Friday, December 30, 2011

Easy Greek Pizza

On Wednesday night, I once again proved myself as a Kitchen Debutante when I made a failure of a pizza. I mean, it wasn't a total failure. I enjoyed eating it, and the flavors were good.

The problem was the crust. You might remember the last time I made homemade pizza--at the beginning of October. That crust recipe was enough for two pizzas, so I put the second ball of dough in the freezer. And finally, almost three months later, I got it out to thaw this week.

It probably could have been fine. Unfortunately, I'm dumb, and I only let it thaw in the fridge for a day. I should have let it sit out on the counter or a couple hours. Maybe? I don't know. :) I'm new to this.

By the time I started rolling it out, it wasn't frozen at all, but cold. It would not stretch. I would roll it out, and it would immediately spring back to its smaller shape. I tried "tossing" it on my fists, dangling it and letting it stretch itself, and using some good, ol' fashioned elbow grease, but nothing worked. I couldn't get it any bigger than a 10" diameter, and it was nearly half an inch thick.

Instead of perservering, I merely continued. The result? A doughy pan crust. It tasted good, and the toppings were great, but the texture of the crust.... *shudder*

Anyway, I wanted to make a Greek-flavored pizza, so I topped my whole wheat crust with an olive oil glaze, kale sauteed with garlic, black olives, feta, and a TINY bit of mozzarella and cheddar (as in one handful of each around the entire pizza). I also sprinkled on some nutritional yeast, just for good measure.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chili: Unveiled

I've posted about chili many times now. First, I confessed my addiction by whipping up a quick, cheater's version during the hottest days of the summer. Then I used the leftovers to top a veggie burger. Then I made another (botched) batch to stuff an acorn squash.

And now, at last, I have a recipe to share with you--a recipe that I can proudly share because I know it rocks. Half the problem with my previous attempts was not the ingredients at all, but the fact that I didn't let it simmer.

Yes. You HAVE to let it simmer. For HOURS. And if you want it to be even better, you'll let it simmer, and then leave it in the fridge overnight, and FINALLY eat it the following day for lunch. In a mason jar.

But that's only if you love yourself. If you hate yourself, then sure: go ahead and eat it as soon as it's all assembled. But don't say I didn't warn you!

P.S. I used Westbrae Organic Chili Beans in this recipe. I don't normally specify brands, or differentiate between organic and conventional, because I feel like those decisions should be left to the individual cook. However, I love these beans because they are a mix of three different beans (black, kidney, and pinto), without the usual chili gravy. This way, I had total control of my chili's seasoning.

Lauren's 3-Bean and Quinoa Chili
  • 1/4 c quinoa
  • 1/2 of a white onion, diced (not finely!)
  • 1 - 15 oz.can tomato sauce
  • 1 - 15 oz. can stewed tomatoes, chopped into quarters
  • 1 - 4.5 oz. can chopped green peppers
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 2 tsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. Blackstrap molasses
  • small handful of dark chocolate chips
  • 1 - 15 oz. can black beans
  • 1 - 15 oz. can Westbrae Organic Chili Beans
  • salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes

1. In a large pot, cook 1/4 cup of quinoa according to instructions. Remember, it is better to UNDERCOOK your quinoa for this recipe, since you'll be simmering them later (right??).

2. Cook your onions on medium high heat in some olive oil in another pan for several minutes until they are translucent. Stir them frequently.

3. Combine your quinoa and onions to the large pot, and add the tomato sauce, stewed tomatoes, chopped green peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, molasses, and chocolate chips. Stir. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes.

4. Stir again. Add both cans of beans. If your stove is super hot and your chili is practically boiling, you'll need to turn the heat down to low.

5. Taste. Add salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes (or cayenne pepper) as you deem necessary.

6. You could eat it now. But it won't be special. What you should do is let it simmer for an hour. Or at least half an hour. I even put mine in the fridge afterwards, and reheated it the next day. All of this helps thicken it up and make all the ingredients work together beautifully.

You can eat this plain, or top it with cheese, Greek yogurt, sour cream, chives, or green onions, or serve it with a nice chunk of cornbread. Or, if you're really fancy, you could bake it in a mason jar with cornbread on top. I'm dying to try that sometime.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No more Potter.

