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Missed me? Good. I missed you, too. All the writing I’d done over the last year and a half about my love for cooking, and my dream to turn this passion into a bill-paying hobby now has come to fruition. The fact I’m here so seldom these days is due to my fully booked schedule. Yoohoo!
Last month I was working closely with my dear friend and a talented vegan chef, Melissa Costello of KarmaChow, on a project that involved cooking three meals a day for a group of 15 people over a period of three weeks. You can imagine our hands were full. However, I returned home with a roster of recipes that will serve as an inspiration to my own meals that I’ll then exhibit on these pages for you to enjoy.
Instead of a recipe, however, today I want to introduce you all to an Australian food stylist and a celebrity chef, Donna Hay. OK, some of you may not be that impressed as you and Donna go way back. Good for you! I myself, however, only discovered her last year, and, what can I say, I was head over heals for the Aussie gal and her culinary chops.
There are books, videos, an Australian TV show on food styling, and the magazine I’m a fan of. Only six or seven issues a year, which come to America with an irritating delay. Nonetheless, I am able to snatch each one every two months or so from my local Barnes & Noble. And so can you. I invite you to look through its pages for not only a gold mine of brand new recipes, but also the stylings of the dishes Donna and her team put together. Her signature color, pale blue, transcends across most of the recipes creating a casual, somewhat relaxing, and yet very elegant image. Juxtaposed against that gently humming background are vibrant reds, greens and yellows that make all dishes presented jump out of the pages. Literally! The arrangements on plates are an artistic expression in its own right. Simplicity screams through all Donna’s creations. Each element on the plate is exposed while being a coherent part of the entire dish, and yet there’s no chaos. Brilliant!
Even Oprah (I can’t believe I’m mentioning her visit to Australia once again, as if there wasn’t enough talk about it already) knew who to call when in the Aussie Land in order to have a feast of senses of her life…
It’s only fair to mention that my attitude towards Oprah is rather bitter-sweet, to put it mildly. Then again, there’s nothing wrong with BITTER-SWEET, especially when it comes to such chocolate bites sprinkled over thick slices of French Brie and topped with fresh basil chiffonade, then enclosed within two crispy slices of sourdough bread and melted in a panini maker. Aha! That’s a little secret I know from my gal, Giada De Laurentiis, and I’m sure she wouldn’t mind me spilling the beans.
And just like that I snuck in a recipe. A little bonus before I get down to sharing more of my own culinary tips and ideas. Check out the Australian cook extraordinaire and try something new today. Let your curiosity be stirred and your taste buds tickled. Always try to use the best, the purest, the freshest ingredients, and the pay off will be ongoing though your lasting satisfaction, infectious happiness, and vitality!
I can’t say it enough: I love meat. The pink, the red, the white stuff, I’ll devour it all. If I grew up in China, IF, I’d probably eat dogs, too. Then again, I was born and raised in Europe and yet never ate a horse (at least not to my knowledge). Though horse meat was readily available to its enthusiasts (were they?), it just never sounded good. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that, when I was in my teens, my room was plastered, floor to ceiling, with posters of horses, plus an occasional image of Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson (the real life mad man turns out) tucked in between.
Maybe Mel Gibson ate horses? Or dogs??
Here is another thing I not only am crazy about, but also can’t live without. So can’t you. The thing is the Earth with its abundance of life forms, with its breathtaking beauty, with its mind-boggling complexity, with its mighty power of creation…
I watched this video today, made by a very cool organization called GOOD, where I heard it again: meat production creates three times the green house gas emission as veggies, eggs, grains, or fish. The video is not a dooming project, it’s educational. See what small changes you can adopt in your every day living that will help not only to save you BIG BUCKS but also contribute to global energy savings and thus help protect our motherland.
When you go grocery shopping this weekend, plan your menu for your next Meatless Monday. You’ll find countless ideas for satisfying and nutrient-dense meals made with no meat on the pages of yours truly (ONE MORE BITE). For a quick reference, however, I’ll throw in another one today.
