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At least, that’s how my office staff feels, and once a month, our ‘staff spirit’ committee organizes a potluck to bring people together for at least one lunch.  My first office potluck’s theme was “The Last Supper” and everyone was asked to bring dishes that began with their last initial.  It was a fun theme and I brought noodles (japchae) and Nutella Banana Bread.  YUM!

For this last potluck, the theme was Asian food.  I was pressed for time so chose to do something super easy and Americanized, but at least somewhat healthy and hopefully appealing to the masses.  Who doesn’t love chinese chicken salad?  Unfortunately, it is usually laden with fried wontons and syrupy dressing … so I decided to make my own version of Kale Chinese Chicken Salad.  As a heartier green, the kale would remain nice and crisp even an hour or two after I tossed the salad in the dressing – just what I was looking for!

Preparation was made exceedingly easy by a trip to my nearby Whole Foods – after snagging one of their flavorful rotisserie chickens and a bag of their Harvest Sensations Kale Salad mix, I was all set to go!

IMG_3497 kale-salad2

Kale Chinese Chicken Salad (serves 6-8)

  • 1 package of Harvest Sensations kale salad mix (contains kale, shredded carrot, purple cabbage – about 6-8 cups of de-stemmed kale leaves)
  • 1 small 2.5 lb rotisserie chicken, meat shredded
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Ponzu juice (or just more lemon juice)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 15 wonton wrappers, thawed and cut into 1 cm strips
  • vegetable oil spray or mist-o

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray wonton strips with a little vegetable oil and distribute evenly in a single layer on a large cookie sheet.  Bake ~6-8 minutes or until golden-brown, stirring half-way through to allow for even crisping.  Set aside.
  2. Whisk together soy sauce, lemon juice, ponzu (if using), sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then add sesame oil and grapeseed/canola oil in a slow stream, whisking until sugar is dissolved and dressing is combined well.  Adjust seasoning to taste.
  3. Toss chicken and scallions with 1/3 cup of dressing in another large bowl.
  4. Toss kale salad mixture with enough remaining dressing to coat, massaging in the dressing.
  5. Add chicken, scallions, cilantro, almonds, and sesame seeds to the kale and toss well.
  6. Just before serving, top with wonton crisps.

Optional additions: blanched snow peas or sugar snap peas, mandarin orange slices (pith removed).

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Tastes like summer – bright yet smokey

J says he dislikes May in California, because it seems so dreary compared to back East, where May is gloriously welcomed with sunshine, al fresco dining, skirts and open-toed shoes, and lighter fare.  We have had some beautiful days along the coast, though, so I think I may beg to differ.

Perhaps it is the tantalizing nearness of summer that led me to make a refreshing zucchini salad for dinner the other day.  Topped with smoky seafood spiced with paprika and garlic, it was a collision of the bright and bold flavors of summer.

IMG_3487

Corn and Zucchini Salad with Smoked Paprika Seafood (serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 ears of corn, husked
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 small zucchini (about 3/4 pound), thinly sliced lengthwise on a mandoline
  • 2 tbl coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tbl coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2.5 tbl  olive oil
  • 2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup seafood blend from Trader Joe’s, defrosted and patted dry
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tbl olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Instructions:

  1. Cook corn in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright yellow and tender, about 3 minutes; transfer to a plate and let cool.
  2. Cut kernels from cobs and place in a large bowl.
  3. Add zucchini, basil, parsley, 2.5 tbl oil, lemon juice and red pepper flakes and toss to combine; season with salt and pepper.  Let sit for at least 10 minutes to marinate.  Divide between two plates and set aside.
  4. In a small skillet heat remaining 1/2 tbl olive oil over medium heat.
  5. Add garlic cloves and cook until just fragrant.  Add paprika and stir to combine.
  6. Increase to medium-high heat, stir in seafood and cook just until opaque and slightly caramelized at the edges.  Do not overcook.
  7. Top zucchini salad with seafood and serve immediately.

On carrots and Mother’s Day

I wasn’t able to visit my mother for Mother’s Day, but of course she was in my thoughts as we all honored our mothers and all that they have done for us.  It only becomes clearer with time how much they have given and continue to give.

I love to cook because one of my favorite memories of my mother is her willingness to come home and try out new recipes and flavors with us, even when she was working full time.  She would come home after sharing lunch with her diverse co-workers and interrupt our usual weekday rotation with novel recipes like salmon hand-rolls and other ideas she would get from her friends.  Before kids, she would even send my dad to work with home-made cream puffs.  We were all lucky.  She does best with what she knows, and what she knows, she does extremely well.  And now dad has decided to join the fun and is starting to experiment in the kitchen, too.  My sisters blame Food Network and Bobby Flay – I think it’s also a way for him to find a new hobby and give my mother a break in the kitchen.

