Crudités: A healthy party alternative

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By New Year’s, we often had our share of indulgences in fatty cheeses, the empty calories of most crackers and those awful, fried hors d’oeuvres we feel compelled to eat when they’re the only food available and we are imbibing. In support of our resolutions for the coming year, why not create a crudités? Each time I serve or bring one to a party, guests give a sigh of relief, I suppose because there’s something delicious and wholesome they won’t have to work off at the gym.

Now if you are thinking about those prepackaged crudités platters with baby carrots and stalks of celery with dry ends and broccoli that’s never touched, think again. Making your own is easy, naturally beautiful and inexpensive, too. The one pictured at the bottom of the post, cost only $8. (A quarter lb. of a fancy cheese can cost that much.)

Most of the work of creating a beautiful arrangement can be done the day before in about 15 minutes. Here are some tips to a great crudités!

1. Buy your fresh veggies at the farmer’s market if possible. Wash and refrigerate them until the day of the event.

2. Choose vegetables with a wide assortment of colors.

3. Use an extra sharp knife to cut vegetables into easy-to-handle shapes. Long shapes are more elegant. Get away from the kibbles and bits look. Put all cut veggies, especially celery and carrots, into baggies with a little water and a few drops of olive oil until it’s time to serve the platter.

4. Never use baby carrots. They’re essentially tasteless. Scrub full sized carrots with a toothbrush and cut into long spears. Don’t peel them or you’ll loose the most nutritious part. Orange carrots are fine, but look for the yellow, red and purple ones for their beautiful presentation.

4. Steam and chill vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini.

5. Utilizing the crudité raw regulars such as celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes, is great.


6. Feel free to add some fresh berries. No apples slices, because they’ll discolor.

7. Skip the eggplant, potatoes and anything in the onion family for this one. Going for chlorophyl is best, not onion breath. Come on! It’s a party!

8. Do that cool 50′s housewife thing and carve radishes into rose blossoms. Just cut petals toward the center of the radish with a paring knife and soak in ice water so they open up.

9. Make a homemade thick dressing, so party guests won’t drip it everywhere. Vinaigrette won’t do. Consider using plain yogurt instead of mayo or sour cream and present it in a lovely glass instead of an ordinary bowl. My Russian dressing is super quick and easy, (See my video on 3 Salad Dressings for recipe . ) so there’s no excuse to use an awful & artificial bottled dressing. And please, don’t fuss over “double-dipping.” It’s not gonna kill anybody!

10. Keep it wrapped in plastic, so it stays moist until the moment of presentation. If it’s traveling, put a clean, moist dishtowel or paper towels under the plastic wrap. Serve well chilled and on a gorgeous platter.

I promise you, if you skip the step of par-cooking broccoli, cauliflower and zucchini, it will remain right where it started. Otherwise, if you look to your party platter among other party snacks well into the event, the crudités will be gobbled up and only your beautiful dish will be showing. Take notice around the room. It’s the skinny people who will be munching the most!

Wishing you good health and good times in the New Year!

Popcorn Cauliflower

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Hmm, you say you don’t like cauliflower or your family won’t eat it? Well, I trick my party guests and even kids into eating my Popcorn Cauliflower every time!

The cauliflower of yesteryear was over-cooked, which much like broccoli, releases a stinky sulphur odor. Batter dip and roast instead of boiling, and I’m betting you’ll love it, too. I make it for parties because it can be done ahead and reheated easily and frankly, I just get a little thrill out of people freaking when they realize they just ate cauliflower and loved it. I will say the chili-mayo dipping sauce is strictly for kids though. Its also very inexpensive, compared to other party foods like cheese and boxed crackers, which areladen with fat. (I’ll save my calories for a marguerite, if you don’t mind!)

I use dosa flour in mine, because I’m off wheat entirely and it’s made from lentils, which are ultra-high in protein. This recipe is easy-peasy. You might even get the kids in on this one. It’s easier than pancakes and much better for them.

Popcorn Cauliflower is great for parties!


Popcorn Cauliflower

½ T butter
1 large head cauliflower
2 eggs
1/2 T butter
1 head cauliflower
2 eggs
¼ cup flour
2 T dulse or flaked kelp
½ T sesame oil
1 t Dijon mustard
¼ t sea salt
¼ t black pepper
¼ t chili powder
¼ cup water (as needed)

Chili May Dipping Sauce:

½ cup canola mayonnaise
¼ finely chopped marinated green olives
2 T lemon juice
1 T horseradish
½ t chili powder

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Mix all the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a small bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill.

Using your fingers, snap off individual cauliflower florets or cut them off with the tip of a sharp knife from the core. Slice any of the florets in half that are 2” round or larger.

Place a buttered, glass, baking dish or cookie sheet in the oven to heat that will fit all the cauliflower in a single layer and allow for space in between the florets.

Beat the two eggs together with a fork, in a large, deep bowl. Add the remainder of the ingredients with only as much water needed to form a thick batter that will not quite pour.

Toss the cauliflower florets into the mixture and coat evenly. Then spread the battered cauliflower out on the hot baking dish, leaving space between each floret. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bottoms are crusty.

Using a thin metal spatula to preserve the coating, turn the cauliflower and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until crisp and lightly browned all over. Serve hot with the chilled chili mayo.

 

 

 

 

Crispy Asparagus with Lime Mayo

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Crispy Asparagus are coated in ground pumpkin seeds and spices!

10-12 thick asparagus spears
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ t ground coriander
½ t dulse or kelp flakes
¼ t ground fennel
¼ t kosher salt
¼ t black pepper

Sauce:
1 ½ T mayonnaise or Greek yogurt
1 ½ T fresh lime juice
zest of ½ lime
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Garnish Recommendations:
1 radish
2 springs parsley, basil, sage or cilantro

 

Rinse, trim the bottom ½” and remove the skin from the lower third of each asparagus spear with a vegetable peeler.

Evenly coat a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of oil and place in an oven set to 350º.

Grind the pumpkin seeds into a fine powder in a coffee grinder. (Add coriander and fennel here, if spices are whole seeds.) Pour ground pumpkin seeds and the remaining spices into a rectangular baking dish at least as long as an asparagus spear and tap it to one of the longer sides. Roll each spear in the pumpkin seed and spice mixture and reserve at the empty side of the dish.

When all the spears are evenly coated, place them on the hot baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes before turning over each spear. Continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the coating is golden brown.

Zest ½ a lime in to a cup and stir in lime juice and mayo until smooth. Arrange the asparagus in a serving plate and pour a thin stream of the limo-mayo sauce over it. Sprinkle the white sauce decoratively with fresh thyme leaves and garnishes before serving.

Tip: For once, fat is better than thin!
Thin asparagus spears aren’t more tender than the big fat ones. It’s the insoluble fiber in asparagus’ skin that’s the tough part and overcooking it just makes it stringy and bitter,not more tender. Preferred are asparagus with a larger circumference. Then the ratio of tender soluble fiber beneath the skin is higher for a more chewable, flavorful experience. So go for the big ones!

 

Green Goddess Guacamole

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4 Haas avocados
3T fresh lemon juice
2T plain yogurt or mayo or sour cream
½ t sea salt
½ t chili powder
½ t cumin
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Split avocados in half lengthwise and remove the pit before scoring the avocado’s flesh in a grid pattern with a paring knife. Squeeze the skins and drop the avocado cubes into a glass or ceramic bowl. Add all the remaining ingredients and mash with a potato masher or fork to a lumpy consistency.

Refrigerating for several hours allows the spices to infuse more of their flavor, but the guacamole can also be eaten right away. To prevent discoloring from oxygenation, cover the guacamole with plastic wrap so that is making full contact with the bowl and the guacamole, with no air space in between.

Before serving, stir to reincorporate the ingredients. Serve with “baked not fried” tortilla chips to conserve calories.

