Avocado Basil Pasta–The Magical Dish

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This dish has magical powers. I know what you might be thinking: “How can a pasta dish have powers? There’s no such thing as magic!”

I get it. It’s hard to believe in magic when you haven’t tasted this dish. I understand. I was once a skeptic too. It’s okay. Just hear me out.

JD used to hate all things avocadoes. He would refuse any avocado on a sandwich or in a salad, and he would turn his nose up at guacamole. Guacamole! Imagine my distress as a native Texan who practically sweats guacamole. It was a very sad time in our marriage.

But then one day, I ran into a friend at Walmart and we chatted a bit. You have no idea how common this is in small-town Arkansas, and I fought it my first 2 years there. But then I accepted it as a way of life, and now I kind of miss it in big-city Austin. But I digress.

Anyway, she started telling me of how she got her husband to eat avocadoes by sneaking it into pasta dishes. I was intrigued, yet skeptical. JD is very smart. Surely he would realize what I was trying to do and thwart my plans. But what if it worked? As I laid in bed late at night, I went back and forth. The possibilities! The risks! What could I do?

I was hesitant to try this trickery, but then I thought, “What’s the worst that could happen? JD could end up not liking it and that means more avocado for me. Win-win.” I knew I had to do it soon or my courage would fail.

So one Sunday afternoon as JD was sleeping off a night-shift, I stealthily started mixing some of my favorite ingredients: avocadoes, basil, lemon, garlic, and spinach. I could live on that combination. I seriously have a dopamine reaction when I smell those things together. What could go wrong?

When JD woke up, I urged him to just try it. Just one bite. And he did. Then he had another bite. Before I knew it, he had finished the bowl. And he liked it! After various other CIA-worthy acts with avocadoes (I have this secret dream of being a CIA agent), JD is on the avocado team now. And it all started with that dish. Pure magic.

This meal is one of my very favorite dishes. It takes the amount of time that pasta needs to boil (we’re talking 15 minutes!). It’s packed with nutrition and freshness. It will make your taste buds explode.

It’s also incredibly filling because of the fiber and protein, but I cannot stop myself from getting a second bowl. Every. Time. I always have to change into stretchy pants after eating those two bowls. But all the cells in my body are holding hands and taking those girly jump pictures because they’re so happy.

So take a deep breath and believe in the magic.

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Avocado Basil Pasta
Serves 6-8

Ingredients:
3 avocadoes, peeled and pitted
2-3 large leaves of fresh basil
2-3 big handfuls of fresh spinach
Juice of 1 lemon
4 cloves garlic
1/2 c. water
1 tsp. salt
8-10 oz. of cooked brown rice macaroni or shells*
Grape tomatoes, sliced for garnish (optional)

*I use brown rice pasta because it has a lighter taste than whole wheat pasta. I’ve had both with the pasta, and they’re both tasty, but I prefer the brown rice pasta. This kind of pasta can be found in any gluten-free section of your grocery store. Walmart even carries it!

Throw everything in a blender except the pasta and blend on medium until spinach is very small. You may need to stir up the mix a few times to get everything evenly blended.

If the mixture is too lemony, add spinach. If it’s too bitter or bland, add lemon and garlic. If it’s too thick, add a little water. If it’s too liquid-y, add spinach or more avocado. It’s a balancing act and up to your preferences!

Once the pasta is cooked, spoon about 1/4 c. over a bowl of pasta. The warm pasta will heat up the avocado mixture to a perfect temperature. Add sliced tomatoes for garnish.

Because of the lemon, the avocado mixture will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. It won’t brown! ūüôā

Leftover pasta is tasty warmed up or cold!

What is your all-time favorite pasta dish?

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What I Learned in December

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The view Christmas morning from my parents’ balcony.

Flannery O’Connor said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

That has always been the case with me. I marinate and process in my brain, but sometimes I don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling until I write it down and figure out how to put it into words. Often I think something quite different than what I thought I thought. That sentence was a little confusing. Welcome to my brain.

It’s helpful to write things down to remember them, too. I’ve found that I not only understand what’s going around me and how I feel about it when I write it down, but I also remember it. JD and I do Weekly Questions, and sometimes we ask each other the questions and think, “What even happened this week?” Writing it down is important.

