The Gluten Affair

gluten-free-symbolWell, it has been awhile since I posted anything.  What’s been going on?  Besides working a lot, I’ve been trying to get healthy again.   Several weeks ago my stomach issues started reaching new heights.  I couldn’t eat, had major digestion issues, my tummy was ridiculously bloated, and overall felt like I was just really sick, all the time.   I knew what it was before I knew what it was, really.  Having studied nutrition, the symptoms of gluten intolerance are pretty familiar to me.  But as a chef, and someone who personally has viewed the influx of gluten dieters as a ridiculous trend, I didn’t want to admit it or become one of those “does this have gluten in it?” people.  But I felt so sick that something had to give.   So I’ve cut it out of my diet and basically done a 180.  My bloated tummy has calmed down, I feel clearer, and my digestive system is about 75% better.  It’s not an overnight thing but my symptoms have improved dramatically.

I think the reason it got so bad at that point is because I was eating more sandwiches than normal, and crouton filled salads.  We also tended towards a lot of chinese food, and soy sauce is a gluten minefield.  It’s not so hard now to avoid it, but many of the exciting recipes I had planned for the blog were glutenous and I don’t want to make stuff just for me to eat by myself.  I’ve been eating really boring, whole foods at home so there hasn’t been a lot to blog about, and many of my catering jobs included things that have already been featured here.   I don’t want to make this a gluten-free blog but I might have to feature one or two recipes a week that are specifically wheat-free.

That said, if you are considering going gluten free as a diet and don’t have symptoms, don’t do it.  You won’t lose weight, most likely, especially if you use replacement foods like gluten free cookies, crackers, and cakes.  Just eat healthily and cut back on simple carbohydrates.   If you do have the symptoms of gluten intolerance, either cut it out of your diet, see if you improve, or continue to eat it and go to your doctor to get tested.  If you don’t have gluten in your system when you go for an allergy test, they won’t be able to tell if you are intolerant.

I’d also like to make a quick little list of the places I have eaten recently that have been awesome about dealing with my newfound allergy:

Benihana

Ruggle’s Green

Gigi’s Cupcakes

The Olive Garden (don’t judge me.  It’s my boyfriend’s favorite.)

Saltgrass Steakhouse

Standout:  P.F. Chang’s.  This place, while I don’t really adore the food, goes above and beyond for gluten allergies, down to special packets of tamari soy sauce and labeling everything clearly.

So, to sum up, I’ll be back blogging now that I have things figured out and a bit of a break in huge catering gigs.  Keep checking back here for recipes, tips, and more!  XO

Fennel & Prosciutto Crostini

fennel2So part 2 of the recipes from last week’s catering extravaganza continues today with the Fennel & Prosciutto Crostini.  This recipe could not be easier, but remains impressive enough just because the raw ingredients themselves are so special.  Fennel is that huge fern looking thing at the grocery store that you’ve never bought before.  You should.  It’s delicious, albeit an acquired taste.  Imagine if a liquorice mated with an onion.   Well, no, don’t, because that sounds gross.  But I can’t think of how else to describe it.  Basically, it’s anise in a big crunchy form.  I prefer it sliced thin and eaten raw, but there are many, many recipes for roasted or cooked fennel.  For this I sliced it really thin with a handheld mandoline-type slicer (the Kobra) to get it paper thin.  You can use a knife, or slice it with the correct attachment blade on the food processor.

Now in this recipe it’s all about flavor balance.  You have the sharpness of the fennel combined with the salty, meaty prosciutto plus some lemon juice and zest for a bit of acid and then olive oil to bring it all together.  I wouldn’t add too much salt, if any even, because if you let the prosciutto mingle with the other ingredients for a bit before serving, you have more than enough salty flavor.  Plus, I always sprinkle the crostini with a bit of salt before toasting.   Now I didn’t do this on the day, but I would recommend (if you like), spreading a bit of goat cheese on each piece of bread before topping it with the fennel mixture.   It’s just one more element of balance that i think would go absolutely perfectly here.

The only other thing to keep in mind here is to separate out your prosciutto layers before you cut it, or even buy the little packet of diced prosciutto that they have now.  If you stack them all up (like I did), they just stick together and you wind up with huge clumps of cured meat rather than separate ribbons.  Silly me, trying to save time, realized this a little too late.  Oh well.   My mistake is your teachable moment.

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Fennel and Prosciutto Crostini

1 head of fennel, stems removed

3 oz prosciutto

1 lemon

2 T Italian Parsley, minced

3 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling on bread

Spreadable goat cheese

1 baguette, sliced into 3/4″ pieces

Salt

Wash the fennel well and then slice paper thin across the layers.   Put in a bowl.  Slice the prosciutto into 1/4″ strips and keep separated so they do not clump together.   Add to bowl.  Zest the lemon over the fennel and prosciutto, and then squeeze both halves worth of juice into the bowl.  Add the minced parsley and the olive oil and toss to combine everything.  Cover and set aside.