I haven’t been posting much because I’ve been a bit swamped, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been in my kitchen.  I simply retreat to simple salads and stir-fries.  And I try to find ways to simplify prep…like in this salad, a version of Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad.  I was so excited to find preserved lemon at Trader Joe’s that I had to buy the entire jar to bring home for experimenting (I get excited by little things like this).

I decided to post this today because I have recently been obsessed with rainbow carrots.  Today, I am reminded that as a little girl, my mom would give me carrot sticks to munch on whenever she shredded them for cooking.  And I’d happily snack on them, not simply because she told me ‘they make your eyes bright,’ but because I actually loved the crunchy sweetness.  ::shrug:: I was a weird kid with healthy tastes.

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Moroccan-spiced Roasted Carrot Salad (adapted from Ottolenghi’s Spicy Moroccan carrot salad in Plenty)

Ingredients:
1 lb rainbow carrots, cut into 3 inch batons
1-2 tbl olive oil, plus extra to finish
2 shallots, thickly sliced
1/2 tsp honey
salt
pinch ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 tbl Meyer lemon juice
1/2 tbl chopped preserved lemon
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped, and extra for garnish
1/4 cup Greek yogurt, chilled

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. In a medium bowl, toss together carrot batons, ~1 tbl olive oil, shallots, honey, salt to taste, and spices.
3. Transfer spiced carrot mixture and unpeeled garlic onto a lined cookie sheet and roast until carrots are caramelized and tender-crisp, about 15-20 minutes. Set aside to cool.
3. Squeeze roasted garlic out of their skins, smash, and whisk together w/ lemon juice, 1 tbl olive oil, and chopped preserved lemon.
4. Add the roasted carrots to the lemon-garlic mixture and season with salt to taste.
5. Before serving, stir in the cilantro, taste and adjusting the seasoning as needed. Serve with a dollop of the yogurt and drizzle of olive oil as well as cilantro garnish.

Unplugged.

J and I decided that for our next brief trip (all of 4 days!), we were going to be completely unplugged from work.  Since starting, I have yet to be separated from my work inbox, with its daily onslaught of patient messages, calls, labs, staff messages, prescription refills, etc, etc.  I try to clear it by the end of the day, only to log in several hours later to find that it is once again filled with new things to address.

To that end, I brought my phone along on our trip but otherwise made a point of leaving my computer at home.  I admittedly had separation anxiety and was fidgeting to check in as day 1 approached.  By day 2, I couldn’t believe how it felt to be unplugged.  It. was. so. l-i-b-e-r-a-t-i-n-g!  As grateful as I am to have an electronically medical record and the technological advances we have, it has so blurred the lines between work and home that I never feel completely done with work.  It makes it hard to find some semblance of work-life balance…I went into this field knowing it could and would consume most of my waking hours and energy, but I do not think this means neglecting personal priorities.  Physician, heal thyself – otherwise, how can I possibly hope to care for others?

And so, during one of our mornings free, I made this lovely frittata – it felt celebratory in more ways than one, featuring spring’s fresh and sweet asparagus.

IMG_3433 IMG_3439Asparagus, Leek and Mushroom Frittata (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (white and pale green parts only)
  • 1 12-ounce bunch thin asparagus, trimmed, cut on diagonal into 1-inch pieces (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 cup sliced stemmed shiitake mushrooms
  • 8 large omega-3 eggs
  • 1 cup diced Gruyere cheese, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions:

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in 10-inch-diameter nonstick skillet over medium heat.
  3. Add leeks and sauté 4 minutes. Add asparagus and shiitake mushrooms, sprinkle lightly with salt, and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs, 3/4 cup Gruyere cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in medium bowl.
  5. Add egg mixture to skillet; fold gently to combine. Cook until almost set.
  6. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup Gruyere cheese and Parmesan cheese over. Broil until frittata is puffed and cheese begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve.

“Not so devilish” noodles

Shirataki noodles are thin, translucent, gelatinous traditional Japanese noodles made from the konjac yam (aka devil’s tongue yam or elephant yam).  They are mostly comprised of glucomannan starch, which is an indigestible fiber.  While very low in carbohydrates and calories and lacking much flavor of their own, shirataki noodles easily pick up the flavors of whatever sauce they are in.  Their slippery texture may be a little unfamiliar to some, but dry roasting them in a non-stick pan can give them more of a pasta-like consistency.

Convenience-wise, shirataki noodles couldn’t be easier – just drain, rinse, and then use!  J. Kenji López-Alt from Serious Eats even has a great recipe for  Sichuan-style shirataki noodle and cucumber salad and sings their praises here.

Shirataki noodles stir-fried with vegetables provided a quick and healthy weeknight dinner.  No need to feel ‘devilishly’ indulgent, here!

