Monday, October 31, 2011

meatless monday: mediterranean quinoa

This weekend was filled to the brim with festive activities - a wine and cheese night at a friend's home, tailgating for the USC v Stanford game, a pumpkin carving soiree, my third half marathon, and our Halloween party (more on the run and Halloween party tomorrow).

My friend Jenna hosted the wine and cheese night and set out a table full of snacks, a variety of wines, and these adorable pumpkin cupcakes with milano "tombstones" in the top with our initials on them. I was absolutely loving this sign she bought off Amazon. At $10, it's insanely affordable, but I bet you could also make it on your own with some burlap, scissors, ribbon, and paint.

I offered to bring a big side dish to Jenna's party, and I went for this mediterranean quinoa. It's super simple, light in flavor, and would blend well with pretty much all other food - which makes it ideal for a potluck. I left the extras at home and ate it as a snack throughout the weekend. The flavors got better the longer the dish sat - a perfect do ahead dish!

Mediterranean Quinoa
makes 8 side servings

2 cups cooked quinoa
8 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 package persian cucumbers, chopped
8 oz herbed feta cheese
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 T olive oil
1/2 T red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

While quinoa is cooking, prep your vegetables and herbs: quarter the cherry tomatoes, finely chop the shallot, and chop the persian cucumbers, basil, and mint.

Once quinoa is cooked, mix together all ingredients. The warm quinoa will slightly melt the cheese and continue to soak up the mediterranean flavors.

Friday, October 28, 2011

cleaning up with the blue print cleanse

For about 3 months before the wedding, Josh and I tried our hardest to eat as healthy as possible and to get to the gym at least 5 days a week. Yes, we were in the best shapes of our lives, but I don't think I could ever commit to that diligence again.

And then the wedding came and went (and it was wonderful!!), and we rediscovered some of our favorite indulgences. I swear I had forgotten how good pizza and fried food and beer tasted. And french fries...well, they taste infinitely better with cheese and chili and sour cream.

Anywaysss, you get the picture. We fell off the wagon, in a really big way. It wasn't even a weight thing for us. We just both felt...gross. We needed something to jump start us back into making healthy food decisions again.

We talked to some friends who had done a local Los Angeles juice cleanse. So we did the obvious next step: googled "juice cleanses" endlessly, read about all our options, and decided Blue Print Cleanse was the one for us.

They ship anywhere in the US, but it's a bit cheaper in NY and LA where they have their 2 juice press locations. You can do a cleanse for as many days as you please, but it seems like the standard is 3-day or 6-day. (We both went for the 3-day.) There's 6 juices a day, and they're pre-numbered so they literally make it as easy as possible.

Josh and I are about as physically different as a couple can get. He's 6 foot 5 inches and 200 pounds. And I'm 5 foot 2 inches and about half his weight. I'm usually a really healthy eater - I love a simply cooked fish with a side of veggies. But I indulge in ice cream pretty frequently. Josh can eat 2-3 times of my portion size and would do anything for a Chipotle steak, rice, and cheese burrito with chips and guac. We thought it would be interesting to document our experiences and see how it varied between the two of us.

So here it goes. The Blue Print Cleanse from Heather and Josh's points of view.

Heather: one of cleanse...

I wake up and make myself a mug of warm water with lemon. I open the fridge and pull out bottle number one - romaine, celery, cucumber, apple, spinach, kale, parsley, lemon, ginger. I'm pretty nervous about this green juice. The vegetables have sunk to the bottom of the bottle leaving a separation between greenery and water. I shake it up and hope for the best, convincing myself that I could always just plug my nose if it's really that bad. I'm pleasantly surprised! The strongest flavor of the juice is actually the apple giving it a sweet note. I drink it down, along with two glasses of water.

I wait thirty minutes and am still starving (I usually wake up pretty hungry). Josh convinces me to wait a full hour before my next juice.

After the full hour, I tear into bottle number two - pineapple, apple, mint. Um, this is delicious. I would choose to drink this any day. I finally feel full after finishing this bottle, which is perfect timing because I have plans from 10:30 - 1:00 that won't allow me to bring in any food or drink.

At 1:00, I'm more thirsty than anything. I chug a bottle of water and feel much better. I head over to Panera with Josh and my mom and order a hot green tea. By the end of lunch, I'm starving and can't wait to get home to get to bottle number three - another green juice.

By 4:00, I'm feeling noticeably low. I break into bottle number four - lemon, agave, cayenne. It's delicious and gives me a little "pick-me-up," but doesn't exactly fill me up so at 5:30 I drink bottle number five - beet juice, apple, carrot, lemon, ginger. I'm typically not a fan of the taste of ginger, but it blends well with the beet flavor.

I make myself a cup of chamomile tea and play on Pinterest to try to keep my mind off the hunger pains. At 7:30 I finally give in and open up the final bottle of the day - cashews, vanilla, agave, cinnamon. There's actual texture to this drink (bits of cashews) so I feel like I'm eating more so than drinking. I remember reading on the BPC site that I should try to "chew" my juices. I chew my way through the cashew milk, which convinces my body I've eaten dinner.

About an hour later, I feel completely uncomfortable. I can't sit still. I'm not hungry, but my stomach feels sort of empty. And I'm really cold. So I go take a long, hot shower and exfoliate (you're supposed to be getting rid of all the toxins your excreting). After I lather up with lotion, I sit down and relax with another hot cup of tea.

I think all the juice has finally settled. I'm feeling relaxed and satiated. two of cleanse...

I wake up with no appetite, which is pretty unusual for me. Especially considering the lack of solid foods in my diet from the day before. I grab my green juice to go and am off to the Rose Bowl Flea Market. I bring a bottle of water, so I can stay hydrated, and I shop around for over 2 hours. I'm not hungry whatsoever and I feel pretty great.

I head home and drink bottles number 2 and 3 before I meet up with some friends for a late brunch. I feel like I'm on speed! (Note: I have never tried said speed, but I would imagine this is what it feels like). I haven't had this much energy in forever. My smile is glued to my face and I'm bubbly and enthusiastic and hardly even notice the plates of benedicts and endless mimosas all around me. I stick to my sparkling water.

I get home and wash off my makeup. I notice that my face feels significantly more hydrated and smoother than usual. It's amazing what a day and half of fruits, veggies, and plenty of hydration can do for your body.

Later that evening, we have friends over for dessert -- homemade souffles. I have a pretty impressive sweet tooth, and I don't crave any of the dessert. My decaf herbal tea is treating me just fine. three of cleanse...

It's Monday, so I bring my juices to work. I'm nervous to be around all the bad snack influences, but it ends up being the easiest day yet. With my mind preoccupied by work, I have to remind myself to keep grabbing juices out of the fridge.

Lunch is a bit more difficult. Not because I'm hungry, but simply because my team is skeptical of the juice cleanse. I explain how easy it is to stay on track and each of my coworkers comments on all the energy I have, especially given the lower level of calories I've been intaking. One of my coworkers at the lunch table decides to sign up for the cleanse. Success!

I finish out the day of juices. I'm feeling good about how the 3-day cleanse went, but am looking forward to chewing some food tomorrow. The cleanse gave me back exactly what I wanted: a better outlook on food, cravings for fruits and veggies, and a 3-day period where I could "reset" my stomach. And I lost 6 pounds. I'm sure it's mostly water weight, but it's definitely a boost in confidence!


My cleanse had the same benefits as Heather, but my struggles definitely came at different times. So part of the cleansing process is the "pre" and "post" periods where you need to ease your system off of and back onto solid foods. The pre-period involves a step down process: 3 days out you reduce meats, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol; 2 days out you focus on increasing the amount of veggies and cutting out processed foods; 1 day out you stick to pretty much fruits and veggies in the form of soups, salads, and smoothies. These three days were definitely tough because I had to cut down my appetite AND make healthy decisions for every meal of the day when all I was craving was meat and cheese. The main thing that kept me committed to the step down was the thought of going off solid foods cold turkey, no thank you!

