Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fresh Perspective

The baking continues!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I enjoy gluten-free and vegan treats. The topic is pretty near and dear to my heart. One of my greatest friends, M, is a Celiac. All that means is her body and gluten aren't BFFLs. Over the years, I have come to feel protective of her. It's amazing to me how some people get so involved in others food choices or disbelieve that someone may have an intolerance or allergy. If you worship SATC like I do (talking the series, folks, not the movies.. esp 2 ::shudder::), you'll remember the episode with Burger (is Berger or Burger? hmmmm...) and Carrie, where she lies about her allergy to parsley. He gets so bent out of shape about Carrie's less-than-honest fabrication. My question is: who cares? The girl hates parsley! If you say you're allergic, you can (usually) be damn sure the thing you say you're allergic to won't end up on your plate.

But I digress. Back to the caring-about-other-people's-diet thing. Once upon a time, I had a faux friend. This faux friend was such because she gave back-handed compliments ("You're smart to do your laundry on Friday night when everyone else is out. You should also try a face mask. It's a handy way to get everything clean at once, and you're all alone (insert faux gigle).") But this was back in college, and I mean, who isn't your friend after a few drinks (the people you try to beat up after a you throw back two or ten, that's who)? Plus, this faux friend had this way of putting the charm on which made you unsure if she was being sincere when she said you could do much better than your current crush, then sat in his lap all night because she had injured her behind and his lap was softer than a bar stool (or so she said). Anyways.

This faux friend invited me out to dinner with her mom and mom's friend. It was one of the fanciest places in town. Another faux part of this chick was this was such her MO: go to the nicest place in town, with her parents. Then expect you to pay for yourself. This time around, I was ready. I suggested pizza (hahaha showed you!). While ordering, faux friend's mom snickered, " Good thing M isn't here. She claims she can't eat wheat. What a crock!" I was shocked. But not so shocked I was tongue tied. I retorted, " Ya, I hate it when diabetics pull that crap too. I mean, sugar, c'mon! It won't hurt you!" Faux friend's icky mother laughed. I laughed at her.

If you've never cooked gluten-free, I urge you to try. You would NEVER know these aren't full of wheat flour. Or have no dairy. They are tasty. So here's to you, M, for giving me a new perspective on baked goods. And a good back story to this post!

Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes

This recipe was taken from Elena's Pantry. She has some really amazing gluten-free dishes and desserts.

¼ cup coconut flour
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs
¼ cup oil
½ cup agave nectar

Heat oven to 375 F. Line a cupcake tin with 10 paper liners. In a medium bowl, combine coconut flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, blend together eggs, oil and agave. Add dry ingredients into wet, careful not to over stir. Using an ice cream scooper, pour one scoop into each liner. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cool on rack. Scrumptious!

For frosting, you could try peanut or almond butter- nuts are always tasty with chocolate! Or forgo frosting: sprinkle the cupcakes with chocolate chips prior to baking. I made a "butter cream" frosting of Earth Balance buttery sticks, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and about 1 1/2-2 cups of powdered sugar. We dyed them spring-y colors, frosted the lil' cuties and topped with colored sugar. Pretty! Yum!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pick me up

We interrupt this moodiness with a walk in the brisk, new spring air, some QT with streaming Netflix, and one of my favorite concoctions, Greek coffee. Ok, my bastardized version doesn't compare to what I've sipped in Astoria, Queens, but it's pretty damn delectable.

When I was a Junior in college, I had some really swell friends from Bosnia. They introduced me to Bosnian koffee klatsch, a Balkan colloquialism known as ceif (pronounced "chafe"). However, it ignited my taste for teeny cups of sludgy coffee with a rich crema. It was also the first time I realized sugar cubes were of pretty good design: you can dip the cube in, millimeter by millimeter, to absorb some of the Turkish delight, then crunch off the coffee-flavored sweetness. We would sit on the floor of our sparse dorm rooms, trusty hot pot by our side, finely ground beans waiting to be made into the robust hot beverage. L and R even had little espresso cups and saucers. We would nosh on whatever small treat they had received in care packages from home or wrapped up in napkins and toted home from the dining hall. It was a wonderful habit, and something I truly miss in my non-European friends.

