Outdoor Cooking Made Easy and Gourmet

Cooking in the great outdoors without your usual kitchen essentials can be intimidating! You might be tempted to default to some basic dishes like chili, soups, and stews because you can cook ahead, freeze and just reheat when it’s time to eat. But with a few easy tricks and some great recipes, you can whip up gourmet and even exotic dishes in the wilderness without much fuss.

Last weekend, we joined a few friends on the South Fork of the American river for a kayak/raft trip. Part of this boating trip involved camping on the side of the river – all part of the outdoor experience! Honestly, I am not a “roughing it” kind of girl but I am a lover of a good outdoor adventure! Just because we were camping, it didn’t mean we had to settle for canned beans and weenies by the camp fire. With my passion for food and wellness, my husband has come to expect delicious healthy food anytime I cook, in and out of my own kitchen. I created 2 recipes that are easy to pull off anywhere as long as you have a heating element and a cast iron pan or a Dutch oven.

Preparing the dish ahead

  1. Slice and dice at home with your chef’s knife to make it fast and easy.
  2. Marinade and season the meat ahead.
  3. Pre-measure and package seasonings and herbs for finishing touches.
  4. Precook ingredients partially.
  5. Assemble the dish as much as possible without affecting taste and texture of the final product.
  6. Chill all perishable ingredients separately to avoid co-mingling different flavors.
Pear and Fig Gorgonzola Torte

Pear and Fig Gorgonzola Torte

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 8-inch cornmeal crust (Vicolo)
  • 1/4 cup gorgonzola cheese
  • 1 large pear
  • 3-4 fresh figs
  • Balsamic glaze (Trader Joe’s)

Directions

  1. Warm gorgonzola cheese slight on the stove or microwave to soften.
  2. Spread the cheese on the cornmeal crust to cover the base. Wrap the crust with foil and keep chilled.
  3. When ready to cook, remove foil and place the cornmeal crust on a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven. Thinly slice pear and figs lengthwise (do not do ahead to avoid discoloration). Arrange slices of pear and fig in alternating pattern on top of cheese.
  4. Cook covered with a lid or foil on a camp stove or fire over medium high heat for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted. You can also cook this in your oven or gas grill at 400F when at home.
  5. Drizzle the torte with balsamic glaze before serving.

Asian Soup Noodles

Asian Noodle Soup

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 1 block (3.5 oz.) Organic Baked Tofu, teriyaki flavor, julienne cut
  • 2 carrots, julienne cut
  • 1/4 lb. sugar snap peas
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 lb. dry Asian noodles (wheat or rice)
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 2 (1-quart) boxes of chicken broth (Pacific organic bone broth)

Directions

  1. Precook meat and vegetables at home according to directions below and store in a container or freezer bag and keep chilled.
  2. Sauté yellow onion in oil.
  3. Add ground pork and cook until no longer pink.
  4. Season with salt and soy sauce.
  5. Add carrot and cook until almost tender.
  6. Add sugar snap peas and cook for a minute but still crisp.
  7. Cook noodles according to package directions and do not overcook. Store in a container or freezer bag and keep chilled.
  8. When ready to eat, bring chicken broth to a boil in a cast iron skillet or Dutch oven. Add meat and vegetable mixture to the broth and bring it back to boil.
  9. To serve, place a small amount of cooked noodles in each serving bowl and ladle soup over noodles. The soup will heat up the noodles. Do not add noodles to the soup in the skillet because it will absorb too much liquid.
  10. sprinkle chopped green onions on top of soup to garnish.


Sheet Pan Butternut Squash Frittata – Fast and Easy

A simple one pan dish is a dream for any busy parent! If you haven’t tried making a sheet pan dinner, just be warned that there’s no going back once you do. Imagine cooking a delicious meal, seemingly gourmet, all on a half-sheet baking pan in the oven with little fuss. However, there are a few simple rules – right type of pan, lining the pan, sequencing cook time, and seasonings – that will ensure a home run! I am sharing a seasonal recipe from my Healthydigs Meal Plan Program that is nutritious and gluten-free. Enjoy it for breakfast, lunch or dinner!


How to Make A Virtual Dinner Party Easy with a Delicious Menu!

Don’t sweat over the menu and the logistics of a virtual dinner party! Remember the goal is to have some fun with your friends. My husband and I had a great time last night with 2 of our dearest foodie friends in Canada. That’s the beauty of a virtual dinner – sharing a meal in California and British Columbia at the same time! The border between US and Canada has been closed since March and it’s not likely to open anytime soon, so we were thrilled to find a way to cook and drink “together” again. Virtual dinner parties, like many behaviors (online shopping is a good example) that started out of necessity during the pandemic will likely continue.

