Bittersweet End of Summer

2014-07-07

The end of summer is always bittersweet.  The cool air in the evening, and crisp mornings that faintly smell like burning wood, always bring on excitement for back to school and football.  Saying goodbye to summer is always difficult, however.  I will miss not having to get the kids up at six am, camping and beach trips, extended time outdoors, grilling, and of course, all the summer produce.  Tomatoes, I will miss you most of all.  

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The Fiore family had an amazing summer.  I feel as though the kids have gotten independent enough to really do some fun stuff.

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We had trips to the grandparents house, a long weekend at a beautiful mountain lake with cousins, tons of swimming, canoeing, mountain biking,  whitewater rafting, and an amazing week at the beach which has become our favorite week of the whole year.

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Of course, we cooked up some great food.  My favorite being a fresh caught whole grouper that Kirk grilled to perfection.

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Change in the season also brings some change for me.  Some work changes…I have closed the cafe, and I am going to be focusing on being a personal chef.  I love cooking clean and healthy food for people.  It is so gratifying to cook delicious food for clients while helping them lose weight or stay on a restricted diet.  I am also going to be working part time as a pastry chef.  I know it is shocking – but I really enjoy baking and making desserts.

This blog is also going through a change.  Apparently, there’s another “skinny chef” out there that owns the trademark.  Please look to re-follow me at either “Chef Katie Cooks,”   or “Chef Katie Cooks Clean.”

Lastly, we met some great new friends at the beach.  Sadly, they must have gotten our phone number down wrong.  We would love to get together sometime.  N. and D. if you are out there, please find us!

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For the Love of Oatmeal

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My mother didn’t serve much oatmeal while I was growing up.  To be honest, we were more of a cream of wheat family.  When I first started my clean eating crusade, I ate greek yogurt for breakfast and an energy bar for my mid-morning snack.  My guru for clean eating and all things fitness, Kim, taught me to eat oatmeal for breakfast and then greek yogurt for my mid-morning snack.  I’m not sure about the science of carbs versus protein, and eating either one first thing in the morning versus the mid-morning, but I do know that I feel a lot better.  I have a lot more energy for my morning workouts, and throughout the day.

The double chef factor in our household leads to a lot of debate, trial and error, and pondering of even the simplest of cooking techniques. This is one thing I LOVE about having cooked professionally for so long.  Cooking is such a vast subject of which you can never stop learning and discovering new things.  Anyway, we came to the conclusion that cooking grains in the same method as one would cook risotto, leads to a nutty, yet creamy and delicious oatmeal.

I like to start with steel cut oats.  The typical ratio for oatmeal is 4 to 1.  One cup oats to four cups water.  I cut that ratio down a bit, because I add water periodically during the cooking process. I start with three cups of water and two cups of oatmeal.

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Pour the water into a large saucepot or dutch oven.

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Add a pinch of kosher salt.

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Bring the water to a boil.

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Sprinkle in the oats while stirring constantly.

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Keep stirring until the oatmeal is getting thick. Pour in a bit more water, about 1/2 a cup.

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Keep stirring and cooking, adding water three more times.

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The extra water will equal two cups.  At this point, I like to add a handful of quick cooking or thinly cut oats.  This adds a whole extra dimension of texture.

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Stir the quick oats in and cook for a bit more.

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This might seem like a long process for oatmeal, but this oatmeal is fabulous, and it makes about eight cups which will last you a few days.  I recommend one cup of cooked oatmeal for a breakfast serving size.  Garnish with cinnamon and about 1/2 cup of fresh or 1/4 cup of dried fruits of your choice.  Enjoy!

