Thursday, January 27, 2011

Got Game?

We have so many deer here that it is possible to sit on your back stoop with a gun and a coffee and shoot five before breakfast. Well, not possible for us as we do not hunt, but as you might imagine it is quite easy to score  fresh venison. I have two friends who have volunteered to drop off carcasses on the front stoop, and another who brings it already ground, in small plastic rolls, for ready consumption. You can guess whose game I take.

So when I got two nice fat rolls of ground venison last month, I started imagining. Venison chili -- done that. Venison burgers -- a little dry. Venison pie -- ah, now we're going somewhere. I googled venison pie, and came up with all kinds of recipes, none of which inspired me. Venison is so lean, it can be dry and crumbly, so a marinade is crucial, says a friend of mine (girl friend of the hunter, so she's got experience). But I didn't want a tomato and red wine- based pie, as most are, but rather a lighter, herbier base, so experimented with white wine and olive oil, with lighter herbs instead.

This is a mammoth pie, best for a crowd but oh. so. good. left over as well. Make it a day ahead, it gets better with age, and it's beautiful to pull something out of the oven for company instead of chefing at the last minute. I think you'll like it.

Huntsman's Pie

5 juniper berries, crushed
4 garlic cloves, minced
5 peppercorns, crushed
2 teaspoons thyme
.5 cup marsala
.5 cup white wine vinegar
.5 cup olive oil

For meat
1 T butter
2 shallots, diced, or about 2/3 cup
1 fennel, diced small
1 bunch of carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced, or about 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 bunch tarragon, chopped fine
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 lbs. ground venison
1 lb. ground pork

For topping
1 bulb celeriac
4 butter potatoes
12 parsnips
1.5 cups milk
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt

Marinade the meat a day ahead. If you've got frozen meat, put it in the refrigerator a day early and let thaw. Put the meat in the marinade and run through a cycle in the marinator or knead vigorously to make sure marinade and meat meld. Let sit in marinade 24 hours.

Make the meat pie. Melt the butter and then saute shallots until soft, about 2 minutes. Add carrots, fennel and celery, sprinkle with sea salt and let cook over medium heat, until soft. The vegetables will soften and shrink, becoming golden. Stir in the tarragon and cornstarch. Add the ground meat and stir to combine. Let the meat cook, stirring occasionally to incorporate all ingredients, until the meat is brown and cooked through.

Make the topping. Dice the vegetables roughly, cover with boiling water and boil until soft. Strain the vegetables. Heat the milk with butter lightly until butter is melted, do not boil milk. Put the vegetables in a food processor and puree with the hot milk mixture, salt to taste and a pinch of grated nutmeg. This might take several batches, depending on your equipment.

Assemble the pie. In the bottom of a large oven-going casserole or Dutch oven, spread the meat mixture. Top with the vegetable puree.

The pie may now be refrigerated until just before baking. Allow to come to room temperature by taking out a few hours before hand. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake one hour.

I made a peach mint gravy to accompany it in case it was dry -- which was not the case. But it was in the tradition of a minty gravy, which was lovely, and my friend brought a lovely red cabbage which I will try to blog in no time. Try a light salad with citrus and pomegranate, as well.

Peach Mint Gravy

2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon base, (I like Better Than Bouillon)
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh mint
2 cups peaches
salt and pepper to taste

Warm boullion base in the chicken stock in a medium saucepan. Puree the peaches and the mint and stir into the broth. Bring to a simmer and let condense for 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tip Four: What's in your pantry?

If you cleaned out the pantry, you now have room to restock. (Though I sometimes find I have enough once I have truly uncovered what's there.) While there are a number of good lists for stocking an organic pantry, I find Alice Waters' to be one of the best, from The Art of Simple Food, you can peruse it at Google Books but it is one of the best for your shelf.  The Cleveland Clinic, too, has a stocking list for a heart-healthy pantry.

At the risk of repeating these, I'll tell you what I consider relevant in my pantry. I keep mostly items that aid in cooking in the pantry, not wholesale dinners themselves, as I prefer to cook from fresh ingredients. That said, it does come in handy to have a box of noodles and jar of good tomato sauce in there, especially if the tomato sauce is from your own garden. I also keep some items like canned organic pumpkin around, for a fast easy dessert.

