11.18.2014

Mushroom quinoa burger with herb aioli

I am on a never-ending quest for excellent vegetarian entrees. I've noticed that when I search for meatless meals, most of the results are salads, soups, and other light dishes that wouldn't satisfy the grown man I cook for daily nor put a dent in the caloric needs of a couple of people training for a marathon (January 11 can't come soon enough!). We are meat eaters, but I love the idea of being able to survive on foods from the earth. Vegetarian meals are budget-friendly and nutrient-dense, so I try to go meatless one or two days each week. Some of our favorite meals (hello, wonderful falafel) happen to be meat-free, and I love adding new vegetarian recipes to my dinner arsenal.

I've found that patties are great ways to bulk up a meal without adding meat. They are versatile, full of flavor, easy to throw together, and actually provide satiety. I don't know about you, but I don't enjoy being hungry, so I'm not about to try surviving on salad for the sake of meat avoidance.

These mushroom quinoa burgers are quite tasty: even my husband, a don't-call-it-a-burger-if-there's-no-meat guy, sent me a text to tell me how much he liked them after I packed a couple in his lunch one day. And that herb aioli? Heaven.

Don't settle for salad, people.
It's always exciting to watch food trends. Every year or so, there seems to be a new sweep of products and diets that hit the market and take it by storm. A prime example: quinoa. Until a couple of years ago, all of the people who regularly ate quinoa would probably be able to fit in my living room, and everyone else was like "quin-what?" Today, thanks to the rise in popularity of gluten-free diets and alternative grains, quinoa is a staple in many health-conscious households.

Quinoa - not actually a grain and instead a member of the chenopod family along with beets and chard - is rich in nutrients, unlike many grains. It is high in manganese, copper, phosphorus, magnesium, and folate, and packs 8 grams of protein per cooked cup. There have been few research studies on health benefits of quinoa in humans, but some studies on rats have shown that daily quinoa intake reduces internal inflammation. This isn't surprising given the anti-inflammatory compounds found in quinoa, including phenolic acids and vitamin E.

The outer layer of the quinoa seed contains phytonutrients called saponins. Saponins, while possibly beneficial to health, are quite bitter-tasting, which is why most people choose to rinse quinoa prior to cooking.

11.04.2014

Vanilla almond granola clusters

We've crept into the time of year when the mornings are cold, the sun is slow to come up and quick to disappear, and the leaves crunch underfoot. Fall is my favorite season, and it holds many memories for me of football games, new semesters, fresh starts, moving new places, and meeting new people. It's funny how our minds are able to connect memories to a particular sensation. The smell of crisp, autumn air transports me back to the days of cross-campus walks to the student union for study sessions. Walking through piles of crispy leaves reminds me of long weekend training runs. Smoky bonfires mean time spent with friends.

In this chapter of life where I work a full-time job and try to squeeze the rest of my life into my few free hours, I often feel like I'm missing out on all that fall has to offer. I'd love to enjoy every chilly, see-your-breath morning outside wrapped up in a blanket, enjoying a huge cup of French-pressed coffee and a steaming bowl of steel cut oats. I'm still trying to figure out how to work 40-hour weeks without sacrificing my interests or my sanity (if you know the secret, clue me in!), but for now, I'm trying to make the most of my busy mornings by slowing down and enjoying my French press on the comfort of my couch.

To me, this granola goes hand-in-hand with fall. It's sweet and subdued, crunchy and comforting. Feel free to adjust the sweetness to your liking. Replacing the honey with maple syrup would also be a delicious fall-ish touch. You can substitute sliced or slivered almonds here, but I think the big chunks of chopped almonds really make this granola shine. Enjoy it in yogurt or topped with milk, cereal-style.
I'm really loving this granola right now. I go through phases with my granola preferences: sometimes I want one with less sugar and more crunch, and other times I'm all about the sweet clusters. This is one of those cluster times, and these clusters are fantastic.

10.26.2014

Whole wheat and flax carrot cake cupcakes

I know what you must be thinking: "Is a cupcake even a cupcake if it has vegetables and flax meal in it? Get with it."
Trust me on this. Have I ever led you astray?

This is truly the best carrot cake I've ever had, and I get asked for the recipe all the time. I wish I could take credit for it, but it's from Susan G. Purdy's Pie in the Sky, a thoughtfully-written cookbook that explains and troubleshoots the perils of high-altitude baking. I acquired this fantastic book while living 7,200 feet above sea level in Edwards, Colorado, and thanks to Susan, I was able to keep homemade chocolate chip cookies and quick breads in my life. Every recipe in Pie in the Sky was tested at sea level, 10,000 feet, and every step in between, and I continue to reference it often even though I'm back to living in St. Louis at a measly 500 feet.

They must be topped with cream cheese frosting. I might like vegetables in my desserts sometimes, but I'm not that out of my mind.
Carrots belong to the same family as parsnips, fennel, dill, and cumin. They are known for protecting the heart from cardiovascular disease thorough an array of beneficial phytonutrients and antioxidants. In general, vegetables with deep shades of yellow and orange have been shown to be particularly beneficial in promoting heart health. Carrots' antioxidants also have potential to protect the body against colon cancer and vision problems.

Raw carrots are great for a snack, but cooking them intensifies the sweetness and makes the beta carotene more bioavailable. Each cupcake has about 1/2 a carrot and 4000 IU of absorbable vitamin A. Not bad for dessert.

10.12.2014

Spiced cauliflower "couscous" with almonds

I love discovering new ways to use vegetables in ordinary dishes. Did you know that cauliflower can be crumbled down to resemble the texture of couscous or rice? Neither did I, until recently, but it's true and surprisingly delicious.

This is a great technique to have up your sleeve if you're in the business of trying to sneak more veggies into your kids (or yourself). I can see cauliflower replacing rice in loaded burritos, taking quinoa's place in my beloved Southwest Quinoa Salad, and should I dare to dream that I wouldn't mind it in my Couscous Parfait?

Whew. This changes everything.
It's time to get nutty.

For many years, low-fat diets were prescribed to people at risk for heart problems, but removing or reducing fats in the diet usually results in consumption of more simple carbohydrates like white bread or pasta. The body breaks down these foods very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin spikes. Over time, these effects can raise risk for heart disease and diabetes as much as high-fat foods. So what's the solution? Instead of eliminating fats, let's eat the right types.

Many large studies have verified the health benefits of nuts. One Harvard study followed 86,016 women over 14 years and found that those who ate at least 5 ounces of nuts per week were 35% less likely to endure a heart attack than those who ate less than 1 ounce per month. How can this be? Almonds, while high in fat, contain monounsaturated fat - the same type found in olive oil. Monounsaturated fat is known for helping to reduce blood cholesterol, particularly LDL levels. Nuts are also high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that rids the body of damaging free radicals and protects against chronic disease. Almonds' high magnesium levels could play a role in heart health as well: magnesium helps arteries to relax, lessening resistance and improving blood flow. And let's not forget the power of wise choices: is also possible that nuts improve heart health by replacing less healthful snacks in the diet, like those that contain saturated or trans fats.

When snacking on nuts, do be aware of portion sizes. One ounce (about 1/4 cup) of nuts contains roughly 170 calories, so stick with small-ish servings if you are aiming for weight loss. And don't forget to rejoice in the fact that the fiber and fat will help to fill you up and keep you satisfied longer than a carbohydrate-rich snack would.

10.05.2014

Dried lemon rounds

Lemons have long been a favorite of mine. I love how a squeeze of juice can make a dish come alive. I love the tartness they add to fresh fruit sorbets or homemade popsicles. I really, really love a good lemon tart. Heck, I've been known to slice them up and eat them raw. When Mike and I ended up with a 5-pound bag of fresh lemons and no plan for them, my first thought was to make them last. It's the beginning of fall, and I'm not yet ready to give up the fresh flavors of summer. The answer? Dehydrated lemon rounds.
Dried lemons are more versatile than you might think. Drop a couple into a water bottle for a gently infused drink. Toss them into soup, simmering rice, or pots of brazing meats. Pulverize them in a coffee grinder to make your own lemon pepper seasoning. Take that lemon powder and mix with some sugar for a healthier instant lemonade. Steep them in your green tea. Crumble them on a Greek salad. Rehydrate them and add to parchment packages of fish. If you enjoy cooking with fresh citrus, it's a beautiful thing to have dehydrated lemon rounds on hand just waiting to add bright flavor to any dish.