Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Pressing Matter

Though it may be shocking to learn, I only just recently (we're talking like, within the last three weeks or so) acquired what has rapidly become one of my absolute, bestest friends in the kitchen - a garlic press.

A little visual aid.

Image not to scale.  **wink, wink**

To be sure, I'm no artiste but, I have to say, this is not a terrible representation of my recent acquisition.

The first time I used it was on my South of The Border Sweet Potato and Quinoa Bowl.  I was so pleased with the ease with which it worked (and how it preserved my fingers from the lingering scent of garlic I'd become resigned to accept*) that, since that day, I've hardly gone a meal without debating whether or not a dish needed an extra dash of perfectly pressed garlic.

Aside from warding off vampires and making you self conscious at dinner parties, garlic boasts a plethora of health benefits that solidify it as a mainstay in a well balanced diet.  Visit www.whfoods.com for several of this herb's pungent perks, such as its "Cancer Prevention" properties and "Cardiovascular Benefits."

I enjoy cooking - some days more than others but - I am absolutely, 100%, always, all about finding new ways to decrease the amount of prep and clean up time I spend in the kitchen.  The clean up with this thing is so simple.  I don't know why it never occurred to me to get one before.

No doubt I'll continue to slice and dice, mince and crush garlic with my own two hands… whether for the purposes of getting just-the-right-size of perfectly browned pieces or to ensure that I get a nice nugget of garlicy goodness when I savor a bite of homemade stew.   I am particularly fond of how the garlic bits sing in this baked, heirloom tomato dish.

A trick that may aid in upping your garlic intake is how to easily remove the outer layer of each, individual garlic piece ---  Simply cut off the little bottom bit, lay the garlic piece on its side, lay your knife flat over the garlic and, using the heel of your hand, strike the knife breaking the outer of layer of skin rendering it incredibly easy to remove.

I saw this one day on some cooking show and was like, "Yes!  This is amazing!"

Sometimes the simplest things pay the greatest dividends.

Until next time… Press On & Peace Out,

*Chef Luke's tip for removing the garlic smell from your fingers:  Rinse hands with cool water then rub pennies between your fingers… something about ionization… the metal eliminates the smell.
- Special thanks to "Jacq's Blogger Tips" on how to get rid of the border on a single image, editing the html text.  It totally worked!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good Things Come

It is a beautiful day.

Its a lovely 62 degrees outside.  The actual smell of spring is in the air.  Birds are chirping, a breeze is drifting, and you can be sure that there's a little extra pep in my step today as well.

It wasn't but about this time last week that this was the view from the back of my home:

Admittedly, the world is beautiful when everything's dusted in snow.  But however lovely it may be, there is just nothing quite so satisfying, to me, as enjoying a walk in the warm sunshine.

So today is a good day as hopefully, it is the start of a sunshiny Spring and Summer to come.

Today is also a good day because I am FINALLY DELIVERING on the Quinoa Double Feature.

Is it a few weeks later than I had hoped - Yes.
Are the recipes any less delicious and/or nutritious - No.

As the saying goes, "Good Things Come to Those Who Wait."  Both of these recipes are terribly delicious, super satisfying, and very easy to make.  One requires a little bit of TLC to bring the caramelized onions along but the results are so totally worth the time spent in front of the stove.  Your tummy and taste buds will thank you.

DISH #1 - Squash, Zucchini, & Sesame Seed Quinoa Bowl
3 c. prepared quinoa* (see How to Cook Quinoa Perfectly for directions)
2 Tbl. olive oil
1 lg. zucchini
1 lg. or 2 md. summer squash
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
11/2 Tbl. white sesame seeds
15.5 oz. can black beans
1 c. orange, Zima tomatoes
1/2 c. goat cheese crumbles (optional)

Preparation:  Dice zucchini and squash into bite size pieces.  In large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add squash, zucchini mix.  Stir to coat in olive oil.  Let cook for about five minutes.  Then reduce heat to medium, low.  Add garlic salt, thyme, basil, and sesame seeds.  Mix and continue cooking for an additional 10 - 15 minutes, or until squash and zucchini pieces are tender.  Drain and rinse black beans.  Combine black beans with stove top mixture.  Reduce heat to low and cook for about 3 more minutes.  Remove from stove top and transfer to container.  Halve tomatoes and add goat cheese.**  Toss all together.  Serve warm or chilled (chilled is my favorite.  I love this one chilled) over 3/4 c. quinoa.  Makes 4 entrée portions or about 8 as a side.

