Kiwi: A Love Story. No, Seriously.

Before I ever lived in California, I visited here with my family when I was just a sophomore in high school in a little town in Maryland. We came out to spend some time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins who lived here, and then we all took an ambitious road trip together to a few of the major natural attractions of the great west, including Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. The visit was great and the road trip was awesome. The combo began my love affair with California, which led to my love affair with UCLA (where I enrolled after high school in order to get back to California), which led to my love affair with my amazing wife Denise, whom I met at UCLA before we even took our first freshman class together. But even before any of these major loves developed, that first California trip introduced me to another love that, while not as key to my life as the others, I’ve still enjoyed ever since: kiwi!

On the first day of our trip, my aunt made us a delicious lunch that started off with a fresh fruit salad that, among the obvious California bounty, also contained some exotic-looking, green-fleshed circles that I had never seen before. They had a lovely sweet-tart taste and appealing texture, and I was hooked. What I didn’t know then was what a healthy treat they are. Kiwis are one of the best sources of antioxidant vitamins available, packing a potent punch of Vitamin C and healthy helpings of Vitamins A and E. All three help protect our DNA against the threats posed by our encounters with pollution and toxins. In addition, Vitamin C helps fortify the collagen in our skin, Vitamin E helps with nerve function, and Vitamin A helps prevent the formation of cataracts. Kiwi is also a surprising source of omega-3 oils, with a single fruit yielding 32 milligrams!

If you’ve never had kiwi or need a refresher on how to pick good ones, look for the fuzzy brown fruit that looks like what we have pictured here. To check for ripeness, squeeze the fruit gently, and select those that yield a bit, but don’t feel soft or mushy. Reject those that have visible nicks or cracks. When you’ve brought home the ones you want, wash them, then peel them with a paring knife, cutting just deep enough to get below the thin brown skin. When peeled, the edible part of the fruit will reveal itself as uniformly green on the outside, with a white core in the center, surrounded by tiny seeds. You can eat everything but the fuzzy brown wrapper.

You can enjoy kiwi all by themselves, or slice or cube them up in fruit salads, or toss them into a yogurt with the berries of your choice. Obviously, you’ll come up with other fine uses on your own. But if you’re having kiwi for the first time, be careful: You might just fall in love.

 

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Strawberry Arugula Salad

Strawberries are now in peak season here in Los Angeles, and one of my favorite ways to enjoy them are in a simple salad with arugula. Arugula is perfect for hot summer days as its peppery flavor has a natural cooling effect. And, like other leafy greens, arugula is naturally full of water, making it a food that can help you stay hydrated. These great summer ingredients pair up to make a wonderful salad to bring to a picnic, pool party, or barbecue. Or toss some blueberries on top, and the salad’s color profile shifts into a dish perfect for Fourth of July festivities.

Recipe Serves 8

¾ pound raw arugula

¼ cup Meyer lemon olive oil (such as Katz brand)

1 pinch salt & pepper

3 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

¼ cup blackberry balsamic vinegar (such as Chaparral Gardens brand)

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

 

  1. Toss the arugula in the Meyer lemon olive oil with salt and pepper to taste, and place in serving bowl.
  2. Toss the strawberries in the blackberry balsamic vinegar, then spread them on top of the arugula. Pour any remaining vinegar on top of the salad.
  3. Sprinkle feta cheese over the salad.
  4. If you’re adding blueberries, toss them on top of the salad too.

The best part of this salad is that it’s not only beautiful and tasty but good for you too! Even the feta cheese has less fat than most cheeses and provides calcium, phosphorus, zinc, and Vitamins B2, B6, and B12.

Strawberries are loaded with fiber, Vitamin C, magnesium, and manganese. The nutrients in strawberries help fight many anti-inflammatory disorders, lower blood pressure, improve the immune system, and build bone structure.

Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and high levels of Vitamins A, C, K, and B9, arugula helps promote good heart health, build strong bones, protect against cognitive decline, and decrease the risk of cancer. All that at only 10 calories for a 2-cup serving!

The most important step in preparing this salad is purchasing high quality ingredients. Look for bright green crispy arugula leaves, and choose strawberries that are deep red all the way through. In addition, make sure you taste the olive oil and vinegar before you douse your salad in them.

I hope you enjoy your salad! And whether you bring it to your Independence Day celebration or not, have a wonderful 4th of July! Come back soon for more recipes and food-related facts, tips, and news.

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Don’t Fizzle in the Summer Sizzle!

With summer already unofficially here and the solstice just over a week away (this year it arrives on June 21st), it seems like a good time to remind everyone of the dangers of overheating and to give some tips for avoiding the serious health risks associated with overdoing things in hot weather.

As we all know, our bodies have an ingenious system designed to keep us from getting too hot. When we start to really warm up, we start to perspire, and when this perspiration evaporates, our bodies cool down as a result. But when it’s too hot outside and we exert ourselves for too long in such high temperatures, our natural cooling system just can’t keep up, and our core body temperature can rise dangerously high. The result can be heat exhaustion or, even more serious, heat stroke. Luckily, this never has to happen to you! There are tried and true ways to still enjoy your workouts this time of year while minimizing the risk of ever getting dangerously hot. Just heed the following tips:

More H2O is the Way to Go!

Your body needs enough water to keep up with the amount you’re losing to perspiration, so when it’s hot out, drink even more than usual. While you’re exercising, drink 8 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes. After you’ve finished, drink at least another 8 to 10 oz.

When the Sun’s Up High, You Lay Low!

Avoid exercising outdoors during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, schedule your outdoor workouts for early in the morning or after the sun’s gone down. If neither time is an option, move your exercise indoors: Work out at the gym or use the air-conditioned mall for a brisk walk.

Dress Right, Keep it Light!

Since it’s not the perspiration but its evaporation that cools you down, wear loose-fitting clothing that will enable air to circulate over your skin. Also, wear light colors, since dark ones absorb the sun’s heat.

It’s Great to Acclimate!

Ease into your summertime outdoor activities. Your body will gradually become more efficient at keeping you cool while it’s hot—but it will take a little practice. Cut down on the length of time you do your workout or the speed at which you do it. In about 4 to 14 days, your body will acclimate. As it does, you can pick up the pace or lengthen the race, but pay attention to what your body is telling you, and don’t get ahead of yourself.

Everyone at California Chef wishes you a fun, safe summer!

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Gourmand Getaway: Marseille!

What happens when a chef and a wine maker go to France? Well, in this case, you get a gourmand getaway that provides so many wonderful experiences and memories that I have to share one with you right now.

Earlier this month, my best friend, Pallet wine maker Linda Donovan, and I set out to experience the specialty dishes and wines of the south of France. We were both hoping to discover exceptional tastes and regional secrets that would inspire us in our crafts.

Our first stop together was Marseille, birthplace of bouillabaisse, the famous French fish stew. What was once a simple fisherman’s dish made from the day’s leftover catch has been elevated to an art form with its own governing charter. Although there is a lot of room for interpretation, the Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter provides certain guidelines and traditions that must be upheld in order to ensure a high standard of quality.

Our first night in town, we dined in the old port at Le Miramar, one of the original restaurant charter members. There, a huge, steaming plate of seafood—weevers, dories, gunards, anglerfish, eel, crabs, and mussels—was brought to our table and displayed before us. It was then taken aside so that the staff could debone the fish and remove the shells from the crustaceans. In the meantime, we were brought delicious thick fish broth seasoned with saffron, garlic, and fennel. We were also left with a basket of crunchy crostini that we were instructed to rub with raw garlic cloves, top with creamy rouille, and add to our broth. Before long, the deboned and shelled seafood was brought back over and added to our individual bowls. Linda chose a 2014 Bandol rosé, Chateau de Pibarnon, to complement our meal, and it was a perfect pairing. The bouillabaisse, the service, the wine—the entire experience was outstanding!

Le Miramar provides the recipe for their bouillabaisse on their website. It is a relatively healthy meal as long as you control your portion size. I admit, I did not do a good job restraining myself the night we dined at Le Miramar, but when I make the bouillabaisse myself stateside, I intend to. The dish has also inspired me to create a new recipe incorporating the traditional soup flavors and rouille: Marseille Shrimp Soup. When I’ve ironed out the details, I’ll share that recipe as well. In the meantime, bon appétit!

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Advocating for Avocados

A one-ounce portion of avocado has about 50 calories, and over 75% of those come from fat. But that’s not a reason to stop eating avocados. In fact, quite the opposite: Avocados are a wonderful source of healthy fat and provide other substantial health benefits.

For example, a good portion of the fat in avocados is made up of phytosterols, which have been documented to help keep inflammation under control, particularly the inflammation associated with arthritis.

