To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, February 28, 2010

February Haiku

karekusa no hito omou toki kiniro ni

withered grass
when I think of him …
burnished gold

-Masajo Suzuki

Friday, February 26, 2010

Awesome Granola Goodness

I was in the mood for some healthy snacking options, so I went looking for all the things I loved and tried to figure out how to combine them into one nutritious dish. These granola bars are what I came up with. The toasted flax seed meal gives the granola a slightly smokey, warm taste, the fruits make it chewy and sweet, the nuts give it a delicious crunch. I made these not too sweet, because my lack of exposure to processed sugar has made my tongue and body more sensitive to such things - did I tell you all about Valentine's Day? Someone brought over this amazing smelling strawberry layer cake. I had a small slice and felt dizzy and jittery the rest of the night, like I'd drunk six cups of caffeinated coffee. Yikes!  All that said, if you're sweet tooth is unstoppable, you can add more honey, agave, or even maple syrup. If you're sweet tooth rules you, add cacao nibs to the top of the bars after they've baked and put them back in the oven for another 1-2 minutes so they melt over the top.

Awesome Granola Goodness
(makes about 21 pieces)

2 large bananas
2 tbsp spoonfuls of sunbutter (could use peanut butter)
2 tbsp earth balance spread
~¼ cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup steel cut oats
2 tsp cinnamon
½ cup flax seed meal
¼ cup raisins
¼ cup dried apricots, cut into small pieces
~¼ cup agave nectar
½ cup sliced almonds, unsalted (can be toasted)
½ cup walnut pieces, unsalted
½ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Parchment paper a square casserole dish, grease the sides.

In a bowl, toss the oats and nuts together. Transfer to the casserole dish and toast for 10 minutes.

Over low heat, toast the flax seed meal in a dry pan for about 1 minute. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots and raisins to that mix.

In a soup pan, heat earth balance, sunbutter, honey, agave nectar, vanilla, salt, and cinnamon over high heat, until it has all melted together become bubbly. Turn heat back to low.

Take out the toasted oat/nut mix and transfer to the flax seed/fruit bowl. Pour the butter/sugar liquid into the mixing bowl.

Set the oven to 300 F.

Stir until the mixture is well combined. Mash two bananas and stir until the whole mixture is thick and firm.

Pour the mix into the lined casserole dish. 

Put the casserole dish back into the oven for about 35 minutes.

Allow to cool for 30-60 minutes before slicing into bars. Then store in fridge for another 20-30 minutes. The cold of the fridge will help the granola jell into delicious, chewy pieces. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chunky Chicken Chili

So, in the vein of delicious, easy meals in a bowl, I thought I'd offer up one of the easiest chilis I have ever made and thoroughly enjoyed. This is a high protein, low fat, energy boosting, quick-fix meal. Enjoy!

Chunky Chicken Chili
(makes ~6 servings)

2 tbsp grapeseed oil
1-2 lbs of chicken meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes (I use the Muir Glen brand, with green chiles for a little kick)
1 can great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained
lime juice, to taste
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
milled sea salt, to taste

Heat the oil in the bottom of a stock pot and cook the onion and garlic until the onions are soft and the garlic is browned (about 3 minutes).

Add the chicken broth and the fire-roasted tomatoes; stir. Add the chicken and cook on medium high for 8-10 minutes, until chicken is cooked all the way through.

Next, add the beans and corn. Add lime juice (I used about 1 tbsp, but I'd recommend adding 1 tsp at a time until you're happy with the taste). Simmer for 5 minutes. Salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for another five minutes and serve hot.

You'll want to use a slotted spoon to serve, so you can avoid the excess broth. I eat this plain in a bowl, but if you're looking for a more filling bowl, you can serve this over brown rice. Maybe with a little mexican cheese or sour cream. Nom nom nom. :)

To store, pour the chili through a colander to drain it and then put it in a sealed tupperware container. It will keep for about a week. Deliciously!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sea Bass Surprise Soup

Okay. So it's not really a "surprise", per se, when the ingredients and directions are all listed out for you, but you get the drift. :) Once more, I faced my freezer-full of fish with courage and defrosted another big hunk of sea bass. The following is a yummy recipe I made up on the fly just moments ago. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Sea Bass Surprise Soup
(about 5+ servings)

skinless sea bass, about 2 lbs, cut into bite-sized pieces
5 cups water
four handfuls baby spinach, chopped roughly
4 cloves minced garlic
3 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp olive oil
~3 tbsp thai fish sauce, more to taste
~1 tbsp low sodium soy sauce

