This was originally published in January 2014, but I have been making it again on the regular and thought the website needed updated photos!
You know what is just the worst? Getting sick. Life is great until you feel horrible. I think most of us run around like maniacs until we’re so wiped out while our poor bodies are trying to tell us to slooooooow down and get some rest. First it’s a little whisper like feeling so tired. But we don’t listen. Then we get a sore throat. We don’t listen. Then our bodies have to whack us over the head with a crazy cold and body aches until we have no other choice but to stay in bed. A friend of mine who came down with a bad cold said to me the other day,”If I just spent a little time in bed resting when I wasn’t sick, maybe I would have stayed healthy!” I think she’s onto something.Continue reading
I just returned home from a beautiful vacation on Long Island with my family. It’s always my favorite week of the year and I enjoy the time even more when the weather is perfection like it was last week (barring the crazy 30-minute quasi-tornado on Tuesday morning.) I try to visit my parents in August rather than earlier in the summer because my father’s vegetable gardens are much more abundant now. I think one of the best, most rewarding things in life is to be able to grow your own food. On so many levels it’s good for you and good for the earth.
It can be very confusing to know what’s in season these days since we can buy virtually anything at any time. But if you’ve ever gardened, you know that certain vegetables are planted during certain times of the year. When I was growing up, I knew strawberries were only around for a short time so I would eat as many as humanly possible to take advantage of nature’s little springtime gift. Same with tomatoes. In fact, my mother loves telling me the story of when I was little and I ate so many unripe green tomatoes out of my father’s garden that I made myself sick. I guess you can have too much of a good thing.
Here’s a newsflash for some people: bell peppers are a summer vegetable. Sure you can buy them all year, but they’ll be imported and likely not organic. Another newsflash is that bell peppers are usually on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of most highly contaminated produce, so I always buy organic or not at all. Yikes. Now I look back and thank my lucky stars my father grew lots of peppers without pesticides.
Sweet bell peppers have a soft spot in my heart because they were one of Mr. Picky’s first “approved” vegetables. I can even remember the day he tried a stick of raw red bell pepper and said, “Hey, this is good! It’s juicy!” Munch, crunch. Then I went overboard trying to put sweet bell peppers in everything because I thought they were my ticket to broadening his limited palate. Well my strategy didn’t exactly work. But I’m glad I went pepper-crazy because I found this recipe for Parmesan peppers and it has become a favorite.
Parmesan peppers is one of the easiest and tastiest side dishes. It gets multiple flavor boosts from garlic, thyme, lemon and Parmesan cheese, although I often use Pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese. It’s true that my son prefers his bell peppers raw (“juicy and crunchy”), I prefer the sweeter flavor and silky texture from roasted peppers. One sliver of these peppers wrapped around a bite of fish or roasted chicken is just delicious. And if you can find two (or even three) colors of peppers, this is a really beautiful side dish. And I repeat, easy!
So the big question is, does Mr. Picky eat this? And the answer is, almost. What does that mean? Like most kids, he’s slow to come around to vegetables and he likes to try things on his own terms. It’s annoying for sure, but it is pretty normal. So the first couple of times I made this, he was like “no way I’m eating that.” He did have the obligatory taste, but nothing more after that. More recently, he has eaten an entire piece and declared, “it’s pretty good, but I’m fine with one piece, thanks.” The last time he had one piece and said, “it’s good and I’m pretty sure I’ll eat more next time.” Welcome to my world!
While there are no guarantees in life, these peppers have always been a hit with everyone else who has tried them, including my two daughters. What I do know for sure is that summer and local peppers won’t be around forever, so do enjoy them while you can.
You see that beautiful piece of fish down there? That is my idea of a perfect dinner — simple, healthy, light, delicious, seasonal, easy-to-make. If my family didn’t thrive on an ever-changing dinner menu, I would love to eat this twice a week with a fresh salad and a glass of rosé. Perfect.
Fish in parchment is easier than it looks and one of the most healthful ways to cook fish. I have taught and posted two other fish in parchment recipes which you may have tried, one with cilantro and ginger and the second with summer herbs. Both are delicious and perfect when you want something light in the summer.
The basic idea when you’re cooking in parchment, is to use ingredients that all cook pretty quickly and at the same rate. Make sure that parchment is tightly sealed and you’ll create a little steam oven in that packet. I always make sure the fish is well-seasoned with salt and pepper and that I add a smidge of fat, either butter or olive oil for flavor, and then there are lots of possibilities.
