Sunday, April 26, 2009

Dang! I missed the grilled cheese invitational.

I recently stumbled upon the hilarious website for the LA-based Grilled Cheese Invitational cooking competition. I went back to the site today, only to realize that the contest was yesterday! It looked like fun. Maybe next year I will come up with an awesome whole-wheat grilled cheese "sammich" - nothing too healthy, but I would probably have to enter in what they call the "Kama Sutra" category, which is for cooks who want to go beyond basic bread, butter, and cheese (they call that "Missionary Position").

Go check out the website, it's quite giggle-worthy. And please help me think of something cool to do with the grilled cheese idea!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

lemon basil chicken with white zucchini

Have you ever created a whole dinner around an herb? You know, something you came across by accident at the Farmer's Market or the grocery store? Well, that is how Lemon Basil Chicken with White Zucchini was born. I saw - then smelled - the lemon basil at the market, and HAD to make a dish with it. My goal was to make the recipe as lemony as possible and to find out how much flavor the herb could contribute - I was very happy with the resulting dinner!

If you are looking for lemon basil at the Farmer's Market, head for a stand that sells lots of greens. The stand where we buy salad mix usually has several different herbs, and the place where we found the lemon basil has lots of herbs, plus leeks, green onions, bok choy, cabbage, chard, lettuce, and a zillion different dark leafies. The white zucchini has been a springtime appearance at the Farmer's Market, and I've noticed that the same stand I buy it from also refers to it as "Mexican squash" sometimes. These are pretty small zucchini - one is about the length of my hand.

The mushroom broth I used was the liquid left from when I rehydrated some dried mushrooms. When you soak them in hot water, it not only brings your exotic mushrooms to life, it creates a flavorful broth that you can save in the refrigerator for a few days. You simply keep the liquid after straining out the mushrooms. I had some leftover from another recipe, and found it an ideal complement to the wine in this dish. You could rehydrate some dried mushrooms specifically for using in this dish (along with their broth), or you could go with an easy-to-find veggie or chicken broth.

We had this dish with a side of baked French-fry-style polenta (I should post that recipe sometime), but I think it would also be great with whole wheat Couscous. The wheat flour that coats the chicken sort of stops short of full-blown breading, but provides a nice texture, and it helps to thicken up the sauce a bit. While the white wine you use for this recipe shouldn't be overly sweet (aka, not a dessert wine like Reisling), you'll notice that when you pour the wine in the pan and add the lemon basil, it really smells like candy! I used this inexpensive blend from Pancake Cellars. There was enough leftover of this dish after Mike and I had it for dinner, so I took the rest to work for a delicious lunch.


3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 Tbsp. fresh chopped tarragon
1 lb. chicken tenders (with fat trimmed off)
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped brown mushrooms
3 small white zucchini, aka Mexican squash
1 tsp. white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup white wine
3/4 cup mushroom broth (or a mild-tasting, low sodium veggie or chicken broth)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsps. chopped lemon basil
juice of another 1/2 lemon

1. Put the whole wheat flour, salt, and tarragon into a large plastic, seal-able bag. Squeeze a half of a lemon onto the chicken tenders, then place the chicken in the bag with the flour mixture. Seal and shake well to coat the chicken.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet, then add the floured chicken tenders and the garlic. Brown the chicken, but don't cook it all the way through (yet). Set the chicken aside on a separate plate and cover.

3. Leaving the traces of the chicken and flour, add the mushrooms and zucchini to the pan. Stir in the vinegar to flavor the vegetables and to help prevent the flour from sticking to the pan and burning.

4. Cook the vegetables for 3-4 minutes, then pour in the white wine and mushroom broth. Turn the heat up until the sauce bubbles. Stir frequently while the sauce reduces. During this process, add the lemon basil and enjoy the scent! After another few minutes, squeeze in the lemon juice, and finish reducing.

