How to Make Insta-Worthy Avocado Toast

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Last year at Eat Retreat, I found myself in a car, on my way to a vineyard, talking about toast. Yes, as in, toasted bread. The conversation turned to the popularity of cupcakes, doughnuts and most recently, the cronut. We all agreed there was room for a new trend in town. Thanks to bakeries like The Mill in SF and cafes such as Sqirl in LA, there is a legitimate artisan bread movement going on. And the best way to enjoy bread? Toasted, with lots of toppings. My pal Trisha has a lot to say about it here. Whether is marion berry jam (Portlandia, anyone?) or cultured butter and flaky sea salt, toast is getting a major upgrade. My favorite way to enjoy it? With avocado, of course. While there’s nothing wrong with smashing a ripe avocado on toast, there’s something so right about taking it to the next level.

And here we go.

Start by toasting your bread. What kind of bread? The ultimate (in my book) is thick-cut sourdough. Something with a crisp crust and chewy middle. Try and cut it yourself, if you can. I also love a super-thin Danish rye. I don’t have a toaster so I use my broiler and give the bread a flip halfway through. You want a golden, crisp edge. Give it time. While the bread toasts, ready your avocado. You want to make sure the avocado is green under it’s stem. Go ahead, give it a peak when you’re at the store. When ripe, the avo will be pretty soft, like a ripe peach. Cut it like this. Using a fork, scoop about half the avo onto the toast, using the fork tines to spread and smash. It’s all about the fork-smash. At this point, get creative. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is a must. Give it some heat with fresh cracked pepper, Aleppo pepper, Szechuan pepper, whatever you like most. Hot sauce (I like chipotle Cholula) or sriracha is also delicious. Bonus points for out-of-the box toppings like black sesame seeds, wasabi powder, feta, smoked salmon, toasted sunflower seeds, chia, dried cranberries or hemp. A light sprinkle of soft herbs, baby arugula or micro greens ups the ante (and nutrition). A squeeze of lemon is never out of place. For the ultimate, put an egg on it. And don’t forget to take a picture. #avocadotoast

Game-changing combos:

  • Avo + dark rye + hot smoked salmon + dill + chives + lemon
  • Avo + sourdough + heirloom tomato (when in season, of course) + bacon + scallion
  • Avo + toasted pita + dukkah + feta
  • Avo + tamari rice cake + thin sliced cucumber + sriracha + Togarashi seasoning

Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

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A recent NYMag.com headline stated: “America Hits the Pumpkin Spice Saturation Point”. They’ve got a point. If you’ve been to Trader Joe’s in the past two months, you’ll notice the PS (pardon the abbrev) domination in all manner of prepared foods. From beer to baking mix and frankly, All The Carbs, food marketers have jumped on the PS bandwagon and they’re not getting off.

The pumpkin squash, in itself, is not super flavorful. But when combined with cinnamon-spice and everything nice, it becomes an obsession. In an effort to stay as true to it’s roots (pumpkin pie, remember that?), this granola hits all of fall’s high points. Maple syrup, toasty oats and warming spices create a simple topper for yogurt, ice cream or simply stuffed in your face by the handful (…ahem…) I stopped buying cereal regularly a few years ago, so this tasted liked heaven to me with some almond milk and banana. I got in the habit of adding quinoa to my granola after I ran out of sesame seeds one day. Granola is really a blank canvas for anything lurking in your pantry – so add those sesame seeds, or pumpkin seeds, or dried cranberries. Don’t be afraid of the olive oil here, it’s not going to taste like salad. This recipe can be doubled (or tripled!) and lasts for about a month.

Maple Pumpkin Spice Quinoa Granola

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel)
  • 3/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or make your own)
  • 1/3 cup uncooked quinoa (any color)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/3 cup chopped nuts or seeds (optional)
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit (optional)

Heat oven to 325F. In a large bowl, whisk oil, maple syrup, pumpkin, salt and spices. Stir in quinoa and oats until evening coated. Spread onto a large parchment-lined rimmed sheet tray. Bake for about 30-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so. If you’re using nuts or seeds, add them in the last 10 minutes so they toast. Remove from oven and press down on granola with the back of a spatula. Sprinkle on dried fruit, if you’re using it. Allow to cool completely before breaking up into chunks.

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

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Full disclosure: this is not a post about tacos. Yes, these tacos are the bomb-dot-com (does anyone say that anymore?) They happen to be vegan, gluten free and yes, really, really delicious for carb-eating carnivores as well. They take about 30 minutes start to finish. They are also cheap economical and are satisfying enough that you *may* forgo that after-dinner trip back to the kitchen for a brownie. But again, this is not about the tacos.

In an effort to create some balance in my life, I’ve signed up for my fifth (count ’em) half marathon. On May 17th I will be making the 13.1 trip from The Brooklyn Public Library to Coney Island. I can’t help but get nostalgic for my first borough. Jogging in Prospect Park, trekking to the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket – I’ll be running through my past, literally. In the next couple months, I’ll be sharing with you a bit about my training, more specifically what’s fueling me. While I’ve made a career out of cooking for and teaching others, my everyday eating is a lot more pared down and purposeful. Get ready for hearty salads, soups, oatmeal-y breakfasts and lots and lots of green things. Yes, there will be kale (obviously), but also chocolate, more protein-heavy recipes than I’ve shared before and simple snacks I like to keep around.

Let’s do this thing!

Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos with Pickled Red Onion

Makes 8 tacos

Tacos:

  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 medium orange sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chili powder
  • 2 cups black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sliced avocado, cilantro and lime, for serving
  • Hot sauce (optional)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Pickled Red Onions:

  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced

For the tacos: place the poblano pepper under the broiler in your oven and turn occasionally, charring on all sides, about 5 minutes. Alternately, char the poblano directly over a gas flame on your stove. Place the pepper in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap to steam for about 20 minutes. Using a paper towel, wipe off the charred skin, take out the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Add the onions and cook for about 5 minutes until transluscent. Season with salt. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more, stirring constantly (careful not to burn the garlic). Add the chopped poblano, sweet potatoes and spices. Season with salt and give it a stir. Cover, lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 15-20 minutes, checking periodically and adding a little water if the mixture is sticking to the pan. Cook until sweet potatoes are soft. Taste and season.

While the sweet potato mixture cooks, make the pickled onions. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar and salt, stirring over medium heat to dissolve. Bring the mixture to a boil, add onions and turn off heat. Allow the onions to ‘steep’ in the vinegar mixture until softened.

Add black beans and stir well. Cover and cook 5 minutes more until warmed through. Heat tortillas over and open flame to char the edges a bit or wrapped in foil in the oven until warm.

To assemble tacos, fill each tortilla with a spoonful of filling, cilantro, avocado, a few pickled onions and a squeeze of lime. These have a good kick, but add more hot sauce if you like things really spicy.

The pickled onions may be made in advance and can be stored in the fridge for about a month.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

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I make some variation on this dish just about once a week. A grain-based, lettuce-less salad is perfect for long-day, late night dinners or work lunches. The idea of using your pantry and supplementing with fresh ingredients works for me. Believe it or not, I don’t reinvent the wheel each night for dinner. Nope. Not even close. I do, however, keep a laundry list of staples on hand as building blocks for meals. Grains, beans, dried fruit, toasty nuts and herbs, herbs, herbs keep things fresh. For this salad, I combined quinoa with tart red plums (a recent discovery from Sahadi’s), scallions, a handful of herbs and (leftover) roasted cauliflower. It was part fridge clean-out, part Balaboosta-wannabe, all together delicious.

Quinoa with Red Plums, Thyme and Crispy Cauliflower

Makes about 4 cups

  • 1/2 medium head cauliflower, tough stems removed and cut into small florets
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup white quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 16 ounces water or chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • Handful dried red plums, chopped (can substitute dried cranberries)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Fresh black pepper

Heat oven to 425F.

Place cauliflower on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and toss with about 3 tablespoons of olive oil (3 swirls of the pan). Season with a good 3-fingered pinch of salt. Roast cauliflower in heated oven, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crispy-edged, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine quinoa, water or stock and a good pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes until water is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to steam, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with fork.

In a large bowl, combine the scallions and dried plums. Add quinoa and allow it’s warmth to soften up the dried fruit. Fold in scallions and cauliflower. Add enough lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil until it tastes good. Delicious eaten warm, room temperature or cold.

Spiced and Iced Hibiscus Tea (Agua de Jamaica)

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I was recently gifted with a very large bag of dried hibiscus blossoms. When I say gifted, I mean lifted from the ‘grab table’ on set. Dark and shriveled, it’s hard to believe they’re the same flowers in a Hawaiian lei.

I love hibiscus ‘Jamaica’, the magenta punch served in Latin American restaurants. At Tortaria near Union Square, they have a huge jug of it alongside horchata. And I have a special place in my heart for the hibiscus doughnut at Dough in Brooklyn. It’s one of those things that tastes as good as it looks, perhaps better.

I discovered (re: Googled) that brewed hibiscus is actually a global drink, with variations in Egypt, the Middle East, West Africa, the Philippines, Thailand, the Caribbean and even Italy. Who knew? My version is cold-brewed with black tea and mulling spices leftover from the holidays. Don’t worry, it won’t taste like liquid potpourri, the spices are actually very subtle. Be warned: hibiscus is quite tart, like cranberry juice, so sweeten accordingly. It also makes a great base for a rum cocktail. Just saying.

