Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Artichokes done easy

Springtime means that artichokes are back in season. From just a quick glance, these prickly suckers can seem daunting to work with and prepare. Too many leaves to deal with and then you've got the whole issues of the choke itself...take a bite out of it and you definitely won't be too happy (note the word 'choke' here).

I'll admit, I was a little weary the first time I tackled artichokes. But it couldn't have been more easy...and delicious to boot. Not to mention that artichokes are loaded with antioxidants, folate, magnesium and vitamin C. Artichokes are known to help cleanse or “detox” the liver (point of interest for those of you who like a drink or two) and they pack in ¼ of our daily recommendation for fiber, 6 grams a piece. A single artichoke bears a mere 25 calories, which leaves you some room for a little garlic butter to dip the leaves in, yum.

Steamed Artichokes with Garlic and Lemon

3-4 whole, fresh artichokes – cut off 1 to 2 inches at the top and trim the sharp tips of outer leaves. Cut off the base and remove small outer leaves if desired.
3 cloves garlic, 2 whole, 1 minced and pressed with knife into a paste
2-3 Tbsp butter melted (about ½ a stick)
1 ½ lemons, halved

  1. Fill a large pot or a steamer with an inch of water and bring to a boil.
  2. Toss in 1 cut lemon, halved and 2 whole garlic cloves. Arrange artichokes in pot, tips facing up.
  3. Cover and steam at medium-high heat for 25-35 minutes until bases are soft and leaves can be pulled off easily.

*Remember to keep an eye for the furry, bristly choke when you get to it after eating the outer leaves. Scoop out the choke and discard and you’ve hit the heart of the artichoke, the best part.

Garlic Butter Dipping Sauce

Melt butter in microwave or on the stove in a small pot. Add in minced garlic or garlic paste and juice from ½ lemons. Pour butter into a small serving bowl or individual mini-ramekins.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The best Mexican spots around NYC

It's hot people! This weekend's unseasonably warm weather got me outside soaking up some much needed sun and it also got me craving some serious Mexican food...and a few ice cold cocktails. This typically happens to me each year when the temperature hits above 65. I don't know what it is, but warm weather, great Latin/Mexican food and minty mojitos and limey margaritas are like a culinary match made in heaven. I'm guessing I'm not alone here, so I figured this is the perfect opportunity to do a quick run-down of my favorite Mexican and Latin spots around town. And yes, you CAN do Mexican food and margaritas without throwing the concept of 'healthy eating' out the window. Watch the heavily cheesy, sauced-up, fried stuff and massive portions and you're a big step ahead before even taking the first bite. Soft tacos, fajitas, basic burritos, traditional chicken, fish or lean beef and pork dishes, ceviche, and black beans instead of refried are some smart picks to start with - and they leave a little more room for a bit of guacamole and a couple of chips. Here are a few of my go-to's in the city:

1. Esperanto - 145 Avenue C @ 9th St. ( - Tucked pretty deep in Alphabet City, Esperanto is one of my all-time favorite places to grab a table outside, lounge around and have a long, lively dinner with friends. Flavorful, lite Brazilian and South American food is what you'll get along with live music on most nights. Their ceviches, grilled corn, tuna, salmon and shrimp dishes are killer. Beware though, the mojitos are insanely strong. And fyi, I've heard brunch there is hard to beat.
2. Delicia Brazil - 322 W. 11th St. btwn Greenwich & Washington -- I was lucky enough to be introduced to this tiny, non-descript, 'mom-n-pop' Brazilian place in the West Village by a friend a number of years ago. When I say 'mom-n-pop' I really mean it--Delicia's owned and run by the very friendly Brazil-transplant Jose and his sister who whip up authentic, homey dishes. If my grandmother was Brazilian, this is exactly what she'd make. The wait for food can be long at times, but it's so worth it. My standard order is always the heart of palm salad followed by the passion fruit baked chicken and a side of black beans, rice and farofa (a Brazilian side dish made from ground yucca). And if you can save some room for dessert, a few bites of the passion fruit mousse are well-worth the indulgence. The food's basic, but so good and the incredibly reasonable prices are always appreciated.
3. Mexicana Mama - 525 Hudson St. & 47 E. 12th St. -- "The Mama", as we endearingly call it in my apartment, is my neighborhood Mexican place. The food's so good, I'm here year-round. In fact, I made a dinner run there just tonight and had a Rachael Ray spotting (she lives in the hood). Awesome, authentic Mexican and possibly the best salsa I've ever had. It's so addictive, I'll often just get some to-go and have it at home for a quick, healthy snack with fresh cut veggies.
4. Barrio Chino - 253 Broome St. @ Orchard ( -- This is a fairly recent and very welcome discovery on the Lower East Side/Chinatown. Solid Meixcan food mixed with Chinese decor. It's a pretty tiny place, but the fusing of cultures totally works. I've sampled the fish soft tacos (a perfect portion btw), enchilada verdes and the tequila shrimp all of which are fantastic. And if I had to rate mojitos around the city, their fresh strawberry mojito would be on the very top of the list. Keep in mind, the place is small so be prepared to wait for a good hour or more sometimes on a busy night. That much more time for another mojito!
5. Yerba Buena - 23 Avenue A @ 2nd St. ( -- I must admit, the first time I ate in this cozy Latin restaurant in the East Village, it was actually snowing outside. But the delicious, refined Latin fare (the guac and pomegranate-glazed short ribs are a must) and incredible, creative cocktails (the "Hemingway" with fresh grapefruit juice, lime and rum is amazing) warmed things up real quick. The restaurant opened just last year and the reviews that followed speak to it's speedy success (read: go early or if you've got a large party, definitely make reservations).

