Monday, December 12, 2011

Artichokes, Baby

Our honeymoon was the most organized I have ever been. I read guidebooks, picked people's brains, even read classics set in Italy to decide where to visit. From afar, I booked hotels and restaurants.

Once there, the day's sightseeing was plotted based on where our eating was occurring. In Amalfi, we hung out at the hotel on the water all day, sightseeing in the early evening, when the heat of the day was easing and -- did you guess? -- we traveled into town or nearby villages for dinner.

We had a lot of fabulous meals, though perhaps predictably the most memorable were the unscripted. A late supper on arrival in Umbria, so steeped in truffles -- neither of us had had them in that magnitude before -- that we looked at each other wondering what that delicious aura was. For the rest of our time in the region we hunted foods containing them -- truffle oil, truffle cheese, even truffle gelato -- like junkies. The picnic we bought on the way back from Pompeii, at a little store on the side of a mountain so steep one of stayed in the car with his foot on the pedal while the other dashed in and bought fresh red tomatoes, mozzarella and wine in jars, vintage yesterday, to eat on the balcony of our cottage overlooking the Mediterranean. Our last night in Rome, when we left a mediocre restaurant after the appetizers and wandered the cobblestone streets from wine bar to wine bar, ending up at a pizzaria with the locals with my high heels kicked off under the table, so far from our intended path I could probably not find it again.

We slept in, drank wine with lunch and had coffee late in the day. We ate fried foods willy-nilly. I even ate bread and pasta, without worry or even retribution.

One lunch we stopped in the shadow of the coliseum, in an ordinary-looking restaurant, Da Giggetto, in the Jewish ghetto near the ruins of the palace built by Augustus for his sister, Ottavia. It was unassuming enough, but the carciofi alla giudia --   literally artichokes smushed by a brick and deep-fried, were like bits of heaven. The earthy artichokes, in a light batter, fried in oil so hot it didn't even get to the artichoke. Zucchini blossoms, stuffed with ricotta and garlic and fried. Squid, fresh from the sea, with a batter so light it might have been tempura. We polished off everything on our plates, licking grease from our fingers and washing it down with fruity white wine.

I've never forgotten that meal. One summer, with visions of this lunch in my head, I grew zucchini just to stuff the blossoms. But I've never attempted the artichokes, though I've been hankering for them these ten years. After all, but the one time, my husband not only will not taste them but visibly recoils in their presence. Then I saw baby artichokes in the grocery store, shopping for a small dinner with a friend who also loves artichokes.  Dare I?

I did. I didn't smush them (no clean bricks), and I didn't deep fry them (not enough oil), but I did saute them in an inch of good olive oil, and finished with pressed garlic, mint, parsley and a pinch of coarse salt.

And we ate them all up.

Ghetto Artichokes

1 flat of baby artichokes, 3 lbs.
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
2 Tablespoons minced mint
3 cloves garlic, minced

Peel off the tough outer leaves of each artichoke, until you get to the tender greenish yellow leaves inside, and cut about 1/2 inch from the top. Half the artichokes. They will brown if you do not put them in a bowl with water into which you have squeezed lemon juice, but it doesn't matter in the end -- I wasn't particular about it.

Mince herbs and garlic, set aside. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat and melt 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Add artichokes and saute, turning once to brown on both sides.

Remove from oil with slotted spatula to a bowl. Toss with herbs and garlic, a little lemon zest would rock too. Serve warm with drinks and olives. Would be divine with roast red peppers as well.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rice Krispy Fun

It all started because one of the boys in my son's class can't eat eggs. I don't know what happens to him, but as one who avoids a major food group, I knew it couldn't be fun to be vigilant at every unsuspecting snack time.

I first tried substituting apple sauce for the eggs, but the cake was more a muffin, though delicious with cream cheese icing.

Then I remembered the humble rice krispy treat. So versatile!

I bought several boxes of cereal (one large box makes two batches), along with bags of marshmallows, and prepared to bake. Then the snow came, postponing the party and bringing some opportune friends instead for a little impromptu celebration. I cracked open the boxes and made some monster treats.

The next weekend, when the sun shone, the party was on. Starting Friday, I made 7 more batches of rice krispy treats, and left them to harden slightly in the pan. We cut them into bricks and assembled, using marshmallow fluff as the mortar, marshmallows for the turrets, fruit leather cut into flags for the decor. Small knights fought on the ramparts. Swedish fish swam in a blue icing moat, around gumdrop stepping stones.

When the time came for cake, the kids crowded around as I broke bits off and put them on plates. It was gone in a jiffy, and not one kid had to worry whether they could eat it. Seconds were had, even thirds, by big and small alike.

Rice Crispy Treats

6 cups rice crispies
1 bag of marshmallows
3 T butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt butter in a pan on the stove and add the marshmallows, stirring until they are all melted. Pour over rice crispies in a large bowl and add vanilla. Stir to combine.

Pat out in lasagna pans and let harden. Cut with knife.

For the monsters, make one batch. Decorate with icing and M&Ms.

For the cake, make 7 or 8 batches. Decorate with icing, marshmallows, gumdrpos and fruit leathers.


Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kitchen Reform tip 18/College cooking 101: Crack Protein

I haven't done anything to reform my kitchen all summer. After all, who needs it, just open the windows and let in the sunshine and fresh air -- grill a simple steak, serve up some local produce.

But now we're back in the swing, days end earlier, littles must be in bed sooner. And that means dinner on the table, before pronto. Here's a little trick: eggs. (Also great -- see below for effects on memory and learning -- for cash-strapped college students, who I hope are reading this blog!)

Eggs from the happy chickens at Hummingbird Hill are divine, but studies show even experts can't tell the difference in taste between free range and store bought eggs.

There's many ways to cook an egg. My favorite: over easy, yolks so runny they will sauce whatever else is on your plate (salmon hash, if you have a can of good wild salmon). But they are versatile for the whole family -- my 6-year-old will always eat a cheesy omelet, which does double duty by using up the leftover cheese ends too small to be useful for anything else in the cheese drawer.

Protein contains amino acids, the essential building blocks of the body. And get this: we lose protein every day when we shed skin, hair and nails. So re-upping our supply is crucial, especially if active. Animal proteins -- lean poultry, meat and fish, and low-fat dairy -- contain a complete array of amino acids, but those more inclined to a plant-based diet needn't worry. Plants too contain amino acids, though not the entire spectrum, making them suppliers of incomplete protein.

There's much to be said for protein, especially in highly bioavailable forms like protein powders and shakes, which go directly to the muscle rather than being digested and disseminated via the stomach. A recent study from Brescia University in Milan showed that protein powders containing three amino acids that we are unable to make on our own -- in particular leucine, which is the only amino acid capable of synthesizing protein in muscle -- can lengthen lifespan by up to 12% by activating the mitochondria in cells, which then slow the aging process. That's ten years for the average adult.

And egg yolks also contain choline, essential for regulating metabolic pathways and maintaining cell membranes that allow cells to get rid of toxins, as well as development of cells in the hippocampus crucial for mental acuity and development. Pregnant women, in particular, can benefit from increased choline as it can aid in developing these brain functions in the fetus and, according to research published in the journal Brain Research, can have aftereffects on brain development leaving an afterglow that helps resist age-related memory decline.

So go ahead, eat your eggs.

Easy Anytime Crepes

 1 cup milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 extra large eggs
4 tablespoons butter

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and cool. Put milk, flour, eggs, sugar and pinch of salt in blender and whiz together. Add butter and blend.

In an 8-inch nonstick skillet, melt 1 teaspoon butter. Pour a thin layer of batter into skillet and swirl to coat the bottom. Cook over medium heat until little air bubbles appear then turn over and cook 30 seconds more. 

Remove crepe from skillet and hold on a warm plate with a dish towel to cover, or in the oven. Serve filled with anything -- we like brown sugar, or thick preserves.


Monday, September 26, 2011

College Cooking 101: Salmon Appetizers

Going to a party? Of course you are. Turn up a notch from nachos.

Top a cucumber slice with smoked salmon and a schmear of cream whipped with horseradish and fresh pepper.

Seriously good.

Smoked Salmon Apps

1 cucumber -- the long ones if you can, or 2 regular
1 package smoked salmon
1 cup whipped cream
2 T grated horseradish (usually in the deli section or by produce)

Cut cucumber in 1/4-inch rounds and top with shred of salmon just matching its size.

Whip cream until it forms heavy peaks. Fold in horseradish and pepper. Dollop each app with cream.

Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ramen? Rather Not. College Cooking 101

I've been asked by my step-daughter and her roommates to pay particular attention to the cash-strapped, health conscious, college student -- the ones who just raided their homes for outdated colanders, cutting boards and cook pots to outfit apartment kitchens. Who would eat Ramen, but rather not. Who need recipes that are cheap, easy and good. I am assuming that although these are not vain women, food that will not necessitate buying another wardrobe or wearing a tent would be another key feature.

Here goes.

First we stocked her spice cabinet --- good salt, fresh pepper, cinnamon, curry, cumin and ground thyme a must -- and bought good knives and real wine glasses (don't worry, they're 21. And you can never learn too early that cheap wine tastes better out of a glass that sits in your hand in a satisfying manner.) She purchased penne and canned vodka sauce, Nutella, olive oil, Balsamic vinegar and good tea (another treat that doesn't break the bank).

And now she wants to cook. And she's ready.

Rock this recipe, Boo.

Chicken Balsamic

Chicken thighs, 2 per person
balsamic vinegar
garlic, peeled and sliced thin, or mushrooms if desired 
spray oil

Spray a skillet large enough to fit in all your chicken thighs. Spray generously with oil, or use about a tablespoon of olive oil and swirl to coat pan.

