Saturday, March 29, 2014

Roasted Cauliflower Soup


As of today, there are twenty-two days until Easter, which means we're just past the midpoint of the season of Lent. As I've mentioned before, our family is Catholic, so we observe the three traditions of the Church for this progression toward Easter: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. For me, prayer and almsgiving are the easy ones....it's fasting that really gets my goat. I've been known to give up some pretty lame stuff for Lent (like this year's texting and driving, which, duh, I shouldn't be doing anyway) as well as fail miserably (like the year I "gave up" wine, ha). What can I say? Deprivation is intrinsically difficult. Thankfully we have a forgiving God! 

The one aspect of Lenten fasting that comes naturally for our family is the practice of going meatless on Fridays. We're already about halfway vegetarian. I like to think of us as one of those mixed breed dogs with silly names, like "Labradoodle" or "Bullnese." We would be "Vegemeaters," as in "meat-eater-vegetarian mix." Westminster Dog Show, here we come! (But not to eat the dogs--we're not that kind of meat eaters.)

Although doing without meat is something our family has grown accustomed to, it never fails that on Fridays during Lent, the one day my mind and spirit are saying no to meat, my body starts screaming, "BAAAAACOOOONNNN!!! FOOOOTLONG HOT DOG!! IN-N-OUT BURRRRRRGERRR!!!" I of course have to quell these protests by reminding myself that I choose to go without meat on Fridays for a very good reason. (Remembering Christ's suffering in the flesh on Good Friday.) But it also helps a whole lot to plan a vegetarian meal I'll really look forward to.

Like this Roasted Cauliflower Soup.

While it may not look like the most appealing vegetarian entree--in fact, it basically looks like oatmeal--the taste is phenomenal. The toasty caramel veneer of roasted cauliflower, a hint of nutmeg, a kick of black pepper--make it with homemade chicken broth and you'll really knock it out of the park. If I were going to open a Wildflower Bread-esque soup-and-salad restaurant, this soup would be in the regular rotation. Thinking about it throughout the day is enough to smack the hot dog screams into submission...until next week. 

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:

2 lb. head of cauliflower, cut into small florets
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
1Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 large onion, finely chopped 
1 1/2 c. milk
4 c. chicken broth

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425. In a small bowl, mix nutmeg, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
Spread cauliflower florets on a large sheet pan. Drizzle with oil and season with spice mixture; toss to coat.

2. Roast cauliflower in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, stirring once. When it comes out of the oven, mash lightly with a potato masher.

3. Melt the butter in a stock pot over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook and stir until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  

4. Sprinkle the flour over the onions and stir to coat. Slowly pour in the chicken broth and milk and stir with a whisk until the flour is dissolved. Bring to a boil and stir until thickened, then reduce heat to low. Stir in the semi-mashed cauliflower.

Serves 4 as a main course.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Pear Salad Stack


I guess I would say I'm a fan of any food that manages to pull off an optical illusion while also tasting delicious. You know, like a cake in the shape of a hamburger. Or truffles...(their optical illusion is leading you to believe that something so small couldn't possibly contain so many calories). This pear salad stack is its own trompe l'oeil, giving the clever impression that a piece of fruit magically unlocked like a 1990's Caboodle to let a delicious filling of goat cheese, almonds, and dried cranberries hop into its nooks and crannies. Basically, if M. C. Escher ever drew a pear, it would look like this. Thankfully, it's not nearly as complex and mind-bending as all that. This is probably one of the most interesting salad presentations you can get for the least amount of effort--just the kind of unconventional menu item that makes a lovely first course for a dinner party or a big hit with non-fruit-loving kids. The only downside is having to take it apart to eat it!

Pear Salad Stack

Ingredients:

4 large pears
3/4 c. dried cranberries
3/4 c. crumbled goat cheese
1/2 c. sliced almonds
Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Directions:

1. In a medium bowl, combine dried cranberries, crumbled goat cheese, and sliced almonds.

2. Slice pears horizontally into four equal pieces, then remove core from each piece using a sharp knife. (Alternatively, if you have an apple corer, use it to remove the entire core first, then slice into four pieces.)

3. On four individual plates, layer pear pieces and goat cheese mixture vertically. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar, if desired.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

6 Things to Remember After a Day of Poor Eating

I accuse...Miss Orange...in the pantry...with the Cheetos!

Sometimes I worry that this blog is a little too much like Woman's World magazine--you know, the one where the front cover pairs features on quick and easy weight loss with recipes for cookie dough fudge pie. (I'm not the only one who sees something wrong with this, right?) As a student of nutrition, I realize it may seem odd that on this blog I post recipes for things like chunky cheesecake brownies, lemon cookies, and carrot cake. Here's the thing: I love food, and that means I love delicious food. I've seen the blogs that try to pretend everything should be made with kale and quinoa, and they are NO FUN. Maybe this sounds nuts, but I actually believe, in terms of food and health, that you can "have it all." To a point. I believe you can eat sweets, fat, red meat, you name it--in moderation. I wouldn't last a day on any diet that made me give up an entire food category (except maybe beets and/or mushrooms. In fact, I think I'm already on that diet.). So while I'm not crazy about Woman's World magazine's blatant juxtaposition of cupcakes and trendy weight loss plans, I think even the strictest calorie counter can (and should?) eat a cupcake every so often.

That being said...

What happens when you too many cupcakes...or hot dogs...or Cheetos? We all definitely have those days, and for me, it's the easiest thing in the world to get discouraged when I come to the end of a day and realize I've totally overdone it and there's no going back. My self-talk then takes over in the form of a 1980's TV PSA:

It's 10 P.M.; do you know where your food is?

Oh yeah, it's rotting in your belly, you cavernous glutton!

This has happened to me enough times that I've given it a(n inordinate amount) of thought. So if you find yourself at the end of the day having royally botched it in the food department, here are 6 things to remember to keep you from getting too discouraged:

1. You can't "get fat" in one day. Odds are you did not consume enough calories in a single day to put even one full pound of permanent weight onto your frame. With that in mind...

2. Look at the week, not the day. If you've ever had a picky toddler, you've probably heard this from your pediatrician. And really, are we adults that different? Our health is not made or broken by a single day of eating indiscretion. It's the larger patterns that really matter.

3. Make a plan to start over tomorrow. We plan ahead for the things that are important--and healthy eating is definitely important. Countless studies have shown the power of writing down what you eat (or will eat). It's an empowering step that puts you in control. You probably know enough about tomorrow to know what's in your fridge/pantry if you're eating at home, or where you'll be going if you're eating out. Write down healthy food commitments and stick to them throughout the next day.

4. Your worth does not depend upon your weight. Even if you do gain a pound or two in one day--and even if you are not at a weight you are happy with--your worth is independent of your physical state. You are a human being created by God with purpose on this earth. Don't let negative thoughts distract you from this truth.

5. Ever heard of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis? It's the principal that our bodies expend energy (i.e. burn calories) in everything we do, even if it's not exercise. It's not an excuse to call reaching for the remote your exercise for the day, but it is something to remember when you feel your energy-in-to-energy-out balance is off.

6. DON'T GIVE UP. Whether you're on a weight loss journey or a maintenance plateau, the absolute worst thing you can do when it comes to eating right is to throw in the towel. Tomorrow is another day, and it's never too late to become a healthier version of yourself. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Lemon Cookie Sandwiches



So lately I've been on a history of food/food etymology kick. Because, hey, if you love food, isn't it fascinating to find out about its history? You never know what you might find out about a seemingly modest comestible. Today I was reading this excellent article on The History of the Sandwich--you know, like a normal person would do in their spare time--and let me tell you, there is more to the sandwich than one food stuffed between two slabs of another food. Here are few of the most compelling tidbits I discovered: 

  • The first recorded sandwich was made by the 1st century B.C. rabbi Hillel the Elder (but was it kosher?)
  • The Earl of Sandwich actually had a name (and it was not Earl, like I always vaguely assumed). His name was John Montagu, and his invention of the sandwich is the subject of hot debate. I bet Rabbi Hillel is rolling in his grave over the fact that we don't eat Turkey and Cheese Hillels. Also, Montagu was a patron of British explorer Capt. James Cook, which is why Cook named the Sandwich Islands after him.
  • The sandwich was not introduced to the United States until 1840, when a British woman named Elizabeth Leslie included it in her cookbook, Directions for Cookery. The recipe probably went something like this: "Put something between two slices of bread. Serves 1."
  • There's a restaurant in Florida called the Earl of Sandwich, founded by the Earl's descendant Orlando Montagu (gotta lay claim to the fame of the name, I suppose.)
You may be wondering why I'm going on about sandwiches when, clearly, the photo above is of cookies, not sandwiches...or is it?? Here's the question: are the above goodies cookies or sandwiches?

COOKIES!!!!


SANDWICHES!!!


COOKIES!!!

SANDWICHES!!!

Whoa, guys, let's not get in a Cookie Monster/Earl of Sandwich throwdown! (Though my money's on Cookie Monster if we do.) We can ALL get along here! Cookies and sandwiches are FRIENDS--see?