The key is to keep it simple! We just used FaceTime so we didn’t get frustrated setting up new technology unfamiliar to us. My husband put a standing pork roast on the grill rotisserie so it didn’t need much attention while cooking – leaving more time to socialize. I wanted to share a seasonal dish that is interesting and vegetarian but also easy to cook at the same time. I found the perfect recipe – Grilled peach Salad with Halloumi – in my Healthydigs Refresh Meal Plan Program. Click the link to find many more delicious recipes like this. If you haven’t grilled peaches and Halloumi cheese before, this is a must! This dish satisfies all five tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami – of the tongue. I prepared all the ingredients ahead of time and then just grilled the peaches and Halloumi cheese for 5 minutes before plating. This was our first virtual dinner party and there will be many more to come, pandemic or not!


Egg-free Apple Muffins – Make them Nutritious and Impactful!

Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.

Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!

High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup applesauce

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Direction

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.

In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.

Fold in chopped apples.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.

Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan; serve warm.


Recharge with a Vacation Day!

With no end in sight to this pandemic, many of us are looking for staycation ideas. Summer vacation doesn’t have to be far away from home nor does it have to be for long. However,  it does have to refresh my mind with a sense of escape from my daily routine and recharge my body with some delicious healthy food. Why not consider a vacation day close to home? If that speaks to you, read on! 

Last Sunday, my family and I went out to Bolinas beach, Marin County, for a little surf and sun. It was only a little more than an hour from home but it felt like miles away from the urban center of the San Francisco Bay. The beach was relatively uncrowded so families were able to play together but still keep sufficient distance from others.  As I soaked up the sun on the beach, it felt as if the ocean breeze was gently sweeping away my anxiety from being sheltered at home. At the same time, the sound of the crashing waves carried my mind far away to the Hawaiian shores for a little mental escape. It only took a couple hours to forget how the Coronavirus has constricted our daily lives for the last 5 months. 

On our way home,  we surprisingly discovered a farm stand that had a pre-COVID personality of a farmers market. The quintessential experience of the farmers market – leisurely roaming through the farmer stands, chatting to the vendors, touching and smelling the freshness of the fruits and vegetables, and food sampling – were mostly intact here! From the street, it appeared to be just another roadside produce stand. The sign advertising fresh wild king salmon was the initial hook that pulled us off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Unknowingly, it turned out to be the farmers market outing that I was starving for.  Abiding social distancing and face mask rules, we chatted with The Farm Stand owner, Jim, about the source of his local products – an array of organic produce from CSAs in Marin county and Salinas area, fresh seafood from the bay, and grass-fed meat from local farms. As we were talking, crates of fresh local strawberries arrived so Jim threw one to us from a distance for sampling. We were sold!!! The woman who delivered the strawberries stepped up to a table in front of us with a picnic basket to assemble a couple of strawberry shortcakes, made with freshly baked biscuits and crème fraîche. I thought they were for sale but no such luck. They were for Jim and his co-worker as an expression of gratitude for selling her strawberries at the farm stand. With all this wonderful distraction, we had to redirect ourselves back to the the question about their King salmon. Jim excitedly told us that it was line-caught, wild and sushi-grade. We were sold again as soon as he pulled out a  piece of fresh King salmon with glistening red flesh – not a sight you see in the supermarket. He then up sold us once again with Hog Island oysters from Tomales Bay by shucking one for me to taste on the spot. By this point, I felt like an endless summer had just descended upon us with bountiful of fresh fruits, vegetables and seafood. 

Armed with all these fresh ingredients, it was easy and fun to create a farm-to-table meal in our own home! The highlight was the make-you-own sushi and bowl with salmon sashimi. An interactive meal with conversation about the beach action, the farm stand activities, the fresh local organic food and the art of making sushi rounded out this enjoyable vacation day for us!


Quarantine Menu and Food Shopping Tips

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of quarantining alone, having some healthy and delicious food on hand can bump up the reading on your happiness meter. With the recent explosion of grocery delivery services, you shouldn’t have to rely on canned and dried goods. Choosing a good delivery service and having a comprehensive shopping list are key to well-balanced and creative meals. 

Today is the last day of my 14-day quarantine imposed on travelers entering Canada. The experience of managing my food during this time brings a great appreciation for the value of a reliable food delivery service that provides high quality food. Up until the start of my quarantine, I have not ordered groceries online because I wasn’t confident that they can deliver freshness, quality, and suitable substitutions if my items were out of stock.

