Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What to Eat the Week After Thanksgiving


The problem with Thanksgiving this year was not overeating on the big day. I am usually able to eat moderately during the Thanksgiving meal, and this year, my sister-in-law made efforts to include delicious vegetable dishes that didn't break the calorie bank. And...no mashed potatoes. Rather, it was almost an entire week of parties and celebrations due to the visit of healthier son home from college for the first time as well as visits from other beloved out of town guests.

For his first night home, dinner was these delicious Hungarian meatballs, which I had made ahead so that I could have dinner ready easily after returning from the airport. Wednesday night found us taking meat boy to a steak house, where though we were somewhat careful in our ordering (I had a green salad with vinaigrette, no creamed spinach and baked instead of mashed potato), I did eat red meat for a second day in a row. For turkey day, we limited ourselves to a later breakfast in light of the earlier and bigger dinner, and did the same on Friday when we had a large buffet dinner at our house (see last post!). Saturday lunch was a crowd for dim sum.

Now that things have quieted down and it's just the three of us, we are craving some lighter, vegetarian meals. On Monday I made this kale pesto/pasta dish using whole wheat fusilli, and though made with kale, it went over quite well with the kale kvetches. Tuesday I returned to what has become a new staple, the curried roasted cauliflower I wrote about a few weeks ago. Last night, I used our smoked turkey leftovers in this Pozole using hominy. With the rest of the big pot of hominy, I plan to make this tortilla soup.

I highly recommend this kale pesto. It sounds so weird, but is a great way to incorporate some kale into your dinner. It works well for lunch the next day, but the pesto itself doesn't hold for too long so use it quickly! In this dish, you might not mind the whole wheat pasta either.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

As in the recent past, I am not hosting Thanksgiving dinner. I will be a very happy guest at my brother and sister-in-law's home, bringing only the stuffing (changed up a little bit of course!). However, I do host a large gaggle of my extended family on Friday afternoon for a more casual buffet. In the past, I've often made my butternut squash lasagna, which is a lightened up version of a Bon Appetit recipe that calls for a ridiculous amount of cheese. My version is still rich and delicous, but doesn't quite pack the same high fat punch. The last time I made it, I used sheets of fresh spinach pasta which was both delicious and attractive.

This year I've ordered a ham and a smoked turkey breast from Edwards of Virginia. Ham is always a fun and easy buffet option (and I get a bone for soup!) for the non-kosher and the smoked turkey, though repetitive, provides me with the turkey leftovers I otherwise wouldn't have. My plan is to provide pretty heavy hors d'oeuvres and then the turkey and ham with an assortment of condiments and light sides. I'll flesh that out with a large salad garnished with persimmon and pomegranate seeds and rolls and call it dinner. As a nod to the large number of kids in attendance, I'll also make this "beefaroni" type casserole, though I'll make tons as this tends to attract adults as well.

I've already made two cranberry dishes: a simple cardamom infused sauce and a more complex gingered cranberry fig chutney. I also cooked down this Tuscan onion confit for several hours until it was beautifully caramelized, and made a batch of this tapenade. On Friday morning I'll roast off a couple of butternut sqash and some parsnips for this delicious sounding puree.

Dessert will be simple after the two day eating frenzy. Vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce and a cranberry cake from a Dorie Greenspan recipe. If I'm feeling very ambitious, I'll also do some seasonal biscotti and cranberry oat squares.

If you need more side dish ideas, I encourage you to consult food52.com which has a wealth of great ideas. In addition, check out my comfort mash and fall farro salad for a slightly healthier bent.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Roasted Curried Cauliflower

I've been truly addicted to food52 lately, and testing many more recipes from that site than creating my own (though I rarely leave any recipe alone!), but here's one more "share." I thought I've roasted cauliflower to death, but this dish really caught my eye and proved to be a popular one with my tasters. I tested this for food52 several weeks ago during the contest for "your best cauliflower." This one, as well as one of mine, were selected as Editors' Picks, which means something but I'm not sure what. I guess it's like getting Honorable Mention.

If you like the flavor of curry, and have a decent powdered blend or a recipe to make one, I highly recommend you try this out soon! It is an easy, easy, recipe to prep - just cut up the cauliflower, open a can of chick peas, cut an onion and toss it all in a curry vinaigrette. Then just pour yourself a glass of wine and relax while your oven does the rest, roasting until the cauliflower mellows and starts to brown and the chickpeas get crispy and delicious. OK, maybe stir it up once or twice. It can be a vegetarian dinner for 3 or so with just some rice alongside, or can be a side dish for four with some protein, maybe shrimp or salmon roasted at the same time.

I cut the oil and vinegar back by half but kept the amounts for the spices the same. After tossing the veggies with the vinaigrette and arranging them on the baking sheet, I then added about one more tablespoon of olive oil to the bowl in which I made the vinaigrette to get out the rest of the spices stuck to the bowl, and then drizzled that over top of the cauliflower. I also set my oven at 425 instead of the 400 degrees specified.

Delicious!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Pumpkin Cookies



I saw these cookies on my feed yesterday and made them today! These will be a part of the snack for Maddy's tennis team at their match today. I think these are really great - easy to make, delicious and pretty healthy to boot! Oatmeal and pumpkin puree instead of butter amp up the health factor, but some chocolate chips added in provide an extra treat.
I subbed in whole wheat pastry flour (you could probably also use white whole wheat as well) in a one-to-one exchange to make these even healthier. I did have to leave the cookies in the oven about 3 or 4 minutes more than the recipe states. I happened to have mini chips in the house, which worked fine, but I used a bit less than 6 oz. and they were plenty chocolatey. Make sure you use the parchment paper, though, as these are pretty sticky and it's much easier to peel them off the paper and have a clean pan.

Give these a try for a healthy fall treat!


Monday, October 4, 2010

Salmon for Two and a Half


Every once in a while, Costco has a piece of wild sockeye salmon. I can't resist the price which is quite a bit less than the price at Whole Foods but the drawback is the size of the package. They sell their salmon in really large packages and though the price might be what I would pay for a one pound section elsewhere, there are only three of us eating.

The last time I found wild salmon at Costco, I bought a package that was on the smaller side for them, two full fillets, together a little over two pounds. This time I had a plan: two meals from one package. For our first dinner we'd have the salmon roasted with a coating of mustard and bread crumbs and then I'd make salmon cakes a couple of days later. I was able to put both pieces in the oven in the same pan, at the same time, saving lots of effort. One had the mustard and crumbs, and the other I simply salted and peppered and coated with a little garlic and olive oil.

We enjoyed our mustard crumb salmon and then the plainly prepared piece provided both for a topping for my lunch (a small chunk over soba noodles) and then the basis for the salmon cakes. I served the cakes over a lightly dressed arugula salad alongside some whole wheat pasta with a light tomato pesto.

Salmon Cakes

(serves 3)

1 pound piece of wild salmon, poached or roasted and cooled. I have seen, but not tried, plain cooked and flaked salmon at Trader Joe's and I bet this would work too)
1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs, divided in two
2 tablespoons capers (I like the salt packed), soaked and rinsed several times, and then roughly chopped
zest from 1/2 lemon
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh chives, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil for "frying"

1. If you don't have leftover salmon and want to roast a piece to use for this, preheat oven to 400 degrees and salt and pepper the salmon and coat with a little olive oil. Put in oven for about 20 minutes - you want to fully cook the salmon but not let it get too dry. Let cool and then flake.

2. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Mix all ingredients except 1/4 cup bread crumbs and the olive oil in a medium bowl, careful not to break up the salmon pieces too much. Once fully incorporated, mold into six cakes. Dip both sides of each cake into the remaining bread crumbs and pan fry over medium heat in the olive oil. If you have a cast iron pan that would be fine, as would a nonstick. Once the salmon cakes are lightly browned on both sides, place on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes to finish cooking.

Serve with a green salad - I like arugula with this!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Routines, New Ideas, New Places


Despite being out of school for oh, so many years, I still see the beginning of school as the real beginning of the new year. Perhaps even more so this year than usual due to the biggest change we've had in this household in quite a while. Healthier son has gone off to college! Apart from the obvious adjustments required of his loving family, his departure has also spurred a sea change in my grocery shopping and cooking, the details of which I am just starting to explore.

I guess the first piece of this is quantity. Each time I'm in the grocery store or at the farm stand I have to remind myself that I am cooking for 1 (probably more like 1.5 by actual volume!) fewer at mealtime, and to restrain myself. No need to buy a tub of hummus each week or make quite so many chicken thighs. One pound of pasta will now provide two full dinners instead of one and a lunch. I'm guessing Trader Joe's, source of most of our snacks, will notice a drop in the amount of nuts, dried apricots and Dunkers they sell each week.

The next piece is taste. Healthier daughter is not a happy flesh eater, unless said flesh has been pulverized, ground or chopped such that it's origins are incognito. She will eat chicken sausage, or any kind of sausage, really, ragu, diced prosciutto, even the occasional hamburger. She will pick at salmon and the odd piece of chicken, but she does not really enjoy most fish, meat or fowl. While refraining from giving up those few meats she cares for and actually calling herself a vegetarian, she eats a mostly vegetarian diet. This is in almost direct contrast to healthier son, who in grade school advised me that for his lunch, he really liked "a meat sandwich." Everyday.

As a result of these disparate tastes, I strive for a happy medium between the two in my cooking. I'm noticing now that what I must have done without even realizing it was to make a primarily vegetarian meal, with some fish, chicken or meat either on the side or easily separated. Pack some some extra veggies in to the meal, add some alternate proteins, provide a little meat or fish and cross my fingers. Some nights one or the other might be slightly disappointed at the meal, but generally, everyone ate pretty well. I no longer (except on school breaks) have to compromise. Meat boy is off in St. Louis (where I hope he'll eat some vegetables) and veggie girl can be appeased.

One area I am finally hoping to explore in depth is Asian cooking, with the emphasis on vegetables and grains or noodles. I recently read Fuchsia Dunlop's memoir with recipes, Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper, and purchased The Asian Grandmother's Cookbook. I also had a successful visit to the library where I bagged 5 or 6 books on Chinese, Japanese and Korean cooking to augment a couple I have on Chinese cooking: Kylie Kwong's Simple Chinese Cooking and Alford and Duguid's Beyond the Great Wall.

I know that whatever I'm cooking at home is much lower in fat and calories than when we eat out, but what I'm still trying to figure out is how to reduce the sodium in many of the recipes and techniques even further. I already use lower sodium soy sauce, but there is quite a bit of sodium in fish sauce, miso paste, and kimchi.

I recently purchased a couple of jars of kimchi through Food52's shop. This is some delicious artisanal kimchi from Mother-in-Law's Kimchi, (MILKimchee) a small, new producer out of New York. The owner uses her mother's family recipe to produce her product.

A few days after ordering my kimchi, a package arrived with two pint jars of bubbling, living Napa cabbage kimchi, already lightly fermented. Fed Ex man did not ring the bell, so it sat outside on my porch overnight in ninety degree plus weather and when I found it the next morning the ice packs were long melted. After frantic emails back and forth with MILKimchi, I was reassured that the kimchi was fine, just a little more fermented due to the heat. I stuck it in the fridge for another couple of weeks, until one night when I was looking for a lighter dinner for three.

Kimchi, for those of you have not yet been introduced to its pleasures, is basically spicy, pickled and then fermented cabbage. Somehow, the fermented cabbage is good for digestion, and while mostly vegetable, often includes some kind of fish, either anchovy or dried shrimp. MILKimchi also contains some beef stock, so if you are kosher or vegetarian, take a good look at the ingredient list when you're buying kimchi. My daughter loves kimchi.

Back in June, we breakfasted on some kimchi fried rice with a fried egg on top while at the Ferry Building market in San Francisco. As a riff on that, I scrambled a few eggs like I would for any old fried rice and then removed it from the pan. I then added a few diced mushrooms and sliced scallions to a thin sheen of peanut oil (canola would be fine and healthier, too). Once the mushrooms softened a little I added about a cup of diced kimchi and some roughly chopped pea shoots I had lying around. As I tossed it through the pan, it got a little dry so I added about a tablespoon of lower sodium soy sauce but chicken stock would work well too and would be lower in sodium. Next came the rice and I tossed it all together and let it cook for a little while. I then added the cooked egg back in for a quick toss and after turning off the heat, mixed in a couple of teaspoons of sesame oil and garnished it all with some roasted sesame seeds and some nori flakes. Delish!!

This is a relatively healthy dish, what with the brown rice and vegetables. The kimchi, despite its slightly higher than I'd like sodium count, is still a very healthy food. Eggs are no longer the bad guys they once were with regard to cholesterol, though I did scramble them dry so I didn't have to worry about the recent salmonella scare. Already roasted sesame seeds and nori flakes can usually be purchased at an Asian market, though neither is necessary. And, this can be made in no time if you use frozen brown rice or if you make the rice ahead and have it in the refrigerator.


Quickie, Healthy-ish, Kimchi Fried Rice


(serves 4)

6 eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil, divided

4 ounces mushrooms, sliced thinly

4 or 5 scallions, sliced thinly, reserve a small amount for garnish

a few handfuls of roughly chopped pea shoots, thawed frozen peas or snow peas thinly sliced on the diagonal

1 cup kimchi, thinly sliced (I used one made with Napa cabbage)

4 cups cooked and cooled brown rice (this is a great place to use frozen brown rice. I used two bags and slightly undercooked them in the microwave so that they were just warmed but not steaming hot)

1 - 2 teaspoons sesame oil

sprinkle toasted sesame seeds or toast your own briefly in a dry pan

sprinkle nori flakes (if you have them)

1. Set a large skillet or wok over medium heat and once heated, 1 tablespoon of the peanut or canola oil and then the eggs. Either scramble or let set a little like an omelet and flip so fully cooked. Once cooked, remove eggs from pan to a plate and set aside. If you've done the omelet way, slice into thin strips.

2. Wipe out pan and add the other tablespoon of oil. Raise heat to medium-high and cook the mushrooms until they soften. Add the scallions and pea shoots (or substitute) and cook a minute or two. Add the kimchi and rice and stir fry for another 3 or 4 minutes, until all contents have warmed through and are well combined. If the mixture seems dry, add a splash of soy sauce or chicken stock or even water.

3. Add the eggs back in and toss gently and let re-warm briefly.

4. Turn off heat under pan and add 1 teaspoon of sesame oil. Add more to taste.

5. Garnish with remaining scallions, sesame seeds and nori.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Yiddishe Mama



Chicken Fricassee was one of our favorite Jewish holiday dishes growing up and one that I never stopped to think much about. I still make it once or twice a year, usually for Passover and Rosh Hashanah. During Passover, we'd eat it with matzoh farfel sprinkled on top and for Rosh Hashanah, it was our dinner the evening of the first day, a supposedly lighter meal as we'd been eating all afternoon with friends. It's also great for an appetizer before your pre-Yom Kippur meal.

Last week, as I was shopping for the ingredients to make this, I started wondering about the unlikely name of this dish. This fricassee bears no resemblance to the French dish of the same name. According to the Food Lover's Companion, fricassee (FRIHK-uh-see) is a dish of meat (usually chicken) that has been sauteed in butter before being stewed with vegetables. The end result is a thick, chunky stew, often flavored with wine. Chicken? Check! And that is the end of the similarities. Certainly there is no butter as this evolved out of a kosher house. And, a vegetable has never entered this dish as far as I'm aware.

My family's chicken fricasee was a tomato based stew, of sorts, which featured parts of the chicken we normally do not eat today: necks and gizzards (pupiks in Yiddish). To this epitome of Yiddishe cucina povera, my forebears would add some wings and a little flanken (top rib - which is similar to short rib, just cut across the bone instead of alongside). Preparation required cleaning the gizzards of their greenish skin, cutting the flanken into bite sized pieces, and browning both prior to adding any other ingredients. Once the meat and gizzards were browned, they went into a large pot, were covered with tomato sauce, sugar and lemon juice, and simmered for a couple of hours. The chicken necks and wings went in after an hour or so for the last hour of simmering. Salt and pepper were added, to taste, at the end.

When I make fricasee now, there is none of the cucina povera about it. My husband and kids never cared for the boney chicken necks and wings, so I switched to skinless drumsticks. More recently, I learned that the gizzards were unappealing to them as well, so I sometimes leave them out. When I do use them, I use half as much as I used to. I either add in extra boneless flanken or some meatballs. I play to my audience! My ancestors' budget stew has evolved into a $60.00 pot of sweet and sour short ribs.

In doing some research last week into this dish, I've discovered that not only does this dish not resemble a French fricassee, it doesn't even resemble a typical Jewish one. In fact, it seems that somewhere along the way one of my Grandmothers or Great Grandmothers conflated fricassee with a sweet and sour dish. My family's created an amalgam of the two, keeping the chicken parts while using the flanken and sweet and sour sauce.

Arthur Schwartz' Jewish Home Cooking and Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America were helpful in my research. I think Arthur Schwartz and I must be related because his recipes are so similar to my family's. My family's fricassee is most similar to his family's Sweet and Sour Flanken.

Our recipe is a simple one, with very few ingredients and only one pot needed, although I choose to use a second pot to cook the gizzards if I use them. Feel free to sub back in the gizzards and necks if it's to your taste. If you'd like the cleaning instructions for the gizzards, just drop me a message in the comment section. Nose to tail cooking is trendy right now!

This dish just gets better with time, so if you can, make it a day ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. An added bonus is that when chilled, the fat will rise to the top and you can easily skim it off the next day.

Grandma Penzner's Chicken Fricassee

(serves 10 or so)

3 -4 pounds of first cut top rib from a kosher butcher, trimmed of large pieces of fat and cut into bite sized pieces. Leave some meat attached to each bone, but you can cut some of the meat away from the bone, too.

1.5 pounds boneless top rib, trimmed of large pieces of fat and cut into bite sized pieces

48 - 53 ounces strained tomatoes (I use either Bionaturae which comes in a 24 ounce jar, or Pomi in a 26.46 ounce box. Either way I use two. I throw a half cup,sometimes more, of water into the jars or boxes after emptying them into the pot, swish it around and add that in too - helps get the last bits of strained tomatoes out. It's a little harder to do with the boxes! With a dish like this I'm not sure how much it matters, but both these brands have no added sodium)

1/4 cup sugar (I use natural cane sugar), more to taste

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, more to taste

1/2 tablespoon salt, more to taste

pepper to taste

6 - 8 chicken drumsticks or one dozen wings. I like to take the skin off the drumsticks.

1. Brown the flanken in a large, heavy pot over a medium-high to high flame. Do not crowd the pieces, even if it means doing the browning in several batches. After each batch is finished, remove the pieces to a bowl and set aside.

2. When all the meat is browned, put it all back into the pot, and add the strained tomatoes, sugar, lemon juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper. The sauce/water should cover the meat. If it doesn't, add a little water to the pot. Let it come to a boil, then lower the light to keep the contents at a steady simmer. Scrape up the bits that might have gotten stuck to the bottom of the pan during the browning.

3. After about an hour of cooking, taste and see if the sweet and sour flavor seems balanced. Add more sugar or lemon juice by tablespoons. Taste for salt and pepper.

4. Add the chicken legs or wings (if using wings, I like to brown them before adding) and continue to simmer about another hour.

5. If possible, let cool and refrigerate overnight. Skim fat and reheat to serve. Delicious with challah and/or rice.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Plumpy’nut furor: International food politics in action

Marion Nestle gets the jump on an article to be published in this Sunday's New York Times magazine. This is what happens when we trust corporations to solve hunger and obesity issues:


The Plumpy’nut furor: International food politics in action

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer Corn Saute



When corn is in high season, like now, I love to eat it right off the cob, lightly steamed, no butter or anything on it. So when I started playing around with sauteing corn in a pan, I was surprised how much I loved the flavor. I tried a few ingredients that seemed complementary. Some I felt overwhelmed the sweet corn I love, while others added to and even amplified the corn flavor. One combination that came out of a visit to the farm market is corn, green onions and shiitake mushrooms. In a pinch, during the part of corn season when there are no fresh green onions, a diced up bit of red onion will stand in well. Every time we've had guests for dinner lately, I find myself making this.

The corn gets a little caramelized, and so, even sweeter. The green onion gives it a little bite, as does the Aleppo pepper which I just can't get enough of, spice wimp that I am (it's milder than crushed red pepper), and use in as many dishes as I can. The shiitake mushrooms add a subtle earthy flavor and a softer texture. I've made this as a side dish with six ears for four people, six ears for 6 people, ten ears for eight, and even stretched ten ears for 12 people! This dish is highly adaptable and expandable. If you really hate shiitakes, just leave them out. Really love lime juice, add a squeeze. Feel compelled to add extra bling, add some chopped herbs.

I like to serve this with a green salad, some sliced farm fresh tomatoes and something off the grill. I don't have a large grill so sometimes it's nice to have one dish that doesn't have to cook on the grill. I particularly like this with grilled chicken sausage (garlic and wine, for example) or flank steak. It's also terrific with a meaty fish - I've served it alongside wreckfish and salmon with good results.

To cut the kernels off the cob, I place a very small bowl upside down inside a larger bowl and rest one end of the cob on the bottom (which is now sticking up) of the small bowl. This part might actually be a tip from Rachael Ray. I use a chef's knife and run it down each side of the ear of corn and cut the kernels right off. The kernels will all fall into the bowl. This odd looking picture below is actually a small red plastic bowl inverted into a larger stainless steel bowl - this is my usual kernel stripping set-up. I did purchase an OXO kernel stripper a while back which works just fine, but I've found that I prefer my knife.

And for all my rants about corn by-products and mass production in this country, sweet summer corn is different. This corn is grown by farmers specifically for us to eat. In fact, according to the September Food and Wine, in 2009, the 254,400 acres of sweet corn planted is dwarfed by the 86,482,000 acres of field corn planted that year. Field corn, which is not so sweet, is primarily used for livestock feed and ethanol. A small percentage is also used to make corn starch and corn syrup. Ironically, Iowa only accounts for .07 % of the sweet corn grown in this country. Most of it's corn is field corn.

Sauteed Corn with Green Onions and Shiitake Mushrooms

(serves 4 - 6)

6 large ears sweet summer corn

2 - 3 tablespoons olive oil (start with two and add a third if pan seems dry during cooking)

small bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)

3/4 cup diced shiitake mushroom caps

1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste


1. Husk the corn and cut the kernels off the corn cobs into a bowl.


2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil.

3. Add the corn and stir occasionally as the corn gets a little bit browned, about 10 minutes. Add the scallions and mushrooms and mix gently, but well. Add the Aleppo pepper and salt. Continue to cook and stir occasionally for another ten minutes or so. Taste for salt and Aleppo pepper.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Blackout Ragu



When your power goes out for close to three days, as happened to us last week, throwing away a lot of food is inevitable. After tossing any contents of the refrigerator that I couldn't get onto ice, I was reluctant to pillage my freezer quite so soon. Our local news radio said that a full freezer can remain frozen for 48 hours so I left mine closed for the first two days having faith that our power would return within this window. After the 48 hour mark came and went with no sign of light(pun completely intended), I opened the freezer door and started sorting. By hour 50 or so, when I bravely opened the freezer, all the frozen fruit and vegetables and some of the meats had already gotten mushy. No one should ever have to see what the bananas I'd saved for smoothies looked like.

According to our local news station (also the source of the 48 hour rule which was only moderately accurate), meat that is still mostly hard frozen can be refrozen. Luckily, a friend had room in her freezer for the meats that had not thawed. However, the only way to salvage the foods that had already begun thawing was to cook them. If you happen to have 6 - 1 pound packages of grass fed ground beef bought directly from the farmer, one option is ragu.

