Summer Simple

Does anyone remember the acronym/mnemonic device KISS (keep it simple stupid) from elementary school? Well, that was the first thing I thought of when I decided to make zucchini “pasta” and basil pesto for dinner on Monday night.

I signed up for the “Fresh Box” from Alan’s Orchard again this year, and I can’t say how much I love getting a fresh box of produce each week. It’s such a fun surprise to show up on Saturday morning not knowing exactly what I’ll be getting for the week (they send out a newsletter that day, but I enjoy the element of surprise). Once I have the box I’m able to plan my meals for the week around the fruits and vegetables, and having farm fresh produce over less than impressive grocery store produce is a real treat.

When I saw that we’d be getting basil this week, I immediately thought of making a simple basil pesto and having it with spaghetti. Then I saw we also got zucchini, and decided to give zucchini pasta a try. I’m not going to lie, when I first saw vegetables being used in place of pasta I scoffed at the idea… I think mostly because I saw them being pushed simply as a low calorie alterative to pasta, which isn’t how I roll (bring on the calories, people!). But I can say that they are in fact delicious – but this definitely isn’t filling enough to have on its own (so have it as a side dish). And it only took a few minutes to throw together!

So try this… you can thank me later.

Zucchini Pasta with Basil Pesto |

Simple Zucchini Pasta with Basil Pesto
– Serves 2 as a side – 

Ingredients for pasta:
1 Tbsp oil
4 medium zucchini
Ingredients for pesto:
1 cup fresh basil
1 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Peel the zucchini with a vegetable peeler, set aside. 
2. In a blender, combine the basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper and blend until well combined. 
3. In a medium skillet, heat the 1 tbsp of oil and sauté the zucchini until heated through (about 3 minutes). Add the basil pesto and stir to combine, cooking for an additional 2 minutes. 
4. Garnish with red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese if desired. 

Vegetarian Cravings: Buffalo Sauce

Over the weekend, I made black bean and sweet potato Chilaquiles, which called for taco-sized corn tortillas. For some reason the package always comes with a ton of them, so I was left trying to figure out what to make with what remained. Last time I had leftover corn tortillas I made flautas, so I decided to make them again… this time with a twist.

In conversations I’ve had with other vegetarians, I’ve found that the majority of us do in fact miss some meat related things from time to time. One food that seems to always come up is the buffalo wing. I was never a huge chicken fan myself (probably because we had it so much growing up), so I know it isn’t the meat I miss. Instead, I think it’s that crispy and crunchy texture, and the flavorful sauce it’s coated in. There have been quite a few vegetarian-friendly things coming out of my kitchen within the last few months smothered in buffalo sauce (lasagna, stuffed shells, grilled cheese, dip), so I figured Veggie Buffalo Taquitos would be my next adventure.

The great thing about these taquitos, I think, is that you don’t miss the meat. My carnivorous dining partner enjoyed them sans-meat, and I think you will too. But, if you just can’t get behind the idea of a buffalo sauced dish without chicken, you can definitely add shredded chicken into the mix! And it could easily be made vegan by using dairy-free cream cheese, or a tofu and nutritional yeast combo. The dish also winds up being gluten-free thanks to the corn tortillas, so almost anyone can enjoy it. The filling for the taquitos comes together in a matter of minutes, so this is perfect for a busy weeknight (served with veggies, of course!), a quick snack, or a party dish. I paired mine with a giant salad and roasted veggies, but you really can have it with almost anything.

Veggie Buffalo Taquito

Vegetarian Buffalo Taquitos
– makes 10 taquitos – 

10 taco-sized corn tortillas
1 15oz can white beans
1 8oz package of cream cheese
1/4 cup shredded cheese (mozzarella or a blend works)
1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot (or other buffalo styled sauce)
Cooking spray

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees
2. Combine the white beans, cream cheese, shredded cheese, and Frank’s in a medium sized bowl. The beans don’t need to be smashed, but some will get smashed from the combining of the ingredients, which is fine. 
3. Wrap the corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 40 seconds. This helps prevent them from cracking when you roll everything together. 
4. Take two tablespoons of the buffalo mixture and spread it down the middle of a tortilla. Roll the tortilla to completely cover the mixture (just like you would a burrito, except you don’t tuck in the ends). Secure with a toothpick. 
5. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray, and line it with the taquitos.
6. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until golden brown. There will be some oozing of cheese, which just means it’s extra delicious! 

