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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Watercress

So here’s one out of left field…watercress. Now when I think of watercress, it brings to mind images of hoity-toity women nibbling on tea sandwiches at a fancy hotel. It’s not something you would think of using on a regular basis, but it is one of a number of leafy greens that are really good for you.


For those who aren’t familiar with it, watercress is perennial herb. It’s an aquatic plant rich in nutrients, usually found near springs and slower running waterways.

It has a peppery taste, so not a sweet green like some of your leafy lettuces are, but more along the lines of arugula or bitter field greens. If you squeeze the leaves between your fingers it will release a nice peppery aroma.

Watercress has been cultivated since ancient times when it was used both as food and a medicinal herb (primarily in American, Europe, and Central Asia).

And what can this little herb do for you?

Ÿ Watercress is a great source of vitamins B1 and B6, vitamin E, and vitamin A.
Ÿ  It has a higher concentration of vitamin C than some fruits and veggies, so can be helpful in boosting your immune system.
Ÿ Watercress an excellent source of vitamin K, which plays a role in promoting bone health.
Ÿ It’s a low calorie leafy green that’s also low in fat, so recommended for those who are looking to control their cholesterol or are working on weight reduction.
Ÿ Watercress contains a number of important minerals like calcium, copper and iron.

Watercress is available throughout the year around. When you purchase it, make sure to look for bunches with thick succulent looking leaves that are a rich green in color.

You can store watercress in the fridge for up to 3 days if you keep the fresh greens submerged in water.

Make sure to separate the roots from the leaves, then rinse them well in cold water and pat dry before using.

Watercress is great for use in salads or on sandwiches. They also make a nice addition to soups. The leaves can also be steamed and eaten as a side dish.

I’ve never actually used watercress before myself so am looking forward to giving it a whirl and sharing the results with you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jerk Pork Tostadas with Black Bean Paste and Mango Salsa

Ah, yum!  Crunchy corn plate, creamy bean paste, hot spicy pork, and cool sweet mango salsa, it's got a little bit of everything going on that ends in one big taste sensation.  It's a fiesta for your belly.

Jerk Pork Tostadas with Black Bean Paste and Mango Salsa

Corn tostadas
Fresh parsley or cilantro for garnish

Omar's Jerk Pork

2 cup green onions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup white onion, coarsely chopped
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp sea salt
2 tsp thyme
2 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
2 serrano or habanero peppers, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 lbs pork loin, trimmed

In a food processor or blender, mix all the ingredients (except the pork) until smooth.

 from this (above) to this (below)

Cut the pork loin into smaller sections.

Put the pork in a zip lock bag or container with a tight lid and pour the mixture over it.  Make sure to coat the pieces well.

Refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or up to 24).

Remove the meat and discard the marinade.

On grill:  place the pork on grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill about 8 minutes per side (or until meat thermometer registers 160° -- will be slightly pink).

In skillet:  coat a large skillet with cooking spray and over high heat, sear pork pieces, about 1-2 minutes per side. Drop temperature to medium high, and continue to cook pork 2-3 minutes per side until cooked through, but still moist.

Remove from heat. Allow to cool a minute or so before rough chopping.

Black Bean Paste

1 can black beans, drained
1/2 tsp cumin

You don't need to rinse the beans, but drain what liquid you can from the can first.  Mash together with a pastry blender (easy) or fork (harder) until the texture is more smoother than not (it’s okay if it’s chunky).

okay, NOT pretty to look at, but good to eat, I promise!

Before serving, heat covered in the microwave for 1 minute, then stir.

Mango Salsa

1 fresh mango, rough chopped (approx 2 cups)
1/3 cup red pepper, diced small
1/3 cup purple onion, chopped finely
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped (can substitute dried, but only add 1 tbsp)
1 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (approx 1 small lime)

Combine ingredients. Refrigerate until needed (the longer it sits, the better the flavors will blend).

All Together Now

If you’d like, you can heat the tostatas in a low oven (125°) for about 10 minutes to warm up.

Layer the tostada with black bean paste, then chopped pork loin and top with the mango salsa, garnish with parsley (or if you don’t find it disgusting, cilantro).

Let the food fiesta begin!


I used serrano peppers for this recipe to tone down the level of spice for my diners.  Though if you are a fan of melting your face off, I would definitely use the habenero to add more kick to the pork, and you can use up to four for this recipe.

When handling hot peppers it's best to wear protective gloves.  I found some that I really like when I was at Harris Teeter.  Unlike some other brands, I found the Clean Cuisine by Playtex comes in several sizes so that they fit better which makes it easier to handle the knife.

If you don't have gloves or forget to use them, remember NOT to touch any part of your face before you thoroughly wash your hands with soap and hot water.  Otherwise the oil from the pepper will transfer to anything you touch and it will burn like a (bleep).  You have been warned.

Want to thank my friend Omar for sending me the recipe that he uses for his famous "bag o'meat" (jerk pork).  You can prep the pork the night before and then just fire up the grill -- or skillet if you don't have a grill -- and enjoy it tostada-free too!