If using garlic, sprinkle in bottom of pan with a pinch of sea salt (the thick one) and let cook for a few minutes, or until golden. Flip and add chicken thighs. Cook 5 minutes more, until chicken thigh is browned, then flip chicken. 

Have the top of the pan at the ready. Sprinkle with balsamic (I use about 1/3 cup for 8 thighs for 3 people  and plenty of leftovers.) If using mushrooms, sprinkle over the top and cover fast. Steam will rise when the balsamic hits the pan and you want to capture it to steam the chicken -- this accounts for the moistness of the dish.

Cook until the chicken reaches at least 160 degrees, turning again to coat the chicken. The vinegar will form a nice thick glaze. (This will be about 5-10 more minutes, depending on how many thighs you've got in there. ( We didn't buy you a meat thermometer? Rats. Sorry. Christmas.)

In this picture it looks pretty brown. I assure you it is food alchemy to turn thighs to prize. I love to serve it on a chilly night with cauliflower puree and cranberry sauce. Those are not included in College Cooking 101, but go for it if you want to rock Riverside.

Astound your friends. Befuddle your enemies. Above all, eat good food.


Monday, September 12, 2011


July has been a month of plenty. Plenty of sunshine. Plenty of swimming. Plenty of children, relatives, friends and fireworks. Plenty of berries -- first strawberries, in a season short and sweet, later black raspberries, coaxed by the heat, and now blueberries, bigger than your eye.

And, in the garden, plenty of herbs. Mint reaching to the sky, just the right height for snapping into a glass of sweet tea. Basil, bushy and fragrant in the breeze that breaks the longest heatwave these parts have seen in 15 years. Leggy cilantro, its feathery plumes heavy with coriander seed that bows its head nearly to the ground.

I fell in love with cilantro at an impressionable age, when it wheeled up on the table side guacamole cart at Rosa Mexicano. We lived about an hour out of Manhattan, and on special occasions my parents would dress up and take us into the city: Rosa Mexicano, with its (then to me) exotic, colorful decor, and Mamma Leone's, with its red sauce and strolling minstrels, were two of our favorites for dinner. Lunch was hands down the Automat, with its booths fashioned like old cars and cafeteria-style comfort food.

I was all of 8. The gimmicks worked like a charm. But it was the tastes, so unlike the kid-friendly fare my mother turned out  -- meatloaf, tuna noodle casserole and hot dog soup (don't ask what was in it. It was delicious) that were the real magic.

Cilantro, of course, has been around loads longer than that. I have read that Pliny named it, for a bedbug whose stench resembled that of the bitter green smell of crushed cilantro leaves. Its dried seeds are the coriander, found in the burial tombs of ancient Chinese and Egyptians to insure immortality. Hippocrates used it in his medical concoctions, and it got a reputation in the Thousand and One Arabian Nights as an aphrodisiac. Some recommend it for detox and anti-inflammatory properties.

We can prove little of this, as with most herbal remedies. But all one has to do is compare the before and after of a fish taco complemented with cilantro to make that of little consequence. Cilantro kicks a dish from humdrum to whoohooo in the time it takes to sprinkle it on.

Take, for instance, this curry chicken. Good enough for a luncheon, its sharp yogurt dressing rounded out with cumin and spiked with scallion. But add cilantro, and presto, with a fresh baguette and a cold rose, its a company meal.

Curried Chicken Salad

One whole roasted chicken
bunch scallions
red pepper
one cup Greek yogurt (I use fat free but no matter)
Two tablespoons curry powder
One teaspoon ground cumin
one cup chopped cilantro
one tablespoon coconut vinegar or soy sauce

Shred chicken meat in a bowl and add scallions and red pepper, diced small.

In a small bowl, mix yogurt, spices and vinegar until combined. Toss with chicken mixture and cilantro.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tip 17: See red

We had a very cherry Sunday. The trees are laden with the little red bombs, and we pitted three flats in an evening, with lots of talk and tea. Our fruit is sweet enough to eat off the tree, but definitely needs sugar to create dessert fare.

Problem was, I had no sugar. No refined sugar that is, which every recipe called for. So I improvised, using raw sugar to make flavored simple syrups that sweetened our goods just enough to eliminate pucker. They also added a subtle flavoring that infused the cherries, taking them to dimensions which previously I hadn't prodded them to ascending. I used mint to infuse one simple syrup, from the patch that grows wild in our yard, and lemongrass frozen from last year's monster plant to flavor the other. Any herbs will do; I particularly have a hankering to try a cherry-thyme thingy. That is a technical term.

Anyway, the more cherries the better. If you know any good recipes, share. Cherries are being touted as the new American superfood, claiming to help arthritis and gout, lower weight and reduce factors for heart disease and diabetes. And cherries supposedly contain melatonin, which helps regulate sleep, prevent memory loss and delay the aging process. My mom and aunt both quaff cherry juice daily, and say it helps their joints.

