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

DSC_6872

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.

DSC_6877

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

Garlicky Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Pesto

Leftover roasted vegetables are great ingredients to have in the refrigerator when you need to cook a fast and healthy weeknight meal. I had extra roasted zucchini and bell peppers left over after making my Vegetable Lasagna. The day after I made the lasagna, I used some of the roasted vegetables as a topping for homemade pizza. A couple days later, I used the remaining roasted vegetables in this Garlicky Roasted Vegetable Pasta with Pesto. The basil pesto used in this recipe can also be made in advance and stored frozen up to 3 months. I am not ashamed to admit that I used store bought basil pesto; in addition, I used store bought garlic paste since I like my pesto garlicky. This healthy and delicious dinner was ready in 20 minutes.

Serving size: 2

Ingredients for Basil Pesto:

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 3-4 cloves garlic (I like mine garlicky)
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Ingredients for Pasta:

  • 2 cups of cooked pasta (use your favorite pasta; gluten-free if you pefer; I used whole wheat)
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic paste (optional and used only because the store bought pesto was not garlicky enough)
  • pinch of red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup roasted bell peppers, sliced*
  • 1/2 cup roasted zucchini slices*
  • 1 cup miniature heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

* Note: For directions on how to roast bell peppers and zucchini, follow the instructions on the Vegetable Lasagna recipe.

Directions:

In a food processor, pulse basil, garlic and pine nuts a few times until just combined. Then, while the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil. It’s important to do this slowly to ensure it will emulsify. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. If you are using the pesto immediately, stir in the cheese. Otherwise, store and freeze without the cheese. You can add freshly grated cheese once you are ready to thaw out and use the pesto.

Cook pasta in salted water and drain. Add the pasta back to the same pot. On medium heat, add the garlic paste, red chili pepper flakes, roasted peppers, roasted zucchini and tomatoes. Stir together and heat until vegetables are warmed through. Combine pesto and heat for 2 additional minutes. Just before serving, sprinkle freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

DSC_6710

Left over roasted zucchini and bell peppers were also used  to make pizza.
Left over roasted zucchini and bell peppers were also used to make pizza.

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

Thanksgiving kicks off one of my favorite times of year. As immigrants, my family was slow to embrace the American tradition of Thanksgiving. We really didn’t know much about eating or cooking turkeys. My mother made Peking Duck instead. It is one of my most favorite culinary guilty pleasures. Peking Duck is quite a laborious venture in the kitchen. The chore begins with my mother meticulously rigging a duck on a wire hanger and suspending it from a kitchen cabinet. Then over 2-3 days, the duck is basted and dried before it is roasted. The end result is the crispiest and tastiest skin that covers moist duck meat. However, one year, on day 2 of project Peking Duck, my mother went into labor with my sister. After giving birth, my mother asked my father what he did with the duck. He fried it. The story always makes me smile thinking how my mother went through all that effort to prepare the duck, only to have it deep fried. I suppose it’s no different than frying a turkey.

Fast forward to 2014, and now I’m in a relationship with someone who also has never had a traditional Thanksgiving turkey dinner. He’s a vegetarian athlete and his only request was that I not prepare Tofurky. I wanted to create something nutritious, packed with protein (like a turkey) and Thanksgiving-y.   Like my sister, my Acorn Squash stuffed with Quinoa, Roasted Butternut Squash, Spinach, Cranberry & Toasted Almonds was born on Thanksgiving day. Served with vegetarian side dishes, this main course satisfied my hungry athlete.

Serving size: 6

Ingredients:

  • 3 acorn squashes* (optional)
  • 6 tablespoons of butter (substitute 6 teaspoons of olive oil for vegan)
  • 3 cups of butternut squash* (about 1 ½ pounds), peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup quinoa (rinsed well according to instructions)
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon Coleman’s English mustard powder
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (about 2 small shallots)
  • 3 full packed cups baby spinach
  • Juice of 1/2 large lemon (about 2 tablespoon)
  • Salt and fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Preheat over 400F.

Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler. With a very sharp knife, slice off the top and bottom of the butternut squash to create a level surface. Then carefully cut into ½ inch cubes.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Toss the butternut squash in 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt & pepper.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until tender, tossing once.

Microwave acorn squashes for 1 minute. Cut in half crosswise, dissecting the top and bottom. If necessary, slice a small piece off the top and bottom so that it sits level when served on a plate. Scoop out seeds and stringy parts.  Spread 1 tablespoon of butter (or 1 teaspoon of olive oil) inside of each acorn squash half, then season with salt and pepper. Wrap each half in aluminum foil**.

Noting the amount of time left to bake the butternut squash, bake the acorn squashes for 50-60 minutes or until fork tender.  The butternut squash will finish cooking and will need to be removed from oven while the acorn squash packets remain in the oven for it’s remaining baking time. The timing will ensure the acorn squash is still warm when served. Once the acorn squash are cooked and tender, keep them wrapped in aluminum foil to retain heat until the quinoa is ready to be served.

Bring vegetable broth to a boil then stir in quinoa.  Stir in dry mustard and curry powder.  Simmer covered for 15-20 minutes until water is absorbed or according to the package directions.

While quinoa is simmering, toast the almonds in the oven, on a baking sheet until lightly toasted and fragrant for about 5 minutes.   Allow it to cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

Once quinoa is cooked, remove from heat and toss in cranberries and stir in lemon juice. Taste the quinoa and season with salt if needed. I find that if the quinoa is cooked in vegetable broth, no additional salt is necessary. Cover and let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork.

With remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil, sauté shallots until softened. Add butternut squash, quinoa and spinach.  Sauté spinach until wilted. Toss in toasted chopped toasted almonds just before serving. Spoon quinoa into acorn squash and serve.

Note:  You may prefer not to include both butternut squash and acorn squash in this dish.  I found there wasn’t enough flesh to enjoy inside the acorn squash I picked up.  Butternut squash added nice contrast in color, flavor and texture to each bite of the red quinoa.  Alternatively, this dish can be served without the acorn squash as shown in the photo below.

** Note:  The acorn squash can be baked without wrapping in aluminum foil however, creating individual packets of acorn squash makes it easier to find space for them when other side dishes are competing for oven space on Thanksgiving day. Here are other alternative ways to cook acorn squash:

  • MICROWAVE:  Lay acorn squash cut side down and microwave and cook at 5 minute intervals until fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
  • BAKING UNWRAPPED:  Place unbuttered and unseasoned acorn squash, cut side down on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Add enough water to slightly cover the sides of the squash.  Bake at 350F for about 35-40 minutes.  Flip over, add butter & seasoning.  Continue to bake until fork tender, 5-10 minutes longer.

IMG_7480

IMG_7459