Living on the West Coast, in the Rockies and down South didn't give me too many opportunities to drink coffee prepared in this style. When I relocated to NYC, I found a good friend, A, lived in Astoria. That homeless August, I crashed in Harlem and Manhattan but whenever I could, I would take sleep on A's settee in Queens, eating ethnic on the cheap and gorging myself on Greek iced coffees. A left a few months into my Brooklyn tenure. He bestowed upon me his little Greek/ Turkish/ Hungarian/ Bosnian/ Serbian coffee pot. A himself was Armenian, but not much of a chef or preparer of anything edible. I have never used it either save one less-than-successful experiment. I do believe the thing has never made authentic southern European coffee (forgive my geography misgivings: not exactly sure how I can describe in cardinal directions where this type of brewing hails).

A few years after that Queens summer, I found myself planning a series of field trips to different areas of NYC for an integrated curriculum project. A science teacher, M, suggested Astoria, for all the Greek culture (the project was around architecture... um, the reason we went to Queens escapes me now.). It was a dreary January day, snow was on the ground, misty damp air hung loosely about. We sat in one of those amazing outdoor cafes, under a heating lamp, and drank hot Greek coffee. A wave of warmth, not only from the beverage, washed over me. All felt right and calm in the world. Bustling Astoria was a perfect haven. The misty air was romantic. We clinked our little china cups, H sat on my lap and gurgled (she was only about 4 months old). M and I enjoyed the cityscape in quiet companionship over our warm muddy ambrosia.

Passover is coming soon. In the terribly WASP-y area I live in, that doesn't mean much to most. To me, it means European-manufactured Nescafe is sitting on the kosher table at the local supermarket. I hoard this stuff now that I don't live in NYC and have easy access to ethnic delis. American Nescafe is gross; when my daughter's grandmother visits from Israel, she brings her own jar. Good woman.

Not-so-Greek Frappa

I made my own version of this delightful drink today. In lieu of my almond milk, use a few tablespoons of evaporated milk or nounou milk, which I have found only in Greek groceries (Stop and Shop ain't gots it), although many purists don't take milk in theirs.

2 heaping teaspoons European-produced Nescafe (the American one is useless)
6 ounces boiling water
1 packet of Splenda
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
lot of ice

In a small cup, blend the Nescafe and Splenda with the water. In a blender, add the ice, almond milk and extracts. Pulse until the ice is in shards. Add the coffee mixture to the blender. Whiz until all ice is incorporated and smooth. Pour into a tall glass. There should be a nice crema on top.

To make hot, leave out the whizzing in the blender and cut the milk to a 1/4 cup. Or leave it out entirely and just add more water, and shake in a martini strainer. If you want a more authentic experience, try the following (warning: recreated from memories of watching Greek expats in Queens whip these up)- a spoonful of coffee and a spoonful of sugar, to taste, and a spoonful of COLD water frappeed with a small handheld blender that many use for lattes or foaming milk should produce a frothy blend. Add ice, cold water and a bit of Carnation evaporated milk from a can. This too can be made as a hot beverage.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Take comfort

It's been a tough few days. First, I wasn't admitted into the educational policy program I applied to for next fall. I found out five minutes before I had to conduct an internal training webinar for my coworkers. I give myself big ups for not breaking down during the meeting. I cried, on and off, all day yesterday. Then, after the webinar and before the rest of my now-awful day, I had to deal with an unhappy account. Unhappy not with me but someone else. Whom I was also upset with. It took a lot to be calm, neutral and composed, but I did it. Once again, big ups. Then, this morning, I was pulled over because my back light was out on my car (it was the freaking day time), and because I allegedly didn't stop at a stop sign. Which is totally not true. I didn't even California roll. It's some podunk nowhere place, a one-horse-more-cows-than-people-place, and they fined me $225. A tad exorbitant, no?!?!?!?!?! I'm sorry you need some new post light or cow fence or whatever, but I am not funding your town's major improvements.

Life has been a pretty trying experience the past five or so years, and I wish one thing would just work out. When I'm annoyed or upset or just plain cranky, I like to clean and cook. I know, it sounds weird, but it feels good to exert control over something, to take comfort in knowing the outcome is completely predictable. It cheers me to know that when I scrub with all my might, the white cupboards will eventually shine. I find it reassuring when a dab of elbow grease on the bookshelves yields a dust-free home for my cookbooks. I love knowing blending avocados with bananas and cocoa and agave creates a smooth, creamy pudding base.

Full disclosure: until last night, I had never used avocado for a base to any recipe other than guacamole. I have been interested in creating some vegan and/ or gluten free treats lately. My fondness for this style of cooking reached an all time high last Memorial day in Portland, OR. While trolling the farmer's market on the PSU campus for dry goods that would travel back to MA well, my friend M and I stumbled upon Petunia's, a delectable gluten-free bakery cart. Looking over her wares, we both decided on the chocolate-coconut-banana tart. Let me tell you: it was delish!!! Like crazy good. Like fly-to-Portland-once-a-month-to-get-one-good. I have often thought of recreating these, but never have seriously looked into this type of cooking. Until the day from Hades. Armed with over-ripe bananas, gluten-free graham crackers, agave and Earth Balance buttery sticks, I set out to make a tart crust. Then, I paraded the avocado around the food processor, added the rest, and voila! Puddin' base for my alternative tart. I didn't get quite the coconut taste I wanted in the end product, but I am going to be messing around with this recipe for awhile. I brought it to B's last night, and we munched on it with some spumante (mmm). All in all, the wholesome tart was pretty healing and offered some solace to my chapped, rejected soul. I ate some more when I came home from the ticketing incident too. I might just bathe in it this evening. Perhaps that will completely relieve me and get me out of this funk.

Gluten-free & Vegan Chocolate-Banana Tart

2 cups gluten-free graham cracker crumbs

4 tablespoons vegan butter, melted 1/2 cup agave syrup

2 very ripe, large bananas

1 very ripe avocado

1/3 cup light coconut milk

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Heat oven to 375 F. Mash one banana in a small bowl. In another bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 1/4 cup of the agave. Add the banana mixture to the crumb concoction and mix with your hands. Smoosh into an 8-inch tart or pie pan, careful to have equal mixture throughout the pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, assemble the pudding filling. In a food processor, add the avocado, the other banana, 1/4 cup agave, cocoa and coconut milk. Blitz until thick, smooth and creamy looking. Put in fridge to cool and set further.

When the crust is done, take out of the oven and cool on a rack. Once the crust is cool, remove pudding from the fridge. Scrape pudding into the the cool crust. (How many times can I say "cool" ?!"

Slice another banana on top for garnish, is desired. You could whip some full-fat separated coconut cream as faux whip for the top too. Or add some dairy if you're just attempting vegan cooking on a whim.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Changing it up

Forget this diet. I am breaking up with it. Fuggehedaboudit. It's been real, stressful annoyance. Peace out. Don't let the trashcan lid hit ya on your way down, Journal. I'm a laid back lady, this counting out 6 grapes and fearing they aren't all symmetrical and the same weight is too high maintenance for me. I'm someone who'd rather chart what I eat online, not in some ugly plastic orange binder. Sure, I lost weight, but I cheated more than once (more than ten). I always felt L-A-M-E mentioning it, and honestly, it turned me into one of those people who diet. Which I obviously am, at the moment, but honestly, can we be light about this and not obsess over the time bread can be consumed?

My company is subsidizing Weight Watchers, and some good folks I know have been successful on The Plan. Tried and true it seemed. And is! I lost 4 lbs this week, although I think my weigh in previously wasn't accurate due to water retention (you know you read this for sexy, witty lines like that one).

Anyways, BIG NEWS: beans are back! Legumes, come to Mama! I never missed something so much (aside from heavy cream and maple syrup and buttered toast). All that protein on the previous plan had to strictly come from four-legged sources. No tofu, no peanut butter, no cottage cheese, no beans. Boooooooooooooooooooooooooo! I love me some beans, and am so happy to see their return.

This recipe was inspired by a Whole Paycheck card. And the rainbow chard that was on sale.

White Beans and Rainbow Chard Ragout

2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 large yellow onion, diced
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2/3 white wine
4 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp dried thyme
12 ounces wild mix mushrooms, finely sliced
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon spelt flour
1 can white beans, drained and rinsed
2 bunches rainbow chard, stems chopped finely and greens torn
Pepper to taste

Bring 1/4 cup chicken stock to simmer in a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until soft, about 6-7 minutes. Add rosemary and thyme. Stir in wine and cook for 2 minutes until slightly reduced. Add mushrooms. Reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 5 minutes, until mushrooms are very tender. Stir in remaining broth and turn heat to medium-high. In a small bowl, whisk soy sauce and spelt flour together. Add tablespoon or so of hot stock mixture. Whisk until smooth. Add to pan. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring soy sauce mixture until well incorporated and broth starts to thicken. Add beans and greens, in batches. Continue to cook for 5-6 minutes. Beans should be warm through out and greens wilted. Season with pepper, and relish in the carbs, protein and vegetable-deliciousness.

I'd serve this atop some polenta or in a bowl with a crusty tear of bread to sop up the ragout goodness. Any kind of green could sub the rainbow chard: regular chard, kale, mustard greens, collards...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

One (actually two) (getting ready) for the road

Why is the day before a trip always so hectic??!? Work emails to finish, projects to sign off on, reports to request and send, calls to return, mayhem needed to be whipped into order. Add to the mix an early release day with the munchkin, dance class, bank deposits so said trip can be financed, iced coffee run and manicures, not to mention blog (c'mon, these are way essential). When the heck am I going to pack, do the laundry that needs to packed, put out the trash, change my sheets (I have this thing about returning home to clean sheets...) and pick up the house (ditto). Oh yeah, and don't forget to check in online and print the tickets, but wait! First, there's the realization your flights have been adjusted. You now have a 20 min layover. In Detroit? With a four-year old? I.don't.think.so.

So, between the dance pick up and after the manicure but before the bank and during the iced coffee payment, I had to call Delta to remedy this egregious error. Dialing my super secret elite number while I slum it through the drive-thru was probably a bad idea. So was the attitude the peon on the line gave me. Not once, but three times, she rudely bellowed, " You don't talk loud enough. I can't help you if I can't hear you." While this is true, her delivery was pretty jerky. Um, manager please. Did you hear that?

After some very nice man in customer service gets me rebooked with a more reasonable time between flights, I realize: oh yeah, I also need to feed my kid tonight. I thought about ordering food or stopping for something pre-made at the market, but then I recalled there are frozen chicken thighs and drumsticks, relics from delicious eating B.D. (Before Diet), at home. And then I recalled I can eat dark meat three times a week!!!!!!!!! Hurrah!!!!!! I will make my favorite dish of all my weeknight standby's, AND it's diet-friendly!!!!!!! Praise be to Perdue!!!!!!!!!!

I have mentioned chicken on here several times, but don't think I've actually posted a recipe. Curious as most of my meat forays include this feathered friend. It's quite possibly the easiest dinner EVER, and includes vegetables to boot, all cooked in one pan. Easy peasy, one mess to clean up, and tastes like you roasted it all day. I throw some chopped avocado and reheated peas on the plate for H with her "chicken bone", and we're cooking with gas (I wish- we have electric).

Say a little prayer for us that we get to our mini-vacation tomorrow safely (and on time). While I will be checking the BB periodically (occupational hazard, BB addiction is), I will not be logging in to a computer. I need some serious unplugged time. Seriously.

One pan Roast Chicken and Vegetables

You can really use any veggie that will hold up to roasting well: I stick to purple and yellow carrots, squashes of all kinds, cabbage, onions, leeks, beets, and sliced red potatoes- make sure all are uniformly cut. I usually cube the potatoes, onions, beets, and winter squashes, matchstick the carrots, half moon zucchinis and summer squash, and throw the leeks in whole. Tonight, however, I used baby carrots leftover from an entertaining veggie plate and baby Bok Choy that was left out of a stir fry: all tender carrots and leafy greens soaked in chicken-fat goodness.

4 pieces of bone-in chicken (drumsticks or thighs work best)
1 teaspoon Adobo season (or just plain S&P, if you prefer)
Assorted chopped vegetables (see note above), about 3 cups
Cooking spray
Salt and Pepper

Heat oven to 425 F. Heat a large saute pan that can go in the oven on the stove top- medium to high heat. Pat chicken dry. Season with Adobo. Apply cooking spray to entire pan. Add chicken, careful not to crowd. Allow the chicken to sear on all sides, starting with skin side down (thighs) for about 4-5 min each. When it's seared, it won't stick to the pan and will have a nice golden crust on the outside, but still look slightly pink where it hasn't touched the hot pan. Add the veggies to the pan and roll around in the chicken juices. Season veggies with S&P. Place chicken parts on top of veggies. Place pan in the oven for 25 min. The chicken should have clear juices run when pierced or use a meat thermometer: the internal temp should be 165-170 (be careful not to hit the bone as it may give you a misread). Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve over rice or mashed or polenta or nothing if you're pressed for time and scarf down, preferably not while standing over your laptop on the counter, tying up loose ends while directing your daughter to grab her coloring books and crayons for the flight between bites.

If you're fancy, you could deglaze the pan with some Vermouth or white wine, add a little stock and tablespoon of butter. Reduce by half. This would make for a pretty crazy-awesome gravy.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


So, I've been on hiatus. Or more accurately, feeling creatively stifled in the kitchen with "The Diet." Oy, it's so lame. But it's working. I've never attempted any sort of food restriction- er, make that restriction in general. I pretty much let it flow, do my thing, and if stuff isn't the way I want, I reflect and readjust. This.is.hard.

I'm down to five weeks left (woohoo!!!), and have been 90% good on following this bad boy. I have had a few slip ups, but nothing too serious... Let's see: three digit bar bills and small plates of steak tartar, deep fried poached eggs, bone marrow and lamb cassoulet with E and his boy, which was much too much fun, missed my train, and had to wake up, still intoxicated, at 7 am to get home for an 830 am meeting; B's recipe party and her addictive Cambodian hot wings and A's Oreo truffles; the few gin and tonics I threw back on a Fort Myers-Atlanta-Manchester flight; Bloody Marys with new friends in Reagan-National courtesy of Delta and some bartender, the free glasses o' wine and quesadillas at the TFA event in DC, drink tix at some rando nightclub in DC, iced coffee with R yesterday (with cream- OMG- cream!!(*@*@ where have you been the past 5 weeks!?) the granola bar I just split with H and capped my evening off with... Ok... Reflection: 75% may be more accurate. Whatevs.

I also tried to be forthright in my meetings with the group, admit to my slips ups, be present in the group and one with the challenge. Yeah, that worked out well. They were so supportive (insert eye roll here). One woman, when I mentioned I may have imbibed a small amount of vodka the previous Saturday, screamed across the Circle of Trust, " THERE IS NO ALCOHOL ON THIS DIET!!!!!!!" God, get her a Melba Toast. I think her blood sugar just dropped through the basement. Who begrudges or judges someone a smidgen of vodka? Can you imagine what Exorcist-head spinning would've occurred should I truly 'fessed to the carnage I laid waste to at the bar(s)*?

I was seriously taken back by her reaction. And the dirty looks I received. Murphy O'Meyer. So, tonight, did I mention I polished off H's grilled cheese crust at dinner Monday night while I waited for my boneless, skinless piece of leather? Hell no! We are apparently not in the Circle here: it's not only a competition amongst the other teams, but also among ourselves. I think that's sad. I mean, sure, when that crazy starved Bostonian about bit my head off for a little extra protein, what I really wanted to yell back was, "Listen lady, I am sooooo sorry you only lost .5 lbs this week and followed this ludicrous plan to the T. I am so sorry that I have FUN and sometimes my fun (well, a lot of the time) includes a drink (or three)! Also, totally want to apologize that I lost 2.5 lbs and threw back some forbidden elixir. Kiss Kiss!" But I held my tongue and just sort of stared at her because really, cutting her down does what? But in my mind, oh in my mind...

Despite the setbacks in the kitchen, I have adapted a few tasty dishes to fit the rules. This is a quick, quick meal, pretty good looking, and actually, kind of sophisticated-rugged. The amount of protein in this diet has been hard for me to swallow (literally: I have to water-chase every bite of ground bland turkey), but I love scallops. They are pretty darn expensive though- about $13.5/lb here. Trader Joe's has frozen ones, but you can't get them dry enough for a good sear. I splurge each week and get a pound to enjoy over two days (I have to eat eight ounces per serving). They are like large pearls of tastiness. Love them. And cabbage has diuretic properties. All the better to help pee out my slip ups.

And S: this here's a shout out to you. Keep going with your soon-be-svelte self. No reason not to be a hotter than you already are! BOOM!

Seared Scallops and Cabbage Salad

8 ounces dry boat scallops (large ones, not smaller bay ones)
1 cup raw shredded purple cabbage
1-2 clove(s) minced fresh garlic (more or less for preference)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 ounce finely grated part-skim Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground cracked black pepper
Cooking spray

Heat a medium non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Dry scallops on paper towels to remove any moisture. Season with pepper. Once pan is hot, spray with cooking spray. Place scallops in pan without crowding or touching. Sear on each side for 2-3 minutes. The scallops should still be soft in the middle and slightly translucent, but with a golden sear on top and bottom. Set to the side.

Prepare salad while scallops are cooking. In a jam jar, blend garlic, pepper, oil and lemon juice. Shake vigorously. In a bowl, toss cabbage with dressing. Add cheese and toss again. Top with scallops. Season with more pepper, if desired.

Shrimp would probably work really well too. I would try the huge tiger prawns though. Frozen shrimp works well: you're still able to get it nice and pink and juicy. If you're not dieting, add that salt and maybe a little more olive oil to the dressing!

*If you're a stranger here, or even a friend: no need for an intervention. It just seems alcohol is a lot easier to justify a cheat here (and there) than, say, a cupcake.