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BREAKFAST OATMEAL

2 cups steel cut oats

pinch of kosher salt

3 cups plus 2 more cups water

1/4 cup, or small handful of quick or thinly cut oats

Procedure:

Place three cups of water in a medium sauce pot or dutch oven.  Add a pinch of kosher salt, and bring to a boil.  Sprinkle in the steel cut oats, stirring constantly.  Keep stirring and cooking until the oatmeal is thickening.  Add more water, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, and cooking until thickened.  After the extra two cups of water have been added and cooked down, add the quick oats.  Stir and cook a bit longer, about five more minutes.  Serve and add desired garnishes.  Allow extra oatmeal to cool.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

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Chef Katie Cafe and Catering

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Hello friends!  Long time, no post.  I’ve been a little preoccupied, opening a cafe and catering business!  My business operates out of the Asheville Racquet Club.  A perfect opportunity for me – I LOVE MY NEW JOB!  I get to cook “real” food that is made from scratch for people that really appreciate it.  I feel as though my whole career has been prepping me for this opportunity.  All the work I have put into making light and healthy food taste good is really paying off.  I’ve met so many great people that are members, employees, and friends of the club.  I’ve been open less than three months, and I already feel as though I’m  an important part of a great community.

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 I’ve also been taking advantage of working out of a health club, and I’ve become a part of a special group of women that work out together.  We do spinning classes, weight lifting classes, “boot camps,” and go running together.  We swap notes on everything from exercise, to diet, to being a mom, to cooking for a family, to what restaurant we should try next,  to what kind of wine to buy for the weekend.   Our fearless leader is a certified bad ass.  She is the manager of group fitness at the club. She teaches the classes, is a personal trainer, and has introduced me to the notion of “clean eating.”  Clean eating is the practice of eating “clean”  foods.  It eliminates any foods with any preservatives or chemicals, sugar, red meat, dairy (other than yogurt or cottage cheese), alcohol, and absolutely no processed foods.  It focuses on plant foods (tons of fruits and veggies), whole grains (no white rice, bread, or pasta), and lean meats (chicken, turkey, and fish).

Kirk and I recently did a three week “clean eating challenge.”  Although we had maintained  an acceptable range within our original weight loss, we had gotten off track a bit.  Moving, and moving, and then moving again, can knock you off track.  Once we felt we were finally getting settled, the holidays hit.  And let’s face it…one can not diligently stay on track during the holidays.  You can only weather the storm.  Let me rephrase, YOU CANNOT BEAT THE HOLIDAYS.  THE HOLIDAYS WILL ALWAYS WIN.

Our  “clean eating challenge” involved what I stated above.  No processed foods, no sugar, no dairy (other than yogurt and a bit of cottage cheese).  It also involved eating 5-6 small meals a day (every two and a half to three hours).  Once we read the program, we were patting ourselves on the back.  This was almost exactly what we had done in our original 9-week, 1500 calorie program we started in April of 2012.  We were thinking and saying to ourselves, “We got this.  We’ve done this before.” We were surprised to find, however, that the three week challenge was really hard.  We realized how far off track we had gotten.  The first four days of the challenge, I felt like crap.  I contemplated whether or not I was getting sick.  On the fifth day, I bounded out of bed with lightning speed.  I felt fabulous and full of energy.  We both lost all the post-moving and holiday weight that we had gained.  We are back on track, sticking to the program, and having a really fun cheat day once a week. I’ve got muscles popping out that I never knew existed. It works for us and we feel great.

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Moving forward, Chef Katie is expanding.  I hope to open the Asheville Racquet Club’s downtown location cafe in the next couple of months.  Once summer, tennis tournament, and pool season hits, Chef Katie will have her hands full.  Stay tuned for some great new posts and recipes coming your way.  Now that I have a new fan club and support group – the inspiration and ideas are flowing. I am trying to stay focused on a goal of running a well oiled machine, with plenty of time to be a good mom, wife, friend, athlete, daughter, and sister.  Sometimes I have to remind myself to breathe.  Luckily, there are some yoga classes going on right down the hall from my work kitchen.  Most importantly, I try and stay grateful.  Grateful for all that I have…family, shelter, ability, smarts, warmth, friends, food, laughter, and the list goes on and on….

My "meals."

My “meals.”

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Cooksnap’s Contest

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My life has been crazy as of late, and I like it. I seem to function better and I’m more productive at a busy pace. I seem to attract the busy craziness. Not letting the crazy busy get the best of me is the challenge. Anyhow, exciting developments are happening to yours truly…stay tuned!

Some other fun news, I have been entered in a cooking contest of sorts. Cooksnaps.com, an international recipe sharing website has chosen my Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Crunch Recipe for their pumpkin seed cooking contest. The contest is to get as many people as possible to make the recipe, take a picture and post it to Cooksnaps. Go for it. I promise you won’t regret having it around!

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Grilled Mexican Roadside Chicken

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I first discovered this chicken recipe on Serious Eats, one of my favorite food blogs, and it is slightly adapted from there.  The recipe originally comes from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday.  This recipe, if you execute it correctly, might be the best chicken you ever make.  I cook this once a week.  My kids love it. They ask what we’re having for dinner,  I say, “grilled chicken,” they say “Yay!!!

Executing this recipe correctly, embodies what I have come to learn is key to cooking, after my fifteen plus years of professional and non-professional cooking experience.  The recipe is simple, but it comes down to the technique.  It is not rocket science, it is the subtle intuition that comes from doing something over and over again.  It is finding joy in tweaking one thing or another in a recipe you’ve cooked dozens of times, to make it slightly more delicious.

The marinade is unique and simple.  I have always been a fan of the method of butterflying chicken, also known as, “spatchcocked” chicken. “Spatchcocked,” simply means to remove the backbone, which flattens the chicken.  This promotes even cooking, and allows a shorter cooking time for a whole bird.  The other key to this recipe is cooking the chicken slowly, over indirect heat, on a charcoal grill.  Basically, the longer you can keep the coals going, the better.  My minimum cooking time goal is one hour, and I have cooked a chicken for up to two hours.

Start by making the marinade.  I like to mix the marinade in a large wet cup measure.  I can easily whisk the marinade and pour it over the chicken.  The recipe calls for 1/4 cup of fresh orange juice.  I can usually get this out of one orange, but I usually buy two, just to be safe.

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Add 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar.

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Add 1 1/2 teaspoons ancho chili powder.

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Two garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine.

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1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican.

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1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and a big pinch of ground cloves.

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Whisk the marinade well, and set aside.

Next, get a fresh chicken.  I always give any meat a good rinse with cold water, and pat dry with paper towels.  To keep “raw chicken funk” off of my counter tops and cutting boards, I place the chicken in a large baking dish.  Place the chicken breast-side down in the dish.

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Using kitchen shears or clean household scissors, cut a straight line up the back of the chicken, starting just to the right of the tail.

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It might be difficult to cut all the way through.  Start the cut, and use both hands to press down on the scissor handles, cutting all the way through.

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Continue cutting a straight line up the left side of the tail.

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Finish cutting and remove the backbone from the bird.

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Turn the chicken over, spreading out the sides, placing it in the pan breast-side up.

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Using your hand, apply pressure on the breast bone of the chicken and press down until you hear the breastbone crack, flattening the chicken more.

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Pour the marinade over the bird, covering the breast side of the chicken.

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Turn the chicken over, coating the other side completely. Allow chicken to marinate at room temperature, about 30 minutes.

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While the chicken is marinating, prepare the charcoal grill.

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Oh yeah, look at that baby.  The Weber kettle is the only way to roll…

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Once the coals are mostly grey in color, place them on one side of the grill.

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Toss some fresh charcoal over the hot coals.  Be careful not to smother the fire, but put enough to keep the coals going for a while.

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Place the grill grate over the coals and oil the grill.  Pour some oil on a dry paper towel, and, using tongs, rub the paper towel along the grate.

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Place the marinated chicken, breast side down, on the opposite side of the grill as the hot  coals.

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Place the cover on the grill and cook for 45 minutes.

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After 45 minutes, remove the cover and flip the chicken over.

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Return the cover to the grill and cook another 30-45 minutes, adding new coals if needed. Once the cooking is done, allow the chicken to rest about 10 minutes.

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Serve the chicken however you like. I’ve served it with homemade tortillas, southwestern slaw, and salsa, as a “make your own taco” dinner.

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This night I just threw some extra vegetables on the grill, tossed them with a little vinegar, salt, and pepper, and sprinkled a bit of feta over.  I’m a dark meat kind of girl.  Delicious.

