Conscious Food Choices

For the love of delicious healthy food…

“Ode to Annapolis” Apple Pinot Blackberry Tart

A few days ago my best childhood friend Beca and I went on an “Old Stepdads Tour” of Annapolis, the small town along the Northern California coast we grew up in. When we were kids, Annapolis was virtually unknown – one tiny post office which was only open until noon and maybe 350 people scattered around in the redwoods, making their living either growing pot, logging, or working the one little K-8 elementary school. (Very small – my 8th grade graduating class was 4 kids… including me). Our town was socially split into “rednecks” or “hippies”, with my family and Beca’s definitely landing in the hippy camp.

Beca and I grew up riding horses through the redwoods, picking huckleberries and blackberries in the summer, and trying to avoid getting shot in the hunting and pot harvest seasons. My mom and stepfather Doug were both vegetarians with a huge organic garden, which I have to admit I only appreciated for the trade in-value of our gorgeous homegrown strawberries that were swapped surreptitiously at school for white bread Fluffernutter sandwiches. I am also sorry to say that my mom’s truly gourmet whole wheat, cream cheese and artichoke-heart sandwiches ended up in the garbage can nearly every time. But growing up with hippy parents in Annapolis obviously set the stage for my (eventual) interest in organic, local, healthy gourmet vegetarian cooking, and probably gave me an early taste for marketing as well!

Beca and I spent the first couple of hours with her stepfather Bob, whose property was literally dripping with ripe apple, plum and pear trees, and left with bags of intoxicatingly ripe apples as well as several jars of Fandango Spice Garden jam which is made by Bob and Cheryl and sold in local farmers markets. They do not have a website so if you ever see it in California make sure to snatch a bottle up – it’s fantastic, with flavors like Satsuma Plum and Raspberry Shiraz. I love a fruit and wine combination!

After an afternoon of reminiscing and driving up and around the dusty back roads of Annapolis, we ended up for dinner at Doug and his wife Jane’s place –  a completely craftsman yet impressively high-tech, solar powered, totally off-the-grid hand-built house with decks and studios overlooking miles of redwood-topped mountains all the way to the Pacific. We had a delicious vegetarian meal, freshly picked from the garden, and watched news of Hurricane Irene rolling towards NYC on a TV monitor larger than most NY cinema screens. It was an amazing mix of country and technology.

From the decks you could also see some new vineyards cropping up on the ridges. Recently, as with Napa Valley and the rest of Sonoma, grapes have come to Annapolis and with them a lot of controversy over clearing mountains of redwood trees to make way for Pinot grapes. I don’t have anything against a few vineyards, but I have seen how this mono-crop has eaten up much of the gorgeous diversity of the rest of Sonoma County, and I can’t tell you how sad it would be to see more redwoods cut down and more damage done to the delicate local watershed. Trees and fish are not a fair trade for wine.

This tart, full of Annapolis apples, summer blackberries and a splash of Pinot just to rile things up, was made from an afternoon full of warm childhood memories. I hope you can taste them too.

Apple Pinot Blackberry Tart

  • 1 1/2 recipe Perfect Butter Crust (see below)
  • 1 1/2 pints fresh ripe blackberries
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/4 cup Pinot Noir
  • 6 – 7 ripe summer apples
  • 1/4 cup local honey
  • 6 T small pearl tapioca
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Make a Perfect Butter Crust ( or use your own favorite double crust recipe) using 2 cups of flour and 2/3 plus 2 T butter, and increase water slightly. Split dough into two balls, one slightly larger than the other, flatten each gently and chill for 1 hour.

Roll larger crust out and line a large quiche or deep dish pie pan with dough, allowing the edges to overlap the pan slightly. Chill. Roll smaller ball out and cut into strips. Weave strips together into a lattice top and chill on wax or parchment paper for 20 minutes until firm enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 425° and prepare filling:

In a small pan, cook blackberries with Pinot and agave syrup on medium heat for 5 minutes. Allow to cool while you prepare apples. Peel and slice apples thinly, tossing in a large bowl with honey, tapioca, cinnamon and salt. Crush blackberries through a strainer, discarding seeds, and add to apple mixture. Allow to sit for 20 minutes and pour into chilled bottom tart shell, smoothing out any wayward bits of fruit on top.

Gently roll lattice top onto a rolling pin, transfer to top of fruit mixture and carefully unroll onto tart. Flute lattice and tart edges together and bake for 10 minutes in 425° oven. Turn oven down to 350° and continue baking for 1 hour until top is gently brown all over. Make sure there is a pan with foil at the bottom of the oven to catch the drips. Enjoy!

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August 30, 2011 Posted by | "Evil Butter" Recipes, Desserts, Food Consciousness, Fresh, Recipes | , , | 4 Comments

Pesto-Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Roasted Portabellos

This is the recipe that made me like quinoa, maybe even love it: fluffy quinoa with asparagus drenched in basil pesto, good enough right there… but then served with fresh ripe tomatoes and warm roasted portobello mushrooms – it’s a knockout combination. I owe thanks to Chef Tracy Morrisette, whom I worked with at the Goddess Garden in Costa Rica earlier this year, who convinced me with this combination that quinoa could be fantastic. If you are (like I was) in the camp that quinoa is no better than glorified bird seed, this recipe will convert you. (Quinoa is actually a seed, not a grain – it is gluten-free, very high in magnesium (cardiovascular health) and also has more calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, copper, manganese, and zinc than most grains. It’s also naturally high in protein and fiber.)

This can be served nearly raw as a summer salad or lightly baked as a gorgeous entree…

Pesto-Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Roasted Portobello (serves 4)

  • 4 medium-sized vine ripe tomatoes, (or two large heirloom)
  • 1 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa (for 8 minute recipe, see below*)
  • 6 T  creamy blue-green basil pesto (any version)
  • 1 cup fresh asparagus, in 1″ pieces
  • 1 t olive oil
  • 2 T water
  • juice and zest of 1/2 lemon (opt)
  • 1 T nutritional yeast
  • freshly ground salt and pepper
  • 4 medium portobello mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T well aged balsamic vinegar
  • 1 t maple syrup, palm sugar or agave (if balsamic is not well aged)
  • Salt and black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°.

Prep the tomatoes: Cut the tops off of medium tomatoes, or cut the big heirlooms in half, horizontally.With your fingers, gently scoop out all seeds and inner membranes of each tomato, leaving a hollow cup. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and rub in gently with your hands. Let sit while you prepare the quinoa.

Prep portobello: toss mushrooms with oil and vinegar salt and pepper until well coated all around. Taste and adjust – should be delicious already. Spread out in single layer on heavy baking pan.

Make Pesto-Quinoa Pilaf: Quickly saute asparagus with a small amount of olive oil, water and salt for 1 -2 minutes until slightly tender, toss with squeeze of lemon and zest. Toss in quinoa, nutritional yeast and warm through gently. Add pesto – taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Stuff each tomato or tomato half generously with quinoa pilaf. (If tomatoes are small they can be split into 4 quarters to accommodate more filling, but not necessary.) Organize in baking dish or sheetpan and place both portobello and tomatoes in very hot oven to roast for 10 – 15 minutes or just until tomatoes are hot through and top of pilaf has a touch of brown. Portobellos should be ready in about the same time but keep and eye on them.

