Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My hodge podge of thoughts!

It's Wednesday! I consider Wednesdays beautiful days...they bring back sweet thoughts of special moments! :-)

So my hodge podge of thoughts...

#1 Have you done something healthy for your body today? Perhaps you went on a walk...did some resistance ate a piece of fruit or an assortment of veggies...maybe you did a few minutes of stress-relief turned down the treat at work...anything that made YOU a healthier person today? Pat yourself on the back if you did and if you didn't, no worries - tomorrow is a new day!

#2 The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine is doing a 21-Day Kickstart to healthier living starting next week. They will send out daily recipes, information on plant-based living, motivation from a variety of well-known doctors and many others, and much more! If you have been looking for a lifestyle that will boost your energy and allow you to begin reaching your optimal health, then I encourage you to check out the 21-Day Kickstart. No charge - just register to receive the amazing info! :-) And no, I'm not receiving any credit from pcrm for posting this on my blog - I just care about YOU!

#3 My new FAVORITE shampoo & conditioner - it's made from quinoa & amaranth! I only have a sample from one of my hotel stays, but it is phenomenal! A little too expensive for me right now, but I can savor the samples for the time being, right? :-)

#4 Nightshades! We've been exploring the nightshade family this week, which includes tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), and peppers. This family of vegetables contain solanine, an alkaloid. Alkaloids may impact the nervous system or joints and inhibit calcium deposit, which may cause cases of arthritis or osteoporosis to worsen. Therefore, be mindful of the amount of nightshades you consume. You may not need to put a total ban on these vegetables, but be sure to include a wide variety of vegetables on your daily plate. :-)

A Roasted Tomato Tart - roasted tomatoes tossed with lemon, garlic, salt & pepper
served over a cashew, dill, & chive creme and baked in a pine nut crust. Delicious!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's been a while!

     Yes, it has been a while! I took a little break, but now I'm back! :-) Thank you for your patience and I hope you will continue to be faithful to await each post I write...I know you do... ;-)

     Well, I am just getting over a terrible cold - okay, maybe it was allergies. I don't know. It felt like a cold to me, but everyone who lives in Texas has said it is the pesky allergies of the Lone Star state. Who knows. But I am beginning to feel like my energetic self once again - so thankful!! :-)

     This past week we have focused on grains, beans, and meditation. It has been quite interesting. One of the main thoughts recently is being conscious in the kitchen. For instance, the energy (mood/attitude) you put in your food has a great impact on your food and how it will affect your body. Think about it. How does your body feel after quickly eating a frozen meal that has been microwaved and then rushing off to get to your next meeting? On the other hand, how do you feel after you've patiently spent time preparing a well-balanced meal which you enjoy while peacefully sitting at your kitchen table with a friend? The energetics of food should not be overlooked. Consider the environment and your attitude as you prepare your food. It makes a difference. Do you have negative thoughts or worries as you eat or cook? Are you having a "dicussion" while cooking or eating? Or do you think pleasant thoughts as you prepare food that will nourish your body? I had never given this much thought in the past, but we are what we eat - and not just the food, but how the food has been impacted before it even reaches our plate.

    I have a few questions for you and I don't ask you these to make you feel bad or even self-righteous (depending on your answers), but rather for awareness on your approach to being conscious in the kitchen.

     1. Do you use a microwave on a regular basis?
     2. Do you typically purchase organic or conventional produce?
     3. Do you eat your food on-the-go or at your kitchen table?
     4. How many whole foods (not in a package) do you actually eat everyday?
     5. Do you consume "food" that includes ingredients you can't pronounce?
     6. Do you vary your methods of cooking - sauteing, braising, baking, blanching?
     7. Do you create a lot of "racket" in the kitchen (i.e. banging pots, etc)?
     8. Are you appreciative of the ingredients you are using?

     The next time you step into your kitchen, be mindful of your approach. Take the time to deliver yourself and your loved ones a meal that will nourish every part of the body (not just easing the hunger pangs). Everyone deserves a pleasant and peaceful experience while cooking and while dining. This is all just food for thought. :-) Perhaps you are one of those skeptics who think this entire post and thought process is ridiculous, but I encourage you to think about everything that I have presented. Be mindful. Be thankful. Be connected with what you are putting inside of your body - it's where you live...please take care of yourself!

