Author: brandonmcdearis

Rigatoni with Pesto and Roasted Vegetables


Today, in our country, very few people eat the right amount of vegetables each day. Even for the most health-conscious person, eating the recommended minimum of 3-4 cups a day can be a great challenge. That challenge can become even more perplexing for those in the category of vegetable hater.

In my opinion, the best way to cook vegetables is by roasting them. It has often been my secret (and only) weapon in swaying those that are passionately dedicated to vegetable abstinence. When vegetables are roasted, they become crisp and caramelized with their sweetness concentrated. People who have often been repulsed by certain vegetables their whole life can find themselves not only tolerating them, but also truly enjoying them for the first time.

This month’s recipe covers all the bases. It’s light, filling, easy to prepare, nutritious, and delicious. The recipe can go a long way, feeding numerous people at multiple meal times. To move this dish down a couple of notches on the glycemic index, simply cut back on the pasta. I find that a little goes a long way. The big pieces of pasta can be a nice filler to a large serving of roasted vegetables, rather than being the calorie-dense focus of the dish.


  • 1 red onion, diced large
  • 1 small eggplant, diced large
  • 1 large zucchini, diced large
  • 1 yellow squash, diced large
  • 1 red pepper, diced large
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound whole wheat Rigatoni
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 2 cups spinach or arugula



  • 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pesto Preparation:

  1. Combine the basil in with the pine nuts and pulse a few times in a food processor.
  2. Add the garlic and pulse a few more times.
  3. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup

Note: Spinach and arugula both work well either in addition to, or in place of, the basil. It is also a great way to slip some extra nutrients into your pesto. Just make sure to adjust the rest of the ingredients depending on how much you add.

Vegetable Preparation:

  1. If preparing pesto from scratch using the above recipe, do so ahead of time to cut down on total prep time. It can be done up to 3 days in advance.
  2. Preheat oven to 425-degrees
  3. Take the first 11 ingredients (down to the black pepper) and toss thoroughly in a bowl. Spray a large sheet pan or other baking sheet with non-stick spray. Spread vegetables out evenly on the pan, use two pans if necessary.
  4. Put into the 425-degree oven and roast for about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Stir, rotate pan and continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown (Note: Cooking times vary depending on the oven and the size of the vegetables. It is important to watch closely).
  6. Meanwhile, boil pasta according to package directions. Strain, and return to the pot (off the heat) with a little bit of olive oil to prevent sticking.
  7. Stir in pesto, spinach/arugula, and roasted vegetables. Season with salt and pepper if needed and garnish with Parmesan cheese and herbs such as chopped parsley or basil.

The recipe serves 12.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 253 / Fat: 9g / Saturated Fat: 2g / Carbohydrates: 36g / Fiber: 6g / Protein: 7g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica.



This month’s recipe may sound familiar, yet many people do not know what ratatouille is other than a French culinary term, and a popular children’s movie. Ratatouille is really nothing more than a stewed vegetable dish that originated in the Provencal region of France. It has been regarded as a go-to summer meal throughout the Mediterranean coast. Traditionally, ratatouille is prepared by sautéing each item separately before being layered in a dish and baked. However, recipes have evolved so that it can be prepared faster and easier with less cooking time that in turn retains more of the nutrients in some of the vegetables. This recipe is an excellent side dish with any meal. It is also ideal to have in the fridge as a leftover to be mixed in with pasta, quinoa or soup. It can even make for a nice topper or garnish for your favorite protein dish.

The recipe makes about 8 servings.


  • 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, medium-large diced
  • 1 eggplant, medium-large dice
  • 1-2 red bell peppers, medium-large diced
  • 1-2 zucchini, medium-large dice
  • 1-2 yellow squash, medium-large diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 1 (28oz) can of diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley


  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot at medium-high heat and add the onion. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  2. Add eggplant and bell peppers and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes until vegetables begin to soften.
  3. Add zucchini, squash and garlic and more olive oil at this point, if needed. Continue stirring and cooking for another 2 minutes.
  4. Add thyme, salt, pepper and tomato paste and stir together thoroughly.
  5. Add white wine and stir until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Add canned tomatoes and the bay leaf, then reduce heat to medium-low. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. The vegetables should be soft, but not mushy.
  7. Turn off the heat or set to very low and add the balsamic, basil and parsley. Stir together.

