Coming to Brussels Sprouts' Defense

In just over 24 hours, the Floptimism Kitchen will move. I cannot begin to express how excited I am to be moving off of the equivalent of my university's Frat Row and into a Real Apartment, where Real People (with kids! And dogs!) live, far from the yards adorned with crushed beer cans and borough police who mail you pictures of your trash cans when they're overflowing and tell you to Be Cleaner Or Else. But all of that is very unrelated to food and cooking, especially considering the one upgrade I will not be making is in the kitchen department - both this year's kitchen and the one I'm moving to are equally and devastatingly small.

No, the reason I'm telling you about this (aside from the fact that I practically can't sleep from excitement) is that this move has prompted me to go on an eating frenzy to clean out my freezer and fridge rather than have to transport it all to the New Place. I am sitting here with an acute belly ache because my poor stomach is just not used to 2 pieces of Peanut Truffle Fudge, 1 slice of Chocolate Fudge Cake and a Great Many Spoonfuls of Mint Chocolate Pudding, all before 8pm. The good news is that I'm making fantastic progress on the junk food stores (and, for the record, I have a lofty fantasy of, once I run out of the junk, not buying more and only baking fantastically healthy desserts with the occasional sinful treat because I am, after all, human); the bad news is that well, I won't be getting my cholesterol levels re-checked anytime soon, to put it mildly.

You might be wondering right about now how my Chocolate Extravaganza at all relates to Brussels Sprouts. You see, I was sitting here, the remnants of my chocolate cake + pudding in a bowl beside me, and the bulk of said chocolate cake + pudding sitting a bit uncomfortably in my all-too-stretched stomach, thinking about what to update about. Do I share with you some of these decadent treats I have been indulging in this week? I considered it, and I don't mean to tease you because all of these things are just enormously enjoyable, but I just couldn't do it. I knew what I needed - a nice, big, healthy, green, salad; plain oatmeal with a sliced banana as the sole sweetener; a whole heaping pile of celery sticks. I scrounged through my recipe backlog - surely I had something redeemable in these files, and sure enough, I found what I was looking for: Brussels Sprouts!

Brussels Sprouts are the perfect food to counter this Floptimism Gluttony I am shamefacedly not at all ashamed to be putting myself through; can you think of something that seems healthier? Nutritionally, there are loads of foods that are better, but think about it. Think back to your childhood. Forget "Eat Your Broccoli;" how about "Eat your brussels sprouts?" What kid does that? What adult does that, for that matter? You say Brussels Sprouts and most people cringe down to their very core, because they are the vegetable that has single-handedly sucked the joy out of eating and given Healthy Food a bad rap.

But it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to walk by those little green bud-like veggies in the produce section and turn away, afraid these lonely little buggers will catch your eye and make you feel guilty for being absolutely revolted. And you don't have to watch your kids turn into little Sarah Burnharts as they choke them down Because You Said So, and wouldn't let them eat that ice cream for dessert until they did. You can learn to love Brussels Sprouts. I know this, because I did. The first time I ate a Brussels Sprout (admittedly approximately 8 months ago), they came from the freezer section and steamed in a bag in the microwave. I ate them, cut up into small little bits, incorporated into my chicken and baked potato to try to mask the bitterness as best I could. The second time I ate Brussels Sprouts, they were baked and marinated in what I can only imagine was a maple glaze of some kind, and the bitter-sweetness blew me away. I was still hesitant, and still ate them tentatively, but I found a new appreciation for these complex little guys that I had never known before. I learned that, prepared the right way, their bitter flavor could be heavenly, refreshing even. 

In a world where sweet and salty flavor compounds abound, I think we lose sight of the nuances of those foods that, like Brussels Sprouts, deny our taste buds that instant gratification we have been programmed and socialized to covet. There is something phenomenal about biting into a ball of bitterness, glazed in something subtle to cut its intensity, but only slightly. Still, I understand when someone says they dislike Brussels Sprouts. Like wine, it is an acquired taste (do you like how I just made myself out to be some snobby, exclusive connoisseur of Brussels Sprouts? "Oh no, it isn't that Brussels Sprouts are bad - you just aren't well-versed in Brussels Sprouts enough to appreciate their true beauty"), and I don't expect Brussels Sprouts haters to just jump on my band wagon because I tell them they should.

This recipe is a good stepping stone. I gravitated toward it because it didn't involve smothering the 'sprouts in maple syrup and bacon, which is the all-too-common Trifecta of Brussels Sprouts recipes, but I actually found it to mask the bitterness even better than said Trifecta seems to (in my experience, anyway). Because of this, I was a little disappointed - I like it when the bitter compounds peek through and remind me of their existence; but for people who want to eat Brussels Sprouts because they think they should, but they  just can't get past that in-your-face flavor, this is a good one to have in your arsenal. The roasting allows for a smoky caramelization, and then a bit of lemon comes in to finish the job. Oh, and the butter and parmesan cheese probably help, too. Regardless, this turns out to be a delicious, flavorful, surprisingly light side dish (I cut back on some of the oil and butter measurements), and one that has the potential to cast Brussels Sprouts in a much more favorable light. So the next time you spot those green little rounds in the produce section, don't speed up and hope you can sneak by before they get you - slow down, and give these guys a chance.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, courtesy of Cast Sugar
Yield: 3-4 servings

The Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed and dried
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper, to taste
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2-4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
The Method
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, halve the brussels sprouts and toss with the garlic on a baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the sprouts and season with salt, pepper, and zest from  half of the lemon. Toss once more to coat, and then dot the mixture with the butter. 

Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes* before stirring and lowering the heat to 400 degrees. Bake for another 15-20 minutes, until the sprouts are tender and caramelized. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before tossing with the remaining lemon zest, juice, and parmesan. This dish can either be chilled or served at room temperature.

*I think mine could have come out of the oven after the first 20 minutes, but this is such a drastic change to the recipe that I left it as is. It wouldn't be a bad idea to keep an eye on them, though, and perhaps stir after 12-15 minutes and only bake for an additional 10 after that.

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Vibrant and Healthy Tofu Stir Fry (Vegetarian Vednesdays, anyone?)

I have on several occasions lamented my entrenchment in the world of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. I have whined and moaned about monochromatics, blank flavor palettes, and all around monotony. I have even gone so far as to broaden my qualms to encompass the meat industry as a whole. It goes without saying that this omnivore gets a little sick of meat now and then. Yet, for a long time, I shied away from the one ingredient that had the potential to be my genuine Saving Grace - the protein factor in many great vegetarian dishes that could lift me out of my chicken/meat rut and bring life back into my cooking. I'm talking, of course, about Tofu. I had eaten it before, but only rarely, and had never prepared it myself. It daunted me. Wouldn't it spoil in .5 seconds of being opened? How would I eat all of it myself? How would I eat any of it, for that matter, without any experience with it before? New ingredients don't often intimidate me, but this one certainly did.

Finally, I bucked up. I marched into my grocery store and with the utmost sense of purpose, I proceeded to...well, wander aimlessly, wondering where the heck they kept the stuff. I finally located it, snatched up a container, and left happily and optimistically with a new-found ingredient to generate inspiration in the Floptimism Kitchen once more.

I have to say, I have since used Tofu in several dishes, and although I'm certainly experimenting with how to flavor it off-the-cuff, sans recipe, the recipes I have chosen and followed have yet to lead me astray. This one in particular was absolutely phenomenal, and the words "light" and "refreshing" that so aptly describe it sound so inviting to me right now, as my third floor apartment at just 9:30 in the morning has already draped a veil of heat and humidity upon my entire being. I hear that rain is coming soon, perhaps to cool things down a little (not that I would complain about heat and humidity after such an extended, cold winter), but until then, a light, meatless stir fry with just a small dollop of yogurt sauce sounds wonderful.

And just for the record? It took on an incredible smoky, deep flavor when I reheated the extras the next day - so good!

Light Tofu Stir Fry with Yogurt Sauce, adapted from Vegetable Matter
Yield: 2 servings

The Ingredients
1/3 pound extra-firm tofu, roughly one-third or half a package
2 teaspoons oil, for sauteeing*
1/4 cup roasted red peppers (or 1/2 red pepper to roast yourself), chopped
1 pound assorted dark greens (swiss chard, kale, etc.)
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1/2 cup greek yogurt (NF/LF)
2 tablespoons sunbutter or tahini
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
dash crushed red pepper
1/2 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped

The Method
Drain the tofu by placing it on a flat surface between two layers of paper towels, weighed down by a plate or something similar. Allow it to sit for approximately 10 minutes before cutting it into cubes.

Saute the cubed tofu in the 2 teaspoons of oil over medium/medium-high until the bottom side is golden, and then flip and repeat for the other side. Remove the tofu from the pan and set aside. 

Add the rest of the oil to the pan along with half of the garlic to cook for one minute. Place the assorted greens into the pan and cook until tender, approximately 10 minutes, before adding in the roasted red pepper for an additional minute. Transfer the mixture to a separate dish/plate and allow to cool. Add the crushed red pepper to the emptied skillet, adding another 1/4 teaspoon or so of oil if the pan looks too dry, cooking until it just begins to sizzle, around 10 seconds. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the yogurt sauce: combine the yogurt, sunbutter/tahini, lemon juice, and remaining garlic in a small bowl. Season, optionally, with salt, and mix in the crushed red pepper before setting aside.

Toss the greens and tofu together and top with a dollop (1-2 tablespoons) of the yogurt sauce, serving the rest of the sauce on the side. Can be served over rice, but I enjoyed this on its own.

*The original recipe called for sesame oil which would certainly impart a phenomenal flavor, but I didn't have any so just used olive oil.

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Edamame Nachos can be Kosher for Passover (or...not)!

I intended to update practically every day this week to chronicle how I was getting through Passover without succumbing to the all-too-common cake-and-matzah diet. I have had several peers express intrigue over my keeping Passover: "Oh, wow! That must be a great detox" because, you know, you're not supposed to eat wheat, barley, oats, rye, and a whole bunch of other things. You tell this to a group of health-conscious Nutrition majors and they hear, "you can't eat refined carbs! No dessert, no bagels, none of that stuff - excellent!" But this, of course, is not the case. Jews would not tolerate a holiday that involved a full week of such deprivation, so we have instead created matzah-derived flours and other such baking mediums. Therefore, the only thing we wind up not being at a loss for is kosher cakes and brownies - I cannot tell you how many servings of flourless chocolate cakes, brownies, apple cake, sponge cake, and other various confections I have consumed over the past week, and that's while making it a point to cut back on the usual Passover dessert consumption. It's just easier to eat a piece of flourless chocolate cake for breakfast than try to fill yourself up on fruit and yogurt, and it certainly takes up less prep time than eggs. You see how easy it is to justify horrendous eating habits during Passover?

However, the end of the academic semester threw a knife into my plans for diligent updates regarding my more laudable (and perhaps somewhat pretentious) approach to Passover. Trying to study for 4 advanced science exams at the same time, in case you didn't know, is unquestionably impossible - not to mention the other end-of-year responsibilities falling down on Us Collegians this time of year. So, forgive me. I hope everyone had a fantastic Passover and Easter, and that I'm not the only one enjoying a sudden and dramatic climatic shift into Summer (finally)! 