Take your stock pot, add the olive oil to the bottom and heat to medium low. Add your garlic and cook until just slightly browned (~1-2 minutes). Add the ginger and stir together; set stove to low and cook for ~4 minutes with the lid on. When you lift the lid, the combined scents should assault your senses and start to make you hungry. Now set stove back to medium, add 5 cups water and the spinach and stir. Add your soy sauce. Let cook for about 5-7 minutes, until the spinach is nice and soft [I like my spinach a little mushy]. Now add your fish and stir down into the broth. Then set your spoon to the side and let it cook in the broth for about 8-10 minutes. When the fish is fully cooked, add the thai fish sauce and taste test until you're satisfied with the taste of the broth. Let cook for another couple minutes and serve hot.

This soup is quick, easy, and delicious. Very filling, a little salty, and (surprisingly) not fishy at all. [Note: "fishiness" will depend upon the quality of your seafood.] You could add some lime juice for a little extra kick, or if you like spicy food (I don't) maybe a little chili paste.


[PS. Does anyone know how to take a good picture of soup?]

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Trouble in Paradise

All right. So here's a fun little game for ya'll. I'll call it a foodie-scavenger-hunt. I have hit a little snag - some of the ingredients I want to cook with are just wicked hard to find!

I'm looking for a place in Los Angeles (preferably somewhere around Sherman Oaks/Glendale) where I can locate the following items:
sorghum flour
brown rice flour
xantham gum
tapioca flour

Anyone who tells me where to find one of these items will get something cooked with it. How's that for a deal?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nom Nom Breakfast Cookies

My last batch of flour-free oatmeal cookies were delicious, but crumbly. This time, I decided to work on the crumbliness, while still not adding anything processed or guilt-inducing.

Nom Nom Breakfast Cookies

2 large bananas, mashed
3 heaping spoonfuls Better n' Peanut Butter (can use normal peanut butter or sun butter - if you choose to use peanut butter, avoid brands that add sugar and chemicals)
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup rolled oats, processed to a fine powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
1/2 cup raisins (alternatives: cranberries, cacao nibs, dried cherries)

 Preheat the oven to 350 F. Paper two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mash two bananas. Stir in peanut butter (or alt of your choice), honey, and vanilla until well combined. Pour 1/2 cup oats into a food processor and grind into a fine powder. Add that powder, plus half a cup of rolled oats to the wet mixture. Add cinnamon and baking soda. Stir. Add in raisins (or alt of your choice) and remaining rolled oats.

Using a large spoon, scoop one large spoonful at a time on to the cookie sheets, leaving the scoops a couple inches apart. Flatten the cookie scoops with a fork.

Bake for about 16 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool.

These come out yummy and filling, with a delightful combination of textures - both soft and crunchy. Enjoy. :)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Chinese New Valentine's Year and a Day, Part 2

Gōng xǐ fā cái! Congratulations and be prosperous! Happy New Year! Welcome to the Year of the Tiger, the year of Geng Yin, the 11th year in the current 60-year cycle, Year 4707 in the Chinese Calendar. 

The Chinese New Year (also known as the Spring Festival and the Lunar New Year) traditionally begins on the first day of the first month in the lunisolar Chinese calendar. This calendar has been in use for centuries and measures the passage of time - from seconds to centuries - based on the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars. In the lunisolar Chinese calendar, a year is measured by the duration of time it takes for the earth to rotate around the Sun. This year, 2010, the New Year falls on February 14th (in the International Calendar). 

The Chinese New Year is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and is celebrated as a major holiday in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations. In other nations, the holiday is still celebrated, though not as an "official holiday". (But we celebrated it this year and it was very fun!) Not only does it represent the ending of one lunar year and the beginning of another, but also, it is a time for letting go of old grudges, opening your life to new possibilities for happiness, and sincerely wishing peace and happiness to everyone. Sounds like my kind of holiday.

Like any holiday in any culture, the customs and traditions relating to Chinese New Year vary widely. Sometimes gifts are given, special meals are made, and decorations are placed. Windows and doors are decorated with red paper-cuts (a traditional Chinese decorative technique of cutting a piece of paper into an intricate design), featuring words like 'longevity' and 'health'; one of the most popular decorations seems to host a symbol of 'fu', which is Chinese for 'luck', hung upside down. 

The house is traditionally thoroughly cleaned to sweep away bad fortune and make way for incoming good luck. We did this - come on, good new year luck! Come get me! 

Food traditionally includes items such as pigs, ducks, chicken, and sweet delicacy. We had a meal of my cashew chicken and Janet's turkey and veggie fried rice (yum!), accompanied by a multitude of desserts provided by our guests. One popular Chinese New Year tradition that we did not partake in was the consumption of Mandarin oranges - the name for these in one Chinese dialect is 'gik' which is a homophone for 'luck' or 'fortune'. Eating these on Chinese New Year is akin to the Southern American tradition of collard greens and black eyed peas on New Year's Day.

Another Chinese New Year holiday tradition involves the gifting of money in red paper envelopes. These red envelopes, 'hóng bāo' in Mandarin, are passed from married couples or the elderly to their unmarried juniors - and are traditionally meant to "suppress or put down the evil spirit". The red, seen in the decorations, the envelopes, and the wardrobe of those celebrating Chinese New Year, is meant to scare away evil spirits and bad fortune. 

[For zodiac information referring to folks born in the Year of the Tiger, click here. I, personally, am the Year of the Ox.] 

**Note: All this I have gleaned from open-source research materials. Don't hate me and don't sue me. Thank you. 

Happy Chinese New Valentine's Year and a Day, Part 1

(This is a love letter sent by Emily Dickinson's sister. So pretty!)

Like most western holidays, Valentine's Day originated with the actions of a saint. Unlike most holidays, no one - not even the Catholic church - is completely clear on which saint this was. Currently, the Catholic church used Saint Valentine's Day to recognize at least three different saints who were martyred (apparently all on February 14th - though that can't be true... can it?), all with names similar to Valentine.

However, most assume that the main Saint Valentine of "Saint Valentine's Day" was a cleric in the 3rd century AD. Here is the story:

In Rome, around 270 AD, Emperor Claudius II decreed that single men were no longer allowed to get married, since single men made better soldiers than men with familial attachments. A priest named Valentine decided this decree was unjust and defied the emperor by performing marriages in secret - for this, he was known as the "friend of lovers". When his actions were discovered, he was sentenced to death.

While in awaiting his demise in prison, one of Valentine's jailors approached him and asked for a miracle (seems unlikely, but hey - the guy was a saint, after all). This jailor had a blind daughter and asked that Valentine restore her sight - and apparently, we know not how, Valentine accomplished this.

This miracle gained Valentine an audience with the emperor, who offered him his freedom if he would stop performing marriages and accept the Roman pantheon, rejecting his Christian beliefs. Valentine refused all of it and was promptly sent back to prison.

In the meanwhile, Valentine had also formed a "deep friendship" with the now sighted daughter of his jailor, who was quite bereaved over the idea of his impending demise. To say goodbye, Valentine asked for a pen and paper and wrote her a note, signing it "From your Valentine". Who could have known those last words would become so famous?

He was martyred on February 14th, 270 AD. Pope Gelsius declared this day "St. Valentine's Day" around 498 AD.

That said, this martyred "friend of lovers"did not become the romantic centerpiece he is today until the 14th century, when Chaucer used the image of birds mating as a symbol of lovers entwined in carnal embrace in his poem "The Parliament of Fowls", dedicated to Valentine's Day: "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate."

Once more, the Church's holy-day had been smeared by a poet from something saintly to something earthy and pleasure-ridden. Such is humanity.

In the 18th century, the tradition of gift-giving and giving hand-made cards decorated with ribbons, lace, and hearts was in full swing. But the now-common recognition of the holiday - purchased greeting cards - didn't come about until the 1840s. These were invented by Esther A. Howland, who became known as the Mother of the Valentine; she designed elaborate cards with real lace and colorful pictures, and produced them en masse in the United States. Esther was the Bill Gates of greeting cards.

(She just looks like a romantic, doesn't she?)

By 1910, the Winsch Publishing Company was mass producing Valentine's Day postcards.

And that, as they say, led to where we are now. According to the Greeting Card Association, these days, 25% of all greetings cards sent in a year are "valentines" - an estimated 1 billion cards a year. (Christmas apparently ranks first with ~2.6 billion a year.) According to the research done by - 85% of these 1 billion valentines cards are sent by women. Interesting, eh?

**Note: All this I have gleaned from open-source research materials. Don't hate me and don't sue me. Thank you. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Soup

I've been in a soupy mood for the past few days. I've also been in 'I don't want to go to the grocery' mode. These two feelings, in conjunction, culminated in me searching my fridge and pantry for anything that might make a suitable soup. I love the way that sounds... 'suitable soup'.

