Thursday, April 30, 2009

Asparagus and Brown Rice Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette and Toasted Almonds

Spring is here, which makes me a happy girl.  I always forget how bored am with winter food until spring arrives to surprise me with its amazing bounty.  Asparagus, artichokes, dandelion greens, fava beans, sugar snap peas, green garlic.  Aw, how I love you all.

Last week I had my annual Spring Greens cooking class.  We made some amazing things however the real crowd pleaser was Asparagus and Brown Rice Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette and Toasted Almonds.  OHMIGOD!  It was really good.  I mean, so good that attendees fought over the leftovers.  I'm making it again tonight and this time adding a can of garbanzos for a little extra protein.  You could also use almond or walnut (rather than olive) oil in the dressing to mix it up.

Spring Asparagus and Brown Rice Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette and Toasted Almonds

Feel free to use any grain you like.  You could throw in left over quinoa, farro, or barley.  Also, be sure to add the dressing slowly.  Taste as you go so as not to over dress the salad.  Enjoy!


For the dijon vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon brown rice vinegar

Sea salt to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 small garlic clove or shallot, finely minced or pureed

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


For the salad:

1/2 pound asparagus, ends trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces and steamed/blanched 4 minutes

Sea salt to taste

2 cups brown rice, freshly made or leftover

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs like mint, cilantro, tarragon, marjoram

1/3 cup toasted almonds

Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. Whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, salt, mustard and garlic. Whisk in the oil, taste and adjust seasonings.
  2. Toss at once with the warm rice.
  3. Add the asparagus and the remaining ingredients, and toss together. Taste, adjust seasonings and serve.

Yield: Serves six

To reheat left over rice: Place cold rice in a small pot with ¼-1/2 cup of water (depending on amount of rice).  Bring to medium heat and let steam for 4-5 minutes, or until water has evaporated.  Remove rice from the heat and mix with your dressing.  

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Amazingly Grain Free Banana Bread

For an entire year I did not eat bananas, convinced their natural sugars would insight weight gain. Remember the Atkins days when people were afraid to eat carrots? Yeah, it was like that. Thankfully I am much more in touch with my food and those days of extremism are over. (Those were some painful food days though, let me tell you). 

As we know, bananas are a wonderful source of vitamin B6 (promotes proper break down of sugars), potassium (helps maintain calcium levels and proper muscle and nerve function), and vitamin C (protects cells from free radical damage).  Though I love bananas life-enhancing properties, it really comes down to the fact that when I want something creamy and sweet, banana is my go to food.   I can hear the painful screams of all you ice cream lovers right now! I'm not saying ice cream is bad (it depends on the ingredients and brand) but that when we only indulge in processed desserts we miss out on the amazing tastes found to real food.   Being so overly activated by loads of refined sugar, our taste buds become numb to the nuanced sweetness in fruit, spices, vegetables and whole grains. 

So, here is a recipe where you can have your cake (or bread) and eat it too.  I've got a few amazing banana bread recipes but I like this one in particular because it is quick, easy and completely grain and gluten free.  Try it and let me know what you think!

Super Delicious Almond Flour Banana Bread

1/4 cup plain yogurt, whey or milk (soy, dairy, rice, hemp, almond)

1-2 TBS. honey (optional:  I don't use honey in my recipe but if you are just coming off processed desserts, the honey adds a little more sweetness that you might be used to)

3 organic eggs, beaten 

3 mashed extra-ripe bananas (looking really brown and splotchy)

3 cups ground almond flour (I like Bob's Red Mill brand)

Pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice

1 tsp baking soda

½ cup walnuts or pecans, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix together yogurt, eggs, and bananas in large bowl and stir until well combined.  Mix almond flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and walnuts into the wet ingredients.  Pour into 8x8 glass Pyrex dish and bake for 35-40 minutes.  (The top should be golden brown and the bread will have pulled away from the sides.)

Note: You can buy almond flour in most natural food stores (sometimes called almond meal).  Don’t expect this bread to puff up like regular banana bread – it stays dense and moist.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Perfect Passover (Or Anytime) Brisket

I never thought I would eat meat again. Almost seven years ago I became macrobiotic for health reasons (like a vegan who eats fish, or as a disgruntled vegan once labeled me, "a non-dairy pescatarian") and was perfectly fine to have a bit of fish and beans as my primary protein source. My body liked it too. I had lots of energy and never felt deprived. To be honest, I also felt a little self righteous. I was the girl who did not eat meat. That's right, no meat on this plate thank you very much. I was one less person killing innocent animals and breaking away from the American dependence on meat and factory farming!