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GRILLED MEXICAN ROADSIDE CHICKEN RECIPE

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ancho chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
  • A big pinch of ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped or crushed through a garlic press
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 1 /2 teaspoons Diamond Krystal kosher salt
  • 1 large chicken, about 3 lbs

Procedure:

1.  Make the marinade.  Place the orange juice, apple cider vinegar, chili powder, oregano, cloves, cinnamon, garlic and  salt in a large wet measuring cup.  Whisk to combine, and set the marinade aside.

2. Prepare the chicken.  Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.  Place chicken in a large backing pan, breast-side down.  Using kitchen shears or clean household scissors, cut the backbone out of the chicken, cutting a straight line up either side of the tail.  Turn the chicken over, and apply pressure to the breast bone to flatten the chicken out a bit more.

3.  Stir the marinade once more.  Drizzle about half of the marinade over the top of the chicken, making sure to evenly cover it.  Flip the chicken over and drizzle the remaining marinade, covering the entire bottom side of the chicken. Let the chicken marinate at room temperature for 20-30 minutes.

4.  Prepare a charcoal grill.  Once the coals are ready,  pile them up to one side of the grill.  Toss some extra charcoal on top of the hot coals.  Place the grill grate over the coals, and using tongs, oil the grate by rubbing a paper towel soaked with a bit of oil over the grate.

5.  Place the chicken breast side down on the opposite side of the grate from the hot coals.  Place the cover on the grill, and cook for 45 minutes.  After 45 minutes, flip the chicken over and cook the other side at least 30-45 minutes more.

6.  Remove the chicken from the grill and allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

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Greek Salad Pita

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My new favorite afternoon snack:  Greek Salad Pita.  I like my snacks to be satisfying.  This snack is like a second lunch.  I looove Greek Salad.  My husband discourages me to order it in restaurants.  He’ll say, “I know how much you love Greek Salad.  I just don’t want you to be disappointed.”  He’s right.  It’s difficult to find a good one.  It’s so simple…why is it so hard to find a good one???  Just stick to the basics.  Don’t change or substitute.  Don’t use canned black olives, bell peppers, or weird grated cheese.  Cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, greek olives, pepperoncini, a bit of salt, pepper, and vinegar.  When it’s done right, it is oh so good.  Crunchy.  Salty.  Fresh.  Delicious.

This recipe is quick, easy, and simple.  Stick to the basic Greek Salad rules listed above and you can make it your own.  Leave out the pita and add some extra greens for a gluten free version.  Add some fresh herbs for a little punch.  Dill, basil, parsley, or chives.  Add some leftover chicken and make it lunch.  Enjoy!

Start with half a cucumber.

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Peel it and chop it up.  Medium dice.

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Chop up half of a tomato, medium dice.

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Finely slice three pepperoncinis.

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Olives. Beautiful olives.  Pit them and chop them up.

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Cube up one ounce reduced fat feta.

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I like to add a little chopped fresh spinach.

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Put it all in a bowl.

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Squeeze a bit of lemon.

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1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and a pinch of coarsely ground pepper.

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Finally, add a splash of red wine vinegar and stir it all up.

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Cut one whole wheat pita in half and fill it up.  250 calories.

GREEK SALAD PITA RECIPE

1/2 cucumber

1/2 medium tomato

3 each pepperoncinis

3 each greek olives

1 ounce reduced fat feta

1 lemon wedge

1/4 teaspoon Diamond Krystal kosher salt

generous pinch coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

one whole wheat pita cut in half

Procedure:

1.  Peel and cut cucumber into medium dice.  Cut the tomato into medium dice.  Finely slice the pepperoncini.  Pit and chop the olives.

2.  Place all of the above ingredients into a bowl.  Squeeze the lemon into the bowl.  Add the salt, pepper, and vinegar.  Stir well to combine.  Fill the pita with the salad.  Enjoy!