Everything But the Kitchen Sink Soup
(5-8 servings)

1 box (~4 cups) Trader Joe's Garden Vegetable Patch Soup (could use plain tomato soup, or probably even V8)
~3 cups baby spinach, roughly chopped
~5 stems fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
8-10 cherry tomatoes, halved
5-10 button mushrooms, sliced in thirds
3 stalks celery, sliced small
1 can great northern beans, rinsed
1/4 cup diced red onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp olive oil
freshly milled sea salt, to taste (*I used about 10 turns of my sea salt mill)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (*I used about 7 turns of my black pepper grinder)

In a medium stock pot, heat 1 tbsp olive oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic to the bottom and saute for 4-6 minutes, until onions are soft and garlic is browned.

Add 4 cups of the soup base you've chosen and set the stove to medium heat. Allow the soup to come to a simmer.

Add the spinach and basil to the pot and stir well. Next take the celery and stir that in, followed by the cherry tomatoes and the mushrooms. Salt and pepper the soup and stir, scooping from the bottom, to make sure everything's well combined.

Finally stir in the great northern beans and then allow to simmer, unmolested, for 5-8 minutes. Stir a couple times and taste test to make sure you're happy with the seasoning of the soup. If you used more or less of any of the ingredients I did, you'll want to alter your salt and pepper usage accordingly. Also depending on what brand of soup base you use, it may already be salted or seasoned on its own. Check the label and make sure you're not oversalting.

When you're happy, remove from heat and ladle out. It comes out warm, filling, and delicious. Yum, yum! Enjoy!

Tools for a Healthy Kitchen

It occurs to me that I'm throwing out recipes that involve all my nifty tools, but I'm not always clear what all I'm using (besides the food processor, which is listed below, by the way). So, I decided to compile a list of tools that I think every chef-wannabe must have in their kitchen:

1) A good set of knives. You must have good knives; I cannot stress this enough. Your knives will be one of the most (if not the most) used items in your kitchen - you want good quality ones you can count on. [I personally use a Wusthof knive set and love it.]
The basic knives you need are: a paring knife, a cleaver, a serrated knife, and a chef's knife. There are lots of different kinds of knives out there and they all have their own special uses, but these four are ones you will definitely want.

A paring knife is a small knife with a straight, sharp blade between 3-5 inches long. You use this knife to cut up small items, mince garlic and other items, core and slice fruits. Oh, heck. It's just really handy.

A cleaver has wide blade about 6 inches in length. You use this handy blade to chop, shred, and pulverize foods. You can use it to cut through hard materials like chicken bones and pulverize meat. You can also use the flat of the blade to crush garlic and other herbs.

A good serrated knife is between 5-10 inches long with little notches in the blade. You use this one for foods that are hard on the outside and soft on the inside, such as crispy French bread. It's also great for squishy fruits and vegetables.

A chef's knife is one of the most misunderstood items in a knife set. It's a versatile cooking knife and can be anywhere from 6-12 inches long. [Side note: 90% of what I have learned about cooking has come from my parents and my grandmother, who are all fabulous cooks in their own right. The other 10% comes from my friend Alison, a lot of books, and a too short summer in the scented halls of the NY CIA (Culinary Institute of America).] This knife makes chopping, dicing, and slicing easy as pie, if you're handling it right.

Here is a not-so-short, very informative, note from my father on the use of knives in a kitchen. Thanks, Dad. :)

