Meatless Monday: Caprese Stacks

Hello from New York City! After lots of family time on Long Island, I escaped on the train and have been enjoying a little bit of time with friends in the Big Apple. Highlight so far (besides their amazing rooftop lounge…amazing views!) is definitely meeting Zachary Levi. Ummm he is most definitely in my top 3 celebrity crushes. I walked around the rest of the day saying “oh my god…oh my god…” and “Hey Alex, remember that time when Zachary Levi touched my shoulder?” Haha. I never want to leave!

Aaaaanyway…a few weeks ago, I was planning on heading over to a friend’s house to hang out with da guys, and our host was planning on BBQing a lot of meat. I decided, since I had just picked up lots of produce at the Farmers Market, that I would bring something fresh and healthy. With beautiful heirloom tomatoes and a basil plant at my disposal, Caprese Salad was the obvious choice!

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I know Caprese Salad isn’t exactly the most novel side dish (vegan Caprese? That’s another story! 😉 ), but it is seriously the ultimate summer salad.

Unfortunately, those plans fell through and I didn’t end up going to hang out with the guys. But I had already made the Caprese stacks…

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Guess what Katie ate for dinner that night? 😉

In my opinion, making them in stack form instead of the typical salad makes them a finger food – just shovel ’em into your mouth like a tomato-mozzarella-basil finger sandwich! Totally socially acceptable.

Caprese Stacks

2 heirloom tomatoes (or similar meaty tomato…you don’t want lots of seeds and water!)
8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
~15 basil leaves
1 cup balsamic vinegar
drizzle olive oil (optional)

Put balsamic vinegar in a small saucepan over medium heat. Let it simmer at a low boil for about 15 minutes, until reduced down to about 1/4 cup. Set aside to cool.

While balsamic is simmering, slice tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices. Discard the rounded ends. Slice mozzarella into similarly-sized rounds. (Pro tip: if you are having trouble cutting the mozzarella, stick it in the freezer for a bit to make it less soft!)

ASSEMBLE! Layer one tomato slice, a basil leaf, mozzarella, and another basil leaf (if desired). Repeat with all the tomaters. To top it all off, drizzle the cooled balsamic vinegar (which will now be more like a glaze/syrup) over the stacks, as well as a couple of drops of olive oil.

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Politics and Avocado-Cilantro Hummus

What a crazy 24 hours for politics, you guys.

I’m sorry, I know it’s tacky to talk about religion and politics or whatever, but indulge me in this and I’ll indulge you all with POSSIBLY my best side dish recipe ever.

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{actually, considering the fact that I work in politics and live blocks away from the State Capitol, it’s a wonder that I don’t talk about it more!}

So first of all, Halle Berry was at the State Capitol yesterday. Yes, the one I live blocks away from.

She was testifying in support of a bill that would impose tighter restrictions against the paparazzi when it comes to photographing children [of celebrities]. Bill authors and bill sponsors get semi-famous people to testify from time to time, but I think Halle Berry takes the cake for most famous/fabulous in recent memory.

Next up: Wendy Davis is a BAMF.

source: NPR

She filibustered for 11 hours yesterday…while wearing fabulous pink sneakers of course. I actually listened to a good 2 hours of her filibuster at work, and then my roomie and I streamed the last 2-3 hours of it after we got home from work. The crazy/amazing thing about this is that during what seemed like every second of that time, old white dude after old white dude would try and bring up bogus points of order or interrupt her to get her all tripped up. She was advocating for a woman’s right to choose. And the men kept trying to silence her. What’s wrong with this picture?

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OK now LAST political thing before we get to this deliciousness:

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I have a picture to share.

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This is me and my family at my aunt Martha’s wedding in.. judging by my bangs…1994. It was me and my brother’s first wedding. Normal family picture, right? Happy family, happy to see our aunt joined in love with her partner.

Yup. Partner. The first wedding I ever attended was a gay one, y’all.

My mom retells the story about how a confused 8 year old me asked her, “Who is Aunt Martha marrying?” and was shocked when she replied, “Her ‘friend’ Michelle”. This early understanding that love can be found between two of the same gender has affected my outlook ever since.

That union eventually ended, and my aunt found her true soulmate a few years later. They were one of the first couples in line at City Hall in San Francisco to make it official when gay marriage was legalized. They have since moved to Connecticut, where they renewed their vows and made it official again when CT legalized gay marriage, this time with their young daughter by their side.

