I’m in the home stretch, friends. Manuscript is due on Monday which means that, although I love hanging out with you, we’re going to have to make this visit quick today because I have a boatload of writing to finish. Although if my editor is reading this post, have no fear, I am totally on schedule! 😉
I accept with gratitude the privilege of growing older, so I don’t want to complain about it. But. Every 5 years or so, I get away with less and less with respect to what I can eat. Sure, I could exercise more. But I’m kind of busy and I already exercise a healthy amount. One of those foods that is over for me is the bagel.
Bagels are nothing anyone really needs in his or her life. They are completely devoid of nutrition and loaded with simple carbohydrates (and I mean loaded) which turn into sugar lickety split (and then the pro-inflammatory hormone insulin surges and fat gets stored.) Even if I were to exercise like a maniac to burn off so many carbs, there’s the fact that I don’t feel great after eating a bagel.
I thought since I am vacationing in the Mediterranean with my family for three weeks, I would post some new recipes that complemented my travels. When I return (if I ever return!), I will definitely write up my itinerary and any do’s and don’t’s which I learned that might be helpful for your planning purposes.
If you’ve hung around this blog long enough, you’ve read that Mediterranean food is my favorite. It’s my comfort zone. It’s exactly the way I like to eat – fresh, seasonal, organic food, mostly veggies, legumes and whole grains, olive oil, more fish than meat, a little sheep or goat cheese and yogurt,. Mediterranean cuisine is also considered to be among the most healthful in the world. More importantly, I think the food is just downright delicious, but simple. Of course in order for simple food to taste amazing, each ingredient has to be the best.
This is where sometimes we have trouble duplicating something we’ve eaten, even if we have the exact recipe. For example, there’s no secret Greek salad recipe. I have made and eaten a lot of them in my life, some forgettable and some outstanding. It just comes down to the ingredients that were used.
Chicken Souvlaki is an easy, light dinner I can pull together quickly and one that I know everyone will eat. It’s basically a grilled, marinated chicken and veggie kabob, which I love to serve with a very tasty cucumber-yogurt sauce called Tzatziki. My family likes to eat it with grilled pita bread (which is literally store-bought pita that I put on the grill just to get a few char marks) or garlic rice. You can also serve the kabob over a Greek salad which would make for a great light summer dinner.
Check out my recent Instagram and facebook pictures from Greece and Turkey. We will be finishing off our trip next week in Venice and then Lake Garda, so expect some Italian recipes soon!
1 ¼ pounds boneless-skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 2-inch cubes
2 Persian cucumbers, chopped or coarsely grated (personal preference)
1 cup full fat Greek yogurt (Straus makes a great organic one)
½ Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint or dill (optional)
8 small plum tomatoes, halved (or large ones quartered)
½ small red onion, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 whole-wheat pitas (optional)
Whisk together lemon zest, 1 ½ Tablespoons lemon juice, 1 grated clove of garlic, oregano, thyme, 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. Add the chicken, and toss to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes or refrigerated, covered, for up to 6 hours.
Meanwhile make the tzatziki sauce: Stir together the remaining lemon juice and garlic, the cucumber, yogurt, vinegar, herbs (if using) and ½ teaspoon salt. Refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.
Heat the grill to medium-high. Thread the chicken, tomatoes, and onion onto 6 skewers. Brush with remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, and season with pepper.
Grill skewers, turning, until browned on all sides and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Grill pitas until charred, about 2 minutes per side.
Serve skewers with charred pitas and tzatziki sauce.
*Not all skewers are the same size. This recipe would probably make 8 9 ½-inch bamboo skewers.
When I was about 10 years old, I decided I disliked beef and poultry enough that I would give them up for good. I was a pre-teen pescatarian, limiting my “animal” consumption to fish alone which created a bit of anxiety for my parents. The concern was that I wouldn’t get enough protein since I was still growing. Of course I was quite fine since I ate plenty of eggs, cheese, yogurt, legumes and nuts in addition to fish once a week. But I have always preferred seafood to animal protein, even to this day.
