Thursday, December 31, 2009

Arugula & Red Cabbage Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Happy happy new year! I am back and have certainly missed blogging. The last two weeks I've been cooking up a storm. From meatball soup with kabocha squash and carnitas to apple crisp and persimmon cookies, I've certainly gotten my fill of rich food. You know you've had enough holiday eating when you wake up craving water and a salad. Something clean and refreshing, please! That being said, there's not one bite of holiday goodness I would give back. December for me is a month to let go, enjoy, and ring in the new year with love and self acceptance. Now I don't go crazy, like downing a box of See's candy, but if I want a persimmon cookie (or 4) I eat it. What's amazing too is that when I give myself permission to have what I want, I end up eating less. It's just not as much fun to gorge myself when I'm allowed to.

I haven't always been so ZEN about holiday eating, however. Consumed by guilt and fear of weight gain, holiday gatherings were a serious emotional ordeal. I constantly worried about what I ate, how much, and the caloric ramifications of my sugar-laden actions. Each bite of double chocolate cheesecake brought about simultaneous feelings of pleasure and pain. I loved my Mom's homemade cheesecake with its creamy decadence yet with eat bite, up went the calorie tab in my head. And of course the worst part of my eating insanity was the more I stressed about my food and tried to restrict it, the more I shoved into my face. I remember inhaling cranberry pear tart at midnight because earlier in the evening I stated I was done eating tarts! The more aggressive and restrictive I got, the more my inner child rebelled. "No more desserts, you say? I'll show you!!!" And of course who ended up stuffed to the gills and anxiety ridden after such a!

This nasty cycle went on for years and didn't really clear up until I started looking at food as a way to nourish and heal myself rather than a mechanism for control. I think it's almost impossible to take the emotionality out of eating. However, when we nourish ourselves in the context of self-care, gratitude, and love, the urge to stuff our over-active neurosis with food melts away. I now take the food I need, thank my tummy for digesting all I put into it, and I'm done.

How the heck did I even get on this topic? Oh right, craving salad. So here is my way of balancing out the heaviness of holiday fare and guilt...a bright winter salad! This combo is a great mix of textures with a fantastic sweet and pungent punch. Cabbage and arugula are also helpful detox foods, making this salad perfect for cleansing the system after unaccountable cookies and too much champagne.

Arugula & Red Cabbage Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Serves 3-4

3/4 of 1 head organic red cabbage
2 cups arugula, washed
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
3 scallions, chopped
2-3 tablespoons unrefined and peppery olive oil (my fav is Bariani)
2 tablespoons sweet balsamic vinegar (my fav is again, Bariani)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup dry roasted almonds, chopped

Start by shredding the cabbage. Place cabbage on it's flat end and cut in half. Cut in half again, which gives you 4 quarters. Place one quarter in the fridge for another time. Slice cabbage into thin strips, avoiding the white core. Cut the cabbage strips in half and place in a large bowl. Add in the arugula, cilantro, mint and scallions. Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and toss well. Top with almonds and serve. Enjoy!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Coriander Collard Greens with Sweet Potatoes

"Are you sure this is safe for human consumption?", he said with a concerned look on his face. I had just placed a beautiful plate of braised kale with carrots and garlic in front of my new boyfriend. "Yes, Gray. Humans can eat all sorts of leafy greens. Mustard greens, bok choy, collards, kale. They are all delicious and really good for you." "I'm not sure," he wavered. "The only time I ever bought kale was to feed my pet iguana, Spud!"

And so goes the American relationship with greens. They are for garnish or iguana food, certainly not for the pristine palates of humans! In fact it is rare for anything green to cross most people's plates on a weekly basis, let alone daily (and no, parsley doesn't count). In my experience those who say they don't like greens just haven't had them prepared correctly. For example, I always thought I hated asparagus because my grandmother boiled it to grey mush. Yet there is nothing more divine in late spring than asparagus on the grill with a punch of lemon and Parmesan. OMG! We must all remember it's not the green we detest, but what's been done to it.

Gray now devours any green I put in front of him and loves every bite. (Or so he tells me.) So, what's my greens secret?...I NEVER steam or boil them. Alright, let me rephrase. I never serve vegetables prepared plain without any sort of aromatic or fat. Would you just boil meat and serve it up? I hope not. Greens, like any other whole food, need a little help. Aromatics (garlic, onion, shallots) bring out the greens' innate sweetness while fat rounds out the flavor. Steamed or blanched is fine, just be sure to top the vegetables with a nice vinaigrette, pesto, or fruity olive oil.

Most of my clients, particularly women, look to salads for their vegetable intake. While salad is good, it only gets you half way there. To really get all the vitamins and minerals you need, you've got to go darker and leafier. Try branching out from spinach and romaine lettuce and pick up a gorgeous bunch of kale or collard greens. These foods are not only delicious but also loaded with fiber to help move out all that excess holiday food ;)

This is a wonderful anytime dish and would even go nicely on your holiday table. What, you weren't going to serve anything green at your holiday festivities? Well, now you are. I also like to make extra and scramble it up with eggs in the morning.

Coriander Collard Greens with Sweet Potatoes
** FYI- Collards can be a bit bitter. If you are sensitive to this flavor, try the recipe with kale instead.

1 yellow onion, diced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or organic butter
2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 cup water, divided
sea salt to taste
3-4 cups collard greens, washed and finely chopped (kale or swiss chard work well too)
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes, until onions become translucent. Toss in the cubed sweet potatoes and coriander and stir until evenly coated. Add half the water to the pan and cover, allowing the potatoes to quickly soften, 7-8 minutes. (Add more water if necessary.) While the potatoes are cooking, cut the collards. Roll the greens into long cigars and chop into thin strips from one end to the other. Cut the strips in half for even cooking.

When the potatoes have softened, remove the lid and add the collard greens and cilantro. Mix thoroughly and add another quick pinch of salt and the remaining water. Return the lid to the pan and reduce the heat to low. Let the saute cook for another 8 minutes or until the collards are dark green. Remove the lid and stir the mixture together. Season with salt to taste and drizzle with the lemon juice and a touch more olive oil. Enjoy!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes

Martha Stewart always reminds me of Hanukkah. Not the Martha Stewart of today, but Martha circa 1982. Every December my mom drags out one of her most utilized cookbooks, "Entertaining, by Martha Stewart" and scours the pages to decide what to make. If you've never seen the book, I highly recommend checking it out. (Though I don't think you can find original editions anymore.) Besides gazing upon a young and seemingly jovial Martha, the layout and pictures are simply gorgeous. I will say this, the woman knows how to put a table together! I remember sitting at the kitchen counter, flipping each page with glee to see the next gorgeous dish Martha deemed a must-make for any real hostess. Yes, there are parts of this book that are ridiculous. Like the insane homage to table settings. Did you know different china sets must be used depending on the theme and time of year of said soiree? How many dishes do you think I have, woman? Though the recipes are traditional and certainly dated (crown roast of pork with paper tassels in tow), there is something very warm and comforting within its folds. To this day I like to sit in my mother's kitchen and turn to the page featuring "Black Bottom Pie"; a sugar and dairy bomb of a dessert that my mother never made and I yearned for.

Picture of my lovely mother in her holiday glory...on the phone as usual!
It's completely bizarre that I associate Martha with Hanukkah, especially as her book regales the numerous ways to host an authentic Christmas gala. Whatever! Ultimately it's about being with family, smelling fried latkes and wishing for one of our party guests to bring me that Black Bottom Pie!

Though maybe not up to Martha's standards (we did use every day plates, after all) this year's Hanukkah party was certainly a hit. For many reasons in fact, but particularly due to the sweet potato latkes. I sound like a freak when it comes to my mom's food but it's just so good that I one) can't stop eating it (what happened to mindful eating?) and 2) don't want to share it. Luckily there were plenty to go around so I didn't resort to horde-mode. These sweet, spicy, and starchy little cakes are a welcome twist on the classic potato pancake. It's a latke with spunk! Be sure to make extra as they are a brilliant treat for breakfast.

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled
1 onion, peeled
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (Buckwheat is a gluten-free flour that gives the latkes a nice crispiness. Whole wheat flour will work as well)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons curry powder
salt to taste
2 organic eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons olive oil, coconut oil, or ghee for frying (I usually don't recommend olive oil on high heat but this once won't kill you)

Grate sweet potatoes and onion and put together in a bowl. Add in the flour, baking powder, curry power and salt and mix thoroughly. Stir the beaten eggs into the mixture.

Heat the oil in a frying pan on medium-high heat. Caution: You do not want the oil to smoke. Drop 2-3 tablespoons of the batter (depending on what size you like) into the oil and flatten. Fry over medium heat on both sides until golden. Place on a paper towel to drain excess oil. Serve with a dollop of sour cream sprinkled with scallions or apple sauce. Enjoy!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Vanilla Maple Granola

When I first met my husband 6 years ago (goodness that's a long time!), he was a root beer drinking, white pasta and Tyson frozen chicken eating grad student. Though he usually denies such allegations ("I never drank soda! I just had it in the fridge that one time your came over.") his diet left much to be desired. In fact, he never really thought about food until we met. He ate when he was hungry and that was about it, where as I'm one who thinks about lunch while chomping breakfast. His parents weren't food-oriented (It's OK if I call them out, they don't read this anyway) so the delicious sense-engaging nature of food was not at the top of my dear husband's priority list. I am being a little hard on him though. While a student he had a crazy schedule with very little time to shower, let alone eat well. And yet, it's when we run around like chickens with our heads cut off that we NEED good food to fuel our overworked bodies. There were times I brought him dinner during certain all nighters, but for the most part I let him fend for himself. What a lovely girlfriend I was. I can't believe he married me! It's OK, I make up for it now. Every morning he rolled out of bed to a bowl of dry sugared cereal with milk or a frosting-shellacked danish on the way to class. Let's shoot our blood sugar through the roof before 9 am, shall we! I tried my hardest to explain the poor quality of his morning meals but to no avail. If there is one thing I know about my man, its that he will not tolerate being told what to do. Even if I'm right!

So what I've learned is if I can't go through him, I will go around him. My way of getting around the breakfast debacle was to simply give him a better yet similar option. "Have you ever tried granola?", I asked one morning. "Yeah, it's OK," he replied, not really listening to me. "What if I got you some to try instead of your regular cereal?", I queried. "Sure, I'm open." I'm open??? Sweet! Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I ran off to Whole Foods to get what I thought was a healthy breakfast alternative. Man, was I wrong! Most of the granola available had almost as much sugar as regular cereal complete with bizarre freeze dried strawberries and other "fruits". I was able to find one that fit my requirements but for the most part the selection left much to be desired. After a few months (yes months!) of eating barely Jamie-legal granola I said, "You know, the granola you get is kind of expensive and loaded with sugar. What if I make you some instead?", I offered. "Sure, I'm into it."

And so it was on that very day that Gray became a homemade granola man. He liked the first batch so much he's been making it himself every few weeks for the last 3 years. It's the only thing he makes, but he makes it good! I certainly feel proud of my little triumph over the sugared breakfast cereal. Now I just need to work on the copious beer consumption. Though I fear that's a lost cause!

Vanilla Maple Granola

2 cups organic whole rolled oats
1 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup raw nuts, chopped (almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)
1/3 cup organic maple syrup (you can us a little extra if you like things particularly sweet)
1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil or organic butter, melted
1 tablespoon real vanilla extract (no corn syrup or coloring added)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine oats, seeds, nuts, salt and coconut in a large bowl. Whisk together the maple syrup, oil/butter, and vanilla and pour over the dry ingredients. Spread out in a large Pyrex baking dish. Make sure the granola is not piled on too high. Use two smaller Pyrex dishes if necessary.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden, stirring twice during baking. Remove from the oven and let it cool. Store in a large cereal container and enjoy! This granola also make a fantastic gift.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Preserved Lemons

I have been eying a clay cooking vessel for a while...years actually. Ever since my friend Jacqueline made a ridiculous vegan lasagna in a terra cotta dish. I'm like an elephant, I never forget. And little did my poor husband know that he was about to buy me one on our most recent trip to Sonoma. This idea had been percolating since June when Steve Sando mentioned the new Sonoma clay cookware shop Bram. Perfect! As we drove up to Sonoma I couldn't help but think about my soon-to-be purchase. What shape do I want? What about the color? Which piece will be the most versatile? When we got to the square and began to walk around, I discreetly headed towards the shop. "Oh, look at this!", I exclaimed in my most naive voice. "A clay cookware store. Who knew! Can we go in?" My husband has never once said no to a request that would benefit him culinarily. We were both excited by Bram's gorgeous collection and Gray was so into it, he actually picked out the piece we bought (I've got to let him make a few decisions). As we checked out, I looked to my right to see Paula Wolfert's new book Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking: Traditional and Modern Recipes to Savor and Share Of course, another book I'd been pining after. "That's a signed copy," said the clerk. "SOLD!" Hey I needed this book and besides, I've got to know how to use the clay cooker right?

So why am I giving you a recipe for preserved lemons and not clay pot chicken with charred tomatoes? Well for one, tomatoes aren't in season (HA, gotcha!) and two, I'm totally intimidated! I know its hard to believe but I am seriously nervous to break in my new equipment. I've read Paula's book cover to cover and already know what I want to make (Bulgar and Greens with Pistachios and Yogurt) but I just can't get myself to do it. YET. That being said, now I've put it out there so I have to do it. Alright, I will. Go Jamie go!

In the meantime, try these super easy preserved lemons. It's a great way to keep lemons you don't have time to use while fresh. They also make a fantastic gift. As for uses, chop them up and put in your eggs, salad, lentils, greens, and grain dishes. Enjoy!

Preserved Lemons
Adapted from Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking

3 medium sized organic lemons
1/3 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (from your other organic lemons)
extra virgin olive oil

Scrub the lemons and dry well. Cut each into 8 wedges. Mix them with salt and place in a 1 cup capacity glass jar. (I used a 1 1/2 cup capacity jar and it was fine.) Pour in the lemon juice. Close the jar tightly, give it a good shake, and let the lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days. Be sure to shake the jar every day to distribute the salt and juice. To store, add olive oil to cover and place the jar in a cool cupboard or the refrigerator. They will last for up to a year. Be sure to rinse lemons before use.

**According to Paula, a white lacy growth MAY appear in your preserving jar as the lemons mature on the shelf. Don't worry about it. Simply discard it when you open the jar and rinse the lemons before use.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Maple & Spice Glazed Nuts

Every year my parents throw a huge holiday party. Come December, 50 people descend upon my familial abode to enjoy fantastic food, drinks and the guaranteed impromptu jam session. (My father is a musician and loves to keep the party raging into the wee hours...around 11 pm.) My mom, heaven love her, is a total control freak about the food (ahem!) and likes to make most of it herself. To see her in the kitchen is like watching Giada De Laurentis on fast forward. Flip the potato latkes, stir the ratatouille, check the frittata, knead the cookie dough. It is complete insanity and I love it! I love it now, I should say. In my late teens and early 20's holiday cheer was unfortunately mixed with a heavy dose of food anxiety. Fear of fat and caloric overload kept me from fully enjoying the bounty. "How much fat does the cranberry pear tart have?" I'd bemoan. "Jamie, RELAX." my mom would say. "Just have a little bit and enjoy." I could have slapped her in that moment. What do you mean just have a "little bit"? My mother, the queen of self control, could take just a sliver of each dessert and be perfectly satisfied. What the heck is that? Unlike my mother, I'm an all or nothing kinda girl. I'd either eat half the tart or none at all. No little slivers for me thank you! The most troubling of her holiday delectables were her spiced nuts. You could smell the spicy sugary goodness down the street and every year they did me in.

Walnuts and pecans cooked down with tons of sugar and spice to make an awesome holiday could I resist? She'd spread them all over the house so no matter what room I entered, there they were starring at me, willing me to eat just one more. Of course, one more turned into another handful which turned into me nonchalantly grazing in every room so that our guests wouldn't catch on to my sugared nut frenzy!

Thankfully this all stopped when I cut white sugar out of my diet. It still amazes me how much less stress I experience by not freaking out over calories and fat during in the holidays (family freak outs are another issue, however). Instead, I look at how the food reacts in my body and I know white sugar is a definite no no. My compulsion around the nuts was not only about my fear of fat but also the biological reaction that when I eat sugar I NEEDED more of it. And yet, over the years I've realized you cannot be all or nothing about food, or life in general. Rigidity leads to compulsion which inevitably makes way for anxiety and self-criticism.

So what can we do about the holiday foods that do us in every year? Why make a Jamie|Living version, of course! Here is a delicious rendition of my mom's holiday nuts without the white sugar. And where did I get the recipe? From my mom! Over the last few years she too has jumped onto the no white sugar bandwagon and has altered a number of her recipes to make them a bit more healthy and just as divine. Now be careful, even without the white stuff it's hard to just have a few ;) Enjoy!

Maple & Spice Glazed Nuts

3 tablespoons real organic maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (add a bit more if you like things spicy!)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
2 cups nuts (pecans, walnuts and cashews work best)
1 pinch of salt

Toss all ingredients together and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 minutes. Allow to cool fully for the syrup to harden. Spread around the house so you are always within arms reach of this scrumptious treat :)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Bean Pilaf with Cilantro Lime Dressing

Let it be known, I am a bean freak! I have never met a bean I didn't love (though I've met a few who did not love me). I eat some sort of bean or legume every day (told you I was a freak) whether in soups, salads, sautes or casseroles. Beside their fantastic flavor, beans always make the Top 10 Healthiest foods list with their high protein and fiber content. These scrumptious staples can be put into almost any dish and yet many people suffer from what I call "bean bashfulness". That is, they deem beans too difficult to cook and therefore are bashful and subsequently unfamiliar with the beautiful bean's many uses.

I say this coming from a place of empathy because about 5 years ago I was in a full "bean bashfulness" flare-up. At the time I was 95% vegan (I ate fish twice a month) and used only tofu as my main source of protein. "Beans take too long," I complained. "First you soak them then cook them and when done, you're stuck with a giant pot of beans. What do you do with that?" Oh, naive little Jamie! But heck, what did I know about beans? The only beans I grew up eating were hidden in hummus and split pea soup or lovingly refried in lard and served up with menudo by my Mexican neighbors. (Who, by the way, called me skinny-bone Jones and claimed my mother was starving me to death!) The point is, I was at a bean loss and perfectly happy to stay there. As a side note, while eating countless blocks of processed tofu, I experienced uncomfortable stomach aches and flatulence. "Couldn't be the tofu", I blindly decided. "The stuff is WAY too healthy." Then one day I ran out of tofu and was forced to make lentils for my lunch and dinner. I had bought the lentils a few months prior at an attempt to branch out, which never happened.

The outcome was astonishing. Besides realizing how easy and delicious lentils were to make, I had no stomach distress all day. Unbelievable! After that I cut out processed tofu and replaced it with every type of whole bean and lentil I could find. My favorite beans now are heirloom varietals that have a rich smoky flavor and creamy texture I've never experienced with any other type of bean. Yes, standard black, pinto, and garbanzo are good too. Heirlooms just make the dish a bit more special.

I recently made this dish for a pot luck where all the guests were parents. I could barely make out the oohs and aahs from the satisfied tasters over the cacophonous noise of children's screams, grunts, and I think, a few howls. Though I had liberated these "bean bashfulness" sufferers with my pilaf I couldn't help but notice my own "conceiving cowardice" begin to grow. However, that's for another entry!

Black Bean Pilaf with Cilantro Lime Dressing
Feel free to used alternative grains that you like. Mixing in brown rice with the quinoa works wells and adds a nice texture.
Serves 4 as a side dish

1 1/2 cups quinoa, picked over, rinsed and drained
3 cups of water
1 1/2 cups Eden canned black beans, rinsed, drained and quickly blanched for 1 minute (If experimenting with heirloom beans, go for the Midnight Black Beans)
1 1/2 cups leftover cooked dino kale (you can also use broccoli, green beans, or swiss chard)
4 scallions, chopped

5 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sea salt
1 1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a medium pot, add in quinoa, water, and a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 16 minutes. Transfer the quinoa to a ceramic/glass bowl and let cool for a few minutes. Add in the beans, greens, and scallions.

For the dressing, use a small bowl and whisk together the lime juice, salt, cumin, and cilantro. Then add the oil in a continuous stream, making sure to continue whisking. Drizzle the dressing over the pilaf and mix well. Add in a bit more salt to taste in you desire. Top with pumpkin seeds and serve. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Seaweed Soup with New Friends

Truth be told, I'm not a naturally friendly person. Yes, I can be outgoing but I'm just as comfortable being a hermit in my kitchen. Friends in college used to make fun of me for the scowl I wore around campus. "I can't help it," I'd protest. "It's just the way my face falls!" However, in the last few years I've made a concerted effort to flex my "friendly" muscle and even, heaven forbid, smile at people. It's actually quite nice. Anyhoo, it was on such a "friendly" muscle flexing day that I met Susan. We were seated next to each other and listening to a lecture on Spring cleanses. "She's pretty, well-dressed, and looks nice," I said to myself. "I should talk to her." And so I did! We proceeded to have a great conversation and before I could even stop myself I blurted out, "Hey, you should come over for dinner!" That's right, I invited a perfect stranger (and her husband) to my house. I was really stepping out! A few weeks later Susan and Sung came over for dinner and we had a fantastic time. As it turns out, Sung is a brew master which was an immediate plus for Gray. As the boys talked beer making and micro brews, Susan and I chatted about our mutual food philosophy and favorite recipes. The evening ended with hugs all around and promises to get together soon. That was over a year ago and I now consider them to be some of our closest friends.

So close in fact, we were able to weasel our way over for a traditional Korean feast a few weeks ago. Susan is a brilliant chef but this was my first time experiencing her Korean cooking. (To be fair, Sung cooked as well.) What a treat it was! We had garlic and sesame infused short ribs with shiso leaves, purple rice with kidney beans, handmade mung bean cakes (out of this world!!!), kimchee, marinated bellflower root and cucumbers, and seaweed soup.

My mouth waters just thinking about the meal. Each dish was masterfully constructed and had a depth of flavor that left the palate begging for more. As you can imagine, there were very few leftovers.

I asked Susan to share a recipe from the evening and she generously sent me the instructions for her seaweed soup. Besides being quite yummy and easy to make, this soup is particularly nourishing for those who are sick or have recently given birth. The seaweed's high mineral content is ideal for strengthening any compromised system. Enjoy!

Seaweed Soup (Miyeok Guk)

1 tbsp. toasted unrefined sesame oil
1/4 pound beef sirloin tips or rib sys steak, sliced into matchstick strips (Optional. You can also add shredded chicken instead or leave the meat out completely)
3/4 oz (little more than 1/4 cup) seaweed, reconstituted in water, drained and coarsely chopped
2 tsp. garlic, minced
2 tbsp. tamari
4 cups water
Sea salt and pepper

In a medium pot, add the sesame oil and place over low heat. Add the beef, reconstituted seaweed, garlic, and soy sauce. Stir fry until the beef is cooked through, about 5-7 minutes. Add the water and cook until the soup is very hot, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Delicious served with rice and kimchee.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

When Crabs Cry

I remember my mom once told me a story about my Aunti Michele and crying crabs. As the story goes, Aunti Mich (as we like to call her) was in the mood for crab and rather than buy it pre-cooked and cracked, she decided to go old school and do it from scratch. That's right, buy LIVE crabs and cook'em! As my mom regaled the story taking me through every nuanced detail of procuring said crab, she suddenly stopped. Her face contorted and with weepy eyes said, "Then she threw them into the boiling water! And you know what she said, Jamie? Aunti Mich said they screamed and cried and tried to get out!!! Isn't that awful?" "YES!!", I exclaimed. It was so terribly awful I couldn't stand it. Couldn't my Aunt have bashed them over the head first or something. I remember two things from that story: 1) My Aunt Michele was a serious bad ass and not to be messed with and 2) I would never cook live crabs. NEVER.

Fast forward a decade to this past Halloween, just a few weeks ago. We decided to be mellow and have another couple over for a nice meal. Mutton burgers on the BBQ, little gem lettuces with avocado and red Roma apples, fresh sweet batard, and a pecan pie. We had never made dinner with the other couple before but they are foodies so I thought, why not? The day before our planned food fest Gray called me to say, "Charlene and Toben are really excited about tomorrow night. By the way, Charlene wants to bring something special." "That's SO sweet", I said. "Yeah, she wants to bring LIVE crabs! Isn't that awesome?", Gray replied. "Ummmmm, I'm a little uncomfortable with that idea," I blurted. I was trying to remain calm but what I wanted to say was," Hell NO, are you insane? Don't you know they scream bloody murder until their little crabby voices are drowned out by the bubbling cauldron of death?!?"

I prepped myself for Toben and Charlene's arrival and was ready for my crab confrontation. After hugs and pleasantries I mentioned my trepidation about crab cooking. Without any hesitation Charlene promised it was no big deal and that I had nothing to worry about. This did not put me at ease in the least but I was not about to fight. She had her heart set on eating crab and I could see nothing was going to stop her. Off she went to the Asian market and returned with two giant and unhappy looking crabs.

There I stood in shock and horror as she boiled up a giant pot of water and threw each in, one right after the other. The first tried to jump out, scrapped the side of the pot as he went into the steaming water. Charlene didn't even flinch. Number 2 was much more docile, almost resigned to his fate after watching his buddy struggle. I will admit I didn't hear any screams, just one very tiny yelp as each crab hit the water. On went the lid and 20 minutes later, dinner was ready.

I told Charlene I wasn't going to eat any, you know, as a silent protest for the unsuspecting crustaceans. But the smell coming off them was too much to resist. "One little bite", I thought. "Thank you, Mr. Crab", I murmured, "for letting me eat you. P.S. Sorry about this!" As it turned out, my one bite became 20. They were the best crabs I had ever tasted. So delicious, so sweet, so FRESH. As a dipping sauce, Charlene served brown rice vinegar with julienned ginger rather than drawn butter; an ideal compliment to the richness of the crab that added a great balance of tangy spice.

It was quite a culinary adventure and one I'm happy I experienced. Once, however, I think will be enough.

Steamed Crab with Vinegar and Ginger

2 large King Crabs
3 tablespoons sea salt
1/2 cup brown rice vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, cut into thin strips

Fill a large pot a quarter of the way full with water. Add in salt and bring the water to a boil. Place each crab into the boiling water and let cook, covered, for 18-20 minutes. When the crabs are done their shells will turn reddish/pink. Take the cooked crabs out of the water and let cool. Turn the crab upside down. Insert a chopstick into the crab where the head and top shell connect and lift up. The shell will pop open like a lid.

Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the julienned ginger. Crack the legs and body of the crab to get the meat and dip in the vinegar sauce. Simple as that. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gluten Free Chocolate Brown Rice Crispy Treats

I've been telling you for years to lay off the sugar and I will say it again. LAY OFF THE SUGAR! "But Jamie, it tastes SOOOO good," you cry. Not to worry. Just because you forget the white stuff doesn't mean we have to give up sweetness altogether.

But first, why must we stay away from white sugar? Besides the fact that sugar is stripped of all vitamins and minerals by using bleaches and toxic chemical solvents, it also spikes blood glucose levels which can insight weight gain, diabetes, high triglyceride and cholesterol levels, poor eye sight, depression and a host
of other ailments. Exciting, huh? Americans eat over 150 pounds of sugar per person per year and yet from a biological standpoint, we do not need white sugar at all. Our bodies function perfectly without it: our taste buds, however, tend to differ.

So if we can't have white sugar, what can we have? Here are just a few of my favorite non-white-sugar sweeteners. They undergo minimal processing, contain trace vitamins and minerals, and don't spike blood sugar levels as drastically as white sugar. Granted it's important to remember that sugar is sugar is sugar. That is, we don't need a lot of it and even though there are "healthy" alternatives, these sweeteners should not be used in excess. Sweet treats should always be just that, a treat. An occasional indulgence that, because of it's infrequency, is very special.

JAMIE|LIVING's Favorite Alternative Sweeteners

Sweetener Amount = 1 cup white sugar

Barley Malt 1 1/3 cup
Brown Rice Syrup 1 1/3 cup
Organic Maple Syrup 3/4 cup
Rapadura/Sucanat (unrefined, unbleached cane sugar) 3/4 cup
Raw Organic Honey 2/3 cup

Brown Rice syrup was the first alternative sweetener I ever tried and it is still an all-time fave. Rich and smooth, this sweetener has an amazing depth of flavor that reminds me of butterscotch. Can't go wrong with that! Here is a delicious recipe that is a perfect introduction to using alternative sweeteners. I have made these for dedicated rice crispy fans who adored them and didn't even miss the marshmallow. You won't either. Promise!

Chocolate Brown Rice Crispy Treats
Serve 6

1/2 cup organic peanut butter (don't buy a "no stir" kind. It's got added sugar!)
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1 tsp. organic vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups gluten free brown rice cereal (I use Erewhon brand)
1/4 cup 70% cacao chocolate chips

In a small sauce pan, heat peanut butter and brown rice syrup until they are melted together and creamy. Add in the vanilla and the brown rice cereal. Let the mix cool for a few minutes to make sure the chocolate chips don't melt when you add them in. Throw in the chocolate chips and mix thoroughly.

Pour mixture into an 8x8 Pyrex baking dish, place into the refrigerator and let cool for an hour or two. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Monday, October 26, 2009

7 Delicious Uses for Avocados

"I'll have a California roll please, oh, and hold the avocado," I sheepishly ordered. "You don't eat avocado?" he blurted, at a decibel level that made me a bit uncomfortable. "Ummm no," I lied. "But the flavor adds SO much to the roll. It's rich, creamy, nutty and..." "It's a texture thing," I interrupted. "Not into the mushy stuff." Finally he dropped it. I was with my dear foodie friend Asi, out to share one of our favorite meals, sushi, and catch up. It had been a while since I'd seen Asi so it made sense he didn't remember that I used to eat avocado. I used to be all about them. In fact, I grew up with an avocado tree in my back yard that graciously gifted us avocados the size of my head. Entire summer meals centered around guacamole. But not anymore. I was deep in the throws of low fat mania, desperate to be "skinny" and not about to let one fatty avocado morsel pass my lips. Asi's overt infatuation with our beautifully twiggy waitress didn't help either. "There's no way in hell I'm eating avocado now!!", I thought.

My low fat days were a crazy time of trying to attain thinness (whatever that meant) and be a good diet soldier following each new craze with obsessive zeal. Looking back, it was really pure insanity. Eating processed, sugar laden fat free foods instead an actual whole fruit??? (Quick FYI, avocado is a fruit.) Just ridiculous! The 90's fat free thinking truly took a toll on our collective psyche. I still have clients asking me, "Are avocados really ok to eat?" YES YES YES. They were always OK to eat. It was just our whacked out desire for good health or the perfect body that allowed us to listen to poorly sourced nutrition and media advice, rather than our own bodies.

Besides being fantastically yummy, avocados are quite good for us. What, you say? Creamy, fatty, indulgent and good for me?? Sign me up! They are loaded with vitamins K, B and C and rich in omega 3 fatty acids. To be honest, a nightly fight can be viewed in our dining room as Gray and I battle it out for the chunks of avocado in our salad. Needless to say, I am always the winner. The trick is knowing that avocado, being heavier than the other salad ingredients, falls to the bottom. Lift up a few lettuce leaves and there they are! Cubed, dressed, and ready to be devoured.

Here are 7 great ways to get avocados into your diet. Just remember, go for local over Chilean and Mexican grown.

1. Salad dressing- mix mashed avocado with olive oil, lime/lemon, cumin, sea salt, fresh cilantro and thin with a little water.
2. Vegan mayonnaise- mix mashed avocado with olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, fresh dill, and sea salt and put on any sandwich.
3. A topping for everything- I put avocado over most things including lentil salad, cabbage slaw and sun dried tomato pilaf.
4. Chocolate mousse-blend avocado, honey/maple syrup, cocoa powder, and vanilla extract until smooth. Let it chill in the refrigerator for 2 hours and enjoy!
5. Cookies/Quick Bread recipes- Add 1/2 cup of mashed avocado to a favorite cookie or quick bread recipe.
6. Avocado seaweed salad- combine 1 avocado with 1/2 cup soaked arame or wakame and toss with green onion, cucumber, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar, and tamari.
7. Smoothie - add avocado to any smoothie for an added rich and creamy flavor.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rainy Day French Lentil Lunch

Every Sunday I make a big pot of something for my week day lunches. Yes, I work from home but I still don't have time to cook a meal in the middle of the day. I'm a busy girl, you know? Sometimes I make soup, other times I throw together a quick grain, bean, and green combo. Recently I've been really into lentils. Particularly the French green type. It's funny how our bodies can be particular about certain things and not about others. For example, my body loves French green lentils, Umbrian lentils, and red lentils. I always feel energized, full, and happy when they cross my plate. One bite of standard brown lentils however, and (without getting graphic) I require quarantining. They are all lentils though, right? Shouldn't my body act the same with each varietal? NOPE. Small changes in composition can set our sensitive systems off without much warning. The moral of the story...listen to your body. You should feel no less than amazing after you eat. If this is not the case, begin to think about those foods that make you tired, anxious, lethargic, and yes quarantinable. Your body is telling you something. Just listen.

As for my lentil lunch, I doctored it with a few trumpet mushrooms and broccoli I had in the fridge. Feel free to throw in whatever you've got: roasted sweet potato chunks, kale, avocado, shredded chicken, or a squidgy egg would all be yummy.

Lentil Salad with Trumpet Mushrooms and Broccoli
Serves 6 as a side dish

2 cup French Green lentils, picked over and washed
2 tablespoons ghee, coconut oil, or olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks of celery or 1 fennel bulb, diced
Sea salt to taste
1/4 fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons of fresh dill or basil, chopped (don't skimp on the fresh herbs. They make a BIG difference)

Place lentils in a medium sized pot and cover with 3 inches of water. Bring the lentils to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30-35 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, chop up the vegetables. When the lentils are done, drain them into a colander. In the same pot, heat up the ghee. Add in onion, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the lentils back to the vegetable mixture and toss in the fresh herbs. Season with salt to taste and a bit more ghee if you like.

***To add in trumpet mushrooms and broccoli:

In a sauce pan, saute chopped onion in a bit of olive oil. Add in mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes. Toss in the broccoli with a pinch of salt and 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and let steam until the broccoli is tender, about 4 minutes. Add 1/2 a cup of the French green lentil mixture, warm through, and lunch is served!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lamb and Kabocha Squash Mole

"We don't need it", he said, straining to keep his voice low. "But I want it!", I whined, knowing my poor husband to be helpless when I enter brat-o-rama mode. "Come on, it will be SOOO good. I promise you will love it," I pleaded. Being a diva when it comes to food, I always get my way. Granted, I had just received a beautiful delivery from our meat CSA, but this was lamb, and fresh at that. I stood at the counter, eyes fixed upon my desired prize. Reluctantly he sighed and said, "OK, whatever the baby wants." SWEET!!!!

We had made this impromptu stop at Marin Sun Farms on our way to picnic at Hog Island Oyster Company. (There was also a detour to Cowgirl Creamery where I went a little crazy with the raw goat's milk cheese. The entire Marshall/Point Reyes area is where foodies go to die.
What can I say, I was in rare form.)

Thankfully, I can say no to most things stereotypically female. Shoes, clothes, perfume, NOT interested. In fact, I hate shopping. It's the bane of my existence. But a cookbook, rustic olive oil, smoked salt, or in this case, lamb...I need it and can't live without it! As a child, I remember going to the market with my mom and loving the bins of fresh fruit, unshelled walnuts, the snack aisle. Food shopping is still the most coveted time I share with her. It's about bonding over a mutual love and no one else is invited. NO ONE!

Back to the lamb. I'd bought a few dry farmed tomatoes the day before with an inkling to make Heidi Swanson's vegetarian mole.

I've actually made her dish a number of times with fantastic results. Yet once laying my eyes on the nicely cubed stew meat Marin Sun Farms had to offer, vegetarian was out the window. Gray purchased my little lamb (he wanted to buy it as a "present" for long anniversary jewelry) and off we went to our picnic. The day ended with full bellies of oysters, goat cheese, and beer topped with a stunning sunset. As we lazily drove home that Sunday afternoon my mind wandered to the dinner that lay ahead.
"Thank you lamby", I thought. "Thank you for sacrificing your body so that I may nourish mine. I promise to make you proud." And I certainly did.

**(P.S. I promise to start taking pictures with a real camera soon. This iPhone doesn't cut it anymore!)

Lamb and Kabocha Squash Mole
Serves 4

1 pound lamb stew meat
1 1/2 cups kabocha squash (kabocha squash is a Japanese varietal that is sweet and quite starchy)
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of coconut oil or ghee, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper (use more or less depending on your personal spice level)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 pounds dry farmed tomatoes, diced (you can also use 1 14 oz can of plum tomatoes)
2 teaspoons of paprika
4 tablespoons of almond meal/flour OR grind 1 oz of roasted almonds
1/3 cup organic dark chocolate chips, like Sunspire
1/4 cup of water
Sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the squash into 3/4 inch chunks and toss with 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Place in a roasting pan and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, until crisp but still firm.

While the squash is roasting, cook up the lamb. Heat a medium saute pan with a teaspoon of coconut oil. Toss in the cubed lamb with a pinch of salt and saute until each side is brown, about 8 minutes. The meat should feel springy to the touch, juicy and not overly firm.

Reduce the oven to 300 degrees. In a thick bottomed casserole pot, heat the remaining coconut oil and saute up the onion and cayenne pepper. Add in the garlic and cook for another 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and paprika, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Add in the lamb, squash, almond meal, chocolate, water, and a teaspoon of salt. Stir until the chocolate has melted. Cover the casserole dish and place in the oven for 1 1/4 hours.

Remove from the oven and serve with fresh bread or organic corn tortillas and a green salad.

**To get your in greens and make it a one pot meal, throw in sautéed kale when you add in the squash.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Coconut Sweet Potato and Kale Stew

I am all about the coconut. You might say, I'm crazy for coconut. Coconut oil, butter, milk, I use it all. For years I avoided coconut, having been persuaded that it's high levels of saturated fat would harden my arteries and leave me dead by 32. (Yes, I was a hypochondriac and easily influenced). My first bite of coconut oil came 3 years ago when I took a friend's advice to use it in a saute. I had done a good deal of research on coconut oil's healing properties (aids in digestion/absorption of vitamins and minerals, is loaded with lauric acid that prevents viral and bacterial infection) but I still couldn't let go of the fact that it might kill me. "One time," I thought. "What's cooking with coconut oil one time going to hurt?" The moment the oil hit the pan I was a goner. The amazing aroma of coconut-y goodness filled the house and I was transported to a tropical island of beautiful sand dunes and beaches. And that was just the smell, people. I hadn't even tasted it yet! The taste as you can imagine was terrific and since then coconut oil has been a staple in my cooking ever since.

Let's just quickly debunk the myth around saturated fat. Shockingly, saturated fat is essential for proper body function. Saturated fatty acids aid in hormone production, strengthen cellular membranes, and stabilize proteins to support the immune system. Now, don't get worried. I'm not talking about low quality fat from antibiotic stuffed, commercially raised animals and dairy products. But rather the good omega 3's and saturated fats prevalent in organic, pastured raised live stock, butter, and yes, coconut oil. Another reason to buy local pasture raised meat: Their fat is free of dangerous pharmaceuticals. Antibiotics and hormones are stored in the fat cells of commercially raised animals which renders their meat and fat toxic to us. It is this chemically laden fat that endangers our health and must be avoided.

So enough preaching about fat. Here is a dish I demoed for my cooking class just this week. It is a perfect fall one pot meal that has everything you need. Yummy coconut, greens, beans, and sweet potato. Doesn't get much better than that!

Coconut Sweet Potato and Kale Stew
Don't be overwhelmed by the number of ingredients. This dish comes together very quickly.
Serves 4

2 teaspoons unrefined virgin coconut oil
2 cups onion, diced
2 teaspoons sea salt, plus additional to taste
3 cups sweet potato, peeled and cubed
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon coriander, ground
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 can organic coconut milk
1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped
squeeze of lemon
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Heat oil in a good sized pot over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Add sweet potato, garbanzo beans, garlic, jalapeno, ginger, coriander, turmeric, and cinnamon and saute for 2 minutes. Add 2 cups of water, coconut milk and salt to the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 12-15 minutes.

