All posts by Virginia McIlwain

About Virginia McIlwain

Virginia is a culinary school graduate. She interned in Dublin, Ireland at a Michelin star French-Irish restaurant. She has cooked professionally in Minneapolis, MN, Dallas, TX, and Boston, MA.

Vibrant Collard Green Rice and Bean Rolls

I really like collard greens. I grew up in the South, well if you can count Florida as “the south”, as eclectically diverse as it is. My grandmother cooked them down until very soft, but only in water so they weren’t unhealthy. She had a jar of spicy jalapeno vinegar to splash on them and they were so filling and satisfying. You don’t need to cook them down so much to enjoy them as so many people are catching on to the delights of gently steamed or shredded raw collard greens. For this recipe you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cup uncooked Brown or Bhutanese Red rice (preferably organic when cooking with rice)
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock (can use chicken stock or water)
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (Chick peas), drained
  • ½ cup minced celery
  • ½ cup  prepared cole slaw (cabbage and carrots)
  • ¼ cup chopped pitted black olives (can substitute green if you prefer, I like Cerignola olives particularly)
  • 2 tablespoons minced parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ cup vegan soy mayonnaise (can substitute thick strained plain Greek style yogurt)
  • 1-2 teaspoons your favorite seasoning blend (Jane’s Crazy salt is always a winner)
  • 8 collard green leaves, washed and dried

To make the collard wraps:

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice with the broth and sea salt. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then you want to reduce the heat  to a gentle simmer on low, covered, for approximately 40-50 minutes or until the rice is fluffy and soft.
  2. Transfer the cooked rice to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except the collard leaves. Mix well and set aside to cool.
  3. To prepare the collard leaves, you will need to trim off the stems. You can do this by laying each leaf out on a cutting board and running a small paring knife down the thick central stem in a V-shape towards the middle of the leaf. You do not want to cut the entire leaf in half, just remove the thick vein and stem.
  4. Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat and add 2 or 3 collard leaves. Boil for a minute or two, until dark green and tender. Remove with tongs and transfer to a colander to drain and cool. Repeat with remaining leaves.
  5. Take a cooled collard leaf and lay it stem side facing up. Place 1 cup of rice-bean mixture in the center and roll the collard leaf around the filling to make a wrap. Do this for the rest of the collard greens.

This serves 4 people with 2 wraps each. I recommend a bright and tangy Tahini dipping sauce with this.

Tahini Saice

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed paste easily found in a grocery store)
  • 3 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons good quality olive oil (extra virgin preferred)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt to taste (about 1 teaspoon)

Combine the ingredients in a food processor or a blender and whiz together into a nice dressing consistency. Adjust the seasoning to your liking, and thickness by adding a little water if you want to thin it out.

 

Easy Spring Rolls with Shrimp and Crunchy Veggies

Spring rolls are a snap to make once you get the basics down. You may have eaten them at an Asian take-out restaurant before, or have seen them on a buffet somewhere. They are light and fresh and can be filled with almost anything you like.  I like to add whole grains like Bhutanese Red rice for an earthy, chewy texture which contrasts excellently against the succulent, salty-snap of fresh shrimp. I include powerfully nutritious green herbs in this recipe which will align well with your diet plans, and I hope you will make it and enjoy it.

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons turbinado sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons chili flakes (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil (toasted if you can find it)
  • 4 each 8-inch diameter rice paper rounds (you can use brown rice rounds if you can find them)
  • 1 cup cooked Bhutanese Red rice (cook per package directions)
  • 2 1/2 cups of cole slaw mix prepared (you can find it at the grocery store and it has shredded cabbage and carrots)
  • 1 small avocado halved and sliced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Thai basil (regular sweet basil will work if you cannot find Thai)
  • 6 teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 8 each cooked and peeled (deveined) shrimp (medium or large) cut in half horizontally
  1. To begin have a bowl or shallow dish of warm water with a splash of the rice vinegar on hand, as well as a clean dish towel or several layers of paper towels at the ready. You will soak the rice paper wrappers to soften them in the warmed water and lay them out on the paper or towel to drain off excess water.
  2.  Combine the first seven ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together with a little sesame oil until the sugar dissolves. This will serve as your dipping sauce, which you can divide into four small portions.
  3. Soften a spring roll wrapper until it is soft and pliable enough to wave gently in the liquid. Remove it to the towel gently, and add several slices of avocado, then two halves of shrimp. Next add some of the cole slaw filling and the green herbs.
  4. Leave about an inch and a half at the top of your spring roll and at the sides. Make sure you place the filling toward the bottom edge of the wrapper.
  5. Now fold the sides up and roll your wrapper like a burrito up and around the filling, pressing gently at the seam. Set your spring roll aside and finish the others in the same manner.
  6. When you have finished, slice each spring roll at the center in a diagonal slice.

