Category Archives: chef

Keeping Things Clean and Simple

I wanted to explain my hiatus from this blog for the last few months. I have taken on a new job as Chef of a local catering company.  We mainly work on a daily quota of corporate lunches, but we also have a retail space in Black Mountain, NC.  The shop makes salads and sandwiches for lunch, but also features take-home dinners, soups, casseroles, and other treats made from scratch.  We will soon be expanding our reach with these offerings, so stay tuned. You can check it out at here.

I am still offering my Personal Chef and clean eating services, so feel free to contact me with inquiries and questions. On to the blog…

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It’s difficult these days not to get overwhelmed by all of the information out there.  If you are reading this blog you are probably aware that I practice and preach clean eating.  I know that staying healthy involves daily exercise, and eating smallish portions of real food.  Make your food at home from scratch, and try and stay away from too much fat, cheese, alcohol, and sugar.  Simple, right?

I have been sucked into some of the latest health trends. I recently tried The Whole 30, and had good results. I felt okay on the diet, but I really felt like the “no grains” approach was not ideal for me.    As I often do, I got completely sucked in and obsessed.  Now I am asking myself, “Are grains really that bad?”  “Can I get the complex carbs I need without grains?”

I had also previously spent several weeks on the Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates.  This approach is all about healing the gut, and replenishing the ecology of microbes in the gut through diet, suppliments, and eating fermented vegetables.  I was telling a friend of mine about how I was really into the diet (this friend also happens to be a health coach), and she said, “Yes, it’s great, but isn’t the program designed to help people that are sick?”  “Yes,” I thought, and I asked myself, “am I sick?”  The answer was, “no.”

I asked myself, “On which diet did I feel the best?”  I knew the answer.  I felt the best simply staying on a clean eating diet as well as daily exercise and meditation. Which is EXACTLY what I specialize in, and provide for my clients (with great success) on my 21 Day Program.

I’ve realized it’s time to get back to basics. Follow a plan that doesn’t eliminate food groups, is practical, and is simply common sense. Below is an article written by Paige Johnson of LearnFit.org, where she outlines “6 Essential Lifestyle Habits to Increase Longevity.”  Reading this article made me realize that I needed to relax and go Back to Basics. Enjoy!

6 Essential Lifestyle Habits to Increase Longevity

If you want to live a long, healthy life, taking care of your body must be a lifelong priority. While there’s no single, magic bullet that guarantees you’ll live to reach 100, a combination of healthy lifestyle choices throughout your life will help your body build its immune defenses and maintain your youthful appearance and energy for many years to come. It’s never too late to start making healthy choices.

  1. Consume a balanced diet.

You’ve probably read about dozens of fad diets touting the benefits of cutting out one dietary source or another from carbohydrates to fats, sugars, or whatever the current trends indicate is the culprit behind weight gain and obesity.

Unless you’re on a specific diet due to a health condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol, tried-and-true is usually the best option when it comes to nutrition. A healthy, balanced diet includes fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, nuts and grains, and healthy dairy choices.

  1. Keep your brain and body engaged.

Remaining active later in life has been linked to lower mortality rates. While you don’t necessarily have to avoid retirement altogether, consider part-time employment, volunteer work, or even continuing your education in mid-life and beyond to keep both your body and your mind strong.

  1. Exercise regularly.

In addition to maintaining hobbies, volunteering, or maintaining part-time employment throughout life, regular physical activity is essential for a long, healthy life. In fact, one study finds that regular, moderate exercise can lower brain age by as much as 10 years in some older adults – evidence that it truly never is too late to start making positive changes for your health and well-being.

  1. Get enough sleep.

Today’s hectic lifestyles make it ever-more challenging to get adequate, quality sleep, yet getting enough rest is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Sleep deprivation leads to fatigue, lack of focus, mood swings, and other ill effects.

If you have trouble falling asleep at night, there are beverages that help promote sleep. Add a sleep-promoting beverage to your evening routine and start getting the rest your body needs.

  1. Commit to happiness.

Choosing happiness isn’t always as simple as deciding what to eat for lunch, but you can employ strategies that will contribute to a more content, satisfied life. Set realistic goals for your personal and professional life and continuously strive towards them, cultivate your ability to evaluate situations objectively, and practice controlled breathing and other techniques to help you better manage your emotions. There are many ways to cultivate a happier lifestyle; experiment to find what works for you.

  1. Cut the stress.

Stress is one of the biggest contributors to obesity as well as anxiety, depression, and even heart attack and stroke. Take intentional actions to reduce the amount of stress in your daily life such as meditation, taking up hobbies that you enjoy, surrounding yourself with positive people, and being mindful about what you’re saying “yes” to. That means turning down offers and invitations that you’re not passionate about and declining to spend time around negative, toxic people who tend to bring you down.

Living a longer, healthier life is achievable when you commit to developing healthy lifestyle habits and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Learning how to look at situations and circumstances, turning down invitations that don’t feed your soul, and finding ways to cope with stressful situations are just a few of the secrets that can contribute to longevity. Coupled with a commitment to a healthy diet and regular exercise as well as ample rest for your body each night, it’s a recipe for a long, fulfilling life.