     Alrighty, I leave you with two recipes - a grain dish and a bean dish. Invite these nourishing elements onto your plate. Your body will thank you. :-)

Quinoa Salad with Pecans and Cranberries – 4-6 servings
1 ½ cup water or stock
sea salt to taste
1 cup quinoa
¾ cup pecans
3 scallions, sliced in thin rounds
1/3 cup celery, finely diced
1/3 cup parsely, finely chopped
¼ - ½ cup dried unsweetened cranberries, finely chopped
Dressing:4 tsp EVOO
2 tsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp lemon Juice
½ tsp ume vinegar
4 tsp rice vinegar
ground black pepper
1. Bring water to a boil. Add salt. Stir in quinoa. Cover, turn to low and cook 15-20 minutes.
Toast pecans in a 350 degree F oven for 10-12 minutes or until lightly toasted. Cook completely and coarsely chop. Set aside.
Combine all dressing ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add scallions, celery, parsley, and cranberries to dressing. Set aside.
When quinoa is done, transfer it to a bowl and fluf it with a fork. Set aside to cool.
Once the quinoa is cooled, add the dressing mixture and the toasted pecans to it and stir well. Adjust salt to taste. Salad is best if set aside for at least an hour to allow flavors to blend. Serve cool or at room temperature. This keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Peppered Red Lentils – 4 servings
1 cup red lentils
1 bay leaf
2 cups water
2 onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp EVOO (optional)
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
3 sprigs parsley
Place lentils, bay leaf, and water in pot and parboil (bring to a boil, skim off foam).
Add onion and garlic and cook for 15 minutes.
Add oil, salt, and pepper and cook an additional 5 minutes or until beans are soft.
Adjust seasoning to taste. Garnish with parsley sprigs.

Blessings to you and on your food. :-)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Counting it all joy...

     Transportation is just not my thing - I've had some tire issues in my recent days. On Wednesday after school, I asked another student to pump up my bike tire before I headed back home. Well, a little bit more than the pump came out when removing it from the tire causing the tire to lose air immediately. So I walked to the bike shop down the road to get it repaired and then started on my bike ride back home. Thirty minutes into the ride - yep, the tire went flat again. After hitting up the bus for a 2 mile ride, I then walked myself and my flat-tired bike home for another 2 miles. I tell this story to encourage you to laugh at funny moments in life and to remain positive. It was just a bike tire and it gave me a few extra "steps" for the day. :-) Try to find the joy in all the little hiccups life has to offer... "count it all joy" - James 1:2-4.

     As for food, this week has presented TOO many sweets & treats...and not all dairy-free at that! Yikes...and of course I am required to taste everything...not really, but I do. I want the full experience. However, one bite of everything sure does add up. Biscuits, scones, souffles, empanadas, samosas, quiche, vegan pot pie, spanikopitas, cookies, brownies, a nut shell (or in a pie crust ;-)), it has been a rich week of food intake. But I am in culinary school, so what should I expect, right? It's not very often you are presented with the opportunity to partake in fancy & delicious food free of cost...just kidding on that free of cost part. :-)

     At my sister's request, I have posted pictures with me in them! I'm at the mercy of my classmates for photos as I do not have a camera at the due time though...

Saying "I love you" with a Parmesan Rosemary Biscuit!

My cooking buddy for the day, John, and our cheddar thyme scones!

     We also had the treat to learn from a gluten-free baker the past two days. Karen Morgan at Blackbird Bakery is quite talented at what she does. She made so many different treats for us to enjoy and all were gluten-free friendly (not vegan though, that is for sure)! A lot of eggs and dairy are used in the recipes, but what she does truly comes down to chemistry - it is absolutely fascinating! Karen has definitely found her niche and I am very much looking forward to finding my niche in this journey as well. :-)

     What are you all doing this weekend? Anything fun? Give me a snap shot of your weekend...I like to hear from my followers & readers too!

     Be blessed...


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pictures say it best...

     It's been a BUSY week! This is our first week of back to back cooking labs (vs. cooking in the a.m. and lecture in the p.m.). We were all a bit on the tired side today, but it has been a blast learning to make food that is not on the typical everyday plate...which is a good thing because most of the dishes the past two days have included eggs & dairy - VERY rich, but fun to make & taste.

     I'll let the pictures show our handiwork & adventures...crepes, pancakes, souffles, & omelets (not pictured).

Buckwheat Crepe with spinach, artichoke, & sage filling!

Chickpea Flour & Traditional Crepes with savory & sweet fillings!

