Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Healthy Choices’ Category

I’m sorry. I’ve been traveling and working extra hard and feeling lethargic and…ok just go ahead and call me lazy. 😉

I have a lot to cover- I still owe you my New York restaurant reviews! And I also just returned from another great food city in Greece- Thessaloniki! That is a serious food destination, and I’ll get into all the gluttonous details another day…For now, I want to tell you about my lovely simple plate of peas I made for lunch.

Any change of season rejuvinates my desire to cook. Spring may technically still be a few days away, but as far as I’m concerned- it’s here. The sun is shining, and strawberries are overflowing at the local markets!

No offense to my parents, but the only way I ever ate peas as a child was from a can. I was happy to find fresh and bright green pea pods today. Instead of eating leftovers I made one of my favorite traditional Greek dishes: Stewed Peas with Tomato, Onion and Dill.

When I lived in America, it seemed peas were only used for side-dishes, or additions to salads. But I suggest you try this recipe. Not only is it healthy, but it is so flavorful and a perfect spring dish. If you must take the peas from a can, well, ok…but frozen is better and fresh is even better than that. This is also a great recipe for vegetarians and vegans. I had many vegan friends in San Francisco when I went to school, and my best friend’s fiancee Khalpeah is vegan! Even Gary, the familiar commenter on this blog who shames me every time I let some time go by without posting…:)  So I always try to catalogue these kinds of dishes with them in mind.

Some may find removing the peas from the pods boring, but it is meditative for me. I’ve discussed before how long I sit in front of a computer all day editing, researching, and writing. This tactile process is relaxing and energizing at the same time.

This recipe is super simple: After I rinse 1 & 1/2 cup peas in a colander, I cut up 1 large onion and 2 scallions, 2 big, ripe tomatoes, and chop a cup of dill- yes a cup! Loosely packed. Adding a few cut up potatoes and/or carrots is optional. You can also add some fresh parsley if you like. I usually add some at the end right before eating. (This is for 1-2 servings- multiply the ingredients depending on the size of your dinner table).

You saute the onions and tomato in olive oil. The onions do not need to be browned, just a little translucent. Then add the dill and the peas (and potatos or carrots if using). Stir. Pour in 1/2 cup water. Cover the pot and let it all simmer until the peas are cooked to your taste and all the flavors meld- around 25 minutes. I personally like a little bite, but others prefer them more mushy. Check it every now and then to see if it needs more water. Add salt and pepper to your taste.

Totally simple, and very tasty. Add some crusty fresh baked bread to dip into the juices. Mmmmm.

Tomorrow I am making a traditional Greek Salt Cod meal that is eaten every 25th of March. I’ll include my recipes and discuss what this day means for us religiously and culturally. It’s a national holiday, so no computers for me! Niko and I are going to cook this meal together and hopefully sit on the balcony while eating if the weather stays this beautiful…Wow I better clean the deck chairs, they are looking dusty…or maybe well just pull out some chairs from inside…(I’m making my Mom proud, I’m sure…)

See you tomorrow!

Read Full Post »

I’ve been extra busy lately. I’m basically in Subtitles Hell– every 5 seconds of the 90 minute film needs a new set of subtitles. Ugh.

When I know I’ll be stuck at my computer all week, I like to make a big pot of something one day to eat from for at least 3 more days. Does that sound boring? If it’s something I’m really in the mood for, I like it this way.. And I switch things up at dinner.

I’m back on the health kick, and making an effort to eat more vegetable and non-meat main dishes. Those who know me are laughing right now, because I am a true carnivore. In all of it’s bloody, artery clogging glory! But as much as I love me a steak, it really does feel good to eat veggies.

I thought a lentil was a grain, but it’s actually a “pulse”- a bean from the legume family of plants. There is a huge variety of them in many different colors. Lentils are a great source of protein and good carbs. They also carry iron,  fiber, Vitamin B1 and minerals.

