Monday, September 27, 2010

Healing Foods: Green Beans with Garlic Parsley Butter

Fall is definitely in the air. Although we have enjoyed some warm days, the mornings have been cooler, and the evenings are starting to get the crisp feel and smell of autumn. I have been thinking of some of my favorite cooler weather meals and what heartwarming, comforting dishes there are to be made when the weather starts to chill.

One of my favorite French dishes is a simple green bean dish. Steamed green beens (or the thinner French version—haricots verts) are tossed with garlic, parsley and butter and sautéed. It is a delicious accompaniment to any meal. I am thinking of a crispy roast chicken or a roast tenderloin that I have had it served with in France, but my friend Gabs will tell me what she is hungry for….and I will make what she is craving for her and her family as a nice comforting fall dinner.

My friends at World’s Healthiest Foods point out that green beans, “while quite low in calories (just 43.75 calories in a whole cup), are loaded with nutrients. Green beans are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin K--for maintaining strong bones--and manganese. Green beans are very good source of vitamin A (notably through their concentration of carotenoids including beta-carotene) for heart health, dietary fiber, potassium, folate, and iron. They are also a good source of magnesium, thiamin, riboflavin, copper, calcium, phosphorus, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and niacin.”

With the added iron of parsley, and the heart healthy properties of garlic, this green bean dish is a healthy vegetable choice that comforts as it heals. What could be better than that?

Haricots Verts (Green Beans) with Garlic/Parsley Butter

1 lb haricots verts (thin French green beans) or regular green beans, washed and trimmed.

4 tablespoons butter (or for vegan version--mix 2 tablespoons vegan buttery sticks with 2 tbsps olive oil.

4-5 garlic cloves, chopped fine

1 bunch parsley, washed, trimmed and chopped fine

salt and pepper to taste

Steam haricots or green beans for 8-10 minutes until crisp/tender. Drain and set aside.

Sauté butter and garlic over medium low heat until garlic softens. Add chopped parsley and green beans and stir until beans are well coated with butter/garlic/parsley mixture. Add salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, another 5-7 minutes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Healing Foods: Really Satisfying Chicken Soup with Orzo

My dear friend Gabs hasn’t had much of an appetite lately. Her chemo treatments have zapped her energy, and made food very unappealing. When I heard that from her—I knew it was time for a good chicken soup.

I am a firm believer in the healing (and magical) power of chicken soup. It is one of the most comforting, healing and nutrient dense foods when you are feeling poorly. I loved the smell of my mother’s chicken soup wafting from our kitchen when I was home sick from school. And our wonderful Salvadoran nanny makes a “sopa de pollo” that our daughters love to eat any time, any season—sick or healthy. It is just plain yummy.

The long list of healthy ingredients provides protein, beta-carotene, heart-healthy enzymes, vitamins A, C, potassium and magnesium (among others!) in one delicious bowl. And, whatever your family’s recipe---it is a universal comfort and healing food.

This is the recipe I made for Gabs that warmed her heart and helped build up her strength. Browning the chicken first on all sides helps to give a deeper, richer flavor to the broth, and all of the usual vegetables make it wonderfully satisfying. Try this the next time you need a comforting dish. It’s good for the immune system…and the soul.

Chicken Soup with Orzo

3 chicken legs and thighs

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

1 small zucchini diced

1 quart organic chicken stock

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup dried orzo

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven until hot. Add chicken pieces, sauté about 5 minutes each side until browned. Add onions, celery, carrot and zucchini to the pot and allow them to cook/sweat for about 5 minutes, stirring a few times to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add chicken stock and bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for about 25 minutes. Remove chicken pieces and separate meat from the bones and skin, and slice the chicken into small dice. Return chicken to pot along with ½ cup dried orzo. Bring to a boil again, then lower to a simmer for 5 more minutes. You may want to add more chicken stock if the soup is too thick for your liking. Serve hot.

Healing Foods: Spicy Eggplant Dip

This weekend, I invited my friend Heidi to join me to cook for our friend Gabrielle. I was planning to make Gabrielle some soothing soups since her chemo session had taken a toll on her tastebuds. Heidi and I both did our weekly grocery shopping at our favorite market, and came back to my house with lots of ingredients to cook with for the week.

As we talked about how nice it is to cook together for our friend, we decided that we should cook up some things for our families that Sunday that we could have early in the week---less pressure after work to whip up dinner if it’s already halfway there!

Heidi introduced me to an amazing spicy eggplant dip. Eggplants are split in half, dusted with oil and turmeric, and roasted in the oven until soft as a base for the dip. The eggplant and turmeric alone have many healthy properties.

