SALTED PUFFED BROWN RICE BARS WITH TAHINI & BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE

In the warmer months, I’m always looking for easy, throw-together meals that are more about “assembling” than actual cooking.  Smoothies are great, of course, but in looking to change things uplittle I found these amazing breakfast bars. I know they look like candy, but they’re actually protein-packed, whole grain and totally capable of being a breakfast food. (* If you remember, I posted these to instagram a few weeks ago and I promised I'd post it)  You could always omit the chocolate part, but I believe there’s nothing wrong with just a hint of decadence at breakfast.  Not only are they completely addicting, but because they can double as a sweet treat and feed a crowd.  

Puffed Brown Rice Bars with Tahini & Bittersweet Chocolate (gluten-free, vegan) Makes 18 bars

  • 9 medjool dates, pitted and mashed
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter(or almond butter!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin coconut oil 
  • 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup almond meal (I even use my leftover almond pulp, that I dehydrate at 200 until golden brown - works great for this recipe)
  • 1 cup puffed brown rice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Generous pinch of sea salt
  • 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces

Using a fork, mash the dates on a plate into a thick paste.  It’s ok if there’s a few chunky bits, but make sure the dates are generally broken down.  Add to a large mixing bowl with tahini, peanut butter, vanilla, and coconut oil.  Using a fork or whisk, mix ingredients until well combined.  

Add sunflower seeds, almond meal, puffed brown rice and cinnamon.  Add a generous pinch of sea salt and mix together until ingredients form a thick, cohesive batter.  

Line a square dish, 8 or 9 inch is best, with parchment paper then add mixture in.  Using the heel of your palm, flatten until it’s in one even layer.  

Double broil the chocolate*. Once all chocolate has melted, spoon over the prepared bars, either coating entirely or in a zig zag shape.  Add another pinch of sea salt over top, then add to the fridge to set for 1 hour.  Cut into 18 bars and serve.  You can store these in the fridge for a week or store in the freezer as a treat.

*Add a heat-safe (glass) bowl fitted over a saucepan with 2-3 inches of water.  Make sure the water does not touch the bowl.  Add chocolate to the bowl and bring to a rolling simmer, stirring chocolate until it melts completely.  You can also melt chocolate in the microwave in 30 second intervals until chocolate melts completely. 

SASSY KITCHEN x MERCEDES-BENZ

I had the pleasure of working with Mercedes-Benz on their She's Mercedes campaign this month.  It's all about work lunches & how to survive them without losing your mind.  Whether working in an office or freelance, lunch has always been a point of tension personally.  I felt like I was spending a small fortune eating out and not even really getting what I actually want or eating something weird (and usually cold) out of my fridge on a deadline.  Not cute or fun.  I think we can do better.

It doesn't require hours of "batch cooking" or whatever people say they do on Sundays.  It requires a little prep, a little patience and some hope that lunch actually can be great.  Read below for my "tips" ;)

5 essentials for a perfect work lunch

A healthy, convenient and inspiring work lunch sounds like a paradox, but it doesn’t have to be. If the phrase conjures up images of heavy restaurant pastas, long lines and ticking clocks, it’s time to rethink your routine. While make-it-at-home lunches may seem daunting at first, it means you’re eating wholesome nutritious food that will give you enough energy to breeze through your late afternoon meetings. Whether it’s a hearty, protein-packed salad or a nourishing grain bowl, it’s time to recreate the homemade meals we love at home and enjoy them at the office, too.

It doesn’t take a ton of effort--just a little inspiration, some simple tips and a bit of prep. Once you get the formula, you’re golden. Now, you’ll have a meal you’re actually excited to break for

MAKE IT AHEAD | PROTEIN

Grains, legumes, baked tofu - you name it. Making ahead is the key to having perfect lunches all week long. Make a big batch of lentils, quinoa or baked tofu - the most important part is making sure you have enough protein to keep your hunger at bay. Without enough, you might be susceptible to brain fog or blood sugar drops, so always make sure to include at least one hearty source. Use last night’s baked salmon or a serving of lentils for an instant boost to any salad. Why not make a full on grain bowl? Add it all to a mason jar for a perfect lunch vessel (which will naturally toss your ingredients for you).

