Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Peek of Spring, and a little Indulgence: Frozen Yogurt and Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Guess where I was last week?

That's me and the bff on top of the other bff's building in beautiful Washington DC!  I had a fabulous time eating and drinking my way through the city.  Unfortunately, I got sickish while there,  and by the time I got home, my throat was killing me.

So, I did what I needed to do for comfort.  In DC we visited a few of those soft-serve yogurt shops known for their tart yogurt and sweet toppings, my favorite being Mr. Yogato, so I decided to make some frozen yogurt.  

Most recipes I found included large amounts of sugar because things taste significantly less sweet when served cold.  Since I enjoy the tart flavor of plain yogurt and had the opportunity to sweeten the yogurt later with syrup or fruit, I decided to use minimal sugar to make the yogurt itself.  I started with two of these:  Cultural Revolution organic whole-milk yogurt.

Made in Kalona!  That's a mere 20 miles from home.

To two of these I added 1/2 c. sugar, but you could add up to 3/4 c. of sugar for each 24 oz. container.

I strained it a bit to take some of the liquid out and help it thicken, as usual.  (hey look, I finally bought some Jadeite!)

I processed this in my ice cream maker, god love it, and then let put it in the freezer overnight.  It came very hard, so I let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes before eating.  After a short time sitting out, the yogurt is firm like ice cream, and perfect with a drizzle of honey. (My trip to Anthropologie in DC only resulted in this Kath bowl!)

After a long time, it melts a bit into the smooth soft-serve I had wanted.  I couldn't have it alone, so I paired it with coffee cake.  I chose to make a version from this thread on Chow using sour cream.  Rather than rewite the recipe here, I'll just direct you to that thread and let you drool over these.

Just perfect.  Oh, look what's happening in the basement!

This is my first attempt at starting peppers, specifically these and these.  I'm so excited to share what we've chosen for the garden this year, but that deserves its own post!  Until then, take care and enjoy the beginning of spring!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Project Lunch: Friday: Pita Pizza and a Local Knife

The final day of Project Lunch is here!  Doing this project has been exciting and challenging.  I think that preparing healthy and inexpensive meals for your family can be both rewarding and fun, and argue that it is always worthwhile.

Today's lunch was also thrown together with what was on hand.  While it looks (and tastes!) like a lot of cheese, I'd say each small pizza, on half a whole wheat pita, has between 1/4 and 1/3 of cheese.  I used jack and extra sharp cheddar.

Split the pita into two halves.  I started with Smitten Kitchen's pita recipe and made it whole wheat. I didn't execute it well enough to make them puff, but they were delicious anyway.
You could buy pitas if you find a trusted source, but I recommend trying to make them because they're a very simple recipe, and could even be done with children.

I used this salsa instead of pizza sauce because I usually keep organic salsa on hand.  Tomatoes are high on my list of things to buy organic, and it's easy to find good quality salsa in glass jars for a reasonable price.  I paid $3.50 for this one and it's well worth it.

One pita got spinach and the other got ham from yesterday's sandwiches.  I always bake pizza at the hottest my oven will go: 500.

Once they were cooled I sliced them up with this knife from the Amana Colonies.

It will be a fitting end to a delicious week.  Have an excellent weekend, and happy lunching!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Project Lunch: Thursday: Pasta with Tomato Sauce and a Poem

Good evening!  It's been a crazy day at work and home (did I mention it's midterm week?) but I've got a great lunch all packed up for tomorrow.  I think it's important to think about preparing food, for lunch in particular and meals in general, as a non-negotiable.  I know when times get busy we all have something we drop to make everything else fit, but food simply cannot be it.  I think of something Chef Friese has said, "Saying you have no time to cook is like saying you have no time to bathe."  This mindset has really been with me this week.

I had planned to make macaroni and cheese but discovered we were entirely out of milk, so I improvised this quick tomato sauce, which nicely cleared out the fridge and turned out to be fantastic.

