Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Hatch chile chicken salad

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When Hatch chiles are in season, I turn into a crazy girl who stalks her local produce guy and pounces on every case he sets out. Thank goodness Melissa's Produce keeps Bob's Market, the family-owned market in my neighborhood, fully stocked with both mild and hot Hatch chiles when they're available.

Every year I roast dozens of Hatch chiles over an open flame right on my stove, slip off the charred skins, and freeze them in zip-top bags. (See How to Roast Hatch Chiles on Shockingly Delicious for detailed instructions.)

Hatch chiles have a unique flavor and meaty texture that's long been prized in New Mexico where they're grown. They can be hot or mild, but even the mild ones have a little kick. In fact, I love Hatch chiles so much that I created a new flavor of Not Ketchup around them - and now Tangerine Hatch Chile Not Ketchup is my best-selling sauce!

When I puree roasted Hatch chiles with mayonnaise and make chicken salad, my family weeps with joy. Okay, maybe they weep because it's spicy, but whatever. They really like it. And you will too.

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Hatch chile chicken salad
Roasted Hatch chiles add a welcome zing to this spicy chicken salad.
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 4 mild or hot Hatch chiles, roasted, peeled, and seeded
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Puree the mayonnaise, Hatch chiles, lime juice, and garlic in a blender or food processor until smooth.Pull the chicken meat off the bones, shredding it with your fingers. Discard the bones and skin (or save them to make chicken stock). Put the chicken meat in a large bowl with the green onions. Spoon the Hatch chile mayonnaise into the bowl and stir to combine. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.Serve chilled. If you have time to let the chicken salad sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, great - the flavors will mingle and intensify.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4-6 servings

Monday, August 8, 2016

How to change your life: This is not about losing weight

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Erika Kerekes hiking in the Santa Monica mountains - not to lose weight, but because exercise makes me healthier
I go hiking because I love it and it's making me healthier - not to lose weight

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I have spent the past year changing my life to improve my health.

I've changed the way I eat. I've made a commitment to daily exercise.

But most important, I've changed the way I think about food, exercise and my health.

When I decided last year to make these changes, I set a goal.

Unlike all the health-related goals I had set in the past, this goal was not about losing weight. This one had nothing to do with a number on a scale.

What do I really want?

That day in August 2015 when my doctor called with the bad news, I thought about what I really wanted for the rest of my life, however long that is.

I realized I want two things.

I want to be healthy. And I want to be happy.

Everything else matters less.

I hate dieting. And dieting doesn't work for me.

I know I'm not the only one who hates the word "diet."

Here's what goes through my brain when I think about dieting:

Deprivation. Longing. Missing out. Spartan. Measuring. Boring. Strict. Rigid. Proscribed. Negative. Irritable. Temporary.


If I want to stay healthy for the rest of my life, my new way of eating can't be temporary. It has to be permanent.

No wonder dieting never worked for me in the past.

Pan-seared wild salmon with pesto and blistered cherry tomatoes
I don't use the word "diet" anymore. Food can make me sick, or it can make me healthy.

Retraining my brain

Every change I have made this year has been about getting healthier, not about losing weight.

A year ago, when I was trying to figure out what and how to eat, I decided I would look at food and ask one question:

Is this going to make me healthier, or is this going to make me sicker?

Making the right decisions instantly got easier.

But not only easier. Happier. Choosing foods that would make me healthier felt good. Being in control felt good. And knowing that I was doing something to change my life for the better made me happy.

Being happy made it easier for me to continue to make the right choices for my health.

This journey is not about losing weight.

Three months after my doctor's fateful call, I went in to see him again.

In three months, the changes I had made dropped all the worrisome numbers back into safe territory. I was no longer sick.

As it happened, I had also lost weight. But that wasn't what put the smile on my face. That wasn't what was making me happy that day.

I love my doctor very much. He's supportive, gentle and eminently reasonable. But I had to change the way he thought about my health, too.

"What's your goal?" he asked me at that three-month checkup.

"My goal is not to be sick," I answered.

"No," he responded, "I meant, what's your weight loss goal?"

"My weight loss goal is not to be sick," I said. "If I never lose another pound in my entire life, and my blood tests and other exams tell us that I'm healthy, then I will have reached my goal."

Few changes truly happen overnight.

Next time I see him, my doctor will probably ask me again about my weight loss goal. And I will probably have to remind him that, for me, this is not about losing weight.

My brain is still in transition mode, too. Sometimes I catch myself looking at my body sideways in the mirror, thinking "Why is my stomach still so huge? If I'm doing all the right things every single day, why haven't I lost more weight? Why aren't I smaller yet?"

And then I think about what I want. What I really, really want.

And I realize that I'm getting there.

And I step away from the mirror.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Low-carb eggplant parmesan casserole

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Low-carb eggplant parmesan casserole satisfies that ever-present pizza craving

I've adopted a low-carb diet over the past year to improve my health.

Once I decided that it was time to change what I eat and how I think about food, I found it relatively easy to stick with it. This health transformation has been much more about my head than my body.

But that doesn't mean I never have cravings. I do. Of course I do.

Once I eliminated most carbohydrates from my diet, I was surprised to find that pizza was the thing I craved most often. So I started thinking about pizza substitutes.

(For the record, I tried five different cauliflower crust recipes. Didn't do it for me.)

I started making this low-carb eggplant parmesan casserole a few weeks into my new lifestyle. I call it my "I Really Want Pizza Casserole."

It's got all the flavor of pizza, with my favorite (no added sugar) tomato sauce and stretchy mozzarella cheese. Eggplant stands in for the starch. And instead of breadcrumbs, I use almond flour to absorb some of the liquid.

The secret to getting the texture right is to bake the eggplant slices to dry them out a bit before assembling the casserole. That way the eggplant has some chewy heft to it and doesn't dissolve into mush.

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Low-Carb Eggplant Parmesan Casserole
This low-carb eggplant parmesan casserole has all the flavor of pizza without sabotaging your low-carbohydrate diet. The secret to getting the right texture: drying the eggplant slices in the oven before assembling the casserole.
  • 2 pounds eggplant (look for thinner ones if possible)
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup almond flour
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or foil, then spray with nonstick cooking spray.Slice the eggplants into 1/2-inch rounds (don't peel them). Lay the eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheets.Bake the eggplant slices for 30 minutes, until they are somewhat dried out and starting to look leathery. Remove the baking sheets from the oven and let cool 30 minutes. Leave the oven on.While the eggplant is baking, mix together the almond flour, parmesan cheese, garlic powder, salt, and Italian seasoning in a small bowl.Assemble the casserole: Spray a medium-sized casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Pour a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce in the bottom and spread it around. Lay down a layer of eggplant slices. Sprinkle over about 1/4 of the almond flour mixture, then some mozzarella. Drizzle some more of the sauce on top. Continue to layer the ingredients until all are used, ending with mozzarella and a drizzle of tomato sauce.Bake the casserole about 45 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is melted and golden brown in places on top. Serve hot.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings

Make this low-carb eggplant parmesan casserole when you're craving pizza

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fresh corn tortillas with zucchini flowers

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Fresh corn tortillas with zucchini flowers

My specialty is making food that tastes good. I'm not quite so skilled when it comes to making food that's beautiful.

But when I saw these stunning fresh corn tortillas with zucchini flowers on Girl + Fire a few years back, I thought I'd take a shot. And guess what? It wasn't actually that hard.

I love zucchini season and have created a ton of favorite zucchini recipes over the years. This is one of them.

These tortillas with zucchini flowers aren't something I'm choosing to eat right now, but remember, I also cook for my family, and they don't need to restrict their foods just because I am.

Make your own fresh corn tortillas with Maseca corn flour

I've become a big fan of Maseca corn flour and now keep a bag in my pantry at all times. Mix Maseca with water to make dough, roll the dough into golf balls, press each one thin in a tortilla press, a minute in a nonstick skillet, and presto - tortillas. For a girl from Long Island who tasted her first tortilla long after her first legal margarita, it's pretty magical. 

Use a tortillas press to put the zucchini flowers onto the tortilla dough

You can use either waxed paper or plastic wrap to line the tortilla press and keep the tortillas from sticking to the press. If you don't have a tortilla press, I bet you could use the back of a heavy skillet and do it on the kitchen counter. (I haven't tried it, though, because a tortilla press is pretty easy to come by here in Los Angeles.)

Fresh corn tortillas embossed with zucchini blossoms

If you can't find zucchini flowers, any edible flower will do, or try a branch or two of tarragon, chive flowers, a few sprigs of dill, thin strips of roasted bell pepper, or sliced olives. 

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Fresh corn tortillas with zucchini flowers
Fresh corn tortillas are easy and quick to make. Press edible zucchini blossoms into the tortillas for a dramatic presentation. Look for zucchini flowers at gourmet grocery stores or local farmers markets.
  • 2 cups Maseca corn flour
  • about 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12-16 zucchini flowers, washed and gently patted dry
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the Maseca and water until a soft dough forms. It should be moist but not sticky. Roll the dough into balls about 2 inches in diameter, somewhere between a walnut and a golf ball. Cover the dough balls with a damp towel or a piece of plastic wrap to keep them from drying out.Line a tortilla press with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Place one dough ball on the press, put another piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap on top, and press down to flatten the tortilla. Lift the press, put one flower on the tortilla, replace the paper or plastic, and press down again gently to embed the flower into the raw tortilla.Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the tortilla until dry and cooked through, flipping to make sure both sides are cooked. Move the finished tortilla to a plate and cover with aluminum foil to keep it warm. Continue with the rest of the tortilla dough and zucchini flowers. While one tortilla is cooking, press the next so it is waiting when the pan is empty. Serve warm.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12-16 6-inch tortillas

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

How to change your life: Breaking bad habits

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Summer chopped salad with cucumbers, red bell peppers cherry tomatoes and avocado
One new habit: I take my lunch to work instead of relying on takeout

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Shortly after I got the doctor's call last summer and decided to take control of my health, I realized that I had developed a lot of bad habits.

