Thursday, August 28, 2014

Avocado Yogurt Dressing


Food can be both very healing and very damaging to your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, I was recently diagnosed with shingles, and after getting the appropriate prescriptions and advice from the doctor, I set to work figuring out how I could help heal myself through food and other lifestyle choices. If you're not familiar with shingles, it is the chicken pox virus reactivating in your nerve tissue, causing headaches, achiness, fatigue, and a blistering rash that makes the affected area as sensitive as an open nerve (the right side of my torso and back, in my case). And what's worse, this usually lasts around a month. Considering a light breeze or simply my shirt touching my skin causes a lot pain, I've had a much more relaxed lifestyle lately, leaving me with ample time to do some research on what else I could do to heal myself. I'm a scientist, so I'm very critical when it comes to buying into to folk remedies and the like, but I did find some evidence that diets high in lysine and low in arginine can help fight off viruses in the same family as shingles. I was disappointed to find out this means cutting back on nuts and chocolate, two of my favorite things, but I don't mind getting permission to eat a little more cheese, eggs, and meat, and the avocado and yogurt that compose this dressing.

And it doesn't get much easier to sneak in some edible medicine than making a dip or dressing! The avocado and yogurt are wonderfully rich and creamy, and the lime, garlic, and hot sauce liven it up just enough with brightness and spice. I've happily poured this over salads, spread it on sandwiches, used it as a dip for crackers, veggies, and chicken strips, and even used it in a dressed-up tuna salad. Whether you're looking for a little extra nutrition or simply a delicious new condiment, this dressing has you covered.

Avocado Yogurt Dressing
makes about 2 cups

1 large avocado (about 6 ounces flesh)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 cup + 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 T. hot sauce (I like Chipotle Tabasco or Sriracha), plus more to taste
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor or blender. Taste and season with additional salt and hot sauce, if desired

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap


I've got a pretty good thing going with putting fresh fruit on my sandwiches, so I figured there was no reason not to continue. Raspberries, strawberries, and cherries have all gotten their turn, and it's only fair that blueberries get a chance to play too. Michigan might be known for blueberries, but we do pretty well here in Wisconsin as well, but when their season is so fleeting, you've got to chow down on them when you can. While in this prime blueberry time, you'll find me adding them to salads, oatmeal, and yogurt, preserving them en masse in Perfect Blueberry Syrup, and just generally adding them to everything that I can. Like the other fresh fruit sandwich recipes I shared, this recipe relies on the harmony of fresh fruit, bitter greens, and salty cheese, a template with infinite combinations yielding delicious results. Sweet pops of blueberry liven up each bite, mingling perfectly with the savory feta and crunchy veggies that surround the chicken with complementing, contrasting flavors. The chicken isn't strictly necessary here, but it does make this into a much more filling meal; vegetarians can substitute white beans for the same satisfying result. This wrap is good warm, room temperature, or cold, so whether you eat it as soon as it's prepared for dinner or the following day for lunch, you won't be disappointed with your meal.

Chicken, Blueberry, and Feta Wrap
serves 1

4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast
Cooking spray
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
1 whole grain tortilla or wrap
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
Thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1 ounce feta cheese, sliced or crumbled

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and cook, flipping once halfway through, until internal temperature reaches 170 degrees F. Set aside to rest for a few minutes, then slice into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on the center of the tortilla. Top with the arugula and red onion and then the blueberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

3. Add the cooked chicken and feta and roll up the tortilla. Cut in half and serve.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt


With all the great fruit at the farmers' market right now, I just can't help but keep going with my fruit-in-sandwiches trend. Madison may be home to the largest producer-only farmers' market in the country, but unlike the markets of California or other warmer climes, we are not lucky enough to have fruit year-round. So I'm making hay while the sun in shining, and putting all these lovely berries and stone fruit into so much more than desserts.

Though Wisconsin is only blessed with fruit for part of the year, we are always a great land of cheese, so there are no shortages of pairings at my locavore disposal. As a born-and-bred Wisconsin girl, my refrigerator is never at a loss for a variety of cheeses, but as soon as I picked up a gorgeous wedge of Gruyere from Forgotten Valley Cheese, I knew that nutty savoriness was destined to be paired sweet Door County cherries. A few slices of red onion and handful of arugula from the garden provide the right counterbalance of bitterness and acidity, and although this would certainly be delicious with grilled chicken, turkey, or ham, it is more the flavorful enough in its vegetarian form.

Gruyere and Sweet Cherry Melt
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 slices whole grain bread
4 or 5 sweet cherries, halved or thinly sliced (about 1 ounce)
A few thin slices of red onion
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
1 ounce Gryuere, thinly sliced or shredded
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo and mustard and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the cherries, red onion, and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula


As I am wont to do in my culinary experimentation, I've gotten into a bit of a phase - sandwiches with fresh fruit. This certainly isn't an original idea on my part, but with all the amazing fruit I've been getting at the farmers' market lately, I've been inspired to keep going beyond the leftover cranberry turkey sandwich I devour so voraciously at Thanksgiving.

The croque monsieur and Monte Cristo may be the reigning royalty of ham and cheese sandwiches, but this quicker, healthier alternative isn't all that far behind. Sharp cheddar cheese is an obvious partner for smoky ham, and the sweet strawberries, bitter arugula, and tangy Dijon mayo hit all the taste buds those featured players miss. I find myself rushing around even more than usual these days, and this has made meal time especially important, my time to refuel and recoup mental and physically. Even if there's just a small window for a bite to eat, there's almost always time for a sandwich. And if I can sneak in a bit of time for few simple, delicious finishing touches, it makes it all the better.

Grilled Ham and Cheddar with Strawberries and Arugula
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole grain bread
2 or 3 medium to large strawberries, thinly slicd
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
2 to 3 ounces sliced smoked ham
1 ounce shredded or thinly sliced sharp cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread. Top with the strawberries, lightly smashing them.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the ham and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grilled Ham and Chèvre with Raspberries and Arugula


Leftover turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce at Thanksgiving is what first introduced me to the idea of fruit and meat together in a sandwich. As soon as I discovered that delicious combination, no Thanksgiving was complete without it, but with my kid palate, I didn't give it much more though than that. Then I discovered the glorious Monte Cristo in high school, which just isn't complete without a smear of strawberry jam. Now I especially love apples and pears and on my grilled cheese, apricots with pork, and avocado with practically everything, so it should come as no surprise that I'm embracing all the wonderful local berries of the farmers' market on my sandwiches.

Although I put uncommon (some might say excessive) thought into almost everything I eat, I never ceased to be amazed by how a simple meal, like a sandwich and chips (kale, in the above picture), can really turn a day around when I'm feeling drained. Whether I'm mentally fatigued from stress or physically fatigued from manual labor, sitting down to a good meal can turn it all around, even if it's ready a few minutes later because I need to prep all the accouterments. And it's all the little touches here that make this sandwich special. The smoky ham and tangy goat cheese form the savory core, but the sweet-tart raspberries, peppery arugula, and creamy mayo mixture make them even better by hitting every kind of taste bud in each bite.

Grilled Ham and Chèvre with Raspberries and Arugula
serves 1

1/2 tablespoon light mayo
1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Splash of balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole grain bread
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
A few leaves of arugula (about 1/4 ounce)
2 to 3 ounces sliced smoked ham
1 ounce goat cheese, sliced or crumbled
Cooking spray

1. In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, and vinegar and mix thoroughly. Spread on one slice of the bread. Top with the raspberries, lightly smashing them to an almost jam-like consistency.

2. Place the arugula on the second slice of bread and top with the ham and cheese. Place the other slice of bread on top.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Place the sandwich in the pan and cook, flipping once halfway through, until bread is golden and ingredients are warmed through. Cut sandwich in half and serve promptly.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Baked Banana Bread Oatmeal


I've been baking my steel-cut oats for years. Baking steel-cut oats takes a few hours of moderately attended time on the stove to 30 minutes of hands-off time in the oven, but I'd never thought much about applying the same approach to old-fashioned oats. After all, they cook fairly quickly on the stove top, even faster in the microwave, and can even be soaked for overnight oats instead. But with a little extra time for a leisurely breakfast on the 4th of July, the idea crept back into my mind, and since it was a holiday, I decided to make them extra luxurious.

Coconut oil has made the rounds as the latest super health food, but I eat it because it is delicious. I've always loved coconut-flavored foods and I'm happy it has gone from culinary villain to nutritional superstar (like another favorite, eggs) so I can eat it without guilt. And the glorious tablespoon in this recipe is really what takes it from good to exceptional. Banana, walnuts, and cinnamon call up all the familiar favorite flavors of banana bread, but coconut oil makes it as delicious as a piece slathered in butter. I like the complex sweetness of maple syrup here, but just as you may choose the lower calorie option of milk or banana, you may want to reduce or eliminate the amount of sweetener. (Like I said, this was a holiday breakfast for me.)

The recipe here is for an individual serving, but this is a great opportunity to scale up for a crowd of people or many breakfasts for one. With all the ingredients at the ready, it's easy to make several servings with individualized additions at once, which can either be baked in individual ramekins or a jumbo-sized muffin pan.

Baked Banana Bread Oatmeal
serves 1
adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Pinch of kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
2 tablespoon mashed banana
3 tablespoons milk of choice
1 tablespoon coconut oil, coconut butter, or melted butter (you can substitute extra milk or banana, but it will be much less rich)
1 tablespoon maple syrup, honey, or brown sugar, or to taste

1.Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a small baking pan, loaf pan, or 1-cup ramekin with cooking spray.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together oats, salt, cinnamon, nuts, and brown sugar (if using). In a separate bowl, mix together banana, milk, coconut oil, and maple syrup/honey (if using). Add wet ingredients to try and mix to thoroughly combine.

3. Pour mixture into baking dish and cook for 15-20 minutes, or until firm. (Cooking time will vary based on the baking dish and whether or not you used oil). Raise the heat to broil and continue cooking for 3 to 5 more minutes or until the top has a nice crust. Turn oatmeal out onto a separate dish, if desired, and serve promptly.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Greens, Pear, and Ginger Smoothie


Although some parts of my gardens have taken some real hits from gopher activity, what I call my "salad garden" is actually doing pretty well. The ample supply of lettuce, arugula, and multiple kinds of kale has definitely dampened the pain of my eggplant casualties and I've been happily squeezing those garden-fresh greens into my diet at every available opportunity. There have been salads and kale chips and leisurely weekend omelettes galore, but my quick weekday breakfasts can definitely benefit from a bit more of the green stuff too.

It wasn't always the case, but smoothies have become a regular part of my weekday routine, and I quite often squeeze in a little bit of extra nutrition by burying some greens in my fruity smoothies. Despite its place the forefront of the health food craze, raw kale can be a little too much for some people, so use spinach if the bitterness is too much. Sweet pear and honey counteract some of the assertive kale flavor, with the sour lemon juice and spicy ginger doing their part as well. Adding chia seeds or flaxseed, especially if you let them soak overnight, will thicken the smoothie up, but it's ready to drink as soon as you finished blending it.

Greens, Pear, and Ginger Smoothie
serves 1

1 to 1 1/2 cups dairy or non-dairy milk of choice (or coconut water)
2 ounces baby spinach or kale, washed and dried
1 ripe pear, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly-grated ginger
1 teaspoon honey or agave, or to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed, optional.

1. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.