Once I see those first local tomatoes at the farmers market, I start going a little tomato-crazy. I especially love cherry tomatoes because they are always so sweet. In this recipe, you can’t beat the combination with the sautéed garlic, salty capers and olives and zingy white wine. I would eat this with a simple rice pilaf or quinoa salad or a raw zucchini salad. My family would probably love a little pasta with pesto to go with it.
I have taught this recipe in my cooking classes many, many times and sometimes I added some raw baby spinach leaves under the fish. The spinach wilts beautifully and tastes delicious with all the other ingredients. Shaved zucchini slices would also be perfect, but you could also add vegetables to the packet like blanched (not raw) green beans or slivers of roasted peppers.
Of course, if there are ingredients in the recipe you don’t care for, feel free to omit. After I finish going over a recipe in my class, I take a few minutes to talk about substitutions. Questions about how to change the recipe are the most common questions that come up — how do I make this gluten-free? My husband won’t eat anything with onion. I hate olives. Etc, etc. I give you permission to take out the olives if you want.
1 Tablespoon unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 Tablespoons capers, drained
a handful of mixed fresh herbs (I like to use mostly parsley with a little basil and mint mixed in), if you have them or sprigs of fresh thyme
½ teaspoon sea salt + extra for seasoning fish
a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper to taste + extra for seasoning fish
4 filets of wild halibut or sole
4 teaspoons unsalted butter or unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
8 teaspoons dry white wine
4 12-inch squares of unbleached parchment
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Add sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is fragrant and almost golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, capers and fresh herbs, salt and pepper.
Arrange each piece of fish in the center of the parchment paper and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.
Top each filet with a fourth of the tomato mixture, 1 teaspoon of butter or oil, and 2 teaspoons wine.
Bring 2 opposite sides of the parchment together and fold. Continue to fold all the way down until you reach the fish. Twist both ends of the parchment so that it looks like a hard candy wrapper. Repeat for each piece of fish. Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes based on the thickness of the fish.
Transfer each packet to a plate and use caution when opening – the steam will be very hot!
Sometimes I like to add a handful of baby spinach leaves to the parchment before topping with the fish.
One day I woke up and decided I had to have falafel. Falafel are deep-fried balls of pulsed chickpeas blended with herbs, onion and garlic. Sometimes they are made with a combination of broad beans and chickpeas and sometimes that contain a lot of herbs which make them rather green on the inside. They’re so tasty and a great high-protein, vegetarian food that you can eat in a sandwich or on a salad or dipped into a sauce. My family and I love falafel and one day I just had such a craving for them. I wanted the works — pita bread, tahini sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickled radishes.
But the fact that falafel are deep-fried is a major turn-off to me, especially food that is deep-fried in a restaurant, as opposed to at my house, because restaurants use and re-use the same low-quality oil over and over again. Deep-fried foods are just a big plate of inflammation, bad for digestion, bad for the heart, bad for the blood, bad for the skin, just B.A.D. Knowing how awful deep-fried foods are is a little bit of a curse because it’s hard for me to enjoy them, even in moderation. But I wanted to make real, authentic falafel that I would un-authetically bake. So naturally I went on Youtube to learn how to make them. Sure there are plenty of blogs with falafel recipes, but a lot of these recipes are not the real deal. For the real deal, I watched falafel-making videos from Israel and I learned everything I needed to know and then some!
For example, falafel are made with raw, soaked chickpeas, not canned. The texture is a bit crumbly, not a mashed potato patty. There are no eggs in falafel. And after watching a few videos of expert falafel-makers, I really wished I had a meat grinder (which is what most of them use) to process the all the ingredients into the perfect texture. But my food processor was good enough and the next day (because I let my chickpeas soak 24 hours), we enjoyed very delicious, healthy baked falafel. And although falafel has a bit of oiliness from frying, I didn’t even notice the absence of oil since I smothered the patties with a delicious tahini sauce.
My son, who is known to be a tad picky, devours anywhere from 6-10 falafel at dinner when I make them. For sure he loves to eat them in pita, especially if the pita is homemade and warm from the oven (I used this Martha Stewart Living recipe with success.) But he (and we) is just as happy wrapping a few falafel in a big lettuce leaf with some sauce. Falafel make the perfect Meatless Monday dinner since they contain lots of protein from the chickpeas and the tahini sauce. You can also make them spicier with an extra pinch of cayenne. If I know I’m going to have a crazy afternoon, I’ll make the sauce and shape the falafel in the morning and bake them at the end of the day for a really easy dinner. Add some lettuce and tomatoes for a simple dinner or go the extra mile with pickled vegetables, pita, and some grilled eggplant.
