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red-kale-blueberry-smoothie

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Saturday
Jan292011

Red Kale & Blueberry Smoothie

I love blending kale into smoothies. I love that it turns my breakfast into a vibrant, green and energy-giving machine, full of the most potent nutrition. I normally stick with the common green kind, but this week I tried something new in the spirit of beginnings. Classes started on Monday, which meant my schedule got a makeover and feelings of excitement and optimism carried me through the past five days. Maybe I’m the only member of this club, but anyone else get the first-week-of-school euphoria? Ever since first grade when I couldn’t wait to show off my new fall wardrobe and crisp notebooks, going back to class has been a pleasant experience. At least for the first week.

Enough of that, more about kale. Other than the fact that it is an absolutely gorgeous shade of almost-black imperial purple, “red” kale doesn’t really differ in appearance from its curly green sister. It must have known I was seeking adventure, though, because a rather ample bunch of the stuff followed me home from the store this week. I was delighted– what kinds of crazy stovetop adventures could we stir up together? With its ample antioxidants and flavonoids (WHFoods claims kale boasts 45 different recently-discovered flavonoids), these nutritious leaves are ready to party at the drop of a spatula.

 

In my smoothie, frozen blueberries kept the color palette consistent; you can use any richly-colored fruit you want. If this is your first time blending leaves into a morning beverage, you might try using spinach for a much smoother smoothie. It blends up a little easier, and leaves no lumps. The most important thing to remember, though, is to use a frozen banana: peel, cut into chunks and pop into the freezer the night before. The result will be much different if you don’t. Cinnamon keeps things spicy-sweet and gets your circulation going.

Red kale & blueberry smoothie :: Serves 1 very hungry person

1 1/4 cups water or nut milk  1/2 cup frozen blueberries  1 banana, peeled, cut into chunks and frozen  1/4 an avocado  1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon  1/2 teaspoon ginseng powder (completely optional– I happened to have some in my bag of tricks)  any other powders or add-ins you like: cacao, protein powder, shredded coconut, etc.  1-2 cups loosely packed kale leaves (from 3 stalks or so)

In a powerful blender, add all ingredients in the order listed, reserving 1/4 of the banana. Blend on high for at least one minute, adding more liquid if necessary. You might have to stop and push  the contents down periodically. Blend and blend some more. Once completely smooth, add the remaining banana and pulse on the ‘ice crush’ setting. Serve in a tall glass and enjoy!

Reader Comments (3)

Damn, awesome photography!

February 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSow

Thank you!

February 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterSarah

Hola! Excelente combinación! No me la hubiese imaginado nunca! En España no se consigue “red kale” fácilmente, así que apuntaré la receta para buscar los ingredientes con calma. Gracias!

March 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterpatricia

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this-month-life-is-naturally-sweet

« Squash Bowls with Chard, Beans, Shiitake | Main | Red Kale & Blueberry Smoothie »

Saturday
Feb052011

This month, life is naturally sweet

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day’s descent, I thought it would be appropriate to write about all things sweet for the February column. Sugar is something with which we’re all very familiar, and most of us likely have a love-hate relationship. We know that the processed, refined, crystal-white, poisonus and drug-like table sugar is, well, bad news, so how are we supposed to satiate that ever-more-annoying sweet tooth? 

Not to fear. I’ve done my fair share of searching, and found that my cravings for sugar are squashed by many things you can pluck from nature: Dried fruit, raw cacao, raw fruit juice, and raw honey. Naturally super sweet, and not the least bit dangerous. For more, read the column here!

Speaking of raw, holy Mother Nature! Have you ever eaten something so full of nutrients that you felt a sort of divine energy just coursing through your veins? If not, pay closer attention the next time you eat a piece of fresh fruit and I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s the beauty of raw foods, my friends. It’s the beauty of the heavenly bliss-nuggets at the end of this post. 

