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Carrots, Celery, Spinach

26 Jun

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The checker at Trader Joe’s scans a 4th bag of carrots, gives me a knowing look, and says, “Meal prep day, right?” Batching meals in advance to keep daily cooking down to a minimum has become a popular way to get a home-cooked meal on the table when we are living our on-the-go lives. But is the practice more overwhelming than the benefits? That all depends on planning! Armed with a great recipe and shopping list as well as a few hours of time, it can be a weekday lifesaver. I have a few tips for easy and delicious meal prep:

  • Plan to cook recipes that actually eat better after they have been frozen and reheated, like soups, stews, braises, grain salads and casseroles. Meats and veggies cooked in a sauce get more flavorful as they have had time to hang out together.
  • Double your recipes but not your time or ingredients. It only takes a little while longer to prep and cook a second batch, and although proteins, vegetables and starches need to be doubled, ingredients like oil and spices do not.
  • Have plenty of containers that are easily stored in your freezer. Mason jars, BPA free plastic and Pyrex, especially if they are stackable, are great choices. Use painter tape and a Sharpie to label and date the item you are storing.
  • Divide food into small containers, then allow to cool all of the way under refrigeration before storing in the freezer.
  • Find ingredients that overlap. If you need rice for one recipe, why not make more to add to salads or a quick mid-week stir fry?
  • Chop the ingredients that go into everything to get the party started. Get all of the onions diced, the garlic minced, and cut up extra carrots for tomorrow’s snack. Getting all of your items prepped in advance will help you save time and make it easier for you to manage three or four different pots working at the same time when the cooking starts.
  • Make it fun! Get the kids involved, listen to your favorite podcast or have friends cook and pack all together.

This Veggie Bolognese (you could also add ground turkey or beef) is a perfect dish for meal prep. Serve it over zucchini noodle, pasta, polenta or cauliflower rice.

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Vegetable Bolognese

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup each diced carrots, celery, fennel and onions
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 pound organic ground turkey or beef (optional)
  • 2 bay leaves, 3 fresh thyme stems, 1 small rosemary stem
  • 1 cup of white wine
  • 1 15-ounce can of organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can of organic tomato sauce
  • 7 ounces of baby spinach
  • 5 large basil leaves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • Parmesan cheese and red chile flakes for serving
  • 8 ounces of pasta, cooked, or zucchini noodles

Method:

Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven and coat the bottom with a thin layer of olive oil. Add the diced carrots, celery, fennel and onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook the vegetables until softened, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, ground turkey or beef, if using, seasoning with a bit more salt and pepper, and stir into the vegetables, breaking the meat into small pieces. Continue to stir and brown the meat until it is cooked all of the way through.

Put the bay leaf and the sprigs of thyme and rosemary into the turkey mixture. Pour the wine into the turkey and vegetable mixture and stir, cooking until the wine is reduced by half. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices and cook until liquid is reduced,  and then add the tomato sauce. Cook the sauce for 30-40 minutes, until it is thickened and tomatoes are sweet. While the sauce is hot, stir in the baby spinach and basil, seasoning with salt and pepper and stirring until it wilts. Taste the sauce for additional seasoning, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf and herb sprigs. Top with the chopped parsley and serve over pasta or zucchini noodles.

 

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Kale

17 May

DSC01179I’m making a practice of mindful feeding for myself and my family, and along with that comes: Meal Prep. I plan and cook nonstop for a living, all for other people’s families and events. I’ve lapsed into a cycle of over-scheduled activities, and leaving meals to a last-minute freezer dash with a side of leftovers and a  purchase of that life-saving grocery rotisserie chicken…you may know the drill.

This week I dedicated myself to a results-based work out program, so meal planning was crucial. I started by doubling up the frittata I made for Mother’s Day brunch for a quick, nutrient-dense morning start. I chopped salad ingredients, packing them separately so I could design my daily lunch with a variety of produce, and I defrosted a few homemade soups I had stashed in the freezer. Then I made a big batch of Turkey Kale Meatballs to slide into soups, top off with marinara sauce and serve with a side of sautéed spinach, or even turn into a quick snack.

Turkey Kale Meatballs

These are low in fat, tender, packed with the power of kale, and gluten-free. Makes about 24 meatballs.

ingredients

1 bunch of kale

1 large shallot

2 garlic cloves

Olive oil

1 pound of lean ground turkey

1 large egg

1 teaspoon salt and a few pinches of pepper

1 cup of good quality, organic marinara sauce

method

Tear the leaves of the kale from the ribs and wash the leaves, using a salad spinner or colander, then dry with paper towels or by spinning the leaves. Discard the ribs. Put the leaves into the bowl of a food processor. Peel the shallot and roughly chop, placing that and the peeled garlic cloves into the food processor. Chop the kale, shallots and garlic very finely in the food processor, stopping to push down the mixture if large bits remain, and continuing until the kale is uniformly fine.

