Tahini Miso Dip

Makes 1/2 C

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As a mom, I’m always searching for another goody to whip up in the kitchen that just may WOW my toddler.  She’s a good eater most of the time, and I am certainly grateful for that.  Still, it’s good to keep pushing the envelope, expanding gastronomic horizons, and educating the palate.

I’m also doing a 4-week detox at the moment and miso, while solely my addition to this type of detox, plays a big role in my diet.  Having spent 3 years living in Japan, I’ve come to LOVE miso soup in all its variations and for every meal of the day.  Breakfast, too.  But, it’s so nice when it pops up in a place you least expect it.

A.G., a peer in culinary school, first introduced this to me when I was doing all kinds of experiments with my diet.  It’s expanded and grown over the years, but this time I’ve kept it simple, for those still tender and emerging tastebuds that can so easily be put off (seemingly) forever!

Why miso?

The simple answer is that it’s a true super food.  The details are as follows:

  • Miso is a fermented paste of soybeans, rice, barley or other grain and a koji inoculant.
  • Fermented means that is a probiotic.
  • Probiotic = bacteria.  The good bacteria that create a lustrous environment of strong cells to ward off the not-friendly bacteria.  It’s the immune boosting bacteria that also settles your digestive system.  And, it also makes you happy.  Seriously.
  • Miso is a known anti-carcinogen and is also known to reduce the effects of radiation and environmental toxins.  (Next time you’re going for x-rays, eat miso before and afterwards.  Help your body out!)

In this recipe it’s used completely raw, but when you’re cooking with miso, you want to make sure you don’t COOK the miso.  Heating miso kills all of its incredible healing properties.  So, if you’re making soup for example, add a bit of the water/stock to a small bowl and dissolve the miso in it before adding it to the pot.  Make sure the stove is off and just stir it in.  It’ll work it’s magic, in flavor and healing, on its own.

To be honest, my little one doesn’t love this just yet, but I know it’s totally up her alley.  All she has to do is try it!

You’ll need:

  • 1/4 C organic tahini
  • 2 t yellow or red miso (depending on your preferences…I used red miso.)
  • 2 T fresh squeezed lime juice (or lemons)
  • 1/2 t lime zest (or lemon)
  • 2-3 T water (you could need more depending on the consistency you’re looking for)

To make:

Stir all ingredients together except for the water.  Then, add the water in a slow drizzle to achieve the level of consistency you’re happiest with.  If it’s a bit too tart, you can add a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup to even it out.

Enjoy and smile 🙂

Cranberry Hazelnut Guaya Bars

Guaya Gourmet

Makes 16 squares

This is another variation of the original Energy Bars I posted ages ago…well, it seems like ages ago anyway.  It’s adapted from Rebecca Katz whose recipes are just delicious.  As head cook (most of the week anyway) in our home, I’ve taken charge of my hubby’s diet as he trains for the NYC Marathon.  Snacks are often the downfall of any program so it’s important to make those snacks work for you despite what regimen you’re on.  (Pregnant and nursing moms, these are great for you too.)  And, snacks are another opportunity to capitalize on serious nutrition and real energy.  We should never underestimate the power of a snack.  They get us through to the next meal and if done right, your body will be thankful all day long.

Hazelnuts, sometimes referred to as Filberts even though they’re actually different nuts, are native to Turkey.  (Most of…

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Comfort Food – Rice and Beans

Serves 4-6

Click on photo for credit.

Click on photo for credit.

Expat life is not for the faint-hearted.  It is constantly filled with goodbyes, endless packing and unpacking, adjusting and re-adjusting, and some degree of culture shock and its even friendlier cousin, reverse culture shock.  In each transcontinental trek you are faced with those questions and doubts that only expats can relate to. And, in the face of all these challenges, you often find that the reasons you chose to move; to be an expat in a foreign land, to raise your kids in that foreign land, are still the same.  Only a fellow expat can relate.

On the upside, you get really good at navigating airports and knowing which flights are the best to take.  You get so good at packing, and you learn the value of what is truly essential to you and what isn’t.  You find that adjusting gets easier (it’s just a matter of time, right?) and culture shock is amusing.  Those questions and doubts…those still come and go, but you learn to live with them. They’re part of the package, so to speak.

But when it all seems like too much, like when you’re utterly exhausted and still jet lagged and your very aware toddler is beckoning to you because she doesn’t quite understand why she hasn’t seen the sun in 3 days, those are the moments to turn to comfort food.

One of the most important things for me to do to feel at home is to get in the kitchen and start cooking.  That simple but ancestral act keeps me grounded.  The smell of food wafting through my home is a sure sign that we’ve arrived, and soon our bellies will be full and our hearts and minds will be calm.

