Monday, October 8, 2012

Aging and Advil

Aging is hard.  I don't mean to state the obvious, but as we get past a certain magic number in years, it really does seem that, physically, the road is just more challenging.  While exercise and eating well can hopefully keep us relatively healthy for years, the body does not behave as it did when it was 20.  Or 25.  Or 30.

Complaining about this seems petty, what my daughter would call "first world problems." Obviously, if we are complaining about things like plantar fasciitis, bunions, lower back pain, herniated discs, rotator cuff injuries, tennis elbow, or even a stomach ulcer from too much Advil taken for a wrist injured while playing tennis, we are lucky enough to bear the marks of an active life, not a life threatening ailment.

Nonetheless, it does seem that as one approaches a certain age, the body must be coddled a little bit more.   We might need insoles in our shoes or maybe different types of shoes entirely, different tennis rackets or different stringing tension, a better mattress, better posture, better diet and lots of Advil.

There's the rub.  What to do when the Advil you've taken for years becomes the cause of an entirely new pain?  One that feels like someone's lit a match under your breastbone every 3 or 4 minutes.  Well, what you don't do is eat tomatoes, garlic and onions.  I speak not from personal experience here, but as official cook to the Advil wounded. 

Here's what you do eat: oatmeal, eggs, bread, potatoes, grilled chicken.  Notice a color pattern here?  A little splash of orange from carrots, sweet potato and salmon. 

This is what Maddy and I ate one night, while Paul was enjoying his skinless rotisserie chicken with a baked sweet potato:  Turkish style pasta with a sauce of Greek yogurt and ground pistachios and garlic.  This recipe could not be easier to make and was surprisingly delicious for such simple flavors.  I have now tried this with whole wheat spaghetti combined with regular Greek yogurt, and, despite the recipe writer's admonition,  2% Greek yogurt with traditional pasta.  It was delicious both ways.  In future I will probably go with whole wheat or farro pasta and 2% yogurt.  I might even try fat free yogurt just to see how it turns out.  The first time I made this recipe, my garlic cloves were particularly pungent and made the dish a little too garlic-y, so when I reheated the leftovers I added a little more yogurt and pasta.  I recommend you start with 2 small cloves of garlic and taste the sauce while it's still in the food processor.  You can always add another one or two, as the recipe says "to taste."

This is perfect with a simple salad (we used a dressing of hummus thinned with lemon juice and a touch of olive oil) or would also be terrific with some roasted chunks of eggplant and maybe some green beans for color. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

James Beard Awards

I just found this post in my draft file and I'm not sure why I never completed it when it was timely.  Though the James Beard awards were back in May, I found after reading my notes, that my thoughts are still relevant even months after the event.   So here is what I wrote back in May (with just a few current edits!):

Soon after the awards, Jane Lear, writing in her blog, noted the incogruity of the James Beard award for best cookbook going to Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking at the same time that Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking were inducted into the Cookbook Hall of Fame (I wrote about Colwin and her books here).  This is providing me with the impetus to marshall my helter-skelter thoughts on the subject, something I've been wanting to do for a while but just haven't been disciplined enough to do. 

While an occasional, very special and very costly dinner is all well and good, it is the day to day cooking that most interests me.  I'm much more about how one keeps dinners coming night after night, for family and friends who also have opinions about what they like to eat, and keep everyone happy, healthy and well fed.

I don't hate science, but let's just say that with cooking, as with most aspects of my life, I am much more intrigued with art than science.  I don't even like to bake much as it smacks of method and rules. I feel like I should write up a lab report if I try to experiment a little.

I don't like being reigned in by cooking that gives you too many rules.  Maybe this is why in addition to avoiding any real baking, I don't even like to can the jams I make.  I love the creative part of the process - putting together fruits and flavors - but I'm not much for the scientific-feeling follow-through of the actual canning process.   There is too much at stake if I get it wrong.

I wrote, a while back, about chef Sara Jenkins' explanations that although she is proud of what she cooks in her restaurant, it is home cooking that really turns her on. I've eaten in her restaurant and it is what you'd cook at home if you were a trained chef and everyday was Sunday.  However, this is still not molecular gastronomy.

I love Jose Andres' restaurants here in Washington, and as a chef and businessman, he seems never to take a wrong step. He is a leader and yet his food in most of his restaurants is completely accessible. I have even attempted to recreate some of his dishes at home. Yes, he trained with Ferran Adria, one of the fathers of molecular gastronomy, but he saves his edgier preparations for his smaller, experimental restaurants and chef's tables. 

I've long been puzzled by the visceral and vituperative attacks on Rachael Ray in online recipe fora. On food52's "hotline", for example, many participants write diatribes against her brand of corner-cutting home cooking.  I don't really see what's wrong with someone taking the time to help others feel that cooking at home is not as intimidating and time consuming as many think.  Why hate? Don't we want more people cooking at home?

