Tag Archives: agave nectar

Honor Thinking

22 Feb

Isn’t February just flying by?  It feels like just yesterday that Rob and I were sitting down to our fabulous Valentines Day dinner, rather than over a week ago.  I kind of wish it was just yesterday – we had the most amazing meal: Marinated Flank Steak, perfectly grilled (despite the pouring rain and 30+ mph wind gusts – our garage smelled like a steakhouse, but it was well worth the smell and safety hazard), sweet potato soufflé, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, 36-hour fermented rosemary and citrus Fougasse bread, and finally a chocolate sponge cake with pinot-marionberry sauce.  Needless to say, we were weak at the knees, and not just for each other.

We had to get in as much quality time together as possible as Rob has had a funky schedule lately, and my week was filled with a trip to Portland.  Wednesday morning, six other teachers and I drove up to attend  a national Mathematics Leadership Conference put on by the Teacher Development Group.  It was simply an honor to be asked to go, as it was geared towards teaching us how to teach teachers to become better teachers.  The week was filled with fabulous research, mathematical practices and developments, and the over-arching mentality and high expectation to honor thinking.  By Saturday night, my brain was full… and so was my stomach.

We were fed like royalty!  Giant dinners, beautiful lunches, all you can eat (and I did) breakfasts, and a dessert table that was always at the ready with any pastry, cake, cookie, or puff a heart could desire.  There was so much food, and so much sitting, then more food – I started to hope that my brain’s energy was capable of burning calories.

Alas, algebraically proving a linear function did not quite accomplish the same results as a 5-mile run.  So on top of sleeping most of Sunday, I planed for a major detox.

In a few of my entries, I’ve mentioned my former vegetarian days and have fond memories of cooking many meatless meals.  Vegetarian cooking is what made me a cook – figuring out flavorful alternatives to protein and animal fat was a welcomed challenge, and I was always delighted when those enjoying my food would have the oh-my-gosh-there’s-no-meat-in-this-dish epiphany with only a few bites left on the plate (just ask my Irish mother-in-law).  But such that it was, after many years, pork belly (bacon, pancetta, etc.) brought me back to the omnivore world.

So this past Sunday morning, still sleepily in my PJs, I had to honor the thinking of my past and go back to enjoying my vegetarian days.  Wanting to really detox, I decided to nix dairy and limit bread as well, leaving my compilation of vegetarian recipes more veganized.  Carrot in hand, I knew I soon would be feeling cleansed, at least until a Bacon Butty sang my name.

With Tuesday rolling on through, so far, so good.  Even my meat-loving hubby has taken on the detox challenge (beer is mostly yeast, barley, and water, right?).  The last few days has provided us with a flurry of delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies, two rounds of leek broth that never got the opportunity to see the inside of the fridge,and experiments with Tahini paste.  But the most amazing dish so far has been a simple chard salad with a finger-licking roasted garlic dressing.  The hot bite of garlic just plain gives in to the long intense oven heat, leaving the cloves so sweet, caramelized, and wonderfully mushy.  Mushy garlic = yum.  Not exactly an equation for a linear function, but the answer to an insanely healthy vegan salad.

And tonight’s meal was another unbelievable flavor sensation… Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  Should detoxing really be this much fun?!

Raw Mushroom & Swiss Chard Salad (serves 4)

  • 5-7 stalks of large swiss chard leaves, washed, ripped off the stem and julienned into small “ribbons”
  • 1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • about 1 tsp water
  • s&p

To make the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the sliced head of garlic, and create a package, lightly folding aluminum foil around the garlic.  Reopen and add the water and a bit of s&p.  Lightly close the package, place on a sheet tray, and roast for about 30 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned and mushy (a pairing knife can be inserted into a clove and pulled out without resistance).

Once cooled enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper into a bowl.  Add the rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and mix to incorporate.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking all the while.  Taste for seasoning.

Pour the dressing into a salad bowl, and assemble the salad ingredients in the same bowl.  Toss to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Enjoy with some crusty buttered bread, or spiced croutons!

When Arby’s Shuts Down

11 Jan

So, I’ve never seen a fast food restaurant closed during eating hours.  Since a seriously bad guilty pleasure of mine is McDonalds, I’m thankful that the 24-hour drive thru is available to quell my cravings.  I’m not incredibly versed on the exact hours of many fast food restaurants (and actually thankful for that), but I do know that Arby’s was closed yesterday evening.  Anyone craving a famous a famous Beef ‘N’ Cheddar or those crunchy curly fries dipped in a vanilla shake (I promise, it’s awesome), would just have to wait.  For what, you might ask?  Well, for Oregon to win, or lose, the BCS National Championship.

