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Chicken in lettuce cups

Challenging to photo, but delicious to eat, this easy to prepare dish has become another family favorite (like the Gado Gado salad recipe I posted earlier this week).

Loaded with flavor and fun to eat, it takes about 20 minutes,  to make–start to finish. I also love that it makes a perfect meal as is, but you can easily dress it up and make a more substantial meal by serving it with a complementary side dish. The one I show below is fresh corn with shiitake mushrooms cooked in chicken or vegetable stock.

When I make this dish, I usually split the chicken mixture into two bowls right before serving–one for the kids, and one for the adult into which I mix the red pepper flakes and a squirt of Sriracha.

 

Ingredients

3 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce

2 tbsp chicken broth

2 tsp cornstarch

1 tsp sugar

1 lb. ground chicken or turkey

2 tbsp avocado oil

2 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

1/3 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional

1/4 cup green onion, chopped

1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped

About 15 cup-shaped lettuce leaves (I use Bibb or butter lettuce), washed and dried

Cilantro sprigs for garnish

 

Preparation

Whisk together soy sauce (or tamarin), broth, cornstarch, and sugar until smooth. Place ground meat in a medium-size bowl and separate into several lumps. Pour about half the soy mixture over the meat; mix and set aside.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add ginger, garlic, and red bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until fragrant but not browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add seasoned meat, using a wooden spoon to spread into an even layer. Let cook for 1-2 minutes or until the underside has begun to brown. Turn to cook the other side until browned; break into chunks.

Turn off heat. Add remaining soy mixture to skillet or wok. Add red pepper flakes if using, green onion, sesame oil, and cilantro. Mix well. To serve family style, serve the meat mixture in a bowl with cilantro sprigs for garnish with the lettuce leaves on a separate platter.

Enjoy!

 

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Gado Gado–Indonesian salad

Do you sometimes get inexplicable cravings? I’m not referring to the sudden craving for a little something sweet or salty in the afternoon. I’m talking about the sudden, strong craving for a specific dish.

Well that happened to me about a month ago. I suddenly started craving Gado Gado, the common Indonesia salad of fresh vegetables, egg and peanut curry sauce. We don’t go to any Indonesian restaurants here in the Bay Area, so it’s not like I simply hadn’t been in a while and was missing a favorite dish. In fact, we typically go to an Indonesian restaurant only once a year, when we’re in Amsterdam visiting my husband’s family during the summer holiday. But we missed going this year–despite having a reservation at Kantjil in Amsterdam, since our flight from France was severely delayed. (Do not get me started on Easy Jet flight horror stories!)

The strong craving I experienced came on suddenly and would not go away. But luckily, I have a great recipe for Gado Gado that’s super easy!

This is a basic recipe (for 4) which you can modify to your liking. For example, you can substitute other vegetables, but I think this combination makes for the best in terms of taste, texture and color. The great thing about this salad is you need very little prep time, and you can often make it with ingredients you already have on hand.

 

Ingredients

1 tsp salt

1-1/2 cups green beans, trimmed

4 large organic eggs

1-1/2 cups fresh bean sprouts

1-1/2 cups radishes, trimmed and quartered

1/2 English cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1 package 14oz extra-firm tofu

1 tbsp cornstarch

2 tsp red curry or Madras curry powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

2 tbsp avocado oil

 

Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

3 tbsp hot water

3 tbsp fresh lime juice

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

2 tsp Thai red curry paste

1/4 tsp sea salt

2 tsp sambal oelek or Sriracha (optional)

 

Preparation

Place tofu on a plate layered with 2-3 paper towels. Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with water and a sprinkle of salt. Bring to a rolling boil; cover, turn off heat and let stand 12 minutes. Remove eggs from pan using a slotted spoon; rinse with cold water; peel and cut in half.

Return pan to boil; add green beans and cook 4-5 minutes or until tender-crisp. Drain; rinse with cold water; pat dry and set aside.