This can be served immediately, but letting it sit for longer allows the flavors to develop more intensely. Remove (or just avoid eating) the bay leaf.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 136 / Fat: 8g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 13g / Fiber: 4g / Protein: 3g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 

Vegetarian Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup


Nearly every country has at least one national dish recognized worldwide. Just as Thailand has pad thai, India is known for curry, and Spain is renowned for its paella, Vietnam has pho noodle soup. Traditional pho is a popular street food consisting of a meat-based broth cooked for hours or even days. This vegetarian version can be prepared at home in under an hour. The ingredients can be as extensive or as simplified as desired. Most recipes call for whole cloves and star anise in the broth, however, I find it unnecessary to purchase a whole jar of each just to prepare this variety.

This recipe is light but filling, and offers an assortment of nutritional benefits. It is low in calories and fat, and the herbs and spices give the soup many cleansing and detoxifying properties. There is room to add any desired vegetables to increase the nutrient density, and the flavor can be tweaked to be either subtle or bursting with the spice and heat of your preference. The recipe serves 8.



  • 8 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 large onion, diced large into about 8 chunks
  • 1 medium stick fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into coins
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole cloves (optional)
  • 3 star anise (optional)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 bunch of basil stems (reserve leaves for pho)
  • 1 bunch of cilantro stems (reserve leaves for pho)


  • 1 package rice noodles
  • 1 8oz package baked tofu
  • cilantro
  • basil
  • sliced green onions
  • bean sprouts
  • shredded carrot
  • lightly sautéed or roasted mushrooms, sliced
  • lightly sautéed or roasted bok choy
  • thinly sliced hot peppers, such as Thai chili
  • crushed peanuts
  • lime wedges
  • fish sauce, dash
  • soy sauce, dash
  • hot sauce, dash


  1. Combine all of the broth ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil at high heat, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about 30-45 minutes. Strain broth, return to the pot, cover and keep hot at low heat. Discard solids.
  2. Meanwhile, start prepping your pho ingredients. Any combination of the above ingredients may be used and anything else desired may be added.
  3. Cook noodles according to package directions. Run under cold water to keep from overcooking.
  4. If using raw tofu, mushrooms or bok choy, I find it best to make a quick stir-fry or roast them before adding to the soup. If stir-frying, heat a large pan or wok until hot, add a tablespoon of oil (coconut is recommended for stir-frying) and add ingredients to be sautéed. Season with a bit of salt and pepper or soy sauce. If roasting, toss all ingredients in olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on a roasting or sheet pan (greased or sprayed) and roast for about 7-8 minutes at 400 degrees.
  5. Ladle about 1-2 cups of broth into a bowl. Add noodles and any other desired ingredients. Season to perfection.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 220 / Fat: 5g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 35g / Fiber: 5g / Protein: 8g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 

Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

Beet Salad

Recreating restaurant meals can be a challenge for anyone, even the seasoned cook. However salads, such as this one with beets and goat cheese, are a good place to start when trying to compete with the pros in imitating items on an upscale menu. Anyone can prepare this salad; even the greenest of cooks. Its flavor and visual appeal is guaranteed to impress those served.

Just the short list of ingredients in this recipe offers a contrast of intricate flavors, while also providing copious nutritional benefits. Beets and greens are two of the world’s healthiest foods that thankfully pair well together. The tender roasted beets get enhanced with the tanginess of the goat cheese and the sweetness of the balsamic vinaigrette. This recipe is a great side salad, but it can easily be turned into a full meal with the addition of some hearty ingredients such as nuts, beans, or avocado. For added color, I like to do a mix of red and yellow beets. This salad serves 6.


