Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Spinach & Pesto Wheatberry Salad

Today was my first day back in the kitchen after a two-week accidental cooking hiatus. It wasn’t that I was purposely trying not to cook, just that I haven’t really been home. And I have to say, picking up my chef’s knife felt great.

One of the dishes I made was a long time coming. The inspiration of making a spinach and pesto salad stemmed from one I’d had at Protein Bar a few weeks back (Protein Bar is a fairly new fast food chain in Chicago and a brilliant concept at that). That dish came with quinoa, but I wanted to change it up a bit to incorporate a different whole grain I haven’t used before – wheat berries.

I started by cooking the wheat berries (which I got for about 65 cents from the bulk foods section at Whole Foods), then moved on to the pesto, which was a bit different from a traditional basil pesto. While it does include basil, I also added spinach and arugula to give it a light and super fresh taste, which went wonderfully with the slightly earthy taste of the wheat berries. When the wheat berries were done, I mixed in the pesto, a handful of baby spinach, quartered cherry tomatoes and toasted pine nuts to round out the dish. You can also easily bulk this up into a main dish by adding chicken, which is exactly what I’m going to do for lunch tomorrow. :)

So, about those wheat berries: 1) They come in different varieties, but for this recipe look for hard red winter wheat berries if available; 2) A general ratio for cooking wheat berries is 1:3 (1 cup wheat berries to 3 cups water), but if there’s water leftover at the end simply drain the wheat berries through a strainer; 3) The cooked texture should be chewy but not too firm; 4) Wheat berries are a whole grain – you can read about why they’re good for you here.

Here’s the recipe. Give wheat berries a try and tell me what you think.

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Vegan Creamed Kale

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Vegan creamed kale is delicious! Huh? Say what?

Yup, that was my reaction when a co-worker excitedly told me about this pre-packaged dish she had bought at Whole Foods. Now I do love me some greens but I was a little confused by the concept of something being both vegan and creamed – I mean, that statement alone is more than a little contradictory – but also intrigued. I had to try this for myself.

Fast forward a week and I found myself at Whole Foods where I tracked down this product in the refrigerated section. I took it home, heated it up and had to agree – this kale, miso, onion and cashew concoction was amazing. A quick search of the Whole Foods website and I found the recipe, or at least one similar to it.

Today I finally made the recipe for myself and had to share it with you. It’s really quite simple – simmer a chopped onion in vegetable broth, purée it with all the other ingredients except the kale, then simmer the kale in the blended mixture until tender. I made very few changes to the original recipe (swapped the amounts for vegetable broth and soy milk, which was almond milk, and set aside a spoonful of onions before pureeing to add texture to the final dish).

Definitely give this a try next time you’re up for something hearty, nutritious, interesting and really tasty.

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Cooking from My CSA: 3 1/2 Zucchini Recipes

I’ve been receiving my CSA weekly for about a month now and it’s finally starting to contain more of a variety of ingredients. There are still a lot of greens (chard, kale, collard), but this week we got a few new items – leeks (so small they look like scallions), tomato (one), and a whole lot of zucchini.

I enjoy zucchini, we have a good history. When I started cooking for myself my senior year of college, zucchini was one of the first vegetables I took on – I’d cook it on the George Foreman Grill with chicken marinated in Italian dressing. The George has long been out of commission, but my fondness for this summer squash remains.

Seeing as I’ll probably get even more zucchini next week, today I decided to look at it as a challenge to see what I could do to use it all. If I’d had more time (and if I hadn’t run out of flour), I would have made another batch of zucchini muffins, so that will have to wait. But I did make Zucchini-Walnut Bread, Chocolate Chip Zucchini-Walnut Muffins, a Zucchini Frittata, and Stewed Zucchini with Tomatoes.

Many of the ideas came from the CSA newsletter, which I think is one of my favorite features (thanks Harvest Moon Farms). The Zucchini Bread recipe was a combination of the one from the newsletter and one my friend shared. They were so similar that I took the best of each and made it my own, including reserving 1/4 of the batter for the muffins with chocolate chips. And same with the Stewed Zucchini – the inspiration was from the newsletter, I just tweaked it based on what I had available. Finally, I made the Frittata because I had leftover shredded zucchini from the bread/muffins to use up; it was the perfect thing to make.

Here are the recipes I made today. If you have a great zucchini recipe, please share it – I know there’s more zucchini coming!

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Cooking from My CSA: Collard Greens

As I briefly mentioned in my last post (otherwise known as the first post in months), I joined the Harvest Moon Farm CSA this year. For those of you not in the know – Mom, I’m talking to you – a CSA stands for community supported agriculture. Essentially, before the growing season even starts, you pay for a share in a farm’s crop, which for me comes to half a box of produce each week from mid-June until November. It’s uber convenient as the box gets delivered to my office building every Wednesday afternoon, and then I go to the farmers’ market on Saturday to supplement with produce that wasn’t in the box.

My weekly take is half a box because I’m splitting a share with a friend, who last week started a fire by microwaving fennel. That’s another story, but the point is that I might have to take the rest of the fennel this year even though I don’t like it because she just can’t be trusted.

I’ve been having fun experimenting with my CSA box and seeing what I can make out of it each week. Really, I’m enjoying the challenge of 1) using everything in my box, and 2) trying new veggies/new ways to prepare them. Often times I wind up focusing on just a few of the vegetables, then find myself with the rest starting to wilt on Monday night. This leads to a lot of last minute roasted veggie or stir-fry dishes that I take to work with quinoa. It’s good, but lacking a little creativity.

A few nights ago I focused on the collard greens, something I don’t eat often. I buy a lot of chard and kale, but usually stay away from the collards. Not sure why exactly, but I think maybe it’s because I had the impression it’s tougher than the other varieties.

That night I prepared the collard greens with delicious multi-colored carrots I’d picked up at the market along with bacon, garlic and lemon juice. That was pretty much it – super simple, very fresh and filling, and a great way to really taste and enjoy the collard greens. I was surprised to discover that they were more mild tasting than the others, which can sometimes be slightly bitter. I’m definitely a collard greens convert – bring ‘em on!

Here’s what I did, it’s really more of a guide than a straight-up recipe:

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Asparagus with Vanilla Balsamic

As I mentioned in my blogiversary post, I was thrilled last week when the folks at Nielsen-Massey offered to send me a few of their vanilla products to try. The first thing I made was this AMAZING Vanilla Peach Cake. Seriously delicious – you MUST make it at least once! And when you do, it will become a most-requested favorite.

But I was also eager to try one of the savory recipes they included in the package: Nielsen-Massey Green Beans with Vanilla Balsamic. The recipe suggested substituting asparagus for green beans, which I thought would give it an extra Spring-like touch. The original recipe also included onion and red pepper, and while I’m sure they would’ve been fantastic I was in the mood for something a bit more simple.

This recipe was another winner! The asparagus with the dressing were fantastic hot and cold (I enjoyed the leftovers cold – trust me, it works), and it was incredibly simple to make.

The Nielsen-Massey recipe calls for using a good-quality balsamic vinegar and I couldn’t agree more. As you probably know by now, one of my favorite kitchen staples is an 18-year aged balsamic vinegar that is thick, rich and a little sweet. This is a must-have that I suggest everyone buy. Seriously, buy it.

(If you’re in Chicago you can do a one-two stop by going to Old Town Oil for the aged balsamic, then two doors down stop at The Spice House for Nielsen-Massey vanilla bean paste.)

Here’s the recipe for Asparagus with Vanilla Balsamic:

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