I was talking to some friends the other day about our college-aged daughters, some of whom already live in off-campus housing and are no longer on meal plans. That is, they have divorced themselves from dining hall food and have embraced the world of kitchenettes and home cooking. I remember my first semester off meal plan. I had visions of cooking up all sorts of wondrous things like lasagne or chicken Marbella or homemade bread and flourless chocolate cakes, my specialities in 1989. But alas, I actually had to study night and day so that one day I might be employable. No time to fuss in the kitchen since there was no way I would be making a career in the food industry. Good gracious, no. The irony.
Alas, when I do think back to that era, anytime I did cook up something, it had to be fast, reasonably nutritious and budget-friendly. I made A LOT of stir-fries. I made so many stir-fries, I owned a wok. I was 20. So as I was talking to these other mamas about our girls and my possibly do a little cooking class for them this summer, I thought I would definitely start with a stir-fry.
I just dropped off my oldest at college this past weekend. Up until this point, nothing has made me feel as old as saying to someone, “I have a child in college.” And it doesn’t help when people respond with, “Wow!” Rub it in. Thank heavens for Mr. Picky who is in elementary school and still asks me to cuddle him at night.
My daughter goes to school in Dallas. So when I visit, I make sure to b-line for some good Tex-Mex food. You all know my weakness is guacamole and chips. Guacamole = healthy food. Chips, not so much. In LA you can find places to give you jicama with your guacamole. In Texas, not so much. So I try not to overdo it when I’m there, but I’m not always successful.
Although I grew up in New York, California cooking has stolen my heart. Lightness, freshness, color. It’s addictive. And the best avocados! Come visit me and we’ll have fun just prancing around the farmers markets. We can make this salad, which is like fancy-pants guacamole.
I taught this salad last year or the year before and it is one of my favorites. First of all, it takes minutes to pull together. Second, it includes two of my favorite foods, tomatoes and avocados, which I will remind you are both insanely delicious right now. Use whatever tomatoes look great and have fun mixing colors and shapes and sizes. Lastly, it’s basically guacamole that I can eat with a fork or on top of a piece of fish or grilled chicken and I don’t feel the need to have 25 tortilla chips along with it.
It also happens to look very pretty on a buffet. But tomatoes are leaving us soon, friends. Enjoy it ALL while you can, because you’re going to blink your eyes and they’ll be gone.
optional: serve with broken corn tortilla chips on top or around the side of the salad
Place the tomatoes, red onion and jalapeño on a platter. Arrange the avocado slices on top. Scatter the cilantro leaves all over.
Whisk together the lime juice, salt, hot sauce and oil together and drizzle all over salad. It’s best not to toss this salad, otherwise the avocados will get messy. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if necessary. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is nice.
Serve with tortilla chips on the perimeter of the platter or crushed on top, if desired.
The amounts for the ingredients are merely guidelines. Feel free to adjust quantities to suit your taste.
You know what never happens? I never make at home for dinner something that I am currently teaching in one of my classes. Why? Because I normally eat it several times a week and I am not super motivated to eat it any more than that, no matter how good it is! This is even more true towards the end of the month after I have taught the same recipes a dozen or more times.
Well, never say never because I have been teaching this Mexican-style sautéed greens recipe all month and I made it for dinner Monday night. Why? Because there is never any left after my class! Everyone has just gone crazy for this recipe and finished every last morsel before I had my chance. I look forward to these slightly spicy, tart greens and then….none for me.
I am really obsessed with Mexican food. I love the bright, fresh, punchy flavors. And the ingredients are easy to come by in Southern California. I do find it hard, though, to come up with a wide variety of vegetable side dishes to complement whatever Mexican main dish I am making. I have a lot of salads in my repertoire. If you haven’t tried my Mexican Chopped Salad or my Avocado, Jicama and Mango Salad or the Cilantro Lime Slaw, those are just fabulous and deliver a lot of nutrition at the same time.
But when I stumbled up this recipe for Quelites, I knew I found a new favorite Mexican side dish. Quelites actually refer to a type of weed, also known as lamb’s quarters, but in the above mentioned recipe, mustard greens are used. Mustard greens are a tad bitter for my husband and Mr. Picky, so I tried this recipe with lots of combinations of milder greens, like spinach, baby kale and chard, as well as dinosaur kale. Love, love, love, love, LOVE!
