Rotolini di Melanzane con Pomodorini

You know what’s really good, like really, really good? Fried eggplant wrapped around salty ham and ooey gooey mozzarella! Do I have your attention? …Because one taste of these eggplant rolls and it’s love at first bite! Keep Reading!

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Guacamole Mexicano

There is guacamole and then there is real guacamole. I guess it all depends on where you are and who you talk to, because just like there are hundreds of types of avocados, there too are several recipes for guacamole. Keep Reading!

What In The World Are Banana Blossoms & More Importantly, How Do You Eat Them!?

You know when you happen upon something unfamiliar and then you encounter it repeatedly? I called it serendipity or fortunate happenstance, but science has another term for it, the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Mine is currently banana blossoms. Keep Reading!

Make Your Own Hummus

To me, pita bread is like a plate. Layer on an assortment of toppings and tear, roll or slice like a pizza and eat. Keep Reading!

Sour-And-Hot Silken Tofu

Get your spoon ready, ’cause you’ll be slurping this Sichuan, silken tofu mixture like it’s going out of style. I was recently gifted, Fuchsia Dunlop’s cookbook, Every Grain of Rice and I can not recommend it enough. Keep Reading!

Brown Bag It! 18 Healthy Lunches | Brit + Co.

Brown Bag It! 18 Healthy Lunches | Brit + Co. by Michelle Swift

We understand life gets hectic, but come on. Treat your body right by skipping the drive-thru and brown bagging this: 18 healthy lunches that can keep up with your busy on-the-go schedule. All it takes is a little planning, prep and a way cool lunch tote to get you on the right track. Boost your health, inspire co-workers with your creative eats and save some cash all by bagging your lunch. Start Monday and eat your way through Friday with our healthy suggestions. We promise, lunch will become your most sought after hour of the day.

1. Smashed Chickpea and Avocado Salad Sandwich: This sandwich is a smashing success. Hearty chickpeas are smashed with the buttery texture of avocado then hit with a zesty zing of lime, cilantro and green onion. (via Two Peas and Their Pod)

2. Pretty Purple Picnic Wraps: Lunch is always a welcomed break from the daily grind. Make yours even more so with these vibrant purple wraps. (via Green Kitchen Stories)

3. Tijuana Torta: Head south of the border for a Latin-inspired sandwich, la torta. (viaDelish)

4. Feel Good Lunch Bowl: Having a bad day? Boost your mood with this bowlful of glorious goodness. Black bean and quinoa meet roasted squash, cauliflower and creamy hummus. (via Oh She Glows)

5. Quinoa Black Bean Burrito Bowl: Yeah, lunch bowls are in, so get your spoon in one. Adorn quinoa with Latin flair, and be the talk of the lunchroom. (via The Shiksha in the Kitchen)

6. Chicken and Quinoa Bowl: Cozy up to seared chicken, zucchini, broccoli, dark leafy greens and toasted pine nuts. Go ahead, watch your coworkers drool. (via The Cozy Apron)

7. Grains, Roasted Veg and Hummus: Keep things simple when eating on the go. Try your hand at big batch cooking. You’ll find yourself eating healthy lunches all week long with a combo of seasoned grains, roasted veg and takes on hummus. (via Deliciously Ella)

8. Savory Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with White Beans and Kale: Try this totally adaptable baked sweet potato with whatever beans and veg you have on hand. (viaThe Kitchn)

9. Greek Salad Stuffed Sweet Potatoes: Fusion is in. Rack up some creativity points around the office by introducing Greek salad to roasted sweet potatoes. (via So Let’s Hang Out)

10. Thai Stuffed Avocados: Stuff yourself on these spicy parcels: Plump avocados filled with creamy hummus, crunchy sprouts, spicy Sriracha and toasted peanuts…. nom, nom, nom. (via Eat, Live, Run)

11. Tortellini with Spinach and Tomatoes: 20 minutes of prep and $3 per serving gets you a bowl of Italian goodness: Cheesy tortellini combine with baby spinach, roasted cherry tomatoes and sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir things up midweek by adding your own twist with mushrooms, zucchini, broccolini or pesto. (via The Clever Carrot)

