A Taste of French Cooking

Ratatouille Bubbling in the Oven

Ratatouille Bubbling in the Oven

In the words of Chef Gusto, “Anyone can cook!”

Being a major Disney/Pixar buff, the beloved film Ratatouille is one of my very favorites. Combine a love of Disney with a love for all things French and, well, it’s a match made in heaven!

Since first seeing the film back in 2007, I have had a hankering to try my hand at making Remy’s Ratatouille. It seemed simple enough and I always enjoy trying something new. Well, it may be 2014, but I can finally say I’ve done it! I will admit… it was absolutely delicious! In fact, I snuck some in before breakfast this morning.

A bit of background: Ratatouille was originally created in 18th century France, most likely in the region of Nice or Provence. It is an exquisite way to utilize fresh vegetables. The loveliest part (aside from its taste, of course) is that you can make it your own with any vegetables you have on hand. Ideally, Ratatouille includes: zucchini, yellow squash, tomato and eggplant.

Simple and completely good for you, here is a traditional Ratatouille recipe (sans eggplant) with a fresh twist from Jessica Jo’s Kitchen:

Ratatouille

Serves 4-6

For the sauce:

  • 5 Roma Tomatoes
  • 1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 tsp. Minced Garlic
  • 1/2 tsp. Oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. Basil
  • 1 tsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 tsp. Honey (preferably raw)

Remaining Ingredients:

  • 1 Green Bell Pepper, Chopped
  • 1 Orange Bell Pepper, Chopped
  • 1 Yellow Squash
  • 1 Zucchini
  • Fresh Basil
  • Goat Cheese (or other white cheese of your choice)
  1. Blend all sauce ingredients together well in a blender or processor.
  2. Heat a skillet with olive oil on Med/High heat.
  3. Add your chopped bell peppers into the skillet. Coat well with a bit more olive oil, salt and pepper and sauté for about five minutes, or until just beginning to soften. You don’t want them mushy, just a bit more tender.
  4.  Grease a deep dish pie pan with olive oil.
  5. Cut your squash and zucchini into thin, round slices.
  6. Layer the bottom of your pan with your zucchini and squash, arranging them in a circular pattern.
  7. Alternate layers with sauce, sautéed peppers, sauce, zucchini/squash, etc..
  8. Coarsely chop basil and garnish top.
  9. Cover with more sauce and finally, the cheese of your choice. I used goat, but mozzarella or something similar is fine, too.
  10. Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40 minutes. Broil cheese until bubbly and golden brown.

Note: this version is a bit juicy! I recommend serving it in a beautiful bowl and pouring the extra juice over the top.  This can be served as a main entrée or side dish.

Bon Appétit!

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Different

I need to be transparent: tonight I felt really disheartened.

After growing up eating sugar, dairy, pastries and breads full of gluten, sometimes the fact that I can’t anymore makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and just… cry.

Food, in my opinion, is one of the most wonderful and artistic subjects in the whole world; in fact, I was planning to attend pastry school before my body could no longer handle everything that makes a pastry, well… a pastry. Going on nearly eight months of completely eliminating all gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, etc., this new adventure can sometimes be disheartening. Especially since I’m not likely to ever have them again.

Whipping up a cake isn’t the same without white all-purpose flour; frosting isn’t the same without butter and powdered sugar; cookies aren’t the same without a glass of whole milk. The hardest part… trying to not feel like half the cook, half the baker, I was before.

But the truth is: I am no less capable in the kitchen now than I was then. I simply have to use different ingredients and different methods. If anything, I should be proud of myself for taking initiative, for going against the grain and fighting a battle that for me, really hits home. Okay, so maybe dessert doesn’t taste like it used to. Different doesn’t make it bad. It simply makes it- different.

If you’re having to make similar changes in your life, be encouraged.  Try to focus on what you CAN have over what you can’t. There are bigger things out there than not eating a piece of cake or having a glass of milk with your cookie. While I may have my days of sadness (and it’s okay to have those times), I always try to remember how blessed I am. I’ve been given the ability to live a better life through a healthier body.  Would I rather have five minutes of delicious contraband or a life free of pain and full of energy?

When I look at it that way, the answer is very simple: live life to the fullest and give my body what it needs so I can do just that.

