Thursday, December 12, 2013

Mung Bean Hummus with Za'atar

I've made (and eaten) ALOT of hummus in my day.  This wonderful chickpea based dip is one of the first foods I started incorporating into my diet when I started experimenting with vegetarianism in my teens.  Finding hummus in the grocery store fifteen years ago was almost unheard of, you had to venture to a health food store and even then the choices were very limited. So, from a young age I started making my own and began to prefer the taste and texture of homemade versus store bought even when I had the opportunity to get my hands on the stuff.

I basically lived off of the stuff in college (you know... that and cheap beer), using it as a dip for crackers or vegetables or smearing on a bagel piled with vegetables for a lunch that could be thrown together in the matter of minutes.  The less time I had to spend cooking or thinking about meals, the more time I had for studying... and drinking.

After seven years of eating hummus day after day I began to tire of it...shocking, I know.  I decided to take a break from what is thought of as "traditional hummus" consisting of chickpeas, lemon, garlic, sesame tahini, salt, and maybe some cumin or cayenne.  I thought, why not add some fresh herbs, or roasted garlic, maybe some kalamata olives. Or... instead of chickpeas, use cannellini or black beans. 
For several years in my twenties, I worked in a vegetarian restaurant where I made a different flavor of hummus each day of the week, so I made more variations of this bean based dip/spread that you could ever imagine.

It wasn't until recently that I came upon this recipe for mung bean hummus and my mind was blown.. why the heck didn't I ever think of that??  Mung beans have been used for thousands of years in both sweet and savory dishes, originating in India then cultivated all throughout Asia.  They were used medicinally, dispelling heat from the body and aiding in detoxification.  They are one of the main staples of an Ayurvedic diet, helping to bring balance to the body by improving digestion and enhancing overall health and vitality.  Today, mung beans are consumed for their amazing health benefits, helping to lower cholesterol, control diabetes and help protect against breast cancer.  Like most other legumes, mung beans are also high in fiber and low in fat.

Combining these beans with lemon helps to boost your vitamin C intake, sesame tahini gives your body a dairy free calcium boost and the garlic will help boost your body's immune system... not too bad for a snack food!

Mung Bean Hummus (makes 2 c.)
From 101 Cookbooks

1 1/2 c. cooked mung beans
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. sesame tahini paste
1 large clove garlic, peeled & smashed
1/2 t. sea salt
1/3-1/2 c. water

Za'atar spice and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on top

Pita chips for serving*

Start by adding the mung beans to a food processor and pulse until a fine, fluffy crumb develops, at least a minute. Scrape the bean paste from the corners once or twice, then add the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and sea salt. Blend again, another minute or so. Don't skimp on the blending time, but stop if the beans form a dough ball inside the processor. At this point start adding the water a splash at a time. Blend until the hummus is smooth, light and creamy. Taste, and adjust to your liking - adding more lemon juice or salt, if needed. Top with a sprinkling of za'atar and a healthy swirl of extra virgin olive oil.  Serve with homemade pita chips.

* To make the pita chips, cut a couple rounds of pita breads into squares or triangles. Toss with a glug of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt and arrange in a single layer on a large sheetpan.  Bake at 350 until light browned and crispy (about 8 minutes each side), flipping them over halfway through.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Apple Hemp Muffins

Apples. I will never tire of them.

Weather it be in the form of hard cider, pie or just straight up snacking I will continue to eat the hell 'outta apples until citrus fruits come into the seasonal spotlight.

I've been fortunate to receive two massive bags of local, organic utility grade apples this fall, which automatically translates to lots of apple crisp.  To avoid falling into a complete sugar coma I decided to take the remaining apples and make a batch of unsweetened applesauce.

Then I realized... wait, I don't even eat applesauce.  It's not like I wouldn't eat it, but I would never go out of my way to buy it otherwise.  In the attempt to not let this beautiful jar of sauce go to waste I scoured through old cookbooks and recipe files for some sort of baked good that would put it to good use.

The recipe for these apple hemp muffins had been tucked away in one of my many random recipe folders for a good two years.  I would always pass them by because they had applesauce (which was something I never had the house), but now with my massive jar of apple mush, I finally had the opportunity.

With a couple modifications, these muffins came out great! The addition of hemp seeds gives these cake like, lightly sweetened vegan muffins a boost in protein and a healthy dose of essential fatty acids.

Apple Hemp Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
Adapted from this recipe

1 1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 c. oat flour
1/2 c. hemp seeds
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/4 t. sea salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/2 t. ground ginger
1 c. applesauce
1/2 c. maple syrup
3/4 c. almond milk
1 t. vanilla
3 T. coconut oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients, sifting in baking powder and baking soda. In another bowl, combine applesauce, maple syrup, almond milk, vanilla, and coconut oil and mix together. Add the wet to dry and mix until just combined. Spoon into lined or lightly oiled muffin tins. Bake 25-30 minutes, transfer to a cooling rack.
Store in an airtight container.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Sesame Almond Nori Crunchies

I've never been much of a snack person.

I'm one of those three meals a day people. I eat when I'm hungry and that usually only occurs around my designated meal times.
When I do my shopping for the week, I'm great at planning what I'll have for breakfast, lunch and dinner but I always forget to throw some snack foods in my cart for those occasions when I find my blood sugar plummeting at 4 o'clock because I didn't have a substantial lunch.

Truth is, most foods targeted as "snacks" are prepackaged foods with a long list of ingredients, many of which are unrecognizable.
Most times I'll just reach for a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts, but sometimes I wasn't something a bit more fun.. something that's a little more.... snackable.
My cupboards are almost always stocked with a variety of nuts and seeds (walnuts, pistachios, sunflower, pumpkin, flax, hemp, sesame etc..) to throw in baked goods, make milk, toss into granola, or add to a salad.  Not only are nuts and seeds super versatile, they're also packed with healthy fats, protein, and are nutrient dense.

I was checking out some of my favorite blogs this past weekend and stumbled upon a new site called "She Cooks Macro"; most of the recipes focusing on macrobiotic cuisine. Macrobiotics is a dietary regimen that focuses on using whole, simple, unprocessed foods to achieve balance within the body to promote healing. The diet emphasizes whole grains, seaweeds, legumes, fruits, vegetables, some nuts and seeds and fermented soy products like miso, tempeh and tamari.
One of the recipes that caught my eye was this sesame almond nori brittle. This was primarily based on the fact that I had everything on hand to make it, but it was also chocked full of healthy stuff and looked highly snackable.  The fact that it took 15 minutes to throw together didn't hurt either.

Sesame Almond Nori Crunchies
From She Cooks Macro

2 T. safflower oil
1/4 c. maple syrup
1/4 c. brown rice syrup
1 c. sesame seeds
1 c. almonds
1 t. tamari
6 sheets nori, torn into small pieces.

Preheat oven to 350. Combine the oil, maple syrup and brown rice syrup in a large sautee pan and bring to a rolling boil. Stir in the almond, sesame seeds and tamari. Add the nori and mix well to combine. Spread on a sheetpan lined with parchment paper and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely, then break into pieces.
Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Vegetarian Pho

Pho is a Viatnamese noodle soup consisting of a rich clear broth usually made with beef bones or oxtail with charred onion, ginger and spices like cinnamon, star anise, cloves, fennel, peppercorns and cardamom.  The sweet and savory broth is filled out with thin rice noodles and slim cuts of beef and topped with garnishes like Thai basil, cilantro, bean sprouts, scallions, sliced hot chilis, hoisin sauce, lime wedges and sriracha (a chili sauce). 
After indulging in pho several times at Viatnamese restaurants I decided to try making it at home. The challenge was to make it without using any meat in the broth, a task some die hard pho lovers would deem impossible. Meat bones, no doubt add a layer of flavor that is pretty hard to replicate, but after a little tweaking I think I nailed it.  Of course my version is in no-way traditional, adding shiitake mushrooms and bok choy (something you would typically find in miso soup) to give the soup a little more substance.  One thing that I kept in common was the rice noodles (a must) and LOTS of fresh herbs, hoisin and sliced chili peppers which add texture and layers of flavor.

Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients. Many of them are spices that are added to the soup and once you get your broth going, you can cook your noodles and prep your garnishes.

Vegetarian Pho (serves 2 large or 4 small bowls)
Adapted from My New Roots

2 lbs. onions, peeled and rough chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
3 inch knob of ginger, sliced thin
8 c. water
1 T. fennel seeds
5 cardamom pods, crushed with the back of a knife
3 star anise
5 whole cloves
1/2 t. coriander seeds
1/2 t. black peppercorn
1 cinnamon stick
1 T. salt
1 T. tamari

thin rice noodles
1 c. sliced shiitake mushrooms
couple large handfuls of baby bok choy

Garnishes: Use what you like and what you've got!

sliced scallions
sliced jalapenos
handful of thai basil leaves
handful of cilantro (leaves and stems)
mung bean sprouts
lime wedges
hoisin sauce

The broth:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fennel, cardamom, star anise, cloves, coriander, and peppercorns on a sheetpan. Toast in the oven for 3-5 minutes until fragrant. Remove and set aside.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables start to brown. Add the salt, spices and water, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat, add tamari and let sit covered for 15 minutes. Strain the broth into another large pot using a fine mesh strainer, pushing down on the onions and spices with the back of a spoon to squeeze out every last drop.

Meanwhile cook your noodles according to the directions on the package. Drain, rinse under cold water and set aside (Most rice noodles only require a 5-7 minute soak in boiling water).

Slice your shiitakes and bok choy and prep any garnishes that you desire. I like to place all of my garnishes on a large plate so diners can add as much or as little as they eat their soup.

When you are ready to eat place the broth over medium-high heat until it begins to simmer. Add the shiitakes and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the bok choy and turn off the heat (The bok choy just needs to wilt a bit).
To serve, place the desired amount of noodles in each bowl. Top with the broth and add whatever garnishes your heart desires.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Turmeric: Natures Medicine

Turmeric is a quintessential ingredient in Indian cuisine, imparting a golden hue (to EVERYTHING it comes in contact with) with an earthy, bitter, peppery flavor. For years I've kept a tiny jar of the stuff in my spice cabinet, adding a pinch or two when whipping up a curry or lentil dahl. Beyond that, turmeric was never something that made an everyday appearance in my diet.

Several different cultures use particular herbs and spices in their cooking that we think of solely as a flavoring agents, but many of these were incorporated into their food for their amazing health benefits as well. The Italians use copious amounts of garlic which happens to have phenomenal immune boosting properties. Mexicans use all sorts of fresh chilis in their food, which stimulates digestion, improves circulation and increases perspiration, which may help to rid the body of toxins. Indian cuisine incorporates several spices that help improve digestion, such as fennel, black pepper, ginger, cardamom, and coriander. Turmeric, not really an herb or spice, but a rhizome (like ginger or it's close relative galangal) is prescribed as medicine in Ayurveda, the oldest form of medicine native to India.

Turmeric's health benefits are due to the presence of curcumin, the compound responsible for it's bright yellow color. Curcumin has powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It's known for inhibiting a number of cancer strains and the curcumin within turmeric can halt the advance of cancer cells or even downright destroy them. It can also improve digestion due to the phytochemicals that help assist the body's production of bile, which helps by breaking down the fatty components of foods. Due to it's anti-inflammatory properties, its also useful for several types of bowel issues such as ulcerative colitis.  Turmeric also helps to detoxify the blood and boost the immune system and is also extremely beneficial for anyone suffering from arthritis since it reduces pain and inflammation around the joints.

After a recent wrist sprain, I decided to consume fresh grated turmeric everyday rather than pump my body full of anti-inflammatory drugs to see what effect it would have. Within a couple of days I've noticed a reduction in pain and it has no unwanted side effects that come with taking NSAID'S.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy turmeric it is by making this ginger-honey-lemon turmeric tea, replacing the ground turmeric with a heaping spoonful of the freshly grated stuff.

Looking for some other ways to incorporate more of this amazing natural medicine into your diet?
Check out these recipes:
Chickpea and Swiss Chard Crepes with Mint and Ginger Raita
Saag Paneer
Paneer and Winter Squash Coconut Curry

Thursday, November 7, 2013


Recently, It came to my attention that I had been eating the same breakfast for an entire month straight.  I become obsessed with a particular food and eat it until the thought of it sickens me. Yeah, I'm weird like that.
So, I'm trying this new thing out called variety. I actually have no problem eating different foods for lunch and dinner (although, lets be real my mid-day "meal" is almost always yogurt, nuts and fruit), but for some reason breakfast always remains a constant.  So I've decided to switch it up a bit. Some of my new morning options include: Smashed avocado on toast with flakey salt, a poached egg on toasted sourdough with sautéed kale, and these here buckwheaties (think grapenuts), either served with almond milk or mixed into plain yogurt.

Roasted buckwheat groats (aka kasha) is commonly eaten in Eastern European countries as a porridge, either mixed with pasta or used it as a filling for knishes or to make blini (buckwheat crepes). Buckwheat flour is most commonly used in pancakes or used to make noodles, known as soba.  One of my favorite ways to enjoy buckwheat by making buckwheaties, soaked, sprouted and dehydrated raw buckwheat groats. 

Buckwheat is a gluten free grain (actually... technically a seed) that contains the eight essential amino acids, as well as high amounts of manganese, magnesium and fiber. It can be eaten to combat high blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps to stabilize blood sugar.

I've dehydrated these on their own and they tasted a little like sawdust, so this time around I tossed my soaked groats with some maple syrup, cinnamon, and two of my favorite superfood powders, maca and mesquite.  Maca is a root in the radish family grown in the mountains in Peru. It is sold in powdered form and is known for balancing hormones and increasing stamina (as well as sexual function.. wink, wink). It is rich in vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and amino acids. Mesquite is a powder with a molasses-like flavor with a hint of caramel(we're not talking BBQ here!). It's high in protein, soluble fiber, calcium, iron, zinc and potassium and it is an excellent (partial) flour replacement in baked goods.

Barely adapted From Health Yeah!

1 c. raw buckwheat groats
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 T. mesquite powder
2 t. maca
2 t. cinnamon
pinch of sea salt

Soak 1 cup of buckwheat for 8-12 hours (or overnight). In the morning, drain in a fine mesh strainer and rinse really well because buckwheat releases alot of thick goopy slime that you will want to wash off. It's kind of gross.. in a fun way.
Place in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl for 10-15 minutes to fully drain. Place the buckwheat in a bowl and stir in the maple syrup, salt, cinnamon, mesquite and maca powder and mix well to combine.
Lay flat on dehydrator sheets and dehydrate at 115 for 8-10 hours or until crispy.

Store in an airtight container.

Sprinkle over yogurt, toss into homemade granola (after baking) or eat as a breakfast cereal with your favorite milk. 
If you don't have a dehydrator, set your oven to the lowest temperature and leave the door open a jar. They should take about 8 hours to dehydrate.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Apple, Cheddar and Caramelized Onion Sandwich

We've been blessed with a pretty awesome fall here in upstate New York.  Lots of sun, temperatures in the 60's and 70's with zero humidity and no bugs.  Every weekend has been met with some sort of outdoor activity, be it canoeing in the Adirondacks, biking in the Catskills or hiking in the Heldeberg mountains.
After a grueling hike or bike ride that has kicked my ass so hard I can barely walk, there is nothing more that I enjoy that tipping back a cold beer and shoving food in my face. Lately, my new favorite post outdoor workout meal of choice has been this apple, cheddar and caramelized onion sandwich.  In case you've been living under a rock, there are a gazillion delicious apple varieties at the markets right now and they love being pared with a really sharp cheddar.  I could eat this combination as a snack, but piling this on a nice crusty baguette with a handful of arugula, some caramelized onions and a smear of coarse mustard is where it's at.

Apple, Cheddar and Caramelized Onion Sandwich

Sharp cheddar, thinly sliced
a nice crisp apple, thinly sliced
coarse mustard
caramelized onions*

To make caramelized onions, thinly slice 4-5 medium onions. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a wide, heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat.  Add the onions and a pinch of sea salt and black pepper and give them a stir.  After they have softened up a bit, turn the heat down to low and cook until the onions are really soft, stirring every couple minutes (this should take about 30 minutes or so).  If your onions start to stick, just add a small splash of water and give them a stir.  When your onions are super tender and golden brown in color, remove from the heat and set aside to cool. 

To assemble the sandwich, cut the baguette into your desired sandwich size, slice it open and smear each side with some grainy mustard. Next spread each side with some caramelized onions. Place a handful of arugula on the bottom half, followed by some thinly apples and the cheese. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pumpkin Spice Bread

As much as I hate how anything and everything food related takes on the flavor of pumpkin spice this time of year, I have to admit that I'm a sucker for pumpkin bread.  As the weather gets cooler I definitely want something a little hearty in the morning. I love sitting down to a plate of French toast or pancakes or a bowl of oatmeal on the weekends, but during the workweek I need something that I can eat on the go.

During the summer months, a slice of zucchini bread and an iced coffee is one of my go to breakfasts. Now that winter squash and pumpkins are popping up everywhere, I switch gears and swap out the zucchini for some pureed squash, add some warming spices and a handful of nuts and seeds and am left with a delicious quick bread that goes great with a hot cup of coffee in the morning.

Since I like to eat all healthy and whatnot, I had to find a way to make eating pumpkin spice bread for breakfast a justifiable option. Luckily, a good friend of mine has a knack for making things taste really great while still being super good for you.  Sometimes all it takes is replacing white flour with whole wheat or spelt flour, using maple syrup or coconut sugar instead of white sugar, chia seeds for eggs, and coconut oil for butter or other refined oils. The end result is a super moist, not too sweet breakfast bread packed with whole food ingredients that tastes great and makes you feel great too!

Whole Grain Pumpkin Spice Bread
From Nourish The Roots
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour or whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3/4 cup  coconut sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds (or 2 eggs)
6 tablespoons water (omit if using eggs)
1 cup well-pureed roasted winter squash* (pumpkin, kabocha squash, or butternut)
3/4 cup pecans
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds

Preheat oven to 350F with a rack in the top 1/3 of the oven. Rub 1 tablespoon coconut oil inside a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.

Melt the 1/2 cup coconut oil in a small pot over low heat. Set aside and allow to cool but not set.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, garam masala, and sea salt into a large bowl. Set aside. In a smaller bowl whisk the sugar, maple syrup, chia seeds, water, and squash. Whisk in the still melted coconut oil. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture, and stir until just combined. Fold in most of the pecans, reserving 1/4 cup or so for the top of the cake.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with remaining walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds and a drizzle of maple syrup, and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until the edges have browned and the center of the bread is well set.

Let cool 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack.

 *To make pureed winter squash: Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place cut side down in a rimmed baking pan with about a half inch of water. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until it is fork tender. Remove from the oven, let cool, and then scoop out the squash flesh from the skin. Transfer to a food processor and blend until smooth, adding a couple tablespoons of water if needed.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar

As an avid cook, you would think that my shelves are lined with cookbooks left and right, but truth be told, I currently own ten books, nine of which were gifts. I love cookbooks, but whenever I purchase one, I only come across a handful of recipes that I would want to make, and these days cookbooks are ess-pensive!  Also, let's be real.. you can pretty much find anything you want to know about food on the internet, with the millions of blogs out there, so I usually take that route when I'm looking for inspiration.

I DO, however have a particular affinity for pretty books. Books with lots of pictures so I can gauge if a particular recipe I'm making is going to be visually pleasing or look like vomit (curry, anyone?).  I can't count how many times I've made a particular dish with a certain image in my head as to what the finished product will look like, only to found out that it is nothing at all how I had pictured.  Those type of things cause me to have a breakdown in the kitchen.. BREAK-DOWN! 

Two of my favorite visually pleasing books, "Plenty" and "Jerusalem" happen to be from the same author, Yotam Ottolenghi.  Homeboy knows how to make things taste good and look even better.  We eat with our eyes, so this is always a good thing.

I've already featured a couple of recipes of his on my blog: Green Couscous, Leek Fritters, and Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgar and Yogurt. There are so many more recipes of his that I would like to try, but since I only have the energy to make one new recipe a week it may take me awhile before I can get through all of them.  With so many choices, I went with a recipe that featured seasonal ingredients and required the least amount of prep work. Ottolenghi's "Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar" from his current book "Jerusalem" is hands down one of the best things I've made in a long time.... and easy too. You basically roast up some butternut squash and red onions, top it with a simple lemon tahini sauce, some toasted pine nuts and a scattering of one of my favorite spice blends, za'atar. 

Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend of comprised of sumac, oregano, sesame seeds, thyme and sea salt (although it sometimes varies by region).  I've enjoyed it stirred into yogurt or hummus, spread on flatbread with a bit of olive oil and baked, tossed with popcorn, or sprinkled on anything from eggs to roasted vegetables to brown rice.  You may be able to find it in your local health food store or ethnic market or buy it on-line. I usually make substitutions when I can't find a particular ingredient, or leave it out all together but there really is no substitution in this dish.  I had a couple bites without it and it was still good, but the za'tar really brought it to a different level.  It's a great blend to keep on hand... so go buy some and make this recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Red Onion, Tahini and Za'atar.
From "Jerusalem" by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 large butternut squash (2 1/4 lb. in total), peeled and cut into 3/4 by 2 1/2-inch wedges
2 red onions, cut into 1 1/4-inch wedges
3 1/2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 Tbsp. tahini
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. water
1 small clove garlic, crushed
3 1/2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1 Tbsp. za’atar
1 Tbsp. coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.
Put the squash and onion in a large mixing bowl, add 3 tablespoons of the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and some black pepper and toss well. Spread on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the vegetables have taken on some color and are cooked through. Keep an eye on the onions as they might cook faster than the squash and need to be removed earlier. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
To make the sauce, place the tahini in a small bowl along with the lemon juice, water, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whisk until the sauce is the consistency of honey, adding more water or tahini if necessary.
Pour the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil into a small frying pan and place over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often, until the nuts are golden brown. Remove from the heat and transfer the nuts and oil to a small bowl to stop the cooking.
To serve, spread the vegetables out on a large serving platter and drizzle over the tahini. Sprinkle the pine nuts and their oil on top, followed by the za’atar and parsley.

**** I served this on a bed of quinoa to make it a bit more substantial since I was having it as a main course***

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar and Dijon Croutons

Fall is here, yo! 