I was inspired to make this by the circumstances and by today's poem.  We've started a little poetry project around here reading The Writer's Almanac, and today's poem is Puttanesca by Michael Heffernan.  So, I decided to throw together a quick bright tomato sauce with leftover carrots, green beans, shallots, and a red pepper.

Quick Tomato Sauce

Begin with whatever veggies you have, chopped proportionally.  That means dense things, like carrots and beans, should be cut smaller while food with more water and less body, like peppers, should be cut much larger.  This is in the hopes that things finish up to their ideal doneness at approximately the same time.

Season well with salt and pepper, and brown all this in a little olive oil in a pan until bits stick to the bottom and the veggies are done the way you like them.  If you like less crunch, you can cover the pan so they steam.  

Then, deglaze the pan with some balsamic vinaigrette and add a can of tomatoes.  Add salt, pepper, any seasonings you like, and more vinegar to taste.  Then let it cook down on low until the flavors come together, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve over whole wheat pasta, and put some cheese on top if you're into that.  Otherwise this meal is vegan, but very filling and delicious.

Happy Thursday, and see you tomorrow!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Project Lunch: Wednesday: Grownup Grilled Cheese and Salad with House Dressing

Greetings, all!
This week is flying by and the project is keeping me busy, but I'm enjoying it.  I am finding myself getting excited about lunch more often, so I enjoy eating it more.  I had to hold myself back from digging into tomorrow's lunch!

Grownup Grilled Cheese

Use a good wheat bread.  I used Peter Reinhart's multigrain bread, but you can buy excellent bread.  I like this one because it has a small amount of brown sugar which makes the bread brown very well when toasted.

I've found that it's easiest to make grilled cheese by melting the cheese onto the bread before putting the sandwich together and toasting it in a pan.  You can do this under the broiler or in the microwave.

I made two styles and we each took half.  The first sandwich was inspired by a cuban, having ham, jack cheese, pickle slices, and hot mustard.  

Melted cheese

I lightly buttered each side and cooked it in a medium pan until each side was nicely toasted.  

The second sandwich also started with cheese and ham, but then got slices of apple.

Yum.  All packed up with a layer of salad on top of a layer of carrots.  On the right you can see my salad dressing.

House Dressing

one part stone ground mustard
one part jam or jelly, usually raspberry but today it was cranberry clementine marmalade
a good dose of salt and pepper
whip this together well with a fork and whisk in
3 parts walnut or olive oil 

I like to keep the dressing off the salad so it doesn't wilt.

I'm ready to eat this now :)  This meal was very quick and quite cheap.  The sandwich is calorie dense and the salad adds low-calorie bulk and dark leafy greens.   I don't eat lunch meat very often because it's so processed and high in salt, but when I do use it it's in small amounts. 

See you tomorrow! 

Monday, March 8, 2010

Project Lunch: Tuesday- Peppers and Sausage, plus Breakfast

Monday's lunch was simple but very satisfying, and Tuesday's is the same.  This is one of my favorite ways to make lunch, by making dinner.

I began by slicing two onions, yes two whole onions, and three bell peppers.  While I was slicing I had five chicken sausages whole in my cast iron skillet over medium heat with a spray of oil.  I am lucky to have chicken sausage that is made locally, but you can use any kind of protein that you like with these peppers, from tempeh to pork.  They make a nice juicy sweet sauce with just a little olive oil, salt, and pepper.

I'd like to introduce you to quinoa, if you two are not already friends.  Quinoa is an excellent source of protein and fiber, and is a whole grain that you can use with all kinds of things.  Cook it by bringing one part quinoa to two parts liquid to a boil, reducing to a low simmer, and covering.   I do one cup for 15 minutes and it lasts for days.

My big glass jar:

All cooked.  It looks just like cous cous but is way better for you.

Once the sausages were brown on both sides, I pulled them out and let them cool so I could slice them into coins.  I cooked the onions and peppers in batches until they were all brown and delicious, and then I browned the sausage before throwing everything back together.  All told, it took me about 20 minutes. (Much less time than this BLOG POST!)

