Easy Peasy Pilaf

Spring is a funny time of year in Pittsburgh. It’s either blazing hot and humid or cold and drizzly, and it’s nearly impossible to predict when the weather will change. So some days are worthy of light salads and avocado toast and bowls of strawberries, and other days I end up curled up under blankets with a bowl of soup bubbling on the stove and something toasty in the oven.

I know I haven’t posted in a while; my attention has been on crafty projects rather than writing, including a rag rug I started more than a year ago, as well as making progress on an embroidered tablecloth I started when I was 10 or 12 or something. I figure I’ll finish that by the time my grandkids are in college (optimism!)

I have been doing my usual experimenting in the kitchen, of course with my usual mixed results. Over the winter my manfriend and I discovered The Great British Baking Show on PBS and were immediately hooked. This inspired some wonderful, tasty, cold-weather experiments, including a savory pie that leaked, but was delicious and somehow free of the dreaded soggy bottom:

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

Pie! Tender pastry filled with layers of carrot, peas, and something tomato-based that hemorrhaged out the side.

I also made Irish soda bread that was dense and leaden but had a pleasantly crunchy crust, and more recently I attempted pizza in spite of my fear of yeast doughs. It was shockingly easy and turned out great. If you want my recipe, go to Aldi and buy some instant yeast. That’s what I used, the yeast package recipe and jarred sauce.

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Pre-oven: mushroom and walnut whole-wheat pizza

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

Baked, sprinkled with lots of fresh basil.

And finally last weekend I made crepes filled with fresh strawberries, mango, and banana, drizzled with homemade vegan chocolate ganache, which were a lot of work, but positively scrummy, as Mary Berry would say. We inhaled the crepes before I could photograph them. They weren’t pretty anyway.

All of those recipes are still works in progress and decidedly too wintery for June (except the crepes), so allow me to share today’s one-pot healthy cheap-tastic meal that required few ingredients and minimal time at the stove. I’ve got it all packed up for this week’s lunches at work. I might add a side of baby carrots and broccoli to round it out, but more likely I will pack them and not have time to eat them till after work anyway.

Easy Peasy Pilaf

Ingredients:

1c millet (or quinoa, or bulgur, or that 10 minute barley or spelt from TJ’s, or probably steel cut oats would work (if you try that, let me know))

Onion, chopped

Mushrooms, 8-16 oz, sliced (I think I used 1.5 8oz boxes but can’t be sure)

2-2.5c vegetable stock (or water + seasonings)

1c peas (edamame or lima beans would be good too)

3T sesame seeds

1T apple cider or rice vinegar

drizzle of sesame oil

green onions for garnish

1. Start by sauteeing your onion in a saucepan with a little cooking spray or small amount of oil for a few minutes, then add the millet (or other grain) and stir. Let the grain toast, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.

2. Add mushrooms and stir some more. If the grain is starting to get too brown add your stock now. If not, continue to cook the mushroom-millet mixture for a couple minutes, then add the stock.

3. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed. Then stir in the peas, turn off the flame, cover again, and let it stand for at least 5 minutes to cook the peas finish absorbing liquid. You don’t want to overcook them; no one likes mushy peas! If you’re using edamame, you’ll need to add them sooner as they take more time to cook.

4. When your peas are warm and the last of the liquid has been absorbed, stir in the sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar, and green onions.

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

Ready for tomorrow in Tupperware!

In other news, you know why green onions are great? They’re yummy and cheap to begin with, keep a long time, are fast and easy to use, and you don’t have to buy them very often because if you put them in a glass of water on your windowsill THEY WILL REGROW!!! Check out my stylish scallion set-up:

I "upcycled" that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

I “upcycled” that salsa jar because I am hip and eco-conscious.

In other news, I’ve been doing the Happy Herbivore Yogivore Challenge, which is basically just getting yourself on the mat for a few minutes a day for 21 days. It’s helping a lot with the stiff neck I get from embroidering for hours at a time (I’m determined to finish that tablecloth someday). Plus it’s a not-very-intimidating way for me to get back in shape a little. My desk job doesn’t cut it in that respect; not like chasing children did! Anyway, since you read this far, I’m going to reward you with a picture of my bunny bothering me while I do yoga.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

Annabelle thinks yoga time is petting time.

