March 29, 2011

Detox Recap: Part 2

The second half of our week-long detox was just as fun and delicious as the first half. I found that I was often a bit hungrier in the morning (pre-breakfast) but attributed that to the lack of random nighttime snacking, which I tend to do. I also felt that I started sleeping better, but can't say if it had anything to do with my eats. Enough talk, on to the food!

One of my favorite parts of the week was experimenting with different breakfast foods-- my goal was to avoid repeating the same oats-and-peanut-butter kind of meal. The rest of our week was started with these:

15-Minute Breakfast Scramble

I loosely followed the linked recipe, but substituted a chopped sweet potato instead of red potatoes and simply stir fried them instead of boiling them. I then threw in some sliced mushrooms, lots of spinach, and some tofu, hit it with a shake of hot sauce, and then topped it with a fried egg (runny, obvs). I split a blood orange between the two of us for a little sweet ending.

Breakfast Socca


I used a similar recipe as our savory socca but left out the olive oil and added a few shakes of cinnamon and a splash of vanilla extract. I also sweetened up the deal by drizzling on some maple syrup once it was fully cooked, and served it with plain Greek yogurt with sliced almonds and banana.

Green Protein Smoothies

I've been making these for a few months, and keep tweaking my recipe each time. This particular batch (makes enough for 2) contained 1 frozen banana, 2/3 cup frozen mango chunks, 3 Tbsp. hemp protein, 1/2 cup of oats, 1 Tbsp. coconut butter, 2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed, 1 cup almond milk, 1 cup water, a few large handfuls of spinach and some leftover kale stems (no need to throw away your vegetable "trash," trust me, you won't taste them!). Looks weird, tastes delicious. I bulked J's up a bit with another spoonful of protein and handful of oats to refuel her morning workout. I like to eat something solid when consuming a smoothie for breakfast-- usually a piece of toast, but since bread was out, I went with half of an apple with a little peanut butter. Perfect meal, with extreme staying power.

Vegan Spelt Pancakes

We used an old tried-and-true recipe but used a mix of spelt flour and old fashioned oats (plus baking powder and salt) instead of a pre-made mix. I have a mental issue with my pre-long-run meal, and basically have to eat banana pancakes and a huge mug of coffee in order for it to be a good one. Thankfully, these sufficed, and it was a good one. However, 11+ miles of trail running in the Wissahickon (we're both in training for races, don't worry) requires some mid-run fuel as well. We typically use Gu energy gels, but since they contain a ton of weird stuff, we made our own sugary snack- peanut butter stuffed dates. Simply make a slit in the side of the date, smear a TINY amount of peanut butter inside, and reseal. Carrying these during the run caused most of the peanut butter to slide out, but they were still really good- like a sweet peanut butter sandwich.

Our dinners (and subsequent lunches) remained full of whole, minimally processed foods, with an emphasis on veggies and whole grains.

Raw Kale Salad with Steel Cut Oatcakes

Since we didn't want to eat bread, I went on a mission to make my own bread-like item out of a whole grain- steel cut oats. These nutty, chewy grains can be cooked and eaten warm for breakfast, or, in my case, rolled out (post-cooking) onto a cookie sheet and placed in the refrigerator.

The resulting product is then firm enough to cut into shapes and re-heated in a pan to form a semi-crispy outside and a warm, creamy inside. I made a quick sauce out of lemon juice, tahini, hummus, water and green onions while J massaged some kale to produce one of our favorite raw salad renditions- avocado, cherry tomatoes, red cabbage, shaved carrots and a sprinkle of toasted sunflower and sesame seeds.

Salmon with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

One of our simplest meals, consisting of baked salmon topped with an olive tapenade mixed with garlic-mustard aioli (my favorite sauce/dip/eat-straight-out-of-the-jar condiment... now please forget that I just admitted that to you).


We also baked a thinly sliced sweet potato tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and served it with a mixed vegetable medley (from the freezer).