I always look forward to the change in the seasons and the excitement that comes along with a whole new set of ingredients to work with in the kitchen.  Summertime is probably the most bountiful season in terms of variety, but it's my least favorite time to spend in the kitchen.  I'm one of those people that attempt to soak up as much outdoor time as possible, so meals during the summer months tend to be simple; basically a lot of salads, sandwiches and eggs, or anything that could be thrown together in less than an hour.  If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll notice I probably posted all of five posts this entire summer.. lame, I know.. but, reading, hiking with my dogs and soaking up the summer sun took precedence over cooking and writing about the same boring things I ate night after night.

Fortunately, as the weather gets cooler and the days get shorter I look forward to getting back into the kitchen again.  Instead of enjoying a glass of wine on my porch, waiting for the sun to go down, I'm making bread or stirring a pot of risotto or chopping potatoes and onions for a rich creamy soup.

Soups, stews and curries tend to be some of my favorite cool weather foods to prepare.  Served with a scoop of rice (or other grain or choice), some sort of bread or a handful of croutons, these dishes can easily become a one pot meal, and they make great leftovers too.

I stumbled upon this soup recipe last year and have made it several times ever since.  It's a rich, creamy soup but contains no milk or cream, just some butter and a handful of aged white cheddar.  My favorite part of the soup, though are the buttery Dijon croutons that go on top.  They're crazy addicting.  I love the flavor of pureed soups, but without some sort of crunchy element I feel like I'm eating baby food.  These croutons give the soup some texture and complement the flavors perfectly.

Cauliflower Soup with Aged White Cheddar and Dijon Croutons
From Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

Cauliflower soup (serves 2)

6 oz. good quality bread (about 3 cups) torn into small cubes (I used a day old sourdough baguette)
2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 T. Dijon mustard
1/4 t. sea salt

2 T. unsalted butter
2 shallots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large yellow flesh potato peeled and cut into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 1/2 c. vegetable broth
2 c. cauliflower, cut into small florets
2/3 c. fresh grated aged cheddar, plus more for topping
2 t. dijon mustard

Extra virgin olive oil, to serve

Preheat oven to 350. Melt the butter, then whisk in olive oil, salt and mustard. Place the torn bread in a medium sized bowl. Pour the butter mixture on top, toss well to combine and transfer to a sheet pan. Bake 10-15 minutes, stirring halfway through, until they are light brown and crunchy.

Heat butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and shallot and a big pinch of salt. Sautee until onions soften. Stir in the potato, cover and cook for four minutes, just long enough for the potatoes to soften up a bit. Uncover, stir in garlic then the broth. Bring to a boil, taste to make sure potatoes are tender, then stir in cauliflower. Cook, covered for five minutes, or just until tender throughout.

Blend, (an immersion blender works great!), then stir in the mustard and cheddar. Serve with croutons, extra cheddar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Omega Bars


Whenever I whip up a batch of energy bars, I tend to use the same ingredients... Lots of nuts and seeds (or nut and seed butters), something sweet like dates or raw honey, raw cacao nibs, superfoods like spirulina, goji berries or maca and shredded coconut or coconut oil. 
Energy bars are something that should deliver what the name implies: ENERGY!  Unfortunately a lot of so called energy bars in grocery stores are filled with lots of sugar and unrecognizable ingredients. I used to rely on these bars a lot in college or as a pre- workout snack, but they didn't really give me anymore of a boost that a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit.

These here bars are chocked full of all sorts of goodies that are high in protein (walnuts, hemp, flax and chia seeds, pumpkin seeds) antioxidants (raw cacao) natural sugars (dates and raisins), and healthy fats (coconut oil). A couple of these washed down with a cup of coffee in the morning will give you a serious boost, no doubt.

You're probably wondering about the name: Omega Bars.

O.K. Let's talk about it....

Three Words:

Essential. Fatty. Acids.

You've no doubt heard the term thrown around these days.. Maybe Omega 3 fatty acids rings a bell?

Omega 3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids because they are necessary for human health. But.....your body is incapable of producing them on their own, so you have to get them from food. EFA's play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. They may help reduce the risk of heart disease and have been known to help fight inflammation and may lower the risk of chronic infections like heart disease, cancer and arthritis. Symptoms of a deficiency (which is quite common in the standard American diet) may include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, mood swings, and depression and circulatory problems.
Whenever any of those symptoms start to surface in my life, because let's be real, I suffer from mood swings AND fatigue AND circulatory problems, I take a look at my diet and see if I'm getting enough EFA's.
Fortunately, there are lots of foods that are high in omega 3 fatty acids like fish (salmon, sardines, tuna are your best bets). If you follow a vegetarian/vegan diet, walnuts, flax seed, chia seed and hemp seed, cauliflower, sesame seeds and Brussels sprouts are also great sources as well.,

An easy way to incorporate some of these foods into your diet is through these energy bars.  Not only do they make you feel great, they can also make your skin glow and be less likely at lashing out at your husband for leaving an empty jar of peanut butter in the cabinet.

Omega Bars (makes 15 bars)
From This Rawsome Vegan Life

1 c. walnuts
1/3 c. chia seeds
1/3 c. ground flax seeds
1/3 c. hemp seeds
1/4 c. cacao nibs
1/4 c. shredded coconut
3/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds
1/2 c. raisins
1 c. dates
1-2 T. coconut oil, if needed

Throw all of the ingredients (reserve a small bit of each ingredient, about 1/2 c. total) into a food processor. Pulse to break down a bit then add raisins. With the motor running, add dates, one at a time until everything comes together. If it's a little dry, add a bit of coconut oil. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the reserved ingredients with your hands. Press into a 9 by 9 inch pan lined with parchment paper and place in the fridge for 3-4 hours. Lift the parchment out of the pan and cut into squares. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Ginger-Plum Fruit Kvass

Kvass is probably a foreign term to you unless you are a fermentation nerd, work in a health food store or live in Russia. 
Traditionally, kvass is a fermented beverage made with beets, rye bread and whey. As much as I love beets and rye bread (especially when toasted and slathered with butter) the thought of drinking this particular beverage kind of made me dry heave a bit.

I'm a huge fan of fermented beverages, be it kombucha, rejuvelac know beer and wine, so when I came across a whey, grain and beet free version of kvass I had to give it a try. 
Adding fermented food and beverages to your diet is a great way to restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, which can be thrown off track with a poor diet and certain medications, like antibiotics.

This here fruit kvass is made with some overly ripe sugar plums that were gifted to me and needed to be used ASAP, but you can make kvass with whatever fruit you're currently loving at the moment.  I try to eat seasonally, so I hope to whip up a batch with the last of the peaches and blueberries. I would imagine an apple or pear version would be particularly tasty in the fall.

Many of you out there may be intimidated making your own fermented foods and beverages. I was definitely weary when I first started making my own kombucha and sauerkraut, but fear not, this is probably the easiest and quickest ferment that you will make. 

Ginger-Plum Fruit Kvass
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

1/4 large mason jar (I used a 32 oz. jar), organic pitted plums, halved
1 T. raw honey (make sure it's raw!)
1 inch piece, peeled ginger, sliced
filtered or mineral water (enough to almost fill the jar)

Place the plums, ginger and honey in a mason jar.  Add water to fill the jar, leaving an inch of space at the top to allow for pressure to build. Tightly close the jar and leave on the counter for 2-3 days shaking a couple times a day to prevent bacteria from forming on the surface. After 24 hours you should start to see little bubbles form on the surface. Give it a taste after 48 hours; it should be tangy and sweet and the fruit should look "cooked".  When you're happy with the flavor (mine tasted a little like a floral apple juice), strain out the fruit and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Raw Herbed Almond Crackers

Blogging has been hard these days... Working 8-10 hours in a kitchen only to come home and spend another hour in the kitchen preparing dinner leaves me little time to take pictures, write recipes and then sit down and type it all out.  Plus it's been HOT!!!  I'm not really complaining.  I thrive in the heat. I love walking around in my underware and a tee-shirt. I love swimming and eating popcicles and sweating out all of the alcohol I consumed the night before.. DETOX! What I don't love is cooking in the heat. I do it enough at work so when I come home I crave cold noodle dishes, salads, summer rolls.. basically anything that doesn't require using the oven too much. 