Spiced and Iced Hibiscus Tea

  • 2 quarts water
  • 5 tea bags (any type, I used black tea)
  • 1/2 cup dried hibiscus blossoms
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 orange, sliced, divided
  • Simple syrup, to taste*

Directions

  1. Combine the water, tea bags, hibiscus blossoms, cinnamon stick, star anise and half of the orange slices in a large pitcher or jar. Cover and chill overnight.
  2. Strain and serve over ice, garnished with remaining orange slices. Sweeten with simple syrup, if desired.

*Simple syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Allow to cool before mixing into tea or coffee.

Shirazi Salad

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I have a high devotion to Dinosaur BBQ. They originated in Central New York, where I grew up, and no early summer gathering was complete without it. Pulled pork, honey hush cornbread, tangy/sweet baked beans…yeah, you get the picture. One of the unsung heroes at Dino was their Tomato-Cucumber Salad. You see, with all that pork fat, butter and brown sugar, you need something fresh and acidic to balance it out. A BBQ palate cleanser, if you will.

This Persian-inspired salad in the same vein, but brightened up with fresh herbs, lime juice and sumac. Never worked with sumac? It’s a wonderful ruby red herb popular in Middle Eastern cooking. It adds a unique fruity tartness to meat, veggies and grains (try it sprinkled over hummus). It’s just the thing to add like to early season tomatoes and cucumbers. I have big plans on making this salad all summer with grilled lamb and chicken kebabs. And maybe some of that honey hush cornbread.

Shirazi Salad

Inspired by The New Persian Kitchen  by Louisa Shafia

Serves 4

  • 5 Persian cucumbers, diced
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 teaspoons dried spearmint
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives or scallions
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground sumac (optional)

In a large bowl, combine the cucumbers, tomato, dried and fresh mint and chives. Add lime juice, olive oil and salt to taste. Sprinkle with sumac before serving.

Miso-Lime Noodle Bowl with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

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Isn’t it weird how you get in certain habits with food? You find yourself eating the same breakfast, going to the same coffee shop or reaching for chocolate at the same time each day (I don’t know about you, but it happens at around 3pm for me.) While I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater and cook, I have my old standbys. I will never turn down a trip to Westville. I eat Greek yogurt almost every day. And kale? I still can’t get enough of it. I’m a creature of {healthy} habits.

Sometimes, I feel the urge to break out of  my comfort zone. Why not start with dinner? Pasta is a major go-to for me and many of my personal chef clients. After a long day of work, it’s just the thing. While I love an Italian pasta carbonara, Asian noodle dishes are becoming a new habit for me these days. The trick? I keep a few key staples around. Scallions, ginger and garlic are the starting point for countless noodle variations. Invest in a container of good miso, a bottle of tamari or soy sauce and some type of hot sauce or chile paste. Chances are you’ve made a stir fry before. See? You’re already halfway outside the box.

Miso-Lime Noodle Bowl with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

Serves 1-2

1 nest instant rice vermicelli or soba noodles*
1 teaspoon vegetable or coconut oil
2 scallions, finely sliced, white and green parts separated
1/2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
5 shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
2 heads baby bok choy, chopped
Miso-Lime Sauce
2 teaspoons white miso
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 lime, juiced
Gochujang* to taste (or another hot sauce/paste)
Sesame seeds and Korean chile flakes, for garnish (optional)

If you are using instant rice noodles, place a nest/bundle of noodles in a bowl, cover with boiling water and a plate or lid and set aside. If you are using soba or another type of noodle, boil according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add white part of scallion, ginger and garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant (be careful not to burn the garlic.) Add the shiitakes and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bok choy and cook until wilted, another few minutes. Add a couple drops of water or stock if the veggies start to stick. In a small bowl, combine the miso, tamari, lime juice and hot sauce/paste of choice, to taste. Drain your noodles and add them to the veggie mixture, along with the sauce. Toss to combine. Serve with green scallions, sesame seeds, Korean chile flakes or hot sauce and a squeeze of lime juice.

*Look for rice vermicelli noodles in the Asian section of the grocery store. You can sub in any type of noodle you prefer (I use buckwheat soba a lot).

*Gochujang is a fermented Korean chile paste . It has a nice balance of heat and a bit of sweetness.

Maple-Olive Oil Granola

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I’ve been on a granola-making spree for months now. While my old recipe was good, it was a bit ingredient-heavy and frankly not the best it could me. Enter: Early Bird Granola. This farm market favorite has earned a massive cult-like following, with a price tag to match. Yes, it’s delicious, but in the spirit of DIY (and in an effort to save a bit of cash), I make my own version based on this method from The Kitchn.

