Papaya and lime smoothie

Here’s another of my running-driven smoothie recipes. A bit lighter than the mango smoothie from a couple of weeks back, this smoothie is great to sip and rehydrate with–I like to make it for the afternoon following a long morning run, when it’s important to replenish all the lost sweat, but drinking JUST water starts getting a little old. The cucumber breaks the sweetness of the papaya, keeping the flavor fairly mild, and a twist of lime juice add a nice touch of acidity to the mix.

I would NOT recommend this smoothie as a candidate for beefing up with protein powder–the thick texture of the protein powder will quickly overwhelm the mild flavors of the smoothie.

Papaya and lime smoothie
serves 2

Ingredients
one small (~1 lb fruit) papaya
one cucumber
Juice of one lime
2 c. cold water

Method
Remove the skin and seeds from both the papaya and cucumber, and cut into rough chunks. Place into a food processor or blender with the lime juice and 1 c. water. Blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed, until desired consistency is achieved.

Pantry project: Basic black bean soup

When I did the Kitchn Cure last month, I did a thorough clean-out and reorganization of our fridge, freezer, and pantry. In getting through these tasks, I realized that we have a LOT of food in our apartment. While there are perfectly good reasons for keeping a good supply of food around (what if there’s an earthquake? or 20 people show up unexpectedly for dinner?), our stocks were starting to stress the storage limits of our small space. So, I began a small and unofficial project to start using up some of the little bits and pieces that were accumulating in the freezer. When M. returned from his summer backpacking adventure, we crunched some numbers on our 2014 grocery spending to date and decided to kick our efforts up a notch and make a more concerted effort to “shop the pantry”. We have one hard and fast rule (no purchasing of a new food if there is a functionally equivalent food still available), and a general agreement to structure our meal planning each week to take advantage of foods we already have available.
We’ll be measuring progress based on the fullness of our pantry/freezer, and the size of our grocery bill.

So, for the next few months, I’ll probably be posting a few more “pantry-friendly” recipes. To kick things off, here’s one of my most reliable pantry meals: black bean soup. We purchase dried black beans in bulk, 15 lbs at a time, so there are usually plenty on hand. I ate it pretty regularly through grad school, as evidenced by this vintage photo:

Fortunately, M. loves black bean soup as much as I do, so it’s remained a staple of our fall and winter meals. It’s a very easy soup to use for absorbing odds and ends in the fridge also, which means it’s a bit different almost every time I make a batch. True to the “pantry” theme of this post, the recipe I’m sharing today is the ultra basic version, but I often like to mix it up by adding one or more of the following:

-A cup or two of kale or spinach
-a cup of corn kernels
-a small chopped sweet potato or a cup of cubed butternut squash
-a zucchini or two
-red, yellow, or orange bell peppers
-a handful of chopped cilantro

If you want to get fancy with your soup, you can also try topping it with cilantro, cheese, or avocado. Add a pan of cornbread on the side and a loaded version of this soup makes an easy and delicious cold weather meal to share with friends.

Basic black bean soup
serves 6-8

Ingredients
2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4-5 cloves crushed garlic
2 carrots, diced
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. coriander
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
5 cups cooked black beans
28 oz can diced tomatoes
4 c. water
salt and pepper to taste

Method
1.In a large stock or soup pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Saute the onions for 6-8 minutes, until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes more. Add the carrots and saute for 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, oregano, and thyme, stir until onions/carrots are coated with spices.

2. Add the black beans, tomatoes, and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow to cook for another 30-40 minutes. Serve hot.

