Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mina Grace

My granddaughter loves to plan ahead. She's always announcing things to do "toomayo", her unique pronunciation of tomorrow.

I was lucky enough to spend 10 days with her recently and nary a day went by that she didn't announce several things she planned to do "toomayo", tomorrow.

That got me thinking how often we judge putting things off until tomorrow as a slacker's way, procrastinating, mimicking Scarlet O'Hara. Yet, it can be a positive, optimistic way of planning ahead, looking forward to future accomplishments, or future rewards.

All this heavy, mental rumination was sparked by someones mention of a New Year's resolution!
And can you guess what that was? Un-huh, going on a diet!
By now, one would think that everyone knows: DIETS DON'T WORK!

What is important is adopting a healthier lifestyle. Even those among us who are aware and who think we are doing well can still find ways to improve on how we treat our bodies by what we put in our mouths.

With a new year upon us, what better time to take stock, to explore new avenues, to make some of the changes we've put off and to start today, then toomayo might find us slimmer, healthier and a wee bit wiser.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Zucchini and Pasta
Talk about simple peasant fare!

With four young, firm zucchini, a sweet onion and a handful of whole wheat angel hair, supper was ready in a flash.

I cut the sweet onion in half inch wedges, sliced the zucchini and let it all sauté in a bit of filtered water. Turn frequently, add more water as needed to keep from sticking, but don't add too much water, this isn't meant to boil the veggies, but to give them a quick pass to soften and bring out the natural sweetness. Covering the pan for a few minutes hastens the cooking by offering a bit of steam.

Meanwhile, cook whole wheat pasta (shape of your choice) until al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water.

Combine the pasta with the zucchini and onions. Add a little of the reserved cooking water to moisten, if needed. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Add snipped fresh herbs - basil and oregano would be great.
Top with lightly toasted pine nuts.
Top with toasted fresh bread crumbs.

This spur of the moment quick dish is open to many interpretations. Let your imagination soar and enjoy a simple supper soon.

Monday, November 08, 2010


As cooler weather sets in and winter approaches, having a little indoor garden is a great way to have fresh greens at your fingertips.

Even with little space, anyone can find room on the kitchen counter for a simple canning jar, filled with a tablespoon of organic seeds, given a couple of rinses daily, then PRESTO, within a few days, we have a crop of crisp, fresh sprouts, loaded with nutrients that cost mere pennies.

This jar is ready to sit in the sunlight for a few hours to green up. Then it will be ready to adorn salads and sandwiches or add some to smoothies or make a green juice. Growing sprouts is easy and the feeling of accomplishment along with the nutritional benefits adds to our well-being.

Try it!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Asparagus Risotto

Despite the lousy lighting, with one image too light and one too dark, eating this dish was truly a Goldilocks experience — the risotto was "just right".

A couple of professional chef's tricks enriched the veggie broth that brought a cup of arborio rice from raw to rich and creamy with a depth of flavor that belied the simple ingredients and offered the warmth and deep satisfaction a true comfort food provides.

I blanched the stems of the young asparagus spears in 3 cups of water, reserving the leafy tops for the final moments of cooking. Once the stems were crisp tender, I scooped them out of the water, reserving the cooking water to be the base for the broth the rice would cook in. Measure the water and add more as needed to equal 3 cups.

Meanwhile, I soaked two dried shitake mushroom caps in a cup of boiling water. When they had softened, I minced them and added them along with the cup of soaking water to the pot of simmering broth (asparagus cooking water). To enrich the flavor of the quart of simmering water, I added one dissolved veggie broth cube. Keep the broth just below a simmer if proceeding with the dish. Otherwise, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

I used the standard procedure for cooking risotto, I began with sweating half a minced white onion in 2 teaspoons of olive oil, then added the cup of washed and drained arborio rice, stirring to mix and continuing to cook over medium heat until the rice kernels glistened.

I then added 1/4 cup of white wine, continued to cook, stirring as the wine coated the rice and onions until all the wine had disappeared. At this point it's just a matter of adding simmering broth by the half cup, stirring and letting the rice absorb the broth.

Don't add more broth until the last addition has been absorbed. Keep adding the broth and stirring until the rice is al dente —chewy on the outside, but creamy on the inside, about 30 - 40 minutes cooking time over medium heat.

Before the last two additions of the broth, when the rice is almost cooked, add the blanched asparagus stems and the uncooked tops.
To complete the dish, taste for salt, add if needed.

If you eat cheese, a quarter cup of grated Parmesan is a lovely final addition. If not, it's still a simple, satisfying grain based dish.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rick Bayless in Orlando

Don't miss the opportunity to see and hear the man who has successfully taught so many of us to cook Mexican food authentically.

Rick Bayless will be at Macy's at the Mall of Millenia on Sunday, October 17th at 2 p.m. demonstrating some fabulous Latin cuisine dishes from his latest book, Fiesta at Rick's.

Enjoy food samples, tips for serving, and there's a book signing, too.
The event is Free but to reserve a seat call: 800-329-8667.

See you Sunday!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Simple Soup

I had good intentions of writing a new post singing the praises of my latest Mexican dish courtesy of Rick Bayless. Especially since the famous chef/teacher/restaurateur is actually here in Orlando today. Macy's at Mall of Millenia is hosting Rick at a demonstration and book signing featuring his newest book, Fiesta at Rick's. The past few weeks have been filled with fabulous Mexican meals prepared by following Rick's step by step instructions in Mexican Kitchen.

