Football Food: Grilled Chicken

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For the start of football season, there was a feast. There were sides, but the focus was on the chicken wings and drumsticks grilled with one of Mr. MVP’s dry rubs (mustard, paprika, rosemary, wasabi). Worth noting: It’s organic and free-range chicken and it’s salted at least an hour before it’s grilled. Yum.

Summertime Seafood and Risotto

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A friend mentioned she was in a seafood mood for the last long weekend of summer. That called for risotto. We used a recipe adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, using homemade vegetable stock instead of chicken (this batch was made with some red cabbage, giving it a pretty pink color). Added before serving: seared scallops. Topping it off was grilled whole Branzino. Yum.

Mixed Berry Pie for Pi Day

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I searched for a good recipe for a mixed berry pie in an attempt to approximate the deliciousness of the “Merry Berry” pie from the farm stand near my parents’ home on Long Island. This one is adapted from the Open-Faced Blueberry Pie from Epicurious; my version uses half fresh blueberries and half frozen mixed berries and fresh tangerine juice instead of lemon juice (and I use my own pie crust recipe). Yum. Happy Pi Day!

Sunshine on Tap: Treating Vitamin D Deficiency

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Originally published on The Green Beauty Team website

The most surprising prescription I’ve been given by a doctor wasn’t something I could pick up at my local pharmacy. Instead, she told me to get out in the sun more—and to go easy on the sunscreen. The advice from my doctor came when a blood test revealed I had a vitamin D deficiency. As someone who has been a devoted sunscreen user for years, this sounded as nonsensical as being told to take up smoking or eat more deep-fried foods.

It has long been established that exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) increases your risk of skin cancer and causes signs of premature aging. I wear a moisturizer with an SPF of 15-30 every day to prevent skin cancer, sun spots and wrinkles. (Health is a top priority, but vanity is another great motivator.)

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH D?

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in some, but not many, foods. The National Institutes of Health recommends 600 IUs (international units) of vitamin D for adults 19-70. The trouble with getting D from your diet is that it’s found in limited quantities. For some perspective on amounts of vitamin D in foods, one cup of fortified milk has 115-124 IUs and 3 oz. of salmon has 447 IUs. The best food sources of vitamin D are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines. Egg yolks, cheese and mushrooms also contain small amounts, and some milk, cereals, cheeses and yogurts are also fortified with vitamin D. You can also get vitamin D from supplements.

Alternately—and this is where my doctor’s advice comes in—your body can naturally synthesize vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, without sunscreen or windows to block the rays. According to the Natural Institute of Health, most people get enough D from regular sun exposure.

WHY YOU NEED PLENTY OF D
Those of us who wear sunscreen regularly are at risk for a vitamin D deficiency, but it’s important to take steps to maintain the recommended levels, as the role of vitamin D is not to be dismissed.

Let’s begin with bones. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, which is essential to maintaining bone health. If your body doesn’t have enough vitamin D, it cannot absorb calcium and you can develop osteomalacia, a condition which causes bone pain and muscle weakness. A calcium deficiency also puts you at a greater risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease that weakens the bones. Each of us naturally loses bone mass as we age, which is why it’s critical that we get enough vitamin D and calcium.

Vitamin D has other vital roles in maintaining overall health: it helps our immune system fight off bacteria and viruses, and works to make sure muscles and nerves function properly. Though not yet conclusive, recent studies have also been conducted on vitamin D’s role in preventing cancer and other diseases and conditions.

GETTING BACK THE D
Just as my doctor prescribed, I am now trying to spend 10-20 minutes of unfiltered sunlight several days a week—not long enough to get burned, but long enough for the body to produce vitamin D. (Lucky for me, living in Southern California makes this possible year-round.) Of course, those especially at risk for skin cancer need to take greater care in protecting themselves and no doctor will carelessly recommend that people get too much sun exposure. I’m also taking a daily vitamin D supplement and taking care to add more fatty fish to my diet.

You never have to twist my arm to go out for sushi. These days I’m also making my tried-and-true favorite of tuna and capers with pasta weekly (penne with fresh or canned tuna, a handful of capers, tossed with fresh lemon juice and olive oil). Plus I’ve added these vitamin D-packed recipes below to my repertoire.

Sicilian Style Pasta with Sardines
Salmon with Herbed Mustard Sauce
Baked Salmon in Foil
Roasted Mackerel with Avocado Salad

Double Lemon Chicken Tortilla Soup

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When Mr. MVP started sniffling, I knew it was time for a dose of lemon chicken soup. I call this double lemon because it has the zest of two lemons as well as the juice. I used half low-sodium chicken stock and half of my homemade vegetable stock for the broth and added chicken, corn, carrots, and chopped green onions with the lemony goodness. I scooped each serving into a bowl filled with chopped avocado and cilantro then topped with crumbled tortilla chips. The fuzziness in the photo is thanks to the steam. Yum.

Football Sunday Sauce

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Despite summer weather in LA, today felt Fall-ish, if only because it was the first Sunday of football season and the first Sunday after Labor Day. I woke up and knew it had to be a red sauce day. With a football game playing in the background, I chopped and sauteed onion and garlic and the smell filled the house before I opened the cans of tomatoes. Because it is still tomato season, we had ripe and sweet farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes to add to the pot, along with fresh basil from the garden. Then we smelled the simmering pot of marinara for hours before dinner time, just like I remember Sundays from my childhood.

