An Open Cookbook

An Open Cookbook


Fig and Nut Chocolate Bark

My stomach growled through two layers of jackets, as my eyes slowly moved to my bus seat companion today, which happened to be a box of rubber food models.  It is pretty desperate hunger when rubber peas and fake pepperoni pizza make me hungry.  I was excitedly re-routing said box from an office downtown to my office.  You know you are a nutritionist when rubber replicas of chicken breast, applesauce and steak get your heart skipping a beat. 

One of the things I do at work is administer 24 hour recalls.  I ask our study participants to tell me everything they ate and drank within the last 24 hours and then I analyze it in a database...and having a food model is so helpful for determining portion sizes.  So what a thrill it will be to tote these models into my meetings now.

Anyway, down to the business of chocolate.  While my stomach growled, I longed for a piece of this chocolate bark.  I went over to T's house for dinner on Tuesday night where I was in charge of dessert.  This got me a little nervous because my comfort zone resides in side dishes and tapas style cooking.  I was in the spirit of stepping out of comfort zones though, after attending the BlogHerFood conference from last weekend, which by the way was such a helpful experience.  And one of the bonuses was an armload of free Scharffen Berger chocolate bars.

These bars were a perfect platform for recipe hunting.  I dragged cookbooks and binders off the bookshelf to find a quick chocolate-like dessert to assemble over at her house.  Thanks to a previously torn out page from Cooking Light, this recipe came to life.

The great benefit  is that you are essentially creating your own chocolate bar.  You get the opportunity to stuff the chocolate with little bits of whatever you like.  I divided the macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and figs into different sections for variety.  So then each bite will be a little different.  The hardest part is waiting for it to work it's magic in the freezer.

Fig and Nut Chocolate Bark
Adapted from Cooking Light September 2009 Issue
Yields about 12 oz

The original recipe includes dried cranberries and crystallized ginger.  So try that if you wish.  After I made this batch, the idea of coconut came to mind.  Also, I used one 3 oz bittersweet bar and one extra dark 82% cacao bar, so it much less sweet.  But use chocolate to your sugar level preference.

1/4 cup pre-chopped hazelnuts
4 dried figs, chopped
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, broken in big chunks
Sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Pour the hazelnuts onto a baking sheet and toast in oven until they become fragrant, about 5-8 minutes.  Check on them every few minutes so they don't burn.

Line a baking sheet or pan with parchment paper.  Arrange your nuts and fruit on the parchment in whatever way you'd like them to be interspersed throughout the bark.  In a microwave save bowl or glass measuring cup, heat the chocolate pieces.  Microwave for 1 minute on high, or until it is transformed to liquid.  Stir well.

Pour the chocolate evenly over the nuts and fruit until all ingredients are covered.  Sprinkle the sea salt over the top if you like a salty sweet dessert.  Place the pan in the freezer for an hour.  (Make yourself really busy, because these 60 minutes may click by painfully slow). 

When done, break the bark into pieces and serve as a dessert with a nice glass of wine.  Or have as a snack with a Granny Smith apple, like I did at work yesterday.


Spicy Seared Broccoli

Toting a fuchsia day planner jammed with dozens of nicely folded pieces of paper, I have stepped onto the life roller coaster at full speed.  So having 'quick and easy' menu items in the repertoire simplifies the evening.  Broccoli, the perfect little vegetable package that it is, is always in my refrigerator anxiously awaiting the oven.  Roasted broccoli is a main fallback recipe...but when I am hungry from a busy day and evening of activities, the roasting process leaves me pacing and sweating for the timer to ring.

So the other night I remembered the concept of searing, and thought I'd compare this method to roasting. To my pleasant surprise, it does create a similar resultThere were a few bonus features too.  One benefit of searing is that you don't have to use nearly as much oil as in roasting.  You are at more liberty to use lighter flavors such as lemon juice and hot sauce to flavor the charred broccoli.  The huge other benefit is that it takes far less time to cook, allowing you to eat and enjoy sooner.  So whip up your favorite dressing or try the one I concocted...and have yourself an easy side dish.

Spicy Seared Broccoli
Makes 1 entree serving or 2 appetizer/side dish servings

2 broccoli bunches, florets cut
1 medium lemon, juiced (about 1/4 cup)
Sriracha hot sauce (amount to your heat level preference)
1 garlic clove, minced
Splash of soy sauce
1/2-1 tsp olive oil

Make the dressing first by whisking the lemon juice, hot sauce, garlic, soy sauce and then olive oil.  Set within arm's reach of the stove.

Place a saute pan over medium to high heat.  Without any oil or water, add the broccoli.  Continue to press the broccoli over the dry heat with a spatula, tossing occasionally, until the broccoli starts to char.  This usually takes about 10 minutes.  Once it is cooked thoroughly, turn off heat.  You can either add the dressing in the hot pan or drizzle over the broccoli once you plate it. 

From several experiments, I have found that if you add the dressing to the hot pan it almost immediately evaporates and sizzles, which can be good, so the broccoli doesn't get soggy.  A little bit of the flavor gets lost this way, but still produces a tangy, spicy dish.  If you add the dressing to the plated broccoli, it is more like a dressing and allows you to dip the broccoli in a little bit of the leftover dressing.  Either way, it is a spicy, healthy side dish.


Cheesy Vegetable Frittata

It was one of those days where I was flipping through food magazines and cookbooks and then low and behold, remembered all the food in my house from an last Friday's ATM dinner.  One of those items happened to be a block of cheese speckled with horseradish and bacon that T contributed.  You know how sometimes a food item sounds interesting, but you don't really expect to find all the flavors mentioned.  Well this such cheese completely represented itself.  It was a perfect combination of cheese, bacon and horseradish, which in turn, was a perfect complement to a veggie frittata...a meal needs balance.

So I scoured my fridge, resulting in 3 mushrooms, an onion, 3 Brussels sprouts, eggs and the cheese.  This quickly materialized into something to write home about.  After making the mushroom risotto several weeks ago, I can't get enough thyme and mushrooms mixed together.  So thyme became the featured herb.  I used two whole eggs and one extra egg white to make it a little bit lighter.

But as with most recipes on my blog, you can completely ad lib this recipe.  Any vegetable, cheese, herb or spice will work for a frittata.  Whatever your taste buds or stomach are requesting, this frittata will leave them fully satisfied.  Once you slice it into pieces, you can freeze leftovers for next week's breakfast.

Cheesy Vegetable Frittata
Makes two servings

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/3 onion, thinly sliced
3 mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp dried thyme
3 Brussels sprouts, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
Eggs, 2 whole + 1 egg white, whisked
1/3 cup shredded cheese

Preheat oven to broil.

Heat an oven safe medium saute pan over medium heat.  Add olive oil.  Allow it to heat for a few minutes.  Pour in the onions and saute until they become lightly browned and slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add in the mushrooms and dried thyme.  Saute for 2-3 minutes.  Toss in the Brussels sprouts and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour in the eggs and let cook in the pan until eggs are almost cooked through.  A little bit of liquid on the top is okay.  Sprinkle the cheese on top.  Turn off burner and place the whole pan into the oven.  Your broiler will determine how long to keep the frittata in the oven.  Broil until the cheese is melted to your liking.  Remove and cut into four or eight pieces with a pizza cutter.  Serve at breakfast, lunch or dinner with potatoes, veggies or toast.


Blueberry Crumble Coffeecake

Pull out your pen and prepare to mark your calendar for a very important date.  This Saturday, May 14th, a group of the most fabulous food bloggers from all over town will be selling baked goods for Share Our Strength's Great American Bake Sale.  Here are the important details:

Lower Queen Anne's Metropolitan Market Uptown
100 Mercer St., Seattle
Saturday May 14th, 2011
(There is free parking while at the store)

Share Our Strength is a nationwide organization aiming to end childhood hunger.  I volunteer as a chef and nutritionist, with an organization called Cooking Matters which is part of the Share Our Strength umbrella.  So while you are trying all these tasty treats on Saturday morning, you are helping out an awesome organization that reaches many many people through food and nutrition education.  I will be featuring a blueberry crumble coffeecake.

So wake up Saturday morning, brew some coffee, and head on down to Metropolitan Market to have breakfast with us!  There will be dozens of local food bloggers' best work at your finger tips!  I recommend getting there sooner rather than later because the treats will go fast!

Struesel topping before crumbling

Batter right before pouring into pan

Blueberry Crumble Coffeecake
From Barefoot Contessa at Home
Yields 8-10 servings

I made this for A's baby shower last summer and to be a good baker, I followed the recipe exactly.  It turned out perfectly.  So I highly recommend using the exact ingredients below for a perfectly sweet and crumbly breakfast.