But yesterday got away from me — and today I was lured to a simple soup involving 3 major ingredients courtesy of Jack Bishop, executive editor of Cook's Illustrated. I had purposely picked up a butternut squash to give this simple soup a try.

Three main ingredients: squash, garlic and chipotles with the addition of salt and water, and presto, a luscious, smooth as silk taste teaser. The piquant chipotles are the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the butternut squash and the hint of garlic manages to marry the flavors to perfection. Of all the squash varieties, I think the butternut lends itself the best to a smooth as silk finish for soup.

If you are having a challenge with incorporating more vegetables into your everyday diet, or if, like me, you are a vegan who likes a variety of preparations for some of my favorite vegetables or a nudge to try something different, get your hands on a copy of A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen, Jack Bishop's great compendium of simple techniques to produce some fabulous vegetarian meals using seasonal produce.

Butternut Squash Soup with Chipotle Chiles and Garlic
Recipe courtesy of A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen

1 large butternut squash (about 3 lbs) peeled, pared and cut in 1" dice
2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 small canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (about 2 tsps) with 1 tsp adobo sauce.
5 cups water
salt to taste.

I had a smaller squash, approximately 1.5 lbs. I used 2 garlic cloves and 3 1/2 cups water but the same amount of chipotles. This made a generous quart of soup.

Heat the oil and garlic in a Dutch oven over medium heat until the garlic is golden, about 2 minutes. Add the chiles and adobo sauce and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and cook, stirring constantly, until coated with garlic and chiles, about 1 minute. Add the water and salt to taste and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer briskly until the squash is very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender until very smooth. Adjust the seasonings, adding salt to taste if needed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Busy September

It's been a busy month, keeping up with the PCRM 21 Day Vegan KickStart Program.
I've recommended this program to several friends who are experiencing health issues.
The program, presented with daily menus, recipes and tips from a variety of experts and celebrities who've made the transition to a whole foods, vegan diet, eases transition from the Standard American Diet (SAD) to a healthier lifestyle devoid of meat, dairy and processed foods.

I signed up to keep abreast of the information and have been enjoying some of the suggested recipes.

A surefire winner is a colorful couscous salad

and a simple colorful, zingy bowl of bok choy and yams was added to my recipe collection:

Check it out. The 21 day program provides great tips, meal planning, menus, and background information to help us on the road to radiant, abundant health.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Kale and Roasted Potato Salad
While browsing through the January 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living, I ran across this great combination. So reminiscent of the wilted kale sandwich I posted not too long ago, this easy treatment adds a whole new dimension to the simple kale sandwich. Tossed with oven roasted sliced new potatoes, in this case baby Yukon Gold, and a zingy dressing simply made from a fresh lemon and a bit of Dijon mustard, the flavor of the sweet, chewy kale leaves shines.

Super as a side dish, perfect as a salad course, or stuffed in a pita pocket, this delicious, nutritious combo has quickly turned into a favorite. Economical and easy to assemble, it makes a nice change for lunch or a fine accompaniment to a bowl of soup for supper.

Kale and Roasted Potato Salad
(Adapted from Martha Stewart Living - Jan 2010)*

6-8 small potatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 tsp olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs lemon zest
2 TBS fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 bunch of curly kale (washed well, thick stems removed, torn into large pieces, water still clinging to leaves)

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Combine potatoes, onion slices, 2 tsps olive oil and 1/2 tsp sea salt. Toss well to coat. Spread mixture in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Season with pepper. Roast, stirring potatoes and scraping bottom of sheet about every 10 minutes. (Approx 30 min total roasting time.)

2. Combine mustard, lemon zest and lemon juice in small bowl. Set aside.
Heat large sauté pan, add 2-4 TBS water and sauté garlic slices, when water has almost evaporated add kale. Cook, stirring occasionally until wilted, about 5-6 minutes. Add mustard-lemon sauce, toss to coat. Allow to cook for a couple more minutes, taste for seasoning, adding a bit more salt and pepper if desired, then toss with potatoes.

*This will serve 2-3 as a main dish, 4-5 as a side dish.
This is a smaller portion, using fewer potatoes, less kale, less oil and less salt than the published recipe.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Gotta Love Those Leftovers
I'm continually amazed at the quick meals one can throw together with a well stocked fridge. Using leftovers in creative ways to produce another meal is not only time saving and economical but an adventure as well.

Opening the veggie bin, I noticed two large sweet bell peppers; one yellow, one red. I had bought them for salads or to serve with hummus as an appetizer, but hadn't used them over the weekend and I didn't want to let them get old.

The shelves of the fridge held several containers of leftovers. Mahogany rice, fresh corn kernels and about a cup of chunky marinara sauce. Having rich, chewy rice already cooked clearly called out, "Stuffed Peppers", plus I had the added bonus of some savory sauce already made.

I washed, seeded and deveined the peppers, then cut them in half from north to south. I placed the rice (about 1 1/2 cups) in a large mixing bowl, tossed in the raw corn kernels (maybe 1/3 cup) I used what I had and it turned out to be just right.

The brown and yellow mix looked as if it could use a colorful pick me up, so I washed two big hands full of baby spinach, sliced it up (chiffonade) and tossed it with the rice and corn adding two generous teaspoons of a spicy hot tomato/chipotle salsa. I like things spicy. This hit of heat is optional.

I scooped the stuffing into the pepper halves, packed it down , mounding a bit on the top. Then I stretched the scant cup of sauce with a little water, spooned a bit over each pepper half and then drizzled the remainder into the bottom of the shallow sauté pan.

The covered pan went into a 350° oven for about 40 minutes. I removed the cover and let the peppers bake for another 10 minutes.

Fat free, fast and easy, another tasty nutritional powerhouse.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake?

Marie Antoinette is reported to have replied, "let them eat cake", when told the people had no bread to eat. There is some controversy over that. Some suggesting the translation of "cake" was not the traditional word for cake, gateau, but rather, brioche, a butter-rich fancy bread.
Well, whatever . . .

If you, like me, rarely have baked sweets in the house—cakes, cookies, pies, etc., then, like me, you might find a dense loaf of oatmeal bread, enriched with full cream butter and sweetened with a bit of raw honey, to be a sweet treat to be savored and treated like cake.

This tender loaf is particularly good thickly sliced, then toasted, or thinly sliced for a sandwich. Even better yet, slather it with a bit of all fruit jam or marmalade accompanied by a hot cup of tea.

Truthfully, as soon as it was cool enough to cut, I ate two slices with nothing on it. The rich moist lightly sweetened dense crumb seemed like cake to me.

Oatmeal Toasting & Sandwich Bread

(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)

3 cups King Arthur White Whole Wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
2 TBS butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 TBS brown sugar or honey
2 tsp instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk (I used almond milk)
3/4 cup raisins (optional)

For complete baking instructions, check out the original recipe at the source.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Black Beans

Having a pot of cooked beans on hand makes for quick, delicious, nutritious meals.
I cooked a pound of black beans, and then went on to enjoy them by the bowl full with the rich pot liquor and warm tortillas the first night.

Then as chilaquiles (pureed beans with baked corn chips) over yellow squash another day and then as soft tacos yet another day.

Laced with fresh salsa and drizzled with a piquant chipotle salsa, topped with green onion and diced avocado, they made a satisfying supper, yet another day.

Eating frugally, yet deliciously isn't difficult. It just takes a bit of planning and a spot of imagination.
With Rick Bayless to spur me on–with his early volume of Mexican Cuisine—I'm now inspired to add a few more Mexican dishes to my repertoire.

Beans are a simple, yet important staple. Given a few little twists, beans can become the star of the show, able to compete, and win hands down, with any flesh-centered meal. At least in my humble opinion. Here's one of my simple adaptations of the many instructions for cooking beans:

Simple Black Beans
1 lb black beans, washed and sorted for debris
6-8 cups water
2 garlic cloves
1/2 large white onion, diced (or one medium onion)
1/2 tsp Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp ground chipotle
1/2 tsp adobo powder
1 tsp salt
You may choose to soak the beans overnight, this does shorten the cooking time a bit, or you can just cook the beans after washing and sorting. I cover the beans with about two inches of water and keep it there after bringing it to a boil then turning the heat down to allow the beans to simmer gently.
Add two or three whole peeled garlic cloves at the start. Gently stir the beans from time to time, keeping the water level at least an inch above the top of the beans. Start checking for doneness after about 90 minutes. The beans will take 1 1/2 hours or more. When the beans are tender, but not mushy, add the rest of the seasonings and let them simmer for another 30 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
There are so many variations, but this is a good starting place. The resulting pot of beans along with the succulent pot liquor is fine on its own. It also makes a great base for many other dishes.
Learn from the masters. Bayless instructs throughout his book, offering insights, variations and complete instructions to help us produce and reproduce fabulous Mexican meals.
It's delicious, nutritious, fun and best of all—very economical!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Caponata Hot and Cold

Here's another instance of cook once; eat twice.

Eggplant relish is a sweet and sour dish that lends itself easily and well to many uses. I've been making a variation of Jeff Smith's caponata recipe for over 20 years.

Lately the variations have been to prepare it in a healthier fashion (less oil). But often a variation happens because of a missing ingredient or two. As long as the basics are there: eggplant, celery,onion, tomato, raisins and vinegar, it always turns out to be a satisfying dish.

Eggplant relish is a piquant side that will complement many a meal. It's a wonderful sandwich topping, great spread on crackers as an appetizer — and for me, it often becomes the main event.

The salad above is simply hearts of romaine and arugula dressed with a few drops of olive oil and a good splash of apple cider vinegar, then the greens are tossed with a few heaping tablespoons of cold caponata. Scatter on a few pine nuts (roasted or not) and you've a wonderful luncheon salad or an intesting first course.

When this batch of caponata was still warm from the stove, I used it to top chewy, nutty flavored Bhutanese red rice. Red rice is another interesting grain to use in a one bowl meal. It provides a satisfying rich flavor along with high nutritional value. Red rice is unhulled, the germ left in tact when processed. It's my next best favorite after mahogany rice.

The quantities listed in the recipe below produce about 5-6 cups of relish. Alter the amounts based on the size of the eggplant you have. Then add the other ingredients proportionately.