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Cucumber and Apple Slaw

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  I have an obsession with slaw.  I just love trying out different kinds.  Bright and fresh combinations of  vegetables and herbs with creamy and tart dressings.  There is not a lot that ranks more exciting in my book.  This recipe should probably be classified as a salad, but the flavor and texture remind me more of a slaw.  The cucumbers are tossed in kosher salt, and set aside to marinate and release their liquid.  When paired with the apples, herbs, and other seasonings; the result is a salty, sweet, and crunchy late summer delight.  I like to serve the slaw very cold. The salty-sweetness and crunch will surprise your taste buds with an explosion of flavor.  At only 42 calories/cup, the slaw is virtually a free food.  Make some today, and eat all you want! I wouldn’t recommend eating more than two pounds.  It might result in loose stool, due to fiber overdose.

Start with three large or five small cucumbers. Peel them.

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Remove the seeds and cut them into medium dice.

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Place the diced cucumbers in a bowl.

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Add 1 Tablespoon Diamond Krystal Kosher salt to the bowl.

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Toss the mixture until the cucumbers are completely coated with the kosher salt.

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Place the salted cucumbers in a strainer or colander, set over a bowl.  Refrigerate the bowl for at least two hours or overnight.

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Once the cucumbers have marinated, rinse them with cold water.  Allow them to drain well.  Place in a bowl and set aside.

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Take two large apples.  Peel them and cut them into medium dice.

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Add the apples to the bowl with the cucumbers.

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Add 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar.

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1/2 Teaspoon celery seed.

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1/2 Teaspoon extra virgin olive oil.

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1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley. Stir well and enjoy.

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Simple, easy, and delish!

CUCUMBER AND APPLE SLAW RECIPE

3 large cucumbers

1 Tblsp Diamond Krystal kosher salt (use half the amount if using Morton’s)

2 large apples

1 Tblsp apple cider vinegar

1/2 Tblsp extra virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp celery seed

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Procedure:

1.  Peel, seed, and cut the cucumbers into medium dice. Place in a bowl.

2.  Toss the cucumbers well with the kosher salt.  Place the cucumbers in a colander or strainer set over a bowl.  Allow the cucumbers to marinate and drain for at least two hours and up to eight hours.  Rinse with cold water and drain well.  Place the cucumbers in a bowl and set aside.

3.  Peel and cut the apples into medium dice.  Add to the bowl with the cucumbers.  Add the apple cider vinegar, olive oil, celery seed, black pepper, and parsley.  Stir well and enjoy.

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Summer Quinoa Salad

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Quinoa is one of the hippest super grains on the market these days.  It’s protein content rivals meat, and it’s packed with other vitamins and minerals.  I like to eat it hot for breakfast with almond milk, blueberries, and a touch of honey.  This salad has been one of my favorites for years. It’s one of those things that makes me excited about summer, and it’s hard to say goodbye once the weather turns colder.  Like most grains, cooked quinoa comes in at around 200 calories/cup.  This salad comes in around the same.  Enjoy it for a snack, side dish, or a meal.

Cooking quinoa can be a little tricky.  The ratio is 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water.  For this recipe, it’s 1 1/4 cup quinoa to 2 1/2 cups water.  Place the quinoa and water in a saucepan or small dutch oven.  Add one teaspoon of kosher salt and turn the heat to medium high.

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When the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat down so it remains at a low simmer.

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Continue cooking until most of the water is absorbed.  Turn the heat to very low, cover, and continue to cook, stirring often.  Cook until all of the grains appear cooked and darker.  It’s important not to over cook the quinoa as it will turn into mush.

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Place the cooked quinoa in a fine strainer, and rinse quickly with cold water.  Allow to drain.

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Spread the cooked quinoa in a thin layer on a sheet pan so it continues to cool.

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While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, prep the vegetables. Cook the fresh corn in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from the pot, and set aside to cool.

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Peel and remove the seeds from the cucumbers.  The best way to do this is to cut them in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a small spoon.

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Small dice the cucumbers and set aside. Small dice the red onion. Set aside.

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Cut the grape tomatoes in half.  A great tip is to lay them flat on a cutting board, hold them in place with your hand, and cut through them horizontally.  This method is much more efficient than cutting each one individually.

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Set the tomatoes aside.

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Once the corn is cooled.  Cut the kernels off the cob.  Set aside.

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Chop the herbs and set aside.

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Okay.  Gather the olive oil, vinegar, and lemon.  Also gather all of the prepped vegetables you have set aside. Place the cooled quinoa in a large bowl.

