Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vegetarian Muffaletta

A few weeks ago, we celebrated Elie’s birthday with food and music enjoyed with family and friends. 

Elie’s only food request was for an andouille and shrimp jambalaya—he’s been searching for a replica of a dish he ate in Charleston, South Carolina several years ago.  We didn’t even find a comparable version on our trip to New Orleans

We made the jambalaya, and the rest of the menu followed the same New Orleans theme, including a pecan-studded coleslaw, tomato and cucumber salad, cheesy grits and homemade cornbread But one of the crowd favorites was actually the Vegetarian Muffaletta.  I’m sharing that recipe with you.

sunflowers & mason jars...

Carolyn & Elie, chopping veggies for the jambalaya!

Lisa, assembling the muffaletta
I think Elie enjoyed the food—but what he (and I!) really treasured was being able to spend time with people he loves.  It’s a gift we don’t take for granted—having incredible people in our lives we value and respect.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we did—and make it to share with the people you love.

Making the Vegetarian Muffalettta

Vegetarian Muffaletta

Serves 8, as an appetizer

1 loaf ciabatta
1 cup olive salad, recipe follows
½ cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
2 – 3 roasted red peppers*
4 ounces fontina, sliced thin
4 ounces provolone, sliced thin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the bread in half lengthwise, and remove enough of the inside to make room for the fillings.  Place one layer of fontina on the top half and one layer of provolone on the bottom half.  On top of the provolone, layer the roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts and olive salad.  Place top half on top o f the olive salad.    

Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until bread is warm and cheese is melted.  Slice.  Serve warm and enjoy. 

The Muffaletta can be assembled, wrapped and stored in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before baking. 

Olive Salad

1 cup pitted Kalamata olives
1 cup large pimiento-stuffed green olives
3 – 4 pepperoncini
2 – 3 tablespoons capers, drained
¼ cup celery, finely c hopped
¼ cup carrots, shredded
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon celery seeds
2 – 3 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place Kalamata olives, green olives and pepperoncini in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until coarsely chopped.  Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients.  Olive salad will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to a week.

Monday, September 24, 2012

September in California

There’s something about September that always seems to signify the beginning of a new year and a fresh start.
In the nutrition world, September, and back-to-school season opens the floodgate of conversation to be centered on back-to-school lunches and the best way to nourish those thriving young minds.
As we transition into autumn, it also shifts the focus of family meals to become more centered on wholesome, comfort foods. This transition is one that both Lisa and I embrace whole-heartedly because it helps put our bodies in tune with the shift of the seasons.
Yes, it’s true that the stereotypical Southern California diet consists of raw salads, lots of fruit and avocados – which are ideal light fare for when we’re living in temperatures that exceed 100 F. But, as the climate cools (even if it’s ever so slightly), there’s something incredibly nurturing about sharing a warm dinner with the people you love.

Even the foods in season this time of year are perfect ingredients for comforting meals. They include:
asian pears, chili peppers, corn, eggplant, grapes, okra, peppers, persimmons, tomatoes, and tomatillos.

Eggplant is one of our favorite foods. Because of its versatility, it’s great as a side dish by itself or used as an ingredient in a variety of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. Eggplants contain two naturally occurring compounds, phenolics and anthocyanins – the latter being responsible for giving eggplants their deep purple hue. Both compounds may have antioxidant and anti-aging benefits and may help with memory, urinary tract health and reduced cancer risks.

Peppers (especially the hot ones!) not only add a lot of flavor to your cooking, they can be great for your health. Hot peppers are a concentrated source of capsaicin, which studies suggest has cancer-protective, anti-inflammatory, and pain-reducing effects. Preliminary research also indicates that capsaicin may act as a blood thinner. So next time, say "yes please" to adding a little extra spice to your dinner.

Tomatoes, even the canned ones, are the perfect healthful addition to any kitchen or pantry. They are jam-packed with nutrients, filled with Vitamins C, A and K and are a precious source of lycopene – the compound that gives tomatoes their color. Since ripe, fresh tomatoes are perishable, canned tomatoes are a good substitute. When you cook tomatoes, or when they are mildly processed, such as in the case of the canned version, lycopene becomes more available to your body. And there are a lot of perks to getting your lycopene. Scientists have linked this powerful antioxidant to a laundry list of health benefits such as improved heart and bone health, improved cholesterol and blood pressure levels, reduced inflammation, and prostate cancer prevention.

