64. S’s Palak Paneer

S and I always seem to pick up where we left off when we get to see each other, and I was so excited to stop and see her for the weekend on our way to Maine. S had a special plan: she’d bought all the ingredients to make palak paneer, her favorite indian food dish made of spinach, paneer cheese, spices and… well, I didn’t know. I knew that if I made things that approximate palak paneer in the past, they never taste like they do in the restaurants. I was eager to see what S could do with it.

S, her boyfriend A, and I spent a whole day hiking and then returned to their home to make this dish, which could have been done by one person but really was so work intensive that it wasn’t bad to have 3 cooks. S browned the paneer (is there ever such a beautiful thing as frying cheese?), I measured out many many kinds of spices in precise quantities and set them up, cooking-show-style. A chopped and cooked fresh spinach, tomatoes, and onions; they mentioned that they’d tried with frozen and canned and it is never as good. After the frying cheese, the next mixture to create was a chickpea flour and spices mixture, which gives the sauce its thickness – there was no cream in this recipe! The following steps involved combining all the ingredients in precise order, mixing them or pulverizing them in a blender or cooking them slowly for half an hour. I say “or” because it was all a blur to me, and I was in charge of changing records on the record player, so I often had to leave the kitchen. There are worse things, though, than chatting with some of your oldest friends (yes, even S’s boyfriend has now graduated into the ranks of “one of my oldest friends” – they’ve been together a long time, and many of my friends and I met in the last few years) dancing around to big band swing music while large cats flee from your galumphing feet… It made me feel like a young and excited person again.

Also, the final product was MAGICAL. If I get the recipe from S, I can try to recreate it, but I bet I’d need two sous chefs to pull it off. It may look like green glop, but believe me, it’s the most amazing dish. I order it at restaurants habitually, but now I’m gratified to be able to make it in house.

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63. A’s Hearty Chili

A gave me this recipe as part of her wedding gift, which was a recipe book with pages to add all sorts of recipes to it – one of my goals, though not one I’ve been able to complete yet, is to put all the recipes I love onto the extra cards and fill up the book so I have it handy in the kitchen. A is Husband’s cousin, and she represents so much of what I love about his family: she’s a free spirit with an amazing sense of humor who is constantly going on adventures. She travels frequently and whenever I see her I get the biggest hug. Her sense of style is on point but also not like anyone else – she’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.

Her chili recipe was exactly what I needed the week before our trip – I needed something hearty and healthy, so I cut up a gazillion veggies for this dish as I listened to a podcast on the benefits of a plant based diet. Granted, I also threw the ground beef in there, but percentage wise, it was a very plant based dish. After two hours of cooking, it was one of the best entrees I’ve made – rich and flavorful but with most of the flavor coming from the veggies and spices and slow cooking, not from a bunch of butter and oil, which tends to be my go-to.

It took all week to finish the big pot, but unlike with most leftovers, I was happy to keep noshing on it throughout the week, happy that when I only had 20 minutes for lunch between engagements I could slip into the house, heat up a bowl, and feel warmed and fed. Good recipes seem to do that, though I’ll caution: this recipe is not for someone who wants the exact same results each time; there are almost no measurements, and while she uses bacon and steak, I used ground beef.

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62. Husband’s Sausage Cheddar Balls

I have been ill for a few days. It is not such a big deal, but it is more ill than I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve been surprisingly baby-ish about it. It has made me appreciate more than usual the casual, easy-going buoyancy of my husband’s personality. Two days of my illness were our return days from Maine (terrible timing on my part) so the fact that he was willing to drive a lion’s share of the miles and still make jokes to me as I moaned and groaned about pain really make me once again stunned that I’m so well cared for and he seems to wear it so lightly.

