Sides


I’ve been busier with work the past couple weeks, which is good, but it also means more time away from my food blog (and I’m pretty bummed I missed the Recipe Redux for this month!) I usually spend about 2-3 hours creating a post, sometimes more, depending on the topic, photos, and the ease or difficulty of writing it.

Here is a recipe that I recently experimented with, and it’s all thanks to an Apple and Fennel salad I came across at Wegman’s. It was tart, vinegary, and sweetened with a sprinkle of golden raisins. I loved the combination of flavors and thought this would be great to serve alongside the richer Thanksgiving dishes (and it did!) But instead of ordering a couple pounds of this delicious stuff, I thought I’d come up with my own version of this tart n’ tangy palate-cleansing dish.

Simple is Best – All you need is six ingredients, super easy!

Tasty and Tart – Comparing several recipes for apple fennel salad showed me variations with the dressing. There were several recipes that used mainly olive oil and lemon, but I wanted something tarty. Apple cider vinegar was the way to go, and using frozen concentrated apple juice was an easy shortcut. Whole grain mustard was added for flavor as well as texture.

Is Thin Really In? – I came across this easy tip from The Purple Foodie in their version of an Apple Fennel Salad: “Cut everything thinly – the finer the cut, the better the chances of all elements of the salad coming together in a single bite, maximising flavour.” Wegman’s Apple Fennel Salad had thicker slices of apple, about 1/32 of an apple, and it still tasted great with the plump raisins and tart dressing, but I opted for thin slices.

Refreshing and tart. If you ever had pickled green mango, this might taste something like it.

Apple Fennel Salad with Raisins

The apples and fennel can be sliced the night before, just keep them in a ziploc bag–along with the raisins–until you’re ready to pour on the vinaigrette.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds Granny Smith apples (about 3-4)
1 pound fennel bulbs (2 bulbs)
1 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup frozen concentratred apple juice
2 tablespoons stone ground Dijon mustard
salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

Slice apples into quarters, remove seeds. Slice thinly and place in a large mixing bowl. Thinly slice fennel crosswise and add to apples. Stir in raisins, set aside.

In a separate bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, combine apple cider vinegar, frozen apple juice, and stone ground mustard with a wire whisk. Put apple mixture in a gallon-sized ziploc bag, pour in vinaigrette and seal tightly, removing as much air without smashing apple mixture.

Refrigerate for 1-2 hours, turning ziploc bag after a half hour or so to ensure vinaigrette gets distributed evenly. (NOTE: as a precaution, lay the ziploc bag flat in a baking dish, just in case it leaks.)

Pour into a serving bowl and garnish with fennel leaves. Guests may season their own serving with salt & pepper. Serves 12-14.

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It’s the last WIAW that focuses on Fun, Food and Fitness, but after a few weeks it should become habit, right? It certainly seems to be going in that direction, and I can only thank Jenn at Peas and Crayons for this month’s fit-focused theme!

In the way of fitness, I’ve been getting back to a regular schedule with Jazzercise DVDs as well as these awesome workouts:

Last December I was looking for some ballet-inspired workouts (never danced, but I took ballet classes in college and loved it!) and came across Ballet Body by Leah Sarago. The workouts are challenging, to say the least, and uses body-weight resistance with ballet, pilates, yoga and other dance-inspired principles to strengthen and elongate your muscles. Leah focuses on form, so the moves look beautiful and graceful but it takes a LOT of strength and control. Sound like something you’d like to try? Visit Leah Sarago Fitness to find out more about these workouts, see a video trailer, and learn more about Leah!

I exercise in the mornings and have a cup or two of coffee before I start. Post-workout breakfasts have been looking something like this:

Refreshing and healthy!

This protein shake & fruit salad provides you with lots of vitamins, minerals, and protein, plus it’s low in fat. Also, if you’re not big on drinking your 6-8 glasses of water per day, this will definitely count towards it (about 14 ounces in the shake, plus some from the fruits…hey, that’s about two glasses right there!)