The Nine to Five

For a long time I really didn’t understand why so many people had such a hard time eating healthy food.  I got up every morning, ate a bowl of oatmeal or leftover soup for breakfast, and later cooked a big batch of something for lunch and packed a portion up for dinner at work.  Once or twice a week on my night off, I’d make a nice dinner for my manfriend, complete with dessert (usually something decadent from Chocolate Covered Katie).  I mean, yeah, I snacked on popcorn or crackers after work most nights, and would have a beer or some chocolate if my shift was stressful, but all it took was a little time and planning to make mostly healthy choices.  I secretly thought that the rest of America was just lazy.  Sorry guys.

This was my routine for years, from the time I was a Brooklyn nanny working after school, to when I moved to Pittsburgh and took an evening shift call center job. I usually worked part-time and although I didn’t have many evenings free to be social, I did have a lot of time to cook and experiment in the kitchen. Fast forward to this February, when I accepted a new position at my job that requires me to work mostly during the day.  I have some flexibility, but it’s a basic Monday through Friday, 9am-5pm job.

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This is Annabelle. I wish she liked cooking from this book as much as she likes eating the cover.

My routine is entirely different now and I don’t have it all figured out yet.  I get up every morning and make coffee and a big green smoothie.  I was beefing it up with a great protein powder from Arbonne for a while, but that’s not currently an option for various reasons, so now I’m adding oatmeal and a handful of almonds to give it staying power.  Lunch at work is usually leftovers or some basic grain/bean/veg combo, the usual stuff I make, although I do occasionally succumb to ordering in.  And dinner is where I struggle.  No matter what I eat for lunch or if I take an afternoon snack, I seem to always come home half-starved and ravenous.  So I snack.  Popcorn, cereal, leftovers, junk food…and by the time dinner time rolls around, I’m too full to cook (a reverse from when I got home and was too hungry to cook).  So I skip dinner and around 8 or so I realize I don’t have anything to take for tomorrow’s lunch and hastily throw a meal together.  It’s usually curried lentils or split pea soup, both of which I’m horrifically bored with, by the way.

I get it now!  This is why people don’t cook all the time.  You’re too tired and you forget to soak the beans before leaving for work and you end up making ramen and scrambled eggs for dinner or ordering sushi delivery, and then don’t pack a lunch and order Chipotle at work then next day.  I get it, I was totally spoiled.  So that brings me to this question:  What do we do about it?

Seriously, what are your strategies for cooking healthy meals on a busy schedule?  Share your wisdom with me, internet friends!

Here’s another picture of my bunny to reward you for your tips:

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Happy New Year, and Veggie Sausage

Please forgive my week-long delay in publishing this.  Now please enjoy the only post I’ve ever written with a massive hangover.

Clean Plates!

Clean Plates!

I’m sipping ginger kombucha and hoping my stomach settles some time today as I write this. I rang in the New Year last night with some of my closest and oldest friends, ate a lot of food, and drank an unknown quantity of whiskey. Hence my stomach’s need to settle.

I did prepare for this situation though, by planning ahead for my first breakfast of 2015: I sent my manfriend to the store for coffee beans and eggs yesterday while I stayed home and made fake sausages and unpacked a gallon of sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is necessary for New Year’s Day so you have good luck in the new year, and as an added bonus it is cheap and easy to make, as well as great for your micro-biome. I’m not sharing how to make kraut today because there are too many other people more qualified than me, but I will share with you how I made my meatless sausages! I made them up as I went along, so understand that the measurements are not precise, but they were awfully tasty.

Veggie Sausage

Ingredients
1 cup cooked lentils, well drained
1 cup cooked white beans, well drained
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup cooked pearl barley (brown rice should also work, I just happened to have cooked barley on hand)
1/4 cup walnuts
1 medium onion
lots of garlic (I used a bunch of those tiny cloves from the center of the head and I didn’t count)
1/2 a medium apple, cored and chopped
3 Tblsp nutritional yeast
1 Tblsp tomato paste
1 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
1 tsp each of several different dried herbs; I used oregano and thyme and lemon-pepper seasoning blend. Put in sage too. I don’t know why I don’t have it.
1 tsp each of ground coriander, paprika, and turmeric (smoked paprika would be great!)

1. Start by grinding up the onion, garlic, herbs and spices, and walnut in the food processor until you have a chunky paste.
2. Add the beans and lentils, oats, barley, tomato paste, and yeast. Pulse until combined but not totally smooth.
3. Taste for seasoning and once you’ve got it just right, add your apple chunks and pulse a few more times. You want to be able to see some bits of apple.
4. Refrigerate the goop for about half an hour, then shape into links or patties. Actually, make patties because links kind of look like dog turds. Then put them back in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them, even overnight.
5. Cooking method is where I’m not sure what to tell you. I pre-baked mine yesterday at 400 for about 20 minutes (both links and patties), then fried them this morning. They were way too brown and a little dry. I think you’ll get the best results if you fry them in a bunch of oil from raw goop, but that will take forever. So that being said, also feel free to bake them on a parchment-lined pan or greased pan (for more oily sausagey results). Do them like any of my burgers, but perhaps less time since I assume you’ll be making smaller patties. Sorry to be vague. I trust you though. You’re smart people who are probably less hungover than me, and you can figure it out.