Dried legumes are currently taking up a lot of our pantry real estate, so expect to see more soup recipes this fall and winter! If your pantry is also overflowing with beans, here are a few older recipes you might enjoy trying:

Curried red lentil soup
Garlicky white bean soup
Hummus
Chickpea and scallion fritters

Post-run mango smoothie

Since I’ve been getting more serious about running lately (that first half marathon? DONE!), I’ve started to pay more attention to pre- and post-run fueling. One thing I keep reading is that following a hard run, it’s important to eat quickly (within 30 minutes) and ideally to eat a roughly 4:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein. So after my long Saturday run, I’ve been whipping up a smoothie with lots of fruit (carbs)!, spinach (potassium keeps muscle cramps at bay!) and some protein powder (protein!). One of my favorites is this green mango smoothie:

With just one fruit, this smoothie comes together quickly–most weekends I even have time to prep it before I leave for my run, so I come home to a nice cold smoothie on the top shelf of the fridge. Absolute bliss after a few hot and sweaty miles. I actually used not to be a big mango fan, but I’ve come around to them big time this year as our local market kept popping up with these great deals on mangoes by the box. I’ll try anything once if it’s a bargain, you know?

I’ve also experimented with making this smoothie a full-on meal replacement by adding a little more fat, my two favorites are coconut milk (makes for a really creamy texture), or a raw nut butter (almond and cashew are particularly nice). This smoothie also keeps in the fridge for a day or two, so I sometimes like to make one on a weeknight and split it in two for part of an easy weekday breakfast. Or, after an especially grueling run, it’s the perfect side to something more substantial:


My hacked version of Kumera + Kale latkes with poached egg, using frozen spinach (instead of kale) and mashed sweet potatoes (instead of grated).

Yum.

Green mango smoothie
Serves one tired runner

1 large mango, peeled and cut into rough chunks
1 tbsp each pea and rice protein powder (or 2 tbsp protein powder of choice)
2-3 large handfuls baby spinach
2 tbsp flax meal
1-2 c. water
Optional add-ins for a meal-sized smoothie: 1/3 c. full fat coconut milk, 1-2 tbsp raw almond or cashew butter.

Combine mango, protein powder, spinach, coconut milk or nut butter (if using), and 1 c. water in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Add additional water as needed to achieve desired consistency. Drink immediately or allow to chill in the fridge. If you leave the smoothie to chill, the flax will soak up some of the water and you may get more of a mango pudding. Enjoy the thicker version, or thin out a little by stirring a bit more water into the mix.

Kitchn Cure: remember that?

A while back I posted about my efforts to whip my kitchen into shape via the Kitchn Cure. I even blogged about the first week. Maybe (okay, probably not) you are wondering where weeks 2-4 went. Well, I finished those too! But, it turned out that deep-cleaning your kitchen is EXHAUSTING. Yes, even with a tiny kitchen that was not exactly disgusting to start with. So I lost the energy to actually blog about it. But, I was scrolling through my photos recently and was reminded that I had actually finished the thing. So here’s a quick little recap of the Cure.

First, I should acknowledge that for me, the final three weeks stretched out to five, bringing my total Cure time to six weeks rather than four. I first began to run into trouble cleaning the oven:

The Cure estimates you will spend about an hour cleaning your oven (plus an overnight application of baking soda paste). I am pretty sure I spent quite a bit longer, and this task stretched over several evenings, with a final Saturday cleaning session to get it wrapped up. Still, in the end, it did look much nicer:

I also cleaned a number of small appliances (toaster oven, dehydrator, food processor) with a little more thoroughness than usual:

Reorganized my pantry:

Emptied out and cleaned my cabinets, then put things back nicely:

And then completely ran out of steam and failed to photograph the cleaning of my under-sink area, floors, surfaces, or trash can. But I did actually do those things, promise!

One thing I did not do? Download the 20 min/day monthlong cleaning guide that’s recommended to keep your kitchen tidy. I cannot fathom having that much time available just for cleaning the kitchen. And some of the chores seem, frankly, excessive. What on earth are you doing in your fridge that it requires cleaning every two weeks? Since finishing the Cure, I’d say M. and I have collectively spent an average of maybe 10 min/day on kitchen cleaning outside of the routine “hey, we cooked a meal, time to do the dishes and wipe down the surfaces we dirtied”. The kitchen is fine.

Despite that little hiccup of the last chore, it was a good six weeks of cleaning and organizing and I’m happy to have done it. It’s been a few weeks since I finished, so I can report on whether or not the Cure is “sticking”. My thoughts?

