Saturday, July 26, 2014

Blueberry Muffin Protein Smoothie

You will totally feel good about life after drinking this.  I'm serious!  It's full of protein, anti-oxidants, and vitamins.  It's basically a free-radical's nightmare.  But your taste bud's dream.

The inspiration?  Necessity.  After a spontaneous blueberry-picking trip to Moorhead's Blueberry Farm in Conroe, Texas (just north of Houston), I found myself with no less than 12 cups of plump juicy blueberries.  There is only so much blueberry pie one can eat before feeling like Violet Beuaregarde from Willy Wonka.  So, I challenged myself to use the berries to come up with a perfect blueberry smoothie that tasted as satisfying as a dessert.  This one's a winner!

Some of the ingredients may raise your eyebrows, but they each have a specific purpose in making this smoothie a delicious morning meal, afternoon pick-me-up, or post-workout dose of protein.  The secret?  2% cottage cheese.  It adds protein and boosts creaminess, and once it's blended, you will never be able to taste it.  Cottage cheese has just as much protein as greek yogurt, minus the tang.  And it's cheaper (which makes it taste better, right?).  I love to serve this to overnight guests in the morning.  It tastes like a blueberry muffin, without all of the guilt.

So let's all drink to your health!

1/2 cup blueberries
1/2 cup 2% cottage cheese
1/3 cup almond milk (can sub water)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp protein powder (optional)
2 stevia packets
handful of spinach
5-7 ice cubes

Put all ingredients in a high-speed blender, and let it whirl until smooth.  Serve immediately.  It's so pretty!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bourbon Peach Crumble (GF)

Finally, it's a good peach year!  Texas has been plagued by a streak of mediocre harvests over the past three summers, but right now, we have a great peach crop.  Texas may not take center stage when it comes to "peachy" states... but perhaps it should.  The hill country region of the Lone Star State yields plump, juicy, sweet fruit that I believe rivals any peach from Georgia or California.  (That's the proud Texan in me talkin'!).  The peak of peach season happens to coincide with the peak of bikini season, so I wanted to create a dessert that wouldn't K-O the diet.  The simplicity of this recipe not only makes it an easy dish to prepare, but also a dish that can help you stick to your nutrition goals.  Hello fruit and fiber!

Another perk?  My Bourbon Peach Crumble recipe is gluten-free.  I had my pal Amber in mind when creating this recipe.  She's been looking for an authentic Texas dessert to bake for her boyfriend, a New Yorker with a gluten sensitivity.  You can't get more Texan than Peach Crumble!

The crumble came out all bubbly and beautiful.  Because I use just a minimal amount of sugar, the natural sweetness and subtle acidity of the fruit really shines.  The bourbon and pecans add another southern touch.

 You could say I'm a peach purist.  I prefer my peaches without any other fruit.  They deserve the spotlight, right?

3 ripe peaches (medium)
2 tbsp brown sugar (divided)
1 tbsp lemon
1 tbsp bourbon
1/2 cup oats
1/3 cup pecans
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp coconut oil (you can substitute butter)

Cut peaches into bite size chunks.  I left the peel on mine, but feel free to remove.  In a medium bowl, gently toss peaches with 1 tbsp brown sugar, lemon juice, and bourbon.  Dump remaining 1 tbsp of brown sugar, oats, pecans, salt, and coconut oil into a food processor and pulse until you get a coarse, crumbly, mixture. Use coconut oil or non-stick spray to grease the bottom and sides of 4-6 small ramekins or a medium sized baking dish.  (I used 3" ramekins).  Pour the peaches into the ramekins, top with the crumble mixture, and bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.  Can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature.  Top with vanilla ice cream or vanilla greek yogurt for a dose of protein.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

New York City Travel Guide 2014

Chris and I traveled to NYC for a 48-hour weekend getaway in May, and it was fabulous!  Here are some of the amazing places we were fortunate enough to visit.

Joe's Pizza by the Slice.  A New York classic since 1975.  Go the Greenwich Village location on Carmine Street, pick up a "slice", and prop up against the bar or take it to go.  There's not much space in this little cubby hole of a restaurant, so I recommend making a brief stop here for an afternoon snack.  The slices give you an even ratio of cheese to sauce, and the crust is thin and pliable.  Fold it when you eat it, and look like a local!  It tastes like New York (in a good way... a very good way!) 

Victory Garden.  Victory Garden is not your average soft serve yogurt shop.  VG makes their variety with goat milk, which imparts a particularly creamy, bold flavor.  If you like goat cheese or the tang of greek yogurt, this is up your alley.  If you feel a little timid, but want to give it a shot, go for one of the sweeter flavors.  The salted caramel yogurt topped with pistachios hit all the right notes -- sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy.

World Trade Center Memorial.  We spent the last of Friday's daylight hours at the 9/11 Memorial, a powerful tribute the innocent lives lost and the heroes who make our country great.  You will not regret stopping here. 

Peter Luger.  After grabbing a pre-dinner drink at the W New York Downtown with my TV friend, Kelly, we were off to Brooklyn to check out Peter Luger.  Kelly imparted some valuable advice about our forthcoming meal, specifically the "schlag".  I will explain momentarily.  If Peter Luger is not the best steakhouse in NYC, it's certainly the most historic.  Carnivores have been satisfying their craving for beef here since 1887.  Our appetizer, the wedge salad and thick slab of sizzling bacon could have been a meal.  The main event consisted of "steak for two," german potatoes, and broccoli.  Last but not least, we saved room for "schlag".  I can't tell you it's etymology, but schlag is a very dense, sweet, whipped cream.  You will find it on the Holy Cow Hot Fudge "Sunday". Here's the scoop... (get it?)   The sundae comprises generous dollops of caramel cone ice cream, drizzled with hot fudge, topped with clouds of "schlag", walnuts, and a cherry. Overall, the meal was solid, and it was a thrill to dine in one of the country's most iconic steakhouses. 
*Cash only here... They're just old school like that! 

Gramercy Park Hotel.  We chose to stay in this highly-recommended, well-situated boutique hotel in the Flatiron District near, not far from Union Square.  We loved the live music and drinks at the Rose Bar, and the furnishings in our room were absolutely beautiful.  I could live there.

Soul Cycle.  If you are athletically inclined, or just like a good workout, check out SoulCycle.  Hop on a bike, listen to some great music, and sweat off the food hangover from the night before. The staff at the Union Square location were particularly friendly and welcoming to us newbies.

Union Square Market.  We stopped here after finishing our sweat-fest at Soul Cycle to peruse the stalls of local farmers' goods.  It's a taste of the country in the heart of the city, and a great way to start a Saturday morning in New York.

Barney Greengrass.  More than any other genre of restaurant, delis are quintessentially New York.  I recommend what Anthony Bourdain recommends: Barney Greengrass, on the Upper West Side.  Jenna Beth (my sister) and I discovered this spot on a previous trip to New York.  I always get the Nova and toasted bagel with cream cheese, tomato, and capers.  And being an adventurous eater, I don't "always" get a lot of things.  There's something special about cured and smoked fish.  The restaurant has bestowed the title of "Sturgeon King" upon itself, so they must have the best, right?  Chris ordered the Corned Beef.  It was good, but not as good as mine!

Levain Bakery.  We walked a few blocks south to Levain Bakery, for the. best. chocolate. cookie. ever.  If you are a chocoholic, put the Dark Chocolate Chip cookie on your to-eat list.  Now.  How in the world does it stay molten on the inside, even after it's cooled?  Must be magic.  I will attempt a copy-cat recipe one of these days.  Chris got the Chocolate Chip Walnut.  Good, but not as good as mine!  (Kat wins again!)

Yankee Stadium.  We scored seats to a Yankees game, which was a lot of fun, in spite of a few raindrops during the sixth inning.  The brand new stadium in the Bronx is big, beautiful, and actually quite clean and comfortable. The home team won, to boot!  As if we were real New Yorkers, we also took the D train to and from the game. 

Maysville.  I adore this charming little bar.  It's namesake is the birthplace of bourbon, Maysville, Kentucky, which also happens to be the birthplace of my father.  Maysville is conveniently located in Midtown, and as the name might suggest, the restaurant specializes in craft cocktails and southern food.   We didn't dine, but we did sip on fresh mint juleps, served in a traditional pewter mugs.  Coincidentally, we also happened to be visiting on Kentucky Derby day.  Perfect timing!


Museum of Sex.  Oh yes, we did venture here.  It's around the corner from Maysville.  I'm no prude, but honestly, I didn't care much for this stop, even though it was my idea.  My inner nerd was hoping for a more intellectual or cultural perspective on sex.  (How different societies view sex, the female sexual revolution, the history of contraception?).  This collection was was more of a celebration of porn.  Fine, but it just didn't do it for me.  Ha!  The primary exhibit was on Linda Lovelace.  I just don't relate, but perhaps you will enjoy?  Glad I went, but likely won't go again.   

Locanda Verde.  Our dinner stop in TriBeCa.  This warm, cozy, Italian eatery is still as beautiful and "happening" as ever.  Andrew Carmellini's menu changes seasonally, but make sure you try at least one of the homemade pastas.  Oh, and the burrata!

Smith & Mills.  My new favorite New York bar.  Also in TriBeCa.  It's an intimate little neighborhood watering hole, that's sophisticated without being pretentious.  There's a clear emphasis on design, both in the decor and in the carefully crafted menu of vintage cocktails and flavorful small plates.  The space is tee-tiny, but it leaves a big impression.  Make sure you check out the very unusual bathroom, which used to be an elevator shaft.

Chelsea Market.  We stopped into this famous indoor market on Sunday morning, and watched a lot of other tourists (and some locals) weave through the various food stalls and boutique shops.  I scored a great deal on a Free People dress at a sample sale hosted inside the market.

