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Monday, April 20, 2009

Who says money can't buy happiness? It can...when you use it to buy food.

Photo credit: www.veganyumyum.com

Lately, I feel like I’m back in college…during finals. I’m preparing to take the GMAT exam in early May, and so my “free time” has become much more structured. Instead of coming home from the gym and debating whether to watch “Real Housewives” or “The Daily Show” while I savor my vegan mac and cheese, I find myself going through quick-fire motions of showering, cooking, eating, and pulling my review books off the shelf to get in a couple hours of studying before I fall asleep…and then get up in the morning, go to work, and get ready to do it all again.

Unfortunately, I cannot program myself to function robotically, and this schedule has fallen apart on more than one occasion. Inevitably, something doesn’t happen – either I don’t make it to the gym, or I don’t cook, or my willpower crumbles to the temptation that is “Lost”…

(What lies in the shadow of the statue??)

…and thus my score on the quantitative section has not gone up in two weeks.

It might be easiest for me to forgo the cooking for a while – just pick things up or order take out, and eliminate all of the time it takes me to plan, shop, prep, and, of course, blog. But, I can’t bring myself to do this.

When I was in college, finals was the time when I was most rigid about my sleep schedule – I had to get my eight hours; if I didn’t, I couldn’t function optimally, and the studying became somewhat useless. What sleep was to me during finals, food is to me now. Eating frozen crap or soup that was prepared in large batches two days ago just doesn’t do it for me.

So, I’ll wake up earlier in the morning to do GMAT review before work. And, instead of going to the gym every day, I go every other day. But, I cook and eat my food, and it makes me happy and able to focus on everything else I need to get done.

Here’s to contented tastebuds, a nourished soul…and to me getting better at math!

This week's dishes:

Thai Spicy Eggplant with Sweet Basil

Kale and Sundried Tomato Hummus

Spring Spinach Salad

Purple Cabbage Salad with Currants, Carrots, and Almonds

Pizza with Pineapple, Sundried Tomatoes, and Basil

This week’s menu:

Dinner: Thai Spicy Eggplant with Sweet Basil
Cook: Thai Spicy Eggplant with Sweet Basil

Lunch: Thai Spicy Eggplant with Sweet Basil
Dinner: Spinach Salad with Hummus on Sourdough
Cook: Spinach Salad, Kale and Sundried Tomato Hummus, Purple Cabbage Salad (for Tuesday)

Lunch: Thai Spicy Eggplant with Sweet Basil
Dinner: Purple Cabbage Salad
Cook: Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes, Pineapple, and Basil (for Wednesday lunch)

Lunch: Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes, Pineapple, and Basil
Dinner: Spinach Salad with Hummus on Sourdough
Cook: Spinach Salad

Lunch: Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes, Pineapple, and Basil
Dinner: Purple Cabbage Salad
Cook: --

Lunch: Purple Cabbage Salad with Hummus on Sourdough

This week’s recipes:

Kale and Sundried Tomato Hummus on Grilled Sourdough with Spring Spinach Salad
I love dishes that sneak healthy things (kale) into delicious things (hummus and bread). With the warm weather upon us, I also enjoy citrus in my salads.

The quantity of dressing that you will make in the recipe below is enough for the week. Make it once and store it in the fridge. The salad recipe is for each serving so that you can assemble it fresh.

Click here for the Kale and Sundried Tomato Hummus recipe.
Spring Spinach Salad recipe:

For Dressing:
Juice of 1 orange
¼ cup shallot, finely chopped
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. agave nectar (or honey or maple syrup)
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper

For Salad (per serving):
1 navel orange
2 ½ cups, baby spinach
½ cup, sliced radishes
1 Hass avocado, peeled and sliced
¼ cup, sunflower seeds

1. Place all ingredients for dressing in a bowl. Whisk to blend. Set aside.
2. Peel orange and remove white portions. Quarter the orange and slice it into fans.
3. Toss the spinach and radishes with 3 Tbsp. of the dressing in a large mixing or salad bowl.
4. Top with avocado and orange slices.
5. Sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Serve!

Thai Spicy Eggplant with Basil
Making Thai food can be intimidating – but this dish is not. It’s surprising easy and quick to make and the flavors are subtle, but definitely present. If you want, you can add some cubes of tofu to this dish.

If you can find it, (I usually do at the farmer’s market in Union Square), buy Thai basil for this dish. The leaves have a hint of purple in them. While the flavor is great with regular basil, the Thai version is distinctive, and I think you’ll find that the dish tastes more authentic as a result.

1 cup of jasmine or brown rice, cooked according to package directions
2 Tbs. peanut oil (vegetable is ok, too)
½ tsp crushed red pepper (more to taste)
3 baby eggplants, cubed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
¼ cup scallions, diced
2 Tbs. white vinegar
3 Tbs. soy sauce (or tamari)
2 Tbs. dark brown sugar
2 handfuls, fresh basil leaves, chopped

1. Heat a deep skillet or wok over high heat. Add the oil and crushed red pepper, and let it sizzle for 10 seconds.
2. Add the eggplant, and stir-fry for three minutes.
3. Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, ginger, and scallions and stir-fry for another three minutes.
4. Add vinegar, soy sauce, and brown sugar, and toss for 2 more minutes.
5. Remove from heat. Add basil and stir gently to combine with eggplant.
6. Serve with cooked, hot rice.

Purple Cabbage Salad
Every now and then, my stomach craves something full of flavor, crunch, and general yumminess, but that also feels really light…so that when I’m done eating, I’m completely satisfied, but not needing to change into sweatpants. This salad does just that. Not to mention that cabbage is full of Vitamin C and thus, super good for you.

Click here for the Purple Cabbage Salad recipe.

Pizza with Sundried Tomatoes, Pineapple, and Basil
I love pizza. I also love sweet and savory combinations – give me a bag of kettle corn, and it will be gone before you can grab some bowls so we can share it.

I usually buy ready-made crusts from Whole Foods when I make pizza. But, as I don’t have plans to make a second pizza this week, I’ll buy Whole Foods Naan and make mini pizzas on them – so when I say “crust”, you can take this to mean a full pizza crust, or some mini version like mine.

The sauce for this pizza is inspired by one I found here.

Ingredients for sauce:
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Pint, Grape Tomatoes
¼ cup ground pine nuts
¼ Tsp. Salt
½ tsp. dried Italian herbs (oregano, basil, if you don’t have an Italian mix)

Ingredients for pizza:
Cooking spray
1 ready-made pizza crust (or naan)
1/2 cup sauce, (prepared using ingredients above)
1/3 cup pineapple, diced
¼ cup sundried tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp., basil, chopped

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat oil over medium-high heat.
3. Add tomatoes, and toss in the oil until the tomatoes start to soften (about three minutes).
4. Add salt and herbs, and cook for additional two minutes.
5. As tomatoes continue to soften, gently mash them with the bottom of a wooden spoon. Stir in the ground pine nuts, and allow to cook for 2 to three more minutes.
6. Remove sauce from heat.
7. Spray pizza pan with cooking spray before putting the crust on the pan.
8. Spread sauce on crust. Layer with toppings. Bake for 10 minutes, serve, and enjoy!

This week’s grocery list:

3 oranges
5 cups, baby spinach
1 medium red bell pepper
1 bunch, scallions
1 bunch, basil
1 small bunch, kale
4 carrots
1 small head, purple cabbage
1, 4 oz. package, radishes
2 Haas avocados
3 baby eggplants
1 medium yellow onion
1 shallot
1 bulb, garlic
1, 2-inch piece ginger
1 Pint, Grape Tomatoes
1 Pineapple
Sundried tomatoes*

Oils, Spices, and Condiments
Cooking spray
Olive oil
Peanut Oil
Canola Oil
Balsamic VinegarSeasoned Rice Vinegar
Red wine vinegar
White vinegar
Soy sauce (or tamari)
Dijon mustard
Agave nectar, honey or maple syrup
Ground black pepper
Crushed red pepper
Dark brown sugar

Bottled and Canned Goods
1 bottle, Tahini
1, 15.5 oz. can, chickpeas

Dry Goods
Sunflower seeds*
Pine nuts*
Sliced or Slivered Almonds*Dried Currants or Raisins*
Brown rice
Baguette, or sliced bread of your choice
Ready-made pizza crust, or package of pita bread/naan

*If you can buy them loose, just get a handful, otherwise, buy the smallest possible package. For sundried tomatoes, you’ll need about 15 for the week.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Menu 10: Spanakopita, Tabbouleh, Grilled Asparagus Salad, Pesto Pizza, Tomato Ginger Chutney, Strawberry Salad...

With everything that is going on right now between work and all of the things I’m trying to get done outside of the office, last week left little room for cooking. I wandered over to Whole Foods from the gym almost every night to pick out something that was ready to go, so that I could eat as soon as I made it home (which was about 9 pm every night, and seemingly too late to pull anything together).

(I know, it’s terrible – I was violating the values of my own blog.)

So, this weekend, I decided that everything else aside (including the thrill of doing my taxes), I HAD to make a menu, and I had to cook. If I ended the weekend feeling fully prepared for the week, it would be much easier to get back on track.

And so I whisked, sautéed, and layered my way to the deliciously flaky, crispy, creamy, and savory spanakopitas featured in this week’s menu – and I have to say that it was one of the best moments I’ve experienced in the last five days (both the process of being back in the kitchen, and the first bite…so a few of the best moments…).

