Tag Archives: Olive oil

Gorgeous, Delicious and Vegan (Really!)

Spinach Mushroom Burgers

Spinach Mushroom Burger on Mixed Greens with Avocado, Sunflower, Pumpkin Seeds and Green Beans

At the Living Yoga Retreat last week, I had the wonderful experience of eating delicious and healthy meals prepared by Megan Curry. Megan is a vegan chef, who owns and operates Curry Girls Kitchen with her mother, Peggy, in Southern California. (Peggy is also quite famous for creating Growing Great, a nonprofit that brings gardens and nutritional education into elementary schools. My son’s school benefited and has amazing gardens! Growing Great is also promoted yearly by none other than Jack Johnson, one of my favs!)

With that said, I was very excited to learn that Megan would be cooking our every meal (and yummy snacks!) during our five day retreat. Megan turned her own health crisis around through an organic, vegan diet and she’s learned how to make her meals, not just healthy, but also incredible! I was a bit skeptical at first, but am now a believer. I encourage you—especially if you have allergies, migraines, immune disorders or stomach issues—to visit her site for menu plans and recipes. Once the kitchen is stocked, which does take a little bit of effort, each dish can be prepared fairly easily. While Megan cooked many yummy meals for us, I’ve chosen to share her spinach, mushroom burgers, as they are a great way to incorporate immune boosting mushrooms and scallions with iron-packed spinach and high fiber. Enjoy!

Spinach Mushroom Patties: serves 4 – 6

Ingredients:

1 bunch of spinach washed, chopped

1-2 garlic cloves minced

2 green onions finely chopped

1/2 C finely chopped shitake mushrooms

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 C leftover cooked brown, white basmati, wild rice, or quinoa

1/4 C sunflower & pumpkin seeds, toasted & ground

1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning

Salt and Pepper to taste

Coconut or Olive oil

Directions:

1. Saute mushrooms, minced garlic and scallions in 2 tsp. olive or coconut oil.NVmushsaute

2. Add spinach and cover until wilted.
NVspinach

3. Drain and press off excess liquid. Set aside to cool.

4. In medium bowl, add the rest of the ingredients, and then add spinach mixture. Mix thoroughly.

NVvegangrainmix

wild rice and quinoa mix to add to spinach, mushroom, onions

5. In the same pan, heat 2 TBLS ghee until hot. Form spinach mixture into patties and saute until browned on both sides, approx. 5 minutes per side.
NVveganburgscooking

Once browned, they will appear like this:

NVveganburgers

Put on top of organic mixed greens with avocado, toasted pumpkin and sunflower seeds and fresh green beans and even your children will dig in! I like to drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice. YUM!!

For more incredible recipes and ideas, please visit Megan’s blog: http://currygirlskitchen-blog.tumblr.com/.

Quick, Easy Grilled Veggies and Sausages

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a dinner recipe. Summer got me off track and now I’m in warp speed with school activities and soccer practices. It’s hard to get motivated to cook a meal that requires sautéing or the use of multiple pots and dishes when your after-meal activities involve baths, homework and bedtime book reading—all within an hours time. After my boys go to bed, I’m desperate for 30 minutes to myself—not an hour of clean-up in the kitchen.

Last night I was faced with the reality of putting together a healthy meal in about 20 minutes. Two nights a week, my oldest has soccer practice and by the time we all return, my three-year-old will instantly start climbing the pantry, trying to grab any snacks he can reach. Yesterday I had planned to bake a chicken and accompany it with grilled veggies, but the evening got away from us and by the time we got back home, I didn’t have the time to bake a whole chicken—but why not the grilled veggies? And, since I had pre-cooked chicken sausages from Trader Joes in the fridge, I realized I could put together a complete meal in one pan, with little clean up. If you’re a fan of Jamie Oliver, (the naked chef), like I am—this meal is very similar to his side dishes for winter roasts. So who says you can’t make side dishes the main attraction? And, you know what? My boys ate it up! Even the brussel sprouts. There’s something about roasted garlic and onions with a touch of salt that makes everything yummy. I hope you enjoy this last-minute creation as much as we did!

Ingredients:

2 sweet (Maui or Vidalia) onions, cut into wedges

1 pack of 6 pre-cooked sun-dried tomato chicken sausages, cut into 1 inch slices

6 cloves of garlic, sliced.

1 pack of cut brussel sprouts

1 small bag of fingerling Russian potatoes or variety pack of gold and purple potatoes, cut in half

Marcona almonds with rosemary (This is optional, but add them, or other nuts, afterwards before serving for a bit of a crunch)

Salt and pepper to taste

Olive Oil

Instructions:

– Preheat oven to 410 degrees Ferenheit

– In one grilling pan, add brussel sprouts, onions, garlic, potatoes and sliced sausages

– Coat with olive oil

– Add sea salt and pepper to taste

– With clean hands, toss and coat well

Cook for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are brown

– Cool for 5 minutes

– Add a handfull of marcona almonds for extra crunch

– Serve in bowls and enjoy!

Tuning in to the Rhythms of Tuscany

I can’t seem to tire of the Tuscan landscape. I have been here for two and a half weeks now and am still in love with the rolling hills, the textures and the vibrant colors of this region of Italy. Deep greens, golden fields and silver wisps of leaves surround me. As you drive, or walk, throughout Tuscany you see amazing landscapes such as this, that have been manipulated by man for centuries.

The curved rows of plowed, mustard-yellow fields are of the semolina wheat used to make pasta (that I am eating too much of!). By the end of June, most fields are plowed with bales of wheat rolled and waiting.

I adore the ever-present groves of olive trees, like these just outside our window. The Frantoio Franci olive oil company is  in walking distance to our vila. These are younger trees that are not producing usable olives just yet. Off in the distance, are older, more rugged trees with darker leaves, that are being harvested.

We are awakened each morning by the sound of tractors and the yips from the workers’ dogs who accompany them. The red ladders and three-wheeled mini pick-up trucks are often back in the fields after siesta—when the temperatures drop again and it is easier to work. Siesta, which is approximately from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., is completely understandable to me now. With temperatures between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit daily, it’s critical to slow down—especially when working outside. Most businesses, except restaurants, are closed during this period as well. There seems to be no option but to take life slowly in Italy. When we first arrived in the province of Siena, I was concerned by the fact that there was no wifi in our villa and it was hard to come by in the village. I had an article to finish about Autism. I managed to do it on a dialup modem—but it was a looong and frustrating process. I couldn’t Skype with my boys. Email was hard to check. It felt like I was adrift. Once the story was in, I relaxed and started to breathe deeply and became more in tune with the rhythms of this world that are intrinsically linked with its landscape. My siestas became endearing to me. Here’s a typical siesta:

I sit in the local piazza. I notice a grandfather making amusing faces at his grandson as he buys him a gelato before heading home. I hear the adorable singsong voices of children who say papa! as they run home. A woman smiles and makes fun of me, calling me an “Alaskan” since I prefer ice cubes in my drink. I notice a momma bird feed her baby bird bread crumbs on the piazza floor.

I see a momma cat and her kittens hide in the shade of chairs.

I watch bees harvesting nectar from the potted lavender bushes and hear the bells chime from the convent on the hill above the village. A Vespa whines in the distance. I take a bite from my panini of prosciutto di Parma and Fontina cheese and think how marvelous it is that I haven’t once looked at a cell phone text or read an email. This won’t last, of course. But I am so thankful to have been given this temporary taste of freedom from my addiction to the Internet and with the need to keep up with all things and all people all the time. I give in and tell myself that my boys are just fine without me for a brief time. I pull out a map and start to plan a day excursion to another village. I begin to think about dinner—the obsession with food is quite contagious in Italy. And by the end of an hour, I head back home. Perhaps boring for some, but for me, being in the moment and present in my surroundings is a gift. I want to bottle it up and take it home.

When we arrived at the end of June this was just another green field with rows of leafy plants. Within two weeks, like so many of other fields in this region, it literally burst overnight with bright yellow and brown heads beaming up towards the sky. Driving past later in the afternoon, I shot this picture from the car window. I didn’t have time to stop with another car close behind me on a winding two-lane road—but I couldn’t resist the urge to capture their newly emerged faces. These proud, tall sunflowers seemed to scream “Smile, Damn it!”

