For those moments during 'the Holidays' when you don't want to emotioally connect to your food
Every year, somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas, after countless meals seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, an overwhelming amount of pumpkin and squash, and an almost maniacal emphasis on all things decadent, I become momentarily oversaturated. The thought of yet another meal served with the intent to coat my insides in warmth, nostalgia and rich, top-button-unfastening indulgence has everything inside me screaming for something light, bright and totally non-emotional.
Don't get me wrong, I love food with feeling, but after weeks and weeks of being made to have an emotional connection to everything from the latte I order at the coffee house, to the shameless Holiday rendition of my favorite granola, I crave a meal that leaves me feeling, well, nothing. Nothing but totally satisfied and just a little virtuous, that is.
The thought of sweet, bright and clean mandarin and blood oranges, peppery, sharp arugula, earthy beets and tangy, warm goat cheese served up with creamy avocado and toasted pine nuts, has me breathing a satisfied sigh of relief and gives me the momentary respite I need, in order to power through the remaining three weeks of excess.
The measurements for this salad aren't particularly vital - if you like more greens than fruit, by all means, skimp on the fruit, and via versa.
To fan the avocado, slice it in half and remove the pit. Scoop out the two halves from the shell using a spoon, keeping each half intact. Thinly slice the avocado halves, and then gently fan the slices using your fingers and light pressure.
To sear the goat cheese, roll it into little balls (I use about 1-2 tbsp per ball), then flatten them into discs. Coat the outsides of the discs in almond meal by gently pressing the discs into it.
Sear the cheese on an oiled pan over low-medium heat, until lightly browned. It's a delicate process, as I don't like to add a binder to the cheese, so just keep the heat low and work carefully.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, over low heat, until fragrant and browned. (They go from toasty to burnt pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on them!)
Combine the arugula, beets and both oranges, Top them with the seared goat cheese medallions, a fan of avocado, some pomegranate seeds and a smattering of toasted pine nuts.
Dress the salad with a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and serve it up!
Simple, satisfying and probably lighter than anything you've had all season. Don't worry, we'll all get back to crying tears of happiness over Holiday pies and pork roasts soon enough - so seize the opportunity to savor a meal that doesn't trigger more memories than your cinnamon-soaked brain (and insides) can handle right now.
Ya feel me?
Because sometimes, nothing beats a potato
Before you go getting the wrong idea, I just want to clarify something. Yes, I'm the girl who knows how to slow roast a pork shoulder, who swirls coconut cream artfully across the top of a bowl of homemade soup, and who makes almost everything from scratch (ugh, I know, sometimes I wanna punch me, too), but I'm also the girl who never has anything in the fridge, can call a tin of tuna and can of Pinot Noir dinner, and forgets that tequila, chips and guac do not a three course meal make.
It's all about checks and balances. I've certainly lived years of making sure the fridge was stocked and preparing three square meals a day (somehow I managed to be a child of the 80's and a 1950's housewife all rolled into one), but these days, breakfast is the only guarantee – the rest of the day I make no promises to myself. Sometimes I'm a put-together 33 year old who eats like she lives in the pages of a glossy food magazine, and sometimes I'm a college student who calls coffee and seven almonds, lunch. (Ok, so in college I probably would have skipped the almonds and opted for a packet of wine gums instead, but you know, older, wiser, etc...)
I'm great at cooking for others, when company's coming and when inspiration strikes – I'm just not so great at the moments in between. I forget that treating myself to what I am capable of is as important as sharing it with others. (I feel, perhaps, that there is a greater life lesson to be learned here, but I'm running on two scoops of almond butter and black coffee, after having shed a probable 40% of my water weight in a hot yoga class, so I'm not thinking bigger than my pruned self can handle right now.)
In an effort to do my mind and body a solid, I will occasionally make a big batch of something to have in the fridge, so that in those moments of irresponsible, non-adulting, I have satisfying and healthy nourishment at arms-reach. And once that batch is made, I can spend a full week eating it. Fortunately, if something's good and I'm into it, I'm slow to bore.
