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July 2016
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Roasted Chili Paste heats up Valentine’s Day

Photo of finished dish

Thai cuisine never ceases to amaze me. The variety of textures, shapes, and colors is a feast for the all the senses. With Valentine’s Day approaching, I can’t think of a better style of cooking to share with someone you care about. One of the fastest ways to a person’s heart is definitely through their stomach.

This dish originally called for tofu, which my wife, Kathy is not fond of at all. Tofu is one texture she cannot, shall we say, appreciate. I set out to find a substitute. Something that mirrored the color and appearance of the original ingredient was needed. The final selection surprised even me. Of all things, humble cauliflower rose to the occasion.

The main Thai ingredient in this dish is roasted chili paste. It is spicy of course, and also has a deep and complex flavor.

jar of chili paste

Use in stirfrys and soups

Cauliflower, with its mild flavor is a perfect compliment. In this case, opposites definitely attract! The bumpy surface gives the overall dish a great visual appeal. A splash of fish sauce, known as nam pla, gives the dish a distinctively Thai flavor.

The original recipe calls for onion and zucchini. I also added some red bell pepper to highlight the color of the chili paste. Together, these three vegetable lend a sweet influence to counter the fiery chili paste. Of course you can tone down the heat by adjusting the amount of chili paste to suit your preference.

This dish works nicely as a vegetable side dish. To make it more of entrée and move it to the center of the plate, add in a handful of shrimp. For a vegetarian version, simply stick with tofu in place of the cauliflower. To go fully vegetarian, substitute 2 oz. vegetable stock, 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and a pinch of salt for the fish sauce. Serve with steamed jasmine rice. If you are feeling ambitious, add coconut ginger soup to the menu along with a cashew nut salad. A cup of Thai tea from Yogi Teas will top things off nicely.

box of Yogi Thai Delight

A caffeine and sugar free Thai tea

Let a Thai meal bring you closer to your Valentine. I encourage you to prepare the meal together and share in the smells, colors, and textures of this delightful cuisine. Afterward, you can experiment on each other with Thai massage.


Cauliflower in Roasted Chili Paste


1 Tbs Vegetable oil

3-4 Cloves Garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup Onion, cut lengthwise into 1/2 inch wedges

1 /2 Cup Red Bell Pepper, cut 1″ long into strips

1 Cup Zucchini cut into semi circles

2 tsp Roasted Chili Paste

1 Tbs Fish Sauce

2 Cups Steamed Cauliflower florets

Heat a wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Add the oil and toss in the garlic, onion and red bell pepper.  Cook until translucent, about a minute.

Add the Zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally until shiny and tender, about 2 minutes.

Reduce heat and add the chili paste and fish sauce. Toss well. Add in the cauliflower and toss until coated and heated through.

Serve with steamed Jasmine rice.

Strained Yogurt – a healthy alternative

Greek yogurt has grown in popularity. You can make your own right at home with great results. Not only is it more affordable, you can control the consistancy, and also use your favorite brand of yogurt or even organic if you choose.

Photo of yogurt strainer

A Cuisinart gold toned coffee filter (center) works great

While some recipes call for layers of cheese cloth in a colander, I have found a Cuisinart coffee filter to work quite well and be easy to clean up. And bowl or container that will suspend the filter is fine. The goal is to allow space for the whey to drain out.

The yogurt will thicken considerably the longer it stands. In the first stage it will be like sour cream. At this point it is great in dips, on sandwiches instead of mayonaise or in salads. Think curried potato salad…

Scoop yogurt into strainer

Scoop yogurt into strainer

… When the yogurt reaches the consistency you like, transfer it to a clean container and store it in the fridge.

If it gets too thick, stir a bit of the whey back into it.

As it get thicker the flavor will change until it tastes like a mild cheese.

Creamed dishes such as spinach that call for dairy will be tasty with strained yogurt.

The remaining whey can be discarded.

remaining whey after straining

The liquid whey can be discarded

Delicious Light Chicken Picatta

Photo of Chicken Picatta

Delicious and Easy to Prepare - Chicken Picatta

Chicken is one of the most popular food items on the plates of America. Often considered humble, it is the stuff of family dinners.

The Med Diet focuses on lean protein. Boneless, skinless chicken breast fits that description well.

Every once in a while it rises to the occasion when a light, easy preparation is called for. Here, finished with a splash of white wine and a sprinkle of capers, chicken takes a starring role on the plate.

The name Picatta means sharp. Fresh lemon juice is responsible for the name in this case. The finished dish is bright, lively, and delicious. This is perfect for small number of people, perhaps even only two :)


(Serves 4)

4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast (sliced horizontally and lightly pounded thin)

1/2 cup flour

1/2 tsp paprika

4 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

2 Tbsp butter (divided)

1 Tbsp capers (divided)

1/4 cup white wine (divided)

1/2 lemon (sliced into four wedges)

Parsley for garnish

1) Place flour in a shallow bowl and add paprika. Mix well.

2) In a medium skillet heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat.  Dust 2 chicken breasts with flour on both sides and add to pan. Do not crowd the pan. Cook until browned on one side, then turn. Continue until cooked through and remove from pan to a warm plate.

3) Add 1 Tbsp butter, white wine, capers to pan and cook, stirring 1- 2 minutes.

4) Pour pan juices over chicken. Sprinkle each breast with one lemon wedge.

5) Wipe pan with a paper towel and return to stove. Repeat procedure with remaining ingredients and garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Pineapple Fried Rice – Thai comfort food

photo of pineapple fried rice

A hollowed out pineapple shell makes a smashing serving dish!

After a particulalry stressfeul travel experience in southern Thailand, Kathy and I were both craving something to calm our nerves. The carbs of the rice and sweetness of the pineapple worked magic on our frame of mind.

After an overnight lake tour, our guides had dropped us off at a bus stop in a small village and were headed back to their base. We were headed in the other direction towards the airport. Unwittingly, we had left a small backback containing all our money and passports in the truck. With not so much as bus fare in our pockets, we managed to hitch a ride from a local on a moped to the police station. After explaining our situation, the policeman was driving us to the bus stop and would explain to the driver to allow us to ride back to the tour base to gather our belongings.

 As we were pulling out of the police station, we saw our tour guides in their truck and flagged them down. They had been looking for us once they discovered the backpack we had left behind. We quickly transferred vehicles, and chased down the bus that was headed for the airport. All of this happened in the course of 30 minutes. Finally we were back on track and headed in the right direction thanks to the amazing helpfulness of the Thai people.

I recomnend this dish anytime, and especially when you need to feel comforted. Remeber, you will need rice that has been cooked and cooled to prepare this dish (or any fried rice dish).


Serves 4-6

 4 cloves Garlic (smashed & chopped)

1-2 Thai Chilies (smashed)

1 Cup Carrot (grated)

1/2 Cup Onion (chopped)

4 Cups Jasmine rice (cooked and chilled)

8 oz. Crushed pineapple with juice

4-6 Green onions (cut into 3/4 inch lengths)

1/4 Cup Roasted Cashews

2 Tbsp Fish Sauce

1/2 tsp Crushed Red Chili

 Additional Garnish:

            Fresh Mint (chopped)

            Crushed Red Pepper

 1) Heat the oil in a wok and fry the garlic and chilies until fragrant. Add the onion, and then the carrot, and cook over high heat stirring constantly for one to two minutes until soft.

 2) Add the rice and continue frying over high heat, stirring constantly. Add the pineapple, cashews, and spring onions. Season with fish sauce and soy sauce and cook a moment or two longer, until rice is well mixed and piping hot.

 3) Pile the rice onto a serving dish, sprinkle with mint and crushed red pepper.


For a truly smashing presentation, serve the rice in the hollowed out half of a fresh pineapple.

Mulligatawny Soup


This delicious Indian soup is easy to make. It provides a great refresher at any time of day.

Enjoy this recipe from the Moosewood Collective.


1 1/2 Cups Chopped Onions                    1 Medium Red or Green Bell Pepper,seeded and chopped

1 Celery Stalk, Chopped                              1 Firm Tomato, Chopped

2 Tbs Ghee                                                        1 Small Chili, seeded & chopped

1 tsp Turmeric                                                 1/2 Cup Unsweetened grated coconut

 1 Tbsp Ground Coriander                           1 Cup Coconut Milk

4 Cups Water or Vegetable Stock             2-4 Tbs Fresh lemon or Lime Juice        

1/2 tsp Salt                                                        2 tsp Chopped Fresh Cilantro

1 Medium Carrot, Chopped                           

1 Large Potato, cut into Small Cubes

 1) In a medium soup pot, saute the onioins and celery in the ghee.

 2) When the onions are becomming translucent, add the chili, turmeric, and ground coriander. Saute for a minute, stirring to prevent spices from burning.

 3) Add the water or vegetable stock, salt, carrot, and potato.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and sever the vegetables for 10 minutes.

 4) Add the pepper, tomato, grated coconut, and coconut milk.  Simmer gently for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

 5) Add the lemon or lime juice and cilantro.  Adjust the seasonings.  Serve at once or, even better, let it set for an hour or so to bring out the flavors and then reheat gently and serve.

About the 5 flavors & their connection to feelings of hunger

Basically it works like this. There are 5 flavors among food & when all are present in a meal,your brain gets the signal that everything is A-OK and it is satisfied (this can help in observing another healthy eating guidline, to stop eating when you feel 2/3 full).

 Even if only 2-3 are represented this is a step in the right direction and can reduce feelings of still being hungry in spite of eating sufficient calories.

 The flavors are Sweet, Salty, Savory (spicy), Sour, & Bitter.

Representation does not require and entire dish with one of these predominate flavors. For example, a simple stir fry of brocoli & beef sesoned with garlic & soy sauce has Bitter, the brocoli, Sweet, the beef, Savory, the garlic, and Salty, the soy sauce.

A glass of water (no ice) with lemon in it would add Sour to the meal & now you have a grand slam!

When a meal that is dominated by one or two flavors, say pasta with tomato sauce, the brain keeps thinking something is missing, but may not be sure what. Often people will just have another helping of the same thing & get the crazy “i’m stuffed, but I still want something more” sensation (remember too, that it takes 20 minutes for your brain to receive the signal from your stomach that enough food has been eaten).

Repersenting all 5 flavors does not have to mean eating a bigger quanitity of food. It means being aware of what is on the plate in front of you and making adjustments to seasonings, or substituting an additional flavor for a part of one already present. In our pasta example, topping the dish with a good romano cheese can add a salty element. Reducing the serving size of the pasta, and adding in a green vegetable, especially a bitter one like escarole or broccoli, will make a huge difference.

Two Twists on Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Bowl of Cranberry Chutney

Cranberry with Dates cinnamon and cardamom

These two twists on traditional Thanksgiving side dishes that my wife and I have come to enjoy are from the Indian cookbook, “The Best of Lord Krishna’s Cuisine”. Whole cranberries cooked with chopped dates and spiced with fresh green chilies is pictured here. Together with cardamom and cinnamon the tart flavor of cranberry balances out to an almost spicy result. Listening to the berries pop while cooking and mashing them up in the pan make good entertainment for the cook. The dish is incredibly simple to prepare and keeps well too.

Green Bean Photo

Spiced Green Beans

 For a twist on the perennial green bean casserole, spice up those traditional veggies with a mixture of black mustard seed, cumin seed, and crushed red pepper for a lively dish that you will love. I frequently use frozen string beans, first steamed tender crisp, then sautéed with the spices.The recipe calls for clarified butter, known as Ghee, but a good substitute is a combination of vegetable oil and butter. The butter gives flavor and the oil helps it withstand high cooking temperature.

Recipes are here:

Cranberry Chutney

3 Inch Peice of cinnamon stick

3-4 Whole caramom seeds, crushed open

1 teaspoon Whole Cloves

1-2 Hot Green Chilies, seeded

3 Inch piece of Orange Zest

1/2 Cups Water or white grape juice

1/2 Cup Raw Sugar or Maple Syrup

1/2 Cup Pitted Dates, sliced

1 pound Fresh Cranberries

1) Tie the first 5 ingredients tothether in a small piece of cheescloth ( a coffee filter stapled closed also works if you don’t have cheesecloth)

2) Combine the liquid, sweetner, dates, and spice bag in a heavy bottom, 2 qt  pan over moderate heat. Cook, stirring, unti the sugar disolves. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1/2 hour.

3) Remove the spice bag, pressing it to extact the flavor. Stir in the cranberries and cook for 7-10 minutes until the mizture thickens and the berries pop. Use a potato masher to break up the berries if desired.


Spiced Green Beans

4 Tbs Ghee (or a mixture of light oil & unsalted butter)

2 tsp Black Mustard Seeds

1 tsp Cumin Seeds

½ tsp Crushed Red Pepper

1 lb Green Beans, trimmed & cut into ½ inch pieces

1 tsp Ground Coriander

1 tsp Salt

1 tsp Sugar

1)      Steam the green beams until tender crisp. Set aside to drain.