A Canadian friend had referred me to SPUD, a local delivery company in Vancouver. Their service has impressed me in more ways than one. They offer a wild selection of food including plant-based and gluten-free, high quality products such as local, organic and sustainable, and a reliable delivery schedule. This post is not about promoting food delivery services but SPUD may have converted me into a believer of online grocery shopping. I can shop anytime of the day and night – something to do when stuck at home, read food labels for ingredients and nutrition information – can enlarge font size on the screen for readability, see my total cost before the checkout, and discover new products. I may never go back to in-person shopping in the grocery store!

If you are an online shopper for apparel, you know it is really easy to spend too much money and still result in mismatched outfits. Online grocery shopping is the same. You can click away with adding food to your shopping cart and still end up missing ingredients to assemble some well-balanced meals. You can avoid wasting money and food with a planned menu and a well curated shopping list. 

I am sharing my 7-day menu and grocery list for the first week of my quarantine. This can serves as a template for weekly menu planning. Plan well, eat well, and stay well!

Grains:

Oatmeal

Organic Love Crunch Granola

Organic Ready-to-Bake whole wheat croissants, 6 heat-and-serve

Organic Corn Tortilla – 6” – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini

Brown rice

Organic black soybean spaghetti (200 g)

Fruit:

Organic Gala apples – 3 lb. bag

Organic Mango – 2

Organic Black berries – 2 x 6 oz. box

Vegetables:

mushrooms – 1 lb.

Organic Avocado – 2

Organic Broccoli crown – 1 lb.

Organic Red Local peppers – 1

organic tomatoes – 1 lb.

Plant-based milk:

Unsweetened Almond milk – 1.89L

Organic coconut milk – 1 cam

Protein:

Pacific cod portion – 2 (4 oz. pieces)

Ocean Wise wild sockeye salmon portion – 1 (4 oz. piece) 

Organic medium firm tofu – 350 g

Organic eggs – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini -350 g

Smoked Salmon & Dill quiche – 2 

Extras:

Baba Ganoush eggplant dip

Thai Kitchen Green curry paste

Organic Pasta Pomodoro

Breakfast

Granola with mango slices and almond milk

Oatmeal with chopped apple 

Scrambled egg tortilla wraps drizzled with pomodoro sauce

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices. 

Granola with black berries and almond milk

Tofu scrumbled with apple wedges

Oatmeal with black berries  

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices

Lunch

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with apple slices

Homemade tortilla chips with Baba Ganoush. Fruit salad

Whole wheat croissant sandwich filled with sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomato and avocado slices.

Mediterranean Fish taco – panfried sliced cod, topped with chopped tomatoes and Baba Ganoush

Sacchettini and red pepper salad (tossed with your favorite dressing)

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with tomato salad

Black soybean pasta salad with chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and red pepper, tossed in soy and sesame dressing.

Dinner

Green curry pan-fried cod with mushroom and black soybean spaghetti

Stir-fry tofu and broccoli with steamed brown rice

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini with mushroom pomodoro sauce

Thai vegetable curry (curry paste and coconut milk) with brown rice

Mushroom and red bell pepper pomodoro with pasta

Grilled salmon with sauté  broccoli and brown rice

Tofu and vegetable fried rice


Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

I get excited about delicious vegan baked goods for many of the same reasons you do – healthy, environmentally friendly, and ethical. But the biggest personal reason is that my kids are seriously allergic to eggs. Yes, both my kids have the same allergies. The biggest challenge with an egg-free diet is avoiding hidden egg sources. Whether it’s buying a muffin or a bagel at a bakery, I always have to ask if it contains egg. Sometimes the bakery person will answer back “no, there’s no dairy”. Okay, there’s no milk products, but is there egg? It is very disappointing after much questioning about the ingredients and then have to walk away empty-handed. But with the tsunami of vegan bakeries appearing in recent years, it has changed this shopping scenario and boosted my grownup children’s happy meter.

Thinking back about 20 years ago with my first born, finding anything vegan was almost impossible except in a “natural food” store, if you were lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. Over the years, I had to be quite creative in baking without eggs and finding various egg replacements. The recipe I am sharing with you is vegan, high in fiber and rich in monounsaturated fat. As you know, when you buy vegan baked goods, it doesn’t always mean they are healthy so I still like to do much of my own baking. Hope you enjoy these super moist and nutritious muffins!

Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

1 cup plant-based milk

1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (egg replacement)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup natural bran

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

In bowl, stir lemon juice into plant-based milk; let stand for 1 minute to sour. Stir together 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to make the egg replacement and add to bowl. Stir in oil and molasses.

In a larger bowl, combine bran, whole wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture and blueberries; mix just until combined.

Spoon into nonstick or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm to touch.

Makes 12 muffins.


Vietnamese Specialty Dish – Earth to Table

Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but the highlight was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.

Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.

I was so impressed by this true example of the “earth-to-table” practice continuing for centuries in Hoi An! Following google maps, I set out to find this well. A posted sign pointed me down a little alley leading to the Ba Le Well.

The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties. 


Urban Wellness Retreat in Vancouver

Ever faced with the dilemma of choosing between an in-and-out destination wellness retreat where location is secluded or a busy hectic exploratory sightseeing city trip? Here’s simple solution to have it all – create your own wellness retreat in a metropolitan city that is fitness minded.

Vancouver is an extremely walkable city full of wellness options! Follow my itinerary from my recent trip and enjoy a day filled with yummy food, exercise, and sightseeing. Staying in a central location of the city makes it easy to be active, find healthy restaurants and see local sites on foot. I highly recommend the Kitsilano area for all those reasons. This neighborhood is known for its yoga studios, natural food stores, and outdoor apparel shops. After all, it is the location of the corporate HQ of Lululemon and the first Whole Food store in Vancouver.

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Start you day with breakfast at The Naam Restaurant, located in the heart of Kitsilano on 4th Avenue. You can get anything from scrambled tofu to hardy egg omelettes. It has served organic and locally sourced vegetarian and vegan food for over 50 years. After all these years, I found them to remain true to that original vision, using fresh and pure ingredients while maintaining a warm, earthy and welcoming atmosphere.

After a wholesome meal, head east down 4th Avenue and browse through all the trendy boutiques. Along the way, you will come across some of the best bakeries and cafes in town. Try to resist the temptations until you get to your lunch spot. I recommend grabbing a quick bite at TurF – a fitness studio, shop, bistro + coffee bar – an urban wellness lifestyle destination. Their healthy food counter serves up creative vegan fare including bowls, salads, sandwiches and extraordinary smoothies. The “Three Point Oh Burger” below was one of the best vegan burgers I’ve ever tasted. The house-made patty features black bean, eggplant, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oat, tahini and spices. This little cafe is part of a gym so try a workout before you dine out!

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Once you are fueled with some local healthy food , continue walking westbound on 4th Avenue to check out the boutiques on the other side of the street. When you reach Vine street, turn right and head down to Kitsilano beach where you will see a gorgeous view of the ocean and the north shore mountains. To the left of the beach you will find the largest saltwater swimming pool in North America. The pool is open May to mid-September with extensive hours. For a few dollars, you can enjoy a swim in a 137 meter heated infinity pool with the view of the ocean. Talk about a wellness retreat vibe for cheap!

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The walking path from Kitsilano beach will lead you to the Vancouver Maritime Museum and Vanier Park. Walk across the Burrard Street bridge towards downtown Vancouver, known as City of Glass. You will see why as soon as you cross the bridge. Make a left turn on Pacific Street and walk along Beach Avenue towards English Bay. Before continuing your walk into Stanley Park, stop at The Catus Club Cafe on the shores of English Bay to fuel up for the 6 mile loop around the park. You can’t beat the scenery of this location and the variety of vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options on their menu.

At this point, if this urban wellness day has provided enough exercise, good eats, and fun, just grab a taxi back to your pad. If you still have energy to burn, it’s only a 4 mile walk back to Kitsilano.


First meal in Spain

Just arrived in Barcelona last night after a long flight from San Francisoco. My family and I were looking for a delicious, but of course healthy meal, near our rented apartment located about 1/2 mile from the beach. It’s never easy spoting healthy restaurant food when traveling, but the chance is slim when you’re a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. Checking out the menu before sitting down is always a smart move. Even then, you never know if the menu description is accurate and if the dishes will meet your expectation when they show up. Our 2 dishes were not only nutritious but gluten-free and complement well in flavor. The Grilled vegetables with goat cheese was drizzled with generous amount of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A slice of lightly grilled goat cheese was a perfect topping on the vegetables. The grilled shrimp with coconut listed on the menu was a dish of 5 huge shrimps that came with heads and shells, served with a slaw type salad. The shrimps tastes fresh and had a hint of coconut milk. All this yummy food went perfectly with a glass of local Cava. Not only am I going back for this meal again, I will be adding these 2 dishes to my repertoire of healthy recipes!