  • 4 medium fresh beets
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 5-8 ounces spring mix or arugula
  • 2 carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • ¼ cup (2oz) goat cheese


  • ½ shallot finely chopped
  • 1 small clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


  1. Thoroughly wash the beets then separate them from their leaves. Discard the stems and leaves (the leaves can be saved and eaten).
  2. Toss the beets with the 3 tbsp. of salt and then put them in a pan and into a 375-degree oven.
  3. Check them after 30 minutes by piercing one with a pairing knife. If they do not feel soft enough for the knife to easily penetrate to the middle of the beet, put them back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes. Note: A very large beet can take over an hour to cook while a small one can be done in 20-30 minutes. The size of your beets will determine your cook time.
  4. Remove the beets from the oven and let them cool for 15 minutes. Once they are cool enough to handle, then peel the skin off with a knife and slice them into 4-6 pieces (again, depending on the size of the beet). Cool completely in the refrigerator.
  5. Prep the rest of the salad while the beets are cooling off and layer in a large bowl. Sprinkle with goat cheese and top with the roasted & cooled beets.
  6. Drizzle with dressing after serving.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 147 / Fat: 7g / Saturated Fat: 3g / Carbohydrates: 9g / Fiber: 3g / Protein: 3g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica.

Soft-Serve Ice Cream

Soft Serve Ice Cream

I was recently reading Dr. Michael Greger’s book How Not to Die, a hardcover written by the founder of that discusses many of the foods that have been scientifically proven to prevent and reverse disease. The book is very informative, while also being an interesting read for those who are curious about a plant-based diet. While I learned an abundance of scientific facts from Dr. Greger’s latest book, most of his culinary advice simply helped reiterate what I have often practiced in my own cooking, both personally and professionally. However, the beauty of a career in foods and nutrition is that you are constantly learning, and even the most seasoned expert will never come close to knowing it all.

In one of the chapters on the antioxidant power of frozen berries Dr. Greger explains how he makes his favorite dessert, soft-serve ice cream, by simply blending fruit in a blender. While I have made ice cream many times in my life in an ice cream maker with plenty of cream and eggs, this simplified and healthier version was completely new to me. After trying it, I was pleasantly surprised how delicious it turned out to be.

One of Dr. Greger’s simplest recipes is just blending up frozen, very ripe (the riper/browner the better) bananas. The banana puree is great by itself, but I have found it to be a great base for other ice creams. There are really no rules to the recipes. It is a matter of playing and having a bit of fun making ice cream to your preference. I found that adding a bit of almond milk one splash at a time helps to get the mixture going while putting less stress on the blender. A squirt of honey and vanilla extract, a drop of coconut oil or a tablespoon of almond butter can easily enhance the flavor of a tart berry. The nutrition can always be enhanced a bit with some chia seeds, a handful of nuts or a scoop of protein powder. If you drop a bit too much liquid into the blender and end up with a milkshake, so be it. Grab a straw and enjoy!

This recipe is for a chocolate berry-banana ice cream taken from the book, but I tweaked it a bit; any ingredients can be omitted and/or replaced quite easily. I do recommend having a pretty strong blender or adding enough liquid, as a cheap blender will burn out quickly with dry ingredients.


  • 1 ripe frozen banana, sliced in to 3 or 4 chunks
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 capful vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • ¼ cup almond milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey (optional)
  • handful pitted dates (optional)


  1. Pulse all ingredients together in a blender until smooth. If you have trouble blending everything thoroughly, add more almond milk. If it is too thin and you do not want a milkshake then add more fruit.

The recipe makes about 2 servings.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 150 / Fat: 6g / Saturated Fat: 2g /Carbohydrates: 24g / Fiber: 5g / Protein 4g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 

Caribbean Rice and Beans

Caribbean Rice and Beans

Rice and beans are one of those meals that can go from bland and boring to delectable and delicious with just a few ingredients. With the addition of a couple of vegetables and a bit of spice, a very plain side dish can quickly become a desirable main course. Most people generally think of the Cajuns or Latin Americans when they think of a flavorful recipe for rice and beans, but one spot on the map to not overlook is the Caribbean.

The islands in the Caribbean have a unique array of culinary influence. Varying from island to island, there is often a fusion of French, British, Mexican, Spanish and African flavors with one usually dominating the other, depending on the island.

I recently prepared this month’s recipe while on a sailing trip to the Caribbean with a group of friends. After sampling various styles of rice and beans on the islands of Antigua, Guadalupe, and Dominica, I did my best to replicate an authentic version, while only using the ingredients that I had available to me in the galley of the boat.  The finished product was a hit with my fellow mates, and I was pleased with how easy it was to prepare a fairly authentic and healthy meal with such limited ingredients.

This recipe for rice and beans is an excellent source of protein and fiber. The addition of coconut milk adds a bit of sweetness and complexity, while also enhancing the nutritional quality. Coconut milk has gotten a bad rap over the years for its high levels of saturated fat; however, recent studies have shown it to actually aid in weight loss, while also enhancing the immune system and improving hair and skin. This recipe is great by itself, but I prefer it with a side salad, a little sliced avocado and my favorite hot sauce. Serves 6-8.


  • 1 cup long grain white or brown rice
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 1 can light coconut milk (divided in half)
  • 1-2 tablespoons coconut or olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato (or 2 Roma tomatoes), diced
  • 1 can black beans, drained and washed
  • ¼ cup water or vegetable stock
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar (optional)
  • dash of hot sauce such as Frank’s or Cholula
  • 1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro


  1. Place rice, water and half the can of coconut milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the liquid is absorbed.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a sauté pan/skillet at medium-high heat. Add the onion, pepper, and garlic and sauté for a few minutes until it softens, stirring constantly.
  3. Add the black beans, water/stock, cumin, paprika, salt, pepper and the other half of the can of coconut milk. Bring to a light simmer (at medium-low heat) and cook for about 5-7 minutes until about half of the liquid has cooked off and the beans have thoroughly heated through.
  4. Add the vinegar (if desired), hot sauce and herbs to the beans, and either mix the beans thoroughly into the rice or simply serve them over top.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 210 / Fat: 6g / Saturated Fat: 4g / Carbohydrates: 34g / Fiber: 6g / Protein: 6g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 

Sweet Potato Hummus

Sweet Potato Hummus

Anyone that knows me well understands that I am a big fan of hummus. In fact, even people that do not know me very well can easily discern my love of the chickpea puree. If you follow the nutrition section of the magazine on a regular basis, you may realize that I have featured several hummus recipes over the years. I’m typically satisfied with just a simple, well-made, well-seasoned batch of regular hummus. In fact, I often prefer it not to be messed with at all. However, with that being said, there are endless opportunities to add both flavor and nutrition to a simple dip like hummus, and often the final product can yield an impressive outcome.

I have come across a number of recipes for sweet potato hummus over the years, but I had yet to try one myself until just recently. Sweet potatoes are often ranked as one of the healthiest foods on the planet by various publications, so adding them to this already nourishing dip is a nice nutritional dividend. In addition to enhancing the hummus with a number of nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and several B-vitamins, the sweet potato also offers the dip a subtle addition in flavor and consistency. I like the Southwest twist on this recipe using lime juice rather than lemon juice and adding the spice from the smoked paprika and Sirracha. However, the opportunities for variation and experimentation are pretty endless.

The final result with this recipe produces a delicious puree with a nice contrast of flavors containing complex carbohydrates that are easy on the blood sugar and a great source of protein and fiber. It can be eaten as a dip with crackers and vegetables, or it can be used as a spread for bagels or sandwiches. The recipe makes about 8 half-cup servings.


  • 1 sweet potato, baked
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 cups chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • juice from 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
  • ¼ cup water or liquid from chickpeas
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon Sirracha
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro (optional)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Pierce sweet potato several times with a fork. Place on a baking sheet. Toss garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and pour onto the same baking sheet. Place in the oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove garlic from the oven once it is beginning to soften and/or just starting to lightly brown and put inside the food processor. Continue baking sweet potato for another 25-30 minutes.
  4. Remove the sweet potato when it is soft and cooked all the way through (easily able to mash). Cooking time will very depending on the oven and the size of the potato. Allow potato to cool at room temperature or in the refrigerator for at least 10-15 minutes. Remove the peel and add to the food processor.
  5. Dump all other ingredients in the food processor except for the cilantro and the remaining olive oil.
  6. Pulse the ingredients in the food processor a number of times and run continuously while dripping the oil through the top in a constant steady stream. Stop to scrape down the sides and stir a bit if needed. Continue blending until smooth.
  7. Adjust seasoning as needed and serve in a bowl with anything of your preference.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 265 / Fat: 8g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 38g / Fiber: 9g / Protein: 9g

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 

Make Hummus Not War (Courtesy of Blog

Hummus is thought by many to be one of the oldest known prepared foods in the world. In addition, many regions claim to be the “birthplace” of hummus, resulting in at times intense national discussions. Debates over its origin even sparked a group of Lebanese businessmen to plan to sue Israel for “acting as if it had proprietary rights” over the dish. Not only did this motion spark a “hummus war” in the Middle East in 2008, it lead filmmaker Trevor Graham to create a movie about it titled, “Make Hummus Not War”. The movie is Graham’s journey though the hummus bars and kitchens of, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and New York and raises the question, “could a regional love of hummus be the recipe for peace in the Middle East?” Hummus has been around for so long, and in so many different variations, however, that the exact origin is lost in antiquity. You can learn more about the movie at

Quick Pumpkin Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup is as much a staple in the Mexican diet as tacos or salsa. The ingredients are often pretty simple, as the base usually consists of not much more than some broth, peppers, tomatoes, beans, spices, and maybe some other added protein like chicken or pork. I enjoy few things in the world as much as I enjoy authentic Mexican food. Therefore, I often cringe in disgust (or at the very least in disappointment) at many of the variations of Tex-Mex that we have managed to concoct north of the border over the last 50-plus years.

With that being said, many knock-offs of traditional Mexican can still be quite tasty. This month’s recipe is one of those reproductions that is quick, easy, healthy and delicious. It can be prepared in about 30 minutes with ingredients that you likely already have in your kitchen. The end result is a light, but filling, meal that is an excellent source or fiber, protein and vitamin A. Serves 8.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced small
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 15oz can pure pumpkin
  • 2 (14oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn, canned or frozen
  • 1 cup medium salsa
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Dash of hot sauce


  • Chopped cilantro
  • Sliced green onions
  • Tortilla chips
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sliced avocado or guacamole
  • Sour cream


  1. In a soup pot, sauté the onion, garlic and spices in olive oil at medium heat until it begins to soften (about 3-4 minutes).
  2. Add vegetable stock/broth, increase heat to high and bring to a simmer. Add pumpkin and mix thoroughly.
  3. Add remaining ingredients. Stir thoroughly and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often.
  4. Ladle soup into a bowl and garnish with any or all of the toppings/garnishes.

Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 140 / Fat: 2g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 24g / Fiber: 8g /

Protein: 6g

# # #

Brandon McDearis is the owner of Your Way Cuisine,, a personal chef and nutrition consulting business. He is also a professional wanderer that spends much of his year trotting the globe and working in places such as Alaska, Australia, and Antarctica. 


Cumin is the spice that brings the musky edge to curries and deepens the flavor of chili. It’s unique flavor complexity has made it an integral spice in the cuisines of Mexico, India and the Middle East. While cumin seeds are sometimes used whole, they are more commonly ground into powder which allows the spice to integrate more fully with other ingredients and seasonings.

Native to Egypt, cumin seeds have been cultivated in the Middle East, India, China and Mediterranean countries for millennia. It’s seeds were highly honored as a culinary seasoning in both ancient Greek and Roman kitchens. Cumin’s popularity was partly due to the fact that it was a  viable replacement for black pepper, which was very expensive at the time.

But, it’s not taste alone that has made cumin a favorite spice for centuries. Cumin seeds are excellent source of iron— an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells. Recent research has shown that cumin may also stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes, compounds necessary for proper digestion and nutrient assimilation. Cumin seeds may also have anti-carcinogenic properties as demonstrated in one study, where cumin was shown to protect laboratory animals from developing stomach or liver tumors.

Whole cumin seeds have a shelf life of at least a year if you store them in an airtight jar or container while ground cumin loses its strong flavor and aroma after a few months, even if you store it well. Grinding your own cumin from whole seeds allows you to store the whole spice in your cupboard and have it on hand when you need it, while still enjoying the flavor and texture of the ground version.

Adventure Cuisine – Chef Brandon McDearis Prepares Herb Gnocchi at Kenai Riverside Lodge


A nice piece about myself and the lodge where I have been working for the past seven summers. 

July 7, 2015 at 10:30 am by Lis Korb

Adventure Cuisine at Kenai Riverside Lodge

Kenai Riverside Lodge is located on the banks of the Kenai River, about halfway between Anchorage and Homer, Alaska. It’s one of our favorite add-ons to our selection of Alaska small ship cruises as this lodge is both conveniently located and serene and remote feeling. Kenai Riverside Lodge takes great pride in the food that they serve. Onsite chefs return year after year, and they put time and love into every meal. The lodge is known to go to great lengths to accommodate specific dietary needs and food allergies. Food is an integral part of any vacation experience, and they work hard to ensure it’s a phenomenal one!

Each morning, a hot breakfast buffet is served before you head out for a guided activity, such as fishing or river rafting. You might walk in to the aroma of hot blueberry pancakes, bacon, fresh fruit, coffee and tea. A made-to-order lunch will be prepared to take with you on your guided activity. On a river rafting trip taken by one of AdventureSmith’s staff there was a spread of smoked Alaska salmon, fresh veggies and breads for a make-your-own sandwich station, with hot beverages to keep everyone warm.

In the evening, Kenai Riverside Lodge serves four-course meals family-style. Share stories about the day over a glass of wine or Alaskan micro-brew beer. After dinner, guests can spend time on the riverside deck over a campfire or have another glass at the lodge’s bar!

Chef Brandon McDearis

Brandon McDearis, head chef at Kenai Riverside Lodge, first came to work in Alaska in 2010. He has a BS in Foods and Nutrition from Radford University and a culinary degree from Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before coming to Kenai Riverside Lodge, Brandon worked mostly in high-volume catering and cooking in upscale restaurants, as well as running his own personal chef business.

Brandon’s past couple of winters have included ventures such as cooking in Australia and Antarctica and running expeditions in Peru. When he is not working in the kitchen, he is often writing about food and  nutrition, both in magazines and on his blog at

Herb Gnocchi with Sautéed Spinach & Charred Cherry Tomatoes

Chef Brandon McDearis has prepared this gnocchi recipe a number of times over the years at the Kenai Riverside Lodge. It’s been featured as an appetizer, a vegetarian entrée and as a side item for halibut and rockfish.

They can be prepared ahead of time and frozen to cut down on the total prep time. The step with the ice bath can be skipped, but Brandon says he finds it to be failsafe when making them fresh, in order to not overcook them. Also, feel free to leave out the spinach and cherry tomatoes. The gnocchi can just be sautéed and browned in a little olive oil and butter, seasoned, tossed with Parmesan, and paired with another vegetable and/or protein. The recipe makes 8–12 servings.


2 pounds starchy potatoes
2 egg yolks
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 bunch parsley (finely chopped)
1 sprig rosemary (finely chopped)
2 sprigs fresh thyme (finely chopped)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups spinach (packed tightly)
1 cup cherry tomatoes (halved)
¼ cup white wine
2 teaspoons butter
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese


  1. Boil the whole potatoes until soft (about 45 minutes). Peel while still warm and pass through a ricer or vegetable mill into a large bowl.
  2. Boil 1.5 gallons of water in a large stockpot. While water is coming to a boil, set up an ice bath of 6 cups of ice and 6 cups of water beside the stove.
  3. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and sprinkle all over with the flour. Place egg yolks, herbs and spices in the center of the well and mix egg mixture into potatoes and flour with a fork as if you were making regular pasta.
  4. Once everything is well blended and dough has formed a ball, roll it out onto a clean, floured surface and knead like bread dough for about 3–5 minutes until the dough is dry to the touch. Up to 1 more cup of flour may need to be used during this step, depending on how moist and starchy your potatoes were to begin with.
  5. Cut hunks of dough off and roll into ¾ inch diameter dowels that resembles snakes and cut into ¾–1 inch pieces. Drop the pieces in the boiling water and cook until they float (about 1 minute). As they rise to the top, scoop them out and put them in the ice bath. Let sit about a minute in the ice bath and then drain.
  6. Meanwhile, heat up a sauté pan with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil at medium-high heat. Drop tomatoes in the pan, and toss for about 20–30 seconds until you see a little color on them. Then, add about 2–3 cups of your gnocchi to the pan and continue to sauté for about 1 minute until they begin to lightly color and heat through. Feel free to add a little more olive oil if your pan looks too dry.
  7. Finally, add the white wine to the pan along with the spinach. Continue tossing until spinach is wilted and wine has cooked down. Remove from heat, toss with butter and Parmesan. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

Note: If you are not going to serve the whole batch at once, then lay the gnocchi out on a greased pan and freeze. Once frozen, they can be stored in a Ziploc bag or plastic container in the freezer for a few months.

Keep tabs on the AdventureSmith blog’s Adventure Cuisine series for more recipes from our partner small ships and lodges.

Cucumber Salad

Cucumber Salad

This month’s recipe is quick and easy to prepare, but it is also very flavorful and refreshing. The fresh vegetables, garlic and parsley make for a detoxifying and anti-inflammatory addition to any meal. While this salad is great by itself, it also makes for a tasty and attractive garnish. The recipe serves 4-6.


  • 3 large cucumber, seeds removed and diced large
  • ½ onion (yellow or red), sliced thinly
  • 3 large tomatoes, cut into chunks or small wedges
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • dash of Tabasco
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley


  1. Simply combine all ingredients except for the parsley in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours to allow to fully marinade.
  2. Remove from the refrigerator, mix again thoroughly and taste. Adjust seasoning as need by adding a bit more salt, vinegar or whatever you feel it may need if anything.
  3. Mix in the chopped parsley and serve.

 Nutrition Facts:

Calories: 115 / Fat: 6g / Saturated Fat: 1g / Carbohydrates: 10g / Fiber: 2g / Protein: 2g

Cool Facts About Cucumbers

Cucumbers are the fourth most cultivated vegetable in the world and belong to the same plant family as squash, pumpkin, and watermelon (the Cucurbitaceae family). Like watermelon, cucumbers are made up of mostly (95 percent) water, which means they can help you stay hydrated. Cucumbers are often sprayed with pesticides so it is important to buy organic or even better, grow them yourself. With vitamin K, B vitamins, copper, potassium, vitamin C, and manganese, cucumbers can help you to avoid nutrient deficiencies that are widespread among those eating a typical American diet. Cucumbers are good sources of phytonutrients (plant chemicals that have protective or disease preventive properties) such flavonoids, lignans and triterpenes, which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. The peel and seeds are the most nutrient-dense parts of the cucumber. They contain fiber and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A that is good for eyes. Naturally low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat and cholesterol cucumbers provide about 4 percent of your daily potassium, which is significantly fewer calories than most high-potassium foods like bananas! You also get about 3 percent of your daily fiber and 4 percent of your daily vitamin C from cucumbers.