No recipes, no resolutions

So, I love trying new recipes (as you may have guessed).  But sometimes recipes can be so….bossy.  Sometimes I just want to throw things together and not measure anything.  So today, I present to you three sort-of-recipes–blueprints, if you will–using two old favorite ingredients and one superstar newcomer to my kitchen.

Ingredient #1: Wheatberries

These are available in the bulk bins or packaged (I usually buy the Bob’s Red Mill brand) in what my family affectionately refers to as the “nature foods aisle.”  They have a great chewy texture and lots of super-duper nutritional qualities.  I’ve made several variations on wheatberry salads–all you need to do is cook them according to the package directions, chop up some fruits/veggies/nuts/whatever you have on hand, whisk together a little bit of simple dressing, and toss everything together.  Let your creativity run wild, my friends!  Here’s what I came up with for my latest variation:

That would be chopped pistachios, arugula, celery, scallions, and pomegranate seeds in the middle.  Pretty, eh?  I tossed all of those ingredients with the cooked wheatberries and then dressed the salad with a drizzle of my standard vinaigrette (1/2 c. olive oil, 3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp. honey, salt and pepper).  How’s that for some Suddenly Salad?

Ingredient #2: Chickpeas

In my younger days, chickpeas were just those unappetizing beige things that always showed up on salad bars.  But then I pretty much stopped eating meat and looked into other ways to get some protein and now I use them for hummus, salads, veggie burgers, etc.  Hummus sort of makes my world go ’round, but I’ve already discussed it here, so let’s talk about a way to let the humble little chickpea shine all on its own.  First, drain yourself a can of ‘em, rinse off the icky liquid that comes with, and pat them dry with a kitchen towel.

Preheat your oven to 425 and put the chickpeas on a foil-lined baking sheet.  Then drizzle with a couple tablespoons of your oil of choice, maybe a tablespoon of vinegar, and sprinkle on some seasoning.  The possibilities here are endless…check out this link for some more ideas.  Here’s what I used:

I roasted them at 425 for 30 minutes, stirring twice along the way.  When they’re done, they make a great crunchy salad topper or simple snack on their own.

Ingredient #3: Kefir

If you google “health benefits of kefir” it seems that the only thing this stuff won’t do for you is balance your checkbook.  It’s a fermented milk product (OK, that sounds gross, but stick with me) that’s like either really thick milk or really thin yogurt.  I tried it for the first time yesterday and have already decided it’s going to be a staple in my smoothie toolkit.

I blended 1/2 c. kefir with half a banana and 1/3 c. blueberries.  It was absolutely, probiotic-ly delicious!  It reminded me of when I boycotted yogurt for awhile as a child because one of my brothers (or perhaps both working in concert) told me that the “active cultures” label meant that there were live junebugs in every carton.  Good thing I’m all grown-up and smart now.

I hope these no-recipe recipes will inspire you to some healthy cooking in the New Year!  And, speaking of the New Year: I’m pretty excited about it.  This was the first year in as long as I can remember that I didn’t start off by resolving to lose 10 pounds or stay under 1200 calories or something gloomy like that, and I must say, it’s been a great one.  I stopped eating Lean Cuisines and 100-calorie packs and being all neurotic about my stupid bathroom scale. I decided instead I would just enjoy cooking real food and exercising how I wanted to.  And thanks to this new philosophy, I’m a both a little bit lighter (literally) and a whole lot lighter (figuratively).  So make your resolutions if you want–I’ll be making some because I love fresh starts and self-improvement and all that Oprah/kumbaya kind of stuff.  But be nice to yourself when you do, mmmkay?  Cheers, everybody!

Blueberries for Cal

Let me tell you the tale of a wonderful vacation day.

I woke up and my parents were already at work.  I lazed around and read for awhile.  Then, I packed up some homemade graham crackers (recipe here)…

…and a few other essentials…

…and drove myself to daycare.  My sister-in-law watches 3 babies plus my always charming baby nephew during the day, and now that I’m home I was eager to go assist.  (And by “assist,” I mean “make a mess in the kitchen and make myself scarce whenever somebody smells like their diaper needs attention.”)  The plan was to recreate a favorite snack of Mr. Baby Nephew (also known as Cal):

When I arrived, the man of the hour was not at all excited to see me…

…but my new friend Carter was happy to hang out in the kitchen with me and observe the cooking process.

I based these Nutrigrain-ish bars on this recipe.  I un-veganized it, because I had butter instead of Earth Balance and no ground flax to make a flax “egg.”  I also cut a little bit of sugar, and swapped blueberries for the apples.

First things first: the jam filling.  This stuff was simple and would be great on its own with yogurt, ice cream, pound cake, etc.

Next, dry ingredients:

Then add the butter and wet ingredients, and smush (technical term) until you have a crumbly mixture.

Press half of the mixture into a 9 x 9 pan, spread the blueberry filling over that, and crumble the rest of the oat mixture on top.

While it’s baking, tend to any adorable babies that happen to wake up.

And 30 minutes later, voila:

Blueberry Nutrigrain Knock-offs (makes about 16 bars)

  • 1 1/2 c. oats
  • 1 c. flour (I used 1/2 c. white and 1/2 c. whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 c. agave nectar (honey would probably work also)
  • 2 tbsp. almond milk

For the jam filling:

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp. water
  • juice of half a lemon

For the jam filling: In a small saucepan, cook the blueberries and sugar over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring often.  As you stir, smash some of the berries against the side of the pan.  When the 20 minutes are almost up, add the cornstarch and water and continue to stir for a few more minutes.  Then, take the pan off the heat, add the lemon juice, and let the jam cool.

