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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Turning Over a New (Fall) Leaf: Quinoa with Squash & Chard

I have a horrible secret. Something almost too awful admit. Something I’m truly ashamed of.

Are you ready to hear this?

(Deep breath) Here goes: I’ve been letting good food go bad. And what’s worse, I’ve been doing it all summer long.

You see, as the weekends roll around and I relax, I have visions of beautiful fresh produce from the farmers’ market and all the mouthwatering dishes I’m going to make. So, with perfectly pure intentions, I grab my canvas tote bag and head over to the local farmers’ market.

While there I oooh and ahhh over the bountiful produce, savor perfectly sweet fruit samples, chat with farmers, drool over the baked goods I don’t dare to buy, purchase produce I can’t resist, and finally end at a catering tent where I convince the chef to make me the freshest and most delicious egg, veggie and ground lamb focaccia sandwich without cheese.

And then I go home, eat my sandwich, and put the fruits, vegetables and herbs away. I usually spend the rest of the weekend running errands, relaxing, and going to dinner with friends and family. Maybe I cook one dish, but it’s okay I think, I’m going to use the produce during the week.

I’m guessing you know what happens next. I make one dish Monday night when I’m still pretty energized, then Tuesday I have a meeting, and Wednesday I meet a friend for dinner, Thursday I eat Monday’s leftovers, and by Friday I’m so exhausted I order Thai food (a rough schedule, but you get the point). Next thing you know, it’s Saturday, I’m back at the market and I’ve let a whole week’s worth of produce go bad. It’s a vicious cycle, and one I’m ashamed of.

Last week was even worse because I was in San Francisco for BlogHer Food (which was SO great, more on that to come soon). When I got home I immediately noticed the week-old vegetables in the fridge starting to look a little sad, although definitely still edible.

This week, I promised myself, things were going to change. And they did.

I rescued the portobello mushrooms, Delicata squash (such a hearty vegetable it wasn’t any worse for the wear), leek and a bunch of on-the-verge rainbow chard, and used them to make a delicious and very nutritious quinoa dish. (And you know how I feel about quinoa, right? Love it!)

This quinoa dish was wonderful and it tasted like fall, really. Plus, it made so much I was able to eat it throughout the week. And the best part? No wasted-food guilt.

Friends, I think this is the start of a new era!

Here’s the recipe for This Feels Like Fall Quinoa:

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Summer Succotash

I’ve been having a great time this summer visiting the nearby farmers’ market on Saturdays, taking in the fresh smells and vibrant colors of the most amazing fruits and vegetables. I swear, I bought blackberries last weekend that were the size of my thumb! Unbelievable!

The only problem has been that I’ve been hoarding these amazing vegetables with no time to actually do anything with them! That all changed tonight with a delicious clean-out-the-fridge summer succotash. I took all the vegetables that were on the verge of, I’ll say it nicely, becoming compost and sauteed them with butter, olive oil and thyme, then served the whole mixture over quinoa for a perfectly fresh and light summer dinner!

I used onions, garlic, green beans, mushrooms, corn and little heirloom tomatoes, but you can use whatever you have on hand. Although, according to the ever-reliable Google search, a succotash is made of corn and some sort of bean (usually lima), so I’m pretty sure this counts. Even if it doesn’t – I don’t care because it just tastes SO good!

Here’s the recipe for Summer Succotash:

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Pretending It’s Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

I’m over winter. Quite frankly, I just don’t feel like dealing with it anymore.

Now I get that this is what happens when one chooses to live in the Midwest. And generally I can accept it. What I get sick of is the tease. Yes, Weather, I said it. You’re a tease and I don’t appreciate it. You give us two gorgeous days when I was able to leave the house in jeans and a sweater MINUS a coat and scarf, then it snows. Snow! And wind! Lots and lots of wind.

I’m over it. I just am.

So in protest I made a summer quinoa dish with avocado, tomatoes and black beans. It was delicious and even made me temporarily forget that my winter boots are still sitting by the front door because, you know, just in case… (we don’t like to jinx things here in Cubs land).

If you’re anything like me and aching for Spring to start in reality and not just on the calendar, then make this dish. It’s easy, is great as leftovers, and can be served cold or heated if you really need to ward off the winter’s chill.

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Pretending It's Summer Quinoa

Here’s the recipe:

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