Even though I am really against deep frying and I had great results baking these, you can certainly “sauté” these falafel in a skillet with some olive oil until golden and crisp on both sides. It is a much faster way to cook these and they will have a little bit more of an authentic greasiness. But the baked version does it for me just fine. I hope you’ll give them a try!
1 ¾ cup dried chickpeas (do NOT use canned chickpeas)
2 medium cloves garlic
1 cup chopped onion (about 1 small onion)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 ¾ teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup chopped parsley (or mix with chopped cilantro)
¼ cup whole wheat pastry flour or GF flour blend or chickpea flour
unrefined cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil for brushing the pan and the falafel
½ cup tahini
⅓ cup – ½ cup warm water to achieve right consistency and depending on the bitterness of the tahini
1 medium garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Put dried chickpeas in a bowl and cover with water by a few inches. Soak 12-24 hours, making sure chickpeas stay completely submerged in water the entire time.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with unbleached parchment paper and grease the paper with olive oil.
Drain the chickpeas, and add to a food processor with garlic, onion, spices, salt and pepper, baking soda, lemon juice, parsley and flour. (Use a meat grinder if you have one.) Pulse the mixture, scraping down the sides as necessary, until it looks like couscous. The mixture will be quite crumbly.
Form the mixture into about 20 balls, 1 ½ inches each. Press down on the tops to flatten them into thick patties. You can add a little extra flour if they are not holding together. Place them on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with oil.
Bake for 15 minutes on each side or until golden. You can fry them in oil, as well (not as healthy.)
Blend all the sauce ingredients in a blender adjusting water to achieve right consistency. You want a thin sauce.
Serve falafel with tahini sauce in a pita or lettuce leaves. Chopped tomato and cucumber salad is a nice accompaniment.
Such a bold claim I am making today with this flank steak recipe! But that’s what Mr. Picky himself declared when I made this the first time many years ago. And that’s what my nieces and nephews say when I cook this up for my family in the summertime. As you know, I actually don’t even eat red meat, but I have tried this and I have to admit… it’s delicious! I figured with Memorial Day weekend coming up (so excited to have a long weekend!), you might have invited a few friends over and are looking for the perfect grilled steak recipe. This is it right here. I also taught this in my classes a couple years ago and everyone loved it. The ingredients are simple, you marinate it in the morning and it cooks up very quickly on the grill. The marinade is what makes it so delicious and I especially love marinating grass-fed meat with a little soy sauce or tamari which really helps tenderize it. Yum!
As opposed to me, my family loves beef, so I do cook it for them a few times a month. I have talked about why I don’t think we should be overeating red meat on the blog before, and I have discussed my reasons for ONLY choosing grass-fed beef when I do buy it. My opinion hasn’t changed at all. When I do make animal protein for the family, it’s a small amount, usually 2-4 ounces. Yes, even my husband eats that amount. And if grass-fed isn’t available, I won’t buy corn-fed. So if you’re going to eat beef — not a lot and make it grass-fed!
I have made this recipe two different ways. In my classes, I pre-sliced the flank steak and marinated it already cut. The advantage of this method is that it cooks super fast, about a minute per side and the marinade really gets throughout the meat. If you’ve read my post about how to reduce your carcinogens when you grill, you’ll also remember one of the best strategies is to grill thin cuts so exposure to the grill is kept at a minimum. Also, pre-cut meat is easier to serve during a cooking class because I don’t have to slice the meat when hungry people are waiting. If you like rare beef however, you’re better off grilling the whole steak, letting it rest and then slicing it before serving.
Whichever way you prepare it, here a few reminders about cooking steak:
flank steak can be hard to find because there aren’t too many “flanks” on a cow. Other acceptable subs are skirt steak, flap steak, or hanger steak.
don’t over marinate a thin cut like flank steak. This marinade contains soy sauce which can make the meat mushy if you leave it in too long (like more than 12 hours.)
grass-fed contains less fat and therefore cooks more quickly;
grass-fed doesn’t stay as tender if it’s cooked well-done. My answer for well-done grass-fee meat is to pour the juices from the cutting board on top of the meat and also serve it with a dressing or sauce to add moisture.
take the meat out of the fridge 30 minutes before to bring it to room temp so it cooks evenly;
always allow the cooked meat to rest, covered, for about 10 minutes before slicing so the juices redistribute themselves into the meat. Don’t allow to rest too long, otherwise it will overcook (unless you want it well-done).
always cut against the grain for a more tender bite. Look at the naturals lines in the meat and cut in the opposite direction. If you cut with the grain, the meat will be chewy.
2 ½ pounds (or whatever you can get) grass-fed beef flank steak, cut across the grain on a diagonal into 1-inch thick slices or left whole (marinating can be longer if the steak is whole)
In a large, shallow dish, combine the soy sauce with the sugar, white wine, chopped garlic, toasted sesame oil olive oil and crushed red pepper, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the sliced flank steak and coat thoroughly in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate the steak for 4 hours or up to 8 hours.
Heat a grill or a griddle over medium-high heat. Working in batches, grill the steak until the slices are browned and medium-rare, about 1-2 minutes per side. Transfer the steak to a serving platter and serve immediately.
OR grill the whole steak for 2 ½ to 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare. 4 minutes on each side for medium-well. Transfer meat to a cutting board and cover. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing AGAINST the grain. Serve.
*You can use 1 Tablespoon of sesame oil and omit the olive oil + add a little chopped fresh ginger for a more Asian flavor.
There was a time when I would watch those cooking competitions on Food Network and criticize anyone who used bacon in a recipe. “Well, yeah it’s going to be good now!” I would shout at the tv. I could have done that. Try making something awesome without bacon. That’s talent! I also feel this way about feta. Just makes everything so delicious. Well if they can do it on “Chopped,” little ole me can do it here. And so can you! We’re going to take simple peas, like the kind you have in your freezer that no one gets all that excited about, and we’re going to liven them up with some turkey bacon, or regular bacon if you eat pork. And everyone will fall in love with peas again.
And this is a good thing because peas are actually quite nutritious and many people always have them on hand. Peas contain a healthy dose of protein (about 9 grams/cup). I love peas mixed with rice for a complete protein. Yum! Peas are also loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin K and manganese! And they’re a good source of iron, folate, vitamin B1, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium and fiber. The only thing I did read about peas that is not great is that they contain an anti-fertility compound, m-xylohydroquinone, so it might be a good avoid to avoid them if you’re trying to get pregnant.
For now, we’re going to stick with either fresh peas (unfortunately, kind of a pain in the neck to shell them and only sweet if they’re super fresh) or frozen ones. I think there is an undeserved stigma attached to frozen vegetables, but there shouldn’t be. Fortunately, freezing vegetables (and fruits) does not destroy their vitamins and minerals. Maybe 10-15% of vitamin content is damaged, and Vitamin C is the biggest loser there. But pretty much every fruit and vegetable has a good amount of Vitamin C so you’ll make up for it. Canned vegetables, on the other hand, are a sad, depressing lot which always seems overcooked, in my opinion. Beyond that, you’re also getting BPA with your veggies because of the can liners and BPA leaches. Not cool.
My entire family loves this incredibly simple side dish. And it’s perfect for a busy family because you can make it in less than 10 minutes. In the winter, I make it with all green peas. But in the spring, I love using a mix of green peas, sugar snap peas (my favorites), and snow peas. Green peas have the most protein and are eaten shelled. Sugar Snap Peas, which are plump and crisp, are a cross between regular peas and Snow Peas which are flat. Both these types of peas are sweeter than garden peas, but a little less nutrient-dense. Sugar Snaps and Snow Peas are both not shelled — you eat the whole thing. I love to mix them together because I love all the different textures most of all, but believe me when I say it’s delicious with one type of pea if that’s what you’ve got. For you veg heads, I’ve got you covered. Omit the turkey bacon and season with smoked salt or a pinch of smoked paprika and sea salt. Serve with poultry, lamb or fish, roasted vegetables or sautéed greens, or cauliflower mashed potatoes. If you have ham leftover on Easter, dice it up and use that instead of the bacon. Remember, St. Patrick’s day is coming up and your family will not be weirded out if you make an entirely green meal! Peas anyone??
My oldest daughter is a freshman in college, if you can believe it. I totally cannot believe because I feel like I was just in college! She’s going to school in Texas where she is enjoying a lot of (shocking, I’m sure) Tex-Mex food. When we went to visit over Parents’ Weekend, our first meal was at Torchy’s Tacos and the first thing my daughter ordered was two quesos.
