Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Fawning Over Fava Beans

Let's face it, you can't always book a backpacking trip to Peru every time you get sick of your job.* Although I didn't set out for adventure, something about the fava bean lured me out of a funk and took me on a mini-adventure.

I ate something called a butter bean at a restaurant years ago and I've always wondered what it IS. It was perfectly buttery and al dente, not at all mushy like a boring old navy bean. The closest thing I could find in the frozen section of the grocery store is a lima bean. Dead end there, for sure.

As I wandered around the farmer's market this weekend, I discovered the truth: it's a fava bean. And a fava bean is a rare and mysterious vegetable. It's not like a carrot, where you just brush off the dirt and start chomping on it. The fava bean requires delicate care and multiple peelings.

Behold The Fava Bean

It's pretty easy to get caught up at the farmer's market this time of year when everything looks so fresh and green you just want to grab everything in sight. As twenties were flying out of my hand, I asked the lady at checkout how you cook a fava bean. "Can you just boil it?"

The look of disbelief on her face clearly conveyed how sad my city life is that I'm so disconnected from the land as to not even know how to dissect a fava bean. The looks on the peoples' faces behind me in line clearly conveyed that I am a pain in the ass.

Here's the Cliff Notes: Peel, Boil, Peel, Saute.

Not completely satisfied, I turned to an awesome cookbook, Fast, Fresh & Green, that I knew would not fail me in my fava-quest. I found Warm Parmesan Fava Beans With Shallots and Mint.

The easy part is busting open the fava bean to reveal the tender bean-seed inside. Very satisfying.

Don't stop believin' butter bean! 
Next you boil the the little guys for a few short minutes. Then you submerge in an ice bath. Ideally, you have a handy right-sized colander that neatly fits inside the bowl of your ice bath. If you just dump the boiling beans in the ice bath, it's hard to fish them all out.

Not the right way to do it.
 Next you have to peel them yet again. This is not that easy. You tear a little opening in the casing and squeeze to shoot them into the bowl or across the room.

Looking tasty, my little butter beans.
I am rarely dissuaded from a recipe due to mere lack of ingredients. I had no parmesan, shallots, crostini, or sherry vinegar, but a diced up onion is always a good place to start.

If you have an onion, you can make anything.
Then you add the sherry vinegar, but I clearly do not have that in my kitchen, so I just skipped it and the parmesan. Next, add the BUTTER BEANS!!

The time is growing nigh.
 I did have some mint which officially makes this a fancy dish. One pint of fava beans resulted in just this tiny plate for one!

It really was as good as I remembered. Buttery with a perfect texture that has just a it of resistance to it. The fava bean saga shook something loose inside me and urged me to make good on the rest of the farmers market bounty! Fueled with favas, I spent the next few days in a cooking frenzy.

Caprese salad.

Almost potato salad and fresh peas (purchased already peeled).

 Did you really sneak peas in my eggs?

*Note that if you ever CAN book a backpacking trip to Peru, you should definitely do that.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas Cake

I do want to blog about some new healthy meals I've made and possibly even about my New Year's Resolutions, but I need to discuss one very important issue first. My first Christmas Cake.

After spending, literally, weeks debating the merits of various cakes to find the right mix of deliciousness and glamour, I ended up with something called a Smith Island Cake. I selected it because the 10 layers seemed both daunting and stunning. Also, I felt strongly that a standard 3-layer cake was not going to cut it for the first ever Christmas Eve hosted at my place.

In the end, I only ended up with 9 layers, but it was both stunning and daunting.

I am fabulous.

Here's how it went down.

No one owns 12 cake pans, so you get aluminum ones, butter them up, and stick parchment paper in the bottom. This takes waaaay longer than you anticipate.

Step one: Practically one stick of butter down.
Then I hooked up the paddle attachment to my mixer for the first time every. The amount of batter produced is pretty tremendous. I made a disastrous mistake at this point, but was blissfully unaware at the time.

