butternut squash soup

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Ok, so I'm pretty obsessed with this butternut squash soup. In the past month or so, I've made three full batches. For myself. But when the weather's as dreary as it's been these days, soup really is the best comfort food. I eat it by the bowlful or if it's super gloomy outside, with some grilled cheese sandwiches (dill havarti on pumpernickel, it's the best).

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Use the best, freshest ingredients and you can't go wrong. The soup does require some prep work and chopping but it's well worth it. I freeze half the batch so that it's always there whenever my butternut soup craving hits. Mmm... I love winter!

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Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 (32-ounce) container vegetable or chicken broth
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup half and half, optional

(1) Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat, melt the olive oil and butter. Add the onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until translucent. (2) Add the chopped apples, butternut squash, and garlic. Saute for another 10 minutes until the squash begins to slightly soften. (3) Pour in the broth then add fresh thyme leaves (discard the stems) and cayenne pepper. Raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the squash is tender. Remove from heat. (4) Puree the soup, in batches in a blender until smooth. Be very careful when pureeing the hot mixture to start blending slowly and let the steam vent. (5) Return to Dutch oven and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring back to a simmer and stir in the half and half for a richer consistency (I usually find it doesn’t need it though).  

Makes 8 servings

Anyone CAN cook...

So admit it... you had no idea what ratatouille was until Pixar introduced us to that adorable movie about it. At least, I didn't. I have a particular soft spot for the film as I first saw it with my little brother Ben on one of our ritual sibling date nights (back when he still thought I was cool). Afterwards, we went to Red Robin (his pick) and I paid... hmph, now that he's taller than I am, it's time for payback.

After the movie though, I started seeing ratatouille everywhere! A classic Mediterranean dish, ratatouille is not only flavorful but really healthy (vegan) and easy to make. I love all the vegetables that go into it: eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, bell peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. A simple dish like this does indeed prove that it's true, 'Anyone CAN cook!' (baking, however, is still strictly for the pros).

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This dish also tastes great both hot and at room temperature (even cold) which makes for nice leftovers or packed lunch. My version is the traditional rustic dish, but to see the 'movie' version look at this cute take on Smitten Kitchen. I may have to make it with my brother next time I'm home.

Ratatouille

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 medium eggplant, medium diced with skin on
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon fresh or dried rosemary
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 zucchini squash, diced
  • 1 yellow squash, diced
  • 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

(1)  Set a large 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Once hot, add the onions and garlic to the pan. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they are wilted and lightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes. (2)  Add the eggplant, thyme, and rosemary to the pan. Drizzle another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is partially cooked, about 5 minutes. (3)  Add the diced bell pepper, zucchini, squash and garlic. Drizzle over another tablespoon of olive oil and continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes. (4)  Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper, to taste (about 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper for me), and cook for a final 5 minutes. (5) Stir well to blend and serve over a bed of cooked couscous or quinoa, either hot or at room temperature.  

Note: Make sure your pan is large enough. I may or may not have had to divide my ratatouille halfway through cooking because my pan was overcrowded (ok, I definitely did). You want the vegetables to lightly sauté, not steam.

Makes 6 servings

kale chips

Is there any better chip than a kale chip...

Besides a potato chip. Or a tortilla chip. Pita chip, poker chip... oh, chocolate chip! So well yah maybe kale chips don't exactly scream mm YUM, yes please! but they're actually quite tasty, crispy snacks. If you like roasted nori sheets (which I love) then you'll probably like these. They really are a nice go-to fix when you're in the mood for a salty snack. In fact, not to brag, but they were quite the success at the Fourth of July party I went to last night... just spreading the gospel of kale chips everywhere I go. Like a vegan Jesus. Again, not bragging.

Not to mention they're so much healthier than most other snacks that go crunch (I'm lookin' at YOU, salt & pepper kettle chips!). Packed with beta carotene, vitamin C and K, calcium, and definitely the trendiest green right now.

So indulgence wise, there really is no better chip than a kale chip.

