Loving Lentils

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Lentils are one of those power foods that are high in fiber, protein, an array of minerals and vitamins and is low in carbs. It’s a great legume that is easy to cook, can be flavored a variety of ways and gives you staying power to keep you feeling full longer. While I’ve cooked them before primarily in soups and other dishes, I don’t often highlight it as the gem it is.

This week I wanted to introduce myself to a new whole grain and decided barley would pair well with lentils. Barley is also loaded with fiber, vitamins and minerals and is known for being a heart healthy option because of it does not contain cholesterol, a known contributor to heart disease. Typically as a whole grain, it takes longer to cook like brown rice; however I saw a 10 minute bag of barley in Trader Joe’s that I thought was just too good to pass up. I cooked the lentils in stock and dried herbs and the barley on a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt to add as much flavor as possible to them both. Since I also am a fan of sour cream or guacamole on my beans I made a quick little topping of sour cream, a splash of rice wine vinegar fresh chives and salt and pepper to top it. Check out the recipe below and share your thoughts!

Lentils ingredients (serves 4)
8 oz lentils
16 oz organic chicken or organic vegetable stock
2 cups of water
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Barley ingredients:
1/2 cup dry barley
1 1/4 cups of water
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. sea salt

Lentils Directions:
1. Add liquids to a medium pot with herbs, vinegar and seasoning. Bring to a boil.
2. While boiling pick through lentils for debris then add lentils.
3. Set timer. Top, reduce to low heat and cook for 35-40 minutes.

Barley Directions:
1. During last 15 minutes if lentil cooking, add barley and liquid to a small pot and bring to a boil. Add oil, vinegar and salt and stir before topping and reduce heat to low.
2. Let cook 10 minutes and strain any extra liquid.
3. Serve with lentils and enjoy

 

Vegan Believin’

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Since I’ve dabbled in vegetarian meal options, I thought it was only fair to venture into the vegan arena. While similar, the primary difference is that vegan excludes any animal product or by-product including dairy, eggs and honey. While I like to explore different foods, flavors and textures, I don’t subscribe to really any diet beyond balance in all things. Plant-based proteins are important for maintaining overall health and balance; however there are other nutrients found in seafood and lean animal proteins that are not found in plants. In addition to the proteins (whatever the source), adding more fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains are always on my agenda.

I was inspired to do a Vegan dish with my trip to Trader Joe’s where they were sampling a vegan kale, cashew and basil pesto. I decided to make a quick orzo dish with the pesto, Roma tomatoes, roasted yellow peppers and grilled and marinated artichoke hearts. I picked up a small bag of cashews for some added texture. Let me just say, nothing is better than being surprised with a new delicious go to! And at about $3.60/serving, that’s hard to beat.

The only thing missing was a protein. So instead of adding beans to the dish, I decided to make my first red bean cake with a can of organic red beans ($.99), some fresh herbs, spices like coriander, smoked paprika and sautéed garlic and onion. I was beyond surprised at how good it was and totally forced samples on friends at lunch. 🙂 The only thing I would do differently is to add panko breadcrumbs to give more texture and shape as I had to handle them delicately with the spatula.

To give the red bean cake moisture for lunch, I made a quick garlic avocado aioli at work to go with my lunch which was basically smashed avocado, grated garlic, lots of lemon juice and salt and pepper. This also would be great as spread for a red bean sandwich with either arugula or a lettuce of choice. Check out the recipe below and certainly share your thoughts!

Orzo Pesto ingredients (makes 4)
1 1/4 cup of orzo
4 oz kale cashew basil pesto (1/2 container)
1 cup diced tomato (about 2)
1 cup chopped grilled and marinated artichoke hearts (or canned)
1/2 cup chopped roasted peppers
2 tbsp. fresh basil chopped
2 tbsp. chopped cashews
1tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Red bean cake ingredients (makes 4):
1 15.5 oz can of organic red beans
1/2 cup sautéed onions
1 tbsp. sautéed garlic
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp. salt and pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup flour