And the number one reason to ingest cherries: they taste good.

Cherry Mint compote

2 cups cherries, pitted
handful of mint leaves, shredded
1/2 cup mint simple syrup, below
2 teaspoons cornsyrup

for the simple syrup:
1 cup water
1/2 cup raw sugar

2 stalks mint, quartered

Make the simple syrup: combine ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer 15 minutes very slightly. Let cool on stove. Strain mint out and bottle.

In a separate pan, combine cherries, simple syrup and mint. Cook until cherries are soft and syrupy, about 20 minutes on low. Take some syrup and stir in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch until smooth. Add back to cherry sauce and let simmer. Repeat if not thick enough.

Serve with lamb or salmon. Or both.

Cherry Lemongrass Gelato

2 cups frozen cherries, pitted
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup lemongrass syrup

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 stalk of lemongrass

for the lemongrass syrup: combine ingredients in saucepan and boil. Off heat and simmer 15 minutes very slightly. Let cool on stove. Strain off lemongrass.

In the Vitamix, combine frozen cherries and lemongrass syrup and blend until smooth. Add milk and blend. Freeze in ice cream freezer according to manufacturer's directions. The mixture made more than the freezer held, so we served it as a smoothie. Also a good choice.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kitchen reform tip 16: Grow Some

So yesterday, on the hottest day of the year thus far, I visited the sun-scorched organic gardens at Airlie conference center, and talked to their creator.

Pablo Elliot (who majored in African Studies at Vassar) walked me through the organic garden project, which was started 10 years ago to provide food for the center.

"All the veggies we grow are sissies," he declared, after confiding his plan to build 5 raised beds a day for the next week, for a total of 30. "Tomatoes have to be held up and staked, lettuce hopes for a cooler breeze -- the clay soils here can get very compact, but the raised bed aerates it. It's luxury living for vegetables."

Elliot's breezy demeanor serves him well as he imparts information to local farmers, amateurs and guests to the sustainable center interested in organic gardening. The garden supplies about 8 percent of the center's food -- he works closely with chefs to grow what they need -- and the rest they source, preferably from other local growers.

The premise of organic gardening is to create a chemical free environment that is biodiverse enough to keep pests at bay by making the soil as fertile as possible with compost, and planting crops that will complement each other, cutting down on loss. Bugs are encouraged; garden supply chains even sell them.

To that end, Elliot recommends 3' x 30' beds, small enough to walk around and commune with your plants. "The best fertilizer is the footprint of the farmer," he says. His favorite tool is the broadfork, which pushes about a foot into the soil, then lifts up without turning to aerate the bottom, while leaving the best soil on top. Compost, at a rate of a wheelbarrow full per 100 square feet of bed, is added each season.

"Nothing we do here is rocket science," says Elliot. "I am into simple methods. A farmer once told me, 'Tickle the soil and it laughs with a harvest.' It stimulates soil in a way that microbes feed the plants. Keeping the habitat diverse encourages beneficial insects and birds and pollinators. That's how organic gardening works. You feed the soil, and the soil feeds the plants."

He does test the soil about once a year; Virginia's clay soils have a low pH and often have to be amended with calcidic lime. But the end result is a thriving garden, full of lettuces, which he staggers in small plantings so the chefs have a constant supply, herbs, potatoes, tomatoes, the summer crops of eggplants, squash and melons, not to mention a fall corn maze. They have a hoop house that allows starting seeds sooner, and extends the growing season for fall greens into cold weather months.

"We try to transplant as much as possible -- they aren't as delicate as when you start from seeds. The chefs like the little greens but it is a lot of work," he says. One hurdle for organic farmers, he says is getting chefs to recognize that organic produce might have a hole here, a blemish here, that they have to make pretty on the plate."They are into the challenge."

Mesclun salad with chevre dressing

4 - 6 cups mesclun or any salad greens
any vegetables, nuts or dried fruits

1/2 cup chevre or cottage cheese
1/2 cup dill
2 T skim milk
salt and pepper to taste

Clean greens and shred into bowl. Whiz cheese and dill in small food chopper. Add milk to thin, salt and pepper to taste.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Kitchen Reform Tip 15: Power saver

When I turned 30, my boyfriend bought me a palm sander. Friends of ours told him that was not romantic enough, so he bought me something lacy and black as well.

He needn't have bothered. I have no aversion to practical gifts. (To any gifts at all, just an aside.) And in fact, while I no longer have that boyfriend or said lacy garment, all these years later, I still have that palm sander. And believe me, I cannot fathom life without it.

Sometimes, you don't know what you're missing until it knocks on your door.

There will be people who, upon reading this, will feel the need, however subconscious, to say I told you so. Their urge is well-founded. Last summer, when our whole neighborhood went on a Vitamix spree, I turned up my nose. I wasn't here, and it was easy from afar to tar emails of their ravings over a -- dare I now say it - a blender, as the musings of lunatics. It was so expensive, and how could it possibly be that much better? What could it do that my Ninja couldn't?