Balsamic: Worth the Wait

During a recent family visit, my aunt surprised us with a gift from a new shop in town that sells olive oils and vinegars. “It’s the most delicious balsamic vinegar!” she said. No doubt about it — she seemed very excited about this vinegar. We planned to fly back home with only carry-ons so she insisted on mailing it to us. It seemed like a lot of work for a bottle of balsamic vinegar, but how could we argue? The same day the box arrived in the mail, our neighbors brought over fresh garden tomatoes and we dressed them simply with a drizzle of olive oil, the aged balsamic, and a bit of sea salt. She wasn’t joking about the flavor. Yum.

Recipe: Couscous with Peach and Mint

At a friend of a friend’s barbecue birthday party recently, I filled my plate twice with a couscous dish made with peaches and mint. With peaches in season, I knew right away that I’d be making my own version at home soon. I wasn’t sure how the dish was dressed, so I went with a sweet and tangy lemon and honey vinaigrette.

Couscous with Peach and Mint

1 box couscous

2 diced peaches

3 sprigs of fresh mint, roughly chopped

For the vinaigrette:

1 tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 tbs. olive oil

1 tbs. honey

Pinch of salt

Cracked black pepper to taste.

Simply make couscous and let cool before adding peaches, mint, and dressing. Chill before serving. Yum.

Recipe: Peach Cucumber Summer Salsa

Peaches are in season and I wanted to make a summery salsa for taco night with friends. This is loosely based on a Bon Appetit recipe I found on Epicirious, but I skipped a few ingredients and added a few more to my own liking. We served this with tortilla chips and also used it to top Mr. MVP’s grilled shrimp tacos. Note on peaches: they’re on the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list of produce with pesticides, so it’s always best to choose organic.

Peach and Cucumber Summer Salsa

1 white peach

1 yellow peach

1 hothouse cucumber

2 limes

1/2 red onion

Sea salt

Fresh black pepper

Dice peaches and cucumber (skins on both) and place in bowl. Finely chop 1/2 red onion and add to bowl. Add zest of 1 lime and juice from both limes. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Chill before serving. Enjoy.

Wine note: Mr. MVP poured us Moscadello from Capanna, a rare white Italian wine with the perfect amount of sweetness.

 

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Dark chocolate hazelnut spread inside a tortilla.

I have always liked Nutella, but I’m not a fan of milk chocolate and wish it were more dark and bittersweet. While I like Nutella, I know I’d love dark chocolate Nutella. So I set out to make a darker version myself. And after reading the amusing news reports of the woman who sued the company because commercials for Nutella implied that it was a healthy breakfast food for her kids, I wondered if I could make a version that is a bit healthier. I wanted to make my dark chocolate hazelnut spread without adding sugar or oil, but I didn’t have much luck finding a recipe online that looked right for me. So here’s my concoction, made simply with nuts, honey, unsweetened cocoa powder, almond milk, vanilla, and salt.

Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

1 cup raw, unsalted hazelnuts

2 1/2 tsp. raw honey

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/8 tsp. salt

Roast hazelnuts on a cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes (check after 5 minutes and shake them on the sheet for even roasting).

Remove from oven and let cool enough to handle, then remove skin from the nuts with your fingers (or shake the nuts in a covered bowl).

In a food processor, puree the hazelnuts until shiny and smooth, resembling the texture of natural peanut butter.

Add the cocoa powder, salt, honey, and 1/4 cup of the almond milk and puree until smooth. If it needs more moisture, use the remaining almond milk.

Enjoy.

Note: I brought a batch to a dinner party at the home of friends and we spread it on croissants for dessert. They told me they aren’t the biggest fans of Nutella, but they loved this spread.

Recipe: Chicken Soup with Rice

Maurice Sendak gave me joy when I was a child. I loved the adventures on the pages of those magical books. I’m not alone in wanting to escape with Max in “Where the Wild Things Are” and make some noise with those bakers from “In The Night Kitchen.” Just last month, I attended a baby shower for which guests were asked to bring a beloved children’s book for the baby-to-be and I gave “In The Night Kitchen.” What tremendous gifts Sendak gave us with his books.

After I heard of his passing this morning, I knew we had to make chicken soup with rice for dinner —  a nod to his delightful “Chicken Soup With Rice.” When it came to making the soup, I knew it had to be made with wild rice. (Let the wild rumpus begin!) While we chopped veggies, I played the Carole King song version of the story.

Chicken Soup with Wild Rice

4 cups chicken stock

2 1/2 cups vegetable stock

4 carrots

1 fennel bulb

1 onion

4 heads of bok choy

1 tsp. Herbs de Provence

Salt

Pepper

Lemon

Roughly chop the carrots, fennel, and onion and set aside. (This recipe replaces the traditional celery in the mirepoix with fennel, simply because we didn’t have any celery on hand… and we love fennel.)

Chop bok choy, keeping it separate from the mirepoix.

Prepare wild rice with vegetable stock in a large pot. When rice is a few minutes from being done, add 1 quart of chicken stock and bring to a rolling boil.

Add the mirepoix and simmer until vegetables are tender but firm.

Season with Herbs de Provence and salt and pepper (we used black salt and white pepper — wild!).

Add pulled pieces of meat from a roasted chicken (except for the pieces you eat while preparing the soup…) and reduce heat to low.

Stir in the bok choy a few minutes before serving.

Top each bowl of soup with a squirt or two of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Enjoy.