Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Coconut Curry Quinoa Hash

I'm a huge advocate of the coconut-curry flavor combination.  During my time in South Africa, I found the duo to be quite prevalent and really acquired a taste for the sweet/spicy/savory profile.  I recently found this recipe while doing some reading on alkalizing foods and was really excited to try it out.  It's an incredibly tasty combination of things I generally enjoy anyway so together, all the better.  It's a great source of plant-based protein as well.

Coconut Curry Quinoa Hash

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and finely diced
1/2 sweet vidalia onion, chopped finely
2 clove of fresh garlic, minced
2 tablespoons coconut oil
1 can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon sweet curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cardamon
1 teaspoon turmeric
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ginger, freshly grated
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

- In a large saucepan, add chickpeas and quinoa to 1 1/4 cups of water over medium-high heat and bring to a boil
- Cover and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes
- Add sweet potatoes, replace cover and continue to simmer for an additional 15 minutes
- In a large skillet, melt coconut oil and sauté garlic and onions until translucent
- Add spices to the skillet and toss to evenly distribute
- Add the chickpea/quinoa/sweet potato mixture to the skillet and mix until well incorporated
- Add coconut milk
- Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 15 minutes or until the milk and spices have reduced to a creamy consistency
- Serve with chopped flat leaf parsley and a lime wedge to garnish

Avocado Key Lime Pie

So each month, our Cross Fit gym hosts a paleo pot luck dinner.  In an effort to utilize my culinary prowess for good [read, healthy] over evil, I look at this as a fun opportunity to try some new and innovative recipes that I may not normally.  While James and I don't follow a strict paleo lifestyle, we do see the value in several elements that eating paleo brings to the table (no pun intended).  Most of our meals are unprocessed and we try to minimize our grain intake when possible.

This month, I'm adapting the spectacular South African specialty bobotie [to be blogged at a later date] and a creamy avocado key lime pie.  Now in my opinion, the trick to an awesome key lime pie is the crust and since I can't actually use graham crackers, I need to mimic the spice blend to recreate the flavor profile.

Avocado Key Lime Pie

For the crust:
1 cup almond meal (I recommended the Trader Joe's brand, it works well and is a great value)
1 cup of dates
Blend the following spices to taste:  kosher salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamon and cayenne pepper

- Pulse ingredients in a food processor until well incorporated
- Firmly press into a lightly greased 9" pie plate*

For the filling:
4 hass avocados
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup raw honey or agave syrup

- Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth and creamy
- Spoon filling into the pressed crust
- Freeze for 1 1/2 hours to set the pie
- Transfer pie to the refrigerator or allow to thaw at room temperature for 15 minutes prior to serving
- Top with crushed almonds, raspberries, sliced strawberries or shaved coconut as a garnish

*You can also use muffin tins and make individual tarts as opposed to a full pie

Take Your Burger Bun to a New Level

I'm not sure how it's viewed throughout the country, but here in New England, Memorial Day is the official, unabated kick off of summer.  Now that the formality of crossing the proverbial threshold is behind us, it's time to talk quintessential summer food - burgers.  If I'm looking for a "cheat meal" if you will, burgers are among my first choice.

One of the biggest issues plaguing the burger world, in my humble opinion, is a flimsy bun that won't stand up to a juicy, perfectly cooked moist medium rare burger.  You need something with a little bit of bite, but also something light enough to not try and be the star of the stack.  After toying with several thoughts and options for a homemade bun, I finally decided on a griddled english muffin.  They're incredibly easy to make, only require a 30 minute rise time and no baking required (yes, you read that correctly - no heating the house unnecessarily with the oven on a midsummer's afternoon).

Homemade English Muffins

1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon raw sugar, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon shortening
1 cup hot water
1 envelope dry active yeast
1/3 cup room temperature water
2 cups sifted all purpose whole wheat flour

- Combine powdered milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, shortening and hot water, whisking until it the salt and sugar are dissolved.  
- In a separate bowl, combine yeast, 1/4 teaspoon sugar and warm water to dissolve the yeast
- Add the yeast mixture to the powdered milk mixture and slowly sift in flour
- Fold gently until all ingredients are well incorporated 
- Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 30 minutes
- Preheat griddle
- Portion batter with an ice cream scoop onto the griddle (for perfectly round muffins, use ring molds or biscuit cutters)
- Cook for 3-5 minutes on either side or until golden brown
- Flip the muffins and repeat on the opposite side
- Once fully cooked, muffins can be split with a fork and served

Okay, so now that the bun issue has been squared away, let's look at the burger.  I personally prefer bison meat.  Nowadays, it's readily available in most grocery stores and packs just as much flavor as beef with a fraction of the fat.  As with any good burger, you need to flavor it otherwise you'll end up with an unseasoned meat patty.  I like to mix one pound of bison meat with one egg, 1/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon dried toasted onion, 2 teaspoons dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  If you want to test your seasoning levels, make a mini burger about the size of your thumbprint and sear it off quickly.  That way, you can taste test the batch before cooking all of your burgers.  If you're grilling your burgers, about 6 minutes on either side should give you a perfectly pink, juicy center but adjust to personal preference.  We top our burgers with a bit of truffle mustard aioli (1 tablespoon light mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon spicy dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon white truffle oil, salt and pepper), arugula, smoked gruyere, applewood smoked bacon and a sunny side up quail egg but honestly, get creative, the possibilities are endless.

Up Close & Personal: Body Image

I feel like body image is a touchy subject for most people.  I don't care if you're male, female, heavyset, thin, athletic, short or tall... very few people are 100% comfortable with what they look like.  Personally, I've battled with my weight for the majority of my life.  I was not graced with a genetically fast metabolism and literally, every calorie that passes by my lips has an impact.  There have been periods of my life where for one reason or another, I've let this get completely out of hand and literally paid the price.  Living in a yoyo state of weight flux has led my closet to include clothes ranging from a size 4 to a size 14 - not something I'm proud of, but a reality I've decided to address.

A year ago, James and I ran our first 5k in memory of our friend Lizzy [who's 28th birthday would have been today].  It was a last minute decision done with absolutely no training.  I finished it, but struggled though the entire race, walking a good portion of it.  It was honestly a wake up call that I needed to do something about my physical state.  In retrospect, the fact that my personal trainer uses a photo of James and I from that race as our "fat picture" at least validates that I wasn't wrong.  I mean, there's no comparison of last year to this year...


I can't say that even with the progress I've made in the past year, I'm not completely happy with by body.  My outlook is significantly more positive with how I look and feel than I was before all of this began, but I'm human.  I think it's in our nature to be critical of ourselves.  Heck, as a society, we judge people who are completely content with themselves as being conceited and narcissistic.  Go figure.  

The point I'm trying to make, in a very roundabout way, is that I've learned to accept my imperfections. Will I ever be 100% completely happy with how I look?  Maybe... but probably not.  I've learned to love running, yoga, swimming and CrossFit in ways I never thought possible and the transformation I've seen in myself is incredible - both in a physical and mental capacity.  

This isn't me putting myself down; it's me openly realizing and admitting that I'm human, imperfect and nonetheless, capable of some really great things.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Bruch Worth Traveling For

Or, at least that's what the May issue of Bon Appetit claims of the Smokey Mountain Griddle Cakes from the Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee.  Although a trip down south would be quite welcome, I think I'd have a hard time justifying a destination to James solely with a breakfast food.  Hence forth, I've taken matters into my own hands and concocted several batches at home to mimic the iconic cakes.  Added bonus, they're loaded with fiber and gluten free [sidebar, when James requests a gluten free option over a traditional option, as has become the case with these griddle cakes, you know they've got to be good].

Griddle Cakes [adapted from Blackberry Farm recipe]

1 large egg
2 cups of buttermilk*
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 cup oat flour
2/3 cup corn meal
1/3 cup brown rice flour
1/3 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

- Preheat griddle on high heat
- In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients (if any of your flours are coarsely ground, pulse them in a spice grinder or food processor to a fine consistency)
- Whisk together buttermilk, syrup and egg
- Slowly add you wet ingredients to your dry
- Pour in melted butter, whisking simultaneously to avoid clumping
- Ladle onto griddle in 1/2 cup scoops and cook for 3-4 minutes per side before flipping
- Cook until golden brown on both sides, serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week

*If you don't have buttermilk on hand, combine 2 cups of milk with 2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar, stir and allow to sit for 5 minutes.  You can also freeze buttermilk in ice cube trays as to always have it on hand when you need it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Manhattan Vibe in Boston's South End

First and foremost, I want to apologize for my hiatus from writing.  Things have been a bit hectic and I'm sorry I had to back burner my blog for the past few weeks.  I'd like to start with the recap of James' celebratory birthday dinner that I began writing immediately after our visit...

Two weeks ago, we ventured down to Boston for James' annual birthday celebration.  In lieu of our old standby, Tastings, he decided to try something different this year (being that George has moved on and well, we love George).  He opted for Myers and Chang in the South End and I must say, I was more than pleased with his selection.

I'd like to enter a bit of a sidebar here for all of my non-Bostonian readers.  The South End and "Southie" are not one in the same.  Southie, aka South Boston, is actually located along the cost on the eastern most part of the city (just east of the North End... don't ask).  It's Boston's Irish haven - an area laden with scally caps and a pub on nearly each street corner.  I love Southie.  Even more so, I love the South End, which is about a mile south of Back Bay and the Theater District.  The South End has more of an alternative vibe to it.  Restaurants and shops are a bit quirkier and more eccentric.  Think Doc Martins, tattoos and wallet chains.  Now that we've differentiated between metro regions, on with my review.

Myers and Chang.  At first glance, a borderline hole in the wall Chinese restaurant situated on an unassuming street corner.  Red dragons emblazon the front windows, there probably aren't more than 65 seats in the whole place and the open kitchen is wrapped in a 10 or so seat bar that I highly recommend as the best seat in the place.   If I were to wake up in the dining room, not knowing where I was, my gut instinct would have assumed I was in Manhattan's China Town.  Walking by, it's a place I wouldn't have given much thought to... and I would have been wrong.

We had an earlier reservation, around 5:15 and when we arrived, the dining room was pretty vacant.  The staff were just finishing up their preshift meeting and we were literally greeted by every employee of the restaurant.  There was a certain sense of community and a passion for hospitality that was evident  from the time we opened the door to the time we left.  It's something that's missing in so many facets of the industry and I can't stress enough how the staff interaction and ambiance they created enhanced our experience.  Yes, we had a dedicated server - Peter, who was an awesome server in his own right - but during our dinner, it truly felt like the entire staff was there to ensure that every detail of our meal was perfect.

My one criticism of the evening - they don't have a full bar.  I'm a gin and tonic girl and I tend not to gravitate toward sake cocktails in most cases, however their Luckiest Kitty cocktail was better than I would have expected.  The combination of herbal-infused sake, st. germain and grapefruit in a smoked sea salt rimmed glass was surprisingly smooth and not cloying.  Their wine and beer lists however, were pretty intriguing with several offbeat and harder to find selections.  Bonus points for carrying a South African Chenin Blanc in a 20 selection list.

While their menu is laid out with entrees, the flow of service is more tapas style - a la, we bring your food when it's ready.  We're prone to sharing in order to try several things anyway so this worked out well for us, but just a heads up if you're more apt to traditional coursed dining.

We began our tasting tour with Green Papaya Slaw, Crispy Spring Rolls and Braised Pork Belly Buns. Whenever I see Green Papaya on a menu, my mind goes back to the Slanted Door in San Francisco and one of the best salads I've ever eaten [read about it here].  This was a completely different spin, but equally as memorable; there was a crisp freshness on the initial bite that trailed into a swift bite of thai chili on the finish.  Definitely something I'd order again and being the farthest thing from a creature of habit possible, that's a major compliment.  No complaints on the spring rolls, however they were pretty standard.  Good, but predictable.  The braised pork belly buns may have been one of my favorite items of the evening.  Ours took a few moments longer than expected to come out [nothing we noticed honestly], and Chef Karen Akunowicz, who was highly interactive with all patrons at both the bar overlooking the open kitchen as well as those at table, brought us a tasting of their Tiger's Tears Salad.  It was a blend of seared steak, thai basil, kaffir lime and khao koor [crunchy roasted rice powder] - nothing we would have thought of ordering on our own - but quite delicious and refreshing.

Next we shared plates of chicken and waffles and fish tacos... yes, you read correctly.  I was skeptical at best regarding chicken and waffles from a Chinese restaurant but I'm SO glad that we rolled the dice.    The waffle was a ginger sesame confection that brought a savory, slightly spicy element to the dish.  Topped with perfectly cooked southern-style fried chicken and a well balanced sweet and sour sauce, it really was an exceptional dish.  The fish tacos, while delicious and light were a bit tricky to eat due to the plating.  Each taco was filled with three small pieces of fish, making them exceptionally challenging to eat.

While we wanted dearly to keep progressing though the menu, we were encroaching on the point of uncomfortably full.  We did get an order of Duck Fried Rice to go, which I will add reheated beautifully for breakfast the next morning.

We capped the evening off with a rich, decadent Chocolate and Cocoa Nib Terrine with Vietnamese Coffee Sauce.  Although the portion was small, it was more than enough for us to share.  The coffee was slightly bitter but it balanced the sweet creaminess of the terrine perfectly.  It was certainly a dish where the perfect bite was a full combination of all involved components.

All in, I'm seriously sad that Myers and Chang is in Boston and not our local neighborhood Asian hot spot (not to knock Dynamite Sushi or anything but...).  Between the creative menu, near flawlessly executed food and exceptional service, I really can't wait to return.