Sunday, December 30, 2012

Simple roasted chicken with winter vegetables

If you should decide to have a light New Year's Eve feast and not start 2013 with a food coma, I not only applaud you but can also suggest a fitting meal to go with your admirable intentions. This dish goes very well with some quinoa to which you can add some diced carrots and celery, and spice it with cumin. Yum!

And with respect to your New Year's resolutions, well... go easy on yourself. If you set unfeasible goals, you're setting yourself up for failure and will inevitably end up disappointed. Try to get at least one nutrition-related goal among your resolutions, though. There are so many worthwhile goals you can choose from. Commit to eating less animal fat, less sugar, more leafy greens, more berries, drink less coffee, cook at home at least every other day, bake instead of frying, or train yourself to like vegetables. Do as much as you can. Be realistic, but also ambitious!

Today, when we know so much about nutrition and what food does to our bodies, when there are vegetables-revering bloggers like me who incessantly advertise healthier recipes and belabor good-for-you tenets, we no longer have any excuse to have crappy diets. So, take all of this and find your own way to healthier eating. Use food for energy and nourishment, not as a filler for other things that may be missing from your life. 

Eat, be merry and have a happy new year, everyone!

Simple roasted chicken with winter vegetables
~ serves 4

3 chicken breasts or 6 thighs
2-3 beets, peeled and chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1-2 parsnips, peeled and sliced (you can use whatever roots you can find, really: celery root, turnip, rutabaga, etc)
1/2 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon, cut into wedges
1/2 Tbsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
olive oil, for drizzling

Sprinkle salt and pepper on the chicken and massage it into the meat on all sides. 

In a large bowl, mix the vegetables with rosemary, thyme, lemon and olive oil. Add the meat and mix everything together until well coated. 

Pour the mixture into a baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until the meat is tender. Cover with lid or foil for the first 30 minutes so the chicken doesn't dry out, then leave uncovered for the remainder. You'll know it's done when the meat has a nice amber color.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Apple & blackberry cobbler

Yes, the holidays were terrific. There was snow and food and family around the table, good humor and stories. Nothing missing, really. Except in the aftermath of the many tastings of meats and cheeses that were inevitable, and the ravenousness for sarmale that ensued, I found myself lacking in drive and energy to exercise. Not even a little. Usually, not a day goes by for me without doing some sort of activity. Whether it's the gym, running, a trip with the bike, lifting some weights at home, playing badminton or going for a swim, I find it a real challenge to make it 24 hours without my drug. That is just how I'm made, I suppose.

It wasn't until last night that I put on my gear and went out for a short jog in the snow - or rather, slush. The cold gave me speed, and the frozen air filling my lung was like some sort of dreamy hookah delight. I felt like I'd been reborn. And I was also disappointed in myself for letting so much time go by without exercise. So I did what any person who's ever had exercise-guilt does in order to live with themselves: I blamed it on the food.

Now, I've no more excuses. Here is a light and fluffy recipe to help you recover from the food coma of the holidays. Only 15 minutes prep time, by the way! You can enjoy this as dessert, but it's also substantial enough to be a whole meal. Take my word for it. And now, get up and get moving!

Apple & blackberry cobbler
~ serves 4

5-6 small (or 4 large) apples, any variety, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (organic! Remember the Dirty Dozen)
2 tsp coconut oil
1 tsp cinnamon
a few drops stevia or 1 Tbsp brown sugar, optional (don't make it too sweet. You can always add powdered sugar on your plate if you need it)
juice from 1/2 lemon or lime
1 cup almonds
1 cup hazelnuts or walnuts (or any other combination of 2 nuts)
2 Tbsp shredded coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a large bowl, toss the apples with the cinnamon, stevia or brown sugar (optional) and lemon juice. Add the blackberries and mix gently. 

In a Vitamix, blender or grinder, add the nuts, coconut, cinnamon and vanilla and pulse until crumbly. 

Coat an oven-safe Pyrex pan or loaf pan (glass is best) with coconut oil and pour the fruit filling in there.

Sprinkle the nut mixture on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, until the top has a nice amber color. To avoid it getting too dry, you can cover the pan (with lid or foil) for the first 20 minutes, and then leave it uncovered for the last 20 so the top can get crispy.

Happy Holidays!

Recipe adapted from Jenny @ the Clean Blog.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sensational oatless oatmeal smoothie

Good morning to you! There are so many theories about breakfast. Some people say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it should also be the most substantial. Others prefer to skip breakfast altogether and have a large lunch instead. Some are sold for the much-beloved bacon and eggs. Others prefer yogurt and fruit. For convenience and time, we sometimes even reach for those microwaveable oatmeal packets. What's the best breakfast then?