This mango salsa makes a tasty stand-alone dish too.  Serve up with some scoops or other chips and enjoy.

By chopping the pork into bite-sized (or less) pieces, it makes it easier to eat the tostada easier, less chance of things flying off.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Black Beans

Black beans are a popular legume often used as a side dish (and for a recap of the great Bean vs. Legume debate, check out  They’re most commonly used in Latin American cuisine, but can also found a lot in the Creole and Cajun dishes.

They're a vegetarian diet staple and that's because Beans! (black) Beans! ARE Good For Your Heart!...and a few other things to boot.


Ÿ Black beans are low in fat.
Ÿ Black beans are high in fiber (which helps prevent constipation).
Ÿ Black beans can help reduce blood cholesterol (good for fighting heart disease) and maintain normal blood sugar levels (good for preventing diabetes).
Ÿ Because of a trace mineral found in black beans, they are useful in helping desensitize people who are sulfite sensitive.
Ÿ Black beans can help prevent diverticulitis and other gastrointestinal disorders too.
Ÿ Black beans are high in protein, which combined with their iron and vitamin B content makes them a good meat substitute (they make GREAT veggie burgers).

To maximize your black bean protein benefits, it’s best to serve them with a grain or grain product (for example, rice or tortillas). The latter provides an amino acid that your body needs to build complete proteins and works in conjunction with the black bean protein to maximize the process.

It’s common practice to keep the water that black beans are boiled in. Add a little seasoning to it and you have an easy soup.

If you store dried black beans in an airtight container and keep them in a dry, cool, and dark place, they will keep for a year or more (though the drier they are the harder they are to cook, so keep that in mind).

You can keep cooked black beans in the refrigerator for about three days in a covered container and they’ll still be fresh.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Artichoke-Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Another flavorful chicken dish for your sampling pleasure.  The artichoke in this is very subtle and not at all overpowering if you're not used to eating it.  For the "glaze" you can any flavored balsamic vinegar.  I used a cherry-flavored one. 

Artichoke-Feta Stuffed Chicken Breasts

3 chicken breasts
3 oz crumbled feta
2-3 artichoke hearts (canned)
1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
few turns of fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
balsamic vinegar

Chop the artichoke into smaller pieces. 

Mince the fresh rosemary.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix up the feta, artichoke, and rosemary.  Add in black pepper and salt, then set aside.

Butterfly each of the chicken breasts and then pound them a bit flatter.

Place a third of the artichoke-feta mixture on each of the breasts in the middle.

Roll the ends up the chicken around the filling and secure with toothpicks.

Place the rolls in an aluminum covered baking dish (for easier clean up) and cover with foil.

You want to par-bake the chicken in the oven for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, it helps to secure the chicken so it doesn't unroll when you finish them in a skillet.

Remove the chicken rolls and place in a lightly oiled skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook, turning occasionally, to brown on multiple sides.

Then pour balsamic vinegar over the rolls and turn them to coat.  Apply vinegar until you reach a level of coating you like.  I pour a bit extra to heat in the skillet to use as a sauce.


For anyone doing South Beach, this is a Phase 1-friendly food.

A fig balsamic would make a nice glaze for this, or for a lighter taste, try white balsamic instead.

I used canned artichoke hearts and plain feta, but you could just as easily used jarred artichokes and herbed feta.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Artichoke

I hope you guys are enjoying the GAGFY features (ooh, unfortunate acronym) because I am really having fun with the research and feel like I'm learing a lot of good stuff to share with you (and to store away in my vast arsenal of random trivia for cocktail chatter). So to continue...


The globe artichoke is one of the oldest known cultivated vegetables from the Mediterranean area, primarily by early Romans.

Artichokes slowly spread upwards through Europe – the Dutch introduced the English to artichokes – and outward from there – French and Spanish explorers introduced the artichoke to the Americas.

Ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a digestive aid, but it was only available to the wealthy because it was not a readily available product so exclusive to the upper classes.

Still today, there are many health benefits to be gotten from eating artichokes.

Ÿ Artichokes provide an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Ÿ They are a good source of vitamin C and folic acid and contain a healthy amount of niacin, thiamin, potassium, riboflavin and vitamin A.
Ÿ Artichokes are liver friendly; they promote bile secretion, help decrease the manufacturing of cholesterol, and protect it against infections and toxins.
Ÿ Artichoke leaf extract has been used to relive IBS.
Ÿ Because of the carbohydrates found in artichoke, it’s been shown in studies to help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Ÿ Artichokes are super low in calories.

Artichoke is the primary flavoring of the Italian liqueur, Cynar.

Artichokes are usually boiled or steamed until tender and then served with a light dipping sauce.

The veggie part of the artichoke we eat is actually the base of the flower bud; if allowed to bloom, its flowers are large and purple and poofy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Moroccan Chicken

If you ever wonder where I get my love of cooking, you simply have to look to the foodies who raised me.  Tonight I want to share one of my favorite dishes that Mom makes when I mooch food at their place.  The spice combo in this is out of this world and it's a great savory use of cinnamon.

Mom's Supercharged SoBeach Moroccan Lemon Chicken

2-3 skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne
1 large lemon, for zest and 1 tbsp juice
4 tsp olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
2 small zucchini, thinly sliced
1/3 cup green olives, sliced
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

Cut off the extra skin ick from the chicken breasts and either (1) place them between two sheets of wax paper and pound the badoozies out of them until they're about 1/4" thick or (2) cut the breasts into thin fillets.  I find the easiest way to do the latter is is cut the breasts into two pieces and then carefully slice the halves into two thinner halves. Using a very sharp knife is key in this scenario.

In a small bowl mix the spices and then grate some zest from the lemon into the mixture.

Add lemon juice and 3 tsp of olive oil to the spice mix and blend well.

Put the chicken pieces into a small bowl and coat with the spice mix.

In a large skillet over medium high heat, cook the coated chicken breasts for about 3-4 minutes per side until blackened and cooked through.  Remove from the skillet and lightly cover to keep warm.

Add the remaining 1 tsp of oil to the skillet and cookd the onion slices, scraping the browned bits from the pan as you stir them.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes until translucent.

Add the zucchini and olives to the skillet with 2 tbsp of water.  Cover and cook the veggies about 4-5 minutes until the zucchini is tender.

Squeeze on a bit more lemon to zazz it up, scoop into a dish and serve with the chicken pieces.  [Insert happy tummy dance here.]

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Good and Good for You -- Cinnamon

With sugar, as spice, it's everything nice...just the name conjures up images of the holidays and home baked goods and warm and comfort and the smell of apple pie baking.


Cinnamon has a looooooong history of use. It’s first mentioned in Biblical text and in the ancient papyri of Egypt. In the BCs it was treasured for its aroma and used in emollients and anointing oils.

When the Greeks and Romans got a hold of it, they first used it as a medicine and aphrodisiac, but around the 3rd-4th century started using it with food.

In the Middle Ages it was a culinary staple used both for savory and sweet dishes.  Its use spread throughout Europe though eventually it became used primarily (though not exclusively) in the preparation of sweet foods.

As it turns out, those Greeks and Romans were really onto something when they started using cinnamon. It contains a number of compounds and oils that have medicinally beneficial qualities.

Ÿ Cinnamon can be used as a digestive aid, to relieve bloating, indigestion, and flatulence.
Ÿ A small amount of cinnamon added to a cup of tea makes a great remedy for diarrhea.
Ÿ Cinnamon is an anti-inflammatory which can aid in relieving symptoms of asthma and arthritis.
Ÿ It has antibacterial elements that can block yeast fungus.
Ÿ Cinnamon is an anticoagulant that can help protect against strokes.
Cinnamon sticks can retain their flavor for up to a year. The way to tell if ground cinnamon is still useful is to smell it, if you don’t get an immediate aroma, you should toss it.  Actually a good rule of thumb for most all dried herbs and spices.

There are actually two types of cinnamon – true or Ceylon cinnamon and bastard or Chinese cinnamon. The latter is more pungent and comes from a Cassia tree which has bark that resembles that of cinnamon. The former actually comes from a flowering shrub whose bark is used as the spice.

In Ancient Rome, cinnamon was a highly prized and coveted item which made Nero’s gesture of having all the cinnamon in Rome burnt on his wife’s funeral pyre all the more impressive.  Maybe it was the guilt from having killing her that led to it, but knowing Nero’s history, he was probably just making a statement.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fried Oatmeal with Blueberry-Pear Sauce

Yep, I said fried.  It's the south and what don't we fry?  But in any case, it's a new way to serve an old favorite.

Fried Oatmeal with Blueberry-Pear Sauce


3 cups water
1 cup skim milk
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 cups steel-cut Irish oatmeal (not instant)
cooking spray
butter, for frying

Blueberry-Pear Sauce

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
12 oz fresh blueberries
1/2 cup peeled chopped pear (about half of a pear)
1/2 tsp lemon zest

To make the oatmeal, combine water, milk, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a deep saucepan.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

Stir in the oatmeal and let it come to a boil again.  Reduce heat and allow to thicken, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes.  You want the oatmeal to be gelatinous before moving to the next step. Not a pretty word, but apt.

Spray a 9 x 13" pan (or 8 x 12"), then pour the oatmeal in.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or until set.

To make the sauce, bring the sugar and water to a boil.  Add in the fruit and bring to a boil again. 

Reduce heat, add in lemon zest and let simmer for 15-20 minutes.  Transfer sauce to a ceramic bowl and bring to room temperature.

While the sauce is cooling, take the pan of oatmeal out and cut the oatmeal into rectangles, then cut them into triangles.

Heat 1-2 tbsp of butter in a frying pan over medium high heat and when it starts to bubble, add the oatmeal triangles in.  Cook 3-4 minutes per side until browned.

Transfer the cooked triangles to a warming dish until all the sections are done.

Arrange on a plate, cover with the sauce and sprinkle with powdered sugar.  Breakfast is ready!


The difference between steel cut oats and rolled oats is the texture; steel cut are granular while rolled oats are flat.

Irish oatmeal are not inexpensive, but you can find non-instant generic steel cut oats for a slightly lower price.