Thursday, January 6, 2011

Day 4: Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango

While preparing this quinoa salad, I felt like I should be listening to some Peter, Paul and Mary, Creedence Clearwater Revival, or some other hippie-esque music. It's a total vegan hippie dish. But it's also quite tasty.

Just in case, like me before yesterday, you have no idea what quinoa is, it's a super small grainy, seedy thing, similar in texture and consistency to rice. It's quite healthy, with almost zero fat, lots of protein, and tons of fiber. Kind of like oatmeal.

To prepare it, you simply bring one cup quinoa and two cups water to a boil, then let simmer for about 15 minutes, or until all the water has been soaked up:

Please excuse our messy kitchen. All this cooking (and eating) leaves little time for cleaning!

Here's how to make the rest of the salad.

Quinoa Salad with Black Beans and Mango (from Veganonmicon):

2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled
1 mango, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup chopped scallions (or onion)
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can black beans (we used 2 cups dry bulk beans, cooked)

Combine the mango, bell pepper, scallions, and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add the vinegar, oil, and salt, and stir:

Add the quinoa. Then fold in the black beans:

You really can't get much healthier than this. Beans, whole grains, fruit, and veggies--all in one little salad! 

Next time we make this, we're going to add some lime juice and a couple hot peppers to give it a little kick. 

Anyone out there have any other good quinoa recipes?


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day 3: Cajun aligator with sweet potato and salsa

Aligator? We don't have those in Minnesota right? Aside from hiding in my closet at Bethel University, an exotic pet store in good ol' Columbia Heights that has since closed, and probably the zoo, I've never heard of alligators in these parts. Certainly not organically raised, local meat for purchase at the Wedge. Luckily, we have chickens in Minnesota, which make for an excellent substitute.

If you haven't already guessed, this is Andy... Not Kristin. I've got a different perspective on this blog, mainly that I'm more into cooking than writing, but I guess I'm writing now, so you'll get to know me a bit too.

First off, my interests include bikes, wool, gore-tex, maple syrup, beer, and cast iron cookware. In this section, I'm going to talk about cast iron cookware. I've never owned an expensive pan or any other type of expensive cookware and at this point, I'm not interested. Cast iron seems to get more and more non stick as I use it and I've never had to touch it with soap. It's heavy as hell and consistently survives whatever I manage to do to it. I got my first cast iron skillet for Christmas in 2009 and I've used it an average at least a time or two a day since then. About a month and a half ago, I picked up a grill on one side and a griddle on the other piece of cast iron. It worked great tonight as I grilled my cajun chicken (see below).

So onto the recipe. This recipe is from british chef Jamie Oliver. His newest book, Jamie's America, is filled with some pretty decent recipes and pictures that remind me of the sheep-herding scenes from Brokeback Mountain. Like this one, below:

That's Jamie, on the right.

Anyways, even before the blog and change in shopping venues, the wife and I have made a ton of sweet potatoes in our day. Sweet potato oven fries, curry sweet potato hash browns, roasted sweet potato with bacon vinaigrette and yes, we've made this recipe before. Baked sweet potatoes are pretty awesome and even better with cajun chicken over them. The recipe in the book calls for a salsa that has a ton of parsley in it. I've made it both times and I've decided that I don't appreciate parsley that much. Anyways, here's a picture of the finished meal.

The beverage you see in the background is home-brewed hard cider.

I'm sure we'll come back to this recipe again, as we love sweet potatoes and the chicken has become a favorite, but I've got 140 recipes for salsa coming in the mail and I'm going to get away from the parsley next time.

Take care,


Cajun Aligator with Sweet Potato and Salsa, from Jamie's America:

4 sweet potatoes (approx. 1/2 pound each), wrapped in tin foil
1.75 pounds of aligator tail (or chicken breast), cut into 1/2-inch thick slices

For the cajun marinade
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
a small bunch of oregano leaves, picked
a small bunch of thyme leaves, picked
1 fresh bay leaf, spine removed, torn into pieces
2 gloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard

For the salsa
3 scallions (we just used onion), chopped
1 fresh red chile, minced
2 green tomatoes (tomatillos), diced
1 red tomato, seeded and diced
a small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil (or less, if you want to cut down on the fat)

First make the marinade by mixing everything together and putting into a big bowl. Toss your pieces of meat in it until they are completely coated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least 20-30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roast the tin foil-wrapped sweet potatoes for about an hour.

When the potatoes are nearly ready, make the salsa. Just put everything in a bowl, add a good pinch of sea salt, and stir it up.

When the sweet potatoes are ready, take them out of the oven, but leave them in the foil so they stay warm.

Cook the meat, using a wok, skillet, or grill, set to high heat. Let the strips cook for a few minutes on each side so they get some nice color.

Unwrap the potatoes and put them on plates. Score them down the middle, then gently squeeze them so they pucker up. Put the chicken on top, and cover with a few spoonfuls of salsa.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Day 2

One day into our Eat Less Crap challenge, and I was already desperately craving candy. If you know me at all, you know I am pretty obsessed with candy. Skittles, Red Vines, Sixlets, gummy worms, jelly beans, Sour Patch Kids. I probably got over half of my daily calories from these things. I knew going into this that this was going to be my (main) area of weakness.

So yesterday morning I sent Andy off to the store to pick up some sweets that fit within our rules.

He was able to find some fun candies (like jelly beans, licorice, and these amazing honey hard candies), but bringing home all those tubs of dried fruit was just genius! Not only are the dried mangos, cherries, blueberries, and apricots I've been munching on not bad for you, they are good for you! An easy way to both cut back on the candy, and bulk up on the fruit.