All packed up.  I've discovered a really annoying afternoon lull lately, so I packed up some almonds and dried cherries for a snack around three.

Oh, we converted our extra bedroom into an office, so now I blog from here!

I also wanted to share what I usually eat for breakfast.  In the summer I crave green smoothies, based on spinach or kale with frozen fruit and yogurt, but in the winter I need oats.  Here's Sunday's batch, including an apple, almonds, and dried cherries.

Good food makes for a healthy body and mind!  Have a great day, and I look forward to sharing what I have planned for tomorrow!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Project Lunch: Monday- Homemade Black Bean Burgers and a Week of Lunch


Spring is the word of the moment around here.  The air has taken on a different smell recently, and we've all been soaking up the sweet new time while chomping at the bit for more.  We're on the way to the season of gardens, markets, and abundant fresh produce.

Slowly our culture and our government are starting to take notice of the declining state of our food system, the importance of a diet based on whole foods, and lack of attention and commitment to how we feed ourselves and our children.  Some influential people are starting to think and talk about change, and some people are actually doing things, like Michele Obama and Jamie Oliver.  These people are helping win over huge groups of people in the hopes that they will act on a national and local level to improve a vitally important public service: school lunch.

Many people are acting locally to connect legislators with their constituents, like Elizabeth Cummings, Iowa Coordinator for the Healthy School Lunches Campaign.  She helped me and many other Iowans write letters to voice our support of a change in how schools care for our children's bodies and minds.  I urge you to click on the link above and ask your representatives to change school lunch for the better.

This problem itself is not unique.  The struggle of school lunch is essentially the same struggle most people face when it comes to feeding themselves:  We are all presented with limited time and resources and a never-ending demand for healthy and pleasurable meals.

This is where I see my role in the revolution.  I work to provide advice about food that is practical and principled.  I write to make it easier for you, my readers, to make food that nourishes yourself and your community.  So, I'd like to take this week to apply my standards to school lunch.  Inspired a bit by my One Share Project, this week will be all about Project Lunch, in which I'll share one lunch every day that fits relatively within my requirements: healthy, fast, portable, cheap, easy, and delicious, and when possible, local and seasonal.  Along the way I'll share what I've learned about committing to bringing lunch and still looking forward to eating and cooking.

So, let's begin with Monday, shall we?
Tomorrow, we'll be eating

Homemade Black Bean Burgers 

Begin with

3/4-1 c. cooked black beans per-person.  (I cannot stress my preference for dried beans over canned, from a flavor point of view, but also from a health one when considering BPA in canned goods.)

for each serving, add

1/4-1/3 c. whole wheat flour
1/4-1/3 c. water or stock

then add any of your favorite spices.  My mix:

1 tbsp. marjoram
1 tsp. rosemary
1 tbsp. worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. Frank's hot sauce
1 tbsp. ketchup
salt and pepper

Mash this all up, adjusting the liquid and flour amounts, until you have a nice dough to make patties from.

Fry in a pan until both sides are brown, 1-2 minutes per side.  

I serve these on sprouted whole wheat sesame buns by Food For Life.  Use any kind of cheese you like. Here I used a soft local cheese called Quark by Milton Creamery.  I packed everything in Pyrex containers, which I prefer over plastic for heating and storing.

On weekends I bake big batches of vegetables with garlic and olive oil.  This week, it was more purple potatoes.  

I like to include something green and crunchy to add bulk to a meal, so I included cucumber.  I used up some old arugula and ketchup and mustard to make the burger feel complete.

Without the worcestershire sauce, this meal is vegetarian, and without the cheese it is vegan.

I look forward to updating tomorrow afternoon with Tuesday's meal, and I encourage you to share your healthy and frugal lunch recipes in the comments section or  to me by email, culinarybliss @ This revolution requires something from all of us, even those who do not have children, and I am happy to be taking part.
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