Paige Johnson is a self-described fitness “nerd.” She possesses a love for strength training. In addition to weight-lifting, she is a yoga enthusiast and avid cyclist. She enjoys writing about health and fitness for LearnFit.org.

Image via Pixabay by PublicDomainPictures

 

 

Matcha Balls

 

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As many of you know, I am running an ultra marathon in a couple of weeks.  It was convenient timing that I was researching a recipe using matcha around the same time I was to run my longest training run, 27 miles. When running that many miles at once, you have to eat.  You have to eat a lot of food while you are running.  It’s one of the hardest adjustments I had to make when I started running longer distances.  I have tried eating the energy “goo”  packs, which just left me feeling kind of sick, and might or might not have led to some post-run gastro-internal issues. I perform much better when I make my own, real food.

After reading about the “clean” form of caffeine matcha contained, I knew it would be a perfect addition to some mid-long-run snacks. I decided to make some matcha energy balls with whatever I could throw together to make it stick together into a ball.  I used oats, almond butter, honey, goji berries, vanilla, and of course, matcha.

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I mixed the ingredients together, and packed them into a small 1-ounce scoop.  I placed them on a sheet pan, and in the refrigerator.  They came together perfectly, and tasted great!  On the run they were a bit burly.  The next time I make them, I will either soak the oats, or grind them up in the food processor.  Burliness aside, they were magic balls of “zenergy,”  which really made a difference in boosting our energy throughout the run.

Click here for the recipe.

Gotch Your Matcha?

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I am a coffee drinker, but I love tea.  Especially green tea.  Green tea is a great appetite suppressant, and I often drink it when I am trying to make it to my next meal or snack. I had heard of matcha, and I knew it was a type of green tea, but I had never really tried it.  As someone who spends a lot of time reading food blogs, I had noticed that matcha has been quite trendy lately in cooking, and I have even saved several recipes to try.

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I have recently taken on a blogging assignment: to sample and write about some ceremonial grade matcha from Matcha Zen.  I received the cutest little package in the mail.  It was a little cardboard tube with a bag inside full of emerald green matcha from Matcha Zen.  Matcha Zen tea is some of the finest matcha you can buy.  It comes from a region of Japan historically known for cultivating quality matcha. It’s also USDA certified organic.  The matcha at Matcha Zen is not the only “green”  that their into.  They support ethical, and sustainable practices when it comes to sourcing, cultivating, packaging, and marketing this special tea.

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Tea Ceremony

Tea is serious business in Japan.  According to the website, Japanese Tea Ceremony, the tea ceremony has several names, “Chanoyo,”  meaning literally, “hot water for tea,”  or “Sado”  and “Chado,”  which both mean “the way of tea.”  I could go on for days about the history, aesthetics, and essence of the tea ceremony.  It has been going on for over 900 years in Japan, and even before that in China.  People have dedicated their whole lives to studying it.  I am not a scholar of tea, but I am a lover of most everything that involves food and drink. The website describes the tea ceremony as  “…a choreographic ritual of preparing and serving Japanese green tea, called Matcha, together with traditional Japanese sweets to balance with the bitter taste of the tea. Preparing tea in this ceremony means pouring all one’s attention into the predefined movements. The whole process is not about drinking tea, but is about aesthetics, preparing a bowl of tea from one’s heart. The host of the ceremony always considers the guests with every movement and gesture. Even the placement of the tea utensils is considered from the guests view point (angle), especially the main guests called the Shokyaku.”

I love it!  I am always trying to be more “in the moment,” and I love the idea of being fully engrossed in the intricacies of where to place utensils, etc. Also, how touching is it to prepare a cup of tea for a friend “from your heart.”  This captures the essence of what I love about cooking.  Cooking for someone, especially someone you love, the goal or intention is to please. satisfy, or nourish them. Ask anyone what their favorite meal is, and most likely, it will be something that was prepared growing up by their momma.  How come that food tasted so good?  Because it was prepared with thoughtful intention and love.

What is Matcha?

Matcha is a quality green tea that is dried and crushed into a fine powder. The tea leaf is known as tencha. The tea bushes are shade-grown to avoid the exposure of direct sunlight which reduces the pace of photosynthesis and slows the growth of the plants. This stimulates the production of chlorophyll and amino acids, resulting in a dark-green tea leaf. The bright green powder is beautiful brewed into teas, and cooked into food.

Health Benefits of Matcha

Wow!  This stuff is really good for you. The website, Organic Facts, states that matcha is full of nutrients. “It is source of vitamin A, vitamin B-complex, vitamin C, Vitamin E, vitamin K and trace minerals.  Matcha is rich in components with super antioxidant activity including polyphenols, catechins and chlorophyll. Presence of amino acids such as L-theanine and theophylline in the matcha tea makes it a multi nutrient-packed drink.”  These nutrients lead to a number of health benefits. Organic Facts list these health benefits as boosting immune system health, reducing inflammation, and helping to prevent cancer. It also helps with detoxification, cardiovascular health, and boosts metabolism.  Matcha has the equivalent amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee. The caffeine in matcha, however is a different for than is in regular coffee. This form caffeine is known as theophylline, and releases amounts of energy in a steady stream. Kaitlin of The Garden Grazer blog describes the caffeine high you get from matcha as “zenery.”  According to Kaitlin, “zenergy”  is the feeling of being energized, yet calm and focused.

