life lately: pups, smoothies, and lots of work

puppies!

I was once part of a turtle rescue in Prospect Park. It was a Friday and I walked the length of the park when I encountered a large turtle crossing the bike pathway, making its way to the street. Right before the encounter, I saw a man shove another turtle in a bag and I shouted at him as he walked out of the park. All of this was odd–the man in a cloth hat, a random turtle in Brooklyn–and I paused, unsure of what to do. As luck would have it, a woman riding her bike stopped and told me that she’d just a job at an animal reserve, and we stood as she tried calling her boss to find out what we should do with said turtle. For an hour, we guarded the creature amidst catcalls from boys on bikes and strange looks from passersby. Finally, the woman got through to her boss and promised she would foster the turtle for the night until proper arrangements could be made. The woman and I exchanged numbers and she walked, turtle in tow, back to her Coney Island apartment.

I followed up with the woman on the bike and she sent me photos of the turtle at the reserve. Safe. Seemingly happy.

I love animals, irrationally so. My pop and I used to joke that we preferred animals over people because animals don’t know artifice–they’re primal in their wants and honest about their affection. I’ve always had a pet, cats mostly, and I regarded every one of them as part of my family. Long-time readers know how devasted I was when I lost my Sophie in 2013. Even though she paw-swatted, hissed and had her way with my carbs, I adored her. At the time, I couldn’t fathom having another pet, and then I met Felix, my sweet boy, and I often joke that he’s a dog in a catsuit. Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting him a companion. The shelter, from where I adopted Felix, warned me not to get another cat because Felix experienced early trauma in a multi-cat household and became an alpha feline. I couldn’t imagine Felix hurting anyone (he doesn’t even hiss!) until a dog entered our home (long story), frantic, and Felix made sounds I never conceived he could make. Recently, I’ve been talking to local shelters and animal behaviorists, and it is possible to introduce a new pet, but the integration would have to be mindful, slow and it’ll require a great deal of my time. I’m saving $ for a money to a small home where I could have a little yard so that Felix would roll around in the grass (#goals, etc), and I’ve been thinking about adopting a young dog.

So when my friend Alexis text’d me with a photo of a puppy pile and a message that she was fostering 7 pups and one mom until Sunday, I replied back, inviting myself over. Alexis is this incredible human, and she’s been working with Social Tees NYC, an animal rescue, to foster dogs–even from Los Angeles! If you’re one of my unlucky followers on Instagram or Snapchat (I’m @felsull!), I spammed you with an endless stream of puppy videos, because when you’re with cuteness for three hours you tend to cuddle with one hand and snap photos with the other.  I actually fell for the mother, a pup with fox ears and a mean little strut, and I told Alexis that I would be interested in adopting her when she’s ready to be weened from her pups in three months time. And even if I don’t get this pup, at least I’ll have time to research how to acclimate Felix with a new friend without him going on rein of terror. (Any thoughts/advice are welcome)

I’m still baffled that these pups were in a kill shelter. They’re so sweet and beautiful and if you don’t fall in love after feeling their small hearts beat in your hand, you’re the worst kind of animal.

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I arrived in California, fit and healthy, and over the course of seven months, all of my hard work from the past year went asunder. I ate baguettes slathered in butter. I ordered personal pizzas on the regular. Cheese became my primary food group. A bottle of wine a day was par for the course. And then I went into therapy, got on meds, regained my sanity, got off the sauce, re-entered the world, scored two amazing projects, and decided to get my health back on track. After enduring a skin blitzkrieg (raised burning hives, anyone?) and a skin reaction that followed as a result of the medication to alleviate the hives, I made some rapid changes in my diet and life. I nixed gluten and dairy from my life (although I do have small amounts of cheese a week), I resumed blitzing my morning protein smoothie, replaced all my household cleaning products and skin products with ingredients I could read. Greens resumed their role as the headliner rather than the backup dancer on my plate, and I’ve returned to my meditation and exercise practices. Again, this is not about being skinny or depriving myself of food, this is about making it to 90 (isn’t this woman INCREDIBLE?) and still be spunky and aware, and have the ability to punch people in the face if I needed to. So I’m returning to healthy eats and I’ll be sharing recipes on this space.

Want this yum recipe? Get it here.

blueberry smoothie
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mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

Meatloaf never makes for a pretty picture, no matter how many pressed linens or bone china plates you add to the mix. It’s sloppy, messy, brown and red (tough colors to photograph), but it’s the kind of mess I like. It’s the juices-running-off-your-chin messy. It’s the I-got-chorizo-all-over-my-shirt (this actually happened) messy. Meatloaf is the kind of food you eat standing up, fork digging into the loaf pan, mixing moistened meat with scalding sauce. It’s the kind of food that will stink up your refrigerator, but who cares? No one should judge you for the contents of your fridge.

Most of the week I’m crazy busy, but I reserve Saturdays for “me” time. Now this isn’t the sort of time I use to get perfunctory work or errands done because I consider that work, rather it’s a day when I read long books, watch good movies, bake meat in loaf pans and take copious pictures of my cat pressing his vanilla paws into his face. However, lately, I’ve also been using it as a means to learn something new each week. This week a friend (and colleague) taught me how to use Snapchat, a non-intuitive platform that I abhorred using for a while. An old friend from New York and I chatted via Skype yesterday while she taught me sophisticated ad targeting techniques. Another friend taught me how to take better pictures (I’m still learning). And yet another friend reminded me about being patient, how to play the long game when it comes to my life and career. Not all of us have the means or privilege to “hunt down our passion” or “quit our day job”, but there exists nobility in finding purpose in the work that you do and then making time for the things you love to do that don’t necessary yield profit.

