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You never know what you may come up with when you experiment in the kitchen. Try it. You may be surprised. With random vegetables left over in my fridge from my 3 week vegetarian challenge, I put together a simple and easy black bean and tomato salad. But the beauty about this salad is not just its simplicity, it is also your ability to customize it. You can substitute, modify, and add ingredients. Check the end of the post for suggestions.

Black bean and tomato salad
-1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
-30 cherry tomatoes, halved
-1/2 red onion, chopped
-1 yellow pepper, chopped
-1/2 poblano pepper, minced
-1 bunch of fresh cilantro, or 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro
-2 cloves of garlic, minced
-Juice of 1 lime
-Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, tossing with lime juice, kosher salt, and pepper.

Customize it, by:

*Grilling fresh corn, or buy the frozen roasted version at Trader Joe’s, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan
*Grilling chicken breast and add it if you’re a carnivore
*Preparing some quinoa and toss it in with the salad, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan

Make sure to serve this salad chilled, by placing it in the fridge for at least 2 hours. This gives the flavors time to meld together.

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Lately, I’ve been blog surfing and came across another “foodie blogger”. I even love the name “The Carnivore and the Vegetarian“. I am re-posting this recipe from his site:

Fennel and Apple Salad
Serves 4 as a side

1 large granny smith apple
1 medium fennel bulb, top and 1/4″ of bottom removed
Juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 tablespoon fennel fronds

Core apple and then julienne apple.** Place into a medium bowl and pour over 1/2 lemon juice. Using a mandolin, thinly slice fennel. You want the slices to be as thin as you can make them. Add to bowl with apples and top with remaining lemon juice, oil, zest, and vinegar and mix well. When ready to serve, top with feta and mix.

**For the apple, core and then cut in half. Using a mandolin or chef’s knife, cut slice that are approximately 1/8″ thick. Cut these slices into similar size strips. The goal is to get thin matchsticks of apple.

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Do you have another recipe that uses fennel? Share it with me. I’d love to try it!

On day 2 of my 21 day vegetarian challenge, I made a chunky tomato soup from the March 2011 edition of Food and Wine Magazine. While my other taster found it to be too spicy, I enjoyed it immensely. I don’t know if it was the fact that I used the canned tomatoes I had on hand (which were made with jalapenos), but it definitely had some kick. It was easy to make, and went great with a roasted vegetable sandwich I made (pictures forthcoming). Here is the recipe:

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 oil, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, trimmed and finely chopped
4 thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
Two 28-ounce cans peeled Italian tomatoes — drained and finely chopped, juices reserved
Optional: Pan Fried Croutons, Fennel Orange Gremolata, and diced Fontina cheese

1. In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, fennel and thyme and cook the vegetables over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion and fennel are softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the water and the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil. Simmer the soup over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is reduced by one-third, about 30 minutes. Discard the thyme.
2. Transfer half of the soup to a blender and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the pot. Serve the soup with the Pan-Fried Potato Croutons, Fennel-Orange Gremolata, and diced Fontina Cheese.
*The soup can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Pan Fried Potato Croutons
Ingredients
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

1.Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with 1 inch of water. Season with salt and bring to a boil. Drain the potatoes in a colander and let stand for 5 minutes.
2. In a medium nonstick skillet, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the potatoes and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Fennel-Orange Gremolata

Ingredients
1/4 cup chopped fennel fronds
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

1.Mix all of the ingredients in a small bowl.

Found a recipe for quinoa that I must try on another WordPress blogger’s site: a quinoa avocado salad with spinach. Go here for the original source! But I’m re-posting it here:

3/4 cup uncooked white quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
Bag of fresh spinach leaves
2 plum tomatoes
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
2 ripe avocados

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa and water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed. Place quinoa in a medium bowl and place in refrigerator to cool.

Take a handful or two of spinach and shred it until you have about 1/2 cup. Finely chop the tomatoes and place with the spinach in a small bowl. Add the feta and mix.

In another small bowl, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and whisk with a fork. Peel, halve, and pit the avocados, then slice them and set aside.

Prepare the plates by laying down a bed of spinach, then arrange the avocado slices in a sunshine pattern. Take the quinoa out of the refrigerator and add the spinach-tomato-feta mixture. Whisk the lemon juice and olive oil mixture once more and add to the quinoa, then divide quinoa mixture evenly among the plates.

Makes 4 servings.

Update: I made this from memory (forgot the tomatoes) and it was a great salad.

