Saturday, March 31, 2012

Spinach & Black Bean Salad, with Sweet & Tangy Cumin Lime Dressing

black bean spinach salad with cumin lime dressing

I've talked about spinach before here. How I don't quite like it. How, by itself, it basically tastes like dirt and, despite being an experimental eater as a child (clover, carrots dipped in milk, paper), I was never into putting dirt in my mouth.

Well, that's kind of changed. The not really being into spinach thing - not the putting dirt in my mouth (I do not endorse dirt in the mouth. That would be unpleasant and unhygienic). So I have been putting a lot of spinach in my mouth lately - in the form of smoothies and, just recently, saag paneer (I never knew wilted spinach could taste so good - so good!), but mostly, in the form of this salad. It combines some of my favourite things - avocado, cumin, cilantro - and makes consuming a ginormous pile of greens exciting. Okay, maybe just to me it's exciting. But in my defence, I don't really have a life. I just read The Hunger Games trilogy in three days this week - that's how much of a life I have. Also shows how I make responsible, grown-up Life Choices. Such as staying up past 2 a.m. reading a young adult novel.

But I digress. I was talking about spinach. Why this sudden obsession with Popeye's favourite veg? (Well, aside from my neurotic fears that if I don't eat green things my limbs might start falling off, I'll go blind, or Stephanie Meyer will write another Twilight book.) One word: Chinatown. And 3 lb bags of spinach for $3.99. No joke. I couldn't say no to that kind of deal. And I was determined to bring more greens into my life. And with 3 lbs of spinach, I would have to eat tons of greens.

And so this salad was born. I haven't stopped eating greens since.

piling up the greenseating in technicolour

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Not Your Dad's Arroz con Pollo

not arroz con pollo

Food is a powerful thing. It can evoke a lot of things, from extremely carnal noises, to poignant memories. Tasting some dishes is like taking a walk down memory lane - that first bite and all of a sudden you're six years old, back home, at the family table, your father puttering in the kitchen. At least, that's what this recipe does for me.

As a kid, there were some meals that were family favourites, "regulars" that came around the dinner table every other week, that filled the kitchen with smells both familiar and comforting. "Dinner will be good tonight," it meant. Arroz con Pollo was one of those dishes - chicken breasts and legs baked in the oven with rice, tomatoes, white wine, and peas. But sometimes the rice wouldn't cook right, for whatever reason, and we would have to wait even longer for it to finally emerge from the oven to grace our plates and our bellies. I always found this unbearable - another twenty minutes before dinner can happen? I'd practically bounce with impatience and anticipation.

Yet I had completely forgotten about arroz con pollo, at least, until many weeks ago I came across this post by Joy the Baker (wonderful blog, you should read it if you like cookies and butter) and it brought back all those memories of those family dinners, and all those times I waited desperately for my dad's arroz con pollo to finish cooking. Suffice to say, I was instantly possessed with the desire to bring that dish back into my life. Only...minus the pollo part. Being a vegetarian and all. And I also had no rice either. So I was going to make arroz con pollo. But without the chicken. And the rice. Go figure.

But I was determined. All I needed was wine and a quick-cooking, healthy grain. And I also wasn't going to put it in the oven. Being a terribly impatient cook, and impatient in general, I almost never make baked dishes (I have to prep and cook something on the stove and then put it in the oven to cook more? Who has this kind of patience and cooking endurance??). Yet I knew almost immediately how I was going to do just took over a month for me to make it. And I should not have waited so long, because it was so good, and tasted just like Childhood. (But in a totally happy, non-creepy/abused/abandoned swingset/sad music kind of way.)

So I encourage you to please, make this dish. Not because it will taste like happy memories (unless you also have a soft-spot for arroz con pollo) but because not only is it delicious, it is amazingly easy to throw together, inexpensive, and healthy. And oh, hey, it's vegan too. Shazam! Do it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Chocolate Raspberry Smoothie

at the breakfast table

Last weekend was Daylight Savings - or, technically, the switch from Daylight Savings to Normal Time. Meaning I lost an hour of sleep, making me angry, and even less motivated to drag myself out of bed in the morning, despite having umpteen things I need to/should do. (Story of my life.)

The morning is a conflicted time for me. On the one hand, I love the morning. The whole day is before you, it's often cooler, I am more motivated to do things, and there's a general sense of...hope? possibility? during that early part of the day. On the other hand, lounging in bed, daydreaming amongst my three pillows (this is the crucial and necessary number of pillows for optimum comfort) is also the most relaxing, stress-free part of my day. It's a state both mental and physical I find very hard to leave. And so the following internal conflict ensues:

I need to get up. Get up Liz. If you don't get up, you will get up late and be depressed because you didn't get up now and when you do get up, you'll think, "If only I'd gotten up when I should have gotten up I would be dressed, breakfasted and probably be doing something productive right now!" Get. Up.

In fifteen minutes. Before nine o'clock. Even if I wake up at 8:55, that will still be early enough to make me feel like a proper adult. These pillows are so comfortable...all people should sleep with three pillows.

(Glancing at the clock.) Oh my god, it's already nearly nine. Get UP.

Ugh. So comfortable. No...five more minutes. Just five.

I should get up. I don't want to get up. I should just get up. Just get up and make the bed, just do it. Just get up. Just throw off the comforter...let the air wake you up...while still lying down. Then get up.

I'll just turn over and close my eyes, just for another fifteen minutes...or so.

(Period of unconsciousness. Eventually rolls over and sees the clock.)

It's 10 o'clock. Ten o'clock. Sh*^! That happened so quickly. Too quickly. I time-travelled. No other explanation. Or I'm dreaming. If I just close my eyes again, I'll wake up properly and it will only be 9:30, and that won't be so bad.

See? See what happens when you don't listen to your Responsible Voice? And now you're going to lie here and feel frustrated about not getting up when you wanted to get up still while not getting up. You are perpetuating a vicious cycle!

Or something like that.

I had started writing this with the intention of talking about how the weather (here in Toronto at least) took a decided turn for the warm as soon as Daylight Savings switched off, and how my morning smoothie has been serving the function of not only nourishing me, but cooling me off (because it's warm, and blow-drying and straightening hair does nothing but increase overall body temperature). But instead I scripted my morning neurosis. That happened.

Okay. Well. Here's some breakfast. Start the day off right. By eating well, not fighting with yourself, I mean.

(And three pillows. Seriously. Invest. Sleep like pregnant women do. Only without being pregnant. Unless you are pregnant. In which you were.)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Quinoa Sushi

avocado and mushroom quinoa sushi

For the longest time, the very concept of sushi was revolting and baffling to me. Anything from the sea generally horrified me - the only seafood I was ever very partial to as a kid were fish-sticks. And yet here was a type of food not only containing fish - raw fish - but it was wrapped in seaweed, something I had only encountered at the beach, the slimy weeds near the duck itch end of the beach, the stuff that made girls scream if it touched them.

But in addition to my young self's bigoted notions, I had an unfortunate experience that had the effect of turning me off from sushi for what I thought was forever. Some family friends were visiting, and thought they would broaden our culinary horizons and introduce us to sushi.

I can't speak for the sushi itself, mostly because I wasn't able to go near it without gagging. I remember little about the entire episode, save the overwhelming fishy smell emanating from that bowl of sushi rice - good god it was...pungent does not even begin to describe the sheer potency of the odor. It was like nothing so much as being repeatedly beaten in the face with a salmon.

Suffice to say, our friends never did manage to introduce me to sushi, since I maintained a firm five metre distance between myself and it, perched on the couch in a self-imposed exile from lunch.

The horror of that day remained with me for years. Even as an adult, after having reached the legal drinking age and casting my vote in two federal elections, I couldn't look at sushi without a small inward grimace. Nothing would induce me to try it. But as I grew a bit older, my early food assumptions began to soften, and I began to want to test out my palate more. I even started drinking wine (and found if I mixed it with enough juice, I could drink a whole litre...and then spend 36 hours in complete misery).

And then I moved to Toronto, after spending 22 years of my life in towns with little more than 5000 people living in them. The big city, where you can try just about any food you can think of. And I knew I had to give sushi another try. Which I did. After which I discovered I had an immense love of yam tempura and sushi is, in point of fact, delicious. Suddenly I could understand why people went into raptures just talking about the stuff. Suddenly, I was going into raptures about it. Suddenly, I even had to make my parents try it - with varying degrees of success.

Then one day I was struck with a thought: what if I tried to make my own sushi - with quinoa?! Replace the empty rice calories with the nutritionally packed calories of quinoa. And not only that, but quinoa famously contains all the essential amino acids that make up a complete protein. And combine that with nori, which is exceptionally healthy itself, how was this not a spectacular combination? I texted my friend about the idea immediately (I sound like such a high school student - nearly all social interaction seems to happen via texts these days) demanding she endorse my notion. Her response? "I'm a sushi purist."

Well. I was determined to prove her wrong. For her sake, clearly. Not because I have a giant ego I attempt to keep hidden from everybody. Nope. Definitely not because of that.

And so I set out to make sushi. Something I knew absolutely nothing about and had only eaten 3 times in my life. So much googling, and many youtube videos later, and here we are.

veggies in a blanketquinoa sushi
L - R: Avocado & Shiitake Mushroom Sushi, Avocado & Cucumber Sushi

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Seeds of Ideas

breakfast helps you learn good.

I rarely plan recipes - or anything, for that matter. I can barely even write a paper outline. Planning has a tendency to stress me out - it feels like I'm robbing myself of the creative process itself, stemming the flow of inspiration before it even begins. I have to work spontaneously - almost all of my projects (for lack of a better word) stem from ideas in my head, sometimes vague, sometimes definite, and I simply work from there, making the rest up as I go - not always with the greatest success.

Maybe something went awry with my genetic makeup - both my parents are programmed to plan everything meticulously. Each trip they make is planned out assiduously, and both my brother and I receive email attachments containing a detailed calendar of events, filled with the names of accommodations, phone numbers, and events. Every stage of the vacation is scheduled down to the wire - unscheduled trips distress my parents the way a messy kitchen distresses me.

And so the past few weeks have involved, as usual, various experiments in the kitchen (some more successful than others) as well as attempts to master tried and true recipes. So I don't have real recipes to share - just the experiments and successes to come out of my kitchen of late. Most are just seeds of recipes that need to be cultivated - consider them thoughts for food, suggestions to play with.

And so, on to the good stuff:

avocado mango smoothieberrytastic