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Friday, April 30, 2010

Grilled Artichokes

I never knew how to eat a whole artichoke until 2 months ago. I have to say, it's a good experience. After cooking it in some fashion, you pluck off the outer leaves and scrape off the fleshy inside part of the leaf with your teeth (don't try to eat the whole leaf -- it's really fibrous). The closer you get to the middle, the more tender the leaves become. Kind of like a veggie cinnamon roll...the inside is always the best. As you continue to pluck off leaves, the anticipation grows as you get closer to the heart, and finally! you're there. You pry off the the "choke" (the spiky part that you don't want to go down your throat) and you get to the best part of the artichoke.

There are different ways of cooking artichokes. The first time I made them, I baked them and dipped them into a balsamic vinegar mayo dip. It was good, but I felt like the dip over-powered the artichoke flavor. The second time around, I boiled and then grilled them, using a lemon-garlic marinade. They were delicious. If you're confused about how to eat an artichoke, this is a good resource. I got the following recipe from allrecipes.com. All I did was cut back on some of the oil because it seemed like too much. So, go ahead, you're equipped with knowledge and recipes...try a whole artichoke!

Grilled Artichokes

2 large artichokes
1 lemon, quartered
1/4 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1. Snip off the ends of the leaves where there's a little spike (see the above link for the complete list of "How To Eat an Artichoke"). Fill a large bowl with cold water. Squeeze the juice from one lemon wedge into the water. Trim the tops from the artichokes, then cut in half lengthwise, and place halves into the bowl of lemon water to prevent them from turning brown.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, preheat an outdoor grill for medium-high heat.

3. Add artichokes to boiling water, and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain. Squeeze the remaining lemon wedges into a medium bowl. Stir in the olive oil and garlic, and season with salt and pepper.

4. Brush the artichokes with a coating of the garlic dip, and place them on the preheated grill. Grill the artichokes for 5 to 10 minutes, basting with dip and turning frequently, until the tips are a little charred. Serve immediately with the remaining dip.

If you don't feel like grilling them, they also work well boiled and then broiled in the oven.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Spicy Green Beans

Normally I don’t get too excited over green beans, but lately I’ve been rather fond of them. I grew up having them from cans or boiled to mush. When bought fresh and steamed or roasted just until soft, however, they are worth getting excited about. Frozen green beans are a good stand-in if you don’t have fresh on hand – just be sure not to overcook them. I’ve tried them with almonds, garlic, and toasted pine nuts (all of which are quite tasty) but I think my favorite has to be Spicy Green Beans. It’s a great non-meat dish that can be a main or a side, and it's flavorful and hearty. Make the beans, rice, and tofu separately, and then layer them in a casserole dish. You can make this recipe ahead of time and then re-heat it in the oven at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Otherwise, just layer and serve. I eyeball all of these measurements, so don't worry about getting out the measuring spoons. The recipe was inspired by a former co-worker named Liza.

Spicy Green Beans

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 pounds green beans
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (or 1/4 powdered)
1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon lemon
4-6 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons chopped basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)

1 block extra-firm tofu
Olive oil

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water

1) Cook rice in a rice maker, or combine rice and water in a pan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until water is fully absorbed, about 30-40 minutes.

2) Drain tofu and slice lengthwise into 4 flat pieces. Lay one end of a thin, lint-free towel over a plate. Place tofu in a single layer over the towel. Fold remaining half of towel over top of the tofu. Place another plate on top. Place something heavy on top of the plate to squeeze out excess liquid from tofu. Let sit at least 15 minutes.

3) Steam green beans until almost tender, but still a little crunchy, about 2-3 minutes.

4) Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add tofu and saute until golden brown. Remove from pan and set aside.

5) Using same pan, add more olive oil and garlic and sauté until tender, about 1-2 minutes. Add green beans and all remaining ingredients. Stir-fry together for 2 minutes until flavors meld.

6) Layer everything in a square casserole dish starting with rice, then beans, then tofu.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal

I do apologize for my lack of posts lately. April is my busiest time of year at work. There is a lot of planning and management that I do for our biggest volunteer event of the year, and that's on top of my normal work duties. Although I cook just as often, getting the photos and recipes together is a challenge when I'm short on time.

Something that keeps me sane during all this craziness is exercising regularly. I would not have enough energy to exercise if it were not for good, wholesome breakfasts. I get up pretty early, have breakfast, putter around and read, and then set off for a run or a bike ride. I think I've mentioned in previous posts that I absolutely love oats, and that if I were an animal, I would probably be a horse so I could eat oats all the time. I could have them every morning for breakfast, and I often do in the form of granola or oatmeal or oatmeal bread. My latest oat recipe that makes me swoon is Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal. It. Is. So. Good. There's something about the combination of peanut butter and bananas that wins me over, and then when you add in oats, it's the best. I like to get fair trade bananas from Whole Foods, which ensures that the workers in other countries who harvest the bananas get paid a fair wage. Bananas are so cheap to begin with that the fair trade version is still affordable. For peanut butter, the best kind I've come across is Skippy All-Natural Creamy Peanut Butter. It doesn't have any added sugar to distract from the peanut-y taste. Whichever kind you use, be sure to buy one without any added junk, such as partially hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup.

I like to make this breakfast when I plan to go for a long run or have a big day ahead of me. It's filling and it lasts, so I don't get hungry an hour later. Another plus for runners: it's packed with enough fiber to get you ready for the big race, if you know what I mean. Bananas are a rich source of potassium, which helps maintain normal blood pressure and heart function. Bananas may also help your body absorb calcium. Peanut butter is a good source of protein when combined with whole grains, such as oats. It is full of heart healthy fats, vitamin E, and niacin (a type of B vitamin that helps convert food into energy). Oats can help lower cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease, and they're packed with fiber.

Ok, enough about nutrition. Try out this recipe, and taste how good it is!

Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal
Serves 2

1 3/4 cups water
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 small or 1 large bananas, thinly sliced
1/4 cup all-natural peanut butter
1/4 cup chopped peanuts

1) Bring water to a boil in a saucepan, add a pinch of salt. Add oats and reduce heat to medium-low.

2) Add brown sugar and cinnamon. Simmer until thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in peanut butter and bananas.

3) Divide into 2 bowls and serve garnished with peanuts

Can't finish all of your oatmeal? Store the leftovers covered in the refrigerator. When you're ready to finish it, heat it in a microwave-safe bowl with 1-2 tablespoons of water added to it, covered, for 1-2 minutes. Or, reheat over the stove with 1-2 tablespoons of water, cooking over medium-low heat and stirring often for a few minutes.