12. Greek Yogurt Chicken Salad: Cool off after a busy morning with a light, refreshing salad of tender chicken, sweet grapes, crunchy celery, creamy yogurt and candied pecans. Just a fork will do! (via Tablespoon)

13. Orzo Super Salad: Known to be transported from one end of town to the other by 10 speed or scooter, this salad (packed with green goodness) is up for an on-the-go challenge. (via 101 Cookbooks)

14. Steamed Cabbage Dim Sum: Unwrap the traditional wonton and rewrap it in green cabbage kicked up with spicy ginger and savory pork. Did we mention these are bite-sized? Because they are. (via Mummy, I Can Cook)

15. BLT Springroll: A twist on the average BLT turns into a not-so-average spring roll. (via White on Rice Couple)

16. Spicy Kimchi Pancakes: Crazy for kimchi? Have your mixing bowl at the ready for these savory eat-with-your-hands pancakes. (via My Korean Kitchen)

17. Ricotta Crepes with Smoked Salmon: It’s been a long week. Treat yourself to flaky smoked salmon, creamy ricotta, vinegary capers and red onions, all wrapped in a thin DIY crepe. (via Beaugureau Studios)

18. Whole Wheat Tortilla Pizzas with Arugula + Prosciutto: Tortillas aren’t just for tacos! Keep these tortillas flat for a pizza base. Add your sauce, cheese and toppings for a simple yet satisfying lunch on the go. (via The Clever Carrot)

What are you carrying in your lunch box? Give us the dish below.

Black Beans with Sweet Potatoes

Warm up a fall night with Black Beans and Sweet Potatoes!

Black Beans/Sweet Potatoes

A simplistic meal, nutritious and quick, it can be used in a myriad of ways:

– Eat it as is
– For more of a substantial bite serve atop rice or quinoa
– Use as a taco filling topped with avocado
– Eat cold as a salad for a power-packed lunch
– Add stewed tomatoes and chili powder to start a pot of chili.

A one-pot meal using cupboard staples and boasting versatility….a great way to perk up leftovers!

Black Bean and Sweet Potato

Black Beans with Sweet Potatoes
Serves 4-6

Ingredients:
1 Can of Organic Black Beans
1 small Onion (red, yellow or white utilize what’s on hand,) chopped
4 cloves Garlic, chopped (not a huge fan of garlic, use a clove or two less)
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. Oregano
dash of Cinnamon
dash of Smoked Paprika
dash of Cayenne Pepper or Chili Powder
dash of Coriander
1 Tomato, chopped
1-2 Hot Peppers, chopped
***don’t have tomato or hot peppers on hand use 2 heaping spoonfuls of your favorite salsa instead!
1 Sweet Potato, cooked and cubed
1/2 bunch of Cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1 Lime
1 tsp. Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

To Prepare:

Begin by boiling or roasting the sweet potato until cooked.
Boiling Method: Fill a pot with water, enough to submerge the sweet potato, boil 25-30 minutes, until tender.  Drain and allow to cool.  The skin with easily slip off at this point, then chop into cubes.
Roasting Method: Cut sweet potato into cubes. Heat oven to 375°. On a well oiled baking sheet, place potatoes in a layer. Bake until tender, 15 minutes; let cool.

In a sturdy saucepan heat olive oil on medium heat.  Add onions and saute until softened and carmelized, then add garlic, spices and pepper.  Saute about 3-5 minutes before adding the beans, tomatoes or salsa.  Bring beans to simmering then add diced sweet potatoes and cook until heated through.  Add juice from fresh lime and chopped cilantro before serving.

Gomen and Lentils

The familiar collard green stars in the Ethiopian dish, Gomen:

Gomen with Lentils


Typically served atop a platter of injera and eaten with your hands, I served the greens over brown lentils. A powerhouse of vitamins and fiber not to mention flavor, Gomen tastes great eaten hot or cold.

There are few necessary steps to be made before having Gomen on the table, but I assure you it’s simple and worth it. Begin with Nit’ir Qibe otherwise known as, spiced clarified butter/oil which gives Ethiopian cooking its signature flavor. Nit’ir Qibe is best made in a larger quantity using what you need, and storing the rest for later use. It has a longer shelf life compared to regular butter and can be kept handy to add flavor to soups, stews and anything else you deem flavor-worthy.