Jeff's directions are straight forward sauteéing using a good deal of olive oil. The original recipe includes 4-5 anchovies packed in oil, while all this extra fat certainly adds to the flavor, cooking the relish in a more heart-healthy manner doesn't detract from the final finished flavor.


(adapted from the Frugal Gourmet Cooks Italian)

2 pounds eggplant

2 cups celery, sliced 1/4" thick

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 TBS sugar (agave, stevia or omit entirely)

3 cups crushed plum tomatoes (canned is okay)

2 TBS tomato paste

2 TBS pickled capers, drained

6 large pitted green olives, drained and sliced (mandarin olives are okay)

1/4 cup golden raisins (dark ones work fine, too)

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (roast in dry pan over medium heat or serve raw)

salt and pepper to taste

Trim the tops off the eggplant(s) and dice into one inch pieces. Place in a large bowl and toss with one tablespoon of olive oil. Spread diced eggplant in a single layer onto a cookie sheet (or two) and roast off in a 400° oven for 15-10 minutes until soft.

While the eggplant is roasting, slice the celery and chop the onion. Place in a large sauté pan over medium heat with about a 1/4 cup of filtered water. Bring to a boil, then gently sauté the aromatics turning and adding more water, if needed, until they are shiny and soft. Allow the water to evaporate toward the end of the cooking time.

Transfer the cooked aromatics to a deep 3 or 4 qt saucepan, and place over medium heat. As the pan heats, add the tomato paste stirring to allow it to blend thoroughly with the onions and celery. Add the roasted eggplant pieces, along with the remainder of the ingredients except the raisins, pine nuts, salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until all is tender, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Stir in the raisins, pine nuts and salt and pepper.
Traditionally, for best flavor, allow to cool and serve at room temperature or cold.

But I suggest you give it a try warm. Ladle a generous portion over red rice, brown rice, mahogany rice, whole wheat angel hair pasta, quinoa, or even couscous to make a tasty grain bowl. Then the next day, use it in a salad or stuff it in a pita pocket with lots of crispy greens.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

50% Fat Free!
Unable to decide what to have for lunch, I elected to split my sandwich into a spicy, green, fat-free portion, and a juicy, creamy avocado-rich half. Turned out to be a great combination.

Stuffing a pita pocket with lightly steamed kale is a favorite snack—the leaves are sprinkled with fresh lemon juice, a dusting of garlic powder and a few pinches of hot chili powder and then chilled until needed. This clever kale treatment, along with many other fat free offerings, I learned from Dr. John McDougall and his clever recipe-developer wife, Mary, in The McDougall Program.

Slather the inside of a whole wheat pita pocket with dark, spicy mustard or even wine infused Grey Poupon, then stuff with chilled kale leaves. Munch away for a great fat-free, tasty vitamin-rich lunch, or as a side to a rice or grain bowl.

The second half is another of my favorite luncheon sandwiches. But hardly fat-free. Not only does it sport a few generous slices of Haas avocado, but one side of the pita pocket is spread with a couple of tablespoons of homemade hummus, then sliced tomato and avocado are layered on.

Having some of each made a tasty lunch. The kale half was a nice counterbalance to the rich hummus and avocado half. 50% fat-free!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vegetable Torte
Inspired by Mark Bittman's recent contribution to my veggie repertoire, I attempted a somewhat slimmer version of his succulent vegetable torte that you can read about here.
You can also see a handsome image captured by Evan Sung. My feeble attempt leaves much to be desired but it does hold some merit for effort, desire and palatability.
As is often the case, instead of waiting until I'd made a trip to the market to have all the listed ingredients on hand, I plowed forward with one medium sized eggplant, one juicy, red beefsteak tomato, and two slim zucchinis and of course lots of fresh garlic. The depth or height, or however one phrases these measurements, was no where near as aesthetically pleasing or impressive as the professionally produced version but it didn't disappoint in the taste department.

Once again confirming that it's hard to mess up a mess of fresh vegetables.

My crumb topping contributed a little extra flavor. I processed two thick slices of the caraway rye bread I'd made the day before. Then with my handy-dandy micro-grater, I layered on a sprinkling of parmigiana regianno—the remaining holdout in my departure from all things dairy. Using the rasp-like kitchen tool allows a small amount of an ingredient to go a very long way.

I realized afterwards, that a mix of crushed pine nuts with some lemon zest and nutritional flakes would have been a better choice to top off the fresh bread crumbs - avoiding dairy altogether. Well, we'll try that next time.

All told, it was an impressive dish made from one eggplant, two zucchini and a tomato.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Caraway Rye Bread

For quite a while now, my bread choice has been whole wheat pita bread. I make a batch, 8 pitas, about once a week. I also keep a loaf of sprouted whole grain bread in the freezer for wild moments when a piece of toast begs to be made.

Recently, I've had a yen for caraway-rye bread. It's been years since I've attempted a rye, pumpernickel or heavy peasant bread, the type of bread that requires making a starter the night before, then fussing about dough temperature, weight of the flour, etc. I figured there had to be an easier way to produce a nice loaf of finely textured, full flavored bread.

With a little tweaking, a King Arthur Flour recipe that I've had since the early 90's, turned out a fine loaf. Quick to come together, with simple ingredients, mixer kneaded, two rises, and lo and behold—a fine treat resulted.