I’m no specialist (yet), but I have always loved the way food tastes in its purest state of being. Of the many cookbooks in my collection, a handful of them feature inspiring ways to prepare meals without using animal products or high temperatures. I’ve dipped my toes into the pools of raw foodism over the years, read many articles, and learned as much as I could about the pure, potent power of unadulterated foods and why they help us prevent disease. This quest for knowledge is never-ending. While I’m an advocate of the balance is key ideal, I do believe that eating this way on a regular basis is very beneficial. In my opinion, food is medicine. When we eat fresh, nourishing food straight from the earth, we feed more than just our empty stomachs. Whatever your beliefs about diet, the point is that I love raw fruits and vegetables and I can’t help but share my enthusiasm with you. 

By keeping nutritional integrity in mind, I think it’s possible to have our cake and enjoy it too. As I said, I am not a nutritionist, and everything expressed here is simply my well-researched opinion. If you’re curious, here are some great posts I’ve read recently about sugar and the benefits of raw food. Check back for more posts on this, and I’ll try to compile a list of useful books and tidbits for you. What follows is a recipe I’ve played with for quite some time, and found it perfect for mid-afternoon or dessert-hour munchies. Of the many versions I’ve tried, this one spices things up with chili powder and cinnamon for circulatory benefits and exceptional flavor. They require less than 15 minutes from start to finish, and are well worth the time they take to chill in the fridge. If you’re looking for something to replace processed sweets, these are the way to go. 

Spiced Hazelnut Cacao Balls :: Makes about 15  Full of enzymes, healthy fats, protein and vitamins, they satisfied my cravings for chocolate all week long. You could technically use unsweetened cocoa powder instead of raw cacao, however nutritionally speaking it’s not quite the same. Word to the wise: I could never have just one.

1/2 cup almonds  1 cup pitted dates  2 tablespoons hazelnut butter  3 tablespoons raw cacao powder  1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract  1 teaspoon chili powder  1 teaspoon cinnamon

Roughly chop the dates. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind the almonds until fine. Add the remaining ingredients and process until fully incorporated. When well-mixed but still crumbly in texture, stop processing.

Shape small handfuls into balls or squares. Roll in more cacao powder (optional) and place on baking sheet. Chill for one hour before serving, and store in the refrigerator for about one week.

Reader Comments (2)

WOW, those look INCREDIBLE! Seriously, I am drooling!

February 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSimply Life

Me and my husband’s most favorite recipe, I just call it raw brownies 🙂 The raw desserts are totally amazing and most people can’t believe they are raw and taste so good…

February 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNadia

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chocolate-fig-freezer-fudge

« This month, time is of the essence | Main | Sunflower, farro, and sweet potato salad with thyme »

Saturday
Mar052011

Chocolate-Fig Freezer Fudge

I have thought long and hard about posting this recipe. As Kelly said to me yesterday when I confessed my dilemma, “Every good cook needs a secret recipe!” And I agreed: This fudge is so unbelievably good, I don’t know what I would change about it; it would surely create explosions at every gathering I bring it to, with every guest I serve it to, and every time I get caught sneaking into the freezer for just one more bite; it would truly be my secret weapon. 

But there is one thing that would make it even better, if you can believe it. The common denominator in the aforementioned scenarios is the aspect of shared experience. Sharing with those I care about, letting them in on my little secret, watching their reactions as they bite into the soft, smooth, creamy decadence that is this fudge, the unexpected glee on their faces and shock when they find out that it is completely raw, completely vegan, completely free of added sugar, completely healthy and just… perfect. 

Sharing good food with people I care about is probably my favorite thing in the world. I love all of YOU, the readers of this blog, because you make it what it is: a place for exchange. I’m not just talking to myself here; although sometimes it may seem like it. No, I’m talking to you, and I adore the conversations we have. And so, it is my distinct honor to let you in on the best recipe to emerge from my kitchen since, well, forever. 

This fudge is a representation of the entire meaning behind The Chocolate Fig. Not only does it contain both figs and raw cacao, my favorite foods in the world, but it is a perfect example of what makes something indulgently healthy; buttery, creamy, smooth on the tongue, slightly bitter but mellowed by the figs’ seductive sweetness and a pinch of sea salt. It is perfectly balanced, euphoria-inducing, and everything fudge should be: rich and oh so decadent. 