Vegan Lentil Walnut Loaf with Roasted Brussels Sprouts

I've made this lentil loaf before, it's quick and easy and won its creator a lifetime worth of lentils and beans-- so really, it has to be good. Cook some lentils (only 20 minutes, no pre-soaking!) while sauteeing an onion, some chopped celery and grated carrot. Combine all of this with some chopped, toasted walnuts, ground flax, and some panko breadcrumbs, press into a loaf pan and top with a balsamic-maple-ketchup sauce. Bake for 20-30 minutes and voila, dinner is served. Even more convenient, halved brussels sprouts take about the same amount of time to roast, so both components were done all at once.

While we're no longer following any particular rules, we are trying to stay on a similar eating path- switching up our breakfast eats, eating as many veggies as possible, making sure we follow recipes/produce dinner for four (guaranteed healthy lunches!), and minimize processed sugar. However, this time, I won't say no to that co-workers birthday cake..

March 26, 2011


With our detox heading into the weekend, A & I knew we were going to have to make some careful choices. Our weekend dining adventures usually take us furthest off the path of healthy eating- there's just so much scrumptious food calling our names! While we typically embrace the indulgences, this weekend we decided to try out the popular vegan restaurant Horizons, just off South Street. While vegan food should never automatically be designated as healthy, Horizons seems to have a fresh perspective that we felt we could work with.

The two story building has somewhat of a Southwest/farmhouse vibe from the outside, while the inside is part soothing (waterfalls, soft lighting), part natural (color schemes/artwork/music selection), and part upscale (swanky microsuede seating)- yes, I think the word that best describes the place is "eclectic." The decor doesn't deter the diners- it was packed the entire time we were there, and they can fit a good number of people. Calling in a reservation earlier in the week was a little tough- the most popular dining times for Friday were all booked up.


We were seated upstairs and almost immediately given a conical basket of sliced focaccia. After a week without bread, you can imagine I had quite a hankering, and this was an excellent way to break the bread fast. Fluffy and buttery with a touch of salt on the crust- perfect start to the meal, as well as a little something to munch on between courses.

My bread deprivation was also the primary motivator for me to order the Bahn Mi Bruschetta ($9). Four slices of soft baguette- not too toasted, staying true to a real bahn mi- were topped by a spread of creamy aioli, crispy pieces of fried tofu and a spicy slaw. Though cilantro and jalapeno played primary roles, each component was detectable, coming together to form a really flavorful dish. The impressive part of this dish (and everything we tried) was that it was vegan- bahn mi's typically incorporate mayo and meat, while coleslaw is also made with mayo. Honestly, no one would ever know that this rendition was missing these somewhat critical components- the dish was a complete as it was going to get.

A chose a simpler appetizer- the Butterleaf salad ($8). A stack of velvety Bibb greens was topped with a shave of "Parmesan" and surrounded by a few companions- salty olives that were roasted, giving them a bit of a chew, a scoop of creamy avocado, and a thick smear of sauce with a depth of smokiness. Individually pairing the different components certainly hit the spot in terms of a huge range and variety of flavor profiles and textures. We haven't had good butter lettuce like this in awhile, and it was much appreciated.

We were both eyeing the Fresh Hearts of Palm cake ($19), but I tricked A into letting me order it. I've only ever seen hearts of palm in a can, and honestly, I couldn't really tell the difference. Big chunks of the soft, delicate vegetable were mixed with a light breading to give it a crab-cake-like texture. The dish had an overall Indian theme- the cake itself definitely had some curry and a bit of cumin- not too spicy, just the right amount of smoky. It was topped by thin strips of cucumber tossed in a mint/cilantro dressing- cool and crunchy, complementing the softer cake. There was also a mix of veggies- small cubes of butternut squash and zucchini- in a coconut curry sauce, as well as the more mild addition of braised black lentils. Though my overall thoughts of the dish were positive, I couldn't help questioning the price tag- I know lentils, HOP, and squash aren't that expensive. Obviously preparing each component takes time and effort, but I still think it was a bit on the steep side.

A's choice was a bit more complex- the Cauliflower and Smoked Eggplant Braciole ($19)- making its price tag seem a bit more reasonable. Braciole is typically made by wrapping thin strips of beef or other meat around a mixture of breadcrumbs and cheese- not something you'd expect to see on a vegan menu. Instead, this version utilized thin slices of eggplant, smoked to provide a rich, peppery taste reminiscent of prosciutto. Wrapped inside, crumbled, cooked cauliflower soaked up the flavors from the salsa verde- a thin mixture of pureed parsley, capers, and garlic. The grilled garbanzos and English peas were my favorite- super firm and seemingly just the right accompaniment to the braciole. A didn't love the addition of cherry tomatoes- I suppose they were a little too random?

With a slower service and just really taking the time to enjoy each bite, we were pretty full at this point. However, the cute dessert menu, tied to a plank of wood, just couldn't be denied. We both got decaf coffee drinks- a latte for me and a cappucino for A ($3.50 each). For some reason I consider after-dinner coffee a total treat so I probably would have been just fine without "real" dessert. Horizons uses a soy-based milk that was definitely on the sweet side and seemed extra smooth and creamy.

However, we agreed that splitting the dessert with the obvious lowest sugar content was acceptable- so we chose the bittersweet chocolate tart ($9). Starting from the top: the dried blood orange slice. Though reminscent of potpourri, I thought it was pretty tasty- lots of carmelized natural sugars. A took one nibble and had just a one-word response: "Weird." The blood orange also played a role in the marmalade, made with chunks of peel and lots of spice to counter the bitterness. A ball of peanut butter "ice cream" was more salty than sweet- like frozen peanut butter. The creamy chocolate mousse of the tart was heavy on the cinnamon with a slight afterburn of ancho chili. The one (somewhat major) downfall of this dessert was the crust- it seemd storebought/frozen with an uncooked/freezer-burnt taste. Vegan crust just isn't that hard... I know they can do better. Honestly, I liked our own vegan chocolate pie a lot better, but the accoutrements of this version saved it from being a fail.

Although the bill ended up being a bit more than I'd like to pay for a meat-free meal, we really have to acknowledge that Horizons fills its role as an upscale, modern vegan kitchen quite well. Even though it was busy, we weren't rushed at all- the meal took a solid two hours- which is a nice change from some restaurants that want you in and out, especially when you don't order drinks. Replacing the cutlery between each course and consistent water refills made up for the grumpy attitude of one of the busboys. The atmosphere was great, the food was really enjoyable- fresh and fun with really thoughtful menu choices. We were really pleased with everything and know that any foodie would enjoy a meal here- regardless of carnivorous status.

611 S. 7th Street

March 22, 2011

Detox Recap: Part 1

We're just three days in to our week-long "spring cleaning detox" which J so nicely described in her pre-detox post. So far it's been fairly easy, and I have to say a lot of our eats have been consistent with how we usually eat. We aren't doing anything crazy, no starvation diets or six-juices-a-day-- we're not even going vegan!

Our main guidelines:

Low-sugar fruits
Healthy fats (nuts, avocado, olive oil, ground flax)
Whole grains (literally, whole)

Processed sugars
Artificial sweeteners
Processed grains (including flour or any store bought baked item including bread)
Unhealthy fats (certain meats, butter, etc)

So basically, we're just following what your doctor would recommend with some modifications. I'm also trying to get J off the cereal rut (most cereals don't fall under whole grain) by suggesting a different breakfast item each morning. However, we usually have about 5-10 minutes in the morning to make breakfast, so we're sticking with the basics- but, don't let this limit you!

So far, I've made:

Easy Vegan Overnight Oats

(Oh She Glows)

Perfect for extra-busy mornings, since all the prep is done the night before! Mix 1/2 cup regular oats, 1 Tbsp. chia seeds, 1 scoop of protein powder, and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract together, then add half a chopped banana and 1 Tbsp. peanut butter, mixing well to incorporate the wet and dry together. Finally, add 1 cup of milk of choice (we used almond milk), give it a final stir, and place it in the fridge overnight. Don't worry if it looks like a soup-y mess-- the seeds and oats will absorb way more milk than you would think! In the morning, you can add more milk if it's too dry, another dollop of peanut butter, maple syrup, or, like we did, a dab of low-sugar jam.

1-Minute Better than Granola

(Healthy Tipping Point)

Simply combine 1/2 cup regular oats, a few pinches of unsweetened coconut, a tsp. of chia seeds, and 1/4 cup of nuts or seeds-- I went with a mix of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. I also made mine into "3-Minute Better Than Granola" by toasting the seeds for a few minutes on the stove. Add the mix to 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt and 1/2 chopped banana, a little drizzle of maple syrup, and you're ready to go-- another quick and easy, healthy and delicious breakfast.

Our lunches and dinners have been focused more on the vegetable and protein side of things-- and we've been careful to produce enough food at the evening meal to provide lunch for the next day. Recipes for four are a good thing around here!

Vegetable Soup over Barley

First up, I gave J the task of making a miso soup, full of tofu, kale, and carrots, but somehow a forgotten ingredient turned this into a fairly simple vegetable soup, which she served over barley. A new-to-us grain, barley can stand in anywhere you would typically use rice. It takes a bit longer to prepare (about 60-75 minutes), but the large, chewy, nutty grains are worth it to us. This item will definitely stay in our meal rotation post-detox!

Kale, broccoli, onion, carrots, and mushrooms were all sauteed until softened, and then a box of strained tomatoes (basically thick tomato juice) was added to the pot to serve as a nutrient-rich broth. Before serving, a few chopped green onions and parsley went into the mix, and a small sprinkle of Parmesan rounded it off. Over the creamy, cooked barley, it was a good start to the week.

Mexican Quinoa-Cornbread with Grilled Chicken

The second dinner of the week was a bit more of a challenge- with the boyfriend coming over to eat with us, I had to meet the criteria of the detox while still masking most of the vegetables. I also had a few missing ingredients for my planned meal, so produced a totally random dish instead. Using masa (cornmeal is a whole grain, apparently) and cooked quinoa as a stand-in for flour, I produced a cornbread-like dish that was full of diced, sauteed onions, softened spinach, diced canned tomatoes, ground flax, and lots of tomato juice (strained from the can). I added flavor with chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin, and baked it until set, throwing on a 1/2 cup of shredded white cheddar and some chopped green onions at the end of the baking time. Served with grilled chicken breasts coated in a similar spice mix, it fit the bill.

Maple-Tofu Barley Bowl with a Tahini Dressing

Our third day ended with a meal actually inspired by a recipe, which I followed fairly closely. This meal has several components, and reminded me of a Bento box or a sampler platter, with many flavors that complement each other but don't necessarily fit together into a single dish. It also took a good bit of time to prepare, although much of that time wasn't active cooking.

I started by preparing barley-- yep, twice in three days. The original recipe calls for rice, or you could easily substitute quinoa or another grain here as well. I then sliced up the acorn squash and stuck it in the oven to roast while preparing the broccoli and tofu. The tofu must first be squeezed to remove as much water as possible, then sliced and pan-seared to brown the edges and help firm it up a bit. Then, I baked it alongside the broccoli for about half an hour with a little drizzle of maple syrup (although plain would be fine as well). Finally, I made a dressing out of tahini, water, lemon juice, salt, and a splash of sesame oil. As the barley finished cooking, I threw 3/4 cup of frozen peas into the pot. Pile everything into a bowl, drizzle with the tahini dressing, and enjoy! Seriously, a bit random, but it covered all of our bases and left us very satisfied-- there is something about salty, smooth tahini that is good on anything.

So there you have it-- the first half of our week-long detox, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We almost always eat a snack in the afternoon (faux Kind bars, you are my friend!), and have a cup of decaf tea and a macaroon after dinner. J has sworn off caffeine for the week, but to that, I must channel my inner Gleek.

Part 2 coming soon!

March 20, 2011

Preparing for a Detox

Hooray, Spring is here! Sunshine and some warm(er) temps have us quite happy. Along with more daylight and trees coming back to life, lots of people tend to do some major "spring cleaning", uncluttering and prepping for a return from hibernation. Although A & I do have a major closet clean-out planned for next weekend, we also decided to do a week-long diet detox. Well, I shouldn't use the word "diet"- we're not trying to lose weight. However, cold, wet weather oftentimes has us indulging in comfort foods and we'd like to redirect ourselves back to a healthier track of lots of fresh produce and whole grains and less processed sugar.

A planned out a simple menu for the week, and we even have a couple of weekend restaurant destinations. However, eating clean doesn't mean we're not going to want something to snack on or something sweet to eat after dinner. Hence, I was put in charge of concocting some wholesome treats. NCAA's March Madness On Demand kept me company in the kitchen. Go Gators!

We both really like KIND bars, especially the coconut and almond ones, but $1.99 each? Please. A weeks worth would consume over 20% of our weekly grocery budget.

Since the producers of these bars pride themselves on having simple ingredient lists, it makes it easy to replicate them in your own kitchen. Using one of A's favorite blogger's recipe as a template, whipping up a batch was no big thing.

First I combined all the dry ingredients in a bowl: a cup each of chopped almonds and unsweetened coconut, a half cup of chopped Turkish apricots, a handful of dried cranberries, a couple tablespoons of flaxmeal, and a tsp of salt for good measure. As "glue" I added a 1/2 cup of light agave nectar and gave it all a good mix. My mixture ended up a little on the "wet" side, and in retrospect I wish I had thrown in a bit of uncooked oats. Oh well, next time.

Well pressed into an 8 inch square pan coated with cooking spray, the mix went into the oven at 350F for 25 minutes. Once the edges looked crispy, I pulled them out and let them cool until they were just barely warm. I was nervous to leave them in and end up with a caked-on mess, but my impatience led to some crumbled bars- not to fear, they easily pressed back together. This recipe made ten bars, plus an extra skinny strip on the side for "taste-testing."

Before & After

Besides being ridiculously easy to make, the bars are sticky and sweet with a good dose of healthy fats and protein to quiet afternoon hunger pains. Even better, they cost less than half what store-bought bars would be, even with ingredients purchased at Whole Foods (infamously known as Whole Paycheck).

To continue with the coconut theme, A sent me the link to a healthy recipe for macaroons. Typically made with egg whites, white sugar, cake flour, and sweetened coconut (coconut with added sugar- I could eat cups of this, no problem), macaroons are not typically something you'd eat while detox-ing. However, coconut on its own has a range of health benefits, and as a "fruit", has a naturally sweet flavor that I happen to love. This recipe has essentially one ingredient, but you can add in flavors- I went with a bit of vanilla bean paste and a few drops of natural almond flavor.

Mix 1 cup of coconut butter (coconut meat blended until it becomes liquidy- the original recipe explains how to make your own) with 2 cups of unsweetened coconut flakes. Add your flavors (or you can add cocoa powder to make chocolate 'roons) and blend everything together. My jarred coconut butter was on the solid side, so it took a bit of elbow grease. My mixture definitely seemed a bit on the dry side, but I figured the creamed coconut would melt a bit more in the oven and hold everything together.

Therefore, I forged on and shaped the 'roons by smushing a handful of the mix into my ice cream scoop and then tapping it to dislodge the coconut dome onto a Silpat-lined baking sheet. I baked them for 25 minutes at 300F, until they took on a golden crispy color and smelled deliciously toasty.

I let them cool completely before I dared touching them, which involved delicately placing them in a Tupperware for storage. No doubt they're too dry- I wish I had added some other source of liquid (but what?? egg whites?) to give them some moistness. In the first recipe, the super small size of the dried coconut was beneficial, but I would have liked a bigger shred here- I don't think what I used helped with the dryness. They also needed a heftier amount of the almond flavor- A's not a fan so I went on the light side.

Although I would make both recipes differently if I could have a re-do, they will serve their purposes well this week. Looking forward to some delicious, healthy meals and yummy snacks to boot (though I might need to make some REAL macaroons on the other side...).

March 16, 2011

Sang Kee Peking Duck House

While A and I certainly enjoy our peaceful "twin dates" that revolve around consuming food, sharing dishes, and relaxing after a long week of work, we also appreciate the merits of a more social gathering of friends. We've hosted family dinners, partaken in potluck brunches, and gotten large groups together for dim sum. When I recently mentioned that I'd never had Peking duck here in Philly, a knowledgeable friend quickly rallied a group of eight- not an easy task with so many different schedules.

We all met on the outskirts of Chinatown at 6 PM on a Saturday- an unfortunately busy time, perhaps due to the nearby Flower Show. Although we had reservations, we were kept waiting a solid 20 minutes after our arrival- with not an ounce of apology from the hostess. I voiced my displeasure with the situation, but she was like a stone wall- apparently it wasn't her problem. Soon enough, we were seated at a large round table in the back. From here on out the service was adequate- we were provided with pitchers of water and forks for those who requested them without too much of a hassle. Since we were all there for one reason, the menus were unnecessary- we quickly placed our order for two Peking Duck meals ($59.95 each, serves four). (Note: perhaps this place should be called "More Than Just Peking Duck" because there are certainly loads of other options for all palatial preferences).

The first dish out was a wonton soup. Two giant bowls were like washbasins of steaming broth. This was no watery soup- there were tons of veggies: greens, baby corn, mushrooms, water chestnuts, and snow peas. The dense, golf ball sized wontons had a somewhat bland mix of sausage hidden inside, but the chewy thickness of the wrapper made for a satisfying bite (or three). Ladeling the soup out into tiny bowls ensured that we didn't fill up on liquid before the main event.

Thankfully, we didn't have to wait long. Traditional strips of crispy duck skin and bits of meat were served alongside floury pancakes, duck sauce, and shreds of green onions. The pancakes were on the large side- actually filling them to capacity would easily use half of the plate of skin. However, the doughy, raw flour taste and thin, powdery texture was a good vehicle for the crackly sweet duck. It didn't seem quite as fresh as other Peking duck that I've had, but it certainly satisfied my "candied meat" quota.

Next up was our second duck dish- more of the meat cooked alongside tons of veggies. One of our friends commented that it smelled like supreme pizza, and we all unanimously agreed with the comparison. It shouldn't have come as a surprise: lightly cooked peppers, onions, and mushrooms with a rich, oily choice of meat- if you piled that on a thick, chewy crust, I'd be perfectly content. Otherwise, the dish wasn't all that remarkable- the meat was a bit lost, though I enjoyed the crunchy vegetables.

The fried rice was also a little on the boring side- it seemed to be missing the "fried" aspect- no toasty burnt bits of rice here. Some dry scrambled egg, pea shoots, and a few teeny shrimp- can't say I tried more than two bites. Mostly a "filler" dish that none of us really needed.

My favorite dish (other than the duck skin) was the chicken and eggplant. Chinese eggplant has a gorgeous purple color, not quite as dark as the regular ones you see in the grocery store. They're also smaller and much more mild- a softer "meat" and more delicate skin. The great thing about eggplant is how it absorbs anything you throw at it- and in this case, it was cooked in a substantial amount of oil, salt, and sugar. Enormous chunks of eggplant maintained their structure but had an incredibly soft, almost velvety texture that didn't require much chewing. Thin pieces of chicken coated in the same sauce played only a supporting role. Excuse the blurry picture- apparently I was much more focused on eggplant consumption than photography.

The last dish was a little bit on the random side, but was a table favorite. Large shrimp fried in a thick golden batter made for a super exciting bite: crispy shell and meaty shellfish. The slightly sweet, slightly citrusy creamy sauce definitely put this dish in "heart attack" territory- a few walnut halves, orange slices and a bed of shredded iceberg had it firmly in the "random" category. Nevertheless, we didn't end the meal with a single shrimp left, which says a lot considering the giant stack of take-out boxes we carted home.

We thoroughly enjoyed a solid dinner with friends in a less-frequented area of the city. The inexpensive aspect made the experience even better- we each threw in $20 (cash only!!) which more than covered the numerous courses, tax and tip. A & I ended up with the remaining eggplant and chicken which made for a perfect work-day lunch- it was even good cold (I don't do reheated leftovers... yes, I know this is abnormal). Hopefully we can plan another venture into Chinatown for some more traditional dishes- any suggestions?

Sang Kee Peking Duck House
238 N. 9th Street