So, without further adieu, I bring to you the Passover-Friendly Edamame Nachos, which is a wonderful way to mask matzah (or, since tonight ushers in the chametz-eating period again, a perfect way to enhance a tortilla chip!) and get some nice protein in while you're at it. I'm always looking for fun, healthier ways of enjoying what is, essentially, bar food, and I think it's safe to say that this is a very tasty alternative to what would normally be a very heavy appetizer drenched in a whole lot of flavor, but not enough nutrients to meet my criteria for an actual dinner recipe. It comes together in practically negative seconds, and has this beautiful blend of sweet and savory, creamy and crunchy. I think using some sort of smoky spice (smoked paprika, curry powder, etc.) and a touch of sea salt to the finished product would take this dish to a whole new level (these additions are reflected in the recipe below), perfect for your next I-need-a-quick-dinner situation or sports-viewing party alike.

One Year Ago: Lamingtons

Edamame Nachos, adapted from Dixie Chik Cooks
Yield: 1 main dish serving, 2 appetizer servings

The Ingredients
1/2 cup cooked/thawed, shelled edamame beans
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon curry powder or smoked paprika
1 clove garlic
1 layer of onion
1-2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 piece of matzah, broken into chip-size pieces, or a handful of tortilla chips
shredded cheese of choice, to taste
kosher/sea salt, to taste

The Method
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with either cooking spray or a scant amount of oil or butter. Spread the matzah or chips over the foil and set aside.

Place all of the ingredients except the matzah, cheese and salt into a food processor and pulse until well mixed but still a little chunky (adjust according to personal preference). Spread the edamame mixture over the matzah/chips, sprinkle with the cheese, and place in the oven to cook for 5-7 minutes, or just until the cheese has melted and chips/matzah has browned ever so slightly (this happens very quickly). Remove from the oven and sprinkle with a small amount of salt, and serve.

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Banana Liqueur Pudding, the answer to all life's dilemmas

A few months ago, I brought to you the ever-so indulgent Chocolate Champagne Sauce, ideal for drizzling over fruit and cakes alike, as well as sandwiching between warm bread, pastries, or cookies. You may have hated me for it, though I hope if you had the chance to make it, the initial taste test softened those evil eye stares you were beaming to me across the World Wide Web. That chocolate decadence came as a result of leftover alcohol in the Floptimism kitchen which, alas, has struck again. Sit back, it's story time. 

You see, there's this girl, and no matter how much a mango daiquiri or Bailey's-spiked chocolate milkshake may appeal to her, she just cannot seem to finish a bottle of booze., or down a glass of alcohol in less than several hours Despite this well-known trait, she walked into a liquor store one day to find a clearance sale, and the following bottle attracted her attention:

I mean, how could she resist it? A banana-flavored liqueur that's actually called, "I'm Bananas Over You?" On Sale? "I never treat myself," she thought, and with her lovely beau egging her on, she picked up that handle of banana cream liqueur, and marched out of the store (after paying, of course). That weekend, she proceeded to make a smoothie with it and top an already-excessive bowl of Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey with it, and she ended the weekend with the satisfaction of having enjoyed tasty alcohol at a frequency  (though certainly not a quantity) more expected of someone her age.

And then it sat. She brought it with her wherever she went (not really - although carrying a handle of liqueur to class would have evoked an interesting set of reactions; she really just brought it to and from her campus address when she left on the weekends), and yet partake of it again, she did not. "This must end," she declared, and so she opened up her trusty internet source to find a more agreeable solution.

After days of searching and finding nothing that called for more than 2 tablespoons of liquor at a time, she finally found it - the recipe she had been looking for all this time! What was it, might you ask? Well, it just so happened to be a Nutter Butter Banana Cream + White Chocolate Mousse Pie. It also happened to be Passover, and so this girl spent an afternoon fantasizing about the perfection that would surely come with the marriage between white chocolate and banana cream atop a nutter butter crust, but then she soon forgot such fantasies and set to work for a simpler, feasible version - just the banana cream layer.

And that is how this dessert, this new dessert perfection with a hint of leftover liquor, came into being. I cannot tell you how incredible this pudding is - in fact, I find that the word "pudding" almost demeans it. This banana cream dessert is sweet and full of banana flavor, fresh and soft and delicate, yet packing enough of a punch to leave you smacking your lips, licking your fingers, and finding that any ensuing stomach ache from its richness will surely be worth it. (Note: no such banana-related stomach ache was experienced, though I would imagine that had there not also been 10,000 other desserts on the Passover table last night and I had focused my attention solely on this little gem, it would be a definite possibility.)

How do you eat this Banana Liqueur Pudding, you ask? Why, just as you enjoyed the Chocolate Champagne Sauce, of course! Some people tried it in the little chocolate cordial cups I found in the pantry; others poured it over the most intense flourless chocolate cake on the planet (ie mound of gooey chocolate incredible-ness); and then others took the slightly more innocuous though equally intriguing route of drizzling it over a nice fruit salad. I, additionally, received much enjoyment from licking the bowl, the whisk, my fingers, and  even pot while/after making it (after the eggs were cooked, I promise!). It is versatile, and just as is the case for any truly phenomenal ingredient - it would make anything taste better, and it would certainly be a welcome addition to Passover dessert buffets (it calls for vanilla extract, though - I know, I know, for shame) and the  fast approaching Easter festivities alike.

I didn't change the recipe what-so-ever, but because I made it isolated from the nutter butter pie (which will absolutely be coming to the Floptimism kitchen sometime once this ban on chametz has been lifted), I'll post just the recipe for the cream below. Definitely follow the link for the full monty, though, if you so choose - there aren't any pictures, but my imagination has had no problem going to town creating that fantastic pie in my mind. It couldn't possibly be anything short of miraculous.

One Year Ago: S'mores Blondies (speaking of indulgent desserts...)

Banana Liqueur Pudding, courtesy of Fulton's on the River
Yield: A Whole Lot of Pudding

The Ingredients

3 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons corn starch*
1 1/4 tablespoons. flour*
pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup banana liqueur
2 tablespoons butter

The Method
Sift the flour, starch, sugar and salt into a sauce pot, and then pour the cold cream and milk over it. Stir to combine, then whisk occasionally as you heat it (over medium) to reach 195 degrees Fahrenheit.

In the meantime, lightly beat together the whole eggs along with the yolk in a medium mixing bowl, then stir in the vanilla and liqueur. Set aside until the cream mixture has reached 195 degrees and is ready to be tempered: slowly add a little bit of the hot cream mixture into the eggs (one tablespoon at a time at first), whisking all the while. After 5-10 tablespoons**, you can pour the entire mixture in, still taking care to continue whisking with the other hand.

Place the pot back onto the heat and allow the mixture to reach 185 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally. Remove the pot from the heat one last time in order to whisk in the butter. Set aside to cool, then refrigerate until ready to use.

*To make this kosher for Passover, simply replace the corn starch with potato starch, and the flour with matzah cake meal. 
**Perhaps 5-10 tablespoons is a little excessive; I'm not actually sure. I tend to err on the side of caution with my tempering, so if you feel comfortable incorporating the full thing after fewer individual tablespoons, go for it.

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Buffalo...Turkey?...Lettuce Wraps, for the Passover-observer or Carb-aphobic in all of us

It's official! The Week of Flat Crackers (and delicious apple cake, brisket, and flourless brownies...) has begun, and although the foods in parentheses are more characteristic of First Night Passover, I thought I could at least share with you a Passover-friendly for later on in the week, when the leftovers have dwindled and that matzah has once again lost its annual novelty. After all, if you're observing, you probably have your seder menu plan all set (and perhaps digesting?) already, but this will hopefully help you out of the Matzah Pizza and mountains-of-fresh fruit rut that I know that I tend to fall into.

I made this lettuce cups earlier in the semester as one of my carb-free meals, so even if you're not celebrating Passover, I'd encourage you to try these. I changed up the original recipe quite a bit. First of all, this is meant to be a wrap, not a lettuce cup, and although a wrap would certainly taste nice, I think the crispness and uniqueness of a lettuce wrap trumps a flour tortilla any day. 

Second, it should come as no surprise that in the original recipe, the word "Buffalo" is followed by "Chicken-" tenders, to be precise. With the lettuce, I thought ground meat would be better, and I discovered that week in the grocery store that there's no such thing (at non-specialty, generic chain groceries, anyway) as ground chicken breast; there is simply ground chicken. Now, forget my snobby nutritionist affinity for boring, lean chicken breast for a minute - I have a bone to pick not so much with white vs. dark meat, but with white vs. god-only-knows meat. You see, if it's ground chicken, it could be - bones, skin, dark meat, white meat, organs, anything. You'd never know. Makes you want to run out and buy some, right? Exactly. So I put that ground mystery meat back where it came from and went over to the always trusted ground turkey breast. Hence, Buffalo Turkey Lettuce Wraps.

I also used sour cream instead of mayonnaise, but that's really just because I had extra sour cream and never keep mayo in the apartment, not really because I have anything against a little dabble of mayo here and there. This, however, is a moot point because I decided afterward that it'd be even better without the yogurt mixture at all, instead simply crumbling the blue cheese in its decadent purity over the filled lettuce cups. Then I cut back on the celery (used what I had), added some cherry tomatoes, and messed with the ratios a little bit. All I really have to say about that is - go crazy on the hot sauce. I know I did!

This would make a fantastic appetizer in smaller lettuce cups or, as I ate it, a long sleeve of romaine filled with a whole lot of the mixture for a main dish (after all, Papa Floptimism did just inform me that the messiest food is often the tastiest). Plus, it's one messy-and-tasty combo that you don't have to feel guilty about, and it sure as heck beats Matzah Pizza. Your digestive tract and taste buds will both thank you, I promise.

Buffalo Turkey Lettuce Wraps, adapted from Eating Well
Yield: 3-4 servings as a main course

The Ingredients
2-3 tablespoons hot sauce
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey breast
(2 tablespoons LF sour cream)*
(2 tablespoons L/NF plain yogurt)*
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
6-8 romaine lettuce leaves
1/2 - 1 cup sliced celery
handful grape tomatoes, quartered

The Method
In a medium bowl, whisk together the hot sauce, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and paprika. Meanwhile, place the oil and turkey in a large skillet, and heat over medium-high. Break up the meat as it cooks, looking for the pink to disappear; browning doesn't tend to happen with ground turkey, so don't look for that. Once cooked, place into the bowl of hot sauce and toss to coat. Stir in the celery and tomatoes.

If making the blue cheese dressing, take a small bowl and whisk together the sour cream, yogurt, and pepper with the remaining 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Stir in the blue cheese. If just using the crumbled blue cheese on its own (recommended), skip right to assembly (and add the pepper to the turkey mixture above instead).

To assemble, wash, dry, and lay out the lettuce leaves. If using the dressing, spread a thin layer of it over the lettuce leaf. Fill each one with roughly 1/3 - 1/4 of the turkey mixture and, if using the pure blue cheese instead of the dressing, crumble the cheese over the filling. To eat, simply roll up the wrap and enjoy - with a napkin nearby, that is!

*Omit these 2 ingredients if using the straight blue cheese crumbles instead of the blue cheese dressing (recommended)

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Savory Oatmeal - It's What's for Dinner!

Well, just as I thought it was safe to call it Springtime, I wake up to the gloom of a dark and windy day that looks as though the apocalypse is surely on its way. Have I mentioned that Spring is my least favorite season? My poor sinuses are in limbo, with the pollen count and sunshine high one day only to have the temperatures plummet by a full 20 degrees the next. Add it to my absolute beyond readiness to see summer and the end of the academic semester, and I'm just over it. Give me heat, humidity, and a climatic reason to eat pounds of ice cream, already.

Unfortunately, my ice cream post from the other day is yet again a moot point, since even I don't want a big bowl of that cold stuff in front of me right now. No, today what this bipolar weather has me craving is comfort food - the stuff that will warm me up and make me forget about the allergies that are now so strong that even my new kick butt allergy medicine can't keep up. If any of you are experiencing similar Springtime ailments, I encourage you to make some Savory Oatmeal. It really is just about as down-home comfort as you can get, and I guarantee that as long as you have oats and a fridge that isn't completely barren, you can put together some version of this dish with absolute success.

I thought I was very original, thinking up this idea for savory oatmeal. It was only after I made it and raved to my little notepad about its wonders that I started seeing it pop up everywhere - likely in much more sophisticated, documented ways than my own haphazard approach. No bother, I'm sure they all taste delicious, as this one did on a cool evening much like this one is promising to be. It was warm and filling, with just the slightest hint of freshness from lemon juice that gives you a little hope that sunshine may, in fact, be on the way.

You can add whatever you'd like - vegetables, meat, beans, cheese, you name it! I stuck with some veggies and tomatillo sauce, and my only change (which will be reflected below) is the sheer quantity of food "one serving" wound up being. With all of the extra vegetables added, a recommended serving of oats wound up being overwhelming, so don't be afraid of the scant amount this recipe calls for. You will be plenty full, I promise.

Savory Oatmeal
Yield: 1 serving

The Ingredients
1/4 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 small onion, sliced
hot sauce, to taste
1/4 cup diced eggplant
1/3 cup chopped frozen broccoli
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 - 2/3 cups milk
3 leaves of fresh basil, minced
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1/4 (scant) teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 - 1/3 cup oats
fresh basil and salsa verde*, for serving

The Method
Brush the olive oil over a small-medium sauce pan to grease it, and add the onion along with the hot sauce, tossing to coat. Allow the onions to sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, dice the eggplant and place it in a strainer with salt in the sink for at least 10 minutes.* Caramelize the onions over medium heat, 5-7 minutes. Add the broccoli, eggplant, and garlic, sauteeing another 2-3 minutes while stirring occasionally. 

Pour in 1 cup of milk and bring (gently) to a simmer. Add in the basil, lemon peel, coriander, oregano, and oats. Cook for approximately five minutes or until the oats are done, and serve alongside the extra basil and salsa verde.

*I will post my attempt at this later on along with a different dish that I prepared, but I followed it closely enough that for now, feel free to head on over to the original post to see how it was done. I highly recommend it!
**This is to try to draw out some of the bitterness, and is best to do for closer to 30 minutes. However, I only did mine for 10 and can't really say that I detected any off flavors, though perhaps my palate is not as discerning as it could be.

By the way, this dish is the quintessential example of how miserably I fail at sticking to one "type" of cuisine. I can't just do oregano, basil and eggplant for an Italian-inspired dish, or salsa verde along with onions and peppers for a more Mexican-themed meal. I have to throw every spice and condiment on the face of the Earth together in one pot to create some unconventional hybrid of cultural eating. I apologize, but really, as much as it may seem to lack rhyme or reason, it does taste fantastic.

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Williams-Sonoma Vanilla Ice Cream

The sun is bright and inviting, the ground is dry, and it finally feels like Springtime: today is the perfect day to whip out your ice cream machine to enjoy a nice, cool, creamy dish full of your very own homemade confection. This is exactly why today is also the perfect day to tell you about an ice cream cheat I tried (after my foray into Kahlua ice cream was a bust) - the fact that my last entry was as long as an encyclopedia and this will be short and sweet is just an added bonus.

Although I'm itching to make more of my own ice cream from absolute scratch (including a banana liqueur flavor, though the trickiness of alcohol is frightening me off), I found this mix from Williams-Sonoma to be enjoyable, to put it simply. I don't know how much easier it is than any other eggless recipe you can find out there (since that does, admittedly, add another step to the process), but it is comforting to know that your very own ice cream is just a can and a few extra ingredients away. The mix was a gift, so I decided to give it a shot amidst my snotty grumblings about how I'm just too good for these kitchen cheats, and I have to say, I'm glad I did. If nothing else, it helps you get a better grasp on your ice cream maker without the added intimidation of a new recipe to boot.

The vanilla ice cream that this mix produced was sweet, with a very nice consistency after an overnight stay in the freezer. It paired particularly beautifully with fruit. My only complaint (aside from the stigma attached to doing anything culinary that involves a mix) is that it doesn't use a full thing of half-and-half or heavy cream, and I'm just not the kind of person who uses that kind of stuff on a daily basis. If we're going with the whole glass-half-full thing, though, it gives you a perfect excuse to, oh I don't know - whip up a second batch or make a chocolate ganache or hot fudge sauce to pour on top. You get the picture - this leftover cream creates endless opportunities for even more dessert than you planned to make in the first place.

So, if you're new to ice cream making and you want to get your feet wet, or if you were always curious about how that mix would turn out but just never could convince yourself to buy it (another grievance I have, come to think of it - it's much cheaper to go the fully-from-scratch route), I'm here to tell you that it at the very least produces a nice ice cream. I won't go running around raving about it, but it was good, and the texture was certainly infinitely better than my first attempt.