The star of the show is the coconut oil: Naturally solid and creamy at room temperature, like butter, it holds the rest of the ingredients together and maintains a fudgy texture even straight from the freezer. Make sure you buy organic, extra-virgin coconut oil. Avocado may be a surprise ingredient to some of you, but it is very well-masked by the other flavors and is essential for a smooth and rich bite. 

What else can I say? Just one thing: Make this, and while you’re at it, smile.

Chocolate Fig Freezer Fudge :: Makes 1 8×8 square pan

1 cup dried Mission figs, reconstituted in hot water 1 avocado, pitted  1 cup coconut oil 3/4 cup raw cacao powder (start here, and add more if you like a deeper chocolate flavor) pinch or two of fine sea salt

  1. Line an 8×8 square baking pan with wax paper. Set aside.
  2. In a food processor, puree figs, with a bit of their soaking water, to desired consistency. I prefer a smoother and syrupy puree, but feel free to leave it a bit chunkier. Measure out 1 cup of fig puree  (in a liquid measuring cup) and set aside.
  3. Clean the food processor, then scoop avocado meat into the base and puree until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Measure out 1/2 cup of avocado puree and set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, gently whisk coconut oil and avocado puree until combined and smooth. Too much friction will cause the coconut oil to melt, and you want it to stay softly solid and fluffy. Add fig puree and incorporate, then add cacao powder and sea salt. You may have to switch to mixing with a spatula at this point, gently folding the cacao into the batter. 
  5. Scrape batter evenly into prepared pan and smooth the top. Lick the spoon, spatula and bowl. Place in the freezer and wait as long as you can; it solidifies almost immediately, so you really won’t have to wait very long. I’d give it 10 minutes just to be safe. Slice into squares and serve; store leftovers in the freezer.

 

Reader Comments (10)

Yum! So simple and yet so good! Thank you for sharing 😀

March 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

Hi and greetings. Thanks for the add on FoodBuzz. I wanted to visit your blog. Wow! Awesome photos. And the fudge recipe sounds so delicious. I really liked your quote about our temples are on loan. My blog is as much about celebrating life and relationships as it is Food and Recipes. Please visit. Maybe comment. Maybe Follow. That would be cool. Thanks

March 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMario

Oh, I love the idea of this fudge… avocado and no nuts! But doesn’t it melts too easy with all that coconut oil?

March 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNadia

Easy and yet delicious recipe. Thank you so much for sharing!

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEftychia

Sarahhh this sounds sooo good! I think Im going ot make it as a post finals treat for my roommates and I next week! Thanks!

March 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVera

Thanks Vera! I hope you like it!

March 6, 2011 | Registered CommenterSarah

Great Recipe! I really love this blog I hope you check mine out!

March 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngie

As a chocoholic who is always searching for a healthy way to indulge, I can’t WAIT to try out this recipe!

March 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVirginia

Love the idea of avocados in fudge!

We’ve recently started up a photo sharing health food site called www.healthfreakfood.com it’s sort of similar to foodgawker. We would love it if you submitted some of your beautiful photos!

Hi Sarah:) This fig fudges are just too good! I have made them too many times (I just cant stop :p). Im eating some right now, YMMI! Thank you for sharing 🙂

May 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRagnhild

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recipe-for-a-nourished-life

« Sunflower, farro, and sweet potato salad with thyme | Main | Wild rice salad & thoughts on gluten »

Monday
Feb212011

Recipe for a Nourished Life

I didn’t do a Valentine’s post. I don’t have any fun, pink-colored recipes to share with you, and I’m embarrassed to say that most of the treats I brought to Elliott and his family were purchased. Shameful!

But I’ve forgiven myself, because Valentine’s day is about more than chocolate and flowers. For those of you who pretend to hate this designated day of love, stop it this instant, and listen up! You don’t need a sweetheart to practice the art of affection. In fact, you don’t even need a designated day. Today is the day. Tomorrow is the day. It’s always a good time to tell yourself how great you are. 

My recipe for a nourished life has to do with more than just what I feed myself. It can help us make our meals healthier, but we also have ingredients for a balanced existence. Wellness and health are states of being, and we don’t become healthy just by eating a certain way or dragging ourselves through gruesome workouts. We’ve got to show ourselves some love.