Heat oven to 375 F.  On a sheet pan, toss the slices of baguette with olive oil and salt, just enough to very lightly coat.  Arrange the bread in a single layer and toast for about 5 minutes, until just crispy but not completely hardened.   Let cool.

Spread a bit of goat cheese on each piece of toast, then top with the prosciutto and fennel mixture.  Arrange on a platter and serve!

This should make enough for about 15 – 20 people.

 

Avocado & Bacon Deviled Eggs

deviledegg1 copyWhew, I finally have some time to update here!  I’ve been catering like a crazy lady over the past week, which is awesome.  So with that in mind, the next several posts are going to be from a big event I did last week for Savannah House, an interior design showroom in Houston.  They had a big re-opening last week and I did breakfast, lunch, and hors d’oeuvres for them throughout the day!   It was a lot of fun.   One of the recipes I did were some avocado and bacon deviled eggs.   The combination occurred to me when I was brainstorming, and a quick google search told me I’m not as clever as I had hoped.  But I added a few extra dashes here and there to separate mine from the other deviled egg recipes out there.  The trick with deviled eggs, obviously, is getting the hard boiling process down and then using a pastry bag and tip to get the nice little swirl of filling.  Here is a link to some instructions on how to hard boil eggs, since I don’t want to just retread that ground here:  http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_perfect_hard_boiled_eggs/

Hope you like it!

Avocado and Bacon Deviled Eggs

18 large hardboiled eggs

1 large Haas avocado

3 T light mayo

Several dashes Tabasco

Several dashes Worcestershire Sauce

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 T lemon or lime juice

2 T dijon mustard

Salt

3-4 Slices Applewood Smoked Bacon, baked, drained of grease, and chopped into bits

Paprika, for garnish

Make sure your eggs are boiled and chilled.   Peel the shell off of the eggs and discard, then slice each egg in half lengthwise as evenly as possible.  Pop out the yolks into a food processor or mixing bowl and set the egg halves back on a tray and refrigerate.  In the bowl or food processor, add the avocado, tabasco, mayo, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, lemon or lime juice, and mustard.   Blend until the mixture is completely smooth.  If it is still very thick, add more mayonnaise and a little more lemon or lime juice.  Blend again.  Season with a bit of salt, taste, and continue to season until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Scoop the mixture into a pastry bag with a large pastry tip of your choice fitted in.  Pipe about a tablespoon or so of the egg mixture into each egg white half.  Sprinkle a bit of paprika over each egg, and then garnish with the bacon bits.  Enjoy!

Makes 36 deviled eggs

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Enchiladas Part Dos

roja1I know I’ve already done a turkey verde enchilada post on here, but I made some chicken roja enchiladas yesterday for a catering job that were so good, I have to share the recipe!

I know the picture is not as saucy/cheesy as it should be; I was only able to photograph them after I brought the leftovers back and they had been sitting over sterno for quite awhile at that point.

As far as the recipe goes, this was completely a controlled accident.  I didn’t have specific measurements in mind, but knew what I was going for: a nice, smoky, complex red sauce.  So I continued to just add things and decide against things until I had the right balance!    The chicken I just boiled, shredded, and tosses with some vegetable oil and adobo spices – putting plain chicken inside would just be boring, right?

So here’s the recipe.  First  I just want to say if anyone happens to be reading in Boston,  my thoughts are with you and please stay safe.  This has been a rotten, rotten week in Massachusetts and Texas and the thing that is so reassuring are the images of people helping and the humanity that arises in the face of such heinous acts.   When the world seems at its darkest, the kindness that lives in most people can really light the place up.  I was in New York on 9/11 and was shocked by the heart of the city, and Boston is finding that heart and strength now, as is West, Texas.  We are here to take care of each other.

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Roja Chicken Enchiladas

1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Vegetable Oil

Adobo spices (Goya brand, if possible)

1 yellow onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 can diced tomatoes

1 carton Pomi tomato sauce

3 C chicken stock

2 Dried Ancho Chiles, stems and seeds removed

1 Dried Guajillo Chile, stem and seeds removed

1/4 C cilantro leaves

2 T lime juice

2 tsp ground cumin

3 T Chipotle chile powder

2 T garlic powder

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Corn tortillas

1 1/2 C queso fresco, crumbled

2 C Monterey Jack, shredded

2 C Medium Cheddar, shredded

Bring a large pot of water to a light boil.  Add the chicken breasts and cook about 15 – 20 minutes, until cooked through.  Drain chicken and set aside to cool.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 T vegetable oil.  Add the garlic and onions and stir, cooking a couple of minutes.  Pour in the diced tomatoes and let some of the liquid cook off, then pour in the Pomi tomato sauce and the stock.  Place the dried peppers and cilantro in the liquid and bring to a simmer.  Cook on low 1 hour.   The dried peppers should reconstitute during the cooking process.  When done, working in batches, place the sauce into a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and add spices (but not the salt!).  Let cook an additional 30-45 minutes, until thickened and flavorful.  Add salt to taste.

