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I know. I know! It’s been too long. You must be thinking that since The Food Network has launched its daughter program, appropriately called The Cooking Channel, I must have gotten lost between the folds of my couch, sitting with my nose glued to the TV 24/7.
I wish! But somebody has got to pay her bills, plus Cosmo’s mani and pedi ain’t cheap. His favorite nail polish is Bulgarian Rose by the way. Don’t ask me where he got that from.
Less than two weeks ago I announced the start of my very own LUNCH DELIVERY SERVICES here, in Los Angeles. Guess what. It’s HAPPENING! I’ve been busy menu planning, then designing labels, then shopping for containers, then grocery shopping, then cooking, and delivering at last. Breathe in, breathe out.
I was also clear-minded enough to snap a few photos in all that chaos. Just imagine me with a chef’s knife in one hand chopping cucumbers, my toes holding tight a wooden spatula and stirring soup in the pot, while my jaws clenched on the camera and took some shots.
As a result of the madness, I was able to produce this CRUNCHY RED QUINOA SALAD with a Medley of Vegetables and BASIL VINAIGRETTE. Also, I made this refreshing FRUITS SALAD sprinkled with Orange Juice and MINT CHIFFONADE.
One of the meals on my Menu for this week is this delicious and healthy PAN-SEARED TUNA Over the Bed of SPINACH with Gorgonzola, Pecans and Cranberries, dressed with POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE.
Speaking of dressings, there’s nothing easier than making one. The most basic one is simply oil (olive) and acid (e.g. vinegar, acidic juice) in 3:1 ratio with a pinch of salt and pepper. You can get fancier than that just by adding a touch of a healthy sweetener (e.g. honey), maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, or cucumber (as an emulsifier), whip it together, and just like that you have made yourself a perfectly wonderful vinaigrette.
Once you get the basics, then you’ll want to explore other flavor combinations and possibilities. One of my favorite dressings that I make for our meal ALL THE TIME is Basil Vinaigrette. To make it yourself, follow the steps described above and add a bunch of fresh basil leaves to your blender. WHIZZ. WHIZZ. Done.
Store-bought dressings are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives. Save yourself money and that unnecessary inch on your waist just by switching to home-made goods like the ones seen above. You’ll satisfy your palette. You’ll exercise your creative muscle. You’ll be healthier and closer to Nature with each bite. And it takes 2 minutes to make it, from scratch.
Go for it. Try this at home!
Today marks two weeks since we returned from Europe, the continent where people eat whatever they want (for the most part) and seldom exercise the idea of a dietary restriction. Mother Nature is still the biggest supplier of food there, and no one questions that order. I choose to believe that based on the quality of ingredients that had built our meals while in Poland, and then in France.
When we first arrived back in Los Angeles, Jason and myself decided we needed a break from eating meat, as it was such a fundamental part of our diet when still on the Old Continent. The first week went swimmingly well. I whistled cheerfully as I cooked away quinoa, made meals with a variety of beans, various grains (e.g. barley), then lentils, and greens rich in protein (like broccoli). Last but not least nuts were all around us, all day long. And I don’t mean just because we live in Hollywood. Each morning I began with a whole-grain toasted muffin, topped with a layer of almond butter and slices of fresh strawberries. Jason snacked on a mixture of raw nuts and dried fruits in between the meals. Roasted pine nuts or walnuts ended up in fresh salads. Toasted pepitas served as a base for my vinaigrette.
About three days ago I realized I was …hungry. Sixty minutes after I finished breakfast I was ready to eat again. The first craving hit me right between the eyes leaving a black-eye the size of a fist. No matter how versatile menu I prepared for the day and how much flavor I incorporated into each dish, it all began to taste …boring. Every time I inserted a fresh bite of food into my mouth, from the start I knew it was missing one ingredient–meat. It didn’t matter what I was eating. If I could I would sprinkle pancetta bits into my whole-grain cereal with blueberries and a sliced banana. A temporary comfort I found in hard-boiled eggs, and cheese sandwiches.
Now, I know that all protein is equal. It doesn’t matter, from a scientific point of view, whether you get your amino acids (which are the molecules of the protein) from an animal or a plant, as our bodies are dexterous engineers and can put together a complete protein out of those building blocks. As long as you provide your system with those standard 22 amino acids it requires to form the protein we need. That’s the reason all nutritionists of the world emphasize the need for a versatile diet, in particular for the vegetarians walking amongst us.