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Add the cucumbers,

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tomatoes,

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red onion and corn.

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Add the herbs.

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Stir the mixture until combined.  Squeeze in the lemon.

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Add the oil, vinegar, kosher salt, and pepper.

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Stir mixture well and serve.  Delicious!

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SUMMER QUINOA SALAD RECIPE

1 1/4 cups quinoa

2 1/2 cups water

2 ears fresh corn, cleaned

2 cups grape tomatoes

1/2 medium red onion

2 large cucumbers

1/2 cup packed flat leaf parsley, washed

1/2 cup packed fresh dill

juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 Tablespoons white wine vinegar

2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons Diamond Krystal kosher salt (use half if using Morton’s)

1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1.  Place the quinoa, water, and one teaspoon kosher salt in a saucepan or dutch oven.  Turn the heat to medium high.  Place a second pot of salted water on the stove and bring to a boil for cooking the corn.

2.  Bring the quinoa to a simmer.  Lower the heat and lightly simmer the quinoa until most of the water has been absorbed.  Turn the heat to very low, cover the pot, and stir often.  Keep cooking until all of the quinoa is cooked.  Do not over cook.

3.  Transfer the quinoa to a fine mesh strainer and quickly rinse with cold water.  Drain well and spread the cooked quinoa in a thin layer on a sheet pan until cooled completely.

4.  Cook the corn in the boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes.  Remove the corn from  the pot and set aside to cool.

5.  Prepare the vegetables. Peel the cucumbers, remove the seeds, and cut into small dice, Set aside.  Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, set aside.  Small dice the red onion.  Set aside. Cut the kernels off the corn, set aside.  Chop the herbs, set aside.

6.  Place the quinoa in a large bowl.   Add the cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and corn.  Add the herbs and toss the mixture to combine.  Add the lemon juice, vinegar, olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper.  Toss well to combine and serve.

Makes about eight cups of salad.  191 calories/cup. Salad can be refrigerated for several days.

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Lasagne!

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Most people love lasagne. I bet if you asked 10 people on the street what their favorite meal is, at least six of them would say lasagne. Lasagna (singular), refers to the wide, long, flat ribbon of pasta. Lasagne (plural) refers to the dish containing lasagna which is layered with other ingredients and oven-baked. The most original form of lasagne comes from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. It contains layers of Bolognese (a rich meat ragu), bechamel (a white sauce of milk thickened with a roux), and parmesan cheese. Other variations of the dish contain layers of ricotta cheese, with tomato sauce and mozzarella, and sometimes veggies and/or spinach.

Okay, having defined the dish above, here is my disclaimer. The lasagne dish featured here is NOT your Nonna’s lasagne. Lasagne is one of those dishes that is tightly attached to many heart strings. I can’t find many things more comforting than spending the day simmering a bolognese sauce while rolling out fresh egg pasta, and hand-grating fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano. Sitting down on a cold winter (cheat) night with a glass of hearty red wine and devouring a large square of piping hot lasagne-there are few things better. This lasagne recipe is meant for a week night, stay-on-the-program, “skinny chef”, type of meal. The kind of meal that you can have for dinner, wake up at 5am, run six miles, and feel great at work all day.

The recipe is still involved, with Fiore family red sauce and hand-made fresh pasta. It is, however, well worth the effort and darn tasty. I recommend making the sauce ahead of time. I make it in large batches and keep it handy in the fridge or freezer so I can throw together a quick dinner of pasta, pizza, or baked pasta. You could also make this lasagne ahead of time and freeze it, or make a double batch and freeze one. Don’t be intimidated by the fresh pasta. It’s easy and simple. It just takes a bit of patience. Lastly, I’ve replaced the ricotta with tofu. Yes-I said tofu. It’s protein, it’s light, and it has a similar texture to ricotta. So here it is…my recipe for Tofu Lasagne with Spinach and Spelt Pasta. Just try it. It’s good. I promise! Only 262 calories/portion.

First, you have to make red sauce. This is a scaled down version of Fiore’s Red Sauce. Cook the garlic, slowly in the oil and salt in a large sauce pan or dutch oven.

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Add the tomatoes and water.

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Simmer the sauce, reducing, until thick, about 35-40 minutes.

Next, cook the spinach, so it has time to drain and cool. It seems like a lot of spinach, but it cooks down quite a bit.

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Heat a large sauce pan, spray with olive oil cooking spray, and gently saute the spinach. Do not add any salt, we’ll do that later.

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Once the spinach is cooked, transfer it to a colander or strainer set over a bowl. Set aside.

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Make the pasta dough. Place one cup of spelt flour in a bowl (you could also use wheat or white flour). Make a well in the center with your hand.

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Add one egg and two teaspoons of olive oil to the well.

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Using a fork, break the yolk, and gently stir the egg and oil together, slowly incorporating the flour. Once you have a rugged ball, use your hand to roll it around, adding more flour.

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Keep kneading, with flour, until you form a smooth ball.

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You will have a bit of flour left in the bowl. Set it aside and save it for rolling out the pasta dough later. Wrap the ball in plastic, and set aside.

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Take one pound of extra firm tofu.

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Crumble the tofu with your hands. Place in a strainer to drain and press the tofu a bit to get some excess water out.

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Put the strained tofu in a large bowl. Set aside. This would be a good time to preheat your oven to 375 degrees. The spinach should be cooled down. Squeeze the spinach with your hands to remove excess water.

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Place spinach on a cutting board and chop fine.

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Add the spinach to the bowl with the tofu.

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Add 2 tsps Diamond Krystal kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, and 3/4 cup red sauce to the bowl.

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Stir the mixture well to combine all the ingredients. Set aside.

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Place a large, shallow pan of water on the stove and begin to bring it to a simmer. The pasta dough should be well rested. Using the flour you set aside earlier, roll out the pasta dough. You will need to be generous with the flour. Turn the dough over and rotate it as you roll it out.

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Once you have rolled it out almost paper thin, go ahead and cut wide noodles.

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Taking one noodle at a time, roll the noodles out even thinner.

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Place the noodles in the simmering water until they are just cooked. Pull the noodles out and set aside on a plate.

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Okay. Now you are ready to build the lasagne. Gather together the noodles, filling, one cup of red sauce, and one cup of part skim mozzarella.

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Spread just a bit of red sauce on the bottom of a 13×9 inch baking pan. Layer the noodles over the bottom of the pan.

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Place 1/3 of the filling over the noodles and spread in an even layer.

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Spread 1/3 of the sauce evenly over the filling. Sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese over the filling.

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Start again with another layer of noodles, filling, sauce and cheese. Do one last layer of noodles, filling, sauce, and cheese, making three layers total.

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Cover the lasagne and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until slightly browned on top.

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Cut the lasagne into six pieces. 262 calories/piece.

Shaggy loves it!

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Scrappy does too!

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RECIPE: Tofu Lasagne with Spinach and Spelt Pasta

Red Sauce:

1/4 cup chopped garlic

2 Tblsps olive oil

1 1/2 Tablespoons Diamond Krystal Kosher Salt (use 1/2 the amount if using Morton’s)

2-28 ounce cans strained tomatoes

1 1/2 cups water

Heat a large saucepan or dutch over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Add the garlic and salt to the olive oil. Cook the garlic, stirring constantly, until translucent and fragrant, but not browned. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cook gently for 40 minutes. Makes 6 cups of sauce. You will need 1 and 3/4 cups sauce for the lasagne.

Tofu Lasagne with Spinach and Spelt Pasta:

1 cup part skim mozzarella

1 cup red sauce

Pasta:

1 cup spelt flour

2 tsps olive oil

1 egg

Filling:

18 oz spinach (about two large bags)

1 pound extra firm tofu

1/2 cup cottage cheese

2 tsps Diamond Krystal Kosher Salt (use half the amount if using Morton’s)

1/2 tsp black pepper

3/4 cup red sauce

1. Place a large saucepan over medium high heat. Spray the pan with olive oil pan spray. Gently cook the spinach. Place the cooked spinach in a colander or strainer. Set over a bowl and set aside to cool.