‘Olive oil?’ you say. Believe it. The subtle fruitiness of olive oil lends a really interesting depth when combined with pure maple syrup and a heavy pinch of salt. It’s a bit sophisticated; it’s a granola that belongs on dollops of tangy Greek yogurt with winter fruit compote than, say, nonfat key lime Yoplait.

The best part is its’ versatility – you can use any combination of nuts, seeds and dried fruit you like. Let me know what variations you create!

Maple-Olive Oil Granola with Hazelnuts & Cherries

3 cups old-fashion rolled oats (NOT quick oats)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
3/4 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried fruit*, roughly chopped (I used cherries)
1/3 cup seeds*, toasted (I used pumpkin seeds)
1/2 cup nuts*, toasted and chopped (I used hazelnuts)

  1. Heat oven to 350F. In a large bowl, mix the oats, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Stir in the olive oil, maple syrup and vanilla.
  2. Spread the granola out on a parchment-lined rimmed sheet pan. Bake for about 30-40 minutes, stirring every so often for even color until light brown and toasty (mixture may appear a bit wet, this is OK).
  3. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
  4. Meanwhile, toast the nuts/seeds. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350F until light brown, about 10 minutes (watch them so they don’t burn!)
  5. Transfer cooled granola in a large bowl, breaking up large pieces into chunks. Gently fold in the dried fruit and toasted nuts and seeds. Store in an airtight container for about 10 days (or in the fridge for about a month).

*You can add any combination of fruit/nuts you like. I love working with dried figs, cranberries, golden raisins and apricots. Almonds, walnuts, pecans and even cashews are all welcome additions. I often throw in some sesame seeds, too, for even more crispiness. I’m working on a cacao-nib & coconut oil version…stay tuned.

Quinoa Pilaf with Garam Masala

When people ask me what I do in my “day job”, I tell them I cook a lot of quinoa and saute a ton of kale. These two superfoods are favorites among busy New Yorkers who need their food to multitask. Quinoa, in particular, is a powerhouse. It’s a complete source of protein, naturally gluten free and versatile, easily subbing for couscous or run-of-the-mill rice. I like using it as a base for an Indian-inspired pilaf with toasted spices, plump raisins and a little crunch from carrots and almonds. It’s delicious served warm or cold  and makes a great lunch or light dinner (throw in some chickpeas for a bit more staying power). Now, time to tackle that kale…

Quinoa Pilaf with Garam Masala

Makes about 4 cups cooked quinoa

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 small carrots, diced
1 teaspoon garam masala*
1/4 teaspoon tumeric
1 cup quinoa (I used a mix of red and white quinoa)
2 cups water or broth
1/4 cup golden raisins (or another type of dried fruit)
1/4 cup toasted almonds, chopped (or another type of nut)
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful parsley, chopped
Salt, to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the shallot and carrots and sweat, about 5 minutes. Add the garam masala and tumeric and stir, toasting the spices until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the quinoa, a large pinch of salt and water (or broth). Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes or until most of the water is absorbed (use a fork to check). Remove from heat, add raisins and re-cover. After about 5 minutes, remove lid and fluff quinoa with a fork. Gently fold in the toasted almonds and parsley. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

*Garam masala is an Indian spice blend. It can be found at spice shops (like Kalustyans) and at most large grocery stores (like Whole Foods). It’s simple to make your own. Combine 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground pepper, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Try tossing with veggies like sweet potatoes or cauliflower before roasting or as a spice rub for chicken, fish or pork. I’ve also been known to add a pinch to apple sauce.

Autumn Salads

While I love the tomato, basil and mozzarella-flecked salads of summer, I look forward to the rough-and-tough meals of autumn.  The cooler weather gives you license to crank the oven and roast, my favorite method for preparing hearty fall vegetables.

Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, squash, cauliflower – they all benefit at 425F. To make dinner happen quicker, roast off a couple trays of veggies on the weekend: toss chopped/sliced veggies with a bit of olive oil and salt. Spread out on a baking sheet (lined with parchment, if you have it). Roast at 425F until golden brown (depending on your veggie, about 15 minutes). When you get home from work, toss room temp or gently warmed veggies with salad greens, dressing and an “extra” or two like crumbly cheese, toasted nuts or beans. If you like the contrast of sweet and salty, here’s your chance to add thinly sliced apple, pear or dried fruit.

A few of my favorite combinations this fall (all with baby chard, kale and spinach greens and my favorite vinaigrette, recipe below):

Roasted acorn squash, Parmesan, apple

 

Roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, avocado

Roasted sweet potato and  {orange} cauliflower, pickled shallot

Cider Vinaigrette
In a jar, combine 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced shallot, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, a splash of apple cider and 6 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of hazelnut oil and grapeseed oil, but a not-too-intense olive oil works, too). Shake it up. Add salt, pepper and more of everything to taste.