To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Delicious Omelet Muffins - Fail-proof Breakfast for the Week!

These muffins are an awesome way to make breakfast for the whole of a busy week. They also make a fabulous lunch addition or a snack. I've had quite a few people ask me for the recipe to these, so I refined them again and have revealed here the simplest version. You may replace the ground turkey with any sort of ground meat, or you could take portobello mushrooms and grind those up. You could replace the bell peppers with another veggie - spinach would be delicious.

Delicious Omelet Muffins
(makes 6)

6 eggs
1/2 cup ground turkey, browned
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 spoonfuls veganaise, or mayo if you prefer
1/8 cup water
3 turns sea salt
3 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Brown ground turkey in a skillet. Whisk eggs in a bowl with a fork; add turkey, bell peppers, veganaise, water, salt, and pepper. Combine well. Spray a muffin tin with olive oil. Pour egg mix into the muffin tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ultimate Green Splendor Soup

I've been experimenting with soups to bring with me to rehearsal at night, but this one was just so much fun to make that I'll probably just start making it at home to munch on. This is a completely guilt-free, extra tasty chilled soup to cool your palate in the hot weather and soothe your throat through flu season. It's sweet, tangy, and full of delicious nutrients.

Did you know that spinach is a super concentrated source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins K, C, E, and many of the Bs including folate? Folate, for those of you who don't know, is a water soluble B vitamin that helps produce and maintain new cells (you need it to make DNA and RNA) and one of the cool things about that is that eating more of it can help prevent changes to DNA that lead to cancer! How awesome is that? Asparagus is also very handy, full of potassium, fiber, folacin, thiamin, B6, and rutin. There has been evidence that rutin strengthens blood vessels and can help improve circulation. And apples keep the doctor away; everyone says so.

Ultimate Green Splendor Soup
(serves ~8)

1/2 lb asparagus, wooden ends broken off, cut into 2 inch sections
1/4 lb baby spinach, chopped
5 green onions, white parts removes, diced
1 avocado
juice of half lemon
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup water
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 gala apples, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk, unsweetened and unflavored

Puree asparagus with 3/4 cup water until smooth. Add the green onions and spinach. If you have a small food processor like me, just keep removing the blended veggies to a sealable bowl. After the green onions and spinach, add mint and lemon juice and blend again. Next add the avocado. Blend again. Chop up the two apples to small bits and blend those with the veggies. Add the coconut milk. Blend again. Make sure that all your delicious bits are well combined. Salt and pepper to taste (I used a couple turns of sea salt and about 3 tsp of fresh ground black pepper). Serve chilled. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Popeye Bento!

Nutritious and delicious, the Popeye Bento consists of high iron and protein dishes in moderate portions to give me the energy to be strong and resilient and energetic through a weekend of rehearsals. Here's what's in it: Blackened Sea-caught Tilapia, Spinach and Tomato Salad, and Spinach and Lentil Soup. (Did you see where I got the Popeye name from?)

Blackened Sea-caught Tilapia
(2 servings)

Two filets of sea-caught tilapia (if you can only find farm-raised, substitute this with cod)
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lime
~2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
3 tsp sea salt

Combine the spices and juices in a flat bottom dish. Coat each filet on both sides with the spice/juice combination and set aside for about twenty minutes to let the fish absorb the flavors. Warm about 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and pan fry the filets; it should take about 3 minutes on each side, but the main thing is to keep an eye out for the blackening and test the fish with a fork when you think it's done. If the filet flakes, you're good to go. (The neat thing about this - I got this idea from my dad's apple pie recipe actually - is that the white pepper gives you a heat sensation without tasting "spicy", so even if you eat this fish cold - I did - it's still "warm" and delicious.)

Spinach and Tomato Salad
(8 servings)

10 plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine elements in a bowl and toss. I only used the pepper, but it's a matter of preference at that point. Yum!

Lentil and Spinach Soup
(8 servings)

4 cups low sodium organic chicken stock (if you're veg, use vegetable stock)
3 heaping handfuls baby spinach, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1.75 cups dried lentils, rinsed
1 tsp thyme
~3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
fresh ground black pepper
5-6 pinches Erbe Salle (This is a wonderful herb ground sea salt I adore. If you can't find this, use regular sea salt, about 5 turns of the grinder.)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the chopped onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, thyme, and 2 pinches of your salt of choice and sauté ~1 minute.
Stir in lentils. Make sure you really mix up the lentils with the onions and garlic. It should be smelling simply wonderful at this point.
Add the stock, tomato paste, and 1 cup of water. Raise heat to high, bringing the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover partially, and allow to simmer 20-30 minutes. Add your spinach, simmer until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.
For the bento, I have an awesome little soup-storage container that retains the heat in the soup for about 3 hours. That said, I ate some of this cold the next day and it was still delicious, so go for it. Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dehydrated Decadence (or My Love Affair with my Dehydrator)

I may have mentioned before - I adore my dehydrator. This contraption (Nesco 500 W Dehydrator Kit, which only cost about sixty dollars from Amazon and is one of the highest rated of these machines on the market) is positively wonderful. Banana, zucchini, and apple chips, sweet potato crisps, homemade raisins, all in addition to dried peas, green beans, cantaloupes, pears... basically anything you can think of from the produce section of your grocery store is suddenly and majestically transformed just by virtue of having its water removed. The best part, which I was quite pleased my parents have finally discovered, is that by using your own dehydrator, you discover the concentrated flavors of these fruits and vegetables without their various textures perplexing your tongue. And they make fantastic baking additions as well as healthy, nutritious, and satisfyingly crunchy/chewy snacks.

After a few weeks of haphazardly collecting whatever has looked tasty at the market and drying it, filling mason jar upon mason jar with a variety of delectable dried treats, I decided to play. Like I do.

Now, if you don't have a dehydrator, you can purchase these fruits already dried from a store and I'm pretty sure this recipe will still serve as a yummy, healthy treat - you might simply be missing some of the extra flavor layers that drying your own fruit avails you of.

They look a teensy bit like meatballs...
which also gave me a great idea for an April Fool's meal of these on top of a bed of melon "noodles". 
Take That, Larabar!
(makes 15-20)

4 heaping spoonfuls of unsalted almond butter
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup homemade raisins (if purchasing, go for jumbo golden)
6 slices dried pear
1 cup dried tart cherries

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Combine almond butter and cherries in food processor and puree until blended smooth. Add cranberries and raisins, puree again. Add pears last and make sure they're well combined.
Spoon ~1/2 tbsp sized dollops of the blended dried fruits and roll in your hands into little balls. (The next time I made these, I will probably make the balls smaller. Go for a size you'd prefer for just popping in your mouth - bite-sized, you know.)
Place the little delectable bundles onto the cookie sheet; they can be close together so long as they don't touch. They won't expand.
Bake for ~8 minutes. Remove.
Now... I ate two of these warm from the oven and they were... amazing. But I also put a few in the refrigerator and packed them in my bento box for later, and they were equally tasty cold and room temperature - although I did notice that different flavors came through at different temperatures.

I recommend these whole-heartily. Really. Have a peace. Share them with your friends. They are, frankly, wonderful.


Take That, Larabar! Continued!
(makes 15)

3 heaping spoonfuls unsalted peanut butter
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup jumbo raisins
1 handful sliced almonds

Same as before. Preheat to 350 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Puree the peanut butter and dried fruit in a food processor. Spoon 1/2 tsp sized dollops out, roll them in your hands, lay them out evenly on the cookie sheet. If you bake these for 15 minutes instead of 8, they brown and look just like cookies. Have fun tricking your friends. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lazy Girl's Bento

Another pair of weekday rehearsals; another pair of easily packed, carried, and munched meals on-the-go for rehearsal meal-break. This week, I flexed my 'what do I have laying around in my fridge/freezer' muscles and came up with this nourishing and tasty combination treat that takes about 20 minutes total to put together. I'm a little embarrassed by how simple this was, but - hey - maybe it'll give you time to work on that pie recipe I gave you. You know who you are.

Lazy Girl's Bento: Roasted Portobello Mushrooms and Baked Gardein Seven-Grain Crispy Tenders, Steamed Fava Beans, and a snack of dehydrated bananas, homemade raisins, dried goji berries, and raw almonds.

I was avoiding putting a picture in for this one, because it's simply not as pretty
as my other bento boxes have been, but it is quite tasty and very effective.

The dried goji berries and raw almonds were purchased at Sprouts Farmers' Market. The bananas and homemade raisins were dried in my favorite kitchen gadget of the year - my Nesco 500 Watt dehydrator. I use this thing continuously; it's wonderful! But I won't go on about it here. Not yet anyway. Here are the extra-simple directions to the remainder of the bento. Enjoy!

Roasted Portobello Mushrooms
(~ 2 servings)

2 portobello mushrooms, sliced into ~1/2 inch slices
olive oil

Are you ready for how supremely easy this is?
Pre-heat your oven to 420 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, place a drying rack on top of the foil. Lay out the portobello slices. Brush with olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes. And you're done.

I baked my Gardein Crispy Tenders on the same sheet, removed the mushrooms when they were done, and put the tenders back in for another 10 minutes to get crispy.

Steamed Fava Beans
(~4 servings)

3 lbs fava beans (in the pods)

Remove the pods from the fava beans. I put the beans in my incredibly handy Progressive Microwave Fish and Vegetable Steamer (seriously, this costs $6 and speeds up so very many dishes that it's silly) and steamed them until they were tender. It took about ten minutes for me. Just poke at them (careful of that hot steam) until the beans give a bit beneath a push. When this is done, rinse them under cool water, and peel the outer layer off before eating. I'm fairly anti-salt, so... I'd say if you don't have a tongue that is amenable to the simplicity of how things taste naturally, you can pour the steamed beans in a bowl and toss them in some sea salt and olive oil. That'd be tasty.

Answering your questions:

What are Gardein Seven-Grain Crispy Tenders? Gardein is a soy-based meat substitute brand. I'm quite fond of them. Another great meatless brand is Quorn. I highly recommend both. This particular product of Gardein's is one of my favorites, taste-wise. You can click here to learn more.

What could one substitute for goji berries? Goji berries are filled with antioxidants, which help to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. These berries are also rich in vitamin A and some research has suggested that goji berry extracts may boost brain health and protect against age-related diseases.
 As far as replacements go, the closest I can find as far as health benefits would be something like acai berries, cranberries, or dark cherries. Personally, I like the taste of the goji berries much more.

What can one substitute for fava beans/what do they look like?
Fava beans out of the pod, and steamed.
Fava beans in the pod.
I get my fava beans at the local farmer's market, but you can purchase them at markets like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many other what I like to call 'off the beaten track grocery store substitutes'. You can also find ready-to-eat fava beans that have already been steamed and shelled from many of these markets. The brand I just found in a quick online search is called Melissa's. What I love about these beans is that they are filling and have a very specific, creamy texture that is both surprising and pleasant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scratch Apple Pie

As promised, here is my dad's wonderful apple pie recipe - the how-to guide to a from-scratch pie that is delectable to the last crumb. This is not an easy or a quick recipe, like most of mine. But it is something that everyone can do with the right amount of patience and the end result is entirely worth the time you put into it. A message from my father: "This recipe as all about exceptionally flaky flavorful crust that explodes in your mouth with each bite, and toasted brûlée-like apple filling throughout with a firm, filling texture. You will probably never get this in a restaurant, as it is a little more involved than commercially practical. It does not always look pretty since the dough breaks easily. This is something special you can only get at home."