I served with a lightly dressed arugula salad (arugula and a squeeze of lemon in the unwashed mushroom marinade bowl… ).

~~~~~~~~Other Versions: ~~~~~~~~~~~

Stuffed Tomato Salad – just don’t roast:  serve room temp pilaf in the fresh tomato shells over arugula, with un-roasted marinated portobellos on the side.

Un-stuffed Salad: Forget the whole stuffing thing, and just serve a big  scoop of warm or room temp pilaf over a plate or bowl of gorgeous sliced summer tomatoes.

Pesto Quinoa with Garlic Scapes: replace asparagus with fresh garlic scapes in above recipe.

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*Tracy’s 8-minute Fluffy Quinoa:

  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 2 cups water
  • pinch sea salt

Wash quinoa several times to get rid of soapy taste. Cover in fresh water and let soak 1 hour or over night to activate enzymes (skip this if you are in a rush). Rinse one more time drain. Boil quinoa gently in small pot for 8 minutes only in salted water. (Yes, it’s really only 8 minutes and a 1:1 ratio- even a bit less if you are making a very large pot of 8 cups or more). Fluff with fork, cover tightly and let rest for 5-10 minutes more to totally fluff up and expand.

July 4, 2011 Posted by | Low Carb Recipes, Main Courses, Recipes, Salads, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , , | 7 Comments

Creamy Blue-Green Pesto (Vegan, too)

Pesto, like chocolate, is one of those wonderfully strong-flavored things that you can slip all sorts of healthy stuff into without anyone guessing. My most favorite surreptitious ingredients in basil pesto are hemp seeds and blue green algae. Hemp seeds are full of complete and easily digestible protein, have the highest essential fatty acids of any plant food on the planet – a perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid, which is good for for your heart and immune system – and best of all, they taste a bit like pine nuts. (They can completely replace the nuts in your pesto recipe without anyone noticing, but I usually do a mix of hemp and raw cashews because I really like the sweet creaminess the cashews add.) The blue-green algae is full of chlorophyll and phytonutrients, plus adds some trace minerals and vitamins, and can also go undetected, even by the pickiest of (12 year old) eaters. My boyfriend’s son Kai generally does not eat “foods of color” but curiously loves pesto, which is what motivated me to try to slip as much other healthy green stuff in as I could. The last time I made it we did it together, but I slipped in the blue-green algae at the end when he wasn’t looking. Can’t reveal everything to everyone all the time…

Creamy Blue-Green Pesto (Vegan)

  • 1 bunch fresh basil, washed and picked (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1/2 cup hemp seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea or Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 t umeboshi vineger (optional)
  • 1/2 t fresh black pepper
  • 4 capsules Crystal Manna Blue Green Algae

Save out a handful or basil leaves, and then blend all remaining ingredients well in blender or Vitamix until smooth and creamy. Taste and adjust for salt – this should be well salted and fairly intensely flavored, as a little goes a long way. Add remaining basil leaves and blend briefly, maintain a little texture. (You can add in a few more nuts here too, if you want a little crunch). Use at once or keep in glass jar with a puddle of olive oil on the top to keep it from going brown. Will keep 1 – 2 weeks in the fridge.

Play with your pesto!

Pesto can be made with really anything so please get creative with what is in the fridge.

  • Add a little parsley to the blender to up the green intensity
  • Add a bit of nutritional yeast to make it richer and slightly cheesy
  • Use any other type of nut here, pine nuts are traditional, but I have had great pesto made with pistachios, walnuts and even sesame seeds. Or make it with all hemp.

Also, I just want to say that the amounts of everything are extremely flexible – I have make a 10 minute pasta with a  “chunky pesto” sauce using about 10 basil leaves from a withering basil plant who’s day had come… in this case it went into a mortar and pestle with 1/2 clove of garlic and a few tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and got chopped toasted pine nuts mixed in later. Just proving that 10 fresh leaves are infinitely superior to any pre-fab pesto sauce you could ever buy from anywhere!

Pesto is not just for pasta- its great on steamed potatoes and vegetables, and is fantastic mixed with quinoa. If, like me, you never thought “fantastic” and “quinoa” should appear in the same sentence, check out Pesto-Quinoa Stuffed Tomatoes with Roasted Portabellos

July 1, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Low Carb Recipes, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sauces, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , | 1 Comment

Happy Summer! Fresh Pasta “Margherita”

Last week I was working on the foodie section for a friend’s hilarious and brainy new website, PhilomobileInNaples.com, and I had the great pleasure of researching and writing about the origins of pasta and the pasta machine, much of which significantly happened in Naples.

Apparently, the first pasta machine on record was commissioned in the 1700’s by the King of Naples, Ferdinand II. Up until that time a “pasta maker” was someone who sat on a bench and kneaded the dough with his feet. (The term “maccaruni” in fact, means “made by dough by force”. )