2)      Heat the ghee in a large heavy bottomed skillet over moderate heat. When it is hot but not smoking, add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and crushed red pepper and fry until the cumin seeds darken and the mustard seeds turn gray.

3)      Add the green beans and salt, and cook, tossing gently, for 4-5 minutes.

 4)      Add the sugar and cook a minute more until sugar is dissolved.

Poached Fish with Tomato & Cumin

Poached Fish food photo

Delicious Middle Eastern Fish

   When Kathy came home all a glow with her latest cookbook tome, I confess that I rolled my eyes. Here was a book over 2 inches thick and 400 pages long. Will I ever really cook a significant portion of these recipes I asked myself? Nonetheless, “The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean” by Paula Wolfert has earned a permanent place on our shelf. Among the many recipes, one in particular has become a staple for us. A full menu including this dish is over on the products page.

   “Fish poached in cumin flavored tomato sauce” is described as a “simple, homespun dish for two that requires little time and only one skillet”. A key ingredient is Aleppo pepper. The Middle East is renowned for its spice bazaars were literally dozens of different ground peppers can be found. Aleppo pepper is course, gritty, dark red, earthy, and robust. The flavor is haunting. You may also see it sold under the name “Near East Pepper”. A suitable substitute can be made using three parts sweet Hungarian paprika and one part mildly hot crushed red pepper flakes.

   Poaching fish is a foolproof method to make sure it comes out moist. In this dish fresh tomato is grated to form a poaching liquid. Celery and onion give the sauce body and texture. The recipe works best with mild, white fleshed fish. I have used its sole with outstanding results, though it is rarely available. Readily available and very affordable, tilapia has become the fish I rely on when preparing this dish.

The recipe is below. You can find this dish as part of a complete fabulous Mediterranean Menu in eBook 302 on the products page.


 Serves 2  (double or triple quantities as needed)

 2 6-Oz. white-fleshed Fish Fillets

Sea Salt

1 Onion (large)

1 Celery Rib

1 Clove Garlic

1 tsp Olive Oil

1/2 tsp Ground Cumin

Pinch of Aleppo Pepper

1 Ripe Tomato (grated) – Discard skin

Pinch Salt

Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste

Chopped Fresh Parsley for garnish

 1) Rinse the fish, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle with sea salt.  Let stand for 1 hour.

 2) Meanwhile, peel and thinly slice the onion, celery, and garlic and gently steam with the olive oil in a covered skillet 2-3 minutes.

 3) Cut the tomato in half and gently rub cut side against the box grater on to a small plate. The skin will pull back and can be discarded. The remaining pulp is to be used in the recipe.

 4)  Add the cumin and red pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer.  Add the tomato and 1/3 cup water and bring to a boil.  Add a pinch of salt and black pepper to taste and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

 3) Slip the fillets into the simmering sauce (if using very thin fillets such as Sole, fold each fillet in half), cover, and cook over medium-low heat 4-6 minutes, or until the fish is done(the time varies with the thickness of the filet). Transfer the fish to a shallow serving dish. Boil the pan juices to reduce to a thick consistency.  Pour over the fish and let stand until ready to serve. Serve warm with parsley sprinkled on top.

Stuffed Chicken Breast with Spinach and Feta

Easy Elegant Entree - Stuffed Chicken Breast

Stuffed chicken breasts are common in country style cooking. They are easy to assemble, in spite of their sophisticated appearance. Cutting a slit in the side of the breast will be the hardest part of the whole thing.

The key to keeping skinless chicken moist is a light rub of olive oil before rolling it in bread crumbs, and then another drizzle on top before putting it in the oven. 

You can assemble these ahead of time if you’re having friends over. They also travel well if you are going to a potluck. The beautiful presentation guarantees you will be the hero either way. The dish features Colorado Proud Red Bird chicken, organic spinach, and feta cheese. A toasted pine nut coating adds flavor and crunch to the dish.


1/2 Cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

Garlic Powder, Salt & Pepper to taste

2 oz Feta Cheese

2 Boneless skinless chicken breasts (I prefer Red Bird brand)

Olive Oil

1/3 Cup bread crumbs (I use plain and add my own herbs)

1/4 Cup Pine Nuts, toasted and chopped


1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare the filling by seasoning the spinach with Garlic Powder and Salt and Pepper. Then crumb the Feta into the Spinach and mix well.