If you live near any sort of good store, you probably don't have to keep as much as I do; though we do have a few specialty food shops locally, our nearest town is a half-hour commitment in the car. And so it goes that I tend to over stock when there's a sale or I see something, like coconut milk, that I know I can't get at a store anywhere in a 15-mile radius and can't remember if I have one at home or not.

So here, in no particular order, is my go-to pantry:

Oils and vinegars: I have a good quality olive oil for drizzling fresh and also a lesser one for bulk cooking. If it says "cold-pressed" or "extra virgin" it's less refined and has a lower smoke point, which indicates at what temperature the oil will break down. These oils, and other unrefined oils such as flaxseed oil, are best used fresh. Avocado oil has one of the highest smoke points, Ghee, or clarified butter, is another good one for cooking. I have walnut oil and basil oil for salad dressings, but it is easy to flavor your own.
    I also love vinegars for cooking, I have rice vinegar, balsamic vinegar, a good white wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg's). In addition, I admit an addiction to fig balsamic, which is so thick it can stand alone as a salad dressing. Lulu's makes one so luscious we use it over plain arugula with just a little shaved Parmesan.

Salt and peppercorn: I love Celtic sea salt for finishing dishes or cooking in butter. I also have refined salt for baking and cooking en masse. In addition to black pepper, white pepper is handy if you don't want to have specks of pepper hanging out in your food, and is not as spicy as black pepper.

Herbs and Spices: I have a whole drawer of spices, and rarely purge them, which I understand is unestimably bad form. The good news is, they just lose strength, and likely won't kill you. Spices keep longer than you'd think, but herbs really do lose their punch after a year or two. Some I can't live without: cinnamon, nutmeg, cumin, curry. Herbs I generally dry and keep overhead for crumbling into dishes.

herbs overhead
Pasta and rice: As mentioned, having a good pasta onhand is worth it -- I like to have a gluten-free alternative, such as soba, buckwheat noodles, available too. In the rice category, a good basmati or jasmine rice is a good go to filler; I am partial to purple rice so tend to have that around too. Quinoa is a good bet, or couscous if you can eat wheat.

Flours and cereals: I have a plethora of flour for use in gluten-free baking that are not essential. A grainy polenta is a great backup, and I always have oatmeal as well. Cornstarch I keep onhand to thicken sauces in place of flour. Baking powder and baking soda are also handy for baking.

Sweetners: I have raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, agave and maple syrup around at all times. For no calorie sweetening, I prefer Z sweet, which is made from erythritol, a natural sugar found in plants.

Condiments: The door of my fridge is packed with groovy condiments but these are the essentials: Organic ketchup, whole grain mustard, horseradish, capers, Tamari (gluten-free soy sauce), mayo (try making your own!), apple butter, peanut butter.

Tea and coffee: Again, I have way more of these than I actually need, but we could get by on a good black tea and decaf coffee. I drink Teavana's rooibus blend every morning, and have a selection of delights from Harney's as well.

Stocks and boullion: I generally lay in chicken, beef and vegetable bases for quickly stirring up a sauce.

Nuts, dried fruit and seeds: I always have cashews, which I eat by the handful, as well as pecans and almonds and walnuts for sprinkling in salads or cereal. I use dried cranberries for salads and raisins in cereals, and keep sesame seeds on hand for sprinkling as well.

Miscellaneous: In the interest of a quick meal, or something to pull out of the cupboard when the neighbors pop in: canned tuna, salmon, and anchovies (wonderful in salads, too); tomato sauce, rice crackers (I always have a pesto in the freezer for a quick topping, but also have been known to stock tapenade, or  tahini).  I also keep some coconut water and almond milk for cooking or smoothies on the hoof. And a big can of San Marzano tomatoes is something I also stock, more because I sometimes can't find them, but they are also awesome to dude up for a quick sauce for chicken or pasta. A good soup is also a good call -- we love the Pacifica brand Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato.