"The 12 inch (large size) chef's knife is one of the most valuable tools you can have in a kitchen; unfortunately, it is frequently under-utilized and/or incorrectly used. I think some people are afraid of using a large knife or think it is inappropriate for cutting small items. This is incorrect. The larger size chef's knives are easier to use on many items and safer than small knives. This is because of the rounded blade shape and its length. I have never cut myself using a blade properly.
A large chef's knife should always have it's tip anchored on the cutting surface, with the front to middle of the blade used for slicing as the blade "rolls" back and forth. This is a natural rolling feel. The knife tip should seldom leave the cutting board surface, so the blade is made super stable. A large chef's' knife can be used for almost anything and knowing how to use a chef's knife is a big difference between amateurs and real chefs. The large chefs' knife should be your most used blade. The larger the knife, the easier it is to keep the tip anchored and still slice larger items like large onions.
You should not use a chef's knife free handed like you might use a paring knife. The same rolling action on a cutting board (that makes it one of the safest knives in the kitchen when used properly) can cause it to roll on round objects and cut you. Used improperly, it can turn it into a difficult-to-use and risky tool. If you were to cut an onion on a cutting board and not anchor the end of the knife, it would be easy for the onion to roll or the knife to slide off; either way, you are put at risk. You also have less precision in slicing items the thickness you want without the tip anchored.
A chef's knife (like all good knives) does need to be kept very sharp, using the steel rod that comes with most sets after every use. Avoid using this knife on thick bones. Do not use it as a cleaver - little nicks will form in the blade that are difficult to remove. A properly maintained chef's knife will quickly slice without tearing or catching, even on small tomatoes or grapes. Even the longest, widest, and thickest chef's knives are rolling-slicing instruments - they are not for hacking at things. Use cleavers for even chicken bones and cutting through cartilage between bones. A large cleaver for big stuff and a thinner smaller cleaver for small items are a nice pare of tools to have.
If you have screwed up before and dulled or nicked your knife (look at its edge with full spectrum sunlight behind for nicks), take it for professional sharpening. After a full sharpening that removes some of the metal - if you use the knife properly, don't hack with it, and rod it 3-4 times a side lightly after every use to reset the edge grains - you may never need a grinding-type sharpening again. The knife will last almost forever if you hardly ever need to grind metal off the blade.
You also need several size paring knives, but they should be used sparingly in free-handed mode. If something can sit on a cutting board to be sliced (especially if the item being cut can roll), you should always use an anchored chef's knife for speed, control, and safety.
Some little knives look like little chefs' knives and can be used the same way as a large chefs knife for tiny things like small garlic cloves (a large chef's knife does this well also). They can be used anchored for slicing. Rod these knives after every use also. Dull knives are more likely to cut you than a sharp knife, especially when free hand."
-My awesome, multi-talented, and encyclopedic father

2) A food processor. This is one of those invaluable items that you won't know how much you need until you have it.
 I know, I know. You're thinking 'What? More equipment? But why?!' Well, here are some reasons: pesto, spaghetti sauce, cashew butter, sunflower-garlic blend, egg salad... oh heck. Do I need to keep listing? Now, you could go and buy spaghetti sauce and pesto at the store, right? What's the big deal? A food processor will free you from the chains of someone else's taste buds. It will allow you to produce delicious things that are made by you, for you, and you will know exactly what's in them - and be able to pronounce all those ingredients! No nasty chemicals. [And also, not so much extra salt. A lot of soups and sauces that you buy at the store really have way more salt in them than you need. At least now, if you oversalt, it's because you chose to and you can take full responsibility for your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. :) ]

3) An immersion blender. Now, this tool is my personal guru in the kitchen. I use it to blend soups (which can make dairy-free, milk-sub-free soups still taste creamy and delicious) and make smoothies (every morning - see how much I use this thing?). You can also use this nifty tool to make homemade hummus, mousse, gravy, and mashed potatoes.
There are two main differences between this little item and a big ol' normal blender:
a) You can stick this guy down in a pot of cooking vegetables and blend them up on the stove, rather than transferring everything out of the pot and then back into it. It's a time saver and a mess preventer.
b) It allows you to make much smaller portions without thinking "shoot, and I have to clean this whole thing after?" A quick rinse under the faucet and pop it in the dishwasher and you're done. It's tiny, storable, and infinitely awesome. [*Portion control is a big issue in eating healthy. You want to make sure you eat enough at each meal to feel just barely full, which tends to be 1/4-1/2 the size of normal restaurant portions.]

4) Now, finally, two items you might not have mixed in with your pots and pans that you'd probably enjoy:
a) A stock pot. You'll use this for making big batches of soups, goulashes, etc. Soup and goulash are my go-to meals for when I know I'm going to have a really busy week. Just make a huge batch Sunday or Monday night and store it. If for 2-4 days, you can just store it in your fridge. If for 5-7 days, store in the freezer.
b) A cast-iron skillet. This thing is the best! You can cook with them on the stove top and then just stick them in the oven, without transferring your food from the skillet to a baking dish. Easy peasy!

It's a short list, yes, but it's four small steps towards easier, happier, healthy cooking! Best of luck!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Kick-Ass Cookies

Most oatmeal cookies involve flour - which basically makes them normal cookies with oats mixed in. Here, I made up an oatmeal cookie recipe that is delicious, flaky, crumbly, naturally sweetened, and totally flour-free.

