Market Finds

Market Finds
Farmer's Market Bounty

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting My Blog On:

What a fabulous time I had last weekend attending my first Foodblog South conference, in Birmingham, AL.  My partners in crime for the weekend were Chef Nancy Waldeck and Chef Stacy Maple.  The three of us are at various stages of our blogging careers, raging from years of experience, not much at all and somewhere in between.  Each of us came with different expectations of what we wanted to get out of the weekend.  Personally my goals were to work on my networking skills, and find some new motivation and inspiration, since I had slacked off on my blog postings in recent months.  So, while my networking skills, are still a major work in progress, my motivation and inspiration are abundant.

Stacy, Nancy and me at Foodbloog South 2013

I attended a variety of sessions, ranging from blogging strategies and recipe writing to advanced photography and food styling, to name a few.  While each session focused on a specific element of blogging, there was an underlying theme, or buzzwords as I like to call them, running through the entire conference.  These buzzwords were: passion, community, journey and personal.  When I came home and looked at the homepage of my blog, I realized that two of these words were right there in front of me.  Passionate, as in "Passionate Plate" was front and center, my name and identifier.  I must be on the right track.  Follow my culinary "journey", is written in my bio.  "Personal", well this is all personal.  They are my words, my ideas, my experiences.  And while my current "community" may be small, it is my intention for it to expand as I move forward.

I also learned that each blogger defines his or her own success and that your definition of success can change as you progress.  This is a concept I can live with.  Additionally, I was taught the importance of keeping to a schedule.  So, now that I have ownership of my own blog, rather than guest posting on, I'm going to have to step up my game.  My goal for now is to post once a week on Thursdays and work up from there.

There are so many food bloggers out there, and being in a room with close to two hundred people who share the same enthusiasm for food is exciting to me. Building relationships with like-minded people is a privilege.  It was a great weekend and I hope the creative steam that was generated will last indefinitely.

Finally, I learned from keynote speaker, Kenji Alt-Lopez of Serious Eats, that recipes for Chili, are the most searched recipes on the internet.  So what kind of blogging student would I be, if I did not post my chili recipe this week?  It is super bowl weekend after all. 

Enjoy a bowl of my healthy chili, this cold super bowl weekend and remember to make every thing on your plate (or in your bowl) something to be passionate about.

Comforting Vegetarian Chili:

1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 small Yellow Onion, chopped
1 12 oz package of Soyrizo, removed from casing
1 Red Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Orange Bell Pepper, chopped
4 TB Chili Powder
1 Tsp Smoked Paprika
2 Tsp Garlic Powder
1 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Ground Coriander
2 15 oz cans, Red Kidney Beans,drained and rinsed
2 15 oz cans, Pinto Beans,drained and rinsed
1 28oz can, Fire Roasted Tomatoes, diced
1 12 oz bottle of Light Beer, I used Miller Lite
Non-Fat Greek Yogurt, optional
Shredded 2% Cheddar Cheese, optional
Chopped Cilantro, optional
Chopped Scallions,optional
Hot Sauce, optional

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat and add onion and peppers. Stir until softened, but not browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add Soyrizo to pan and stir to break up the mixture into crumbles. Add spices and stir to combine, before adding the beans, tomatoes and beer. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about and hour or until thicked to desired consistency. Serve in individual bowls with desired garnishes. Serves 4-6.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Welcome to The Passionate Plate:

For the past two years I have been writing guest posts on Chef Nancy Waldeck's Taste and Savor blog.  But, with the start of a new year and trip the the Food Blog South conference next week, I thought it was time to set up my very own blog.  So it is with great excitement that I launch

I have spent the last couple of days transfering my Taste and Savor guest posts onto my new blog.  This was the first time I had re-read many of these blogs since they were originally posted.  What a wonderful walk down memory lane.  Seeing how my photographs, recipes and food styling has evolved is extremely satisfying.  I plan to continue sharing my passion for all things culinary and hope that the next two years will bring as much growth, adventure and deliciousness as the previous two have.

So, bear with me as I iron out the kinks of my blog's layout, since technology is not my forte.  I leave you with photos of some of my latest creations.  Enjoy!

My new favorite breakfast
Homemade Papardelle
Scallops and Spaghetti with a Lemon-Wine Sauce
Roasted Radish Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Here's to a great new year and my hope that every day brings you something on your plate to be passionate about!  

Savoring Summer:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on on August 13, 2012

Though the official end of summer is still a few weeks off, summer as I know it has come to an end. Vacations are now cherished memories, my workload has picked up and the kids are back in school. As many of you know, I had the opportunity to travel to Alaska last month with my parents and nine year old son. My parents generously offered to take both of my children on a special trip. Last year was a tour of Italy with my daughter and this year the Alaska trip with my son, Zach. Although, not officially invited on either one of these trips, I could not help but tag along as they were both places I had not yet been in my travels. The sad thing is, is that I only have two kids and have no wonderful trip to look forward to next summer. Perhaps I can convince the parents, that my new furry, four-legged child Charlie needs a trip to Paris, after all, he is small enough to fit into a Louis Vuitton bag for convenient and chic travel and I know the French love taking their "petit chiens" out to the cafes. I will certainly get working on that, but in the meantime will fill you in on my trip to Alaska.

I had no idea what to expect of this last frontier. I knew there would be salmon, (Because, what else is there to think about on a trip other than what you are going to eat?) and mountains and maybe a moose sighting. Quite frankly, I was a bit hesitant about the whole trip. I have never been the rugged outdoor type, and felt like a complete fraud when I stepped into the R.E.I store for the first time in search of waterproof hiking boots and rain gear. So, with my bags now appropriately packed, we headed to Anchorage and the start of ten glorious days of discovery.

