Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer Salad

My friend Rachael came to visit last weekend, and we had an oh-so-lovely time together. We went on a hike, got some gelato, hung out, and, of course, cooked together. Or rather, chopped together. We made the most wonderful salad with all sorts of yummy ingredients. And so healthy! Avocado is high in fiber, healthy fats, potassium, and vitamins B, E, and K. Strawberries and bell peppers are high in vitamin A. Tomatoes have lycopene, which has been shown to prevent cancer. Every ingredient in this recipe does something good for you.

The real star of this salad, however, is the dressing. It's the best balsamic vinaigrette I've ever tasted. Our friend Emily found it somewhere online a while back. It pairs so well with the ingredients, especially the strawberries. You can add any vegetables you want to this salad, but I highly recommend including the strawberries.

We paired our salad with some good flaxseed quinoa bread from Whole Foods and a smooth chardonnay.

Enjoy!

Salad:
(Serves about 6 main dishes or a whole lot of side dishes)
1 heart Romaine lettuce, chopped or torn
1 bunch spinach (chopped or torn) or one bag baby spinach
1/2 beefsteak tomato, chopped
1-2 green onions, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound strawberries, stemmed and sliced
4 oz. feta cheese or crumbled goat cheese
1 cup walnuts
1/2 half red bell pepper
1/2 half yellow bell pepper
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped

Garnish: 1/2 avocado, diced

Throw everything together but the avocado. Since there is no lime in this recipe, only cut as much avocado as you need to garnish each serving. Otherwise, it will turn brown if you plan on having leftovers.


Balsamic Vinaigrette:
6 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

In a blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Store in a glass jar in refrigerator. Keeps for a few weeks when stored in the fridge.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pistachio Apricot Oatmeal Cookies


Last night I discovered a great oatmeal cookie recipe (for the oat-loving horse in me). I had bought a bag of pistachios from the grocery store last week since they were on sale. I have previously been rather indifferent to pistachios. I ate them if they were around, but didn’t get too excited about them. A few months ago, however, I had a salad at Soups On! in Baltimore that came with pistachios on it. It was so delicious, and this little green nut has been on my mind ever since. So I was thrilled to find them on sale.

This recipe made about 30 cookies for me. They’re small and delightful, and crispy-chewy after they’ve cooled a bit. I never thought of putting apricots and pistachios together before! Hope you like them.

Pistachio Apricot Oatmeal Cookies
From Gourmet, October 2003

1 stick (1/2 cup) softened unsalted butter or trans fat-free margarine, such as Earth Balance
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/3 heaping cup dried apricots (2 ounces), diced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, coarsely chopped

Put oven racks in upper middle of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat until combined well. Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a small bowl, then add to dough and mix at low speed until just combined. Fold in oats, apricots, and pistachios.

Spoon rounded teaspoons of dough about an inch apart onto baking sheets. Bake cookies 8-9 minutes. Transfer cookies with a spatula to racks. (Cookies will crisp as they cool.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Fish Stew

My mother created this recipe years ago when I was home from college for the summer and all of my siblings (four altogether, including my brother-in-law) happened to be around too. We had one of those wonderful days when we went to Plum Island, a pretty beach about 45 minutes away from my hometown in Massachusetts. Plum Island has some marshes around it, and we took turns alternating between being at the beach and canoeing through the marshes. I think we brought a picnic lunch, too.

At the end of the day, we all had that wonderful beach feeling of sun, sand, and hunger. We had taken two cars, and my mom's car arrived home first. She got dinner started, and when we wandered in asking what was for dinner that night, she proudly announced, "Fish stew!" We were a little surprised because, since all of us had been out for the whole day, we were not expecting a ready answer. The stew was excellent, and over the years I've adapted it just a little bit. My mom started out with a can of chicken and wild rice soup, and added to it extensively to make enough stew to feed 7 people. She also thought up a surprising ingredient to add: peanuts! Peanuts in fish stew? Yes, it's amazing.

Over the years I switched from starting with chicken and wild rice soup to using fish stock and brown rice. Everything else is pretty much the same. This stew is hearty, packed with protein, and has the kind of flavor that keeps you wanting more. It has just the right amount of fishiness. And it's very thick -- you could almost serve it on a plate. However, I decided not to include a picture of it, because it's not much to look at. But don't let that deter you! If you want to try a delicious fish stew, give this one a go. The last time I made the stew, I served it with Lemon Basil Biscuits. The recipe for that is below.

