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Refreshing Bean & Grain Salad

March 12, 2012

Hello! How have you been? I have been extremely busy with school, work, life and cooking, but everything is all good. I know last time I promised that my next post would be about butter, but I got sidetracked by this simple, delicious recipe. Don’t worry, I still love butter and I intend to tell you all about it soon, OK?

This recipe came about because I had a bunch of black-eyed peas and basmati rice leftover from practicing for my cook tech test. The tasks on the test were to make fluffy brown rice, firm black-eyed peas and blanched broccoli. I practiced the day before the test and I passed with a 93 so I know I’m doing something right! The day after, I made black-eyed pea and brown rice patties with avocado sauce & roasted cabbage (recipe from my friend Nancy Sobel-Butcher at Test Kitchenette) but I still had a lot of beans & grains leftover. Since I hate to waste food, I came up with this salad.

It is very refreshing and although normally I wouldn’t be eating something like this in wintry March, our weather has been incredibly mild this season and I felt the need for something light in my belly.  If you’re lazy, you can skip blanching the veggies and just throw them in raw, but that would most definitely make this a cooling summer salad. For a refresher on how to blanch vegetables, click here. Feel free to use other combinations of grains & beans that you may have on hand and if the thought of julienning the vegetables gives you heart palpitations, just cut them into a small uniform shape.

Refreshing Bean & Grain Salad

Ingredients:

1 3/4 Cup cooked black eyed peas
1 1/2 Cup cooked long grain brown rice
8 Small, fat carrots cut into julienne strips
1 Cup green beans, trimmed and halved
2 Broccoli stalks, peeled and julienned
1 Cup small broccoli florets
1/4 Cup radish cut into thin strips

Dressing (Source here)

2 Tbsp dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 Cup olive oil
4 Tbsp finely chopped onion (I used red onion)
1 Garlic clove, minced
Sea salt & ground pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, mix the beans & rice together. Set aside.
  2. Blanch & shock the carrots first, then green beans then broccoli. You want them to still be crunchy, but not raw. Should only take a minute or two. Make sure to drain them properly and set aside in a colander.
  3. In a small bowl, combine mustard & vinegar.
  4. Whisk the mixture while slowly drizzling the olive oil into it until fully emulsified.
  5. (Optional) In a small pan, gently “sweat” the onions in a tiny bit of salt & oil until the raw taste has been cooked out. Add garlic for the last minute or two, being careful not to impart any color onto them.
  6. Add onion & garlic to the dressing and stir well.
  7. (Optional) For a smooth dressing, blend with an immersion blender. Otherwise, use as is.
  8. Add vegetables to bean & grain mixture and mix well.
  9. Add the dressing and mix well.
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A Look Into My Notes

February 1, 2012

So many people ask me how school is going and how I’m liking the curriculum. I always answer with a definitive “I LOVE IT!”. Many of my teachers and chefs have been involved in food and health for several decades and I feel privileged to be able to learn from them. For instance, Chef Jill taught our sea vegetable class and told us that not only has she spent many years eating a Macrobiotic diet (which encourages regular consumption of sea veg), but she wrote a book on the subject and also spent time hand-harvesting wild plant foods from the ocean floor. How amazing is that? Our class on fats and oils was taught by the actual president of our school and I will learn all about macrobiotic living from none other than AnneMarie Colbin, the founder of our school and expert in her field. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

All of these classes have given me a wealth of information, some is new to me, some has reinforced what I already know, but all of it is instrumental in eating a healthy diet and making wise choices. I was looking through my notes the other day and realized that some of these facts that are burned into my brain and come second nature to me may be completely foreign to my readers. I thought I’d compile a short list of some things everyone should know. Please post questions below!

Did you know?