We arrived to a dreary cold scene, which was actually a pleasant change from the 105 degrees we hit in Atlanta the week prior. Our tour started with a bang. The first night at dinner, we had the pleasure of meeting Petra the eighteen year old bald eagle. She was regal and beautiful and just the beginning of the spectacular natural beauty we would see on this trip.

Everyone, I met before my trip, who had already been to Alaska, assured me that I would be awed by the beauty. Blah, blah blah.....I really just wanted to eat good food and come back with some delicious culinary inspirations, as I had on last summer's trip to Italy. That did not happen, while I did have several interesting meals, I had to put my love of food photography on hold. It was really not that hard to find something amazing to take a picture of. Iditarod sled dogs, Mt. McKinley, glaciers, running rivers, icy lakes, colorful flowers and the animals at the wildlife preserve. It was amazing!

There were many firsts for me on this trip. Kayaking, a five mile mountain hike, a jet boat ride and a trip up in a small plane to view Denali, just to name a few. But perhaps the most breath taking thing that I witnessed, was watching my son have the time of his life. To see the grandure of Alaska through his eyes and personal experience was wonderous.

So, I did not come back from Alaska with an inspired recipe, but instead, a new love of nature, the great outdoors and of course, my new waterproof hiking boots. The Alaskan's are passionate about their state and are the most resourceful group of people I have ever encountered.

Now, as I plunge head first into the new school year and my busy fall work schedule, I will reflect fondly on the tranquility and beauty I found in Alaska and try to carry some of that with me in the hectic weeks ahead.

A New Mouth to Feed:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on June 14, 2012

With a lighter than normal work schedule this week, I had great aspirations of productivity. I had hoped that lots of planned cooking and recipe testing, would produce some great meals for my family and of course a wonderful new recipe for my blog. Well, not too much cooking happened this week and as a matter of fact, I had a hard time even getting to the grocery store. Happily, I can say that my lack of accomplishment in the cooking department was not a result of anything bad, but rather something wonderful. And unexpected and welcome distraction in the form of a small, fuzzy bundle of love who needed a home. My home.

We welcomed this precious creature, "Charlie" into our home on Tuesday of this week and have spent the past couple of days getting acclimated to each other. I wanted to share the story that lead me to this dog in need.

Exactly one week ago, Chef Nancy and I facilitated a hands on cooking class at the Cancer Wellness Center at Piedmont West. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know some of our regular participants better, learn from each other and share stories. As the evening wound down, and our guests were saying their good-byes, Chef Nancy called me over to see a picture of a dog that had recently been rescued by a lovely couple called Cedric and Amanda, who frequent Cancer Wellness. Nancy knew that I had started looking for a new dog, and also knew that my main criteria was fluffy, fuzzy, floppy eared, with a big black nose. The dog in the snapshot was the perfect specimen, in my opinion.

Cedric and Amanda, directed me to, where my kids and I poured over the pictures of many cuties who needed homes. Several of the dogs we were initially interested in were adopted before we could make it over to the facility in Smyrna on Tuesday morning. I was very impressed with the Atlanta Pet Rescue and Adoption center. Friendly staff, immaculately clean, and many adorable animals who were waiting to find their forever homes. Charlie (formerly known as Willis) caught our eye, as he looked remarkably similar to our wheaton terrier, who we lost at the end of last year. The adoption process was easy, and within an hour, we were on the way home with the newest memeber of our family.

So as you can see, I have been happily distracted this week and mainly trying to mix up the perfect batch of kibbles for the new mouth that I have to feed.

I feel extremely grateful to have been a part of the wonderful class at Cancer Wellness last week, which was a fun and fullfilling evening in and of itself, but even more happy that being in the right place at the right time led us to Charlie.

A Visit to Lee's Bakery:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on June 6, 2012

How could I not be intrigued by a bakery bearing my name? Of course we will overlook the fact that their spelling of "Lea" is incorrect. All jokes aside, I had been looking forward to trying Lee's Bakery for several weeks. Lee's is a Vietnamese bakery specializing in the noodle soup, pho as well as traditional ban mi sandwiches.

A plastic tray filled with an array of spicy condiments certainly peaked my interest as we sat down at our table to order. I ordered a lunch special which included a grilled pork banh min and a copious bowl of beef noodle pho. The banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich, which translated, means "bread". The bread they are referring to is a small baguette. The sandwiches can be filled with tofu, fried eggs, chicken or more typically, pork. The sandwiches are garnished with fresh cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber slices, jalapenos and Vietnamese mayonnaise. The condiments were so delicious that I could have eaten them as a sandwich on their own, no meat necessary. I am somewhat remiss to admit that this was my first ever banh mi sandwich. Not quite sure how I have gone all these years with out tasting one of these, but rest assured, I will be trying my best to make up for lost time.
The second item in my lunch combo was a piping hot bowl of beef noodle soup called pho. This may have been hands down, one of the best soups I have ever had. The depth of flavor in the broth was amazing. The soup had the effect of a warm elixer going down. I immediately felt better after having a few spoonfuls, and mind you, I did not even feel bad prior.
I left Lee's this afternoon with the warmth of hot chilis still tingling on my lips, and feeling exited about the new flavors I had discovered. The next time a make a sandwich for lunch, I will be skipping my usual pickles, lettuce and tomato, and adding a little Vietnamese flair with sliced cucumbers, pickled veggies, fresh jalapeno and cilantro.

Lee's Bakery is located at 4500 Buford Highway NE, Altanta, GA 30345.

A New Twist on A Southern Summertime Classic:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on May 31, 2012

I have a bit of an obsession with chicken salad. It is a a dish that has many variations. Chef Nancy, Intern, Mary Rob and I were discussing the virtues of chicken salad a couple of weeks ago while making a batch of curried chicken salad for an event. We all agreed that the curried chicken salad was delicious, but each had an opinion about certain likes and dislikes. Mary Rob likes the addition of apples, Chef Nancy, grapes. I admitted my dislike for the addition of fresh fruit in my chicken salad, thus sparking a fun debate about the best ingredients for the perfect chicken salad.

So, it was with chicken salad on the brain and a continuing abundance of fresh basil from my garden, that I decided to venture way off the traditional track and come up with an recipe using some of my favorite Mediterranean ingredients instead.

Sun dried tomatoes took the place of the dried fruit, fennel instead of celery and pine nuts rather than pecans. This fun little experiment yielded a tasty and decidedly non-traditional chicken salad. I love the challenge of taken a tried and true dish and making it into something unexpected. This is a simple recipe, that with a little bit of chopping and a large mixing bowl, comes together quite easily.

Serve this cool salad on a bed of leafy greens or as a hearty sandwich on toasted whole wheat bread as shown below.

Mediterranean Chicken Salad:

3 cups chopped cooked chicken breast
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped scallions (green parts only)
1/2 cup chopped fennel
3/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes (not in oil)
1/3 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/2 cup light olive oil mayonnaise
1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons toasted Pine Nuts
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Add all ingredients into a large bowl and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to and hour to allow flavors to meld.

Kale Takes a Dip:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on May 25, 2012

The school year is winding down, Memorial Day weekend is on the horizon and the weather is sunny and warm. It's time for a cookout and a dip in the pool. I am planning all of the above for my holiday weekend. And certain to make numerous appearances at events this summer, is my new Creamy Kale and Artichoke Dip.

I brought this dip to a family gathering earlier in the week and they went through it so quickly, that I did not even have time to get a photo of the finished product for my blog. Not a problem, I had the opportunity to make up a batch later in the week. I tweaked the recipe just a bit, based on the family's feedback.

I love experimenting with new ways to showcase some of the Taste and Savor kitchen's favorite healthy ingredients, such as kale and roasted red peppers. This hot and gooey dip can be enjoyed with your favorite multi-grain chips and crackers or vegetable crudite.

Here's to a fun, happy and healthy summer!

Creamy Kale and Artichoke Dip:

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
5 cups kale, ribs removed and cut into thin ribbons
Salt and pepper to taste
1 roasted red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 box frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted, drained and chopped
1 clove garlic, grated
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup light olive oil mayonnaise
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
3/4 cup cotija cheese

Step One:
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan. Add kale and toss continuously for 1-2 minutes, until kale has softened slightly and is bright green in color. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Step Two:
Add the cooled kale, roasted pepper, artichoke hearts, grated garlic, mayonnaise, Parmesan and 1/2 cup of cotija in a large bowl and stir to combine.

Step Three:
Spread kale mixture evenly in the bottom of a small baking dish, sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes until heated through and brown and bubbly around the edges.

Atlanta Food and Wine Festival:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on May 14, 2012

So what does a hard working sous-chef do on her day off? Why spend it at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, of course! Despite the cloudy skies and sporadic downpours, Chef Nancy and I hit the festival with enthusiasm. Our day started off with a wine tasting class at the Lowe's Hotel, followed by lengthy tour of the food and wine tent.

It was great fun to be able to indulge in some foods that aren't likely to make an appearance on a Taste and Savor menu anytime soon. Pork belly, barbecue duck and pork jowl, just to name a few. There were wine and spirits galore as well as chocolates and cheeses. It was a wine and food lover's wonderland.

And while the tastes, sips and fun atmosphere were all amazing, the thing that impressed me the most, was the pride that all of the chefs and vendors took in there respective dishes and products. When a chef can tell you that he knew the pig that the pork jowl he was serving came from and a cheese maker beams with pride as she gives you the 4-1-1 on her creamery's newest goat's milk cheese, their passion and dedication are inspiring.

The festival was the perfect way to unwind and let loose after a long week of work, creating the beautiful and healthy food that Chef Nancy and I are dedicated to and passionate about.

First Harvest:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on May 7, 2012

I have managed to keep my little container garden alive for two weeks. Not only, are my plant still alive, they are thriving. Pretty exciting stuff, considering my previously unsuccessful gardening attempts. Of course, I can't take full responsibility for the garden. My son has been instrumental in remembering to water the plants and we have both enjoyed watching the garden's progress thus far. While we are still weeks away from seeing any tomatoes or cucumbers, the basil plants are abundant.

I have been putting basil on everything the past two weeks. It's a great substitute for lettuce on a sandwich or added to a side dish of sweet corn, but my favorite use for basil is as a garnish for a fresh tomato sauce and pasta. The recipe for the tomato sauce is below. Enjoy topped with Thai, purple and Italian basil or whichever variety you have available.

Basil Garnished Pasta:
1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Roasted Red Pepper, 1/2 inch dice
1 14.5 OZ can of Fire Roasted, Diced Tomatoes
1 clove Garlic, grated
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup julienned basil (use a combination of Thai, Purple and Italian if available)
8 oz Spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Heat olive oil in a saute pan over med-high heat. Add red pepper, tomatoes, garlic and pepper flakes. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat till warmed through and sauce has thickened slightly, about ten minutes. Add cooked spaghetti to sauce in saute pan and mix together. Remove from heat and place in two pasta bowls. Garnish with chopped basil.

