Category Archives: The Food Magician

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Lettuce Wraps

I fell in love with lettuce wraps back in college when my friend Ashley and I would stop at The Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore a couple times a year when we were driving back home from school. We’d always start with the lettuce wraps, then go on to order and finish two HUGE entrees and then wash it down with cheesecake. Needless to say, my stomach grew during that time and so did my pant size.

As I got older, I was introduce to the PF Changs version of lettuce wraps/cups with the diced chicken. I stayed true to my heart and only really liked the Cheesecake Factory version with the chicken STRIPS. No dice for me.

Those lettuce wraps always stood out in my mind and for years I’ve been meaning to make them at home. But for some reason, I never made it happen until the other night. I’d been craving them all summer and knew I had to do something about it!

I went to the store and bought my favorite veggies to put inside the wraps. Then I found sustainably grown, hormone-free chicken and red butter lettuce to use as my wraps.

Since I’m usually not thinking ahead to find a recipe first and THEN go to the store to make sure I have everything, I just use what I already have in the kitchen and hope for the best. The only thing I really needed help with was the peanut sauce. I think The Cheesecake Factory had 3 dipping sauces, but I was satisfied with just making one.

Here’s what you’ll need: (Feel free to make this your own)

  • red bell pepper (sliced into strips)
  • red onion (or green)
  • jicama (peeled & sliced into strips)
  • carrots (julienned)
  • chicken breast (or tempeh, tofu, or just veggies)
  • butter lettuce, iceberg- anything with a large leaf that’s sturdy
  • cilantro- lightly chopped

First, I marinated the chicken for 1-2 hours in the fridge with low sodium soy sauce, olive oil, red wine vinegar, fresh grated ginger, sesame oil and a few cloves of minced garlic. That’s all I had in the house and I just “winged it.” I planned on just baking or sauteing the chicken, but my wonderful husband offered to grill it. Even better!

 

 

Then I came across the most delicious, EASY peanut sauce recipe from Food Network’s website that hands down, made the meal. I, of course, didn’t have all the ingredients but I made do and was not disappointed. Here’s the actual recipe:

Peanut Sauce

  • 1 cup smooth peanut butter                                           
  • 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons red chili paste, such as sambal
  • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1/4 cup chopped peanuts, for garnish

Combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, red chili paste, brown sugar, and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Puree to combine. While the motor is running, drizzle in the hot water to thin out the sauce, you may not need all of it. Pour the sauce into a nice serving bowl and garnish with the chopped peanuts. Serve with chicken satay. (Tyler FLorence, food network)

I didn’t have chili paste, so I just CAREFULLY threw in some red chili flakes ( I didn’t want to repeat the “Hottest Dinner Party Ever” nightmare) and I used regular brown sugar because I didn’t have dark. I barely used the hot water and that was plenty…so go slow when you’re adding that.

Finally, my dreams from over 10 years ago finally came true. I made my favorite kind of lettuce wraps and I couldn’t get enough. I had them again for lunch the following 2 days! I have no idea why it took me so long to make this healthy, simple, tasty dish but I know it will be a staple in my kitchen roledex. Thank you Food Network for the peanut sauce recipe!

 

 

 

 

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Hell-O….Jell-O Shots!

I love tequila. I love grapefruit.  And now I love Michelle at the JSTK Blog for introducing me to the Paloma Jelly Shot! I hadn’t had a jello shot since college and didn’t realize how many gourmet jello shot recipes are out there. These were a hit at my recent birthday party and I think they’ll be a hit with you….assuming you like tequila that is 😉 I also made vodka blueberry shots, but I used a kurant vodka and they were not my fav. They looked gorgeous, but didn’t taste great. But here’s what DID taste great:
Difficulty:  Easy
Recommended Pan:  1-pound loaf pan (approximately 8” x 4”/20 x 10 cm) or flexible silicon molds
1 1/3 cup grapefruit soda (we used Izzy’s sparkling juice)
2 tablespoons frozen limeade concentrate (thawed)
2 envelopes Knox gelatin
2/3 cup agave tequila
Fresh grapefruit segments for garnish, if desired
Pour soda and limeade concentrate into a small saucepan and sprinkle with the gelatin. Allow the gelatin to soak for a minute or two. Heat over very low heat until gelatin is dissolved, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Mixture may be foamy initially, but this will disapate. Remove from heat.  Stir in the tequila. Pour mixture into loaf pan or molds. Place in refrigerator to set (several hours or overnight).
To serve, cut into desired shapes (or unmold).  Garnish each jelly shot with a small grapefruit segment, if desired.

Makes 18 to 24 jelly shots.

I used a shallow round cake pan and then used a cookie cutter to cut out shapes of hearts & stars. Make it your own & have fun!!

For more recipes including some cool 4th of July treats, go to Jelly Shot Test Kitchen.

PLEASE EAT RESPONSIBLY!!

summertime steel

Island Oats

As many of you know, breakfast is my favorite meal of the day and eggs are my favorite food. But what you may not know is that usually I have 2 breakfasts a day. I start off with oatmeal and then for my second breakfast I have eggs. In the fall and winter months, I have my Holiday’s in your Mouth oatmeal recipe, and in the summertime I’ve discovered a new oatmeal concoction that I can’t get enough of.

All you need is:

Serves 1- double for 2 people

  • 1/4 Cup steel cut oats
  • 1 Cup water
  • handful of fresh organic raspberries
  • 1 TBP all-natural, unsalted peanut butter or almond butter
  • 1/2 ripe banana, chopped or sliced
  • about 5 dashes of cinnamon
  • shaved raw coconut
  • chia seeds

Bring water to a boil & add in oats. Turn burner down to medium or medium-high.  I now prefer steel cut oats which is less processed, but you can substitute whichever kind of oats you like. As the oats are cooking, stir in cinnamon. Since I like a lot of cinnamon, I usually put in about 5 dashes. Once the oatmeal starts to thicken a little, stir in banana. The more ripe the banana the sweeter it is. For this recipe, I prefer a very ripe banana if you have it. Keep stirring so the banana becomes almost gooey. Stir in peanut or almond butter and mix well. Once the oatmeal is at the consistency you prefer, stir in fresh raspberries until they become warm. Spoon oatmeal into your favorite bowl and sprinkle coconut and chia seeds on top. It’s delicious and the coconut makes me feel like I’m in the tropics or on an island far away from home.

Now you have a summertime oatmeal recipe with all the nutrition you need to start your day off right.

You have:

  • fiber from the oats
  • protein from the nut butter
  • potassium from the banana
  •  anti-oxidants from the raspberries
  •  endless health benefits from the chia seeds (it’s a superfood)
  •  and more fiber and minerals from the raw coconut.

If this isn’t a good way to start your day, I don’t know what is!

Enjoy!

 

sensational shells

Sensational Shells

After reading about an Italian restaurant on Yelp, I immediately starting craving…what else…Italian! It was lunch time anyway, so I decided to give into my craving and make some pasta. I already had oatmeal for breakfast, so I didn’t want to carb-it-out too much, but I knew I could get veggies and protein in there somehow.

I looked in the fridge…and I had fresh spinach, left over Northern Beans, a tangy mustard vinaigrette leftover from a salad my friend made, eggs (of course), and REAL sheeps milk feta (not the dried up crumbled kind from the regular grocery store). I also had some toasted pine nuts and thyme sprigs leftover from a previous recipe, so I knew I had to incorporate those ingredients as well. I had no idea what I was going to do with that mustard vinaigrette but if I could use it… I was going to find away.

