Friday, April 18, 2014

Vegan Baked Ziti & A Give Away!

By: Lynn Stevens

Thinking about becoming a vegetarian? My first attempt to do so was in high school. My dad, the chef in our house, was entirely annoyed. A few months later, I was diagnosed anemic and this ended my vegetarian journey . . . at least temporarily.

It wasn’t until recently, that a vegetarian approach to eating, once again, found some appeal in my life, particularly after I watched the documentary, Food, Inc. Couple that experience with today’s society that picks up the sword of nutrition in the fierce battle with debilitating disease that exists in our world and it’s easy to lean towards eating more (if not only) vegetables and less meat (if not none). But while I certainly want to win that battle, I don’t want to lose the enjoyment and taste of good food. So, for me, “To eat and what to eat, that is the question.” It’s too bad we can’t script our life screenplay knowing what’s to come.

So, while not a vegetarian, I have cut back on my meat and dairy in favor of a lot of vegetarian dishes in what seems like the unending search for ways to improve my nutritional profile while, at the same time, remembering life (and food) is to be enjoyed in balance. That’s what I really liked about Mayim’s Vegan Table cookbook, which provides a very enjoyable transition towards a vegan lifestyle. This book is written by Mayim Bialik, a mother, actress, and neuroscientist, along with Dr. Jay Gordon, a pediatrician. It addresses common misconceptions related to vegan eating, and provides persuasive arguments to adopt a vegan lifestyle for health, environmental, and ethical reasons. Easy meal tips are offered to counter the roadblock of time constraints. And, I must say, many of these recipes are very simple.

I made several recipes over the course of the week and found them to be surprisingly interesting and delicious. Even my family enjoyed them and no one complained about the lack of meat. The baked ziti recipe listed below was one of my favorites. The only downside to the book was that there were simply not enough entrée recipes. I wish there had been more included; but, isn’t that the sign of a good book? It keeps you wanting more…

So, still thinking about becoming a vegetarian? Albert Einstein said, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” My advice: Try a few recipes and remember that change is gradual, and the transition to a new lifestyle is more successful when implemented gradually, rather than overnight. Even if you don’t plan to ban meat completely, this book will help to set you on the right track to healthier eating.

Baked Ziti
(printable recipe)
Serves 8
1 tablespoon salt
12 ounces ziti pasta (or penne)
3 tablespoons fresh basil or parsley, chopped, for garnish

Herbed “Ricotta”
1 ½ cups raw macadamia nuts, soaked in a bowl of water for at least 4 hours
1/8 teaspoon garlic, minced
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
3 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
1 (14-ounce) can roasted tomatoes, diced
1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt

Cashew Cream
1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse, let cool and set aside.

2. To make the herbed “ricotta”, combine the macadamia nuts, ¼ cup of water, and the garlic, salt, and olive oil in a food processor and puree for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and puree for another minute, until light and fluffy. Set aside.

3. To make the tomato sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over high heat, and sauté the onion until soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and herbs and sauté for another 2 minutes. Lower the heat to medium, add the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the salt and cook for another 15 minutes.

4. To make the cashew cream, puree the soaked cashews in a blender until a smooth paste forms. Add 1/3 cup of water and the remaining ingredients and puree until creamy.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 F. To assemble the baked ziti, toss the pasta with the tomato sauce in a large bowl, and then stir in the herved “ricotta”. Mix in the cashew cream.

6. Spread into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown. Garnish with fresh basil or parsley, as desired.

a Rafflecopter giveaway In order for me to support my knowledge-sharing/writing/blogging activities, I occasionally may receive monetary compensation and or product in exchange for my recommendation, and/or testimonial. However, I only recommend products or services I have personally used myself and trust.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Italian Easter Bread

"Throwback Thursday: Taking you back through the past 6 years by highlighting some of my favorite blog posts"

Our family breakfast tradition on Easter is Italian Easter Bread.  Growing up in Philadelphia it was sold in all the neighborhood bakeries and you could buy it with eggs or without.  Not the case here in Phoenix. Yes, you can find it here but it's not so readily available.  So what does one do when she calls herself "the food hunter" and doesn't want family traditions to stop just because of where she lives?  She makes her own of course.

 Happy Easter!

Italian Easter Bread 
1 cup milk
2 1/4 ounce packets active dry yeast
1tsp vanilla
1 tsp anise
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp salt
1 stick butter cut into 1 inch pieces

Egg wash
1 egg
1 tbs water

In a small saucepan heat the milk over medium to 110 F. Add the yeast to a small bowl with the warm milk and whisk it  with 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Let sit until foamy (about 5 minutes).

Whisk in the eggs, anise and vanilla; set aside.

In a large bowl whisk together the rest of the sugar, flour, lemon zest, and salt.

Pour the flour mixture in the bowl of a mixer. With dough hook attached and mixer on medium speed, slowly add the milk .

Add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time and let it get gently incorporated into the dough. 

Be sure to mix well when all the butter is added (about 3-5 minutes). Adding more flour until your dough is stiff  not sticky. 

Put a little flour on the counter and scrape the dough out of mixer. Knead the dough a little and shape the dough into a ball.

Oil a large glass bowl and place the dough in there too rest. Rub a little oil on top of the dough and cover for about 1-1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough.

Divide the dough into 3 portions. Roll each portion into a strip about 15" long. Pinch the ends and start the can leave as a long braid or pinch ends together to form a wreath.

Cover with a kitchen towel and let rest 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 350.

When ready to bake brush dough with egg wash and add sprinkles. Place on a parchment lined baked pan and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden in color.  Let cool on rack before slicing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Fuel The Marathon of Your Life {Give Away}

By:The Food Hunter

Photo by Josiah Mackenzie / CC BY

I'm by no means a marathon runner. Heck, I ran one 10K and decided that was enough for me. But I do workout almost daily and it does include some running here and there. When it comes to fueling the body, whether it is for a workout, run or just life itself the food you choose definitely has an impact on how you perform.

We’ve all had days where we’ve over indulged in calorie laden food and felt sick, lethargic, and downright lazy. Don't fool yourself into thinking it's anything other than the food you consumed making you feel this way. Choosing to eat better food is the first step to getting your body on track to run the marathon we call life.

I do my best to eat healthy on a regular basis, but it isn't always easy, particularly if I'm on the go. These are the times I turn to nuts, fruit or homemade granola to fuel my body. They are all portable and good for me snacks. But when I’m home I keep my fridge stocked with Greek yogurt.

Topped with berries, sprinkled with homemade granola or eaten plain right out of the container I love Greek yogurt. It makes a perfect snack or a great breakfast and keeps my body consistently fueled and feeling good for hours.

This year Stonyfield Greek Yogurt is the official yogurt sponsor of the Boston Marathon. They will be there handing out yogurt coupons to help runners and their friends and family fuel up after the race. They will also be giving away tons of healthy living prizes on the day of the marathon. Follow along on both Twitter and Instagram on race day using #StonyfieldSuperFan and you might just win! ****You can also enter below to win 1 of 5 FREE Stonyfield yogurt coupons.****

Remember it’s all about what you put into your body so be sure to make healthy choices as often as possible; your body will thank you for it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

In order for me to support my knowledge-sharing/writing/blogging activities, I occasionally may receive monetary compensation and or product in exchange for my recommendation, and/or testimonial. However, I only recommend products or services I have personally used myself and trust.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's Old Is New Again At The Hotel Valley Ho & ZuZu

By: The Food Hunter

Since 1956 the Hotel Valley Ho has been host to a multitude of events for celebrities, athletes and the general public. Once known as a hide-away for the rich and famous, this mid-century modern venue offers a unique backdrop for just about any occasion.

At the Hotel Valley Ho possibilities for creating the perfect atmosphere for just about any size group are endless. Outdoor ceremonies by the OH Pool are a popular choice; as are rooftop receptions with views of Camelback Mountain in the horizon.

More formal affairs can be received in one of the many ballrooms, some of which include outdoor seating areas. 

Just off the main lobby is ZuZu, the hotel's retro chic restaurant serving seasonal American fare. Large indoor/outdoor dining tables at the restaurant provide another cool venue option. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner ZuZu attracts a mixed crowd of hotel clientele and locals.

The menu features fresh and local produce whenever possible. You'll find everything from gourmet salads, to burgers, salmon and steak. There's definitely a nice variety to satisfy even the pickiest of diners.

Our recent dinner included a good mix of fare from the menu. To begin we sampled the grilled artichokes. Slightly charred and served topped with a toasted bread crumb mixture of pecorino romano and oregano, they were delicious and fun to share.

My absolute favorite food of the night was the roasted tomato and goat cheese casserole. Baked in a mini cast iron pot with spinach, red peppers, and chopped kalamata olives, I could easily have eaten my way through several of these little crocks of melted cheese.

Our main course included the braised beef short rib served over cream grits accompanied by oven-roasted vegetables. The vegetables were a bit firm for my taste, but who needs vegetables with meat this succulent and tender?

On the lighter side I tasted the skin on pan seared striped bass served over smashed cauliflower and a ginger soy butter. I'm usually not a huge ginger fan but this sauce complimented the fish perfectly.

Be sure to save room for dessert because you won't want to miss out on the delightful caramel apple crisp topped with vanilla ice cream. Exactly how a crisp should be and then some!

Lots of good food to choose from but frankly the true success of ZuZu resides within the Hotel Valley Ho. Full of character in a town where there are bigger, swankier, and even more luxurious hotels, the Valley Ho is the epitome of the saying "what's old is new again".

Cuisine type: American
Price Range: $10-$25
A modern take on a classic restaurant of the 1950s, with indoor and outdoor seating.
Additional information:
Savor handcrafted cocktails in the ZuZu Lounge, where Cool Redux Happy Hour is 4:00-7:00 weekdays. Stop by for weekend brunch on Saturdays and Sundays and build your own drink for $5 at the Bloody Mary and Mimosa Bar.
Hotel Valley Ho

6850 E Main St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Phone:(480) 421-7997

 Article  also appears on Arizona Weddings Magazine Blog

This meal was provided complimentary. However, all opinions and comments are my own.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Baked Pasta with Ham for Easter Dinner

By:The Food Hunter

Holiday meals at our house always seem to observe the same format: appetizers, followed by pasta, onto a complete meat course (including potato & vegetable) and then dessert. Over the years I've been inconspicuously trying to whittle this routine down. It's not that I don't love our family holiday meal traditions it's just that these days it's harder and harder to eat such large amounts of food.

This year for Easter I've decided that instead of two separate courses I will combine the meat and pasta into one. I'm not sure how this is going to fly with the family; but I guess I will find out soon enough. The baked pasta dish below is so good I think they may just forget there's no meat course being served.

I found this recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks Molto Italiano by Mario Batali. Laden with cheese and chunks of parmacotta, which is cured ham, this dish has all the elements of Easter at our house wrapped into one.

Baked Pasta With Ham
(printable link)
Makes 8 servings

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta
8 ounces hard provolone, cut into small dice
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine, bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 20 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 2 tablespoons salt.

Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al dente. While the pasta is cooking place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to "melt" it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone, and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

Grease a round 12-inch deep pie dish or a casserole with olive oil. Place a ladle of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture. Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture over the pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up.

Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.