Category Archives: Cooking and recipes

Recipes: Filets on the Grill

I have been waiting for this menu.  I have to be honest, I love grilled meat and although LadyFingers Diane and I have made other meals featuring grilled meat, this one is my absolute favorite.  Reason 1: filet mignon.  Do I need to say anything else?  Probably not.
When I make these monthly recipe posts courtesy of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering I typically say we had a terrific time and all that, but here’s the food! and go on to the recipes.  Allow me to dwell for a bit on the terrific time part.
If you’re not participating in the monthly contest to win a seat for yourself and a guest, you are truly missing out.  I mean it.  We get a fair number of entries a month, but I know more of you could participate and you’d be happy if you did.  We have the best time together!  We ask our guests to come while the meal is still cooking because the cooking is part of the fun.  Diane and I (but let’s be honest, it’s mostly the chef doing the cooking.  I’m merely a backup singer.) share tips and hints about technique, we talk about food and flavors, and we are never short on laughs.  Our husbands, Jim and Dude, are always around somewhere having a couple of beers and the conversation never drags.  Once we sit around the table and eat it’s just such a good time that I wish we could have each and every one of you join us.
This month’s winner was Matt B. and he brought his lovely wife, Rachel.  (Matt is the famous Coach Matt from this post.)  The weather was so beautiful that instead of sitting in the dining room, we ate outside on the patio.  Three courses culminating in grilled fillets – it couldn’t have made for a better evening.

(Coach Matt, my Dude, and the super lovely Rachel)

The correct answer to this month’s trivia question was almond flour, egg wash, and ground nuts (cashews and macadamia nuts specifically).  Congratulations to Kelly F. whose name was drawn from record number of correct responses!  Kelly and a guest will join us in October as we are hosting a couple of special guests in September.  Stay tuned for more details on that.
So yes! We had a blast this past Sunday – as usual!  Food and friendship go together better than anything.  Let’s get to the food and see why this month was especially delicious.
Macadamia and Cashew-Crusted Chicken Bites – serves 6-8
2 plump chicken breasts
½ cup macadamia nuts
½ cup cashews
1 cup almond flour, divided
1 egg
¼ cup water
Preheat oven to 400 degrees (or 375 degrees for convection)
Cover a medium baking sheet with non-stick foil.
Cut chicken breasts into generous cubes (1 ½-inch or two-bites).
Place macadamia nuts, cashew nuts and ¼ cup almond flour into a food processor.  Process until nuts are coarsely ground (note – you must use the flour as it keeps the oily nuts from becoming pasty).
Set up three dipping bowls for coating your chicken starting with a shallow bowl containing ¾ cup almond flour.
Beat 1 egg with ¼ cup water and place into a second shallow dipping bowl.
Place your ground nut mixture into a third shallow dipping bowl.

Thoroughly coat each chicken cube with almond flour, dip each cube into the egg wash, and finish by coating each cube with nut mixture, pressing the nuts onto the chicken cubes with your fingers as necessary.
Place the coated chicken cubes onto the prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes.  Gently turn cubes, taking care not to disturb nut coating and bake for another 5 minutes or until cubes are hot and nut coating is nicely browned.
Remove from baking sheet and serve with Mango Dipping Sauce (see below).

Mango Dipping Sauce – serves 6
1 fresh mango
1 orange, juiced
1 tablespoon honey
dash cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
Peel mango and slice flesh away from the pit.  Place mango into a blender.
Add fresh orange juice, honey and cayenne to blender.
Puree mixture for 1 minute or until smooth.
Taste and add additional cayenne if desired.
Serve with Macadamia and Cashew-Crusted Chicken Bites.
Asparagus Green Curry Soup – serves 6
1 bunch fresh asparagus
2 medium leeks
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon green curry paste
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
Roughly chop asparagus, discarding woody ends.  Clean and roughly chop leeks, white and pale green parts only.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot.  Add chopped asparagus and leeks and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add red pepper flakes to pot and stir to combine.
Add green curry paste to the pot and stir to combine.  Heat for 1 minute or until fragrant
Add stock to the pot and stir to combine.  Heat over medium-high heat until soup reaches a boil.  Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for 15 minutes or until asparagus is quite tender.
Using an immersion blender, blend until soup is pureed.

Add coconut milk, fresh lime juice and blend again.
Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Let soup cool slightly and then place in refrigerator until well chilled (or may be heated – you decide!).
Garnish with a pinch of paprika and serve.

Grilled Filet Mignon with Balsamic-Roasted Tomatoes – serves 6
6 beef filet steaks
olive oil for coating
60 cherry tomatoes, preferably mixed colors
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Preheat grill to High.
Remove steaks from refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Rinse and dry cherry tomatoes.  Place tomatoes in Dutch oven or heavy roasting pan.

Combine balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and whisk to blend.  Pour balsamic mixture over tomatoes.
Place tomatoes in oven, uncovered, and roast for twenty minutes or until just bursting.
While tomatoes roast, coat filets with olive oil and take to grill.

Turn the grill to low and place steaks on grill.  Close grill lid and cook for 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness and desired doneness.
Open grill lid, turn steaks and close grill lid again.  Cook for an additional 4-6 minures, again depending on thickness and desired doneness.
Remove steaks from grill to plates and serve with Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes.

Didn’t I say that this was the menu to top all menus?  Well, at least until next month….
As usual, many thanks to Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering for the use of her kitchen, garden, and home.  Here are printable versions of this month’s recipes.  Please enjoy!
Macadamia and Cashew-Crusted Chicken Bites
Mango Dipping Sauce
Asparagus Green Curry Soup
Grilled Filet Mignon with Balsamic-Roasted Tomatoes

Recipes: Too Hot in the Kitchen

Here in Pittsburgh we finally got away from the oppressive heatwave that seemed to blast most of the eastern USA.  But that doesn’t mean the temperatures still aren’t hot around these parts.  In fact, it’s been a really great summer for those of us who enjoy warmer temps!  And although I do enjoy warm, tropical weather over frigid and frozen, sometimes putting together a hot meal in the kitchen seems unbearable.  I might have central air conditioning, but when it’s balmy outside the thought of turning on the oven is too much.
So this month at the LadyFingers/First Comes Health dinner Diane designed a menu that can be prepared without turning on the oven.  We used her stovetop and grill for everything, but you’ll soon see that these dishes go beyond burgers and hot dogs.  We’re talking healthy gourmet on the grill! If (like me!) you don’t have a grill, worry not!  Everything can be made using an oven if you choose.
As usual, the meal was stupendous and also as usual we had a blast with our winner, Lisa.  She and her mom, Kathy, joined us for July’s dinner and it was an utter delight having the two of them!

Before we get on to what we ate, let’s take care of a bit of business – the August winner!  Matt B. and a guest will be joining us next month!  Matt correctly answered our question based on the tweets we put out there during this month’s preparation.  Congratulations, Matt!  Diane and I look forward to having you at the table in August!
Let’s get to this month’s menu, shall we?
Grilled Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto – serves 6
6 slices prosciutto
1 bunch medium-width asparagus
extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash or other multi-herb seasoning blend
Chop prosciutto into ¼-inch pieces.  Place in a small skillet and sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until prosciutto is crispy (about 5 minutes).
Transfer prosciutto to paper towels to drain and cool.
Heat grill to medium-low.


