Book Review

Book Review: Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato

Guess what. I joined an online book club! I’ve wanted to post more reviews of food, nutrition, and cooking-themed books so this is the perfect opportunity to share some good reads with you.

A couple of weeks ago I was wondering how some chefs are so skinny. I wouldn’t say I’ve gained weight since learning how to cook, but I’ve definitely felt more gluttonous ever since I really got into it a half year ago. And I’m not even that good! I imagined that if I could produce top restaurant quality food myself, I wouldn’t be able to resist my own cooking. So it’s kind of perfect that the book club’s selection this month happened to be Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato (my Amazon affiliate program link). The author is not a chef herself, but rather a journalist who once covered celebrity chefs at one point in her career, which led her to wonder about how chefs eat.

And there isn’t one answer. I like the fact that the book is a collection of thoughts and practices from different famous chefs rather than a follow-this-diet-plan nonsense book. I agree with some of their ideas, and disagree with others. But it’s interesting to read about their different strategies to stay healthy nonetheless, and you can pick and choose what might work for you. The underlying theme that I took from the book is to cook simple meals from whole and natural foods most days. You can treat yourself to decadent things you enjoy, but that’s not everyday eating…even for celebrity chefs! There are also lots of little cooking and eating tips in the book that were helpful, even for people who already know their way around the kitchen. Smart Chefs Stay Slim is an enjoyable, easy read.

Now it wouldn’t be a good book about celebrity chefs if there weren’t some scrumptious recipes involved, right? There are plenty of tasty but healthy recipes sprinkled throughout the chapters by different chefs. Here’s one I tried out:

The book has quite a few seafood recipes which is awesome because fish is one of the healthiest things you can eat, yet totally underrepresented in cookbooks and food blogs. I decided to make Laurent Gras’s Halibut Ceviche with Jalapeño and Parsley. I used cod instead because I happened to have a very fresh fillet I wanted to use. I love ceviche but have always been too nervous to make it, thinking I’d leave raw meat to professionals.  But it came out great and we didn’t die of food poising, yay! WIll be making a lot of ceviche this summer. How awesome is it to “cook” fish without having to turn on the stove or oven?

Check out the book club I joined, The Kitchen Reader, and the lovely Aileen’s blog, 300 Threads!

Lunch and Dinner

A Creamy, Cheesy One-Pot Meal

One of my favorite blogs, Big Girls Small Kitchen, posted this gorgeous recipe for a Tex-Mex skillet Creamy Chorizo-Chicken Casserole last year as an April Fool’s joke, saying it was only 100 calories per serving (I wish). This recipe, however, is no joke. It is seriously delicious.

There’s nothing inherently unhealthy about this casserole per se. I did feel slightly guilty every time I had a serving of this amazing creamy, cheesy casserole, though. You know me, I’m pretty liberal about what I consider clean eating. I eat meat, cheese, butter–all that stuff “health-conscious” people don’t get down with. But I just don’t feel like a meal is complete without vegetables. The point of one-pot dinners is having everything you need  in one pot, right? I know I shouldn’t mess with genius, but I thought I’d give it a tiny makeover, just to make it a little more nutritionally balanced. I swapped out a bit of the meat, cheese, rice, and cream for some tasty veggies. I promise–it tastes just as ridiculously good.

Chicken and Chorizo Casserole with Tomato and Bell Pepper
Makes 4 servings
About 690 calories

Adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen

1/2 pound fresh chorizo
1/2 pound boneless chicken thighs or breast
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
4 medium tomatoes, diced removing seeds and water
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon flour
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/2 lime, juiced
1 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1 cup coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Season the chicken with salt and 1 teaspoon of the ancho chili powder. In a large cast iron skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in the skillet on both sides until browned and cook through, about 15 minutes. In the same skillet, brown the chorizo until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove the chorizo and chicken to a plate and set aside.

Melt the last tablespoon of butter in the skillet. Add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the bell pepper, tomatoes, garlic, remaining chili powder, cumin, salt, and flour. Cook for a couple of minutes, then stir in the broth. Simmer for a couple of minutes until thickened.

Stir in the cream, sour cream, and lime juice. Simmer over medium-low heat until thickened, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. During this step, you can roughly cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes and slice up the chorizo when not busy stirring.

Remove the skillet from heat. Fold in the meats, cooked rice, and most of the cilantro. Set aside the leftover cilantro for the end. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Remove from the oven and garnish with remaining cilantro leaves.


