Friday, July 29, 2011

The Next Chapter of Guerilla Kitchen

Hello readers! As most of you probably know, Brady will be earning his MAT at UMass Amherst (yay!) starting in September. Alas my graduate program here at Drexel doesn't end until December, but it's not all sads. Next weekend we will be embarking on a grand adventure, moving all of his stuff and 75% of mine to Sunderland, Massachusetts, where I will be joining him after the Holidays. This is great news for me in lots of ways. The area is bursting with arts organizations, which will hopefully translate into a job for yours truly, and as a really sweet bonus we will be only a few hours from both our families. (Also, I'm not built for city living, I'll be honest. I'd happily sacrifice a few spare CVS locations for stars at night and fresh air.) We are excited about the apartment, which we love, and for the next chapter of both our lives.

So what am I doing until December, you might be wondering. Well, for one thing, I am moving as well, to a studio apartment in the same building where we live now. The next week or so involves a lot of moving. After the 10-day-hiatus that I am taking from GK, I expect that the next stage will be a bit different, though I am not yet sure exactly how. How can I stay motivated to come up with new ideas when there is no one there to oooh and aaah about it, and just how often will thesis-writing mania and distraction cause me to get a sandwich for dinner from the amazing deli across the street? For those of you cooking for one, I hope GK will become a resource for you as I figure out just how to incorporate fresh, healthy, delicious and cost-effective food into a sole-proprietorship-type-menu. You know, when I'm not having popcorn, peanut butter and Pabst for dinner.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Chipotle Tempeh & Black Bean Burritos

In the wonderful world of meatless cooking, tempeh has the firmest, "meatiest" texture of everything I've tried so far. In Indonesia, It's traditionally been made of soy, but these days you can also find a multi grain version, which also sounds interesting and is perhaps a food for another post on another day. But if you're not familiar with it, like I wasn't, soy or grain, it will look pretty weird (brick-like) to you. Tofu and tempeh are both made from soy, but tempeh is far higher in protein (a beefy 22 g per serving!) as well as fiber and other good stuff. I think it would also be delicious when grilled or in a stir fry, so I'm excited to have discovered another do-anything-you-want-with-it ingredient. With more deceptive seasonings, I think you could serve these and nobody would know that there wasn't any meat involved.
 I crumbled my tempeh and marinated it in some spicy chipotle dressing that I had on hand. You could use something similar, like a store-bought dressing or just some oil, vinegar and spices, but I certainly recommend whipping up a batch of your own. If you're anything like me, once you do, you'll be putting it on everything under the sun. With all the toppings, this recipe makes about 4-6 servings:

1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 12 oz. package tempeh, crumbled (I used the brand Lightlife)
1 1/5 cups fully cooked black beans or 1 15 oz. can, rinsed and drained
1 13 1/2 oz. can tomatoes with green chilies or 2-3 plum tomatoes, diced and seeded, tossed with salt and pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder if you want (clearly this is the slapdash version that yours truly used)
If using fresh tomatoes instead of canned: 1/2 cup vegetable stock or broth
about 1/4 cup chipotle dressing
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped
multi-grain tortillas
Salt and pepper 
Olive oil
Your favorite toppings: Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, shredded lettuce, etc
(I used guacamole, taco cheese, and the tomato salsa mixture above)

1. Toss your crumbled tempeh into a ziplock baggie with the chipotle dressing, or your oil-vinegar-spices marinade. Shake it up and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, or as long as all day. (It soaks it all up, it's amazing).
2. In a saucepan, prepare your brown rice according to the package directions.
3. In a large frying pan, heat about 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat, and cook the onion for about 5 minutes, or until transparent. Add garlic and cook for about 1 more minute, then add spices and salt.
4. Add tempeh and cook for about another 5 minutes, until it's lightly browned. Add black beans and canned tomatoes, if using, and let cook together for about 15 minutes. If you are using a fresh tomato mixture like I did, use it like a fresh salsa topping rather than cooking it with the beans, and instead add the vegetable broth at this time.
5. Spoon some brown rice into a tortilla, add the tempeh mixture and your toppings, and enjoy!
Assembly Phase 1
Phase 2: Fully assembled & super messy in the most delicious way
 These were definitely, definitely delicious, and I think that the chipotle marinade made a big impact on the final outcome. I didn't have any fresh cilantro on hand, but the cilantro in that dressing still came through. I was afraid they might be missing something without the canned tomato, but to my taste, I think this is even more tasty (and definitely more fresh-tasting) than the canned-version would have been. And don't get me wrong, I love tofu, but tempeh is much more "absorbent" when it comes to soaking up flavors. Combined with its substantial texture... What more could you want?

