December 29, 2010

What's Cooking At Le Chateau Soleil?

Grapefruit Kanten in Shell

Many people may be wondering what the heck has been happening at Le Chateau Soleil?  I haven't stopped cooking.  I've been learning.  A LOT.  

Here is my favorite new cookbook:
Kansha: Celebrating Japan's Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh.

If you are serious about expanding your cooking talents, get this book.  It is full of cooking techniques, ideas and ingredients you have not likely encountered before. Kansha means "appreciation" in Japanese.  It is a philosophy of appreciating the abundance of vegetables and being frugal with them.  No waste.  Just the cover of the book alone shows many dishes you can make with the whole daikon radish, green tops included.  

While the book is not oil-free, most of the recipes can easily be adapted.  Many of them are already oil-free.  It does not take much reading to see how traditional Japanese cooking kept people healthy.  It was based on three things: rice, soup and pickles.  All plant-based, whole food cooking.  Truly an amazing and very challenging book for a Western chef.  

I am also doing a fair bit of work these days locally organizing ways to prevent obesity and diet-related disease in Atlanta.  So, my apologies for the delay in posting, but not to worry.  I'm still around and will post as often I am able.

Hope everyone is having a great holiday!

October 20, 2010

Recipe: Lemon-Rose Quinoa with Oven-Dried Sungold Tomatoes, Torn Basil and Pomegranate Arils

This recipe was a late-season treat spanning end-of-summer vegetables and fall fruits.  It also gave me an excuse to use the word "Arils" aka pomegranate seeds.

This dish can be served at room temperature or cold.

First, I have to thank Madhur Jaffrey for her recipe of oven-dried tomatoes.  It is in her book Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More Than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the World which you will find in my recommended books on the left side of this web site.

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
Take one pound of cherry tomatoes and cut them in half.  I used sungold tomatoes from my garden.  Put them cut-side-up on a baking sheet.  Lightly dust with salt and sugar.  Bake at 175 degrees for 7-8 hours until they are slightly chewy but not dry like a raisin or sun-dried tomatoes.

If you don't have time for this, I would soak sun-dried tomatoes in boiling water for 10 - 15 minutes and then roughly chop them.

Lemon-Rose Quinoa
2 C of cooked quinoa (salted to taste)
1/4 C oven-dried tomatoes
1/4 C pomegranate arils
1/4 C lemon juice
1 t rose water
1/2 t mustard
Small handful of fresh basil

Combine lemon juice, rose water and mustard.  Whisk until the mustard is fully incorporated.  Set aside.  To the quinoa, add the tomatoes and pomegranate arils.  Tear basil leaves in half or thirds and add to quinoa.  Add the lemon-rose mixture and stir.

For plating, I packed the mixture into a one-cup measuring cup.  Tap the cup gently on a plate and the whole mold should come out easily, like the picture.

Serves two.


October 9, 2010

Recipe: Stuffed Lychee with Citrus Coriander and Chili

Finally, an easy one!!!  It doesn't get any easier than this and you will blow your guests away with this appetizer.  No cooking necessary, just whole delicious food, the way nature intended.

1 T coriander (aka fresh cilantro), finely diced
2 T lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1 red chili pepper. thinly sliced
6-8 lychees (fresh or canned)

Mix the cilantro and lemon juice in a small bowl and let sit.  If using fresh lychees, remove the stone from the center without destroying the structure of the lychee.  Canned lychees are usually pitted.  Cut a thin slice off the bottom of each lychee so it can stand up on its own.  With a small spoon or knife edge, fill each lychee with the lemon coriander mix.  Garnish the top with paper thin slices of chili pepper.  Serve cold or at room temperature.

Serves 3-4.


October 2, 2010

Awesome Cornbread!

So, every once in a while you nail a recipe.  I brought this cornbread to a church community meal with chili.  It got rave reviews and multiple requests for the recipe.  Sorry, no pictures on this one.  It disappeared too quickly.

Truth be told that night at church, I was wingin' in.  I didn't have all the ingredients I needed and I even borrowed ideas from a banana bread recipe.  Great accidents do happen.  It is moist and slightly sweet with a great texture.  If you like a sweeter cornbread, use 1/3 C of sugar instead of 1/4 C.

Nutritionally, this corn bread clocks in at just under 11% fat with about 6 grams of protein per serving!  

1/2 C corn grits
1 C masa flour (found in your Mexican section of the grocery store, usually used for tamales).
1/2 C white whole wheat flour
1/4 C sugar
2 T ground flax seed
2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 C unsweetened soy milk
1 C water
2 T lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray oil one 8x8" pan.  A cast iron skillet will also work.

Mix the grits, masa, flour, sugar, flax, baking powder, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.  In a large measuring cup, mix the soy milk, water and lemon juice.  Pour the liquid mixture into the dry mixture and stir until most all the lumps are gone.  You should have a thick batter.

Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 30 - 35 minutes until a toothpick comes clean.  Serves 4 - 6.


September 26, 2010

Follow-Up on Bill Clinton's Diet

Another CNN interview about Bill Clinton's diet.  This one with Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn and Dr. Dean Ornish, the two doctors who Bill Clinton cites as his inspiration.  You'll find both of their books on my sidebar.

September 23, 2010

Go Mom and Dad Go!

Ladies and gentlemen, what you see before you is none other than the pantry of my parents.  They started eating a low-fat, high fiber plant-based diet in the past year and now look.  Not sure you can see them all, but there are 30 different varieties of legumes on those shelves!  If there was ever research to be done on how to live forever, this is the place to go!  Way to go Mom and Dad!

September 22, 2010

Nutrition Basics: How Serious Is This?

Some people may wonder, how serious is the health problem in the United States?  The figure is staggering...

If you add up all the military deaths of the 20th and 21st centuries including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan, that is only 60% of the number of people who die every year from diet-related disease.

Keep eating those vegetables!

September 21, 2010

September 13, 2010

We're on "This Is Why You're Thin!"

Le Chateau Soleil was featured this past week on the web site: This Is Why You're Thin.

It's a great site for cooking ideas and focuses on "inspiring images of the things that make and keep us healthy."  Enjoy!

September 6, 2010

Cuisinart Green Gourmet Review; part 2

Pancakes with no oil from the Cuisinart Green Gourmet fry pan

So, I've thrown everything I've got at this pan.  Eggplant with no oil, fresh tofu, pancakes and everything was a non-stick success.  You can see from the picture of the pancakes above how evenly the pan heats too.  Those pancakes filled the pan, so it's not like there was part of the pan that was unused that might be a hot-spot.

When it comes to cooking without oil, I highly recommend this pan.  It's also pretty affordable at $45.  You probably spend that much on extra virgin olive oil each year.

A few other things to note about this pan.  The handle has a v-shape where it connects to the pan.  This great little bit of ingenuity keeps the handle from getting hot while cooking.  Just an added bonus...

There is, of course, the issue of longevity.  How long does the non-stick surface really remain non-stick?  I will report back on this over time as I continue to use the pan.  Supposedly, in time, the non-stick properties tend to fade but the pan can then be seasoned or oiled much like a cast-iron pan.

I have submitted requests to two other "eco-friendly" non-stick cookware producers, Earthpan and Safepan.  They have no yet responded to my request.  I hope they will.  I would love to see how they stack up against Green Gourmet.

September 1, 2010

Cuisinart Green Gourmet Review; part 1

So, I put the Cuisinart Green Gourmet fry pan to the test tonight.  There are some foods that stick to EVERYTHING when you try to cook them.  Things like raw potatoes or raw garlic.  So, thanks to a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, I made a dish with both!

First a few rules about the Green Gourmet.  No metal utensils.  I use wood.  No dishwashers.  Only wash by hand, which is fine.  I hand wash my cast iron too, so no biggie there.  Only cook at medium high heat or below or things burn.  No problem there either.  Just be aware.