Now it's your turn. What's in your pantry? Leave me a comment!

Hope yours is bigger!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Lemongrass Gelato

We are behind on our milk. Every week we get a gallon, in two big jars, cream three inches deep on top, from a cow down the road. This month, we came back from holiday mid-week, and we've been running a jar behind since. I've made puddings, hot chocolate, eggnog -- but this week I had a revelation.

Gelato. Lighter than ice cream, its the perfect light creamy midweek dessert. Just happened to have a little lemongrass vanilla simple syrup left, to give it a twist. The result? Lighter than air, subtly sweet, with a smooth consistency that soothes the palate. Perfect after a spicy meal, or to top a baked dessert.

See for yourself.

Lemongrasss Vanilla Gelato
Adapted from Elizabeth Faulkner's Demolition Desserts

2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 cups fresh whole milk, cream top preferable
1/4 cup fine cane sugar
1/4 cup simple syrup (I used lemongrass, any will do, honey might just be sublime)
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Set up an ice bath by setting cold water and ice in a large bowl and nesting a smaller heatproof bowl into it.

In small bowl whisk egg yolk and cornstarch.

In a saucepan combine milk, sugar and syrup. Split the vanilla bean length wise and scrape the seeds into the milk with the top of your knife, tossing the pods in after. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When milk begins to simmer around the edges, about 7 minutes, take pan from heat and remove pods.

Whisk a few drops of hot milk into egg mix. Whisking steadily, slowly add the rest. Return to pan over medium heat, cook, whisking gently, a few more minutes until mixture starts to thicken.

Pour through a strainer into bowl in ice bath. Add one more cup of milk and salt to taste (Elizabeth recommends tasting to be sure the salt is noticeable, it provides a good counterpoint to the sweet cream, and she is so right.)

When the mix is cool refrigerate for an hour or up to overnight. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze.

You can keep this in the freezer, covered, but it is best within a few days. It won't make it a week, anyway, unless you tell no one of its existence and leave town.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eggplant, I said

When I met my husband and his children, then 6 and 9, they a lot of pizza. He'd pick them up on Friday, swing by the local pie joint and then home.

This, as far as I know, was the only night of the week they ate pizza, so I am not condemning him.  I, however, don't like pizza as much as the next guy, and am pretty picky about what I eat. (Ok, really picky.) Not neurotically picky, but after a few months of pizza fallback, I needed a plan. I gradually augmented with a salad, then began with home-cooked kid friendly items like hamburgers, spaghetti and fish.

I needn't have been so cautious. A crusty loaf of bread didn't last more than a day -- we topped it with Vermont Sharp Cheddar for grilled cheese or marinated it in egg, milk and cinnamon for French toast. Turns out, these people love real food. They'd come home from school and sit on the counters while I cooked, jabbering away. (Our next house had a kitchen island with stools, and they still perch on the counters.) They downed sea bass like most kids do hot dogs. Breakfast at the Locke Store (a local culinary standout) got everyone out of bed.

Jessica Seinfeld hadn't yet published her theories about sneaking pureed veggies into every spoonful, but we made do. For starters, they all love peas, which I buy frozen, and carrots, which I boil until soft, drain and top with a flourish of butter and maple syrup. Broccoli was another winner, even without cheese sauce. Or green beans, fresh and steamed plain. Sauteed leek and zucchini pancakes? They ate them (I almost wrote that they loved them, but at that time our relationship might have been such that they were only being polite. Now, I would definitely get the real review.) By the time we married, they expected a full blown salad, with mixed greens, herbs, walnuts, dried cranberries, grated Parmesan and a tomato vinaigrette, with dinner.

No, vegetables weren't really a problem with the kids. But my husband wouldn't touch 'em. That's actually not fair: Let me rephrase. For most of my adult life, I have been in the camp that makes vegetables the main part of the plate, meat or seafood the side. He definitely puts the steak first, and thinks creamed spinach counts as a vegetable. So with him, it's been a slow, steady slog through the annals of produce, trying one recipe after another to increase produce possibilities.  I've succeeded in general, one by one introducing mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and eggplant. Beets, asparagus and artichoke may never happen, but even after 9 years of marriage I still, occasionally, apply pressure.

