February 28, 2011

Quinoa & More Super Foods

So many magazine stories I flip through and think, "That's cool," and then move on with life. Yes, part of reading a mag is for pleasure and escape, but I decided I wanted to really act on the service nuggets that stick out to me. Step one is tearing out the ones that speak to me, and step two is doing it.

For February I did something! I tore out Real Simple's cover story on 30 superfoods to eat, made a list, and cooked quinoa ("Keen-wah"), the only grain that is a complete protein. I found its grainy grains, somewhere in between the size of couscous and rice, a light texture perfect for a side dish or salad.

I threw it together veggies in my fridge (red onion, bell pepper, broccoli, and parsley) and some red wine vinegar and olive oil for a fresh and hearty lunch salad. Along with a bit of chicken salad, it kept my taste buds and stomach content til dinner.

Here's the rest of Real Simple's list. I broke my superfood report card down by the foods I already eat, with some notes about how I like to eat them, and the ones on my to-try list. I started to write about how they are all good in salads, but it got redundant.
  • barley- as a rice replacement
  • bulgur- another rice replacment
  • chard- sauteed with some garlic and vinegar
  • kale- the cool way to eat this leafy green seems to be as chips
  • sardines- I've been meaning to try Jamie Oliver's yogurt-based Caesar dressing 
How do you like to eat these superfoods? Any your are thinking about trying?

    February 25, 2011

    Real Oatmeal: Two Ways

    Today's subject is oats, as in real oats, as the kind that are oval-shape and have texture, as in not the ground-up mush that comes in packets or in the quick-cooking box. But the instant oats are just so conveniently instant, you say. Or maybe you say that all oatmeal is that nasty porridge that you, like poor Baby Bear, were forced to eat by Mama Bear.

    I am here to argue that (1) oats do not require laboring over the stove in the time you don't have and (2) their whole-food, nutty texture is soul-warmingly delicious with a heartiness that sticks with you until lunch.

    1. The Super Easy Way: Nuked Oats

    News flash: you can microwave real oats. You simply put water and oats in a microwave-safe bowl; nuke it for 3 1/2 minutes; and then stir some combination of brown sugar, nuts (I like walnuts!), milk, and/or berries. See oats box for instructions for different servings.

    Word of Warning: Real oats puff while in cooking this super-fast way, so unless you want an oatmeal explosion in your microwave, cook it in a bowl (or casserole dish or, my favorite make-do container, a glass bread pan) three to four times the volume of the oats.

    2. The Hands-Off Way: Baked Oats

    Baking oats with a few extra ingredients makes for a taste and consistency that is a cross between an oatmeal cookie and traditional oatmeal.  This recipe won me over with its fresh strawberries and garnish of warmed strawberry jam. Beat that, Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal.

    It takes 40 minutes to bake, but because you only stir it once,  all the magic happen while you do everything else that needs to be done in the a.m.

    Mad Update 3/1/12: My new favorite way to make baked oats is with strawberries and bananas!
    1. Layer banana and strawberry slices in a baking dish.
    2. Mix oat mixture prescribed in recipe (sometimes I skip honey and use more brown sugar) and spread on top of fruit.
    3. Bake 20 minutes uncovered then 20 minutes covered, no stirring required.
    4. Serve with plain Greek yogurt and fresh strawberry slices.
    *I also like to make extra and reheat it for multiple days in the microwave.

    How do you eat your oats?

    February 21, 2011

    Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie

    It's chocolate chips. It's cookie. It's giant. And it comes hot and crispy from the skillet. Need I say more?

    The marriage of basic wonders chocolate chip cookie and cast iron skillet is so obviously perfect but didn't cross my mind until I stumbled upon good ole Martha's example. Each thick, pie-like slice is chewy in the middle and crispy, with a hint of seasoned skillet taste, on the outside. Serve it hot out of the oven a la mode for a full-fledged dessert presentation, and then stash leftovers in plastic bag for an afternoon chocolate pick-me-up at work.

    February 15, 2011

    Chicken Tetrazzini

    As I often do when it's cold and dreary, I was craving creamy pasta comfort food. I'd always thought of Tetrazzini as typical Betty Crocker casserole fare, but mine would be a step up, I decided. The dish was allegedly named for Italian opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini, so shouldn't it be a tad classy? Oodles of noodles and chicken with a mushroom here and there would not do.

    Each bite ended up packed with distinct flavor of prosciutto and artichokes and onion plus, of course, lots of my beloved mushrooms and some bites of chicken.

    It was all wrapped up in wine cream sauce, not very heavy but cheesy enough to be creamy and comforting as it should be. Canned cream of mushroom soup, which is in many a common tetrazzini recipes, isn't pure evil, but this lighter scratch-made sauce is definitely pure good. I topped it off with a crisp layer of Parmesan and green onions.

    This dish is good for a larger group or for two meals in one week. You can also double it and freeze one or give it to a friend.

    February 11, 2011

    Pumpkin Pie French Toast Casserole

    I could go on and on about the warm pumpkin pie flavor of this subtly sweet French toast and how it so impressed me that I made it twice in one week, once for friends and once for family.  But I have to get the best part without letting my verbose self get carried away:

    It's seriously the easiest breakfast for a crowd I've made. You pour a mixture of eggs, milk, pumpkin, and spices over bread slices arranged in a baking dish. But even that you do the night before, so when you wake up all that's necessary is placing a dish in the oven and pulling out the syrup.

    February 9, 2011

    Molten Chocolate Cakes for Two (or More)

    Any store, commercial, or restaurant will tell you that Valentine's Day and its whole season is about pink and red, hearts and kisses, flowers and sappy cards, chocolate and chocolate. I support one and only one of those sets of things. A box of chocolates is never a bad thing, but home-baked chocolate decadence, that's in a category of love all of its own. 

    Last year to share the love of chocolate, I spent hours laboring over a layer cake; it was tasty but definitely not worth the effort. This year I spent about 30 minutes, start to finish, and yes that means they're easy to make, on melt-in-your mouth chocolate cakes seeping with hot chocolate lava. Rich and chocolatey they were, but not so uber-chocolate-dense that you get sick of it like many a restaurant dessert.

    Be not mistaken; these are not muffins. They are molten cakes in a portion you can enjoy without over-stuffing after a big meal, and with easy cleanup and no need for fancy ramekins like the first Chocolate Java Cakes I tried. If you do really want the bigger portion, just eat two.

    I included recipe portions for two but also adjustments for more, be they for more dinner guests or a quick nuking for treats later in the week.
    Please do make these for you and your loved one, be it your significant other, a friend, or your mom (my mother and I had special bonding time eating them!), just not your dog because chocolate is cruelty to animals.

    February 2, 2011

    Sweet and Sour Meatballs

    There's something about transforming pantry and fridge staples into foods you could easily buy pre-made (not-so-pronounceable ingredients included) that's so very wholesomely satisfying (and delicious). Mold some ground beef, onion, egg, and seasonings into balls then bake, and you've got meatballs. Stir some vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, and ginger in a pot, and it magically caramelizes into sweet and sour sauce. 

    This dish melds meaty comfort food with standard Asian restaurant fare. My taste barometer was my father, who came out of his not-always-expressive shell to rave about their taste and go back for seconds.