Oatmeal-Raisin-Pumpkin Seed Cookies, or Kick-Ass Cookies
(Makes 24)

1.5 cups rolled oats, for processing
1.75 cups rolled oats (I used Bob's RedMill Old Fashioned)
1 tsp baking soda
3 heaping tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup melted coconut oil
1/4 cup agave nectar
3 tbsp liquid egg whites
1 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 cup roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
1 cup seedless raisins

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Pour 1.5 cups rolled oats into your food processor and process into a consistent powder. Pour that "oat flour" into a mixing bowl and add baking soda and cinnamon. Stir with a fork until well combined.

In another bowl (preferably slightly larger than the first), beat together coconut oil, agave nectar, egg whites, and vanilla until well combined with a hand mixer. Slowly add the oat flour into the oil/nectar mixture until suitably blended.

Now, fold in the oats using a spatula. Once those are well blended in, add the seeds and raisins. Fold again until all are well combined. Stick the bowl of batter into the fridge for about 20 minutes so it can sort of solidify. Now take the bowl back out and, using a spoon, form 2-inch balls of the mixture and place them onto the parchment paper about 2 inches apart from each other. You should end up with 4 rows of 3 (or 3 rows of 4). :) Use your fork from earlier to flatted each ball slightly.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for about a minute, then transfer to racks to cool completely. (But first, steal one to taste test for yourself!)

Yummy, healthy, oatey cookies ready for guilt-free munching! Enjoy. :)

Cinnamon-Chicken Bake, or "Looks Like Dessert, Tastes Like Dinner"

I've long been wanting to do a simple, healthy chicken dish. One of my favorite meals growing up was going to Luby's - a buffet restaurant in North Carolina - and getting fried chicken and applesauce. Well, I don't fry chicken, but that warm, wholesome taste of chicken and applesauce together.

Cinnamon-Chicken Bake
(Serves 2)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp liquid egg whites
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
sprinkle of rolled oats, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Pour 1 tbsp olive oil into a skillet over medium-low heat.

Slice raw chicken into small strips (about 4x1.5 inches). When the oil is hot, add the chicken slices to the skillet. Heat, turning, until the outside is totally cooked - about 3-5 minutes.

Remove the cooked chicken to a small mixing bowl. Add 1 tbsp egg whites to the bowl, along with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir all together, making sure to coat the chicken well. Pour the chicken into a small baking dish (I used my little La Creuset). Put the baking dish into the oven for about 11 minutes.

Take the baking dish out and add in 1/2 cup of the applesauce; mix well. Sprinkle with cinnamon and oats. Return to the oven for another 6 minutes.

Serve quickly. Makes a quick, easy comfort meal for two. Or one, with a lunch leftover. :)


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chunky Pesto Chicken Soup

Soup is by far one of my favorite things to make. Not only do you get to stir it around in a big pot, cackling all the while like a character from Hocus Pocus, but it's also delicious, nutritious (usually), and serves you for days.

I took the original recipe for "Chicken & Spinach Soup with Fresh Pesto" from the October 2009 issue of EatingWell, and then changed it - like I do.

You might like their version, but personally - having tried theirs as written last year - mine is yummier. So there.

Chunky Pesto Chicken Soup
(makes ~5 servings)

2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tbsp
2 carrots, chopped
2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (weighing ~14 oz), cut into quarters
2 large cloves garlic
4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1.5 tsp dried marjoram
~8 oz baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, halved lengthwise and chopped
1 15-oz can great northern beans, rinsed
~1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
~1/2 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
~3 inch parmesan rind
~2 tsp salt
~2 tsp freshly ground pepper, more to taste

Heat 2 tsp of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add chopped carrot and quartered chicken; cook, turning the chicken until it begins to brown (about 4 minutes). Add garlic and stir together until the chicken is seared on one side (another 1-2 minutes). Remove the cooked chicken with a pair of tongs to a clean cutting board. You are now done with your sauce pan.

Into a medium stock pot over medium heat, pour your chicken broth and add the marjoram. Stir. Now add the garlic and carrots from the saucepan to the soup. Stir. Add the chopped spinach and rinsed beans and chopped celery to the soup. Add ~2 tsp salt and 2 tsp fresh ground pepper. Stir all together, mixing well. Then drop your parmesan rind in and let it start to soak out into the soup. Set the heat to low, and remember to stir occasionally.

Now to make the pesto sauce. You will need a food processor for this portion of the program. [If you don't have one, you can just buy pesto from the store, but it'll be saltier than you want, so I would recommend not adding the salt to the soup earlier.] This pesto, by the way, is delicious, and would also go nicely over pasta or warm french bread. :)
Combine 1 tbsp olive oil, grated parmesan, basil, and pine nuts in the food processor and process until a coarse paste forms.
There. You're done.

Return to that chicken you left your cutting board. Cut it into little bite sized pieces and add it back into the soup. Spoon out all of the pesto you just made and add that to the soup as well. Stir over medium heat for 4-6 minutes, or until hot.

Before you serve, remember to spoon around in the soup and find the parmesan rind. It has served its purpose now and can be tossed.

This soup is yummy, warm, and really hits the spot. Lots of protein and iron in this one. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Part 3: Return of the Fortune Cookies!

"God, I think I've got 'em, I think I've got 'em! 

Such yummy cookies all the time! 

What's coming next ? What's happening now? 
Still it isn't over; I've gotta imagine what she wants! 
It isn't over; I've gotta imagine what she does... 

God, I hope I've got 'em, I hope I've got 'em! 
I've come this far, but even so: 
It could be yes; it could be no. 
How many cookies does she...?

I really need this fortune- 
Please, God, I need this fortune- 
I've got to get this cookie! 
I have to get it just right! 
I knew I had it, from the start..." 

-from "A Cookie Line" 
[All my musical nerds will get this joke... I think...]

So. Part Three of the Fortune Cookie Escapades. Usually, my second trial of a new baking recipe goes smoothly and wonderfully and I never have to change it again until I feel like it. But fortune cookies are hard, can I just say? Especially when I don't have any special tools for 'em. 

However, nevertheless, I think the impossible has been accomplished!

Here is the final (I think) and accurate (I hope) fortune cookie recipe as it was completed this evening. 

Super Fortunate Ginger Fortune Cookies
(Makes ~24 cookies)

3 egg whites
3/4 cups organic powdered sugar
2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
1/2 tsp chopped ginger
8 tbsp whole wheat flour, sifted

Preheat oven to 350 F. 
Mix the egg whites, powdered sugar, coconut oil, vanilla, and ginger together in a large bowl with a handheld mixer on low. Slowly add the sifted flour. Grab a small spatula and make sure you've gotten any excess flour that sprayed onto the sides of the bowl; stir. 

Spoon 2 teaspoons of the batter onto a parchment paper covered cookie sheet and spread it out in a very thin, wide circle, using a flat knife. You're only going to want to put a maximum of 4 (2 or 3 is better) cookies per sheet at a time. 

Place in the preheated oven, on the second to top rack, for ~6 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.

Now you have to move very fast! Put on a pair of *thin* cotton gloves to protect your fingers. Remove the tray from the oven quickly (but carefully!) and immediately:
1) flip each cookie over using a small flat knife (not the same one you spread with)
2) place a fortune on top of each flipped cookie, perpendicular to the direction of the wrinkles in the baked dough
3) fold each cookie in half over the fortune and then fold them back together into usual fortune cookie shape, pinching the top to hold it in shape
4) place each cookie inside a muffin tin to cool

This recipe will make about 24 cookies. You'll want to flip the parchment paper on your cookie sheet every batch and switch it out for a new sheet every third batch. Otherwise, the wrinkles that form from the moisture of the batter on the parchment paper will cause weak spots in your finished baked cookies. 

The cookies will need to cool for 1-2 hours. They harden and crisp as they cool. 

These little guys do not taste like normal fortune cookies. They're a little less sweet and they don't score the inside of your mouth because they're just not that uber hard. The ginger gives them a little zing, but not too much. 

Friday, February 5, 2010


There is little I love more than listening to the rush and roar of rain on pavement, breathing in the cold wet air, and smiling out at a roiling gray sky from the cozy comfort of my home. 

Days like these, Elizabeth Gilbert narrates my life. 

I wake up at seven a.m. to the gray of early evening and go to the gym in lieu of my usual outdoor. I stretch in the rain-cooled air, climb onto the treadmill, and run. My muscles heat, my heart sings. And when I'm winded, I walk back home - feeling the water coat me like a combination of Mary Magdalene's tears and the sweat of cherubic Buddhas. 

Home again, cold and shimmering tired, I change into a baggy, mustard-colored sweatshirt I've had since middle school, pull on a pair of sweatpants and thick cozy socks, and make a pot of herbal tea. 

