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Me thinks it’s the last call for a hearty, soulful, and comforting like a hug of your loved one stew. I’m wary of saying anything out loud not to jinx it, but it looks like the sun is back in LA after a long and cold (as in jackets, woolen hats and scarves COLD) winter. I know this does not compare to what people back east have experienced, but here in Los Angeles we have high weather expectations. And we’re kind of pussies like that. One proper Southern California winter with its 70°F and up will do that to you.

Evenings, however, are still rather nippy and thus call for a healthy comfort food.

Here’s a list of reasons why you should try my Farty Party Bean Stew:

1. It’s healthy, for it is full of fiber and protein.

2. It’s made in minutes, like twenty at the most (if you’re using canned beans…)

3. It’s on the leaner side, despite the company of pancetta.

4. It’s as filling as a sheet of big bubble wrap inside a fedex package, and just as flatulent.

Ok, let me pause here for a moment. We’re talking beans so don’t pretend you’re surprised to hear about their gassy quality. The good thing is that after a reasonable portion of this sinfully satisfying dish you’ll suffer the consequences over an afternoon, and all you’re left with are sweet memories of one flavorful meal. Whereas, if you “indulge” in a bucket of fried wings, or a dozen of Krispy Kreme doughnuts, or even Fettucini Alfredo from Olive Garden, not only you’re building a muffin top around your waste, but also you’re loading your body with crazy amounts of saturated fat, preservatives, and other toxic chemicals no one can even pronounce.

5. It’s taste is divine!

Farty Party Bean Stew

I’ll give you an approximate recipe for the above mentioned culinary gift of gods as you know me: what do I know about measurements?

You’ll need:

- Beans, various varieties: cannellini, kindey, pinto, wide white beans, what have you. A handful of each kind. If possible, go for dry beans and soak them overnight, then cook in unsalted water till tender. Drain. If not available, use canned ones and rinse them thoroughly under a stream of cold water to remove all that excess sodium.

- Pancetta, three 0.5″ thick slices of it will do. The fresh one from your butcher is the best. This way you’ll get to cut it in chunky chunks and then incorporate those ruby pork nuggets into your stew.

- Large onion, diced.

- Chicken or beef stew, about 1 cup. Or more, if you’re making a large batch of the stew.

- Tomato sauce, 14 oz can or an equivalent from a jar (always better than a can.)

- Tomato paste, 2-3 tbsp.

- Maple syrop (Grade B is the one you want!), 2-3 tbsp.

- Worcestershire Sauce, 0.5-1 tbsp (OPTIONAL).

- Fresh herbs: oregano, thyme, marjoram, all chopped, 2-3 tbsp total.

- Olive oil, 1 tbsp.

- Salt, pepper, paprika, chili pepper, all to taste.

- Fresh parsley, roughly chopped, to be added in the end.

I use a large cast iron pot as it carries and distributes heat like no other. Drizzle oil into the hot machine, add chunks of pancetta and let it render. Next, drop in the onion, a touch of salt, all your herbs, stir and let it soften over a low to medium heat.

After that it doesn’t get any simpler. Toss all your soft beans into the pot along with the rest of the ingredients (aside from the parsley), mix well, bring to a simmer and let them cook for 10 minutes, with a lid on and over low heat. Taste, season to your liking, let it simmer another 5 minutes, and kill the fire. Add a bunch of chopped parsley and serve.

I think the stew is phenomenal on its own, but you may want a slice of some good, rustic bread to go with it. Your instincts are correct. That piece of bread will make the meal complete and protect you from going for seconds. And thirds. Yes, I did it, mea culpa. I suffered the consequences, too, I must admit. Still, I think it was worth every bite!

Nonetheless, enjoy my Farty Party Bean Stew and may it be our mutual farewell to winter.

A few days ago I met a woman who was referred to my blog as a source of good tips for healthy eating. I can’t even tell you how flattered and delighted I was upon hearing that. Fountains of passion fruit juice sprang from my ears and blue forget-me-nots bloomed in the corner on my mouth.

