Uncategorized

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

As an avid supporter of Meatless Monday and the concept that we can eat less meat and also go about the cultivation of the meat that we do eat in a more sustainable way, I am constantly looking to try new and exciting vegetarian and vegan dishes. I love eating at vegan restaurants and seeing what they’ve come up with and I myself really enjoy making vegan and vegetarian dishes; in fact, some of my most popular recipes are vegan like Johnny’s Tomato Soup.  I do, however, often get stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking vegan for myself. I usually rely on another cook’s book or blog to tell me what to do. One day, however, I decided to be adventurous and experiment in the kitchen using ingredients that I love and crossed my fingers that a great vegan dish would be born from all of it. Lo and behold this chili happened!

What I love about this chili is that it is incredibly hearty in texture, flavor, and feel when in all reality; it is an extremely light and nutritious veggie packed dish. Chunks of Portobello mushrooms mimic chunks of beef that you might find in one chili. Finely chopped cauliflower emulates ground meat that you might find in another chili. Other veggies and spices give the stew a rich and warming flavor profile. The result is a chili that is thick and filling while also bringing the nutrition without any animal products.

I loved this chili so much; I made it two weeks in a row and knew that I had to share it with you! I hope you enjoy this new vegan friendly dish from yours truly. Buon Appetito!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ a green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, big diced
  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped into tiny pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Heat the olive in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, another 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and sage, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Coat the veggies in the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

 

Quick Health Tips

As we continue forward into the New Year, there is an extreme emphasis on health and fitness with many, many people resolving to pursue better health and fitness for themselves in 2016. Now, if you have read my latest post MODERATION-BALANCE-LIFESTYLE, you will know that I believe in finding a kind way to get one’s self into a greater state of wellness with a more healthful lifestyle that one can sustain over a long period of time. If you hadn’t read that post, please do.

I am, however, fully aware that many of you would like quick health tips to adopt into your life to obtain a better shape and hopefully build a healthier lifestyle overall. And so, I am happy to share some of those with you here. Many of these will be tips that you have heard before, but I repeat them here because in my experience, they work. I will keep them short and sweet so that they are easy to remember and refer to.

Continue reading

True Food Kitchen Newport Beach

Last month, I revisited one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County: True Food Kitchen. Located at Fashion Island in Newport Beach, CA, True Food Kitchen is one of twenty restaurants spread out across the country. As the name suggests, True Food Kitchen emphasizes quality food that is healthful and nutritious as well as seasonal, sustainable, innovative, and delicious.

True Food Kitchen is one of those restaurants that at once makes you feel healthier just for being present in the building while also getting you excited for a truly fantastic meal. The space is open, warm and inviting. A color scheme of bright green, soft yellow and honey woods help to convey the focus on fresh and healthy. The open dining room with high ceilings is set up to feel all at once collaborative and communal while also spacious enough for diners to enjoy conversations privately with their friends and family. Large wood islands stacked with vibrant produce and ingredients divide the diners from the visible kitchen, allowing guests a chance to see the ingredients they will be eating, the preparation of said ingredients and the chefs that make all of the magic happen. I can’t speak for the other True Food Kitchen locations, but the Newport Beach location also offers two different private dining rooms which can be rented out for private parties and events as well as a very nice, semi-private outdoor space complete with heating lamps and fire pits. The restaurant also boasts a beautiful full bar in one half of the dining room, making it easy to grab a drink while waiting for your table or to simply stop in for a cocktail and an appetizer. It’s all very casual and comfortable, but also classy and fun, and it possesses a very clean, organic feel. At any rate, I feel right at home here!

PLEASE EXCUSE THE PICTURE QUALITY – FORGOT CAMERA THAT NIGHT AND USED IPHONE!

Now, let’s get to the part you’re all waiting for: the food! One of the best parts of True Food Kitchen and its concept is that it offers a seasonal menu. So the menu options change several times throughout the year and highlight the foods that are in season and at their very peak for freshness and flavor. Remember my article on seasonal eating, its importance and why we should practice more of it? Well, True Food Kitchen has the same beliefs as I do and they help to make it easier for diners too.

I took my mom with me to True Food Kitchen for dinner before our annual Fashion Island Christmas Shopping date. We were there in mid-December so the menu being offered was the “Volume One: Winter” menu. Fall and Winter foods are my favorite: the root vegetables and hearty greens, the earthy herbs, and the warming braises and stews; so this menu was right up my alley!

True Food Kitchen Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board

Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board

For our first course, along with our wine of course, we split the Roasted Seasonal Vegetable Board. A literal board of roasted winter vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, beets, mushrooms, and Brussels Sprouts, served with two different dipping sauces: an avocado green goddess dip and a pimento cashew cheese spread. To be completely honest, I could’ve eaten this entire board by myself and called it my dinner. These winter vegetables, which again are my favorite, appeared to be dressed with little more than olive oil, salt, and pepper, but were roasted to absolute tender perfection which intensifies the natural flavors of the vegetables. The dips were fantastic compliments to punch up the produce just a bit more. The pimento cashew cheese spread added a nice heat, but the avocado green goddess dip was just phenomenal as it added a nice sweet richness because, avocado. Vegan and Gluten-Free, this is a dish anyone could eat with a very happy heart.

True Food Kitchen Braised Bison Short Rib

Braised Bison Short Rib – Split Plate

Next, we decided to split the Braised Bison Short Rib. When it’s Winter and cold outside, I love a good, hearty, braised dish that fills me and warms me from the inside out. This was the dish for exactly that on a rainy and unusually cold Newport Beach night at Christmas time. A large bison short rib braised slowly with lots of flavorful cooking liquids (I think there was red wine in there) to the point where the meat was so tender it shredded at the slightest touch of your fork and dissolved in your mouth, served with a creamy and savory cauliflower mash and earthy sautéed Swiss chard that acted as the perfect light sides to the meat. This entrée was masterfully done. Honestly, I like bison, but it does sometimes taste a bit gamey and plainer than say a beef short rib; but you could not tell at all with this bison. The dish packed tons of rich and developed flavors that hit all the marks of a good braised meat dish. A generous portion, mom and I were glad we split; and the best part – they split the dish for us ahead of time so we didn’t have to fuss with it at the table! That is a great point about True Food Kitchen, they cater to all needs; these guys are more than happy to split your dish, omit an ingredient, substitute, add, whatever you want! Even the pickiest and neediest of eaters can find or create something here.

True Food Kitchen Flourless Chocolate Cake

Flourless Chocolate Cake

You cannot go to such a restaurant and not have dessert, right? Right. A Gluten-Free Flourless Chocolate Cake was our choice this night – we are chocoholics. This decadent and moist cake is made of nothing more than cocoa, eggs, and almond butter, baked till warm and gooey and topped with a touch caramel and sweet vanilla bean ice cream. Dear Lord, Dear God. This dessert was simply perfection; it had all the things I love in a dessert and with very little guilt. Couldn’t have been happier! You simply must get dessert when you come here, they are all great and innovative, ideal with a cup of fair-trade coffee or tea that True Food Kitchen also offers.

All in all, our experience was yet again wonderful. A warm and healthy atmosphere with delicious seasonal foods that are both nutritious while also pleasing to the tongue and stomach. I adore True Food Kitchen and am a regular guest there; it really has something for everyone. Omnivores and carnivores, vegetarians and vegans, gluten-frees and special needs, the folks at True Food have something for you, and if they don’t, they will make something for you. It’s affordable for a nice-ish dinner out; great for a catch up meal with friends, a casual date, a quick cocktail and appetizer, or even a celebration. I would recommend True Food Kitchen to anyone! Here’s to hoping there is one by you!

You can learn more about True Food Kitchen here.

Moderation – Balance – Lifestyle

Ciao friends and a very Happy New Year to you! And with it being the New Year, I know that there is a definite focus and even craze around New Year’s Resolutions; specifically health and fitness based resolutions. It seems to be the same story every year. On the one hand, it’s great; it’s wonderful that folks can look at the beginning of a New Year as a time of renewal and a time to make changes. On the other hand, however, I find that New Year’s resolutions, especially those around health and fitness, lead people to be unkind to themselves in the pursuit of their goals and more often than not end up abandoning the journey towards those goals a month or two into the year. I mean not to sound arrogant, but because I do appear to live my life, eat well, and remain in good shape, every year around Christmas and New Year’s my friends and family, my colleagues, my students, and even complete strangers ask me for advice about how to become fitter, healthier, and remain that way. So today, I am going to talk a little bit about how I have found success and offer you some tips into how you may as well!

Continue reading

Christmas Biscotti

I am not really a huge baker, but when it’s Christmas time, I do enjoy covering myself in flour and homemaking a batch or two of holiday treats. I love Christmas cookies, the baking and of course the eating of them. However, I find that so many people bake the traditional chocolate chip and sugar cookies around the holidays, so when I make the effort to actually bake I like to produce something a little different. My Christmas Biscotti gives me the satisfaction I seek of baking at Christmas while also letting my Italian heritage shine through! I took a basic biscotti recipe from Giada De Laurentiis and then added my own holiday tweaks to create a dessert that has now become a tradition in my family to enjoy every December.

For those of you that don’t know, Biscotti is an Italian cookie that is shaped almost like a cigar and has gone through two rounds of baking in the oven. These cookies are satisfyingly crunchy, deliver just the right amount of sweetness without being too sweet, and highlight any flavors you choose to create them with. My Christmas Biscotti looks, smells, and tastes like Christmas. Zesty-sweet orange, green-crunchy-earthy pistachio, red-chewy-tart dried cranberries, and rich dark chocolate (because chocolate, duh) all complement each other perfectly with both flavor and texture.  These guys are just a super festive dessert to make for home or even to gift to your family, friends, and colleagues.

Christmas, chocolate, Italy; all the things that I love rolled up into one! I hope you enjoy my Christmas Biscotti!

Christmas Biscotti

  • Servings: Yields 12-15 Cookies
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons orange zest
  • ½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature
  • ½ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup dried cranberries
  • ½ cup dark chocolate chips
  • Optional: 1 cup dark chocolate chips to make glaze

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350̊ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar, orange zest, and butter with a hand mixer until well mixed. Add one egg at a time and beat until completely combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and beat together until all ingredients are mixed and dough starts to form. Stir in the pistachios, cranberries, and chocolate chips.

Place the dough in the center of the baking sheet and form a log that is 13 inches long and 3 inches wide. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the log is golden brown. Remove from oven and from baking sheet and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

Using a sharp or serrated bread knife (at this point, the biscotti is a delicate bread), slice the log in ½ inch to ¾ inch slices. Be careful as the slices will be quite fragile. Place the slices with cut side down on the baking sheet and bake an additional 15 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a baking rack.

Optional: melt the 1 cup of dark chocolate in a double boiler. Pour the melted chocolate onto a plate. Dip the flat bottom of the biscotti in the melted chocolate and set aside until the chocolate hardens into a chocolate crust. Enjoy!

Buon Natale!

 

Easy Bolognese

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything as comforting as a bowl of pasta with a rich, hearty meat sauce (sorry vegetarians, I practice Meatless Monday and yoga, but I am Italian thru and thru). When I was growing up my mom often made pasta with Bolognese sauce when it was chilly outside. Curling up with that bowl of pasta and watching a good movie was simply the best…and it still is! Bolognese is something I now make on the regular during Fall and Winter. It’s inexpensive, simple, rustic, hearty, and it can actually be decently nutritious if you use grass-fed organic meat and control your portions.

Now, there are lots of Bolognese sauce recipes in the world and some of them can be slightly complicated and require hours of cooking, but my recipe for Bolognese is fantastically easy and rather quick! Serve with your favorite shape of pasta, on spaghetti squash, or even by itself in a bowl with some crusty bread. My Easy Bolognese will quickly make you feel like you’re dining in Tuscany! Buon Appetito!

Easy Bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • ½ lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed organic) (or substitute 1 lb Beyond Meat Beef Chunks!)
  • ½ lb ground pork (preferably grass-fed organic) (or skip if you use 1 lb Beyong Meat Beef Chunks!)
  • ½ cup red wine (preferably a chianti or darker)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • ¼ Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the carrots, celery, and 1 tablespoon of the crushed garlic, season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes longer. Add the beef and pork. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break the meat up into small chunks, cook until the meat is browned and slightly caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Pour in the red wine and cook until the meat absorbs the wine completely. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining 1 tablespoon of garlic, half the parsley, the basil, the bay leaf, the red pepper flakes, a pinch more salt and pepper, and half of the pecorino cheese. Stir together. Allow to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat the medium-low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve with the remaining pecorino and parsley. Enjoy!

Pro-tip: If you make pasta or spaghetti squash, toss the pasta or shredded squash with additional pecorino cheese and olive oil, then place into pasta bowls, and serve the Bolognese sauce over the top. Allow the guests to mix the sauce into the noodles or squash as they like on their own.

 

Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market Costa Mesa

On Wednesday December 2nd (aka Britney Spears’ Birthday, praise!) my colleagues and I went for our weekly “Lunch Bunch” outing to Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market in Costa Mesa, CA. When this restaurant was proposed as our lunch spot for the day, I really had no idea what it was. It was then pitched to me as a fast casual concept with an emphasis on local, seasonal, quality ingredient sandwiches and salads that are equally as healthy as they are tasty; “Sounds like my kind of place!” I said and with that we were off.

