Friday, January 18, 2019

Green Julius Smoothie

Isn't it supposed to be an orange Julius?  Yes.  Yes it is.  But this is 2019 and we're not teenagers at the mall anymore.  We do things like Marie Kondo (yep, it's a verb now) the heck out of our closets.  We make budgets and stick to them.  We cut sugar like it's our job.  We add greens to every smoothie and juice we can.  And we like it.  For real.  Joy is sparked.

But still, nostalgia tastes good.  Nostalgia tastes even better when it's made healthier and enjoyed in your very own grown-up kitchen.  Can we also recognize the fact that, as for-real adults, we can also enjoy this vibrant, nutritious, and just-sweet-enough smoothie while we wear considerably less glitter (on our jeans, in our hair, on our face) and fewer butterfly clips than we did as teenagers?  It seems a noteworthy thing to be thankful for.  

Whether you blend this up to start your day or to refuel after a particularly rewarding workout, I know you'll just love it.  I sure did.  

A healthified nod to everyone's favorite teenage mall drink, this green Julius smoothie will bring a smile to your face and some serious nutritional value to your day.

Green Julius Smoothie
adapted from Gimme Some Oven

1 large navel orange, zested (reserve zest), peeled, and pulled into sections
1/2 c. almond milk (or other preferred milk), frozen into cubes
1 handful fresh baby spinach
1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey, maple syrup, or preferred sweetener

1.  Add all ingredients to the blender, including the orange zest.  You may want to pull the seeds out of the orange if you see any large ones and/or don't have a blender powerful enough to pulverize them.  (I don't!)  Taste and adjust sweetener, if desired.  Enjoy!

yield: 1 smoothie

Friday, January 11, 2019

Szechuan Chicken Stir Fry

Happy 2019, readers!  Welcome to the time of year when many of us make new promises, commitments, and resolutions with the best of intentions.  New year, new you, right?

I'm a fan of choosing a word or phrase to focus on throughout the year.  I've done it for the past several years and I've found it to be my favorite way to focus, challenge, and improve myself.  This year, my word is fully.  It found me during Michelle Obama's book event here in Dallas (completely amazing, by the way, especially because I got to go as a chaperone for a select group of high-achieving AP students in my school district).  It wasn't a word she used with any particular emphasis; it was just there in a sentence as a part of a story.  It jumped right out at me, though, with a force and a weight I couldn't ignore.  I knew it was my word.  I knew it was exactly what I needed to give myself permission to laugh more fully, love more fully, and live more fully.  It's the word that will help me be more fully present and fully happy.  

Since choosing the word and starting the new year, I've already felt its impact.  I think what I'm going to love and appreciate most about this word is the way I'll be able to continue exploring what it means.  I've already decided part of living more fully and being more fully me includes a recommitment to exercise and a commitment to getting back into the kitchen to create.  Playing with new ingredients and techniques, wading through a few failures and experiencing some culinary successes puts a smile on my face.  Being able to share the winning dishes with those I love gives me the kind of joy I feel in my cheeks and my heart and my soul.  Food, cooking, and love go hand in hand to me.  They always have.

I'm starting with this recipe.  I've had it clipped for a while and have found excuse after excuse not to make it.  Thankfully, I've corrected that mistake.  I love the simplicity of this dish.  It may look like a lot of ingredients, but it isn't, really.  Standing in my kitchen--hair pulled up, no make up on, music playing--chopping a rainbow of healthy veggies brings me peace.  I love the rhythm of the knife going through the peppers; its repetition is calming to me.  I also love knowing I'll get to enjoy a finished dish that's healthy and bright and bound to leave me feeling full and fully at my best.

Happy 2019, friends.  May this year be our best.

Bright red and yellow peppers combine with green snow peas and a host of aromatics in this healthy, simple stir fry you'll want to make over and over again.     

