Eating Well On A Tight Schedule: Kale and Quinoa Pilaf

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In the last several months, I have had little time do anything else but work on my startup. It’s a really exciting and busy time for Glamour Games, which means I have very little time for Club Dine In. Though, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t been eating well. My health is a priority, so I still try to squeeze in 3-4 workouts per week, grocery shop, and cook. I don’t devote my free time for elaborate meals, but stick to the basics. I still cook and eat fresh, unprocessed food that take 30 minutes or less to make. I am also becoming an expert on making large batches of food, so I only have to cook about 3 nights a week. I mostly make Indian curries, sauteed vegetables over soba noodles or quinoa, and hearty salads.

One of my go-to recipes is the One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf I found on the Food 52 website. It has a nice balance of protein (quinoa, pine nuts), healthy fats (walnut oil, pine nuts), carbohydrates (quinoa, pine nuts), vitamins and fiber (kale, chives, quinoa). Good quality walnut oil can be expensive, but it’s worth the investment. Walnut oil is delicious and a little really goes a long way. You can also just use a good quality olive oil, but I really do love the flavor the walnut oil lends to this dish. In this recipe, I substitute chives for scallions often. It really is about what I can find at the farmer’s market. When we are tired of kale, I add in arugula (without steaming it) or spinach. I’ve even added a few sprigs of fresh mint to the mix. It’s easy to make this recipe vegan, by nixing the goat cheese altogether. The texture and taste is lighter without the goat cheese and the walnut flavor really comes thru.

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I refuse to eat takeout food near our office, so I bring in food for us everyday. With this dish, I introduced one of our engineers to quinoa and kale. After that, I decided to bring this dish in every Monday for the team. The pilaf also costs a lot less per serving than fast food. A little prep and planning does go a long way for your budget, time and health!

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Meatless Mondays: The Health Reasons

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Meatless Monday (MM) is a nation-wide campaign to encourage people to give up meat one day out of the week to increase health, ecology, and economy. It’s also very achievable. You are only going one day a week without any meat. In turn, you will increase your intake of fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. (MM does not mean substituting meat for refined carbohydrates,  large quantities of cheese and peanut butter; it will add a significant amount of fat and calories to your diet. MM also does not mean for you to increase your intake of meat for the rest of the week.)

Here are a few health benefits from a vegetarian diet:
-Vegetarian diets often contain more fiber, potassium, phytochemicals, antioxidants, and vitamins associated with reduced risks of chronic and preventable diseases (diabetes, obesity).
-Generally, vegetarians maintain a healthier body weight (that is if they make good choices).
-Diets high in fruits and vegetables may reduce cancer risk. Whereas, red and processed meat consumption are linked to colon cancer.
-Studies have shown that countries with a higher intake of fat, especially fat from animal products, such as meat and dairy products, have a higher incidence of breast cancer.
– Fiber is only found in fruit and vegetables. Fiber makes you full on fewer calories, hence less overeating and greater weight control.

These are just a few of the many health benefits of a diet focused on fresh vegetables and fruits. Adopt to MM and see the results for yourself.

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Ubuntu- Raising the Bar on Compassion and Ingredients

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Since Valentine’s day fell on a Monday this year, we used it an excuse to finally check out Ubuntu in Napa. We have been meaning to go for the last three years, but always got distracted by the other restaurants in wine country. Anyway, we couldn’t think of a better place than Ubuntu for a romantic Meatless Monday meal. I have to admit, we made reservations only three nights before the big, romantic day and were so happy that we got the only time slot left on Open Table.

In a time of restaurant apps, blogs, and review sites, we walked in with no expectations. I had always wanted to check out this restaurant and I have always heard really positive things about it. Though, contrary to our usual ritual when making a reservation at a new restaurant, we simply booked it. No Yelp, asking friends, or reading up on the gossip. We just wanted to have fun and enjoy a good meal. We didn’t even bother looking up what “Ubuntu” meant, even though I just knew it meant something really good. Satish told me that Ubuntu was a Linux software distribution, so he couldn’t imagine it being the name of a vegetarian restaurant. What I did know was that Ubuntu has it’s own culinary garden, there was a recent chef change, and it had one Michelin star. I even debated leaving my camera at home, but couldn’t go through with that silly idea.