Look, it's the perfect marriage of both! These buttery, zingy lemon cookie sandwiches were somehow left off the list of classic sandwiches in The History of the Sandwich, but once you eat them, my guess is they will make it on your list of favorite cookies--or of favorite sandwiches. Trust me, these are yummy enough to earn a place in the history books....or at least your recipe book.

Lemon Cookie Sandwiches
(Adapted from Ldsliving.com and Great American Home Baking)

Ingredients:

For the cookies:

1/2 c. butter, softened 
1 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

For the frosting:

3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 c. and 3 Tbsp. powdered sugar

Directions:

Make the cookies: 

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease light colored baking sheet with cooking spray.

2. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl. Add vanilla, egg, lemon zest, and lemon juice and combine thoroughly. Stir in all dry ingredients until just combined.

3. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared baking sheet. Bake 9-11 minutes or until cookie bottoms begin to brown.

Make the frosting:

Combine butter, zest, and juice. Beat in powdered sugar at medium speed until fluffy.

Make into sandwiches:

Spread a layer of frosting on the bottom of one cookie. Top with a second cookie to make a sandwich!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Herb Batter Bread


What's your favorite tongue twister? I'm a fan of the "One Smart Fellow" classic: One smart fellow, he felt smart. Two smart fellows, they felt smart. Three smart fellows, they felt smart. (Sheesh, that's even hard to type!) Then there's my husband's favorite: One-one was a racehorse. Two-two was one, too. One-one won one race. Two-two won one, too. Tongue twisters pretty much guarantee laughs (though I try to stay away from the more dangerous ones, like the one about the fig plucker...). When I taught German years ago, I would start first day of the semester with an icebreaker: the students had to practice saying German Zungenbrecher ("tongue breakers") like Brautkleid bleibt Brautkleid und Blaukraut bleibt Blaukraut. Hilarious, right? ....right? 

The reason I bring all this up is that the other day I made this tasty Herb Batter Bread, and every time I think about it, I think of the old Betty Batter tongue twister. Come to find out (thanks, Wikipedia) the original verse was published in 1899 in The Jungle Book and read as follows:


Betty Botter bought some butter;
"But," said she, "this butter's bitter!
If I put it in my batter
It will make my batter bitter.
But a bit of better butter
Will but make my batter better."
Then she bought a bit of butter
Better than the bitter butter,
Made her bitter batter better.
So ´twas better Betty Botter
bought a bit of better butter.


Thankfully, this delicious bread is much easier on your tongue than articulating Betty Botter's butter mishaps. (Get it together, Betty Botter!) And incidentally, it's not bitter AND delicious with butter. As someone who doesn't own a bread machine, I'm always thrilled when I find a loaf bread that doesn't require bread flour and can be whipped up quickly without kneading and proofing and punching and whatever else you're supposed to do to most yeast breads. And it's wonderfully versatile--the fresh herbs make it a lovely accompaniment to a homestyle soup, a unique choice for a sandwich, or a breakfast simply toasted with butter. I guess what I'm trying to say is:

It's sumptuous served on a sandwich or slurped sopping with soup

and

It's a boon of a bread to be dotted with butter. No bitter batter in this herb batter bread--believe me, it's better than bakery bread!


Herb Batter Bread
(Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, Bridal Edition)

Ingredients:

2 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, divided
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 .25 oz. package active dry yeast
1 1/4 c. warm water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 tsp. dried parsley
2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary (or about 3/4 tsp. dried)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme (or about 1/2 tsp. dried)
1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Directions:

1. Grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. 

2. In a large bowl, combine 2 c. flour, salt, sugar, and yeast. Add in the water, olive oil, herbs, and garlic powder. Stir vigorously until thoroughly combined. Add remaining 3/4 c. flour a little bit at a time and mix until completely incorporated. Spread batter evenly in prepared pan. Cover loosely and let rise in a warm place for about 40 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake 40-45 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Double Cheese and Salami Calzone



Fun food word fact of the day: did you know calzone means "stocking" or "trouser" in Italian? Maybe because in Italy Santa Claus comes and stuffs your stocking with cheese and salami? Or maybe he stuffs your trousers with them? (If he does, I don't want to know...though I sense a good double entendre joke inherent in that idea.) Regardless, my impression of the calzone is more of a pocket than a stocking. In fact, a calzone is basically a classy version of a Hot Pocket (contradiction in terms?). Or, more likely, a Hot Pocket is the sleazy, microwave version of a calzone. After all, I'm pretty sure the calzone came first. If you've never had one, a calzone is essentially a pizza folded over on itself, making it less messy and more convenient to eat with your hands (speaking of class, right?). If you like pizza, you're sure to like calzones.