I’d like to join with Emily Freeman at Chatting at the Sky and write down some things I learned in December. Some are silly (but those matter too!), some are more serious. It’s a motley list, but here’s what I learned in December:

1. HeLa cells are crazy! I listened to the HeLa cell episode from one of my favorite podcasts (Stuff You Should Know) a few weeks ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it. Here’s the podcast. Here’s the book. ¬†Check it out. ¬†Have your mind blown.

2. I wrote off John Green too early. I read Looking for Alaska at a student’s recommendation, and I didn’t really like it that much. At the risk of sounding too English teacher-y, I thought it was a more obscene version of A Separate Peace. But then I read The Fault in Our Stars¬†at the beginning of Christmas break at another student’s recommendation, and I loved it. It’s about this girl, Hazel, who has terminal cancer finding meaning in her life through star-crossed love and bringing her favorite book to life.

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3. Forgiveness is hard when the hurt is fresh. I feel like I’ve been working on forgiving for the old wounds most of my adult life, and I talk about how forgiveness is freedom all the time to my Bible class and my friends, but when the hurt is fresh, it feels different. It feels hard and looming and overpowering. Forgiveness feels hard and far-off and feeble. ¬†I’ve found comfort in Psalms 145-6.

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4. Using almonds as replacement for walnuts in my lentil-walnut loaf made all the difference. It was moist and tasty and perfect.

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5. Scantron machines are easy to use and probably the best invention ever. ¬†I’m so thankful I learned this early on in my teaching career!

6. I’ve progressed further into my adulthood. I keep hitting these milestones and thinking, “I’m really an adult now,” and it’s been surreal each time. The past milestones have included graduating, getting my first paycheck, filing taxes, calling insurance companies 30 million times, etc. The latest milestone is seeing all the kids from the youth group I volunteered in getting married and doing adult things like going to college. No, no, no–they are still 14 and unable to drive!

7. Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray is so, so, so good. I’ve been savoring a few pages of it each morning, and the striving stress falls away, and I feel at peace and quiet for a few moments. Read it, read it.

8. Being well-rested is 100x better than being sleep-deprived. I’ve decided one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to sleep 7-8 hours a night–no excuses! ¬†Sometimes that means I’ll have to be asleep by 8 pm. ¬†But I can do it!

9. Old favorites are still current favorites. I still cannot keep myself from getting a second bowl of Avocado Basil Pasta every time, and I’ve made it a lot. ¬†The recipe for this beauty will be posted tomorrow!

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What have you learned this December?

Plant-strong French Toast Casserole

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When I was younger, my cousin Rachael and I were great friends. I would sleep over at her house on the weekends and we’d play Guess Who? until the wee hours of the morning. Then we would wake up and eat my Nonna’s French toast casserole and play Barbies until my mom tore me away mid-morning. It was childhood bliss.

I’ve been searching for a vegan equivalent to French toast for awhile because 1. I love French toast, and 2. There is this amazing Hungarian breakfast that’s like a salty French toast that I’ve been wanting to make.

I found a few different recipes and kind of merged them together one evening, planning to make French toast the next morning. Then I had a great idea! Why not make French toast casserole? It would take less time and nostalgically taste better. Bingo.

This recipe is a winner for a few reasons:
1. It literally takes no time in the morning because the minimal prep work is completed in the evening.
2. It tastes heavenly.
3. It’s good for you.
4. Leftover silken yogurt makes for some great berry yogurt (blend with some frozen berries and honey and voila!).

Plant-strong French Toast Casserole
Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 c. silken tofu
2 c. soy/almond milk
4 tbs. honey or maple syrup
4 tbs. flaxseed
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 loaf of bread
Maple syrup and/or berry soy yogurt for garnish (optional)

The night before, blend all ingredients except the bread and optional ingredients until liquefied.

Halve slices of bread diagonally and fill up a 13×9 pan. You may not use the entire the loaf of bread.

Then pour over tofu mixture of bread and refrigerate over night.

The next morning, bake the casserole at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Drown it in maple syrup or yogurt and enjoy!

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What was your favorite breakfast as a kid?

