Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Black Bean Soup and a Training Update

Everyone knows that beans are an athlete's best friend. Packed with protein, fiber, antioxidants, and iron, beans cover a lot of nutritional bases and make a great recovery food. Black beans are at the top of my favorite bean list, and I use them a lot. Tonight I made a simple soup that's quick to whip up and is super flavorful. I also had corn tortillas that needed to be used, so I sliced them up, fried them quickly in canola oil, and used them as dippers for the soup. Avocado slices or sliced scallions would also make tasty garnishes.

Simple Black Bean Soup
-olive oil
-half a large onion, diced
-half a red bell pepper, diced
-half a green bell pepper, diced
-1 jalapeno pepper, minced
-4 garlic cloves, minced
-1 tbsp chili powder
-2 tbsp cumin
-1 tsp oregano
-1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
-1 25 oz. can black beans, with liquid
-2 cups vegetable stock
-salt and pepper
-1/3 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
-juice of 1 lime

-Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 5-7 minutes, until the veggies start to get tender.
-Add the garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.
-Add the tomatoes with their juice, the beans with their liquid, and the vegetable stock to the pot. Season the soup with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, covered.
-Add the cilantro and lime juice and cook for another 5 minutes. Serve, garnished with cilantro leaves and tortilla strips.
Now for a quick training update. As you know, I am running the Long Branch Half Marathon on May 2nd. On Monday this week, I got an email; it was the first of ten emails (one for each week until the race) covering race details and updates. That really put those 10 weeks in perspective! I'm happy to say the first 2 weeks of training have gone really well. I've already started bumping up my paces since my body is used to this again, and the weekend long runs really start ramping up now. I still have a long way to go, but I know it's going to go fast. I don't think I will do any races in March, but I'm planning on doing three in April. It will be good for a change of pace in my workouts and for getting back into the racing mentality. I'll keep you posted!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Crust & Crumble

It is the best when an unexpected food discovery is made. Today, a few friends and I went to a little place in Asbury Park called Crust & Crumble, at my good friend Jimbo's suggestion. Upon learning it was a pizza place, I had a quick "uh-oh" moment, but Jimbo told me that they have vegan options. So with curiosity piqued, we went.

Crust & Crumble is in an adorable shopping arcade, tucked in amongst funky stores and antique shops. The kitchen and bakery part are separate from the dining area, which was decorated simply and tastefully. We sat down and checked out the menu. This place offers a range of items beyond pizza, including salads, sandwiches, and pastries. But we all went for the pizza; we each got our own thanks to the personal (10 inch) pie option. You can either order from extensive menu of pizzas or create your own. I created my own; I got to choose my crust (whole wheat), sauce (marinara), meat (they had vegan meatballs and vegan sausage, but I skipped them), cheese (vegan cheese), and veggie toppings (artichokes, mushrooms). This pizza was SO good. Upon seeing it come out of the oven and right to the table, I assumed there was no way I could eat more than half of it since it was huge; but I managed to eat three quarters of it (yay leftovers)! The crust was crispy on the outside but had a good tear, the sauce was flavorful, the vegan cheese was melty and delicious, and the toppings were generous. I meant to ask what kind of vegan cheese they use, since I have to say, I really never use it at home. I'm not huge on using replacement meat or dairy products in general, but for a treat like pizza with friends once in a while, I'm really glad I have the option. Next time I go I will make it a point to get some details. Another awesome thing about Crust & Crumble? Huge personal pizzas for 4 people came out to less than $37. Delicious AND a bargain.

When I paid, I told our chef/waiter how psyched I was on the place and the vegan options, and he told me they are working on expanding their vegan items beyond the pizzas. Awesome! If you're in Asbury Park and looking for an inexpensive and really tasty lunch of dinner, check out Crust & Crumble.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Weekly Stir Fry

Not many meals are quicker and easier to put together than a traditional stir fry. Not many are as versatile either; you can put together nearly any combination of proteins and vegetables and create a tasty meal. Stir fry is a weekly staple in my house. This may come as a surprise since I typically don't post about them here; this is a direct result of me throwing these together quickly, usually without measuring much. But tonight, I measured, so now I can share with you! This recipe is very well rounded thanks to a range of ingredients - tofu, broccoli, peppers, ginger, soba (buckwheat) noodles, and more. But think of this recipe as a starting point. Like I said, the specifics are flexible. Maybe you would switch out peppers for mushrooms, or soba noodles for rice. Maybe you'd add some miso paste to the sauce. Be creative! You'll find that stir fries are a great meal to add to your weekly repertoire.

Tofu and Broccoli Stir Fry
-1 8 oz. package soba noodles
-1 lb. extra firm tofu, drained and cubed
-2 tbsp canola oil
-1/4 tsp salt
-2 large crowns broccoli, cut into bit size florets
-1 red bell pepper, sliced
-3 scallions, chopped
-1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tbsp sesame seeds
-5 tbsp soy sauce
-2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
-1 tbsp sesame oil
-1 tbsp sriracha
-1 tsp agave nectar

-Cook the soba noodles according to the package. Rinse with cold water, drain, and set aside.
-Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add cubed tofu and pan fry for 5-7 minutes, until browned. Flip the tofu cubes and repeat on another side. Remove tofu from the pan to a paper towel lined bowl and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.-In the meantime, blanch the broccoli florets for about 3 minutes in boiling water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.
-In a small bowl, make the stir fry sauce. Whisk together the ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, sriracha, and agave nectar. Set aside.-Heat the same pan you fried to the tofu in over medium high heat again. Add the peppers and cook, tossing, for 4-5 minutes, until they start to get tender. Add the cooked broccoli and tofu and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes to heat through.
-Add the scallions and prepared sauce to the pan. Cook, stirring, for 3 more minutes until everything is coated.
-Toss the stir fry with the cooked soba noodles to coat, and serve immediately.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day

Of all days of the year, Valentine's Day ranks pretty far up on the list of days where a good meal is an important element. I started off the day with hearty bowls of oatmeal for Mark and I. I've been using McCann's steel-cut oats lately, and they are delicious. They cook up quickly on the stove and have a really pleasant porridge-like texture. I love oatmeal because once it's done, it is a blank canvas in terms of toppings. This time, I topped it with cinnamon, Vermont maple syrup, dried cranberries, and walnuts. This will fill you up and keep you going all morning.
For Valentine's dinner we actually went out on Saturday, since we figured we would dodge the crowds. We went to Bamboo Leaf, which is a Thai and Vietnamese restaurant. They have delicious food, and it is a cute little place with really friendly service. We started off the meal with vegetable spring rolls and a veggie and tofu spicy lemongrass soup. For dinner I had a Thai basil stir fry with tofu and veggies, and it was super tasty. I even had leftovers to eat the next day. This place is always a hit, and our Valentine's meal was no exception.

Finally, I made a Valentine's dessert. I have to give all the credit to No Meat Athlete for this one. I made three different kinds of filled chocolate cups - peanut butter, coconut cherry, and Kahlua cocoa. These were really fun to put together and came out great! It's so nice to have handmade candies for Valentine's Day instead of some mass produced, run of the mill chocolate. These also did perfect double duty for celebrating two great friends' engagement today (congrats Greg and Michelle)! You can find the details and recipe for these here.
All in all, it was a great Valentine's weekend. Besides all the tasty food, Mark and I went to Silverball Museum for a pinball date! If you're ever in the area, it is a must-see. I hope your Valentine's Day was a good one, with a few sweet treats involved too!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snowed In

Yet another snowstorm! I almost feel like I live in Vermont again. I did go into work this morning, but I left early when I saw the roads getting bad. So I came home and spent the rest of the day catching up on stuff around the house. First I made a big batch of wheatberry salad. I subbed in pecans and dried cranberries, and also added a chopped red bell pepper. This made a tasty afternoon snack and will be handy to have in the fridge for a light lunch or another snack.

I also put together an easy dinner. I cooked up two GardenVegan burgers in a skillet and put them on whole wheat hard rolls. I layered them with romaine leaves, dill pickles, ketchup, mustard, and caramelized onions. Alongside the burgers I made simple roasted potatoes. No recipe needed for these. I just washed a bag of yukon golds, chopped them uniformly, tossed them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika, and roasted them at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes. Yum. It might be a little lowbrow, but I love these dipped in ketchup! After dinner I brewed a big pot of coffee to enjoy. Nothing like a hot cup of coffee when the snow is falling outside.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Race Update!

I just wanted to share a quick note with you all. I've officially signed up for the Long Branch Half Marathon! It is taking place on Sunday, May 2nd, and the course loops through Long Branch, Monmouth Beach, and Oceanport (my hometown). I am really excited for this race because it promises to be a totally different experience than my first half marathon last October. First of all, this is a really big race; it is held in conjunction with the New Jersey Marathon. Last year's half marathon had over 4,600 finishers. There is a huge expo that goes on all weekend, a great post race party, and a technical shirt and swag bag for all participants. Needless to say, I am really excited, and of course a little bit nervous. My tentative goal is to break 2 hours; I ran my first half marathon in 2 hours, 3 minutes, 5 seconds. So, wish me luck! My 12 week training starts today (with a tempo run, oof)!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lots of Snow Means Lots of Cooking

Hi all! In my neck of the woods we've received another decent snowstorm! Over the course of last night and this morning we got about a foot of snow. One way I tend to pass the time when it's snowy and I'm in the house for most of the day is by trying out new recipes. Today, I tried two - dinner and dessert.

For dinner I made a recipe I've had my eye on for a little while now. I found it over on one of my favorite blogs, No Meat Athlete. You can find the recipe in this post. Mac n' Chard made a really tasty and filling dinner tonight. Similar to the last pasta dish I made, this sauce includes ground nuts; it also incorporates cooked veggies and spices. Another plus is that this dish has a whole bunch of vitamin-rich chard in it. Obviously, this meal tasted nothing like your traditional mac n' cheese, but that's okay. It was really delicious in it's own right, and is a great new way to enjoy pasta. Especially on a cold snowy night, this really hits the comfort food spot.

