Monday, March 7, 2011

I love cobbler

Several summers ago, I went blackberry picking with my then-boyfriend at a farm located around Elgin, Texas (I'd give you the name but I can't remember it, and a Google search isn't being very helpful, either).

As we wandered through row after row of bushes offering big, fat blackberries for the picking, we got so caught up in filling our cute (but gigantic) baskets that we didn't stop to consider what we were going to do with all of those blackberries once we got them home. It took my getting stung by a bee (they like blackberries, too) to finally snap us out of our blackberry reverie and wake us up to the fact that we had picked a lot more than we could ever eat.

Five-ish pounds of blackberries and am embarrassing amount of money paid to the farmers later, we were back at the house, trying to look up blackberry recipes. Both of us liked the idea of cobbler, but immediately dismissed it as being way too complicated to make, and neither of us particularly wanted to gain 50 lbs from eating it every single day.

If only Tess had already published her book back then, with its recipe for "Ultra Light Blackberry Cobbler." Super easy, super delicious, and a green recipe to boot (for more info about color coding, see this post).

I avoided making this recipe for a long time, mainly because I really love cobbler and was convinced that a "healthy" cobbler could not taste good. But my curiosity finally got the best of me, so I tried it out. And yum!

I think what makes this recipe successful is the fact that blackberries really are the centerpiece here. The doughiness is still there for those of us who love it (I am one of those folks), but there are so many damn blackberries (I'm not complaining) that it balances things out.

The ingredients are really quite simple: Whole wheat pastry flour combined with some baking powder, non-dairy milk, vanilla, and a touch of maple syrup. Once it's all mixed together, pour it into a pie pan, dump 2 cups of blackberries on top, and bake for 45 minutes. I'm not sure how it's possible to make a delicious cobbler without using butter, but somehow Tess managed to find a way. Yum.

I served mine with a little bit of almond-milk vanilla ice cream. It's no Ben & Jerry's, but was actually pretty good, and, more importantly, it didn't make me feel like I needed to go run 3 miles after eating it.

**Note: You really need to use good quality, organic blackberries. This will probably cost you around $4 for a 16-oz bag, but there's no comparison in quality between the frozen HEB version and the really nice organic farm version, in taste, appearance, and pesticide levels. Worth it.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Holy Shiitake (Walnut, and Dried Cranberry Salad) Batman!

Today I've had quite the craving for Wheatsville's popcorn tofu sandwich.

Popcorn whaaaaa?

I know, sounds weird and/or gross, right? Oh, but it's not. It's delicious. Kind of like chicken nuggets. And they put it on this bun with all kinds of veggies and top it with some cashew-tamari dressing, and...damn. It's good.

Probably not the healthiest, though. So, I decided that, to counteract the bad, I would make something good. Really good. And healthy. And that ended up being Shiitake, Walnut, and Dried Cranberry Salad, from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth.

Shiitake mushrooms are crazy good for the immune system and have also been shown to fight cancer. These bad boys are gooood for you. The recipe calls for sautéeing them along with some garlic—yet another powerful immune booster—in a little bit of olive oil. I found some beautiful, local, organic shiitakes at Wheatsville. You can see their happy little sautéed selves in the picture to the right. A few minutes was all it took to get them nice and soft.

After sautéeing, I set the mushrooms and garlic aside and mixed up some red onion, balsamic vinegar, oil, walnuts, cranberries, and the secret ingredient—orange zest—which really gave the finished product a nice, unexpected, pleasant kick. And, by the way, attempting to grate the orange zest with my tiny little grater while avoiding grating my knuckles into the salad firmed up my resolve to finally buy a zester. I would recommend that you do the same.

The recipe calls for baby greens, but I used spinach instead, since I have about 5 million pounds of it that I bought on sale recently. I mixed the spinach and mushrooms with the other magic ingredients, tossed, and...voilà! A healthy side to my popcorn tofu sandwich (which, incidentally, is still probably better for me than a Quarter Pounder with Cheese).

Just to review, this salad gives you a huge bang for your buck, providing immune-boosting, cardiovascular-enhancing, cancer fighting, and anti-inflammatory properties, a big dose of flavanoids, antioxidants, and fiber...and the list goes on (and on...).

Now go out and get ya some.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Easy. Addictive. Eggplant.

Hello all, and sorry for the lag time in posting. I actually found a job to apply for—wonder of wonders!—and even got a couple of freelance gigs at the end of last week, so the whole making-money thing has taken priority.

