Crispy Salmon and Colcannon (Irish Potatoes with Cabbage, Kale and Leeks)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, Hungry Athlete style! Irish comfort food, colcannon, is mashed potatoes made with kale or cabbage. On Halloween, charms are hidden inside the colcannon. If you find a ring, it means you will someday marry; if you find a thimble, you are doomed to be a spinster.  Who knew mashed potatoes could be so exciting? There’s even a song about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCQbksGz67U Colcannon is traditionally served with Irish bacon or boiled ham, however, since my coach is evaluating my diet this week, I decided to pair it with salmon.  I omitted the butter (and the ring and thimble) from the colcannon and saved it to prepare a sauce for the salmon.  And instead of using just kale or cabbage, I combined both and added leeks to pack a variety of nutrient rich vegetables into the colcannon.  The vegetables are typically chopped finely, blanched to soften, then combined with the potatoes.  To create a smoother colcannon, I lightly pulsed the vegetables in a food processor after blanching.  (A blender can be used as well.)  This saved me some chopping time and I liked the texture.  If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, just chop the vegetables up more finely at the beginning and skip the food processor. Colcannon is great for breakfast too!  Try using leftover colcannon for Colcannon with Poached Eggs and Smoked Salmon. Serving size: 4 Crispy Skin Salmon Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces of wild salmon, skin on (3 ounces per person)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
  • juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
  • 4 tablespoons butter

Colcannon Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut in large even chunks
  • 1 leek, rinsed well and chopped
  • 3 scallions stalks or 2 spring onion stalks, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cabbage, rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 4 curly kale leaves, stem removed and rough chopped (about 4 cups)
  • 1/4 cup of milk or 2 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Directions: Colcannon Place the potatoes in a large pot of water with a little salt. Bring the water to a boil for 5 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender. Drain the water from the pot.

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If you prefer a more rustic colcannon, chop the vegetables up more finely than this and skip using the food processor or blender.

Bring another large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the vegetables. First, add the leeks and cabbage to the boiling water. After 5 minutes, add the kale and continue blanching for another 4 minutes until all the vegetables are bright in color and tender. Then add 2/3 of the scallions or spring onions for 1 more minute. DSC_7001 Reserve about 1/4 cup of the hot greenish water from the pot. The water contains nutrients and can be used to add moisture to the potatoes. Then strain or remove the vegetables from the water and place in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and pepper and pulse until all of the vegetables are combined.

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Pulse it gently for a more rustic texture but definitely do not puree it. Some texture is good.

Add sour cream and milk or Greek yogurt to the potatoes. Mash the potatoes. If it appears dry, add a splash of the reserved vegetable water. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable mixture until just combined. It’s a rustic dish so I prefer chunks of white mashed potato with the green vegetables speckled throughout. Place a lid on the pot to keep the colcannon warm.

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Traditionally, a well is created in the middle and a Irish butter is added. By adding sour cream or Greek yogurt, I didn’t miss the butter. In addition, that allowed me to allocate the butter to creating a lemon butter sauce for the salmon.

Salmon Rinse the salmon and remove any bones. Pat dry with paper towels then slice the salmon into 4 pieces. Score the skin of the salmon by making a few shallow, diagonal cuts on the skin. This will help the skin crisp up but not curl up when cooked. Coat each piece with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Allow the salmon to sit at room temperature for at least 10 minutes before cooking. In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the remaining olive oil on medium high heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully drop the salmon on the pan, skin side down. Depending on the thickness of the salmon, cook for about 5 – 6 minutes watching the color change on the cut side of the flesh. When the color changes for 3/4 of the salmon, flip the salmon over and continue cooking for about 2 more minutes. This is called unilateral (uneven) cooking and ensures a crispy skin.  I usually   flake off a piece of the salmon with a fork to inspect for doneness.  A meat thermometer can also be used.  The salmon is done when the tiniest sliver of flesh is almost cooked or the temperature is 125F – 130F.  Remove the salmon from the pan and let it rest for at least 5 minutes.  The salmon will continue to cook through. After the salmon is removed, heat the pan back up on medium heat.  Add 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, lemon juice, shallot and a pinch of salt.  Stir and simmer until the lemon reduces almost in half, then slowly add slices of cold butter, swirling the pan around to incorporate the butter. Place the salmon on a bed of colcannon. Spoon over the lemon butter sauce.  Sprinkle some reserved green or spring onion on top for garnish. DSC_7019

Mango Salsa

Mangoes are one of my favorite fruits. I’ve been patiently waiting for mangoes to be in season. There are six different types of mangoes and each are in season during different months during the year:

  • Ataulfo
  • Francis
  • Haden
  • Keitt
  • Kent
  • Tommy Atkins

Right now, the Kent mangos are in season (January through March) and the season has just started for Ataulfo mangoes (March through July).

Mangoes are rich in vitamins C and A, potassium and fiber, and also contain a small amount of vitamin B-6, magnesium, iron and calcium. Mangoes contain the nutrient, beta-carotene and the antioxidant zeaxanthin, which filters out harmful blue light rays and is thought to protect against macular degeneration of the eye.

This sweet fruit is versatile; it can be enjoyed in desserts and in savory dishes. The key to enjoying a mango is knowing when it’s ripe. Those who are patient and allow the mango to sit on the counter at room temperature for 2 – 4 days to ripen are rewarded with tender, juicy and sweet flesh. Those who prematurely bite into an unripe mango may find it unpleasantly stringy and sour.

Here are some tips on how to pick a good mango: http://www.wikihow.com/Pick-a-Good-Mango

Now that you’ve picked a good mango, here’s how to cut it: http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_cut_a_mango/

Serving size: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 cup English cucumber, diced
  • 1 small Jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and finely copped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lime zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped (optional)
  • Kosher salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

In a bowl, combine only half of the Jalapeno pepper with all of the ingredients. Taste and add more of the Jalapeno pepper based on taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

Serve with chips or as a condiment over Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa or Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

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Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa

Crispy, full of flavor and a fun meal to eat, you will not miss the fish in this Vegetarian Tofu Tacos with Mango Salsa.

Coating the tofu with panko bread crumbs then pan frying them in oil yields a crunchy exterior and a tender interior. Layer the tofu with Mango Salsa and Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw which can be prepared in advance.

Serving size: 4 (2-3 tacos per person)

Ingredients:

Pan Fried Tofu

  • 1 package firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup corn starch
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Vegetable oil
  • Flour or corn tortilla

Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw

  • 2 cups of finely shredded purple or red cabbage
  • 1 cup of shredded carrots
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions:

Prepare the Mango Salsa.  This can be prepared the day before.

Prepare the Purple Cabbage and Carrot Slaw by whisking together the lime juice, vegetable oil, salt and sugar. Toss in the cabbage and shredded carrots. Set aside.

Place the tofu in a sieve and pour boiling hot water over it. This will help draw out moisture. Dry out tofu by placing them in between paper towels and sandwiched in between two plates.   Weigh the plate down with a 28 ounce can or something of similar weight for at least 15 minutes.

In a shallow dish, combine the panko bread crumbs with cayenne pepper. Place the corn starch and lightly beaten egg, each in its own separate shallow dish.

After the moisture is drawn out of the tofu, cut the tofu into 4 x 1 inch pieces then season with salt and pepper.

Coat the tofu with the corn starch, then dip it in the egg and then coat it with the panko bread crumbs.

Over medium high heat, heat enough vegetable oil to coat a non-stick frying pan. Test the oil temperature by dropping in a piece of the panko bread crumbs. The oil should bubble around the bread crumbs and start turning it brown. If the oil smokes, the pan is too hot.

Fry the tofu until golden brown on each side. Drain on a paper towel.

Warm the tortilla in a hot pan for a couple minutes on each side until warm. Assemble the taco by placing some slaw in the middle of the tortilla. Next add a couple pieces of the tofu and top with the Mango Salsa. Serve with a couple extra slices of lime, hot sauce and a side of my Sweet Potato, Bean and Corn Hash.

