I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

Paleo = Hell No

I had been seeing and hearing the word “Paleo” tossed around in the food blog corners of the world that I frequent occasionally.  Without much research I picked up on the fact that it refers to eating like our Paleolithic ancestors and followed the principles of eating real food instead of processed ingredients. Intrigued, I wanted to learn more since I, myself, am on the real food journey.  When it came time to make my next selection from Blogging For Books, I chose a Paleo themed cookbook called “The Paleo Chef” by Peter Evans.  With buzz words like “effortless” and “delicious” describing the book’s 100 recipes for a Paleo lifestyle, it was sure to be a winner.  

So let me stop right here and add a disclaimer:  If you are already a follower of the Paleo way of life or are very seriously contemplating the lifestyle, this book MIGHT be just what you are looking for.  But in my quest to learn more and possibly consider the aspect of further defining my real food eating habits, this cookbook made me realize that Paleo = Hell No.  My review issues are mostly with the principle of Paleo and not so much with the book itself.   

I enjoy food. The preparation, consumption, and social activities involving food are a big part of my life and I don’t see much enjoyment with this plan of eating.  It seems that it’s more about eating only for fuel, energy and survival.   The photographs in “The Paleo Chef” weren’t even appealing to me – they seemed sparse and void of enjoyment.  After thumbing through the entire book, there was not one recipe that jumped out as something I’d want to try just for the sake of giving it the old college try.

The Paleo lifestyle restricts a lot of foods that I enjoy – dairy and alcohol being two categories.  “Occasional fruit” is optional on the Paleo plan and I can’t give that up either.  I understand eliminating grains in your diet if you have allergies or sensitivities, neither of which I do, so I’ll keep them around as well.  Legumes are off-limits because they didn’t grow during the days of our cavemen ancestors.  Cavemen didn’t have electricity either but I don’t see any big movement to rid ourselves of that convenience.  I’m in total agreement with the concept of eliminating refined sugars and processed ingredients, so Paleo and I are on the same page in that regard.  And the idea of eating offal (organ meats and entrails) was enough to seal the deal for me turning a blind eye to Paleo.  Chef Evans includes a recipe for seared beef liver with fig salad and raw steak topped with a raw egg.  No thank you.  

Peter Evans obviously doesn’t shop for groceries in my neighborhood.  Some of the ingredients used in several of his recipes are not commonly found in my grocery store.  It’s hard enough to incorporate a special trip into my busy routine to pick up humanely raised meats and farm-fresh eggs, so I don’t want to squeeze scavenger hunting into my schedule as well.   The recipes contained a lot of nuts and seeds but you first had to ferment these items.  I occasionally find something fermented in my refrigerator but it’s not there intentionally.  

Again, if you are a Paleo enthusiast, this book could be right up your alley.  But if you are just looking to see what the buzz is all about and not whole-heartedly into the concept, skip the book.  

Paleo = Pillow for the Schnoodle

I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.


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I Heart You, Valentine

It's no secret that I love the Boy Toy more than I love goat cheese.  And that, people, is ALOT.  As long as we've been together, I still get all twitterpated about date night with him. 

We had initially planned to go back to "our place" for Valentine's Day - the same restaurant where we've had dinner for the past two years, but after Boy Toy brought home a $300 souvenir speeding ticket from our California trip a few weeks ago, I made the offer to have dinner at my house instead.  I don't get the opportunity to cook for him often and I was uber excited about our plans all week.  I planned an easy-to-prepare menu complete with a sinful dessert and picked up a couple of bottles of wine that I had been wanting to try.  (This label combination made me giggle because I'm dirty like that.  50 Shades of Grey ain't got nothing on me!)

During our flights to and from California, Boy Toy entertained himself by streaming episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on my iPad (am I turning him into a foodie??) and at one point he turned to me and asked if I thought he would like polenta.  "Yes! Of course you would!" I said. (I really had no idea if he would or not but I always try to further his interest in food so I was very agreeable that he would absolutely LOVE it while at the same time wondering if I would even like it.)  I decided the next chance I had, I would test the polenta theory.  Keep in mind that you do have to plan ahead when making it as it requires several hours (or overnight) to cool.

This holiday is all about love and spending time together and we had the perfect evening - great food (the polenta got two thumbs up from both of us), great wine and FABULOUS company! I hope you enjoyed Valentine's Day with your someone special and I hope you enjoy these recipes for your next special occasion. 

Lemon Rosemary Steak with Mushrooms
Serves 4

4 (6-ounce) grass fed sirloin steaks, about 1/2 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 spring fresh rosemary
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup water

Pound steaks lightly with meat mallet to slightly thin.  Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over high heat, combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil and garlic cloves. When the pan is hot, add 2 of the steaks and cook for 1 minute. Flip steaks, add rosemary to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes more. Transfer steaks to a platter and keep warm. Add remaining olive oil and repeat process with steaks, garlic and rosemary. Remove steaks to platter and add mushrooms to pan and saute for about 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, water and any juices accumulated from steaks, lower heat to medium and cook for about 2 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook about 1-2 minutes more.

Discard rosemary and garlic, spoon pan sauce and mushrooms over steaks and serve.

Polenta cakes topped with mushroom pan sauce from the steaks

Polenta Cakes
Serves 4

1 cup cornmeal
3 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter, divided
shredded cheese (Cheddar or Parmesan works great)

Bring water and salt to a boil. Gradually sprinkle in cornmeal, whisking continuously until all cornmeal has been added. Simmer until mixture becomes thick, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep cornmeal from sticking to bottom.. Once mixture is done cooking, stir in butter and pour mixture into a lined baking sheet making sure polenta is at least ½” thick. Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to cool for at least 2 hours (up to 2 days).

Slice polenta into 8 cakes. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter and place 4 polenta cakes in a skillet. Grill cakes for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Flip and grill until other side is golden brown, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from skillet and repeat with remaining polenta.

Serve topped with shredded cheese.   I also topped with mushrooms and pan sauce from the steaks

Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Caramel Filling
Serves 4

1 stick unsalted butter, plus melted for brushing
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
6 ounces 70% dark chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Pint of salt
4 tablespoons store-bought caramel sauce

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Brush four 6-ounce ramekins with melted butter.  In a small bowl, whisk the cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of the flour; dust the ramekins with the cocoa mixture, tapping out the excess.  Transfer ramekins to a sturdy baking sheet.

In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter with the chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally.  Let cool slightly.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat granulated sugar with the eggs and salt at medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the melted chocolate until no streaks remain.  Fold in the 1/4 cup flour.

Spoon 2/3 of the batter into the prepared ramekins, then spoon a tablespoon of the caramel sauce on top.  Cover with the remaining chocolate batter.  Bake in the center of the oven for 16 minutes, until the tops are cracked but the centers are still slightly jiggly.  Transfer ramekins to a rack and let cool for 5-8 minutes.

Run the tip of a knife around the edges of each cake to loosen.  Invert a small plate over each cake and, using pot holders, invert again.  Carefully lift off the ramekins.    

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Chilly Chili

Mother Nature is such a tease.

This time last week I was soaking up the sunshine vitamin and therapeutically weeding the garden.  We had temperatures in the mid-60's and the 'hood was buzzing with the sound of lawn mowers, roosters crowing and kids playing.  (Roosters??  And why has our ever-so-vigilant Home Moaners Association not yet called a meeting to discuss how foul running amuck will ruin our property value??)

Tonight the weatherman is using words like "windchill" and "Arctic blast" and the temperatures are nose-diving into the single digits.

So. Not. Cool. Mother Nature.

No, not cool - downright *BLEEPING* cold!

Chilly days and nights like this make me think of, you guessed it....chili.  I usually have everything on hand to pull this together and yes, I use this taco seasoning in my chili.  Tacos.  Chili.  It's all the same to me because I season both with pretty much the same spices.  Serve this topped with grated cheese, a dollop of sour cream and maybe some parsley, cilantro or chopped scallions and you've got yourself a warm, hearty meal in less than an hour.   

Snuggle up and stay warm where ever you are - if you are in the Northeast, heaven help you because I hear there is more snow coming your way. 

Chilly Nights Chili
Serves 4-6

1 medium onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
1 recipe make-your-own-taco-seasoning
4 ounces green chiles
15 ounces diced tomatoes
15 ounces kidney beans, rinsed and drained
15 ounces tomato sauce
1 cup water
for garnish: sour cream, grated cheese, chopped scallions

In a medium soup pot, brown onion and ground beef until beef is cooked through.  About 8-10 minutes.  Drain any grease.

