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Archive for March, 2011

Well folks, it’s over!!  Last Sunday I completed the New York City Half Marathon.  I was happy before (here with my friend Laura):

And still smiling after the finish (here with my friends Jeanne, Andy, Danielle, and Katie and with my parents):

My training paid off and my run was really enjoyable and energizing thanks to the support of my family and friends.  But boy have I been feeling the need to relax and catch up on the bits and pieces of life that slipped through the cracks during the weeks leading up to the race.  In short, I’ve been a busy bee these days!  I haven’t much felt like cooking elaborate meals and doing the tremendous dish washing that entails.  Simple dinners and soups (I made weeks ago and put in the freezer) have lately been playing a starring role in my kitchen.

Although I love making things from scratch and using fresh, local, healthy ingredients it’s always more of an ideal, an event that occurs a few times a week, than a daily reality.  I rarely cook every single night of the week and I probably wouldn’t want to!  I don’t really know anyone who does–unless they are a chef or they don’t work full time.

My mom is a wonderful cook who somehow managed to work and cook several times a week for her family of four.  We ate dinner together every single night and now that I’m on my own and trying to work and cook for myself, I can scarcely imagine how she juggled everything!  I’ve taken on several of her recipes and tips over time but I recently asked her to refresh my memory of our “daily dinners”, the simple things we ate that tasted special just because we were together.  Here is what she said:

When you were little, usually one night a week we had spaghetti, sometimes meatballs, and we’d get 2 nights out of that, with a big loaf of Italian bread.  We also had French toast often, kind of a ‘breakfast for dinner’ theme, or pancakes and a side of applesauce.  I know we had the oven cheese fondue at least once every 2 weeks, cause you loved it.  If I had left over baked potatoes, we’d have omelettes and I’d dice the potatoes and make homefries.  Tacos were very popular with you guys, although if you remember you did not eat veggies back in the day, so you mostly had meat and lots of shredded cheese!  On Friday nights, we often had scrambled eggs and toast, or grilled cheese sandwiches – I always tried to work in a fruit or veggie side but there was a picky eater who shall go unnamed (look in the mirror) who made nutritionally balanced meals somewhat challenging!

I couldn’t help but laugh very loudly, remembering what an incredibly picky eater I was!!  I’m sure my eating habits didn’t make it any easier for her to make healthy meals for the family.  I’m glad I turned out alright despite the fact that I refused to eat anything green up through my teens!

So here are some tips, passed from my mom and from me, to ease that ever-present question, “what am I going to eat for dinner?”:

-In my kitchen, as in my mom’s, cooking soups and stews are a weekly winter ritual.  They are perfect because unlike other dishes, they reheat beautifully.  Right after eating my dinner helping, I put some into containers for my week’s lunches and save some for the freezer.  Then when I don’t feel like cooking, I always have a delicious soup ready to be defrosted!

-Don’t underestimate the power of the carb+veggie+protein formula.  If you don’t feel like leaving the house for special ingredients or you don’t want to scour a cookbook for the perfect recipe, just use what you have. For example: if you have leftover rice (carb), a can of chickpeas (protein), a can of stewed tomatoes (veg), and pine or walnuts (protein), you can make an easy rice pilaf.  Mix it all up and throw in some spices to taste (cumin, tumeric, red pepper), some raisins or currants, and add any extra veggies you have such as cooked carrots or greens on top.  Heat it all up in a pan.  I did this the other night, and it turned out deliciously:

-Fall in love with your freezer!  Say you decide to make some pizza dough, why not double or triple it?  If you make pancakes, double that batter as well and then you can have breakfast for dinner any night of the week! The possibilities are endless…

-Eggs are highly underrated for dinner by Americans.  In France it is very common to eat omelettes for dinner–actually they are not breakfast food at all!  And think about it–you’ve got your protein right there, with fresh veggies folded in and topped with a little cheese.  A fruit salad on the side makes it a delightful meal.  All of that can be made in a snap.

-And of course, I always fall back on old reliable, the tortilla/wrap.  I try to always have some whole wheat or multi-grain tortillas in my fridge.  Often, I’ll have sauteed some veggies before just to have on hand (such as red peppers, onions, and spinach).  On half the tortialla, I spread refried beans, sauteed veggies, and shredded cheese.  I fold it in half, stick it in a warm oven and in about 10 minutes, I’m ready to go with (healthier than takeout) quesadillas.  It helps to always have salsa on hand too.

So what’s your go-to simple dinner?  I hope these tips inspire you to build up your stress-free dinner repertoire!  Enjoy!!


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Life is sort of weird right now.  I’ve been serving on a jury since last week.  My new routine is wake up, take the D train to the Yankee Stadium stop and report to the Bronx Supreme Court.  On Sunday, I’m running a half marathon.  My dreams have been filled with the worst case senarios.  I show up without my bib or without running shoes or worst of all with no idea why I am there.  My life could use a little normalcy right now, before I start thinking of “juror” as my new job title.  It’s times like these that baking therapy helps.