The James Beard awards celebrate the chef, the pinnacle, the cutting edge of cooking, and maybe that's how it should be.  But I am thrilled that Laurie Colwin's little books of wisdom and great home cooking were also honored. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hummus, With or Without Preserved Lemons

So much to say today!  First, for any DC people who love to eat and also love to help others, here's a great opportunity to do both simultaneously.  Bring your appetites and your wallets to the lobby of the Washington Post offices at 1150 15th Street, NW, on Thursday, April, 26 from 2 - 6 pm,  where I, along with about 30 other DC area food bloggers, will be holding our local sale for Share our Strength's Great American Bake Sale to end childhood hunger in America.  Share our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign works to surround kids facing hunger with nutritious food where they live, learn and play.  There will be baked goods, both sweet and savory, made by some fabulous local cooks.  Spread the word to your family and friends who work in the area!

Onward!  Recently, I wrote about Sara Jenkins, whose cookbook, Olives and Oranges, I love, and while in NY recently, Maddy and I had a delicious dinner in her East Village restaurant, Porsena. We agreed that her wilted leek appetizer, which was a special that night, was the standout of the evening. We did not have dessert there though, as we headed further east on E. 7th street to the brick and mortar Big Gay Ice Cream Shop. One "Salty Pimp" (a cone filled with vanilla soft serve, dulce de leche, and sea salt and then dipped in chocolate coating) later we rolled ourselves back over to the subway at Astor Place.

We ate a lot of vegetarian meals and even found a local vegetarian and vegan restaurant in Middletown, CT.  We've also been eating many more vegetarian meals at home.  One of Maddy's favorite foods, which she did not even care for until about a year ago, is hummus. 

I've been working on my hummus recipe for a while, experimenting with different chickpea (garbanzo bean) packaging (for you purists, I am sorry to say that I have not used dried, only packaged).  In trying to get away from BPA in cans, I have tried not only canned, but shelf-stable boxed and frozen.  I found these, as well as no salt added canned beans in my local organic market.  So far, I've only seen one brand of organic frozen beans and one brand of boxed, so naturally, they are not cheap.  I hope that as more companies provide BPA free packaging, the prices will come down.  I've also played with preserved lemons in lieu of regular lemon juice so if you have some, here's another way to use them. 

I found that both the frozen beans and the boxed have their uses.  I think that for a nicer presentation, a salad for example, the boxed wins out.  Although the frozen chickpeas did get a little mushier as they thawed, and more of their skins pulled away and required more time to remove, they got pureed in hummus so it didn't matter.  I found that a 17.6 ounce box yielded 9 ounces of chickpeas after draining, while the frozen, which has no liquid, is the full 16 ounces marked on the package.  With so many different brands of cans, the yield will vary, but I am estimating that the contents of the boxed is almost the same as that of a 15 ounce can. 

This is a very loose recipe that you should adapt to your taste.  Consider these amounts suggestions or starting points and taste the hummus after all the ingredients are in.  If it is too thick, it might need more olive oil or lemon juice.  Even a tablespoon or two of warm water.  If it is to bland, a little more tahini, lemon or salt might be in order. 

Many thanks to Maddy for the photo!


(makes a bowlful with enough for many to snack or to provide a side dish or light lunch for at least 4)

1 17.6 ounce box or 15 - 19 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained ( If you can find frozen and would like to use them, use a little more than half of a 16 ounce bag - 9 ounces if you want to weigh them- and thaw before using)

1/2 cup tahini (I have been using fresh tahini from a local Mediterranean market and it is much more delicious than the packaged stuff )

1/3 to 1/2 of a preserved lemon (use more if it's a small one)

2 Tablespoons lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons warm water if you are using preserved lemon (otherwise use 1/4 cup lemon juice)

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth.  Taste, obviously avoiding the sharp blade at the bottom of the bowl of the food processor, and add lemon juice, olive oil, salt, etc. as I described in my narrative about the recipe.  I like to drizzle a little olive oil over top and then a sprinkle of ground sumac or paprika.  Enjoy with pita, crackers or vegetables such as carrots, celery or cucumber. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Life is Funny That Way

It might have seemed strange that after months of blog silence, I filed two posts in quick succession without any explanation. It was just easier to jump back in if I didn't get myself bogged down in explaining why I haven't been posting. I guess I am a chicken and not a real writer, for if I was not so much the former and more of the latter, I'd have shared more of my last four months.

The not-so-terribly interesting reason is that I've not been cooking much new and exciting. The effort and anxiety associated with low-grade chronic pain, medications and visits to various doctors, sapped my creative juices, my focus and my energy. I have been cooking, but mostly old favorites that I could make in my sleep, which it sometimes seems I'm doing.

While I'm fortunate to be free of anything life-threatening, I am, nonetheless, still not myself. However, while I can't control my muscles and nerves, and the unwanted side effects of the various medications I am given, I decided that it is more than time for me to better control my attitude. Not so easy, I find. And so I continue to take a long walk each day, both to remain sane and to increase blood flow at the back of my head, go through the motions of my normal life and try to find my way back to cooking more creatively.

