I’m happiest spending time in the kitchen. When you cook, you create a sense of home and place, you explore new ideas and cultures and revisit those that are special to you. You also nourish—in the most basic way—the important people in your life.
I spent much of my life living a pretty unhealthy, junk-food-centric lifestyle. Once I took the time to cook and rekindled a love of homemade food, my passion for making healthy food taste good led me to a career in culinary and wellness education. I am now a Mayo Clinic-certified health coach and an experienced cooking instructor.
Here is what is so exciting to me: Food that is good for you can taste amazing. It’s all about the right balance of flavors, textures and spices. Now that I have a family (a gorgeous husband, a wild and crazy preschooler and another child due very soon), I see how important home-cooked meals are for all of us. Energy, good health, the love of flavor, a sense of togetherness—all these are things that I convey to my family through my kitchen.
The recipes I’m sharing here have meaning for me. The zacusca is a favorite in my husband’s home country of Romania. (I should note versions are available in many countries.) A bite of it always takes me back to the first few times I visited him there. I instantly fell in love—with both the food and the man.
The arugula salad is bright and surprising, a reminder that creativity in the kitchen can be achieved simply with few ingredients that are probably already on hand.
In cooking classes and in my wellness coaching, a surprisingly common question is how to cook fish. Perhaps it is due to the lack of Kansas and Missouri coastline, or maybe it’s due to the increasingly good press on how healthy fish is. Either way, this recipe is one that I always share. Delicious, showy on a dinner table and really quite foolproof, it’s a great way to start going down the path of seafood cookery.
My mother has been making crêpes every Christmas morning since she was in 7th grade. Every time I make them it takes me back to happy family mornings. And as for the homemade chocolate hazelnut spread, well—nothing could be wrong with that!
This vegetable spread goes by many names in many countries. It preserves the sunshine for consumption year round and not only makes a great party dish, but a wonderful quickie vegetarian meal over pasta or rice.
Zacusca (Za-koo-ska) Hummus’ Second Cousin
Makes 2 ¼ cups
1 large fresh eggplant (Or one 15-ounce can pre-roasted eggplant. Yes, my short-cutting friends, that does exist!)
2 large red bell peppers (Or one 8-ounce jar roasted red peppers, rinsed. See, I can make things easy!)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 large fresh tomatoes or 15 ounce can of tomatoes
If using a fresh eggplant, pierce several times with a fork and roast on a sheet pan in a 450-degree oven until completely soft (like a giant raisin), about 25 to 35 minutes. At the same time roast the peppers by cutting in half, removing the seeds and ribs, coating with oil. Place on a sheet pan and roast until skins are blackened, about 30 minutes. Immediately peel the skins off of the peppers and eggplant.
While the eggplants and peppers are roasting, dice the onion. In a large, heavy pot, over medium-low heat, sauté chopped onions in olive oil for about four minutes. Add the eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Cook until it becomes a thick paste, about 20 minutes. Mash the mixture with a potato masher, immersion blender, or throw it in the food processor. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. You may can this for later or enjoy it right away as a spread on bread, pita chips or crackers.
Warm Arugula Salad with Ceci & Carrots
1/3 cup olive oil
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
8 ounces fresh arugula (Or spinach for the arugula haters.)
1-1/2 cups cooked ceci beans (Chickpeas, garbanzo beans—so many names for one little bean.)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Sauté the carrots and caraway seeds for five minutes on medium heat. Add the greens and the ceci beans and cook six more minutes to wilt the greens. Add the garlic, herbs, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. To serve, pile on to plates and season with salt, pepper and more olive oil if desired.
Roasted Shrimp with Potatoes
3 pounds red or white skinned potatoes
6 cloves garlic
2 shallots (or one large onion)
1/4 cup olive oil
1-1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (Other seafood can be substituted or added, salmon, white fish, scallops, lobster tails, etc.)
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bunch parsley, chopped
3-4 scallions, chopped
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Slice potatoes into large wedges. Peel the shallots or onion and slice into wedges. Slice the lemon into wedges. Peel the garlic cloves and leave whole. Put the potatoes, lemons, garlic cloves, shallots or onions, salt and pepper into a roasting pan with
2 tablespoons of the olive oil and toss. Roast for 40 minutes in the oven. Make sure to check every 15 minutes or so to make sure it isn’t burning. Give it a toss if the bottom cooks a little faster than the tops.
After 40 minutes, take the pan out of the oven. Arrange shrimp over the roasted potato/onion mixture. Splash the remaining two tablespoons of oil and the wine on everything, then add a little more salt and pepper.
Put the roasting pan back in the oven for 10-15 minutes. When it’s done the shrimp are pink and opaque but still tender. Sprinkle with parsley and scallions and serve immediately.
Makes 8 to 9 crêpes
2 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup bleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter melted (optional)
Extra melted butter or oil to coat pan
Mix all ingredients in a blender or bowl with a whisk until smooth batter is formed. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brush the pan with melted oil or butter, which should sizzle when it hits pan. Pour 1/4 cup batter into pan and swirl the pan to coat evenly.
Cook until the crêpe is mottled brown on the bottom, loosening it from the pan with a rubber spatula or crêpe spatula. Flip loosened crêpes quickly. Cook until spotty brown on other side, about 30 seconds longer. Place cooked crêpes on plate and repeat cooking process with remaining batter, brushing pan with oil or butter every two to three crêpes. (Crêpes can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 3 days, or frozen up to 2 months.)
So much more flavor and texture and healthier than store-bought! Feel free to use different nuts. This is also a great recipe for nut butters if you leave out the cocoa.
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
1-1/2 cups hazelnuts (traditional) or almonds (equally lovely)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/2 – 2/3 cup powdered sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons hazelnut or walnut oil, or a neutral oil
Place toasted and skinned nuts in a food processor. Process until the nuts turn into a smooth paste. (You may need to scrape the bowl a few times so all the nuts get ground up evenly. This takes a few minutes).
When the nuts have been processed into hazelnut butter, add the sugar, cocoa and salt. Process again until smooth.
Add the oil and process once more. It should now have a spreadable consistency.
Transfer your chocolate hazelnut spread to an airtight container. Storing it in the refrigerator will make it harden up and it won’t be easy to spread, but that’s the best place to store it if you want it to last awhile. If you think it will get eaten up in a few days, you can store it at room temperature. This is great with some sliced bananas on a crêpe.
There was a time when the only vegetable Rachel Ciordas could be associated with was a couch potato. After embracing cooking and eating real food, she lost 100 pounds. When she realized how amazing she felt and how much fun she had in the kitchen she pursued a career as a culinary instructor and certified health coach. She started her business This One Bite (thisonebite.com) to share the energy and deliciousness. She spends the rest of her time with her growing family, strategizing ways to travel and expand her palate. (Over 30 countries down, with the whole world left to go!)