Monthly Archives: February 2011

Smooth Moves

I’d like to begin by thanking Gale Gand – acclaimed pastry chef (you may have seen her as a guest judge on Top Chef Desserts) and host of the once-on-air show, Sweet Dreams.

It was the summer before college, I was wrapped up in a blanket at an unreasonably early time of day, flipping through the infomercials and other A.M. television fodder, when I happened upon Gale, her adorable brunette bob, and an incredible milk shake recipe.

Frothy, light, and luscious, the milk-based treat was irresistible. But this is far from the end of the story. Because there wasn’t a scoop of ice cream to be found in that glass. No, not even a drip.

Gale had used frozen green apples as the base of the shake and with a cup of milk and a drizzle of vanilla, she turned the doctor’s nemesis into a fountain shop dream.

Inspired? You bet.

It was the perfect example of culinary trickery and it proved that, when you pair unexpected ingredients with a traditional recipe, it gets elevated to new levels of awesome.

So that brings us to the creamy concoction you see below.

Want to know what’s in it? Here’s a hint: there isn’t a drop of dairy, only one fruit, and a vegetable. Yes, a vegetable. And it still tasted like a vanilla smoothie shake.

As a result of getting obsessed with juicing – I’m not talking about steroids, but my new compact Breville magic machine – I’ve begun blending leftover vegetables when an extractor cannot be found. I find it to be a great way to give my bod the nutrients it needs and to experiment with unexpected food combinations as well.

So when I found myself with half of a yellow squash to enjoy, instead of throwing it in a frittata or a bowl of pasta, I threw it in a blender with a banana, a squeeze of orange juice, 1/4 cup of coconut milk, and a drizzle of vanilla (in honor of Ms. Gand).

That was it. A perfect way to start the morning or cure that afternoon snack attack. It will satisfy your sweet tooth without the guilt of eating an entire bag of skittles by yourself before 9am. Not that I did that yesterday. And just imagine serving these sunrise stunners to a table of brunch guests, only revealing the true ingredients once the glasses had been slurped dry.

Impressed? You bet.

Blend on.

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Oscar Worthy Apps

So the Academy snubbed you out of an Oscar nod. Again.

And apparently Wolfgang Puck is busy on Sunday evening. Already.

That leaves you, your gaggle of pals, and your own creativity to turn this weekend into an award winning celebration – with or without Hollywood’s help.

If you plan on hosting an Oscar Watching Party, there’s no need to go into a Black Swan panic. The recipes below will surely turn you and your treats into the stars of the evening – watch out Anette Benning. And between the top-shelf snacks and your expert analysis of this year’s fashion (or missed-fashion) trends, James Franco is going to wish he had given you his plus one.

But silver screen hunks aside, what makes this list of recipes so darn studly is that each one is ridiculously simple to put together. So go ahead, judge these books by their covers. We all know that in Hollywood, looks count. A lot. And these dishes have got them.

But beneath their beautiful exterior, the real surprise is that they are also packed with a lot of sodium-free flavor. Like an unexpectedly intelligent movie or actress – like Hot Tub Time Machine or Natalie Portman. I’m joking about Hot Tub Time Machine, it is as bad as it sounds. But I hear that Ms. Portman is actually quite smart. But now we are just getting sidetracked.

The first recipe (a new one!) is all about natural flavor. No Botox, no facelifts, no salting necessary. It is a simple Beet and Avocado Carpaccio that can be expertly stacked with the top of a food processor and a spoon. No special tools necessary. Take that, Wolfgang.

Makes 4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 red or yellow beets, ends cut off (64 mg of sodium for 1 large beet)
  • 2 avocados
  • 1 lime

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 dg F.

2. Wrap each beet individually in tin foil. Place in oven and cook for 30-40 minutes or until slightly soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you can comfortably touch the foil, 5 minutes. With the beets still wrapped, use the foil to rub off the outer layer of skin. Place “peeled” beets aside to cool and rinse off foil to save or recycle.

3. While beets cool, cut avocado in half and remove seed and skin. Dice the avocado into small cubes and divide into 4 to 6 piles, depending on how many carpaccio towers you want to create. Divide each pile in half.

4. When they are cool, dice the beets into cubes that are the same size as the avocado. Then, divide them into piles that match the avocado piles. You may have some beets left over so you should eat them. You deserve it.

5. Place the top of the food processor on a cookie sheet or a serving platter. Using a spoon, carefully fill it with one pile of avocado bits. Press down lightly with the bottom of the spoon. Then, layer a pile of beets on top of the avocado, pressing down lightly again. Finally, add a second pile of avocado on top of the beets, pressing down with the spoon as you gently pull up off the food processor top. Ta da. You have a beet carpaccio tower. Repeat until you have made all the towers and if you built them on a cookie sheet, use a spatula to carefully transfer them to a serving dish.

6. Grate some lime zest over the towers and squeeze a bit of the juice on top for added brightness. Serve with salt-free chips or a lightly oiled rocket/arugula salad.

Now that you have mastered that recipe, round out the menu with the following crowd pleasers:

Kalua Pork Lettuce Wraps

Babaganoush Bites

Yuba Rolls

and to finish, Lemon Meringue Pots

So roll out the red carpet and start prepping for an evening of good water cooler fodder and truly satisfying low sodium treats.

Be sure to thank the Academy and your parents, and chow on.

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Look What I Made Wednesday

This one’s for the vegetarians.

As much as I love a hunk of steak and a medium-rare burger that drips with meat juices – and I confess, I am now a proud participant in a beef CSA! – red meat can actually be high in natural sodium.

Three ounces of chuck can land you upwards of 90mg, depending on brand and percentage of fat (other kinds can be much lower). So like any health conscious Jack or Jill, sometimes a beef overload gets the best of you and you want to balance your carnivorous tendencies with occasional herbivore fare.

That’s how we get to the garden burger.

Supposedly packed with vegetables, healthy grains, and less fat, this alternative patty seems like a good choice. It even tastes like a good choice. Especially when piled high with condiments and pickles. But when you look beyond the delightful pictures of tomatoes and leafy greens on the package and catch sight of the nutritional information, you’ll discover that many of these products replace the umami flavor of meat with loads of salt.

Gardenburger’s Original veggie burger contains a whopping 400mg of sodium (and a whole other host of ingredients that don’t seem like they could grow in your garden), and we haven’t even gotten to the bun yet. Which would be another 400mg of sodium and that’s almost a day’s worth of the salty stuff in one measly muesli meal.

But don’t fear. A low sodium veggie version is here. Actually, right here. Like, look below.

This garbanzo based patty (with some surprise ricotta inside) was seared on the outside and moist on the inside – just how you want ’em. I topped it with roasted fennel and peppers and some sauteed arugula. And to really make them special, I used portabella mushrooms as the buns, adding sesame seeds to one of them to look more like bread. Tricky, tricky and suspiciously delicious.

Hopefully you’re drooling over these tasty toadstools. They were incredibly easy to make – thank you Cuisinart – and only require a pan to “grill.” I’m hoping to test out a few other bean-based burgers in the coming weeks, so if you have a favorite recipe or combination, let me know.

And a quick announcement before I sign off for the day: thank you to everyone for participating in the Love Your Heart Recipe Rally! Did you have as much fun as I did? Did you make any of the new recipes? Do you have any new ideas of meals you want to Salt-Free? Post below and let us know!

With that, happy Wednesday. Stay warm and full and as always, chow on.

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Love Your Heart Recipe Rally

I had a dream.

I know. I’m one national holiday too late. But still, I had a dream.

And no, it wasn’t the one where I was flying over buildings or showing up late to school without my pants. Or flying pant-less over buildings to make it to school on time. That would be absurd.

This was a real life dream and something that could impact more than just me and my personal well-being. This was something that had the potential to change people’s approach to food. To health. To life. This was a dream about making bagels, pizza, and bacon wrapped scallops, without the salt. And then encouraging other people to do it too.

Then I woke up, and two weeks ago, I sent out a challenge, a few tweets, and a handful of emails, asking a group of bloggers to do just that – cook a single recipe with little to no sodium.

I asked them to do this because, during this month of February, we are currently celebrating Heart Health month, Valentine’s Day, and the release of the USDA’s new food regulations (which now say that 50% of Americans need to eat 1,500mg of sodium or less a day – about 1/2 a teaspoon of salt).

With all of that going on, I thought we needed to have a cyber party. With lots of food and maybe some festive hats.

And fifteen people responded – enthusiastically – even though none of them have dietary restrictions.

And trust me, none of them took the challenge lightly. To stick to the low so guidelines, they could have simply baked chicken without any salt or blended tomatoes together and called it soup. But instead, because they are all culinary rockstars, they picked recipes that were highly dependent on soy sauce, cheeses, broths, and breads. All ingredients that are high in sodium.

They asked questions; they shared their discoveries (really? there’s sodium in milk!); they began to notice how high sodium is in both packaged and natural ingredients; they found great solutions by thinking beyond the Morton’s box; they withstood ridicule from their wives (sorry Oui, Chef!); they made multiple attempts until things tasted just right; and I think it is fair to say that they even surprised themselves with the salt-free results. I know I’m beyond impressed.

In the end, they created sixteen incredible low sodium dishes for you, me, and America to enjoy.

But beyond the gusto and total generosity they gave to this project, they also proved that, as food-loving, salt-enjoying eaters, low sodium, making satisfying versions of their favorite foods was not only possible, but exciting.

And while I could talk about these bloggers until the end of the day, I think it is time that you leave this page and check out their masterful work. So, without much further ado, let me present to you the first ever Love Your Heart Recipe Rally. There is plenty of good reading and eating to last you through the long weekend.

Hogwash: Curried Cumin Crackers

Taste Food: Red Hot Low Sodium Chicken Wings

Oui, Chef: Curried Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Maple-Ginger Sweet Potatoes and apples

Allison Fishman: Jersey Za’

Farm & A Frying Pan: Low So Sloppy Joe and Chocolate Bark

Mrs. Wheelbarrow: Broccoli and Potatoes, Indian Style

Haute Apple Pie: Heart Healthy Beef and Broccoli

Gina’s Skinny Recipes: Baked Seasoned Fries with Skinny Garlic Aoli

Couldn’t Be Parve: Love Your Heart Chocolate Pudding

Exercise.com: Recovery Water and Power Bar

Shared Bites: Spicy Polenta Chips with Roasted Red Pepper Dip

The Sustainable Palate: Low Sodium, Big Flavor French Onion Soup

Gotham Skinny: Pistachio And Cardamom Cookies

SF Tao of Pao: Mapo Tofu

The Internat (happy birthday!): Granola

Thank you again to our unbelievable low sodium superheroes who went beyond the call of duty (and who, I hope, are all wearing pants). I know that these recipes – and each cook’s own journey – will inspire you and your loved ones to cook food that will feed and fuel your body. And I also hope they inspire you to experiment and innovate on your own as well.

Even with a low sodium diet, there’s nothing you cannot make. It may taste a little different, it may look a little different, but the creativity you will bring to the table will surely please the eye, stomach, kidney, and heart.

And as for my contribution (this is my party and I can cook if I want to), check out the recipe for “Fake’in Wrapped Scall-Nots” below.

Click, read, and chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1 zucchini, thinly sliced length-wise with a mandoline
  • Bowl of ice cold water
  • 2 halibut filets (serves 4 guests, 3 “scallops” each)
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Directions:

1. Mix the curry and brown sugar together in a wide bowl. In a separate bowl, do the same with the cumin and smoked paprika.

2. Bring a small pot of water to boil and quickly blanche the zucchini ribbons, 1-2 minutes. Immediately remove from pot and dunk them into the cold water bath, 3-4 minutes. Remove from water and tap to shake off extra liquid. Roll the zucchini ribbons in the cumin/paprika bowl until well covered. Set aside.

3. Using a tablespoon scoop, press down lightly on the halibut filet (start in the corner, like cutting cookies from dough). Trace the shape with a knife to cut out scallop-like rounds. Repeat until you’ve created 3 scallops per guest.

4. Dredge the halibut rounds in the curry/brown sugar mixture. Make sure both sides are covered.

5. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into three equal ribbons – the width should be about the height of the halibut scallop. Repeat until you have enough ribbons for each piece of fish.

6. Wrap the zucchini ribbon around the halibut and secure with a toothpick. Repeat until all the halibut scallops are wrapped.

7. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high flame. Add the halibut rounds to the pan in a single layer and cook, 5-8 minutes per side or until halibut has a golden sear. Remove halibut and set aside.

8. Just before serving, place all the halibut scallops on a cookie sheet and cook in your oven’s broiler (on low) for 3- 5 minutes.

9. Remove from oven and immediately serve over something luscious, like white wine cream sauce, or something super healthy, like a vibrant pea puree. Enjoy.

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Filed under breakfast, brunch, dinner, improbable eats, lunch, quick fix, recipe box, sweets

Look What I Made Wednesday

There’s a storm coming.

It’s true. California has been blessed lately with gorgeous, sunny weather (a little freaky since it is February). But that’s all about to change. Cause there is a storm on its way. Heading this way. At this very moment. At least that’s what Al Roker told me. And how do you not trust Al Roker?

But as for the gale force winds and torrential downpour everyone is expecting…well, these aren’t exactly the kind of storms that concern me.

Instead, my keen El Nino eyes are locked on the incoming flour tornados, soup explosions, meaty hail, and noodle thunder. That’s because my kitchen has turned into a culinary climate system of its very own.

At least three or four days a week, I’m averaging at least four to five new recipes. So the storm that’s coming? Well I guess I am responsible for it. I’m definitely cooking up a big one.

But what does this have to do with that sassy post title (can you tell I am the baby in the family?) or those sexy (yeah, that’s the word you were thinking of too) fried veggie nuggets?

Well as the storm is brewing and stewing, I am relentlessly recording my successes and failures with my camera. And I am desperate to share them with you all. But there is one caveat. I cannot give away the recipes. Not yet. Things like this tempura and the pad thai and ranch dressing I have spoken about before will all be in my cookbook coming out next fall (NEXT FALL!). Until then, mums the word, cooks the verb, and suspense will build.

In the meantime, though, I thought I could let you in on half of the secret and at least show you all the good treats you can look forward to noshing on next year. It will whet your appetite and maybe inspire you to take on some projects of your own. Or maybe it will even motivate you to email me with other ideas of foods you’d love to have, in a low sodium version.

I mean, if this

can turn into this

I’m pretty sure anything is possible. Like floods of thai coconut soup and cotton candy clouds. Oh wouldn’t that be nice. If only global warming was turning the world into one giant chocolate fondue pot. Le sigh.

So please devour these photos with your eyes and get excited about all the impossible eats that I will divulge in full detail in just over a year. And look forward to recipes, tips, and tricks every Monday and Friday to fill that empty space in your heart and stomach.

And if you still want more, well I got it for you. Because on Friday, fifteen amazing bloggers will give you fifteen new, unbelievable Love Your Heart Recipe Rally recipes, like low sodium “Goldfish” crackers, French onion soup, energy bars, and more.

With that, it’s high time to put on my high waters and brave this wacky world. And while I don’t believe in umbrellas, I think I’ll bring a bag with me, just in case these high pollen counts turn into threads of saffron and the drizzling rain transforms into meatballs.

Stay dry. Stay warm. Chow on.

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Cute As A Cupcake

Last Friday, as soon as 5:00pm hit the clock, it was clearly the hour for happy hour. I rushed home, curled my hair, curled my lashes, and put on that favorite pair of jeans (not to be outdone by the high-heeled boots). TGIFriday had barely commenced, and I was already out on the town, painting it red. Or green. Or whatever color means that you are taking this city by storm and no one can stop you.

Which would be great if any part of that was true. Because by 5:00pm on Friday, I was actually stuck in traffic after a long day of doctor appointments, wearing the same sweatpants that I had already “donned” a few days that week, with hair that may or may not have been brushed (I’m gonna go with not), flowing in a tornado of frizz behind me.

And when I actually got home and attempted to put myself together, which consisted of brushing my teeth with that last squeeze of toothpaste that I had to really work for, I didn’t actually paint the town anything. But instead, I spent my evening frosting cupcakes with my dear friend, making three dozen Dora the Explorer look-alikes for her niece’s 3rd birthday party.

Yeah, that was my Friday. And I don’t feel bad about it one bit. Not one speck of edible glitter. Because while going out was/is/can be super fun, so is sitting in your sweatpants and licking frosting from a spoon with a real pal who doesn’t care that you smell just a little bit.

With that, I give you a recipe for sodium-free chocolate cupcakes that was created for me, by my darling little sister-in-law, who still has years of curled hair and hot pants ahead of her. So while she’s out doing her thing, I’ll just sit back on my couch, catch up on the last few episodes of Glee, and enjoy a few of these.

Chow on.

makes 12

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder (sodium-free brand)
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with paper or foil cupcake liners.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt-free baking powder.

3. Place the chocolate and butter in a large, heatproof bowl and put over a pot of simmer water (this is your double boiler). Stir frequently until melted and smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove the bowl and let it cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.

4. Using a wooden spoon, stir the sugar into the chocolate mixture until combined. Stir in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, and then mix in the vanilla.

5. Gently fold the flour mixture into your chocolate, sugar, egg mixture until no traces of flour remain. Do not overmix.

6. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cupcake liners until each is 3/4 full.

7. Put into oven and bake until you can insert a toothpick into the center of the cupcake and it comes out clean, with only a few crumbs attached, 20-25 minutes.

8. Allow the cupcakes to completely cool on a wire rack, 1 hour, and then garnish with salt-free buttercream frosting or powdered sugar.

 

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Big Love, Big News, Big Treats

Love food. Love others. But most of all, love yourself.

That’s the message of today’s post and my attempt to tie three big topics together under one little photo of a chocolate covered quinoa treat.

To begin, I wanted to give a quick update about next week’s “Love Your Heart Recipe Rally.”

(BIG LOVE)

Yes, the whole idea was a bit last minute, but amazingly, in just a few days, some wonderful bloggers – none of whom have any low sodium dietary restrictions – have joined the Rally and have agreed to take on the challenge of cooking food with little to no salt.

Kind of heart warming, don’t you think?

Currently, the star-studded blog roll includes:

Farm & A Frying Pan

SF Tao of Pao

Jess Thomson

Allison Fishman

Taste Food

Oui, Chef

Mrs. Wheelbarrow

Haute Apple Pie

Gina’s Skinny Recipes (the winner of the Homie awards!)

Couldn’t Be Parve

Exercise for Everyday

Shared Bites

The Sustainable Palate

And hopefully, by next Friday, we will grab a few more participants to really blow this event out of the water.

But beyond the unexpected and enthusiastic replies, the thing that has been most exciting is talking with people who have never cooked low sodium food before. I have been cooking without salt for so long that I have, in many ways, forgotten how overwhelming it can seem. I mean, for those who have earned their culinary degrees by watching food shows or reading cookbooks, making a meal without salt seems absolutely preposterous! And boring.

Yet, the absolute opposite is true. By removing the salt, you are forced to be creative, original, and innovative. You are forced to be a great cook. You are forced to become a force to be reckoned with. And isn’t that the point of cooking and eating? To take the classics and riff and raff until you’ve made it your own? To surprise your palate with combinations you never expected? Isn’t that why we love shows like Top Chef and Iron Chef and Salt-Free Chef. Oh wait, that last one isn’t a show. Yet.

(BIG NEWS)

The point is that yes, we love cooking because it is an outlet for creativity. And while we patiently wait for a low sodium cooking show to be broadcast on national television, we’ll just have to settle for the good word to spread in print and on the interweb. And this week, I’m excited to announce that Ladies Home Journal gave me the opportunity to promote my low sodium philosophy.

You see, I recently realized that cooking without salt is very similar to playing (and dominating) a game of charades and I wrote about this little metaphor, as well as my own cooking metamorphosis, on the Ladies Home Journal Ladie’s Lounge Blog. So if you want to know what silently impersonating Oprah has to do with making a low sodium sloppy joe, then check out this link. Hopefully, you’ll be inspired to put on your apron, or at least host a game night for your friends. Either way, it’s a win-win situation

It is just a friendly reminder to approach your diet less as a restriction and more as an opportunity to do something whimsical, different, and delicious. Like covering quinoa with chocolate. And that brings us to our third and final topic of the day. These crazy Quinoa Cocoa Bites.

(BIG TREATS)

I have been craving the crispy rice pop of Nestlé Crunch candy bars and in a search for a low sodium alternative, I happened upon these quinoa chocolate bars from Alter Eco. I also happened to have a few Alter Eco Chocolate Orange bars of my own as well as a fresh bag of quinoa. And suddenly, one plus one equaled a dessert that was completely guilt-free, dreamy, and as simple as making a box of Sara Lee brownies.

With that, happy almost Valentine’s Day, which in my mind is less about fancy pants reservations at a decadent restaurant and more about filling your stomach and life with the people and food that make you feel really good. But I’ll take that fancy pants reservation too, if you’re offering, that is.

Chow on.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • 2 chocolate bars (preferably with orange flavor)

Directions:

1. Put quinoa and 3/4 cups of water into a pot and bring to a boil. Then, lower heat so water is gently simmering and cover the pot. Cook for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and remove cover. Stir the quinoa and add a pinch more water if any of the grains are stuck to the bottom. Quinoa should be cooked but crunchy. Set the pot aside.

2. Turn the oven broiler on low. Spread quinoa on a cookie sheet and put into oven. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until quinoa is crispy.

3. In a double boiler (or a microwave), melt the two bars of chocolate. Stir constantly to make sure that the chocolate doesn’t burn.

4. Meanwhile, set up your treat-making station. Silicone cupcake cups or little bowls are easiest to use. In each, mix a tablespoon of quinoa and two tablespoons of chocolate in the cup. I used a chopstick to do the stirring. And make sure the chocolate is spread throughout. You want the quinoa to be covered on all sides. Then, put the cups or bowls in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes.

5. When ready to eat, pry the treats out of the cups or bowls and serve immediately so they melt in your mouth and not on your carpet.

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