Forkful of Gomen

NIT’IR QIBE-ETHIOPIAN SPICED CLARIFIED OIL
Makes 1 1/2 cups
*in this recipe I used a good olive oil in place of the butter

Ingredients:
– 1lb. butter or substitute good olive oil
– 1/2 red onion, chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 3-inch piece of ginger, grated
– 1 cinnamon stick
– 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
– 1 teaspoon fenugreek
– 4 cardamom pods, ground
– 2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
– 1 teaspoon dried oregano
– 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped

To Prepare:
Melt the butter or olive oil in a saute pan over low heat.  With the butter be sure to skim foam as it rises and discard, continue until no more foam appears.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger and spices and continue to cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes. Removed from the heat allow the mixture to sit until cooled and the spices settle to bottom of the pan.  Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a heat-resistant container such as a mason jar.  Discard the onion and spices.

Cover the Nit’ir Qibe and store in the refrigerator, it will keep for about 3 weeks.

Gomen with Lentils

Gomen or Ethiopian Collard Greens
Makes 4 Servings
Ingredients:
– 2 bunches of collard greens, washed, stems removed and chopped
– 1/4 cup Nit’ir Qibe (see recipe above)
– 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
– 3 cloves garlic, chopped
– 2-inch piece of ginger, grated
– 3 Anaheim chili peppers, seeded and chopped
– 1 cup water
– Salt and Pepper to taste

To Prepare:

Heat the Nit’ir Qibe in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the chili peppers, ginger and garlic, cooking until the pepper softens.  Add the collard greens, water and season with salt and pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes, or until the greens are tender.  You may need to remove the cover to allow the liquids to boil off. Adjust seasonings accordingly

Serve with fresh injera bread or lentils.

Yes, I dredged and fried my tofu

A new sushi place opened near my house, Maru, extending a modernized, chicness to the neighborhood.  A friend suggested that I revel in a “pillow of goodness,” aka tofu from the vegetarian hibachi grill and well, it was clearly, quite good!  The first bite presented a crisp, golden texture on the outside, followed by a fluffy center that melted in my mouth.  The tofu was drizzled in a sweet sauce, brandished with sesame seeds.  It was a dish that had me asking, how?  What made the tofu so perfect!  Crisp and springy?!!!

I myself have never really cooked with tofu.  I know it is healthy and takes on many uses, textures and forms.  After trying the tofu from Maru, I decided that I would try my hand at creating a puffy, pillow of goodness!

In my research I learned a secret, perhaps this is only a secret to me but if not here you are:  After pressing the tofu and cutting it into bite-sized cubes, lightly dredge them in cornstarch and saute the tofu separate from the other ingredients.  This tactic successfully duplicated the crisp and springy tofu served at the sushi place!

Tofu in Sweet Soy Sauce with Edamame

Tofu in Sweet Soy Sauce with Edamame

Canola oil
1 ¾ lb. firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes
½ cup cornstarch
10 tbsp. unsalted butter
3 tbsp. finely chopped ginger
10 small shallots, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, crushed
4 red Thai chiles, stemmed and sliced (you can use less to decrease heat!)
Pinch of coarsely ground black pepper
3 tbsp. kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
3 tsp. tamari
2 tbsp. sugar
2 bunches of green onions, chopped into 1″ pieces
1 cup edamame (peeled and warm)
Cooked rice, for serving

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (you will need enough to saute the tofu about 1 cup or 1/4″ deep in skillet). Dredge the tofu with the cornstarch in a bowl until evenly coated, or sift in a colander. Fry tofu until golden brown all over, about 3 minutes. Drain and set aside; discard the oil, and wipe the skillet clean.

Return the skillet to medium heat with butter. Add shallots, ginger, garlic and chiles; cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Stir in the pinch of black pepper, soy sauces, and sugar. Return the tofu to the skillet; cook, stirring, until warmed through. Stir in scallions or use as garnish; serve over rice and edamame.

**note if you like really crisp tofu then do not return it to the skillet.  Instead keep it warm in the oven and serve it atop the rice and edamame then drizzle the shallot, sweet soy sauce mixture atop!