Unaware of fatal error. 
Split the batter in half and dyed half of it red. I thought I had all the pans filled, then realized one was still empty. Had to let it go.

I baked the cake pans in shifts because no oven in the world fits 10 pans. When the layers came out, they seemed surprisingly pancake-like. Almost rubbery. Wierd. OMG I FORGOT THE BAKING POWDER. Cake breakdown number one ensued. Since there was no time to make a new one before Christmas Eve, I pulled myself together and carried on. There is so much butter in this cake, I figured it had to be good anyway (turned out to be an accurate assumption).

Finally, I had all my pancake layers cooled and waiting for frosting and assembly. Now, I had been a little leery of the Smith Island cake at first because of its cooked frosting, but I was so wooed by the vast quantity of layers that I let it go.

After two tries, I feel that I can now definitively assert that it is chemically impossible to make that frosting thicken. Tossed that runny crap out and had Cake Breakdown Number 2. Out of chocolate!

At 4pm on Christmas Eve, it's just about time to complete your grocery shopping for the night. Rick dashingly agreed to procure some new chocolate from the still-open Trader Joe's, basically saving Christmas.

I ended up doing whipped cream between the layers and Nigella's dark chocolate buttercream frosting for the outside. As I sit here on January 7th drinking a green juice, I weep a single tear for that dark chocolate buttercream frosting.

I am the sexiest cake you will ever lay eyes on.

Here's the thing. The cake was not the best part of Christmas. The best part was laughing with family members all gathered in my place for the first time. And going to lots of effort to create something special enough to mark the occasion. And watching my fabulous nieces don Reindeer Antler headbands and accidentally draw all over my hardwood floor in magic marker. For me, this year, the cake embodies all that is magical and beautiful and delicious about Christmas. I would not change anything about my Christmas Eve or my beautifully flawed Christmas Cake. 


Christmas 2012 = Love

Final gratuitous chocolate cake picture

**Special thanks to Sue Dingwell for taking nearly all of these pictures! 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Broiling For A Fight

After the charcoal bricks resulting from my last encounter with the Broiler, I determined that my rack was set way too high. So high, that the flames from the broiler were basically consuming my poor tender eggplants. 

This week's mission is Roasted Red Pepper Soup. The adventure starts with a substitution, since Trader Joe's only had 3-packs of tri-colored peppers. They are so lovely, I almost hate to risk bringing them to a charcoaly demise.

You are beautiful, but must make the ultimate sacrifice. 

Slice in half on aluminum foil.

Stare into the eye of the dragon... I removed the top rack this time.

Beware all veggies who enter.

Let the roasting begin (4minutes)!

Getting nervous (9 minutes).

I think I actually could have roasted them a bit longer, but I pulled them out early (about 14 min) in a moment of panic. Peeling off the outer skin was tricky at the edges as it wasn't fully roasted and stuck to the soft flesh. Here's the result. 

Quick rinse.

The next steps are really easy, blend it up with some sautéed onions, chicken broth, and a squeeze of lemon. I do love my immersion blender, but using it with two hands still creates the possibility of a flinging a whir of scalding soup across the entire kitchen. Thus, no pictures. 

Here's the end result! Delightful lunch for two with special lunch guest star, the infamous Sue Dingwell

The soup was very light and refreshing. I might add a cup of white beans next time if I wanted a more substantial soup. If you try it, let me know what you think! 

Sue's Roasted Red Pepper Soup


2 Lbs Red Peppers
1 1/2 C Onion
1 C Chicken Broth
1Tbs Lemon Juice
Optional, chopped basil, 1/4 C yogurt

Roast about 2 lbs of peppers, 6 or 7
Cut them in half, remove seeds
Blace cut side down on foil in pan
Broil for 15 - 20 minutes
Cool, skin, chop

Saute 1 1/2 cups onion in olive oil
Add 1 cup chicken broth, 2 cups water, salt to taste + pinch of cayenne
Boil, then reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes
Add peppers, cook 10 more min.
Blend into creaminess 
Add 1 Tbl lemon juice
Fancy Additions:  Add some chopped basil or a dob of yogurt

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Regarding Roasted Vegetable Soup

There are times when one must move forward, no matter how devastating the circumstances. That's what I told these formerly lovely eggplants and red bell peppers.

Forgive me, eggplants.

Obviously, they could not reply, due to the fact that I broiled them into coal. I swear to you, I followed the recipe precisely. Even going so far as to place a long-distance call to determine what, exactly, a broiler is and how to find it in my oven.

There was not much flesh left to mine from the crumbly remains of these veggies. But, there was no turning back and nothing else to be made for dinner. I scraped out what I could and shook off the black, toxic flakes.

The next step is to add tomatoes, herbs, onions, broth and beans.

Things are looking up! 
This actually looks delicious! It wasn't. Without the roasted veggie flesh to provide the "depth of flavor" promised, my soup tasted quite bland. A bit like cardboard allowed to soften and then blitzed to a pulp.

Still, this soup was not awful. It was totally edible and it was dinner. I wish I could swoop back to my blog with a masterpiece of delicious inspiration, but this is where it re-starts. Onward!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Healthy, 10-Minute Dinner Recipe

I do follow recipes, just not exactly.

I find recipes to be more like idea suggestions than sacred texts. Taking recipes too seriously leads to fear and loathing in the kitchen. If I’m cooking up a formal dinner for 12 (ok, that’s never happened), I’ll get serious with the measurements. But, I’m talking about whipping up a weekday meal here! Relax!

With that in mind, I give you my healthy go-to dish. I’ve made it dozens of times, usually just for myself. Every time I make it, it’s a little different. You can change up the beans, veggies or greens. It’s not fancy, but it’s warm and tasty. There is something very satisfying about cooking a healthy, one dish meal for yourself. I encourage you to deviate from the recipe below! 

Comforting Chickpea Vegetable Sautee
(Serves One Fabulous Person)

½ can of chickpeas
Drizzle of olive oil
Bell pepper
3 cups any dark leafy green (kale, arugula, spinach, collards…)
Pinch of salt or pepper

Warm up a drizzle of olive oil in a big nonstick pan. Rinse half a can of chickpeas in running water and toss them in the pan under medium heat for a few minutes. Next, add a huge chopped zucchini and a whole bell pepper (really any choppable veggie will do). Give the whole thing a few minutes for everything to get warm and just a little brown on the edges. When it looks just about perfect, dump all your delicious leafy greens on top in a huge mound. It should look like way too much! Give them just a minute or two to wilt down. You could put a top on the pan or just turn them over a few times to let them touch the bottom. As soon as the greens have wilted to your liking, it’s done! 

Chickpeas in pan - I told you this was easy!

Tossed in the zucchini and red pepper

Red Swiss Chard

Chopped it up
Just added to the pan

It wilts to nothing in under a minute
Delicious and Healthy! Enjoy!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Top Three Reasons to Juice Vegetables

Full disclosure: I love juicing so much I threw a juicing party last night! As part of World Food Day and Blog Action Day  I want to share my love of fresh vegetable and fruit juicing with the world!

Get that juicer out of your closet, or hit up your neighbor down the hall to loan you theirs. Why, you ask? 

Me and My Beet Juice!

1. It’s Delicious

The light, sunny flavor of fresh vegetable juice is unparalleled. I invited some juicing newbies over last night and set up a juicer and a pile of produce. Although I know they were prepared to humor me, the phrase uttered the most was, “Wait, this is actually GOOD!”

It’s all about the combinations. Let your own tastes guide you, but I can tell you that a sweet potato, carrot, and ginger juice is a big winner. The raw sweet potato gives it a warm, almost creamy consistency.

My personal favorite is green juice with lots of kale, romaine, one lemon, and a chunk of pineapple to sweeten it up. It’s perfect energizer in the morning or after a particularly sweaty yoga class.

This isn’t like baking a soufflé where deviation from detail spells disaster. The reason I’m good at juicing (and you will be, too) is because it’s about large, broad strokes. The vague instruction, “lots of beet and a little pineapple” yields a perfectly balanced juice every time. 

Perfectly Formulated Fresh Juice

2. It's Super Healthy

In case you missed it – veggies are packed with high-quality nutrients! Juicing is a tasty way to get those veggies when you just can’t face another pan of sautéed kale.

Eating lots of brightly colored vegetables is associated with preventing cancer, preventing chronic disease, healthy weight loss and even making you happier.

For the vain among you, the easily absorbable vitamins in juice are good for your hair, your nails, your skin, and they even contain anti-aging properties. Check out facialist Joanna Vargass’s recipes. You already have the ingredients for her juices in your fridge and they are a lot cheaper than anti-wrinkle creams.

Plus, there just aren’t that many calories in a fresh veggie juice. Enjoy without holding back! 

Beautiful Annabelle loves her green juice!

3. It’s FUN. 

Shootin' Spinach Juice!

Seriously, there is something kind of astounding about putting a big, clunky cucumber into the top of a juicer and then tasting the light, elegant juice that pour out into your class. Who even knew cucumbers had such a distinctive taste?

Juicing gets to the essential flavors of individual vegetables that you kind of gloss over when everything is thrown into a big chopped salad. There is room for much creativity in juicing! A newbie brought me some bok choy last night. I was a little suspicious, but it ended up juicing into one of the top juices of the night: bok choy, pear, cucumber. A sophisticated, refreshing treat! (Thanks, Matt!)

This is not just for the ladies. I wouldn't tell you if it weren’t true – men love juicing. They don’t know it until you put a big whirring juice machine in front of them and tell them to start tossing carrots in. My husband now affectionately refers to our juicer as the Woodchipper. He also brings 32-ounce bottles of beet juice to work! 

Man Juicing

I'm starting a juice truck to bring fresh veggie juices to my community in the Washington, D.C. area. I can’t wait to share the love of juicing and I’d love to hear about YOUR favorite juices!  

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Yoga Jet Wash

Yesterday was the second day of Teacher Empowerment training. I was excited and ready to get empowered. I was a little nervous, too. A few people in the class are already yoga teachers, plus, the instructors are a wee bit intimidating in their yogic-ness.  
Every thing starts out fine – a little yoga, a little talk. Then they ask for volunteers to go up and lead the class through a few yoga moves. No big deal. A few people volunteer and, do fine, and get some mild feedback.

But, as time goes by, I realize that if I don’t volunteer soon, class will be over. Even though I’m not really feeling ready, there is this BURNING inside me that I have to go up there or I am a total wimp and I won’t be able to live with my own cowardice. So, at literally the last second, I volunteer.

As I walk off my mat to the front of the room, the studio starts to look really huge, cavernous even. I say something about my name and come into Downward Dog pose. But, my voice doesn’t sound right. It sounds really high and reedy with a question mark at the end of everything I’m saying.

I am gripped by utter terror.

All I have to do is lead the class through a few Sun Salutations, which are the most basic thing in yoga. I bet I’ve done a million of them. But today, I can’t remember what comes after Forward Fold. I also cannot count from one to five.

What happens next is kind of like in Top Gun, when Goose and Maverick get caught in the jet wash of another plane, lose control, and plunge down to the ocean in a flat spin. Unfortunately, I’m not Maverick; I’m Goose. I’m unable to eject and there is no way I’m going to survive this crash. 

I can’t even recall the exact details, except for a feeling that my brain was not attached to my mouth. The instructor even came up at one point to attempt to save me, but I was past saving.

That’s it! That’s the end of the post! I don’t regain my composure and lead the class to a standing ovation or anything.

All I can say is that now that I’ve hit absolute rock bottom on yoga teaching, there is truly nowhere to go but up.

Also, with one day’s distance from my crash, I don’t regret volunteering to go up in front of the class. Because what would I have to say if I’d just sat on my mat too scared to go up there?

Confidence: Necessary for Fighter Pilots and Yoga Teachers.