Monday, August 15, 2011

It's been a long December

Well, MANY things have changed since my last post. First, I no longer live in Switzerland. So to answer the next obvious question, Yes I'm keeping the blog title with the simple rationale that it was in the Swiss countryside that I developed my love of cooking for the first time.

Second, my diet has morphed over a million times and I have settled on healthy food - not strictly demanding any regime in excess. While 90% of the foods I'm eating these days is quite low in sugar and gluten free, I'll post whatever I find to be creative and tasty. It'll be a bit sporadic, but I always love sharing darn good food and ideas.

Speaking of damn good food, since my last post some 18 months ago I've been to Africa (Cairo, Accra, Kigali, Kampala, Nairobi...), back to Turkey, around Europe, and most recently China (Beijing, Shanghai). I am so grateful to have had too many colourful and novel experiences to list - but oh, the food. I will comment on those, and continue to use their influences as I scrap together grub for myself.

By moving country, changing places and faces, and changing my mindset entirely the biggest change is my mindset; I used to try to control everything and aim for perfection (in other words, I was a masochist :p) and now I realize we have to be good to ourselves and CONSCIOUSLY reach for enjoyment. You have to attend to it, to make room for it in your life. Pleasure is easy and fleeting; enjoyment requires effort and cuts deeper. If that sounds obvious to you, I applaud your wisdom and implore you to help me out...:)

One way I enjoyed my morning was by taking a great spin class, and then coming home to a great breakfast. I wanted to have a bowl of my delicious custom granola from me & goji, but with an indulgent weekend upgrade - it was Sunday morning! Enter the granola muffin. It was experimental, it could have flopped, but it didn't - and if you make it, you won't think so either.

Cinnamon-Granola Breakfast Muffin (low sugar, wheat free)- recipe for 1

3 T Granola* (pref. homemade)
2 T almond or soy milk, unsweetened
1 T soy flour
1 egg white
1/2 t of cinnamon
1 t ground flax
1/8 t baking powder
1 packet of Stevia (= two teaspoons of sweetener)
pinch of salt

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 175 C.

  • Grease 1 muffin tin with oil (I used SmartBalance spray).

  • Mix all the ingredients well and let it sit for about 10 minutes while the granola absorbs the liquid.

  • Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes.

  • Let it cool completely, gently remove, and enjoy.

  • I ate this with light butter on one half and almond butter on the other, with some berries on the side. Eat them however you'd like - because it is lightly sweet, you could omit the Stevia and eat it with eggs or meat. *The me & goji guys are sadly going out of business, which is a pity. There's still some time to order your custom artisanal cereal. My mix was wheat free granola (oats, walnuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds) with goji and dried blueberries.

    Nutrition per muffin: 218 calories, 21 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 8 g fat, 15 g protein (yes, 15!).

    Sunday, January 31, 2010

    Sesame Treats

    Cooking is an interesting art, and little makes a bigger difference for me than the space in which it takes place. In short, a familiar kitchen breeds more cooking. When I was home in New York, I had no problem going through the process of creating GF breads for the week or experimenting with nut purées. In my new place I'm slowly kindling a fondness for experimentation, but with work pressure these past few weeks I've been whipping up quick meals more often than not. Below is a sweet and healthy treat made with sesame seeds. These were inspired by the South Asian dessert of sesame balls which I served at my birthday party earlier this month. While tasty, they are made with glucose syrup and so not ideal for sugar sensitive (i.e. me).

    Sweet Sesame Mini-Bars

    1 cup white sesame seeds
    Stevia to taste (use a generous amount, I used 1 dropper of liquid Stevia)
    1 egg white
    1 T GF flour (I used chickpea)

    • Preheat the oven to 190 C/350 F.
    • Mix the seeds and spices (and powder Stevia if preferred.
    • Add the egg white and mix well.
    • Add the flour by teaspoon until the mixture binds.
    • Roll out panisse on baking paper until 1/4" thick. Use a knife to cut into small bars of any size you like.
    • Bake for 10 - 15 minutes until seeds begin to turn golden. Outer pieces will finish first; remove these as you go.

    Quick (& Gluten-Free) Noodle Soup

    Even though there's nothing in the winter like a mug of heissi schoggi (hot chocolate), a close second is a warm bowl of creamy soup. Watching the large flakes fall day and night throughout Zürich, I've been puréeing and simmering at least weekly. After stopping at the organic vegetable market at Helvetiaplatz I made a squash soup capped with some fresh cheese. I also made some spinach and cucumber soup (very green) with a dollop of labneh (Turkish strained yogurt). And tonight I threw together a quick noodle soup with ingredients from a local international foods market. Once you have the ingredients, all you need is 10 minutes to make this soup (no chopping involved)!

    Glass-Noodle Soup w/ Soy Dumplings

    750ml(about 3 cups) hot water
    3 t GF vegetable boullion
    1/2 cup dehrydrated soy balls*
    3 generous handfuls of dry glass (mung bean) noodles*
    2 - 3 T Braggs (or tamari sauce)
    1 t herbes de provence
    1/4 t ginger, ground
    1/4 t cumin
    1/4 t onion powder
    1/2 cup shredded vegetables (leeks, carrots, celery) - optional

    • Bring the water to a boil and stir in the boullion.
    • Add the soy balls, herbs and spices and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.
    • Add the Braggs, vegetables (if using), and glass noodles and allow to simmer for a further five minutes.
    • Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
    • Eat and slurp :)
    *I found the soy balls at a Sri Lankan grocer near other dried snacks such as roasted chickpeas. The glass noodles were there as well and should be available at most Asian markets (be sure to find the packets made from bean flour rather than wheat flour).

    Stay warm~ c*xx

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    New Year, New Flat!

    SO I've finally arrived back in Switzerland a few weeks ago, this time in the center of town with a new place and flatmate. I have to pinch myself: the place is really cool, as is she!! It made all the goodbyes somewhat easier. In fact this 'trendy' part of town is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Zürich. Exploring has been fun, with loads of restaurants, bars, and in walking distance the clubs :) Of course eating out here is incredibly expensive compared to New York. A nice Thai restaurant across the street charges 20 francs for soup. And the other day I had a buffet salad to go with my cappuccino to the tune of 18. I can't complain though, the quality is always excellent.

    I've also explored the various ethnic markets - picking up labneh at the Turkish market, pakora snacks at the Sri Lankan grocer - as well as the local farmer's markets. I finally found the German word for kale at an organic vegetable stall at the Helvetia market Tuesday morning (Federkohl). This inspired me to get back into cooking by making a nutritious lunch...

    Sautéed Kale with Broccoli & Red Beans

    200g kale
    1/2 small head of broccoli
    1/2 red onion
    1 clove garlic
    1 T olive oil
    1 T Bragg's liquid aminos (or tamari sauce)
    1 small can red beans (or any!)

    • Blanch the broccoli in boiling water for 5 minutes, still firm and bright green. Drain and set aside.
    • Chop the red onion into slivers and dice the garlic finely. Sautée in the olive oil for five minutes, then add the garlic and spices (ginger, salt and pepper to taste).
    • Rinse the kale and chop or rip leaves into medium pieces, discarding stalks. Add to the pan.
    • Add the Bragg's (or tamari or soy sauce) and cover pan, letting the kale cook for about 10 minutes.
    • Add the broccoli and stir fry for a couple of minutes, then remove from heat.
    • Serve in a bowl topped with the beans...mmm.
    Much more to say about my arrival back in Züri...forthcoming!

    Monday, December 28, 2009

    Holiday Redux: Herbed Butternut Squash + Cranberry Jam

    Once I was in a hairdresser's in North London off the Seven Sisters high road, at a shop recommended by a friend. It was November, and as I sat quietly in the African salon I listened to the customers around me. The man next to me remarked that the following day was what 'the Americans' refer to as Thanksgiving. He mentioned that he had been once, and that for Yanks the holiday is bigger than Christmas. I suppressed a giggle.

    However, having spent both holidays at home in 2009 I am now thinking he wasn't so far off the mark. A completely secular holiday, Thanksgiving is celebrated by my Muslim and Jewish friends, the small and large families, recent immigrants. It's the only day a year the Chinese restaurants close! This year I spent the entire night (literally) helping my mom with the turkey and stuffing (gluten free!), plus a couple of dishes of my own. The delicious butternut squash recipe was inspired by the cooking class I took in Züri, and the sugar-free cranberry jam is friendly for any kind of food allergy.

    Roasted Butternut Squash w/ Toasted Walnuts
    pictured above
    1 butternut squash, cut into cubes
    1 cup haricots verts/french beans
    1/2 cup walnuts
    2 t walnut oil
    2 - 3 T ghee or butter
    1 t herbes de provence
    1/2 t cinnamon (optional)

    • Preheat the oven to 350 F/190 C. In a bowl toss the walnuts (I shelled fresh nuts) in the walnut oil and add a sprinkle of salt.

    • Spread coated nuts onto a baking sheet or foil and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove to cool.

