Category Archives: From The Cookbook

Ultimate Morning Glory Muffins

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On most Sunday mornings, whether I’m completely competent or exceedingly incapable, I go to the coffee shop under my apartment. I usually pop in for a drink to go, but sometimes I’ll stay — write a blog post, read a book, or even just people-watch. And almost 100 percent of the time I enter the coffee shop, I get one of their Morning Glory muffins.

I’d never had a Morning Glory muffin before Rex, so I had no idea they were a “thing.” According to legend, Pam McKinstry created the original recipe in 1978, and then published it in Gourmet in 1981. It was voted one of Gourmet’s favorite recipes 10 years later, so yet another instance of me being very very late to the trendy party.

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In addition to its whole-grain wholesomeness, the muffins include some combination of apples, crushed pineapple, carrots, raisins, walnuts, pecans (all from the original recipe), dates (from the Rex recipe), bananas and yogurt (from the Cooking Light version I used). I ultimately picked and chose what sounded good to me: carrots, crushed pineapple, bananas, yogurt, walnuts, dates, and yes, raisins, which I usually abhor but somehow make so much sense here.

Since these are breakfast muffins, I tried to keep them low on fat and sugar. The original Morning Glory recipe relies on over a cup of sugar and a cup of oil, but Cooking Light’s version cut down to 1/2 cup of sugar and replaced the oil entirely — the mashed banana and yogurt act in place of it. I cut down the sugar even further, adding dates to boost the muffins’ sweetness in a more natural way.

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Still, these aren’t overly sweet. In fact, with the fiber boost of whole oats and flax seeds, the protein from the Greek yogurt and all of the fruit involved, these are a pretty balanced breakfast, something I feel good about eating on weekdays as well as weekends. Though of course I’ll still be at Rex on Sunday mornings – they’ve got a new bacon-egg-and-cheese-with-avocado-on-brioche-straight-from-heaven breakfast sandwich that I need to try out … for “blog research” purposes obvi.  Continue Reading →

Spinach and Black Bean Quesadilla

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Somehow, sandwiches have become the beloved lunchtime option for everyone everywhere (some might even risk bodily harm to protect them). In theory, it’s understandable: sandwiches are supposed to be easy to assemble and easy to eat. But too often, at least in my experience, they’re either exceedingly dull (dry deli turkey and boring blah cheese? No thank you.) or so overloaded with fillings that they become a soggy, messy pile of fixin’s that ends up in my lap.*

But when you move beyond the traditional “two slices of bread with stuff in the middle,” the world of sandwiches becomes way more exciting. Think pork buns, gyros, kati rolls, and perhaps the best example, the quesadilla. The Mexican version of the grilled cheese is springtime eating at its best — heavy enough to keep you going through the cold, rainy days but light enough to avoid weighing you down on those perfect 75-degrees-and-sunny afternoons.

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Plus, when made correctly, they’re one-hand food at its finest. The trick is in how you fill the ‘dilla. The cheese glues the two sides of the tortilla together, so you should have a layer both under and over your fillings. (As if you needed an excuse to add more cheese.)

Don’t be heavy-handed with the fillings — the more you add, the easier it is for a) the quesadilla to become wet and soggy and b) for everything to ooze out and put you right back in messy sandwich hell. Stick to less than a half-cup for an 8-inch tortilla, and make sure that there’s enough cheese on the edges to really seal the tortillas in place.

Another big quesadilla game-changer: warm the tortilla in a skillet before adding the cheese and fillings. That way the tortilla is more pliant and won’t rip in half when you fold it. Use a spatula to flip and if you’ve cheese-glued correctly, you won’t have to worry about any filling spilling out.

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For this version, I went with an early spring staple: fresh baby spinach (and of course black beans, since I love them in quesadillas). The filling only requires a touch of pre-cooking, just enough to imbue the vegetables with a little spice. I made it on Sunday night, and then cooked each quesadilla the night before work as my “lunchtime sandwich.” If all sandwiches were this good, I’d be as obsessive over my lunch as this guy.

*One caveat: the glorious creations at ‘wichcraft, which I’ve already lauded in the past. Continue Reading →

Mango-Coconut Chia Seed Pudding

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Both in the real world and in the food world, I’m horribly late on trends. I can never keep up with what the “cool kids” are doing these days — I still don’t own a crop top, my nails are stubbornly one hue, I was three years late to the kale chip party and now, I’m finally hopping on the chia seed bandwagon.