This is one of those dishes I actually don’t plan for. Funny enough, the only ones I do are those meat-heavy platters. Every week I get a variety of vegetables, whatever calls my name and with no agenda. Around 4 PM on a mid week day I enter the kitchen and poke my head into the refrigerator trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Slowly, one by one, I begin to pull out various greens and land them on the kitchen counter. Next, I go through the pantry cabinet and look for grains or pastas, beans, nuts, dried fruit, canned anchovies, tomato paste, etc. From a basket in the corner I grab an onion or a couple of shallots, a head of garlic, maybe a couple of potatoes. At this point, while I may look calm and relaxed on the outside, in my head I undergo a violent and calorie-consuming brainstorm.
Within minutes my kitchen turns into a mad scientist’s lab with lights blinking, cupboard doors slamming, windows shattering, and other inexplicable explosions visible on the horizon. Half an hour or so later I come out, as if nothing ever happened, with a complete dinner, plated and all.
It’s as easy as cooking rice and adding to it a handful of frozen edamame beans minutes before its done. It’s as easy as finely chopping a shallot, garlic and chili pepper and tossing them together on a hot pan with a touch of olive oil and a handful of almonds. It’s as easy as parboiling string beans and florets of broccoli in salted water and then adding those guys to the pan with the nuts. Drop in a handful of sweat peas, drizzle with soy sauce, rice wine vinegar or lime juice, even a touch of honey. Serve over the rice, garnish with fresh herbs and sprouts of any kind, and ENJOY immediately. I guarantee, you won’t even notice there was no meat on the plate.
Some days, when a special someone, like my friend Tamara who also happens to be an incredibly knowledgable and skilled acupuncturist (she’s funny, too!), comes over for dinner, I think things through and prep ahead. She follows what I call a relaxed vegan diet. Her household is free of animal products, however when out and about she will occasionally enjoy a piece of cheese, or pastry. She lives her life labels-free, thus allowing herself to be mostly content with what is, rather than stressed out with what’s not. I admire that quality in her as it’s not as easy to attain as it is to write about it.
We ate together last night, and I wanted to celebrate her joy de vivre by creating a dish bursting with flavors, textures, and colors, while respecting her vegan preference. Hence, I juxtaposed dark Mahogany rice with roasted peanuts and basil oil (all sunk in) against white and raw celeriac salad with walnuts and creamy sunflower seed vinaigrette. On a bed of bright orange sweet potato mash I laid green zucchini and bok choy, plus a handful of garbanzo beans made Southern style (meaning fried). To add texture I sprinkled nutty hemp seeds over the rice and red teardrops of pomegranate seeds all over the plate. A couple of edamame beans delivered another building block of protein, and made the meal complete.
Cooking is fun, especially when you think outside of the box and keep reinventing yourself. Mother Nature gifted us with thousands of incredible varieties of edible plants. Whether you like them raw, cooked, dehydrated, even fried (however rarely), chances are you’ll never get bored with them. So get jiggy with it!
Guess what, no animal was harmed in the process of writing this post. On the contrary, Cosmo napped on my lap all along with my left hand scratching his ear while the right one typed each letter o n e b y o n e.
Also, for the record, I would never EVER bite a dog. Not even a hot-dog.
When my brain shuts down on me, and no sensible sentence comes to mind no matter how hard I push, and how long I knead my grey cells, at some point I just say SCREW IT and reach for my camera instead.
The study subject for today: EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL AT SUNSET.
It’s ORGANIC of course. Have I mentioned?
Also, no flash. Jason will be proud.
That chicken that I told you I buy every couple of weeks or so goes a long way. We bought a beautiful, free-range, organic bird last Sunday. On Monday I took it out to pieces, let the legs and breasts sit and marinate in the ice-box, and from the rest I made a big pot of broth.
On Tuesday, we devoured the chicken meat from the broth in the form of my Grain Medley & Chinese Flavored Chicken with Bok Choy. I used part of the broth to braise a cauliflower and the legs for our dinner on Wednesday. There was no need for starch, no rice, no pasta, no potatoes, no nuthin’. This simple, easy, inexpensive, light meal was all we needed and then some.