I usually think of ragu as a cool weather dish, leaving a big pot to simmer for hours in late fall. With a gas stove top that would still work during a blackout with a little help from a lighter, it became a summer dish as well. You can substitute all ground beef for the pork and veal if you prefer.

Ragu

(serves a blackout potluck or at least two meals for 4 - 6, unless your teenaged son has his friends over and then who knows?)

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground veal
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, diced
1 large red onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 cup red wine
5 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large frying pan, crumble and brown the ground meats, breaking up large chunks with the back of a spoon. Drain the meat out of the fat and reserve the meat.

2. In a large, heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the pancetta. Let the pancetta brown and render some fat.

3. Add the onion, celery and carrot to the pot with the pancetta, salt lightly and cook until vegetables soften and onions become translucent.

4. Add the drained ground meat to the vegetables and pancetta and again break up any larger chunks of meat with the spoon.

5. Add the wine to the pot and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a boil and then lower and simmer for 2 - 3 minutes.

6. Add the tomato paste and a bay leaf and cover with water by about an inch.

7. Continue to simmer for about 3 hours, adding more water if the mixture seems too dry. Taste for salt and pepper.

8. Remove the bay leaf and serve over penne or tagliatelle with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It's hard to Know

Last month, I learned, belatedly, of the death of K. Dun Gifford in May. Most of you will not recognize his name, and, indeed, I did not immediately. I had to read further into the wellness column of that Thursday's Washington Post to learn that he was the founder of Oldways, a think tank proponent of a Mediterranean, slow-food style diet. After reading about Oldways on the blog 101cookbooks, I purchased a copy of the Oldways Table last year, and have read a bit about Oldways Preservation Trust since then.

What is one to think, or rather, what am I to think, after the death, by sudden heart attack of a 71 year old man who had promoted healthy eating for years? Kind of like when Jim Fixx died so young.

As with Jim Fixx, maybe Dun Gifford's genetics were working against him. Heart disease is a complicated illness and often, a quiet one. Turned out, Jim Fixx's dad had died of a heart attack in his thirties. Perhaps Jim Fixx would have died at an even younger age than he did if he hadn't become a runner at 35. Maybe he bought himself twenty or so years by running and quitting smoking and losing a ton of weight. Likewise, maybe Dun Gifford gained some years by following a healthier diet for the latter ones. I just don't know enough about his habits to make any generalizations. Maybe he didn't combine the healthy eating with some exercise. Or, maybe, he just couldn't control his portions, or had too much stress in his life or too much alcohol or not enough. Or, he could have had bad habits for too many years earlier in his life. Or maybe he added to the quality of the years he did have. Or...maybe life is just random that way.

We'll never know, so it's hard not to let the doubts creep in and wonder if it just doesn't matter what we eat. I've thought about this quite a bit since I learned of his death, and have decided that I still think that eating a healthier diet is a definite hedge. I'm sticking with my plan of eating mostly fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, some meat (mostly grass-fed), poultry and fish and limiting, but not completely eliminating, saturated fats, processed sugar, sodium and white carbs. Certainly, I understand that I can't control my universe and make everything perfect with whole grains and olive oil. I am going to continue to hope, however, that in conjunction with exercise, I can rewrite my genetics just a little. Maybe "just a little" is all we can hope for and maybe, that's enough.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Food safety roundup

Just couldn't resist sharing Marion Nestle's Food safety roundup. Love the quote from the former USDA official! You'll have to read through the piece to find this reward...it's at the end.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Not Terribly New, But So What?

There is a time and place for everything and the time for this pasta is now!

Actually, it's good for another couple of months unless this drought completely wipes out all tomato plants in the mid-Atlantic. This is not even a recipe but a very forgiving method. Only caveat is that you like tomatoes. I know this knocks a few readers out here, but for anyone who even tolerates tomatoes this is the perfect, quick, hot weather meal.

I made this last week when I realized both that I had half of an extra large ball of mozzarella cheese and several beautiful tomatoes left over from a Caprese salad earlier in the week and that we'd be gone for the weekend. Not wanting to waste either component, this was our dinner the night before we left town.

The ingredient list is short: tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper, pasta or another grain, basil and mozzarella cheese. What makes this dish sing the Star Spangled Banner is the quality of the ingredients. Here is where you use those garden tomatoes you get to pick from your neighbors garden while they're on vacation and you're watering their plants, or if you don't have your own garden or a generous neighbor, buy them from a farmstand. You really want the flavor of field grown and ripened tomatoes here. Grocery store tomatoes just don't ripen to the same flavor. That said, type of tomato is completely flexible. You can use regular old beefsteak tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, yellow or green zebra tomatoes, grape or cherry tomatoes of different colors, or mix of any of these. In the photo below, you can see (I hope) that I've used red and yellow tomatoes cut into chunks, as well as some really beautiful dark red grape tomatoes with a pale yellow striation. I probably used three large tomatoes and then about half a pint of the grape tomatoes. I really like using a mix of colors.


Once you've cut the tomatoes into basically same sized pieces - I cut the large tomatoes into bite-sized chunks first and then halved and sometimes quartered the grape tomatoes to match - put them into a bowl and pour about three tablespoons of great olive oil over top. This is the time to pull out the good stuff. Sprinkle with a little kosher or sea salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Give it a quick mix and let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes. Meantime, put up some water for the pasta or farro or even quinoa. If you choose to use one of these other grains, I recommend cutting the tomatoes into a smaller dice so the large chunks don't overwhelm the smaller grains. You can even use the tomatoes done this way as a bruschetta topping.


Once the tomatoes have had some time to marinate or macerate, actually, they should produce a good bit of liquid for a sauce. Add the pasta or other grain when ready and mix well. If it seems a little dry, just add a touch more olive oil. Chiffonade (cut into thin slivers) or gently tear some fresh basil leaves, maybe ten or so large leaves, over top and mix. At this point, I like to let the pasta sit for a few minutes to cool slightly before adding the mozzarella cheese. I prefer the cheese to remain in chunks rather than getting melty and stringy. Here too, use some good, fresh mozzarella in a large ball, and cut it into small chunks. If short on time, you can also buy the little tiny balls of fresh mozzarella and you don't have to cut them. Mix and taste for salt and you're ready to eat!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Gourmet, Unbound, July Edition


This month I chose to make a fresh fig and arugula salad from July 1998 Gourmet magazine. Some fresh figs in the market, OK, from California, made the decision for me. I just didn't feel like a granita or sorbet and that seemed to be the most common recipe in past July issues of Gourmet. I do have to confess that the main reason I chose this salad is that it is easy, easy, easy and sounded delicious to boot. I didn't think I'd get a July recipe in as we'd been eating our way across San Francisco adn then hiking in Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, but I got it in under the gun, in part because it took no time to put together and in part, because I already had most of the ingredients.

I'd already bought some arugula at the farmstand on Sunday and had the prosciutto waiting for the right opportunity to serve it. Parmigiano is a staple around here. Once I saw the fresh figs, the decision was made.

This salad came together quickly and easily, but I didn't bother with the instruction to attach and wrap thin strips of the prosciutto to form a long chain. I just draped the bits in a similar fashion without the extra step.

The salad was a big hit as it is composed of a complement of salty, tart, bitter and sweet flavors. It's perfect dinner party fare and was a big hit with the whole family.

Monday, July 5, 2010

California Trip


Ahhh...eating in San Francisco! We started our weekend with carnitas, carne asada and fish tacos (both grilled and fried) from Nick's Crispy Tacos, an all cash joint co-housed with a nightclub in a garnet red room festooned with crystal chandeliers. A bit of a disconnect for a casual taco lunch in plastic baskets with oilcloth tablecloths, but the tacos and guacamole were delicious. Late that afternoon, we boarded a cable car for Market Street and began our trek to Berkeley (cable car, followed by BART and then a walk) for dinner. It was only fitting that the round trip took longer than the dinner, I guess, as this was a pilgrimage of sorts.