I’m constantly leaving new things about this emerald state, and the latest tidbit is that the area almost literally shuts down for an epic football game.  I mean, the Beavers and Ducks do football just about as well as Texas!

Last night was the big game between Oregon and Auburn, and I must admit, it was an exciting game to watch.  It was the first time that Oregon has made it to the National Championship, and our town was in full support and shouting its enthusiasm.  Even my first graders, all decked out in green and gold, were asking me if I was excited about watching the game (if only I could get them that excited about math!).

I went to the gym after work, and noticed the eerie solitude of my repetitive thump-thump-thump on the treadmill.  The only other person there was an old man, relieving a flashback to the 70s with his high socks and sweat band.  I’ve never been a fan of working out with a ton of people around, especially at a coed gym.  But being one of the only people there made me wonder how many people ruined their ever-motivated I’m-going-to-work-out-every-day New Years Resolution, just to watch “the” game.

However, the highlight of my night was coming home to a green and gold laden husband wearing the biggest, goofiest smile, and literally jumping up from the couch to tell me the game was about to start.

Game?  What game?  Who’s playing?

But seeing the expression on his face quickly turn to concern, Rob voiced his worry for Oregon’s chances of winning because of the – believe it or not – the cheerleaders.  The theory: the more scantily the cheerleading uniforms, the worse the team will do.  And while Oregon has always had quite tastefully dressed dancing supporters, the attire last night was, well, delicately covering.  Patting the big green “O” on his chest, I reassured him that they would probably be OK.

We cheered, we yelled, we cuddled on the couch, we ate, and it felt like a stay-at-home date.  However, the theory proved true, as Oregon lost last night, to the sadness of many.  I felt especially bad for those poor saps who got the double whammy of Oregon losing AND not getting their Arby’s fix.

But at least our food was good.  I had promised Rob I would make his favorite football food – pigs in a blanket – but had to throw in a lovely winter salad.  After all, we have to keep our resolutions of eating healthy.  The salad was chocked full of lovely greens (arugula and baby lettuces), red bell pepper, sliced apples, and hearty chunks of parmesan.  With a tangy, citrus dressing, it was the perfect compliment to the buttery crust delicately encasing the small mixed-meat product (dipped in mustard, of course).  I had a glass of lovely ’05 KJ Reserve cabernet, and Rob enjoyed a beer (made in Oregon), both also seeming to adequately fit the mood and the food.

Though the excitement of the day was tackled by a last-minute field goal by Auburn, I was thankful for the night.  It was the perfect relaxing, entertaining way to start off the week (and learn more about Oregon’s, and Rob’s, love of the game).

Apple and Bell Pepper Salad with Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette

  • A few handfuls of baby lettuces and arugula, rinsed and dried.
  • 1 apple (I love the Honey Crisp variety this time of year), cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c parmesan regiano, chunked off the brick using the tip of the a pairing knife.

Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1 garlic clove
  • juice and zest of 1 lime
  • juice and zest of 1/2 mandarin orange
  • 1/8 tsp hot paprika (make it heaping if you like the spice)
  • 1/2 tsp agave
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

Take the garlic clove and rub it on the inside of the serving bowl.  In the bottom of the bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil.  Using a whisk, mix the ingredients while pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, emulsifying the dressing.  Taste for seasoning.

Put the salad ingredients in the bowl, and toss.  Taste for seasoning, and serve.

Enjoy!

What, No Meat?

23 Sep

Fall is an amazing time of the year.  Yes, winter has the gift-giving holidays, and spring is when love and yummy leeks start to bloom, and summer berries cannot be beat.  But there is something about the air – when it is still warm, but you get a cold breeze – that brings in the new season.  It seems Mother Nature likes to play around, alternating between hints of winter and reminiscence of summer.  Like in Southern California when the weather just starts to cool off, and then the *bleeping* Santa Ana winds dry out your skin, hair, and make you want to simply drink water for dinner.  I miss that.

I also miss some of my favorite fall rituals – like checking out the UCI Farmers Market on Saturday mornings for the latest fruits and veg to arrive.  Or, going to Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma just to oodle at all the lovely fall things – red, orange, and eggplant purple decorations and kitchen tools begging to be purchased and used all while the house warming faint whiff of the latest Cinnamon Vanilla Apple Crisp potpourri fills the air.  A little much?  Yeah, I know.  But I must admit – I’m a junkie when it comes to fall cooking and decorating.  Did it just so happen that our Newlywed 10% discount at all of the aforementioned stores just coincidentally fell during the fall season?  I think not, my friends.

But, minus the absence of the Santa Ana winds, the lack of commercialized retail stores, and weekend restaurant-abundant farmers markets, there have been other new fall things I am growing to love up in my new surroundings.  Like purple peppers.  Seriously – the alliterating tongue twister is true.  I have never met a Peter  Piper, but there are such things as packs of purple peppers.  And we’ve got some.  Yay!

The farm basket has been plentiful lately, with the end of summer sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, delicate lettuces, and, of course, peppers.  So, inspired by the turning season, and adding a bit of harvest summer/early fall fruits and flavors, over the last few days I have traveled back to my vegetarian days and pulled out the OMG-I-totally-forgot-there-was-no-meat-in-this-dish recipes.  I have had the hankering for fresh, flavorful, main course salads, and both of the ones I provided here left us satisfied (even Rob, who will never turn down a steak with the accompanying fried onion strings and loaded baked potato, loved them!).

I remember wine tasting in a field kitchen at the Honig winery (amazing experience) in Napa Valley and being told that anyone who doesn’t eat meat is crazy – “all the flavor is in meat!”  Not true.  Not all.  One of the things I love about vegetarian cooking is how fun it can be to experiment with getting the maximum amount of flavor out of the ingredients used.  Sometimes, the best taste is just in the genuineness of the food’s raw form.  Other times, it’s realizing that a sharp bite of mustard or very aged cheddar cheese will explode in your mouth with the accompaniment of a bright, sweet Fuji apple.  Or that if you want to add a hint of “What is that?” that a little Agave Nectar, or even the char of a grill mark on lettuce or fruit can bring a boring salad to a whole new level.

My biggest tip for salad lovers: always remember the lemons.  Lemons, when used correctly are not bitter or sour – they are bright and clean and often act like salt, bringing out flavors in different ingredients while humbly hanging out in the background.  Experiment, try it out, have a ball, and make lemonade out of your lemons – or yummy salads.  Oh – and don’t forget to light your new fall-scented candle for ambiance.

Grilled Tomato & Apple Salad with 2-Mustard Vinaigrette  (serves 4)

  • 2 vine ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Fuji apple, cut into eighths.
  • 1 large bunch of arugula (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
  • 1 large bunch of baby red lettuce (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
  • 3 slices Muenster cheese
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Olive oil to drizzle
  • s&p

Vinaigrette:

  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
  • 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • s&p

In a large bowl, rub the bottom and sides with the clove of garlic.  Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette, minus the olive oil, in the bowl.  Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as while pouring, emulsifying the mixture.  Set aside.

In another bowl (or on cutting board), drizzle olive oil, s&p on the cut fruit.  Place the tomatoes cut-side down, and the apples on one of the fleshy sides on a hot grill pan, or outside grill.  After about 4-5 minutes, turn the fruit (if you see that the fruit is starting to soften, but no grill marks are made, then the pan/grill is not hot enough).

Meanwhile, add arugula and baby red lettuce to the large bowl with the dressing.  Cut the slices of Muenster cheese into thin strips and roll into pinwheels (this cheese is soft enough to roll, and stay rolled, when sliced thinly).  Add to the salad bowl.

When fruit is done, sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and add to bowl.  Gently toss to incorporate dressing, and mix salad.  Serve and Enjoy!

Pistachio & Cranberry Couscous with Creamy Lemon Feta Dressing (serves 4)

  • 1 c dried couscous
  • 1 c water
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • salt

Bring butter and water to a boil, and then add large dash of salt.  Turn off the heat and add the couscous and stir.  Cover and leave sitting for about 5 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork, and keep covered.

  • 1/2 c dried cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 c pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 3 scallions (white and light-medium green, discard tops), chopped
  • 1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  • s&P

Dressing:

  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 1/2 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
  • 1/4 c fresh Feta cheese, small diced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

To make the dressing, add the lemon juice and Agave to a small bowl.  Add the pieces of Feta, crushing them with the back of a spoon.  Whisk in the olive oil, and s&p to taste (you may find you will need more pepper than salt, as Feta cheese is briny).

To make the salad, toss the couscous, pistachios, cranberries, scallion and herbs in a large bowl.  Top with the desired amount of dressing, and taste for s&p (again, I found I only needed a bit of pepper).

Serve warm over a small bed of lemony greens (greens topped with just a spritz of lemon juice).

Enjoy!

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