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Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • sea salt, to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon Chipotle chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • other seasoning options: cumin, crushed red pepper, black pepper, cayenne

(1) Preheat oven to 300° F. (2) Remove the kale leaves from their tough end and inner stems. Wash the kale thoroughly. (3) Cut or tear the leaves into 3-4 inch pieces. Pat dry with paper towels.  (4) Place kale pieces in large bowl. Start by tossing in 1 tablespoon of olive oil. The kale leaves only need to be lightly coated with oil. Too much oil will make the chips limp and greasy. (5) Scatter the kale pieces in a single layer on a baking sheet making sure not to overcrowd the pan. You can use parchment paper if you like for easier cleaning. (6) Bake for 14-16 minutes or until crisp. About 5 minutes before they are finished, you can gently toss them in the sheet pan for more even baking. These chips burn easily, so be aware of how they are baking. (7) Sprinkle salt and seasonings over the chips right after taking them out of the oven.

strawberries and cream overnight oatmeal

I love oatmeal. Apple cinnamon, maple brown sugar, blueberry... and my love of oatmeal extends to other forms such as in this and this. But when the weather gets sweltering outside, sometimes the last thing I want for breakfast is a hot bowl of oatmeal. That's why overnight oatmeal is perfect. There's no cooking involved and it's eaten cold. I've had my family try these to mixed responses (I think it's a temperature thing) but I absolutely love them. MmMmm more oats for me!

It also incorporates one of my new favorite ingredients: chia seeds. Yes, chia seeds as in those used for Chia Pets. But it turns out that these seeds are incredibly good for you. They're full of omega-3 fatty acids, iron, and calcium. And since they absorb lots of water, they help you feel fuller. Fantastic, right? I've been sprinkling them on top of everything from pasta to stirfry to ice cream! I buy mine from the bulk section in Whole Foods but you should be able to find them in most health food stores. Ch-ch-ch-check 'em out.

 

Strawberries and Cream Overnight Oatmeal

  • ½ cup Old Fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ tablespoon chia seeds
  • ⅓ cup Greek yogurt (2 percent)
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon strawberry preserves
  • ½ teaspoon honey
  • dash of salt
  • fresh strawberries

(1) In a medium glass bowl, add all the ingredients except for the fresh strawberries; stir until completely combined. (2) Cover and keep in the refrigerator overnight (at least 4-6 hours). (3) When ready to eat, stir in a tablespoon or more of milk depending on desired consistency. Serve topped with fresh strawberries.  

Makes 1 serving

Restaurant Review: Souen

I've never really written a 'restaurant review' but I felt this restaurant was especially noteworthy. I first heard about Souen, a restaurant that specializes in vegan, macrobiotic food, in an article featuring Alicia Silverstone. Now, say what you will about her eating habits when it comes to feeding her child, but I've been a big fan of her overall vegan, healthy lifestyle. I even have her cookbook, The Kind Diet.

The beauty about Souen is that it accommodates so many different diets: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-intolerant, raw... you name it. And these days, we all know somebody (or are that somebody) who has one of these limitations when it comes to eating out. Souen sounds like a scary concept. Vegan? Macrobiotic? My sister Christine always makes fun of me by saying it reminds her of the scene in Baby Mama when Tina Fey orders that terrible yeast ball at a raw foods vegan restaurant in order to impress her date. In fact, when I asked my friend Sonia if she wanted to meet me at Souen for dinner, this is how our conversation went:

S: What place do you suggest?

M: There's a vegan macrobiotic restaurant Souen that's super healthy but really good, I promise!

S: Uuhhhhh lol

But honestly, everyone I've taken there has really enjoyed it! I first went for lunch with my friend Anne Larimer (who is gluten-intolerant) and the second time with Sonia and our friend Mythili (all of us are on-off vegetarians/vegans). The first time, I ordered the Macro Plate (shown above) which I would recommend getting with the carrot dressing. The second time, the three of us had quite the feast! Started with Seitan 'Meat'balls... probably the best thing I've had here and definitely a good transition for those who are typical meat-eaters.