Trim woody ends from asparagus and toss with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Sprinkle with Mrs. Dash and toss to coat evenly.
Place asparagus on grill and grill for 2 minutes.
Using tongs, turn asparagus and grill for another 2 minutes.
If asparagus is soft and has begun to brown, remove from grill.  If not, turn asparagus again and grill for another 2 minutes.
Place grilled asparagus on platter or individual plates and top with prosciutto.

Crab-Encrusted Scallops with Green Pea Puree – serves 6
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
¼ – ½ c chicken broth (preferably homemade!)
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
6 sea scallops, rinsed and patted dry
lemon-infused olive oil
¼ cup lump crab meat
Place peas, ¼ cup chicken broth, chopped shallots, chopped garlic and thyme leaves in a blender.  Blend until smooth, adding more chicken broth until desired consistency is reached.

Place pea puree in a small pan and heat on low.
Heat a skillet over high heat.
Lightly coat scallops with lemon-infused olive oil and place in skillet.
Sear scallops until browned (about 3 minutes) and then turn.
Divide lump crab meat between scallops and pile on top.  Place a lid on skillet and sear scallops for 3 minutes.
Spoon pea puree onto individual plates and top with scallops, taking care not to disturb crab topping.

Spicy Yam “Fries” – serves 6
3 large yams
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
cayenne pepper, to taste
Heat oven to 400 or heat grill to medium.
Peel yams and slice into narrow spears.

Combine coconut oil and seasonings in a large bowl.
Add potato spears to bowl and toss with your hands to thoroughly coat.
Spread potatoes evenly on a large baking sheet.
Place potatoes in oven, or if using grill, place potatoes on TOP rack.
Bake/grill for 10 minutes.
If grilling, keep your eye on the browning process as all grills are different and some grills may brown the potatoes very quickly.  If browning does happen quickly, turn the temperature of the grill down.
Using a wide spatula, turn potatoes and bake/grill for another 10 minutes.

Sausage and Garden Vegetable-Stuffed Peppers – serves 6
3 large bell peppers
4 Italian sausage links (Or any kind of flavorful sausage that you like.  For the Pittsburghers reading this, we used Steve’s Garlic Sausage from the Robinson Market District)
1 small vidalia onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, diced
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 bunch basil leaves, torn
hot sauce (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Heat grill to medium.
Cut each bell pepper in half lengthwise through stem.  Remove seeds and ribs.  Set aside.

Squeeze sausage from casings into medium skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Break up sausage with a spoon and stir.  As sausage cooks, use a potato masher to further break up sausage into small pieces.
When sausage is cooked through, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Add chopped onions and diced zucchini to skillet and sauté until starting to soften.  Add chopped tomatoes and torn basil and heat through, stirring constantly.
Add hot sauce, to taste, if desired and stir to combine.  Add sausage back into skillet and stir again.
Spoon sausage mixture into bell pepper halves.  Press the stuffing down, packing tightly.  Top with a pinch of freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.

Place the peppers into a lightly greased baking dish.  Place the baking dish on a baking sheet and place the baking sheet onto the grill (do not place the baking dish directly onto the grill or the bottoms of the peppers will burn).
Close the grill lid and grill/bake for 20 minutes or until the peppers are crisp-tender.

Alright, who is making these dishes for dinner tonight?  Send me a photo!  Better yet, post it on my Facebook wall.  Maybe there will be a little something in it for you…hmm……
As usual, many thanks to Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering for the use of her kitchen, garden, and home.  Here are printable versions of this month’s recipes.  Please enjoy!
Grilled Asparagus with Crispy Prosciutto
Crab-Encrusted Scallops with Green Pea Puree
Spicy Yam “Fries”
Sausage and Garden Vegetable-Stuffed Peppers

Recipe: Moab Beet Salad

In the spirit of my last post about unpacking one’s thoughts, letting travel change you, and growing and evolving as a person, I went out on a culinary limb (for me) and tried something. But first, a bit of back story…..
There are very few foods I do not like. And actually it’s quite hard to even say that I don’t like a particular food because maybe I don’t like a certain way it is prepared, but I like it in another form. In fact, until recently, there was only one food I said I didn’t like in any of its forms – beets. I am an adventurous eater and will try anything, but I always maintained that I didn’t like beets at all. And when I’d say that I would inevitably hear how great they are and some suggestion for how to cook them some awesome way and how that was going to change my mind somehow.
Sometimes I’d go to a restaurant and order something only to find that beets came with the dish, or I’d be a guest at someone’s house and beets were served. I’d gulp them down without even trying to taste them. Just swallow a chunk of beet whole like a pill and wash it down with water.
I don’t even know where this beet hate came from. I just somehow knew that I hated beets and gave myself a pass on ever trying them again because I was so willing to eat nearly anything else. I’m not a picky eater, so can’t I at least have this ONE thing that I don’t like?!
Ok, so before we went on vacation we invited our friend Liz over for dinner. She generously watched our kitty, Quincy, while we were gone and we had her over to orient her to all the ins and outs of caring for the kitty prince of Pittsburgh. Somehow beets came up in the conversation and how I don’t like them. She was certain that she had THE beet recipe that would convert me. (Slice and coat in coconut oil, grill, and salt liberally.) She said that she ate beets nearly everyday last summer because this was such a fantastic way to have them. I was intrigued. If someone is willing to eat the same food prepared in the same way for almost an entire summer, there must be something to it. But, we were leaving in a day or so and I wasn’t going to buy any more food or try something new.
Flash forward to our road trip. We found ourselves in Moab, Utah after a long day’s drive from Boulder, CO. We had already visited two national parks that day, my ankle was killing me, we hadn’t stopped for lunch at all and had survived on my homemade beef jerky, dried fruit, and water. We were tired and surly and the dining options in Moab were not impressing me. Until we found the Peace Tree Juice Cafe. It certainly sounded like what we wanted. It has “PEACE” in the name!
The menu looked pretty good and after a day of beef jerky eating I needed (NEEDED!!!!!!!!) some vegetables and had decided on ordering a salad even before I saw the menu. They had some pretty nice sounding salad offerings and among them was a sweet and salty beet salad.
I guess it was the spirit of adventure that inspired me, or maybe Liz’s recent story about THE beet recipe but I ordered it. Dude got a hamburger and I told him if this is a beet bust, I’d be requesting half of his burger. He wasn’t going for it so I probably had to make the best of the beets.
I should have taken a photo of it when it came to the table but I was too hungry. I devoured that beet salad like a crazy person and it was fantastic! Part of it was because I was beyond hungry and into HANGRY territory, but it was so surprisingly yummy and full of beets that I instantly became a beet convert. Why didn’t I listen when people told me how great beets are?!?! For the rest of the trip I daydreamed of this salad and nothing else we ate came close to it’s wonderfulness.
SO! When I got home, I bought what I needed to recreate it and now I’m sharing it with you. I predict I’ll be having this salad, and various incarnations of it, many many times. It has all kinds of my favorite things in it and can be easily tweaked to suit your fancy.
The Peace Tree salad description says their beets were marinated in lime oil and chili sauce. I just used olive oil to roast my beets and didn’t marinate them at all. Honestly I couldn’t even tell the difference, but if you have lime oil and chili sauce around, go for it.
And, um…. excuse these photos. I admit that my photography skills aren’t fabulous, but the humble beet isn’t doing much to help me out either. I took a bunch that ended up looking rather sad that I just couldn’t even include here. While these photos lack in fabulosity, I promise this salad will make up for it in taste and nutritional punch.
Moab Beet Salad – serves 2 hangry people
5 beets (red, yellow, or a combination of the two. They’re all great.)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 slices of bacon
5 cups of raw spinach leaves
1 tablespoon of goat cheese (This is optional. I usually don’t eat cheese, but I made a concession and I’m glad I did.)
Thoroughly wash the beets and put them on a large piece of aluminum foil. Fashion the foil into a pouch so it looks like a foil bag of beets, and drizzle the olive oil over the beets before sealing up the pouch. Put the pouch in a 375 degree oven for at least an hour or until the beets are fork tender.
Remove beets from the pouch and let cool slightly.
Under running water, peel the beets by just taking off the outer skin. It will come off easily once they’re roasted and doing so under running water will minimize the beet juice staining your hands.