The Black Thumb Plants a Garden:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on April 26, 2012

With Chef Nancy tasting and touring through South Africa the last few days, I had some time to tend to some of the projects on my seemingly never-ending personal to do list. One of my favorite activities this week was planting my container garden.

Anyone who knows me, is most likely in shock to hear that I actually enjoyed doing anything involving gardening. My yard is hands down one of the worst in the neighborhood, and I have never owned a house plant that did not meet a swift and brutal demise under my care. I can't get into tending flowers or plants, but there is something about planting vegetables and herbs that excites me. With proper watering and adequate sunlight, these plants will grow into something edible. Something that will hopefully serve as an inspiration for a delicious recipe.

This year I planted three types of basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, yellow peppers and squash. My son helped me do the planting and lucky for me, he likes to take ownership of the watering duties. I'm looking forward to watching my little container garden grow this summer and hope that there will be something to show for our efforts. I will be keeping my fingers crossed and hope that this will be the season that turns my black thumb green.

New York Inspirations:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on April 9, 2012
The beginning of this month found me in New York City for my first ever, International Association of Culinary Professionals conference. Chef Nancy and I were lucky enough to spend seven days in the Big Apple, seeing the sights, attending the culinary conference and of course eating.
It was beyond exhilarating to be around people who share the same passion for food as I do. It was nice to be surrounded by chefs, food bloggers and cookbook authors who take as many food photographs as I do, and who also find it a necessity to discuss what's for dinner, when lunch is not yet through. Needless to say, I was like a kid in a candy store. It's not hard to feel this way when you are sitting three feet away from the legendary Jacques Pepin. Or, when Sara Moulton takes the time to chat with you in the hallway.
What a great week of networking, inspiration and tasting a myriad of delicacies, from the great melting pot that is New York City. Out of everything I ate on this trip, it was perhaps one of the most simple dishes that got me the most excited. It was an asparagus and soft boiled egg dish, that I enjoyed as a first course at L'Ecole, the student run restaurant at the French Culinary Institute. The asparagus was perfectly blanched and served with crispy pancetta, lightly fried asparagus shavings and topped with a gorgeous soft-boiled egg. In my opinion, the epitome of spring.
I rushed to make my own adaptation of this dish as soon as I returned home. My version is the bottom photograph, and L'Ecole's original, pictured above. Try this asparagus as a first course or a light lunch with some crusty bread to mop up the golden egg yolk.
Roasted Spring Asparagus:
Serves 4 as a first course
1 Bunch of thin Asparagus, washed and trimmed of fibrous ends
1/2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 Tsp Sea Salt
1/4 Tsp Black Pepper
1 thin slice of Proscuitto
Olive Oil Cooking Spray
1/4 cup Parmesan and Herb Panko Crumbs
4 Eggs, either Soft Boiled, Sunny Side Up or Poached (your choice)
Step One: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a foil-lined sheet pan, drizzle asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss to coat and lay in a single layer on pan. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, until asparagus is cooked through, but not charred.
Step Two: Place prosciutto slice in a small non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook prosciutto for 6-8 minutes, turning twice, until crispy and browned and some fat has been rendered. Remove prosciutto from pan and allow to cool before crumbling.
Step Three: Spray the pan with prosciutto fat with a light coating of olive oil spray and add the panko. Stir panko constantly over medium-high heat until crispy and browned, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat an set aside.
Step Four: Prepare eggs in your preferred style.
Step Five: Divide asparagus evenly between four plates. Top each plate with an egg, crispy prosciutto and panko*. Serve immediately.
* There may be some panko leftover, which can be reserved and used for another occasion.

Buongiorno Primavera!

This post originally appreared on the Taste and Savor blog on March 20, 2012

Anyone who had the pleasure of being in Atlanta the past few days, has most certainly been bitten by spring fever. I know I have. The flowering trees are at their peek and the temperature has been ideal for sitting on the deck and relaxing. Of course, one cannot sit on the deck without a nice cool beverage and a complementary spring-inspired meal. This weekend I enjoyed some simple boiled shrimp and roasted asparagus as well as the veggie laden pasta dish I am sharing today. As always, I tried to make this recipe better for you by reducing the amount of olive oil, omitting butter and cream all together and using 100% whole wheat pasta.
I love the change of seasons. New weather, new wardrobe and most importantly, new food. Happy Spring!

Roasted Veggie Pasta Primavera:

1 box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
1 zucchini, 1/2 inch dice
1 yellow quash, 1/2 inch dice
1 orange bell pepper, 1/2 dice
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
Olive oil cooking spray
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
8 oz whole wheat pasta, cooked according to package directions
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil, julienned
Step One:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and place artichokes, zucchini, squash, bell pepper and grape tomatoes on a foil lined sheet pan. Spray vegetables with cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Roast in oven for 25-30 minutes until veggies are starting to brown.
Step Two:
Add peas to the roasted vegetable mixture and toss with warm pasta. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4 as a side, or two a a vegetarian main dish.

Keepin' It Green:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on March 15th, 2012

Last week, my daughter and I went on our annual pilgrimage to Orlando with her competition cheer team. It was a weekend jam-packed with theme parks, cheer leading, good friends and fun. While I did not completely abandon my healthy eating habits, I must say that I did enjoy more than my normal share of indulgences. I mean, really who can resist a Mickey shaped waffle or two? Unfortunately, the only green I saw that weekend, came in the form of cash flying out of my wallet, rather than fresh veggies. With that said, I was in major need of some vitamin rich greens once I got home.

I came up with a crunchy kale and napa cabbage slaw that paired nicely with barbecue pork sliders. I wanted my slaw to mimic the tanginess of my regular slaw, but without the mayonnaise.

This was a great side dish that really nourished me after a long weekend of fun and travel. I hope you will give this tangy, super green slaw a try.

Super Green Kaleslaw:
1 bunch Kale, stem removed and cut into thin ribbons
1 medium head of Napa Cabbage, shredded
2 Carrots, shredded
3 Scallions, green and white part, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Canola Oil
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TB Honey
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste.

Step One:
Place kale in a large pan, coated with non-stick cooking spray, over medium high heat. Saute, stirring constantly, until kale is bright green in color, about 3-5 minutes. Remove kale from heat and allow to cool slightly. Once kale is cooled, place it in a large bowl with the Napa, carrots and scallions.

Step Two:
Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the canola oil, cider vinegar, honey and Dijon mustard.

Step Three:
Pour the vinaigrette over the veggies and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Chocolate Fix:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on March 5, 2012

Not sure what got into me last week, but I needed a chocolate fix that only a batch of brownies could satisfy. I decided to take my traditional brownie recipe that I'd found in a magazine years ago and see if I could make them a little better. I replaced two of the eggs with egg whites and substituted some of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour and used raw sugar instead of refined white sugar. By no means, did I make these dark chocolate brownies into health food, but I was able to make some small changes that made me feel a tiny bit better about eating them. Mostly, I think I made them better in the taste category, by adding some of my favorite ingredients like espresso powder, fleur de sel and toasted almonds.
I hope you will enjoy this chocolaty indulgence as much as I did.
Better Chocolate Brownies:
2 cups Raw Sugar
1 1/2 sticks Butter, melted
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1 Egg
2 Egg Whites
2/3 cup All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
1 cup Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
1 tsp Instant Espresso Powder
1 60-70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Bar
Toasted Almonds
Step One:
Place raw sugar, butter, vanilla, egg and egg whites in a large bowl and mix to combine.
Step Two:
In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, sea salt, cocoa powder and espresso powder.
Step Three:
Gradually add flour mixture to the sugar and butter mixture and stir to combine.
Place batter in a 9 x 9 pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until batter pulls away from sides. Allow to cool and cut into 25 pieces.
Optional Garnish:
Melt one 3.5 oz dark chocolate bar on the stove top over low heat. Spread a thin layer of melted chocolate on top of brownie pieces and top with a pinch of fleur de sel and a whole toasted almond.

Going Bananas!

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on Feb. 27, 2012

Whether I'm talking about the tropical fruit or it's alternate definition of "craziness", my house is always chock full of bananas!

In my never ending quest to get my children to eat healthier, I try to introduce them to new foods on a weekly basis. Not surprisingly, the 9 and 13 year old have not jumped on the quinoa and kale bandwagon I have been driving. So, I must revert back to the few tried and true foods that they will both eat. Bananas are one fruit that everyone in the household can agree on. Of course, one likes them green, the other likes them nice and ripe. Inevitably, a couple of bananas in the bunch miss meeting some one's optimal eating conditions and they end up going to the dark side.

This week, I found myself with free afternoon and several well spotted bananas. I decided to step out of my comfort zone and see if I could put a little Taste and Savor spin on a banana bread recipe. I used two different banana bread recipes as my guide. I cut down the butter from 1 1/2 sticks to just 1/2 a stick. Substituted two of the eggs for egg whites, and incorporated some whole wheat flour. I also decided to add a little spice to my recipe with ground cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

I mixed up the batter and put it in a standard sized muffin tin. The banana spice muffins turned out great in my opinion, but the true test was yet to be realized. Would the kids actually eat a healthier version of banana bread? For a little extra insurance, I frosted a few with with a mixture of two parts peanut butter to one part honey, then garnished with a banana slice. Of course, I did not mention to the kids that these muffins were better for them, I just set them out on the counter and waited to see what would happen.

The 9 year old loved them and even volunteered to be in my photo shoot as you can see above. The teenager liked them with the peanut butter topping as well as plain. Even more amazing, she took one to school in her lunch box and shared one with a friend. All in all, a successful experiment!

Banana Spice Muffins:

1 cup sugar in the raw
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup plain, non-fat Greek yogurt
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1 large egg
2 Large Egg Whites
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Cream together sugar, butter and yogurt on low speed. Next add bananas, eggs and egg whites and mix until combined. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry ingredients, then add to wet mixture and beat on medium speed until incorporated.

Scoop batter into muffin pans, sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Makes 16 muffins. Bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

These muffins are great as is, or for a special treat, soften 4 TB natural peanut butter in microwave for approximately 40 seconds and stir in 2 TB honey. Spread peanut butter mixture on top of muffins and garnish with a banana slice

Angels Trump Cupid This Valentine's Day:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on Feb. 15, 2012

This week, I had the great pleasure of attending the Angels on Earth Valentine Luncheon, benefiting Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. It is not often that I have the opportunity to dress up on a Tuesday afternoon for a leisurely luncheon at a country club. I must clean up pretty well, as one of the women who I see on a weekly basis at Cancer Wellness, came up and introduced herself to me. We had a good laugh, once she realized who I was. She had not recognized me without my ubiquitous ponytail, apron and turmeric stained hands.
Angels on Earth is an organization founded by Jillian and John Cooke. The Cookes, like so many others in the room that day, had been profoundly affected by cancer. They thanked the "angels" who helped them through their difficult times, and are now themselves, dedicated to ensuring that there are angels for all those in need. From my observation, angels are the people who knowingly or unknowingly offer support, guidance, nourishment and love. There is no place that I have seen, that is more conducive to cultivating angels than, Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. It is a welcoming and warm place where people in need can receive nourishment for their bodies, minds and souls. This is done through art therapy, journaling, mindfulness, nutrition counseling, yoga, massage and my favorite, healthy cooking classes.