This morning, I eagerly wondered what would happen in the world of Harry Potter today. I thought back to the horror of meeting Voldemort in the cemetery at Little Hangleton, to the delight when Sirius wrote the note giving permission for Harry to visit Hogsmeade, to my giggles imagining the charming arrogance of young James and Sirius taking their O.W.L.s, to the pain of watching Draco's slow transformation from rude child to dangerous bully to someone who's actually human. What would I experience today?

And then, with a stab to my chest, I remembered it was over. There was nothing left. I consumed the final page of Deathly Hallows last night at 2 AM. Never again would I experience the same thrills that I've had for the past several months. Never again would I finish one of those chapters, only to read the final sentence and feel an intense longing to keep reading, to continue the journey, to find out what happens.

Normally, one read is enough for me. When I finish a book, I feel a strange rush of pride; I suffered many years of the "I don't like to read" phenomenon in my adolescence--which is why I never experienced Hogwarts earlier--so actually finishing a long novel gives me an immense sense of accomplishment. I close the book, look at all the pages I have finished, smile to myself, and set the book back on its place on my bookshelf, where it will sit for a long time, probably never to be read again.

Never before have I felt such a desire to reread a book. I keep thinking back to those early books in the series, and reminiscing the happy, innocent tone of them, and realizing I have so many gaps in my memory about what actually happened in them. I want to relive it.

But this isn't an option. My bookshelf still contains a couple dozen books that are starved for attention, that have been calling my name for several years, that were offended by my decision to skip my planned reading list and immerse myself into the world of Harry Potter. Yes, there is still so much left to read. I need to move on.

...But moving on doesn't mean I won't be visiting Wizarding World of Harry Potter after graduation with Tiffany. ;)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Not-so-white Christmas

Is this real life?

Best. Winter. Break. EVER.

Some people might be disappointed not to have a white Christmas, and this will be the first year of my life that we haven't had ANY snow on Christmas. But you know what? A brown Christmas is a sacrifice I'm willing to make for THIS beautiful of a December. Sure, we had a billion inches of snow by THANKSGIVING last year, but we also had to suffer through -10 highs, -40 wind chills, icy roads, and constant blizzards. Given the choice, I pick the brown Christmas. I'm so grateful for this weather. I hope it keeps up throughout the winter!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Meatless Meatball Marinara

Behold! Heaven on bread. Actually, the bread was heaven, too... Heaven on a plate.

It's even better than the Christmas decorations.
Yes, I know I said I was going to make this two days ago, but you know how life goes. So TODAY, I finally got to work.

Even in my meat-eating days, I've only had a meatball marina sub once. It was last April, right after I temporarily switched to a high-calorie diet. My friend Natalie and I decided to meet for lunch at Subway. I had always gotten the same sub (turkey), but I realized suddenly that this was an excellent opportunity to carelessly pile on the calories. Eagerly, I went on the Subway website and checked out the nutritional information. I scanned the chart for the highest calorie sandwiches. Bam! Meatball marinara. At the time, it was second only to the Big Philly Cheesesteak (although they have since added more in the 500-calorie range).

Oh man. It was pretty good. I am a little skeptical about Subway, due to the high sodium, controversial ingredients in their "fresh" bread, and that AWFUL smell of the restaurants that just CLINGS to your clothes for hours, but this sub was delicious. In a wrong, sick way.

I'm not sure how I got the idea to recreate this sandwich. I've been wanting to incorporate more lentils into my diet, so I was thinking of making meatballs again. And this idea came to me. I was planning on just using regular bread, or perhaps "Thin Buns" (I love those things), but then something better stumbled into my hands. My boss randomly makes Italian-herb baguettes from time to time, and on Tuesday, he had a loaf for me.

He said to me, "When you leave tonight, you can take one of those loaves."

I pursed my lips thoughtfully and replied, "Hmm....maybe!"

To which he replied with a smile, "Oh no, that wasn't a request. That was an order. You're taking one of those loaves." ;)

And then I realized this bread would be perfect for my sandwich. So after weeks of considering this recipe, I finally put it into execution.