Mythili and I also got fresh-pressed juices to drink (a current obsession of mine). Mine was beet, kale, apple which as I told Sonia would 'put hair on your chest' (she was not a fan). The juice was good and definitely fresh but I like my juices to be ice cold, and this was room temperature (echh!).

For entrees, we all ordered something different. I got the Broccoli Tofu, Sonia ordered the Tofu Teriyaki, and Mythili had the Mushroom Risotto. I tried a bite of everyone else's dish, as I'm prone to do, and they were all incredibly hearty and flavorful. My favorites so far would be the Macro Plate (I loved the variety) and the Mushroom Risotto.

Note: Souen also serves several fish dishes for pescetarians, which I have yet to try.

I've known both Sonia and Mythili since high school. In fact, Sonia and I go way back. We were actually neighbors who took all the same classes/did all the same activities together in high school. Both our siblings are now in the same year, at the same college together as well. She's pretty much the spacier, smarter, Indian version of me. Both Sonia and Mythili also know all about this blog of mine and my food-phototaking obsession, which can become a bit of an inconvenience at times (mostly for my fellow diners). But every time a new dish would arrive they'd say encouragingly, 'Take a picture, take a picture!' before we'd all dig in. It was so sweet.

To end our meal, we got dessert. I was probably most intrigued/skeptical about the dessert. Vegan desserts always have the right intentions, but rarely follow through in execution aka lack flavor/texture/buttery goodness. The Cocoa Creamy Parfait we ordered though was SO good, I could eat it everyday! The crumblings of (gluten-free) granola were perfect with the cocoa and soy vanilla layers. It was not too sweet which was something we all noted. This made the flavors of the cocoa really stand out, like eating a square of really good dark chocolate after living off Hershey's. Some people may not like that intensity, but when it comes to desserts, I'm an equal opportunist.

From what I gather about the macrobiotic diet (and honestly, I still don't fully understand what it is) is that your meal should be composed of a nice balance of nutrients. Not too much protein or too much salt or too spicy. No extremes in general but instead a combination of whole grains (mostly brown rice) along with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Pretty much how all of us should be eating anyways, right?

Sure, the health benefits are great. I mean, I definitely felt my inner-Gwyneth and even after our huge meal, wasn't weighed down but in the end the food has to taste great. Souen fits my expectations in all the right criteria: it's healthy, it's delicious, it's affordable. It's also super popular. Lunchtime is not too busy, but a Friday dinner will probably require a 30-45 minute wait. Unfortunately, the service seems to vary according to how busy the restaurant is as well. But I've had much much worse. Overall, Souen is a restaurant I will go to again and again whether I'm vegan, macrobiotic, or just plain hungry.

Souen Union Square (2 other locations in Manhattan as well) 28 E 13th Street NY, NY (212) 627-7150

Happy Blog-iversary!

It's the One Year Anniversary of my blog country mouse. city life.!

Life is definitely much different now than it was a year ago. I live in a different city, I got my first real job, and I still love Beyoncé.

So I thought it'd be the perfect cause for celebration to introduce my favorite smoothie recipe! Even more so now that the weather has warmed up. I call this my 'Superfood Smoothie' cause it's full of antioxidant-fighting ingredients like blueberries, chia seeds, and spinach. It sounds really gross, putting spinach in a smoothie, but I've been doing it for years. Spinach is so mild, you can't taste it once it's all blended up but you really wanna make sure it's completely blended (bits of spinach in your smoothie is not appetizing). I've been drinking this almost every day and love it!

It's also super easy to make, in fact, there's no real recipe required and experimentation is suggested. Here's my general recipe:

Thanks to all my friends and followers for making this blog such a wonderful, fulfilling experience this past year.

Cheers to many more blog posts to come!

rise and shine!

Yes, we all know it's 'the most important meal of the day' but... do you eat breakfast?

I admit that for a long time, I did not. Mostly because I am not much of a morning person. Still not. When I did start eating breakfast, it was more like, grab a Special K bar before heading out the door. Even now, I'm not a huge breakfast fan unless it involves my sister's oatmeal pancakes or a nice crab cakes benedict (anything with poached eggs really).