What a Mug Cake Has To Do with Clean Eating

Dessert is not healthy. Unless your idea of dessert is just plain fruit, then yes, that’s pretty healthy. But real desserts like cookies, ice cream, apple pie, or crème brûlée are not. There are things you can put in desserts like fruit, nuts, or vegetables to give it a vitamin or two, but let’s be real. It’s mainly sugar, butter, and/or flour. It’s totally fine if you have small servings of them once or twice a week with a healthy diet, but it will never classify as a nutritious food on its own.

And if you’re going to have dessert, eat a real one. Made out of real ingredients. It might be easier to buy something packaged that has a year-long shelf life at the supermarket but processed food is so not worth it. It doesn’t taste all that great and it’s bad for your health.

Ingredients in Iris’ chewy chocolate chip cookies: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, egg, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea salt, chocolate chips

Ingredients in Chips Ahoy chewy chocolate chip cookies: Enriched Flour, Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1, Riboflavin Vitamin B2, Folic Acid, Semisweet Chocolate Chips, Sugar, Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Dextrose, Soy Lecithin An Emulsifier, Milk, Palm Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Sugar, Dextrose, Cornstarch, Soybean Oil, Salt, Baking Soda, Molasses, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Caramel Color, Annatto Extract Vegetable Color, Natural and Artificial Flavor


So while real dessert isn’t necessarily good for you, manufactured desserts with all kinds of weird additives are definitely much worse. The problem is, of course, you don’t always want to whip up a batch of cookies, or bake a whole cake. And you may not have a quality bakery near you. Here’s where the mug cake comes in.

You no longer have an excuse to go to the junk food aisle of the supermarket when you’re craving a sweet treat. This 5 Minute Chocolate Fudge S’mores Mug Cake recipe…well, takes five minutes to make! Literally. OK maybe seven minutes the first time I did it just ’cause I was reading through all the steps but from then on, five minutes. It’s tasty, easy, and you made from real-ish food. Don’t like s’mores? Google “microwave cakes” and I’m sure you’ll find other quick and easy desserts you can enjoy. So put down the Twinkie! Make a mug cake.

Lunch and Dinner

More Miso and Asparagus!

A clean eating tip: eat before you go to the airport, preferably something home cooked.

Remember how I was obsessed with Miso-Roasted Asparagus? Yum. Well, I saw a recipe from the Momofuku Cookbook for Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Poached Egg & Miso Butter. Had to make it. Obvi.

I ended up cooking this five minutes before I was supposed to leave for the airport. I had only just started packing a half hour earlier, my travel buddy had arrived and was ready to roll, and I was running around like a totally unprepared crazy person. So basically, not the best time to cook and savor a meal. But I hadn’t eaten any real food all day (I had cake, marshmallows, and peanuts, ew) and was panicking about whether I had packed everything as I had left it until the last minute. I NEEDED this. I needed the calm from cooking and I needed something nutritious in my system. So while my travel buddy nervously watched the clock, I started pan roasting asparagus in front of her. “This will just take a minute, I promise!”

Luckily it didn’t take long to whip up at all. Despite The Kitchn reviewing the recipe as one of the few vegetarian dishes in the Momofuku cookbook, I thought I’d enhance it a little with some chopped up duck prosciutto. A little duck prosciutto never harmed anyone. I may have scarfed it down out of fear that we would miss our flight, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy every bite! It’s a healthy, elegant little dish. The miso butter adds complexity to the flavor, and I loved dipping the roasted asparagus in the runny egg. So glad I had this instead of stale airport muffins.

Growing Food

My Apartment Garden: Summer is Around the Corner

Summer technically isn’t here yet, and it sure as hell isn’t feeling like summer in NYC the past week. But I just got back from a lovely short trip to the hot hot hot Dominican Republic which it has gotten me so excited about the arrival of my favorite season! Enjoy this photo of my feet. Don’t hate. Square feet are totally normal.

Time for a quick apartment garden update. My herbs have been doing well and I’ve been enjoying fresh rosemary, thyme, and basil whenever I need it. I’ve been harvesting arugula leaves too, but not enough to make even a small salad. That’s about it for arugula this season. Should I be getting bigger pots for the fall when I replant? Or do they stay small and I need to plant more arugula seeds next time?

I’m not only excited about the summer because it means picnics, beaches, and fun in the city. I’m also excited for my summer gardening! Here’s the zucchini plants=. It’s gotten even larger since I posted this picture and has started to grow flowers. Awww yeah.

I have high hopes for my Topsy Turvy because I LOVE tomatoes. I will be so happy if I can have unlimited free tomatoes from my balcony, but I’m worried. My plant is looking strong and healthy here but we’ve had a rainstorm since I took this picture and it’s been looking rather beat up with dead leaves. Pull through for me, tomatoes!

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Single Lady (or Dude) Skillet Meals

I finally bought a set of cast iron skillets! I wanted one so bad for the longest time. Never mind that I was getting by just fine it the kitchen without them, I kept imagine a romantic montage of me making awesome frittatas, skillet cookies, and campfire meals. (Yes, I often have montages in my head.)

I’ve had my skillets for a couple of weeks now and I’ve only been using the baby one so far. My latest obsession: single lady skillet meals. I have this fascination with single urban living. People used to live with their family until they moved in with their spouse and started a new family. But here in the city, more and more people live solitary lives. Without a family to have a family dinner with, what does one eat? I, myself, am a single lady. Yes, I have a boyfriend and yes, I live with roommates, but for most purposes I am on my own.

This means I am also on my own for most meals. I never understand why so many people feel there is no point to cooking for one. It’s awesome–you don’t have to cater to anyone else’s tastes! There are so many single serving things you can make. Or, make more and you have lunch and dinner for the next two days. Win!

Not only am I fascinated by single living and single servings, I also love the idea of a one-pot meal because I am far too lazy to clean so many dishes. So this is my single lady skillet meal. It’s more of a formula than a recipe:

Super Simple Single Lady (or Dude) Skillet Meal

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. Chop up and sauté some complementary vegetables in your single lady/dude skillet. Some of my faves include tomatoes and bell peppers, or tomatoes and kale. I highly advise including onions and herbs. Delicious and nutritious!
  3. Sprinkle with some meat or cheese. Crumbled sausage, chopped up bacon, prosciutto, feta, parmesan…whatever you enjoy eating and that goes together well. Note: if you have to cook the meat first you’ll need to do it before the vegetables and set aside. Or if you’re willing to clean one more item, you can cook simultaneously in a separate skillet or pan, and add it in once the veggies are done.
  4. Crack one or two eggs on top and stick your skillet in the oven for about 10 minutes, so that eggs are cooked but still runny.
  5. Top with S&P and eat it all up. Share with no one.

The single lady skillet meal pictured above is tomatoes, white onion, green bell pepper, basil, bacon, and eggs. I love how quick and easy this is to whip up, and how healthy it can be. It can work as breakfast, lunch, or dinner. You can also use up whatever odds and ends you have sitting around your kitchen. For example, my arugula plants only had five leaves left. Yup, I threw them in. As long as you follow the basic formula, the possibilities are endless!

Health and Nutrition

Making Peace with the Supermarket

I don’t mean to be snobby. But let’s be real. I’m totally snobby about food shopping. As someone interested in nutrition and health, I’ve developed a kind of phobia of the supermarket in recent years. Thanks to Michael Pollan, food industry documentaries, and scary shit you read about food in the papers, I can’t help but see aisles and aisles of chemicals and carcinogens rather than food items. Even shopping the outer aisles of the supermarket, where the whole foods are supposedly at, scares me. I fear the hormones in milk. The color additives in cheese. The dyed salmon. The sickly looking produce covered in pesticide. I started shopping pretty much exclusively at my local health food store and the farmers market.

What finally got me back to the supermarket were dinner parties and cook-offs. When feeding one plus an occasional guest, paying a premium on food is totally affordable. OK it’s not really a premium, food should cost more than what the average American pays and that’s why we’re eating fake food all the time. But regardless, we’re used to it and it now feels like a lot of money. So when feeding a large party, I simply didn’t have the budget to purchase everything at the farmers market. I sheepishly returned to where I used to shop, KeyFood, with my tail between my legs. (Side note: I really want a tail. Wouldn’t that be crazy fun?!)

I’ve slowly rekindled a relationship with the supermarket. It’s hypocritical to shun them–a lot of farmers at the farmers market use conventional methods as opposed to organic, and  likewise, purchasing organic food items at the health food store from a huge national brand isn’t necessarily the most nutritious food either. I still stand by my beliefs that purchasing most of my food from farmers markets is the best thing I can do, followed by second best: organic food from health food stores. But the most important practice everyone needs to learn is purchasing whole foods, even if it’s at the supermarket. The supermarket even has some great advantages–it’s often cheaper and more convenient to get to, they have lots of sales, and they have a much larger variety of products. So, I’ve decided that it’s not a life-and-death situation to occasionally purchase butter from the KeyFood. it’s really not that big a deal. I have made peace with the supermarket.

Where do you do your food shopping? Do you ever get freaked out my supermarkets like I do?