Tuesday, July 29, 2008

I love my brussels

Theme this week seems to be ingredients I didn't have in my house as a kid, and am now obsessed with. I grew up about a mile away from fields and fields of brussel sprouts. You might be saying "so what". No. It was a big deal. They stink! It's like this huge, thick cloud of brussel perfume that sticks to your nose and throat. In their raw state and while growing, they just didn't seem appetizing.
A woman I refer to as my second mother converted me. She makes them the best way - literally, us kids all fight over them. She can never make enough. I have posted my recipe for roasted brussels below and then her modifications (which if you have the time and forethought - try it and you won't regret it).
Nutritional Value and Selection
These bad boys belong to the cabbage family - which means leafy green which means high in vitamins B, C and K, thiamine, potassium and beta carotene and a really great source of fiber too (1 cup contains 4 grams!) according to Dr. Michael Murray in "The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods".
If you find them in the store/farmers market you want to pick the smaller ones - they are the most tender and tasty. They should be pretty firm and green - not brown or yellow or sad looking.
I will also add that now when I drive past the fields of brussel sprouts, I salivate. I think about the end product and get excited. Yes, I do really love brussel sprouts that much. I have converted a number of people into liking them by cooking them this way - so get them fresh, and give this a try and you will thank me later!

Roasted Brussel Sprouts

1 lb brussel sprouts, ends trimmed, cut an 'x' in bottom, cut large ones in half
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Toss the brussel sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper on a cookie sheet. Cook for 25-35 minutes (or until tender and golden).

Modification for uber tastiness: Boil the brussel sprouts first. Then, while roasting a chicken, place the brussel sprouts on the bottom. Allow to soak up the lovely chicken juices and roast. Really, really delish.

Monday, July 28, 2008


What is favish you ask? That is actually the Portuguese dish with fava beans - a real classic, easy and wholesome way to cook them. It's probably not spelled like this, but this is how we refer to it amongst my friends. I am not Portuguese, but the first time I had these was at my friends parent's home and they are from Terceira, an island in the Azores, and I have loved fava beans since. I don't know what it was about them other than the fact that we never ate them in my own household growing up, but I just didn't have the urge to pick them up from the store or cook with them. The D family changed my relationship with fava beans.
They are interesting little things. You can see in the picture though that they look like oversized green beans crossed with pea pods. When you open them the inside is fluffy and soft - cushion to protect each fava bean. The beans each have a white skin on them, but the smaller ones (second one in from the right) are more tender and the skin can stay on. The larger beans have a more bitter skin that you can remove by blanching and peeling, or just digging your nail into and peeling off. The fava bean on the far right is a peeled bean. Just taste one when you open a pod to see what you think and if it needs to be peeled. See, not that mysterious after all.
I like them raw and tossed into a salad. But here is one of my favorite recipes. It was inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe I saw on TV where he makes posh beans on toast - he used fava and peas and puts them on toast. First problem I was presented with was that the peas didn't look good at the farmers market, and second was that I don't really eat bread in my house. So I made this and it was fabulous. I use it on quinoa but you can easily use it on rice, on its own, on potatoes - you have options here.
Posh Fava Beans on Quinoa
Take about a pound of fava beans and peel the pods and take the beans out. Remove the outer skin if too bitter. If peas look good that day too, you can add those.
Pulse the raw fava beans in a food processor with 1 clove of garlic, about 1/3 cup of olive oil (the good stuff), salt and pepper, pecorino romano or parmesan (I like pecorino), and a squeeze of lemon juice. Add olive oil or water to thin out if needed.
Cook 1 cup of quinoa.
Toss the fava mixture into cooked quinoa.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Weekly Menu

This weeks menu is continuing the theme of budget and focus on seasonality. Really looking forward to it because I have already sampled some of my goods from the farmers market and this weekend was particularly successful. Here goes.
Sunday: Delightful arugula, grilled nectarine and prosciutto salad (see recipe below) and a fabulous glass of wine
Monday: Pesto pasta, beets with blue cheese and toasted almonds, grilled chicken
Tuesday: Chard rolls stuffed with lentils and onions, topped with goat cheese, roast brussel sprouts
Wednesday: Vietnamese chicken soup (broth from our own freezer), fried Vietnamese spring rolls (also from the freezer), green salad
Thursday: Steamed artichokes, roast brussel sprouts, pesto chicken, posh quinoa and fava beans
Friday: Crockpot stew with polenta squares