As we walked in, we were surprised to see how large and beautiful the restaurant was. I had always imagined a tiny, funky space with hippies and yogis (not that there is anything wrong with that) with a yoga studio directly above the dining area.  Though, the design is comparable to any of the new, modern restos in San Francisco. The airy space puts you at ease with large, vibrant artwork on stone walls adding warmth. The yoga studio is on the second floor loft directly above the open kitchen. The floor to ceiling window is opaque and overlooks the dining room. There was a class in session  and all you can see are silhouettes of people doing yoga. There were no empty tables, but the noise level was low, making the ambiance perfect for a modern, romantic dinner.

Since we arrived a bit early for our reservation, we got wine at the bar. Their wine list features mostly sustainably farmed wines from around the world. We were served marcona almonds to make up for the wait. They were really good, but a little sweet for a starter and we were really hungry. The micro-green garnish provided a great balance between sweet and savory.

The marcona almonds were delicious, but a tipped on the sweeter side.

We ended up waiting 35 minutes after we our reservation time and it turned out that there was a communication error between the two hostesses. I was a little upset, but the waitress and hostesses were very apologetic, and we did not want that to taint the rest of our night. They comped our wine and brought us a chickpea dish that was not on the menu. The chickpea dish, alone, made up for the miscommunication. This dish had almost every flavor profile I crave. It was meaty, saucy, sweet,  light, spicy, and pretty. It’s the kind of dish that inspires me to be a better cook and explore unfamiliar flavors.

Slow Cooked Chickpeas a la Catalan

The amuse-bouche made up of mushroom stock and green coffee beans was only a teaser of what we had to expect for the rest of our dining experience.

We ordered 3 dishes total for the two of us, even though about 2-3 is recommended per person. We are not big eaters and we already had the macarona almonds, chickpeas, bread, and amuse-bouche. I was almost full, but gladly managed to find more room in my stomach. The menu compromised of local, seasonal produce (as expected), and many of it came from their biodynamic gardens. We ordered a side of the Arbuckle Grits cooked with goat’s milk whey and sharp cheddar cheese ($7), which was decadently rich and amazing. The Garden-Infused Fiore Pasta ($19) was our least favorite dish of the night. We thought it was rather bland. The Rutabaga and Bread ($16) was our favorite dish. It had a medley of citrus, including perfectly crimson blood oranges, a thick citrus-saffron sauce, a moist wedge of bread, and rutabaga. I wish I could eat that everyday. The saffron sauce was just divine; the flavor was sheer perfection. Really, I have no words to describe the sensation I got when I ate that dish. The runner-up was the Little Potato Pillows ($18) and I normally do not like radishes. The potatoes sat on creamy sauerkraut mousse and were adorned with caramelized sauerkraut, black kale, radish giardinieria, including the pretty watermelon radish.

Garden Infused Fiore Pasta

Rutabaga and Bread

Rutabaga and Its Bread

Little Potato Pillows

Little Potato Pillows

After all of that and two more glasses of red wine, we were in a perfect state. Though, we could not pass up dessert. All of the options looked good and we debated between the chocolate brownie ($10) and a dessert made out of celery. Our waitress (Rachel) told us that the celery dessert was really like dessert and not a vegetable dish. Me being me, got the brownie. The micro-greens on the brownie balanced out the sweetness of the candied kumquats. I loved that this dessert wasn’t overpoweringly sweet. Compliments from the kitchen, we also got the celery root dessert. Wow. I don’t even know how to describe it, but Satish liked it over the brownie.

Compressed Chocolate Brownie

The flavors and textures are inventive and we didn’t even miss the meat. My enthusiastic husband just loved every bite. I did too, but my meat-loving sweetheart loved every single bite. He was right, every single bite offered so much good flavor.  At most places, the first five bites really pleases and then your taste buds get used to it, but at Ubuntu, each bite is unique and kept teasing you. And at the last bite, you are sad that it’s all over, but you are equally satisfied and left in a zen-like state.

After our meal, executive chef Aaron London, came over to talk to us. I was surprised to find that he was younger than me and that he is not a strict vegetarian. His food seemed to come from a much more experienced chef. Though, Chef London has been cooking since his teens and has worked at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Au Pied de Cochon, amongst other acclaimed restaurants.

Ubuntu pushes boundaries on not vegetarianism, but the importance of sourcing ingredients. We live in a world, where our eating habits are not sustainable and are damaging to ourselves and the ecosystem.  Ubuntu stands for “an ethic or humanist philosophy focusing on people’s allegiances and relations with each other emphasizing community, sharing and generosity.” Restaurants are leaders for what consumers demand and Ubuntu certainly creates a demand for fresh, local food. Most of us also do not know where our food comes from and Ubuntu does a fine job of reminding you the importance in knowing all aspects of your food. The restaurant takes ingredients to new heights and pushes boundaries on sustainable eating.

I would really like go back during the Spring and late Summer to experience the different seasonal flavors and vegetables. Though, next time I would come in a large group, because there is nothing better than eating good food with great friends!

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Meatless Monday in Kauai

Before coming to Kauai, I was told that it’s hard for vegetarians to eat here. Though, I was very skeptical of those notions. Kauai is known as the Garden Island- lush and tropical with rich soil. So far, every place we have been to offers pretty solid options for vegetarians. We also found many restaurants the specialize in local produce and for vegetarians/vegans/gluten-free diets. Also, there is at least one farmers market each day throughout the island!

I will try to update my meals with pictures of what I eat today. Hopefully it will inspire you to seek out your farmers market or the fresh produce section at the grocery store.


Banana Joes Fruit Stand- breakfast of fresh fruit smoothies and macadamia nuts.

Farmer’s Market Find: Broccolini Love (recipe)

It seems like I have rediscovered my love for broccoli all over again and they are just gorgeous right now at the market. Today, I stumbled upon broccolini, a cross between broccoli and Chinese broccoli (kailan). I picked up one bunch, not entirely sure what I would do with it (recipe below). I really was trying not to buy a lot, since we are leaving town for a week. Then, I saw the pretty green bunches of broccoli that Swank Farms was selling and I couldn’t resist. I really have no idea how we will eat it all by Wednesday night and I don’t love it that much!

There was a new hot food vendor, Happy Dumplings, today. I was curious and got two vegetarian dumplings, which were filled with squash and rice. They were good.

Happy Dumpling

vegetarian dumplings

I also bought a good amount of blood oranges. I am not sure how much longer they will be around and I haven’t had my fill yet. They are really beautiful and taste a little tart. Also, Ferry Farms was selling blood orange juice! The sample was so good, that I bought a pint. A recipe for Valentine’s was brewing in my mind.

Blood Orange Juice

Sesame Oiled Broccolini
serves 4
Ingredients
1 bunch broccolini, washed and fairly dried
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seed oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

Method
Heat oven to 350F degrees. Toss all of the ingredients together and lay out on a baking tray. Bake for 12 minutes, until the stems are tender and easy to pierce through. Serve warm.

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Broccoli with Toasted Sesame Seeds

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Broccoli is not traditional in Indian cooking, but I used to love eating broccoli. Every Monday, I cooked my own meal of sauteed vegetables and broccoli was definitely part of the medley of vegetables. A few years ago, I stopped eating broccoli because it simply just didn’t agree with my body constitution. Satish, on the other hand, has almost the exact opposite of my body constitution and can digest most foods easily. His favorite snack is tortilla chips with salsa. In trying to eliminate all processed foods from our diet, I had to come up with fast, easy replacements for the chips. He also loves Chinese food, but we rarely ever eat it since high quality, inexpensive Chinese food is hard to find and I haven’t ventured into cooking it  for ourselves. This is a great recipe that combines salt (soy sauce), spice (red chili flakes), and crunch (sesame seeds).  I would hardly call this dish “Chinese”, but it has the flavor profile. The broccoli is full of vitamins and phytonutrients that will help your body fight free radicals and support your immune system. I sometimes  serve this over a bed of quinoa for a complete meal. Low quality broccoli can forever leave a nasty impression in your mind, so it’s very important to choose a good stalk. Organic, local, or pesticide-free varieties are your best choices. Broccoli are naturally in abundance during the winter and only last a few days in the fridge before it starts to loose color.

Sesame Seed Broccoli
serves 2

Ingredients
2 cups cut Broccoli florets
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
2-3 teaspoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes (more or less to your liking)

Method
1. Cut and wash the broccoli under cool running water. Meanwhile bring the water in your steamer to a boil. Place broccoli in your vegetable steamer and cover. Let steam for 3 minutes. Or just add them into the boiling water and drain really well after 3 minutes of boiling.

2. While the broccoli is steaming toast red chili flakes and sesame seeds in a pan over medium heat. Once the sesame seeds start turning brown, remove quickly from heat. Toss in the steamed broccoli and soy sauce. Mix well and serve immediately. Tastes great over a bed of rice or quinoa.

Who wants to take me Asian pantry shopping, because broccoli+sesame seeds+ 365 brand soy sauce is just not cutting it for me?!

