Tag Archives: seasonal

Hydration, Hydration, Hydration

It’s summer and that means the sun stays in the sky longer and the temperature in the air grows warmer. All this extra light and heat gives us more time to spend outside and in the ocean or the pool having fun, but it also means that our bodies will be needing greater amounts of hydration.

Our bodies recognize that we are in summer because of the seasonal shifts that happen around us, and to compensate for the greater exposure to light and heat our bodies release more water in the form of sweat to keep us cool. You might recognize yourself sweating more when you are exercising or merely outside walking; but what you probably don’t notice is that you are also probably subtly sweating more in your sleep and throughout the day in general. This is natural and this is good; your body is doing its job in making sure you do not become over heated. However, it needs your conscious support to keep it hydrated.

Staying hydrated comes with a whole bunch of benefits. Some of those benefits are:

  • Weight Loss & Weight Regulation
  • Higher Amounts of Energy
  • Memory Loss Prevention
  • Fresh & Glowing Skin
  • Stronger Hair & Nails
  • Healthy Digestion
  • Healthy Function of Kidneys
  • Aid of Natural Detoxification Process
  • Good Joint Health

All good things right?! So you see why staying hydrated is so important to your overall health.

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Now, here are some good tips to making sure you stay hydrated throughout your day:

  • Drink a large glass or bottle of water in the morning to replenish your system after the extended period of time in which you aren’t hydrating because of sleep.
  • Drink an 8 ounce or more glass or bottle of water within a 2 hour period, every 2 hours.
  • Drink coconut water when feeling extra dehydrated to also replenish electrolytes. Great for post-workouts!
  • Get hydration from your food!
    • Straight water is not the only way your body can receive the hydration it needs.
    • Your digestive system will extract water from the food you eat, so eat more of the following water rich foods throughout the summer:
      • Watermelon
      • Peaches
      • Grapes
      • Berries
      • Tomatoes
      • Cucumber
      • Carrots
      • Celery
      • Lettuce and Greens
      • Zucchini & Yellow Squash
    • So as you can see, staying hydrated can taste great too!

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Now we all know how important hydration is, how great it can be for us, and how we can all be mindful is staying hydrated.  So drink your water and eat your water rich foods and  go forth, soak up the sun, work up a sweat, and have fun!

Winter Vegetable Bowl

I am just one of those people who absolutely loves winter vegetables. While many dream of the bounty of summer all year long, the winter veggies like cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, parsnips and so on make me extremely happy. Recently while dining out, I had a warm winter vegetable salad featuring such winter produce tossed in a zingy horseradish vinaigrette; the dish was incredibly hearty, earthy, and satisfying and what’s more is the seasonality of it truly made me feel good in my body.

Thus, I went home and made my own variation of that good tasting and feeling dish. Roasted butternut squash, carrots, and parsnips provide hearty sweetness while roasted cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kale give earthy savory notes. The addition of warmed cannellini beans contributes a buttery creamy element while dried cranberries add chewy tartness. Lastly, a balsamic horseradish vinaigrette makes for a sharp and at times sinus-clearing dressing that highlights the best of all the other ingredients. Inexpensive seasonal ingredients and pulled together with very little effort!

This Winter Vegetable Bowl is perfect served as is and vegan! Or you can add a simply cooked protein like chicken, salmon, or shrimp. I hope you enjoy this bowl of winter’s bounty!

Winter Vegetable Bowl

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into chunks at an angle
  • 1 large parsnip, peeled and cut into chunks at an angle
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 2 cups Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered
  • 8 ounces cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups kale leaves
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • 2 tablespoons grated horseradish root
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt & Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the butternut squash, carrots, parsnips, cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts on the baking sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and pepper, toss all together and arrange in an even layer. Bake 30-35 minutes until butternut squash is tender and the Brussels and cauliflower is browned.

On another small baking dish, place the cannellini beans and kale, place in the oven for the last 5 minutes that the other vegetables are baking just to warm the beans and slightly crisp the kale.

In a small bowl, whisk together the horseradish, balsamic, Dijon, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil with a pinch of salt and pepper.

To serve, place an even amount of the vegetables, cannellini beans, and kale in pasta bowls. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss to coat. Sprinkle the cranberries over the top. Serve and enjoy!

 

Honey Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup

One of the best parts of travel is indulging in the foods of the lands in which you are visiting. You enjoy the distinctive flavors and cooking styles, and maybe even receive a little culinary inspiration to take home with you! When I was in Scotland this past October, my mum and I stopped in at a little place that had been recommended to us by several locals: Clarinda’s Tea Room. Clarinda’s Tea Room is a truly quaint establishment with soft tea-time-like décor, serving up affordable, comforting, tasty breakfasts and lunches along with a bounty of cakes, scones, biscuits, and of course, tea.

We enjoyed lunch at Clarinda’s, opting for the half sandwich and soup special. That day, the soup du jour was a Honey Roasted Parsnip Soup, and it was delightful. Being Scotland in the autumn, the weather is quite gray, cool, and rainy, and so many seasonal dishes feature hearty root vegetables that are warming and comforting; this soup was exactly that.

Clarinda’s Tea Room – Honey Roasted Parsnip Soup

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Whilst eating the soup, I received the inspiration and came up with the concept for my own root vegetable soup. Just over a week after returning to America from the United Kingdom, I put that culinary inspiration to the test and this was the very tasty result!

My version! Honey Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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This Honey Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup is both sweet and savory, soulfully warming and superbly comforting. It reminds me of that Parsnip Soup I had at Clarinda’s, and is in many ways a colorful cousin to that soup. Sweetly roasted carrots and parsnips, savory sautéed onions, pungent garlic, and woodsy thyme and rosemary give this soup great depth of flavors that contrast and complement one another. The addition of cannellini beans makes this soup even heartier with a boost of protein, but also helps the soup to become creamy when pureed without the addition of any dairy products. This soup is completely vegan, requires very few ingredients, and can be put together in a pinch!

I’m really proud of how this recipe has turned out, and am even more taken with it as it was conceived in Scotland; now, anytime I make it, I will always remember my incredible journey there. And all of us can eat this soup for its great and cozy flavors that are perfect to be enjoyed all fall and winter long!

Honey Roasted Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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

Ingredients:

  • 2 large or 3 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 3 large or 4 medium carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 5-6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Arrange the parsnips and carrots on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the honey, half of the salt and pepper, and the thyme leaves. Toss until all the carrots and parsnips are coated well. Roast for 30 minutes until tender and slightly caramelized. Remove from the oven.

Over medium-high heat, heat the remaining olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion and season with a pinch of salt and pepper, cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the roasted parsnips and carrots, toss all together. Add the beans, vegetable stock, rosemary, and bay leaf. Season with remaining salt and pepper. Stir. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

Uncover and remove the bay leaf. Puree by use of immersion hand blender or by transferring the soup to a food processor in small batches. Puree until completely smooth. Serve and enjoy!

 

 

7 Johnny La Pasta Recipes To Make This Fall

Fall is here in all its glory! I, like so many others, adore this cozy and colorful season (even if Southern California still gets random Summer heatwaves).There is something special about this time of the year, you can just feel it in the air, and what’s more, you can taste it in the food! Fall centric food is definitely my favorite; the warming flavors and seasonal ingredients, it’s all so good!

I have several recipes of mine that are perfect for this time of year; a few of them even embody Autumn themselves! And as we move ever into October, I thought it would be nice to consolidate all those recipes in one place for you to peruse, study, and cook! So, here are 7 Johnny La Pasta Recipes you should make this Fall!

(1) Stuffed Acorn Squash

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My Stuffed Acorn Squash is the foodie personification of Autumn! Sweet and warming acorn squash contrasted and complimented by a stuffing of spicy Italian sausage, crisp celery and onions, tart green apples, crunchy bread crumbs, and earthy sage. All topped with melted Havarti Cheese. This is my favorite Fall recipe.

(2) Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

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A Vegan’s delight! This Chili is so hearty and rich while being completely plant-based! One of my most popular recipes!

(3) Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

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My Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza  is THE Pizza of Fall! Roasted Butternut Squash and Brussels Sprouts, Crisped Bacon Pieces, Caramelized Onions, and Balsamic Sauce make this one incredible gourmet, artisan pizza!

(4) Garlic Rosemary Chicken

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Garlic Rosemary Chicken – the simplest and most flavorful roast chicken recipe ever! My go to especially in Fall and Winter! Healthy and hearty all at once!

(5) Johnny’s Tomato Soup

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A hearty and healthy Tomato Soup that feeds both the body and the soul. This soup is made hearty in flavor by bold rosemary and bay leaf, and is made creamy by pureed cannellini beans that also add a punch of protein. Mindless to prepare, easy on the wallet, and tasty to the tongue!

(6) Easy Bolognese

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Nothing is more comforting than a bowl of pasta with Bolognese sauce; and no recipe is easier than this!

(7) Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream

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My Vegan Pumpkin Nice Cream is the perfect healthy Fall dessert! Just a few ingredients for this nutritious treat!

Balsamic Roma Tomatoes

I now find that I am asked for culinary advice and recipes for side dishes about as much as I am asked about main courses and entrees. So today, I want to give to you my recipe for a sensational summery side: my Balsamic Roma Tomatoes.

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Juicy Roma (Plum) tomatoes, fruity olive oil, pungent garlic, sweet balsamic, and fresh basil make this one delectable side, even for the odd ball eater (black sheep) who shies away from tomatoes. This recipe is insanely simple, only taking about 5 minutes to prep, and is at once both sweet and savory. I find that these tomatoes are the perfect side for light and bright chicken and fish dishes like Chicken Piccata or Grilled Swordfish, but really you can make them with anything and all will love them.

Now get cooking my foodie friends!

Balsamic Tomatoes

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 4 Roma Tomatoes (figure 1 tomato per person)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 basil leaves, torn
  • Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the tomatoes in half, length wise. Place on the baking sheet with the cut side facing up. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Divide the crushed garlic evenly and place on top of the cut side of the tomatoes, smear around. Drizzle each tomato with a bit of the balsamic vinegar.

Place in the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes, until the tomatoes and slightly withered, juicy, and the balsamic is caramelized. Top with a few pieces of torn basil and if desired, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve and enjoy!

 

Pasta Primavera

Sunday March 20th 2016 marked the bringing of another spring!

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YAY Spring is here!

Traditionally for the Spring Equinox, I always make my Pasta Primavera, and this past equinox was no exception. Pasta Primavera is a traditional Italian dish – Primavera means spring in Italian – and this dish is made all throughout the spring to celebrate the fresh produce that has come into season and harvest after the winter. I love making Pasta Primavera because it is simple, it is elegant, it supports seasonal eating, and it is actually quite healthy since it is loaded with lots of fresh vegetables and herbs.

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Because a season change just means an excuse to eat more foods.

Sound good? I know you want to make it. Great! Well, you should make MY recipe for Pasta Primavera. Whereas many other recipes for this springtime dish call for boiling, steaming, or sauteing the vegetables within it, I roast them to really intensify the flavors because roasting brings out the best in vegetables. I also add goat cheese to this dish to bring a bright tang that I think is indicative of spring which gives the dish a slight richness and definite creaminess.

It is so simple and inexpensive, yet so fresh, bright, and absolutely delicious; I think you should definitely make my Pasta Primavera, and make it often! Buon Primavera!

Pasta Primavera

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 large broccoli crowns, cut into small florets
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced and cut into 2 inch strips
  • 2 large carrots, sliced and cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon crushed or minced garlic
  • 10 medium thick asparagus spears, cut to two inches
  • 15-20 sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup basil, julienned
  • ½ pound Farfalle (bowtie) pasta or other short cut pasta
  • 1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Herbs de Provence
  • ¼ cup goat cheese
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400̊F.

Arrange the broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, and cherry tomatoes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil, sprinkle with the salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence, and garlic. Toss until all the vegetables are well coated and spread into a single layer. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing once half way through, until vegetables are tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In the last 1o-12 minutes of the vegetables cooking, add the pasta to the water and cook till al dente, about 10-12 minutes.In the last 2 minutes of the pasta cooking, add the asparagus and the sugar snap peas to the water with the pasta as well. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta, asparagus, and sugar snap peas.

Add the roast vegetables to a large pasta bowl, followed by the pasta. Add the goat cheese and parmesan cheese on top of the pasta and toss thoroughly until the cheeses melt and coat all the pasta and vegetables, using the pasta water as needed to help spread the cheese out. Toss in the basil.

Serve into individual pasta bowls and sprinkle with additional basil and parmesan cheese!

 

The American Food System: Grocery Shopping in Europe vs. USA

There is a lot to be improved upon in America when it comes to food; the way we look at food, grow and raise food, treat food, value food, and much more. If I wanted to critique all of the many different facets that there are to food and what we could do better at (meaning what we do completely wrong), well then, I’d be writing a full on critical book. As much fun as that might be, since this is a blog, I will focus on one aspect at a time that I would like to commentate on. Today, I am writing about how we structure our food system in terms of selection and pricing of whole, natural foods versus junk foods.

I have thought a lot about the way we select, place, and price our food here in the United States after visiting Europe in 2014 and again in 2015 and seeing how the Europeans do so. Now, my intention is not to sound pretentious or unpatriotic for glorifying Europe over the USA, but they really do food better overall.

Let’s talk about grocery shopping in the United States versus in Europe, namely France and Italy where I experimented with grocery shopping during my travels.

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Here’s me buying local, organic fruit at a market in Verona, Italy.

Shopping for Produce in Europe – Fresh fruits and vegetables are displayed without stickers on their skins with digitated codes. Rather, they are left naked and pure, some of them still showing signs of the soil from which they were pulled. I know I don’t have to worry about GMO vegetation or certain heavy brands of pesticides on these fruits and vegetables because these practices and chemicals are not permitted in the European Union. The primary selection of these fruits and vegetables have come from local or semi-local farms from the country side; very little has been imported from outside of the country. Because of this, I can leave the produce market with enough fruits and vegetables for a week for only about 20 euro – and it’s mostly organic, local, and seasonal. Yay!

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Shopping for Produce in America – There is every type of fruit or vegetable imaginable available for the taking, regardless of season. Therefore, I must comb through the produce, reading the little labels stuck to the food that I will have to peel away later and wash the skin. Nope, that one is genetically modified. Nope, that one isn’t organic and is in the dirty dozen. Oh great, an organic apple, that’ll be $3 for 1. I make my selections, buying enough vegetation for the week ahead. I don’t buy everything organic; I’m an American peasant after all, but any fruit or veg that is part of the “Dirty Dozen” I have purchased organic. I get a week’s worth of produce for $40 to $60 depending. If I was in Europe, I could’ve saved $20-$40 and used that money towards savings for a condo! But I am in America trying to be healthy, so I will accept the penalty for my choices and continue being a peasant.

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Fromagerie in Paris selling fresh, local cheeses.

Shopping for dairy in Europe – Firstly, cheese in Europe is unrivaled by anywhere else in the world. It is all so pure and so fresh or so artfully aged. It’s incredible. America doesn’t stand a chance. But this isn’t just about taste. I go to the local cheese shop to select my cheeses. I am allowed to sample as I shop so I can make a better selection (#winning). Reading the labels and talking to the cheese monger, I learn that there is really nothing to the cheese except milk and the other flavor fixings. The milk is pure and unaltered, no added hormones, chemicals or America’s favorite – sugar. It’s just milk from a cow; a cow roaming widely over green pastures. Also, the cheese has come from a nearby dairy farm, so it too is local. I am able to purchase a hulking wedge of both the creamiest brie and the tangiest bleu for a mere 5 euro. 2.50 euro for gourmet cheese?! How is this possible? I am going to eat all of it now and come back tomorrow for more, life can never be this good again.

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Shopping for dairy in America – My cheese selection is stressful. I have to really read into the labels to see where the cheese is coming from and if the milk it is made from was overly treated with chemicals and hormones. Also, finding cheese from a grass-fed, free roaming cow is an Olympic challenge. Oh yay, I found some great selections. That’s $5.75 for a medium sized wedge, that’s $7.25 for an average block. Well, there’s go $13. It’s okay I guess, cheese is worth it, but I know the truth; this cheese could never measure up to the cheese in Europe, and that would’ve costed me ¾ of what this cheese costs for a lot more. Oh well, I knew life would never be that good again, like I said. This is the life of an American peasant.

Shopping for meat in Europe – The meat is fresh, it has not been frozen. Here again, the meat has come from a nearby farm or ranch. Due to the normal European practices when it comes to meat, I know that the beef is from rolling pastures and was grass-fed, I know the chicken was free-range, I know that the fish was not fed coloring. The meat has not been sprayed down with chemicals and preservatives, it doesn’t need to be because they have taken good care of it and are selling it fresh after the catch or kill (sorry veggie friends). This is quality meat, this is the way meat is meant to be treated and eaten, this is somewhat sustainable. The meat – again being grass-fed/free range/wild caught/not treated etc. – costs maybe three quarters of what the same quality of meat would cost in the United States. Also, the Europeans don’t sell you huge cuts and chunks, servings are much smaller so that even though you are eating meat, you are eating less and really enjoying it.

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Shopping for meat in America – There are lots of meat selections, and of those selections, a very small percent of it comes from good, healthy practices. If you want grass-fed, free- range, not color treated, you have few choices and they are expensive. That filet mignon that comes from the ranch in the center of California where the cows are standing in their own dung and have cancerous puss on their faces costs a reasonable amount, but why would I eat that? Gross. No, if I am going to have beef, it is going to be from a cow that was treated right in its life. Oh hot damn, that single filet mignon is $14; but damn it, I am going to buy meat that is quality because I support the meager amount of sustainable ranching we do in this country. At least the cost keeps me from eating too much red meat, right? But what about the fish? Yup, that salmon was fed pink dye through it’s feed – yummy! No thanks, I’ll go with the wild salmon. *Deep sigh* It’s $13.99 a pound and I’m feeding four people, so I need a pound; so now that’s another $14 after my $45 worth of semi-organic produce and my $13 of cheese, and we haven’t even gotten the most important item on the grocery list – wine; maybe I shouldn’t go to the movies tomorrow after all.

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What about the junk food – Oh yeah, let’s not forget that food group! Europe has junk food just like us, a lot of the same brands in fact, though some of their products are banned because they put additives in the foods that are not permitted in the EU, but America doesn’t seem to find anything wrong with them! The big difference, however, is that you have to really go out of your way to get it. The normal everyday markets don’t have it; they’re too busy selling real, whole foods at decent prices and supporting the local economy. If you want sugar laden bags of cookies and sodium rich chips, you’ve got to go to the convenience store, like a liquor store or gas station; you won’t find it at the markets. In America, the processed, sugar filled, chemically laden stuff is mixed in right next to the good foods, and it’s cheap, so it’s easy to gravitate towards all the junk and skip the good food choices because it is right there and it is cheaper than the $3 organic apple.

Also, Americans like stuff. If you’re spending too much money on healthy foods, you can’t buy as much superfluous stuff. So naturally, they make dinner a sodium and sugar frozen entrée and go shopping for poorly made clothing from China.

In conclusion – here’s the big difference between Europe and America when it comes to groceries: Europe makes healthy, nutritious eating accessible and America does not. Sure, America is the richest country in the world and we have access to everything, but because of the way we price the good food and then place it next to the bad food, and because of normal American saving and spending habits, shoppers make the in-nutritious and downright unhealthy choices.

Europeans can easily purchase fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, well cultured dairy, minimally processed grains and bread, and soundly raised and cared for meats without breaking the bank. In this way, even a struggling family can feed themselves whole meals. In America, if you want to make healthy choices, you are forced to pay a premium, as if you are doing something exclusive and risqué. Many Americans are unwilling and often unable to pay these premiums, so they make the unsound choices, and this leads them to being overweight, malnourished, and often sick, which ultimately feeds into the risen numbers of obesity, diabetes, and cancer that we are seeing in this country, which then all feeds into our wonderfully sound healthcare system (sarcasm). It’s a vicious cycle.

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We simply must evolve our food system to be one that supports the selling and eating of whole foods. If we can find avenues to make fresh and often organic produce, minimally processed diary and grains, and well cared for meats (while also lessening meat consumption), then we will be supporting a healthier and happier society overall, which I think is what we all ultimately want. It is going to take a lot of work; work within ourselves for how we look at food and value it, and work for how we go about growing, cultivating, and selling it.

Again, this is just one of the many critiques I and many others have for the American food system. Again, I wish not to sound unpatriotic (though I often feel that way). Keep in mind, however, that we are a country of free thinkers who are encouraged to critique in order to help us to become an even stronger and better nation; and that is probably something I will do until I die. Namaste.

Meatloaf Calabrese

The word “Meatloaf” often harkens traumatic images of your mom’s signature recipe for the nights where she literally didn’t give a _________ and threw some protein, carbs, and other questionable fixings into a bowl, baked it, and called it dinner.

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She’s making meatloaf again???

And so, sadly, meatloaf often gets a bad rap. I, however, can assure that not all meatloafs are created equal. I grew up on my mom’s meatloaf and always jumped for joy when I found out that she was cooking it. But of course, my mother is Italian so the meatloaf was undeniable phenomenal. Well, now you can have phenomenal meatloaf too because I am gifting the recipe to you!

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Italians do everything better.

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This is Meatloaf Calabrese. My Italian family is from Calabria in Italy (things from Calabria are called Calabrese) and this recipe comes from there. Actually, the base of this recipe is for our Stuffed Bell Peppers which are a tad more elegant. Of course, when they came to America, they created a meatloaf incarnation of the dish that was more convenient for busy American weeknights. You will notice that this recipe calls for raisins in addition to beef, red pepper flakes, and other such ingredients; so you are probably thinking, “What in the damn hell?”

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Raisins and beef!?

Trust me, it is delicious. Savory beef and herbs, spicy red pepper and onion, and sweet raisins and tomato all work to complement, contrast, and balance each other PERFECTLY. This meatloaf could honestly be fed to royalty and they would knight the cook.

Now, about the “recipe”. Remember when I started this blog and I told you that not all my recipes provide precise measurements because of the Italian tendency to just feel the dish out as you go? Yeah, well that applies here. This is a recipe that you just have to touch and feel, adjusting as you go. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer about measurements for this dish.

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Just touch it…

I ask, “How much tomato sauce?” The response I get is, “I don’t know, you just have to touch it and you will figure it out!” So that is what I do and so I have never found myself able to fully break down the recipe. Sometimes I find it needs a touch more this or that. I look, I touch, I feel, I sense, I am guided by my great nonna Isabella. So this recipe is for those who feel pretty confident in the kitchen and are open to a little experimenting with out provided precise measurements.

Here’s the trick though, you’ve got to cook it with love for the people you are cooking for and passion for the quality ingredients you are using to nourish your body and satisfy your soul. If you infuse the food with this love and positive energy, it’s going to turn out great no matter.

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Let me know it goes! Buona Fortuna and Buon Appettito!

Meatloaf Calabrese

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

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • About ½ cup diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • About ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Splash red wine
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 zucchini shredded or 1 Portobello mushroom thinly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375̊ F.

Put the beef, tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the marinara, onion, garlic, parsley, Italian seasonion, red pepper flakes, a ¼ teaspoon of both salt and pepper, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, the wine, and the egg in a large bowl.

Toast the bread, lightly wet with water from the sink. Remove the crusts and squeeze the liquid out until you are left with a mushy crumble. Throw in the bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix by hand until ingredients are well combined. Add the raisins and mix again until the raisins are well distributed.

Grease a meatloaf dish with olive oil. Add ½ of the meat mixture. Layer on the zucchini or mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese over the vegetables. Add the rest of the meat mixture. Over with ¼ cup of the marinara. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese

Bake for 1 hour until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with additional marinara sauce as desired. Enjoy!

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.

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/