One of my favorite kitchen appliances is my food deydrator.  Much like a crockpot you can put food in, turn it on while you're gone all day and when you come home you have some delicious, nutrient dense raw food waiting for you.  I've been on a serious kale chip kick for the past couple of weeks and I'm now adding these herbed raw crackers to my weekly rotation.

I first discovered these crackers when I worked at the infamous raw food restaurant, Cafe Gratitude.  These crackers served as crostini, topped with bruschetta, olive tapenade or sliced avocado. They were also crumbled up and tossed in a raw ceasar salad taking the place of croutons.

I bought the Cafe Gratitude cookbook when I moved away so I could replicate some of my favorites from the restaurant.  These crackers were at the top of my list but it wasn't until a couple of months ago that I decided to give them a try... and like most crackers, they can be adapted to your liking.  After you create your cracker dough base you can add: sundried tomatoes, rosemary, herbs de Provence, dried dill or whatever else floats your boat!

Raw Herbed Almond Crackers (makes 15 slices)
From: "I am Grateful: Recipes and Lifestyle of Cafe Gratitude"

1/2 c. soaked almonds*
2 c. almond flour
1/3 flax meal (ground flax seeds)
1 c. vegetable pulp
1 t. chopped garlic
1 t. sea salt
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. herbs de Provence
1/2-1 c. carrot juice (the recipe called for this but I didn't end up using any)

Rinse and drain your almonds. Chop coarsely, and mix well with all ingredients except the carrot juice.
Your dough should resemble the consistency of bread dough. You’ll want it dry enough to shape into a log (not soupy or runny at all) but wet enough to stick together. If the dough is not wet enough, add carrot juice 2 tablesponns at a time until you reach the right consistency.
Have 1-2 dehydrator trays ready with the grid sheet.
Now that your dough is ready, shape it into a log. Make your log 3” wide and 2” high. It is best to make your log on a cutting board. Just turn out the dough onto your cutting board to begin to shape using the palms of your hands until you have a log in the shape you desire. Now make slices in the log about a 1/2” wide. Place the slices onto the trays.
Dehydrate at 145 degrees for 1 hour, and then turn down the temp to 115 degrees until crisp and no moisture remains.

*To soak almonds, place almonds in a small bowl and cover with enough water to cover by 2 inches. Let almonds soak for 12 hours, then proceed with recipe.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Superfood Smoothie

Smoothies are one of my go-to breakfast options in the summer, especially on the weekends when my days are filled with all sorts of outdoor activities and I don't have the time to throw together a proper breakfast. Making a smoothie couldn't be easier.. throw a bunch of stuff in a blender, mix it all up, pour into a lidded glass jar and you've got breakfast on the go in five minutes.
Although I usually prefer a green smoothie first thing in the morning, sometimes I want something a little more high in fat and protein...something that will sustain me through an intense hike or bike ride. One of the easiest ways to boost the nutrient content is through the use of superfoods. Some of my favorites include maca, raw cacao, goji berries, bee pollen, flax oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds, and spirulina.  The great thing about superfoods is that they are quite nutritionally dense so adding as little as a couple teaspoons can provide your body with a whole array of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Here's a little rundown what I use to make one of the most nutrient dense smoothies out there. Drink it down first thing in the morning to sustain you through an intense workout or enjoy it as a "liquid lunch" as I like to call it.. something that will keep hunger pangs at bay until dinner time.

I like to start out by using bananas as the base for my smoothies.  Not only do they make beverages creamy and delicious but they also provide lots of potassium which helps to prevent muscle cramps when you're pushing through an intense workout. 
Next I add some almond milk for a boost of protein. It's also high in fiber, manganese, copper and riboflavin which play an important role in energy production. Adding a scoop of almond butter (or any other nut butter) just boosts the protein and nutritional content even more.
Adding dates sweetens things up a bit providing easily digestible sugars that your body can use instantly. Dates are also high in potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron and fiber.  Not bad for something that tastes like candy.
Chia seeds.... You've probably heard how important it is to get enough essential fatty acids in your diet since our bodies cannot synthesize them on their own.  Chia seeds are one of the best plant based sources of EFA's which helps to support our immune, cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems.  Chia comes from the Mayan language, and translates as strength. These seeds are a perfect balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber. It is said that one tablespoon of chia seeds can sustain a person for 24 hours.
Maca is a root in the radish family grown in the mountains in Peru. It is sold in powdered form and is known for balancing hormones and increasing stamina (as well as sexual function.. wink, wink). It is rich in vitamin B12, calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium and amino acids.
Raw Cacao.. I've mentioned the health benefits in so many posts.  If you want to know more about it (and taste some delicious edibles) check out this banana cacao ice cream, or oatmeal chia chocolate balls for some info.

..Now you can see why this smoothie will kick your ass into second gear.

Superfood Smoothie
(Makes 1-16 oz. smoothie)

2 medium bananas, frozen*
1-1/2 T. almond butter
3/4 c. almond milk
1 medjool date, pitted
2 t. chia seeds
1 T. maca
2 T. raw cacao nibs, divided

Place all the ingredients except the cacao nibs in a blender. Blend until thick and creamy, then add 1 1/2 T. cacao nibs and blend briefly to combine. Pour into a glass and top with the remaining 1/2 T. cacao nibs.

*To freeze bananas, peel and cut into 2" pieces and portion into freezer bags (I like to place two bananas in each bag to make the smoothie experience easy). Freeze for at least six hours and then go to town!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Raw Chocolate Nut Butter Cups

The combination of chocolate and peanut butter has always been one of my all time favorites.  If you were to put a Reese's peanut butter cup in front of my face as a kid, I would have shoved that thing down my gullet in 2.5 seconds. Now I have a bit more restraint, and my tastes have become a bit more refined but I'm still a sucker for anything involving chocolate and peanut butter (or any other nut butter for that matter).

It's been years since I've reached for a Reese's. Instead I would attempt to satisfy my chocolate/peanut butter cravings by eating a spoonful of PB sprinkled with dark chocolate chips.  Not exactly fancy, but it did the trick.  Over the years I've seen peanut butter cup recipes all over the internet. Some called for dark chocolate, which we all know is better than milk chocolate. Many called for the use of almond butter, again a bit healthier than peanuts, but when it came down to it every recipe I came across was still packed with sugar. Not that I have a problem with it, but sometimes I want something that I can indulge in that isn't sickeningly sweet.

I knew I hit the jackpot when I came across a recipe for raw superfood nut butter cups over at My New Roots.  The chocolate base is made with raw cacao powder, coconut oil, cacao butter, raw honey and maca and the nut butter filling contained almond butter and a little more raw honey. That's it!  No high fructose corn syrup, milk or any natural and artificial flavors that you would find in a Reese's. 