5. When the sauce has reduced to about 2/3 of its original volume, turn the heat back down to medium-low and add the chicken back to the pan. Cook until there is no more pink in the chicken. It should be nice and tender.

6. Serve with a whole grain side dish and some more of that white wine!

Zucchini on Foodista

Thursday, April 16, 2009

lemon basil is made of awesome

We recently discovered lemon basil at the Farmer's Market. It looks much like any other green herb, but it smells almost exactly like the lemon-flavored suckers that bank tellers used to hand out when I was a kid. You really have to try it to understand how cool an ingredient this is to play with. I invented a chicken dish featuring lemon basil, which I will post this weekend, but for now, here's a dessert that we had tonight. It takes literally 2 minutes to make, and proves without a doubt that dessert does not require sugar...not if you have a stash of the super sweet strawberries that are in season right now! Don't worry about the acidity of the vinegar; the dish will still be sweet.


5-6 strawberries per person
1 Tablespoon lemon basil per person, chopped
drizzle of balsamic vinegar
drizzle of heavy cream

1. Wash the strawberries and remove the green tops. Slice them lengthwise into halves or quarters - whatever suits you.

2. Place a serving of sliced strawberries in each person's bowl. Add the lemon basil and toss. Drizzle each serving with a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, followed by a tablespoon of heavy cream.

3. Let the bowls sit in the refrigerator while you eat dinner, then enjoy!

Strawberry on Foodista

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

are these people for real?!?!?

I got an email today about how the Mid America CropLife Association (or, NAMBLA) is starting a PR blitz about Michelle Obama's organic garden at the White House. You see, they represent companies that manufacture agricultural pesticides, and they are mad that she's not using them. That's right, First Lady, you can't have an organic garden - the poison-free veggies you are serving to your daughters and important world leaders are simply un-American. Oh, and I hate to nitpick, but shouldn't you be dipping your bread in petroleum rather than olive oil?

I remember during the election when members of a certain party made fun of a certain other candidate for liking arugula...but maybe they would have enjoyed their leafy greens more if they were served with a tasty dusting of Methyl Bromide? Never mind that the National Cancer Institute has linked this chemical with increased risk of prostate cancer - which is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The main reason I find this so infuriating is that is none of the Mid America CropLife Association's freakin' business how the First Lady wants to approach her project of promoting healthy eating. Thier kind of "conventionally grown" food is more than available to consumers, and in truth, it's not very sustainable. Pesticide farming is an invention of the 20th century, created to make the mass production of food possible - but it has nothing to do with "convention," as humans successfully farmed without this stuff for thousands of years. Pesticides make our food less nutritious, and they contaminate the soil, run off into our water supply, and basically make a big, disgusting mess. With all of the Obama administration's green initiatives, Mrs. Obama would be inviting accusations of hypocrisy were she to promote chemically-assisted farming. Yet, the pesticide people seem to feel they are entitled to pressure her to use chemicals - like spraying her crops is some kind of duty!

I signed this petition to support the White House organic garden, and I encourage you to do so as well if you think these pesticide people should back off. You can read the full text of the Mid America CropLife Association's letter to Mrs. Obama here, including the heartwarming tidbit about thier educational outreach to elementary schools "covering the science behind crop protection products." Wow. What an ironic euphemism: these products may indeed protect crops from pests (by poisoning the bugs), but really, the problem is that they don't seem concerned about whether people should be protected from their product.

Monday, April 6, 2009

soba noodles with veggies & scallops in ginger mushroom broth

Of all the things I want to do with this blog, one of the most important is to point out the variety of whole grains out there. If you follow a hypoglycemic diet, you give up white pasta, white rice, flour tortillas, white bread, etc. - which can be a drag sometimes, especially at restaurants, or when you find yourself peering wistfully at all the goodies behind the glass at the coffee shop. Fortunately, there are some really good, overlooked whole grains that everyone ought to try, whether you are watching your blood sugar or your waistline, or perhaps if you are bored with the usual stuff.