Lunch was tuna-tofu salad seasoned with Spike (flavorful no-sodium spice blend):

Those flax chips are nice and crunchy but to be honest, I didn’t like the tuna mix that much…Bumble Bee Tuna is pretty mushy.

For an afternoon snack, I had a couple of Carrot, Almond and Raisin Energy Bites from a recipe posted by Baking Serendipity (please go to her website to view her awesome recipe and photos!) I love the combination of freshly grated carrots and peanut butter, though I did substitute almond butter to suit my husband’s taste. I like the chewy texture of the oats right after I mixed them, and if you let them sit overnight they get softer from the moisture, but are still delicious:

You can pop this whole thing in your mouth!

Dinner was a quick mish-mash of crumbled sausage, mushrooms, onions, kale, tomatoes & carrots. I also cubed up some “soft” tofu (package says ‘soft’ but texture was pretty firm) with our first home-grown, prematurely picked cucumber and seasoned it with shoyu, ginger, and sesame oil:

Tofu, cucumber, shoyu (soy sauce,) fresh grated ginger and sesame oil. I was more anxious to eat that than the mish-mash. :)

All the food pics were taken with my LG phone camera but I miss my old phone which had a much better camera (Samsung Solstice.) I’ve been busy with other things and haven’t been devoting as much time to nicer food pics this week, but I assure you they will be back!

I know we don’t always lug around our SLRs, so what kind of phone do you have? Does it take great pics? What do you like/don’t like about your phone camera? (I can’t shut off the noise of my ‘shutter’…way too obvious when I’m taking a photo of restaurant food!)

This month The Recipe Redux is hosting a challenge to create a healthier version of one of the all-time favorite barbecue side dishes, potato salad! According to the United States Potato Board, a medium potato has only 110 calories, contains more potassium than a banana, and half your daily value of vitamin C. Seems like good ol’ potato salad is already on the right track to being healthy, so I helped it along by giving it an even bigger helping of vitamins and minerals (such as potassium, vitamin E, folate and vitamin B) from one my favorite nutrient-dense foods, avocado.

This potato salad is a good accompaniment to anything from the grill and, because it has no dairy, won’t spoil as quickly like regular potato salad, so you can bring it on a picnic and not worry about keeping it ice-cold. It has chunks of creamy avocado instead of mayonnaise, a sprinkle of fresh tomatoes, chopped cilantro, and is infused with a hint of smoky spices. The firm texture of earthy red potatoes brings all this creamy goodness together. If you love barbecues, you’ll love the smokey flavors of this potato salad!

Smokey Potato-Avocado Salad

Smokey Potato-Avocado Salad

1 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 1″ chunks
1 ripe, firm avocado, pitted and cut into large cubes same size as potato
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 ripe tomato, seeds removed and diced, reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish
fresh cilantro or coriander sprigs

Directions:

Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add 1 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil. Add potatoes, making sure they are covered with water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and bring to a low boil on medium/medium-high and cook 7 minutes more or until just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and cool for 15 – 20 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine 1/2 teaspoon salt, chili powder, cumin, and smoked paprika. Set aside.

Cut avocado in half, remove pit and cut into 1″ pieces. Place in a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon lime juice. Sprinkle half of seasoning mixture and toss gently with a fork. Add potatoes and mix gently (the mixture will get creamier, but keep some chunks of avocado.) Sprinkle in half of remaining seasonings, adding more to taste. Fold in diced tomato. Top with remaining chopped tomato and garnish with fresh cilantro.

Added note, 6/28: avocados tend to brown, so be sure to serve this within 4-5 hours of preparation. One trick you can do is garnish with fresh diced avocado right before serving, so even if the salad is a few hours old, it will look nice and fresh! (Thank you, Emily, for asking me about this! )

 By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the United States Potato Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

A quick and easy dairy-free, gluten-free potato salad


Last Friday I  mentioned I was going to show you the nice drawstring purse my mom made me, so here it is!

