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Lemon Risotto

With life being what it is today, both Chef Bill and I are finding it not only easy, but therapeutic, to turn to our outlet-of-choice: cooking! That means whipping up some of the old stand-bys, as well as creating recipes anew.You may remember from my first book, Clean Comfort, and past blogs, I kinda have a thing for Risotto. Always have. I grew up in the 70’s and that meant dinners rife with never-should-have-been-invented convenience foods like Minute Rice. Naturally, when I had my first hypnotic bite, circa age 30, of that creamy wonder known as Risotto, it was a transformational moment.Yes, it’s a simple carb, the kind I usually advise be regulated. And sure, it takes a more time and effort to make, but it’s time I find enjoyable. Some people choose jigsaw or crossword puzzles, or perhaps a game of darts or shooting hoops to elevate into a state of concentrated focus and temporarily leave the world and all its attendant messes behind. I’ve always done this at the stove, and the nature of cooking short-grained Arborio rice requires focus and patience to achieve that magical Goldilocks middle ground of soft but still structured rice. This can take practice and it’s humbling. But that’s another reason I adore Risotto. The hunt for the end-game instills me with a sort of sweaty-browed pride. I have to work for the reward. Sometimes, the outcome has been less than stellar, but it only serves to sharpen my skills and infuse me with resolve for the next venture.With this extended time we all have at home, what better opportunity to give a Risotto recipe a go? Truth be told, as a writer who works from home and have for years, my life isn’t all that different now as it is for some, but I still consider the imposed slowdown a gift. I appreciate my home more than ever, I savor each meal, as well as each can and jar in our pantry. And when I created this new lemon-infused riff on the Italian standard, it reminded me it was time to follow the lead of so many inspiring citizens of the world I’ve seen since things have shifted into an unignorably intense gear: it’s time to step up the sharing and caring…in whatever way I can. A new recipe’s a nourishing start, and I hope you not only enjoy it, but find the process a pleasant distraction.If not for my evergreen love of butter, this would be a flawless vegan recipe. And if you want it to be, simply use a vegan margarine or vegetable oil of choice. Where heavy cream once rocked my world, there is now coconut milk. The addition of coconut milk makes the dish even more creamy and because only one can is called for, there’s no overwhelming coconut taste.

The Art of Being Vulnerable

We all have it. A soundtrack from our childhood. At no time was that soundtrack more embedded into my longterm memory than during my 7-week sojourn at summer camp, a yearly adventure which took place from 1971-1978.

The counselors all had transistor radios in their quarters – rabbit-eared lifelines to the outside world as well as the cherished Top 40 loop. Listening to pop songs both quelled and aggravated homesickness, but overall, I was grateful for the music. Especially the really good stuff.

And like all great music, it stands the test of time irrefutably. I could pick at least a dozen songs I loved from back in the day, but Melissa Manchester’s 1975 ode to vulnerability remains a song that both dazzles me and puts a lump in my throat. Melancholy and hopeful at the same time, the lyrics, though probably intended as a romantic overture, seamlessly apply to any intimate relationship run aground where the heart is invested. Never heard of it? That’s OK kids. Take a listen and hang on to your hats – and maybe a tissue. “Midnight Blue” is from the era when it mattered not what a singer looked like or how risqué her burlesque act was. The currency of the day during the ’70s was channeling the essence of your soul into the microphone.

As I listened to “Midnight Blue” again recently, letting the chords bring me back to a place that no longer exists, I realized something: everything I need to know about vulnerability, I’ve learned from the songwriting team of Melissa Manchester and Carole Bayer Sager. Throughout the song, Manchester remains boldly honest as she explains, unapologetically, that she wants continuity in a relationship. She values the other enough to, well, admit it out loud.

I’ve spent the better part of my adulthood recovering from my childhood. What that’s meant for my relationships is a lot of ups and downs. Many moons ago, I possessed a simmering mistrust of people that bordered on hatred, and it had been earned. There weren’t many people in my corner during my formative years. As an unconscious means of self-preservation, I tried to quit humans, many a time. Dogs were better…OK, they still are. But as innocent and unconditionally loving as canines may be, they’re still not my species.

Grudgingly, I had to admit that maybe it’d be in my best interest to make peace with people. That maybe I even n-n-n-need them. Yes, Virginia, I do need connection with other humans. As fraught with risk as it is, it’s crucial to emotional wellbeing – like it or not. It was a learning process to accept we’re all imperfect. Forget Hollywood and the corny scripts of perfectly curated dialog and sunny scenarios abounding. This is real life and as such, human intimacy means both inhaling the fragrance of a rose and getting punctured by its thorns.



Troubled waters, tensions, and disagreements aren’t relegated only to romantic liaisons. There are so many variables when two humans decide to join forces: DNA patterns, personality types, and family history to name a few. Whether it’s in friendship, blood-relations, romance, or in business, relationships can get messy. There’s no varietal of relationship conflict this song can’t be applied to:

* Mother-daughter tensions – check

* Sibling rivalry – check

* Friendship worn down by lack of proper maintenance – check

* Rift with a co-worker because of a conniving boss who loves being subversive – check

When the boat gets rocked, the answer isn’t to throw a relationship away or passive-aggressively neglect until it dies a natural death. Nope, if it’s an alliance worth saving, I’m now brave enough to say so.

#Wellness #SacredSunday

Beef Bourguignon – The Perfect Wintery Mix

Something happens when I hear the local meteorologist warn the masses of an impending wintery mix. Immediately, the announcement elicits a response in my brain synapses to head to the stove and cook something warm and comforting, preferably within the indestructible confines of a 20-pound enamel pot.

Most of the time I’ll concoct a lentil-based soup or stew, and why not? The varieties of dried beans are many and the pairing possibilities with vegetables, healthy grains, and spices are endless.  And lentils are some of the most fiber-rich and nutrient-dense foods on earth, able to please the vegan and omnivore in equal measure. Free-form invention of soup is my strength. But when I crave the time-honored classic Beef Bourguignon and its to-the-letter preparation protocol, I let Chef Bill take the wheel. Adhering to classic recipe methodology is his strength and he does it with panache.

You don’t have to be a trained chef to give this satisfying stew, made famous in our country by Julia Child. But you do have to peruse the recipe ahead of time and simply follow the steps accordingly. It’s a little more time-consuming than most stew recipes, but so worth the effort. The recipe we used for our most recent bourguignon foray was inspired by Ina Garten, cookbook doyenne of the Barefoot Contessa series and Food Network star who refuses to submit to the network’s relay-race cooking obsession. Check out her books and her shows, they’re a joy to watch.

Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait for a snowstorm to thoroughly enjoy this Beef Bourguignon recipe, but it definitely adds to the ambiance.

Beef Bourguignon

Serves 6

Ingredients:

1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ pound high-quality smoked bacon, diced

2 ½ pounds of beef (preferably quality sirloin), cut into 1-inch cubes



kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

1 pound of carrots , peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 medium yellow onions, cut in half and sliced thinly

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

½ cup cognac or brandy

1 750-ml bottle of dry burgundy

2 cups beef broth

2 tablespoons tomato paste



1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour or corn starch

1 pound mushrooms, any variety, sliced thickly

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound of pearl onions



Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees

In a large enamel dutch oven, heat olive oil and bacon over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until the bacon is slightly browned, not crisp.

Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer bacon to a plate. Salt and pepper the beef cubes and add to the pot (leave bacon grease in). Sear over medium heat in batches if necessary for even cooking until just browned on all sides.  Transfer the beef with a slotted spoon to the plate with the cooked bacon pieces.

Add the carrots and sliced onions to the pot with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons of pepper.

Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until evenly browned. Add extra olive oil if necessary.  Add garlic and cook for one more minute. Carefully add the cognac, standing back from the stove as it may momentarily ignite. If there is a flame, when it dies down, stir so the alcohol evaporates as it cooks. Add the meat and bacon back to the mixture, and the entire bottle of burgundy, along with the beef broth. Stir in the tomato paste and thyme and bring to a simmer.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and place in the oven for 1 ¼ hours.

While the stew is braising in the oven, saute the mushrooms in two tablespoons of unsalted butter until just softened and set aside. In a small bowl, mix the four tablespoons of softened butter with the flour with a fork until it’s a smooth paste. Set aside.  After the allotted baking time, remove pot oven from the oven. Carefully remove lid and stir in butter/flour mixture with a spoon until blended. Add mushrooms, pearl onions, and thyme. Simmer on stove-top covered for an additional 15 minutes.

This is traditionally served over slices of toasted baguette. Variations can include brown rice, wide noodles, or roasted potatoes.



Warming the Soul

Some of you know how fond I am of warm drinks. Even during summer months, I sip tea or hot water. Part of it is my Kapha constitution. It dictates, as one in possession of a sluggish metabolism, that hot liquids serve me best, as the heat encourages the revving of the body’s digestive engines, as opposed to cold drinks, which all but bring it to a grinding halt.

But I suspect even those who lean towards the Vata or Pita constitutions enjoy, even seek out, warm drinks this time of year. With their warming properties, a hot drink is just plain comforting. And if you’re selective with the ingredients, they can be nourishing as well.

Case in point: the recipes below. The first is my remade riff on the winter staple hot chocolate, only my version removes potentially irritating elements such as sugar and dairy and replaces it with sweet alternatives such as honey or carb-free substitutes such as Monk Fruit or Stevia if you’re watching your glycemic index. Then there’s my favorite bedtime drink: the turmeric latte. And the newest kid on the block: a gently spiced latte with a hint of vegan creaminess, thanks to the addition of nut butter.

Sure, it doesn’t hurt that the average temperature in my neighborhood these days is 25 degrees, but I realize there’s another reason I love cradling a mug of aromatic latte, it’s a beautiful time out. Even when I’m too busy to sit down, when I prepare a frothy, delicious treat for myself, I’ve offered up to my psyche the non-verbal cue that I’m worth the TLC. I stop. I sip. I even breathe a little more leisurely when partaking in this adored ritual.

The idea of slowing down and getting cozy with a mug is universally appealing, but in Denmark it’s a way of life. Literally. The Danes make time every day for the esteemed, low-tech time-out known as “Hygge.” Family and friends gather, coffee or tea is poured, and conversation ensues. There are no hard and fast rules for Hygge (the Danish word for hug). Candles, food, music, or a gently crackling fire in the fireplace are wonderful additions. And it’s this Danish phenomenon that some researchers cite as the reason Denmark often ranks No. 1 as the happiest nation on earth.

Even though Hygge traditionally involves a gathering, I often do Hygge for one with a book or some soft music playing in the background. Add a warm, nutrition-boosting drink and I’m set. It’s these cozy interludes that are getting me through winter…and winter hasn’t even officially begun yet.

Clean Hot Chocolate

Serves 1

Ingredients:

8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk (or vegan milk of choice)

2 teaspoons – 1 tablespoon raw cacao or baking cocoa (depending on how deep you prefer the strength of your chocolate level.

1-2 teaspoons of honey or maple syrup or low-glycemic sweetener

optional: a dash of cinnamon

optional: to infuse with protein, add a scoop of vanilla or chocolate protein powder

Instructions:

In a small metal saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wire whisk. Heat until hot, but not simmering. Add cacao powder, sweetener, and other ingredients, if desired. Whisk vigorously until all ingredients are dissolved and blended. Serve immediately.

Turmeric Latte

Serves 1

Turmeric is a brightly-colored super-spice, lauded for its anti-inflammation properties. It has a pungent taste, which I like to temper with a bit of honey or maple syrup. The color of this latte always brightens my mood.

Ingredients:

8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk (or vegan milk of choice)

½ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Instructions:

In a small metal saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wire whisk. Heat until hot, but not simmering. Add spices and honey and whisk until smooth. Serve immediately.

Creamy White Latte

Serves one

One of my favorite blogs on Ayurveda is Claire Ragozzino’s Vidya Living. It’s full of healthy lifestyle tips and recipes based on the seasons and the differing needs of each of the dosha types. Claire’s recipe archive is where I got the idea for this drink, though I have to admit, I’ve been out of Tahini and haven’t tracked down a new jar yet, hence, the use of cashew butter instead. I love the smoothness of this drink, but it will require a blender.

Ingredients:

8 ounces of unsweetened almond milk (or vegan milk of choice)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon cardamom

1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup

1 tablespoon cashew butter (or Tahini)

A few drops of vanilla or dash of vanilla powder

Instructions:

In a small metal saucepan, heat milk over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally with a wire whisk. Heat until hot, but not simmering. Add spices and honey, cashew butter or Tahini, and vanilla. Whisk until smooth. Transfer to a blender and cover tightly, holding the top down with a thick dishcloth before blending on medium speed for 10 seconds. Serve immediately.

Turkey Tetrazzini

If you're awash in leftover turkey from last week, don't despair! I share with you one of my favorite ways to alchemize Thanksgiving leftovers into something a little more exotic.

Turkey Tetrazzini has long been a family favorite. It's creamy, comforting, and hassle-free.

Don't know what it is? Just think of it as the turkey version of a tuna casserole: leftovers simmering in a creamy roux with a few vegetables and the comforting touch of noodles. There's a little prep-work involved but the employment of frozen vegetables makes this a super-easy dinner to pull off. This, of course, works well with chicken. And if you don't have leftover turkey, just go out and get a hunk of breast meat from the supermarket and dice it. Sometimes it's sold pre-cooked. Even easier! Hope you give this a try:

This one is for Great Lakes Collagen: