Saturday, February 20, 2010

Ginger-Peanut Salad

Remember the days of your youth when you were stuck in a church basement amongst a sea of cold pasta salads and random vegetables such as carrots and celery that were mysteriously encased in jello?

Whenever I hear the words "cold salad" I think exactly of that. That is, up until now.

I'm a sucker for Thai food. The peanut sauces, the ginger, garlic, cilantro and richness of the flavors are what inevitably bring me running back for more.

The original recipe calls for soba noodles, which are not gluten free, so instead I substituted quinoa spaghetti.

Let's talk about quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah").

Referred to as "The Mother Grain" by the Incas (who were so amazed by it's benefits that they held it to be sacred), quinoa is very high in protein, contains a balanced set of amino acids making it a complete protein, and is also high in fiber, phosphorous, magnesium, and iron. Not only is quinoa gluten free, but it is also low-glycemic making it an excellent choice for diabetics.

When prepared in it's natural state, quinoa has mild, slightly nutty flavor and it's texture is light and fluffy making it an excellent (and more nutritional) stand in for couscous or rice. (Stay tuned for more recipes containing quinoa!)

But when it comes down to it, the sauce in this recipe is the kicker. The creaminess of the peanut butter along with the sassiness of the ginger, garlic, and cilantro make me want to pack my bags, convert to Buddhism and move to Thailand. It's just that good.

So the next time you find yourself looking for a cold salad to bring to a picnic or a party, (church basement optional) give this one a whirl...You won't regret it!

Ginger-Peanut Salad
Recipe, in part, by Melynda Saldenais as published in the Whole Foods Market flyer
Serves 4

1 8 oz package quinoa spaghetti
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
1 Tbs agave nectar or maple syrup
1 Tbs minced fresh ginger
2 tsp tamari
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 Tbs lime juice
1 tsp fresh lime zest
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced(1 1/2 cups)
1 small red bell pepper, sliced (1 cup)
1 large carrot, grated (1/2 cup)
2 Tbs chopped peanuts, optional

Cook noodles according to package. Rinse under cold water, drain.

Puree peanut butter, vinegar, agave nectar, ginger, tamari, garlic, lime juice, lime zest, and 1/4 cup cilantro in blender until smooth, adding 2 to 3 Tbs warm water to thin, if necessary.

Toss together noodles, veggies, and peanut butter mixture. Garnish with remaining cilantro and peanuts, if using.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Apple-Parsnip Bisque

I know...MORE SOUP!

Just stick with me here people. It's cold and I've been busy therefore, soup it is!

When many people think of a bisque they immediately calculate how many spin classes it will take to work off the bowl of richness that will undoubtedly end up on their thighs.

Not this bisque.

At first glance you may think this soup looks "creamy."

Good eye, because it is and mainly in part to the roasted vegetables. You see, when you roast vegetables their flavors concentrate which lends a richness without the addition of cream.

The sweetness of the apples combined with the natural spiciness of the parsnips and the earthiness of the sage and thyme allows this soup to stand on it's own.

I paired it with my gluten-free vegan jalapeno corn bread topped with a drizzle of honey.

Apple Parsnip Bisque

2 pounds sweet apples (such as Fuji) peeled, cored, and quartered
1 lb parsnips, peeled and cut into one-inch dice
1 1/2 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch dice
1 large yellow onion, cut into 6 pieces, layers pulled apart
3 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
10 large sage leaves
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves (stripped from stems)
8 cups plain rice milk

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, toss together apples, parsnips, sweet potatoes, onion, oil, salt and pepper. Arrange evenly in an 11 x 17-inch pan with an edge. Place in lower third of oven and roast for about 45 minutes, stirring veggies and rotation pan every 15 minutes. When everything is fork-tender and nicely browned, remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. Working in batches, puree apple-vegetable mixture, sage and thyme in a blender or food processor, adding enough rice milk to allow soup to move freely. Process each batch for 2-3 minutes to ensure a smooth texture,

3. Pour soup into a medium saucepan. Stir in any remaining rice milk. Simmer gently for 15 minutes to infuse flavors.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Healing Thoughts; When Life Comes Knocking

Photo: Fort Snelling, January 2010

I've been taking a writing class to help me compile and refine the content I have for a book that I am writing about my life with RA. The class has been a great resource for me, and has allowed me to explore more of my experience, and recount it in ways that are not only more creative, but also more personal and therefore more interesting.

We were given an assignment to do some "discovery writing." I decided to pick a phrase that I have thought about more than once throughout the recent years. "When life comes knocking."

I wanted to share my writing on this subject because I strongly believe that the way I took control when things started to go south had just as much to do with my recovery as the food I was eating.


Life can come knocking at your door at the most inopportune time. Like when you just get out of the shower, have your hair up in a towel and are waltzing around the house in your bunny slippers…


You answer the door, and there is Life, staring at you with a big old box marked “fragile.”

You close the door, carry your package that life just handed you to the kitchen counter and open it.

When you look inside, you are devastated that not only is it not the package you were expecting, but it’s one you never thought you’d ever receive.

Nine years ago Life knocked on my door.

When I first opened the package Life handed me, I wasn’t sure what it was. I had to weed through a few years of styrofoam peanuts and bubble wrap until I knew exactly what I was dealing with.

After spending a considerable amount of time in the dark, not knowing what it was that afflicted me, that prevented me from doing everyday things without a significant amount of pain, I was finally able to see what I was given.

Rheumatoid Arthritis.

This package that life had dropped off finally had a name, and it came to me in a gigantic nonsensical heap of unmatched wooden building blocks.