Caraway Rye Bread
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
1 1/2 cups whole grain organic rye flour (Arrowhead Mills)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

Whisk together the yeast, flours, salt and sugar, add oil and water and mix until well-combined. Knead the dough. In a machine with a dough hook for about 10 minutes, by hand, knead on a lightly oiled work surface for 10 - 15 minutes or until the dough is very smooth and supple.

Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for about and hour or until it has doubled in bulk.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface, and shape it. I made an oval to fit an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch bread pan. Cover with a tea towel and allow the dough to rise again until it has doubled in bulk and is puffy, about 45 minutes to one hour.

Bake the bread in a preheated 375° oven for 30 - 35 minutes or until it's golden brown and the interior registers 190° on an instant read thermometer.

Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool completely on a wire rack. Hint: for an extra-crusty loaf, remove the loaf from the pan, then return it to the oven. Turn the oven off, crack the door open about one inch, and allow the bread to cool completely in the oven.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Hail to Kale

These hot humid days of summer are a perfect time to experiment with different salads. Using curly kale as the predominant green in a salad offers not only a unique taste and texture but also a plate full of great nutrition.

The secret to a successful salad made with firmer greens like kale, chard or collards is to introduce a wilting agent along with adequate time for the greens to lose some of their original crunch, without losing flavor.

Massaging the leaves (hard stems removed) with a bit of olive oil and avocado gives them a tasty head start in the softening department while providing a sensuous mouth feel, then the addition of freshly squeezed lemon juice continues the wilting process.
Allowing the salad to sit for an hour or so at room temperature before serving will give the kale time to soften up and allow the flavors to meld.

This salad is simply kale, tomato, green onions and avocado with a few pine nuts tossed in before serving, a pinch of salt and pepper and the juice from a fresh lemon. How simple is that?

For a live demonstration watch Karen Knowler on YouTube.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cauliflower in a Creative Context

I'm extremely fond of Mexican food. Recently, I was salivating over an article with directions for making outstanding fish tacos. Not exactly vegetarian fare but with that fresh in my mind, it was easy to take the next step and toss together a vibrant veggie combination on warm, soft corn tortillas to emulate fish tacos.

Steamed cauliflower florets stood in for the customary white fish, and while slivered cabbage is normally the greens of choice with fish tacos, I had dark, crisp, outer leaves of Romaine that worked fine.

A generous topping of chipotle salsa and a bit of minced sweet onion (sliced green onion would be preferable) made these little luncheon tacos a great way to use some of the extra large head of cauliflower I had on hand.

The faux fish tacos were a distant memory when a few days later I brought out the rest of the cauliflower for another quick lunch. This batch took an Indian twist by tossing them with a generous coating of spicy, hot Madras-style curry powder.

Curried Cauliflower

Years ago, when I first started cooking Indian foods after faithfully watching Madhur Jaffrey's cooking shows on PBS, I followed her instructions to prepare my own curry powders. Toasting and grinding the many seeds and spices that make up curry powder. Often, as many as 12 - 14 different spices are used in a blend. These days, I rely on the good folks at Penzey's to provide me with the convenience of great curry powders.

The Madras-style that I used with the cauliflower includes turmeric, cayenne, coriander, ginger, cumin, fenugreek, white pepper, cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg, cardamon, cloves and Tellicherry black pepper. A dynamite blend!

I tossed the curry coated florets with a little olive oil and a dusting of bread crumbs, they roasted off in a 425° oven for 25 minutes. Crisp and spicy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Quinoa Salad
Most grains will make a great base for an impromptu salad. This quinoa based salad is a take on traditional middle eastern tabbouleh. Bulgar is normally used in tabbouleh with parsley predominating.

This quinoa salad is another example of using up what's on hand, especially the day before market day. With a cuke and a few grape tomatoes, a bunch of parsley and a bit of red onion, a cup of quinoa was quickly turned into a great luncheon salad.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 cup diced cucumber (without seeds)
1/2 cup diced red onion
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, minced.
Juice from half a lemon
1 TBS olive oil
salt to taste
cayenne (if desired)
I tend to like spicy hot foods. This batch received a generous sprinkling of Penzey's
Black & Red pepper (ground tellicherry and cayenne).
Quinoa just about doubles in volume when cooked. These amounts produce, without measuring too carefully, 3.5 cups of salad.
The salad would be great with a few other vegetable additions, sweet bell pepper, perhaps and definitely should be served with a sprinkling of toasted nuts or seeds. Suggestions: toasted pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts or sunflower seeds.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Rustic Salad Redux
I've had the Rustic Salad at Dexter's a few times. Both at the Winter Park location and at the Thornton Park eatery. It's a brilliant combination of mixed greens, grilled veggies and a bit of goat cheese, served with a creamy dressing that brings out the best in all the individual components.

With small amounts of leftovers hanging about, I thought I'd do a pseudo version. Not nearly as good, but still a wonderful combination with a variety of veggies, lightly cooked, served with fresh greens, a lively dressing and no cheese.

In this case, spinach and romaine with a dusting of sunflower seeds and a side serving of fat free fresh raspberry dressing. I chopped the greens, which might not have been the best move. It tasted fine, but the presentation left something to be desired. Simply torn leaves might be a prettier option.

