Foodie Firsts: A Trifecta of Firsts All Wrapped Up In One Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create re-occurring feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Are you ready for the ultimate Foodie Firsts column?  I managed to hit several firsts for me in a single dish.  I tried new ingredients (two of them!), baked something I’ve never baked before, and ate something I’ve never eaten before.

Wild, right?

What can I say?  I guess sometimes I just like to go big in the kitchen.

ramekins with topping

So I am presenting to you today a simply satisfying and relatively healthy strawberry-rhubarb crisp (gluten free and vegan, of course).  I do realize that such a dish may be considered plain and common, but it may surprise some folks that I had never actually eaten a fruit crisp before.  I swear to this on my favorite wooden spoon.

For many, MANY years of my life, I lived by three food rules:

1)      Nothing that comes from the sea or ocean

2)      No warm beverages

3)      No cooked fruit

You might know me well enough to know by now that #1 still stands (since I’m vegetarian), but #2 and #3 have gone out the window – happily out the window.  I’m not even sure why or when I developed these rules, but we can all see their ridiculousness, right?  How I lasted so many years without coffee is positively baffling.

Fruit in colander

My decision to get over that last rule was only further validated by this crisp.  I knew straightaway that my first crisp should include rhubarb (I’ve extolled its wonderfulness before).  The trick, of course, was that most of my hoarded recipes were not gluten free, so I needed to ensure to find or adapt one for my needs.

Fortunately for me, I case across this recipe on the Gluten Free Goddess’ blog which uses . . . wait for it . . . quinoa flakes in place of more traditional oats.  Now, I can eat gluten free oats, but this substitution was very appealing.  I had procured a package of quinoa flakes a few weeks ago when I spotted them on sale, but hadn’t touched them since placing them in my pantry.  Now, just like that, they had a purpose.

Then, to make things even wilder, I decided to test out stevia as a sweetener – another ingredient I had not used before.

New ingredients.  New dish.  New dietary needs met.

And so, the baking commenced.

ramekins without topping

What resulted was a lovely, simple crisp incorporating a few of my favorite ingredients (rhubarb, hazelnuts, cinnamon), which was perfect for eating straight out of the oven, or topped off with a scoop of ice cream (I like So Delicious French Vanilla Soy Ice Cream).

I will say that, being new to the flavors of stevia, I found it to have just a tad bit of bitterness that I didn’t love and I might consider using half stevia, half other sweetener in the future just to tone that down a bit.  Although the soy ice cream toned that down, too!  The quinoa flakes worked beautifully and I’m most excited to use them again.

ramekin up close

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  If you like a very sweet crisp, this isn’t it – so add additional sweetener prior to baking.  Alternatively, you can also drizzle the cooked crisp with maple syrup or agave – a touch that I found delicious.

Lessons Learned:  Just because a belief or practice has served you well (or at least you think it has) for a number of years, doesn’t mean it will continue to do so.  By letting go of my food rule around cooked fruit (which for so long I thought was shielding me from mushy and unpleasant eats) I have opened the door to dozens of new experiences and flavors for me to try.  I know that they may not all be perfection, but I’m pretty confident that it will pay off with huge, delicious dividends in the long run.

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Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Serves 5-6

Adapted from the Gluten Free Goddess

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint strawberries, tops cut off and chopped
  • 3 medium-large stalks of rhubarb, split vertically and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon agave
  • ¾ cup quinoa flakes
  • ½ cup millet flour
  • ¼ cup chopped hazelnuts
  • ½ tspn powdered stevia (or equivalent ½ cup sugar/dry sweetener of preference)
  • ½ tspn cinnamon
  • ¼ tspn salt
  • ½ tspn vanilla extract
  • 3 tblspns coconut oil, melted

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare 6 small ramekins or an 8-inch square baking dish by spraying with cooking spray.
  2. Combine chopped fruit in a bowl.  Add agave and toss to coat.  Distribute evenly in ramekins, or spread across your square baking dish.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine quinoa flakes, millet flour, hazelnuts, stevia, cinnamon, and salt.  Whisk together.
  4. Add melted coconut oil and vanilla extract to bowl with the quinoa/flour mixture.  Work together (I suggest using your hands), to incorporate the oil and vanilla well.  The mixture should become crumbly and slightly moist.  Distribute this topping over your ramekins or your baking dish evenly.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven.  Eat warm or store in the refrigerator, covered, for a couple of days (rewarming if desired).  Serve as is or with agave, ice cream, yogurt, or coconut cream as possible toppings.

Foodie Firsts: From Contract to Recurring Status (And the Wonder of Garlic Spears)

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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So there is this thing in television that happens when someone goes from contract status to recurring status.  It means that instead of being featured regularly, the character just sort of pops up now and then, whenever the storyline dictates it or just enough to make sure the other characters haven’t forgotten they’re around.

And by television I mean daytime soap operas.

Don’t ask me how I know so much about daytime soap operas.  I will plead the fifth in order to preserve my semi-intellectual reputation.

(But if you ever want to talk about General Hospital, you know where to find me.)

The point is that this column is going from contract to recurring status.  I wanted to kick it off with a weekly edition and have found it to be incredibly fun and a terrific motivator to keep pushing myself culinarily speaking, but rather than continue it as a weekly feature, I’ll be posting Foodie Firsts a bit more sporadically, mixed in with my other regular posts.  A large part of this is due to my continued dietary changes (the whole gluten is poisoning me thing) and spending a good deal of my cooking time sorting that issue out.

Garlic Spears - edited

But, as the last regular Thursday edition, I did want to mention roasted garlic spears.  Because as I learned last week, roasted garlic spears are freaking incredible.

For someone who pretty strongly believes a savory meal can never have too much garlic, I can’t believe I haven’t tried them before.  I hadn’t intended to do a full post on them, so I didn’t take any pictures of them cooked, I just snapped a few raw because they were so pretty to look at it.

I roasted my garlic spears for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven after drizzling them with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper.  So simple.  So easy.  So delicious.

I ate them just like that, picking them up with my fingers and biting right in.  The amount of flavor in these spears is impressive and the crispy texture sublime.  The garlic does not overwhelm the tastebuds, as it softens and sweetens through the roasting process, leaving a perfectly palatable and beautiful side dish.