I started my three day cleanse on a Thursday when my work week was at full speed. Once the juices arrived, I took the first 5 to work with me and just drank by numbers. For my first two days, I spaced out my juices every 1.5 to 2 hours depending on meetings and how my appetite was doing. To my surprise, I found that I was super productive during the day because I stopped worrying about grabbing my next snack or meal, and I never experienced the afternoon crash around 3pm. By the time I got home around 7:30, I was ready for my "night cap," the cashew almond milk, and I didn't any experience late night hunger. On my last day, I was well accustomed to the juices and on an all time high from my energy and general happiness. Honestly, the worst part of the cleanse for me was the first day off, but before I get to that, here are my juice thoughts:

Drink 1: Green Drink - This veggie heavy mix is cut nicely by the green apple flavor and really kept me full longer than most breakfasts. Apparently BPC fits 6 lbs. of produce into each bottle! This type of juice is exactly what I expected from the juice cleanse: healthy tasting and satisfying, but not exactly decadence in a bottle.

Drink 2: Pineapple Apple Mint (PAM) - Whoa! Is it cocktail time already? The familiar, yet complex mix of fruit juices with a refreshing touch of mint instantly made me think of a poolside cocktail. This is probably an unintended side effect, but I can't wait to make a real cocktail using this as the inspiration.

Drink 3: Green Drink - Back to the heavy hitter. Always went down faster the second time of the day.

Drink 4: Spicy Lemonade - The so-called "Master Cleanse." I was skeptical when I heard about this mix of lemon juice, cayenne, and agave, but I soon learned that I had nothing to worry about. This was a huge surprise taste wise; super refreshing, perfectly balanced flavors with just a hint of heat at the end to keep you guessing. And I know why they put this forth: afternoon slumps! This burst of natural fructose and agave gave me a huge boost every afternoon.

Drink 5: Carrot Apple Beet (CAB) - I admittedly thought this was going to taste like raspberries and rainbows given the bright red color. Not until a ginger beet flavor hit my lips did I realize that I had made a mistake not reading the label. This drink was definitely heavy on the beet flavor, so the clean taste of ginger and apple were appreciated. CAB was my least favorite on day 1, but it grew on me over time.

Drink 6: Cashew Almond Milk - This should just be called Nectar of the Gods. By far my favorite drink, which was evident when I took thirty minutes to drink each bottle because I wanted to cherish each milky drop. Maybe I'm just partial because I couldn't have dairy growing up, but this tasted like homemade horchata meets melted ice cream.

Once it was all said and done, the hardest part for me was facing reality again. In a matter of three days, I had never felt better and lost 9 lbs! When I started my post-period, it was honestly difficult to walk into a restaurant and try to pick something from the menu. It had to be healthy and veggie heavy, but most likely wouldn't deliver nearly as much flavor and satisfaction as the juices. But after my three day re-entrance into society, I am happy to say that my eating habits have changed significantly. I find myself choosing veggie options much more and I still crave fruits and veggies over sweets, even one month out! And as Heather said at the beginning, we didn't do this for weight loss, but keeping the weight off thanks to a realigned appetite is a pretty sweet bonus.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

decorative appetizer plates

I know, I know. It's not even Halloween, and I'm already looking at festive holiday plateware. my defense..this time of year flies by. I mean, we've got Halloween, a few quick vacations, my birthday and then it's already Thanksgiving. I'm considering myself proactive this year.

While I prefer white china for dining, I make an exception for festive appetizer plates. They're small and typically hand held, so they don't really mess with the "zen" of your cooked meal. Plus, they add to the decor of your party!

Here's a few that I've had my eye on:

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

plum runner cocktail

A week ago, Heather and I received some extra red plums in our CSA box. We had some rum lying around and, with the random spikes in LA's temperature, I had been craving a cocktail with a touch of mint. So the Plum Runner was born. This cocktail starts off with a nice sugar cane flavor and the plum/mint combo give it a clean and refreshing finish.