In French, Meditteranean and American restaurants, I often see lentils in a salad, or as a side to salmon. In India, the Middle East, and South American countries lentils are often combined with rice in a stew, as they have a similar cooking time. A very common dish in Greek households is a lentil soup/stew. Every month or so, I get really in the mood for it and find it very comforting. So here is a comfort food that isn’t 90% fat. 🙂 Can it be?

Here is my grandmother’s Lentil Soup Recipe:

1 lb lentils

3 quarts water

1 -2 diced carrots

1- 2 diced celery stalks

1-2 diced onions

(the reason I write 1-2 for the veggies is because some like veggies in a higher ratio to lentils than others, your choice. I personally up the veggies a lot).

2 minced cloves of garlic

2 bay leaves

1 cup diced tomato with juices (can be from can if necessary)

vegetable broth/cube

S&P

1 can V8 juice-optional

dash vinegar-optional

  • Rinse Lentils in a colander to clean
  • Put lentils in a big pot with the 3 quarts water and let boil.
  • Once the water is boiling, reduce heat- skim any foam that appears at the top
  • Sautee veggies and garlic with bay leaves in a pan with a few drops of olive oil
  • Add veggies and diced tomato to the lentils, along with one veggie cube.
  • Let boil for 35-45 minutes. Add S&P to taste.
  • You can add V8 juice at the end for some extra oomph! Some add a dash of vinegar as well, although I do not like this.

Enjoy! Mine is boiling now. It’ll give me the healthy carbs, proteins, and nutrients I need for excersizing later! Jillian Michaels is gonna kick my butt with her DVDs…damn her and her squats.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0799

Here are two pomegranates sitting on the ledge of my kitchen window.

As you can tell from my logo, pomegranate’s have a special meaning for me. In film school, I made a short series of films about the myth of Persephone. Pomegranates play an important role in the story: Because Hades gets Persephone to bite into a pomegranate she can only leave the Underworld for half of the year. (Thus the explanation for the seasons- when she is above ground there is spring and harvest and mild weather. When she is with Hades, the crops die and winter comes).  I fell in love with the beauty of this fruit while incorporating it visually into the film.

I want to showcase all the sensory wonders of this berry, so this week it’s all about pomegranates. I’ll offer up some recipes that will display the versatility of this ingredient.

Here in Greece, pomegranates are considered good luck. Many people keep a dried pomegranate in their homes, or crystal or glass reproductions of its image.

My neighbor has a pomegranate tree that reaches towards my balcony. She lets us pick from them when we like, which is very generous. I also picked a bag up from the open air market recently.

Pomegranates have gotten a lot of attention the past few years for their high level of antioxidants. They are also a big source of Vitamin C, B, and Potassium.

I used to think the color had something to do with picking the right pomegranate. Although a deep red color make them more attractive to me, it really has little to do with the quality. Some insist that a bright red color is a good sign, but I’m not sure there is any foundation to this. If you squeeze into the top crown of the pomegranate, there should be no gray powder emitting. That’s a bad sign. Here are the trusted guidelines: Try to make sure the pomegranate is on the larger size, and that it feels heavy for its size. There will be more juice. It should be firm and not at all mushy.

Cutting into them is messy, and extracting the seeds can be frustrating. My father loves pomegranate and every time he cuts into them the kitchen looks like a crime scene!  There are a few tricks, though:

  • First of all, use gloves. The juice will stain your hands and your clothes! Fill a bowl with water.
  • Cut of 1/2 inch off the top of the pomegranate.
  • Place it on its side on a cutting board. Make a shallow cut 5 times from the top to the base.
  • With the pomegranate under water, open the fruit from the points where it was sliced. Push the seeds out with your fingers.
  • The seeds will sink to the bottom. Skim the pith of the fruit into the garbage and then strain the seeds.
  • To extract the juice, let the seeds sit in a strainer or colander over a bowl.

Today I’m showcasing a simple salad recipe. I will follow up with many more.

POMEGRANATE SALAD RECIPE

One bunch Arugula

Seeds from 1 Pomegranate

20 Walnuts, Chopped and Lightly Toasted

2 Small Pears, Sliced Lengthwise- 1/2 inch thick

Juice of One Pomegranate

2 tbs Honey

1 tbs Champagne or Sherry Vinegar (white wine vinegar will do)

Olive Oil

S&P

Mix first 5 ingredients together

Mix honey, vinegar, and pomegranate juice with a whisk. Add olive oil while whisking (or while being blended in a food processor/blender) until it has reached the desired consistency. Add S&P to taste.

Drizzle vinaigrette into salad and make sure not to add too much- otherwise the salad becomes wilted.



Read Full Post »

IMG_0740

These are the plums I cut up today, in a bit of a rush. This has been a busy week. So when I’m this busy, it’s all about simple pleasures.

I’m not sure if this sounds like a wierd breakfast, but I’ve been craving Roasted Plums. Craving dessert in the morning comes naturally to me.

Sometimes I just cut them in half, add vanilla bean, pour honey, sprinkle a little brown sugar, maybe a dot of butter…and serve warm with either thick Greek yogurt or ice cream.

I was in the mood for something a bit different. I picked up a bag of chestnuts on the street yesterday. I have some leftover Port in my wine cabinet. Eureka! I tossed cut plums in a small baking dish with a drizzle of port wine, scraped vanilla bean, and sprinkled a small amount of brown sugar. If you want, you could also dot the plums with butter. I chose not to.  They roasted in a 180C/375F oven for 15 minutes or so. They should be tender and releasing juices, but not mushy.

While the plums were roasting I dropped the chestnuts in a food processor. Once roughly chopped (do not let them get too fine- then there is no texture!) I toasted them a bit, and added a tiny bit of sugar to the pan while roasting. Hey, I didn’t add any butter, can’t I have some sugar?

I plated my plums with a little yogurt and topped with the chestnuts. I drizzled the released juices from the pan over the yogurt.

An even nicer presentation would be making this into a trifle. In a glass you could layer the plums, yogurt, and nuts elegantly.

I had a nice breakfast with a serving of fruit and protein for the day. Sorry I didn’t take a pic of the finished plate.

When you find flavors that work well together, vary your recipes up. For example, with the same ingredients, I could have made chestnut mousse and a reduced port syrup to accompany the plums. Or I could have poached the plums in port and topped with chestnut ice cream. You get the idea.

Read Full Post »

IMG_0734

I was so excited when I saw fresh pumpkin at the grocery store! I’ve been craving this sweet vegetable and waiting for it to come into its season. Lugging this huge heavy mass up the stairs to my apartment was worth it.

The name Pumpkin originated from the Greek word “large melon” which is “Pepon.” (Insert My Big Fat Greek Wedding joke here) 🙂

Native Americans used to use “isqoutm squash” (pumpkins) to make mats out of them by drying flattened strips. They also used the pumpkin for medicinal purposes.

In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies instead of the filling.

Had enough of fun facts?  Time for recipes.

I almost cut my hand off trying to break into the thing, so be careful. Once the top is off, its relatively easy to cut into thick slices. Scooping out the fleshy seeds is fun (well I think it’s fun), and then I dump into a foiled baking pan with some oil, salt and pepper.

I roasted for 35-40 minutes on 375F (180C)

IMG_0738

See that nice bruised golden color? That’s what you want. I put some of this aside as a very simple side dish for the week. Roast it with whatever spices you like: Garam Marsala OR you can make it a sweet roasted dish with brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, etc. Sea salt, pepper, and cumin work fine too.

I scooped out the rest to collect 6 cups of the pumpkin flesh for a comforting soup. I love sweet pumpkin soup, with lots of brown sugar and apples…but since I am trying to keep the calories low, I thought I’d make a more savory soup which is still incredibly flavorful. Pumpkin is so thick and creamy on its own, that heavy cream is so unnecessary. Even if I wasn’t dieting I’d say this, I promise! I use thick Greek yogurt instead.

