Friday, October 26, 2007

Orzo Salad

This summer I became obsessed with an orzo salad. It had spinach, lots of onions and garlic, feta cheese, and of course, orzo. It's a cold salad to be kept in the fridge, so it can sit and stew in it's own flavors. Like a good cheese, it only gets better with age. Also like (some) cheeses, it stinks. (Well, more like you stink, since there is about 6 cloves of garlic in the thing.) The consumption of garlic is always a battle with me. On the one hand it is tasty, and very good for you. On the other hand it doesn't leave you very fragrantly pleasing.
So to compromise I try to not consume to much garlic when I am around lots of people, like at work. This made me pretty sad since the salad I described above is one I could see myself eating every single day, and a great option to bring for lunch.

But now I have a solution! I was watching Everyday Italian a while back, and on the show Giada made a "Tri-Colore Orzo Salad". (Which translates to three colours.) It was very similar to my beloved (but garlicy) salad I yearned to enjoy on a regular basis, only without the garlic and onions and other things that wouldn't smell too great. I made a mental note to try this new salad out sometime, and that was that.

Then sometime last week as I was trying to scrounge something up for my lunch, I decide see about making this sald. Lucky enough I had orzo so I set to work. The result was wonderful.
I ended up improvising a bit since I didn't have the exact ingredients she used, and because I couldn't be bothered to look up the recipe to find out for sure wether I did or not. (Turns out I was pretty close.)

I'm also really proud of staying true to the "tri-colore" theme of the salad, by finding three colours to put in it:
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The recipe will be a rough idea of what I put in my salad, since I never keep track of exact measurements when cooking. I also made enough for my lunch as well as my parents who always have difficulty cooking for themselves after work. Keep in mind these measurements can easily be changed to suit how many mouths you intend on feeding. (This recipe fed about 4.)

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What you will need:
2 1/2 cups orzo, cooked al dente
1/2 cup baby spinach
1/2 cup baby arugula
1/2 cup of crasisns
1/4 cup of light feta cheese
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, plus 3 tbsp
3 tbsp or juice of one lemon
zest of one lemon*
salt and pepper to taste

*I didn't have any lemon zest in this batch, since I still don't have zester, and I am completely hopeless to somehow accomplish another way to zest it up. (How do I even live like this?!) I'd highly recommend adding some though, because I imagine it is wonderful.

What to do:
Cook the orzo to package directions. Toss with 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, and let cool. Meanwhile juice&zest the lemon, rip apart (or chop) the arugula and the spinach, and dice (or crumble) the feta cheese.
Toss the orzo with the rest of the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest, spinach, arugula, crasins, and feta. Add a pinch of salt and a generous grind or two of fresh black pepper. Chill and serve.

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As I mentioned earlier in this post, this is the type of salad that gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.
Some other ideas to add to this would be some chopped peppers, green onions, and if you're brave, (or alone) a glove of garlic or two. (I mean one or two cloves wouldn't be that bad, right?) Next time I will try it.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lovely Lentils

After being a vegetarian for nearly five years, I had never had lentils until a few months ago. I had always thought about it, and I really did want to try lentils, but I was always too afraid to go for it. Eventually I did get around to consuming lentils when I found them in a canned lentil soup, which magically appeared in my pantry one day.
I quite enjoyed the soup, and made a vow to try and partake of more lentils in my diet. Until recently though, I had never found much reason to try them. Then I found this lentil chili recipe and it inspired me. I tired it out and was in love.

So ever since falling in love with lentils from that recipe, I have decided to try out more recipes with lentils.
Then as fate would have it, I recently caught an episode of Good Eats devoted entirely to lentils! I made a vow to try out at least one of the recipes.

As a part of my crusade to find healthy baked items, I decided to go for the Lentil Cookies. Now, when I first heard dear Alton utter lentils and cookies in the same sentence, I thought he was crazy. As much as I love him I could just not get behind this idea. Even after seeing him make them and devour them I still wasn't sold. Then, and I'm not sure when or why- but sometime this past week I found myself ready and willing to give them a try.

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They certainly are very appealing health wise. The recipe calls for whole wheat flour, dried fruit, oats, and (obviously) lentils. I also decided to personally up the nutrition in these babies by replacing the sugar with Splenda and adding some flax.

For my dried fruit I decided to use my two favorites, craisins, and dried apricots. They ended up being quite the pair.
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The only issue I have with these is that I'm not sure what to call them. On the one hand they are sweet like cookies, and they kind of remind me of an oatmeal cookie, so calling it a cookie makes sense.
On the other hand, they came out shaped like little biscuits, and are quite round and dense. Not like the traditional cookie.
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Also telling people I made lentil cookies usually results in them looking at me like I am crazy and shaking their head in disgust.

They also kind of remind me of these "cookies" that always pop up during christmas time. They're about the size of a quarter but very thick, kind of the same idea as these lentil cookies. They've got jam in the middle and walnuts all around the dough part. They are dry and bland and I've always found them useless. In my humble opinion, these lentil cookies are a million times better then the dry jam cookies of Christmas past, present, and future.

But in the end it doesn't really matter what they are called, what matters is that they are delicious, and that everyone should try them! (No matter how skeptical you may be.)

Lentil "Cookies"
(Courtesy of God Alton Brown)

2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour*
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice**
I cup sugar***
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups lentil puree, recipe follows
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup unsweetened dried shredded coconut
2 tbsp ground flax seed

*I am just realizing now that I did not use pastry flour, but regular whole wheat flour. They still turned out though.
**I didn't have any allspice, so I substituted this for ground cloves.
***As I mentioned above, I replaced the sugar with Splenda.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice (or cloves).

In the bowl of a stand-mixer with a whisk attachment, cream together the sugar and butter on medium speed. Add the egg and mix until just incorporated. Add the vanilla and lentil puree and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and blend on low speed until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the oats, dried fruit, coconut and ground flax seed.

Form the dough into balls about 2 teaspoons in size and place on a baking sheet with parchment paper, leaving about 1-inch of room in between. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 195 degrees F is reached on an instant-read thermometer.

Lentil Puree:
4 ounces lentils, approximately 2/3 cup, picked over and rinsed
2 cups water
In a small pot over medium heat, combine the lentils and the water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Remove from the heat and puree. If using immediately, let cool. The puree may be stored in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days or in the freezer for 2 to 3 months.
Yield: 1 1/2 cups lentil puree

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Berry Good Cream Cheese Muffins

A while back I caught an episode of Eat, Shrink and Be Merry on the food network. To me it's one of those shows that sounds really good in theory, but it always comes up short when I watch it. I think the reason for not fully embracing this show could be the dynamic between the two sisters. The blonde one is very bossy and controlling in the kitchen. She always seems annoyed and pissed off at the other sister. This reminds me a little too much of the dynamic in my own kitchen, between my younger sister and I. (My sister being the bossy mean controlling one.) It's not that fun to live, and it's not that fun to watch.

But despite my psychological issues, I still try to tune in every now and then for a new healthy recipe to try out. The latest episode I saw was titled: "Little Miss Muffin Tops". The recipe sounded easy and really good. Lately i've been trying to only bake healthy things, and these fit the bill perfectly. So I decided to try these out. But since mid-episode I got distracted by 90210, I missed the part about how they go about baking only the tops. So when I made these I decided to go all out and just make full on muffins.

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Since I'm always a bit apprehensive to change a baking recipe, I followed this one almost perfectly. I felt confident in my idea this time though, since all it involved was adding some flax. Ever since I bought a big bag of flax seed a while back, I try to add it to as many recipes as possible. I also upped the ratio of raspberries to blueberries since I had a small selection of decent blueberries to work with.

"Little Miss Muffin Tops"
(Courtesy of the food network.)

Dry ingredients
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground flax seed

Wet ingredients
1 cup low-fat vanilla flavoured yogurt
1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 x egg
Grated zest of one large lemon
2 Tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup fresh blueberries
2/3 cup fresh raspberries
12 teaspoons light strawberry cream cheese (Philadelphia brand)

Dry ingredients
Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray 2 muffin-top pans lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Wet ingredients
Whisk together wet ingredients in a medium bowl. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in blueberries and raspberries.
Divide batter evenly among 12 muffin-top cups. Hide 1 tsp cream cheese in the centre of each muffin. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until muffin tops are puffed up and a toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack. Serve warm.

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I am very happy to report that these turned out great. The only thing missing was more of a lemon flavor, which was lacking since I omitted the zest. (As I have no method to zest a lemon.) I'd also like to try these again but with a bit more whole wheat flour and less regular flour. I found myself wanting them to taste more grainy, and I think more whole wheat could fix that.