Sunday, January 30, 2011

Vegetable Juice 101

There is a ton of information out there about the benefits of drinking fresh vegetable juice.  Not only does it give you added vitamins that are easier for your body to absorb, but it aids in digestion, increases your body's immunity, and adds more vegetables to your diet.  I know from personal experience that I feel more energized and healthy when I drink fresh juice on a regular basis.  It also helps curb sugar cravings!

Juicing is very easy once you understand the basics, but it can be a little intimidating for those just getting started.  Hopefully this tutorial will inspire you to start making fresh juice on your own!

#1: The Juicer
There are a lot of different models out there, but you don't have to spend a ton of money to get a decent juicer.  I purchased Jack LaLanne's Power Juicer model at Target for about $100 four years ago and it still works great.  This is a great beginner model --very easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to find available online or in stores.

You want to find a model that only has a few parts (thus, quick and easy to clean) and with a wide chute that will allow to you insert different kinds of fruits and vegetables.  I would also recommend investing in a model that has a splash guard in the front (mine does not).  This keeps the juice from splashing you as it squirts out, and if you plan on juicing red beets it is definitely worth the investment.

#2: What to Juice?
Now that you have the juicer, what do you want to juice?  Primarily fruit juice?  Mostly vegetable juice?  I highly recommend a combination juice of fruit and vegetables to get started.  As you get used to drinking fresh juice, then you can increase the vegetables and decease the fruit.  Once you start experimenting, you can discover tasty combinations of your own.  Here are some of my favorite fruits and veggies to juice: 


#3: Tips and Tricks
Always wash your fruits and vegetables before juicing and use organic produce whenever possible.  The fresher your produce is, the fresher your juice will taste and the more vitamins and nutrients you will get from it.

When juicing, make sure you don't overstuff the chute or veggies can get stuck.  Push items through slowly using the pusher.  Items with a bitter or thick peel should be peeled (e.g. lemon, oranges, limes, melons, etc), but thin and juicy peels are okay (e.g. apples).  When juicing leafy items like lettuce or kale, it will juice better when the leaves are tightly balled up and sandwiched between other fruits and vegetables.  I usually alternate kale or lettuce leaves with beets, lemon, carrots, or apple slices. 

#4: Drink Up!
Now you've succeeded in making a tasty, healthy juice for yourself!  Always drink juice immediately because it is at its peak when it is fresh.  The longer it sits, the more the vitamins begin to lose their potency.

However, you don't want to chug it!  It is best to swish the juice around in your mouth or "chew" it because this helps it mix with your saliva and aids in better digestion and absorption of the nutrients.  I know it sounds a little weird, but it makes a difference.

If you want to get some of the health benefits of fresh juice without committing to a juicer of your own, you can find a local juice bar in your area instead.  Just note that it is more cost-efficient to purchase your own juicer and produce if you plan to consume fresh juice on a regular basis.  

Basic Juice Recipe
Makes 12 ounces

3 stalks celery
1 lemon, peeled
1/2 apple, sliced
3 carrots
1/2 fennel bulb
4 kale leaves
1 small piece of ginger

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lemon Pepper Tofu

This is usually about the time of year when I start wanting to take a vacation to someplace sunny.  Or a vacation in general.  That would be nice. 

Speaking of sun, are you getting enough Vitamin D?  In case you've missed all of the hype in the news recently about vitamin deficiencies I'll fill you in. Vitamin D comes from the sun and there are a couple of food sources as well.  If you're lacking in sunlight, you might want to think about taking a supplement. 

I had my vitamin levels tested last year and found out that I was especially low in Vitamin D, Iron, and B12.  Even for those of us with a healthy varied diet, there are still vitamins we could be low in -- especially B12 for vegans since you can only get this one from animal sources.  

I promise not to nag, but if you're not taking any supplements it might be something good to think about.  Or, you could always head to the Southern Hemisphere to get your Vitamin D the natural way.  Since I put the idea in your head I guess I can't be jealous.

The next best thing to sunlight right now is lemon zest.  I love using lemon zest in the winter because it perks up my taste buds and my mood.  This tofu is a perfect harmony between lemon and pepper.  It's not too spicy (unless you want it to be), but it's got a lot of flavor.  For anyone who fears tofu or is tired of it being stir-fried with soy sauce, this recipe is a must.  

Lemon Pepper Tofu

From Clean Start by Terry Walters
Serves 2

1 pound fresh tofu, cut into 1/2-inch fillets
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 Tbs fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs mirin
Freshly ground black pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Wrap tofu in a paper towel and gently press out excess liquid.  (I usually stack a couple of plates on top of the tofu to weigh it down and leave it sitting for about 10 minutes to drain.)

Heat large cast-iron skillet to medium heat and saute garlic in olive oil for 2 minutes.  Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon mirin and plenty of pepper. Stir to combine and place tofu in pan.   Saute 4 minutes, flip fillets, add another tablespoon lemon juice and more pepper as desired.  Saute 4 minutes longer, flip tofu again, add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and final tablespoon of mirin.

Saute 4 minutes or until evenly browned.  Flip one last time, add remaining tablespoon of lemon juice, lemon zest, and crushed red pepper and saute 4 minutes or until evenly browned.  Remove from heat and serve.  Garnish with a dash of red pepper, black pepper, and lemon zest.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Fingerling Potatoes with Red Onion and Sage

I'm really looking forward to spring this year.  I've negotiated with my landlord to use a small area of the front yard for a vegetable garden.  The only problem?  I have absolutely no clue what I'm doing.  I guess we all have to start somewhere.

I did some container gardening a couple of years ago, but it didn't turn out very well.  It was that crazy hot summer in 2009 when Seattle reached 103 degrees.  Remember that?

One of my worst memories that summer was driving to volunteer at a youth center and almost passing out in the car because of the heat.  Let's just say that my tomatoes and strawberries didn't make it through either.   

I've been reading a bunch of books about organic gardening -- everything from prepping the soil, to picking which varieties of vegetables to use, to planting the seeds.  I'm sure that I'll make some mistakes along the way and lose a few plants, but I'm also sure that whatever survives will be delicious.  I can't wait to share it with you.

Speaking of sharing things with you, would you like to try some of these fingerling potatoes?  They're very yummy.

I really love using fingerling potatoes in recipes not only because they are delicious, but because they are super cute.  Fingerling potatoes often get confused with new potatoes, which are simply young potatoes that are harvested before maturity.  Unlike young potatoes fingerling potatoes are fully mature, and therefore, have a much more complex flavor.

This recipe called for fresh sage, but I substituted dried sage and used fresh parsley as a garnish instead.  I also topped my potatoes with a course Hawaiian sea salt (thank you, Elise!) and coarsely ground black pepper.  This recipe is enough to serve 6 as a side dish, but I personally love to make a big batch all for myself and munch on the leftovers. That is, if I can fight off Ashley long enough to have any.

Fingerling Potatoes with Red Onion and Sage

Slightly adapted from Clean Start by Terry Walters
Serves 6

2 pounds fingerling potatoes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, chopped
1 tsp dried sage
1 Tbs fresh Italian parsley, chopped
Coarse sea salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash potatoes and place in casserole.  Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and roast for 35 minutes or until soft (time will depend on the size of the potatoes).

In a medium skillet over medium heat, saute garlic and onion in remaining tablespoon of olive oil until soft (about 3 minutes).  Add sage and saute 2 minutes longer.  Remove from heat and set aside.

When soft, remove potatoes from oven and toss with onion-herb mixture.  Season with salt and pepper, garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Olive Oil Granola

I don't know about you, but it's been a really long week.  It was one of those weeks where a lot happened professionally and personally and my brain and body were just kinda stuck in the middle of it.  Luckily, it's a three-day weekend and I just made granola.  It's amazing what the smell of cinnamon and toasted oats can do for one's mood.

If granola is the high of my week, my shoulder pain has definitely been my low.  I'm still recovering from a shoulder injury from last August and this week my physical therapist told me I needed to stop running.  Since my shoulder is already irritated and having a hard time healing, my recent training has been making it worse.

For anyone that has ever had to stop doing something they love because of an injury, I'm sure you can share in my frustration, anger, and sadness.  I was feeling really sorry for myself all week, thinking negatively about my body, and skipping the gym out of frustration.  Obviously, this made me feel worse about the situation.

Yesterday I had to change my attitude.  I returned all of my marathon training books back to the library.  I put on my cutest workout top.  And I told myself that if cycling is all that I can do, then I'm going to do it!  I went to the gym, got on a bike, and I rode for two hours.  It didn't make me feel better about not being able to run, but it sure made me stop being negative. 

I've been trying to find other things besides exercise to get excited about.  Since I won't be able to participate in any races for the next couple of months, I decided to put that money towards registration for the Vida Vegan Blogger Conference in Portland this August.  I bought myself a new toothbrush.  Then I cleaned and organized my refrigerator.  These might sound like insignificant things, yet somehow, they help make it better.  And I might not be able to go running, but I sure can make a good batch of granola.  That's something to be thankful for. 

This is one of my favorite granola recipes.  The olive oil and salt add just enough "oomph" to separate it from the sweeter granola varieties.  I love having this with almond milk in the morning or with some soy yogurt for dessert.  If you're worried about all the calories in granola, you can have half granola and half puffed (unsweetened) brown rice cereal to help cut some of the fat and sugar.  This is usually what I do in the mornings when I don't want to start my day with something too sweet. I also like to add in some flax seeds and hemp protein powder.

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup agave or pure maple syrup (I usually use a mix of both)
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup chopped dried apricots (optional)

Preheat oven to 300.

I ran my almonds and walnuts through a food processor for a few minutes, but you can also chop them by hand or leave them whole.  In a large bowl, combine your oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon and salt.  Mix in your olive oil, agave and/or maple syrup.

Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet in an even layer and bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.  Stir occasionally. 

Once cooled, transfer to a large bowl and mix in the apricots.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Carrot-Ginger Spice Muffins

How is your week going?  Mine has been all about recipes. We have a new recipe database at work that will allow us to quickly calculate recipes based upon how many orders we are making.  Sure, this doesn't sound like a big deal, but when your kitchen is responsible for making over 1,000 orders a day having a program like this makes a huge difference.  

It's crazy to think about making a batch of food large enough for over 1,000 people.  I've been doing the data entry for our system and typing things like 120 pounds of kale, 2 gallons of oil, or 1 cup of salt.  I can't imagine adding 2 gallons of oil to something.  That's the kind of quantities that we're talking about. The upside of this is that I'm getting really good at math. 

Quick: how many ounces are in a cup?  How many pints in a quart?  How many quarts in a gallon?  How many of these muffins did I eat today?  

Wait! Don't answer that last one... 

I usually start my day with a green smoothie for breakfast, but these muffins have been perfect lately.  I love heating one up just before I leave for the bus stop so that I not only have something delicious to munch on, but then I can keep my hands warm in the process.  These are nice and savory without a lot of sweetness which is always my preference with baked goods.  If you need a little extra sweetness to start your day, you can also add some more sugar (the original recipe called for 1/4 cup).  I even promise not to tell if you have more than one. 

Adapted from the FatFree Vegan Kitchen

Carrot-Ginger Spice Muffins
Yields: 12 muffins

Dry ingredients:
1 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour (or a mixture of whole wheat and unbleached flours)
2 Tbs brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground flax seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Wet ingredients:
1.5 tsp freshly grated ginger
3 Tbs agave nectar
3 Tbs maple syrup
1/3 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/3 cup soy milk
1 Tbs apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (about 3)
1/4 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray or use muffin liners.

Combine the apple cider vinegar and soymilk and set aside.  

Mix together all dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, combine the liquid ingredients. Add the liquid to the dry and mix just long enough to combine. Add the carrots and raisins and stir to combine.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups–it will be very thick. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Sexy Ugly Stew (aka Split Pea and Yam)

Have you ever heard the phrase "sexy ugly"?  Come on, you know what I'm talking about.  How else do people describe Mick Jagger?

If you haven't heard of this phrase before, then thank Urban Dictionary for helping us both out:  "Someone who is not conventionally good-looking (or any kind of good-looking in some cases), but possesses an appealing personality, style, or talent, and is thus considered sexually attractive by many."  Now you know what sexy ugly means.

Well, this stew is sexy ugly.  

I have to admit that I never understood that phrase.  Honestly, what the heck is sexy ugly?  Is that a complement or criticism?  Should one be flattered or alarmed?

But today while standing at my stove staring into this pot of mashed up split peas it all became clear.  This stew is not what I would call pretty.  In fact, should you serve this at your next party or potluck, I highly doubt that it will have guests lined up wanting to try it.  Don't get me wrong, it's not hideous.  It's just not appealing.  And us Americans tend to have something against mushy green things as it is.

If you didn't know any better, you would probably agree that this stew is, well, kinda ugly.  That is, until you take your first bite.  That's when you discover that you underestimated this little stew.  That the stew is, in fact, sexy.

The heartiness of the peas combined with the intensity of the yams and melded together with the sweetness of maple syrup?  It's sexy. Well, sexy ugly.

Serves 4. 

1 1/2 cups split peas
2 yams, diced 
3 stalks celery, chopped
5-6 cups vegetable broth
2 medium yellow onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped
2 Tbs maple syrup
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried sage
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Add a little olive oil to a large pot and turn to medium-high heat. Saute your onions for 5 minutes.  Add your celery (and a little more olive oil if necessary) and saute for another 5 minutes.  Add your garlic and saute for another 2 minutes.

Next, add your vegetable broth and bring to a boil.  Add your split peas, yams, bay leaf, sage and basil.  Cover, turn the heat down, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add your spinach and maple syrup.  Let it simmer for an additional 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rice & Black Bean Salad

I think I have blogger's block.  And, I have also misplaced my camera.  I am officially the worst blogger ever. 

Don't worry though.  It's all under control.  I am sending a search party out for the camera and I even googled some tips for becoming un-stuck in my writing.  You know, good advice like walk away from your computer and do a mad lib

I got really dedicated and even did several mad libs.  I thought that maybe if one was good enough I could just share that with you and call it good.  But, in the end I couldn't just leave you hanging like that...