This is what I came up with and this is all you need:

Serves 3-4

  • 4 C. dried whole wheat pasta shells (or pasta of your choosing)
  • 1/4 C. fresh feta
  • 3-4 Cups fresh chopped spinach
  • 2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/8 C. toasted pinenuts
  • 1/8 C. walnut pieces
  • 1/4-1/2 C. Northern beans (already cooked…look for BPA free canned beans or cooked dried ones)
  • olive oil (enough to lightly coat pasta)
  • 1 over-easy egg (per serving)
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • drizzle mustard vinaigrette (don’t have the recipe, but will get it from my friend)
  • salt, pepper to taste

**** These measurements are just guidelines. I always wing it 😉

Once the pasta is cooked and drained, put it back in the pot, add olive oil and spinach, then covered to let wilt. After the spinach starts to soften, start cooking the egg in a separate pan. Season with salt, pepper, & dill if you wish. Watch carefully, b/c it’s easy to overcook like I did in the photo below 🙂 ( I was on the phone talking to my husband…oops!) While the egg is cooking stir in feta, beans and nuts into the pasta until the feta turns into a creamy, sauce-like consistency. Add fresh thyme and red pepper flakes continuing to stir. Once the pasta and egg are done, scoop the pasta into your favorite bowl and place the over-easy egg on top. Drizzle with a tangy mustard vinaigrette and enjoy!!

At first bite, my taste buds instantly woke up. The bold flavors of the thyme and the tangy-ness of vinaigrette blew me away and really complimented each other well. Food should be FUN, so feel free to make this dish your own!!

So at the end of the day, I fulfilled my pasta craving but also had protein from the beans, egg and nuts along with the essential vitamins from the spinach. Mission complete.

          

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Ojai Dining: Part 2

As the night approached in Ojai, we new that a girls night wouldn’t be complete without margaritas and Mexican food…olé! My friend Angela told us about this place called Agave Maria’s and promised their margi’s wouldn’t disappoint. She was correct my friend, to say the least.

These margaritas weren’t your typical, sweet & sour mix, and be done with it. They weren’t even called margarita’s. They were called “pixie” rita’s!! I quickly learned that a “pixie” rita is made with fresh squeezed pixie tangerine’s grown in Ojai along with the restaurant’s own Azul tequila silver, triple sec and a dash of sweet and sour. Our server informed us that the pitcher we ordered may take a few minutes because they had to squeeze the tangerines. Um, yeah…ok…take your time! I’ll wait all day for that kind of freshness.

The first sip was so incredibly refreshing with just a hint of sweetness from the tangerine, but it wasn’t too sweet at all. The bright orange color instantly made me smile and the pitchers kept a comin’.

The food did not disappoint either. Agave Maria’s serves homemade chips and salsa that you can’t help but take down like a champ. I ordered the chicken tacos and my friends ordered carnitas and grilled shrimp tacos. And the winner was….GRILLED SHRIMP TACOS! Don’t get me wrong, my chicken tacos were great, but there was something about their shrimp. They were seasoned to perfection with a slight kick and SO plump. Next time I go back, I know what I’m ordering. Sadly, I didn’t get a picture because they were devoured too quickly. Ooops! Next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We laughed, ate, and drank on the beautiful patio until the sun went down. It was a wonderful evening and my love for Ojai continues.

Hip

Ojai Dining: Part 1

When I first arrived in Ojai and stepped out of the car, an instant calming feeling came over me which is what I’d been craving for months. But before we even checked into the hotel, my friends and I had one thing on our minds…LUNCH.

Our first (but certainly not last) stop was Hip, a vegetarian restaurant close to our hotel. My friend Angela had been there before numerous times and raved about it. I quickly learned she had every right to. Not only was the owner one of the nicest, most genuine men I’ve ever met, but the food fills the body and the soul with exactly what it needs.

All four of us ordered something different, but my 2 favorites were the Indonesian Wrap and the Hip Hip Hooraw Wrap.

The Indonesian Wrap had tempeh, cabbage, carrots, red bell pepper & mint rolled in rice wrappers. It was served with a peanut-coconut dipping sauce that I could easily drink with a straw on any given day. It also came with a side salad and shockingly to me, the dish really does fill you up. I recommend the tahini poppyseed dressing for the salad. Scrumptious!

The Hip Hip Hooraw Wrap had spicy jalapeno almond paté (never had it before and fell in love), gauc & lettuce wrapped in collard leaves. I was skeptical at first until I took my first bite and then I was hooked. I couldn’t get enough of the spicy almond paté. Even meat-lovers would like this wrap.

