Orange Soy Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

Who’s craving vegetables? I am. I am craving vegetables, hard. As plate upon plate of cookies, treats, sweets, candies, and sugar-laced-foods have passed recently under my nose, I am suddenly unable to tolerate the idea of one more cookie, brownie, or otherwise. It’s time to correct the sweets binge with loads upon loads of savory, salted vegetables- mixed up quickly, as I’m still feeling the end-of-the-year laziness. If you’re ready for a quick yet satisfying dinner, served hot over rice, stir fry is the obvious choice. It comes together over high heat in minutes, brings full servings of vegetables to your dinner plate, and appeases that quirky need for salty umami flavors. You could make this yourself, Brian, once you master mis en place.

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Orange Soy Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry

Serves 4

1 tbsp. olive oil or grapeseed oil (or other high-heat-compatible oil, not EVOO)

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1 in. cubes (or 1 block tofu for a vegetarian option)

1 crown broccoli, chopped into florets

1 package snow peas (about 2-3 cups)

5 oz. package white button mushrooms, sliced

5-6 green onions, sliced

1/4 cup soy sauce

Juice of 1/2 an orange*

1 tbsp. sriracha sauce

1 tbsp. olive oil or grapeseed oil

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tbsp. cornstarch

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Brown rice, to serve

First, prepare the orange soy sauce. In a lidded jar or bowl, mix together (vigorously, by shaking or whisking) soy sauce, orange juice, sriracha, oil, brown sugar, cornstarch, and spices. Set aside sauce for later use.

Slice mushrooms, chop broccoli, slice green onions, and dice chicken before turning on the skillet. Heat a large skillet or wok over high/ medium-high heat and add 1 tbsp. oil. Add chicken to the skillet and saute, stirring regularly to brown all sides, approximately 5 minutes. Once chicken is cooked through, remove from the pan and set aside. Add sliced mushrooms to the skillet and season lightly with salt. Let brown for 2-3 minutes, then stir and continue cooking, for about 5 minutes total. Add snow peas and broccoli crowns and mix thoroughly. Stir regularly over high heat until vegetables are bright green and somewhat softened, about 3-5 minutes longer.

Return chicken to the skillet and pour orange soy sauce over the chicken and vegetable mixture. Stir and allow sauce to thicken by cooking over high heat for 2-3 minutes, until desired consistency. Plate chicken and vegetable stir fry over a small heap of brown rice, and sprinkle green onions over the dish. Serve hot, and enjoy a delectable and delightfully healthy dinner.

* Enjoy the other half of the orange as a cooking-dinner snack, sliced soccer game style


Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

It’s the post Merry-Christmas-to-you-! let-down, and I have the method and means to warm everything back up. Your Christmas package this year included vanilla caramel and marshmallows, and, while homemade, they come together better than a Starbucks mocha in a red cup. I’ll include the recipes I used for the caramel and ‘mallows, because they turned out tremendously well, if I do say so myself. But, more importantly, you should ASAP marry those foodstuffs into a mug full of mocha goodness. This could be done with simple hot chocolate, but given the recent days upon days of indulgence, I find a coffee kick to be a good counter to the ensuing, near-constant food coma. Not that we should stop the indulgence, however; we’re nearing the new year when resolutions (and green eating!) can abound. Let’s finish this year strong (it is still winter, after all).

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(You’ll notice there are no marshmallows in this picture. That’s because I sent them all to you, Brian [and other family members, eh hem]).

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

Serves 1 (in a large mug)

1 cup fresh brewed coffee

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim (cream if you’re living big!)

1 tbsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. sugar or stevia

Smallest pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. homemade vanilla caramel

1-2 homemade vanilla ‘mallows (or more, or store-bought if you’ve eaten the homemade in an indulgent binge)

First, prepare fresh coffee to your liking. Using a Keurig, I brewed 1 cup in a separate mug and set aside. In a separate, heat-safe cup, heat/microwave milk until just before boiling and also set aside. In the mug in which you’ll drink this delicious concoction, mix together the cocoa, sugar (or stevia; I used two packets of Truvia), and the smallest pinch of salt. Add approximately 1 tbsp. water and vanilla extract until a thick paste is formed.* Drizzle the vanilla caramel around your mug, just below the rim, so it drips slowly around all sides and rests above the cocoa paste. Pour in hopefully-still-very-warm coffee and milk and stir. Top with a homemade vanilla ‘mallow and enjoy immensely.

*Alternatively, you could use about half of a hot cocoa packet, if you keep those stocked. I feel the homemade cocoa powder option to be just as satisfying and significantly cheaper.

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Homemade Vanilla Caramel

Based off of this recipe

Makes approximately 4-5 cups of caramel (a large batch for multiple recipients)

4 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. sugar cane syrup*

1 cup water

1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream, organic preferably

2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large (large and deep!) Dutch oven or sauce pan, mix together sugar, sugar cane syrup, and water until all is well distributed. Insert a cooking thermometer and turn the heat to LOW. Heat the sugar mixture until completely dissolved, which, given this large batch, may take quite some time, approximately 20-30 minutes. Trust the process, and don’t give in to turning up the heat. We’re here for quality, not speed.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved, gradually turn up the heat to medium-low. I still err on the low side here, because lower heat just means more time, whereas higher heat may mean unequal cooking and a higher incidence of crystallization. If the boiling syrup deposits some drying crystalized molecules along the side of your pan during cooking, use a wet pastry brush to paint the sides of the pot with water and rehydrate the sugar along the edge. Be careful during this entire cooking time to NOT stir or overly aggravate the pot.

The sugar mixture will gradually approach a deep amber color. The heat rises more quickly as the sugar approaches caramelization, so check the pot and thermometer regularly. Once the cooking thermometer reaches about 330-340 degrees (over 350 the product begins to go south, so I like to stop it a bit early), remove the caramelized sugar from the heat. Pour into the pot 1 quart of heavy cream and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. The cream will rise and bubble violently, but don’t worry, it will calm. Return the cream and caramel to LOW heat, and stir constantly until the caramel has dissolved into the cream and the mixture is smooth and dreamy looking. We’re practically in the waterfall of caramel in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Pour the caramel into receptacles of choice (I obviously chose mason jars), and cool to room temperature, approximately 4 hours. Refrigerate to store.

*I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is so, so delicious. Light corn syrup is an appropriate substitute, albeit less flavorful. Sugar cane syrup/light corn syrup supplement this recipe by providing stability to the sugar molecules formed during the caramelization process. Making caramel can be rather temperamental, quickly resulting in crystallization (read: failure) if the sugars are over worked, dried, budged, unevenly heat, otherwise upset that day, etc. By adding syrup, the sugar molecules are significantly less likely to crystallize during the process (although stirring, shaking, and moving the pot are still strongly discouraged), resulting in a smoother and more successful (and less frustrating) caramel product.

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Homemade Vanilla ‘Mallows

Makes 60-75 marshmallows

For the homemade marshmallows lovingly packed for you, I followed this recipe exactly. I’d report here, but that would be extensive and tiresome, and I truly found this recipe perfect unadjusted in any way. There are many, many recipes for marshmallows of varying flavors, dipped in varying sauces, atop varying hot beverages. Follow them as you’d like; just make sure you enjoy the result.

And just so there’s documentation, I sent along the roasted nuts below to complete your winter package. I’d repost the recipes, but to be honest I sort of winged it in the kitchen as I did not have many of the ingredients used in the recipes I was following. If I recreate at home and perfect these roasted and spiced nuts, I’ll be sure to post.

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Roasted Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts and Smokey Roasted Pecans

Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Ah, who in the midwest isn’t craving hearty, cheesy, warm, melty macaroni and cheese? As the temperature drops palettes change to demand warm, heavy dinners; there’s an inverse relationship between weather and healthy eating, I think. Except maybe if you can squeeze a couple vegetables into even the most indulgent of dishes. Not that were shooting for pale diet food; rather, let’s just eat something that tastes good and satisfies that ever-demanding need for pasta in December.  I’m at it again with the vegetarian menu, although this is anything but a side dish. The mushrooms are meaty and hearty, in an appealing vegetable way (not a gross this-is-fake-meat way). And the kale is there to substantiate the plate and give an occasional deep crunch (also you probably have a bit left over, I’d think?). This comes together pretty quickly, if you’re a multi-tasker. Otherwise you may leave things to simmer as you move onto the next task. Either way, this cooks warm, stays warm, goes down warm, and leaves you somewhat sleepy.

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Sharp Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese with Mushrooms and Kale

Serves 2-3

4 oz. (1 cup) gemelli pasta* (or your preferred pasta shape)

2 tsp. olive oil

8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced

Large bunch kale, rinsed and chopped

1 tbsp. butter

2 cups milk, anything but skim

2 tbsp. flour

3 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (by hand from a block, for freshness, preferably)

Salt & pepper, to taste

Bring a large pasta pot to boil with water and a heavy pinch (or pinches) of salt. Add pasta and cook according to package directions, preferably undercooking by a minute or two to keep al dente (italics for pretension, thanks).

(If you’re a multi-tasker, while water is coming to a boil, slice mushrooms, wash and chop kale, and shred your cheese).

As the pasta is cooking, add 2 tsp. olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Saute mushrooms until softened, browning, and releasing their juices, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add kale and saute until wilted, about 2-3 minutes longer. Season and pour into a bowl on the side, to be added back in later.

In the same skillet, after vegetables are done and pasta is ideally still boiling away, melt 1 tbsp. of butter over low heat. In a large ball jar, add 2 tbsp. flour and 2 cups of milk. Shake, shake, shake until the mixture is smooth and creamy without discernible flour lumps. Pour the flour-milk mixture into the skillet with melted butter and whisk over low heat until it is melded and smooth.** Increase the heat to medium low, bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, and let reduce until thickened to an admirable consistency, approximately 5 minutes or so.

(If you’re a multi-tasker, your pasta finished cooking while the milk-butter-flour mixture was simmering. Drain your pasta, toss with a touch of olive oil in the strainer, and set aside).

Once the milk mixture has reduced, add grated sharp cheddar cheese and whisk over low heat until it melts into the sauce. Once the sauce has come together, toss pasta with the sauce in the pan over low heat, until mixed thoroughly. Cook pasta in the sauce for 1-2 minutes to bring to an al dente (eh hem) texture. Add vegetables back into the pan and fold into the pasta. Remove from heat and serve.

I ate this with a side of steamed broccoli, but, rest assured, this meal suffices on its own (with enough nutritional value to boot).

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* I love gemelli pasta. I don’t know what it is about the texture or the way it adheres to sauce so well or the way I can grab just the perfect amount of noodles on my fork; to me, it is perfect.

** The sauce technically being created here is a béchamel (autocorrected accent), and, with the addition of cheese, a mornay sauce. Traditionally, this is prepared by heating together butter and flour over low heat to create a roux, which then is used to thicken the later-added warm milk. By preparing this sauce with milk shaken with flour, you end up using less butter and less flour, which lowers the calorie count of the recipe. Nonetheless, the sauce is delicious, and I scarcely can tell the difference (especially once there’s cheese).

Coconut Curried Potatoes, Peas, and Kale

It’s time to jump out of your comfort zone a bit, Brian. But don’t be scared; curry is warm and spicy and comforting and adventurous all at the same time. And if the coconut milk and curry spice don’t make you bat your eyes longingly, begging to pull the food right from the screen, this dinner is also predominantly potatoes, the classic comfort food of America. A mix of easy and new, which is all we can really ask for on a Monday evening. This dinner takes a bit longer to pull together than say, your average throw-it-in-a-pot-and-heat soup, but the flavors are well worth the time.

Coconut curried potatoes 1

Coconut curried potatoes 2


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Coconut Curried Potatoes, Peas, and Kale

Serves 4

2 tbsp. coconut oil

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

6 medium yukon gold potatoes, diced into 1 in. cubes

Large bunch of kale, washed and chopped or torn

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can light coconut milk

1 tbsp. curry powder

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika or chili powder

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

Salt & pepper to taste

Brown rice, cooked, to serve

Heat a large, deep sauce pan over medium heat and melt coconut oil. Saute yellow onion until translucent and lightly browning, approximately 5-7 minutes. (If cooking brown rice as well, this would be a good time to start it). Add diced potatoes and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes. Add spices and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup of vegetable stock, using a rubber spatula to ease the browning pieces from the bottom of the pan. Add full can of light coconut milk and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 20-25 minutes, until potatoes are soft and fork-tender.

Once potatoes are softened, add chopped kale and mix. The kale should begin to wilt after 2-3 minutes. Add peas and toss, cooking approximately 1 minute longer. Scoop a pile of brown rice onto your plate and top with several scoops of curried potato mixture. Serve and enjoy piping hot.

Kale for delicious nutrition, potatoes for warm sustenance, peas for their bright green pop- this dinner’s got all the right moves, Brian; give it a shot.

Winter Vegetable Soup

On a snowed in Saturday, soup is a requirement. I insist that you watch fat snowflakes fall out of your window as you crumble in an inordinate number of crackers. Keep the crackers crunchy, though, by adding only a few at a time. This is a good way to fit in your vegetables, Brian; a (vegan, actually) soup for lunch, dinner, or snack if you’re feeling especially dangerous. Now go practice your knife skills, spacial recognition of shapes, and stirring skills. Because with those powers combined, you’ll be satiated in mere minutes (more like 25)!

Winter Vegetable Soup

Winter Vegetable Soup

Serves 2 for a meal, 4 for people practicing

1-2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 large yellow onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1 in. cubes

2 medium carrots, diced into 1 in. cubes

4 small parsnips, diced into 1 in. cubes

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

3 cups vegetable broth

1-2 tbsp. milk, cream, or milk alternative (optional)

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat a sauce pan over medium heat and add olive oil. Saute yellow onion until translucent and slightly browning, approximately 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and saute for an additional 30 seconds. Add diced vegetables, stir, and heat for 1-2 minutes. Add dried herbs and spices and mix well. Add vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes, until vegetables are (all) fork tender.

Once the soup has cooked, it can be served chunky or blended. Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender until soup reaches a smooth consistency. After blending, a tbsp. or two of milk, cream, or milk alternative may be stirred into the soup for a bit more creaminess. Serve in bowls, with crackers on the side.

Watch the snow fall and start to feel all warm and cuddly inside. A dog may sit next to you for maximum enjoyment.