Let beets come to room temperature and slice into rounds or thick matchsticks.

In a skillet, cook the bacon slowly over medium heat until crispy. Drain on paper towels, let cool, and crumble into bacon bits.

Split the spinach leaves between two bowls, arrange the beets on top of the leaves, dot with goat cheese and sprinkle with bacon bits.

Dressing options
The Peace Tree served this with a (I assume) house made Italian dressing. It was really good, but I say when it comes to salads, do what makes you happy. If you have a special dressing you make, use it. Below is what I have been making and using in my own kitchen lately:
1 lemon juiced
3 tablespoons of lemon infused olive oil (or regular olive oil, but I have some lemon infused stuff)
2 teaspoons of Parisien Bonnes Herbes (available at Penzeys Spices)
Salt and pepper to taste
Put all ingredients into a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake. To really get the herby flavor to come out, let sit for at least an hour, shake again before using.
Can I tell you the lemony zip of this dressing makes my new beet loves taste divine? I just did.
So, lesson learned. Try new things even if you think you don’t like them. I have been going along for 38 years forsaking the beautiful beet. I have to make up for lost time. Share your favorite way to eat beets with me! I’m in search of beet recipes now!

Recipes: Summer Has Arrived

If ever there was a theme for a dinner, “summertime” was it this past Tuesday evening at the LadyFingers table!  We had our May winner, Jacky R. and her fiance Tom with us, AND our good friend Kelly joined as well to round out the table at six.  What a fun evening we had!
The menu was fabulous (as usual!) and it was the right amount of light and cool to set off the heat of the evening.  Summer was visiting Pittsburgh this past Tuesday with hot and humid weather with a thunderstorm blowing in for good measure. It was all sunshine around the table, though.
Before getting to the delicious menu and recipes, just a quick reminder that you and a guest can join us around the LadyFingers table in July if you follow along with our June dinner and successfully answer our trivia question about it.  We live tweet the whole process each month and we’d love to have you join us!
The lucky duck who is joining us in June is Ann M!  Ann successfully answered our trivia question and was chosen from among all the correct respondents.  We can’t wait to have you and a guest at our next month’s event.  Congratulations!
Without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff, shall we?
Chilled Ginger Cantaloupe Soup – serves 6
1 large, ripe cantaloupe
¾ cup freshly squeezed juice from 2 oranges
1 tablespoon honey
1 ½ teaspoons peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
4 sprigs Thai basil, leaves removed and roughly chopped
Cut cantaloupe in half and remove all seeds.  Using a large spoon, scoop all of the flesh away from the skin and place the flesh in a food processor.
Add freshly squeezed orange juice to the food processor and process until mixture is combined.

Add honey and ginger and process until mixture is smooth.
Add Thai basil and process just until basil is chopped (Do not over-process as the basil will liquefy and tint the soup green).
Pour finished soup into a bowl and chill for 30 minutes.  Or cover bowl and chill for up to one day.
Serve with Thai basil sprigs as garnish.

Spicy Salmon and Zucchini Patties – serves 6
2 small cans boneless, skinless salmon
2 medium zucchini, grated
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chili powder
several splashes jalapeno sauce, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup almond flour
3 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil
Drain salmon well and place in a large bowl.  Using a fork, break up salmon into small pieces.
Place grated zucchini into the center of a clean cotton dish towel.  Bring ends of towel together and twist to tightly enclose zucchini.  Holding over the sink, wring zucchini until all excess moisture is removed (expect a lot of moisture to come from the zucchini).

Measure 1 ½ cups drained zucchini and add to salmon.  Lightly mash mixture with a fork until salmon breaks down (this will help patties stick together).
Add shallots, beaten egg, chili powder and jalapeno sauce.  Mix well to combine.
Place almond flour into a shallow bowl.
Divide salmon mixture into six portions and shape each portion into a patty.  Drop patties into almond flour and lightly coat tops and bottoms.

Heat lemon-infused olive oil in large, heavy skillet until oil is hot, but not smoking.
Place patties in skillet and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.  Gently flip patties and sauté until browned on second side.
Serve immediately.

Orange-Glazed Carrot Ribbons – serves 6
6 large carrots
2 cups orange juice freshly squeezed from 4-5 oranges
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon orange-flavored liqueur (optional)
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
Trim and peel carrots.  With a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, cut each carrot into thin ribbons.

Place orange juice, honey and liqueur (optional) into large pot.  Simmer over medium heat until mixture reduces slightly, about 5 minutes.
Add carrot ribbons to pot and stir to coat all carrots.  Simmer, stiring frequently, about 5 minutes or until carrots are crisp-tender.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Remove carrots to a bowl or to individual plates and sprinkle with fresh chives.
Romaine-Wrapped Halibut with Lemon and Shallots – serves 6
6 6oz halibut pieces (fillet, not steak)
3 teaspoons lemon infused-olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
2 medium shallots, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
12 unblemished large outer romaine leaves (from 3 heads)
6 lemon slices
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse halibut pieces and pat dry.  In a small bowl, combine lemon zest, chopped shallots and 1 teaspoon lemon-infused olive oil.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Using a sharp knife, remove center rib from each romaine leaf, leaving two inches intact at the top.  Dunk each leaf into the boiling water and then immediately submerge into a bowl of ice water.  Remove from the ice water and drain on paper towels.

Place halibut pieces on a flat work surface.  Lightly brush each piece with remaining 2 teaspoons lemon-infused olive oil.
Divide lemon-shallot mixture evenly between six halibut pieces and spread over tops.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Using two romaine leaves for each piece of halibut, gently wrap each piece, covering the tops and tucking the ends under.
Place halibut in a lightly greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish.  Completely cover halibut packets with a piece of parchment paper.  Cover and seal dish tightly with foil.
Bake at 425 for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on thickness of halibut.
Carefully remove foil and parchment (steam has built up in dish) and serve with lemon slices.

Didn’t I tell you this was quintessential summer?  It tasted even better than it looks.  Positively delicious!
Keep your eyes peeled on Facebook and Twitter to find out when the next cooking demo is going to be.  Follow along, answer the question and you could be our next special guest!
As always, printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Chilled Ginger Cantaloupe Soup
Spicy Salmon and Zucchini Patties
Orange-Glazed Carrot Ribbons
Romaine-Wrapped Halibut with Lemon and Shallots

Recipes: A Three-Course Springtime Feast

Not to pat ourselves on the back, but I truly believe that as LadyFingers Diane and I continue to work together, the once per month meals get exponentially better.  Just when I thought that last month’s dinner was tops, Diane came up with a menu for April that blew us away.
First and foremost this dinner was special because it was the first month we hosted a winner from our monthly live tweet contest! Lorianne answered last month’s question correctly and won a seat for herself and a guest at our table.  She brought her friend Susan and we had a ball!  There were more laughs around the LadyFingers table than there ever have been – and that’s saying something!