I was relieved, but now what would I do with it?

It was big and it was awkward. It caused me unimaginable pain and made me question how exactly I was going to get through life carrying it on my back.

It wasn’t something that I could hide in the back of a closet, or display proudly on a mantle, and I certainly couldn’t “re-gift” it. …I wouldn’t re-gift this package to anyone.

And that’s when it hit me.

Taking this package for what it was will do nothing for me, it’s what I do with it that will make all the difference in the world.

I started with the first block. I researched diet and it’s effect on autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. I learned about foods that create inflammation, such as wheat, eggs, dairy, and red meat.

After that I was able to pick up the second block and make the necessary changes to take my life back by eating a gluten free, mostly vegan, whole foods diet.

After those first two blocks, things started to get easier.

The pain had decreased significantly allowing me to pick up more blocks and claim this package as my own.

I was able to add more familiar blocks, taking the things that I had previously enjoyed in life such as group cycling, step aerobics and yoga that allowed me to incorporate who I was into what I was becoming.

Suddenly, I was no longer consumed by this package Life handed me, it was me who consumed the package.

Sometimes we don’t know exactly how strong we are until we take on Life at full force. Often it takes overcoming obstacles and experiencing pain to appreciate the true joys that Life offers.

Most importantly, it prepares you for when the next time Life comes knocking, you’ll be ready.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Holy Moly Guacamole!

By looking at the above photo, you may be thinking to yourself, "What the hell happened to Jenni's kitchen?"

THAT, ladies and gentlemen is what happens when I make guacamole-It's like hurricane Don Pablos came through and transformed my kitchen into Little Mexico.

For those who are unaware of the awesomeness of my guacamole, prepare yourself, and for those of you who are aware, you no longer have an excuse to not make this and instead have me make it every time we get together.

With that being said, being that the Super Bowl is only a few days away, I thought I would post my recipe for guacamole, and let you be the judge.

Here's the deal with guacamole. It's great as a stand alone appetizer with chips or veggies, but it's also a great substitution for cheese on Mexican food, and since I have yet to find a soy cheese good enough to take home to mother, I'm more than happy to stick with the guac.

Now, on to the avocados.

How do you know when they're ripe? Easy. If you can throw them through a window, they're not ripe. OR, instead of getting yourself kicked out of the grocery store for breaking shit, you could just feel them and if they are soft enough to lightly squeeze but not smoosh (That's right, I wrote "smoosh." The technicality of all of this is amazing, isn't it?), they are ripe.

I have to mention that I never measure anything when I make guacamole, so these measurements are on the conservative side. If you want to add less or more of any ingredient, please do so-It's your guac for crying out loud!

This batch is large enough to take to a party, so you will probably want to halve it if it's just for a few people...Or not. Whatever blows your skirt up.

Holy Moly Guacamole!
5 ripe avocados.
1/4 cup red onion, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, insides cleaned and chopped into small pieces
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds discarded, minced
1 1/2 tsp fresh lime juice
Lawry's Seasoned Salt to taste
Few drops (or more if you're not a complete wuss) of Cholula hot sauce or Tobasco
One small handful freshly chopped cilantro

Peel and avocados and remove the pit. Place in bowl and mash with either a fork, or a potato masher, whichever is easier.

Add the lime juice and stir, then and the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stir-Fried Shiitake Mushrooms with Tofu and Bok Choy

Let's forget about the fact that during the evening my kitchen has horrible photographic lighting, and instead, let's talk about stir-fries.

They're generally quick, easy and an excellent way to incorporate whole grains, veggies and protein into one bowl.

I snagged this recipe out of the February 2010 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine where it was incidentally placed in a grouping of recipes that all contained mushrooms.


Either you love 'em, or you hate 'em.

I happen to love them. They add an earthy taste and they are also very good for you, bringing to the table oodles of potassium, selenium and B vitamins. They are also one of the few plant sources of vitamin D...And we could all use a little more vitamin D these days. (Especially us folks living in Minnesota in February.)

Here's the deal. The main reason why I love this recipe so is the use of fresh ingredients, no frozen "stir fry mixes", just good fresh food. The bok choy adds an excellent crunch, as the tofu takes on the flavor of the ginger and the garlic and the spice of the sriracha, while the earthiness of the shiitake mushrooms make this a perfect, well rounded dish.

I served this with brown basmati rice and a cup of green tea.


Stir-Fried Shiitake Mushrooms with Tofu and Bok Choy
Serves 4

1tsp cornstarch
2 Tbs tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
2 tsp Thai chile sauce, such as sriracha
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp agave nectar (This is my own addition, I like my sauce a little on the sweet side)
3 Tbs canola oil, divided
1 14-oz pkg. extra firm tofu, drained and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 lb box choy, cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces
2 cups sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms

Whisk together cornstarch and 1 tsp water in a bowl. Whisk in soy sauce, ginger, chile sauce, garlic, sesame oil and agave.

Heat 1 Tbs, canola oil in large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Stir-fry tofu until golden brown; transfer to plate. Add 1 Tbs. canola oil to wok. Stir fry bok choy 4 minutes; transfer to plate.

Add remaining 1 Tbs. oil to wok. Stir-fry mushrooms for 2 minutes, or until tender. Return tofu and bok choy to wok. Stir in soy sauce mixture, and stir-fry 1 minute or until hot.

Gratuitous Nutritional Chart
PER 1 CUP SERVING: 267 calories; 13 g protein; 17 g total fat (2g saturated fat) 18 g carb; 0mg chol; 396mg sodium; 5 g fiber; 5 g sugars