A Cup of Matcha

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I decided it was time to make myself a cup of matcha.  I  found a simple description on  how to make it from Bon Appetit’s website.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bamboo whisk, but I did have a small stainless steel whisk that was the perfect size, as well as a small strainer. Even though I didn’t know the proper procedure for a tea ceremony, I did have a very pretty china tea cup that my mom had given me.  I hardly use it, so I thought it was appropriate for the occasion.

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 Bon Appetit stated that you should push the matcha through a strainer into a bowl to sift it so there are no lumps.  You pour in the hot water and whisk the tea until it becomes frothy.  I added a bit of stevia to the tea powder before I whisked in the water.

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 I loved the beautiful deep emerald green color that looked especially pretty with my fancy teacup.  The first sip was a bit bitter, but the more sips I had, the more I loved it.  The stevia helped to balance out the bitter flavor, which left an earthy, umami-type flavor.  I also loved the swirls the powdered tea left when I got toward the bottom of the cup.  I couldn’t help but think of tasseography, or the practice of reading the symbolism in tea leaves to predict the future.  I know there’s a pretty fantastic future to be predicted in the swirly pictures of my cup of Matcha Zen.

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The Recipes

I found endless food blogs with posts about cooking with matcha.  Here are some links to some of my favorites.  Stay tuned for a food recipe using Matcha Zen in the day or two!

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Chocolate Matcha Butter Cups from Keepin it Kind

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Healthy Matcha Green Tea Coconut Fudge from Desserts with Benefits

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Matcha Mochi Yogurt Pops from My Name is Yeh

Spaghetti Squash Casserole

As promised, here is my recipe for Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Chicken.  The recipe is fairly easy, but there are several steps. It’s delicious, and less than 300 calories/serving.

Clean the fat from the chicken thighs.

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Season chicken with spice mix.

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Roast chicken thighs for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees,

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Add salsa and water, and stir to combine.  Cover with parchment paper and foil.  Turn oven down to 325 degrees, and braise chicken for 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, allow to cool, and shred with a fork.

 

Cut spaghetti squash in half, remove seeds, place in the oven, with the chicken, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes.

 

Allow squash to cool, remove the threads from the shell, and add to the pan with the shredded chicken.

Add shredded kale, cottage cheese, and stir to combine.

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Return casserole to oven, and cook until the top is browned, about 20 minutes.

See full recipe here.

It Begins and Ends with Your Diet – Chef Katie’s Eating Plan

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It all begins and ends with your diet.  Don’t get me wrong – I passionately believe in exercise and working out.  It’s an essential part of my program (and my sanity).  However, if you want to lose weight, and have a truly lean body, 90% is about your diet.  Any time I am injured or fatigued and cannot work out, I get really tight when it comes to my diet, and the results tend to be the same.

THE TOOL

Everyone is different.  Everyone has different motivations, and systems that make them successful.  I will share what works for me, and has worked for many of my clients.  My plan starts with just that, a plan.  You have to prepare and plan ahead for success.  My favorite tool for planning and tracking my progress is the app, My Fitness Pal.  Create an account, and set your current weight and your goal weight.  It will ask you a few more questions pertaining to age and activity level, and then it will recommend an amount of calories for you.  Every day you go to your diary to add everything you eat.  You can search the extensive database for the food you eat.  You can go into “recipes” and type in a recipe and the serving/portion amount, and easily add it as an entry to your diary.  This is such an amazing tool (it’s free!), and it sets you on the path to success. Here’s why:

  1. TRACKING – it’s so important to track what you eat.  I have been cooking and living through clean eating for a long time, but I still need to measure and track.  Ultimately, your success is in the details.  Download the app and track what you eat for a few days.  You will be shocked at how much the little things add up.  At certain moments throughout your day, you might think, “just a couple of squares of dark chocolate”….”just a few almonds”….. “just one latte, it’s a skinny one”…  It adds up, people!  If you really want that chocolate, or latte – go ahead and have it – but add it to your diary, and you will have to subtract something later. Another method is to wait.  Get through your day, and if you have extra calories to spend, have some dark chocolate after dinner.
  2. IT KEEPS YOU ON TRACK FOR ULTIMATE HEALTH – Not only does this app track your calories, but it also sets daily goals for your protein, fat, and carb intake, and more. It will tell you if something you are adding into your diary is high in fat, or if you have met or exceeded your goal for your daily fat intake.
  3. RECIPE TRACKER – This is an amazing tool within the amazing tool that My Fitness Pal is. I have added recipes that I thought were clean and low calorie, and I was surprised to see how high the calorie count was when I typed it all in – which goes back to one of my themes – It adds up, people. You need to track and measure everything.  Maybe you can only have half a portion of that recipe, and add in some more veggies.
  4. EXERCISE TRACKER – You can add in your daily exercise. I love tracking my progress to see where I am every day.  Also, it shows how many calories you burn doing the exercise you do.  It takes a lot more exercise to burn off a little bit of calories, which leads me back to the main theme of this post – It begins and ends with the diet.  There’s one aspect in this category that I do not like about the app.  It subtracts your exercise calories.  DO NOT eat back the calories you burn with exercise.  You will not be successful.  If you work out for four hours one day, okay, maybe you will need to eat a little more.  Do not, however, spend half of your morning Zumba or spinning away, see that you’ve burned 500 calories, and head straight to Starbucks and suck down a “Beast Mode Frappucino.”  No joke – that’s what it’s called.