* As quinoa has quickly become a staple in our home, I have taken to cooking up one large batch at the beginning of the week and then just portioning out whatever is desired as the week progresses.  I typically cook up about 2 1/2 cups dry quinoa.  With 1/4 c. dry cooking up to about 1 cup prepared, I end up with a good amount of quinoa to work with throughout the week.  
** For a vegan friendly dish, just 86 the goat cheese and enjoy as is.  If you add the goat cheese right after removing the mixture from the stove, it will melt down to create somewhat of a cheese sauce which is the effect you see in the photo above.  You may prefer to wait to add the goat cheese until after the dish has cooled for a delightful dusting of creamy crumbles that you can either elect to have or not have.  The choice is up to you.

DISH #2 - Chickpea, Rosemary & Caramelized Onion Quinoa Bowl
3 c. prepared quinoa
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 lg. red onion (the biggest one you can find)
1 tsp. ground, black pepper
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. granulated sugar
15.5 oz can chickpeas
15.5 oz can black eyed peas (optional)
1/4 c. fresh, chopped rosemary

Preparation:  Slice up red onion.  Pour olive oil into saucepan on medium, high heat.  Place onions in saucepan and stir to coat each sliver.  Reduce heat to medium and season with pepper, garlic salt and sugar to aid in caramelizing process.  Let onions cook down for about 10 - 15 minutes, stirring frequently (keep an eye on them to make sure they do not burn; if they appear to be burning, reduce heat).  Reduce heat to medium, low and cook for additional 10-15 minutes until onions taste sweet and appear caramelized, somewhat browned and translucent in color.  While onions cook down, rinse and chop fresh rosemary leaves.  Reduce heat to low.  Add drained and rinsed chickpeas, black eyed peas, and fresh rosemary.  Stir all together for an additional 3 minutes.  Serve warm over 3/4 c. quinoa.  This dish also makes about 4 entrée servings or 8 sides.

There you have it.


I really do hate it when things don't go precisely according to my little plans but, "C'est la vie, n'est pas?"  And life, is good.  So today, all I can do is say, as the flowers bud and spring starts to take hold, I hope you will feel inspired in your own personal growth to everyday eat more fresh, life promoting foods to help give you a healthier tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011


So, I haven't posted in five days, which, in "blog time" seems more like a month.

I haven't been feeling my chipper self lately.  I don't know what it is exactly… maybe just a cold, maybe more.  I'm not sure but, it's zapped all the blog juice right out of me.  I'm always so impressed when I see other people's blogs who manage to post something everyday.  And, it's not crap either.  It's like really good stuff.

I started this blog at a time in my life when everything seemed to be out of control for lack of a better way to describe it.  I didn't feel well; not mentally, physically, emotionally - none of it.  And, through a series of life changes, a very important one being my diet, I started to feel a lot better.

This blog, Surprisingly Satisfying, was a result of the diet change and is aptly named as a majority of the recipes I post here are mostly, meatless meals.  But, the concept applies to life as well.

Life can be surprisingly satisfying.

It's not always exactly easy to see that though is it.

Sometimes life can also be surprisingly monotonous, unexpectedly frustrating, and all together stressing.

In the past, in times when I've felt somewhat burdened by feelings like this, I would then heap on a few additional pounds of guilt on top of the other feelings already being carried.  Over the course of the last year however, I have found that however seemingly unreasonable your feelings may be or how minute in comparison they are to "other things going on in the world" (of which there are many a grandiose tragedy to choose from if one is so inclined to compare their sufferings or perceived sufferings against them) it is better not to beat yourself up on top of already feeling "blue" but rather, in an act of self-compassion, allow yourself the freedom to feel what you need to feel without an added helping of shame because you don't feel like you deserve to or understand why you feel the way you do.

Aside from diet, there are many other things in life that can add or detract from ones wholeness, wellness, and health.

Like I said, life can be surprisingly satisfying.  Sometimes, we can simply make a choice about how we feel or react to a potentially negative situation.  Sometimes, we can simply adopt a radical attitude of gratitude towards the people, circumstances, and things that we find ourselves surrounded by.

