27 April 2011

Potluck #2: Fennel with Green Beans

WTF. What the fennel?!

It's such a strange and random veggie, isn't it? When I first changed my diet a few months ago, I read somewhere that every time you go to the grocery store or market, you should buy at least one new vegetable that you've never cooked with, go home and look up a recipe for it. Although I haven't done this every time I've gone shopping, it's definitely helped me get over my fear of intimidating foods. I've tried and fallen in love with so many new flavors that I didn't know existed until recently: rainbow chard, jicama, bok choy, rutabega, daikon radish...fennel.

Fennel is actually pretty common in Europe, but it hasn't quite caught on in the States yet. Let's start a state-side revolution. The Fennel Revolution: Changing the world, one potluck at a time.

Sounds pretty exciting, huh. Ok, so maybe it's not the sexiest vegetable out there, but it does has a sweet and mysterious flavor. Anyone know what it is? It's subtle, so you might not be able to put your finger on it...

It's anethole! If you guessed it, I'm impressed. Most of us are more familiar with other fruits, roots and herbs that also have anethole in them like licorice, anise, stat anise. It's the distinctive flavor that you'll find in black licorice candy, some root beer, and various alcoholic drinks like absinthe, aguardiente and J├Ągermeister.

I love the taste of fennel, but I know it's not for everyone--it's not overpowering, though, so give it a shot even if you're not a black licorice fan. I especially like it roasted in the oven because the natural sweetness comes out so much. The salad in these pictures, however, calls for boiling and then sauteing the fennel. Combined with fresh green beans, italian parsley and sea salt, this is a winning sweet/salty salad. Bring this to your next potluck and all the guests will happily exclaim, "WTF!"

Here's how to make it:
Cut bulbs of fennel into chunks. Boil in water for 4 minutes with fresh green beans. Saute sweet yellow onion in oil or ghee (clarified butter) until the onion starts to become translucent. Add two cloves of pressed/chopped garlic. Drain fennel and green beans and run cold water over them so they don't cook anymore. Pat dry with a clean towel. Add fennel and green beans to the pan with onion and garlic, stir it all together so everything is covered with the oil/ghee. Saute for a few minutes, then transfer to a bowl and add chopped fresh parsley (I used flat leaf) and sea salt. Toss to mix.

26 April 2011

Potluck #1: Fresh Tomato and Quinoa Salad

Does anyone else feel like they are constantly going to potlucks, or is it just me? Now, don't get me wrong, I am not complaining at all. I love sharing food. In fact, if you ever want to make my day, the next time that we're at a restaurant together, just tell me that you'd like us to order two meals and split them. I will probably flip out, give you a huge hug and not let go, and continue to overreact out of sheer joy for the remainder of our meal. Don't ask me to explain, it's just the way I am. Tapas, finger foods, hord dourves (I never remember how to spell it...) hors d'oeuvres (copied and pasted from Google), potlucks...they are all my favorite kinds of meals. Maybe it's because I don't have to make a decision about what one thing to eat...

Shoot. Yep, that's it. Indecisiveness. The truth comes out. Let's not focus on my flaw, though, let's move on to the good stuff. Like, what I'm bringing to the next potluck. 

Quinoa. Someone told me the other day that they get nervous pronouncing this word when they're around me. I'm not really sure why that person is talking about quinoa so much around me, but gosh, I hope I'm not that scary. While we're on the subject, though, it's "keen-wah". It's from South America, it's high in protein and it's so hott right now. Quinoa is the new rice. I love mixing it with all kinds of veggies and beans to make delicious salads and sides. The colorful one above is super easy to make. Here's how: 

First, before you cook quinoa, make sure that you soak or rinse it thoroughly. There's a natural coating on it called saponin that can give some people a stomachache. Most packaged quinoa sold in the States has already been soaked to remove the saponin, but rinsing it off again before cooking is still helpful. Then, cook quinoa according to package directions, but substitute vegetable or chicken broth for half of the water. Add a bit of olive oil and salt, too. Quinoa, like most grains, is a little bland on its own, but prepared with broth, oil and salt it turns out moist and flavorful. Next, add tomatoes, bell peppers, fresh cilantro, sauteed onions, lemon or lime juice, olive oil and sea salt. Toss it together. So fresh and pretty looking!