Shred the chicken breasts in a bowl.  Combine the adobo spice packets (two at most) with a little vegetable oil and then stir to combine in a small bowl.  Pour the spice/oil mixture over the shredded chicken and toss until the chicken is evenly coated.  It will look bright orange.

To assemble the enchiladas, pour a little sauce on the bottom of a pyrex or stoneware baking dish.  Heat up a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet, and one by one cook the tortillas until both sides are golden and crisp.  Fill each tortilla with some chicken and the blend of cheeses, and just line them up in the dish until it’s full.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of the tortillas, then pour enough sauce on top to cover.  Refrigerate and save any remaining sauce or serve alongside cooked enchiladas.   Cook enchiladas at 350 F for 30 minutes, or until bubbling and hot.  Enjoy!

Braised Short Rib Hors D’Ouvres

shortrib2Looks pretty tasty, right?  These little guys were something I came up with to put on a menu for an event I’m catering next month.  Yesterday I decided to do some experimenting because no matter how delicious something sounds in your head, it’s always a good idea to make it a few times to get it just right before serving it to anyone.  So what this is is a puff pastry circle topped with whipped potatoes and shredded short rib in sauce.  It sounds wildly complicated but really is quite simple, and you could actually just make a dinner out of it by foregoing the miniature size and puff pastry for just the short ribs and mashed potatoes.

Short ribs are incredibly tough little dudes.  I’ve had good luck cooking them in the pressure cooker in the past, but braising is the classic way of preparing them.  They come in two cuts:  English cut, which is when you have the single bone per rib and not as much meat, or flanken cut, which are the ones with a big hunk of meat and usually a side that is all fat.  This is not a bad thing; you want that fat because it adds flavor and typically a lot of it cooks away during the braising process.   I used some of both yesterday while making this dish, just to see which worked better.   For my purposes, which is getting more meat, the flanken is superior.

A bit on braising:  braising is a process in which meat is browned and then cooked in large sections in some type of liquid.  It’s not unlike stewing, except stewing uses smaller cuts of meat and is typically done on the cooktop rather than finished in the oven.  For this dish, red wine and beef stock were my braising liquids.  You always want to make sure to season your meat before the searing process, and definitely save the cooking liquid after the meat is cooked through because that will be your sauce!

For the puff pastry circles, all I did was buy some frozen puff pastry sheets, let them thaw, and then I used a little circle cutter to make the rounds.  I laid them on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, pricked each one with a fork, and then covered them with more parchment and another sheet pan.  They baked at 400F for about 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.  You want to be sure to prick them and cover them with weight because puff pastry wants to rise and get really delicate.  Pricking them lets any air escape during baking and then the extra weight is a failsafe.

The mashed potatoes were super easy.  Just peel and dice a russet or two, boil until tender, and then throw the potato in a food processor with some salt, 3 T butter, 4 T milk, and blend until super smooth.  I piped them out with a pastry bag onto the puff pastry circles.  I would also recommend topping that with just a tiny bit of shredded or shaved parmeggiano reggiano.

Braised Short Rib Appetizers

2-3 lbs flanken cut beef short ribs

Vegetable or canola oil

Salt and Pepper

2 carrots, peeled and rough chopped

2 celery stalks, rough chopped

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 T tomato paste

3 T All Purpose Flour

2/3 Bottle Red Wine (I like Cabernet Sauvignon for this dish)

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 full rosemary stalk

2 stems fresh oregano

3 stems fresh thyme

3 C beef stock, low sodium

Room temperature Butter & Flour, mushed together

Season short ribs generously with salt and pepper.  In a dutch oven, heat a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil.   When hot, sear all sides of each short rib and then remove to a plate.  Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the pot and cook about 2 minutes, stirring. You want the onions to get a little bit translucent.  Add the tomato paste and flour, stirring until the tomato paste turns a sort of burnished orange color.  This is a technique known as “pincer” and will help the sauce to thicken up.  Add the short ribs and any juices back into the pot.  Pour in the wine, bring the pot to a low boil, and let it reduce by about a half.  This should take 20 minutes or so.   Once this is done, pour in the stock, and add the herbs and garlic.  Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and put in the oven.  Let braise for roughly 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Remove the pot from the oven.  Take the short ribs and put them on a plate.   Strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into a large skillet.  You want to have  a lot of surface area on the bottom of the pan to induce quicker reduction.  Bring the sauce to a simmer and let cook about 7 minutes.   A little at a time, whisk in the butter and flour combination.  This is called “beurre mania” and just thickens the sauce and adds flavor and shine.  When you can dip a spoon in the sauce, wipe your finger down the back of the spoon and the line stays, you are ready to season.   Add kosher salt to the sauce and taste until you are satisfied with the flavor.  Shred the beef from the short ribs and then add back to the sauce.  Keep warm.  If making the appetizers, assemble them starting with the puff pastry, then the potato, parmesan, short rib, and some minced parsley for garnish.  If you want to just have dinner, serve the short ribs with sauce over mashed potatoes with some greens on the side.  Enjoy!

Makes about 100 small appetizers/Serves 4 for dinner

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Chocolate Chip Cookies Nom Nom Nom

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Everyone and their mother has their own cookie recipe that they swear by, and will protect any secret ingredients with their lives.  Well, I’m here to share.  I make a mean chocolate chip cookie, and simple as they are, the techniques in making the perfect cookie are paramount.

When I was in culinary school, my first batch of cookies came out a mess.  They had all baked into one giant, thin, glob of a cookie.  I was flabbergasted.  I had followed the recipe, so why did they come out so horribly?   The main reason was the oven – in our lab, their was one that baked at completely wonky temperature, like a good 25 degrees off what it said on the dial, if memory serves.  It’s a good idea to invest in a little oven thermometer that stays inside and tells you an actual temperature rather than going by just what the dial says on the outside.  Many ovens have hot spots and cold spots as well; I know mine cooks faster in the front left corner.

When it comes to actually preparing the batter, no matter what recipe you use, there are a few really important things to keep in mind.

1)  Creaming the butter and sugars together is something you cannot overdo.   You want it to be really blended, and don’t worry about over mixing at this stage.

2) Same goes for adding in the eggs and vanilla extract.  Just make sure it’s completely homogenous.

3) However, when you start adding in the flour, baking soda, salt, you absolutely CAN over mix.  You want to just mix it until it’s combined, on a low speed so you don’t poof flour everywhere.  The more you mix, the more gluten development will occur, and the chewier your cookie will be.  (And not chewy in a good way.)

4) Once again, the same goes for the addition of chocolate chips, or raisins, or oats, or whatever thing you add to your cookie.  Just mix it a tiny bit, because you will again encourage gluten development as you mix once there is flour present.

A few more things on the science of cookie baking:

You can change the texture of your cookie by raising or lowering the type of sugars present.  For a chewier (in a good way!) cookie, do more of the brown sugar.  As brown sugar bakes, the raw molasses in the sugar will bake out and into the cookie, binding everything together and giving it that soft texture.  Conversely, if you add more granulated sugar, your cookie will be crispier since this kind of sugar bakes more into a hard solid.

The last thing to really keep in mind is the batter temperature.  If you chill the batter before baking, your cookies will hold their shape better, and be more even in size.  If you put a warm batter in the oven, they are just going to glob everywhere.  So either chill the batter in the bowl or put the sheet pan with the dough dollops already set out in the fridge to chill before baking for about 30 minutes.

Also, by the end of that baking course in culinary school, I had the best cookies in the entire school – and the highest grade.  That sound is me tooting my own horn.  As a non-baking inclined individual, that was one of my proudest moments 🙂

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Foolproof Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 Sticks + 2 T Unsalted Butter, Slightly Cooler Than Room Temperature

1 1/4 C Granulated Sugar

1 1/2 C Light Brown Sugar

4 Eggs

1 T Vanilla Extract

3 3/4 C All Purpose Flour

1 1/4 tsp Baking Soda

2 1/4 tsp Salt

3 1/4 C Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a stand mixer on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until lightened in color and smooth.  Add the vanilla and then the eggs, one at a time.  Blend together on medium speed until completely combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

Toss in the salt and baking soda, and then the flour.  Mix on low speed until just combined.  Add the chocolate chips and mix for 15 – 20 seconds on low at the most, just to disperse the chips throughout the batter.

On a sheet pan covered with a silpat or parchment paper, lay out dollops of batter about 2 tablespoons in size, at least 1.5 inches apart.  Bake for 12-14 minutes, depending on your oven.  When they are done, remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.   Enjoy!

Makes about 40-45

Let’s Get Corny. (and Bacony!)

cornsalad2I’ve been craving bacon ever since that bacon mouthwash thing started making the rounds on Facebook (which, what?! That is the grossest thing ever.)  But bacon is delicious, as we are all well aware of at this point in our foodie culture.  In my opinion, the only reason bacon hasn’t jumped the culinary shark is because it really is that tasty and essential for so many dishes – it won’t be going the way of the sundried tomato or foam.

So anyway, I got some veggies and made a salad with some bacon in it.  Very simple and easy!  This would make a great side dish for a summer barbecue, or could even be a salsa and served with some tortilla chips.  If you want to switch things up, swap out the tomato for some red bell peppers, or the cilantro for basil.  The main idea that I was going for here were bright colors and mild flavors so the bacon was star of the dish.

A quick word on making bacon for a salad or sandwich:  You want to be sure to make sure it cooks in a way that it drains the fat off, rather than soaking in it.  I have a cooling rack that fits perfectly inside of on of my sheet pans and just lay the bacon across it, which leaves about a 1/2″ gap between the bacon and the tray.  I bake the bacon at 375 F for about 10 minutes, or until it is crisp.  The length of time ultimately depends on the thickness of the bacon.  What you achieve from all of this is that crispier and less greasy bacon, and the resulting salad or sandwich is not drenched in bacon fat.  I always dab the bacon with a paper towel after it is done, too.