Oh, and one more plus - when you're finished making the ice cream you're left with a pretty cute can that you can use around the house, provided you don't mind advertising for Williams-Sonoma a little bit.

Happy Beautiful Weather, everyone!

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Chicken Salad atop a Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quickbread

The past several months, something has been growing inside of me (and no, Mom and Dad, not literally - you can breathe). It began in, oh, maybe late February as a mild distraction, a feeling that, perhaps, I wouldn't be able to breeze through the semester as per usual. By March, I was beginning to feel the inklings of exhaustion that are more typical for the end few weeks of the semester, as Finals week approaches, the weather turns more consistently toward sunshine and warmth, and the Summer Itch descends upon us all. Now, it's April, and that mild distraction, that inkling of fatigue, has bloomed into a fully-germinated flower of unfathomable overexertion. I have stretched myself too thin, and I find myself fading in every sense of the word. My school work has suffered, both the quality and quantity of my entries here have suffered, my ability to give back to the greater community through volunteering has suffered, and - perhaps most importantly - my ability to maintain meaningful relationships with the people around me has suffered, as I have turned into a blob of what was once a girl, now only capable of bursting into tears about how I can't possibly go on like this.

Yesterday was a low point, and then today I woke up after 10 1/2 hours of heavy sleep to find sunshine and a high of 85. I finished my work early and even had time to shower before the day ended. It was easy to feel good on a day like today. Now tomorrow, I have a gloomy, rainy, chilly day ahead of me, with a to-do list that will propel me from my apartment before 8am and refuse to let me return before 5pm. Spring, I have decided, is the embodiment of Floptimism: one day it's gorgeous and warm, and the next the clouds have rolled in and the wind has picked up. It's a constant challenge to maintain a sunny disposition even when Mother Nature denies us that same luxury. My goal for myself is to have a good day tomorrow, even if the bottoms of my jeans get all wet, I don't have time to finish my school work before the sun sets and I have to play loud music to prevent myself from passing out in my tomato soup at dinner. I will maintain a positive outlook on the day no matter what.

The recipe I have for you tonight is much like my perception of tomorrow's forecast and sequence of events. Well, okay, almost. Unlike how I feel about tomorrow, I discovered this recipe for caramelized onion and spinach quickbread and just thought there was no way it would be anything less than heaven in food form. So, I borrowed a loaf pan from my house and set to work in the Floptimism Kitchen making this delicious sounding bread. I stuck it in the oven and, after the suggested amount of cooking time, tested it with a toothpick and discovered that the toothpick was clean. Excellent! So I removed it from the oven and let it sit in the pan, as directed, for 15 minutes. Then I happily inverted this beautiful, amazingly-scented bread...and it completely fell apart. I mean, I had a blob of gooey bread crumbles mixed up with some onion and spinach. It was not unlike the blob that I imagine myself to be on those particularly trying days throughout this semester. My heart sank. What do you do with a blob of quick bread? I put it back in the oven, thinking it just needed longer to cook, but nothing really changed it. I had a flopped recipe in front of me, and there was no way to salvage it.

Or was there? I took a few "slices" (re: hunks) and stuck them in my toaster oven to broil for a few minutes while my very-un-flopped Chicken Salad sat patiently awaiting the carbohydrate that was to complete it. The broiling helped...a little. I refused to give up on it, though. I plopped it on my plate with the chicken salad and dug in, and enjoyed it. It was underwhelming - I called it relatively bland - but not at all inedible. The chicken salad was flavorful and crunchy, with a little zing and crunch to it.

Even then, I refused to give up on it. I "sliced" the rest of the loaf as best I could and froze them, to be pulled out here and there for various meals. And that's exactly what I did. I had some alongside soup, with salads, you name it. And you know what? I love this bread! I almost don't even care that it crumbled to pieces before my very eyes and failed to impress me right from the start. It's savory and has this essence to it that I can't even describe. It just makes you want to go back for more. And more. In fact, I wish I still had some in my freezer - pop it in the toaster for 5 minutes and you have yourself a warm, sizzly, golden slice of perfectly imperfect quick bread.

I don't know what I did wrong, why this bread turned out so devastatingly, but I do know that I'm glad I didn't just pitch it when I saw it fall apart right in front of me. I like to think that there's something deep and profound in my persistence, and the inner beauty and longevity this particular recipe was able to bring to the table again and again. I plan to make tomorrow like this onion and spinach quickbread: a situation that seems destined for failure, but turns out to be one of the most enjoyable experiences I can name (well, for the quickbread, it just tops the list of culinary life is not so devoid of activities and human contact that a homely loaf of bread would be the highlight of my life, but you get the idea).

So now, if you're still with me (I know, it's late - I might have fallen asleep by now too if I weren't the one typing it), I'm going to do something absolutely groan-worthy: I'm not going to post the recipe. I took so long blathering on about metaphors and positive thinking, and now it's way too late for me to get into the formatting aspect of this entry. I'm sorry. I will, without a doubt, have the recipes for these two delicious foods up tomorrow night, but that 7am wake up's coming up way too quickly. I hope you understand.

But in the meantime, here's to a good day tomorrow for everyone - rain or shine!

