Even though this weekend was rainy and a little one the chilly side (“chilly” meaning 63 degrees, now that we’ve been spoiled by 80+ weather for the past couple weeks), I’m pretty sure summer’s official here. In the cool weather, my friends and I hunkered down and watched the World Cup all day. (I’m not even sick of it yet.) But the past couple weeks saw gorgeous weather, which meant hiking, bike rides galore, a barbecue, and a short backpacking trip in the beautiful Columbia Gorge.
While all that makes me sounds like the healthiest person on the planet, really what the last few weeks have been is one giant period of indulgence. I’ve been doing a decent amount of baking, but not doing a good job of taking pictures of it. There have been lots of dessert-fueled going away parties for people at my office. And since we all know summer doesn’t really start in the Pacific Northwest until July 4, these few sunny weeks have led themselves quite generously to patio happy hours. When I say my friends and I “hunkered down” to watch the world cup, I mean we continued our happy hours inside.
So last week, I really needed something healthy for lunch, and this quinoa tabbouleh was just the right thing. I’ve made it once before, in the winter, to combat the cloudiness. But this time, it was just what I needed to set myself back on my normal mostly-healthy track. With tomatoes coming into season, this will be even better for you than it was for me. This salad is the perfect thing to eat for lunch all week, or just what you need to lighten up an indulgent barbecue.
Quinoa Tabbouleh is light but filling. The quinoa has a great nutty taste and texture. Tomatoes add some flavor, red onion a nice kick, and feta just the right amount of saltiness fat. I added chickpeas to the recipe to make it a little heartier. But the real star of the tabbouleh show is parsley. Use the whole bunch – it may look like a lot, but it’s really what tabbouleh should taste like. The original recipe calls for mint, which I could only find as an entire plant, so I omitted it. I think it would be delicious though, so I’ve included it here.
Adapted just slightly from The Kitchn
Makes about 7 cups, enough for 4-6 people or a one-person week-long lunch
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/2 red onion
2 medium tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley (about 2 cups)
1 bunch mint (about 1/2 cup)
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
8 ounces feta cheese
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
extra lemon juice to taste
salt and pepper to taste
Rinse the quinoa under cool water for about a minute. Cook according to package directions. The way that’s worked best for me is to bring 2 cups of water to a boil for every cup of quinoa, add the quinoa to the boiling water, cook uncovered until the water is nearly gone (about 15 minutes) and the quinoa is done, then remove from heat, partially cover, and let steam for about 5 minutes. This took me some trial and error, though, and package directions are probably best.
Meanwhile, dice the onion and place it in a bowl with water and pinch of salt. Soaking the onion will remove some of the bite. (I skipped this step last time I made this, but I’ve got a big soft spot for onions.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the seeds. Dice the remaining tomato flesh. Mince the garlic, parsley, and mint.
When the quinoa is done, empty it into a large bowl and let it cool to almost room temperature. It should feel barely warm to the touch. This will help the dressing coat it without the quinoa absorbing too much.
When the quinoa is cooled, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice with a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture over the quinoa and stir until evenly coated. Stir in the onion, tomatoes, garlic, parsely, mint, and chickpeas. Crumble the feta onto the salad and stir it in gently. Taste and add more lemon juice or salt and pepper as desired.
Serve cold or at room temperature. This tabbouleh is better the next day when all the flavors have combined.
How in the world is it already May? April was a total blur. March was too, come to think of it. I met a bunch of new people. I moved. Last week I got sick for the first time since last May and it was terrible. And in the midst of it all, May sneaked up on us just like a bad cold. But now, I get the feeling things have settled a bit. Seven weeks or so of whirlwindy-ness and now I think I can chill out a bit. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo. A day on which, in order to counter all the chips and tequila I’ll probably be ingesting like it’s my job, I’ll probably also be making these tacos.
And just like colds and spring weather and the month of May, these tacos are sneaky. They’re spicy and limey and crunchy enough that they feel like the carnitas tacos you’ll stuff your face with to end Cinco de Mayo (buried under a whole mountain of sour cream and guacamole of course). But these sneaky guys are totally healthy! You’ve got sweet potatoes, black beans, cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. That’s it! Plus tortillas. These are the tacos you’ll want to start your night with, when vegetables of the non-fried variety still sound good. And then you’ll want to make them the next day and the next day and the next so you can feel like your cheating on your healthy eating streak and your grocery budget when really you’re being quite faithful to both. Let’s do it.
These tacos are crunchy, fresh, and just a bit spicy. Plus, you know, they’re tacos. Can’t really go wrong there.
Black Bean & Sweet Potato Tacos
Adapted a teeny bit from Joy the Baker
Serves 1 with a little leftover or 2 as an appetizer/snack
1 medium sweet potato, chopped
splash olive oil/butter
generous sprinkle of cumin
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
small corn tortillas
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 red onion, sliced
chopped cilantro to taste
lime juice to taste
Place the butter or oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. Once it’s hot, add the cumin and pepper flakes and cook for a minute or so until fragrant. Add in the sweet potatoes and cook, stirring every so often, until they are softened and a little charred. Add in the black beans and cook until they are heated through, a minute or two more.
Meanwhile heat the tortillas however you like. Microwave, over a gas stove burner, or in oil.
To assemble, divide the sweet potato/black bean mixture between the tortillas. Top with cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Enjoy!
A couple weeks ago, I was stuck in a lunch rut. Since starting my 9-5 desk job I’ve tried to keep my lunches as interesting and varied as possible, since, sadly, unless there’s a holiday potluck or it’s time for the monthly birthday party, I can pretty much guarantee lunch is the most exciting part of my day. I’d been through a pretty lengthy hummus-and-veggies stage, a salami sandwich phase, a few failed attempts at a salad phase (it just never tastes as good as I think it will), a pretty delightful peanut butter and jelly phase, and a random snacks all day phase.
Needless to say I needed to change my game a bit. I like the idea of salad, but it was just never filling enough to make the cut, even if I did add tons of vegetables and beans. So I thought if I made the salad out of something hearty and filling and just happened to add a few greens to it, that might be just the thing that could get me out of my lunch rut.
So I did a little poking around, knowing I wanted to use quinoa because not only is it a complete protein, it’s totally delicious. I found this winter fruit salad, changed a couple things when I couldn’t find the ingredients, and it totally did the trick! I think I’ve pulled myself out of my lunch rut. For now at least. I’ve made two other quinoa salads after this one, so we’ll see how long this phase lasts.
Quinoa is a great salad base. It’s healthy but also has a great nutty flavor. This one is packed with winter fruits. I added black beans to make this salad even more hearty, and the arugula gives it a nice spicy kick.
Quinoa and Winter Fruit Salad with Arugula
Adapted from foodandwine.com
1 1/3 cups quinoa (about 1/2 pound)
1 2/3 cups water
1 tangerine, segmented, seeded, and chopped
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup pure olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large Bosc pear, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bag arugula
Rinse the quinoa for 2-3 minutes with cold water in a mesh strainer. This will take away the bitterness. Place the quinoa and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, and simmer until the water is nearly all absorbed and the quinoa is fluffy, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let steam for 5 minutes. Place the quinoa in a large bowl and let cool completely.
In a small bowl, add the tangerine, cilantro, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt, and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add the pear, cucumber, and black beans to the cooled quinoa and toss. Add the dressing and toss until absorbed. If you’ll be serving/eating all the salad at the same time, add in the arugula and toss. If you want to eat it over a few days, only sever with as much arugula as you need, and refrigerate the leftover quinoa separate from the arugula.
This week was an odd one. Schedules got switched around a lot. Rush projects got started at work. We scrambled to get them started and keep them on track until later the next day, suddenly they weren’t rush anymore. Another project that we thought had been cancelled actually shouldn’t have been canceled, and I’d spent most of the day before working on the one that should have been canceled, staying a little later into the evening than I want to talk about. All day Wednesday I thought it was Thursday. By Friday, the week had gone on way. too. long.