That said, I’m going to share with you my own recipe for balance: A series of questions that I ask myself periodically, to check in and see how things are going with the girl in my head. This blog is an exploration for the balance between health and indulgence, which for me is a daily preoccupation. It’s always changing, so what’s written here could be different a month from now. As I try and discover new things, my recipe evolves. That, if you ask me, is the best part about cooking.

Sarah’s Ingredients :: Serves 1

1. How many servings of veggies have I had today? This number never, ever dips below 6 or 7. My favorite breakfast of late is a nice green smoothie, with plenty of spinach or kale, half an avocado, and some berries or other fruit. If I start the day this way, my veggie count is higher. If I have at least two servings at every meal, I’m feeling pretty darn great. 

2. Have I moved my body today?  Lately, I haven’t been running. My favorite time to run is in the wee hours of the morning, around 6:30 am, and the winter has been way too dark and cold. My level of motivation reads zero. But, I love swimming, walking and hiking, yoga, strength training, taking classes, chasing my dog… anything. I do something every day, and even on designated days off I stretch for at least 15 minutes in the morning to help circulation.

3. How much have I listened today?  No, sitting in class does not count. This one I’m always working on… I’m not very good at it. Really hearing what people say and acknowledging their point of view is not only enlightening, but at the other end, being heard makes people feel pretty good. I make more friends when I listen.

4. How many deep, full breaths have I taken?  My New Year’s resolution this year was to breathe more. Often on my commute, I catch myself holding my breath and tensing up, especially at the end of the day. Breathing helps (obviously), since every cell in our bodies needs ample oxygen to thrive. I’ve also been making sure that my iPod is charged and loaded with upbeat tunes, so I can let out the day’s stresses vocally. And probably to the amusement of other drivers.

5. How much water have I consumed?  An important one that’s been beaten into us with the clubs of every health-focused article there ever was, but still, it’s worth repeating. I have a huge stainless-steel canteen that I try to refill at least twice. Yes, it doesn’t stay in the body for long, but no, that’s not reason enough to quit.

6. Did I make my bed this morning?  Allow me to explain. I once saw a quote in Real Simple magazine that said, “The state of your bed is the state of your head.” It stuck with me because I used to always make my bed, and it left me feeling strangely organized and prepared. At the time I read the quote, though, I wasn’t feeling well and had been battling some weird anxiety. And this morning ritual had been neglected. So I started making an effort again to make my bed every day, and guess what? It helped. Perhaps this is my obsessive Type-A-ness flaunting itself, but what can I say? There’s just something about climbing under a taught, fresh, and soft layer of covers every night. Call me crazy.

7. How do I feel This is something deeply personal, subjective, and not easily explainable to people other than myself. But I know how I feel when I’m feeling great, and I know what happens to me when something’s off. It’s just that– a feeling. Plain and simple. If I’ve got it, I’m good. If not, something needs to change. Your feeling will be different from mine, in every way.

{Like a best friend, ask that little voice in your head how she’s doing from time to time. I bet she’ll appreciate it. And then tell me: What’s your recipe?}

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nourishing-quinoa-salad

« Red Kale & Blueberry Smoothie | Main | Sunrise nectar & a day of hiking »

Thursday
Jan202011

Nourishing quinoa salad

We are having a fantastic break from winter’s grey gloom around here. Last Saturday, stunning as it was, pretty much set the pace for the entire week to follow. On Tuesday morning, I tiptoed outside with my breakfast and ate bathed in the warm morning sun, something I haven’t been able to do since October. For someone as easily effected by the seasons as I, it was a welcome change. 

On another note, the break I’ve been giving my body for the past week has left me feeling so alive, there’s no way I could not share some of my meals with you. I haven’t really been cleansing in the way that we usually think of the term, but I feel cleansed nonetheless. Nourished, sustained, refreshed, and better. Happier, even. 

This salad doesn’t differ from something I might make on any normal day, cleanse or no cleanse, but it’s my favorite lunch of the moment and I’ve been making it often. It has got a little bit of everything– salty, sweet, nutty, fresh, very flavorful, and comforting in its own unique way. The different textures from the dried fruit, pomegranates and beans and the way they work together make it something of a masterpiece.

Red quinoa is higher in antioxidants than the more common white variety, but either will work here. Also, when you’re wrestling with a pomegranate, here are a few words of caution: Wear an apron. Do not wear a shirt you like even a little bit. Do not use a white cutting board, and place a few layers of paper towel on top of your work surface before you begin. A note on the greens: I used kale and spinach, but feel free to use any you like. Mustard greens might be nice. I recently learned that massaging raw kale with your hands and some olive oil causes it to wilt and ‘cook’ down a bit, which is what I’ve been doing to make it more manageable in a salad. Yum! 

Nourishing Quinoa Salad :: Makes 1 generous serving

Ingredients: 2-3 leaves curly kale, stems removed, chopped handful spinach leaves, chopped 1/2 cup cooked red quinoa 1/4 cup pistachios seeds from 1/2 pomegranate 1/3 cup cooked black beans 3 dried figs, chopped  3 dried apricots, chopped

 Dressing: 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar 1 teaspoon honey 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (optional)

In a medium bowl, place kale and a drizzle of olive oil. Massage with your hands, rubbing oil into the leaves, for a few minutes until slightly wilted. Set aside and prep remaining ingredients.

Add spinach, quinoa, pistachios, pomegranate seeds, black beans, and dried fruit to the bowl with the kale. Make a dressing with the olive oil, vinegar, honey and dijon, whisking vigorously or shaking in a small container. Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss to combine. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

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meals-for-two

« Almond flax flapjacks | Main | Chocolate Chip Cookies »

Saturday
Apr022011

Meals for two

I’ve prided myself on maintaining a slight veil of anonymity here on The Chocolate Fig. Few mentions of family and friends, only a picture here and there and sparse personal details, not wanting to compromise anyone’s privacy (including my own). I’m sure many of you fellow bloggers can relate, as certain risks come with writing in such a public forum. I’m a very discreet person by nature, and so I tend to over-worry about things like this.

All of that is changing though. Those of you who know me personally probably realize that my boyfriend and I are now roommates in a spacious studio apartment in San Francisco, making life much easier for me, giving us the autonomy we so desperately crave, and making social isolation obsolete. As such, most of the meals I’ll be making are meals for two; most of my cooking will be done for and with him. And since accounts of my cooking are what appear here, it’s only natural that I finally and formally introduce you to one another.

Readers, meet Elliott. My muse, my inspiration, my sounding board and reality-checker. Born and raised in the same town as I, on the same street as some of my best friends. We didn’t meet until ages 19 and 23, when I guess you could say we had settled into ourselves. Over the time we’ve known each other, he and his family have been the patron saints of recipe-tasting, never hesitating to offer suggestions and inspirations. Even when I preface a batch of cookies with, I tried something new, I didn’t follow a recipe, I have no idea how they’ll taste, please don’t hate me… Hands are reaching into the bag with enthusiasm. For this, I am endlessly grateful.

So, with this post, the veil I had drawn over my personal life has been lifted slightly and now you know a bit more about us. Along with this big life transition, the content of this blog will shift accordingly as I navigate a new kitchen and learn how to grocery shop and cook for a grown (and hungry!) man. Any tips you have on this will be welcomed with gratitude.

Instead of my own solo adventure on this blog, you can now expect to hear about these two youngin’s trying to weave our way through life’s complexities, one meal at a time. 

Reader Comments (2)

Awww, this is so sweet! Looking forward to reading more about you two!

Nice post Sarah, very sweet and I look forward to reading more about your new food adventures!

April 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy (Mom)

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blood-orange-barley-cake

« This month, I’m eating for energy | Main | In Reflection »
Sunday
Jan092011

Blood Orange & Barley Cake

Busy doing nothing. That’s what I’ve been up to. Taking time to just be, not setting an alarm, lolling around in bed until (gasp!) 8:00 am. Going for walks, stretching, cooking all my meals to end up as warm, comforting bowls of goodness, lingering in DeMartini’s (our local produce supplier) and tasting each different variety of apple like a selection of fine wines.  I went over to Berkeley on Friday with two of my best girls, for the whole day, to do some yoga and sit in cafes.  This week, I haven’t noticed anything but what’s going on in that exact moment.

I’ve had lots of time to read, too. Last week it was Good to the Grain; this week it’s Louisa Shafia’s Lucid Food. With recipes separated by the seasons, Shafia hopes that each one will bring us closer to the farmer, the earth, and our own health. It’s my habit, as a full-time student, to read anything like a textbook: absorbing important tidbits, marking inspiring passages with a pencil, constantly thinking about how and where to apply this new knowledge. I have pages upon pages of notes from cooking and nutrition books alone. Naturally, both of these texts have been quite influential in my recent kitchen concoctions.

Combining tips and tricks from Kim Boyce’s ode to whole grains with seasonal and eco-conscious inspiration from Lucid Food, I came up with a cake that showcases the best of both worlds. Blood oranges, a wintertime treat, sit glazed in honey atop a Turbinado-sweetened crumb of whole-grain barley and wheat flours. The first try was lucky– I pretty much got what I wanted, and everyone at the party I brought it to seemed to like it. Next time, though, I might use more fruit on top for a prettier presentation. And perhaps try peeling away some of the bitter skin, although I’m not sure if the slices would still hold together or not. I’d also use less cloves– the amount listed here has been reduced.

With cookbooks as my text and the kitchen as my office, creating food like this is my favorite way to learn.

Blood Orange & Barley Cake with Cloves

Ingredients for topping: 3 blood oranges, sliced into thin rounds 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter (I used clarified butter/ghee throughout the recipe, and I really liked the result. It gave a nice earthy-sweet and toasty flavor– perfect with the cloves.) 4 tablespoons honey

Ingredients for batter: 1 1/2 cups flour (1 cup white whole-wheat, 1/2 cup barley flour)  3/4 teaspoon ground cloves 2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature 3/4 cup Turbinado sugar 2 large eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 tablespoon dark rum 1/2 cup orange juice

Preheat oven to 350′.

To make topping: Melt butter in a cast-iron skillet and add honey. Simmer over moderate heat, stirring, 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add orange slices on top of butter in a concentric circle design, overlapping slightly.

To make batter: Sift together the flours, cloves, baking powder and salt. Beat butter in a stand mixer until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and rum. Add half of the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until incorporated. Beat in orange juice, then remaining flour mixture, just until incorporated. The batter may appear slightly curdled.

Spoon batter over orange slices in pan and spread evenly. Bake in middle of oven until golden, springy, and a tester comes out clean, 45 minutes or so. Remove from oven and let stand in skillet 5 minutes. Invert a plate over the skillet and invert cake onto the plate, keeping them firmly pressed together. Replace any oranges stuck to the bottom. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons more rum, if desired, and cool. Can be served warm, room temperature, or refrigerated overnight. 

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mushroom-polenta-tart

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Friday
Dec032010

Mushroom Polenta Tart

December. It’s December.

Indeed it is. December the third, to be exact. Day number three of the 31 craziest, most hectic, most stressful and swiftly-moving days of the entire year. Much like the test you forgot to study for, we wake up on December third (or first, for that matter) and realize with a jolt of panic that we’ve barely prepared. Every day this month we will be expected to perform, and yet we don’t know the script.

There are papers to write and finals to take, not to mention gifts to buy or make and parties to plan and attend. As I look ahead at my to-do list for the next four weeks, however, I feel strangely calm. Amidst the clamor that’s about to ensue, I feel collected and composed. I have no idea why, and I’m afraid to question it for fear it will disappear. Therefore, I won’t talk about it anymore except to say: I am grateful.

Although, I want to take a moment to reflect on the concept of resolutions, because in a few short weeks it will be New Year’s Eve and we’ll all be making them. Now… I can understand why the idea of starting the new year off in a better way is appealing: We are all somewhat attracted to the idea of reinventing ourselves, emerging from the dark and indulgent days of December ready to become new people. Physically, mentally or intellectually, it doesn’t matter. We are a people of progress and of improvement, and I believe this is why we make resolutions in the first place. But why on January first, exactly one month after the day many of us feel is the start of that time when our jeans stop fitting and we lose all self-control?