The High Line.  As its website explains, "The High Line is a public park built on a historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side." It is one of the most unique public spaces I have ever seen, and it provides a bit of a respite from the buzz of the city.  Enjoy views of the Hudson, fresh flowers, food carts, and public art along the 1.45 mile-long greenway.

The Standard High Line Hotel.  Taking a cue from Ina Garten, we capped off a Sunday morning of walking with brunch at this SoHo landmark.  I recently watched an episode of Barefoot Contessa featuring the The Standard Grill's "Million Dollar Chicken," and I have been obsessing over the dish ever since.  It's worth all the fuss.  The chicken is perfectly pan-roasted over sourdough bread (it absorbs all of the flavorful juices) and served with potatoes and onions.  Chris ordered shrimp and grits, which was topped with chorizo and a poached egg.  Why didn't I think of that?  If you run to the loo, look down.  The floor in the hallway is made of pennies.

Maialino.  Our final stop before heading home, which happens to be inside our beloved Gramercy Park Hotel.  Maialino is chef-restaurateur Danny Meyer's Italian trattoria concept.  We just dropped by for a parting glass of champagne, but I am definitely putting this restaurant on the list for the next NYC trip.   

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)

Being an early riser (to cover the news!), I have developed a huge craving for sweets.  There's just something about sleep deprivation that makes sugar even more appealing!  I came up with this recipe for some friends who --along with myself-- are also looking for a "reduced-guilt" treat. 

These are two-bite reduced-carb cookies, that contain simple ingredients, and no flour.  I notice that I feel better when I limit the amount of wheat (flour) I consume, but I am far from eliminating it entirely from my diet.  This recipe is healthier than your standard PB cookie recipe, yet it tastes every bit as rich.  You can check out my cookie math below, for the proof. ;)

Average PB cookie recipe (-) flour (+) flax seed = lower-carb PB cookie recipe

I came out with about 30 cookies.  Half went to my father, who is recovering from back surgery, a quarter went to my pal Zac, who I am visiting in Vegas, and a quarter went to my friend Celia at The Bronze Bar in Houston.  I ate the crumbs. :)

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp ground flax seed
2/3 cups chocolate chips.

Preheat oven to 325F.  Mix first all ingredients together in a medium bowl, then mix in chocolate chips.  Use a tablespoon to scoop out the batter onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Bake for 12-15 minutes.  Allow to cool on the sheet, then remove and enjoy!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Aji de Gallina (Peruvian Chicken)

"Aji de Gallina" is probably the most ubiquitous --and in my humble opinion, delicious-- Peruvian chicken dish.  Several restaurants here in Houston specialize in Peruvian and South American cuisine, and you will always find a version of Aji de Gallina on the menu.  If you're in H-town, check out Latin Bites or Andes Cafe  These restaurants just might change your perceptions about food from this region.  Spain, China, Japan, and the Inca empire each had a hand in creating what we know as modern Peruvian cuisine.  I will spare you the historical and anthropological explanation of this culinary and cultural mash-up, but suffice it to say, the results are quite unique!

Aji de Gallina loosely translates to "chili chicken." Not a bad description, yet the complex flavors extend well beyond this dish's peppery notes.  It's also creamy, spicy, nutty, cheesy.  For as rich as it tastes, Aji de Gallina is actually quite reasonable, for both your financial and calorie budget!  To come up with this recipe, I googled the dish, cut down a few of the heavier ingredients, and then adapted it to what I already had on hand in my pantry. 

To be honest, I whipped this up to make use of the last scraps of chicken I had roasted for a weekend dinner party.  No one was the wiser!  This recipe serves two, but it's easily halved, doubled, quadrulpled, etc.  Anyone up for a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu? :)

Aji de Gallina (Peruvian Chicken)
Serves 2

1 1/2 - 2 cups of cooked shredded chicken
1 thick slice of white or sourdough bread
1/2 large white onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp aji amarillo*
1/3 cup nuts (I recommend peanuts, pecans, or walnuts)
1/2 cup of milk
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock

2 hard boiled eggs
1/4 cup chopped black olives

*I recommend purchasing the paste variety, which you can find in a jar, on the Latin foods aisle of your supermarket (see ingredient picture). $3-6.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the onion and garlic with the olive oil, until translucent, but not brown.  Then add the aji amarillo, turmeric, cayenne pepper, and a dash of salt and pepper.  Saute for another 1-2 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, soak the slice of bread with the milk, about 5 minutes, flipping once.  Reserve the milk and pour the soaked bread and nuts into a food processor.  Process until a smooth paste forms, then add the reserved milk (and process again) to loosen the mixture.  Add this mixture to the saucepan and stir to combine.  Then add chicken and parmesan, cooking just long enough to make sure all ingredients are combined and heated through.  If the sauce looks to thick, add a little chicken broth.  Serve over white rice or quinoa, and garnish with quartered hard-boiled eggs and chopped black olives.  Buen provecho!