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When Words and Food Collide


hotdogs&croissants

Back in December, I was honored at the opportunity to narrate an audio book, HOT DOGS & CROISSANTS, by Victorine and Natasha Saulnier. To my pleasant surprise, it was a book about the culinary ‘misadventures’ of two French sisters, who came to the US as reporters, and along their travels discovered American cuisine, including Nathan’s Famous hot dogs at the annual hot dog-eating contest in Coney Island; snapping turtle soup as prepared by the Native American elders of the Alabama-Coushatta tribe; cheesy grits from the Armadillo Diner in Texas; and much more. They gained weight, then rediscovered their love the fresh and healthy diet they grew up on, and figured out how to eat well in America too, and lost it again.

Narrating this book was a great adventure for me, as my voice followed the sisters through many states and the people they met along the way. It is filled with wonderful recipes, some that they learned on their travels, and some very special ones from their childhood in France.

If you enjoy listening to audio books, I hope you’ll give this one a try! I know that if you join Audible.com, the first book you get is FREE!

 

DIY Carrot Ginger Dressing

I spent my late teens and early twenties consuming so much carrot ginger dressing, that my clothing and hair smelled of it. It was served at dirt cheap venues throughout the East Village in Manhattan, where I lived. Eventually, I wanted nothing to do with it. Now, *cough cough* years later, I suddenly got a hankering for it. So, I decided to give making it a try, and I have to say, it tastes much better than I remember! It had a bite, a perfect amount of nuttiness and tartness, and I think I have a favorite newfound/vintage dressing!

Carrot Ginger Dressing 2
Here’s the recipe that inspired me. And here’s what I did, based on my personal taste preference, and the ingredients that I had in my fridge and pantry:

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, roughly chopped
  • 1 big chunk of ginger (about an inch)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • About 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • About 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • About 1/8 cup olive oil
  • A dash or two of Salt, Pepper and Cayenne Pepper
  • About 1-2 tablespoons water, to desired consistency

Directions:

Combine all ingredients but the water in a food processor or powerful blender. After everything is blended, add 1 tablespoon water. If you desire a runnier dressing, add another tablespoon of water.

I added the carrot ginger dressing to a salad I made with a couple of chopped radishes, a few slices cherry tomatoes, a chopped Persian cucumber, chopped hard boiled egg, a quarter avocado, sprinkled with crumbled feta cheese and toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds.

photo 4Carrot Ginger Dressing

One Helluva Easy, Cheesy Lunch

Lately I’m spending part of my days either studying or attending Real Estate class in preparation for my CA Real Estate exam. My time spent in the kitchen has been more limited.

It was 2 o’clock. I had to leave for class in 45 minutes, and I hadn’t eaten lunch yet! In the cupboard was one of my go-to comfort, food short on time favorites, Annie’s Organic Mac n’ Cheese. In my fridge was a carton of old-ish cherry tomatoes, that needed to be cooked or thrown out, and a small bag of kale. So here’s what I did:

1. I put water with salt to boil for the macaroni

2. While waiting on the water to boil, I chopped up a couple cloves of garlic, sautéed on a low heat with some olive oil

3. When the garlic softened (about 1 minute), I tossed the cherry tomatoes (whole) and chopped kale into the pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, covered and cooked on a low heat, stirring every so often. Cooked on a low heat, the cherry tomatoes slowly burst and become slightly caramelized, and the kale softened in the tomato juices. If the veggies need a little more moisture, you can spoon the water from the cooking pasta

4. I added the macaroni to the boiling water, and set the timer according to package directions. When the pasta was ready, I drained it in a colander, then added a little low fat milk and butter to the pan, added the cheese in the packet, and stirred until it mixed thoroughly. Then I added the pasta, tossed it with the cheese sauce, and then added the kale and cherry tomatoes. At the last minute, I decided to throw in a handful of baby spinach, and stirred it around until the heat wilted it.

By 2:25pm I was enjoying my delicious mac n’ cheese lunch, before running off to class. And I was eating the leftovers for dinner. YUM! (Annie’s does have a couple of varieties for the gluten-free eater.)

Easy Cheesy Mac n' Cheese Lunch

When There’s Just Enough In The Pantry

Last night I made an impromptu meal; Warming Ginger and Turmeric Fried Rice, using what I had in the fridge and pantry. I’m getting over a stomach bug, and tried to keep it simple, while incorporating healing turmeric and ginger into the ingredients.

ginger_turmeric_fried_rice

 

Here’s what I did: I sautéed a bunch of garlic and ginger in olive oil, added carrots then broccoli after a few minutes, heated up some brown rice I had, threw that into the pan once the broccoli was almost ready, seasoned with sea salt, braggs liquid aminos, cayenne and turmeric and added more freshly grated ginger, a bit more olive oil and water, covered till the rice was hot and water cooked through, then added some leftover egg whites and a whole egg and sautéed until cooked through. Easy!

In With The New…Year

HAPPY NEW YEAR, FRIENDS!

A lot has been developing behind the scenes, which is why you haven’t seen much of me. I plan to make up for lost time in 2014.

I hope your holidays were filled with delight and deliciousness. I spent part of the holiday season on a trip to Cuba, and the other part sick from the trip. Thankfully the mend seems to be here just in time for the New Year. I thought I’d bring back last year’s vegetarian Hoppin’ John recipe, with a few twerks to the original recipe. May it fill you up with health, wealth and luck!

Wishing you a wealthy, abundant, healthy and delectable 2014, Darlings!

Vegetarian Hoppin’ John

Serves 4

  • 4 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper, divided
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. turmeric, divided
  • 1 large dark leafy greens, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mushrooms, chopped (I like cremini, but oyster mushrooms and even portobello would be great)
  • 1 small onion, chopped (¾ cup)
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped (¾ cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 1 ½ cups cooked farro
  • 1 15.5-oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
  • Optional, but delicious: finish off with a healthy dose of smoked paprika and Old Bay seasoning!

1. Whisk together 2 tsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, 1 tsp. turmeric and 1/2 tsp. salt; set aside.

2. Cook dark leafy greens in pot of boiling salted water 10-15 minutes, while still bright green in color. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup liquid.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tsp. oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, celery, garlic, chopped mushrooms and remaining 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper and 1 tsp. turmeric. Cook 8 minutes, or until translucent. Add dark leafygreens, olive oil and spice mixture, 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Here is where you can add a good amount of smoked paprika and Old Bay seasoning (at least 1 tsp. of each) for a nice meaty flavor. Cover, and cook 10 minutes, or until greens are tender. Transfer to serving platter.

4. Add farro and beans to skillet. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup cooking liquid, and cook 3 minutes, or until heated through. Serve farro and beans over greens.

Scared of Squash?

If you are equally intimidated by the hard, funny shaped gourds, know that you’re not alone. I didn’t grow up eating or decorating squash or pumpkin, but having lived in the US for over 30 years now, I decided to embrace them as treats and decor, and even tried my hand at my own recipe, featuring an easy to cut one, delicata squash.

I incorporated black beans into my squash stuffing for the protein, and Brussels sprouts and mushrooms for the vegetables. You can certainly customize to your liking. I made them at my boyfriend’s place, and totally forgot to bring over onion, which I think would have deepened the flavors. Three cloves of garlic definitely helped. I also feel it was missing a fresh element. In the future, I may add fresh green onions as garnish, or incorporate a fresh herb into the vegetable sauté, like thyme, and/or make some thyme or green onion infused sour cream to dollop on top. But here’s what I did:

Ingredients:

  • Two delicata squash, halved and de-seeded
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans (I like to use Eden beans, because they are cooked with Kombu, for added nutrition)
  • About 10 oz Shaved Brussels Sprouts (I used a package of shaved sprouts from Trader Joe’s)
  • About 8-10 Mushrooms, chopped (I used cremini)
  • 1 slice cheddar cheese, sliced into thin pieces and handful shaved Parmeggiano Regiano (Or cheese of your choice)
  • A bit of olive oil for the squash roasting
  • Salt, black pepper, cayenne, smoked paprika, dash of nutmeg (or any herb or seasonings you enjoy)

Herb Infused Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt

  • A few Tablespoons of Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt
  • A big pinch of fresh herbs of your choice (my choice would be thyme, green onions or chives), chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F. After you’ve halved (with a good, sharp knife) and gutted your squash, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, a bit of salt and a bit of nutmeg.
  2. Place them face down onto a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes. The squash should be a bit browned and caramelized on the edges. Flip the squash over and let cool slightly. Lower oven temp to 350F.
  3. While squash is baking, sauté onions until translucent on medium heat. Add garlic. When garlic is fragrant, after 1-2 minutes, add shaved Brussels sprouts. Sauté until the sprouts start to brown a bit. Add mushrooms and black beans. Make sure to season a bit more with each addition of ingredients. Continue to sauté on a medium-low heat until the squash is out of the oven, and cooled slightly.
  4. Scoop the sautéed veggies into the squash halves. Top with the cut cheddar and shaved Parmeggiano Regiano.
  5. Place stuffed squash into oven and bake for 5 minutes, or until cheese on top has melted.

And here is my second annual hand at pumpkin carving. Mine is the guy with the stitched mouth. We had a great time making these, and roasting the seeds after!

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

 

PS Don’t forget, November is actually Movember!

During November each year, the organization, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces, in the US and around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital awareness and funds for men’s health issues, specifically prostate and testicular cancer initiatives. Let’s raise some awareness and grow them staches, gentlemen!

movember_egg_stache

 

Oh Controversial Coconut Oil – Shall I Love Thee?

coconut_oil

Note: If you get to the bottom of this post, you will find a very yummy recipe!

 

 

 

 

My friend Marieke Klosse-Beeler has a wonderful company, Pamperosity, all about pampering yourself with all natural products. She asked me to share my knowledge in her blog this week about cooking with, as well as the health benefits of coconut oil. She was also kind enough to plug my blog and The Healthy Delectable Web Series, and announce the latest news, my upcoming Cookbook, that I plan to release on kindle later this Fall!

Check out Pamperosity and Marieke’s post about coconut oil HERE!

Coconut Oil went from being the “bad” oil in the 90’s to being hyped as a “cure-all” today.
So, what’s the truth about Coconut Oil?

According to a WebMD article, “Coconut oil contains an unusual blend of short and medium chain fatty acids, primarily lauric (44% ) and myristic (16.8%) acids. It is this unusual composition that may offer some health benefits.”

What does this mean? Because they are smaller, they’re absorbed intact, as opposed to long-chain fats, that have to be broken down in the small intestine.  Smaller and medium-chained fatty acids are delivered directly to the liver to be used for energy.

The other good news is, medium-chain fats don’t store in fat cells to the same extent as long-chain ones. Studies show that medium-chain fats appear to increase calorie burning in the body.

The WebMD article article also states, “Coconut oil, like all saturated fats, should be limited to 7%-10% of calories because it can increase risk for heart disease, according to the AHA and 2010 Dietary Guidelines.”

From my research, coconut oil shouldn’t be replaced with other important oils, such as extra virgin olive oil and grapeseed oils, for our diet, both of which are unsaturated.

Everyone loves a virgin, and according to a 2011 NY Times article, the key to the healthiest variety of coconut oil, is extra virgin. Generally speaking, anything that hasn’t gone through a chemical process is best, and easiest for your body to break down. The “bad fats” are trans fats, which was the proudest of food labels, before gluten free showed up on the market. The lauric acid in coconut oil, (also found in breast milk, by the by) is said to increase levels of good HDL (the good cholesterol). While researchers are skeptical, lauric acid is also said to have possible antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral properties. While there is no scientific evidence to prove it, the natural foods community believes these properties can help weight loss, treat digestive issues, skin problems, and perhaps also viruses, like H.I.V.

As for cooking with coconut oil, it has a wonderful mellow, nutty, slightly sweet flavor, and enhances sautéed and roasted veggies, has a high smoke point, and can withstand hotter temperatures, and makes an excellent substitution for baking with animal fats, such as butter and lard. As I stated in the Pamperosity post, coconut oil lends to an excellent flaky pie crust, makes baked good moist, and makes my favorite latest treat, a magic shell for ice cream sundaes (see recipe below).

It is also an excellent moisturizer for skin and hair.

Whether you air on the side of science, or keep up with the latest in the nutritional world, it seems that coconut oil is definitely good for you, in small amounts.

Homemade Two Ingredient Magic Shell magic-shell-2-james-ransom-for-food52(Recipe adapted, and photo borrowed from Food 52)

This is a simple recipe. All you need is 2 parts oil to 3 parts chocolate. So, for 1 cup of magic shell, you will need:

  • 160 grams (about 1 cup) of good quality chocolate chips
  • 100 grams of coconut oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

Directions:

  • Combine chocolate and oil into a microwave safe container. Microwave in 30 second intervals until the chocolate melts. Stir to combine all the flavors. (You can also combine ingredients and melt over low heat in a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water) Allow the mixture to cool slightly, and then pour onto your scoop (or scoops) of ice cream!

Enjoy (in moderation)!!

When An Old Reliable Friend Moves Away

When I heard the news that my local Trader Joe’s would be closing its doors at the end of August, I can honestly say, I got a pit in my stomach. TRADER-JOES-largeAnd I’m not alone, as others, like LAIST are writing about it too. Ever since I moved into my beloved condo in West Hollywood in 2005, this TJ’s has been my reliable neighborhood companion.

