Thursday, September 29, 2011

Free cooking classes from Jamie Oliver

Check out what I just read this morning. If you live near Long Beach, California and have kids, you are in for a treat. Free cooking classes from a celebrity chef!

The Long Beach Press Telegram article I read features a story about Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution truck that has rolled into their town. I'm sure many of you have heard of his Food Revolution television show (been on for 4 years and has received an Emmy), but I had no idea he had this 50' semi-truck driving across the country! Complete with eight cooking stations and six ovens, kids learn how to cook in it. Awesome.

I love this guy. I've watched his shows over the years and read and cooked from many of his cookbooks. I really enjoy his style. It's casual, uncomplicated, home-cooking based on simple ingredients anyone can easily put together.

And how many people really put into practice that they preach? He is making it his mission to change the school lunch program in America, as he's done in his native England (it's been no easy task). Educating American kids on how to cook for themselves, so they can have more control over what they are eating is another one of his goals. He wants to put an end to childhood obesity.

I commend him for his efforts and think for this very reason, celebrity is a great thing: when you put it to good use, raising enough money to make things like this happen for the betterment of society. Jamie says he is dedicating the next 20 years of his life to this cause.

The truck starts in California and heads east. For more information on what Jamie's up to click here.

If you get the Cooking Channel, check out his show, Jamie at Home. He's a lot of fun to watch (and the English accent's pretty cute, too!).

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Nuts and Seeds: Powerhouses of Flavor and Nutrition

Fall is here again! My favorite time of year. I love the overcast mornings right now, heavy with dew that clings to spider webs and drips off trees. It feels like Fall, if only in the mornings and evenings right now. But that's close enough for me. 

This is also the time of year that puts me in the mood to do more cooking and baking and this is the right time to add nuts and seeds to a variety of dishes. They are perfect for many fall-themed dishes. Warming and nutritious, so we can pack on some fat before the winter season (ha ha!).

Actually, that's not true. Thank God low-fat diets are becoming a thing of the past. In our quest to rid ourselves of our dreaded fat, we mistakenly thought we needed to stop eating fat, like nuts, seeds and avocados. Come to find out, we need those fats. It's the bad fats we could do without. Even doctors are calling for an end to the low fat diet craze that's been so pervasive for so long. Dr. Andrew Weil (for some time now) and lately even Dr. Oz are telling us a healthy diet should contain some level of healthy fats. In many ways, it lubricates the body.

Nuts and seeds provide protein, fiber and many essential vitamins, minerals and amino acids but because of their fat and calories, eat them in moderation. For example, most nuts have anywhere from 150-200 calories and 16-20g of fat per ounce so a little goes a long way.

Storage of these foods is important. Nuts and seeds should be stored in air-tight containers away from light in a cool, dry place. Storing them in a fridge or freezer can help prevent them from becoming rancid. Buying them in bulk can be a great savings but that means storing them properly will be even more important.

I add seeds and nuts to my salads, grind them and substitute their "flour" for some of the wheat flour in recipes, and top my yogurt and fruit with them. 

Here's a salad I make a lot when we have Mexican food for dinner. It's my version of the pepita dressing they serve at El Torito Restaurants, although better. I know you can buy the bottled dressing at the supermarket but I much prefer my own, made fresh without preservatives and artificial ingredients found in the bottled variety. No specific quantities are listed because I pretty much "eyeball" it as I go, tossing everything in the food processor and then just hitting the switch. Add more garlic if you like, less cilantro, it's up to you.

Pepita Salad

a combination of plain yogurt and sour cream
1 clove garlic
a pinch of salt and pepper
small handful of washed and chopped cilantro, some stems included (doesn't even have to be dry)

1 head Romaine lettuce, washed, torn into pieces and placed in a large salad bowl
pepita (green pumpkin) seeds
queso fresco or feta cheese, crumbled

Place all the dressing ingredients in the food processor and process till smooth. In a large bowl, pour dressing over lettuce, sprinkle with seeds and cheese. Toss and serve.

Now, one of the best things with nuts that I've made in a long time is this cake.