[And if you can find a decent quote about tempeh, I shall eat my hat.]

Monday, July 25, 2011

Red Lentil Salad with Lemony Couscous & Avocado

In one distinct way, I am a very "granola" person: I am a freak for lentils. I love them as a side dish, in soups and salads, or cooked forever and mashed into a dip/spread. I am a big fan of beans in general, and lentils are among the most nutritious of them, beating out even my other favorite (chickpeas) for more protein and less fat per serving. The fat content in beans is nearly negligible, but whatever. I still love lentils. And granola.
The balsamic vinegar in the dressing conceals the natural red color of the lentils somewhat.
This lentil salad recipe is my attempt to mechanize a very odds-and-ends dish that I've tossed together approximately one zillion times. (This is the first time I've used red lentils instead of your basic brownish green variety, which will cook for more like 20-30 minutes instead of 5-10.) You can use basically any vegetables that you want to in this salad. Cucumber and celery are both good, as are fresh herbs, and you could also add Feta, which I sometimes do. Cherry tomatoes really are better for the salad format, but if you just don't have any around (I didn't) plum tomatoes are dandy too. And if couscous isn't your bag, you could serve this on a bed of baby spinach, which is equally delicious:

1 cup red lentils, rinsed, any debris discarded
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3/4 cup bell pepper, any color, coarsely chopped
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved, or 2-3 plum tomatoes diced and seeded
1/2 cup carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 green onion, thinly sliced
1/2 - 1 avocado, sliced lengthwise
Handful of baby spinach (optional)
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

3/4 cup couscous
3/4 cup water or reduced-sodium vegetable broth
The zest and juice of 1 lemon (a little pulp in the juice is ok)
1/4 teaspoon salt

Salad Directions:
1. In a medium sauce pan, bring about 4 cups of water to a boil over medium heat, and add lentils. Stir to separate and simmer uncovered for 5-10 minutes. (You want them tender to the bite, but not soft. Soft lentils are great for spreads, etc, but when their destination is a salad, you want to preserve more of the bean's structural integrity.)
2. When lentils are tender to the bite, drain and allow to mostly cool at room temperature, then cover and chill for at least 1 hour. (See Cook's Note)
3. In a large bowl, whisk together balsamic vinegar, about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper. Add green onion, bell peppers, tomatoes, carrots, and any other veggies you're using.
4. Add lentils to bowl, and gently combine with dressing and veggies. Pour onto serving dish or serve individually, over the couscous, and top with sliced avocado.

Couscous Directions:
5. In your medium sauce pan, bring water or broth, lemon juice and lemon zest to a boil. 
6. In a medium bowl, combine couscous and salt. (If you are using regular-sodium broth, you may want to omit the salt).
7. Pour boiling broth over couscous and allow to sit 10 minutes. Fluff couscous with a fork before serving. 

Cook's Note: This time of year I like to cook my lentils and then chill them before making this salad. You can also do the warm-lentils-cool-veggies thing, but I think a similar effect is created with the cool salad and warm couscous. This makes about 4 servings.
 7 steps seems like a lot to me, because I'm lazy, but as you can see this is super easy and definitely not time-consuming. And so yummy! The salad can easily be a make-ahead, and would be delicious for lunch in a pita pocket, which is extra nice. I'm definitely looking forward to leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Of course, the avocado doesn't travel so well, but even without it this is a tasty, fill-you-up-and-keep-you-going meal.

Quote of the Day: Magnesium is Nature's own calcium channel blocker. When enough magnesium is around, veins and arteries breathe a sigh of relief and relax... Want to literally keep your heart happy? Eat lentils. ~

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta, Fried Sage Leaves & Toasted Pine Nuts

With the heat index reaching 115 yesterday and nearly as night today, the heat wave rages on in Philly and across much of the eastern United States. I will admit that last night we ordered out - vegetarian Stromboli, yum! and yes, we tipped well for the trouble - so tonight I was determined to actually cook something. That is, as long as this "cooking" did not involve my oven, and bonus points if it didn't involve the stove either. Since the sage leaves fry up super fast, I consider this a success. In a perfect (late autumn) world I would cook the squash in the oven until perfectly tender. But that wasn't happening today. I know some chefs like to hate on the microwave, but I think it's a fantastic invention. Tonight it saved me from 1) Chinese takeout and 2) certain death by apartment-overheating.
This recipe is from Serious Eats. I upped the sage slightly, but you can definitely stick to the original 6-8 leaves if you want to:

1 small spaghetti squash, about 2 lbs
6-10 fresh sage leaves
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

1. If you are microwaving your squash, cut it in half lengthwise. Place cut-side-down in a microwave safe dish, and add an inch or two of water, or enough to "seal" the opening of the squash. Microwave on high for about 10-12 minutes or until the squash is softened and its flesh can easily be combed out with a fork.
2. While the squash is cooking, pour a little olive oil in a frying pan and fry the save leaves until crispy, but not brown. When done, crumble them into a large bowl, adding the ricotta, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. When the squash is done, comb flesh into the large bowl. Combine with cheese and sage leaves, transfer to plate or serving platter, and top with toasted pine nuts. I also drizzled a little extra olive oil over it just before serving.

Cook's Note: For more info on toasting nuts, check out my post on pesto-making.
Super simple spinach salad makes a great complement to this dish.
Truthfully, Brady didn't care for this, and I can't really understand why. But like with most things, it all comes down to taste. To me it was a bold, delicious combination of flavors, perfectly just-rich-enough and not too heavy.

Obviously this dish would make more sense in true squash season (I'm a few months ahead of the curve, yadda yadda) but I'm getting just the tiniest bit tired of salads, aren't you?

Quote of the Day: You know, when you get your first asparagus, or your first acorn squash, or your first really good tomato of the season, those are the moments that define the cook's year. I get more excited by that than anything else. ~ Mario Batali

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Couscous with Veggies, Chickpeas, Toasted Almonds, Herbs & A Little Spice

We are in the midst of a very ugly heat wave here in Philadelphia, which I will not bore you with the details of. Except that it is ugly, I am too hot, and I don't want to talk about it. Except to say that I would pay double the value of my student loans for a freak July blizzard. Which is a lot. Moving on.

They (the internet) tell me that whole-wheat couscous is popular amongst the vegetarian set, which I guess shouldn't really surprise me. It's easy to prepare, versatile in its seasoning potential, and can be loaded up with a ton of veggies and beans for a delicious complete-protein meal. So here is the version that I came up with tonight. I got a bit cavalier with combining flavors, so measurements are approximate:

"2 servings" of whole wheat couscous; 3/4 cup before cooking
1 1/2 cups broccoli florets, cut small
1 1/2 cups chickpeas, canned and thoroughly rinsed or fully cooked
2 plum tomatoes, diced and seeded
2-3 good pinches paprika, to taste
2 teaspoons dried dill
1 tablespoon lemon juice, white wine vinegar or jarring juice from queen olives or something similar. (I used the juice from a jar of pepperoncini, which worked great.)
1-2 tablespoons dried parsley, or about 1 tablespoon fresh, coarsely chopped
A few fresh basil leaves per serving, torn
3/4 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup toasted almond slivers
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

Makes 3 main-dish servings.

1. Cook couscous according to package directions.
2. Toss with everything except the basil and almonds.
3. Transfer couscous mixture to plates or a serving platter, and sprinkle with basil leaves and toasted almond slivers - as much or as little as you want.

Cook's Notes: 1) Toasting almond slivers is easy: Toss one-layer's-worth in a dry frying or saute pan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until toasty in color and deliciously aromatic. This doesn't take long. 2) Since I didn't precisely measure the liquids that went into this dish, I would say to start with a little and see how you like it. Of course, if you find that your couscous is a bit too dry, you can add a bit more olive oil and/or juice.
I know - paprika, basil, dill and broccoli - not the most common combination. At the last moment I wondered - what was I thinking? Well, I don't have an answer to that, but somehow this became a delightful combination. Brady hit the nail on the head - it's definitely different, but definitely delicious. The paprika brings a bit of the spice factor while the chickpeas add body and protein, the almonds add crunch and the whole thing is rather herby and delicious.
Couscous in progress. Yumyumyum.
There is probably no way to significantly mess this up. Diced bell peppers would also be delicious in this herb-spice-veggie combination, in addition to or instead of the tomato. It's super easy and also vegan! Everybody wins.

Quote of the Day: Couscous - the food so nice they named it twice. ~ Dale Denton, Pineapple Express (2008)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures in Pesto-Making

Despite all the Italian food I ate growing up, pesto seems to have largely passed me by. This is probably because my grandparents were Sicilian, and pesto originated in Genoa, in northern Italy. Still, because of my love for the stuff (and a great affinity for all fresh herbs, really) I thought I might as well give it a shot.

The first surprise in this process, the product of my internet research, is the idea that you really should blanch your basil before making your pesto. I know, it seems crazy to dip those fresh little leaves in boiling water to keep them from turning an icky brown, but that does seem to be the method. Another trick, which may be combined with the blanching or used in isolation, is to float a thin layer of olive oil over the pesto to protect it from the air, and thereby prevent basil oxidation. Knowing that Tuesday is a long day, on which I usually don't get home until 9:15 or so, I made the sauce last night. To my great relief, it was still lovely and green this evening.

The second surprise was - What? Why are pine nuts so expensive? I still don't have an answer to that, but now that I know that a little goes a long way, I am less distressed about it. They bring all the richness and velvety deliciousness to the sauce, so I can forgive them their hefty price tag.

The yield from this recipe doesn't look like much, but for us it was more than enough, so I would call it about three servings. If you want to get all old-timey, or if you just have anger issues, you can definitely use a mortar and pestle instead of a food processor. I recommend toasting your pine nuts first (see Cook's Note), and of course the pasta you will cook according to the package directions:

3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed plus another couple of leaves for serving
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted plus a few for serving
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove of garlic
1/2 box of whole wheat spaghetti; about 7 oz.

To blanch the basil - 
1. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Bring a pot of water to a boil (large enough that a colander can fit inside).
2. Place basil leaves in boiling water and stir so that they blanch evenly. Leave in water for 15 seconds, then pull colander out and plunge basil into ice water to stop the cooking process.
3. Squeeze excess water from the basil and place in food processor.

To make the pesto:
1. Combine garlic, blanched basil, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil in a food processor and blend to a smooth paste, scraping down the sides as needed.
3. Toss with pasta, sprinkling a few toasted pine nuts and a freshly-torn basil leaf or two on top.

Cook's Note: Toast your pine nuts in a dry frying pan over medium-low heat. Stir frequently and keep a close eye on them, as they burn very easily. Remove from heat when fragrant and slightly golden in color.
I had some adorable baby leaves starting on my otherwise listless and garbage-bound basil plant, so I used those instead of tearing up the big, sad-looking ones. So cute, right?
Yum! Not only was this sauce delicious and easy to make, it is very fragrant and quite lovely to look at, too. If you are so inclined, you can add some fresh parsley along with the basil. The only caveat for this recipe is that if you are not a great lover of garlic, you might want to cut it down. Like, by half. Brady was too stuffed up to notice that I was loading him full of garlicky goodness (yay!) and I'm a big fan of the stuff, so we were both happy, but if your sinuses are functional and you are not a garlic-fiend, you could scale it down a bit.

This worked great as a make-ahead, and tonight took only as much time as it takes to cook the pasta. Once perfected with just the right amount of garlic to suit your taste, this will be a great classic dish to have in your repertoire.

Quote of the Day: Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression. [...] Pounding these things produces an alteration in one's being - from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. ~ Patience Gray

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Grilled Eggplant Sandwiches with Red Onion, Tomato & Fresh Mozzarella

I have a long-standing distaste for eggplant. As a kid, when I tried my grandmother's eggplant Parmesan, I was shocked. Her ravioli, Italian wedding soup, pasta (which she always called "macaroni) and incredible repertoire of Italian cookies were so delicious, so perfectly crafted through decades of practice, each all fantastic in their own right. But this - this mushy, squishy stuff - people actually liked this? And indeed, like it they did. At age 10 (which was probably the last time I ate eggplant, until tonight) I was so utterly horrified by the texture of the vegetable that I had effectively sworn it off.

But 1) it is eggplant season, 2) in theory we all must grow up eventually, and 3) "eggplant" is my favorite color, so I thought it was time I give them another chance. And Brady, the resident eggplant-parm connoisseur, told me that if I like grilled portobellos, then the texture of eggplant would probably not gross me out anymore. There are many varieties of eggplant, and I was lucky enough to find one of the fanciest-looking ones at my very own grocery store:

 This sandwich, which is somewhat like a Mediterranean veggie burger, combines two to three slices of grilled eggplant with fresh tomato, mozzarella, some thinly sliced red onion with a bit of balsamic vinegar on bakery rolls. The Kaiser rolls we had on hand were slightly over-sized with respect to the circumference of the eggplant, so for high presentation points you probably want to use a globe eggplant and/or smaller buns, or toasted English muffins (why didn't I think of that before?). Likewise, larger balls of mozzarella make for better stacking. My recipe serves two:

1 eggplant of any variety, sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch-thick rounds
1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into 1/4 inch-thick slices 
1 slicing tomato, cut into... you guessed it, 1/4 inch-thick slices
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 buns or English muffins
Balsamic vinegar
Red or white wine vinegar
Cooking spray
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Line a tray or platter with paper towels. Lay the rounds of eggplant on the paper towels in a single layer. Salt generously on both sides and allow to sit while you prepare the other ingredients.*
2. In a shallow dish, combine 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar and 1 tablespoon of red or white wine vinegar, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Place sliced onions and tomatoes in the dish and turn to coat.
3. Spray a grill pan with cooking spray and heat it up over high heat.
4. When the eggplant slices have been sitting for at least 15 minutes, pat dry with paper towels and brush on both sides with olive oil. Grill for 3-4 minutes per side. Meanwhile, toast your buns, if desired.
5. To build your sandwich, first lay out your buns. Then stack two to three grilled eggplant slices, adding a slice or two of tomato and some red onion on top. Add a slice or two of fresh mozzarella and top with some fresh basil leaves.

Cook's Note: The salting-over-paper-towels step and general concept for this sandwich came from Elise's Grilled Eggplant Sandwich Recipe on Her cooking instructions offer much more direction for using a traditional grill, but they can be easily adapted to grill pans, broilers or George Foreman Grills.
Sandwich construction: Phase 1, where I realize that Kaiser rolls are either too large or too small for this sandwich, and I can't decide which.
So, here's the thing. I can't really claim to be an eggplant convert. I can't say that the texture didn't gross me out a little, or that I didn't wonder what this fancy-looking vegetable was doing with all those thousands of tiny seeds. What I can say is that like many things, I can definitely enjoy it on a "once in a while" basis, or purely as a change of pace from my usual favorite ingredients. It didn't hurt that the other things in this sandwich - the mozzarella, the tomato, basil and red onion - are all among my top-10 favorites.
Still, I really can't hate on this sandwich. It's all the flavors of summer wrapped up in a soft, yummy roll. Get on it!

Quote of the Day: I doubt that the imagination can be suppressed. If you truly eradicated it in a child, he would grow up to be an eggplant. ~ Ursula K. LeGuin

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Reflections on Veggie Week & A New Resolution

I haven't done the most fantastic job of documenting the second half of Veggie Week here at GK, but I want to say that I consider it an unequivocal success. With a little planning, a consideration for nutritional balance (which we should all be doing anyway), and a sense that what you are doing is important, it was barely even a challenge. I never felt as though I was missing anything, and I felt that I was making principled, conscious choices that translated into meaningful decision-making. Okay, I admit that I am taking a Leadership class right now that has me all wrapped up in examining and clarifying my own values and corresponding actions, but again I say, we should all be giving our daily choices this kind of thought. In this case, our daily bread.

There was a small corner of my mind where I wondered, when deciding to go meat-free for seven days, if this would prompt me to give up meat altogether. I think that vegetarianism on ethical grounds is a noble choice, and I admire and respect anyone capable of daily placing their beliefs before their whims, desires and habits, but at this moment in my life, I think a slightly more flexible commitment is in order: I have decided that I will consume meat (beef, pork and poultry) no more than two times per week (probably 1 time, on average) and seafood not more than one time in the same period. Since it is eminently attainable and grounded in the intersection of my tastes and beliefs, this is a meaningful choice in my life.

And there is another truth to this: Money. As a graduate student working part-time who will soon be living on her own (a story for another day), money is a constant consideration. Vegetarian meals are generally less expensive to prepare, and will surely be a part of my everyday life. For some people this would probably feel like a sacrifice, but for me, it feels like an opportunity. There are lean times in all of our lives, and I welcome the challenge to eat well and often without breaking the bank. But yes, when this student goes home to visit family, I plan to abide by the resolution I've made. It's not just about who is footing the bill.

I can't pretend to know what the future holds. GK has forced me to confront many of my beliefs about food, and solidified my long-held beliefs about the importance of what we eat. But writing this blog has also lead me to recognize that just as my life situation is changing and will continue to change, our habits must change in step with our ideas and beliefs. If you say that your planet and your health are important to you, what are you doing daily to further these dialogues? To put it simply, you have to walk the talk. I hope many of my omnivorous readers will consider embarking on a Veggie Week of their own.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Veggie Week: Quinoa & Corn Chowder from Savvy Vegetarian

It didn't reach 90 degrees today, so I celebrated by making soup.

I'm a big fan of quinoa in general, but especially when cooking vegetarian, there aren't too many other foods that are as nutritionally dense or as versatile. And since I've often been told that it is great in soups, and there was a large bag of frozen corn in my apartment that needed to be used, I went in search of something that used both. Success! Though I didn't follow the recipe from Savvy Vegetarian to the letter (I substituted 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper for the jalapeno that I forgot to pick up), it was certainly the backbone of my attempt.

This didn't come out with quite the spice factor that I was expecting, despite the rich flavor from all the spices it involves (ginger, coriander, oregano, thyme, bay leaf, cayenne) but this is undoubtedly because of my jalapeno substitution. If you're looking for a milder soup, that's a good way to go. Still, the flavors were balanced and delicious, and a little cilantro on top brought it all together. Edit: My spice-meter isn't very sensitive, so judge the heat for yourself!
A sprinkling of cilantro makes all the difference
 I think what makes quinoa so yummy in soups in general - and this one in particular - is the texture it provides. It has the body and satisfying starchyness of rice but with the tiniest amount of "pop" when you bite through the case. This probably sounds weird if you've never tried quinoa before, but please don't let my word choice deter you. You can do just about anything with it, it's nearly impossible to mess up, and it is nutritious.

This would be so, so delicious using leftover grilled corn, or the frozen "roasted" variety.

Quote of the Day: A man of knowledge, like a rich soil, feeds/ If not a world of corn, a world of weeds. ~ Benjamin Franklin

EDIT: It's even better the next day!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Veggie Week: Greekish Chickpea Pockets

With a retail shift in the morning followed by 6 hours of class, Tuesdays are pretty killer. But now I have one more tasty, healthy meal to add to my I-know-I'll-be-too-tired-to-cook-when-I-get-home arsenal, and it's these tasty pita pockets. I made the filling last night, and I am super grateful for that teeny bit of foresight. Not only was dinner super fast to throw together, but I think sitting in the fridge overnight improved the flavor.

I didn't change the recipe enough to claim any significant contribution, so I'll let the link speak for itself. I used whole wheat pitas, and I think I used a bit more mayo, but that is all a matter of taste. Of course, plain Greek yogurt would also be a good "glue" for this chickpea salad. I served mine with some fresh (local!) Romaine, and sliced tomato tucked in.

Simple, fresh, and vegetarian, these would also make a great pack-along lunch (with filling and pita stored separately of course).

Quote of the Day: And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul? Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul. ~ Plato

Monday, July 11, 2011

Veggie Week: Portobello Mushroom Cheeseburgers on Pretzel Rolls & Stoplight Salad

As is inevitable, the menu for this week got switched around a little bit. Last night I made sesame-peanut noodles with broccoli, which while delicious, wasn't anything exceptional. I used a jarred sauce, okay? I admit it. I did doctor it to make it more delicious, but I can't act like I now know how to make a peanut sauce. So, moving right along, we find ourselves here at the Portobello burgers that I promised you yesterday.

Portobellos have long been the omnivore's cookout concession to their vegetarian friends, which has earned them kind of a bad rap. They're looked at by the meat-eating population as a bland, bloodless (literally) farce of a burger. This is pretty unfortunate. I won't even get into the question of whether they're "just as good" as a beef burger, because that's a fight nobody is winning, but I will say that they are certainly delicious. The texture is a bit softer than I was expecting, but the yummy nutty flavor made up for it. Mine were grown in Chester, Pennsylvania, which is a big plus to good sense and a big minus on fuel use. I based my 'bellos off of this recipe:

Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Portobello mushroom cap - 1 per serving
Goat cheese (I used garlic & herb), slightly softened
Pretzel roll, or other fresh deli roll
Veggies for topping, like lettuce and/or tomato, & condiments

1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper to form a vinaigrette. Pour this mixture into a shallow bowl or container, and place both mushroom caps inside.
2. Allow mushrooms to marinate at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, flipping once. (For the sheer fun of it, when they were upside down I filled in the little crevices in the underside with the balsamic mixture. As a flavor-boosting technique, It was pretty effective).
3. Heat grill or grill pan on medium heat, and grill the mushroom caps for about 5 minutes per side, or until tender.
4. Once cooked, spread the mushroom caps with goat cheese, pop them in a bun, and top with whatever you like. (We had ours with some baby spinach on top.)

Brady is admittedly not the hugest fan of mushrooms, but I think he wants to like them, so when I ran this idea by him he was on board, and ultimately did enjoy them. This is one of the things that I really love about him: Whether in food or politics or anything else, he is interested in new ideas and experiences. I know so many guys that would think Veggie Week was an incredibly dumb idea and not even pretend to play along. This is why I am not dating any of those guys.

As for the salad... I am a huge fan of zucchini, and at this time of year, I'm coming up with every reason I can think of to eat them. Stoplight salad is a super simple, tasty way: Slice up some zucchini, yellow summer squash, and red bell pepper, and toss with a little olive oil and vinegar, or a vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing. (Also, I just came up with the name "Stoplight Salad" today - is it working, or is it too Rachel Ray? Sometimes I need to be saved from myself.)  

Portobellos make a pretty satisfying meal, I would say, though I was pretty surprised to find that they only contain about 3 grams of protein. I think it is only surprising because they've been compared to burgers for so long that I assumed the protein count was a little closer to being comparable. Nope! Still, I ate a Greek yogurt earlier today that had a whopping 14 grams of protein in it, so don't think that veggie week is going to kill me or anything.

Brady tells me that the texture of these portobellos, when grilled, is very similar to eggplant, something I have avoided like poison since an unsavory experience with it in my childhood. I guess an eggplant recipe or two is in our future.

Quote of the Day: Love is like a poisonous mushroom: You don't know if it's the real thing until it's too late. ~ Unknown

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Veggie Week: Arugula & Alfalfa Sprout Salad with Chickpeas, Walnuts & Strawberries

The leftover alfalfa lurking in my refrigerator leftover from this heavenly sandwich endeavor conspired with the peak of strawberry season (at least here in Philadelphia) to inspire this salad. I won't lie, I bought two 1-lb boxes of beautiful strawberries at the store this afternoon, and currently there is exactly one box residing in my kitchen. But when they're this good, why resist?
Look at all that delicious biodiversity.
This salad is just as the title describes it, with just the sliced yellow and pale green parts of a green onion tossed in. I made a vinaigrette with canola oil (yep, I forgot to get olive oil at the store) and lime juice with a dash of salt and pepper. 

And about 3/4 lb of strawberries for dessert.

Quote of the Day #2: This special feeling we have towards fruit, its glory and abundance, is I would say universal... We respond to strawberry fields or cherry orchards with a delight that a cabbage patch or even an elegant vegetable garden cannot provide. ~ Jane Grigson

Vegetarian Week in the Guerilla Kitchen

If you've read this blog before, you know that I'm generally very interested in meat-free meals, partly out of sheer curiosity and partly as a means of being a more responsible resident of the planet Earth. (And if you haven't read GK before, Hi! My name is Genevieve and I'm sort if a pretend-sometimes-not-really-vegetarian). So, since much of the food I prepare is meatless anyway, Brady and I decided to take on the challenge of one full week, meat-free, and chose this week for the experiment.

I'm not going to delude myself into believing that I could, or will give up all meat forever and always, but there are so many reasons today to consider cutting back on our individual meat consumption. Historically, the more we are able to produce, the more we consume, and become accustomed to consuming, to the detriment of our health and environment. Today, there is nearly three times as much chicken meat available per capita in this country than in 1950, with individual beef consumption reaching a staggering 90 lbs per year, representing a steady increase from the opening of the first McDonalds restaurant about twenty years earlier. The point is, we haven't always eaten this way, and the amount of meat that many of us are eating is far beyond what we have evolved to need for optimum health. One of my biggest beefs (hah, hah) with meat production, though, is the amount of water needed to get a steak from the "farm" (factory) to your plate. If every American ate beef one less time this week, we could save over 467, 592, 039, 000 gallons in just seven days* - Over 4.5 trillion gallons. And that would be pretty cool, right?
Click here for the full-sized version

Like many people, I grew up in a household where a meal wasn't considered "complete" unless it involved some form of meat. My parents had the best of intentions, of course, like most do: They wanted their kids to get the best nutrition possible so that we might grow up to be strong and healthy adults. But knowing what we now know about the global effects of meat production and alternative protein sources, maybe it's time to be more conscious about these choices. We love and admire them, but we are not our parents, after all.

This veggie-week idea presents a bit more of a challenge for Brady since he tends to grab lunch near his office, but thanks working on the UPenn campus, there are lots of delicious veggie options. Thank goodness for those ethical-vegetarian college kids.

I am certain that I will not be able to blog about each dinner individually, so here's a run-down of the plan for the week:

Saturday: Arugula & alfalfa sprout salad with chickpeas, walnuts and strawberries
Sunday: Portobello mushroom cheeseburgers
Monday: Chickpea-salad pita sandwiches
Tuesday: Sesame-peanut noodles with broccoli
Wednesday: Quinoa corn chowder
Thursday: Black bean taco salad
Friday: Tofu scramble with peppers, onion, carrots & spices
Saturday: Cheese tortellini with fresh peas, summer squash & red onion

Looks good, right? I don't think I'll be missing meat at all. Maybe you don't feel the need to go all-veggie for a full week, but maybe you'd like to commit one or two days to alternative protein sources. Take a shot at it - small changes make a big difference.

Quote of the Day: Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival for life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet. ~ Albert Einstein

*Calculation based on the US & World Population clock (311,728, 026) x 1,500 gallons per lb. of beef from water-use infographic.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Double-Decker Pear, Havarti & Alfalfa Sprout Sandwich on Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I got the idea for this sandwich somewhere on the intertubes, but at the moment am unable to find the source. Suffice to say that the idea was not mine, but that I adore and am very grateful to the brilliant mind that thought it up. And wrote about it. On the internet.