    • Warm oven to 425 F. Melt the ghee or butter in a small frying pan and add to a medium bowl.

    • Add the herbes de provence and then toss the cubed butternut squash and haricots verts to coat. Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon to taste.

    • Spread the squash and beans evenly onto a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, turning halfway through.

    • Serve the herbed, golden squash topped with the roasted walnuts!
    My family loved this dish, and it reheated well the next couple of days.

    Sugar-Free Cranberry Jam
    1 cup cranberries
    1.5 T arrowroot
    3 T apple cider vinegar
    Stevia to taste (I used a blend of liquid and powder)
    1/4 t cinnamon

    • Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
    • Reduce to a simmer and simmer for roughly 12 - 15 minutes as sauce thickens to a jam.
    • Remove from heat and once cool, remove to a jar to spread on breads/crackers or mix into yogurt!!
    I made endless use of this jam for breakfast - spread on my version of almond flax bread from Elana's Pantry with homemade almond butter (a not-so-classic PB&J), or in greek yogurt with an extra drop or two of liquid Stevia (I use Whole Foods brand). Dig the pics :)

    Friday, December 25, 2009

    Enjoying the Holiday Grain-Free, feat. Zimtsterne!

    Shortly before I left Switzerland to come home for the holidays, I began to see the Swiss & German Christmas foods (Weihnachtsguetzli) everywhere: Basler Leckerli (honey almond cookies from Basel) , Kastanien Vermicelli (sweet chestnut 'vermicelli'), and the ubiquitous Zimtsterne (cinnamon stars). I had more than my share of Zimtsterne in all flavors, and the best part is that they are gluten free! The traditional cookie, actually from Germany, is made from ground almonds and egg whites. I was determined to make these - sugar-free - and other healthy dishes for my family this Christmas (see recipe below). My theory, more than ever this year, was to ensure we begin 2010 on a healthy note. All my gifts are also meant to improve quality of our lives in some way - but more on this later.

    For Christmas dinner, I wanted to remind them that health doesn't mean sacrificing delicious. So I made a 'pasta' dish with squash, and a pesto with tofu and veggies. For the sauce I was inspired by Susan O'Brien's more classic basil pesto.
    Spaghetti Squash w/ Spinach Tofu Pesto

    1 small to medium spaghetti squash
    1/2 t sea salt

    4 oz. firm tofu
    2 cups fresh spinach
    2 cloves garlic
    4 T olive oil
    2-3 T parmesan cheese
    2 T ground almonds
    1 T lemon juice
    2 T water
    dash of onion powder
    dash of herbes of de provence
    lemon pepper & sea salt to taste

    • Cut spaghetti squash in half. Wrap in plastic and microwave for 10 minutes OR cover with foil and roast in oven for approximately 1 hour.

    • Meanwhile, mix all pesto in a blender and process until smooth and creamy. Remove to a medium to large bowl.

    • Remove squash and let cool slightly before discarding seeds. Sprinkle with the sea salt.

    • Use a fork to scrape fibers or 'noodles' of spaghetti squash into bowl with pesto and fold together. Garnish with more pesto...and devour.
    Sugar-Free Zimtsterne (German Cinnamon Star Cookies)

    3 cups of blanched almond flour*
    1.5 full t cinnamon

    Equivalent of 1/2 cup sugar (I used 12 packets of Whole Foods Stevia)
    dash of salt

    3 large egg whites
    Equivalent of 1.75 cups sugar (I used 12 packets of powder Stevia and 15 drops liquid Stevia)
    1.5 t vanilla (preferably alcohol free)
    1 t lemon juice

    • Preheat the oven to 250 F.

    • In a large bowl, mix almond flour, cinnamon, sweetener, and salt.

    • Beat egg whites to soft peaks. To this, add sweetener, vanilla, and lemon and whip to semi-stiff peaks.

    • Fold all but 2/3 of meringue into the almond mixture to form dough.

    • Roll dough on greased wax paper to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut out star shapes, reforming and rolling out the 'scraps' (I came out with nearly 30 cookies with a 3" cutter).

    • Carefully spoon and spread remaining meringue on cookies, sprinkling with cinnamon.

    • Bake for about 20 - 25 minutes, depending on thickness, until the star edges turn a golden brown.. Allow to sit in open oven to cool for another five minutes, then remove and let cool completely.
    These were nothing short of amazing, and despite the seeming complexity they were in fact very simple to make. The dough is very easy to work with. I made two versions, one with the meringue-cinnamon topping and one without. Needless to say, both were DELICIOUS!!
    *I used Honeyville blanched almond flour which is very finely ground. Elana of Elana's Pantry uses this flour as well as other grain free varieties I love (flax, coconut) on her blog.
    Merry Christmas, all.

    Saturday, December 5, 2009

    NY State of Mind: Grain-Free Bagels

    Though I've been yearning to post recently, I have been esconced in a whirl of friends, family, colleagues - it's been incredibly busy, but above all incredible. I've honestly had a love-hate relationship with my hometown for as long as I can remember. In high school, my (still) best friends and I swore after college we couldn't see ourselves living anywhere else. College in Pittsburgh compounded that wish (no disrespect, PPGers and Steelers fans)...and then came a wonderful year of freedom and self-discovery in London. Coming home was as Monica Ali describes in her latest, 'In The Kitchen', living in a state of suspended animation, in constant oscillation between unbearable tension and annihilating lethargy. It was the agony of familiarity, the awful inevitability of home.

    This trip, however, has been something amazingly different. A year a way can do a lot...My old life, all of the people I left, have re-embraced me so fully I feel gratitude and warmth. Christmas lights in Columbus Circle, New Yawk accents on the subway, are for once slightly unfamiliar and thus fascinating.

    I am also struggling to continue eating the foods that keep me healthy. Thanksgiving predictably did not help (I was sick for 3 days after), but I did make some new discoveries in the American health market. My LOCAL grocery store now has a large gluten free section, even with gluten free oats! I've also warmed up to cultured veggies that are kosher and unsweetened for their rich probiotics, kefir, and almond cheese :) And though I'm laying off grains this month, I am continuing on my flax kick. A couple of weeks ago I baked my version of a full loaf of Laura Dolson's flax bread (recipe at the bottom). Above all, my proudest creation is a healthy gluten free grain free version of what I see in the carts as I stroll to my old Wall St. office everyday: the New York breakfast bagel.

    3 heaping tablespoons of golden flax meal
    4 T parmesan cheese (or vegan imitation)
    1/2 t baking powder
    3/4 cup egg whites
    2-3 t water
    3/4 T olive oil
    dash of salt/onion powder/pepper

    • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

    • In a medium-small bowl mix the dry ingredients - the golden flax meal, parmesan, baking powder, and spices.

    • Whisk in the egg whites, water, and oil. Allow the dough to sit for 5 minutes to firm up.

    • Spoon half of the dough onto parchment or a greased baking sheet in a dome shape. Spoon the remaining half in a similar manner.

    • Scoop out the center to create a bagel shape - the dough will be firm enough to hold.

    • Bake for twenty minutes until the flax turns a darker golden shade.

    • Allow to cool completely before eating (they will fall slightly).

    • Put the two halves together, add your favorite bagel filling (lox? cream cheese? butter?!) and enjoy!!
    I ate mine with earth balance spread and a fried egg. Deja vu in the BEST way, believe me....
    After thinking of swearing of one of my favorites, turkey sandwiches, I used Laura Dolson's simple focaccia flax recipe with some modifications (i.e. less oil) to make a delicious and filling lunch.

    Flax Sandwich Bread

    2 cups flaxseed meal
    1 T GF baking powder
    1 t sea salt
    1 T sweetener (I used 3 packs of Stevia powder)
    1 1/4 cup liquid egg whites (eq. 5 beaten eggs)
    1 cup water
    1 T canola oil
    • Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 190 C and oil a rectangular baking pan.
    • Use a whisk to mix the flax, baking powder, salt, and sweetener.
    • Add the eggs, water, and oil (and liquid sweetener if using) dry ingredients.
    • Let the batter sit and thicken for 3 minutes before spreading in about 1.5 inches thick in the pan. It won't reach the sides but no worries, the batter will hold.
    • Put pan in oven and bake for 35 minutes, or until bread goes a deeper brown around the corners.
    • Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes or better yet several hours, then slice into 12 - 14 pieces (cut into 6 or 7 large slices and then cut in half ) for delicious sandwich bread!
    • Slather on your favorite dressing and toppings for both regular and open-faced sandwiches.

    This bread, despite being grain free, is remarkably like classic wheat bread. Except that each slice has 40% of your daily fiber and 18% protein. Though flax is high in fat, it's all the good stuff and a high does of omega-3s. Nutrition per slice: 170 calories, 10.8g carbs, 10.6 g fiber, .2 g net carbs, 12.5 g fat. 10% daily iron, phosphorus, and calcium.

    I had an amazing turkey sandwich for lunch with the bread, a kosher dill relish, turkey breast and homemade garlic mayo. Simple, satiating, and soo delish.....