Tag Archives: easy

Ch-ch-ch-chia! Cherry-Coconut Chia Seed Pudding with Pistachios

Ch-ch-ch-chia! Cherry-Coconut Chia Seed Pudding with Pistachios

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Remember that animal-shaped terracotta pottery from the ’80s that you had to smear wet seeds on which would later sprout “hair” (grass)? Who knew that you could, A. actually eat those slimy seeds, and B. over 20 years later they’d be revealed as a healthy addition to your diet? Yep, I’m referring to the Chia Pet and those little chia seeds that adorned them.

Formally known as Salvia hispanica, the flowering chia plant is native to Mexico. Its seeds have been cultivated for food since the age of the Aztecs, being as important a crop to them as maize (corn). When soaked in a liquid, chia seeds puff up — absorbing about 12 times their weight — and form a gelatinous outer shell (chia “gel”). Aztec warriors would use them as a portable food staple during battles, supposedly being able to be sustained for a whole day after consuming just one tablespoon of chia gel.

What is it about the chia seed that’s got the health food community going ga-ga for them, you ask? They’ve got a ton of nutrients packed into their tiny shells: the USDA claims that one ounce of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 11 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of protein, and provide 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium. They’re chock full of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids (read: the good fats), too.
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Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

Not-so-mellow mushrooms: Sherry-Braised Wild Mushroom Salad with Pecorino and Hazelnuts

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Though it’s an oxymoron, a warm salad is the perfect starter or main course for your table any time of the year, and I have just the recipe for you: sherry-braised mushrooms sautéed with shallots, thyme, and garlic, tossed with mixed greens, toasted hazelnuts and shaved Pecorino cheese.

Mushrooms are a great alternative to meat in a salad as they’re savory and hearty, pairing well with a variety of vinegars, nuts and cheeses. Many varieties of mushrooms are widely available in the winter and early spring months, which is why this is the perfect time to go foraging for tasty fungi at your local grocery store.

Though I didn’t go out and dig them up in my backyard, I’m using the term “wild mushrooms” with this dish because species of edible mushrooms that are either cultivated or harvested wild can be used in it. Examples of cultivated (or farmed) mushrooms include shiitake, Portobello, cremini, oyster, trumpet, etc.; mushrooms that are most commonly harvested wild (foraged) include truffle, matsutake, chanterelle, hedgehog, and, of course, the psilocybin-containing hallucinogenic ones (which I wouldn’t advise using in this recipe). Unless you’re a seasoned mushroom hunter, your safest bet is probably to buy them at the grocery store.

The key to this salad is adding the freshly sautéed mushrooms straight from the pan to the salad greens and tossing them together seconds before serving. The greens will wilt a few minutes after the hot mushrooms are added, so you don’t want them to wilt too soon before they’re eaten — they won’t taste bad, but a soggy pile of salad just isn’t pretty to look at.

Enjoy this salad as a main or first course, and pair it with a zesty Sauvignon Blanc or a medium-bodied Pinot Noir.
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Soup for Dummies: Warm up with this easy-to-make curried cauliflower-apple soup

Soup for Dummies: Warm up with this easy-to-make curried cauliflower-apple soup

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When the temperatures start to take a nose dive and it’s finally time to dig out the sweaters, I have one thing on my mind (besides keeping warm): soup! Synonymous with warmth and comfort, no wonder it’s such a popular dish this time of year.

The best part about soup is that it’s so darn easy to make. Seriously. You throw everything into a pot, bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, then let it ride for anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours (depending on what you put in it).

With most soup recipes, especially those that need to simmer for a long period of time, a lid is required during cooking to prevent the liquid from evaporating (or else you’ll just have a pot of soggy vegetables). Also, you’ll notice that soup is always cooked in a pot or saucepan with high sides instead of in a sauté pan with low sides. Why? The high sides prevent some of the moisture from leaving the pot and evaporating, while pans with low sides are designed to help wick moisture away — which is why they are great for making pan sauces and reductions.

Curried Cauliflower and Apple Soup is a creamy, dreamy dish using currently abundant seasonal produce. Cauliflower is a great base for a pureed soup because, when blended, it acquires a creamed consistency; hence no cream (or the added calorie count) is needed. The Madras curry gives the recipe an Eastern twist and a pop of flavor, but feel free to omit it or change it up with your favorite curry blend.

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Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles combine the classic flavors of pumpkin pie in a glass

Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles combine the classic flavors of pumpkin pie in a glass

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Aside from shopping for gifts, food — both making and consuming — seems to be most folks’ main concern when planning for said holidays.

The thought of preparing a large feast or nibbles for a large fête can be quite daunting, and for most people, the dessert course often seems to be where home cooks are either spending hours preparing or they’re skipping the hassle by just purchasing something from the grocery store. Not to sound like Rachael Ray or Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) from The Matrix, but what if I told you that you could whip up a mouthwatering dessert in thirty minutes or less and be able to brag that you made it all from scratch?

My inspiration for the following recipe came when I needed to whip up a quick dessert, but didn’t have enough time (or motivation) to bake a whole pumpkin pie. These Pumpkin-Gingersnap Trifles incorporate the flavors of classic pumpkin pie — spiced pumpkin filling, whipped cream, gingersnap cookie “crust” — but take only about a third of the time to make from start to finish. The best part about the dish is that you can make them as individual servings or in one big dish to share.

So if you’re strapped for time this holiday season and/or baking challenged, try out this quick and easy pumpkin treat which is sure to impress all of your guests.
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One-Pan Roast Chicken with Sausage, Apple, Citrus and Rosemary

One-Pan Roast Chicken with Sausage, Apple, Citrus and Rosemary
Get a taste of fall with this one-pan roast chicken and sausage recipe

Get a taste of fall with this one-pan roast chicken and sausage recipe

It’s funny how the autumnal equinox can make an almost immediate change in the weather — with the overnight switch from summer to fall you can start to smell the faint hint of autumn in the air almost overnight. Maybe it’s all in my head, but I swear the slightest breeze feels just a tad cooler the day after the calendar date of this change of seasons. And with this real or imagined cooler weather comes the itch to crank up my oven and start using the warm and comforting flavors of this time of year. Hearty herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme are hallmarks of fall tastes; citrus, apples and pears are in season, and baking and roasting are the cooking methods that prevail.

For my first recipe of the season, I’m giving plain old chicken an injection of fall flavors with the addition of rosemary, orange and smoked sausage in a one-pan roast. Pan-seared chicken legs and thighs are nestled in a bed of onion, apple, smoked sausage, seasoned with orange zest and fresh rosemary, and then roasted to golden-brown perfection in the oven.

On its own or paired with a few sides, this dish is a savory and flavorsome addition to your autumn recipe repertoire. It’s also very versatile: use lemon in place of the orange, sage or thyme to replace the rosemary, and you can even switch up the smoked sausage and use cured Spanish chorizo in its place.
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Paleo Thai Coconut Red Pork Curry with Zucchini “Noodles”

Paleo Thai Coconut Red Pork Curry with Zucchini “Noodles”
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A tasty Paleo diet makeover of a popular Thai curry dish.

The Paleo diet. It’s something you’ve probably been hearing a lot about lately — as I like to say (purposely trying to sound like Paris Hilton) “It’s so hot right now.” But what is it anyway? As the name suggests, it is based on the diet that mimics what the cavemen of the Paleolithic era might have grazed upon, wild plants and animals. It includes fruit, vegetables, roots, fungi, nuts, seeds, eggs, and pasture-raised, grass-fed animal protein. Followers of this way of eating subscribe to it because they believe it to aid in healthy digestion and weight loss, and prevent blood sugar spikes, systemic inflammation, autoimmune-related diseases — among a slew of other health benefits. Many people who previously followed strict gluten- and/or dairy-free diets have taken to this diet because it nixes the foods that they cannot eat.

