Getting ready for Back to School Week

Freezer ready Beef and Spinach Lasagna

If your child attends school in the San Francisco Bay Area and you’re a mom responsible for that child, chances are good this week you’re charging full speed ahead. During Back to School Week, mothers are running around on fumes buying everything for school, dealing with tweens and teenagers wants and demands for school clothing and accessories, not to mention books, Ipad covers and every other thing the child either needs or wants.

It can be a miserable week. But, sunlight is on the horizon because when the little darlings return to school, we mothers can reclaim our schedules and the illusion of order should return to our lives. In spite of the whirlwind of preparations required to return our children to school, there is one way you can ease pressure the first month. We know it takes a few weeks for the family to adjust to kids returning to school and resuming regular mealtimes is part of that adjustment.

This is an area where you can really restore some sanity to your routine. Plan and make two weeks’ worth of meals this week and freeze them. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t if you plan and it will save you a lot of time during the first week weeks of school. Here are some suggested main courses that I’ve made for clients as freezer options. The idea is to have the main course ready so you only need to add a starch, vegetable and or a salad for a complete meal. If you have a crock pot or pressure cooker you can quickly make stews or soups. Simply use one of your favorite recipes or select one online and start freezing this week!

Beef and Spinach Lasagna (I made this one for a client’s freezer)
Beef Stew
Beef or Chicken Stroganoff
Macaroni and Cheese (don’t freeze with breadcrumb topping, it gets soggy)
Sausage and Broccoli Casserole (use homemade or good quality marinara, mozzarella, pasta and broccoli)
Meat Ragu (marinara sauce with your favorite meat)
Chicken Enchiladas
Chicken Pot Pie (freeze the filling and buy puff pastry dough topping to have on hand)
Chicken Tetrazzini
Turkey Chili
Chicken Curry
Chicketn Tagine

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Blissful Eggs Benedict

Blissful Eggs Benedict with Goat Cheese, Zucchini, Spinach and Tomato-Tarragon Salsa

There’s nothing like a delicious brunch any day of the week. I’m a big fan of poached eggs. A gorgeous sunny golden yolk oozing out of a white cocoon, flowing over an English muffin with Canadian bacon is what I like most. For me, rich hollandaise sauce is a a creamy crown on this delicious brunch staple. Unfortunately, according to my calorie counter book a typical serving has a whopping 860 calories and 56 grams of saturated fat! My waistline can’t take it these days, so I had to come up with an alternative because I look forward to poached eggs on the weekends. I had to figure out a way to get most of what I love about my calorie-bloated favorite but substantially reduce the saturated fat and calories.

Now, I’m not saying I’ll never have the traditional version again, I’m just saying having an alternative gives me an option for satisfy my craving. In case you were wondering how much lower my version is, two eggs have 140 calories and 8 grams of fat; 1 ounce goat cheese has 70 calories and 3.5 grams of fat; and 1 teaspoon of olive oil has 45 calories and 5 grams of fat. That’s 39.5 grams of fat lower than the traditional version!

Thus, Blissful Eggs Benedict was born. She’s the lower fat, lower calorie distant cousin of classical Eggs Benedict and she’s delicious! You can use an English muffin or any baguette style toasted bread for the base. A smear of soft goat cheese gives me the creamy texture and tang from hollandaise, a bit of extra white vinegar in the poaching liquid gives some acidic flavor, and sautéed vegetables boots the nutrtional value. Finally, a topping of quick tomato-tarragon salsa brings all the flavors together. Honestly, I didn’t miss the hollandaise but let me if you did.

Blissful Eggs Benedict
2 whole omega-3 or large AA eggs poached (add an additional teaspoon of vinegar in the poaching liquid)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
Nonstick spray
2 medium zucchini (each sliced lenghtwise into three slices each)
2-3 cups washed spinach
1 whole clove of garlic sliced in half
1 cup baby tomatoes
Fresh tarragon
1 inch slice of red onion
1 toasted English muffin or two one-inch slices of toasted sweet baguette
1 ounce soft goat cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Salt and pepper both sides of the zucchini slices. Heat a medium size sauté pan with nonstick spary and one teaspoon olive oil. Cook the zucchini on both sides until brown and tender then remove from pan. If necessary, add more nonstick spray and add garlic, spinach, salt and pepper to taste. Sauté spinach for 3-5 minutes until cooked. Turn off heat and move the spinach to one side of the pan and add zucchini to the other side. This allows you to quickly reheat the vegetables before assembling the dish.

