And on it goes: Day 5 of Quarantine: Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

God knows by now we all need a cookie!  I have been focusing on everyday foods that bring optimal health but at times like this we do need a treat too every now and then.  These cookies are perfect because they are incredibly delicious and indulgent, but the ingredients themselves are not too bad so in the grand scheme of things these are a much better choice than some other items you may have hiding in the pantry, say Oreos.  Yes Oreos are vegan, but they are also full of chemicals and crap that none of us should be eating, especially now. Even better Raw VEGAN cookie dough has no raw eggs so go ahead and have some raw cookie dough, no worries about salmonella from these!

The recipe is very similar in proportion to the classic toll house cookie so it may seem somewhat familiar.  It is great when plant based alternatives of classic favorites don’t have to deviate too much from the original.  So the big swap outs when it comes to making cookies plant based, swap the butter with coconut oil, same texture so it creams beautifully and use the classic flax meal and water substitute for the eggs.

1 egg = 1 tsp. flax meal+ 3 tsp water, let sit for 5 to 8 mins

otherwise the recipe is much the same, just be sure to choose a vegan, semi sweet chocolate chip, there are many on the market. So here it is:

1 cup coconut oil, ideally organic

1 1/2 cups coconut palm sugar

2 tsp flax meal +6tsp water, mixed together and allowed to sit for 8mins

2 cups flour, whatever type you like

1 tsp baking soda

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup nuts pecans, walnuts, whatever you have

  • pre heat oven to 350 degrees
  • begin by creaming together the coconut oil and sugar until fluffy
  • add flax meal and water mixture and continue beating until nice and fluffy
  • add flour and baking soda in 1/2 cup increments and continue to mix
  • once the flour is thoroughly combined add chips and nuts
  • dough will be stiff so put a glove on and use your hand to mix in the chips and nuts well
  • place 1 ounce flattened balls of dough about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet
  • bake for 8 to 12 minutes until tops begin to crack
  • let cool and enjoy.

ONE THING TO REMEMBER IS THAT THESE DON’T LAST QUITE AS LONG AS REGULAR COOKIES AND DRY OUT QUICKLY.  BE SURE TO FREEZE WHAT YOU DON’T INTEND TO EAT WITH 2 TO 3 DAYS.

The Quarantine continues: Day 4 : BEANS AND GREENS

Bean and greens are without a doubt one of the Optimal Kitchen’s favorite combos when it comes to feeding ourselves well.  This combination of fiber rich and protein packed beans paired with vitamin and mineral rich dark leafy greens gives the body everything it needs to thrive.  What is even better is beans are cheap and versatile and greens are just as varied and are one of the simplest things to grow if gardening is your thing.  You don’t need to take my word for it, cultures all around the globe have been pairing leafy greens with legumes for thousands of years.  I always like to look back at what humanity has been eating over the long term to help find clues as to what foods are best for us today.

You can do just about anything with beans and greens, have it as a side dish for grilled fish or meat or tossed with pasta or rice for a complete meal.  But one of my favorite ways to enjoy this power packed combination is in soups. This recipe is a classic Italian take on a beans and greens soup

.

WHITE BEAN AND ESCAROLE

2 tbs. Olive Oil

1 onion diced

3 carrots diced

2 cloves of garlic minced

¼ cup basil threads

1 head of escarole washed and cut into small strips

1 can white kidney beans, rinsed

1 quart chicken or vegetable Stock

Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. In a heavy bottomed pot over medium/high heat sauté the onions, celery, and carrots in olive oil until translucent

  2. Add escarole and then garlic and sauté another minute or 2

  3. Add stock that is already heated and toss in kidney beans

  4. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes

  5. Add basil and season to taste                                       

At the Optimal Kitchen we don’t ever want you running out to the store because you don’t have one of the ingredients in our recipes, we know there is always a substitute so this chart is to help you use whatever you have on hand to create your own fantastic beans and greens soup. You can make several variations of this basic recipe by simply

adding some pasta or chicken sausages to make it a bit heartier, or instead use Kale and Red Beans or Swiss Chard and Black Beans, you can even use Chinese cabbage and Edamame with some fresh ginger, whatever sounds good to you. Always add some freshly chopped herbs like basil, parsley, oregano or cilantro at the end, not only do they add great flavor but these leafy green herbs are full of the same vitamins, minerals and phyto-chemicals as vegetables. Look at the chart below and simply choose an item from each column to make your own creation.

BEANS

GREENS

BROTH

EXTRAS

White Beans

Escarole

Chix Stock

Herbs

Red Beans

Kale

Vegetable Stock

Potatoes

Black Beans

Swiss Chard

DicedTomatoes/Stock

Cooked Pasta

Edamame

Napa Cabbage

Ginger Soy Stock

Rice

Soup has a significant therapeutic value that goes beyond simply the ingredients. There is a comfort and warmth that soup provides the body that is simply unmatched by any other foods. Soups are nourishing to the body and soul but even better as prices rise on produce as they inevitably do every winter, learning to make delicious homemade soups will ensure you not only eat all your veggies this winter season but you won’t break the bank while doing it.

The Quarantine Continues: Day 3 :ALL ABOUT HUMMUS

The news gets worse by the day and my heart aches for my hometown of NYC which is reeling from this pandemic and it looks like things are bound to get worse before they get better.  That said I hope everyone is staying put and only venturing out to exercise.  Now my vegan daughter eats a lot of hummus and it is no surprise that the large container, pint sized, I purchased on my last venture to the store which was Friday March 20th, was completely gone by Tuesday afternoon.  I have decided I will wait until Sunday, so I can also pick up a copy of the Sunday New York Times which I am dying to read,  before I venture to my small locally owned grocery, which I have heard has the best cleaning policies around. So we are stuck eating whats on hand.

