Sunday, March 28, 2010

Easy Brown Rice & Veggie Bake

This recipe is very simple, it requires a few minutes of active cooking, but mostly you just mix and bake! This dish is also very healthy: whole grains, veggies, and almost no fat. It is hearty enough to have as a main course along with a nice green salad, but it also makes a great side dish (we had ours with chipotle roasted chicken - I'll be posting that scrumptious recipe soon!). To give credit where credit is due I drew heavily from this recipe.

Brown Rice and Veggie Bake:*
1 1/2 Cups Brown Rice (I used Brown Basmati)
1 Medium Eggplant
1 Medium Onion
2 Medium Carrots
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 (15oz) can diced tomatoes - with the juice
3 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 Tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, divided
3 Cups Water or Broth
1 Cup Frozen Peas

1) Put the rice in a bowl, cover it with water and let it soak while you prepare the vegetables.
2) Peel the eggplant, cut it into thick slices, sprinkle all over with 1 tablespoon salt, place in a strainer or colander over a bowl (you need the bowl to collect the liquid that will drain off the eggplant). Let it sit for 30 minutes - this process will remove any bitterness from the eggplant. After 30 minutes, thoroughly rinse the eggplant to remove the salt.
3) Dice the eggplant, onions, and carrots into 1/2 inch pieces.
4) Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add the onions, eggplant and carrots. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.
5) Add the tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, red pepper, cilantro, remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt, water or broth, and rice. Increase heat to high until the mixture comes to boil (you may want to taste the liquid to ensure it has enough salt).
6) Once the mixture comes to a boil, pour it into a large baking dish (I used a 13 X 9 inch glass baking dish), cover the dish tightly with foil.
7) Bake for 60-75 minutes at 375 degrees, until the rice is cooked.
8) Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add the frozen peas, cook 1 minute, drain.
9) Add the peas to the rice and serve!

*You can easily modify the recipe to include whatever veggies you happen to have on hand. Swap the eggplant for zuchinni (skip step 2 if you make that substitute), add in some mushrooms or bell pepper, and use corn as a substitute for the peas. I also think beans or lentils would be a nice addition, this would make the dish an even more satisfying vegetarian meal.

**Also, sorry for the blurry picture I'm having camera issues - basically I need to bite the bullet and buy a new one - but I'm a poor grad student!

By the way, I've included this recipe as part of several weekly recipe sharing events: Slightly Induglent Tuesday, Tempt my Tummy Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table. Check out all the great recipes other bloggers have contributed!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lemony Almond Cake with Coconut Whipped Cream and Blueberries

Once a month or so a group of my friends get together for dinner. We take turns preparing the main course. My fabulous friend Vagisha has wowed us with many wonderful South Asian dishes, Alfred has cooked delicious Persian and Mexican meals, and our gracious hosts Kristin and Erik made a mean pot of Gumbo! At these dinners I am always the designated dessert maker, a task that I greatly love! Alfred teases me because the moment our next dinner is scheduled I begin planning the dessert. Things got a little tougher once I had to stop eating wheat. I didn’t want my friends to have to eat some so-so dessert made with weird ingredients just because of me. So the first meal after giving up wheat I made my classic (wheat-filled) gingerbread with cream cheese icing and abstained from dessert (how sad!). When the next meal came around Alfred insisted that I make something that I could eat too. I played it safe and made a very tasty pear crisp (topping made from almond flour, oats, and walnuts). I was super nervous about making a cake, the crisp was easy, but a cake without wheat (and without a dozen different flours and “gums” because lets face it I’m a grad student on a budget). As the next dinner approached I decided it was time to conquer my fear of wheat-free cake making. For a week I looked and looked and found tons and tons of recipes. In the end, I combined several different ideas and came up with a cake that I was very pleased with. More importantly, all of my wheat-eating friends loved it!

