Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Thanksgiving Menu (thanks Google!)

Nothing makes me happier than planning my entire day around food. No occassion is more nurturing of this love than Thanksgiving. And no place, more accomodating than my parents home in Virginia, where I am currently spending this holiday.

While I have shunned the suburbs for most of my adult life, I must say the sheer amount of counter space really makes cooking a lot of fun. Especially when coming from my cramped Brooklyn kitchen.

Swati and I dreamed up our menu on the car ride down. We opted for a vegetarian feast, based on seasonal flavors, full of delicious sides. With a menu that features a good combination of old and new dishes.

This year we are truly grateful for Google as it has helped us mainfest a number of our ideas - including a roasted chestnut soup and gluten-free pumpkin bread.

We got the idea for chestnut soup after a visit to the Natural Gourmet Institute last winter. My friend Katie was completing her Chef's Training program and prepared a delicious chestnut soup as part of the school's Friday Night Dinner series. We were unable to get a hold of a recipe from her, but instead found a great, simple one on courtesy of 'The Minimalist' Mark Bittman.

The pumpkin bread was also brought to us by Google (keyword : gluten free pumpkin bread almond meal). As you can imagine by my search, the intention was to find a recipe that featured almond meal, as I was eager to use up my supply of this ingredient from the zucchini nut bread I made this summer. We were taken to a great recipe from The Hall Center. In addition to using almond meal as the base (instead of white flour) it also calls for coconut oil (instead of butter) and agave nectar (instead of sugar). As a health counselor, I think my hands were tied on this one.

Here's the complete menu for tonight:

Roasted Chestnut Soup
Wild Rice and Cranberries
Sauteed Kale with Garlic
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Macaroni and Cheese
Pumpkin Bread

I look forward to sharing the highlights and pictures from this evening. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recipe: Cranberry Walnut Steel Cut Oats

I love starting my day with a nice bowl of steel cut oatmeal. Topped with dried cranberries, walnuts, and coconut this is a perfect start to the morning.

Growing up, I was never a big fan of oatmeal. My grandfather ate it and thought it was something for old people - a soggy kind of cereal, high in fiber, but lacking flavor.

It wasn't until I lived in San Francisco that I discovered Steel Cut oats. My friend Tam had these beautiful looking tins of McCann's Irish Steel Cut Oatmeal in her kitchen, which piqued my curiosity. Previously I had never seen anything other than the Quaker man on a package of oats.

I noticed them later at my local Trader Joes and decided to take some home to try. They required more time to cook (25 minutes as opposed to 5 minutes for rolled oats), but it wasn't like I was cooking rolled oats anyway. So I made them one day and I was sold. Steel cut oats are now a regular part of my breakfast ritual.

I think you'll find the extra twenty minutes well worth it. Unlike the other stuff that 'passes' for breakfast food (e.g. toast, cereal, coffee), steel cut oats will provide a steady, quality source of energy that will last throughout the morning. I mean isn't that the intention of breakfast anyway?

To make oatmeal more exciting, I recommend alternating your toppings. Personal favorites include dried cranberries, raisins, crystallized ginger, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, and shredded coconut. I also add a bit of flax, walnut or coconut oil to give it a healthy bit of fat.

Also, who said you need to be in the kitchen while your breakfast is cooking? I often get ready while the oats are on the stove. Here is the recipe:

Serves 3

1 cup steel cut oatmeal
2 cups water
a pinch of salt
dried cranberries
shredded coconut
flax oil

Bring water to boil in a medium sized pot. Add oatmeal and return to boil. Then let simmer 20-25 minutes until fully cooked, mixing periodically. Serve in bowls with cranberries, walnuts, coconut, a teaspoon of flax oil, and a pinch of salt. Enjoy!

Another fun tip: Add a ginger tea bag to oatmeal while cooking. Will infuse a nice flavor to the oats.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Warming up to root vegetables

It is just over 30 degrees here in Brooklyn. So it should come as now surprise that yesterday marked the end of the growing season, and with it my CSA share.

Gone are the strawberries and bright colorful fruits and veggies from when the season opened in June. This week's loot was noticeably more rooty. With veggies like potatoes, carrots and celery root.

Normally, these ingredients don't sound all that appetizing, but surprisingly I've been craving them recently. If these hardy foods can stand up to the weather, well then, perhaps they can help me stand up to it too.

I think all root vegetables do well with a nice roasting. Yesterday, I took several of my roots that had been collecting for a while (potato, sweet potato, turnip), and made a great meal with them. I simply cut them up, and threw them in a roasting pan with some olive oil, salt and thyme. Then put them in the oven at 425 degrees for 25 minutes or so, taking them out halfway through to mix. I served with some broiled fish, brown rice and garlic collard greens. Yum!

I also enjoy making soups with root vegetables (see my recipe for Celery Root Soup). I'd love to hear other creative ideas too. Please share!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Assembling the perfect pumpkin pie

gluten free pumpkin pieMy family doesn't have too many traditions for Thanksgiving, but the one thing that has stayed true is our insatiable appetite for pumpkin pie. We had a tryout this weekend for our annual tradition, as an interesting gluten-free pumpkin pie recipe emerged.

In the November issue of Natural Health magazine, a recipe for a Coconut-Crusted Sweet Potato Pie caught my attention. What really surprised me was this recipe called for no flour, just coconut and butter. I've always been a fan of flourless chocolate cake, so why not flourless pumpkin pie? I decided I had to try this out, albeit swapping the sweet potatoes with pumpkin.

I tasked my loyal sous chef, Swati, with making the pie. (Actually we fought over this, but in the end she won out.) Most years, I would just use the canned pumpkin puree, but this time Swati opted for fresh pumpkin, using the one we received as part of our CSA share.

She did a great job in making the pie. The filling was especially noteworthy, holding together nicely. Unfortunately, the flourless dream was unrealized - the crust was a little disappointing. It fell apart easily, and called for a little too much coconut. I longed for the crust we made last year, made from walnuts, hazelnut flour and maple syrup. It was a recipe that I discovered in San Francisco from Darshana Weill of Fruition Health. The nutty taste contrasted nicely with the smooth taste of the pumpkin.

So next week, I think I will marry the perfect filling with the perfect crust to create the ultimate pumpkin pie. Here is what I plan to do. If anyone would like to test out this recipe for me, I would love to hear how it comes out!

Perfect Filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or fresh)
2 eggs
½ cup tofu, firm
2/3 cup maple syrup
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom

Perfect Crust:
1 cup ground pecans
1 cup ground rolled oats
1 cup rice or hazelnut flour
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola or other vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grind pecans and rolled oats in a blender. Mix in rice flour, maple syrup and vegetable oil. Press into pie pan.

In a food processor or blender, combine mashed pumpkin, eggs, tofu, maple syrup, and spices. Puree until smooth. Pour filling into the crust and bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling has firmed up. Check to see if ready by inserting toothpick into center. If it does not come out clean, continue baking for another 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Attention Gluten-Free Bakers: Look for GF Rolled Oats sold by Bob's Red Mill.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Regal Vegan: One more reason to live in NYC

upscale vegan diningI wanted to give props today to my friend and fellow health enthusiast, Ella Nemcova. She just launched the new website for her meal delivery business, The Regal Vegan, and all I can think about are the beautiful images of food porn she has scrolling across my screen.

Ella is one of New York's finest chefs you have probably never heard about. Her food is highly influenced by her world travels and love of local, seasonal produce. Similar to Candle 79 restaurant, she's creating an upscale experience with vegan food - only her food is meant to be enjoyed in your home.

Every day she offers one meal that is available for delivery. This week's menu for example features The Royal Handmaiden on Tuesday, celery root and potato pancakes with chili cranberry sauce, and The Queen of Seoul on Friday, Korean-style portabello mushroom ribs with house made kimchi.

All her meals are consistently excellent and you would never know they are dairy, gluten and sugar free. Not an easy task!