In the meantime, prepare the tofu. Cut the block lengthwise into four 1/2-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on 2-3 layers of paper towels on a plate. Cover with more paper towels and a plate turned upside down. Let stand at least 5 minutes. Cut cross-wise to make 1/2-inch cubes. Combine cornstarch, curry powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. Gently toss tofu to coat.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan. Add tofu and cook for 10-12 minutes or until nicely crisp and browned on all sides.

Prepare peanut sauce by whisking all sauce ingredients together. Adjust seasoning to taste. If the sauce is thicker than you want, add a little extra hot water to thin it down. Note: I leave out the samba oelek or Sriracha if it’s a family dinner since my kids don’t like things too spicy–yet.

Cut the green beans into 2-inch pieces; arrange on a platter. Arrange eggs halves, bean sprouts, radishes and cucumbers. Serve with sauce on the side. Store leftover vegetables and sauce separately in airtight containers in the refrigerator. They make a great lunch the next day!

Enjoy!

 

 

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Minted melon soup

 

Back from the dead–or so it would seem.

I’m sorry there haven’t been any posts in such a long time. Between work and summer travel, I struggled to find any time–other than a few Instagram pics. My family and I spent two weeks in Europe visiting friends and family and then spent an incredible two weeks in Africa. (Look for a post on that soon.)

You might think that after taking a hiatus from the blog that I would post something really elaborate or spectacular. But in reality, I want to share an unbelievably simple, but delicious recipe as I start back up with my blog.

With all I see happening in the world right now, I’m personally craving comfort, simplicity and nourishment.

Maybe you live in a part of the United States that saw the brutal force of our world’s ever-strengthening storms. Or maybe you live in a country recently targeted by terrorists. I know it’s all relative, but until the last decade, my generation has managed to avoid a lot of large-scale and widespread adversity. Now I look around at what’s happening in many regions of the world and read news reports, and find myself nearly in a state of disbelief that so much division, animosity and chaos exists.

While it may not necessarily be recommended, many of us take comfort in food. And fortunately, food remains one of the main ways in which we experience other cultures, experience camaraderie and strengthen our families and our ties with friends, so I plan to start posting a lot of simple, healthy and comforting recipes. Try this super easy cold soup, which makes a perfect starter to a late summer or early autumn lunch or dinner.

 

Ingredients

1 ripe melon*, seeds removed, scooped from rind and cut into large chunks

1 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped

4 tbsp fresh mint leaves

Juice of one lime

1/2 tsp salt

Mint leaves for garnish

*Canary or Honeydew melons work best for this recipe, but nearly any will do.

 

Preparation

Place first five ingredients in a high-powered blender. Blend on high for approximately 30 seconds. Adjust seasoning as needed and blend to incorporate. Chill for 1-2 hours.

Stir or lightly reblend, then ladle into bowls and garnish with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprig of mint.

Serves 4.

Enjoy!

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It may be that you already traveled to some sunny, exotic locale during the winter holidays, or for “spring break” if you have kids. So yes, I should probably post my sunscreen picks a bit earlier in the year. But as they say, better late than never!

As I wrote up the post on our April trip to Tulum, Mexico I realized I hadn’t shared my sun protection product recommendations. I’m a big fan of applying suncreen every single day of the year–rain or shine, at least to the face. When you consider that the backs of the hands and decolletage are the first places to show signs of aging, those of us in age denial would be wise to cover those areas with sunblock as well.

I recently tried a mineral powder based product with an SPF 30+. I figured that at my age, it probably looks more youthful to cover any sun damage and have the skin looking flawless and age/sun spot-free. However, I thought the heavy layer of powder, despite being natural, made me feel too made up, which in turn made me feel older. So I switched back to my tinted sunscreens. They’re light, moisturizing and the sheerness makes me feel like I’m not trying to cover up anything (although if I could find a natural way to get rid of my age spots, I’d do it in a heartbeat).