Lucky for her I did have a bag of dried chickpeas, which I had set out to soak in cool water overnight. The next morning I rinsed them in cool water and then placed them in a stock pot and covered them with water, added a bit of himalayan salt, a 1/4 tsp baking soda and cranked the heat.  Let them boil away for 20 mins or so and be sure to skim any of the foam that gets produced.  Once they are soft remove from heat, drain in a colander and  rinse with cool water.

Now for those of you that don’t normally soak and cook your beans you will be amazed at the amount that $1.00 1lb bag of garbanzo beans turned into. So I took half the beans and placed them on a cookie sheet where I tossed them in oil and sprinkled them with my family’s  favorite new seasoning from Trader Joe’s and roasted them at 350 for 30 to 40 mins until crispy.

Now take the rest of the beans and using a food processor, blender, or even an immersion blender which is what I used since my large food processor is at my work kitchen, blend the remaining beans, a few garlic cloves, the juice of 1 lemon, 2 tbs. of peanut butter or tahini, 2 tbs of olive oil.  Keep blending and drizzle warm salt water into the mixture until you reach your perfect creamy consistency.  The best part is this makes about a quart of hummus and a pint of delicious roasted chickpeas which I hope will tide us over until I decide to make my next venture out in public.

The Quarantine continues: Day 2 Use your produce : make Wontons

So my governor Charlie Baker has now shut down all non-essential businesses for 2 weeks so it is official we are in.  I now fear the grocery store a bit and will wait until I have exhausted the majority of my supplies before heading out.  I am lucky though because I stocked up on a wide variety of produce the last time I did venture out and I realized afterwards that many of my choices had naturally long lives making them ideal choices for this pandemic.  The goal is to have as little contact as possible with the outside world, whether you are going out to shop or using delivery services.  So when shopping try and do enough for a week at a time and consider these produce suggestions which easily last 7 days in the refrigerator.  Unless they are on sale and you plan to eat them right away avoid purchases of fresh berries, fragile greens and perfectly ripe fruits. This is not a time for waste and you want to make sure your family is getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to keep our immune systems strong so fresh vegetables and fruits are key.

LONG LASTING PRODUCE

  1. cabbage (lots of sales to due to St. Patty’s day glut)
  2. winter squashes
  3. sweet potatoes
  4. onions, shallots, garlic (allium family)
  5. carrots
  6. brussel sprouts
  7. pineapple
  8. green bananas
  9. apples
  10. citrus (oranges, grapefruits, lemons and limes)

Hopefully you have some produce supplies left and this recipe is a great way to use up whatever you have on hand and since it is getting chopped up fine and mixed with a bunch of other veggies it is ok if it is a little past its prime.

 VEGETABLE WONTONS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil

4 scallions

1 small head of cabbage (any variety) (about 2 cups chopped)

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

3 carrots grated, about 1 cup

3 tablespoons good quality soy sauce (I prefer tamari)

¼ cup oat bran or bread crumbs

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 package of wonton wrappers ( nasoya is a good brand)

a beaten egg for an egg wash or corn starch and water for a vegan option

1. In a saucepan heat both oils then toss in scallions and sauté for 1 minute, add Bok choy and ginger and sauté for another 2 minutes.

2. Add grated carrot and sauté for 1 minute, then add soy sauce and continue to cook for another minute. Turn off and stir in oat bran or bread crumbs, if mixture seems to dry add a bit more soy sauce, if it seems to wet add a bit more bread crumb.

3. Lay out wonton skins and spoon in 1 teaspoon filling. Brush 2 touching sides with egg wash and fold into a triangle.

4. Brush the peak of the triangle and fold in the other 2 sides to shape the wonton.

At this point you can either drop the wontons into boiling stock for a delicious soup.  Steam them or even put on a cookie sheet and spray with olive oil and bake at 425 for 10 to 15 mins until the skins are crispy.

Serve immediately with dipping sauce.

Dipping Sauce suggestions: Duck Sauce, Soy Sauce, Peanut butter and soy sauce blended together, or whatever you like!

 

A Guide to Surviving Week # 2 in Quarantine

Many of us are starting week #2 of quarantine and trying our best to establish an actual routine.  So many of us thrive on routine, knowing what to expect and executing those tasks as needed.  This idleness, loss of purpose for those of us who are supposed to be at work or school is rough.  Sure we do some work remotely, but let’s not kid ourselves, it isn’t the same and we are all grieving our fundamental loss, our sense of purpose.

In the past we have heard retirees complain they are bored  and we say to ourselves, “are you crazy?” what I would give to have some time.  Well your wish has been granted because all of a sudden so many of us have more time than we know what to do with. For some of us this extra time will be a gift.  Time to finish projects long put off, maybe start a new hobby we have been wanting to try but simply didn’t have time, maybe you just love to read and now is your chance.

That said even these diversions can only hold us so long and finding a routine is the only way we will all survive this.  Feeding ourselves is one of  our most basic routines and I keep hearing from parents during this time that they feel like all they do is feed their families.  While this is probably true, I am grateful to at least have that purpose and am trying to make the best of it.  So I am sharing some recipes that we made yesterday.  Empanadas, which were essentially filled with the turkey meat from Saturday night’s tacos and for the plant based folks we filled them with the black bean and hominy filling from the same taco night.  Use whatever you have on hand for filling, this is a time to be sure to use everything you have on hand and WASTE NOTHING!!!!!!!!!! Empanadas are fun for the whole family to make, in fact once you make the dough, let everyone fill them themselves and don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy press to make them.  Simply cut the dough into circles and fill one side, fold over into the shape of a half-moon and press the edges with a fork.

So let’s try and make the best of all this and may this recipe bring your family some happiness through small acts such as this.

EMPANADAS

DOUGH

2 ½ tsp. Active dry yeast

1 ½ tsp. Sugar

½ cup milk

2 eggs beaten

1/3 cup sour cream

5 tbs. unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 ½ cup All-purpose flour

1 ¼ cup Cornmeal

¾ tsp Salt

  1. In a large mixing bowl place yeast with sugar and ¼ cup of milk and let rest of 5 min to activate the yeast
  2. Once it appears foamy go ahead and add the remaining milk, eggs and sour cream and butter
  3. In another bowl stir together flour, cornmeal and salt and using an electric mixer beat flour mixture into egg and milk mixture until the dough is smooth and elastic
  4. Form the dough into a large ball and place in an oil bowl and turn to coat with oil
  5. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 ½ hours and the ounch down the dough

FILLING

Traditionally empanada filling is made with beef or pork but to give a bit of a healthier twist we are making our empanadas with ground turkey. Like most fillings you can swap out and change some ingredients just be sure to keep the balance of flavors and textures the same. It is important to make sure the filling is moist but not wet or you will end up with some soggy empanadas.

1 medium onion finely chopped

1tbs garlic minced

2 jalapeno peppers minced (optional)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 tbs. Chili powder

1 tbs. Dried oregano

½ tsp. Cinnamon

1/8 tsp. ground Cloves

2 tbs. Oil for cooking

1 lb ground turkey

¼ cup tomato paste

28 oz can diced tomatoes

1/3 cup raisins

½ cup pimento stuffed olives chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Over medium heat saute onions in oil until soft and add garlic, jalapenos, chili powder, cumin, cinnamon, clove and oregano
  2. After 3 min add ground turkey and cook until browned, breaking up any lumps
  3. Add tomato product, olives,raisins and salt and pepper to taste
  4. Simmer for additional 15 mins until the liquid has evaporated

PUTTING THE EMPANADAS TOGETHER

pre-heat oven to 425

take dough and seperate into 24 balls and cover with a damp cloth

on a lightly floured surface roll each ball into a flat circle, use a knife or cookie cutter for the edges

Place a small amount of filling on one side of the circle and fold over the other side to form a turnover, crimp the edges

Cook on an oiled baking sheet for 10-15 mins. Until golden brown

The Weekly Optimal Planner

Welcome to the First  Weekly Optimal Planner

After more than a decade running the Optimal Kitchen I think I may have finally come up with what we all actually need to maintain a healthy everyday diet. Even mainstream experts have caught on to the fact that trendy diets and food fads simply don’t work. They are not sustainable. We need to eat whole, primarily plant based food everyday. We can allow ourselves the occasional treat now and again, but be reasonable. This first month is a trial guide and please give me feedback which will allow me to make changes to better suit what you all want.

Feeding ourselves and our families isn’t rocket science but there is so much information, often conflicting, that it is almost impossible to not feel overwhelmed just going grocery shopping. I hope to provide you with a weekly framework to make your life a whole lot easier and more importantly tastier! Some recipes or ideas maybe outside your box but I promise all the recipes are easy, have been tested (not all recipes you find on-line are!) so that they work and taste great. Feel free to tweak recipes if you have food allergies or intolerances, but I do encourage you to try new things, maybe even things you didn’t like in the past.

Since the goal is to make weekly shopping and cooking easy we will aim to share ingredients in multiple recipes so there is little waste. The Optimal Planner also accounts for the fact that most people eat out a couple of times per week, consider these your cheat meals. The planner is based on 3 meals a day because that is what we should be eating essentially. If snacks are a big part of your families diet than those would be additional to the recipes and suggestions in the weekly Optimal Planner.

Breakfast is very different for individuals and is one meal that I find personal tastes and habits play a huge role. There are those who like smoothies, or maybe cereal, or eggs and avocado toast. It is also the meal I find that people eat the same thing almost daily, and you know what that is ok. Personally I am an avocado toast kinda gal and I admit I don’t always eat breakfast and when I do it is usually 4 or 5 hours after I wake up, keep in mind though I am a very early riser and cook for a living so that schedule works for me, but not most. Though I do think many people simply aren’t that hungry first thing, but become ravenous mid morning. Keep this in mind and if this is you, be sure you are prepared. The worst thing is to be hungry at 10am and then just wait until lunchtime at which point you are starving and end up eating way to much and not feeling great for the majority of the afternoon as a result.

Lunch should be your most calorie dense meal of the day, and is where you should consume the bulk of your starchy carbohydrates because you will have all afternoon and evening to use that energy. This is often a hard concept to wrap our heads around because we are so used to having a big meal at dinner. Change is challenging but shifting your caloric load to earlier in the day actually can have a significant impact on your health from promoting better digestion to improved sleep patterns.

Dinner is as much about connecting with our families as feeding them. If your family consists of growing kids, especially adolescents, I will often suggest adding perhaps a loaf of bread or a bowl of pasta or something else to satiate those never ending appetites, but remember just because you are living with growing kids who need a significant caloric load doesn’t mean you do.

The ideas and recipes below are suggestions to help make meal prep throughout the week simple and easy. The shopping list includes fruit recommendations based on grocery store sales and variety. Many of the recipes will leave you with leftovers so you can enjoy multiple meals. It is also much easier to have some kind of theme or region to base recipes on so that you can share ingredients. This week we feature Mediterranean inspired dishes which share some ingredients. It is crucial to remember that eating a varied diet is key to providing our bodies with the nutrients they need to thrive. Fruit is meant for breakfast and snacking. If smoothies are part of your everyday diet use frozen fruit for cost savings and ease, though limit to 3-4 per week and always add some greens and veggies!

Recipes and Meal Planning Ideas:

Breakfast is just the first meal of your day whatever time that may happen. After lots of back and forth about how many times a day we should eat, 3 meals a day is sufficient. If you are genuinely hungry, meaning you tried a glass of water first, have a snack, but this all day snacking is a big part of our struggles with food. Traditional breakfast foods are a completely modern phenomenon and you can eat whatever you want, if you want a salad have one. I often will just have last night’s leftovers. The key to every meal is to have plenty of fiber, from fruits, vegetables, and grains, some protein and a bit of fat, whatever form that takes is up to you.

Breakfast Suggestions:

AVOCADO TOAST, opt for sprouted breads, real whole grain (Dave’s is good) or sourdough

EGGS any way but a great do ahead the night before is a FRITTATA

SPINACH, POTATO AND MUSHROOM FRITTATTA

2 cups fresh Spinach

1 cup mushrooms, whatever variety you like

1 cup roasted new potatoes, or some of each

1 large shallot sliced

8 eggs

¼ cup flax meal or oat bran

¼ cup Fresh Herbs, spring chives are a favorite, parsley, thyme or basil

¼ cup shredded cheese, cheddar, mozzarella or even goat cheese (optional)

Oil for cooking

  1. Beat eggs and stir in fresh herbs

  2. In an oven safe fry pan toss in shallots and mushrooms in a bit of olive oil and saute until mushrooms begin to soften and shallots become translucent

  3. Add spinach and potatoes and cook for another minute or two

  4. pour in egg mixture (be sure pan is large enough or put vegetable mixture into a baking dish, be sure it is coated with cooking spray and then add eggs and put directly in oven)

  5. cook for a few minutes on the stove, bringing up the edges, sprinkle on cheese and place in a 375 degree oven until firm when shaken. If pouring the mixture into a baking pan the cooking time will be increased about 8 mins.

  6. Let cool for a few minutes before cutting and serving to allow it to tighten up.

Frittatas are a great way to use up extra veggies, both raw and cooked and still get yourself a solid dose of protein making it and ideal dish for any meal of the day. I often use oat bran or bread crumbs to help bind it and make it a bit more solid, but if you are gluten free you can easily just use potatoes, grated or shredded potatoes are great for this! Simply start with the egg base, keep proportions in line and keep in mind this recipe can easily be cut in half or even quartered,and just as easily doubled, then just go from there. Be sure to cook vegetables, especially those with a high water content before adding to the dish, I guarantee even the barest of fridges can yield some treats that will suit a fritatta.

Panko

Parsley

Asparagus

Tomato

Onions

Cheddar

Oat Bran

Rosemary

Broccoli

Olives

Garlic

Mozzarella

Shredded Potato

Basil

Zucchini

Spinach

Scallions

Goat Cheese

Wheat Germ

Oregano

Red Pepper

Roasted Potatos

Chives

Feta

Flax Meal

Rosemary

Mushroom

Green Beans

Leeks

Gruyere

Aim to have one from each column but by all means throw in lots of mixed fresh herbs and veggies to use up what you have on hand.

SMOOTHIE/SMOOTHIE BOWL, be sure to add greens like spinach or kale and other vegetables like cucumber or celery to cut down on the sugars. Also add some fiber and protein with choices like flax meal, chia seeds, hemp seeds or nuts. If you choose to use a protein powder opt for plant based fiber rich varieties.

OATMEAL

Classic 5 minute oats are a great way to start your day because they are high in fiber and protein that work to fuel you and keep you full. Add nuts, berries even some dried fruits for extra flavor and maybe a drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of sweetness

LUNCH SUGGESTIONS:

WHITE BEAN AND BASIL HUMMUS (great in wrap with lettuce and tomato, or as a dip for veggies or chips )

½ lb. (1 cup) white navy beans or 1 can rinsed

4 to 5 cloves of garlic

¼ cup basil threads

zest juice from 1 lemon

olive oil

sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

1.soak beans overnight

2.rinse beans, place in pot and cover with water, cook for approx. 20-25 until beans are tender but not mushy

3.place garlic, basil, lemon zest and juice and beans in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth, when necessary drizzle in olive oil and a bit of water to obtain proper consistency

WHITE BEAN TOMATO AND GREENS STEW

1 lb of winter greens (kale, spinach, cabbage or a combo)

1 lg can diced tomatoes

1 large can of white beans, rinsed and drained or 2 cups of soaked and cooked dry beans

3-5 cloves of garlic

1 quart vegetable stock

½ cup fresh herbs (parsley, basil, oregano or a combo)

olive oil for cooking

salt and pepper for seasonings

  1. saute greens in olive oil over med/high heat until they begin to wilt then add the garlic
  2. once the greens have been reduced to half add the tomatoes and lower heat to a simmer
  3. add white beans, the rest of the tomatoes and vegetable stock and continue cooking for an additional 10-15 mins until flavors have melded
  4. season with salt and pepper and then add the fresh herbs before serving.