When I really feel the love, though, is when he actually cooks me a vegetarian dish. He's always one to add a salad to dinner, and sometimes even some crispy roasted Brussels sprouts. (Once he even made Spaghetti Squash with Tomato, Olive Oil and Basil from Pino Luongo's La Mia Cucina Toscana, a fabulous cookbook which he, not coincidentally, was responsible for bringing home.) But last week, when he asked what I wanted for dinner, I pushed my luck.

"Eggplant," I said. I kid you not.

And then I left, for several hours. When I came home, eggplant is was. With a side of steak, but hey, progress. Thanks, honey.

Roasted Eggplant with Basil
adapted from Healthy

2 eggplants, about 2 lbs.
1 yellow onion, medium, peeled and chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 14.5-oz can chopped tomatoes
12 basil leaves, cut into strips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Wash the eggplant and cut off the cap and stem. Spritz a cooking sheet with olive oil spray. Cut into 1/2-inch slices and place on the baking sheet.  Season with salt and pepper, lightly coat with olive oil and cooking spray and roast for 30 minutes until the eggplant is soft.

Use spray or a teaspoon of olive oil to coat a medium skillet. Saute onions and garlic over moderately-high heat for 3-4 minutes, until soft. Add tomatoes and continue to cook while stirring until most of the liquid evaporates, about 10 minutes. (If you don't have fresh basil, add a teaspoon of dried right now, and it will flavor the sauce.)

Coat a 12-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange half the roast eggplant in the bottom of the baking dish. Smooth half of the tomato mixture over the eggplant and sprinkle with half the basil and Parmesan. Repeat with the rest of the eggplant, tomato and Parm.

Bake at 374 degrees for 35 minutes until golden.

6 servings.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Tip Three: Get organized

I can't get excited about a whole day of cleaning and organizing, though I know that's how this step really should be attacked. Let's just agree to outline the basic steps, without any prescribed timeline, and any tips or comments can be added below. It can take you a morning (in which case I salute you, and will definitely be talking behind your back), a week, a month or more. Or, as my uber-organized uncle does, you can schedule little kitchen tasks to repeat routinely (obviously retired, borderline obsessive). I personally have been getting to it one drawer at a time; I accomplished the pantry on a snow day with a two-hour school delay.

The pantry goes back to medieval times, taking its name from "paneterie" meaning, in French, from bread. The butler's pantry is home to china and silver, and is so named because the butler used to sleep there guarding the silver.

First: Declutter
Pantry: Since moving so far from civilization, I've become somewhat of a hoarder, and with my little pantry (I'm in good company -- an American Institute of Architects study shows 50 percent of us yearn for a larger larder) this can be hazardous. I shove jars into the deep shelves never to be seen again, or until they all fall out on my head when pulling out the pickles. To try to combat this, I cleared out each shelf and wiped it down. While you're there, check expiration dates and pitch anything that might have gone bad. Make a box for anything you haven't used that is still good, and take it to the local food pantry (our bank is also a drop for food donations). My neighbor makes a game of it by lining up her pantry goods and creating menus from them, to use them up and gain space.

When I replaced, I organized by shelf, one shelf for pasta and flours, one for jarred and canned goods, one for lunch box items, etc. Only you can determine what works for you. (More on restocking to follow.)

Pots and pans: When my parents got an induction stovetop, they brought me their collection of pots and pans -- a windfall, except that I had just shoved them in the cupboard with the ragtag collection I had collected over the years, augmented by those my husband had when we married. My first All-Clad copper stockpot (from the '80s and still cooking!), and my wok, and a bamboo steamer we picked up in a small shop in Chinatown, were buried beneath an onslaught of skillets and a few heavy Le Crusets. I pared down to three sizes of skillets, two sauce pans, the wok, small stockpot and a larger pot for broth and lobster, and stored the lids on a shelf beneath. The rest are in a box waiting for someone to move out and need them.