IMG_3421Shirataki Noodles with Mushrooms and Sweet Bell Pepper

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz shirataki noodles
  • 4 oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-5 crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4-5 baby bell peppers, julienned
  • 3 scallions, sliced into 1 inch segments, white and green parts separated
  • 1/2 tsp black bean soy paste
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp sriracha
  • Salt to taste
  • Toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Drain and rinse shirataki noodles.  Set aside.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, heat canola oil over medium-high heat.
  3. Add oyster and crimini mushrooms with a pinch of salt to the pan and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until they begin to soften and slightly brown at the edges.  Add minced garlic, soy paste, sugar, and 1 tsp low-sodium soy sauce.  Stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add bell peppers and the chopped white scallion, stir-frying until crisp tender.
  5. Add drained shirataki noodles to the vegetable mixture, seasoning with remaining 1 tsp low sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, and sriracha.  Toss in chopped green scallion and  stir-fry for another 1-2 minutes to let the flavors meld.   Adjust seasoning.
  6. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Saffron: worth its weight in gold

Or more, if you attach to it the immense thoughtfulness that my friend Erika had in bringing back a good quantity of it for me from her travels in Turkey, Morocco, and Greece.  I couldn’t join her on her travels, but she helped me get a taste of her adventures by bringing back this cherished spice and inspiring me to experiment with it in the kitchen.

Saffron, with its sweet and grassy notes, is truly a labor-intensive spice to collect.  It is derived from the stigmas of Crocus sativus.   Each plant bears up to four flowers, which each only have 3 stigmas.   It takes 150,000 to 170,000 flowers to glean just 1 kg of the precious saffron threads, and requires the equivalent of 40 hrs of labor.  It is widely used in the cooking of many cuisines, including the paella of Spain, the Milanese risotto of Italy, the bouillabaisse of France, and the biryani of South Asia.  Its vibrant beautiful color adds brightness to all of these dishes, as well as a unique flavor.

J and I have used it lately to make paella (recipe to come later!) but tonight I used it very simply to poach cod, with delightful results.  I paired the poached cod and saffron broth with a refreshing shaved asparagus salad.  It was a quick and healthy weeknight meal, full of bright and interesting flavors!

Gently simmering the cod in the broth is key to achieving buttery, flaky cod (and avoiding rubbery fish).

IMG_3432Poached Cod with Saffron-Tomato Broth (adapted from here)

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ~1 cup (8 oz) of quartered grape tomatoes
  • ~2 tablespoons dry white wine
  • bay leaves
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • two 4-5-oz. skinless cod fillets

Instructions:

  1. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and Aleppo pepper (or red pepper flakes) and cook, stirring often, until fragrant (garlic should not take on any color), about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes, wine, bay leaf, saffron, and ~1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until flavors meld, 5–7 minutes; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low; season cod with salt and pepper and place in skillet. Cover and cook at a bare simmer until cod is opaque throughout and beginning to flake, 5–7 minutes (thicker pieces will take longer to cook).
  4. Gently transfer cod to shallow bowls and spoon poaching liquid over.

Shaved Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing (original recipe from Food and Wine)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 pound large asparagus
  • 1/4 cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (3/4 ounces)
  • 3/4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon warm water
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Instructions:

  1.  Using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.
  2.  In a small bowl, mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano with the lemon juice, water and olive oil. Add to the asparagus and toss to coat. Season the salad with salt and pepper and serve at once.

A berry cozy morning…

I can be a creature of habit, and as J will readily confirm, rather particular when it comes to certain foods and tastes.  He hypothesizes that we get along so well because he shares a lot in common with my sister L’s tastes, so I’m used to the overlap in the venn diagram of our preferences, even if  the “circle” of foods he enjoys is much larger than mine.   I disagree – I will eat practically any vegetable or fruit!

When it comes to oatmeal, we definitely have our own preferences and tastes.  I prefer plain oatmeal that I flavor with whatever I feel like at the time – seasonal fruit, spices, nuts…I like the chewiness of rolled or steel cut oats and I don’t like it when the oatmeal is a touch on the watery side.  He is much less demanding and is happy to go with the packaged stuff, and tries to mollify me by making it less watery and using half plain quick oats so that I’m not horrified by the cloying sweetness.

That said, this baked oatmeal is versatile, delicious, healthy…and a perfect compromise!  It takes more time than instant oatmeal, but is still super easy to throw together.

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Baked Oatmeal with Mixed Berries and Almonds (recipe adapted from here)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups/7 oz/200 g rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup/2 oz/60 g sliced almonds, toasted
  • 1/3 cup/2 oz/60 g natural cane sugar or maple syrup, plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • 2 cups/475 ml milk (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch/1 cm pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups/6.5 oz/185 g mixed berries

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch/20cm square baking dish.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the oats, half the almonds, the sugar, if using, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, if using, the milk, egg, the butter, and the vanilla.
  4. Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple thwacks on the countertop to make sure the milk moves through the oats. Scatter the remaining berries and remaining almonds across the top.
  5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Sprinkle with a bit more sugar or drizzle with maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter.