To nourish your mind as well as your body

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.

-Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays, to all of you!

Another year older. Another year (hopefully) wiser. On this Christmas eve, I offer a little bit of perspective. After all, the holidays are about the senses. Taste, for the delicious things we cook and are served in honor of our celebrations. Touch, for the hugs and hands we hold to ward away the cold. Scent, for the smell of the pine trees and candles and homebaked goodies. Hearing, for the sounds of welcome and the voices raised in celebratory song. Sight, for the vision of candles flickering, christmas lights blinking, and our friends and family so very close. But there's another sense (well, several, but I'm only dealing with this one), which is... that other awareness. The feeling that creeps up on you on cool, crisp mornings in dewy gardens, or standing in the midst of an endless blanket of snow, or standing in the hallowed energy of an ancient place.

The winter season is a cold one. It's a season that has always been hard for humans and that challenge is part of the reason why we have so many holidays to bring us together during this time of year. In the time before internet and central heating, we needed the comfort and willpower and wisdom of our fellows to survive the barren, freezing season. If you look deep in your heart, you'll find that need is still within you. At least, it is in me.

Regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, I wish you a warm, comforting, cheer filled evening tonight in honor of the longest night of the year.

And yes, I'm bringing back the old information about various holiday traditions. Maybe you'll read them and, like me, realize how very similar we all are. No more Christmas wars, friends. We're all just Whos in Whoville.

Celebrating Father Christmas

Celebrating Bodhi Day

Celebrating Christmas in Europe

Celebrating Christian Christmas

Celebrating Hannukah

Celebrating Saturnalia

Celebrating Kwanzaa

Celebrating Winter Solstice and Yule

I hope you enjoy learning about these different spiritual takes on the holiday season as much as I did. If you have more or more accurate information regarding any of these holidays, please contact me and share your knowledge so that I can make sure it's all appropriately educational.

Have a peace! Happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Tasty Ginger Sugar Cookies

One of my favorite holiday traditions is making sugar cookies and decorating them with my family. Now, I warn you: these cookies are not low calorie. But the fats that are in them are (mostly) healthy fats. Just remember, cookies are for nibbling and for bribing Santa - not for eating by the bucketful. Enjoy these tasty, homemade holiday treats, decorate them with your friends and family, and take a walk on Boxing day to feel guilt-free. Go on! Have a peace!

Tasty Ginger Sugar Cookies

3 cups all purpose flour (if you use whole wheat, add more liquid until the consistency is appropriate)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
about 1 tablespoon powdered ginger
about 1/2 tbsp vanilla extract (make sure you get the kind without added sugar or corn syrup)
2.5 cups coconut oil, melted to liquid
1 cup sugar (or brown sugar)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp coconut milk
Powdered sugar, for rolling out dough

1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
Orange zest

Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside. Put the butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until the color is consistent. Add the egg (I beat mine with a fork) and the coconut milk and continue beating the mixture on a low speed. While it's running, slowly add the flour mixture until the whole concoction is well combined. The dough should peel easily away from the wall of the bowl. Divide the dough into two parts and wrap each part in wax paper. Stick them in the refrigerator for about 2 hours (or longer).

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature, unwrapped from the wax paper, for about an hour and a half. Depending on the temperature in your home, it make take more or less time. Break each roll of dough into quarters and soften it by rolling it between your (very clean because you washed them, right?) hands.

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Spread out a sheet of wax paper and smooth out a generous handful of powdered sugar on it. Spray your rolling pin with PAM or some other anti-stick invention. You're going to want to roll out this dough carefully. Keep it warm between your hands then immediately roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Powder it with extra powdered sugar if it starts to stick and if it gets too sticky, put a cold cookie sheet in top of it to chill it out. Use your favorite cookie cutters to create little shapes and place the cut cookies on a cookie sheet prepared with parchment paper. Bake each tray for 7-13 minutes. My family likes ours a little crispy and just on the edge of burned so we stray towards the longer end.

Let the cookies sit on the cookie sheet for a couple minutes agpfter removing them from the oven to retain their shape, then move them to a cooling rack and load up another cookie sheet of delightful goodness. Makes about 4 cookies sheets worth of cookies.

To make the icing, sift about 2 cups powdered sugar into a mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and orange zest. Slowly add lukewarm/room temperature water until the icing is the consistency you want. If you feel like its too dry, add more water a little at a time until its good. You don't need much; this icing is very flavorful, soa very thin layer in the cookies goes a long way.

Go in! Have a peace! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sweet Potato Protein Patties

Hello again! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving week and weekend. While I was visiting my family in Texas, I reworked my Game-Changer patties for my aunt (who's vegan) and they turned out wicked good, so I thought I would share the new version of the recipe as well. You don't have to be vegan to enjoy these (and if you're serving them to your non-vegan friends, you can just call them a vegetable side if you want), but if you are - you'll find that they have a full serving of protein and delicious, healthy cruciferous vegetables. These are great for a protein-rich side dish or a meal on the go. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Protein Patties
Makes 16 

1 lb sweet potatoes, cooked  
3/4 cup onions   
1/4 cup flax seed meal   
1/2 cup gelled chia seeds  
6 tsp olive oil
4 loose fist sized clumps of baby spinach, raw  
3 loose fist sized clumps baby kale, raw 
2 tsp salt 
1 tsp black pepper
2  sage leaves, crushed
1 sprig rosemary, crushed
1 tsp white pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Clean your sweet potatoes and brush them with olive oil. Pierce the potatoes with a fork. Bake them for about 45 minutes. 
  • Pan brown onions and spinach and kale with ~6 tsp olive oil.  
  • To make your gelled chia seeds, take 1/3 cup chia seeds and place them into a sealed container with 2 cups water. Stir them, let them sit for ten minutes, and then stir again. (You can keep the gel that you don't use for this recipe in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks. Mix it into salad dressings or juice for a little extra protein in whatever you like.)
  • Peel your baked sweet potatoes. (I munch on the peels because they are delicious!) Puree baked sweet potatoes in food processor. Puree cooked spinach and kale and onions. Place pureed vegetables into a large bowl. Puree browned onions, cooked spinach and kale in food processor. Move to bowl. 
  • Combine blended sweet potatoes, onions, chia seeds, flax seed meal, green onions, herba salle, egg whites, blended spinach, herbs, salt and pepper. 
  • Form and flatten portions of the “dough” into patties.
  • Lay the patties onto parchment paper that has been sprayed with cooking spray (or stoneware) and bake for 15-20 minutes, remove, flip them over, and bake again for another 20 minutes until they’re lightly brown and crisp on the outside.
  • Serve warm, at room temperature, or straight from the fridge.
Go on, have a peace! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! In honor of the holiday and spending a wonderful week with my family who I so rarely get to see, I thought I would share one of my favorite thanksgiving poems, written by a Unitarian minister. So, here it is.

A Prayer Of Thanksgiving By Reverend Max Coots

Let us give thanks...
For generous friends...with hearts as big as hubbards and smiles as bright as their blossoms;
For feisty friends as tart as apples;
For continuous friends, who, like scallions and cucumbers, keep reminding us we had them;
For crotchety friends, as sour as rhubarb and as indestructible;
For handsome friends, who are as gorgeous as eggplants and as elegant as a row of corn -- and the others -- as plain as potatoes, and so good for you.
For funny friends, who are as silly as brussels sprouts and as amusing as Jerusalem artichokes, and serious friends as complex as cauliflowers and as intricate as onions;
For friends as unpretentious as cabbages, as subtle as summer squash, as persistent as parsley, as delightful as dill, as endless as zucchini, and who -- like parsnips -- can be counted on to see you through the long winter;
For old friends, nodding like sunflowers in the evening-time, and young friends coming on as fast as radishes;
For loving friends, who wind around as like tendrils, and hold us despite our blights, wilts, and witherings;
And finally, for those friends now gone, like gardens past, that have been harvested - but who fed us in their times that we might have life thereafter;
For all these we give thanks.  

Remember, Thanksgiving is about showing love and gratitude to the people who have made your life possible - the ones who held you when you were born, guided you through your rough patches, led you past dangers, and helped to shape you into the wonderful person you a today. Not eating. Be moderate. Guide by example. And enjoy yourselves!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sweet Potato Protein Game Changers

I was recently invited to participate in something called the Game On Diet, which is basically a diet/lifestyle change competition that involves collecting points for meals, water intake, and exercise. It's a pretty neat system, one that I recommend you looking into if it at all peaks your interest. But the point is this. As part of the game, we're required to eat five meals a day. I know. It's crazy. And since I don't have time to stay home all day and cook, I decided to look into a quick and easy way to prep for those extra moderately portioned meals on the go. This is the first thi I came up with. It has protein, cruciferous vegetables, fiber, and healthy carbs. All that and it tastes awesome hot or cold, and is extremely easy to pack and carry. So, here you go.

Sweet Potato Protein Game Changers
Makes 16 patties
1 lb sweet potatoes, cooked
1 bunch green onions, diced
1/3 cup onions
1/4 cup flax seed meal
1.25 lb 99% fat free ground turkey
6 tsp olive oil
4 fist sized clumps of baby spinach, raw
1/3 cup egg whites
2 tsp herba salle (you can make your own version of this by combining sea salt, dried rosemary, dried sage, and dried basil in equal parts)
1 tsp black pepper
2 dried sage leaves, crumbled
1 sprig rosemary, dried, crumbled 
2 tsp white pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Bake sweet potatoes for 20-25 minutes. Pan brown turkey and onions with ~2 tsp olive oil. Puree sweet potatoes in food processor (I peeled the skins and munched them, but it's up to you). Steam and then puree spinach with sweet potatoes. Dump puréed vegetables into a large bowl. Purée browned turkey and onions in food processor. Combine blended sweet potatoes, onions, turkey, flax seed meal, green onions, herba salle, egg whites, blended spinach, herbs, salt and pepper.
Form and flatten portions of the “dough” into patties.
Lay the patties onto parchment paper that has been sprayed with cooking spray (or stoneware) and bake for 15-20 minutes until they’re lightly brown and crisp on the outside.
Serve warm, at room temperature, or straight from the fridge.

Go on, have a peace! Have two! Enjoy! Go on, have a peace! Have two!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Knead-Free Scrumptious Loaf

Hello, all!

First of all, let me say I'm so sad not to have thrown a bunch of new recipes at you this month. Circumstances have conspired to keep me away from my kitchen, which is terribly disappointing to me; I miss my culinary meditation time. Second, thank you so much to CindyCupcake for both following my tweets and for mentioning my web series! You're so sweet - and as a result, you get to request a recipe, miss! Just tell me 2-4 ingredients and I will make a recipe just for you and name it after you. (It's the next best thing to baking cookies and mailing them to wherever you are!)

With regards to Family Valuables - this series is one very close to my heart. I, along with two friends, came up with the idea, wrote, directed, cast, and acted in it. We had a wonderful crew who worked tirelessly with us to make the show what it turned out to be. We shot three episodes and two teaser scenes in a very short amount of time on very little funding and we are so terribly proud of the work we accomplished. For more information on the series, you can visit, find us on Facebook, or just go straight to watching the episodes. I do appear in the series (more so later in the season). I'm in Episode 1 as one of the Mormon visitors and then in one of the teaser scenes as my characters true identity... dun dun dun. Please check it out, 'like' it on and/or Facebook if you do (how could you not?), and tell your friends if you like. We made it to make people laugh, so the more people who see it, the better.

Now! For all ya'll who are hungering for something other than entertainment, here's an incredibly easy recipe for bread! Yes, bread! I know, I generally avoid this food staple due to the lack of nutrients usually found in the store-bought versions. But with this recipe - a recipe I actually learned about through a Cornerstone Theater piece the entitled 'Bread' and directed by the wonderful Nancy Keystone - you get to make a delicious, crusty loaf from scratch and share it with our friends and family. And your house will smell absolutely incredible. Breaking bread and sharing it around the table has always been a Thanksgiving tradition in my family (even though many of us have given it up for the rest of the year) and I'm overjoyed to share this with you.

All you need is a bowl, a dutch oven, plastic wrap, two cotton towels, some very basic ingredients, and time. So, without further ado...

Knead-Free Scrumptious Loaf
Yields one 1.5 lb loaf

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (you can use whole wheat flour instead, just be careful making sure that the dough doesn't become too dense)
1/4 tsp instant yeast
1 1/4 tsp salt
flax seeds (optional)
minced and crushed rosemary (optional)
olive oil (optional)

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, flax seeds, rosemary, yeast, and salt. Add 4/5 cup water and 4/5 cup olive oil (or all water as you choose - the oil makes a denser, moister loaf), and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours - preferably about 18 - at warm room temperature (about 70 F).

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for another fifteen minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball.

Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour; wn dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready,  heat oven to 450 F.  Put a 6-8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic - I use my awesome La Creuset dutch oven) in the oven as it heats. When the dough is ready, carefully remove the pot from the oven. Slide our hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. It may (and probably will) look like a mess, but that's a-OK. Shake the pan once or twice if the dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake for another 15-30 minutes, until the loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

This is by far the easiest bread recipe I've ever seen and the result is simply delectable. As per usual, feel free to substitute or add ingredients to suits your tastes and whims. Add different herbs, or olives, or nuts, raisins, or currants. Go on. Have a peace! And have a wonderful, wholesome Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

1940's Snickerdoodles

Here's a little recipe I rescued from 1941 in honor of the current show I'm doing - Noel Coward's Peace In Our Time. It's not exactly my usual offering - not remotely vegan or low calorie, to be sure - nor is it my own invention (as I wasn't alive in 1940), but it is delicious and makes a great offering to potlucks and friends. To be enjoyed in moderation, with a cup of Earl Grey or Irish Breakfast (for dipping and sipping). The italics are my notations.

1940's Snickerdoodles
(makes ~50)

1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup baker's sugar
2 eggs
2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
a sprinkle of ginger (1 tsp)
a scrape of nutmeg (take a whole nutmeg, then scritch off about a tsp of it with a small grater or zester)
additional sugar and cinnamon to taste (~tbsp each, for the outside of the cookies)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Melt the butter in a saucepan (or microwave). Cream together butter, eggs, and sugar until you have a smooth texture.

(In a separate bowl) Sift the dry ingredients together and stir into the sugar mixture (making sure each addition of the flour mixture is combined before adding the next). Chill the dough for two hours.

Roll chilled dough into balls the size of uncracked walnuts. (Sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on a flat surface.) Roll each in the cinnamon sugar (covering the outside). Place three fingers apart on a (parchment paper covered) cookie sheet. Bake for twelve minutes.

So there you go. I don't generally go in for so much butter - or any at all (I actually choked a little bit as I added it), but I will say that these are excellent dipping cookies. They cool to a hard, crispy cookie that softens in tea instantly. As with all things good and bad, use discretion when enjoying these. I've been making them to sell at the concessions booth for my play, which is a good way to keep them away from myself. When my schedule loosens up a bit, I will play with making a more guilt-free version of these.

Go on, have a peace! Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ghoulish Goulash

Ghoulish Goulash
(Serves 4)

olive oil
1 lb ground turkey meat
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp smoked paprika
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
3 large handfuls spinach, steamed
sea salt and ground pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Brown the turkey meat in the bottom of a large pot with some olive oil. Once the meat is cooked through, remove the meat to another plate or bowl. Brown the onions in the pot for about three minutes. Then add the garlic and bell pepper and cook them all, stirring regularly, for about five minutes over medium heat.

Add the turkey meat back to the pot and add the paprika, salt, pepper, tomatoes (and the juice), and stock. Let cook on stove top for a few minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a steamer tray (this one is my favorite) and steam your spinach for about six minutes in the microwave. Add the steamed spinach to the pot.

Place a lid on the pot and transfer to the preheated oven. Let the stew cook for about two hours and remove to serve. There will be a delectable, hearty stew waiting for you that has the suspicious look of brains and mildew. A lovely addition to any Halloween themed feast. Go on. Have a peace.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Devilish Digits

October is my favorite month of the year. Between the seasonal shift (finally!) into fall and the wicked fun of Halloween, I'm hooked. One of my favorite things about this time of year is experimenting with new recipes to gross out/enchant my friends and family. This is one such. And this time, I share the blame with my grandmother, who had the wisdom and foresight to send me this for my birthday.

Now, me, I'm not really into food coloring. The idea of putting something with the suspiciously vague ingredient "Red 10" in it into my body really weirds me out. Still, I thought these cookies would be really fun if they were all gooey and green. My solution: spirulina.

What the devil is spirulina, you ask? Well, I'll tell you! Spirulina, or Athrospira, is a blue-green algae  made up of 60% proteins (zounds!) as well as a healthy amount of beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (which is one of those nifty essential fatty acids). There have been medical studies that suggest spirulina can boost the immune system, help protect against allergic reactions, and have antiviral and anticancer properties. All this is well and good, but the best thing about spirulina is this: it tastes awesome and it's green. I use this stuff in my steel cut oats, in soups, in baked goods (clearly...), and in pretty much anything else I can think of. It's just plain good.

This cookie dough ends up pretty thick, so I'm fairly certain you can make an equally creepy 'finger-shaped' version of these, even without the mold. If it's not thick enough for you, just add a little more flour until it reaches the texture you desire. Here's what you do.

Devilish Digits
(makes 16)

1/3 cup margarine
2/3 cup powdered sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
3 tsp spirulina powder
1/2 cup dried cherries
16 raw almonds

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

In a mixing bowl, cut your margarine into small pads and melt until liquidy (about 50 seconds in the microwave). Add powdered sugar and stir with a fork until they're well combined. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat again with the fork until they're blended together. Add flour, baking soda and powder, whip again with fork until the texture is the same all through. Add spirulina, stir until the color is a uniform witchy green. Add cherries, make sure they're all through the whole mix.

With the mold, I sprayed with a Baker's Joy and then put the almonds down in the 'nail' portion of the mold before pouring in the dough. Without a mold, I would suggest prepping a cookie sheet with parchment paper and laying out your dough first in little gooey worm lines (about 3 inches long and a finger width's thick), then sticking the almond on top at one end.

Bake for ~10 minutes until browned and remove.

Enjoy!! Go on, have a peace!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spaghetti Spesto!

All right! More in the vain of easy to prepare, slow to indulge meals for the busy week. This one is wondrously simple, healthy, and satisfying. And, even more fun, you can do the main portion and then add different things to make it a slightly different meal so you don't feel like you're eating the same thing every day.

Spaghetti Spesto
(makes ~5 servings)

1 spaghetti squash, ~ 3lbs

Spesto sauce:
2/3 oz basil
~1 oz baby spinach
4 tbsp olive oil
3/4 oz fresh grated reggiano cheese
6 cloves garlic
1/2 oz sundried tomatoes, finely chopped
~1/4 tsp salt
small handful walnuts

Put about 1 cup of water in your crockpot and settle the spaghetti squash in, covering with a lid. Set to low and let cook about 9 hours. When done, remove the squash (carefully with a pot holder - it's hot!) and cut lengthwise. Remove the seeds and goopy innards (to a separate bowl if you like - squash seeds are as yummy as pumpkin seeds) and then, using a fork, break apart the 'noodles' of the squash and dump them into a nice sealable container.

For the sauce, place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree until everything is well combined.

Pour the sauce over the spaghetti squash noodles, mix thoroughly, and enjoy.

I tried a few variations on this: adding quick-roasted chicken tenders, adding extra sundried tomatoes, making chicken meatballs and adding those to the mix. The possibilities are endless. Let me know if you think of more. :)

Go on! Have a peace! Enjoy!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Fabulous Fall Farrago

A farrago is a 'confused mixture' or hodgepodge - isn't that a fabulous word? And equally fabulous is this particular farrago, which is a hodgepodge of different delectable and healthy tidbits, all piled together into a slow cooker for an easy, tummy-pleasing meal with delectable fall flavors. And, like all wonderful soups, this one smells so good that people will look up from what they're doing just to ask you what you're eating.

Fabulous Fall Farrago
(serves 6)

1 lb ground turkey meat
1 tbsp whole wheat flour
1 large zucchini, diced
1/2 eggplant, cubed
8 oz baby carrots, shredded
1 red onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 bottle pumpkin ale (I used Buffalo Bill's brand)
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/8 tsp white pepper
1 can unseasoned diced tomatoes, with juice

Are you ready for how easy this is going to be? Add all ingredients to crock pot, turkey last. Stir to make sure everything is well combined. Set on low and let cook for ~9.5 hours. Serve warm. Enjoy.

Your kitchen is going to smell amazing and your taste buds will thank you.

Go on! Have a peace!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Delicious Omelet Muffins - Fail-proof Breakfast for the Week!

These muffins are an awesome way to make breakfast for the whole of a busy week. They also make a fabulous lunch addition or a snack. I've had quite a few people ask me for the recipe to these, so I refined them again and have revealed here the simplest version. You may replace the ground turkey with any sort of ground meat, or you could take portobello mushrooms and grind those up. You could replace the bell peppers with another veggie - spinach would be delicious.

Delicious Omelet Muffins
(makes 6)

6 eggs
1/2 cup ground turkey, browned
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 spoonfuls veganaise, or mayo if you prefer
1/8 cup water
3 turns sea salt
3 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Brown ground turkey in a skillet. Whisk eggs in a bowl with a fork; add turkey, bell peppers, veganaise, water, salt, and pepper. Combine well. Spray a muffin tin with olive oil. Pour egg mix into the muffin tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ultimate Green Splendor Soup

I've been experimenting with soups to bring with me to rehearsal at night, but this one was just so much fun to make that I'll probably just start making it at home to munch on. This is a completely guilt-free, extra tasty chilled soup to cool your palate in the hot weather and soothe your throat through flu season. It's sweet, tangy, and full of delicious nutrients.

Did you know that spinach is a super concentrated source of iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamins K, C, E, and many of the Bs including folate? Folate, for those of you who don't know, is a water soluble B vitamin that helps produce and maintain new cells (you need it to make DNA and RNA) and one of the cool things about that is that eating more of it can help prevent changes to DNA that lead to cancer! How awesome is that? Asparagus is also very handy, full of potassium, fiber, folacin, thiamin, B6, and rutin. There has been evidence that rutin strengthens blood vessels and can help improve circulation. And apples keep the doctor away; everyone says so.

Ultimate Green Splendor Soup
(serves ~8)

1/2 lb asparagus, wooden ends broken off, cut into 2 inch sections
1/4 lb baby spinach, chopped
5 green onions, white parts removes, diced
1 avocado
juice of half lemon
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup water
sea salt
fresh ground black pepper
2 gala apples, chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk, unsweetened and unflavored

Puree asparagus with 3/4 cup water until smooth. Add the green onions and spinach. If you have a small food processor like me, just keep removing the blended veggies to a sealable bowl. After the green onions and spinach, add mint and lemon juice and blend again. Next add the avocado. Blend again. Chop up the two apples to small bits and blend those with the veggies. Add the coconut milk. Blend again. Make sure that all your delicious bits are well combined. Salt and pepper to taste (I used a couple turns of sea salt and about 3 tsp of fresh ground black pepper). Serve chilled. Enjoy!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Popeye Bento!

Nutritious and delicious, the Popeye Bento consists of high iron and protein dishes in moderate portions to give me the energy to be strong and resilient and energetic through a weekend of rehearsals. Here's what's in it: Blackened Sea-caught Tilapia, Spinach and Tomato Salad, and Spinach and Lentil Soup. (Did you see where I got the Popeye name from?)

Blackened Sea-caught Tilapia
(2 servings)

Two filets of sea-caught tilapia (if you can only find farm-raised, substitute this with cod)
juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lime
~2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp white pepper
1 tsp black pepper
3 tsp sea salt

Combine the spices and juices in a flat bottom dish. Coat each filet on both sides with the spice/juice combination and set aside for about twenty minutes to let the fish absorb the flavors. Warm about 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and pan fry the filets; it should take about 3 minutes on each side, but the main thing is to keep an eye out for the blackening and test the fish with a fork when you think it's done. If the filet flakes, you're good to go. (The neat thing about this - I got this idea from my dad's apple pie recipe actually - is that the white pepper gives you a heat sensation without tasting "spicy", so even if you eat this fish cold - I did - it's still "warm" and delicious.)

Spinach and Tomato Salad
(8 servings)

10 plum tomatoes, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Combine elements in a bowl and toss. I only used the pepper, but it's a matter of preference at that point. Yum!

Lentil and Spinach Soup
(8 servings)

4 cups low sodium organic chicken stock (if you're veg, use vegetable stock)
3 heaping handfuls baby spinach, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
1.75 cups dried lentils, rinsed
1 tsp thyme
~3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
fresh ground black pepper
5-6 pinches Erbe Salle (This is a wonderful herb ground sea salt I adore. If you can't find this, use regular sea salt, about 5 turns of the grinder.)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, sauté the chopped onion in a little olive oil until translucent. Add garlic, thyme, and 2 pinches of your salt of choice and sauté ~1 minute.
Stir in lentils. Make sure you really mix up the lentils with the onions and garlic. It should be smelling simply wonderful at this point.
Add the stock, tomato paste, and 1 cup of water. Raise heat to high, bringing the pot to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover partially, and allow to simmer 20-30 minutes. Add your spinach, simmer until wilted, about 2 minutes.  Serve hot or cold.
For the bento, I have an awesome little soup-storage container that retains the heat in the soup for about 3 hours. That said, I ate some of this cold the next day and it was still delicious, so go for it. Enjoy!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dehydrated Decadence (or My Love Affair with my Dehydrator)

I may have mentioned before - I adore my dehydrator. This contraption (Nesco 500 W Dehydrator Kit, which only cost about sixty dollars from Amazon and is one of the highest rated of these machines on the market) is positively wonderful. Banana, zucchini, and apple chips, sweet potato crisps, homemade raisins, all in addition to dried peas, green beans, cantaloupes, pears... basically anything you can think of from the produce section of your grocery store is suddenly and majestically transformed just by virtue of having its water removed. The best part, which I was quite pleased my parents have finally discovered, is that by using your own dehydrator, you discover the concentrated flavors of these fruits and vegetables without their various textures perplexing your tongue. And they make fantastic baking additions as well as healthy, nutritious, and satisfyingly crunchy/chewy snacks.

After a few weeks of haphazardly collecting whatever has looked tasty at the market and drying it, filling mason jar upon mason jar with a variety of delectable dried treats, I decided to play. Like I do.

Now, if you don't have a dehydrator, you can purchase these fruits already dried from a store and I'm pretty sure this recipe will still serve as a yummy, healthy treat - you might simply be missing some of the extra flavor layers that drying your own fruit avails you of.

They look a teensy bit like meatballs...
which also gave me a great idea for an April Fool's meal of these on top of a bed of melon "noodles". 
Take That, Larabar!
(makes 15-20)

4 heaping spoonfuls of unsalted almond butter
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup homemade raisins (if purchasing, go for jumbo golden)
6 slices dried pear
1 cup dried tart cherries

Preheat your oven to 350 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Combine almond butter and cherries in food processor and puree until blended smooth. Add cranberries and raisins, puree again. Add pears last and make sure they're well combined.
Spoon ~1/2 tbsp sized dollops of the blended dried fruits and roll in your hands into little balls. (The next time I made these, I will probably make the balls smaller. Go for a size you'd prefer for just popping in your mouth - bite-sized, you know.)
Place the little delectable bundles onto the cookie sheet; they can be close together so long as they don't touch. They won't expand.
Bake for ~8 minutes. Remove.
Now... I ate two of these warm from the oven and they were... amazing. But I also put a few in the refrigerator and packed them in my bento box for later, and they were equally tasty cold and room temperature - although I did notice that different flavors came through at different temperatures.

I recommend these whole-heartily. Really. Have a peace. Share them with your friends. They are, frankly, wonderful.


Take That, Larabar! Continued!
(makes 15)

3 heaping spoonfuls unsalted peanut butter
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup jumbo raisins
1 handful sliced almonds

Same as before. Preheat to 350 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Puree the peanut butter and dried fruit in a food processor. Spoon 1/2 tsp sized dollops out, roll them in your hands, lay them out evenly on the cookie sheet. If you bake these for 15 minutes instead of 8, they brown and look just like cookies. Have fun tricking your friends. :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lazy Girl's Bento

Another pair of weekday rehearsals; another pair of easily packed, carried, and munched meals on-the-go for rehearsal meal-break. This week, I flexed my 'what do I have laying around in my fridge/freezer' muscles and came up with this nourishing and tasty combination treat that takes about 20 minutes total to put together. I'm a little embarrassed by how simple this was, but - hey - maybe it'll give you time to work on that pie recipe I gave you. You know who you are.

Lazy Girl's Bento: Roasted Portobello Mushrooms and Baked Gardein Seven-Grain Crispy Tenders, Steamed Fava Beans, and a snack of dehydrated bananas, homemade raisins, dried goji berries, and raw almonds.

I was avoiding putting a picture in for this one, because it's simply not as pretty
as my other bento boxes have been, but it is quite tasty and very effective.

The dried goji berries and raw almonds were purchased at Sprouts Farmers' Market. The bananas and homemade raisins were dried in my favorite kitchen gadget of the year - my Nesco 500 Watt dehydrator. I use this thing continuously; it's wonderful! But I won't go on about it here. Not yet anyway. Here are the extra-simple directions to the remainder of the bento. Enjoy!

Roasted Portobello Mushrooms
(~ 2 servings)

2 portobello mushrooms, sliced into ~1/2 inch slices
olive oil

Are you ready for how supremely easy this is?
Pre-heat your oven to 420 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with aluminum foil, place a drying rack on top of the foil. Lay out the portobello slices. Brush with olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes. And you're done.

I baked my Gardein Crispy Tenders on the same sheet, removed the mushrooms when they were done, and put the tenders back in for another 10 minutes to get crispy.

Steamed Fava Beans
(~4 servings)

3 lbs fava beans (in the pods)

Remove the pods from the fava beans. I put the beans in my incredibly handy Progressive Microwave Fish and Vegetable Steamer (seriously, this costs $6 and speeds up so very many dishes that it's silly) and steamed them until they were tender. It took about ten minutes for me. Just poke at them (careful of that hot steam) until the beans give a bit beneath a push. When this is done, rinse them under cool water, and peel the outer layer off before eating. I'm fairly anti-salt, so... I'd say if you don't have a tongue that is amenable to the simplicity of how things taste naturally, you can pour the steamed beans in a bowl and toss them in some sea salt and olive oil. That'd be tasty.

Answering your questions:

What are Gardein Seven-Grain Crispy Tenders? Gardein is a soy-based meat substitute brand. I'm quite fond of them. Another great meatless brand is Quorn. I highly recommend both. This particular product of Gardein's is one of my favorites, taste-wise. You can click here to learn more.

What could one substitute for goji berries? Goji berries are filled with antioxidants, which help to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol. These berries are also rich in vitamin A and some research has suggested that goji berry extracts may boost brain health and protect against age-related diseases.
 As far as replacements go, the closest I can find as far as health benefits would be something like acai berries, cranberries, or dark cherries. Personally, I like the taste of the goji berries much more.

