Sunday, July 6, 2014

Moroccan Braised Kale over Wheatberries

(with a poached egg)

This summer, my coworker and I decided to keep a shared daily log of everything we ate and all the exercise we've done in order to feel a sense of accountability for a healthy lifestyle.  You've probably heard of this as a method of establishing better habits, but if you haven't tried it you absolutely should!  I also highly recommend pairing up with someone who is a gluten-free vegetarian...seeing that every meal on this log he's keeping is super healthy omelettes and salads.  I may return to school in August to find a rabbit sitting across from me in the office.

One of the benefits of this experiment has been a sort of mirroring effect.  Looking at PA's progress has been really impressive, and it has rubbed off.  So now, I find myself wanting to create more meals that are vegetarian, for example.  I've also found myself eating lots of eggs for protein, because that's his main protein source.  So, while this particular post includes wheatberries, the basic recipe for this braised kale is one I've been coming back to over and over again this summer.  It's a bit of a variation of both my Kale, Spinach, and Meatball Soup and Shakshouka, but without the meat.

I've found keeping the log is motivating enough to try and continue with it while I'm abroad for almost the remainder of the summer.  I know that sounds a bit crazy - and believe me I'll still allow myself a good lemon and sugar crepe in Paris, a waffle in Belgium, etc. - but I think it will be a good way to prevent a dietary nuclear meltdown.  Hopefully it also turns out to be a good way to document some great flavors I discover across the pond, and then bring them home and back to the blog when I return.  I know this is already only the second post of the summer, but surely I'll pick it up again with more regularity in August.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Greek Yogurt Almond Crust Tart


As much as I've been enjoying this summer of sunning on the deck, reading books, practicing my French for upcoming travels, running, and even trying to work a bit every day, it's been difficult to get myself back into summer form.  Despite the fact that there regularly seems to be a family or friend event that includes great food (at which I would never say, "No thanks, I'm on a diet," simply due to willpower, or lack thereof), I'm starting to get a creeping feeling that trimming down is getting increasingly harder as I ripen on the tree of life.  Either that or my daily runs simply don't compensate for sitting on my ass with a book the rest of the day, compared to standing and moving pretty much all the time when I teach. 

Whatever the case may be, I've always been a person that needs to put myself in situations where the bad options don't exist.  Because when they do - and as they will when I spend nearly the next month in Europe - I'm going to opt for them. I am human.   So, I decided to bring this Greek Yogurt Tart to a BBQ yesterday hoping it wouldn't disappoint those looking for some gooey cherry pie or something.

I really liked the ways this tart came out, but I love mildly sweet desserts.  It is reminiscent of cheesecake in its texture and tang, but not nearly as rich.  You could even do a graham cracker crust if you truly wanted to imitate a cheesecake, but I love almonds and this crust is also gluten free.  Also, like a cheesecake you could flavor the custard filling with whatever flavor you wanted (consider what fruit you like best with your yogurt).  Either add chunks of fruit right into the custard, or swirl in a good fruit compote/curd.  In fact, if you wanted to use this as a brunch/breakfast recipe, an oatmeal crust would be perfect.  So, it's certainly adaptable to your likes and needs. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Raw Zucchini Salad with Tzatziki


Has it really been less than a month since my last post?  I feel like I've been away for much longer than that, but maybe the transition to summer life just makes my previous life of blogging and teaching seem much further back.  

To be honest, not only have I not been blogging, but I haven't really been doing all that much cooking.  Instead, time has been made for some new hobbies (gardening), and the revival of some old, missed hobbies (French, reading).  Conducive for all of them, Garrett and I have really souped up the back porch, and the first days of summer have been spent sitting among the budding flowers and birds reading, listening to French language podcasts, and scientifically monitoring the growth of dill, basil, tomatoes, and peppers.  The scenery has even made getting work work done very non-stressful.

Speaking of the garden, thus far my research has proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that fresh-from-the garden herbs are a million times better than even the fresh stuff at the store.  The smell, flavor, and texture...all superior.  Here's a recipe you can use with fresh dill.  It's a great, refreshing salad for meals on the porch, and will only keep you in the kitchen for about 10 minutes.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Watermelon, Jicama, & Strawberry Salad with Balsamic Reduction


Hope you had a fabulous Memorial Day weekend stateside.  Mine included the standard American share of BBQed meats, eaten in excess, in good company.  I've been trying to the whole "take back the weekend!" thing, and if I've been succeeding at anything, it's been that.  Loyalists may have noted that I took last weekend off from blogging, and I'm sorry to say that made things a bit more relaxing as I slide into summer.