During my recent financial crisis, where I was living off my credit card and frightened of eviction, some of my friends suggested I monetize this space. I have a fair amount of traffic and readers and I could make some decent change by adding affiliate links to the books I suggest since I tend to read a lot of them. I thought about this, albeit briefly, and shook my head no, not because I was taking a moral high ground, but rather it would make this space work. Making everything about work takes the joy out of the pursuit. Or to put it bluntly, Lenny Kravitz learned from Prince that”[e]verything isn’t for business. It’s for the sake of doing it. It’s about the art, the moment, the memory and the experience.” While I’m not suggesting I create art on the level of Prince on this space, I do get a great deal of joy coming here without the burden of being beholden to people or feeling frightened that I’m not making as much money as I should. I don’t come here with the intention of creating posts that will generate more traffic (I mean, come on, I write 1,000-word posts that have nothing to do with meatloaf). I come here because sharing the food I make, the books I read, the experiences I endured make me happy in a way that’s difficult to describe.

Yesterday, I focused on learning and taking care of myself. I made meatloaf, and while you’d hesitate in wanting to take its picture, this is the kind of meal you want to be eating.

I have a hectic few weeks ahead of me, and I keep saying to myself: take care, take care, take care.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook, modified slightly
1 pound ground beef, make sure this has 80% fat or your meat will dry out
1 pound chorizo
1 red bell pepper, dice
1 shallot, minced
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 tablespoon garlic powder
1⁄2 tablespoon onion powder
1⁄2 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup blanched almond flour
1 large egg
1⁄4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 cups salsa of choice, divided
DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. The original recipe doesn’t make the following notation, but trust me, it will save you agony later on. Layer the pan with a sheet of parchment paper that hangs a few inches off the sides. This will help when you want to remove your boiling hot loaf from the pan without an epic collapse.
In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the salsa. Press the mixture firmly into the prepared loaf pan. Pour 1 cup of the salsa on top of the meatloaf. Bake for 1 hour to 1hr 15 minutes until the meat is completely cooked through in the middle. Remove the meatloaf from the oven, top with the remaining 1 cup of salsa, and garnish with extra cilantro.

making mexican meatloaf

mexican meatloaf

homemade fennel apple sausage…on a pizza

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

I’ve been holed up in my home the entire weekend working, and  trust me, I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m the happiest I’ve been in months. Last week, I had a wonderful dinner party where my friends and I toasted our successes on my balcony. I onboarded a new client, sent out a contract for a second client and met a woman who’s the epitome of extraordinary. Come Friday I took a long nap and woke Saturday ready to get to work. When you’ve spent months without work as I have, you become grateful for employment. You stop complaining about the work because you realize, in the absence of it, you’re privileged to have it. So I read through 35 files, analyzed data reports, and compiled findings that will lay the groundwork for my client’s marketing strategy.

But a woman’s gotta eat.

Since I now have to return to a life free of dairy and gluten, I’m returning to reinvention–I stocked up on cauliflower, blitzed my morning smoothies, and pored through my cookbooks to discover recipes that are filling and wholesome. Over the past five months, I slipped into purchasing convenience foods and frozen Amy’s enchiladas because I’m making food for one and convenience doesn’t equate to costly. Now that my life is a little more stable, I’m able to control what comes into my home and what goes into my body, and I’m the better for it.

This pizza was SO GOOD that I didn’t even miss the cheese. And quite frankly, you don’t need to put cheese in your pesto if the herbs are fresh and fragrant. After a few slices, I feel confident to crawl back into round two of work.

No complaints. Always grateful.

P.S. You might have noticed that my posts lately have been a little shorter. Bear with me as I get accustomed to my new work schedule.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Juli Bauer’s Paleo Cookbook
For the sausage
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 pound ground pork
½ red apple, diced
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp fine sea salt
½ tsp ground sage
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp dried rosemary
¼ tsp black pepper
3 tbsp butter, ghee, or coconut oil

For the crust
I love making pizza crust and you can make an amazing gluten free one using this recipe. Since I’m crazy busy today, I purchased a gluten-free crust from the market.

For the parsley chive pesto
You can find the recipe here.

For the additional toppings
1/2 cup bacon, roughly chopped
1/4 lb ground beef

DIRECTIONS
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the fennel seeds for no more than 5 minutes, until fragrant. Place all the ingredients except the coconut oil in a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Divide the sausage mixture into 8 patties and flatten them between your hands. In a large cast-iron skillet (I don’t have one so I used a large non-stick skillet) over low heat, melt the butter. Add 3 or 4 patties to the pan and cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side, until golden brown and cooked through. Keeping the heat on low will help cook the inside of the patties without burning the outside. Patience is key here.

While this is going on, preheat the oven to 425F. Pre-bake your crust (regardless if you’re getting a store-bought crust or making the gluten-free one I made last week) for 10 minutes. Remove the crust from the oven, briefly, and set aside.

