Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Few Recipes from my Favorite Food Network Stars

The Straights are Food Network fans. We watch the shows, we get the recipes online, etc. I can't say that I like ALL of it though. If Rachel Ray suddenly appears on the television set, everyone in my family knows to turn the channel immediately! Her voice is like nails on a chalkboard to me. And I don't find any of her cooking unique or interesting.

Two of the FN stars I go to time and time again for recipes are Giada and Bobby Flay. Although Tyler Florence pops up quite a bit and I do make an outstanding Italian meatloaf that is Michael Chiarello's... but I'll save those two for another time.

I am going to start with Giada. Even though she is a stick with a head, even though she seems to have an obsession with push-up bras, and even though her "over-pronunciation" of Italian ingredients can be annoying, she is a genius in the kitchen. It was so hard to narrow down to one Giada recipe to share. But since I made this Israeli couscous salad just recently for a party and so many people asked me for the recipe, I have to go with this one. It's full of flavor, healthy, and great to take to a picnic since it can sit out longer than mayo-based salads. What I really enjoyed is that I could use our fresh herbs we have been growing. And to be honest, this is the first time I have ever used Israeli couscous and now I am a big fan! I have one recommended substitution. You may have already guessed---- use AGAVE NECTAR instead of the maple syrup!! And if I haven't quite convinced you yet to have agave on hand in your kitchen, use honey. I'm not sure I would love the maple syrup in it, but if anyone wants to try this the way Giada intended, let me know how it is. Here is the link:

The next dish is a little adaptation of a Bobby Flay (the god of grilling )recipe- Buffalo style French cut chicken breasts with bleu cheese sauce. He also includes a recipe for Jicama and watermelon salad, which I did not make. I had never heard of French cut chicken breast, but apparently it is bone and skin on with the wing attached. Like many of the posters who commented on this recipe, I used boneless breasts instead. Then I decided to make the whole thing into a Buffalo chicken salad and served it over iceberg and romaine with celery. What I really like about this dish is that it has all the flavors of Buffalo hot wings which I love (and miss!) The hot sauce is made with LOTS of ancho chili powder and Frank's Red Hot, butter, etc. and for me it is exactly the right amount of spicy. The contrast of the hot chili sauce and the cold bleu cheese sauce is really nice. There were leftovers of both which we will definitely use again. Both sauces are pretty rich, so if you are watching calories you may want to use them sparingly. Here is the link to the original recipe:

If you make either of these, make sure you leave a comment! And tell me who your favorite Food Network Stars are!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Amazing Agave

One of my very favorite ingredients is agave nectar. Once you start using it, you will always want to have it on hand. The amazing thing about agave is that it is a natural sweetener with wonderful flavor but it has a low glycemic index so it won't spike your blood sugar like other sweeteners. It is similar to honey, but thinner- in fact it's called "honey water" in Mexico! But in my opinion the flavor is MUCH nicer than honey. You can use this stuff straight up on anything to enhance the sweetness. I drizzle it over my fresh fruit salads and use it as syrup over whole wheat pancakes.

The pictures above show a few ways I've used this amazing ingredient. The bottom one is a fantastic banana cake that I've made several times. It pleases everyone- because it DEFINITELY does not taste healthy! If you are not fond of coconut, you can leave that off. The original recipe can be found on which I highly recommend. GREAT recipes on there, especially the desserts. Now here is where the agave nectar comes in. I ignore the part of the recipe that calls for cane sugar mixed with oil. Then I add agave nectar and canola oil in its place. I've done 3/4 c. agave and 1/2 c. oil and that makes it very flavorful and very moist. Trust me you are going to want to make (and eat) this cake over and over again. It tastes like a giant super-moist banana bread and the frosting is to die for. OH YES- and the agave nectar comes back into the scene for the frosting. Instead of the honey, use agave. YUM!!