Asparagus, green beans, yellow squash and fingerling potatoes

Raspberry Vinaigrette (fat free)
adapted from Jill Nussinow, The Veggie Queen
1 cup fresh raspberries
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs filtered water
2 tsp Agave Nectar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend well.
Will keep covered in fridge for 5-7 days.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tomatoes Front and Center
with a Mexican Flair
With beautiful Ruskin beefsteak tomatoes so abundant, it's the perfect time to use them as much and as often as one can. I love having a bowl of salsa in the fridge for quick snacks or to round out a simple meal.
This salsa is simply: diced tomatoes, diced sweet onion, sliced green onion, minced jalepeño, fresh cilantro and fresh lime juice. The bowl above is the end result of using: 2 medium tomatoes, half a sweet onion, four green onions, half a large jalepeño pepper, a generous handful of minced cilantro and the juice from one lime. This makes a generous 3 cups of salsa.
I recently read a fat free version of baked corn chips. Eager to try my hand , my first attempt did not take the recipe writer's instructions to heart. "Watch closely as they burn easily." Yes, they do! As evidenced with my batch below.
But used to scoop up the juicy salsa, they were great for a first attempt. Will watch more carefully the next time, and there will be a next time, as I like corn chips,but avoid the fat and salt laden supermarket varieties.

Using store bought corn tortillas made only with masa and water, these chips are easy to make.
Just watch them closely when baking!
Preheat oven to 350°. Use 6-8 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice (2 small limes); 1/2 tsp chili powder; 1/4 tsp ground cumin; 12 corn tortillas. Combine the first 3 ingredients in a small pie plate. Dip each tortilla in the mixture then stack on a cutting board. Cut thru the stack into 6 or 8 wedges.
Arrange in a single layer on two baking sheets, sprinkle lightly with 1/2 tsp of salt, if desired. Turn sheets about halfway through for even baking. Bake 10 - 15 minutes, until crisp and brown around the edges. Watch carefully, they burn easily. Turn out onto cooling rack. Store in airtight container when cool.
Using leftover salsa.

The salsa is also a key component in a black bean and corn salad I like. Simply add a can of well rinsed black beans (or use 2 cups of freshly cooked beans) and the kernels from 2 - 3 ears of fresh corn to the salsa along with a pinch or two of Mexican oregano and a bit of salt and cayenne (if you like it hot) black pepper is fine, too. Mix well, taste for additional seasonings or a bit of additional lime juice or a splash of apple cider vinegar. The salad is super topping a big bowl of greens, to roll up in lettuce or whole wheat wraps or to make an improvised taco.

Soft Corn Veggie Taco

I warmed the corn tortilla in a dry skillet over medium heat, turning after a few minutes.
The hot, soft corn tortilla is a great vehicle for the black bean salad. . . a bit messy, but fun to eat.
Fast, easy and nutritious. Tomatoes are a great food to use as a starting point for a variety of easy dishes on these hot, lazy days of summer.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hot & Cold Salad

Cooked salad additions can be really satisfying. Occasionally, toss your everyday salad greens with an assortment of steamed or lightly sautéed veggies. Green beans and fingerling potatoes, mixed with pearl onions and grape tomatoes make for a soul satisfying addition to a big bowl of chopped romaine lettuce.

The green beans (one pound) were blanched and waiting in the wings. . . translates to the refrigerator. A light coating of olive oil in a sauté pan placed over medium heat welcomes a generous handful of frozen pearl onions. Meanwhile, bring to a quick boil in salted water, 3 - 4 sliced fingerling or new red potatoes.
While the potatoes become tender and the pearl onions have taken on a little color, add the green beans to the sauté pan. Toss occasionally.
When the potatoes are tender (pierce easily with the tip of a paring knife), drain them and slice into half inch pieces (they will be hot) and add to the sauté pan. Keep turning everything to heat through adding a pinch of salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.
Meanwhile, wash and halve a dozen or so grape tomatoes and add to the pan. The idea is to just let the tomatoes warm a bit, don't cook until they turn mushy.
I like to add a pinch or two of Italian seasoning. Fresh basil would be superb, but a dried mix of basil, oregano and marjoram is fine. Turn out the veggies into a large bowl, taste for seasoning and sprinkle to taste with balsamic vinegar (about one generous teaspoon full).
Meanwhile, wash, dry and tear half a head of romaine leaves. Dress with a teaspoon of olive oil and the juice from half a lemon. Use just enough to moisten the leaves and let them glisten.

You can mix the romaine into the veggie bowl before serving, or for a prettier presentation, place a large helping of the dressed greens on a dinner plate, then spoon a generous portion of the sautéed veggies in the middle.
A mix of romaine and spring mix is a good alternative. Use whatever greens you have on hand. But do use a big helping of raw greens to complement the cooked veggies.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rice Bowls
I'm indebted to Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks for inspiring me to use grains, veggies, nuts and seeds to produce a bowl filled with satisfying sustenance. Over the years, the unique combinations of grain based meals that Heidi has posted have spurred me on to try combinations of my own. Some, certainly, more successful than others, but all good. A light lacing of sauce is key to providing an interesting element that ties the various ingredients together.
The top image combines sautéed mushrooms and spinach with mahogany rice. The sauce is hoisin based. Topping the bowl with slivered almonds adds crunch, flavor and more nutrition.

This second image adds freshly cooked yellow squash to the leftovers, creating another meal with a bit of a twist. The idea is to start with a nutritious grain—not white rice—add some steamed or stir fried veggies, drizzle with an interesting sauce, then top with nuts or seeds to complement the dish.

I love using different ethnic flavors in grain bowls: Asian, Italian, Mexican, Indian. By using different combinations of herbs, spices and condiments it's easy to come up with a variety of options.

Tip: cook extra when preparing grains. They freeze well or just tuck away in the fridge for a quick meal another day.

Simple dishes like these, easy to prepare, loaded with fresh vegetables, make meal time fast and fun. The secret to elevating them from a blah bowlful, is to drizzle with an interesting sauce.

Hoisin Sauce
recipe may be doubled - as it keeps well.
1/2 cup Hoisin sauce
2 TBS rice wine vinegar
1 TBS chili paste
3 TBS finely minced sweet onion

Place all ingredients in small bowl and whisk with fork until well combined. Store covered in fridge. (I store in small jars to save space.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Light Lunch
Quickly filling a plate with goodies from the fridge is one of the big benefits of having leftovers.
This luncheon plate features a big, ripe tomato surrounded by stuffed mushrooms, pickled beets, faux feta cheese, Kalamata olives and a few sprouts.

The beets were roasted off on a day when I had the oven on to bake whole wheat pita, then when they'd cooled off, sliced and sprinkled with apple cider vinegar and a bit of salt and pepper. Kept covered in the fridge, the beets are a healthy addition to any salad as well as a colorful, full-flavored component for a composed salad plate like the one shown.

The beets are super, too, tucked in a pita pocket with tomato, avocado and sprouts — another luncheon favorite.
Keeping a well stocked pantry and fridge is the best route to 'fast food' you can take.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Almond Milk, Cashew Cream & Faux Feta Cheese

Finding suitable substitutes for dairy products has been one of the biggest challenges I've had as I transitioned to a vegan lifestyle with mostly raw food. And from all the reading and research I've done, I realized that shedding my addiction to cheese was one of the most important steps I could take toward achieving vibrant health.

I've long been a fan of almond milk. I started making it back in the late '80's thanks to Harvey and Marilyn Diamond and their Fit For Life program. Switching to almond milk was easy. I rarely used cow's milk other than to pour over cereal occasionally, or as called for in baked goods.

Heavy cream usually made an appearance in my kitchen around holiday meals and special occasions. But in the summer time, with fresh berries in abundance, sweet, whipped cream is the perfect complement to juicy berries. Cashew cream has produced a fine substitute.

Recently, I've begun experimenting with finding cheese substitutes. After reading some interesting suggestions, my first attempt at faux feta, produced this zippy cheese-like spread that was a fine accompaniment to some ak-nak crackers and a crisp, cool glass of sauvignon blanc. The base for the cheese is the left-over pulp from making the almond milk, how convenient and frugal that turned out to be.

As adults, we should have been weaned ages ago. Mother's milk was intended to get us up and growing for the first couple of years after birth. Once we moved on to whole foods that should have been the end of our milk experience. Why we all switched to making animal body fluids part of our daily diet is a marketing masterpiece, isn't it? Kicking the addiction isn't easy, but it can be done, and finding substitutes or replacements can be not only interesting but lots of fun.

I'm eager to try my hand at cheese making again soon. Yet, much like the real thing, milk, cream and cheese substitutes are not low calorie items and should be treated as transition foods, used occasionally and sparingly.

There are many instructions available for making nut milks. The proportion of nuts to water, additions for flavor or sweetening, and methods of preparing the milk may vary a bit. This is what I've finally settled on for making an everyday almond milk that's quite versatile.

Almond Milk

Makes 3 cups - may be doubled easily.

Soak 1/2 cup raw almonds overnight.
Drain and then rinse thoroughly
Place almonds in blender container with 1 1/2 cups of filtered water.
If using a high-powered blender - blend until completely smooth.
If using a regular blender, purée until nuts are pulverized as small as possible.

Either way, I like to strain the nut milk through a nut milk bag (may be purchased online) or through a fine sieve or through layers of cheesecloth. Though puréeing is not necessary if using a high speed blender. Having the residue (almond pulp) is great for other uses: dehydrated cookies/crackers, pâtés or faux cheese.

Rinse out the blender container, put the strained nut milk back into the blender with another 1 1/2 cups of filtered water, a teaspoon of agave, 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla and a pinch of salt. Blend to mix well.
Pour into a covered container and refrigerate.
The milk keeps well for 3-5 days in a cold refrigerator. The saved pulp freezes well.

Cashew Cream
(adapted from The Conscious Cook)

1 cup raw whole cashews soaked overnight, then rinsed under cold water.

Drain the cashews, place in the blender with enough filtered cold water to just cover them.
Blend on high until very smooth. If you are not using a high speed blender, you may have to add a bit more water, and you'll want to strain the cashew cream through a fine sieve.
Save the water that drains out and add it to your almond milk for a rich creamy result.

To sweeten the cream for desserts add:
1/4 cup of light agave (or to taste)
1/2 tsp vanilla
Blend again to incorporate. Chill and serve as you would whipped heavy cream. This sets up even more if chilled for several hours.

