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Big News!

04/18/2012

Hi orangeideal fans. It’s been a while. Over a year. Sorry about that!

But for those of you still out there or accidentally still subscribed, I just wanted to give a quick update.

In the past year, I finished culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute, picked up my chefs knives, and moved to Chicago! I’m now happily settled in and working at the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

That’s all well and good, but there’s more! I’m starting my own organization, called Dinner Around the Table, where I will be teaching Jewish families in Chicago how to cook and value spending time together around food. There’s a lot more to say, but really, you should just check out the site: www.DinnerAroundtheTable.org. I’ve also been tweeting up a storm these days and you can follow me @JessicaAFisher.

Easy Granola

06/07/2011

Breakfast is a tough meal. You want it to be filling, substantive, and healthy. But you also kind of want something sweet and carb-loaded because that’s how you grew up and what you’re used to…but you still feel guilty about that health thing and when you think about cereal and pancakes and waffles as daily breakfast items it makes you kind of uncomfortable. Or maybe that’s just me. Either way people always ask me what I eat for breakfast. My secret: when I make it myself, I’m in control of what’s going in it so I can decide if I like what I’m eating or I don’t.

Most of the time, my breakfasts center around oats–oatmeal or granola. The best part about these breakfast foods is that you can constantly change how you make them to keep your mornings varied. I started making my own granola this past November and I don’t think I’m going back–especially when I glance at the nutrition labels on some of my old favorites.

There’s nothing scary about homemade granola. I promise. The last batch I made, my dad kind of looked at it hesitantly and asked me skeptically how I got it to look store bought. And I love that I can change it based on my mood, what’s in the house, and who I’m serving it to. You can use this formula to make granola that is gluten free, vegan, dairy free. It can be eaten with yogurt, almond milk, as a snack… It also makes a great gift!

Easy Granola Formula
Grain+Nuts/Seeds+Sweetener+Fat+Dried Fruit= Granola!

It’s that easy. And changing the proportions only makes a different type of breakfast food–you can make it with more fruit, the next time with more nuts, etc. Remember, when using dried fruits keep an eye on the sugar content and drying methods.

Granola
Makes 6 cups

4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup unsalted raw almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup Grade A maple syrup
1 squirt raw honey
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in strips
1/4 cup dried medjool dates, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 375° Farenheit.

2. Mix oats and nuts in a large mixing bowl.

3. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk maple syrup, honey, and coconut oil. Pour over oat mixture and stir until evenly coated.

4. Spread mixture onto a full sheet pan (or two half sheet pans) in an even layer.

5. Put the tray in the oven and check regularly, stirring the oat mixture to avoid burning. Remove when golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. The granola will not be hard at this point–that happens as it cools.

6. When the mixture has cooled a little, fold in dried fruit. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container.

Tiny Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Pine nut Spinach Saute

05/24/2011

I’m back!

I know. I went on a ridiculously long hiatus. But it was for a good reason (sort of). I went to culinary school at the Natural Gourmet Institute and I was cooking so much during the day that I ran out of energy to make fun things at home. Plus my most recent kitchen(s) had terrible lighting and then my camera got stolen so the lighting didn’t even matter. Great excuses, right? Anyway the important thing is that I am now back in a kitchen with excellent lighting, I have a great new camera (thanks, grandma!), and I’m loaded with health factoids, clever cooking tips, and better knife skills!

So to start us off on the right foot, I’m posting two vegetable side dishes. Beyond the delicious flavors, these are nice compliments to each other because they really brighten up your plate and help you fill out the color spectrum in your meal. As my teacher and Natural Gourmet Institute president Jenny Matthau taught us, eating the rainbow isn’t just about making your plate look beautiful (although that is important, too), but eating foods that naturally span the color spectrum helps you ensure that your body is getting all of the vital nutrients it needs, like beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein which are cancer-fighting and immune-boosting nutrients found in carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

The key to this sweet potato recipe, which could easily be made with other types of potatoes or winter squashes, is cutting the potatoes into small or medium dice, no bigger than 1/2″ on each side. I have to admit that when I made these for dinner this week only half of them made it to the table since I snacked on them while I cooked–they’re so easy to pick at and so addicting!

The spinach recipe is just a basic quick saute, but instead of mincing the garlic, I cut it into slivers to bring out a different side of the garlic. Did you know that when you cut garlic differently it brings out different flavors from the garlic? Try slicing, mincing, or making a paste from fresh garlic and taste the difference.

Oh, and the best part? These recipes are easy to make and don’t leave too much of a mess behind.

Tiny Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4

3 large sweet potatoes
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2.Cut sweet potatoes into small to medium size dice, no larger than 1/2″ on each side.
3. Roughly chop rosemary and pick the thyme leaves from its stem.
4. Toss potatoes, rosemary,  thyme, and olive oil in a bowl.
5. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
6. Bake 15 minutes and stir. Bake 10 more minutes or until some of the edges are golden brown and the potato pieces are soft.

