Facing the specter of her 30th birthday, the Cheektowaga-raised graphic artist decided to cook most of her own food. No more processed food larded with a laundry list of chemical compounds. No more refined white sugar. No more cookies from a box, even if they were gluten-free.
She also added a daily yoga habit, and the results were startling. “I dropped 30 pounds in two months like it was the easiest thing I've ever done,” said Manos Brickey, The News' July Cook of the Month. When friends started asking Manos Brickey for her transformative recipes – “there's all these things you aren't eating, what are you eating?” – she figured the easiest way to answer them was with a blog.
At tasty-yummies.com, Manos Brickey posts recipes and pictures of the dishes she makes for her family, friends, and especially her husband, Mark. Since she's always looking to make something different, Mark wanted a menu to choose from. “He'd say, 'I want that other thing you made two weeks ago, how can I remember it?'” Now he can just send her a link from the blog for his dinner suggestion.
The couple, married for five years, are the principals in Hero Design Studio, a graphic design and screenprinting company that's made a name for itself in the indie and alternative music worlds, doing posters and more for bands like the Black Keys, Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie.
With their business now about 85 percent national, they're moving to California after they sell their house. But fans of her cooking can still follow her blog. “For me, my blog isn't just about Buffalo, even though my ingredients are coming from local sources and seasonal to Buffalo when they can be,” she said.
She grew up in Cheektowaga, graduating from Cheektowaga Central High School, Class of 1997. “Dad did most of the cooking, Mom did most of the baking,” she said. “Both are great cooks – that's what started my love of cooking.”
Even today, one of her favorite comforts is her version of her mother's avgolemono soup – chicken broth and rice thickened with a lemon-egg mixture. “If I'm not feeling good, getting a cold, I want avgolemono soup,” Manos Brickey said.
Meat is still a limited part of her weekly meals, to be sure. But it's an exception, and Manos Brickey knows exactly what she's getting. They bought a half pig from Sojourner Farm in Olean, and shared a half cow with her parents. Recently, she put beef short ribs in a slow cooker with Asian flavorings and served the meat in tacos with Korean cucumber slaw.
Getting over the intimidation of strange flours also has allowed Manos Brickey to experiment with gluten-free baking and develop treats that meet one of her cooking goals: to satisfy her diet restrictions and her omnivorous family at gatherings.
Her balsamic strawberry tarts definitely qualify. The tart shells bake up satisfyingly crunchy without the odd texture that plagues some gluten-free baked goods. “I like the ones that can make everyone happy,” Manos Brickey said.
Balsamic Strawberry Mini Tarts With Whipped Coconut Cream
For mini tart shells:
2 cups almond flour, aka almond meal
2 tablespoons maple syrup
¼ cup coconut oil, melted
a teaspoon baking soda
h teaspoon salt
2 pints strawberries, hulled and sliced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons maple sugar (or palm/coconut sugar, raw sugar, etc)
For coconut cream:
2 cans organic full fat coconut milk, refrigerated overnight
1 tablespoon maple syrup, or your favorite sweetener to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla
To make shells, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 cups in a muffin tin with paper liners (you could also use greased mini tart pans). In a large bowl, add all of the crust ingredients and mix very well. Really get your hands in there to get it all together and work it into a nice dough.
Press the crust mixture down firmly into the muffin cups using your knuckles, going up the sides a little. Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then place the pan in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
Toss strawberries with vinegar and maple sugar in a bowl, and set aside.
To make cream, open chilled coconut milk cans carefully, keeping them level. There will be a firm, waxy layer of coconut cream solidified on top. Carefully scoop this off into a chilled glass bowl. (Keep the leftover coconut water, it's great for smoothies.)
Using a mixer, whip the coconut cream for 3 to 5 minutes until it becomes light and fluffy, with soft peaks. Mix in your maple syrup and vanilla, if using. Place the whipped coconut cream back into the fridge until you are ready to use. (This may be more than what you need for all 12 tarts, but that's OK, it keeps for several days, covered in the fridge.)
To assemble the tarts, remove paper liner from tart shells. Top each tart shell with a spoonful of balsamic strawberries and a dollop of whipped coconut cream. Serve immediately. Makes 12 mini-tarts. (Gluten-free and vegan.)
Fiesta Quinoa Salad
2 cups cooked quinoa, cooled to room temperature
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeño, finely chopped
1 cup cooked corn
1 cup black beans
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
3 fresh scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (if you don't like cilantro, you can use mint instead)
1 avocado, diced
Zest from 1 lime
For the dressing:
¼ cup olive oil
1 lime, juiced
2 garlic cloves, minced
a teaspoon cumin
a teaspoon chili powder
a teaspoon salt
To cook quinoa: In a strainer, rinse 1 cup dry quinoa until the water runs clear. Add to 1½ cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 15 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork.
To make dressing: Add all of the dressing ingredients to a small bowl and whisk very well to combine. Set aside.
Add the cooked, cooled quinoa to a large serving bowl. Add everything to the serving bowl with the quinoa, except the avocado. Toss very well to combine.
Give the dressing a quick whisking again to combine and pour it over the salad. Top with avocado and lime zest. You can also add another small handful or two of the fresh scallions and fresh cilantro. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve the salad immediately at room temperature or chilled. Serves 6-8. (Gluten-free and vegan.)