Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Russian Classic

The one time I've been to Seattle was eight years ago.  My friend M.S. took me to the famous Seattle pier that I had seen only on Real World Seattle.  We visited all the different cultural food stations and finally decided on the tiny Russian stand that had the best Borscht M.S. had ever tasted.  It was so good!  I instisted that we come back later for seconds, but we never did.

Ever since then I have wanted to recreate that simple ethnic soup, but never got around to it... until this weekend.  Finally!  It's been eight years and the dish was as good as I remember.  Five years ago I bought a cookbook called The Soup Bible and had bookmarked the recipe for Borscht.  Why has it taken me so long to finally make it?!

First I had to find some fresh beets.  My faithful health-food store Henry's had them in the organic section.  While there I picked up mushrooms, onions, celery and dried thyme leaves.

At home I mixed them all together with fresh some lemon juice and half an apple and stewed it for about 45 minutes.  The recipe said the soup is best the day after it is made, but of course I couldn't wait.  I steamed the beet stalks and stems and cooked some barley as a side dish.  I don't know if the barley fits in with the whole Russian theme, but it was a delicious extra with the steamed leaves on top of it.  I garnished the soup with parsley and green onions.

Every recipe has it's own variations, but the one from The Soup Bible that I used was really good, so I would suggest using that one.  I would be happy to try someone elses recipe too though!

I'm starting to get this idea of cooking around the world.  You know, trying different recipes that represent different countries.  This weekend was Russia, where shall I travel to next?  The Czech republic perhaps, the country of my ancestors.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is it a soup? Is it a drink?

I remember one of my favorite things to eat/drink when I lived in Spain was gazpacho.  They sold it by the carton there, and it is one thing I missed most when I came back to America.  After ten years I finally decided to try my hand at making my own version of the Spanish cold soup.  It's perfect for a raw food diet and it's so delicious!  Especially on a day like today -- beautiful, sunny, and 85!  And in case you're wondering, it's January, by the way.  I actually felt like I was back on the Mediterranean coast of Spain.

I modified the recipe from a New York restaurant called David Burke and Donatella's.  I've never been there, but their version of Gazpacho is wonderful! 

2 ½ large tomatoes, quartered
¼ cucumber, diced
¼  - ½ red pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon sea salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a blender.

Dream that you're sipping this on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea... and enjoy...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Raw Food Cleanse

This week W and I are doing a raw food diet.  We are on day two and this is what we've been eating so far: 

Lots of veggies.  This is easy, because I already eat tons of these on a daily basis.  Now, it's just that instead of these for snacks -- it's our meal.  I had to post three pictures of the vegetables because they are so colorful and pretty!

For breakfast we are using our Sharper Image juicer to make huge glasses of fresh fruit juice.  This morning we used five oranges, a grapefruit, a pear and a mango to make these delicious drinks.  We also added a banana at the last minute which made it extra smooth and sweet.

I just thought I'd post a picture of our fridge, because it is jam-packed with veggie goodness, and although it looks like a jumbled mess, it just proves how hard-care we are with the raw foods this week.  The container on the top left of the fridge picture is full of something called "Liquid Gold Elixer."  It's from a raw food diet book and it is amazing.  I put a bunch of freshly squeezed lemon juice in a blender with raw soy sauce, honey and garlic.  We put it on our fresh salads, and it is so tart and garlicky and good!  I'm going to make this every week for our salads!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Split Pea Soup

Finally!  I put it off two times last week, and tonight at last I made the much-anticipated split pea soup.  To be honest, I don't know why I was so excited about this.  It's not like I'm a super huge split pea fan or anything.  I don't ever remember even eating the stuff growing up, and hardly have I eaten it in my adulthood.  There's a place I drive by on some of my travels called "Pea Soup Andersen's" and I get so excited everytime I pass it.  I finally stopped there in September to try this famous pea soup.  Before that, I honestly couldn't tell you the last time I had the green soup.  It was so good at Andersen's that I vowed to try a recipe at home.  Five months later and here we are.

At first I turned to the classic cookbook by Betty Crocker.  Since split pea soup is practically an American pastime, I was sure Ms. Crocker would have the best recipe.  I would simply substitute the ham with a veggie version.  But then I remembered my Skinny B* girls had a split pea recipe!  Once again Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin swooped in and stole the show with their amazing vegan recipe.  So far, I have not been disappointed with any of their recipes, and it just goes to show why the Skinny B series is number one in the country right now.  (World?)  I don't actually know what their statistics are, but I just saw the Editor-in-Chief of one of my magazines reading it in the February 2011 issue.

Anyway -- look up their recipe for Split Pea Soup and make it immediately.  It's better than Andersen's, I promise.

The Skinny B recipe doesn't say to blend it after it's cooked, but I did anyway and then added cooked barley for some extra thickness.  Let me just say that my husband has been skeptical and more than a little hesitant about this split pea situation; but he cleaned his whole bowl in five seconds flat before giving me a sheepish grin and announcing he was going back for seconds.  The warm, freshly baked bread didn't hurt the situation either.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Week in Review

As it turns out, I sometimes get too ambitious about my dinner menus for the week.  Especially when I made it last week -- I had been on Holiday vacation for about 10 days and had apparently forgotten how late I usually get home from work and how exhausted and starving I am.  Whoops.  Even last night when I was going to spend some time stewing the split pea soup, I realized it would go even better with some freshly made bread from my bread machine.... but by that time it was almost six o'clock and it takes about four hours for the bread to mix, rise, and bake.  I decided to just do the whole meal on Sunday.

So what did we eat this week?  Well, I already explained the quick but delicious pasta and salad dinner.  The day before that we whipped up some chinese stir-fry with mock duck.   You can find this ingredient in cans at Asian supermarkets.  However, it's probably not the healthiest thing in the world due to high levels of sodium found in all canned foods.  Hey, but it's better than the real duck alternative, right?  We added a frozen Asian vegetable mix to ours.

Last night, since the split pea soup was postponed again, we made fresh guacamole and quesadillas with Daiya vegan chedder cheese.  This stuff is pretty awesome.  It melts just like real cheese, and it's very smooth and creamy.  I hadn't used it to make quesadillas yet, but I thought they turned out great.  So yummy with some Tapa Tio and the guac.

Let me just take a moment now to talk about this device I used to make the most delicious, perfect guacamole ever.  It's called the Tupperware Chop n Prep.  We received it as a wedding gift from one of my friends who sells Tupperware, and it is amazing.

For guacamole --  I put the onions, tomatoes, jalepeno's, peppers, and even avacadoes in there.   Of course, not all at the same time, but as much would fit in there at a time.  It minced and chopped everything up so perfectly, that all I had to do was mix it all together in a big bowl with a few sqeezes of lime juice and a dash of salt!  Did I mention it was the best guamacole EVER?
(Okay, I know this is a stock photo from the internet, but I swear this is exactly what our guac looked like.  Lime and fresh jalepenos and everything!)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Not on the menu

I was looking at the recipe for split pea soup, which I have really been craving and is also on this weeks menu in case you can recall, and I saw that it needed to stew for 90 minutes!  Plus a 30 minute prep period?  I don't think so.  I am ravenous by the time I get home and I need a hearty, delicious dinner that's ready quick.  It was about 3:30 and I was already feeling the twinges of afternoon hunger and could hardly bear the thought of waiting much past the time I get home at 6:30 to eat.  I thought of what we had in the pantry that I could whip up quickly once I got home.  Pasta and salad!  A wonderful, classic dinner.  Totally gluten-free, vegan.

First, take a package of Quinoa pasta.  Cook it.

Second, take a can of tomato sauce and a can of stewed tomatoes.  Cook them together with fresh basil, parsley, garlic and onions.  Add red crushed peppers and five (or however many you want) frozen, veggie meatballs.

Third, make a huge salad with at least five different vegetables.

Finally, when pasta and sauce are ready -- put them together and eat while steaming hot.  It's so good you'll have to stop yourself from scraping the bottom of the pot, but control yourself and try to save some for tomorrow's lunch at least!

I like to eat the salad last because I don't want my pasta to get cold.  No matter at what part of the meal you eat it, don't forget to eat your veggies!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Skinny ----- (Rhymes with witch)

I have the two books in this series and I love them.

Despite their crude language, they actually have a really good message about being a vegan.  I was a vegan way back in college, but strayed away for several years before coming back to the diet last April.  Skinny Bitch was the first book I read during my re-transformation and I couldn't put it down.  This book reveals the myth behind society's belief that we "need" milk and meat in order to survive and be healthy.  The book instead provides much healthier alternatives to obtaining the proper amount of protein and vitamins by eating a plant-based diet.