Poach eggs using these instructions and set aside. Put tomatoes, red onion, salt to taste and tarragon in a small food processor or blender. Blend until you get the consistency you like. Poach the eggs according to these instructions and set aside.

Toast muffins or bread and smear with goat cheese while still warm. Reheat vegetables for one minute then place two slices of zucchini trimed to fit the bread. Add spinach, then poached eggs. Garnish with tomato-tarragon salsa.

Makes one main course serving (salsa will be enough for two servings)

Chef’s tip: if your tomatoes are very juicy and you have too much liquid in the salsa, drain off the excess.

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Banana Carrot Ginger Bread

Low Fat Banana Carrot Ginger Bread

Low Fat Banana Carrot Ginger Bread

When I was growing up tea time was a daily tradition. My mother would sometimes make currant scones, tea sandwiches, cheese straws or pine tarts. When she didn’t bake, there were always cream or sweet biscuits in our pantry. Pine tarts are traditional tea time snacks in Guyana, my mother’s birthland. When I lived there with my grandmother, I looked forward to my daily delicious cup of tea at 4:00 p.m. along with a homemade pastry and afternoon conversation. Her pine tarts were flakey pastry triangles filled with homemade pineapple jam.

Tea time is a great British tradition I haven’t been able to continue with my son. He’s not interested in having tea in the afternoon. But, he does like pastries just like most kids. Banana bread is one of my favorite quick breads and I often think about making it whenever I have at least three bananas blackening on my counter.

One day after cleaning out the refrigerator, I discovered a limp bag of shredded carrots . I also had five black bananas on the counter so naturally, I felt compelled to bring them together. I also wanted to reduce the fat in traditional banana bread so I substituted applesauce for some of the fat and added chopped carrots and powered ginger. The result was a deliciously moist quick bread that your kids will love and if you’re lucky enough to be able to sit down for a cup of tea in the afternoon, you won’t feel guilty eating it.

Banana Carrot Ginger Bread
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup apple sauce
2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 medium)
1 cup diced shredded carrots
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups white flour
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray two 8×4 inch bread loaf pans with nonstick spay and lightly flour. Shake off excess flour. In a medium bowl, use a whisk to mix wheat flour, white flour, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.

Using a large bowl, beat eggs until frothy then add oil, brown sugar, white sugar, apple sauce, bananas and vanilla. Blend on low speed until fully combined. Using a spoon, stir in carrots and mix thoroughly then add flour mixture until well combined. Evenly pour batter into the loaf pans.

Bake on the middle oven rack for 45-55 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Set a timer to check the breads after 45 minutes and adjust time accordingly. Cool the breads for 20 minutes before removing from pans.

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Blissful Kitchen 5 Day Detox Menu…day-detox-menu/
Beautiful red chard

One of the biggest issues facing my clients today is reducing and eliminating processed foods. This challenge affects working professionals, athletes, and entertainers alike because they’re focused on improving their health and managing their weight for different reasons. Often, it’s the main reason a professional athlete will retain my services. For entertainers and celebrities, their bodies define their brands and almost always dictates how successful they will become. Working professionals frequently have long work days and need to be sure they’ve got enough energy left for their families.