Superfood Nut Butter Cups
Adapted from My New Roots
(makes 9 standard sized cups)

1/2 c. melted coconut oil
3 T. cacao butter
3/4 c. raw cacao powder
1/3 c. raw honey
2 T. maca
1/4 t. sea salt

1/2 c. almond butter (or peanut butter... I used 1/4 c. of each)
2 T. raw honey
1/8 t. sea salt

Flaky salt (such as maldon or fleur de sel)

In a double boiler (or a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water) melt the cacao butter and coconut oil. Add honey and whisk to combine. When completely uniform, remove from the heat and sift in the cacao powder, maca and sea salt.

Line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups. Spoon enough liquid chocolate to cover the bottom, the amount is up to you, but keep in mind you should only be using 1/3 of the chocolate at this point.  Place the muffin pan in the fridge or freezer to set for about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix together the almond butter, honey and sea salt until "dough" is formed. If it's too runny, try adding a bit more honey or a bit of maca.  Place in the fridge for 10 minutes to help it firm up a bit.

When the chocolate is set, roll a small amount of nut butter dough (about 1/2 T.) into a ball and flatten into a small disc with the palm of your hands, to just under the size of the chocolate in the cups. Place on top of the hardened chocolate and drizzle the remaining liquid chocolate on top. Sprinkle with a bit of flaky salt, if desired and return to the fridge for at least an hour to set up.

Store in the fridge and try not to eat the entire batch in 2.5 seconds.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Asian Forbidden Rice Salad

Forbidden rice. Not only does this delicious rice have a cool name, the fact that it's black makes it even more awesome.  Forbidden rice is a strain of Chinese black rice that is considered to be both a food and medicine in China.  It received it's name (also known as imperial rice) due to the fact that it's was eaten only by royalty (thereby being "forbidden" to the common people) during the time of the Qing dyansty.

When you buy this heriloom rice in the store it looks black, but as you cook it, it turns a deep purple, which comes from the high anthocyanin content.  Anthocyanins are what give fruits, vegetables, and flowers their color. They are part of the flavanoid family and help protect against cancer, inflammation and help protect the nervous system from degeneration.  It is high in fiber, iron, vitamin E and has more anthocyanins that blueberries!

You can serve forbidden rice as you would any type of rice although I think it's best when served alongside some steamed or sauteed vegetables or as a base for a salad. The rice has a tendency to stain the other ingredients when it's hot so I make sure the rice is cool and will add any other components at the last minute to keep it looking vibrant and fresh.  Since this variety of rice originated in China, I decided to play around with some Asian inspired ingredients to make a healthy, protein packed salad with tofu, edamame, and lots of fresh herbs with a tangy ginger-sesame dressing.

Asian Forbidden Rice Salad
(serves 2-4)

1 c. uncooked forbidden rice
1 c. edamame
1/3 c. scallions, sliced
3/4 c. cilantro, stems removed
1 T. unhulled sesame seeds

8 oz. tofu, cut into 1" cubes
1/4 c. wheat free tamari
2 T. rice vinegar
2 t. mirin (Japanese rice wine)
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 t. fresh grated ginger
1 T. toasted sesame oil

2 T. peanut oil

Ginger-Sesame Dressing:
3 T. wheat free tamari
1 1/2 T. rice vinegar
1 1/2 T. toasted sesame oil
2 t. grated ginger
1/4 t. cayenne (more or less depending on how spicy you like it)

Bring two cups of water to a boil.  Add the rice, cover with lid, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until all of the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.  When the rice is done, let sit covered for ten minutes, then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Meanwhile, while the rice is cooking, prepare the tofu.  Place the tamari, rice vinegar, mirin, garlic, giner and sesame oil in a large bowl.  Add the tofu to the bowl and gently toss with a spoon to fully coat tofu.  Let marinade for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.  Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the tofu and let it cook for a couple minutes on each side until lightly browned.  Transfer to a plate to cool.
Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.  Add your edamame and cook for a couple of minutes.  Drain and set aside to cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the dressing.
When the rice is cool, add the dressing and gently fold in the edamame, scallions, cilantro and tofu and garnish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Fennel Slaw

Most nights for dinner I try to incorprate a little salad into my meal to balance out the fat and starch.  Unless there is something green, crunchy, or raw to accompany whatever else I may be eating, I tend to feel weighed down and incomplete. Usually a simple bowl of lettuces (arugula, romaine, mesculen, baby spinach) with a basic vinagrette is all I need to round out the meal, but sometimes I want something a little more exciting....

In the colder months, this shaved brussels sprout and kale salad was my go to when I needed something green and crunchy, but in the warmer months, when there is a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, my salad options become alot more interesting.  I may shave some asparagus with a vegetable peeler and toss with a little lemon juice and olive oil or thinly slice cucumbers and give them a quick marinade in vinegar and top with fresh chopped dill.  When vegetables are in season, there is little you have to do to make them taste really great.

Fennel is one of those vegetables that people either love or hate; being reminiscent of licorice, which can be offputting to some.  Personally I love the delicate flavor and the fact that it pairs well with a variety of foods.  I'm not really sure when fennel is in season in New York.. I usually see it at the farmers market in late summer but for some reason I feel like it's one of those vegetables that I can eat year round. I roast it up all winter long and serve it raw, either juiced or tossed in a salad all throughout the summer months.

Now that it's getting warmer again, I decided to make a simple fennel salad to accompany these quinoa patties.  Thinly sliced fennel is tossed with a little lemon juice and olive oil, then mixed with some fresh grated parmesan and chopped flatleaf parsley. It's fresh and crunchy and the tanginess of the lemon plays off the saltiness of the grated parmesan.  It's one of those salads that comes across as being super fancy but takes less than fifteen minutes to throw togther.

Fennel Slaw (serves 2-4)
Slightly adapted from Sprouted Kitchen

1 large bulb fennel, very thinly sliced
2 T. chopped fennel fronds
1/12 T. fresh lemon juice
1 lemon, zested
1 1/2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 T. chopped flatleaf parsley
1/4 c. finely grated parmesan cheese
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Using a mandoline or knife, slice the fennel bulbs horiziontally as thinly as possible. Remove any large core parts then add the slices to a mixing bowl with the fronds.
Add the olive oil, lemon juice and zest to the bowl and toss with your hands. Let the fennel sit for 10 minutes to soften.  Before serving, add the parsley, parmesan, a couple pinches of salt and a generous grind of black pepper.  Toss everything together and serve immediately.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shaved Brussels Sprout and Kale Salad with Salted Almonds

I know, I know... brussels sprouts season is over and done with. For those of you that eat seasonally, you're probably sick to death of those miniature cabbages. You want ramps and asparagus and fava beans and I couldn't agree more. 

I actually made and photographed this salad months ago, but totally forgot about it up until now. This is definitely one of those salads that you want to add to your winter repertoire, so I figure why not blog about it now so you'll have it for next year. 

Serving brussels sprouts and kale raw, in a salad, may be new to some of you.  In fact, I've talked to many people that didn't even know you could eat either one without cooking them first.  When you're in the dead of winter and tender lettuces are nowhere to be found, thinly sliced kale and shredded brussels sprouts are your next best bet. You could probably toss the two with a little olive oil and lemon and have a simple side, but why not throw in some grated pecorino romano, salted almonds and serve with a lemony-dijon-shallot vinaigrette.  You could eat a large bowl of this on it's own for a light lunch or serve it in place of your typical dinner salad.