Then I met a cute boy in college who asked me out to dinner and I said yes and he took me to a…steak house. Hmmmmm……..A cute boy is a cute boy, so off I went. Ironically, the boy was a meat and poultry-eater, but not a fish eater. Opposites attract, I thought. Or hoped. That night I had my first bite of steak in many years and I actually thought it was delicious. Not delicious enough to turn me into a full-fledged carnivore, but I did continue to eat a little beef and chicken until very recently when I decided, once again, that I just don’t like beef at all and I only like chicken enough to have a bite. After all these years, I’m still a fish girl.
If you’ve hung around this blog long enough, you know that I married “the boy” and I’ve turned him on to almost all fish, except salmon. Once in a while he’ll have a bite to be nice, but he just can’t get into it. We tell the kids he’s “allergic.” But I absolutely love wild salmon and believe it or not, so does Mr. Picky! (“Love” might be a strong word, admittedly, but he always eats it.) We both think it’s delicious and since it’s so rich in important Omega-3 fats and a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin, I like to find new ways to make it. (By the way, this is not the case with farm-raised salmon. Not healthy for you and bad for the environment.)
Slow roasting salmon is practically the only way I have cooked salmon in the last year. I just taught this method in my classes last month and everyone was so excited it. By cooking the salmon at a super low temperature (250 degrees) for a longer period of time, the fat just kind of melts into the fish and you don’t dry it out the way you might at 400 degrees which can cause the proteins to seize up a bit. I find wild fish to be a little tricky to get just right where it’s still moist and succulent, as opposed to tough and dry. Slow roasting is a dream and results in the most velvety salmon! Plus a bonus is that at such a low temp, you don’t damage the delicate Omega-3 fats. My son says he also likes this method because the house never smells like fish afterwards. It’s truly the perfect way to cook wild salmon!
Like I told my classes last month, this recipe is more about trying the technique of slow roasting and it’s not about the mango salsa here. I serve slow roasted salmon with lots of different salsas (try this one with corn and black beans), sauces ( I like this one with dill and cucumbers), dressings, or just a squeeze of citrus. Since it’s wild salmon season right now, I bet you can get your hands on some fantastic fish. I normally buy my wild salmon during the year from vitalchoice.com which ships it frozen on dry ice. It’s the best quality fish I can find. But starting in May, Grow in Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica Seafood have outstanding salmon and I haven’t been disappointed.
Needless to say, I will not be making salmon on Sunday for Father’s Day, but you certainly can. I guarantee, slow roasting is a game-changer!
Slow Roasted Wild Salmon with Mango-Cucumber Salsa
For the salsa:
½ cup diced cucumber (If you use a variety like Persian or Hothouse, you can leave the seeds and skin on.)
1 mango, firm, but ripe, peeled and diced
½ jalapeno, minced, seeds removed for less heat
1 scallion, finely chopped or 3 Tablespoons finely diced red onion (this measurement is really according to taste)
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped (tender stems are ok)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
24 ounce fillet of wild salmon*(leave out of refrigerator 20 minutes before roasting)
unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the salmon on the baking sheet and drizzle with enough olive oil to coat the top of the fish lightly. You can use your hands to oil the fish. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper to taste.
Bake for 25-35 minutes or until center of salmon is rare and starting to flake when you poke it with a paring knife. The amount of time it takes to cook the salmon perfectly depends on the temperature of the fish when you place it in the oven and the thickness of the fish.
While the salmon cooks, prepare the salsa. Mix all the salsa ingredients in a medium nonreactive bowl and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve salmon warm, room temperature or cold with salsa.
*If you use individual fillets, adjust cook time accordingly. 6 ounce fillets will take approximately 20 minutes.
If you’re really not sure if the salmon is done, you can roast until the thickest part registers 125 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
Thank heavens for the smoothie. When one of my teenage daughters oversleeps and has “no time” for breakfast, I can throw in the blender an assortment of fruits, vegetables and things that don’t normally go with fruits and vegetables (like hemp seeds or almond butter) and we’ve got a balanced meal in seconds. The smoothie is something even a 10-year-old like Mr. Picky can make by himself, and he does almost daily. His favorite is a combination of frozen banana, strawberry, pineapple, yogurt, coconut water, coconut butter and a squirt of Barleans Mango Omega Swirl. He even makes smoothies for his friends when they come over. So cute.