I think Andalou Naturals and Juice Beauty make the best, reasonably-priced, all-natural tinted sunscreens available. Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Color + Correct and Juice Beauty Stem Cellular CC Cream continue to be my top picks for everyday sunscreen for my face. They’re both SPF 30+ zinc based–for the broadest spectrum of sun protection available, non nano particle, free of all the nasties (parabens, glycols, butenes, chemical sunblocks, etc.), and they both smell nice–something I’m very partial to seeing as I’m very scent-sensitive. Andalou offers a better price point, but Juice Beauty has a wider range of colors to choose from.

For my kids’ faces and for all of our bodies, I continue to love Burnout Sunscreen. It, too, is zinc-based, non-nano and moisturizing. Burnout offers several different formulations, but I usually get the Kids Physical SPF 35 or the Ocean Tested SPF 30. Burnout products are “reef safe” which is becoming a bigger deal in many parts of the world that still have viable coral reefs and/or reef fish populations. The faint white sheen it has when you first apply it sinks in about 10-20 minutes after application, which is perfect timing given that experts recommend applying mineral sunscreen at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Another bonus: It doesn’t make you break out! There are no pore-clogging or other irritating ingredients, but if you’re prone to breakouts, always apply your sunscreen (or anything going on your fact) using clean hands. (But Burnout offers a Lightweight Oil-Free version if you’re extra sensitive.)

Of course, the best sun protection is no sun, or a long-sleeve shirt and broad-brimmed hat. (I love this inexpensive one featured above by Hinge at Nordstrom.) I don’t have a photo to share of her, but my 77-year-old aunt who grew up in Hawaii–but has always covered up, has an incredibly smooth, cream colored complexion. It’s too late to reverse some of the sun-worshipping naughtiness of my youth, but at least I make a point of putting on sunscreen everyday–rain or shine.

Happy summer and safe sunning!

 

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Tulum, Mexico

 

I went with my little family to Tulum, Mexico last month, and I have to say, it was one of our best trips–ever.

We travel to Mexico nearly every year, but always on the west side, I suppose because we know it and it’s closer. I didn’t realize the east side looked completely different, and thus always thought, why take a 5-6 hour flight to Mexico when you can get there in 3-4? However, the east side–at least the Yucatan Peninsula where Tulum is located, is really beautiful and very different from the west. Lush jungles abound and mangroves grow for as far as the eye can see. We saw manatees and a crocodile during our adventures, as well as ancient Mayan ruins, and everywhere turquoise-blue waters.

I love that most of the hotels in Tulum are relatively small and strive to be eco-friendly. I must admit they all run off diesel generators since Tulum is off the grid, but some people would like to change that, and the visionary owners of Be Tulum and Nomade–two gorgeous resorts on the far end of the resort strip, would like to bring clean energy in. I can imagine how a visit to visit Tulum would be even better without the noise or air pollution of generators running night and day behind every hotel? I can already see them powered by clean, renewable energy from the sun, of which there is plenty.

But let’s get back to the beach…

Tulum gives off a different vibe than many resort towns in Mexico. First off it’s relatively small, and because many of the resorts take an “eco” approach, many buildings are small, low to the ground, and nestled in the trees, so when you’re walking on the beach, the land retains its jungle-ness. As a health-conscience person, I also loved that many of restaurants offered salads from local and organically-produced gardens, acai bowls and vegan dressings. While I imagine a lot of people visiting the area while I was there might have over indulged in cocktails (mezcal is the thing to drink there), I never saw any sign of it. What I did see were people relaxing, enjoying good food and long walks on the beach (you can walk forever there), taking yoga and meditation classes, and generally “chillaxin.”

Our little haven off of our room at Be Tulum.

Gorgeous, stylish rooms at Be.

 

Every morning we received an amazing basket of breads, including croissants, “Mexican” bread (as I call it because I don’t know if it has a particular name), rye and sweet breads. While I generally shun gluten, I admit I relished the morning gluten fest. The bread in Mexico has a certain something about it, which I find irresistible.

