Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dark chocolate meets cardamom

dark chocolate barkIn a couple of hours I will be headed to a New Years Eve dinner party at my friend Joan's house. When dishes were being assigned earlier in the week I jumped at the chance to bring dessert.

Why? Because I've been dreaming about making the Deborah Madison recipe for Chocolate Bark with Cardamom and Sea Salt, Apricots and Pistachios ever since I discovered it this month.

I am known for having a weakness for dark chocolate and cardamom, leaving me no choice but to make this treat. Other than the signature ingredients, the recipe only requires four others - pistachios, raisins, dried apricots, and sea salt. They all come together nicely in this treat - the sweet complementing the salty, just right.

melting chocolateTo get started I melted a 5 oz bar of Green & Blacks organic chocolate (72% cacao). Since chocolate easily burns, I made sure the pot did not directly touch the stove. So I setup a medium-size pot inside a large one that contained simmering water. It worked perfectly.

Once you get this set up the rest is easy. You just add a bit of cardamom, 3 tbsp of chopped dried fruit and another 3 tbsp of chopped pistachios. Pour into a deep dish or pan (10 x 8 inches), add a bit of sea salt, and insert in refrigerator for about an hour to cool. And voila! You've got bark.

If you're also planning to make this for a party, take it from me, don't make it too far in advance. The wait will kill you!

Here's to a delicious 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The art of timeshifting

sunset at omega instituteI love the holidays and how everything seems to move slower this time of year. Work takes the backseat for friends, family, and yes even food. It's like we're 'off the clock' this week. Which can be a tremendous sense of relief for many of us time-starved individuals.

The current pace of life reminds me of a great book I read a couple years ago called Timeshifting by Stephan Rechschaffen. The author is the founder of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York, one of my favorite places to visit.

At Omega, you are immersed in a slower pace of life. You can't help but admire the beautiful natural surroundings, savor the food, and chat up other guests you don't even know. Every time I visit I come back rejuvenated and refreshed. And here too I feel 'off the clock.'

How great would it be if we could create this same feeling without having to go on a vacation?

We all have the ability to slow down and have more time to enjoy our life. This book showed me that. Our perception of whether we have enough time or not isn't determined solely by circumstances and responsibilities.

I really like the example in the book where the author would go around to different audiences and ask a simple question: "Do you feel like you have enough time in your life?"

When he'd ask this question in Corporate America, nobody would raise their hand. I guess that's what you'd expect. These guys are paid to keep busy. If not, a 'good' boss should just give them more work. Right?

So he'd also visit prisons and ask the same question to inmates who were literally "doing time." Yet again, he'd get the same response - no time. They'd complain about the chores they'd have as well as other responsibilities. They too were victims of time poverty.

But what about those folks that said yes? Certainly there must be some folks who felt like they had enough time. Well, in the rare instance someone would raise their hand, Rechtschaffen would ask "How is your life?" And more often than not, these people had a good life. They were very happy and had plenty of time.

Without knowing, most of us have unconsciously made the choice to 'keep busy' regardless of our responsibilities. Yet this example showed me we also have the power to shift from working against the clock to going with the flow of life.

When I feel the need to 'shift time' I often go for a walk in Prospect Park, sometimes leaving the watch at home. You'd be surprised how long twenty-some minutes can seem. And how healing.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Come see me at Whole Foods: Jan 7

Do you live in New York City? Are you looking to spice up your protein life?

If so, you'll want to come to my upcoming class From Legumes to Tempeh: Expanding your Protein Repertoire at the Whole Foods Bowery Culinary Center on January 7, 2009, from 7 to 8 pm.

It's a great opportunity to see my counseling chops in action, as we discuss everything ranging from "What is an adequate amount of protein?" to "Why me no like tofu?" I guarantee you'll go home with some new insights and possibilities, regardless of where you eat on the food chain.

And as a special offer to my blog readers, Whole Foods has offered to slash the already low price of the class. Save 20% off the registration fee ($8 instead of $10). Just go here to register for the class and enter LEGUMES in the promotion code box before checking out.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Recipe: Garbanzo Black Bean Chili

I wasn't kidding when I mentioned I've been on a bean kick as of late.

And for anyone who likes to experiment in the kitchen, there is no better dish to make than chili. I honestly don't think I've ever made the same one twice. Other than the requisite beans and tomatoes, this recipe lends itself nicely to improvisation.

It all starts with caramelized onions and garlic as the base. For me the rest varies based on what I have on hand. This version calls for carrots, celery and mushrooms. All great. You could even use some bell peppers if you have them. Even some corn. Just throw it all in.

Spices of course are key. Play around with the quantities to create a recipe that works for you. I think cumin and coriander are essential. These spices seem to creep into all the foods that I like (e.g. Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern). Additionally, the dried oregano and chili powder are important here. I like a little bit of heat in my chili (not too much). I find the Muir Glen diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers to work well. But if you can't find some, just try adding a bit of Tabasco sauce.

Chili goes great with cornbread and/or rice. Or can be enjoyed on its own.

Serves 4

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with chipotle peppers
1/2 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced thinly
2 celery sprigs, diced thinly
5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
pepper jack cheese, grated
olive oil

In a medium to large pot, saute the onions in olive oil over medium heat for 8 minutes until golden brown. Then add the carrots, celery, garlic, and oregano. Stir for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the canned tomatoes, mushrooms, cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Bring to a simmer and cover. Cook for another 8 minutes until mushrooms are cooked. Add the canned beans and resume simmer. Let flavors combine, cooking another 8-10 minutes. When finished, remove from heat and add lemon juice. Check salt and adjust to taste.

Top with grated pepper jack cheese, sour cream, and/or labne.

Similar dishes:
Rajma: Indian Kidney Beans
Mexican Rice and Beans

Friday, December 19, 2008

Recipe: Lentils and Rice with Fried Onions

Mujadarrah is the traditional name for this Middle Eastern dish. And as plain as it looks and sounds, it is really delicious. My version was inspired by the book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison.

It only requires six ingredients, all of which are items I keep regularly in my pantry (i.e. brown rice, lentils, onions, olive oil, salt, pepper). So it's great around this time of year when you'd rather stay in and not run to the store.

The fried onions are really what make this dish delicious. You want to cook them until they become dark brown. It might seem like a lot of olive oil, but it's really what makes this dish good.

I love teaching this dish to vegetarians, as it is a great source of protein - the amino acids in the brown rice, complementing those in the lentils. It is also great to take to work or on long car trips and can be enjoyed hot or at room temperature.

This dish is similar to an Indian dish, kichadi, which is often enjoyed with yogurt and Indian pickle. It works with this dish too!

Serves 4

1 cup French green lentils, rinsed and sorted
1 cup basmati brown rice
1 large onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper

Heat large skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with olive oil and add onions. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until onions are dark brown and translucent.

While preparing onions, put lentils in saucepan with 4 cups water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Add the rice, and generous amounts of pepper. Cover and let cook over low heat for an additional 15 minutes, adding additional water if needed. When done, stir in fried onions. Add salt to taste.

Similar dish:
Falafel with quinoa tabouli

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Simple wisdom: The power of gratitude

I keep a rock in my pocket. But it is no ordinary one. It is my gratitude rock. And every time I touch it I state something I am grateful for.

Today for example:
"I am grateful that I can afford to live in New York City"
"I am grateful that my mom's flight to India left on time"
"I am grateful for the Park Slope Food Co-op where I buy my food"
I started this practice ever since watching the movie The Secret two years ago. And as corny as it may seem, it is a practice I find hard to live without.

I touch it multiple times a day, usually when I enter or leave my apartment. Upon contact, I pause and regardless of my mood, reflect on something I am grateful for in that moment. Which is not always easy to do. Especially when I am in hurry or frustrated with someone or something.

Yet, it is especially those times that make this practice worthwhile. It forces me to shift my perspective and realize that everything is actually okay.

Another way to think about gratitude is with the simple question of "What is new and good?" I like to ask this at the beginning of all my client sessions. Yet unlike most casual conversation, I really want to know!

The reason for that is so much of our progress is perceived. I see my clients do many amazing things, from starting to cook for themselves, to getting off prescription medication. Yet they'll continue to focus on the 10 lbs they still haven't lost, which results in more stress, and guess what, often leads to more weight gain.

Now if we instead choose to focus on the progress, e.g. the cooking and getting off the meds, we start to believe that yes, we can also lose the 10 lbs. And before you know it, it's done.

Seem too easy? Good, cause it should.

So let's get started. What are you grateful for?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recipe: Honey candied pecans

honey roasted pecansAfter a visit to Trader Joes last week I became inspired to make my own candy coated pecans. I've always loved the stuff in salads, especially around the holidays.

Only problem was I wasn't into the sugar content in the pre-made ones. So I decided that I would try to make my own.

I was planning to use agave, but on Saturday morning I woke up with a scratchy throat. And I can't think of a better food to eat in that situation than honey. So I pulled out my favorite raw honey and got to work.

I simply mixed together some pecans with honey and coconut oil. Then placed them in the toaster oven for 8 minutes. And voila! I had freshly candied pecans. I put them on a plate with some cut up apple, and a few minutes later they were all gone. And guess what, my achy throat was gone too!

Honey is known for having antibacterial properties. Especially when eaten in its raw, unprocessed state. I swear buy the stuff made by Y.S. Organic Bee Farms. They make a high quality product that I am sure you will love.

Here's the recipe to make some for yourself:

1/2 cup pecans (halves or whole)
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 tablespoon raw honey

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a bowl mix all ingredients together. Place coated nuts on a toaster oven tray or baking sheet. Bake for 8 minutes. Enjoy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Recipe: Sweet Potato Rice Crust Pizza

gluten free sweet potato pizzaTomato season is over, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy a pizza with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

This recipe was another creation by Swati, my resident sweet potato expert. I was delighted by how good it turned out. The Parmesan cheese complements the sweet potatoes well, without overwhelming them. And the fresh herbs make you want to devour this pizza the moment it comes out of the oven.

You can find a brown rice pizza crust at most natural foods stores. We purchased one made by Nature's Hilights, which makes a thin crispy crust using only brown rice and potatoes. Regardless if you are gluten free or not, I think it serves this pizza well.

Serves 2

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 brown rice pizza crust
1 small onion, chopped
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
fresh thyme or rosemary
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350. Toss the sweet potato with olive oil, half of the chopped onions, salt and pepper. Place in the mix in a roasting pan and put in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft. Remove from oven and raise the temperature to 450 degrees.

Prepare the pizza crust based on the instructions on the box. Spread the roasted sweet potatoes, the remaining onions, thyme, salt and pepper on the top of the crust. Toss or grate some Parmesan cheese directly over the toppings. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes and serve.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Creative gift ideas for the food lover

holiday gift ideasWant to do something a little different this holiday season? Here are some ideas to please the foodie in your household.
  • ameet maturuA private in-home 'intuitive' cooking session (led by me!): We cook with with whatever is on hand. No recipes. A three hour session for $135. Available for New York City residents only. Contact me for more information.
  • A coupon book good for home-cooked meals: Need ideas on what to prepare? Consider enrolling in my upcoming group class. More details on my website.
  • rice cooker giftJapanese rice cooker. One of the best gifts I received in the last year. Use the timer and have freshly cooked brown rice ready when you get home. Recommended: Zojirushi or Panasonic rice cooker
  • A personal health consultation with me: Give the gift of a healthy YOU. Get your questions answered. Take advantage of my free offer. Contact me today.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's cold. Gimme some beans.

black beans and riceI'm someone who strongly believes you need to listen to your cravings. And this weekend my tummy was loud and clear. It wanted beans.

It may have been the result of an 'intuitive' cooking session I led for a new client, Tamlin, last Tuesday. We met at her home in Park Slope and cooked only with what she had on hand. We did an inventory and brainstormed some possibilities, eventually deciding on a three bean chili, using the canned beans and canned tomatoes in her pantry as well as some fresh vegetables (celery, carrots, green pepper, onions, green beans) she had available. It came out so delicious that I was craving it all week.

But I think a lot of this craving also has to deal with the weather. And with the temperature in the twenties, my body starts to demand earthy, protein-rich foods like beans. And not just any kind of bean - the slow cooked kind, over a hot stove.

So on Saturday morning I decided to start cooking a fresh pot of beans, which I had soaked the previous night. I added plenty of water to the beans, brought them to a boil, and then cooked them slowly throughout the day. I'd check on them every 40 minutes or so. Maybe adding some aromatics (like onion, garlic, thyme, cumin). A bit of olive oil and Bragg's Liquid Aminos. I really had no plan.

Usually I'd cook beans for no more than an hour or two. This time I had my beans cook for almost five hours, only stopping because all the water had evaporated! It was truly amazing to taste these beans. They had become softer, richer, and more complex in taste. For the first time they tasted like beans I'd find in tacquerias and less like those from a can.

They were so good that by mid-afternoon I found myself having an early dinner of beans and rice. I couldn't wait! And on Sunday, influenced by the leftover beans I had cooked up, I made a black bean mushroom chili.

What a weekend!

New group class in Brooklyn

Attention frustrated New York home cooks:

I will be leading a fun, new group class in Brooklyn entitled "Get of your rut: Get into the kitchen" starting in late January. It will be upbeat and interactive with a focus on creative, health-supportive cooking.

For more information, please visit my website.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dairy I do. Dairy I don't.

lactose intoleranceWhy do I love cheese? And yet find my stomach cringing when I indulge in some festive eggnog this holiday season? As my body seems to be telling me, it's all about lactose - the sugar naturally found in milk that some people are able to digest and some are not.

We all have varying degrees of sensitivity to the white stuff. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a medical group that advocates a vegan diet, 95% of Asian Americans, 70% of African Americans, and 53% of Mexican Americans are lactose intolerant. This compares to 15% of Caucasians.

Some dairy products, like milk and eggnog, are higher in lactose than others. While some products contain far lower levels of lactose (e.g. butter, hard cheese, ghee, yogurt). Each individual has a different level of sensitivity.

Why is this? A lot has to do with the way it's been processed. Hard cheese, through its fermentation process loses much of the lactose. Yogurt with live probiotics contains the enzyme lactase which aids in digestion. And ghee, clarified butter used in India, is stripped of lactose (or milk solids) in its processing.

I made the personal choice to add moderate amounts of dairy to my diet, because it is one of the few foods that contain fat. Other than nuts and oils, there aren't many other sources of fat in the plant kingdom. And fat, is an essential nutrient in diet. We often are taught to shun it, because most of us eat too much of it. But there are also others (notably vegetarians and vegans) who often don't get enough. Fat is essential to healthy skin, hair, nails, and a well functioning reproductive system.

It is also said in ancient Ayurvedic wisdom, that 'saatvic' foods like dairy help make us more calm and peaceful.

Think about all the happy people you know who enjoy cheese. There must be something to this! But when it comes to eggnog, I think I'll opt for the Silk Nog.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Recipe: Tilapia Fish Tacos

gluten free fish tacosYou might say I'm obsessed with fish tacos. After moving to New York from California three years ago, I've searched far and wide for some good fish taco joints. With the exception of a few places (notably Miracle Grill and Mercadito) I have been somewhat disappointed.

There is something about eating this dish in a fine dining establishment that rubs me the wrong way. In Southern California, fish tacos are almost like a fast food item. Being sold at places like Rubio's and Wahoo's, rather inexpensively.

Until Monday, I never attempted to recreate this dish in my own kitchen. Perhaps I thought this could only be prepared in the kitchen by Mexicans or on the soil of the Golden State. Boy was I wrong.

I was truly amazed by how easy these were to prepare. All it took was some corn tortillas, tilapia, guacamole, and some "house-made" chipotle mayo (a little Vegenaise and Chipotle Tabasco Sauce).

You probably won't see this dish in food magazines this time of year, as it is a classic summer item. Yet, I found a way to make it more December-friendly - adding a colorful radish, broiling instead of grilling, and serving with some roasted sweet potatoes.

I think the key is to find some good corn tortillas. I like the ones at Trader Joes (now in Brooklyn) and by Hot Bread Kitchen (a pretty cool social enterprise that employs local, immigrant bakers).

Here is my recipe. Try for yourself and save the trip to Baja.

Serves 2

1 avocado
3 tbsp salsa
1/8 red onion, diced
A few springs of cilantro
1/4 tsp salt
Juice from 1/4 lemon

In a medium bowl mash avocado with other ingredients.

Chipotle Mayo
3 tbsp Vegenaise
a bit of Chipotle Tabasco Sauce

In a small bowl, mix together until slight red color from Tabasco sauce. Add more/less depending on taste.

4 corn tortillas
8 oz tilapia, patted dry
1 radish, sliced
1/3 tsp paprika
1/3 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
juice of 1/4 lemon

Preheat the broiler. While heating, drizzle the lemon juice over the fish and sprinkle the chili powder, paprika, oregano, and salt on both sides. Place the whole fish on the broiler rack and leave in oven for 6-10 minutes. Check on fish and make sure it is fully cooked. Transfer to platter and cut up into one-inch-thick strips. Turn off broiler.

Wrap stack of tortillas in foil and place in the oven for a couple minutes (the residual heat should be enough to warm these). Top tortillas with chipotle mayo, broiled fish, guacamole, and sliced radish.

Serve with a lemon or lime wedge. Enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Photo essay: Thanksgiving in Virginia

vegetarian thanksgivingA colorful vegetarian Thanksgiving
Featuring Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Wild Rice with Cranberries,
Gluten-Free Macaroni and Cheese, Sauteed Kale with Garlic

chestnutsRoasted chestnuts for soup

roasted chestnut soupThe final product - pureed goodness

gluten free pumpkin breadPumpkin bread with almond meal, walnuts, raisins, agave nectar.
A little dense, but delicious.

thanksgiving tableGrateful diners (Swati, Mom, Dad)

For recipes, and commentary see previous post My Thanksgiving Menu

Integrative Nutrition