Scratch Apple Pie
(serves 7-10, depending on slice size)

apples (6-8 large or 14-16 small - should reduce to ~8 cups after baking): Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala, and/or Braeburn - Granny for tartness, Braeburn for sweetness, Gala and Fuji for sugar (most of the 'apple flavor' comes from the Braeburn and Gala)
fruit fresh
white pepper
ground cinnamon
vanilla extract
whole nutmeg
zest of one lime
zest of one orange or tangelo
unsalted butter (frozen) [butter-flavor all-vegetable Crisco shortening can be used instead of butter for vegans and other non-dairy folk, in the same proportions]
superfine sugar
applejack (chilled in freezer)
brown sugar Splenda mix
pie crust mix (this is the cheatin' way. ask if you'd like the actual how-to on crust making)

Tools you'll need:
wax paper
aluminum foil
rolling pin
pie rim, optional (this is a circle of metal to protect the rim of your pie crust and keep it from burning while baking)
medium sized grater for shredding frozen butter
small-points grater for zesting and grating nutmeg
ceramic pie pan (12")

How to do it:
Preset oven to 440 F.
Cover a baking sheet with foil.
Spread out wax paper on the counter. Sprinkle a light powdering of fruit fresh on the wax paper. Core and peel the apples, slice into 8-10 slices per apple. Lay out the apple slices on the fruit fresh sprinkled wax paper. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon, superfine sugar, and a little more fruit fresh.
Spread shortening on aluminum-covered pan.
Transfer the slices and seasoned apples to the baking pan, laying them out so they all face the same direction and snugly cover the whole tray. Bake apples until browned.
Meanwhile, make the pie crust mix to direction, grate 1 stick of frozen butter, and replace the water with applejack (slowly add this into the mix until you get the right texture, it should be ~1/4 cup). Remember - butter before applejack; this is part of what makes this crust super flakey and delicious.
Knead that together, adding whole wheat pastry flour until you get a nice solid ball. Place the ball in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
In another bowl, 1/4 cup applejack, 1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar, zest of lime, zest of orange or tangelo (makes the pie taste fruity, not citrusy), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg (a little bit of shell and a little bit of the inside), 3 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp arrowroot, and 1/4 tsp white pepper; this makes your slurry for the apple filling. When the apples slices have baked and browned, let them cool for a little while and then add them to the slurry. You want to coat the slices thoroughly and the best way to do this is by hand. It's messy, but it's fun. Cover with a bit of plastic wrap and let the apples soak up the slurry flavors for a bit.
Take the pie crust out of the fridge. Coat a large piece of wax paper with flour. Place 2/3s of the pie crust roll on top of it, sprinkle a little more flour on top, place another sheet of wax paper on top of that and roll out the crust. Now this part, you may have to redo a couple times. The trick is to make the pie crust all the same thickness - not too thin, not too thick. Crust flakiness is enhanced by a) alcohol, b) grated and folded in frozen butter, c) pre-baking the bottom crust part-way, and d) shortening between the folds. Quickly roll out and fold the dough 4 times, smearing just a trace of room temperature shortening between the layers of each fold before rolling again.
Place your pie pan over top the rolled out dough and flip the whole deal. The pie crust should fall to the pie pan. This is going to be a very flakey crust, so it's likely your crust will fall apart as you make the transfer. This is okay. You'll want to patch it together, Frankenstein-style, so there are no gaps and the crust covers the lip of the pie pan.
When the crust is suitably saddled in the pie tin, take your thumbs and press them around the edge to get that nice crimped-edge look. Bake the crust in the oven for about 20 minutes and remove to cool.
Next you layer in the slurry-soaked baked apples, by hand, forming a densely packed coil from the bottom up. Your goal is to make sure there is as little air as possible between the apples in the pie and that they fill the crust all the way up.
Now, take the remaining 1/3 of pie crust dough you set aside, roll it out, and cut it into slices about two thumbs' width wide. Criss-cross these slices of dough over the top of the apples, leaving gaps, and pressing the ends of the slices into the pre-baked crust.
Protect the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil or a pie rim to protect the crust during baking so you can bake the pie to dark-golden brown without burning the edges.

Bake again, for about 40 minutes and hang out during this, checking in on the progress every once in a while and enjoying the amazing smells that are going to emerge from your oven. When it's finished, remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes or longer.

Go on. Have a peace. Tell me this isn't incredible. Enjoy!

1. Dark rum can be used as a substitute for the applejack - it's also tasty, but changes the flavor. The goal of using applejack is to add flavor to the crust and get a much more flakey texture than would have been obtained by using water. You avoid the polymer-like gluten goo with the applejack's 40% ethanol and water proportions instead of 100% water. The alcohol is all gone after baking. Using alcohol instead of water makes the dough more difficult to work with, but enhances the flakiness of the crust in an unbelievably tasty way... and the crust retains this airy texture for up to 2-3 days after baking (assuming it survives that long).
2. Put the dough in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to get it cold again after handling. It is best to start with all major dough components having been in the refrigerator long enough to get cold (flour, applejack, sugar). The dough needs to cool after picking up warmth from your hands and the room before rolling. *Even freezing the rolling pin ahead can make rolling this unique, extra-flakey dough go more smoothly.

*All butter-flavor shortening instead of butter
*Add sharp grated cheese in the filling (extra sharp cheddar or parmesan)
*Glaze by brushing the top crust with a fine grain sugar, beaten egg, and milk mix (1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3)
*Use a full-cover top crust with a pie bird to let steam escape

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to Bento Basics

Now that I'm in regular 6 hour rehearsals again, I've gotten back into making easy-pack bento meals to cut down on 'dining out' spending. Plus, it's just fun to get back in the swing of packing lunches/dinners.

I started easy, with old favorites. This week's bento: baked tilapia with balsamic/honey glaze, broccoli and raisin salad, egg white tamagoyaki, and fresh blueberries. Here's how!

Baked Tilapia with Balsamic-Honey Glaze
(makes 1 serving - I do this one fresh each night before packing it)

1 filet tilapia
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp honey

Preheat your oven to 400 F. 
Place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet. 
Place a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the cooling rack. 
Place the filet on the aluminum foil.  Drizzle honey and balsamic vinegar over top. 
Fold the aluminum foil up, so that there is no room for dripping out the sides, but there is still space for air to escape out the top - think 'loose burrito'.
Bake for ~20 minutes. When you start smelling wonderful things, test the fish with a fork. If the meat flakes, you're good to go. 
Didn't I tell you it was easy?

Broccoli and Raisin Salad
(makes 6 servings)

2 small heads broccoli
1/4 white onion, diced
1/4 raisins (more to taste)
3 tbsp sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
1/4 cup Vegannaise
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp honey dijon mustard

Wash and chop your broccoli into thumb-sized florets and steam them until tender. When they're done, pour them into a colander and rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process.
Mix vegannaise, vinegar, mustard, and agave in the bottom of a medium sized bowl. Add the steamed broccoli, raisins, and sunflower seeds. Toss to coat. 
Still super simple, isn't it?

Egg White Tamagoyaki
(makes 2 servings)

3/4 cup egg whites
1 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp soy sauce
olive oil

Preheat a small, oiled skillet over medium low heat. 
Prepare a small bowl with some olive oil (~1 tbsp) and a heat-safe brush.
Mix your ingredients in another bowl. 
When the skillet is warm, pour three tbsp of the egg mix into the skillet. Let it cook most of the way. Then, using a fork (or two, depending on your dexterity), roll the egg on itself until it's like a scroll on one side of the pan. Re-oil the remaining part of the skillet and pour in another 3 tbsp of the egg mixture. Make sure that some of the newly added egg seeps under your egg scroll. When this new egg sheet is mostly cooked, roll the egg scroll back across, incorporating the new sheet. Continue this process, back and forth across the pan, until all the egg mixture is gone. 
Remove the rolled omelet to a paper towel and lightly pat off excess moisture. If you have a bamboo sushi mat, you can use this opportunity to square your tamagoyaki into having more defined edges. Otherwise, simply place the omelet log on a small cooling rack and let it rest in your fridge for ~ 20 minutes. Remove from the fridge, cut into finger width 'slices', and enjoy. 

The whole process takes about 15 minutes and is actually pretty fun. 

Go on! Have a peace!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Haiku for September

Blinded by sunlight
I miss the comfort
of thunderclouds.

-Paul Mena (1959-)