In addition to being gluten-free, this cake is also sugar free and dairy-free (yes my tummy dislikes dairy too!). The cake is topped with a coconut based whipped cream – it was my first time making this and I loved it! I can’t wait to try the coconut cream with fresh fruit tarts and strawberry shortcake this summer!

Hopefully all of these labels - gluten free, dairy free, sugar free - won't scare away anyone whose diet is not limited. The ingredients in this cake are all easy to find and delicious!

Here’s the recipe I hope you like it as much as we did!

2 Large Eggs, Separated
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3/4 Cup Plus 2 Tablespoons Honey or Agave Nectar
¼ Cup of Lemon Juice, divided
Zest of 1 Large Lemon, finely shredded
2 ½ Cups Almond Meal or Flour (or finely ground almonds, you can do this in a food processor - I used Trader Joe’s Almond Meal because it is the most affordable almond meal I have found)
½ teaspoon Sea Salt
½ teaspoon Baking Soda

1)Preheat Oven to 350 degrees.
2)Lightly Oil and flour (with almond flour) a 9 inch spring form pan
3)In a large bowl combine the egg yolks, oil, ¾ cup of honey or agave, lemon juice, and lemon zest
4)In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks
5)Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture
6)In another bowl sift together the almond meal/flour, salt and baking soda
7)Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture
8)Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until gold brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
9)Mix together the remaining 2 Tablespoons of Honey or Agave and the remaining 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice to make a thin syrup
10)Brush the syrup on top of the warm cake
11)Let the cake cool completely, remove from the spring form pan

Coconut Cream:
1 Can of Coconut Milk, refrigerated overnight (the refrigeration is crucial!)
2 -4 Tablespoons Honey or Agave

1)Remove the coconut milk from your refrigeration, use a can opener to open the bottom of the can, drain off the clean coconut liquid – reserve for another use
2)Place all of the solid white coconut cream in a large bowl
3)Using a hand mixer whip the cream until is light and creamy, whip in the sweetener – adjust the amount to suit your taste, but it should taste lightly sweet like whipped cream, not super sweet like frosting

1 Cup (more or less) Blueberries rinsed and dried

Once the cake is completely cool, spread a generous layer of the coconut cream over the top of the cake. Mound the blueberries in the center of the cake. Refrigerate the assembled cake until you are ready to serve.

By the way, I've included this recipe as part of several weekly recipe sharing events: Slightly Induglent Tuesday, Tempt my Tummy Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table. Check out all the great recipes other bloggers have contributed!

I've also included this recipe as part of a wonderful monthly event, Go Ahead Honey! It's Gluten Free. Click on the link to find out more about the event and to see all the other great gluten free guiltless pleasures!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eide Shoma Mobarak! Happy New Year!

In our household we celebrate New Year’s three times a year (feeling a little jealous?). First, we have the traditional Western New Year based on the Gregorian Calendar which is, of course, January 1st. Second, we have the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which is in the fall, typically in September. Third, we have the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which takes place on the vernal (Spring) equinox. This year Nowruz falls on March 20 – this Saturday! Since it’s just around the corner, I’m going to explain some of the many fun and tasty traditions associated with Nowruz in the hope that you will get to enjoy this wonderful holiday too.

Nowruz means new (now) day (ruz), and the celebration includes a variety of events over the course of two weeks! Nowruz is not a religious holiday it is a Parsi/Persian festival with roots in Zoroastrianism, it is in large part a celebration of the new life (both plant and animal) that is ushered in during spring. Nowruz is celebrated in many different countries including: Iran, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, Tajikistan, Albania, Bosnia, Kazakhstan, Iraq, Serbia, and Uzbekistan.

Now I will take you through a few of the highlights of Nowruz!

It is important to note that in the days and weeks leading up to Nowruz Persians do an intense spring cleaning (e.g. beating the dust of their rugs, flipping the mattresses on their beds, dusting every nook and cranny). While this is definitely the least fun part of Nowruz, it is an important part of having a fresh start in the New Year.

The first main Nowruz event occurs on the evening of the last Wednesday of the “old” year. This event is called Chaharshanbeh Suri, which means Red Wednesday. It is a celebration of light, during this event individuals light large bon fires and jump over them while singing zardi-ye man az to, sorkhi-ye to az man. The literal translation is, my sickly yellow paleness is yours, your fiery red color is mine. Hence, the act is supposed to purify oneself. On this night Persians also wear disguises and go “trick or treating.” Rather than hording teeth rotting candy, they typically receive and give ajeel which is basically trail mix – dried fruits and nuts.

We had to make due with a candle in our living room, since we're pretty sure our apartment managers wouldn’t like us starting a bon fire. We also skipped the trick or treating (because it probably would go very well if we showed up at some American’s door in a disguise and asked for trail mix), but we bought ourselves some ajeel to munch on!

Nowruz itself takes place on the vernal equinox (changes every year – typically sometime in March or April), it begins on the exact moment of the equinox (like 12am on January 1st). At this time the whole family dresses in their best clothing (it’s the time to put your best foot forward, setting the stage for the year to come) and gathers around the Haft-Sin table. Haft-sin means Seven Ss – the table displays seven items that all begin with S. Each of the items symbolizes something everyone wishes for in the New Year:
1)Sabzeh (green wheatgrass) – symbolizes rebirth
2)Sir (Garlic) – symbolizes health
3)Seeb (Apple) – symbolizes beauty
4)Sumac (a sour and salty spice) – symbolizes the sunrise (because of the red color)
5)Serkeh (Vinegar) – symbolizes patience
6)Samanu (a sweet wheat paste) – symbolizes wealth
7)Senjed (the dried fruit of the oleaster tree) – symbolizes love

Other items often included on the haft-sin table include (we had all of these!):
•sonbol (Hyacinth) – which signals the coming of Spring (and it smells so wonderful!)
•sekkeh (coins) – symbolizes wealth
•decorated eggs (like Easter eggs) - symbolizes fertility
•a mirror – for reflection
•a candle – for enlightenment
•sugar – for sweetness
•a copy of the national Persian epic the Shanameh

We did our best with the seven Ss, but samanu and senjed didn’t make it onto our table this year. They are impossible to come by in Indiana!

During Nowruz Persians also get their party-on with lots of singing and dancing. If you live in a fairly large city there are likely to be large Nowruz parties open to the public that include a meal, music and dancing (you will have to pay for a ticket). I have attended the annual party hosted by Purdue’s Iranian Culture Club several times (and horrified all of the Persians with my white girl dance moves).

Of course food is also important on Nowruz, and how could this post make it onto our blog without some discussion of grub! The traditional meal for Nowruz is Mahi va Sabzi Polo (White Fish with Herbed Rice), another common Nowruz dish is sabzi kuku (an herb soufflé/omelet). In general, herbs/greens (sabzi) are very common in Nowruz dishes because they symbolize rebirth, new life.

We are having a slightly non-traditional meal inspired by the classic: blackened catfish (it is white, right?), rice with dill and lima beans (fava beans would be more traditional), and sautéed swiss chard. At the end of this post I’ve included our recipe for blackened catfish. Here is a link with recipes for traditional Nowruz fare.

For the two weeks following Nowruz, schools are often closed. During this time families and friends visit with one another, giving each other sweet treats and they often give children crisp new money. I thinking we should bring both of these traditions to America!

One more tradition, on the thirteenth day of the new year Persians celebrate Sizdeh-Be-Dar, which means thirteen in the outdoors. On Sizdeh-Be-Dar families have lavish picnics and spend the day outdoors enjoying the newly arrived Spring.

This holiday has so many fun things associated with it! I hope you’ll get to take part in some of the festivities! Eide Shoma Mobarak (Happy New Year)!