Lately, I’ve been an exceptionally enthusiastic carnivore. I’ve made pot roast, steak, salmon, chicken, turkey meatloaf…..the list goes on and on. Although my diet was balanced, I started to feel like I was just consuming too much meat. It was only when my stress level at work was extremely elevated that I started to question my eating habits. Mainly, my daily intake of food decreased substantially and I lost weight. This got me thinking. Maybe I need to change the way I’m eating. After a conversation with a friend regarding the Engine 2 Diet (a 28 day vegan challenge), I decided to initiate a 21 day vegetarian challenge. I’m doing vegetarian because I like cheese, honey, and other things far too much. I’m saying 21 days because it only takes 21 days to make or break a habit (or so they say). I am doing this on my own, finding vegetarian recipes all over.

During my trip to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market yesterday, I purchased a lot of ingredients to help me with this process. For instance, I purchased quinoa, couscous, tahini paste, chickpeas, tofu, and fruits and vegetables.

My first day
For breakfast this morning, I am eating my typical organic oatmeal from Costco. I’m not adding any additional butter or sugar or other sweetener.
For lunch, I am eating a Black Bean and Quinoa salad I found in the 2010 Annual Food and Wine Cookbook.
For snacks, I have sunflower seeds and a plum.
I also drink 2 quarts of water everyday and will continue doing that through this process. I don’t plan on increasing the amount I drink.
*I don’t know yet what I’m eating for dinner, but I have a lot to choose from.

Are you doing a vegetarian challenge? Or are you already a vegetarian? I welcome any advice, tips, recipe recommendations, etc. I’d love to hear from you!

I must confess: I am not a big fan of meatloaf. Done well, it tastes great. Done poorly, it’s a dried out version of a loaf (literally) of meat. However, I recently found a recipe that I have got to share.

After much delay, I used a giftcard for Borders Bookstore to purchase the Down Home with the Neely Cookbook. I was a little hesitant at first, because I have only recently developed a love for BBQ. To complicate that further, I have actually never bbq’ed anything. But after purchasing this book, that all changed. Important note: although the Neely’s specialize in bbq, there are other types of dishes in the cookbook.

For the first time ever, I made bbq sauce. I don’t mean I purchased a bottle of Kraft BBQ sauce, heated it up, added some salt/sugar/whatever. NO! I mean I used a recipe provided in the Neely cookbook for bbq sauce. Although some reviewers complained that the bbq sauce was too sweet, I personally enjoyed it (along with my taste-testers). I recommend that you make the bbq sauce beforehand, because trying to make it while preparing the meatloaf will prove difficult.

I think what sets apart their meatloaf is that you put bbq sauce with the ground turkey, as well as on top of it. The bbq sauce really gave the meatloaf great flavor. Personally, I added a bit of worcestershire sauce because I was concerned about dryness (only about 2 tablespoons worth).

After mixing everything up with my hands, I placed the meatloaf in the oven. Hoping that it would be delicious. About 55 minutes later, I took out the meatloaf, let it rest, and then served it with some homemade mashed potatoes (skin on) and broccoli. I have got to say: I love this turkey meatloaf, and will not make meatloaf any other way after this. It was absolutely delicious, moist, and well-seasoned. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon Neelys’ BBQ Seasoning, recipe follows
  • 1 teaspoon crab boil seasoning, (recommended: Old Bay)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups Neelys BBQ Sauce, reserving 1/2 cup for the top, recipe follows
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 pounds lean ground turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix BBQ seasoning, crab boil seasoning, soy sauce, beaten egg, 1 cup of the BBQ sauce and Worcestershire sauce.

In a saute pan over medium-high heat, add olive oil. Add onion, bell pepper, salt and pepper and garlic. Saute until tender. Remove from heat and add to wet mix.

Pour mixture into bowl with the ground turkey. Add bread crumbs and mix all together with your hands.

Transfer the meat mixture to a cookie sheet or baking pan. Using your hands, shape the meat into an oblong or rectangular shape. *Cook’s Note: Alternately, you can pat the meat into a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and pour 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce on the top of the loaf.

Bake for 35 minutes. Remove and add the reserved 1/2 cup of BBQ sauce to the top and continue to bake for 20 more minutes.

Neelys BBQ Seasoning:

  • 1 1/2 cups paprika
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 3/4 tablespoons onion powder

Add all ingredients to a bowl and stir until combined. Keep in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Neelys BBQ Sauce

  • 2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, for 1 hour 15 minutes.

Yield: 3 1/2 cups