And I did.

Slowing Down in Tuscany

View from my bedroom in Sinalunga, Tuscany

Tuscany reminds me,  in some ways, of my summers in the South. I know, there are no olive tree orchards (like you see here) or cypress tress or fields of sunflowers or lavender and rosemary bushes the size of small trees. But, with that said, one has to slow down here. It’s so hot, for instance, that you really do need a siesta in the afternoon. Stores and restaurants shut down from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and it’s completely understandable. There is no air conditioning, anywhere.  So you close all the shutters and windows during the day, walk very slowly when out, seek lemonade and gelato and try to find spots in the shade.

Lavender bushes outside our kitchen in our villa. The smell is amazing!

Everyone slows down here, especially the cats! (And there are so many wild cats!) This sweet gal hides in our rosemary bushes outside our kitchen with her babies. Of course, we are feeding her…how could we not?

Look closely. Do you see her?

What I love most about Tuscany, is that the minute you arrive, your spirits begin to lift. How could they not? On the drive from Rome, you see fields of sunflowers, or a castle up on a hill, or a Romanesque, walled town off to your left. As we pulled into our villa, I smiled ear-to-ear. How can one not be affected by such picturesque beauty?

Our closest neighbor on a nearby hill.

View from my other bedroom window. The owners of this villa owns the working olive tree orchard and makes their own olive oil. I’m sure we’ll take home a few bottles!

More lavender behind the house. My absolute favorite scent at the moment!

Must-Haves For Your Pantry

Single parents always watch their budgets—so I know it’s a hard sell to convince us to stock up our pantry with expensive items. But believe me, it will make life SO much easier if you do. With certain go-to items always on your shelves, you can whip up a last-minute pasta, chicken or fish dish that is healthy and flavorful for your kiddos. And from an expense perspective, stocking up the pantry with these items each month will save you money in the long run. Ordering pizza or grabbing fast food two or three times a week isn’t as cheap as you think. If you haven’t read this New York Times article, “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” I highly recommend it!

Even if you don’t go out to eat much during the week, serving your children processed foods like chicken nuggets and hotdogs or frozen or canned meals— loaded up with sodium—sets them on the path to obesity, or a limited palate at the very least. My time living in Europe inspired me to try to always serve one meal and eat with my children—helping them to develop healthier, broader tastes—and letting us enjoy more quality time together. Trust me, kids will eat what you do, eventually. I saw my son when he was three (now 10) eating chicken curry pie with beats and parsnips at his nursery school in London. It’s eye-opening, but for another blog post.

So, as I was saying, I know it’s exhausting after a long day at work to come home and cook and then have clean-up later. But I promise you if you can aim to do it five nights a week, it will improve your health, your waistline and your children’s health dramatically. Here are my monthly must-have pantry items. They have been lifesavers on many evenings as I’ve been able to throw together tasty pasta or add more flavor to veggies, sides or invent a quick pork or chicken dish. If you have a Trader Joe’s or a CostCo near you, you can really save money stocking up on these. And if you have any to add to my list, please chime in! I’d love to know your favorite staples.

Laura’s Must-Haves In the Pantry:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Red Wine Vinegar
  • Capers
  • Whole Grain Mustard
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Olives (I’m in love with spanish green with whole garlic cloves in the center at the moment, but also have canned black, green and mixed on hand.)
  • Canned White Tuna Fish in Water. (Only eat once a week, at the most, due to methyl mercury. Read this article I wrote about the top pollutants for our children.)
  • Crushed Ginger Paste
  • Dried Oregano
  • Pitted Prunes
  • Dried Apricots
  • Lazy Chopped Garlic
  • Mango Chutney
  • Marinated Artichoke Hearts
  • Jar of marinated sun-dried tomatoes
  • Pine nuts
  • Marcona almonds
  • Can of large white beans
  • Chopped walnuts
  • All fruit spreads: raspberry, blueberry, apricot
  • Soy sauce
  • Figs
  • Good Large can of cream Tomato Vodka Sauce
  • Cans of Chopped Tomatoes.

Chicken Marbella: Elegant & Fast

Chicken Marbella is a wonderfully easy dish to prepare with very little clean-up. (And isn’t that what all us single parents need?)I love how elegant it is and it’s great to serve when you have friends coming over as adults love it and kids do too! If you have picky eaters, this dish will introduce them to Mediterranean flavors and we all know that a Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest for longevity. Read this article by the Mayo Clinic if you want further proof! While this dish does require some pricey ingredients, if you stock your pantry with them once a month, you’ll be able to cook a variety of dishes at the drop of a hat. I started cooking Marbella more than 10 years ago from a recipe that I found in the Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins. I’ve tweaked it so much over the years that it’s my own version now. Cook a lot more than you need, as it’s actually better the next day with extra marinade time, is good cold at picnics and also freezes well. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as we do!

Servings: Serves 10 or more
Ingredients
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup pitted Spanish green olives with whole olives in the middle
  • 1/2 cup capers with a bit of juice
  • 6 bay leaves
  • 1 head garlic , peeled and finely puréed (or two tablespoons lazy chopped garlic.)
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 8 chicken breasts cut into small 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces.
  • 1 cup dry white wine (Red wine works fine too!)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley or fresh cilantro , finely chopped
  • Optional item: small pearl onions.
  • Handfull of brown sugar (also optional. I’ve cooked without and it’s still delightful.)
Directions
Combine the olive oil, vinegars, prunes, apricots, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, oregano and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.Preheat the oven to 350°. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in one or two large, shallow baking pans and spoon the marinade over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with the brown sugar and pour the wine around them. Bake, basting occasionally with the pan juices. Cook for 45 minutes, but check after 30.With a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter. Moisten with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices and sprinkle generously with the parsley or cilantro. Pass the remaining pan juices in a sauceboat.

Serve over couscous and with a mixed green salad.

Stuffed Shells: What’s NOT to Love?

This week my son and I made stuffed shells together. (Don’t you love the picture taken by my son?! One might get the idea that I’m June Cleaver … Ha! We all knowbetter!) While my two-year-old was in school, my oldest and I set up an assembly line in the kitchen and stuffed shells, shredded Parm and made a bloody mess. This is such an old-school, yummy recipe, and you can make enough for two dinners and freeze some for another time. (Which should be some consolation for all the clean up involved!) I served mine with a mixed salad, but you could add sauteed spinach to your sauce to make a complete meal. Sorry, this isn’t fat, gluten or dairy free, but so good for a special treat!

Prep: 50 min. Bake: 30 min. Oven: 350 F

Ingredients:

12 oz dried jumbo pasta shells

3 – 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 lb. lean ground beef, organic preferred

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped, or two teaspoons pre-chopped lazy garlic

2 28-oz cans peeled and diced tomatoes, or whole and squeeze and chop yourself. (Doctor this with Italian spices, basil, pepper.)

2 handfuls of garlic-marinated mini button mushrooms (found at Trader Joes or other stores in section with olives)

1/3 medium red onion chopped.

1 15 oz carton ricotta cheese (low fat if preferred)

1 1/3 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a baking pan or two, as you may want to freeze a batch.

2. Bring a large pot of water with a pinch of salt to boiling. Add shells and cook until slightly tender, 5 minutes. Drain and arrange a single layer in baking pans.

3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and salt and pepper to your liking. Stir 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef and continue to stir 5 minutes or until no longer pink.

4. For tomato sauce, in a second skillet over low heat, combine remaining olive oil, garlic and undrained tomatoes and mushrooms. Season with Italian spices: a dash or oregano, pepper and basil. Simmer and cook 15 to 20 minutes.

5. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the tomato mixture into ground beef, add ricotta and 2/3 cup of the Parmigiano cheese; combine well.

6. Fill each pasta shell with approximately 1 tablespoon meat and cheese combo. Arrange shells into prepared baking dishes and spoon sauce ontop and around. Sprinkle remaining shredded Parmigiano cheese on top.

7. Bake 30 minutes. Enjoy!