The meatballs are adapted from my favorite veggie burger recipe, Jennifer Perillo's lentil burgers. I have raved about these before. They rock, and they're so versatile! When I made this batch, I didn't even shape any of them into patties; I put them all in balls. Some were used for this sandwich, some will be used for pasta, and others will be crumbled up for other things (pasta, chili, etc.). Love this stuff.

Lauren's Lentil Balls
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked lentils
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. oil
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oat bran (OR breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tsp. sage
  • 1 tsp. fennel
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
Cook the onions in a tablespoon or two of oil over medium high heat until translucent. Remove from heat. (I did this step while my lentils were simmering).

Transfer lentils to a large bowl. Mash or puree with a stick/immersion blender (or do this in your food processor). DON'T puree it all the way! I keep around half of them whole.

In a small bowl, mix water, oil, and baking powder. This is the replacement for the egg (which I never seem to have on hand these days; I guess you could say I've taken on a vegan-inclined diet when cooking at home). So alternatively, you could just use an egg. :) Add the mixture, OR a lightly beaten egg, to the lentils.

Add the onion and oat bran. Mix. Add sage, fennel, black pepper, and salt. Mix again.

Shape into your preferred shape. The possibilities are endless! In fact, I bet if you added more spices (cayenne!!), they would transform into some fantastic breakfast sausages. :)

Refrigerate them for an hour or two (or longer!) before frying in a little oil on all sides.

For the meatball marina sandwich:

After the meatballs were browned on all sides, I added the marina to the pan. As it turns out, this was a terrible idea. Hot pan + cold sauce = sizzle, splatter, and hiss. Duh! (Proof that I'm still a kitchen debutante.) Try heating up the marina separately before adding!

I cut off a 5-inch chunk of the baguette and sliced it in half. I toasted it slightly on our Pizzazz. :)

And then I assembled it all. :) And DANG. It tasted SO GOOD. I actually felt a sense of loss when I had finished it all. I will definitely be using the remains of my baguette to repeat this meal!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What I've been up to..

So I've been pretty active in my kitchen lately, now that I don't have to spend allllllllll my time on homework and reading assignments. For some reason, now of it has ended up on the blog, so I thought I'd sum it all up now. :)

A couple days ago, I made baked oatmeal for the first time. I tried a pumpkin variation, using this recipe. Except I didn't have any eggs, so I vegan-ized it. It was quite wonderful. The only downfall is that baked oatmeal takes so long to make! I can whip up my stove top oatmeal in less than ten minutes, including cook time. This oatmeal requires about half an hour.

Yesterday, I made my signature tomato sauce. I was about halfway through when I remembered I was supposed to be keeping track of how much of everything I put in (so I could share the recipe). So I guess that will have to wait until next time. Anyway, I just used it for some pasta. I used whole wheat linguini, with a ginormous heap of spinach and mixed greens salad with feta and sunflower seeds, drizzled with olive oil to hold it all together. A great meal. :)

Anyway, the real reason I made the tomato sauce was because I had a genius plan for today. Using Jennifer Perillo's lentil burger recipe, I will be making "meatballs." Then, I will assemble it into a meatball marinara sandwich. I have a fantastic loaf of bread that my boss gave me yesterday; it's a garlic-y baguette with Italian herbs on top. My meatballs will love it. :) I will let you know how this all turns out.

And this morning, I made whole wheat pumpkin waffles. They pretty much made my apartment smell like Christmas! Because maple syrup makes me sick, I slathered a light coating of peanut butter on mine, and then lightly drizzled it with honey. Then I tossed on a handful of raisins, for good measure. Num, num, num. :)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Oatmeal Addict

I really love oatmeal. It's not just something I eat in the winter time, and it's not something I eat once a month. I have it at least four times a week, all year round.

I had oatmeal for the first time two years ago, during my sophomore year of college. I knew I needed more soluble fiber in my diet to get my digestion issues under control, but I also wanted a low-cal option to help me lose my freshmen you-don't-even-want-to-know-how-much.

I first tried the Quaker Instant Banana Bread flavor. Wow. I can remember being a little apprehensive of it at first (so mushy!), but the flavor appealed to me, so I stuck with it. By the time I finished that box, I was hooked.

That year, when I was home for spring break, all my mom had in the pantry was the giant carton of instant Quaker oats. I was so addicted to my daily bowl of oatmeal that I was willing to try it out.

I made it like I used to make Cream of Wheat. After I took it out of the microwave, I added butter, cinnamon, and sugar. And then I tried it. And gagged. So I added chocolate. And gagged again.

Flavored oatmeal packets spoil your taste buds with artificial flavoring and tons of sugar. And if you don't know how to prepare unflavored oatmeal properly (which I didn't), it makes the transition even more appalling.
Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal

Needless to say, I have come a long way. I now find flavored oatmeal packets revolting (although I still smile as I remember my mornings in my dorm room, digging into a warm bowl of Banana Bread goodness while I checked my Facebook). And I can whip up a mean bowl of oatmeal.

So, my Christmas present from me to you:

5 Easy, Adaptable Oatmeal Recipes

Dark Chocolate Banana Oatmeal
There are several ways to achieve this, but my favorite is by using Dark Chocolate almond milk. Which is heavenly, but I rarely let myself buy it because it's what I call a "frivolous purchase." But when I do buy it, I always make sure to have bananas on hand so I can make this delightful breakfast.
  • 1/4 cup Dark Chocolate almond milk
  • 1/4 cup regular almond milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Old-Fashioned/Regular Rolled Oats
  • 1 ripe banana
  • additional mix-ins (I suggest chopped almonds or walnuts)

Bring milks and water to a boil. Add oats. Reduce heat to medium. Mash half the banana and mix it into the cooking oatmeal. Slice the other half of banana and add to the pot. Stir occasionally until oatmeal is thick and creamy. Add chopped almonds or walnuts. Serve with another splash of regular almond milk.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
This is one of my favorites to make, simply because I friggin' love apples!
  • 1/2 cup regular Almond Milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Old Fashioned/Regular Rolled Oats
  • 1/2 (or a full) medium apple (I typically put in about 1/3 of an apple and eat the rest sliced with peanut butter)
  • vanilla extract
  • cinnamon
  • additional mix-ins (I suggest chopped almonds and raisins)
Brink milk and water to a boil and add oats. Reduce heat to medium. Slice and dice about half an apple, or all of it if you want. When oatmeal gets closer to finished, add a splash of vanilla extract (maybe 1/2 a tsp or so?) and a bunch of cinnamon. Add almonds, raisins, whatever. Serve with another splash of almond milk and another sprinkling of cinnamon.

Peanut Butter Oatmeal
This one is easy, but so delicious.
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Old Fashioned/Regular Rolled Oats
  • peanut butter
  • vanilla extract
  • cinnamon
  • additional mix-ins (nuts, raisins, banana, jelly, sunflower seeds, etc.)
Brink milk and water to a boil and add oats. Reduce heat to medium. Wait until the oatmeal thickens up a little bit, and then add a spoonful or two of peanut butter, a splash of vanilla extract, and a sprinkling of cinnamon. Add any other mix-ins you desire, and serve with another splash of almond milk.

Oatmeal with Jam, Jelly, or Preserves
This one is super easy. It's my go-to recipe when I have no fruit or peanut butter on hand.
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Old Fashioned/Regular Rolled Oats
  • any flavor jam, jelly, preserve, or fruit butter (peach, strawberry, or raspberry work beautifully for this recipe)
  • 1/2 tsp almond or vanilla extract
  • additional mix-ins (I go with my standard: raisins and chopped almonds)
Brink milk and water to a boil and add oats. Reduce heat to medium. Wait until the oatmeal thickens. Add a heaping spoonful of jam/jelly, and then the almond extract. Stir (a lot) until the jelly mixes into the oatmeal; this takes some patience. Add other mix-ins and serve with another splash of almond milk.

Oatmeal with Fresh Fruit
Out of all my "creative" oatmeal recipes, this one--in all its simplicity--continues to be my favorite. I have two versions: one with almond extract, and one with vanilla and cinnamon. It's so simple, I'm not even going to write a recipe. For blueberries and cherries, I suggest almond extract. For everything else, I suggest vanilla extract and cinnamon.

Add your fruit right away (unless you're using blueberries. Add those when you would add your "mix-ins" or they'll pop and stain your oatmeal all blue). Wait until your oatmeal thickens, and then add extract (and cinnamon, if you're using vanilla). Then add the other mix-ins.

Cinnamon Oatmeal with Fresh Peaches
**You can check out my other oatmeal recipes here, or by clicking the oatmeal tag. You can also find dozens of other oatmeal recipes on my Pinterest board (along with tons of other meatless recipes!). Thanks!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recipe: Butternut Squash & Pear Bisque

My semester is slowwwwwwly crawling to a close. I'm not really sure if any length of a Christmas break would be enough to recover from this whirlwind! I have several papers to compose this weekend, but I purchased a squash and pear this week specifically for this awesome-looking recipe, so I took some time off homework to hit up my kitchen.

I found the recipe on Pinterest, the best site ever. The recipe looked good, but it involved onions (which I hate buying for no explainable reason), cream (I prefer to avoid dairy), chicken stock (...yeah), and curry seasoning (I should probably buy some of this...someday...but not today). So I decided to take the general idea and apply it to my standard creamy soup template.

I was really pleased with the result. After the first taste, I couldn't really taste the pear, and it tasted like my regular butternut squash soup. Had all my work been a waste? But then I sat down with a bowl and tried again. Woah. Suddenly I noticed the subtle sweetness. It wasn't a burst of PEAR, but an enhanced level of the squash's sweetness. Because I'm a poor college student who generally opts for simplicity, I rarely experience this kind of flavor depth in my kitchen.

Would I make this again? Yes.
Would I make it for others? Absolutely.

Butternut Squash & Pear Bisque
Inspired by this recipe by Memories in the Baking

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 pear (Anjou or Bartlett), peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove minced garlic (OR half an onion, chopped)
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (or more or less, depending on how thick you want it!)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • any other spices (I, of course, suggest cayenne pepper!)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Slice that beautiful squash in half lengthwise.

3. Remove seeds and set aside.

4. Chop the squash into quarters, cut off the skin, and dice the squash into 1- or 2-inch chunks. The smaller you cut them, the faster it will roast! :) Put your squash cubes on a baking sheet with tin foil and nonstick cooking spray. Place in oven.

5. If you don't want to keep your seeds, set your timer to 40 minutes, toss your seeds in the trash, and skip to step 8. If you want to keep the squash seeds to use for garnish or snacking, set the timer for 30 minutes.

6. This part sucks. There's no sugar-coating it. Clean off your seeds. There's no easy way of doing it. Get rid of all those stupid, slimy, orange strings. Rinse them off in a colander.

7. Drizzle your clean seeds with a little olive oil, and sprinkle them with salt and whatever else you want (cayenne pepper!!). You can bake them plain, but that's boring. When your 30-minute timer goes off, make a little room on your baking sheet, add the seeds in a single layer, lower the temperature on your oven to 325 degrees, and reset the timer to 15 minutes.

8. Remove from oven and let cool. And don't forget to turn off your oven. ;)

9. Heat your garlic (or onion) in a large saucepan in about a tablespoon of oil. I actually have a jar of minced garlic (which is why I prefer using garlic instead of buying an onion!), so I don't have to cook this down very much. If you are using an actual garlic clove or onion, then cook this for several minutes like you normally would.

Love this stuff.
10. Carefully add the stock. If your saucepan is really hot, it might sizzle, smoke, and splatter when the liquid hits your cookware. In other words, don't have your saucepan on too hot, and/or lift the pot off the stove for a second as you add in the first cup.

11. Add your butternut squash and pear.

12. Puree! Either use an immersion/stick blender, or dump the contents into a blender or food processor (and add it back to the saucepan afterwards). This is a good time to assess the thickness. I added another 1/4 cup of broth.

13. Add salt, pepper, cayenne, curry, or whatever you want! Start small and keep adding until you like it.

14. Garnish each bowl with your roasted squash seeds.  Serve with bread. May I recommend Irish soda bread? :)

With a Christmas tree in the background, just for good measure.