We also had grapefruit, grits, bagels, eggs, and coffee for breakfast today with our good-luck kraut and sausage. Put ketchup on the sausage. Why don’t we ever buy ketchup?

Bon appétit! And happy New Year!

Healthy Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Pancakes were always a big deal in my family. Every weekend, my dad would cook up heaps of homemade pancakes from his own recipe stored deep in his brain. My dad is an early riser, whereas my mom has always worked the evening shift at the hospital, so on Saturday mornings she slept in while Daddy took care of breakfast. Some of my best memories are of sitting around the kitchen table with my siblings, fighting over who got the next pancake.

Pancake!

Pancake!

Eventually though, all good things must come to an end. My dad took a new job driving a truck cross-country and wasn’t home on the weekends anymore. One of the first Saturdays without him, my little brother, who must have been about eight at the time, decided that cold cereal wasn’t gonna cut it. So we pulled our mom’s Fanny Farmer Cookbook off the shelf and looked up a recipe for pancakes. He did most of the work, although I guess I supervised the use of the stove and stuff. My most important job though, was to eat the pancakes however they turned out. Flipping pancakes is not necessarily easy if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s even harder when you are a little kid who has trouble reaching the back of the stove. Some of them were bad. Really bad. Burnt and raw all at once, somehow both over-mixed and with baking powder lumps, but I ate them!

We worked on pancake making for months, trying different recipes, convincing our dad to write his down as best he could, and after much experimentation (and many awful pancakes for me to eat) my brother came up with his own perfect formula. I went off to college with his recipe in hand and made pancakes for my friends more times than I can remember. As the years have gone by, I’ve done my own experimentation, adding different ingredients, making them healthier, veganizing, improving, playing, and always eating the (occasionally awful) results.

Today’s experiment went well, so try these fluffy and flavorful, healthy and hearty pumpkin pancakes, perfect for fall.  This recipe makes a ton of pancakes, by the way.  If you are just one or two people and don’t want to eat leftovers all week, halve it. If you are feeding four growing children, get two pans going so that they cook faster and minimize arguing.

Pumpkin Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

1 cup quick oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon*
1/2 tsp salt

3 cups milk of choice**
2 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup pumpkin puree***

1. Stir vinegar and vanilla into the milk, either in a bowl or right in the measuring cup.  Then add the oats and let them soak in the milk mixture for about ten minutes while you prepare the other ingredients.  This is a great time to make coffee!

2. Sift together the remaining dry ingredients.

3. Add the oat-milk mixture and the pumpkin to the flour mixture and stir until just blended. Let it rest for a few minutes while your pan warms up. This is a good time to pour a cup of that coffee you made in step one.

4. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat for about five minutes. I like non-stick, but sometimes I use cast iron lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Ladle some batter into the pan, tilt it a little to spread the batter out, and cook until bubbles appear on the surface and the edges start to dry. The flip and cook a few more minutes until brown and puffy.

Bubbles!  Almost ready to flip.

Bubbles! Almost ready to flip.

5. Eat drizzled with maple syrup or honey, maybe some toasted walnuts if you feel ambitious, and a nice hot cup of coffee.

*Feel free to add other spices like nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and clove. Today I happened to only have cinnamon
**I used almond, soy should work too.
***I used a can from Aldi – only 79 cents! Make sure it’s just pumpkin, not pie filling.

 

 

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

It’s freezing in my apartment!

I’m too stubborn to turn the heat on so early in October, so I baked.  I threw these together while loosely following a recipe from a book and wondering why I have so few ingredients that are appropriate for muffins.   Please note the lack of oil.  I forgot to put it in.  They’re still spectacular.  Absolutely the best improvisational baking I’ve ever done.  Go make them NOW!

Carrot-Walnut Muffins

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn't survive the cooling process.

There would be 12 here, but 4 didn’t survive the cooling process.

Ingredients

1 c whole wheat flour

1 c all purpose flour

1/2 c sugar (I used white, but brown would probably be great, or honey, or maple syrup, but then you’d have to adjust the liquid)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

3/4 c apple juice

1 egg or flax egg

1 T orange zest (Ok, I didn’t measure this.  It was two oranges worth.)

1/2 c  chopped walnuts

1 c grated carrot (hooray for the food processor!)

1.  Preheat oven to 400F and prepare a muffin tin for a dozen (grease them or use paper liners, up to you!)

2.  Sift together dry ingredients.

3.  Beat egg/flax egg with the apple juice and orange zest.  I did this right in the two-cup liquid measuring cup I used for the apple juice.

4.  Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and gently stir until just combined, then fold in the carrots and walnuts.

5.  Pour the batter into the muffin tins.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until lightly browned on top and a tooth pick inserted in the center comes clean.  Mine took 23 minutes.

Let them cool for a few minutes before turning them out on to a wire rack to cool.  Eat some while they are still warm!

Little life update, since it’s been ages since I posted regularly (I am trying to get back in the habit now that my life is calmer!):  In mid-August, I moved out of the big, dirty, junky house I’d been sharing with three women and a cat in Lawrenceville.  My manfriend and I are now living together in a lovely little two-bedroom apartment in Highland Park.  It’s quiet and has loads of trees, and the back windows overlook a very pretty little garden belonging to some unidentified neighbor on the next street, while the front windows look out on a gorgeous old house populated with small blond children and their NYC ex-pat parents.  Our kitchen is AWESOME.  Massive pantry, full-size gas stove, a peninsula counter, and a dishwasher!  Paradise.

 

Buddha Bowl

This week’s lunch has been the usual improvisation: What do I have, and how can I combine it so it tastes good?

Starting with starches, I almost always have some cooked brown rice on hand, which is the basis for such a wide variety of dishes.

Next come vegetables. I have some basics like carrots and celery, as well as loads of kale (it was on sale!) and some raw beets.

I also need something proteiny and some flavor. My options were a little limited this week as I had only dry beans and no time to cook them, and very few nuts. I do always have peanut butter and some frozen peas, which I think are the most budget-friendly and convenient sources of protein you can get, aside from lentils and split peas which still have to be cooked.

So let’s get cooking! I decided to forgo the peas since I had some in my oatmeal for breakfast, and whip up some peanut sauce. Three birds, one stone: Flavor + protein + healthy fats.

Beets and carrots were quickly run through the grating disk on my food processor and tossed with a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and a little salt to make my favorite Easy Beet Salad.

I steamed a couple of stemmed and torn leaves of kale in the microwave in my Tupperwave Stack Cooker, but a covered glass or ceramic dish will also do the trick.

I simply layered the kale, brown rice and peanut sauce on a plate (use a big bowl, it will be easier to stir), and put a hefty serving of beet salad on the side, thinking it wouldn’t be great with peanut sauce. I was wrong; it was pretty good with peanut sauce. There you go, beets are a peanut butter food! Also topped the whole mess with some scallions, since onions are both delicious and good for your heart.

 

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

I ate half of it before I remembered to take a picture.

Since this is lacking a bean or tofu, I wondered what the actual protein content would be, since folks seem to be obsessed with where vegetarians get their protein. Plugged the ingredients into Google, and based on 1 cup each of rice and vegetables, plus two tablespoons of peanut butter, you end up with around 18g of protein, about a third of what a woman my size needs for the day. Not bad, right?

 

PS – I’ve been eating black bean soup for dinner at work all week.  In case anyone wanted the recipe, you can find a version of it here.

Cucumber-Strawberry Salsa

I’ve been making this in my Tupperware Quick-Chef Pro for my parties and it’s been a big hit!  So simple and perfect for this season.  I don’t recommend making it in a food processor; it’s too hard to control and you might end up with soup (tasty, but not what we’re going for).  If you don’t have a Quick-Chef or something similar, just finely chop everything by hand.

Ingredients:

1/2 lb strawberries

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded (if you get the little persian ones, you can skip peeling it)

1/2 a lime’s juice

handfull of fresh cilantro

a few scallions

Freshly ground black pepper and a dash of salt.

1.  Start by whirring the scallions and cilantro in the Quick-Chef until they are roughly chopped.

2.  Add your cucumber, in 1″-2″ chunks, give it three or four good turns.

3.  Add the strawberries and turn until chopped however finely you like, then gently fold in the lime juice.  Top with fresh black pepper and salt to taste.

Serve with tortilla or pita chips.  Yum yum yum.  It’s also really great over a salad of lettuce or baby spinach with a few pepitas.