I’ve got a super easy and quick way to jump start your Indian summer shape up and help you make a transition from processed to whole foods. Although it’s best to use predominately organic ingredents, the menu works very well if that’s not possible. With only five days, easy to find ingredients and minimal shopping and cooking you can implement this plan. To ensure I’ve created a balanced menu, nutritionist, super mother of five, and Blissful Kitchen contributor Khristine Holterman reviewed it and said this:

No matter how hard we may try to eat a balanced, healthy diet we live in a world full of processed foods that are difficult to avoid.
While the body is highly efficient at detoxifying our system, the Blissful Kitchen 5 Day Detox Menu is a great way to kick-start a plan that includes only healthy, natural foods, in essence, retraining your taste buds and your psyche. The menu includes a mix of complex carbohydrates; healthy, essential fats; protein and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits noted for their especially high profile of antioxidants, phytonutrients, minerals and vitamins. It is also low in sodium and saturated fats. Most importantly, it is easy to follow and easy to prepare.
By the end of the five day program you should feel more energetic and ready to continue eliminating refined and processed food from your diet. What a great way to start some healthy habits!

Blissful Kitchen’s 5 Day Detox Menu will help you feel better and manage your weight by eliminating processed foods. The plan is adapted from Dr. Ann Louise Gittleman’s Fat Flush and Dr. Dean Ornish’s Spectrum diets along with my own experience, research and practical applications my clients have used over the past seven years.

The foods in the plan are nutritionally dense and combined to help you feel full and reduce bloating. Elimination of toxins is the goal so for the first few days you will see changes in that regard. Don’t be alarmed, just stay with it. If you’ve been following my Light and Healthy week recipes, you’re already prepared to begin a detoxifying menu. However, you might find easing into a detox plan is better for you so start with Light and Healthy Week and then transition to the Detox Menu. Let me know how you feel after five days, so let’s get started!

Getting started tips: Plan your menu in advance, create a shopping list, wash and precut vegetables, cook extra meats or fish to use during the plan, make your lunch the night before, and enjoy the experience!

Blissful Kitchen 5 Day Detox Menu
Copyright © 2011 Dorothy Whittenburg
All rights reserved

Every morning before breakfast:
Drink one cup room temperature water with the juice of half a lemon followed by one cup cranberry water (recipe below) with one teaspoon psyllium husk or powdered psyllium. Quickly mix the psyllium into the water and swallow the drink as it tends to expand fast in liquid.

Note: Medications should not be taken within two hours of taking psyllium.

Daily cranberry water: Mix twenty eight ounces of water with four ounces unsweetened cranberry juice. You’ll need 64 ounces of cranberry water per day. Reusing 33 ounce water bottles works well.

Choose one from below in addition to one cup of nonfat milk, regular soy or almond milk:
One small container of nonfat fruit flavored yogurt and small banana or 2% plain Greek yogurt and small banana or substitute ½ cup fresh berries for the banana.
One or two whole eggs either hardboiled or made into a vegetable (see below for vegetable list) omelet.
Two egg whites and vegetable scramble with one slice plain live grain toast.
One cup cooked oatmeal (not instant) with one tablespoon chopped walnuts & 1/4 cup fresh berries.  

Snacks: Choose one
Fresh vegetables: tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, carrots, radishes, broccoli, cauliflower, or any vegetables in any reasonable amount from the vegetable list below.
Fruit: One apple, two plums, one cup fresh berries
½ cup cubed plain or flavored tofu or tempeh
One serving raw flax crackers
Two tablespoons sunflower seeds
One serving toasted kale chips (check package or ½ cup of homemade chips)
One slice toasted live grain or fitness bread
Tofu smoothie: In a blender mix ½ cup silken tofu with ½ cup 100% apple juice and 1/3 cup fresh berries.

Lunch everyday: (This is a daily salad)
One cup thinly sliced kale, one cup baby spinach, grated carrots, tomatoes, radishes, red onion, cucumbers, 1/4 cup wild rice or ¼ cup kidney or black beans, two to three tablespoons salad dressing (recipe below).
Four to five ounces cooked lean chicken, low sodium turkey or salmon (no-salt canned or fresh) or canned (no or low salt) sardines in water.
Vegetarian option: Add ½ cup plain or flavored tofu or tempeh.

Salad dressing: Two tablespoons flaxseed oil, one teaspoon coarse grain mustard and one to two tablespoons apple cider vinegar. If you prefer a sweeter vinaigrette add up to one teaspoon agave syrup.

