Cavatappi with Garlic & Oil, Sauteed Spinach & Cannellini Beans

Sooo, I just came back from a lovely and relaxing week in Nicaragua. I love escaping to Central America for its obvious beauty, but also because the way of life there is totally and completely different from what I’m used to in New York. It’s always bittersweet leaving because the people are such beautiful, happy beings, it is teeming with all sorts of life, and my mind quiets from walking on the beach, swimming in the sea, and hanging in hammocks. Coming back home allows me to reflect as well, and understand the many blessings I have.

Me at pie de gigante
Me at pie de gigante

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Justin surfing Popoyo
Justin surfing Popoyo

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So when I got in last night around midnight, I went to sleep, got up and went to work, and came home today to a very sad and empty refrigerator. I wasn’t about to go food shopping this evening since Roscoe has been greatly missed and needed a much deserved walk on the beach where he could play with all of his dog friends. No need to fret however, since I am quite apt at making a meal in a cinch with what little I have to work with. Since I always have pasta on hand, this is usually an obvious choice for me. Depending on what other ingredients I have plays a role in the type of sauce I can whip up. In this case, apart from the few yellow onions, half of an old avocado, and side door full of condiments, I had one bulb of garlic in my fridge. LIke I said in my Pantry Essential post, I almost always have beans, olive oil, and frozen spinach on hand, and so I blended them together to make a super quick – I mean suuuper quick – and simple sauce for my pasta (or macaroni as I tend to call any kind of pasta).

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I had no intention of creating a post about this dish, but as I was chopping the garlic, I decided the simplicity of it must be shared for those busy bees out there! I should also add that since I make this quite often, I’ve come to my own conclusion that white beans are the absolute best in this dish. The texture works better in this recipe than chickpeas, and its flavor pairs wonderfully with the garlic and oil. As for the spinach, I’ve also used fresh in the past, but tonight’s dinner did not have that option as frozen was all I had.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 box (12 ounces) of cavatappi or pasta of your choice (if you use a 16 ounce box, you may want to increase the oil amount)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tbsp minced/finely chopped garlic (about 1 bulb)
  • 1 can (15.5 ounces) cannellini beans
  • 1 box (10 ounces) frozen, chopped spinach
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

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Steps:

  1. Bring 3 to 4 quarts of salted water to a boil, or enough to cover the pasta.
  2. Add the pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, finely chop the garlic.
  4. Add the extra virgin olive oil to a pan on medium high heat.
  5. Once the oil has heated for about 2 minutes, add the garlic. (You can test the heat of the oil by adding one chopped piece of garlic. It’s hot enough if the oil reacts/sizzles.)
  6. Continue to stir for about 20 seconds before adding the beans, stirring for another 20 seconds before adding the defrosted, wrung out spinach.
  7. Gently sautee for about 2 minutes, before adding crushed red pepper, salt & pepper.
  8. Add a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water to the sauce and stir once.
  9. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, continuing to cook for one minute before removing pan from heat.

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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

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I could definitely have used this soup, say, last month, or even last week, when it was snowing out.  It’s rich, creamy, savory, and perfect for those cozy couch evenings when you just want to wrap yourself in a blanket and cradle a large, warm bowl of soup.

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Well, here in New York, it’s finally getting warmer, so instead of coming home after work, turning the thermostat way up, and taking Roscoe out quickly, I opened all the windows and went for a long walk on the beach with the Roski. He made about seven new friends because everybody seemed to be outside, taking advantage of some beautiful weather – finally. It’s definitely starting to feel like spring – which makes me think of spring cleaning – and what better way to clean our bodies than to nourish ourselves with wholesome, nutritious food?

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Butternut squash is a perfect star to cast in this pretty simple soup; it naturally creates a smooth, buttery texture without adding much to it. This powerhouse vegetable is loaded with plenty of healthy goodness.  Its rich source of dietary fiber helps lower cholesterol, and since it’s packed with antioxidants like beta-carotene (which the body converts to vitamin A), your skin, eyes, and lungs (among others) will thank you. Some other things worth mentioning about this vegetable are that it helps the nervous and immune system, reduces the risk of inflammation, and may lower blood pressure.

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I think Jerry Seinfeld would agree that this is definitely a meal. It isn’t an appetizer kind of soup. It’s hearty, and the addition of pumpkin seeds (or the seeds from the squash) adds an extra boost of plant protein and texture, which I love in any meal.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 (3 to 3.5 pound) butternut squash
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 yellow onion chopped (makes 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme (or 1-2 sprigs, fresh)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • topping: pumpkin seeds and chives (optional)

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut the squash into 1 inch circles; then cut off the skin and remove the pulp and seeds. (I like to save the seeds to roast them later.)
  3. Cut the circles into 1 inch cubes and place on a baking sheet.
  4. Add 1/8 cup of the olive oil to the squash along with the rosemary, thyme and salt and pepper. Toss together and place in the oven for 20 minutes.
  5. Let’s turn to the stove now and begin to prepare the broth.  Place the heat on medium-high.
  6. Heat the remaining oil (1/8 cup) in a large pot.
  7. Add the diced onion and saute until translucent, about 2 minutes, adding a pinch more salt and pepper.
  8. Add the vegetable broth and allow the flavors to blend on medium heat.
  9. After 20 minutes in the oven, remove the squash and add to the broth.
  10. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the squash is tender.
  11. Afterwards, add the cinnamon and nutmeg.
  12. Transfer soup to a blender and blend all ingredients.