When choosing a restaurant for our first dinner in San Francisco on what was also our twenty-first anniversary, Chez Panisse immediately came to mind. Despite many trips to San Francisco in the past, I'd never eaten there. I was somewhat concerned that I'd be disappointed - would the restaurant be worth the trek, would the food and atmosphere be as I imagined? Can any restaurant live up to such a build-up? But then, how could I be so close and not eat there? We decided to commit but to eat in the upstairs Cafe as it seemed more suited to our family of four. I made the reservation precisely one month prior to our dinner.

But how pleased we were. All of us. Maddy started with a pizzeta with wild nettles and ricotta cheese and continued with porcini mushroom lasagna. Paul and Ted each had a main course of crispy rabbit which was excellent. I was pretty impressed with my guys ordering that! I had sea bass (not Chilean) with fennel and potato puree. For dessert we shared an apricot tart with mulberry ice cream. We should have had two!

So, yes, it was worth it and the myth is not shattered!

All our meals were wonderful but one of the most unique was the kimchee fried rice topped with a fried egg from Namu at the Saturday market at the Ferry building. With offerings from all kinds of egg sandwiches on Acme bread to Mexican to all types of Asian food, we were overwhelmed by choice. We started out that morning with a steamed char shiu bao apiece from The Slanted Door's to go window "Out the Door" in the market itself. We then walked up one side and back down the other side of the interior of the Ferry building, oohing and aahing each shop. I noticed the Heath Ceramics that we'd eaten on the night before at Chez Panisse. After, we strolled through all the booths set up outside the building in search of the perfect breakfast. We ended up with a combination of egg and bacon sandwiches, kimchee, and fruit. We tasted the sweetest apricots I've ever had. In fact, we tasted everything that anyone offered us. Wonder what it is about artichokes that I never see them in markets in the DC area. I was speechless several times that morning at the abundance and variety of offerings. This felt like part II of the food pilgrimage that we had begun the night before in Berkeley.

We then had further food fun at Burma Superstar and Pizzeria Delfina and even squeezed in a Fathers' Day dim sum brunch at Yank Sing. Almost seems like too many meals for the number of days we were there! Burma Superstar has gotten lots of foodie press and was well worth the half hour wait for a table. Lunch ends at 3:30 and dinner begins at 5. We waited about a half an hour and were told we could stay and eat as long as we liked as long as our food order was in by 3:30. We got our food order in just in time and enjoyed delicious tea leaf salad, one of their specialities, along with a couple of Burmese noodle dishes, and some sauteed pea shoots. These were no ordinary pea shoots, though. The leaves were several times larger than what I buy as pea shoots. The menu says they are stir fried in wine and garlic and I think I ate practically the whole order myself. As we ate, we noticed the cooks entering the dining room, one by one, with steaming bowls of rice and toppings, to sit at a large, round table and enjoy their dinner before the restaurant's dinner service began.

Soon after our return to DC, I participated in the "DC Food 52-ers Canorama" - a full day canning extravaganza led by one of our most active and knowledgable participants, Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and hosted in Carlisle, PA by cheese1227. We came home with jars of cherry pie filling and stunning apricots in vanilla syrup to enjoy at some later date when it's not so warm and fresh fruit is not so plentiful. For our potluck lunch we ate banh mi sandwiches made from a food52 winning recipe. I brought sesame noodles as a side dish. These are flexible and you can sub in or add many different veggies, such as napa cabbage, cucumber or snow peas for the Chinese celery. Don't skimp on the Thai basil, though!

This dish does include honey and soy sauce and a goodly amount of oil, but it is enough to serve 8 as a side dish. I like to serve it alongside salmon, though tofu would work too. For vegans, you can substitute agave nectar for the honey, though I'd reduce the amount by a tablespoon and add a couple of teaspoons of warm water.

Sesame Noodles with Thai Basil

(serves 4 -6 as a main dish or about 8 as a side dish)

16 - 18 ounces udon noodles (you can also use soba or even spaghetti - I like to stick with a whole grain udon for this. The packages of udon don't seem to come in the typical 1 lb. package we're used to seeing with pasta. I have even used about 19 ounces of udon - two packages of 9 ounces each - and there was enough sauce)

3 shredded or julienned carrots (I use a julienne peeler). In a pinch you can use a few handfuls of pre-shredded carrots

2 cups Chinese celery, rough chopped stems and leaves

1/4 cup peanut or canola oil

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil

5 tablespoons honey

5 tablespoons lower sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/2 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts

1/2 cup Thai basil - larger leaves roughly torn


1. Cook noodles according to package directions, leaving them al dente.

2. In a saucepan, lightly cook oils and red pepper over medium or medium-low heat for a few minutes, taking care not to let it boil. Stir.

3. Add the honey and soy sauce to the pot and stir well.

4. Place the carrots and celery into a large bowl and put the hot noodles right on top. Add the sauce over top and mix well.

5. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Let noodles come to room temperature for a half an hour or so and add the last five ingredients just before serving. Toss well.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Pea Soup for Spring and Summer



Ina Garten's pea soup tastes like spring. It's not a heavy, winter-time split pea soup that cooks for hours and warms the house. There's a time for that soup and June in DC is not it. This soup is a puree of fresh peas and mint, which can be served hot, warm or cold with equally good results. Ms. Garten even invites you to substitute frozen peas and as peas have not yet come into the local farm markets, that is how I've made it. I don't think I would even bother to use fresh peas even when they are available, as this soup can be made pretty quickly unless one had to first shell peas. Save those peas for popping in your mouth raw and use the petite, sweet frozen ones here.

I was so excited about this recipe when I first made it as it hit all my benchmarks - it's delicious, relatively healthy and easy to make. Paul and both kids, even my teenaged son who doesn't like peas, enjoyed the soup. I tried to share my excitement with a couple of friends and both told me unequivocally that they hate pea soup. Please don't be judgmental about this soup! Try it - even Teddy liked it!

I've made the recipe, as written (with just one little change - I replaced the butter with olive oil), several times with great success. It's filling enough to serve with some bread and cheese for a light dinner or could also serve as a first course to a full dinner. you could easily sub in garlic rubbed bruschetta for croutons as I've done in this photo or even (gasp!) use packaged ones in a pinch.

Last time I made this soup I divided the soup into three before adding the creme fraiche. In one portion I added creme fraiche and in the other two, lower fat options of fat free Greek yogurt and virtually fat free Israeli quark. In this soup, I much preferred the fullness and mouth feel that the creme fraiche affords. I was hoping to like one of the other options, but they both had too much bite without being rounded out by the cream. I think this recipe needs a little fat to balance the peas. However, I did exchange the butter for olive oil, so I felt virtuous enough to enjoy the creme fraiche laced version.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Spicy Tuna Tartare



Vernon, the fish seller at the Bethesda Central Farm Market, had some Atlantic bigeye tuna (Monterey Bay Aquarium "Best Choice") last week. Just because it was there I had to try it although we weren't sure how we'd eat it. We'd already had a salade Nicoise the week prior so I figured on doing it Asian style with some sesame seeds and a quick sear on each side. I bought a huge bag of snow peas to serve with it. Sometime later in the day, though, I decided to play around. I ended up using the tuna raw as it was so fresh and Vernon so reputable but couldn't decide on any one method. Finally, I made three different dishes for us to sample. One was ceviche style with some lime juice and red onion and a little splash of olive oil. The second, Paul's favorite, was an Italian style crudo - thinly sliced and then just drizzled with a little olive oil and lemon juice and then sprinkled with Maldon sea salt.

The third method tasted a little like a spicy tuna roll. We ate it with great quality taco chips, but would be delicious with fried egg roll wrappers or rolled into a seaweed cone. Even Neva-Betta crackers.

Spicy Tuna Tartare

(serves 4 - 6 as an hors d'oeuvre or appetizer)

1/2 Cup Mayonnaise ( I used Hellman's Light Mayo and it was fine)
2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 pound piece of really fresh tuna from a reliable source
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
2 stalks very thinly sliced green garlic (or 1 fat garlic clove, minced)

1. Mix first three ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

2. Dice up the tuna as finely as you can without shredding it.

3. Place cut up tuna into a medium bowl, add the onion and garlic, and then add about 2 or 3 tablespoons of the Sriracha mayo and gently mix. Add more mayo bit by bit until you get a taste and consistency you like. Save the leftover mayo for another dish!

4. Serve with good quality taco chips or fried wanton skins, or make a roll with a seaweed cone.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Salade Nicoise



Way back in 9th grade French class, Ms. Gold introduced me to salade Nicoise. She was one of those teachers who inspires students and encouraged us to appreciate France and French culture in addition to teaching us grammar. We listened to Plastic Bertrand in class ( I do hope some of mes amis are reading!), went to see French films and ate in French restaurants in New York. She was young, hip and quirky and we loved it all.

Each year with Ms. Gold and then, later, with Madame DeMuth, Randi Cohen and I baked a traditional Buche de Noel for the class holiday party. Randi's mother always let us bake the Buche at their house, and as best as I can remember, was also nice enough to clean up after us. Despite this largesse, and as much fun as I remember having, I suspect the complicated and labor intensive recipe which required many pans, pots and a candy thermometer, is why I don't bake much now. I still have the recipe, a faded blue "ditto" with creases from where I had it folded into eight for many years, just in case.

But the salade Nicoise stuck. As soon as it gets warm in DC and the farmstands start carrying green beans and new potatoes, I begin to crave this perfect salad as a light meal. Recently, the stars aligned: it was warm and I was able to buy some fresh potatoes and beans.

This is, as is often the case with me, not really a recipe. I'm not a traditionalist and I love to improvise a little so I'll just give you some guidelines.


A bed of butter, Boston or leaf lettuce

A few handfuls green beans, I particularly like thinner ones or haricots verts, lightly steamed or blanched and then plunged into ice cold water

A few new red or fingerling potatoes per person, can also use baby Yukon golds, cut in half or quarters if large and boiled for about 10 minutes until fork-tender

grape or cherry tomatoes, or cut up tomatoes

tuna in oil - use a great quality brand in olive oil. For the salad in the picture, I used a 10 oz. jar of Flott.

hard boiled egg (I like to try to leave the centers just a little under hard-cooked) - 1 per person - cut in half

olives

thinly sliced red onion

capers for a garnish - well rinsed, salt-packed are best

anchovies - curl one on a few of the egg halves

vinaigrette - recipe below

This photo shows our salad before I dressed it, as the second after I drizzled on the vinaigrette, everyone pounced! You'll notice, however, that there are neither anchovies nor olives, both traditional components of a salade Nicoise. As whole anchovies are not a favorite in our house, I sometimes add a little anchovy paste to the vinaigrette in lieu of curling the fillets atop the eggs, although this time I did neither. As I'm the only olive eater, I add those to my plate alone. The cucumbers are a non traditional addition - I had a seedless cucumber in the salad bin I felt like using up and thought it would add some crunch.

Here is the piece de resistance (wish I could figure out how to add in the accents!)...I used a jar of Flott tuna from Sicily on this salad. I was raised in a "tuna in water" house and have bought only that for much of my adult life. For a mayo tuna salad, that's still what I buy. But for salade Nicoise, tuna in oil is preferred. If you buy a really great brand like Flott (or Ortiz "conserva" as I've learned from a food52-er), the tuna is packed in high quality olive oil and just adds to the flavor of the dish. You can drain it just a little bit before serving and you can cut back a little on the oil in the dressing or just not drizzle the dressing on the tuna. If you buy a great quality tuna in oil, the oil itself is a great quality olive oil.

If you prefer, this is also terrific with some thinly sliced, lightly seared fresh tuna. No matter which tuna you use, serve with a crisp white wine and some good French bread.

Basic Vinaigrette for Salade Nicoise

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
1/4 cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
pinch salt
few grinds pepper

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard and vinegar.

2. Slowly pour in the olive oil with one hand while whisking with the other.

3. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Springiest Potato Salad Ever



As I've mentioned many times before, I just don't love mayonnaise based salads. I've been a vinaigrette gal since way back. I began thinking about this potato salad the other day when Food52 announced that this week's contest is "your best potato salad." This one immediately came to mind and as I checked back into my blog archives, I found that I never actually posted this recipe. I almost posted this recipe last year at exactly this time (May 28, 2009 - at least I'm consistent), but didn't post it then because it seemed to me I'd been overdoing it with vinaigrette recipes.

I happened upon some really fresh, tiny, new red potatoes at the farm stand last weekend and although this dish is tasty with any small potato (I've used red, different fingerling varieties and baby Yukon golds all with great success) these new potatoes were something special. In fact, all the vegetable components of this dish are completely fresh at farm stands in the DC area right now. Make it this weekend for your Memorial Day barbecues! Later on in the summer, you can easily sub in minced regular garlic and scallions, or even minced shallots for the spring onions.

So one year later, here it is. Karen R. please let me know if this differs from what I sent you last year!

Wendy's Springiest Potato Salad Ever

(serves 4 - 6 as a side dish)

2 lbs. washed new red potatoes, halved or quartered if larger. I like to try to buy the ones as close to one inch around as possible. Try to keep all the pieces close to the same size so they cook in the same amount of time.

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon whole grain mustard

1 tablespoon red wine or champagne vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

a couple of pinches of salt, more to taste

a few grinds of pepper, more to taste

scant 1/4 cup thinly sliced green or spring garlic, the kind that looks like scallions (or two cloves minced regular garlic)

1/4 cup thinly sliced green or spring onions, plus another tablespoon for garnish (or scallions - or even 2 small minced shallots)

1 cup pea shoots, roughly chopped (should be a few large handfuls when whole)



1. Put cut potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with water by about 1/2 to 1 inch. Lightly salt the water. Bring to a boil and then lower to a low boil/high simmer for 8 - 10 minutes. Check potato piece after about 8 minutes by piercing with a fork. You want the fork to slide in easily, but you don't want to let the potatoes get mushy.

2. While the potatoes cook, in a large bowl, whisk the mustards and vinegar together. Add the olive oil in a stream, whisking as you add. Add salt and pepper. Add the green onions and green garlic to the vinaigrette and toss.

3. When potatoes are fully cooked, drain in a colander and immediately add into the bowl with the vinaigrette. Mix gently.

4. Add in the chopped pea shoots and toss gently but well. Taste for salt and pepper.

5. Garnish with reserved green onions or scallions.

6. Serve warm or at room temperature. If you make this earlier in the day, refrigerate in the interim, but take out about 1/2 hour before you want to serve so that the salad can come back to room temperature.

June Gourmet, Unbound


It's that time of the month again - time for a link to a recipe from a June issue of Gourmet magazine. This month I made Soba Noodles with Pea Shoots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Leeks from June 1994. I love soba noodles both for taste and health - other than the sodium in the soy sauce, this is a healthy dish, full of delicious vegetables and hearty whole grain soba noodles.

In addition to the vegetables called for in the recipe, I added one head of baby bok choy, cut up a little, to the leeks in the pan. Baby spinach or other greens would work equally well. I also added about a half cup of chicken stock (you could easily use vegetable stock) to the pan and let the leeks and bok choy braise a little. This added a little extra "sauce" to an otherwise rather dry dish. And, I added about a quarter cup of water to the soy sauce and vinegar mixture for the same reason. The result was a cross between a straight noodle dish and a soup. Lastly, I gave the pea shoots a rough chop before putting them in the colander.

As the guys in the house were out practicing their short games for a charity golf tournament, my lovely daughter and I enjoyed this for lunch without them. For her, the mostly vegetarian meal worked well. However you could easily add a small piece of salmon or some shredded chicken on top of the noodles for a heartier dinner.

Here's the link:

Monday, May 3, 2010

How to Make Your Life Easier

I think another discussion about weeknight dinners is warranted. Michael Ruhlman, a noted food writer, agitated the food world a couple of weeks ago when he claimed that we shouldn't be focused on 30 minute meals, or 20 minute meals, or for that matter quick meals of any kind. As he put it in the Huffington Post, he "called bullsh*t" on the idea that we're too busy to cook. His answer? Roast a chicken for an hour and use the time it's in the oven to do homework with the kids. I'm not even going to start.

On the way to this helpful "solution," he disses both Rachael Ray and Jamie Oliver, both of whom seek to teach people to use healthy ingredients and cook at home, even with limited time and budget.

Many food bloggers have taken up the cause in response to Ruhlman's parry and have declared that they will now blog about the boring day to day dinners they make when pressed for time, in hopes of helping other busy people cook healthy food at home. I guess this is why my blog has such a limited readership. I've been doing this all along. Most of the food I include here isn't at all sexy or fancy, or even photogenic, but hopefully some recipes are speedy enough for weeknight healthy eating. I'm inspired to renew my efforts to provide more quick recipes that still taste great and include fresh and healthy ingredients.

To begin this effort, I'd like to go back to my pantry post from last year. One of the biggest problems with weeknight cooking, and one of the main reasons to throw your hands up and order a pizza, is not having a sufficiently stocked kitchen. I learned this first hand when I was forced out of my extremely well-stocked home into a furnished rental for a month last summer. I had very limited space for pantry items and very little in the way of pots and other cooking implements. And we definitely did order pad thai much more frequently.

Perhaps part of what people mean when they say they don't have time to cook is that they don't have time (or energy, really) to shop. This is a tough one, because though many stores are open earlier in the morning and stay open later in the evening, it requires a great deal of discipline to force yourself to do the grocery shopping before or after work. I think the key is organization. Limit the trips to once a week, if possible, with a quick extra stop for fresh milk, fish, fruit or veggies if necessary. Go armed with a detailed list of pantry items that are running low and items for easy weeknight meals. Try planning a couple of meals out during the weekend - maybe a stir fry or some roasted salmon with rice. Add those ingredients to the list.

My list doesn't vary much week to week. Certain items are staples in our house: milk, salad ingredients, vegetables, orange juice, bread, yogurt bananas, fruit, etc. When I worked full-time and had au pairs living with us, I kept a notepad in the kitchen for the grocery list. Those staple items were always on it. In addition, whoever either finished an item or noticed one running low was responsible for putting it on the list. If it wasn't on the list, it probably wasn't going to get purchased. Late in the week one of us might have made an emergency milk run, but generally, we made it through the week.

I'm a semi-professional shopper now, and I am able to hit more than one store a week, but I still use a list and keep a substantial pantry. During the growing season, I do my main shopping at farmstands on Saturday or Sunday. From a bulging bag of vegetables, I can plan ahead for the week. Even if you're serving pasta and jarred sauce, a fresh bunch of sauteed kale or roasted carrots or turnips can take the meal up a notch.

One thing I'd like to encourage for pasta eaters is to keep a few jars of really delicious sauce around. In a pinch, some Rao's or Cucina Antica marinara on penne with some fresh shaved Pecorino, and maybe some crunchy grissini or breadsticks can feel like a restaurant meal. These sauces are a bit more expensive per jar, but if it saves you from ordering in,and keeps you healthier, it's probably cheaper in the long run. I am careful to check for ingredient lists that only include real food that I would use myself in a home made sauce, and to check for those lower in sodium. I recently discovered Cucina Antica brand which is on the lower end of the sodium spectrum.

A rotisserie chicken can also be more than the sum of it's parts, so to speak. Many markets now roast them without all the seasonings so they are both lower in sodium and versatile to use in recipes. I've shredded the meat of a rotisserie chicken for everything from faux mu shu using flour tortillas and hoisin sauce along with pre-shredded cabbage to "tacos" with corn tortillas, shredded lettuce, cheese, and tomatoes. Chunks of the meat can go into soups and stews as well. Recently, I used an unseasoned rotisserie chicken to make a mayo-free Spanish style chicken salad which was delicious on a bed of baby spinach with a sliced avocado and a couple of olives alongside.

Frozen rice is another great time saver. Trader Joes and many grocery stores sell boxes with individual bags of pre-cooked and frozen rice (with no additives) ready to microwave. In three minutes you can have brown or jasmine rice to serve with your quick cooking shrimp or salmon and veggies.

Bagged salad used to be staple, but it's too iffy these days. I stick with actual heads of lettuce and keep a salad spinner on the counter top for quicker rinsing and drying. Grape tomatoes don't need any cutting so are an easy addition to the salad.

Please share your tips with everyone in the comment section!!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gourmet, Unbound



Last night I made my recipe from a May issue of Gourmet. This one was from 2000,which it's hard to believe is ten years old already.

Each month, I start searching for the recipe I'll test for Gourmet, Unbound by going to my shelf of old issues, and checking for pages I might have tabbed back when I first received that magazine. This month I decided to try one of the recipes I'd tabbed in 2000. I checked the recipe on Epicurious.com and found a range of reviews. Some reviewers loved the dish, and others thought it was bland. After testing it out last night, and enjoying the light, yet distinctive flavor, I think I've figured out the problem some of the reviewers might have had. It's possible that those who thought the dish was bland just didn't have really fresh asparagus. I was lucky that this is the beginning of high asparagus season in this area so I had asparagus fresh from the fields via the farmstand. I wonder if the Mexican or Peruvian imports have as much flavor.

Surprisingly, this dish does not overwhelm with the taste of asparagus. Even the less exuberant asparagus eater in my house enjoyed the dish. The lemon (I used one of my last Meyer lemons) lightened the flavor perfectly, though I added a little lemon juice - probably 1/2 lemon's worth - at the suggestion of many of the reviewers. The sauce is silky due to the addition of the pasta cooking water and, apart from the white pasta, is relatively healthy. It's mostly vegetable based with a hit of olive oil and parmigianno reggiano. I reduced the olive oil slightly from the recipe with no ill effects. I used three tablespoons of olive oil instead of a quarter cup.

The dish appears so simple with its brief ingredient list, but there are several steps to the process that you need to plan ahead for. Prep the asparagus, zest the lemon, and most importantly, put that water up to boil right away - you need to boil the pieces of asparagus spears for six to eight minutes (which I thought seemed a little to much so I reduced it to four or five minutes), and then blanch the tips, before you cook your pasta in that same water. If I wasn't also preparing a salad and a salmon dish to go alongside, it probably wouldn't have been a problem. When I make this next, I would not concurrently prepare something that requires last minute attention, as this is an of the moment sauce that should be served immediately.

Click here (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pasta-with-Asparagus-Lemon-Sauce-103382) for the recipe at Epicurious.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Trying to Get Going Again



I've been away far too long - busy, busy and not cooking so much, but the farm stands are reopening and my ideas are flowing a little bit once again. I had a lovely afternoon yesterday, brunching with other DC participants on food52.com. The gracious Mrs. Wheelbarrow hosted us and it was a great opportunity to chat, for hours, with other food obsessed (in a good way!) people. Most of them are also bloggers, so now I've now got some new blogs to read and learn from.

I brought my smoked trout dip (http://healthierkitchen.blogspot.com/2009/11/and-now-for-something-little-different.html) and a springtime farro dish. I was hoping to find peas and ramps at the farm stand that morning to create a dish with farro, peas and a ramp pesto. Unfortunately, I could get neither peas nor ramps, so I had to think fast. I love farro and thought that would still be a good base, but instead of peas, I used asparagus, pea shoots, parsley and some sharp micro greens. I quick thawed the last of my frozen pesto to use as a base. Giada DiLaurentiis does a farro with coarse pesto but it is very parsley based which I don't love as much as other herbs. For this, I started with some previously made basil pesto and added some finely chopped parsley and rough chopped pea shoots to the mix. Because this pesto did not have cheese added, I used a few tablespoons of goat cheese to make things a little creamy. Lastly, I sprinkled the micro greens on top for a little extra flavor. The beauty of the dish is the bright, springy flavor and the flexible ingredient list. You can easily sub peas for the asparagus and pea shoots and feel free to use any sort of pesto you like.

If you make your own pesto, try it without the parmigianno or pecorino sometime, and add a few tablespoons of goat cheese to the pesto and hot pasta or farro. It's a lighter and creamier taste and is nice for a change.