Apricot Almond Cake

5-6 fresh apricots, quartered
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
zest of one orange
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup finely ground almonds (preferably toasted)
2 tsp. baking powder
powdered sugar for dusting

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix thoroughly between additions. Add the zest and almond extract.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, ground almonds, and baking powder, then stir the dry mixture into the egg mixture just until blended.
  4. Smooth the batter into the springform pan and distribute the apricot quarters evenly over the batter, pressing the pieces in lightly.
  5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean or with tiny crumbs clinging to it. Let cool, then invert onto a plate and dust lightly with powdered sugar. Soooo good!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Honey, I love you

I've been away for a while because of a series of unfortunate events and a work load that would make your head spin. I really don't even have time to write today, but I just have to. It's cathartic. I guess you could say that I am reaching to food for comfort, even if it is only writing about it. Today I wanted to write about honey. 

I've loved honey since I was a little kid. It reminds me of my dad and he's in the hospital right now, so I want to dedicate this post to him.

My earliest recollection of eating honey was when Dad would take a banana, mash it with a fork, mix in some plain yogurt and wheat germ, and drizzle a little honey on top. I loved it. I was most likely eating it while watching "I Love Lucy".

Today, I still eat it as an afternoon snack, or for breakfast, except that I now use ground flaxseeds instead of wheat germ and sometimes add walnuts or sunflower seeds for a little crunch.

As I did some reading about this golden elixir, I didn't realize that honey is really a seasonal food. That's because it's dependent on the flowers available to the bees in spring and summer. But since honey can be stored indefinitely, it is available to us year round. Thank goodness for that. Did you know that honey is the only food that doesn't spoil? It may crystallize, but that can easily be remedied by immersing the honey jar in a little warm water till it liquefies again. 

Though honey is metabolized as sugar when it enters the body, it still remains a healthier alternative than "the white stuff". Honey is natural, whereas sugar is processed and refined, stripped of any nutritional value. Honey contains more than 180 different substances the complex interrelation of which makes artificial production impossible. It contains minerals, vitamins, enzymes, and antioxidants, all of which sugar cannot claim.

Honey has been used for thousands of years for medicinal and religious purposes. It is often "prescribed" for sore throat, upset stomach, allergies, and diabetic ulcers. It can be applied topically on wounds. When applied to the skin, I read, hydrogen peroxide is produced and acts as an antiseptic.

Honey comes in various grades: light, medium, dark and amber. Each type has a distinctive flavor, depending on the source of the nectar. Honey from Europe tastes different than many honeys here and that's what's so interesting about travelling and tasting foods in other countries - the regional differences.

Another (and extremely important) reason to eat more honey is to show support to our bees. Seriously! Bees are responsible for 75% of our food supply. They pollinate flowers but also plants, many of which we eat, and the dwindling bee population has many scientists and farmers quite concerned about our food supply.

I recently saw this recipe at If you have some honey at home, consider making this while stone fruit is still available. Today is the first day of Fall, so make it soon before the fruit disappears.

Grilled Peaches with Honey-Almond StreuselENLARGE IMAGEPhoto: Leah Koenig


1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. acacia (or other light) honey
1 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
4 tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup acacia honey, plus more for drizzling
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 firm peaches, halved and pitted
Canola oil or cooking spray for grilling


1. Make the streusel: Process almonds in a food processor until fine and flour-like. Add flour, sugar, honey, zest and ginger powder and pulse to combine. Add butter pieces and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; be careful not to over-process. Set aside. 

2. Preheat outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Whisk together lemon juice, honey and cinnamon in a bowl. Add peach halves and gently toss to coat.

3. Brush grill or grill pan with oil, or coat with cooking spray; lay peaches face down and grill until softened and caramelized, about 5 minutes. Brush domes with more of the lemon-honey mixture, flip with tongs and grill on other side, 2-3 minutes. 

4. Preheat the broiler and set your oven rack in the highest position. Lay grilled peaches face up in a 9x13 baking dish. Spoon a generous amount of streusel onto each peach half. Broil until lightly browned, about 5 minutes; serve drizzled with additional honey.

Now the tables are turned, Dad, and I'll be feeding it to you as you recover from surgery. As soon as you can swallow again, I'll be mashing you a banana, mixing it with yogurt and flaxseeds (or wheat germ, if you prefer) and drizzling it with honey. The calcium, omega 3's and carbohydrates will be good for you, as they were for me when my body was growing and getting stronger. Hang in there.

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