You know I am not about dieting here. My mission, this Internet pilgrimage if you will, is to promote Jason’s perfectly pink nipples first, and right after that to show you how easy and available healthy food is to us. In all honesty, on occasion, I also have an urge to show off my positively adorable pooch right along with a cake I managed not to destroy in the process of baking it.

Granted, those who live in mostly sunny California have an easy access to a variety of fresh produce all year round. I’m one the those lucky bastards. Therefore, if you are one of the dudes of the surfers’ nation (board or no board) you’re out of excuses for not crunching on baby carrots and milking a navel orange on a regular basis.

There’s hope for the rest of America, worry not. You can always put a meal together from scratch no matter where you live. Just that one little adjustment will help you reduce, and hopefully eventually eliminate the amount of processed foods you put into your body. Everyone has access to potatoes, tomatoes, onions and some sort of fresh greens, lemons and olive oil. With only those few ingredients you can mash up cooked potatoes to serve along sautéed chicken strips and a simple but delicious salad. How long do you normally wait for a pizza delivery? At least 30 minutes to an hour. It will take about 20 minutes of your life to whip out a simple dinner I described above from start to the first forkful of the homemade scrumptiousness in your mouth…

Meat is expensive, and as alarming research shows, not good for us in excess. You can eat brown rice with a bunch of roasted vegetables and a tomato sauce; even that from a jar will do. You can serve whole-wheat spaghetti with garlic, a touch of extra virgin olive oil and lots of fresh parsley, just like the Italians do. Despite what you think about pasta, this simple meal is smashingly more nutritious and friendlier to your system than any frozen dinner you get from your megamarket, not to mention a highly processed platter of …edibles from an average diner.

Then we’ve got fish. Always opt for fresh fish when available, but if not, the frozen kind will comply. Here’s a recipe for a simple fish stew I borrowed from Giada de Laurentiis some months ago. You can serve it with bread, any rustic type, or ciabatta for being the most authentic choice for this meal. A lack thereof should not stop you from making the stew. Jason and I enjoyed the dish with a scoop of forbidden rice for example, but any rice is just as adequate.

Gather the following elements:

-       1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

-       2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

-       1 onion, chopped

-       3 cloves garlic, minced

-       Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to season

-       3/4 cup white wine, such as Pinot Grigio

-       1 (28-oz) can crushed or pureed Italian tomatoes

-       1 cup water

-       1 tsp chili powder

-       1 tsp sweet paprika

-       1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, for some heat

-       1 1/2 pounds whitefish fillets, halibut, cod or arctic char, skinned and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (if frozen, let it thow out first)

-       1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Begin with sautéing the onions in a heated olive oil, ideally inside of a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pan. Season with salt to help the onion sweat. Add carrots and garlic and reduce the heat to medium-low. Season again with salt and pepper and mix well. When the vegetables begin to soften, add the wine and scrape of all the bits of flavor from the bottom of your pan to incorporate that into the sauce. Let it simmer for about 5 minutes or until the liquid reduces au sec (almost all liquid is gone). Add the tomatoes, water and spices, mix and cook until the vegetables are soft. Now it’s time for the fish. Toss your fishy chunks into the pot and let it simmer all together until its meat is fully cooked. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired. Add fresh parsley and serve.

Voila! Bon appetit and Na Zdrowie! Despite the hell-ish esthetics the meal was truly divine, I swear. Here’s one last tip — it always works — when plating, sprinkle each serving with love and fairy dust, thus turning it into an irresistible feast of the Olympian gods. The magic is in your hands, remember that.

At first, you sit with your eyes wide open and the jaw hanging by your ankles mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of images thrown at you. You desperately want to understand what it is that you’re witnessing, but the scenery on the screen changes at such rate you just sink deeper into your couch more perplexed and confused. Only a few minutes passes when you get put off by the steady current of F**Ks and BLOODY H**Ls flowing out of the TV monitor with the might of a mountain stream in springtime. Next, you see a few pots thrown in the air followed by commands with a Cockney accent (get excited):

HOT SKILLET.

OIL.

SEASON.