The left picture is my new favorite way to treat myself. Four simple ingredients, high nutritional value and amazing taste! All it is- is Greek yogurt, agave nectar, blueberries and cinnamon. If you've ever eaten/used all natural Greek yogurt you'll understand why you can't substitute regular yogurt. The texture is thick and creamy and wonderful. I use Fage 0% fat all natural Greek yogurt. Then I drizzle some agave nectar for sweetness and top with blueberries and a sprinkle of cinnamon. If you are not fond of blueberries, use strawberries or another fresh fruit. I could eat this every day. So special!!

And last but not least, on the right is a recipe I tried for the first time last night- Juicy agave and basil turkey burgers. If you want this recipe, go to This is a website run by a young woman in Manhattan. This is the first recipe I've tried from this site but she has tons of healthy recipes and after tasting this turkey burger, I'll definitely be trying more. I only made a few changes. The mixture seemed a bit wet to me, probably because I went a little overboard with the lime juice! So I decided to add some panko breadcrumbs to hold it together a bit, probably about 1/3 cup. I was really happy with the texture of the burgers, so I think the decision to add the panko was a good one. I also seasoned them more than the recipe called for- a little extra sea salt and some extra coarsely ground pepper right on top after the patties were made. There are some great suggestions for spreads and toppings at the recipe site. We used roasted red pepper humus, grilled tomatoes and onion.

Enjoy some amazing agave today! Hmmm-- maybe the next time I should just follow the alphabet and talk about an ingredient I love that starts with B....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dinner Revisited

I love the challenge of using extra ingredients from a dinner and coming up with something new to make. Last week I had lots of limes and some prusciutto leftover, so I just did a search on lime and prusciutto and among the recipes that popped up was turkey wrapped in prusciutto with a melon salsa. I also had a half a bag of hazlenuts that needed to be used, so I found a mixed green and grilled asparagas salad with hazlenut vinagrette. Well, we all loved this dinner so much, that we ended up repeating the whole thing tonight, substituting chicken for the turkey since that's what I had on hand.
I can tell you how to do the chicken (or turkey) without a recipe since it's very simple. The salsa recipe will follow.
First, take your chicken or turkey cutlets and pound them out a bit if they are thick.
You'll need to grate some lime. I needed two limes for four large chicken breasts. Sprinkle lime zest and freshly ground pepper on both sides of each breast. Then take thin slices of prusciutto and wrap them around the chicken. The packaged prusciutto we get comes in slices that fit perfectly. I used one slice on each side of the chicken. If it doesn't quite fit, don't worry, you can piece it together. The prusciutto sticks very well to the meat and there is no need for any toothpicks. Honestly! Now all you do is grill the chicken, just like that. Don't get "turn happy" now- or the prusciutto will not adhere and brown up nicely! Just turn once.
Fresh Melon Salsa*
juice from one lime (I also added the zest from that lime)
1 1/2 c. chopped cantaloupe
1 1/2 c. chopped honeydew
1/2c. shredded cucumber
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 c. fresh basil, chopped
salt and coarsely ground pepper
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Makes about 3 cups. Lots of leftovers!
*adapted from a recipe on
Be sure to let me know if you tried this and how it turned out! :)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Relationship with Food

I partially blame my obsession with food on the Italian half of my family. No, blame is not the right word. Credit. I credit the Italians with my food obsession! I have vivid memories of visiting my grandmother, the only grandparent I ever really knew, in her little house on Swansea Ave. My sisters and brother and I would wait in her living room, peeking down the bumpy hallway to watch her scurrying back and forth, preparing the meal.

I can still smell her sauce and meatballs as though it was yesterday, and no one so far in my eyes has duplicated that aroma, although some of us have come close. I can still see the way the powdery Romano would melt on top of the sauce, and hear my mother say, "That's enough, that's enough!" as I tried to get away with loading on as much as I could.

Even after Grandma moved to the apartment, visits to her home were always food occasions. After the hugs and her shy giggles, she'd immediately go to the refridgerator and fill her table up with all kinds of delicious things. We'd say, "GRAM! We can't possibly eat all that. And she'd say, "Just taste of it..."

From what I have been told, Grandma learned a lot about cooking from her mother-in-law, Stefana, a native of Termini Imerese, Sicily, who spoke not a word of English. Family members say that Stefana was well known in Syracuse circles as a fabulous cook, a wonderful confidant, and even a natural healing doctor. Her life was spent cooking and caring for people and it gave her much pleasure. Although she was gone long before I was born, I feel a real connection with her through my own grandmother and through the recipes and love of food that have been passed down.

From my great-grandmother, grandmother, and father, I have inherited that love of pleasing people by cooking for them. That is why even though I cook almost exclusively healthy food for myself and my family, I still enjoy making super rich meals and decadent desserts for special occasions. Just ask the gals I work with. I have become the dessert maker for all the birthdays and I have made desserts like chocolate cheesecake, peanut butter pie, and chocolate hazlenut cream puffs. But I just make them, I don't eat any myself (except maybe a little bite to be sure it turned out the way I wanted..).

So how did I convert to the healthy side? Growing up and into my adult years, I always struggled with my weight. I had lost and regained the same 20-30 lbs. over and over again. I'd tried all sorts of diets and exercise routines. And finally, when I reached my 40s (gulp), I gave the South Beach diet a try. It was the only diet that worked for me in the long haul. I lost weight and I kept it off. But more importantly, I felt so much better physically! It wasn't long before I stopped dieting and just completely changed how I looked at food. I no longer wanted anything in my body that was fried, processed, or unnatural. I even gave up diet soda, which was a long time habit. So now, I don't count or measure a thing. There are just things I eat, and things I don't eat. A friend of mine jokes that I don't eat anything white. And that is partially true! No sugar, white flour, white rice, white pasta.... she threatens to find something white that I will eat. But I beat her to it. It's natural coconut. YUM!

People have said to me that they could never do what I do because they love food too much. And that is just shocking to me. Because I adore food! And healthy food that is made well is incredibly delicious!

And so, most of what I post here will be food I've cooked at home for the family, and health AND taste will definitely be priorities. But you'll also occasionally see some treats and goodies that I make for special times. Look for a new recipe with my next post!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Welcome to Food Straight Up! After a bit of urging from a few friends and some tech help from my friend Raina, the Straight family food blog is finally underway. We are definitely a family of "foodies," and we're constantly talking, planning, sharing, and sometimes obsessing over food. Although I have initiated this project, it is my hope that the rest of the family will chime in from time to time with their thoughts, ideas and recipes.

In my next post, I will share some thoughts about my relationship with food and my emphasis on healthy eating. For now, I will leave you with a recipe of the week (see picture above). It's from one of my favorite cookbooks: Italian Country Cooking- the Secrets of Cucina Povera, by Loukie Werle. Mangia!

Guazzetto di pesce e fagiolo
(Fish fillets with beans and tomatoes)
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 t chili flakes
1 lb. cherry tomatoes, halved
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. dried cannelini or great northern beans, cooked
good handful flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
4 white fish filets (I used cod), cut into 2-inch pieces or left whole
lemon wedges and grilled bread to serve
Heat the oil in a large saute pan over moderate heat. Add the garlic, chili flakes, tomatoes and wine and simmer until the tomatoes are soft, about 10 min. Drain the beans and add them to the pan, together with the parsley, and cook another 5 min. Check seasoning.
Lay the fish on top and season with salt. Cover the pan with a lid and cook over low heat until the fish is just cooked through, about another 10-15 min., depending on thickness. Serve in deep, heated plates with lemon wedges and grilled bread.
Note: The book's author does not recommend the use of canned cannelini beans but if you don't have time to soak the dried beans overnight and cook them slowly before adding them into the recipe, canned beans should be rinsed several times to avoid a metallic flavor.