The issue with breakfast is I want something that's energizing, not too filling, and of course yummy. These days, my very fancy breakfast usually consists of anything that's easy to grab-and-go like these oatmeal applesauce blueberry muffins (which I waxed poetics about in my NY Diet). These muffins are the perfect on-the-go, nutritious breakfast. Seriously, I love these. I even eat them as a sweet treat after dinner. Bake a batch over the weekend then refrigerate them so you'll be sure to have breakfast all during the week... if they last that long.

Oatmeal Blueberry Applesauce Muffins adapted from Joy the Baker 

  • 1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ cups oats
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup low-fat buttermilk (I used soymilk)
  • ½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

(1)  Preheat oven to 375° F. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper cases or spray with nonstick cooking spray. (2)  In a large bowl combine flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. (3)  In a medium bowl whisk together the applesauce, milk, sugar, oil, egg and vanilla. (4)  Make a well in dry ingredients and add applesauce mixture. Stir until just moist. As with most batters, it's better to not overmix; a few lumps of flour are fine. (5)  Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full (about ¼ cup). (6)  Bake for 16-18 minutes. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes before taking out and cooling on a wire cooling rack.

Makes 12 muffins

Italian tragedy... NYC comedy

Once upon a time, there lived a lovely maiden with raven hair and rosy cheeks (I'm talking about me here). This maiden liked to eat and cook or better yet, eat while cooking. One glorious semester her dreams came true when she found herself in the land of milk and honey and arancini a.k.a. SICILY. There she devoured such morsels as this...

and kissed every toad/blood orange in sight...

All was wonderful in the kingdom of Sicily until one dark and stormy night. That evening, the maiden and her fellow cooker-eaters embarked upon a Sicilian cooking class. All seemed well. The students were adorned in matching aprons as they prepared the menu rich with authentic Sicilian specialties such as Pasta alla Norma and sweet cannolis.

But all was not well. Soon the students realized that their matching aprons were actually uniforms for labor, as their cooking class turned into a Sicilian sweatshop. Put to work, their hands burned from squeezing salty eggplant and brows sweat with the piping of every pastry shells (Disclaimer: Any similarity to actual personsliving or dead, is purely coincidental).

At the end of the 3 hour "cooking class" (slave drive), the exhausted maiden sat down to a much deserved dinner only to find... there was not enough food for everyone. The evil slave-drivers had not prepared for there to be enough food for all the hardworking sweaty servants. Suddenly... the demure maiden became very impatient and hangry (hungry + angry) with rage. For everyone knows you don't stand between an American maiden and her pasta. From that day on, she cursed the day she ever made PASTA ALLA NORMA.

Almost 3 years later, the maiden found herself in yet another amazing yet strange land where the people walk very fast and like to nosh on round bread with a hole in the middle. Yet the curse of Norma still haunted her. Until one fine day, she decided to once again test fate and purchased an eggplant...

40 minutes later, with not a single Sicilian in sight, she had done it. She had made Pasta alla Norma... and it was as Norma had always intended it to be: truly delizioso. The curse had finally been broken. The townspeople of Apt #5 rejoiced as all was right in the land and in their bellies. From that day on, the dish was renamed Pasta alla Margaret after the perseverant maiden who never lost hope when it mattered the most.

Pasta alla Norma

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • kosher or sea salt
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups basic tomato sauce, jarred or homemade
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • ½ pound penne pasta
  • about ½ cup fresh ricotta cheese (traditionally: ricotta salata)
  • freshly cracked black pepper

(1)  Slice the eggplant into ½-inch slices and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Allow to drain in a colander for 15 minutes. (2)  Rinse the eggplant slices in cold water and pat completely dry on paper towels. Cut into 1-inch cubes. (3)  Heat the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat, then add the eggplant. Sauté the eggplant, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 15 minutes.  Cover the eggplant for 5-7 minutes to cook all the way. (4)  Once the eggplant is tender and golden brown, add the tomato sauce, chopped garlic and crushed red pepper. Bring to a simmer. (5)  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cook pasta according to directions for al dente and drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water. (6)  Add the pasta to the sauce and toss together. If a bit dry, add the reserved pasta water.  (7)  Serve on a plate or pasta bowl with a (big) dollop of fresh ricotta (or grated ricotta salata) with freshly cracked black pepper.