My Ninja gave up the ghost soon after, but still I resisted. We had two other blenders, for some reason, and I darn well wasn't going to add to the general clutter of my pantry or the earth by purchasing another single function appliance. Especially not for $500.

Then, for Mother's Day, I received a Vitamix. And let me tell you, I put it right up there on my list of life changers. My husband. My son. Glee. Actually maybe higher than Glee.

I needn't have  worried about it being a one-trick pony: in the week since I have had it, I have made soup, sauce, smoothies, pancakes, slushies, milkshakes -- and we were even gone half of the week. It was particularly good timing, as my son is losing his first tooth, as he will tell you often, and can't eat.

For those uninitiated, the Vitamix, well, here's what they say about themselves, which as a journalist is lazy but I would just like to get on with the recipe: "The Vitamix machine is not a blender or a juice extractor. It's so much more. The surgical stainless steel blades rotate at 240 miles per hour, pulverizing whole foods down to the cellular level. Valuable nutrients locked inside the pulp, skins and seeds of fruits and vegetables cannot be absorbed because the phytonutrients are trapped within plant cells which need to be ruptured. The Vitamix machine ruptures the cell walls of fresh, whole foods to make these phytonutrients more bio-available."

More bio-available? Can't argue with that.

Raw Thai Ginger "Noodles"

4 medium zucchini
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup chopped mint
1/2 bunch of spring onion

For dressing:
1/2 cup coconut, rice or cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 Tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce
1 knob Thai ginger, or galangal, peeled
3 stalks lemongrass, bulbs and 2 inches of stalk
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 lemon
salt to taste

Galangal, or as I found it, Thai ginger, is not the same as actual ginger, though it does come in a root similarly. It has a pleasant, pine aroma and its aftertaste is far hotter than ginger, though its actual flavor is more mild. I can't imagine how I would have dealt with it without the Vitamix, but am nearly sure it would have drawn blood.

Julienne the zucchini into "noodles" and combine with chopped spring onion and herbs. Put dressing ingredients into Vitamix and pulverize. If the sauce is too thick, thin with more vinegar. Toss together.

Garnish with sesame seeds, if desired.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Kitchen Reform tip 14: OZ

The weather is as fickle as an old Dutchess, fragile and foggy one morning, cheerful and sunny another, blowing 100 knots the next. You never know what you'll find in the backyard. Easter Eggs! Iris!
Fox cubs! 

there are five!

But it is colorful. The spirea, digging the warmth, is so drenched in white blossoms it is in a perpetual sun salutation. The dogwood have shed their ivory canopy all over the front walk, making coming home a celebration.

I am having third spring today. My first was in London in March, where we came from dingy grey Virginia to an explosion of daffodils, green pastures and cherry trees so vivid I felt like Dorothy waking in the land of OZ. The second, in Virginia, came in fits and bits, the crabapples reminding us to open up the windows with its strong, pink scent, the asparagus growing three feet over night, so fast we couldn't eat them all.

And now here I am up north, the daffodils just coming up for the show, the sun becoming more confident, the wind still whipping waves and flags. It has been so wet everywhere there are whole roads washed out, as if the gravel had a race to the lake.

You are like the spring fairy, said a friend last night, when I told him this was my third spring in as many months. Why didn't you come sooner? quipped another.

And it is true; we crave color. Our lives were not meant to be lived in black and white. When we look at old photos, we somehow think of a drabber time, not as much fun as we have now. It can't possibly be true -- I knew my grandparents long enough to know their lives were plenty lively. But black and white makes everything austere, serious.

Even food.

Beet Salad with coriander dressing and roast pine nuts

Boil beets. Sprinkle with cheese, toasted nuts and dressing.


Monday, May 9, 2011


Again, the lure of the hunt. It's a bit like a mystery, piecing together the why of where you find them. How sunny? Which side of the tree? Under leaf cover, or bare ground? It's an addictive game, with the treasure being edible gold.

This time, a mountain road, a friend's new property. They haven't even built their house yet, but now we know that every year, around this time, we can wander up into the woods and, in the leaves rustling at the bottom of the tall poplars, sprouting from the lush ferment of the dead elms, we will find them.

It's just possible the season is over, and that is a mixed blessing. I won't spend my time foraging in the wood, and will get back to my house, and my desk, and the laundry that is threatening to over take the bathroom.

In the minus column, I won't spend time foraging in the wood. Losing my self in the zen of their trail, wandering from tree to tree my eyes on the ground, until one leaf looks like another, until the sun dappled forest floor dizzies me like a kaleidoscope. I won't keep my child up to all hours as we cook up the morels and eat them over pasta, over asparagus, drenched in ghee and olive oil.

Until next year.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring Suprise

"You have to be humble. Confident, but not cocky. You cannot expect to find them or they will not reveal themselves," says my friend Amy, as we plow up a hillside of thicket, after sliding through a muddy creek, slipping through a barbed wire fence, and climbing over fallen trees wider than we could straddle. Our pants are tucked in our socks against ticks and poison ivy, we grasp knives and paper lunch bags.

She is talking about mushrooms. We are mothers, writers, gardeners and daughters. But today, we are singing to the morels, hoping for a glimpse.

I cannot tell you where we were. We swore each other to secrecy. I can only tell you, there was a stand of poplar, and fragrant spicebush in the under story. Poison ivy, spring beauty, dead elms, may apple and fiddle heads are other clues. Oh, and an east facing slope, with a good shade canopy. Too rocky, or too much dead wood is a non-starter. As we climbed Amy sang -- "Morels, reveal your selves...."

It was a labor of love for two of us, and for me, a journalistic opportunity. But it didn't stay that way for long. As we trudged through the mud, spotting one morel, then another (they appear in twos, as if finding one makes you worthy to find another. Boy, was I drinking the Kool Aid). I began to crave sighting the small, fragile, brainlike fungus. We left reluctantly that day, hoping that the mother lode was just coming in. Plus, the mother in us was needed -- it was school pick up time.

Can you see it?
So we went home with our mushrooms. I cooked them, with asparagus from my garden, salt and fresh butter. I was positively besotted. I don't use that word lightly.

When we were on our honeymoon, we drove from the Amalfi Coast, in Italy, to Umbria, arriving at our hotel just before midnight. (One cannot, after all, drive by the sea without climbing into it). They served us dinner in a marble courtyard lined with olive trees, and despite the fact that it was Italy, we were all alone due to the time. In the candlelight we ordered dinner, and when it came there was a predominant taste I struggled to identify. 

Over the next few days I found out it was truffle. In the vegetables, on the meat, in eggs, cheese, even gelato. Everything that said tartufi, I ordered. On our last weekend, we dined at Taverna del Lupo, in Gubbio, because we had heard everything was infused with truffle. When we came back, I was desperate for it. So desperate we flew to the restaurant Sistina, in New York, near my parents apartment, because I knew they had the whole truffle to shave over my pasta.

But nothing quite measured up to those local truffles. Until these morels.

the bigfoot morel

After that dinner I started thinking about the hillside. About the delicate mushrooms poking themselves through the leaf blanket. Later that night it rained, and I wondered if they enjoyed it or not. I dreamt about their earthy taste, sauteed in butter.

Morels sauteed in butter

one tablespoon butter
one dozen small morels
one garlic, peeled and sliced
slivered parmesan cheese
sea salt

Heat butter in skillet. add salt to sizzle. toast garlic until softening and golden. Add morels and stir two minutes -- then off the heat.

Boil the asparagus until tender, about ten minutes depending on the thickness of it -- test doneness by poking with a knife -- it should give softly.

Pour morels and butter over asparagus.

Prepare to swoon.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tip 13: Drink your veggies, part 2

Maybe green drinks aren't your thing, or you just can't give up eggs -- it's all good. But if you like the idea of pre-pulverized veggies down the hatch, there's another way.


Soup is good food. Whether you heard it from Campbell's or the Dead Kennedy's first, you heard it here. Cooking vegetables into soup retains more nutrients than baking or sauteeing, and if you puree them, you're helping your body to digest more of them as well.

There is something about drinking soup that is healing. And there is something about making soup that is calming too -- first, you can use all the odds and ends in your fridge up; second, you can make it while you are doing other things; third, it makes your house smell like a home; fourth, it is just plain tasty. Satisfying but not weighty. Healthy, but not austere.

There is a soup for all seasons, and this one is perfect for warm days that turn cool at night, for the time of year you want to shed the hibernating ways but still crave an extra dose of comfort. Carrots provide an of the charts dose of vitamin A, night vision enhancing beta-carotene and help regulate blood sugar. Tests show that a diet containing as little as one carrot a day can cut the rate of lung cancer in half.

Combine them with curry, celeriac for an anchoring smoothness and ginger for kick, and this is a spring palate in a bowl. Ginger gives it an anti-inflammatory benefit, while aiding digestion. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. Top the whole thing with mint -- another tummy soother -- and you've got a dish beautiful enough for a black tie luncheon date with Bugs Bunny.

Sound too good to be true?

Wait until you taste it.

Curried Carrot Soup

2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil or olive oil
1 lb  carrots, preferably organic
1 head of garlic, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and rough chopped
1/2 celeriac root, peeled and rough chopped
1 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
coarse salt

Heat oil in heavy stock pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and onions and saute until translucent and beginning to soften. Add a pinch of salt and the curry powder (my favorite is Dean and Deluca blend, I buy it by the tub full). Stir to combine then add ginger, celeriac and carrots, cornstarch and stir again. Roast about 4 minutes to sweat the vegetables and ignite the curry. Add vegetable broth and water if needed to cover vegetables.