Between Halloween, a couple of late nights that led to late mornings, and work, this past week was a bit of a struggle. And when I struggle, all I can think of, is soup. From butternutty, to brothy, to roasted and tomatoey, a big pot of something steaming, soulful and savory is just about the only thing I want or want to make. For me, comfort is bowl-shaped and served with a spoon, and my state of mind is, more often than not, evidenced by the contents of my dish rack.
Having already gone down the butternut squash route last week, I shifted my focus to another classic: Leek and potato.. I've always loved this combination - it's simple, hearty and totally satisfying. Unfortunately, it's often laced with heavy cream or half and half, and delicious as that may be, it just doesn't sit right with me.
So I decided to skip the dairy and amp up the flavor by adding sweet potatoes instead. The soup is not overwhelmingly sweet, as the russets balance it out, but if has a depth of flavor that is needed in the absence of white gold.
Coarsely chop your cleaned leeks. Make sure all the grit and sand is rinsed out - these guys are deceptively dirty!
Add your bacon to a large, non-stick pot, over low-medium heat and render the fat until the bacon is cooked but not crispy.
Add the butter or oil to the pot and then add the leeks and sauté, moving them around occasionally so they don't burn, for about 10 minutes until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook for a further minute.
Add both the russet and the sweet potatoes and move them around the pot, to coat them with oil.
Finally, add in your vegetable stock, increase the temperature to achieve a firm, steady simmer, and cook the potatoes until soft - about 20 minutes.
Remove and discard the bacon, and working in batches or with an immersion blender, blend the soup to your desired texture. I like to leave a few little bits and pieces whole, but if you like it smooth - make it smooth! Season the soup with a healthy dose of salt and pepper.
To top it off, you can add a little sour cream, crème fraîche, or (in my case) goat's milk yogurt, some crumbled bacon and chopped chives.
I can't say that it cured me of a stressful week or one (very mild) hangover (awful but effective blue Powerade and 3 Advil did that), but it certainly gave me great comfort and the feeling that I was taking care of myself properly. Well, ish.
Now where's a pack of wine gums when you need 'em?
*If you want to stay vegetarian, simply skip this, and add about a tablespoon more of butter or coconut oil.
**It took six cups for me - but depending on the size of your potatoes it may take a little more. You want them completely covered with stock when boiling. And you want there to be enough liquid in the pot to achieve soup and not potato purée. Any time I make soup, I like to have an extra carton or batch of stock on hand, just in case.
Because I'll jump on a bandwagon, when the bandwagon's been running since the stone age
As I’ve mentioned before, California is a hotbed for the latest in dietary neurosis.
From those who are simply restrictive, to those who follow full-on philosophies on food, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t adhere to some doctrine of diet here. In fact, I could probably count the people I know who don't 'eat a certain way' on one hand (honestly, maybe half a hand), and I admit that I am no exception. To eat with abandon, has become a thing of the past, and the intent to simply bring the needle on the gauge from empty to full died years ago.
‘Man, I’m starving! I’d eat anything', actually means something more along the lines of, ‘Man, I’m starving! Let’s go get vegan, dairy free, gluten free protein patties, with a side of kale chips and a bottle of fermented liquid that still contains remnants of its mother at the murky bottom!’ Because nothing says satiated like a belly full of good bacteria.
I understand that this level of extreme conscious consumption is an act of rebellion against a very recent history of utterly unconscious ingesting and an indication of the acknowledgment that you can't polish off a can of red food dye 40, in lieu of actual, real red fruit, without serious consequence. But man, don't you miss the days of ordering something off the menu, just because it sounded good, and not because it was good for you? 'I'll have the #10, just as it comes, please!' Words that disappeared. (Along with menus that were numbered, for that matter.)
One particular diet that has been quite popular for a few years now, is known as the 'Paleo' diet. For those of you who are not familiar with the ins and outs of eating 'paleolithically', they're fairly straight forward. The idea is to eat a diet similar to that of early man. Meat, fish, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are all acceptable - grains, processed foods and dairy are not (except eggs - eggs are ok, even though they technically fall under the umbrella of 'dairy'.if you're nit-picking). Basically, if you can’t hunt it, pick it or find it, you can’t have it.