Why not today, on December third? Let’s take a momentary mental step back to realize that this day is just like any other day. The sun will rise, we’ll go about our daily tasks, the sun will set and we’ll do it all again tomorrow. Why is January first so significant, other than the fact that it marks the start of 2011?

A resolution is, simply, to resolve to do something. Whatever your “New Year’s resolutions” are going to be (because I’m sure some of you have already started a list of things you plan to undo after December), why not make your resolutions today?

My main life complaint, for example, is that I’m horrible at saying no. I’m a pleaser. If something sounds appealing, I say yes, always and without fail. And I hate letting people down. But lately, the effects of doing this for so many years have started to take their toll on me, both mentally and physically, and it is time for me to be adamant. Therefore, my resolution is to simply live more simply. Starting today, I will not acquire any additional activities or hobbies or jobs that I desperately want but just thinking about how to make them fit into my schedule causes me to break out in sweat. If an opportunity comes along that fits the standards for living simply, I will think carefully before I say yes. There’s my resolution. I easily could have waited until January first, and then I guess it would have felt more monumental. But I’m making it today.

Much like this rustic polenta tart, the rest of the month of December for me will be about noticing and embracing life’s little joys and comforts. Perfection is sometimes nearly obtained when a few humble ingredients join to form a beautiful complex of flavors, warming and filling for body and soul and delicious in its simplicity.

May your December be sweet, simple and comfortable. May you enjoy this polenta.

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Mushroom Polenta Tart // serves 8

-Adapted from 101 Cookbooks-

Ingredients:

1 cup whole-grain cornmeal

1 cup water

pinch of salt

1 portobello mushroom, diced

1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped

1 cup vegetable broth

1/3 cup plain yogurt

1 tomato, thinly sliced, for garnish

grated parmesan cheese, for serving

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 400′ degrees. Butter and flour (or line bottom with parchment paper) one 8-9-inch glass pie plate or regular tart pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the cornmeal with water and salt. Stir and set aside.

In a large thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, cook onions with olive oil until starting to brown. Add mushrooms and rosemary, cooking for a few minutes more. Once cooked through, remove from heat and set aside.

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil in a medium saucepan, add the water and cornmeal mixture, bring back up to a boil and stir until it is thicker than a heavy frosting – about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in about 2/3 of the onion/mushroom mixture, the yogurt and some freshly ground black pepper. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, spreading it to an even thickness, and top with sliced tomatoes then the remaining onion/mushroom mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the cornmeal is firm and begins to pull away from the sides of the pan a bit. Serve with sauteed kale and nutmeg, as I did.

Reader Comments (4)

Truth be told I’ve actually never cooked with polenta. This tart looks delicious. Love all the flavors – cheese, mushrooms, tomatoes, rosemary. Thanks for the inspiration!

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrish

I am encouraging myself to embrace your new attitude. I’m keeping stress at bay by denying that the holiday rush is upon us. This week, I promise myself, I’ll make a dent on my Christmas to-dos.

I haven’t cooked polenta in a while and I’ve been craving mushrooms, too. This sounds like the perfect dish for both. 🙂

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJean

How many onions? I don’t see it listed in the ingredients… Thanks!

May 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChris

Chris- Thanks for letting me know! It’s pretty free form, but 1/2 of a large onion should do you just fine. Adjust to suit your tastes.

May 4, 2011 | Registered CommenterSarah

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Saturday
Dec112010

Quinoa Pancakes with Cranberry-Apple Compote

Encased in my new rain coat, the hems of my jeans heavy with water, I found myself trudging through the downpour last Wednesday in search of tea and chocolate. It was on this trek that ideas for a decadent weekend breakfast started flying around in my head. I often dream of hearty and warming comfort foods when trapped in less-than-comfortable situations. Wednesday was no exception.

I originally wanted to make gingerbread pancakes, because I’ve been craving its spicy and seasonal essence ever since we hit December. Gingerbread never fails to completely envelop me in holiday spirit. But as I began to measure ingredients and search the premises for compote-appropriate fruit, I found myself making something else entirely.