Indian spices bring out the pumpkin flavor in a great way, so here is my version of Indian Spiced Pumpkin Soup:

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil and 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tsp garlic
  • 3 small onions, diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 3 tbs garam marsala
  • a few dashes of cinnamon and clove
  • I add many pinches of cayenne, but you add however much you like
  • 6 cups of roasted pumpkin flesh (please don’t use canned- it takes only 30 minutes to roast fresh pumpkin and tastes so much better)
  • 5 cups of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups of  2% milk
  • 1/4-1/2 cup 2%  greek yogurt (however much you like)

1 Melt butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add spices and stir for a minute more.

2 Add pumpkin and 5 cups of chicken broth; blend well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3 Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan.

4 With the soup on low heat, add brown sugar and mix. Slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Add cream. Adjust seasonings to taste. If a little too spicy, add more cream to cool it down. You might want to add a teaspoon of salt.

Pumpkin is jam-packed with Beta Carotenoids, Fiber, Potassium and Zinc. It is a powerful antioxidant, lowers risks of hypertension, boosts the immune system, and improves bone density. Knowing this helps to not feel guilty when you want a third serving of soup. : )

Read Full Post »

IMG_0714

Remember that gloriously fragrant mint I found in the market days ago? Well I’m still smelling it everyday. I have not managed to keep an herb garden alive for more than 3 weeks, although there isn’t anything I treasure more in a kitchen than fresh herbs.

I love salads made up entirely of herbs. I don’t roast any hunk of meat unless it is covered in fresh rosemary or sage or thyme. Have you heard of creamed parsley? It’s the latest dish in a new french bistro that I’ll be trying out soon.

My grandmother taught me to extend the life span of leafy treasures by washing them, and wrapping in paper towels before placing back into the fridge. Thank goodness this works, because in my enthusiasm at the store, I bought a whole big bunch!

My stomach was a bit unsettled tonight and so I thought why not make some fresh mint tea?

IMG_0719

Here I am swirling my spoon while the mint infuses in boiling water. I know this picture is totally unnecessary, but isn’t it pretty? I added the tiniest drip of honey and it was lovely. The flavor was mild and the honey enhanced the mint rather than adding too much sweetness, which is distracting I think.

What else I could do with this mint that I haven’t done before? I usually cut it up with strawberries, use it to flavor lamb, or add it to salads, as I mentioned above. But I wanted to think of something special for you all to try…

As you can see from today’s blog title, I am on a new health kick. Don’t worry, I will still be addressing rich recipes! But I am now including a section of healthier choices. I won’t add anything unless it tastes amazing, I promise. I’m going to try to employ the “French Women Don’t Get Fat” policy for myself, and eat little portions of everything. I’d rather eat a teeny piece of Brie than a reduced fat plastic chunk of cheese. Gross.

SO- how can I use mint for a low-cal dessert?  Giving up dessert is NOT an option.

My first idea is reduced mint syrup. It’s nothing complicated, or especially unique. But syrup always feels decadent and doesn’t have to be especially calorific.

MINT SYRUP RECIPE- 2 servings

Steep 1/4 cup packed mint leaves and stems in 1/2 cup boiling water for 10 minutes.

Remove the leaves (but leave a few stems) from the water

Add 1/3 or 1/2  cup sugar and stir until dissolved.

Reduce on medium to low heat until the liquid is thick and syrupy.

Add as a beautiful liquid garnish to a dessert of your choice. Drizzle over chocolate cake, over ice cream (non fat ice cream or sorbet!), over berry tarts or plain berries…the choices are endless.

***Replace mint with basil and use it for strawberry sorbet or ice cream, the combination is amaaazing. Trust me.

So as not to abandon my Greek roots (I haven’t included a Greek recipe in a while)- how can I highlight mint in a traditional dish?

There are so many possibilities. Mint aioli for lamb and mint garlic yogurt sauce for Dolmades come to mind.

In my next Friday Friandises, I promis I will offer up a Greek dessert!

Read Full Post »