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Summer Veggie Tacos with Spicy Fresh Salsa & Cumin Scented Guacamole

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I think I have tried almost every Mexican restaurant here in London. The bottom line is: I can make better Mexican food at home. So why not? Salsa and guacamole are so quick and easy to make, full of fresh ingredients, each bursting with their own distinct flavor.

After having spent so much time eating Mexican food in California, I know exactly what I like and how it should taste. So through memory and trial and error, I have perfected my recipes to suit my taste buds. The amazing thing is, once you have fresh, good quality ingredients, it’s quite simple to make. Smoked chipotle peppers are key, as is fresh coriander and great tasting cumin powder. I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I do.

Mexican food has to be one of my favorite cuisines. It’s perfect for summer and thanks to the tasty spices, vegetarian options are a no-brainer. Luckily I found a great little authentic Mexican grocery store right here in London. I can buy deliciously fragrant dried chipotle peppers and homemade corn tortillas. If you are in the area you can check them out. They also have a home delivery service: http://www.casamexico.co.uk

You will need a mini food processor for this. The salsa and guacamole are a one pot dish, therefore they take about 2 mins to make and clean up is a snap!

INGREDIENTS:

SALSA:

  • 3 juicy ripe tomatoes
  • 1 handful of fresh cilantro
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 smoked chipotle pepper (these come dried, so you should let them sit in a bowl of boiling water for 2 min before using)
  • 1 tbsp of dried oregano
  • s&p
  • the juice of 1 lime

GUACAMOLE:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 1/2 tsp of cumin powder
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • s&p
  • 1/2 handful of fresh cilantro

TORTILLAS:

  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 small onion (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 6 corn tortilla shells (minimum)
  • 1 tsp each: chipotle powder, chili powder and coriander powder
  • s&p
  • drizzle of olive oil

THE FIXINGS:

  • red cabbage slaw (red cabbage shredded, olive oil, 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar or lemon juice, s&p)
  • low-fat creme fresh, sour cream or greek yogurt
  • all natural, organic corn chips

INSTRUCTIONS:

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  1. Chop the peppers and zucchini into match sticks about 3 inches long.
  2. Place in a large bowl with the minced garlic, spices and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat thoroughly.
  3. In a pan over medium high heat, sauté the veggies until al dente, about 6 min, tossing frequently.

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  1. In the food processor add all of the guacamole ingredients and blend until relatively smooth, a little bit chunky, or if you prefer creamy and smooth all the way.
  2. Give the bowl a quick rinse under hot water and repeat with the salsa ingredients. Blend until somewhat smooth, “salsa” consistency. The salsa will have a bit of liquid as the tomatoes weren’t de-seeded. I personally like it this way, but to each his own, so if you prefer less liquid simply pour the salsa into to a strainer and strain the liquid out.

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  1. In a small pan over high heat, place the tortilla shells and cook for about 30 seconds on each side. No need to oil the pan.

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Ready to build your tortillas! Creme fresh on the bottom, veggies, red cabbage slaw and a spoonful of salsa. Done. Ready to inhale – I mean “eat” 🙂

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Homemade, fresh, healthy and delicious. Why settle for less than the best at a mediocre restaurant (and pay for it) when you can simply make it yourself, exactly how you like it? Nothing can be more satisfying than that. Enjoy!

Greece!! A Mediterranean Diet for a week. Holiday eating CAN be healthy!

picisto-20130712123315-525066After a wonderful week in Athens and Paros, Greece, I am home with many recipe ideas under my belt. Vacationing in the Med is one of the healthiest places to relax, eat and return to nature. Basically you swim, sleep, read a good book, go for walks and EAT! How nice to eat out in restaurants where the food is local, seasonal, fresh (sometimes straight out of the sea!) and mostly organic (produce coming from small family farms).

We had eggs that came from hens directly to our basket (haven’t tasted anything like them before), grilled sea bass that had been caught that morning, olive oil produced just down the street and cheeses from the local sheep on the island.  Mmmmm delicious!

The results of the Mediterranean Diet are obvious. Our skin was soft, hair shiny, moods happy and stable (ok the sun and beach had a little to do with that….um and the local wine), we didn’t gain weight, actually lost a little (and we ate to our hearts content!), woke up every morning at 9am without feeling tired, NOT one digestive problem (no gas, bloating or indigestion), just an overall feeling of contentment.

picisto-20130712130458-734044We ate plenty of fresh fish and seafood. We even bought a little BBQ so we could grill at home.

