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I don’t think I know anyone who doesn’t love a bowl of pasta. I think the vast majority of us are engineered to love the stuff. In fact, I’m willing to bet that even those who have shunned all pasta, including gluten-free versions, still have fond memories of big bowls of the oh-so comforting food.

I’ve never been a big pasta eater since somehow I’ve always known deep down that it’s not the healthiest option. Or maybe it’s just that my Japanese mother cooked primarily with rice, and I just didn’t get a lot of face time (mouth time) with pasta until I recognized it for what it is. Let’s be honest, it’s a “carrier” food. At least that’s what I tell my kids. There’s nothing redeeming about the pasta itself, but it serves as an excellent carrier for all sorts of sauces. They get that, and that’s why they happily gobble up my spinach walnut pesto pasta.

This dish gives you all the flavor of pesto sauce, but with the added nutritional benefits of spinach and walnuts, and you get to enjoy pasta on top of it. It’s become one of our Meatless Monday favorites. I usually use a gluten-free capellini pasta made from organic brown rice, but rotini pasta holds the sauce really well, and that particular pasta shape is a favorite with most kids. I’m sure it’s not the same as traditional semolina noodles, but we’re so accustomed to it, that we don’t miss the old stuff.

 

Ingredients

2 large handfuls baby spinach

1/2 cup raw walnuts

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves (stems removed)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, extra if needed

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Squeeze fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup finely grated parmesan cheese (or parm-reggiano blend)

Sea salt to taste

Fresh-ground pepper

 

Preparation

Put the first six ingredients in a food processor or high-powered blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Note: The mixture typically isn’t liquid enough to blend down completely on its own, so I use the plunger tool for my Vitamix to make sure everything gets down into where the blades are spinning. You can add a bit more olive oil if necessary.

Spoon out into a medium bowl. Stir in the cheese, salt and pepper and adjust to taste.

Cook pasta noodles according to the instructions on the package. Drain. Top with sauce and toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Why not publish a post of a dessert fit for Valentine’s Day, the day after Valentine’s Day? That’s exactly how my life has been going as of late. I’ve been so swamped at work, and with raising the children, that I haven’t found time to post. But the great news is, I’m posting this dessert which is absolutely delicious, nearly guilt-free, and super easy to make. You don’t even need to turn on the oven. You just need a few ingredients, a refrigerator and a little time to allow everything to work its magic. And although I think raspberries and chocolate are perfect partners, you could easily use other fruit as a substitute.

If you use raspberry preserves made without refined sugar, this recipe would also qualify as Paleo. However, I like to use Bonne Mamam Raspberry Preserve because the raspberry flavor is really intense and I like a bit more sweetness.

(Recipe modified from Bakerita’s Paleo Vegan Raspberry Chocolate No-bake tart.)

 

Crust Ingredients

1 cup almond flour

1/2 cup pecans, very finely chopped (I use the mini-processor)

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup coconut oil, melted

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Pinch of sea salt

 

Filling

3/4 cup full-fat coconut milk

5-6 oz  bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (I use Green & Black’s Organic 70% bar)

¼ cup raspberry spread (use 100% pure fruit if you have it, otherwise use a low-sugar raspberry preserve

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

pinch salt

2 cups fresh raspberries

 

Directions

Lightly grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with coconut oil. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the crust and stir together until fully incorporated. Press evenly into the prepared tart pan and set aside.

Place the chopped bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the coconut milk until it’s just about to boil. Pour the hot coconut milk over the chocolate and let stand 2 minutes, then stir until smooth and creamy. Stir in raspberry preserves, vanilla extract and salt. Pour the filling into the prepared crust. (The filling mixture should be “runny” enough that it evenly fills the tart shell.)

Place tart in the refrigerator to set for 1 hour.

Garnish the top with raspberries, and return to the refrigerator for 1-2 hours until completely set.

Slice and serve.

Store leftovers–if there are any(!), in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Enjoy!

 

 

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I’ve been trying to keep my mother’s tradition of making “Star Cookies” every holiday season. If you didn’t see that post and/or haven’t made those cookies, check it out here.

But this year I wanted to make something different and equally festive, so I started recipe testing pistachio cranberry shortbread cookies. Like with most of my favorite recipes, these are easy to prepare, simple and relatively low-sugar–especially for a dessert!

 

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup cane sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1 tsp finely grated fresh orange zest

1/3 cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped

1/3 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

3 tbsp coarse ground sugar, such as turbinado

 

Preparation

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon and salt.

In a medium bowl, beat together the butter and sugar using an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Blend in the vanilla extract and orange zest. Blend in the flour mixture one-third at a time until fully incorporated. Fold in the chopped cranberries and pistachios. Scrape the dough out onto a large sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Carefully form it into a roll with flat ends. Note: You can put a little extra flour on the palms of your hands if the dough wants to stick to your hands. Wrap up the paper and place in the refrigerator to chill for 2-3 hours.

 

After the dough has chilled sufficiently, preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Take the roll out of the refrigerator and unwrap. Brush the outside (not ends) of the roll with the egg yolk, and sprinkle generously with the coarse sugar. Using a very sharp knife, cut the roll into 1/4-1/3-inch slices. Place on the parchment-lined sheet approximately 1/2-inch apart. Bake 15-18 minutes or until the edges of the cookies are starting to golden. Let cool completely. Can be stored in an airtight container for up to five days.

Enjoy!

 

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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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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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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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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!

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