Chicken Salad-topped Caramelized Onion & Spinach Quickbread, adapted from  The Food Network and Cookin' Canuck
Yield: 1 serving chicken salad + 1 loaf of quickbread

The Ingredients - The Quickbread
3 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 large yellow onion, cut in half through the root and thinly sliced
2 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk (I used 1%)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 ounce feta cheese
butter and flour for pan

The Ingredients - The Chicken Salad
1/2 cup shredded, cooked chicken
1 tablespoon chopped celery
1/8 small onion, finely chopped
handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 1/2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
1 - 1 1/2 teaspoons dijon mustard
salad greens, for serving

The Method

Start by preparing the quickbread: preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and butter and flour a loaf pan. Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil along with the onion over medium heat in a fairly large skillet, and cook for approximately 10 minutes before reducing the heat to medium-low and cooking for another 10 minutes, looking for a golden brown color to develop on the onions. Add the remaining teaspoon of oil to the pan and stir in the garlic and spinach, continuing to stir until the spinach has wilted and turned a bright green, approximately 1 minute. Remove from the heat.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, lightly beat the eggs and milk and add in the remaining 2/3 cup olive oil, whisking well to combine. Pour the flour mixture into the egg mixture, stirring only until just combined - taking care not to overmix. Finally, add in the spinach and onion mixture along with the cheese, stirring again to combine, but minimally.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth out the top. Place into the oven and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until the top has developed a golden brown color and a toothpick or skewer inserted into the center comes out dry. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for 15 minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to finish cooling.

While the bread is baking, assemble the chicken salad: combine all ingredients in a small-medium mixing bowl and season with pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When all components of the meal are ready, place a handful of (washed) salad greens on a plate and top with 1-2 slices of the bread and all of the chicken salad. Enjoy!

(By the way, despite several obstacles that could have easily undermined my determination to have a good day today, today was, in fact, quite excellent - Floptimism prevails!)

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My Black Bean Burrito Has Runneth Over

I think I've mentioned before that whenever I attempt to make a sandwich in any form - from the simplest Peppridge Farm loaf to the most elegant of crepes - I wind up with a quantity of filling that threatens to take over the world - or, at the very least, my modest-sized plate. My stab at black bean burritos was, of course, no different, and I wound up with an open-faced burrito that, though delicious, could not be satisfyingly rolled up and chowed down on in the appropriate way. I'm working on it. Until then, be wary of my overly-ambitious filling ratios. As in - cut this one in half for a happy, manageable, pick-it-up-with-two-hands burrito experience. It isn't that I stuff myself to the point of explosion with food - I often find the amount of food in my sandwiches/wraps/you-get-the-picture to be adequate (perhaps a wee bit large, but never to the point of discomfort), but the ratio tends to be off. 

The other side note I'd like to make about this recipe is that I made it before my shocking, earth-shattering discovery (okay, I exaggerate) that I have been blessed with the High Triglyceride gene, and as I look back on the ingredients now, it's easy to see that I do, in fact, have an affinity for carbohydrates that could easily be trimmed back on. This black bean burrito is a prime example. Count the carbs with me now: black beans? Check. Quinoa? Check. Whole grain wrap? Check. Corn? Check. None of these carbs are bad - in fact, they're quite fantastic, and several of them contain magical fiber to make my carbohydrate indulgences a smidgen less sinful. But all 4 in one burrito? 

It's a bit much.

If you don't have any cholesterol/triglyceride/etc. issues to worry about and you think all four carbs sound phenomenol together, go for it. In fact, even if you do have triglyceride issues, one meal every once in a while like this won't kill you. I try not to get too bogged down on this blog about nutrition, but because a healthful diet (with the obligatory chocolatey dessert thrown in for good measure) is such a big part of who I am and, therefore, what I write about, I like to at least put a little red flag up when I do share with you something that could, for some people, be troublesome. If you think this might be you, this meal would be equally tasty without the burrito as a stir-fry type meal, or with the burrito but without the quinoa filling. Or served over some salad greens.

But enough of that. Back to how deliciously enjoyable this burrito was, even if I did have to eat it with a knife and a fork.  I did make some pretty significant changes to the original, and what I bit into was a mildly spicy, occasionally sweet, perfectly balanced blend of vegetables, condiments, and spice. Each flavor came through beautifully. So no matter how you choose to eat this - with your hands or utensils, wrapped up in a tortilla or pita or dolloped over a bowl full of greens - you will enjoy every last bite...if your taste buds are anything like mine, at least.

Black Bean Burrito, adapted from Cooks.Com
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients*
4 whole wheat flour tortillas
3/4 - 1 cup cooked quinoa 
1/2 cup black beans, rinsed and drained if canned
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup canned whole kernel corn
dried oregano and ground cumin, to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 - 1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1 cup spinach
1/2 cup salsa

The Method
Warm the tortillas.** Meanwhile, combine the quinoa, beans, peppers, corn, and seasonings in a medium-large bowl and toss to combine. Either divide evenly amongst the four tortillas or, optionally, warm the mixture in a skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes first. Once the tortillas are filled with the quinoa and bean mixture, top each with the sour cream,spinach, and salsa before rolling up (if possible!) to eat.

*These ratios reflect my suggestions for trimming down my over-stuffed original to be more manageable as an actual rolled burrito, not the ratios that I actually used when making this dish.
**This can be done in several ways: (1) Wrap the tortillas in aluminum and place in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 10 minutes or so. (2) Place the wrapped tortillas in a toaster oven. (3) Microwave the tortillas (4) Heat them in a dry skillet over medium heat - though this final method will involve rapid heat loss, so only do this if you can serve the burritos promptly.

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Baked Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole: Or, How to Clean Out Your Fridge in Style

When I first moved into my apartment, I was talking to my roommates about how I wanted to batch cook so that I could have quick freezer meals without having to cook every single night of the week. One of them responded that she didn't want to be forced into eating the same thing all week, which is understandable - but batch cooking and monotony are not one in the same. I find it extremely satisfying to come up with a weekly meal plan in which the recipes complement each other, using similar ingredients yet delivering widely different dishes. Having leftovers doesn't mean that I will be eating the same exact thing the next night - it means I have an extra serving of food that can challenge me to come up with a new way of enjoying it (or, you know, freeze for a month down the road - either way).