For the meatball party, Husband had mentioned that he wanted to make sausage balls, so I bought sharp cheddar and spicy sausage, but he hadn’t mentioned any other ingredients to me so I assumed he didn’t need any. When we went to start cooking, he said, “time to find a recipe!” and I had to laugh: I just cannot fly by the seat of my pants like he can. We didn’t have Bisquick, the main starch of choice in the recipe he chose, so we ended up making an approximation of Bisquick from scratch. The sausage cheddar balls turned out wonderfully; the recipe he more-or-less used was this: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14826/easy-sausage-cheese-balls/.

Sausage balls are also a pro breakfast food, and K, a friend who came to the party and stayed overnight, helped us eat the remaining sausage balls with breakfast toast on our back porch. While Husband didn’t win the competition against many other delicious kinds of meatballs, I am reminded every day how much his easy-going attitude both surprises and saves me from my own overthinking. It’s not a bad thing to associate with such a tasty, crispy, spicy treat.

Super Bowl (of Fluff): Browned Butter Rice Krispies!

It’s funny how a break from all sweets can make you appreciate really good ones. On Friday, I tried a morsel of catering-company rice cereal treat – it was not bad, not at all, but it reminded me of how wonderful the treats made in my Mom’s kitchen were, hunching over a saucepan full of butter and slowly melting marshmallows. I immediately wanted one of those perfect treats, but how to get just one?

The answer came the next day in the fact that we’re going to a Super Bowl party, and I needed something to bring anyway to share! With a lot of health conscious people at work, it never feels right to make a treat like this and just abandon it in the break room, but for a “holiday” like the Super Bowl, I don’t know anyone who makes their meal a health-focused one.

I love browned butter and find it to be a slightly deeper flavor, so I used this recipe instead of the one on the cereal box itself. Tiny specks of brown flecked the melting marshmallow mix, but otherwise, I really couldn’t taste a difference when the whole thing was finished – the truth is that the sweetness of rice crispy cereal is really overpowering! Delicious, sure, but made me excited to return to the calmer fruit-based sweets I’ve been focused on this month.

My boss has pointed out, and it’s been hard to hear, that with Whole30, no one “does it to you. You do it for yourself, so a cheat day is a cheat of yourself.” I have never thought of my health as “for me” – it was always so that I wouldn’t worry those who mattered to me, or leave them with the burden of my care. Whole30, even the triumphant reintroduction of some of my favorite foods, really has made me realize it affects me, and health is for me. Choosing to eat, say, just one rice crispy treat instead of a whole pile of them, is a weird and not-natural thing for me, but doing it has to be the way I respond if I start to take seriously that health is for me!

 

Match Made Coffee 2: Organic French Roast

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One Sunday afternoon, Husband and I were trying to get the motivation to power through the 2pm slump and somewhat failing – blame potatoes and chicken-and-apple sausage from lunch, I suppose, or the swim we took after church. So he suggested we try the Organic French Roast from Match Made Coffee’s subscription box.

If their Guatemala Antigua was smooth, this roast was deep – with a caramelized side that was almost carbon-like, just a little tiny bit of burn that characterizes dark roast coffee. French roast is, after all, on the very darkest end of coffee roasts, and instead of tasting like the bean it originally came from, it’s going to be sugary, chocolatey, and delicious.

It’s also nice to be drinking organic coffee; while you might not taste it, the organic coffee bean contains far fewer of the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers that conventional coffee contains, and it doesn’t contribute to climate change or deforestation nearly as much as conventional practices. Sure, these choices make the coffee a little more expensive, but when it’s included in your $29.99 a month box, you are just getting added value for no extra cost.

I appreciate the dark roast because Husband tends to pick out light and medium roasts, and French roast is a special treat that my mom and I used to share at home. Drinking it this afternoon and writing, I feel like I’ve been given the permission to remember good coffee times as snow drifts lazily outside. It’s a lovely feeling.

Match Made Coffee was recently featured on NBC San Diego here, and you can check out their product online here.

Quinoa Salad – a Post-Whole30 luxury!