On the Menu:

Greek Salad, Tzatziki, Grilled Sea Bass, Grilled vegetables, Local Olives and Sheep’s Cheese’s, Grilled Octopus and Calamari, Fava Bean Dip, Local honey with fruit and Greek Yogurt, Local- straight from the Farm Scrambled Eggs with Greek Oregano, Stuffed Baked Tomatoes, Dolmades (rice rolled in vine leaves) and more Feta Cheese then I could count!

picisto-20130713063436-199334Recipes coming up soon! So stay tuned.

Salad Nicoise, Herbes de Provence Encrusted Ahi Tuna, Burrata and Heirloom Tomatoes with Homemade Aioli

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Some holidays you just never want to leave. That was the case last week when I was in the South of France. The warm sea breeze, bright sunshine, the freshest seafood and local produce including juicy ripe tomatoes, sweet and mouth-watering melons,  the famous and fragrant Herbes de Provence and of course lets not forget Cotê de Provence Rosé. A delicious vacation to say the least!

After visiting the Chateau Minuty Winery  (http://www.chateauminuty.com) to bring back some bottles for ourselves, I decided to share the experience and have a dinner party once back in London, so we could all celebrate the flavors of South of France.

What’s great about this dinner is that it can accommodate different dietary requirements. The salad portion of the Salad Nicoise is kept separate from the tuna, so those who are Vegetarian (but eat eggs) can help themselves, those who eat fish can add it later and I even made grilled organic, local Sirloin steak for the die-hard meat eaters in the house.

On the Menu:

Hors D’œuvres: Spring Radishes with Herbes de Provence infused Fleur de Sel (Sea Salt)

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This is very easy to make and a French classic. The first time these were offered to me I thought to myself “you can’t be serious, radishes with salt on a plate? Really??”.  I was used to seeing radishes as a garnish and always tossed aside. But I couldn’t insult my host, so I gave them a shot. I was pleasantly surprised at how much flavor they had. Peppery, and cold with a perfect crunch. Just a hint of sea salt, making them the perfect fat-free snack.

This variety is called the French Breakfast Radish and I find the flavor stronger and more distinct than the ones commonly sold in grocery stores (red, round and used for garnishing). Just chop the tops off and rinse in cold water, add some Fleur de Sel on the side, butter is traditional but not necessary and serve right away. Radishes will dry out if left to stand.

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Les Plats (the main dish): Homemade  Aioli, Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad, Salad Nicoise and  Grilled Herbs de Provence encrusted Ahi Tuna

Ingredients & Instructions:

To serve a dinner party of 8 people

Aioli:

  • 1 clove smashed up garlic (I like to use a mortar & pestle)
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 lemon juiced
  • s&p
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil

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Smash up the garlic clove really well. You can use a whisk for this recipe and a large bowl or you can use a hand blender or food processor. The key is to be really quick with the whisk as the olive oil needs to be drizzled in very slowly to incorporate air to create thickness.

Add the garlic, egg yolk, Dijon mustard, s&p and lemon juice to the bowl and whisk together, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until you have a mayonnaise like texture. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad:

  • 6 heirloom tomatoes (Heirloom: A non-hybrid breed of tomato, usually passed down through generations, these are my favorite tomatoes bursting with juicy sweetness)
  • handful of fresh basil leaves
  • 2 balls of Burrata cheese (this is a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream, it is tough on the outside and soft and creamy in the middle, a special treat!)
  • good drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • good drizzle of balsamic vinegar
  • Herbs de Provence seasoned Sea Salt & fresh cracked pepper ( I picked this up in St. Tropez but you could easily make it yourself, just add herbs de provence to your salt and keep in a jar, it will be fragrant and give your food a South of France flavor)
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano

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Chop the tomatoes and burrata into 2 inch pieces and place in a large dish. Chop the basil up and sprinkle on the tomatoes and burrata, add the oregano, fresh cracked pepper and herbs de Provence sea salt, olive oil and balsamic.