Dining at Hip was the perfect way to start our mini-vacay. We couldn’t help but go back the next day for lunch because we just couldn’t get enough. And if delicious food wasn’t enough to make me fall for this place, there was a guitarist playing beautiful Spanish music which just added to the unconditional love you can’t help but feel in Ojai.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The “Barbara Style” Salad is my friend’s favorite dish. It’s mixed lettuce, marinated greens, beets, carrots, avocado & quinoa. It’s served with a tasty seed bar. We also tried the Hummus Wrap which was filling and full of flavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

horse shoe 2

It’s Your Lucky Day

With St. Patty’s Day right around the corner, I thought I’d share 2 of my favorite GREEN recipes, thanks to Whole Living magazine’s January issue.  Even though I’m not into following recipes, these are two I actually enjoy making and don’t mess up. Whether you’re hosting a party or going to a “Potluck St. Patty’s Party,” you will totally “wow” your friends with these healthy dishes that just happen to be Mr. Leprechaun’s favorite color 🙂

Minty Pea Dip

serves 4 (makes 2 cups)

  • 3 cups frozen green peas
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
  • 1 lemon (zest & juice)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp tahini
  • Salt & pepper to taste 

Cook frozen peas in salted boiling water until tender, 1 minute. Transfer to an ice-water bath; drain. Pulse in food processor with mint leaves, lemon zest & juice, garlic, olive oil, and tahini. Season with coarse salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil.

Serve with blue corn tortilla chips, carrots, jicama, pita chips or whatever floats your boat.

Pistachio-Stuffed Dates with Coconut

  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios
  • 1 pinch coarse salt
  • 16 pitted dates
  • 1 Tbsp toasted unsweetened shredded coconut

In a food processor, purée pistachios until a thick paste forms, about 5 minutes (yes that’s long and loud). Season with a pinch of salt. Spoon mixture into the dates. Top with coconut.

These were a hit at a few parties I recently brought these to! They taste extremely decadent and look so fancy, but they’re SO easy to make.

 

 

 

 

 

Yogurt Aoli

Holy Yogurt Aioli!

Again, I’m not a chef, so making an aioli at home was an accomplishment. It’s just not something I normally do on a Tuesday night. BUT….as I defrosted the Mahi Mahi I bought at Trader Joe’s, I saw a recipe attached to the packaging for an “Easy Aioli.” I decided to give it a try.

It obviously called for mayonnaise because that’s the main ingredient in an aioli. I don’t keep mayo at home because I’ve been substituting Greek Yogurt instead and it’s worked every time. So I figured, why not in an aioli? Let me tell you, it was one of the BEST aioli’s I’ve ever had and it took all of 3 minutes to make. It honestly tasted like the most sinful sauce, but it wasn’t.

All you need is:

  • 2 TBSP plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic; pressed
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Combine in small bowl and stir until smooth. Top on fish, or anything you want. I even put it on our couscous and bok choy because I couldn’t get enough.

That’s it!

Simple. Healthy. Flavorful.

Thanks Trader Joe’s!

Luko Food Tin

Heidi’s Salsa & Nikki’s Jam

I was recently introduced to a fantastic new food company called Luko Foods. I know the owner, Heidi, through a good friend of mine but had no idea she made some of the most incredible salsa on the planet! She is of Mexican decent so she’s been around her fair share of tasty salsas growing up. Her business partner-in-crime Nikki, also brings something to the table with her decadent jams. Seriously, these jams will knock your socks off.

Because I….”know the owner,” Heidi did a personal drop off and this is what arrived at my door. It was a beautiful, tin-box of love. Look at that presentation!

It was like Christmas morning and I couldn’t wait to dig in. When I first tried Heidi’s Salsa, I literally could not stop shoveling it into my mouth. I barely saved enough for my husband to try. Her salsa was SO incredibly fresh and had the perfect amount of kick and cilantro (my favorite herb).  And no joke, I drank the rest of it from the container. Yes, I have a problem.

In the first bite, I felt like I was transported back to Mexico where I’ve had some of the most delicious food over the years.  All I needed was a margarita and I’d be set for life. No wonder her salsa won 1st place at The 30th Annual Los Angeles Farmer’s Markets Celebration salsa contest. Heidi has many kinds of salsa and is always experimenting focusing on what’s local and in season. I’m dying to try more, but I’m not sure how she can compete with her “original recipe.” It’s a salsa I can not live without.

The next morning, I decided to make waffles. No, I didn’t put salsa on them, but it was a perfect excuse to try out Nikki’s Jam. On half of the waffle I use the Blueberry Lemon Lavender and on the other half I used the Bacon Maj.  Let me tell you, the combination was mind-blowing.

I started with the Blueberry Lemon Lavender and at first, my mouth didn’t quite know what to do…except beg for more. I was a little sceptical at first because lavender is usually something I experience on the massage table in a body oil, not something I ingest. Well, this jam proved to be one of the best jams I’ve ever had and I know it will be a staple in my kitchen. I loved the complexity of the sweet and sour combined with the fragrant lavender. It all worked together so well that the written word doesn’t do it justice. You have to try it.

Next, I tried the Bacon Maj.  Because I was serving my waffles with a side of over-easy eggs, I assumed this jam would be delicious because bacon, eggs and syrup are “matches made in heaven” anyway. I didn’t have bacon at the house so the jam was the next best thing, and it did NOT disappoint. I’ve always loved the sweet and savory combo so to me, this was a no-brainer. The slight saltiness of the bacon jam together with a touch of REAL maple syrup, made this one of the most memorable homemade brunches I’ve had yet. I know these jams will be a “must” for weekend brunch in my home and I encourage you all to give them try.

You can find Heidi’s Salsa and Nikki’s Jam at at few Los Angeles Farmer’s Markets or you can order online at www.lukofoods.com. Ok, now my stomach is growling. Gotta go eat!

 

Meatless magic

Meatless Magic

Now that the holiday’s are over and I’ve put on my “winter-coat,” (a term I use for the extra 5 lbs I always put on this time of year) it’s time for me to clean up my diet a little and get back on track. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deprive myself, but I start incorporating extra-healthy meals so I can be bikini ready by May.

I’ve been SO into kale lately, to the point where I’m actually craving it. I know that sounds weird but it’s true. My body must need it, so I’m rollin’ with it.  When I was first introduced to kale a few years ago, I found it tough and chewy…definitely wasn’t impressed. Then I learned to saute it with garlic and olive oil and now I’m hooked!!

My other new favorite thing to eat is tempeh. For those of you that don’t know, tempeh is made from cooked and slightly fermented soy beans. If you’re weary of soy, according to my extremely smart and knowledgeable sister, tempeh is better for you than tofu because it’s fermented, less processed and has more protein and fiber.  Anyway, it’s a fantastic meat substitute if you’re trying to cut back on the consumption of 4-legged creatures. Plus, it tastes SO much better than tofu in my opinion. I’ll definitely be posting more tempeh recipes soon 🙂

I recently combined my 2 new favorite foods and made a light yet satisfying meal.

All you need is:

  • 1 bunch of black kale or kale of your choice, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 garlic clove
  • Olive oil- enough to lightly coat bottom of pan
  •  3-4 strips of Lemon Pepper Tempeh or tempeh of your choice (you can find seasoned tempeh at Whole Foods)
  •  1 over easy egg
  • A small hand full of raw almonds
  •  Salt
  • Pepper
  • Avocado (optional)
  •  Feta (optional)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)

Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium. Add minced garlic and let the garlic get golden.  Add kale and 1-2 tablespoons of water. Cover and let cook for about 5 min. on medium or until tender. Add salt and pepper-season to taste.

While the kale is cooking, start on your over easy egg. Heat tempeh in microwave or on a skillet.

Place tempeh and over easy egg over the sauteed kale in a bowl. You probably won’t use all the kale for this one dish, so save the rest for later. Add almonds, avocado and feta if you wish. The yolk should ooze out like a sauce and ‘ta da’! You have a healthy, hearty meal.

Enjoy!