Monday, January 23, 2012

Hungry in CT

Remember when you were a kid, hungry and looking for some food in the house? You looked in the looked in the pantry...and then as a last-ditch effort, you checked the freezer, only to find yourself yelling, "Mom! There's nothing to eat in this house!" Well, maybe that was just me in my house, but somehow I doubt it. And chances are, food could be found in all of those places. Knowing what to do with it, though??

As an adult, I love that I have total control over what I eat. This means I can nourish my body with everything it needs, while eating food that tastes really good! One part of doing this successfully, is to have a properly stocked pantry and to know how to use it. For me today, that meant having a tasty and nutritious breakfast after I was just out of town, my car is at the body shop, and I haven't been to the grocery store in 2 weeks! I made a delicious oatmeal with dried fruit, cinnamon and honey from my pantry, and later, I have all of the ingredients to make a great dinner too.

Need some assistance with this? Contact me for information on healthy eating, pantry makeovers and cooking instruction.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Ways to eat healthier at restaurants - A Chef's Perspective

At any restaurant, a Chef's primary concern is to make the food taste good. Of course, right? There are so many ways to do that, using healthy and natural ingredients, but if you aren't eating at a restaurant that focuses on the healthy and the natural, then you are getting the flavor delivered to your pallet via the tricks up a sleeve. Simple and lazy tricks. Butter, sugar and salt.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not a hater of those 3 things. Salt is a necessary mineral for the body - some people need more than other people, and that can change depending on many factors on any given day. Butter, when derived from grass fed and antibiotic-free cattle, is "real food", and even though saturated fat has gotten a bad rap, all the new research is showing that it isn't the devil that we once thought it was. Sugar, well, I have a different opinion about sugar. Refined carbohydrates, such as table sugar, cause your insulin levels to spike and can contribute to many health concerns from diabetes to heart disease.

The problem, though, as most people know, is the excess. ANYTHING in excess can be a problem. Excess can even turn a good thing bad. Excess is the pits. So when you're eating at a restaurant that doesn't focus on the healthy and the natural, you are probably being subject to some Chef's heavy-hand of salt, sugar and butter. And I don't know about you, but that makes me kinda sniffle.

Things you can do to make dining out a healthier experience?

* Vegetables are probably available even if you don't see them on the menu. Ask for steamed vegetables or lightly sauteed vegetables in olive oil.

* If there is seafood on the menu, a Chef can almost always accommodate you by baking or broiling a piece of fish with herbs, lemon and light seasoning.

* Watch out for sauces and dressings. Even the most healthy sounding sauces can be high in salt, sugar and butter. Ask for a description of the sauce and if it seems suspect, ask for it to be light or on the side.

* Mashed potatoes are usually loaded with heavy cream, butter and salt when made. Rice is usually cooked in water, and when the order comes in, the Chef will add butter and seasoning then. Ask for a healthy rice to be prepared. The Chef can add basil and tomatoes or other herbs and vegetables to make it taste great.

* Ask if there is brown rice or another whole grain to compliment your meal.

* Ask if there is spinach or another dark leafy green available. Add a side of greens to your meal instead of french fries or pasta.

* Ask if the Chef can create a salad full of fresh vegetables and a piece of fish.

The point is to ask! We are a more health conscious society now than ever before and it's not uncommon for the people in the kitchen to hear these requests.

Take control over what you put into your beautiful body. ;)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mahi Mahi Tacos and Rick Bayless

If I was Rick Bayless, I'd be somewhere on the Yucatan Peninsula (undoubtedly barefoot), romancing with an achiote pepper and turning this blog post into a novel about local markets, fresh flavors and the sensual art of cooking! I love Rick Bayless. He brings excitement to the simple, the beautiful, the delicate and the strong. He takes nature to the kitchen and makes it home...

Somehow, it wasn't a good time for me to travel to the Yucatan. I know, what?? So unfortunately, there won't be any talk about achiote peppers in this recipe. And confession: I'm wearing shoes because it's fall here, and it's chilly but too soon to put the heat on. Regardless, Rick inspires me, and in my childlike imagination, he and I are in warm sunny Mexico, cooking in an outdoor kitchen and filming for the next food network show. Gotta love imagination!

Mahi Mahi Tacos with avocado salsa and red cabbage slaw
In this recipe, mahi mahi fillets are brushed with a simple lime marinade and grilled, served in corn tortillas topped with an avocado salsa, red cabbage slaw and cilantro. If you're into hot sauce I highly recommend Cholula on top!

Shopping list for 6 tacos:
1lb mahi mahi boneless fillets
2 avocados
1 small red onion
1 small tomato
1 bunch cilantro
1 small head of red cabbage
2 limes
1 package of corn tortillas (recipe uses 6 tortillas for 2 people)

Pantry items you will need:
salt & pepper
chili powder
extra virgin olive oil
red wine vinegar
Cholula hot sauce

For the fish:
1. Squeeze the juice of half a lime onto mahi fillets. Season with a little salt and pepper and 1/4 tsp of chili powder.
2. Heat grill to medium high heat. Grill mahi mahi for 2-3 minutes on each side or until done. * Test for doneness: push with your finger and if it starts to flake it is cooked. Cover fish and set aside.

