You know how some people have a sweet tooth, while others have a salty one? Well, I'm the latter, I love salty foods - pile on the pretzels, popcorn, chips, etc. So when my mom asked me "what was for dessert?" the other night, I didn't have much of a response. Ultimately, we ended up snacking on frozen fruit, but I began my search online for sweet, baking recipes. We don't eat butter, so that limited my search even more, but after a few websites, I hit the jackpot, a Whole Wheat Zucchini Banana Bread by the famous Ethiopian chef, Marcus Samuelsson. The recipe was easy peasy. I started with two separate bowls, one with dry ingredients, the other with wet ingredients. In a small bowl, I combined 2 farm fresh brown eggs, 1/4 cup of clover honey, one mashed ripe yellow banana, 15 individually wrapped brown sugar packets which amounted into a 1/2 cup and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. In a larger bowl, I combined 1 & 3/4 cup of all-purpose white flour (a substitution for whole-wheat pastry flour), a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. The strong aroma of the cinnamon wafted through the room. I sifted the dry ingredients together and then poured the smaller bowl of wet ingredients into the dry ones and whisked them all together, making sure every inch of flour was hidden in the mixture. Then it came time for the meat (vegetable) of the recipe, I took a fresh medium zucchini and sliced it into quarter-shaped pieces and then into halves, quarters and finally tiny chopped pieces, spooning them into the mix. The last part of the recipe called for mix-in additions - dried fruit or chocolate chips. We didn't have chocolate chips, but I added a handful of sticky crimson red Craisins. I pre-heated the oven to 350 degrees and sprayed a loaf-sized pan with non-stick cooking spray and then carefully tipped the bowl over and let the liquidy-mix flow into the pan. After 50 minutes our house smelled like a bakery. The bread came out with a browned crust on top, with flecks of green and red from the cranberries and zucchini. The first bite was sweet, but savory from the zucchini - a perfect combination of a sweet and salty flavor. The outer crust of the bread was hard with a crunch, but the inside was soft and moist, it broke apart in my hands.
I think it's safe to say that on a cold wintry December day there is one food that everyone can agree on, soup. A good bowl of soup made of comfort, warmth and delicious taste. However, on this wintry December day, I was in the mood for soup...but not a hot one, a chilled soup of Tomato Gazpacho. I searched long and hard on Google for a couple different recipes and finally decided on one from a website called "momswhothink.com". I perused the recipe once and then got down to business. I took out three luscious large red tomatoes from the fridge and chopped them into small pieces. I placed the now tiny chops of tomato into a large bowl. Each tomato was bursting full of juice. Then I moved onto the next step, a 1/2 cup of cucumber, I peeled a dark green cucumber, seeded it and then cut it into small chunks and scooped the pieces up into the bowl. For the next step I cut one medium sized redish-green pepper into small slices and added them to the mix. The next step of the recipe called for 2 green onions, but...we didn't have those, so I improvised. I carefully cut one large white onion in half, putting one half in a container to save for later, and dicing the other half into tiny, minuscule pieces to add to the bowl. Then came the tomato juice, I added two cups of creamy, red tomato juice into the bowl and stirred the ingredients together, as the pieces of vegetables floated on top of the liquid. Next step, a tablespoon of lemon juice. Well, in my case, lime juice (we didn't have any lemons), I tipped the spoon into the bowl and mixed the soup together again. Finally, it was time for the ultimate flavor, the spice. I took out black pepper, salt and garlic powder - but there was no specific amount of spices to add to the soup, so I twisted and shook the spices onto the soup, with a final mix so all the vegetables would be covered in spice. Then I covered the soup and let it chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, I scooped a bit into the blender and added the mixture to the bowl of chopped soup. The soup had a rosey red hue with red, white and green flecks. My first spoonful had a fresh summer taste. It was a mixture of the tomato juice and the chunkiness of the vegetables. The soup was filled with hints of spice, along with the crispness of the cucumber, onion and red pepper, I was able to taste each vegetable in every bite. "What good is the warmth of summer, without the coldness of winter to give it sweetness" John Steinbeck.