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Cod Baked with Tomatoes, Artichokes and Lemon (Psari Plaki)

Psari Plaki is a traditional Greek style of baking fish with olive oil, tomatoes and vegetables. The Hungry Athlete’s version is cooked in parchment paper and was inspired by one of my father’s best friends and tennis partner, Gene Cohen. Gene owned the Somerville Inn, a New Jersey restaurant and banquet hall, with his wife Barbara. Both had passed away over 20 years ago. Barbara Cohen was a successful children’s book writer. Her first book, The Carp in the Bathtub, is a childhood favorite of mine. I have a fond memory of Barbara reading this book to me. Barbara also introduced me to my first peach. She had a gentle way about her and taught me not to be afraid of the fuzzy fruit. I attempted  to eat three that day. If you are looking for good children’s books, I highly recommend her books. Here’s more about Barbara:

http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/cohen-barbara

One summer, my family was invited to the Jersey shore by the Cohens. Mr. Cohen prepared one of the most delicious fish I ever had as a child.  Whenever my father dined with friends at the Somerville Inn, Gene would not allow my father to order from the menu.  Gene insisted on asking my father what he felt like eating and my father always answered” You surprise me”.  My father told me that he “had wonderful meals, not from the menu.”

We must have had insatiable and disappointed eyes after we devoured the fish because Gene immediately ran out to buy more. When he returned with more fresh fish, Gene had my father’s and my undivided attention. Although we studied how Gene created this heavenly dish, all I remember now is that the fish was cooked in a tomato sauce, with possibly ketchup added, and wrapped in aluminum foil. But more than 30 years later, I remember how it tasted,

In my first few attempts to replicate Gene’s recipe, I experimented preparing the fish with canned diced tomatoes and ketchup. It didn’t achieve the flavors I remembered. Ketchup also has too much sugar in it so I substituted it with tomato paste. Next, I exchanged canned tomatoes for fresh tomatoes. The Jersey shore has lots of wonderful fresh tomatoes in the summer so I suspect Gene used fresh tomatoes. I also replaced the aluminum foil with parchment paper. The foil can react to and possibly impact the flavor of acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes, white wine and lemon juice.

Although my tongue cannot confirm for sure if I replicated the flavors from 30 years ago, I think it’s fairly close. With every bite, I am brought back to that evening, at the Jersey shore with Gene and Barbara Cohen, who introduced me to new foods when I was a child and who were great family friends.  No carp in the bathtub here, only cod in parchment.

Serving size: 2 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cod or halibut, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion (about 1 cup), sliced thin
  • 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow and red grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup of rough chopped parsley
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 springs of fresh oregano
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 lemons, cut each lemon into 2 thin slices (4 slices in total) and then juice both lemons (about 1/2 cup lemon juice)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and cut in halves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Inspect the fish for bones. I keep a tweezer in the kitchen specifically for removing small fish bones. After removing any bones, rinse the fish and pat it dry with paper towels. The fish should be dry to absorb all the great flavors you will be adding to it later. Set the fish aside. The fish should be covered and returned to the refrigerator if you have not prepared all the vegetables in advance.

In a fry pan over medium heat, sauté sliced red onion and sliced garlic in 1/4 cup of olive oil until tender and fragrant.

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Stir together tomato paste and white wine, then add the mixture to the onion and garlic.

Add the tomatoes and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper, then continue to sauté for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens.  Stir in the fresh parsley, then remove it from the heat and set aside.

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Tear off two generous pieces of parchment paper large enough to wrap the fish with the tomatoes, onion and artichokes. To prepare the parchment packets, place one tablespoon of olive oil in the middle of each piece of parchment paper, then place the fish on top of the olive oil. Spoon another tablespoon of olive oil on top of the fish and pour 1/4 cup lemon juice on top of each fish fillet. Season the fish well with salt and pepper.  Next, place one sprig of thyme and one sprig of oregano on top of each fish fillet.