So you can see I am elated today that the Supreme Court essentially upheld the decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. It is an issue near and dear to my dad’s family: A regular American family who goes to church every week. No degenerates, no hoodlums, no drag queens. Just normal folk!

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It’s a very happy day, and you can bet you’ll find me celebrating at the Capitol this evening!

I got this bracelet from our friend Amanda, who is the Chair of the California Young Democrats LGBT Caucus (and who I met last year…at a gay wedding). I feel like it was my most appropriate jewelry to wear today!

OK, you have all been patient…and now you are awarded:

DSC_0609I bought Avocado-Cilantro Hummus from the Farmer’s Market two weeks ago and I have been dreaming about it ever since. But it cost $5 for a teeny tiny tub, so I decided to take matters into my own hands: I bought $2 of avocados and cilantro instead of the hummus, and got to work. It ended up just as great as the original, and the avocado made the texture of this homemade hummus thick and smooth. Probably my best hummus yet, and really, who doesn’t love avocado?

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[proof that my nails are rarely perfect. haha]

Avocado-Cilantro Hummus
makes about 1.5 cups

1- 16 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed (reserve the liquid!)
1 small bunch cilantro, stems removed
1 tbsp tahini
zest and juice of 1 lime (2 if needed)
1 garlic clove
1 avocado
pinch of cumin
pinch of salt & pepper

If desired and if you have time, peel the skins off the garbanzo beans. Discard the skins.

Place garbanzo beans, cilantro, tahini, lime juice/zest, and garlic in bowl of a food processor. Blitz until everything is a coarse meal, stopping to scrape down the sides occasionally. To get things moving, add up to 3 tablespoons of reserved garbanzo bean liquid. Keep processing for a minute or two until mostly smooth, and all the cilantro is incorporated.

Add avocado and spices to food processor. Keep processing until completely incorporated and mixture is smooth…if needed, add more lime juice rather than more reserved liquid.

Will keep in fridge for up to 3 days. Like guacamole, it will start to brown after about 3 days.

Lemony Brown Rice with Spring Veggies

Seems like every season, I make some kind of rice pilaf (or quinoa, couscous, etc) with the season’s veggies. It started in the SUMMER which included zucchini, bell pepper and tomatoes.. then continued into an AUTUMN version which featured an amazing mix of walnuts, dried cranberries, caramelized onions, and rosemary. Ohhh man both were so good.

I think, however, I may have topped it.

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I am lemon-obsessed, as you all know. Braided Lemon Bread, Skinny Lemon Poppyseed Muffins…it is definitely lemon season around here. Plussssss, spring produce is finally here! Color me excited. I went to my first seasonal Farmers Market last week and zeroed in on two things: peas and asparagus. It’s green central up in my fridge, folks.

So what better vehicle is there to transport those fresh, green veggies into my mouth than my favorite brown rice?

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Of course if I were really to be following tradition here, I’d be using Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend. I really wanted to make this into a quinoa salad, but thought I didn’t have any… Of course right after I finished cooking this dish, I found a box of quinoa that I bought on Saturday and completely forgot about in a mostly-empty grocery bag in my living room. D’oh. Regardless, I really do like TJ’s Brown Jasmine Rice. I buy a 3 pound bag every six months or so and make it all the time.

The other players:

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Farmer’s Market asparagus is really funny lookin’. Duly noted.

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Green!

This dish gets its lemony kick from a vinaigrette I added at the end. A little bit of honey balances out the zingy lemon, and it’s so easy to make; all you need to do is add ingredients to a jar and give it a shake!

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This is my one snobbish foodie thing – I don’t use any store-bought dressings or marinades. If you have oil, vinegar, and mustard/honey in your kitchen, you will always have the makings of a delicious and cheap homemade dressing.

Mix mix mix.

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DSC_0498LEMON!

I split this batch into two tupperwares for lunch. It is about 300 calories, lots of fiber, and nearly 10 grams of protein thanks to the peas (that apparently have lots of it!).

DSC_0503I didn’t get a chance to food prep this weekend (being that I was too busy drinking tequila and playing kickball and whatnot), but luckily (unluckily?) I was feeling ill Monday and Tuesday and didn’t have an appetite for much beyond avocado toast or almond butter + toast. I made this on Tuesday night hoping I’d regain my appetite in time to eat it for lunch on Wednesday and Thursday……wish granted!

Except that my stomachache promptly got worse after eating it, so I went to the doctor and the reason my stomach was acting up was because of acid indigestion-related issues. So yesterday morning I got a strict “no caffeine-alcohol-dairy-spicy-or-acidic-foods” order from the doc. Which means one of these is still sitting in my fridge at work, waiting to be eaten.

Any takers?

Lemony Brown Rice with Spring Veggies
serves 2, or 3-4 as a side dish

1/2 cup brown rice, uncooked
1 cup chicken broth, veggie broth, or water (for cooking rice)
1/2 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
~10 asparagus spears (this was about 1/2 my bunch)
1/2 medium zucchini, about 1 cup when sliced
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 tsp oil, or as needed for sauteing

FOR DRESSING
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2 tsp oil (I used sunflower oil)
pinch of dried basil
pinch of dried thyme

Prepare brown rice according to package instructions using your choice of broth or water.

While rice is cooking, prepare veggies. Dice the onions and mince the garlic. Snap or cut off the woody ends of the asparagus then cut each spear into 3-4 bite sized pieces, shuck the peas (if using fresh ones still in the pod), and slice the zucchini into bite-sized slices.

Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 2-3 minutes. Next, add asparagus, stirring to coat. Let asparagus cook for about 4 minutes. Once the asparagus starts to get tender, add zucchini slices and garlic, stirring again to combine. Cook for another couple of minutes. Add cooked rice and peas all at once, mixing everything thoroughly.

While waiting for the veggies to cook, combine dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine.

After peas and rice are added, let cook until everything is heated through and then add dressing, stirring well. Turn heat down to low and let everything simmer until ready to serve, being sure to not let the veggies overcook.

Would be great served with fresh crusty bread, or with chicken!

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What is your favorite season for produce?

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Meatless Monday: Spaghetti Squash

I am FINALLY sharing with you all my recipe for spaghetti squash! I’ve only showed you pictures of me making it one two three times, I guess it’s time I post my recipe.

The thing is, this isn’t a recipe as much as it is a method. Spaghetti squash is super versatile. Once you roast it and get it out of the shell, you can do anything with it that you’d do with regular ol’ spaghetti. Sometimes, I just toss it with olive oil and fresh herbs. Usually, though, I whip up a batch of tomato sauce (I use canned tomatoes during these colder months) to serve on top. And to ensure that my carb and meat lovin’ boyfriend is satiated, we’ll usually toss some meatballs, garlic bread, and/or salad into the mix as well.

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This weekend, turkey meatballs and Alexia frozen garlic bread were invited to the party!

So, it doesn’t taste like spaghetti. Let’s get that out of the way right now. The texture is a little different and it definitely tastes more like a vegetable than a grain. But it is still an affordable and healthy alternative to its pasta counterpart, and it is super easy to make! Plus, it pretty much adopts the taste of whatever sauce you serve it with, so you’ll hardly notice you’re eating veggies 😉

Here’s how you do it:

Spaghetti Squash
serves 2-4, depending on size of squash and what you serve with it

1 medium/large spaghetti squash
olive oil
pasta sauce of choice

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Using a very sharp knife, carefully cut the stem off of the squash. If you’re having a really hard time with it, poke a few holes throughout the squash and microwave it for 30-45 seconds before trying again.
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  3. Place the squash on the end you just cut off so that it’s stable. Again being extremely careful, cut it in half length wise.
  4. Scoop the insides from the squash.
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  5. Spray the cut side with a little bit of olive oil, and place skin side down on a baking sheet into the oven. Let it roast for at least 30 minutes, 40 minutes maximum. You want strands to pull away with very little effort when the squash is scraped with a fork.
  6. Remove and let cool before going at it with two forks. No right or wrong way to do this- just go at it until you get every last bit of squash out of the shell.
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  7. That’s it! Serve hot with olive oil and fresh herbs, or topped with your favorite pasta sauce. I’m even looking forward to trying this in a mac n’ cheese type dish…the possibilities are endless!

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I will hopefully soon be sharing a recipe for the meatballs we enjoyed it with this weekend- I’ve made ’em 3 times now and I can’t get enough! But you all will have to wait until a non-Meatless Monday post for that 😉

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Bon appetit!

P.S. Are you coming?

I'm Attending Blend

I registered for Blend last night and am super excited! Can’t wait to meet lots of “blends”, get my hike on Utah-style, and uh if we’re being honest here, I’m stoked to get some swag! Click the link for more info!

Spicy Crispy Squash Rounds

Sometimes, I feel like a bit of a produce pusher.

