Orzo Salad Recipe

May 25, 2010

I made this tonight from 101 Cookbooks, and I just had to share it, below. I think it’s supposed to serve as a side dish, but I ate it as the main course and it was fine. Handfuls of vegetables, delicious flavors and textures mingled, just a really interesting and healthy dish. Notes:

-Don’t skip toasting the almonds, they taste like bacon bits with the advantage of being almonds instead.
-I used a store-bought (Italian) dressing I like instead of the oil/garlic/salt/lemon thing. 
-I also skipped the sprouts – too much trouble to buy them and hope they won’t go bad before it’s time to use them – and the cilantro, as BF does not like cilantro. 
-I can barely find orzo in my area, much less whole wheat orzo, so I used regular.

Incidentally, I cooked the veggies for two minutes with the orzo instead of 30 seconds. Heidi gets her groceries in California, where the vegetables spring out of the ground and do a little song and dance asking to be eaten, rather than growing normally as they do here on the east coast.

Highly, highly recommended.

1 cup dried (whole wheat) orzo pasta
8 – 10 medium asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
1/2 a medium head of broccoli (or broccolini), cut into small trees
small handful of cilantro(or mint if you prefer), chopped

1 small clove of garlic, mashed with a big pinch of salt and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

a small handful of sprouts
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1/2 small cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 medium avocado, sliced into small pieces
1/4 cup feta, crumbled

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and boil the orzo per package instructions. Avoid over-boiling, you want your orzo to be cooked through, but maintain structure. About 30 seconds before the orzo is finished cooking stir the asparagus and broccoli into the orzo pot. Cook for the final 30 seconds, drain and run under a bit of cold water. Just long enough to stop the cooking.

In the meantime, whisk together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and more salt (if needed) into the dressing. Set aside.

When you are ready to serve the salad toss the orzo, asparagus, broccoli, and cilantro with about half the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, and toss well. Now add the sprouts, almonds, cucumber, avocado, and feta. Very gently toss a couple of times to distribute those ingredients throughout the salad and serve.

Serves 4.

This recipe is wholly the property of 101 Cookbooks and Heidi Swanson.


Smoked Tofu Paella

May 19, 2010

Cross-posted at Mars Is Heaven.

Since the fall, the quality of the meals I make at home has been steadily declining. At first it was because of my (temporary) two-hour-a-day commute, and how tired and not-in-the-mood-to-cook I was when I got home. Then when I started taking the anatomy class, being totally unable to cook dinner two nights a week meant that produce went unused, decent leftover lunches taken to work got rarer, and I just sort of gave up on getting a healthy meal 10 times out of every 14. Lately BF and I have been living on burritos and pasta, and while Chipotle is by no means the same as McDonald’s, it’s still not the quality of food I was dishing up before things got so crowded in my life.

So, now that my class is finally over, I’ve recommitted to better eating. I threw out all the rotten onions, pored over my recipe books, and put together an enviable menu for this week that’s almost totally vegetarian. One of the bits of business that came into my life this week to help me out was this month’s issue of Yoga Journal, which has a bunch of recipes in it from yoga and mediation center kitchens all over the country. The first one I tried, from Tuesday evening, I found to be a great inspiration for anyone who’s committing or recommitting to a healthy lifestyle. Despite the length of the ingredient list, it’s fairly quick, it’s simple, and it’s got a lot of easy-to-find ingredients. It’s also a good way to introduce tofu to yourself if you’ve resisted it. I’ve modified the recipe, which is from Kripalu, with my own ideas, and I hope they’re helpful. (I don’t feel bad about printing it here because it’s in Yoga Journal this month, free to all who want to spend $4.99 on the magazine.)

To start, you’ll need to prep, marinate, and bake half a pound of firm to super-firm tofu. If you’re lucky enough to find firm tofu pre-cubed, use that; otherwise, slice the block of tofu into four thin slices. (If you bought a pound of tofu and are going to use the whole block, which is what I did, cut it into eight thin slices.) Get a large baking pan, and lay out paper towels three deep. Place the tofu slices on the paper towels, cover with two more layers of paper towel, and then cover with a second baking pan and some heavy food cans on top. The purpose of this is to squeeze as much moisture out of the tofu as possible so it can soak up another flavorful liquid later. (It’s a little trickier to do this with pre-cubed tofu, but it still works if you spread the cubes out.) After the paper towels are totally soaked, remove the tofu and cube it into wee 1/2 inch cubes.

Marinate it in this marinade, with the following changes: remove the Worcestershire sauce, use 2 tsp of liquid smoke, and, if you want, use a teaspoon of garlic powder instead of fresh garlic (I did, out of laziness). Tofu can marinate for a very short time, an hour or two, and still soak up as much flavor as if you let it marinate overnight, but for me overnight worked better in terms of timing.

While you’re preparing the rest of the paella, bake the tofu at 375F for 15 minutes, or longer if you like a tougher texture. If you don’t want to go to the trouble of marinating it, be my guest and use it plain, but if you haven’t tried tofu before, I don’t recommend it.

(If you can find smoke-flavored tofu, good on ya, and no need for the marinade. I know I couldn’t.)

4 cups vegetable broth or stock, plus one cup water*
1 tsp loosely packed saffron threads**
Olive oil
1 onion, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded & diced
1/2 yellow or orange bell pepper, seeded & diced***
1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, halved  
1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups short-grain rice, such as Arborio
8 oz smoke-flavored baked tofu, diced+
1/2 cup cooked frozen green peas (fresh if you can get ’em, which is generally unlikely)
1 tbsp truffle oil, optional++
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley, or 2 tsp dried
Lemon wedges, for serving (totally unnecessary, I didn’t use ’em)

*The recipe calls for 5 cups of broth, but the 32-oz boxes of broth you can buy at the supermarket are four cups exactly, and I used one of those and a cup of water to tide it over, which is a hell of a lot easier than buying two boxes and having leftovers.

**Saffron is wicked expensive and hard to come by in decent quantities. A teaspoon could cost you $30. I had a few pinches in my pantry and used that, and didn’t really miss the flavor. I don’t think you’ll be ruining the recipe if you don’t use it at all.

***If you think it’s dumb to use half of one color pepper and half of another, use one whole one, I won’t tell.

+See above for the marinade that’ll give you about the same effect, in my estimation. I used a whole pound of cubed tofu rather than half a pound, but I don’t really mind tofu, and it gives a little more heft to the recipe.

++Shyeah. I totally have that on hand. IN CULINARY IMAGINARY LAND.

ACTUAL RECIPE, FINALLY: In a saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the saffron, remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a paella pan (??) or large frying pan over medium-high, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and bell peppers. Saute until aromatic and softened to your preference. The recipe recommends 5 minutes, but I cooked them until they were totally soft and brown on the edges, because there’s more flavor and I don’t like parcooked onions. That took a bit longer.

Add the fresh and dried tomatoes, the turmeric, and 1/2 tsp of salt, and fry ’em up. “Until the vegetables start to stick to the bottom of the pan, about 5 minutes” is the recipe’s recommendation, but I think “to the level that you deem appropriate” is fine too.

Add ~1/2 cup of the hot broth mixture to the pan and stir to scrape any browned bits from the bottom. (It will probably sizzle up all awesome.) Add the uncooked rice, the tofu, and 1/2 tsp of black pepper (fresh-ground if you prefer) to the pan and stir, stir, stir. When all the broth is absorbed, add another ~1 cup. Each time the liquid is totally absorbed, add another ~1 cup, until it’s all absorbed. Keep the mixture at a simmer.

(I know, you’re making risotto, right? Except: “Adjust heat as needed to prevent scorching, but do not stir the rice.” I didn’t notice this weird-ass direction for the first few additions of broth. A few kernels of the rice came out uncooked, but I don’t know if that’s because I didn’t follow the recipe or because I did.)

After about 20 minutes, you’re almost finished. Turn off the heat, add the peas, and cover. Let it steam for about 10 minutes, and then add the parsley and mythical truffle oil, and (in my case) additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the superfluous lemon wedges. Serves, oh, five or six.

Delicioso. Muy muy. Hope you enjoy it as much as BF and I did. I promise it really is a good gateway recipe for tofu. And ah, so healthy.

Ego Writing Checks and So Forth

May 18, 2010

I blame MTAE for introducing me to Marie of Cheaper Than Therapy (or introducing her to me, whichever, I don’t remember).  Turns out she’s a funny lady who shares my taste in death metal, tweeting from work, and very sick humor.  But she also has this disgusting running habit.  Ugh.  (We won’t even talk about the beer.)

The thing is, I started having this weird-ass and completely alien-to-me thought – “maybe I could do that whole running thing?  Just once, to say I did it?”

So Marie gets the blame credit for inspiring yesterday’s idiocy.

See, in the morning I got an email saying that the U’s alumni association was having a 5k Fun Run on May 29th.  “5k, hmm?”  I did the math.  Ok, let me stop lying, I looked it up on the ‘net.  3.1 miles.

I thought about it.  For the last several weeks I’ve been doing cardio for 30 minutes at least 3-4 times a week.  On non-weightlifting days, I stretch and then hit it for another 30 minutes.  Admittedly, it wasn’t super strenuous cardio.  But hey.  I’m not a runner – I haven’t run more than mile at once in…hmm, I think ever – but I’m not exactly 100% in Couch-to-5k territory, either.

I walked over to the door of my office manager, who ran a couple of marathons before a knee injury ended all that.  “Hey, you said once that that loop around the park was right at 3 miles, didn’t you?”  “Yeah, 3 exactly.”  Google maps says it’s a little longer than that, but what the hell.

I figured, what’s the best way to see if I can survive a 5k?  How about attempting a 5k?

I’d just taken a bike ride with Boy to the park and then around this very loop on Saturday morning, so the layout was fresh in my mind.  My workout bag was in the car.  All I had to do was change destinations.  I deliberately didn’t think too much about it.  Instead of heading for the gym,  I drove to the park, parked on the far side near the horse stables (instead of the parking lot where most folks stop/end), did the whole changing-my-pants-in-the-car-and-hoping-nobody-drives-up thing, grabbed my cell phone (just in case of freak ankle sprains, etc.) and my iPod, and gave it a shot.

I’d glanced at the Couch to 5k plan.  I didn’t have any delusions about actually running the 5k – not this one, and not the on on the 29th, either.  WAY too short to go from no-running to that sort of endeavor.  I just planned to take it slow, intersperse jogging with walking, and see how it went.  I figured I could stop about halfway (more like 2/3 of the way, as it turned out) at the other parking lot where I knew there was a water fountain.  If things were going well, I could stretch out a bit, get some water, and finish it off.  If it was going badly, well, that was a good place to call Dys and ask for a pickup.  (There were also a few strategic places before that point just in case I was much more wussy than I’d thought.)

Conveniently it was 5:00 on the dot when I left the car.  I turned on the metal (Smash the World, Ma!), walked the first few hundred yards, passed a little old Asian lady in a big straw hat, then picked it up to a jog.

Predictably, the jogging thing didn’t last very long, but that was okay.  The weather was just about perfect for such an attempt – upper 60s and cloudy, not too humid – so I just used the light poles interspersed around the park not as progress meters but as goals.  “Okay, when I get to that pole, I’ll jog some more.  Okay, next pole I’ll walk – no, wait, I can make it one more.”

Not surprisingly, I got passed by a handful of 50-ish guys.  But at least I was smart enough not to take it personally.  My flat feet have never been all that friendly over distance – when I run I sound like a cavalry charge.  As they went by, I tried to watch their stride and see if there was something in their mechanics that I could learn.  I experimented with short, long, side-to-side, height, and all other kinds of motions and ended up just kind of settling into the one that felt best at the time.  I doubt my form was good at all, but it worked.

Also predictably, I got a stitch in my side around the end of the first mile, and my ankles and shins started bothering me a little before that.  Neither was particularly surprising.  My existing cardio routine was all elliptical and stationary bike – neither all that ankle-heavy, compared to heaving my 200-pound ass upward and forward once a second or so.  But it wasn’t anything horrid.  When I made it around to the parking lot, I took a drink of water, took a couple of minutes to stretch out my hamstrings, quads, and calves, took another drink, and kept on going.

Toward the end there I was definitely just moving toward a goal and not exactly having fun, but I wasn’t in anything like the discomfort for which I’d steeled myself.  When the last turn was ahead, I had enough left in the tank to break into an actual run for 100 yards or so before slowing back to a cool-down walk to the car.  Time:  0:53, just inside the hour goal I’d set for myself.  (When I got home, Dys said, “I don’t know what a good time for a 5k is.”  I said, “Probably under 20 minutes.”  But I’ll take it.)  No injury, no serious pain – and honestly, not nearly as much boredom as churning away in the cardio room at the damned gym.  That was a nice surprise.

Of course, I figured I’d pay for it in spades this morning.  But I was wrong.  Yeah, I’m a touch sore, but only my ankles and shins are any more so than after a good workout.  Nothing discouraging.  Rather the opposite, in fact.

So I guess I’m signing up for a 5k at the end of the month.  I’m not exactly going to be competing, but I’ll finish and earn my t-shirt.  It’ll be a nice little goal to work toward.  And after that, well, who knows?  I’ll see how my body treats me and evaluate from there.

Now for this afternoon, when I experiment with deadlifting post-5k.  Heheh.