Sunday, June 30, 2013

Granola Protein Bars

While I have a homemade or store bought granola bar, healthy cookie, every morning at work for a snack, they rarely fill me up until lunch time. The homemade ones usually do a better job, but my stomach still starts grumbling at least an hour before I get to sit down to eat. This granola bar is definitely the snack that has come the closest to keeping my tummy rumble-free until lunch. Perhaps it's the addition of vanilla protein powder, which adds subtle flavor in addition to stomach-satisfying protein, the generous size, or a combination of the two, but these the bars are exactly the fuel my stressful workday demands. Aside from the protein powder, all these elements are old hat for granola bar recipes, but that doesn't make the combination any less delicious. I close a classic combination for my first attempt, cranberry and walnut, but I already have other pairings in mind for rounds two and three - blueberry almond flax and apricot pistachio. As per usual, I froze extras, plucking one out each day to pack in my lunch, these bars just as scrumptious after thawing as fresh from the pan. They've only made it to the office so far, but I'm looking forward to the day I pack up a couple of these and hit the trail, snacking happily as I enjoy the all-too-fleeting summer in the great outdoors.

Granola Protein Bars
adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen
makes 8 large or 16 small bars

1 ¼ c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 c. chopped nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, etc.)
½ c. honey
1 T. water
1 t. pure vanilla or almond extract
1 t. ground cinnamon
¼ t. sea salt
1 c. crisp brown rice cereal
½ c. vanilla protein powder
1 c. dried fruit (raisins, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, etc.), chopped if necessary

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Spread the oats and nuts and/or seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until just barely toasted, about 10 min. Remove from the oven and let cool.

2. Turn the heat down to 300 F. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the honey, water, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add the toasted oats and nuts, the rice cereal, and protein powder and stir until everything is coated. Stir in the dried fruit.

3. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil, leaving an overhang on two sides for easy removal. Dump the granola mixture in the center. Using a large spoon or your fingers, press the mixture down firmly (wetting the spoon or your fingers with warm water or spraying them with cooking spray will help), being sure to push it all the way to the corners. Bake until the top is slightly toasted, 23-25 min.

4. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Pull them out by the parchment edges and cut eight large bars or 16 small bars of equal size.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Shortcut Spicy Shrimp Bahn Mi

Last week I shared a new delicious veggie burger recipe, but this week it's time to get back to my "fancy" sandwich creations. It's not a stick-to-your-ribs, cheesy carnivore's delight like my last new sandwich, but a perfect fresh and crunchy hot weather meal. As the name indicates, I'm not claiming this is an authentic recipe, but the combination of spicy and pickled flavor definitely has the spirit of the bahn mi. I've always been a lover of cucumber pickles, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I began a love affair with quick pickles and expanded my repertoire to a much wider range of vegetables, like those used here. I've included a link to an easy quick pickle recipe that invites experimentation (I recommend adding chiles and ginger to start), but even the carrots and red peppers hanging out in jars of Vlasic Farmer's Garden pickles will add the delicious vinegariness this sandwich requires. The sour pickles contrasts perfectly with the spicy Sriracha mayo, boldy topping the succulent shrimp without making them disappear. No bahn mi would be complete without a sprinkling of fresh cilantro, joined by an extra layer of crisp flavor contributed by sliced cucumber. While this sandwich might not take you straight to Vietnam, it is an ideal meal for kicking back and relaxing in the sun on a warm summer day.

Shortcut Spicy Shrimp Bahn Mi
serves 1 to 2

1 demi-baguette or ciabatta roll
Olive or canola oil, or melted butter
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
4 ounces raw large shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 ounce pickled vegetables (carrots, radish, Daikon, cucumbers etc.)
1 ounce thinly sliced fresh cucumber

1. Preheat broiler. Coat the bread with a thin layer of the oil/butter and toast under the broiler until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, mix the mayo and Sriracha together in a small bowl. When the bread is toasted, spread spicy mayo evenly on top half of bread.

3. Preheat a pan over medium heat and add a drizzle of oil. When oil is hot, add shrimp to pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook, flipping once, until shrimp are cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes total.