For example, when I rise in the morning, "I am so thankful to be stepping out of bed.  I am so grateful for a toilet with flushing water.  I am so grateful for a cell phone that acts as an alarm clock."  "I am so thankful for my toothbrush.  For healthy teeth.  For eyesight.  For the bed where I slept."

These things might seem minor, maybe even silly but, I think our brains might be trained to default to the negative.  Sometimes I think in order to take control of our thought lives we have to radically reprogram our brains from the default things we might automatically think about to the positive things that life has a way of making us numb or blind to.

This post has nothing to do with food per se.  But life and living is so much more than that too.  It's easy to get stuck in the belief that all energy comes from food… that all life feeds off of food; well, it is for me anyway.  I recognize the propensity in myself to get preoccupied with one thing, thinking it holds a solution to a problem and finding that in fact it has only served as a temporary distraction, which leaves you what?  A few days older with the same problem.

Life is a learning process.  Part of that process is discovering, either serendipitously or by the loving, guiding hand of Love, what makes you tick.  What role are you here to play?  What are some of the idiosyncrasies that make everyday satisfying for you?

But, it's not all a selfish pursuit.  Discovering these things should not be just so that you can be happy and fulfilled but so that you can have an impact and influence the people around you.  That is "the world" as far as you or I is concerned.  The people in our tiny spheres of influence who we come into contact with on a day to day.  Are you out there living your role?  Are you still waiting for the script?  Are you still confused as to what role you play?

That's why the self discovery is important.  Because you have something unique to contribute to the story.

Anyway, sorry to get all philosophical on you.  I'm not sorry.  I'm just figuring things out too.  Life is wonderful.  Life can be surprisingly fulfilling and satisfying.  I want to "eat it up" while I'm here.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Short Term Memory Loss

So, you'll be happy to know, I do not suffer from short memory loss.

I haven't forgotten about the quinoa double feature.  I still have every intention of delivering on that promise.    It's just a matter of timing… You see, currently I seem to be suffering from somewhat of a plethora of diversions - there are just a lot of things, important things, vying for my attention and time.   

I'm not complaining; not at all.  Consequently though, there were a couple of dishes that got pushed up the priority-totem pole because they just made more sense given what we had going on.  

Namely, this - Cooking Light's Chickpea Chili.
(all recipe, images, and content from CookingLight magazine, March issue, pg. 134)

(click images to enlarge)

I made the chili, washed out my crock pot and put it right back to work cooking up Brown Sugar Pulled Pork, as I thought the flavors would be very complimentary.  And they are.  In the name of "Ease" I substituted already cooked and canned chickpeas instead of going through the process with dry ones outlined in the recipe above.  One adjustment I would make in the future though is, I wouldn't add the canned chickpeas until maybe say, halfway through the cooking process so as to avoid overcooking them.  By the time mine hit the nine hour mark, my chickpeas were looking a little… sad.    

I prepared the Brown Sugar Pulled Pork with one little addition (and, I'm quite delighted with the results).  After adding water, I tossed in about 4 handfuls of rinsed, Fingerling Potatoes; a mixed variety.  I let those little guys cook up the whole time my pork was cooking (about 6 hours) and, let me just tell you, they are spectacular.  I was thrilled with the way they soaked up the cinnamony, brown sugary, even slightly peppery flavor of the pulled pork ingredients… and sure, the pork flavoring isn't exactly a bad addition either.  I mean, this was just such an easy thing to do and "Voila!" you've got yourself the quintessential, "Meat and Potatoes," man-pleasing meal.

For me, the chili was an absolutely solid fix for another vegetable chili alternative.  For my meat-lovin' man, the shredded pulled-pork, with it's brown sugar and cinnamon flavors, was a perfect addition to add substance to his bowl.

Okay.  So, don't hate me cuz I haven't yet delivered on the q.d.f.  
Tis' only a matter of time…


Monday, March 7, 2011

Long Standing Love Affair

My long standing hot, dark, and steaming love affair with "Joe" is certainly no secret.  I thoroughly enjoy my morning rendezvous with a piping hot cup of bold, black coffee.

As of late, I've attempted to incorporate tea into the drink-repetoire.  I usually drink tea when I'm feeling like a warm, mid-afternoon bevy because it has a lot less caffeine than coffee (just enough to get me through until a "second wind" kicks in) and it tastes alright... I guess.