Blackened Catfish:

1 Large (6-8oz) fillet for each person
11/2 to 2 teaspoons of Blackened Seasoning per fillet
Olive Oil

Blackened Seasoning (enough for 3-4 servings):
¼ teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (more if you want it hot hot hot)
1 teaspoon Oregano
½ teaspoon Thyme
1 teaspoon Paprika
½ teaspoon Chili Powder
½ teaspoon Turmeric
1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
½ teaspoon Onion Powder
½ teaspoon Black Pepper
½ teaspoon Salt

Wash the fish thoroughly, pat dry with paper towel. Drizzle the fillets lightly with olive oil, make sure they are all lightly coated. Sprinkle approximately 1 teaspoon of seasoning on each side of the filets and rub it in gently. Put the fillets in a single layer in a baking dish. Cook in an oven preheated to 500 degrees, cook for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and cook an additional 10-15 minutes until the fillets are firm and flake easily.

Best served with basmati rice steamed with fresh herbs (dill, parsley, leeks, etc.).

Nooshe Jan (Bon appetite!)

*By the way my camera has pretty much bit the dust, so I had to use the camera on my phone to take these pics :(.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Easy Bean and Guacamole Tostados

Spring break is supposed to be a week of carefree fun – party time, right? I was really looking forward to spending some time outdoors (rather than in my tiny, windowless, poorly ventilated office) during the break; nice walks, hikes or bike rides! Unfortunately the rainy weather has kept us indoors most of this weekend. Rather than let the gloomy weather get us down, we decided to have a little fiesta of our own this afternoon. To clarify, by fiesta I mean we made some easy and might tasty tostados to munch on while we watched a movie. Sure it wasn’t like sipping Pina Coladas on a tropical beach, but not too shabby if you ask me!

The good news is the weather is supposed to improve in the next couple of days! I hope everyone else has a great week and some great eats.

Here's the recipe for our fiesta food:

"Refried" Beans:*
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, diced
4 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Cumin
¼ teaspoon Cinnamon
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
¼ teaspoon Oregano
¼ teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 15oz. Cans Pinto Beans, drained and rinsed
½ 15oz. Can diced tomatoes with green chilies (such as Rotel)
¼ Cup Water

2 small Avocados
½ Medium Onion, finely diced
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed or very finely minced
3/4 teaspoon Salt
Juice of 1 Lime
¼ Cup Cilantro, chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

Other Ingredients:
Tostado Shells
Toppings (all optional, take your pick): shredded cheese (Alfred likes pepper jack), shredded lettuce, sliced green onions, sliced olives, diced tomatoes

For the beans:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the onions and garlic and sauté over medium low heat until the onions are translucent (5-7 minutes). Add the spices, beans, tomatoes, and water. Let the mixture simmer on low for 10 minutes. Using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, mash the beans until they are just slightly chunky. If you want the beans completely smooth you could puree them in a food processor, I prefer them slightly chunky.

For the Guacamole:
Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh into a bowl. Mash the flesh with a fork. Stir in the remaining ingredients, taste and add more salt if needed.

Making the Tostados:
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the tostado shells in a single layer directly on the oven rack. Cook 5 minutes, until the shells are hot and crispy.
Spread each shell with a generous layer of refried beans. Top beans with guacamole and any other toppings you fancy!

Alfred likes to top his beans with cheese and then put the tostados back in the oven for the cheese to melt. He then proceeds with the guacamole and other toppings. I skip the cheese b/c it does not agree with my all too sensitive tummy; I top mine with extra guacamole and crunchy shredded lettuce.

*If you happen to have a mexican seasoning blend you can just use 2-2.5 teaspoons of that in place of the individual spices.