Disclaimer: No oil was used at any time during this session and no olives or canolas were harmed during the creation of this dish. :-)

The dish is quite simple.  Cut a pound of potatoes into chunks and stir fry them on the stove with garlic, ginger, salt and cayenne.  What happened?

The Green Gourmet performed quite well.  The food did not stick.  I will say though that as the potatoes cook, a starchy film formed on the pan.  As the film cooked, it came off with my spoon and it just added flavor bits back into the food.

Overall, the Green Gourmet performed as good or better without oil than a regular fry pan with oil.  It was not perfect, as I mentioned the film that formed on the pan, but it came off easily and clean up was very easy too.  Any other regular fry pan would have required some kind of soaking to remove stuck potato and garlic.  This was a tough dish for any pan.  Green Gourmet did great.

So far so good.  The next challenge is tofu and eggplant sans oil, two more culprits notorious for sticking to everything.  Stay tuned...

August 31, 2010

Cuisinart Green Gourmet Cookware

Thanks to our friends at Cuisinart, I am happy to announce that I now possess a 12" fry pan that is part of the Cuisinart Green Gourmet eco-friendly, non-stick cookware line.  When it comes to oil-free cooking, I will be putting this one to the test and reporting back.

For a quick summary about the pan, click here.

Stay tuned for the results...

August 29, 2010

What's wrong with extra virgin olive oil?

This was a question posed by a reader on a previous post and I thought the question was so important that it bears its own post.  So here goes...

Extra virgin olive oil falls into the category of processed oils.  It is pure fat, including saturated fat and any nutrients that it once had while in an olive have been removed.  So, there is no nutritional value in it.

But isn't fat necessary in your diet?

Absolutely.  Fat is necessary.  According to Dr. Dean Ornish, the body requires about 5% of your dietary calories to come from fat for effective body functioning.

So why not throw on some olive oil?

Because the average American has about 35-40% of their calories coming from fat.  Wow!  That's 35% more than your body requires.  In addition, your body is very efficient at turning fat in your diet into stored fat on your butt.  Your body does not see fat as food!  Your body sees fat as emergency store and puts it away for a time when food is scarce.  Wonder why America is obese?  Check the fat content on packaged foods.

On any label, take the Calories from Fat and divide it by the total Calories.  On this label, Calories from Fat are 120.  Total Calories are 280.  120/280 = .43

That means this food is 43% fat by calories.  In short, put it back.  Go find the food without a nutrition label.  Where's that?  The produce section!

Let's look at a few vegetables and fruits:

Broccoli - 10% fat by calories
Kale - 11% fat by calories
Spinach - 14% fat by calories
Tomato - 7% fat by calories  
Apple - 3% fat by calories
Whole wheat - 4% fat by calories

You can see that Mother Nature provides plenty of fat for our bodies when the foods are in their natural state.  By cutting out processed oils and eating foods the way nature intended (raw or cooked), we provide our bodies the nutrient dense foods they want.

Most people who eat a whole-foods, plant-based diet with no added oils end up with a fat intake somewhere between 10 - 20%, which is great for your body and your health.  If your fat intake is above that, the average person will begin to see health issues creep in slowly.

So, if you want to include "healthy" fats in your diet, leave the bottles of oil behind.  Instead, add a few natural foods that contain oils like walnuts or flax seeds or avocados or olives.  A little planning goes a long way and you'll never have to buy a crazy expensive bottle of EVOO again.

August 26, 2010

What's Cooking Today at Le Chateau Soleil?

Whole wheat bread with my signature "S" scoring for Le Chateau Soleil.

"S" scoring from a side view.

For those who aren't familiar, scoring is cuts or slashes made into bread dough before baking.  The scoring provides a weak spot in the dough that allows the dough to "spring" or rise in the oven when it bakes.  You may have noticed on your bread at home that it will occasionally tear in places, likely near the base of the loaf.  This is because when you do not provide a weak spot for the dough to expand, it chooses whatever spot it wants, whether it is pretty or not.  Some bakers just make an "x" in their dough.  Others can be very artistic.  

I will be playing a lot with artistic scoring in the coming months.  Should be fun!  

Books and products I recommend...

Le Chateau Soleil is happy to announce that I will be reviewing and recommending products that support us along our adventures in low-fat, plant-based gourmet cuisine.

We now have a sidebar with books and products I recommend.  Please know, these are not just random books from Amazon.  I carefully choose every product and book for this site.  If you click through from our site and purchase any of the items, a small amount will be donated to Le Chateau Soleil to continue the work I do.

In the near future, I will be doing a full review of eco-friendly nonstick cookware.  Keep an eye out for that too!

August 24, 2010

Coffee Roasting Basics

People always ask me about coffee roasting in my adobe oven.  Here is a great primer video on the stages of coffee roasting.

You can even roast coffee in a simple hot air popcorn popper.  Does coffee really taste better if you roast it at home?  Imagine the difference in taste between a grocery store tomato and one that just came out of your garden.  You bet it tastes better.

Want to try roasting on your own?  Go to Sweet Maria's.  They sell some of the best green coffee in the world anywhere from $5 to $7 per pound.  It can't be beat.


August 19, 2010

Eat colors!

I had to share this photo of Japanese sweet potatoes from my garden.  The vibrant purple color was unbelievable.  Every ad you hear for food these days talks about antioxidants and how they help prevent cancer.  Interestingly, antioxidants in foods express themselves as colors.  Each one has a different, yet very positive effect on your body and your health.  It is also no coincidence that if you Google "highest antioxidant foods" that every list you find will be 100% fruits and vegetables.

If you wonder about the connection between the consumption of animal protein and cancer, check out the China Study.  It will change the way you think about food and its connection to your health.

So, when planning your gourmet meals, look for the brightest and widest array of colors to pile on your plate.  It is not only visually appealing, it's great for your body too.

August 18, 2010

What's Cooking Today At Le Chateau Soleil?

Whole wheat and semolina sourdough bread with rye mash

Let's talk bread.  I'm experimenting with a new bread technique that even the most experienced bread bakers may not know about.  It's the technique of sprouting and mashing grains.  What does that mean?  Here's a quick rundown for you.

Grains are packed full of complex carbohydrates or starch.  These are long chains of sugar molecules that will fuel the growth of the plant when you add water.  When a plant sprouts, the enzymes in the plant are activated and convert that starch into sugar for the plant.

If you sprout grains and then grind them up with water and cook them at about 150 degrees F, that is literally "the sweet spot" for the enzymes to covert starches to sugars.  What you get is a complex and sweet slurry or "mash" made from whole grains that you can use to make bread.  Beer brewers have figured this out too.  They call it "wort."  They add yeast to the slurry which eats the sugars and converts it into alcohol.  

In bread baking, what the mash produces is a sweeter, more complex tasting bread with a more moist crumb.  It is really quite amazing to be able to produce a sweet moist bread with nothing but grain, water and salt.  I do have to give credit here to Peter Reinhart and his Whole Grain Baking book.  He has a couple of outstanding mash bread recipes that use flour or spent grains rather than sprouted grains.  He's definitely onto something when it comes to using mash for maximum flavor development in bread, which I why I am pursing this technique further.  

These breads were baked in the adobe oven in the background.

So, here's my contribution.  I use whole rye grain.  Rye sprouts the fastest and has the greatest amount of enzymes producing the sweetest mash. 

2 C whole rye berries

Soak them in a bowl of cool water overnight.  In the morning, pour off all the water and place the berries in a colander or spouting tray so the berries are moist but not in standing water.  Cover the colander with a cloth or plastic.  Every 6-8 hours, stir the berries and rinse them with water so they don't start to grow weird stuff.  There should be no "off" smells from this process.  If you smell anything putrid, throw it away and start again.  In 24-36 hours, your rye should have sprouts 75-100% the length of the rye berries.

Once sprouted, dump all the berries in a food processor and let it run until the berries are all chopped into a lumpy paste.  Put the paste in a pot and add 4 C of 165 degree water.  Stir and cover.  Then place in a 150 degree oven for 3 hours.

After 3 hours, you will have your sweet mash.  Let it cool and put it in the fridge.  

I use this slurry to replace all the water in my bread recipes.  

But Dave!  How much do you use?  Is it a one-to-one ratio?  Post a recipe!  Give me something to work with here.  Can I use this in my bread machine?  

First, let me say that God gave you two bread machines.  Your left hand and your right hand.  No commercial machine can replace a baker's hands when it comes to knowing if you need more or less liquid in your dough.  For a good primer, check out my post on dough.  

Second, yes, I will post a recipe someday soon.  What's most important here is the technique.  You can adapt this and use it with any bread recipe.  If you play around with bread baking, you should be able to use this in a recipe without too much trouble.  Your dough will be slightly stickier than usual, so you'll want to look and feel more for the usual density and shape of your dough rather than the tackiness or feel of the outside of the dough.

Feel free to post questions if you have them.  


August 17, 2010

Recipe: Lemon Salad Dressing

When eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet with no added oils, salad dressing at home becomes more of a challenge.  Here is a recipe that is deceptively simple but so good.

This recipe fits a lunch-sized salad for one.

Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/4 t cumin seeds
salt and pepper to taste

That's it.  I eat this all the time.  I usually chop my salad into smaller pieces, squeeze the lemon, add the spices and toss.  Throw in the other half of lemon if you really like it lemony.

Everyone I have served this to has said something like, "Wow.  What's in the salad dressing?"  No fat.  All natural.  Gotta love it...

August 9, 2010

Recipe: Tempeh Italian Sausage

Since I now have a functioning adobe oven, pizza has been on the menu quite a bit at my house.  Many friends rave about my tempeh sausage.  It is very easy, so I thought I would share the recipe so others could enjoy it too.

Tempeh Sausage

8 oz. soy tempeh (unflavored)
3/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1 t dry basil
1 t dry oregano
1/2 t dry rosemary
1/2 t anise seed
1/2 t red pepper flakes (optional)

Crumble the tempeh into small chunks or individual beans.  Add salt, pepper, basil, oregano, rosemary, anise and red pepper.  Mix with hands until tempeh is evenly coated with spices.

Use this as a kind of sausage on any pizza or italian dish.  It is a great addition.  Enjoy!

August 5, 2010

Cooking Basics: Salsa

This is one of the easy ones that can turn you into a gourmet chef in no time.  Here's a basic primer on salsa that can enhance any dish.

I am going to assume that everyone has tasted a basic, old tomato-based salsa.  Take your pick of grocery store brands.  Here is the essence of it:

1/2 medium-size yellow onion  
2 cloves of garlic
1 t salt
juice of one lime
1/4 C of chopped fresh cilantro

3 medium-size tomatoes (base ingredient)
1 jalepeno (heat ingredient)

Toss it all in a food processor and pulse a few times.  Voila!  Fresh salsa, just like on the infomercial.  Here's where it gets fun.  This can be the basis of any salsa.

Salsa Base
1/2 medium-size yellow onion  

2 cloves of garlic
1 t salt
juice of one lime
1/4 C of chopped fresh cilantro

The rest is a base ingredient (like tomato) and some kind of heat (like jalepeno).  Replace tomato with avocado and you get guacamole.  Instead of tomato, try mango for mango salsa.  Any kind of fruit or mix of fruits can work.  Try pear and pomegranate.  Try pineapple or papaya or peach.  Anything can be a base.  Even carrots or beets or mushrooms.    

Then you can play around with the heat.  Instead of a jalepeno, the smoked variety is chipotle which can add a great flavor and heat.  Think of other hot stuff like black pepper, fresh ginger or wasabi.  Anything strong to wake up your guests.  

Another piece to play with is the lime juice.  Any citrus will work.  Lemon juice and orange juice work too.  

You can also play around with the onions.  Sweet Vidalia onions or red onions impart different flavors than yellow onions.  Try green onions too.  They will all work.  

For a fun meal, multiply the Salsa Base recipe by four or six.  The change the base ingredient and heat ingredient to make four to six different salsas at the same meal. 

These are all for fresh salsas.  I'm not a big fan of cooked salsas, but I'm all for cooking certain ingredients.  If you have a smoker at home, try smoking tomatoes or mushrooms and adding those to the base of fresh ingredients.  Play with colors too.  Carrots, jicama, pomegranate, etc.  

The more colorful your salsa, the more appetizing it will be.  Have fun!  Salsa is one of the great playgrounds of cooking as long as you know the basics.         

July 21, 2010

Recipe: Tortilla Soup

Before we get to this simple, elegant recipe, I need to rant.  I have a large garden in my backyard filled with beautiful heirloom tomatoes of all colors, shapes and sizes... yellow, green, deep red, purple and pink.  All together, they are absolutely beautiful and they explode with flavor.  Then I go to the grocery store and all the tomatoes are fire-engine red.  That's it.  No other colors.  They also come in only three sizes: regular, plum and cherry-size.  How did this happen?  Commercial agriculture ruins the quality of food and taste.  Exeunt soapbox.

Back to Tortilla Soup.  This is one of my go-to recipes that is super easy and can carry a ton a flavor.  It starts with a mirepoix.  Remember that thing I call flavor?

Tortilla Soup
1 large onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
Clean out the fridge veggies!

This is the perfect opportunity to clean out your fridge of old vegetables, even wilted lettuce.  Chop it up and throw it in.  What we're making is essentially a vegetable broth, but we want all the vegetables in there too!  They are all going to get blended, so you won't recognize any of it by the end.

Water fry the vegetables until they start to brown and carmelize.  Then add:

3 C water
3 C tomato puree
2 T cumin
salt and pepper to taste

Then bring to a boil and blend the whole thing with an immersion blender until smooth.  Then add:

2 C black beans, cooked

Let simmer for 15 minutes.  Before serving, turn off the heat and add:

1/2 C fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of one lime

Remember, adding fresh herbs or citrus to a dish after it has been cooked really livens it up.

Now, taste it.  Here's where you make some judgement calls that many people are afraid of.  If you want more tang, add another lime.  You won't hurt it.  If you like more cilantro, add more cilantro.  If you like the cumin taste, add another tablespoon.  If you want some heat, add a few dashes of chipotle powder.  Like I said, you won't hurt it.  This is what chefs do.  Go for it!  

Garnish with fresh tomatoes, cilantro, or even a slice of avocado.  Serve with warm corn tortillas.  Look for ones that have only "corn, water and lime."  You can even make your own using masa flour and water.  Check in the Mexican section of your store for Masa flour.  Sometimes it is called tamale flour too.

Serves 6-8.

July 18, 2010

Recipe: Beetza sauce!

The wait is over!  Sorry for the delay as I have been sitting on a beach the past week.  The recipe for Beetza sauce is incredibly simple.  Throughout many cultures, people have been pairing sweet foods and tart foods for thousands of years.  This sauce follows the same principle.  Sweet beets and tart balsamic.

Beetza Sauce
1 C balsamic vinegar
1 medium-size beet, sliced
1 medium-size onion, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

In a pot or pan, bring the balsamic vinegar to a boil.  Add the beet, onion, salt and pepper.  Cover with a lid and cook until the beets are tender.  Add more balsamic as necessary to keep liquid in the pan.  Then, put everything in a blender and blend until smooth.  Last, add a splash of fresh balsamic at the end.  Cooking balsamic tends to mellow out the tart taste a bit.  Adding a splash at the end brings that tartness back.  This will produce a thick, tangy/sweet sauce.  If it is too thick, another splash of balsamic or water should smooth things out.

