Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Curry this

Healthy is a progression, at least it was for me. I learned to be concerned about my weight in 10th grade, when a friend convinced me we needed to go on a "diet." (We lived in London, and I am fairly certain we discussed this over bags of Maltesers, milk chocolate covered malt balls which are conducive to eating by the handful.) I am not sure what our "diet" was, except that it made the sweets all the more tasty -- her mother made a pistachio pudding cake with ginger ale (really!) that still rocks my mind.

In college, "dieting" was a two-day cleanse consisting solely of very large chocolate chip cookies heisted by the stack from the dining hall. In my first years of working, I would go to the gym before work, and to happy hour after, eating free appetizers and drinking wine spritzers to save calories (and money). Clearly I was learning balance.

 Of course I learned to eat salads, asking for dressing on the side. I made soups, leaving out the pasta. One of the first "healthy" cookbooks I got -- from my mother, I believe -- was Jane Brody's Good Food Book. While the high carbo style didn't do much for my body -- instead of the promised high kicks, I got what felt like a rock in the gut, diagnosed much later as gluten intolerance -- there are some of her recipes that I return to time and again.

It is only in the last ten years that I have kicked up eating healthy to eating locally, and this is the step that has truly made the difference. When I found this huge cauliflower (at the Farmer's market, not in my own garden as this photo might suggest), such a far cry from the cellophane-wrapped waxy white florets usually found in the grocery, I immediately thought of Jane. She makes an easy vegetable curry that will jolt your world. Try it.

Cauliflower Curry
adapted from Jane Brody

1 large cauliflower, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup broth
1/2 cup coconut water, or more broth
chopped cilantro and Greek yogurt, to garnish

Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic and stir until translucent. Add the spices and roast one minute.

Add the cauliflower and stir to coat with spice. Roast, stirring so doesn't burn, a few minutes then add broth and coconut water. Let simmer until cauliflower is done and sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes, depending on how big your cauliflower is. Add more broth or coconut water if you want more sauce or if it begins to dry up (again, depends on how big your cauliflower is).

***Spoiler alert!!!!!
Cauliflower is way healthy: high in fiber, antioxidants and vitamin K, it provides digestive support via an enzyme that provides protection to the stomach lining plus -- get this -- possesses the ability to prevent, and perhaps even reverse, blood vessel damage. By the way, the French like it too -- and have you ever met a French chef who chooses a food solely due to its health benefits? -- the chouxfleur shows up in François Pierre La Varenne's Le cuisinier françois, the original  French cooking, though it was not common until  Louis XIV introduced it to the table.

And so we are introducing it to ours. This is how we get our 5-year-old to eat healthy items: "No, don't eat that, I don't want you to grow up and be bigger than me!" (totally untrue, but totally works, by the way.) It occurs to me that might work with adults as well, so here goes ..... don't try this at home ...


Monday, October 11, 2010


Saturday night I was at a rocking party, thrown by friends of the Middleburg Polo Academy. It was a night in Casablanca, replete with tented outdoor banquets, henna tatoos and tarot readers. We met the polo ponies, sipped champagne, and ate lamb merguez. The men wore tuxedos and dinner jackets, the women gowns and heels, and we lounged on banquets tented in silks.

Everyone looked gorgeous, dancing under the stars until way too late. We are in general, perhaps, a healthy bunch out here, living outdoors, many working with animals or land daily. One neighbor in particular, though, just radiates health -- her name is Holli Thompson, a nutritionista working hard to get the news out about a healthy lifestyle. And it's clear she practices what she preaches: It's hard not to come away from an encounter with her wanting to emulate her glow, and her lovely calm.

So yesterday, a bit drained from lack of sleep and champagne, and inspired by the fresh spring onions at the Farmer's Market, I made her Pineapple-Cucumber Gazpacho for a pick-me-up. My husband loved it. The zest of the pineapple combined with the smoothness of the cucumber, crunch of ground almonds and zip of cilantro is perfect, on its own or as a precursor to curry, which is how we approached it. It is loaded with vitamin C, healthy fat and antioxidants; the addition of the almonds makes it not only yummy but cholesterol-lowering. Cucumbers are a great way to add fiber, as they come packaged with the water extra fiber intake requires. Try to buy organic, or at least the baby ones without wax on them, as the skin contains nutrients best consumed without any chemicals that might be trapped in the wax. 

Cucumbers are an ancient food, going back some 3,000 years in Western Asia. The Roman Emperor Tiberius was said to have cucumbers on his table every day no matter the season. Roman gardeners invented greenhouse methods to grow them year round, such as a raised bed in a frame on wheels that moved to optimize the sun. Can you imagine being the one guy solely responsibility for making sure the Emperor's cucumbers were in full sun? Time to move the cucumbers...

Thanks Holli! 

Pineapple-Cucumber Gazpacho
adapted from Nutritional Style

4 cups fresh pineapple, cut into pieces
4 cups cucumber, cut into pieces
5 scallions
2 tbsp lime juice
2 inches ginger root, peeled
1 tsp celtic salt
1 handful cilantro
2 tbsp avocado oil
1 1/2 cup raw almonds-ground
1 Tbsp organic apple cider vinegar

Add all above ingredients to high speed blender and blend.
(Be sure to grind the almonds first.) 
Garnish with cilantro, and drizzle with avocado oil to serve. 


Plays well with whipped cream

We have a new toy. Once again breaking my vow of no one-trick ponies, I bought an apple peeler. We love it. It makes processing apples like playing for my 5-year-old, who loves the neat spirals that come off the apple. It peels, cores and slices in about a minute, and you don't even have to wash the apple.

So I guess that makes it not a one trick pony.

Our apples, and again I have to admit that I do not have any idea what variety they are, have just the right sweetness for me. Pan-fried in butter with gobs of cinnamon, I can them for later use in pies and crisps, or just solo. This is so easy, I have started to do it in the slow-cooker (in about half the time as applesauce) and can in 1 quart jars, thinking I'll get a pie a jar. This recipe fills a slow cooker, which makes about 3 quarts. Which is all I can can at a time (yes, I meant that), so it works out. The apples are just cooked, soft without falling apart, crusted with cinnamon but not soupy.

Pan-fried apples with cinnamon

basket of apples, perhaps 2 dozen, or to fit your pan or slow cooker

Peel, core and section apples. Melt about two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet, or in the slow cooker. Pile in the apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover and let cook for about 30 minutes at low, stirring to incorporate the cinnamon and keep from sticking to the pan, but not too often; I like the sections to stay firm and together. In the slow cooker, I leave for three hours on low, stirring just once after about an hour to distribute cinnamon.

May be canned in jars the size you wish, or just consumed, in a pie or just with a spoon.

Plays well with whipped cream.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Presto Pesto

Each spring, I have been lucky enough to get beautiful 10-inch pots of basil from our local IGA grocer, who gets them from local growers. They each have roughly 6 stems of basil, and when I put them in the ground are already substantial plants, reaching in excess of 8 inches in height. I have an area of my garden that is bare year 'round, except for basil season, and I plant them 3 feet apart, as they bush out like mad if you give them space.

And then I leave. I go off for ten weeks and they are occasionally watered by a loyal friend if there is drought -- although they seem to like it dry. When I come back, they have expanded to fill their half of the garden, reaching for the sun in all directions, contorted around each other like a big game of herb Twister, the leafy stalks more than two feet tall. If I leave them too long,  the ends can go to seed fast,  the leaves nearest the stalk brown, or, as this year, become bug snack.

But it almost never matters, because there is so much basil that I generally cannot get it all in before the frost. Green basil, purple basil, Thai basil -- each with its distinctive leaf and smell -- to grind into pesto or chop on tomatoes that are also clamoring to get off the vine.

When I do cut, I cut back from the bottom, half the plant at a time. Luxuriously, I am able to pick only the finest leaves from the stalks, the leaves that are whole and healthy, not marred by blight or bugs. I nip them off just at the bottom of the leaf, leaving the stem and unworthy leaves for the compost. They collect in the barrel of the salad spinner until it's full, rinsing occasionally, and then I spin the water off, as dry leaves make better pesto.

This is a recipe for a very dry pesto, with about the same spreadability as peanut butter, which I freeze in 4-ounce canning jars. For a few reasons: I like to have the pesto spreading texture for sandwiches, paninis and rubs. It is easy to thin down if necessary: with water from the cooked pasta to make a sauce, with vinegar and or oil for dressings and marinades.

There are a lot of theories on how to keep pesto green. From the chef at Sistina in NY, I learned that mixing a small amount of parsley in will keep the pesto from turning. Others swear by a few drops of lemon juice. Nothing ever works for me. The pesto does turn where it is exposed to air -- but stick in a knife and there is fresh green pesto beneath. I find the turning does not affect the taste one bit.

Like most of my standards, this recipe is one that I adjust each time I make it. I don't measure, I ballpark, and then I taste. Sometimes it needs salt, sometimes pepper, sometimes nothing. When you like it, it is ready for your kitchen. The recipe below makes about 2 cups; I generally double it in the same food processor and just keep feeding in the leaves.

Basil Pesto

1 cup Parmegiano, Reggiano or sheep's milk Pecorina-romana if you are lactose intolerant, grated
1 cup pine nuts
10 cups basil leaves, rinsed and dried
4 cloves of garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

Toast the pine nuts until they are golden brown. In a food processor, process peeled garlic cloves until smooth, then add pine nuts, process until smooth. Add parm, process again. You may grate the cheese  in the food processor as well, but do in a separate step or they all clunk together in a lumpy mess. Been there.

When your base is as smooth as smooth peanut butter, start adding basil. Pack the barrel with leaves and start grinding.  I generally add about a Tablespoon of olive oil and the lemon juice to keep the leaves processing.

Now taste. If it is bitter, that generally indicates you need salt, despite the massive amount of salty cheese. Go slow, a pinch at a time, and process in completely before making another decision. Freeze in small batches for later use, but be sure to leave one in the fridge for current use. We always have a jar open, just next to the butter. And we probably use it just as much!