Simmer gently until vegetables are soft, then use an immersion blender or food processor to puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if you wish, and top with chopped mint.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Kitchen Reform Week 12: Drink Your Veggies

We are a nation of carnivores. And corn-ivores -- being that much of the diet we exist on (snack foods, colas, sweets) is derived somehow from corn.

I have news for you, however: corn that has been smashed into syrup doesn't count as a vegetable. Besides, there's more than corn in High Fructose Corn Syrup (so ubiquitous we've given it a monogram, HFCS): Yellow Dent #2, a corn that yields a lot of starch, sulphuric acid (a corrosive whose principle uses are lead-acid batteries for cars, mineral and wastewater processing), and three ingredients that end in -ase and come in bottles with large Xs on them. I found this out by watching a couple of dudes try to make it at home: check it out.

HFCS is not our BFF.

The statistics on consumption of fruits and vegetables in this country are astounding. Less than a third of us are eating  fruit daily, and that has actually decreased in this century. And only about a quarter of us eat vegetables daily. New England, Florida, the West Coast and Colorado top the list -- but that means that upwards of 15 % of the population consume fruits and veg. In Oklahoma, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina less than 5 % of people consume fruits and veg daily. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. That means 10-14% of people are eating F&V daily. This can only end poorly, with a crushing health care crisis our children will have to clean up -- that is, if they aren't too sick themselves.

So if there is one thing you can do today to up your health quotient, it is eat more vegetables. Better yet, drink them.

Green drinks are simply the best way to get the nutrients without the work of digestion, the calories used to prepare them, and the time it takes to eat them. Zip 'em in a blender, down them and go. You can tailor them to your energy needs, your mood, the weather -- your options are endless.

The basic recipe for a smoothie includes protein, fruit (for sweetness), vegetable, nutrient additives, liquid and ice, if you wish -- just a handful of cubes can really thicken it up. Here are a few of my favorite ingredients for smoothies:

Vegetables: Ginger, spinach, cucumber, fennel, kale (not too much, it can be stringy) (about two cups)

Nutrient additives: maca powder (no more than 1 Tablespoon a day), ginseng (a few drops), hemp seed, (about a teaspoon), cinnamon, chia seeds, raw cocoa powder, nutmeg, honey, agave.

Liquids: almond milk, coconut water, tap water. (about a cup total)

Fruits: Whole if you have a blender that can take it, like a Vita-Mix; I do not so I chunk and freeze fruit to make the smoothie thick and creamy. Frozen banana chunks, frozen pear chunks, frozen pineapple chunks, any berries or melon. Anything goes. (about a 1/2 cup serving)

Fats: Avocado, almond butter, hemp -- and the last two also add protein.

I also sometimes cheat and use prepared powders to add protein and vegetables, my favorite for protein is Wegmans vanilla whey powder, and the green powder I like now is Amazing Grass.

So do anything you like with it -- here's what I do in the mornings, more or less.

Green Breakfast Smoothie

1 cup almond milk
2 handfuls baby spinach
1 knob ginger root, peeled
squirt of ginseng
fennel, about 1/3 of a bulb
cucumber, a few inches
scoop green powder
scoop whey powder
1 teaspoon hemp seed
1/2 banana frozen
1 cup water
6 ice cubes

Blend until smooth. Serves two.

If you don't want green, skip the powder and the spinach, add a frozen mango and go with the vanilla shake. Or a chocolate (which is my lunch, so excuse me while I go make it.)


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Poached Cauliflower

So halfway through this mini-cleanse and I have to say, it's really a breeze. Lots of water with lemon, miso and fruit when desperate; brown rice cooked with vegetable broth for body and veggies. Mounds of veggies. Steamed, for the most part, but tonight I got out a cauliflower, and it was just lovely. White as the caps of waves, and with just as much lovely texture.

Its beauty seduced me. I decided to cheat, just a little bit. After all, today I went to a luncheon and sat for two hours eating only a glass of water, two slices of steamed zucchini, and a leaf of lettuce. That is to say, all the food in three courses that was not either breaded or sauced. (Disclaimer: it was fun. Had it been a snoozer I would have been eating my own arm. Or the pound cake.)

It just reminds me how utterly hard it is to eat completely clean, unless you are at home with total control of your own menu destiny. A bit of oil for sauteeing, a pinch of sugar to mask tartness, a smidge of butter for finishing -- these add up. Mostly on our hearts, and our hips.