For a while, I sit and watch the water falling through the air outside and just breathe the rich scents of hyssop and mint and sage until the mere scent of them is not enough. Life is a diaphanous, wonderful thing when it's simple and quiet and you can luxuriate in each individual moment, drawing each one out and stretching it into the next.

If every day were a rainy day, I wouldn't get much done - but oh, what a beautiful, drizzly lack of accomplishment that would be.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Banana-Walnut Muffins

So there I was, looking at a pair of wilting bananas and I thought - banana bread? No. Too big and heavy. I know! I'll make muffins!

Banana-Walnut Muffins
(12 servings)

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
2 overripe bananas
1/8 cup Splenda-sugar baking blend
3 tbsp egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
~1/4 cup walnut "baking bits" *you can get these in bags at Trader Joe's

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners.

Mash the bananas in a bowl until they're really mushy. Add sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir well with a spatula. Add the applesauce. Stir again. Add the baking powder and baking soda and salt; then slowly add in the flour.  Stir until well combined (don't forget to scoop up the bottom and the sides).

Next, scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups and put in your preheated oven for 20 minutes.

Ta da! All done! And in no time at all. You can replace the walnuts with raisins or some other nut or fruit as you prefer. Carob chips would probably be awesome too. :) Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Garlic-Sunflower Chicken, with a side of Garlic Roasted Veggies

Let it be said: poultry is awesome.

I was afraid of chicken for a long time, mostly because of my terrible fear of e-coli and death. The key to healthy poultry (which is, by the way, one of the best meats - ever - if cooked properly) is taking the time and care to be safe and clean. These rules apply to messing with any raw meat:

1) Clean your counters and your hands before unpacking the meat.

2) Make sure that your cutting board is clean.

3) If you can, use one specific cutting board for meat, or for each type of meat. There are some nice, inexpensive sets you can get from Williams-Sonoma and Bed, Bath, and Beyond that have little pictures on each cutting board, denoting whether it's for fish, chicken, beef, or vegetables.

Now. All that out of the way, here's another yummy chicken dish for your savoring pleasure.

Garlic-Sunflower Chicken
(3 servings)

3 boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 tbsp olive oil
Garlic-sunflower mix (Remember this? I made it for the bass dish. I still had a bunch leftover, in a sealed container in my fridge, so I used about a quarter of it here)
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
5-8 button mushrooms, sliced in threes
1 handful spinach, shredded with knife

[Garlic-Sunflower Mix: Now take 1 cup of sunflower seeds, 3 tsp salt, and 3 tsp garlic powder and blend together in a food processor until all powdery and delicious smelling.]

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Preheat a skillet over medium heat with 1 tbsp of olive oil.

Rub sunflower-garlic mix all over the chicken. When the skillet is hot, add the chicken and sear. Then turn it over and sear the other side.

Meanwhile, chop your veggies and mix them in a small bowl with 2 tbsp olive oil. Now, if you're using a baking dish, spread these olive oil mixed veggies over the bottom of your baking dish. I used my brand new La Creuset - happy sigh - but you can also use a baking sheet with lips if you're really stretched for tools.

When both sides of your chicken breasts are nice and scorched, remove the chicken to the rectangular baking dish and rest them on top of the veggies; next place the baking dish into the preheated oven (on a low rack) to cook through; this should take about 15 minutes.

When finished, plate your chicken and strew a little of the spinach/tomato/mushroom mix over top prettily. You can serve this with a side of veggies or brown rice.

Speaking of veggie sides... This is what I did and it was quite tasty. :)

Garlic Roasted Zucchini and Cauliflower
(3 main dish servings, 6 side dish servings)

1 zucchini, sliced into 1 inch slices, then halved
1 head cauliflower, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 cloves roughly chopped garlic
1.5 tbsp jarred, pitted kalamata olives, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tbsp
~15 cherry tomatoes

Preset oven to 400 F.

Slice cauliflower into one inch slices and mix in a bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and pour the cauliflower out onto the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, on the top rack.

Meanwhile, chop the zucchini into 1 inch pieces, then halved. Set aside.

Chop garlic, olives, and tomatoes.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the skillet you just used to sear the chicken, add the garlic and olives and olive juice. Saute for about 2 minutes.

Next, add the slices of zucchini. Stir.

Remove, the now roasted cauliflower from the oven and add it to the skillet. Stir until the cauliflower has a chance to soak up all the other flavors in the skillet - about 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and presto: veggies as a side.

You can also serve over pasta or brown rice as a main dish in it's own right.