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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Eating Healthy On The Road (with recipe)

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Road trip and airport/airplane food is usually dense in refine carbohydrates, salt, sugar, and fat and seriously lacking in nutrients. It leaves you bloated, fatigued, and uneasy. Though, a little planning can change all of that so you can enjoy your trip  so much more.

On The Road
Satish and I drove down to Los Angeles a couple of months ago to visit friends and family. We always prefer to drive down so we can have the convenience of our own car, but this time I was dreading the road food more so than ever before. Off of I-5 there isn’t much offered than fast food and a few sporadic fruit stands, so we usually end up making one stop at In-N-Out. I always order a grilled cheese (no meat) and fries. It’s basically just white processed bread with “cheese” and onions, blended with their special sauce. I  physically never felt great after indulging in that “food”.  Maybe, the experience is much different for people who eat the beef patties. Well, I just couldn’t do it anymore. The feeling of being bloated and fatigue..especially since I have been doing so good with eating fresh, clean food and working out. I find that once you have cleansed yourself of processed food, it’s really hard to eat food made out of chemicals. So, I made our own food! Homemade, gourmet sandwiches to go! The drive was only 5-6 hours long, so we did not need a whole lot of food. I also had packed unsalted, mixed nuts and tortilla chips (Satish loves them). We always travel with our stainless steel water bottles filled with water.  We did stop by a Starbucks for coffee/tea and a bathroom break.

In The Air
Recently, we went to Kauai for our vacation. I couldn’t have been more excited about the trip, but the airport and airplane food had me a little more than turned off. I have been trying to keep up with my new year’s resolution and I do not think vacations are an excuse to eat highly processed food. Plus, there is nothing pleasurable about it to me. I also didn’t want to leave a trail of plastic behind just for my convenience. (Processed food comes packaged in plastic). Especially, since most places and facilities do not recycle or properly dispose these materials. A couple of days ahead of our trip, I made savory muffins (recipe below) for us to take on the plane. They keep well and are filling. We had also packed our own trail mixes and Lara Bars.

Game Plan
Plan: Make sure to eat a decent meal before heading out to the airport or on a long car ride to avoid eating horrible airport food or going through the drive-thru.

-Pack your own food: fruits, sandwiches, sun-dried tomatoes,  nuts, and carrots are good choices.

-If you are driving, you can pack a cooler so the food options open up, especially if the road trip is during the warmer months. Salads can be a great, light option for the road and should not wilt in the cooler.

-Bring  water in a reusable steel/glass bottle. Fill up several reusable water bottles before heading out on the road trip (major no-no for airplanes) and you can even spruce up your water with a sprig of mint or citrus. Just squeeze a few drops of fresh lemon or sweet orange into your water bottles for a refreshing taste. You will save money and plastic from ending up in the ocean. When you run out of water, buy the largest container of water and refill your reusable bottles.  One large plastic container does less damage than 36 individual, plastic bottles. Also, if safe-drinking water is available, fill up from the sink or fountain. Also, many water-filter made for traveling.

– Do some research and try to find out if there will be better choices while driving or at the airport. This is especially helpful for longer flights and road trips.

– Relax. After all you are on vacation, and as long as you are not making too many exceptions and staying active, don’t worry about it!

Muffins On The Go Savory Muffins
Olives and Sun-Dried Tomato Muffins
I made these muffins for our recent trip to Kauai. I added the pinch of turmeric to act as natural preservative, but it did not change the flavor. I like to use sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil/solution. To soften the sun-dried tomatoes, I cover them in hot water for 10 minutes before using them. These keep well in the refrigerator for 7-10 days. They also freeze well.

Ingredients
Butter, for greasing
1 cup baby spinach, washed, well-drained and chopped
1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped *see headnote
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons dried basil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3/4 cup  freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup mild goat cheese, crumbled
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup whole milk
2 cups whole grain flour
4 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
black pepper, freshly ground
pinch of turmeric (optional)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 400F, with rack in the top third. Use the butter to grease a 12-hole muffin pan and set aside.

 

I buy sun-dried tomatoes that are not packed in solution or oil and soften them by soaking them in hot water for 10-15 minutes.

2. In a large mixing bowl, add the spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, two-thirds of the olives, dried basil, pine nuts, Parmesan, and two-thirds of the goat cheese. Gently mix together using a spatula.

 

You can use a variety of olives, but Kalamata works the best in the muffins.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together and add to the sun-dried tomato mix.

4. In another bowl, mix flour, turmeric, salt, black pepper, and baking powder together. Slowly add the flour mixture to the sun-dried tomato  mixture. Fold together with a spatula just until the batter comes together. Be careful not to over mix.

Be careful to not over mix the batter; it should be a bit lumpy.

5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan, filling each hole 3/4 full.  Top each muffin with a bit of the remaining olives and goat cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tops and sides of the muffins are golden, and the muffins have set up completely. Let cool for a couple of minutes then turn out onto a cooling rack.

What are your healthy tips and suggestions for road trips and airports?

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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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Finding Comfort In Indian Food- Roti and Bananas

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People think it’s strange that I don’t crave Indian food. I find it strange that I don’t crave Indian food. I don’t think of Indian food as comfort food, even though I ate it everyday for 18 years.Was it the whole trying to find balance between my Eastern and Western culture that ruined my desire for Indian food? It can’t be. Even stranger is that I love Indian food. I loved the food my grandmother made from scratch every single day. Mum split her time between praying and cooking. She took whole fragrant spices and ground them up, peeled and chopped sticky garlic, soaked and pressure cooked colorful lentils, made dough with her strength, rolled out hundreds of sweet cookies, and pickled pungent mangoes, chilies, and lemons.

Growing up in Mum’s embrace, I thought cooking from scratch was the only way. Though, I our freezer was full of things like Foster Farm chicken, hot pockets, Kellogg waffles, pizza, and other highly processed food. It left an impression that Americans don’t eat food made from scratch. My mom would pack our school lunch everyday of the usual stuff: deli meat sandwiches on whole wheat bread, Oreos, and Capri Sun juices. Occasionally, we were even  given school lunch money to splurge and eat what most of the other kids were eating. Now, I thank my parents for being a little more conscious and saving us from cafeteria school lunches. (Read Fed Up With School Lunch if you don’t know what I am talking about.)

My brother, cousins (who lived across the street), and I would find Mum in the kitchen when we came home from school, making late afternoon chai for Dada or a snack for us. When I was bit older, I learned my grandmother liked peanut butter (the smooth kind) as much as I do. She also loved jam over jelly (just like me). So when I think of comfort food, I think of peanut butter and jam sandwiches and roti smothered in butter and wrapped around a banana. My grandma and I loved eating bread slightly toasted and covered in melted butter, peanut butter and jam, and roti with butter and bananas.  Together.

Spelt Flour Roti with Cinnamon and Bananas

Traditional roti is made with Atta, whole grain wheat. I have started to experiment with different flours that are less processed and has inherent superior nutritional qualities. We eat buckwheat rotis more often now, but it’s a bit tougher and is not as fluffy and soft as traditional roti. This recipe uses 1/2 the amount of whole grain spelt flour and 1/2 the amount of milled whole wheat flour. The result is a much softer roti that balloons up on the stove, which is a good thing. This is a simple snack that you can have part of your breakfast, after school, or post dinner. Rotis can made a day ahead of time, but just cover well and store it in the fridge. Warm them up on a skillet or 10 seconds in the microwave.

Ingredients: Serves 2-3
1/2 cup spelt flour
1/2 cup milled whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup warm water
1 tbsp flour – for rolling and dusting
1 large banana or 2 small bananas- Fair-Trade

Directions

1. In a mixing bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and salt well. Add oil and mix until all lumps are gone. Add water a little at a time, while kneading the flour, to form a soft dough ball. The dough ball should not be sticky or wet. On a plate, place the 1 tablespoon flour for rolling and dusting.

2. Heat non-stick skillet or tava on medium heat. Divide into golf ball size balls. Take one ball and press lightly it between your palms, to create a flat disk. Dip the flattened ball into the coating flour and roll it out into a thin disc with a rolling pin on a flat surface. Keep dipping the roti into the dry flour to prevent it from sticking to the rolling surface.

3. Rub off excess flour from the roti and place it onto the hot skillet/tava. Flip to the other side once you see bubbles appear on the surface (about 40 seconds). Allow the second side  to cook for 10-15 seconds. Meanwhile, turn the next stove on high heat, gently pick up roti with tongs, and place on open flame. The roti should balloon up and remove quickly. Place the cooked roti into an insulated container and smear it with ghee/butter (optional). Repeat the process for the remaining dough.

4. Peel the banana(s). Cut the large banana in half. Place it on the edge of one roti and roll it up to eat like a burrito.

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