 To enjoy these in-season ingredients, try making one of our favorite comfort meals, Shakshuka. It's best paired with whole wheat pita bread and even some chatzilim.

These seasonal tips & recipe were featured in last month’s
Health & Family Guide for The Santa Clarita Valley Signal.
For more “In Season” tips & recipes, pick up the next issue of
The Health & Family Guide on October 19th.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Eating Well on a Budget

Every month we offer grocery store tours to help individuals navigate their way around the often overwhelming supermarket. One of the common misconceptions we hear is that eating well can take a toll on your bank account.

We're here to set the record straight.

It's not necessarily true that when you're strapped for cash, your health needs to fall to the wayside. There are plenty of ways you can eat for your health while sticking to a lean budget.

Here are 10 of our budget & health friendly shopping tips.

1. Let your list (rather than your cravings) be your guide. We all know that shopping on an empty stomach can be a disaster. If you shop when you’re starving, you may ultimately buy too much or make choices you regret soon after. Instead, nourish yourself with a meal or snack before you shop. Face it – when your tummy is grumbling, almost everything in the store looks appealing. This leads us to our next tip…

2. Make a plan of attack. Before you head to the grocery store, plan a few meals for the week. Pick out a new recipe or two – or just stick to your usual favorites. Either way, we recommend including meals like stews, soups, stir-fries, or pasta dishes which “stretch” expensive items such as fish, poultry, and beef into more portions. Check to see what foods you already have and make a list for what you need to buy.

3. Peruse the perimeter. Most real & affordable foods are found outside of the aisles. When you do visit the aisles, have a purpose and direction in mind. Remember, let your list be your guide.
4. Buy seasonal. Fruits and vegetables are cheaper, tastier, and most nutritious when purchased in season. Shop your farmer’s market or supermarket to find seasonal items like asparagus in the spring, strawberries in the summer and kale in the fall.

5. Choose your fruits & veggies wisely. If you’re on a limited budget and have to pick and choose your organic produce, spend the extra money for the Dirty Dozen in their organic form and buy the Clean Fifteen in their conventional form.

6. Choose your animal products wisely. It’s true that purchasing sustainably and organically farmed animal products cost more – but, Americans eat more meet than they need to. Buying higher cost, quality meats but eating less of them is an excellent way to balance the costs. When it comes to animal products, think: quality over quantity.

7. Embrace the bulk bins. Buying from bulk bins is an affordable way to add spices, dried fruits, nuts, beans, legumes and grains to your meals. First, you are not paying for packaging, labeling and advertising from canned or pre-bagged foods. And second, you only buy what you need, so you’re less likely to throw away food.

8. Cook to make your future self happy. Prepare a large batch of a favorite recipe on your day off and freeze the leftovers in individual containers. Your future self will be so happy you did. We love these containers by Martha Stewart 

You can see more of the products we love on our Pinterest page:

 ...use them throughout the week to save money spent on take-out meals.
9. Use your freezer. When you see some of your favorite items on sale, stock up and freeze. This is a great way to save on local or organic fish, poultry and meat.

10. Reduce waste. Don’t let leftovers go to waste. Freeze leftover soups, stews, sauces and casseroles. Or use leftovers from last night’s chicken dinner to make a delicious sandwich or wrap for lunch at work.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Farmer's Market Chowder

The transition from summer to fall can be bittersweet, but the vegetables make it better. 

Does that sound funny?

Not when you cook up a big, steamy pot of heart-warming vegetable chowder.  Savory and slightly spicy from the fresh cayenne, it's just right for the cooler nights.

Our friends with gardens keep bringing us tomatoes, corn, green beans and zucchini, because they can’t eat, freeze or can them fast enough.  We're like kids in a candy store at the farmer's market, walking home with market bags filled to overflowing.  And the sunflowers are gorgeous, too.

This weekend, a friend brought us a huge bag filled with produce from her garden, and I turned it into this chowder.

You can completely modify this recipe and make it your own.  Here are a few ideas:  Substitute different vegetables.  Instead of olive oil, cook a few slices of good-quality local bacon and use 1 tablespoon of the rendered bacon fat for the chowder.  Add chicken and it becomes chicken and vegetable chowder.  Add shrimp or clams or halibut for a seafood chowder (that would be delicious).  Turn it from chowder to soup by leaving out the milk.  Substitute coconut milk for cow’s milk and water for chicken stock add some lemongrass for a Thai-inspired vegan soup.  The options are endless.

Here is the recipe.  We hope this eases the transition to autumn's shorter days and brisk mornings.

Farmer’s Market Chowder

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
Pinch of salt
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 fresh cayenne pepper, diced or a pinch of dried chile flakes
2 small or 1 large sweet red peppers, diced
3 – 4 sprigs thyme
1 sprig rosemary
1 fresh bay leaf
1 zucchini, diced
1 waxy potato (skin left on), diced
2 ears corn
4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water
2 cups whole milk
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat and add onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook until onion is translucent.  Add garlic, carrots, celery, cayenne pepper and sweet red peppers.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften.

Tie together the thyme and rosemary with kitchen twine (to make it easier to get out of the pot later) and add to vegetables, along with the bay leaf. 

Add zucchini and potato to the pot.  Cut the kernels of the corn and add to the pot, along with the cob.  The cob will simmer in the soup and give it extra flavor and body.

Add chicken or vegetable stock.  Bring soup up to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.  Taste for seasoning and add salt, if needed.  Let cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.  Add whole milk and cook another 5 minutes or so, until soup is warmed through.  If you substitute skim milk for the whole milk the soup might curdle if you accidentally turn the heat up to high.  It will still taste fine, but just won’t look as pretty.  Season with freshly ground black pepper, to taste.

Serve with a wedge of corn bread or whole wheat crusty loaf and enjoy, preferably with someone you love.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Belly of Paris

McKenzie and I published a blog post last week on staying healthy while traveling.  One of our tips was to eat adventurously—taste the unique foods of the region. 

We practice our own advice.  We became Registered Dietitians and Nutritionists because we passionately love food and all that food stands for in our lives.  It is the common language all people share, opening hearts and minds like nothing else can.  Food also has magical qualities, with the power to keep us cheerfulenergetic and vibrant as we age.    

But, you can’t eat kale and quinoa all the time.  Sometimes you need a treat—or a break from the norm.  Creating balance—that’s healthy.  And sometimes the thing sitting on the other side of the see saw is a lovely, buttery tarte de pommes. 

So when Elie and I traveled to Paris this summer, we happily—and with gusto—dove into all Paris had to offer.  Velvety chocolates, flaky croissants spread with raw milk butter, rustic breads made from wild yeast, creamy sheep milk cheese from the Pyrenees, even rabbit terrine and head cheese.  We tried them all.  Simply because we were in Paris. 

When I came home, my pants fit the same as when I left—partly because we walked a lot, and partly because we balanced our butter and cream with beautiful French radishes, delicate lettuces and sweet, juicy apricots. 

And even after the butter and sugar consumed that week, I’m pretty sure my cholesterol levels remain in the healthy range and my heart was not damaged.  But I have many beautiful memories of delicious and happy bites shared with the person I love.

post-picnic, on the Seine
When planning a trip to Paris, there are many great resources including the David Lebovitz blog and his book, The Sweet Life in ParisDorie Greenspan and the Patricia Wells Food Lovers Guide to Paris app for smart phones.  The app works without a wireless network, so you can get food and market recommendations everywhere you go in Paris.

But the best resource for learning about—and tasting—Parisian food is with Paris by Mouth.  Before you make any other reservation, go online and reserve a Paris by Mouth food tour—it’s worth the 95 euros per person.  We toured the Marché Montorgueil in the heart of Les Halles with Catherine, who cheerfully and thoughtfully taught us how to choose the best baguette, identify a reputable cheese shop and understand a variety of the history and current affairs surrounding French food and agriculture. 

Catherine, our lovely guide from Paris by Mouth
While she challenged us to try new foods—tripe terrine anyone?—she also respected each of our taste preferences and customized the tour to our tastes.  It was fascinating and delicious--mostly.  We won’t be going back for the tripe terrine.
sampling French cheeses on our tour of Les Halles
And now—my recommendations for dining in Paris.

With Israel, we began with breakfast.  Parisian’s don’t eat breakfast, except perhaps a croissant with coffee.  So, we’ll begin with pastries.

When you arrive in Paris, run quickly and immediately to Du Pain et Des Idées (10th arrondissement), because you will want to return again and again to sample the crusty, moist Pain des Amis and the not-at-all sweet le chausson à la pomme fraiche, with an entire baked apple enrobed in a buttery, rustic pastry crust or the gorgeous apricot tart.  It’s closed on weekends, so plan well.

sampling at Du Pain et Des Idées
A sweeter version of the chausson aux pomme can be found at La Pâtisserie des Rêves (7th).  The gorgeous vibrantly-colored shop exhibits the pastries like artwork, with each stunning creation carefully displayed under a glass dome.