Garlic Avocado Aioli:
1 small ripe avocado
1/2 of a lemon juiced
1 clove grated or 1 tsp. minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Peel and dice onion and add to a small skillet with 1/2 cup of water over medium heat. Mince garlic and add to skillet. Cook both for 5 minutes ubfik water evaporates and set aside.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil for orzo. While booking, open and rinse can of beans. Add to a medium-sized bowl and mash with a fork until no beans are whole. Rinse and dice cilantro.
3. Add orzo to boiling water and set timer for 8 minutes. Add cilantro and spices to bean mixture and mix well.
4. Rinse and dice tomato by cutting around the seeded core (save for salsa) and slice and dice each fourth of the tomato. Add to a large bowl.
5. Open jars of roasted peppers and artichoke hearts and chop the appropriate amount of each. Add to the bowl.
6. Rinse skillet from earlier and add olive oil over medium heat. While it heats, strain the orzo and add to the bowl of veggies.
7. Add flour to a plate or shallow dish. With gloved hands, form beans into balls (it will fall into patty) and coat lightly in flour before adding to hot oil. cook for 2 minutes per side as remove from heat.
8. Add pesto to orzo and tear basil to fold in. Chop or crush cashews (optional).

Aioli Directions:
1. Cut avocado in half. Scoop halves out into a bowl or small cup and mash with a fork.
2. Grate garlic and add. Cut lemon in half and squeeze over avocado seeded side up. Mix well.
3. Salt and pepper to taste.

International Eats

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With the ever changing weather from cold to warm to cold again, and the increase of the sniffles and cases of the crud around me, I am ramping up on immune boosters, natural antibiotics like raw minced garlic and spicy soups to clear out the sinuses and protect my health.

In addition to cooking, I love to read and was delighted to be given a travel food magazine called Milk Street from which I was introduced to Lablabi, a delicious and spicy chickpea soup from Tunisia. I actually ended up making two small pots since I could not get enough of the bright and complex flavors in the soup. I also tried making one pot with harissa and one with the Chinese chili sauce that is easier to find in more stores and was pleased that both were great. This soup combines Spanish flavors like olives, capers and cilantro with North African spices like harissa. I was intrigued to learn that this soup is traditionally a breakfast in Tunisia and is usually more combined like a porridge. I decided not to mash everything together and have more whole and identifiable ingredients. Color me lazy. I decided to work with canned organic chickpeas instead of dried for a quicker cooking time on a busy night. Even with the chickpeas in the dish last week, I was still inspired to use more chickpeas. This soup took about 30 minutes to make. Now if you prefer your chickpeas super soft then I would recommend adding 15 minutes of cook time. Check out the recipe below.

Lablabi (Makes 4)

Ingredients:
2 cups of large chopped French bread or ciabatta
1/4 cup harissa or alternate spicy chili sauce
1 can or organic low sodium chickpeas
1 cup diced onion
1/8 cup minced garlic (6-8 large cloves)
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
32 oz chicken stock or broth
4 boiled eggs
6 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
6 tbsp. chopped cilantro
4 tbsp. chopped olives
4 tbsp. capers
3 tbsp. olive oil (garlic infused optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and dice onion and add to a medium pot over medium heat with a splash of water and 2 tbsp. of olive oil. Cook for 2-3 minutes.
2. Smash and peel garlic cloves before chopping fine and add to pot. Stir well.
3. Add tomato paste and harissa and stir well. Rinse the can of chickpeas in cool water and add chickpeas and water to the pot. Top and bring to a boil for 20 minutes.
4. While that boils, line a small baking dish or sheet with foil. Slice bread and cube into large pieces. Place on baking sheet and toss with olive oil.
5. Bring eggs to boil in a separate small pot.
6. Add stock or broth and boil another 10-15 minutes. Add bread to oven.
7. While boiling, chop olives and fresh herbs. Remove eggs and rinse with cool water. Peel eggs.
8. Turn off pots and remove bread from oven.
9. Add a handful of bread to each bowl, top with soup mixture. Add 1 tbsp. of capers, olives and 1 1/2 tbsp. of parsley and cilantro to each bowl and one egg cut longwise.
10. Enjoy!