Avocado Salsa:
Combine the following ingredients in a bowl:
2 avocados, diced
1 small tomato, diced
1/4 cup of red onion, diced small
juice from half a lime
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of black pepper

Red Cabbage Slaw:
Shred about 2 cups of red cabbage. Mix 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 2 tsp honey, 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of salt & pepper in a bowl. Pour over cabbage and let sit for 10 minutes.

Warm corn tortillas by placing them on a dry skillet or grill over medium heat for 10-15 seconds on each side. Flake the fish and lay in tortillas with salsa and slaw. Top with additional cilantro and hot sauce.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Baked Mochi and Breaking Old Routines

When I think back to the time I started changing my own diet, I remember being a little overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar foods I read about in books and magazines. I mean, it can seem like a lot to try cooking something new. You have to find it at the store, learn how to make it, and then take a leap of faith that you will actually LIKE it! All these things combined can create a strong pull for you to stay in your comfort zone, but it's a sure fact that beautiful things can happen when you step outside of that comfort zone! And really, this can be a very easy transition if you do it one food at a time.

There are so many grains out there that are nourishing and would give your body relief from consuming wheat products. Bored with rice? Try quinoa or millet. The reward here is that you will have so many healthy things to choose from, that reaching for the processed food becomes your old routine. This can also help you break away from over-consuming your typical foods. It takes small steps to break out of old habits, and this is a great way to start! Try buying one new healthy food per week and playing around with it. In one month you'll be miles from where you were, and then whipping up something healthy will be much more easy and interesting. Not sure where to start? Contact me

Mochi is a traditional Japanese food made from sweet brown rice that has been steamed and then pounded, accentuating it's chewy texture and nutty flavor. When cut into squares and baked, it puffs up into moist little muffins with a crispy outer crust. Mochi is such a great snack because it's healthy, super tasty and very versatile. Because it's made from sweet brown rice, it's often served as a sweet snack, drizzled with honey or stuffed with fruit. I went for a more savory snack here, but I encourage you to explore it's endless possibilities.

According to Japanese folklore and traditional medicine, mochi is known for promoting strength and stamina. It was given to manual laborers in the cold months because of it's warming and energizing effect on the body. You can find Mochi at Whole Foods in a refrigerated section, usually in the back of the store.

Baked Mochi Stuffed with Cashew Cheese and Tomatoes
Serves 4-6

1 Package of Mochi
1 cup of cashews
1 small/medium clove of garlic
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
10 cherry tomatoes
Tamari or soy sauce

Preheat oven to 450.

1. Cut mochi into 1" squares and bake for 8-10 minutes.
2. In the meantime, make the cashew cheese by combining the cashews, garlic and salt in a food processor and puree until coarsely ground. Add the water and lemon juice and puree again until mixed well. This should be the texture of ricotta cheese.
2. Slice cherry tomatoes in half.
3. When mochi is done baking, allow to cool enough to touch and then take a paring knife and make a small slice in the middle to create an opening for the stuffing.
4. Spoon in about 1tsp of cashew cheese and drizzle inside with a little tamari. Add the tomato and serve. These are best if served immediately but can sit for up to a half hour.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Baked Stuffed Apple with Vegan Rum Sauce

Autumn is my favorite time for food, it's such a good season for it's variety of tasty vegetables that can be cooked in so many easy ways. And as I've mentioned before, there are important reasons to eat food that is in season! You get the freshest picks, therefore your food has more of the nutrition that it should have; it's better for the environment, because large trucks aren't carting it from the land of far far away to get it to you; you support your local farmer (and your local farmer really needs & appreciates this).

Also, it is the food that grows during this particular time of the year and nature does this for a reason! The nutrients in root vegetables provide hearty and sustainable energy that will support your body now and throughout the winter. These vegetables are very warming to the body and energetically contractive; this helps you to stay grounded and balanced in the chilly dry air of the months to come.

As much as I'm looking forward to some delicious root vegetables and fall soups, it is still really warm here in Chicago (not complaining!), so I decided to go with a dessert to kick off the fall recipes . This baked stuffed apple is not only in season, but is also easy and nutritious. Maple syrup is used to sweeten and compliment the filling of walnuts and raisins, prep time is minimal, and they bake in less than 45 minutes. These can be stuffed a day in advance and refrigerated; but note that baking time will be longer if the apples are cold when they enter the oven. Baking time will also be longer if you make more than 4 apples. If this is the case, use the toothpick method to check if apples are done. They should be tender but not mushy.

*Warning* If you leave them in for too long, they will start to explode!