Plum Runner Cocktail:
1 whole red plum, quartered and pitted
10 mint leaves
.75 oz lemon juice
.25 simple syrup
1.5 oz. gold rum (i like Appleton VX)

Muddle a ripe red plum thoroughly. Add mint leaves and gently press the oils out with the muddler. Add remaining liquid ingredients and ice, and shake until chilled. Strain through a mesh strainer into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a mint sprig and plum slice.

Happy halloween and cheers!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

pain au chocolat

I wasn't always the biggest fan of chocolate croissants. I liked simple butter croissants or the ones filled with raspberry preserves. I thought the chocolate was sort of chalky and too sweet for the morning.

And then I took a little trip to Paris. And I fell in loooove with pain au chocolat (you will instantly feel fancier if you start calling them by their French name).

Josh and I have scoured many a city for a good chocolate croissant. Claude's in New York and Pain Du Jour in Santa Monica make some delicious ones. But there's nothing more convenient that Trader Joe's frozen chocolate croissants. We always have at least one box in the freezer.

It may not be the most authentic or use the finest chocolate, but the outside is flaky, the inside is soft and chewy, and they taste incredible straight from the oven. They're also the easiest thing to make - you put them on a tray overnight and bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees in the morning. Plus, they run about $1 per croissant, which I challenge you to beat - at least in NY or LA.

If you stand around barefoot in your kitchen eating piping hot chocolate croissants and homemade cappuccinos (like we did on Saturday)...I guarantee you will have a lovely morning.

Monday, October 24, 2011

meatless monday: creamy pumpkin and kale "risotto"

I love risotto and had some fantastic ones in Italy. The rice is always so creamy and luxurious, and it kind of melts in your mouth like pudding. But the act of making risotto sounds way too laborous since you have to constantly watch the pot, adding ladles of liquid every 10 minutes or so.

I came up with a quick fix! This "risotto" is creamy and decadent, but it uses cooked rice and only takes about 15 minutes. Plus, you can make this the night before a party and heat it up on the stove. Just add a bit of veggie stock and an extra tablespoon or so of mascarpone in order to thin out the mixture.

Creamy Pumpkin and Kale "Risotto"
(makes 3 entree portions or 6 side dishes)

2 cups cooked rice (I used medium grain rice, with a 2:1 water to rice ratio in a rice cooker)
1 medium brown onion, chopped
2 T chopped sage
1 T chopped thyme
1/4 tablespoon all spice
1/4 tablespoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/4 tablespoon cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups kale
1 can pumpkin puree
1/4 cup mascarpone
1/4 cup parmesan + extra for garnish
Optional: veggie broth

Sautee onion sage and thyme in a tablespoon of oil over medium high heat until onions become translucent - approximately 6 minutes. Blend onion, thyme, and sage mixture into a chunky puree. Add back to pan and add in all spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, salt, pepper, pumpkin puree, mascarpone, and 1/4 cup parmesan. Leave mixture on low heat, stirring every couple of minutes so it doesn't burn on the base of the pan.

In a separate pan, add 4 cups of kale and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Wilt kale - about 5-6 minutes.

Mix kale into rice mixture. Evaluate the mixture. Is it took thick for you? I prefer thicker risottos and was pleased with the texture. However, if you like a runnier risotto, add veggie stock  at 1/4 cup intervals. Mix the stock through until you get to your right texture.

Serve garnished with grated parmesan.

(onion, sage, and thyme blended into a chunky puree)

Friday, October 21, 2011

because it's friday

Our team took an outing to In N Out and polished off 8 burgers, 7 fries, 4 sodas, and 2 shakes. And now I'm ready for a nap...

I hope your weekend has a chocolate shake in it!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

blended soups

After an unfortunate episode with my blender a few weeks back (metal spoon + active blender = broken blender), I've been blender-less. My magic bullet has been great at making morning smoothies, but it's not quite so convenient for soup making since the cup only holds so many ounces.