Knee-High by July

A summer memory:

Sitting on the front stoop, my sister by my side with a brown-paper grocery bag and a heavy bottomed cooking pot.  There we sat shucking away the green husks and wisps of silk from Mid-Western sweet corn.  We knew that summer had arrived when corn was offered up at roadside stands and grew to be knee-high by July.  Nothing beat those crisp, golden kernels, bursting open with a pop of sweet, starchy goodness!

My taste for sweet corn spiked early this year, mostly in thanks to the crazy tricks the weather has played on the Mid-West.  Fortunately or perhaps, unfortunately the unseasonably warm temperatures have encouraged some crops to arrive 6 weeks ahead of schedule, such as sweet corn.

A favorite corn on the cob delicacy of mine is in the Mexican tradition of Elotes, grilled corn on a stick.  Sounds simple but there is much more to experience with Elotes that I will share with you soon!  What I am going to share with you is a fusion twist on this Mexican sweet corn standby, that I found on Epicurious.  They brilliantly spun the idea of Elotes halfway around the globe to the Mediterranean and came up with, Corn on the Cob with a Mint-Feta Butter.  Frankly, I just can’t get enough.  The sweet corn is boiled to perfection and then tossed around in a delightful buttery, cheesy, mint mixture.

Corn on the Cob with Mint-Feta Butter by Michelle

Corn on the Cob with Mint-Feta Butter, Gourmet | August 2009

by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

Active Time: 15 min

Total Time: 20 min

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
7 ounces feta, finely crumbled (1 1/2 cups)
1/4 cup finely chopped mint
8 large ears of corn, shucked, each cob cut crosswise into 4 pieces

Stir together butter, feta, mint, and a rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Cook corn in a large pot of boiling water until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer with tongs to butter mixture and toss until well coated.

Cooks’ note:
Mint-feta butter can be made 2 days ahead and chilled.

Off-the-Cuff

Sunday was a bit like spring…I awoke to a warm rain followed by a burst of green leaves and grass.  I enjoyed my morning coffee over bossa nova and rain drops and dabbled with the ever-addicting Pinterest until yoga class.
The rain subsided, and I joined a group of friends for a 36 mile cycle ride filled with quad-busting hills!  Let’s just say it worked up quite the appetite!  A chocolate milk, banana and ice bath later, I decided to tackle dinner.  Lacking energy to head to the store I pulled one of those “let’s see what I can create from the fridge” meals.

Surprisingly, I came up with a healthy recovery meal with springtime flair:

Asparagus Tip, Roasted Sweet Potato and Portobello Salad with a Charred Tomatillo Dressing
Photo by Michelle
Steamed Artichoke with Garlic, White Wine, Butter
Photo by Michelle

Asparagus Tip, Roasted Sweet Potato and Portobello Salad with a Charred Tomatillo Dressing

small bunch of Asparagus Tips
1 roasted, Sweet Potato, cooled and cubed
1 large Portobello, sliced
3 Tomatillos
1 Serrano Pepper
Wedge of Lemon
Salt

Begin by snapping the ends from the asparagus, leaving you with the tender tips.  Place the asparagus tips on a plate and squeeze fresh lemon juice atop then season with salt, let set.  Next peel the skin away from the roasted sweet potato and dice into bite-sized cubes.  Slice the portobello mushroom.
Meanwhile heat your broiler or grill and roast the tomatillos and Serrano pepper until the skins are charred and blackened.  Once charred remove and place the tomatillos and pepper in a food processor or blender to puree, season with salt.  In a serving dish mix in the sweet potato, portobello and asparagus tips.  Drizzle the roasted tomatillo dressing on top and serve.

Steamed Artichokes with White Wine, Garlic Butter

Artichoke (1 per person)
4 Tbs. Butter
1 cup, Dry White Wine
8 clove of Garlic
Lemon
Salt

Prepare the artichoke for steaming by peeling away the tough outer leaves, cut away the top as well as any points on remaining leaves.  Rub the cut artichoke with fresh lemon to prevent browning.  Steam for at least 30 minutes (if you would like save the liquid for a vegetable soup stock.)
The butter will serve (4)
Set a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add the white wine and garlic and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half.  Add lemon juice and salt.  Finally add the butter and stir until thickened.  Serve alongside artichokes.

* The Asparagus Tip, Roasted Sweet Potato and Portobello Salad with a Charred Tomatillo Dressing would compliment a grilled fish such as Snapper too!

You can’t stop the “beet”….

As Bill Cosby stated, “nobody ever says, can I have your beets?”  I categorize beets as an acquired taste, something to the effect of your very first beer!  I recall as a child being served the ‘tinny’ taste of beets straight from the can….and I was NOT a fan!  However, I grew up, my tastes changed and I tried ‘real’ beets not from a can and I like them!  (Not to knock canned beets….they are useful in a pinch but do have a different taste.)

Beets are really a beautiful vegetable ranging from bright yellow to beat red 🙂 They are also very healthy veggies, they contain certain phytonutrients that provide detoxification, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.  As with most vegetables, cooking time reduces the effect of phytonutrients but this is especially so with beets.  Nutritionists suggest steaming beets no longer than 15-20 min and keep roasted beets to under 1 hour.  They are actually pretty good raw too, emitting an earthier flavor.

A favorite beet recipe of mine is Borscht…I enjoy it hot or cold and crave it throughout the year.  A recipe will definitely be featured here in the future!  Those Russians knew what they were doing when it came to beet soup!

This past summer a few friends and I took part in a local CSA share.  The farm (Trillium Haven Farm) provided us with an abundance of veggies from May-October.  It was a great way to try new veggies and share recipes!  At one point I came home with red cabbage, carrots, beets, radishes and green onion.  I stared at the veggies on my counter and immediately thought of borscht and was inspired to create the following salad.  So, the next time you are faced with beets try a spin on this!

Beet Salad
photo by michelle.


Beet Salad

Raw beets, peeled and grated  (if you prefer your beets cooked allow them to cool before grating.)
Red Cabbage, shredded
Green Cabbage, shredded
Raw Carrots, peeled and grated
Radishes, sliced and halved
Fresh Dill, chopped
Green Onions, chopped
Hard Boiled Eggs, sliced
Sour Cream
Red Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Fresh Squeeze of Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper

Grab yourself a big bowl and clear a workspace to grate, chop and shred!  Add all the vegetables (beets, carrot, cabbage, radish) to the bowl.  In a smaller bowl whisk together 1 part oil to 2 parts vinegar (beets need a bold vinaigrette to balance their sweetness) once emulsified, add to the vegetables.  Squeeze the juice from a few lemon wedges to taste and salt and pepper the vegetables.  Slice the hard-boiled eggs and arrange atop the vegetable mixture.  Garnish with fresh chopped dill, green onions and add a dollop of sour cream.

Lunch….and make it snappy

Goal:  Make a nutritious lunch in 30 minutes or less, un-prepped.

This week I attended a nutrition clinic presented by my running coach.  It was a great reminder to me as to, WHAT the food I consume does for my body.  Also, as a runner, coach stressed the importance of fueling and recovery ie (my cup of coffee after a long run is not going to benefit my recovery.)

Coach knows that we all have a million things to do and that a lot gets crammed into one day, so he suggested packing a nutritious and healthy snack on the go.  He said something like a bagel with peanut butter and banana can be stashed in your car until after the run or even more convenient grab a low-fat chocolate milk.  He also gave us a list of superfoods for distance runners these include: Whole Grains, Eggs, Beans, Salmon, Sweet Potatoes, Yogurt, Bananas, Peanut Butter, Carrots and Quinoa.

This nutrition talk inspired me to eat healthier lunches, which I am usually pretty good at.  However, I do have my streaks of eating out, eating to late or just snacking until dinner.  So, I challenged myself to make an un-prepped healthy meal in 30 min or less.
Here you have it:

Ready. Set. Go.
photo by michelle.

Steamed Salmon with Quinoa and Rapini

Salmon
= Protein and Omega 3’s, both of which are healing nutrients that help build new cells.  Key for runners because even though running is great for our bodies it also takes it’s toll.  Eating lots of fish like salmon helps the body repair itself, decreasing inflammation and helping our soft tissues reheal.

Quinoa= Superfood packed with protein and carbs.  It is less refined which means it’s healthier for our bodies and easier to digest, fueling you with energy.

