Friday, August 19, 2011

Cross Country, Cookbooks, Casserole, and More...

I have been cooking up a storm, but I never get around to posting all these recipes! Cross Country practice started yesterday with two practices in one day, and it just keeps going until after Thanksgiving, so that will eat up most of my time...that and school, which starts in less than two weeks. Ahhh! I'll try to keep up with the blog as much as I keep cooking, so go ahead and subscribe if you want an email every time I post a yummy, healthy recipe (or a few recipes, in this case).

Oh, Did I ever mention that I am a cookbook fanatic? I hoard these things, and my stack just keeps growing. My latest reads are:
Clean Food by Terry Walters
Clean Start by Terry Walters
Veggie Burgers Every Which Way by Lukas Volger
The Mediterranean Vegan Kitchen by Donna Klein
Peas and Thank You by Sarah Matheny
Double Delicious (also love Delectably Delicious!) by Jessica Seinfeld

The only thing is that I never quite follow a recipe...I just read recipes for flavor profiles and then go ahead and make my own version. For example: I will read a recipe for, say, curried butternut squash soup, and think, "Oh, that's a good idea!" and head off for the kitchen, leaving the recipe behind. Then I'll start throwing together onions, herbs, squash, spices, and broths and hope it turns out well. I could have easily follow the recipe and have at least some reason to think that it would turn out well, knowing that whoever wrote the cookbook must have tested it, but I have more fun creating it on my own.

Anyway, this recipe I actually did come up with by myself, just with the inspiration of creamy cashew sauces that I've seen on the internet, which I actually have been wanting to try for a while. This recipe just popped in my head, and honestly, I was fully expecting it to be one of those dinners where we all went, "It's okay...let's eat bread and cheese for dinner instead." But no, it was flavorful and delicious, and it uses probably my favorite food ever...chickpeas!

Chickpea, Cashew, and Polenta Bake
1 tube (I think about 1 lb) precooked polenta
3 cups cooked and drained chickpeas, divided (about 2 cans)
1 cup raw cashews
1 cup vegetable broth
1 handful fresh basil (about1/4 cup)
1 clove garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup grated carrots
salt and pepper
cooking spray

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 glass dish with cooking spray.
2. Slice the polenta into about 1/4 inch thick rounds, then lay them in a single layer in the baking dish, breaking up some of the pieces to fill gaps.
3. In a blender, puree 1 cup of the chickpeas, the cashews, vegetable broth, basil, garlic, cumin, and a few dashes of salt and pepper.
4. Mix the sauce with the remaining 2 cups of chickpeas, and the carrots.
5. Spread the chickpea mixture evenly on the polenta rounds, then bake for 30-35 minutes, until the dish is heated through. 
-I added carrots because they were the only vegetable I had around and I thought the dish needed some color. Feel free to substitute any other chopped or grated veggie.
-If you are not as big of a fan of chickpeas as I am, you can use white beans instead.
-I can find the cooked polenta at Trader Joe's, near the pasta, but I have also seen it at Whole Foods and some other natural/organic markets, maybe even with the pasta or international foods in regular supermarkets. Also, they come in other flavors like Italian herb or parmesan (I think) but I usually go for the plain one, which is really just cornmeal, water, and salt.

After becoming addicted to that creamy cashew sauce, I wanted to make it again when my mom bought artichokes at Trader Joe's and asked me to come up with a dipping sauce. But, of course, I used up the last of our cashews on that sauce a few nights before! So I experimented with almonds, added too many chickpeas, and came up with this:

Almond-Thyme Hummus
It would have originally been "Creamy Almond Dip" or something along those lines, but I finally just admitted that it's pretty much hummus, and just decided to call it that.
1/2 cup almonds
2/3 cup chickpeas
1/2 to 2/3 cup vegetable broth, depending on how thin you want your hummus
1 clove garlic
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt and pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. Add a few more chickpeas if you want a thicker spread or a little more liquid if you want it thinner.

I'll share how to make steamed artichokes, also, since they are fun for dipping in creamy sauce hummus.

Simple Steamed Artichokes

3 fresh artichokes
1 lemon
3 cloves garlic, peeled
salt and pepper

1. Place a steamer basket in a large pot, and fill the pot with water, just up to the level of the steamer basket. You don't want water peeking up through the holes of the steamer basket, but you want enough water so that it won't just evaporate in a few minutes (in which case you would simply add more water...).
2. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon into the water, then place the squeezed-out lemon half in the steamer basket, along with the garlic cloves. Trim the artichokes (see this methodthrough step 4) and place them in the steamer basket, as well.
3. Slice the other half of the lemon and lay the slices on top of the artichokes. Season them with salt and pepper.
4. Bring the water to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30-50 minutes, depending on how big your artichokes are. When it's they are done, you should be able to push a fork through the bottom of the artichoke and pull it out with no problem.
5. To eat the artichoke: pull off the "leaves," dip them in something yummy, and scrape the ends with your teeth. All the "meat" is on the tip of the leave that's closest to the heart, and the leaves get more tender as you make you way to the center. When you get to the center, make sure you scrape away all the little hairs that are attached to the heart, and then you're left to enjoy that big chunk of delicious artichoke meat!

Here's another classic, simple recipe that's great for summer!

Caprese Salad

2-3 medium tomatoes, sliced
8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl or on a plate.

Also, I made that zucchini pizza crust the other night, with a mixture of zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots. Mix it up and use the veggies you have on hand! But this pizza was mainly inspired by CPK's greek pizza, which I really love. I topped the pizza with tomato sauce, crumbled feta cheese, shredded mozzarella, chopped spinach, and chopped red onion, and chickpeas, then baked it until the cheese was melted and bubbly. After it was baked, I topped it with a spicy cucumber-yogurt sauce.

Spicy Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
1/2 an English cucumber, diced
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and pepper
1/2 clove garlic, crushed

1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
2. To top a pizza, put the sauce in a ziploc bag and cut a hole in the corner so that you can squeeze the sauce out.

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