I woke up this morning with one thought in my head...dinner. Now I know that might sound weird, but I can promise you it will make sense as you read through the rest of my post. I had been asked by my parents to cook dinner tonight and I was ready for the challenge. Collectively, we chose Chicken Marsala, a favorite meal made of simple ingredients - onions, mushrooms, chicken and Marsala wine. I carefully sliced a pound and a half of button mushrooms in fourths and placed them in a plastic bowl off to the side. Then I chopped up one large white onion in half, then half again and finally into small finely chopped pieces. First, I sautéed the onions until they were translucent, then I added the bowl full of mushrooms and sprinkled some garlic powder, salt, black pepper and onion powder on top to add a little flavor and spice. I took a large metal spoon and began to turn the vegetables over and over in the pan, making sure every inch was browned. Then it was time to add the chicken into the sizzling pan. The pieces looked large and tender, but later I would find out that was anything but true. The mix of food cooked for about a half hour until it was completely cooked. I was anxious to bite into my creation as my stomach growled: "feed me, feed me!" And so that's exactly what I did...well, kind of. I sliced a piece of chicken and combined it with a forkful of mushrooms and onions. But to my surprise, the chicken wasn't tender, juicy or flavorful, in fact it tasted a bit like leather (sometimes I snack on those in my free time). On the other hand, the vegetables were cooked to perfection, with a tiny bite of crunch and a powerful flavor from the spices. I tried to stomach the chicken, but it was so squishy. My parents and I looked at each other because we all felt the same way, we laughed and put the chicken back in the package and prepared it to be returned to the store. We were left with a pot of mushrooms and onions, but for me, a meal of vegetables wasn't going to cut it. I thought a little about what I wanted, but nothing really sounded appealing, except a food that I haven't eaten in quite some time - pasta. I boiled a pot of water and put in about a half cup of Cavatappi twisty pasta noodles. After it cooked I added some garlic powder, salt and pepper and quickly gobbled it up! It's funny how a favorite food can turn into a disaster and how a simple bowl of pasta can make it all better.
Tonight for dinner at my sorority house we were having my all time favorite meal...salmon. Okay, just kidding, I don't like salmon, or any type of fish for that matter. I debated throughout the day of an alternative meal I could make for dinner and finally decided on a hearty soup. And lets be honest, soup is my favorite food. I pulled out the Vietnamese Pho Noodle soup box from my drawer and the cold package of No Oodles noodles from my fridge. The original noodles in the soup taste a bit like straw, so I decided to switch them out for the No Oodles pack of noodles. No Oodles are a new brand of noodles which are zero calorie and gluten free, made from sweet potatoes. They don't taste like anything plain, but they work for mix-ins with already prepared meals. I carefully placed the handful of No Oodles onto the bottom of the white plastic Pho soup bowl and cut open the Pho soup spice packets and sprinkled them on top of the new noodles. Then I moved into my Sorority kitchen I searched for my mystery ingredients. I started with a small bowl from the kitchen filled with firm tofu and raw broccoli as well as a plate with vegetables from the salad bar - shredded carrots, chopped green peppers, sliced mushrooms and dark green beans. Tonight my Sorority's kitchen salad bar was going to take on a new meaning. The ingredients could hardly be contained in the small bowl, as I filled it to the line with water, I had to push the food back into the bowl so it wouldn't fall out. I placed my "homemade" soup into the microwave for 2 minutes and 30 seconds and out came a steaming hot bowl of flavors. I spooned the broth into my mouth and was instantly taken aback by how spicy it was, but it mixed well with the other plain vegetables. The broccoli was soft, the mushrooms were cooked and the peppers burst with crunchiness in my mouth. The spoonfuls and forkfuls were filled with noodles, vegetables, broth, the flavors were endless. The noodles, so long and clear were a perfect addition in the bowl of goodness.
As the semester is coming to an end, I am getting ready to finish out the first half with a bang...(in the sense of food). This past weekend was extremely busy - there were no eggs on Saturday, so I opted for a bowl of granola for breakfast with some fruit...which was yummy, but when it came time for lunch - I needed a hearty meal. Myself and a couple of friends decided to take a lunch break at Bloomingfoods, the local co-op healthy grocery by College Mall in Bloomington. I walked into the store and straight to the salad bar, where my eyes bulged at the delicious choices that were awaiting me. I took a brown cardboard take-out box and began to fill it with the food that was set out in front of me. I lined the bottom of the box with 3 tong-fulls of crisp, spring-mix lettuce (a mix of dark green and red leaves). Then I moved on to the fresh vegetables, where I scooped up a spoonful of shelled, light green edamame beans and sprinkled them over the bed of leaves. Then two bright redish purple vegetables caught my eye - dark red chopped beets, I put a tiny helping on my salad and light purple seasoned onions which I piled on top of the other ingredients. I tossed a heaping portion of shredded carrots and sliced red, green and yellow peppers on top of the other vegetables...the box was starting to get heavy as I shifted the weight in between my hands. Then for protein I went straight to the "deli bar" section of the salad bar where I found my favorite kind - tofu! I chose a couple pieces of Thai seasoned tofu and placed them around the outer border of the square container of salad and then I saw the tofu tomato sauce gumbo, which looked unreal. I took a large spoonful and topped it off on top of my salad. I finished off my masterpiece with many steamed vegetables. I could not wait to start eating. I opened the box and dug into a box of flavors. At first taste I could not stop eating, each bite was better than the next. The crunch of the leaves and the peppers as they mixed with the firm bites of the tofu. The saucy gumbo worked well with the pungent flavor of the onions. I continued to eat, bite after bite, as my food selection got smaller. 10 minutes later, I looked down at the bottom of the cardboard box to see it picked clean and I smiled with a feeling of satisfaction - another great lunch in the city of Bloomington.