Struesel ingredients:

1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/8 tsp nutmeg, ground
1/4 lb (1 stick) butter, unsalted and melted
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour

Coffeecake ingredients:

6 Tbsp butter, unsalted at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup fresh blueberries
Confectioners' sugar, for added bonus

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch round pan or spring form if you have it.

Start by making streusel.  Combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl.  Stir in the melted butter.  Then stir in flour.  Thoroughly mix and take a tiny taste if you need.  Set aside.

Now the coffeecake making begins.  Using a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high for 4-5 minutes, until light.  Lower the speed to low and add the eggs one at a time.  Then add vanilla, lemon zest and sour cream.

In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  While the mixer is on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined.  Carefully fold in the blueberries with a spatula until completely mixed.

Spoon the batter into the pan and spread with a knife.  With your hands, crumble the topping over the batter, making sure it is evenly spread.  Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool on a wire rack.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.  Have at a brunch, with coffee or dessert.

Forks Over Knives

Have you ever had one of those moments in life where the world seems a little bit warmer and you feel like you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing at that very moment?  And you are reminded of why you've chosen your field of work or city or relationship?  I had one of those moments at the premiere of 'Forks Over Knives'.

As I sit here crunching on a piece of seared broccoli with homemade spicy garlic olive oil, I am overcome with inspiration.  During and after S and I left the movie theater, I was reminded why I chose the field of nutrition...and why I moved to Seattle to go to Bastyr University to study nutrition.  I have Forks Over Knives to thank for the reminder, that yes healthy whole foods based eating does make a difference in our health.

To be perfectly honest with you dear reader, I was slightly skeptical going into the movie.  I knew it was going to promote a vegan plant based diet.  Although I eat and promote a healthy diet, I was mentally holding my brie stuffed omelet breakfast in a tight grip.  But slowly but surely, my knuckles relaxed.

Fork Over Knives does a thorough job of giving evidence on the beneficial effects and disease reversing capabilities of eating a plant based diet.  The narrator follows several people whose lives have been affected by heart disease, diabetes, and cancer that chose to follow a plant based diet to help reverse their condition.  All the while a healthy amount of humor, one-eye-closing-peripheral-vision-using scenes of plaque extractions from arteries, graphs of meat, sugar and dairy consumption on the rise in the US, and funny cartoons of pleasure seeking sharks appear throughout the film.

One of my favorite parts was a depiction of the average stomach (as a cartoon).  This was right up my research alley of what we study at my job.  They show that a 500 calorie meal of vegetables will trigger the brain that the stomach is full, and therefore a person will stop eating.  Then they show 500 calories of food from a calorie dense meal.  They didn't specify what it was, but I assumed something like pizza or hamburger or donuts.  This only fills the stomach a little little over halfway, and the brain doesn't get as many triggers, therefore a person will likely overeat.  Then 500 calories of oil are depicted, which barely fills the stomach, and therefore hardly triggers the brain to stop eating.  Pretty interesting.

As a nutritionist, during the film, I started getting concerned about athletes.  How would they survive on such a diet?  And low and behold they interview a professional martial artist, a woman in her 70s who is a cancer surviving gold medal triathlete, and group of large muscled firefighters in Texas.  They all embraced the plant based diet, and were healthy and full of energy.  One of the firefighters climbs the pole with just his arm strength, while repeating 'Real Men Eat Vegetables'.

Slowly but surely, I was reminded of how energizing it feels to eat fresh, healthy, plant based foods.  This is a film that everyone should see...especially those struggling with heart disease, lethargy, obesity, diabetes, etc.  Although, I am not going to give up dairy, eggs or very occasional meat, this film is inspiring to live our lives in the healthiest possible way we can.  Life is too short to be dragged down by processed, lifeless food.  We can all take our own individual approach to eating more vegetables and less meat and processed foods, even if it means skipping meat one or two days a week.  Baby steps do count.  It starts at the grocery store, farmer's market, home and the office.  Check out the website, go see the movie...grab a fork, and eat your vegetables!

I will sign off with the best quote from the movie, 'He that takes medicine and ignores his diet, wastes his doctor's time' -A Chinese Proverb


Pistachio Asparagus Ribbons

This recipe is in the spirit of spring produce, particularly asparagus, which is popping up everywhere these days.  They seem to be in all shapes and sizes too.  The particular ones from this bunch were fairly large, making it easier to ribbon them.  One new piece of information I learned from this recipe was how much water asparagus holds.  After I peeled all the spears, the whole cutting board was soaked.

