Spinach Artichoke Hummus

spinach artichoke hummus

Prepare yourself… a million variations on hummus flavors are coming.

I mentioned when I made the Roasted Red Pepper Hummus recipe that I was literally astounded at how easy it was for me to make hummus, and how ridiculous it made me feel for spending money on tiny amounts of hummus at the store over the years. Well… that opened up a Pandora’s Box of possibilities to me, and so I’ve started making my way through all of my favorite hummus flavors.

The beauty of making your own hummus is choosing the strength of flavor you’re trying to impart in the hummus. Commercial companies have to make something that pleases most people’s palates; but when you make hummus at home, you get to cater to your own taste buds. That was the happy case with this recipe for me. I’m in love with the combination of spinach and artichokes in all kinds of things (lasagna, dip, pasta, etc.) but I always felt that the spinach artichoke hummus that I’d bought in the past was a bit bland. So, I ended up using the leftover water in the artichoke can instead of the chickpea water to intensify the artichoke flavor… and I loved it!

Hummus is an amazing dip–it’s already packed with its own distinct flavor, but still functions as a blank canvas for all kinds of flavor combinations. Like I said earlier, you’ll probably see a lot of different types of hummus flavors pop up on here from time to time. Forgive me in advance, okay? :)

spinach artichoke hummus

Spicy Chicken Kebabs

spicy chicken kebabsIn the past, I’ve been more than happy to pass the grilling responsibilities onto James. I figure that I do a vast majority of the cooking, so asking him to be in charge of grilling was only fair. (James, being an incredibly agreeable husband, has never had an issue with this assumption.) But now that he’s back at the hospital for 60+ hours a week, I’ve lost my grillmaster! It’s not that I haven’t grilled things before in the past–it’s just that I’m lazy and I don’t prefer to and I dislike smelling like smoke and man, that grill is so hot and stuffy… the list of excuses goeth on. But when the craving for chicken kebabs came rolling in, I had to suck it up and become my own grillmaster.

We have a communal grill at our apartment complex, and I had never used it before… so my attempts at lighting the propane gas were an embarrassing comedy of errors. I was keenly aware of the people walking around the common area; while I’m sure they were just carrying on with their lives, my eyes kept darting up to them as they walked by. Do they know? Can they tell how much I suck at this? And I think there was a part of me that hoped they could sense the increasing waves of desperation. Somebody put me out of my misery and tell me what I’m doing!

Thankfully, I was able to get the grill going after a few minutes of struggle (I kept trying to light the side of the grill that was broken–figures!) and life was beautiful… and I was redeemed!

All of that (self-imposed) drama aside, these kebabs were the first thing I grilled on my own–and they were completely worth the embarrassment. The yogurt marinade is so flavorful and really helps the chicken from drying out. The combination of paprikas, along with the coriander and cumin, adds complexity to the tangy flavor of the yogurt and make these kebabs absolutely addicting.

You can absolutely make these kebabs with chicken breast meat if you like, but I prefer chicken thighs. They’re a bit more work since you have to trim fat and fascia, but they dry out much less easily and their flavor is more concentrated.

Well, enough of my chatter. Get to it, fellow grillmasters!

spicy chicken kebabs

 

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

roasted red pepper hummus

 

I don’t know when it started, but somewhere in the last two years, hummus became a staple in our fridge. We tried different brands, different flavors, different things to eat it with… and all the while, I always complained about how expensive it was relative to other less healthy dips. And yet, without fail, hummus would still end up in the fridge regardless of my moaning and groaning.

I mean… hummus is freaking delicious, so it’s worth it in the end… right?

Well, that’s what I told myself until I finally decided to stop being so lazy and make hummus on my own. Now that I’ve made a few batches, I definitely feel silly about putting off making my own hummus sooner. I chose to make our hummus with roasted red bell pepper because I think the sweetness of the roasted pepper tempers the sharpness of the raw garlic.

The most important tool for making hummus at home with little effort is a food processor–very, very important! It doesn’t have to be fancy; even the cheapest one should suffice since the toughest ingredient you’ll be chopping up is chickpeas. You can make hummus without a food processor, of course… but it’ll be way more labor-intense (think hand-grinding the garlic and chickpeas into a paste).