Normally my daughter is a pretty healthful eater, but I know she has a weakness for Sprinkles cupcakes and melted cheese, although let’s assume not in the same bite. Not that “queso” is actually cheese, even though that’s exactly what it means in Spanish. “Queso” in a Tex-Mex restaurant is basically doctored up melted Velveeta or a Land O’Lakes product called Extra Melt. Uh, that to me isn’t real cheese. And even if it were real cheese, pasteurized cow dairy is not awesome for you. Small amounts, ok. Fermented or cultured, a little better. Sheep or goat dairy, I’m in.
So I said to my daughter, “I can make a vegan version of this that I think is even better and won’t give you zits in the morning.”
“Whaaaat??? Since when? You’ve been holding out on me!”
Maybe so. In the meantime, I passed on the so called “queso.”
I did teach this vegan queso-type dip in my classes last year, and I figured it would be perfect to share before the Super Bowl. This recipe is actually a twist on my vegan mac and cheese recipe, jazzed up with jalapeño, black or pinto beans, and my new favorite product, Whole Foods organic frozen fire-roasted corn. If you haven’t made the mac and cheese, I am in love with it. Delicious and mostly veggies – no fake cheese, no nutritional yeast but still crazily resembles cheese sauce. And this version is a Tex-Mex-healthy-not-cheese-party that I am in love with, too.
This vegan “queso” I have used on nachos for the kids, on baked potatoes with salsa, on breakfast tacos and on spaghetti squash. Love it! I will come clean and tell you I much prefer it with butter over Earth Balance. Updated: Miyoko’s vegan butter works perfectly. If you absolutely cannot have butter, use the Earth Balance or Miyoko’s. If you have a choice, use the butter. I always use butter. Because it’s better. And then this isn’t vegan, but it’s cheese sauce made out of vegetables!!
This queso can be made a day or two ahead and reheated. It does not freeze well. Updated: it will be fine frozen, but you have to reblend it after defrosting it. But you won’t need to freeze it because you’re going to eat it ALL!! I don’t even care who wins the game on Sunday. Just give me a super bowl of queso!
2.06.21 I am updating the recipe to reflect the fact that some salts may be “saltier” than others.
In a medium saucepan, add the shallots, potatoes, carrots, onion and water and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook, covered, for 15 minutes, or until vegetables are very soft.
Place the cashews, butter, salt, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, black pepper, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Add the softened vegetables and cooking water to the blender or food processor and process until perfectly smooth. Taste for salt and adjust seasoning if needed.
Pour sauce back into pot, and add the jalapeno, corn, and beans. Warm over medium-low heat for 4-6 minutes. Can be made ahead and reheated.
*Options here: to save the step of soaking cashews, cook the cashews with the vegetables. OR use the same amount of RAW cashew butter or JOI almond butter base (it's blanched and raw and has no flavor) or cooked white beans if you are nut-free. **only use Earth Balance if you can't use Miyoko's vegan butter or can’t or won’t tolerate butter. The dip turns out better with Miyoko's or dairy butter, in my opinion.
The moment we arrived in Lake Garda on Wednesday for the last leg of our trip, I looked at my husband and said, “Good luck getting me on that plane back home.” The vistas are breathtaking, the air is clean, and the food is to die for. Total heaven here. Check out my Instagram and Facebook page for some pictures.
One food combination that I will never tire of is tomatoes and basil. And if you add some high quality mozzarella, I am even happier. I do so many combinations of tomatoes and basil in the summer, whether it be in soups, salads, pasta, eggs, grains, on toast, and on and on. Needless to say, I have been indulging like crazy in Italy, where I will argue you find the best tomatoes!
I made this soup at home before I left. The recipe is from Angelini Osteria, one of my favorite Italian restaurants in LA, and was printed in the LA Times recently. I didn’t waste any time making it! Trust me when I tell you that you must use great, flavorful tomatoes here. Otherwise, the soup will probably taste like nothing. I’ve tasted other Italian tomato soups in the past and they’ve all tasted like tomato sauce. Not this one! It’s so light and fresh with just a little essence of basil. It is summer in a bowl! Also, did you know that tomatoes are very rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant and anti-cancer compound. But the lycopene becomes more available when the tomatoes are cooked. Bonus!
I couldn’t help but drizzle some good olive oil on the soup and tear a smidge of burrata into it, too. If you want to keep this dairy-free or vegan, just forget the burrata and add a piece of grilled bread rubbed with some garlic. You really can’t go wrong.
Sadly, this vacation is coming to an end soon. But I am excited to get back in the kitchen in a few days and cook again. I’ve been so inspired by all the places we have visited. I am also looking forward to seeing many of you next week in class. Lots of stories to share and yummy food to make!