Unlike yesterday's apple barley salad recipe, nobody could mistake this double cheese and salami calzone for being healthy...though that didn't stop me from making it twice this week--three times if you count the fact that I made two of them last night. Because OH. MAN. it was crazy good and my family practically inhaled it. Also, it's ridiculously easy to make--even easier than pizza. I let my kids eat it in front of the TV during our family movie night of Disney's Robin Hood and they didn't even get any on the floor! See, I told you it was less messy than pizza! Pizza + less mess = ultimate kid food, though I would happily serve this to dinner guests, as the flavors of goat cheese, salami, and fresh thyme definitely cater to an adult palate. All in all an easy dinner for a weeknight, movie night, or for company!


Double Cheese and Salami Calzone
(Adapted from Epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

1 lb. store-bought refrigerated or homemade whole wheat pizza dough (I always use Trader Joe's)
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
3.5 oz. soft goat cheese, crumbled
2.5 oz. salami, sliced in half moons
1 garlic clove, pressed
2 1/2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

1. Remove pizza dough from refrigerator and follow package directions for rising. (Trader Joe's dough rises for 20 minutes.) If using homemade pizza dough, follow recipe directions for rising.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

3. Toss mozzarella, goat cheese, salami, garlic, and fresh thyme in a large bowl. 

4. Spread pizza dough in a large rectangle on a greased rimmed baking sheet. Mound filling crosswise on lower half of dough, leaving a 1-inch border on the sides. Fold the empty upper half of the dough over to cover filling. Crimp edges to seal.

5. Bake in preheated oven until puffed and brown, about 18 minutes. Brush with olive oil and cut into 4 pieces.

Serves 4.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Creamy Apple Barley Salad



I always seem to overdo it on the weekends. Between the excesses of date night on Friday and Sunday dinner at my Italian mother-in-law's, I frequently start Monday feeling like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Woman...(in terms of bloating, not like I want to destroy apartment buildings or anything). I'd really like to become as conscious about what I'm putting in my mouth from Friday night through Sunday as I am Monday through Friday. Today, a Saturday, I found myself feeling a little guilty--and, extraordinarily, still a little full--from the Culver's Oreo and cookie dough concrete mixer I allowed myself on date night last night. (If you don't believe me, or if you want to feel a tremendous amount of shame for ever having eaten one, check out the jaw-dropping nutrition facts on concrete mixers.) Seriously, wow. 

So this Saturday noon found me with the desire for something light and healthy for lunch. Weekend lunches at our house are usually cobbled together with random bits of whatever is left from the week--my husband always says I grocery shop as though a week has only 5 days. Sometimes the results are tasty, sometimes less so. (Tomato-shrimp omelet, anyone?) Today I realized that I had everything needed to make this creamy apple barley salad we had once before and I for one had really liked. It comes from one of my Real Simple cookbooks. What I love about Real Simple is that their recipes truly stand up to the name--more often than not, I have all the ingredients on hand. They make great use of standbys like salt and pepper, wine vinegars, Dijon mustard, yogurt, lemon juice, etc. Love it when I don't have to run out and buy $5 oyster sauce I'll use one tablespoon of in a year. (But, hey, no judgment if you're an oyster sauce nut.)

This recipe pairs the sweet crunch of apple and chewiness of barley against the backdrop of tangy Dijon and yogurt. Toss on top of a bed of spinach and/or arugula and boom, it's a salad! I added a bit of feta to give it some extra oomph, since this was my lunch in its entirety. (Adding cheese to stuff may actually be the best thing about being a semi-vegetarian.) Cheese or no cheese, though, this makes a nice light lunch or an interesting side salad for a simple entree like grilled chicken or fish. 


Creamy Apple Barley Salad
(Adapted from Real Simple Best Recipes: Easy, Delicious Meals)

1/2 c. pearl barley
salt and pepper
1/2 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large apple, thinly sliced
1/4 c. fresh mint, chopped
4 1/2 c. fresh spinach, arugula, or mixed greens

Directions:

1. In a medium saucepan, combine barley, 1 1/2 c. water, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 25-30 minutes, until water is absorbed.

2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Add the celery, apple, mint, and cooked barley and toss to combine.

3. In individual bowls, divide the greens. Top with the barley mixture.

Serves 2-3 as a main dish, 4 as a side salad.