Almond Feta Cheese
(adapted from Vegetarian Times - April 2009)

1 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight, drained and rinsed well.*
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 TBS olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 tsp salt

* If using almond pulp proceed from here.

Purée almonds, or almond pulp, with remaining ingredients in a food processor for 5 - 6 minutes, scraping down as necessary, until very smooth and creamy. Add a few drops of water if needed.

Place a strainer over a bowl and line with a triple layer of cheesecloth (unless you are fortunate to have a little gadget made to drain yogurt). Spoon the almond mixture into the cheesecloth. Bring corners and sides of cloth together, and twist around cheese, forming into a ball, squeezing gently to remove excess water. Secure with rubber band and chill overnight. Discard any drained liquid.

The cheese will be smooth and very spreadable . For a firmer result that is more crumbly and closer in texture to feta cheese, it may be baked for approximately 40 minutes at 200° in a conventional oven or for the raw food purist, placed in a dehydrator for 4 to 6 hours.

To dry out: Transfer from cheese cloth to a parchment lined baking sheet and flatten to a 6 inch disk about 3/4 inch thick.

To serve soft and creamy: Transfer from cheese cloth to a covered glass dish and refrigerate.

Either way, drizzling with a bit of olive oil and herbs when serving adds to the enjoyment.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Green Smoothie?
This could easily be dessert but it happens to be a 'green smoothie'. Rich and creamy, smooth and dreamy—don't neglect the magic of a frozen banana to give the mouth feel we have come to know and love in ice cream.

This smoothie is a combination of one frozen banana, half a fresh banana, a cup of diced mango, a handful of blackberries and two cups of baby spinach, all blended with a cup of almond milk. A great way to start the day. The blackberries mask the green color - who would know this is loaded with vitamins and nutrients?

For a thicker version to serve as dessert (similar to soft serve) use two frozen bananas and less almond milk - or for a richer version - use cashew milk. Substitute fruit and berries for some great flavor combos. Use the frozen bananas for the base and go wild!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lunch with an Asian Influence

Marinated baby portabella mushrooms filled with sunflower pâté.

I had an 8-ounce container of baby portabella mushrooms intended to be sliced and served in salads. But my taste buds were clamoring for some zingy sunflower seed pâté and what better vehicle to pair them with than marinated mushrooms. I first posted this combination last August and have since made the sunflower pâté many times. It's a wonderful item to have on hand for quick snacks, any raw vegetable is great with a schmear of pâté. Or use it as a base for leafy roll-ups or veggie sushi in nori rolls.

I stuffed the marinated mushrooms with a generous mounded teaspoon of the filling and included a few on my luncheon plate of summer rolls, rice wrappers filled rice vermicelli, shredded napa cabbage, slivered carrots, red bell pepper and cucumber. Not a completely raw meal, but mostly raw.

Summer rolls with peanut sauce.

I use almond butter in all recipes that call for peanut butter— choosing to avoid peanuts, which aren't really nuts, but legumes. I make several different versions of 'peanut sauce'. All are simple to make and great to have in the fridge for dipping or thinned out with water to make an interesting sauce for steamed vegetables and grains.

Peanut Dipping Sauce: 1/2 cup almond butter . 1 clove garlic, minced . juice of one lime . 2 TBS grated ginger . 2 Tbs agave nectar . 2 TBS tamari . 2 TBS water . 1/2 tsp salt . 1/8 - 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. This can be mixed in a blender or food processor, but I find it just as easy to whisk all together in a good size bowl (to avoid splashing).

Sunflower Pâté: 1 cup sunflower seeds (soaked) . 1/2 cup walnuts (soaked) . 1/2 sweet onion . 1 cloves garlic . 1 heaping Tbs tahini . 2 Tbs lemon juice . 2 Tbs tamari . 1/2 tsp salt . dash of cayenne. Place all ingredients in food processor. Blend until well combined with a smooth consistency. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

The pâté and dipping sauce quickly become staples in vegan and raw food kitchens, offering protein, a myriad of nutrients, not to mention they're real palate pleasers.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

More Salad Ideas
A dinner salad is more than a side dish of lettuce with a slice of tomato and perhaps a few pieces of cucumber. A dinner salad that will hold you for the evening has to be filled with nutrient rich ingredients that will satisfy the body's needs. I've found when the body finds the nutrition it requires to operate, cravings disappear.
With a fridge filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to whip up a salad bowl that will please the palate, fill the stomach and satisfy our cellular needs. Key to eating well and keeping it simple, is to plan ahead, make shopping a priority and start experimenting.

Vary the greens from day to day. I include more than one type of dark leafy green in most salads. Not only will you be getting a better variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, but the different flavors and textures offer more appeal and eliminate any chance of boredom.

This salad includes: arugula, red leaf lettuce, sweet onion, sweet red bell pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, chick peas, sunflower seeds and a few dried cranberries. It's dressed with olive oil and apple cider vinegar. And I just couldn't resist sprinkling the final presentation with a light coating of a new spice offering from Penzey's— a dynamite combination of black pepper and cayenne. Cayenne has super medicinal properties. Adding a bit to most savory meals will kick the foods up a notch (as Emeril would say) while adding hidden benefits for the body. Try it.