Goodnight, all…

Sugar Coating the Truth

IMG_5435

The average American consumes around 22 teaspoons of added sugar every day.

Wow. That’s nearly 1/2 a cup! Imagine sitting down for breakfast to a bowl of refined sugar and a spoon. Eat up! You don’t want to miss the most important meal of the day! The truth is, we don’t have a clue how much sugar we’re eating on a daily basis nor where it’s hidden.

As my diet changed, I became a label reading machine. I was absolutely astounded to discover sugar hidden in foods that I’d always perceived as healthy and normal:

  • oatmeal
  • protein bars
  • ketchup
  • salad dressing
  • pasta sauce
  • yogurt
  • granola
  • dried fruit
  • peanut butter

Then there are the obvious contenders like:

  • soda
  • ice cream
  • donuts
  • sweeteners
  • pies
  • jelly
  • candy
  • cake

To be honest, we are already getting (or should be getting) our daily amount of natural sugar through our fruits and vegetables long before we’ve gotten to anything else. Oh, dear…

Sugar is a sweet carbohydrate that can be found in both processed and natural foods. Natural sugars (found in our fruits, veggies and grains) are important in fueling our body with energy (along with protein). However, processed and refined sugars serve no benefit to our health. Period. Now, I don’t want to sound like I’m docking dessert and all that is sweet. I love me some rich, decadent dessert! It’s good for the soul!  But, we have to get real about what we’re eating. A mountain dew and apple Danish are not the answers to healthy living (call me crazy, but it’s true!)

The list of sugar pseudonyms runs long. To name a few undercover agents:

  • corn syrup
  • glucose
  • cellulose
  • cane juice
  • caramel
  • cane sugar
  • confectioner’s sugar
  • castor sugar
  • sorbitol
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • sucrose
  • maltose (pretty much anything ending in -ose), etc..

While you may not know all the hidden names for sugar, it is important to be aware of what’s going into your body. It’s worth learning and it’s worth doing. Your body will thank you!

So, does this mean I can never eat dessert again? Absolutely not. The beautiful thing is, you can still enjoy sweet foods! The key here, for those simply cutting back on sugar, is moderation.

If you’re completely cutting out all refined sugars (like I have had to do) all hope is not lost! There are some incredible recipes using honey, stevia and agave to concoct some pretty delicious alternatives. (Lately, I have been playing with a new brownie recipe. Look for it in the near future!) Before you know it, the alternative becomes the norm! This is a GOOD thing.

Our bodies (though we’d like to think so) cannot handle the crazy amount of processed sugar we get each day. Whether or not we feel the effects now, we will later on. For some of us, sugar is already causing us a world of hurt through inflammation, arthritic joint pain, diabetes, acne and weight gain. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember: We have one body and one life to live. Live it well, by eating well.

Just in Thyme

IMG_5408This weekend, my husband and I are going on a marriage retreat! We have been married a grand total of 7 glorious weeks (yes, we are still very much newlyweds!) and this is a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the other. Before we go, I have to think about what I can take with me for food.  While I sometimes have the option to eat what’s provided, I’m not entirely sure what will be there.

Inspired by Ina Garten, I pulled out some boneless, skinless chicken breasts to thaw as I finished chores around the house. Setting the package in a bowl of warm water will help it thaw more quickly. You can also thaw it in the microwave or have it ready in the fridge the previous night.

As a habit, I try my best to eat only hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised chicken. While any chicken will do, this helps assure me that I’m not eating anything that could potentially harm my body. I normally buy mine from Publix or Earth Fare. Check your label to be sure!

The beautiful thing about chicken is its versatility. You can eat it simply baked in the oven, or use it in making soups, sandwiches, wraps, chicken salad, etc.. The possibilities are endless with this lean, clean-eating protein! I will be using mine to make wraps for the retreat.

Simple Lemon-Thyme Chicken

You will need:

  • 3-4 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
  • Half a Lemon
  • 1/4 C. Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Ground Thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. Minced Garlic
  1. Preheat your oven to 4oo degrees.
  2. Pat your chicken breasts dry and place in a glass or stoneware baking dish.
  3. Using a sharp knife, make 5-6 tiny holes in each piece of chicken. This will allow it to better absorb the olive oil, lemon and spices.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil.
  5. Squeeze half a lemon evenly over the top.
  6. Using your hands, work the olive oil and lemon into the chicken. Be sure to cover both sides well.
  7. Liberally season with salt, pepper and thyme.
  8. Rub the top of each piece with minced garlic.
  9. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until brown on top with no pink at the center.
  10. Cover with foil and let rest for about 15 minutes. This will keep it moist, allowing the meat to absorb all of the juices in your pan. (Because, who likes dry chicken?)

Simple and quick, this is a great go-to recipe.  It takes little effort, tastes delicious and can be used in a number of different ways! For a healthy and satisfying dinner, serve with roasted vegetables and brown rice. Enjoy!

If Friends Were Flours, I’d Pick You.

Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free All Purpose

Arrowhead Mills Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Mix

Just thinking about the scent of freshly baked bread makes my tummy rumble. There is nothing like filling your home with the comforting scent of bread baking in the oven. However, for us to enjoy this heavenly scent, we have to have one crucial ingredient in our cupboard: FLOUR.

Being Gluten Free (GF) brings a whole new challenge to the baking scene, particularly when it comes to flour. Not able to reach for your generic all-purpose, you are faced with a slew of foreigners: coconut flour, amaranth flour (what is that, anyway?), gluten free mixes, almond and tapioca flour, brown rice and potato flour, etc. How do you know which kind to use? What brand is best?

After having tried all of the above, I have thus far narrowed it down to three go-to flours: Almond Flour, Coconut Flour and a Gluten Free All Purpose Flour Mix by Arrowhead Mills. Word to the wise: while Bob’s Red Mill has a number of good products, unfortunately their Gluten Free Flour is not one of them. I made the sad mistake of using it for dessert one day and unless you want your ooey-gooey cookies to taste like little iron orbs, go with Arrowhead Mills!

Almond flour is probably my favorite with its nutty, yet slightly sweet flavor, rustic texture and nutritional benefits. It is great used in cookie, muffin and even pancake recipes. For bread recipes, Arrowhead Mills’ GF Flour is ideal. Coconut flour is also great and can be combined with other flours; it can stand on its own, too, but keep in mind that it has a drier consistency when used alone.

You can find these flours at your local health food store, such as Earth Fare or Whole Foods, as well as some regular grocery stores. In fact, Publix and Walmart have started to carry more GF products! Each have their own Gluten Free section where you can find various GF flours and mixes.  If you can’t find them at your local market, below are some links for ordering on-line.

When it comes to storage, I keep both my Gluten Free Flour Mix, as well as my Almond Flour, in the pantry (both should be stored in the fridge or freezer if kept for a lengthy period of time). However, I have found that Coconut Flour is best kept refrigerated right away.

If you have any questions or simply want to share about your own discoveries in baking, feel free to comment!

Happy flour picking!

For more information and on-line ordering, visit these helpful sites:

Coconut Flour:

http://www.amazon.com/Coconut-Secret-Flour-Gluten-Canister/dp/B003XB3NNE/ref=sr_1_8?s=grocery&ie=UTF8&qid=1392935822&sr=1-8&keywords=gluten-free+flours

Almond Flour:

(Remember: Almond Flour and Almond Meal are not the same thing. Almond flour is made using finely ground blanched almonds, while Almond Meal is made with the almond’s skins still remaining and is not always as fine as flour.)

http://www.nuts.com/nuts/almonds/flour.html?utm_source=bing-ads&utm_medium=cpc&utm_group=90-AlmondFlour[3030]&utm_campaign=1-Nuts&utm_term=almond%20flour&utm_type=Exact

Arrowhead Mills All Purpose Gluten Free Flour:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00061EMNE/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=B000LKUTUK&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=19AASKQZJN7JPA2H49Z7

Find Your Nearest Health Food Store:

https://www.earthfare.com/

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/?reloaded=true

http://sprouts.com/

http://www.naturalgrocers.com/

http://orgharvest.info/

All You Need Is: CHOCOLATE!

Guilt-Free Decadent Dark Chocolate

Guilt-Free Decadent Dark Chocolate

Let’s face it. Who doesn’t like chocolate? It’s the world’s most iconic sweet, the cure for a love sick heart and the epitome of romance. It gives us warm fuzzies and makes us feel loved! Speaking of love and chocolate: it’s almost Valentine’s Day! Chocolate is a scrumptious treat for the “day of love”, not to mention an amazing aphrodisiac!

But… grabbing a box of chocolates from the store, while it may taste great, is not so great for your body. The chocolate itself is full of iron and antioxidants,  but the sugar inside is just waiting to bog you down! Today I whipped up a batch of homemade chocolate that is not only simple, but better (in my humble opinion) than anything you can get at the nearest grocery store.

Whether you’re going out or staying in, below is the perfect recipe for a perfectly divine dessert. Not only does it tastes amazing, it is absolutely guiltless! Does it get any better than that?

 

 

 

 

DECADENT DARK CHOCOLATE

Serves 6

  • 1 C. Coconut Oil (Melted)
  • 1/4 C. Coconut Milk
  • 1/2 C. Honey
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. Red Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Cinnamon
  • 1 C. Special Dark Cocoa Powder
  1. Mix all ingredients together with a whisk.
  2. Line a dish or baking pan with parchment paper.
  3. Then, using a spatula, empty batter into pan.  Be sure to spread the chocolate to all edges, evening out the top.
  4. Optional: Sprinkle sliced almonds or crushed pecans or walnuts on top for a little crunch. Mm!
  5. Pop in the refrigerator for about an hour, or until firmly set.
  6. Delve into your homemade, guilt-free, chocolately goodness!

Store in the refrigerator.

Part of This Complete Dessert… I Mean, Breakfast.

Sweet Potato "Scramble" with Cinnamon Apple Topping.
Sweet Potato “Scramble” with Cinnamon Apple Topping.

The air today is crisp and clean with the breath of winter. This made it the perfect morning to warm up the kitchen and experiment with one of my favorite foods: the sweet potato. Not only are sweet potatoes delicious, but they are incredibly good for you! Filled with Vitamin A and C, beta carotene, fiber and antioxidants, sweet potatoes play an important role in preventing inflammation and keeping your body safe from free-radicals (which can cause cancer, among other health related issues).

Now that you know the beautiful benefits of this sweet treasure, let’s take it up a notch!  Add a few key ingredients and you’ve got yourself a delicious and nutritious way to start your day.

SWEET POTATO “SCRAMBLE” WITH CINNAMON APPLE TOPPING

Serves 4

You will need:

  • 2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla
  • 4 Tbsp. of Honey
  • 1 tsp. of Cinnamon
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1 tsp. of Baking Powder
  • 1 1/3 C. of Almond Milk
  • 2 Tbsp. of Earth Balance Butter or Coconut Oil (for greasing)
  • 2 Chopped Apples (I used Macintosh, but any apple will do)
  • 2 Tbsp. of Honey
  • 1 tsp. of Vanilla
  • 2 Tbsp. of Earth Balance Butter (or Coconut Oil)
  • 1 tsp. of Cinnamon
  1. Begin by poking holes in your sweet potatoes. Place in the microwave for about 6 minutes, or until softened. Cut down the center of each potato (careful! They will be hot.) Allow them to cool if need be.
  2. Carve out the middles into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  Using a fork, mash the potatoes until most of the lumps have disappeared.
  3. Add in the egg, vanilla, honey, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and almond milk. Whisk together.
  4. Turn your stove to Med/High heat. Liberally grease your skillet with Earth Balance butter or coconut oil. When the butter/oil begins to bubble, pour your batter into the skillet.
  5. Leave it until you see the edges begin to cook. Using a spatula, “scramble” the batter like you’re making eggs. It will take several minutes before it is ready to eat.
  6. Heat another skillet on Med/High heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of Earth Balance butter (or coconut oil) and let it begin to bubble. Add in your cut apples, honey, vanilla and cinnamon.
  7. A glaze will begin to form in the pan, so be sure to coat your apples in it! This will only take a few minutes.
  8. Plate your Sweet Potato Scramble, topping it with the cinnamon apples. For a special touch, drizzle with honey and sprinkle with coconut flakes.

And Voila! You have successfully made a delicious and satisfying breakfast (that feels more like a dessert!) I hope you enjoy this one as much as we did. My husband and brother-in-law certainly didn’t mind being guinea pigs this morning! Perhaps you have a guinea pig or two of your own who’d like to try?