What I like best about this recipe is how the acidity from the lemon juice and the sweetness from the tomatoes tone down any bitterness from the greens (if you’re using mature kale, for example.) I don’t think this recipe is very hot, even with an entire jalapeño, although I do remove the seeds, which is where the heat is more concentrated. But it’s hot enough for my heat-averse guys. I just add a few shakes of hot sauce to my greens and I’m happy.
I have eaten these Mexican-style greens with rice and beans (so simple and so good!), as well as chicken enchiladas and tacos. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you saw that I made them for dinner this week with a veggie paella (Spanish, not Mexican, but so what) and then the next day with scrambled eggs and a corn tortilla. Whatever you’re making for Cinco de Mayo, this will be the perfect, healthful side!
As I type this, my slow cooker has been on for 36 hours straight. Is that allowed? I am officially obsessed and I completely understand why you all have been too while I was under a little rock. Wow! I made this awesome sweet potato chili the other night, then washed out the insert and put in some beef bones to make beef stock while I slept. Then the next morning strained the beef stock and made a grass-fed beef brisket with veggies that I turned into a delicious sauce for pasta. I’m on fire!
Are you gearing up for Super Bowl Sunday? I love football, so I am always excited for the big day. What I’d really like to know though, is why does everyone make chili for the Super Bowl? Or a lot of Tex-Mex food? I take that back. My family in NY will be eating sausage and peppers and a baked pasta of some sort. Maybe it’s just Southern California, but everyone I know is ripening their avocados for guacamole to go on top of their tacos or nachos or what have you. Just curious since I am one of these people too and I’m not quite sure how I got to be.
I do try and mix it up a little every year, but somehow chili makes it onto the menu in some way. I have been alternating between Vegetable Chili (my favorite) and Deer Valley Turkey and Black Bean Chili, which I serve alongside a baked potato bar, corn bread and Mexican Chopped Salad which I have a feeling doesn’t resemble anything you’d get in Mexico but sure is the perfect salad to go along with everything else Tex-Mex-y. I’m in a bit of a conundrum this year with only two days to go until Super Bowl Sunday because I have no menu yet! There are too many things I would love to make, including this fabulous chili as well as Slow Cooker Chicken Tacos or even this terrific-looking vegetarian tortilla soup recipe I spotted on Foodily. Alas, I have a mere one slow cooker.
Fear not, good people. I will share with you how to make this recipe on the stove in case you either do not have a slow cooker (yet) or you only have one slow cooker and you are planning on making my slow cooker chicken tacos. I like to have a good balance of different food groups even on Super Bowl Sunday so that it’s not just chips and animal protein all day long. Personally, I think chili is an easy dish to do vegetarian. All those beans are super high in fiber and protein so they’re really filling and it’s the spices that make everything taste delicious, not the meat. This chili is really interesting because it includes a bit of sweet potato, one of my most favorite foods. There’s a touch of cinnamon and cocoa powder which you can’t really taste, but pairs great with the chili powder. I didn’t add any leafy greens, but in retrospect I think a few chopped leaves of chard, spinach or kale would have been a nice addition at the end. This Super Bowl I’m rooting for you to eat something healthful!
Author: Pamela, adapted from CookieandKate.com who adapted it from Real Simple, both via Foodily
2 Tablespoons unrefined olive oil (or skip this if you don’t want to pre-saute vegetables)
1 red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 sweet red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, diced (remove seeds to make it less hot or use half or omit altogether)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-2 teaspoons sea salt (depending on salt in tomatoes)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 28-ounce container chopped or diced tomatoes with the juice (I prefer to use Pomi from a box or tomatoes in glass jars to avoid the inevitable BPA in canned tomatoes.)
1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed (click here to learn how to cook beans from scratch, otherwise Eden Organics doesn't use BPA in their cans)
1 ½ cups cooked kidney beans or 1 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed
2 medium sweet potatoes, about 1 pound total, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 cup water (use 2 cups water if cooking this on the stove)
Omit this step if you cannot bear to pre-cook anything when using a slow cooker. I like to sauté my vegetables because I think it adds more flavor, but feel free to dump everything (omit the oil) into the slow cooker and press “start.” Otherwise, heat oil in a large skillet (if not using a slow cooker, sauté in a large pot) over medium heat. Add onion, peppers and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and translucent, about 6 minutes.