To me, the best meal is one that gives you the best balance between stomach satisfaction and energy contribution. Too much protein invariably makes me lethargic and slow, feeling starved for a nap, and right after I just woke up! Now that just annoys me. Starches have the same effect. I am really not one to go to Waffle House for breakfast, if you ever pictured me this way.

So, the perfect breakfast for me involves fruit. They're light, full of natural sugars and promote your body's natural cleansing process. If you can tolerate yogurt you can have it with your fruit, and so much the better for you. But choose a yogurt loaded with probiotics, like kefir. And skip any fruity variety with added sugar. You just shoot yourself in the foot with that.

For those of us less lactose-tolerant though, there is still hope. Garden of Life makes a terrific protein powder that's dairy-, gluten-, sugar-, soy- and bad stuff-free, and it's also raw. I add this to my breakfasts whenever I've an active day ahead of me. We do need protein in our lives, but it doesn't necessarily have to come from animals. Without further ado, I present to you my favorite breakfast: a smoothie that tastes just like oatmeal, but made entirely out of fruit and raw protein powder.

Oatless oatmeal smoothie
~ serves 2

1 large Granny Smith apple, quartered
2 kiwi, peeled and halved
1 pear, quartered
1-inch piece ginger root, chopped
juice of 1/2 lime
2 dashes cinnamon
1 dash cardamom (optional)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond milk
2 Tbsp flax seed (or flax meal)
1 heaping scoop Garden of Life Raw Protein (or another non-dairy protein powder)

Blend everything with a powerful blender (get a Vitamix, for heaven's sake). Enjoy!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Refreshing zucchini and mushroom soup

The holidays are coming, and it's always a challenge to ignore the plethora of cookie recipes coming our way. Everything is about food this time of year. But the problem is, the advertised food is not of the nourishing variety. It's the kind that makes you feel lethargic, that gives you digestive problems, that prevents you in so many ways from being active. It's not the food I yearn to prepare or consume, and certainly not the food I'd like to recommend to others. And for the last time, I don't want to cook my way to "vegan holidays" with a mountain of soy! Generally speaking, soy sucks. To read why you too should stay away from soy, read Kimberly's article. And if you're a Tofu fan, make sure you're sitting down.

This being said, I still enjoy making vegetable soups even now when the weather is getting colder and the said vegetables are not so readily available. Soon we'll have to get creative with roots and mushrooms, the stuff of winter. But for now, as a last adieu to gloriously green zucchini, here is a delicious and versatile blended soup. You can tweak the quantities for any ingredient and the taste will be slightly different, but the duet of zucchini and mushroom is golden every time. You don't need a Vitamix to make this. Any kind of blender will do, and personally I prefer this a little chunky so I don't blend it completely smooth. This will take your mind off cookies and other evils for a little while, I promise.

Zucchini and mushroom soup
~ serves 4

4 zucchini, cut lengthwise and sliced in 1/2 inch half-moons
1 package (12 oz) crimini mushrooms
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/2 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
water or vegetable broth
fresh chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish

Heat coconut oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute the mushrooms for about 5 minutes, until they start to soften. Add the zucchini, onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for another 3 minutes. 

Add water or broth just to cover the vegetables, and add the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Add cauliflower and simmer until the florets soften, about 10 minutes. 

Turn off the heat and blend the soup until you get the consistency you like. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro when you serve.

Recipe adapted from Clean by Alejandro Junger.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

20-minutes sauteed greens with beans & bacon

As befitting the very quick lunch I had to ad-lib yesterday, this is a very quick post. Yesterday I was ravenous around noon for some reason (despite having had more than my fair share of cookies earlier in the day), and I decided that I would prepare something involving beans, since I know them to be so filling. But what? I remembered a cooking class I attended at Williams Sonoma once, when the instructor whipped up some chard in a pot and made it taste incredible, just with some spices and bacon. Before that, I hadn't known that cooked leafy greens like chard, kale or collard greens can be so palatable! I had only had them raw, in salads instead of lettuce or blended in smoothies, as I often still do. Yes, I know - I didn't know much about food back then (although to this day I find cooked spinach to be slimy and unappealing, and I don't foresee this ever changing). So that cooking class was pretty memorable.

Little did I know that, months later, I would be standing in the kitchen holding up a bunch of kale, famished and conflicted, and suddenly remembering this episode. So I quickly rounded up a couple cartons of beans, an onion, garlic, bacon and kale, and got to work. I got so excited I moved at triple the usual speed! I proceeded to remove the stems from the kale leaves, cut them in half, roll them up, slice them and spice them, and... Best meal of the week, on word of honor! You'll get four fair servings out of this, and whether you eat it as a side or a main dish it'll be very satisfying.