So last Friday afternoon, I was getting ready for another GDC dinner event.  While I prepared the salad, T and her kids came over for a little happy hour/snack time.  I peeled while the kids ate cookies and ice cream and T and I sipped on a glass of Cab.  It worked out well, because the peeling takes kind of awhile.  Although it is well worth the effort.  The raw ribbons are easy to eat, and suprisingly tender.   

My vegetable peeler is just a cheap one with a plastic handle.  But as she mentions in, which was the inspiration for the recipe, a Y-shaped peeler works much much better.  It would allow you to get a closer peel by the time you get to the bottom of the spear.  But if you have one like mine, you can keep the unpeel-able parts and chop them into small pieces for an omelet or stirfry. 

A few things to keep in mind...

Use any type of cheese or nuts you like.  The orginal recipe calls for pine nuts and parmesan, which sounded really good.  But I already had pistachios at home, and feta sounded good, so I went with those.  But feel free to use whatever sounds good to you.  Anything goes when it comes to asparagus ribbons.

Pistachio Asparagus Ribbons
Inspired by
Makes 4-6 servings

1 bunch asparagus, 1-2 lbs.
2 lemons, halved
1/3 cup pistachios, roasted and salted
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by cutting the tops off all the asparagus and put into the salad bowl.  These will be the pretty bonus pieces for the salad.  One by one, hold each asparagus spear at the tough end, and using a vegetable peeler, start 'peeling' from the stalk toward the tip, doing as many layers as possible.  I recommend starting about an inch up from the bottom, so you don't get the really tough part.  When you can't go any further, flip the asparagus over and peel from that side. 

When you finish ribboning all the asparagus, toss it together with the tops you cut off in the beginning.  Squeeze the lemons over the asparagus and toss so all parts get coated.  Add the pistachios and feta.  Drizzle olive oil over the whole salad and flavor with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately as an appetizer salad or as a main course with a nice chunk of bread.


Creamy Almond Butter

Almond butter takes a close second to peanut butter in the rankings.  Especially fresh homemade almond butter.  You can taste the TLC.  I remember making homemade peanut butter with my mom when I was little.  She'd pull out the food processor (that she still uses to this day) and we'd sit there and wait for the peanuts to transform before our eyes.  This magic trick still works on me. 

I have always been one with a magic trick up my sleeve.  At the cafe in Colorado, we had a menu item called Magic Eggs.  We all sort of hated making them because they made a mess of the espresso machine.  But there was a secret part of me that loved it, because it really was magic.  We would crack two eggs and whatever veggies the person wanted into the steaming pitcher.  Then we would carefully begin to steam the eggs with the wand from the espresso machine.  The eggs made for a really noisy steam.  People would look up from the newspapers trying to locate the piercing bubbling noise.  The best part was watching them.  It would go from liquid egg, to frothy yellowness and then, shazam! they were scrambled eggs.  

Whole wheat sourdough toast with almond butter, honey and flax meal.

Anyway...back to the butter.  As previously mentioned, I have a gigantic bag of almonds in my freezer that has taken over six months to make a dent.  So one day while at yoga, almond butter came to mind.  Amazing what the brain streams in while doing triangle pose.

What a great way to use the almonds.  So on Sunday Cook Day this week,  I popped the almonds in the oven to toast and whipped up a nice batch of almond butter.  If you have a plethora of almonds or cashews or peanuts, give them a toast and a whirl in the processor.  It will make your toast happy.

Creamy Almond Butter
Yields about 1 cup

1 1/2 cup raw almonds
1 tsp safflower or canola oil
1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp safflower or canola oil
Pinch of salt
1 tsp honey (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss raw almonds with 1 tsp oil and 1/8 tsp salt.  Spread onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or Silpat.  Toast in oven for about 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until almonds are evenly browned.  Allow to cool.

Pour almonds into food processor and blend.  A dry powder will form at first.  But just trust your processor.  Keep blending.  Slowly but surely, it will start to clump up into a ball, and then will turn into a buttery texture.  While it is blending, slowly add 1 tsp oil, a pinch of salt and honey, through the hole in the top.  Continue to blend and pulse until it becomes creamy.  This will take longer than you expect.  But it will happen!  Add more honey if you want a sweeter almond butter.  Spread on toast, dip apples or chocolate in it or eat with a spoon.