Of course I smile at the thought of stone age women running around in yoga pants, with faces full of filler, talking about how their diet makes them feel 'whole' and like they're living up to their fullest potential - but when you think about it, eating food in its most basic form, kind of makes sense. I mean, I’ll grab a handful of real almonds over a ‘healthy’, processed energy bar, any day of the week. If those almonds happened to be covered in chocolate - even better. (I'd like to venture a guess that even the women of the Paleolithic era had a craving now and again, and that, had chocolate been an option, clever manufacturers would now be stamping 'Paleo' on packaged chocolate bars, alongside today's other prerequisite for consumption, 'Gluten-Free.')
So, have I decided to go completely old school and strictly adapt my diet to that of early, early man? No. The thought of giving up on noodles and a really creamy piece of Humbolt Fog is just too terrible. But I'm absolutely down to throw a paleo recipe into my routine, now and then. A recipe like this nut 'bread', for example. I found it while spending a few blissful weeks in Denmark, cooking up a storm for my family, and reaping the rewards late into the light, warm summer evenings.
Recipe adapted from Mad for Livet
Turn your oven to 320* F.
Grease a loaf tin thoroughly and set aside.
Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, and mix really well. You want everything completely incorporated. Don't worry about chopping up the nuts! I know you'll want to, but leave them whole - the bread will still slice beautifully.
Pour the 'batter' into the prepared tin and bake the bread for an hour.
Allow the loaf to cool completely before slicing it with a serrated knife. Keep it, wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days.
I love this bread smeared with butter (I know, not technically paleo, but most Vodka isn't technically gluten-free either, so let's just say everything in moderation and leave it be), and sprinkled with just a little sea salt. Almond butter, honey and pomegranate seeds make this a perfect afternoon snack, too.
I mean, if it tastes good, feels good, and actually has you craving more, I don't care what diet it falls under, i'll take two! As long as I still get kale chips. Kale chips are key, apparently.
because Nothing Puts hair on your chest, like hot pink soup.
You may or may not have had Aquavit. This depends entirely on how many crazy Danes, Swedes and Norwegians you have in your life. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, I think it's time to rectify that situation.
The Russians have vodka, the Mexicans have tequila and the Scandinavians have Aquavit, or as we Danes call it, snaps. This stuff will warm you up on a cold winter's day, keep you singing long into the night on a warm summer evening and take you by surprise when you realize that it's only a tiny shot-ful, until you've had 12.
This Nordic tipple comes in many different varieties, ranging from clean and pure, to spiced and infused, and at 37 - 40% proof, it packs a hell of a punch. Think of it like gasoline, but, you know, herbaceous.
Usually enjoyed with food, snaps is brought to the table at celebrations and casual Sunday lunches alike, and is a staple in Scandinavian dining. For my family, it is most notably enjoyed at Christmas time, as we stand, freezing our 'numser' off in the middle of a sub-zero forest on the 26th of December, enjoying a picnic of leftovers, while the youngest members of the family complain about how damned cold it is.
They're right, of course. It's stupidly cold. To any who pass us by, we look like a band of lunatics, dressed in every article of clothing we own, with fingers on the verge of frostbite, eating open-faced sandwiches, singing songs, and drinking snaps.
Photo: My sis (on the right) and I, wrapped in fur, boiler suits, and about four additional layers.
Lunatics? Yes. But the snaps makes us forget how cold it is. All children in our family eventually understand that once you graduate from warm cider (which they mostly use to dunk their frozen hands in, only to realize that it's even colder once they pull them out! Been there, done that) to this medicinal liquor, the picnic becomes a lot more fun.
The problem is, of course, when you get back from the picnic, the fireplace is roaring, and your internal temperature normalizes. I believe the saying is something like 'one snaps, two snaps, three snaps, floor.' Or is that tequila? Six of one, half a dozen of the other, I say.
It's at this point that we enjoy a big bowl of warming soup to comfort, fill and satisfy. Mom usually whips up a big pot of hearty sausage and bean soup, but I like the idea of pairing another Scandinavian staple, beets, with just a touch of Aquavit. The beets are earthy and sweet, the liquor adds a pop of herby depth, and the (very non-Nordic) coconut milk, mellows everything out. Plus, it's hot pink soup - reason enough I do believe.
To a large pot, over medium heat, add two tablespoons of coconut oil, the diced onion and all three spices, and sauté until the onions are translucent, stirring often so the spices don’t burn, about 15 minutes.
At this point, deglaze your pot with a 1/4 cup of Aquavit. This is absolutely my favorite part. When the spirit hits the heat, the smell is just incredible. It’s herby and piney, and brings back memories of long lunches and never-ending evenings. Cook, allowing the alcohol to burn off slightly, while retaining some of the liquid, about 2 minutes.
To the pot, add your whole, cleaned beets, coconut milk and vegetable broth. You want the beets completely covered. They obviously vary in size, so if you’re having a hard time getting the liquid to cover them, you can certainly slice the beets in half.
Cover the pot, and cook, at a steady simmer, for 45 minutes to an hour, until the beets are completely cooked through.
Remove the beets from the liquid, allow them to cool to the point where you can handle them, and, using a couple of paper towels, slide the skins off the beets.
Return the beets to the liquid, add the remaining two tablespoons of Aquavit, salt and pepper to taste, and cook for 5 minutes longer.
Finally, using an immersion blender, blender or Vitamix, carefully blend the soup until completely smooth. Serve the soup topped with some thinly sliced radishes, for crunch and bite.
So, here's some free advice: Make friends with a Scandinavian. Soon enough, you'll be sat long into the night, singing songs, telling tales and laughing wildly. And with any luck, you'll find yourself frostbitten in the middle of a dark forest, surrounded by 22 crazy loons, delightfully numb and happy.
Ok, so they're not really noodles, but damn they're delicious.
Living in Los Angeles can be a magical thing. The weather is always beautiful, you’re a stone’s throw from the beach and when the urge to slalom down snow-kissed mountains strikes, you’re never really more than two hours away from après ski. I mean, skiing. You’re never more than two hours away from skiing.
But living in Los Angeles can be exhausting, too. It is the birth place of so many trends, fads and philosophies that range from the rational to the downright ridiculous, that, in a place where it’s already hard to keep your head on your shoulders, it’s even harder to keep it on straight.
This is particularly true when it comes to food and diet. It’s a zoo out here and I swear, the rules change every week.
If you thought, for example, that the act of separating peas and carrots on a plate was simply the neurotic behavior of the under-10s, and that it eventually just gives way to the realization that everything ends up in the same place anyway, you’re quite mistaken.
Here we separate, substitute and eliminate according to the latest ‘it’ doctor, hot celebrity or current moon phase. Yup, we take our cues from Bieber and how the moon pulls the tides, in equal measure, because life’s about balance.
We will happily tell you that a gluten-free noodle ‘tastes so much like the real thing, you’ll never know the difference,’ and that ‘most things actually taste better steamed and unseasoned.’ But believe me, we’ve rehearsed that. We’ve spent many meals forcing down chewy, spongey noodles with flavor akin to cardboard, and a fair few fillets o’ fish you wouldn’t serve to your cat, in the name of health.
Don’t get me wrong - I subscribe to a fair amount of it. Search my cupboard, and you’ll find a lot of acronyms. GF, DF and Non-GMO feature prevalently as elements on the periodic table that is my diet. It’s hard not to join in. It’s hard to be the only person ordering a steak in a vast sea of herbivores, staring at you, wishing they’d had a chance to adopt the cow you’re eating, before it made its fateful journey to your plate.
I won’t go totally 'celebrity' on you and pretend my go-to snack is an In ’n Out burger with a cupcake chaser (they’re lying, by the way), but, dammit, if I'm going to go all California-clean, it has to taste good.
Food and flavor mean a lot to me, and sacrificing them is not an option. No, I won't do a big bowl of noodles on the reg (because, well, my out-of-whack immune system can't handle it), but I will do a big bowl of zucchini noodles mixed with every other green vegetable I can get my hands on, top it with salmon, and tell myself 'it tastes just like the real thing.'
But it's so damn good anyway.
Using a spiralizer, turn your zucchini into noodles and combine them with the tomato, cucumber, avocado and mustard greens in a large bowl.