Garlic spears are only in season for a short time, but they are certainly peaking right now.  If you find a batch at your market, snatch it up (or snatch a few up) and roast away.

This is the find of the season for my little kitchen – maybe it can be yours, too.

Foodie Firsts: (Delicious) Homemade Stovetop Oatmeal

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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I am fully prepared for you all to think I’m a bit odd to have never had a proper bowl of stove top oatmeal until now.  Odd or not, it’s true.  Oatmeal was never on my radar even at all until the last year or so when I tested out some instant oatmeal with varying results.  Some were edible, others were atrocious.  Either way, I wasn’t jumping up and down clamoring for more.

apricot walnut honey with spoon - edited

On two or three occasions in the last year, though, I did try ordering oatmeal at restaurants.  These experiences were better and opened my mind up to the idea that oatmeal may not be such a bad thing.  Okay, let me back up, I mostly ordered it when it was called porridge.  Because calling it porridge appealed to the total anglophile in me.

Anyway, there was hope on the horizon for this warm cereal-like concoction to actually be worth trying.  But I still wasn’t ready to invest in making it at home.  A couple of things stood in my way.  First: granola.  A formidable foe for oatmeal, because I LOVE granola.  I could (and often do) eat granola every damn day.  Second, I was totally intimidated.

Given the facts that instant oatmeal was generally awful, restaurant oatmeal was (at best) kind of nice, and I had never seen anyone actually make oatmeal on the stove top before, it seemed like it must be really, really difficult.  I imagined it being super-finicky, needing to keep the heat level just perfect, the amount of liquid measured with ultra-precision, and timing it just magically to prevent mush.  (Sort of like the breakfast version of risotto, which is actually kind of funny because I love making risotto and have never found it difficult at all.)  I just couldn’t figure out how it would be worth it to go through all of that for a bowl of oatmeal when there was granola-a-plenty in my pantry.

cinnamon raisin with pistachios - edited

Then came my gluten-free dietary change.  Now, many gluten-sensitive people can’t eat oats, either, but I don’t seem to be one of them.  As long as I buy gluten-free oats, I seem to be okay and I didn’t react to them when my blood was tested, either.  With many of my go-to food options out the window, I need to learn some new tricks.  This is what prompted me to take on homemade stove top oatmeal.

AND I AM SO GLAD I DID.

Sorry for all that yelling.  I just am really excited about this.

Homemade stove top oatmeal is AMAZING!

Frankly, I don’t really understand why no one has told me about this before.  Are there huge numbers of us out there who don’t realize how delicious and easy this meal is??  Or, do those that know keep it a secret so they never have to worry about having to share??  I’m just so shocked it took me until 32 years of age to discover this one.

NEAR FLOWERS - edited

I have Project Grown-Up to thank for providing me the basic instructional information on how to make this oatmeal.  I used this post here as a guide and proceeded to make oatmeal three times in four days because it was so good – each and every time.  It may come as no surprise to you that I absolutely love how versatile it is.  The flavor combinations are virtually limitless and allow me to suit my every whim.  It’s also quick, totally easy to make, and provides such a warm, comforting, healthful way to start my day (or end it, as I did eat this for dinner one night).

So far, my oatmeal expeditions have led to the following bowls of goodness (all prepared with soy or rice milk):

  • Pumpkin Pie Flavored Oatmeal with Figs & Hazelnuts
  • Apricot, Walnut, Honey Oatmeal
  • Cinnamon Raisin Oatmeal Sprinkled with Pistachios

They have been amazing and I just want to eat oatmeal all the time. All.  The. Time.

As dull as this topic may have seemed before starting it, this might be my favorite Foodie Firsts yet.  Plus, there are so many avenues with which to take this.  I keep seeing recipes for baked oatmeal.  I can only imagine how delicious that will be!

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  While you can certainly go with just a bowl of old fashioned oats or just a bowl of steel cut oats, I have found I like a Bob's Oatsblend of the two.  I use about 2 or 2 ½ parts old fashioned to 1 part steel cut, but I find the little bit of texture variation between the two is quite nice.  Play with contrast in other ways, too.  Top your warm oatmeal with some slices of cool apple.  Cook in some dried fruit to soften it up, but don’t add your nuts until after the oatmeal is done cooking, providing a nice crunch in each bite. Finally, make sure you salt your oatmeal.  This is CRUCIAL to flavor.  CRUCIAL, I say!

Lessons Learned:  This challenge totally taught me to be willing to put aside my pre-conceived notions about common foods.  I THOUGHT I knew what oatmeal was (bland, mushy, sticky) and I was TOTALLY wrong.  It’s good to be humbled sometimes in this way and be willing to allow myself to be wrong in order to discover something wonderful.

Foodie Firsts: Beluga Lentils (With Recipe for Black Lentil and Edamame Patties)

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You may think that because you’re vegetarian, simply don’t eat seafood, or, you know, not wealthy, that caviar is out of your reach.  But, let me tell you something I recently learned.

It’s not.

It’s not, because you can still have the caviar of lentils!  Yes, I am serious.

in bag 2 - edited

Black lentils, also known as beluga lentils, are called such because they glisten like caviar.  Or so the internet tells me, at least.  I suppose I see it, though I’ve never actually been around caviar up close and personal, so I’ll take the internet’s word for it.

What I do know first hand is that these little legumes are delightful.  Who needs caviar?!  Not I, my friends, not I.

Now, being a HUGE fan of lentils, I have had green lentils, brown lentils, French lentils, and red lentils in a myriad of preparations, but this particular variety was new to me.  I snagged a bag a couple of weeks ago when I saw them on a shelf at a local specialty market and they seemed to call my name.  They were so pretty, so appealing, and just shouted out to come home with me.

So they did.

And a new saga in my lentil love affair was born.

Plated patty 3 = edited

I wasn’t quite sure how to best use them, so I did some perusing to see what others were whipping up with their black lentils.  I found loads of salad recipes, some very tempting braised lentil creations, and a few soups, but when I came across the idea for lentils combined with edamame in a patty, I was sold.

The recipe required me to boil the lentils first, without any seasoning or other elements to start, which was perfect because it gave me a chance to see how they cooked up in their pure state.  I was really VERY pleased with how this process went.  They cooked quickly (20 minutes), but what was most remarkable to me was the final texture of these lentils when they were done.  While red lentils can be quick to sort of fall apart during cooking (making them perfect for dal, in my opinion) and green or brown lentils can appear firm, but actually be a bit mushy to the touch if you don’t watch them carefully, these little gems held their texture amazingly well.  They were still perfectly shaped when I drained them, and when I took a spoonful to taste they seemed to melt in my mouth.  Absolutely dreamy, these lentils are.  The taste sans seasoning was savory and earthy, as a good lentil should be.

cooking in pot 2 - edited

Part of me was quite sad that I was about to toss them into a food processor and obliterate the sublime texture of the belugas. . . but I did it anyway.

As it turns out, they also make a mean patty.  The patties I made held together well, were incredibly easy to prepare, shape, and bake and did a nice job at offering an eating experience that could best be compared to a falafel, I think, just . . . different.  I personally would not call these a burger.  The texture and overall experience is not one of a veggie burger to me, but definitely more of a falafel-like patty.  The seasoning could be changed to suite your desired flavor profile, for sure, and they can be eaten as part of sandwich or wrap (others with me ate them in pitas) or sans bread on top of vegetables (as I did).  And, while they held their shape and consistency really well, they crumble nicely, too, so that’s a whole other world of possibilities.

In this meal the lentils definitely melded into the other ingredients and simply became part of an overall dish, so I am actually looking forward to making them again when they can stand on their own and I can enjoy their nicely cooked texture once again.  I’m thinking served on top of some rice and seasoned generously with spicy flavors.

cooked patties on pan 2 = edited

This was a truly exciting find for me.  While many of the things I have tried so far in my Foodie Firsts adventures will be eaten again from time to time, I foresee these becoming a regular event.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  As you can likely tell, I recommend the recipe below for black lentil & edamame patties.  In addition to that, though, I really think these would be fantastic boiled for 20 minutes to soften and then added to some sautéed veggies (onion, garlic, peppers, maybe carrot) with some of your favorite herbs & spices tossed in.  This preparation would allow you to experience them in more of a pure state.

Lessons Learned:  I love how just when you’ve think you’ve got something figured out (in this case, the humble lentil), you can always discover there is more to learn.  This week’s venture reminded me that the world of food is truly limitless when it comes to options and varieties.  While I could have happily gone the rest of my days with the standard green, brown, and red lentils filling my plate, discovering this other variety with a personality all its own was a lesson to me to continue looking for new experiences and not to just move through my cooking and eating life with a narrow focus on what I already know.  This is one lesson that I will surely be keeping with me beyond the kitchen as well.

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Black Lentil & Edamame Patties plated patty 4- edited close up

Adapted from Quiche-A-Week

Makes 12 small patties

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups of black lentils, cooked and drained (about ¾ cup dry)

1 ½ cups shelled edamame, defrosted

1 cup finely ground corn meal

3 tblspns nutritional yeast

1 ½ tblspn Ener-G egg replacer + 6 tblspns water (or the equivalent egg/egg replacement option for 3 large eggs)

1 tspn chili powder

½ tspn kosher salt

½ tspn onion powder

½ tspn garlic powder

¼ tspn black pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees & prepare your baking sheet by lining with parchment paper.
  2. Combine cornmeal and nutritional yeast in a small bowl and toss together until well combined.  Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, prepare your egg replacer and set aside.
  4. In a food processor, combine defrosted edamame, cooked lentils, salt, pepper, chili, onion, and garlic powders.  Pulse until ingredients are broken down and combined.  You can leave some chunks of edamame and lentils if you like them for texture or puree until mostly smooth.
  5. Remove lentil mixture from food processor and combine with the prepared egg replacer in the large bowl.  Work the egg replacer into the mixture with your hands (you could use a spoon, it’s just not quite as efficient).  Then, in batches, pour in the combined cornmeal and nutritional yeast and work that into the mix.  ** I recommend adding this in batches because you may find you don’t need as much of it as I did (it may vary depending how much moisture came out of your lentils and edamame).  Add and incorporate until the moisture is well absorbed and the mixture will hold together.
  6. To form 12 small patties, scoop a ¼ cup of the mix into your hands, squeeze/pat together to form a patty and place onto your prepared baking sheet.  Bake for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through.

**  We ate these with a variety of sauce toppings, too.  I enjoyed Annie’s barbecue sauce, garlic sauce was also a hit, and mustard wasn’t bad, either!

Foodie Firsts: Trying To Catch a Curveball

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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I had a whole Foodie First column planned for today.  I also had a post about creativity and confidence planned for earlier this week.  Neither has happened as planned and I want to explain why.

Life threw me a curveball this week.  A super curvy-curveball that I’ve been fumbling around trying to manage (yes, I did just mix those sports metaphors).  For the past couple of years, I have experienced a variety of health problems that, while not dire or life-threatening, have been persistent, problematic, and caused quite a bit of pain and discomfort.  I’ve gone through a series of frustrating tests and medical consultations without any answers or much concern given by the professionals I’ve seen.  I sought out a new doctor recently (a doctor of Naturopathic medicine) and am starting to get some answers.  They just weren’t the ones I was expecting.

I thought I had a pretty good idea of what might be the culprit and she agreed it was very possible.  In this vain, we decided to do some more tests and she also offered up another possibility that no one else had suggested in my medical visits: a food reactivity test.  I agreed, thinking it would be interesting and potentially helpful, but I didn’t really think it would be quite the game changer that it was.

The results came back on Saturday and they were pretty startling.  In a nutshell, I have been eating foods that my particular body is unable to handle properly, likely resulting in significant inflammation and a wide variety of painful and uncomfortable symptoms.  There are basically two categories that popped up that I have classified as:  The Super Big Bads that I will likely have to remove from my diet pretty much forever, and the Maybe-Possibly Big Bads that are causing reactions for sure (so they are off the table for a month or so) but may be able to be eaten occasionally once I’ve had a chance to get the current inflammatory damage under control.

So I have started an elimination diet.  All the Super Big Bads are gone for good, and the Possibly Big Bads are gone for the time being.  What are these foods?  Why did they completely derail my week and send me into a bit of a tailspin?  Here you go:

Category 1: The Super Big Bads

  • Kamut
  • Rye
  • Spelt
  • Wheat, Gliadin
  • Wheat, Gluten
  • Wheat, Whole
  • Yeast, Baker’s
  • Yeast, Brewer’s

(I’m still waiting for further tests to determine whether my gluten issue is in the category of gluten-sensitivity or Celiac’s Disease.  Either way, no more gluten for me.)

Category 2:  The Maybe-Possibly Big Bads

  • Almonds
  • Bananas
  • Chickpeas
  • Coffee Beans
  • Cranberries
  • Eggs
  • Green Peas
  • Milk (Dairy Variety)
  • Pecans
  • Pineapple
  • Sesame Seed
  • Sugar Cane
  • Whey
  • Yogurt (Dairy Variety)

It’s a grim list.  It’s very, very grim.

An example of how grim?

Most mornings this is my breakfast:

  • Two slices Dave’s 21 Grain Killer Bread
  • 1 tablespoon or so almond butter
  • 1 cup organic Greek yogurt
  • Coffee
  • Followed later by a mid-morning snack of a banana.

The rest of my day follows suit.

Since getting this information, I’ve been a bit of a mess.  I’ve had lots of emotions and am basically going through the stages of grief.  To some, this may sound over the top, but to me, it’s not.  As I’ve talked about on this blog, my love of healthy eating, cooking, and baking was only discovered in the last couple of years.  I’ve fallen in love with whole, real foods and finding new ways to prepare them.  I’ve discovered things I had never eaten before and was looking forward to eating lots more of.  Things like spelt muffins and scones (my absolute favorite flour to bake with these days), whole wheat grainy breads and cookies, almonds in just about every way you can imagine (almond butter, almond/fruit snack bars in the afternoons, almond flour, almonds in desserts, almond milk, almond yogurt), hummingbird cake with pineapples, and bananas eaten raw, used as sweetener in baked goods, and combined with dark chocolate.

Now these things are off limits and I don’t really know what to do.  Yes, it’s an opportunity to try more new things and yes, it’s a chance to get even more creative with my cooking, but right now I just want a slice of healthy, grainy toast with almond butter and a good, strong cup of coffee.

I don’t really think that’s too much to ask.

So my last few days have been spent purging my pantry and kitchen, carefully reading ingredient labels, spending hours (and lots of money) at the markets, and just figuring out what is safe and what is not.  Hence, the lack of blogging this week.  Do you have any idea how many foods contain gluten, yeast, and/or almonds?  Forget about the fact that cane sugar is on the list – it’s in nearly everything.

I realize that was a long explanation for my absence and I could have just said ‘sorry’ for dropping the ball this week, but I wanted to share some information about what’s going in.  I’ll be back next week with regular posts and I’ve no doubt that this new part of my life will be included, as it will surely impact those topics that near and dear to me here on this blog: healthy living, running, cooking, and overall brain and body wellness.

Also, in my absence this week, I failed to post that Monday marked my one-year anniversary with this blog.  I was sorry to have missed honoring that day and saying thank you to everyone who has stopped by, tried a recipe, took a running tip, left their own advice and input, and generally joined me in my little space on the Internet.  You all are fantastic and I have loved putting Move Eat Create together over this past year.  I have a lot more planned for year two!

 

Foodie Firsts: Making Friends with Mushrooms – Part 1 (with Recipe for Italian Vegetable Pie)

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You know how people often say they have a love/hate relationship with something?  How they lament about being torn between the benefits and satisfaction of something and the pain or challenges that very thing may cause them?  You know that, right?

Well, I have had a hate/hate relationship with mushrooms for as long as I can remember.  There’s been no love.  None.

Not.  One.  Ounce.

mushrooms on chopping board - edited

To be fair, I haven’t eaten a lot of mushrooms in my life, but, really, it didn’t take me long to develop a belief they were the worst food ever.  They were slimy.  Or mealy.  Or slimy AND mealy.  They were overcooked or undercooked.  They tasted sort of like dirt and they took up large portions of ingredient real estate that could have been used for other, less offensive items.

I guess this is the post where I tell you how I REALLY feel.

Here’s the catch, though, I know how good they are for me.  I know that they bring an incredible amount of nutrition to any meal and I’m on board with that.  After I read Super Immunity by Joel Fuhrman (LOVE this book, by the way), I was convinced I needed to figure out a way to start over with mushrooms.  Fuhrman is a big fan of what mushrooms can do for our health and I’m a big of Furhman, so I decided that we needed to make amends, mushrooms and I.  I thought maybe it was time I give them another chance.

Slice on plate 4 - edited

It was going to be tricky, as I was still holding a bit of a grudge against them.  But, here’s where my Foodie Firsts column came in to play.  I had NEVER cooked with mushrooms and I had NEVER eaten a mushroom I liked.  I had the opportunity for two firsts and decided to view that a challenge to take on.  I had to start by considering my mushroom options.  After some discussion, I was able to discern I would be best to avoid button mushrooms.  A friend let me know that it was likely these types of mushrooms I had generally been served in restaurants and had spit out in slimy horror.  This was helpful information.  Button mushrooms were flagged as off limits for now.  I was also gently steered away from Portobellos for the time being; it being suggested those might be best left for after developing a bit more mushroom tolerance.

So I knew what to avoid.  Excellent.  Next, I needed to know what to make.  I wanted to try something that would definitely feature a hefty dose of these little fungi, but would also have familiar and likeable components.  I didn’t want to just dive right into a plate of cooked mushrooms with no other food around, if you know what I mean.

I decided on Italian.  Specifically, I decided on an Italian vegetable pie.  This vegetable pie would have many items I love (onions, tomato sauce, garlic, bell peppers) along with a hearty portion of mushrooms.

My course was set.

Layering up 3 - edited

Knowing what kind of mushrooms NOT to get helped guide me at the store and I settled upon a bag of crimini mushrooms to feature in my vegetable pie.  Italian mushrooms for Italian pie.  Perfect.

The criminis that I bought were pre-sliced (fancy), but I wanted them chopped a bit smaller, so I took care of that at home.  I will say, as someone who finds chopping vegetables thoroughly pleasant and at times even therapeutic, going to work on these mushrooms was very enjoyable.  The ease at which my chef’s knife moved through them was quite satisfying.

The mushrooms were cooked briefly with other filling ingredients for the pie, layered up with the noodles and sauce, and baked for a short while.  When the pie was ready, I was nervous.  I wanted to love it.  I wanted to love THEM.  But I was totally unsure of how it was going to turn out.

Onward I went.

Slicing up the Italian pie, I dove in with gusto.  I decided to just take a leap of faith in regards to this meal and tried to eat without the memory of past experiences coloring my tastebuds.

And?

Cooked in skillet - edited

I was rewarded.

It was GREAT.  It was REALLY GREAT.

This was a perfect re-introduction to mushrooms, as I certainly did know they were on my plate, but they held their texture quite well and I ate them in forkfuls with other familiar and delicious ingredients, not having to be the only thing I tasted in each bite.

You may have noticed that I titled this post ‘Making Friends with Mushrooms – Part 1’.  Because there are so many varieties of mushrooms, as well as an abundance of preparation options for them, I have decided I will do another post or two featuring the mushroom family.  And, I’m actually looking forward to it, which is nice.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  I have to say the Italian Vegetable Pie I made was quite good.  It hit all the right notes for those who love lasagna or Italian casseroles, but provided a new twist on these old favorites. The recipe is below if you, too, want to give it a try.  It’s filling, produces an enticing aroma while it cooks, and makes a lovely presentation, in addition to just tasting really good.

Lessons Learned:  Be flexible and creative when trying to incorporate ingredients that may not initially appeal to you.  Once I stopped my rigid thinking about mushrooms (ALL mushrooms are bad) and considered that maybe the types or preparations I had experienced in the past just weren’t the best ones for my particular tastes, I was able to think about this ingredient in new ways.  Drawing upon positive food experiences as a base and finding ways to incorporate mushrooms into food I already knew I would enjoy has opened up new cooking doors for me.

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Italian Vegetable Pie mushrooms in bag - edited

Adapted from Cooking Light

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • Cooking Spray
  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 10 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 14 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 10 oz firm tofu, drained, pressed, and crumbled
  • 3 tblspns tomato paste
  • 1/2 tspn dried oregano
  • 1/4 tspn crushed fennel
  • 1 tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tspn salt
  • 1/2 tspn black pepper
  • 28 oz marina sauce of your choice
  • 8 lasagna noodles
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 tblspns vegan Parmesan

Method:

  1. Boil lasagna noodles according to package directions, set aside when done, and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Coat a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat.  When warmed, add bell pepper, onion, and garlic.  Cook, stirring frequently, 4-5 minutes until softened.
  3. Add mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and crumbled tofu.  Stir to mix all ingredients and cook 3-4 more minutes.
  4. Add tomato paste, oregano, fennel, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper,  Stir to coat vegetables with seasonings and then add marinara sauce.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat.
  5. In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs and vegan Parmesan and set aside.
  6. Coat a 9-10 inch pan or cast iron skillet with cooking spray.  Arrange cooked lasagna noodles in a circular pattern around the pan, so that they line the bottom of the pan, with half of the noodles hanging over the edge.  Spoon half of the vegetable-marinara mixture onto the noodles.  Fold the hanging edges of the noodles over to cover this part of the filling, then spoon the rest of the vegetable-marinara mixture on top.  Sprinkle bread crumb and vegan Parmesan mixture evenly over the top.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Foodie Firsts: Homemade Bagels

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You all may not be aware of this, but for about the last 18 months or so, my fair city has been in the throes of a bagel crisis.  You see, we Portlanders generally like our goods locally sourced, carefully tended to, and not mass produced whenever possible.  Our city is a bit of a haven for small business owners and even when they begin to spread their wings and fly off into other areas (ahem . . . Stumptown Coffee is NOT FROM Brooklyn), we still hold them dear to our hearts.

When it came to bagels, one local business had the city wrapped around its little flour-dusted finger – Kettleman’s.  Kettleman’s Bagels had been around for several years, had established five locations throughout the city, and served up some very tasty bagels.  Though a few other local bagel makers existed, it was Kettleman’s that had a large, devoted following and graced the breakfasts (and lunches) of many citizens on any given day.

plain bagels on plate 3 - edited

Then, completely out of the blue, a bomb dropped.

Kettleman’s had been sold.

To the Einstein Bagel Company.  Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo.

Not only had Kettleman’s been sold, but to be sold to a large, national chain ready to serve up mediocore (not locally sourced) coffee alongside mass produced (not made carefully with hipster love) bagels was devastating.

Portlanders revolted.  The Willamette Week paper set out to try to find a suitable local replacement.  New bakers and chefs jumped in and tried to fill the bagel void.

We’re still recovering.  We’re trying to find our way through as a bagel-loving community, one day at a time.

I have eaten other locally made bagels since.  Some have been good.  Some have not.

flour - edited

Last week, by the way, Einstein’s announced it was closing THREE of its shops in the Portland market, just a year after trying to take over the city (I should tell you they also bought out all the Noah’s Bagels outlets locally, too, turning the city into a little Einstein’s monopoly). Hah.  Take that, Einstein Brothers.

Sorry.  Sometimes, I get a little vengeful.

Because of all this, I decided to reclaim my own bagel destiny and make my very own bagels – in my very own kitchen.  This was an intimidating process for me, because bagels are the type of food that I imagine are always best purchased from a bagel shop, fresh from the oven, wrapped in a little waxy sheet of paper or brown paper bagel bag.  There’s something about the experience of that process that adds to the eating experience.

Making bagels was a totally foreign concept to me and I spent quite a good deal of time looking up various methods and recipes on the Internet.  Most were straightforward and pretty similar to one another, so I plunged forward.

I made two batches and 4 different flavors.  The first batch was made following this technique found over at the Happy Herbivore Website.  I made four large bagels from this recipe and left them all plain – just wanting to experience the bagel in its purest state.

The second batch was made following this technique found at The Veggie Converter.  This batch made up about 10 smaller bagels.  I mixed this group up and made a few each of cinnamon-raisin, garlic-sesame seed, and salted bagels.

mixed bagels plated 6 - edited

Both batches were made by boiling the bagels briefly before baking and both batches were very, very good.  I used white whole flour in all of my bagels, which I know makes them a bit denser than if I had opted for all-purpose flour, but I don’t mind that and appreciate the slight health benefits from making that switch.

I must say, the process was very simple.  Mixing the dough was a breeze (I have a stand mixer now thanks to a generous gift from Mr. Move Eat Create’s family), the boiling part was kind of fun, topping them was a cinch, and the baking requires little attention other than popping them in and out of the oven.

I do have a couple of specific thoughts about the methods I tried.  First, both methods for creating the dough holes (rolling the dough out into long strips and then closing them together to create circles versus making balls and then sticking my fingers through the center to work a hole into the ball) worked well.  Even though it was slightly more work, I think I preferred rolling the dough out into long strips, because it just created a smoother, more attractive bagel surface.  Second, even though both recipes called for small amounts of sugar, I think I would decrease it even more.  Unless I’m making a sweet bagel (i.e. cinnamon raisin), I just don’t think it’s necessary.

Overall, I highly recommend giving homemade bagels a try.  They are, quite frankly, one of the less fussy things I’ve made in a while and they tasted really, truly good.  I enjoyed their texture, ability to re-heat, and the freedom I had to make up as many flavors as I wanted.  I will most definitely make homemade bagels again.

Though, I do still miss you, Kettleman’s.

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  Get creative with your toppings and flavors.  Now that I know I can make them, my brain is wild with the possibilities!plain bagels - edited  Things I want to try include poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, onion, blueberry, and jalapeno.

Lessons Learned:  I faced down some apprehension with this week’s topic.  For whatever reason, bread making is an intimidating process for me, especially bread making that specifically involves kneading of any sort.  Add to that the very specific experience of bagel eating that I have in my mind and I felt like I was trying to pull off something that was impossible to re-create.  In reality, though, I learned that some images are just that – images.  They may be wonderful, but they are not the only thing that is wonderful.   Re-fashioning my notions of what a good bagel experience could be was achievable and being able to create something so enjoyable with my own hands and means was totally gratifying.

Foodie Firsts: Edible Flowers

wooden spoons-001Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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You know how people say not to play with your food?

I don’t get that.

Why not?  Why not play with your food??

Salad Close Up - Edited

From my perspective, food is an ideal opportunity to have fun, to play, to experiment and to be adventurous.  I sometimes think that one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy cooking or appreciate good, real food for so long is because I didn’t see the fun in it.  It felt so serious.  Essentially, there were a few, rigid categories of food in my world.  They looked something like this:

  1. Food I ate at home daily – Due to my family dynamics and lifestyle this was most often fast food, microwaveable meals, or things easily heated up in a microwave or the stovetop.  This food was eaten quickly, for survival mostly, with little joy or variety.  Perfect examples are McDonald’s, pizza, spaghetti-o’s, meat and cheese sandwiches, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Top Ramen, and TV dinners.  (Yes, this was how I ate once upon a time!)
  2. Food I ate in my car – Once I started driving, I ate a lot of food in my car.  Taco Bell was a stalwart of this routine, as was Wendy’s, grocery store doughnuts, and Diet Pepsi.  There was no fun in this.  No play.  This was totally rushed and utilitarian.
  3. Food I ate on special occasions – This was the closest I came to fun, I guess, though it was still a stretch to call it that.  A dinner out at an actual restaurant was occasionally on the schedule.  As far as home cooked meals, though, they were few and far between.  Once in a while, on a holiday for instance, there would be a meal of standards.  A meat.  A potato.  A canned vegetable.  Store bought rolls.  Nothing unexpected.

As you can surmise, my relationship with food was mostly functional.  Eating was just something I had to do to get through all the other stuff I was doing and cooking was a chore best avoided.

Cocktail Collage

So, back to today’s point – fun, playful food.

The revelation that food could be fun was one that came slowly, incrementally, over time.  I noticed other people in my life who enjoyed cooking, baking, and eating in a way I hadn’t ever really considered as an option before.  I also credit part of this revelation to cooking shows.  Watching shows like Top Chef, Iron Chef (the original Japanese version is stellar), Barefoot Contessa, Two Fat Ladies, and so on, was an enlightening process.  Here were people who were supposed to take food seriously, right?  They were, after all, earning their living producing perfect dishes, executed with precision and meticulous detail, but threaded throughout all of it was a sense of fun.  A sense of play.

They totally played with their food!

Food was tossed into the air!  Set on fire!!  Sprinkled, frosted, crumbled.  Food was piled high, spread low and thin, and layered up for inches.  Food was frozen, whipped, baked, grilled, and decorated.  There was so much action.  There was laughter.  There was joy and pleasure.  There were moans when bites were taken, chuckles when something was unconventional, and friendly stories shared of mistakes and mishaps.

It was kind of cool and I wanted to try it.

cake 3 - edited

So, I started playing with my food, too.  True, I did so in less flamboyant ways, but I sprinkled spices and tossed things around.  I tried my hand at shaking my wok around so veggies flipped up over the edge and back into the pan.  I tried different methods of cutting things.  Julienning was fun.  My mandoline provided a thrill.  I started to use garnishes and I considered how I put things on a plate.

I played like a kid in a sandbox.  I still do and it’s changed my whole relationship to food.  All of this rambling brings me to today’s ingredient – edible flowers.  Edible flowers, like the ones I used, have no taste, really, but they are great for playing around with.  Without adding much flavor or texture to a dish, they exist primarily for making food playful, fun, and visually interesting.  They had been on my mind since seeing them stocked next to the fresh herbs in my market.  This was the week I gave them a try.

First of all, I was totally surprised at how many of them were crammed into my little clamshell container that I carried them home in.  I expected to have to use them sparingly, but once I opened them up and started pulling them out I say that there were loads of them, leaving me ample opportunity to try them in different ways.

I started by eating one straight out of the container, of course.  Even though I knew it wouldn’t really taste like much, I wanted to experience one in its pure state.  It was chewy and felt a bit tissue-like in my mouth.  Not unpleasant, but just pretty indistinct.