Prior to making dinner, I put together some dessert. I made my first attempt at Rice Pudding. When I was looking through recipes for this, I couldn't find any that sounded "right" to me. They all seemed overly complicated. So I said to myself, why not just make a sweet risotto? And that's what I did. This came out really creamy and yummy, and according to Mark, it was pretty close to the real thing. I'm glad this recipe made 4 portions so I can enjoy it again tomorrow.

Rice Pudding
-3 cups plain rice milk
-3 cups vanilla almond milk
-1 tbsp Earth Balance
-1 cup arborio rice
-1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
-1/4 tsp cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling
-1/2 tsp vanilla

-Combine the rice and almond milk in a small pot and warm over medium low heat.
-In a large pot, add the Earth Balance and put the heat on medium. Once it is melted, add the rice and stir to coat.
-Add a ladleful of milk to the rice in the large pot. The milk should just bubble, not too fast. Stir the rice and milk mixture very often. Once the milk is absorbed, add another ladleful. You will repeat this process until the rice is cooked and tender and you are out of milk. This should take around 30-40 minutes, but the important thing is that the rice is cooked; don't worry too much about sticking to a particular time.
-Approximately halfway through cooking, add the sugar and cinnamon and stir well.
-With your last ladleful of milk, add the vanilla and stir well.
-Once the rice pudding is done, spread it into a shallow dish to come to room temperature.
-Once cooled, scoop the rice pudding into individual dishes and top with a dash of cinnamon. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Walnut Mushroom Pasta

I was never a fan of cream based sauces in the past, mostly because dairy and I were never the best of friends. But I also didn't like the heaviness that it lent to a sauce. However, I do like the smooth, rich texture of these kinds of sauces. When I was looking for inspiration on how to use mushrooms and pasta together, I came across a recipe that incorporated a walnut sauce. What better way to get a creamy, rich texture than with nuts? The walnuts have a mellow flavor that didn't overpower the delicious flavor of the cremini mushrooms in the dish; they added a really earthy element. Also, the fat in this dish is healthy and not full of cholesterol and saturated fat. Best of all, this is an easy and quick dinner to whip up on a weeknight, with plenty of time to chop up veggies for a salad.

Walnut Mushroom Pasta
-3/4 cup walnuts
-3/4 cup vegetable stock
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1 onion, sliced
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tsp dried thyme
-10 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
-2 tbsp water
-1/4 cup parsley, chopped
-salt and pepper
-1 lb linguine

-In a blender, puree the walnuts and vegetable stock until smooth. Set aside.
-Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and add the onion slices. Cook until softened, about 5-6 minutes.
-Add the garlic, thyme, and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the garlic is fragrant and the mushrooms start to soften, about 3-4 minutes.
-Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the water, stir, and cover. Continue to cook for another 10 minutes.
-In the meantime, cook and drain the pasta.
-Add the prepared walnut sauce and the parsley to the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes.
-Toss the pasta with the walnut mushroom sauce to coat, and serve immediately.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Treadmills and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows

Sorry for the hiatus, all! The past week and weekend has been pretty busy. On Friday after I got out of work, Mark and I headed over to Retro Fitness. We've been thinking about getting gym memberships for a while now; we used to use the gym all the time when we were in college, and it was a great thing for both of us. I've been missing it a lot lately, especially in terms of the treadmill, but also in terms of strength training. So, we checked out the website, and when we saw there was no enrollment fee through January we decided to get over there and see the place. We were pleasantly surprised. It's big, new, clean, bright, and friendly. It has every machine and free weight we could want. And a major perk is the ability to go to any Retro Fitness location; we live 5 miles away from two different facilities, so we can go to either one. Needless to say, we signed up on the spot. It's a really good deal at only $20 a month, and I'm looking forward to my complimentary fitness evaluation on Thursday. Mark had his today and he had a really good experience. I'm hoping to use the gym in order to get my strength up, as well as build a really solid mileage base to go into the spring with. If all goes well, I'd really like to run the NJ Half Marathon in May.

To offset all the gym talk, let's talk about cookies. As you all know, my new favorite cookbook is Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar. With the recipe I tried out on Sunday night, I am now three for three. I made the Chocolate Peanut Butter Pillows. The doughs are really easy to put together, but boy, is it time consuming to assemble these cookies. Luckily, I had a lot of time, and in the end, the time was well spent. These cookies are the best I've made yet. I love how it looks like you have a plain chocolate cookie, but then you bite in and find a peanut butter surprise. These cookies remind me of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. I reiterate, if you don't own this cookbook, get it! Three for three doesn't lie! I'm going to try to be good and give it a couple weeks until I try another cookie recipe, but don't worry, I will be sure to fill you in when I do make it.