Chocolate Scones with Chocolate Peanut Butter Icing

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We often joke that all it takes to get me out of bed in the morning is freshly brewed coffee, but JD requires a little more effort. There has to be breakfast made and on the table to get him out of bed, and I think the more dessert-like the breakfast, the faster he gets to the table. I haven’t timed it yet, but I’m fairly certain that my hypothesis holds true.

We love plant-strong desserts and breakfast food because we can eat so much of it and not worry about going into a sugar coma or gaining weight. In fact, the food is good for our bodies! So we tend to put a lot of chocolate in a lot of things, including breakfast scones.

I found this idea for a recipe when I was trying to make chocolate breakfast cake (there is such a thing) one morning, but I had added way too little milk. So I’ve tweaked it over the past year and added icing to it, and now it’s a Sunday Morning favorite. It is so sweet that it could pass as a dessert!

Chocolate Scones with Chocolate Peanut Butter Icing
Makes 8 scones

Ingredients:
2 bananas*, liquefied
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. cocoa powder
3 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 c.+ 1tbsp organic soy milk
4 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
2 tbsp. vanilla extract

Icing ingredients:
1 banana
2 heaping spoonfuls peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
2 tbsp. honey or maple syrup

*The riper the bananas, the better your scones will bake, and the sweeter your scones will be. I typically go for bananas that are beginning to have brown spots.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the scones, mix together dry ingredients in a big bowl. Blend wet ingredients until completely liquefied. Then pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and mix well. It should be a little too wet to form a dough ball, but dry enough that it won’t run on a pan. If it’s too runny, add flour. If it’s too dry, add milk.

Pour dough out onto a circular pan (I used my stoneware) and smooth out with a spoon until it’s circular and evenly distributed. Then bake for 10 minutes.

While baking, use a hand blender to blend the icing ingredients. Add peanut butter to thicken it up and honey to thin it down.

When scones are done baking, spread the icing on the top and bake for 3 more minutes.

Slice it up and enjoy!

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What’s your most dessert-like breakfast?

Mushroom Paprika Stew

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Whenever I’m in one of those get-to-know-you situations, and I’m asked to say something interesting about myself, I always say, “My husband is from Hungary.” Then I get to answer questions about how we met and does he speak English and of course he does because I don’t speak Hungarian. It’s quaint and cute, and I love it.

Anyway, Hungarian food is one of those lost little treasures of the world. The flavor is rich and full of paprika and browned onions. Scents of goulash cooked over an open fire in the backyard wafts under my nose as do cherries sold by old ladies on the street, fresh-picked from their garden.

There is a lot of pride that goes into making the food, so don’t be disheartened if a Hungarian tells you that it’s not true Hungarian because you made it this way or that way. They’re right, it’s not. But who cares? It tastes divine. At least that’s what I told myself recently when I made this dish for the Austin Hungarian Christmas party.

A crowd favorite meal among our guests is Gomba Paprikas (gome’-bah pah’-pree-kahsh), or Mushroom Paprika Stew. It’s truly very simple and can be made under an hour, cashew milk and all. Because this dish is traditionally made with sour cream and a lot of oil, I’ve had to modify it to fit our plant-strong diet. Not quite as Hungarian, but still divine.

Because the cashew milk does not have the exact effect on flavor as sour cream does, don’t leave out the vinegar.

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Mushroom Paprika Stew
Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. Hungarian paprika (there’s a difference, but Whole Foods sells this Paprika)
2 15-oz. cans chopped tomatoes, drained
2 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. vinegar
1 lbs. white or cremini mushrooms, chopped
3 c. water
2 c. cashew cream
3 roma tomatoes, sliced

Cashew Cream:
2 c. cashews
1 1/2 c. water (add more if needed)

1 lb. whole wheat pasta shells (brown rice or quinoa pasta works just as well for the gluten-free)

Boil pasta shells for about 10 minutes.

In a large pan, brown onion in coconut oil on medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add seasonings and mushrooms. Stir frequently for 5 minutes.

Add water and chopped tomatoes. Cover and let simmer for 5-7 minutes.

While simmering, blend the cashews and the water in a high speed blender until it’s the consistency of yogurt. Add more cashews to thicken it up, more water to thin it down.

Add cashew cream and vinegar and stir until heated through.

Turn off heat, and add cooked pasta shells to sauce and stir until covered in sauce. Add roma tomatoes for garnish.

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What Hungarian dishes have you tried?

Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins with Cranberry Cashew Icing

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From October to Mid-January, I shamelessly put pumpkin in everything. Every time JD and I go to the store, I pick up a can of pureed pumpkin “just in case” I want to make pancakes, muffins, scones, icing, bread, pasta, etc. Pumpkin tastes like my favorite season.

This recipe grew out of excess (that makes it sound like a bad thing) holiday food: cranberries, pureed pumpkin, and cashews. I also made oatmeal out of this combination yesterday for breakfast, so I already knew the treat I was getting this morning.

I love muffins because they’re an on-the-go type of breakfast. I rarely have time to sit down and eat breakfast in the morning, so I’m usually stuffing down a piece of toast as I drive to school. These muffins are filling, flavor-packed, and a perfect addition to your morning coffee.

The icing is so easy, and it hardens in the oven just like store-bought icing. I probably ate a quarter of the icing with a spoon as I was making the muffins because it’s that good.

Don’t be deterred by the bake time–it gives you time to get ready, read a book, or go back to sleep while your kitchen fills with the aroma of almost-Christmas goodness.

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Pumpkin-Cranberry Muffins with Cranberry Cashew Icing
Makes 12 muffins
Prep time: 30 minutes
Bake time: 55 minutes

Ingredients:
2 15-oz. cans of pureed pumpkin (you can substitute mashed bananas)
Juice of 1 lemon
4 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. water
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
3 tbsp. ground flax
3 c. whole wheat pastry flour (you can substitute other light, fluffy flours such at oat flour)
1 1/2 c. fresh cranberries (these can be whatever berry you want)

Icing ingredients:
1 1/2 c. cashews
2 tsp. vanilla
4 tbsp. maple syrup
2 c. fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mash all wet ingredients together with a potato masher.

Then add dry ingredients and mix together until just covered. Fold in cranberries.

Bake for 45 minutes.

While baking, prepare icing by adding all ingredients to a high-power blender. Blend until fairly creamy. It might be a little chunky, but that’s okay.

Take out and add icing. Baking for another 8-10 minutes to harden icing. You can also bake the muffins instead for 45 straight minutes and add the fresh icing to it at the end.

What’s your shameless holiday food?

Veggie Lettuce Wraps

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When JD and I first got married, I barely knew how to stir vegetables in a skillet. I’m fairly certain we ate sticky, burnt vegetables more than once, but we were young and in love. ¬†And poor. ¬†We were lucky to even have vegetables.

After a while, under the tutelage of some cookbooks and experience, I learned more about cooking food and how different flavors go together. I found a decent recipe for lettuce wraps (PF Chang fans know what I’m talking about!), and I might have made it every other week for a few months. It was easy and delicious, and I didn’t have to be very kitchen savvy to make it.

Thankfully, my kitchen skills have improved greatly since then. I’ve modified the recipe a lot and made it my own, plant-based and all. This meal takes about 30 minutes and is packed with flavor and nutrition. Even non-plant-based people rave about it!

I’ve included some variations at the bottom. ¬†I typically make it with whatever mixed vegetable and teriyaki sauce is in my kitchen, so it changes every time.

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May your cabbage leaves be as full as your bellies.

Veggie Lettuce Wraps
Serves 4

Ingredients:
2 bags stir-fry vegetables, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c. teriyaki sauce (I used sesame teriyaki this time)
1/4 c. hoisin sauce
3 tbsp. peanut butter
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. rice vinegar
Sesame seeds for garnish

Red cabbage leaves

Blend veggies and garlic until they are very finely chopped. Heat chopped veggies with a splash of lemon juice on medium-high. Once heated through, add sauces, peanut butter, vinegar, and ginger. Stir for 5 minutes and then turn off heat. Add sesame seeds.

Scoop a big spoonful onto a cabbage leaf and enjoy!

Variations: Substitute a lb. of ground tofu for a bag of veggies (marinate tofu for a few minutes in teriyaki). Use different types of teriyaki sauces.  Use green cabbage or your favorite green.  You can also wilt your cabbage leaf in a toaster oven for about a minute if you like really soft lettuce.

What are your tried and true recipes?