Sunday, March 29, 2009

Meatless Monday: Garlic-Toasted Quinoa with Vegetables

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to a quinoa dish I like a lot. This week, I thought I'd introduce you to another quinoa dish that involves a different preparation method, the results of which produce a very different and delicious flavor. The preparation method? Toasting.

Garlic-Toasted Quinoa with Vegetables
Recipe (bottom of the page)

As with the risotto dish I highlighted here before, this is a dish that requires some attentive stirring and patience, so make sure you're in the mood for that before you embark. This is also a dish with which you need to be careful with measurements. If you use too much oil to toast your quinoa, it will never absorb all the vegetable broth when you steam it later. I learned that the hard way and had to artfully spoon excess vegetable broth out of the pot. The result was a bit more oily than it was supposed to be but still yummy.

You can also substitute the veggies they suggest for others you might prefer. For instance, they suggest you can use either spinach or baby chard. I myself swapped out broccoli for asparagus, each an equally hearty green stalk vegetable. And I'm assuming the recipe writer's choice to use shiitake mushrooms was just to keep the focus of the dish Asian. But if you're being frugal, I don't think it would hurt the recipe much to switched them out for more reasonably-priced button mushrooms.

Something I might try if I make this again will be putting a few dashes of soy sauce into the vegetable broth in which I steam the quinoa instead of seasoning it with it at the end. I think that might be an interesting way to subtly infuse the quinoa with the soy sauce flavor. Of course, the advantage of doing it at the end, as the recipe suggests, is that you can just put the bottle on the table and allow those eating to decide how much they want.

Options, options, options. The same recipe can yield so many different results with a little tweaking. Go head, be adventurous and make each recipe your own!

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fitness File: Perspective

Yes, it's been a while since I wrote about fitness. Truth be told, I've been rather fickle about my fitness routine over the past several months and didn't think it worth documenting my slovenly downward spiral. But, as of late, I'm back on the horse (again), so I thought I'd share the latest in my fitness musings.

I'm back to running, but I need to make time to do it more frequently. Right now, I'm only fitting in 1-2 runs a week, and that's just not enough to convince my body this is going to be a regularly occurring thing, so I'm going to try to go at least 3 times a week going forward. It's just been kind of difficult because I struggle so much with my breathing.

I brought my breathing problem up to my doctor at my recent annual check-up. The problem: after about a mile, I get severe side stitches and have so much trouble getting enough air, I feel like I'm drowning. Every time, it literally feels like a miracle that I'm able to go an additional mile before stopping. The doctor had me take a breathing test and concluded that I have exercise-induced asthma. I kind of suspected, but, of course, my husband thinks I'm just a hypochondriac. Half the time he's right, so who knows. I've got a prescription for an inhalant now and will see if it helps at all.
I've also been trying to cut myself some slack and put things in perspective. I may not be marathon-ready (or even 5k-ready, at this point, to be honest), I could probably never withstand the 'bootcamp' exercise classes some brave folks I know endure, and I might be pretty inconsistent with my exercise routine, but I'm making sincere efforts and it does feel good when I do get out there (well, after I stop really, but you know what I mean). It's all in your perspective, and a couple of encounters I had while out running recently gave me even more of that.

Earlier this month, I was on the last leg of my run (you know, the part where I feel like I'm drowning but still throwing one sneakered foot in front of the other nevertheless) and feeling pretty crappy about still not being in better form, when I turned a corner and came upon a woman walking briskly on the sidewalk ahead of me. She looked pretty old, was wearing long pants and a sweater on a warm day, . . . and had clearly suffered a stroke in the past. One entire side of her body was almost wet-noodle limp, . . . yet she was keeping a pretty decent clip.

Then, after a run last week, I was cooling down and walking home when a man in his fifties sidled up next to me to introduce himself as a neighbor from across the cul-de-sac community walkway. He told me he exercises twice a day . . . and that he's had 10 strokes. This was evident from his speech and the fact that he was steering his mobility scooter awkwardly with one arm. We chatted briefly and then parted ways as our paths diverged.

Dude, if these folks can get out there and exercise regularly, there is absolutely zero excuse for me not to. The measure of success need not be in mileage or minutes. The fact that we're out there at all and doing something positive for our health should be incentive and reward enough. It's not always easy to remember or internalize that, but I'm going to try a little harder to do just that.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Meatless Monday: Curried Couscous with Broccoli and Feta

Early this month I posted about quinoa, saying it's a good substitute for couscous. That got me to thinking - I substitute quinoa for couscous so often, it's been a while since I've actually had some couscous! So, Matt dug up and cooked this yummy couscous recipe for me.

Curried Couscous with Broccoli and Feta

I'm not a huge fan of raisins in food. Don't get me wrong, I really like raisins, . . . just not in things (e.g., salads, bagels, cookies, etc.). But Matt wanted me to try at least one bite with a raisin in it, because the recipe called for it and, therefore, there must be some flavor balance they were going for that he didn't want me to miss out on (gee, thanks) . . . so he hid one raisin in the middle of my bowl. (Sneaky Pete.) The verdict? I neither liked it nor disliked it. I think it was because there were so many other strong flavors (e.g., onion, ginger, curry), varied textures (from the nuts, couscous, feta, broccoli), and a fair amount of sweetness already present (from the tablespoon of sugar) that I didn't taste anything different in that bite at all.

