Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Embrace Your Bread

I used to be a carb counter, panicking at the slightest mention of bread or pasta.  For months I avoided sandwiches, potatoes, and delicious pasta dishes thinking that if I didn't consume any of these treats weight would just melt off.  Dr. Adkins really did a number on me.

Then, I got a grip.

Carbs aren't bad for you, in fact you need them for energy.  The key, as with everything, is in moderation and choosing healthy carbs like whole grain breads, veggies, and beans.

Although, sometimes you want to dig into something that is crunchy and bready and totally satisfying.

Panzanella is a traditional Italian bread salad comprised mainly of stale bread and tomatoes dressed with olive oil and vinegar.  With summer's abundance of garden veggies, I like to throw some different veggies and herbs into the mix to bump up the flavor.  Add leafy greens as well, but remember the bread is the star of the dish.

So Mangia! Mangia! and say, "Arrivedreci, Dr. Adkins!"


This is the best way to use up bread that may be past its prime.  The bright, fresh flavors of garden veggies and balsamic make for a filling variation on a traditional salad. Play around with different veggie combinations!

5 cups whole grain bread, cubed
2 tbl olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large heirloom tomatoes (or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 English cucumber, 1 inch slices
1/2 large red onion, sliced
1/3 cup oil cured olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 cup baby spinach leaves

For the vinaigrette

1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbl balsamic vinegar
4 Tbl olive oil
salt n' pepper

Preheat oven to 450.  In a mixing bowl, toss together bread cubes, garlic and oil.  Season with a touch of salt, and transfer to a baking sheet.  Toast bread for about 5-7 minutes until golden brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

For the vinaigrette, whisk together garlic, mustard, and vinegar then drizzle in oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Combine croutons, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onion, and spinach.  Toss with vinaigrette, adjust seasoning if needed, and allow to sit for half an hour before serving.

Monday, July 9, 2012

It's Hot So Let's Get Pickled


Has it ever been this hot...ever?  Half of the country is melting away, and I am developing a seriously antagonistic relationship with my summer wardrobe.  How can you look cute when it's a gazillion degrees outside?

When it's this smeltering (that delightful combination of sweltering and melting), I tend to look for foods that help me feel cooler.  

I love all things pickled.  That bright and tangy splash of vinegar wakes up the senses and adds a ton of flavor to dishes without adding any fat.  I do a quick pickle on some red onions to add a bright note to tofu noodles for a super easy, non-cook meal that really satisfies!

Tofu Noodles with Pickled Onions, Cucumber, and Radish

Tofu noodles, which can be found in most Asian Markets, offer up a nice change to rice noodles or whole grain pasta.  Plus, you don't have to cook 'em!  Remember, tofu is a flavor sponge so allow the noodles to sit in a bit of the dressing while you chop!

Tofu noodles, 16 oz 
1 medium hot house cucumber
1 carrot, grated
5-6 radishes, sliced into matchsticks
Pickled Red Onion (recipe follows)
2 Tbl basil
2 Tbl cilantro
sesame seeds for sprinkling

2 Tbl olive oil
1 1/2 Tbl rice vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/8 tsp sesame oil (really just a couple of drops)
1 Tbl honey
salt 'n pepper

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together vinegar, mustard, and honey.  Slowly whisk in olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper, and add a couple of drops of sesame oil for a darker flavor (optional).

Place tofu noodles in a large bowl and dress with half of the vinaigrette.  Set aside.  While the noodles soak, chop your veggies and herbs.  Add them to the noodles and toss with the remaining vinaigrette.  Chill until ready to serve (can be made an hour in advance). Garnish with sesame seeds.

Pickled Red Onions

These bright and tart little guys are fabulous in the tofu noodle salad, and they can transform any chilled steamed veggie (think broccoli, green beans, or cauliflower) into a beautiful side salad.

