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Refined Palate, Relieved Scale

Bon Appetit magazine puts out an annual two-week series of healthy, whole food recipes which they call the Food Lover’s Cleanse (FLC). The idea behind the cleanse is not to go on a diet in January but to recalibrate your pallet and lifestyle get re-accustomed to meals from scratch after all the holiday parties and eating out we do during the holidays.

Last year, I did a modified version of the food lover’s cleanse.  I tried (and wrote about) a bunch of salad recipes that became a full on part of my recurring salad menu since the recipes used proteins or grains from the previous nights’ dinners, homemade dressings, and a variety of greens as bases. My favorite go-to from last year was a chicken salad in napa cabbage with oranges, almonds and a soy-miso vinaigrette. This year, I decided to do both lunches and dinners since the lunches were based on the dinner’s main ingredients there wasn’t much extra effort. While the breakfasts look delish, I am a Shakeology girl and there is nothing Bon Appetit can do to remove that blender bottle from my grip.

My first year, awaiting the release of the cleanse menu was like waiting for Christmas. This year, I somehow forgot about the cleanse until it started and Bon Appetit released the menu online. It’s ok (although, I hate anytime I miss the opportunity to have a “Christmas Eve Equivalent” experience), I had a lot of  meals out the week before and had a few nights of meals left from my primary source of menu planning (NoMoreToGo). So I write this post one week into the two-week cleanse, while in actuality the FLC proper is now over.

I also had some items that I unintentionally overstocked for my holiday cooking (kale or pears anyone?) which was perfect since these ingredients were featured in one of the meals. PUB QUIZSo I actually decided not to work chronologically through the menu but rather pick five dinners (and the accompanying lunches) that used leftover produce I already had on hand. I should also mention that the menu for the cleanse required a trip for the Asian supermarket, due to some specialty items that I couldn’t get from Fresh Direct. This was the fun part of the cleanse for me – experiencing some new flavors and textures that I might not normally know how to incorporate into my cooking.

The first night’s dinner was Red Rice Congee with Chicken, Kimchi, and Mushrooms accompanied by Roasted Butternut Squash with Gochujang — THIS WAS INCREDIBLE. IMG_6527The red rice took a long time to get porridge-like, as called for in the recipe. I actually precooked it over the weekend and then started the dinner with another four cups of broth (my homemade broth of course) and the chicken thighs. They simmered for  about an hour before the rice was the consistency described. But wow, this was worth the wait, as the chicken was incredibly flavorful and tender. For the mushrooms, I used oyster and beech adding a little extra since we’re all mushroom fans in the family. I never feel like mushroom-focused recipes use enough mushrooms. this was my first time working with beech or oyster mushrooms. The beech are like one big mushroom with a bunch of little cute baby mushrooms growing off of it. They had an earthy, meaty mushroomy texture once cooked. The oyster mushrooms actually looked and texture-wise felt like oysters once cooked. While I’m not a huge fan of squash, this recipe changed my mind – the squash is thinly sliced to almost char when roasted and the Gochujang adds such a spicy kick to offset the sweetness of the squash. It is then topped off with scallions and sea salt, which added spiciness and crispness. Yum!!!I took a picture of this meal (after I started devouring it), I’m sure it doesn’t convey all the lovely colors and definitely can’t convey the colorful medley of flavors.

The chicken from the congee became part of the next day’s lunch which was a salad that in IMG_6500addition to the chicken had napa cabbage, cilantro, miso-kimchi dressing and peanuts.  The miso-kimchi dressing was ah-mazing and tasted really good as a dip for carrot sticks!

Next we tried the Roasted Turkey Breast, Broccolini and Black Rice with Hazelnuts. I messed up a little and the turkey tasted a little overlooked to me (hubby said was fine), but this was a nice easy meal to get to the table. The black rice takes awhile to cook (so I actually prepped it earlier in the week) but had a great nutty flavor and the hazelnuts were a perfect additional crunch. Whole garlic cloves cooked under the turkey, which were then mashed around with the broccolini for a ridiculous garlic flavor.  IMG_6538The real star of this meal was the next day’s lunch made out of the turkey. This lunch had a bunch of ingredients that I don’t like on their own (turkey, pears, pomegranate seeds, radicchio, hazelnuts and the homemade mustard seed vinaigrette) but this salad is my favorite thing so far on the cleanse. I almost didn’t make it thinking I wouldn’t like it – but I couldn’t have been more wrong. I would eat this every day if I could. And lick the bowl clean (not that I did that or anything).