Even though I couldn’t shake the weirdness of this week there were some good things too. Wednesday evening saw a much-needed venting session with coworkers over pizza and beer. Thursday, we woke up to snow! A good 6 inches of it. For the second time this winter, which is about as rare in the Northwest as sunny days are in winter. Friday the snow continued and now we have a foot and half and it’s glorious. That night included getting stuck in a snowy parking lot, crockpot chili, chocolate chip cookies right from the oven, and too many rounds of the endlessly agonizing game Set (the ease of which, if you’re wondering, has an inverse relationship to the amount of gin you’ve had).
So, a weird week, but not a bad one. If I’d had a batch of this risotto sitting in my fridge to comfort me all week, it would have been better. If you’ve never made risotto before, the effort to result ratio is pretty great. No, you don’t get to step away from the pan, but it’s not a difficult thing to make, and the risotto is hearty and filling and warming and just cheesy and rich enough to really feel like an indulgence.
Risotto starts with arborio rice (buy it cheap in the bulk section!), onion, lemon zest, fresh thyme, chili flakes, salt, and pepper in a big skillet. And butter, of course.
Everything gets stirred around a bit until the butter melts and rice is translucent. (It’s not quite translucent status in this picture.)
Then, we add broth to the risotto, let the rice absorb it, stir, and repeat! Simple.
Then because risotto requires cheese, some grated parmesan gets tossed into the mix.
And finally, to add some actual nutrition and protein to this wonderful cheesy mess, we add in some chickpeas.
Give it another stir, a few more minutes on the stove, and your risotto is done!
Top your risotto with some more grated parmesan, a little pepper, and your weird week just got a little better.
This risotto is good. Really good.
Lemon Chickpea Risotto
12 ounces arborio rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
pinch salt (go light on the salt or omit it if you want – the parmesan is plenty salty on its own)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (I recommend low-sodium, again because of the parmesan)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
more parmesan, pepper, lemon, and thyme for topping
Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the rice, butter, onion, lemon zest, pepper flakes, pepper, and salt to the hot pan. Cook until the butter has melted and the rice and onion are translucent.
Stir one cup of the broth into the rice mixture and allow to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, then give it a stir. Repeat with the remaining three cups of broth, until all liquid is absorbed, the rice is tender, and 18-20 minutes have gone by.
Add the parmesan to the rice and stir until completely combined. Add in the chickpeas, stir, and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until heated through.
Top with pepper/lemon zest/cheese and enjoy immediately while it’s warm! This keeps well in the fridge for about 5 days, and is equally delicious eaten cold or reheated.
I think it’s probably too late to say, “Happy New Year,” but I hope the first few days of your 2014 have been wonderful. I rang in the new year by going to bed right after midnight and waking up at 5:30 on New Year’s Day to ski. This is the second year in a row that I’ve skied on January 1st, and I think I want to make it a tradition. It feels so much better than waking up at 11am, groggy and headachy, lazing around all day and eating a big dinner. I’ve got the whole year to laze around, and I think dragging my butt out of bed on the first day of the new year is a good way to set the tone for the other 364 days ahead.
Now that I’ve started my year off with a few go-get-it type of days, I hope I can keep it up in the coming months. This year I’m not making any resolutions, because those things don’t really tend to work anyway. They’re like the opposite of quitting a habit cold turkey. Starting a habit cold turkey. December 31st, I’ve spent the last two months not working out because I’m too busy Christmas shopping and eating too many cookies and pies, and now it’s January 1st and I’m supposed to be a paleo-dieting gym rat who always goes to bed at a decent hour and wakes up early to do yoga and make a super-healthy salad to bring to work for lunch? Yeah….not happening. At least not right away.
So this year I’m focusing on the long term. Should I be healthier and create new, better habits and whatnot? Should I be on the lookout for ways to make myself and my life better? Sure, but it’s not going to happen in a day, a week, or even a month. This year, when I’m not feeling motivated to do anything or I forget to keep an eye out on my goals, I’m going to think back to the first day of the year when I woke up at 5:30, lay in bed for an hour debating with myself about whether the three-hour drive to the mountain was worth it, decided it was, and then when I got home at 8:00, realized that going was the best thing I could have done for myself. This year, I’m going to focus on making improvements simply by deciding to do things.
This is a simple recipe for a quick, healthy, and satisfying dinner. The the broccoli will give you your vegetable for the day, the garlic adds a kick and the pecans make it seem richer than it really is.
Couscous with Broccoli, Pecans, and Garlic
1/2 cup pearl couscous
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch red pepper flakes
1/4-1/3 small head broccoli, chopped into bite-size pieces
handful of pecans, chopped (walnuts or almonds or cashews would work too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
In a small saucepan, bring some water to a boil. Add the couscous and let it cook until done, about 11 minutes.
While the couscous cooks, heat a frying pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan. Once the oil is hot, add in the pepper flakes and broccoli. Cook until the broccoli is bright green, then add in the pecans. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then add in the garlic and cook for a minute or two more. Be careful to not let the nuts or garlic burn.
When the couscous is done, drain in a fine mesh strainer, place in a bowl, and stir in a small amount of olive oil or butter. Add in the broccoli mixture, salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.
I think it would be best for all of us if I started this post with a big fat disclaimer: my knowledge of and experience with Indian food is virtually nonexistent. I’ve been to the Indian buffet restaurant in my college town a couple times, a 100% non-sketchy place, unlike a lot of buffets. It pleasantly surprised me both times, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that this kind of food, with so many distinct flavors in one pot, gets better as it sits under the warming lamps. I have a curried couscous recipe that I make quite a bit, but I’m not sure it really qualifies as Indian. Other than that, my exposure to Indian food has been limited to those times when you’re in a group or at work or school and one person looks a little uncomfortable, and finally someone asks them what’s wrong, and with a slight grimace and a firm hand on their gut, they say, “I had Indian for lunch.” And everyone nods and exchanges sympathetic, understanding looks, and remembers why they still haven’t gotten around to trying the new place that opened up down the street.
But Indian food has always been intriguing, mysterious in the good way, with its long list of exotic-sounding spices and names of dishes. Curry, turmeric, garam masala (which is actually a mix of spices). Just the ingredient lists are appetizing. So last weekend I decided that the best way to use the two cans of chickpeas in my cupboard would be to try making Indian food. So I poked around for a while and found this recipe on the ever-wonderful Smitten Kitchen. And let me tell you, this dish makes me wish I’d ventured into this vast realm of Indian food a loooong time ago. It’s delicious, people. And really easy, as long as the onions don’t make you cry for too long.
*A note about buying spices. Yes. There are six different spices in this dish. I can hear you thinking it from here, “Spices are so expensive!” They are, if you buy whole jars of them for $4 a pop. BUT, if you buy them the right way, you’ll spend less than $2 on all of them combined. And the rest of the ingredients in this recipe are dirt cheap. Go to the bulk section of your grocery store. Even if you have to go to the fancy grocery store where you’re normally only allowed on special occasions and payday. Because in the bulk section, you can buy just a tiny bit of all these spices, and you’ll pay by weight, and each one will probably cost you 30 cents or so. You’ll never buy a $7 jar of turmeric again. And you won’t have a zillion spice jars that you bought for one recipe and never used again crowding your pantry. Bulk section. Ready set go.
Here are all the lovely spices in this recipe: cumin, cayenne pepper, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and garam masala.
Then, there’s a whole bunch of chopping and grating and eye-watering.
In goes the deliciousness. This is when your house starts to warm up just from the smell.
Simmer a while, and done.
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe
Serves 4-6, or a single lady like me all week
This recipe is a little spicy, a little tangy, and will warm you to the core.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 fresh, hot green chili pepper, minced (I used a serrano)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon garam masala
2 cups tomatoes, or 1 15-oz can of whole tomatoes with their juices, chopped small
2/3 cup water
4 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lemon
Heat oil over medium head in a large skillet. Add onions, garlic, ginger and chili pepper and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Turn heat down to medium-low and toss in the coriander, cumin, cayenne pepper, turmeric, paprika and garam masala. Cook the onion mixture with the spices for a minute or two, until the spices are fragrant. Add the tomatoes and any juices that came with them. Scrape up any onion bits that have stuck to the pann. Add the water and chickpeas. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and lemon juice. Serve over rice. This keeps very well in the fridge for up to a week, and is great reheated.
