Friday, January 27, 2012

Asian Sesame Salad Dressing

Whenever my sister, mom, or I are at a restaurant that serves Asian chicken salad, you can bet we'll order one and split it.  All three of us love any and all forms of this salad.  The secret is in the dressing.  I used to buy the Kraft Asian Toasted Sesame salad dressing so I could enjoy these flavors at home.  Here are the ingredients:


As I've stated before, vegetable oils are rancid, highly processed, made from GMO crops, and they cause heart disease and cancer.   High fructose corn syrup is also made from GMO corn and is a highly processed, highly refined sweetener I try hard to avoid.  It is listed as the third ingredient, which means there is an awful lot of it in there.  Get past the "less than 2%" section of the ingredients, and it all continues to go downhill from there.  I don't know what some of those things are, nor can I pronounce them, which is a pretty good indicator that these are not foods God created or intended for us to eat.  The "natural flavor" title can hide all sorts of things, including MSG.

But there's good news!  I have found a delicious recipe that is better than any Asian salad dressing I have ever tasted in a restaurant or in a bottle.

Asian Toasted Sesame Dressing

1 Tbs + 1 tsp sesame seeds
2 Tbs sesame oil (optional) plus extra virgin olive oil to make 1 cup
1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
3 Tbs soy sauce (
San-J Tamari Soy Sauce is a good, naturally-fermented brand)
1 Tbs sweetener (honey, sucanut/rapadura, or maple syrup)
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ginger

Lightly toast sesame seeds in a toaster oven (on low heat – about 300 degrees) or on stove top.  Combine sesame oil, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, sweetener, and garlic cloves in immersion blender cup.  Blend until emulsified and garlic is pureed.  Add toasted sesame seeds and blend until seeds are slightly ground.  Pour over salad with cooked chicken and enjoy!  This will keep in the fridge for a week or two (if it's not gone by then!).

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies

CAUTION: The recipe you are about to read is considered an occasional, very indulgent treat and is by no means intended to be a nutritious staple recipe in anyone's household!

My sister's baby shower was yesterday.  When we were discussing food ideas a couple of months ago, the decision was unanimous - no, we would not be buying the standard flavorless, overly sugary white-frosted sheet cake from Costco with "It's a Boy" spelled out in blue sugar-paste lettering.  The women in this family take dessert seriously, and the only thing that could live up to our expectations would be cheesecake brownies.

Most cheesecake brownie recipes have an ingredient list that starts with: "a box of your choice of brownie mix."  And truth be told, the only way I have ever made brownies is out of a box (or pouch - Trader Joe's sells a brownie mix where all you do is cut open the pouch and dump it in the pan - no eggs or oil needed...and no, they do not taste very good).  I decided to make it fun and extra special and took on the challenge of making them completely from scratch.

Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Inspired by the recipe on Tammy's Recipe's:

Makes one 9 x 13 pan of brownies.

Ingredients for brownie mix:

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup of your choice of mix-in (optional): chopped nuts, chopped Oreos, toffee, etc. (like I said - this is an indulgent treat!)

Ingredients for cheesecake mix:

1/3 cup sugar
8 ounces cream cheese, softened or slightly warmed
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla


Electric mixer
Double boiler
9 x 13 baking dish
Parchment paper
Mixing bowls


1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Melt butter over low heat in double boiler (truth be told, I don't have one - you can get creative with two different sized pots or a small glass bowl with a slightly larger pot).  Warm or soften cream cheese (I popped mine in the toaster oven, right in the foil package, on low for a few minutes).  Grease baking pan with butter (this is a great use for your butter wrappers - just rub along the inside of the pan).  Measure out just enough parchment paper to line the bottom and sides of pan with a small overhang.  Press paper into pan (it should stick because of the butter).  This step is optional but really helps avoid having to scrape the brownies out of the bottom of the pan after baking.

3.  For brownies: in a large bowl, cream butter and sugar with mixer on low speed.  Add vanilla and eggs and mix on low briefly.  Add cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder and stir well with a rubber spatula until wet and slightly combined.  Mix briefly on low with mixer until thoroughly incorporated.  Note: Be careful throughout this step not to over-mix.  You do not want to fluff too much air into the mixture and make your  brownies cakey.  I added the step to pre-stir after adding the cocoa powder, flour, and baking powder because otherwise you will end up with a poofy cloud if you go straight to using the mixer (learned this from experience making two batches of these!).  Add your choice of mix-ins and stir to combine.

4.  For cheesecake: in a separate bowl, mix your softened cream cheese with sugar on low speed until no lumps remain.  Add egg and vanilla and stir by hand or mix on low until smooth.

5.  Pour 2/3 of the brown mixture into your greased, parchment-lined baking pan.  Smooth out with a rubber spatula if necessary.  Pour cream cheese mixture on top, smoothing out with a rubber spatula.  Pour remaining brownie mix on top, smoothing out with a rubber spatula once again.  Cut through batter with a knife several times to create marbled effect.

6.  Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean.  Transfer out of pan to wire rack to cool (not necessary, but you might as well if you used the parchment paper - it lifts right out).  These are certainly edible while warm, but the cheesecake layer definitely tastes way better after being completely chilled in the fridge.

The verdict: These were a big hit at the shower.  Everyone was gobbling these right up and coming back for seconds (myself included).  These are definitely a worthy indulgence.  Several people wanted the recipe, so I decided to make a whole blog post out of it.