1) The Cure helped me get back into the habit of doing a little bit of housework each evening, which I like. It’s nice to come home to a cleaner space and when there’s only one or two things out of place, housework doesn’t seem like a very daunting task.

2) But, some of the tasks were just too much for a weeknight. Nothing like finding yourself elbow deep in oven soot and baking soda paste and 10:30 at night, with a 5AM alarm and 9AM conference call looming, right? If I do this project again, I’ll be developing my own timeline for each week’s tasks, and if that means my Cure extends by a week or so, oh well.

3) Staying power: My new pantry system is sticking pretty well. We’re also trying to “shop the pantry” a little more over the next few months, and having things sorted and organized is making that much easier. In other areas, the cabinet interiors are also still looking nice, as is the oven. Much of the surface cleaning, obviously, does not last as long and has already been repeated once or twice since I finished the Cure. I find I’m more conscious of the grub that quickly builds around our cabinet handles and have been finding myself giving those areas a quick wipe-down while I’m waiting for something to finish cooking.

Low sugar baking #2: End of summer plum cake

I’ve been spurred out of my posting lethargy by the realization that this recipe will soon be out of season (may be on its way out right now, even). Last Saturday┬ámorning I went out with a friend along a nearby run/bike/hike trail and it was starting to feel decidedly fall-like–gray sky and a tinge of moisture in the air. But enough of the weather. Plums.

This recipe evolved from a wonderful pear cake recipe that I first discovered several years ago. I started off by tweaking the batter (wheat germ! less sugar! maybe some other things…), but stuck with the original fruit of pears. This year, when plums started showing up at the market, it occurred to me that they might be a perfect substitute for pears. When I went back to look up the original pear cake recipe while writing this post, I saw that it has started life as a plum cake, so…there you go. Plums are indeed, substitutable for pears, in some instances. I changed up the spices I had been using a little too, adding a little of the mixed spice (aka Christmas pudding spice) that M. loves. Most of the sweetness in this cake comes from the plum juice seeping into the batter as it bakes, and the batter itself has just a few spoonfuls of sugar. While I normally shy away from the idea of labeling sweet baked goods as “healthy enough for breakfast”, I think this recipe comes pretty darned close.

After I made this plum cake for the first time last month, I realized it was M.’s total first exposure, as he’d somehow missed all the previous pear versions. He sometimes objects to the use of whole wheat flour, so I thought he might dismiss this cake as a little too healthy. Fortunately, my fears turned out to be baseless–maybe the mixed spice?

Lower Sugar Plum Cake
makes one shallow 10″ cake

Ingredients
1/2 c. unsalted butter, plus a little for greasing the pan
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp milk
2 eggs
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
1/2 tsp mixed spice* (see note below)
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
12 plums or Italian prunes, halved and pits removed

*Mixed spice is fairly similar to pumpkin pie spice, so you could substitute in a pinch. To make your own, combine a 3:3:2:1:1:1:1 ratio of allspice, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, and coriander.

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350F, lightly grease and flour a 10″ tart pan.

2. Cream together the butter, sugar, and milk. Gently beat the eggs into the mixture.

3. Combine the flour, wheat germ, mixed spice, baking powder, and salt.

4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in 3-4 batches. The batter should be fairly thick and even semi-solid.

5. Pour batter into tart pan and press fruit into the top of the batter. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until cake is browned and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Rainbow shredded salad with thai pesto dressing

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am a pretty devoted user of the food processor. Mine is absolutely my most used electrical appliance, and I suspect the third most used tool in my kitchen overall (tools # 1 and 2 being a vegetable knife and a cast iron skillet, respectively). And my latest food processor obsession is definitely the shredded salad.

One of my finicky salad turn-offs are pieces that are too large. They’re awkward to eat and they never really feel like a “dish” so much as a jumbled crudite plate with lettuce. A grated salad is perfect for my aversion to large pieces, and by using the food processor to do the work, it’s also faster to prepare. You can keep things simple and use just a few ingredients (as with my shredded zucchini salad), or add a little of everything and create a dish with a bold, vibrant blend of colors and flavors. Today’s salad tends more towards the “little of everything” end of the spectrum and features a wide array of vegetables. A tangy, salty dressing based around my thai pesto holds it all together, and a bit of papaya provides a slightly sweet counterpoint to all the savory.