So what’s on the ‘NO’ list? Grains, legumes, dairy, soy, added sugars, booze, white potatoes, vegetable oils, and processed foods. Though there are quite a few dietary restrictions, it doesn’t mean that the Paleo plate must simply consist of a hunk of meat and some bland, boring vegetables. Many Paleo cooking enthusiasts have made it their mission to come up with creative and tasty ways to incorporate the Paleo rules into their (and others’) diet. My friend Melissa Joulwan, author of Well Fed, the upcoming Well Fed 2 (on store shelves later this month) and TheClothesMakeTheGirl.com, is one of those cheerleaders of creative Paleo cooking. She’s been my mentor and inspiration when dabbling in, as she calls it, “dino-chow.”

I do not strictly follow the Paleo lifestyle, but I do love the culinary challenge that it gives me to come up with dishes that are appetizing to Paleo folks and enticing to those (open-minded) non-Paleo people. That’s why I came up with the following recipe for Thai red curry with pork over “noodles.” It’s a Paleo-friendly spin on the classic Thai peanut and coconut milk sauce with red curry paste. I used roasted cashew butter in place of peanut butter (because peanuts are a legume) and substituted coconut aminos for the soy sauce and zucchini peels for the rice noodles. They were easy swapouts and, in my opinion, this dish tastes as good as the original.

In closing, this is only a brief description of the Paleo diet and just the tip of the iceberg. There are also many versions of Paleo out there and, if interested, I encourage you to read up on them and find the one that suits your lifestyle best.
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Balti from Brum: Birmingham’s most celebrated curry

Balti from Brum: Birmingham’s most celebrated curry
Skip the fish and chips and make this delicious English-meets-Indian curry.

Skip the fish and chips and make this delicious English-meets-Indian curry.

Back in March, my fiance and took our pre-wedding honeymoon trip to the UK and Ireland. What excited me most about the trip (besides visiting the Doctor Who museum in Cardiff) was the prospect of sampling the many global cuisines that these countries have to offer. They have become a melting pot of cultures over the past few centuries due to English colonization, immigration, etc., and this in turn now characterizes their food and the way people eat.

While perusing the travel book I brought along, I learned of Balti curry, a now renowned English dish that was created in Birmingham (known as “Brum” by the locals) by North Indian and Pakistani immigrants in the 1970s.

This Punjabi-influenced curry is very aromatic, filled with warming spices, tomatoes, onions and cilantro, and can be made with meat, vegetables or paneer (an Indian fresh cheese). It’s a one-pot dish traditionally served in a metal or copper, two-handled dish called a “Balti”, which means “bucket” in Hindi. Instead of eating it with rice (or even silverware), the diner will scoop it up with naan or chapati flatbread. The best thing about Balti is that it cooks up quickly, like a stir fry, and can be completed in about half an hour — no need to watch over a simmering pot for hours.

Don’t be intimidated by the myriad of spices used in Balti: most of them can be found in specialty grocery stores that have a bulk spice section and the rest can be obtained from an Indian grocer (which is a culinary adventure in itself to visit). I’ve even seen a Balti spice blend sold at Whole Foods under their own brand. As for the protein, beef, lamb, pork or even vegetables can easily be substituted for the chicken.

No need for a passport here as you can take your tastebuds for a trip to jolly old Brum with this easy to prepare, savory Balti dish.
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Roasted grape, goat cheese, and walnut tart

Roasted grape, goat cheese, and walnut tart

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The word “tart” is probably one of the most used homonyms in culinary terms. First of all, “tart” used as an adjective has to do with taste — like bitter, sour or acerbic. But today I’d like to focus on “tart” the noun. This kind of tart can come in many, many forms: sweet, savory, shortcrust based, puff pastry based, fruit-filled, custard-filled, cheesy, etc., and is usually served as either an appetizer or dessert.

The tart I’ve decided to whip up this week is a mix of sweet and savory — roasted grapes and goat cheese — on a bed of flaky puff pastry crust. It’s an easy-to-prepare, classy appetizer that’d be perfect for a fête during any season.

So why did I pick puff pastry over a short crust pie dough? Honestly, I’m a lazy baker and puff dough is as easy as grabbing from the freezer, thawing then baking. It’s also a party food lifesaver and should always be kept onhand for last-minute appetizers, main dishes accoutrements and desserts. For flavor, always choose puff dough made with butter, not vegetable shortening, as it will give you a buttery, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth product versus one with a weird aftertaste. Another cook’s tip: an egg wash (see recipe below) will give puff pastry a golden-brown kiss of color.

Try out this sweet, savory, and not too tart (the adjective) tart recipe that’s topped with roasted grapes, goat cheese, walnuts and fresh rosemary. It’s a breeze to bake up and your party guests will surely be impressed.

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Taste the tropics in this piña colada-inspired sundae

Taste the tropics in this piña colada-inspired sundae
Pineapple Sundae logo

My current muse for a sweet sundae recipe is the tropical piña colada drink, from which I borrowed the flavors of pineapple, coconut and rum.

With warm, sweltering weather on our doorstep, I get a hankering for cool desserts like ice cream sundaes. My current muse for a sweet sundae recipe is the tropical piña colada drink, from which I borrowed the flavors of pineapple, coconut and rum (because, as is common with most of my recipes, there’s booze involved in one form or another).

In my opinion, there’s definitely a science to building the perfect sundae and every one should have these four basic elements: ice cream (which is a given), sauce, crunchy stuff, and “other stuff”.

Vanilla was my go-to the ice cream for this piña colada-inspired sundae. While I usually consider vanilla a rather boring and unadventurous choice by itself, it does serve as a wonderful canvas for a sundae where there are many other strong flavors going on. I mean, what doesn’t go with vanilla?

Next up: sauce. A sweet sauce transforms a simple bowl of ice cream a sundae. I took the rum element of the piña colada and incorporated it into a quick and easy-to-make caramel sauce. It may sound fancy and a bit daunting to some, but it is simply made up of butter, brown sugar, and rum. Heat the ingredients up together (with a few steps in between) and — voila! — it becomes a caramel rum sauce fit for just about any dessert.

To cover the “other stuff” on the sundae checklist, I chose to use fruit — my fruit of choice being pineapple — and toasted coconut. Fresh pineapple is wonderful by itself, but when roasted it becomes even more sweet and ambrosial. By simply tossing pineapple in brown sugar the exterior will caramelize, turning to a golden-brown color, taking the flavor to heavenly heights. Toasted, unsweetened coconut flakes add a final pop of flavor and tie the whole dish together to achieve the piña colada essence.

And last but not least: the crunchy stuff. There are no crunchy bits in a piña colada, but a sundae simply must have something crunchy on top — the obvious choice being nuts. I decided to use toasted pistachios for some crunch and a pop of color, but cashews or macadamia nuts would also play well with the other flavors in this dessert.

For a sweet taste of the tropics, have a go at the recipe below. I’ve also listed some dairy-free/vegan substitutions for those with special diets so that they, too, can enjoy this treat.
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Say “Opa!” to these Greek lamb sliders in pita pockets

Say “Opa!” to these Greek lamb sliders in pita pockets
Besides being utterly delectable, these Greek lamb sliders are healthy as well.

Besides being utterly delectable, these Greek lamb sliders are healthy as well.

When it comes to burgers, quality meat can make a simple burger great, but flavorful additions can really put it over the top. Herbs and spices mixed into the meat, tasty toppings, quality cheeses and fancy buns can all contribute to make one stellar gourmet burger.

Take, for example, my Greek-inspired sliders. Feta cheese and warming spices add a flavorful kick to the ground lamb, and instead of lettuce and tomato, the red wine vinegar-tossed spinach and onion serve as the topping. And forget the boring standard bun, these Greco masterpieces are sandwiched between fluffy pita bread.

Besides being utterly delectable, they’re actually pretty healthful as well. Lamb meat contains omega-3 and monounsaturated fatty acids (a.k.a.: the good fats). When grocery shopping, go for pasture-raised New Zealand lamb (or grass-fed beef) as it contains higher levels of these essential fatty acids. For a lightened version of the sliders without sacrificing any of the flavor, simply nix the Feta and the pitas, and either bake or grill them instead of pan frying.

These Greek sliders are perfect for a summer cookout party, a game night in with friends, or even a simple weeknight meal. Not into mini food? The recipe can easily make four full-sized burgers as well. Serve them alongside a Greek salad, some grilled or broiled eggplant, and pair them with a crisp, light Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa or New Zealand. Read the rest of this entry