IMG_4521Today, I am making quinoa salad for the first time in a long time; it qualifies, in my mind, as a very healthy food, but it was forbidden based on the no-legumes-or-grains part of the Whole30 experience. My favorite part of it is the fact that, as a person who doesn’t crave meat with every meal, it’s a way to keep getting protein and keep myself full for many hours while still eating something “lighter” than a serving of meat.

Here’s my approach, which stays new to me because I vary up the different ingredients:

  • Start the quinoa: I make about a cup of quinoa at a time unless I’m entertaining other people, because it’s fast and easy to make.
  • Pick the veggies: My favorites, in no particular order are: chopped cucumber, diced tomatoes, cooked spinach, chopped bell peppers, or cooked cubes of squash or zucchini. Husband likes it with broccoli, but that kinda ruins it for me… I cannot help it! Broccoli isn’t my veggie, it seems.
  • Pick the spicing: with tomatoes, I always add basil; with most veggies, I always give a dusting of garlic, pepper, and salt. Lately, I’ve been really entranced by chipotle seasoning, so that gets thrown on anything when I’m feeling like I need a good kick from the salad.
  • Add the garnishes: To add crunch, a few toasted pecans or walnuts are wonderful. I like crumbled goat cheese or feta (don’t overdo it with the salt if you add these though; they seem to add saltiness on their own) to make the salad a little creamy, and if you have enough veggies relative to the quinoa, you can dress it with your favorite ranch or balsamic vinaigrette, though that can be weird if there’s mostly quinoa and not so much on the veggies.

Regardless, this salad is delicious warm when you first make it, and then can either be eaten hot or cold later as a lunch at work. I’m hoping to create one that I enjoy for breakfasts now that I’m trying to not make all my breakfasts pastry-centric (it’s a problem!). It’s not Whole30, but it definitely makes me feel ready to face the day.

60. N’s Thai Peanut Quinoa Balls

N and I were having coffee when we came up with the idea for the meatball party. One of the qualities I appreciate in N is that she doesn’t do things halfway. The woman showed up at my house for the party with two kinds of meatless meatballs (all, by the way, the most perfectly round meatballs I have ever seen) two dipping sauces for them, a rice cooker she didn’t need any more as a present for me, two prizes for the winners of our meatball contest, and probably more things I don’t even remember.

N’s food was wonderful, as usual – peanut flavoring is wonderful for making alternative proteins tasty (see 37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup recipe, for instance), and these were wonderfully spiced as well. I am glad that they had quinoa in them as well, because now I have a rice cooker that, according to N, makes great quinoa. I will have an easier time putting together my own version of these now that I can let the quinoa burble away to itself without my checking to make sure it isn’t burning.

The recipe N used is from the blog The Simple Veganista, and she wrote about them at www.nicosroom.tumblr.com, which is full of the recipes she uses for her cookbook club. You can also read her post on the meatball party and all the fun that was had.

 

Whole30 in the books

Husband and I have completed Whole30! He’s been more committed than I have to the process of reintegration, whereby you add a single item back to your diet (legumes, sugar, dairy, etc.) every 3 days to see how those things make you feel. I went a little overboard and tried a lot of things in only two days and ended up feeling TERRIBLE. I’ve gone back on mostly veggies and fruits and meats, and I cannot tell you how much better it makes me feel.

I think I got lulled into the month long change and figured that my iron-stomach would return instantly after the break from gluten and cheese, but I was incorrect. It turns out, my body thrives on whole foods, and my mood and energy level is so dependent now on eating well! I am realizing that I cannot go back to the doubt and disappointment in myself that came with eating whatever looked tastiest. It’s a hard decision, but I think I’m going to become basically all-Whole30 for the meals in my life that I have control over, be they at work or at home.