Farro, while not available in every store, is quite a bit easier to find these days than when I first started making it. I have seen it in Whole Foods, Balducci's, and Harris Teeter grocery stores, as well as my local organic market (Mom) and in specialty Italian grocers (in my area, Vace). It is not cheap, running between $6 and $10 for a just over a one pound bag, but one pound of farro is much heartier than one pound of pasta. It truly feeds a crowd.

I like to serve this as a side dish, but you could also use it as a main dish alongside a lettuce salad. As a side dish, it could accompany fish, chicken or meat quite well.

Springtime Farro

(serves 8 - 10 as a hearty side dish)

6 cups salted water

small bunch fresh asparagus, ends trimmed and cut into one-half to one inch pieces
2 cups farro (a little less than the 1.1 pound Rustichella d'Abruzzo package)
1/2 cup of your favorite pesto
1/4 cup goat cheese, if your pesto is cheese-less (If you're concerned about the cheese, feel free to try 2 tablespoons at first and taste after mixing. Add the other two tablespoons, one at a time, if you like)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 large handful pea shoots, rough chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring salted water to boil in a large saucepan. Once boiling, drop in the asparagus pieces. After 30 seconds to a minute, use a slotted spoon or a skimmer to pull out the asparagus pieces and drop them either into a bowl of cold water or into a strainer and run it under cold water. Do not drain the water as you'll use it for the farro as well.

2. Once the water comes back to boil, put in the farro and cover pan. Lower burner and simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste farro to make sure it is soft, yet firm in the inside. Drain, reserving a half cup of the water.

3. Place all ingredients into a large bowl and mix gently, but well. Add some of the reserved cooking water if it seems dry.

4. Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

One Year and Holding, Barely

Today, Healthier Kitchen is one year old. I had high hopes last month when I thought about an anniversary post. Maybe I'd create a really spectacular new recipe or even plan a dinner party filled with healthier recipes to blog about. The reality is I have nothing for you today.

All I can tell you is that, until last night, the last two weeks have been filled with restaurant food, carry out, a couple of old standbys, and ready to heat items from Costco and Trader Joe's. Last night I finally worked up a jambalaya using brown rice (I think no one knew), chicken andouille sausage and jumbo lump crabmeat, but I failed to photograph the dish and truly don't have the time or energy to write it up today. I owe you this recipe.

Instead, I thought I'd go back a year and remind you of some of my favorite recipes. In looking into the archives, I realized that the list of recipes I wanted to share today include just about everything I posted last March. I suppose this could be a seasonal thing - the foods I was cooking last March are just "March-ish" foods. On the other hand, it could be that I started the blog with a whole lot of energy in March, and lost creativity thereafter. Or, it could be that I'm too distractible by life's ups and downs.

At any rate, I invite you to revisit, or if you're new to the blog, visit, March, 2009. My very first post set out what I was hoping to accomplish with this blog and let everyone in on the unbelievably simple way to make irresistible cauliflower, as oxymoronic as that may sound. The salmon recipe is still my favorite. The mayo free cabbage slaw would be a great side dish for a St. Patrick's day dinner, and the banana-oat bread is just the thing for those softening bananas. I gave you my special, formerly secret, chili recipe. I also linked to Michelle Obama's healthy, faux creamed spinach. Perhaps my favorite post is the tribute to Laurie Colwin with the red lentil soup. This is the perfect time of year for that soup and anytime is a good time to read Laurie Colwin, particularly now, as her Home Cooking is about to be re-released later this month. To find any of these, simply check out the archives to the right in the margin and click on 2009, then look at March. You could also look for specific foods in the recipe index also in the margin on the right.

Enjoy!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Valentine's Dinner for Nine


Valentine's evening proved to be the perfect time to try out my March Gourmet recipes. We had family visiting from out of town for President's weekend and we were nine for dinner - four adults, my two teens and my nieces and nephew who are 11, 8 and 5. I ended up making two recipes from different issues of March Gourmet magazines, both of which were delicious and perfect for Valentine's dinner.

The first, Chicken in Riesling, was from 2008 (find the recipe here). I had made this once before back in September or October and moved it into the "keeper" file as all four of us liked the dish. It's rich without being heavy as a result of the lighter touch of the creme fraiche (!) and lemon juice. It's a one pot meal with carrots and potatoes cooked right in with the chicken and Riesling. The header notes to the recipe say that it's just another chicken in wine stew, like a coq au vin.

I simplified a little, as you all know I have a hard time leaving a recipe alone. I cut the butter, and used olive oil for the leeks, but added in a tablespoon of butter into the stew at the end for richness. I also used cut up chicken pieces instead of the whole chicken. I used a mixture of breasts, thighs and legs, with extra legs for the kids. I used more than the equivalent of one chicken this time, as there were so many of us. Lastly, I used a mix of some really lovely, tiny little yellow potatoes I had purchased for heaven knows what a week or so earlier, and some cut up baby red potatoes to fill in. Only downside? My brother-in-law thought the tiny potatoes looked enough like olives that this usually hearty eater took a rather petite serving of this dish. Once every one had been reassured they were potatoes, everyone dug in. You can see from the photo that he was justified in his confusion.

This is not close to the health quotient of the quinoa/bulgur/lentil dishes I also love, but this would make a great meal for company or a special occasion. It's just rich enough that you simply can't overeat, but light enough that you don't feel like you need an immediate angiogram. The sauce is compelling, silky from the creme fraiche and dab of butter and with that tangy hit of lemon. The recipe says to add the lemon juice to taste and I ended up using 2 tablespoons.

This is lovely with a baguette as you will want to sop up some of the sauce. You don't need to serve any other vegetable, but if you like, a salad with a touch of lemon juice in the vinaigrette would be a nice complement. We drank more Reisling with dinner.

Later, the adults enjoyed some Kir Royale Sorbet from March, 1994 (find the recipe here), while the kids had ice cream sundaes. The vivid red color of this sorbet makes it the ideal Valentine's day dessert. Plus, it was light and tart after the chicken. I used frozen raspberries as there are no domestic raspberries available in our DC area markets this time of year.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Behind the White House Photo Opps, School Gardens Desperate for Help

I just wanted to share this with everyone. This came from a DC schoolteacher and was originally posted on another blog. I've wanted to write about this issue since I read the always incendiary Caitlin Flanagan's piece in the January/February issue of the Atlantic, entitled "Cultivating Failure." This snowstorm has given me the time to finally do so.

In her piece, Flanagan criticizes the Edible Schoolyard concept as she claims it doesn't help students in the failing California schools to pass standardized tests. However, as is her way, she doesn't just opine, she pokes everyone in the eye with her extremist posturing. Instead of providing an even, journalistic article, Flanagan begins with a completely hypothetical example of the American born child of an illegal Mexican immigrant farm laborer who is here by virtue of his parents' sacrifice to offer him a better life, entering sixth grade in Berkeley, CA, only to "head out the field, where he stoops under a hot sun and begins to pick lettuce" rather than learn math. She continues with her diatribe by insulting Alice Waters, school volunteers, and ultimately faults the school system for falling prey to the "visionary and charismatic" Waters and "allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools."

When I first read her piece I had an instinctual opposition to everything she was saying, but I wanted to stop and think about whether I was actually responding to her thesis or if I was just put off by her hyperbolic and ridiculous assertions. Was she hiding a kernel of truth under a bushel of hyperbole? Has she exposed the Emperor in the "altogether" or is she a bitter and biased shrew all too willing to once again criticize well intentioned school volunteers, not to mention Alice Waters?

After a second thorough reading of her piece, I concluded that her argument was too flawed to be persuasive. While Flanagan is correct that the situation in many California schools, much like DC schools, is desperate, isn't the problem due more to budget constraints not the existence of an Edible Schoolyard garden in several schools? Perhaps most importantly, she did not speak to staff or families in a school with a garden to get their perspectives on how helpful and effective they are as teaching tools and as a means for nutrition education.

We are all distressed by the poor state of many schools today, and as important as it is to shore up the math and reading instruction, it just doesn't make sense to ignore other enriching learning experiences, especially those that can greatly affect the health of the students.

Check out what one DC school teacher has to say:

Behind the White House Photo Opps, School Gardens Desperate for Help

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