Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baked Ginger Donuts w/Orange Icing & A Tour of DC Hoods

Last Saturday was the SunTrust National Marathon and Half Marathon in Washington, DC. Exactly two years ago from this race, Travis and I purchased our first home in Northeast DC, which happens to be on the race route (both going out and coming in - I hope everyone waved twice). We closed on Friday, ran the race on Saturday, and moved in on Sunday. Can you imagine? You've just bought your first house, and the very next day you run in a hometown race that goes right by it! You better believe I announced it to some strangers while running by.
Last year, we skipped the National Marathon/Half in favor of the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach (which, ps, was superfun and really well run). But this year, we were BACK. My plan was to rock the socks off the half and hopefully get a PR. That dream went out the window in mid-February when I realized that I was going to be out of town for 4 of the 5 next weekends. No prob. Race day was beautiful, I gave it my best, and it was still an awesome race.

The coolest thing about the National Half is that it's really a locals' race. Washington has a lot of destination races: Marine Corps Marathon, Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, Army 10-Miler. These races draw participants from all around the country (and often, the world) and they are wonderful in their own right. Who wouldn't want a chance to race by the national monuments or run through the breathtaking Japanese cherry blossoms in full bloom? But it's so refreshing and fun to do a race that hits the residential DC neighborhoods, which is exactly what the National Marathon and Half courses do.

Fleet Feet, a locally owned running store in Adam's Morgan, set up a bonus water stop right where I got thirsty. And a little ways down the road in Columbia Heights, some all-star resident was handing out marshmallow Peeps outside her house! A little Rapper's Delight outside of Howard U? Don't mind if I do. And to the DJ spinning at the Bethune apartment complex, I'd like to hire you for my next party. The race rounded out on H Street, NE, with a huge cheering crowd (you can't even imagine how the landscape of H Street has changed since running down it two years ago!). And of course, a big high-five to my house right before cruising to the finish line. 
After the race, we headed to our friends' Jimmy & Janie's house for a near-spring/almost birthday/post-marathon brunch. (Because if there is one thing I do almost as much as I run, it's eat brunch.) J&J served tacos from Pica Taco in Adam's Morgan, which I highly recommend. If you don't have time to make a full brunch (e.g., if you're tied up in a race beforehand), these tacos come in pairs, wrapped in tin foil and labeled - super easy for serving and muy delicioso. Plus Pica Taco is locally owned and operated by a mother-daughter team. It's a win-win. My contribution to brunch was ginger-spiced mini-donuts with fresh orange icing. Not really sticking with the Mexican theme, but I didn't hear any complaints through the donut-stuffed mouths.

I recently purchased this donut pan so that I could make baked donuts. These ginger guys were more like cake donuts than bready donuts (like say, Krispy Kreme). But the batter bakes up super light and the outside gets nice and toasty, just like any fried cake donut. Top them with icing made from fresh orange juice and sifted confectioners' sugar and you've got yourself a brunch winner.

This is us two years ago when we closed on our house! I still feel happy about it every time I walk in the door. Yes, despite the entire new roof we had to put on, frequent blown fuses, termites (among other critters), touch-and-go heating system, and leaky walls, I love this house with all my heart.

Baked Ginger Donuts w/Orange Icing
adapted from 
Makes 4 to 5 dozen mini-donuts

3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground clove
2 tsp. cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1 cup of buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tbs. vinegar, rested for 5 minutes)
3 eggs
1 tbs. maple syrup

Required: non-stick donut pan
Recommended: gallon-sized ziplock bag

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl or stand mixer, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, dry spices and sugar (if you have a sifter, I recommend sifting all ingredients but the sugar). 

Melt butter in the microwave or on stovetop and stir in the freshly grated ginger while the butter is still warm. Set aside.

Stir buttermilk, eggs and maple syrup together in a bowl and then pour into dry mix. Mix with an electric mixer or stand mixer until ingredients are loosely incorporated. Add melted butter and continue to mix until all ingredients are completely incorporated into a batter.

Fill ziplock bag with batter and snip a 1/2 opening at one corner. Pipe the batter into the donut pan, filling each mold only about halfway (these donuts rise a lot). If you happen to have a donut pan that is not non-stick, grease the molds or spray with cooking spray before filling.

Bake at 400 degrees for 5-6 minutes. Empty the tin and repeat. Let donuts cool before icing.
This recipe would also work for a full-sized donut pan, just make a larger cut in the ziplock bag and increase cooking time by 3-4 minutes.

2 cups powdered sugar
orange juice (fresh squeezed if you have an orange!)
1/4 tsp. orange extract
red and yellow food coloring (optional)

Start by adding 1 tbs. of orange juice to the sugar and stirring. Continue to slowly add juice and stir well until the sugar is the consistency of syrup. It should stick to your whisk or spoon. If you go too far, just add more sugar. Add orange extract.

Coloring: Liquid food coloring is very powerful. If you want a bright shade of orange add 1 drop of red and 5 drops of yellow to the icing and stir. If you want a pale orange, take a small amount of the icing (maybe a tablespoon) and put it in a separate bowl. Add food coloring to the small bit of icing. Then spoon little bits of the colored icing back into the main batch until you have the desired color.

Icing: Using your fingers, dip the top half (whichever half of the donut you want to cover up) of each donut into the icing halfway. Twist the donut as you remove it from the icing and set on a drying rack or paper towel to let the icing harden. Donuts stay fresh for at least one night in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweet Onion & Broccoli Soup

If you served me this soup in a restaurant and told me that it wasn’t cream based, I’m not sure if I would believe you. It is so rich and delicious, that I am literally surprised every time I taste it that such plain ingredients can come together to make something so flavorful. Forgive me for the corporate buzzword, friends, but I’m gonna go ahead and call this vegetable synergy. Jazz haaaaannnnds.
In my house, broccoli has a bum rap. When I make it, Travis treats me like a perfume girl at a department store. Kt: “Can I interest you in some grilled broccoli this evening?” Travis, smiling politely while remaining at least two arm-lengths away: “Broccoli? Oh, not today, thanks.” Though he really means not ever; find someone else to hock your smelly broccoli to, lady. And if I’m cooking broccoli in the house, he inevitably announces that I must be making broccoli. I can only assume this is a warning cry for the neighbors, because, uh, clearly it’s not news to me that I’m cooking broccoli.

He’s not the only one though. I’ve heard, “I don’t eat broccoli because it make me gassy,” or “it’s too hard on my digestive system” (the timeless euphemism for “it makes me sh*t bricks”). Who cares? So do lots of other things and you eat them anyway. The thing is, people know that broccoli is good for them, so I’m not sure where the resistance comes from. I mean, one article on the benefits of chia seeds or pomegranite juice and people will down the stuff like there’s no tomorrow. But what about our old tried and true vegetable friends that have long been superfoods?! EAT SOME BROCCOLI, for crying out loud! (Perhaps I am overly sensitive because my eating partner doesn’t share my love for the mini trees of life, but all the same, I will continue with my public crusade.)
Most of the time I eat my broccoli raw or grilled. But I recently had some broccoli that was on its way out in the freshness department, so I decided to try my hand at making broccoli soup. V8 makes a Garden Broccoli soup that I really like (and will still eat if I need a quick soup), but it has a fair number of chemical-sounding ingredients. I liked the idea of making my own broccoli soup with just a few ingredients and avoiding wasted broccoli all at the same time. I know, I'm like some sort of superhero, right? 

Full disclosure: broccoli loses a lot of its nutrition when boiled. But it also loses nutrition when it sits in your fridge for a long time. So broccoli that’s already gone limp is a fine choice for blending up in some soup. I think you will be really shocked at how good veggies and lemon juice can taste when cooked and pureed. I don't know if I'll ever make Travis a broccoli lover, but I think this soup is a step in the right direction.

Sweet Onion & Broccoli Soup

Makes 4 servings

2 large crowns of broccoli
2 tbs. olive oil
1/2 medium-large onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced 
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 cups vegetable stock
juice from 1 lemon
crushed bay leaves (5-6 good shakes or 1/2 tsp.)
thyme (5-6 good shakes or 1/2 tsp.)
salt and pepper to taste

Required: blender or immersion blender.

Cut broccoli crowns into florets, discarding the stalk. Boil broccoli florets until tender, roughly 15-20 minutes. You should be able to break up the pieces with a spoon, but you don't want the florets to start separating on their own. Drain broccoli and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium-sized pot. Add onions and jalapeno and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic and cook for 5 more minutes.  Feel free to add more olive oil if needed to prevent onions from burning.

Add vegetable stock, lemon juice, crushed bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper. (If you don't have crushed bay leaves, 2 whole bay leaves would work as well.) Give a quick stir to incorporate all ingredients. Add broccoli (the stock will not cover all the broccoli at this point)and let cook covered for 15-20 minutes.

Broccoli should be very tender and starting to break up on its own. Using a stirring spoon or spatula, break up the broccoli florets so that all broccoli is submerged in the stock. The photo above shows this phase. Remove soup from heat.

If using an immersion blender (which I don't have), proceed to blend. If using a regular blender, pour the contents of the soup into the blender pitcher and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Then carefully blend until smooth, pausing often to let steam out.

When using a regular blender it's probably best to let the soup cool for a full 15 to 20 minutes, blend, and then place back on the stove for 10 minutes to heat back up. But in the 4 times I've made this soup, I haven't had the patience for that. When working with hot soup, just proceed slowly with the blending process and make sure to let steam out of the blender often.

Also, keep in mind the limitations of a blender size should you want to double the recipe. A standard blender is not equipped to hold more than 1 batch of this soup at a time.

Serve with avocado slices or a dollop of plain yogurt.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sweet Potato Quinoa Granola Bars and Thumbs-Up Running

I'm a thumbs-up runner. And that doesn't mean I'm so excited to be running that I throw thumbs-up signals to everyone else on the streets (though I'm known for an occasional high-five). It means that my hands naturally get into stiff little thumbs-up positions while I run, which, if you test it out right now, you'll discover requires some effort by your muscles. Go ahead - bend your elbows at your sides and look at the natural position of your hands. Then see how many muscles you have to use to form a thumbs-up. Newsflash: while they may put a smile on someone's face, thumbs-up don't make you any faster or more efficient.

I bring this to your attention, not so you that can spot me in a race, but so that next time you're running (or biking or rollerblading or moon bouncing) you stop to think about your body position and any unnecessary energy you might be expending on tense muscles. Take five seconds to consider the muscles that are flexed and whether they are actually helping you with your activity. If not, make an effort to shake em out every once in awhile.

Though I can't stop myself from thumbs-upping completely, now that I'm aware of it, I can release the tension in my hands and wrists when I think of it and give my body a break from spending needless energy keeping my fingers tight and my thumbs up. That way, more of my kcals can go towards getting me from point A to point B.  
After this past weekend's rain-riddled, thumbs-up run (with plenty of conscious hand relaxation!), I came home and I really wanted some calories. In my body. Stat. Enter sweet potato quinoa granola bars. A delightful blend of carbs, fiber and protein. If I had to compare them to a commercial product, I would say they are most like Larabars in consistency. I haven't come across a Larabar that uses oats or grains (or whatever mysterious family quinoa is in), so nutritionally, they aren't the same. But these bars have a fruit-chewy bite to them, rather than the crispy-chewy feel of regular packaged granola bars. I will call mine Katibars.

Sweet potato quinoa bars would be great to bring on a long bike ride or hike. Between the fruit, sweet potato puree and agave syrup, the sugar content is high; and the nuts and quinoa provide some protein. The fiber content is also high from the oats and quinoa, so be conscious of what your body is used to while working out.
Side note: when I was studying for the bar exam, I signed up for pottery class as a stress-relieving, extra-curricular activity. In my head I imagined throwing serving bowls and two-foot vases; Christmas gifts galore! In reality, I ended up with boatloads of condiment bowls and a rough, rough, cream pitcher. So I'm giving them some mileage on this blog. Hence the photo of just a bowl. Thx for indulging.

Sweet Potato Quinoa Granola Bars

Makes 12 bars

2.5 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ginger
1/8 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup sweet potato puree
1/2 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup roughly chopped nuts (I used half pecans, half almonds)  
1/2 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Toast the uncooked quinoa on the stove in a wide pan over low heat, 8-10 minutes, stirring often (quinoa grains will pop in the pan). Mix oats, spices, and salt together in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together sweet potato puree, vanilla and agave. Add wet mix to oat mix, making sure that all oats are moistened. Stir in quinoa, nuts and cranberries.

Line an 8" or 9" square pan with one piece of parchment paper so that the edges of the parchment paper hang over two opposite edges of the pan (so that you can lift the bars out of the pan after baking). Press granola mix into the lined pan.

Tip: to press the granola evenly into the pan, spread mixture around and cover top with wax paper. Then use a smaller pan or heavy square/rectangular item to press down on the wax paper. Repeat this process over all of the granola until even.

Bake at 325 for 22-25 minutes. Let granola cool in pan; remove for easy cutting. Then enjoy your own [name]bars.
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