Once you’re done with the sausage, use the fat from that pan to brown the bacon and sausage. Drain and set aside with the patties.

Make the pesto per the instructions. Add the pesto to the pre-baked crust. Crumble up 4-5 of the sausage patties, and add the bacon and ground beef to the crust. Bake the pizza for another 10-12 minutes until the crust is lightly browned and the meat is glossy and sizzling.

Add some fresh parsley to the top and chow down!

homemade apple fennel sausage

homemade apple fennel sausage
homemade apple fennel sausage

gluten free pizza with homemade apple sausage, ground beef and bacon

the captain awesome dinner party, chrissy teigen style

pasta a la norma chrissy teigen cookbook

Last night was a photograph worth taking. Ten incredible women feasted on cheesy pasta, brussels sprouts salad and grilled chicken and kale salad. I planned the party last month before I secured two incredible projects. Before my life resumed any sense of normalcy. Sending out the invites was a bet on myself, on my comeback. So much of my life feels tethered to the east coast, and last night was the first time I feel as if I’d established roots. I was surrounded by mostly New York transplants–people who wanted a different kind of life, women who wanted to break ranks without breaking themselves down–and it felt good to see my friends trade numbers and friend one another on Facebook. It felt good to have my friends Merrill and Meghan linger after everyone had left and we talked about the New York we used to know and the women we were a decade ago.

I take none of this for granted.

While I slowly work to pay down my debt, repay my friends, and get some semblance of a real budget in order (I’ve resolved that this will be the year I get my proverbial house in order, I’m making it my point to help as many people as I can. Experiencing random acts of kindness from friends and strangers saved me, and I want to be able to share that compassion and kindness with anyone whom I can help.

To be honest, I’m exhausted, but I wanted to share the culinary highlight of the evening–Chrissy Teigen’s pasta a la Norma. I passed around Teigen’s cookbook and everyone paged through the recipes and called out their favorites while feasting on this cheesy dish. And while I couldn’t eat a bite, it made happy to see my friends fawn over this dish. It made my night seeing them leave, stomachs full, new friends made.

It’s good to be home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
For the eggplant:
1 cup olive oil
2 1/2 pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes

For the baked ziti:
1 pound ziti or penne pasta (with ridges)
Perfect Tomato sauce (recipe below)
2 cups goat cheese
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella (buffalo)
1 cup basil leaves (hand torn)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce:
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
3 1/2 pounds juicy ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

DIRECTIONS
For the eggplant
In a large skillet or a wide soup pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When you can see little waves in the oil, carefully add the eggplant and sprinkle on the salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and cook stirring once in a while, until the eggplant is soft and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

For the baked ziti
While the eggplant is cooking in a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the ziti to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Preheat the oven to 400F. Add the eggplant (and any oil from the skillet) to the pasta along with the tomato sauce, goat cheese, two-thirds of the mozzarella, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Dump the mixture into a large baking dish and top with the rest of the mozzarella, gently pressing the pieces into the pasta.Bake until golden and bubbling, about 1 hour. Let stand for 5 before serving.

For the Perfect Tomato Sauce
In a 4 quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until translucent and beginning to turn golden, about 13 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and then 1 minute longer. Add the tomatoes, oregano, thyme, remarry, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens slightly, 25 to 30 minutes for fresh tomatoes, 20 to 25 minutes for canned.

brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook
cooking from chrissy teigen's cookbook
grilled chicken kale salad
brussels sprout salad chrissy teigen cookbook

cookbooks worth coveting: a roundup

cookbooks

I own a lot of cookbooks–so much so that before I moved to Los Angeles I had a massive purge because books are HEAVY and expensive to cart across the country. Many of my books were acquired in 2002 when I started making things as a means to occupy my hands. At the time, I was recovering from one of many addictions and I needed to create something from nothing instead of pillaging everything in my wake. My first cookbook was Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess, where I learned how to make simple cakes and loaves. My experiences boiled down to a lot of trials, but mostly error, and let’s not talk about the time I used confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated in a cheesecake and say we did. Ina, Martha, Tyler, Giada–as my prowess grew so did my library. For nearly a decade, I identified myself as a baker of towering cakes and flaky pastries until a few years ago when a sickness ravaged my body and I had to gut renovate my diet.

That’s when the exploration really began.

My diet was paleo with grains, gluten-free vegan with meat–essentially, there was a hodgepodge of foods I could eat and a lot I couldn’t. My mainstays–pasta, paninis, muffins, and croissants had to be replaced with almond milk, nut creams, cauliflower and copious amounts of legumes and vegetables. The adjustment was a difficult one, and I purchased many cookbooks that inevitably gathered dust. I had to replace sugar and carbs with good fats and flavor, and it took me a while to regard my new batch of books without skepticism.

After last week’s burning hive assault (and my closing on a new project), I found myself returning to the cookbooks I’d briefly abandoned because over the past six months I’d slowly become addicted to cheese and yogurt and now those foods are verboten. Back to the drawing board, as it were.

Cookbooks these days are REALLY hit or miss. Many are published without the rigor of recipe testing or basic copyediting. Faulty measurements, obscure ingredients, and a bland finale often had me wanting to hurl my books out of the closest open window. Believe me when I say that these books are the BUSINESS.