I ran across this article about the health benefits of coffee and, though I vacillate from time to time over whether or not I want to be a daily coffee drinker, this article makes several good points which, at the very least, make me more confident that the average amount of coffee I consume (about 2 cups daily) is not damaging to my health; it may very well be beneficial.

Maybe you're like me and could use a little brew-benefits-boost where coffee is concerned.

Hope you Enjoy,

Friday, March 4, 2011

Mom's Chili - Made with Love & Lots of Meat!

Okay… soooooo… 
You must know I would never intentionally lie to you or make a claim that I don't intend to follow through on.  However, life just happens sometimes and therefore demands a little flexibility.

Though I'm sorry to say it, the quinoa "double feature" just ain't gonna happen today.  It will have to wait for Monday (but, as they say, good things come to those who wait).

I will not however leave you totally hangin'.  I'm going to share my Mom's Slow Cooker Chili Recipe.  Though this meal is the antithesis of meatless, it is undeniably satisfying and incontrovertibly delicious - plus, it's darn near impossible to mess up.  Now, I have no idea where "my Mom's" chili recipe originally originated… for all I know, she got it from a cook book!  But, it's "Mom's" to me, so that's how I'm selling it to you.

My mother is an absolutely amazing woman.  I remember growing up, hearing people say that their mom's were their heros.

As is the case with many a mother-daughter relationship, it took several, post-highschool years (probably due in large part to a combination of life's natural "maturing process," a healthy amount of distance, and an ever-increasing amount of what I'll just call "big girl perspective") before, low and behold, my mom had not only become a highly revered and dearly loved hero but also, one of my very dear and most cherished of friends.

Who'd of thought that was possible right?!  (not this once, angst filled, tornado of a teenager.  Ha!  No.  Not me.  Uh-uh.  No… but, thanks be to God for forgiving parents and the healing power and added perspective that accompanies the passage of time).

Growing up, I remember my Mom worked exceedingly hard, holding down a full-time job while often also having other part-time gigs on the side as additional sources of income to keep me and my siblings well taken care of (you see what I mean about my hero).  In our home, there was always food in the fridge and a fully stocked pantry to rifle through.  "Meals" or a designated "meal time" was not really something my family did though.  I never really thought anything of this as a child/kid/teen, etc.; it was just the way things were.

Oooooooooo boy, I tell you what though, when Mom busted out the crock pot, we all knew something sensational was about to go down.  Mom was making chili.  This recipe really only requires two things - simple ingredinets and a slow cooker.  All you've gotta do is open up a few cans, slice and dice a couple of veggies, crank up the heat and just try and restrain yourself from a premature taste test as these ingredients fill your home with their thick and comforting aroma.

I remember sometimes my Mom would throw all the ingredients into the crock pot just before we all "headed off to hit the hay".  Hours later, the air was so saturated with the scent, it was like a chili-scented-alarm clock was beckoning you to rise.  Not a bad way to start the day I have to say.

(click image to enlarge)

(click image to enlarge)

(click image to enlarge)

The final product:
(granted, chili is not the most photogenic of prepared dishes but, as the creation of smell-o-vision or taste-o-telly does not, as of yet, exist, for the time being, you'll just have to feast your eyes on this)

*A few final preparation tips:
- in order to nudge this dish a little bit further away on the scale from "a heart attack," I always drain the grease through a colander before adding my seasoned, browned meat into the crock pot.
- to that same end, I always end up spooning out and disposing of about a bowl's worth of the dark, red grease that collects on the top of the chili once it's finished cooking.  

I know these might be less than appealing but, it doesn't effect the flavor, it's got to influence the health factor, and it most definitely decreases the incidence of indigestion.

Now, I think it's safe to say that neither I, nor my Mom, would consider this a "healthy dish."  I think chili could be easily categorized as an indulgence - a dish to be sparingly, and in this case, most likely seasonally savored.  

For those seeking the warmth and heartiness of chili minus the meat, check out my recipe for Vegetable Chili.  Similarly, it will fill your home with a mouthwatering aroma and your stomach with surprisingly satisfying sustenance.

Until Monday, 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

South of the Border Sweet Potato & Quinoa Bowl

I'm delivering the first of three quinoa incorporating recipes, starting with this, what I'm calling my South of the Border Sweet Potato & Quinoa Bowl.