One piece of exciting news that I can report is that Trader Joe's finally signed the Fair Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers so the boycott is off! I am now officially a Trader Joe's shopper once more. We are now replete with dark chocolate covered almonds!

Just the other day, a beautiful sunny, almost 60 degree day, I remembered it's been too long since Maddy and I made Irish soda bread. So, in light of the upcoming St. Patrick's Day, here is my favorite, very easy and relatively healthy recipe. It's from Merrill Stubbs over at food52 and it has a great consistency and flavor. The only change we make is to add 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar after the other dry ingredients. Serve with a very thin skimming of really great butter, some smoked salmon or your favorite jam. It's also delicious with dry cheeses.

Many thanks to Maddy for spending the afternoon making soda bread with me and for her lovely photos!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kale and Farro in One Dish - and You'll Love It!

Two of my favorite foods, that are not two of my family's favorite foods, are kale and farro. They do not actively despise either, but neither gets them excited, particularly kale. Kale is usually something that I blend into a dish, often with a little spinach, rather than feature. This dish, however, is one that my kale challenged family can really get behind.

I've been making this for some time, probably since I first purchased Olives & Oranges, a terrific cookbook by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Sara Jenkins is a chef in NY and the daughter of well known food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins. Sara grew up all over the Mediterranean and absorbed the food culture highlighting simple preparations using fresh ingredients. Her recipes are not fussy and chef-y, but rather, homey and comforting with a simple elegance. In fact, in an article in the Atlantic, she bemoans how many people, "foodies" in particular, equate restaurant food with the best food. She asserts that in an effort to make their food taste "exquisite," many chefs overuse butter, salt and stock. She admits that in her restaurant, she does this too, but then says "as proud as I am of the food I put out professionally, I know the best food of mine you can ever eat is what I serve you at my home table."

This recipe is most definitely home cooking. Apart from sourcing farro which I now find in most stores, there is nothing remotely exotic about this recipe. Put a fried or poached egg on top and serve with some fabulous bread and you will have a delicious dinner that is both easy to prepare and filled with healthy vegetables and whole grains. And, please don't leave off the egg. Once you cut into the yolk, the creamy golden goodness oozes out into the soup and makes a richer, and more flavorful sauce to sop up.

Just make sure you buy semi pearled or in Italian, demi-perlato so that the cook time is correct. I've written about farro quite a bit over the years, but anyone new to this blog, check out my first farro post if you'd like some background.

This recipe is so straightforward and elegantly simple as written, that there is little I do to change it. I'm giving it to you as written, with the permission of the publisher. One little change I make is that I rarely put the vegetables into the food processor. I almost always just dice more finely than coarsely and use them as is. Saves a step and saves on clean up.

In the headnote, the authors suggest that a Tuscan farmwife might add a little prosciutto to the onion mix or a a little diced potato in with the farro. I do neither (without the prosciutto this is a vegetarian dish) but I have been known to add some already cooked (or canned, drained and rinsed) cannellini beans to the dish.

Farro and Kale Soup
Recipe excerpted from OLIVES AND ORANGES, (c) 2008 by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

(The authors say this makes 8 servings. In my experience, this might serve 8 as a starter but more like 4 -5 as a hearty dinner)

1 leek, white and light green parts only

2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, coarsely chopped

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

1 garlic clove

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Medium coarse sea salt

6 cups water

2 teaspoons tomato paste, preferable double concentrate (look for the kind in the tube)

1 1/2 cups farro

3 bunches lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped into 1/2 inch wide strips (my note: this is also called Tuscan kale. When I buy this in the supermarket the bunches are so huge that I only use 1 or 2! Also, stemmed just means to cut out the stems.)

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese for serving

Coarsely ground black pepper

-Cut leek lengthwise in half and rinse well; coarsely chop. Pulse leek, celery, carrot, onion, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.

-Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and a generous pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables start to soften, about 4 minutes. Add 1 cup water and tomato paste, and stir to dissolve paste. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid has almost evaporated, about 20 minutes.

-Add remaining 5 cups water, farro, and kale, and bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, until faro and kale are tender and flavors have blended, 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt.

-Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, a little grated cheese, and a sprinkle of coarse salt and pepper.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mardi Maigre?

For some of us, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is not what we really need, healthwise. That's why I came up with my slightly healthier version of a New Orleans favorite, Jambalaya. I'm turning Mardi Gras into Mardi Maigre. This version cuts back on the fat, uses brown rice and tastes quite as good as the authentic version. It's even been vetted by a New Orleans native with whom I correspond on food52 and was recently declared a Wildcard winner by the powers that be at food52!

Here's the link to my post last year this time for Jambalaya-ish, and here is the link to that same recipe, with comments and Wildcard winner banner, on food52.

For those of you not as fortunate as my sister-in-law and son who will be in New Orleans to partake in some local cooking, give this one a try! Laissez les bons temps rouler!