A SPLASH OF CITRUS

There’s truth to the healing powers of citrus. Whether it’s adding a slice to your Pellegrino, or squeezing a wedge over your salad, citrus benefits everything from your skin and gut to your immune health. Citrus, especially lemons, can aid in digestion and help naturally flush toxins out. It’s the easiest way to add a little “detox” to your lunchtime. Besides the nutritional aspects, lemon adds the necessary “pop” of acid that almost every meal needs. A squeeze of lemon over a salad or grain bowl goes a long way. Plus, your fizzy water will feel a little extra special.

SOMETHING GREEN

Green is the true color of health, so make sure your lunch has got some of it. Whether it’s zucchini or swiss chard, think outside the box when it comes to your “greens”. Most dark, leafy greens are considered superfoods, so you really can’t go wrong here. Just because you don’t have baby kale in the fridge does not mean you can’t make a salad. Shaved asparagus and broccoli stem are two of my favorite non-lettuce salads that are hearty enough to last you all day.

BRING YOUR OWN SALT

Sea salt, the purer, less refined option to the usual table salt, is actually not something you should be avoiding. Because it’s produced through evaporation of ocean water, it can leave trace minerals and elements that actually help your body function better (like cell cleansing and balancing your pH). Himalayan sea salt, the pink-hued cousin to sea salt, is actually known to help detoxify the body. Not to mention, salt truly enhances flavor, so a pinch of flaky sea salt will help intensify your already delicious lunch. So, salt your salad and sandwiches with (almost) no abandon.

20160606_MercedesBenz_WorkLunch0491.jpg

AVOCADO ON EVERYTHING

What dish isn’t better with avocado? It’s no secret that avocado is a nutritional powerhouse. They’re full of omega-3 fatty acids (keeps your hair, skin & nails glowing), stabilises your blood sugar and is full of too many nutrients to list. Luckily for us, the creamy, nutty “fruit” is the tastiest way to bump up any everyday meal. Add avocado to salads, sandwiches, or grain bowls for a little bit of decadence and a lot of nutrition.

RED CABBAGE & FENNEL SLAW WITH TOASTED PISTACHIOS & TANGY MUSTARD DRESSING

For a long time I didn’t know how to explain my sensibility with food.  I always loved to cook, but I never considered myself a “food person” until my health issues began.  From then on, I was on a rather dismal quest to find things that didn’t make me ill.  I tried a million diets which kept me constantly trying new vegetables, weird ingredients - looking for the few things in the market that were “free” of all the things I needed.  My love for food didn’t start from a rich family or cultural history, but as a result of chronic pain.  Limitation has always been my menu.

Although I’ve had periods of “indulgence” - wanting to cook / eat / bake everything I never had (or could eat) - I always come back to a sensibility that can only be described as Californian (where I’m from).  I relate to avocado, to any kind of sprout, and basically anything that can be described as “1970’s Topanga Canyon vegetarian”.  I would self describe it as hippie food with a bit of culinary curiosity.  

And it’s what I always come back to that helped me understand who I was.  I’ve been having some stomach issues lately that have left me craving comfort.  What I seem to grab in these occasions, when I’m looking for something healing rather than “good”, is always something simple in a bowl. It could be some vegetables, a grain, maybe some avocado.  Usually arugula (my favorite green, especially when my digestion is off).  It’s my own version of comfort food; simple meals that feel like “home”.