Corn & Bacon Salad

3-4 ears of corn, husks and silks removed

2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced

1 avocado, diced

3-4 slices of bacon, cooked and diced

2 T fresh chives, minced

4 T fresh cilantro, minced

1 red onion, small dice (optional)

For the dressing:

4 T light mayonnaise

1 lime, juiced

1 clove of garlic, very finely minced

1/2 tsp cumin

Salt & Pepper

Dash Tabasco, optional

Over a large bowl, run your knife down the corn so that it drops into the bowl.  Once this is done, add the tomato, avocado, bacon, chives, and cilantro to the bowl.  Stir to combine.

To make the dressing, combine the mayo, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper, and Tabasco in another bowl.  Stir to combine.  If you need to make it thinner, add a teaspoon or two of water.

Pour the dressing over the salad, and let sit for about 30 minutes before serving.  Serve as a side or with tortilla chips for dipping.  Enjoy!

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Panic Attack Food Therapy


panic2The scene:  My apartment, last Thursday night.

I am sitting in my easy chair, watching a marathon of America’s Next Top Model Cycle Two.  I know what happens already; the blonde girl  will cry when they cut her hair into a ’60’s style pixie cut.  Nonetheless, it is silly and distracting as I have just come home from the gym and am cooling off.  Not a bad way to spend a slow Thursday night.  Suddenly, my left fingers start to tingle.  In hindsight, I was probably just sitting funny, but in the moment fear hits me:

ohmygodithinkiamhavingaheartattack!  

I rush to take my sport bra off to see if it alleviates the tingling sensation.  The fear worsens as I realize that I am having trouble breathing.   Pacing back and forth across my living room, a scene plays out in my head.  They will find me here, days from now, dead at 30 from a heart attack.  I’m glad I hate cats right now.  I can’t breathe.  My pulse is racing.  All the blood has gone from my head and I feel like I am going to faint.  The only other time I have ever felt anything remotely close to this was on a ghost tour in Scotland, after a guide got too descriptive with the gory history of Edinburgh.  This is 1000 times worse.  It feels like hours have passed, and I realize I am still pacing manically around my apartment.  Call Mom.

“Mom, I can’t breathe.  I think I’m having a heart attack.  My left fingers were tingling.  My left shoulder is sore, like a bruise.  What do I do?  Do I call an ambulance?  What’s happening to me?  I’m scared!”  The words are quick and I can’t feel my body anymore.

She tells me to breathe.  “You aren’t having a heart attack.   You’re ok…you’re having a panic attack.”

I sit down and take deep breaths.   A panic attack?  I’ve never had a panic attack.  I wasn’t even doing anything, just watching Tyra smize.  What would I have to panic about?  My mom is still talking to me, but I can’t really hear her.  It’s comforting to have someone on the line.  Google “panic attack.”  Yeah…this is textbook.  I mentally tell my brain to stop it.  Stop freaking out.  You aren’t dying.  I gradually calm down internally, but my body is still on hyperdrive.  After hanging up the phone, I try to zone out.  Relax.  I chug some water.  It will be another 3 hours before I feel safe enough to go to sleep.

In the days since my panic attack, I still haven’t felt entirely normal.  Mostly, I am scared it will happen again.  The  feeling of being completely betrayed by my body was terrifying, more than I had ever thought a panic attack would be.  I realize I have been on edge recently.  It started in January when I watched a documentary about a woman named Joyce Carol Vincent.  She died of natural causes at 33 in her apartment, alone, and wasn’t found for three years.  It was the loneliest story I had ever heard, and even though our lives are not at all alike, I became fixated on it and convinced that this would happen to me, all the while realizing I was being silly.  And yet, as the movie sort of faded from the forefront of my thoughts, the fear simmered, finally boiling over Thursday evening.

I read that a lot of panic and anxiety sufferers, even occasional ones like myself, can get to the point where they are scared to go outside or go in social situations.  I have never felt that way, but I don’t want to go down that path.  So what do I do?  What changes can I make in my daily routine in an effort to prevent an anxiety ridden life?  Exercise is paramount;  I have upped mine to at least 60 minutes of cardio every day since.  It is more motivating to go to the gym to prevent a panic attack than going for weight loss has ever been, oddly enough.   So now, what can I change in terms of what I eat?  Obviously, a healthy diet is good for lots of things, but there are apparently certain foods that are great for helping with anxiety: whole grains, oats, veggies and fruits high in B and C vitamins, dairy, Omega 3, and lean proteins.  Sort of obvious “healthy” foods, though ones I may not get enough of if I don’t pay attention.

On that note, today’s recipe combines several of those foods together for a “panic attack special.”  One thing I love about food is that it can be incredibly therapeutic if used correctly.  Knowing that I have the ability to create something that can ultimately make me feel safer in my own body is a very powerful feeling.   Anyway, here’s my recipe.  Thanks for reading my story, and if you have any advice/thoughts on the topic, please share in the comments!

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Turkey Burger with Whole Wheat Cous Cous, Spinach, and Sunny Side Up Egg

This recipe seems random at first, but all of the elements work together to provide both flavor and nutrition.  The sunny side up egg actually provides both protein and B vitamins, and only about 80 calories.

1 C whole wheat cous cous, prepared as per package instructions

1 lb ground lean turkey meat

2 tsp tomato paste

2 tsp dijon mustard

1 tsp low sodium soy sauce

fresh ground pepper

dash Tabasco

1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/4 C onion, minced

1 T fresh thyme, minced

6 C baby spinach

Olive Oil

4 Eggs

1 tomato, sliced

Salt and Pepper, as needed

In a large bowl, mix together turkey, tomato paste, soy sauce, tabasco, mustard, thyme, garlic, onion, and pepper, plus any other seasonings you desire (red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, etc.)  Form the meat into 4 patties, taking care to press a little thumbprint in the center of each as they will puff during cooking.   Heat a grill pan or skillet and then place patties in the pan, letting cook about 7 minutes per side.  To ensure that they are done, use a meat thermometer and test for 160-165 F at the center of each patty.  When done, remove to a plate to rest.

In a nonstick skillet, pour a little olive oil.  Heat over medium high and then add spinach.  Let wilt until just softened but not completely shriveled.  Remove spinach to a plate or tray.  Crack a couple of eggs in the same pan, and let cook, untouched, for 3 minutes or until white is set but yolk is still runny.  Season egg with salt and pepper.

To build plate, pile some cous cous on the bottom, then the spinach, then a patty, several slices of tomato, and an egg.   The yolk should crack over the whole thing.  Yum.  Something about egg yolk is so glamorous to me, I don’t know.  If you don’t like eggs prepared this way, substitute any condiment you like.  Or some fresh sliced avocado!

Serves 4

Wedding Registry Advice From A Professional: Part 3

images-1Whew!  I’ve bulldozed through three days of registry-mania.  Here is the last list, comprised of those items that not everyone will need, and not everyone will want, but can be great to have.

Here are the previous two lists:

Part One

Part Two

Let’s get to it.

Kitchen Accessories:  Some of these, like the trivet and spoon rest, are not entirely frivolous, and actually quite helpful.  But I wanted to focus most of the list on actual cooking items, rather than decor related accessories.

kitchen accessoriesA dish rack is nice to have if you have a lot of counter space.  It gives you a place to dry things that shouldn’t go in the dishwasher, like your knives, and can also be attractive if you go for one of the newer, more modern models.   A spoon rest is simple:  it keeps your stove clean.  You can also get a set of clips that go on the side of your pots to hold the spoon, if you don’t enjoy the idea of a spoon rest.  Trivets, again, pretty obvious: somewhere to put a hot pot.   Now, enclumes are what most of us know as “those hanging pot rack things.”  They range in prices, and most places have them available for special order.  I recommend using gift cards for these, as you don’t want to receive it without having somewhere to immediately put it.  You also want to make sure you have available studs in your kitchen to mount it, and enough overhead room.  They range in price, size, style, and finish.  Salt keepers also range in styles, and are great for keeping kosher or sea salt available to pinch on your food.  The one above is made of olivewood and has a magnetic swivel lid – great for keeping dust out.

Brands I Love:  Le Creuset, Threshold, Williams Sonoma (enclume), Berard (olivewood), Simplehuman (dish rack), Umbra (dish rack).

Grilling Tools:  If you have a grill.  These are -usually- the groom’s favorite selections, especially in Texas.  Men love their grills.  So do women!  If you don’t have a grill, just skip it.  These things aren’t that expensive and won’t be difficult to purchase when and if you ever do decide to go grilling.

Grill Tools

 

A stuffed burger press is actually something you don’t even have to have a grill for, just a love of burgers with things in the middle.  Make sure you always use parchment or burger papers with one, as the meat will stick to the sides otherwise.  You can also get a regular burger press, to ensure perfectly formed patties.  Firewire is just free flowing wire with a kabob poker on the end.  It’s easier to marinate your food if it’s already on the skewer, and these coil up to go in a bowl or bag for marinating.  You can also fit it on your grill easier.  A grill press is great for cooking steaks or chicken (not burgers!  You’ll press the life out of it!) Grilling tools are just regular tools but with longer handles – and usually a bit more heavy duty.  Same goes for the basting brush.

Fruit Tools:

fruit tools

 

For the knife wary, these can be a great solution.  They are very self explanatory, and this is just a few of the available options.  Plus, if you have kids, this is a great way to induct them into the kitchen without worrying about them getting cut.  Now, they do take up drawer space, which is why I left them to the end.  There is nothing that the above tools can do that you can’t do with one knife, but there is a huge population of gadget enthusiasts out there.  These are some of the best.

Brands I Love:  Chef’n, OXO, Rosle

Pizza Tools:  Again, completely not necessary.  But really fun stuff if you love pizza!

pizza tools

 

Pizza stones are great for grilled pizzas or to bake them in the oven.  I actually prefer the much more lightweight and easier to store pizza crisper, which has perforation to encourage a crispy crust.  Pizza peels really just remove the hot pizza from the oven or, if you are the luckiest person in the world, wood burning oven.  A pizza cutter is actually good to have even if you don’t cook; those DiGiorno’s don’t come already sliced.

