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!