Mendocino Farms does two things – sandwiches and salads, that’s it! Sure, it’s only two categories, but what they do, they do WELL. Mendocino Farms sources the ingredients for their sandwiches and salads from local farmers, ranchers, and bakers who exercise best practices; the produce is fresh and often organic, the meat is free-range and vegetarian/grass-fed, and the bread is made with the best grains and baked fresh daily. And let’s not forget that the sandwiches and salads that are offered boast fantastic flavors and combinations.

The restaurant itself is both airy and earthy – very bright and welcoming. The kitchen is open for guests to see the culinary team in action. The décor has a definite artisan-feel with a big splash of health-emphasis. When you enter, you are greeted by the very friendly and helpful staff. They check to see if you have visited before, and if you haven’t, they give you an overview of the menu and their offerings. I really enjoy restaurants that have team members that speak with you about their offerings as it somehow makes you feel more connected to the food. In addition to explaining the menu, they also emphasize that they are very flexible when it comes to dietary preferences; gluten-free breads are available to substitute for other breads, they are more than happy to hold the cheese if you avoid dairy, and in general help you to order a meal that suites your tastes and needs.

A fast-casual restaurant, you order at the counter and then pick out your own table and wait for the food to be brought to you. What is really awesome, is that before you order, they are happy to offer you samples of the side salads and soups that they have available to add onto your meal so that way you can get a better feel for what you are ordering! Once you are seated, the food is brought to you on a small baking sheet and you are ready to enjoy lunch! Now, let’s get to what my colleagues and I had.

Mendocino Farms 6

The Blue Plate Special with Half Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever

I ordered the Blue Plate Special -a ½ a sandwich with a side salad or cup of soup – with the Farm Club and the Healthiest Salad Ever. The Farm Club is masterfully comprised of local farm, free-range turkey breast, smashed avocado (always a yes), prime Applewood bacon, herb aioli, tomatoes, greens, pickled red onions and “Mom’s seeded whole wheat bread”. The bread was incredibly hearty and comforting while also remaining light, the vegetables fresh and full of their natural flavors, the avocado perfectly green, the bacon superbly crispy, and the turkey fantastically fresh and clean tasting. There was just the right amount of everything on this sandwich. The Healthiest Salad Ever included thinly sliced raw beets, ginger, carrots, and kale, black rice, golden raises, toasted hazelnuts, and chopped orange segments. It was sweet and refreshing, a perfect pairing with my sandwich. I was rather satisfied!

Mendocino 8

Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi

Some of my colleagues were a bit more adventures than I was on this trip. A few of them tried the Korubuta Pork Belly Banh Mi; a play on a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, caramelized Korubuta Pork belly, a housemade pickled daikon (no idea what that is) and carrots, cilantro, cucumbers,  jalapenos, and chili on a panini ciabatta. Apparently, this sandwich was spicy and hearty all at once. A definitely good choice for meat lovers and Asian food lovers alike!

Mendocino Farms 5

Peruvian Steak Sandwich

The Peruvian Steak sandwich was another big hit! Spicy aji Amarillo marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes, and shredded romaine on a panini-pressed torta bun. Though I didn’t try, I was told that the steak was decadent and the premium ingredients all worked together to create a sandwich that was rich, perfectly spicy, and superbly satisfying!

Mendocino Farms Falafel

Enlightened Falafel Wrap

The Vegan Enlightened Falafel Wrap was one of the biggest winners of the day. This would probably be the one I would order the next time I return, and trust me; there will be a next time. This veggie friendly wrap is constructed from Mendocino’s housemade falafel-spiced V7 patty, Mendo’s classic hummus, a vegan tzatziki, grape tomatoes, shredded romaine, julienned cucumbers, pickled red onions wrapped in a panini pressed whole wheat tortilla. This was so fresh and zesty as well as fulfilling. It’s encouraging to see a restaurant have such great options for our vegan friends!

We also sampled sides of the various side salads. In addition my Healthiest Salad Ever, we tried the Curried Couscous and the Sriracha Potato Salad; both were surprisingly delicious! Could’ve eaten giant tubs of both! Keep in mind, some of Mendocino’s menu is seasonal and so some items may vary from time to time, but that’s part of the foodie fun!

In summary, our visit to Mendocino Farms was beyond satisfactory. It was so wonderful to find a fast-casual restaurant with a healthy vibe, foodie flare, and ethical practices. I will definitely be returning in the future for more tasty sandwiches!

For more information, visit Mendocino Farms’ website here: http://mendocinofarms.com/