The other star so far for me is the Quick Miso Soup. QuickThink instant soup but really fresh and delicious.  I packed all the ingredients (miso paste, silken tofu, scallions, shredded carrots and furikake) into a mason jar and then just added hot water at snack time and it was such a nice warm protein rich snack!!

The Pork Tenderloin in Porcini Broth was another favorite of mine. As with the congee, I added extra mushrooms above the recipe’s requirements. I used chanterelle and baby bellas (only because I happened to have them around and forgot that I needed more shrooms after using up the beech and oysters on the congee). The dried porchinis were added to hot water where they rehydrated to create a delicious broth that I drank from the bowl once the food was gone! The pork was accompanied by a hearty barley with leeks. I don’t cook with barley often but after this meal my husband decided he’s “not a fan” of barley. Not sure why, there was nothing weird going on taste-wise or textures-wise. I loved it and had a mini second serving (with more broth 🙂

The next night we had the Tofu and Brussels Sprout Stir Fry with Red Rice. My new favorite seasonings were in it: furikake and gochujang. This meal was solid. Not my favorite of the cleanse by far, but definitely yummy, filling and healthy – so I served it’s purpose. Mike and I joked about these being the leftovers we were least looking forward . I mean, for dinner -sure, but tell me that Tofu and Brussels Sprouts doesn’t sound like the least desire able leftovers in the world? We both agreed that our procrastination was unwarranted. The salad using the leftovers was delicious. Crispy napa cabbage and peanuts added a nice crunch, while the kimchi-miso dressing changed the flavor so it didn’t even feel like the same meal as the prior night’s stirfry. It wasn’t my favorite meal but also wasn’t my least favorite.

The dinner that created the least enthusiasm (and put off cooking until the following Monday) was the Bistro Salad with Roasted Vegetables. Since I have salads for lunch, I’m not usually into doubling up and having a dinner salad – but wow!! This one was delicious. It had roasted veggies (celeriac – which I’ve never had before, and after googling the best approach to dealing with it – I sliced off the ugly outer shell to reveal a smooth pale yellow inside that smelled almost citrusy). The celeriac was roasted with parsnips, carrots and olive oil, then tossed in smoked paprika and shaved garlic. Next, these garlicky roasted veggies were placed atop a bed of arugula which was all topped with a poached egg and some of the mustard seed vinaigrette (same dressing as my favorite turkey salad earlier in the week). I think even my husband was shocked by how flavorful of a salad we were enjoying. Once the yoke combined with the mustard, greens and garlicky sweet veggies.. I could have eaten two servings!  This dinner was supposed to be served with the beet soup, but I didn’t have my act together in time for this to make it to the table.

Last dish for the week was Mahi Mahi with Smashed White Beans and Sautéed Kale. This was supposed to be a kale salad but remember that leftover kale from the holidays, well now it was a little past prime so sauteing it with some garlic and broth made it a little more palatable to me. The real star of this meal was the beans. Even hubby who typically doesn’t like white beans liked these! The bonus was they were super easy — canned beans, rinsed and then sautéed in some olive oil and garlic, smashed with the end of the spatula and topped off with a little broth which, once simmered down and combined with lemon zest and juice, made a thick beany garlicky purée. Think refried beans but with more freshness and crispness due to the lightness of the beans and citrus of the lemons.  The mahi mahi was good, not the most flavorful fish dinner but the beans complimented the fish and added so much flavor that it didn’t matter. There was also a little user error – I think I overlooked the fish a little bit so it wasn’t as juicy as I would have liked. It was, however, perfect for the salad the next day.

I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t looking forward to fish salad for lunch. First of all, the unspoken rule at the office is no fish in the microwave (which is right near my good friend’s office – and who wants their office stinking like fish?) Since this fish wouldn’t be reheated I figured I was safe… And I was. Actually mahi mahi may be the least offensive fish ever and was quite delicious in my salad. It was firm enough to hold up to a little shake with the ingredients and has a nice mild flavor to let the other ingredients shine. This salad had an interesting combination that I wasn’t sure how  would play out: in addition to the fish, there was fennel, blood orange, black olives, butter lettuce and a drizzle of olive oil. I needed to add a little touch of flaky sea salt and it was solid.

So all in all,  I’m quite happy so far with the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse! I’m down two pounds and don’t feel like I’m dieting. Actually, I feel like I’ve elevated my meals. I’m looking forward to week two!!

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