To make more of a one-bowl meal, this salad would also be wonderful bulked up with a hearty grain like farro or wheatberries. You could also add a legume like chickpeas, or some cubes of fried tofu if you prefer.

Rainbow shredded salad with thai pesto dressing
serves 4-6 as a side or starter

Ingredients
10 oz zucchini
4 oz red cabbage
1 large carrot
2-3 radishes
5 oz papaya (1/6 to 1/4 of a full fruit)
2-3 leaves curly green kale, stems removed, sliced into thin strips
1/4 c. thai pesto, thinned out with 1-2 tsp tamari and 2-4 tbsp rice vinegar
1/4 c. roasted salted peanuts, roughly chopped
2-3 scallions, sliced

Using a food processor fitted with the grating attachement, grate the zucchini, cabbage, carrot, radishes, and papaya. Transfer to a large bowl and mix with the kale and pesto dressing. You’ll want to apply some force when mixing in the dressing so that it has a chance to work into the firmer vegetables. Garnish with scallions and peanuts and serve. For a make-ahead lunch, prep the salad, minus the dressing, the night before, then mix in dressing immediately before eating.

Kitchn cure: Week 1 recap

Last Friday, I mentioned that I was signing up for the 2014 Kitchn Cure. The concept of the Cure is pretty simple: “a 4-week program of small daily tasks and encouragements to get your kitchen into shape for fall cooking. We’ll gently prompt you to clean your fridge, wipe out your spice shelves, and take charge of your cooking space.”.

While our kitchen space is in reasonably good shape, I do tend to let the deep cleaning tasks fall by the wayside, so getting reminders to focus on them for a while sounded perfect. Also, I was hoping the Cure would get me back into a more general habit of doing a bit of housecleaning each day, rather than letting it build up during the week and then taking care of everything on the weekend. In theory, M. and I prefer the “do a little each evening” approach, both because it is so nice to live in a tidy environment, and because not spending your weekend on chores is AWESOME. But with M. traveling a lot lately, I’ll admit I have gotten slack.

With all that preamble out of the way, I thought I’d do a little recap of how the first week is going. This week focused on the fridge and freezer. But first, I had to spend a little time making a list of kitchen likes/dislikes:

Since we rent, we have pretty limited options for major kitchen overhauls, but I think there are still a few things on my “dislike” list that can be fixed with no more than a little extra effort. Overall, if the worst thing I can say about my cooking space is that it’s “bland” (and that “maybe?” is “maybe fixable?”, it is “definitely” bland!), well…that’s pretty good.

Next up, the actual cleaning. The fridge and freezer were tackled over four days: clear out fridge (1), clean fridge (2), clear out freezer (3) and clean freezer (4). Here are a couple of quick “before” shots:

It wasn’t terrible, but some attention was needed. Fortunately I did not have much that needed to actually go into the trash–meal planning and going to the grocery store with a list both really help to cut down on food waste!

The actual cleaning was nicely therapeutic. My cleaning products of choice are vinegar, Simple Green, soap, and a generous amount of elbow grease. After a few evenings of rearranging and scrubbing, I was able to stand back and take in the fruits of my labor:

So nice to be faced with a gleaming fridge every time I open the door! Per my list dislikes, and the Kitchn’s recommendation, I have split the freezer into “zones”, though since the freezer doesn’t really have compartments I’m unsure how long this will last. Probably until we do another batch cook day, at which point it will become a precisely calibrated 3-d jigsaw aimed at stuffing in the maximum amount of food possible.

After all that, I was on such a cleaning roll, I scrubbed out the microwave on Friday morning as well, just because it was annoying me. Then I hit up the market and stocked my shiny new fridge with food for the coming week, so I would be well-provisioned for my next round of chores: