It’s been two weeks since I’ve been home in the US and I already miss making treats. Cookies, bars, cakes, granola, cobblers… there was always something to be concocted and it was a breeze, or should I say piece of cake ;) in our—thanks to my lovely mother—well-stocked pantry and well-equipped kitchen. How I took that all for granted! Whipping up a batch of after dinner peanut butter cookies isn’t quite as simple when my current pantry has zero ingredients, and my kitchen not a spatula, mixing bowl nor cookie sheet. I know, poor poor me… :)
Happy spring! Happy Easter! Happy sunshine, happy blooming flowers, happy chirping birds, happy sprouting seeds. It’s a happy time of year, a time for breathing in that fresh air, stretching those legs, planting that garden, and celebrating life.
Springtime always evokes in me a desire to eat cleanly and cleanse my body from all the heavy comfort foods of winter. I get excited for all the vegetables and fruits to grow and ripen in the next several months, and vow to take full advantage. In the midst of this inspired mood, though, is Easter and all its sweet temptations.
This year we decided to have a low-key brunch with our “neighborhood family.” Lots of yummy indulgent food was planned, prepared, shared and eaten. And although we try to avoid the highly processed Easter candy, it somehow sneaks its way into our house and we are left to fall to its seductions. Needless to say I (and probably everyone but I’ll speak for myself ;) indulged too much over the course of the day and went to bed feeling like a stuffed roly-poly.
It was the most fun Easter I’ve had since I was a wee little egg hunter at Grandma’s house though, and I do not regret a single moment or bite of chocolate cake. The day started with licking my chocolate torte batter from the bowl and ended by plopping into bed, exhausted like a child who played outside all day long. In between there was lots of cooking, brunch enjoying, hiding easter eggs in the woods, a walk on the farm which ended in an long dog chase, and yard games and honey wine up on “the hill.” Most importantly, it was all in wonderful company.
I can’t think of a single person who actually dislikes banana bread. And I dare you to find someone who doesn’t like that oh so dreamy creamy cocoa hazelnut spread (aka nutella). They’re two very lovable things, and when combined will put a smile on anyone’s face.
So what happens when you mix banana bread with nutella? Well, there could be many outcomes, but mine just happened to be these banana-nutella swirl muffins. And given 98% of our population’s fondness of the two components, these muffins are the perfect treat to bring to a party, a potluck, or a very special friend’s birthday… as I did for my very special friend Corey.
Bring me to a pastry shop, and scones are just about the only thing that’ll get my attention. I’m not one to fall for those buttery, flaky filled croissants or tarts or really anything with a pie-like crust. But scones are in their own wonderful category of pastry. They’re like big fluffy cookie-biscuits, and I love everything about that.
Even with my love for scones, I never seem to justify buying one, knowing how butter and cream and sugar laden they are. Sounds great for a treat, but not quite the nutritious breakfast I’m going for.
I was inspired to experiment myself by way of a scone recipe on a bag of hazelnut flour. First of all, anything made with hazelnut flour is going to be divine, right? Not to mention there will also be currants, and together this goodness will be baked into scones? Gotta try it.
Gazpacho and I have a thing this summer. How did I never see in it what I do now? I used to compare it to ‘just like drinking a jar of salsa – yuck!’, but now I see it’s so far beyond that. Light, refreshing, complex, pure, and wonderful. Like drinking my summer garden. For breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Topped with herbed croutons, fancy ceviche, or nothing. I love it, and I love that it helps me keep any of my precious garden tomatoes from going to waste.
Working on an organic farm this summer as well as having 6 plants of my own to tend, you could say I’ve picked my fair share of ‘maters this season. And just look at all the varieties! Each has their own flavor, texture and purpose. Many are heirlooms, which are so flavor-packed and meaty they’re just crying out to be part of a mean BLT. I’ll admit some look pretty darn ugly on the outside. But it’s the inside beauty that counts, right?
I’ve made gazpacho (Spanish chilled tomato soup) maybe 6 times in the past few weeks, enjoying it as an on-the-go breakfast, as a cool refresher after working outside, eating bowls-full for lunch & dinner, and taking it to a cookout for friends to enjoy. Each time I make it is a little different, as I don’t follow a strict recipe and always use a mishmash of tomato varieties. But it’s hard to mess up too bad, unless of course you mistake jalapeños for bell peppers. Here’s my top secret recipe, now go put summer’s bounty to good use!
This time of year I desperately look for any and every way to take advantage of our abundant garden, namely the tomatoes who are currently on a serious ripening rampage. It’s painful to watch an unused tomato go rotten on the counter, when in just a few months I’ll be dying to have one so juicy and fresh. Gazpacho, tomato sauce, salsa, more gazpacho, BLT’s, tomato-basil-mozzarella salads for lunch and dinner daily…… Not that I get tired of it, I just wish the tomato good-ness could be spread more evenly throughout the year!
While brainstorming other lunch-worthy uses for tomatoes, I thought of tabbouleh, and then I thought of the tabbouleh I had at a recent potluck (well, in June… Is it really August already?!) This light and refreshing herbal salad swapped out the traditional bulgur wheat for quinoa plus a good dose of mung beans, all together making one protein-packed, fiber-full, and vitamin-rich hearty salad.
Tabbouleh is easy because there’s no right and wrong ratios of herbs to grains or veggies, so it’s really just up to your taste. This recipe’s a keeper in my book, especially when it comes to putting all these summer garden veggies to use.
Strawberry season in the Mid-Atlantic — although fleeting, it always leaves me with excitement for more of summer’s candy to come: blueberries, wild raspberries, and my most beloved, the peach! So while I do cherish the early red berries, admittedly I get more excited for what’s to follow, and the indication that my favorite season is only just beginning.
garden bouquet: summer lettuces and berries
My go-to recipe to highlight the local strawberries for the past few years has been this: an oat square that reminds me of my good old Nutri-Grain bar, but much more hearty and wholesome with fresh-from-the-fields strawberry jam slathered and baked right on top. They’re also vegan, and interestingly made with chia seeds as a thickener in the jam and as an egg-replacer in the dough. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, antioxidants, calcium, omega-3, and pure energy! I also like the seedy texture it gave to the jam — i love jam with chunks of fruit and seeds :)
Fresh-picked strawberries ripen fast and need to be put to use, so if you’re looking for a healthy treat or a sweet and wholesome breakfast to use up those buckets of fruit, give these bars a try.
I am about to write a post that came about from a trip to Five Guys and Subway. Never in envisioning my ‘healthy cooking blog’ did I think something like this would come up. But inspiration finds you in unexpected places, I suppose.
So here we were, my boyfriend and I waiting out the thunderstorm in a (particularly awesome) tavern before a great night of baseball: the Nationals vs. Orioles at the Nats stadium in DC. I had the thought of maybe grabbing a sandwich at Subway across the street rather than paying $12 for a greasy something-or-other in the stadium. Forrest was in, although he decided to go all in at the Five Guys next door. I admitted to him that I did love their fries—way back when I ate hamburgers—so he promised to share with me all the little fries I desired, as they stuff an entire brown bag full of them. What a treat!
The fries – their cajun seasoned ones which I had never tried – were greasy but delicious, with a much more ‘homemade’ taste than any other fast food fries I’ve had. And the cajun seasoning was just meant to be with them. I knew I’d be cooking up a healthier version as soon as I got home.
And that was that. Inspiration for my next recipe came to me from a greasy burger joint outside a ballpark. Although I love cooking and eating foods that are inherently healthy (kale salads, lentil stew, etc..) there is a great satisfaction that comes from ‘healthifying’ something that’s typically not so great for you. So here are some oven baked fries, smothered in Cajun goodness, thick and tender and crispy enough to rival any fast food joint.
I really miss my falafel bar in Charleston. Can’t believe it’s been a year since my college graduation and FIVE years since I was a freshman, exploring and orienting myself around that amazing little city. A city with a wonderful, wonderful food scene. New restaurants were popping up on the narrow historic downtown streets every other day it seemed, having to compete in a food culture that demanded unqiue, eclectic, quality eats. And the day I saw the new Patat Spot Friet & Falafel pop up on one of the streets that ran right through campus, I was psyched. This girl is a falafel lover.
Plus this wasn’t just any order of falafel – you could get it grilled or fried, in a pita or on a bed of greens, and then head over to the ‘Garden Spot’ and fill your plate with over 20 toppings ranging from pickled beets to baba ganoush to tabouli. I surely did my best to keep them in business.
Anyway, just reminiscing about how great I had it back in the day. Now I have to make it all myself and provide all the toppings?! Ugh. Fortunately, making falafel is pretty simple and the finished product is so worth it. I’ve probably used a different falafel recipe every time and this combination of ingredients definitely makes for the best, as does soaking and cooking my own garbanzo beans. Much better texture and easier on the digestion. I also wanted to experiment with baking vs. pan frying — both turned out equally delicious. When the time came to serve, the only form of bread in my house was corn tortillas so… I made do with a falafel taco. Not bad! If you’ve got pita, by all means use it or serve over a bed of spinach or romaine with a 20+ topping salad bar, ideally ;)