And then about 8 months ago, things changed. I'd been toying with the idea of eating meat for over a year but had not quite mustered the strength to go through with it. There was still a little voice saying "meat is bad, it will kill you!!!" Now I know this to be an irrational fear as there are millions of people who eat meat and don't die instantaneously. Other questions arose such as, "What if my body can't digest the meat and I become constipated forever??" Again, not very likely but in my mind a legitimate concern. Finally I decided to let go of my meat hang ups and just try it.

There were some stipulations however:

1) The meat had to be locally raised (not tough living in the bay area)

2) It had to be organic, hormone/antibiotic free and humanely slaughtered

3) It had to come from a farm that not only considered the animals but also its own environmental impact

Finally the day came that I was ready to take the big bite. My dear friends Jacqueline (a recovered vegan herself) and Greg (a life long conscientious carnivore) brought over some beautiful goat meat and we grilled it up to perfection. I only had a few bites (again to make sure it wouldn't kill me) and I really enjoyed it. Amazingly enough, so did my body. The next day I ran 5 miles and felt awesome!

Since that time I've joined a meat CSA through Marin Sun Farms and enjoy some sort of meat (goat, lamb, beef, chicken) about once a week. Most of my other meals are vegan which I find to be the perfect balance for my body. It has definitely been a long and interesting return to meat eating but I have to say, it is good to be back.

Perfect Passover (Or Anytime) Brisket

This is a dish I made a few weeks ago for Passover. Being my first brisket I was nervous but it turned out delicious. So delicious in fact I was informed by my mother in-law that I am permanently on Passover brisket duty. Sounds good to me! Also, if anyone knows why brisket is a traditional Passover dish please comment. I would love the answer.

2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 5-pound hormone, antibiotic and corn-fed free brisket of beef
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 onions, peeled and diced
2 cups red wine (we used a Coppola Cabernet)
3 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary

Preheat the oven to broil. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the brisket and rub with the garlic. Broil each side of the brisket, about 4 minutes each or until the meat is golden brown and a little crisp.

Place the brisket, fat side up, on top of the onions in a large casserole dish. **(We used a large baking dish and made a make shift cover with aluminum. I don’t recommend this as too much liquid escaped. Next time I will use my Le Cruset Dutch oven.) Cover with the red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 3 hours, basting often with pan juices. To test for doneness, stick a fork in the flat (thinner or leaner) end of the brisket. When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from the meat, it is "fork tender".

This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat can be easily skimmed off the top. Trim all the visible fat off the cold brisket. Place the brisket, on what was the fat side, down on a cutting board. Look for the grain- namely the muscle lines of the brisket- and with a sharp knife, cut across it making beautiful thin slices of meat.

When ready to serve, reheat the gravy. Put the sliced brisket into a roasting pan, cover with hot gravy and reheat in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Some people strain the gravy but we kept the onions and celery in. So good!

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Friday, April 10, 2009

Broccoli Mish Mash

Broccoli has been my favorite vegetable since childhood. Yes I love kale, collards, chard (the list could go on), but broccoli holds a very special place in my heart. It's got everything: crunch, texture, sweetness and can hold up to a variety of spices and flavors. Steam it, roast it, saute it, my beloved broccoli can take it all. However there is one way of preparing broccoli that I've always found sacrilege: pureeing. Why, why would anyone puree broccoli? To be honest, I'm not much a pureed anything type of girl. My mouth likes to work for its food and I find that when things are pureed, I simply swallow.

This entire topic comes up because over the last few weeks I've been on a low-fiber diet, trying to give my digestive system a break. Of course I haven't given up my fibrous veggies but I have started preparing them in a way that makes them easy to breakdown. Welcome pureed broccoli! And may I just say, it is quite good. Here is the recipe I've created but feel free to play around with it. I use either homemade chicken or beef stock which adds an enjoyable depth of flavor. I also with throw in some cauliflower or kale to mix it up.

Pureed Broccoli
(makes about 2-3 side servings)

1/2 pound broccoli florets and stems (do not throw the stems away. They add a lovely starchiness. Just peel, chop and you are ready to go)
1/4-1/2 cup chicken, beef, vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons good quality Parmesan (no green can)
1 teaspoon of organic butter or olive oil
pinch of salt

Place the liquid in a small pot and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. You want the broccoli to still be green, not gray but mushy, not al dente. Once cooked, transfer broccoli to a bowl, add butter or oil, salt and puree with a hand immersion blender. You can also mix everything together in a food processor or blender. Gently stir in cheese to disperse it throughout the broccoli. Taste to adjust the seasoning and enjoy!