A preview of La Pâtisserie des Rêves
Blé Sucré (12thhas lovely, citrus glazed madeleines, which beautifully survived the trip home to be given as presents.  The neighborhood surrounding the pastry shop is quaint, and makes for good walking.

Stohrer (2nd), founded in 1730, is located in Les Halles and is the oldest pastry shop in Paris.  You can’t go wrong with any pastry selection in the shop, but it’s famous for its baba au rhum. 

When it comes to chocolates, Elie is an undeniable connoisseur.  He had several favorites, beginning with Pierre Hermé (6th).  Prepare to wait in line—the queue can extend out the door and around the block.  But it’s worth the wait.  Stock up on incredible chocolates, the best macarons in the city and rich ice cream. 
chocolates & macarons at Pierre Hermé
Ladurée(8th) macarons win a close second-place, and if you’re bringing the confections home as gifts, the pastel Ladurée box makes a great choice.  

Elie’s other chocolate shop recommendations include Hugo & Victor, Pralus and Henri le Roux.  Chocolates from Hugo & Victor make wonderful presents—the confections are packaged in boxes that look like leather-bound books.  And while beautifully-wrapped Pralus (4th) bars are available in the United States, you can only buy their lovely confections oversees. And Henri le Roux seems to be an undiscovered treasure, one overlooked by much of the food media.

Paris has a famous ice cream shop, Berthillon.  We tried the ice cream in the shop on the Rue Saint Louis and were seriously disappointed with the icy texture and weak flavor, despite the line out front.  It’s no Mallard.  But we gave it another try at a street-side stand after dinner one night, and it was delicious.  Hit or miss.

We didn’t just eat chocolate and pastries all week.  We ate a lot of bread, too. 

The best baguettes in the city can be found at Eric Kayser, which can be conveniently found in multiple locations.  The naturally leavened breads have an incredible golden color, moist and tender crumb and crackling crust.  We brought home several on the plane—that’s how good they are.  Their croissants aren’t bad either. 

And you can't visit Paris and not try the rustic wheat sourdough bread from Poilâne.

miche from Poilâne
If you’re craving a crepe, you must visit Little Breizh (6thfor a lacy buckwheat galette and a cup of hard cider.
lunch at Little Breizh 
And for dinner, we loved the whimsical space and simply prepared farm-to-table menu at Vivant (10th).  The chalkboard menu changes daily and all the wines are natural.  A perfect space for a casual, intimate dinner in a place that feels very much like a neighborhood spot.  Call and make a reservation—it’s tiny!
dinner at Vivant
We tried the acclaimed traditional Bistro des Paul Bert (11th but were both disappointed, although the beet salad was lovely.  However, everyone else seems to love it, so you could give it a try.  You might like it better than we did.

Bistro des Paul Bert
Wanting a more casual dinner one night, we headed to the distinctly neighborhood spot Dans Les Landes (5th), which serves a tapas-styled Basque menu.  Without a reservation, we lucked out and got a wine barrel table tucked into the patio window.  We shared a variety of dishes, including their acclaimed polenta fries with smoked duck.  For some reason, I didn’t expect them to be as rich as they were--try to (really) eat just one.  Eating here makes you feel like you live right around the corner.

dinner at Dans Les Landes
Our absolute favorite dining experience was Daniel Rose’s seven course dinner at Spring (1st). He’s serving deceptively simple, beautifully plated and choreographed farm-to-table food with French influence but not weight. 

dinner at Spring

Happy at Spring
And don’t forget to visit the Spring wine shop, with a well-crafted selection of natural wines and great people.  Be sure and make a reservation at the restaurant at least a few weeks ahead—and if you have trouble getting anyone to answer the phone, send them an email.  We got a last-minute reservation that way, and they couldn’t have been more helpful.  

Spring wine shop, after the Paris by Mouth tour of Les Halles
There you are.  That’s a recap of our delicious Paris bites. 

Of course, the reservation you can always get is a picnic on the banks of the Seine.  Don't miss that.  Especially with the person you love. 

picnic on the banks of the Seine
And when we returned from Paris, we ate a little more kale.