Makes 10 cups – bon appétit!

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Sizing Up Smoothies & Juices

Growing up, my mom would make carrot juice everyday. There would be various kinds of carrot juice: carrot and beet, carrot, ginger, and apple, carrot and…you get the point. There was always carrot juice.  She would make me a big glass of it, and I’d either gulp it down super fast or go out on my front porch and pour it onto the grass. And this was how I was introduced to juicing. IMG_7448[1] Over the years, I’ve not only acquired a taste for vegetable juices, but now thoroughly enjoy them.  It could be just me, but I can feel the juice cleaning out my body as I drink it, seriously.  As with many things that are good for you, it takes a little extra time to make – but no more than 15 minutes for everything, from rinsing to chopping to juicing to cleaning. IMG_7438[1] Juicing is a great, arguably the best, way to detox the body. Juicing removes the fiber from the vegetables and fruits, allowing the body to soak up all of the vitamins and minerals without using extra energy needed to break down nutrients. Since the body is “bypassing” the digestion process, the body is able to focus on absorbing all of the goodness from the plants. If you’re looking to be motivated, even if you’ve already seen it, check out the documentary, Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.  Here is a link to the trailer http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/ It’s unbelievable.

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Whereas juicing is limited to vegetables and fruits (I tried spooning in spirulina to my juice once and it was definitely not successful), the art of smoothie making is just that. An art.  The creations that can be done to a smoothie are sometimes awe-inspiring – rainbow layers, granola and chia pudding bases, banana ice cream floaters, the list goes on. For now, the simple smoothie will suffice.

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A smoothie is more substantial because it still contains all of the fiber, making it more of a meal. There are plenty of options to add to your smoothie, too: nuts, seeds, spices, nut milks, nut butters, powders…Smoothies can be jam packed with protein, fiber, complex carbs and healthy fats.

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If you’re scooping in a dollop of yogurt, consider coconut milk yogurt instead. It also has live, active cultures, and it’s delicious, dairy free, and unlike Greek yogurt, it isn’t harmful to the environment. This is one of many articles that explains the harmful role Greek yogurt plays in our environment: http://modernfarmer.com/2013/05/whey-too-much-greek-yogurts-dark-side/

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So whichever you prefer, juicing or drinking smoothies, doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you’ve made a conscious decision to improve your health, which in turn, will improve your happiness : )

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Recipe for Juice shown above:

  • 10 large carrots
  • 2 apples
  • 1/2 large beet
  • 1 inch piece of ginger

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Recipe for Simple Smoothie shown above:

  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1/2 cup spinach
  • 1/2 cup almond milk*
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 Tsp spirulina
  • 1 Tsp acai powder

Add everything together and blend!

*If you don’t have almond milk, increase water to 1 cup.

Tips for juices and smoothies:

Juices –

  • Include stalks/stems when juicing leafy greens.  The juice mostly comes from this area; the leaves usually just wind up in the disposal area.
  • Different vegetables and fruits heal various ailments and conditions.  Research which fruits and veggies are best for your needs, or feel free to contact me.

Smoothies – 

  • Freeze fruits to make a more frosty smoothie – I peel, dice, and freeze bananas, mangoes, and pineapple
  • Be wary of adding bottled fruit juices; even juices that say 100% juice contain flavor packets and sit in factories for months at a time

Happy Drinking! What are some of your favorites to add to juices and smoothies?

Pantry Essentials

With so many healthy food options on the market, it can be quite overwhelming when trying to figure out which foods you should line your kitchen cabinets with.  Chia seeds or flax seeds? Almond milk or soy milk?

image credit: http://chandanadeekshith.com/
image credit: http://chandanadeekshith.com/

The truth is, it’s very easy to spend a lot of money on all of these items, but many of these healthy staples last awhile – like protein powders.  I’ve made a quick bullet list of items that I always have at any given time.  Of course, I tend to go crazy and have some wacky ingredients roaming the shelves of my kitchen, but for the sake of keeping it simple, well…I’ll keep it simple.

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Protein Powders for Smoothies

Many conventional protein powders that can be bought in “health food/vitamin stores” contain some crazy fillers.  Stick with the natural powders.  I order most of these online.  I like:

  • Organic Hemp Protein (Ingredients: Organic hemp protein – catch my drift?)
  • Spirulina – This rich-green colored algae has more protein pound for pound packed into it than any other food, including meat!

Other powders I have that I add to my smoothies are:

  • Acai Powder
  • Cacao Powder (And if this list was in order of taste preference – this would be number 1. I use it a lot – smoothies, desserts, oatmeal, hot chocolate, you name it….But it also has unbelievable health benefits and contains high amounts of antioxidants and magnesium)
  • Maca Powder

*When possible, buy these powders raw and organic.

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Beans and other Legumes

  • Chickpeas/garbanzo beans – My personal favorite.  Besides hummus, I add these to rice, salads, desserts, and my special chickpea “tuna” sandwich which I will share soon, too.
  • Black beans, white beans, kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Split peas
  • Tempeh

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Nuts, Grains & Seeds

  • Almonds
  • Almond meal (flour) – replaces typical flour and is made from just ground up almonds
  • Cashews
  • Walnuts
  • Steel cut oats
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa – A seed, not a grain, is a complete protein because it contains all nine essential amino acids.  For this reason, quinoa is an important food source for those who do not eat meat.
  • Chia seeds – Of all the foods listed on this page, this is the one I use the most.  Chia seeds are extremely versatile; I put them on rice, oatmeal, smoothies, toast, and use them to make pudding and as a substitute for eggs when baking.  These little guys are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and more. Chia seeds can hold up to 10-12 times their weight in liquid.  Because of this reason and other health reasons, I prefer chia seeds to flax seeds. And if we’re comparing chia seeds to dairy, these seeds contain 5 times more calcium than milk.  They deserve their own post because there is an endless amount of information on them.
  • Ezekiel Bread – Speaking of toast, this is the type of bread I buy.  It’s flourless, is made from sprouted whole grains, and is absolutely delicious.  There are a few good brands of this type of bread, just as long as it contains sprouted whole grains.  They’re usually all together in the bakery aisle.

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 Fruits & Vegetables*

  • Avocado – Includes just about every health benefit under the sun; I eat at least one a day – I’m addicted
  • Bananas – Goes into almost every smoothie and many desserts I make
  • Beets – A blood purifier
  • Blueberries – Loaded with antioxidants (I buy frozen when they’re not in season)
  • Carrots – Loaded with vitamins and anti-aging benefits
  • Garlic – Helps fight against infections within the body.  When a recipe calls for one garlic clove, I use close to the entire bulb.  Blame my mother.
  • Ginger – Contains anti-inflammatory properties
  • Lemons/Limes – Cleanses the body from the inside
  • Onions – I use these on a daily basis in sauces, soups, and rice
  • Spinach and Kale – Goes into everything from salads to smoothies to sautes
  • Sweet Potatoes – Loaded with vitamins, fiber, and potassium to name a few

*It really is important to buy certified organic fruits and vegetables; however, it can also be quite expensive.  Though this is not a rule of thumb, many fruits and vegetables that have thin skins are more susceptible to pesticides.

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Spices

  • Turmeric – Contains anti-inflammatory properties
  • Cinnamon
  • Curry – A combination of spices, I add curry to a lot of soups and rice bowls
  • Red Pepper – Helps boost metabolism

quote - enjoy the little things

Miscellaneous

  • Almond Milk (Unsweetened) – I tend to stay away from soy products, like soy milk, unless they’re fermented (like tempeh and miso) and/or do not contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs)
  • Coconut Milk Yogurt – contains live active cultures which helps digestion
  • Dairy-free chocolate chips – great when baking (I use Enjoy Life brand)
  • Earth Balance – replaces butter when you don’t eat dairy (and tastes better)
  • Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Maple Syrup
  • Turbinado Sugar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coconut Pumpkin Risotto

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I eat a lot of brown rice.  I make about 15 cups each time and keep it in the fridge for the week.  Even Roscoe eats rice and beans for dinner every night.  Depending on what I’m in the mood for, I’ll add different things to my rice each night.

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I was looking in the cabinet for coconut milk when I came across pumpkin puree and thought I’d try a little coconut and pumpkin concoction.  I had bought the pumpkin puree thinking that I would use it to try out some cookie recipes, but I guess that will have to wait 😉

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This rice came out perfectly.  It’s the kinda rice that you would eat when you’re out to dinner on vacation, sun-kissed from the day and maybe a little buzzed from the Malibu. It’s creamy, it’s sweet, and it’s savory…and it’s easy.

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Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (13.5 oz.) coconut milk, unsweetened
  • 1.5 cups pumpkin puree, which should only contain 100% pumpkin
  • 1 Tbsp peeled and grated ginger, about a 2 inch piece (or 1/2 tsp ginger spice)
  • 1 Tsp curry
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1/2 Tsp salt

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1. On medium to high heat, heat the oil in the pan for one minute.

2. Then add the diced onions, stirring for about two minutes, or until translucent.

3. Next, stir in the 2 cups of brown rice.

4. Add in the coconut milk, pumpkin puree, water, ginger, curry, and salt.   Whisk together until completely blended.

5. Once this comes to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

6. Gently stir in the peas and beans.  Cover and continue to simmer for 5 minutes.

7. Once the heat is turned off, let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes.

8. Add in the parsley, stir, and enjoy!

Makes 7 cups cooked.

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