Grilled Chicken and Mango Salad

Serves 4

Sometimes I just want a bowl of raw, fresh greens.  It happens either when it’s warm out or just as a simple craving (remnants from my vegetarian past maybe), but this time it was a real need.  Too much wheat in the week naturally leads me to a bowl of the opposite.  There goes the wisdom of the body seeking balance on its own!

The grilled chicken breast has its own story.

This chicken lived a good life.  It roamed around freely and ate worms, insects and grass and all the other things chickens eat.  It hung out in the sun and got its feathers ruffled by the wind.  It chased other chickens and got chased a bit, too.  It was a happy chicken.  The farmers who send us our CSA shipments seem like very happy farmers who love their jobs and their animals.  So, when we get our whole chicken delivered, breaking it down is the next step and we feel like we’re participating in this whole, loving process of getting our food from the farm to our table.

(In lieu of a video of me breaking down a chicken, (I’m quite good at it, but sorry, no time to get to this step!), check out this link which I think does a great job of simplifying what may seem like a daunting task.)

Anyway, our happy chicken comes with great health benefits and is SO MUCH tastier than any conventional chicken.  Pastured* organic chickens are leaner which means lower in fat.  Because they grazed on greens, they and their eggs are loaded with Omega 3s, Vitamins A and E as compared to their caged, warehoused counterparts.  They are also free of antibiotics, which is no small thing!  No antibiotics means they weren’t sick to begin with!  Not to mention they are free of pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  It’s nice to eat poison-free food!  It also wasn’t artificially fattened.  As a result, this chicken looks and tastes different.  Even the breasts are juicy and tender, which is a bonus for me since I’m not a fan of white meat.  (I know it’s bizarre that I prefer dark meat and red meat…I have no logical explanation.)

You’ll need:

For the Chicken:

2 split chicken breasts

1 T olive oil

1 t Herbs de Provence

Juice of 1 lemon

Sea salt

Dressing:

1/4 C golden balsamic vinegar

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

1 T dijon mustard

1 t maple syrup

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salad:

Baby greens or romaine lettuce

1 mango, diced

1/2 C candied pecans, chopped

1/4 C sunflower seeds, toasted

To make:

Chicken:

1. Wash and dry chicken breasts, then generously season with salt.  Add lemon juice and olive oil and lastly the Herbs de Provence.  Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge.

2. Heat a stove-top grill (or a real one, by all means!) over med-high heat.  Take chicken out and let sit at room temp for about 10 minutes before grilling.  You’ll have to be the judge on time since there are so many X factors, but I grilled for about 12 minutes on one side, then about 10 on the other.  (These chicken breasts also needed a bit of grill time on their sides which they got for a few minutes each.)  Internal temps should be 165 degrees.

3. When done, cut chicken into strips and set aside.

Dressing:

1. Whisk all ingredients together until emulsified.  Taste test with a bit of lettuce/greens and adjust accordingly.  A bit of lemon juice may round things out a bit if you’re not sure what it needs.

2. Just before assembling salad, dress the greens in dressing reserving some for chicken at the end.

Get your salad on:

1. With dressed greens in bowls, top with mango, pecans and sunflower seeds.  Lastly, top with chicken and IF you think it needs it, add more dressing.

2. Enjoy!

*A quick word on free-range vs. pastured chickens.  Unfortunately the regulations are loose and therefore the definitions are, too.  A free-range chicken can mean that the chicken saw a few minutes of daylight on a concrete slab before heading back into a crowded warehouse.  Pastured means the chickens at least got access to grass and natural, wild food.  It’s tough to tell what’s best by the labels.  My two cents is, if possible, get your animal protein directly from a reputable farm.  For more info, http://www.motherearthnews.com/Relish/Free-Range-Versus-Pastured-Chicken-And-Eggs.aspx

Carrot Fennel Soup

Serves 6

This is one of only 2 recipes that I don’t adapt, change, or alter in any way simply because it is so delish as is!  (Except that I eyeball amounts for everything instead of measuring…it’s a soup thing!)  It’s such a refreshing departure from the overused Carrot Ginger Soup.  Of course that one is quite delicious too, but it seems no one cooks carrot soup any other way these days!

I came across this recipe while working for a client.  She loved this soup so much, she even ate it for breakfast!  Rebecca Katz’s cookbook, “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen”, is a wonderful cookbook for everyone.  I have used several of her recipes in my own kitchen and have adapted many depending on who I’m cooking for.  But, leave this one alone.  I highly doubt anything can make this one better.

Fennel is a lovely, if peculiar looking, vegetable.  It’s delicious raw, pickled, sautéed, braised, you name it.  It is a digestive aid and is anti-inflammatory, thanks to its unique phytonutrients.  Anethole, a specific phytonutrient, has been linked to reducing inflammation and the occurrence of cancer.  Fennel also boasts high levels of Vitamin C (yay, more anti-oxidant power), fiber (think healthy colon and lower cholesterol) and folate (a good choice for you pregnant mamas).  It’s also a good source of potassium.

I just get so excited when something SO delicious is SO good for you, too!

You’ll need:

2-3 T olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1C)

1 medium fennel, chopped (about 1C)

3 lbs. carrots, cut in 1″pcs (OK, I don’t think I ever used exactly 3 lbs.  1 big bunch of carrots ought to be enough)

Zest from 1 orange

1/4 t ground cumin

1/8 t ground cinnamon

1/8 t ground allspice

7 C water or vegetable stock

1-2 T freshly squeezed orange juice

2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sea salt, to taste

To make:

1.  In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat and add onion and fennel with a  pinch of sea salt and sauté until tender and fragrant.  Add the carrots, orange zest and spices and another pinch of salt and sauté until combined well.

2.  Add about 1/2 C of water/stock and cook for about 5 minutes before adding the rest of the water.  Cook until carrots are tender, about 20-30 minutes.

3. Let cool a tiny bit.  Ladle one cup at a time into a blender and blend until creamy.  Be sure to hold the lid down with a dish towel or the steam will send your soup all over the kitchen.  Repeat until the soup is completely creamy.  (I prefer to use a blender as opposed to an immersion blender because I have more control over the consistency of the soup.)

4. Return the creamy soup to the pot over low heat and add the orange juice and lemon juice.  Heat for a few minutes to incorporate the flavors.

5. Enjoy!  (We love this soup paired with The Ultimate Grilled Cheese.)

Are you a food elitist?

I’m not sure, but I think I may be.  Food elitist, food snob, or the less offensive foodie and super foodie, all mean pretty much the same thing.  The thing is, I’m not sure what that is.  What I do know is that labels get in the way of learning about someone.  And, they make people get defensive.  I’ve had to defend my food choices for a while. Being a vegetarian seemed somehow threatening to many omnivores out there who always seemed to feel the need to tell me how much meat they ate or that they didn’t eat red meat or worse who tried to find a flaw in my way of thinking…and therefore eating.  For the vegans I’d met, I wasn’t hard-core enough.  I still ate animal products (dairy and eggs) so what was the point of being vegetarian?  It was utterly exhausting.

Labels get formed when things are misunderstood.  It’s easier because it prevents us from learning why people make the choices they do. Now “those people” can just be lumped into one category and we need not investigate any further.  We just know we’re not “like that”.  It is baffling why anyone would choose to pay $6 for organic strawberries when the larger, redder, shinier conventional strawberries are half that.  Or why anyone would get his or her meat from a farm when the supermarket is so much easier.  I’ve even heard that it’s un-American to not eat McDonald’s.  And, my favorite is that eating organic is just a trend that will fade when everyone realizes there’s no difference between organic and conventional food besides the price.

To all of you arugula eating elitists, I hear you.  To all of you unbelievers, I understand you.

We were never taught anything about food in school.  In fact, school is often the place we got the worst meal of the day.  The wisdom of generations past has been obliterated by the convenience of packaged and microwaved food.  Tradition lost to modernity and the food industry, the medical industry, and the government made us all believe that we needed them to eat.  That’s almost the worst part of this story.

We’ve lost our connection to where our food comes from.  Forget for a minute that organic foods really are more nutritious and far better for us physiologically and energetically, and far better for our planet, and think about that sense of connection.  Because we do everything so fast we’ve stopped thinking about what we’re doing.  In our culture we eat to live.  I’ve been to many places where they live to eat and I can tell you that they are much happier than we are.