Handmade drawstring purse made of kimono fabric

My mom loves to sew and makes a LOT of bags and purses, from tiny cell phone sizes to large grocery totes. She uses all kinds of fabric patterns and combines them to make bold and beautiful creations to sell and sometimes give away to friends and family. She told me this particular fabric came from the wedding kimono of her friend, Shigeko, who gave away pieces of the beautiful, silky material to her friends. I have never heard of anyone giving away pieces of their wedding dress, and if you have ever seen a kimono up close, you will truly appreciate the gesture of of being given such a fine piece of cloth!

Can you can see a faint image of the “tsuru” (Japanese crane)with its wing outstretched?

Handmade gifts really are the best, and sometimes there’s just no right way to express the feelings of gratitude, love,  surprise, and even humility except with a genuine, heartfelt “thank you.” :)

I have a few handmade items to share, though they’re not gifts, but rather plates of food! Yes, it is time again for this week’s episode of…


Thank you to Jenn at Peas and Crayons for continuing to support us food-lovin’ bloggers with a forum to discuss our favorite (and sometimes not-so-favorite) meals, snacks, and adventures in cookery. Our theme this month is “sensible snacking,” and although I have a fridge full of healthy fruits and veggies, they tend to be part of my main meal rather than as a snack. The “sensible snacks” I have are chocolate bars filled with peanuts, hazelnuts, or rice crispies, so to their credit (and mine,) they could be considered sensible snacks because: 1) I eat them in moderation, and 2) more nuts and rice crispies means less sugar from the chocolate! This may be stretching the idea of sensible snacking to its limits, but I’m just working with what I’ve got…which happens to be chocolate! :)

Aside from I did some experiments with my flavor of the week, curry, and came up with a nice side dish for an easy weeknight meal. But before we talk about that, let’s go over the other two important meals of the day!

I mentioned in last week’s WIAW post that I had a crazy sweet tooth, and thankfully it is gone, or at least shrank to normal size. Breakfast was a typical peanut butter and raspberry toast with coffee. No extra toppings like Nutella or coconut whipped cream topping today!

The extra peanut butter I slathered on went well with these apple slices.

Lunch was an overflowing rainbow salad (those are avocados peeking over the side!) some Tostitos scoops and Diet Peach Snapple:

King Friday kept me company during lunch

In-between snacking were a few of these hazlenut chocolate squares:

Look at those hazelnuts…TONS of them!

My original plans for dinner got brushed aside after reading Justa’s Fancy-Schmancy Grand Slam Bacon post! Bacon is quite the charmer, so instead of chicken katsu curry rice (which I will try to make for Friday’s post) I made my own original BLATMATCHes! Bacon, Lettuce, Avocado, Tomato, Mushroom, Apple, Turkey and CHeese sandwichES!)

BLATMATCHes with seasoned curry fries and corn

As you can see, I used four dinner rolls to try and contain all the goodness this BLATMATCH had to offer. And to go with it, some fresh corn on the cob and a good pile of seasoned curry fries (note: this is my husband’s dinner, mine was half a sandwich surrounded by lettuce & tomato.) The potatoes I used were small round ones, the kind in the salted potatoes bag, and they were starting to get wrinkly. I’ve heard they make better fries when they get a little wrinkly, but I have not yet perfected my home fries recipe so cannot say for sure. I’ve also added some brown rice flour to help carry the flavor better, and I was also hoping it would help with the crisping of the fries, but it didn’t seem to have too much of an effect on the crispiness. Other than that, the taste was awesome, especially with the cayenne pepper. Give this curry fry recipe a try and let me know what you think!

Seasoned Curry Fries, serves 2
Watch the time, cooking it too long will char the spices and make your fries bitter-tasting…and burnt.

1 pound potatoes, cut into batons & laid on paper towels to absorb excess moisture
2 teaspoons curry seasoning of your choice
2 teaspoons brown rice flour (optional)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
a couple dashes of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons oil

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine curry seasoning, brown rice flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Add potatoes and toss with a large spoon. Drizzle olive oil and  toss to evenly coat. Pour fries onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or silpat and spread out into a single layer. Bake for 12 minutes, stir fries so they can brown on the other side and return to oven, baking for another 6-8 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy with BLATMATCHes.

What’s your favorite kind of dinner sandwich? Do you have a signature dish or do you look in the fridge and grab whatever’s there? (that’s how the BLATMATCHes were born!)

Enjoy your Wednesday, eat well!

My mechanic’s coffee break

One hot, sunny morning, my husband was involved in one of his favorite pastimes: working on the car. He was midway through replacing something important under the hood (I don’t know what it is, but it sure was greasy!) when he decided to take a break, cooling off with a huge glass of iced water followed by a demitasse of espresso. It may seem weird to choose a steaming hot coffee over an iced cold soft drink, but coffee (or espresso, in this case) is just one of those simple pleasures my husband and I enjoy, regardless of how crazy hot it is.

Speaking of hot, did you know the coffee plant was first discovered in Ethiopia? It was the coffee berry–not the bean–that was first consumed for its stimulating effects. Experiments with this “superfood” eventually took place, and people discovered the roasted seed (or bean, as we call it) created a bitter yet stimulating beverage that aided Arab Muslims to stay alert during late-night prayers (perhaps this is the origin of our late-night college cram sessions!) As word of this miracle drink spread, people began to tame the bitter brew, and the drink evolved into what we know and love today in the form of cappuccinos, iced mochas,  sweet Turkish coffees and cans of coffee energy drinks, like the short-lived “Cocoa-Cola Blak” (it definitely tasted like coffee and coke!)

There’s a lot of great dessert recipes that use the wonderful flavor of coffee (my favorite is coffee ice cream) but what about incorporating coffee into a main course?  Meats can certainly benefit from the rich, strong, earthy qualities of the roasted coffee bean, but can vegetarian dishes be just as delicious? There are ways of making it work, and here are some suggestions to use it as a seasoning, hopefully without keeping you up all night:

Coffee marinade: In a ziploc bag, combine a cup of strong coffee with a crushed garlic clove, a teaspoon each of fresh sage, rosemary, and salt with a dash of black pepper. Marinate beef, pork or chicken overnight and cook as desired.

Spiced Coffee Rub: Mix 1 tablespoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice, and 1 teaspoon Kosher salt. Rub on meats and refrigerate overnight before cooking as desired. Another version of this recipe can be found here.

Coffee Jam: Thinly slice a round onion and sautee in oil over medium heat until it begins to carmelize, about 7-10 minutes. Add a fat pinch of Kosher salt, fresh thyme, and 1/2 cup strong coffee and cook until liquid is reduced by half. Serve with roasted meats and veggies.

Below is an easy potato side dish I made using just a few spices and it tastes like the potatoes my mom cooks when she makes a pork roast. The potatoes are nicely browned and the mushrooms add a substantial amount of meatiness, without the meat! My favorite part is how the red wine and spices create a rich and flavorful reduction you get in every bite. Serve this up with some steamed kale or green beans and you have a delicious, hearty vegetarian meal for you and your favorite espresso-loving mechanic.

Coffee Pot Roast Potatoes

Coffee Pot Roast Potatoes (serves 2)
You can also make this dish with extra firm tofu instead of potatoes, just reduce the cooking time

Ingredients:

1 pound small round potatoes, quartered (1 to 1 1/2″ chunks)
4 large mushrooms, quartered (cut them to the same size as potato quarters)
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon instant espresso (or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant coffee granules)
1/4 teaspoon crushed cumin seeds (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, sage, or rosemary)
dash of cayenne pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
olive oil
1/2 cup dry red wine

In a mixing bowl, combine potatoes with salt, instant espresso or coffee, cumin seeds, and cayenne. Toss with a fork to coat potatoes evenly. Drizzle in 2 teaspoons of olive oil and add garlic, stir to coat.

In a medium sized pot over medium heat, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil, add potatoes and cook until it begins to brown, stirring occasionally. Slowly add half of wine, cooking until it begins to reduce and thicken. Cover potatoes and cook for five minutes, stirring a couple times. Uncover & cook potatoes for another 3-5 minutes, stirring so all pieces can brown nicely. Add mushrooms and remaining wine, cooking uncovered until liquid begins to thicken. Stir, cover and cook until potatoes are fork-tender and mushrooms are cooked through.

Caramelized potatoes are crisp and tender