Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blueberry Fennel Salad with Ginger Lime Dressing

We all know a little bit about my dabbling into the realm of cleanses. I have never gone to extremes, eating nothing but psyllium husk or scoops of fiber in a morning shake, nor have I followed one particular cleanse so closely that I reached that point of "clarity" after that "lightheaded" uncomfortable feeling that arises out of starving. I have tried to incorporate herbal tea and lemon water into my morning routine, alternated between hot and cold bursts in the shower, and taken on the habit of regular brief massages to get my blood moving (still can't get on board with the body brushing though - I have a hard time brushing my hair much less the bottom of my feet). In the end, I have never ended a cleanse feeling completely remade. Except for the stomach bug I got a few weeks ago - THAT was a cleanse.

While the thought of so many "failed" cleanses seems disappointing at first, I think it's mostly because I don't eat a ton of crap as part of my normal diet. Yes even vegan diets can be full of crap. Still, the cleanse for me has always been more about the idea than the execution. When I've been eating too many processed foods, overeating because of stress/boredom, or eating out too much, I start to feel the idea coming on. So no surprise around the holidays, this crazy friend of mine sent me a link to Reboot, a website aimed at getting people to eat more fruits and veggies. Ok it does have a plan that is kind of like a cleanse, but reading through the 15 day plan was actually encouraging. You eat food. Not too much and mostly plants (to quasi-quote Michael Pollen in In Defense of Food). The only issue I have is the protocol for Day 6 through 10. Only juice. No food. No way.

I'm an athlete, I need energy, I've got the need to move. I can't do a 4-day juice stretch even it's supposed to shock my liver into supercharge mode and make my next night out at the pub that much less damaging. I at least need enough to get me through an intense yoga class. So me and this red head friend sat down to try and tweak the reboot to be more sustainable - not surprising coming from the queen of reading recipes and not following them. Same thing here. Reboot offers several recipes for each day. The first salad of Day 1 is an Arugula, Fennel, Avocado Salad, but I came up with this one here. It's more fun, and has an incredible, fresh taste that doesn't leave you feeling like you "only ate a stupid salad".

What I love about this salad is that it's something you would eat as part of a "diet" but it's also something classy and crisp that I'd serve at a dinner party. The smooth avocado and tart dressing are a perfect accompaniment to the crisp and crunchy fennel and radishes. I highly recommend checking out the website, and even if you don't choose to do the whole shabang, it's a good snapshot of what you might need to do if you really want to take a break from the good ole American eating frenzy. Ready, set, reboot!

Blueberry Fennel Salad with Ginger Lime Dressing
Makes: 3-4 servings
Prep time: 10-15 minutes


For the salad
4 cups mixed baby greens (spinach, arugula, watercress, frisee)
1 c. fennel, thinly sliced
3/4 c. blueberries
3/4 c. red cabbage, thinly sliced
4 medium easter radishes (or any other type), thinly sliced
1 small avocado, thinly sliced
2-4 T. fresh dill, chopped
2-4 T. fresh fennel fronds, chopped (optional)

For the dressing
2-3 T. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)
1/2 T. rice vinegar
1/2 T. mild tasting oil, such as canola or sunflower (optional)
1/2 T. fresh ginger, minced or grated
1/2 T. agave nectar
1/4 tsp. salt


To prepare the salad: place greens in a large serving bowl. Layer the remaining fruit and vegetables on top and sprinkle with fresh herbs.

To prepare the dressing: mix all ingredients in a small bowl. To make a low fat dressing, skip the oil and replace with a touch more agave if the dressing is to sour for your taste. Season with salt to taste (beware - too much salt will overpower the freshness of the salad).

To serve: lightly toss the salad with the dress and divide between 3 or 4 bowls.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quinoa Gratin with Roasted Rutabaga and Spinach

Every time I gear up to write about why I made a particular recipe, my first thought is “I needed to get rid of…” and I’m now starting to think that this is my token kitchen strategy. I used to read through recipes and then buy ingredients for them. Now I buy vegetables because they are aesthetically pleasing and woo me at the market. Then I get home and have to find a way to use them which often translates as “getting rid” of them. (Perhaps I’m not doing them enough justice with my semantics). The other common scenario of “cooking to kitchen cleanse” is dealing with leftovers.

In this case I had overestimated a batch of quinoa, cooking up a whole cup of dried grain. I ended up with a lot of leftovers and though there is usually no problem using up cooked quinoa, I was on a green salad craze last week and didn’t notice the quinoa until it had almost reached expiration. For the first time in a long time, I looked up quinoa recipes.