Fish Stew
Makes about 4-6 servings

2 fillets white fish
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 cups fish stock
1 14.5 oz. can white kidney beans or chickpeas
1 cup peanuts
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
about 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
about 8 turns of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup brown rice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease baking sheet with extra virgin olive oil and place fillets on sheet. Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for about 10 minutes until fish flakes easily when cut with a fork.

Meanwhile, chop onion and garlic. Heat olive oil in large pot and sautee the onion and garlic until tender. Add everything except fish, rice, and spices. Bring to a boil and let boil for about 5 minutes.

Break up the fish into pieces and add to the stew along with the black pepper, red pepper, and brown rice. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 45 minutes.

Enjoy with lemon basil biscuits, which you can easily make while your fish stew simmers away. See below.


Lemon Basil Biscuits
The original recipe is from Better Homes & Gardens. My inspiration came from my basil plant. Makes 12 biscuits.

3 cups whole wheat white flour, or 1 1/2 cups white flour and 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup butter or trans fat free margarine
1 1/8 cup milk
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease baking sheet. In a large bowl combine all of the dry ingredients. Add the butter in chunks and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers until it resembles coarse crumbs.

Measure out milk in a small separate bowl. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil to milk. Mix together and add to flour mixture. Stir until dough is mixed. It should not be too dry or too wet.

Traditional biscuit dough needs to be rolled out and cut. Another option is to add more milk and make "drop" biscuits that you spoon onto the baking pan. My recipe allows you to form the biscuits with your hands. Form biscuits using about 1/8 cup of dough so that three biscuits fit across a baking sheet. Form dough into 12 biscuits.

Bake for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Smith Family Granola

Ah, granola. My favorite food. What better embodiment of natural sweetness and wholesomeness is there than this oat-y snack? Sometimes I feel like I should be a horse; I love oats so much. I grew up eating this granola -- my parents started making it when I was in junior high school, and I've been having it for breakfast quite a bit since then. It was always a treat when they sent me some granola as a college student and when I volunteered in Nicaragua for a year. Eventually I learned how to make it and was surprised at how easy it is.

At first I started out sprinkling the granola on top of our local generic brand of Chex cereal (called "Crispy Hexagons" from Market Basket). Then I graduated to a bowl of just granola with some soy milk. Sometimes I add half of a banana. You don't need as big of a bowl as most other cereals since the fiber and protein fills you up quickly. It keeps you full longer than other cereals too. This granola is chewy, as opposed to crunchy, and it's good with other cereals, on its own, or sprinkled on top of yogurt. I just made up a little snack of (about 1/8 cup of each) strawberries, banana, mango, low-fat plain yogurt and some granola, and it is oh, so healthy and tasty!

The original recipe came from a community cookbook in Houghton, NY, which is where I went to college and where my dad grew up. We've changed the recipe quite a bit, so I think we can safely call it our own. It's so delicious: oats, honey, nuts, wheat germ, and dried fruit. You can use whichever nuts and dried fruit you like, but I love the original recipe. This recipe fills up two big oat canisters, which is about four pounds. Granola stays good for weeks as long as you store it in an airtight container in a cool place. You can also freeze it for up to a month.

Smith Family Granola Recipe:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees

5 1/4 cups (1 big canister) rolled oats (not quick oats)
3 1/4 cup toasted wheat germ*
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
1 1/2 cups honey
2 cups mixed nuts (chop larger nuts, such as Brazil nuts, into smaller pieces)
1 1/2 cup peanuts
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 1/3 cup dried cranberries
1 1/2 cup or more raisins

Grease a very large cooking dish (I use a turkey roaster). Mix together everything except for the dried fruit. Be sure to pull up the sticky honey and oil that may have fallen to the bottom of the pan, and mix, mix, mix. It takes a bit of muscle to really mix it well. This is an important step, because otherwise the non-oiled oats will burn.

Bake at 325 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and mix again, taking care to scrap the sides and bottom of the pan.

Bake for 20 minutes longer. Remove from oven and stir in raisins and dried cranberries. Storage hint: Once the granola has cooled, you can store half of it in the same oats canister you used.

*This recipe calls for toasted wheat germ. The toasted wheat germ I use is Kerschmier's, which is $5 (kind of pricey, I know). But you can also find untoasted wheat germ at Whole Foods and other places for just over $2 a pound. If you use untoasted wheat germ, don't add it until the last 10 minutes of baking time, because otherwise it may burn.