California Red Cabbage & Fennel Slaw (gluten-free, vegan) serves 4

4 cups shredded red cabbage

1 cup sliced fennel, thin on mandolin

3-4 radishes, sliced thin on mandolin

1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh basil

1/4 cup roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/4 cup sliced chives

1 lemon, juiced

1/3 cup pistachios, toasted and roughly chopped

Fennel fronds, to serve

dressing:

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon white vinegar

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 lemon, juice

About 1/4 cup olive oil

Sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground pepper

In a large bowl, mix together cabbage, fennel, radishes and all herbs.  Squeeze over the juice of one lemon and toss to combine.  Set aside.  

To toast pistachios, add to a skillet and toast over medium heat until browned or add to a baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees until browned and smelling nutty (about 10-12 minutes).

To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients until emulsified (until it’s a thick, cohesive dressing).  

Add the dressing to the bowl of "slaw" and toss together until well combined.  Season with flaky sea salt, freshly ground pepper and top with pistachios and fennel fronds  Optional toppings: baked tofu, avocado or sprouts ;)

*For simple baked tofu, I add 1 inch slabs to a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil and tamari. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, flip and bake another 15-20 or until browned and tender.  Season with sea salt  & freshly cracked pepper.

CAULIFLOWER LENTIL GRAIN SALAD WITH PUMPKINSEED PESTO & PICKLED RADISHES (Gluten-free)

It’s been a busy and chaotic year so far.  I can’t believe it’s already July and that Summer is almost halfway over.  It really feels like I’ve blinked and missed it all.  So many exceptions to this year have caused an unusual lifestyle for me -  I have three sisters all engaged, all getting married this year…within 6 months of each other.  Naturally, they all live in LA (where I’m from), and I’m in all the wedding parties.  Anyone who has been part of one knows the…commitment they require on an emotional / physical / financial level.  So, I’ve been traveling a lot, to say the very least.  July is the first month I will not travel to LA since March.  

This 2016 lifestyle of mine has led me to understand certain things about my myself.  I could never be the kind of person who travels all the time and is never home (no matter how many amazing things I could see).  I am incredibly introverted (more than I thought I was) and require a substantial amount  of alone time.  Especially these days, there’s nothing I want more than to have no plans, to wake up early, to cook my meals leisurely and off the cuff.  With all the socializing and traveling, I’m craving aloneness and in a similar realm - slowness, which I can say I almost never want. I’ve always been the high-energy/high-intensity type who only has one speed.  But this shakeup of my schedule and lack of control (my usual nemesis), is causing me to turn the dial down a bit.

This salad came out of one of those moments.  A Saturday with no plans, a ton of vegetables and an appetite.  I spent my time, slowing down - leisurely making pesto, slicing radishes, etc.  These are the moments when cooking feels like everything to me. Those slow weekends when I’m alone in my kitchen - it’s what my soul requires.  So, maybe this salad seems like a lot of steps: pickling, processing, cooking, chopping, but for me - the longer it takes, the better.  It’s a weekend recipe - meant to be prepared with no timeliness at all and savoring each and every step.  It’s an ode to cooking - not just because it feeds you (and often tastes good) - but that there’s something else happening. I believe, something magical.

CAULIFLOWER LENTIL GRAIN SALAD WITH PUMPKINSEED PESTO & PICKLED RADISHES (gluten-free, vegetarian)

  • 1 cup quinoa, dried
  • 1/2 cup french lentils, dried
  • 1 lb. cauliflower, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, grated
  • 1 cup chopped medjool dates
  • 3 purple scallions, sliced
  • 3 large handfuls of baby arugula
  • 1-2 lemons, juice
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper

PUMPKINSEED ARUGULA PESTO

  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 lemon, juice & zest
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup baby arugula, packed
  • 1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

QUICK-PICKLED RADISHES

  • 1 small bunch of radishes, sliced thin on mandolin
  • 1 fennel stalk, fronts & stalk roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander (seeds or ground)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

In a saucepan, bring 1 cup quinoa and 2 cups of salted water to a boil.  Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.  Then set aside to cool. In another saucepan, add lentils with enough water to cover by 2-3 inches (salt the water, too).  Bring to a boil, then simmer (covered) about 20-25 minutes or until tender.  Drain and rinse.  Set aside to cool.

For pickled radishes: In a pint-sized jar, add radishes, fennel fronds, mustard and coriander seeds.  In a small saucepan, bring apple cider vinegar, water, maple syrup, salt and pepper to a boil.  Once liquid just boils, carefully pour into the jar, making sure radishes are completely covered in brine.  Cover and set on the counter to cool.  Once it’s cooled, store in the fridge.  They will be “ready” to eat in about an hour.

For Pesto: In a food processor, add pumpkin seeds, garlic, lemon (juice & zest) and parmigiano.  Process until desired consistency (I like mine more on the pureed side).  Then add salt, pepper and arugula. Pulse until entire mixture is green and arugula is well-combined.  While the processor is running, stream in about 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil or until desired texture.  Set aside.

Add cauliflower to a food processor and pulse until it resembles rice (you can use the same one as the pesto).  Add to a large mixing bowl with grated zucchini, dates, scallion, and arugula.  Toss together with quinoa, lentils and arugula.  Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice (to taste).  Toss together to make sure salad is well-combined.

To serve, top each plate with a generous dollop of pesto and pickled radishes.  For some extra decadence, add a drizzle of olive oil, but you don’t totally need it.  Serve immediately or save for later (the leftovers were still great on day 3).

STRAWBERRY BUCKWHEAT PORRIDGE WITH COCOA CRUMBLES (GLUTEN-FREE)

With this new Summer heat, there’s no way I’m turning on my oven, not to mention the stove.  These days, it’s mostly salads, smoothies & cold-temp meals (even when the AC is blasting).  That’s part of why I love this porridge so much.  It’s the Summer version of your morning oatmeal, with a crunchy, chocolate-y topping you'll want to make and put on everything.

Strawberry Buckwheat Porridge with Cocoa Crumbles (Serves 4) Gluten-free + DAIRY-FREE

  • 1 cup buckwheat groats
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 frozen banana*
  • 2 cups fresh strawberries, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, seeded
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 orange, juiced
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • Fresh strawberries, to serve

Cocoa Crumbles:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup gluten-free oats
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of sea salt

In a mixing bowl, add buckwheat and cover with filtered water.  Set aside for at least 6 hours or overnight. (Make sure to freeze a banana now, if you don’t already have one ready). 

In a small saucepan, heat coconut oil and honey over medium low heat.  Then, add oats, cocoa powder, sunflower seeds, vanilla and a pinch of sea salt .  Cook, stirring often, until mixture thickens and becomes “sticky”.  Lay out mixture on a baking sheet to cool.

In the morning, rinse buckwheat well & drain , then add to a blender with almond milk.  On high speed, blend until smooth and creamy.  Then add, frozen banana, strawberries, maple, vanilla, cardamom & citrus.  Blend until well combined.

Then, divide between 4 ramekins.  Top with fresh sliced strawberries & cooled cocoa crumbles.  For extra sweetness, add a drizzle of maple over top.  Serve immediately!

STRAWBERRY & APRICOT CORNMEAL COBBLER (gluten-free)

For the record, I’ve never been super into all-purpose flours for gluten-free baking.  I find a lot of times it’s a cop out on the recipe developers side, unless you use the exact one they recommend (If they don’t, forget it entirely).  You can always swap in an all purpose flour and call it a recipe, but it’s so much more interesting to do something different.  What I've loved about gluten-free baking is all the amazing whole-grain flours I've discovered in the process - to taste the difference between brown rice and buckwheat, and to learn your favorite variations.  This gives people their own autonomy in baking, to learn a skill and be a little less afraid of the cloudiness that it gluten-free baking.