THE PLAN

So now that I know what to shoot for daily (1200 calories), here’s how I break it down.  I try and eat a small meal or snack every two and a half to three hours.  If I eat breakfast at 7am, my morning snack is at 10, lunch at 1, afternoon snack at 4, and dinner at 7.  Now, I know that life happens, and we need a bit of wiggle room in our lives.  I give myself half an hour before or after those targets.  If I am starving, and I simply cannot wait, I will eat a bit early.  If I am doing that yoga class that I really like, I need to wait until after class to eat my morning snack.  The idea is that if you keep feeding your metabolism every few hours, it ramps it up.  I am serious when I say that this works!  Try eating this way for a week, and you will get on the “train.”  I know when I am on the train because I am hungry when it’s time for me to eat, but I get full easily.  I also know when I am on the train because I am bounding out of bed in the morning.  It gives you lots of energy, and makes you feel great.  A note here, (forgive me if this is common sense to you) you need to eat the right kinds of foods to feel good. You can’t substitute in a coffee drink, some chocolate, or potato chips, and expect to feel good. This paragraph describes clean eating plain and simple.

For breakfast I like to eat a bit more, since it’s the first meal of the day, and I usually exercise during the morning hours. After breakfast, no matter what my plans are for the day, I pack my snacks and lunch.  This way, I can take my food with me all day.  I will eat when it’s time to eat, and I will eat my pre-portioned, healthy food.

Here’s what I ate yesterday:

Breakfast (256 calories):

2 teaspoons coconut oil (I put it in my coffee)

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 eggs

Morning Snack (218 calories):

½ cup nonfat greek yogurt

½ cup frozen blueberries

13 almonds

Lunch (245 calories):

Tomato Soup with Chicken and Barley

½ cup homemade tomato soup (see recipe here)

½ cup cooked chicken breast

½ cup cooked barley

Afternoon Snack (139 calories):

½ Ezekiel Sprouted Wheat English Muffin

2 teaspoons homemade almond nutella (see recipe here)

Dinner (253 calories):

1 Portion homemade Mexican Chicken and Spaghetti Squash Casserole

(I will post this recipe in the next day or two)

Total Calories for the Day = 1,111.  That’s 89 below my goal.  That means that I will have some berries with almond milk and stevia for dessert after dinner.

TIPS AND TRICKS

A Few Notes:

  1. VEGETABLES – You might have noticed in my diary above, there weren’t any vegetables.  That’s because I don’t count them.  I like to follow the 80/20 rule = 80% of what I eat comes from vegetables, and 20% is everything else (proteins, grains, dairy, fruit).  I like to think of vegetables as free, so I eat more of them.  There are a couple of points to make here.  You have to count what you cook the vegetables in.  If you sauté or roast veggies, you usually use oil, right?  Measure it and add it to your diary.  Secondly, all vegetables aren’t the same.  Butternut squash and sweet potatoes, while delicious and very healthy, pack a lot of calories.  Here’s a list of veggies I count, and veggies I don’t…

 

VEGGIES I DON’T COUNT

All leafy greens (lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, collards, etc), broccoli, green beans, zucchini,  yellow squash, cauliflower, asparagus, bell peppers, celery, onions, tomatoes (I know – it’s technically a fruit)

 

VEGGIES I DO COUNT

Winter Squashes (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti, delicatta, kombucha), sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, corn, beets

 

  1. WHAT IF YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY STARVING? – If I am starving, and it’s not time to eat, first, I wait 5-10 minutes to see if it passes. Next, I drink something. Tea, black coffee, water, and seltzer, are all calorie free and they fill your belly.  Third, if I still am feeling like I am going to eat my hand, I just eat.  I eat my meal or snack early, or I add in an extra snack that is low in calories.  It’s okay to add – some days you are just hungrier than others, just don’t make a habit of it.

 

  1. TREATS AND CHEATS – I am going to devote a whole post to this in a few days. If you don’t ever enjoy the food and treats you love, you will set yourself up for crash and burn failure. We are in post-holiday boot camp mode right now though.  If I am feeling LARGE, I will put myself on a 21 day plan of the above diet.  After that, if I feel it’s necessary to keep going, I will.  If I want to lose more weight, but I am dying for some wine and greasy food, I will have a cheat meal, and get back on track.

 

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MY SERVICES – I have made a career out of cooking healthy food for others.  Many of my clients know how to lose weight, they just don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking. You can hire me by the hour to come over and cook foods specific to your needs.  I also offer a 21 Day Program of the above method, tailored to your specific needs.  I will prepare, portion, package, and deliver breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks to your door for 21 days.  It’s a great way to lose weight.  It’s a great way to get started, and get yourself in the habit of clean eating.  Lastly, I offer workshops that will teach you how to prepare, cook, and set yourself up for your own clean eating plan.  My cooking expertise follows a program with the emphasis on taste and satisfaction, so you hardly realize how healthy you are eating, but reap the benefits of truly eating clean.  chefkatiecooks@gmail.com.  (828)707-3166.

 

The Secret to Making the Creamiest Tomato Soup without Dairy

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As I have said many times before, this is one of my favorite times of year.  The weather feels pleasantly cleaner and cooler.  The light changes, and the beautiful colors, reds, golds, and greens of the season stand out. It is also the best time of the year for cooking. You have the convergence of summer still producing fresh zucchini, tomatoes, corn, and herbs.  At the same time, the glorious fall squashes and root vegetables are ready for harvest. The weather is cool enough that you can make soups, stews, and chili’s that warm you in the cool evenings, but still enjoy summer salads in the warm sun at lunch.

I love, love, love summer tomatoes.  I also love soup.  One of my favorite things to make and eat is fresh tomato soup.  If you share this love of mine, I advise you to RUN to the store now, and buy all the fresh tomatoes you can find because they are almost gone.

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There are three key secrets to making the creamiest tomato soup without dairy.  You need to start with a mirepoix: a mix of onion, celery, carrot.  Whether I am making a pureed vegetable soup, or a soup with diced vegetables, I love to add parsnips and/or celery root to my mirepoix.

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Tip:  The best way to peel a celery root is with a sharp knife and not a peeler.

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It makes all the difference in flavor.  The first (secret) tip to making creamy soup is to grate your root vegetables (carrot, celery root, parsnips).  You can do this with a box grater or a food processor.

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Once you have the onion and celery diced, and the root vegetables grated, you need to sweat the vegetables in olive oil.

I love olive oil, and think it’s really good for you, but I really try and measure it, due to the amount of fat and calories.  For this recipe I start with three tablespoons of olive oil in a heated Dutch oven.  I then add my onion, celery, carrot, and celery root, salt, pepper, and sweat the vegetables.

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  The definition of the culinary term sweat, is to cook without color. The second secret to the creaminess is to spend the time sweating these vegetables until they are good and cooked. Stirring often helps them not to stick to the pan or to brown.  If this happens, you might need to add a bit of water and stir constantly.

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Once the vegetables are well cooked, add the fresh tomatoes.

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  I like to stir them in and let them release their water until I add more water to the pot.  Once they do break down and release their liquid, I add water to cover the tomatoes, and simmer for about 20 minutes.

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The third and final key to the creamiest cream-free tomato soup is to have a good blender.  I have a Vitamix which is my pride and joy in the kitchen.  It’s expensive, but I was able to set up a payment plan, and It was worth it!  I use it everyday!

Use caution when blending hot liquid in a blender, because it can blow up and burn you.  A lovely feature of the Vitamix is that it has a dial where you can start the power level on low, and gradually move it to high. Also, when blending hot liquid, don’t fill the blender to the top.

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  Blend the soup for at least two minutes on high speed to achieve the desired creaminess.  It is the most velvety, creamy, delicious tomato soup you will ever make without cream!  Enjoy!

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Click Here for the Recipe:  Creamy Tomato Soup

 

Kids Corner – Homemade Almond “Nutella”

 

 

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I find it funny how people glamorize my life when they find out that my husband and I are both chefs. They say, “You must eat so well at home” or “I bet your kids have the best lives” or “I bet your kids just eat everything.”  People are fascinated with what we eat at home.

The truth is that yes, we do eat pretty well.  I try and make extra of the food that I make for my clients for us to eat during the week.  That food, however, is very healthy and pretty simple.  The kids might be more “foodie” than your average kid, but for the most part they are normal.  They can be picky, especially when it comes to packing their lunches.

I struggle with what to pack my kids for lunch.  They will say they like something, and I will beat it like a dead horse until they say they are sick of it.  Then, what?    What else do you want?  This recently happened with peanut butter and jelly.  I was actually using sunflower butter and sometimes making my own jam.  That really made no difference to them.  Now they are sick of PB&J.  What do you want?  What will you eat?

They finally requested Nutella.  Nutella?  Okay!  It’s kind of a treat, but it’s good for you right?  I went to the store and I was not surprised, but sorely disappointed when I read the ingredients in Nutella.  The first ingredient was sugar, the second ingredient palm oil.  There were only three ingredients that were actually food:  hazelnuts, cocoa, and skim milk. All the other ingredients were either artificial or modified.

Okay, so they make “healthier” versions of this stuff, right?  I’ve seen all sorts of chocolate and non-chocolate nut butters on the shelf at Earth Fare.  I headed to Earth Fare to read those labels.  The ingredient list was better, but the first ingredient was still added sugar.  And the price was around $8/jar!

I immediately thought – I can make this stuff myself.  I have seen homemade “Nutella” posts in the hundreds of food blogs I subscribe to.  Not having the time to search for the said posts in the store, I grabbed some good quality dark chocolate chips and some almond butter that they grind right in the store (ingredients: almonds).

After heading home from the store, I got caught up in my various chores and forgot about making my own chocolate nut butter.  I woke up the following morning, and put a pot of water on the stove to melt the chocolate.  I added a little bit of coconut oil to help with texture (I love the stuff), and melted them together.  Then I simply stirred the almond butter into the melted chocolate mixture.  It was so easy and quick!  No added sugar.  No dried milk solids. Yum.

To see and print the recipe click here.

Set a pot of water over the stove and bring it to a simmer.  Place chocolate chips and coconut oil in a stainless steel bowl.  Set bowl over simmering water.  

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Stir frequently until melted and smooth.

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Add almond butter or healthy nut butter of choice.

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Stir with a whisk until smooth.

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Place in an airtight jar.

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Goodbye Summer

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Ratatouille Salmon

This time of year is bittersweet.  It’s my favorite time… Cool nights. Warm days.  Awe inspiring tomatoes.  Melons!  Sweet Corn.  Squash…and the pool is still open.  What more can a girl ask for?

It has been a busy summer for me and my personal chef business, Chef Katie, LLC.  Lots of clients, catering, and clean eating programs have kept me running.  I have managed to squeeze in some summer fun with my family.

I began catering for retreats at the beautiful Bend of Ivy Lodge in Marshall, NC this summer. The retreats can be a lot of work, but it is totally worth it.  I love the work, and I love spending days on the gorgeous property.  I also had the honor of catering the wedding of the owners of the property.  I recruited the help of my husband, Kirk Fiore.  We love working together, and I am so proud to watch him work.  I have enjoyed watching his skills develop over the years as a cook, organizer, and manager, and I can safely say that he is the best chef I know.

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They have goats!

They have goats!

Words to live by.

Words to live by.

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Wedding Table

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Wedding Setting

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This summer I  have also been researching the Body Ecology Diet for a client, and have been inspired.  The main premise is to combat Candida, aid digestion in the gut, and restore our inner ecosystem.  My extensive research has led me to learn about case studies of the diet. The program has aided symptoms of Candida as well as chronic fatigue, depression, weight problems, early aging,  hormone imbalance, and auto-immune disorders.  It has even cured ADHD and Autism in some children!

The diet eliminates sugar and adds in probiotics through kefir, probiotic suppliments, and fermented vegetables. Donna Gates, the creator and author of the “Body Ecology Diet” has devised seven principles of “eating and healing,”  that include balancing certain foods that are expansive versus contractive and acidic versus alkaline.  I like her approach to “Uniqueness,”  where she states that everyone is different, and everyone is constantly changing.  No one diet is right for everyone, and a different diet will benefit you at different stages of your development with different nutritional needs. I am also eager to embrace her philosophy for food combining, keeping starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods separate from protein-rich foods.  This makes sense to me for easier digestion.

Another principle that I think everyone should learn to live by is the “80/20 Principle.”  I am a big believer in portioning and measuring your food.  If you can learn to embrace the 80/20 Principle, this would make it easier for you to train your body to do this naturally.  Donna states the “rules”  of the 80/20 Principle in her book, “The Body Ecology Diet,” in Chapter 2…

“RULE NUMBER ONE: Eat until your stomach is 80% full, leaving 20% available for digesting. RULE NUMBER TWO:  80% of the food on your plate should be land and/or ocean vegetables. The remaining 20% can be protein or grains and starchy vegetables.”

I tried the diet for a couple of weeks.  I felt great and lost a lot of weight.  I wanted to stay on the diet longer, but life got in the way.  It was a bit difficult, developing new meals.  Donna suggests that you only stick to certain grains, millet, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat.  The absence of rice was tough for me, but I love quinoa.  The amaranth, millet, and buckwheat, I am still experimenting with.  I home to come up with some tasty and palatable recipes soon.  Millet just brings back bad childhood memories of ultra-healthy, yet very uncool lunches my mom packed for me.  One of them being millet and almond butter sandwiches.  This was in the 80’s, and believe me when I tell you that almond butter has come a looong way.

I loved experimenting with the fermented vegetables.  I’ve made several concoctions of fermented carrots, beets, sauerkraut, kimchee, and hot sauce.  Some were not successful, and some were delicious.  Stay tuned for some tasty recipes to come!  I am working on developing a 21 Day Plan which includes principles from Donna and Body Ecology, including food combining, 80/20, and fermented vegetables.

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Fun with Fermented Vegetables

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One last idea that I really believe in that I found Donna and other authors of similar “gut-healthy” diets tried to drive home, is that restoring health is not just about what you eat.  The personal care, cosmetic, and household products that we use several times every day contain toxins that mess with our body systems, causing issues, and sometimes, disease.  Refer to my previous post, “It’s Not All in the Food”  for more information.  Also, please contact me if you need assistance with cleaning up your products.