Rapini (Broccoli Raab)= Vitamins A, C, K, Iron, Calcium, Fiber….dang it’s packed with good stuff.  Typically any dark leafy green is going provide these essential nutrients just choose which greens suit your taste buds and include them in your weekly meals.  Leafy Greens are great for bone health and supplies iron to your diet.  Iron is important especially in distance runners because it helps transport oxygen from your lungs to the various parts of your body and then transports CO2 from those various body parts back to your lungs.

Steamed Salmon with Quinoa and Rapini
photo by michelle.

First I grabbed all my ingredients from the fridge and cupboard….mise en place (organizing and arranging ingredients) more efficient and faster!

Next up, boil water in a pot for the quinoa (this cooks up super fast too)
Then prepare a homemade steamer using a saute pan, plate and lid or if you have a steamer…steam away

Wild Alaskan Salmon Filet
Bunch of Rapini (or other leafy green)
Quinoa
Green Onion
Garlic
Ginger
Honey
Braggs Amino Acid/Tamari
Black Pepper

Begin by boiling the quinoa, this should be done in 10 minutes or less.  Next, prepare the salmon by rubbing it with garlic, ginger, honey, braggs/tamari and green onion, then set to steam 8-10 minutes (check for doneness, if it is still pink steam 1-2 min more)
To save dishes, space and time I threw my greens in the same saute pan as my make-shift steamer like so:

Make-shift steamer and Rapini
photo by michelle.

I threw in some more garlic, ginger and braggs atop the greens to give ’em an extra kick!  Finally, drain the quinoa, which is done boiling by now and get ready to plate this nutritious lunch!
Layer the Rapini, then spoon on the quinoa and top with the salmon!

Done in……26 minutes!

Stop Time
photo by michelle.

ลาบไก่ … larb gai

A delicious salad hailing from Laos.  Larb can be prepared with finely chopped beef, chicken, pork or fish, lime juice and fish sauce.  The salad is garnished with fresh herbs such as Thai holy basil, culantro and mint.  It is also mixed with chili, galangal and bean sprouts and is best served with sticky rice.  I was introduced to this salad by my Uncle John at a Thai restaurant in West Hollywood.  I was a bit turned off by the name….Larb kinda sounds like lard and doesn’t really roll off the tongue with flattery!  However, once I saw the Larb dressed in all it’s glory, brimming with clean, zesty flavor the name warmed to me.

photo by michelle.

Larb may be found on most Thai appetizer menus and can be spelled as Laap, Laab, Larb, Lahb.  Apparently the different spellings are representative of the long A vowel sound in the English language.  I’ve learned that Larb  should be pronounced with a British accent which accentuates the long A. 

There are many representations of Larb Gai and it is a simple dish to prepare.  The meat may be boiled, sautéed or grilled, I prefer the latter because it emits a smoky essence to the dish.  Below is a recipe for Larb Gai from The Splendid Table

Chicken Larb (Laotion Chicken and Herb Salad)

Sami Scripter, Sheng Yang

From Cooking From the Heart: the Hmong Kitchen in America by Sami Scripter, Sheng Yang Copyright © 2009 University Of Minnesota Press.

Makes 8 servings

Light, healthy, and full of flavor—nothing can beat chicken larb for a simple but elegant meal with friends on a warm summer evening. This version is easy to make and the ingredients can be found in almost any grocery store.

Use only fresh, blemish-free herbs. Chop and slice them by hand, because a food processor will bruise them. Loosely pack the herbs into the measuring cup. Although you can use ground chicken or turkey, chopping the meat yourself gives the dish a finer, more desirable texture.

    • 2 whole boneless chicken breasts or 3 pounds ground chicken or turkey
    • Juice of 2 large limes, plus 1 lime for garnish
    • 2 tablespoons rice wine
    • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
    • 1 stalk minced lemongrass, (tough outer leaves, root, and top several inches removed before mincing)
    • 3 teaspoons grated lemon peel
    • 2 small hot chili peppers, minced, or 1 teaspoon crushed chili flakes
    • 1 clove garlic, minced
    • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
    • 3 tablespoons Toasted Sticky Rice Flour
    • 1 chicken bouillon cube
    • 1 heaping cup chopped fresh mint
    • 1 heaping cup chopped cilantro
    • Several additional stems of mint and cilantro, for garnish
    • 1 bunch green onions, green part chopped, white part sliced diagonally
    • 1/2 cup chopped Thai basil
    • 1 large head leaf lettuce (16 leaves, for wrappers)

On a large, clean chopping board, chop the chicken with a heavy knife or cleaver. As you chop the chicken, fold it over on itself. Continue to fold and chop until the meat is very finely chopped. Put the meat in a large bowl and squeeze the lime juice over it. Add the rice wine. Cook the chicken mixture in a nonstick skillet (donít use any oil) over medium-high heat, tossing and stirring constantly just until the meat turns white.

Return the mixture with any accumulated juice to the bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature. While the chicken cools, prepare the fresh herbs. Add the ginger (or galanga), lemongrass, lemon peel, chili peppers (or crushed chili flakes), garlic, fish sauce, salt, white pepper, and rice flour to the cooled mixture.

Break apart the chicken bouillon cube and sprinkle it on top. Toss the ingredients together until they are well mixed. Then add the mint, cilantro, green onions, and Thai basil. Gently toss everything together.

Break lettuce leaves away from the head, and wash and dry them. Scoop 1/4 cup of larb onto each lettuce leaf and arrange the leaves on a large platter. Garnish with mint and cilantro sprigs and wedges of lime.

Diners pick up a lettuce leaf and roll it up to eat. Serve larb with cool sticky rice.

The Heart of the Matter

Originally stemming from the Mediterranean and Southern Europe the artichoke is one of the worlds oldest harvested plants.  An intriguing green globe from the thistle family, artichokes can be eaten whole, pickled, deep-fried, stuffed,  steamed, baked, as a tea and even a liquor!  As a young child I remember my mom serving whole steamed artichokes for dinner with a garlic butter dipping sauce; it was always a special meal.  The  globe artichoke is eaten leaf my leaf, scraping away the meat with your teeth and for most the joy is when you reach the  tender heart.

Nutritionally artichokes strengthen the liver, aid digestion, relieve stress, protect against toxins and even cure hangovers!  They are an excellent source of fiber, manganese and magnesium.   Peak harvest is in the spring and the fall; major producers include Italy, Spain, and Egypt.  Castroville, California proclaims themselves “The Artichoke Center of the World”, and is the largest producer of the ‘choke stateside hosting an artichoke festival each year!

When I prepare artichokes I typically steam them and serve with a few dipping sauces. Preferably a garlic butter and an aioli.  They make an attractive presentation and are exciting to eat!  I have yet to try artichoke tea which you can find in herb and natural food stores.  I also would love to try Cynar an Italian bitter apèritif liquor.  I’ve heard that you can substitute Cynar for Campari in my favorite cocktail the “Negroni”

courtesy instituteforalcoholicexperimentation.com
courtesy foodismynish.com

Cynar Negroni

1 oz gin

1 oz cynar

1 oz sweet vermouth

garnish with a twist of orange

Well, now that the cocktails are covered let’s get to dinner!  Here is a lovely recipe for stuffed artichokes from epicurious.com .  This is how they turn out:

photo by michelle.
Ingredients:
For stuffing artichokes

  • 2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs from an Italian loaf (4 oz)   ( I always use Panko Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 1/2 oz)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced sweet soppressata (dried Italian sausage; 1 1/4 oz)
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated fresh lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 medium artichokes (8 to 9 oz each)
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 4 thin slices provolone cheese

For cooking artichokes

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • Special equipment: a melon-ball cutter; a 6- to 8-quart pressure cooker or a wide 4- to 6-quart heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid
preparation

Make stuffing:
Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread bread crumbs in a shallow baking pan and bake in middle of oven until pale golden, about 10 minutes. Cool crumbs completely, then toss with parmesan, garlic, parsley, soppressata, zest if using, salt, and pepper. Drizzle oil over crumbs and toss to coat evenly.

Trim and stuff artichokes:
Cut off artichoke stems and discard. Cut off top 1/2 inch of 1 artichoke with a serrated knife, then cut about 1/2 inch off all remaining leaf tips with kitchen shears. Rub cut leaves with a lemon half.

Separate leaves slightly with your thumbs and pull out purple leaves from center and enough yellow leaves to expose fuzzy choke. Scoop out choke with melon-ball cutter, then squeeze some lemon juice into cavity.

Trim remaining artichokes in same manner.

Spoon about 2 tablespoons stuffing into cavity of each artichoke and, starting with bottom leaves and spreading leaves open as much as possible without breaking, spoon a rounded 1/2 teaspoon stuffing inside each leaf. Top each artichoke with a slice of provolone.

Cook artichokes:
Put water, wine, oil, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in pressure cooker (without insert) or pot and arrange stuffed artichokes in liquid in 1 layer.

(I alway use a regular ol’ pot instead of a pressure cooker.)

Seal pressure cooker with lid and cook at high pressure, according to manufacturer’s instructions, 10 minutes. Put pressure cooker in sink (do not remove lid) and run cold water over lid until pressure goes down completely.

If using a regular pot, simmer artichokes, covered, until leaves are tender, about 50 minutes.

Transfer artichokes with tongs to 4 soup plates and spoon cooking liquid around them.

FACT: Artichokes make everything taste better.

Hasta Luego Tomato

My grandpa ( a man I love MUCHO) recounts a time in his life  in the late 30’s and early 40’s when he worked in the produce section of a local market. Vegetables and fruits were seasonal and bananas were a BIG deal!  He told me that when bananas would come in they were reserved in the back of the store for the ‘good’ customers before offering to the general public!  Here is Grandpa….

Grandpa, photo by michelle.

Choices were very limited in comparison to what grocery stores offer today.  This topic on choice makes me question–Just because we can should we?

Do any of you recall that every summer we say just how good a juicy, sun-ripened tomato tastes or that a steamy bowl of fresh, butternut squash bisque hits the spot during the fall?  We say this because it’s true!!!  A tomato that is grown locally and in season IS going to taste far better than a tomato that was picked under-ripe and shipped halfway across the world to your local grocery store.  In the past seasonal eating was all we used to know.  Now with the onset of technology, globalization and supply and demand we are offered a myriad of choices ranging from Fiji to Switzerland.

I believe that seasonal eating is important to maintain balance and nutrients in our bodies.  It is not a coincidence that we crave certain types of food throughout the year.  Each season bears foods and cooking methods which support our bodies.  Winter time is dry and cold and sustains cold weather crops such as root vegetables.  Soups and stews warm and moisturize our bodies from the cold, dry air.  Warmer weather brings fresh and abundant crops ranging from berries, to greens and tomatoes.  We crave fresh and raw foods to cool our bodies from the heat.

In hopes of becoming a better seasonal eater my friends and I purchased a CSA share with a local farm (Trillium Haven Farm).  Each week we receive organic vegetables that are in season!   It is a challenge to keep up with the bounty of veggies and meal planning but it sure does feel good to eat this way.  I applaud those who do grow their own food, put it up and reap the benefits of their labor.  You’ve got a good thing going on!

The height of summer has come to an end and as this post mentions, sadly so have the tomatoes.  My farm share was pumping out gorgeous, succulent heirloom tomatoes.  Purple ones, green ones, red ones, yellow ones variegated ones….so so so GOOD!!!  I stored up enough of these beauties to make a great end of summer Heirloom Tomato Pie.

Heirloom Tomato Pie, photo by michelle.

Ingredients:

Heirloom tomatoes

Roasted Red Peppers

Onions

Fresh Basil

Yogurt (I like Greek)

Feta Cheese

Salt and Pepper

Pie Crust

I do not pride myself on my baking skills so for this recipe I bought a pre-made pie crust.

Preheat oven 350 degrees

Slice up your tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt and let them sit for about 10 minutes in a strainer.  Chop up the roasted red peppers, slice the onion and chiffonade the basil and set aside.  In a bowl mix together about 1 cup yogurt  and 2 cups feta cheese.
Layer the tomatoes, roasted red pepper, onion and basil in the pie shell.  With a rubber spatula spread the yogurt and feta cheese mixture atop.  Pop it in the oven for about 30-35 minutes.  Let cool then slice it up and serve!

Tomato Pie with Feta Topping, photo by michelle.

End result, nicely browned and SO GOOD!