Pine nut Spinach Saute
Serves 4

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bunch fresh spinach
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a saute pan on medium heat. Toast pine nuts until the aroma is noticeable–be careful not to burn.
2. Remove pine nuts from pan. Add olive oil to pan and allow it to heat.
3. Add sliced garlic and allow them to simmer, but not brown, in the oil, about 1-2 minutes.
4. Add spinach, in batches if necessary. Cook until tender and wilted.
5. Mix in the pine nuts and toss with salt and pepper and serve.

Resources for Cooking at Home

10/04/2010

To wrap up this mini series of menu planning and home cooking, here are a list of some of my favorite online guides to help ease the journey and tempt you with great recipes and photos:

Not Eating Out in New York
Started as a blog to document Cathy’s efforts to not eat in restaurants while living in New York (a difficult feat I can assure you) between 2006 and 2008, this blog is full of creative, doable recipes that can be made in your own kitchen, no matter the size. She also keeps a running tally of reasons for “not eating out,” which provide excellent motivation for your cooking ambitions.

New York Times Recipes for Health
This New York Times blog is updated each week with five recipes based on one ingredient–from zucchini to quinoa flour to rice noodles. The recipes are always varied, fresh, and simple.

Sprouted Kitchen
Written by someone who really loves her vegetables, this blog is all about using wholesome ingredients to create quality dishes.

The Vegetarian Family Table
This blog is still on the young-side but it is run by veteran food blogger Ari, who uses the blog to chronicle her vegetarian home-cooking adventures. Her recipes are healthy, filling, and delicious.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of resources–these are just some that are particularly conducive to planning menus and cooking during the week. Other blogs that I love and follow can be found in the “Blog roll” to the right. Some of these haven’t been updated in a while, but their archives contain well-loved treasures. Enjoy and get ready for some new recipes to be posted soon!

Soba Noodles

09/20/2010

Here goes for the first recipe on the menu I posted.

It’s a bit scandalous to me that I never posted this recipe before. Anyone who eats with me with any kind of regularity has eaten my soba noodles at least once. Or heard me talk about them. It’s my go-to, don’t-feel-like-cooking-but-want-something-delicious-and-flavorful dish. It wasn’t always like that but now that I’ve made it at least once a week for the past… six months? it’s old hat.

I love everything about these soba noodles. It makes me feel like I’m eating in an Asian restaurant (my favorite indulgence) but gives me the pride of having cooked it myself. The peanuts and scallions give it the extra kick that finishes it off for me. The buckwheat noodles are also healthy and filling in ways that regular pasta is not, although I find it so addicting that I keep eating it past the “full” point and rarely end up with enough for lunch the next day if I am sharing the meal with a friend. It’s also a great dish for its versatility–I throw in vegetables (I chose broccoli here, but I also love it with eggplant and cauliflower), tofu, eggs, peanuts–so many staples can find a home in this bowl and round out the nutritional value. These qualities make it great for pot lucks, too, because they bring a wow-factor and worst case scenario you have yourself a meal you can be content with.

Soba Noodles
Serves three hungry people

1 package dried soba noodles
1 package extra firm tofu
1-2 eggs
1-2 broccoli crowns
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup tamari
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and shaved
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne (depending on desired spiciness)
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon mustard (optional)

handful of peanuts, chopped
1/2 cup scallions, chopped

While water is boiling for noodles, wrap tofu in paper towels and place under a pot or pan for at least ten minutes to remove excess liquid.

Cut tofu into desired shape (I prefer cubes or rectangular strips). In a hot pan, pour 1-2 tablespoons of oil. Lower heat to medium or medium-low and add tofu. Cook until each side is golden brown. Remove tofu from pan.

Add another tablespoon of oil to saute the broccoli. I like mine slightly browned. Remove from pan.

Scramble egg(s) and cook.

Add noodles to boiling water.

Prepare sauce by mixing the remaining ingredients (water through rice vinegar/mustard). Add spice based on personal preference (and of course the preference of whomever you are eating with). When noodles are tender, drain water and return to pot, adding tofu, broccoli, eggs, and sauce. Mix and serve, topped with chopped peanut and scallions.

—–

For the Asian salad, I went with one romaine heart, a handful of chopped scallions, 1/4 cup of tamari, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1/4 cup oil, toasted sesame seeds, and sea salt. Nice and simple.

Salad Dressing and Menu Planning

09/05/2010

One of the hardest things about getting into the habit of cooking for yourself is having the ingredients on hand. For many people, home cooking is synonymous with constant trips to the grocery store and still never having the ingredients you need when you need them. Some of my friends and family members don’t cook because they think it means going to the grocery store daily. Some who do cook do go to the grocery store daily. When you’re living in a city where you walk a lot, like Manhattan, you get spoiled by the convenience of popping into your corner bodega or grocery store on your way home from wherever to pick up the one ingredient you are missing. On the other hand, living in a city makes the big grocery trips a total inconvenience when you don’t have a car, particularly when you are getting bulk items or heavy bags of flour and bottles of olive oil.

All of these barriers aside, a key to home cooking success is organization. Even if you aren’t the most organized person, planning out a week’s worth of meals streamlines the process and just makes it easier. It also means you will actually cook instead of panicking at having no ideas or nothing to make on Tuesday night at 6:30 and opting for take out instead.

Once you have a menu, then it’s time for a grocery list. You need more on your list than just the ingredients for your main dish. Personally, I like to have a salad with dinner every night. It is filling, textured, healthy, and quick to prepare. It makes even a light, thrown-together dinner feel like a real meal. In this post, I am going to include a couple of my favorite dressing recipes. I really, truly dislike bottled dressing. Mostly, it takes like bottled sodium to me. My friends say this makes me a dressing snob. However, I stick to my claims that homemade dressing tastes better and is significantly healthier for you. It is also incredibly easy. Some dressings you can make in advance and just toss with your salad. Others I make directly on the salad. Serving salads pre-dressed is another point of contention with my friends—I just don’t like having to toss my salad on my plate!

So the “menu” of the week I came with is:

Monday—Asian salad, Soba Noodles with tofu and broccoli
Tuesday—Salad a la Qubano, Eggplant Lasagna, and bruschetta
Wednesday—Romaine with bell pepper and craisins, Stir fry with quinoa
Thursday—Romaine with cucumbers and scallions, Spicy chickpeas with brown rice and squash soup
Friday—Tomato salad, Thai Fish, green beans, and pear bread

It’s a bit heavy on the Asian-inspired dishes, but they are tasty, healthy, and filling. Some of these are recipes I have posted about before. The others I will post about soon. In the mean time, here is what I would get at the grocery store for these meals, assuming I was buying for one or two people to eat each meal and that I already had the staples in my pantry. As you can see, if you have these things on hand, your weekly grocery shopping will mostly involve buying the fresh produce. The fish should be purchased day of so that it’s fresh (and I wouldn’t buy it over the weekend), or you can use a frozen fish. I usually get tilapia because it is affordable, relatively sustainable, and tastes good with many preparations. Even though it means an extra trip to the store, I saved the fish for Friday because, being Shabbat and the end of the week, I like to have a special meal, complete with dessert.

Also, these recipes feed more than two people, which makes them ideal for having leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

Vegetables
1 bag romaine hearts or one large head of romaine lettuce
1 large eggplant (it should feel heavy for its size)
1 zucchini
1 winter squash (butternut or carnival are good choices)
2 handfuls of green beans
1 bunch of broccoli
3-4 fresh tomatoes (I know, it’s a fruit…)
1 head of cauliflower
2-3 kirby cucumbers
1-2 avocados
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper
1 bunch scallions
fresh basil

Fruit
2-4 firm pears
Fruit for snacking

Other
1 jar tomato sauce (you can also make your own)
1 baguette or crusty loaf of bread
2 packages of tofu
1 bag walnuts
1/2 dozen eggs
nutmeg
sesame seeds
1 bag craisins
Any staples you’ve run out of

And now that the business is out of the way, on to salad dressing!

I recently posted about one of my favorite dressings, an apple cider vinegar and mustard vinaigrette. I always have these ingredients on hand because it makes a plain salad brighten up with its tangy flavor. You can keep a jar of this in the refrigerator for about a month, which is convenient. I usually use salad dressing as an excuse to buy juices in glass bottles, like Snapple. They make excellent bottles for dressing. I particularly love this dressing with romaine lettuce, avocados, and chickpeas. If you mash the avocado as you toss the salad, it becomes part of the dressing making it creamy.

Another crucial piece of my recipe repertoire is a simple balsamic vinegar dressing. Unfortunately, I do this one by eye and any attempts to write down measurements have resulted in failure. Essentially, you need olive oil, garlic powder (the granulated kind), balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. First I toss the lettuce with the barest amount of olive oil, until all of the leaves are glistening. Then sprinkle the garlic powder lightly over the surface of a bowl so that there is a thin film of garlic on top. Toss. Pour the balsamic vinegar in a circle on top of the lettuce, two concentric circles if you really like vinegar. Two shakes of salt and one of pepper. Toss and taste, adjusting seasoning as needed. For tomato salad, I skip the garlic powder so that the tomato shines through.

In My Pantry

08/31/2010

Recently, several people have asked me how they can start cooking. Whether they feel like they should be cooking more or are starting off in their own kitchens for the first time, initiating that kind of routine is a daunting task. So with a little bit of brain storming, I’ve decided to start a mini project for this blog to help people get in their kitchens and get cooking!

To kick things off, I’ve created a new tab– “In My Pantry.” There, you can find a list of foods and ingredients I always have in my kitchen. With these staples, there is always a dish you can whip together in a moment of crisis or when you don’t feel like going to the grocery store. Seriously, in the worst case scenario–rolled oats, brown sugar, and cinnamon–what more do you need?

Next, I will be posting a week’s worth of recipes and a grocery list. One of the most difficult things about cooking is keeping your kitchen stocked with the right ingredients and making sure you use what you buy. It’s also tough to organize yourself so that you only have to go to shopping once or twice in a week (mostly to get fresh produce). In general, my grocery lists look more or less the same since I tend to make variations with the same ingredients. Having said that, each week there are things that get added on and others that get taken off, based on what I think I’ll be making.

If you have any questions or things you’re curious about, e-mail me at orangeidealblog (at) gmail.com.

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