For lunch yesterday, we had yummy pear salads with maple candied pistachios.

I'm a total salad girl, so I enjoyed this dish immensely. The candied nuts are awesome (we used pistachios because I'm allergic to pretty much every other nut, but the recipe actually calls for pecans). We ended up making more than we needed for the salad, just to have on-hand to snack on. Here's the recipe:

Pear Salad with Maple Candied Pistachios (Adapted from Veganomicon):

For the nuts:
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup pure maple syrup

For the salad:
Salad mix/lettuce of your choice
1 ripe pear, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Crumbled gorgonzola cheese, to taste
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons basalmic vinegar

In a cast-iron skillet, toast the pistachios over medium heat for about 5 minutes, tossing them frequently after the first 2 minutes.

Then, sprinkle the oil and salt over them and toss to coat.

Add the maple syrup and toss to coat, heating until the syrup starts to bubble.

Let it bubble for about 30 seconds while tossing.

Transfer the nuts to a parchment paper-lined plate and let cool/harden.

Toss all the remaining ingredients together, sprinkle on the nuts, and you're done!

Andy also whipped up some Curry Pumpkin Hummus yesterday.

Hummus is one of my favorite snacks, and this recipe from Skinny Dips is pretty tasty! This recipe makes a LOT of hummus, and stays good in the fridge for the whole week (or like, 2 days around here!) I love it with carrot sticks, but it's also great with baked pita chips. Here's how to make it:

Curry Pumpkin Hummus (from Skinny Dips):
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1.5 tablespoons honey
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can unsweetened pumpkin puree
1.5 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1.5 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

In a small pan, over medium heat, warm the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to soften, about 30 seconds. Then, add the curry powder and saute, stirring constantly for about a minute. Then, stir in the honey, remove from heat, and set aside.

Using a food processor, process the chickpeas until finely mashed. Then, add the pumpkin puree, ginger, salt, and the garlic mixture, and process until the hummus is nice and smooth.

For a quick and easy dinner last night, Andy made some hummus and tabouli open-faced sandwiches. He started with a layer of hummus, added some store-bought tabouli (a Mediterranean salad with cracked wheat, mint, garlic, lemon, tomatoes, and green onions), and topped the whole thing off with tomatoes and green onions. Delish and oh so healthy!

Day 2 of Operation Eat Less Crap was definitely a success!

Tonight it's cajun chicken with sweet potatoes and salsa. I can't wait!

Until tomorrow,

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Helpful little hint.

What can help you cut calories and fat, save you time, AND costs only $1?

A plastic spray bottle, that's what! A perfect all-natural alternative to those expensive canned cooking sprays. We're always cooking with oil, and end up using way too much in an attempt to make sure the skillet is completely coated. Using the spray bottle, you end up using less oil, which means less calories and less fat.

Also works great for popcorn. The other night we spritzed some olive oil on our air-popped popcorn, tossed in garlic powder, basil, and parmesan cheese, and ended up with super yummy pesto popcorn!

Day 1

After consuming my last diet soda, possibly ever, Operation Eat Less Crap 2011 officially commenced yesterday!

Caffeine, I miss you already!

We spent an hour or two going through our favorite cookbooks, and picked out 10 meals and a variety of snacks and side-dishes for the next two weeks. All of the recipes we'll be making serve 4-6 people, so each dinner leaves plenty of leftovers, covering most of our lunches at work too!

Once we had all our meals picked out, it was time to come up with our big grocery shopping list, which Andy organized nicely by aisle :)

We headed to the local co-op (The Wedge in Uptown, Minneapolis), with the goal of buying 100% organic, and as much local as possible. We also decided to buy as much as we could from the bulk areas, like beans and spices. 

When all was said and done, we did indeed buy 100% organic, and 30% local (which our receipt conveniently pointed out for us)--pretty good for it being winter in Minnesota, if you ask me!

I'd say well over half of what we bought was fresh produce, which we all know can end up being quite expensive. I was bracing myself for a pretty big, ugly total as the cashier was ringing everything up, but it wasn't actually that bad:

That's a grand total of $150.15. Probably a bit more than we'd have spent at Cub, but that averages out to about $10 a day, which makes it seem pretty reasonable, no?

We didn't make a complete meal last night, but Andy whipped up some easy Lemony Roasted Potatoes (from Veganomicon):

2.5 pounds Russet potatoes
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (who knew that juicer we bought for $6 at the thrift store would end up being used so often!?)
1 cup vegetable broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon tomato paste (we just used ketchup!)
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 365 degrees. Peel the potatoes, slice in half lengthwise, and slice the halves into wedges (no more than 3/4-inch thick).

In a large baking pan or casserole dish, combine everything but the potatoes to make the sauce. Add the potatoes and toss to cover them with the sauce. Cover the pan with foil and back for 30-35 minutes. Uncover the pan and let them bake (uncovered) for another 15-20 minutes, until most of the sauce has evaporated and the potatoes start browning on the edges. 

Easy, cheap, and super yummy!

This morning, the rest of the Russet potatoes we bought were chopped up and thrown into the cast-iron skillet with a red bell pepper, onion, and tomato. Add an egg, and you've got a wonderful Sunday morning breakfast!

I can't wait for all the awesomeness that awaits my taste buds in the next two weeks! In the next 13 days, we'll be cooking up:

Black bean burgers
Potato and kale enchiladas
Corn and edamame sesame salad
Quinoa salad with black beans and mango
Cajun chicken with sweet potatoes and salsa
Chicken on chick peas
Black Bean chilaquile
Pumpkin hummus
And much, much more!

I hope you'll stick around!