For the bars: Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Then add the wet ingredients and the butter, and smash with a fork until the mixture is crumbly and well combined.  Press half of the mixture into a 9 x 9 pan, spread the jam filling evenly, and crumble the rest of the oat mixture on top.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, and let cool before cutting into 16 squares.

Note: I think this is my favorite of all the things I’ve posted on here so far–so you should definitely give it a try.  It would also lend itself well to lots of variations–see the link to the original recipe for a list.

After the blueberry project, I helped my sis-in-law and another of the daycare charges make some cookies for the big kids to decorate after school…

….and then I came home for Zumba.  It doesn’t get any better than that, dear readers.

If I don’t get back here before the weekend–happy holidays!

Joyful and Triumphant

Exams are over!!  I can now go places without my ziploc bag full of pencils, highlighters, earplugs, and anti-nausea medication!  The time for mulling over cases and statutes is past; now is the time for mulling wine.

(It’s OK to be jealous of my festive holiday cardigan.)

After a few weeks of no-nonsense studying, we gathered at my lovely friend Ingrid’s house for baking, festive sweater-wearing, caroling, and general nonsense.  It was wonderful. 

If you’re curious about this wine-mulling thing, here’s what I did: pour two bottles of something red (and cheap) into a big pot.  Add 1/2 c. brandy (or more…who wants to measure anyway?) and about 8 cinnamon sticks.  Then, get yourself several long strips of orange peel, like so….

…and stick whole cloves through the peel.  This prevents people finding whole cloves floating in their wine later.

Then bring everything to just a simmer and let it steep for awhile.  This same process is also good with cider–I’ve done that in my crockpot before.  What you do with the remaining orange and whole cloves is up to you:

In keeping with the happy holiday theme, today’s featured recipe is for gingerbread cupcakes.  Full disclosure: I have made this recipe 3 times in 4 days.  They were supposed to be for a lady who purchased the golden opportunity to have me deliver monthly baked goods to her throughout the year at a charity auction, and the first time I made them they were OK, but a tiny bit dry.  I felt it would be just plain wrong to give sub-par cupcakes to a paying customer.  (Actually, I don’t know who I WOULD serve sub-par cupcakes to.  Maybe the Taliban.)  I made some adjustments, and on the second try they were so good I was kind of sad to give them away.  So, this morning I made them again for the family, and I think I have finally made up for my baking deficit over the last few weeks.

Gingerbread Cupcakes (makes approximately 15)

  • 1 1/2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/8 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar (OR you could do what I did this morning: 1/4 c. brown sugar and 1/4 c. Stevia–it’s all-natural no-calorie sweetener.  If you use Stevia, the cupcakes will be flatter, so increase your baking soda a bit to give them a little more lift.)
  • 1/2 c. unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap, and not the “mild flavor” kind either–that’s for pansies)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 c. fresh ginger root, minced fine

Preheat your oven to 350, and get your pans with cupcake liners ready to go.  (I like the foil ones, for purely aesthetic reasons.)  Mix the flour, baking soda, and dry spices in a small bowl.  Melt the butter with the water in a small sauce pan or in the microwave, and allow to cool slightly.  With an electric mixer, mix the molasses and brown sugar (or brown sugar and Stevia) until smooth.  Then add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 30 seconds after each one.  Add the dry ingredients and the melted butter + water, and mix until just combined.  Fold in the minced fresh ginger.  Spoon the batter into the liners (about 2/3 full) and bake for 17 minutes exactly.  (OK, 15-20.  Mine took 17.  Just keep an eye on them and when a toothpick stuck in the middle comes out clean, they’re done.)

I’m going to leave this morning’s batch unfrosted, so I guess technically they’ll be gingerbread muffins.  But I frosted the batch I gave away with cream cheese frosting.  Set out 8 ounces of cream cheese and one stick of butter until they come to room temperature, and then cream them together with an electric mixer.  Then use the mixer to incorporate a teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1 cup of confectioner’s sugar.  I like my frosting to be less sweet than in most recipes, so taste and add more sugar if you want.

And for God’s sake, don’t forget the sprinkles.  No cupcake is complete without them!

She studies/slow-cooks at the table

This will be fast, and I’m not gonna proofread, OK?  It’s finals time and my brain is slowly melting, so there’ll probably be lots of typos and you can just DEAL WITH IT.  (Sorry, finals rage.)  Anyway, I know I should be bookin’ all the time, but a girl has got to maintain her sanity to perform at her peak, and cooking is a serious component of my sanity.

Also, yesterday I ate nothing but bread, almond butter, and freezer pops, and I did not feel so hot.  And the day before that I ate a microwaveable meal.  WHO AM I?  So, say hello to the working woman’s best friend:

Crockpots are brilliant.  You just drop everything in and go about your business, and it knows what to do.  When you come back from the library, bleary-eyed and over-caffeinated, your apartment smells all homey.

I did a super-market sweep on my way home from class, inspired by this recipe for “Spicy African Peanut Stew,” and came home to throw the following ingredients into my kitchen-appliance-stay-at-home-spouse:

  • 1/2 can garbanzo beans
  • 1 cubed sweet potato
  • 1 tbsp. curry powder
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • about a 1″ piece of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1 diced yellow squash
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 c. vegetable stock
  • golf-ball sized blob of peanut butter
  • 1/4 c. quinoa

Then I turned it on low and got to studyin’.

Does that look like a party or what?

I let it cook for about 6 hours.  (No stirring!  Just let it happen.)  And it was delish!

OK, that’s it.  See you all again when I am full of Christmas cheer and covered in flour from CHRISTMAS BAKING and wearing the holiday cardigan that I have draped over my couch as a beacon of hope!