What can one substitute for fava beans/what do they look like?
Fava beans out of the pod, and steamed.
Fava beans in the pod.
I get my fava beans at the local farmer's market, but you can purchase them at markets like Whole Foods, Sprouts, and many other what I like to call 'off the beaten track grocery store substitutes'. You can also find ready-to-eat fava beans that have already been steamed and shelled from many of these markets. The brand I just found in a quick online search is called Melissa's. What I love about these beans is that they are filling and have a very specific, creamy texture that is both surprising and pleasant.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Scratch Apple Pie

As promised, here is my dad's wonderful apple pie recipe - the how-to guide to a from-scratch pie that is delectable to the last crumb. This is not an easy or a quick recipe, like most of mine. But it is something that everyone can do with the right amount of patience and the end result is entirely worth the time you put into it. A message from my father: "This recipe as all about exceptionally flaky flavorful crust that explodes in your mouth with each bite, and toasted brûlée-like apple filling throughout with a firm, filling texture. You will probably never get this in a restaurant, as it is a little more involved than commercially practical. It does not always look pretty since the dough breaks easily. This is something special you can only get at home."

Scratch Apple Pie
(serves 7-10, depending on slice size)

apples (6-8 large or 14-16 small - should reduce to ~8 cups after baking): Fuji, Granny Smith, Gala, and/or Braeburn - Granny for tartness, Braeburn for sweetness, Gala and Fuji for sugar (most of the 'apple flavor' comes from the Braeburn and Gala)
fruit fresh
white pepper
ground cinnamon
vanilla extract
whole nutmeg
zest of one lime
zest of one orange or tangelo
unsalted butter (frozen) [butter-flavor all-vegetable Crisco shortening can be used instead of butter for vegans and other non-dairy folk, in the same proportions]
superfine sugar
applejack (chilled in freezer)
brown sugar Splenda mix
pie crust mix (this is the cheatin' way. ask if you'd like the actual how-to on crust making)

Tools you'll need:
wax paper
aluminum foil
rolling pin
pie rim, optional (this is a circle of metal to protect the rim of your pie crust and keep it from burning while baking)
medium sized grater for shredding frozen butter
small-points grater for zesting and grating nutmeg
ceramic pie pan (12")

How to do it:
Preset oven to 440 F.
Cover a baking sheet with foil.
Spread out wax paper on the counter. Sprinkle a light powdering of fruit fresh on the wax paper. Core and peel the apples, slice into 8-10 slices per apple. Lay out the apple slices on the fruit fresh sprinkled wax paper. Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon, superfine sugar, and a little more fruit fresh.
Spread shortening on aluminum-covered pan.
Transfer the slices and seasoned apples to the baking pan, laying them out so they all face the same direction and snugly cover the whole tray. Bake apples until browned.
Meanwhile, make the pie crust mix to direction, grate 1 stick of frozen butter, and replace the water with applejack (slowly add this into the mix until you get the right texture, it should be ~1/4 cup). Remember - butter before applejack; this is part of what makes this crust super flakey and delicious.
Knead that together, adding whole wheat pastry flour until you get a nice solid ball. Place the ball in the fridge for about 20 minutes.
In another bowl, 1/4 cup applejack, 1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar, zest of lime, zest of orange or tangelo (makes the pie taste fruity, not citrusy), 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg (a little bit of shell and a little bit of the inside), 3 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp arrowroot, and 1/4 tsp white pepper; this makes your slurry for the apple filling. When the apples slices have baked and browned, let them cool for a little while and then add them to the slurry. You want to coat the slices thoroughly and the best way to do this is by hand. It's messy, but it's fun. Cover with a bit of plastic wrap and let the apples soak up the slurry flavors for a bit.
Take the pie crust out of the fridge. Coat a large piece of wax paper with flour. Place 2/3s of the pie crust roll on top of it, sprinkle a little more flour on top, place another sheet of wax paper on top of that and roll out the crust. Now this part, you may have to redo a couple times. The trick is to make the pie crust all the same thickness - not too thin, not too thick. Crust flakiness is enhanced by a) alcohol, b) grated and folded in frozen butter, c) pre-baking the bottom crust part-way, and d) shortening between the folds. Quickly roll out and fold the dough 4 times, smearing just a trace of room temperature shortening between the layers of each fold before rolling again.
Place your pie pan over top the rolled out dough and flip the whole deal. The pie crust should fall to the pie pan. This is going to be a very flakey crust, so it's likely your crust will fall apart as you make the transfer. This is okay. You'll want to patch it together, Frankenstein-style, so there are no gaps and the crust covers the lip of the pie pan.
When the crust is suitably saddled in the pie tin, take your thumbs and press them around the edge to get that nice crimped-edge look. Bake the crust in the oven for about 20 minutes and remove to cool.
Next you layer in the slurry-soaked baked apples, by hand, forming a densely packed coil from the bottom up. Your goal is to make sure there is as little air as possible between the apples in the pie and that they fill the crust all the way up.
Now, take the remaining 1/3 of pie crust dough you set aside, roll it out, and cut it into slices about two thumbs' width wide. Criss-cross these slices of dough over the top of the apples, leaving gaps, and pressing the ends of the slices into the pre-baked crust.
Protect the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil or a pie rim to protect the crust during baking so you can bake the pie to dark-golden brown without burning the edges.

Bake again, for about 40 minutes and hang out during this, checking in on the progress every once in a while and enjoying the amazing smells that are going to emerge from your oven. When it's finished, remove from the oven and let cool for about 20 minutes or longer.

Go on. Have a peace. Tell me this isn't incredible. Enjoy!

1. Dark rum can be used as a substitute for the applejack - it's also tasty, but changes the flavor. The goal of using applejack is to add flavor to the crust and get a much more flakey texture than would have been obtained by using water. You avoid the polymer-like gluten goo with the applejack's 40% ethanol and water proportions instead of 100% water. The alcohol is all gone after baking. Using alcohol instead of water makes the dough more difficult to work with, but enhances the flakiness of the crust in an unbelievably tasty way... and the crust retains this airy texture for up to 2-3 days after baking (assuming it survives that long).
2. Put the dough in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes to get it cold again after handling. It is best to start with all major dough components having been in the refrigerator long enough to get cold (flour, applejack, sugar). The dough needs to cool after picking up warmth from your hands and the room before rolling. *Even freezing the rolling pin ahead can make rolling this unique, extra-flakey dough go more smoothly.

*All butter-flavor shortening instead of butter
*Add sharp grated cheese in the filling (extra sharp cheddar or parmesan)
*Glaze by brushing the top crust with a fine grain sugar, beaten egg, and milk mix (1/3 - 1/3 - 1/3)
*Use a full-cover top crust with a pie bird to let steam escape

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Back to Bento Basics

Now that I'm in regular 6 hour rehearsals again, I've gotten back into making easy-pack bento meals to cut down on 'dining out' spending. Plus, it's just fun to get back in the swing of packing lunches/dinners.

I started easy, with old favorites. This week's bento: baked tilapia with balsamic/honey glaze, broccoli and raisin salad, egg white tamagoyaki, and fresh blueberries. Here's how!

Baked Tilapia with Balsamic-Honey Glaze
(makes 1 serving - I do this one fresh each night before packing it)

1 filet tilapia
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp honey

Preheat your oven to 400 F. 
Place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet. 
Place a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the cooling rack. 
Place the filet on the aluminum foil.  Drizzle honey and balsamic vinegar over top. 
Fold the aluminum foil up, so that there is no room for dripping out the sides, but there is still space for air to escape out the top - think 'loose burrito'.
Bake for ~20 minutes. When you start smelling wonderful things, test the fish with a fork. If the meat flakes, you're good to go. 
Didn't I tell you it was easy?

Broccoli and Raisin Salad
(makes 6 servings)

2 small heads broccoli
1/4 white onion, diced
1/4 raisins (more to taste)
3 tbsp sunflower seeds, raw and unsalted
1/4 cup Vegannaise
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp honey dijon mustard

Wash and chop your broccoli into thumb-sized florets and steam them until tender. When they're done, pour them into a colander and rinse them under cold water to stop the cooking process.
Mix vegannaise, vinegar, mustard, and agave in the bottom of a medium sized bowl. Add the steamed broccoli, raisins, and sunflower seeds. Toss to coat. 
Still super simple, isn't it?

Egg White Tamagoyaki
(makes 2 servings)

3/4 cup egg whites
1 tsp agave nectar
1 tsp mirin
1/2 tsp soy sauce
olive oil

Preheat a small, oiled skillet over medium low heat. 
Prepare a small bowl with some olive oil (~1 tbsp) and a heat-safe brush.
Mix your ingredients in another bowl. 
When the skillet is warm, pour three tbsp of the egg mix into the skillet. Let it cook most of the way. Then, using a fork (or two, depending on your dexterity), roll the egg on itself until it's like a scroll on one side of the pan. Re-oil the remaining part of the skillet and pour in another 3 tbsp of the egg mixture. Make sure that some of the newly added egg seeps under your egg scroll. When this new egg sheet is mostly cooked, roll the egg scroll back across, incorporating the new sheet. Continue this process, back and forth across the pan, until all the egg mixture is gone. 
Remove the rolled omelet to a paper towel and lightly pat off excess moisture. If you have a bamboo sushi mat, you can use this opportunity to square your tamagoyaki into having more defined edges. Otherwise, simply place the omelet log on a small cooling rack and let it rest in your fridge for ~ 20 minutes. Remove from the fridge, cut into finger width 'slices', and enjoy. 

The whole process takes about 15 minutes and is actually pretty fun. 

Go on! Have a peace!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Haiku for September

Blinded by sunlight
I miss the comfort
of thunderclouds.

-Paul Mena (1959-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shameless Self-Promotion: Critical Mass Performance Group

So, for a little taste of my life outside of the kitchen... I'm a member of a tremendously talented ensemble theatre group called Critical Mass Performance Group.

Critical Mass Performance Group is an ensemble committed to long-term collaborative development of new works, who believe in the transformative power of theatre that is about thought and energy and the human mark in time and space. We seek to extend the boundaries of traditional theatre forms with a rigorous process that focuses on a visceral and poetic meeting of text, idea, image, music and physical expression. Through the provocative enactment of stories, we aim to explore the big questions of human existence which reverberate socially, politically, and spiritually for us.

In our current project, we’re doing what we do best: picking up the shiny rock and examining what lurks underneath. In this work, we explore the connections and collisions of the original American ideals with Poland’s own centuries-long struggle for independence, revealing the complex relationship that has existed between our two countries since America’s founding—a relationship that continues to confound and amaze.

If you're interested in following us in our process, we post updates and photos regularly on Facebook. I also share a mass of little educational tidbits and quotes from our research on Twitter @criticalmasspg - these quotes won't just educate you, they'll make you sound really smart when you're talking to your friends and quoting from the TOP SECRET National Security Directives of 1982.

Hope to see your smiling faces there. After all,  you might as well feed your brain when you're feeding your tummy! Go on, have a peace!

Know What You Eat

The latest findings from the Environmental Working Group's study released in June list the twelve most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables and the fifteen least affected by pesticide residues.

Most Contaminated Conventionally Grown Fruits and Veggies:
1. Apples
2. Celery
3. Strawberries
4. Peaches
5. Spinach
6. Nectarines (imported)
7. Grapes (imported)
8. Sweet bell peppers
9. Potatoes
10. Blueberries (domestic)
11. Lettuce
12. Kale/collard greens

Least Contaminated Conventionally Grown Fruits and Veggies:
1. Onions
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Avocado
5. Asparagus
6. Sweet peas
7. Mangoes
8. Eggplant
9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
10. Kiwifruit
11. Cabbage
12. Watermelon
13. Sweet potatoes
14. Grapefruit
15. Mushrooms

It is recommended by health professionals (and me) that you wash all veggies and fruits before you eat them or cook them. For the 'more contaminated' list, just make sure you wash much more thoroughly, preferably with a fruit/veggie 'cleanser', or buy organic. Actually, wash more thoroughly, even if you do buy organic. A lack of pesticides on those supposedly 'safe' organic fruits and vegetables can mean a host of other problems.

Don't be a afraid of your food. Just take the same amount of care with it as anything else. It's the fuel for your body. The safer you are on the inside, the safer you'll be on the outside. :) Go on. Have a peace.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Hearty Bison Stew

One of my favorite dishes I have ever had is one I experienced in North Pole, Alaska after meeting a man who's legal name is Kris Kringle. For a while, I thought that my morbid sense of humor had flavored the taste of the delectable reindeer stew house he directed us to, but having substituted the reindeer for bison, I can now unequivocally say that the stew is just delicious.

Hearty Bison Stew
(serves 6)

3lbs bison steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium white onion, chopped
6 shitake mushrooms
4 cloves garlic (more to taste)
3 fresh meaty tomatoes, chopped
1 16 oz bag peeled baby carrots
3 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 head cabbage, chopped to bite size pieces
olive oil
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Season your cubed bison meat to taste with sea salt and pepper, then - using a deep skillet - brown the meat in a little olive oil over medium heat. Remove the browned meat from the pan and place directly into your crock pot.

Add your chopped onions and mushrooms to the meat drippings and oil in the skillet and cook until they are softened - takes about 5-10 minutes.

Pour the contents of the skillet into the crock pot with the meat. Then add carrots, tomatoes, chicken stock, and garlic. Season again to taste (personally I don't like much salt in my food, but for those who do, sparingly add enough until you're satisfied with the flavor of the broth).

Set your crock pot to 'slow cook' or 'low' for 6 hours. When you come back, add the cabbage and then cook it at the same temperature for another 1.5-2 hours.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Haiku for August

Green frog,
is your body also
freshly painted?

-Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1892-1927)

Moroccan Bison Tagine

If you haven't had Moroccan food, you've just got to try it. They do an amazing job of bringing sweet and spicy to mingle on the tongue. Pair this dish with hot mint tea for a more authentic experience. For all my world travel, I first discovered Moroccan cuisine at - wait for it - Epcot in Orlando. There, I had a dish called Chicken Bastilla, which forever gave me a hankering for sweet and spicy dessert flavored main dishes. Since then, I've made Chicken Bastilla twice - it's a complicated process. This tagine, however, only takes about an hour - and most of that is just letting it cook on its own without being bothered.

Now, a tagine (or tajine or tajin), for those who are curious, is named so for the special earthenware pot that this North African dish is typically cooked in. I do not have such a dish, so I used a large pot. However, the tajine pot is made entirely of clay and consists of two parts - a base unit that is flat  and circular with low sides and a large cone shaped cover that rests inside the base while the dish is cooking. The cover is designed that way to promote the return of all the steam condensation back into the bottom.

Moroccan Bison Tagine
(makes 4 servings)

3 lbs bison steak, cut into bite size cubes
4 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced
1/2 tsp Spanish saffron threads
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups dates, pitted
low sodium chicken stock
3/4 unsweetened coconut milk
~ 1/2 tbsp sea salt and fresh ground pepper, (more or less to taste)

Heat a large pot over medium heat and brown the bison meat in 3 tbsp of olive oil. When the meat is ready, use a slotted spoon to remove it to a plate for a little bit. Now, add the onions to the juices that have seeped out of the meat and cook for about 5 - 10 minutes. Until they're softened and a little brown. Now, add the bison back to the pot. Add the saffron, cinnamon stick, and ginger (the ginger is what makes this dish 'spicy', so if you like more of a kick, add some more here). Stir. Add the salt and pepper. Stir. Next, pour in your chicken stock until the contents of the pot are covered, stir the contents of the bowl so everything is all mixed up together, and let the mix simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of coconut milk to thicken the broth and then let simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the ground cinnamon, test the broth and adjust the seasoning to your taste. You may need more salt or ginger to balance the cinnamon. Continue to simmer, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes. Add the dates and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot.


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

I love Indian food and one of my favorite dishes is chicken tikka masala. There are so many delicious flavors and the texture of the curry is wonderful on the tongue. All that said, eating out is expensive and doesn't let you fill those early morning curry cravings, so I decided to figure out an easy way to get the tikka masala experience in my own kitchen. Here's what I came up with.

Chicken Tikka Masala 
(serves 4)

~1.5 lbs chicken tenders, diced into bite size pieces (~2 inches)
6oz can of organic tomato paste
16oz coconut milk
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp garlic, diced
1 white onion, diced
powdered ginger, to taste
turmeric, to taste
sea salt, to taste
handful sliced almonds

Heat coconut oil in a pot (one with a lid) on low heat. Add the diced onion to the pot and caramelize it until it's browned. Add garlic and stir to mix with the onions. Sprinkle turmeric and ginger over the contents of the pot to taste. I added enough to coat the onions and garlic with each (~1/2 tbsp). Add one turn of ground sea salt. Pour in the coconut milk and tomato paste and stir until the sauce is yummy orange color. Turn the heat up to high and add the chicken, making sure that all the meat is completely submerged in the sauce. Cover the pot and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
You can serve this over rice, but I used leftover spaghetti squash and it was delicious! For the spaghetti squash option, you'll want to halve the spaghetti squashes, put them face down on aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, and bake at 350 F for 25 minutes, pulling at the spaghetti squash with a fork.
Go on, have a peace! Enjoy!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gluten & Guilt Free Spaghetti

I love spaghetti. It's been one of my favorite comfort foods since I was a kid, as I'm sure it has been for many of you. It's just plain good. Nothing fancy. Just noodles and sauce and slurping delectability. But pasta - even when you get that nifty whole-wheat spaghetti you can find now - is still pasta. Maybe you have friends who are gluten free, or you are, or you're going off grains for a while - which is good to do every once in a while anyway. Whatever the reason you want to scoot out of the pasta aisle, you shouldn't have to give up the things that you love. So... here ya go. A little down home comfort for your soul and your belly; a healthy dose of culinary affection for those around you.

Gluten/Guilt Free Spaghetti 
(serves many - at least 4)

2 large spaghetti squash
12 oz baby carrots, chopped
1 medium white onion, chopped
4 sticks celery, chopped
1 head broccoli, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
6 white mushrooms, chopped
2 cans whole tomatoes, meaty
2 tbsp tomato paste
6 cloves garlic (you can use less, I just like my sauce extra garlicky)
2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
daiya shredded white cheese (vegan mozzarella substitute), optional for topping

First, you want to preset your oven to 350 F and get out a couple cookie sheets, covering those in aluminum foil.

On your stove, in a large pot, pour 2 tbsp olive oil and set the stove to medium heat.

Next, in your food processor, chop your carrots, onion, celery, and broccoli. They don't need to be super fine, but you'll want them to look like delicious vegetable mostly-mush. Add this mush to the pot and stir to keep from burning. About 8 minutes, give or take.

Back to your food processor, add the zucchini, mushrooms, oregano, and garlic. This is going to be the 'meaty' portion of your sauce; the zucchini and the mushrooms give it a really nice texture. Add this processed mixture to the pot along with the two cans of tomatoes and the tomato puree. Bring the contents to a boil, then pop a lid on the pot and set the stove to low to let the contents simmer for about 45 minutes.

Take your spaghetti squash and cut the ends off, then slice them in half. You have to remove the seeds, much like you would a pumpkin - so if you have one of those friends who loves getting their hands smeared in squash innards, now's the time to invite them over for dinner. When the seeds are removed, brush a light layer of olive oil over the exposed squash and set them face-down on the cookie sheets, putting them into the oven for 30-40 minutes.

When the squash is done, take it out and - being careful not to burn yourself on those piping hot spaghetti squashes - take a fork and drag it along the inside of the halves. The 'spaghetti' should peel up with barely any pressure. Make sure to flake the sides of the squash, to really separate the 'noodles', and keep scraping even after you think you've gotten it. Sometimes whole portions hide up against the skin.

Fill a few bowls with the warm 'spaghetti', pour a generous portion of your fresh sauce over top, and enjoy. Go on. Have a peace. :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Haiku for July

ashi moto e itsu kitarishi yo katatsuburi

at my feet
when did you get here?

- Kobayashi Issa (1762-1826)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pesto Chicken and Sun-dried Tomato Wrap with Roasted Fennel Rings

This is an oven-free recipe. It's a super easy, very tasty little picnic munchable for the upcoming summer months. Take it to the park or an outdoor concert and enjoy feeling full but not stuffed. :) I paired it with a 2007 Rosato di Sangiovese from one of my favorite Napa Valley vineyards - Gargiulo Vineyards.  And brought a side of roasted fennel, which I'll also tell you how to make.

Pesto Chicken and Sun-dried Tomato Wrap
(makes 4)

2 chicken breasts, grilled and chopped into bite size pieces
Lavash bread (or pita bread as you prefer)
Sun-dried tomatoes
1 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup raw cashews (ground to tiny bits)
~ 4 tbsp Simple home-made pesto sauce (see below for directions)

When I'm grilling, I use my George Foreman grill, which really keeps the cooked meat lean, but this will work on any grill. Brush a light layer of olive oil onto the chicken breasts and sprinkle a little salt and pepper to taste on the chicken before putting it on the grill. You'll want to cook it until it's cooked through and not much more. The more tender it is the better, just make sure it really is cooked through.

When it's done, dice it up into bite sized pieces and put it in a large bowl with a few handfuls of arugula, about 4 tbsp of sun-dried tomatoes (more if you like - I like to start with this and then bring more sun-dried tomatoes in tupperware for later), some ground cashews (for a little crunch), and about a tablespoon of lemon juice.

Next you want to add your pesto sauce slowly to the bowl. You want just enough to coat the contents of the bowl, not drown them, approximately 1 tbsp for each serving. Mix it up well, making sure that everything in the bowl is nice and pesto'd up, then layer a few spoonfuls out onto each piece of lavash and roll them up, folding the ends, before wrapping in aluminum foil. Easy peasy. Go on. Have a peace. :)

Simple home-made pesto sauce
3.5 packed cups fresh basil leaves
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup ground pecorino cheese
1/4 cup ground raw cashew

Combine basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, salt, cashews in a blender and blend until smooth. When the mixture is completely smooth, add the pecorino and pulse the blender until it has been incorporated into the mix.

Roasted Fennel Rings
(makes 2 servings)

2 fennel bulbs
extra virgin olive oil

Preset your oven to 400 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and then set a cookie cooling rack on top of that - preferably one with small squares instead of bars, but bars will do.

Take two fennel bulbs and cut much the same way you would make onion rings (cut off the ends, and then make regular slices). You'll want to peel apart each layer and set them on the cooling rack on top of the cookie sheet so that the individual semi-rings will not fall through. Brush olive oil lightly on both sides of each piece of fennel. Roast for about 20 minutes.

These roasted fennel rings have a sweet, not overly licorice-y flavor, and make a great light side dish or, even, a fun alternative to dessert.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Irish Fruit Brack

Irish Fruit Brack
(serves 4-8)

2 lb mixed dried fruit (I use dried Bartlett pears, blueberries, dark cherries, and golden raisins)
6 oz brown sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup hot strong tea (I use English breakfast, but any black tea will do)
4 tbsp Irish whiskey
4 eggs worth of egg whites
3 large spoonfuls whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Place fruit, sugar, lemon juice and zest, tea, and whiskey in a large mixing bowl and let it soak for about four hours.
Preheat oven to 300 F.
Spray an 8x8 cake pan with butter Pam or brush it with melted margarine.
Pour eggs and vanilla extract over the soaked fruit and mix thoroughly.
Sift flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and cinnamon together. Add to fruit mixture until dry ingredients and mixed in and moistened.
Pour bowl's contents into greased cake pan and bake for two hours.

Serve and enjoy. :)

Steak and Guinness Casserole

Many traditional Irish foods are laden with potatoes and butter and other delicious, high calorie-high carb foods. In this case, I tried a "healthier" spin on the traditional for St. Patrick's Day.

Steak and Guinness Casserole
(serves 6-8)

2 lbs steak (1 lb lean angus steak and 1 lb non-lean), cubed
2 tbsp whole wheat flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp brown sugar
2 large red onions, chopped into tiny pieces
1 bag sliced white mushrooms, chopped into tiny pieces
2 11.2 oz bottles Guinness draught
2 cups beef broth
2 large carrots, chopped into tiny pieces
2 baby green cabbages (halved, outer leaves removed, then the inside chopped up)
3 cloves garlic
thyme, a few pinches
olive oil

Mix flour, salt, and pepper in a small bowl.
Prepare a large pan with a couple teaspoons of olive oil.
Coat 1 inch cubes of steak in seasoned flour and brown them in the pan over medium heat. When meat is browned, remove steak to an extra large pot.
Lightly brown onions, garlic, and mushrooms in the meat juice (add a little extra oil if needed), then add to the beef in the pot.
Into the pot, add chopped cabbage, carrots, thyme, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt.
Pour Guinness and beef stock into the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Spoon meat and vegetables out of the pot with a slotted spoon into a large casserole dish.
Reduce the remaining liquid to a gravy by simmering for 30 minutes over high heat.
Layer the large outer cabbage leaves over the top of the meat and vegetables, sprinkle a little brown sugar over the tops of the leaves.
Set the oven to 300 F.
Once the gravy is reduced, pour the thickened liquid over the top and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Serve hot in a bowl. Go on. Have a peace. It's good for you. :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Garlic Ginger Dressing

Everyone is always telling us to eat more veggies, but a lot of people don't like the taste of some of the things that are best for them. Here's one of my favorite homemade dressings and a few recommendations for how to use it.

Garlic Ginger Dressing
2 tbsp minced ginger
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp agave nectar
1/4 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup water

Mix all in an empty pickle jar, close the lid, shake, and store in the refrigerator. Shake well before serving each time.

The salad I usually make with this dressing contains 4 stalks asparagus (grilled and then chilled), thinly sliced carrots (about 2 handfuls), romaine lettuce, mixed greens, and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Sometimes, I add bean sprouts (if they're fresh) or the "tree top" parts of broccoli. Pour about 1/2 tbsp of the dressing over top in a lidded, plastic carrier and shake to combine well with all elements of the salad. Pour out into a nice shallow bowl (or whatever you choose to serve in). Sprinkle sesame seeds on top for a garnish.

Go on, have a peace. Have a mouthful. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Party Poppers

For those of you who do not know my friend Lira - the talented and wondrous Lira Kellerman (see website) - she is getting engaged. Normally, when someone I adore finds someone they adore, I am very happy for them. In this case, the someone I adore found someone she adores who also happens to be one of my dearest friends. The very happy has officially been squared. So, of course, when I was asked to provide a snack for their engagement party, I answered an unequivocal yes. I would have said yes if she'd asked me to roast a rack of lamb and grow mint leaves for the jelly, but - luckily for me - she had something smaller and sweeter in mind.

The party poppers are so easy to make - so versatile and so delicious - that they are perfect for any occasion. They are sweet and salty, so in a room full of crackers and cakes, they straddle the line of desserts and savories. Awesome, right?

Here's a simple recipe that you should guard and keep as a secret for yourself. :) Everyone deserves a tasty secret.

Party Poppers
(serves a room full of people)

1 bag salted pretzels (the normal pretzel shape)
2 small bags of Rolos
(Note: you can replace the Rolos with basically any chocolate candy - KitKat bars are good. So are Reeses. Also: candied ginger, caramel drops, and dried cherries.)

There are a couple of options on how to pull this off, but I am sharing the easiest possible method. If you want the more complex versions, I am willing to share them. Privately. *winkwink* Secrets, secrets...

Preheat your oven to 400 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay out pretzels to cover the entire space of the parchment paper. Unwrap and halve your Rolos. Place 1 half Rolo on each pretzel until all the pretzels have a partner. Bake for 2 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet carefully - use oven gloves if you have them - and let cool on the counter for 2 minutes. Then carefully transfer the parchment paper covered in melty pretzels into your refrigerator. Let cool for ~20 minutes. In the meantime, you can re-parchment the cookie sheet and start in on your next batch until all the pretzels are chocolate covered and cooling in parchment paper layers in your fridge. Serve cold or room temperature and enjoy. :)

Warning: On this blog, I try to make things that are guilt-free. And these are. In small quantities. The trouble is that they're mildly addictive and you can't make just a few. You have to make a massive batch. So. Serve them at parties, freeze them, and use them as an opportunity to practice your willpower and portion control - those are skills that need to be worked out just the same as your muscles anyway. :) Go on, have a peace.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Miso-glazed Tilapia

A friend of mine was coming for dinner and asked for something "healthy". "My dear friend," I tutted, "when have I made anything else?" I put my thinking cap on and decided to try my hand at one of my favorite dishes. This fish dish, I accompanied with a cold seaweed salad to set off the subtle flavors.

Miso-glazed Tilapia
(5 servings)

1/2 c sake
1/2 c canola oil
1/2 c red miso paste
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp agave nectar
1 tsp pepper (or more, to taste)
5 filets tilapia (you could make this recipe with any white fish)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Prepare a lipped cookie dish with parchment paper.

Blend the ingredients in a mixing bowl until thoroughly combined. Then place the filets in a deep sided dish and pour the marinade over them, making sure they are well-covered. Allow them to settle in for about 20 minutes.

Place the fish on the cookie sheet and drizzle whatever marinade is left in the marinating dish over top of them. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve.

Hijiki Salad
(4 servings)

1 cup dried hijiki seaweed
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp sliced green onions
1/2 tbsp agave nectar
4 persian cucumbers, chopped fine
salt and pepper, to taste

Placed the dried hijiki in a small bowl (I used a cereal bowl). Pour warm water (not boiling!) over top the seaweed and let sit for 15 minutes - until the seaweed softens. Drain the seaweed well.

Meanwhile, mix the other ingredients in another mixing bowl. When the seaweed is done, add to the mixing bowl and toss well. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and enjoy. :)

Go on! Have a peace!

Nunchuck Stuffed Mushrooms

These delectable stuffed mushrooms are served with a kick. I made them to go with a miso-glazed tilapia and hijiki salad, so they have a little asian flavor to them. They are terribly delicious! I served them as an appetizer, but they would make an equally palatable party snack.

Nunchuck Stuffed Mushrooms

16 oz white mushrooms
2 tbsp canola oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed and diced
2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely diced
1 yellow bell pepper, finely chopped
1 stalk bok choy, chopped fine
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp low sodium Tamari
1/2 tsp salt
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 half lemon, juiced
1 handful garlic croutons (or plain - whatever you prefer), crushed
14 oz crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven 375 F. Prepare a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Remove the mushroom stems and set them to the side in a bowl. Make sure there is ample space in each mushroom cap for a spoonful of filling and place any excess mushroom removed for this into the same bowl with the stems. Place the prepared caps on the cookie sheet.
Heat canola oil in a skillet at medium-low heat. Saute garlic, ginger, and bell peppers for 3-5 minutes. Don't let the garlic or the ginger burn, keep stirring.
Chop the mushroom stems, etc. into finely diced bits and add them to the skillet, along with the chopped bok choy. Cook until the liquid evaporates - about 5 minutes.
Remove the skillet from heat.
In a medium sized mixing bowl, stir together the sesame oil, tamari, salt, crumbled croutons, green onions, lemon juice, and goat cheese. Add the contents of the skillet to the bowl and combine thoroughly. You want the goat cheese to melt completely due to the heat of the items from the skillet.
Using a small spoon, stuff the mushroom caps.
Bake for 20 minutes and serve.

Go on. Have a peace!

Back with a Bang

Happy new year! Greetings to those of you who travelled through my absent holiday period and are still checking in for delectable recipes with a healthful twist! As I mentioned before, I spent the last little while wandering about Argentina, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and - yes, it's true - Antarctica. All this on a wonderful boat called the Prince Albert II, run by Silverseas (except for the Argentina bit). I have been traveling and tasting and returned chock full of nifty ideas to put forth in the kitchen.

"Enough!", you say. Get to the good stuff!

I will, I will. Stuffed mushrooms and miso-glazed fish and yummy hijiki salad are all coming your way. But in the meanwhile, I thought I'd give you a tiny taste of my last few weeks with a little photo array. Enjoy!

Want more? Take a gander at my Flickr. Go on, have a peace!