Fruit snack (choose one): One apple, two plums or one cup fresh berries

Four to five ounces cooked lean chicken or turkey or salmon, unlimited cooked or raw vegetables mixed with ½ cup brown rice or ¼ cup wild rice along with salad below.
Kale Salad: Same as Lunch salad with two tablespoons dressing but without protein, rice and beans.
Vegetarian option: Substitute ½ cup plain or flavored tofu or tempeh for protein.

Snack: any fruit from Fruit section with 23 almonds or a 100% frozen fruit juice bar with 23 almonds.  

Bedtime: One teaspoon psyllium husk mixed into eight ounces of cranberry water.

Fats: Have three tablespoons of fat per day. Two tablespoons flaxseed oil and one tablespoon canola, not olive oil. Cook your vegetables in up to one tablespoon canola oil or use nonstick spray.

Vegetables: any green leafy vegetable, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, celery, cabbage, cucumbers, red onion, letucceses, arugula, zucchini, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas, snow peas, bean sprouts, mushrooms, broccoli slaw and any non-starch vegetable.

Caffeine: Unless you feel you’re going to go mad, try to eliminate coffee but you can cheat with one cup of regular or decaffeinated coffee preferably without cream or sugar but since I’m not looking, have it your way! You can also try a blackberry black tea, green tea or any other antioxidant tea of your choosing.

Seasonings: Use any dried or fresh herbs or spices you like. Try to use a minimal amount of salt.

Do not eat: anything not indicated above. Remember, this is only for five days!

Chef’s Tip: Trader Joe’s brand unsweetened cranberry juice is the least expensive. They also sell sliced kale, broccoli slaw, apple cider vinegar, shredded carrots and most of the foods included in this menu.

Copyright © 2011 Dorothy Whittenburg
All rights reserved

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Quinoa goes with Chicken or Salmon

Salmon, quinoa, corn, carrot, edamame, cucumber-lime raita

Salmon, quinoa, corn, carrot, edamame, cucumber-lime raita

Quinoa, lemon-thyme chicken, hummus, tomato salsa and red cabbage
Leftover lunch: quinoa, lemon-thyme chicken, hummus, tomato salsa and red cabbage

Light and healthy week is working, I’ve lost two pounds and I feel great! I worked out at the gym five days this week and tomorrow will take one hour exercise boot camp class. So, today when I returned from the gym I felt ravenously hungry and didn’t have the patience to wait until I finished this recipe post. Racing to the refrigerator, I flung open the door to whip up a five minute meal.

I had a meal in mind today before I left to work out. It’s the most popular dish on my personal chef menu because clients love the mix of flavors and the high nutritional content. It’s a super-food meal and the star is quinoa. Quinoa is a Peruvian grain which is high in amino acids and a complete protein. The dish features salmon, quinoa, corn, edamame, carrot, herbs and a cucumber-lime raita with few dashes of togarashi, a Japenese chili spice mix. I made it a few years ago in my Next Food Network Star video that nobody watched. Nonetheless, it’s an outstanding dish and you can serve it happily to vegetarians.

But, let me get back to my crisis at the refrigerator door. I don’t like to waste food so although I’d overcooked (you can see the flecks of brown in the photo) some quinoa before I left for the gym, I put it aside for future use. In the fridge I had leftover lemon-thyme chicken, tomato salsa and some sautéed cabbage with garlic and balsamic vinegar. As I started putting together my plate, I also thought about hummus because I put a littleof it on almost everything and voila! A new delicious dish was born because I never thought about putting hummus and salsa together. They’re really complementary and are excellent on chicken.

Seared Salmon with Quinoa, Corn, Edamame and Carrot with Cucumber-Lime Raita
4 five ounce pieces of skinned salmon
Nonstick spray
Sea salt and pepper to taste

2.5 cups cooked quinoa (prepared according to package directions, for liquid use half water and half low-salt chicken or vegetable stock and season with salt to taste)
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 whole shallots diced
3 garlic cloves crushed
1/2 cup medium diced carrots (see Chef’s Quick Tip)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1 cup frozen shelled edamame (See Chef’s Quick Tip)
2 tablespoon chopped thyme
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Zest of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Quinoa: heat a large size sauté pan with sides over medium heat and add oil. Add shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes then add crushed garlic and carrots. Sauté carrots until tender but firm then add corn and edamame. Season the vegetables with sea salt and pepper to taste and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add warm quinoa, thyme, parsley, lemon zest and mix thoroughly and set aside.

Salmon: season both sides of fish with sea salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and spray with nonstick spray. Add fish and cook about 2-4 minutes per side depending upon the thickness of your fish. Prepare sauce while salmon is cooking. Place salmon on top of quinoa and garnish with Cucumber-Lime Raita.

Makes 4 main course servings

Cucumber Lime Raita
4 ounces non-fat Greek style yogurt
Zest of one lime
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup seeded and diced cucumber
Chopped cilantro to taste
A few shakes of Japenese togarashi or cayenne pepper
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Open the yogurt and using a microplane, zest the limon over the yogurt. Put the diced onion in a small bowl and add enough lemon juice to coat the onions along with a pinch of salt. Let the onions sit about five munutes then add the yogurt-lime mixture. Add cucumber, cilantro, a few dashes of togarashi and mix thoroughly. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.

Chef’s Quick Tip: for quick diced carrots, use Trader Joe’s brand of shredded carrots and dice them. A half a cup will do for this recipe. To quickly defrost frozen edamame, put them in a strainer in the sink and run hot water over them for a minute or two. Drain and add to the pan.

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Easy Thai Mussels with Lemongrass, Garlic and Tomato

Thai inspired mussels with red chilies, lemongrass, garlic and tomatoes

Thai inspired mussels with red chilies, lemongrass, garlic and tomatoes

My waistband is barely beginning to loosen so I have to stay focused. The vacation pounds are hanging on like barnacles on rocks along the shoreline. Salmon was on my mind today but mussels sang to me from their icy bed in the seafood case. In the spirit of light-and-healthy-week, they seemed like a good idea paired with a mixed green salad. Under different circumstances (loose pants), I’d add some coconut milk to this recipe. But, today I’m keeping the calories low and the flavor high so Thai inspired mussels are a great idea and very easy to make anytime. Often, the biggest challenge with mussels is figuring out how clean them and then wondering how to cook them.

This dish has a nice balance of traditional hot and sweet Thai flavors. The flavor star is roasted red chili paste that’s a blend of ingredients including tamarind, fish sauce, shrimp, garlic, peanuts, red chilies, and sugar. It gives you a lot of flavor for only 50 calories a tablespoon. Be sure to check the Chef’s tip at the end of the recipe.

Thai mussels in the pot

Thai mussels in the pot

Easy Thai Mussels with Lemongrass, Garlic and Tomato

1 teaspoon peanut oil (or any vegetable oil except olive)
1 whole shallot thinly sliced
2 inch piece of lemongrass finely diced (use white part after trimming end)
2 whole garlic cloves thinly sliced
1 teaspoon roasted red chili paste (Thai Kitchen brand)
5 cherry tomatoes quartered
1 pound washed and cleaned mussels
1/2 cup bottled clam juice or 1/4 cup white wine
Juice of half a lime
Chopped cilantro and/or mint to taste
Optional: 1/4 cup coconut milk

Heat a 2 quart pan with a lid over medium heat and add oil, shallots, lemongrass, and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes without browning. Add the red chili paste and saute for up to one minute. Add the tomatoes, mussels, clam juice or wine. Stir to combine all the ingredients and cover. Cook covered for 4-5 minutes then stir the mussels to ensure all of them have opened. If necessary, recover and cook for another minute. If using coconut milk, add just before removing from the stove and stir. Garnish with chopped cilantro and/or mint, lime juice, and stir. Transfer the mussels to a bowl and serve with the broth.

Makes one main course portion or three appetizer portions.

Chefs’s tip: be sure to use a pot that fits the quantity of the mussels. If the pot is too large, the liquid will quickly evaporate and you’ll lose most of your sauce. If it’s too small the mussels won’t cook evenly.

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Lemon-thyme Chicken with Mushroom and Parmesan Salad


Lemon-Thyme Chicken with Mushroom Parmesan Salad

Lemon-Thyme Chicken with Mushroom Parmesan Salad

Honestly, I’ve never met a mushroom I didn’t like. When I was in culinary school, I had a final exam in an Asian cuisine class that required me to memorize 40 or 50 ingredients including a lot of mushrooms. That’s when I became familiar with an amazing assortment of fresh and dried Asian mushrooms. So began my lust for mushrooms. This salad was inspired by a dish I had during happy hour at Palomino Restaurant in San Francisco. It’s so simple to make and a delicious light meal. I used boneless skinless chicken breasts which I don’t prefer but had available. I prefer a boneless skin on breast because skinless can be dry without brining.

Sometimes people ask me why I add canola oil to some of my salad dressings. I know its very popular to put extra virgin olive oil on everything and lots of it. When I lived in Italy it would have never considered putting anything other than evo on a salad. The food grown there complements the oil. However, for the most part American food doesn’t taste like Italian food in Italy so I don’t follow the pack on this one. Sometimes, olive oil overpowers flavors in a salad and canola oil is lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids than olive oil.

Don’t miss the tips for variations at the end of the recipe.

Lemon-Thyme Chicken with Mushroom, Reggiano-Parmigiano Salad and White Balsamic Vinaigrette
1 boneless skin on chicken breast
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice plus half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 whole garlic cloves cut in half
A few thyme sprigs
Salt and pepper to taste

6 medium size whole brown button mushrooms, brushed clean and stem cut but don’t remove
1 whole garlic clove cut in half
2 cups mixed salad greens
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Shaved Reggiano-Parmigiano to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Makes one serving

For the chicken, marinate the chicken in lemon juice, salt, and pepper for 15 minutes. Heat the olive oil on medium high heat and add garlic. Cook until brown and remove then add chicken and juices. Sear the chicken until it’s brown, turn and add whole spigs of thyme to the pan. Cover and continue cooking chicken until done, about 10-12 minutes. Covering the pan creates a quick pan sauce to which you can add the juice of half a lemon.

Trim the stem of the mushroom down to the cap but don’t remove the core. It’s needed to give the mushroom texture. Heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium heat and add garlic. Cook until brown and then remove. Increase heat to medium high and add mushrooms, season with salt and pepper. Cook mushrooms until brown on both sides and liquid has evaporated. The mushrooms are cooked when they’re soft but still have texture in the center. Remove from pan and set aside.

For the dressing, put the vinegar in a small bowl with a pinch of salt, whisk in canola and olive oil. This will make extra dressing for another use. Use a potato peeler to shave off a few slices of cheese.

Place the greens in a bowl with two tablesoons of dressing, pinch of salt, and mushrooms. Mix together and serve alongside chicken breast drizzled with pan sauce. Peel the thyme leaves off and sprinkle over chicken, garnish salad with parmesan curls.

Variations: this salad works great with medium soft goat cheese and grilled bread or a goat cheese crostini.

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Light and healthy week

Halibut with Savory Tomato Salsa

My pants are tight. I’ve just returned from a week in Flordia visiting family and eating enough food to induce a daily coma. I’m not talking ordinary food, I’m talking about food from my mother’s homeland, Guyana. Outstanding food! I’ll have a major food announcement next week but this week I’m going to relieve some stress on my waistband and eat, “light and healthy”. Buzzwords that make most chef’s cringe but nonetheless a necessary strategy when one can’t fit into one’s pants.

I’m still talking about tomatoes from my local farmer’s market. I saw vibrant yellow and red baby tomatoes and asked for a taste. Pow! That tomato was candy-like and juicy. First I bought one pound then returned for another one. Initially, I planned on eating them raw but decided to make a fresh, savory salsa to use this week. It’s good for about three days so make small batches.