You should have 4 servings of an appetizer portion of these delicious spring rolls. Now that you have the technique figured out the sky is the limit for what you can add. Steamed or grilled chicken slices and a creamy, citrus peanut sauce would be a filling treat, as would a spring roll chock full of crunchy veggies alone! If you cannot find fish sauce, or do not particularly enjoy it, feel free to omit it and instead substitute 1/8 cup tamari sauce with 1/8 cup of citrus juice; such as lemon, lime or orange, or even some stock if you have it handy.

 

Lucky Peas and Kale

The year is almost up and if you’re just beginning the diet, or an old hat by now, you will want to prepare some of these black eyed peas for your New Year. Lucky or not they are sure good for you!
You will need:

  • 2-cups Dried Black Eye Peas
  • 1-medium white or yellow onion, minced
  • 1- large, fresh Bay leaf, dry is ok too, I prefer fresh
  • 2-good cloves of garlic, smashed and minced (about 1 teaspoon if using prepared garlic)
  • 2-Tablespoons Olive oil, or Grapeseed oil
  • 1 -6 ounce can chopped tomatoes, organic if possible
  • 4-cups Kale, washed, rinsed and chopped or 1 ready to use bag
  • 2-Tablespoons Apple Cider vinegar
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1-teaspoon smoked Paprika
  • 1-teaspoon ground Cumin
  • Juice of 1-sour orange, or 1/4 cup of a blend of lemon and orange or lime and lemon
  • Fresh black pepper in a grinder, about 1 teaspoon
  • 2-teaspoons sea salt
  • Optional sliced Serrano, or Jalapeno chili.

In a pot have your soaked beans at the ready in double the amount of water to beans. 4 cups water to 2 cups beans in this case. To quick soak you can boil the peas in water and set the cover off the heat and let it sit until room temperature again. This takes about an hour or two. Or you can soak overnight, or even use canned, but drain and wash well due to the excess sodium that tends to be used in canned peas. Dried are best and easy if you just soak and drain them prior to use.

Depending on  how you like your kale add it at the beginning or the end. I prefer it to be tender and silky in a dish like this, so I add it with the dried peas at the beginning with the garlic, onion, spices (except salt) Bay leaf, oil and tomatoes to the pot. You will want to sweat the onion in the oil first on medium-low heat. Then add the spices and garlic and stir until fragrant and add the peas, tomato and water. Bring it up to a boil and skim off any scum that arises.  Bring it down to a simmer and gently cover with a little ventilation. Cook for about 45 minutes until the peas are nice and tender as you like them. Don’t add salt until the end when cooking beans and dried peas. When it’s ready for the salt test and add the citrus juice and vinegar. That should brighten things up and not necessitate more salt, but just in case, taste again and add it if you like. Let it sit to cool some and serve over wild rice or brown rice if you like, or just as it is.

Makes about 6 hearty servings

Variation: Use same amount of low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth or stock in lieu of water.

Dragon Fruit Smoothie

So you may have seen this leathery, hot pink or fuscia fruit with it’s strange curly spikes at the grocery store more frequently, and thought to yourself “now what is that and what would I do with it?”

Dragon fruit has a flavor and texture similar to kiwi fruit. It is a member of the cactus family (think prickly pear). The skin of the fruit is inedible, but the flesh is white and flecked with little black specks that look like vanilla or poppy seeds.

Select ripe fruits without bruises. You can just slice them in half with a sharp knife and scoop out the fruit with a spoon by running it around the inside of the skin. Then you can eat it right away or dice it up and add it to fruit salsas, fruit salads, or smoothies. It is versatile and mildly succulent.

You will need:

  • 4 ripe Dragon fruits, scooped out of the skin, and diced
  • 1 ripe banana, sliced
  • 1 fresh mango, diced
  • 2 cups soy or almond milk
  • honey to sweeten if preferred (shouldn’t need it)
  • 1/4 cup ice

In a blender add all the ingredients and puree until smooth and creamy.

Serves-4

Salmon Cakes with Bitter Lettuce and Fennel Salad

These salmon cakes are a breeze to make with a food processor. I enjoy the contrast of the robust and fatty salmon against the bitter greens and sweet, pungent fennel root. Fennel pairs so well with citrus as well and I have included the use of orange segments in the salad, as well as pomegranate seeds for a tangy crunch.

For the Salmon Cakes you will need:

  • 1.5 pounds of fresh or frozen and thawed wild caught salmon (pat dry with a paper towel) cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 teaspoons freshly minced herbs such as tarragon or parsley or both
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil mayonnaise or soy mayonnaise
  • juice of 1/2 a fresh lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • sea salt to taste, about 3/4 teaspoon
  • freshly ground pepper about 1/4 teaspoon
  • 1 pinch of cayenne pepper or old bay seasoning
  • Olive oil to brush onto the salmon cakes, about 1/4 cup

To prepare pre-heat the oven to 400°F and have a sheet pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper ready to bake the salmon cakes.

In a food processor add the cut up salmon and pulse until you have small, fine bits, but not a paste. You want a little under 1/4 inch chunks. In a bowl combine some of the  Panko breadcrumbs and the herbs, lemon juice, mayonnaise, Dijon and seasonings. About 3 tablespoons of Panko just for texture. Once the salmon is processed add it to this mixture and fold it all together well. Now you are ready to form the salmon cakes into disks about 3 inches or less across and about an inch high.

The remaining Panko crumbs can be put onto a plate to use to coat the cakes as you form them. Just press them gently into the crumbs as you shape them and try to get an even coating. You should be able to get about 8 cakes at this size, with 2 cakes being served per person.

With a pastry brush or grill brush gently brush some olive oil over the formed salmon cakes and set them onto the prepared baking sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes until done. They should be firm and lightly golden brown on top.

Set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the bitter greens and fennel salad.

For the salad you will need:

  • 1 small bulb of fennel root, washed and shaved on a mandolin or thinly sliced
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup orange segments, supreme is preferred
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 cups mixed greens such as radicchio, mizuna, and endive
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons good Balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper

Mix the dressing ingredients in the bottom of the salad bowl you will be using and whisk well until incorporated. Then toss the salad ingredients well with the mixed dressing and season with salt and pepper.

Serve 2 salmon cakes each on top of a plate of this delicious salad and enjoy!

If you like you could substitute 1 tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar for pomegranate molasses if you can find it. Also adding toasted walnuts would be an excellent addition to this salad.

Serves-4

 

 

Kale and Lentil Salad

Red Lentils are quick to cook, and very filling. This salad can be served warm as a side dish, or chilled until cool and eaten as a cold salad. You will need:

  • 2 cups red lentils, cooked and drained
  • 1 Tablespoon good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons good vinegar such as balsamic or sherry
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
  • wedge of lemon
  • 1/4 cup Dinosaur kale, chiffonade
  • 1/4 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • fresh basil, minced or chiffonade
  • 3 Tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts or other nuts like hazelnut
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

To prepare the salad have your ingredients ready and warm a skillet or sauté pan gently over medium heat and warm the oil and garlic until it softens, about 3 minutes. Stirring occasionally to ensure no sticking or burning. Add your vinegar and kale and wilt the kale, stirring to coat the greens with the warm garlic dressing. Once wilted remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix this with the basil and nuts and tomatoes while still warm but not hot. Squeeze a little lemon over the salad and toss gently ensuring an even coating. You may serve this chilled or warm as it is and it is a lovely summer dish. This is excellent with a grilled fish as an entrée.   Serves-4

Easy Mixed Greens and Chicken

With Spring arriving the weather is permitting some al fresco dining in some regions. If you’re lucky to be living in one of those warmer regions you may enjoy dining outside. Fire up the grill and make this delicious and easy salad full of anti-inflammatory ingredients like blueberries and garlic.

For the salad:

  • 1 bag of pre-washed organic mixed greens
  • 1 medium sized red onion, small diced
  • 1 seedless orange, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries, washed well
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (may substitute fresh parsley)
  • 2 6-ounce skinless chicken breasts, patted dry
  • Grapeseed oil

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup Good quality extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 cup raspberry vinegar or balsamic (may substitute freshly squeezed orange juice)
  • 1 garlic clove smashed and minced well
  • Sea salt about a teaspoon
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Wisk all the ingredients together for the dressing and check the seasoning. Take about 3 tablespoons of it and rub over the chicken and let it marinate in a dish in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Set the rest of the dressing aside and assemble the salad mixing the onion, oranges, blueberries and herbs together. Grill the chicken breasts until they are cooked through, about 3 minutes a side. Ensure you rub some grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper before you grill them so there is no sticking. You may use other high-heat tolerant oil if you do not have grapeseed. While the chicken is resting and cooling some, dress the salad tossing gently. Slice the chicken and serve about half a breast for each guest.

 

Serves 4

 

Easy roast chicken

With chicken being allowed on the Diet for a Pain Free Life, it can be a struggle to find new ways to incorporate it into your meals in a flavorful and exciting way. For that I simply add a lot of great spices and roast a bone in full chicken breast from the meat counter at my grocery store. it is already broken down from the bird with the center breast bone still intact and the two chicken breasts ready for preparation. Usually this comes as a skin on deal, but ask the meat person to remove it or simply take it off at home.

You will need:

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout spice (or a mixture of cayenne, paprika, black pepper, cinnamon)
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, just a squeeze will do
  • fine sea salt
  • fresh ground pepper

In a large bowl big enough to hold the chicken breast, mix the ingredients well. Add the chicken breasts and coat well then cover and refrigerate to allow the marinade to penetrate. A minimum of 20 minutes and ideally a few hours to overnight. When ready pre-heat your oven to 425 F. If you have a roasting pan where you can place the chicken breast side up to roast this is ideal. Just set it on the pan and stick it in the oven until the internal temperature at the fattest part reads 170F. Remove from the oven and let stand for about 15 more minutes to allow the carry over heat to continue distributing the juices and for the meat to cool slightly.

serves-4

With this chicken the collard green salad would be perfect.

Simply delicious collard green salad

I want to share a recipe from one of my favorite cooks and authors Robin Asbell.

Her Collard Green Waldorf salad is perfect for winter. Check out her site for more information about this recipe, and great pictures on how to prepare the collard greens.  Here is the link to her website and the recipe as follows:

 

Collard Green Waldorf Salad

A great thing about using resilient leaves like these in a salad is that you can dress it and serve it for days. Like coleslaw, it just gets more tender as it sits.

Makes about 4 cups

1 bunch collard greens, stems removed and saved for juice or other use

2 tablespoons Meyer or other lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or walnut oil

1/4 cup vegan or other mayo

1 tablespoon agave or maple syrup

2 ribs celery, split lengthwise and then chopped

1 large Honeycrisp or other apple, chopped

1/2 large carrot, grated

1/2 cup toasted broken walnuts

 

On your cutting board, roll up the stemmed leaves and slice thinly. Place in a large bowl and add the lemon, olive oil and salt, and massage until the greens are deep green and shrink to about 2/3 their original volume. In a cup, stir the mayo and agave or maple, and add to the greens. Add the celery, apple, carrots and toss to coat. Stir in most of the walnuts, saving some to sprinkle on top at serving.

Valentine’s Day Baked Fish in a Foil Pouch

Spices help with flavor in a dish, but they also help with our circulation. Getting that blood flowing, that heart pumping and set for some romance.Baking fish and shellfish in a foil package is one of the easiest ways to prepare a meal, and frees you up to focus on other things while a meal is working away. It melds flavors together, sealing in juiciness; and using heart healthy olive oil, spices, olives, herbs, veggies and sea salt will help keep you and your loved ones healthy.

 

Mediterranean Fish Baked in a Pouch:

  • 4 fish filets of your choosing (each about 8 oz)
  • Sea salt (I like fine textured the best)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine of your choosing

Marinade:

  • 1/2 cup of pitted black olives, choose your favorite
  • 1 glove of garlic, peeled and smashed with the broad side of a knife, and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small dried red chili pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chiffonade or chopped
  • 3 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes (or 1/4 cup soaked, drained and chopped sundried tomatoes)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 475 faranheit and make the marinade. Put the olives, garlic, chili pepper, herbs, lemon juice and oil into a large bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes and toss.  Season with salt and pepper. Let sit for up to 30 minutes to allow the juices to escape from the tomatoes.

Take a piece of aluminum foil about 15-inches in length and place 1/4 of the tomatoes and some marinade on one side and a filet on top of it. Fold it over and seal that side, then seal one end leaving the other open. Pour into the open end 1 Tablespoon good olive oil and some of the white wine (1/4 of the amount) and seal up the remaining side. Do the same for the other 3 filets.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes and remove from the over. Then let it stand about 4-5 minutes to allow the fish to continue to steam in the bag.

To serve Place each bag on a plate and either have the guest cut open the top of the foil and peel it back, or you can do this prior to serving.

Serves-4