It's been a busy several days, and since I know that I am less likely to do major cooking when I have a lot going on, I've fallen back on some staple dishes that are easy and quick to make, but also healthy. Also important for me during this busy time is that I've made these dishes before, which negates the whole I-don't-want-to-try-anything-new--and-have-it-go-wrong-while-I'm-stressed-out factor.

One of these healthy items that is quickly becoming a staple in my diet is eggplant. Specifically, Easy and Addictive Eggplant "Chips". I have always liked the idea of eggplant—it's so pretty!—but I have never been able to make it taste good. Not even when I've covered it with cheese and marinara sauce. During Tess' most recent visit to Austin, she asked whether I had tried this recipe from her book yet. I hadn't, and there were beautiful organic eggplants on sale at I got one.

Tess had warned me that they were addictive, and I had laughed, but...she wasn't kidding. The first time I made them, I almost ate the whole pan. It's something about the marinade, full of garlic and onion, and the texture of the eggplant...yeah, they're that good. To remedy this "problem," I have started making only the amount I am going to feel ok about eating. That way, self-control is not required. =)

Texture-wise, contrary to the implication of their name ("Chips"), they are actually soft rather than crisp. They have kind of a caramelized texture. Also, don't make the same mistake that I did the first time I made them: You want to use a cookie sheet that has raised edges—i.e., one that will contain the delicioso marinade liquid and prevent it from spilling off the pan and into your oven. Trust me. (Cleanup on Aisle 5!)

The recipe is simple enough. Preheat the oven to 400 deg, toss together the ingredients of your marinade, and slice your eggplant into "chips." Place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet (seriously, one with raised edges!) and pour the marinade on top. Let them sit for about 5-10 minutes, then flip them over and sit for another 5-10 min.

At this point, if you're making a full batch, you will leave the all of the marinade in the pan. But, if you are like me and are making a smaller batch, you can (carefully) pour the excess marinade back into a container to reuse the next day (I'm assuming this is ok, since there are no nasty meat-type bacteria in eggplant and I use it pretty quickly. At least, I haven't died yet from doing so). You'll still want to leave a little marinade in the cookie sheet though, so they can cook in their juices. Pop your large or small batch into the oven, let them cook for 10-15 minutes, take them out and flip them over, then let them cook for another 5 or 10 minutes. Mmmmm....

These taste best when they're fresh and hot out of the oven, of course, but I also have enjoyed eating them cold, on top of salad. That might not be for everyone, I's a texture thing.

I should also mention that they are considered a "blue" food item. This is a rating system of the recipes from Tess' book, which is super handy to have when you're planning out your meals. "Green" foods are relatively low in calories and fat and can be eaten several times a day; "Blue" foods tend to be higher in fat and calories and, depending on your activity level and weight loss goals (if you have any), should be eaten once, maybe twice a day. "Purple" foods are things like, oh, say, chocolate cake, which definitely are higher in calories, fat, and sugar, and should for sure be eaten in moderation.

One of the things that has been helpful for me to keep in mind, however, is that even the purple foods from this book contain natural or less refined sweeteners, whole ingredients, and healthy fats. They are MUCH healthier (and probably lower in fat/sugar/cals) than the processed, refined garbage that most of us eat on a daily basis. Also keep in mind that it's not a one-size-fits-all approach: As with anything, it's about moderation and balance (my arch nemeses, BTW...). Check out Radiant Health, Inner Wealth, for more info about Tess' color-coded rating system.

Finally, I have to report a triumph: I had dinner last week at Hyde Park Grill. Austinites will automatically know what this place is famous for, but for you sad people who do not live here...they make the BEST french fries. Ever. I don't know what they do to them (nothing healthy), but they are crazy good. And horrible for you. And you get a huge portion of them, with a container of a mayo-based dipping sauce. And, for perhaps the first time ever, I didn't want to eat them. It had nothing to do with sitting on my hands and forcing myself to choose something healthier. I just...didn't want them. I got a vegetable plate instead. WTF?!?!

This experience is starting to prove to me that our taste buds do actually start to adjust, the more we feed ourselves healthy, delicious food. I'm not saying I'll never eat another french fry again, and I actually had a day of pretty unhealthy choices on Sunday (and paid for them later), but to have a moment—even one!—in which I actually WANTED the healthier option was huge. Huge!


*Top photo taken from Radiant Health, Inner Wealth.