Pour over your lemon juice and 1 tablespoon olive oil and toss the ingredients, so that everything is well coated. Season the salad with salt and pepper.
Season your salmon fillet with salt and pepper and heat your pan to medium-high heat, adding the remaining olive oil. Cook the fish 3-4 minutes per side. I like mine a little under, so I keep it to 3, but if you like your fish cooked through, do the full 4 minutes.
As it's a cold salad, I let the fish come to room temp before placing it on top, but you can certainly eat it warm over the 'noodles' if you prefer.
Once you've added your salmon, sprinkle on a few pumpkin seeds and voila! You're basically eating a big bowl of pasta with meat sauce.
No, you're not.
But I'm pretty sure you'll love it anyway.
*If it's just me, I'll usually ask the fishmonger to cut me a fillet of salmon that weighs in at just over a 1/4 lb, from the thickest part of the fish. Often you'll find precut fillets in the fish department that weigh in at about 5-6oz.
create One perfect moment in your day with Roasted tomatoes, avocado, grilled Corn and micro kale
Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, "today, I want my life to look like the pages of a Bon Appetit magazine"? Oh, I do.
I envision a 24-hour period where everything will be exquisite and just-so. White-washed and meticulously curated. A day where when I go to pick things up, my manicured hands will delicately caress whatever they touch with an ease that's positively regal. "I will be the walking, talking epitome of a killer Instagram account," I think to myself.
Then I open my eyes, glance down at my hands that, let's be honest, could probably use a new coat of paint, and realize that I left the milk out on the counter when I sleepily downed that bowl of cereal and red wine at 1:00 am, after a long night at work. Oh yeah, #domesticgoddess.
So, I wash my face, put some pants on (most of the time) and try to figure out how I can make that dream a realistic reality. "Lunch," I think. "Lunch I can handle."
Set your oven to 400 F*.
In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, minced garlic and olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread them out on a lined sheet pan and roast for about 15-20 minutes, or until lightly popping and blistered.
Meanwhile, toast and butter your toast. I do mine on a pan, but whatever floats your boat. In case any of you followed me on Yahoo, you may remember that there are a few ways to get the 'perfect piece of toast,' but let's be real, just toast it.
If you have a grill, by all means, use that to grill the corn. I do not have a grill, so I use my gas stove. Simply shuck the corn, oil it and turn it on low-medium heat over the flames, until it's nicely charred. Then, using a sharp knife strip the kernels off the cob.
Once your tomatoes are gorgeously puckered, arrange them on the toast, add in some avocado slices, some corn kernels and a sprinkling of micro kale*. Finally, season it with salt and pepper.
Now take a bunch of pictures, slap on a filter, and pretend your entire life looks and tastes this good.
Today, I created one beautiful thing, and that was toast. Now, if I could find a matching pair of socks...Bon Appetit, here I come!
*Note: Yes, micro kale is a thing. There are many micro greens, and I find the best place to pick them up, is Whole Foods. They taste like a milder version of their larger, less-photographable relatives.
Brunch doesn't get much better than Smoked salmon, avocado toast with soft boiled Egg, Persian Cucumber and radish
On a sunny California Sunday, brunch sounds like a really good idea. What doesn't sound so great, is lining up (sometimes around the block) for eggs! It's at times like this, when you take the joys of weekend indulgence into your own hands, and lazily make your way from the covers to the kitchen. No lines. No wait. No makeup. Lots of coffee.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and, gently, lower the eggs into the water. Cook them for exactly 6 minutes, remove them from the water, and rinse them with cold water. Peel and set aside.
Toast your bread and butter it. You can certainly use a toaster, but I love the crusty, almost brown-buttery crunchiness of bread toasted in a pan on the stove. Simply butter and toast it on both sides over medium heat, until golden and fragrant .
Assemble the toast. Start by fanning out the avocado as a base. Arrange the smoked salmon, leaving a nest-like space for the egg to sit in. Add a few slices cucumber and radish, garnish with a sprig of dill and season with flakey salt (I prefer Maldon sea salt) and cracked black pepper.
You'll be tucking into your toast long before the server makes the first pass with coffee and water. Happy Sunday!