They’re much happier because when you stop to think about what it is that’s happening when we eat, how we eat becomes as important as what we eat.  The Earth bears our food.  It grows in the soil or grazes on its grasses or comes from our rivers and oceans.  It all gets nourished by the sun and watered by the rain.  When we take the time to source our food from places as close to where our food came from, instead of a factory or a laboratory, taking the time to cook it is a natural and logical next step.  From that time invested in preparing the food you carefully chose comes the desire, the actual need to share it.  Now eating that beautiful meal has become an act of community.  We talk, we eat, we share and our time is spent together.  This should happen everyday, not just on special occasions.  This would restore our lost connection to the Earth and to each other.  We need to do this.  You know you feel it, too.

The food choices I make are in part due to reclaiming this connection.  I buy organic food and whenever possible, I try to buy locally and seasonally, too.  I get my meat from a farm.  I shop at farmer’s markets.  I pay more for many foods because I think it’s worth it; supporting organic farms and farmers, supporting sustainable agriculture, eating food full of vitality, integrity and flavor, maintaining my and my family’s health.  I believe food should be celebrated.  And, I believe that we should be grateful for where our food comes from, for the people who work the land and who guard it.  Our food should be appreciated for what it’s doing for us, satisfying a physical need, but also a spiritual one.  Eating is about taking care of oneself (enjoyment is part of that), taking care of each other and taking care of where we all live.  Our children need us to restore this for them.

If all this makes me a food elitist (if I had to choose, I’d really rather go with super-foodie), then fine, that’s what I am.

But honestly, don’t you want to be a food elitist, too?

For more on food elitism, from a farmer’s point of view, Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms wrote this article a while back.

Also, for info on all things organic, your first stop should be Rodale!

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

Mushrooms + Butter = Heaven

Yes, it’s a bold statement, but it’s so true.  And it’s a great truth because it makes those expensive and intimidating mushrooms a bit more accessible.  I wasn’t a mushroom lover.  During my vegetarian years, mushrooms seemed like another meat substitute and I got tired of the ubiquitous portobello mushroom ‘burger’ pretty quickly.  That’s the only way mushrooms were available.  Then I moved to Japan and the mushroom world opened up to me…and it’s still unfolding today.  Yet, no matter what mushroom I come across (no, I haven’t been foraging yet, but I can’t wait to get there someday), it seems that Julia Child and my friend, Sophia were right; sauté in a little butter, salt and pepper and YUM!

The health benefits of mushrooms in general are pretty much endless.   I worked at a food conference once about food and cancer and the keynote speaker, a very progressive oncologist, talked about mushrooms.  They are anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, some inhibit tumor growth, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, lower blood pressure, protect against the effects of chemo and radiation.  Maitakes are particularly full of Vitamins B and C and minerals zinc, iron, potassium, and selenium.  They are thought to be the most immune boosting of the bunch.  They are also potent anti-virals and amazing detoxifiers.

After all that she says, if they really want to clean up the Gulf of Mexico (just after BP spill), dump a few tons of mushrooms into the gulf.  They’ll take care of it.*  Now that’s a bold statement!

You’ll need:

2 large shallots, sliced

1/2 lb. maitake mushrooms

1-2 T olive oil

1-2 T organic butter, (pastured or raw would be even better)

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Emmentaler cheese, sliced (A nice sharp cheddar or Parmigiano Reggiano are great options, too.)

Sourdough bread, sliced

1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped

To make:

1. Heat olive oil over low-medium heat in a sauté pan (I use a cast iron skillet for every step…there’s just something about it for this!) and add shallots.  Add a pinch of salt and let caramelize.  Stir often to not let them burn.  It should take about 7 mins.  Remove from pan.

2. To clean the mushrooms, just wipe them gently with a paper towel.  With your fingers, take them apart (like string cheese…yikes, remember those days!).  Add 1 T butter to the pan over low-medium heat and then add mushrooms, a good pinch of salt of pepper.  Let cook and get slightly browned, about 10 mins.  Remove from pan.

3. Assemble the sandwiches with a thin layer of cheese on the bottom, mushrooms, shallots and another thin layer of cheese on top.  With remaining butter, grill sandwiches in pan.

4. To serve, top with chopped parsley.

5. Enjoy!

P.S. These are awesome for kids, too.  I know that sounds crazy and I wouldn’t believe it either, but I am speaking from experience!  Just try them:)

*Pamela Yee, MD, at Food Solutions – Navigating Cancer at Urban Zen Foundation, 2010

Guaya Popcorn (think trail mix-ish)

Makes 8-10 cups

Snacks became an important part of my diet when I first got pregnant.  It was the only way to quell the incessant nausea.  It was relentless for about 17 weeks, after which I couldn’t complain because I was lucky to find 2nd trimester bliss where I know many women who felt ill throughout.  The good news is that the worse you feel, the better it is for the baby growing inside!  Knowing that bit of info was one thing that got me through it.  This popcorn/trail mix was another!

Corn has gotten a bad rap lately and it’s for good reason.  Because we produce so much of it here, and it’s heavily subsidized, it sneaks it’s way into EVERYTHING we eat!  It becomes our sugar, oil, starch, and animal feed, so that the burger (not the grass-fed one) you’re eating is also CORN!  But, corn, in its whole form is full of wonderful health benefits.  It is high in Vitamin C and manganese and is a great source of fiber.  Fiber is essential for a healthy digestive system and plays a key role in leveling blood sugar too, particularly when combined with protein which corn is naturally high in.  The different colors offer a wide range of antioxidant phytonutrients.  That’s good news for our cardiovascular health.

Ready for more good news!  Drying corn, whether separated as kernels or still on the cob, doesn’t significantly lower the corn’s antioxidant potency.  Traditional cultures such as the Native American tribes (in all Americas) relied heavily on dried corn throughout the cold winter.  One need not look further than how traditional cultures prepared and ate their food.  They were connected to the land that bore their food and understood it in a way that is lost upon us, as a whole, now.  But rest assured, it is the most healthful and most delicious way to eat.

If you have the chance to pick up some heirloom kernels, do so! They’re smaller and come in all those beautiful colors that will indeed up the gourmet-ante on this delicious snack.

You’ll need:

1 C organic corn kernels

2 T refined coconut oil

Sea salt, to taste

1/2 C raw almonds, chopped

1/2 C raw cashews, chopped

1/2 C pumpkin seeds

1/2 C raisins

2 T organic butter, (pastured if possible:)

1/3 C honey

1 t cinnamon

1/4 t cardamom

To make:

1. In a large (deep) stock or soup pot, heat coconut oil over medium-high heat.  After a couple of minutes, drop 2-3 kernels in to test.  When they pop, take pot off the heat and add the full cup of kernels to cover bottom of pot in one layer.  Add some sea salt and then bring back to medium heat.  Keep partially covered.  When you hear the popping, give the kernels a hand by shaking the pot back and forth a bit, to prevent any from burning.  Keep this up till you have a nice full pot of fresh popped corn.

2.  Spread the popcorn out on 1 or 2 sheet pans.  Add nuts, pumpkin seeds and raisins.

3.  In the pot, melt the butter and honey and add spices.  Add this mixture to the popcorn mix and blend well.

4.  Optional step:  I sometimes (time permitting) throw these sheet pans into the oven at 350 for about 5 minutes just so that everything gets extra crispy.  It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get to this step, but it does last longer and stays crispier.

5.  Enjoy!

P.S. For a vegan version, substitute the butter for the same amount of extra virgin coconut oil and sweeten with agave instead of honey:)

Update; April 14, 2012:

Just found this article – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120325173008.htm  It talks about the antioxidant level in popcorn!  Check it out!

Grass-fed Burger

makes 4 1/4 lb.  burgers or 6-8 sliders

I used to be vegetarian…for nearly a decade.  I loved my vegetarian diet; it very much became a part of my identity.  It was hard work but I believed I was doing the best for my health and the planet.  It turns out that what’s best for your health changes as you change and change isn’t a bad thing!  (As for the planet, eating grass-fed meat is ideal.)

My journey to consuming animal protein began before culinary school, but being in school, studying food and being surrounded by a wonderful group of supportive people pushed me over the delicious edge.  It was indeed love at first bite…after bite, after bite.  I was surprised to feel more grounded, bolder and much more optimistic after just a few days of careful bites.  I was somehow becoming a new me.  I had been so concerned about the physical effects of eating or not-eating animal protein that I had forgotten about the very real emotional, mental and spiritual effects.  Those were the first changes I noticed.  Slowly my physical health also improved as my system was reaching more balance.

The grass-fed burger is so delicious you really don’t have to do much to it.  And that’s the whole point of great cooking!  Source the highest quality ingredients and let those flavors shine through!  To quote Michael Pollan, “eating a grass-fed burger when you can picture the green pastures in which the animal grazed is a pleasure of another order, not a simple one, to be sure, but one based on knowledge rather than ignorance and gratitude rather than indifference.”  You really can taste the pastures and the sun and the rain.  It is quite sublime and you can’t help but feel a deep connection to the Earth and a deep respect and gratitude for the animals raised for our consumption and the farmers who love and tend to them.

Nutritionally, grass-fed burgers are superior in every sense of the word.  Grass-fed beef is free of growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, stress, sickness!  It is much higher in Omega 3 fatty-acids (think brain and heart food,) than its grain-fed counterparts.  It is high in Vitamin E and abundant in CLA or conjugated linoleic acid, which may be one of the greatest defenses we have against cancer.  Grass-fed beef is often lean so it is lower in fat and calories and can actually reduce LDL cholesterol levels.

Being an omnivore again is good!

For more information on local and grass-fed meats, please visit www.eatwild.com.

You’ll need:

1 lb. Grass-fed ground beef

1-2 T parsley, rough chop (totally optional)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 large shallot, thinly sliced

1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

hamburger buns (if you really want to glam it up, brioche rolls are a nice touch;)

Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved

Mesclun greens

To make:

1. Assemble the burgers: Place beef in a bowl and season liberally with sea salt and pepper.  Add chopped parsley if using and assemble into patties 1/4lb thick.  (They’ll shrink a little after cooking.)  Set aside as you heat a cast-iron stovetop  grill…(or a gas grill!)

2. In a small sauté pan, heat oil and caramelize shallots until crispy and golden in color.

3. To cook burgers; this is a tough one since it’s more of an art than a science since there are so many X factors that affect it.  On our stove-top cast iron “grill”, I (or my husband more commonly!) usually cook for about 4-5 minutes on the first side until it looks like the meat is being cooked through.  Flip it over and cook for 3-4 minutes.  This should produce a lovely medium burger.

4. Dress it up!  We added Parmigiano and shallots this time and it was a winning combo.  So much so that it will be repeated in our kitchen!  Add some fresh greens and a pickle on the side.

5. Enjoy!

P.S. By getting your meat from a local farm, not only are you ensuring a million health and planet and animal and farmer benefits, but you’re also guaranteeing that your yummy burger came from 1 cow, not various parts of various cows from Texas, Virginia, Argentina, just to name a few places…oh, and no pink slime either, thank you!

Dreamy Creamy Oatmeal

Serves 4


Sometimes there’s nothing better than a warm bowl of oatmeal in the morning.  There are a million different way to dress up oatmeal, but this is an easy and delicious way.  It’s also one of my favorite.

Steel cut oats are superior in that they are more “whole” or less processed than quicker cooking rolled oats.  Oats are incredible blood sugar stabilizers.  They are a good source of complex carbs and soluble fiber and do well to lower cholesterol, regulate the thyroid and soothe the digestive system.  My sister, who is studying to become an herbalist, would be proud of this next tidbit of oat info :  oats are the one adaptogen grain, which means they improve resistance to stress and support a healthy state of balance.  (See Rebecca Wood’s, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia for more info.)

Oh, and regular organic milk works beautifully in this recipe, too.

You’ll need:

1 C steel cut oats, soaked overnight in 2 cups water and 1 T lemon juice

1 C coconut milk

¼ C dried fruit, raisins or cranberries or cherries or blueberries, etc

1 T ground flaxseeds or chia seeds

1-2 T maple syrup

¼ t ground cinnamon

1/4 t ground cardamom

1/8 t fresh nutmeg

1 t vanilla extract (optional)

¼ C chopped nuts, walnuts or pecans or almonds or pistachios

a handful of pepitas

To make:

1.  Place oats with soaking water, coconut milk, dried fruit and spices in a small sauce pan, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and simmer partially covered until oats are tender and oatmeal looks creamy, about 20-30min.

2.  When oatmeal is creamy, stir in flaxseeds or chia seeds and vanilla if using.

3. Dress each serving individually, placing ½ cup of oatmeal in a bowl and top with nuts, a dash of cinnamon and 1t maple syrup.

4. Enjoy!

Note:  For variations, use fresh fruit such as bananas or berries instead of dried fruit.  Add 1T almond or cashew butter.  There are no limits to how you can play with oatmeal!