This afternoon, however, was one big (queue the screeching record) failure in the relaxation department.  People do household projects on long weekends, and I thought, "Hey, I'm a person," forgetting I'm not a household project person.  You see, ever since the murder of a backyard tree that was our glorious green summer canopy the back porch has been severely lacking in any ambiance.  Before the murder the back porch was once an English garden oasis that shielded us from the major interstate highway that is otherwise our porch view (plus a small sliver of the grand Chicago skyline).  After mourning the tree for years, Garrett and I finally got the gumption to head to Home Depot for some potted shrubs and blooms to spruce the place up again.  The first trip was a great success, and high on our green thumb abilities we went back a second time with more ambitious goals that included resoiling and outdoor lighting.   The third trip we trudged back, tails between our legs, to return half our rather expensive bounty and settle on the original hoard, plus lighting (that we never got to hang thanks to rain).  In short, three trip to Home Depot a relaxing day does not make.

But I did make some watermelon salad.  It's a nice little refreshing treat for any summer BBQ or dinner out on a well-groomed porch.  The watermelon and goat cheese thing isn't new, but I funned it up with some jicama and strawberries.  Those are totally optional.  I will say, if you are planning to transport this or prepare it ahead of time, take my word for it and leave off the cheese and dressing until just prior to serving.  Better yet, keep them off to the side and let your guests and co-partiers add them before eating.  Otherwise, the balsamic will just turn the whole thing a brownish color.  Part of the appeal of the salad is the bright colors that make it so fun for summer, so don't go ruining it like I did!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Bánh Mì Salad with Marinated Tofu and Japanese Ginger-Carrot-Miso Dressing


This is a really fun salad for this springtime weather we've been getting in Chicago (finally).  It began as a quest to satisfy my craving for that delicious ginger-carrot-miso dressing that used to be typically served in Japanese restaurants (but less so now, no?).   But, then, as I built the salad up with accoutrements, it evolved into sort of a bánh mì-inspired salad with many Southeast Asian flavors like pickled cucumbers, cilantro, and peanuts.  It certainly makes for a colorful presentation, so I brought it along for Mother's Day brunch.  

There are a bunch of individual components to the salad that are good recipes to have in-and-of themselves, such as the marinated tofu.  The same marinade could easily be applied to chicken if you wanted a meatier substitution.  The pickled cucumbers make for a very healthy snack to have around the house on hot summer days, and the dressing is ideal if you're being careful about your diet.  I don't think I've ever made a healthier salad dressing recipe that was packed so full of flavor.  Now that I think about it, if I had realized sooner that this was evolving into a bánh mì salad I would have added just a little bit of lime juice to the dressing recipe (now that limes are back in stock!).

If you happen to have any leftovers when all is said and done, it does actually make for a great sandwich for lunch the next day.  Just buy a baguette and pile on the tofu, dressing, and veggies (and maybe some sliced jalapeno) and... bánh mì!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gluten-Free No-Bake Date Nutella Bars

Tomorrow is the annual Sunday AP Euro Crash Course - the big pre-exam review session at which I attempt to pull thematic threads of European history from the Renaissance to the present in a last-ditch effort to bring all these facts back into my students' working memories.  Oh, and we eat a bunch of junk food to keep us going for three hours.  

Last year I got pretty creative with a set of four historically-themed mini muffins.  This year the most creative I could get was Nutella.  Because, like, Europe?

For a second I also tinkered with the idea of actually providing a healthy snack, like re-creating a granola or energy bar.  Some sort of brain food/bird food recipe.  Then I remembered that teenagers don't really give a damn about all that.  My zucchini muffins barely got touched last year.  But, in the process of searching for those healthier treats I did come across a raw caramel and peanut butter bar, which I modified (de-veganized and Europeanized (Nutella-ized)).  They are still gluten-free and no-bake, if those traits appeal to you.  If you want them vegan, use peanut butter instead of Nutella (as the original recipe suggests).  Most importantly, they taste fantastic. 

The bars come together very easily, and even more easily if you use melted chocolate chips for the top layer instead of the scratch-made coconut oil and cocoa topping.  Again, all depends on how many of the original vegan ingredients you want to hang on to.  The end result is a chewy crust (think Larabar) with a fudgy center and slightly firmer top layer of dark chocolate.  If you're making these for others, don't worry, there's plenty of empty jar and empty bowl-licking throughout the short process.