Tahini paste is a little expensive up front–I bought mine at the grocery store for $7.00–but seeing that you only use 3 Tbsp. of it in this recipe, it’s pretty cost-effective to have it around (especially if you eat hummus as much as we do). I’ve made dressings as well as hummus with the paste, so I think it’s a worthwhile purchase. You should be able to find it in the “Ethnic” part of your grocery store; I encourage you to check out a smaller, ethnic food store if you can. If all else fails, then Amazon sells it… then again, what does Amazon not sell?

I’m sure no one else needs this reminder except me, but garbanzo beans and chickpeas are two names for the same thing. So if you can only find one or the other at the store, don’t worry–that’s what you need to buy!

You can enjoy this recipe with whatever you prefer–pitas, pita chips, various vegetables… James loves eating hummus with grilled chicken but I prefer to eat hummus with bell peppers. Whatever makes you happy!

roasted red pepper hummus

Taiwanese Cold Cucumber Salad (涼拌黃瓜)

taiwanese cucumber salad

涼拌黃瓜 (liáng bàn huáng guā), or cucumber salad, is a very common appetizer at many Taiwanese restaurants and is a personal favorite of mine. Because I love this simple dish so very much, I’ve gone through many a trial trying to get the perfect balance of tangy, sweet, salty, and spicy down pat. And the number of recipes I’ve found online have varied so wildly that I feel as if I’ve tried every conceivable version of this appetizer… really, you’d be surprised at how many ways you can make this (and how many of these versions are definitely not worth the time or effort).

The biggest thing I learned on my cucumber journey (which is what it felt like at times) is that these are not pickles, they’re a salad. Hello, Captain Obvious! But seriously, this tastes best when the cucumbers are freshly tossed with the sauce and served immediately after. The cucumbers are at their crunchiest, and their cool, fresh flavor still stands up well to the strong flavor of the sauce.

taiwanese cucumber salad

The second most important aspect of this dish is the way the cucumber is prepared. If you’re using your standard dark-green English cucumber, you’ll need to peel and de-seed the cucumber before tossing it with the sauce. The seeds hold a lot of water and dilute the sauce if you leave them be. And getting rid of the peel allows the cucumber to soak up the sauce on all sides… yum!

You can also choose to use Persian cucumbers; these do not require peeling or de-seeding and tend to have a much crispier texture. The flavor of Persian cucumbers is a little stronger, but I think it’s just as delicious–and less work! They’re a little more expensive, but worth it if they’re available to you.

These taste great as an appetizer before any Asian-style meal or even alongside the meal, especially if you’re serving it with rice or the main dish is especially salty or strong-flavored. I love these so much that I eat them on their own and can finish this amount in one sitting… but I wouldn’t use my habits as an example!

Taiwanese food is amazing, and this cucumber salad is just the very basic tip of the iceberg. Look forward to me posting more recipes as I work my way through them, and I hope you enjoy this one!

taiwanese cucumber salad

Kale Fruit Shake

kale fruit shake

 

Just look at how… how green that shake is.

Yum…?

Did I do a good job of guessing your initial thoughts on seeing my newest health concoction? Don’t worry, you’re not alone–my husband is not a fan of the appearance, either. But don’t let the color or those conspicuous little dark flecks of green fool you: this shake is basically strawberry-banana-flavored with a healthy dose of protein to boot.

So I’ll be honest: I can’t do juicing. I think that the green juices are especially… not enjoyable to drink. It’s all the rage in LA right now (and everywhere else at this point, I’m sure), but I’ve never had a problem with eating vegetables in the first place. If I like eating veggies, and enjoy preparing them in different ways, then why on Earth would I drink them instead–barring a medically-necessary all-liquid diet?

kale fruit shake

But when I wake up in the morning and I want a shake… well, why not take the opportunity to “power it up” with some healthy protein? Also: ‘Hm, what’s lying around in my fridge?’ And that’s how this shake came to be!

It’s a bit tart due to the greek yogurt, but the tartness balances out the sweetness of the pineapple and banana very well. And it’s all-natural, friends–no added sugar or 2% fruit juice here! The frozen pineapple, frozen strawberries, and yogurt give the shake body and prevent it from being overly thin, and the kale blends in so well that you can barely taste it. If you want to pump your shake up with even more protein, I’ve thrown spinach into the mix as well–but it definitely leaves more of a leafy aftertaste in the mouth.

The last thing I’ll mention is blender technique–yes, there’s technique to it! Make sure that you can always see a vortex at the center of the blender when it’s on. This ensures even mixing of the ingredients. If you don’t see the vortex or it looks like the ingredients aren’t moving around, try adding a tablespoon or two of water and turn the blender on again. That should do the trick!

Strawberry Rhubarb Bars

strawberry rhubarb barsApril has been the craziest month–no lie. With all of the traveling I’ve been doing recently, it’s been hard to muster the energy to make or bake anything in the kitchen (as you can see by my prolonged absence). It’s been even harder for me to convince myself to make anything more indulgent than vegetable soup or chicken breasts, since we’ve been doing nothing but gorging ourselves on junk whenever we’re away. But sometimes, I need a break: I need something that’s indulgent.

Sometimes, a baker’s gotta bake.

strawberry rhubarb bars 2I was writing an article on how to make pie crust from scratch for DIYready.com (hello, plug!) and it put a little idea worm in my head–sure, making pie is a bit of a commitment for some, but making crumble bars is quick, easy, and easy to share. And since I’ve been mulling over the idea of using strawberries and rhubarb together recently… this recipe popped out of my head and into the oven!

If you really want bars but don’t want to make the preserves from scratch, I completely understand–you can easily substitute 1½-2 cups of strawberry preserves (or whatever you prefer) and still get a fantastic bar out of it. But if you’re willing to put in the ~10 minutes of work to get fresh strawberry-rhubarb preserves, I highly encourage it. I love the sour, spiky flavor of the rhubarb with the tart sweetness of strawberry. I love it even more with a little bit of cinnamon and pepper–yes, pepper!–to sharpen the flavor. The sharpness of the preserves, paired with the mild sweetness of the crumb and bottom crust, make for a very tasty bite.

strawberry rhubarb crumble 3If you do end up having leftover preserves after spreading them on the bottom crust in the baking dish, it’s okay–you can put them in an airtight container and use them up to a week. Or…

A Great Idea: pairing the preserves with vanilla ice cream.

An Even Greater Idea: pairing the preserves with vanilla ice cream and eating the ice cream with the crumble bars.

Hey, when I say I’m indulging… I like to go all-out.

I hope you get the chance to try these–they are pretty delicious! And they’re a great way to make friends at your next potluck, office party, or what-have-you. I made James take a large batch of them with him to his lab meeting today and they were a hit. Or, you know, you could just keep them at home and share them with yourself. I’m not here to judge…

strawberry rhubarb crumble 4

 

Chinese-Style Boiled Peanuts

chinese boiled peanutsJames and I are avid board game fans; yes, we still outdo our own nerdiness on a frequent basis. We always invite friends over to play board games and are often recruited to others’ places because of our board game collection. Recently, we were at a friend’s house playing Clue for nostalgia’s sake. Everything was going swimmingly until hunger struck…

…and then I, in my hangry state, murdered Mr. Body with the candlestick in the library.

Well, that might be a slight exaggeration on my part. My stomach growled like it wanted to kill something in order to feed itself, and we went on a scavenger hunt to see what we could forage from my friend’s snack collection. The final product? Crispy, salted seaweed and roasted peanuts. It wasn’t filling, but I think that actively eating something made me feel less murderous.

We started talking about how we enjoyed eating peanuts in various ways, and I remembered how much I loved eating boiled peanuts when I was younger. My mom would boil peanuts in salted water on the stove for hours, and I would eat them one by one, gorging myself on the boiled peanut bounty until I was peanut-bloated. I resolved at that point to boil some for myself the next day.

Right before I started to cook the peanuts, however, James pointed out that I should make the peanuts more interesting–and so I thought immediately of star anise and Sichuan peppercorns. Because it was late, I figured that I could let the peanuts cook in the slow cooker overnight as well. And so… this recipe was born!

If you’re not a fan of Sichuan peppercorns or that numbing-spicy (má là, or 麻辣) sensation, feel free to leave it out. Honestly, I’m in the middle of a twisted love affair with Sichuan food so I would double the amount I’ve listed… Also, I’ve done some research online and apparently these very closely resemble Hawaiian-style boiled peanuts. Since I’ve never had them, it’s hard for me to have a basis of comparison… but if you’ve eaten them before, it sounds like you can expect a similar concoction of flavors.

You can also use a pressure cooker to cook these peanuts (~1 hour) or a stovetop and pot (~4-5 hours on medium low, covered). I really liked the ease of “set it and forget it” that slow cookers bring to the table, however, and found that I was able to get the same kind of soft consistency in the peanut that I normally do when boiling it on the stove.

Regardless of how you cook them, these peanuts are amazing, flavorful, and hard to put down! Perfect for your next board game finger food list or just for snacking while watching something on TV.

chinese boiled peanuts

 

Puttanesca Sauce

puttanesca[Note: This is a follow-up of sorts to my spaghetti squash noodle recipe–hence the use of spaghetti squash noodles in the pictures.]

James is not the “yay, diet foods!” type. A lot of the time, I feel as if I need to make a compelling argument via taste test in order for him to believe that healthy substitutions are great diet solutions. I definitely heard a lot of nay-saying before I converted him to the Cauliflower Rice Religion (!), and I dealt with a similar amount of skepticism regarding spaghetti squash. So I knew from the start that I needed to pair the noodles with a sauce that would knock it out of the park for his taste buds… and for my purposes (and my taste buds), that sauce is puttanesca.

puttanescaSo what is puttanesca? What does it even mean? Well, you may giggle about the etymology of the name if you don’t know it already. Puttana (or putta) means ‘whore’ or ‘prostitute'; I’ve seen quite a few recipes and cookbooks refer to this as ‘whore’s spaghetti.’ Pretty colorful, right? According to Wikipedia, a restaurant in Italy claims to have created the sauce in the 1950’s because they were low on ingredients and customers insisted, Facci una puttanata qualsiasi,” or ‘make any kind of garbage.’ So yes–the name itself is not the prettiest. Thankfully, the sauce itself is very tasty!

When you initially see the list of ingredients, it literally looks like a recipe for disaster: anchovies, olives and capers? What is this, salt with tomatoes on the side? But the tomatoes mellow out the saltiness of the ingredients quite well–enough to where you’ll find yourself adding salt to taste right before serving. The sautéed onions at the beginning of the recipe add just enough sweetness to counterbalance the salty ingredients, too! And I know that anchovies aren’t on everyone’s “Top 10 Favorite Foods in the Whole Wide World” list, but believe me–the briny, savory flavor that they impart to the sauce are irreplaceable. These components may have been thrown together for lack of ingredients, but they taste like they belong together.

puttanesca

James & I love anchovies–but I accounted for the rest of the world’s population that isn’t in love with hopelessly salty fish and reduced the amount for the recipe listed here. If you want it our way, take some blood pressure medication and double the amount of anchovies! I also added a dash of dry white wine to deglaze the pot–make sure you use a dry, low-sugar wine like sauvignon blanc. And if you can hold off on eating the sauce until the next day, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so. After making this sauce a few times, I noticed that the flavor is more rich and complex after sitting overnight in the fridge.

I had an amazing pun at the end of my last entry, but all I can think of for this sauce are “easy” jokes… so I’ll just leave it at that… ha. Enjoy!

puttanesca

 

 

Spaghetti Squash Noodles

spaghetti squashTwo weeks. Two weeks… ish.

Well, more specifically, 17 days. Until this.

For those of you too lazy to click the link–don’t worry, I completely understand–I’m talking about Coachella.

No matter where you stand on the spectrum of opinion regarding Coachella (which usually boils down to ‘Yaaaasss!!’ or ‘Ugh, pretentious and privileged hipster playground’), we can all generally agree on two things about this festival:

  1. Man, Indio is hot this time of year.
  2. Wow, people do not wear very much because of the desert temperatures.

So whenever Coachella looms on the horizon… and I have a ticket in my grubby hands… I like to use Coachella as my motivation to get in shape as a segue-way into the summer season. But working out is only 50% of the hard work involved–and honestly, I’d even go as far to say it’s even less than that.

Goodbye, carb and alcohol-based diet…

spaghetti squash

…and hello, sustainable healthy substitutes! (Well, at least for the carbohydrates.)

I’d tried making spaghetti squash once before a few years ago and was thoroughly turned off by it. So I figured that when I started eating less carbs, I’d have to give up Italian pasta-based dishes as well. I resigned myself (and James) to a plethora of vegetable-based soups and salads for the unforeseeable future.

Well, that got old… really, really old. And so, I found myself at the grocery store the other week, frowning in thought in front of the squash produce. Well, what did I have to lose?

I surfed around a few food blogs to look for suggestions on how to cook the squash best and ran across a few sites that suggested baking the squash in rings as opposed to 2 halves. ‘Hmm… well, why not give it a try?’ I thought. And I’m really glad I did–because all of the issues I had previously with spaghetti squash were fixed by this different method. The noodles were long, not short… they were more “al dente” as opposed to mushy… and they tasted fantastic!