Maybe because it was 60 degrees and sunny today, I was feeling all kinds of light and springy foods when I sat down to write this menu – tomatoes, asparagus, basil, strawberries….salads. And, so I bring you my first menu of the season.

This week’s dishes:

Spanakopita with Quinoa Tabbouleh

Grilled Asparagus and Spinach Salad

Tomato Ginger Chutney Crostini

Asparagus and Pesto Pizza

Strawberry Salad with “Goat Cheese” Crostini

This week’s menu:

Dinner: Spanakopita with Quinoa Tabbouleh
Cook: Spanakopita, Quinoa Tabbouleh, Tomato Ginger Chutney (store for Monday dinner)

Lunch: Spanakopita with Quinoa Tabbouleh
Dinner: Grilled Asparagus and Spinach Salad, Tomato Ginger Chutney Crostini
Cook: Grilled Asparagus and Spinach Sala

Lunch: Spanakopita with Quinoa Tabbouleh
Dinner: Asparagus and Pesto Pizza
Cook: Asparagus and Pesto Pizza

Lunch: Asparagus and Pesto Pizza
Dinner: Strawberry Salad with “Goat Cheese” Crostini
Cook: Strawberry Salad with “Goat Cheese” Crostini, Salad for Thursday’s lunch

Lunch: Grilled Asparagus and Spinach Salad, Tomato Ginger Chutney Crostini
Dinner: Strawberry Salad with “Goat Cheese” Crostini
Cook: Strawberry Salad

Lunch: Spanakopita with Quinoa Tabbouleh

This week’s recipes:

Vegan Spanakopita
In being vegan, I miss all things that combine spinach and cheese – traditional spanakopita, hot spinach-artichoke dip, Palak Paneer, and the Deep brand Samosas with spinach and cheese…

I found the original version of this vegan recipe in Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Vegan with a Vengeance, and was really excited when I found this version, which has been adapted from Isa’s, that I could share on the blog.

This definitely takes some time, so it’s ideal for Sunday afternoons or evenings – or another day when you get home from work early. But, when it’s done, you’ll have eight scrumptious spinach pies which will last throughout the week – well worth the effort you’ll make on Sunday.

½ cup, olive oil
2½ pounds fresh spinach, cleaned and de-stemmed
6 green onions, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 pounds firm tofu, drained
1/3 cup lemon juice
2 tsp. dried oregano
Dash of nutmeg
¾ cup walnuts, ground
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed overnight

1. Preheat oven to 375º.
2. Heat 2 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat, and then add spinach, green onion, garlic, and dill, and sauté, stirring frequently until spinach is limp and the liquid that sweats out has boiled away. Set aside until the mixture fully cools to room temperature.
3. Meanwhile, drain the tofu (press out excess liquid). Place the tofu in a bowl and use a whisk (or your hands) to mash it. Add the (cooled) spinach mixture, lemon juice, oregano, nutmeg, walnuts, ¼ cup olive oil, yeast, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings, as needed.
4. Lay out a sheet of phyllo in the baking dish. Brush with oil, lay another on top, brush with oil, and repeat for a total of 8 sheets.
5. Gently spread half of the spinach mixture over the dough. Prepare another 8 sheets of phyllo as above and lay on top of the spinach mixture. Spread the rest of the spinach on top. Layer with the rest of the phyllo sheets.
6. Brush the top layer of phyllo with oil and tuck the edges of the phyllo sheets into the pan.
7. Score the top layer of dough into eight pieces.
8. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, until golden-brown and crispy – be careful not to let the phyllo burn!

Quinoa Tabbouleh
Once the quinoa is cooked, this will literally take 10 minutes, and will make a nice side dish for the spanakopita. Want to make it a bit more interesting? Add some cranberries, sliced grapes, or sliced mandarin oranges.

Click here for the Quinoa Tabbouleh recipe.

Grilled Asparagus and Spinach Salad
This salad was inspired by this one, which I found on the FatFree Vegan blog. I wanted to add a bit more color and texture to it, so you’ll see some additions to the original below. You might also think about adding fresh peas and/or artichokes.

Susan’s original recipe includes what looks like a punchy smoked paprika dressing. But, since I am pairing this salad with the flavorful tomato ginger crostini, I’m going to keep my salad dressing very simple.

Note: You will need about four asparagus spears for the pizza. Reserve these, and use the rest of the asparagus to make the salad.