ORZO TOMATO AND SPINACH SALAD

1 box of orzo

1 pint of cherry tomatoes halved or any tomato diced

several cups of fresh spinach

½ cup olive oil

¼ cup red wine vinegar

¼ cup basil threads

2 cloves garlic minced (opt)

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cook off orzo and run cool water over the pasta to cool it down
  2. Toss pasta with the rest of the ingredients and serve at room temperature

BEANS AND GREENS

1 box pasta penne, farfalle or whatever type you like

1 15 ounce can white beans beans or chickpeas

a few cups fresh spinach

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil for cooking

fresh or dried basil or oregano for seasoning

¼ cup shredded parmesan, mozzarella or asiago (optional)

sliced black olives (optional)

  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add pasta. Two minutes before pasta is ready, add spinach and then drain.
  2. Coat the same pot with olive oil and toss in onion, garlic and dried herbs. Sauté until clear.
  3. Add the rinsed beans to the pan and toss. Put pasta and spinach mixture back in the pot and sauté for another minute, adding fresh herbs and cheese. Stir gently to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients, and serve.

DINNER IDEAS:

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SALAD

½ head cauliflower

2 tbs. Olive Oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

1 tbsp capers

1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Cut florets into small pieces and toss with half the olive oil and the minced garlic
  2. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 10 mins. And then remove from oven and using tongs toss cauliflower so it cooks evenly on all sides
  3. Remove and let cool and then combine with the parsley, capers, olives, left over oil, lemon juice and seasonings, serve room temperature

CAULIFLOWER, POTATO AND HERB PUREE

½ head caulifower

3 medium Red Potatoes

1 tbs. Chopped fresh Rosemary or 1 tsp dried

Olive Oil

Parmesan Cheese opt.

  1. Wash potatoes and boil until they start to become tender

  2. Add cauliflower in small chunks and cook until it is soft and potatoes are completely tender

  3. Strain potato and cauliflower and place in a food processor, or use an old fashioned masher and blend until smooth, add oil if necessary

  4. Add chopped fresh rosemary and season with salt and pepper

RIBBON SALAD WITH GARLICKY VINAIGRETTE (RAW/VEGAN)

3 medium sized Zucchini

3 medium sized Summer Squash

1# bag of Carrots, peeled

2 cups Cabbage (green or Savoy) Shredded

DRESSING

4 cloves of garlic

¼ cup fresh parsley

¼ cup other fresh herbs you have on hand basil, cilantro or thyme choose just 1

¼ cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

½ cup cold pressed Olive Oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. Using a mandolin, or veggie slicer julienne thick threads of carrots and squash
  2. toss in the shredded cabbage
  3. in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender, add the next 4 ingredients and blend while slowly adding the olive oil which will help to emulsify the dressing
  4. toss the dressing with the vegetables, season with salt and pepper and serve

Now let’s take these same noodles with out the dressing and do something completely different

  1. Toss in a pan with olive oil and garlic and cook until soft and top with Marinara or a Spicy Puttanesca
  2. If you have some pesto maybe you froze or a jar in the fridge saute up the noodles in that
  3. you can even add to some cooked spaghetti for a hearty pasta primavera

MINESTRONE

1 quart vegetable broth

1 15 oz. can kidney beans

1 cup ditalini pasta or rice if you are gluten free

1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 onion diced

2 celery stalks diced

3 carrots diced

1 zucchini diced

1 tbs. dried oregano

1 tbs. dried basil

olive oil for cooking

salt and paper to taste

  1. In a large stockpot sauté garlic, onions, celery and carrots until soft
  2. Add tomatoes, beans and herbs, then cover with broth and bring to a boil
  3. Add pasta and zucchini then reduce heat and simmer for 10 mins until pasta is cooked

SHOPPING LIST

This weeks menu was chosen because many of the items are on special. My fruit suggestions are sale items. I encourage you to buy organic when you can as far as produce but following the dirty dozen is the most important. That said many organics are priced almost as low as their conventional counterparts, example carrots, bananas and sweet potatoes so I encourage you to make those choices, but staying on budget is important as well and any vegetables are better than none. I also realize many people using the planner will still be eating meat and may be supplementing these dishes with chicken and fish which is fine.

There are some basic pantry supplies I assume most have on hand. If you don’t, add these items to your weekly grocery list.

olive oil

red wine vinegar

cider vinegar

garlic

onions

celery

dried herbs and spices (oregano, basil, rosemary, crushed red pepper)

capers

sea salt

pepper

nuts

dried fruit

frozen fruit

PRODUCE

cauliflower 1head

potatoes

4 -5 zucchini

4 summer squash

5lb bag organic carrots (if you shop at Shaws it is a 2lb bag)

1 medium green cabbage

1 bunch basil

1 bunch parsley

lemons (much cheaper in the mesh bags)

large box of organic baby spinach

tomatoes

avocados

fresh fruit (cantalope, berries, grapefruits and oranges are on sale)

eggs

DRY GOODS:

2 cans diced tomatoes

white bean 1lb dry or 3 cans

1can of garbanzo beans

1 can of red beans

1 box orzo

1 box ditalini

1 box of penne

oats

2-3 quarts vegetable stock

I assume you will need additional items such as breads, tortillas, peanut butter and snacks that your family likes.

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Keeping the Holidays Healthy

Each year the holidays come and between the stress and parties it is no wonder we all end up feeling lousy and unhealthy. Statistically Americans will gain an average of 3-5 lbs from Thanksgiving to New Years and 1 of those lbs will stay with us forever. Over a period of 10 years we will have gained 10 lbs just from Holiday indulgence. However it isn’t just the weight gain, it is also the time of year, due primarily to stress and lack of sleep, we inevitably end up getting sick. Believe it or not with a few simple changes you can keep yourself fit and trim and feeling energetic and healthy.

Boosting our Immune Systems:

Between all the decorating, shopping and partying we tend not to focus on taking proper care of our bodies. Feeding our bodies the right foods will help our immune system protect us from all the bacteria and viruses we are exposed to at crowded gatherings, which are unavoidable this time of year. The most critical of the antioxidant vitamins and minerals are Vitamins A, C and E and Selenium.

Foods Rich in Anti Oxidants:

All Fruits and Vegetables , Nuts, Omega 3 Eggs and Cold Water Fish

*Winter Squashes, Leafy Green and Orange vegetables are especially high in Vitamin A

*Citrus Fruits, Berries and Cruciferous vegetables are especially high in Vitamin C

*Wheat Germ, Almonds, Sunflower seeds and Tomatoes are high in Vitamin E

* Brazil Nuts, Dried Apricots, Eggs and some Whole grains are high in Selenium

*Cold water fish are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids which attacks inflammation

Simple ways to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet:

1-Homemade snack mixes; put together some nuts and dried fruits and keep with you at all times so when you do feel hungry you have a healthy choice on hand

2-Soups are a great way to cram a ton of vegetables into your body without even noticing

3-Keep raw vegetables cut up and on hand and snack on them throughout the day

Confidently battle Over-Indulgence :

When it comes to over eating during the holidays I have discovered 3 major causes

1)Food Gifts

2)Holiday Parties and Gatherings

3)Rushed for time; we grab whatever is easy

The solutions are almost as simple as the problems are themselves.

1) When it comes to food gifts the cardinal rule if it is not homemade, re-gift the item or throw it away. At least homemade gifts tend to be made from whole foods so they aren’t loaded with preservatives and chemicals.

2) As tempting as it may be to fast all day to make up for gorging at that evening’s party there is truly no bigger mistake. Instead be sure to have a protein and fiber rich snack before heading out. Think Hummus and Carrots or whole wheat pita or even an egg and whole grain toast. Don’t skip meals it shuts down your metabolism and if you go to a party famished don’t be surprised if you pig out.

3) We may not always have time to sit down and have a proper meal but having whole fruits, clementines and apples are a great choice this time of year because they are easily portable and full of vitamins, nuts are another must to have on hand.

Another key to surviving holiday overindulgence is to come up with some good alternatives to family favorites. I find this critical when it comes to Thanksgiving. If you have ever cooked the entire Thanksgiving feast yourself then you are aware of how much butter is used, for those of you who don’t cook but instead just eat, how does roughly 4lbs. of butter per 8 guests sound to you! There are some simple ways to change family recipes to make them healthier and there is nothing wrong with trying some new healthier recipes that are just as delicious.

One of the best ways to control Thanksgiving indulgence is starting the meal with a delicious velvety soup which can help fill you with fiber rich goodness but can also be the main course for the vegetarian or vegan guests at your holiday table. The soup is a classic squash bisque that uses sweet potato instead of cream to give it the beautiful texture and uses the same spices as our beloved pumpkin pie.

SQUASH AND APPLE BISQUE

2 lbs winter squash, peeled and cut in 1 inch pieces

2 lbs apples, roughly chopped

1lb sweet potato peeled and cubed

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 inch piece of fresh ginger grated

1tsp cinnamon

½ tsp clove

½ tsp nutmeg

1 quart+ vegetable stock or water

  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat; coat pan with cooking spray. Add garlic, ginger and onions and sauté for 5 mins or until onions are clear, add cinnamon
  2. Add apples, squash and the sweet potatoes and saute
  3. Add 1 quart + of broth and simmer until potatoes are very soft
  4. Let cool a bit and using a blender or food processor blend until smooth adding a bit more stock or water to get the tight consistency
  5. top with toasted pumpkin seeds or nuts for a bit of crunch and extra flair

Traditional Mashed Potatoes, instead try substituting chicken stock for the butter and milk and to give it some creaminess toss in a handful of parmesan cheese. Also substitute cauliflower for half the potatoes to up the fiber and lower the calories and starch. Be sure to use lots of fresh herbs like rosemary, garlic and parsley to give them great flavor without all the extra saturated fat.

Candied Yams or Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows: Instead opt for some roasted winter squashes which have lots more fiber and a much lower glycemic load and sweeten with a touch of blue agave or maple syrup instead of brown sugar.

Stuffing: again try using some chicken broth to reduce the amount of butter and if you are sautéing onions and other veggies to add to your stuffing use olive oil instead of butter, keep in mind oyster stuffing is a better option than sausage because those oysters are rich in heart healthy minerals which may counteract some of the other foods we eat that day! Even better add lots of veggies to your dressing and always cook your stuffing in a casserole dish, not stuffed in the bird to avoid food borne illness

Opt for a free-range turkey, when animals eat their natural diet, rather than a grain fed diet, their meet has the correct balance of essential fatty acids and is thus much healthier for us to eat, these are available for order at Friends

Make your own cranberry sauce and try using a little stevia or blue agave syrup to sweeten it rather than sugar. Also add some cinnamon which helps regulate insulin production

Green Bean Casserole: I think it is high time you encourage your family to give this one up if it still has a place on your holiday table, instead try blanching some fresh or frozen green Beans and then toss with some olive oil, lemon zest and some sliced almonds for a much healthier dish.

ROASTED BRUSSEL SPROUTS WITH CARAMELIZED ONIONS

1lb brussel sprouts

2 onions peeled and thinly sliced

olive oil for cooking

sea salt and pepper to taste

  1. in a bit of oil over low heat saute the onions stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes or until caramelized

  2. trim brussel sprouts and cut an x in the bottom

  3. blanch brussel sprouts lightly and rinse in cool water

  4. toss brussel sprouts together with onions and a tablespoon of oil, season with salt and pepper

  5. place in a 375 degree oven for 8-10 minutes and serve

If you are in charge of bringing a side dish try bringing a salad for a change. You’ll be amazed at how well it goes over and for a festive touch toss in some dried cranberries and walnuts with a simple vinaigrette.

Pies: Here is the thing, as a food purist I have to say why mess with a good thing. Instead be sure to control your portion size and opt out of the ice cream. If you really love pumpkin pie and can’t imagine a small piece, skip the crust which has many more fat and calories than the filling. Also if you are making the pies opt for whole wheat pastry flour rather than regular bleached all-purpose flour, it is a change no one will notice but will add a bit of fiber to those pies.

During the Holiday season it is important to come up with some healthy snacks to have on hand to prevent you from over indulging on the many unhealthy foods you might find yourself surrounded by. It is far to easy to be tempted by the dishes of candies or cookies all over the place so the key to finding success is to make sure you don’t get too hungry. Hummus or bean dips are great this time of year because they are the perfect combination of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full longer. Eat with fresh vegetables or make into a wrap tih some lettuce and sprouts for a hearty and healthy on the go snack.

CURRIED SWEET POTATO HUMMUS
1 large sweet potato, roasted until soft
1 can rinsed white beans
1 can rinsed garbanzo beans
3 garlic cloves
1 tbs curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
juice and zest of 1 lemon
olive oil and salted water** to get desired consistency

Peel Sweet Potato and place in a food processor with the next 6 ingredients.
Slowly add the oil and salted water alternating small bits of EACH to get desired consistency.
Making a salted water solution of 1/2 tsp Sea Salt per 1/4 cup water is the key to a perfect Hummus consistency without adding all the fat from oils.

If you have a sweet tooth the holidays can be a treacherous time of year. There are treats everywhere and were as the recipe above is designed to help keep you from getting hungry, this next recipe is a healthy treat that seems utterly decadent. Always use dark chocolate because once you introduce dairy to chocolate the ant-oxidant properties are wiped out.

HOLIDAY FRUIT AND NUT BARK

½ pound good quality dark chocolate, aim for at least 60% cacao

¾ cup chopped dried fruits (use what you like apricots, cherries, raisins or a combo)

½ cup walnuts

½ cup oats

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground clove

  1. on a rimmed cookie sheet spread out the oats and walnuts and sprinkle with cinnamon and cloves

  2. toast in a 325 degree oven for 8-10 mins or until lightly brown

  3. in a microwave or double boiler melt chocolate

  4. stir in nut and oat mix and chopped fruit

  5. line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper and press out the chocolate mixture into a thin even sheet about ¼ inch thick

  6. chill in regriferator until firm, break into bite size pieces and keep in a sealed container in the fridge for several weeks

Above all else, be smart about portions, if you eat until you feel sick, blame no one but yourself. By all means taste everything but most times a simple taste will do, and do try to load up with the veggies and turkey and go light on the stuffing and potatoes, never forget that the original Thanksgiving was a celebration of the harvest, and by the way after this feast most families survived on very little in the ensuing winter months.

 

Understanding our 21st century food systems, the series.


I began my career as chef in the mid 1990’s just as the Food Network was gaining steam and chefs were beginning to be regarded with what only can be compared to rock star status. It was here the world of food began to change significantly. Food took a huge shift from being something that sustains us and gives us energy to thrive, what I like to call everyday food, to almost mythic status. Elaborate dishes that no home chef would ever make because of the multitude of ingredients or the amount of time it would take. A truly unsustainable way of feeding yourself and your family especially if you are subject to things like a busy work schedule, children and of course a budget.

Food and how we feed ourselves has become increasingly complicated, but ironically rather than hosting shows that actually teach people how to cook, the cooking shows now drawing an audience are all competitions, which serves only to make more home cooks feel even more inadequate. The desire for these foods pushed many of us into restaurants and out of our home kitchens. The result has been an enormous increase in obesity and all the diseases associated with it. Even worse we have become a nation of eaters who rarely sit down around the table for a family meal, and eat on the run from fast, casual restaurants in disposable packaging that isn’t just destroying our health, but the health of the planet as well.

I am trying desperately to gauge when exactly we became so disconnected from the food chain that we now simply ignore where our food comes from and how it is prepared. It was not that long ago. I teach cooking classes to seniors quite often, and when I speak to this generation of 70 and 80 somethings, they all distinctly remember milk delivery in glass bottles, going to the butcher to pick up their meat wrapped only in butcher paper and twine, and their kitchen gardens, a must have for all rural dwellers. Even my childhood growing up in the 1970s, grocery stores were a fraction of the size because we simply did not have all these packaged and processed foods and drinks. We drank water out of a tap or a water fountain, not disposable plastic bottles. So my best guess is about 30-35 years ago we had a major shift in how we view food and where it comes from.

Most of the time I tend to fall into the trap that it is America’s addiction to cheap food as the major driver, but a trip to Europe last winter proved me wrong there. Every meal we went out to, was probably ½ or 2/3 of what I would have spent in the U.S. for much lower quality food. So in fact our food isn’t quite as cheap as you think, and when people consistently eat out, it is quite expensive. We could then blame many of the additives and ingredients in packaged food that trigger those same dopamine receptors as heroin, causing us to become actually addicted to those junk foods. While we all talk about how to deal with the opioid epidemic and the growing numbers of deaths related to it, why aren’t we talking about addiction to sugar which kills more people annually through diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and even cancer than drug addiction. Perhaps the sugar industry has a better lobbyist than the drug companies.

As I continued to struggle with the idea of when and how we made this shift, my husband who is a bit older and a child of the 60’s, reminded me it was all about convenience. As women made the shift into the workplace, this did not absolve them of their so-called wifely duties, such as cooking and cleaning. However there are only so many hours in the day, so companies designed products to help those busy women. We started with items like Hamburger Helper and Shake and Bake, but in 50 years we have evolved into complete frozen meals and aisles and aisles of packaged foods to help cut your cooking and prep time. All of this created in the name of convenience and making life easier.

Here is a fundamental question, Is all of this convenience food making our lives easier and better?

I don’t have an answer but, I can confidently say as convenient as all this may be it is causing a whole host of environmental and health degradation that are having a significant impact on our communities. It is great to have all this convenience food that makes dinner prep quick and easy, but if the ingredients in those foods can lead to poor health outcomes and chronic illness perhaps we should think twice about purchasing these products. I tell clients all the time that those these foods seem inexpensive and convenient at the time, but you will pay with your health later on.

The conversation could go on and on, but the why’s at this point aren’t that important to me. What is important is how do we change our patterns of behavior and learn to embrace, or should I say re-embrace a simpler way of life, which inevitably includes how we feed ourselves. The task is monumental and when looked at as a whole, rather overwhelming. Like most change, it is hard to do but if you approach it in small reasonable ways, you can successfully change how you do anything.

So here are 3 easy steps to get you on the path towards a better way of feeding yourself and your family. If you get coffee out, which why would you when home brew is a fraction of the cost, use a re-usable thermal mug with a lid and never be without your re-usable canvas shopping bags. 2 small steps which can make a big difference for the planet but the last one is for your health. Aim to eat 1 meal everyday that is from only whole plant based foods, aim for absolutely no plastic films as well. These small steps go a long way to improving your health and the health of the planet.

Simple Changes, Huge Rewards

Last  week’s blog post talked about new beginnings and how to start a new healthy regimen.  In it  I spoke of 4 simple changes to get you started and if you missed them here they are again:

1) Eat more plants, 1/2 cup servings 6 vegetable, 3 fruit EVERYDAY

2)Avoid meat and dairy as much as possible, perhaps a few days a week or before 6 everyday

3)Avoid white sugar

4) Eat your carbs at lunch

I know it is hard to imagine that simple changes can reap huge rewards, but it is a very real fact that the small incremental changes we make towards achieving a healthier lifestyle have a far greater impact than grandiose measures.  Why is this?

Simple, when we make small changes to our everyday lifestyle, they are manageable and thus sustainable.  Going vegan 3 days a week is realistic, going completely vegan for most is near impossible.  It is our nature that when we make huge changes and then fail to meet those challenges we set forth, we simply give up.  However when we achieve a goal, albeit a small one, we are enervated  and ready to face the next challenge.

So if you take nothing else from this here is the key:  EACH DAY AIM TO MAKE A SMALL POSITIVE CHANGE TO YOUR NUTRITION LIFESTYLE. Perhaps today is saying no to cream in your coffee or resisting that candy in the dish at the Post Office, our small choices do in fact have a huge impact as they grow organically each and everyday.

So what’s your small change today?

September means a New year =a New You

I don’t know if it is due to the fact that I have kids who start school after Labor Day or perhaps it is my Jewish roots, but September always seems like the new year to me.  September brings winds of change in so many ways, and for me it always holds the promise of positive change.  It is a new beginning, a chance to re-invent ourselves or the way we live our lives.  At the Optimal Kitchen it is no surprise that our focus is on positive changes to the way we eat, so let us sow the seeds of change in your nutrition life.

Summer can be a challenge, especially for those of us living in summer tourist destinations.  The temptations are endless, whether it is ice cream, fried clams or a burger on the grill.  Here on Cape Cod, summer is an endless party so adhering to a healthy nutrition lifestyle is even more daunting.  But it is September and the party is over and now its time to think about some positive changes.

When looking to make changes in how we eat, it is human nature to start with an extreme, such as no wheat, sugar or dairy.  As great as it is for you to give these things up, the realist in me informs us that it is not the most realistic option.  Instead aim to give up just one of these items, or try to give up all 3 during the week but allow for some indulgences on the weekend. Remember balance is key to sustainability, and this can be a delicate dance to find what works for you.

So hear is a list of suggestions, all quite simple changes in your lifestyle that will help get you on a better path.  They are not groundbreaking and there is no magic elixir or pill, but if you start applying some of these simple changes you may find yourself feeling great and slimmer by the Holiday season.

1)Eat more plants, aim everyday to have 6 fist size servings of vegetables and 3 fruit, if you do this you simply have no room for many other foods

2)Try to avoid all meat and dairy at least 3 times a week.  No doubt you have seen recent articles touting a vegan lifestyle , however I realize this can be extreme for some so instead try to be vegan at least 3 days a week or try the Michael Pollan trick, vegan until 6pm

3) Avoid white sugar, there is nothing anyone can say to make me think white sugar is ok.  It is amazing how Molasses, which is what sugar is refined from, is so full of nutrients, such as potassium, that gets completely stripped away during the refining process.  Sugar leads to all sorts of unhealthy outcomes, diabetes and the proliferation of malignant cells being the 2 major reasons to avoid white sugar.

4)Eat carbohydrates at lunch.  Carbs are fuel and if you are active you need these foods in your diet, in fact, I don’t like anyone to isolate out an entire food group unless you have allergies or another medical condition.  However eating carbs late in the day when you are less active leads to higher resting blood sugars and possible weight gain.  Eating these foods at lunchtime and doing something active in the afternoon, taking a walk or yoga class for example uses up that excess blood sugar.

Start here with these 4 simple changes and you might just be amazed to see the changes that start to emerge!!!!!!