A Freelancer’s Lunch

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Those with office jobs or regular gigs all too often think freelancers are loafing at home, when we’re actually hard at work, though there are a few differences in our daily routines, to be sure. We race to our computers with a cup of morning caffeine and our office counterparts tout a cup-o-joe that’s probably cost them $4 and then crawl their way to work in their vehicles. Sure freelancers often don’t hit the shower until 3pm or 30 minutes before our first outside meeting, whichever comes first, but don’t let our bunny slippers convince we’re not as hard at it as gals in their pencil thin skirts and sensible pumps.

Now that I’ve defended freelancers’ work ethic, lets talk about the lunch time advantages! We break up the day by having lunch out once in a while, but for the most part, we eat when we are hungry and make it from home. It’s best of we can prepare something quickly so we can race back to work, but it can still be fabulous. Last Tuesday, I took a bowl of clams I soaking in water overnight and made a scrumptious noodle dish, you can concoct, too. I even tossed in leftover caramelized boc choy from last night’s supper.

Use this ingredient list strictly as inspiration, because when it comes to a noodle dish and fresh clams, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. The most important thing to remember is to get he broth going long before adding the clams to the pot, so those clams stay tender. Just cook ‘em until the shell pops and not a minute longer!

1 T coconut oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2″ fresh ginger root
1 whole leaf lemongrass
1 stalk celery
1 T coconut oil
8 oz clam brine
3 oz white wine
3 scallions
3 oz dry rice noodles
1 over-ripe tomato
2 baby boo choy heads
10 pink peppercorns
1 t dulse or kelp flakes
salt and pepper to taste
2 T hemp seeds

Freelancer's Clam 'n Noodle Lunch

Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan set on medium-high. Toss in the garlic cloves, halved. Mince the ginger and add it. Slice the celery on the bias into 1/4″ slices and add to the pot to sauté for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the briny water in which the clams have been soaking, lemongrass, pink peppercorns, salt and pepper and the dry noodles and push the heat to high until it boils. Toss the noodle around and remove them when they are almost tender enough to eat.

Chop the tomato. scallions, dulse or kelp and any left over cooked veggies on hand. Add the wine and stir. Add the clams and cover with a lid. In 3 minutes with the pot boiling, remove the lid add the noodles back in and wait for the clam shells to pop open. Remove one by one as they do. Pour the contents of the pot over the clams once the noodles are reheated through and soft. Garnish with hemp seeds for a great dash of amino acids and omega 3 fatty acids!

Note: Food continues to cook even after its removed from the heat, so pull it off the heat and out of a hot pot just a little before its perfectly done.

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!

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!

 

Summer Travel and Healthy Portable Foods

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Christina and her family, who I’ve met through Start.ac, are embarking on a low budget, two month road trip called Blank Canvas Tour. She asked me to suggest some good options to eat on a budget. Finding healthy food on the road is a real challenge, but with a little prep and some guidelines, you can zoom past all those unhealthy, high-calorie, processed food burger ‘n fries fast food joints. So take heed, my friends and remember, it’s bikini season!

Hi Christina,
Right off I would say easy on the sandwiches, because white flour is almost like eating white sugar. It’s high glycemic index causes spikes in blood sugar and that could mean cranky passengers. I know you read labels, but remember, even bread labeled “whole wheat” or “rye” has primarily white flour. It’s lack of fiber and the immobility of driving long distances in a vehicle would slow elimination. That’s a nice was of saying people are apt to get constipated.

Instead I would advise a big bag of crudité. Stop at any market and stock up on unwaxed cucumbers, radishes, red bell peppers, celery, carrots, cherry tomatoes. You can put them in a big bag and pass them around. 

Fruits are great for travel, too. Their naturally occurring packaging makes them easy to handle. Fruits provide hydration because they are water dense. They seem like a treat because they are sweet, yet they are full of fiber, vitamins and nutrients. 

Most supermarket fruit is extremely under ripe, so think several days ahead. Whatever you leave in a brown paper bag in the car will naturally ripen. Putting a few apples in the bag is a great idea, because they expel a gas that helps other fruits and veggies ripen. Apples are also appetite suppressants, especially good when you have a long trip and don’t want to to stop a lot for meals or you feel you are ingesting more calories than you can burn on days when you need to mostly be in the car.
You wil save lots of money if you pack a cutting board and one big sharp knife to do the cutting up yourself. Pre-cut over-packaged fruits and veggies are tremendously more expensive. A jar of peanut butter from one of those machines that freshly grinds the peanuts is a good companion to the fruit, because it adds flavor and protein.Try not to eat regular processed peanut butter. Often a tremendous amount of sugar is added, plus hydrogenated fat, because manufacturers don’t want the peanut oil to separate. Get the natural one from the machine where you can and stir it when you need to. It’s good to get the kids accustomed to things that aren’t loaded with sugar. 

Additionally, I like raw nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seeds for travel. They pack a lot of energy. If nuts are “roasted”, there is a lot of bad, added fat and the naturally occurring fat changes in structure to be very unhealthy. Salted is ok because its plain table salt, not a sodium chemical compound, but do be sure the nuts and seeds are raw. 

Google ahead and find out where on your path the local farmer’s markets meet. Most urban areas have a market set up nearly every day. Its a good place to meet locals and shop for vine or tree ripened fruit that is organic and local. If you also bring a cooler, you can spring for a bag of ice a day (99cents) and keep the ripe stuff fresh, and things like milk and cheese fresh, too. 

You might also find some tuna with flip top lids to eat right out of the can. Every thrift store has old silverware. I recommend getting a cheap set for each passenger, that will be used again and again. If you spring once for Voss water, which is available in glass bottles that fit nicely in car cup holders, you can refill that same bottle again and again over the whole trip, which will be quite a savings. I’ve recently taken to putting a sprig of mint, basil or thyme in my water bottle. Just that little bit of flavor has me hydrating more. Maybe a lemon or a few cherries would do on the road.  Then you won’t be temped to drink sodas along the way and overall, the glass is a much better option than plastic. It doesn’t matter how hot it gets, you won’t be infusing petroleum into the water you drink. Particularly soft plastic bottles in summer are not recommended in hot cars. Just be sure to wash out the bottle every few days with soap water and fill it up for free everyplace you can.
Lastly, bring a big blanket and opt for setting out your own spread in a local park for a picnic. After long hours on the road, its good to get some fresh air and stretch out, instead of sitting in a restaurant.
I hope all of that helps you keep slim, perky and in a good emotional state. Happy travels!
If you want to donate to Christina and her family’s trip, please go to the Start.ac crowd funding site. The Enlightened Cook will have a project there very soon, too!

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.

Download the new ebook, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees

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New ebook! Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees

Just in time to re-inspire those fading New Year’s resolutions of eating a healthier diet, The Enlightened Cook: Protein Entrees is here!  Available now for just $3.99 as a PDF download, this ebook is full of the delicious protein you crave. (Use the Buy it for $3.99 button on the right column of this blog. You can use your Paypal account if you like or just let the Paypal’s secure on-line credit card processing  do a normal credit or debit card transaction.)
In Protein Entrées, you can choose from international favorites like creamy Chicken Korma and zesty Shrimp Curry in a Hurry. New tricks reinvent old favorites with Vertical Roasted Chicken and Porterhouse Steak with Caramelized Onions and Portobello Mushrooms. Confidently create perfectly moist, delicious salmon, tuna and halibut entrees to add those healthy omega 3 fatty acids to your diet. Step-by-step instructions inspire even the kitchen novice with the confidence to prepare the leanest Roast Duck or incredibly succulent Portuguese Whole Snapper with White Grape Sauce. Even Pork Loin Florentine is surprisingly lean and packed with nutrients.
Among the protein-rich recipes and tantalizing photos, Marlon informs with enlightening tips on technique, nutrition and holistic sensibilities. Every recipe is completely devoid of artificial ingredients, so there are no synthetic horomones, antibiotics, artificial preservatives or colorings–just pure, wholesome delicious food! You’ll effortlessly learn how to buy the purest, most fortified ingredients at the market, how to retain their freshness and nutrients, understand which food products and cookware to avoid. Creating nutrition-packed meals is easy — no more fad diets! Change your perception of health food forever!

Call for recipe testers for Pulled Chicken Molé

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Pulled Chicken Molé cropped

Saucy, luscious Pulled Chicken Molé with secret ingredient, cocoa powder

Hello People,

I’m working hard on finishing the first volume of the Enlightened Cook: Entrees.  Here is one recipe on which I’d love some feedback. What I generally ask of my recipe tests to provide feedback on the clarity of  the directions, accuracy of the measurements (i.e. too much salt? enough oil?). In the case of this terrific recipe, what I need in addition is info on how accurate the timing of each step was:

How long did it take at the given temperature to initially cook the chicken breasts so that they were slightly pink inside?

Was 2 minutes enough to sufficiently break down the tomato at the end into a smooth sauce?

I am considering instead instructing readers to add the tomato and then add the cocoa powder a few minutes later.  It’s really important the cocoa powder is not scalded or truly it ruins the sauce. (I’ve tasted that overcooked taste soooo many times in Mexican restaurants.)

So here is the recipe and a note on brining that will appear on that page of the book. Pulled chicken Molé is a recipe I truly love for it’s utterly unique yet unidentifiable flavor.

Pulled Chicken with Mole Sauce

3 cups vegetable stock
1 pound boneless chicken breasts
2 T olive oil
1 cup minced onion
2 t crushed garlic
1 t coriander
1 t cumin
1 t chili powder
1 t cinnamon
¾ t sea salt
1 t powdered arrowroot or kudzu
2 T cocoa powder
1 cup extra-ripe fresh tomato

Simmer chicken cutlets in the vegetable stock in a 2-quart pot until only the center remains slightly pink, approximately 5 minutes. Reserve the stock in a bowl and place the chicken breasts on a cutting board.

Mince the onions and the garlic and sauté them in the olive oil in the same pot on a medium heat.  When the onions are translucent, but not brown, add all the spices and cook for 1 minute as you stir with a wooden spoon. Then add ½ cup of the reserved stock. Slowly sift in the flour to the rest of the stock, then stir the mixture into the pot a little at a time. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes to reduce the liquid, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce cooks down, tear the cooled chicken into shredded pieces about 1 ½” inches long and ½” thick with your fingers.

When sauce has thickened to consistency of heavy cream, remove it from the heat and puree with a pistol-style hand blender until it smooth (or puree in a blender.) Stir in the cocoa powder. Add the tomato, which has been cut into ½” cubes. Add the chicken and stir well to coat the chicken evenly. Gently reheat on a medium-low heat for  2 minutes to finish cooking the center of the chicken pieces. Do not boil or the cocoa will make the sauce bitter. Serve with soup spoons in deep bowls to savor every drop!

To brine or not to brine;
That is the question
By all means, if you have the prep time, brine! This technique adds moisture to all kinds of red meat and poultry. It’s especially great for lean protein such as turkey, which tends to dry out when cooking. To brine add a handful of salt to a bowl of water and stir to dissolve. Add spices, if you like. Submerge the flesh and cover the bowl before refrigerating. An hour has a good effect. A day is terrific. Three days seems to work fine, because the salt kills much of the bacteria , which deters spoilage. If you brine, be sure to use no additional salt directly on the flesh.

Magnificent Spinach Pie

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EC Blog Posts

1/20/10

Spanakopita: Magnificent Spinach Pie

See video at bottom of post!

Spinach Pie

If 3 Greeks are any indicator this crowd pleaser recipe is one worth saving for generations to come! I guarantee it will be the freshest, most vibrant, bursting with goodness and flavor spinach pie you’ve ever had.

Greek #1: Gratefully, my close friend’s sister gave me her grandmother’s recipe, though I quickly baulked at the instruction to use thawed, frozen, wrung out spinach. Blasting I said I was quite sure “the ancient Greeks did not use frozen spinach” and commented that the recipe was probably created in the 1950′s when using frozen vegetables was commonplace. I openly vowed to augment and improve it with more wholesome ingredients, which frankly did not go over very well. Yet I remained determined to apply the same holistic sensibilities I do to each of my recipe and created an updated, vibrant recipe that’s worthy of inclusion in my upcoming book!