That's it.  Amazing cooking doesn't have to be difficult.  On your favorite or homemade pizza crust, add the sauce, four cloves of garlic thinly sliced and lightly toasted in a pan, roughly chopped fresh beet greens and sliced fresh figs.  Then, bake it as you would any other pizza.

You gotta try this.  The taste is amazing.  The colors are beautiful.  You will be in heaven.  And with one taste, your friends will stop making fun of you for putting beets on a pizza too!

July 7, 2010

The Best Pizza I Ever Tasted!

We called it "The Beetza."  This was going to be a "What's Cooking At Le Chateau Soleil," but it was just too good for a standard post.  Honestly, this was the best pizza I have ever tasted and everyone who was at this dinner agreed.  I am from Chicago and have eaten a lot of pizza in my life, both vegan and non-vegan.  I don't say it is the best pizza I have ever tasted unless it really is.

Did I mention there was no added fat?  Did I mention there was nothing with a high fat content at all?  Did I mention that the sauce was made from BEETS!?!?!?

It was a pizza cooked in my adobe oven with a beet balsamic sauce, toasted garlic, beet greens and fresh figs on a 100% whole wheat crust.

Eating doesn't get better than this.  Recipe will follow soon.

June 24, 2010

Southern Cuisine: Hoppin' John, Killed Salad and Sweet Potato Biscuits

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage: Hoppin' John with Killed Salad and Sweet Potato Biscuits 

These recipes are part of an effort to preserve classic old recipes but with a no-oil, plant-based update.  Many classic dishes from our cultures are full of meat and fat and only push us further down the road toward heart attacks, strokes and obesity.  These recipes help us continue to enjoy the tastes of our past without sacrificing our health in the process.

Hoppin' John with Killed Salad, Sweet Potato Biscuits and Jefferson Davis Pie

These are classic Southern recipes that come straight out of the American Civil War 150 years ago.  Here's a quick rundown for those who don't live in the South.

Hoppin' John is the Southern version of beans and rice.
Killed Salad is salad and onions with a hot vinegar dressing.

I know I said I would start with Mom's nut roll, but Mom will have to wait.  This meal was wonderful!

Hoppin' John
3 C cooked brown rice
3 C cooked beans
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 t garlic powder
1/4 C minced fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe couldn't be easier.  The traditional recipe for Hoppin' John is even simpler.  Beans, rice, salt, pepper, onion and garlic.  This dish cried out for fresh herbs, so I added some cilantro.  Hoppin' John is excellent with Louisiana Hot Sauce too.  This dish can be served hot or cold.  Serves 4-6.

Killed Salad
1 head of lettuce, chopped
2 sweet onions, sliced
1/3 C tofu bacon bits (see below)
1/2 C cider vinegar

This salad has a salad dressing that is hot.  This is something I haven't run across before and it was excellent!  If you really love Vidalia onions, this recipe originally calls for 6 onions rather than 2!  Pan fry the tofu bacon bits mixture in a nonstick pan until crispy.  Then, add the vinegar and heat for 30 seconds or so until it boils.  Remove from heat and immediately pour over salad.  Serves 4.

Tofu Bacon Bits
1/3 C extra firm tofu, diced
2 T soy sauce
3 shakes of Liquid Smoke
1/4 t black pepper

Here's another cooking lesson.  What is bacon at its essence?  Salty, smoky protein with black pepper thrown in.  That's exactly what we have here.  Mix it all together and let marinate for at least an hour.  Then pour it into a nonstick pan and fry until crispy, about 10-15 minutes.

Sweet Potato Biscuits
3/4 C sweet potato, cooked and mashed
3/4 C non-dairy milk
2.5 C whole wheat flour
4 t baking powder
1 T sugar
1 t salt

This recipe needed very little translation except to eliminate a small amount of butter.  These biscuits are a bit dense but very tasty and authentic to tradition.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Blend sweet potatoes and milk together.  In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.  Mix wet and dry ingredients together thoroughly to make a soft dough.  If the dough is too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time until the dough holds together and is workable.  Roll dough to 1/2" thick and cut biscuits out with a water glass or biscuit cutter.  Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Makes about 12 biscuits.

June 23, 2010

What's Cooking Today at Le Chateau Soleil?

Yep!  That's no stock photo.  This decaf espresso roast came straight out of my adobe oven.  It's taken a while to design a roaster, but it works great.  Check out my homemade coffee roaster below.

For those who are interested in trying to roast your own coffee, I get all my green coffee beans from Sweet Maria's.  They have some of the best coffees in the world and they'll teach you everything you need to know to roast your own.  You can even do it in a hot-air popcorn popper!

Some folks wanted to see a close-up of the attachment point.

June 16, 2010

Preserving Our Cultural Heritage

I am launching a new series of posts called "Preserving Our Cultural Heritage."  So much of tradition in any culture revolves around food and in many cases, unhealthy food, full of fat and cholesterol.  I want to change that, so I have decided to use my expertise to convert great cultural or family recipes to be healthy, just like all my recipes:

-plant based
-high fiber
-low fat
-whole foods

Click here to send me your ideas or recipes!  I may not be able to get to all the recipe suggestions, but if not, I can certainly point you in the right direction.

Look for my first conversion to be my mother's holiday favorite, Nut Roll, an eastern European specialty.

And if you're looking for someone to convert your recipe for Grandma's famous pot roast, well, some things might best be left for the old family photo album. ;-)

June 5, 2010

What's Cooking Today at Le Chateau Soleil?

My new adobe oven.  Hand-made by me almost completely from recycled and scavenged materials.  It took an entire year to gather the materials and a few weeks to construct.  You will see many posts to come where I use the adobe oven.

For those interested in building your own earthen oven, all the instructions you need are in Kiko Denzer's "How To Build An Earthen Oven."

Nutrition Basics: Balanced Meals

What should my plate look like?

This is an easy one.  On average, your plate should have roughly 2/3 grains and legumes.  The other 1/3 is vegetables and fruits.  That's it.

Then listen to your body.  If want more vegetables or a massive power salad, eat it!  Just make sure you're eating whole foods and not a bunch of processed junk.

No need to count calories, read nutrition books, starve yourself, or pound down protein shakes.

This simple idea is all you need for great nutrition.  Everything your body needs will be taken care of.

Nutrition Basics: Satiety

Let me introduce you to what I call, "the french fry effect."

You sit down to a meal and you can eat three full plates of french fries.  Afterward, you feel a bit sick and a bit hungry, but somehow you ate all those potatoes without a problem.

The next day, you sit down to a meal and you are served one dry baked potato.  You can hardly finish it!

Why does this happen?

It all comes down to satiety, or what makes you feel full.  Strangely, the body does not register fat as food.  It is more than double the calories of carbs or protein, but the body doesn't really recognize it as food when it comes to eating.

Researchers say that the body sees dietary fat as emergency store.  It's not for everyday energy burning.  That's what carbohydrates are for.  Your muscles, your brain, your nervous system and many organs run purely on glucose aka carbs.  That's why when you eat carbs, it goes straight to your muscles and organs for use.  When you eat fat, it goes straight to your butt for storage.

So, when meal time comes, the foods that fill you up most are foods with:


That's why foods like beans and rice are so filling.  Every culture has their version of grains and legumes.  Beans and rice.  Corn and beans.  Wheat and lentils.  Rice and soy.  Many cultures' cuisines are defined by these foods.

Add fat and suddenly, your satiety is thrown off.  The body says, "Hey!  That's not regular food.  Send down more regular food."  So, you eat more.  A lot more...  just trying to get full.

By cutting added fat out of your diet, you get a double bonus.  Not only will you consume fewer calories by removing the added fat, but you also will get full sooner because there's no fat to throw off your satiety.

It's the most amazing thing.  When I started eating and cooking this way, I could only eat about 2/3 of the food I was able to eat previously.  Weight loss happened without even thinking about it or feeling like you are depriving yourself of good food.

So, eat!  Cut out the fat.  And stop eating when you feel full.  You'll be on your way to better health and effortless weight loss in no time.

Nutrition Basics: Fat

Fat is an abnormally large part of the American diet.  Most Americans eat a diet that is 35 - 40% fat.  Imagine your dinner plate and then picture that more than 1/3 of your plate is just pure unadulterated jiggly fat.  Wonder why 2/3 of America is overweight?  That's one big reason.

According to Dr. Dean Ornish, the human body needs a diet of a minimum of 5% fat to function effectively.  So, let's look at the fat content of a few vegetables.

Eggplant is about 8% fat by calories
Broccoli and Chard are about 10% fat by calories
Spinach is around 14% fat by calories

 So, what does this tell us?  Mother Nature gave us all the fat our bodies need in food's natural packages.  We don't need extra virgin olive oil dumped all over our foods because it is a "good fat" or because we "need" oil.

You don't "need" any processed oils in your diet for your body to function effectively.  

Mother Nature provides all the fat you need.

Sadly, in cooking, oil is ALWAYS the first thing people reach for to start cooking.  We use it to fry garlic and onions, we pan fry with it, we deep fry with it, we coat baking sheets with it, we add it to every recipe we make.  All that fat adds up.

The human body is extremely efficient at turning fat in your diet into fat on your butt.  You want to lose weight in a hurry?  Cut the added fat out of your diet.

EVOO may taste good but all the nutrients have been removed from oil.  The only thing in there is fat that's going straight to your butt and your arteries.

So, what do we do instead?

1.  Water frying
2.  Instead of olive oil, throw a few olives in your dish or a few walnuts or a slice of avocado.  Whole foods still have all their nutrients and are a much healthier choice than a bottle of oil.

Eat food the way Mother Nature intended.  Leave the EVOO at the store.

May 30, 2010

Lydia's Reckless Abandon #1: A Beginner's Perspective

Sometimes my recipes can seem complex, but anyone can apply these principles to cooking and have positive results.  The following is a guest blog entry by a beginning cook, who also happens to be my wife.  She has very little experience in the kitchen and prior to our marriage, her "go-to" dinner was angel hair pasta with a jar of sauce and frozen veggies.  

Check out her wonderful experience at gourmet cooking...

Today I tried to be Dave and make a gourmet dinner while Dave was out shopping.  I did this without any advance planning and just with what we had in the house.  As you may know, my idea of cooking is cooking Angel Hair pasta (takes 3 minutes) and then adding pasta sauce from the jar and hoping the pasta warms up the pasta and then maybe cutting up some stuff for a salad to go with it. So, if I can do this gourmet cooking thing, really, anyone can!   

Here is my story:

I wanted to go for a mushroom and white wine type rice dish with chickpeas.  I forgot to add the mushrooms (Doh!) and I didn't realize that chickpeas take WAY longer than rice to cook (especially if you don't soak them!).  What was really silly is that we had a container of already cooked chickpeas I could have used but I didn't know that/see them!  Regardless of all those things, it came out really good (just had cruncky chickpeas)!  The chickpea part of the recipe below is modified so this recipe will come out correctly!

I call this recipe: Lydia's Reckless Abandon #1

1.5 cups Water
1.5 cups white wine
2 cups Arroborio Rice
1 - 2 cans of drained canned chickpeas (or 1 - 2 cups of previously cooked chickpeas)
2 cloves of garlic (I used a garlic press, no fancy chopping for me)
juice of 1/2 of a lemon
1 tsp tarragon
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 rsp GROUND (not twig like) rosemary

I cooked the rice according to the package directions re: ratio of water to rice and replaced 1/2 the called for water with white wine.  The package called for 20 minutes of cooking and then it is supposed to sit for 10 minutes, which I followed.

I also separately steamed 2 small/medium sized zucchini's and cut up 3 raw carrots and a pear (My daughter wanted a pear so I told her I'd add one to dinner!).

When the zucchini was done I layered the plates with it and then added the carrots and pear around the sides.  After the rice was done (with the chickpeas still crunchy in my case!), I scooped the rice/chickpeas mixture over the zucchini.  Dave made a carrot garnish for me and I decided what to do with it-see picture!  Dave also recommended that we squeeze the other 1/2 of the lemon over the plates before serving which he did for me.

It was actually really good (other than the crunchy chickpeas)!

However, there is always room for improvement. Next time, I think I might use less white wine, replace maybe only 1/3 of the total water with wine.  Dave thought it was fine but I felt the wine taste was a little strong.  I also think I would steam the carrots instead of using raw ones.  Then there are the mushrooms I totally forgot about, I'd add those next time for the last 5 minutes of rice cooking time! Lastly, I felt like the dish needed a little more color so next time I might use steamed broccoli instead of or in addition to the pears or put some steamed broccoli on the top of the rice or something.

So that's my story!  Again, I must say that if I can do this gourmet cooking thing, anyone can!  Best wishes!  

May 12, 2010

Recipe: Baklava

Baklava is a personal weakness of mine and one of the great hurdles of fat-free cooking.  Typically, when cooking with phyllo dough, oil is brushed between every sheet of dough.  If you are using 12-15 sheets of dough, that much fat can add up contributing even more to the great big health disaster known as the standard American diet.

Even though this dish has no added oil, it is a small-portion, special-occasion type dish.  It has a lot of sugar.  The phyllo is processed but you can actually find whole wheat organic phyllo dough if you are lucky.  Because of the large amount of sugar, this recipe is not tops on the list of nutrient-dense foods, but the phyllo dough technique I use is noteworthy as we learn to cook in new and different ways to leave all the fat behind.  

14 sheets of phyllo dough (roughly half of a package)
4 C toasted chopped almonds or walnuts or both
2 T cinnamon

4 C raw sugar
2 C water
1/2 C agave nectar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t cloves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Make sure phyllo dough is at room temperature.  It usually takes two hours to thaw if it has been frozen.

While the oven is preheating, make the syrup.  Mix the sugar, water, agave, and spices together in a pan. Turn heat on high.  Cook to a syrup state at 230 degrees.  Use a candy thermometer for accuracy.  Careful to watch your syrup at 212 degrees.  It will want to boil over so use at least a 3 quart pot instead of a small sauce pan.  Stirring quickly at 212 degrees should also help prevent much of this mess.

While the syrup is heating, mix the toasted chopped almonds and cinnamon.  Once the sugar syrup is done, turn off the heat and set it aside.

On a cookie sheet, lay one sheet of phyllo and mist it with a spray bottle.  Place cookie sheet in oven for two minutes until the phyllo sheet is golden brown.  Remove from oven and place on cooling rack.  Do this will all 16 sheets.  Yes, we are cooking each phyllo sheet individually.  I use two cookie sheets and the process goes much faster.  You will also never get a soggy baklava using this technique.

Place two baked phyllo sheets on the bottom of a dry 16 x 9 rectangular pan.  Drizzle your syrup over the layer to cover.  Then add two more sheets, and a handful of the nuts to cover the layer.  Drizzle your syrup over the layer.

Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo, another layer of nuts and drizzle more syrup to cover.

Add two more sheets of baked phyllo (no nuts) and drizzle more syrup to cover.
Add two more sheets of baked phyllo (no nuts) and drizzle more syrup to finish the dish.

That's it.  No further baking required.  Cut into diamonds and sprinkle with a few nuts for garnish.


May 1, 2010

What's Cooking today at Le Chateau Soleil?

Deep-dish pizza with a whole-wheat crust, spinach and mushrooms 

April 8, 2010

Recipe: Pestomole

This is one of the easy ones.  It's pesto without the processed oil.  It's all whole foods so you get the benefit of all the nutrients that come along with that, even in avocados.  With dinner for six, this sauce clocks in just under an amazingly low 15% fat by calories per serving.  Compare that to the average pesto made with olive oil which has a heart-stopping 85% fat by calories.


1 medium bunch of fresh basil (enough to fill a blender with loose leaves--about 4 cups)
2 cloves garlic
1t salt
2 lemons, juiced
1 avocado
1 C water

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  This sauce will easily coat a full pound of whole wheat pasta.  Throw in some fresh tomatoes or a few steamed veggies and you'll have a great meal!

Note: One of the great things about pesto is this dish can be served warm or cold.

Serves 6.

March 31, 2010

What's Cooking today at Le Chateau Soleil?

Whole Wheat Mash Bread.  It takes a full week to make.

Recipe: Red Hots!

This was my birthday dish.  I have to say it is fabulous if you have the time to do it.  This is a 100% whole wheat chipotle cinnamon roll with tequila lime icing.

First, I must give credit where credit is due.  This recipe is adapted from Peter Rhinehart's Whole Grain Breads book.  It is a ground-breaking book when it comes whole grain bread baking techniques.  I cannot recommend it highly enough for any person looking to master the art of whole grain baking.

I also have to preface this recipe.  If you do not have a sourdough starter going at your home, this recipe could take you an entire week to make.  There are many things quick and easy about gourmet cooking.  This is not one of them.

Red Hots
If you do not have sourdough starter going or have never made sourdough starter, you can find a recipe here to make sourdough starter from scratch.  It will take about 5 days.  Once your starter is going, then you can continue with the recipe below.  The rest of the recipe only takes 1.5 days.

A soaker is just a mix that gets the flour wet and allows it to soak overnight softening up the fiber in the whole wheat flour.

1 3/4 C whole wheat flour
1/2 t salt
3/4 C soy milk or other non-dairy milk

Mix in a bowl until flour is full hydrated and allow to sit overnight at room temperature.

Sourdough Starter
5 T Active sourdough starter
1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C plus 2 T of room temperature water

Mix in a bowl until all ingredients form a dough.  Knead for one minute and allow to sit overnight at room temperature in a loosely covered container.  The dough will double in size overnight.

Tequila Lime Icing
I give the icing recipe here because it should sit overnight in the fridge for maximum flavor development.  I highly recommend doubling the icing recipe.
1 C powdered sugar
1 T soy milk or other non-dairy milk
1 T tequila
Zest of one lime

Whisk together ingredients until smooth.  Cover and put in fridge overnight.

Final Dough
Sourdough Starter
7 T whole wheat flour
5/8 t salt
3 T agave nectar
1/4 C soy milk or other non-dairy milk

In the morning, tear the soaker and sourdough starter into 10-12 pieces and place in a bowl.  Add other ingredients and mix by hand until a soft, slightly-sticky dough forms.  Knead by hand for 3-4 minutes.  Wet your hands and your kneading surface with a bit a water to keep the dough from sticking.  Then, let the dough rest for a few minutes while you prepare a clean bowl with a light spray of oil.  Knead the dough for one more minute then place it in the bowl and cover.

I cover the rolls with foil so they don't dry out but also the foil can create a dome so it doesn't touch the rolls.  Let the dough rise until it doubles, approximately four hours at room temperature.  In colder seasons, it could take six or even eight hours to double.

After the dough has risen, lightly flour your work surface and gently turn the dough onto the flour.  DO NOT PUNCH IT DOWN.  Whoever came up with the idea of "punching it down" just plain old didn't understand the art of bread.  You want to preserve the gluten structure that has developed as much as possible.

Lightly dust the dough with flour and gently roll it to approximately 1/2 inch thick.  Also, it is helpful to roll the dough in as square of a shape as possible.  That will make rolling the Red Hots easier later.

Chipotle Cinnamon Filling
6 1/2 T raw sugar
1 1/2 T cinnamon
1 t chipotle powder

Mix in a bowl and set aside.

When the dough is fully rolled out, using a spray bottle, mist the dough lightly and then sprinkle all of the filling over the dough all the way to the edges.  Leave an inch of dough at the top without any filling as that will seal the dough to itself once it is rolled.

Mist the filling with water again once it is all on the dough.  This just helps it stay in place while you roll.

Roll the dough tightly and keep it seam-side down on your work surface.  Then, using a dough cutter or a knife, cut the roll into thick slices, about two inches thick.  Place each slice on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

Let the rolls rise another three to four hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place pan in the oven and reduce temperature to 350.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake another 10 minutes.

The buns will turn out to be a rich brown color.  Let cool for five minutes before icing.

Recipe makes about 8 medium-size rolls.


March 29, 2010

Plating Basics: Cashew-Peanut Puree and Raspberry Preserves with Root Vegetable and Whole Grain Artisan Mash Bread

That's right folks.  PB and J with carrot sticks!  To show that presentation is a huge part of any appealing gourmet dish, I used a recipe that was so simple and so common that you can practice plating with any meal or snack.

I recently attended the Asheville Bread Festival in Asheville, NC where I had the opportunity to take a workshop from bread master Peter Rhinehart.  He actually discussed plating and said that he always looks for four things:

-Balance--Does the dish look balanced?
-Unity--Does the dish appear unified or does it look like you just went through the buffet line?
-Focus--Does the dish have focus and is the focus on what's important in the dish?
-Flow--What is the energy and spirit of the dish?  Did you capture it?

BUFF.  These are relatively subjective assessments, but it gives you an idea of what the pros look for when it comes to plating.  Here are my tips:

-Construct something--Find an interesting way to create something visually that people have never seen before.  There is as much art in presentation as there is in the cooking.  In our picture above, we elevate peanut butter and jelly with carrot sticks to a high art through presentation alone.  This dish could easily be served in a high end restaurant or it could end up in a school cafeteria based on presentation.  Find the art in your food.

-Look to add contrasting colors and flavors--Garnish and toppings are essential to any dish and are meant to be eaten.  Here I added a small sprig of Chinese broccoli flowers from my garden to draws the focus of the dish from the bottom to the top.  It also adds a floral hint to it all.  Use your imagination.

-Find the canvas--Don't try to add garnish where it won't be seen.  We eat with our eyes before it gets to our mouth.  Find the areas of your dish that look visually bland and find a way to add color or contrast.  Here the peanut butter is tan and the bread is brown.  It's very monochromatic.  So, we offset the peanut butter with the jelly and the bread with the flowers.  Suddenly, the dish has "flow" and energy.

There are no hard and fast rules here.  Play around.  See what looks artistic.  You can't make a mistake and your skills will improve each time you are intentional about plating.

March 26, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

For those who haven't seen the previews yet, check out the new ABC show premiering tonight, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  

He is in Huntington, WV, the most obese town in the most obese area of the country and he is trying to introduce them to healthier eating.  Although he does not currently advocate for a plant-based diet (as he will some day), he is helping Huntington take a huge step in the right direction.

This is required viewing for those who want to make change in their communities related to food choices.  Let's learn from Jamie's successes and mistakes and see if we can make a difference too.

P.S. For those jonesing for new recipes, my birthday celebration turned up a great twist on cinnamon rolls and more thoughts on plating.  Stay tuned!  

March 17, 2010

Recipe: Vegetable Melange with Wild Garlic and Zest of Lemon

Here is a great example of how you can make a dish outstanding or mediocre with all the same ingredients.  Remember, your end product is the result of your process.  If you have a mediocre process for cooking, i.e. throw everything in a pot and come back 45 minutes later, the result will be nowhere as good as it could be.  Use some thoughtful techniques, which I will describe here, and you can produce something incredible.

 Vegetable Melange with Wild Garlic and Zest of Lemon

This dish is quite versatile.  It can elevate cleaning out your fridge to a high art.  Here's what I used but feel free to adapt the ingredients to what vegetables you have on hand.

Mirepoix of green onions, wild garlic*, carrots and fennel bulb.  About 2 cups total.
3 zucchini, roughly chopped
3 C white beans
4 C of fresh kale and collards, roughly chopped
4 C mushrooms, sliced
23 oz. jar of tomato puree
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1T fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Fennel tops, cilantro and lemon zest for garnish
2 C brown rice
4 C water

*Note: Wild garlic grows everywhere around Atlanta and looks like a very thin green onion or a fat chive.  You can substitute garlic, garlic chives, chives, or whatever garlicky item you have on hand.

First, boil 4 cups of water.  Add 2 cups of brown rice.  Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.

Build your flavors
You should always build the flavors of your dish.  There is a spark of hope in most people's cooking as they always begin cooking by frying onions and garlic.  Why?  By browning onions and garlic, it develops deeper flavors in the food than if you just throw everything together.

So, we do this with each dish and with each ingredient.  Does this mean you may have to cook some things separately?  Yes.  Does this mean it may take longer or be more complex?  Yes. Is it worth it?  Yes.

Start by water frying your mirepoix until brown.  Now you've got a bunch of brown stuff that I call flavor, some of which has stuck to the pot.  So, now you need some liquid to pull that off the pan and incorporate it into the dish while building flavor at the same time.  Some people like to deglaze their pan with, say, white wine.  That would work fine here if you want.  I love the taste of browned mushrooms, so I use that instead.

Mushrooms have a ton a water in them that you want to draw out to deglaze your pan and incorporate all the flavors together.  Throw in your mushrooms and cover the pan for two to three minutes.  This will allow the mushrooms to begin to steam and release their juices.  You can add some salt if you like which will also help release the juices.

Once you see liquid in your pan, remove the cover, stir to incorporate the flavors and continue cooking on high heat until all the liquid is gone and the mushrooms begin to brown.  Congratulations, you just added another layer of flavor to your dish!

Now add your tomato puree.  You can even cook this down using the same technique if you want to concentrate the flavors more.  This is the reason people use tomato paste.  It's tomatoes cooked down into a more flavorful paste.

Add your zucchini, white beans, kale, collards, thyme and cilantro.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 - 15 minutes.

Use Fresh and Cooked Elements
The taste of cooked vegetables can be wonderful, however, it can also feel heavy as the vegetables seem "spent."  All the life has been cooked out of them.  To really improve the flavor and freshness of your dishes, add fresh/raw ingredients after the cooking has finished.

For example, lemon and other citrus will almost vanish in your dish if you cook them.  So, once the cooking part of the recipe has finished, turn off the heat, then add the lemon juice just before you serve.  It really perks up the flavors in a dish.

I always garnish with fresh tastes as well.  Garnish is supposed to look nice AND be eaten.  It is supposed to complement the dish.  Garnish is not a sprig of parsley next to a dead hunk of meat.  This ain't Sizzler.    

Garnish with the fresh fennel tops, cilantro and lemon zest.

Plate Artistically
Part of gourmet cooking is plating your dish so it is interesting and appealing.  Even with all the work and effort, this dish is basically vegetable stew with rice.  So, how can you make that look interesting?

I packed my rice into a small cup and turned it onto the middle of the plate.  I added the vegetable melange around it.  I then garnished the rice with the fennel tops, cilantro and lemon zest and added a few sprigs of the wild garlic to stand up straight out of the rice.

If you garnish the vegetables, you might not see it.  So, garnish the rice which is like a blank canvas waiting for some color.

When everything is said and done, here's the final product:

Serves 4-6


March 13, 2010

Recipe: Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli on Zuchini Ribbons with Sage Cream Sauce

Here's another wonderful pasta dish that is sure to impress.  Let's take it step by step:

Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli

Squash Filling
1 organic butternut squash
2 leeks
1/2 C toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Take one organic butternut squash and cut it in half length-wise.  Lightly spray a cookie sheet with oil and place the halves open-side down on the sheet.  Cook at 400 degrees until soft and tender, probably 45 minutes to an hour.  Let cool.

Scoop out the squash leaving the skin behind.  Then mash the squash in a bowl with your hands or a potato masher.

Dice the white part of two leeks and water fry it in a pan until it carmelizes and browns.  Add it to the squash with the walnuts, salt and pepper and mix well.

Sage Creme Sauce
This is a basic soy milk creme sauce with sage.  For another take on the same creme sauce, check out my Garlic Thyme Gnocchi with Fennel Creme Sauce and Bok Choi Twists. 

1 medium size onion
1 rib of celery
1 medium-sized carrot
1 C non-dairy milk
1/2 C silken tofu
1/2 C water
1 T nutritional yeast
2 t miso (any kind will work)
1 teaspoon of sage
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the onion, celery and carrot.  Water fry in a large sauce pan or small pot until brown, about 5 minutes.  This is your mirepoix.  

Add the non-dairy milk, tofu, water, nutritional yeast, miso and spices.  Blend with a hand-blender or pour mixture into a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Heat on medium-low until warm.

Note about the sage creme sauce: Remember to taste the sauce before you add the salt.  Miso is naturally very salty, so you should go easy on the added salt.  Also, if you want more sage taste in your sauce, add more sage.  If you are using fresh sage, you may need to add more to get the same taste from dried sage.

Ravioli Dough
If you have never made pasta before, it's easy.  Click here for Cooking Basics on Dough.

1.5 C Semolina flour
1.5 C Whole Wheat flour
1 C Water

Adjust flour or water as necessary to get a smooth, slightly tacky dough.  For a really smooth, pliable dough, make this the night before and let it rest in the fridge overnight until you are ready to use it.  You can make the dough up to three days in advance.

In a large stock pot, fill half way with water and put it on the stove on high to boil while you prepare the ravioli.

Roll the dough thin, to about 1/4 inch thickness.  As you make the raviolis for the first time, you'll see what is about the right thickness.  To cut the ravioli dough, you can use a biscuit cutter, a glass, a coffee mug, a ravioli roller, a cookie cutter, or anything you have on hand that will create circles or squares about 3-4" across.

Add a teaspoon of the squash filling to the middle of each round of ravioli dough.

Note: Be careful not to get filling on the edges or your ravioli may open when you boil it.

Using a small bowl of cold water, wet your finger and moisten the edges of the pasta round.  Then, fold the top of the round over the filling and seal it even with the bottom round.  You can use a fork to crimp the edges together.

Once you have made all the raviolis, drop them in the boiling water 8-10 at a time so they have room to spread out.  They will sink to the bottom and after a minute or two, they will float.  Once they float, give them another 30 seconds and take them out with a slotted spoon.

Zucchini Ribbons
These are very easy to do.  After washing your zucchini, use a zester or similar tool to scrape green strips off the zucchini and set aside.  Be artistic.  See the picture above.  This will be your garnish on top of the dish.

Then, with a peeler, shave the rest of the zucchini into thin ribbons.  Very lightly steam these until warm.  You can even do this in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Final Plating
Remember, presentation is a wonderfully creative part of gourmet cooking.  So feel free to get creative.

I placed a small pile of the zucchini ribbons on the plate.  Then, I stacked the ravioli around the ribbons and ladled the creme sauce on the ravioli.  I garnished with the fresh green zucchini strips.  You could also throw some fresh sage on with the zucchini strips to garnish.

Serves 4-6

Serve and enjoy!

March 8, 2010

Health Basics: Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans.  One American suffers a heart attack every 25 seconds.  37% of those heart attacks result in death.  Most all Americans know someone who has high cholesterol or who died from a heart attack.  However, what most people do not know is that heart disease is reversible and preventable.  So, this should be a high priority for public health officials, right?  

From April through October of 2009, more than 1,000 people died from the H1N1 swine flu.  Because of this outbreak, President Obama declared a national emergency.  During that same timespan, an estimated 380,000 people died from heart disease.  No national emergency was declared.

So, what can we do to reverse or prevent heart disease?  Eat a low-fat, whole-foods, plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains and starches.  Add in some exercise and you're on the road to ending one of America's worst killers.  Then, spread the word.  Our government hasn't made this the priority that it deserves to be, so tell your friends and family.  

Here are some good resources to check out on reversing heart disease:

The Spectrum by Dr. Dean Ornish
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn

March 7, 2010

What's cooking today at Le Chateau Soleil?

A new twist on whole grain cinnamon rolls.  Recipe to follow soon!

March 5, 2010

Nutrition Basics: Protein

Any time I tell people I eat a plant-based diet, they will predictably ask, "where do you get your protein?"  It is a refrain heard constantly by vegetarians.  Yet, when asked, how much protein does a person need?  Those same people have no idea what to answer.  So, here's the scoop without getting too technical:

Protein is used to repair damaged tissue, build cell walls, among its many functions.  The average person needs around 30 grams of protein per day.  One cup of brown rice and one cup of lentils equals about 23 grams of protein.  That's almost your entirely daily need if you ate nothing else all day!

It turns out that it is nearly impossible to be protein deficient when you are eating a diet that is full of unprocessed whole foods, starches and vegetables.  Even the needs of body builders are only 12% higher than your average person.  That would put their needs in the 35 - 40 grams per day range.

This is why my recipes are not packed with mock meats and other plant-based products like tofu, seitan and tempeh.  They have their place in plant-based cuisine but these sorts of refined protein foods are simply not necessary to meet one's daily protein needs.

So, where do I get my protein?  From an amazing array of vegetables, legumes, grains and starches that provide all the protein my body needs.   

March 4, 2010

Put Down That Recipe!

Many people say they can't cook but they can follow a recipe.  Although that is still cooking, what they mean is that they can't cook unless there is a recipe.  Going from being a cook to a chef is knowing the properties and tastes of ingredients so that recipes are minimally necessary.

My advice?  Put down that recipe!  Give it a brief look and then don't look at it again.  Smell the spices and learn why they are paired together.  Get your hands in the dough and learn what it feels like so you might be able to recreate it another day without the recipe.

The more you do this with recipes, the more comfortable you will get leaving recipes behind and getting creative with your cooking.  You think a dish needs thyme?  Throw it in!  Who cares if it's not in the recipe?  There are no recipe police... only emerging chefs in the kitchen.

So, go ahead.  Dump the recipe and make up the rest.  You will be a far better cook for it.

March 3, 2010

Recipe: Garlic Thyme Gnocchi with Fennel Creme Sauce and Bok Choi Twists

Thanks for being patient and sticking with me for the first recipe.  There were some cooking basics I had to get out of the way so readers could understand my recipes.  This is advanced stuff, but worth the effort.  Please read the entire recipe before venturing into this dish.  Trying to do this ad hoc could throw your dinner off by multiple hours.

Fennel Creme Sauce
1 large leek
1/2 fennel bulb
1 medium-sized carrot
1 C non-dairy milk
1/2 C silken tofu
1/2 C water
1 T nutritional yeast
2 t miso (any kind will work)
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Dice the leek, the fennel bulb and the carrot.  Water fry in a large sauce pan or small pot until brown, about 5 minutes.  This is your mirepoix.  

Add the non-dairy milk, tofu, water, nutritional yeast, miso and spices.  Blend with a hand-blender or pour mixture into a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Heat on medium-low until warm.

Notes on creme sauce: Remember to taste the sauce before you add the salt.  Miso is naturally very salty, so you should go easy on the added salt. 

Garlic Thyme Gnocchi
Remember the previous post on dough.  This is where it will come in handy.

For those who aren't familiar, Gnocchi is potato pasta.  Potatoes have no gluten, so we have to help it pasta-ize with durum wheat flour.  Durum wheat is the wheat grain with the highest protein content and readily will turn anything into pasta in the right proportions.  Whole wheat durum flour is difficult to find, however, you may find semolina flour or farrina flour at your local market.  Semolina and farrina are akin to the white flour of durum wheat.  At that point, we begin to get away from whole food cooking, but regular whole wheat flour does not usually have enough protein to stand up to boiling as pasta.

You can find other recipes on the web for pasta, even plant-based ones that use regular whole wheat flour.  All those recipes will add some kind of protein, either tofu or eggs or gluten flour.  Again, in trying to eliminate the processed foods and animal foods, whole durum wheat flour is the best choice if you can get it.

2-3 lbs. of potatoes
2-3 C of durum wheat flour
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
1 T fresh thyme, diced
Bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45-60 minutes until soft and tender.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Once cool, remove the skins and mash the potatoes by hand in a bowl until most of the chunks are gone.  DO NOT blend or put your potatoes in a food processor.  You will get wall paper paste.

Mix in the spices by hand.

Note:  I'm a big fan of using your hands to mix your food.  Forget the spoons.  Your hands are the best way to tell that the consistency of your dish is just right.

Now, add in the durum flour 1/2 cup at a time.  How much durum flour will you need?  Enough to make the potatoes into a workable dough.  Why is this so imprecise?  Your potatoes will vary in weight and water content.  The only way to tell is by mixing in the flour by hand.  This is real cooking.  Anyone caught using a spoon on this step will be put in a gnocchi time-out! 

Once you have your dough, roll it into long snakes between a half inch and an inch in diameter.  Then slice off half inch pieces and place them on a cookie tray dusted with more flour.  They can even sit out uncovered for hours without worry.

Then, you boil them like any other pasta.  For additional flavor, boil them in vegetable broth instead of water.  They will initially sink to the bottom.  After a minute or two, they will begin to float.  Give them another 30 seconds and take them out.

Bok Choi Twists
Bok Choi is a wonderful vegetable that carries a ton of water in it.  It has bright green tops and pure white stems.  The taste is reminiscent of a very mild horseradish.

It is a great accompaniment to the thicker fennel creme and gnocchi.  Chop off the base of the bok choi and wash the leaves individually to get all the dirt off.  Then slice the bok choi length-wise so each piece is long, narrow and has the white base with the green top.

Steam these VERY lightly... just enough to wilt the green but not the white.  The white should stay crisp.  It will be barely warm.  No salt.  No pepper.  Just bok choi in all its natural goodness.

Note:  Great cooking shines through not only in your choices to add ingredients but also in your choices to leave things as they are.  Explore the natural taste of plant foods.  Plants have a ton of flavor.  Think also about meat in American culture.  No one just eats plain meat.  They spice it and cover it up with all kinds of flavorful sauces which are derived from plants.  Explore them.  Plants are where flavor comes from.  

Final Plating 
Align the bok choi on the plate so all the white is on one side and all the green leaves on the other.  Twist the leaves together.

Spoon the gnocchi onto the plate and then spoon the sauce over it.  Don't mix them together in a big bowl first.  This isn't the old country buffet.  Plate all your food before serving.

The green tops of the fennel have delicate sprigs that are very flavorful and fresh-tasting.  Pull these off the fennel leaving the thick green stems behind.  Garnish your creme sauce with a generous amount of these fennel sprigs and serve!

Note: The fennel taste in this dish is quite mild.  For more fennel taste, finely dice more of the fennel bulb and garnish the dish with the diced fennel before you add on the green fennel sprigs. 

Serves 4-6