By the way - if you're wondering why I'm talking about "cartons" of beans, it's because nowadays I try not to buy canned foods anymore, given the poisonous BPA lining in cans. I used to soak and cook beans myself (which is awfully high-maintenance for me), but recently I found beans in little cartons at Whole Foods, and have been buying them like that. They're just plain, unsalted, unspiced, cooked beans, just like you would find them in a can - only in a BPA-free carton. And organic, to boot!

20-minutes sauteed greens with beans & bacon 
~ makes 4 servings

1 bunch kale leaves, stems removed, rolled up and sliced thin (see here how)
2 14-oz cartons of beans, kidney and white (or another duo of your choice)
3 strips turkey bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp coconut oil
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp crushed chilies
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Heat up coconut oil in a large pot and sautee the onion on medium high heat for about 5 minutes or until translucent. 

In the meantime, toss the kale in a large bowl with the olive oil, crushed chilies, garlic and salt. Add the kale to the pot, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, until the greens soften, stirring occasionally. 

In the meantime, cook the bacon with a small amount of coconut oil in a non-stick pan, just enough to give it an amber color. Add the bacon and beans to the pot and cook for about 3 more minutes (or more, depending on how wilted you like your greens). Remove from heat, add salt if needed and stir in the apple cider vinegar. 


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Post-Thanksgiving comforting sweet potato soup

Swamped with projects of all sorts, I've been remiss in sharing reports of my cookings. Shame on me. The cookings, however, have happened nevertheless. And lots of them! I am halfway through a cleaning diet that I plan to dedicate an entire post to, soon. It's worth it. 

Lately I have been doing my best to eat more meat (at least once a week) because I've been feeling my strength diminishing at the gym, and I thought a lack of protein might be the cause. Well that isn't it. It may be a lack of Vitamin D!

So with a view to Thanksgiving, when I'll undoubtedly get my weekly value of protein in one sitting alone, I tried to go totally vegetarian for a few days before the great feast. This cauliflower-sweet potato soup is very tasty, and garam masala plays an important role in its deliciousness, so if you don't have it in your pantry I suggest you acquire it right away. It's a wonderful spice that goes well with sweet vegetables (pumpkin, squash, sweet potatoes), and it's also inexpensive. Let this soup be your own post-Thanksgiving cleansing meal.

Post-Thanksgiving comforting sweet potato soup
~ serves 6 hungry ones

1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 large sweet potatoes (or American yams), cubed
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
olive oil
garam masala, about 1/2 tsp
1 tsp Celtic salt
6 cups water

In a bowl, toss cauliflower with some olive oil until well coated. Place on a tray and sprinkle with garam masala. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes until it looks like this:

In the meantime, get a large pot, set it on medium heat and throw the sweet potatoes, onions, garlic, salt and water in there. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the sweet potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes or so. 

Add the roasted cauliflower. Then, remove from the heat and blend it until smooth with a hand blender. If you like chunks in your soup, transfer only half the soup into another pot and blend it, then return it to the pot and stir well. Reheat the soup if necessary.

Eat and be merry!

Recipe adapted from Manifest Vegan.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

2-minute superhealthy avocado soup

The cold came over the city overnight, it felt. One day I stepped outside and it was in the thirties. It's getting harder to peel my eyes open every morning, and prepare to jump on my two-wheeled horse to step into the ear-numbing, face-biting air. Even though I look forward to the snowy outdoors and to Christmas, I find myself terribly nostalgic for summer. Besides, I'm not prepared to switch to my fluffy wardrobe just yet! At least one thing about this transition has me excited though: hot soups. I'm very enthusiastic about attempting lots and lots of soup recipes this coming winter. Something about a steamy bowl of vegetable potion is so comforting, and it always makes me think of home.

As a last homage to summer, here is a soup that's become one of my staples for anti-inflammatory action. This is served at room temperature - it's probably the last recipe of non-hot soup I'm trying this year. I've noticed that many of the foods I eat (and love) cause inflammation in my body. Normally I would just say so what, I'm not going to give up bread and cheese just for the whims of my cells. Except, I have noticed that some foods make my face swollen. Yes, seriously. And I'm not talking about a little "nobody will notice" kind of swollen, I'm talking about froglike, puffy eyes like I'm sick and haven't slept well in weeks. Spicy foods, bread and salt are some of my most uglyfying foods. 

Nobody likes to look Humpty Dumpty-faced, so - enter anti-inflammatory soup. Avocado in particular has many, many nutritional benefits, and one of them is its anti-inflammatory effect. There is an endless list of anti-inflammatory things you can eat for this purpose. But unless you make a habit of targeting those foods specifically, and avoiding the foods that have the opposite effect, you won't see much results because they will cancel each other out. This soup however is definitely a start in the right direction. It's also raw, healthy, quite tasty and of course, beautifying. Make this in a Vitamix or the blender of your choice.

Anti-inflammatory avocado soup
~ serves 2

1 large avocado or 2 small
1 bunch cilantro or parsley (cilantro is better)
2 cups sunflower sprouts, spinach or other wholesome leafy greens
1 cup chopped green onions
2 cups (16 oz) coconut water
juice from 1 lime

Throw everything into the blender and blend away! Serve immediately. Don't store this soup to eat later, because avocado becomes oxidized in time and the soup will not only taste funny, it also will have lost much of its healthy enzymes.

By the way: the site includes the inflammation factor (IF) for most food items. A negative IF is inflammatory, and the higher the number the stronger the effect (just out of curiosity, look up "bagel"). A positive IF means the food has anti-inflammatory effects, and the higher the IF the more anti-inflammatory the food is. Try to eat more of the foods with high positive IFs, such as avocado, papaya, ginger or turmeric.

Recipe adapted from The Facelift Diet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Beer muffins

Living in Albuquerque is just like living by the ocean, only without the ocean. Each time I'm driving (and it doesn't happen too often), I expect to take a turn and see the great blue at the end of the road. I don't know why this is. Maybe the relentless sun and soothing dry air fool me. I can almost taste the salt in the air. But even though no roads ever lead to the ocean around here, one of my favorite things to do on weekends is to start toward a brewery on two wheels. Only the desert, the open road and the promise of beer at destination.

And since I'm a beer zealot and make no secret of it, I decided to made beer muffins. Truth be told, it wasn't my idea. I came across Kate's recipe for beer biscuits and my interest was totally piqued, especially because the process is so simple. Mix and bake! Kate spiced these up with rosemary and she also had the genius idea to add cheese into the mix. My mouth waters just thinking about it. I on the other hand have become fond of herbes de Provence ever since the herbal crackers, so I was itching to see what else this versatile spice goes well with. I decided to go simple.

I used a porter beer I like from Whole Foods. If you choose this type of darker beer, your muffins will be slightly bitter. I happen to enjoy that, but you might not. If you're wavering, or if you're not that knowledgeable about beer, go for a blonder variety the first time. I personally look forward to making these with a nice stout!

For all you beer fans out there, I recommend this documentary. It's like a giant commercial for beer, but it will tell you many things you didn't know about your beloved drink.

Beer mufins
~ makes 12 muffins

3 cups organic whole wheat flour

1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder

2 Tbsp herbes de Provence
1 12-ounce bottle of blonde (if you prefer a milder taste) or porter (if you prefer a bolder flavor) or even stout (if you're really edgy) beer

Mix flour, salt, sugar, baking power and spices with a fork. Add the beer and blend well. Pour into lightly greased muffin pan and bake at 375 for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

These will work best warmed up, with butter. Don't go crazy on the butter though, it's not good for you and you know it.

Recipe adapted from Cookie and Kate.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Blood orange, roasted beet and fennel salad

Normally, this wouldn't be exactly my type of recipe. A couple oranges, beets and a fennel bulb later, Whole Foods is thirty bucks richer and I am having second thoughts. But wait! If you care about flavors at all, if you are an aspiring cook or have ever had dreams of learning the synergy of spices, you owe it to yourself to make this. 

As I partook of a slice of roasted beet soaked in citrus juices, a glossy sliver of fennel loosely embracing it, the shocking gestalt of flavors made my skin tingle. I started waltzing through the kitchen, with my lips shimmering of olive oil and a piece of cilantro hanging ungracefully at the corner of my mouth, and forgot myself. I left the mixture to marinate for a few hours, until dinner. The flavors decided to socialize inside the bowl, and by the time we sat down to eat properly the salad had become so ridiculously tasty that we couldn't stop making yummy noises throughout the meal, interrupting rather anticlimactically the gangster movie we were watching.

Did you ever think to pair beets with oranges? I didn't. This makes me braver to try even edgier combinations.

This salad is not only delicious, it's also absurdly beautiful. Look at the oranges sitting nonchalantly in the bowl, so effortlessly sexy.

Blood orange, roasted beet and fennel salad
~ serves 4

4 medium red beets, cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
2 blood oranges
2 navel oranges
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

In a heat-proof dish, toss the beets with olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 400° in a toaster-oven or regular oven for about 20 minutes. Halfway through, pull the dish out and mix through.

Meanwhile, using a sharp knife, cut the oranges into thin slices, and try to cut them uniformly for extra prettiness. Place them in a bowl, add lemon juice and lime juice.

Let the beets cool, then add to the bowl with the oranges. Add the sliced fennel and onion. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle cilantro on top. Mix gently and let salad stand for at least 20 minutes, allowing the flavors to meld.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Baked chiles rellenos with goat cheese


I had no idea what Chiles Rellenos were before I moved to Albuquerque. My first tangential experience with Mexican food was in college, at the restaurant across the street from campus where tan men with heavy pomade in their hair and bright smiles would greet us ceremoniously and escort us to our tables. In the strip mall across from campus there were three places of note: a grocery store, a Starbucks, and the Mexican restaurant. For the unfortunate ones who lacked transportation, these were our three options for off-campus entertainment. We hit the Mexican restaurant when either (a) we had just cashed in on our measly student-employees salary, or (b) it was 2-for-1-Margarita night. To be honest, I don't really remember what their food tasted like - but the Margaritas sure were potent stuff.

In New Mexico, we don't care for folks calling our food "Mexican." Because it's not. The way we smother our dishes in green or red chile, our insatiable taste for roasted chiles, and the undeniable influence of the Native-American Pueblo cuisine, all surely set us apart from the stencil of "Mexican food" as known in the rest of America. Food is one of the best things about New Mexico, in addition to the mountains and the 362 days of sun every year. So don't be calling our food "Mexican," entiende?

While I love Chiles Rellenos, I don't tolerate cheese very well and I know that many people have this problem. So I've elaborated a variation of the recipe using a mushroom-goat cheese stuffing. And since I continue to be devoted to the rules of the Beauty Detox Solution (no protein with starch!), I've skipped the bread crumbs and the frying for an extra-healthy alternative: baked, and topped with delicious creamy tomato sauce. Remember to use gloves when cleaning the chiles, and make sure to get all the seeds out because these suckers can be very spicy. I used Hatch chiles, and if you can get your hands on some they are ideal for this dish.

Baked chiles rellenos with goat cheese
~ makes 4 servings

8 green chiles
8 oz mushrooms, finely chopped
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, minced
2 cups shredded goat cheddar

Creamy tomato sauce for topping
~ makes 3 cups

1 medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 to 3 jalapeƱo chiles, chopped (with gloves)
1 26-oz carton of Pomi chopped tomatoes (or use any other brand of BPA-free packaged tomatoes)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup broth
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400. Roast chiles in a cast-iron pan over a gas or electric stove, turning them with tongs.

Cut a slit in each chile starting at the stem end and going about half-way down the chile. Gently remove as many seeds as you can from each chile and set aside. Make sure to use gloves in this undertaking - it's for your own good! As you can see I didn't, and I suffered immensely for a full 6 hours, during which I kept my hands submerged in ice water. Use gloves, people!

Heat a frying pan over high heat. Add oil, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant. Add mushrooms and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.Transfer cooked onions, garlic and mushrooms to a large bowl, let cool off slightly and then toss with the grated cheese. Stuff chiles with the cheese and mushroom mixture. Lay in a lightly oiled baking pan and bake until chiles are soft and filling is hot, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce. Add all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Then cook until it turns a deeper red, about 10 minutes. Add broth, or skip it if your potion is too liquid. Season with salt.

Remove the chiles from the oven and serve topped with sauce. Bring extra sauce to the table. Buen provecho!

Recipe adapted from

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mediterranean rice with spinach, olives and fennel

Some days I really don't feel like cooking. Take last night, for instance. Listless and terminally sore from my sprints up the hill, I crawled home from work only to discover the fridge a desolate expanse of nothingness, save for a few scattered jars with leftover salad vegetables and some cooked rice from the other day. Whoever failed to do the shopping (you know who you are) will be punished severely. But no matter! Hunger beckons, uncompromising. So, here's a riddle: what can you make out of rice, spinach, fennel and olives?

While I stirred, flavors of fennel and olives rising from the pot and making me drunk with anticipation, I had dreams of Greek gods and goddesses tasting cheese and wine lounging on silky divans, caring nothing about the affairs of mortals. So I poured myself a glass of wine, Trader Joe's finest, and proceeded to feel positively nonchalant as I finished up what is quite likely the best impromptu meal of the month. This is to give you some inspiration to make your own "whatever's in the fridge" meal.

Mediterranean rice with spinach, olives and fennel

~ makes 3 servings

2 cups cooked brown rice

2 cups chopped spinach
½ cup pitted green olives, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 Tbsp olive oil 
juice of ½ lemon 

salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan. Saute the onion on medium heat until translucent, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat to low, add spinach and saute for about 5 minutes. Add rice and fennel and cook, stirring continuously, a few more minutes. Turn off the heat, add the lemon juice and olives and mix everything well. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Very important chocolate gluten-free muffins

I. Want. To. Eat. All. The. Muffins. In. The. World.

As many strides as I have made in keeping faithful to a wholesome diet, I have not managed to kick off my stubborn, incessant craving for sweets. There is no limit to how much chocolate I could eat in any given day. Enough is simply not in my vocabulary when it comes to that sort of thing. For a person so otherwise rational and composed as most people know me as, this is entirely out of character, and it irks me endlessly. It's like an annoying thing you catch yourself doing all the time, but somehow you can't stop.

So I have proceeded to discipline myself as if I were a dog in need of training. As a first step, I put signs throughout the house reminding me of how shameful my addiction is. "Chill out with the chocolate" says the one on the front door. "Don't you dare open that!" says one pasted to the very desk where I'm writing this. "WTF! No more sweets!" says the one on the fridge, emphatically. 

The second step is to promise myself a reward if I am good and follow the rules. "If I don't have this piece of chocolate right now, I can have a muffin tomorrow morning!" Delayed gratification works wonders, really, for dogs as much as for humans. Another thing I do is to make myself feel bad after I've done something excessive, like going bananas over the Nutella jar and managing to make myself nauseated, yet somehow, somehow, still craving the damned sweet stuff.

I've got to say, I understand quite well what makes dogs happy. First, it's looking forward to things - and then, getting them. Like when they wait for us to come home from work and at the very jingle of the keys in the lock they go bonkers against the door, jumping and tail-wagging and getting so ridiculously excited. When I finally allow myself a piece of cake or some such, I know exactly how a dog feels. And I have to say, what that piece of cake means to me is more than words can describe. It's no longer food, it's an entire experience of built-up anticipation and heavenly taste, and my delight at having managed to abstain so bravely, to withstand withdrawal and to circumvent the temptation that is everywhere around me.

This is how I've enjoyed these brilliant gluten-free chocolate muffins. Like rare delicacies - not like something to be chomped on and gulped down, but like a delicate, elaborate dessert that a French chef made especially for me. I made every muffin mean a great deal. And I encourage you to do the same when you make these (because you will!). They are not only delicious, they are also very important.

Gluten-free nutty chocolate muffins
~ makes 12 muffins

1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 cup almond butter
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup carob chips

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix together butter and honey. Whisk in cocoa powder and almond butter until smooth. Whisk in eggs and baking soda.
Pour into greased muffin tray. Bake for 20 minutes until done.

Recipe adapted from the talented Michelle @ Gluten-Free Fix.

Note: The only changes I made to Michelle's recipe were to replace peanut butter with almond butter and chocolate chips with carob chips. I find peanuts problematic because of fungi and allergies, so I prefer to use almonds/almond butter whenever a recipe calls for peanuts/peanut butter. Also, I prefer carob chips because they are caffeine-free and I also love their malty taste.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Home-made crackers

Have you ever asked yourself "Is it worth making my own crackers?" I often have. And this reminded me of Doc from Cannery Row, always wondering what a beer milkshake might taste like, until finally he drives to a roadhouse where no one knows him and orders a beer milkshake, elucidating the mystery once and for all. So I, too, have decided to find out what it's like to make crackers. Is it a lot of work? Can I beat the store-bought varieties? Will I screw them up? are all questions that tormented me, through and through.

So haunted was I that Saturday morning I arose determined to crack my way into cracker-baking, so to say. I had some amaranth flour leftover from my gluten-free experiments that I was eager to utilize quickly, and I found a recipe online for herbal amaranth crackers. So I put on an apron and promptly proceeded to heat up the already tropical-feeling house, while I wiped the sweat off my forehead and furiously mixed dirt-smelling dough to perfection.

The result? Not disappointing. The amaranth crackers are delicious, and the fact that they were all long gone by Sunday evening is clear proof of that. We ate them in so many combinations: with sun-dried tomato hummus, with spinach dip, with beauty-nut pate, in soup, with curry, and by themselves. So versatile, and so addictive! But I'm not going to lie, they were a lot of work. Not only is the dough brittle, but it needs a lot of hand-holding. Each cracker needs to be individually dealt with and mollycoddled. If you're not someone with attention to detail, don't try this. But if you are - well, you'll be rewarded.

On another note, last week I managed a stoical 130-pound deadlift at the gym, after a sweating marathon of sprinting a 3-miler at midday under 100-degree sun. That's right, the skinny girl can! But I've much work to do still.