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Place 1/2 cup of artichokes around each fish. Finally, spoon the tomato mixture on top of the fish and artichokes. Be careful not to cover the thyme and oregano. This ensures you and your dinner guest will be able to see the herbs and put them on the side of the plate. Nobody really wants to eat whole sprig of thyme or oregano.

Wrap the parchment paper around the fish and ensure the edges are enclosed tightly. Here’s a video demonstrating how to wrap the fish the proper French way: http://www.finecooking.com/videos/fish-in-parchment.aspx . This method ensures the steam is trapped inside the packet, however when I’m in a rush, I wrap the fish by turning the fish so it’s longest horizontally.  I then grab the top and bottom ends of the parchment paper and and turn over the edges over a couple of times. Just make sure to fold it tightly together. Next I fold the long ends in, forming a triangle, like wrapping a present.  Lastly, I tuck in the triangle ends under the fish.

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Bake for 15 minutes or more depending on the thickness of the fish. You can serve the fish in the parchment packet. Just cut a slit down the top of the paper to reveal the fish or you can carefully remove it from the parchment paper. Remember to tell your dinner guests to remove the sprigs of thyme and oregano.

Serve with brown rice or a Greek salad.

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Vegetable Quinoa Egg Bites

Vegetable Quinoa Egg Bites are one of my favorite fast and healthy recipes for breakfast. Make them the night before then pop them in the microwave or toast them in the oven in the morning for a nutritious breakfast on the go. Throw a few in a plastic bag and you’ll have a yummy post morning workout snack on the way to work. Merry Brandybuck and Hungry Athletes alike might also enjoy this as a second breakfast.

Resembling a mini quiche, they can be filled with your favorite vegetables. I like to fill mine with a combination of either spinach and red peppers or broccoli and red peppers. Cayenne pepper and nutmeg adds a nice flavor but be careful, a little of both goes a long way. I also recommend using freshly grated nutmeg. Nutmeg seeds last up to four years longer than powdered nutmeg.

Did you know that nutmeg and mace come from the same tree? Nutmeg is the seed while mace is the covering or aril of the seed.  Here’s some more interesting tidbits about nutmeg: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/ART03474/Cooking-With-Spices-Nutmeg.html

Serving size: 16 mini muffins

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg white
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup of chopped broccoli or 1/2 cup of frozen spinach, defrosted
  • 1/2 cup diced red pepper
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • canola or vegetable oil to brush muffin pan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cook quinoa according to the package instructions. Make sure you rinse the quinoa thoroughly if the package indicates it has not been previously rinsed. Rinsing will remove the quinoa’s natural coating called saponin, which can have a bitter or soapy flavor.

Whisk together the eggs, salt, cayenne pepper and nutmeg. Then mix in the quinoa, vegetables and cheddar cheese.

Brush the inside and top of a mini muffin pan liberally with oil. Fill the muffin pan all the way to the top will the quinoa and egg mixture. Sprinkle with finely grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 25 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

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Pumpkin Oatmeal in a Slow Cooker

It’s just another early morning workout and I’m starving for a fast and warm breakfast.  I happen to have a extra unopened can of pumpkin puree left over from Thanksgiving.  Pumpkin is a nutrient dense fruit so I decided to add it to my slow cooker oatmeal routine. Unfortunately, the first attempt resulted in some unsavory burned pumpkin oatmeal on the edges of the slow cooker. In my second attempt, I turned my slow cooker into a double boiler. This yielded perfectly cooked, unburned oatmeal. Before I share this recipe, allow me to entertain you with a little Hungry Athlete story.

I’ve been ramping up for another 50K but I cannot get on the trails early enough in the afternoons to complete my scheduled midweek 8 mile runs while it’s still daylight. I got caught in the dark twice. On one occasion I talked the park ranger out of giving me a $200 ticket for being on the trails after sunset. The other time I was almost kidnapped by Thelma and Louise. I had exited a trail I had been running on and ran a quick out and back on a paved road. By the time I arrived back at that trail head, the gate was chained up. Since I could not run on the highway (the only other way back to where my car was parked) I was given a ride by two ladies who I will refer to as Thelma and Louis.  It was dark.  I was getting cold.  The only thing I had on me was the key to my car.  While I’m sitting in the back of Thelma’s car and headed down the highway, I hear the following:

T: “You know those runners … they never have any money on them.”

L: “Hahahaha.”

T: “Yeh, who accepts rides from strangers? What would you do to protect yourself?”

L: “I’d poke them in the eyeballs. They say you should go for the eyes”

T: “She’s a runner. She’d outrun us.”

T: “Hahaha.  Oh, we should stop.  Look at her.  She’s all quiet back there.”

Clearly the ladies were having fun with me and I lived to write this recipe, however the moral to the story is to plan your trail runs better.  Don’t get caught on the trails before they close.  Carry ID and your cell phone so you don’t have to accept rides from strangers and live to enjoy Pumpkin Oatmeal in the morning.

Serving size: 4 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup steel cut oatmeal (also called Irish oatmeal)
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup unsweetened Almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar*
  • 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I prefer freshly grated)

Optional toppings:

  • Unsalted roasted chopped almonds or walnuts
  • Diced apple or sliced banana
  • Honey or maple syrup

* Note: Ideally, if you can do without the dark brown sugar, that is the healthiest option, but I personally prefer to have a small amount of it in my oatmeal. Since this recipe is a serving size for 4, one tablespoon isn’t so bad. I sometimes enjoy my pumpkin oatmeal with a diced raw apple or a sliced banana, which adds a natural sweetness to the oatmeal.  I found that by weening myself off of sugar, I can adapt to enjoying foods like oatmeal and coffee without sugar.

Directions:

Whisk all of the ingredients together and pour into an oven proof glass bowl that will fit inside the slow cooker. I used a 6.5 quart slow cooker but a smaller 4 quart slow cooker is all you need.

Fill the slow cooker with water covering the pumpkin oatmeal bowl at least half way. Cover and cook on a low temperature for 7 hours.  Start the slow cooker before you go to bed and wake up to perfectly cooked oatmeal.  Give the oatmeal a thorough stir before serving.

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Fill the slow cooker insert with enough water to cover the oven proof bowl half way. This is what the oatmeal will look when it’s finished cooking. Give it a thorough stir before serving.

If you prefer, serve with chopped nuts (i.e., walnuts or almonds) and / or with fresh fruit (i.e., diced apple or sliced banana). The leftover oatmeal and be stored in individual serving size containers in the refrigerator. Add a little almond milk to loosen up the oatmeal and warm it up in the microwave when you are ready to eat it. DSC_6905

Eggs with Garlicky Spinach & Tomatoes

I try to eat some protein and a nutrient dense vegetable in the morning as often as I can.  One of the easiest and fastest breakfasts to prepare are my Eggs with Garlicky Spinach & Tomatoes. According to the CDC, spinach is one of the top 5 most nutrient dense vegetable and tomatoes are one of the top 3 most nutrient dense fruits: CDC Nutrient List of Nutrient Dense Fruits & Vegetables

Serving Size: 1

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small cloves or 1 large clove of garlic, peeled, smashed and rough chopped
  • 2 heaping cups of fresh baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup of cherry tomatoes
  • juice of 1/2 of a lemon
  • salt and pepper
  • Worcestershire sauce (optional)

PREPPING IN ADVANCE:

To spare every precious minute in the morning, I prepare as much as possible the night before. I begin by washing and drying the spinach, tomatoes and lemon. I was taught by my wonderful home economics teacher, Mrs. Pfromm, to always wash the outside of all of my fruits before storing them in the refrigerator. I do this for citrus and apples but not berries. I only wash berries before I use them, otherwise the moisture will cause them to spoil faster.

Slice the tomatoes and lemon, then place them, along with the spinach, in a sealed plastic or glass container. Refrigerate overnight. In a small glass bowl, add smashed and rough chopped garlic with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

DIRECTIONS:

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan over medium heat. Smash, then rough chop the garlic before adding it to the warm oil. Sauté the garlic for about 1 minute until fragrant. Add the spinach and tomatoes to the garlic and olive oil.  Toss together until the spinach starts to wilt.  Season with salt and pepper, then move the spinach, tomatoes and garlic to one side of the pan.

On the empty half of the pan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Fry the eggs on that side of the pan. Then cover the eggs and spinach. The egg only needs 1 or 2 minutes to cook when covered. The eggs can be prepared sunny side up, over easy or you can even poach the eggs in a separate pot. Just before removing the eggs, squeeze 1/2 of a lemon over the spinach and tomatoes.

Serve the eggs either to the side or over a bed of spinach and tomatoes.  I like to add a couple dashes of Worcestershire sauce to the top of the eggs.  I learned this from my parents growing up and have always eaten my fried eggs with Worcestershire sauce.  Give it a try.  It’s delicious.

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Valentine’s Day Hungry Athlete Style

Ah Valentine’s Day … the most grandiose of Hallmark holidays. While I don’t need Hallmark to tell me when to be romantic, it’s still a good excuse to flirt and eat chocolate.

How will this Hungry Athlete celebrate Valentine’s Day? Well, by supporting her boy, Rama at his first 100K trail race of course! Around the same time many couples will be gazing at each other over a romantic dinner, Rama and I will be scantily clad and engaging in a sweaty one on one moment. I’ll be pacing him, I mean chasing him, for about 10 miles, to the finish line. While this day will be all about Rama, it will still be a romantic treat for me to be able to support him and see him at the finish line.

Back to the flirting and chocolates. Although Rama will need to stick to a race day diet, I will have a few surprises up my sleeves.

Ta da! Here are the fun treats I’ll have waiting for him at the aid stations.  I made the tags myself but found templates for the tags here:

http://www.skiptomylou.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/fruitlabels.pdf

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But unless you are spending February 14th at an ultramarathon, you are probably looking for something a little more exciting to give to your Valentine.

Here are some decadent but healthy treats that your Valentine will find extra sweet because it’s hand made by you. These Dark Chocolate Covered Fruits and Nuts are so easy to make and are a better alternative to those sugary candy conversation hearts.

Ingredients:

Use your favorite fresh or dried fruits and roasted nuts. I like to sprinkle a little flake salt on top of the chocolate before it hardens. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Dried banana chips
  • Strawberries
  • Blueberries
  • Pomegranate arils (seeds)
  • Clementine
  • Assorted roasted nuts
  • Dried fruit (cranberries and apricots)
  • Chocolate chips (I prefer dark chocolate 60-70% cacao)
  • Flake salt

Directions:

Melt the chocolate chips over a bowl set over bowling water or in a microwave. I dipped the fruit in the chocolate and placed them on parchment paper. Refrigerate for 3-5 minutes to harden.

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If it weren’t for his race, we’d probably be at home making Valentine’s Day dinner together. Here are some ideas for a Valentine’s dinner at home.

Appetizer/Salad:

Beet and Watermelon Salad

Orange, Fennel and Arugula Salad

Main Course:

Beouf Bourgignon

Acorn Squash Stuffed with Curry Mustard Quinoa, Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberries and Toasted Almonds

Dessert:

Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse

Frozen Strawberry Lemon Yogurt

Roasted Brussels Sprout Salad with Lemon and Pomegranate

I love winter fruits and vegetables. Last week one of my ultra running pals brought me a big stalk of Brussels sprouts. I knew right away I wanted to make some sort of Brussels sprout salad and searched for a couple other winter vegetables or fruits that would brighten it up with some sweetness and acidity.  I found those bright notes in a pomegranate and some lemons plucked from a tree in the back yard.

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An abundance of lemons this winter. I absolutely love not having to buy lemons.

The whole lemon is used in this recipe. Blanching the lemons, then roasting them, helps to eliminate the bitterness from the rind. You may be hesitant to bite into the lemon, rind and all, but you’ll be pleased to find the rind quite tender. You will want to try this because the peel of a lemon contains more vitamins than it’s juice. Lemon peels are an excellent source of fiber, potassium, magnesium, calcium, folate, beta carotene and vitamin C.

The lemons, pomegranate anvils and Brussels sprouts are tossed together with red onion and tomatoes to create a side salad that was not only visually bright but is also cheerful with each bite.

This salad was accompanied by a hearty bowl of my Minestrone Soup and served on a very rainy winter weekend.  The ingredients in this salad made for the perfect light and sunny Sunday night dinner

Serving size: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup and 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 heads or 3/4 pounds of Brussels sprouts*
  • 2 large lemons (1 sliced lemon and juice of 1 lemon, about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup small assorted tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/3 cup of pomegranate arils (seeds)
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • salt & pepper

* Brussels sprouts can be replaced with mixed greens

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425F

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half and place onto 2/3 of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Leave the other 1/3 of the baking sheet empty. Lemon slices will be added to this space later. Toss the Brussels sprouts in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then season well with salt and pepper. Roast the Brussels sprouts for about 20-25 minutes until tender and the edges are brown. Turn over the Brussels sprouts a few times while roasting to ensure even browning.

While the Brussels sprouts are roasting, wash the lemons well then slice one lemon into thin rounds. Place the lemon slices into a pot of boiling water. Blanch the lemon slices for 2 minutes. This will help to eliminate the bitterness from the rind. Remove the lemon slices from the boiling water and add it to the baking sheet with the Brussels sprouts. Coat the lemon slices in 1 tablespoon of olive oil then roast with the Brussels sprouts. Roast the lemon slices for about 10-15 minutes until they start to caramelize a little. Watch the Brussels sprouts and lemon slices carefully. The lemon slices may need to be removed from the baking sheet before the Brussels sprouts have finished roasting.

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Allow the Brussels sprouts and lemon slices to cool slightly, then cut both Brussels sprouts and lemon slices in half.

In a measuring cup or small bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking together the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of the remaining lemon (about 1/4 cup), balsamic vinegar, honey and a pinch of salt and pepper.

In a medium bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts, tomatoes and red onion slices in the dressing. Transfer to a serving bowl. Slice the lemon rounds in half and add to the top of the Brussels sprout salad. Top with the pomegranate arils.

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Swap out the Brussels sprouts with mixed greens for a salad with brightness in every bite.
Swap out the Brussels sprouts with mixed greens for a salad with brightness in every bite.

Frozen Strawberry Lemon Yogurt

The alluring pink scoops of my Frozen Strawberry Lemon Yogurt may win the heart of your Valentine. This light and refreshing dessert is easy to prepare, naturally sweet and contains only four ingredients.

The key to a simple and delicious recipe is to use good quality fresh ingredients. I happen to have lots of fresh strawberries from the Carralitos Farmers Market given to me by an ultra runner friend who came over last weekend to watch the Super Bowl. Knowing I would not be able to consume all those fresh strawberries before they perished, I decided to freeze most of them. Since my friend ran a 100K the day before delivering the strawberries, I felt it was only appropriate to use them to make something special and healthy.

Serving size: 6-8

Tools: Food processor or blender and ice cream maker

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups of whole strawberries, hulled & frozen (about 2 pints)
  • 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt (full fat)
  • 1/3 cup juice of Meyer lemons*
  • 1/4 cup of honey
  • Sprig of mint (optional)

Note: Standard supermarket lemons may be substituted however I recommend using Meyer lemons if you can find them. Meyer lemons are sweeter which helps to cut the tartness of the yogurt. Otherwise, you may want to add more honey when using other varieties of lemons.

Directions:

Freeze the ice cream container according to instructions.

In a food processor or blender, puree the frozen strawberries. Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice and honey. Continue to process or blend the strawberry mixture until all the ingredients are combined. Taste the yogurt. If you find it too tart, you can add more honey or lemon.

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and use as instructed. It should take only 15 minutes or less for the yogurt to start to freeze up.

Transfer into freezer container and freeze for at least 1 hour. Scoop out and add a fresh sprig of mint if you like.  Alternatively, this Strawberry Lemon Yogurt can be poured into popsicle molds and enjoyed frozen on a stick.

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