Quick Fried Rice

About a week ago, I mentioned on Twitter how much I love Trader Joe’s “Indian Fare” dishes. They sell them in the prepared foods aisle, and for $1.99 you can have yourself a super quick and easy meal; I’ve even blogged about my love affair with them before. The folks over at Tasty Bite saw my tweet, and offered to send me some of their own equally quick and easy Indian dishes. Always willing to try something new, I eagerly sent them my address and a few days later I had quite the variety pack on my hands!

I’ve sampled two of the three Indian dishes so far, the Chana Masala and the Jodhpur Lentils. While I’ve had Chana Masala before (it’s one of my favorite Indian dishes), I’d never tried Jodhpur Lentils. Both were really flavorful, and you can’t beat the 90 second cook time! In addition to the Indian styled dishes, I also received two kinds of rice – a package of basmati and a package of brown rice. I saved the basmati rice to pair with my last Indian dish, Punjab eggplant. At first I wasn’t sure what to do with the brown rice, but when I was trying to figure out what I could do with leftover carrots and scallions from my Fresh Box, I had a genius idea – fried rice!

At first, I didn’t think the fried rice was going to be blog worthy – I mean, it was just some brown rice mixed with a few vegetables, eggs, and some soy sauce. Sure, it’s simple, but it’s really good. I’m talking about the kind of good where you take a taste and eagerly look over at your dining partner to see their reaction. I think that’s my favorite part about cooking – seeing the reaction and getting feedback on things I’ve made. It’s always nice to hear when someone is extremely impressed with a dish you’ve made!

The beauty about this recipe is that it can really work with any type of vegetables that you deem appropriate, making it perfect for an end of the week “clean out the fridge” kind of meal. So feel free to get creative with your ingredients, and if you do, let me know what you use!

Quick Fried Rice
– Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 as a side –

1 package Tasty Bite instant brown rice (or 2-3 cups of cooked brown rice)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 medium sized carrots, diced
2 large eggs
4 scallions, diced
¼ cup soy sauce (I used ginger soy flavored for an extra kick of flavor)
2-3 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp oil of choice (olive, canola, vegetable, or sesame will work)
Sriracha or other hot sauce for garnish

1. Heat your oil of choice in a skillet over medium-high heat, and add your diced onion and diced carrot. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion begins to look translucent. 
2.  Add in your soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and mix well. Crack in your eggs and constantly whisk them – your goal is to have a scrambled egg consistency. 
3. Once the onion and carrot is mixed with the egg and sauce, add in your  rice and scallions, stirring to combine.
4. Cook for an additional 5 minutes to ensure everything is heated through. Enjoy with some Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce!

Disclaimer: Tasty Bite sent me these entrées at no cost to me, and required nothing of me in return. Because I enjoyed the product so much, I decided to share it with you! All opinions and the recipe are my own.

Lunch Toppers

When it comes to cooking, it’s easy to fall into a pattern. For me, I like to try and make something new almost every night for dinner. But when it comes to lunch, I tend to stick to what I know and repeat a lot. What I have for lunch seems to go through a cycle, depending on what I’m feeling. One week it may be frozen meals, another week it may be sandwiches, and sometimes its specific snacks or ingredients.

I’ve been adding cucumbers and tomatoes to my lunches almost everyday the past two weeks thanks to my CSA box, putting them in sandwiches, wraps, and salads. My favorite, though, has to be in sandwich form with some hummus and alfalfa sprouts. It’s simple, easy, and really delicious. The cucumbers add a nice crunch, while the tomatoes add some sweetness.

I think it’s important to eat what you enjoy at lunch – it’s a break in the workday, and who wants to eat something they’re less than enthusiastic about? There are plenty of afternoons I head to the kitchen ready for lunch, and am less than excited about what awaits in the fridge. My personal favorites are a well dressed sandwich or salad, or leftovers. Since I save most of my eating out for dinner on the weekends, I only have myself to blame when I’m less than excited about what I have each day. I can’t wait to see what my next lunch obsession is… I’m seeing veggie burgers in my future.

Do you have any lunch time staples? 
Any suggestions of things I should definitely try? 

Gluten Free Goodies

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m trying out a gluten-free diet to see if that helps get rid of my GI-woes. I mean it when I say this isn’t necessarily a choice I wanted to make, but one that I felt was necessary in order to try and figure out once and for all what’s going on in my gut. That’s my new goal of 2012 – have a diagnosis and actually feel better by year’s end. So obviously in order for me to start this gluten free diet, I needed to make some quick changes in the kitchen.

I started out with a trip to Trader Joe’s, where I grabbed some necessities (for me). Since we get a CSA box each week, our grocery trips have resulted in picking up less items – just beans, grains, milk, yogurt, some type of snack and dessert, and miscellaneous fruits and veggies we need but didn’t get in our box.

My biggest concern was bread. I don’t usually have sandwiches at work, but I do have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich before most long runs. So I picked up a package of Udi’s bread, which tastes a lot more like freshly sliced bread, rather than sandwich bread. The slices are small and the price is high ($4.99), but if it means I can keep my pre-run routine, I’m okay with it. I don’t want to mess with perfection (good joke, my running is far from perfect).

In addition to bread, I wanted to find a pasta alternative; even though I don’t eat pasta too often, with marathon training kicking it up (20 miler is looming!), I wanted it (even if it’s more for my mental state than my body). So, I picked up some corn pasta, which my mom made a face at. Yes, I realize it’s weird, but at this point, I’ll try anything. I’ve also seen some black bean pasta and things like that around the blogosphere, so I’ll be on the lookout for any alternative.

In addition to lunch and dinner staples, I needed to find breakfast options. I typically eat breakfast at work, which involves some sort of cereal – I was used to the luxury of mixing it up each week. A lot of the labels I looked at didn’t blatantly say wheat was or wasn’t included, so I settled on a granola that was labeled gluten free. I found myself typing the same phrase over and over again in Google: “is X gluten free?” I can tell you I learned lot this past weekend! I would have automatically assumed oats weren’t gluten free, but some of them are. Of course the giant tub of steel cut oats I have at home isn’t gluten free, but I’m glad to know there are options out there (like the beloved Love Grown Foods, which I also picked up).

 Snacks were another big concern, since I usually have some type of cracker, fruit, and yogurt (spread throughout the day). While I didn’t need to worry about the fruit and yogurt, I needed to find a substitute for the crackers. I picked up a package of granola bars and rice crackers, and they’re both just okay. I know there are tons of options out there (I’m looking at you, delicious KIND bars), I just have to actually spend the money on them.

While the goodies I picked up should get me through the week, there is another equally important gluten free option I need to find… beer! Thanks to the suggestions of Twitter, I have a brand I’m planning on trying that my local liquor store seems to carry. I just have to cross my fingers that when I go, they have it. I also scored some gluten free pizza crust mix at Marshall’s of all places. The package says it makes two 14-inch pizzas, so I can’t wait to try it. I’m glad I can still enjoy pizza Fridays, gluten free style!

In my Googling frenzy over the weekend, I read mixed things about how long it could take to feel better, if you do in fact have a gluten intolerance. For some it’s a matter of two days, while for others it’s months. I’m thinking that I should see some difference within a week or two, and if not, it’s back to the drawing board. Maybe it’s just the time of year (I felt pretty bad around this time last year), or stress, or a combination of it all, and it really isn’t anything I am or am not eating. But the only way to know for sure is to try it. I mean, it can’t hurt (more).

Are there any other must-have gluten free foods I should try? 
I’m trying to stay away from overly processed foods, but am willing to try suggestions! 

Gluten Free – The Way to Be?

Gluten. It’s been my best friend since my early days of swimming – carb loading before swim meets, devouring bagels afterwards, and it stuck around as a tried and true friend for running as well. The thought of not being able to enjoy my beloved gluten always made me thank my lucky stars I didn’t have to worry about it.

As you can guess based on that oh-so-dramatic lead in, I need to try and cut out gluten. When I first went to the doctor back in May he suggested trying a dairy-free diet to see if that made any difference, and it didn’t. After having a boat load of tests (yes, that’s an actual unit of measure), he prescribed me some bile-binding medicine to help with my ‘lazy’ gallbladder. He mentioned I could try a gluten-free diet first, or try the pills, and I opted for the easier solution. Unfortunately the pills haven’t provided me enough relief. While the blood tests I had didn’t pinpoint any dairy or gluten intolerance, I know that there’s something else going on here.

I’ve been jotting down everything I’m eating for the past two months, but haven’t been able to pinpoint anything in particular. So knowing that dairy didn’t make a difference, my only other elimination option is gluten. I have my fingers crossed that this isn’t the issue, but at the same time, part of me just wants to know exactly what it is that’s causing my tummy distress. I’m scheduled for an upper GI Scan and more blood work just to confirm it isn’t Crohn’s, but I just don’t know anymore.

So I’m crossing my fingers that this all gets sorted out sooner rather than later. But in the mean time I’m going to try and eliminate gluten from my diet which is going to be tricky, but may be the answer I’m looking for. And I promise I’m not doing this to be “cool” – I love me some carbs. I’ll keep you posted!

Does anyone have any gluten free resources they’d like to share?
It won’t be that hard, right?!

Vegging Out

The past few days have been less than ideal to run in since it’s grossly hot by 9am and stays that way all day, and I cannot get myself up to run at 5am. Swimming at 5am was one thing in my youth, but running, I’m still working on it. So I’ve been trying to get runs in wherever possible, but Tuesday night was afforded another no-go, since by the time I got home and was ready to head out, there was a massive rain/thunder storm in the area. This leaves me four days since my last run. I’m signed up for the Firecracker 4 Miler on the 4th of July, which will mark the 1 year anniversary of the beginning of my running “career.” Hurray!

So because of my lack of running, the “veg” part of my title has two meanings! I’ve been super lazy on that front this week, but have managed to get in a serious amount of veggies in it’s place! Tuesday night’s dinner was another veggie delight, this time coming from Vegetarian Times, a magazine my co-worker subscribes to, and I get their newsletters via e-mail. This particular recipe was under the “Dinners for One” section, so I just doubled the recipe for myself and the fiancé. This is a pretty nice twist on a stir-fry and noodle-bowl combo, and I’d definitely make it again.

Since this past Sunday was Father’s Day, I left the shopping in the hands of my fiancé so I could head to my parent’s house early. To be fair, I wasn’t sure what they looked like either, but he bought vegan gluten free brown rice spagetti. The recipe called for rice noodles, and these were close enough, and had a pretty decent taste since they had so few ingredients! Other than that minor hiccup, the recipe was followed and went off without a hitch!

The “sauce” I suppose you could call it was really good – I’m definitely going to use it in other stir-fry like dishes, since it had nice heat and a good flavor between the tangy rice vinegar and salty soy sauce. Hopefully next time I can figure out what the rice noodles are, and grab those too. Maybe I’ll get crazy and mix up the veggies. Who knows!

Rice Noodle Bowl with Broccoli & Bell Peppers
-Serves 2-

3 oz. dried rice noodles, broken into 1-inch pieces
4 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp chile sauce
4 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic
1 cup sliced-thin red pepper
1 cup broccoli
2 tbsp peanuts

1. Bring 4 cups of water to boil. Add noodles. Remove from heat. Let stand 5-7 minutes. Drain, discard water.
2. Whisk soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, chile and 1/2 cup of water. Set aside.
3. Heat oil in skillet. Add onion and garlic, stir-fry 1 minute. Add broccoli and pepper, cook 1 minute more. Add sauce mixture and bring to boil for 1 minute.
4. Stir in noodles. Serve with peanuts.

Happy nomzing!