There were still two chicken boobies sitting on a shelf in our refrigerator last night, soaking themselves joyously in olive oil infused with garlic and thyme. Ah, chicken, more chicken, I sighed and heard Ina Garten’s voice in my head: JEFFREY LOVES CHICKEN, SO EVERY FRIDAY I MAKE HIM A ROASTED CHICKEN. BUT FRANKLY, I’M SLOWLY GETTING SICK OF IT. I am obviously paraphrasing Ina’s words, but chicken has always been big on her menu due to her husband’s love affair with poultry. I know it all, because I used to watch “Barefoot Contessa” on Food Network all the time. And then I got sick of it, too.
There’s no denying it, I also love keeping my man happy, hence I decided to make Jason’s favorite type of dinner–one he can build himself. There’s nothing that brings that boyish and exuberant joy to his face faster than a plate full of scrumptiousness he has assembled himself.
And so I sliced and sautéed onions, one red bell pepper, green sweet pepper and one more Anaheim pepper. The chicken breast roasted in the oven for about 25 minutes at 375°, after which I let it rest covered with a sheet of aluminum foil for another 10. When I finally cut into it, I heard a choir of fairies covering Wet Wet Wet’s hit song “Love Is All Around”, you know the theme song from “Four Weddings and a Funeral” with Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell.
(There was a time in my long life when I would listen to that song OBSESSIVELY. I hope you’ll appreciate my honesty knowing I’m risking getting a restraining order from my boyfriend, who, I can just see, will cringe in pain and gag when reading this. I WAS FIFTEEN AND BELIEVED IN SANTA BACK THEN, TOO.)
The meat was so incredibly moist and silky, I wanted to put it all in my mouth and run. But then I had a drooling man looking over my shoulder also wanting a piece of it. We set the table with whatever we found suitable for CHICKEN FAJITAS in our pantry and refrigerator: sour cream, Green Chili Sauce, a bowl of brown rice, little green salad dressed with cilantro, heated tortillas and the guest of honor–ROASTED CHICKEN WITH AN ENTOURAGE OF SAUTÉED VEGETABLES.
I wish I had taken a photo of Jason when he sat down to the table and began the construction. The only time a smile was amiss from his face was when his mouth opened to receive another ginormous bite of his fajita stuffed with goods. Then there was lots of excited bouncing on the chair and head swinging when the jaws were busy molding the food. In fact, if that were a twelve year old boy who just got his first Star Wars toy that would later turn into a significant collection, and not a thirty-six year old respected TV producer, you wouldn’t be able to tell.
At that point I no longer needed food. The mere sight of that free expression of bliss was more satiating to me than the actual meal. Don’t get me wrong, though. I got my share of that chicken last night as well. It was glorious!
Weeks ago, just a few, I encouraged you to go for the organic chicks when grabbing your meats for the week at the grocery. Organic poultry comes with a price tag, as we know, but there’s a way to get every last penny out of the bird. In that mini series ORGANIC FOR PENNIES I shared my ways of utilizing one chicken for a week worth of dinners for 2 or even 4, if you help stretch that buck.
I buy a whole chicken every couple of weeks, and make my stock, marinate the breast and the legs, and scrape the leftover meat from the cooked carcass into a separate bowl. Every couple of weeks I’m faced with a new challenge to reinvent the wheel.
Last night I made this:
The chicken was mixed with chili peppers, grated garlic and ginger, low sodium soy sauce, and Hoisin sauce. A few scallions thinly sliced at an angle were tossed into the mix. Then I added my medley of cooked grains (brown and wild rice, black barley, red quinoa) and sautéed everything for a minute or two. To serve it, I wrapped the Grain Medley & Chinese Flavored Chicken in quarters of Blanched Bok Choy.
That’s it. The Asian theme is simply accidental. I use my Polish roots for inspiration in the kitchen just as often.