On the subject of healthy upgrades: These are an indulgent treat.  There is way too much sugar in them to view them as anything else.  However, making these from scratch helps you avoid ingesting rancid, partially-hydrogenated, genetically-modified vegetable oils (which cause cancer and heart disease), chemically enriched and bleached white flours, corn starch made from genetically modified corn, and "artificial flavorings" - whatever that means.  In addition, while I wasn't really concerned with trying to make these "healthy," I used certain wholesome, high-quality ingredients I always keep on hand.  I made these with grassfed butter (Kerrygold or Humboldt Creamery are good brands), organic sugar (I used evaporated cane juice sugar from Trader Joe's, but a whole-cane sugar like rapadura/sucanut would be even better), homemade vanilla extract (expect a future post on this), pastured eggs from the farmer's market, organic white unbleached flour, and celtic sea salt.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chicken Fried Rice

My husband and I love to indulge in dinner at Benihana on special occasions.  One of my favorite things is their chicken fried rice.  After some trial and error, I feel like the below recipe is pretty darn close (with some healthy upgrades!).  I love this meal because I can use up a lot of veggies in the fridge and then rice and chicken which I always have in the freezer.  It is one of my quicker meals to prepare, and we love it!  I usually make a double batch, and then we eat leftovers for a couple lunches.

Chicken Fried Rice

Serves 4

2 eggs, scrambled (preferably from pastured chickens)
3 tablespoons butter (preferably from grass-fed cows)
2 cloves garlic, minced/smashed
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1/4 large onion, finely diced (you could certainly do more onion if desired)
2 stalks green onions, diced
1/2 cup frozen peas , thawed
4 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cooked, diced chicken (preferably pastured - can use mix of dark and white meat)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (San-J Tamari Soy Sauce is a good, naturally-fermented brand)
2 teaspoons sesame seeds


Cook scrambled eggs in separate pan, splitting into small bits.  Set aside.  Melt butter in a large skillet.  Sauté garlic, carrot, onion, and green onion until crisp-tender.  Add peas, brown rice, chicken, eggs, soy sauce, sesame seeds, and salt/pepper to taste.  Stir and fry until thoroughly golden and heated.  Serve and enjoy, preferably with chopsticks!

Helpful hint: This is worth writing a whole separate post for, but until then, I just thought I'd note that we buy about a dozen whole pastured chickens at a time to store in our freezer.  About once a month, I cook one up in the crock pot.  We eat some of the white meat that night, then I take all of the remaining white and dark meat off the bones and freeze in 1/2 cup portions in ziplock bags.  Then, whenever I want to make chicken casserole, chicken tacos, fettuccine alfredo, chicken fried rice, etc., I always have high-quality pre-cooked chicken ready.  The texture is completely fine after it's thawed, and it thaws in an instant since I freeze it in such small portions.  I also always return the bones to the crockpot and make stock.  I plan to post more on this later as well.

Perfect Brown Rice

Most of us know that whole brown rice (rice in which the outer husk has not been polished off) is the healthier choice over white rice.  I would also venture to guess that most of us prefer white rice to brown rice because brown rice is so tough and chewy!  I know for years I never ate brown rice for this reason.  It also takes forever to cook.

According to the Nourishing Traditions cookbook by Sally Fallon (a must-have book in every real food kitchen, in my opinion):

"All grains contain phytic acid (an organic acid in which phosphorus is bound) in the outer layer of the bran.  Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block absorption."  page 452

Phytic acid is greatly reduced by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains.  Brown rice is actually very low in phytic acid compared to other grains, so the Nourishing Traditions cookbook says it is all right to slow cook brown rice for at least two hours in a high-mineral, gelatinous broth to neutralize phytates and provide additional minerals.  Alternatively, you can pre-soak brown rice for 7 hours or longer in warm water with an acidic medium (examples of acidic mediums include whey, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, or apple cider vinegar).  I like to combine both approaches.  My approach has the added benefit of greatly improving the taste and texture of brown rice.

Perfect Brown Rice

Brown rice (any variety will do, but I particularly enjoy Basmati and Jasmine)
Filtered water
Acidic medium (I would suggest whey or raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar)
Chicken or turkey stock or broth (ideally homemade - this will be a post for another day!)

Rice cooker or large pot

A good rule of thumb with rice is that 1 cup uncooked rice usually equals 2 cups or so of cooked rice, depending upon the variety.  Whenever I make rice, I make a big batch.  I take any leftover rice and fill into quart-sized ziplock bags.  I smooth the rice out and freeze flat so they can be easily stacked and quickly thawed.  This is my own version of "minute" rice - on a frantic weeknight, I just pull a bag out of the freezer, thaw the whole bag in cold water for a few minutes if necessary, then dump it into a pan, add a little filtered water, and reheat

Add several cups of rice to a bowl.  Fill with slightly warm (approximately body-temperature) filtered water.  Add about 1 tablespoon of acidic medium for every 2 cups of uncooked rice.  I never measure - I just pour whatever looks good.  Stir and leave sit, covered, for at least 7 hours.  Drain and rinse rice.  Add a few cups of stock (a good rule of thumb is no more than 1 cup for every 2 cups of uncooked rice).  Add additional water if necessary to cover rice at least an inch or two (note: you can certainly make this without stock and just use all water - it is more nutritious and delicious with stock though!).  Keep in mind that not as much liquid is needed since the rice has already absorbed a lot during the overnight soak.  Cook in rice cooker or on stove on low until all water is absorbed or evaporated.  At the end, you will have delicious, fluffy, slightly nutty brown rice that has all the wonderful texture of white rice and all the flavor and nutrition of brown rice!

photo credit: