Category Archives: dinner

Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin

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When you hear the term comfort food you probably think heavy, caloric, fatty….

But that’s simply not the full story. Eating comfort food on a cold winter day can be just what the doctor ordered–especially after a day of hiking, running or anything that’s appetite inducing.

Most of us like comfort food–what you might call a Gratin. And anything baked or crusted goes in the comfort food category in my book! Gratin is just what the French call putting a browned crust on a dish using breadcrumbs, grated cheese or egg and butter.

Last night–a pre-Halloween Saturday night meal–I got to cook for three wonderful people. I decided to use a recipe I grabbed from my favorite magazine Oprah. This one I took from the famous chef Wolfgang Puck who I mostly associate with the high-end version of “mall food” (thinking South Coast Plaza right now) but wins points with me for this deliciously cozy and easy to prepare recipe.

Ingredients for Sweet Potato and Apple Gratin:

4 Tbsp. light whipped butter
2 large Granny Smith apples peeled cored and cut into 1/3 inch slices
2 large sweet potatoes peeled and cut crosswise into 1/3 thick rounds
2 cups heavy cream (or half and half or milk)
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg (I used pumpkin spice instead)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used Panko- what I had in the cabinet)


I prefer things very crisp and browned as you can see.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use either butter or spray to grease your 9 x 13 baking dish; set aside. In a large skillet over medium-heat, melt 2 tablespoons of your butter. Add your apples and cook stirring occasionally until caramelized. Let them cook for ten minutes. Meanwhile in a large bowl mix sweet potatoes with heavy cream, nutmeg (or pumpkin spice, salt, cinnamon and pepper.

2. Transfer half of sweet potatoes to prepared dish, arranging them in an overlapping pattern like a layered lasagna. Cover with apples, then remaining yams, overlapping with apples and more yams. Pour any remaining cream over the top. Cover with foil and bake until tender, about 45 minutes.

3. Increase oven temp to 500 degrees. Uncover dish, scatter bread crumbs over the top and dot with remaining tablespoon butter. Bake keeping a close eye on the grain in case bread crumbs burn. Cook until golden brown on top 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings. Active time 30 minutes. Total time 1 1/2 hours.

Mom’s Spicy Savannah Collard Greens

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Mom watching one of the thousands of soccer games
throughout the years.

My mom is an art professor and a wildly creative artist. She moved to the south after I left for college–she resides in a house with a porch in Savannah, Georgia. Savannah has a rich history–one including all the mystery of a southern port–the location that inspired “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Savannah is lovely, but it’s not always as sparkly as Paula Dean’s “just add butter” recipes. It also has a long messy history of violence and crime. While we acknowledge that, today we’ll stick to the non-controversial universally-loved aspect of the south, the food.

If you’ve visited the south and been to any traditional southern restaurants, chances are you’ve been exposed to collard greens. Collard greens are eaten on New Year’s day alongside black eyed peas and cornbread to ensure wealth in the coming year. The leaves are supposed to represent folded money.*

If it weren’t enough reason to eat collard greens to participate in this southern tradition and enjoy them for flavor, they have their share of health benefits.

Spinach eating Pop-Eye would approve of my mom’s collard green recipe–not just because mom is sweet like Olive Oyl–but collard greens are known for their cancer fighting agents–at least according to the veggie worshiping researchers at UC Berkeley.

Spicy Savannah Collard Greens Ingredients

  • 1 large Chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Mushrooms, peppers (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • I lb chopped Collard greens
  • Veggie broth, 3 cups and chopped fresh tomatoes or 28 oz can chopped tomatoes with juice (organic low sodium the best)
  • Hot pepper sauce to taste (optional)
  • Salt and peper to taste
  • If using fresh tomatoes add in toward the end.

Mom’s spicey collard greens instructions

  1. Lightly saute onion and garlic (and mushrooms green or red pepper if used) in olive oil
  2. Add in crushed red pepper flakes
  3. Add chopped greens,
  4. Cook another minute
  5. Add  broth/ canned chopped tomatoes
  6. Simmer and season for about 45 minutes until greens are soft.


Always better when enjoyed with an innocent glass of red wine

How do you enjoy collard greens? Please feel free to add your own recipe below!

more photos


Mom holding my Cousin Kate’s one year old daughter
beautiful baby Finley

This photo was taken two weeks ago at the Nike Women’s Marathon at 6am
in San Francisco. My mom generously cooked dinner for me that night
when I hobbled around the apartment. Glad to report this was after an
afternoon of spa mani pedis. She’s coming to visit the bay again in early
December and I intend on showing her the foodie side of the East Bay.

My mom is my hero. She has a unique softness about her. She never wants to hurt anyone’s feelings or burden anyone. She would give me or my brother the shirt off her back. It’s rare you meet people that are so strong yet so soft. That’s my mom.


Slow Cooked Smokey Barbecue Chili

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I tell you this every time I post a recipe, but I’ll tell you again. I love to cook because it’s creative. There are generally so few activities that get us away from the computer, and allow us to use our hands. That is precisely why the kitchen is a welcome breath of fresh air.

Yesterday was a quiet day at home. I spent the morning with the ladies from Team In Training going for a Saturday morning jog, brunch and then drifted through my favorite local Farmer’s market at Lakeshore in Oakland.

On a Fall day with three hours to do as I choose there is no greater joy than pulling out the slow cooker and losing myself in some heavy duty chopping.

Dish purchased at Cost Plus World Market

Slow cooked food always tastes better. The dish soaks up all kinds of flavors given that it has more time to marinate. That being said, slow cooked chili is one of my favorite things to make. It opens up your pores just as much as a salsa dancing class would. And if you like spice and flavor, there’s no shortage of variations you can do. I like to kick the heat and spice into high gear. You can control how spicy the dish is with the optional ingredients listed below.

You don’t have to make this in a slow cooker but it adds a lot of flavor.

Smokey Chili Recipe Ingredients:

1 lb heirloom tomatoes (the fresher the better)
1/3 cup of smokey barbecue sauce
1 lb extra lean beef (organic if possible)
1 green bell pepper chopped
3 garlic cloves minced
1 yellow onion chopped
1 can of Cuban black beans
2 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tablespoon salt
1/3 cup low-fat cheddar cheese
2 cups low sodium chicken broth

Optional Chili ingredients:

1 cup Israeli cous cous or another grain to serve with
chili powder or chipotle seasoning [check out the Rancho Gordo Chili Powder found at the SF Ferry Building or Farmer’s Market]
2 Habanero Peppers

Directions:

1. Spray pan with olive oil spray or pam. On medium heat saute the chopped onions in garlic. Chop green pepper and add. Once soft, add ground beef and break up the meat in the pan. You might add some of your chicken broth to avoid having to use olive oil and keeping the meat moist.
2. Heat slow cooker and add in all chopped ingredients stirring every 45 minutes or so. Add water if soup is too thick. Heat on high for about 4 hours on high, or 8 hour on low.
3. Serve with Israeli cous-cous and a spritzel of cheese on top garnished with cilantro or fennel.

I always just use what I have in the fridge or pantry. There’s no sense in starting your car up and driving to the market for one small ingredient.

I garnished my soup with fennel rather than cilantro. Fennel, while probably an uncharacteristic garnish, still tastes wonderful. Frozen cilantro went into the soup but wouldn’t have looked very becoming on top of the meal.

I took one bite of this soup and melted on the kitchen floor. The fresh heirloom tomatoes from the farmer’s market and all the spices made this dish an absolute pleasure to eat.

And…

To dress the table for your meal, depicted below are a feast of Dahlias.


Heirloom tomatoes, golden beets, carrots and cucumbers from Lakeshore Farmer’s Market.  Fresh veggies make all the difference. Once you get your veggies directly from the farmers you won’t ever want to get your veggies from a plastic case at Trader Joe’s again. I promise you this.


The lady makes “lady fingers” aka “okra”

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I used to have a client that sold Indian food, and one of their products was an okra dip.

I hadn’t heard of okra before, but now I wanted to know what this heavenly ingredient was–because the dip was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted.

Feeling adventurous, last Saturday I ambitiously bought a box of okra at the Embarcadero Farmer’s Market. I was intent on transforming this ugly, hairy, slimy vegetable into the beautiful sumptuous treat I had eaten before. Inspired by my former client, I aimed for an Indian infused okra dish tonight for dinner.

Fun facts about okra:

In Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen,and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat.* It is popular in India and Pakistan, where chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations like bhindi ghosht or sambar

Okra is often known as “lady’s fingers” outside of the United States.

In my kitchen, it’s just okra.



The first thing you want to do to prep the okra is to soak it overnight. This helps dissolve the slimy layer that can appear on the okra.


It was quite simple.


Ingredients:

About ten pieces of okra
Grape seed oil (or another oil you can use at high heat like coconut oil)
Garlic
Vidalia onions
Curry powder
Sea salt/pepper

Directions:

As I mentioned soak the okra overnight.
Pat the okra dry and cut the tops off.
Chop the okra into tiny slices.
Chop the onion into bite size pieces.
Heat the grape seed oil in the pan, and put 1/2 tablespoon garlic into the oil.
Carmelize the onions in the oil.
Once the onions are soft, add the okra.
Add a generous helping of curry powder.
Add salt/pepper.
Stir frequently and serve when nice and browned.

You might want to serve this with something cool like chicken with a yogurt sauce.

*Sourced from Wikipedia

Blake’s Food Shopping List

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I essentially cook with the same foods throughout the week changing flavors and textures. I love Trader Joe’s and I usually do a variation/rotation of meals using the following core ingredients:

Protein:

Salmon
Smoked Salmon
Shrimp
Chicken Breasts
Very lean ground turkey
Steak or bison

Carbs/Starches:

Whole wheat spaghetti
Polenta (cooked)
Long Grain Rice
Potatoes (either yam fries or Peruvian potatoes–purple)
Whole Wheat Wraps

Veggies:

Persian Cucumbers
Sweet Vidalia Onions
Green Onions
Bell Peppers
Tomatoes
Avocados
Lettuce (Herb Mix and Butter Lettuce from Trader Joe’s)
Corn
Lentils (already cooked – Trader Joe’s)
Beets (already cooked  – Trader Joe’s)

Herbs:

Basil
Chives
Sage
Rosemary
Italian Parsley

When I’m feeling lazy:

Eggs (perhaps paired with some cheese and veggies for a Fritatta)
Gyoza Chicken Potstickers (Trader Joe’s Frozen Section)

What is your routine for meal-time during the week?

Jamaican Jerk Chicken

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Two weeks ago I was running around Lake Merritt and I smelled something amazing. A young man was eating chicken on the bench–and it wasn’t just chicken, it was Jamaican Jerk Chicken. The smell of that charred grilled chicken struck a chord with me. So much so that last night I made my own “rendition” of Jerk chicken.

There are quite a few recipes for Jerk chicken, and mine was probably a distant cousin of Jerk chicken, something made without dark rum (I didn’t have any in the house) but made with quite a few herbs–nothin too crazy or fancy. But enough to make a broiled chicken with a kick. I found this funny description of the origin of the name of Jerk chicken below.

The island of Jamaica is famous for its beautiful beaches, reggae music, Blue Mountain coffee, exotic fruits, and its cheerful people with their beautiful patois language. But, you haven’t tasted Jamaica until you’ve tried Jamaican Jerk, ya mon!

The term jerk is said to come from the word charqui, a Spanish term for jerked or dried meat, which eventually became jerky in English.

That being said, Jerk chicken is meant to be a little dry.

For my recipe, a variation of this traditional recipe, you will need:

  • 1/2 cup malt vinegar (or any rice vinegar)
  • 4 green onion tops, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh thyme or 2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 4 teaspoons ground nutmeg
  • 4 teaspoons ground ginger
  • chicken for two (amount will vary according to your appetite). I make extra (four breasts so we have enough for lunch the next day).
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp pepper
  • 1 Tbsp barbecue sauce

Directions:

1. Clean your chickens and set them aside.
2. Put all ingredients in a bowl and place chicken breasts in the bowl.
3. Allow to sit in the fridge for 30 mins-overnight. The longer you allow the chickens to marinate, the softer and juicier the meat will be.
4. Put the oven on broil and when you are ready put your meat on foil in a heat safe pan of some kind.
5. Allow to cook for between 20 and 30 minutes depending on how cooked you like your meat.
6. Enjoy with some rice on the side.

Disclosure. My chicken lived up to its name, and when I opened the oven, it rolled off the rack onto the floor. What a jerk!


A Simple Steak

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I had a trainer this year named Lisa who not only kicked my butt in the weight room, she gave me some great tips on cooking.

Lisa taught me that a great piece of meat doesn’t need a lot of handling. The prep work is very simple. I didn’t realize that trainers ate steak (and a lot of other seemingly heavy meats). I was wrong!

A great steak is a very sexy thing to serve someone you care about. It’s steak–satisfying, sumptuous, hearty, juicy meat. I gave this recipe last week to my friend who is in law school–doesn’t have endless time–and was making dinner for her new man. Whether you are cooking for a date, your parents, your neighbor or your self, this steak is a crowd pleaser.

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Because I am an environmentally conscious-animal-loving-Jewish guilt ridden chef, I encourage you to buy meat that has some kind of stamp from an organization validating your purchase of an eco-friendly, fairly treated piece of meat. It matters.

Here is what you will need for your steak dinner for two:

Two big pieces filet mignon meat (leanest of the meats)
kosher salt
pepper
olive oil

Only four ingredients–not bad!

These are very easy steps, but pay attention. The timing has to be exact or the meat will be overcooked (or undercooked).

This is a science–and was inspired by direction from this SF Foodie.

1. Take meat out of fridge, wash with water, dry off with paper towel.
2. Pat down with thick grainy salt and pepper and let sit at room temperature for 25 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
4. Put your cast iron pan–or any pan you have–in small oven at 500 degrees.
3. Leave pan in oven for ten minutes.
4. Take pan out of oven and put it on the stove on high heat. Put a touch of olive oil on the pan and fry steak 30 seconds on each side.
5. Put steaks in hot oven and time steaks so they cook for exactly two minutes on each side.
6. Take steaks out of oven and cover with foil so they finish cooking for two minutes.

I served this steak with soba noodles in a light peanut sauce. Soba noodles are very easy to cook and you can purchase them in the dairy section from any Whole Foods (they are made of buckwheat). You can serve steak with yam fries, salad or just some roasted vegetables. Nothing too heavy as your steak is the star of the show! Enjoy.

Sweet Cheese ‘N Peach Cinnamon Raisin Kugel

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For me cooking has turned into a passion. I study what other chefs, bloggers, food personalities are doing and apply it to my own “practice.” While intuitive cooking is my strength, I am also good at making healthy food delicious. I am passionate about this because I can’t eat whatever I want, and I love to eat good food. I do not “diet” and do not believe dieting works. I do believe you can pick up tips and tricks to translate your favorite dishes into something you can eat without wondering what it did to your waste line or heart.

I am on a constant mission to learn how to enjoy delicious food that’s easy on the body.

I am envious of Hungry Girl Lisa Lillien. She translates traditionally unhealthy food into skinny jeans friendly creations easy on the palate, and easy to put on the plate.

I have been following her for a few years now since I bought her first book.

I was referred to her at a Weight Watchers meeting, and was hooked. I had been informally doing the same type of junk food transformations since I was a teenager–and here was a girl from the opposite coast–Long Island, New York doing the same thing.

Tonight I made her Sweet Cheese ‘N Peach Cinnamon Raisin Kugel (with Walnuts–my addition).

Kugel is a dish that can be made sweet or savory. It’s a Jewish dish generally served as a casserole or a pie, often made egg noodles or potatoes, though at times made of zucchini, apples, spinach, broccoli, cranberry, or sweet potato. I love sweet kugel (I have a sweet tooth) and love when my mom makes this with cottage cheese, cinnamon and raisins. It’s sweet, decadent Jewish comfort food.

Here is Hungry Girl’s version of Kugel.

You will need:

1 package House Foods Tofu Shirataki, Fettuccine Shape (You can get these at Whole Foods or Safeway. They have almost no calories)
1 large firm peach, cut into bite-size pieces
1/4 cup fat free liquid egg substitute
1/4 cup low fat cottage cheese (recipe calls for fat-free but I’m not a big fan of that)
2 tablespoon raisins (I toss in a handful of large multi-colored ones from trader joe’s)
2 tablespoon Splenda (I use 1 tablespoon Agave instead–it’s less chemicals)
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (possibly my favorite tool in the kitchen)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (you can be more generous with this and the vanilla if you prefer)
dash salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Combine egg substitute, cream cheese, Agave (or Splenda), vanilla extract, cinnamon and salt. Stir until completely blended and free of lumps. Mix in cottage cheese and raisins, and set aside.

Rinse and drain Shirataki noodles well. Pay dry. Slice noodles into small pieces.

Over medium heat toss noodles in a pan until they are thoroughly dry and beginning to toughen (1 min or so). Transfer noodles to a mixing bowl and top with the peaches.

Combine cheese mixture with the noodles and peaches, and stir well. Top with a coat of chopped walnuts. Transfer it all to a medium-small baking dish and spray with non-stick spray.Place dish in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm.

Enjoy with dinner or even dessert. Below I plated the kugel with lemon and chive salmon and whole wheat quesadillas with light Mexican cheese. I served this salmon with brown grain mustard mixed with yellow mustard.

