8, and was the size of a produce bag instead of a quart-sized bag.  I might be sharing some bags of micro greens with lucky friends or co-workers in the next few days!
Micro Greens 

The micro greens variety includes beet, pea shoots, sunflower and buckwheat.  The sprouts include raddish, mung bean, lentil, alfalfa and what appear to be garbanzo beans.  How to use these delicious fresh greens and sprouts, besides straight out of the bag?  I use them to top just about everything!  I love the contrast of a hot dish with the crispiness of the greens and sprouts.  A great example would be a vegan mac and cheese dish I made, topped with handful of greens and a sprinkling of the crunchy sprouts.

I love starting off the day with them too.  Pictured below is a toasted bagel topped with avocado slices, greens and sprouts.  I've been known to top pizza with greens and sprouts, toast with almond butter, and greens and sprouts on top of any kind of stir-fry.  Experiment!  Play!

For those who are eating a vegan diet, or just looking to add a healthy punch to their diet, the greens and sprouts together make a complete protein and have a full amino acid profile.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Each Spoonful Contains the Universe

Chef Carl Dooley poses with us at the Table at Season to Taste
“Each Spoonful Contains the Universe”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Buddhist teacher and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book How to Eat, explains that practicing mindful eating involves paying attention to each spoonful of food that you place into your mouth.  We pay attention, with the awareness that each bite is a gift.  This is how I would describe the four course meal I enjoyed at the Table at Season to Taste, a new restaurant from Robert Harris with Chef Carl Dooley in Cambridge, MA. 

Each time I’m in Cambridge or Boston, usually three or four times per year, I’m always on a quest to find “my place,” meaning a restaurant that will be on my list to visit every single time.  Ramen noodles at a hole-in-the-wall place at Lesley University is an automatic yes to visit every time, of course.  The Table is also now on the list.  I have to admit that I found out about it while I was watching the current season of Top Chef.  There are two chefs from the Boston area on Season 13.  Chef Carl Dooley has been doing quite well so far.  His new restaurant was scheduled to open on January 12, 2016 which was the day after I was heading back to Tucson, but fortunately I was able to get on the list for the soft opening.

Chef Dooley prepares an extremely well thought out Prix Fixe Menu each night, including three courses and a dessert.  I was able to order from both the regular menu and the vegetarian menu, which worked well together.  I used the Thich Nhat Hanh quote because each dish was clean and balanced, yet complex.  The portion size was just right for the amount of courses served.  There was enough to enjoy, without that uncomfortable feeling of being too full to enjoy the next course. 
House made bread with cultured butter.
I particularly enjoyed the house-made bread served with cultured butter.  Cultured butter brings out both sweetness and tanginess, which balanced well with the fresh mushrooms that were infused into the butter.  Given the chance, I could have enjoyed a snack or small meal of the crusty fresh bread and butter with coffee or green tea.

TOP: Salad of Roasted Sunchokes (Smoked Trout, Watercress, Whole Grain Mustard)
BOTTOM: Grilled Oyster Mushrooms (Hazelnuts, Currents, Lemon)
I chose the Salad of Roasted Sunchokes as my first course.  The thinly sliced apples balanced extremely well with the tanginess of the whole grain mustard.  The trout was fresh and delicate.  The textures were spot-on.  My daughter Logan is a great dining partner, as she instinctively knows to order a complementary dish, so I can try more than one thing.  The Grilled Oyster Mushroom salad with hazelnuts, currents and lemon was rich and earthy.  I enjoyed the delicate lemony vinaigrette. 
Whole Wheat Garganelli (Roast Broccoli, Black Trumpet Mushrooms, Parmesan)

Stew of Pumpkin and Quinoa (Black Garlic, Cilantro, Ginger)

I switched to the vegetarian menu for the second course.  Who can resist homemade pasta on a cold Boston night?  The Whole Wheat Garganelli did not disappoint!  Roasting the broccoli not only brought out earthy flavor to complement the mushrooms, but also ensured that the texture worked well with the rest of the dish.  Heavenly!  Logan chose the Stew of Pumpkin and Quinoa, which was also a great choice for a winter night.  I am picky about the texture of quinoa, and this did not disappoint.  I had not tried combining black garlic with pumpkin before.  This is a great flavor combination!
Glazed Local Hake (Celery Root, Meyer Lemon, Capers)

Roasted Celery Root Hake (Garbanzo Beans, Carrot Pickle, Green Apple)

Returning to the non-vegetarian menu, I selected the Glazed Local Hake for my third course.  I always recommend local fish in Boston.  You can’t compare the choice, freshness and availability.  This dish highlighted Chef Dooley’s classic French training.  The dish was rich, yet delicate.  The dish was buttery yet not heavy, and I am guessing there was white wine in the glaze, which was a nice touch as well.  Every flavor was intentional and belonged there.  Celery root is a great choice instead of a starch.  It really holds its own, so no need for something heavier, plus it had great flavor to complement the Meyer lemon and capers.  This was a clean-your-plate kind of dish.

In my opinion the winning dish of the night was Logan’s third course, from the vegetarian menu.  As much as I enjoyed the hake, the Roasted Celery Root Pave stole the show.  A pave is similar to a gratin, and is generally served in a square or rectangular shape.  This was an outstanding dish.  The flavors were layered perfectly.  Celery root adds such a nice richness to a vegetarian dish.  As I described in other dishes, each component was intentional and belonged in the dish.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Spice Cashews, Rum Ice Cream, Caramel)

Citrus Pavlova (Grapefruit Campari Sorbet, Graham Crumble, Lemon Curd)

We ordered both dessert choices at our table.  The Pineapple Upside Down Cake was served with spiced cashews, rum ice cream and caramel sauce.  The cake was served warm and was absolutely marvelous, the perfect comfort food.  The Citrus Pavlova was served with a grapefruit campari sorbet, graham crumble and lemon curd.  The sorbet was refreshing after a nice adventure for the palette.  I had to rely on my tablemates to try the Pavlova, as I am allergic to eggs, but it looked perfect… crisp on the outside, and creamy on the inside.

At the close of our fabulous meal, we were treated to a lovely surprise.  The pastry chef prepared granola bars, individually wrapped, for each of us to take with us.  I actually saved mine, and waited until I was back in Tucson to enjoy it, probably four or five days after this meal, and it was still delicious and tasted fresh!  The granola bar was made with sesame seeds and oats.  I would love to get the recipe!  (Hint, hint!)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Few Bites Missing

Eggs Benedict special with a few bites missing.

It's been a few months (sorry, more than a few) since my last blog post.  Working on my PhD and political campaign (running for TUSD Governing Board) meant that something had to move to the back burner.  Since this is a food blog, I guess the pun is intended?  When I've been out at events many people who I did not know were regular readers have asked for more regular blog posts, which is great feedback.  Thank you for letting me know you are reading, and watching for new posts!

Every time I have to drive two hours north, to the Phoenix area, I ALWAYS stop at Pomegranate Cafe, which is a vegan restaurant where *everything*, and I do mean everything, from breads and sauces to scrumptious desserts are made from scratch.  I always try the lemonade of the day, and am never disappointed.  Yesterday's candy cane lemonade, a blend of fresh raspberries and mint, did not disappoint.

How can you tell that you have found a spectacular vegetarian restaurant?  When your carnivore-boyfriend: A. doesn't complain about going there an B. goes there by himself when he is in Phoenix, even when he could have gone someplace to eat meat.  Our favorite dish is the Autumn Pesto Mac & Cheese Bowl, which is big enough to eat a hearty serving, and take a complete serving home for another meal.

I fly to Boston from Phoenix at least three times per year.  My usual routine is to stop at Pomegranate Cafe for a meal, and take my leftovers with me to eat on the plane, which makes the two hour drive to catch a flight worthwhile, not just to save money on a flight.

I stopped by for lunch yesterday, on my way back to Tucson after working at an event for Arizona's Children Association.  This was my first time enjoying a meal there during the day, so I was able to choose from either the breakfast or lunch menu, as breakfast is served until 2:00 pm.  Around 10 years ago I found out that I have an egg allergy, so I have not been able to Hollandaise sauce, let alone Eggs Benedict, in many years.  One of the daily specials was Eggs Benedict, with a Sriracha Hollandaise sauce, served with a side of potato hash.  Yum, yum, yum!!!  Every element of the dish was phenomenal.  The hash was surprisingly light, not greasy or heavy, with both Yukon gold and sweet potatoes, assorted greens and mushrooms.  The Hollandaise sauce was creamy with just the right amount of spice.  The portion was generous enough for a two-serving meal, so I will enjoy my leftovers for lunch today.

The next time you have to make a trek up to Phoenix don't miss out on a fabulous meal at Pomegranate Cafe.