Enough with the lecturing. I know that I had enough protein in my diet over the last two weeks not to NEED any meat. Though I realize now the source of my misery. It is all in my head. My cravings for a juicy steak, and beef stew, or a tender chicken thigh have everything to do with the fact that I can’t have it right now, for I do not appreciate restriction. It goes deeper than that. I refuse to be pressured. If there is a movie coming out that the entire planet can’t shut up about, and 70 million people go see it on the opening night, you can be sure Agi won’t participate in the mass hysteria. For example, I have never seen “Titanic” nor “The Da Vinci Code”. I wasn’t interested in the slightest. You know what else I have not watched, nor read? The entire “Harry Potter” series. Sure, we can argue whether I am better or worse for that, but it is not the point of this discourse.
Despite that fact that my diet over the last two weeks was nutritionally dense, I began to notice feeling weaker and weaker. I was no longer able to lift words and put them down on paper. At the gym, when requested by Jason to do abdominal crunches, I didn’t even stomp my foot on the ground anymore. I fought him just for a moment when he made me get down on the ground and throw my legs in the air, but only because resistance to a voluntary pain application is a part of my psychological make-up. Then I got a hair cut, as those two extra inches of hair made a whole lot of difference when washing it. Saving energy became my motto.
I am facing another two meatless weeks, which in my head translates into a form of mind slavery. It is my brain that has to make an effort to relax and breathe knowing it will be OK.
Agi, let me introduce you to DISCIPLINE. I hope you shall become fast friends.
Hurry! Hurry before the summer really is just a sweet, sunny memory. . The scorching heat is behind us, true, but if you open your windows, spread your arms wide and look up, your face will still get a big fat lick of energy from our Brightest Star. Hurry!
As October makes itself more at home with each passing day, there are also fewer varieties of sweet luscious fruits at the Farmers Market to be found. Bummer. Even though I’m bursting with fruit flavors for all the fall apples and pears, I wish I could somehow capture the sweet joy of peaches we devoured this past season.
If you HURRY, you may still be able to grab a few juicy peachy balls from the last supplies of an orchard. And while you’re there browsing the stands of fresh, organic produce from your local farmer (hats off for the love he delivers in those crates and boxes), snatch a bag of iron and calcium rich spinach, a couple of pinkish shallots and run home to check your stock of pine nuts.
I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
As I’m pondering how to segue from the tour at the local Farmer’s Market to your kitchen, Cosmo checks on me occasionally (You know, the usual editing stuff – typos, orthography, syntax – he’s alert!) from his office.
I won’t beat around the bush any longer. Today we’re making a Spinach and Grilled Peach Salad. Empty your shopping tote and align the following suspects on your kitchen counter:
- 2 Peaches
- Spinach (6 oz. bag, more or less)
- 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
- 3 slices of pancetta
- White Balsamic Vinegar
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Shallot (the rest you can keep for later)
- Salt + Pepper
How do you like the ingredients so far? Can you put it all together into a perfect salad just using your imagination? Can you taste the sweetness mixed with salty bites of Italian bacon, all wrapped in a smooth symphony of White Balsamic Vinaigrette? No? Then go ahead and grab yourself a grilling pan and heat it up, while you seed your peaches and give each one a wedgie – eight to ten per fruit, to be precise.
You also need your nuts toasted, and for such a small amount, I wouldn’t bother the old fat oven if I were you. Just spread the pignoli flat on a sheet pan of your toaster oven, or – if there’s a lack of such – use your loyal buddy, the frying pan. It will take circa 5 minutes (maybe 7, but that’s pushing) and only 2-3 on the pan for the guys to be all tanned and happy. The minute you smell your nuts, it’s time to get them out. (I can see where your mind is heading. Do NOT even go there!)
Your grilling pan surely is scorching hot by now – a perfect surface for the slices of pancetta. Let the fat melt away while the bacon gets crispy. Next, remove the brittle slices and set on a paper towel to get rid of the extra grease and let the guys chill.
Onto the same pan, throw the wedges of your fruit and spread in one layer. Let them sit flat for a couple of minutes until the heat breaks the body and you see grill marks on one side. Flip each one over and give it another 2 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and set the peaches aside to cool as well.
Before you relocate everybody into a bowl, you want to shake up the vinaigrette first. Mix two parts of olive oil with one part of white balsamic vinegar, add a finally chopped shallot, big pinch of salt, a smaller pinch of black pepper, and whip it good. Better even – drop the potion into a blender, and let it take a ride on a rollercoaster.
Bowling time! Into a glass bowl, toss the spinach, drizzle with just a touch of your vinaigrette, and mix until the greenery is all coated and smiling brightly. Now gently place pieces of grilled peaches on top, sprinkle with crushed chunks of cooled pancetta, bring in the pine nuts, and sprinkle all with another few drops of the White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Like a gentleman, toss everybody around, carefully, softly, easy…
The salad is ready. Picture time! Enjoy the view, as it won’t last long after you dive with your fork for the first taste. Do you get it now? The sweet and savory fixed together in the mist of sweet and tart vinaigrette…Mmm.
Are you hungry yet?