Three and a half months ago, freshly graduated and completely unprepared for post-school life, I started a new job. My first big-girl, real-money, professional-but-doesn’t-feel-professional, corporate job. The first month was a blur of “Can you show me how to do this again?” and “What’s the next step?” and “Who’s that?” and “I’m confused.” It passed in the blink of an eye, and yet I’m pretty sure I got almost nothing done. I asked before I did anything – otherwise, without fail, I would skip a step, or send the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then risk having to go back a few steps. Mess up, and the mistake is on the record forever, in the incorrect email I’d sent, polished and displayed in a glass case for the half dozen people cc’d on the message. I’m sure the people one or two steps above me on the totem pole got sick of my endless questions. I got sick of them.
But then, after about six weeks or so, I felt like I had things figured out. I knew what the next step was, and what I needed to do to make it happen. Or so I thought. I was like a high school freshman after Christmas break – a semester under my belt, I totally had things figured out, right? Wrong. I forgot the important part – I was still a freshman. Still the newest person on the team, still able to make a mistake any second and be completely oblivious to it. Just like Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “In fact, being – forgive me – rather cleverer than most men, my mistakes tend to be correspondingly huger.” (Yes, that just happened. I quoted Harry Potter. And I know you liked it 🙂 ) And that was just it. I’d gotten cocky. I had it all figured out! But then when I messed up, and I would, because I had next to nothing figured out, it was bad. People would have to go back and redo their work, or do mine for me. Not a fun thing to have on my conscience.
So I picked myself up from my ever-growing mistakes, and started asking questions again. But this time was different. I knew what to ask, who to ask, what the answer would mean, and what my next move should be. And that’s when I really started learning, and figuring things out, and doing things without checking first. And doing them right. On the first try. Now I’ve been working there three and a half months, and I can’t believe how high my level of knowing what to do is compared to when I started. And it’s growing every day. This week has been an especially good one. Sure I’ve made mistakes (like marking some email SUPER URGENT that my boss was cc’d on…apparently they weren’t urgent. But the project was due three hours ago!). But this week, I’ve also been doing things without being reminded. I’ll do them, tell the person in charge of the project I’m doing them, and get a “Thanks for remembering!” in response instead of a “No no no no no we send to this person now, and you have to do that to the file first.” I’m finally more of an asset than a liability when it comes to getting stuff done.
In the midst of my constant mistake-making, this dish (and variations of it) was one thing I knew I could always get right. Terrible segue. I’m sorry. But still. You can’t mess this up. You can use whatever you have on had. No potatoes? No problem. Throw that questionable broccoli in there. Half a bell pepper? Good idea. Cabbage? Let’s be friends. Bacon? Let’s be best friends.
Chop up a small sweet potato, toss it in a large frying pan with some butter. Or olive oil or whatever fat floats your boat, but I really like butter for this one. And some red pepper flakes, because is there anything they don’t make better?
The sweet potato will take a while to cook. Once it starts to get soft, throw in some chopped onion and garlic, and let everything get a little crispy. Make a space, and plop some more butter in there.
Crack an egg in that delicious, buttery space. Fry it up to your liking.
And pat yourself on the back for getting dinner totally right.
Sweet Potato Hash
Makes enough for one hungry person
A couple tablespoons butter, for the pan
1 small sweet potato, chopped
red pepper flakes
1/4 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Melt some of the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the chopped sweet potato. Once that starts to get soft but not charred, add the onion and garlic. Cook until everything starts to blacken a bit, but be careful to not burn the garlic.
Make a well in the center and melt the remaining butter in it. Crack the egg into the well and fry it however you like. Dump it all on a plate, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce liberally, and enjoy!