Indulgent Arugula Salad with Grilled Nectarine and Prosciutto
Serves 2
This recipe is inspired by something I saw on Jamie Olivers "Jamie at Home" show on FoodTV. I love his show - he cooks the way I like to and he has a mindfulness about the environment and food growing that other chefs don't talk about on that network. It's my own rendition based on what I found at the farmers market and what I had on hand. Enjoy!
1 bunch arugula, chopped in large chunks and washed
1 small-medium red onion, sliced in large rounds
1 beet, steamed or baked and peeled, chopped
2 nectarines, cut in half and pit removed
4 tbls blue cheese, crumbled
8 olives
olive oil
1/2 lemon
8 slices prosciutto
Toss the red onion with olive oil and salt and pepper. Grill on med-high heat until tender and tasty.
Sprinkle a bit of olive oil and salt on the nectarines. Flesh side down, place the nectarines on the grill. Cook until you have good char marks and carmelization.
Meanwhile, lay 4 pieces of prosciutto on each plate in a fan like shape. In a bowl toss the arugula with the juice squeezed from the lemon, olive oil (about 3 tbls), salt and pepper.
Place the arugula on top of the prosciutto. Lay the beets and olives on the side.
Lay the nectarines on top of the arugula, top with a few rings of grilled red onion, and crumble the blue cheese over the top.
About the wine featured in the back of the picture - A good friend of ours went to college with the owner and winemaker of Fontanella wineries. While I have not met them personally, I have heard many amazing stories about the hard work of the family producing this wine. This is a new endeavor for them and in the next few months their tasting room should be open at which point I will be rushing up there to taste and meet them. This was their first release and it's an amazing cab. I had been waiting for the perfect time to pop it open (our friends grabbed us a bottle a few months ago while visiting) and what better way than a meal that reminded me so much of Napa (forget Disneyland, Napa Valley is the happiest place on earth). It was a fabulous bottle of wine! You can check out more about Fontanella at www.fontanellawinery.com

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Farmer Market Therapy

Strolled down to my local Farmer's Market today and left feeling amazing! It is really like therapy. Think about it - you get some fresh air, get some food (always a high point in the day), see lots of pretty colors (kind of girly, but guys I know you can appreciate this comment too), and just the act of going straight to the person who grew your food - WOW! Speaking of which, when was the last time you talked to a farmer? This is actually my favorite part about the farmers market (aside from leaving with amazing food). They are some of the most down to earth and friendly people - you can't go into their booth, talk to them, and leave feeling bad. Not possible. I love talking to them about the growing process, what is good and what is going to get better, what I liked from last week and what they do to prepare the food. They love food just as much as me.
I left with a huge bunch of basil that literally perfumed my entire house. I bought corn that was so fresh, I didn't cook it at all because that would have ruined it - just ate it right off the cob. We had artichokes that were full of tasty meat and the most amazing flavor.
I don't know where else to get these experiences. Food is about this kind of love and attention.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Warming up without microwave

Some of you may be wondering - 'ok, she does not have a microwave, so how does she warm up her food?'.
Here are some of my tricks:
Chicken, beef, lamb or pork- Warm your toaster oven up to anywhere between 350 and 450. Get some foil, put the meat inside, and close the foil up like a pouch. I can almost guarantee you that after 5-10 min in the toaster oven you will have moist, warmed meat ready to eat.
Rice - put a small bit of water in a pot, toss your cooked rice in, put the lid on and set burner heat to med-high. Cook about 5 minutes and the rice should be perfect.
Pizza, flat bread, things of the like - warm the toaster oven up to 400 F and lay the pizza on a sheet of foil. Warm for about 5 minutes and the cheese should be bubbling again and the crust just crisp enough.
Soup - reheat in a pot
Chili or stew- follow the meat method in the toaster oven
Veggies - whether they are grilled, roasted or steamed, you can lay them in a foil pouch or on a sheet of foil and reheat at 350 for a few minutes and they will be good to go.

I often put a whole balanced meal on a sheet of foil and warm that up (meaning, for example, 1/2 cup of baked sweet potato, 1/2 cup roasted brussel sprouts, 1/2 chicken breast). Warms up just fine and tastes delish without having done it in the microwave!
All the toaster oven things can also be done in a conventional oven - especially for a whole family. Parchment paper also works well with the pouch method. As a general rule if something is prone to drying out from over cooking, use the pouch method. Otherwise, if you can warm it up sufficiently in under 10 minutes, you can just lay it on a sheet pan and warm it up.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Grilled Summer Salad and Fried Baby Artichokes

I digressed from my original plan for Tuesday night dinner. No worries I didn't run to the store or cannibalize any of the other meals for the week. And let me tell you, it was worth changing it up. Not sure what prompted me to do this other than that I felt like fried baby artichokes (forgot I bought those when I made the menu) and I felt like grilling. First, the friend baby artichokes (yes, I fry occassionally and these are delish and I eat them about once a year in my own house and about 2 times a year at my friends parent's house - moderation is key).

Fried Baby Artichokes

Serves 2

2/3 cup flour
1 1/4 cup water
good pinch of salt
good amount of fresh ground pepper
good quality olive oil

1 dozen baby artichokes, peeled until you get to the tender leaves, trim top and bottom and cut in half. You can put in a bowl of cold lemon water if you don't want them to turn brown.

Mix the flour, water and seasoning together so the consistency is viscous, but not watery - the artichokes have to stick. Toss the artichokes in and get them nicely covered (not drenched).

Warm the olive oil in a heavy bottom pot. Test the oil temp by dropping a bit of the batter in - it should bubble a bit around the edges but not go black immediately. Fry each side of the artichoke until nice and golden. Remove onto a plate with a paper towel and sprinkle with a bit of fine sea salt or kosher salt, and if you like, pecorino romano cheese grated on top.

Grilled Summer Salad

Serves 2

1 zucchini, thinly sliced length wise
1 head radicchio, cut into quarters leaving the stem
1 tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 cucumber, cut into thick slices
1/4 cup chopped parsley
8 olives
pecorino romano (optional)

Sprinkle a reasonable amount of olive oil over the zucchini and radicchio and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini until just tender (under done and it is too crunchy, over done you get soggy and flavorless). Grill the radicchio until just wilted on the outer leaves.

Chop the radicchio and remove the hard stem portion.

Arange however you like - I chose to sort of build all the ingredients up on top of each other. Throw the parsley on at the end and grate a bit of pecorino over the top.

The salad was a big hit tonight in the LL household. The flavors were fresh, light, yet flavorful and filling. There is a variety of color, crunchy and leafy vegetables. I also want to highlight that I still use ingredients like cheese, but I pick a good quality one that I love, and use it sparingly to just give a little kick to the dish.

Try it!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Weekly Menu and The Budget Challenge

This weeks menu is inspired by the beginning of my challenge to myself to spend no more than $120 a week on groceries. Ideally I am trying to do it for no more than $100 (which so far for this week I have made the $100 goal). Consider it a kind of a test on myself for me to help other people understand how it can work.
The way I set it up is I shop only the perimeter of the store (so fresh produce, meat, dairy and whole grains - no crackers, chips or sweets, etc). I went with what was on sale for meat and dairy and this week with the whole grains I figure I am going to get my carbs from lentils and rice and starchy vegetables. All my produce was purchased from the farmers market (spent under $30 there and that included some nice Harley Farms goat cheese). We also made some hearty chili this weekend that can be used a few different ways and was a good way to stretch the meat.
So, here is the weekly plan:
Monday - Chicken noodle bowls with soba noodles, salad and misc other veg with fish sauce mixture
Tuesday -Lamb and beef chili (inspired by a Tyler Florence recipe) over grilled polenta squares with sauteed zucchini and roast brussel sprouts
Wednesday - chicken noodle Vietnamese soup with mixed greens
Thursday - Lamb and beef chili with beans over roasted zucchini, onions and eggplant
Friday - Roasted chicken with roast brussel sprouts, carrots and potatoes, and a large green salad, and pasta with Nonnie's sauce (I make large batches of this and keep jars of this in the freezer for a good comforting meal - everyone loves it and we are having friends over :-) )

Friday, July 18, 2008

Off Hour Shopping

It is amazing how different a grocery shopping experience can be, when you don't go at peak hours. Seriously. It is much less stressful because you don't have to worry about where your cart is, reaching for things, screaming children who have already had a long enough day, people yelling on their cell phones, waiting in long lines - you get the picture.
Seems irrelevant that I am posting something about the time, or day of week you go grocery shopping, but in reality I think it is important. The way you feel about getting your food, cooking your food and eating your food determine how good of a relationship you will have with it. So if you for example, eat on the run all the time, you probably are not stopping to indulge in the wonderful flavors and the fact that it gives you life and vitality and health. Same with grocery shopping in my mind - if you hate doing it, you will struggle getting into the store, fight it in the store and then be exhausted when you leave.
What are the good times to go then? I like to plan for a whole week. So either Friday late afternoon or late evening, early Saturday morning before 11 or late Saturday after 3 PM, or early Sunday morning.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Whole Chicken

For the last year, we have only purchased whole chickens. Why? Couple of reasons:
  1. Price: On average, a whole chicken runs you about 1.99/lb compared to 6.99 or 7.99/lb for boneless skinless breasts
  2. My goal is to buy organic, natural or free range meat at all times and it is expensive and hard to keep up with if you buy only the parts
  3. I like the breasts more than the legs and thighs, and Ben likes the legs and thighs more than the breast - so when I was buying the breasts, they often got wasted
  4. I have found great ways to satisfy the entire households palette with the whole chicken
  5. #5 is my favorite - we freeze the carcass and make our own stock

The last point may make a few of you say 'ewww'. It may induce some to say 'yeah right'. And hopefully I inspire others to say 'yeah all that makes sense and tell me more about your stock because maybe I can do that".

The stock recipe is really easy. We don't like to waste in our house and the flavor you get out of homemade stock is amazing. Truly. I don't lie about this - I have not bought boxed stock in at least 5 years.

Stock Recipe/Process:

Basically what we do in our house is any time we have a whole chicken, we cut it up and then freeze the carcass and wings. Any vegetables like onion, garlic, bell pepper, asparagus, celery, carrots, herbs that have been chopped up and the ends are left, skin left over or are about to go bad, we stuff into a freezer bag with the chicken. Once every 2-3 weeks we dump the bag out into a roasting pan, crank the oven up to 375 degrees and roast everything for 45 minutes. Take it all out, dump into a large stock pot and cover with cold, filtered water. Let it simmer for as little as 1 hour and up to 5 hours. I use the Oxo fat separator but you can just as easily put it in the fridge where the fat will rise to the top and chill out and you can scoop it off. Then store in plastic Tupperware or glass Mason jars and you are good to go with excellent stock any time.

The best part is this is mostly just assembly. True the cooking can take up to 6 hours, but you can do other things while it cooks! The rest is a few extra pots and pans to wash, and some assembly of putting the stock in the freezer - all to not waste precious onion or garlic skins, veggies about to go bad, or a whole chicken carcass and to get the best tasting stock you will ever have.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Menu this week

To kick things off right, I wanted to share what is for dinner in the LL household this week:
Monday - homemade pho (Vietnamese soup) with fresh chili leaf (yes the leaves of the chili plant - earthy and just the right amount of kick), yu choy (a bitter Chinese green - can be cooked just like spinach), sprouts, natural beef and Thai basil Standby in the next few weeks for how we make this at home when we replenish our freezer supply of the stock
Tuesday - leftover roast chicken, shredded and dressed over a bed of romaine with heirloom tomatoes and boccini (baby mozzarella)
Wednesday - Stir fry with leftover egg noodles from pho day with the thinly sliced beef, and Chinese greens
Thursday - leftover BBQ chicken with black beans, mango, red onion over mixed greens
Friday - Event out so no cooking this night
Saturday - Mom's birthday celebration which I will be bringing a lovely, seasonal fruit salad

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Without Microwave

We recently did some kitchen renovations – counters and new appliances. For Ben (my husband) and me it was actually a really natural conversation. We like our food warmed up in the oven, toaster oven or stove top more than in the microwave. Great. Done. Get rid of the thing. When we told everyone about our decision, we got some interesting reactions from “how are you going to heat up your food?” to “WHAT!” to “Ok hippies”. So I am here to let everyone know that food tastes better when you warm it up in the oven! There are numerous studies out there that discuss how microwaving is essentially a fake heat and literally removes nutrients from your food. So why not steam or bake to get the biggest bang for your nutritional buck? Plus, have you warmed pizza up in the microwave and compared it to pizza warmed up in a toaster oven? Toaster oven will always win that battle. I am not suggesting you all renovate and replace your microwave with a commercial grade hood like I did. But perhaps just consider not depending on the microwave to warm up your food every time – test it out and see how many minutes it actually takes to more gently and naturally heat your food.

*By the way, the one thing I would say is universally true and you should not do with your microwave, is warm plastics up in it. It is extremely toxic - and why add more toxins to your system when there are enough already in the air, your food, etc. So please, use glass or ceramic microwave safe dishes to warm up your food.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Iced Coffee - My Way

For those that know me well, you know I love the flavor of coffee. I don't recommend anyone drink caffeinated coffee for a variety of reasons, but a cup of decaf here and there is one of my personal favorites. My all time favorite way to have it is in a decaf soy latte. I usually get it at a cafe of some sort, but the problem is that I don't have control over the coffee being used, the amount of sugar and the quality of the soy milk. So today, instead of heading to a coffee house, I made my own iced coffee and it was fabulous! I used unsweetened organic soy milk, a fair trade organic coffee and I did add a tiny bit of sweetener but I made a simple syrup out of organic sucanat instead of refined white sugar. All things I had on hand and all things I felt ok about putting in my body. Perfect match.
Here is the recipe:
3/4 cup brewed decaf coffee of your choice
3/4 cup plain unsweetened soy milk
2 tbls vanilla sucanat simple syrup (in a sauce pan melt 1/8 cup water and 1/8 cup sucanat with a tsp of vanilla - stir until sugar is fully dissolved)
1 cup ice
Top with a bit of cinnamon if you are feeling spicy

Pour in a cup, stir and enjoy!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Healthy Food Blogging!

Welcome to my blog! I am so excited to now be posting regular updates about eating and living a healthy lifestyle with food. You will soon get all sorts of updates about meals I am cooking, how I am cooking them, research I am doing, new products I find - the works my friends. So strap on your seatbelts and let's go for a ride!