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Epicurean Evenings

29 Oct
My education and career trajectory is in clinical nutrition, dietary management, and healthcare business strategy, but cooking is definitely my passion. I love the creativity of decadent ingredients, plate presentations, fresh flavors, and lingering over home cooked meals filled with spirited conversation.  My enthusiasm for food, at times, mingles with my love of writing, and that dwells in the core of my spirit.
I have several outlets to feed that need, and at one point I spent time writing for a food and wine magazine. Sometimes my editor (and friend) Katherine would come over to chat about upcoming assignments. I was not inconvenienced by having to answer the door when Katherine stopped by. Always welcome and with a quick “hello I’m here” knock, in she came.

A few years ago on a cool fall afternoon she popped in. A few steps in the door she stopped, her head slowly floated back as her eyes closed, and drew in a deep breath. Then her eyes slowly opened and she said “I just love coming into the house of an epicurean. It always smells so good!”

At the time I wasn’t completely sure what an epicurean was. When I finally understood what it meant, the comment from Katherine turned into an intuitive compliment-one that I savor to this day. What is an epicurean? If you go to the dictionary you will find something like this:

adjective
1. fond of or adapted to luxury or indulgence in sensual pleasures; having luxurious tastes or habits, especially in eating.
Yup, that describes me. I am an epicurean. But what was I cooking on that cool fall afternoon that elicited such a reaction from Katherine? I was teaching myself how to make a brown butter sauce. Dinner that evening included wild mushroom ravioli, and I had decided to stretch my skills by learning a new sauce.
Want to know how to make a brown butter sauce? You’ll be happy you did-it has endless possibilities! High quality European butter is the key here. I always use unsalted for 2 reasons: Salt is a preservative, so unsalted butter is fresher, and I like to adjust my own seasonings.

So here is what I did. Into a heavy bottomed sauce pan, I started melting a half pound of lovely french butter on low heat.


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Soon the butter started to brown. I began removing the foam to clarify the sauce. The aroma that began filling the house was amazing. Warm, nutty, rich!

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My sauce continued to deepen. The flavors were concentrating. And the scents wafting around the house were incredible. I kept stirring.

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Do not walk away from this sauce, as it can burn quickly. Let it deepen slowly and keep your eye on it. But that is it. Simple.

The real beauty in this sauce is the ability to adjust it to any taste. You can add garlic, herbs, salt, pepper, almost anything to customize it to your taste. Add it at any point while browning the sauce. How easy is that? Fabulous!!

The first time I made the sauce, I drizzled it over wild mushroom ravioli and sprinkled it with some fresh parmesan cheese. Since I like acid, I also drizzled a balsamic reduction over the ravioli as well. A garnish of fresh basil perfected the balance. I added a salad and some crusty bread. It was a decadent dinner.

I continue to use the brown butter sauce for a variety of finishes. What can you do with it? Send me an email and let me know!

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Dinner in a Pot

17 Sep

This is the story of an easy, savory, nutritious one pot dinner. Why one pot? A simple reason: it was a busy weeknight and I did not want a lot of dishes. Keeping a well stocked pantry and freezer is key to quick easy meals. I also like to keep fresh produce on hand so I can pull meals together without those pesky after work visits to the grocery store.

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For this dinner, I started out with broccoli and cauliflower in a bowl. Then I tossed it with some olive oil, salt and pepper. I put it on a parchement lined baking sheet (remember…few dishes!) and roasted that for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.

Then I put some sweet little cherry and grape tomatoes into a pot, again with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I then let that simmer a bit. These cook down to a creamy delight. I also added a clove of chopped garlic.

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As that was simmering, I chopped up some fresh spinach and arugula. When the tomatoes were thick and bubbly, I added the greens. I like to mix arugula into my spinach because of the sharp peppery flavor it adds. I gave all of that a good stir.

Now dinner was really smelling delicious. Savory fragrance was wafting through the house, and I was getting really hungry! I took the veggies out of the oven when they were a little brown on the edges, and let them rest not the counter (on a hot pad) for a few minutes. Next it was time to add the pasta.

Angel hair pasta was going to be my pasta of choice because of its short cook time. I wrapped the pasta up in a clean dish towel, then ran the towel over the edge of the counter. This broke the pasta up efficiently and neatly.

Then I added chicken broth to the tomato mixture. After that, in went the pasta. It was that simple. Again, a couple of quick stirs and I let this cook on medium heat. I then went to  pour a glass of wine to accompany this delicious dinner.

When the pasta was al dente (firm to the bite) I was ready to complete the meal. I added the roasted vegetables along with shrimp as the protein. The shrimp was raw, and it only took about 3 minutes for them to cook-any longer and they would become rubbery.

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And Voila! Dinner was ready. It was a complete meal in a bowl. I grated some fresh parmesan cheese on top, grabbed my glass of wine, and enjoyed a healthy weeknight meal. And my one pot meal left me with very few after dinner dishes.

This meal is customizable. Don’t like cauliflower? Try zucchini. Shrimp isn’t your thing? Add some leftover cooked chicken. Want a more robust flavor? Add red pepper flakes and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Want a vegetarian meal? Use vegetable broth and leave out the shrimp. Craving an italian twist? Toss in some fresh parsley and basil. The possibilities are endless-but the after dinner dishes aren’t!

Superfoods!

3 Sep

Superfoods! First we covered cabbage, and now the avocado.

I am confident that you have embraced that superfood, and are ready to add another one into your diet. Ready? Here we go! Bonus…the next superfood is not a cruciferous vegetable, so no worries about the, ahem, gas issue. It is avocado. This is a fun one.

Avocados, like cabbage, are a flexible food and super easy to prepare. An avocado has about 4 grams of protein per fruit and is low in sugar. Plus, they are rich n vitamin k, b vitamins, and have more potassium than a banana. Still need convincing? Consider that an avocado also contains half of the daily recommended amount of fiber, about 11 grams. (Okay, so maybe the fiber may be a bit gas producing, but you gotta consider the benefits and not just the…uumm…possible farts). This is a nutrient dense food.

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This Florida avocado graced my kitchen (although not for long!). Ugly but delicious!

Some folks shy away from this powerhouse fruit because it contains fat. True, it does, so adding it in the diet needs to be in moderation. But the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated, the “good” kind of fat. This fat can actually lower cholesterol, some studies suggest. So indulge.

When shopping for avocados, do not be deterred by ugly fruit. I actually prefer ugly fruit because it is less processed or sprayed than pretty perfect fruit. Go with an organic avocado if you can afford it. And check for ripeness. The avocado is ripe when is gives slightly to pressure. It should be a bit soft. Choose a softer avocado if you want to use it right away. If it will be in your fruit bowl for a few days, then opt for a more firm fruit and give it time to ripen.
What to do with an avocado you ask? The easiest thing to do is cut it up and eat it. Or layer it on a sandwich. Or dice it up and toss it in a salad. Avocado’s are delicious any way you eat it.

I had it for breakfast one morning for a powerhouse post workout meal. How? I turned the oven to 375 degrees. I sliced an avocado in half and took the pit out. Then I added a raw egg to the “divet” where the pit was.  Yup. Sure did. Then I put it on a baking sheet into the oven while I showered.

After about 20 minutes the egg was cooked in the avocado to perfection. I pulled it out of the oven added some low fat cheese, then popped it back in the oven for a few minutes. Voila! A breakfast packed with nutrients, protein, and flavor. Treat avocados like a baked potato and load ’em up!

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My baked avocado breakfast. So flavorful and nutritious. A fantastic post workout breakfast.

Whats next? Predictable but never to be overlooked, the avocado is the star of guacamole. If you have the fixings, making guacamole is a must with any avocado. And it is so simple. Lime, tomatoes, cilantro, and maybe some hot peppers if you are adventurous . Thats all you need for great guacamole. One of the best things about making this is that it is totally customizable. You can make it as spicy, as creamy, or as chunky as you prefer.

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Stir in lime, cilantro, and tomatoes to avocado. Nothing short of delicious!

If you want a quick guacamole, you can do that too. Mash up fresh avocados, add some salt and pepper, and squeeze a fresh lime over it. Since you are in a hurry, stir in your favorite salsa, and you are done.  Then load up your chip, your taco, or spread it on your sandwich.

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Fresh guacamole! Fabulous and flexible!

When making anything with avocado, keeping the pit in it, such as in the guacamole, keeps it from turning brown. So does adding a bit of lemon or lime juice to it. Either way, enjoy this fantastic nutrient packed superfood in many ways. Let me know what you do with your new superfood!

If you want to check out my blog on another superfood, go here. https://busymomswellness.com/2014/05/26/blast-into-super-foods/

 

 

Sweet Summer Salsa

16 Aug

Summer fruits are bursting with flavors and colors. This season gives us sweet treats with fresh aromatic melon, berries bursting with sweet juice, and gorgeous succulent ripe peaches. But we are rounding the corner to the summers end and need a new way to enjoy summer fruit. How about a yummy salsa?

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This fruit salsa is delicious with meat and seafood. Or try serving it along side a grilled pork tenderloin for a nice pop of flavor and color. Spoon it onto flavorful chicken thighs. Oh…you want it for an appetizer? You can do that too. This salsa is just as great with crisp yellow corn chips.  Or maybe try it alongside some brie cheese and crackers. The possibilities are endless!