Party Trick

Making this recipe for a party?  Make it a few hours ahead and put it in the freezer until serving time.  There’s so much oil content in avocados, it won’t harden, but it will stay cold and look fresh longer, which is a big plus.

Avocado by Choice

Rich in “good cholesterol”, ripe avocado slices are a nutritious substitute for mayonnaise in sandwiches or salads. Most flavorful are Haas or Bacon avocados, which have bumpy blackish skins, not smooth green ones.

Store-bought avocados usually need about a week in room temperature to ripen to supply their luxurious flavor and texture, so buy well ahead of time. A perfectly ripe avocado feels as firm as a banana that was some brown spotting.

Emergency tip:

If you need to make guacamole now and the avocados are still hard, add an extra tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt for smoother consistency.

Get Really Real!  A friend, who regularly enjoys citrus juice in his cocktail, was surprised to know bottled lemon-lime juice he was using was is full of sulfites! It was this preservative that was giving him a headache and allergic skin reaction, not the gin! Give yourself the vitamin C benefit, which almost immediately vanishes when citrus juice is exposed to air, and wonderful tartness of those fresh squeezed lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits on a weekly basis.  You can use an old-fashioned wooden pummel or an electric citrus juicer.

Homemade Hummus: Mellow and Pure

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About two months ago I read the ingredient list on the side of each of the hummus containers I found at Trader Joe’s, a chain of markets Angelinos think of as offering healthy, all-natural foods. I was shocked at the length of unfamiliar ingredients, including emulsifiers and other things that looked suspiciously like chemical preservatives. Isn’t hummus simply garbanzo beans, lemon juice, tahini (sesame paste) and a little garlic, if you want to get fancy?
Well it is now. I purchased lovely, sprouted garbanzo beans from the lady at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market the followig week, who when questioned told me she does it the old Moroccan way; not in plastic, but in silk. Hooray! I’m all for cutting down on the chances that petroleum from plastic containers is leeching its way into my food.
Truth is the garbanzos sat in my refrigerator for a week before I could get to them. I searched on line for a tip on how to cook them, because raw garbanzos are mighty hard to digest. I couldn’t find a single site that was using sprouted garbanzos and when they did mention raw garbanzos, a raw hummus recipe followed. I’ve made this and I like it, but one cannot achieve the smooth satisfying texture of cooked hummus with the raw recipes.
So I opted to simply cover the beans with filtered water and let them simmer for 30 minutes. Once they cooled, I found it was easy to pinch away the semi-translucent skins from the beans, which I figured would make it still easier to digest. (Thanks for your help with that part, Paul.)
Tossed into a food processor with a good ration of tahini, lemon juice, some water, a few cloves of roasted garlic plus salt and pepper and a tablespoon of my latest superfood discovery, kudzu. Added for its property of soothing the entire gastro-intestinal tract, I knew the texture of the hummus would make the kudzu undetectable. I pureed all the ingredients for a full two minutes until it was sooth, streaming a bit more water thru the top o the food processor until it was the right consistency.
Tasting it, I found the flavor very mellow yet absolutely buoyant compared to any other hummus I’ve ever had. I suppose it’s because canned beans (like all canned food) have so little life force remaining in them. Roasting the garlic mellows its bite, so this hummus was as mellow as I had hoped. Adding nothing else allowed the fresh, clean unadulterated flavors of the garbanzos and tahini to be the focus.
Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a return to foods with a mellow flavor for their soothing effect. It’s one way I self-nurture and attempt to heal from the stresses of work and the economy. I suppose this outlook is guided by my knowledge of Ayurveda, which touts that spicy foods stimulate our energy and those with strong onions and garlic can pull us into lower chakra energy. On the other hand, mellow, soothing foods help us ground ourselves, heal and tap into intuitive thought. So I suppose my hummus and I will be meditating through the week. Happy Sunday to all of you!

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups sprouted garbanzo beans

2 cups water

1/2 t. sea salt

1 T. kudzu powder

1/4 cup lemon juice

¼ cup tahini

¼ t. black pepper

1/4 t. cumin

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

Directions:

Bring the garbanzo beans and 1½ cups of water to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes. In the meantime, create a foil pouch and place in it 3 unpeeled garlic cloves, 1T. olive oil and 2 T. water. Place in the oven for 30 minutes to roast at 350º.
After 30 minutes, remove the garlic from the oven and remove the soft centers when cool enough to handle. Discard the papery shells. Then strain the remaining water off the garbanzos, rinse with cold water in a mess strainer, and roll the beans around vigorously so the translucent skins pop off. Pluck most of the skins out with your fingers, but don’t feel the need to be fastidious and discard every single one. Place all ingredients into a food processor or blender. Pure for 2 full minutes, adding ¼- ½ cup water gradually, until the hummus is as smooth as peanut butter, but a bit thinner.

Serving Suggestions:
Chill and serve with raw vegetables, bread or crackers. Hummus also makes a great low calorie, high protein alternative to mayonnaise on sandwiches.

Adventures in Calamari

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A friend of a friend, Enrique, caught a Humbolt Squid in the cool California waters between San Pedro and Catalina Island a week ago. At sixty-five pounds and with dandling tentacles, is stood almost as tall as our handsome, statuesque fisherman. Brought on Friday night, I was too intimidated by the looming threat of it cooking up as tough as a fat tire, so instead we opted for the deli that night.
Next day, I took my surgically-sharp knife to the defrosted section that looked strangely like a KKK hood. Slithering and eerie with a faint briny odor and pushed into my bamboo cutting board with a firm palm, I slipped the blade under the membrane of this slippery white mass and pushed. With some guiding I pierced the place between the white flesh and the membrane, until it was my fist working to the other side of this slab of an animal. A weird sense of victory came in spurts each time a significant strip of membrane ripped off the main flesh. Great fun, and I must say, very primal!
Next I cut the calamari into 2-3” strips that were a mere ¼” wide. Then I took the whole slithering pile of them into a bowl, covered them with goat milk, a bit of kosher salt and plastic wrap and set them in the refrigerator to marinade. The enzymes in the goat milk break would down the proteins that make calamari tough, or so says the owner of Frankie’s on Melrose Blvd, whose restaurant makes the best calamari on either side of the Mississippi.
Thirty-six hours later, milky strips emerged visually unchanged. Now it was time to compose a batter that would be both light and crisp and yet adhere when fully cooked. Borrowing secrets from tempura, I opted to combine rice flour and an effervescent liquid––in this case beer. First I mixed rice flour, eggs, salt and pepper, and saved adding the beer until the final dredge through coarse corn meal was eminent. )Recipe will be postedin 3 days.)
My last consideration was on how to achieve the crispness of deep fried without the fat content or the danger of boiling a quart of oil! In my opinion it’s too dangerousto boil a quart or so of oil in the home kitchen. So I heated my Lodge iron griddle until it was searing hot. Rapid cooking is imperative for tender, crispy calamari. Then I mixed in ½ a bottle of beer to the rice and egg batter. Now with the speed of an assembly line, I dipped each drained strip of calamari into the batter, dredged them in the cornmeal, and plopped them on the hot griddle, which had just enough safflower oil on it create a crust.
Turning only once and cooked to golden brown in just two minutes, they were placed on a paper towel lined dish, where they were served with a hot, spicy tomato marinara sauce I made the day before.
Wow! Wow! Wow! What threatened to be chewy, had turned out––according to every one of my guests–became the most tender calamari any of us had ever had! Success!!!!
Unfortunately Enrique and his lovely wife, Lucia were down with the flu, so they did not taste their local catch, but waiting for them in the freezer is a fully dressed quart of calamari ready for the skillet as soon as they are well.
So does anyone else have something they’ve caught that I can tackle? Bring it on!!
Enrique’s video of of his live catch is on his facebook page here. Thanks, Enrique!!
http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=1307649981661