Good Ol’ American Dinner

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It’s summer and during these cool Oakland nights I like to indulge in something spicy and cool. My mom was always great at making meals with contrast and texture. Her creativity as an artist came from the same place as her notion of food.

If I had one theme across all of my cooking-it would be “intuitive” cooking. Trusting your instincts, using your own senses and your palate as a guide.

My mom was a chef cognizant of heat. If she made salty baked potatoes they were topped with some cool dairy product (the 90’s were the decade of “margarine.”

anecdotal fun fact:

In 1870 margarine was created by a Frenchman from Provence, France — Hippolyte Mège-Mouriez — in response to an offer by the Emperor Louis Napoleon III for the production of a satisfactory substitute for butter. To formulate his entry, Mège-Mouriez used margaric acid, a fatty acid component … and named because of the lustrous pearly drops that reminded him of the Greek word for pearl — margarites. From this word, Mège-Mouriez coined the name margarine for his invention that claimed the Emperor’s prize.

While my margarine enthusiasm is tongue and cheek, I am still an enthusiast for replacements.

Tonight we had egg potato salad with egg, lemon, dill and Greek yogurt instead of mayo. It’s a nice cool side next to a hot and spicy chicken dish.

For this summer side dish you will need:

1 and 1/2 lemons
two potatoes
five eggs
one cup fage 0% yogurt (or any Greek yogurt)
1 tsp dillweed
1 tsp kosher salt (or more-to taste)
1 Tbsp Italian Parsley (fresh if you can get it)
1 Tbsp basil (fresh)
2 Tbsp brown grain mustard (and any other mustards you have such as honey mustard and/or Aioli–same amount)

Boil potatoes (or create holes with a fork and cook in microwave for 8 mins. on high). Boil eggs. When eggs are ready–dig them out of water with a large spoon and wash with cool water. Take off shells. Chop potatoes and eggs and put in large bowl. Mix in all ingredients (sprinkle dill on last) and put in fridge. Serve cold.

Hot & spicy summer chicken breasts

This chicken is sumptuous and will melt in your mouth. It isn’t technical and is a crowd pleaser especially if you are cooking for men who sometimes prefer savory or tangy food. I used Lawry’s taco seasoning–something generally used on tacos but perfectly suitable for chicken.

Here is what you will need:

1 package free range chicken breast (about 5 breasts)
1 packet Lawry’s taco seasoning

1 tsp hot pepper sauce
olive oil spray for your foil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 lemon

Spray foil with olive oil spray. Put chicken breasts on foil (spread out so none are touching). Squeeze lemon over chickens. Rub chickens with Lawry’s seasoning. Sprinkle with hot pepper sauce and salt. Put in oven (smaller oven preferred) and broil so the top becomes crispy similar to a skin. Cook chicken for around 30 minutes and check chicken every eight minutes or so until chicken loses pink color on the inside (cut with knife to check).

Feed to someone you want to win over (even if that’s yourself)!

With Six Easy Steps Unlock the Guack

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Guacamole is a crowd pleaser. In my family we affectionately refer to it as “Guack.”

It tastes delicious on chips, crackers, veggies or next to some fish.

Guacamole is incredibly easy to make. It’s great for sports games or next to a nice piece of salmon.

I actually took this recipe from my giant cookbook Larousse Gastronomique. Someone at a party told me told me I had to have this book, so I bought it. I listen to book recommendations! The book is actually more useful than Google–and I feel I am peeling back the pages of an old bible. It has every recipe under the sun–at least the at home chef’s sun.

Ingredients:

2 Avocados
1 onion (red)
1 lime
garlic salt (or regular kosher salt)
garlic
seedless tomatos
green chilli

Directions:

1. Finely chop 1/4 small onion and mix with 2 peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes.
2. Add seeded and finely chopped green chilli.
3. Mix in 1 finely chopped large garlic clove, the juice of 1/2 lime and a little grated zest from about a quarter of the lime.
4. Mash the flesh from 2 large ripe avocados in a mixing bowl.
5. Add the add the vegetable mixture.
6. Gradually stir in 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil (add salt to taste).

For my version I did not use olive oil and instead of using tomatoes and onions I just used a few tablespoons of pico de gallo I had in the house. A lime truly finishes off guack very nicely! I keep a jar of garlic in the house from Trader Joe’s so I don’t have to get my hands filthy chopping garlic. You might want to pick up a jar too.

The photo below you see my guack depicted next to some Cajun salmon, rice and a few pita chips. Delish!