Sweet Chili, Bacon and Avocado Grilled Cheese

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Tomorrow is the first day of spring and we are expecting 3 to 5 inches of snow. Spending the past week in Hawaii with family and friends has lessened my bitter and caustic feelings towards this winter, but I can't say I'm thrilled for —fingers crossed— one last day of icy slush on the streets of Manhattan. This winter has been long and unforgiving and in need of indulgences such as this.

I've been considering adding meat to my recipes on grateful grazing for some time now, after all I enjoy meat on a regular basis. When my friends suggested having a night of grilled cheese, it seemed appropriate to go all out — welcome bacon to grateful grazing. 

The key in this recipe is finding the perfectly meltable cheese with a mild flavor that doesn't overpower the other ingredients. I used muenster which worked wonderfully. The bacon and avocado speak for themselves, and sweet chili sauce is at the top of my list of favorite condiments. Sweet chili sauce can easily be made at home, but if you are in a pinch for time the jarred versions will work just fine. They both taste great, making your own just ensures that you know exactly what is going into it, and that there is less added sugar and no preservatives. 

SWEET CHILI, BACON AND AVOCADO GRILLED CHEESE
serves 4
 
1 pound bacon
8 slices sourdough bread
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 pound muenster cheese, sliced
1/2 pound Monterey jack cheese, grated
2-3 tablespoons sweet chili sauce, recipe below
2 ripe avocados, sliced
 
Preheat oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with a wire rack or parchment paper. Lay bacon onto sheet and bake until crispy, approximately 15 minutes. Remove from oven to cool. 
 
While the bacon is cooking, butter the outside of each piece of bread and assemble sandwiches by placing a few slices of muenster and a sprinkling of jack cheese on the bread and top with a buttered piece of bread. 
 
Heat a large pan or skillet and add one or two sandwiches to the pan depending on the size. Cook over low to medium heat to brown the toast and allow the cheese to melt, adding more butter if needed. When the bread is golden brown carefully flip and cook until the other side is golden brown. Repeat with remaining sandwiches. 
 
Open each sandwich, drizzle with sweet chili sauce, add bacon and avocado and close the sandwich. Cut in half to serve. 
 

SWEET CHILI SAUCE

makes about one cup

2 red chilies 
3 cloves of garlic, chopped 
½ c brown rice syrup
¼ c white vinegar
1 t salt
2 t arrowroot
½ c water

 

Combine chilies, garlic, brown rice syrup, vinegar and salt in food processor and blend, add about ½ the water until a thin sauce consistency in reached.

in a small bowl, dissolve arrowroot in remaining water. Transfer blended mixture to sauce pan, whisk in arrowroot and stir constantly over medium heat until sauce has thickened.

Extra sauce can be kept refrigerated for about two weeks. 

 

 

Banana Crumb Cake

My favorite thing about quick breads is that they come together with just a few pantry staples and rarely require a trip to the store for additional ingredients. If you're in a pinch and would rather not brave the elements, there are several substitutions that can be made in this recipe. The melted butter can be replaced with coconut or vegetable oil. Sour cream or creme fraiche can replace the yogurt, or you could even sub additional banana or apple sauce and have similar results. And the nuts are all up to your taste, swap or leave them out completely and add additional oats. 

I rarely buy bananas - growing up in Hawaii spoiled me and the cavendish bananas you can find in the mainland are nothing like the sweet, tangy Hawaiian Apple Bananas. On occasion, however, I still buy a hand with the good intention of eating them all. You'd think I'd know better by now, but I guess rotting bananas aren't so bad if they turn into treats like this. 

Banana Crumb Cake

THE CAKE
2 ripe bananas – about one cup
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup cane sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla 
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
 
THE TOPPING
1/2 cup slivered almonds or nut of choice
1/2 cup old fashioned oats 
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon yogurt
 
DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat oven to 350°F and grease and flower a 9 inch round baking dish.
 
Smash the banana in a medium bowl, add in melted butter and sugar and mix well. Add eggs, yogurt and vanilla and mix until incorporated. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and baking powder. Fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until combined. Pour batter into prepared baking dish.
 
Using the same bowl, add the topping ingredients and mix with a spatula or your hands until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Sprinkle over batter. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 

Splendidly Seedy Granola Bars

As we embark upon a new year, it’s a natural time to evaluate our habits, health, and happiness. I’ve always believed in taking a more holistic approach to health, thinking about the big picture and creating balance around what we eat, how we exercise and how to make time for things that bring us joy. Resolutions tend not to stick, and plucking out a few habits we’d like to change generally leads to a few weeks of improvement followed by the return of old behaviors. Eliminating a single food or habit can also lead one to find an equivalent vice as a replacement. Over a discussion of resolutions last week, a colleague of mine unveiled her goal for 2015: to eat everything with happiness. This really resonated with me. I think this is how we should all eat, all the time. To think about where our food comes from and how it will make us feel both physically and emotionally is a practice more people should observe. Rather than denying yourself something you love, enjoy what you eat and take time to think about how to balance your diet and overall health. Who wants to join us as we eat our way to happiness? 

Here are just a few reasons to be delighted to eat these seedy energy bars…

Seeds are superfoods. Sunflower seeds have a high concentration of protein, iron, fatty acids and minerals, and have no cholesterol or sodium. Pumpkins seeds are high in iron, protein and fiber, and contain most of the essential B Vitamins.  They are also a good source of minerals including calcium, magnesium and potassium. Chia seeds the leading plant source of omega-3 fatty acids and are also a rich source of protein, fiber, calcium, phosphorus and manganese. Chia boasts an impressive ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s and omega-9s, making it an ideal source for the body to obtain all those healthy omega-3 fatty acids without overloading on omega 6s and 9s that are prevalent in many fat sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that cannot be manufactured by the body and are thus considered an essential fatty acid. Research has shown them to play a beneficial role in health issues ranging from heart health and cardiovascular disease to inflammation and improved cognitive health. Numerous studies have been conducted regarding the health benefits of flax, and the results are overwhelmingly positive. They are also high in omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being among the top sources of omega-3s, flax is also very high in lignans, which have powerful antioxidant properties and have shown to protect against cancer.

Oats have the highest percentage of soluble fiber of any grain, according to the American Heart Association. As a whole grain, they are low on the glycemic index, which means their sugars are absorbed slowly by the bloodstream, helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels. I chose to add goji berries to this granola, in the past I would have added dried cranberries to something like this, but I’ve come to realize that it is nearly impossible to find any that aren’t loaded with added sugar. Goji berries are a rich source of both vitamin A and C and contain 18 amino acids, including all 9 essential amino acids that the body cannot build on its own. Almonds provide the body with vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high quality protein. They are also a good source of biotin, a B-vitamin that is necessary for cell growth, the production of fatty acids, and the metabolism of fats and amino acids. Honey is rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, potassium, sodium and zinc. Dates provide loads of fiber and are an all natural, unprocessed sweetener and binder in this recipe.

Splendidly Seedy Granola Bars 

Yield: 12 bars 
 
1.5 cups rolled oats 
1/2 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons chia seeds
2 tablespoons ground flax seed
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
1.4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup goji berries
1 cup medjool dates, pitted and packed 
1/3 cup nut butter
1/3 cup honey
sea salt
 
Pre heat your oven to 350°F. Line a 9 by 13 pan with parchment paper. 
 
Place oats, almonds, goji berries, chia, flax, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, in a medium bowl and set aside. 
 
Puree dates in a food processor. If the dates are hard, soak in hot water for 15 minutes prior to pureeing. 
 
In a small sauce pot, melt together honey and nut butter. Remove from heat and mix in the dates. Pour mixture over the dry ingredients and mix well. You will need to use your hands for this to evenly distribute all of the ingredients. 
 
Transfer mixture into prepared baking dish and press down firmly until even. It helps to get your hands wet, and use your palms to evenly spread the mixture into the pan. Sprinkle with sea salt.
 
Bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least an hour before removing from the pan. It takes this long for the bars to firm up enough to handle. To speed up this process, place in the fridge once the pan is cool enough to handle and remove bars once firm.  Remove from pan and cut into desired size. Store in an air tight container. These also freeze well. 
 

 

butternut squash mac n' cheese

My childhood babysitter, Zoë, can attest to the fact that mac n' cheese was hands down my favorite food. This is a twist on that classic creamy cheese sauce that we all love. It's remarkably simple and emulates the textures, flavors and comforts of good ole mac and cheese. This vegetable based sauce is a great way to introduce fickle eaters to new flavors and add nutritional benefits to a family favorite. Bon appetit and happy holidays!

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butternut squash mac n' cheese

1 medium butternut squash, about 4 cups cubed
2 shallots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 Tbsp cold butter
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 lbs pasta, cooked al dente
1 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 - 1.5 tsp salt
sage to garnish
 
Pre heat oven to 375° F. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 casserole dish. 
 
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Set aside.
 
Peel and remove seeds from squash and cut into approximately 1" dice. Add squash, shallot, and garlic to a pot. Cover with water and boil until tender, approximately 15 minutes.  Strain excess water. Working in batches (2-3 depending on the size of your blender) add squash, garlic and shallot into a blender with enough reserved cooking liquid to create a thick sauce, adding water as needed. With the blender running add half of the butter, nutritional yeast, and salt through the opening of the lid on top of the blender. Blend until smooth, pour into a bowl. Repeat until all ingredients are blended. Mix batches together in a large bowl, and season with additional salt if needed. Add pasta to bowl and mix to coat.
 