Add seasoning mix, chiles, diced tomatoes, kidney beans and tomato sauce and stir until combined.  Add water to reach desired consistency (about 1 cup) and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer about thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.  

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Chacewater Winery offers organic wine

The Boy Toy and I just returned from a much needed week long vacation of swirling and sipping our way through the California wine country. Not long before we started planning this trip, I accepted a job at a North Carolina wine and beer distributor and I soon found out that being “industry” ensured that the wine flowed and preferential treatment ensued during our winery visits. And I was not one bit ashamed of throwing my business card around - tastings and tours in Napa and Sonoma can get pretty pricey and we visited eight different wineries.

We also spent a couple of days seeing the sights of San Francisco since we were so close and Boy Toy had never been there. I took over 400 photos! I managed to whittle them down to a select 156 few and you can view them all here if you’d like.It’s been really hard to get out of vacation frame of mind and back into real life – I’m still pretending to be in the wine country each evening by pouring me a glass of wine while preparing dinner and trying to dissect its nuances.

Of the eight wineries we visited, six were suppliers that my company represents, which meant that I didn’t need to bother with buying their wine to bring home if we enjoyed it – I can just call out to the warehouse and have it brought to me. And you would think with that job perk, I wouldn’t need to buy wines from any other source. But there was one winery that I WANTED to buy from called Chacewater. Their grapes are grown organically and farmed bio-dynamically and their products carry a certified organic label. I had high hopes of coming back to work and spreading the good word about Chacewater in anticipation of adding them to our distributor portfolio, but my boss informed me that the word “organic” on a wine label is the kiss of death.  I was shocked to learn that – I know there aren’t many organic wines on the market but I would think with more and more people migrating to an organic and real food lifestyle it would be a growing part of the industry.  But then again, I also know that the concept only appeals to a minority.  So I’m singing the winery’s praises here and hoping it benefits someone looking for organic wines.  
We found ourselves at Chacewater’s tasting bar one afternoon based on a recommendation from my doctor.  In addition to a wine tasting, we were also offered an olive oil tasting.  It was here that we learned California wineries do not offer by- the- glass purchases of wine to enjoy after a tasting like we are used to here in North Carolina but Ryan, our pourer, allowed us to “revisit” as many wines as we wanted.   Each of their wines was very impressive and I liked them all – I walked away with a bottle of Highlander Red and I don’t even consider myself a lover of red wine!  I also brought home the four-bottle sample pack of olive oils and a bar of lavender mint scented soap.  

The founders, Paul and Kellye Manuel, had been tending to vineyards for nearly twenty years and selling the organically grown grapes to Fetzer when they had the opportunity to purchase 10 acres of vines in Lake County from the monks of Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery.   Shortly thereafter, they built Chacewater and the name plays homage to Manuel’s ancestral town of Chacewater in England.

It wasn’t long before Chacewater’s winemaking portfolio gained recognition and in addition to wine, they produce certified bottles of award-winning Tuscan extra virgin olive oils and citrus infused oils from 8 varieties of olives grown on site.  Any of their olive oils that are two years or older in age are sent out and returned in the form of luxurious EVOO-based scented soap products.

Chacewater olive oils, wines, and soaps are not distributed in states other than California but they may be purchased online.  Once my funds recover from vacation spending, I plan to stock my wine refrigerator with more of Chacewater’s products.

If you happen to be visiting the Lake County area, their tasting room is open Monday – Sunday from 11am to 5pm.  They are located at 5625 Gaddy Lane, Kelseyville, CA .

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A Good Food Day cookbook review

With the Overburdened Cookbook Shelf leaching out into the rest of my house, it’s readily apparent that I do not need yet another cookbook. But I can NOT help myself.  It’s a sickness hobby.  Not long ago, I stumbled upon a website where you receive free cookbooks in exchange for reviews and it was just like having an intravenous straight line to feed my addiction hobby.  The hook, line and sinker for me (as IF I needed one) was that you don’t get just any cookbook – you could choose the book that you wanted to review.  After perusing the selections, I chose A Good Food Day by Marco Canora with Tammy Walker because it appeared to focus on the concept of real food.  

Chef Canora begins the book by telling his story and justification for writing the book – a near health disaster forced a change in his diet.   As a former contestant on Food Network’s Iron Chef and head chef and owner of Hearth, located in New York, he was over 40 years old, pre-diabetic, 30 pounds overweight, had high cholesterol, and suffered from gout.  It’s a story that unfortunately a lot of people are familiar with – not thinking about the correlation of diet and health until it’s (almost) too late.  Canora used his kitchen knowledge, creativity and sense of adventure to create this book full of 125 recipes that focus on whole and real foods to help motivate and prove that eating healthy does not mean deprivation or bland, pathetic looking food.  This is not a low carb, no meat, low fat, calorie-counting cookbook or a book about being proud for eating like you’re “supposed to.”  It is about eating local and seasonal, getting over the “fat phobia” instilled in us thanks to mass marketing, and eating good food for better health. 

At first glance, the recipes sounded indulgent and worthy of only being prepared for a fancy party or special occasion.  But why should the “good stuff” be reserved for special occasions?  Why not indulge ourselves for the sake of good health?  I liked the fact that a recommended list of pantry and fridge staples was included and I was pleased to realize that, thanks to my diligence over the past year, my pantry already had alot of the items.  I also liked the fact that some of the same ingredients were used in multiple recipes (without being repetitive of what you were eating) so as to maximize your food purchases.  

After just returning from vacation in the California wine country, I was spoiled from 8 days of indulgent food and wine and decided to cook my way through A Good Food Day to continue the streak.  I had a few apples purchased prior to my trip languishing on my counter, so the Apple Walnut Spice Muffins were the first order of business.  I could not find oat flour in my grocery store so I substituted whole wheat flour and had no issues.  They came out of the oven with a beautiful dark, rustic look and a good crown.  They were very moist and chock-full of texture thanks to the addition of diced apples along with grated ones.  These beauties are in my office freezer and ready to be pulled out for a quick, filling breakfast.  

Salmon in Parchment with Olives, Fennel and Lemon will make you feel like a king when you sit down to dinner.  This elegant-looking recipe took less than 30 minutes from start to on-the-table-ready-to-eat and I only dirtied one knife and a cutting board.  My kind of meal for sure!  I threw in a few capers and then plan to use the remaining salmon next week for the Salmon and Arugula Salad with Pomegranate.

Fennel also did double-duty in the Spinach Salad with Olives, Roasted Fennel and Grapefruit.  You may think you can’t eat just a salad for dinner and be satisfied, but I paired this with a crusty loaf of rosemary bread dipped in olive oil (a souvenir from my trip) and didn’t have so much as a grumble from my stomach for the rest of the evening.  It was very hearty and I even enjoyed the leftovers for lunch the next day.  I also used grapefruit for breakfast in the Ode to Orange Julius Shake, but due to my own personal taste preferences and less-than-stellar food processor, I didn’t enjoy it so much.  I would, however, serve it to guests for a brunch. 

And to reiterate the fact that eating good doesn’t mean deprivation, there is a section for sweets and for snacks and I just had to try the Hazelnut Brownies.  I used almond meal in place of the hazelnut meal (per a suggested substitution from Chef's notes) because I already had that in my pantry but again had to use whole wheat flour in place of the oat flour.  They baked up beautifully with nice crispy edges (my favorite part of a brownie) and had a perfectly balanced texture between fudgy and cake-like.  Normally I piggishly eat half a pan of just-out-of-the-oven brownies in one sitting and still don’t feel like I’ve gotten my chocolate fix.  With these brownies, I only ate 2 small squares.  Not because they weren’t good – quite the contrary.  It was because they were so chocolatey rich and delicious and satisfying.  

I have numerous other recipes from A Good Food Day on my list to prepare in the coming weeks but I knew I didn’t need to hold off writing my review until I had completed them all.  Chef Marco Canora has created a cookbook that exemplifies treating food as fun instead of just fuel for the body.  If you are just starting your real food journey and are used to having primarily processed foods in your diet, it’s possible that you may be leery of the recipes in this book based on names and ingredients, but don’t be intimidated.  There’s no weird tofu/soy protein/tempeh to be had here – just healthy real foods.  For my review, I give this book 4-1/2 out of 5 stars.  I deduct a half star because Chef Canora does not mince words and includes some profanity while telling his story.  I personally am not offended by the language, but based on that alone, I wouldn’t recommend this book to the likes of my mother or grandmother or any of my more conservative friends.   

I received this book free to review from Blogging for Books. The opinions expressed in this review are my true thoughts and feeling regarding this book. I am disclosing this information in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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