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I LOVE my work.  I am honored to be helping people eat delicious food that fits into their needs, and I love helping people to lose weight. I love learning from my clients.  I love learning about new diets such as Body Ecology and GAPS.  I look forward to learning more in the future.  Our connection to food and eating is necessary for life, but capable of healing and changing us, and so full of emotions and memories.

Cheers to summer!  I love you so, and will miss you dearly.  I hope your summer was as satisfying as mine. Here’s to starting a new season, and a new chapter!  Speaking of a new chapter, how do you like my new logo and website!  Many thanks to the talented team at Peppermint Media!

The Incredible Egg

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It’s very hip these days to throw an egg on most everything. Traveling through Southeast Asia in my twenties, was my first experience in seeing eggs on top of fried rice and noodle dishes.   I once ordered soup and they had floated a hard-boiled egg right in the middle.  In that region of the world, it seemed to be out of necessity.  Most Malaysians and Indonesians eat noodles for breakfast, and white rice for lunch and dinner.  They don’t get a lot of meat.  Most of the chickens they slaughter are past their prime, not the three month old plump ones we raise here in this country.  To kill a chicken that young would be wasteful to them, because the chicken can lays eggs.  The older chickens they eat are boiled for stock, and the small amount of meat is cut up and used almost like a garnish.  They don’t waste any of it, either.  The head, neck, and feet are eaten as well. So, whenever possible, they throw an egg on it.

Perhaps that’s where the recent trend here in the US has come from.  Southeast Asian food is very trendy these days.  Throwing an egg on top of it, however, has become a sign of excess, or gluttony.  Which the latter also seems to be a trend lately.  Order a burger with cheese and bacon, and why not fry an egg and throw it on top Pizza, crack an egg right in the center before cooking, and have all that eggy goodness ooze out when you slice it.

Somehow eggs got a bad rap back in the 80’s and 90’s.  Remember back when all fat was bad, and margarine and Snackwell cookies were good for us? Trans fats were unknown, and cholesterol was evil.  Eggs are actually quite good.  Cholesterol comes in good and bad forms nowadays, and eggs contain both.  They are full of protein and low in calories.  One hard-boiled egg is about 78 calories and 6 grams of protein.  Sure, they contain cholesterol, but as long as you don’t have issues, two eggs a day is perfectly fine. Dr. John Berardi, Ph.D, and founder of Precision Nutrition, says, “Unless you have diabetes, or a rare genetic disorder (Familial Hypercholestorolemia), eating a few eggs every day is not bad for you.” If you are still scared of the cholesterol levels, then bypass the yolks, or have one egg with yolks and two egg whites.  Egg whites are cholesterol free!

There are so many great local farms around raising superb eggs fresh out of the hen house and into your kitchen these days. Besides, eggs are about the coolest food out there.  What other food transforms in cooking quite the way an egg does?  Meat maybe?  Not really.  No, eggs are way cooler.  Think of what cookies or quick breads would be without eggs.  Shortbread is good, but where would the chocolate chip cookie be without our friend, the egg?  Have you ever made a meringue?  Now that’s some cool stuff.  It’s the base of most light and fluffy cakes.  Think Angel Food.  That’s a cake that is basically egg whites and sugar with a bit of flour sprinkled in.

I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to throw an egg on top of your burger, or your pizza, or your burrito, or whatever.  When I eat eggs, I like them to be the star.  Especially in a clean and healthy eating sense, when I am not treating myself, eggs are a powerful ally. I like having them for my mid-morning snack.  Just two simple hard-boiled eggs with salt and pepper are delightful. Sauté up some kale or some spinach, and scramble some eggs right in.  Throw on a little hot sauce, and you got yourself a bona fide low calorie treat.  I also like to add them to my lunch or dinners in place of a meat protein.  A couple of chopped hard boiled eggs transforms a good spinach, or lettuce, or kale salad.  A nice pot of simmering broth with lots of veggies and a soft boiled egg is true comfort.

Bring water to the boil.  Once it starts to boil, set a timer for 8 minutes.

Bring water to the boil. Once it starts to boil, set a timer for 8 minutes.

When the timer goes off, immediately plunge the eggs in ice water.

When the timer goes off, immediately plunge the eggs in ice water.

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Preparation = Success. Snacks and lunch for the day.

How to Boil a Perfect Egg:

Place eggs in a sauce pan or pot and cover with cold water.Once the water comes to the boil, set a timer for eight minutes. Immediately scoop the eggs out and place them into a bowl of ice water.

These eggs are easy to peel and just perfect. The yolks will be just a bit gooey in the center, but that’s the way I like them. If you would like your eggs cooked through, set your timer for 10 minutes.

Forty in New York

Running on The West Shore

Running on The West Shore

Warning: This is not a low calorie post, and has nothing to do with clean eating. I turned 40 a couple of weeks ago.  I was planning on being really tight with my diet and workouts leading up to my birthday.  I wanted to do a “This is 40!” blog post, showing off my hot bod, and how I was in the best shape of my life. Instead, I went on a three week bender of celebrating with drinks and not-so-skinny food. Now I am feeling very LARGE heading into the Holidays. Not exactly a good place to be. You only turn 40 once, right?

Kirk and I went to New York City for a few days to celebrate.  We had an amazing time.  Our time there went pretty much like this…Eat, Eat, Run, Eat, Walk, Walk, Eat, Walk, Walk, Eat, Eat, Eat, Walk, Sleep. Eat, Run, Eat, Eat, Walk, Walk, Walk, Eat, Eat, Eat,Walk, Sleep. I do not lie.  When a couple of chefs go to New York, they aren’t going to Broadway shows or visiting various tourist sites.  It’s all about the Food. If it wasn’t for all the walking and a bit of running, I might have gained 100 pounds.  A great tool for knowing where to eat comes from one of my favorite food blogs, Serious Eats.  They have a section called, “Serious Eats New York.”  You can type in what general location you might be in, and it will give you several restaurant choices that they consider to be worth a visit. They list them starting with food carts all the way up to fancy, expensive choices.

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Statue in Riverside Park

The restaurants where we did eat were a dream come true for us. Upon our arrival (thanks to Serious Eats), we found this little hole in the wall Cuban Diner, Margon, for lunch. The cafeteria-style hot line was really tempting, but we both could not resist ordering Cuban sandwiches, and we were not disappointed. I have had an obsession with Mario Batali after reading Heat several years ago.  I love his style.  I own all of his cookbooks.  Our first night in New York we ate at Babbo.  It was surprisingly more quaint and cute than I had anticipated.  We ate grilled octopus, testa (house made charcuterie), beef cheek ravioli, lamb chops, grilled quail, and more. The most impressive part was the huge table (there was one upstairs and downstairs) completely covered with open wine bottles.The next day, I had a latte and a croissant at Amy’s Bread in Hell’s Kitchen.  After a run up the western shore of Manhattan, I met an old friend for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, a cute and healthy café.  I ordered the Kale Ceasar with Salmon.  It was delicious, and quite healthy.  The base of the ceasar dressing was tahini.  Our second night we ate at BLT Steak, an upscale steak house/bistro where they served these goat cheese popovers that were bigger than your head.  Around midnight (thanks again to Serious Eats), we went to Sake Bar Hagi.  It was a very small underground restaurant (which is difficult to find after having lots of wine, steak, and popovers), serving Japanese pub food.  Our waiter was really friendly and helped us order.  We feasted on a sashimi dish with scallop, octopus, and sea urchin wrapped in seaweed.  We also had a pork and noodle dish and they were both mind-blowingly good.

 After waking up, we stopped for a latte at Blue Bottle Coffee in the very cool Gotham West Market, before striking out for another run. After our run we headed downtown, browsed the Union Square Greenmarket, and headed to Eataly.  Eataly is this amazing market with everything Italian you can imagine. In every corner of the market was a counter featuring a different Italian specialty. There’s Gelato, Espresso, Fresh Pasta, Charcuterie, Cheese, Meat, Seafood, Breads, Desserts.  In between all of this is more produce, dry pasta, olives, cookbooks, beer, olive oil and other stuff than you can imagine.  Peppered throughout all this are restaurants. There is a meat restaurant, a pizza restaurant, and my favorite, a section with high tables that you stand at. It is located between the charcuterie and cheese, and we sampled some of each with wine.  We then headed to yet another restaurant that was all glass on the roof, where they were brewing beer in casks. We sampled the beer and had some house made Cotechino sausage and lentils. After two and a half hours, Kirk said to me, “I know this is very sad, but we are going to have to leave Eataly now.”

Charcuterie at Eataly

Charcuterie at Eataly

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Our final dinner in New York was the grand finale.  We dined at Le Bernardin, one of the fanciest places in New York. The chef, Eric Ripert, was born in France and worked in some of the best restaurants in the world before joining this Michelin star, seafood-focused restaurant in Manhattan. We both ordered the chef’s tasting menu which was mind-blowing to say the least. It was a fine dining flurry of French servers, expert sommeliers, and tweezer cuisine that did not disappoint.  Eight courses of fish and seafood, flawlessly prepared with fancy butter sauces poured on at the table. It included sea urchin, monkfish, lobster lasagna, and more.  The highlight of the meal was a surf and turf entrée with with Escolar and the most tender, flavorful piece of (waygu) beef I have ever had.  It literally melted in my mouth.  After three dessert courses and a cappuccino, it was everything we could do to waddle back to our hotel.

I must say, it feels good to be back in my clean eating routine.  I feel like I should detox for months, but I have to weather the Holiday storm ahead.  In this journey of mine to be healthy, thin, and happy, I believe treats and indulgences are very important.  It’s important to enjoy life to the fullest which, in my world, involves wine, beer, and rich foods. I choose to eat clean and healthy so I can feel good. After being disciplined, I enjoy the indulgences much more. Did I slip too much toward indulgence? Perhaps.  Like anything else in life, it’s about finding a balance.  It’s also about the journey and what you learn along the way.  Forty feels good so far.  I feel good knowing what my goals are.  I feel good knowing that I will reach those goals, and that I will enjoy the journey.