Transfer into prepared casserole dish. Top with shredded cheese and bread crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil, move pan to rack nearest to the flame and broil for 3-5 minutes rotating if needed until golden and crispy. Top with torn sage to serve. 

Thai Chili Kabocha Squash Soup

Exciting news! My new site is up! It's been a work in progress, but I've finally pulled it together, and voila.

We were spoiled with a balmy, lengthy fall this year, but the frigid temperatures this week affirm that winter is upon us. It's time for poofy coats, wool socks and lots of soup. 

I'm entering my tenth winter as a mainlander and only in the past year or so has soup become a food to comfort and sooth me. You would think that the temperature alone would be something to covet on a cold winter day, but it has surprised me how long it has taken to honestly crave a bowl of soup. I guess comfort foods speak to a deeper level of habit and familial traditions. 

Thai food was always among my favorite cuisines growing up. Dining out was a rare occasion, but a little hole in the wall Thai restaurant in Hilo was among the five or so restaurants in my family's rotation. This soup blends a childhood comfort food with my new found adoration of soup, making it a foolproof combination for our first wintery week of the season. 

When blended in soups, kabocha squash lends an incredibly rich and velvety texture. It is sweeter than most pumpkins and squash, making it a great accompaniment to the hot chilis, garlic, ginger and shallots in the recipe. 


Thai Chili Kabocha Squash Soup 

Serves 4-6 

1 kabocha squash
2 -4 tablespoons chili paste (recipe below)
1 t coriander, ground
1 t cumin, ground
1 can coconut milk
3 cups water
1 T coconut oil 
1 t salt
cilantro and sesame oil to garnish 
 
To prepare your squash, cut into wedges, remove seeds and peel using a knife or vegetable peeler. Cut into 1 inch cubes. 
 
Heat a large pot on the stove over medium to high heat. Add 1 T of coconut oil and the chili paste (the spice level will vary depending on the freshness of the chilis, so add chili paste to your desired heat level). Cook for about one minute, allowing the flavors to bloom in the oil. Add in coriander and cumin, and cook for another minute. Add squash, coconut milk, water and salt. Simmer for bout 20 minutes, or until squash is soft and mashable. 
 
Remove from heat and blend in a blender until smooth. You will need to do this in several batches, do not overfill the blender. Once blended, pour into a clean pot, season with salt. To serve top with cilantro and a drizzle of sesame oil. 

 

Thai Chili Paste Recipe 

Yield: 1 cup 

3 shallots, peeled 
2 red chilis
2 thai chilis
4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
6 inch piece of lemon grass
6 cloves garlic
2 kaffir leaves
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons water
 
Roughly chop all ingredients and blend in a food processor or mortar and pestle until a paste-like consistency is reached. 
This recipes makes more than needed. Freeze the extra in ice cup trays, pop out one or two cubes  and use in soups and marinades. 
 
Note: Peppers vary greatly in heat levels, I choose to keep the seeds in my chilis, but if you are sensitive to spice remove and discard seeds. 

flatbread duo // mushroom blue cheese // ricotta zucchini

duo

New York had a very mild summer this year and the days are shortening and quickly becoming more brisk as fall rolls in. I wouldn't have complained about a few more scorching days, but I know most were very grateful for the mild heat that we had in the city. It went by too quickly, as it always does, there were not enough days to bask in the sun but on the plus side, we can finally turn off the ac and enjoy open windows and fresh air until winter rolls in. Let's hope the cold keeps it's distance and we have an extended mild and cozy fall.

I haven't been in my own kitchen as much as I would like lately, but when I have, the food has been bountiful and the company wonderful. A taco bar last weekend with all the fixings – carnitas, cilantro slaw, guacamole, cotija, limes, salsa – all the good stuff. Amok a few weeks earlier with the best sticky rice I've had from a few of our friends. And these flatbread pizzas – which are becoming a staple of sorts in our home.

This flat bread recipe was thrilling to discover. I don't know why flatbread seems so revolutionary – probably because I never thought to make my own bread because I considered it such lengthy process. I still, of course, would like to master my traditional bread making stills, but in the mean time I can make this in a pinch. It is unbelievably simple and the texture and flavor are not even comparable to any flatbread or pita you could find at the grocery store. The dough takes minutes to make, requires minimal resting time and can be fried, grilled or baked. It is the perfect vehicle for just about anything – dips and spreads, oil and sea salt, veggies or pizzas.

If you have a grill use it! If not, I'd suggest making these in the oven in a cast iron skillet. I made one in cast iron and another on a cookie sheet, and the crust from the skillet was definitely superior in texture to the one on the cookie sheet. A preheated cast iron is hard to beat and it's one of those kitchen staples that I suggest purchasing if you don't already own one. Growing up, it was never something that my family owned, but we were spoiled and my dad had the grill going nearly everyone night. Unfortunately grilling is a bit unattainable in my little nyc apartment, so my cast iron has become a go-to cooking vessel.

Like most of my recipes, this is open to interpretation and creativity and can be topped in any way you see fit. My only advise is to remember that less is more, pick a few topping to lightly dress your dough rather than piling them on.

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the dough

makes two 8 inch pies 

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1.5 cups plain greek yogurt

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and kneed with your hands until a smooth ball of dough forms, adding small amounts of flour or water as needed to get a smooth, slightly tacky dough. Cover with a damp towel and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, divide into 2 equal size portions and roll out on a floured surface to about 1/4 inch thickness. Bake according to directions below.

mushroom / blue cheese / pear

  • large handful of mushrooms, sautéed until tender
  • 2 T blue cheese
  • 1/2 pear, sliced

ricotta / zucchini / tomato

  • 1/4-1/2 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 zucchini, shaved thin
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • red pepper flakes and salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425 F. Place cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat. Add one 8" dough that you have rolled out and bake for approximately 6 mins or until it begins to puff up and the bottom is golden and crisp. Carefully remove from oven, add toppings, return to oven and broil for 5 mins.

If using a regular baking sheet, pre-heat oven to 425F. Place your rolled out dough onto the sheet and bake for about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and add toppings. Return to oven and broil for 5 minutes.

shaved summer salad

vegetable ribbons

A simple twist on preparation can make a striking difference in taste and sensory perception. This salad is a prime example. I've always favored raw vegetables over cooked, and shaving them is an elegant way to highlight their light, crisp and natural attributes.

A vegetable peeler will do the trick, creating long, thin ribbons of vegetables, but a mandoline will make the job a touch easier. This can be done with an assortment of vegetables. I suggest combining textures and adding firm root vegetables and more tender ones such as zucchini and cucumbers.

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The options are vast when it comes to dressing a salad such as this. I choose to add a bit of weight to the vegetables with a creamy yogurt and mint dressing, accentuating the bright flavors of summer. 

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Shaved Summer Salad
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 3 carrots
  • 2 small yellow beets
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1/4 cup mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
  • juice of one lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

Wash your vegetables and carefully shave them lengthwise using a vegetable peeler or mandoline. For the dressing, roughly chop the mint and fold it into the yogurt. Squeeze in lemon and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir together and massage into the vegetables with your hands.

The vegetables can be shaved up to one day in advance. Mix with dressing right before serving to maintain the crisp texture of the vegetables.

orange + coconut milk cream pops

vegan orange cream pops

One of the first things I remember doing each and every time I arrived at my grandma's house in Honolulu was run out to the large reach-in freezer in the shed outside and dig for boxes of orange creamsicles. Most of the time my hunt was successful, she was always prepared and knew our favorite treats. To this day the sweet, velvety combination of oranges and cream bring me back to hot days spent on her lanai making plumeria leis with my cousins and splashing in the neighbor's pool.

These cool treats are easy to make and are a refreshing way to cool down on these hot and humid summer days. If you don't have popsicle molds they can easily be made in little paper cups. They take minutes to mix up, and if you don't have the patience to create the layers as I did, the flavors will be just a divine if you choose to simply pour both mixtures in the molds and freeze it all at once.

Alcohol adds a little kick and softens the texture of pops. Alcohol doesn't freeze, so adding a small amount to ice pops and sorbets offers a softer texture. The addition of sugar will also reduce the ice shards in most pops - so if you end up experimenting with recipes this summer be sure to let me know how yours turn out with varying amounts of sugar and alcohol.

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orange + coconut milk cream pops

makes 10-12 pops

  • 2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
  • 2 cups (1, 15oz can) whole fat coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup honey, divided
  • 1/4 cup Chambord, divided (or any sweet fruity liquor)

In a small bowl whisk together orange juice, 1/4 cup honey and 2 T liquor. In a separate bowl whisk together coconut milk, 1/4 cup honey and 2 T liquor.

Pour half of the orange mixture into your molds. Freeze for about one hour or until mostly firm, pour half of your coconut mixture over the frozen orange juice and freeze. Repeat with remaining orange and coconut mixtures until your molds are full. When you add the last layer, insert popsicle sticks. Freeze for an additional 6-8 hours before serving.