As you will see there is so much flexibility with one simple recipe. It has bold flavor and is packed with nutrients.   It is a snap to make and easily customizable to suit your own personal preferences.  I make this fruit salsa with cilantro for a little kick, but I would use basil in place of cilantro it if my mom was going to eat it.  She doesn’t like cilantro.

That is the beauty of a recipe like this.  It is packed with flavor, has good nutrients, and is very colso easy to alter to please your crowd!  Here it is.  But remember…I consider recipes a “jumping off point” if you will.  Recipes that I develop, like this one, can be changed to suit changing taste, available ingredients,  or budgets as often as your like!

Fresh Summer Salsa:

  • 1 cup coarsely chopped cantaloupe
  • 1 cup chopped honey dew melon
  • 2 freestone peaches, chopped
  • 1/2 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 lime cut in half
  • 1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt and pepperIMG_3399

Mix everything except the lime together. Stir. Squeeze the fresh lime over the top and drizzle with olive oil.  Give the salsa another good stir and there you have it.  This is best if it sits for a few hours in the fridge before serving.  Go for it!  Grab up some fresh summer fruits and make a delicious salsa of your own!

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Lover of Leftovers

1 Aug

Time. There are 24 hours in every day, but sometimes it feels like less.  So when I cook, I have to make it count for more than one meal.  Cooking big is a time saver. If I have a little wiggle room during the weekend to cook, I try to fill the fridge for the upcoming week. But even quick week night meals can provide leftovers for another meal.

Okay, it’s no secret that I love leftovers.  You can enjoy them for a second meal as is, but they can also be used as inspiration for a new dish.  I use my leftovers both ways.  If I cook a couple of extra pieces of chicken, that goes to work with me for a quick lunch at the office.  Using that chicken as inspiration for another meal might mean a nice chicken casserole or chicken salad sandwich.  Need some ideas?  Let me outline my leftovers from the past few days.

Night #1.  Leftover: Quinoa.  Used the next morning as an addition to breakfast oatmeal to power it up. Quinoa is a plant based protein loaded with beneficial amino acids. It was a satisfying protein and grain breakfast following an early morning workout at the gym.

Leftover quinoa added a nice nutritionally punch to morning oatmeal.

Leftover quinoa added plant protein to morning oatmeal.

Night #2.  Leftover:  Goat cheese.  It was leftover from a beet salad.  The next day goat cheese was a wonderful addition to a “gourmet” sandwich, adding delicious creamy flavor to a weekday brown bag lunch.

Leftover goat cheese not used for this salad added flavor to a sandwich.

Leftover goat cheese not used for this salad added flavor to a sandwich.

Night #3.  Leftover:  Home made vinaigrette.  I used this to drizzle over veggies going into the oven to roast.  Homemade vinaigrette is super flexible and great to have around. It is a delicious way to add a wonderful layer of flavor to most anything.

Leftover vinaigrette.  This isn't just salad dressing.  It has a zillion uses.

Leftover vinaigrette. This isn’t just salad dressing. It has a zillion uses.

Night #4.  Leftover: Roasted veggies.  These leftover roasted veggies made the most amazing salad. I also threw in some of that leftover quinoa so it was a complete meal.

Roasted veggies made an awesome sandwich, panini style!

Roasted veggies made an awesome salad! The added quinoa was the perfect protein for this dish.

Night #5.  Leftover:  Pesto, with a bonus of shredded chicken. (Nonleftover: frozen cauliflower). This made a quick pasta dinner.  Dinner was ready in the time it took for a pot of water to boil and pasta to cook.  The cauliflower cooked up quick in the microwave. It was tossed together with the chicken and pesto for a quick and easy one dish dinner for a busy night.

By now I am sure you get the picture.  Be creative.  When cooking, cook a larger portion than you need.  Toss leftovers in both the fridge and the freezer.  And start embracing the ease of the next meal using leftovers.  Let me know what ends up on your dinner table!

Saute the Squash

30 Jul

I am always looking for something new with my side dishes. At meals, I like to feature more protein, veggies, and fruits than starches. Oh sure, starches are super yummy,  but I tend to opt for fresher options. Since i enjoy cooking, I also like to keep up with food trends and techniques.

That said, I work full-time, am a mom, and have a pretty packed lifestyle. Time is my most valuable commodity. I usually save my big new cooking adventures for weekends when I have more time to tinker in the kitchen. Sometimes I luck out and trying something new can be added into my weeknight “quick cooking” repertoire. Which is exactly what happened recently.

