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Last week I made a salad for my clients. Tuscan Lentil Salad. They asked me for protein-rich, healthy, and low-carb meals.

Since I cook for each client once a week (for the most part), I have to come up with a practical menu where the food is easy to eat straight from the container (on a lunch break at work), and most importantly – easy to reheat later in the week. Usually I put some kind of soup on the menu, like Tomato Bisque with Quinoa, or Creamy Cauliflower Soup with chunks of the veg floating joyfully inside, or another health miracle, my Beet Soup, also known as a liver cleanser. Most of the soups I make are loaded with variety of good stuff while staying very light in the calorie department.

It’s very important that there are fresh vegetables on the menu, but a regular green salad lasts a day. Hence, for my clients I opt for hearty salads that will stay fresh for up to three days. I play with grains like a 6-year old with LEGO blocks. One day it’s Wheat Berry mix, another Quinoa blend, Barley, Farro, you name it. Last week, however, I used a recipe by Julie Daniluk, a Canadian nutritionist and the host of Healthy Gourmet (a TV show) simply because it looked divine.

Photo credit: Julie Daniluk

Click on the photo above to get to the recipe itself.

When I was mixing all the ingredients at my clients’ kitchen, they both peeked over my shoulder and instantly requested a taste of the wonder. Let me just say that it didn’t end on a simple one bite tasting. An entire portion planned for one of the meals later in the week disappeared from the counter. A few minutes later, the husband returned to the kitchen with an empty container in hand, still licking his mouth.

“THAT WAS DELICIOUS.”

The wife only said:

“CAN WE PLEASE HAVE THIS SALAD EVERY WEEK?”

Your wish is my command. The salad became a staple on their menu. I also tested it on Jason and he loved every bite. Well, not the olive bite. I tried so hard to sneak some succulent, delicious olives into his bowl, but his olive detector would not be fooled. There are only few edible things Jason is on non-speaking terms with, and olives just happen to be one of those misfortunate bastards.

Since the Lentil Salad was such a success, I had to give credit where it was due. Julie Daniluk is a walking encyclopedia of food knowledge. Put any type of produce, nut, meat, you name it in front of her eyes and she begins to recite all the attributes of the food like a poem.

I will have you know also that Oprah Winfrey got a whiff of the Healthy Gourmet show, and with no avail had her people load all the goodies up on her new network’s website. Aha, just look at the web address when you visit the show’s web page.

I’ve studied nutrition for my own benefit over the years. However, I never went to school to bring that knowledge up to more comprehensive and organized level. Julie is the reason I started looking into various nutrition programs around the country that offer either the traditional, thus purely scientific approach, or more holistic one that produces life coaches. Keep your fingers crossed!  I’m very excited about this project.

Pst, one more thing. It occurs to me that I have more in common with Julie beyond the affection for healthy and whole foods. Me thinks there’s Polish blood flowing in her veins…

To Be Investigated!

This morning, it wasn’t even 6 yet, I woke up to a strange screeching noise outside our window. At first I thought the stray cats that live around the building are in the middle of another turf war, since it’s a little early for their mating season. A series of whimpers got me confused. Are these quarreling squirrels? Before the sunrise?? They seem too loud and too persistent, unless… they sense an earthquake coming!! That got me out of bed, and with my eyes resenting to open I felt my way to the bathroom.

That’s when Jason’s alarm clock went off and I couldn’t believe it was already 6 AM. I had just fallen asleep, I thought, while those shameless critters are trying to take it away from me. I immediately exchanged notes with Jason on what he thought was making the noise.

“IT’S EITHER SQUIRRELS OR BIRDS. NOT CATS. THEY’RE EITHER FIGHTING OF FUCKING.”

Huh. Birds? How do birds fuck, I wondered, and decided I wasn’t ready to think just yet. Back under the covers I dove, two pillows over my head, and boy, did I try hard to ignore the whinnying and purring that continued outside.

Around 7 o’clock Jason crawled over the bed to kiss me good-bye as he was heading out to work.

Yes, making a hit show that “The Good Wife” is requires both the creative talents of the writers as well as hard work and personal sacrifices of the production and post production team. Jason, being the head of the latter, carries an incredible load of responsibility on his shoulders. And he does not take it lightly.

He headed towards the door, and silence followed. I waited for a few seconds for the sounds of the closing doors behind him. Instead, I heard him tip toe back to the bedroom and whisper:

“BABY, COME. QUICK! SHHH…”

“CAN YOU SEE THEM?” I instantly was on board to find out what was messing with my sleep at this ungodly hour.

“OH, YEAH!”

“ARE THOSE SQUIRRELS?” I breathed out as we approached the wide open door facing our backyard. My eyes scanned the ground, and saw nothing out of ordinary.

“LOOK UP” Jason pointed at the little roof above our neighbor’s Rachel’s front door across the yard from us.

Freezing my half naked self, I glanced in the direction given and was instantly awaken by the view that opened in front of my eyes…

After my initial stupefaction, I collected myself and ran for the camera. The raccoons were fully at it with surprising stamina after about two hours of continuous shagging. They considered us for a moment without losing a beat and went back to their task at hand clearly not impressed by their new audience.

The power of marketing, I thought! When Hallmark announces February The Month of Love, even raccoons comply.

I planned on posting a new recipe today, but suddenly found myself in a pickle. How do I segue from the furry bandits’ forbidden urban loving to my… FORBIDDEN RICE SALAD?  The common ground could be the fact that both myself and the fellow raccoon is an omnivore, and we both find immense pleasure in munching on either berries and greens, or a succulent thigh of a smaller animal, for example.

One of my ever strong guilty pleasures are hearty salads that are obvious for lunch, and brilliant for dinner in the place of heavy meals weighing one down before bed time. Any grain will work here. From quinoa to barley to wheat berries to rice, the sky is the limit. Whether you add greens to the grain, or grain to the greens is up to you. Clearly, the more rice, the more carbs in your plate, but if you’re an active, high-energy creature, you may want to refuel appropriately. We’re all different.

Once in a while I create new dishes from leftovers in my refrigerator. Since, I’ve had a container of cooked wheat berries in my ice-box over the last few days, that’s what I’ve been using in my salads this week. Another time, I pulled out a box of leftover forbidden rice and pondered how to utilize the goods. There was a ripe avocado smiling at me from the counter. Mr. Tomato was no less charming. Skinny cucumber was bored out of its mind in the produce drawer, and spinach threatened to wilt on the spot if not occupied at this instance.

There was no reason to fight, so I gathered the party in a bowl, seasoned with salt and pepper, drizzled with good olive oil (the extra virgin kind), and squeezed that sour smile of the lemon’s face all over the bunch. Toss, again, and once more. And get at it.

You’ll love the medley of textures in your mouth. From crunchy rice kernels to creamy avocado bits it all comes together into the most satiating, health-reviving, energy-boosting, and joy-awakening meal. And its simplicity should be encouraging even to the laziest of us. It’s easy to eat right. It’s just a matter of making one’s mind.

Right, Mr. Raccoon?

Bon Appetit!

I wish. To travel along the rebel who knows food like nobody I know in person, I wish. To learn about carta di piano from the mothers and grandmothers of a Sardinian village while raising a toast with wine made locally, I wish. To walk among golden fields of wheat and rye, to sink my teeth in a tomato bursting with flavors and straight off its vine, I wish.

I’ve been watching lots of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. Can you tell? I guess it’s only fair that I mention I’m a fan of the show on Facebook as well, so that I can get their updates and feeds about the upcoming episodes like:

As if it wasn’t alarming already, I follow the guy on twitter, too, because, well, he’s there and clearly wants to be cyber stalked.

Alright. I get it that it’s not quite Tony himself. It’s the producers, the marketing team, the network even, who the cracker knows. Tony is some other place every time a new twit appears online. Duh.

Have you noticed how familiar I got with Mr. Bourdain? It’s because his book “Kitchen Confidential” is sitting on my night-stand supported by no other than the most recent of his penned bricks “Medium Raw”. He’s everywhere I turn my eyes whenever the lights are on. I feel like I KNOW the guy in person. If he happened to be strutting down Sunset Boulevard right in my neighborhood, I would merely throw at him…

“WHASSUP TONY!”

… without so much as a wink, and keep walking Cosmo hoping for a rapid poop, so we can turn around and go home finally. Man, that dog takes FOREVER to empty his bowels! WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT PATCH OF GRASS??

I don’t even know how it all began, that boyfriend-approved affair with another man. Jason hasn’t shown any signs of jealously in fact since I took a break from watching “Dog Whisperer”. Back then he would ask me biweekly at least…

“ARE YOU GOING TO LEAVE ME FOR CESAR MILLAN?”

…I haven’t heard that phrase in a long, long time.

I will take my assumption even further. I am convinced Jason would not reject an offer of some sort of a ménage a trois, if we were given an opportunity to shlep along chef Bourdain across Europe for example. I mean it in a professional sense, of course, where our job would be to attend any finger-licking tastings and youth-reviving feasts. In such a setting I would gladly share a seat with Mrs. Bourdain, with their offspring gleefully hopping on Jason’s lap. Think sequel to “European Vacation”.

In my tribute to Tony (Yes, we go WAY back!), I’ll be writing today about PORK. My sweet Ms. Piggy in a flurry of crispy bibb lettuce and a nest of pea shoots resting right on thy head, make yourself at home.

No recipe is needed for this pink perfection. Simply season the loin with salt, pepper, a touch of olive oil and maybe fresh thyme as well; place it in a roasting pan, add a cup of white wine or chicken stock and shove all into a preheated oven (at 350°) for 35-40 minutes total. Take it out, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest for another 10-15 minutes. While the meat is gathering its juices, you make a glaze: 1/2 cup of port wine + 1-2 tbsp of honey in a small sauce pan. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer away until reduced two-thirds or so. When the liquid gets thicker and sticky-er, pour it over the slices of your roasted pork loin.

You know how I am–always chicken this, chicken that (the happy, organic kind of course). However, pork tenderloin is lean and healthy, rich in vitamins of the B family, then zinc and of course protein. Since it’s also referred to as the other white meat, I no longer feel like a cheater, well, because… how much chicken can I eat for my ass’ sake?

I made this dashing, juicy, bursting with flavors PORK LOIN last week and fell for its tender and oink pink flesh instantly. So did Jason. Now, guess who’s coming to dinner this week? The red carpet is ready for you, my dear Ms. Piggy.

How was your weekend, Internet? Ours was just as mundane as usual. Or was it?

One slept in whilst the other one went grocery shopping and then carried all four bags into the house all by herself. One got a haircut while the other one was stuck with a bunch of needles all over her body in a room filled with Brian Eno’s tunes. One studied Polish while the other mastered a few new French phrases before our trip to Paris in May. Surprisingly both enjoyed the Chopin concert despite their paralyzing fear of highly potential boredom. One has donated three bags of clothes, shoes and purses to SOJOURN, a charitable organization that supports battered women and underprivileged children in Los Angeles, while the other has only one closet with just enough clothes to cover his back. He also read a very hopeful and BRIGHT GREEN interview with Alex Steffen published in our beloved magazine THE SUN.

What about those needles, you may wonder. A few months ago I met this gorgeous woman Tamara ZumMallen through my dear friend Missy. Even though we haven’t known each other long, already we have shared many laughs and even some tears together.

Tamara happens to be a very knowledgeable and experienced acupuncturist, hence last Saturday I ended up in her bed. Wait, what I mean by that is that I was laying ON her therapist’s bed in her office at the HEALING HANDS WELLNESS CENTER at 414 N. Larchmont Ave, here in Los Angeles. While I rested garments-free under the crisp white sheets, she gently but skillfully inserted two needles into my feet, four more were placed on my belly, one on my chef’s wrist, two in my ears, and one straight into my third eye.

Needles in my Third Eye and both ears respectively

Four needles centered around my belly button, and the rest of the gang

While it may sound like a quickie, it was nothing but. Tamara began the session with sitting me comfortably on the bed; then she conducted a thorough interview. We went through my health history, eating habits, regularity of my menses, the shenanigans I recently got myself into, and my thoughts on Jamie Oliver’s FOOD REVOLUTION in America. The show had aired on ABC the previous night.

Speaking of which, for crying out loud, how is it possible that a six-year old child does NOT know what a potato looks like?? Perhaps a tomato? Anything? Jason and I were watching the program in terror, while tears welled up in our eyes.

In the meantime, the needles were prepped to stand upright around my bellybutton. At Tamara’s request, I stuck my tongue out at her. It was dark and purple-ish, enough for her to determine mild blood stagnation with kidney QI deficiency. She recommended eating black and blue foods to balance out my kidneys. Instantly I asked DOES CHOCOLATE COUNT FOR BLACK FOOD? Luckily it did, as long as it is dark and raw, or at least organic. Next the needles helped me get un-stuck.

It was a thrilling and yet relaxing experience. What I loved about that Chinese healing method is that it has a very holistic approach to one’s health. If you have a headache, the acupuncturist will ask you a series of maybe 20 questions about everything but your head to find the source of pain. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Western medicine adapted the same attitude instead of just curing the symptoms? While I’m not trying to doom our doctors and their astounding accomplishments in the medical field, I think there’s a lot of room for improvement in the system they’ve been taught and have since practiced.

(Oh, I am so getting an email from Jason’s dad, Doctor Jimmy Harkins, with his take on the matter later today. I hope he’ll be kind to me. He always is.)

All that typing made me hungry. While I go pop in a few blueberries and black olives, I suggest you spruce up your chicken dinner with my recipe. How does CHICKEN CORDON BLEU WITH GOAT CHEESE, CRANBERRIES, AND HERBS sound? You can serve it with sweet potatoes or a giant bowl of greens mixed with avocado, tomatoes and dressed with a light, lemon vinaigrette. After the din-din, your mate will kiss your feet in gratitude, and then some. I don’t need to hear about that part of your evening, but you enjoy!

Wash your hands and set your station ready. If making a dinner for two, you’ll need:

-       2 chicken breasts, organic and free-range

-       1 egg + 1 tsp of water, for egg-wash

-       2-3 tbsp of flour (any kind, choose the healthier option)

-       2-3 tbsp of breadcrumbs

-       kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

-       3 oz of goat cheese, soft

-       2 tbsp of dried cranberries, soaked in hot water for 5 minutes and then drained and roughly chopped

-       1 cup of fresh basil/dill/parsley/cilantro (use one, two, or all if desired), roughly chopped

-       1 tbsp of fresh thyme

-       1 tbsp of olive oil

-       2 plastic zip-lock bags, large

-       meat-tenderizing tool (could be a rolling pin)

-       4 small bowls

Beat the egg and water with a fork in one bowl, and use another two bowls for flour and breadcrumbs respectively. Season your flour with a solid pinch of salt and pepper, while the breadcrumbs – with a few springs of crushed fresh thyme and your olive oil.

In a separate bowl, mix the goat cheese with herbs and cranberries, and season gently with salt and pepper. Feel free to pimp your filling with the zest of a lemon, too! Mix well.

Place each chicken breast in a separate plastic bag and using your meat tenderizer pound it evenly until it’s about 1/4” thick. Remove it from the bag with a pair of tongs and place on a plastic cutting board (that had been devoted in your house solely to raw meats. I don’t want to mother you, but make sure you keep the raw meat away from EVERYTHING else to avoid possible contamination. That means you must wash your hands and anything the meat has touched in hot water and with soap when done). Season both sides with salt and pepper. Using a small spoon, scoop some of the cheese filling and spread it evenly across the chicken fillet, leaving about 1/2” strip clean around the edge. With your clean hands fold the longer sides of the chicken inwards, and then roll the whole thing making sure all filling is secured inside it. Repeat the procedure with the remaining chicken breast.

Now, dip each stuffed chicken breast first in the flour and coat it lightly on all sides, then the egg-wash, and finish with the breadcrumbs.

Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and put into a preheated oven at 350°. Bake about 20 minutes, until the chicken is golden brown. When done, remove from the oven and let the meat rest for about 10 minutes. Cut each piece into 1/2” thick pinwheels and serve as desired.

That’s my take on CHICKEN CORDON BLEU. It’s elegant, creative, delectable and never boring. Bon appetit!

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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