We also received an incredible assortment of fruit along with granola and yogurt. In fact, after we had polished off the bread and fruit, we were always left wondering why we bothered to order other dishes like chilaquiles, omelets and pancakes. After breakfast, we had to roll down the sandy slope toward the part of the beach which housed the cabanas, where we slept off the big morning meal or read until lunch. And speaking of lunch, I always wondered how many days can one really eat tacos. And in truth, nearly every day–at least once a day.

 

 

One day we hired a boat to take us through Sian Ka’an, the nature preserve just a short drive past the hotels and resorts. That’s where we saw a family of manatees that swam up close to the boat out of sheer curiosity. We also saw a crocodile through the mangrove branches, but as I only had my iPhone on me at the time, I wasn’t able to get a decent pic. In the preserve, our boatman dropped us off on the side of one of the mangrove-lined channels, and led us over a 500-meter (roughly) raised wooden walkway to another channel in which fresh water flowed. It flowed fast enough that there was a decent current, so we donned life vests and literally floated through the channel several kilometers after which our boatman was there to meet us. It was an incredible experience I can’t recommend enough!

Snorkeling in Yal-Ku Lagoon.

 

On another day, we explored one of the many cenotes (natural pits, or sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath) in the area. Most of the cenotes are filled with fresh water, but cenotes can have salt water as well. Yal-Ku lagoon in Akumal, just a short drive from Tulum, is a gorgeous salt-water cenote. There are incredible rock formations, underwater caves and channels, and numerous varieties of tropical fish. The biggest parrot fish I’ve ever seen were in Yal-Ku. We had a great snorkeling experience there, but I recommend going early when there are fewer tourists and swimmers around. The most famous cenotes in the area–Grand Cenote and Casa Cenote, are on the top of our list for our next visit to Tulum.

Tulum Ruins near Akamal.

We also visited the Tulum ruins just outside of Tulum. Right on the edge of the ocean, they were well worth the short drive and confusion over where to buy tickets. Note: Don’t stand in line to get your tickets from a person, go to one of the two tickets machines on the left before the long lines of people waiting to talk to a ticket agent, and use your credit card. It will take you 2 minutes instead of 20.

We chose not to visit the famous Chicheniza ruins–approximately a 2.5-3-hour drive from Tulum, out of sheer laziness and because we found the Tulum ruins pretty impressive in their own right. However, we might stretch our horizons next time we visit as Chicheniza is supposed to be pretty spectacular.

We heard great things about the Monkey Sanctuary (also just outside Akumal), but we were too late to join a tour the day we went there, and too short on remaining days of our trip. If you plan to visit the area, have your hotel book a tour for you in advance. Sadly, the only monkey we saw was a dead one on the side of the road as we drove from the airport to Tulum.

If you have the chance to visit Tulum, take it. It won’t disappoint. Just a simple 1.5-hour drive from Cancun Airport, it feels like another world. Just remember to say “hello” to the monkeys and parrot fish for me.

Sweet potato soup

 

I consider sweet potatoes a near-perfect food. I know they’re considered a starch, and those trying to lose weight might avoid them, but they’re full of so much goodness. They’re rich in fiber, and they’re one of the best sources of beta-carotene– for Vitamin A. You can do just about anything with them. For example, you can turn them into fries or use them in pies (hey, that rhymes!). Bake them in tarts and brownies. Serve them on the side of meat dishes. Roast them and use them in salads. Use them in soups or in place of regular potatoes for your breakfast hash. The list goes on and on.

I think I serve sweet potatoes at least 2-3 times each week in my home. We all love them, and I’ve convinced the kids that the more color they have on their plates, the better off they’ll be. So the kids welcome the sweet potatoes I serve them in any form.

We have endured a particularly wet winter here in Northern California, and that means less time outside and more time inside, hunkered down, trying to avoid growing webbing between our fingers and toes. That also means more warm soups to stave off the damp chill.