Eggplant contains nasunin, a potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger shown to protect cell membranes from damage. Nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Cell membranes are almost entirely composed of lipids and are responsible for protecting the cell from free radicals, letting nutrients in and wastes out. Other phytonutrients in eggplant have been shown to lower cholesterol and aid in lessening joint pain in arthritis patients.

Turmeric benefits include aiding in joint pain and ailments, digestion, and liver detoxification. For years, turmeric has been used in ayurvedic medicine for its health benefits.

Once the eggplant is cooked, it is mixed with onion, red chili pepper and yogurt. Served with pita chips, crudités, or as a filling for wraps, it is a deliciously healthy dish.

So with gratitude to my friend Heidi, here is her recipe for spicy eggplant dip...

2 eggplants cut in half

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small red onion, chopped into small dice

1 red chili, seeded and chopped fine (I use the milder version)

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup Fage Greek Yogurt

Split eggplants in half and place on a baking sheet, skin side down. Rub with olive oil, and dust with turmeric. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, or until soft. Cool.

Remove eggplant from skin and place in a bowl. With a fork, smash eggplant, then add onion, chili, salt, pepper and yogurt and mix. Refrigerate until chilled. Serve with pita chips and crudités.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Healing Foods: Provençal Tomatoes

Tomatoes happen to be a family favorite in our house. On their own, in salads, as a base for sauces, soups and stews we use tomatoes—both fresh and canned—more than any other food ingredient.

One of my daughter’s favorite dishes is Provençal tomatoes, which are topped with olive oil, salt, pepper and herbes de Provençe and roasted in the oven until they are deliciously caramelized. This ultra simple dish is great as a main course (we serve it with cous cous), or as a side dish with your favorite protein. Organic tomatoes are richer in lycopene than their non-organic counterpart—but the nutritional power of tomatoes, even canned, is quite impressive.

According to my favorite food research website, World’s Healthiest Foods, “In the area of food and phytonutrient research, nothing has been hotter in the last several years than studies on the lycopene in tomatoes. This carotenoid found in tomatoes (and everything made from them) has been extensively studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties. The antioxidant function of lycopene-its ability to help protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage-has been linked in human research to the protection of DNA (our genetic material) inside of white blood cells. Prevention of heart disease has been shown to be another antioxidant role played by lycopene.” In addition to lycopene, tomatoes are a great source of vitamin A, C, and fiber.

I have been buying up the last of the farmer’s market organic tomatoes, which will come to an end in September. I’ll be sorry to see the fresh seasonal tomatoes go—but will continue to cook and eat tomatoes until they come back to my favorite stands next summer.

6 organic tomatoes, halved.

½ cup olive oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

2-3 tablespoons herbes de Provençe (you can mix the herbs with 2 chopped cloves of garlic and ½ cup breadcrumbs or cous cous if you like—we often just use the herbs and serve cous cous as our starch/side dish)

Preheat oven to 400F. Place halved tomatoes in a shallow baking dish, and top with salt pepper and herbs. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until nicely caramelized. Serve with your favorite protein and/or starch.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Comfort Food: Breakup Cupcakes

Last night, my sisterhood of girlfriends came together to console and comfort our beautiful, talented and divine friend after a recent breakup. Over wine and Thai food, we listened to her talk about the man who had recently been a force – and then a huge absence—in her life. She deserves so much more in her life than he could ever offer her, we reminded, and told stories and helped to lift her spirits as we nursed her bruised heart.

We offered to have her over for dinner over the holiday weekend, and it got me thinking about the foods I was drawn to when I was broken-hearted. My breakup comfort food usually involved chocolate in large quantities—rich, dark, creamy and delicious. As it turns out, there is something healing…and certainly very comforting, about nursing a broken heart with chocolate.

According to, chocolate mimics the feeling in the body that we get when falling in love via phenylethylamine, a drug created by our bodies that is similar in nature to amphetamines. As well, dark chocolate has been found to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of some cardiovascular issues because of its naturally occurring flavonoids.

So when my lovely friend comes over this weekend, I will treat her to a delicious plate of Breakup Cupcakes. Known in some circles as Black Bottom Cupcakes, these devilishly delicious chocolate cakes have it all—a dense chocolate cake with a dollop of cheesecake baked into the middle. But wait—there’s more—since the cheesecake is dotted with rich dark chocolate chips. One bite of this dense, creamy, rich and chocolatey morsel and you will be ready to forget all about him…and remind yourself that there are better things waiting for you out there than someone who doesn’t love you for all of the wonderful things that you are.

Cream Cheese Filling

1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 egg

1/3 cup white sugar

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Chocolate Cupcake Batter

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup white sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin tins with paper cups.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, egg, 1/3 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate chips and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 1 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center and add the water, oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir together until well blended. Fill muffin tins 1/3 full with the batter and top with a generous spoonful of the cream cheese mixture.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.