The batter for these cakes still contains a fair amount of ground ginger and is sweetened only with molasses, but what really shines is the addition of toasted almond meal and the way it dances on the palate with the subtly-spiced compote. Before I grind my almonds into meal, I let them roast for a bit to become fragrant and delicate. This makes a world of difference.

I also added some quinoa I’d prepared for breakfast the day before, which contributed a chewiness and unique, dense texture. It made the cakes especially filling and even more protein-packed, a perfect way to start the day.

On a different note, after Wednesday’s rainstorm we had the most beautiful sunset over the hills. The colors, like macerated strawberries fading into cotton candy, seemed to bleed out of the skyline and saturate what was left of the light. A sight like this never fails to make me feel completely alive and in awe of the earth. Gazing at it, I feel renewed.

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Quinoa Pancakes with Cranberry-Apple Compote // Makes 10 small cakes

Ingredients

3/4 cup whole-grain spelt flour

1/2 cup almond meal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

pinch of salt

1/3 cup prepared quinoa

3 tablespoons molasses

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup plain yogurt

3 tablespoons melted coconut oil or butter (or substitute light olive oil)

seeds from 1-inch section of vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

Compote

1 apple, chopped (I leave the skin on)

1/2 cup frozen cranberries (not thawed)

apple juice

1 cinnamon stick

pinch of ground cloves

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Directions

-In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, almond meal, baking soda & powder, spices, and salt. Set aside.

-In a medium bowl, whisk together the quinoa, molasses, egg, yogurt, melted oil or butter, and vanilla bean. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring just until incorporated. Add the 1/4 cup water slowly, if needed, to thin the batter. Set aside and let rest while you make the compote.

-In a medium saucepan, combine fruit, spices and honey, then add enough apple juice to just barely cover. Simmer over medium or medium-low heat, stirring occassionally, until cranberries have burst and apples are very soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and remove cinnamon stick. With a potato masher or pastry cutter, slightly mash everything together. Stir, cover, and set aside until ready to serve.

-To cook the quinoa pancakes, preheat a nonstick skillet or cast-iron griddle over medium-low heat. Grease with coconut oil or butter if desired. Scoop batter by 1/4-cupfull onto the pan and cook until bubbles begin to form, about 4-5 minutes. The batter is delicate and the pancakes will be very soft, so you want to cook them low, long and thoroughly or else they will be hard to flip. Once cooked on one side, flip and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Continue until all batter is used.

-Serve pancakes with plenty of compote. I didn’t need any maple syrup!

Reader Comments (1)

I love how you made a pancake using spelt and quinoa. I think you just inspired me to not only cook more delicious breakfast recipes but experiment more with other ingredients. Love the compote to boot.

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTrish

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Thursday
Mar102011

This month, time is of the essence

If you’ve ever skipped breakfast due to time constraints, this post is for you.

Last semester, I used to get up at 4:30 a.m. out of necessity. See, I really like getting up early; 5:00 is no big deal for me, even when I don’t have to be anywhere until 10. The morning hours are my absolute favorite time of day, and I savor them. But when I had to get up at 4:30 and rush like a madwoman just to stuff a bite or two of quinoa porridge in my mouth, I had issues. 

I watch my dad leave the house between 6:15 and 6:30 every morning, sometimes taking the time to sit down and eat, unless he’s running late, when he’ll scurry out the door with some sort of portable breakfast in hand. And this works fine for him. But if you ask me, breakfast should not only be mandatory, it should be enjoyed. Somehow I don’t think that many of us remember the importance of nutrition when we’re trying to be speedy. So I took it upon myself to teach us all how.

This month’s column focuses on easy breakfast ideas to make ahead on Sunday and enjoy all week long. You’re going to feel like such a star when you wake up Monday morning and… breakfast is already waiting for you! Read the column here

Remember this baked oatmeal recipe? It’s perfect for the new organized and efficient you. I’m sure it would be a hit with kids, too!

Reader Comments (1)

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this baked oatmeal since I first read the post last week. Yum! Can’t wait to try it!

March 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercass

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