Add spices, salt and pepper and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. If your tomatoes are unsalted, use 2 teaspoons salt.
Add tomatoes and their liquid and cook for another minute or two.
Pour the onion and pepper mixture into a 4-6 quart slow cooker. Stir in beans, sweet potato and 1 cup water. (If cooking on the stove, add remaining ingredients to the pot plus 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook until sweet potatoes are tender and everything is nice and thick, about 1 hour.)
Cover and cook until sweet potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours.
Taste for salt and pepper. Serve with desired toppings such as tortilla chips, diced avocado, chopped cilantro, and sour cream.
I have also served this with cooked quinoa and millet, which was delicious. Also, I think adding some chopped fresh leafy greens about 10 minutes before serving would be very nice, too. Swiss chard, spinach and kale would all work well.
Have you ever looked at recipe and thought there was an ingredient that could be omitted no big deal? But then afterwards you realize that maybe it was there for a reason. I swear I don’t think I zested a piece of citrus for 20 years because I didn’t know any better. Entire recipes, too. Sometimes I’ve passed on recipes that I learned later were really great. I’m still learning what kinds of recipes work for my family and me and it always helps to get recommendations from friends who eat the way we do.
I was at the farmer’s market a few weeks ago buying pomegranates and a woman standing next to me asked me what I was going to do with all of them and how one eats pomegranates. I was very enthusiastic giving her all sorts of suggestions from yogurt parfaits to salads to cocktails, all very standard and common, I’ll admit. Then this other woman out of the blue asked, “have you ever tried pomegranates in guacamole?” Show-off. No, I haven’t nor had I ever heard of such a thing. I thought to myself it sounded a little out there and I planned on NOT trying it any time soon. So I took my pomegranates home to my granola and greens and that was that.
Then last week I was teaching at my friend Lisa‘s house and she was telling me about her CSA boxes and how exciting it has been receiving such great produce every week. Lisa said she had gotten so many kiwis the last few weeks that she was forced to find a few new delicious ways to enjoy them, including an amazing kiwi salsa with pomegranates. Light bulb. Oh really? Tell me more. She had made a very easy chunky salsa that was more tart than sweet, but had creamy avocados and crunchy pomegranate seeds. The universe was telling me to make this no matter how crazy it sounded. I love kiwis as much as the next person and you know I am mad for pomegranates and avocados, so how bad could it be?
A few nights ago I planned on pan-seared wild halibut with the salsa plus some cilantro rice and cauliflower. I wouldn’t say that fish gets everyone super excited in our house, except me of course. And Daughter #2 is still on her anti-seafood campaign. But everyone FREAKED out over this salsa and the fish. My husband said, “I have to say I am delightfully surprised by how much I like this. This salsa is fantastic.” He’s really not as dorky as he sounds. He and Mr. Picky polished off their fish and salsa and then proceeded to finish the remaining salsa with tortilla chips. Mr. Picky even suggested making the salsa with fish tacos. Success!
This was not as sweet as a mango or pineapple salsa, which the hubby doesn’t care for. Instead kiwis and pomegranates are both a little tart, probably more tart than a peak-of-summer tomato. And it’s a great option for the winter when all these ingredients are in season. Plus, it’s super nutritious! Kiwis, pomegranates and jalapenos are loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants. And avocados have amazing healthful fats and Vitamin E. All great beauty foods! I made this two hours ahead of eating it in the 15 minutes I had between coming back from dropping Mr. Picky off at soccer and picking up Daughter #2 to go to music lessons. What is better than fast and easy? I think I’m I’m going change up our standard Super Bowl fare and make a bowl of this. It’s a new year people and I’m going to act like it!
1 cup diced peeled kiwifruit, about 3-4 kiwis (don't choose kiwis that are too soft)
¼ cup pomegranate seeds (see how to seed a pomegranate)
½ an avocado, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon thinly sliced green onion (white and light green parts)
½ Tablespoon minced fresh, seeded jalapeno (or more or less according to your desired heat level)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh cilantro (about 6 sprigs) -- you can add more, but I was rushing to finish this
1 teaspoon unrefined extra-virgin olive oil
a few pinches of sea salt or to taste
In a medium bowl, gently combine all ingredients so you don’t mash the avocado and kiwi. Taste for seasonings, specifically jalapeno and salt, and adjust accordingly. I like to let salsas sit for an hour or so to allow the flavors to meld. Keep covered so the avocado doesn’t brown.
How do I know it’s soup season in my neck of the woods? Well, we had our annual freaky October heat wave last week and then the temperature plummeted about 20 degrees. Now every morning we wake up to fog and a chill in the air that doesn’t go away. Are you under the misconception as I was that living by the beach is all sunshine all the time? Ha! I keep telling my husband I want my money back. It’s chilly here! But no matter, I’m pulling out the sweaters and the stock pot and I am making SOUP!
From now until late April, my kitchen turns into a stock-making factory every Saturday. I make gallons of it every week for my classes and us. I’ll be honest though, the hubby is sooooo over it. You should see his eyes roll every time I ask him to help me strain the stock. Inevitably a chicken foot flops out and completely freaks him out. But he puts up with it because his favorite food group is soup and he knows homemade chicken stock is magic stuff. If you are getting more and more comfortable in the kitchen, it’s time to step it up and start making stock from scratch. You will not believe the difference in taste. Plus it’s a gajillion times better for you than boxed. Check out my post here on home made chicken stock. For all you veggies out there, here’s the link to learn how to make vegetable stock from scratch.
Enough about that. Let’s talk about the soup I actually made, Tortilla Soup. Y-um! This is a very different version of the tortilla soup you might be used it. It’s not thin and brothy, but thick and hearty and it takes about 15 minutes to make, provided you already have stock made. If I had to make up another name for this, I would call it “Mexican Tomato Soup” or “Pappa al Pomodoro goes to Mexico.” Cumin, which is one of my most favorite spices, adds the distinctive earthy flavor that you would recognize from chili or taco seasoning. But what is so unusual about this soup is that the corn tortillas are pureed with the tomatoes and broth, as opposed to adding fried tortilla chips on top. The softened corn tortillas add great flavor and thicken the soup at the same time. (It’s a great use of stale tortillas.) I wish I had thought of this bit of genius, but I didn’t. I tweaked a recipe I found in The Real Food Daily Cookbook, based on the vegan LA restaurant by the same name.
I love adding cubed avocado and chopped fresh cilantro on top, but I let everyone do their thing. There’s always enough leftover for the next day’s thermoses to which I also like to add a little cooked chicken. (I’m big on protein at lunchtime so the kids don’t fall asleep in class.) Fresh tomatoes are on their way out, so if you can use them go for it. The other night I used Bionaturae organic crushed tomatoes and tomato paste in a glass jar (not a fan of canned tomatoes.) I made this soup last year on Halloween, which is around the corner. I always make sure everyone has eaten a proper meal before going out to trick or treat. Full bellies can’t fit quite as much candy as empty ones.
Here are some of my other favorite soups to warm you up this season:
Author: Pamela, adapted from The Real Food Daily Cookbook
2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeno chile, ribs and seeds removed and finely chopped*
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons shoyu (naturally brewed soy sauce) or tamari
6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
2 pounds fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped or 1 27-ounce box of crushed tomatoes or equivalent in a jar or can
⅓ cup tomato paste
8 6-inch corn tortillas, coarsely chopped
Chopped fresh cilantro and cubed avocado garnish, if desired
Heat the oil in a heavy stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or until tender and translucent. Add the jalapeno, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper and shoyu, and sauté 1 minute longer.
Stir in the stock, tomatoes with juice, and tomato paste. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered for 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes are tender.
Add the tortillas and simmer 10 minutes longer, or until the tortillas are super soft and falling apart.
Using a handheld immersion blender, blend the soup in the pot until smooth. Or carefully puree in batches in a blender.
Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with cilantro and avocado.
*For a little more kick, add the ribs and seeds from the jalapeno to the soup.