For the next few posts, I'll share some other easy sides and salads that I like to bring to potlucks. Now, for your reading enjoyment, here's a list of synonyms for the word "potluck" (none of which I suggest using in place of the word "potluck"): spread, Jacob's join, Jacob's supper, faith supper, covered dish supper, bring and share, pitch-in, carry-in, bring-a-plate, smorgasbord, dish-to-pass...

22 April 2011

Pumpkin Pie

Nothing celebrates the start of spring quite like a slice of pumpkin pie.

Ok, maybe not, but isn't it a shame if we only eat pumpkin pie once a year? You were maybe expecting a carrot, chocolate or egg recipe this week, but you must remember...my kitchen is untamed, so you never quite know what's gonna come out of it. :)

How about we make pumpkin pie an Easter tradition? Who's with me? Even better, let's celebrate Thanksgiving in the spring too. Sound crazy? Well, just tell that to my friends Brook and Cara. A few weeks ago, they invited some friends to a springtime Thanksgiving feast. The idea came about because Brook had received a frozen turkey from Vanderbilt, where he works, and the bird had been taking up their precious freezer space since November. They decided to thaw it out and share the love.

The rest of us took care of the sides, and I supplied the pumpkin pie. There was so much delicious food. I think I counted about eight different kinds of potatoes. Somehow, though, I still managed to eat two pieces of pie.

At first, I was unsure how successful my attempt at a pie would be because the crust is so important, and I'm pretty sure that gluten is a key factor in most good crusts. I scoured the internet for recipes and found this one on Elana's Pantry that sounded like a winner. I changed the recipe up a little and it turned out great.

I predict that I will be making this crust for years to come. It's so simple to make and it's flaky, nutty and completely grain free...who would've thought that was possible?

All this needs is a dollop of coconut cream on top...

The original plan for our Thanksgiving meal was to have it picnic-style in the backyard, but the rains came, so we moved indoors to my friends Jen and Katie's house. I have some seriously talented decorating friends.

I mean, this could be in a magazine.

The pumpkin pie was delicious, but it came in second place as my favorite part of the night. The best part was after dinner when Matt (below, on the left) sat down at the piano and started taking requests. Pretty soon we all joined in and had a giant sing-a-long. We sang classics by the Beatles and Elton John, and then we moved through the greatest radio hits of the 90's--Weezer, the Verve Pipe, Matchbox 20, etc. It was incredible. The kind of thing that you think only happens on TV.

It was a magical evening. I have plenty to be thankful for to necessitate two Thanksgiving celebrations a year. And I have plenty of room in my stomach to necessitate at least two pumpkin pies a year. Hopefully this will become a tradition.

Happy Easter! Enjoy your weekend. While you're at it, why not whip up a pumpkin pie. Here's how you can:

Pie Crust
1½ cups almond flour
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ cup melted coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325F. In a medium bowl, combine almond flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. In a small bowl, combine oil and vanilla. Stir wet ingredients into dry. Dough will be crumbly. Press dough into a 9.5 inch pie dish. Poke holes into bottom of crust with a fork. (Cover edges of crust with foil so they don't burn when you bake whole pie.) Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. When done baking, remove foil and set aside to cool for a couple minutes. While the crust is baking, you can prepare the pie filling.

Pumpkin Pie Filling
3 eggs
1 15 oz can of pure pumpkin
1/2 cup coconut cream (the thick cream that forms when full fat coconut milk separates in the can)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp stevia powder (or adjusted to your taste)

Turn oven up to 425F. Whisk eggs, then add remaining ingredients and stir until combined. Pour into warm pie crust. Bake at 425F for 15 minutes. Then, turn temperature down to 350F and bake for an additional 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean from the center of the pie. Serve by itself or with coconut cream on top (the thick creamy stuff that's at the top of a can of full fat coconut milk).

18 April 2011

Oven Fried Hot Chicken

Lots of people are familiar with Nashville's music scene, but did you know there's something else that Nashville is known for? Something that will make your heart beat faster and raise your blood pressure higher than the latest Taylor Swift hit? I'm talking about Nashville Hot Chicken.

Before I moved here I'd never heard of hot chicken, but now I know that it's serious business. Not only do locals make hot chicken runs at 2am to satisfy their cravings, but there's a whole Hot Chicken Festival to celebrate and compare the different varieties. Most Nashvillians will tell you that even though many try their best, there's really only one variety of hot chicken, and that's the infamous Prince's Hot Chicken.

I can't claim to be a hot chicken expert by any means. I love spicy food, but I prefer being able to taste the flavor of the food I'm eating instead of just feeling it (especially if feeling it means that the fiery sensation starts in your mouth and then travels through the entire digestive tract). I'm also pretty sure that Prince's doesn't cater to people on gluten, dairy and sugar free diets--this is one of those cases where the original recipe just can't be altered. I don't blame them. They've got a pretty solid thing going with their lard-fried chicken and white bread. Every once in awhile, though, those of us with food restrictions just want to share in the fried, hot chicken goodness. Now we can.

First, the setup. Preheat your oven to 375F. Fill the bottom of a glass baking dish with grapeseed or coconut oil. Next, pour your gluten free flour on a plate or shallow bowl. I used Bob's Red Mill All Purpose Gluten Free Flour. Then, crack a couple eggs in a bowl and whisk them together. On the third plate, mix almond meal with a generous amount of chipotle or cayanne pepper powder.

Now the process. Take your (organic, free-range) chicken drumsticks and dry them off with a towel (this will maximize their crispiness). Sprinkle them with sea salt. Then, dip them in the flour until covered, next the egg, then the almond meal mixture (the almond meal will become gloppy and gooey from the egg, so start with a small amount of almond meal mixture and replenish as you cover the chicken legs to keep it dry and fresh). Place them in the baking dish and bake at 375F for 30 minutes. Flip them and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes until crispy.

This may not be Prince's, but it tastes pretty dang good, and this hot chicken won't clog your arteries or give you an ulcer. Which means you'll live longer so you can eat More. Hot. Chicken.

Note: This chicken isn't really that spicy. You can adjust the level somewhat by adding more pepper to the almond meal. I think next time, though, I'll rub the chicken and marinate it overnight in a mixture of chipotle or cayanne pepper, lime juice, and sea salt. Then, I think the hotness will seep into the meat instead of just being on the outside. Let me know if you try this...

14 April 2011

Spicy Red Bean Veggie Burgers

As far as I'm concerned, there is no contest whatsoever about which store-bought veggie burger brand is the best.  

Sunshine Burgers win hands down. Have you tried them? They're not like those veggie burgers that try to taste and look like meat. Most of those kinds have an ingredient list so long, you can barely call them veggie burgers. Sunshine Burgers don't taste like meat...they're not meat, after all. My favorite flavor is Garden Herb. They only have five ingredients and they taste amazing--like nothing else you've ever eaten, especially not meat. Please do yourself a favor and try them. They make a quick, easy, healthy meal!

For those of you who have a little more time on your hands and not as much cash in your wallet, you can try my new second favorite veggie burger. 

These burgers are based on this recipe, but with a few tweaks. I added some sunflower seeds to pay homage to Sunshine.

This picture was taken a couple days after I made the veggie burgers (I rolled it up in a collard wrap for lunch). They stayed together pretty well, but were starting to get crumbly. At the time, I didn't have a food processor, so I just mashed the ingredients together as I stirred. With a food processor, I think they would have kept their patty form quite nicely.

Speaking of food processors. I didn't have one when I made these burgers, but now I'm the proud owner of this incredible machine! Can you tell I'm excited?!!!

Back to the burgers. They tasted great--good texture and lots of flavor. I froze half because the recipe made such a big batch.

These are great on salads, in wraps, or on a (gluten, sugar, dairy free) bun. Yum.

Spicy Red Bean Veggie Burgers 
1 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 cup chopped carrots and bell peppers (or your veggies of choice)
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/2 cups cooked adzuki beans (any red beans would work)
2-4 Tbsp salsa or diced tomatoes (I used 3 Tbsp of these. Just make sure your salsa or tomatoes don't have added sugar!)
1/2-2 tsp chipotle powder (adds a nice smokey flavor and some spiciness. Use less if you don't want too much heat!) 
2 tsp mustard (I used this.)
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350F. Saute onion, garlic and veggies until soft. Mix together all the ingredients in your food processor until combined. If you don't have a food processor, stir together all the ingredients with a spoon and try to mash the mixture as you stir (so it all sticks together). Put the mixture in fridge until it's completely cool. Remove and form into burger patties. Place patties on a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 35 minutes, then flip and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the burgers are lightly crispy on the outside.

11 April 2011

Johnny Cash's Cowby Boot in My Bag of Carrots

First, some business. I finally got a chance to make my "Recipe" page. Click on the tab above to check it out. You'll also notice that there's a link to the Tikka Masala post...yes, there's a recipe for it now! Thanks for your patience. One of these days, I'll add a little something "About Me". Until then, I will leave you with this.

I found a cowboy boot in my bag of baby carrots.

Since I live in Nashville, I like to think that I had a Johnny Cash cowboy boot sighting. 
What could it mean?

It's kind of like seeing the Virgin Mary in your grilled cheese sandwich or Mother Theresa in your cinnamon roll, but with a honky-tonk twist. (No less spiritual, though. We're talking about the Man in Black.) Hmmm, I should market this thing and sell it on Ebay for millions...

Too bad I didn't think about that BEFORE I ATE IT. Yes folks, I ate Johnny Cash's carrot boot. And it was good. Have a great Monday.

08 April 2011

(Perfectly Creamy) Sesame Coleslaw

Whose favorite picnic food is coleslaw?!


Yeah, me neither.

Until now. This Asian-inspired, perfectly creamy slaw might just change your mind too.

Lately I always seem to have cabbage in my refrigerator. I like to keep it on hand because it's generally inexpensive and it's super nutritious. Cabbage is another one of those things that I love pretty much no matter how it's prepared...unless it's drenched in mayo and barely recognizable, as often happens with coleslaw. Women over 90 especially love to bring mayonnaise saturated salads to church potlucks for some reason. I'm pretty sure my grandma even made a jello salad that had mayo in it. Pecans and pretzels too. I wonder what her thought process was with that one?

"Hmm, let's see, what else can I add to this nuclear-waste-colored gelatin to make it's texture even closer to vomit..." (I'm sure I just committed a major food blog faux pas by using the word "vomit".)
Sorry, back to cabbage. 

The other night I needed to make something quick, which can be hard to do when you have food restrictions.

I pulled out some cabbage and carrots and cut each into 1/4-1/2 inch strips and pieces--I'm not a fan of super shredded veggies in salads. Next, I threw them in a bowl with a couple tablespoons of tahini, 2-3 teaspoons of Bragg's Liquid Aminos (soy sauce or tamari would work too), a dash of lemon juice, cilantro and sesame seeds. I stirred it around until the veggies were covered and then sat down to eat.
Easy peasy. Picnic perfect.

04 April 2011

Intense Chocolate Cake

This chocolate cake is not for the faint of heart.

If your definition of good chocolate includes this,
or these:

then you might not like this cake.

(No offense to Tootsie Rolls or hollow bunnies, but can they really be categorized as chocolate?
Is cocoa even listed as an ingredient?
Btw, I love how Tootsie has a page about "Healthy Living".)

When my friends and I were deciding the menu for our evening of cooking, I mentioned chocolate cake because I'd been wanting to try both Katie's recipe and Alex's recipe for quite some time. I'm really bad at making decisions when all options are good, so instead of choosing one recipe over the other, I did them both. I took the parts from each that I liked the most and combined them into one recipe.

My sugar eating friends who tried the cake said they liked it, but they might need to slowly work up to that intensity of chocolate. I loved it, but then again, I do eat 100% chocolate bars.

I'm constantly amazed at how my body doesn't crave sugar anymore--I just don't even want it. (And this is the same girl who used to come home from school in 6th grade and eat countless Twizzlers or one of those individual fruit snack pies while watching the Rosie O'Donnell Show. Everyday. Oh Rosie...)

If you don't want to feel bloated or sluggish after eating chocolate cake, give this a try. It's so good for you, that you can even eat it for breakfast!

Intense Dark Chocolate Cake

2 eggs

3/4 cup coconut milk (I used So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage)
1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup pumpkin or sweet potato puree
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 cups almond meal

2 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp baking soda
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1.5 tsp stevia powder (or to taste)

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix milk and lemon juice and let sit for at least 10 minutes. Stir together dry ingredients. Whisk eggs and add pumpkin puree and vanilla. Mix egg mixture with milk/lemon juice and then combine wet and dry ingredients. Batter should look like a thick chocolate pudding. Pour into greased muffin tin or round cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.