09 August, 2009

Lemony, Spicy Lentil and Rice Pilaf

I need a different title for this recipe.

When I read the words "Lentil and Rice Pilaf," my taste buds pretty much turn off of their own accord. I can't help it - in my mind I start tasting every bland batch of lentils and rice I cooked back in my vegan days in college. You know - lentils, rice, a bit of celery and a vegetarian boullion cube? Bland, boring, tastes like cardboard? That's what I think of when I hear "pilaf."

But this one is different. This one doesn't taste like lentils. It tastes like an explosion of tangy lemon, garlic and chilis, tossed with sweet bell pepper, fresh parsley, and crunchy almonds. It tastes like... flavor. I love this.

The blend of seasonings that I use in this recipe was inspired by an incredible pasta salad that a friend of mine brought to a barbecue a few weeks ago. In her original version, which I hope to post soon as a full recipe, chewy potato gnocchi were tossed with a delectable pesto of roasted red bell peppers, almonds, lemon juice, and other spices. I'd actually planned to post that recipe this weekend, but when it came down to it I didn't have all the ingredients on hand. So I started experimenting with what I did have available, and came up with this flavorful, spicy pilaf.

I would call this a "quick" recipe, as the actual prep work is fairly minimal. The cooking time is about 45 minutes for the rice and lentils, however, so you do need to get it on the stove well before you plan to eat. It would be great with chicken or tofu and maybe a side of green beans to round everything out. I was scooping it up with gluten-free flatbread all afternoon, and I'm still absolutely stuffed hours later.

Lemony, Spicy Lentil and Rice Pilaf
You could go hogwild with the veggies in this recipe - carrots, green onions, heaps more bell peppers - all of those would be delicious added in. Be sure to use brown or "French green" lentils. Don't use the pink or red ones, as they will turn to mush when cooked.


1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup brown or French green lentils
2-1/2 cups water
5 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 Tbs salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small, hot chili pod, chopped - or 1/4 tsp. chili flakes
1 Tbs tomato paste

1-2 bell peppers: red, orange or yellow, chopped
1/2 cup chopped tomato
1 bunch parsley, chopped
1 large handful almonds, chopped

1. Cooking the grains
Put the rice, lentils, and water in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the lemon juice, salt, garlic, tomato paste and chili. When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for about 45 minutes, until the water is fully absorbed, and remove from heat.

2. Mixing it all together
When the rice and lentils are cooked, let them cool slightly. Stir in the bell peppers, chopped tomato, parsley, and chopped almonds. Serve with chopped almonds as garnish.
Continue Reading!

20 June, 2009

Chocolatey Peanut Butter Cookies

We've developed sort of an on-going joke at my office about peanut butter. My coworkers are appalled at the idea of peanut butter mixed with, well... anything but bread, actually. I tried to explain the joys of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to someone one day, and he just stared at me like I'd suggested a chocolate-pickle-ice cream sundae. "You eat peanut butter with... jelly? Really? Eeewww."

Right. And when I sliced up an apple the other day and spread the slices with peanut butter, a small crowd gathered around my desk. "You just spread peanut butter on apple slices? Just like as if it were bread? Is it really good like that?"

One thing we can all (well, mostly all) agree on, though, is peanut butter and chocolate. Peanut butter is really sort of an exotic thing over here, and I've never seen a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup in Germany. In fact, I don't think I've seen anything here that combines peanut butter and chocolate. But somehow my coworkers are inherently sensible enough to realize how brilliant this combination is.

Our accountant is pregnant and leaving work shortly, and I promised to make her peanut butter cookies before she goes. I'd seen a recipe for flourless peanut butter cookies that was making the rounds of some of the food blogs I read, and I was eager to try it.

The original recipe is very simple: 1 cup of peanut butter, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 egg. But I had to make things complicated, as usual. Somehow the simple three-ingredient recipe has evolved into the following Chocolate-Chocolate-Chip-Peanut-Butter-Swirl nuggets-of-joy. The result is a soft, almost crumbly peanut butter-chocolate cookie base with swirls of pure peanut butter and melted bits of choclate thrown in for good measure.

I would say I can't stop eating them, but they're almost pure peanut butter, so there actually is a very definite limit to how many I can nibble on. Make these small - they'll hold together better, and you really don't need a giant cookie to be satisfied with these. The only trick is to use ultra-fine baking sugar to make sure the sugar dissolves completely. My cookies crunched a bit with the normal sugar.

Oh, and I took them to the office... my boss says they look like "something else besides cookies" -- but he also offered to pay for the ingredients if I'll bring another batch soon. I'll take that as a rave review.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Nuggets O' Joy
If you can't find chocolate spread (like Nutella, but pure chocolate) just use plain peanut butter and a bit more sugar if you like. These cookies are very sweet - you may not need any more.


2 1/2 cups unsweetened peanut butter, 1/2 cup set aside
3 Tbs cocoa powder
2 cups ultra-fine sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup chocolate spread
1 dark chocolate bar, chopped in small bits

Preheat oven to 350 F.

1. Mixing the Dough
Dump the peanut butter into a large mixing bowl. Add the cocoa powder, sugar and eggs and mix with a large wooden spoon until it's smooth. (Your blender won't like this job, I don't think.)

2. Adding the Goodies
Once the basic dough is smooth, add the chocolate spread, the reserved half-cup of peanut butter, and the chopped chocolate. Chop this into the dough so that it remains marbled and uneven. This will give the finished cookies swirles of peanut butter and chocolate throughout.

3. Shaping the Cookies
Scoop the dough by scant tablespoons. Flatten them between your palms and place them on the cookie sheet. They won't spread much during cooking.

Bake approximately 10 minutes. They will be very soft when you take them out, but will firm up as they cool. Peanut Butter Cup Chocolate Cookies on Foodista
Continue Reading!

04 May, 2009

Berlin BBQ Championships

Swiss-style steak and stuffed peppers

Saturday morning. I'm awakened from a dead sleep by a clanging cell phone. On the other end of the line is a friend, evidently wide awake and puzzled by my mumbled answer of "what time IS it right now?"

After dragging my reluctant brain into the correct time zone, I ascertain that it is 9:00 am, and my friend is ringing with a last minute invitation to be a judge at the Berlin BBQ Championship. He has a free ticket, and if I want it, I have to be out the door in 20 minutes.

Quickly pulling myself together, I manage to organize clothing, bus route, and a pot of maté tea in record time. This is an offer for free barbecue, after all.

We meet up at the event, miraculously on time, and receive our complimentary t-shirts and event badges. Set on one of Berlin's many semi-artificial beaches near the Spree river, the event is a maze of sun umbrellas, beach chairs, and grill teams. We have a couple of hours to kill before the judging begins, so we wander around a bit to see some of the prep work in action.

My promo shot for the artifical beach

The contestants ranged from teams of professional chefs...

... who managed to prepare gourmet delicacies using only a grill...

... to those with somewhat less technical proficiency.

The contest was divided into 5 courses: vegetarian, sausage, poultry, beef, and dessert. All foods had to be prepared using only a grill. During each round, the judges were randomly assigned to either be served at the contestant's booth or to have a "to go" box delivered to them in the judging room.

After sampling the course, we rated the food on appearance, degree of cooking (i.e. charred, raw, or just right), taste, and how well the main dish and side dishes complimented each other. There was about an hour between each course, as the teams prepared the foods for the next round. (It also gave us a chance to make room for the next samples!)

By the end of the day, we were tanned, sand-dusted, and stuffed with gourmet delights (and a few not-so gourmet attempts as well.)

The luck of the draw resulted in the following samples for me:

My vegetarian course: grilled peppers stuffed with curreid couscous, accompanied by a slice of grilled sweet potato, decorated with a drizzle of balsamico glaze.

My sausage course: a sausage with a polenta patty, accompanied by grilled beet slices.

My friend's sausage course: A main dish of a guitar-shaped Leberkäse (think really gourmet Spam), accompanied by three kinds of amazingly seasoned sausages and a delicious salsa.

My poultry course: Grilled duck filled with apricot-onion stuffing, served with hot and sour sauce.

My meat course. It wasn't as exciting as my duck, but it was an amazingly tasty steak burger. By this point I was totally stuffed, and I still ate almost the whole thing.

My amazing dessert course: an apple tart accompanied by a small cream puff and a small apple-filled pastry... all baked on the grill.

One last image: I didn't get to eat this, but I absolutely love the idea of grilled, bacon-wrapped plums. This has to be on the menu for me at some point in the future.
Continue Reading!

13 April, 2009

Tangy Wilted Spinach Salad

We all know "American" potato salad, right? Potatoes drowned in artery-clogging mayonnaise sauce, with perhaps the token chopped pickel tossed in for variety? I've never liked it much. I've always preferred what I know as "German" potato salad. Rather than mayonnaise, the potatoes are doused with a boiling-hot, highly-seaseoned vinaigrette - creating a delicious, different, and much healthier side dish.

The problem is, I haven't yet had "German" potato salad in Germany. Anything Germans term "salad" tends to suspiciously resemble a tub of mayonaise with bits of meat, egg, or potato thrown in for flavoring. Even my German friends agree with me on this one.

So, when a friend offered to show me her grandmother's "secret potato salad recipe" the other day, it should have been no surprise that Grandma's secret recipe consisted of two tubs of "Meat Salad" (think chopped balogne in mayonaise sauce) mixed with a few kilograms of boiled potatoes. I have to admit, it was tasty, but it left me wishing for a real, "traditional" German potato salad.

Next time I was in the kitchen, I dug up the German potato salad recipe from Joy of Cooking. I wanted the vinaigrette, but I'd had my fill of potatoes for a while. I did, however, have a bunch of spinach in the fridge that needed to get used up. And a couple of hard boiled eggs. I started thinking about a wilted spinach salad, without all the usual bacon grease...

This salad is light, tangy, and quick to prepare - in addition to being chock full of protein and vitamins. I used regular spinach, but you could use baby spinach as well for a lighter flavor. Feel free to experiment with various herbs in the vinaigrette, or try adding a bit of minced garlic for a real kick!

Tangy Wilted Spinach Salad
This recipe would also be delicious with a light dusting of crumbled bacon or turkey bacon in addition to the egg and walnuts. It can be served warm or cold.

1/2 cup beef, chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sweet paprika
1/2 tsp. prepared hot mustard (optional)

1 bunch well-washed spinach
1 hard boiled egg per serving
Walnuts to garnish

Prepare the vinaigrette:
In a small saucepan, combine the vinaigrette ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Prepare the salad:
While the vinaigrette is heating, tear the spinach leaves into small pieces and put them in a large mixing bowl. Slice or chop the eggs, whatever you find more appealing, and set them aside.

Wilt the spinach:
When the vinaigrette has reached a boil, turn the heat off and let it sit for a few moments. Drizzle about half of the hot vinaigrette over the torn spinach leaves. Toss the spinach quickly to mix, then add the remained of the vinaigrette. Continue tossing until the spinach is completely wilted.

Plate the salad:
Scoop the salad onto individual plates and top with the egg and walnut bits. This makes 2-3 very generous servings.
Continue Reading!

09 March, 2009

Chocolate Coconut Cookies

My mom wrote me a while ago, asking if I had any ideas for making a cookie that would be semi-healthy. She's on a diet and trying not to eat anything that mixes a lot of fat with a lot of sugar - and if I could come up with something that was no fat and sugar free, I'd be doing even better.

I did some poking around online for her, and found a few fat-free cookie recipes that looked pretty tasty. (Fat Free Vegan has some pumpkin cookies that look killer!) But I was determined to come up with a recipe of my own. I'm sure if I could come up with a fat free, sugar free cookie that tasted unhealthy, I'd have the entire dieting world groveling at my feet. I'm sorry to say that I haven't achieved it yet - but there's always next week, right?

At any rate, I've been on something of a high-fat, complex-carbohydrates kick lately myself - lots of nuts and veggies and meat and tofu, with not as much grains, rice, and breads as usual. I won't call it low-carb, because that isn't the point. It's just that for some reason I've been extremely sensitive to anything with sugar lately - even fruit, sometimes. So I thought I could come up with a cookie that would have minimal carbohydrates, with lots of protein and fiber to keep my blood sugar stable.

In my searches through the realms of Google, I ran across Elena's Pantry, a wonderful food blog dedicated to gluten-free, low-glycemic recipes. She uses coconut flour as a high-protein, high-fiber ingredient that will help balance out whatever sweeteners you do use in the recipe.

I was intrigued, especially since she recommends using virgin coconut oil as a healthy cooking fat. I had just purchased a jar of virgin coconut oil for cooking, and I'd been looking for an excuse to use it in baking. Combining coconut oil with coconut flour just seemed to make sense - and it tastes delicious!

If you opt to use coconut oil in the recipe, be sure to buy virgin coconut oil (the unrefined first pressing of a coconut). It is a completely different creature than the less-expensive, highly-processed variety. It is, admitedly, high in saturated fat, but it's made up a different kind of saturated fat than you find in animal fats. Because of this, it has reported health benefits and is also great for your skin.

This isn't by any means a low-calorie cookie. It's not low-fat, either. But the calories you're getting are largely from protein and fiber, and not empty sugar calories. With a light sweetness from the agave syrup, it tastes like a real cookie - but your body won't react as if you just dove head first into a mound of cotton candy!

Chocolate Coconut Cookies
This recipe makes 10-12 cookies - perfect if you don't want a bunch of left overs lying around tempting you. You could easily double the ingredients if you want to.


1/4 cup coconut flour (e.g. Bob's Red Mill)
2.5 Tbs cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tstp salt

3 Tbs agave nectar
2 large eggs
1-2 Tbs milk
2 Tbs virgin coconut oil (or butter), melted

Preheat the oven to 350°

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs and add the other wet ingredients. When everything is well combined, pour the wet ingredients into the dry. Mix for about a minute or so. You will see the coconut flour thicken dramatically. If necessary, add a bit more milk - you want this to be about the thickness of thick cake batter, but thinner than normal cookie dough.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone sheet if you have it. If all else fails, butter the pan well and hope for the best. (I haven't tried it without baking paper, but these seem like they would probably stick.) Drop the batter onto the baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes.
Continue Reading!

18 February, 2009

Chocolate Carrot Cupcakes

Sometime a few months back, I found myself standing in my kitchen with a carrot in one hand and a piece of dark chocolate in the other. I was having an unbearable chocolate craving, and I knew that if I let myself I might just eat the whole bar.

I figured the carrot would sort of balance things out - like when I was a kid and my parents would force me to eat a bite of "good food" between every couple of french fries. It worked, too. I only ate the one piece of chocolate, instead of the whole bar. But to my surprise, I also found that the bitterness of dark chocolate is a perfect complement to the slight sweentess of a carrot.

That got the wheels turning. Chocolate and carrot. Carrot and chocolate. Chocolate cake is delicious... and carrot cake is delicious... hmmm. I started looking around for an excuse to bake.

I finally found a couple of recipes to start with. David Lebovitz has a brilliant recipe for Devil's Food Cake, which I used as a starting point. From there, I scoured the internet for the perfect carrot cake recipe. I found one that sounded delicious here, at Allrecipes.com. After a little gluten-free tweaking, I found myself with a damn good cupcake recipe. It's as chocolatey as you would hope for, but stays incredibly moist thanks to the addition of the shredded carrots.

Gluten Free Chocolate Carrot Cake:

This cake is really chocolatey, so if you want more of the carrot cake flavor to come through you may want to reduce the cocoa powder by a couple of tablespoons and replace it with flour. If you wanted to get really extravagant, you could substitute a cup of shredded coconut for one cup of the carrots.

3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups white sugar

3/4 cup rice flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1/4 cup potato or corn starch
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

3 cups shredded carrots

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare your muffin tins

1. Shred the carrots:
The first time I did this I shredded them a bit too finely in the food processor. I think it actually tastes better if you leave some larger bits in there - you get that nice carroty crunch that reminds you it isn't just chocolate cake.

2. Mix the dry ingredients:
Combine the rice flour, millet flour, tapioca starch and potato starch. Add cinnamon, salt, and baking soda and stir until everything is thoroughly mixed.

3. Mix the wet ingredients:
Mix the eggs, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract in a large bowl.

4. Finishing the batter:
Add the dry ingredients bit by bit, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Then add the shredded carrot (or carrot and coconut if you so choose!) and continue mixing.

5. Cupcakes!
Drop the batter into your muffin tins, about two tablespoons per muffin. (This will make a small cupcake. They're very dense, and I found that a two-or-three-bite sized muffin was enough for me. If you want them a bit larger, use more batter and bake a bit longer.)

Bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve as is, with a dusting of powdered sugar, or with your favorite cream cheese frosting. (I would give you a recipe, but as I recently discovered the powdered sugar and cream cheese are kind of different over here, so what works for me probably won't work for you!)
Continue Reading!

09 January, 2009

Adventures in San Francisco

Well, it's been a crazy couple of months since I posted. I guess I've passed right over Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Pretty much every holiday that could possibly be associated with food, except maybe St. Patrick's day. Somehow in the middle of my own cooking, I didn't get the time to sit down and write up a recipe.

So, I'll start at the beginning. Way back in November, I flew back to California to see my family for Thanksgiving. While I was there I hopped up to San Francisco for a few days to visit a friend. And while I was in San Francisco - in the fabulous, happening, bar-and-restaurant-filled Mission District - I had my first Mexican Food Experience in an entire year.

I managed to make it back to my table with a wobbling stack of three over-filled salsa containers and one precariously-balanced pickled Jalapeno, spilling only a minimal amount of salsa on my shoes in the process. Most people were polite enough not to stare, even after I whipped out my SLR camera with it's zoom lens and started photographing my salsa as if it were a work of art. And really, isn't it? Tangy-limey-hot-cilantro-y goodness dumped all over...

... two sizzling hot tacos filled with carne asada and carnitas, respectively. Smothered in cilantro and chopped onions and served in a warm corn tortilla... wow. I made pretty decent tacos in Germany, but there is really something extraordinary about tacos from a good taqueria that just can't be replicated.

My friend looked at me from across the table at one point - I had a Jalapeno in one hand and a taco in the other, with one bite taken out of each, and what I imagine could only have been an expression of pure bliss on my face. "You look so happy right now," he said.

And I was. Being a tourist in your own country lets you experience simultaneous novelty and nostalgia. It floods you with old memories, and at the same time makes ordinary activities exciting and new. It makes ordering food in your native language a special treat. And it makes you eat ridiculous things like this, just because you haven't had a pickled Jalapeno in 12 months:

Yes. I did eat all but one of those peppers. And oh wow, do I need to figure out where to buy those in Berlin!
Continue Reading!