I had a gift card for a cookware store from my sweet sister in law Kathy. What fun! Going into a kitchen store, for me, is delightful and indulgant. But even with a gift card I look for the biggest bang for my buck. In a kitchen store, that means that I would not invest in a “single use” kitchen gadget. What I mean by that is if a kitchen tool only has one use, it has no place in my kitchen. Unitl now…..

I had seen the new trend with sprializing zucchini and squash. “Zucchetti” was the clever moniker, and this new technique for zucchini resembled pasta like spaghetti and lasagna noodles.  So naturally I was drawn to this cool new kitchen tool, and sought it out gift card in hand. Bingo! I found one and couldnt wait to get home and try it.

This gadget was a snap to work from the get go. I spiralized large and small width “Zucchetti”. I sauteed tomatoes to pair with it, and it turned out so well it is now on the dinner table (and lunch leftovers at the office!) quite often. Let me show you what I did.

 

I placed some freshly washed grape tomatoes into a small saucepan with a bit of olive oil, and let that simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes. The tomatoes got saucy, fragrant, and creamy. After that,  I simply sautéed the spiraled squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. I then combined the two, and voila! I finished it off with some fresh parsley and basil from my summer garden. With a bit of freshly grated parmesan cheese it was a complete, and completely delicious, side dish.

 

 

Zuchetti has become so much more than a simple side dish this summer. I have used this with marinara sauce, a bright lemony shrimp sauce, and other pasta sauces using zuchetti instead of pasta noodles. Whether using this as a side dish or a feature in the center of the plate item, this is a tasty replacement for starchy rice or pasta.

So even though I purchased a kitchen gadget that had basically one function, the flexibility of what can be done with the spriralized zucchini is endless.  Now my zuchetti is a mainstay for light and tasty meals. What can you do with it?

 

Fruit

1 Jan

On the eve of 2016, I won’t go to a glamorous party.  I am not heading out to a swanky dinner.  No, New Years Eve, for me, is about quiet gratitude, thoughtful prayer, and personal peace.  This post is a couple of years old, but I am posting it again.  It still feels relevant to life.  Thanks for reading it.  Happy New Year!

It is now 2013. I don’t really make New Years Resolutions, but I do make some goals. I also reflect on the past, and think about how to improve my future. My journey to love, loyalty, forgiveness, and appreciation continues, as does the journey to discover myself. A goal for my journey is to make it a joyful one. So as I do that this year, I want to say thank you.

Thank you to those who told me I couldn’t. From you I learned that I can.

Thank you to those who gossiped. From you I learned how to hold my friends dear, and how important it is to keep my mouth shut.

Thank you to those with no faith. From you I learned that God is central in my life, and that my faith runs deep.

Thank you to those who told me that I am weak. From you I learned fierce inner strength and confidence. For you allowed me to dig down and discover that I am stronger than I ever imagined.

Thank you to those that told me I was ugly. From you I found my inner beauty.

Thank you to those that put up barriers in my life. From you, I learned how to tear down walls and fight for what I want.

Thank you to those who told me that I am not a good mother. From you I learned that my commitment to motherhood is beautifully imperfect, and perfectly loving.

Thank you to those that put me second (or more accurately third, fourth or fifth) . From you I learn to put myself first.

Thank you to those who are loud and demand attention. From you I learned to be quiet.

Thank you to those who created drama in my life. From you I am learning to truly appreciate peace.

Thank you to those who have an overpowering sense of entitlement. From you I am learning to appreciate everything that I have.

Thank you to those who told me to quit. From you I am learning perseverance.

Thank you to those who brag. From you I learn humility.

Thank you to those that lied to me. From you I am learning the importance of the truth.

Thank you to those who are false and phony. From you I am learning the importance of being genuine.

Thank you to the people who showed me kindness not because I am needy but because you are good.

Thank you to those who extended generosity, for you have enabled me to more openly give to others.

Thank you for those of you that protected me not because I am weak but because you are loyal.

Thank you to those that shared their strength with me during times when I wavered. For you give me the power to be a pillar of strength to someone else.

I am no different from anyone else. I have been hurt. I have felt pain of deceit, the heart break of divorce, cruel disloyalty, and the sting of failure. From that I rise up. Push forward. Continue on. I give thanks to those by my side, and for those that, it seems, turned against me. From everyone whose life has touched mine, I learn. It is easy to be thankful for the great people in your life and to love them. The challenge lies in loving and learning from every body else.

This blog addresses mostly food. Today it is about fruits. The fruits of the spirit.  So I enter this year with gratitude, an open spirit, and prepared to learn more lessons!  I am grateful to everyone that has touched my life and continues to shape the person I am, and the person I am becoming.  So to you I say thank you!