Szechuan Chicken Stir Fry
slightly adapted from Cooking Light, January 2012 and November 2017

1 TBSP sesame oil, divdied
1/2 c. low-sodium chicken stock
2 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce
1 TBSP rice vinegar (I used seasoned, but unseasoned would be fine)
1 TBSP chile garlic paste, such as sambal oelek, plus more for serving
2 tsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
2 TBSP canola oil, divided
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces OR
about 3 c. shredded chicken from a rotisserie bird
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into strips
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 c. diagonally cut snow peas
1 small red onion, sliced
1 TBSP peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 TBSP minced fresh garlic
2 c. cooked brown rice, for serving
1/4 c. green onion slices, for garnish
1/3 c. unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

1.  Combine 2 tsp. sesame oil with the chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, chile garlic paste, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl.  Whisk to combine and set aside.  Before proceeding, make sure all ingredients are prepped. 

2.  If using raw chicken, heat remaining sesame oil and 1 TBSP canola oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken pieces and stir fry 2 minutes.  Remove chicken from the pan and set aside.  Heat remaining TBSP canola oil.

3.  If using shredded rotisserie chicken,  heat remaining sesame oil and 2 TBSP canola oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat.

4.  Add bell peppers, snow peas, onion, and garlic to the pan.  Cook 1 minute.  Add stock mixture and cook 30 seconds more, until slightly thickened.

5.  Add chicken (whatever kind you used) and cook 4 minutes more, checking to be sure chicken is warmed and cooked through.

6.  To serve, dive rice among four bowls and top with stir fry mixture.  Garnish with additional sambal oelek, green onions, and/or peanuts, as desired.

yield: 4 servings      

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Slow Cooker Black-Eyed Peas

Does your family have a traditional New Year's Day meal?  Mine does, for sure.  Like many families across the southern U.S., we'll be tucking into a meal that includes pork, greens, cornbread, and black-eyed peas.  Each of these items brings with it a superstition.  It's a fun and tasty tradition and why would we want to mess with generations of superstition, anyway?

The pork is said to represent being forward thinking since a pig leads with its snout (As if there are tons of animals who don't travel facing forward...).  The greens represent hard cold cash and the cornbread is meant to symbolize gold.  Who wouldn't want some extra funds in the new year?  The black-eyed peas bring luck and, in some households, you'll eat 365 of them to make sure you have good fortune each day of the year.  My family doesn't go so far as to count out the black-eyed peas, but I'm always sure to eat a generous helping because I love them so much.

I tried out this recipe last year and have been holding on to it all this time to make sure I post it at just the right moment.  Now that Christmas has past and we're all preparing for the next holiday, I figured you'd be ready for an easy and knock-your-socks-off good black-eyed pea recipe that requires little more of you than throwing the handful of ingredients into your trusty slow cooker.  You know, so you have more time to relax, hang out with your family, and watch football...

slow cooker black eyed peas

Thought to bring good luck, black-eyed peas are a southern staple for New Year's Day.  Don't miss out on your shot at good luck with this simple and satisfying slow cooker recipe.

Slow Cooker Black-Eyed Peas
adapted from Southern Bite

1 (16 oz.) package dried black-eyed peas
6 c. chicken broth (I prefer low sodium)
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
1 small yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 TBSP fresh thyme
1 smoked ham hock
red pepper flakes, for serving
jalapeños, for serving

1.  Rinse the black-eyed peas and sort through them, discarding any ones that are discolored.

2.  Place all ingredients except the ham hock in the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Nestle the ham hock in the center and cook on low 8-10 hours or high 5-6 hours.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Top, as desired, and enjoy for a prosperous and fortunate new year! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

Meatless Monday--Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup

Looking at my blog archives, I can see I've developed a pattern.  Right around this time of year, when the mornings and evenings are crisp and the days are cool and cloudy, I fall into a pretty consistent repertoire of soups and pumpkin baked goods.  I want to say I'm sorry, but the truth is, I'm not.  Soup and pumpkin baked goods are two of my favorite things!

This soup is new to me and a welcome addition to my steady stream of fall and winter soups.  It's not new to its creators, the very lovely Sonja and Alex Overhiser of A Couple Cooks.  In fact, their cookbook notes say its one of the first recipes they came up with.  Packed with fennel, tomatoes, garlic, and Italian herbs, it's no wonder they've nicknamed it "pizza soup."  

Sonja and Alex say it's a recipe they still make to this day and I can certainly see why.  With just a bit of chopping and a few cans to open, this soup comes together easily, making it an ideal weeknight meal.  Since it's vegan, it keeps in the refrigerator all week without issue--perfect for lunches!  