Comfort food can simply be a piece of good cheese and a hearty piece of bread.  Sometimes it’s something sweet.  Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, but every bit worth it.  Whatever it is, it’s the same for everyone; it’s usually a favorite childhood meal.

For me that will always be rice and beans.

When I visited Colombia, particularly the Antioquia and Caldas regions, I suddenly felt at home.  I was born and raised in the States and had only visited Colombia once before as a child.  Yet, when I ate the traditional rice and beans, I may as well have been in the kitchen of my childhood home.

It turns out that being a first-generation American is a lot like being an expat.  You find home in more places than one and you find that parts of you belong in places you’d never dream of and some parts just don’t belong where you think they should.  No matter how hard you try.

Food has a way of taking you home.  For me, that’s just what this dish; cargamanto beans and rice, sweet plantains, an over-easy egg, some chicharron (pork belly), and an arepa, does.  Of course, times and places have changed, and I’ve had to make adjustments.  While white rice used to be a comfort food, it no longer is and long grain brown rice in no way takes away from the beauty and comfort of this meal.  Neither does grass-fed pork, mind you!  (No pork here though, grass-fed or otherwise!)  Another ingredient that’s had to go is the Sazón Goya.  Once I found out that the main ingredients were cumin, coriander, garlic and onion powder and yellows #5 and #6 I figured it was time to make my own, minus the chemicals.  So, this may not exactly be the exact, traditional way of preparing this dish, but it comes so close not even my mom can tell the difference.  Except for the rice!

This is what I do and what I love to do.  I love to take those meals, the favorite ones and make them better by making them more whole, more nutritious and yes, more delicious.  You never know when you’re going to need to get a dose of home or for how long so comfort food should be good for you on all levels…as much as possible anyway!

Thankfully, this dish did the trick.  Feeling more at home already!

What are your favorite comfort foods?

For the beans:

You’ll need:

  • 1 C cargamanto beans (cranberry beans), soaked in water overnight
  • 1 1″ piece of kombu
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 C bone broth or water
  • 2-3 T Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 2 vine tomatoes, diced
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ground paprika
  • 1/2 t garlic powder
  • Several good pinches of Himalayan Pink Salt (my salt of choice, but sea salt is great, too)

To make:

  1. Drain and rinse the beans then add beans to a soup pot with the broth/water, kombu and bay leaves.  Cook on high heat for 10 minutes then reduce heat to medium/low and partially cover.  Make sure to skim any residue that has formed in the first high heat cooking.
  2. Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add onions.  Add a pinch of salt and saute until translucent.  Add tomatoes and all spices and cook until it becomes ultra fragrant and is a bit thick, almost like a paste.  (If you need a little help getting to this stage, 1 T of tomato paste does the trick!)
  3. Add onion/tomato mixture to beans and keep cooking on medium/low heat, partially covered until beans are tender.  It usually takes about an hour.

For the rice:

You’ll need:

  • 1 C long grain brown rice, thoroughly washed and soaked overnight in 2 C water and 1 T lemon juice or vinegar
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt (or sea salt)

To make:

  1. Place rice in its soaking water, in a small sauce pan with oil and salt.  Cook over high heat until it reaches a boil.
  2. Once it reaches a boil, lower heat to low and cover.  Cook this way for about 40 minutes.
  3. Whatever you do, DO NOT STIR the rice!  Leave it alone and it will do its job.  You’ll know the rice is done when small holes appear and the water has disappeared.  Once you’ve reached this point, quickly replace the lid and remove from heat.  The rice will finish off nicely sitting in its steam for a bit.

ENJOY!

How to Cook When You Don’t Have Time to Cook

I’ve encountered this question a lot this summer and seeing as I’m still on a vacation, I thought a reblog would be perfect for you and for me! Hope these tips help answer that all too familiar question. May you be inspired with creativity and may the kitchen gods be with you!

Guaya Gourmet

Let’s face it.  The best meals you eat are the ones you cook yourself, or someone cooks for you, if you’re lucky!  Nothing beats home cooking.  You know exactly what you’re eating, how it’s prepared and YOU can control portion size.  Portions have gotten pretty ridiculous and most of us get through our plates because we paid for them.  Then we feel terrible afterwards and we think that this is normal.  It isn’t.  (Neither are “all  you can eat” buffets!)  Additionally, home cooking is usually made with LOVE, an ingredient that elevates most dishes and nourishes body and soul.

When I give workshops on Food and Health or am otherwise chatting about food and cooking, I oftentimes hear from people that they would cook and eat better if they only had the time to.  They tell me how lucky I am that I’m a health-supportive chef, that I must have…

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Earl Grey Kombucha

Makes 2 qt (or litres)

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While I’m pretty sure I had had some kind of fermented tea during my Japan days, I can’t really be sure.

So, it has to be said that my first official introduction to fermented drinks was in culinary school.  Everyone was drinking kombucha, and everyone was making it.  Except for me.  Kombucha Brooklyn (especially) provided me with some delicious choices so I never really had to dabble in the art of bacteria breeding.  It seemed easy enough.  I just never felt the urge or desire to venture down that scary bacteria-ridden road.   Frankly, I was relieved.

Then I moved to the UAE.  Suffice it to say that there is no Kombucha Brooklyn here.  But what I did find was an incredibly friendly community of bacteria breeding foodies eager to share their knowledge and SCOBYs.  When you suddenly find yourself in a place where every assumption is challenged, every belief is toyed with, every conviction slightly to drastically changed, you realize you are a bit more capable of whatever it is you weren’t before.  So, bye-bye fear and hello bacteria.

What was I afraid of?  Well, bacteria!  What if I didn’t “grow” it right?  What if it gets moldy?  How will I know if it tastes right?  Will I get sick from a bad batch?  There’s nothing like a good experiment to put all those questions to rest.  That and support from the previously mentioned community of just as crazy as I am health nuts.  Who knew I’d fit in so well here?

So, everyone in culinary school was drinking it because it is incredibly nutritious, and it’s the same reason everyone here is, too.  It is known as ‘the immortal health elixir’ and the biggest reason is kombucha’s unique ability to detox the body.  Kombucha has many acids and enzymes beneficial to the detox process, already produced in the body.  This alleviates the work of the pancreas and liver and helps them do a better job.  Glucuronic acid (GA) is the key word here.  The main function of GA is to bind to toxins and escort them from the body.  And, the GA in kombucha is very effective.  It is even effective at eliminating several environmental toxins.  (Think plastics, pesticides, etc.)  Studies show that GA has also been linked to cancer prevention¹.  Read that sentence again because it’s amazing.

Other health benefits include a very happy digestive system.  Food and drink that have been fermented have, in a manner of speaking, been pre-digested.  The bacteria formed during this process not only aids the gut by populating it, but also helps you fully digest.  Kombucha is a true probiotic (which from the Greek means “for life”).  It helps rid your body of excess candida, helps keep allergies in control and does wonders to boost immunity.  It actually does all those things.

It starts as a quest for better health but soon you begin craving that slightly vinegary, yet subtly sweet effervescence.  Trust me, you will.

And trust me, it’s worth the experiment.  But just so you know, it’s a bit like opening Pandora’s box.  There is no end to what you will learn and no end to the myriad ways different drink and food can be fermented.  It’s a wild, bubbly ride!

You’ll need:

2 T loose Earl Grey tea (or 6 tea bags)

2 qt (or litres) water

1/2 – 3/4C organic sugar

1 Kombucha SCOBY* (SCOBY is an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast.  You can get one from a friend or if you are the first brave soul of your circle of friends, you can get a starter here or here.)

about 1C of kombucha (which will have come with the SCOBY)

2 qt glass jar (sterilized), clean kitchen towel or a couple of layers of cheese cloth and rubber bands

To make:

1.  Boil your water and remove from heat.

2.  Add tea and sugar and let steep until water is cool.  I usually let mine sit for a few hours, mostly because by the time I remember that’s how much time has passed.  Tastes great still!

3.  Add the tea to the jar and then add the 1C kombucha.  Let this mix of teas get acquainted and then introduce the scoby.

4.  Cover the jar with the kitchen towel (or cheese cloth) and secure the rubber band around the mouth of the jar.

5.  Keep the jar in a safe place where it won’t be moved or jostled, where it’s room temperature and out of direct sunlight.

6.  Let ferment for about a week, untouched.  After a week, give it a taste test to see where you are.  Don’t be surprised if another scoby has begun to form at the top of the jar.  This is good and is a sign that your kombucha is healthy.

7.  When you’ve finished about half of the kombucha, you can add another quart/litre of fresh (cooled) tea to the batch.  This is called a continuous brew.

*Disclaimer:  There are plenty of sources that recommend NOT using Earl Grey tea for kombucha because of the bergamot essential oil.  It is thought that the oil could compromise the health of the scoby.  However, many people have used Earl Grey and had successful batches and beautiful scobys.  I am now part of that list!  The beautiful thing about fermentation is experimentation!  Brew away!  And if you’ve got a great flavor working for you, please share it!

¹http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2208084?dopt=Abstract

Blueberry Coconut Pancakes with Coconut Yogurt

Makes about 10 (1/4c) pancakes

Blueberry Coconut Pancakes

I get excited about food.  Back in the States, the days we got our CSA boxes were happy days.  My husband and I would go through the box, checking out our goods while talking about this meal or that for each beautiful piece of produce we touched.  Here in the UAE, that excitement has doubled…at least doubled!  We don’t get the exotic, heirloom treasures that the Hudson Valley has given us over the years but then again, we do live in the desert.  And I don’t mean that figuratively.  We actually live in a desert.  So, any produce (and so far we’ve gotten arugula (aka rocket), strawberries, peppers, sweet potatoes, chard, beets, carrots, celery, green beans, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, a whole bunch of fresh herbs, organic eggs, organic, low-heat pasteurized milk, to name a few) we get that is local AND organic is amazing!  What really doubles our excitement is that Claire is now very much a part of our conversation and investigation of our beloved farm fresh boxes.

This week she went straight for the blueberries.   Like mother, like daughter.  They were like blue little pearls peeking up at us underneath all that glorious green.  They were irresistible.  While Claire got through one box, I managed to put another away for a special breakfast.  Little did I know how special it would turn out.

Berries in general are super stars (and why you should always go organic when buying some).  When you hear about blueberries especially, and their amazing health promoting properties, the first word to come to mind is likely, antioxidants.  And, rightfully so! Blueberries are not messing around when it comes to its antioxidant power.  What’s special about it is that the antioxidants in blueberries offer whole body support.  Each and every system in our bodies, from the cardiovascular system to the nervous system to the digestive system, benefits from the antioxidants in blueberries.

Another word that should come to mind is, phytonutrients.  While anthocyanins are the most popular, given that the berries get their blue from them, there are a myriad of other phytonutrients that work together to make this berry the super star it is.  Got cholesterol issues to deal with?  Eat blueberries.  Need a cognitive boost (as in memory, especially)?  Eat blueberries.  Got insulin issues to contend with?  Eat blueberries.  Want general protection from cancer?  Eat blueberries.

I’m sure by now you’re getting my drift.

More good news.  If you find yourself having to freeze blueberries, or buying frozen blueberries, you won’t be compromising much of the antioxidants at all!  Buy out your farmer’s blueberries and make a home in your freezer for them.  This way you can enjoy this super berry all year long!

On to the recipe now.  It became this on its own.  I’m not sure what I even had in mind anymore, but this one is a winner.  If you’re a GF eater, opt out the spelt for GF all-purpose flour OR GF oat flour.  My new favorite topping for pancakes is yogurt and I can get some pretty decadent yogurt here!  Next time I may try putting the yogurt into the actual batter to see how that goes, but if you get to it first, please let me know how it goes!

You’ll need:

  • 1 C organic spelt flour*
  • 1/4 C organic coconut flour
  • 1/4 C unsweetened shredded coconut (or dessicated coconut for my new UK and AUS friends 🙂 )
  • 2 T coconut (or date) sugar
  • 2 t baking powder
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3 medium eggs (I used farm fresh eggs which are typically smaller, so 2 large eggs would probably be OK, too)
  • 1 1/4 C organic whole milk
  • 1/2 C coconut oil or melted butter (organic of course!)
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 1 C organic blueberries + more for garnish

To make:

  1. In a large bowl, mix flours, shredded coconut, sugar and baking powder.  Combine well.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, milk, coconut oil (or butter) and vanilla.
  3. Add wet ingredients into dry (make a little well in the dry ingredients to incorporate evenly and prevent too many lumps) and mix just to combine.  Resist the urge to over mix!  The batter will be slightly thicker than you’re used to because of the coconut flour.  Don’t worry.  It’ll even out when cooking.
  4. Add blueberries and stir again, gently.
  5. Heat a cast iron griddle over medium heat and melt some butter.  Using a 1/4C measuring cup, pour the batter into the pan and cook for 3-4minutes or until golden brown.  Flip pancake over, gently!  Resist the urge to press on the pancake!  It will cook evenly and quickly without any tampering. 😉
  6. Keep pancakes warm in the oven until ready to serve.
  7. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, a few fresh blueberries and your favorite sweetener such as maple syrup, date syrup or honey.
  8. Enjoy!

Little Foodies

AKA Kids Who Eat Everything

Claire loves olives, dates, apricots, raisins and seaweed in her snack box.  This was her 8th time trying papaya and she's finally taking to it.

Claire loves olives, dates, apricots, raisins and seaweed in her snack* box. This was her 8th time trying papaya and she’s finally taking to it.

If your first thought was, “those kids don’t really exist” or “if they do exist, they’re definitely not mine”, I ask you to put those thoughts away and think of the perfect world.  A scenario might look like this: you and your family are sitting down to a meal of whole foods, including the dreaded green vegetables, and not a whine or complaint in protest is heard, instead you hear the sounds of satisfaction, lots of Mmmms and lots of silence.  It may sound impossible and to get that every single day might not be very likely, but versions of this perfect world are within your grasp.

My sister, a Francophile at heart, recommended I read Karen LeBillon‘s “French Kids Eat Everything”.  I devoured it.  It turns out French kids really do eat everything.  (I’ve also seen Japanese kids eat everything, which means a lot of other kids must, too.)  Why do they? Karen LeBillon does a good job of explaining this and her 10 food rules are great to get you and your family onto that foodie track.

What struck me the most about her book was how food culture is developed and maintained in France.  It starts at the top (government) and trickles down into the different facets of society until it reaches the schools and the homes of each family.  Each and every person is concerned with maintaining and instilling the food culture to their children, the next generation of eaters.  Where their food comes from and how it is treated is of utmost importance. Eating is a celebration!  Food is to be shared, talked about, prepared and enjoyed together, at the table, not in the car or on the subway. There is definitely some rigidity to the way this is achieved in France, at least to my North American sensibilities, but I have to admit that while reading this I did kind of wish I was French.  Or at least I wished I was living there.

In my food culture, often referred to as the ‘fast food nation’, NONE of this is true and kids are hardly ever expected to eat what adults eat. The result is a lot of adults eating exactly what they ate as kids, usually tons of fried finger foods, pasta, meatballs, chicken, a ridiculous amount of dairy, too much sugar.  My shock at how many adults have confessed they don’t like vegetables (except for potatoes) never wanes.

So, if you want your kids to eat well as adults, they HAVE TO eat well as kids.  But how?

  • Experiment and Innovate – You will learn how to prepare the same food a million different ways.  You have to.  You have to give your child the opportunity to try a food in many different forms, textures, flavors (spices), hot/cold, raw, etc.  One way will stick and it will open him up to trying the same food in another way.
  • Be Persistent and Patient– LeBillon says that it may take 15+ times of introducing a food before your child will eat it.  This was a relief to read.  I had been persistent before but would give up after 5 or 6 tries.  I tried this 15+ out and it turns out to be true. Be patient.  Your baby/child is probably skeptical and will need patience to convince her.
  • Make it Fun, Make it Beautiful, Make it a Big Deal – When eating is a chore it is utterly boring for you and your child.  It is also utterly boring when what you are eating isn’t very appealing.  We eat first through our eyes and if it’s vibrant and beautiful, there will be more of a chance that you’ll at least get a taste to happen.  Eating IS a big deal so make it one!  Make it special.  Karen LeBillon talks about the French dressing up their tables with table cloths and special dishes and utensils for the kids.  It’s a brilliant idea and it works.
  • Do it Together – Children of one of my client’s asked to watch me in the kitchen one day.  He (11yrs) and his sister (8yrs) devoured the miso soup I prepared with a side of brown rice.  They ate fish prepared en papillote.  They loved the green juice.  All were new foods to them.  They were amazed at how the ingredients turned into the meals I was preparing because it is an incredibly amazing process.  Share it with your children and their enthusiasm for trying what they’ve prepared will skyrocket.
  • Eat Real Food – This is a biggie.  Canned peas suck.  Peas just out of the pod are like candy.  Kids are not stupid and they know the difference between real food and what is supposed to pass for food.  A huge misconception is that their taste buds can’t handle big flavors.  It’s true, their taste buds need to be developed (and it’s not just kids who need to do this), but a variety of flavors helps in this process.  Real, fresh, (yes organic, too), food explodes with flavor and as it delights you, it will delight them.

These are my own approaches with my daughter and I was beyond pleased to see that they were in some way or another on LeBillon’s list as well.  I may not come from a place with a well defined food culture, but if we all endeavor to help our kids become less-picky eaters, and more aware of food and how it binds us to each other and the Earth, we’ll be defining it from the bottom up, starting in our homes until the message gets heard way up top.

*LeBillon goes into great length about snacks and snacking.  If this is an issue for you and your family, you will be happy to know that it was a huge issue for her and her family as well.  She offers an interesting take on the whole subject!  As a mother, a chef and an expatriate, this book spoke to me on many levels.  It’s a great read, entertaining and informative and with delicious recipes to top it all off!

Bon Appetit and Bonne Chance!