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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Of Course I Eat Healthy!

Of Course I Eat Healthy!
(But only if I can cook it in under 20 minutes)

I was recently invited by Backstage Gourmet Radio ( to contribute a few favorite vegetarian recipes to discuss on-air in on June 6th. Please join us!

This is easy, or so I thought.  Well, the request itself certainly was simple, but it got me thinking about what I eat and how I nourish my physical being.  The good choices, the kinda-sorta good, and the midnight after-gig indulgences.  For years now, I have been engaged in an ongoing discussion – rather negotiation – with myself about who I am - and who I would like to be as defined by diet.  I am still having trouble narrowing it down.  One thing’s for sure….all my best thinking involves an espresso!

 I grew up in a home where food was front and center.  My mother was the ultimate foodie before we even knew what that was.  No TV dinners here!  She could whip up paella, a masterful curry or the most delicate poached sea bass in her sleep.  Holidays were an extravaganza of irresistible delicacies.  Mom regularly treated us to international foods and exposed me to a great variety of flavors, textures and preparations.  Every single meal was fresh, well prepared and celebrated. We ate all our meals in the dining room at a beautifully appointed table.  She carefully chose simple but perfectly paired wines for dinner.   Not that she was stuffy; rather, this was what juiced her and it was clearly an expression of her love – a gift she gave to my father and me three times a day.

So naturally, I learned to share her passion about food and wine and found myself carrying on her traditions, cooking elaborate meals for friends and family, exploring exotic cuisines and even studying for a while.  I cooked in a restaurant for a year, learned charcuterie and attended regular wine tastings.   I felt like a Julia Child wanna-be, spending days and days on a  multi course meal – starting with stocks and demi-glazes, fretting over every detail and nuance, and enjoying the hell out of every minute.  Food preparation is beautiful to me and I like to create little still-life paintings with my ingredients and tools.  Somehow it makes everything taste even better!

Eventually my music career got in the way of all this good fun, and I had to find ways to condense my food-as-art approach to fit my busy schedule.  I was away from home a good deal, and so my goal was to have delicious and healthy food at the ready whenever possible.  While I still enjoy undertaking a full-on food production from time to time, my standard fare now is simple, fresh and put together in minutes.

I try to spend one day a week preparing several meals, and extras to store.  Soups, curries, lasagnas and grilled foods are nutritious and freeze well, so these are my go-to foods. I also keep on hand several varieties of frozen fruits and veggies from Trader Joes – they are delicious and enable me to whip-up something healthy in a pinch.  It is great when I come home exhausted to find something homemade all ready to go.  This is my cabbage veggie soup.

And I always try to cook with a cat!  (On the counter – not in the stew).

This is not to say that I don’t also love junk food. Everybody loves junk food. Mac and cheese and fried chicken are a revelation. I haven’t had a whopper in about twenty years, but man they were good.  So the trick for me is to find ways to hit the spots without actually putting this garbage in my tank.

I am a Gemini, and on any given day of the week you can find me doing yoga, drinking herbal tea and eating tofu, while the next day I’ll be into the mojitos, grilling shrimp tacos and dancing to a Bono concert on Palladium.   And after a gig – well, I’ll have fries with that! 

So, I guess narrowing it down may not be a realistic option for me.   Although I find it seductive, I have not yet found the inspiration to become a full-time vegetarian.  I am a part-time vegetarian, and part-time Frenchman, and part-time Hawaiian, and part-time Thai, and, and, and, and…..   

Thanks, mom, for getting me started!   Here are a few yummy vegetarian ideas!

Erin’s Carrot Curry Soup

Delicious, quick and easy - and it freezes beautifully!

2 Tbsp virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia onion - medium chop
4 stalks celery – medium chop
2 Tbsp Madras curry powder – you can certainly use less, but I like a pronounced curry flavor.
1 Tsp cumin
2 lbs carrots – medium chop
1 Quart Vegetable Stock – Pacific Natural Foods makes a good one, Wegmans does, too.

Salt and Pepper to taste
Additional 2 cups of water, if needed.

Gently sauté onions and celery in olive oil for about 5 minutes, stir in curry, cumin and a pinch of salt, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes. Add carrots and toss to coat. Add stock and simmer until vegetables are tender – about 15 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes.  In batches, transfer broth and vegetables to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Return to pan and add additional salt and pepper to taste. Thin with water if desired.  If possible, make this soup a day in advance, as the flavors are even better on the second day! Rachel Ray adds a dollop of sour cream and some chopped chives – a great presentation for a dinner party.

Mom’s Breakfast Fried Rice

My mom served fried rice regularly for breakfast. It is a great way to use up leftovers, and a delicious way to start the day!  This is a no-fail recipe. You can add more or less of anything, and cook longer – or not – as desired!

1 Tbsp Roasted Sesame Oil
4 Garlic Cloves – chopped
1 Tbsp Ginger Paste (fresh ginger is fine, too if available)
3 Cups left over cooked rice (2 or 3 day old is best – brown, jasmine – whatever is on hand)
2 Cups chopped veggies (onions, peppers, ‘shrooms, zucchini, broccoli, peas – whatever you have or love)
3 Whole Eggs
Tamari Soy Sauce to taste (about 2 tbsp for me)
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

Whisk eggs until well blended, combine with cold rice and mix well.

Heat oil in a well-seasoned saucepan over medium heat; add garlic, veggies and ginger paste and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add rice/egg mixture and spread evenly over cooking surface. Cook for 3 minutes at least before stirring. The idea here is to get the mixture toasted a bit so that it is a little crunchy. Cook, stirring occasionally for another 6-8 minutes until evenly browned. Remove from heat and toss with Tamari sauce and red pepper flakes to taste. Careful with the pepper!  Serves 4 as a main.

Spinach Pie

This is a riff on a favorite Donna Hay recipe – she is a master at simple, elegant preparation. Serve with a green salad and crusty bread.

1-16 oz package of frozen leaf spinach – well drained
2-15 oz containers of ricotta cheese
5 whole eggs 
4 oz Muir Glen fire roasted organic tomatoes (yum!)
2 Tbsp chopped dill
1 tsp chopped chives
¼ tsp nutmeg
8 oz small Heritage tomatoes, halved
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled roughly
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Squeeze any remaining liquid from defrosted spinach and combine with ricotta cheese, beaten eggs, tomatoes, dill, chives, nutmeg and salt & pepper.   Gently fold until well combined, and spoon into a greased ovenproof baking dish (12 cup).  Top first with the fire-roasted tomatoes, then sprinkle with feta and finally, place the halved tomatoes on top - cut side up.  Bake for about an hour – pie will be lightly browned and “set.”  Let rest 15 minutes.   May be served warm or at room temperature. Serves 6

Haupia – Hawaiian Coconut Pudding

I lived in Hawaii for ten years and am a big fan of traditional Hawaiian food. This very simple dessert is a staple at luau – Hawaiian celebrations. Although, as a rule, haupia is set in a cake pan and cut and served in small squares, I like to use individual ramekins. The whole world has recently discovered the health benefits of coconut – the Hawaiians have known all about it for centuries!

6 Tbsp Cornstarch *(do not substitute arrowroot or agar-agar – they will become slime-y)
4 Tbsp Superfine Sugar (or Stevia)
1Can Thai Coconut Milk 15.5 oz (or fresh - see below)**
1/2 Cup fresh shredded coconut (or packaged unsweetened – available at health food stores)
A few drops Vanilla Extract
Pinch of Salt
A few drops of lemon juice
Butter or nut oil – for greasing ramekins (almond oil, macadamia oil, etc)

 In a medium saucepan, combine cornstarch, sugar or stevia and ½ cup coconut milk.  Add remaining coconut milk and simmer stirring constantly until you have a clear, thick liquid, which will coat a spoon.  Keep heat low to prevent curdling.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pudding may now be poured into a shallow flat bake pan or small ramekins and topped with shredded coconut.   Chill for several hours before serving.  Try serving your haupia with a serving of fresh fruit – mango is my favorite, but pineapple, strawberries or papaya are super, too.  Try chocolate and macadamia nuts for a decadent topping!  Enjoy!

* This makes the traditional and very “hard” pudding, which can be cut into squares like brownies.  If you desire a more custard-like consistency, decrease cornstarch to 3 tbsp.

* *Coconut milk can be easily made at home. Take 3 cups fresh grated coconut and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling coconut water (both available at health food stores). Let stand 20 minutes, and then puree mixture in a food processor. Strain through cheesecloth, and voila! The flavor is amazing.

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