TOSS.

MARINADE.

CHILL.

BAKE.

REST.

DONE.

That in a nutshell is Gordon Ramsay’s show THE F WORD that I’ve discovered recently on BBC.

There’s so much happening on the show, it took me a few full episodes to understand the concept behind each one. Gordon brings in a team of four people to cook at his kitchen. The patrons are the judges as they have the right not to pay for food they dislike. In between the bits of the competition Gordon travels to the end of the world, and then along the Milky Way searching for various delicacies. While he’s hog hunting, his colleague tries to convince the entire United Kingdom to eat veal and domestic beef rather than imported meat from such dubious locations as Turkey, POLAND, and Portugal. (Why the meat from my homeland is a NO-NO beats me, but that’s their show. I’m still alive and kicking despite the fact that I grew up consuming embarrassing amounts of Polish meat. Unless… they care about their carbon print. Aha! Me likey.)

Despite all the above I got hooked. I tivo and watch every episode. Sometimes more than once. Not only have I grown to like Gordon, and I mean I really really like him, but also I find myself snapping the back of my right hand against my left palm when making a point. Call me Ramsay.

Clearly, I had to share my enthusiasm with someone. Hence I force-fed Jason THE F WORD (f for food, hopefully). After initial strong resistance, finally he also admitted chef Ramsay was highly entertaining.

The show is different. It is British after all. What I like the most, however, are Gordon Ramsay’s recipes he shares on the screen. All of you who have been following me on these pages know I don’t cook much red meat or pork. The consumption of meat especially in this country is through the roof these days severely affecting the balance in Nature and more directly our health. I do use pancetta; little bits and pieces of that Italian bacon are enough to add a depth of flavor to any given dish without the need to eat half a pig at one sitting.

This may have been the third time over two years that I cooked pork for dinner. It only shows you how enticing the food made by chef Ramsay is. Below, I retraced the steps Gordon commanded me to take when making his pork chops with crashed sweet potatoes. My twist are the roasted beets and carrots. Voila!

SPICED PORK CHOPS WITH ROASTED BEET ROOTS & CARROTS

Begin with a marinade. Crash coriander seeds (about 1 tsp) with star anise (4-5) in a pestle and mortar. Toss the powder into a bowl and add the following:

-       1 tsp chili powder

-       1 tsp smoked paprika

-       2 tsp fresh thyme

-       2 cloves of garlic, minced

-       kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, generous pinches

-       2-3 tbsp olive oil

Mix all the components and spread all over the pork chops. (When buying the meat, choose the kind on the bone. Ask the butcher to expose the bone for you. Not only the pork chop has a more dramatic effect when plated, but also baking meat on the bone assures for a moist and flavorful dish.) Cover that with a plastic wrap and chill in a refrigerator for minimum 2 hours. When ready, take the pork chops out, heat a little olive oil in an ovenproof skillet and add your meat. You want to color the chops on each side and then bring the whole skillet to a preheated (400°) oven for 8-10 minutes. Take the meat out and rest for 10-15 minutes in order to let all the juices get back inside the meat. If you were to cut it right away, all that nectar would seep out onto your plate leaving the chops dry and utterly depressed.

While the pork chops relax on the side, into the same hot oven slide a tray with peeled and quartered beets. Make sure that they are seasoned with salt and pepper and moistened with olive oil before you sent them in! Half an hour to 40 minutes should do the trick.

You can add spice to your meal by adding a drizzle of Balsamic Vinaigrette, or Basil Vinaigrette. Let the flavors and colors of fresh produce bring your dish to live. If it looks appetizing, followed by a great taste, even your child (or your sister’s) will devour the veggies just as fast as the meat. In other words, no one’s safe around GOOD & HEALTHY FOOD. Eating habits, limitations, mental blocks dissipate when one’s nostrils get teased with the meal’s aroma. A beautiful arrangement of elements on a plate tempts the eyes. The hands will resist no longer and bring a bite to the deprived mouth. There’s no turning back from here.

Welcome to my Heaven. Make yourself at home, my friend.

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