Baked Stuffed Apple with Vegan Rum Sauce
Serves 4

4 medium granny smith apples
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup maple syrup

For the sauce:
2 cups vanilla rice milk
2 tsp honey
2 tsp dark rum

1. In a food processor, thoroughly combine the raisins, walnuts and maple syrup.
2. Using an apple corer, remove the cores from the apples. Then take a small knife and in a scraping fashion, make the hole a little bigger to fit more stuffing. If you don't have a corer, carefully use a knife for this whole process.
3. Stuff each apple cavity with an equal amount of the walnut mixture. Place in a glass casserole dish and surround apples with about 1/4" of water. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes, or until apples are tender.
4. Top with the vegan rum sauce and serve.

Vegan Rum Sauce
1. Combine the rice milk, rum and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce has thickened and reduced to about half. Approx. 10 minutes.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Quinoa Salad with Latin Flavors

I was hunting through my very poorly organized recipe folder the other day, and came across this quinoa recipe that I'd almost forgotten about! (Sometimes the smallest things excite me.) And, by the way, I really admire those people who have their recipes all beautifully hand-written on cute little index cards - turning them into little gifts to read. That is going on my "someday, when it's not sunny and warm out", mental list of things to do. Yes.

I am a lover of quinoa; this amazing grain was considered sacred to the Incas of South America because of it's nourishing, delicious and vital nutritional content. It's a complete protein, very high in fiber and contains a whole bunch of vitamins and minerals. Oh, and I should mention it's versatility! Have it warm with a meal, cold as a salad, mixed with fruit in a breakfast porridge, stuff it in a pepper, mix it with turkey for a low fat and gluten-free meatball (recipe) , the possibilities are endless. Get the low-down on quinoa.

The cilantro and fresh lime juice in this recipe make it a great dish for when it's warm out. You can play around with this by adding different seeds or nuts, just adjust the seasoning if needed. Pepitas are salty so there is no need to add more salt in this recipe.

Quinoa Salad with Latin Flavors
Serves 6 as a side

1 cup of quinoa
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)
3/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup of scallions, finely diced
3/4 cup of tomatoes, diced(about 1 small tomato)
1 tbsp fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime)

1. In a medium saucepan, dry toast quinoa until lightly browned and aromatic (med/low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently). transfer to a fine sieve and rinse thoroughly.
2. Put vegetable stock into saucepan and bring to a boil. Add quinoa, stir, and bring back to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 12-14 minutes or until broth is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.
3. Place quinoa in a mixing bowl and allow to cool completely. Mix in all other ingredients. Serve cold.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lentil Burger - No Bunz Please

Veggie burgers on a bun - Am I the only one who finds them to be gum smacking dry? I mean it's like having some bread with your bread, right?! Well actually, I know it isn't just me that feels this way because I have Heidi from 101 Cookbooks to thank for this idea: make the burger BE the bun! How novel! She is one seriously smart cookie.

I've played around with quite a few veggie burger and bean burger recipes with the disappointing result of either too dry, falling apart, or lacking in flavor; and each time after running out of patience deciding that they'd be best utilized for target practice with my garbage can! But homemade is so much better than anything at the store and I just couldn't give up - now I'm happy to finally say that I've been pleasantly rewarded for that. I love it when that happens!

I filled these lentil patty's with avocado, lettuce, tomato and artichoke hummus. Other good fillings would be sprouts, onions, roasted peppers, cheese, spreads, etc. I'm a fan of going with whatever's in the fridge for things like this. If you're not going to eat them all right away, you can stack them (separated by wax or parchment paper), and freeze in an air-tight container or ziploc bag. Thaw in the fridge the day before you want to use them. Or, as a way to make something different, I broke up a couple of patty's, sauteed in olive oil for about 5 minutes on medium/high heat, and used them as a filling for vegetarian tacos along with some shredded lettuce and a corn salsa.

Lentil Burgers
Makes 10 4oz patty's creating 5 tasty bunless burgers

3 cups of cooked lentils (Approx. 1 1/2 cups dry)
1 cup of finely diced onion
1 cup of shredded carrot (1 medium carrot)
1 1/2 cups of toasted whole grain breadcrumbs*
4 eggs
1 tbsp soy sauce, shoyu or tamari
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp salt

For the breadcrumbs, pulse about 3 slices of whole grain bread in a food processor until finely ground. Bake at 350 for 5 minutes, stirring 1-2 times. Measure out to 1 1/2 cups (there might be more).

Keep oven on at 350

1. Combine the lentils and eggs in a food processor, blend until most of the lentils are ground up but not all of them. Leaving some pieces whole gives this a good texture.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the lentil/egg mixture with all other ingredients. Let sit for 10-15 minutes for the breadcrumbs to absorb most of the moisture.
3. Form into 10 pattys (about 4oz each) and lay out on a baking pan lightly greased with olive oil.
4. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, carefully flip each one and bake for another 10 minutes. Use 2 patty's per serving and fill with whatever you wish!