2. Make the pasta dough. Place spelt flour in a bowl. Form a well in the center. Crack the egg in the well and add the two tsps olive oil. Using a fork, break the yolk and genlty stir the egg and olive oil mixture, slowly incorporating the flour.

3. Once you’ve formed a rugged ball, pour some of the flour on to a work surface. Knead the ball on the floured work surface, adding more flour if needed. Continue kneading until a smooth ball is formed. You will have a bit of flour left over. Set the flour aside for rolling out the dough later. Wrap the dough ball in plastic wrap and set aside to rest.

4. Crumble the block of tofu into small pieces. Place in a colander. Press the tofu a bit with your hands to squeeze out excess water. Place the drained tofu in a large bowl.

5. Squeeze out the cooled spinach to get rid of excess water. Place the spinach on a cutting board and finely chop. Add the chopped spinach to the bowl with the tofu. Add the kosher salt, pepper, 3/4 cup red sauce, and 1/2 cup cottage cheese. Mix well to combine the filling. Set aside.

6. Place a wide shallow pan of water on the stove and bring to a simmer. Place some of the reserved flour on a work surface. Roll the pasta dough out into a large thin rectangle, rotating and flipping the dough over so to roll out evenly. Add more flour to the work surface and the dough as needed.

7. Once the dough is rolled out almost paper thin. Cut the dough into wide noodles. Roll each noodle out to make the pasta even thinner. Cook the noodles in the simmering water until just cooked. Transfer to a plate.

8. Preaheat oven to 375 degrees. Gather the filling, noodles, 1 cup red sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella together. Smear the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish with red sauce to prevent sticking. Top the noodles with 1/3 of the filling, spreading it out into an even layer. Spread 1/3 of the red sauce over filling, and sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Continue with two more layers of noodles, filling, sauce, and cheese.

9. Cover the lasagne with parchment paper and then foil. Place in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and cook another 15-20 minutes until slightly browned.

Cut the lasagne into six pieces. Each piece is 262 calories. Lasagne can be made ahead and cooked later or frozen.

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Indulge: Antipasto!

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Antipasto.  I love it.  I married an Italian and discovered the joys of antipasto.  Antipasto translates as “before the meal.”  Wikipedia defines it as “the traditional first course of a formal Italian meal.”  It goes on to describe “traditional antipasto to include cured meats, olives, peperoncini, mushrooms, anchovies, artichoke hearts, various cheeses, and pickled meats and vegetables.”

Our original family Christmas Eve dinner started with antipasto followed by a large meal.  We decided that we enjoyed the antipasto so much, that we should actually make the antipasto the meal.  Now I spend months sourcing the finest salami, cured meats, and cheeses I can find.  I pickle vegetables from my summer garden with the intention of using them to garnish my Christmas Antipasto.  Caper berries, fine olives, anchovies, smoked fish, gourmet crackers, and artisan breads are all carefully thought out and sourced.

I don’t think such a wonderful thing such as antipasto should be confined to one cuisine.  I like to come up with different themes for my antipasto.  Southern antipasto. French antipasto (Oxymoron? I don’t care.).  Greek antipasto.  Asian antipasto.

Summer is a great time for antipasto.  I love making quick pickles from radishes, green beans, cauliflower, and carrots. They are always better when they are fresh and right out of the garden.  Fresh ripe tomatoes, corn, herbs, and cucumbers make delicious salsas which are perfect for antipasto.

Sunday is our day to make our special indulgence meal.  Since it’s summer, we didn’t feel like spending a lot of time in the kitchen.  We went tubing instead.  We thought about going out to dinner, then we thought better of it.  We thought, “Antipasto!” … and it was fabulous.

Olives and Pickled Peppers.

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Cheese Glorious Cheese!

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Go Big Antipasto.

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Southern Inspired Antipasto with Thinly Sliced Country Ham, Fresh Melon, Local Goat Cheese, Pickled Okra, Green Beans, and Green Tomatoes.

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French Inspired Antipasto after a Trip to Cle de Champs, a festival in Eastern Quebec.

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Asian Inspired Antipasto with Fresh Vegetable Spring Rolls, Pork Dumplings, Tea Smoked Duck, and Cucumber Salad

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Buon Appetito!

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