Recently, I stumbled across A Homemade Life, Molly Wizenberg’s memoir-cookbook that is just incredibly lovely.  Remember when I made some pancakes from it?  Mmmm I have to make those again soon.  Anyhow, the banana bread recipe in that book had been in my recipe queue for ages and was beginning to sulk and fret and beg that I make it.  This is the post on Molly’s Orangette blog that the recipe originally appears in.  I love Molly’s description of the bread, it is probably close to the description in her book but the recipe in the book is slightly different.

Well I am here to tell you, if you ever happen to find yourself let out of jury duty early on a rainy March day during which you were vexed by race anxiety daydreams, this bread will do the trick.  This bread was a miracle worker for my mood.  Ok, so it’s not bread.  It’s cake.  Let’s just lay that out there right now.  If you eat it for breakfast, as I definitely did, don’t try to kid yourself–you are eating cake for breakfast.  But I’ve made my peace with that, and so should you.

Here is Molly’s recipe, my substitutions are noted:

6 tbs unsalted butter, melted

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour ( I used 1 cup whole wheat plus 1 cup white flour)

3/4 cup granulated sugar (I used 1/2 cup sugar)

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips)

1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 large bananas)

1/4 cup whole milk plain yogurt (all I had in the house was raspberry yogurt from my CSA, it worked great!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan with butter or cooking spray, and set aside.  Make sure to melt butter first (in the microwave) and then set aside to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Add chocolate chips and crystallized ginger, mix to combine.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs lightly then add the banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla.  Mix well.  Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients and stir.  Molly stresses not to overmix….although the batter will be lumpy, you don’t want chunks of flour.  Pour batter into the pan you prepared and pop it in the oven.

Bake until the bread is golden and firm in the center.  This takes about 1 hour.  Cool the bread in the pan 5 minutes and on a wire rack until completely cooled off.  I ate it all before I had any to freeze, but Molly says it freezes very nicely as long as you cool it completely first.

Enjoy!

Oh, and a little jury duty humor to brighten your day, you’re welcome!

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Hi folks!  Here in New York spring is starting to make an appearance.  On Saturday, I was with my running group in Central Park and everywhere there were signs of her–little hints and glimpses that were just enough to make my whole being feel lighter.  The sun seemed warmer, people and dogs were out in full force, and the snow had given way to green grass.  I even seen the tops of spring flowers poking their heads through the soil.  All this is to say, it looks like the season of hearty soups is winding down to a close.  It seems like just the other day, a chill in the autumn air had me all excited to dust off the big soup pot in preparation for a lovely lentil and veggie stew.  I think the following recipe might actually be the last lentil soup I make of the season!

Although I am such a soup fan that a piece of me is sad to see soup weather go, I am definitely welcoming the spring with arms open wide.  Also, I am starting to drool over the thought of a FRESH tomato!  Ok, ok, I might be getting a little ahead of myself here, given that in the Northeast we won’t be getting our hands on any locally grown tomatoes for quite a few weeks.  But fresh spring veggies are lovely too–I’m really looking forward to mixed salad greens, garlic scapes, and oooooh fresh asparagus!  Come on, you know that asparagus grown overseas during winter just doesn’t taste right!  I’m already planning two spring time soups–garlic scape and potato soup and springtime minestrone (in which lovely in-season asparagus plays a starring role).

But let’s jump back to the present.  Every time I make a new lentil soup, I feel as though I’ve broken the mold, hit the jackpot.  I’m so certain that I’ve found my favorite recipe that I pretty much never want to try a new one.  And then, I do…..and I realize that each is more spectacular than the rest!  That’s because the lentil is delicious, filling, versatile, and (luckily) very nutritious.  This recipe is based off of one my mother gave me.  She found it in a low glycemic index cookbook.  It is a good platform for you to express yourself since it is somewhat bare bones.  I took the outline and ran with it.  It’s yummy, spicy, and best of all, super easy.  Here goes:

olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

3-4 medium carrots, chopped

3 medium potatoes, whatever kind you have laying around

lots of garlic minced (say about 4-6 cloves)

1/2 tsp tumeric

2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cumin

cayenne pepper to taste

6 cups water

1 1/2 cups veggie stock

1 cup red lentils

1/2 cup pearl barley

1 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes, undrained

salt and pepper to taste

Chop all the veggies, warm the oil in your soup pan.  Add onion and cook for about 10 min, until they brown slightly.  Add the garlic, carrots, potatoes, and spices.  Stir up and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the water, stock, lentils, barley, tomatoes and salt and pepper.  Simmer for about 45 minutes until everything is tender and looks good enough to eat.

Note:  red lentils are different from their other lentil cousins–they break down a lot.  Don’t be worried if they look mushy or even disappear.  That’s what happens but the texture ends up being a lovely partner to the denseness of the barley.

I hope you can make this warming, fragrant soup on a damp winter-spring-in-between day.

Enjoy!

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