Skinny Bitch in the Kitch is the companion book full of all these amazing, delicious vegan recipes.  Yesterday I made the Herbed "Egg" Salad and Mock Chopped liver.  The egg salad was so good, W and I scarfed it down while standing at the counter in the kitchen.  Unfortunately it was gone before we could get any pictures of it.  However, W's testimony is that if you add a dash of regular yellow mustard and a pinch of paprika sprinkled on top you get a deviled egg!

The Mock Chopped Liver is a little bit more "interesting."  I've never even tried real chopped liver, so I had nothing on which to base the taste.  However, when W tasted it he said if we brought it to a fancy party and called it Duck Liver Pate, no one would no it wasn't the real thing.  I tested it out on some coworkers today and someone who actually likes the real chopped liver said it tasted like Goose Liver Pate!

Who knew!

Herbed "Egg" Salad Scoops*

Mock Chopped Liver*

*Recipes are credited to Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Vegan Stuffed Shells

I have been making this recipe since college.  It is my absolute most favorite thing I make and whenever I bring it to a potluck, no one even knows it's vegan!

I got the original recipe from my mom, but over the years I've tried several variations in order to modify it and make it my own.  Today, I think I mastered it.  I swear this is the best Vegan Stuffed Shells dish I've made so far.  As I stuffed my face with shells and proclaimed how amazing they were (a bit proudly if I do say so myself), I looked at W.  He was just casually taking little bites here and there and not really looking like he was eating the most delicious thing in the world!

"Aren't these the best stuffed shells I've made?"  I asked him.
"Mmm-hmm... but I think they all taste good!"  He answered.  Not exactly the whole-hearted agreement I was looking for, but he did go back for seconds.  That counts for something.

This is what I did.  Try it this way or make your own variation.  I promise you will not be disappointed.

1 box of jumbo stuffed shells
1 can of tomato sauce
1/2 can of diced stewed tomatoes
1 package of medium-firm tofu, finely crumbled
1 package of Daiya vegan mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons of sundried tomatoes in oil
Half an onion finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
4 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups of frozen spinach

Add seasonings to the tofu mixture -- like salt, pepper, crushed red peppers and any other spices you might like.  Today I added a little bit of garlic powder and a couple tablespoons of nutritional yeast flakes.

How to put it all together:
Cook the spinach in boiling water for only 3 minutes, just so it's thawed.  Let it drain while you make the tofu mixture
Cook the jumbo shells al dente.
Meanwhile, combine the stewed diced tomatoes, tofu, 3/4 package Daiya cheese, sundried tomatoes, onion, garlic, and basil leaves.  Mix together well, adding seasonings and spices to taste.  Add spinach and mix all together.
Drain shells and run cold water over them so they aren't hot to touch.
Spread a generous layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Safe 1/4 can.
Take a shell, one at a time, and stuff a spoonful of tofu mixture into each one.  Line them up in the layer of tomato sauce in the casserole dish until the dish is full!  Carefully spoon the remaining sauce over the shells and sprinkle the last of the cheese on top of the whole thing.
Put it in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes.

Take it out, let it cool for about five minutes and then pig out.  It is THAT good.  I just ate some leftovers while I was writing this because my mouth was watering again.

2011's first healthy-eating menu

Every Sunday I do my grocery shopping for the week. Before I go to the store I make a daily menu.  I understand this might make me seem slightly obsessive-compulsive and more organized than I really am.  The truth is I just really like food and I like to cook.  Consequently, I actually really like planning our meals for the whole week!  It's also great because my husband likes to cook too, and when he sees what the menu is for the week, he can get it started while I'm still commuting home after work! 

This is our menu for the week.  (I don't assign them to a certain day so we can still have a little bit of flexibilty and spontaneity.)  Stay tuned for more detailed explanations.

1.  Stuffed Shells
2.  Caulifower Bake
3.  Roasted Shitakes and Baked Tofu
4. Split Pea Soup

"Egg" Salad
Mock Chopped Liver
Bean Salad Wraps
Roasted Garbanzo Beans

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Snacking 101

Carrots and celery are the best snack ever!  If you love that crunch of potato chips, try these stalky veggies instead.  They definitely provide that perfect crunch and they are full of Vitamin A and C which helps keep your skin looking youthful and your immune system strong.

I like to buy the 2 pound bags of carrots and celery at the beginning of the week.  When I get home, I take a few minutes to peel all the carrots, cut off the ends of the celery and slice them all into crunchable pieces.  I then put them in a storage container and cover them with water to keep them fresh.  Every time I want a snack during the week, I open my fridge and just grab a few!

Guilt-free snacking at its best.