I love making smoothies at home, because I can control what goes into them, especially the sweetener. I rarely order smoothies in restaurants because I find them to be too sweet. And I’m not falling for what Jamba Juice considers a smoothie. Anything blended with frozen yogurt or sherbet is basically a fruity milkshake and it is not breakfast material.
I saw this recipe on Joy the Baker a while back and it made me think of flavored waters which I like to have on hand in the summer. (Just take a pitcher of water and toss in some cucumber slices or strawberries or watermelon or even pineapple rinds. Mint is fun to add in, too.) I loved this smoothie instantly. It felt like something I would have at a spa, and I sure don’t go to spas often enough! There isn’t an overwhelming flavor of cucumber, it’s so subtle. The smoothie feels lightly sweet and super refreshing.
I prepare this several different ways. Almond milk makes it creamy, and coconut water keeps it light and fresh, more like spa water. I don’t usually add extra sweetener to mine, but the kids like it a tad sweeter. Honey or even pitted dates work beautifully. And if I have fresh ginger on hand, I love to add a little for an extra special kick. Ginger is incredibly anti-inflammatory and so great for digestion. Cucumber is one of the most alkalizing foods and terrific for the skin. And strawberries are rich in Vitamin C and other powerful phytonutrients. Total beauty smoothie here!
The only missing from this smoothie is protein, so I wouldn’t consider this a meal. But if you did want to include protein, I would throw in protein powder (keep in mind most are sweetened), hemp or chia seeds, or use yogurt instead of the almond milk. Yogurt is more tart than almond milk, so you might need to add a little sweetener to balance it out. If you’re tired of your same-old-same-old smoothie, give this one a try and get glowing!
Very often I have an idea for a recipe and it takes me a few times to get it right. In fact, usually it takes me more than a few times! But once in a blue moon, I try something on the fly and I love it on the spot, like culinary love at first bite. That’s what happened with this salad. Last year I was putting together a Mexican-inspired menu for my April classes and I was trying to think of a fresh and easy salad to teach. I wanted something clean and healthful with all the ingredients I love to use when I make Mexican food, but without it tasting like a taco salad. I happen to adore chopped salads, so off I went with crisp romaine lettuce, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, pinto beans, avocado and my favorite part, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds.) I made a very light dressing with apple cider vinegar, orange juice and enough cumin to give it that south-of-the-border flavor.
On that day of recipe testing at home last year, I nearly ate the entire salad. Whereas this salad may not win any awards for sophistication, what in the world is not to love? Not only does this salad look gorgeous, it is addictive and crunchy and juicy and creamy. You know how I love a crunchy-creamy combo. Since then, I have made this salad virtually every time we were invited to a pot luck or backyard barbeque. The beauty of this salad, besides being a giant bowl of antioxidants, vitamins and fiber, is that it can prepped almost entirely in advance. Chopped veggies go into a serving bowl with dressing in a jar and avocados to be cut just before serving. If you’re vegan, vegetarian or if you’re like me and you’re going to a party where you fear there might be non-organic meat, I think this can easily be a main course salad on it’s own. The pinto beans and pumpkin seeds offer more than enough protein. Although my husband is a bit of a carnivore and loves this salad with grilled chicken chopped in. Shrimp works great, too.
Fast forward a year later when I taught this salad again a few days ago. My assistant and I each grabbed a bit in a cup to go and crunched our way home, wishing we had had bigger cups. I know you’ll love this salad just as much as I do.