Heat a large skillet and drizzle enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the kale mixture and cook until the shallots and garlic become fragrant and the kale has wilted. Season with salt and pepper and cool.

Place the ground turkey into a large bowl and add the egg. Season generously with salt and pepper. Mix the ground turkey, egg and kale mixture together until incorporated but not overworked. Tip: to test for seasoning, take a small portion of the turkey mixture and cook it in a small saute pan. Taste and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and form the meatballs, using either a portion scoop or your hands. The meatballs should be no larger than 3 tablespoons and should be uniform in size. Space the meatballs out on the sheet pan and cook for about 15-17 minutes, until firm to the touch and 165 degrees in internal temperature (use a probe meat thermometer). Remove the meatballs from the oven when they are ready and serve immediately with your favorite marinara sauce or cool and store to reheat in a soup or the oven later.

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Lemons, Broccoli and Fresh Herbs

12 Mar

DSC01163The branches of my neighbor’s tree are weighed with bright-skinned, juicy globes, and my farm box has seductive, creamy-green colored broccoli. I am in love with Trader Joe’s chewy, nutty 10-Minute Farro and the idea of salvaging any fresh herbs I have tucked away from previous dishes, as this salad benefits from any combination. Dinner with the hope of leftovers is in progress.

Farro, White Bean, Roasted Broccoli and Lemon Salad

Serve this dish alone, topped with poached eggs, rotisserie chicken or grilled meat. Serves about 4 as a main dish and 8 as a side.

Ingredients:

1 shallot, sliced

1 bay leaf

1 garlic clove

8 ounces of quick cooking farro

1 head of broccoli, cut into equal-sized florets

Olive oil, salt and pepper

1 can of organic white beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs: parsley, thyme, dill, basil, cilantro, chervil, tarragon

2-3 fresh lemons

Instructions:

Heat a heavy bottomed saute or sauce pan and drizzle with olive oil. Add the shallot, bay leaf, garlic clove and farro, and stir until the shallot and garlic soften and the farro toasts slightly. Add water to cover plus 1/2 inch. Add a pinch of salt and cook for 10 minutes, until the farro is tender but still slightly chewy. Drain the excess water in a colander if it has not all been absorbed. Place the farro in a large mixing bowl.

While the farro is cooking, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the broccoli on it, tossing with olive oil, salt and pepper, then spreading out evenly on the pan. Put in the oven, turning the broccoli after about 5 minutes, until charred and softened, but still crisp and bright green, about 10-12 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and add to the farro.

Add the white beans, chopped herbs and the zest of one lemon to the farro and broccoli. Squeeze in the juice of two lemons, season the farro mixture with salt and pepper, and fold all of the ingredients together. Taste the mixture and add more lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil if needed. Chill the salad or serve it at room temperature.

Warming Up

10 Jun

DSC01061We have had a bounty of scrumptious cauliflower for months, and my recipe roster has been diverse: Cumin and Fennel Roasted Cauliflower and Potatoes, Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower with Parsley Pesto, Cauliflower and Gruyere Souffle, and Ginger Turmeric Cauliflower and Sweet Potatoes. But best of all, I’ve loved this Roasted Curry Cauliflower with Golden Raisins, Almonds and Cilantro.

The goal of curry dishes is not to punch with heat, but create a warm glow. The key to that is balance. Sweet raisins, toasted crunchy nuts, piquant cilantro all mellow the heat to a low simmer, and wed perfectly with the char of well-roasted cauliflower. Curry can be made in all different manners, but using a good-quality curry powder with coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, mustard seed, black pepper and cayenne makes this a quick dish with packed with flavor and warmth. It also gives a nutritional boost, with the benefits of fiber and vitamin C from the cauliflower, turmeric’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities and the healing properties of fenugreek.

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 Curry Roasted Cauliflower with Golden Raisins, Almonds and Cilantro

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 large head of cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets

1 tablespoon good-quality prepared curry powder

Olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Heat an oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and pile cauliflower on it, seasoning with curry powder and generous olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss it all together, then roast in the oven, turning occasionally, until the cauliflower caramelizes and turns deep brown. Remove from oven when cauliflower is cooked through, tender and a rich golden brown. Toss with the almonds and raisins, then top with cilantro to serve.

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Soup Season

28 Jan

dsc01039I received the highest compliment today: “The lentil soup is so so good. I was shocked that even Hudson ate it! He is the pickiest eater ever. I would love the recipe for the soup.” You see, Hudson is 4 years old, and if I can help get a few bites of whole, nutritious goodness into a young man that age, and maybe even change how he feels about vegetables, then I have done my job. Here’s that recipe, Mom!

Green Lentil Soup with Spinach, Cilantro and Lemon

Serves 6-8

1 onion (yellow, white or brown), diced

4 stalks of celery, sliced

4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 bunch of fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes with their juices

2 cups of green lentils

8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock or broth

4 cups of baby spinach

1 bunch of cilantro, stems removed, chopped

Juice of 1 or two fresh lemons

Olive oil, kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large stock pot, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to cooking temperature. Add the onions and cook for a bit, stirring, then the celery and carrots, seasoning with a bit of salt and pepper. Stir and cook the vegetables until they start to sweat, and then add the garlic. Stir frequently to keep the garlic from burning, and continue to cook until the vegetables soften a bit. Add the thyme, bay leaves and tomatoes, season with a bit more salt and pepper, and stir, cooking the tomatoes for about 3 minutes.

Add the lentils, a bit more salt and pepper, and the stock and stir it all together. Bring heat up to high, and bring the soup to a boil. When it boils, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook the soup until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. When the lentils are done (you can tell by tasting them, they should be tender with a slight firm bite), season with additional salt and pepper to taste, stir in the spinach, cilantro and lemon. Taste again, adjusting any seasoning or lemon juice. Add additional olive oil if desired and serve or store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Fall at Last

29 Oct

dsc00547Here in the beach cities, fall is late to show itself. We shake off the summer morning gloom for freakish, still, clear-skied heat. Sometimes we call it earthquake weather, sometimes we call it heaven. My apricot tree gets so confused it goes into bloom, as bare as its branches are. But I get my produce from a local farm that has thought ahead to what we would like to see on our plates for fall. Squash, Brussels sprouts, woody herbs, apples. Mushrooms, ((swoon)), mushrooms.

Suppose you were at a cocktail party, and you had to answer an ice-breaker question about what vegetable would be your boyfriend? Mine would be a mushroom. So down to earth, exotic, sensual…but back to topic:

Have you noticed all of this talk about vitamin D deficiency? It seems as though everyone is being prescribed a supplement, but when I had a conversation with my physician about it, I told her I get plenty of sunshine, no supplement, thank you. I learned an interesting thing: you have to have vitamin D in your body to for the sunshine to wake it up, your body doesn’t just naturally produce it. Good news is that mushrooms are one of the only items on the produce aisle rich in vitamin D. Great news for me and long walks on the sunny fall beach with my vegetable boyfriend.

Farro with Mushrooms and Spinach

Serves 4

Ingredients

8 ounces quick cooking farro

2 dried bay leaves

olive oil, salt & pepper

8 ounces brown cremini mushrooms, cleaned, stems removed, sliced

1 shallot, sliced

2 cloves garlic

2 ounces of baby spinach

2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

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Method

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour the farro and bay leaves into the boiling water, and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When farro is cooked to al dente, drain in a colander. Place farro in a large mixing bowl, remove bay leaf, and put aside to cool.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and drizzle enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the mushrooms and cook, undisturbed, for about 3 minutes, until golden, then stir to turn and continue to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, until juices release and mushrooms are completely brown. Season with salt and pepper and add to the farro. Drizzle a bit more olive oil in the pan and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for another few minutes, then add in the spinach and parsley, cooking just to wilt. Season with the vegetables with salt and pepper, then add the vegetables to the farro mixture. Stir everything together and taste for seasoning,  adding additional olive oil, salt and pepper if needed.

Serve farro warm, at room temperature or cold.

Kale, Summer Squash, Corn and Red Peppers

18 Aug

DSC00045More summer in a pan. This succotash can be tweaked in so many ways, using whatever you have ready to pick from the garden, from the farmers market, or your CSA box. I like to serve it with roasted chicken, and for an even more effortless summer meal, why not just pick up one from the market? Or serve it up as a one dish Meatless Monday Main, adding edamame or lima beans to pump up the protein.

Summer Succotash

Serves 6

Ingredients:

olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup diced bell pepper

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 cups summer squash, such as yellow crookneck, zucchini, or pattypan

1 bunch of kale, washed and dried, ribs removed, chopped

1 cup of fresh corn kernels

1 cup frozen edamame or Lima beans (optional)

1/2 cup good quality chicken stock or broth

Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

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In a large skillet, heat the olive oil until shimmering over medium high heat. Add the onions and peppers to the pan, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 1 minute. Add the garlic, thyme leaves and summer squash, stirring to incorporate, and cook until the squash starts to soften and the vegetables brown. Add the kale, corn and edamame or Lima beans, if desired, and stir together. Season with salt and pepper and cook until the kale wilts slightly, about 1 minute. Add the stock or broth, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until slightly reduced and vegetables are tender but crisp, about 3 minutes. Stir in the basil, season with additional salt and pepper if desired and serve.

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