The Beginning of the End (Winter Minestrone Recipe)

winter minestrone

It is my sincere hope that this will be the last winter meal I’ll be posting for a while. I know it’s only early March and we still have another two and a half months of potential snowfall around here, but I’m beginning to see some subtle signs of spring approaching. Even though there’d been a light snow falling for the better part of the past few days, only a mere dusting has stuck to the ground. The next week promises daytime temperatures in the 40’s, rather than the 20’s and 30’s of the past few months. And I’ve been craving springtime food: greens, tender young veggies, and just lighter fare overall. I’ve started adding salads back into my diet and I’ve even been blending up smoothies for breakfast once in a while, despite the fact that it’s still below freezing when I wake up most mornings. (This mint chocolate chip smoothie courtesy of Vegan Sparkles is one of my favorites at the moment.) (more…)

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Faux Real (Seitan with Broccoli Recipe)

seitan with broccoli

I was one of those few lucky teenagers who managed to find a group of kindred spirits with whom to spend my time. We were, to borrow a line from the movie Bridesmaids, a stone cold pack of weirdos, but we shared common values, philosophies, and interests in a way that I’ve come to realize is far from the norm in adult relationships, let alone those in the adolescent world. Although I no longer keep in touch with these individuals except in the loosest sense (i.e. Facebook), their influence on my life was enormous. The experiences, conversations, and adventures I had within these friendships largely shaped me into the person I am today.

Probably my favorite of our recurring adventures involved taking the train into Philadelphia. The purpose of these trips was generally twofold: to get out of the rather boring suburbs in which we all lived and to eat at the only vegan restaurant that any of us knew of. You see, while I had committed to a vegetarian diet in my mid-teens, I had a couple of friends who had already taken it a step further to veganism. Eating at a suburban restaurant as a vegetarian in the late 90s was difficult enough, but trying to find something vegan on the menu? Well, let’s just say I watched my friends eat way too many plates of french fries. But at “our” restaurant we all had an entire menu of food to choose from. No restrictions. No badgering the server to make sure there was no dairy or honey or chicken broth hiding in our entrees. Just ordering off a menu like normal teenagers. In a word: free. And it was this very freedom that made these trips so enjoyable and so memorable for me. It wasn’t, of course, just the freedom I found from being able to choose whatever I wished off of a menu. It was also the freedom I felt from leaving, even if for only a few hours, the town in which I had spent my entire life, the places I would always go, the things I always did. It was about having experiences and making discoveries on my own; relying a little less on the adults in my life and a little more on my peers. Becoming an adult. (more…)

Christmas in January (Fancy Green Beans Recipe)

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Last week we brought Christmas back for round 2. Our good friends spent the Christmas to New Years season making us jealous vacationing in Florida, so we agreed to celebrate together a few weeks late rather than trying to squeeze it all in at the last minute. Although I was more than happy to see the backside of the holiday season this year, I must admit that it was nice to get together for a little belated holiday cheer. We shared copious amounts of delicious beer that our friends had brought back from the many breweries they had visited down south, snacked on olives and cheese, and exchanged gifts. It was a lovely evening spent with wonderful friends, and it served as a nice reminder that we really needn’t wait for the holidays to get together with friends and family, or even to give a thoughtful gift.

Thinking along these same lines, I’ve realized that gift-giving and merry-making aren’t the only things that only seem to make an appearance during the holidays. There are also several dishes that I only seem to cook during the holidays. Now, some of these only come out once a year or so for good reason. For instance, if I didn’t limit my chocolate bourbon pecan pie to Thanksgiving and Christmas it’s probably all I would eat for the rest of my life. However, there are also some dishes that, while certainly more than deserving of their place on the holiday table, would be more than welcome as part of a regular old dinner. One such dish is my Fancy Green Beans. (more…)

Winter Warmer (Roasted Red Pepper Soup Recipe)

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I may have mentioned this before, but I’m not exactly what you would call a winter person. From about as soon as I was old enough to no longer reap the benefits of snow days, I have dreaded the imminent arrival of the cold, the wind, and the snow. I dreaded it so much in fact, that upon finishing grad school in Boston I packed up and moved myself across the country, away from my family and friends, to sunny Sacramento, CA. Alas, I now find myself once again in the Great White North(east) but this time a little older, a little wiser, and with a slightly more positive outlook on the winter season. I still don’t care for winter sports, but I’ve adapted my preferred activities to the blustery weather (snow running, anyone?). I’m still annoyed to be stuck inside while the snow piles up outside my door, but I now appreciate the opportunity to slow life down just a bit after a non-stop summer and fall. And I definitely still lament the lack of fresh, juicy produce, but I love not worrying about heating up the house when I turn on the oven. But my favorite part about winter? The part that makes it all worthwhile?

Soup. (more…)

Shake Your Pom Poms (De-Seeding a Pomegranate Tips and Techniques)

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For a long time I would only eat pomegranates in the bathtub. Or outside. Or at the very least wearing all black and standing over the kitchen sink. Needless to say, I didn’t eat a lot of pomegranates. They’re oh-so-delicious and oh-so-good for you, but could they possibly be any messier to eat? And as much as I love that gorgeous wine-red hue, I really don’t want everything within a 10-foot radius stained with spatters of it. Well, luckily for me I found a much easier, much cleaner way to get those tasty seeds (or arils, I suppose, if we’re getting technical) out of their casing. I owe this invaluable piece of knowledge to Mr. Alton Brown. The story begins, as many thrilling tales do, one afternoon while I was getting my dose of food porn Food Network. Alton Brown, in all of his nerdy awesomeness, was on the screen teaching me everything I never knew I needed to know about pomegranates. Then, in the midst of all of the interesting but weird facts that are now long forgotten, he pulled out this little technique for quickly, easily, and cleanly getting the good stuff out of the pomegranate. And from then on I’ve lived happily ever after as a pomegranate junky. Since we’re currently right in the middle of pomegranate season, I thought I’d share this little trick with all of you in hopes that it will make your life a little easier (and cleaner) or maybe that you’ll invite pomegranates back into your life in case you’d written them off as too much work. Feel free to share your own tips and tricks for getting the edible gems out of this tasty fruit in the comments below. (more…)

Tricky Treats (Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls Recipe)

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For chronic over-planners like myself, the day after Halloween means only one thing: an overflowing plastic cauldron full of way too many fun-sized candy bars. This, of course, leads to me aggressively pushing candy on everyone I come in contact with in a desperate attempt to get rid of the extra candy before my willpower fails and I end up with the kind of stomach ache that can only result from eating excessive amounts of Halloween candy and the guilt that comes along with it. This year, in an effort to break this pattern, I’ve made a healthier version of one of my favorite candies so I can satisfy my candy craving without digging into the chocolate cauldron too many times. (more…)

Inspiration Point (Stuffed Acorn Squash with Tempeh Sausage, Mushrooms, and Barley Recipe)

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Going out to eat is one of my favorite things to do. I love it for all of the usual reasons like not having to cook, the food itself, socializing with friends, and just having a chance to get out of the house. But I also enjoy it for a not-quite-so-common reason: the inspiration it provides for my own cooking. This is something I hadn’t given much thought to in my previous life, but after several years of our current lifestyle I’ve come to realize that restaurant dining was my culinary muse and that eating one meal a week away from the house at a very limited selection of restaurants was starting to seriously stifle my creativity. Sadly, it took a period of rather stale meal ideas that left me going to back to the same old dishes again and again to come to this unfortunate realization. (more…)

Fall Cleaning (Shitake Green Curry with Soba Noodles Recipe)

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I don’t know about you, but all I’ve been wanting to eat lately is bread, pasta, and sweets. I could probably blame it in part on the cooler temperatures pushing me towards heavier, richer foods. But really, it’s not that cold yet and it’s a bit too early still for the heavy foods of winter. More realistically, it’s my own fault for indulging in these yummy treats just a little too often and not noticing how far down the slippery slope I’d come towards subsisting solely on refined carbs. This, combined with a bout of fall allergies and a couple of weeks spent teetering on the edge of catching the nasty cold that’s been going around, has left me feeling sluggish and just generally unwell. Based on these realizations, it seems that it might be good time for a dietary cleanse. A reboot for my system, if you will. (more…)

Simple Overabundance (Creamy Polenta with Grilled Tempeh and Roasted Tomatoes Recipe)

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I love this time of year.  I love the warm, sunny days and the cool, perfect for sleeping nights.  I love the late summer wildflowers overflowing the roadside ditches.  I love the monarch butterflies that positively swarm me on my late morning runs.  I love that the wooded trails stay cool long into the afternoon.  I love the slight sense of urgency one feels during BBQs and camping trips, staying outside just a little longer, trying to squeeze every last drop out of summer before that morning chill starts to hang around a little too long into the day.  But most of all, I love the absolute overabundance of fresh produce this time of year.  Particularly around here (upstate NY, aka the Arctic) where the growing season is too short and I feel like I spend most of my year trying to figure out another way to prepare squash, potatoes, and onions and reminding myself that while the tomatoes on the shelves might look pretty good I’m going to be sorely disappointed if I try to eat one. (more…)

You Never Forget Your First (Tortilla Soup Recipe)

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Hello, and welcome to the very first post on A Fork in Hand.  Much thought (probably too much, really) went into selecting my inaugural recipe.  I’m a bit of an over analyzer, so it should come as no surprise that it took me close to 2 months to decide that this was the one.  I mean, it’s my first blog post.  There were so many things to consider!  It had to be something delicious, obviously.  But it also had to be simple enough not to scare people off, yet elaborate enough that you wouldn’t find 20 examples of nearly the same recipe with a simple google search  And most importantly, it had to epitomize, as much as any one recipe can, exactly the kind of food this blog is about.

I believe this tortilla soup recipe is all of those things.  It’s been in the works for quite awhile.  A few years, I think.  I’m pretty much in love with this particular version.  It’s spicy and complex from a mix of fresh and dried chiles, bright and herbal from a short simmer with cilantro stems, and a little tangy from a squeeze of lime to finish it all off.  This is a soup I eat to warm up body and soul on gloomy winter days, to clear out my head when I feel the sniffles coming on, and most often to satisfy my craving for the Mexi-Cali food that I miss so much.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. (more…)

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