Avocados not only contain an impressive array of antioxidants, but the fat of avocados contains a high amount of oleic acid, which aids in the absorption of many antioxidants and Vitamins A, D, K, and E. So, it’s a great idea to add avocado to salads, for instance. That’s because your body needs healthy fats in order to effectively absorb many nutrients—like the ones sure to be found in other ingredients in your salad.

In addition, research has shown that heart health is promoted by the intake of oleic acid and omega-3 fatty acids—both of which are found in avocados. Avocados are also high in fiber, Vitamin B-6, and folic acid, which are all part of a heart-healthy diet. Good fats, like those in avocados, also aide in lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

But wait, there’s more: Avocados are also high in potassium, containing even more per serving than bananas do. Potassium is essential in building muscle and helps to offset some of the harmful effects of sodium on blood pressure.

So, if you ever needed any more justification for including avocados in your diet than their wonderful flavor, you now have your fill. Eat up and enjoy!

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Top o’ the Morning Treat for St. Paddy’s Day!

What could put you more in the mood for St. Patrick’s Day than starting it off with a delicious green breakfast? And since St. Patrick’s Day is largely about maximizing fun, what could be more fun at breakfast than Green Eggs & Ham?

The bonus is that this particular recipe is both fun and healthy. It includes egg whites, which are a great source of lean protein: each egg white has 6 grams of protein and zero grams of fat! And spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense vegetables on the planet!

So, here’s our quick and easy California Chef recipe for Green Eggs & Ham, and some delicious ways to enjoy it:

Recipe: Serves 1

1 cup egg whites

1/8 cup raw spinach

1/8 cup fresh basil

1 garlic clove

1 Tbsp. parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1 spray olive oil spray

1 slice lean, low-sodium deli ham, chopped

  1. Blend egg whites, spinach, basil, garlic, parmesan, salt, and pepper until smooth and completely green.
  2. Heat up a non-stick frying pan.
  3. Spray non-stick pan with olive oil spray.
  4. Add green egg mixture and cook like scrambled eggs.
  5. When eggs are almost all cooked through, add ham to the pan and finish cooking eggs.
  6. See below for serving suggestions:

You can put your eggs next to potatoes,

Or top them with chopped tomatoes.

You can roll them in a spinach tortilla,

Or stuff them in a whole wheat pita.

They are delicious on toasted bread,

Or on an English muffin you can spread.

Of course you can always eat them plain,

But don’t wait a year to eat them again.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! For more healthy recipes, please skim through prior blogs. Or, if you’d like to go one step further and have us prepare our healthy, delicious recipes and deliver the meals to your door, sign up for our service by clicking on the orange “Sign-Up Now!” box at the top left of this page.

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Put Some Spring in Your Step!

As you hopefully already know, we turned the clocks ahead by 1 hour early Sunday morning. That means that today—as the first workday after the change—is when many people will truly notice how much extra daylight we’re now getting in the early evening. The sun won’t set here in Southern California until just about 7:00 pm. That gives us all more than an hour’s bonus of sunshine this evening over what we had just 2 nights ago. Let’s enjoy it!

How about getting outside and taking a walk this evening? Or if you’ve been biking only on the weekends this winter because of visibility concerns at night, how about sneaking in a nice ride before dinner? If running is your thing, how about revving things up in that extra hour of sun when drivers can more easily see you? Parcourse, paddleball, tennis—whatever exercise gets your blood flowing, get going with it tonight. No matter how healthy you eat, burning extra calories through exercise is a great help in losing weight, and if winter’s early darkness has been keeping you sedentary at night, now’s the time to get off the couch and to spring into action!

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Kale: A Leafy Green Vegetable’s Long March from Rabbit Food to Superfood!

Yes, of course, the title is a little much, but we’re on the eve of the Academy Awards so everything has to be at least a little dramatic. But, in all seriousness, I remember talking about kale at dinner with my wife’s (that is, Chef Denise’s) food-obsessed family more than a decade ago, and one of Denise’s cousins saying the only thing she’d ever used kale for was to feed her rabbits. Other people at the table came to kale’s defense, of course, and it seems like only 10 years later the rest of America—or at least California—got in step as well.

I think kale has gone mainstream for two major reasons: It is a superfood, and it is far tastier than most people who haven’t tried it assume. On the superfood front, kale is one of the rare foods that score a perfect 1,000 on the ANDI scale (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). The leafy green is chock-a-block full of Vitamins A and C, a good source of Vitamins B and K, and also offers lots of important minerals.

On the taste front, people who try kale that is prepared properly quickly dismiss prior concerns about how bitter the taste or tough the texture might be. The key to enjoying kale raw is to first cut it into small pieces and then marinate it for a short time in a dressing. Cooking kale softens its texture and opens up a world of possible flavor combinations that can span the taste spectrum. Great tasting and great for you—now that’s a combination everyone can enjoy!

 

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February: The Month for Anyone Who Has a Heart!

As the month that gives us Valentine’s Day, when images of hearts become ubiquitous, it is fitting that February is also American Heart Month—an opportunity for all of us to learn more about how to keep this critical organ healthy. And, judging from the statistics, we better do so in a hurry! As the official declaration for American Heart Month states, “Cardiovascular disease—including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure—is responsible for one out of every three deaths [in this country]. It is the Number 1 killer of American women and men, and it is a leading cause of serious illness and disability.”

OK, that’s the really, really bad news. The really, really good news is that we can all take important steps to help prevent us from becoming victims of cardiovascular disease. To get started, let’s take a look at the leading risk factors for developing heart problems:

  1. Tobacco Use
  2. Insufficient Physical Activity
  3. Inappropriate Diet
  4. Obesity
  5. High Blood Pressure
  6. Unhealthy Blood Cholesterol
  7. Diabetes

Now that we know the leading risks, let’s discuss how to go about dealing with them.

First things first: We all know that smoking is a dangerous habit, so if you haven’t started smoking, DON’T! If you do smoke, consider yourself lucky to be living in a time in which there are the best options ever available for helping you quit. Talk to your doctor about the most appropriate strategy for you.

Regarding the last four risks on the list (Items 4 through 7), the silver lining is the fact that they can all be largely dealt with by tackling Items 2 and 3. So let’s take a closer look at those.

Item 2: I think you’ve already guessed the treatment for this risk factor: Exercise regularly! Routine physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood pressure, tame unhealthy cholesterol, and help manage or even reverse Type 2 diabetes. Specifically, the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity activity for at least 150 minutes per week. If you’re not regularly engaging in exercise already, now is the time to start. Take a look at some of our prior blogs on the subject to give you a head start.

Item 3: OK, I think you’ve probably guessed the answer to dealing with this risk factor too: Eat right! You probably know the bare basics already, even if you don’t strictly abide by them: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid significant quantities of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and highly processed food of any kind. If you’re doing this on your own already, then congratulations! If you’re not, we at California Chef can definitely help you. We not only know how to prepare healthy meals but how to make them delicious—so they feel like a treat, not a chore! And, like exercise, a proper diet can help you achieve and keep an ideal weight, lower your blood pressure, improve your cholesterol numbers, and manage or reverse Type 2 diabetes. Eating properly is also a crucial factor in managing Type 1 diabetes.

We at California Chef have helped hundreds of our clients with these conditions and others. So if you’d like us to help you get on the road to better heart health, click here to learn about our meal options and pricing and get started!

And whether you enlist our help or not, please get serious about your cardiovascular health. I put this primer together in hopes of getting your attention, but this is really just a start. Go to the Center for Disease Control’s site  or the American Heart Association’s site to learn more, and if you’re 40 or over, or think you’re at risk for heart disease, do not hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor to get checked out—You’ll heart yourself for doing so!

 

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Healthy Nachos To Score Big on Super Bowl Sunday!

If you made a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, you don’t have to blow it on Super Bowl Sunday. This simplified California Chef recipe for Guiltless Turkey Nachos is less than 400 calories per serving, and it’s satisfyingly delicious. Not only are these nachos healthy and diet friendly, but they are even gluten free!

Recipe Serves 4

  1. The secret of this recipe is the chips. Take 4 brown rice tortillas and spray them with a touch of olive oil spray.
  2. Dust them with any pre-made Mexican seasoning, or a mix of cumin, chili powder, and cayenne.
  3. Cut the tortillas as if you were slicing a pizza into 8 pieces. Place the resulting triangles on a baking sheet, and bake at 375° for approximately 10 minutes.
  4. While the chips are crisping, brown 16 oz. of lean ground turkey in a pan with ½ cup of your favorite salsa.
  5. When chips are crisp, top with 1 cup of pinto beans.
  6. Distribute the turkey evenly over the beans.
  7. Cover turkey with 1 cup of shredded Mexican cheese made with 2% milk (you’ll find this cheese at almost any grocery store).
  8. Top with chopped cilantro, green onions, and jalapeños.
  9. Serve with salsa and fat-free sour cream.
  10. Enjoy the game while staying on track with your commitment to lose weight.

 

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