This weekend, however, was hiking time, and the Three Gun Spring trail was only too happy to receive us with open arms. The beautiful Cibola forest was as charming as ever, this weekend wildfire-free!

Amaranth herbal crackers
~ makes 60-70 crackers

3/4 cup amaranth flour
1/2 cup arrowroot starch or cornstarch
1/4 cup almondmeal
1/2 tsp salt + 1 tsp salt to sprinkle on top of crackers
1/4 tsp ground peppper
4 Tbsp olive oil
4 Tbsp water
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Cream of Tartar
3 cloves garlic, crushed into a paste
2 Tbsp Herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning

Place dry ingredients in a bowl and mix until blended. Add olive oil, water and garlic paste and stir until dough forms a ball. If mixture is still crumbly, add water, one teaspoon at a time, until dough forms a ball.

Sprinkle rice flour over a smooth work surface and over your rolling pin. Roll the dough as thin as you can get it without breaking. Use a knife to cut even squares. Prick top of each cracker twice with a fork. Using a small spatula, transfer crackers to your ungreased baking trays. Sprinkle some salt over the crackers.

Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place crackers on a wooden board to cool.

Recipe adapted from

Friday, August 24, 2012


So finally, I did it. I changed the title of the blog. "East of Eden" had a special significance for me, both because I'm a John Steinbeck fan and also because I've always wanted to live in California and never quite got there. I drool at the thought of beachy expanses with beachcombers and hardcore surfers, of the wine country, of winding roads hugging grassy mountains, suspended precariously above the great blue. And a touring bike with saddlebags, carrying beef jerky, bananas and a blanket, the perfect companions to any outing on two wheels. My notion of this Eden conveniently omits such facts as infuriating traffic or the dismissive hubris of the locals. That is not the California I have in my mind, not the Eden I pine for. With most things we look forward to, they are so much more idyllic in memory than in reality.

One day I got a bit tired of this bittersweet crap. California is hardly the divine poetry I make it to be, a fact hard-learned earlier this year as, day after miserable day, I tried to make my way from one point of LA to another among an ocean of sluggish, furious Californian cars. Nor is Cannery Row Steinbeck's inspirational oasis anymore, its once quaint and peaceful streets having been replaced with gaudy shops, loud booths and bright lights. As the writer's name is advertised at each corner as some sort of haute couture brand, he is no doubt wincing at all of this and rolling in his grave. Salinas, too, where Steinbeck grew up, is a godforsaken ghost town of former farmers turned receptionists at Motel 6. Not a happy story.

So, with the betrayal of the "California dream" I became increasingly disenchanted with the title, East of Eden. "Hungryvore" came up one day as I was trying to describe my eating preferences in a conversation with friends. I'm no carnivore, or vegetarian, or vegan, or raw foodist. So what are you, they asked impatiently. Ah, people's need to peg you! What I am is not picky. I'll eat whatever there is, and having grown up in a part of the world where food was once scarce and choices lacking, I now consider myself lucky to have access to so many ingredients, to have so much information about nutrition and to benefit from such a wealth of options when it comes to preparing meals. I'm like a kid in a candy store - how could I not hurry to sample, taste, combine and experiment?

In some other countries, where it's a struggle to find quality ingredients, where food is not properly labeled, and where no one's heard of "antioxidants" or "omega-3 fatty acids," people eat because they're hungry. When you're hungry, you don't count carbs and protein. Finding out whether something is "ethically sourced" or "non-GMO" is decidedly a first world problem. When one is hungry, their main concern is to eat something that's satisfying, and if it happens to be healthy too, so much the better. On this side of the Globe, however, we are lucky. We have so much to choose from. Cuisines from around the world. Health food stores at every corner. So many rare, exotic grains and produce! The organic movement. There is no excuse, I think, for someone living in the States and making decent money, to not eat healthy things.

This past week's theme has been experimenting with the Vitamix. I can't get enough of this contraption. I made three spreads, and while I had high hopes for all of them, I was not exactly floored by any. My favorite, however, was Kim Snyder's Beauty Nut Pate. I can imagine making this again, albeit with small amendments. I had it for lunch three days in a row with some celery sticks and red pepper slices. It was very satisfying, even for a greedy stomach like mine. Just make sure you use unsalted pumpkin seeds. I made that mistake and it turned out a tad too salty for my taste - OK, a LOT saltier than my taste. I felt my head had turned into a ticking sodium bomb after a few bites. So - just make sure they're unsalted.

Beauty nut pate
~ serves 10

1 medium zucchini (organic please)
3 inches ginger root, chopped
garlic, 1 large clove
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups pumpkin seeds (pepitas) unsalted!
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup nama shoyu (unpasteurized soy sauce) or just plain old soy sauce
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Cayenne pepper

Blend away in a Vitamix or high-speed blender until smooth. In the absence of such fancy equipment, grind your nuts in a coffee grinder or similar device and then use a regular blender to blend the whole thing together.

This will keep in the fridge for about a week. Try to trick your friends into tasting it, because they'll love it and then they'll have all kinds of admiration for you because you eat such healthy stuff.

Recipe adapted from Kimberly Snyder.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Apple pie, from start to finish

The smell of coffee and pastries in the morning is so chic. So French. But they've got to be flaky, delicate pastries. Bulky, doughy things that fill your mouth like cotton balls don't count. A donut is not a pastry, but a boorish bread whose texture baffles your tongue so as not to object to its objectionable sweetness. Americans can't get desserts right. They are either too sweet, too colorful, too large, too something. There's always something bothersome about them, something excessive and gratuitous that makes you feel both guilty and empty in the aftermath.

Even though I'm sold for pastries and coffee every now and then, lately I've found this sort of treat very infrequent. One reason is that it's a struggle to find decent pastries in the States. The other reason is, this type of food is not exactly encouraged by the Beauty Detox Solution. And it's too bad. But a treat that I allow myself every now and then, because I can make it myself and I make it well, is apple pie. I have a slice for brunch with some nicely spiced Rooibos tea. They go so well together. And the pie, of course, I make myself from start to finish.

Apple pie
~ serves 8

10-12 medium organic apples, peeled and cut into slices
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 Tbsp organic flour (or verified non-GMO)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 cup (2  8-oz sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
2 1/2 cups organic flour (or verified non-GMO)
1 tsp salt
6-10 Tbsp ice-cold water

In a large bowl, mix the apples well with the lemon juice, sugar, flour and spices. This is your filling. Cover and set aside.

In another bowl, mix the flour and salt with a fork. Add the butter stick, cut into 8 chunks or so. We are going to cut the butter into the flour, as it were. The goal is to get pea-sized pieces of butter distributed throughout the mixture. This will make the crust flaky like it's supposed to be. If you have a pastry tool, lucky you. For the rest of us, take a butter knife in each hand and begin to cut into the butter with the knives going in opposite directions, so that they are crossing each other side by side. 

Once you got the butter into pea-sized pieces and evenly distributed, it's time to get the cold water into the mix. It's important that the water be as cold as possible, so add an ice cube in for good measure. For the next part you will use a fork. Add the cold water, one tablespoon at a time, incorporating it with the fork in a whipping motion. We just want to moisten the dough, but we don't want to mash the butter pieces. Add water until you feel the dough could be easily gathered into a ball without crumbling. 

At this point, divide the dough into a larger ball and a smaller one. Prepare a clean, dry surface and spread flour on it. Generously. Press the ball on the flat surface and with a rolling pin begin to roll it into a circle. The dough will break at the edges, so you will have to pamper it and mend it all the time, until it spreads into a circle large enough to fill your pie plate. Do this with patience and don't start to cry. We are almost there. 

Now you're going to move the dough into the pie plate. If it breaks in the process, don't panic. You can stitch it back together, I promise. With the rolling pin, start to roll the dough off the surface, wrapping it around the rolling pin. If you notice it's sticking to the flat surface, take a wide knife or spatula and help it a little. You will wish you had five hands for this, I know. Once you've rolled 3/4 of the dough onto the rolling pin, you're golden. Lift the rolling pin gently and move the dough (in one piece, hopefully) onto the pie plate, unwrapping it off the rolling pin at the same time. 

If you are a ninja, the dough will lay perfectly into the pie plate. For the rest of us, we'll have to pull onto the dough a little to set it in evenly. Set the filling into the pie plate. And now it's also time to preheat your oven to 400.

Repeat the above process with the smaller ball of dough, which will be the lid of your pie. Spread it to the right size, and slide it onto the pie plate to cover the filling. If you'd like to make a nice pattern on the edge, press the bottom and top together on the sides and then make a wavy design with your fingers, like I did:

With a knife, make a few slits on top but very carefully so as not to break the dough and make the whole thing ugly. Shove it in the 400 degree oven, wipe the sweat off your forehead and go read a magazine for 15 minutes. Then, lower the temperature to 375 and fold some aluminum foil over the outer edges of the pie. This prevents the edges from burning. Now kick it back into the oven and go take a nap. The pie will sit in there for 30 more minutes or until golden-brown. Let it cool for at least 1 hour before serving. And be proud of yourself! Making pastry is no piece of cake.