We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Chicken Piccata (Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

by Michelle

   With the arrival of spring, I have immediately begun to crave anything sweet or savory made with lemon as a key ingredient. Just last week I made my favorite Shrimp Scampi - the best Shrimp Scampi recipe in the world. Trust me on this. My mother will second the motion, and not just because she loves me. She waxed rhaposodic over the scampi for days.
   Next up I'm tweaking my favorite Lemon Cake recipe to produce a gluten-free version as well. I will have both versions posted before Easter. I prefer using slices of Lemon Cake as the foundation for an outstanding berry shortcake. Just ask my husband. He doesn't particularly like sweets, and I have yet to see him wax rhaposodically - about anything - but he will without provocation endorse the merits of Lemon Shortcake. Lemon Cake really is a taste sensation and a recipe that I will happily make through the spring and summer. I seldom make it before Easter or after Labor Day so I suppose for me it is the equivalent of the little white dress of the baking world.
Spaghetti squash is a tasty and healthy alternative to pasta.
   In the meantime, it is high time that I share this Lemon Piccata recipe with you. When my daughter asks what's for dinner and I say, "Chicken Piccata", I know she'll be happy and respond with an enthusiastic, "Yay!" It happens every time. A happy teenager in the house makes me a happy Mom. Maddie has even come around to eating Chicken Piccata over strands of baked spaghetti squash. In fact, everyone in the family prefers the baked spaghetti squash over pasta with this particular entrée. So, I get to eat my protein and have my vegetable at the same time, which is lovely for a mid week meal when I may not feel as energized to produce a vegetable side dish to serve with pasta.
   On a weekend when I'm not squeezed for time (lemon pun... couldn't help myself), I like to prepare one of the following salads as a first course: Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette or Leafy Greens with Joan's Vinaigrette. As the grand finale, in my humble opinion, you can never go wrong serving my family's Lemon Ice Cream. It is the bomb-dot-com, as our friend Toni likes to say.

Chicken Piccata
(Traditional and Gluten-Free Versions)

Faux Pasta: Spaghetti Squash

by Michelle

   I have grown quite fond of serving Chicken Piccata (and Chicken Marsala) over spaghetti squash. I am not alone, my entire family prefers spaghetti squash over pasta in this scenario. When I was counting Weight Watchers points, spaghetti squash took center stage as a substitution for pasta for other sauces as well. Prepared without butter, spaghetti squash scores a zero on the points scale versus five points for one cup of cooked noodles. You can easily omit the butter, but do not skip the sea salt and black pepper. The simple seasoning really amps up the flavor and helps to cut the inherent sweetness of the squash.

Faux Pasta: Spaghetti Squash

Although I prefer to bake spaghetti squash, it can also be prepared successfully on the stove top.

1 large or 2 small spaghetti squash
a couple of pinches sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons butter, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. The squash can either be baked whole, or cut in half.
2. If left whole, puncture the spaghetti squash with a meat fork or the tip of a chef's knife. Place the squash on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 45 minutes. The squash is done when it can be easily pierced with a dinner fork.
3. Let cool for 5 or 10 minutes, and then slice in half with a large, sharp knife. Remove and discard seeds. Shred the flesh of the squash with the tines of a fork. With a knife, glide the butter over the tops of the shredded squash; sprinkle salt and grind pepper. Toss the squash with tines of a fork and serve immediately.

Carefully cut the spaghetti squash in half. Scrape the seeds and discard. Place the squash halves, cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 45 minutes. The squash is done with it can be easily pierced with a dinner fork. To cool, turn the half over. Spread with butter, if desired, and sprinkle with sea salt and grind pepper. Drag the tines of a fork through the flesh and gentle stir to distribute the butter, salt and pepper. Serve hot.

With a large chef's knife or cleaver, cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and discard. In a soup pot, place the halves along with approximately one inch of water. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for about 20 minutes until the squash can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from pot, cool slightly and then shred the flesh with the tines of a fork. Season as described above and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Asian Lettuce Cups with Short Ribs and Kim Chee~ Gluten Free Slow Cooking

Guest Post by Mark

   This week we sisters are featuring a guest post from a friend of ours who is a very talented cook. Mark has a deep love of food and has recently experienced some trepidation in conjunction with embarking on a change in diet. Today he shares a delicious recipe and his realization that his new dietary changes can spark a whole new creative journey for anyone who loves food and likes to cook.

Linda and I having fun during an outing in San Francisco. 
   Here I am at the beginning of a new year, and I began 2012 by embarking on a quest to seek new avenues of self-improvement. That's why I picked up Dr. Andrew Weil's Spontaneous Happiness in January and started reading. The knowledge presented in his book started me on a better supplement regimen and prepared me to be open to the plentiful information regarding a wheat-free and sugar-free diet. I am also lactose intolerant, so I am dairy-free as well. However, as someone who loves to cook, and eat, I thought, "how is this going to work?" I mean, it is like telling a painter that he can paint anything he wants... with the exception of these colors.  Colors that have been an integral part of his previous work. And that is when inspiration hit me. I was paging through David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, and realized that I could borrow from his take on ssäm wraps to create something special of my own. 

   A ssäm, is basically a lettuce cup or wrap. They are featured at the Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and usually are variations of slow roasted meat (pork) and are topped with condiments to create delicious hand food. Ssäm is a Korean lettuce wrap, but it is also common to see lettuce cupped around meats or fillings in Thailand and Vietnam. I created my version a couple of weeks ago when I planned to fix a special dinner on a Saturday. I did the first part of the braising on a Friday night. On Saturday evening, I ate the ssäm and enjoyed a beautiful rosé from Unti Vineyards located in the Dry Creek Valley here in Sonoma County. The crisp, but fruity flavors of the wine were a wonderful foil to the richness of the meat and allowed the fresh, crunchy appeal of the lettuce cups to shine. Success! Gluten-free and truly delicious.

   So in the end I realized that my new way of eating was not a foodie death sentence to bland and flavorless meals. I realized that the old rules still hold true in that slow-cooked food, is worth the effort. The inspiration of the Momofuku cookbook was just what I needed to create something of my own by relying on good technique but being adventurous enough to blend flavors in a fresh and different way. Could I have used pork? Yes. Could I have used red wine in the braise or wheat-free tamari? Sure. This is why this recipe is a winner in my opinion, because I can change it up or tweak it here or there, and I am sure that another tasty meal would be had. I like to have fun with food, and feed my heart as well as my body. I am in agreement with Linda and Michelle that going gluten and sugar-free will open up new avenues for creativity and self-expression when cooking, and I am looking forward to the adventure.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Misty's Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie (Can be used for Weight Loss)

by Linda  

   I am elated to report, that after weighing in at my acupuncturist's office yesterday, I lost another 10 pounds on my new healthy eating plan. This brings my total weight loss to just over 20 pounds since embarking on my new way of eating on January 23rd of this year. My weight loss has begun to generate interest among my co-workers, and several of us have gone gluten and sugar-free with me in the last few weeks. They too are experiencing rapid weight loss. I want to make sure to clarify that this is not a low-carb diet. It is a diet that is low in refined carbohydrates. I am still eating plenty of carbohydrates from berries, vegetables, squash, sweet potatoes and a small amount of white rice. I allow myself a "splurge" day once per week when I may include potato, corn, beans or a surprisingly delicious gluten-free pizza. However, splurge day never includes wheat and rarely includes any sugar. My diet is abundant in high-quality fats and protein, so I feel sated and have plenty of energy. This has never been the case when I embarked on one of the many diets that I have used in the past to lose weight (all low-fat plans). On the low-fat plans, after losing the weight,  I would return to the way I like to eat normally. Then the pounds would creep back on.

   This time it feels like I have a plan that I can live with permanently, and in time, after I achieve my weight loss goals, I may choose to eat sourdough bread made from sprouted grains at a holiday meal, but the bread that I have known and loved (and have been addicted to) will never be a part of my diet again. It is with sadness in my heart that I make that statement. I love bread. However, I don't love bread enough to stay overweight and develop diabetes and heart disease. Both of which are prevalent in our family. My last blood work showed that my blood sugar was in the "high normal" range, and my doctor told me that any higher would mean that I would most likely develop diabetes. Talk about food for thought.

Tera's Whey is a Products We Love.
   I finally began this radical overhaul of my diet after the New Year with the support and encouragement from Misty Humphrey. She is the Nutrition Educator at the Whole Foods Market that I work in. Misty lost 85 pounds twelve years ago and has managed to sustain that loss all these years. In the process of losing the weight, she also healed herself from some serious health issues from which she was previously suffering. Once I had sufficient information to convince me that drinking a fat-laden coconut shake everyday was not going to cause me to gain even more weight (a prospect that terrified me), I decided to make the dietary changes. I am so glad that I did. I am 20 pounds lighter after a month and a half, and have not spent a single day feeling hungry and crabby. And I have not cheated... this regimen is easy to stay on. Once I got past the first week, when the beautiful loaves of artisan bread were literally calling to me from the mouth-watering displays at my store, my craving for wheat has gradually subsided. The hardest part is just developing new habits. A sandwich, burrito or a pizza slice are no longer my "go-to" lunch items. I have learned to plan ahead and bring my own food. The smoothie being the foundation of my day has made this easy. This practice has also saved me money.

   Misty recommended that I make up her Coconut and Blueberry Smoothie in the morning. I drink half and pour half into my Thermos. This has become my new and easy routine. Then when I get hungry at work, I grab a couple of hard-boiled eggs, or I bring a grass-fed ground beef patty or similar protein from home, and I usually include leftover vegetables or a salad. In the afternoon I drink the rest of the shake which has also eliminated the sugar cravings that I often experience in the latter part of the day. Dinner is whatever I want, minus of course, wheat or sugar. I even have rice pasta every now and then. Last night I had marinated lamb chops, artichokes with homemade aioli, and asparagus roasted with olive oil and lemon. I also enjoy having a glass of wine with dinner. No counting points or worrying about portion size.

 So without further ado, here is the recipe for the smoothie that has become the foundation of my diet plan. It takes me five minutes in the morning to make it in my Vitamix. It travels well and satisfies, and has helped me to lose twenty pounds in 43 days.

Products We Love: Tera's Whey

   I have recently fallen in love with Tera's Whey. My Coconut Milk, Whey Protein and Blueberry Smoothie just isn't the same without it. Tera's Whey is made from organic cow and goat whey proteins and is sourced from small Wisconsin family farms and artisanal cheesemakers. I am partial to the bourbon vanilla flavor which carries a light sweetness from Stevia leaf, a natural and fructose-free sweetener. It is produced in a "green factory that touches the planet lightly." Nice! It is also just plain delicious and is a great way to get some high-quality protein easily any time of day.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breakfast in Purgatory: Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with (or without) Sourdough Starter

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   Every year, towards the end of February, students in the greater Tucson area receive a two day holiday falling on the Thursday and Friday that coincides with the celebration of the Tucson Rodeo. The rodeo is the first major outdoor rodeo of the year and fans travel from far and wide to Tucson to enjoy the event and to soak up the desert sun that is mild and comforting in the winter. A highlight of the festivities is the Tucson Rodeo Parade, the World's Largest Non-Motorized Parade. I'm sure the rodeo has its merits, but I can never seem to get too excited over it. For many families in Tucson, the rodeo holiday is the perfect time to head out of town for a ski vacation.

A birdseye view of Durango Mountain Village from my seat on Lift One.                                                                                     

The gang riding Lift One.
  Folks that are unfamiliar with the diverse Arizona terrain are surprised to learn there are two ski resorts in the northern territories: Snowbowl outside Flagstaff and Sunrise Park Resort near the New Mexico border. They cannot fathom snow in Arizona, but flip through the pages of Arizona Highways magazine, and prepare to be amazed by the 48th state. My co-workers in Canada expected to hear that to go skiing my family and I will board a plane and fly to a far flung destination such as Park City, Tahoe, Boise or Denver. While it is true that my family and I did not ski in Arizona this year in favor of Durango Mountain in Colorado, I want to give a shout out and some love to the place where I learned to ski: Sunrise Park Resort located in the pine studded White Mountains on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.

Maddie looked picture perfect when her red scarf floated on the wind.                                                                                        
   With no prior experience and limited information to make an informed decision, a friend of mine turned up her nose to the proposition of skiing at Sunrise - literally, I swear her nose made a Pinocchio and instead of growing out, grew directly up, up, up until the tip of her nose could no longer be seen. Little Miss Can't Be Wrong (LMCBW), adopting a demeanor of superiority, and inflecting the appropriate annoying vocal tone to accompany such superiority, deigned to inform me that she only skis at Colorado resorts, and moreover she only stays in condos that have "ski in/ski out" access to the lifts. Nice, if you can afford it, or in her case, when Dad pays for it once a year.
   The funny thing is, back in 2008, we had the opportunity to go on one of these Colorado only ski trips with my friend, her husband and kids, and her parents - Nana and Doc. The rental at Durango Mountain was old and beat up. The 1970s dump with shag carpet rented at a premium due to its advertised "ski in/ski out" access. It was a lie; the truth is that one must first jauntily walk across the icy parking lot and then awkwardly navigate a meandering set of man made stairs carved into the packed snow. Try this while carrying skis and dragging poles all the while helping a child navigate the obstacle course too. The "up-then-down" staircase constantly changed in size and shape and stability over the course of the day. The heat of the mid-morning sun melted the snow and the long cold shadows of the afternoon caused the snow to solidify into an icy mess.

My view from the car window heading back to town.                                                                                                                       
    "Ski in/Ski out" was quickly renamed "climb in/climb out." While it wasn't funny at the time as I huffed and puffed over the slippery pavement and then grunted up (and down) the shape-shifting stairs (at least twice a day), the experience has - over the calming effects of time - become humorous and the source of an ongoing joke between my husband, daughter and I, something along the lines of, "Wanna go skiing this year? Hey, I have an idea, let's rent one of those great climb in/climb out condos. Yes! And, let's make sure it has avocado colored appliances and pee yellow counter tops. Hell, yeah! Let's do it!!!"
  In 2009 my family skied Sunrise and had a fantastic experience: no crowds and fresh snow. Afterwards, I broached the subject with Princess (a.k.a LMCBW) explaining the benefits of Sunrise but she wasn't in the mood for listening while galloping on her high horse. For her, Colorado ski resorts are "in" and everything else is "out". If you can't tell, then you are reading too fast, that my conversation with She Who Cannot Be Named still resoundingly irks me after all these years. Why? Maybe it was the palpable elitism, the exasperating ignorance, or the utter snobishness - or a combination of all three. While she was in no position to compare, I was, having skied both parks. For those of you, like my Dad, who want facts, and some more facts, here is a comparison of the two resorts (yes, I made the chart; apparently the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree):

   So, what are the big takaways? Sure, I'd rather spend time in Durango than Pinetop/Lakeside any day, who wouldn't? I love the pervasiveness of brick buildings in Colorado and the mining town vibe of Durango. While Sunrise doesn't have great accomodations, the skiing is terrific for families. Sunrise is less than a four hour drive from Tucson and Phoenix, and Durango is about ten hours. In recent history, there has been a couple years (and yes, this factoid surprises everyone) where Sunrise has received more snow than Purgatory. As not to confuse you, similar to the artist formerly known as Prince, Durango Mountain is more well known as Purgatory. The ski area was renamed Durango Mountain a few years back, but just about everyone - including me - still calls it Purgatory (much more catchy with the hint of rebel).
   When sking at Sunrise, we rent a cabin in Pinetop-Lakeside or Greer and we drive in/drive out of the ski area on a daily basis during our stay. Whatever, no big deal. I can assure you that drive in/drive out is more agreeable than climb in/climb out. When considering easy access for Arizonans, reduced prices on lift tickets and more options for beginner and intermediate skiers, Sunrise is sure to please just about everyone, except for "you know who" (that's right, say it with me, LMCBW).
A shot of Main Street in Durango, Colorado.                                                                                                                                      
  The saving grace of that trip to Durango in 2008 turned out to be LMCBW's mother who is an excellent cook. Nana prepared for us all three beautiful meals a day. Bless her. Exhausted at the end of a full day of skiing, we climbed/stomped/trudged back to the condo and were kindly greeted by the smells of a delicious dinner simmering on the stove. Our only responsibilities were to change into comfortable clothes, sip an appertif, and then dig in to a satisfying and scrumptious meal. Nana delivered heavenly meals during our stay in Purgatory and for that I will always be grateful.

   This year we stayed in the gorgeous second home of our friends Sara and Bill, which is more accurately described as a beautiful log cabin with windows that frame stunning views of rolling hills, pine trees and notably the La Plata mountains. There was no Nana to cook our meals so Sara and I planned carefully to accomodate the meat eaters, the non meaters and teenage palates. We agreed that a hearty breakfast daily was in order, but we didn't want to be saddled with cooking responsibilities every morning, or the grease splatter mess to clean up. So, the day before we departed for Colorado, I cooked up trays and trays of bacon, two packages of breakfast sausages and two packages of chicken sausages, and thirty Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.
   Breakfast was a snap in the mornings, quickly reheating the pancakes and the bacon or sausages in the convection oven. We brewed fresh coffee and whipped up scrambled eggs. We placed softened butter and maple syrup on the table and enjoyed the view of the snow capped La Plata mountains as we ate together to break our morning fast. Those souls, skiing or not, whom toil in Purgatory, should embark upon their day with appetites satiated.

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with (or without) Sourdough Starter

   Preparing pancakes is my secret for using the last of my sourdough starter before refreshing it. Leftover pancakes are wrapped individually and stored in the freezer. Pancakes defrost quickly and reheat nicely in a toaster oven.
   If you do not have sourdough starter in your refrigerator, but like the idea of this recipe, you can use the preparation method detailed in our Grandma Elsie's pancake recipe: separate the eggs and whip the egg whites until stiff. Thoroughly whisk the egg yolks and liquid ingredients. Mix the dry ingredients together, increasing the all-purpose flour to 1-1/2 cups. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Fold in the egg whites. Thin batter with additional milk, if necessary. Cook as directed below, beginning with step four.

Whisking in the sourdough.
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 15-oz. container ricotta cheese
4 large eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup sourdough starter
1 lemon, zested and juice of two lemons
ghee or coconut oil (or oil of your choice), for cooking

more butter
fresh berries: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and
a dollop of raspberry sauce if you are feeling so inclined
maple syrup, or syrup of your choice

1. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg, sea salt and sugar in a bowl.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined and frothy. Add the sourdough starter and the milk and whisk well. Add the ricotta cheese, the lemon zest and the lemon juice and whisk well.

Only fresh zest and juice will do for these pancakes.
3. Whisk the flour mixture into the wet ingredients until just combined.
4. Preheat a griddle or non-stick pans over medium to medium-high heat.

5. Grease each pan with ghee (or high heat oil, such as coconut) for cooking. For each pancake, pour approximatelly 1/4 cup of the batter into the griddle or pan and cook on both sides until light golden brown. Alternatively, immediately after the pancake is poured, sprinkle 6 or 7 fresh or frozen blueberriers. When you see bubbles forming across the pancake, flip carefully and cook until golden. Serve with more butter, fresh berries and maple syrup.

6. The pancakes keep rather well when transferred from the griddle to a cookie sheet set in the oven at a low temperature, say around 300°F. That way, when you are finished cooking all the pancakes, everyone can sit down together for a wonderful breakfast or brunch. Remember the bacon (it can be cooked in advance and can be reheated in the oven), and the lattes, too!

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