Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Easy Apple Crumble (for Julie)

Meet one of my very best friends, Julie.

Yelp Holiday Party 2008 (yup, that's a balloon toilet)

We have lots in common. We both enjoy blatantly embarrassing ourselves and our friends, witty and very inappropriate sarcasm, and making fun of each other. These are things friendships are built on, right?

 Walking in San Luis Obispo, December 2008; Hiking in Marin, August 2008

We also both love to travel and take "couple" pictures.

Angkor Wat, Cambodia 2009

But you could also say we're very much opposites. She is tall. I am...well, quite short. Can you tell who's who in this one?

Central Park NY, March 2010

She prefers fruity desserts (gasp). I prefer chocolate (duh). It's hard to believe our friendship has endured this issue...I mean, you all know how I feel about chocolate

Julie was in town for a bit this past weekend and so naturally, I hosted a dinner party in dear Julifer's honor. On the menu was slow cooker BBQ chicken thighs, cheddar jalapeno cornbread (recipe to come!), spicy brussels sprouts, and this apple crumble for dessert. Baking a non-chocolate dessert felt so wrong...but tasted so right. I mean, can you really go wrong with this?

This one's for you, Jules.

Easy Apple Crumble 

bottom layer
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

4 apples, peeled and sliced thinly (ask your local grocer or farmer what type of apple would be best (ie, Golden Delicious or Pink Lady - avoid Fuji, Red Delicious, and Galas)
juice of 1 lemon

1 cup oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Start with the bottom layer ingredients. Pour the melted butter into the bottom of an 8 x 10 inch dish or a circular cake pan (note: you can use an 8 x 8 dish, but just expect some overflowin' to happen in the oven, like mine did). In a separate bowl, mix the remaining 6 ingredients and pour on top of the butter in the dish.

2) Peel and cut your apples. Squeeze the lemon juice all over them and mix. Place the apples on top of the mixture in the dish; no need to stir.

3) In a separate bowl, mix all the topping ingredients to form a clumpy buttery mixture. Sprinkle on top of the apples. Before you place in your oven, line a cookie sheet with foil and put the dish on top of that. If your dish overflows (because mine did), this will protect the drippings from burning in your oven.

4) Then, place in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the top is browned. Let the crumble sit for at least 30 minutes, prior to serving. The crumble is messy and will need to be scooped out with a large spoon, in order to serve. 

Serve this warm and topped with vanilla ice cream. Enjoy on a rainy Sunday with good friends. Serves 6 to 8. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Food for Thought: Weight Loss Surgery for Adolescents & The Apple Pushers

It's time to break it down. Recently, I've come across so many interesting food, nutrition, and health-themed articles and videos. I thought I'd share and hopefully, facilitate an open forum for discussion. Feel free to leave a comment.

Young, Obese and In Surgery

This article, which appeared in the NY Times, broke my heart. It explores the "explosion" of weight-loss surgery in America. According to this article, there are over 220,000 types of these operations a year, netting out to an over 6 billion dollar a year industry. This article follows one young girl, a teenager, only 17, who gets a Lap-Band operation, which is performed laparoscopically, and is apparently considered low risk and reversible. This Lap-Band, produced by Allergen, is wrapped around the neck of the stomach, resulting in the constriction of the stomach. Consequently, once the band is in place, one must adjust their diet accordingly: much, much, smaller portions and healthier, less caloric foods, to break it down very simply.

What is interesting is that now, this type of surgery is being marketed to young adults. Rather, teenagers who are obese. Shockingly, at least to me, there are currently being studies done on these types of weight-loss surgeries on children as young as 12. TWELVE. Obesity has widespread physical and emotional implications, and I can only imagine how trying it would be to be obese as a teenager. I mean, middle school is bad enough. Teenage years can be emotionally draining. While I firmly believe that what we eat really sets the tone for, well, nearly everything in our life, from how we feel to how we relate to people (food is a universal unifier...right?), it's frustrating that so many people don't have access to "the good" foods or are uneducated about nutrition. Even those who do have access to good food and can afford to eat well, can freely choose not to.

And that's the thing. No one should have to "afford to eat well." It's messed up. If this surgery were to be approved for children as young as 12, how is that 12 year old really supposed to know how to eat appropriately to maintain comfort with the Lap-Band in place? If you overeat just a bit, be prepared for an awful stomach ache, if not something worse. Where do the parents come in, if they were there in the first place allowing the child to eat poorly?

So, with that being said, when I saw this trailer I was instantly intrigued. Screenings for The Apple Pushers have been going on for a while, though I don't believe it's been shown in San Francisco, yet. I am keeping my eye out for this film. What an interesting and inspiring project!

The Apple Pushers (trailer)

And I leave you with that.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Spiced-Up Turkey Burgers

Since friends know I love to cook, I'm often asked what I eat during the week, you know, quick and easy weeknight dinner types of dishes. Sometimes I make turkey burgers. I was trying to think of a funny and semi-relevant personal story about turkey burgers while in my yoga class on Sunday. Then, I fell out of this yoga pose. That's what I get for thinking about turkey while in Crow. So, to spice this post up, pun indeed intended, here are some random things that have occurred in my spicy life, as of late.

- Some friends and I had a dance party to this song, or rather, this SNL Digital Short, on Saturday night. I highly recommend. And may I just say, thank God Michael Bolton cut his hair. Amen.

- Last week, my bus crush of over 2 years, told me he sometimes "wishes" he was single, as we walked home. WHAT!? Too bad he lives with his girlfriend. Despite my intense crush, I'm no home wrecker. Though I've thought about it. A lot, maybe. College sweethearts are so overrated. So I think those thoughts gave me some bad karma...[see below]

- I decided I needed to be more conscious of my safety when I run outside. So, when I go running at 6am on weekday mornings, I now wear a headlamp. Unfortunately on an early morning run last week, I still managed to trip, fall hard, and catch myself with both hands, elbows, and knees, landing flat on the uneven road. My angelic face was spared. So much for the "safety" headlamp. OH. I get it. This fall was my karma for the inappropriate bus crush thoughts.

I now realize my life is more...mundane than spicy, unlike these turkey burgers. I make a batch of these and eat them throughout the week. I insist on topping them with caramelized onions, along with cheese, avocado, bbq sauce or ketchup. They are high in protein, low-carb, healthy, and flavorful. What's not to love? If my bus crush were to come over for dinner, I might make these. Oh and then these. Just sayin'.

Spiced-Up Turkey Burgers

1.5 pounds turkey (about 1 reg. pack from the grocery store); I prefer to use turkey with a little fat in it, as it keeps the burgers more flavorful and not so dry (you can use the 99% lean kind, just expect to add more spices)
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 teaspoon course salt or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For topping, optional
Caramelized yellow onions
Ketchup, mustard, or pesto

1) Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2) In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients together.

3) Using your very clean hands, scoop out the meat mixture and form into patties. I made these into hearty-sized patties, so this recipe made about 6. Place the patties on a greased or foil-lined cookie sheet. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes. If you're unsure if they're done, cut down the middle of a patty to see if the meat is cooked.

4) Serve and enjoy! I enjoyed mine wrapped in lettuce, topped with caramelized onions (simply, chopped yellow onion sauteed in olive oil until soft), avocado, and ketchup (yup, kept it classic). You could also serve this turkey burger traditionally in a bun, or with some pesto on top, or over some quinoa. They are very versatile and will spice up your seemingly mundane work week.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Roasted Kabocha Squash & Spinach Salad

"I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to get my hands on some gourds and arrange them in a horn-shaped basket on my dining room table..."

Ok. So maybe it's not technically Fall anymore, but this McSweeny's piece about decorative gourds is one of the funniest things I've ever read. Have you ever tried Kabocha squash (pictured above)? It's a Japanese variety of Winter squash and is rich, sweet, and has a slightly nutty flavor. I think I actually prefer it to Butternut squash (sorry Mom). It's a great source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and iron, too.

I was at work today, reading about macular degeneration and stuff (yes, really), and all I could think about was how I should cook my Kabocha I picked up at the Farmer's Market yesterday. Perfectly normal, right?



So when I got home, I put on some of my favorite ladies- Florence, Fiona, Stevie, and Alison (A Fine Frenzy----check them out, seriously). I poured myself a glass of red wine. And got to cookin.' Not a bad night.

Roasted Kabocha Squash & Spinach Salad

1 medium size Kabocha squash (about 4-6 pounds; you can also use Butternut squash)
2 handfuls of spinach
Olive oil
1/4 heaping cup raisins (brown)
1 teaspoon salt (I prefer to use coarse sea salt)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Maple Syrup, for drizzling
Parmesan Cheese, for garnish
Serves 3-4

1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Carefully, with a large, sharp knife, cut your squash in half, then into thirds. Scoop out the seeds, brush the squash with olive oil, and place in a pan or on a cookie sheet. Place in the oven and cook for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a fork can easily penetrate the squash. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

2) Once the squash is cool, using your hands or a knife, peel off the skins; they should come off easily. Cut the squash into 1-inch cubes.

3) In a skillet over medium heat, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add in the spinach and the raisins and saute until the spinach is coated, shiny, and begins to welt. Add in the squash, a drizzle of olive oil, and stir gently together. Then, sprinkle with the sea salt and cayenne pepper. Remove from heat.

4) To plate this dish, which you'll want to do immediately before eating, simply drizzle with a spoonful or two of maple syrup, and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top.

Aren't the colors beautiful? Always good to have some color on your plate.

This dish is so very simple. And so very tasty. The Maple syrup adds a touch more sweetness, when combined with the mild Parmesan and kick of cayenne pepper.

You see...gourds are just so much more than shellacked decorative vegetables. They're what's for dinner, my friends.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup

So, my family has this joke about Butternut Squash. A few years ago, my Mom had a local cooking show on TV in San Luis Obispo. During Christmas that year, my sister and I were watching TV while waiting for Mom to come home. All of the sudden, flipping through the channels, we see our Mom. Talking about butternut squash. With a large mallet in hand. Standing next to her "sous chef" and best friend, Linda. Now, this doesn't seem that funny, but cue the video to 1:35.

Chef Debbie just cannot put her hands down and makes this ridiculous hand gesture every time she says "butternut squash." My Sister and I laughed so hard for 20 minutes; tears were streaming down our faces. When my Mom came home shortly after, all we could say to her was "butternut squash," accompanied by the now infamous hand gesture. Even now, years later, whenever she says "butternut squash" my sister and I, in unison, make the gesture and crack up.

Well, butternut squash is certainly the inspiration for this soup. As are sweet potatoes...which I think I could eat every day. This soup is creamy, rich in winter flavors, and has a kick to it from the cayenne pepper. It is gluten-free and can be made vegetarian, too, by simply using vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. The best part about this soup though, is that it's both healthy and filling. I stray away from using creams in my soups because I think the right amount of spice combined with ripe vegetables can produce enough bold flavor.

So turn on your chopping and peeling playlist, because really, that's all this takes. Prep this soup, and stick it in a saucepan or crock pot. Then, all you have to do is blend and serve!

It's still funny, Mom.

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato & Butternut Squash Soup
*Gluten free and can be made vegetarian; freezes very well.

3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
3 to 4 medium-sized butternut squashes or 2-3 packs of pre-cut squash (if using whole squash, use the small ones because they are easier to cut; if using pre-cut, pick up enough packs to equate to 24-36 ounces- over 2 pounds)
1 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter or Earth Balance (vegan butter)
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
3 bay leaves (optional)
Olive oil, about 3 tablespoons

1) Cut, roast, and peel the squash and sweet potatoes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and line a cookie sheet or baking dish with foil. Cut the butternut squashes in half, scoop the seeds out, and place on sheet. Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of olive oil; sprinkle with ground pepper and a few pinches of salt. Wash and dry the sweet potatoes, poke holes in them using a fork, and place on a cookie sheet. Place the squash and sweet potatoes in the oven for 45 minutes or until all become slightly soft.

2) Remove from oven, let cool, peel, and chop. This is the most labor intensive part of the process. Once the squashes are cool, peel the skins off and slice into 1 inch cubes. Once the sweet potatoes are cool, simply cut each in half and scoop out the flesh, leaving the skins behind. I personally love the skins, gotta get your fiber yo.

3) Sautee the onion. In a skillet, melt the butter and add the entire chopped onion in. Cook over medium-high heat, for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the onion becomes soft and nearly caramelized. Turn the heat to low, and add in the cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, a few pinches of salt, and some ground pepper. Remove from heat and add to your crock pot or sauce pan, depending on how you are making the soup.

4) Add the rest of the ingredients. Add all the broth and chopped potatoes and squash to the crock pot or saucepan and place the bay leaves in (if you have them; absolutely optional). Stir everything together.

5) Cook.  If using a crock pot, cook on high for 1 hour; then, turn down to low and cook for 4 hours. If you are home while this is cooking, stirring every hour or so won't hurt it. If you are making this over the stove, you'll want to bring all the ingredients to a boil and then reduce and simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally. You'll want everything to turn soft and mushy, as pictured below.

6) Blend everything. Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend for a few seconds. It didn't take long for my soup to become creamy, however, if you prefer it chunkier, texture-wise, adjust the blending time. I love thick soups, but if you prefer a more thinned out version, add more broth when blending at the end. Make sure to taste your soup! It will likely need additional salt and pepper, maybe even more cayenne, depending on your taste buds.

7) Serve and garnish (optional).  I garnished my soup with some farmers market spinach I sauteed in a teaspoon of butter; it was delicious and added some texture (and greens!) to my soup. I'd highly recommend garnishing with some croutons or a drizzle of coconut milk.