Makes 4 servings

And they all lived happily ever after.

The End.

to health and happy waistlines!

quinoa: /kEEn-wah/

I probably avoided eating, cooking, or ordering quinoa due to the sheer fact that I had no idea how to pronounce it. But I'm proud to say that now I can pronounce it with confidence, and I can't get enough of it! If you've never had quinoa, it's very similar to couscous but with a firmer texture and slightly nuttier flavor. Quinoa is also packed with protein and hence super-filling-- ideal for vegetarians!

Another favorite food of mine is sweet potatoes (Mmm sweet potato fries). This Mark Bittman recipe combines the best of both my quinoa and sweet potato worlds. Plus it's super healthy... which I need these days after watching many, many episodes of Gossip Girl and realizing how beautiful the clothes are! *curse you Trader Joe Candy Cane Joe-Joe's*

This recipe is very adaptable in that you can pretty much add whatever suits your palette. My favorite additions usually include chickpeas and feta (which I kept out this time to keep it vegan and healthier... remember, the clothes, people!) Feel free to add whatever other goodies, i.e. arugula, crumbled goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, etc. suit your taste (and figure).

Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad adapted from Mark Bittman

  • 2 ½ cups cooked quinoa  (1 cup uncooked)
  • 1 large or 2 medium (about 1 pound) sweet potatoes
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, diced
  • ¾ cup chickpeas (about ½ can)
  • ¼ cup minced red onion or shallot, finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

(1)  Cook the quinoa according to the directions on the package. Once cooked, let cool completely. (2)  While the quinoa is cooking, peel the sweet potatoes and dice into ½-inch cubes. Cook in boiling salted water until fork tender, about 15 minutes; once done, wash in cold water to stop further cooking and drain well. (3)  In a large bowl, toss together the quinoa, sweet potatoes, roasted bell pepper and onion. Add the oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. (4)  Using kitchen sheers, snip in the fresh parsley then toss the salad. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Let the salad sit for at least an hour to allow for all the flavors to blend together.

Makes 4 servings

Bowl of Homesickness

Scent is the sense most closely linked to memory. To that, I would also like to add taste. Whenever I'm feeling a tinge bit homesick in the midst of this chilly weather, I turn to a nice bowl of something comforting. For some people that may be some good ole chicken 'n' dumplings or gumbo.

For me, it's this taco soup. My mom has made this for years and it's one of my favorites. While I tend to shy away from recipes that use too many seasoning-packets and other Sandra Lee-like additions, this soup is just SO delicious. And if it comes from Paula Deen you know it has to be good. I've turned it into a veggie-friendly version which I swear is just as hearty (and a bit healthier).

Vegetarian Taco Soup adapted from Paula Deen recipe

  • 2 cups diced onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can pinto beans
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can red kidney beans
  • 1 (15 ½-ounce) can black beans
  • 1 (15 ¼-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 (14 ½-ounce) can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (14 ½-ounce) can Rotel
  • 1 (1 ¼-ounce) package taco seasoning mix
  • 1 (1-ounce) package ranch salad dressing mix
  • 8 ounces meatless soy crumbles (i.e. Boca), thawed
  • 2 cups water
  • tortilla chips
  • sour cream, for garnish
  • grated Cheddar cheese, for garnish
  • chopped green onions, for garnish
  • Pickled jalapenos, for garnish

(1) Rinse and drain all the beans and corn. (2) Sauté the onions and garlic in a large stockpot until soft and translucent. (3)  Add the beans, corn, tomatoes, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing mix, and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes. (4)  Crumble in the soy crumbles and add them as well as 2 cups of water to the soup. Simmer for another 15-20 minutes. (5)  To serve, place a few tortilla chips in each bowl and ladle soup over them. Top with sour cream, cheese, green onions and jalapenos.

Makes 12-16 servings

Luckily, I will not be homesick too long for I will be coming home very soon-- tonight in fact :) I leave right after work today and will be in Georgia later this evening just in time to be showered by goodies from Mama Choo herself.

I hope everyone else traveling has a safe journey-- and a wonderful Thanksgiving, ya'll!

Edamame Fried Rice

The one thing I've realized about living in the City is learning to live on a budget. Which is difficult when there's so much to do and even more to EAT! While I love indulging in take-out Indian food and sushi, sometimes it's necessary to buckle down... especially after seeing the long string of restaurant charges on my credit card activity.

One of the easiest things I like to make is hibachi-style fried rice. This is a variation I learned from my mom who makes it very simply with carrots and scallions (sometimes just carrots). I like to add a little extra green with peas or in this case, edamame! I make a ton so I can pack it for lunch or reheat it for dinner for the week to come. Here's to full bellies and fuller wallets!

Edamame Fried Rice

  • 2 tablespoon plus 1 tablespoon canola oil, divided
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ¾ cup finely chopped carrots
  • ¾ cup scallions, greens included, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 4 cups leftover cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked, shelled frozen edamame, thawed (or green peas)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten*
  • 3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
  • freshly cracked pepper

(1)  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large skillet until very hot. Add the garlic, scallions and carrots and cook, stirring, until softened and aromatic, about 2 to 3 minutes. (2)  Add another tablespoon of oil and the rice and cook on medium-high heat, stirring, until heated through, about 5 minutes. (3)  Make a 3-inch well in the center of the rice mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil, then add the eggs and cook until nearly fully scrambled. (4)  Stir the eggs into the rice mixture, add the edamame and stir. (5)  Then add soy sauce, sesame seeds and pepper to taste. Incorporate thoroughly. Serve hot.

*Replace the eggs with extra firm tofu for a vegan meal! 

Makes 4 servings

 

Vegan Black Bean Brownies

Some things seem just too good to be true... like free used mattresses or CD's that help you master a new language in 30 days. That's because they usually are. This is how I felt when I first saw this brownie recipe. Delicious fudgy brownies made with no oil, no eggs, and no dairy?? How is this possible?!

I was skeptical but intrigued for the secret ingredient in these vegan brownies is... BLACK BEANS. I know, seems too good to be true, right?

Well, I'm happy to tell you that in this case, my doubts have been cast aside. As far as brownies go, I like the kind that are a bit crispy on the edges and chewy on the inside with that slight crinkly layer on top (corner pieces are my favorite!). These Black Bean Brownies, however, are more the moist-and-fudgy type, and yet I still ate 4 of them so... there you go. Plus it was so fun surprising my co-workers who seemed truly amazed that there were actual legumes in their chocolate treat. Make them for your vegan friends, or make them if, like me, you want to have your suspisions subdued.

Vegan Black Bean Brownies adapted from nomeatathelete.com

  • 1 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 ¼ cup cocoa
  • 2 tsp instant coffee
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of chopped walnuts, pecans, or hazelnuts (if you like that kinda thing)

(1)  Preheat the oven to 350° F. (2)  In a large bowl, add the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder and coffee; whisk together.  (3)  Drain a can of black beans and rinse thoroughly until the water runs clear.  Return the black beans back to the can and fill with cold water.  In a blender, puree the beans and water until completely smooth.  (4)  Add the black bean puree to the dry mix along with the vanilla and extra cup of water.  Stir to combine. (5)  Pour the batter into a greased 9×13 pan.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan around halfway through.  When the brownies are finished they should be firm in the center and the edges will be slightly puffy and starting to pull away from the sides.  It's important not to overbake in the oven because they will keep baking once you take them out. (6)  Let brownies cool completely then cut into about 35 small squares.

Olé y'all!

My sister Christine is the Queen of Mexican food. When we're both home, we usually have Fiesta night at least once a week. To be honest, I never really craved Mexican food until recently (I'm more like the Queen of Sushi) :) But this Tofu Taco recipe courtesy of my friend Alyssa is one of my all-time favorites. It will have everyone, vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, screaming 'Olé!'