Also, I've included this recipe as part of a recipe sharing event, Slightly Induglent Tuesday. Click on the link to check out all the other great recipes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Blueberry Banana Muffins

Alfred and I were definitely made for each other - the way to our hearts is through our tummies! That's right I'm not a jewelry or flowers kinda girl - if you want to please me give me a new kitchen tool or a great meal! Alfred spoils me frequently including last night when he made the most wonderful dinner, pan seared salmon and roasted asparagus. I spoil him on the weekends by preparing a nice lunch and dinner on Saturday or Sunday and by baking him something special. This coming week is Spring Break so I hope to spend more time in the kitchen (especially since the forecast is calling for lots of rain).

This morning I woke up with an urge to bake muffins. I happened to have some aging bananas and blueberries on hand so I decided to make a healthy fruity breakfast muffin for my sweety. Since they are full of wheat I didn't get to try them, but Alfred has eaten 4 today so they must be pretty tasty!

This recipe made 9 regular sized muffins.

Blueberry Banana Muffins
1 Cup Flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 Cup Rolled Oats
11/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Salt
1 very ripe Medium/Large Banana mashed
1/2 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Yogurt*
2 Tablespoons Oil
1/4 Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/2 Cup Blueberries (or more)
Granulated or Raw Cane Sugar (optional - for a crunchy muffin top)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, soda, cinnamon and salt.
In a separate bowl combine the mashed banana, milk, yogurt, oil, brown sugar and vanilla. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture - stir until the wet and dry ingredients are just combined (a rubber spatula is good for this), do not over mix or you will end up with tough muffins. Fold in the blueberries. Line a muffin pan with paper liners, fill each cup 3/4 full with batter.
If you like an extra sweet and crunchy muffin top, sprinkle the top of each muffin with a teaspoon of granulated or raw cane sugar before baking.
Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the pan to cool on a wire rack (otherwise the bottoms might get a little soggy).

Alfred recommends you eat them with a cup of tea while they are still warm!

*I used yogurt as a "binding" ingredient b/c I was completely out of eggs - feel free to substitute this with 1 egg. You can also omit the baking soda if you use an egg.

**Stay tuned because later this week I'll be posting some recipes for and information about the Persian new year festival Nowruz, which takes place next Saturday, March 20th.

By the way, I've included this recipe as part of two weekly recipe sharing events: Tempt my Tummy Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table. Check out all the great recipes other bloggers have contributed!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

After a long day at the office and a lovely walk home – today’s weather was absolutely perfect, 60 degrees and sunny, it is a shame I spent most of it inside – I came home to a wonderful meal. Chef Alfred made one of our favorites - lettuce wraps. Like everyone whose ever tried them, we are very fond of P.F. Chang’s signature appetizer. Alfred’s version is a little different - it includes extra veggies and none of the fried noodles – but it is equally delicious and undoubtedly healthier! The ingredient list may seem long, but the preparation is really quite simple and the end result is well worth the effort.

8oz. boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced (could use chicken breast or firm tofu instead)
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, finely minced
2 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
4 oz. water chestnuts, julienned
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon sriracha (garlic and red chili paste – find in grocery store near Asian food)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
½ Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons water
1 Large Head Iceberg (or other crisp) Lettuce, leaves separated and well-chilled

1)Combine the chicken, garlic, ginger and 1 Tablespoon sesame oil - let marinate while you chop the veggies.
2)Combine the cornstarch and water, set aside.
3)Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining sesame oil and onions - saute 2 minutes.
4)Add the chicken mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently until the chicken is almost cooked through (around 4 minutes).
5)Add the remaining veggies to the skillet and cook 2 minutes.
6)Add the crushed red pepper, sriracha and soy sauce. Cook 1 minute.
7)Add the cornstarch and water mixture, cook until the sauce thickens slightly.

To serve, spoon chicken mixture into lettuce leaves. Wrap the sides of the lettuce leaves around the chicken like a little burrito and devour! Repeat. Yummy!!!

By the way, I've included this recipe as part of several weekly recipe sharing events: Slightly Induglent Tuesday, Tempt my Tummy Tuesday, and Tuesdays at the Table. Check out all the great recipes other bloggers have contributed!