I'm a fennel lover, but if you're not, please do still give this soup a try.  When cooked with other savory ingredients, fennel becomes smooth, earthy, and slightly sweet and leaves behind the licorice flavor it has on its raw state.  Besides fennel seed is a common ingredient in Italian sausage, just adding even more pizza flavor to this already craveworthy soup.

tuscan white bean fennel pizza soup

Sweet, earthy fennel, creamy white beans, fire-roasted tomatoes, and a savory blend of Italian spices make this simple, healthy soup one you'll want again and again.  Who wouldn't love pizza soup?
Tuscan White Bean and Fennel Soup
slightly adapted from Sonja and Alex Overhiser, Pretty Simple Cooking

2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb
1 small red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. smoked paprika 
1 (28-oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, San Marzano if available
1 (15-oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, San Marzano if available
1 bay leaf
1 qt. vegetable broth
2 (15-oz.) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 c. packed spinach leaves OR
1 bunch Tuscan kale (also called Lacinato or dinosaur)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional--soup is otherwise vegan)

1.  Heat a large stock or soup pot over medium-high heat.  Add oil and bring to temperature.

2.  Meanwhile, prepare fennel by cutting off any tough parts on the bottom of the bulb and the stems from the fronds up.  Reserve some of the fronds for garnish and dice the bulb and remaining stems.  Add the fennel and onion to the pot and sauté 4 minutes until softened, but not browned.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil, and paprika.  Sauté for 30 seconds.

3.  Carefully add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot, along with the bay leaf, and simmer 5 minutes.  

4.  Add the broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, reduce back down to a simmer, then add the spinach or kale, along with the salt and black pepper.  Simmer until the greens are tender, about 5 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, then taste and adjust seasoning.

5.  To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with shaved or grated cheese and/or fennel fronds, if desired.

yield: 6 servings   

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Banana-Date Flaxseed Bread

Like a lot of people, I could probably eat banana bread for breakfast on the regular.  Plain, toasted with a little butter, topped with peanut butter, it's all good to me.  But also like a lot of people, I really shouldn't eat banana bread for breakfast on the regular.  That's where this banana-date flaxseed bread comes in.

Is it every bit as sweet and cakey (because let's be honest--banana bread is very nearly cake) as the banana bread you grew up with?  Nope.  But it is a whole lot less bad for you.  The granulated sugar is drastically cut, with some of the sweetness being replaced by the dates.  In addition, some of the flour is replaced by flax meal, which gives the bread a deeper, nuttier flavor and brings in a whole host of nutritional benefits such as being rich in fiber and omega-3s, aiding digestion, and showing promising effects on lowering cholesterol, fighting diabetes, and combatting cancer.  

Flaxseeds, particularly when ground into flax meal, are wonderful for skin and hair health, which is why I first started incorporating them into my diet several years ago.  An esthetician mentioned it to me during an outstanding, informative facial.  I went home, started stirring flax meal into my yogurt, oatmeal, granola, and many baked goods.  I will say, after a lifetime of struggling with my skin--particularly while living in Phoenix's arid desert climate--I could definitely see an improvement in elasticity.  I'm not a certified expert in any of this, but I can offer my testimony.

Plus, if that testimony means you get to have banana bread for breakfast, why would you argue?

banana date flax bread

This banana-date flaxseed bread ups the fiber and omega-3s for a breakfast treat you can feel good serving yourself and your family.   

Banana-Date Flaxseed Bread
adapted from The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook

2/3 c. mashed ripe banana
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. flax meal (I like Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/4 c. flaxseeds
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. whole pitted dates, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  Prepare a standard-sized loaf pan by coating with oil and a light dusting of flour or spraying generously with baking spray.

2.  In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer and a large bowl, beat banana, sugar, oil, and eggs at medium speed until well blended.

3.  Combine flour, flax meal, flax seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Gradually add to banana mixture, beating until fully blended.  Add in chopped dates.

4.  Pour mixture into prepared loaf pan and bake 50-55 minutes, testing by inserting a toothpick or cake tester into the center of the pan.  Cool ten minutes on a wire rack, then turn out of pan and cool completely.

Yield: 1 loaf