Quinoa makes a great pilaf and a great filler ingredient in dishes such as fritters and veggie patties. But I didn’t feel like patting cakes and I didn’t feel like going through the fuss of marinating tofu or tempeh as a main dish to go alongside a quinoa pilaf. So I looked for less conventional recipes and found a slew of them for quinoa gratin. My only experience with gratin was in the context of potatoes. Know I understand gratin is more a technique that involves a browned crust, cheese, and eggs. Of course a dish that screams of all things non-vegan is one I must veganize.

Most of the recipes called for 3-5 eggs so clearly the common egg substitutes (applesauce, flax or a flour egg-replacer) were not going to cut it in this dish. It made me think of a quiche-gratin hybrid, though I placed the emphasis to be on the grain, not the “egg” which is of course the overwhelming texture in quiche. This then became more of an omelette project, kind of like Spanish tortilla (which I now think is possible after making this and will attempt soon). The first recipe to come up on my search for “vegan omelette” was of course from the Fat Free Vegan blog and I based my “egg” portion off of Susan’s Vegan Omelette for One. I added a little more moisture and used vegetable broth to make it more savory. This came together beautifully: perfectly golden crust, moist and flavorful filling, with tender bits of sweet rutabaga. The taste was very fancy for how easy it was to prepare.

Quinoa Gratin with Roasted Rutabaga and Spinach
Makes: 2-3 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour


1 small rutabaga, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 tsp olive oil
Salt & pepper

6 oz. silken tofu (extra firm)
3 T. vegetable broth
3 T nutritional yeast
1 T cornstarch
1 tsp tahini
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp turmeric

1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp dried rosemary
1/2 c. mushrooms, chopped
2 c. spinach
1/4 c. vegetable broth from bouillon
1 1/2 c. cooked quinoa
Salt & pepper


Preheat oven to 450F.

Coat rutabaga in olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 30 minutes, turning vegetables half way through to ensure all sides are browned. Remove and set aside.

While rutabaga cooks, prepare the "egg" portion. Combine tofu with next 7 ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until completely smooth. Set aside.

Lower oven to 375F.

Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and coat with cooking spray. Add onions and cook until they start to become translucent, 5-6 minutes, spraying onions with more cooking spray if pan becomes too dry. Add garlic, herbs and mushrooms, turning mixture to coat well in spices. Cook another minute until garlic is fragrant. Add spinach and broth and cook until spinach wilts, about 30 seconds. Stir in quinoa, roasted rutabaga, salt and pepper and remove from heat. Transfer to a medium mixing bowl.

Pour the "egg" mixture over quinoa and stir to mix well. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until gratin is set and the top starts to brown. Remove from oven and let sit 5-10 minutes before scarfing down!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Chilly, dreary weather in AZ is often a welcome change from the norm - typically short-lived but just enough to instill a vague sense of nostalgia for seasonal weather patterns. Last week was colder than usual which set a good stage for curling up with a good book and hot bowl of soup.

I have been making a lot of chunky vegetable soups this winter such as cabbage, lentil, and root vegetable stews – all of which are lovely. But last week, the lack of constant sunshine coupled with the lack of enthusiasm to be at work was really starting to wear on me. I looked out the window to see only clouds and a high of 52 (I know Midwesterners, hush) and thought that chunky vegetable soup just wasn’t going to cut it. Dreaming of warm, comforting food for dinner I started mentally raiding my cupboards for ideas.

The only thing I really wanted to get rid of was a pair of Russet potatoes. I’m more of a sweet potato person, but I had purchased some regular old baking potatoes after getting the stomach flu in order to have a less complex food on hand. But then I got better and the potatoes got lost, so they had to go quickly or they’d sprout right through the counter. The only semi-fun thing I had was broccoli, so I started thinking of what I could do with potatoes and broccoli in the mix. The thought process went something like this.

Baked Potato  >  Loaded Baked Potato  >   CHEEZY loaded baked potato  >  Cheezy Soup  >  Broccoli Cheez Soup!! (poured over Baked Potato)

And so the venture began. I did my customary recipe hunt to get a basic idea of how a vegan might go about making a cheese soup and then branched off on my own. Of course the recipe mirrors the process of making vegan Mac ‘n Cheez or vegan Nacho Cheez, but I wasn’t sure how it would hold up as soup. Turns out, it’s friggin’ yum! My test taster agreed it tastes like the real deal, and I am fairly certain the mustard gives it a certain oompf that is quite necessary to achieve the cheesy taste. While I ended up having the potato on the side, I did transpose the idea of a loaded potato to garnishments for the soup: toasted pine nuts and bac’un bits. So it was more of a loaded soup, but that sounds weird.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Makes: 2 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes


2 c. broccoli and/or stems, chopped

1 c. vegetable broth from bouillon
1/3 c. nutritional yeast
3 T. flour (potato or all purpose)
1 T. Earth Balance
1 tsp mustard
¼ heaping tsp. onion powder
¼ heaping tsp. garlic powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ - ¾ c. almond milk
Pinch of white pepper

Garnishments (optional): toasted pine nuts, bacon bits


Steam broccoli for 5-7 minutes or until desired texture is reached. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare vegetable broth by boiling water and mixing in a ½ cube of bouillon. Combine next 7 ingredients in a sauce pan and heat over medium-high heat. Whisk in vegetable broth. When soup starts to bubble, lower heat to medium and slowly add in ½ cup of almond milk. Add more if soup is too thick or starchy and. Finish with a pinch of white pepper and stir in broccoli. Top each bowl with a table spoon of pine nuts and/or a dash of bacon bits. Serve with crusty bread or a baked potato.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Brussel Sprout Spaghetti with Marinated Tomatoes

Long ago when I had first starting seeing this cute boy whom I referred to as "marathon man" and whose cooking capacity at the time spanned from grilled cheese to nachos, a most promising opportunity for the underdog of cruciferous vegetables arose. At a very early stage in our acquaintance, his eagerness to ensure my every happiness was quite obvious and I seized that enthusiasm in a cunning ploy to save a batch of brussel sprouts and engage him in a vegetable venture.

I was preparing for an out-of-town trip and noticed a bag of brussels in the fridge - dear me, they could not go to waste! The green spheres of goodness were still edible and no chances could be afforded in my absence of their rotting away in the crisper. When I presented them to my Knight in Shining Asics and asked if he could pleeeease make them for dinner while I was away (emphasizing my distress should they be doomed to the trash), he replied, "If you tell me what to do with them, sure!" Ahh the days where romance was still new and "no" was an impossible concept.

Though I wasn't able to hand over a decent recipe before skipping town, I did received a text message the following evening: "I just made the most delicious brussel sprouts!" He had caramelized them and served over spaghetti with parmesan. Victory for all parties involved! 1) I was flattered that a man would cook, eat and enjoy brussel sprouts for the sole purpose of making me happy and was therefore convinced that he was a keeper; 2) he gained a new skill in the kitchen and discovered the wonder of all (edible) things green and; 3) the sprouts fulfilled their true destiny of providing a rich supply of folate, Vitamin C and cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Ever since then, I think brussel sprouts have been a safety net in his cooking spectrum, and I'm ok with that.

Fast forward to present. After a week of holiday gorging, getting a vengeful stomach bug, eating copious amounts of white toast, and going a bit stir-crazy, we finally arrived to the end of our holiday break. My companion offered to make me dinner and I said "Yes! As long as we can blog it." So he fell back on the good ole brussel sprouts and pasta with a tomato twist thrown in the mix. I helped with a few ideas such as marinating the tomatoes and stirring up a light alfredo sauce to tie it together. We both enjoyed our time in the kitchen and the end result was not only a delicious, light and healthy meal but also a sense of togetherness that makes a good start to 2011.

Brussel Sprout Spaghetti with Marinated Tomatoes
Makes: 2-3 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes


For the pasta
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 T. white balsamic vinegar
1 T. olive oil
1/4 tsp agave or sugar
Dash of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper

6 oz. gluten free or whole wheat spaghetti

2 T. olive oil
1 small shallot, sliced
15-20 brussel sprouts, cut in half (stem discarded)
Salt and pepper

For the sauce
2 c. almond or soy milk
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Salt to taste
1 scant T. Potato or whole wheat flour
1 T. Earth Balance
Dash of nutmeg and white pepper


Place chopped tomatoes in a small mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl and pour over tomatoes, stirring to coat well. Set aside and marinate while you prepare the pasta.

Cook the pasta according to the directions on package. Drain and set aside. (Tip: Make brussel sprouts while water is coming to a boil and sauce while pasta cooks).

In a large skillet (preferrable cast iron), heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add brussel sprouts, shallots, and a generous dash of salt and pepper. Cook on higher heat until sprouts start to brown, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and finish cooking until dark golden brown, about 10 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a small sauce pan combine the almond milk, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. Heat over medium until it comes to a slow boil. Whisk in potato flour and cook until sauce is thickened. If sauce becomes too thick, turn off heat and add more almond milk. When you've reached the desired consistency, add a dash of nutmet and white pepper.

To assemble, combine pasta, sauce and brussel sprouts in a large bowl. Top each serving with marinated tomatoes.