4. Place shrimp on top of bottom half of roll and top with pickled veggies, cucumber and cilantro and serve.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sesame Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry

After sharing Asparagus and Leek Soup earlier this week, I thought it would be seasonally prudent to share this recipe before its time too had passed. I've eaten beef and broccoli more times than I can count, but I think it's a shame how little asparagus shows up in Asian coking because it works well with so many of the staple flavors. This recipe is quick and simple, elevating a few no-brainer combinations (steak and asparagus, garlic and asparagus) with a few touches of Asian flair (teriyaki and sesame). The toasty sesame, sweet teriyaki, and pungent garlic are the perfect highlights to fresh asparagus and hearty steak, each subtle element in balance with all the others. While I find the asparagus and steak combination particularly delicious, chicken, shrimp, pork, or tofu could also be substituted, and broccoli or snap peas would work beautifully in place of the asparagus. A beautifully composed recipe as written, this easy recipe is also a great template for culinary experimentation, well-worth filing away for the next time you're at a loss for what to make for dinner or simply need to clean out the fridge.

Sesame Beef and Asparagus Stir-Fry
adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 2

1 1/2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
8 ounces flank steak, thinly sliced across grain
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup sliced red onion
8 ounces slender asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons hoisin or teriyaki sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
Sriracha or other hot sauce, for serving (optional)

1. Spread sesame seeds on large plate. Sprinkle beef with salt and pepper; coat with sesame seeds.

2. Heat canola oil in heavy large skillet over high heat. Add onion; stir-fry 1 minute. Add asparagus; stir-fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add beef and garlic; stir-fry until brown, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1/3 cup water and hoisin sauce. Cook until sauce is bubbling and coats beef and vegetables, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Stir in sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with hot sauce, if desired.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Asparagus and Leek Soup

After one of my favorite farmers told me last week was their final week of asparagus, I was worried it would disappear entirely from the market. There's no denying that end of asparagus season is still nigh, but I was still able to pick up another bunch for the delicious recipe.

Leeks are a kind of magical ingredient. Potato and Leek Soup, though composed of just a few elements, is packed with an unbelievable amount of flavor and so much more than it's humble ingredients would suggest on paper. Paired with the already delicious asparagus, leek again performs culinary alchemy to elevate this vibrant soup to something quite refined. The butter and sour cream add the perfect touch of richness, making each bite silky and creamy but not heavy. Just a touch of lemon juice at the end sharpens all the fresh notes of the soup and makes it really at home in the warmer months. Early in spring this would be amazing made with ramps, but that glorious ingredient had sadly long since disappeared for the year.

With the requisite slice of crusty bread, this was just my Meatless Monday dinner, but I think it would make a splendid first course for a dinner party or companion to a sandwich or salad. If you're still shoveling in the asparagus like I am, I urge you to make this lovely soup before the opportunity escapes and it's too hot to even dream of firing up the stove for dinner.

Asparagus and Leek Soup
adapted from Gourmet
serves 2

1 cup finely chopped white and pale green part of leek, washed well
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth or water
1 teaspoon lemon juice, or to taste
1/3 cup low fat sour cream, Greek yogurt, or creme fraiche

1. In a saucepan cook the leek and the garlic with a pinch of salt in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until the leek is softened, about 3 to 5 minutes.

2. Add the asparagus, the broth, and 1/2 cup water, and simmer the mixture, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the asparagus is very tender. Purée the mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender until it is very smooth.

3. Whisk in the lemon juice and sour cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook the soup over moderately low heat until it is heated through, but do not let it boil.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers

I am an omnivore. I have devoured what seems like an entire barnyard at a Brazilian steakhouse. In nice weather, a weekend seldom passes where's I don't fire up the grill to indulge my carnivorous cravings, but generally I'm a healthy, mostly vegetarian eater. And when it comes to vegetarian eating, I generally hate foods trying to be meat. When I make a vegetarian burger, I'm looking to celebrate and showcase the ingredients, not pretend they're something else. This veggie burger is one of the best ways I've found to indulge a craving for barbecue flavors without getting the meat sweats afterwards. I'm a sucker for barbecue and can eat insane quantities of pulled pork, brisket, and ribs, but these burgers keep me fueled and satisfied when I want to keep those carnivorous demons at bay.

The chickpeas are creamy and hearty, with the sharp red onion and fresh broccoli and carrot providing a fresh vegetal contrast to the beans. Barbecue sauce and cheese are present in just modest quantities in this recipe, but you choose wisely, their distinct flavors while come through and make these burgers burst with flavor. As is with so many veggie burgers, the texture is really the challenge here. It's important to let the burgers form a toasty crust before flipping and to do so gingerly with a spatula big enough to support the whole burger. Although it may be a bit of a challenge, hopefully this difficulty won't scare you away, because even if the burgers do fall apart in the the pan, you can just smoosh them back together and continue on your merry way. (Melting a piece of cheese on top certainly doesn't hurt either.) Fresh from the skillet, glazed with a gooey layer of cheese, these burgers are a real treat, but extras also freeze well for a quick meal later.

BBQ Cheddar Chickpea Burgers
adapted from How Sweet Eats
makes 4 burgers

1/4 cup chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon + 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup broccoli or cauliflower
1 medium-sized peeled carrot, chopped
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese + more for topping
2 tablespoons barbeque sauce + more for topping
1 teaspoon honey
2 1/2-3 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1. Heat a small skillet over low heat and add 1/2 teaspoon olive oil. Throw in onions with a pinch of salt, stir to coat, then let cook and caramelize for 5-6 minutes. This should happen fairly quickly since they are chopped small. Remove from heat and set aside.

2. In the bowl of your food processor, add broccoli and carrot, pulsing until chopped very finely. Add chickpeas, sauce, honey, flour, cheese, onions, salt, pepper, paprika and onion powder. Process and pulse until completely combined but not pureed. Carefully remove from processor bowl and form into 4 burgers. If you feel that your burgers and somewhat delicate, refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add remaining olive oil. Once hot, add burgers to the skillet and cook on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outsides, about 3-4 minutes. Be gentle when flipping and removing burgers so they don’t crack or fall apart. Serve on toasted buns with additional cheddar, red onion and sauce.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Carrot Ribbon Fettuccine

We are lucky enough in Madison to have our own local pasta company, R.P.'s Pasta. You can purchase it from at many of the local grocery stores or even buy it from Peter Robertson himself (R.P.'s founder) at the farmers' market. Dried pasta is mostly a vehicle for other flavors, but fresh pasta should be treated with a lighter hand because it is a treat in itself. This recipe gives fresh pasta the respect it deserves, weaving it together with strands of sweet carrot and savory Parmesan cheese, all dressed gently by fresh lemon juice and olive oil. Thought my pasta was made in town and my carrots purchased from the farmers' market, the most local ingredient of all was the basil I plucked fresh from my backyard for garnish. Most of what I've planted this year has not come even close to the harvesting stage, but being able to walk out my kitchen door for ingredients is one of the small gestures that has made my house most feel like a home since I moved in just one year ago. This recipe almost didn't come to pass as I intended to make it on a day that turned out to be quite chaotic, but making and eating this dish turned out to be the perfect reward for a tough day, not a burden to prepare when I was exhausted. A plate of glorious simplicity, this meal can easily grace the table from a healthy Meatless Monday to an elegant weekend dinner party.

Carrot Ribbon Fettuccine
adapted from The Kitchn
serves 4

4-5 medium sized carrots
12 ounces fresh whole wheat fettuccine pasta (or 8 ounces dried)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon (with zest removed for garnish)
1/4 cup shredded parmesan (plus a little more for garnish)
Fresh basil (for garnish)
Coarse sea salt

1. Peel the carrot skin and discard. Then, working from top to bottom, peel thin ribbons from the carrots. Spin the carrot as you go to get similar width strips (the remaining cores can be used for a salad later).

2. Cook and drain the pasta.

3. In a large skillet, sautee´ the carrot ribbons with 2T olive oil and a pinch of salt until they become just slightly limp (about 3 minutes on medium heat). Turn the heat to low and add the cooked pasta to the skillet. Add the juice from 1 lemon, 2 more tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4c shaved parmesan. Toss to combine, then plate.

4. Garnish each plate of pasta with a pinch each of: lemon zest, coarse salt, basil and parmesan. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Chicken, Asparagus, and Rice Salad

Asparagus season, one of the first glorious eras of the farmers' market, is just about at an end. While its nearing departure will leave a hole in my culinary repertoire, it will soon be supplanted by other wonderful offerings. It's hard for me to break away from my tendency to roast or grill asparagus, but this simple salad is worth it. Like so many great summer dishes, this is wonderful room temperature or cold, with leftovers holding up well for lunch the next day. It's a fairly basic recipe - chicken, rice, and vegetables dressed in a simple vinaigrette - but all of the components are so wonderfully balanced that it comes out to so much more than the sum of the parts. The familiar combination of onions, chicken, and rice are hearty and filling, but the asparagus, dill, and cucumber make the dish fresh and summery. The light and well balanced dressing hits all the right sweet, sour, and sharp notes, gently kissing all the ingredients without overwhelming them. As the season evolves and the farmers' market bounty changes, I can easily imagine making this recipe with green beans or sugar snap peas, and also swapping out pork cutlets or flank steak for the chicken.

Chicken, Asparagus and Rice Salad
adapted from Bon Appetit
serves 2

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried drill or 2 tablespoons fresh dill, plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoons canola oil
Extra-virgin olive oil 
1/2 cup diced yellow or white onion
4 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces thin asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup cooked brown rice
3/4 cups diced English hothouse cucumber (about 4 ounces)

1. Combine Dijon mustard, sugar, vinegar, dry mustard, and dill in a large bowl. Gradually whisk in oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

2. Preheat a pan over medium heat. Add a drizzle of olive oil and oil is hot, add onion and cook, stirring frequently until onion is translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add chicken, spread in a single layer, and cook without disturbing until the chicken begins to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Add asparagus, stir well to combine, and continue cooking until asparagus is tender and chicken is cooked through, another 2 to 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper, set aside, and cool to room temperature.

3. Whisk dressing again and add cooked rice, cucumber, and chicken-asparagus to bowl and toss thoroughly to coat. Garnish with additional fresh dill, if desired, and serve at room temperature or cold.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pork and Sauerkraut Melt

Despite my German heritage and growing up in Wisconsin, I wasn't always on board with sauerkraut. If you fed my 10-year-old self a bratwurst I'd scarf it down, but I'd turn up my nose at the mounds of sauerkraut so many people love. Now I can't get enough of the stuff, piling it high on my brats with coarse mustard and raw onions. Despite a deep and profound love for that combination now, my gateway drug to sauerkraut was actually the Reuben. This sandwich lies somewhere in between, the porky goodness of bratwurst combining with the cheesy, melty deliciousness of a Reuben. I love how each layer of this sandwich provides a distinct culinary experience. It starts with hearty bread and travels through sharp mustard, rich cheese, sour kraut, lean but succulent pork, book-ended with another crusty bite of bread. It satisfies in much the same way as my Bacon Kraut Burger, but in lighter fashion, and is a great way to use up the bag you may have cracked open for that recipes. Hearty enough to comfort, but restrained enough for summer fare, this sandwich is the perfect meal to leisurely nibble on the patio, each taste washed down with a sip of cold beer.

Pork and Sauerkraut Melt
serves 1

2 thin pork cutlets, about 4 ounces total
2 slices whole or multi grain bread
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1/4 cup sauerkraut, drained
1 ounce sharp or smoked cheddar cheese, shredded or thinly sliced

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add pork cutlets, season with salt and pepper, and cook, turning once until pork is cooking through, about 4 to 5 minutes total.

2. Meanwhile, spread one slice of bread with mustard. When cutlets are cooked, remove from pan and place on the second slice of bread. Top with sauerkraut, cheese, and first slice of bread.

3. Wipe out pan, if necessary, and return to heat. Spray pan with cooking spray, add sandwich, and cook, turning once, until bread is browned and crispy, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove from heat and serve promptly.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Creamy Cucumber Soup

When it comes to cucumbers, I've pretty much only eaten them raw or turned them into pickles. When it comes to cucumbers and soup I think gazpacho, so this recipe was a departure from many of culinary inclinations. Although it does require you to fire up the stove for just a little bit, this soup is perfect for summer because it's wonderful cool, warm, or at room temperature. Cucumbers on their own aren't bursting with flavor, but they form a delicious fresh base that eagerly soaks up the garlic, onion, and spices. Avocado and yogurt make the soup extra creamy without becoming too rich for hot weather, though I'd recommend holding off on stirring in the yogurt if you plan on freezing any leftovers. I also think this soup would work well with zucchini in place of the cucumber, a quick way to use up that often overwhelming summer bounty in healthy quantities. Whether an elegant first course at summer dinner party or simply a workday lunch, this healthy and tasty soup is a perfect choice all summer long.

Creamy Cucumber Soup
adapted from Eating Well
serves 4

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups peeled, seeded and thinly sliced cucumbers, divided
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, reduced-sodium chicken broth, or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 avocado, diced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt or sour cream

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 1 to 4 minutes. Add lemon juice and cook for 1 minute. Add 3 3/4 cups cucumber slices, broth, salt, pepper and cayenne; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat and cook at a gentle simmer until the cucumbers are soft, 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Transfer the soup to a blender. Add avocado and parsley; blend on low speed until smooth. (Use caution when pureeing hot liquids.) Pour into a serving bowl and stir in yogurt. Chop the remaining 1/4 cup cucumber slices. Serve the soup warm or refrigerate and serve it chilled. Just before serving, garnish with the chopped cucumber and more chopped parsley, if desired.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Coconut Maple Granola with Cocoa Nibs

As I mentioned last week, I picked up my first bag of cacao nibs, so naturally I've gone on a mini culinary mission to use them in as many ways as possible. Cacao nibs have all of the nutritional benefits of chocolate without the added sugar and fat, so they're a guilt-free way to sneak a little something special into meals or snacks without turning them into dessert. And who doesn't like a little chocolate at breakfast? The cacao nibs are a bit too bitter for most people on their own, but are balanced out perfect by the rich nuts, seeds, and coconut and sweet maple syrup in this granola. The myriad flavors have ample time to blend as they bake low and slow and gain a patina of golden brown toastiness, the modest temperature necessary to avoid burning the cacao nibs. Next time I'm likely to throw in some flax or chia seeds for extra omega-3s or quinoa or millet for extra crunch, and I would encourage you to experiment with both the ingredients to you can't live without or just the ones you've got laying around the house. Dried fruit would certainly be lovely addition as well, so feel free to toss in a handful of dried cranberries, raisins, or dried cherries after the mixture cools or when serving. As is generally my wont with granola, I piled it high on plain yogurt, but it would also make a great snack for a long hike or delicious ice cream topping.

Coconut Maple Granola with Cocoa Nibs
makes about 3 cups

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetned coconut
1/4 cup slivered raw almonds
1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup cacao nibs (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup cup real maple syrup
1/2 tablespoon real vanilla or almond extract
Canola or olive oil cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add vanilla and maple syrup and mix well to combine.

2. Spread mixture in an even layer in a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about one hour, or until dry. Remove from oven, let cool, and store in an air tight container.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Bacon and Kraut Burger

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending REAP's Burgers and Brew at Capital Brewery in Middleton. I've been to the event every year it has taken place, but every year I am still absolutely thrilled to dig into the ever-evolving menu of locally-sourced burgers and Wisconsin microbrews that appear. Some people might have had their fill after an afternoon full of those culinary delights, but it inspired me to try my hand at creating a new fancy burger of my own with what I had around the house. I'm definitely an old hand at burger creations, my efforts ranging from ultra-healthy veggie burgers to fish burgers to hedonist meat lovers' delights, with this burger falling more on the indulgent end of the spectrum. I really went all out with this one - local, grass-fed, organic ground beef, Lodi bacon, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese all coming together in in a savory delight almost beyond description. (My only regret was not having a pretzel bun to pile on this stuff with all this deliciousness.) It might all be a bit too much were it not for the sharp mustard and tart sauerkraut that cut through the fattiness and allow all the rich ingredients to shine independently. It probably goes without saying, but there's nothing better than a cold beer with this burger and I recommend a brown ale, such as Rebel Kent the First you can see waiting in the background here. Pair those with a warm and sunny day and a comfy chair in the backyard and you've got the recipe for a perfect summer afternoon.

Bacon and Kraut Burger
serves 1

2 slices bacon (about 2 ounces)
1 whole grain or pretzel bun
1 tablespoon coarse mustard
One 4- to 6-ounce grass-fed burger patty
1/4 cup drained sauerkraut (bagged or homemade, not canned)
1 ounce thinly sliced Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese (or sharp cheddar, Swiss, or Gruyere)

1. Preheat a pan over medium heat. Add bacon and cook, turning periodically, until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels and reserve warm bacon grease.

2. Meanwhile, prepare a charcoal or gas grill. When grill is ready, split bun, spread with a thin layer of warm bacon grease and toast until golden brown. Spread one half of the bun with the coarse mustard and set aside.

3. Add burger patty to grill, and cook, turning once, to just shy of desired level of doneness (I like my burgers medium-rare). A minute or two before the burger will achieved desired level of doneness, place sauerkraut, bacon, and cheese on top of burger patty and continue cook until burger is done and cheese is melted, another minute or two. Place burger on bottom half of bun

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Spinach and Pea Soup

Lately I've really been embracing the idea of warm weather soups. Gazpacho is probably the most obvious summer choice, but I've been more interested in cooked soups before the weather is too oppressive. In the dog days of summer I'm sure to revisit the gazpacho issue, but for now I'm loving these vegetable-packed soups that can be served cold, room temperature or warm. Each bowl is a concentrated expression of the fresh flavor of the season and a great way to pack a lot of nutrition into a small package. The short list of ingredients might make this recipe seem too simple, but the bounty of the farmers' market packs each bite with terroir and sunshine. Lemon juice adds an often neglected acidic element that brightens the entire soup and brings out nuanced flavor that would otherwise just be blended into general green goodness. This verdant soup becomes a complete meal with a side salad and piece of crusty bread or sandwich; I really loved it with the guacamole toast shown above. Like so many of the recipes I make, leftovers can happily be frozen for a taste of this agricultural moment at the ready anytime.

Spinach and Pea Soup
adapted from Martha Stewart
serves 4 (as a side)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 3/4 cups homemade or low-sodium store-bought chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 pound fresh English peas, shelled (about 1 cup)
8 ounces spinach (curly or flat leaf), tough stems discarded (about 6 cups packed leaves)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Cook, stirring, 3 minutes. Add stock, and bring to a boil.

2. Add peas, and return to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until peas are tender and bright green, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in spinach. Cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach has wilted, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Remove pot from heat and puree pea mixture using an immersion blender. Stir in 1 teaspoon lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peanut Butter and Cacao Nib Quinoa Cookies

There's not all that big a gap between granola bars and healthy cookies, so I've decided to transfer my DIY granola bar efforts to back to healthy cookies. A quick search for healthy cookie recipes reveals myriad sources, but these quinoa cookies immediately stood out to me since I had just purchased a bag of cacao nibs. Cacao nibs are raw, unsweetened chocolate, so if you're looking for a Hershey bar fix, they are not the snack for you. But if you blend them with rich nut butter and coconut, sweet honey, and whole grains, they come out tasting like a peanut butter version of a Mounds bar with a nutritional bonus. They bake low and slow, drying out just slightly to help bind all the ingredients together and end up much like a no-bake cookie. I made a full batch and froze the extras, and although I ate most at room temperature, these cookies are a wonderful warm weather treat when still slightly frozen. A couple of these portable little nuggets are packed with enough whole grains, protein, and healthy fats to fuel you for a few hours on a long hike, but are also the perfect way treat yourself with zero guilt.

Peanut Butter and Cacao Nib Quinoa Cookies
adapted from Shape
makes about 24 cookies

2 c. cooked quinoa, cooled
1/2 c. natural salted peanut or almond butter
1/3 c. raw honey
1 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 c. raw cacao nibs

1. Preheat oven to 170 degrees. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Flatten tablespoons of the mixture onto parchment paper and bake for approximately one hour.