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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Grilled Asparagus with Lavender Salt

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One of my favorite things about Spring is asparagus. Actually, I think I have already overdid it with the asparagus. I won 8 bunches of asparagus from a recipe contest on the Fort Mason’s Farmers Market Facebook page and I’ve really tried eating it all. Though, asparagus are relatively low-maintenance. I don’t need to do much with them and they cook rather fast. This is one of my most basic recipes for asparagus, that I probably make once a week. It’s fast. And, sometimes, I eat the whole bunch by myself. They are that good. Fresh asparagus, that haven’t been doused in pesticides or altered by biotech companies (want to have this discussion?), are healthy. I don’t question it.

Lavender is my secret ingredient. I discovered cooking with lavender when one of my college roommates brought home a bottle of Herbs de Provence (a mixture of dried herbs which include lavender). I was amazed that you could cook with lavender as I had always thought of it as a nice smelling flower. It turns out that lavender in food is magical and has many, many healing properties. It really is magical and most people cannot pinpoint what “that” flavor is, making you a culinary star. Like all other herbs, I only get organic lavender.

Often times, I eat the grilled asparagus with a fried egg for complete meal. It’s breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner. It’s also very satiating. Try it with a runny, pasture-raised egg. You will be amazed.

Ingredients
1 bunch thin asparagus
2 tablespoon olive oil or organic butter
lavender salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1-2 pasture-raised eggs (optional)

Method
Heat a cast iron pan on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil or butter and coat the pan well. Add in the asparagus a handful at a time. You do not want to overcrowd the pan. Let the asparagus cook for a couple of minutes before turning them with a wooden spatula. Cook for a couple of minutes more or until they are tender. Sprinkle lavender salt over the asparagus and transfer to a plate. Repeat this procedure until all of the asparagus is cooked.

In the same pan or a small skillet, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil or butter. Wash the eggs and crack one egg into the pan. Cook until the whites appear solid, about 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately over the bed of cooked asparagus.

You can use a cast-iron grill pan or a regular heavy bottomed pan to cook the asparagus. I like using this pan because it creates beautiful grill marks on the asparagus.

A regular (cast-iron) pan works just as well.

Asparagus are easy yet elegant enough for potlucks. I took this dish to a potluck brunch a couple of weeks ago.

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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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A Whole Garden Soup For Your Soul

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After having dinner at Ubuntu, I have been thinking a lot about how much food we waste. Take a carrot for instance: we peel, scrub, and remove the tops. That is getting rid of half of a whole carrot. It just ends up in my compost bin. Well, for the first time, I decided to actually taste the carrot top. It tasted almost like parsley with a carrot aroma. Also, I always buy organic or pesticide-free carrots directly from a trusted farmer at the Farmer’s Market, so I can get away with just scrubbing and washing the carrot. Though, I do not know exactly what to do with carrot-tops, I am definitely open to experimenting and new recipes. Also, I stumbled upon this website that has a ton of information about carrots.

I also have been more inclined to test out iPhone recipe apps. I have all of the well-known, free ones downloaded, but never really cared to use them. I like opening up a cookbook, looking at the pictures, making marks and notes, and placing it right next to my chopping board (without fear of liquid spilling all over it). Anyway, Jamie Oliver’s app is very attractive and I decided to make the minestrone soup in the free sampler pack. I loved how easily you can create a shopping list (which I am known to leave at home if written on a notepad) right on your phone. It’s a really well-done app; one of the best I have seen. My only complaint is that it’s not easy to use the recipe on the phone while cooking. I am a bit clumsy so phone + liquids + messy hands = disaster. I actually gathered all of the ingredients, listed in the app minus the pancetta, pasta and, added a few of my own ingredients to what ended up being the best soup I have ever made. The quantity ended up being larger than I anticipated and we had soup for 8 servings! I love one-pot meals that last for several meals and the timing could not have been more perfect. We have been experiencing extremely cold weather and it was even supposed to snow in San Francisco!

Whole Garden Vegetable Soup
This soup is really simple to make and the garbanzo beans and potato makes it hearty enough to be a meal in itself. The baking soda helps to soften the garbanzo beans faster so you don’t need a pressure cooker. Serve with a slice of whole grain toast or a side salad if you would like. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer an airtight container, but remove any remaining kale first.

Ingredients
Serves 4-6
2 cups water, room temperature, divided
pinch of baking soda
1/2 cup garbanzo beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large red onion
2-4 carrots with tops
2 branches of celery
2 garlic cloves
1/2 inch ginger
2 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 small potato, diced
10 ounces canned tomatoes
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon cumin powder
1/2 cup kale, torn and tough parts removed
sea salt and freshly milled black pepper
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Extra virgin Olive oil for drizzling

Method

1. Rinse the soaked garbanzo beans and add them to 1 cup boiling water with a pinch of baking soda. Let boil while you work on the soup.

Leaves of the carrot-top

2. Chop the garlic, ginger, onion, celery, carrots and potato. Thinly slice the stalks of the carrot tops and reserve the leaves. Heat the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat, then add the chopped garlic, ginger, onion, celery, carrots, potato, and bay leaves. Lower temperature to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes or until the vegetables soften and start to caramelize. Stir occasionally.


3. Drain the garbanzo beans and add them to the soup pot. Next add the canned tomatoes, broth, remaining 1 cup of water, and cumin. Stir the ingredients together, turn the temperature up to medium-high and bring to a boil. Taste and adjust seasoning with more cumin, sea salt, and black pepper. Cover and simmer on low heat for 10 minutes.


4. Meanwhile, wash the kale in cold running water. Roughly chop it¸ removing the tough stems. Add it to the soup pot, cover with a lid, and cook for about 5 minutes, until kale is tender.

5. Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle extra virgin olive oil, garnish with carrot-top leaves, and Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

What is your favorite soup recipe?

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Farmer’s Market Find: Snow or Spring?

Last week, San Franciscans were in a frenzy about the weather forecast. Supposedly, it has not snowed in SF in 35 years and it was supposed to snow this weekend! I, like many others, was very skeptical about this prediction. We did have a bad rainstorm, but the last few days have been really sunny. And hardly a cloud in the sky. It did snow for like a second on Twin Peaks. Anyway, you would never know it by looking at all of the things available at the market. I returned to the Fort Mason FM after a three week hiatus and was so delighted to see all of the changes in the produce.

Cara Cara Pink Naval Orange- Kens Top Notch Produce

The citrus season is going strong. I bought a bag full of Cara Cara Pink Naval Oranges and Blood Oranges from Hamadas Farm. The Cara Caras are my new favorite citrus, next to the blood oranges of course!

Leeks- Happy Boy Farms

Leeks were one my  best Farmer’s Markets finds last year. I like sauteing them will a little olive oil and add them in eggs, soups, rice dishes– in everything basically.

Mixed salad greens- Happy Boy Farms

A healthy looking mix of salad greens caught my eye and I couldn’t resist. At that moment, I could taste the crispness and freshness of the leaves. I am definitely going to add in the arugula, watermelon radish, and blood oranges with a drizzle of olive oil for a satisfying snack.

Watermelon radish- Happy Boy Farms

Don't these Romanesco Cauliflowers remind you of dinasours? -Rio de Parros Organics

Arugula with its Blossoms- Serendipity Farms

Tomatoes! Not the the greatest looking, but I could use these in a warming curry dish. - Swank Hill Farms

Truthfully, we were kind of getting tired of chard and kale. I am so glad to have stocked my fridge with Meyer lemons, turnips, mixed greens, arugula, leeks, and watermelon radish instead. I left my wallet at home and only had $27 with me, yet I came home with $6!

Meal Plan for the week*:
Monday: Vegetable pizza (Romanesco Cauliflower, Arugula, Ricotta), Lentil Stew
Tuesday: Butternut Squash + Turnip soup, mixed citrus and greens salad
Wednesday: Roasted leeks and soft-boiled eggs**, roasted watermelon radish+ mixed green salad, leftover lentil stew
Thursday: Baked romanesco, Crab cakes and blood orange salad***, Leftover squash soup
Friday: Leftovers or out with friends
Saturday: PancakesWarm Chickpea Salad with Arugula

*Most of the meals laid out here are recipes I have not published on the website yet. If you are interested, just leave a comment and I will share!
**From the cookbook, “Cooking With Italian Grandmothers” by Jessica Theroux
***From the cookbook, “Organic Marin: Recipes from Land to Table,” by Tim Porter and Farina Wong Kingsley

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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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Brunch for Lovers or Just You: Blood Orange Pancakes

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People either love or hate Valentine’s Day, with very few people oblivious to February 14th’s significance. I had a roller coaster of emotions when it came to V-Day. I loved it for what it stood for- hopeless, romantic, I will do anything for you, fairy-tail kind of love. Of course, V-Day never was that easy as a single girl. I’ve been through my fair share of relationships, but my husband was my first real Valentine. For the first 25 years of my existence, I never seemed to be in a relationship circa Feb 14th. Strange. I am a sucker for the commercialization of the whole thing, and I think a girl should be showered with pretty flowers, chocolates, and gifts. Equally, a man should receive the same thought and affection. I am all for fancy romantic dinners, but the prix-fix menus and price mark-ups annoy me. It also does not feel as special when you know you are in a dining room with 50 other couples who are there just because it’s Valentines Day. So it’s nice to cook a romantic, thoughtful meal at home. It’s also just as nice to cook a special meal for yourself!

Valentine’s Day or Single Awareness Day just so happens to fall on a weekday this year, so a pre-brunch is in order. Nothing is more luxe and seductive as blood oranges. Sure, strawberries are the fruit of love and seduction, but that’s only because no one has looked at blood oranges. Their season is fleeting between the months of January and February. Sometimes, they appear as early as December and last until March. They are mysterious, seductive, and one bite makes you want more. In my opinion, strawberries are played out (and not in season)!

Blood Orange Pancakes
serves 2
Ingredients
1 cup Almond meal
1 cup buckwheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
zest of one medium blood orange
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tbsp melted, unsalted butter or 1 tbsp blood orange olive oil
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
butter for coating
blood orange compote

1. Combine buckwheat flour, almond meal, baking soda, and salt together in a medium sized mixing bowl and mix well.  In another bowl, whisk together zest, ginger, melted butter, egg, and milk until well combined.

Zest of one blood orange

2.  Add dry ingredients slowly into the wet ingredients. Stir the batter gently as you add in the dry ingredient. The batter should be lumpy and slightly thick. Add a teaspoon of whole milk at a time if batter is too thick.

The batter should be lumpy.

3. Heat a  griddle or heavy bottomed pan to medium-hot, and place 1 tablespoon of butter into it. Let the butter melt before spooning the batter into the pan.

3. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto hot pan. Cook until bubbles break on surface, turn and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, until browned. Remove from the pan and smear a tiny bit of butter on top. Keep warm by placing the cooked pancakes in the oven, covered loosely with foil.

4. Serve warm with blood orange compote and blood orange juice.

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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.

Super Bowl Tacos

Even if you are not a football fanatic, you can’t deny the delicious junk food the Super Bowl parties offer. Nachos, pizzas, chips, wings and they taste good in their own right. Well, don’t think of Super Bowl as a sabotage to your health goals or new year’s resolutions. It’s just one day (as long as it really is just one day) and it’s okay to have a cheat meal every now and then. If you are truly worried about falling off track, follow these Healthier Social Eating Rules.

If you are hosting or  taking something to a party, consider these alternatives to the traditional taco. They are easy to assemble, easy to eat, and seriously delicious.

Garbanzo Bean Tacos
serves 8
Ingredients
– 15 oz Garbanzo Beans, from a can (drained and washed)
-1 medium onion, chopped
– 1/2 cup salsa
-1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
– salt and paprika, to taste
– 8 taco shells or soft mini tortillas
– 1/2 cup yogurt or sour cream
– 1 cup arugula

Method
1. Saute onions in heated oil until translucent on medium heat (5-8) minutes.
2. Add in the garbanzo beans, salt, cumin and paprika. Stir well and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Turn off the stove and stir in the salsa.
4. Immediately, spoon the mixture into each taco shell. Top with the fresh arugula and serve immediately.

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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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