I know, I know, it’s just a friggin’ store, why get so dramatic?!

When I lived in NYC, I shopped everywhere by bicycle or by foot. It was great! And in a new home, in a new city, having a TJ’s walking distance away was a real comfort, and I knew that anytime I just needed one or two things (although let’s be real, you never leave a TJ’s with just one or two things), it was just a few minutes away. Not to mention, having been to the other Trader Joes’ around town, this one had the best parking.

I was out of town when the store closed, so I didn’t say a proper good-bye, and when I returned to LA, it was gone. At first, I felt like someone died. Where would I shop? I tried the Hollywood TJ’s on Vine, one night after the gym, and the unpleasant experience began as soon as I turned into their underground parking garage (My Trader Joe’s had an easy and convenient outdoor lot), and took my ticket from the automated ticket box, a guy on a scooter whizzed through the open gate, and it shut on me before I could follow. Now with a line of cars behind me wondering what the hold up was, I had to get out of the car, and walk back to the box to get another ticket. Once I entered the store, it was filled with people, Hollywood people. I longed for the elderly West Hollywood Russians who walked too slowly down the aisle, and would stand way too close to me in the checkout line, or the super friendly staff who knew me and were more than willing to look in the back if I couldn’t find what I wanted on the shelves, and who I could count on to recommend their favorite beer or wine. That night as I drove home from the Hollywood Joe’s, I missed my neighborhood companion. A couple of days later, I went to the local Whole Foods store, where I already shop at occasionally, but which costs me about triple what I pay at TJ’s for my regular groceries.

Then something happened. On my way home one afternoon, I remembered I needed to buy a plant as a gift, and again cursed that I couldn’t go to TJ’s to get one of their wonderful orchid plants. Then I remembered a local plant store, Moe’s. I worried that it would be more expensive, but I didn’t have time to figure something else out. To my surprise, I could find some very affordable and healthy plants on sale, and even decided to buy myself a beautiful fern as well. So, as the reality that my local reliable store has moved on is sinking in, I am beginning to open up to what my neighborhood still has to offer.

Farmers Market 2
On Monday, I shopped at my local farmers market, where I became lazy about going to on a weekly basis because I could always go to TJ’s if I missed it that week (even though the produce is far superior (and cheaper) at the farmers market). There are also plenty of local Eastern European delis and grocery stores in the neighborhood that carry the things I may need on a moments notice, like cream for my coffee.

Farmer Market 1

And actually, the small stores and the farmers market are what I love about living in a neighborhood, where the locals all go. The Trader Joe’s was an incredible convenience, but sometimes it’s good to expand one’s view to what else is out there.

 

 

 

Mint Tea

Herby Delight

Mint Tea

This tea is ridiculously good and easy to make!

All you need are fresh herbs, hot water, and a vessel to steep them in.

This afternoon I’m sipping on a simple mint tea, but you can use just about any herb. When I have them on hand, I like to combine mint, a bit of sage, a chunk of ginger and some rosemary. Just steep the herbs a few minutes and pour yourself a glass. And it goes great with a bit of honey.

Herbs and honey are filled with healing properties, so your mouth and body will thank you!

Homemade Tomato Sauce

Mmmmm…marinara

Homemade Tomato SauceWanna know the secret to this homemade tomato sauce?

San Marzano tomatoes. When a friend of mine shared the secret to a great tomato sauce is canned San Marzano tomatoes, I made sure to buy a few cans the next time I was at the store. And after researching basic marinara recipes, I realized that this very simple sauce is very easy to make. I bought fresh basil and parsley at my local farmers market. The fresh herbs really infuse the sauce with a lot of dimension. So here’s what I did:

 


Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 24 oz can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 big bay leaf
  • big bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne or red pepper flakes

 

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to hot medium sauce pan. Add onions and cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes, until translucent.
  2. Lower heat, add garlic, and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, cover pot and simmer for 20-30 minutes. You can just leave it alone, or stir from time to time and check to see if the flavor is developing. Don’t be afraid to use the salt! The tomatoes love it. Go to town with all of the spices – except the cayenne or red pepper. Just a pinch will do, if you like an extra kick. The spice will continue to deepen as the sauce cooks.
  4. Remove the bay leaf, and use an immersion blender to puree the sauce. Or you can leave it alone if you like a chunky sauce.
  5. Serve with your favorite pasta (Tonight, I made quinoa pasta, which is my favorite gluten-free pasta). Top with fresh basil and freshly grated parmesan. Mangia!