Monday, July 12, 2010

Bountiful Beets

It's been a while since I have enjoyed a meal this simple and this delicious. All thanks to a beautiful bunch of beets from my trip to the farmer's market this past weekend! Beets are in season right now, and I hadn't used them in a while, so I decided to pick up a bunch yesterday. These beets were on the small size, all smaller than a baseball, and the greens on the bunch were plentiful and vibrant. You have to love a vegetable that gives you two totally different things to eat.

So after my initial beet excitement, I sort of got stuck on what to do with them. I really didn't want to heat up the whole house with the oven to roast them, and I didn't wait to boil them and watch all the color and vitamins (especially folate) leach out into the water. Luckily for me, the New York Times ran a section that was more than appropriate - Recipes for Health: Beets. Lo and behold, there I found a raw beet recipe. So tonight, I went ahead and tried out the Grated Raw Beet Salad. Let me just say this first. I had never eaten beets raw before, so I was a little nervous about how they would taste. I am nervous no more. After eating these beets, I'm not sure I ever want to cook them again. The one thing I changed in the recipe was the lettuce; instead, I put the beets over spinach. Other than that, this was beet perfection. The citrus complimented the fresh beet flavor without overpowering it. The fresh herbs (I used parsley) added more color and bite. So simple, but so perfect. Here's the bowl of beets and citrus juice (notice the stained cutting board; wear your apron!). I could have just eaten this for dinner, but I figured I ought to control myself and finish the recipe.

I couldn't let the beet greens go to waste, and I needed a little protein in this meal. To make that happen, I cooked up some quinoa. When it was about half done, I added the washed and chopped beet greens with some orange and lemon juice, and let the greens wilt. After finishing with some salt and pepper, I served this alongside the beet salad. What a plate! Cooked and raw, red and green. This was delicious and satisfying. I'm really looking forward to returning to the farmer's market this coming weekend to tell the farmer how great the beets were and to buy another bunch!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thanks Twitter, for Pointing Me Towards a Sustainable Dinner

The whole eastern seaboard is currently in the midst of a pretty epic heatwave, and as a result, I simply do NOT feel like cooking, let alone eating. So, salads it has been, for both lunch and dinner. But today I jazzed up my salad with just a teeny bit cooking! After yet another plain salad for lunch, I checked my Twitter account. I follow my local Whole Foods on Twitter, and one of their recent tweets advertised Alaskan sockeye salmon on sale for $12.99, $4.00 off. That piqued my interest, and since I needed to hit the grocery store after work, I figured I would check it out. By the time I got there, there wasn't too much of the salmon left, so I presume I'm not the only one following Whole Foods on Twitter. I ordered a nice sized fillet, about 5 ounces. Besides looking beautiful and being on sale, I was excited to see that this particular salmon was certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. On top of that, the fish was not previously frozen, ensuring great texture. Before I left the store I picked up some New Jersey produce to add to my salad. I grabbed a few cucumbers from Maugeri Farms and a bunch of radishes from Twin Pond Farm. It's so great that a big store like Whole Foods has these kinds of relationships with local farms. I'm happy to be able to feel good about the produce I buy, even when I can't get to the farmer's market and buy it directly.

I decided to use orange to tie the whole salad together by using orange segments on top and orange juice in the salmon marinade and dressing. Now keep in mind, you can really use any vegetables you like in a salad like this. I used the cucumbers and radishes I mentioned above over romaine lettuce, but you could just as easily substitute carrots, red onions, spinach, or whatever else you like with orange flavor. While I prepped the veggies, I let the salmon sit with olive oil, orange juice (about half the juice from the orange I segmented), lemon juice, and salt and pepper. It was just about 10 minutes or so of marinating. Once the veggies and orange segments were ready to go, I heated up a nonstick pan to medium and added the salmon, skin side down, along with some of the extra marinade. I let it cook for about 4 minutes, then I added the rest of the leftover marinade, lowered the heat to medium low, and put a lid on the pan. After about 8 minutes, the salmon was done to flaky perfection. I removed the meat from the skin and used a fork to break the fillet into chunks. After topping the salad with the cooked salmon, I mixed up a quick vinaigrette. I used the rest of the juice from the orange, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, parsley, mustard, and salt and pepper. It had a nice citrus flavor and added a bit of needed acidity to the salad.
Overall, this salad was a great success. The salmon was just great simply prepared and added substance and protein to the salad. The radish gave a nice spicy kick and the cucumbers and romaine were cooling on this hot day. The vinaigrette brought everything together with more citrus and acid. I could feel good about the fish and produce I bought today. This salad is definitely a must try, and to think I have Twitter to thank for it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

One of My Favorite Healthy Fats and Races!

I have never done more than one race in a single week, until now. Last Thursday I attended the first of six 5k races in the Jersey Shore Running Club Summer Series, and the Saturday after that I ran the George Sheehan Classic 5 mile race. Summer Series was really fun. About 100 people came out. I finished a few seconds under 25 minutes, which was not a PR or anything, but I did come in first in my (minimally represented) age group. I'm looking forward to the next race tomorrow, even though it's supposed to be 94 degrees out. The Sheehan Classic is one of my favorite races. It's right in my town, so I don't even need to worry about leaving early or parking or anything. I had a bit of an upset stomach that morning, but I was able to get over it in time to race, and ran a PR! I finished in 42:31, which I was thrilled about since this course is pretty hilly compared to the course I ran my previous best time on. I don't have any more big races scheduled for a few weeks, so it will be nice to use the weekends to get some longer runs in.

In case you were wondering if I feel guilty eating fat, well, I can assure you that I do not. Fat gets such a bad name, when in reality, it's a really important part of everyone's diet. Of course, some fats are better than others, and coconut is one of my go-to healthy fats. I find that coconut is great in both sweet and savory dishes. Last night, I used coconut milk to make a hearty curry dish. This is a great meal to make on a weeknight when time is an issue. My favorite part of this meal was the delicious snow peas that I picked up at the farmer's market this past weekend. They were so crunchy and sweet, so much more delicious than what you get at the grocery store. I served the curry over brown rice, which soaked up the coconut milk. Yum. This makes about 4 servings, and the leftovers are great. In fact, Mark took them to work for dinner tonight.

Tofu and Veggie Curry over Rice
-1 cup brown rice
-2 tbsp canola oil
-1 lb. package extra firm tofu, diced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
-4 red skinned potatoes, diced
-1 red bell pepper, diced
-1 cup snow peas, ends trimmed
-2 tbsp curry paste (I used green, but you could use red)
-1 15 oz. can coconut milk (don't buy light!)

-Get going on preparing the rice first, whether on the stove or in the microwave.
-Heat a nonstick pan over medium high heat. Add the canola oil, then add the tofu. Cook for 6-8 minutes, until golden, then flip and cook another side until golden. Remove the tofu and drain on a paper towel.
-Add the potatoes, peppers, and peas to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often.
-Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Then add the curry paste, and stir to incorporate.
-Add the coconut milk to the pan. Bring everything to a simmer, then cover. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender. Add the tofu and toss to coat with the curry sauce.
-Serve the curry over the cooked brown rice immediately, or refrigerate for a few days.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Taking a Little Help for a Quick Dinner

Before I get into last night's tasty dinner, let me quickly recap my race this past Saturday, the Pre-Father's Day 5k. It was another really nice morning for a race; fairly cool and a little overcast. I was planning on running the race with just my dad, but at the last minute, my husband Mark decided to run too. My not-so-secret goal is to one day have my whole family participate in a race, whether doing the run or the walk that often happens concurrently. Anyway, the course was nice and flat with lots of shade, but regardless of that, I still felt pretty rough the whole time. I guess it was because I was running at a fast pace for me. I finished in 23:16, a new PR! Mark and my dad both finished in under 27 minutes for their first ever 5k, which is better than I can say about my first race. I have heard rumors that the course is about .1 miles short, but I really don't know. I guess I will get a gauge of that when I run my next 5k. Another bonus about this race was the abundance of raffle prizes that were given away. There must have been at least 30 gift cards. Now I never win anything, but somehow I won a gift card to Spellbinders, a local surf shop. Mark and my dad won too, a Dunkin Donuts gift card and a free oil change. Speaking of running, the Jersey Shore Running Club Summer Series begins tomorrow. It's a series of six 5k races on Thursday evenings throughout June and July. The cost is minimal, and it will be a great way to meet club members, since I finally went ahead and joined JSRC. And last but not least, I am running the George Sheehan Classic 5 mile race on Saturday. I have a bone to pick with this hilly course since I ran it so slow last year.

On to the food! Now normally, I am not one to buy pre-made stuff. In fact, the only things typically in my freezer are frozen fruits, out of season frozen veggies, coconut milk ice cream, and ice packs. But, on my last shopping trip to Whole Foods, the prepared raviolis caught my eye. There were multiple varieties, all of which sounded tasty, and each box had 2 servings, which was perfect. Best of all, there were no funky ingredients that I couldn't pronounce. I settled on a package of broccoli rabe mozzarella raviolis. They were a tad pricey, but certainly not prohibitively, and I figured they would come in handy on a night where I was short on ideas but still wanted a filling meal. Last night turned out to be that night. While the pasta water came to a boil and the raviolis cooked, I put together a quick, rustic marinara sauce. Just some olive oil, onion, garlic, red pepper flake, and canned crushed tomatoes brought to a boil and simmered for a few minutes. I added seasoning and some of the oregano that is growing like crazy in my garden for extra fresh flavor. I also threw together a salad of romaine, carrot, and radish with a simple shallot vinaigrette. When the raviolis were done, I divided them between two plates and topped them generously with the marinara sauce. The verdict? Good and convenient. Not the best ravioli I've ever had, but for being frozen, they were pretty tasty. I wish there was more pronounced broccoli rabe flavor; perhaps the sauce was a little too much for it to come through. Would I buy these raviolis again? Probably. I'd like to try another flavor. Like I said, these are good in a pinch, and you can get creative with sauces to top them. Marinara, something red pepper based, maybe a creamy garlic sauce. I wouldn't call myself a frozen food convert, but it is nice to know there are products out there that I can feel good about keeping around for convenience's sake.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Grilled Portobello Sliders

On a balmy early summer evening, you have almost no excuse to get outside and use the grill. When my mom called me yesterday and told me she had picked up a package of slider-sized portobello mushrooms, I said I would be over the next night to grill them up. The catch? My mother had convinced herself that she didn't like mushrooms. Now, I get that mushrooms are kind of weird. They have a unique texture that you don't find anywhere else, they taste really earthy, and are more or less freaky looking. But they are so great in terms of versatility of use and how well they take flavor. Regardless, I had a tall order ahead of me - make my mom a mushroom convert.

For tonight's meal, we decided to marinate and grill the portobellos. Mushrooms are like little sponges, so marinating them is always a good idea. After a trip through my parents' cabinets, I found plenty of ingredients to use. In a bowl, I combined olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a bit of herbed basting oil, lemon juice and zest, a touch of mustard to bring it all together, and salt and pepper. Then I laid the mushrooms gill/stem side up, and poured the marinade in each one. I let them sit while I went for a quick 4 mile run, then we popped them on the grill. They cooked maybe 4 minutes on each side, until they had nice grill marks and were hot all the way through. I also brushed some of the basting oil on the top of the mushrooms while they were grilling. Right before they were done, I put slices of maple smoked cheddar from Grafton Village Cheese Company on top and let it melt. This cheese is out of control delicious. I served the cheesy portobellos open faced style on a slider bun, and topped them with sliced avocado and pickled red peppers. On the side, my mom made a quick potato hash with sweet potatoes, waxy yellow potatoes, and onions. This meal was so hearty and delicious, and guess what? My mom liked the mushroom! She even said it could stand in for a burger - exactly! Tonight's meal was a big success in terms of both flavor and finding new foods to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Spring Lake 5 and Stir Fry

In my last post I talked about my most recent race, The Spring Lake 5. I am happy to report that I set a new PR! It was a perfect day for racing, despite the heat that had plagued us during the week or so leading up to it. It was overcast, a little sprinkly, and not hot at all. This race was huge; about 7,500 people finished it. This also provided me with a good lesson learned - I am faster than I give myself credit for, and I should not start THAT far back in the pack. I got pretty stuck during the first mile due to crowds, and ended up running it in 9:20. Luckily the pack started to spread out, and I was able to pick up the pace for the rest of the race. I finished in 42:55, which was 492nd out of 3512 women racers. I am psyched! I felt really good and strong the whole time, and was really happy to come in under 43 minutes. Now onto the next race. This Saturday I am running the Pre-Father's Day 5k with my Dad. I am excited that we get to do the race together, even though I intend to beat him handily! Ha. I set a new 5k PR back in April, so we will see what I can do this time around.

Last night, after a hard workout at the track (400m repeats, ouch), I made a huge pan of stir fry. I eat stir fry a lot, probably once a week, since it is so versatile and never gets old to me. You can find my base recipe for the stir fry sauce here. I used tofu as my protein and for vegetables I used onion, red bell pepper, shiitake mushrooms, and boy choy stems and leaves. The boy choy was so delicious. It almost takes on a little sweetness as it cooks, and it's nice to have two totally different textural elements (crunchy stems, wilted leaves) in one vegetable. For my sauce, I left out the ginger and garlic that the base recipe calls for and instead added some fermented black bean garlic paste. YUM. This stuff is super flavorful and gave the sauce a whole new spin. I served all this over brown rice. If you still haven't experimented with stir fry, now is the time! With all the tasty spring and early summer vegetables we have available now, you will have all kinds of creative options to make it yours.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Salad and Another Race

Summer is definitely knocking on the door here! Today it topped out in the low nineties, although it felt hotter in the sun. On days like these, I typically want a salad (surprise, surprise!). Tonight, I made my salad a hearty meal by adding half a roasted sweet potato and about half a can of pan-fried chickpeas. For the potatoes, I simply cubed them, tossed them in a couple teaspoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted them for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. For the chickpeas, I heated about a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a skillet, then added the chickpeas and cooked them for about 5 minutes, until they were popping. I topped this colorful creation with some freshly made Tomato Tahini Dressing, care of Gena at Choosing Raw. She has lots of great salad dressing ideas on her blog, so check it out. Anyway, this dressing called for one ingredient that isn't usually in my pantry (but should be): nutritional yeast. So, yesterday I bit the bullet and bought some from the bulk bin at my local Whole Foods. I was happy to find out that besides adding good flavor and a creamy texture to food, it is also a really good source of B vitamins and is a complete protein. Bonus. The only thing I changed in the dressing recipe was the nama shoyu; I subbed in soy sauce and it was no problem. This dressing added a lot of body to the salad without being heavy. The flavor was tomato-y, with a hint of tahini, but a little mild. Next time I might throw a clove or two of garlic in. But overall, it was a nice change of pace from the vinaigrettes I usually make. I have plenty leftover, and I think it would also serve well as a sandwich spread.

This Saturday I have my first race since the half marathon - The Spring Lake 5. This is a 5 mile race on a nice, flat course. It really serves as the kickoff to the summer racing season. This is one of the largest 5 mile races in the country, and is run by almost ten thousand people each year. It's also notoriously hard to get an entry into this race, but thanks to a very early morning wake up I managed to secure a bib. My Achilles is feeling pretty decent these days, thanks to Kinesio tape and heel lifts. I'm just happy to be healthy enough to be running! Ideally, I'd like to beat my 5 mile PR, which is 47:05. We'll see how it goes!