I love this recipe because it’s super easy to prepare (my number one criteria most of the time!), tasty and comforting. I like to top it with toasted prosciutto and toasted pecans, but you could easily sub a vegetarian or vegan option. I’ve also topped this soup with spiced, toasted pepitas  (see my recipe here). Of course, you don’t have to garnish your soups at all, but I think it’s nice to have a contrast of textures when you’re making a super smooth soup. This recipe serves 4-6 depending on whether you’re serving it as one of several courses or whether it’s the main attraction.

 

Ingredients

1 small red onion, skin peeled and chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil

1 tbsp ghee

2 medium-size sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4-inch cubes

3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 bay leaves

1-2 tbsp maple syrup

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Sea salt

3-4 slices of prosciutto

1/3 cup pecans

 

Preparation

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium het. Add in the onions and garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions soften. Add in the sweet potatoes. Pour in enough stock to cover. Submerge the bay leaves. Tap in the cinnamon. Turn up the heat; bring to a boil, then cover and simmer until the sweet potatoes are fork tender (25-30 minutes).

While the soup is simmering, place 3-4 strips of prosciutto and the pecans in a shallow baking dish and cook in a toaster oven (if you have one) on the “toast” setting or regular oven on broil until crisp. Be careful not to let it burn! The high fat content make both susceptible to burning.

When the sweet potato is cooked through, remove the bay leaves. Puree the mixture using a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix) or a good immersion blender, adding a bit of warm water or more stock if you think the consistency is too thick. Stir in the maple syrup and 1 tsp salt. Taste and adjust seasoning, to your liking.

Pour into bowls, and garnish with crumbled prosciutto and pecans. Serve hot.

Enjoy!

Winter skin savers

 

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I don’t know if you’re experiencing an unusually tough winter like the one that’s been ravaging Northern California since last November. Even though the temperatures continue to hover above average, the insane amounts of rain falling on my area means fewer days outside, and more time spent inside with heaters blowing. As a result, my skin is noticeably drier and overall more sensitive. (Undoubtedly my skin is also drier due to my advancing years, but that’s another topic for another time.)

While I still haven’t embraced the oil cleansing technique using plain coconut oil, I do understand the science behind it, and I agree with many beauty experts that oil is the best and gentlest way to cleanse and moisturize your skin. Of course, human skin responds better to some oils than others, so I recommend always using plant oils over unnatural oils, such as mineral oil which is derived from petroleum products. Most people with mature and/or very dry skin seem to do well with pure coconut oil as their cleanser. If you’re like me with regular oily patches and prone to breakouts, something gentler and lighter like almond or sesame oil works well.

That said, because I’m a product junkie, I like to use products someone else makes for me to–including my oil cleanser. (As always, I only use all-natural products free of parabens, petroleum-based ingredients, phthalates, glycols, and other irritating, hormone-disrupting or toxic ingredients.)

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My favorites right now are Marie Veronique Replenishing Oil Cleanser and Weleda Soothing Cleansing Lotion/Almond (shown above). For nighttime moisturizing, I love Marie Veronique’s Rejuvenating Night Oil (also shown above). Like all MV products, it smells amazing, is completely natural and free of any toxic ingredients, and it absorbs beautifully. You can apply it over your other serums or treatments, such as retinoids and Vitamin C serums.

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Protect your lips with one of RMS’s tinted lip shines. They’re super moisturizing and completely natural and non-toxic as well. I like the shade “Honest,” (shown above) because it gives a subtle bit of peachy-pink color, which helps gently brighten the winter pale face most of us have right now.

You can moisturize your body with coconut oil as well, or if you’re bothered by the slightly greasy feel you get after applying, simply melt some in between your palms with your regular lotion. You can also use coconut oil to moisturize dry locks by either massaging some into hair and scalp at least 20 minutes before you shampoo, or by working a small amount into the ends of your hair before or after you’re doing styling it.

 

Happy moisturizing!

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