Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Watermelon Radishes

Aren't they gorgeous? It amazes me how beautiful food can be.

Meyer Lemons...A Taste of Sunshine

I discovered Meyer lemons for the first time over the weekend. I'm in love. They are thought to be a cross between a true lemon and a Mandarin orange and they're not widely found in typical grocery stores. You may not be able to tell from the photos, but they are these small, smooth, floral-scented, yellow-orange gems.  Yes, the peel really smells like flowers. And the flesh smells like oranges. And they taste like super sour tangerines. And they're not as yellow as a typical lemon. Ok, I'm really not doing them enough justice in this description, but believe me when I tell you, they're divine. I wasn't very creative today and didn't make anything special with them. But I did manage to cut one open and squeeze some of its sparkling juice into a nice glass of cold water.  It made my water so much more special and I smiled. I felt like I was drinking sunshine.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Whole Wheat Pasta with Broccoli

This dish has got to be one of the simplest things I make when I want dinner fast. Whole wheat pasta with plenty of garlic and extra virgin olive oil and some type of vegetable is my go-to meal when it's a late night and this broccoli and olive combo is my favorite. It's actually a variation of something I grew up eating when my mom ran out of things to make for dinner. I make it special by adding roasted or sun dried tomatoes and different types of olives and sometimes I throw in chickpeas and some fresh basil. I always top it with plenty of freshly grated sheep's milk Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese...the dish is incomplete without it, in my opinion. You can totally keep it super simple with just broccoli, pasta, garlic, and olive oil, as I sometimes do when I don't have any olives or tomatoes, and it's still delicious. Just don't forget the cheese, of course. I should also add that this keeps really well and can be eaten cold as a pasta salad.

These are just rough measurements. There's really no exact science to this. Sometimes I use more broccoli or less pasta, it just depends how hungry you are or how many people you're serving.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Broccoli
2 cups 100% whole wheat pasta
1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
5 sun dried or roasted tomatoes, chopped
mixed olives (I like kalamata olives, oil cured black olives, and green olives)
crushed red pepper flakes
grated cheese
sea salt

In a pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain. In the meantime, add the garlic and oil to a large frying pan and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds) on low heat. Add the broccoli florets and stir. You may need to add a spoonful of pasta water to prevent burning. Just cook the broccoli until it's bright green and still crunchy to preserve its nutrients. Add the tomatoes and olives and stir in the cooked pasta until combined. Serve with freshly grated cheese on top.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Organic Food

I haven't written too much about organic food, and I really wanted to discuss it today instead of posting a recipe because I believe it's such an important topic. It's also an incredibly complex and controversial topic, and while I am very passionate about it, I am not an expert. Fruits and vegetables are the absolute best source of antioxidants and phytochemicals on the planet, but unfortunately our current food and agricultural system allows toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers to be used when growing produce. This not only severely devastates the soil, water supply, and wildlife, but it also exposes us to unnatural and toxic chemicals that our bodies were not designed to handle. These chemicals are known to cause many health problems, and it should also be mentioned that the poor quality of the soil that these fruits and vegetables grow in actually causes a reduction in nutrients within the food. Research has shown something grown without the use of these toxic chemicals is actually more nutritious that its conventional counterpart.

The best way to avoid these chemicals is to consume produce that is grown without the use of toxic herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. Consuming locally grown food from farmers who do not use these is ideal, because supporting the local farmer not only benefits the local economy and local agriculture, it also reduces the transportation needed to transfer the food. This ensures the freshest, healthiest food is getting to your table, while reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals that truly have a negative effect on the body.

I live in an area where the peak growing season is the summer through early fall, so during that time, I shop at farmers markets, grow some of my own vegetables, and pick local berries and other fruits from local farms. But other times during the year, I try to buy organic as much as possible. Since a large part of the food I buy is fresh produce, I believe it's important to buy organic.

Now a big problem with organic food is the price.  It's pretty sad that the healthiest food in this country is also the most expensive. And something that I've found pretty helpful is a list of "The Dirty Dozen" and "The Clean Fifteen." These are two lists put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), which includes foods grown with the highest concentration of toxic pesticides and foods that have the lowest concentration of toxic pesticides. I have them listed here for your reference, but you can also download a handy card with these lists on it from the EWG website, along with tons of amazing resources. I truly recommend the site for reliable and reputable resources.