Obviously, using spaghetti squash noodles is more labor-intensive than boiling a pot of salted water and throwing in dried pasta. But if you’re looking for a viable substitute for pasta, I can’t think of a better way to still enjoy your favorite pasta dishes.

spaghetti squashI’ve found that microwaving the squash for a few minutes first makes it much easier to cut into–which is really important when you’re cutting the squash into rings. Don’t forget to poke holes around the squash before you place it in the oven, though–otherwise you’ll have a giant, exploding squash-y mess on your hands.

spaghetti squashBe sure to handle the squash with oven mitts when you take it out of the microwave and slice it. It’s going to be quite hot! The rings need to be at least 1-2½ inches in thickness–otherwise, the ‘meat’ of the squash will overcook and become mushy.

spaghetti squashBefore you bake the rings, be sure to thoroughly scoop the slimy pulp and seeds from the center. You can clean and bake the seeds later if you’d like–they taste and roast just like pumpkin seeds.

spaghetti squashAfter they’re baked, use a fork to gently pull the strands toward the center of the ring. Since the striation of the ‘meat’ is goes along the width of the squash, the noodles will pull apart very easily and end up just as long as regular noodles!

I like making these noodles at the beginning of the week and keeping them in the fridge to use as needed–that way, I’m less tempted to opt out of making something healthy later. Obviously, the consistency and flavor are going to be a lot different from pasta… but the ‘mouthfeel’ of the squash noodles is similar enough to pasta for me. And they function much in the same way regular pasta does–they carry a hearty sauce very well.

So whether you have Coachella coming up… or you just want to give yourself healthier options… spaghetti squash noodles are a great option. Actually, this recipe reminds me of a joke:

What do you call fake noodles?

impasta!

Okay, I’ll see myself out now… :)

spaghetti squash

 

 

 

 

 

Fried Shrimp Cauliflower Rice

cauliflower fried rice with shrimp

I might as well drop the pretenses and call this website Cauliflower Holiday at this point, it seems. Will I never tire of cooking with cauliflower? Well… not as long as it continues being an excellent food for a variety of diets: paleo, low-carb, Atkins, South Beach, and so on. Every time I think that an application of cauliflower will fail miserably, it passes with flying colors. Cauliflower rice is the best example of that for me. Never could I have anticipated how much I’d rely on and really enjoy eating this rice substitute even a year ago, when I initially posted the recipe.

Let’s be truthful–I would still eat regular rice over cauliflower rice almost any day of the week. I grew up on white rice, and it is the staple food of both my personal culture and that of my husband’s. Nothing between heaven and earth could change that. But in the interest of leading a healthier, more active lifestyle, it’s really not a bad trade-off. Really! Man, am I not convincing you yet?

That picture above should do the convincing for me, even if my words keep contradicting themselves.

cauliflower fried rice with shrimpYou’ll notice in the recipe that instead of throwing everything in at once, as most are inclined to do with fried rice, I cook the protein elements of the dish deliberately before I add everything else. This prevents the end result from tasting homogeneous–the shrimp adds a burst of flavor, the egg adds another, and so on. It’s also important to leave the shrimp undisturbed when you first place them into the pan, as the cornstarch crusts at the touch of heat and gives them that nice, golden color and slight crunch.

I also added a lot of garlic to the recipe to kick up the flavor of the cauliflower. Otherwise, its blandness would be overwhelmed with the addition of the shrimp. The soy sauce is another flavor boost for the cauliflower, but is optional if you prefer to not use any.

cauliflower fried rice with shrimpThe final result is pretty amazing; everything comes together in a harmonious bite. And the last thing that comes to your mind when you eat it is “bland”, “boring” or “bitter”… three common descriptions for cauliflower that I hear. The cauliflower rice becomes the glue that holds all of these separate elements together, just like regular rice. You’ll be surprised at how you won’t miss the addition of regular rice in this version (and you definitely won’t miss the carbs).

I made a version of this without shrimp for my mother-in-law and she was surprised at how much she liked it–which I take as a compliment, since she used to make shrimp fried rice daily at their family-owned Chinese restaurant. I hope that is endorsement enough for you to give it a try! This dish is an awesome way for you to have a cheat day favorite (Chinese take-out) without cheating–and who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it, too?

cauliflower fried rice with shrimp

The recipe below omits the initial recipe for cauliflower rice, which you’ll find here on my site.

Happy cooking!