For salad:

4 ounces asparagus, tough ends snapped offOlive oil spraySalt
Freshly ground pepper2 ounces baby spinach
5 – 6 cherry tomatoes, sliced1 tablespoon chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon sliced almonds

For dressing:
2 tablespoons, olive oil
1 tablespoon, balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon, fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus, place in a dish, and spray it lightly with olive oil (just a couple of quick sprays). Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss to distribute the oil and seasonings.
3. Spread asparagus on a pizza pan and place in oven for about 5 minutes, turning half-way through.
4. Meanwhile, whisk all dressing ingredients together. Set aside.
5. Cut asparagus spears into thirds.
6. Toss remaining salad ingredients with dressing. Top with asparagus.
7. Serve salad with Tomato Ginger Chutney Crostini.

Tomato Ginger Chutney Crostini:
Note: Once you make this chutney, store it in its own container in the refrigerator so that you can use it repeatedly with freshly sliced bread.

3 roma tomatoes, diced
1 medium shallot, diced
2 tbsp., olive oil
1 tbsp., lime juice
1 clove, garlic, minced
1 tbsp., minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 pinch, sugar
1 pinch, crushed red pepper

2 crostini slices, spread with olive oil or Earth Balance buttery spread

1. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. (Alternatively, to make it more “spreadable”, you could pulse it in the food processor – but leave it coarse; don’t make it totally smooth!)
2. Adjust seasonings to taste.
3. Toast crostini in toaster oven, or heat in oven on 350 degree until crispy (3 minutes).
4. Spread tomato ginger chutney on crostini and serve.

Asparagus Pesto Pizza
I saw this in the prepared foods section at Whole Foods, but with cheese. So, I’m taking it out, adding tomatoes, and making it vegan. If you are vegetarian, I think this would taste best with a few sliced rounds of fresh mozzarella, or sprinkled with shredded mozzarella.

1 pizza crust
Olive oil cooking spray
2 cups, basil (packed down)

8 tablespoons, olive oil

2/3 cup, pine nuts

Juice from 1 lemon

2 cloves, garlic

Paprika, to taste

4 spears, asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large vine ripened tomato, thinly sliced

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray pizza pan with olive oil spray. Place pizza crust on pan and spray lightly with oil spray.
2. Pulse basil, olive oil, pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, and paprika in food processor or blender until smooth.
3. Spread pizza crust with pesto.
4. In a bowl, very lightly spray asparagus and tomato slices with olive oil spray. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Layer tomatoes, then asparagus on pizza.
6. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes.
7. Serve and enjoy!

Strawberry Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese Crostini
Once again, I was inspired to veganize a vegetarian recipe that I found on the Vegetarian Times website. As the weather gets warmer, I’m looking forward to fruit, “cheese”, and wine picnics in Central Park – and this salad is a taste of that.

Note: If you have leftover “cheese” and/or dressing, store each separately in the refrigerator for up to three days.

For dressing:

¼ cup, sliced strawberries
1 ½ tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 ½ tbsp., sugar
½ medium shallot
½ clove garlic, peeled
½ cup olive oil

For salad:
2 ½ oz. mesclun greens
6 strawberries, halved
2 tbsp., sliced almonds

For Herbed “Goat Cheese” Crostini:
2 slices, from baguette
3 tbs., olive oil
6 oz., Tofutti cream cheese
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp. chopped fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Pulse strawberries, vinegar, sugar, shallot, and garlic in blender or food processor, and purée until smooth. Slowly pour in oil, and blend until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper, and set dressing aside.
3. Rub baguette slices with oil, and place on baking sheet. Toast in oven 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden. Cool.
4. Mash cream cheese, parsley, thyme, and basil in bowl with fork. Season with salt and pepper, then spread on toasted baguette slices.
5. Toss mesclun greens with almonds and 3 tbsp. dressing. Top with strawberry halves.
6. Optional: Drizzle crostini with 1 tbsp. dressing.
7. Serve and enjoy!

This week’s grocery list:

1 quart, strawberries
8 oz., asparagus
1 bunches, fresh spinach
1 bunch, scallions
1 bunch, fresh dill
3 medium roma tomatoes
1 large vine-ripened tomato
2 shallots
1 lime
1, 2 inch piece, fresh ginger
1 pint, cherry or grape tomatoes
2 bulbs, garlic
1 bunch, fresh parsley
1 bunch, fresh basil
1 bunch, fresh thyme
3 lemons
5 oz., mesclun greens
4 oz., baby spinach

Oils, Spices, Condiments:
Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Olive oil spray
Crushed red pepper flakes

Dry Goods:
1, 12 oz. whole wheat baguette
1, 6 oz. package, sliced almonds
1, 6 oz. package, chopped walnuts
1, 6 oz. package, pine nuts
1 package, quinoa
Nutritional yeast
1 pizza crust


1, 8 oz. package, Tofutti cream cheese
1, 14 oz. packages, extra firm tofu
1 package, frozen phyllo dough