This recipe for Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole is a more structured example of how I do this. Most of the time, I take a leftover ingredient or even a full leftover portion of a meal, and just throw it into a skillet and see what happens, or put it between two slices of bread or on top some salad greens. However, I found this recipe online, and actually planned to have it as a part of my weekly dinner line-up to incorporate extra chili and chicken I would have on hand from recipes earlier in the week. I have to tell you, if you make this from 100% leftover ingredients (I had to make the rice from scratch), this is throw-together-cooking at its finest, with a generous dollop of comfort food and enjoyment thrown on top. 

I found the sum to be a little underwhelming compared to its individual components, but I chalk that up mostly to a no-frills approach to the chicken and rice components, along with a fairly subdued chili (as far as chili is concerned). I added some spices at the end to counter this, but I can't begin to tell you how over-the-top this would be if you had already flavored leftovers in the chicken and rice departments - it's hard with Leftover Cooking to say that next time I'll plan anything, but if I am able to plan my next use of this recipe, I will definitely make it on a week when I have some bangin' chicken and rice to use up. I will also be making it in a smaller, deeper baking dish and potentially even adding some more cheese (certainly couldn't heart, right?). But the best part about this is that you'll really never make it the same exact way twice - it will change and transform itself depending on what you happen to have on hand. Its beauty is in its versatility, a word I probably use too much on here, but one that is so crucial in cooking, especially when you're doing it in big batches just for yourself or you and one other person. If I can take a recipe and switch it up infinitely depending on the season, weather, my mood, and the contents of my refrigerator, it's a keeper. This casserole, right here, is definitely a keeper.

Baked Chicken Chili Brown Rice Casserole, courtesy of Gluten Free Goddess
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
2 cups cooked brown rice
2 heaping cups leftover chili
1 - 1 1/2 cups cooked chicken pieces
3-4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
fresh (or dried!) herbs of your choosing*

The Method
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil an 8x8 inch casserole or baking dish**.

Spread the brown rice along the bottom of the dish and top with the chili - don't skimp on any juices that may have developed, either! Pour it all in. Add the chicken pieces in an even layer on top, scatter with the halved tomatoes, and top it all off with the cheese and herbs.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, removing only when the center has heated through, the cheese has melted, and you can see bubbly juices from the chili along the edges of the dish.

*The original poster suggests basil, parsley, or cilantro - but I say go with whatever pairs nicely with the rest of your leftover ingredients. I used cilantro.
**I halved this recipe and still made it in an 8x8, so I would assume that making the full batch in this size dish would be perfect.

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Veggie Chili Polenta

It actually snowed on April Fool's Day here, and I found Mother Nature's joke to be completely un-funny. Pair this miserable practical joke weather with the fact that today was sunny and 70, and you have a very difficult week to prepare appropriate recipes for. Do you make soup and hope it's cold? Salad and hope it's not? I'm very big on eating with the weather, at least most of the time, but this week I have more or less thrown the dice and hoped for the best. You could do the same, or you could be more intelligent and make something versatile enough for any weather extreme that this crazy Spring can throw at you. I've found chili to be a good example of this kind of meal, which is one of the reasons why I'm writing tonight about a Veggie Chili Polenta that I made a while back (other reasons include: 1. It's not chicken 2. It's not dessert 3. I'm having leftovers for lunch tomorrow 4. It isn't full of season-specific ingredients that make me feel guilty about telling you about).

This is an easy, essentially one-pot dish, on top of being very delicious. I found it to be slightly sophisticated, with the vinegar adding a nice touch. It's still hearty, but a little creamier than usual and not so heavy. It was a little too salty, a comment I followed up in my notes mysteriously with the phrase "my bad," making me think that I shockingly somehow managed to defy my Salt Nazi compulsions and actually add too much, since there's not much naturally in the ingredients the recipe calls for. Go figure. My only other complaint  (aside from its sad, inability to be captured beautifully in a picture) was a slight monochromatic thing going on, (which, incidentally, did nothing for its photogenic dilemma) with lots of dull reds, yellows and browns. It would certainly look nice with a little side salad, maybe the addition of a brighter green vegetable (spinach anyone? Kale?). 

The chili, by the way, is also excellent by itself, without the polenta. In case you were wondering. It is also fantastic in a chicken and chili casserole I made that same week (perhaps that will be my next post).

Veggie Chili Polenta, courtesy of Real Simple Recipes
Yield: 4 servings

The Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced (or 1-2 teaspoons pre-minced)
2 tablespoons chili (or curry) powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
14.5 ounces diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup water
15.5 ounces red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
15.5 ounces cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup quick-cooking polenta
1 tablespoon butter (omitted)
green chili or jalapeno salsa, optional (omitted)

The Method
Place the oil, onion, garlic, chili/curry powder, and cumin in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute until the onions have softened. Add in the tomatoes and the water, bring the mixture to a simmer, and partially cover with a lid for 10 minutes.

Add in both types of beans and return the mixture to a simmer. Continue to cook, this time uncovered, until the chili has thickened - approximately 15 minutes more. 

Meanwhile, prepare the polenta according to the package instructions and stir in the butter, if using. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove the chili from the heat and stir in the vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Divide the polenta between 4 bowls and ladle the chili over the top. Serve, optionally, with the salsa spooned on top or with a salad on the side.

One Year Ago: Turkey Turnovers & Passover Rolls (can you believe it was so early last year??)

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