So, today's featured whole grain is...(drumroll, please)...soba noodles! Soba is a Japanese pasta, made from a blend of buckwheat and wheat flour. I love that there exists an Asian noodle I can eat, since Pad Thai and Pho and all those fresh-looking Asian noodle bowls are usually off limits unless I want to feel woozy and get a pounding headache. With soba, I can learn to make my own versions of these dishes, as well as a plethora of hey-what-do-we-have-in-the-fridge stir fries, such as the one I'm posting here. You should be able to find soba in the "ethnic foods" aisle of most nicer grocery stores. You'll notice that they are brown, somewhat like whole wheat pasta, but they cook a little more quickly.

I used frozen jumbo scallops in this stir fry, which, I admit were from New England, thus not as eco-friendly as I usually try to be. While I think eating locally-produced food is one of the most important ways to help reduce your carbon footprint, I don't advocate being rigid about it when (for instance) you want some interesting seafood in your stir fry. To quickly defrost the scallops, just put them in a plastic ziploc-type bag and immerse in a bowl of lukewarm water. You may have to change the water a few times (because the scallops will make it icy), but they will defrost in 20 minutes or so while you are getting your other ingredients ready. Most of the other ingredients in the recipe are in season - veggies you'll find at the farmer's market in early spring.

I had never cooked with baby bok choy before putting it in this recipe, but it is super easy to work with, and quite yummy. Although it is known as Chinese cabbage, the flavor is milder than the cabbage most of us familiar with - but, strips of regular cabbage would make a decent substitution if you can't find baby bok choy. Swiss chard would also work. I highly recommend branching out and trying some of those mysterious greens the markets are so full of right now.


2 tsps. toasted sesame oil
1 medium onion, sliced into half circles
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 oz. dried wild mushrooms (shitake, crimini, oyster, etc.)
1 carrot, peeled into strips
4-6 jumbo scallops, cut into halves or quarters
1 cup snow peas
2 heaping Tbsps. freshly grated ginger root
1/4 cup mushroom broth (created from rehydrating your mushrooms)
2 Tbsps. low sodium soy sauce
1 Tbsp. rice vinegar
soba noodles
2 baby bok choy
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 avocado

1. Heat the sesame oil in a large skillet. Add the onions. Cook for a few minutes before adding the garlic.

2. Meanwhile, rehydrate the dried wild mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl. Cover the mushrooms in hot water for 15-20 minutes. When you take the mushrooms out of the bowl, save the water to use as mushroom broth later in the recipe. (You can also keep the extra broth in the fridge for a while - I'll be posting another recipe soon in which I used it again.)

3. Use a vegetable peeler to make carrot strips. I used a yellow carrot, but any kind will do. Toss the carrot strips into the skillet with the onions. Next, add the scallop pieces and stir so that the scallops have contact with the skillet bottom. After 3 minutes, add the snow peas, and turn the scallops. Cook for another 3-4 minutes.

4. While things are cooking away in the skillet, use a knife to remove the brown skin from the ginger root. Then use the smallest part of a grater, catching the ginger and ginger juice in a bowl. You might have to scrape the grated ginger off the back of the grater with your fingers. Once you have enough, stir it into the skillet. Pour in the mushroom broth, and add the soy sauce and rice vinegar. Turn the scallops over again.

5. Boil the soba noodles according to package directions. This recipe made enough for two of us, plus enough leftovers for me to eat for lunch one day. So, shoot for three bowls' worth of noodles.

6. Slice the bok choy into long strips, and add them to the skillet. Squeeze in the lemon juice, and cook for 3 more minutes. Once the scallops look done, you're ready to go.

7. Serve the veggies and broth in a bowl on top of the noodles. Garnish with avocado slices.

Note: We are trying to remember to start taking (and posting) pictures of these dishes...but it's a work in progress. Enjoy!

Soba on Foodista