Watch as something pale and bland like tofu transforms...

into an incredibly flavorful entree. Mmm-mm... muy bueno!

Tofu Tacos

  • 2 tablespoon oil
  • 15 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and crumbled (about 2 cups)
  • ½ large white onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small bell pepper, diced
  • 2 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 cup tomato sauce (I use pasta sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 10 tortillas (corn or flour)
  • toppings (i.e. lettuce, cheese, salsa, guacamole, sour cream)

(1) Sauté the tofu in oil for 4-5 minutes until browned, then add onion, garlic, and bell pepper and cook until slightly softened.  (2) Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, and soy sauce. Cook for 3 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and water; simmer over low heat. (3) Heat tortillas in a heavy, ungreased skillet, turning each from side to side until soft and pliable. Take the tortilla off the heat and place a small amount of the tofu mixture in the center of each then fold the tortilla in half. (4) Garnish with whatever toppings you desire.

Makes 10 tacos

I'm also incredibly excited because Christine shipped me my cowboy boots, which I received today! NYC is about to get some southern style y'all.

kale, it's what's for dinner.

the first week i was home, i ate nothing but junk. junk junk. like rice krispy treats and gummy worms and cheesy nachos, junk. it's hard when you shift from my rather meager pantry to Mama Choo's overflowing, snack-stocked one to not over-indulge. every time i come home, i open the pantry door and exclaim 'CORNUCOPIA!' before devouring such goodies as mentioned above (think charlotte's web, when templeton goes to the carnival). afterwards, i feel so happy... for about 30 minutes.

then i feel as though someone has just punched me in my stomach's face and realize i'm getting too old to treat my body this way. so to reprimand for that week of ickiness, i made this dish which incorporates whole grain spaghetti, sautéed kale and cannellini beans. yes, it's meant to be healthy but it's also super delicious! if you're vegan, the recipe can easily be adapted with the omission of the parmesan cheese but i kept it cause, a little indulgence now and then never hurt anybody.

Spaghetti with Braised Kale adapted from Bon Appétit

  • 1 pound kale (about 2 bunches), large center ribs and stems removed, cut
  • crosswise into ½-inch slices
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 8 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • kosher salt
  • ½ pound spaghetti (I use whole grain)
  • 1 can (15.5 oz.) cannellini beans, drained
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • finely grated Parmesan cheese

(1)  Rinse and drain kale. (2)  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. (3)  Add sliced garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and pinch of salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. (4)  Add kale and remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss until wilted, about 3 minutes. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally and adding water by teaspoonfuls if dry, about 20 minutes. (5)  Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in medium pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving ¼ cup cooking liquid. (6)  Add cooked spaghetti to kale mixture in pan. Add cannellini beans, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid; toss to combine, adding more liquid by tablespoonfuls if dry. (7)  Sprinkle spaghetti with grated Parmesan cheese and serve.

Makes 4 servings

do you have a go-to, feel good meal?? share it with me!

guacamole

when you think about it, it's kinda freaky how our tastebuds change so much from childhood. i would say 90% of the foods i eat today would have been utterly deplorable to my 6 year-old tastebuds. some of the foods on this hit-list would have been: any kind of leafy green, beans, whole wheat and most definitely avocados. which is a shame cause you can't make a guacamole without good avocados.

well i must be grown up now cause i've been making and eating this homemade guacamole morning, noon, and night. GUACAMOLE for DINNER?! yes. and if you haven't done so, your tastebuds obviously haven't lived.

Guacamole

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 lime
  • 1 Roma tomato, seeded and chopped
  • ½ red onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ cup cilantro, chopped (optional)

(1) Cut each avocado in half and remove the pits. Score each half a couple times horizontally and vertically then scoop the flesh into a medium bowl using a spoon. (2) Cut the lime in half and squeeze the juice over the avocado chunks then toss gently with a spoon, making sure the lime juice evenly coats all the avocado. (3) Add the rest of the ingredients and mix together. Chill for at least an hour before serving with tortilla chips, pita chips, tacos, on a shoe...

Makes 4 servings