Just a reminder, we are planning to do the live tweets each month which means you always have a chance to be our next guest.  Diane and I announce on Facebook and Twitter when the dinner will be, when we’ll start our tweets and you simply follow along, answer a question about what we’ve done and cross your fingers that your name is chosen from all the correct responses.
This month was a big hit and we were very pleased with the number of responses we got.  Thank you all for following us!  Our lucky winner for the May dinner is Jacky R!  Congratulations, Jacky!  Diane and I will be in touch with you soon to schedule a date and time.
So contest aside, let’s talk food.  I have to give all credit to Diane for designing a positively fabulous menu.  Let’s go right to the recipes!
Scallop BLTs – serves 6
6 slices bacon
6 “dry” or “diver” scallops, firm and unbroken
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 or 2 tomatoes, the approximate diameter of the scallops (i.e. roma or patio)
12 spinach leaves, stems removed
2 tablespoons wasabi mayo (or Dijon mayo if preferred)
Cut each bacon slice into thirds; place bacon pieces into a large skillet and gently fry so that the bacon remains flat and intact.  When nicely crisp, remove bacon and drain on paper towels being careful not to break pieces.

Rinse and thoroughly pat dry scallops.  Brush lightly with olive oil.
Heat pan over medium-high heat.  When pan is hot, add scallops and sear until the first side is browned and crisp.  Gently turn scallops and sear second side.  If scallops are thick, place a lid on the pan so that scallops cook through.

While scallops sear, slice tomato into 6 ¼-inch slices.
When scallops are seared on both sides, remove them from the pan to a cutting board and allow them to cool slightly.
Slice each scallop in half horizontally. Spread some mayo mixture onto the cut side of each scallop bottom. Place two spinach leaves atop the mayo mixture.  Place the tomato slice atop the spinach leaves. Pick through the cooked bacon pieces and place two of the best pieces atop the tomato. Spread some mayo mixture onto the cut side of each scallop top and place atop bacon.
Serve each BLT as is, or spear with a decorative pick.

Spinach, Orange, and Beet Salad – serves 6
4 small beets – approximately 1/2 lb.
2 large navel oranges
3/4 lb baby spinach, stems removed
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 medium shallots, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Trim greens from beets and place in a baking dish.(First Comes Health tip: Save the beet greens and cook them up for a delicious, healthy, calcium rich side dish!)  Add water to a depth of ¼-inch.  Cover with foil and bake until the beets are fork-tender, 40-50 minutes.  Do not overcook.

While the beets cook, cut a slice off of the top and bottom of one orange to expose the fruit.  Stand the orange on a cutting board and slice off the peel in strips following the contour of the orange.  Cut between each section to free the orange pieces from the membrane.  Repeat with remaining orange.

For the dressing, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice.  Add the shallots, salt and pepper and let stand for 30 minutes to allow the shallots to flavor the dressing.
When the beets are cooked, remove them from the oven and let them cool until they can be handled.  Peel and cut into wedges about the same size as the orange sections.  Place in a bowl, add the orange sections and toss with enough dressing to coat. (LadyFinger’s tip: When handling roasted beets, wear hand protection.  The beet juice can stain your skin!)

Place the spinach in a large bowl and toss with remaining dressing.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.  Divide spinach equally among plates and top with beets and oranges.

Grilled Lamb Loin Chops – serves 6
12 lamb loin chops
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper or seasoning of choice
Preheat grill to high.
Allow lamb chops to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Coat lamb generously on all sides with olive oil. Grind pepper onto tops and bottoms of chops and press lightly with your fingers to make sure pepper adheres.
Immediately before placing chops on grill, turn grill to low. Place chops on grill and cook, covered, for 4 – 5 minutes.  Turn chops and cook, covered, on the second side until desired doneness, 3 – 5 minutes.

Remove chops to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes.  Serve with mint pesto (see below).
Mint Pesto – serves 6
3/4 cup packed mint leaves
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley
2 green onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
In a food processor, combine the mint leaves with the parsley, green onions, garlic and lemon zest and pulse until chopped.
With the food processor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth.
Season the pesto with salt and spoon over your favorite meat or serve on the side.
Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Zucchini Boats – serves 6
2 or 3 thin zucchini
2 Japanese eggplant
1 large shallot
1 small tomato
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
grated parmesan cheese, if desired
Preheat oven to 400.
Slice eggplant, shallot and tomato and place on baking sheet.
Brush slices with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes or until soft and slightly browned.
While vegetables roast, cut zucchini into 2 ½-inch sections.  Cut each section in half horizontally.  Using a tomato corer or small melon baller, scoop flesh from the zucchini sections leaving a ¼-inch shell.

Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat.  Drop in zucchini boats and cook until fork-tender, about 90 seconds.
Remove squash from pot and plunge into a ice bath to cool.  When cool, pat zucchini dry and place on a cutting board.
Remove vegetables from oven and allow to cool slightly.  Chop vegetables and place in a small bowl.  Add minced rosemary and grated parmesan (if desired) and toss to combine.

Using a small spoon, mound filling into zucchini boats and place on a baking sheet.  Place baking sheet in oven.
Roast for 5 – 7 minutes or until heated through.  Serve immediately.

Five recipes that make a superb presentation and I can tell you from personal experience, each one is scrumptious! As per usual, this was an excellent meal when put all together, but feel free to use these recipes individually.
The contest will continue each month so stay tuned for details on when the next live tweet fest will be.  You could be sitting at the LadyFingers table in June!  Who’s in?!
Printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Scallop BLTs
Spinach, Orange, and Beet Salad
Grilled Lamb Loin Chops
Mint Pesto
Roasted Vegetable Stuffed Zucchini Boats
 
 

DIY Kombucha, Phase 2

Remember a few weeks ago when I started my very first batch of kombucha?  I left you with a “to be continued….” at the end of that post and I’m really happy to say that we’re continuing!
I posted a photo on Facebook about a week ago showing how nice and healthy the daughter SCOBY got in my jar.  That’s what happens with kombucha – the mother SCOBY that you use to start your batch “gives birth” to a daughter SCOBY which can be used as the mother for the next batch, and so on.  The original mother SCOBY isn’t useless at this point. It’s still viable as long as you keep it wet and submerged in a little bit of kombucha brew.
Anyway, around the time I posted that photo, I started tasting my kombucha.  To do this, I got a bunch of straws from McDonalds (I went into a McDonald’s!!!  All in the name of probiotics.) and took a straw’s worth of liquid out of the jar and tasted it.  The first time I tried it, it was still a bit too sweet.  Recall that it started with an entire cup of sugar in there.  As the tea ferments, the bacteria and yeast eat the sugar, and while it is perfectly fine to drink sweet if you prefer that, letting it ferment and brew until it is not exactly sweet but not vinegary either is what I like.  Since it was too sweet, I knew those little buggers needed more time to consume that sugar.
I kept tasting it each day until it tasted just right to me.  Like I said above, this is a personal preference.  It can be as sweet or as tart as you like.  It’s your brew so make it the way you want it.  The tea can range from sweet to vinegar so tasting it periodically to find your “just right” is what you want to do.  The amount of time it can take to ferment to your liking will depend on a bunch of variables – the kind of tea you used, how much sugar you used, the ambient temperature of the room where you keep your jar, how healthy your SCOBY is, etc.  Another reason why periodic tasting is a must.
Saturday was my day! When I tasted my brew I was so pleased that it wasn’t overly sweet.  It had a bit of fizz but not much (more of that to come), and the flavor was really mild.  At this point, the kombucha is ready to drink if you want.  It’s fermented and the probiotic magic is in there, the flavor is good, and you’re good to go.  Unless……..
Unless you’re like me and want to get a bit experimental.  The kombucha I get from the grocery store is so tasty to me because it comes in so many yummy flavors.  I am partial to GT’s organic and raw kombucha in mystic mango.  It’s $3.15 a bottle at my Whole Foods and while it’s just delish to the max, that’s an outrageous price to pay for a wee bottle which is why I am making my own.  But first I have to crack the code of flavoring kombucha!
An afternoon of Googling and reading all kinds of information, plus a consultation with my kombucha guru, Liz, I quickly became educated in the ways of flavorings, additions, and the second ferment.
After you decide that your kombucha is right for drinking, remove the SCOBY and put it in a glass or ceramic container with enough liquid to cover it.  Set it aside for now.

(This is my mother SCOBY on top of my newly formed daugher SCOBY)

Then I pulled out my fancy bottles.  If you are going to flavor your kombucha and take it through a second ferment, you’ll need glass containers that are air tight.  I ordered a 12-pack of these bottles from Amazon.com and they’re perfect.
This is where I got fancy and experimental.  I thought I’d only have enough kombucha for a six-pack, but it turns out I had enough for a seven pack.  I put different flavorings in each bottle and filled each up to the neck with my fermented tea.  Here’s what I used:

  • 2-3 Tablespoons of thawed pieces of frozen mango roughly mashed.
  • 2-3 Tablespoons of thawed pieces of frozen raspberries roughly mashed.
  • 4 cubes of candied ginger broken up by hand.
  • 1 Tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and 2 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.
  • 3 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of freshly grated lemon zest, and 1/8 teaspoon of sugar
  • The final two I left plain to just enjoy as is.

Obviously what I used is just the tip of the flavoring iceberg. Possibilities and combinations are virtually endless.  Strawberries, pears, plums, blackberries, blueberries, peaches, and on and on.
This second ferment will take 5 to 7 days (again, depending on the ambient temperature of your room, sugar content of your flavored kombucha, etc.). After you remove the SCOBY, the ferment doesn’t stop completely.  There are still bacteria and yeast in the liquid that will still eat the remaining sugar in the tea, and if you add things that contain sugar (fruit, or even just more white sugar) it will continue to ferment.  And since it is now in airtight containers, the gas given off will remain in the liquid and make it fizzy.  You might even get a new mini wee SCOBY forming on top.

This is where I am now.  It’s been three days since I bottled my ‘bucha and I am again patiently waiting.  This kombucha making is obviously not a quick process, but I’m optimistic it will be worth it.  I have a lot of ideas for fruit combinations to add in future batches which is why I took my daughter SCOBY and started a new batch.  I’ve even started an informal ferment log to keep track of what I’ve made and how I made it.

I’m anxiously awaiting part 3 which will be opening one of these bottles and tasting it!  I plan to keep you well informed.
Did anyone else start their own kombucha batch?  Are you an old pro at this?  Share the details of your experiences in the comments or on Facebook.

Recipes: A Taste of Springtime

I’m from Pittsburgh and around here there are all kinds of jokes and laments about the weather being perpetually gray, cloudy, frigid, and generally blah.  But for the last several days it has been unseasonably warm.  I’m certainly not complaining.  It was almost as if Mother Nature and Diane of LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering were in cahoots because the weather perfectly matched Diane’s menu this month – fresh, light, and inviting, but not quite summertime.  You will not be disappointed!
This month Diane and I kicked off our monthly contest. We’ve been having a great time cooking together and then eating what we make that in February we decided to invite some friends over to share in the good times and celebrate Valentine’s Day.  And when they had a great time, we thought we ought to open it up to everyone.  It was so much fun tweeting to all of you and coming up with a question that was not too difficult, but one that was designed to make sure you were paying attention.
I am so pleased with the response we got!  Everyone who entered got the correct response and we threw all the names into a hat and came up with one winner.  Drumroll…………
Lorianne H. is the winner!!!!!!!!  Congratulations, Lorianne! You and a guest are invited to our April dinner!  Diane and I will be in touch about a date and time.
So, did YOU follow along and see all the tasty healthy goods Diane designed for the First Comes Health readers?  Let’s get to the recipes without further ado!
Savory Squash Soufflé – serves 6
1 medium head of garlic
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium butternut squash or other winter squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup sweet onion, chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 eggs
salt to taste
white pepper to taste (We used white pepper to avoid having flecks of black in the final product)
Preheat oven to 425.
Spray 6 ramekins or custard cups with non-stick coating.  If you don’t have ramekins, use a large soufflé dish and increase final cooking time to 35 minutes.
Slice off stem end of garlic and place garlic, sliced side up, in the middle of a square of aluminum foil.  Drizzle with olive oil and fold edges of aluminum foil over garlic, creating a sealed packet.

Place packet in oven, directly on rack and roast for 40 minutes.  Remove packet from oven and let cool until garlic can be handled safely.  Squeeze roasted garlic into a small bowl and let cool completely.  This may be done up to 1 day in advance.

Carefully slice butternut squash into 1-inch rounds.  Remove all seeds and place rounds on a baking sheet.  Brush rounds with olive oil and place baking sheet in oven.  Roast squash for 30 – 40 minutes or until squash is tender (test with fork).  Remove squash from oven and let cool until squash can be safely handled.

Reduce oven temperature to 350.
While squash roasts, sauté chopped onion in olive oil until tender.  Set aside to cool. (LadyFingers tip: Preheat your sauté pan and olive oil.  The hotter the oil is when you put the onions in, the less oil they will soak up while cooking.  If your oil is cold or even cool, the onions will absorb the oil and you’ll be left with a greasy, soggy final product instead of wonderfully browned onions.)
While vegetables cool, separate eggs.  Place all egg whites into a mixing bowl.  Reserve 2 egg yolks and set aside the remaining two for a future purpose.
Remove squash flesh from the skin and place 2 cups of flesh into a large bowl.  Add sautéed onion and 1 teaspoon roasted garlic to squash and hand-mash.  Add two egg yolks and continue to mash until eggs are incorporated and mixture is smooth.  Season with salt and pepper.

Beat egg whites until stiff and glossy.  You can use an electric mixer for this or a whisk and do it by hand. Using 1/3 of egg whites at a time, gently fold them into the squash mixture.  Be careful not to deflate the puffy egg whites.


Spoon squash mixture into prepared ramekins and place ramekins into a baking pan.  Fill the baking pan with hot water until half-way up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for 30 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned.

Avocado Gazpacho Salsa – serves 4
4 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ English cucumber, chopped
½ cup chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 avocado
In a medium bowl, combine chopped tomatoes, chopped English cucumber, and chopped sweet onion.
In a measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together fresh lime juice, white balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.  Add to chopped vegetables and toss lightly.
Add chopped chives and toss to coat.
Immediately before serving, coarsely dice one avocado.  Add avocado to the salsa mixture and serve.

Lemon-Seared Tuna and Rosemary Skewers – serves 4
4 medium tuna steaks, 1-inch thick
lemon-infused olive oil
4 sturdy rosemary sprigs (Jill’s note: The rosemary we used was from Diane’s backyard garden.  It survived the winter and was perfect with the tuna!)
Cut each tuna steak into 1-inch wide strips, trimming off uneven edges to make nice square logs.  Slice each log into ¾-inch pieces.

Strip the leaves off of each rosemary sprig, starting at the bottom and leaving 1 ½ – 2 inches of leaves remaining on the top of the sprig.

Thread the tuna pieces onto each rosemary stem, keeping the pieces squared up against each other and giving yourself four flat sides on each skewer.

Rub each skewer with lemon-infused olive oil.
Heat a large non-stick skillet to high.  When pan is hot, add skewers and sear for 12 – 15 seconds.  Immediately turn each skewer to the next side, searing again for 12 – 15 seconds.  Repeat on remaining two sides.
Remove skewers from pan and serve over salsa.


While the soufflé takes some time to prepare, it is VERY MUCH worth it.  It is not at all difficult to make and is positively scrumptious!  The salsa and tuna make a fantastic and lightning fast weeknight dinner that is also extremely healthy and light.
We plan to continue the contest from now on, so if you missed your chance to win an invitation to April’s dinner, you’ll have another chance each month!  I predict grilling and outdoor dining coming up for the next several months!  Who’s in?!
Printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Savory Squash Soufflé
Avocado Gazpacho Salsa
Lemon-Seared Tuna and Rosemary Skewers

SCOBY Do

Over the weekend I mentioned on Facebook that a friend of mine, the fabulous Liz, gave me a SCOBY.  I consider myself to be extremely fortunate that I have friends who not only have the same interests as I do, but are also very extremely generous with their valuable goods!
Let’s rewind and explain a bit so you know what’s exactly going on here.
First of all, recall past posts I’ve done on fermentation (here and here).  I’ve concentrated on telling you how awesome raw sauerkraut is for the gut and immune system, but I also mentioned other how fermented foods (kimchi, kefir, kombucha to name a few) provide the same kind of probiotic wonderfulness and also taste scrumptious.  Today in this post I’m going to tell you all about my next culinary adventure in fermentation – kombucha.
Kombucha is a sometimes fizzy, always yummy fermented tea drink.  It’s available in most grocery stores and health food markets (commercially bottled versions) and there is inevitably someone in your town who is brewing his own and possibly selling it.  It is somewhat controversial for a few reasons.  First, there are some wild health claims being made about kombucha – that it’s a cure-all elixir that will stave off anything and everything from cancer to male-pattern baldness.  Be skeptical of anything that claims to cure every ailment.  Kombucha is not a cure for anything, but can be a healthy pro-gut-flora alternative to non-healthy drinks like pop or fruit juices.  Kombucha does contain sugar and should be consumed carefully and judiciously especially if you are watching your sugar intake or watching your weight (or both!).  It is a sugary drink that should NOT replace water in your daily diet.
The other controversy about kombucha is that it is fermented sugar and tea.  And when you ferment sugar you get alcohol, as in booze.  Yes, kombucha can be a slight buzz-giving beverage.  While it is sold commercially NOT as an alcoholic drink, the alcohol levels are carefully monitored and measured by the federal government to ensure that they are not high enough to be labeled as a controlled substance.  If you make your own kombucha be very very very very careful if you do intend to sell it.  If the alcohol content is high enough in your home brew, you must comply with your state and federal liquor and tax laws.  Nobody wants the Feds pounding down their door, amirite?
Ok, with the disclaimers out of the way let’s run down through the equipment and ingredients you’ll need and then through the steps I took to get my first batch started.
The SCOBY! — SCOBY stands for symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.  MMMMMM!!  Not.  It sounds awful, and kind of looks awful, but I promise it is a magic jelly-like disc of pure goodness.  It’s necessary to have a SCOBY to start a batch of kombucha and while I got one from a friend, they can be ordered online if you don’t know anyone who might have one to give, or you can grow your own from scratch.

Tea — There are about a zillion kinds of tea out there that you can use.  Naturally, the kind you choose will affect the taste of the final product so I say choose something you like to drink as tea and it will make a tasty kombucha.  For my first foray into this, I used some store-bought teabags.  My reason for this is because I’m a noob at kombucha making and I have a lot of experimentation to do.  I intend to consult with my favorite tea goddess, Betsy Hollweck, in the future to find top quality teas that are perfect for kombucha making.  For now, I used an organic green tea and a jasmine green tea. I love jasmine tea. Using Earl Grey tea or any citrus teas is not recommended.

Sugar — I used plain old white sugar, but I hear you can experiment with fruit juices, honey, agave nectar, or even brown sugar.  Like said above, sugar is a dangerous substance to be ingested with great caution.

A big jar — I got this really great 5 liter jar to use for my own brew, but you can use any size you want.  For me and Dude I didn’t think that we needed more than this.  If you search around the Interwebs for kombucha making tutorials, you’ll see folks who make gallon upon gallon of kombucha in several large vessels or giant jugs.  That’s great, but I prefer to go slowly and start small. Plus, I live in a very small apartment that doesn’t allow me to make giant batches of anything.

Bottles — I intend to bottle my kombucha when it’s finished so I bought a dozen of these reuseable flip-cap bottles.
A big pot and a spoon — for brewing large amounts of tea at once.
Once you have your equipment assembled, it’s time to start. Here is what I did to make my first batch:
1. Fill up your jar or brewing vessel with water.  I knew my jar was 5 quarts, but I took this step to ensure I would have the exact right amount of water to fill my jar.  Once I filled my jar to above the desired level, I poured the water into a giant pot and brought the water to just shy of a boil.
2. Add the teabags or loose tea that is in some kind of teabag or tea ball brewing device.  If you are using loose tea, you don’t want it floating all around the water.  If you do have it floating around, you’ll have to strain it.  For my first venture into fermenting tea, I stuck to teabags for just this reason.  Keeping it simple.
3. Remove pot from the heat and brew tea for several minutes until it is as strong as you like it.  Remove teabags.
4. Add sugar.  I used one cup of sugar for 5 liters of tea.  My instincts say this might make it overly sweet, but I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.  If it is too sweet, I’ll know to adjust accordingly for the next batch.  It is also important to note that I did not add the sugar when the tea bags were still in the water or when it was still on the heat.  Stir thoroughly until all the sugar is dissolved.
5.  Let cool.  This is an essential step.  Letting the tea cool to room temperature before you pour it into your jar and add the SCOBY will make sure the SCOBY stays alive.  How would you like it if you were thrown into a vat of boiling hot tea?  You’d hate it too and wouldn’t want to function either.  Be kind to your SCOBY, folks.  It’s a living thing.

6. Pour the cooled tea into your jar/brewing vessel and add the SCOBY. In an ideal world, your SCOBY ought to also come with a bit of the kombucha from the previous batch.  My friend Liz gave me the SCOBY and about a half cup of her last kombucha batch. This is an ideal way to start the fermentation on the new batch on the right foot.
7. Cover the jar with a cloth or paper towel.  I actually used a large restaurant-sized coffee filter with a rubber band.  I did not use the glass lid the jar came with.  This stuff needs to breathe and live and can’t be sealed air-tight.  Put it in a nice little corner of your kitchen and not in the fridge.