The Paleo Kitchen: The only reason this fine book wasn’t included in the photo above is because I took the picture at 6:30am and I didn’t realize it wasn’t included until I started writing this post. Let me tell you, Juli Bauer’s book had me changed on the uber-trendy paleo lifestyle simply because the recipes are GOOD. The recipes are pretty easy to make (except for a cinnamon bun recipe that was lackluster), and most of the ingredients are probably in your pantry or easily accessible at your local market. Some of my favorites are the: sundried tomato sweet potato hash, sweet plantain guacamole, sage & shallot soup, pumpkin tomato soup, rosemary sundried tomato meatballs (WHOA), spaghetti squash chicken fritters (my top pick of the lot). I’ve made 70% of the recipes in The Paleo Kitchen and I was so pleased I purchased Bauer’s follow-up book, Paleo Cookbook.

The Oh She Glows Cookbook: After the purge of 2015, I now have about 50 cookbooks, and this one is in the top five. I LOVE THIS BOOK. As a proud carnivore, I’ve given a lot of vegan books the side-eye because I’m not a fan of faux meats or the idea that meat can be recreated, however, Liddon developed the most imaginative, tasty recipes. From her, I learned about using tofu and avocado in smoothies, desserts, and as a substitute for cream. I still think about my creamy avocado basil pesto pasta and faux vodka sauce made with cashew cream (so surprisingly good!). I made crave-worthy veggie burgers and a slew of soups, salads and main courses that won over the most discerning palates.

A Modern Way to Eat // At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen: Perhaps it’s the design of the books or the photography, but I use these two clean-eating tomes interchangeably and often. A Modern Way delivers wholesome, flavorful vegetarian recipes including green fritters (LOVED these), the perfect chili, squash tarts, pizza, hummus a million ways, chickpea and veg stews and some of the tastier desserts I’ve encountered. Judging by the markings in At Home in the Whole Food, I use this book a bit more. This is the book on which I relied to build and outfit a whole food pantry. Grains and legumes are discussed in excruciating detail, and I came away with a great deal of knowledge about the food I was about to consume (as well as the corresponding health benefits). From the simple red lentil soup and blackberry cornmeal muffins to the best cherry coconut granola you’ll ever make–the recipes are filling, complex and delightful. I’m loath to use the word marvelous, but you’ll feel a sense of wonder paging through the book. I’ve made over 50% of the recipes in this book and I’ve yet to encounter a flop.

Cravings: FML with this book. Of course, this book came into my life the very week I had to stop consuming dairy. Many of the recipes contain cheese and you will weep salty dairy tears. I wouldn’t dare say that this book is healthy by any stretch of the imagination, but the recipes are drool-worthy. You will want to make all the food and lick all the plates. I’ve made four dishes out of the book pretty successfully, and I’m trying to devise ways to manipulate the recipes for my palate. I’ve found that nuts + nutritional yeast + seasonings evoke the flavor of spicier cheeses even if I know in my heart that the alternative pales in comparison to the original. I’m having a dinner party this week and I’m making the brussels sprout + kale salads as well as the eggplant baked ziti with mozzarella bombs. I plan on staring at my friends while they feast on fried eggplant and cheese while I toss around dairy-free pesto pasta on my plate. SOB.

Kitchen Stories: My friend Denise Hung, culinary pro and astute coffee connoisseur, is one-half of the genius duo who authored this great book. I met Denise while I was in Singapore last year and it was heart-at-first-sight. The book centers recipes around certain moods and emotional states, and although you’ll have to master the metric system (there exists no U.S. version of this book), the simple and delectable recipes are worth the stretch.

when your friend is sick, you make chicken soup

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My friend Amber is in town for a long weekend, and having her here has been a needed respite from the daily financial anxiety which is my life. We drove to a secluded beach in Malibu after we ordered piles of fish tacos and cheeseburgers, and walked along the shore in Santa Monica. Amber arrived with a scratch in her throat and in two days time found herself run down with a horrible cold. Yesterday we spent the day watching season one of The O.C., and talking, and it was honestly one of the best days I’ve had in a long time. At one point she admitted that she still can’t believe I live in Los Angeles. Yeah, I thought. Sometimes I can’t believe it either. But I’m here and I wake to seagulls and fall asleep to quiet and I’m hoping, praying (even though I’m atheist) that I won’t be forced to have it any other way.

While Amber made a makeshift home on the couch, I refused her requests for Panera soup in favor of making her something homemade because she’s been such a beautiful friend to me over the past few months when my life has been filled with omnipresent darkness, that fixing up a bowl of chicken noodle soup was the least I could do. I haven’t cooked meals that take longer than 20 minutes in some time, so it was nice to stand over the stove and linger. Even if it was skimming fat off the surface of the soup.

So we spent the day like that, she on the couch sipping soup and me in front of the stove inspired to make bolognese sauce. I’m sad that she’ll be leaving tomorrow because this reprieve has been wonderful.

After Monday, I’ll go back waiting for emails, waiting for work, hoping I won’t default on all my loans come April. Until then, there’s always soup.