Cesare Sapdaccini, this same genius engineer, is also credited with inventing the 4-pronged fork on behest of the Queen, who was reportedly embarrassed by the King eating pasta with his fingers. (Thus proving that the birth of civilization actually began in Naples…!)

To underscore that, Naples is also where Gelato, Pizza Margherita, and a wonderful Neapolitan custom called “Caffe Sospeso” was born:

Caffe sospeso literally means “coffee in suspense” and in old timey Neapolitan society it was a custom to order not one but two coffees at a time, one for you and one for someone else less fortunate. The order would be logged in the cafe’s book until someone else came in and inquired, at which point they would be graciously served.

Anyway, to read more pasta trivia (and mythology), check out La Storia di Pasta.

So, what do you do after spending a whole day reading about Neapolitan pasta? Make fresh pasta! How could I not? The egg pasta dough recipe is super easy and straight out of Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian cookbook,* and he also has a vegan version in there but I wanted the full “Crack-The-Eggs-Into-The-Flour-And-Mix-With-Your-Hands” Experience. (And besides, I was planning to top it with a very un-vegan fresh mozzarella, basil and tomatoes).  So this is it.

Fresh Summer Pasta “Margherita” for 4

Prepare the Fresh Egg Pasta Dough:

  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 eggs yolks

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour and salt on a counter or large board. Make a well in the middle. Into this well, beak the eggs and yolks. Beat the eggs with a fork, slowly and gradually incorporating a little of the flour at a time. When it becomes too hard to stir with a fork, use your hands. When all the flour has been mixed in, knead the dough, pushing it against the board and folding it repeatedly until it is not at all sticky and quite stiff.

Sprinkle the dough with a little of the reserved flour and cover with plastic or a cloth: let it rest for about 30 minutes.
(Recipe Courtesy Mark Bittman)

(I actually let it rest for one hour, and it was still a bit tough to roll out thinly. But I might have gotten a bit overzealous in the kneading stage… it is a beautiful, silky dough – really satisfying to knead. I didn’t try it with my feet, but I was questioning how enlightened Mr. Sapdaccini really could be after all of that: why would anyone want to make pasta dough with a machine?)

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce:

Summer “Margherita Sauce” for Pasta

  • 1/2 pound super fresh mozzarella, cut in 1″ cubes
  • 1 cup sweet ripe cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut or torn
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T capers
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 t salt, to taste
  • 2 T freshly roasted pine nuts

In a medium sized serving bowl, combine all ingredients except salt and pine nuts,  and let marinate together at room temperature while the pasta dough is resting and cooking.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured board as thinly and evenly as possible and cut into any shape you like. You can see that I went to town with the ravioli roller...

Boil in salted water for  just 2 – 3 minutes until tender but al dente. Drain and toss with Margherita mixture, and toasted pine nuts, adding salt to taste and drizzling with a bit more olive oil as needed.

Serve immediately, while the cheese is still cool and the pasta is hot. Enjoy!

*Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian has become my all purpose cookbook bible (really! It’s huge but I shlepped it all the way to Bali, and to Costa Rica before that. And you know what? It was the one cookbook that Tracy Morrisette – the chef I was working with in Costa Rica – had also brought with her from the States! Says something, I think). I rarely use recipes except for reference, but when you need a quick and reliable basic, like fresh pasta dough, or need to to know how many beans to soak to feed 40 people, this is the book to turn to.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Pasta, Recipes | , | Leave a comment

Ginger-Goji Super Granola and Friends…

I am not crazy about the flavor of goji berries, but am a strong believer in their superpowers, so this is a way to spice them up by dry blending them with a bit of crystallized ginger. (Yes, the sugary one…but a little goes a long way).

Ginger-Goji Super Granola (Raw-ish)

  • 1/2 recipe of Vanilla Almond Granola Base 
  • 3 c flaked or shredded dried coconut (combo is nice)
  • 2 c walnuts and/or pecans (soaked and dried)
  • 1 c organic goji berries,  dry blended until roughly powdered
  • 2 T finely chopped crystallized ginger pieces
  • 1 T freshly grated ginger
  • 1 c dried mulberries, (or ¼ c dates, raisins or other dried fruit) coarsely chopped or lightly dry blended
  • 2 T liquid coconut oil
  • 1/4 t coarsely ground sea salt
  • 2 T maple syrup
  • 1 t cinnamon (optional)
  • Vanilla maple glaze made with: 1 T vanilla plus 1/4 c maple syrup

Dry blend crystallized ginger, fresh ginger and goji berries in Vitamix until most of the goji berries have powdered and are reclumping into gingery bits. The odd whole berry is fine here too.

Combine coconut, chopped nuts, gingered goji berries and other fruit in very large bowl. Add liquid coconut oil and toss to coat.

Add 2 T. maple syrup, salt and cinnamon or other spices and flavorings, toss lightly to coat.

Finally, add Vanilla Hemp Granola Base over nut mixture. Toss lightly, drizzling with remaining maple-vanilla mixture so everything is lightly coated. Make sure not to overmix at this point – there should be distinctive lumps of the oat-y base, alongside the coconut-nut mixture, all lightly glazed with the maple vanilla mix… (Mmmmm)

Spread onto 3 or 4 Perflexx sheets. Dehydrate 8 -12 hours or overnight, turning once to crisp up the undersides.

 

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Flavor Variations (are endless… these are just ideas)

Maple Pecan Granola

  • Use all pecans instead of walnuts
  • Use gingered gogi berries, or not…
  • Use only the finely shredded coconut, not flakes
  • Increase cinnamon to 2 T
  • Add 1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg

Blueberry Almond Granola

  • Use 2 cups chopped raw almonds (soaked, dried and truly raw)
  • Use only flaked coconut
  • Leave ginger out but dry blend the gogi berries to a fine powder to dissapear them
  • Use 1 c sundried blueberries as the dried fruit,  and do not chop or blend.
  • Replace cinnamon with 1/2 t fresh lemon juice and zest
  • Add 1/2 t almond extract to and 1 t lemon juice to vanilla maple glaze

Rainforest Crunch:

Brazil nuts are a great source of selenium, a necessary trace mineral not easily found in many foods. This is a good way to eat a little bit each day.

  • Use 1 c walnuts, plus 1/2 c brazil nuts, soaked overnight, thinly sliced and dried
  • Add 1/2 cup finely chopped raw cashews, (unsoaked is fine).
  • Use chopped dried figs, pineapple and/or mango for the fruit.

Pumpkin Spice:
Pumpkin seeds are another great nutritional powerhouse. Extremely high in minerals, especially magnesium, plus a wide range of B Vitamins, and Zinc, they also contain L-Tryptophan which among other things, makes you feel good. Along with walnuts, they are also listed as one of the better sources for omega 3 fatty acids.

  • Add 1/2 t nutmeg, 1/4 t dried ginger and a pinch of cloves, or 3/4 t pumpkin spice mix to gogi berries and dry blend.
  • Add 1 cup soaked and dried pumpkin seeds to the blender just at the end, to coat them in flavor
  • Add 2 t cinnamon and a dash more nutmeg or spice blend to the vanilla maple glaze at the end

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Breakfast, Food Consciousness, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Vanilla Almond Granola Base…High in Omega 3’s and Superfoods

A while back I got obsessed with making granola – not (obviously) because its such a sexy subject matter, but because I have found its a tricky way to ease my Austrian boyfriend away from the ubiquitous morning toast habit….and its a really excellent mask for a whole load of super-healthy ingredients that are sometimes not so easy to fit into a regular diet. As always, I am looking for sneaky ways to get more Omega 3 oils into our diet…

This granola recipe is split into two parts – the base, which takes a bit of time to make, and the final flavoring step, which allows you to whip up many different flavor combos quickly. So plan ahead – it’s well worth the initial effort. This recipe will make a large amount of base which you can split up and store in your freezer, pulling out to make several fresh batches (and flavors) of fresh granola as supplies run low. Which they will.. quickly!

(Please play with this recipe – it would not be a stretch to say I have never made it the same way twice. The last time I made it I increased the buckwheat, the maca and the flavorings  and then doubled the flax to make it even more healthy, and it was still delicious!)

Vanilla Almond Granola Base (makes enough for 2 large batches of granola)

  • 3 c raw sprouted oat flour or rolled oats (see Notes on Oats, below)
  • 2 c raw sprouted buckwheat,
  • 2 c ground almonds (soaked and dried)
  • 1 c freshly ground golden flax seed
  • 1 cup hulled hemp seeds, coarsely ground
  • 2 T Peruvian maca powder (optional)
  • 1 1/2 t. Himalayan or high quality grey or sea salt
  • 3/4 c  coconut sugar (or 5 packets of stevia)
  • 3/4 c raw coconut oil
  • 1/4 c agave syrup/maple syrup
  • 2 T vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t. almond extract (optional)
  • 1/2 c water

Combine oats, buckwheat, ground nuts, flax, hemp, maca, coconut sugar/stevia and salt in a large mixing bowl. Mix well, adding coconut oil and using  your hands to break up clumps. The mixture will be loose and crumbly, holding together lightly like a graham cracker pie crust.

Add flavorings to the water-agave/maple syrup mix and sprinkle lightly over this crumb mixture, tossing lightly with you hands so that pea sized balls begin to form. Use your fingertips to help the loose crumbs forming the little balls – these become the lovely oaty bites in the final recipe.

Spread out on 4 Perflex sheets and dehydrate 8 – 12 hours  at a low temp (108°). Turn the mixture over once to expose any damp spots so everything is uniformly dry as possible.

You can split into two batches at this point, freezing half to keep it fresh. Continue on to Ginger Goji Super Granola and Friends for the next step and all the flavor variations…

Note: because of the high Omega 3 oil content in the ground flax and hemp, this granola should be subjected to as little heat as possible, and stored in the refrigerator or freezer to keep fresh.

NOTES ON OATS

There seems to be a lot of confusion around oats out there. The first thing I want to mention is that “raw oats” are very rarely raw – even those really raw looking oat groats you find in the bulk food section of your local health food store. (And especially not the rolled oats from the Quaker Oats box, which have been steamed, then rolled).

I spent many many days trying to get those healthy raw looking oat groats to sprout before I started researching oat production and apparently, oats are most often “stabilized” by heat or chemicals within 4 days of harvest in order to keep them from spoiling. So… then I ordered some “sprouting oats” online, which also, suspiciously, did not sprout, ever… and then, recently I found a big bag of organic, freshly harvested spouting oats in a community market in California, which, after lugging back with me on the plane to NYC, I did manage to sprout! Happily I took my freshly sprouted oats, dehydrated them, blended them into oat flour, make a bug batch of vanilla almond granola base (all four trays full) only to realize that they had turned completely toxic somewhere in the process. I mean really really awful (burn the back of your throat toxic). I was so traumatized by this I let the whole batch sit in my dehydrator for 4 days before I could even throw it out. It turns out that 1) rather than soaking overnight, as I did, you should only soak for 1 -2 hours before sprouting. And  2) it might have been a “bad batch” of raw oats. I googled and found other people out there with similar experiences.  The end result? I made my most recent batch of granola base with high quality old fashioned rolled oats and added in the sprouted buckwheat to “raw it up” a bit.

June 18, 2011 Posted by | Breakfast, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Back from Bali…

One of the garden pools at Ananda Cottages, Ubud

I recently got back from 5 weeks in Bali, cooking on another Frog Lotus Yoga Teachers Training with Vidya, and it was an amazing time. A lot of the great Balinese vegetarian dishes are delicious and very simple to make so I will post some recipes after I have test driven them in my own kitchen.

I can’t stress enough how different it was to cook in a Balinese kitchen from a Costa Rican kitchen! Bali is just 8 degrees South of the Equator, while Costa Rica is 9 degrees north, so the climate is similar, the foliage is similar, everyone eats rice three meals a day, and many of the local fruits and veggies are the same. HOWEVER, all that being said, it’s just totally different.

The first thing is the speed in which everything is cooked. In Costa Rica, where simmering beans is a daily ritual and propane is the fuel of choice, I sometimes had a hard time getting water to boil. In Bali, as in most of Asia, cooking things very fast on a very high flame is the norm. Most dishes are either boiled or blanched in water,  or stir-fried in a giant wok over a huge fat turbo ring burner which is scary hot and amazingly fast. The flip side of that is that there is not much of a concept of slow cooking, and since a lot of the richness and flavor for (non-Asian) vegetarian cooking is developed by slow cooking –  caramelizing onions and garlic, reducing all the water out of zucchini and carrots in order to develop a deeper or richer flavor for things like taco fillings  – I had a real challenge.

Attempting to slow cook in a wok...

First because there is no equipment for it – the Balinese either cook in a wok, or they boil in water in incredibly thin bottomed pots which burn everything instead of cooking –  so, by necessity, I learned to simmer in a wok, which sort of works, if you have two…

Second because the Balinese chefs, as skilled and professional and well meaning as they are, are all conditioned to cooking super-hot and stirring constantly, and it was difficult to get them to stand away from the wok and let things cook slowly without them stirring it every minute. I had to find ways to distract them with other projects to get them to leave the stove alone!

The Balinese kitchen team I was working with was amazing. The Balinese have an incredibly aesthetic culture, and take great pride in doing everything beautifully, perfectly, by hand. (Which is also quite different from the Costa Ricans, who are fine to throw everything in a pot, then in the food processor and serve without ceremony.) Everything in Bali is done meticulously, and a bit ceremoniously. As an ex-pastry chef, I am used to being the one in the kitchen that all the other chefs make fun of for being uber-meticulous, but working with the Balinese chefs and the level of detail and care they put into every little thing put me to shame.  And, amazingly, they do this without any attitude about it, (or attitude towards me when I decided it was more important to get the food out for 40 people than to make sure that last carrot got cut perfectly). It was fantastic to work with them.

Ariana & Wayan making hummus with the hand grinder

Also, even though I was working in a brand new kitchen which was bright, clean and modern, the Balinese attitude towards equipment is very very  different from my American one. They are incredibly industrious and creative about getting by with whatever they have on hand. So if you have one big spoon the stir the pot, why would you need two? You just wash that one and use it again. This was a constant challenge for me because, well,  I am a sloppy cook and would rather have 4 spoons on hand so I don’t have to look for one for very long, or wash it before I use it!  So I spent the first week discovering what equipment the kitchen did not have (usually at the last minute) and working with Ketut, my Balinese chef, to find some sort of alternative. Some things I never found, and learned to live without – a big colander for instance – there is no concept of the need for something to drain pasta for 35 people in – they take care of most orders a la carte, boiling a small pot of water and cooking little batches of pasta for 1 – 4 people at a time, which then get fished out with a small wooden handled strainer. Over time I started to do the same.

(In retrospect, it must have been hilarious to see me trying to communicate what I thought I needed using Kitchenese, our shared mix of broken English and pantomime, which as mangled as it was, was also surprisingly effective).

I spent the second week trying to procure the equipment and items I determined were really necessary to cook vegetarian food for 40 people. A food processor, for instance, made it to the top of the list after a valiant attempt at making hummus and felafel using a hand grinder attached to a wooden sawhorse…

The third week I was in the rhythm enough to really begin to enjoy the incredibly industrious and exotic vibe of a Balinese kitchen. By then we all had some idea of what we were doing – Ketut knew what to do to make a Raw Zucchini Lasagna, and I was happy to turn over all the Balinese and Asian menu over to the kitchen so I could watch how they prepared traditional specialties like Gado Gado or stewed banana stems.

Bali has some of the most amazing fruit! Here are my favorites:

Rambutan

Rambutan

Bali Salak

Durian

Mangosteen


Rambutan
– a bit of a punk rock Lichee. Peel off the red spiky exterior to reveal a sweet delicately fragrant fleshy …well, eyeball inside. Delicious. It’s a major flavoring for Balinese candies and soft drinks.

Bali Salak  – if a super-dry crunchy Granny Smith apple could taste like a pineapple and masquerade as a snake egg, this would be it. I love these. They are also sometimes boiled before being eaten, and then they taste like a cooked pear.

Durian – Called the King of Fruits.  Super stinky and. I think,  divinely delicious. A big green spiky fruit with lovely, avocado-like sweet creamy yellow interior. Totally sexy and just this side of revolting at the same time.

Mangosteen – Also called the Queen of Fruits and with good reason. A blood red hard shelled fruit which must be cracked open carefully to reveal the most incredible, delicate, fragrant, pure white fruit segments. The mangosteen is extremely high in xanthones and is considered a miracle fruit because of its long list of medicinal qualities.

More about all of these fruits can be found at tropical-fruits.biz. Definitely worth checking out.

Unfortunately, most of these fruits are too delicate to ever make it to the States.  The few pieces of mangosteen and salak I “forgot” in my luggage got sniffed out at JFK by a sweet little beagle with a sharp nose who I befriended before I realized he was gainfully employed by US Customs.

June 14, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes

My friends all know that I hate cupcakes. Vehemently. I have hated them for a long time – at least since the cupcake craze started in NYC by Sex and the City – and I kept waiting for them to go away, (…um, you know, like: grow up) but in the meantime they seem to have invaded other cities, cookbooks, some of my favorite blogs…and now even my dreams. I had a dream last night in which I had to make a cake for 200 people in an hour…and in it, I was seriously considering cupcakes. Very stressful.

Chocolate Ganache Cupcakes with Edible Gold Leaf

Happily, and despite my own prejudices, I have discovered that there are some real life occasions when one hour is all you’ve got – you want to make something fun for your boyfriend and his 12 year old son’s birthday, for instance – and I have to admit that nothing could be better and more appropriate for the occasion than…chocolate cupcakes! So, here they are – vegan, no refined sugar, dipped in super gooey ganache, topped with edible gold leaf… making them, well, a little bit sexy. Who knew?

Chocolate Cupcakes with Ganache Frosting

  • 1 cup unbleached white, or “white whole wheat” flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 3/4 c agave syrup, or coconut crystals
  • 1/2 c almond milk
  • 1/3 cup oil (organic grapeseed)
  • 2 t vanilla
  • 1 t apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare 12 muffin tins with paper cupcake liners.

Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt in mixing bowl. Add agave syrup, almond milk, oil vanilla and vinegar and whisk lightly for 30 seconds to one minute until well combined. Pour into paper cupcake liners and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until tops spring back lightly when touched.

Chocolate Ganache Frosting

  • 1/2 cup raw agave syrup
  • 1/2 c cocoa powder
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, liquid but cool

Mix together all ingredients except coconut oil in Vitamix.  Add coconut oil in slow steady stream and blend until thick and glossy. Dip cooled cupcake tops into warm ganache. Top with edible gold leaf, nuts, or topping of choice. Enjoy!

March 30, 2011 Posted by | Desserts, Food Consciousness, Recipes, Sugar Free/Unrefined Recipes, Vegan Recipes | 2 Comments

Agave Syrup and Coconut Palm Sugar…

Ok, I am back in New York City and somehow adjusting to being woken up at 4:30am by Harlem garbage trucks instead of Cahuita howler monkeys…and today I woke up thinking about sweeteners.

While in Costa Rica I used a lot of honey and the less-processed, crude version of cane sugar they call “tapa de dulce” which was fine because everyone I was cooking for was relatively healthy and I had no-one who was seriously watching their blood sugar levels. I often found myself wishing I had access to agave syrup, (especially for dessert making) but right when I was talking to my boyfriend Hannes about schlepping down a gallon in his luggage, I was sent a link to a simple but convincing article called Agave Nectar: Good or Bad?. It’s worth a read, particularly because it explains why fructose is bad for you in a very simple but scientifically grounded way:

Because fructose is digested in your liver, it is immediately turned into triglycerides or stored body fat. Since it doesn’t get converted to blood glucose like other sugars, it doesn’t raise or crash your blood sugar levels. Hence the claim that it is safe for diabetics.

But it isn’t.

That’s because fructose inhibits leptin levels — the hormone your body uses to tell you that you’re full. In other words, fructose makes you want to eat more. Besides contributing to weight gain, it also makes you gain the most dangerous kind of fat.

That would put anyone off agave syrup, right? But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that not all agave syrups are equal and some seem to have a MUCH higher fructose level than others. I just recently discovered Volcanic Nectar, who sells a raw, organic, low fructose agave nectar, apparently containing only 47.6% fructose and with a very low Glycemic Index of 27.  I have just ordered samples from this company and can’t wait to try it out…

For the last couple of years I have been following the whole controversy around agave syrup with a grain of salt, mostly because most of the noise seemed to be coming from Dr. Mercola, whom I think of as a bit extreme. And when I pursued the investigation with a couple of the doctors I know, we all seemed to net out that agave syrup wasn’t SO bad, so long as it was used in moderation by people where were already in relatively good health. I still believe this and now I am especially excited about the prospect of finding a high quality, low fructose brand that we can all depend on. But, I have to say that while I was still in Costa Rica, reading that article tilted the scale – Hannes left the agave syrup (a brand I was not sure about) at home.

Which brings me to another interesting and sweet new development, Coconut Palm Sugar. I love the taste- it’s a bit like a light brown sugar and a little bit goes a very long way if you are talking about sprinkling on top of your morning porridge…it also great for baking as it can be used cup for cup like sugar.

Coconut palm sugar apparently has a glycemic index of around 35, which is also considered very low – much lower than cane sugar, honey or most agave syrups, and the sweet comes from sucrose, not fructose. That being said, I am not really sure how it can be as sweet as it is with that low an index, and there have been some new reports showing inconsistencies in the GI testing. So, at the moment, I am trusting only one producer – Coconut Secret – a Philippines-based small company who seems to have its heart in the right place.  As to be expected with any new “healthy sweetener” there is a lot of mixed-up and conflicting information out there, but I am cautiously optimistic…and also having a great time incorporating coconut sugar into my new recipes. It’s very nice to have another alternative sweetener to play with.

Finally, I have to say it’s nice to be back in the states, in NYC, where Spring is just starting to break. It’s nice to be home, and I have a new appreciation for living in a place where pretty much everything is available, even in Harlem.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | Food Consciousness, Raw Food Sources | , , , | 2 Comments

Pura Vida Tortilla Soup (Raw)

“Pura Vida” literally means “Pure” and “Life”, and it is a term used loosely in Costa Rica as a greeting or farewell  – meaning things are cool, and that life is good, in balance…

This recipe was based on Ani Phyo’s Tortilla Soup Recipe in her book, Ani’s Raw Food Essentials, but I think Tracy Morrisette, the chef at the Goddess Garden, brilliantly improved it with the addition of a little nutritional yeast and chili powder. Not to mention some utterly addictive deep fried fresh tortilla strips covered in her nacho cheese-flavored spice mix! Tracy made this soup for us on the first retreat here in Costa Rica and it blew my mind: an utterly virtuous and creamy raw soup with a handful of wickedly delicious crunchiness on top. Pura Vida!

Serve this gently warmed up for a cold winter day, or at room temperature on a hot one.

Pura Vida Tortilla Soup (Raw) – Serves 6

  • 4 1/2 cups tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 small red onion, chopped
  • 3/4 cups olive oil
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 ½ t garlic
  • 1/2 fresh jalapeno (or to taste)
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t ancho chili powder
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 T nutritional yeast
  • 2 sundried tomato halves, soaked
  • 3 cups water (use soak water from tomatoes)

Fried Tortilla Strips

  • 6 corn tortillas, cut into half inch strips
  • 2 T nutritional yeast
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/4 t onion powder
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1 T ancho chili powder

Blend the Soup: Combine all soup ingredients in a Vitamix and blend until completely smooth and creamy, taste and adjust for salt and spiciness.

Fry the Strips: Combine yeast and spices in small bowl and set aside. Deep fry tortilla strips in two or three batches until crisp and lightly brown.  Drain each batch well on newspaper covered with paper towels to catch the oil, and sprinkle generously with the seasoning mix, tossing to coat. Serve in bowls alongside soup.

Serve soup cool at room temperature, or warm slightly in a saucepan: stirring constantly and testing with a finger often to make sure it does not get too hot. Pour immediately into warmed bowls and pass the strips!

March 8, 2011 Posted by | Fresh, Low Carb Recipes, Raw Food Recipes, Recipes, Soups, Vegan Recipes | , , , , | 7 Comments