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sugar Rush

This post is a brief one, but I thought this NY Times article from earlier in the week was worth a mention seeing as I've been bombarded recently with questions about the 'natural' calorie-free sweeteners that are hitting shelves. "Showdown at the Coffee Shop" takes readers through the ins and outs of sweeteners, from Splenda and Equal to the newly 'natural' sweeteners like TruVia and Stevia. My quick take--stick with the real stuff...sugar, honey, agave nectar. The powdered, packeted stuff is worlds sweeter than sugar itself and the research on any potential health risks is still TBD. One packet of Splenda is 600 times sweet than 16 calorie-packet of sugar or sugar in the raw (the brown pack). Stevia and TruVia, both processed from the stevia plant, may be calorie-free, but they're also 300 times sweeter than regular sugar. What's that mean for you and your coffee, diet soda, sugar-free cookies and candy? Well, artificially or alternatively sweetened products can de-sensitize your flavor palate for the taste of real, actual 'sweet' - if you're using quite a lot of them in your diet. If you're racking up the yellow, blue and pink packets, you might find yourself craving more sweet things and more carbohydrates (calorie-free or not). Your body recognizes real food best, as close to the original source as possible. Sweeteners don't register with the body, we're not satisfied, and we look for more. For a mere 16 calories, I'll happily take my packet of sugar in the raw for my morning coffee any day.

Anyhow, the article runs through the history of sweeteners, comparing and contrasting each. Keep an eye out for a wave of new 'naturally sweetened' products like Sprite Green and Trop50 (Tropicana that's diluted with water and sweetened with stevia). If you're a pink, blue or yellow lover, try weaning down to a packet or two per day. It might be battle for your taste buds, but I promise the fight will pay off in the long run.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thai curry makeover

I'm not sure whether it was the nasty weather last week or a random Thai curry craving to warm me up, but I decided to experiment in the kitchen a little and ended up concocting the recipe after a quick trip up to the ultimate spice market in the city, Kalustyan's, on Lex and 28th -- if you're a foodie or a spice lover, the place is just insane . You might be wondering why I would ever choose to make (or order) a Thai's made with coconut milk which is high in fat and could that possibly be on a nutritionist's 'go-to' list? I like to find the silver lining in just about everything. True, coconut milk isn't the most healthful, but it is incredibly flavorful and if you spoon out just a few tablespoons of the sauce, you get all the flavor, spice and Asiany deliciousness without all the excess calories. Another bonus point and reason why curry can be a relatively decent option when doing Thai take-out, there's usually very little oil involved in curries which is more than I say for alot of the sauteed dishes that are swimming in grease. On my own terms, in my own kitchen, I lightened things up a bit further and swapped in light coconut milk to ease up on the fat content -- great flavor and you can barely tell the difference. Daunting as ethnic recipes can be sometimes, this dish was super easy to make and I must admit, really freaking good - I may never order Thai curry take-out again. A note of warning however, it's spicy enough to clear up any stuffy nose. If you want to tone down the spice, just add less curry paste, and keep in mind that red curry paste is less hot than green when you’re looking for it in the grocery store. Get creative and change up shrimp for chicken or tofu or toss in different vegetables like green beans or eggplant.

Thai Shrimp Curry with Pineapple & Red Bell Pepper
Serves 4
2 tsp peanut oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
2 Tbsp red curry paste*
Zest and juice of 1 lime *or if you can find fresh kaffir lime leaves at the grocery, swap them for the fresh lime
1 can light coconut milk
2 Tbsp Asian fish sauce*
1 cup diced fresh or canned (in water) pineapple
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
½ cup bamboo shoots
1 cup straw mushrooms*
¾-1 lb fresh shrimp, peeled with the tail left on
1-2 Tbsp each of fresh cilantro, minced and fresh Thai basil leaves, chiffonade*
Garnish with 1-2 cilantro sprigs
*You can find fish sauce, curry paste and straw mushrooms in the Asian section of your grocery store or at your local Asian market.
*chiffonade’ is a cutting technique used for herbs or leafy greens in which they’re rolled tightly, kind of like a cigar (stack a few on top of each other, then roll) and then cut horizontally into very fine, thin ribbons. It’s great for fresh basil leaves.

1. Heat peanut oil in large, heavy sauce pan on medium-high heat. Add onion and ginger and cook for 2-3 minutes until onion is translucent. Add curry paste, stir and cook for another 2 minutes.
2. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, lime juice and zest. Stir until well-blended.
3. Add pineapple through straw mushrooms. Stir, lower heat to medium, cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes.
4. Add shrimp to sauce, mix well, return heat to medium-high and cook for another 5-6 minutes until shrimp is cooked through.
5. Add Thai basil and cilantro in the last 1-2 minutes of cooking.
6. Serve with jasmine rice and garnish with extra cilantro sprigs.