2) Spread the Bread Crumbs on a plate and add the Pine Nuts.

Spinach Feta Filling

3) Tenderize the Chicken by using your fist to gently pound the thick part of the breast.

4) Make a small slice into the side of the Chicken Breast and use the tip of the knife to create a cavity to hold the filling. Be careful nut to cut through the chicken.

Make a cavity in the checken breast to hold the stuffing

5) Fill the cavity with half of the stuffing mixture and press the opening closed.

6) Brush or rub the chicken with Olive Oil and roll in the bread crumbs to completely cover.

Cover the Chicken completely with the breadcrumb mixture

7) Drizzle a small amount ( 1/2 tsp) of olive oil into an oven proof baking pan (corning ware works great) where the chicken will rest. Lay the stuffed breast on top and drizzle a few more drops of olive oil on top. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

8) Bake the chicken for 25 -30 minutes, just until nicely browned and the juices run clear. Do not over cook. Remove from oven and let stand a few minutes before serving.

Let the Chicken rest a few minutes before slicing

What was your “aha moment” about food awareness? Mine came on a Sunday afternoon when I was eleven years old. I was seated at the table in my grandparent’s dining room. Noni and Grandpa had both immigrated from Italy and brought their deep cultural roots here to America. I suddenly realized the food on the table was wholesome, real food, prepared from the heart to feed all of us there.  I know Noni would be proud to see how she has influenced me to embrace preparing wholesome foods, and making meals that reflect her cultural values. Mangia!

Unique Thai Salad discvered in tiny rice village

I could never imagine it grew so tall! I’d only seen pictures of farmers bent over planting small plugs in patties of water. Much to my surprise, these beautiful emerald green stalks stood over 6 feet tall. The fields shimmered in the late day sun. This tiny rice village in the north part of Thailand, named Pai is where we discovered an unusual Thai salad.

Kathy by Rice Field in the village of Pai

My wife, Kathy, and I were visiting Thailand in 1998 for a three week honeymoon. The tail end of our adventure found us here in the village of Pai, near the border of Myanmar. There is a delightful little restaurant named Ruan Ban Pai.

One of the items on the menu was labeled spicy cashew nut salad. We had found spicy cashew nuts earlier on our trip in the southern part of the country. There, the dish was little more than creamy cashew nuts fried in spicy oil. The dish that arrived at our table, however, was something completely different. Here was a celebration of color, shape and texture. The dish was spiced with fresh jalapeno and a salted lime dressing. Crisp, roasted cashew nuts topped the salad, giving it its name.

We became infatuated with spicy cashew nut salad. Kathy loved it so much, that she would eat it for breakfast each day. As we were doing with other dishes we felt we could replicate, we began to dissect the salad each time it appeared before us. We began noticing not only the ingredients, but the size and shape of each cut, and the ratio of each vegetable to the others. Thai dressings, with their subtle balance of flavors, (salty, sour, sweet, and spicy) can be a bit of a mystery. One thing is for sure, they always leave you craving more.

Spicy Cashew Nut Salad - Easy, fast, and healthy too!

Interestingly, I have never come across this salad even by another name, in any other restaurant or cookbook. Re-creating it here at home has been a worthwhile endeavor. It gets rave reviews every time!

Here then, is a recipe for Spicy Cashew Nut Salad. Be sure your knife is sharp; success lies in thinly slicing the vegetables so that no flavor over powers the other and the pieces are easy to chew.

(Makes 2 servings)

1       Med Carrot Sliced on diagonal into 1” pieces
1/2  Medium Onion Cut into Wedges
1/2  Green or Red Bell Pepper Sliced into 2 “ strips
1       small Tomato Cut into thin Wedges
1-2   Jalapeno Pepper seeded and Chopped fine
1/4  Cup Fresh Cilantro Coarsely Chopped
1        Full Green Leaf Lettuce leaf per person
1/2   Cup Cashew Nuts, Toasted

Dressing:  Mix all ingredients together and adjust to a pleasing balance of sour, salty, and spicy.
2 Tbs. Lime Juice
2 Tbs. Fish Sauce
1 tsp. Palm sugar (chopped fine)
1-2 Crushed Birds Eye Chilies (optional)

1) Combine Carrot, Onion, & Bell Pepper in a large mixing bowl and toss gently.

2 Add Tomato & and Jalapeno and toss with dressing.

3) Add in fresh cilantro. Serve salad on a lettuce leaf; top with roasted cashews.