More sweet & savory crepes.

Vegan Pancakes (left) & Whole Wheat/Flaxseed Pancakes (right) topped with fresh blueberry & peach syrup; & a small piece of a Corn Pancake topped with Tofu Sour Cream & Cilantro (top)
My dear friend & cooking/bike riding buddy, Alison!
Success! Our Spinach Souffle! It puffed up perfectly!

      Sometimes pictures say it best. Goodnight all...blessings! With Happiness.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Enjoying the city of Austin!

     Austin is such a cool city! I am really enjoying it here! On Friday, I decided to ride my bike to school (trying to reduce my carbon footprint :-)) - it only took me about 45 minutes to get there (8.6 miles). It was a fantastic ride - I plan on doing it with one of my classmates 3x/week...saves on gas AND it's my exercise for the day! YAY! Even though I'm attending a health-minded cooking school, I still have to taste things to ensure it tastes just right - this means more calories IN - gotta keep my body movin!

    On Saturday night, I went to the Snack Bar in downtown Austin with a few friends. It's such a neat little lounge place! The waiter was so friendly and didn't rush us at all. We enjoyed the crudites & lavash with a wonderfully blended hummus for an appetizer and I delighted in the Andean Quinoa served with arugula, avocado, and a lemon pepper & pineapple dressing...mmm...delicious.

     This weekend was full of treats - many wonderful conversations and yummy & healthful food of course! Today I made a chowder we made in class last week. I made a few substitutions of course, but I was SO pleased with the outcome. It was a Quinoa & Corn Chowder - one of my new favorites! Creamy, yet hearty & filling, and made with fresh corn! Try the recipe below - you'll be glad you did!

Quinoa & Corn Chowder – 2 quarts
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1.5 cups shallots, small diced
1 cup celery, small diced (I used carrots instead)
½ cup red bell pepper, small diced
1 tsp salt
¼ cup amaranth (rinsed)
½ cup quinoa (rinsed)
¼ bunch cilantro, minced
4 cups fresh corn kernels
1 cup cashew milk (check out my previous blog for a homemade recipe)
2 Tbsp red pepper, brunois (aka small dice)
1 avocado, sliced thin
1. In a large pot, sweat the shallots, celery, and bell pepper in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add salt.
2. Stir in the amaranth with 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the quinoa and return to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, puree 3 cups of the corn with 1 cup of water in a blender or food processor. When the quinoa has cooked for 10 minutes, stir the corn puree and remaining whole corn kernels into the soup. Add salt to taste. Reduce the heat and simmer until the quinoa and amaranth are tender, 3-5 minutes. Stir in the cashew milk.
4. Divide into portions and garnish each with chopped cilantro, red pepper brunois, and avocado slices.
*Adapted from Lorna Sass’ Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way.

     Wow, this is quite the long post. Anyway, I couldn't leave out the Seasonal Menu Challenge we did in class on Friday. We were presented with a beautiful variety of fresh & local foods and in groups we had to design a menu. It had to include a soup, a salad, a roasted dish, & a bean or grain dish. Everyone's creativity SHINED! It was inspiring! Below is the picture of my group's presentation.

Creamy Carrot Soup topped with fresh cilantro; Roasted Brussels sprouts & onions with a balsamic vinaigrette; Brown Rice/Quinoa Combination graced with tomatoes & green onions served over blanched collard greens; Roasted turnip fries/croutons with tarragon & white truffle oil; Orange-Ginger salad with golden raisins & toasted pecans (salad not pictured).

     Now before you start calling me to cater your next party :-) - remember, this is only my first month of culinary school and all of these beautiful & delicious are the results of several talented people working together. However, it's comin! ;-) I'm tapping into the creativity & thought processes of my instructors & classmates to continue to build a strong culinary foundation for myself.

     Thanks for life to the fullest...and be joyful.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reading & Eating...

As of this week, I started reading Alicia Silverstone's book the kind diet. I am loving it! Half of the book is the philosophy and background of living out a kind diet and the other half is full of delicious-looking recipes. I hope to experiment with a few in the coming weeks. If you haven't taken a look at this book, I encourage you to do so! It may shed some light on possible thoughts or questions that many of you may be having regarding plant-based living.