Lee's farm fresh baby tomatoes

Lee's farm fresh baby tomatoes

This salsa has a few more ingredients than most but the savory flavor makes it versatile enough to use on poultry, seafood, or pork. However, if your tomatoes aren’t sweet, I recommend using another recipe because natural sweetness is important here. Generally, salsas don’t include spices but this one does. Spices add flavor complexity but don’t use too much. You should be able to taste everything in the salsa. The side dish featured here is carmelized squash and snap peas. Don’t miss the Chef’s tips at the botton of the recipe.

Seared Halibut with Savory Fresh Tomato Salsa
2 five ounce pieces of halibut skinned (I used local, wild California halibut)
2 teaspoons canola oil or extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the the oven to 400 degrees. Heat a saute pan with oil over medium high heat. Season both side of fish with salt and pepper. Swirl the oil so that the section you’re placing the fish in is covered with oil. Place the fish in the pan and don’t touch it. You’ll see the cooked side gradually increasing in opaque color. Make sure you wait until you see a nice brown colour around the edge of the fish before you turn it. If it’s browning too fast, reduce the heat but only a little. The fish needs to be brown! This takes 3-4 minutes.

Golden brown halibut

Halibut ready for the oven

Halibut ready for the oven

Turn the fish and repeat the same process but cook this side for 2 minutes. When the second side is brown, put the pan in the oven uncovered on the middle shelf and roast for about 5-8 minutes depending upon the thickness of your fish. Remove from oven and serve with savory salsa and sautéed vegetables.

Chef’s tip: if you don’t want to finish your fish in the oven and choose to cook the second side over medium heat covered, you’ll lose the carmelized crunch on the outside of the fish. The lid will create steam which will soften the crust but you’ll still have the flavor.

Savory Fresh Tomato Salsa
1 pint or 1.5 cups of rinsed fresh baby tomatoes
1/4 to 1/2 cup coarsely chopped red onion
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic power
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons lime juice
Handful of washed cilantro with stems
Optional: half of a coarsely chopped jalapeno with seeds

Put everything in a food processor and pulse until you get your preferred consistency. Taste and add additional seasonings as preferred.

Chef’s tip: this salsa works best with sweet seasonal tomatoes. To increase the flavor when using out of season or low flavor tomatoes, add tomato paste a teaspoon at at time.

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Tomato season is here!

Carmelized tomatoes and garlic for sauce

Carmelized tomatoes and garlic for fresh tomato sauce

This is may be my favorite season of the year. I simply adore fresh, delicious tomatoes that I only get a few months out of the year. Finally, these beauties have arrived at my local produce market. Now, I stumbled upon them by accident because every time I ask the produce guys about them, they say “no flavor”. Earlier in the morning while shopping at my beloved Berkely Bowl, I found two pound packages of pesticide-free Bella Bites tomatoes for an astonishing low price, $1.89 per box. Instantly I envisioned fresh tomato sauce so I bought three boxes.

Bella Bites tomatoes

Bella Bites tomatoes

Fresh tomato sauce is a freezer staple for me during tomato season. It also makes a terrific host gift. Simply freeze the sauce and keep a few Mason jars from the craft store on hand. Defrost the sauce and gently warm on the stove before filling the jars. Cool uncovered and seal. Wrap the jar with a ribbon and handwrite an ingredient tag. Voila, instant gift that anyone can use.

I use baby tomatoes for sauce because although I’m a professional chef, I’m a lazy at-home cook. I don’t have a lot of time and besides, I was traumatized several years ago when a friend convinced me that I should help him peel, seed, blanche, and chop 50 pounds of San Marzano tomatoes for canning. Never again. 

Fresh Tomato Sauce
6 pounds of rinsed, whole fresh, baby tomatoes. (If you’re using large tomatoes, peel, seed and chop them)
8 whole cloves of garlic cut in half
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Techinique is important in this recipe. The technique is to blister the tomato to release the water, simmer to cook, then increase the heat to reduce the water and slightly carmelize the garlic and tomatoes.

Use a saute pan with sides and not a non-stick pan. You will probably need to make this in batches, I used three saute pans. Divide the oil so that you have enough for the number of pans you’re using. Heat the saute pan over medium high heat and add the oil and some garlic. Try not to carmelize the garlic at this point, just get it golden brown. Add the tomatoes so that you have a single layer and sprinkle with salt. The tomatoes should blister meaning they turn slightly brown. Turn up the heat if necessary. Toss tomatoes so that most are blistered. Turn the heat down to low and let them cook uncovered about 20-25 minutes. Then, increase the heat to reduce the liquid to a syrup that is redish-brown in color.

Once the tomatoes are reduced (not too much you need some liquid), transfer them to a bowl and finish the batches. Transfer the cooked tomatoes to a blender or food processor and process according to your tastes. I like to strain half the batch and keep the other half chunky but still with texture. Cool and place in plastic containers. Placing a piece of plastic wrap on top of the sauce in a jar, pressing out the air, will prevent freezer burn.

Makes about 8 cups of unstrained sauce and about 6 cups strained sauce.

Note: this is a rustic sauce with seeds and skin. For a smooth sauce sauce, strain it through a Chinoise or a wire strainer. Be sure the wire strainer’s holes aren’t so small that you won’t be able to press the sauce through it. Test a small amount first.

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Sunday lunch, lamb lovers unite

This morning as I gazed into the meat case at Berkeley Bowl, my eyes landed on a plump mound of marbled lamb goodness. Overwhelmed by desire for a lamb burger, I saw a burger in my future. I envisioned a juicy burger, slathered in yogurt sauce and dripping in tomatoes.

If you don’t like lots of flavor, don’t make this flavor-bomb sandwich. The addition of pomegranate syrup to the meat adds tartness and cuts down on the fatty flavor of lamb. Za’atar, a Middle Eastern herb-spice blend adds an herby flavor but is optional.
It may even be too much for some folks, but not for me. You can change reduce some of the spices if don’t like bold flavors. Feel free, here it is.

Lamb burger

Lamb burger with yogurt-cilantro-dill sauce and mint tomatoes

Lamb Burger for Two
1 medium to large ciabatta roll sliced in half (use a roll with a soft crust)
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 teaspoon each ground: cinnamon, paprika, garlic powder, ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons pomegranate concentrate
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
Za’atar to taste
Extra virgin olive oil

Mix the spices, except za’atar, together in a small bowl and set aside. Place lamb in a bowl, add pomegranate syrup, spice mixture, salt, pepper and mix well. Set aside. Preheat a grill pan and brush the bread with olive oil. When hot, grill cut side only until golden brown, remove and set aside. Form the lamb mixture into a patty that fits the bottom half of your roll. Brush the pan with olive oil and grill the burger until cooked medium rare, about 3-4 minutes per side. Sprinkle with a pinch or two of za’atar before turning. After turning, add some sliced red onions to the cooked side and put the rest in the pan to cook alongside the burger. While the burger is cooking, make the yogurt sauce and mint tomatoes.

lamb burger with zaatar cooking

Lamb burger with za'atar cooking

Cilantro-Dill Yogurt Sauce
4 ounces non-fat Greek style yogurt
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped dill
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Mix everything together in the order given and set aside.

yorgurt, dill, cilantro

Yogurt, cilantro, dill sauce

Mint Tomatoes
Handful of sweet mini tomatoes of your choice, cut into halves or quarters if using large cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon sliced mint
Salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil to taste

Mix everything in a bowl together and set aside.

Tarragon-Whole Grain Mustard
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon

Mix together and set aside.

Tarragon, whole grain mustard spread

Tarragon whole grain mustard spread

Sandwich Assembly
Spread light amount of tarragon-mustard mixture on bottom of bread, place burger and onions on top. Place 2-3 heaping tablepoons of yogurt-herb sauce, then drizzle with mint tomatoes and add top slice.

Lamb burger with yogurt cilantro dill sauce and mint tomatoes

Lamb burger with red onion, yogurt cilantro dill sauce and mint tomatoes

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