Greek #2: My client, Paul from Professorit.com, hired me to host a bunch of cooking segments.  Not realizing he was of Greek decent and had probably had countless spanakopita made for him by family members, I planned to make the spinach pie in one of our video segments. Several friends had already flipped for this nutrient-packed recipe, so I remained confident. At 11pm, we wrapped the shoot and he tasted it. Low and behold, he said it was “the best spinach pie” he’d ever had! Eureka!! I was vindicated!!

Greek #3:  Jason, who is a student through my yoga DVDs is standing by now for this recipe.  Originally from Cyprus, his entire family are apt to be discerning tasters.  So Jason, this is for you.  Sincere hopes you and your family enjoy it as much as my friends and I have.

Spanakopita: Magnificent Spinach Pie

4 cups coarsely chopped fresh spinach (approx. 1 bunch)
2 T (approx. 20 fresh mint leaves)
¼ cup flat leaf parsley
8 oz feta cheese
2 eggs
8 sheets of filo dough
1 T butter
¾ t sea salt
½ t fresh ground black pepper to taste
¾ T + 1t sesame seeds
¼ t poppy seeds

Defrost the filo dough at room temperature for 30 minutes without removing the plastic wrapper.

Place a pie plate or shallow casserole dish in the oven and set to 375º.

Snap off the large stems as you wash the fresh spinach thoroughly in a colander with cold water, removing all the sand. Gently pat the spinach leaves very dry with a cotton dishcloth.

Remove the heated pie plate to a heat safe surface like a wooden cutting board and quickly add ½T butter to the heated pie plate. When the butter melts, spread it evenly around the bottom, sides and over the lip of the plate with a pastry brush or paper towel. Place 4 sheets of filo dough in the pie plate. If the plate is round, cut overhanging edges off with a scissor, retaining an extra ½” all the way around so the crust does not shrink smaller than the plate. Retain any cut pieces. Prick the filo dough with a fork so it doesn’t puff up while baking and return the plate to the oven. Allow it to bake for approximately 10 minutes. When the dough becomes very crisp, but not yet brown, remove it from the oven. Place the remaining ½T of butter in a small ramekin or oven-safe cup to melt in the hot oven for the top of the pie.

Beat Eggs

Beat Eggs In A Large Bowl

As the filo bakes, beat eggs in the bottom of a large bowl.  Finely chop the parsley and mint. Use the parsley stems, but discard the mint stems. Add spinach to the pile and continue to chop coarsely to large 1” pieces. Add the chopped ingredients to the bowl and crumble the feta into ½” pieces over it with your hands.  Add the salt, pepper and ¾T of the sesame seeds. Lightly toss the ingredients until well mixed, being careful not to crush the spinach.

Spinach, Feta and Egg Mixture

Spinach, Feta and Egg Mixture

Blind Baked Filo with Spinach Mixture

Blind Baked Filo with Spinach Mixture

Lightly place a mound of the spinach mixture into the pie plate or casserole dish, on top of the cooked filo dough.  Nudge the mixture with a fork toward sidewalls of the baking dish.

Spinach Pie with top filo layer

Spinach Pie with top filo layer

Place any reserved scraps of filo dough in an even layer on top of the spinach. Cover these with four un-separated sheets of filo dough. Trim with a scissor leaving ¾” of dough all the way around the dish.  Carefully tuck the raw filo under the lip of the cooked under layer of filo for a neat and finished edge. Remove the melted butter from the oven and brush the top layer with it, especially around the edges.  Sprinkle the poppy seeds and remaining sesame seeds on top of the buttered filo dough and return the pie dish to the oven.

The finished pie

The finished pie

Bake for 35-45 minutes or until well browned. If the top crust is browning too quickly, place a sheet of aluminum foil across the top. Ovens vary, so after check periodically for doneness after 30 minutes baking time.

Slice of Spinach Pie

Photos and text Copyright 2008-2010 Marlon Braccia