While the sweet potato is cooking, wash and chop the kale. You may discard the stems but I like to keep them. Chop the greens into bite size pieces. Add the kale to the pot and simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes. Greens should be tender and the sweet potato soft. Adjust the seasoning to taste and remove the cinnamon stick.

Just before serving, squeeze in lemon juice and top with fresh cilantro and toasted almonds.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sauteed Purslane and Tomatoes

Purslane is one of those greens that rarely makes it to our plates. And why is that? It's an extremely versatile vegetable, can be eaten in salads or sauteed, and has one of the highest vegetable concentrations of those infallible omega 3's we know and love. I discovered purslane about 3 years ago when I happened upon it at the stand of 4 Sisters Farms.

Slightly sour like sorrel and quite crunchy, I was definitely intrigued. It's rare for me to find a vegetable that hasn't passed my lips so this was a triumph! A triumph that I kept to myself for the next 36 months. I don't know why I never shared this delicious exploit with Gray. I think it goes back to my issue with sharing. Perhaps it's that this new food revelation was just for me. Gray has beer, croissants, pizza, which subsequently means purslane is all mine! (Not that I'm against Gray's indulgences, they just don't work for my delicate system. Can you hear the tears dropping on the keyboard?)

So, last week I bought another beautiful bunch of my favorite secret green and decided it was time to bring my horded treat to our shared dinner table. The dish came together in about 6 minutes flat. Onions from the pantry, a few leftover dry-farmed tomatoes, chopped purslane and that was it. The greens softened just enough while still maintaining their toothiness. I served it with eggs and roasted potatoes (a quick dinner staple) though it would also be an ideal topping for brown rice, quinoa, or French green lentils. Enjoy and happy purslane exploring!

Sautéed Purslane and Tomatoes

1 medium onion, diced
4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
2 medium tomatoes, cored and finely chopped
1 bunch of purslane, washed and chopped
3 tablespoons of water
sea salt to taste
3-4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped

In a saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 5 minutes, until onions become translucent. Throw in the chopped tomatoes with their juices and cook together another 5 minutes. Add the purslane, water, another pinch of salt and mix thoroughly. Reduce the heat to low, place a lid over the pan and let cook for 7 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the mixture together. Season with salt to taste and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Top with the cilantro and serve. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Herb Roasted Chicken

When I gave up chicken 7 years ago I was sure I'd never go back. Meat isn't good for me anyway, I reasoned. But to tell the truth, I was simply chickened out. At the time, chicken was the only animal protein I ate (having decided years earlier beef was a death sentence.) Being a weight obsessed collegiate, I also dabbled in the "Atkins thing", which meant eating protein, aka CHICKEN, everyday. Each week I bought a bag of frozen Tyson's chicken breasts to pick at over the next 7 days. No wonder I was insane. You can only eat chicken stir-fry so many times before you lose it. And I know you are going to think this is totally "woo woo" but I started acting like a crazy chicken too! I was irritable, easily flustered, and ran around campus frazzled like, you guessed it, a chicken with my head cut off.

It felt really good giving up animal flesh. I felt light and energized in my body and got to tell people, "oh no, I don't eat THAT." It was self-righteous and I liked it! Yet once I started eating meat again I still couldn't stomach chicken. I ate beef, lamb, even goat but there was no way I was headed down the chicken path...until I went to Zuni Cafe. I was having a lovely lunch of local anchovies and salad with Jacqueline (crispy chicken skin girl) when the next table's waiter delivered their order of roasted chicken with Tuscan-style bread salad. I almost blurted out, "Excuse me, that order was actually for me," but instead I bit my tongue and shot our neighbors nasty glances as they inhaled that sumptuous chicken. That was it for me! I was ready for a little chick chick. Of course, it took 6 months and 1 meat book later to actually make chicken but hey, it was worth the wait.

I've made this recipe a few times and it is always a hit. The traditional recipe calls for white white but I prefer using verjus. It's sweet clean flavor does something magical with the natural fat and juices of the chicken. Enjoy!

Herb Roasted Chicken
Recipe adapted from The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Don't be intimidated by his 3 phase roasting technique. It's quite easy and completely worth it!

One 3-4 pound organic roasting chicken
4 tbs. softened organic butter or olive oil
2-3 handfuls of fresh herbs such as parsley, thyme, chives, cilantro etc., chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Sea salt and pepper
1/2 cup of verjus (if not available use white wine or lemon juice)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the bird from the fridge an hour or two before cooking. Remove any string and place the bird in a baking/roasting dish (I used my le cruset). Spread out its legs away from the body and enlarge the opening of the body with your fingers to allow hot air to circulate inside the bird. (I'm used to this step now but at first it was a little gross.)

Place butter in a bowl and toss in your herbs and salt. Mix well and smear the mixture all over the bird, inside and out. Place the bird in the oven and cook for 25-30 minutes (phase one).

Turn down the oven to 350 degrees, add the verjus to the pan (do not pour over the bird) and cook for another 35-45 minutes (phase two). To test the chicken for doneness, pierce the point where the thigh meets the breast. Juices should run clear.

Open the oven door half way, turn off the heat, and let the bird sit for another 15-20 minutes (phase 3) before carving.

Carve the bird in the pan allowing the pieces to fall into the juice. I served this with a green salad and a giant Acme olive loaf to soak up the juices. So good!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Late Summer Succotash

I can't even say the name of this dish without Gray bursting into giggle hysterics like a 5 year old girl. "You said SUCK-O-TASH....hehehehehe" Ah, my dear immature husband. What am I saying, I think it's pretty funny too. I made the most killer Jamie-version succotash last weekend. My parents were visiting and I wanted to make something special. (I try to make particularly good food when they come up for the ONLY way to my father's heart is through his stomach. He's still talking about the roasted chicken I made on his last visit.) Traditional succotash is simply a butter or lard laden saute of corn and lima beans, though any number of bean varietals will do. I actually bought green beans for the dish but finding them incredibly tough and ultimately inedible, I bequeathed them to the compost pile (quick tip: taste your green beans at the market, before you by them).

This may appear un-American but I'm actually not a huge corn fan. OK, let me re-phrase. Since becoming such an over-used, genetically modified cash crop I've had a hard time stomaching it. You can pretty much guarantee if your corn is not organic, it's genetically modified. I don't want to go off the GMO deep end here but let me just say this. There are a number of reasons to avoid GMO's but my biggest one is that these frankenfoods are new to the food chain. We have no idea what long term effects they may have on our bodies and I'm personally not interested in being a guinea pig. For more information on genetically modified foods check out Responsible Technology. I highly recommend it.

OK, back to my succotash. Since finding delicious organic corn at the farmer's market, I've released my corn hate and generously let it back into my life. And what a happy girl I am! Here is the recipe for my late summer succotash. It's sweet, rich, and makes you thank the farmers and soil for their brilliant effort. Enjoy!

Late Summer Succotash
I used basil as my herb of choice but fresh dill or parsley would be great as well. Play around and discover the version you like best.
Serves 4

1 large red onion, chopped
2 1/2 cups kale, chopped
4 tablespoons ghee (or organic butter), divided
3 ears of corn, kernels cut off with a knife
1/2 cup purple basil, torn
sea salt to taste

In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of ghee. Add in the red onion and kale and saute until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Toss in the corn kernels and cook together until kernels are warmed through but maintain their crunch, 6-7 minutes. Add in the remaining ghee and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and top with purple basil. Serve immediately. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fish En Papillote with Baja Spices

I know the name sounds fancy but it's simply "fish in parchment". I say that now having made fish en papillote, but before that I was terrified of any recipe requiring parchment paper. For some reason I associated parchment paper with French cooking and French cooking with complex, difficult, and ultimately aggravating recipes. Well, I could not have been more wrong. About this recipe, anyway. Cooking fish in parchment is not only easy, its quick, a cinch to clean, and produces soft, succulent fish. Especially when using a non-oily fish such as snapper, sole, or ocean perch, creating a steam bath promises the fish won't dry out or become tough (two occurrences I've experiences a number of times.)

The beauty of this recipe is you can use any spice combo you like. The spices below are fantastic as is a mixture of turmeric, coriander, fresh ginger and garlic, or lime zest, garlic, cumin and chili flakes. Enjoy!

Fish En Papillote with Baja Spices

1 pound red snapper fillets, rinsed and patted dry (you can also use cod, ocean perch, or any other firm fleshed white fish)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
1/2 tsp. oregano, fresh or dried
1/2 tsp. salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and get out a large baking dish. Cut two pieces of parchment to fit the baking dish. Mix together garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, and salt in a small bowl. Place one piece of parchment into the dish and lay the fish on the parchment. Sprinkle spices over the fish and cover the fish with the second piece of parchment. Bring the edges of the parchment pieces together and fold under to enclose the fish.

Bake for 15-18 minutes. Be sure to open the package carefully to let the steam escape. Serve with corn tortillas and guacamole or with steamed quinoa and gingered slaw.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cumin Chickpea and Tomato Quinoa Salad

I'm sure you've figured this out but I think chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are quite divine. They are so delicious and diverse, I could eat them everyday in a different form. Their innate starchiness makes them perfect for roasting and provides a distinct satiety needed in vegetarian dishes. Here is a recipe I made last week for my Wellness for Life cooking class. When making it for my audience I used cherry tomatoes however in preparing it again the other night I used heirloom tomatoes, compliments of River Dog Farm.

You only need 1 cup of tomatoes but buy extra for a beautiful panzanella salad or simply sliced heirlooms with fruity olive oil, basil, and sea salt. The point is, tomatoes are only around once a year and now is the time to eat up. Enjoy!

Cumin Chickpea and Tomato Quinoa Pilaf
Serves 4 as a side dish

2 cups of water
1 cup quinoa, picked over and rinsed
1 15 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1-2 medium red onions, sliced into half moons
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil plus an extra drizzle
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. coriander, ground
Dash of cayenne pepper
1 cup cherry or heirloom tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup fresh parley, chopped
Sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a medium sauce pan add quinoa, water and a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

In the meantime mix together chickpeas, onion, oil, lemon juice, cumin seeds, coriander, cayenne, and 1/4 tsp. sea salt and place in a baking dish. Put the dish in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, stirring half way through.

When the beans are done, transfer to a ceramic or stainless steel bowl. Mix in quinoa and add the tomatoes and parsley. Season with salt and an extra drizzle of olive oil to taste.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Melons, Green Beans and Purple Basil on the Santa Barbara Coast

As a youth, every summer was dotted with trips to my grandmother's beach house in Santa Barbara. We visited year around (it is California after all) however there was always something special about vacationing there during the warmest months. Though more business woman than cook, I have distinct memories of my grandmother's glazed chicken drummettes, pea salad with onions and mayo, and lots of melon. To this day, not much has changed. Before heading out on Friday, I picked up a beautiful Crenshaw melon from Happy Boy Farms at the Thursday Berkeley Farmer's Market. I wanted to bring something nostalgic and what do you get the woman who has everything? Melon, of course. Had I thought my plan through I'd have remembered my grandmother's aptitude for preparedness, but I guess I forgot that point. After a beautiful 6 hour drive down the coast we pulled up to the house. With melon in hand, I walked straight through the brightly lit foyer and into the kitchen. Unfortunately as I turned the corner I saw not one, but two HUGE melons sitting on the marble counter. SO as you can imagine, just like the old days at grandma's beach house, we had lots of melon.

Where do green beans come in, you ask? The next day my grandmother, Gray and I went to the Downtown Santa Barbara Farmer's Market. This trip again brought up lots of foodie memories for it was my grandmother who took me to my first farmer's market. Being a child who took every experience at face value, I thought farmer's markets only ever happened in Santa Barbara and that sugar snap peas (my favorite farmer's market purchase) could also only be bought there. I remember eating them until my tummy hurt, knowing I could not get them anywhere else.
I truly forgot what a brilliant market it is. Granted, I love my bay area markets but Santa Barbara's is definitely a close second. After the melon mishap I decided to make dinner for my grandmother, her husband, Gray, and my parents, you know, as a thank you gesture. And to show my grandmother what kind of a cook I've become.

The first thing to catch my eye were these gorgeous green beans.

Beautiful, right? I know, I could barely contain myself. I grabbed a bundle of nearby fresh shallots while Gray spotted a bunch of purple basil. Green bean saute? All set! I swear by the end of shopping my grandmother pronounced me "food possessed!" And so what if I am? Home we went to cook up a storm. Next to this amazing dish I served chili and garlic steamed red snapper (recipe from my beautiful Mom, on its way), cumin scented jasmine rice, green salad and an amazing view.

Dinner was simply delicious, made even better by the company. As the evening wined down and the older adults retired I couldn't shake the feeling that tonight had been special. A rare treat to cook for my grandmother in her own kitchen and repay her with the same love and nourishment she has bestowed upon me over the last 30 years. I hope we can do it again soon but if not, this is just another memory locked in the vault under the file "Summers at Grandma's Beach house." Enjoy.

Green Beans with Purple Basil

1 pound green beans, stems trimmed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch fresh shallots with greens attached or 3-4 without, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh mint, leaves torn
1/2 cup purple basil, leaves torn
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt
ground pepper

In a large pot, bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and drop in the green beans. Cook for about 2 minutes, until they brighten up but are still a bit crunchy. Drain the beans and run under cold water to stop cooking.

In a medium saute pan, heat up the olive oil. Add shallots and salt/pepper and saute until the shallots soften. Turn off the heat and toss in the beans, mint, basil, and lemon and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!