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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
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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
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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/

 

Johnny’s Tomato Soup

Ciao all! Johnny here with my inexpensive, unbelievably simple, super healthy, and incredibly delish recipe for my Tomato Soup! There is no way around it; tomato soup is one of the most comforting dishes you can enjoy. A bowl of tomato soup comforts you when you’re feeling under the weather or helps you to cozy up with a good movie or book on a chilly evening in at home. And my tomato soup will be your new favorite! With budget friendly ingredients and requiring minimal effort to prepare, this soup is vegan and healthy while also being warming and hearty. Cannellini beans within the soup pureed after cooking give the soup a creamy texture without the need for cream or dairy. Rosemary, red pepper, and bay leaf give the soup earthy and warming notes. This soup makes a great quick weeknight dinner and is perfect to take  a left over cup to work or school; hell, it’s even perfect for a Friday night with a good movie and bottle of wine! I make this soup almost every other week during Fall and Winter and anyone who has ever had it has always been thoroughly pleased. Hope you enjoy!

Johnny's Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: absurdly easy
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Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • ¼ -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional Toppings: Olive oil drizzle, cracked black pepper, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, goat cheese

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and carrots, sprinkle with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until tender. Add the crushed garlic, mix together, and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Add the cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to a boil over the medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Uncover and fish out the bay leaf, discard. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and creamy with no chunks of veggies left. You can also puree in a food processor, but be very careful! Ladle into bowls and add your desired toppings. I personally like to do an artsy drizzle of olive oil and add some crushed black pepper to keep it light but tasty. Enjoy!

Santosha and the Attitude of Gratitude

With Thanksgiving in the US coming upon us, we start to plan out our holiday celebrations: who are we inviting to the big Turkey dinner, what stuffing am I going to make, what’s the menu, etc. More importantly, however, we start to reflect on what we are grateful for; which after all is what this holiday is all about.

There is a concept in yoga called “Santosha” which is part of the “Yamas and Niyamas”, which I often describe as the Ten Commandments of Yoga; they are basically yogic codes to live by. Santosha is Sanskrit for “contentment” and/or “satisfaction”, but we often look at Santosha as “gratitude”. Santosha is all about finding contentment and gratitude for who you are and what you have in the present moment. I often weave “Santosha” into my yoga classes as a theme and encourage students to find their best expression of a challenging posture, then I ask them to find contentment with whatever layer they get to in that posture without harsh judgement of themselves or lusting after a deeper expression; I ask them to find gratitude for where their bodies are at and be grateful that they have bodies healthy and strong enough to be in a 100̊F room attempting such a challenging practice. Basically, it’s about adopting the Attitude of Gratitude as you move throughout your day with whatever life throws at you.

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Pray for Paris

Praying for my friends in Paris. The city and its people were so good to me during my time there. It is strange to think that I was walking through its streets and savoring in its sights and flavors less than 2 months ago. These horrific attacks are undeserved and incredibly devastating. I pray for a quick resolution and comfort to those that have lost.

More Herbs, Less Salt Day

August 29th is unofficially celebrated as More Herbs, Less Salt Day. There are lots of “Food Holidays”, but I am particularly fond of the one’s that promote healthier living, like today! So what is More Herbs, Less Salt Day all about? It’s quite simple: it’s a day dedicated to raising awareness around the simple healthy swap of using more herbs to flavor your meals rather than salt.

In many countries, and especially America, people rely on obscene amounts of salt to flavor their meals. Salty fries, salty chips, salty meat, and even salty vegetables; it’s no wonder so many people have struggles with their sodium levels. Now don’t get me wrong, I love salt and good sea salt is a staple ingredient in my kitchen; but I know to add just enough to give the food a salty hint without stopping the blood in my arteries. Instead, I infuse flavor into my food through herbs and spices.

By including more herbs, fresh or dried, in our meals we are able to add even more flavor to our food, and get some health benefits along the way. Fresh herbs in particular all have really great health benefits. For example, fresh basil is packed with vitamin K and has anti-bacterial properties. Fresh parsley is rich in almost all of your essential vitamins, helps to detox the body, and strengthen the immune system. So each time you add fresh herbs to your meal, you’re benefiting your body and overall health! And bonus, you’re adding little to no calories to your food in exchange for tons of flavor! Who’s winning? You are!

See if you can start incorporating more herbs into your meals rather than salt and rejoice in the great flavors you will experience and the sense wellness you will experience afterwards!

What are some of your favorite herbs to use in your food? Tell me in the comments below!

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