INGREDIENTS
1 4lb whole chicken, try to get organic/local if you can
5 large carrots (I bought my carrots from the farmer’s market, and I tell you that buying local really did make a difference in the soup)
4 celery stalks
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 1/2 tsp of whole peppercorns
1 1lb of egg noodles
Salt/pepper, to season

IMG_8594

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot, add the chicken. Dice 3 of the carrots and 2 of the celery stalks into a 1-inch dice. Set the other carrots/celery aside. Add the three diced carrots, two diced stalks, quartered onion and peppercorns to the pot with the chicken. Add cold water until the chicken and vegetables are completely submerged. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, skimming the surface fat every ten minutes.

Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pot and set aside to cool. Strain the broth and add the vegetables and strained broth back into the pot. Add the egg noodles, bring to a boil, and cook for ten minutes.

Shred the chicken with two forks and add the meat to the cooked noodles and broth and serve immediately. Season with salt/pepper.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

pecan stuffed chicken breast

 

Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Daphne Brogdon, modified 
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus for drizzling
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 7 ounces each), butterflied*
1 tablespoon molasses, mixed with 2 teaspoons hot water
1 teaspoon ground fennel
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 medium shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup pecans, toasted, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
3 tablespoons safflower or grape seed oil
1 cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Half 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

*I asked my butcher (or the person at the meat counter at your market) to butterfly and even out the meat. It was way easier than doing this at home.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

DIRECTIONS
Lay out a 15-inch-long piece of plastic wrap on a cutting board and drizzle it with a little olive oil. Lay a butterflied chicken breast, cut side up, on the plastic wrap. Fold the plastic wrap over to cover. Using a meat pounder, pound out the thicker parts of the breast so that it’s uniformly thick. Fold the plastic wrap open and brush the chicken breast with the molasses; season with generous pinches of fennel, salt and pepper. (This will be the inside part of the breast that gets stuffed.) Fold the plastic wrap back over and flip the breast over. Fold plastic wrap open and season the other side of the breast with salt and pepper. (This is the outside that will later get seared in the pan.) Re-cover with the plastic wrap and place on a plate. Repeat this process with the remaining chicken breasts. Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to overnight.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt and pepper, and saute until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and pecans, and cook another 2 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook another minute. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

pecan stuffed chicken breast

Remove a butterflied breast from the plastic wrap. Place it on a cutting board, molasses-side up. Place 1/4 cup of the filling on half of the chicken breast. Fold over the other half to enclose the filling. Using a bamboo skewer, close up the opening by threading the skewer through one end of the opening to the other to secure. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and filling.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed chicken breasts and cook for about 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Add the wine, chicken broth and crushed tomatoes. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and poach until the chicken is cooked through, another 8 minutes.

Pecan stuffed chicken breast.

Transfer the chicken to a plate, remove the skewers, cover the chicken with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. While chicken is resting, turn up the heat on the poaching liquid to medium, add the crushed red pepper, and let simmer until thickened and reduced by a third, about 5 minutes (I did it for 15 because I wanted it really thick). Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Strain the sauce into a small pot and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Instead of the liquid, I used the tomato mixture as my dressing and it was glorious.

To serve: Slice the chicken, if desired, and arrange on a serving platter. Pour some sauce over the top. Serve immediately, with extra sauce on the side.

pecan stuffed chicken breast
pecan stuffed chicken breast

gluten-free blueberry waffles + morning memories

gluten-free blueberry waffles

You should know that today was the first time I smiled in months. Like full, open-mouthed smile. This is also my first time making waffles, and although I’ve made fancy French pastry and croissants, I never went the waffle route simply because I never owned a machine. I thought waffle machines (in the grander scheme of acquiring the bones of one’s kitchen) to be frivolous. It’s not an essential for the home cook like a food processor, good pots and measuring cups. However, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that while a waffle maker isn’t essential, it brings me immeasurable joy. Making these waffles reminds me of weekends spent in Connecticut with Liz, and how every Sunday morning I’d wake to her brewing coffee and making waffle batter. I’d sit between her two children, entertaining them while she cooked breakfast and macerated fruit. Always I asked for a second waffle, and Liz would smile and pull a hot one off the griddle. After, we’d drive to church, and although I believed in God less and less with the passage of each year, I admired her pastor and the way he used scripture to talk about the minor hurts and major cruelties we suffer. I admire Liz and the way her faith comforts her, and often I’d look over at her during service and feel a similar kind of comfort watching her steeped in her devotion.

I never told her how much I treasured this weekend ritual or the fact that her home felt like home even though we’re not related. I never told her how much she means to me, having known her for half of my life, but we don’t get sentimental that often. We’re sometimes impenetrable in our own ways. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we’ve remained close for this long–we love and respect one another despite our faults and differences.

I hadn’t thought of Liz until this morning. Until I plated these waffles and I was reminded of the sweep of her hair, the way she hugs, the way her friendship is a constant regardless of geography and age.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe via The Food Network, modified slightly.
1 cup rice flour
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1 cup almond milk
1/2 cup safflower oil, plus more for brushing waffle iron
2 large eggs, separated
1 cup fresh blueberries, use 1/2 cup for the batter and the remainder for the topping
Pure maple syrup, for topping

DIRECTIONS
Special equipment: waffle iron

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F (to keep cooked waffles warm). Whisk together the rice flour, chickpea flour, tapioca flour, sugar, baking powder, vanilla and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the milk, oil and egg yolks in another bowl. Beat the egg whites in a third bowl until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes.

Pour the milk mixture into the rice flour mixture and gently stir until just incorporated (it’s ok if there are some lumps). Fold in the egg whites. Gently fold in the blueberries

Lightly brush the top and bottom of the waffle iron with oil. Fill the waffle iron about three-quarters of the way full (some waffle iron should still be showing). Close the lid gently and cook until the waffles are golden brown and crisp, 6 to 7 minutes (or per the directions of your specific machine). Keep the cooked waffles warm in the oven or covered with foil on a plate while you make the remaining waffles.

Serve with fresh blueberries and maple syrup.

gluten-free blueberry waffles
gluten free blueberry waffle

chorizo-spiced squash soup

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The first movie I remember seeing as a child was The Shining, on a weekend when the rain came down persistent and in sheets. I didn’t understand what I was seeing, only that it was arresting, and that there was so much red all over the screen. I didn’t cover my eyes through the scary parts (or so I was told), rather I sat mute, transfixed, curious. Often I joke about how good I turned out, considering. But it occurs to me that I’m rarely able to stomach movies that people find popular. I slept through E.T., refused to see Star Wars and Indiana Jones, and anything that remotely resembled action, comedy or romance sent me fleeing in the opposite direction. I made exceptions for John Hughes movies, and anything involving Corey Haim, Robert Downey Jr., or Andrew McCarthy because who could refuse stories of teenaged angst, alienation, and rejection, or the current guys sprawled across the glossy covers of Teen Machine and The Big Bopper? I grew up without cable TV (too expensive, too frivolous), and by the time I got to college, there was so much vocabulary from contemporary entertainment I’d been missing.

Instead of quoting lines from Beavis & Butthead and Bill & Ted, I read books and watched movies that had been edited for television. I used whatever money I had to rent horror movies from video stores and when I wasn’t watching somebody getting mauled, I read from one of the many books I borrowed from the library. As I grew older I became interested in art (painting, illustrations, comics, sculpture), history, languages, and philosophy, and less interested in pop culture. Admittedly, this can make dinner conversations awkward because I haven’t seen the latest movie or streamed the latest “IT” show. So while everyone this weekend was prattling on about Star Wars (I’m sure it’s good, I’m just not interested), that Tina Fey/Amy Poehler movie (I don’t always find them funny), and another movie about white bros in finance, explaining finance (why bother, as I can just reply the three years I worked in banking?)–I discovered Queen of Earth.

I’ve already watched the film three times (it’s on Netflix streaming). At the foreground, we’re witnessing, to a claustrophobic degree, the psychological unraveling of Catherine (played brilliantly by Elisabeth Moss) after the loss of her two greatest co-dependent relationships: her artist father to suicide and her boyfriend to his freedom. Catherine spends the week in “exile” at her best friend Virginia’s summer home (Katherine Waterston’s quiet, chilling performance is a terrific foil for Moss’s downright feral unwinding), and we learn that only the ones we love truly have the capacity to damage us. While we observe Catherine’s fragile emotional state, we’re reminded, via flashback, to the previous summer, where the tables were turned and Catherine was a lesser friend to the suffering Ginny.

Everything about Queen of Earth awed me–from the smart writing to the performances and the haunting score, to its depiction of mental illness (the unbearable silences and suffocation of depression), and the terror one feels when friends are no longer a refuge. The feelings of confinement and loss struck me, and I’m finally, slowly, writing something new again. Though part of me wonders when I’ll feel “normal” again.

So this is me, making soup, writing stories, watching dark movies. Just like childhood only with a few more years tacked on for good measure.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from The Year of Cozy, with modifications.
1 acorn squash (2 1/2 pounds), halved, seeds scooped out*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15oz canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1 teaspoon salt + additional, to taste
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground coriander
Teeny pinch of ground cloves
3½ cups chicken stock
Juice from ½ lemon

*I opted to use 2 lbs of cubed butternut squash + 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper and I roasted the squash for 40 minutes. It made for less mess and easy cleanup, and the soup was delicious.

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SOUP TOPPING (optional, modified based on what I had on hand)
¼ cup sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of ground coriander
Salt
3 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the squash, cut sides down, on the baking sheet and roast for about 30-40 minutes, or until mostly tender. Scoop the flesh into a small bowl if you’re working with the acorn squash. If you went the pre-cut butternut squash route, set the baking sheet aside. There might be some bits of the squash that aren’t completely cooked–not to worry, the rest will cook in the pot with the broth.

In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cooked squash, pumpkin, chili powder, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin, coriander, and cloves. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.

Add the stock and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is completely softened. Using an immersion blender, pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds. (If you don’t own one, just transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender. Add salt/pepper to taste.

To make the soup topping: In a small skillet over medium heat, add the seeds, oil, chile powder, cumin, coriander, and a pinch of salt. Toss to combine and toast for about 2 minutes.

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silver dollar latkes

latkes

I’m a creature of habit, and twice a week I’d walk to Cobble Hill to take a megaformer class, but it was mainly a ruse for the latkes I would invariably hoover at Karloffa joint that I’m sure is now far fancier than it used to be. I loved the ritual of sitting down in a familiar place and ordering the same thing time and time again. Ritual delivers me calm, gives me a sense of home, and if you ask me what I miss about New York I’ll likely tell you that I miss latkes at Karloff. I miss ice cream at Ample Hills. I miss walking around Prospect Park while I played a single song on repeat. I miss repetition.

The folks at Karloff made superb latkes, and I would have them with a red pepper aioli sauce (don’t ask me because I loathe mayonnaise, but for some reason their aioli was golden) instead of the traditional sour cream and applesauce. Sometimes I’d have my latkes with a kale salad (when I was feeling semi-virtuous), but other times I would simply enjoy fried potatoes simply for the sake of having them. I miss that. Potatoes on a plate every Monday and Wednesday. Funny the things you miss. Funny the things that follow you months after you’re sure you’ve forgotten them.

Today I had plans to see an old friend and go to a fancy book thing, but I’m not yet ready for crowds and it’s supposed to rain (a rare treat in Southern California), so I decided to stay home and make latkes and watch movies. I decided to recreate one of the many things I loved about living in New York, a place I will always, fondly, call home.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from Bon Appetit, with modifications. This recipe makes 24 latkes, but I like mine hefty so I got about 15.
¼ cup almond meal
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
⅛ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
3 pounds russet potatoes (3 or 4), peeled
1 large onion
1 large egg
2 tablespoons olive oil (the original recipe called for schmaltz, and I know that olive oil doesn’t have a high heating point, but it worked just fine and I like the flavor it imparted on the latkes)
2 tablespoons (or more) vegetable oil

DIRECTIONS
Place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet; line with 2 layers of paper towels. Combine almond meal, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a small bowl.

Using the large holes of a box grater or a food processor, grate potatoes and onion. I’m not going to lie–I used a box grater and I got an arm workout. Transfer to a large kitchen towel. Gather ends of towel in each hand and twist over sink, wringing out as much liquid as possible. Open towel; toss mixture to loosen. Wring out again (excess moisture will lead to soggy latkes).

Transfer potato mixture to a large bowl; add almond meal mixture and egg. Toss with your hands to thoroughly combine.

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil and 2 tbsp. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Drop a small amount of latke mixture into skillet. If the fat sizzles around the edges, it’s ready (do not let it smoke). Working in 5 batches and adding more oil to skillet as needed to maintain about ⅛” fat, drop small spoonfuls of mixture into pan, pressing gently with the back of the spoon or a spatula to flatten slightly. Cook latkes, occasionally rotating pan, until golden brown and cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. (You may occasionally need to pick out stray potato bits from oil if they start to burn.)

Transfer latkes to prepared rack and let drain. Remove paper towels and bake latkes in oven until all are warmed through and re-crisped, about 5 minutes.

latkes

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double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

I’m turning 40 this week (Friday, to be specific), and for some reason, it’s all I can think about. I’ve been waxing nostalgic lately–listening to bands I loved in college (Nirvana, Pearl Jam–yes, I was into grunge and wore flannels and Docs) and watching movies from the 90s–a time when everyone considered the internet as this cute little fad that no one took seriously. We had brick phones and we worried that Y2K signified the end of days. We worshiped at the alter of Olestra and fat-free, and we started to realize that it was possible to drink for taste as opposed to pre-gaming to get wasted. [We still got wasted.]

I also think of that time as when I felt possibility. After graduating from college, I was frightened, excited yet filled with wonder. Anything was possible even if we were the generation jutting up against the boomers thinking we were different until we encountered the generation that followed, which proved to be really different (and remarkable). Two decades later I think about that time and how much I’ve learned, accomplished, endured and experienced in between and I feel like multitudes. Already, I feel the weight of my years, and this is a good thing because I’m okay with the fact that I’m no longer young. I come to this age with, what I’m realizing is, a different kind of wonder. Twenty years ago I wanted to be accomplished, achieved. I wanted escalating zeroes at the end of my paycheck; I wanted a title; I wanted degrees and other signifiers of success. Now, I see all of that for what it is–lacking. Accumulating things, ticking off items on a list doesn’t mean that I wake to purpose. An Ivy league education doesn’t necessarily guarantee fulfillment. I did what I thought I needed to do and I wake, quite literally, in the middle of my life and realize that I need something other.

I think about mortality in a way that’s less chilling but achingly real. And I keep returning to Oliver Sack’s essays because he was a man who felt his years. He was a man that lived his life with purpose, a man who went out seeking wonder, even as he lay dying. In “Sabbath”, Sacks wrote:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself.

In one of my favorite essays, “My Own Life”, he wrote:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers. Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

There exists so much bitterness, complacency, false idolatry, and fear in the world that it can smother you if you allow it. So I’m making a resolve from now until the end to wake every day and consider how I can create something meaningful without the desire for recognition or the remunerative rewards one seeks for what one makes. I plan to explore how I can continually find wonder, be surprised and surprise others, and how I can be as kind to myself and the ones I love as I can be.

For now, I’m making myself a pre-game birthday cake. Though, I forgot the 40 candles. Haha.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe from At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen, with modifications. If you live outside of the U.S., here is a metric version of the original recipe.
for the ganache
2 13.5 oz cans unsweetened full-fat coconut milk
1/4 cup maple syrup
5 tablespoons agar flakes (or 5 teaspoons of gelatin powder, if you’re not vegan or you’re like me, and couldn’t find agar flakes at my supermarket)
pinch sea salt
3 1/2 oz dark chocolate (70% cacao content), broken into pieces
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
4 teaspoons vanilla extract

for the cake
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, divided
2 cups whole spelt flour – divided
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup ground flax seeds (also known as flaxmeal)
1/2 cup melted extra virgin coconut oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup honey
1 teaspoon unpasteurized apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
4oz chopped semi-sweet chocolate (addition to original recipe)

for the filling (a simplified version of the original recipe)
3/4 cup cherry preserves
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

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DIRECTIONS
to make the ganache
1. Whisk together coconut milk, maple syrup, agar flakes and salt in a medium pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisk often. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, covered, whisking every 5 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, add chocolate and let it melt for 2 minutes in the covered pot. Whisk until smooth. Pour into a shallow bowl and allow to cool until it stops steaming. Put in the refrigerator for about 2 hours, or until cold and completely hard.
3. Roughly cut ganache into 1-inch pieces and add to a food processor with orange juice and vanilla. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary. Transfer to a container and refrigerate until cake is ready for frosting.

to make the cake
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Oil two 8-inch cake pans and line bottom of each with a parchment paper. Timing wise, I started the cake as soon as I cooled the ganache. After the cake cools for an hour, the ganache is ready and prime for spreading.
2. Add 2/3 cup of hazelnuts and 1/4 cup of spelt flour into a food processor and grind finely (takes about 30-45 seconds). Transfer into a medium bowl and sift in remaining 1 3/4 cups spelt flour, baking powder and baking soda. Stir to completely combine, set aside.
3. Whisk cocoa powder and boiling water until smooth in a large bowl. Add ground flax seeds, coconut oil, maple syrup, apple vinegar, vanilla and salt, whisk until thoroughly combined.
4. Add flour mixture to liquid ingredients and whisk to make a smooth batter. Fold in chopped chocolate. Divide the batter between prepared pans and bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

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to assemble the cake
1. Spread remaining 1 1/3 cups of toasted hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a rolling pin (or jar) crush with nuts slightly. Set aside.
2. Invert first layer on a cake stand or a plate. Remove parchment paper. Spread 1 cup of the ganache, leaving 1/2 inch untouched at the edges to avoid spillage when you layer the cakes. Add the preserves on top of the ganache and pomegranate kernels.
3. Invert second layer on top, and remove parchment paper. Frost top and sides and press the remaining hazelnuts along the top + sides. Keep in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. The cake is actually best served the next day to allow for all the flavors to meld and set.

double chocolate cherry hazelnut layer cake

kale, brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad

You can’t imagine how wonderful it feels to make healthy food after The Epic Sadness Q4 2015 (sometimes I need a little humor to shine a light in the darkest of situations). For weeks, I stared into an anemic refrigerator, unable to cook or bake with very rare exceptions. Instead, I ordered out and made recipes that required me only boil water. And for those who’ve been following my journey to eat mindfully, know that what you put in your body directly contributes to your emotional and physical well-being. So in an effort to turn the beat around, I made (and reserved the leftovers) a pound of chicken cutlets to accompany all sorts of recipes. My favorite dish is chicken cutlets breaded in almond meal and fried in a butter/oil mixture, topped with fresh cheese. I usually pair this with an arugula salad because I love the buttery chicken juxtaposed with the sharpness from the bitter greens. In a former life, I’d dump the chicken over pasta or macaroni and cheese (!!!) but I want to feel energized after every meal instead of falling into a catatonic state. A heaping serving spoon (or three) of pasta will do this to you.

This morning I woke early and decided to make a simple salad. If you would’ve asked me a year ago if brussels sprouts would be part of my salad repertoire, I would’ve accused you of smoking crack. I used to LOATHE the brussels sprouts, however, I think the taste is predicated on how you cook (or don’t cook) the vegetable. Now I love sprouts charred and roasted, topped with a little maple syrup, or served raw when it’s shredded and dressed in oil.

Know that I’m typing this forking salad into my mouth. Enjoy!

 

INGREDIENTS
For the salad
1lb brussels sprouts
3/4lb Lacinato kale
1/2 pomegranate seeds removed
Optional: 1 avocado, skin removed and roughly chopped

For the lemon mustard dressing
1 large shallot, roughly chopped
1/2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (or you can use 1/2 tbsp maple syrup)
Zest + juice of 2 small lemons
1/2 cup macadamia nut oil or olive oil
Salt/pepper to season

DIRECTIONS
First, make the dressing. Place the shallot, garlic, mustard, honey (or syrup), zest and juice into a small bowl. Mix until combined. [Here’s a captain obvious method for not getting seeds into your dressing: squeeze your lemon over a strainer.] Slowly whisk in the oil to emulsify the mixture. Essentially, your dressing should be creamy and pale blonde in color. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Honestly, the hardest part of making this salad is shredding the sprouts. Don’t use a box grater–I tried that and made a mess all over my counter. Instead, remove the outer skin layer and chop off the stems. Using a sharp knife, slice the sprouts thinly. Pull them apart and the look will resemble confetti. Add the shredded sprouts to a large bowl. Once you’re done, chiffon the kale and add them to the bowl of sprouts. Slice a pomegranate and remove the seeds. Mix in the pomegranate seeds, add the dressing and stir until all of the leaves are coated. I like to set this aside for 20 minutes so the flavors really come out. Chow down immediately after.

I had this salad with some leftover chicken.

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kale brussels sprouts + pomegranate salad
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