8. Wait.  This is the hard part.  It takes a couple of weeks to make a batch of kombucha.  Like the raw sauerkraut I made a few weeks ago, it isn’t something that can be rushed.  Those little bacteria and yeasts have to have time to do their magic.  While you’re waiting and their working, you’ll notice that a new SCOBY will form on the top of your fermenting tea.  This is what you want.  Use this to make your next round of kombucha, or give part of it away to a friend so she can make her own.
So, right now I’m in the middle of the “wait” step.  Consider this a “To Be Continued…” message because I’ll have to come back and show you what I do with my little jar of goodness in a few weeks.  I’m already brainstorming about future tea combinations, additions I can use when I bottle, etc.  There is definitely more to come on this topic.
What are your opinions on kombucha?  Wonderful and tasty elixir from heaven or overblown media hyped sugar drink?  Do you regularly drink it?  What are your favorite types and flavors?  Who else is going to try to make their own?  I’ll have a SCOBY to share in a few weeks!

Recipe: Raw Sauerkraut

We all have our vices and predilections.  For some it’s coffee and for many it’s sweet things.  For me, it’s tangy, salty, spicy, savory.  Salt and vinegar chips win every single time over anything sweet.  Sadly, they don’t have a place in my way of eating, but if I could munch on anything with impunity, I’d always choose salt and vinegar chips.  Or barbecue chips.  They’re in a solid second place.
Anyway, imagine my utter delight when my friend, Diane of Balanced Bites posted her recipe for homemade raw sauerkraut.  It’s tangy, spicy, salty, and savory.  Plus it’s just doggone good for you and isn’t anywhere near the junk food nightmare that potato chips are.  It’s healthy AND entertains all of my taste preferences! What does the sports world call a hole in one slam dunk touchdown grand slam?  They ought to call it spicy raw sauerkraut because for me, it’s that kind of food victory.  I have been interested in trying this since I went to the kraut school last fall!
First of all, I recognize that making one’s own sauerkraut might be jumping into the deep end of food geekdom.  Many of you might be struggling with just figuring out what to pack for lunch every day or how to fit a healthy breakfast into your life, so doing something like this seems frivolous and weird.
I will accept that perhaps it is weird, but frivolous? No.  Allow me to explain…..
You see, we all have bacteria living inside of our digestive systems that are good and wonderful and help us to break down the food we eat into useable fuel for our cells.  They keep us regular, they keep us healthy, and they protect us from harmful bacteria, and form the foundation of our immune system.  You may have heard of the generic term “probiotics” in reference to these good bacteria that live inside us.  A probiotic is a bacteria that produces beneficial results for its host.  Yes, you are host to trillions of bacteria (Sometimes referred to as “gut flora”. Pretty, no?).  They live inside you and do a lot of your body’s dirty work.  This is good!  They’re in constant battle with harmful bacteria for control of your guts and your health.  Think of them as little soldiers who need the right conditions and constant reinforcement in order to win their battle.
Sadly, the Standard American Diet, which is rife with processed foods, toxins, and preservatives, do not create an environment inside of us that keeps these wonderful little bacteria alive.  Most people eat little to no fermented foods (some yogurts, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, kraut, etc.) and so the little soldiers who live in our guts who are trying their darndest to protect us are having to fight in conditions that are hazardous to their health.  Many die and are not replaced leaving the host (you!) vulnerable to diarrhea, sickness, and a compromised immune system.  This is bad.
This is why I am presenting you with this recipe for raw fermented sauerkraut.  It is an extremely easy recipe that yields something delicious and more importantly, it’s a food that will keep the fighting conditions just right for your beautiful gut flora to thrive.  Plus eating this kraut regularly (just a little bit a day!) will ply your insides with the bacterial reinforcements they regularly need.  And, it bears repeating that it is scrumptious.
Balanced Bites Raw Fermented Spicy Sauerkraut
1 large cabbage
1 or 2 jalapeno peppers (I used two, but I like things spicy spicy!  Use with caution)
2 medium sized carrots
2 cloves of garlic
1 Tablespoon of unrefined sea salt (I used a little more than 1 T in this batch)

Cut the cabbage into thin shreds.  You can do this by hand, with a food processor, or with a mandoline like I did.  PLEASE NOTE: I am wearing a protective metal glove in this photo.  It is because I learned the hard way that a mandoline is an EXTREMELY SHARP device that can cut you very very very very badly.  I received this mandoline as a gift two years ago and injured myself very very badly the very first time I used it.  I let it sit in my cupboard unused for two years because it terrified me.  USE HAND PROTECTION!  Use the guard that comes with the mandoline or use a clam shucking metal glove like I do.  They’re available any any kitchen supply store.   You are going to see TV chefs using mandolines without hand protection.  DO NOT FOLLOW THEIR EXAMPLE!!!!!!!  Protect yourself.
Anyway, after shredding the cabbage, put it in a large glass or ceramic (not metal) bowl and sprinkle it with the salt.  This is where you’re going to get your (clean!) hands into things.  Mash, massage, pound, rub, macerate, squish, etc. the cabbage and the salt.  Try not to break up the pieces (you don’t want pulp), but also do not be too delicate.  You will notice that the cabbage will go from stiff and crispy to watery, crispy, but softened.  This is what you want. Keep doing this until all of your cabbage is the crispy/soft/watery consistency and you have a significant amount of water that has come out of the cabbage.  Enough to cover it.

While you’re doing that, put the jalapeno(s) directly on your gas stove burner and char the heck out of it.  If you don’t have a gas stove (I don’t), use your electric oven’s broiler.  With either method, turn the pepper frequently so it will get charred and blackened evenly on all sides.  When it is blistery and done, rinse under cold water and peel off the skin.  Chop finely.  If you want your kraut to be extra spicy, use the seeds.  If you want your kraut to have only a hint of spice, discard the seeds.  Truth be told, the pepper is completely optional if you don’t want any spice at all.  If that’s your style, skip this step completely.

In a food processor or on a box grater, shred up the carrots and garlic.  I used my food processor’s shred blade and just whizzed the carrots and garlic up together.  Add them to your watery cabbage and give them the mash and pound treatment.  They will yield more water too.
If you’re using the jalapeno, add it to the cabbage, carrot, garlic mix and toss thoroughly.

At this point you are going to need some large glass jars or ceramic crocks. One gallon glass jars are ideal, although I used a one quart for this demonstration because I just made a small batch.  Did I mention clean?  Make sure the jars very very clean.
Pack the cabbage into the jars, being careful to include the water that has run off.  And when I say pack it in there, I mean pack it down.  You want the jar to be filled with cabbage and the water run off to be above the cabbage level.  Put a large uncut cabbage leaf on top of the shredded cabbage, let the water rise above that, and weigh the cabbage down with a shot glass, small bowl, or ceramic pie weights.

Put the jars in a cool, dark place.  The darkness is key!  They cannot be sitting out in the open and in the light.  I keep mine in a kitchen cupboard that I rarely open.  Check on the kraut every day or so to make certain that the water level remains above the cabbage.  This is imperative.  The fermentation of your vegetables happens below the surface of the water.  Should anything poke out above the water level, remove it.
Taste test your kraut after two weeks.  It should be tangy and yummy, but probably could use more time.  Three weeks seems to be an optimal ferment time, but taste your kraut after two in order to determine what suits your taste.

You’ll notice that my jar isn’t your normal glass jar. This is a quart jar from Pickl-It and is designed just for fermenting foods.  Let me stress this: Having specialty equipment like this is completely unnecessary for making quality sauerkraut or other fermented vegetables.  I read about these jars and decided to give a small one a shot.  You do NOT have to buy anything more complicated than a few glass jars.  I also am not at all affiliated with Pickl-It.  Their jars were recommended to me and I decided to give one a try at my own expense.
Now, according to my kraut guru, Diane, you can switch this recipe up in many different ways and experiment with many different flavors.  The procedure is going to be the same but try her variations:

  • Plain raw sauerkraut: use just cabbage and salt.
  • Traditional raw sauerkraut: use cabbage, salt and caraway seeds (about 1Tbsp for this recipe).
  • Sweet and tangy sauerkraut: use red cabbage, salt, raisins or currants, cinnamon and fennel seeds.
  • Seasonal fall sauerkraut: use cabbage, salt, green apples, sliced fennel and leeks.

Who is up for this challenge?  It’s not really as challenge as it is an exercise in patience.  Sure, the preparation of the cabbage takes about an hour but the three weeks of waiting to indulge in your delicious, probiotic-laden, gut flora lovin’ kraut is the hard part.
Who are my readers who are sauerkraut making veterans?  Have variations and tips to share?  Add them to the comments or over on Facebook!

Recipes: A Valentine's Day Love Feast

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you!  I am a firm believer that this day does not have to be exclusively about romantic love, but love of all varieties – of family, friends, pets, and of course one of my fondest loves, FOOD.

You, dear reader, are in for a treat today.  Diane at LadyFingers Private Chef and Catering has designed a very special menu for you lovers out there.  Three FAB courses of food that will soften the grumpiest heart.  Southwestern Shrimp and Snapper Stew, followed by Baby Greens wrapped in Prosciutto with Blood Orange Vinaigrette, and Osso Buco alla Milanese.   Didn’t I tell you?  This menu is no joke!  Let’s get started!
I’ll give you each recipe in the order in which it ought to be served, but I recommend doing things in this order:  Start the osso buco and get it to the point where it is braising, then make the stew.  After you and your guest(s) finish eating the stew, prepare and serve the greens and dressing.  By the time all of that happens, the osso buco will be ready to eat.
Southwestern Shrimp and Snapper Stew – serves 6
8 ounces of snapper filets
8 ounces of uncooked shrimp
1 29-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes
14 ounces of chicken broth (homemade rules, but prepared is fine too)
12 ounces of beer or non-alcoholic beer
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup green pepper, chopped
Cut fish and shrimp into 1-inch pieces.
In a four-quart Dutch oven or large saucepan combine undrained tomatoes, chicken broth, and non-alcoholic beer.  Bring to a boil.  Add carrots, onion, chili powder, cumin, oregano and garlic.  Return to boiling; reduce heat.  Cover and simmer on low about 15 minutes or until carrots are nearly tender.

Add red snapper, shrimp, and green pepper and return to boiling.

Reduce heat; cover and simmer gently for 3 to 5 minutes or until red snapper flakes with a fork and shrimp turn pink.  Ladle into bowls and garnish as desired.
This is a light stew that has a LOT of incredible flavor and goodness.  It’s not a thick, heavy dish that you might think of when you hear the word “stew”.  It makes an excellent first course, but it also makes a great light lunch to go with a green salad.  The snapper and shrimp are hearty enough fishes to maintain their shape after cooking and will not break up.
Baby Greens Wrapped in Prosciutto with Blood Orange Vinaigrette — serves 6
1 package of baby greens
6 slices of prosciutto – If you are having someone slice the prosciutto fresh for you, ask that it be slightly thicker than normal.  You don’t want thick hearty slices, but you also don’t want paper thin ones either.
1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed blood orange juice
6 tablespoons of blood orange infused olive oil – This is worth looking for and buying in a specialty market.
6 blood orange sections
Salt to taste
Cut each slice of prosciutto in half lengthwise or diagonally, depending on the fat marbling.  You want to ensure that each slice is a good mixture of meat and fat.
Place a handful of baby greens on one end of each prosciutto piece and roll up, making 12 bundles.

Whisk together blood orange juice and white balsamic vinegar until well-combined.  Add olive oil and whisk until emulsified.
Place two bundles on each of six serving plates and drizzle with vinaigrette.  Add a blood orange section to each plate and serve.

I had never had a salad like this until Diane treated us to this ingenious way of serving.  It’s brilliant!  A great way to add a little flair to your dish without being complicated at all.  Impress your Valentine with your culinary prowess without getting complicated or intricate.
Osso Buco alla Milanese – serves 6
3 1/2 pounds of veal shanks cut into 1 inch sections – Do what Diane does and have your butcher take care of this for you.  If you don’t have a relationship with your butcher yet, make friends with him or her.  They’ll look after you and give you the best cuts of meat that come into the market.
Salt and pepper to taste
Flour for dredging – If you’re gluten free, use gluten free Bisquik.  If you’re grain free, use coconut flour.  If you’re opposed to that, skip this step but know that the dredging will thicken the braising liquid into a lovely sauce later on.  If you skip it, your sauce may be a bit thin.
1/4 cup of olive oil
3/4 cup of chopped onion
1/4 cup of chopped carrots
1/4 cup of chopped celery
1 cup of white wine
1 cup of chopped tomato (fresh!)
3 cups of brown stock or beef broth (homemade is best!)
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh thyme
2 cloves of garlic

Generously season the veal shanks on all sides with salt and pepper.  Dredge lightly in flour, shake off the excess.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy Dutch oven (preferably cast iron).  Brown the shanks on both sides until golden (you may to do this in batches).  When you do this step, make sure the Dutch oven is on HIGH heat.  This isn’t the time to get shy about a hot pan.  Having it on high heat will ensure proper browning and give you a nice crust on the outside of the shanks.  This is what you want.

Remove the shanks from the Dutch oven, reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, carrots and celery and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the wine, tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, thyme and garlic.  Stir to combine.

Place the seared shanks back into the Dutch oven.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  Adjust seasonings and serve.  Our osso buco was served with some roasted asparagus too!

As you can tell the shanks Diane got were positively huge so she used one shank for two people.  Depending on the size of your shanks and the size of your appetite, you might use one shank per person. Also, an optional step that Diane took was to tie each shank around with kitchen string.  This helped to keep the shape.  Just remove the string before serving.
You might have noticed that all of the recipes above serve six people.  This is because when Diane prepared this meal she did so not only for herself and her husband, Jim, but also for me, Dude, and our dear friends Lynsey and Patrick.  It was not only a celebration of Valentine’s Day with some great couples, but also a celebration of Lynsey’s birthday (which is today!) Happy birthday, my friend!
I am wishing all of you a very happy day filled with love.  Everyday is a day to love one another, but take some time to let someone know just how special they are to you.  If you cook this meal, they’ll definitely know that you care!  Enjoy!!
Printable versions of LadyFingers’ recipes:
Southwestern Shrimp and Snapper Stew
Baby Greens Wrapped in Prosciutto with Blood Orange Vinagrette
Osso Buco alla Milanese

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