Salad Nicoise:

  • 2 heads of cos or romaine lettuce
  • 6 boiled organic eggs, cooled and peeled
  • 10-12 baby potatoes skin on
  • 1 cup of nicoise olives, pitted
  • 500-600 grams of French or Fine green beans, ends cut off (handful per person)
  • Dressing: 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup of champagne or white wine vinegar, 2 tbsp honey Dijon mustard, s&p

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Wash the lettuce and chop into bite size pieces (the French never cut their salad with a knife and fork! I was quickly informed of this on my first trip to Paris…ahem…). Chop the potatoes in half or quarters and boil for about 15 min. Boil the eggs for about 10 min and let cool. Boil the beans until they are just al dente, about 3 min and then plunge into an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.

Peel the eggs and cut in half. Assemble on a large plate, placing the olives in the middle.

Herbes de Provence Encrusted Grilled Ahi Tuna:

  • 4 tuna steaks, about a pound each, make sure you go to a trusted fish monger with good quality fish
  • 4 tbsp herbes de Provence
  • s&p
  • olive oil

IMG_4936Rinse and dry the tuna steaks. Brush a little olive oil onto each side and then sprinkle with the herbs, about 1 tbsp per steak and s&p. Do both sides.

Have the BBQ on high and cook the tuna for about 2 minutes so it is medium rare. Tuna tends to dry out very quickly if it is fully cooked, so be careful not to over cook. This method will sear the outside and leave the inside pink. If you want it fully cooked go for about 4-5 min on each side.

Slice lengthways and plate. Drizzle with a touch of extra virgin olive oil before serving.

Bon Apetite! 🙂

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Friday Night Snack Time: Blackened Shishito Peppers with Smoked Sea Salt

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I love these crispy salty bite size peppers! You will usually find them on Japanese and Spanish menus as a little snack to enjoy with beer (for example).
They are super easy to make and are much healthier than a bag of potato chips. So give them a try!

These peppers, as all peppers, are extremely high in Vitamin C.
Something that is quite fun and interesting about these peppers is: generally they are sweet, however about 1 in 10 is spicy. Russian Roulette with your snack! Ha! Well they aren’t that spicy but they do have a nice kick when you find that one.

Ingredients:

10-12 Shishito peppers, washed, left whole
Pinch of really good quality sea salt, I like the smoked variety from Maldon.
1 tbsp of olive oil

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Instructions:

Over medium high heat in a pan, add the olive oil.

After about a minute add in the Shishito peppers.

Toss around after about a minute, so you get all sides of the pepper. You want the skin to turn a light brown and start crisping. This should take about 4-5 min.

Just before you are about to take them off, sprinkle them with a pinch of sea salt.

Pour into a bowl and let cool for a minute before serving.

Snacking on veggies! I love it! 🙂

Grill Time! Veggie & Halloumi Kebabs with Homemade Humus and Barley Couscous Salad

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BBQ Season!! My favorite way to cook! Finally some good weather, which means its time to bust out the BBQ.

I like making kebabs (veggies on a stick). If you make too many they can be frozen for an easy super at a later time, so make a little more. Use any veggies you like (mushrooms, peppers, zucchini, eggplant, asparagus), with or without Halloumi cheese (vegan option).

I love Halloumi. It’s really salty and has a tough texture making it perfect for cooking. This cheese originates from Cyprus and is usually made with Sheep and Goats milk, it has a high melting point making it easy to fry or grill.

I use Barley Couscous instead of wheat, it has 10g (or 40% daily requirement) of Fiber per 100g. Its light and nutty in flavor and is so versatile you can use it in many dishes. Oh and did I mention that it takes 5 minutes to make? Amazing.

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Ingredients:

  • 200g Barley Couscous
  • 400 ml boiled water
  • 1/2 english cucumber
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 can of chick peas, drained
  • 1 yellow or red pepper
  • 6-8 button mushrooms
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp Ras el Hanout spice – this is a Moroccan Spice blend, if you don’t have that you can use 1 tsp each of cumin, smoked paprika powder, and turmeric or chili powder will also work
  • 1 tsp of cumin powder (for the humus)
  • 1 tbsp of Tahini Paste or toasted sesame seeds
  • half packet of Halloumi cheese, cut up into cubes
  • 6-8 wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20 min
  • warmed whole wheat pita bread (optional)

Kitchen Tools:

A hand blender, blender or mini food processor for the Humus.

A BBQ or grill pan for the stove.

Instructions:

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  1. First start with the kebabs. Chop the pepper into 2 inch chunks, slice the mushrooms in half and the halloumi into 2 inch cubes.
  2. Alternate with the veggies and cheese on the skewers (make sure they were soaked before hand so they don’t burn on the grill)
  3. Make the marinade for the kebabs: on a plate or large bowl add 3 tbsp of light olive oil with the spices and mix together. Add the kebabs and incorporate the marinade, salt & pepper.
  4. Meanwhile heat the grill or grill pan.IMG_4510
  5. Boil the kettle and place the couscous in a large boil with a pinch of salt, add 400 ml of boiling water and cover with a dish towel or plate. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  6. Chop the tomatoes in half and the cucumber into 1 inch cubes. Juice the lemon.
  7. Fluff the couscous with a fork and chill in the freezer for 5 minutes so it can cool down.
  8. Add the cucumber and tomatoes with the 1/2 of the lemon juice, S&P and a drizzle of good olive oil to the cooled couscous, mix together. IMG_4508
  9. In a food processor add the drained chick peas, 1 tbsp of Tahini paste (or 1 tbsp of sesame seeds), 1 garlic clove, 1 tsp of cumin powder, s&p, 1/2 of the lemon juice, drizzle of good olive oil and 3 tbsp of water. Blend until smooth. Add a little more water if need be.
  10. Cook the veggie kebabs for about 8 minutes, on high on the grill, make sure to turn several times so they don’t burn. Same idea for a grill pan.

What I like about this dish is the different consistencies. Creamy humus, with fluffy couscous, crunchy cool cucumber and spicy, fragrant crispy veggies.  Enjoy! 🙂

Health Benefits:

Garbonzo Beans or Chick Peas are extremely high in Fiber. 2 cups would provide you with the total daily requirement. They have been shown to reduce colon cancer, lower cholesterol, control blood sugar and insulin secretion and are helpful in maintaining a healthy digestive system.

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Chart from http://www.WHfoods.com

Healthy Chips! Yes it is possible: Kale Chips

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I have to admit, I love crispy, salty potato chips. But I know as well as anyone how much fat and “bad” oils they contain, so they are eaten very very sparingly. However I don’t want to give up that crispy, salty, perfect snack. So instead I eat Kale Chips. They are super healthy, ready in minutes and really do the job when you have that snack like craving.

Plus Kale is fat-free! High in Fiber, Iron, Calcium, Vitamins A, K and C and it’s an anti-inflammatory food.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch kale, washed
  • 1 Tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • sprinkle of good quality Sea Salt
  • Fresh Cracked Pepper

Feel free to get creative and add spices to your Kale Chips, for example some garlic powder or chili powder.

IMG_4570Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees F.
  2. Wash kale and cut stems off. Cut into chip size pieces.
  3. In a large boil add kale, olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss around to coat the kale.
  4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place kale on top, laying flat, try not to over lap.
  5. Bake for about 10-15 min. Keeping an eye on them so they don’t burn.
  6. Remove from oven and once cool, place in a bowl and try not to eat all in one sitting…but, hey, they’re so good for you its ok if you do! 🙂

IMG_4572Even Buddy the Cat likes them! 

Sunday Lunch: Heirloom Tomatoes, Mozzarella Di Buffala and Basil. Fresh from the Farmers Market!

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Fresh, ripe and juicy heirloom tomatoes from the farmers market here in London. Finally! I’ve been waiting all winter for these.
One of my favorite salads and so simple to make. You see this salad all the time in Italian restaurants, also known as a Caprese Salad. But it’s so easy to make at home, so why not?

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Ingredients:

3-4 juicy ripe tomatoes
1-2 balls of Mozzarella Di Buffala or Burrata is also delicious (don’t use regular mozzarella as that won’t have as much flavor and it’s a bit chewy in texture, better for melting actually)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
Drizzle of good olive oil
Drizzle of good balsamic vinegar
Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper
Pinch of dried oregano

Instructions:

Cut the tomatoes in half and then each half into quarters. Or you can cut into slices if you prefer.

Drain the mozzarella and cut into equal size pieces as the tomatoes.

Arrange on a plate and drizzle with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, sprinkle of oregano and chopped basil.

Ready to serve! Spring is here! 🙂