The Dirty Dozen                                            The Clean 15
Celery                                                                           Onions
Peaches                                                                         Avocado
Strawberries                                                                 Sweet Corn
Apples                                                                           Pineapple
Blueberries                                                                    Mangoes
Nectarines                                                                     Sweet Peas
Bell Peppers                                                                  Asparagus
Spinach                                                                         Kiwi
Cherries                                                                        Cabbage
Kale/Collard greens                                                     Eggplant
Potatoes                                                                        Cantaloupe
Grapes (Imported)                                                         Watermelon
                                                                                      Sweet Potato
                                                                                      Honeydew Melon

These are two helpful lists that can be a step to choosing "cleaner" produce. Whenever I need to use any foods on the "Dirty" list, I try to buy organic when it's affordable. I have also found that it's more affordable to buy organic when the food is in season. For example, organic bell peppers are much more affordable in the summer than in the winter and organic blueberries cost almost the same as conventional blueberries during blueberry season. Furthermore, I find that organic greens, like kale, collards, and spinach (which I eat a lot of) actually cost almost the same as the non-organic greens all year around. For all other produce not listed in either of these lists, I buy whatever I can afford and just make sure I wash everything thoroughly. It is possible to limit your pesticide exposure and still eat many fruits and vegetables while also keeping your grocery bill manageable.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not-so-Traditional Cinnamon Raisin Irish Soda Bread

      I don't have a drop of Irish blood in me. I've never really celebrated Saint Patrick's Day. I've never even tried corned beef. And I've never really felt like I was missing out on anything. Until my Irish soon-to-be husband made me try Irish soda bread. I have to say that I liked it a lot. It's not overly sweet, which I like, and I loved the plump raisins. Over the years, we've tested different recipes for this bread and we've found that it tastes good however you make it. A bonus in this recipe is that it's made with 100% whole wheat flour, which makes it extra hearty and super healthy. I decided to add some cinnamon to this particular batch of soda bread. I figured that cinnamon and raisins go well together, so it wouldn't hurt. Actually, it worked out pretty well. Slathering butter on a piece of cinnamon bread with plump raisins hot out of the oven was a perfect way to start the day.  It's a new twist on a traditional favorite.

Cinnamon Raisin Irish Soda Bread
4 cups whole wheat flour
3-4 tbs raw sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tbs cinnamon
5 tbs cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup raisins
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. In a very large mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Stir well to combine. With a pastry cutter or your clean fingers, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse meal. Then add the raisins. Next, add the egg and buttermilk and mix with a wooden spoon until it becomes too stiff to mix. Then, gently knead to moisten the flour and form the dough into a rough ball with your hands. Form the ball into a round loaf and transfer to a buttered pie dish or cast iron skillet. With a large knife, cut an X in the top about 1 1/2 inch deep (see in the photo above of the uncooked loaf). This will ensure that the bread cooks evenly in the center. 
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and a butter knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top is getting too dark, cover it with tin foil. Let the bread cool for 5-10 minutes and serve warm with butter. Best when eaten toasted and preferably within 2 days. You'll be lucky if it lasts that long.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Black Bean and Quinoa Burritos

Burritos are one of those foods that everyone loves. They're like comfort food. I remember in my dining hall days of college ordering black bean burritos from the burrito counter, savoring their taste, but feeling incredibly bloated and sick after eating them. I wondered what was in them and cringed at the thought of the unnatural ingredients I was eating. These here burritos, however,are incredibly healthy. These aren't your typical burritos that make you feel guilty after eating them. And, they're incredibly tasty. The lime is really key...my fiance loved how it brought out the flavor of all the ingredients. And the cilantro...well, cilantro is just amazing, so use a lot.
I decided to add quinoa to these burritos. Quinoa is actually the seed of a plant that is related to beets, chard, and spinach. It has become more and more popular recently, and comes in different varieties, including white, red, and black. This particular seed is really special because it is an excellent source of plant based protein. What's even better is that quinoa is a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids, which is very rare in the plant world.

Black Bean and Quinoa Burritos
1 cup uncooked quinoa (I used a mix of black and white quinoa because I had both)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 large tomato, diced (or quartered cherry tomatoes)
small red onion, finely diced
1 small garlic clove, finely minced
1 avocado, diced
1 lime
cilantro (I like cilantro, so I used a lot)
sea salt
Sprouted multigrain or whole wheat tortillas (I used Ezekiel's sprouted grain tortillas. They're amazing.)
Sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Start by cooking the quinoa*. While the quinoa is cooking, in a large bowl, add the diced onion, minced garlic, and the juice of one whole lime. Then stir in the diced tomatoes, beans, avocado, cilantro, and a teaspoon of salt. If you're using dried beans, you need this much salt. If you're using canned beans, you can probably scale back on the salt. When the quinoa has cooked, add it to the bowl with the vegetables and mix thoroughly. Fill tortillas with the mixture and shredded cheddar cheese.
Makes about 6 small burritos. The filling keeps very well in the refrigerator for a few days

*When preparing quinoa, it's essential that you rinse it in a strainer with plenty of water before cooking it to  remove it's bitter taste. Then, add  two parts liquid to one part grain and cook by adding it to a saucepan, cooking it until it absorbs the liquid and the seeds' curly "tails" unfurl and the center of the seed is transparent.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Hummus is a huge part of my life. I make it all the time. It's pretty much a staple in my kitchen. And I'm not a fan of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, so the other quick, easy, cheap, vegetarian alternative for a brown bag lunch is a hummus sandwich. I learned to make hummus at my first job working in a vegetarian cafe. I became a pro at it pretty quickly, making lots of batches for the hummus wraps, hummus sandwiches, and salads topped with a scoop or two of the chickpea puree.

At my next job at a health food store with a wonderful deli, I had to use my awesome hummus making skills to make eight gallons of the stuff for a group of over 200 swimmers after a big race in the Hudson River. Apparently, the race coordinators wanted to give the swimmers a healthy protein-packed post race snack, and I was told later that the swimmers loved it...there were hardly any leftovers.

I make my hummus with pretty much the traditional ingredients seen in the recipe below. Feel free to use more or less garlic (or roast your garlic beforehand to make a nice roasted garlic hummus), more or less spices, or even add a roasted red pepper to the food processor while you're pureeing it to make a lovely roasted red pepper hummus. It's up to you and it will take a few tries to make the hummus just the way you like it. I make hummus sandwiches all the time, usually stuffing a whole wheat pita with hummus, cucumber, and a bit of baby spinach. You could also use the hummus as a tasty dip for vegetables.

1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas
1 clove of garlic (sometimes I use 2, but I really like garlic)
3 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste)
2 tbs lemon juice
3 tbs olive oil
1/4-1/3 cup water (really, just add the water in small batches until you get the desired consistency)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp of sea salt (you may need more or less, depending on your taste)

Put the garlic clove into a food processor and process it until it's nicely chopped. Add the chickpeas and the rest of the ingredients and some of the water and process. Add more water if it's too thick. Keep processing the hummus until it's nice and smooth. Put into a bowl or container and use it for whatever your heart desires.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Purple Potatoes

I couldn't help but buy a few purple potatoes recently. They are so beautiful looking, aren't they? They're much more interesting than the boring white potato, they taste exactly the same, and research shows they actually have incredible health benefits. The striking purple pigment is its nutritional crown and glory, courtesy of the antioxidant powerhouse anthocyanin, which is responsible for the purple and blue colors of fruits and vegetables, like blueberries, blackerries, red grapes, cherries, and eggplant. This flavonoid has been shown in studies to possess anti-cancer and heart-protective effects, as well as benefits such as boosting the immune system and protecting against age-related memory loss.

I prepared these purple beauties very simply. I just cut them up, coated them in olive oil, sprinkled sea salt, garlic powder, and smoked paprika over them and roasted them in the oven at 375 degrees until they were cooked through and a little crispy. They were delicious. Now that I've tried roasted purple potatoes, I wonder what purple mashed potatoes would be like. Something tells me they wouldn't be quite the same.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Spinach Salad with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Pistachios

I can't remember the first time I had a blood orange. Perhaps it was a few years ago. All I know is that I fell in love with them the moment I saw their dark red juice and tasted its sweet, almost raspberry-like flavor. They're pretty much available throughout the winter season, and that's probably one of the few things about winter that makes me really happy. When they're in season, I probably eat one every day, and when I pack them with my lunch, I often get funny looks from people who are genuinely worried about the dark scary color of my orange. Obviously they're missing out.

We're told from many places that spinach is a good source of iron. This is true, however, this plant source of iron is much more difficult for our bodies to absorb than say, a piece of steak. But, miraculously, when a plant source of iron, like spinach, is consumed with some sort of acid (like let's say the ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, of a blood orange), the iron is much better absorbed by the body. That's why it's a good idea to consume your iron-rich leafy greens with some source of vitamin C to get the full iron benefit (especially if you're a vegetarian who gets all of your iron from plants).

This is my first attempt to actually use a blood orange in a recipe...I always just peel one and eat it by itself. I wanted something vibrant, and this salad just came to mind. I just love the colors and the flavor is great. Swap out the spinach and use arugula, if you like. For extra protein, add some black beans or crumbled feta cheese.

Spinach Salad with Blood Orange, Avocado, and Pistachios
Baby Spinach
Blood Orange
Pistachios, unsalted

For the Dressing:
Dijon Mustard

Put desired amount of baby spinach in a large bowl. Add segmented blood orange slices, sliced avocado, and shelled pistachios. In a small cup, mix equal parts dijon mustard and honey. If you like it sweeter, add more honey. Pour desired amount of dressing over the salad and toss lightly. That's it!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hearty Mushroom Soup

I understand that many people are on the fence about mushrooms. Ok, actually, many people can't stand mushrooms. I am not one of those people. I adore mushrooms. When prepared the right way, they are rich and satisfying. For vegetarians, mushrooms are great because they can provide a source of plant protein and can add a meaty quality to a host of dishes.

Research has been done on various types of mushrooms and it has shown that mushrooms have anti-cancer, immune boosting, and antioxidant properties. Mushrooms are also an excellent source of many minerals including selenium, copper, potassium, phosphorus, and zinc. They are also an excellent source of B vitamins including vitamin B2, pantothenic acid and niacin. In addition, mushrooms are a very good source of vitamin B1, vitamin B6 , and manganese.  For more information about the research and health benefits of crimini and shiitake mushrooms, take a look here and here.

This particular soup really showcases various mushrooms' flavors. The recipe is loosely inspired by a creamy mushroom soup served at a local restaurant that I absolutely love. This one is far less creamy, making it a lot healthier, but still SO tasty. Like many of my recipes, this one is easily adaptable. This time, I used this awesome blackish purple rice called Forbidden Rice (cool name right?). Supposedly, this dark colored rice has some amazing health benefits. However, I could have easily used brown rice, wheat berries, wild rice, or barley as a grain. Use whatever variety of mushrooms are available (I just happened to use crimini, portobello, and oyster mushrooms this time). You can even add some baby spinach at the very end, after the heat has been shut off, to add some green color and extra nutrients. Have fun with it. If you're a mushroom lover like me, I'm sure you'll like this soup.

Hearty Mushroom Soup
1 pound of mixed mushrooms, wiped clean with a damp cloth and chopped into small pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tbs butter
2 tbs olive oil
3 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
1 tbs fresh dill, chopped
1/2 cup white wine (optional, but recommended)
1 cup cooked rice
1 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
2 tbs heavy cream (or half and half)
sea salt

In a large pot, saute onion, celery, and garlic in butter and olive oil with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt until nicely softened, but not brown. Add the chopped sage and dill. Then, add the mushrooms and stir to coat them in the butter and oil. Add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt. After about 2 minutes or so, add the wine to de-glaze the bottom of the pot, and continue to let the mushrooms cook. When the mushrooms are nicely cooked, add the water or vegetable broth and the cooked rice. Bring to a boil and then turn off the heat. You may need to add a bit more or less water or broth in case the soup is too thick or thin. It's really up to you how thick you want it. Taste the soup, add salt if you think it needs it, and then stir in the heavy cream. Ladle in to bowls and garnish with chopped fresh dill, if you like.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Super Moist Whole Wheat Banana Bread

This is one of the very few things that I can bake well. And it's actually my favorite thing to bake. I've used the same recipe for years and it never fails me. And don't let the whole wheat flour scare you away. It lends such a great texture to the bread and it makes it incredibly healthy, with whole grains instead of refined white flour, which is stripped of all its nutritional value.

 Many banana bread recipes I find are way too sweet, when they really don't need to be. With all those sweet ripe bananas in there, it really pays to add less sugar and let the natural sweet banana flavor shine through.

 This bread really couldn't be any easier to make. It's almost impossible to mess it up and I guarantee you will think it's delicious. To mash the bananas, just unpeel them, put them in a bowl, and mash with a fork, or even a potato masher if you have one. And do not skimp on the raw sugar that's sprinkled on top! It makes a wonderful crunchy sweet crust that makes the banana bread extra special.

Super Moist Whole Wheat Banana Bread
4 ripe mashed bananas (the riper, the better)
1/2 cup raw sugar (plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling on top)
2 eggs
6 tbs melted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, add sugar, melted butter, eggs, and vanilla. Stir until incorporated. Add mashed bananas to the mixture and stir again. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir very well. Now is the time to add the chopped walnuts, if you'd like. Pour the batter in the buttered loaf pan. Then, sprinkle the remaining raw sugar over the top (as pictured in the third photo). This is a crucial step to follow if you want the most amazing banana bread crust ever. Bake for about 45-50 minutes, or until a butter knife inserted in the middle comes out mostly clean.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Multi-Colored Eggs!

Today I went to the food co-op and couldn't resist these gorgeous farm fresh, free range, organic,
multi-colored eggs. I can't wait to make something special with them soon...