Monday, January 25, 2010

Even Health Counselors Get Sick...And Need Soup

ARGH!!!!!! I hate being sick. Besides feeling lousy and subsequently lazy, I also particularly despise being under the weather because I feel like I've failed at my job. "Health and Lifestyle Expert, you say. HA! Guess all that kale doesn't help after all, does it?", says the hunchbacked, moley curmudgeon in my head. "Yes it does!", I protest. "I NEVER get sick. This is just a freak occurrence!" And in all honesty, it is. I rarely get sick and when I do, it certainly passes quickly. Not this time, however. I was actually getting over a short lived cold last week when we visited our friends and their 7 month old daughter. Now, I adore this child and when we were told she had a cold I thought, "I've already had a cold (meaning I can't get another one) and she's just a baby. I can't get a cold from a baby!" And so I proceed to hold the baby, incessantly kiss the baby, and practically suck on the poor kid's face until we left. Three days later my cold was back with a vengeance and I've been resting (or trying to) for the last week. GOODNESS, can't a girl catch a break. It's certainly hard to relax when I've got so much I want to do and yet just making a simply meal for myself has been an accomplishment this week.

Alright, enough boo hooing. I will live, I will survive, and I have a lifetime to work hard so I might as well enjoy this little break. Monday I mustered the strength to make one of my favorite soups, Escarole with Borlotti Beans. Escarole is a hearty winter green that becomes surprisingly silky in this dish. Borlottis are a personal bean favorite of mine with their firm skin and creamy center. I know I shouldn't pick favorites, but this bean is tops for me. They are also an ideal introductory bean for they are nearly impossible to turn to mush. The finishing touch on the soup was a bit of leftover steak. I usually make a vegetarian version but the steak was crying out to me so I thought, why not? The meat was quite perfect actually and added a lovely bit of texture and depth. The soup also reheats beautifully and is quite nice over brown rice. I leave you now to take a nap. Enjoy!

Escarole and Borlotti Bean Soup
Serves 4
If you cannot find Borlottis, cannellini beans work just as well.

1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
8 leaves of escarole, washed and chopped
2 cups borlotti beans, cooked
1 cup leftover steak, cubed (optional)
4-5 cups of vegetable, chicken, or turkey stock or water
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt and pepper
olive oil to taste

In a medium stock pot, heat up the olive oil. Add in the onion and a pinch of salt and saute for 3-5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and escarole and cook until the escarole has wilted. Add in the beans and the steak with another pinch of salt and heat through, about 2 minutes. Cover the mixture with your liquid of choice, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Add in the parley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chicory, Persimmon, and Almond salad

A few years ago I used to greet each winter with a serious salad depression. My mother always served a salad on the dinner table (hippie mom, remember) and so as an adult, when the summer salad season (say that 3 times fast!) would come to an end, I just didn't know what to do. Without a salad, the table is simply bare to me. You've got to have something raw to brighten up the warmer, heavier dishes, right? To explain how much I love salad, When I was a child, and even into college, I could make any meal out of salad. Salad for breakfast? Ah, yeah! I distinctly remember when I was 12 years old, I made a romaine lettuce salad, used my favorite tortilla chips as a fork, and topped it off with low fat frozen yogurt. That's balanced, right?? My mom even claims that when pregnant with me she craved vegetables. (Unfortunately, she craved donuts and cake with my sister, who subsequently has a serious sugar issue. She will deny it, but it's true. Love you, Laura!)

So in the winter, why don't I just buy pre-bagged salad greens at Trader Joe's and call it a day? Because I'm a salad brat, that's why. Salad, like apples, can only come one way for me. Crisp with lots of flavor! What happens to pre-bagged and out of season salad greens, is they become wilty and dried out and subsequently, FLAVORLESS. You end up dowsing your salad with tons of dressing just to give it a little pizazz. I'm not knocking Trader Joe's but rather have realized I'd rather just wait and have something really tasty. Luckily in my culinary adventures I've realized I don't have to go without salad in the winter. I just need to change my definition.

Chicories, arugula, endive, and cabbage are delicious as salad and experience their peak in the California winter. (I know all you non-Californians say it isn't winter, but it is to us.) They are not as water logged as romaine, butter lettuce, and little gems, and certainly have a more "toothy" texture. They also run along the spicy/bitter taste profile, making them a perfect pair for sweet and tart winter fruits like persimmons and citrus. From a health perspective, bitter greens are particularly helpful in cleansing the system, which make them an ideal accompaniment for hearty winter fare.

This dish was inspired by a chicory and hazelnut salad we had at Contigo. This brilliant restaurant can do nothing wrong in my option, and the chicories were phenomenal. Along with the ahi tuna stew and patatas bravas (their garlic aioli is RIDICULOUS!), the chicories were certainly a favorite.

I served this salad with Umbrian lentils and something else. I really can't remember because I was too enamored with my salad. You will be too!

Chicories with Almonds and Persimmon
Serves 2

1 medium-sized head Chicory (looks like a small multi-colored cabbage), leaves washed and dried
1 Fuyu persimmon, peeled and diced
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons unrefined extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt

Place washed chicory leaves in a large bowl. Peel and dice the persimmon and add it to the lettuce. Throw in chopped almonds, cilantro, mint and scallions.

Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, sprinkle with salt, toss, and you are done!

Love, Light, and the Sour Puss Part 1

There is no better feeling than being in front of my audiences. I know I've said it before but they bring such joy and light to my life. Yes it's hard work and yes I sweat like a pig. I'm actually not much of a sweater but get me in front of a group and it is Niagara falls. Holy goodness! My sweat is not the point, however. The point is that for all the love, energy and effort I give out, my audience throws it back ten fold. It just might be that the efforts we put out in our lives are generously mirror back. When we smile at neighbors, make friendly conversation in the gym, or help a co-worker, we not only create deeper connections with our environment and communities but also greater insight into a deeper personal self. Whoa! That's deep.

Just FYI, I have not always been a beacon of light and smiles, just ask my family and a few ex-boyfriends. This whole "smile and the world smiles back at you" thing is pretty new. In college I was renowned for my sullen expression and icy glares. I was certainly NOT the girl to ask for directions. I was overly selfish and primarily concerned with how the end result of any interaction affected me. They say we learn from our parents and though I believe nature and nurture both foot the bill, I just have to say this. From my perspective as a child, my parents' interactions were such that one always gave and the other always took. I was certainly not a stupid kid and quickly decided that taking was the path for me. And so it was, and it worked for me. Until it didn't. The problem with being selfish and negative is the underlying pulse of dissatisfaction. I'd experience moments of joy, love, thoughtfulness, but they soon dissipated leaving me with myself, my "grass is always greener" and "everyone has what they want but me" self. May I just say, that self sucked!

The turning point in my life came in 2000 with my diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. It was certainly a dark period and looking back, no wonder I became ill. At the time, I lived in a cubicle-sized dorm room and had scheduled my life down to the minute with classes, studying, and working out. Three to four times a week I'd call home, crying to my mother about my misery. Thinking back though, I can't remember why I was so upset. I didn't like school, fine. I didn't connect well with my friends, OK. I was driving myself crazy with restrictions, fair enough. But why the pain and desperation??? Because I had no conscious awareness of peace and gratitude.

Well, ask and you shall receive! Up came a huge dose of reality with my UC diagnosis and a lovely family label, "Girl with the butt disease" that has yet to wear off. The startling prognosis and realization that if you don't have your health, you really don't have anything, was quite a lot to take in for a 20 year old. And so I attacked my disease with the same aggression that permeated my life. I was going to make that UC regret the day it inhabited my little colon. I was going to make it beg for mercy with brown rice and broccoli, and when it had cried enough, I would kick it's ass to the curb. I became a strict macrobiotic, cutting meat, dairy, sugar, caffeine, eggs, and anything processed out of my diet. And it worked, until it didn't. (Part 2 on the way)

Here is one of my favorite macrobiotic recipes. It is delicious and mineral rich dish to warm you up on a cold winter's night.

Adzuki Beans with Winter Squash
Serves 2

1 cup adzuki beans
1 piece kombu (a seaweed very high in minerals)
2 cups butternut or kabocha squash, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons unrefined toasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons tamari (wheat free soy sauce), add more or less to taste
3 scallions, chopped

Rinse and soak beans with the kombu for at least 5 hours or overnight. Drain the beans and chop the kombu into bite sized pieces.

Place the kombu and squash in the bottom of a medium sized pot. Top with the beans and cover with water (about 1 inch past the top of the beans). Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes. Check half way to add more water if need be.

When the beans are done, stir in sesame oil and tamari. Top with scallions and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Scallions

I cannot believe what a meat freak I've become!!! It's rather embarrassing to admit especially since I was the self righteous non-dairy pescatarian for 7 years. "Jamie, what piece of the chicken would you like?" a poor unsuspecting hostess might ask. "Oh, no thank you," I'd smirk. "I don't eat meat!" (FYI: A non-dairy pescatarian is someone who does not eat any animal products and fish occasionally.) I took meat out of my diet for health purposes at a time when my body seemed to rebel against everything I put into it. And I will say this...cutting out meat helped. Additionally, I cut out dairy, sugar, caffeine and wheat, which also helped. At that time I was a seriously strict, anal retentive black or white person. Meat: BAD, Brown rice: GOOD. Butter: BAD, Kale: GOOD. Brown rice and kale are still and forever will be in the good pile, however in the last year, meat and butter have left the dark side and entered the light.

Now, let me put my health counselor hat on for just a sec. Brown rice and kale should definitely be consumed MORE OFTEN than meat. Nutritionally speaking, meat is certainly not a daily necessity whereas whole grains and green vegetables are. A good tip I give my clients is to try to eat meat only once a day. I actually plan my meals such that if I know I'm going to have, say, LAMB TAGINE, for dinner I eat a vegan breakfast and lunch. That way I make sure to get in plenty of greens, beans, and whole grains while still enjoying my carnivorous indulgences.

OK, now I know I sound like a broken record here, but not all meat is created equal. Commercially raised animals lead awful, tortured lives and are loaded with antibiotics and hormones that are hazardous to your health. Therefore it is imperative to purchase organic, pasture raised, and hormone/antibiotic free meat. A few good places to find organic meat is at your local Whole Foods Market, the farmer's market, or a neighborhood butcher. (Find a farmer's market near you by using the Culinate icon to the right.) Many times the butcher will even order organic products for you if they don't carry them.

And lastly, pasture raised meat just tastes better. I actually bribed my mother-in-law with lamb if she bought me a tagine and when I served this dish up, she practically hit the floor. So delicious, so tender and nuanced, she really couldn't believe her taste buds. "It's all about the organic meat", I beamed.

So I leave you now to enjoy this amazing tagine. Traditionally served over couscous, I serve it with brown jasmine rice and roasted brussel sprouts. Enjoy!

Lamb Tagine with Apricots and Scallions
Serves 3-4
I prepared this dish in a traditional tagine however you can also use a dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot.

For the lamb
1 pound pasture raised ground lamb (** or 1 pound lamb meat cut into 1 inch cubes)
1/2 medium onion, grated
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the tagine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, peeled and sliced into half moons
10 apricot halves, dried and sulfur-free (the apricots should be brown and shriveled rather than plump and apricot colored)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
salt to taste
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped
1/4 scallions, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the lamb, onion, egg, salt and cinnamon. Form into small golf ball sized balls and lay them out in a Pyrex baking dish. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Remove the meatballs from the dish and place on a plate with paper towels to drain excess fat.

Reduce the oven to 350 degrees. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil on medium heat. **If you are using cubed lamb, brown the lamb in olive oil. If not, just saute the onions in olive oil. After adding the onions, season with salt and cook until soft. Add the meatballs (or cubed meat) into the bottom of the tagine and cover with the onion mixture. Add in the remaining spices and apricots and a dash of salt, along with 3/4 cup water. Cover and place in the oven for 1 hour.

Remove the tagine from the oven and take off the lid carefully. Top with toasted almonds and scallions and serve with couscous or jasmine brown rice.