If you’re looking for more Cinco de Mayo inspiration, check out these favorites:
3 Tablespoons raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
¾ teaspoon ground cumin
1 ¼ teaspoons fine grain sea salt + additional to taste
a few grinds of black pepper
1 Tablespoon raw honey
½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
1 head butter or romaine lettuce, chopped, about 8 cups
2 cups chopped red cabbage
1½ cups or 1 15-ounce can cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups diced cucumbers (I like Persian), unpeeled, large seeds scooped out
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 small avocados or 2 large, pitted, peeled and cubed
½ cup pepitas – toasted in a dry skillet and drizzled with ½ teaspoon olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt
Make the dressing: whisk first five ingredients in a small bowl. Add olive oil and whisk completely until emulsified. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
Combine lettuce and cabbage in a large bowl. Add pinto beans, cucumber and cherry tomatoes. Toss with enough dressing to coat lightly. Drizzle a little dressing on avocados and gently mix into the salad. Sprinkle pepitas on top. If you have additional dressing, save in the refrigerator for another time.
There's enough dressing that you can probably add a bit more cabbage or other veggies.
If you cut back on the oil by about 2-3 Tablespoons, the dressing makes a great marinade for grilled chicken or shrimp. Both would be nice on top of the salad, although there is adequate protein from the beans and pepitas.
So Miss Vegetarian (aka Daughter #2) has decided that she isn’t as opposed to meat as she once declared. You might remember back in April that my 12-year-old announced her abstinence from all animal flesh and whole eggs. She would have been vegan if it weren’t for her love of cheese and ice cream. I have no problem with vegetarianism since I was one for many years. You’ve gotta do what’s good for you. But I had a hunch that my daughter wouldn’t make it to 13 as a vegetarian. Call it mother’s intuition or maybe just the vivid image I still have of her gnawing on a t-bone until it was dry.
So the recent announcement from Daughter #2 is that she has decided that she is only fish-averse. Is that the opposite of a pescatarian? Well, bummer, because that’s the one animal protein I was hoping she would come back to. I love fish, especially salmon, and I have always been so grateful that my family enjoys it, even Mr. Picky. Well, except for my husband, who is “allergic” to salmon, but will eat most all other varieties.
One of my favorite ways of preparing salmon is poaching. My husband likes when I poach fish because he says it doesn’t make the house smell “fishy,” but I like it because it is ridiculously quick and easy and a very healthful way of preserving all the wonderful Omega-3 fats in salmon. In the summer poaching is a no-brainer because it’s a perfect alternative to grilling, which you are all doing too much of. You can poach your salmon in the morning and serve it cold for dinner or use the poached fish on top of an entree salad or turn it into salmon salad for a sandwich. My kids prefer poached salmon slightly warm and they looove this cucumber-yogurt sauce, which is creamy, cool and slightly tangy. I have also served poached salmon with a salsa of fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil.
Many of my students have asked me if I continue to eat wild fish after the nuclear event in Japan, and I still do. My friends at Vital Choice Seafood have addressed the issue to my satisfaction and that’s that. I am honestly more concerned about consuming farm raised seafood. I’m sure there are sustainable fish farms out there, but I don’t have time to go look for them. In the meantime, I am comfortable eating wild salmon once per week and Daughter #2 can just have her cucumber-yogurt sauce with a spoon.
Citrus Poached Wild Salmon with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce
Serves: 4-6, depending on how big you cut the salmon
1 ½ cups dry white wine
3 cups water
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ orange
½ lemon, sliced
½ orange, sliced
Few sprigs of parsley
Few sprigs of dill
1 24-ounce side of wild salmon, cut into individual portions
Sea salt to taste
Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce (recipe follows)
Place all the ingredients except salmon, salt and sauce in a deep skillet, preferably one with straight sides and a lid. (I used a 10-inch.) Bring to a simmer.
Season salmon with sea salt to taste. Gently transfer the salmon pieces to the pan, skin side down, beginning with the thickest pieces and ending with the thinnest. Cover the skillet and simmer over low heat until the salmon is just cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, longer for thicker fillets. Do not boil.
Transfer the salmon by removing the thinnest piece first and the thickest piece last. Allow to cool slightly and serve immediately with cucumber-yogurt sauce or cover and refrigerate until cold.
¾ cup Greek yogurt (I like full fat.)
½ cup grated unpeeled cucumber, such as Persian, Japanese or English
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill or mint
1 small clove garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons drained capers
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar
¾ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
a few grinds of black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a small serving bowl. Cover and chill until cold.