This sweet and savory creation is what I would call a "fancy sandwich." Of course, it is still a sandwich, so its fancy only because of the scrumptious, high-quality ingredients that go into it. I am an enormous fan of creamy Danish Havarti, but this would also be delicious with brie. The sweetness of the cinnamon raisin bread is fantastic with just a little schmear of cream cheese to bring out the spice and the flavor of the sprouts.
Cinnamon raisin bread - three slices per sandwich. I used Pepperidge Farm.
Alfalfa sprouts
Havarti or brie cheese, sliced as thinly as possible
Cream cheese - I used the "1/3 less fat" variety
1 Bartlett pear, thinly sliced (this is enough for two sandwiches)

1. Toast your cinnamon raisin bread, and apply a thin layer of cream cheese to one side of each slice.
2. To assemble, layer cheese and pear on one slice of bread, then pile a tuft of alfalfa on top. Add a second slice of bread and repeat.
3. Serve with a vegetable or salad, but be sure to eat it while the bread is still warm. (Alternatively, let the toast cool before building your sandwiches and they would be fantastic to take on a picnic. Que romantico!)

These sandwiches are magic, so I'm a bit sad that nighttime photography is such a futile endeavor in my kitchen. Perhaps you will just have to take my word for it when I say that they are as lovely as they are delicious, and a huge bang for your effort buck. I served mine with some steamed green beans.

Quote of the Day: Sandwiches are wonderful. You don't need a spoon or a plate! ~ Paul Lynde

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guerilla Kitchen is on Twitter!

It has finally happened - Guerilla Kitchen has joined the Twitterverse. Follow me at!/Genevieve_GK for speedy updates and more food info of all kinds.

Spinach Salad with Steak, Blueberries & Feta

Greetings! I hope my American readers had a lovely 4th of July full of fireworks, fun, and delicious food and drink. Mine, which I spent with family on Cape Cod, involved all of these things. I'm not a hot-dog-eater, but between ribs and kebabs and the obligatory Cape Cod seafood and Cape Cod Beer, this semivegetarian was a bit overwhelmed there for a minute. So you would think that now, being back in Philly, I would be eating nonstop salads and no meat whatsoever, right?

Well, kind of. This is indeed a salad, but I topped it with the only type of animal I did not eat this weekend: Beef, steak-style. I guess I wasn't ready to give up the meatfest yet. And let me tell you, if you think steak and blueberries and feta would be strange together in the same dish, you and I are on just the same wavelength. I thought it could be strange in a refreshing and delicious way, though, and I do believe I was right! Don't you love that? Also I used local blueberries, and I'm feeling a little bit smug about it.

For us, this made plenty for dinner with enough of everything left over for a lunch tomorrow.
1/2 to 3/4 lb boneless sirloin 
Baby spinach - 2-3 generous handfuls
Feta cheese, or Feta crumbles, to taste
Handful or two of blueberries, washed
Garlic powder
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
White wine, red wine, or balsamic vinegar

1. In a plastic food storage bag or container, drizzle the beef with a little olive oil and vinegar, and sprinkle with plenty of salt and pepper. Also add paprika and garlic powder if desired. Turn, shake, or mush around manually to coat meat evenly. Allowed to marinate in the refridgerator for at least one hour.
2. Add a bit of olive oil or cooking spray to a grill pan or frying pan, and heat on a medium setting. Cook your beef according to your preference. (I like to sear mine on high heat for just a couple of minutes per side, to keep it rare at the center.) This will depend on the thickness of your cut of meat.*
3. When meat is done, transfer to a cutting board and allow to partially cool. Slice thinly, against the grain. (If serving at a later time, slice and refrigerate).
4. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
5. In a large bowl, toss baby spinach in the dressing you just made. Add your blueberries, and toss to coat. You can add the beef now and toss that as well, or add it more as a topping.
6. Transfer the spinach mixture to a serving platter, serving bowl, or individual bowls, and crumble Feta over the top.

*Can you tell I don't know that much about meat? Yes? Fine.
 Of course, this would be a great fix for leftover beef or steak tips. Especially if they're grilled leftovers. Yummy. We had this salad with some fresh french bread, which we dipped in the dressing. Delicious! And nutritionally, this meal gets high points for antioxidants and major iron content. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go see if I've become magnetic yet.

Food Facts: Feta is traditionally made of sheep's or goat's milk. The milk, curdled with rennet, is separated and allowed to drain in a special mold or a cloth bag.  It is cut into large slices (feta means 'slice') that are salted and then packed in barrels filled with whey or brine.

... And Food Facts for the Extra Nerdy: It is believed that the sheep's milk cheese that Polyphemus the Cyclops made in his caves in Homer's 'Odyssey' was most likely an early form of feta cheese. Sourced from