With restaurants, parties, and social events, it’s worth a little languor to participate, to not be fussy, and to sample the wonderful foods that others make and share with me. However, that doesn’t mean that I won’t aim myself toward the healthiest options, because I’m realizing that the full-life feeling I’ve been having lately, where there seem to never be enough hours in the day, is only sustainable if I’m also aiming to feel 100% whenever I can. I don’t have time for a mid-afternoon slump, and no amount of coffee can create the clear head that a good, veggie and protein rich lunch can.

I’m still not convinced that everyone needs Whole30 (lots of people seem to have the moderate-consumption-of-unhealthy-food thing down!) but I have been convinced that it is working for me. The one deliberate add in I’m excited about is alternate proteins, including beans, quinoa, and tofu, because I am a little sick of meat at so many meals! It’s a little more sustainable and I never seem to overeat on quinoa, so it’s an adaptation that works quite well for me. 🙂

57. C’s Honey-Garlic Meatballs

C made delicious cheese dip for my first dinner party, and thank goodness she was able to make it to this next dinner party, because she became the champion – with the only beef meatball of the evening, her honey garlic meatballs were homey and delicious, but not just regular red-sauce-covered meatballs either.

C and I recently got to go to a winery and learn about wine before sitting by a pond and enjoying the sunset, and it reminded me how much I appreciate her positive, calm energy. She behaves like a person who can tell when things are a big deal and when they aren’t, and so many people our age really can’t – because we haven’t experienced everything in life yet, we often think our little problems are way too big. C makes me feel like if I was to tell her about my concerns and worries, she would laugh kindly at some and sympathize with the others. It’s a good feeling.

The recipe C used was this one, and she’s a novice at meatballs like I am, so it probably isn’t incredibly complex: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/118085/honey-garlic-glazed-meatballs/?internalSource=staff%20pick&referringId=15455&referringContentType=recipe%20hub. I am hoping to make some of these for the next potluck I go to, because it doesn’t contain any of the things that can sometimes throw people off – weird, surprising ingredients, scary amounts of spice, or unrecognizable shapes/colors. Most folks recognize a meatball, honey and garlic are familiar flavors without being bland, and there’s nothing newfangled or strange – I personally am a fan of trying things like quinoa and starfruit and any number of other less known foods, but it’s nice to not push people too far out of their comfort zones, especially since I am starting to get invited to parties where I don’t know very many people very well. C has given me a good back-pocket recipe that turns out great meatballs. 🙂

(Note on the picture: the only picture gotten of this meatball was with other meatballs; it’s the one in the lower right corner!)

56. Dara’s Creamy Avocado Sauce

On Saturday, I found a food processor that works, and for only 3 dollars at a yard sale. It’s an old-school GE model with only an on-off switch and a pulse switch, and I’m obsessed. It will be perfect for future sauces, pureed soups, and pretty much all the hard-to-chop things that have been haunting me lately.

But I was making this sauce on Friday. So it will go down in history as a good, but chunky sauce in my kitchen, the last of the era, I hope.

Dara over at Cookin Canuck dreamed up a sauce that works so well with salmon that I am tempted to use it on, well, pretty much everything. With a greek yogurt base and a little bit of heat in the spicing, this sauce worked up pretty smoothly even though I didn’t really get all the avocado chunks out. It was a great counterpoint to the strong fish flavor, calming it down on the tongue. I’m convinced that the combination, not just the salmon, got me my second place ranking in the meatball cook-off.

I grew up really picky and always wanted all my food extremely plain in the past, so it was funny to find that in adulthood I wanted to try every sauce I could get my hands on: I’m a hollandaise, honey mustard, barbeque, and bechamel kind of girl now. I generally though, reserve my sauce time for out of the house, where trained chefs can keep them from falling apart. Other than the occasional cheese sauce, I just leave that to the professionals, because the results are pretty amazingly catastrophic when they are bad. This sauce, though, crucially requires no cooking. I’m now going to rely on yogurt sauces when I need something that won’t fail or fall or burn.

And just as a tiny extra tidbit this week, here’s a carrot we pulled up this week that looks like a little person. 🙂

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