Utensils: Again, like the pots, we had a regular army of plastic spatulas and wooden spoons. I cleared the drawers and wiped them down, and put any utensils with obvious goop in the dishwasher. Then I sorted the utensils, parsed the redundancies and replaced them neatly. We will see how that lasts.

Serveware/silverware: Total disclaimer here, I love dishes. I've admired beautiful functional ware since I can remember -- I still have a few pieces from Greece, where I lived in high school. I have a set of my grandmother's everyday ware, the set from our first summer cottage, and two dessert sets from my husband's family. And I don't just wait to inherit, I'm a proliferate buyer: I've carted home soy sauce dishes and teacups from Japan, shipped trays and salad bowls from Italy even, on one extreme occasion, carried six hand blown crystal champagne flutes from Berlin. On a train trip around Japan, I found myself staring into the dusty windows of a pottery shop which was closed that day. Perhaps I was salivating, anyway, an old man opened the door and invited me in, gave me a tour of his kiln and studio. He spoke no English and I no Japanese, but I understood him perfectly. As I left he gave me a teacup, which I still have. At the time, I showed it to a friend back in Tokyo, who recognized it as the potter was quite locally famous, and a recluse. I just remember thinking he was really small.

Passion is everything.

But I digress. Once again, clear the cabinets and drawers, wipe them and clean any obvious goop. Sort and replace, putting aside duplicates and unneeded items for later or the thrift. Organize for the way you use the space. We, for instance, use a lot of bowls and spoons, so the bowls are in the front of the dish cupboard, and I have separated out the spoons in the front of the silverware drawer.

For health, this bit of kitchen cleaning regularly needs to be done. Think of it like this -- if it's easier to find and appealing to use, you're more apt to.

Next week: restocking!!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rabbit Food

After publishing that factoid about rabbits not needing to find additional water, it made me think of how to stay hydrated by EATING -- instead of ingesting all this blasted water (though I'm doing well, Seymour, thank you very much, by adding one large Thermos in the morning and one in the afternoon).

Fruit, of course works, and salads. Grapefruit (90% water) added to breakfast and a side salad of cucumber (97% water) and tomato (95%) at lunch definitely contribute to your daily total. (Meat, by contrast, is just 15% water.) But it's a little chill for salads all day; so if you're craving comfort food check out this spinach creation -- at 92% water, totally qualifying for rabbit food.

Spinach is a fairly recent vegetable in Western cooking; brought to Spain by the Moors in the 11th century, spinach's popularity rapidly spread. (Though the English for a while called it that "Spanish vegetable".) One fan was Catherine de Medici, who is said to have brought her own cooks with her from Florence, Italy, when she wed the King of France, to make her fave spinach dishes. Hence, anything on a bed of spinach is said to be a la Florentine....

not beautiful, tastes great!!

Spinach a la Rebecca
named for my mom, who made this up

32 ounces of frozen spinach or large clamshell organic baby spinach*
1 teaspoon butter
1 large shallot
2 cloves garlic
1 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere or other hard cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
optional: small can of water chestnuts, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Defrost spinach or blanch baby spinach by adding to a large pot of boiling water until wilted. Discard the water, as spinach has a high acid content and it will leech into the liquid.

Chop the shallot and garlic finely. Melt butter in a skillet and saute the garlic and shallot until golden. Add spinach to combine.

Add cottage cheese, egg, salt and nutmeg to a food processor and whiz until cottage cheese is smooth.

Fold cottage cheese and shredded cheese into the spinach, along with water chestnuts if you like a bit of crunch. Bake for half hour, or until tawny on top.

*Environmental Working Group has named spinach is one of the top six vegetables most likely to carry pesticide residue in their "dirty dozen". So beware your source.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Coffee Toffee Brilliant

There comes a time in every New Year's restraint that one must get some comfort. Here's a recipe that won't break your resolutions, much. Think of meringues as little bits of cloud -- a little sugar, little egg white, little cream. No harm, no foul.

I am so blessed to have friends that do not mind if I peruse their cookbooks when I am in their kitchen. (I am always listening, however.) This particular pal is a fellow traveler in many ways, and I love to pull  in to their long trestle table, kids on the floor strewn 'round with toys, sip whatever concoction she's brewed.

And jack recipes from her cookbooks.

This recipe is from another woman who I am positive I would love to have a chat with over tea, one of the one-name wonders of the cooking kingdom just now: Nigella. She has that broad range of dishes, from functional to fantasy, and that great wit. And of course, it all tastes good.

I dared this one for a houseful of hungries, even though I haven't had much luck with meringues of late. In my childhood, one of our favorite Christmas cookies was the Chocolate Chip Meringue, which I tried to recreate a few years back to total embarrassment. They looked a bit like white cow patties, and stuck your teeth together (handy when you have toddlers, so we ate some anyway). These, however, were completely easy, and baked up like I was a pro. I made the meringues and the sauce hours ahead, and after dinner merely whipped the cream and assembled.

These are little packets of crusty meringue with a soft center, stuffed with whipped cream and topped with just a drizzle of toffee sauce and crunchy hazelnut. Voila. Even after a big meal there were none of these left. From ages 6-76, everyone loved them; the kids vied for seconds. Can't say that about too many recipes. Bravo, N.

Coffee Toffee Meringues
jacked wholecloth from Nigella Lawson's "Kitchen"

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
pinch of cream of tartar
4 egg whites
1/2 cup toasted crushed hazelnuts, for topping (Nigella says "optional" but I note "awesome")

For Toffee sauce:
1 Tablespoon butter
1/3 cup golden syrup
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur (optional)

For filling:
2 cups heavy cream, whipped

Make meringues: Preheat oven to 285 degrees.Combine white sugar, brown sugar, coffee powder and cream of tartar in a bowl, and set aside. Beat egg whites in a clean bowl until soft peaks start to form.  Begin to sprinkle  in the sugar mix 1 tbs at a time while still beating, until you have a glossy thick batter.  This process is much easier with an electric beater, or better still, a freestanding mixer.  Allow adequate time between each addition for the sugar to dissolve, the batter will be smooth, not grainy.
   Line a baking sheet with a silpat or wax paper.  Spoon out dollops of meringue (about 2 big dessert spoonfuls) to give roughly 3-inch rounds.  If you use 2 spoons, you can scoop the batter, then slip it off the spoon onto the tray, and give the top a little spike.  Sprinkle each with 1/2 tsp of chopped hazelnuts, saving the rest for serving.
   Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes; meringues should be crusty outside  but still gooey in the middle, and fragile to touch.  Take them out of the oven and don't touch -- let cool on baking sheet.

Make toffee sauce: Melt  butter, golden syrup and light brown sugar in a pan over low heat, occasionally swirling gently, then bring to a boil and let bubble for 2 minutes.  Take  pan off  heat and whisk in 1/4 cup cream and liqueur if you like.  Pour into a small heatproof pitcher and leave to cool.

To serve:
Whip the cream until firm but not stiff. Crush a dent into the top of each meringue with the back of a spoon (the shells will splinter a bit), then split it a little and fill with a dollop of cream.  Drizzle on ssauce and sprinkle with reserved chopped hazelnuts.

Meringues can be made 1 day ahead and kept in an airtight container.  Sauce can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge covered.  Remove from the fridge 1-2 hours before needed to allow it to come to room temperature.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tip Two: Drink Up

Kitchen Reform: help your kitchen get healthy.

 It's a good sign in a New Year's resolution kind of blog when the second week hooks in drinking, I always say. So here goes. Drink up.

Water, I mean -- you knew there was a catch, didn't you?

So here goes, the top 5 reasons for increased H2O consumption:
        *Regulates body temperature
        *Lubricates joints
        *Helps dissolve and carry nutrients to the body
        *Lessens the burden on kidney and liver by flushing toxins
        *Helps prevent constipation

This might sound a little boring, but makes sense: the body is 60% water, and we excrete it constantly through breathing, perspiration and urination. We need to continually replenish to lubricate our muscles and joints as well as flush the system. If you work out or are pregnant or breastfeeding, your body is using even more. (Breast milk is 88% water. You have to get to give, I guess).

In just a few days of increased water, nutritionista Holli Thompson notes, you can lose a pound or two and your skin will look gorgeous. Why? "Your body holds onto water if it needs it, like a camel," she says. Once properly hydrated, the body will release the water it's holding onto, along with toxins that can dull our skin and cramp our style. Some even grant water wrinkle-reducing powers.

But how much is enough? That 8 glasses a day rule is generally correct, according to Thompson. Sounds like a lot, but consider, for starters, that the average adult produces 6.3 cups of urine a day. Plus, "a lot of food is loaded with salt, and caffeine and alcohol dehydrate us even further," says Thompson. Seems the typical American diet is setting us up for dehydration. (Rabbits, by contrast,  hardly need to drink extra water at all, as the greens they nibble all day are 85% water.) As a rule of thumb, one should be drinking enough so that urine runs nearly clear, though that is just for you to know, ok?

How in heck does one begin to drink that much? I charted my own progress, and let's just remember I am kind of a newbie at this. Extremely bad. I drink tea in the morning, which is good, but don't generally drink again until water with lunch, which is apparently not optimal. "Try to hydrate prior to eating, but 1 to 2 hours during and after eating, let the digestive enzymes work," advises Thompson.

Luckily, augmenting water with essences and herbs doesn't detract from its magic; dairy and caffeine, it seems, do. These chilly days, I like a squeeze of lemon, or mint, in warm water. Others can only chug cold H2O. The water drinking forum online has all kinds of tips for getting it down (Jello, anyone? Please. the sugar in that alone makes it not worth the work): and Thompson has a great tip sheet on her website as well.

What helps me is just to keep it handy. In fact, I used to be much better at drinking water when I kept bottles in our garage fridge and grabbed them each car trip. (I stopped doing that because the bottles themselves contain toxins, and the extreme fluctuation in temperatures while water is shipping can cause those carcinogens to leech into the water, creating far worse problems than dehydration. And of course, because I read about the big patches of plastic that are spiraling about in our oceans, breaking down and infiltrating our marine life, and eventually, probably our own selves.) If you haven't seen it, check out Plastiki, David de Rothschild's boat made entirely of plastic, which he built and sailed from San Francisco to Sydney to draw attention to plastic pollution.

So we stopped buying water bottles and got an under sink filter for our drinking water, as we are on a well. Much municipal water, however, is held to tighter standards than bottled water, so either way, get yours tested before leaping for the filter, which must be maintained monthly.

Here's the deal: just keep it handy. You'll drink it unconsciously. Get a water instead of a cocktail every once in a while, and I bet that goes down the hatch too. Get a great water bottle, fill it from your own trusty water source at home, and take it in the car. (Try for a wide mouth, though; Thompson says many women are getting smoker's cracks along the top of the mouth from pursing their lips all day drinking from the tiny openings in water bottles. Which you'll have to drink even more water to get rid of.)

Cup love: porcelain, so it's nice to hold, and
a lid for going.


How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life

Augmenting last week's Kitchen Reform tip, check out Dan Hyman's column on Huffington Post:  How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life.

Monday, January 10, 2011

One Pan Salmon

Here's one more easy frying pan and salt kind of dish you can make that tastes like a million bucks. I adapted this from the king of fast and good, Mark Bittman, who roasts chicken this way.

Roast Salmon
Feeds 3, or 1 for several meals

Fillet of Salmon, about 1 lb.
sea salt
olive oil

Rub a cast iron frying pan with olive oil and put it in the oven, shelf at least 8-10 inches under the flame. When the oven is to temperature, put salmon, skin side down, in pan and sprinkle with sea salt. Roast 5-7 minutes, depending on thickness. I like salmon dark pink in the middle, but not rare; I test it when it starts to flake by inserting a knife into a thick area, add two minutes at a time until desired.

        Spritz with lime, if you like. I served it with spinach souffle and root veg mash topped with glazed mushrooms, all easy, healthy recipes that only taste rich! f leftover, warm and top with arugula or any salad greens, chopped veg,  dried fruit or nuts and vinaigrette for a hasty tasty lunch.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tip One: Get out your Frying Pan

This is the first in the Kitchen Reform series, meant to help make your kitchen heatlhy. 

I hate coming back from vacation, even if I haven't gone anywhere. And coming back after the winter holiday seems especially cruel. After weeks where every dinner is a celebration, days of sleeping in, sledding and long walks and fires, here I am with my steaming tea mug and bone cold fingers.

At least I have a mission. Which today, week one of kitchen reform, is only intellectually onerous. What I want to do this week is think about cooking, the preparing of food, "from scratch," as it is sometimes called.  The term "scratch" initially meant the line scratched into the dirt as the start of a boxing or cricket match, but has evolved to mean start with nothing, with no advantage. But as Carl Sagan said, "if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you first have to invent the universe."

So if you think about it, the hard part has already been done. Advantage, us.

Cooking itself has been done since man made fire, and some say cooking made man. It is responsible for social structure and community bonds, commerce, the centerpiece of celebration from family birthdays to the beginning of dynasties and empires. If we are what we eat, then cooking has made us.

But many bemoan the death of cooking. The influx of cheap fast food, prepared food, convenience food, take-away, even the previously chopped vegetables in supermarkets has slashed the need for "scratch" cooking. It's not a new concern: back in 1882 food writer Baron von Romohr charged that "not inheriting a traditional cookery based upon the sensible preparation of local products and so resorting to soul destroying books, the respectable, virtuous wife no longer knows how to prepare meals." And it's not solely an American concern, either, just last year French chef Alain Ducasse said French mothers are no longer passing their skill with a frying pan to their daughters, relegating cooking to a weekend hobby. And just last week, my brother-in-law, who has worked in the food service industry his entire career, told me he didn't have time to make breakfast.

He's not alone: as a country, we spend less than half the time in the kitchen our grandmothers did. But many equate cooking's fall with the rise of a host of individual  and social ills. The easier it is to get food, the more we eat, Harvard's Dr. David Cutler has shown. Fast food portions are 2-5 times as big as they were in the 1970s, and our propensity to snack has increased 50%, with another 19% expected over the next five years. Not surprisingly, we are twice as fat: Nearly 30 percent of Americans are obese and twice that overweight.

The reality is, fast food might take less time, but it also might give you less time -- on the planet. Health economist Randall Strum discovered that in terms of chronic conditions, being obese is akin to aging from 30 to 50. Which solves the problem of what to do with the money you might save buying cheap fast food: We're spending it curing our hearts and our diabetes, not to mention replacing our hips and knees.  The obese spend at least $10,000 extra in health care over their lives, our country billions a year.

This is not to say that all fast food innovations are necessarily bad. But it is important to know what their true cost is -- unintended consequences, if you will.

Preparing your own food gives you back control. If you don't want to be tricked into eating too much industrially engineered crap, just say no. And say it now. Cooking will allow you to choose your ingredients, and their proportions. It saves you money, and, in the long run, gives you time -- with your family, and with you. Not with fat slug on the couch you, but with healthy, energy-filled you, with great skin and clear eyes (can't promise green, though).

Just chew on this a while. Then get out your frying pan. It's the weapon of choice in the newest Disney flick, "Tangled," and it is yours, too.


Egg, over easy
This is a simple meal for any time, and a good a place as any to begin. Start to finish, circa five minutes. The egg is the perfect package, protein and fat and even cysteine, suspected to relieve hangover symptoms. Throw in some toast, or an apple, or even drape it over leftover spinach casserole or potato gratin, and you have a meal, pronto. Use organic, free-range eggs if you can, and if not, please cook the yolk.

1 egg
sea salt
olive oil, coconut oil or butter

Turn burner onto high under small skillet and melt about a half a teaspoon of the oil or butter, enought to swirl to coat the pan. Add a pinch of salt, to sizzle. Break an egg into pan and turn heat down to medium. 

When egg white is set on the bottom (about 2-3 minutes depending on the heat; pictured below), insert a spatula under the entire thing and flip. Off the heat and let sit 1 minute for runny. Or continue cooking until your desired doneness.

Bon Sante!