This luncheon not only raised funds for Cancer Wellness at Piedmont, but it was also a celebration. A celebration, of life, recovery, kindness and above all, wellness. I can't think of a better way to spend Valentine's day, than with a room full of angels.

A Year of Tasting and Savoring:

This post originally appeared on the Tase and Savor blog on February 8, 2012

As I sit here and write this afternoon, I am reflecting on the past year, for this is my one year
anniversary of working at Taste and Savor. I vividly remember walking into the kitchen at Cancer Wellness on Feb. 08, 2011, not having any idea what to expect. I was nervous, and praying that I would not completely make a fool of myself. Not only was this my first job interview in ten years, it was my first ever practical cooking interview.

My tensions eased a bit when I saw my friend Sue (Pictured with me above at our graduation), busily chopping a mountain of kale. I relaxed a bit more when I met Chef Nancy who greeted me with a bright smile and a warm welcome. She put me to work immediately, making dark chocolate truffles. I spent that whole day in the kitchen cooking and have been cooking non-stop ever since.

I have learned so much and met so many interesting people over the past year. Not only have I grown as a cook, but as a person. I thank Chef Nancy and all of the wonderful people at Cancer Wellness and beyond who have touched my life over the last twelve months.

I am truly grateful that my life's journey has led me to Taste and Savor, and that I have had the opportunity to create and share beautiful, delicious and healthy food with so many people. I am excited for what this next year holds for me in the Taste and Savor kitchen. A wise woman named Lydia said that 2012 would bring great things. I am going to do my best to prove her right.

Looking forward to another year of Tasting and Savoring life. Cheers!

Bargains, Baba Ganoush and Bloggers:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on January 30, 2012

Last Friday, Chef Nancy and I had the opportunity to travel to Birmingham, AL for a training session sponsored by Food Blog South, called "Honing Your Edge", conducted by Media Trainer Lisa Ekus and Chef Virginia Willis.
In our excitement and haste to get to the meeting on time, we completely spaced out on the fact that Birmingham is in the central time zone. Having a couple of idle hours during a day, is not a position we often find ourselves in. Fortunately, the good people of Alabama built an outlet mall on the outskirts of town, which was announced by billboard that seemed to suddenly appear at almost the exact moment we'd realized the time change. Our shopping extravaganza yielded bargains of the practical and not so practical kind. A chef always needs new cookware from Le Creuset, but perhaps not a sequined clutch or a pair of platform stilettos from the Coach and Nine West stores.

So with our trunk load of bargains, we continued west, in search of a parking garage close to out meeting location and perhaps more importantly, a place to eat lunch. Our good fortune, continued when we found one of each with relatively no problem. We parked the car and popped into a little place that caught our eye, called Makarios Kabobs and Grill. We feasted on a "sampler for two". As you can see from the picture, bottom right, that it was more like a "feast for four". The highlight of the meal was the baba ganoush, which is a roasted eggplant dip.

Normally after such a filling meal, one would be ready for an afternoon nap, but not us. With satisfied tummies, we arrived at our session on time and spent the rest of the afternoon surrounded by creative people who love to write about, talk about and take pictures of food. It was a pleasure to be in a room filled with such enthusiastic people and to have the opportunity to listen to and learn from a pair of seasoned veterans. I think Nancy and I both left the training session filled with new ideas and inspirations.

I have channeled some of that energy from the weekend, into my own version of baba ganoush, pictured above right. I hope you will enjoy this delicious eggplant dip and always remember to take the time to Taste and Savor!

Baba Ganoush:
2 large Globe Eggplants
1 head garlic
1 TB Tahini
1 Lemon, zest and juice
1 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Kosher Salt
1/2 Tsp Pepper

Optional Garnishes:
Chopped Fresh Parsley
Seeded and Chopped Tomatoes
Crumbled Feta Cheese
Chopped Kalamata Olives

Step One:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Use a fork to poke several holes into the skin of eggplant and place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cut the top off of the head of garlic and wrap in foil, with cut side facing upwards. Place on the sheet tray along with the eggplant and bake both items for 40 minutes. Once eggplant and garlic have cooked, remove from oven and set aside until they are cool enough to handle.

Step Two:
Scoop flesh from the eggplant with a spoon and place in a food processor. Next, squeeze the roasted garlic from it's skin into the food processor. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and pulse until you have a slightly chunky puree.

Remove mixture from food processor to a serving tray or bowl and sprinkle with desired garnishes. Serve with pita chips or crudite.

Not Your Average Supermarket:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on January 25, 2012

I have always been fascinated by grocery stores and markets of all types. When I travel to a new city, state or country, inevitably one of the stops on my travel itinerary is a trip to a food store or open air market. I will buy a bottle of mineral water or a chocolate bar, simply because the label is written in a foreign language. I often get teased by people who know me well, that I have more photographs of food than of my children. So, it was a pleasant surprise to find that there was a local market overflowing with more foreign language packaging and photo-ops than I could have ever hoped for.

Being a proud inhabitant of the outskirts of metro Atlanta, I had never had the opportunity to visit the Buford Highway Farmer's Market prior to several weeks ago when Piedmont Cancer Wellness sponsored a tour of the store. I was fortunate enough to take a V.I.P. tour of the market with our generous and knowledgeable tour guide, Bill Schroeder. We spent an hour in the abundant produce department and were allowed to taste some of the exotic fruits and vegetables. This visit also led to an opportunity for Chef Nancy to teach a healthy cooking class in the market's new teaching kitchen.

Our first class was this week. We were able to do all of the shopping right there in the store and prep and serve the food in the store's kitchen/classroom. It was a great pleasure to meet some new people and share a healthy menu with the class participants and cooking assistants, River and Marquis, who are pictured above.

I hope that a trip to the Buford Highway Farmer's Market in Doraville will find a place on your upcoming travel itinerary. I assure, that you will not be disappointed with the selection of fresh produce, baked goods, seafood and world of international food products.

Buford Highway Farmer's Market
5600 Buford Highway Northeast
Doraville, GA 30340

Easy Exotic:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on January 18th, 2012

Each week I realize how blessed I am to have a job that allows me the opportunity to work in the culinary arts, alongside a chef who's knowledge far exceeds my own and who is willing to share that knowledge with me. No matter how much I think I know, the amount still yet to be learned is staggering. I cherish the chance to taste and cook something completely new and exotic to me. I had this opportunity last week when I helped Chef Nancy prepare for an African Spices cooking class. Prior to the class, my experience with any type of African cuisine was minimal at best. The menu consisted of an African Spiced Veggie Stew, which was shared in the Friday Four last week and a Moroccan Fish Stew made with a marinade called chermoula. I absolutely fell in love with this marinade. Chermoula is typically North African marinade that is most often used on fish, but would taste great on any type of grilled meat. If your weeknight schedule does not allow time to assemble a complete fish stew, the chermoula marinade can be whipped up in a food processor in a matter of minutes. Coat your seafood or meat in the chermoula and allow to marinate for at least thirty minutes. Serve the grilled or broiled meat on top of couscous. This is a simple way to add a little exotic to a quick week night meal.

Chef Nancy's Chermoula:
2 Garlic Cloves
1 Tsp Sea Salt
2 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Turmeric
2 TB Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Packed Cilantro
3 TB Olive Oil

Place the garlic and salt in a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop. Add the cumin, paprika, lemon juice, cilantro and pulse to coarsely chop. Drizzle in the oil while the processor is on. This enough marinade for two pounds of meat or seafood.


This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on January 11, 2012

As much of a salad fanatic that I am, I must admit that my intake of healthy greens dropped way down during the holiday's. Luckily, all it took to get me back on track was a couple of days back at work in the Cancer Wellness kitchen.

We almost always have a salad for lunch and I love having the freedom to create something new from the ingredients on hand. I always challenge myself to add in as many "better for you" ingredients as possible. This week, I had some sweet potatoes leftover from another recipe and decided that sweet potato "croutons" would be a great addition to the Latin inspired salad I had prepared. Sweet potatoes are packed with nutritional value and easily adapt to many different flavor profiles. For this salad, I seasoned my croutons with cumin and smoked paprika, but any desired combination of herbs and spices could be used, depending on the theme of your salad. Perhaps, rosemary and thyme for mixed greens with a classic french vinaigrette, or garlic and coarse sea salt for a Caesar. Get creative and let your salad ingredients and spice cabinet inspire you.

Sweet Potato "Croutons":

1 large sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Toss sweet potato cubes with the olive oil and spices and spread in a single layer onto a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 25-30 minutes until crispy. Season with salt and pepper to taste and add to your salad.

Healthy Comfort for the New Year:

This post origingally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on January 5, 2012

The new year is upon us, and I, like many of you, am trying to bounce back from the holiday season into a more normal and healthier routine. Unfortunately, the unusually cold weather we have had the past couple of days has made me crave something comforting and warm, rather than a cool, crisp salad and a lean protein, which is my norm. I decided that a bowl of chili was what I needed.

Typically, I make chili using lean ground turkey, but decided instead to make a vegetarian chili. My goal, was to make the dish as hearty as my normal chili, but to amp up the nutritional value and keep the fat to a minimum. In addition to the veggies and beans in the chili, I used a product that Chef Nancy introduced me to from Trader Joe's called Soyrizo. It is a soy-based chorizo flavored protein. Typically, I am not a huge fan of meat substitutes, but this soyrizo has a nice texture and great flavor. My family did not even know that it was not real chorizo sausage.

The chili tasted great the first day, and even better the second time around, once the flavors had a chance to mix and mingle in the fridge overnight. I topped the chili off with a sprinkle of 2% cheddar, non-fat Greek yogurt, cilantro and chopped scallions. This is a mild tasting chili that should appeal to all palates, but if you are like me, try it with a splash of your favorite hot sauce. Try making a batch for dinner this week or save the recipe for a Superbowl party. Enjoy all the warming comfort, without all the guilt.

Comforting Vegetarian Chili:

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 12 oz package of Soyrizo, removed from casing
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 orange bell pepper, chopped
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 15 oz cans, red kidney beans,drained and rinsed
2 15 oz cans, pinto beans,drained and rinsed
1 28oz can, fire roasted tomatoes, diced
1 12 oz bottle of light beer, I used Miller Lite
Non-fat Greek yogurt, optional
Shredded 2% cheddar cheese, optional
Chopped cilantro, optional
Chopped scallions,optional
Hot sauce, optional

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat and add onion and peppers. Stir until softened, but not browned, about 3-5 minutes. Add Soyrizo to pan and stir to break up the mixture into crumbles. Add spices and stir to combine, before adding the beans, tomatoes and beer. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about and hour. Serve in individual bowls with desired garnishes. Serves 4-6.

Tropical "Non-Holiday" Salad:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor website on December 11, 2011

I don't know about you, but as much as I love warm and comforting holiday food, I find that several times during the Christmas season, I need a break from traditional fare. Something healthy and light with non-holiday flavors is just what I crave.

Lat week, Chef Nancy and I prepared a luncheon for participants at the Cancer Wellness Center. The theme of the day was "Taking Care of Yourself During The Holiday's". We thought this would be a great opportunity to treat our guests to a light and healthy tropical shrimp salad. This salad is packed dark leafy greens, red cabbage, avocado, mango and protein packed shrimp. This salad will leave you satisfied and ready to take on an afternoon of shopping, gift wrapping or tree trimming.

Tropical "Non-Holiday" Salad:
1 Bag Spring Greens
1/2 of a small Red Cabbage, shredded
2 Scallions, chopped
1 Mango, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Avocado, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped Cilantro
1/2 lb cooked Shrimp, chilled

Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl and serve with Citrus-Ginger Dressing.

Juice of 2 Oranges
Juice of 2 Limes
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3/4 cup Canola Oil
2 Tsp ground Ginger
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine dressing ingredients in a jar with tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine.

Add a Little "Spritz" to Your Holidays:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on December 2, 2011
I discovered the "Venetian Spritz" cocktail last summer in Italy and have been an avid fan ever since. This spritz is very popular in Venice and is usually enjoyed as an aperitif. The drink consists of a light white wine, a splash of Campari and topped of with sparkling water and an orange slice as garnish. Although I was introduced to this beverage during the summer months, I think it would be a great addition to any holiday celebration. The light and refreshing taste provides the perfect contrast to the richer foods we all tend to indulge in during this time of the year. Additionally, you can adjust the alcohol content by replacing some of the wine with more sparkling water. Campari is an Italian biter and may take a of getting used to if you prefer a sweeter drink. If you find the Campari to be to bitter, add only a splash for color and squeeze in a bit more fresh orange juice for sweetness.

This is an extremely versatile cocktail that can be adjusted to a variety of personal tastes. I hope you will try this festive and refreshing cocktail this holiday season. Buon Natale!!

Venetian Spritz Cocktail:

4 oz pinot grigio, chilled
1/2-1 oz Campari
1-2 oz Pelligrino or other unflavored sparkling water, chilled
1 orange wedge

Add first three ingredients to a large wine or cocktail glass in order. Squeeze orange juice from wedge into glass, then add the wedge to glass. Drink and Enjoy!

Giving Thanks:

This post originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on November 17, 2011

This year, I started thinking about Thanksgiving much earlier than usual. The reason for this forethought was my fear of copious amounts of butter, cream and other equally indulgent ingredients that are staples in most holiday recipes. Ironically, last year at this time, I was about to graduate from culinary school and never thought twice about the amount of full fat dairy products that went into my recipes. Well, that was one year and 25 pounds ago. While I still plan to have a taste of everything on the holiday table this year, I wanted to add a dish that reflects my new healthier cooking style. My fall harvest quinoa combines wonderful holiday flavors in a lower fat and protein packed dish. The great thing about this recipe is that it can be served warm as a side dish, or made ahead and served cold or at room temperature as a salad. I plan on serving the quinoa on a bed of baby spinach and perhaps adding in some fresh orange slices to dress it up for it's Thanksgiving debut.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Fall Harvest Quinoa

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
Zest and juice of one orange
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
4 scallions, chopped
½ cup toasted pecans, roughly chopped
½ cup dried cranberries

Step One:
Bring quinoa and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Cover and lower heat. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until water is absorbed.

Step Two:
Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the orange zest, orange juice, olive oil and thyme leaves.

Step Three:
Combine cooked quinoa, vinaigrette and remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Quinoa may be enjoyed warm, room temperature or cold.

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice:

This entry originally appeared on the Taste and Savor blog on November 11, 2011

This week I got to conquer one of my lingering culinary fears, Gingerbread. While I have always been fascinated by the beauty and whimsy of gingerbread houses, I was equally daunted by the intricacy and patience this craft surely required. Luckily, I had a great teacher, Dr. Heather Richardson from Piedmont Hospital and an inspiring "creative director", Lisa Vingerling founder of Pink Heals.

Our frenzy of gingerbread baking started last Monday, in preparation for a gingerbread turkey crafting class scheduled for later in the week. Much to my surprise, the recipe for the gingerbread dough was quite simple to put together and easy to roll and cut. The scent of the spice mixture was intoxicating, and the enthusiasm of Heather and Lisa made the experience all that more enjoyable.

So, while I may not be ready to enter a gingerbread house contest, I feel quite confident in my ability to craft a Thanksgiving turkey, and am certain to make some gingerbread boys with kids this Christmas.

I encourage you to take the time to embrace your inner child and let your creative juices flow this holiday season. I have included the recipe that we used this week. It was adapted from The Gingerbread Architect by Susan Matheson and Lauren Chattman.

1 cup Vegetable Shortening
1 cup Sugar
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
4 tsp Ground Ginger
1 tsp Ground Cloves
1 cup Dark Molasses
2 large Eggs
2 TB White Vinegar
5 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine shortening and sugar until well combined. Add the baking powder, ginger, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves and beat until well incorporated. Add the molasses, eggs and vinegar and beat until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary. Add the flour, one cup at a time and mix on low until smooth. Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a rough square. Wrap tightly and refrigerate for at least three hour or up to three day. Roll to 1/8 inch to 1/4 inch thickness and bake at 375 degrees for 12-14 minutes. Baking time may vary depending on the size and thickness of your pieces, so adjust accordingly. Yields 3 1/2 lbs.