17 June 2008

Into the garden...

Nothing new to report here - still eating lots of salads that are honestly pretty boring. However, I did take a couple pretty pictures that I thought I would share of my garden.

I recently purchased 2 of these stunning dahlias at our local farmer's market. The grower was very friendly and talked my ear off - in a good way! She said that her supplier sent her the cuttings on trial dahlias to see how they worked out (I think they are working on perfecting a new color). They worked out as far as I am concerned because I got to bring them home! The blooms are so gorgeous, but I am not sure I captured the nuances in color with my camera. The center is a brilliant yellow pin-cushion, and the inner edges of the petals are a fascinating lilac fading into orange and then pink. If I could describe iridescent using a flower, I think this might be the one. I hope they live!

The same grower had several lovely begonias. I don't think this one has a fun back story, but it just really caught my eye. I love brilliantly colored flowers, and this one hasn't disappointed yet! Best of all, it hasn't stopped blooming since I brought it home 3 weeks ago!

Hot Weather Cooking: Take 2

I have an embarrassing secret to tell you. I love iceberg lettuce. Like if I could only eat one lettuce for the rest of my life, iceberg and romaine would have a throw down, and I am not sure which would come out on top. It would be a battle to the death methinks. There are those of you out there who understand (Dad) my obsession with the crisp, crunchy, watery lettuce. And, of course, there are those of you who think I am nuts (Laura) because iceberg has no real flavor. I would disagree, and suggest that iceberg merely as a very delicate flavor and really is more about texture anyway. I know iceberg has come back into fashion of late with the wedge salads that are ubiquitous on steak house menus around the country. But I prefer the lettuce chopped and tossed with lots of other ingredients to make a delicious, summery, crunchy dinner.

I think my love of iceberg is somewhat genetic. No dinner was complete without the family salad - torn (not cut) iceberg lettuce, little sliced rounds of carrots that were impossible to get your fork into, sliced celery (don't you dare throw out those hearts!) and 2 side dishes - one with beautiful ruby red canned whole beets and one with big, fat, black canned olives. The dressing? Olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add salt and pepper only if you dare. I love this salad. I still crave it - my mom always has it for me on my birthday. In fact my mom will often call me at work and entice me to come over for dinner by saying "But we are having saaaallllaaad". Evil temptress. I usually end up over at my parents' house, still chomping away at the crunchy lettuce and chasing those damn little carrots around my bowl with my fork. I love a nice red leaf lettuce salad, or some beautiful spinach topped with apples and cheddar, but my heart truly belongs to simple iceberg salads.

So tonight for dinner I surveyed the contents of my refrigerator and came up with a simple, yet delicious, salad. I had some left over grilled boneless, skinless chicken thighs, that I chopped into bite size pieces. I tossed the chicken with crunchy chopped iceberg lettuce, sliced local cherry tomatoes, chopped local cilantro, sliced avocado, and topped it off with a hearty grating of local Meadow Maid Colby cheese (that is to die for!). The dressing was simple - red wine vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper - would you expect anything more?!

14 June 2008

Hot Weather Cooking: Take 1

I am cheap.


Super cheap. Like it is over 100 degrees inside of my house, and I refuse to turn on the air conditioning cheap. Like my dogs are preparing a coup where they duct tape me to my bed and figure out how to get the air on- bills be damned! Yeah, I am a little crazy, but I figure the insane temperatures cannot last. So I (along with Crash and Millie) continue to suffer. Is this where I insert a joke about the dog days of summer?

So what do you eat when standing in your kitchen sends rivulets of sweat streaking down your back and chest? When cooking seems slightly less enticing as a drip of sweat slides down your nose and splats on your cutting board? If you are anything like me, you have a couple very simple staples like cottage cheese mixed with chopped tomatoes and green onions or vanilla yogurt mixed with fresh fruit. But those dishes can get a little old, especially with all the beautiful produce turning up at the farmers' markets at this time of year. So the natural progression for me - salad. The cooking is minimal, if non-existent, and the end result is usually light, satisfying and pretty.

Last week for dinner, it was a Fish Taco Salad - minus any tortilla. I made guacamole, pico de gallo, and sautéed a turbot fillet in a dash of olive oil and lime juice. I drizzled the salad with a dressing made of light sour cream, lime juice, salt and big spoonful of pureed chipotle in adobo sauce. Definitely fit the bill - light, spicy, gorgeous and delicious!

08 June 2008

Another Banana Recipe?!

When I first started working out with Kali and Molly, they really encouraged me to investigate protein shakes. When you are weight lifting, it is important to get enough lean protein in your diet to help rebuild the muscles after working out. I think it is also very important to get enough lean protein to build additional muscle. Anyway, for someone like me who feels a little overwhelmed at eating chicken 7 days a week, I needed to find other lean protein sources. So I started experimenting with protein shakes. I first started with soy. Then I heard about studies that were showing too much soy in your diet can screw with your hormones. I definitely don't want that. So then I bought some whey/egg white protein powder. This one tastes like crap. I cannot find a way to hide the flavor of the powdery egg whites. I think by trying to disguise the protein powder, I ended up making the shakes more caloric and sugary than really necessary. I would add a banana, then vanilla yogurt, then frozen berries, then maybe a sprinkle of raw sugar or honey. The so-called healthy protein shake was turning into a heavy, sugary meal! I decided to put my protein shake discovery on hold for awhile. But I already had all these darn bananas. What was a girl to do?

Well first of all, I let the bananas sit on my counter for probably twice as long as I should have, and then I popped them in the refrigerator for "another day". There was a whole bunch of bananas, so I had some baking to do before they got too rotten. I didn't want to freeze these bananas because I already have some in the freezer to use later. So I started searching for banana recipes. I did pretty well at first - I made the awesome Blueberry Banana Bread I posted about here. I think I also made a couple other muffins or breads that didn't end up being blog-worthy. And then there were two bananas left. Just sitting in my fridge, looking forlorn and ignored. I would shove them aside to grab for something else and think I should really use those sad, brown bananas and promptly forget about them.

However when I challenged myself to clean out my fridge, I knew I had to use those bananas. I also knew I had to make something extra tasty because the co-workers had been complaining that I forgot about them lately. I received a very sweet, slightly back-handed compliment, when one of them said "I woke up today hoping Josie would bring a treat in, and then she didn't *sigh*". Pretty soon they will have some serious expectations a la Joe over at Culinary in the Country.

Well I think I delivered since the 9"x9" square pan of Banana Lime Snack Cake was consumed in one day by about 5 people, who were constantly sighing in pleasure while chewing. I was very flattered and will probably bake something for them again - although the disgustingly hot weather needs to go away in order for me to spend anytime in the kitchen!

My recipe was inspired by the Banana Lime Cake at Bake Decorate Create.

Lime Banana Cake with White Chocolate Chips

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 extra large eggs
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed
2 teaspoon grated lime zest
3/4 cup cottage cheese
1 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9x9" square ceramic baking dish and set aside. In a large mixer, cream the butter and sugar, add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy. Add the lime zest, vanilla, lime juice and bananas and beat. The mixture will appear slightly curdled. Sift the dry ingredients together and add in 2 parts, alternating with the cottage cheese. Stir gently to combine but do not beat. Mix in the chocolate chips. Bake for about 45-55 min in the center of the oven (I had to check mine a couple times). This is really yummy cake. The top gets pretty dark while baking so cover with foil if it bugs you.

03 June 2008

Hallelujah Strawberries Have Arrived!!!

Rhoads Farm, my current most favorite local farmer, showed up at the North Market last weekend with strawberries. My lovely friends Brian and Allison picked me up a quart while I was off cavorting in Connecticut. Wow am I lucky to have such nice friends! I think I would have kept all the strawberries to myself if I had been in charge! Luckily, they didn't eat my quart of strawberries and after a couple misfires, I finally got over to their house tonight to pick them up. Allison graciously gave me a few other goodies like a delicious big red tomato and a bag of interesting-looking green things from her CSA. We think one of the green things is oat grass... I am pretty sure I made whistles out of oat grass when I was a little girl, so I am going to have to research that one. But I digress, back to strawberries...
The berries are plump and sweet and scream SUMMER! I had to restrain myself from eating the entire box tonight. I somehow doubt Molly and Kali would approve of a quart of strawberries in one sitting... so I compromised and only ate half the quart tonight! I feel very virtuous. :) I tossed the strawberries with a couple simple ingredients and gobbled them up so quickly I didn't even have time to take a picture. I took pictures of the remaining half quart after the fact - so I guess my blog is prettier because of my virtuousness.

Simple Strawberry Dessert for One
Handful of Strawberries, stemmed and sliced in half or quarters
Juice of 1 Lime**
1-3 t sugar (to taste)
2 T Creme Fraiche**

Combine the Creme Fraiche and sugar in a small dish. Sprinkle the strawberries with the lime juice. Drizzle with the sweetened Creme Fraiche. Stab anyone who tries to take a bite.

**Both the lime and the Creme Fraiche were wallowing away in the back of my refrigerator, so this dessert even helped me to stick to my resolution of cleaning the fridge!

02 June 2008

Got Miso? Make Dinner.

I am in refrigerator clean-out mode. I am not sure if it is the time of year - the abundance at the local farmer's markets requires more refrigerator space, or maybe it was just my mood this afternoon, but the shelves of my fridge are being cleaned out. I am attempting to avoid the grocery store this week, which is a bit of a challenge since I haven't been since last weekend (as in a full 7 days ago), and I didn't goto any farmer's markets this weekend (I was in Connecticut). I plan on hitting the farmer's markets this weekend which leaves me 5 days to clear out the refrigerator. So as I was shuffling items around, and, sadly, tossing some bell peppers and beets that had gone bad, I discovered an unopened container of tofu cubes. Of course the use by date was about 2 months ago... but it had never been opened. So I turned to my friends at the CLBB, and it only took one reply to convince me to use the tofu cubes. I applied my "dairy rule of thumb" to the tofu - if it smells okay and isn't growing something funny, eat it. Of course, I don't recommend any of you follow this rule of thumb and please don't sue me if you do! ;)

Excuse me while I get slightly off track to mention how wonderful these tofu cubes are to keep on hand for quick meals. I wasn't too sure about tofu, especially since I discovered I do not like the silken version "hidden" in things like smoothies. I have always enjoyed tofu in dishes like Pad Thai, but it doesn't really fit the bill for the healthier way I am attempting to eat at the moment. I grabbed the box of Nasoya Organic Cubed Super Firm Tofu on a total whim, and let it sit in my fridge for a long time before trying it. It is the greatest convenience food! I simply drain it while I prepare whatever dish I am throwing it into and add it when appropriate. Delicious and super simple! I definitely plan to keep it on hand - especially since I know that the use by date is merely a suggestion. :)

The inspiration for my dinner tonight was part refrigerator clean-out, part Asian food craving, and part necessity. What the heck was I going to make in about 15 minutes (I had to eat ASAP because I had a big work out tonight with Kali)?! Well, a stir fry always works when you need to get food on the table, and it is also perfect for using up the forgotten vegetables at the back of your produce drawer. I am also happy to report that I used the basic flavor profile for this stir fry from the Ellie Krieger Miso Glaze recipe I reviewed here. The blonde miso container that was shoved to the back of the fridge found another use. This dish was absolutely delicious, satisfying and easy to throw together. I am sure I will make several variations of it in the future. Most importantly, this dish is very healthy, and you can up the vegetable content to your own taste. I am submitting it to Sweetnicks ARF/5-A-Day Tuesday blog event since it is full of healthy goodness.

Josie's Quick Miso Tofu Scramble

Serves 1

1 T olive oil
1 t sesame oil
1 green garlic stem, tough green leaves discarded, white & light green parts thinly sliced
1 carrot, peeled, thinly sliced on the diagonal
~ 1 cup (I used approx. half the package) of Nasoya Cubed Super Firm Tofu, drained
6 asparagus stems, sliced on the diagonal into 1" pieces
1/2 cup mixed mushrooms, thinly sliced (I used shiitake and blue oyster)
1 T blonde miso
1 T brown sugar
Splash of Mirin
Splash of Soy Sauce
2 large eggs, 1 yolk discarded, scrambled

Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium to medium-high heat, add the green garlic (sub whatever oniony, garlicky goodness you want if you can't get green garlic). Allow garlic to brown slightly, then add the carrot slices and cubed tofu. Allow to cook for about 3 minutes until tofu starts to brown. Add the sesame oil, mushrooms and asparagus and cook for a minute. Add the miso, sugar, mirin and soy sauce and stir to combine. The miso may need a minute or two to thin out and dissolve into the sauce. After the sauce has thoroughly combined and coated the vegetables, slide everything out of the pan to a serving dish. Add the egg mixture to the pan and cook quickly to hard scramble the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked through, add the vegetables and tofu back to the pan and stir to combine.
Adjust the soy sauce and sugar to your personal taste. Serve and Enjoy!