Orders can be placed on Each meal costs $22.50 plus tax and can be delivered to Brooklyn and Manhattan. Just order online by 11 am and have your meal delivered later that evening.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recipe: Lemongrass Tofu with Green Beans

vietnamese tofuIf you've ever searched for a way to make tofu more appealing, this recipe is for you.

I was inspired to make this Vietnamese dish after finding a great book, Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table by Mia Pham. The main ingredient, lemongrass, was conveniently found on the shelves of my local food co-op. I imagine others may have to search a bit harder to find (try an Asian grocery store or natural foods store).

My version is slightly different from the book. I added green beans, replaced sugar with agave nectar, and spiced it up a bit with some Sriracha sauce (a spicy Thai condiment you can find in many Asian restaurants and increasingly in grocery stores).

lemongrassWhen using lemongrass, you'll want to peel away the tough outer layers. In fact, you'll probably discard more of it than you'll use. The soft, fragrant center is what you'll want to be cooking with.

Serves 4

2 lemongrass stalks, outer layers peeled, inner white part thinly sliced and finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons wheat-free tamari (or soy sauce)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoons agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (optional)
12 ounces tofu, drained, patted dry and cut into 3/4 inch cubes
4 tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon, minced garlic
1/2 lb fresh green beans, cut in 2 inch pieces, stems removed

1. Combine the lemongrass, tamari, crushed red pepper, turmeric, agave nectar, and salt in a bowl. Add the tofu cubes and turn to coat them evenly. Marinate for 30 minutes. [If you desire a little more spice, I suggest adding some Sriracha sauce]

2. Heat half the oil in a large cast iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add the onion, shallots and garlic and stir for about 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium, add the green beans, a bit of water, and cook for another 5 minutes until cooked (but not too soft). Transfer to a plate and keep warm.

3. In the same pan, heat the remaining oil over moderate heat. Add the tofu mixture and using spatula or chopsticks, turn so it cooks evenly, about 4-5 minutes on each side. Add the onion and green bean mixture and cook for another 2-3 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and transfer to serving plate. Serve with brown rice.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Making time for the important stuff

I hate to admit it, but I am a procrastinator. Especially when it comes to the important stuff with my business - setting up classes or sitting down to write up a long term plan. Yet, I always seem to find time to catch up on email or check my friends status updates on Facebook.

I was reminded of this paradox the other day when reviewing the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The author, Steven Covey, talks about how all of life's activities can be divided into four quadrants, based on importance and urgency.

In quadrant 1, we have the fire drills, deadline-driven projects that requires our immediate attention and response. In quadrant 2, we have the non-pressing activities that set us up for success in the long run. In quadrant 3, we have the urgent phone calls, emails, and text messages that demand a reply. In quadrant 4, we have the time wasting, unproductive stuff (i.e. basically, most of what we do on the Internet).

For many of us, most of our time is spent in quadrants 1, 3, and 4. As a result we keep busy, but fall short of what we truly want to accomplish. According to Covey, "Quadrant 2 is the heart of effective personal management. It deals with things like building relationships, long-range planning, preventative maintenance, preparation - all those things we need to do, but somehow seldom get around to doing, because they aren't urgent."

It is important to realize this phenomenon of putting off what we truly need isn't limited to the business world. It also extends to our health and well-being.

How long have you put off going to that yoga class? Cooking a nice meal for yourself? Or contacting that well-meaning holistic health counselor, whose blog you religiously read? [Sorry, I sensed an opportunity]

Old age doesn't have to be about senility and joint pain. It can be a continuation of a great life. All we need to do is make our health a priority now. That's what I do as a holistic health counselor. I help individuals develop healthy habits for life, empowering them to care for themselves naturally.

I'm gonna put more time and energy into quadrant 2. Want to join me?

*Photo courtesy of news46 on flickr

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Essential: A good kitchen knife

importance of good knifeI usually find my blog readers fall into two camps: those who love to cook and those who love to watch other people cook. If you find yourself in the later category, and are eager to start cooking, perhaps what you need is a good knife.

I was reminded of this while watching an interview with Mollie Katzen, author of the Moosewood Cookbook series, on MSN's Practical Guide to Healthier Living. A good knife, Katzen believes can transform our attitude towards cooking. When we find the right one, we literally pick up our knife and look for veggies to cut up.

For me, I knew I had found 'the one' after cooking with my friend Zena at her home in San Francisco. I was on chop duty, which is when I discovered the Wusthof Santoku knife. I loved the way it felt in my hand. It was durable, lightweight and fun to use. I purchased one later that week and five years later, I am still chopping away. I rarely use another knife.

Do you have a knife you can't put down? What made you know it was 'the one?' I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Recipe: Chilaquiles (Mexican Brunch)

mexican brunchFor those looking for new inspiration at breakfast or brunch, this dish is for you. Chilaquiles, is yet another traditional Mexican dish that has found its way into my kitchen.

I remember this dish fondly from my days in San Francisco. On Saturday mornings, I'd line up with the others at the Primavera stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market to get my fix.

I was inspired to make this dish as I had a package of stale corn tortillas sitting in my freezer. Its taco days were numbered, but potential still remained in chip form. So I cut up the tortillas, lightly fried them and served with scrambled eggs, black beans, poblano peppers, onions and cheese. The results were simply delicious.

Try and let me know what you think!

Serves 1-2

2 eggs, beaten
8 oz black beans (1/2 can), drained
2 corn tortillas, cut into eight pieces
1 poblano pepper, diced
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 tomato, diced
2 oz shredded jack cheese, sour cream or labne (yogurt cheese)
juice of 1/4 lime
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
2 tbsp coconut oil or canola oil

First, fry the tortilla pieces. Take a cast iron skillet and bring to medium high heat. Add coconut oil and when hot, add the tortilla strips. Lightly fry for a minute or so, making sure to flip over. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a separate pan, saute the onions and poblano peppers in olive oil over medium heat. Cook until onions have softened. Remove from pan and set aside on separate plate. In the same pan, add a bit more of olive oil and bring heat to medium-low. Add egg mixture and scramble, until fully cooked. Fold in the cooked onions and peppers as well as the black beans. Cook for another two minutes or so. Mix in fried tortilla strips.

Serve on plate with shredded cheese or sour cream. Garnish with diced tomatoes, cilantro and lime juice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Yes we can! The power of inspiration

obama stickerIf you're like me, perhaps you've had a hard time coming down to earth after yesterday's historic victory. My candidate, Barack Obama, will become the next president of the United States of America.

I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have a President who recognizes that America's healthcare system is broken. Who understands the pressing need for sustainable energy and agriculture. And who, yes, eats arugula.

More than anything his candidacy has taught me never to underestimate the power of inspiration. It is what summoned record turnouts across the country and got everyday folks like myself to take part in the political process for the first time - making phone calls, knocking on doors, donating a few bucks. It was the small efforts of millions like this that created a 'tsunami' of change.

The best of ourselves came out to the polls - and chose hope over fear. America is ready for a new direction. We've found our leader and also our voice.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

When life gives you free pizza

Dear friends, I too am human.

This weekend I went down to Pennsylvania to help my candidate become the next president of the United States. In the process I found myself eating foods that I would have normally avoided - pizza, cold cuts, bagels, etc. With few hours remaining until polls close, it can be hard to be a purist.

Usually these foods do not sit well with me, but when I was out there in front of others, cheered on by fellow supporters it didn't seem to matter. I was so stimulated and nourished by life, that food was secondary.

I've worked with many people who attempt to perfect their diet, only to find it was causing more stress than it was worth. Which is why most fad diets rarely work in the long-term. Sometimes it is important to go along with the flow of life, instead of fighting against it. Especially, when I would be back in my kitchen come Tuesday.

Anyway, I hope everyone makes it out to vote today! I will be watching the election results tonight with some friends in Brooklyn.

On the menu: Arugula. Lots of it.

Integrative Nutrition