Tuesday, May 6, 2014

I did all the right things

We had a stretch of thunderstormy days a week or two ago. April showers. The clouds rolled in and rumbled a bit, and stayed for more than a week. Ditches filled with rain and we stayed indoors for the most part. By Sunday, when the forecast was showing rainclouds next to each of the next five days, most people around here were growing restless, contemplating a move anywhere south of here.

But not me, I didn't mind the rain that Sunday. I did all the right things.

I drank coffee late into the morning and tea in the afternoon, and wore my slippers all day. I pushed the windows open with rain splashing down and took a nap that was too long. I wandered around the apartment and avoided my heap of clean laundry on the futon in the office, my work laptop propped next to the door, the lineup of dirty mugs with old tea bags in them next to the sink. I said Oh crap, it's already 6:30 and ran to the grocery store, then made a big pot of the chicken dumpling soup that I've made 340 times this year and Adam still asks for it. I lounged on the couch and didn't even look at my running shoes. I baked chocolate chip cookies.

You can't complain about a day like that.

Now, these cookies: I'd like to have one go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe, but I just can't do it. I like too many different styles to commit to just one: pale and soft, dark and chewy, studded with oatmeal - they're all good by me. This one that I read about on Orangette fits nicely in my repertoire. The magic ingredient here is whole wheat flour; it makes the cookies perfectly dense with a hint of nuttiness and just a pinch of saltiness. They are the least sweet and buttery, cookie-doughy of the versions I have made (although there's plenty of sugar and butter in these) - and I mean that in a good way. These are all about the chewy factor.

It's a good one for your recipe box, and your next rainy day.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (if using regular table salt, cut this about in half)
2 sticks butter (8 oz), softened
1 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or grease them with butter.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar and white sugar, about two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and beat on low to incorporate (I recommend adding about 1/3 of the flour mixture at a time and beating until combined after each addition to give your mixer a bit of a break). Add the chocolate chips, and beat to combine.

Scoop dough into mounds of about 3 tablespoons and place on the baking sheet, leaving a few inches of space around each cookie. Bake 16-20 minutes until the cookies are browned and have set around the edges.  Do not over bake, or they will be a bit tough. Allow to cool for a minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack.

Enjoy with a glass of milk on a rainy spring day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

That insatiable hunger

It's happened. Four weeks into marathon training, it has taken hold and I fear it's here to stay. A pit in my stomach that cannot be filled. I am so hungry, all the time.

If you've done any sort of consistent running, you know what I'm talking about: that insatiable hunger that doesn't go away. As the weekly miles get higher, your hunger soars, and it doesn't matter what (or how much) you put into it; the gnawing feeling of emptiness just lingers behind each meal. I'm hungry when I wake up in the morning and hungry when I go to bed. And all the hours in between, I'm either in the midst of stuffing my face, or scrounging through my desk drawer looking for scraps.

The upside? Food never tastes better than when you're truly hungry. When I sit down to a meal, the food feels like fuel for my sore muscles. I'm actually craving nutrient-dense food and lean proteins. And, I rarely leave a meal feeling full - instead, I feel content, or just done eating. And then an hour later, I'm sliding another piece of bread into the toaster.

I'm good at breakfasts, lunches and dinners: oatmeal with fruit, quinoa salads, turkey burgers, grilled chicken and sweet potatoes. My biggest challenge, though, is all the spaces in between. For snacks, I work my way through granola and bananas, almonds, toast, and hummus with veggies on any given day (OK, and M&Ms, too. A handful every day.). By mid-afternoon, when I've eaten everything and I'm reaching for my second apple of the day, and I know I need to find something that will stick with me longer.

And so, I come to you with this recipe for strawberry conserve, which I strongly suggest you stir into Greek yogurt and top with sliced almonds. I love eating Greek yogurt: it's an amazingly nourishing, protein-rich snack that fills me up better than anything else. And when I top it with this strawberry conserve and a handful of sliced almonds, it feels like a real treat. I'm not going to pretend it tastes like eating strawberry ice cream*, because we're talking about yogurt here for godssakes. But, as far as healthful snacks go, it's pretty damn close.

The conserve is really just a rich, sweet strawberry syrup that holds softened strawberry halves; kind of like the inside of a strawberry pie, but with a much thinner sauce. Yes, there is quite bit of sugar in the recipe, but one smallish spoonful of the stuff flavors my entire carton of yogurt and leaves me happy. Plus, I like that there are only three ingredients in this conserve - strawberries, sugar and lemon peel - I would choose that any day over the long list of ingredients in the fruit filling that accompanies most yogurts.

*Now, if you wanted to put this strawberry conserve on ice cream, I won't be the one to stop you. Or on buttered toast, or in your oatmeal, or on an English muffin..

Strawberry Conserve
Recipe from Bon Appetit

1 pound strawberries; washed, hulled and cut in half (about 4 cups)
3/4 cup sugar
Peel from 1/2 of one lemon (including the white pith)

Put all ingredients in a wide saucepan and stir to combine. Cover and let sit for two hours, stirring occasionally. The sugar will melt and the strawberries will get juicy.

Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a simmer (uncovered). Cook, stirring occasionally, until the strawberries have softened, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries and place in a glass jar (where you will store the conserve). Continue cooking the syrup until it has thickened a bit more, another 3-5 minutes. Remove the lemon peel and pour the syrup over the strawberries.

Cool to room temperature, then cover. Store in the refrigerator for up to a month.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Just like that

Three weeks have gone by since I was here last. Hot damn. How have you been?

I wish I could say that I've been up to something, but I really haven't. I seemed to slip into that slow, quiet phase of winter. Worked a little extra, slept in a little longer. Didn't you? At first we were waiting for spring I guess, shut indoors while ice covered every surface outside our condo. In my house, we turned to Oscar movies and new recipes; matinees on weekends and quiet afternoons in the kitchen. We waded through Twelve Years a Slave and Nebraska, apple dumplings and hazelnut pudding, Gravity and American Hustle, cider braised pork roast and a few attempts at a homemade chai recipe that I'm still tinkering with. Peanut butter cookies and Captain Phillips. My god.

I guess you could call it a restorative phase at best, if you're generous. Thanks for being generous.

And just like that, here we are on the other side. On Sunday the sun brought the first breath of spring, then stayed out until after dinner and we came alive again. I went for a run that evening and every patio had a grill a-blazin'. The skating rink by our apartment has turned into a pond again.

Spring has continued to tease us all week now, so we've been carrying on the same way: taking evening walks and listening to music with the windows open. Oh, it feels so good to live a little lighter. A casual gin and tonic after work. Salads.

Like this one, my new absolute favorite: a raw kale salad with spicy peanut sauce.

I am crazy about this one. I know the picture doesn't look like much, so you'll do well to trust me here. My infatuation with this combination of raw kale doused with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce started when I had a very similar version local brewery a few weeks ago. This recipe lives up to the hype. The kale is first massaged (re: scrunched in your fists) until it's lost some of it's bitterness, and takes on a more delicate texture like leaf lettuce. Then you shake together a peanut sauce spiked with fresh ginger, soy and sesame sauces, and coat the kale generously. Top it off with some sliced red peppers and crushed peanuts - shredded rotisserie chicken if you've got it - and you've got my new favorite dinner.

The flavors of the spicy peanut sauce pair perfectly with the sharpness of the kale. And, I really love the texture of the massaged kale: it's like eating a super salad, more sturdy, filling and nutritious than any lettuce salad I've ever stirred together.

The only thing stopping me from making this salad every night this week are the pesky carrots, cabbage and celery knocking around my crisper drawer, needing to be used up (luckily: Chicken Soup with Chive Dumplings).

Come on already, winter veggies. Make way for kale!

Kale Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce
Adapted from Food52

Kale salad:
1 large bunch of lacinto (dinosaur) kale
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
Handful of roasted, unsalted peanuts, coarsely chopped
Optional: shredded rotisserie chicken, snap peas

Spicy peanut sauce: 
3 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably all-natural
3 tablespoons warm water
3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

First, prep the kale: Wash and dry the kale, then pull the leaves from the stems, and discard the stems. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Massage the kale by grabbing it in handfuls and scrunching it in your fists; do this for about two minutes. The kale will decrease in volume by about half, and become a softer texture (like leaf lettuce).

For the peanut sauce: whisk all ingredients together in a bowl (or, alternatively, place all the ingredients in a glass jar with a lid and shake until combined).

Toss the kale with a heavy coating of the peanut sauce - I used all of the peanut sauce from this recipe for one large batch of kale. Toss in the red pepper, peanuts, and chicken and snap peas if you are using them.