Instead of fresh ginger, Matt used powdered ginger. You might try that too if you can't find ginger that looks good in your grocery store's produce section, but it's usually easy enough to find fresh. And, if you're looking for a particularly good curry, you might give Penzeys' sweet curry a try. We've gotten quite a few spices from Penzeys and have never been disappointed.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Monday, March 16, 2009

Meatless Monday: Asparagus Wraps

Here's an easy-to-make appetizer that's really yummy.

Asparagus Wraps

Yes, the recipe calls for prosciutto, but that can obviously be skipped. What you'll want to do, though, is sprinkle your dough with a bit of salt (while you're at it, I would suggest a bit of pepper, too) and gently press it in before wrapping your asparagus to make up for the saltiness of the prosciutto that will be missing. The recipe suggests sprinkling Parmesan on the finished wraps. I suggest sprinkling your dough (on the side that will touch the asparagus) with a generous amount of Parmesan and gently pressing it in before you cut it into strips. I think you lose less cheese to the baking tray and they're less messy to eat that way.

I've also made this hors d'oeuvre using Pillsbury crescent roll dough. It comes in a reduced-fat version, you don't have to wait for it to thaw, and the final product comes out just as good as with the frozen pastry dough if you ask me. You can even make these ahead of time and set them in the refrigerator. Then you can just pull them out, let them come up to room temperature, and pop them in the oven 10-15 minutes before you want to serve them.

You'll, of course, want to get rid of the tough part of the asparagus before you start your recipe. There are a few different camps on how to do this. Some say - hold the asparagus at each end, bend it until it breaks, keep the side with the head, discard the rest, and repeat for each piece. Others say - that wastes too much perfectly good asparagus and time, and they prefer to just cut 1-2 inches off the bottom of all of their asparagus pieces uniformly. Yet others say - don't waste any of the asparagus and just peel the ends like you would a carrot. I say, it's your asparagus, you decide. So long as your guests aren't stuck trying to find a way to politely spit woody, inedible pieces of vegetable into their cocktail napkins, it hardly matters how you achieve that end.

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Monday, March 9, 2009

Meatless Monday: Southwestern Quinoa Salad & Sangria

If you've never had quinoa, you're missing out, people. Not only is it really versatile in terms of what kinds of dishes you can make with it, it's considered a 'super food' and a 'complete' protein with nutritional value that easily beats out other grains. I find it a nice substitute for rice or couscous, have used it as a base for lots of dishes and a main ingredient in salad, and hope to try it in soup sometime soon. This particular recipe is a new favorite.

Southwestern Quinoa Salad

The recipe doesn't suggest to do this, but I enjoyed using the lettuce leaves to make little wraps with the salad as I ate it. You might consider trying that too. I also used vegetable broth instead of water when cooking the quinoa. I found it enhanced the flavor of the dish just a bit. And, of course, as usual, I skipped the cilantro, but you obviously don't have to.

Another substitution you can consider is using a little cayenne pepper instead of jalapeƱo chili. I ended up having to do that because I didn't find out until it was too late that my chili had gone bad and was unusable. If you decide to do the same, I would recommend incorporating the cayenne pepper with the lime juice, oil, and cumin at the beginning so it gets distributed evenly throughout the dish when you mix it all up. And, remember, a little cayenne goes a long way, . . . but you know you're heat tolerance better than me!

We decided to have sangria with our salad and it turned out to be a fantastic pairing. If you're interested, I highly recommend trying the recipe we picked up at a Hip Cooks cooking class -

2 bottles Charles Shaw shiraz (a.k.a. Two-Buck Chuck)
3 oranges, thinly sliced
3 limes, thinly sliced
½ a bottle of mango passion fruit juice (or other tropical juice)
A dash of Citronge

Combine all ingredients and muddle.

(You can find quinoa, Two-Buck Chuck, and mango passion fruit juice at Trader Joe's.)

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts

Monday, March 2, 2009

Meatless Monday: Tortellini, White Bean, & Spinach Soup

This next dish is comforting in the way any great soup should be - it's hearty and flavorful, and it tastes even better when it's reheated later (the flavors really meld together nicely).

Tortellini, White Bean, & Spinach Soup

The recipe calls for fresh tortellini, but, if you wanted to, I'm sure you could thaw and use the frozen kind too. The taste and texture of fresh pasta is just usually a little better. If you're really feeling ambitious, you might even consider making the tortellini from scratch. As with any recipe, the freshest ingredients will usually yield the best results, but sometimes a compromise is necessary - not everyone has all day (or the desire) to make their own fresh pasta. I used Buitoni 3-cheese tortellini which you can find in the refrigerated section of most local grocery stores. It wasn't restaurant quality, but I think it worked pretty well.

Next time I make this recipe, I will probably add more spinach (another 1/2 - 1 cup). The 2 cups it calls for just didn't seem like enough to me (it cooks down significantly). I liked the consistency of the end product, but if you like your soups broth-y, you might consider adding more vegetable broth than it calls for. And it doesn't list salt or pepper on the ingredients list, but, obviously, you'll want to use some. As with most recipes, you should 'season to taste.'

Got any favorite vegetarian or vegan recipes?? Please share!

Other Meatless Monday posts