So here we are again.  Alone.  Together.  With my blocked brain.  I guess I'll just make some small talk at this point.

How was your day?  Anything exciting happen at work?  See any good movies lately? 

The other night we watched The Terminator.  You know that really dorky movie from 1984 with the 38th Governor of California? 

Awkward silence. 

Yeah, I'm a big nerd like that.  

Anyway, how about some black beans?  I guess it's better if I just stick to food right now. 

I've been on a black bean kick lately. Any day of the week you can either find some soaking by my sink or simmering on the stove.  And nothing against canned beans, but they just aren't the same as fresh ones. Once you get the hang of cooking your own beans I doubt you'll want to go back to the canned variety.  If you cook a large batch ahead of time and freeze them, you will always have fresh beans at your finger tips. This is not only convenient, but it saves energy since you cut down on your cooking time.  

This yummy salad can be served warm or cold.  It's also great as a burrito filling, scooped up in a tortilla chip, or served on top of a bed of greens. It's the perfect quick meal on a weeknight and you can add almost any produce that's kicking around in your fridge:  some jalapeno pepper in the dressing, an onion, or even some shredded carrots.  

Well, that wasn't so bad.  We got through the whole post together.  You even got a recipe out of it.  

By the way... have you seen my camera?

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side

1 cup long-grain brown rice, soaked overnight, + 1.5 cups water
1 cup black beans, soaked overnight, + 3 cups water
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 bell pepper, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 tomato, seeded and chopped

2 Tbs olive oil
juice from 1 lime
1 garlic clove, minced
 salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbs cilantro, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin
dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Make sure to soak your beans and rice (separately) overnight.  You don't have to soak your rice overnight, but this helps with digestion and decreases your cooking time. To cook your rice: Add your rice and water to a medium pot and bring to a boil.  Then put the lid on the pot and reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 15 - 20 minutes.  If it is still a bit hard, turn off the heat and let the rice sit in the covered pot for another 5 - 10 minutes.  If there is any extra water, drain from the pot.

To cook your beans:  Drain your soaking water and add 3 cups of cold water to a medium pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer.  Simmer for 1.5 - 2 hours until beans are cooked.  The beans are done when they are chewable, but not mushy.  If there is any extra water, drain from the pot. 

I think it is best to cook the rice and beans the day before and store in the refrigerator until using.  This salad can be served warm or cold so you can either chill your rice and beans or mix them with the veggies right away.  Prep your vegetables and toss together with the rice and beans.

Mix the ingredients for your dressing together.  Toss with your salad and serve.

This salad does not keep too well because the rice can get a little mushy and the avocado will turn brown so it is best if served immediately. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spicy Collard Greens

Let's start this year off right.  Let's talk about greens.

Did you know that collard greens are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, vitamin E, Calcium, and dietary fiber?  Did you know that cooking them increases their nutritional benefits?  The heat breaks down their cell walls and releases higher amounts of their vitamins and minerals.  And do you know how delicious collard greens can be?  (It's okay if you didn't know that last one because up until a few months ago I didn't know either.)

I tend to feel guilty when I cook my vegetables because it often means that I'm losing nutrients.  However, with collard greens, I can throw out my guilt and grab my pan. 

For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, we are pretty lucky when it comes to greens.  Fresh local greens are available to us most of the year because of our wonderful cool and damp weather.  Seattle often spoils me when it comes to good local food.

How did you ring in the New Year?  Fireworks?  A glass of wine?  I opted for a low-key celebration involving a good movie, a cup of tea, a snuggie, and my cat.  I even fell asleep before midnight.  Yep, I'm that cool.

On New Year's Day I ran my first 5K.  I love running and this is something I've wanted to do for years.  Unfortunately, I've had terrible shin splints in the past that even daily stretching, strength training, massage, and physical therapy couldn't get rid of.  I thought there was no way I'd ever be able to run again.

Last week I discovered compression socks and they are amazing.  If you ever have shin splints I strongly recommend you get a pair.  They not only alleviated my pain, but they made it possible for me to run my first race.  2011 is looking up.

If running a 5K, 10K, half or full marathon is on your 2011 wish list I hope this inspires you to get started.  If I can do a 5K, you can too.  Trust me.

And if I can love collard greens this much, I hope you can too.

1 bunch collard greens, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
1/2 - 1 cup vegetable stock
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs olive oil

In a medium pot over medium heat, add your olive oil and cook your collard greens and garlic for about a minute. 

Add your vegetable stock.  It should be a thin layer and will probably not cover all of your greens, but they will quickly cook down. Put a lid on your pot and turn the stove down to a simmer. Add the red pepper flakes.  Cook until the greens are tender, about 20 minutes.  You want them to be chewable, but not mushy.  Drain any excess stock.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.