 

 

Veg Forward Meals

 

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I decided to cleanse my palate with a couple vegetarian dishes this week and decided on a chickpea and millet salad with an array of sliced veggies in a citrus vinaigrette. This dish took 20 minutes to make and will hold up well in the fridge this week. I decided to use canned organic chickpeas and at 99 cents at Trader Joe’s, it was an easy yes to pay and extra 20 cents for the organic option. Regardless it is still important to rinse any canned beans to remove extra salt from your dish.

As a second meal this week, since I am still craving avocado and have the fixings, I’m thinking another round of veggie bowls are in order with some black beans, sautéed mushroom, onion and peppers with cilantro rice, sour cream and fresh guacamole. The rice, beans and sautéed vegetables can all be prepared ahead of time where the only thing to make is fresh guacamole per serving which takes all of three minutes.

Check out the recipe below for the chickpea and millet salad. If you are interested in the veggie bowl dish, I have posted a similar recipe in my A Bowl of Fun post.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup millet dry
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup sliced asparagus
1 cup diced tomato
1/2 cup diced yellow or red onion
1 14 oz can organic chickpeas
4 tbsp. chopped parsley
2 tbsp. chopped orange mint (or reg. mint)
1/2 cup sliced mushroom
1/2 cup fresh squeezed orange juice (2 juicing oranges)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Toast millet over medium high heat for 2 minutes by gently shaking the pot and flipping the millet with a fork or spoon. Add water and bring to a boil and then reduce heat, top it (to cook like rice) for 15 minutes.
2. While the millet cooks, wipe mushrooms (about 4) and slice thinly and set aside. Peel and dice a small onion and add about 1/2 cup and mushrooms to a small skillet. Sauté over medium heat for three minutes to soften.
3. Rinse asparagus. Take one spear and bend lightly until it breaks naturally. Use this as a measurement to cut remaining spears. Thinly slice asparagus on an angle and set pile aside.
4. Rinse and dice one to two small tomatoes and set aside. Rinse and chop parsley and mint.
5. Add onion and mushroom mix to a medium-sized bowl and other vegetables. Once millet is cooked and still hot, add on top of the veggies and mix well. The steam with help soften the vegetables.
6. Open and rinse the can of chickpeas and add to the bowl. Rinse and roll the lemon and oranges and cut each in half. Add the herbs and juice oranges and half a lemon directly over the mixture.
7. Mix well and salt and pepper to taste. (Start with 1 tsp. of sea salt and a coarse black pepper.)
8. Enjoy!

Soups and Stews

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Good comfort food can go a long way. I was determined to chomp into some hearty beef stew and decided to crock pot it to make sure the beef was tender enough for my braces. I went for the traditional with potatoes, carrots and onion. I decided to try the multi-colored carrots for some added flavor and variety. This was easy to prep and toss into the crockpot for 5 hours. My crockpot is set to warm after the cooking time, so it was perfect to stay warm the additional 30 minutes I needed before dinner. Note: I prefer more of a cross between soup and stew and don’t often make a roux, but you can certainly add a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch to make a thicker sauce with water or stock before adding it to the crockpot. Depending on how long you plan to be away determines whether you should set it to cook low or high so that it’s not over cooked. If you plan to put it on before leaving for a workday, I would recommend a low cooking temp for a longer cook time (I.e. 8 hours). You will also want to cut the carrots and potato into larger chunks so they still have texture.

also decided to dip into my freezer stash of gumbo that I make each season. I opted for the spicy chicken and sausage for an alternate meal in between servings of stew. Check out the recipe below. I hope you find it as easy and enjoyable as I do.

Beef Stew
5 large red potatoes
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup diced onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 lb. cubed stew meat
1 cup of stock (beef or chicken)
1 cup of water
1 tbsp. onion powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. corse black pepper
1 tsp. Cayenne (optional)

Directions:
1. Rinse potatoes then cut in half longways and then into fourths. Add to crockpot.
2. Rinse and peel carrots 2 carrots (unless purchased prepped) and cut into medium pieces. Add to pot.
3. Peel and dice onion and mince garlic and add to pot.
4. Add beef, seasoning and liquid. Stir well, top and set timer on the crockpot.
5. Serve with rice if desired.
6. Enjoy!

Color Me Avocado

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Avocados are a gem. Technically a fruit, avocados are full of fiber, low in carbs and full of good fats. As a soft fruit when ripened, it’s perfect for easy brace face meals. I’ve become a big fan of avocado toast and it is easy to change up for any meal. This is a quick and easy dish that takes 5 minutes to make. I’ve made it with both eggs and sautéed shrimp. Quick note: If you don’t have a grater and don’t want chunks of garlic in your avocado, smash the garlic and rub each slice of toast thoroughly before adding the mashed avocado. Check out the recipe below.

Ingredients:
1 small to medium avocado
1 -2 small cloves of garlic grated
2 slices of whole wheat toast
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
1/2 tbsp. avocado oil or butter
2 scrambled or poached eggs or 5 sautéed shrimp

Directions:
1. Cut avocado in half longwise. Remove pit and scoop both halves into a bowl.
2. Mash gently with a fork. Peel garlic and grate into bowl.
3. Add a pinch on salt and pepper and mix well.
4. Scramble eggs in butter or oil and season with salt and pepper.
a.option 2: season one side of shrimp with salt, pepper and onion power and cook in oil or butter for 3 minutes on each side. Cut each in half longwise.
5. Toast bread. Add mashed avocado and red pepper flakes to each slice of bread.
6. Add half of shrimp or egg to each slice of toast.

Changes and Opportunties

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In addition to new resolutions, my 2018 began with braces and a requirement for soft foods. So my first week yielded new smoothie mixes, mashed potatoes, smoked gouda mac and cheese and good ‘ol grits and egg. As a person who typically eats well balanced meals, it’s been a struggle to find right balances with soft foods outside of smoothies; however, challenge accepted.

This week I decided on comforting Sheppard’s pie with a twist to boost my veggie intake. In addition to the traditional peas and carrots, I did a mix of yellow cauliflower with potatoes to give me a little more nutrients.

I also have the fixings for bowls of egg drop soup which takes minutes to make and can be made as needed. Also depending on how hungry I am, I can beef it up with more egg or even a small can of chicken.

Check out the recipes for both dishes below.

Sheppard’s Pie
1 lb. lean ground beef
3 cups diced onion (one large)
1 cup finely chopped carrots
1 1/2 cup of peas
1 small head of cauliflower (2 cups)
4 medium red potatoes or 1 large white potato
1/2 tbsp. sea salt
1 tbsp. onion power
1/2 tbsp. coarse black pepper
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup cream cheese (optional)

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Bring a large pot of water to boil. While it heats, rinse and peel potato(es). Cut in half. (If one large, cut in half longwise, then into fourths).
3. Rinse cauliflower and peel off leaves and cut off the tough stem end. The cauliflower should be about the same size as the potatoes.
4. Peel and dice a large onion and add half the onion, the potatoes and cauliflower to the water and boil for 15-17 minutes.
5. While that boils, place a large skillet over medium high heat. Add ground meat and the remaining onion and a pinch of water to brown the meat. Break into small pieces and brown evenly.
6. While the meat browns, peel carrots and chop finely by hand or with a food processor, small blender or magic chopper. Add to pan of beef.
7. Add defrosted peas and seasoning and cook for 10 minutes.
8. Remove potatoes from stove and strain. Add them back to the stove and reduce heat to low. Add butter, cream cheese and milk and mash until creamy. Salt and pepper to taste.
9. Remove beef mixture from heat and add to a standard 5 quart baking dish (large rectangle).
10. Add potato mixture on top and smooth evenly. Bake for 10 minutes until top browns slightly.

 

Egg Drop Soup
1 1/2 cups chicken broth or stock
1/4 cup water
1 tbsp. diced green onion
1-2 large eggs
1 tbsp. Low sodium soy sauce
1/2 tsp. sesame oil
1/4 cup canned chicken (optional)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. onion powder

Directions:
1. Add broth or stock to a small pot. Add green onion and all seasoning over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 3 minutes.
2. In a bowl add egg with a pinch of salt and whisk with a fork.
3. Add egg in a slow stream to pot. The egg will cook instantly. Remove heat.
4. Wash bowl from egg and add your finished soup. Enjoy.