Pretty much all summer long, I ate quinoa. I made it for lunch, I snacked on it, and I brought it to potlucks so that everyone else could see how good it was…

There was back in (what felt like summer but was actually) late fall, when I made T-Man try green tomatoes with me.

Surely I can’t forget to mention that in the past 2 months, I’ve made spaghetti squash for everyone.and.their.mom – I’ve made it for my parents, T-Man (3 times), friends, and most recently for our Vegan Middle East Feast. I do owe you all a post on spaghetti squash…definitely in line for one of my next installments of Meatless Monday.

But you know, I have no bias towards spaghetti squash.

Kabocha can come to the party too.

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Especially if said kabocha is breaded in crunchy, spicy coating and pan/oven fried to perfection.

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This was my first time cooking kabocha squash on its own. The night before, I cut the other half of the squash into cubes and roasted it, then stirred it into some meaty pasta sauce to add some veggies to an otherwise meat and pasta-heavy dinner. But this time, the kabocha was front row center, and it was glorious. Kabocha is very similar to acorn squash in shape, but I found it most similar to butternut squash in taste. The crunchy coating was such an awesome contrast with the squashy interior, which kind of had a creamy texture to it!

I got the idea for these from the lovely Jessica, but kind of winged it and created my own flavor profile. I used a very similar breading to my fried green tomato BLTs, and instead of the seasonal sage she suggested, I added cilantro and some Mexican spices….and hot sauce.

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Just trust me on this one, guys. I wasn’t even going to post the recipe…until T-Man said he loved them and that I should. If my meat & potatoes lovin’ boyfriend liked this, I’m sure you will too.

Spicy Crispy Squash Rounds
makes 4-6 rounds, depending on size of squash
loosely based on a recipe from HowSweetEats.com

1 small kabocha or acorn squash
1 egg, or 2 egg whites, beaten
1 tbsp hot sauce
1/2 cup cornmeal (I used polenta)
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
oil, for frying

Very carefully slice your squash into equal sized rounds (about 1/2-3/4 inch each). I find that piercing squash a few times with a knife or fork, then microwaving it makes it easier to cut into. Peel afterward if desired. Add salt and pepper to rounds and set aside while you set up your breading station.

Put beaten egg and hot sauce in one dish, and remaining dry ingredients (from cornmeal to cilantro) in other dish. Full disclosure: I didn’t have any eggs, so I used hot sauce on its own.. It worked fine. Press each squash round first into egg mixture, making sure all sides get covered, and then into the breadcrumb/cornmeal/flour/spices, again making sure to coat the entire round. Repeat until all the rounds are fully coated in breading.

You can cook these one of two ways:

  • If you want to oven fry them, your best results will be to line your baking sheet with aluminum foil and a wire rack to ensure all sides get equally crispy. Preheat oven to 425 F, spray coated squash rounds with cooking spray, and bake for 40 minutes, turning once at the halfway mark.
  • Because I don’t have a wire rack, I improvised: I decided to pan fry these, then because the squash was thick and I wanted to ensure it cooked through, I finished them in the oven. Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a saute pan on medium heat. Fry squash rounds on each side until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and cook on the other side. Set finished rounds on a paper towel. When they have all fried, finish cooking in the oven for about 10 minutes on each side, flipping once.

Serve as a side dish, or over a bed of greens for a light dinner.

Meatless Monday: Late Autumn Grain Blend

Told you guys I had something for you this Monday! Remember my summer skillet? I thought it was pretty freckin good as is: Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend with summer vegetables like zucchini and tomatoes and just a touch of white wine and basil. (OK, it WAS pretty good!)

However, I came up with a winter version (err…apparently it’s still technically autumn…) that I think might top it!

Unfortunately, I made this at night so the pictures aren’t great. But it made a delicious and festive lunch and, just like many grains, is great warm or cold.

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If you haven’t had it before, this Harvest Grain Blend from TJ’s is a mix of Israeli couscous, orzo, mini garbanzo beans, and red quinoa. It’s a favorite of mine to pick up at Trader Joe’s. It has a fun combination of textures, and it’s a bit more interesting than your plain ol’ rice or quinoa.

To give it a autumnal spin, I added caramelized onions, toasted walnuts (pecans would be great too), dried cranberries, and pomegranate arils. Then I mixed in a rosemary vinaigrette and O-M-G. This was wonderful the night I made it, but it actually tasted even better the next day!

Like I said with my Summer Grain Blend, you don’t have to use the TJ’s blend…brown rice, quinoa, or traditional couscous would be great carb options for making this flavor combo. And I hope you do!

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Autumn Grain Blend
serves 4 as a side dish, or 3 as a “main course”

3/4 cup Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend (dry), or rice, quinoa, etc
1/4-1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 small onion
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup pomegranate arils

for vinaigrette
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 sprig rosemary
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp oil (I used walnut oil to stay in theme!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put walnuts on a baking sheet and place in oven, toasting the walnuts until they’re fragrant, about 6-8 minutes. When cooled, roughly chop the walnuts and set aside.

Meanwhile, start caramelizing your onions. Slice onion into long strips (mine were about 1.5 inches long). Heat oil in a pan on medium heat, and add onions. Stir to coat. Turn heat down to LOW and keep on cooking the onions on low heat, stirring frequently, until onions are translucent and well caramelized.

Once walnuts are done and onions have started, prepare your grain blend according to package instructions. While that’s cooking, prepare the vinaigrette: roughly chop rosemary as well as you can. Whisk together with vinegar and mustard. While whisking, slowly drizzle in as much oil as desired.

When everything is done, stir the ingredients into the grain blend one at a time: caramelized onions, followed by the dressing, then cranberries, walnuts, and pomegranate arils. Enjoy warm immediately, or chill in fridge to enjoy later.

Meatless Monday: End of Summer Skillet

Living in an urban area with no car, you’d think I wouldn’t know how to make myself a good meal very often.

That’s the whole point of city livin’ when you’re young, right? Carrie Bradshaw never cooked. Her dinner always consisted making reservations at a swanky restaurant for a romantic dimly lit dinner date at that week’s hottest new restaurant with Mr. Big or a New York Yankee.

Not that Sacramento is anything like New York City or Chicago or even San Francisco, but hey. It’s not hard to eat out every night when you live within walking distance of half a dozen fairly nice restaurants.

My goal each week is to avoid that trap.

It’s not easy to make meals from scratch every night. I would be lying to you if I told you I did. But I do buy fresh produce from the market (or my parent’s backyard) (or from a box) every week, and it makes a huge difference in my meals. With fresh meat and produce, you can go a long way… especially with the help of Trader Joe’s:

I got most of my groceries from TJ’s in college, but there aren’t very any that are conveniently close to me now (why wait for a ride when I can walk 4 blocks to Safeway?). TJ’s makes it easy to make meals at home. Pre-made sauces, actually appetizing microwave meals, you name it. When I was in SF a couple weekends ago, I stopped in Berkeley on the way back for coffee and chit chat with my long time friend Briana, and was stoked to see she lives right above the amazing Trader Joe.

I picked up some Luna bars, some cookie butter-stuffed dark chocolate, and their Harvest Grain Blend. This stuff is really good — a mix of Israeli couscous, orzo, mini garbanzo beans, and red quinoa — and though it would be fine on its own, it lends itself perfectly to a 20-something who needs a quick dinner, but wants to add their own personal culinary flair too.

This recipe isn’t so much of a recipe as it is a challenge. I challenge you to buy the Harvest Grain Blend…or some other grain you’ve never tried before…and add whatever you want to it! Add your favorite veggies! Or your favorite sauce! I added the last of my parent’s summer garden veggies. I served it with chicken to my parents. Add whatever you want, just add something. Gone are the days that being 20-something means take-out every night. Free yourself! And your wallet 🙂

Now I will get up off my soapbox and just show you all the recipe already.

End of Summer Skillet
serves 2-3 as a side dish

1 Cup Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend (or grain of choice — Israeli couscous, orzo pasta, barley, rice, etc)
olive oil
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 zucchini
1/2 bell pepper
1/4 cup white wine
1 small tomato
1 tsp dried basil
s&p

Prepare grain blend per package instructions. While it’s cooking, dice all veggies to a similar size and shape (except tomatoes). Set aside cooked grains when finished.

In a somewhat large skillet on medium heat, heat olive oil and add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent. Add zucchini and bell pepper and cook until slightly soft. You don’t want to fully cook it yet, but you want there to at least be some brown bits on the pan. When this happens, add white wine and use spatula to deglaze the pan. Let the wine bubble until much of the liquid has evaporated.

While your other veggies are bubbling, chop the tomatoes to your preferred size, making sure to reserve the juices. Once most of the white wine liquid has evaporated in the pan, add in both the cooked grain as well as the tomatoes, tossing to make sure everything is coated.

Cook until heated through, and add basil, salt & pepper to taste.