In a way, when I come home from school, I don't have a yearning desire to cook more food since that's what I essentially do all day...this is a discouraging feeling since I should be gravitating & skipping toward the kitchen. So...I received some positive encouragement yesterday to "pamper" myself and have fun in the kitchen even when it's just me I'm cooking for (especially while I am still looking for part-time work). Well, I did. I turned on some tunes and practiced a few methods I learned in class and just did a little bit of my own experiments & had fun!

Homemade Cashew "Milk"

I typically get the store bought non-dairy beverages, but making your own is SO simple and less processed. Give it a try - you'll most likely make it a point to make your own from now on! This method works with almonds as well.

1 cup cashews, soaked in water 4-6 hours until soft
1-2 cups soaking water

Blend cashews in blender or food processor and slowly add the soaking water until you've reached the desired consistency. Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the liquid into a bowl or container. You will be left with a thick cashew cream in the strainer. You can either blend this cream up again with a little bit more water to create more "milk" or you can put it on some granola or fruit for added creaminess and flavor! Store in airtight container for 5-7 days. Makes about 2.5 cups.

Butternut Squash Soup

My simple and quick version of this soup includes only 5 ingredients, and of course, no preservatives like most store-bought soups. Again - easy peasy, yet delighful & healthful! :-)

1 large organic butternut squash - cut in 4 pieces.
1 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 cups water
1 cup cashew milk
Salt to taste

If your squash is organic, you may leave the peel on, however, it does give your soup a bit of texture. If your squash is not organic or you want your soup to be extra silky, peel the squash before cutting. Place your squash, cut-side up, in a baking dish with a small amount of water and olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes until soft.

Blend baked squash, water, & cashew milk in a food processor/blender until smooth and creamy. Add salt to taste. Heat the soup over the stove-top until it reaches desired temperature. For variation, substitute cinnamon, nutmeg, & cloves for the salt.

Granola for Granola Lovers!

This recipe was inspired by my friend Sarah at Reinventing Wellness! She is amazing! :-)

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup unsalted mixed nuts - cashews, walnuts, & almonds
1/4 cup chia seeds or ground flax seeds
1 tsp. cinnamon
Pinches of salt, nutmeg, & cloves
4 Tbsp Earth Balance butter
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup raisins
4-6 chopped medjool dates

Mix oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, & cloves in a large mixing bowl. Melt butter and honey in a saucepan over low heat. Add vanilla. Mix butter/honey mixture into the dry ingredients. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees F for 25-30 minutes (stir every 10 minutes or so). Add dried fruit after baking. Store in an airtight container. Can be refrigerated or frozen (just makes it chilled - not really frozen).

**Serve with cashew or almond milk in 1/2 honeydew melon bowl. :-) Yum! Top with cashew cream for an extra treat! Or just eat as a snack on the go!

These are just a few of the goodies I've whipped up since yesterday. Please enjoy! And if you make any of these recipes - let me know! :-)

It's almost the rides and more delicious recipes to be experienced! With happiness...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fried, Burned, & Mush...

Happy March to you all! It's a new & exciting month!

I knew it was going to be "one of those days" when I woke up this morning...well, it kind of was. Although I can't remember what it was about this morning that made me think that, but a few mishaps did happen in the kitchen today. We learned variations of frying. Yes, this is a "plant-based" culinary school, but we still use oil.

So...there may have been a batch of broiling eggplant that totally burned, pan-fried green tomatoes that turned out to be total mush, sweet potato fries that didn't crisp up like they should have, agave nectar squirted into a pan full of oil because the user thought it was olive oil, and a close call grease fire (oil spilled over the pot...yikes...not my fault!!). Now, not all of these were my mistakes, but there may have been a few of them... :-)

Most of the dishes turned out superb though - not everyone's tomatoes were mush. This particular asparagus bunch was extremely fresh and broiled to perfection! So far this week, we have been learning the dry methods of cooking...broiling, roasting, pan-frying, deep-frying, sauteing, etc.

Yesterday's delights looked a little something like this...all of these dishes look so much better in person - but this is a snapshot into my world...

Sauteed Pears & Apples with raisins; Roasted Mushrooms atop Quinoa;
Grilled & Seasoned Okra & Squash

This group made an AMAZING "cheese" out of raw cashews - served under the grilled squash & okra.

Although my day started out a little bit "off", it ended with a nice, breezy bike ride (to offset a few of those fried food calories & of course for the fresh air!) & a plateful of non-fried veggies (cabbage, leeks, & collard greens) alongside a mixture of quinoa & red lentils.

Blessings to you all as you begin a new month! :-)