Then, I got to playing.

Ice cubes in glass 3 - edited final

I decided to use the flowers for fun, frivolity, and flourish in various ways.  I wanted to start by including them in my evening meal.  I had already planned on making a Mexican dish that night, so I decided to serve a side salad featuring the flowers alongside it.  Made simply of thinly sliced radishes, summer squash, and green onions, and dressed with a cilantro vinaigrette, the salad was a perfect foundation for my flowers.  As a garnish, the flowers added spunk to a simple plate.

Next came the cocktails.  Edible flowers and cocktails?  What about that isn’t fun??  This one was simple, mixing up a couple of drinks (gin, of course) and finished them off with a flower floater on top.  Beautiful.  Elegant.  Sophisticated play.  It may sound silly, but that cocktail seemed to taste a little better that night.  It also felt good held in my hand with such a distinct visual touch playing with my eyes.

As ice was being used for mixing drinks, I decided to use some of my flowers in ice cubes, reserving them for future playful food nights!  I made a tray of ice cube with flowers frozen within them.  I absolutely believe they will be a perfect way to add a bit of joy into a tired or dark day that may come down the road.  Tossing one of those into a drink of any kind, even a simple glass of water (my most common beverage of choice) will make for a lovely experience.

Finally, I made cake.  Specifically, I made my hummingbird cake.  I love this cake.  I LOVE this cake.  It tastes absolutely wonderful, but isn’t necessarily much to look at it on its own.  But, this is where I had the most fun.  Picking petals apart, I had a blast sprinkling them across the top of my finished, iced cake.  The result was wonderful.  It turned my cake into a centerpiece.  Something as beautiful to look at as it was to eat and I it made me smile to look at.

Food that can make you smile before you even eat it is a truly great thing.

Notes & Final Thoughts cake close up 2

Serving Suggestions:  See above.  I highly recommend all of the uses I described here.  I’ve also heard of using edible flowers in DIY flavored salts.  What a great gift that would make!

Lessons Learned: There is a place for serious food and a place for utilitarian food, but there is also a place (a very important one) for fun, playful food.  Life is full of utility and seriousness, and, frankly, I think most of us could use a bit more joy.  Play in your kitchen.  Splurge a bit on something that will be fun and bring you excitement in the kitchen or at the table.  It’s worth it. 

 

Foodie Firsts: Meyer Lemons (Plus, A Recipe: Meyer Lemon Linguini with Kale Raab and Cherry Tomatoes)

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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Meyer lemons are one of those foods that people have very strong opinions about.  They almost have a cult-like following.  Devotees talk animatedly about their return each season, preserve what they can for the dark days when fresh ones are not available, and fill their lives with Meyer lemon goodness when the season is right.  If food were science-fiction, you might say that Meyer lemons are the Doctor Who of the food world.  (Or maybe, I’m just excited about Doctor Who right now and it’s infiltrating my other life spaces.)

Whole Close Up - edited

As you might have guessed given the focus of this column, I had never had a Meyer lemon.  So when people started blogging excitedly about them or expressing joy in the supermarket at their return, I just wasn’t getting it.  What was all the fuss?   Could they really be that much different from a ‘regular’ lemon??

Let me say that I am a BIG FAN of lemons.  I happen to believe that they are one of the most endlessly useful items to have in a kitchen.  Their zest and juice can transform baked goods to a whole other level of awesomeness, add zingy interest to soups, brighten up pasta in a flash, elevate salad from dull to exciting, and, heck, a slice in a glass of water (or, ahem, gin) can go a long way to increasing taste and experience.

Lemons are good stuff.

So, I had to ask, was a Meyer lemon going to be much different?  And, if in fact it was that different, was that going to actually be a good thing?

Meyer Lemon Collage

I think I can say that it WAS THAT different.  I decided to try Meyer lemons two ways – sweet and savory.  Plus, I just sampled a bit of the juice itself.  The difference, of course, starts right from the get-go with the visual aspect of the fruit.  It’s lemon-shaped and lemon-sized, but the color is not the same.  Less bright and catchy, the Meyer lemons I purchased had a flatter hue.  When I placed them side by side on my counter with a standard lemon, there was no confusing which was which.

Tasting the Meyer lemon juice on its own, it was clear that the taste is definitely a different experience from standard lemons.  I could tell it wasn’t as sharp or acidic and I was curious to see how this would impact my food.  I had 6 lemons and decided I would put 3 to work in a savory dish (pasta) and 3 would be used in a sweet dish (lemon bars).

I’ll start with the bad (because the good was REALLY good).  The lemon bars didn’t quite come out right.  To be fair, I don’t think it was entirely the fault of the Meyer lemons themselves.  The recipe I used just didn’t work quite right for some reason and I needed to have baked them longer, I think, as they didn’t set up quite right.  So, there were some serious fundamental flaws.  What I will say is that regardless of these issues, if you want a traditional lemon bar, with loads of wake-up-and-stimulate-your-senses sharp flavors, Meyer lemons aren’t going to do that for you.  If you want a smoother, more subtle, and possibly more sweet lemon bar, than the Meyers just might work.

Plated 5 - edited

Moving on to the good.  I made pasta.  Meyer lemon linguini with cherry tomatoes and kale raab to be specific about it, and it was tremendously satisfying.  Maybe I was just having a good night in the kitchen, but the Meyers really worked with this dish.  That lack of bold lemon punch was a really good thing in this case, as the Meyer lemons actually added a rounder, more full-bodied flavor to the dish, rather than just a zap of acid and tartness.  I would venture to say that they added a richness to this dish that a standard lemon just would not have done and it elevated the flavor to something a bit more complex.  This dish made me excited about Meyer lemons the way I have seen others be.

What about all of you?  Are you a Meyer lemon convert?  Do you get excited when their time rolls around each year?

Notes & Final Thoughts:

Lessons Learned:  As I said, I really love lemons.  I can’t say that Meyer lemons have won over my heart from their more common counterparts quite yet.  I certainly don’t think they have the versatility of their lemon cousins.  I was really excited about the pasta dish though and, in that context, totally understand how they could be used differently, uniquely, to make a dish their own.  That gives me enough incentive to want to experiment with them further.

Serving Suggestions:  Well, the pasta below, of course.  But also, I’ve seen a variety of recipes for Meyer lemon muffins and bread.  I am pretty much always in favor of a good muffin or bread, so those seem like an excellent thing to try.  Also, probably one of the most popular things to do is snag some while they’re in season and preserve them for later use.

Lessons Learned: I was struck by how it really is quite possible for two items to be so closely related to one another and yet be so very unique in the outcomes they produce.  It has caused me to give more consideration to the subtle differences between similar food items and how they will impact a dish.  It is fun to notice how my own palate is becoming more discerning as I continue to try new things with an open mind and attention to subtle details!

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Meyer Lemon Linguini with Kale Raab & Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 4

Ingredients:In Pan 2 - edited

  • 8 oz linguini (I used spinach linguini)
  • 2 small batches kale raab, stems discarded, leaves and flowers chopped
  • 3 tblspns water
  • 1 tblspn olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tspn red pepper flakes
  • Juice of 3 medium Meyer lemons
  • 1 tspn kosher salt
  • ½ tspn black pepper
  • 1 tblspn fresh thyme, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (vegan or dairy, per preference)
  • Handful of Italian parsley, chopped

Directions:

  1. Prepare noodles according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  2. Warm sauté pan over medium heat.  Add chopped kale raab, along with 3 tblspns water.  Cover immediately and let steam in pan for 2-3 minutes.  Remove steamed kale raab from pan and set aside.
  3. Return sauté pan to stovetop, over medium heat.  Add oil.  Once warmed add garlic and red pepper flakes.  Cook, stirring frequently for 1-2 minutes, or until garlic begins to lightly brown.
  4. Add steamed kale raab, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and thyme to pan.  Stir to combine all ingredients well and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add cooked noodles and cherry tomatoes to pan and toss all ingredients together.  Cook 2-3 more minutes until all components are heated and combined.
  6. Remove from heat and add Parmesan, tossing to coat other ingredients.  Serve with fresh Italian parsley garnish.

Foodie Firsts: Orca Beans (AKA Calypso Beans and Yin Yang Beans)

wooden spoons-001

Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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There I was strolling through the store, all set to pick up the final couple of items I needed for dinner that night, when I spotted something beautiful and unfamiliar to me.

I love it when this happens.

in bowl - edited

The item I had spotted was in the bulk food section.  Included among the rows and rows of bins filled with nuts, seeds, and pastas, were the bins of beans.  There were your usual suspects – kidney, black, pinto, cannellini, navy – but there was also a variety I had never seen or heard of before . . . . orca beans.  These beans are gorgeous.  Boldly patterns of black and white swirl across the surface of these beautiful legumes, just as they do on their namesake.  I took home several scoops and set about learning more about orcas (because last week, I learned the importance of research!).

It turns out that orca beans hail from Mexico.  They are also commonly called calypso or yin yang beans.  Through various Internet trolling, it is noted that they are a fairly rare variety and are often paired with corn or other traditional Mexican ingredients.

I decided to cook up these beans with corn, but instead of going with tried and true Mexican flavors, I was inspired by a recipe celebrating the flavors of Native America.  Granted these two cuisines have a lot in common, so many of the ingredients here can be found in both.   You can see the recipe that I used for inspiration here at Vegetarian Times.  I followed the sage pesto portion almost to a tee (except for subbing half the oil with vegetable broth – a little trick I learned to lighten things up a bit).  Then, I combined the pesto and orca beans with cooked brown rice, zucchini, corn, garlic, onion, and peppers.

in bowl close up - edited

I soaked my orca beans overnight and, in true food-nerd fashion, got excited peeking at them glistening in the water.  They really are appealing little things!   Cooking these beans was a cinch.  After their fairly long soak, they only needed about 45 minutes before they were tender, ready to be drained, and added to the rest of the dish.

Interestingly, the black on the beans lightens in the cooking process, turning to a shade of brown.  I found that these beans held their shape and form quite well, not breaking down as much as, say, a navy bean might do.  The taste was pleasant enough, but fairly unremarkable.  That’s not to say they weren’t tasty, they just didn’t necessarily stand out as exceptionally different from their bean cousins.  I read one description of orca beans that commented on their potato-like taste.  I suppose that I would say that they did have a somewhat starchy quality to them, which is reminiscent of a white potato, though I wouldn’t go as far to say that they tasted like potatoes (but, seriously, someone should get on that – a bean that tastes like potatoes would be amazing).  I could see them working in just about any recipe that called for kidney or cannellini beans quite well, adapting to whatever spices and herbs may be added to them.

cooking with beans added in - edited

Overall, these beans were quite fun to try.  They seem very versatile and I can imagine picking them up again in the future when I want a bean that will stay somewhat firm through an extended cooking process, without distracting from a specific desired flavor profile.  Plus, they are visually very interesting and can add a playful appearance to an otherwise standard dish.

I know there are loads of bean varieties out there that I’ve never tried before and this gave me an excellent starting point from which to keep experimenting.  I am certainly going to keep my eyes peeled to see what else pops up in those bulk bins!

Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  Use the recipe that I linked to above if you like.  The sage pesto was quite delicious and offered a nice change from a more traditional basil pesto.  Orca beans can also easily be substituted for black beans or kidney beans in soups, stews, or chili.  I also imagine they’d be excellent stuffed into peppers and baked with your grain of choice and chopped vegetables.

I’m curious as to how they would work in a bean burger.  My feeling about their texture and taste is that they could make a pretty fantastic vegetarian burger patty, maybe combined with oats, rice, corn, or quinoa, as well as a binder and plenty of seasoning.  I might try this in the future.

Lessons Learned:

Visual appeal is important in food.  I knew this already, of course, but the value of it really stood out when I came across these beans.  Like a child taken in by shiny objects, I was so drawn to the color and pattern of these beans that it made cooking them all that much more engaging.

Pay attention to cooking times with different beans!  I had expected these to take somewhere between 1-1 ½ hours to cook, but they were done in 45 minutes!  They were pretty small which may have had something to do with it.  Either way, I’m lucky that I checked on them when I did, because letting them go unchecked could have led to a mushy bean disaster of epic proportions!