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, looks like a grain but it's actually a seed.  It is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids our bodies need, making it a great option for vegans and vegetarians concerned about getting the proper amount of protein.

Quinoa boasts a ton of other health benefits too.  It contains enzymes, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.  Basically, its an excellent choice if you're looking for a healthy, filling, versatile food to add to your diet.  Another bonus - it's gluten free!!!  I'm not always super conscientious of gluten-containing products when I come up with recipes but, this recipe is gluten free and, if I may be so bold, is quite possibly one of my top five, favorite recipes I've ever created slash posted… ever!

So, like I said, quinoa is great because it's filling but I also really enjoy it because of it's unique texture.  It's fluffy yet you can almost feel the little seeds bursting in your mouth as you munch down with each bite.  As of right now, the taste is very difficult for me to describe.  I have eaten it several times over the last month or so and every time I try to pinpoint what exactly it is that quinoa reminds me of, I just can't quite put my finger on it.  I want to say it almost tastes like outside smells when it's sunny and you can faintly detect the smell of golden grass in the air… if that makes any sense at all…

I guess you'll just have to try it out for yourself and see.

The first time I purchased quinoa from the grocery store, I had no idea how to cook it.  I Googled "cooking quinoa" and found this site, Cooking Quinoa.net, which has a post entitled, "How to Cook Quinoa Perfectly."  What more could a quinoa novice ask for?!

I followed the well outlined directions they gave for perfectly prepared quinoa and the results were just that, perfect.

This is what it looks like when it cooks up.  The seeds become somewhat translucent and puff up to create a light bed of simultaneously fluffy and crunchy delightfulness.

I'm going to break down the ingredients and preparation of this recipe into it's two main parts:  The Sweet Potato portion and the Quinoa portion.
Quinoa Portion:
- 2 1/2 c. prepared quinoa
- 1/4 c. olive oil
- 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 c. finely chopped, fresh cilantro
- 1 Tbl. dijon mustard
- 5 twists, fresh ground black pepper shaker
- 3/4 c. Pace's chunky salsa (medium heat)
Sweet Potato Portion:
- 1 1/2 Tbl. olive oil
- 2 lg. garlic cloves
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 med./lg. sweet potatoes
- 1/2 tsp. ground blk. pepper
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 15.5 oz can blk beans, rinsed & drained
- 3/4 c. diced scallions

Preparation:  Prepare quinoa according to "How to Cook Quinoa Perfectly" directions on Cooking Quinoa.net.  Portion out 2 and 1/2 cups.  In a separate bowl, combine olive oil, apple cider vinegar, fresh chopped cilantro, dijon mustard, and fresh ground black pepper.  Whisk together until well blended.  Pour mixture over quinoa.  Stir in Pace's Chunky Salsa and mix until all ingredients are well blended.  Set aside.

Pour 1 Tbl. olive oil into saucepan over medium heat.  Crush two cloves with garlic press and add to olive oil.  Mix cinnamon with garlic and oil, coating the bottom of the pan.  Toss in chopped sweet potato pieces (I try to keep mine no larger than about 1/4" thick and 1/2" wide) and coat with cinnamon/oil/garlic mixture.  Add remaining 1/2 Tbl. of olive oil and toss to coat.  Sprinkle sweet potatoes with ground black pepper, garlic powder, and salt.  Stir to mix.  Make as even a layer as possible of seasoned sweet potatoes on bottom of pan and reduce heat to medium, low.  Let cook for about 10 minutes or until all pieces are tender (this time will vary somewhat depending on the thickness of your pieces; you may also want to occasionally stir the potatoes throughout this cooking time so as to prevent any burning).  Once potatoes are tender, toss in rinsed black beans and chopped scallions.  Cook for an additional 4 minutes then remove from heat.

Place about 1 c. of quinoa mixture into a bowl and top with about the same measure of sweet potato mixture.  Garnish with a little fresh cilantro and enjoy.

This dish tastes great whether served hot or cold.   This combo is abso-friggin'-posi-lutely delicious and I sincerely hope you will enjoy it as immensely as I have.

Remember to check back again this Friday for two more quinoa containing, meatless recipes that are surprisingly satisfying and seriously scrumptious.