1 medium red onion
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 whole star anise
1 1/2 Tbl pickling spice
1 bay leaf
4 whole cloves
2 dried red chiles
2 tsp salt
1 tsp honey

Slice onion in half, cutting through the hairy root end. Remove outside layer and discard.  Using a sharp knife, make thin slices toward the root end but not all to the root.  Once you have sliced the entire half, cut off root end.  What remains should be beautiful thin slices of onion. Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.  Add onion and simmer for five minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a glass bowl.  Allow to cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for one hour.

Monday, July 2, 2012

No Cook Cocktail Party

J and I had our first little get together in the Chicago digs:  a few friends over for cocktails and nibblies and then off to dinner.

And it was hot.

The challenge:  create delicious no cook nibblies that wouldn't fill us up, yet were fun and "elegant" enough for entertaining.

This is what was on the menu:

Pistachio Stuffed Dates
Tomato and Mango with Curry Basil Vinaigrette
Pea Puree with Avocado and Yellow Pepper
Kitchen Sink Hummus

So...I went a bit overboard, and we were a tad late for our reservations.  But a good time was had by all!  (And we still managed to chow down at the restaurant).

Try toting a couple of these delectable goodies to your next get-together!

Pistachio Sutffed Dates

Little bites full of yummy flavor.  If you can't find pomegranate molasses, reduced 1/2 cup pomegranate juice until it forms a syrup...same thing.

12 Madjool Dates, pitted
1/4 cup pistachios
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
unsweetened coconut flakes
pomegranate molasses

In a small food processor (or using a mortar and pestle if'n you want to work out), puree the pistachios with a tiny bit of salt and the oil for some encouragement until it forms a thick paste.  You may need to frequently scrape the sides.

Divide the paste equally among the dates (about 2 tsp per date).  Top with coconut and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Tomato and Mango with Curry Basil Vinaigrette

This recipe is actually adapted from a Mississippi Junior League cookbook.  It sounds weird, but the bright flavors and beautiful colors are a huge hit! So easy to make...like a Mississippi Junior Leaguer.  Sorry...I couldn't resist.

2 ripe mangoes
3 large heirloom tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp curry powder
10 basil leaves
1 tsp honey
salt 'n pepper to taste

Slice tomatoes and mangoes and arrange on a platter.

In a small food processor (or you can grab that mortar and pestle again), combine the remaining ingredients to create the vinaigrette.  Drizzle of fruit and garnish with basil.

Pea Puree with Avocado and Yellow Pepper

Peas are one of the few veggies of which I use the frozen variety.  Found in their native "freezer section," they defrost quickly and save you time shelling a bunch o' peas.

1 16 oz bag frozen peas
1 large avocado, cubed
1 yellow pepper, diced
2 green onions, diced
2 Tbl pesto (optional)
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
pinch of crushed red pepper
2 Tbl chopped cilantro
juice of 1 lime
salt 'n pepper to taste

Place peas in a fine mesh colander, and place in a shallow bowl of cold water so peas are submerged for 5 minutes.  This should completely defrost the peas.  Remove from water and drain thoroughly.  Place half of the peas into a food processor with olive oil, pesto (optional), cumin, red pepper, cilantro, and lime juice, and pulse until relatively smooth.  Transfer to a mixing bowl.

Fold in remaining peas, avocado, pepper, and onions.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for about 15 minutes, allowing the flavors to marry.  Serve with flatbread or tortilla chips.

Kitchen Sink Hummus

This is a basic hummus recipe that changes each time you make it.  I play around with different spices and herbs and end up putting everything but the kitchen sink into it.  This is one to unleash your inner improviser and play with your food!

1 30 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup water
2 Tbl olive oil
1/3 cup tahini
2-3 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbl red wine vinegar
salt n' pepper

Okay here's where you can go wackadoo with flavors.  Mix and match to suit your palate.

2 Tbl cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 Tbl fresh parsley
2 Tbl fresh cilantro

(You can add sun dried tomatoes, curry powder, cayenne, tarragon, onion powder, grilled red peppers, etc.  Play on!)

Place all ingredients into a food processor and whir away until smooth.  If the hummus is too thick, slowly drizzle in water with the motor running until the desired consistency is achieved.  Serve with your favorite veggies, pita, or corn chips.