That being said, the only people I would truly trust to make a gluten-free all-purpose baking flour is America’s Test Kitchen.  I’ve been a (huge) fan for many years, in awe of their specificity and science not to mention immense knowledge on all things cooking.  The whole point of their company is demystifying cooking for people - to make recipes that work every time, so you can be more at ease in the kitchen.  Without gushing, I just love what they do.  They sent me some of their whole grain all-purpose flour and I couldn’t wait to try it.  I decided on a cobbler, since it is Summer after all, and I'm telling you - I could eat these biscuits for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  I mean, when was the last time you had a biscuit? I can’t even recall.  This is a perfect dessert for your cookout / bbq / holiday festivities that will please gluten-intolerant and regulars alike.  Hope you have a lovely July 4th weekend!

Strawberry & Apricot Cornmeal Cobbler (Gluten-free) Serves 8

From America's Test Kitchen "How Can it Be Gluten-Free Cookbook - Volume 2 (adapted slightly)

Biscuits:

  • 5 ounces or 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 1/2 ounces or 1 cup ATK (whole-grain) All Purpose Gluten-free Flour Blend **
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon xanthum gum
  • 8 tablespoons grass-fed butter, chill & cut into cubes
  • 3/4 scant almond milk with a squeeze of lemon juice (*non-dairy buttermilk)

Filling:

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons tapioca starch
  • About 3 cups sliced apricots
  • About 3 cups quartered strawberries
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

For the biscuits:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper & set aside.  Pulse cornmeal, flour blend, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and anthem gum in a food processor until combined. Scatter butter pieces over top and pulse until it resembles a coarse cornmeal with few slightly larger lumps, about 10 pulses.

Transfer cornmeal to a medium mixing bowl, add buttermilk and stir with a fork until dough gathers into moist clumps.  Using a 1/4 cup dry measure, scoop out about eight mounds of dough spaced about 1 inch apart.  Sprinkle remaining sugar over biscuits and bake 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned (rotating rack halfway thru cooking).  Set aside to cool.

For the filling: Stir sugar, tapioca starch and salt together in a bowl.  Gently mix in apricots, strawberries and lemon zest& juice.  Add filling to a 9 inch deep dish pie plate or pyrex, cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30-40 minutes or until juices are bubbling.  Remove foil, add biscuits to top and bake for an additional 5 minutes or until biscuits are warmed through.  Serve i immediately with a dollop of greek yogurt, creme fraiche or ice cream.

**ATK ALL PURPOSE GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLEND

  • 24 ounces (4 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup) white rice flour
  • 7 1/2 ounces(1 2/3 cup)  brown rice flour
  • 7 ounces (1 1/3 cup) potato starch
  • 3 ounces (3/4 cup) tapioca starch
  • 3/4 ounce (3 tablespoons) nonfat milk powder

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined.  Transfer to air-tight container and refrigerate up to 3 months or freeze up to 6 months.  Bring to room temperature before using

PASSION FRUIT CHIA PUDDING WITH COCONUT FLAKES (Gluten-free & vegan)

We’re having a bit of unseasonably cold weather here in NYC and I know I’m not the only one who’s totally over it.  I’m not quite ready for the humidity of Summer, but I am ready for the bright & lovely produce of the warmer months.  In rebellion, I’m eating tropical fruit chia pudding like it’s 80 degrees out.  So far, it’s working for me..

This chia pudding is the perfect energizing breakfast when the weather outside (or inside your head) is looking a little dull.   I promise it will bring some brightness to your week, sunny or not.

Passion Fruit Chia Pudding with Coconut Flakes (serves 2) gluten-free + dairy-free

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup almond milk, unsweetened 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup or honey
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut, toasted
  • 2 passion fruits

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together chia seeds with almond milk, vanilla, maple syrup and sea salt.  Store in the fridge for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Once you’re ready to serve, whisk together chia pudding again to mix evenly.  Divide pudding between two jars.  Slice passion fruits in half, and scoop out all juice & insides (including seeds!) into the jar (one passion fruit per jar).  Top with shredded coconut and another splash of maple syrup or honey.  Serve immediately!

APRIL 2016 FAVORITES