Brussels Sprout and Kale Salad with Salted Almonds
(Serves 8-10)
From Bon Appetit

1/4 c. fresh squeezed lemon juice
2 T. dijon mustard
1 T. minced shallot
1 clove garlic, finely grated
1/4 t. sea salt, plus more for seasoning
fresh ground black pepper
2 large bunches lacinato kale, stems removed, thinly sliced
12 oz. brussels sprouts, trimmed, finely grated or shredded with a knife
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/3 c. raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1 c. grated pecorino romano

Combine lemon juice, dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, sea salt and black pepper in a bowl. Place shredded brussels sprouts and kale in a large bowl.
Measure 1/2 c. olive oil in a cup. Spoon 1 T. oil into a small skillet and heat over medium high heat.  Add the almonds and stir frequently until golden brown in spots, about two minutes. Transfer almonds to a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Slowly whisk remaining olive oil into the lemon juice mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
Add dressing and cheese to kale mixture and toss to coat. Season lightly with salt and pepper and top with salted almonds.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Creamy Polenta with Sausage, Spinach and Pecorino

March is such a teaser month.  Temperatures may fluctuate anywhere between the 20's to the 60's.  One day it could be snowing and the next people are walking around in shorts and tank tops. The change in the weather and the arrival of spring always gets me amped up for all of the new vegetables that will be coming our way soon, like asparagus, fennel and artichokes.  I begin to crave salads, cold noodle dishes and spring rolls instead of soups, stews and hot tea. 
As much as I'm ready to start eating lighter, the temperatures haven't gotten much above the 30's for the greater part of the month.  So, until I'm able to wear any less than three layers outside, I'm still sticking with comfort foods to get me through this last bout of cold weather. 

Polenta is one of the foods that I always have in the cupboard for a quick meal.  With the addition of a little butter and cheese, it is transformed into a creamy base that goes with just about anything! I'm a big fan of topping my polenta with sauteed greens and a poached egg, or a sautee of wild mushrooms or come summer time, stirring in a drizzle of pesto and topping with roasted vegetables like red pepper, fennel and zucchini.  It's a great meal to make when you have little odds and ends in your fridge that you're not quite sure what to do with, which is exactly what I did this time around.

I had very few things to work with other than a bag of spinach, some spicy sausage links and a small hunk of pecorino romano.  My first intuition was to throw these together with pasta but since I ate an entire baguette doused in olive oil for lunch, I decided to cut back on the wheat and make it gluten free with some polenta, and it totally hit the spot.

Creamy Polenta with Sausage, Spinach and Pecorino
Serves 2-4

Creamy Polenta:
1 c. polenta
4 1/2 c. vegetable broth
3 T. butter
1/2 c. grated pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving
sea salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste

3 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed, cut into small pieces
1/2 lb. spinach
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided

1/4 c. chopped flat leaf parsley

Place vegetable broth in a medium sized heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil and slowly whisk in polenta. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook polenta for about thirty minutes, whisking every couple of minutes to prevent it from clumping up or sticking.  When the polenta is soft and creamy, whisk in the cheese and butter and season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce the heat to low while you prepare the sausage and spinach.

Heat 1 T. extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the sausage and cook until cooked through and browned on the outside. Transfer to a paper towel to drain excess oil.  Wipe out the pan and heat the other tablespoon of oil over medium heat.  Add the garlic and spinach and cook just long enough for the spinach to collapse.  Season with salt and pepper.

Before serving, give the polenta a good stir (if it has thickened up too much, you can thin it out a bit with more vegetable broth). Divide the polenta evenly between shallow bowls. Top with the sauteed spinach, sausage parsley and an extra dusting of pecorino romano.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whole Wheat Bacon Fat Dog Biscuits

I first started this blog with the intention of having it be strictly vegetarian.  Although I ate fish and turkey on occasion, the world of pork and beef was unbeknownst to me.  Not a bite had passed my lips in over fifteen years and I never thought I would be eating, let alone cooking meat anytime in the near future.

About six months ago I was dining in Manhattan and decided then and there that I was going to eat pork.  I don't know why all of a sudden, at that moment the idea sounded so appealing, but I decided to go with it and I would either love it or hate it.  I didn't go all out and order a steak or ribs or a porkchop but instead eased into it slowly with a wood fired pizza topped with broccoli rabe, fresh mozzarella and spicy sausage.

...It was hands down, one of the top ten meals I've ever had.

Over the past six months, I've s-l-o-w-l-y incorporated meat into my diet. I would go out for an occasional grassfed burger or buy a package of local sausage links or some maple smoked bacon. I've made some dang tasty grub featuring these foods but for some reason didn't feel comfortable blogging about it since 95% of my blog is vegetarian (I've featured fish in a couple posts) and I didn't know if I would lose an audience of vegetarian readers if I decided to start blogging about meat.

...and then I got over it....

The tagline of my blog is, "tasty whole foods cuisine" and I think meat (if raised in slaughtered in a sustainable way) fits the bill... in moderation. So, from here on out, some of my posts may feature fish, chicken, beef or pork... or seaweed, kale, pomegranates or sweet potatoes. I can guarantee that whatever I choose to post gets my stamp of approval and tastes delicious.

Although I can't vouch for the following recipe since I didn't actually TRY them myself, my dogs absolutely love the bacon fat dog biscuits that I made for them.  I always have leftover grease from cooking bacon, and never felt the desire to do anything with it myself, so I decided to make my little pooches a tasty little treat that was free from all of the crap that is usually found in any of the ones you would buy at the petstore.

Although they may not be as healthy as carrot sticks and kale stems, these little biscuits are something that you can feel good about giving your furry friends.

Whole Wheat Bacon Fat Dog Biscuits
From The Kitchn

1/2 c. melted bacon fat
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. wheat germ
1 egg
1/2 c. cold water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until a dough is formed. Tear off a sheet of parchment paper and lay on a flat surface. Sprinkle with flour and roll out the dough to 1/4" thickness. Transfer to a large baking sheet and score with a pizza cutter or butter knife into desired shapes/size. Poke small holes (I think this is more for decoration) with the end of a chopstick.  Bake for 20 minutes, break apart and flip the biscuits over.  Return the biscuits to the oven and turn off the heat.  Let sit for 20-30 minutes to allow them to crisp up a bit.  Store in an airtight container.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Nori-Nettle Gomasio

Years ago, when I lived in California, I used to hit up the farmers markets at least twice a week.  The Bay Area was a food lovers paradise.. the growing season gave you tender lettuces in February, tomatoes in March and basil in January.  In addition to the variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from year round, there was always a handful of locals selling homemade goods ranging from kombucha to goat cheese, to kimchi.  At the tail end of the market was an older woman sporting dreadlocks and a smile that was contagious. She harvested her own seaweed and sold an amazing gomasio.

Gomasio is a Japanese condiment consisting of unhulled sesame seeds and sea salt. It's great sprinkled over a salad or rice or over steamed vegetables, basically anywere you want a bit of salt and crunch.  The woman at the farmers market (she had some hippy name like Rainbow or Moonbeam or something), took a basic gomasio recipe and added dried nettles and nori and sold it in little baggies for like, five bucks.  I quickly became addicted to the stuff, not only because it was delicious, but I knew that everytime I sprinkled a little of her magic fairy dust on my quinoa and steamed greens I was doing my body a big favor in the health department.

Sesame seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins and fiber.  Nori (a dried seaweed) is also rich in B vitamins as well as vitamin A and E and contains more vitamin C than oranges. It is rich in iodine, a trace mineral that stimulates the thyroid to produce hormones required for metabolism and keeps hair, nails and skin looking their finest! Nettles are one of those "super herbs" used to treat anything and everything. It's a slow acting nutritive herb that gently cleanses the body of metabolic wastes. It has a gentle, stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys.  It is rich in iron, vitamin C and calcium, making it a great herb for women to prevent anemia and keep bones strong without the use of dairy products. It is commonly used for people that suffer from seasonal allergies, can help alleviate joint and muscle pain, increases circulation and purifies the blood.