    1. Today, a mere four crops account for 2/3 of the calories humans eat. Historically, humankind has consumed up to 80,000 edible species and 3,000 of them have been in widespread use. Don’t you think we should diversify and change it up a bit?
    2. Have you ever read the ingredients of your “healthy” power bar and wondered what “soy protein isolate” is? I bet you thought (like I used to) that it’s super healthy for you, since it’s soy (that’s what those healthy hippies eat, right??). In simple terms, it’s what you get when you put soybeans under intense pressure and high heat, removing the nutrients and naturally occurring fats to create a denatured protein. It’s basically the same thing as hydrolyzed soy protein and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) and what you’re eating at a Chinese restaurant when you order the “mock” duck or “mock” chicken. Why would you want to eat “mock” anything? It also usually contains MSG to make it taste better. Unfermented soy also contains endocrine disrupters and goitrogens which interfere with our hormones and thyroid. In short, avoid unfermented soy like the plague.
    3. Most of the food in the American food supply has been approved by the FDA to be irradiated. Don’t know what that is? Foods get treated with nuclear, industrial by-products (it’s gotta go somewhere!) to kill off any harmful bacteria. Some say this is a good idea because bad bacteria can make us sick, however irradiation only covers up serious problems with our industrial food system and allows manufacturers to continue dangerous & harmful production practices (like factory animal farming). It alters the molecular structure of the foods and kills naturally occurring enzymes and vitamins, replacing them instead with free radicals and radiolytic products like formaldehyde and other known carcinogens. Doesn’t sound very healthy, does it? To me, it makes more sense to put regulations on food producers so they operate more responsibly. The bad news is there’s no way to know how much of our food is irradiated because food producers do not have to label it. The good news is, irradiation is not allowed in organic food (not yet at least!)
    4. Grass-fed beef can have the same amount of fat as a skinless chicken breast. Yes, you read that correctly. The reason is because pastured cattle eat a healthy diet and get exercise. Meat from these animals can have 1/3 the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grain-fed animal, and therefore fewer calories. It also has four times the Vitamin E of feedlot cattle and interestingly twice more than feedlot cattle who get Vitamin E supplements! I can write all day about the differences in these animals but let’s keep things moving…
    5. A tablespoon of butter has less calories than a tablespoon of olive oil. (There are so many health benefits to eating butter that my next blog post will be dedicated to it, so stay posted!) The reason why is because butter is 80% butterfat and 20% milk solids (containing 100 calories) and oils are 100% fat (containing 120 calories). Just one more reason to eat (pastured organic) butter!
    6. Sea vegetables are a form of algae and are one of the oldest life forms on the planet! They grow larger and more abundantly in colder, darker waters and are unparalleled in their concentration of minerals. They are nutrient dense with some varieties providing up to 1400 mg of calcium per 100 gram portion! (compare that to 118 mg in a serving of cow’s milk). They are also high in Vitamin A, potassium, protein and fiber among other good stuff. A little goes a long way, but make sure to eat some seaweed frequently!

Pretty Much The Easiest Recipe Ever

January 14, 2012

Nowadays, you can’t go anywhere without hearing about kale, but a lot of people don’t know what to do with it. It is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet and comes in many varieties. For this recipe, I used a curly kale, which tends to be hardier and tougher than the softer lacinato kale that is my favorite, but you can use either and it will be just as tasty.

First get a large pot of boiling, salted water started on the stove. The salt is crucial because it will give the greens a vibrant green hue… without it they will turn a drab, olive color. Next, remove the kale stems and cut the leaves into smaller, bite-sized pieces. Give the greens a bath in cold water, swish them around and drain & refill the water a few times until they are nice and clean. Drain and set aside in a large bowl.

Next you will want to set up your station so the blanching process will be quick and easy. You will have your bowl of  raw greens, a colander to drain the cooked greens, and another large bowl for the finished product. Start by putting a large handful of the greens into the boiling water and giving it a stir. Once the water comes back up to a boil and the greens become softer and chewy (you can taste), remove with thongs or a slotted spoon and put into the colander to drain. (The cooking time for each batch of greens should only be about 2 minutes, depending on how tough your kale is to begin with). Repeat the process for the next batch of greens, but remove the previously cooked greens from the colander and put into the large bowl. (You want to avoid dumping wet, fresh greens on top of the cooked ones that have already drained).

Once all the greens have been cooked, drain any remaining water and toss them with toasted sesame oil, sea salt and sesame seeds. Voila! I present to you the easiest recipe ever:

Blanched Sesame Kale

Ingredients:
1 Large bunch of kale
About 1 Tbsp Toasted sesame oil
1-2 Tbsp Sesame seeds
Sea salt to taste

Eat as a side dish or stir in cooked beans & serve over quinoa for a complete meal.

You Guys Are Gonna Love This…

January 7, 2012

Generally, I try to limit my intake of seafood since it poses significant health risks,  but it’s been a while since I’ve eaten fish so I decided to make it for dinner last night. Little did I know that my dinner would turn out to be one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever made. It was also really simple and I can see the sauce being used on other proteins as well.

After consulting my Seafood Watch App, I started out with some wild-caught Atlantic cod and decided to pair it with some Lacinato kale that I had in the fridge. I wanted to make a coconut/lime/lemongrass sauce, so I checked out some recipes online and went to the grocery store. Here’s what I came up with.

First I sauteed the (salt & peppered) fish fillets in butter & olive oil, then set them aside. I cooked quinoa in the rice cooker and I blanched the greens. Next I got to work on the sauce. In the same pan I used for the fish, I sauteed leeks in a bit of olive oil & salt until they were soft, then added crimini mushrooms and cooked them down until browned. I stirred in the curry paste then added the lemongrass, fish sauce, stock, coconut milk & lime juice. I simmered on low for about 15 minutes until it thickened and the flavors melded together. When it came to the desired consistency, I discarded the lemongrass and started plating. A bed of kale went onto the plate first, then some quinoa, then the fish, and the sauce topped it all.

Note: Be careful of how much salt you use because fish sauce is very salty. I’m glad I used leeks instead of onions because their creaminess and subtle aromatic flavor went perfectly with the coconut. I also used the curry sparingly so it didn’t overpower the lemongrass, but instead left a yummy, lingering aftertaste. I think the lime was absolutely crucial in this dish, and added a whole other element of deliciousness. Enjoy!

Fish and Greens in a Coconut, Lemongrass & Lime Sauce

Ingredients:
3/4 Pound Flaky Fish (I used Atlantic Cod)
1 Bunch Kale, or other hardy green
1 Large leek, sliced into half moons
2 Cups halved crimini mushrooms
2 Stalks Lemongrass, cut into 2 inch pieces
1 Tbsp Green curry paste
1 Tbsp Fish sauce
3/4 C Chicken stock
3/4 C Coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Olive oil, divided
Sea salt & black pepper

Serve over quinoa or other whole grain

Seasonal Veggie Puree

December 19, 2011

One of the things we learned in school this week was how to make a puree. Any time I hear the word puree, I always think of that button on the blender, but it turns out there are quite a few different ways to make “a paste or thick liquid suspension usually made from cooked food ground finely”. One way of course, is to use a blender or food processor until you get the desired consistency. You can also use a fancy chinoise, but we haven’t used one in class yet and I don’t own one anyway. Another cool way is to use a food mill:

It’s simple enough: you insert the blade, place the mill over a bowl, deposit the cooked food into it, then turn the handle to grind it into a silky texture. It’s really simple and in class, produced for us the most perfect applesauce. However, since I don’t own a food mill (yet) I decided to make tonight’s puree with one of my funnest kitchen tools: my immersion blender:

It’s perfect if you’re making a creamy soup but don’t want to create a huge mess by transferring your cooked ingredients into a food processor or blender. You simply “immerse” the wand into the pot of food, turn it on and blend until it’s finished. Pretty much the smartest thing ever. I wasn’t sure what consistency I’d get for my puree by using this, but it was my simplest, quickest option so I decided to go with it.

When I picked up our CSA share this weekend at Greensgrow Farm, I bought some additional items from their farmers market including rutabaga, parsnips and sunchokes (AKA Jerusalem artichokes). I also got some fresh sage in our share, and I thought these would all compliment each other nicely.

First I peeled the rutabaga and diced it into 3/4″ cubes. These can take forever to cook, so I cut them smaller for time’s sake and threw them into a pot of boiling water. Ten minutes later, I added the peeled, diced parsnips. Ten minutes later, I added the peeled, diced sunchokes. (If you know me, you know that I rarely remove the skins from my vegetables because I like to include all edible parts of the food, thus preserving the nutrients, but since this recipe needed to be smooth, I decided to remove the skins for texture). Thirty minutes after starting the rutabaga, I strained the liquid and put the veggies into a bowl.

I finely chopped the fresh sage and cooked it on a very low flame with some fresh thyme in 1 1/2 Tbsp of cultured butter for about 4 minutes to infuse the flavor. I then added the veggies back to the butter mixture, added salt, ground pepper and some whole milk and busted out the immersion blender. I blended for a little, then added some more milk, then blended some more. All in all I blended for a total of about 2 minutes or so and used about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of milk.

Wow, this was delicious. My only regret is that I didn’t buy more ingredients. It was creamy with a bit of a sweet, herby perfume. I served it with braised kale with onions and chickpeas, but we’ll save that recipe for another time:

Seasonal Veggie Puree
Serves: About 3

Ingredients:
1 Medium sized rutabaga, scrubbed, peeled & cut into 3/4″ dice
7 Medium to smallish parsnips, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
7 Medium to small sunchokes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
1/3 to 1/2 Cup milk of your choice (depending on desired consistency)
Salt & black pepper

For a vegan version, reserve some of the boiling liquid to thin the puree instead of milk and substitute olive oil for the butter.

Braised Chicken Legs With Fennel & Root Veggies

December 14, 2011

What’s up? It’s been a while, I KNOW. Things have been crazy. I’ve been adjusting to these major changes and I feel like I’ve finally found some footing so I’m here and cooking and ready to tell you all about it!

Last night at school we learned about different braising techniques, so today I was inspired to use the beautiful chicken legs we had from our Winter CSA @ Greensgrow Farm. They’re from local, pastured animals who weren’t administered antibiotics, hormones or GMO feed (the best kind!).

I found this recipe and since I already had most of the ingredients in the house, I went to town. I decided to omit the pancetta and added red-skinned potatoes instead.

First I pulled out all of the ingredients, washed the veggies and started to get my mise en place together. (In culinary speak, this means “everything in place” or prepping/cutting all of your ingredients so they are ready at a moment’s notice). Prepping all of your ingredients is time-consuming, but once it’s done things move along very quickly.

I started by adding about 2 Tbsp of olive oil to my Le Creuset Dutch oven and turning the heat up to medium-high. Cast-iron cooking vessels conduct heat differently than stainless steel- they take a while to heat up, but once hot, they KEEP heat for a while. Throughout cooking this recipe, I tried to be mindful of this and compensated to adjust the temperature accordingly. I also made sure that there was adequate levels of olive oil in the pan throughout the browning process.

First went the chicken legs with salt & pepper.

I browned them on one side, then the other. Once browned (but not cooked through) I transferred them to a plate.

Next went the potatoes & carrots and a tad more sea salt. In hindsight, since I reduced the amount of chicken in the original recipe and added more veggies instead, I think these root veggies would have browned quicker if seared separately. Anyway, I browned/softened them, then removed them.

Next I added the shallots & fennel and a little bit more olive oil. Once these softened and browned a little, I added the chopped garlic. (You have to be careful with garlic because it can burn easily, so make sure the pan isn’t too too hot.).

After about 2 minutes I added 2 cups of Sauvignon Blanc, the bouquet garnis, and scraped the bottom of the pan, removing the brown bits. I then added 3 cups of chicken broth and all of the cooked ingredients.

The whole concoction went into the oven for about 35 minutes. Once the chicken registered above 165 degrees on my thermometer, I fished out all of the solid ingredients with a slotted spoon. I put the Dutch oven on a high burner and reduced the liquid for about 20 minutes. After the liquid reduced, I added the lemon zest & sea salt, poured it over everything, topped it with chopped parsley and promptly DUG IN.

Post-cooking thoughts:

  1. Holy crap this smells amazing! Totally Autumn/Winter food. Great flavor!!!
  2. In hindsight, I should have used less liquid. Proper braising dictates the liquid be halfway up the food, but this dish was almost covered with liquid (shame on me, but I’m learning). The chicken ended up being a bit tough, but delicious none the less.
  3. The fennel, shallots and (especially) lemon zest are ESSENTIAL to this dish, don’t forget them!
  4. I should have cooked this for a shorter period of time. Again, maybe the chicken cooked faster because there was too much braising liquid, but I should have checked the temp after 25 minutes.
  5. Overall this was YUMMY and a great one-pot meal!

What’s going on

November 10, 2011

A little while ago I told you that big changes were coming my way and now I’m ready to share my secret with you. In case you haven’t heard, I’m enrolled in culinary school! That’s right, this coming Tuesday I will begin my culinary journey at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts. It’s in Manhattan, but I won’t be relocating since I’m in the part-time program which only requires me to commute two days a week.

I am beyond stoked to be spending the next 11 months learning, cooking, trying new things and really getting healthy. Plans may change, but currently my intention is to become a personal chef for people who want/need to eat healthy food, but don’t have the desire or time to cook for themselves. I also want to conduct affordable cooking classes for people who DO want to get their hands dirty and feed themselves and their families truly healthful cuisine.

As part of my application process, I had to answer a few questions about my experience with food and why I’m interested in attending NGI. I thought I’d post my essay here because I am proud of it and writing it really affirmed for me my reasons for deciding to make this major change. I hope you enjoy it! Check back for recipes, tips and stories about my experiences while becoming a Natural Foods Chef! Peace!

1- What is your experience with food?

2- Why did you choose to apply to this school?

3- When you have completed your education at Natural Gourmet Institute, what are your goals?

 My first memories of food involve my grandmother, making pretty finger sandwiches and always including a protein, starch and vegetable with every meal. Her passion for home cooked food influenced my own desire to express my creativity in the kitchen and make beautiful, delicious meals from whole foods.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always cooked, even if it was just heating something from a frozen box at age ten. As an adult, I learned the importance of eating plant-based “real” foods after suffering from IBS for years. My doctors couldn’t heal me, so I decided to take my health into my own hands and enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN) to become a health coach. I learned about the concept of bio-individuality and the myriad dietary theories that exist, along with invaluable business and life skills. My experiences at IIN drastically changed not only my digestive health, but my entire life and helped me to realize my passion for cooking and natural living. I counseled many people on how to upgrade their diets and practice self-care, but I felt limited because I really wanted to teach people how to cook well and didn’t feel I had the qualifications.

After attending IIN, I interned with Marilyn Moser-Waxman, a personal chef who also has a meal delivery business. I learned many hands-on culinary skills in her kitchen and helped to create many vegan, macrobiotic-inspired healthy meals. I witnessed just how much hard work goes into a personal chef business, but also experienced firsthand how people can bond over food, as it is so much more than just nutritional sustenance.

I first “discovered” The Natural Gourmet Institute in 2009 while attending IIN. I thought it was a fantastic program but never saw it as a possibility for me until this year. I could think of plenty of reasons why I couldn’t sign up (cost, location, job prospects, etc) but never realized until now that if I follow my passion, everything will fall into place. If I put my mind to it, I can be capable of anything, and what I want is to create healthy food. I am applying to The Natural Gourmet because I have found what I’m passionate about and I need to share it with others. I have found my place in the holistic health field and I want to become a personal chef. I also want to conduct cooking classes, workshops and parties to teach everyday people how to eat healthfully. The state of the American food system is despicable, ensuring we continue to be an obese nation dependent on pharmaceuticals and I want to show people that there is another way to live.

I am beyond ecstatic to start classes next month. I have heard nothing but positive opinions about this school, and I feel its philosophy and mission are the same as my own. I cannot wait to start this next chapter of my life and take my cooking abilities to the next level.

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