Last night, I gave in. I bought an immersion blender! It's coming in a few days, and I am oh-so-excited. Excited enough to search endlessly for soup recipes that I will be immediately making. Here are a few that I found especially enticing:

(chilled leek and zucchini soup with pancetta via cook and be merry)

(broccoli cheddar soup via handle the heat)

(pureed mushroom soup via une-deux senses)

(sweet corn soup via cheese and chocolate)

(pear soup with pancetta and blue cheese via five and spice)

(cauliflower soup via the novice chef blog)

(pumpkin, coconut and lime soup via verses from my kitchen)

(baked potato and leek soup via sweet sugar bean)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

baked avocado fries

Our friend Michael came over for dinner this past Friday. His parents' backyard is covered in avocado trees, so he brought us a bag of ripe avocados. We've added them to salads, placed them on top of rice dishes, or scrambled them with eggs (so delicious). Last night we decided to turn them into fries.

Avocado fries are light and crispy on the outside and so soft and creamy underneath the coating. They're great on their own, but would be even better with a garlic aoili (like this or this). But it was after 9pm and we were starving, so we ate them straight off the rack with some grated parmesan cheese while we stood around the kitchen. 

Baked Avocado Fries
(makes 16 fries)

2 medium sized avocados
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a sheet of foil on a cookie sheet and an oven safe cooling rack on top of the foil. 

Set flour, egg, and panko into 3 separate bowls so you're ready for battering. Season panko with salt and pepper. Slice each avocado into 8 slices (4 slices to a halve). Dip in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Place on cooling rack.

Bake for 20 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with parmesan cheese. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the queen bee

We discovered this cocktail out at a restaurant in LA. Josh recreated it at home, and I actually think his version is much better. It's light and mellow, but feels festive from the champagne. It would be the perfect cocktail to greet a guest with for any dinner party.

The Queen Bee
(makes 2 flutes)

1 3/4 ounces rum
1 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce runny honey*
175 ml of sparkling wine or champagne

*To make runny honey, add 1 part hot water to 2 parts honey. Stir until the honey dissolves.

Add rum, lime juice, and runny honey into a shaker over ice. Vigorously shake. Strain cocktail into champagne flutes and top with sparkling wine or champagne.

Monday, October 17, 2011

meatless monday: baked pasta with butternut squash, mushrooms, kale, and goat cheese

This weekend flew by, as usual. We had a friend over on Friday. So, naturally, there were cocktails, a whole new batch of blueberry thyme pastry bites, and See's Candy bridge mix. Then Saturday, there was the 7 course pasta tasting. Oh and Sunday, I had brunch with the girls at Tavern - arguably the best eggs benedict I've ever had.

My taste buds were thrilled, but my stomach...not so much. That was quite a lot of rich food in a short 3-day window. I'm craving healthy and light for dinner tonight and this pasta does the trick. It's filled with veggies and feels luxurious from the butternut squash puree, but there's no added cream. Don't stress over the goat cheese. It's the healthiest cheese for your body and it's not much when you spread it among 8 servings. Plus, it  simply tastes wonderful.

baked pasta with butternut squash, mushrooms, kale, and goat cheese
(serves 8)

16 ounces of penne (I used brown rice penne)
16 ounces of butternut squash (I bought the precubed kind from Trader Joe's)
Approximately 1 cup vegetable broth
2 tablespoons oil
Salt and pepper
8 ounces of cremini mushrooms
2 leeks
1/4 cup of chopped thyme
3 cups of kale
8 ounces of goat cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix butternut squash with 1 tablespoon of oil, salt, and pepper on a baking sheet. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until squash is fork tender.

Blend squash with vegetable broth, 1/4 cup at a time. The consistency should be like butternut squash puree. It isn't required to use the full cup of broth.

Clean and slice the mushrooms. Chop the leeks and thoroughly clean. I usually put the sliced leeks in a pasta strainer and rinse in the sink. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a pan over medium heat. Place mushrooms in pan and leave - untouched - for 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown. Flip mushrooms and add leeks, thyme, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes. Add kale and cover with lid to steam the kale.

Turn down oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add penne noodles and follow the timing instructions on the package. Drain pasta.

Mix penne, vegetables, and butternut squash in baking dish. Top with goat cheese. Baked for 30 minutes, when cheese has softened and sauce is hot and slightly bubbly.