It felt like the bad habits had crept up on me.

It's not like I had actually decided to eat poorly, eat too much, and stop exercising. I mean...who would make those decisions consciously?

But for whatever reason, that's exactly what I had done for years: eat poorly, eat too much, and avoid exercise.

My bad habits

These were a few of my bad habits:
  • Eating because it was time to eat, not because I was hungry
  • Eating because I was bored, not because I was hungry
  • Eating because I was afraid that at some point in the future I might be hungry
  • Sitting on my ass instead of exercising
  • Building meals around carbohydrates
In the past I might have sat around for a few days, or weeks, or months, trying to figure out how I'd gotten to where I was. Thinking that if I understood how it happened, I'd be able to avoid it in the future.

This time I didn't give the past a moment's thought. It didn't matter why or how I'd developed those bad habits. All that mattered was what I could do to change them.

Breaking habits is hard.

I was about to write "I can't tell you how many times I had tried to break these bad habits in the past."

But as I was typing it, I realized that it wasn't true.

I had never really tried to break these habits before. Instead, I made excuses for why I didn't need to break them.

I might have made half-hearted attempts to change my eating and exercise habits. But in my mind, the changes were temporary. They were things I had to do to achieve whatever short-term goal was in front of me: losing weight, mostly.

But as soon as I was near the goal, I screamed "I'M DONE!" in my head and went right back to my old habits. With predictable results.

This time is different.

This time is different because I have decided that the bad habits are gone for good.

My new habits are the way it's going to be for the rest of my life. Without excuses.

Another new habit: Evening walks with friends
Another new habit: Evening walk-and-talks with friends (hi Sue!)

This next part is going to sound a little crazy, but it's true: I started breaking my bad habits by talking to myself. 

I'll write more about this in another post, but for now, think of it like leaving yourself notes on your bathroom mirror.

Focusing on long-term goals felt overwhelming. So I decided to stay in the moment. And that's what I talked to myself about.

Every day I asked myself: What am I going to do today? What can I do right now, right this second, to make myself healthier? What decisions will I make today that will move things in the right direction?

I figured if I could do the right things today, then I could wake up and decide to do the right things again tomorrow. And then the day after that.

One day at a time, I ate better, ate less, ate only when I was hungry, and exercised.

One day at a time, I made new habits.

My new habits

I like my new habits. And I plan to keep them. Some of them are:
  • Exercise, every single day, usually first thing in the morning
  • Eat only when I am physically hungry
  • Avoid most carbohydrates (here are the details on what I choose to eat, what I choose to avoid, and why)
  • Build meals around vegetables and protein, in that order
  • Pack lunch to take to work (mostly to save money, but also to make sure I have food I like that's good for me)
  • Drink more liquids (water, iced decaffeinated tea, and iced decaffeinated coffee with unsweetened almond milk)
  • Eat some dark chocolate every day...because, you know, CHOCOLATE
  • Put myself and my needs first as often as possible
That last one is important. It's easy for parents, particularly moms, to subjugate our needs to those of our children. 

Sometimes, of course, it's the right thing to do. If my kid is bleeding and needs to go to the emergency room, I'm not going to say "Hang on, honey, I've only got 10 minutes left on the elliptical."

But daily exercise is a need for me. It's not a nice-to-have. It's a have-to-have, or my health will suffer.

So if my kid wants a ride to school because he's running late and doesn't feel like race-walking with a heavy backpack, and giving him a ride means I won't get to exercise before going to work...guess what? He's walking.

If there's one portion of last night's dinner left and I can either pack it in my lunchbox or leave it for my husband...I pack it.

If my husband and kids want to go out for sushi, or Chinese food, or burgers and fries, or ice cream, and I'm either not hungry or don't want to eat what they want to eat...I stay home and knit while watching something extremely girly on Netflix. Or I get a pedicure. (When you live with three men, you seize all opportunities to do girly things.)

There's one new habit I have tried hard not to set, by the way: I am not my family's Food and Exercise Police. And I don't intend to be. I'm leading by example, but they need to do what's right for them and make their own decisions.