... Not to bad for a simple condiment.

Nori Nettle Gomasio

3 sheets nori
6 T. unhulled sesame seeds
1 T. black sesame seeds (opt)
3 T. dried nettles
1/2 t. sea salt

Cut nori into small pieces.  Place in a spice grinder and pulse a couple times to break it down.  Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the salt.  Working in batches, transfer to the mixture to the spice grinder and pulse until the nori and nettles are powdery and the sesame seeds are broken down a bit ( I did mine in two batches). Place in a bowl and stir in salt.  Store in an airtight container.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Honey Butter Popcorn

Popcorn has to be, hands down one of my top ten favorite foods. It's cheap, full of fiber and can be thrown together in minutes, making a great snack or dinner option when I'm not that hungry but still want a little sumpthin' to munch on.  As much as I love the traditional butter/salt combo, I usually drizzle my popcorn with a healthier fat like flax, hempseed, or a nice extra virgin olive oil.  When it comes to toppings, I'm a huge fan of nutritional yeast flakes and sea salt. Nutritional yeast is an inactive yeast that has a nutty, cheesy flavor and as a bonus is high in protein and B vitamins.

To switch things up a bit, I'm always looking for new ways to flavor my popcorn.  Some of my favorite combinations include:
Truffle oil and parmesan cheese
Toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds and dulse or nori flakes (dried seaweeds)
Olive oil and zaatar (a blend of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, thyme, marjoram and sea salt)
Coconut oil and curry powder

I've heard of people topping their popcorn with butter, cinnamon and sugar and the idea has never really done it for me.  When I make popcorn, it's usually because I need salt and fat, and lots of it. I recently came across a recipe for honey butter popcorn and decided to leave my comfort zone and give it a whirl.

Let's just say I've made this three times in the past week and it just might be my new favorite snack when I want something on the sweet side and there isn't a single thing in the house other than popcorn, coconut oil, honey and salt (this is only a SLIGHT exaggeration). 

This combination has everything you could want in a snack: fat, sugar, salt and crunch.

Need I say more?

Honey Butter Popcorn
From Food Loves Writing

2 tablespoons coconut oil 

1/2 cup organic popcorn kernels 
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons raw honey 

sea salt to taste

Melt coconut oil in a large stockpot with a lid. Place two kernels of unpopped corn in the pot and cover it. Once you hear the kernels pop, take off the lid and add the 1/2 cup kernels. Put the cover back on and shake the pot. Cook over medium heat, shaking the pot again once or twice, until all you stop hearing popping sounds (about five minutes or so).

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter, honey and a pinch of salt over low heat. When the popcorn kernels stop popping, turn off the heat. Transfer popcorn to a large bowl and toss with the honey-butter mixture.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cheesy Kale Chips

Apparently, kale is the new bacon. 

I can remember when kale was used primarily as a garnish to add a little pop of color to a monochromatic plate of food.  Now kale is EVERYWHERE! Whether it be in the form of a raw kale salad, chopped up and thrown into fritters, juiced with fruit and other green vegetables, or made into crispy, crunchy kale chips, kale is the new "it" food.

I've been on the kale bandwagon for years and am always looking for more ways to incorporate more of it my diet since it's so dang good for you.  I know, I seems like everybody is blogging about kale chips these days, some foodies even going so far to say that this food trend is soooo 2011.

Whatever, I've done it before and I'll do it again because following trends has never been my thang.

Whenever I've made kale chips in the past, I've kept the recipe simple: a little olive oil, some lemon juice, sea salt and maybe a touch of honey to balance out the acidity.  This time around I wanted something with a little more flavor, so after a bit of blog surfing I found a recipe that involved miso, olive oil, garlic, dulse flakes, and nutritional yeast which gives the chips a salty, cheesy flavor. 

Some of you new to the land of hippy food may not know what alot of these ingredients are so let me break it down.

Miso is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans that has a very salty flavor.  It is an enzyme rich food containing probiotics, B vitamins, and all essential amino acids making it a complete protein.  It is most commonly used to make soup, but can be used to make dips, dressings or sauces.

Dulse is a sea vegetable or more precisely, a red seaweed that is is high in protein, fiber, B vitamins and iron.  It has a salty, oceanic flavor and can be used in soups or salads, or ground into flakes and used as a condiment.

Nutritional Yeast is a deactivated yeast that comes in the form of yellow flakes or powder that has a nutty, cheesy flavor.  It can be used to make cheese sauces or sprinkled on popcorn.  It is a good source of B vitamins, especially vitmain B12 and is low in fat, sodium and is free from dairy, sugar and gluten.

I had to resist the temptation to eat the entire batch in one sitting because they do have quite a bit of salt from the miso paste,  but a handful along side a sandwich instead of potato chips is a great way to incorporate greens, B vitamins and protein into your diet.

Cheesy Kale Chips
Slightly adapted from Nourished Kitchen

1 bunch curly kale, destemmed torn into bite sized pieces
1/3 c. mellow white miso paste
1 small clove garlic minced
1/8 t. sea salt
1/3 c. nutritional yeast flakes
2 t. dulse flakes
2 T. extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine the miso, garlic, sea salt, nutritional yeast, dulse and olive oil and blend until it turns into a smooth paste.
Working in batches, place kale in a large mixing bowl and massage with the miso mixture so it adheres to the leaves.
Layer the kale on food dehydrator trays and dehydrate at 125 degrees until crispy, about 12 hours.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Paneer and Winter Squash Coconut Curry

It's official.  I'm ready for summer.

Living in upstate New York, I'm looking at another 92 days until I don't have to wear 12 layers just to walk my dogs around the block.

In addition to dealing with freezing temperatures almost every day for the past two weeks, I've had not one but two colds in the past MONTH.  Why? Because I work at a health food store and make juices for other sick people that SHOULD be wearing surgical masks and coughing into their elbows instead of breathing all over me and my already weakened immune system.

On the other hand, winter time does has it advantages, like sledding, bourbon and comfort food.

The thought of eating a salad isn't too appealing this time of the year, so stews, soups and curries have been in high rotation.  Although winter squash is beginning to fade out of season, butternut squash is still available at the markets and I've been using it in everything from pizza to soup to this here coconut curry.

It's creamy, hot, and delicious and will (if only for a split second) make you hate winter just a little bit less.

Paneer and Winter Squash Coconut Curry (serves 2-4)

4 c. peeled, winter squash (I used butternut), cut into 1 inch cubes
6 oz. paneer, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 T. sunflower oil (or any other neutral oil), divided
1 T. coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
3 T. ginger, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. mustard seeds
1/2 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. turmeric
3/4 t. curry powder
1/2 t. sea salt, plus more to taste
1 15 oz. can coconut milk

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place squash in a bowl and drizzle with 1 1/2 T. of the sunflower oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and spread on a sheetpan. Bake for 20 minutes or until fork tender.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 1/2 T. sunflower oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the paneer in a single layer and cook for a couple minutes on each side until very lightly browned. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. 
Using the same skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.  Add the cumin and mustard seeds and cook for a couple minutes, until the seeds start to sizzle.  Add the onion and turmeric and cook until the onion is softened, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the ginger and garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.  If the mixture starts to stick, add a splash of water and give it a stir.  
Add the coconut milk, sea salt and curry powder and cook until the coconut milk comes to a boil. Add the butternut squash, cover, reduce the heat and let simmer for five minutes.  Stir in the paneer and cilantro and heat through for another minute or so.

Serve hot with rice.