Brands I Love:  Emile Henry (pizza stone)

Barware: 

bar ware

 

The reason I left this section for last is purely personal; I don’t drink a lot at home and don’t have a lot of parties because my neighbors freak out and call the cops if they can hear the slightest peep.  Seriously, it’s happened during a quiet dinner.  Arg.  Anyway, for those of you with nice neighbors and who enjoy the after work cocktail, the above is a basic assortment of tools.  Honestly, none of them are very expensive at all so just like the other tools, they are great add-ons.   So if you register for some tumblers, someone can buy two and then throw in the shaker for a themed gift.  Fun!   The Soda Stream is also something to think about registering for if you love sparkling water; that’s all this machine makes.  It can save you hundreds of dollars in Pellegrino.   Or you can get some syrup and make your own soda!

Final Items For Those Who Have It All:

Have It All

 

This final section is just an assortment of items that you really don’t need, but if you are experimental in the kitchen or just have a deep love of cooking, they can be awesome to own.  The Breville Personal Pie Maker is a fantastic little machine that heats up and cooks pies, eggs, etc.   Love it.  Google it.  The Smoking Gun infuses food with a smoky flavor, without a huge smoky mess.  Raclette is a more modern version of the dreaded fondue pot, that staple of registries past.   This is a lot more fun and versatile than a fondue.  You melt cheese, grill meat, veggies, etc all yourself while sitting around this little heating unit.   Finally, the electric deep fryer is truly the most unnecessary but really cool thing to have.  What it does is self-explanatory.  I covet one.

Brands I Love:  Breville, Polyscience (smoking gun), Swissmar (raclette), Krups & Breville (deep fryers).
Some Final Thoughts (like Jerry Springer!):

You’ll notice that I didn’t get into dishes, china, glassware, table linens, etc.  Those decisions are really quite personal.  A lot of couples these days are not registering for fine china, much to the chagrin of the older generations.  I completely understand.  It’s hard for us to see the need to register for something that literally just takes up space, and most of us cannot remember our parents EVER using the wedding china.  As Monica Gellar once said, “I’m saving them for when the Queen of England comes over!”  Pretty much.  But I think it is better to invest in really great every day dishes with some statement salad plates so that when you set the table for company, you still get that “wow” factor.

Don’t register for sale or discounted items.  They are more than likely going to sell out, and then the store probably won’t get them back in.  I saw many couples register for so many sale items that there was hardly anything on their registries to purchase.  It’s also, obviously, important to frequently check in on the status of items on your registry.  Go online, and if something has gone on sale, just check with the store to see how the stock numbers are doing.  If you need to replace it, do it.

Things I purposefully left off:

Toaster – If you really want one, by all means.  But you can save space for something that the oven doesn’t already do.

Juicer – I know juicing is all the rage right now, but that is one bandwagon I personally haven’t jumped on.  If you must, must have a juicer, go with a slow juicer.  Breville and Hurom both make excellent models, and they are SO much better than the others.  You get more nutrients in the juice, more juice from the foods, and less pulp.  Plus, they are almost silent.  The other, larger juicers tend to sound like a jet liner is entering your kitchen, which your new spouse will not appreciate if you wake up early to juice.

The bottom line is this: it’s your wedding and your registry.  You know what your current situation is and should register accordingly.  If you need to change it, do it.  The store should work with you to accomodate your needs.  Also, consult with the sales people.  They know the items better than anyone and will be able to really guide you in the right direction.  Above all, you should be happy with what you get and these items that you are choosing together should make you feel more comfortable in starting a life with one another.

 

Wedding Registry Tips From A Professional: Part 2

1311271766weddingIf you missed yesterday, click here to read part one of this series!

Today’s list will go through items that are slightly less essential than yesterday (except for cutting boards, which I just forgot about.  You need cutting boards.)  Most people will wind up getting these items eventually, but why not register for them?  If you have room in your kitchen, they are great to have.  Let’s get started.

Food Prep Tools:

This is really a cross-section of different prep tools.   Obviously, you can throw in a garlic press, a mandoline, food mill, what have you, but these are more basic just to give you an idea.

food prep tools

Glass or stainless prep bowls are one of those things I don’t budge on.  You need them in your life if you are going to cook efficiently.  Lots of stores sell them in neat little sets, and they are great add-on.  A lot of people like to build their own little gifts; they’ll get one medium item and then throw in something like the bowls and then perhaps buy a tool to tie on the outside of the box.  This is why it’s good to give options in terms of size and price.

The serrated slicer (seen here: Kobra Slicer by De Buyer) is just one of those things I like.  You could substitute a mandoline here if you are a bit more advanced, but for the sharp-edge shy, this is a little less scary.  As far as cutting boards go, you can get the large wood blocks but know that they are a lot of work.  You have to massage and coddle them, though they are lovely and you can get them engraved sometimes with your initials.  I prefer bamboo boards as they are dishwasher safe, light weight, and great on knives.   They’re also not as heavy, so if you’re doing a big move after the wedding or just short on space, these are much easier to handle.  Finally a word on lemon juicers:  do not register for one that is enamel coated or painted.  The lemon or lime juice is acidic, and eats away at the paint!  I love the polypropylene ones by Chef’n.

Brands I Love:  Chef’n, De Buyer (mandoline), OXO (tools & mandoline), Epicurean (cutting boards), Boos (block cutting boards)

More Electrics:

I went over must-have electrics yesterday.  These are ones that I find fun and great to have if you can support the space.  They also are meant to sort of bring you and your new spouse together in the kitchen.

great electrics

So the waffle maker and espresso maker are great for weekend breakfasts – and if you have to impress your in-laws when they come visit.  I like a good Belgian waffle maker but the round ones are perfectly suitable.  As far as espresso machines go, Nespresso makes wonderful options in all sizes and prices.  You have to order their pods, but they are super fresh and come in a variety of strengths.  Not everyone is a barista or  has time to tinker with an espresso machine every morning, so this is a perfect solution.  Starbucks also has a new option in this field, but I prefer Nespresso.

The panini press can double as a grill on cold nights, and can replace that janky George Foreman grill you got freshman year.  You know what I’m talking about.   Finally, we all know I love pressure cookers.  Go for electric as they are much easier to use, and can significantly cut down the amount of time you spend making dinner.

Brands I Love:  All Clad (waffle makers & pressure cooker), Nespresso, Breville (panini), Cuisinart (panini and pressure cooker).

Essential Bakeware:  So we aren’t all bakers.  If you hate baking, just skip these, except for the baking set.  You just never know.

essential bakeware

For those of you that love to bake, here’s some stuff you will need.  Get a great cooling rack.  Get some expensive bakeware – high quality pans are less likely to warp in the heat of the oven and will last a very long time.  If you like to bake cookies or other small items, a silpat is a must.  It helps to keep things from getting to brown on the bottom or sticking.

I prefer tapered or French rolling pins.   They are easier to grip and if you need to roll something out round, this is the way to do it.  They can run pretty inexpensive, so again, a great add-on.   A cake tester is another wonderful addition to a larger gift.

You probably already have some measuring spoons or cups, but go ahead and register for a nice set – stainless steel will last a long time.   For the advanced baker, a digital scale is also not out of the question.

Brands I Love:  Silpat, All Clad, Williams Sonoma & Sur La Table House Brands, Target Brands, OXO, Calphalon (bakeware)

Kitchen Linens:  

kitchen linens

Now, the tempting thing to do with linens is to go crazy with patterns and super cutesy ones.  You won’t use them, unless decoratively.  Pick a neutral pattern and register for several sets of cotton kitchen towels.  It’s always nice to have several, and by sticking with a neutral, you can add pops of color elsewhere without clashing.   If you both cook, register for a couple of aprons.  Going with a more frilly one for the bride makes it a great shower gift.  The one above is from Anthropologie (I have that one) and they have an amazing selection.  Lastly, you can match your mitts to your linens if you like.  Just make sure you register for at least one pot holder and one mitt.

I have to say, linens are the item that if you don’t register for them, some family friend that you don’t really know is going to get them for you anyway and they will probably be in a color or pattern you hate.  I really recommend just registering for at least a few of the above to avoid that.

Brands I Love:  Anthropologie, Target (their new Threshold line has fantastic stuff for a steal!), Williams Sonoma Linens, Crate & Barrel, West Elm.

Holiday Essentials:  If you are registering in the spring or summer, chances are you aren’t going to be thinking about the possibility that your family may want to have Thanksgiving or Christmas at your house at some point.  By registering for some basic large  meal prep tools, you will be all set just in case.

holiday essentials

Stoneware, or ceramic baking dishes, are perfect for all types of casseroles, macaroni and cheese, or even things like bread pudding.  Go ahead and get at least two – one with a lid and one long one.  The stoneware makes for a better serving dish than a pyrex baking dish and will last a lot longer.  Most brands offer a variety of colors, so you can pick one and stick with it or go color crazy (like me!)    You can also get a matching pie dish, with ruffled edges for extra pizzazz!  A roasting pan with an included rack is what you will need for doing turkey, ham, chicken, etc.  A nice stainless one is perfect because you can use it on the stovetop to make gravy with the pan drippings, and it will last forever.

A potato ricer just makes life easier, and you can impress everyone with mega fluffy potatoes.  I think I’ve talking about 15 times on this blog about meat thermometers, but you really need one.  If you want to register for one of the fancy roasting thermometers, go for it.  I just warn against these new “remote” thermometers.  They work for about 3 minutes before you will want to throw it against the wall.  Just not perfected technology, especially for how much they cost.

Brands I Love:  Emile  Henry Stoneware, Le Creuset Stoneware, All Clad (roaster), OXO (ricer, thermometer), Tayl0r (thermometer).

So that’s today’s list!  Come back tomorrow when I will detail the last list, stuff you probably don’t need but want nonetheless 🙂

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