Thursday, June 23, 2011

Homemade Foccaccia

There's something really romantic about baking your own bread.  I love fresh bread, so now that I'm getting more comfortable in the kitchen, I decided to start baking my own.

No-knead Foccaccia from Budget Bytes seemed like a good place to start.

The process is pretty simple - combine all the ingredients, let it rise overnight, and bake it.  Really, it's that easy.  And you end up with some pretty fantastic sandwich bread.  A little pointier than my normal bread, but if you use low-points fillings, it's totally worth it.


1 tsp coleman's yellow mustard
three slices of tomato
two leaves of lettuce
two tablespoons of as-yet-unnamed tofu sandwich spread (still being perfected, but the recipe is coming - it's kind of like mayo or cream cheese, so either of those (or the vegan versions) would work well too)

I can't really take credit for any of the recipes in this post, but it did all come together quite nicely.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Polenta with Rustic Tomato Sauce and Roasted Asparagus

According to Wikipedia, the word polenta comes from the Latin puls or pulmentum.  Those roughly translate to grain mush or gruel.   That's why we prefer the Italian polenta - it just so much tastier, even if it is the same thing.

In Roman times, it was made with farro, chestnut flour, millet, spelt, or chickpeas.  Lucky for us, at the same time, they were cultivating corn in North and South America, so if you've had polenta, you've likely had it made with corn meal.  And you likely know that like many other grain-based dishes, it goes with just about anything - including, as we re-discovered last night, rustic tomato sauce and roasted asparagus.

Polenta (inspired by How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman)

You'll want to get the polenta started first, because it takes the longest.

1 cup course cornmeal (we used Bob's Red Mill Corn Grits)
Heavy pinch of salt and pepper
2 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon sunflower oil

Combine cornmeal, salt and pepper
Bring water to a boil

Once the water is boiling, add the polenta in a steady stream, whisk as you add it to avoid lumps

Turn the heat down and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently

This is where you have a choice to make.  Polenta can either be served as a porridge or grilled.  If you're serving it as a porridge, you can stop when it gets to the consistency you want it.  We decided to grill it.  If you're going to grill it, make sure it is fairly thick, about the consistency of thick oatmeal.  Coat a loaf pan with cooking spray, and pour the hot polenta into the pan.  As soon as you take it off the heat, it will start to solidify, so you'll have to act fast.  Let it cool for at least another 10-15 minutes (it can sit for longer if you want to make it ahead of time).

 When you're ready to eat it, cut into about 1/2 inch slices, brush with olive oil, and put it in a hot pan or on the grill until it's crispy on the outside.

 Rustic Tomato Sauce

28 oz. Trader Joe's canned whole plum tomatoes with basil
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 onion
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 red dried chile (can use 1/2 teaspoon dried red chile flakes)
1 Tablespoon capers
1 capful of Vermouth
salt and pepper

Saute onions and garlic in the olive oil until they're fragrant

Add tomatoes and spices

Bring to boil then simmer for 30 minutes

Blend with an immersion blender until it's the consistency you want it.  We left it pretty thick.  (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can blend it all in the food processor before cooking it.  It would also be good in big pieces).

Add the capers and vermouth.

Roasted Asparagus
1 bunch of asparagus
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 500 degrees

Prep the asparagus - if you have woody stalks, cut those off, and peel the thicker stalks so that all of the asparagus is about the same thickness

Drizzle oil over the asparagus and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste

Roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Eggplant Tomato Curry

When domestic eggplants finally come into season and I can get them at the store for less than three bucks a pound, a kind of eggplant mania sets in.

This is really the same as my mania for asparagus, tomatoes, avocados, summer squashes, winter squashes...

I have always been curious about using the pressure cooker to make curries, because I have watched numerous videos and read numerous blog posts and articles, but have had little direct experience.

A recipe for eggplant and tomato curry caught my eye, and, since I had two big beautiful globe eggplants and a ripe red tomato, I figured I would go for it. It turns out to be very easy.

So, I prepped:

  • two hefty globe eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • one fist-sized tomato, sliced
  • a couple inches of ginger, grated
  • four to six cloves of garlic, mashed
  • half an onion, diced
  • two ounces of tomato paste, or basically whatever's left over from the six-ounce can you opened for something else

I also got some curry spices: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, red chilies, garam masala, salt and black pepper to taste.

Then, the rest of the recipe is pretty standard currying procedure for me:

With a couple tablespoons of neutral oil, fry the whole spices, then the onion, then the garlic and ginger, then the powdered spices.

Then you dump in whatever you're currying and cook it all together. I save the tomato paste to stir in after the vegetables cook. Is this necessary? I'm not sure, that's just how I do it.

The eggplant had to go in two batches, to soften enough in the oil to even close the lid on the pressure cooker. When everything was in the pot, I added about a half-cup of water, closed the lid, brought it up to pressure, and gave it about eight minutes.

The eggplants cooked up all soft and delicious, but it looks like I added just a little too much water out of pressure-cooker-explosion paranoia. Next time, a quarter cup. I stirred in the tomato paste and let it simmer with the lid off for a couple of minutes.