Chia seeds have been an important source of nutrition since the Aztecs (though of course we used them to grow creepy plant “pets” and make annoying ads in the ’90s). They’re rich in Omega-3 fats, full of fiber, antioxidants, minerals and a bunch of other good-for-you things. I first encountered them on a whim last year, and couldn’t quite deal with the texture. See, when you add liquid to chia seeds, they absorb some of it and take on a gelatinous texture, kind of like tapioca pudding. I don’t like tapioca or the word “gelatinous,” so I kind of avoided the seeds after my first taste, and forgot all about them.

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But a few weeks ago, I spotted the seeds at the Whole Foods bulk bin section and was intrigued. I’ve been on a real rice pudding kick lately, and thought “oh maybe I’ll like the texture better now, since I’ve been craving pudding-y things all the time.” So I bought $2 worth of seeds (I LOVE the bulk bins for this very reason) and decided to give the whole “chia seed pudding” another shot.

The seeds themselves have no taste, so it’s pretty important to pair them with flavorful things. I chose mangoes, because I love them and they’ve been on sale for the past two weeks, and coconut, because I found exactly a half of a cup of coconut milk in the back of my freezer and decided it was time. I’m not a huge coconut person (it’s also pretty important to pair chia seeds with things you actually like …), so I didn’t love that version but round 2 with a half-cup of almond milk was much better.

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The texture was still a bit odd for me, but by the time I was on pudding round 3, I liked it. I might do 1/4 cup almond milk + 1/4 cup of yogurt next time, so that there’s a bit less of the gelatinous texture, and more of a real “pudding” texture. It’s a great snack, and powered me through an impromptu after-work 9-mile run (note to self: next time, don’t get lost in Central Park so much). But it’s virtuous enough to eat for breakfast, and just indulgent enough to enjoy as dessert.

And you can mix it up in countless ways: use berries or bananas instead of mangoes, stir in nuts, add cinnamon or vanilla extract, add chocolate chips or honey if you’re leaning towards dessert, etc. The seeds themselves are very versatile too: you can toss them in smoothies, in your morning oatmeal, in baked goods (like granola bars or muffins) — anywhere you want to add a boost of nutrients. If I had known I was missing out on all this, I would have jumped on this trend a bit faster!

chia seed pudding 4 Continue Reading →

Creamy Lemony Gnocchi with Peas

I’m back on the half-marathon training grind. After conquering 13.1 miles for the first time last fall, I got a wee bit ambitious in January and signed up for two half-marathons two weeks apart. (I’m a nutbag, I know.) At the time, I thought “oh NBD, I’ve already done it once so doing two in a row will be no sweat.”

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Much like last time, training has been muy difícil. The endless cold has led to both freeze-your-butt-off outdoor runs and countless miles on the dreaded treadmill. I’ve struggled with self-doubt and total lack of motivation, even asking my sister and friends to text me positive thoughts during my runs to keep me going. (Fact: I have the best support system, to indulge in my crazy every Saturday morning.) My “winter padding” also doesn’t make anything easier, especially since I had kind of stopped running since last October.

But now that I’m less than two weeks away from Half #1, we’ve entered my favorite part of training: the taper + carbo-loading. Tapering means I’m running fewer miles than at the peak of my training, so I no longer have to spend hours of my Saturday morning running up and down Central Park’s hills. And carbo-loading means bagels for breakfast, lots of beer and this creamy lemony gnocchi with peas.

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The secret to this gnocchi is the sauce. It looks and tastes like a tangy alfredo but with none of the cream or butter. Instead, Greek yogurt and a bit of Parm provide a guilt-free richness that is brightened by lemon zest and juice. No cooking necessary — just toss it with the hot pasta and let its residual heat meld all of the flavors together.

While the recipe is already pretty simple, you could easily make it a one-bowl affair by mixing the sauce in the pasta pot once the gnocchi is drained. A relatively healthy, two-step / one-bowl recipe that makes a delicious plate of pasta? No wonder this part of training is my favorite.  Continue Reading →

Chimichurri Roast Chicken + Tips For Planning Meals

While chatting with Mili earlier this week, amid all of the Friends gifs and Beyonce lyrics and vacation ideas, she asked me a few questions about how I cook during the week. She was struggling with fitting in grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking during a busy week, which is something we can all relate to — there’s a reason Seamless exists. But I truly believe that anyone can find time to cook, so I want to share a few tips:

Cooking for One

While cooking for a big family is certainly no picnic, cooking for one poses its own unique challenges. Apples and oranges aside, many ingredients come in large packs or bags, so you end up with six tomatoes when you only need one. How to minimize waste?

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For one: cook often. Ingredients have no option but to rot if you never use them. It might seem like cooking dinner every night is a time-consuming affair, but here’s a secret — you don’t have to. Using all six tomatoes in a big batch of tomato soup means tonight’s leftovers can easily morph into tomorrow’s dinner and Friday’s lunch, etc. If you get bored of eating the same thing over and over, switch it up! Turn a stir-fry with brown rice into fried rice with a scrambled egg. Turn a quinoa salad into filling for stuffed peppers with spicy jack cheese.

But if you’d rather scale recipes down (which involves math and fractions BOO) or the original recipe only calls for a small amount of an ingredient, you’re stuck with a lot of extra. Here’s where planning comes in handy.

Planning My Meals for the Week

It is vital to prep before you hit the grocery store. Deciding what to make and finding a recipe can be overwhelming: the possibilities are literally endless. Having a plan speeds up both the shopping process and the cooking process, meaning you’re not wasting any time in the kitchen.

I do most of my meal planning and prep on the weekends, since that gives me time to find recipes, get to the store and start cooking. Saturdays are my shopping day, and then I cook on Sundays (though obviously, that doesn’t always happen). First I’ll figure out how many meals I need for the week: 5 days of breakfast, do I have any lunch meetings with free food?, what are my dinner plans this week, etc. Keep it flexible — last-minute plan changes happen all the time, so I try to make at least one “freezable” recipe per week — a recipe that, if I don’t get around to eating, I can stick in the freezer for another day.

The second step is deciding what I want to eat — soups or stews when it’s cold, chunky grain salads for lunches at work, something with asparagus since it’s finally (maybe?) spring. Half the time, I already know what I’m cooking, since I’ll see a recipe somewhere that I must.make.now. (I spend a ton of time looking at food blogs and websites, if you couldn’t already tell.)*

But other times, I’ll scan my store’s sale paper to see if there’s a discount that I want to take advantage of (Whole Foods posts their sales online, which is helpful) or I’ll check what produce is available when I want to eat seasonally. Then I’ll search for recipes that feature those few key ingredients. If I’m really stuck, I’ll look through food blogs that I like — usually I can find something that looks good pretty quickly.

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If I decide I want to make one recipe and know that I’ll have a lot of extra ingredients, I’ll pick a recipe that features those ingredients. For example: last week, I bought parsley for a lentil salad. Stuck with a ton of extra parsley, I knew I’d need to make something parsley-heavy this week, which, after Googling like mad, became chimichurri roast chicken.

Finding and Storing Recipes

Once I know what I want to eat for the week, I turn to the Interwebs. Google has an endless archive of recipes, and sometimes I’ll click through a dozen before I find something I like. But that can be time-consuming, so it also helps to bookmark a few sites (like maybe this one here?) and search on those to see if they have something you’re looking for.

Keep things simple. Some weeks, I know I have the time and will to get ambitious with my cooking. But most weeks, I’m busy and know I’ll have zero patience for “projects,” which is why you see a ton of basic grain salads and roasted vegetables here. Look for recipes that require a few ingredients and rely on basic skills (sauteeing, roasting, simmering) to make things easier in the kitchen.

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After picking recipes, check your pantry for what you have and what you need. Save yourself the agony of “oh-em-effing-gee, I thought I had that absolutely crucial ingredient that I need to add RIGHT now” and actually check to see if you have more than one egg in the carton. Make a list, whether it’s on a fancy app, in an email draft or on a piece of paper, and stick to it.

In the Store

While all this prepping takes time, the time you spend planning your groceries makes it 100 times easier to get in and out of the store quickly. There’s no need to spend hours perusing the aisles wondering “what should I make?” You can grab what you need and get out fast, an absolute must if you’re shopping after a long day at work.

If you regularly shop at the same store, you likely have a good sense of where everything is. Be strategic — map out your route beforehand, so you know exactly where you need to go and aren’t crossing back and forth to find each ingredient. (If you’re extra OCD, which I am, as this post has made very clear, list your ingredients by section: all of the vegetables/produce at the top, since that tends to be the front section of most stores, all of the dairy products together, etc. Makes it much easier to grab everything at once.)

Then, all that’s left is to cook.

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And if you’re looking for an easy recipe, try this one: a simple sauce of parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil becomes a marinade/rub for chicken thighs (or whatever part of the chicken you prefer). Then the oven does the work: roast the chicken for 35-45 minutes (about the same amount of time that it takes to bake a sweet potato and make some brown rice, hint hint) and serve it with the remaining chimichurri sauce. Voila! Dinner can be as simple as that.

*I’m pretty ghetto and keep a running list of “Recipes to Make” in an email draft. But there are plenty of apps that organize recipes in a more useful way: Evernote has a Food app that I tried to use a few times (I’m not tech-savvy enough for it) and in sure there are others. Try a bunch and see what you like! Continue Reading →

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