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The Healthy Pantry

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Follow me on Twitter Keeping a well stocked pantry is the most important and basic part of cooking and maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle. I stock my pantry with food that naturally keeps for several months, so I have no … Continue reading

Traditional Meatless Greek Dolma (Recipe)

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Follow me on Twitter or Facebook. A friend, Carina Ost, made a new year’s resolution to learn how to make dolma and set up a learning session at Mezes Greek Kitchen. Carina invited a few other blogger friends, including myself, … Continue reading

Whole Grain vs Refined Flour

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It is day 13 of January Rules and I am going strong. Interestingly, I have been presented with opportunities to eat processed flours- like croissant sandwiches, Mac n’ Cheese from Grub, and pizza from Tony’s Coal Fired Pizza. Constantly. I normally do follow the three rules of January Rules, or at least I thought I did. I have come to realize that my weakness for food made with refined flour is greater than I thought and I make a lot of exceptions. Pizza, croissants, desserts, breads, pasta- oh you name it and I love it. Unfortunately, all of these things are made with refined flours that have very little nutritional value and contribute to empty calories, fatigue, malnourishment, constipation, mood swings, and preventable chronic diseases.

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Chana Chai Masala

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In my quest for eating mostly only seasonal and local produce, I have avoided making Indian food that requires a tomato based gravy this winter. Mainly because I have not seen any tomatoes at the Farmers Market in the last couple of months. Though, I was craving Indian food last week- in particular Chole Bathura. Chole Bathura is a dish that originates in the Northern Indian state  of Punjab. Punjab is known for their decadent dishes like Chicken Makhani, Saag Paneer, and Chole Bathura. Chole Bathura is an ultimate comfort food, perfect for a chilly, winter’s day. Chole are spicy chickpeas/garbanzo bean and bathura is deep fried bread. Since, I am not eating any fried food this month (Rule #3 of January Rules), I decided to make my own version of bread and garbanzo beans that would hit the spot. I also realized that I could make an exception and use canned tomatoes to substitute the fresh, ripe tomatoes. As long as the ingredient list of the canned tomatoes only reads tomatoes and no other processed ingredients.**

There were many firsts when I attempted to make this dish. It was my first time cooking with dried garbanzo beans and using canned tomatoes. After inquiring on Twitter and asking my mom on how to cook garbanzo beans, I decided that soaking and boiling them would probably produce the best results. This  cooking method is longer than opening a can of beans, but canned beans are slimy and often have added salt and preservatives. It also happens to be national tea month, so I added a little flavor of my own. I used a Masala Chai blend from Samovar, but you can easily make your own mix or use a Masala Chai tea bag. Carefully read the ingredients list on the tea bag, and avoid using tea that has added sugars or artificial flavors. Higher quality, fair-trade loose leaf tea will yield the best results.

Chana Chai Masala

Ingredients
Serves 4-6
1 cup dry Garbanzo beans
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
plenty of water to soak and boil the beans
1 tablespoon Masala Chai mixture or 1 Chai tea bag
3/4 cup boiling hot water
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
2 teaspoon cumin, ground
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, more or less for your tolerance
2 tsp ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces canned tomatoes**
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
One lemon, juiced and zested

Masala Chai Mixture
1 tablespoon black tea
1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
2-3 whole cloves
1-2 peppercorns, whole
2-3 cardamom pods, cracked open

1. Soak Garbanzo beans in plenty of water overnight (at least 8 hours). Rinse the soaked Garbanzo beans. Bring 3 cups of water in a large stock pot to a boil. Add the Garbanzo beans, baking soda, and let simmer for 20 minutes, until they are soft but not mushy.

2. Meanwhile, heat a large pan on medium heat. Once pan is heated add oil and let it heat up for 30 seconds. Add onions and saute them until translucent, about 7-10 minutes. Stir frequently. If the onions start to brown, add 1 tablespoon of water. Add spices and mix well. The spices will stick to the onion and become aromatic in about 45 seconds. Mix in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.

3. While the onions are cooking, steep tea mixture in 3/4 cup boiling hot water in a cup and cover. The tea should steep for about 20 minutes.

3. Slowly add in the tomatoes with their liquid to the pan. Stir well to incorporate spice mixture. Add the salt. After 2 minutes, reduce temperature to low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add in the Garbanzo beans. Strain tea leaves or remove tea bag from water, and pour the tea water into the pan. Mix well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off heat and mix in lemon juice and zest.

5. Garnish with cilantro or marigold petals. Serve with Basmati rice or roti.

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