I plated this with some saffron basmati and a fistful of freshly chopped cilantro and mint.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mint Pesto

One of my favorite parts of summer is all the fresh produce, especially fresh herbs.

Matt bought a huge bunch of mint this week.  Of course, my first reaction was Mojitos! but in an attempt to find some more, um, productive uses of mint, we were inspired by Mark Bittman to try mint pesto.

It's a pretty straightforward recipe:

2 loosely packed cups of fresh mint
Salt to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons walnuts

Put it all in a food processor, and presto, you have pesto! (Sorry, I couldn't help it).

I served it over whole wheat spaghetti, but it is good over any kind of pasta, or grilled veggies.

Pesto can really be made with any fresh herb or green.  It's traditionally made with basil, but you can use mint or dill.  I've even had it with spinach and arugula.  If you have access to them, pine nuts can be swapped for the walnuts.  Most recipes include a clove of garlic.  I didn't use it here because the mint is pretty sweet, and I thought it would taste funny, but with a more savory herb, I would definitely recommend it!

Quiet Week

I know I haven't really been posting a lot on the weight loss front.  That's because there hasn't been a lot to post about.  I had a slight gain when we got back from Sioux Falls, but it was an expected gain.  I didn't track at all, was eating meals prepared by others or in restaurants for 6 days, attending frequent, wedding related celebrations with the associated food and drinks, and sitting in a car for 4 of those 6 days.  So not really conducive to weight loss.  I probably could have tracked, or focused more on activity, but honestly, kind of needed a break.

But now it's back to the grind.  I've had my fun, I need to get back on track.  Matt and I have about a month before we move cross country to California.  I know that's going to be a major disruption in my life.  I don't want to know how long we'll have to go without access to a full kitchen or our kitchen equipment.  Even if all goes according to plan, July is going to be a stress-filled month.  And based on some of the interactions I've had with the people handling my move, assuming that all will go according to plan is quite optimistic.

So my goal for June is to really ingrain some of the healthy habits that will carry me through times of stress.  Those include:

1. Having healthy snacks on hand for when I get hungry
2. Watching my portions - even if I can't control what's put in front of me, I can control how much of it I eat
3. Finding healthier outlets for my stress than junk food
4. Keeping activity a part of my daily routine.  Even if I can't get to the gym or take 60 minutes to do Wii Fit, I can at least go for a 20 minute walk on my lunch break, or take the stairs instead of the elevator

I know these aren't concrete goals, they can't be measured.  The TA that taught my "Fitness for Life" lab in college would be disappointed.  But if I focus on them, and really ingrain them in my lifestyle this month, when I'm more or less in control, when I feel things spiraling out of control next month, I will have them to fall back on.

Here's an example of how I put goals 2 and 4 into practice on Friday.  Matt, a friend, and I met up at Truckeroo, a Food Truck festival near my office.  Matt and I both got sandwiches from El Floridano.  If you're in DC and haven't tried them, find out when they'll be near you.  For $7 a sandwich, you won't regret it!  They have great vegan options as well as normal pulled pork sandwiches.  If you get the tempeh, it's not a bad meal, points wise.  I picked El Floridano because, unlike some of the other options, I felt like they had reasonable portion sizes.  After sandwiches, I had a green tea popcicle from Pleasant Pops.  Matt had the Strawberry Rhubarb.  Overall, it was a high points dinner, but I had planned for it, and I definitely don't feel like I went overboard.

After dinner, we all walked down to the new Yards park in Navy Yards for some live music.

Matt and I at the Yards

 The Electric Slide

The Anacostia Waterfront at night

The Yards Park

An evening of free music, just enough good food to feel good about it, and walking.  I felt in control, I had fun, and I wasn't obsessing about my weight loss journey.  It felt great!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

So we just got back from a week out of town -- four days of which were spent on the Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Pennsylvania turnpikes -- an environment not conducive to vegetarianism per se.

Anyway, now we are home, and perhaps we can indulge ourselves in a little junk food after thousands of miles of highway billboards for tacos and hamburgers.

Not too junk-y, though, I still have to get some whole grains and vegetables into our bodies somehow. To that end: vegan sloppy joes.

So they're not really sloppy joes, they're really just glorified beans on toast, but they were really good and I will totally make them again.

It's almost too simple to be a recipe, but here you go:

  • half an onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, grated or diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 8 oz button mushrooms, diced
  • 1 Tbsp molasses
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 2 oz tomato paste
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp dried parsley
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 4-6 oz water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can Heinz vegetarian beans

Sweat the veggies in a little olive oil, then add everything else. You win!

I got six sangwiches out of this. It might not even have needed the beans, but I like beans, sooo...

Scoop some up on a roll, such as these whole wheat kaiser rolls, with whatevs on the side: some french fries, perhaps, if you are not recovering from a nutritionally dubious American road trip.

We had a little green salad with some tahini-mustard vinaigrette. It was excellent.