Anyway, when I got home I was ravenous. So I set to making a feast that would stay within my bounds -- a clean feast. I cooked brown rice (I love the Lundberg Farms short grain organic brown rice) in vegetable broth, adding water when the pot dried up before the rice was done. The result was a nutty, fat kernel that stuck close to its buddies for a dense spoonful. And for the cauliflower, well, steaming seemed a little boring. Granted, the cauliflower is a complacent vegetable. Which is not to say it can't be coaxed, dressed up into a silky swirl. But it is also happy to sit plainly on the couch. It doesn't mind a bit what people think of it -- I guess it's the years of being underrated and misunderstood. I, however, wasn't brooking boring. Not today.

I know, I know. It's supposed to be austere. I stink at this. But listen. It's not so bad as you think.

I didn't saute. I didn't even reach for the spray oil. Instead, I poached the cauliflower in vegetable broth and a wee pinch of curry. I added a handful of peeled garlic cloves, which I mashed when soft to bind the cauliflower. For salt I substituted lemon zest.

So I live to notch another day CLEAN -- though I will totally make this when not. And the whole family ate it, which means it gets bonus points.

Poached Cauliflower

One head of cauliflower, separated
1 cup vegetable broth
dash of curry
dash of lemon zest
handful of peeled garlic cloves

In a small stock pan, combine broth and curry; whisk to mix well. Add cauliflower and garlic. Simmer over low heat until cauliflower falls apart, about 30 minutes. Garlic will be smooth enough to smash with the back of a spoon; do so. Stir lemon zest into smashed garlic and cauliflower, which should cause it to fall to bits.

Serve over brown rice with bits of fresh pineapple, making your plate oddly yellow in its entirety. For taste as well as zip, if you like, a spoonful of plain yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro wouldn't be amiss. Nor would a few cashews, though I can't put as much as a toe on that slippery slope.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tip Eleven: Go with your Gut

This week, my child's school is having "No TV Week." Each child that eschews the electronic monster, writes a statement to that effect and turns it into the powers that be will get an ice cream cone.
My child doesn't watch TV during the week anyway (he has boundary issues, so we just don't deal with it), so for him this is a no-brainer. I'd love it if it the reward were something more healthy, but I guess carrots might not incite the same level of participation.

But it got me thinking. We've been concentrating here on adding -- fish, water, vegetables, what have you -- and yet being virtuous nearly always means you have to give something up. And generally something you care deeply about.

For me this would be cashews. I've admitted that before. And lately I've taken to roasting them with Macadamia nuts and walnuts, which makes them three times as addictive. But cashews aren't technically bad for you --  just not so easy to digest. Then I thought -- a whole week of easy on the tummy. How would that look? So I am going to give up meat this week.  And sugar, which I am stretching to involve dairy, and wine.

This will be a week of whole foods, water and rest. Green smoothies for breakfast. Salads and soups for later. And at the end, I will get an ice cream cone. Just kidding. (Though I am going to a camp out and steak dinner this weekend. By then, I either shouldn't care too much about meat, or I will eat a whole cow solo. I'll let you know.)

For now, though, this tasted good. I substituted thick, juicy chunks of pineapple for meat over a base of watercress and arugula, chip chopped vegetables (asparagus, cucumber, tomato) and herbs (mint, cilantro), and squirted it with tangerine-fig balsamic, which was syrupy smooth without the added sugar of dressing. Vinegar also has the benefit of aiding in digestion -- its acid binds to toxins and help eliminate them more efficiently.

Happy Monday, gut.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Salmon and Socca

Yesterday, just as I was thinking that I was totally uninspired to make dinner, I got a call from a friend asking for chickpea flour.

I just happened to have some.

Socca, she said. Have you made it?

And why else would I have chickpea flour?

Socca is a pancake, nutty, thicker than a crepe and yet somehow more delicate. Gluten free, egg free, dairy free, it is an allergists dream. It's also easy, once you have the chickpea flour, and quick. The batter is more forgiving than crepe batter, and the pancake -- it's traditional street food in Southern France and Italy -- meant to be cut in triangles and eaten scattered with pepper.

As someone who rarely gets pasta, or bread, or a pizza, however, I tend to use food of this nature as a conveyance. It's highly personal. When I first read a recipe for it, by Mark Bittman, I topped it with everything. Shrimp, rosemary, a drizzle of walnut tastebuds remembered.

I just happened to have some leftover salmon, and made a bit of saag with broccoli rabe and spinach. It all married quite well. In fact, it marched down the aisle on its own.


1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup water
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Mix ingredients and let sit at least 30 minutes. Heat a griddle or medium skillet until hot and swipe with ghee or butter. Pour in a half cup of batter and swirl until it covers the bottom, pouring out the excess. Cook over medium high heat until light gold, about 3 minutes, then flip and brown the other side. Keep warm until done. Load with salmon, tomato and asparagus, drizzle with sea salt and asparagus and broil for five minutes, until warm.

Or, cut in triangles and dip into green saag, below.

Green Saag

4 cloves of garlic, peeled
2 inch knob of ginger. peeled
1 bunch broccoli rabe
2 handfuls of spinach
sea salt
olive oil

Finely chop garlic and ginger in a food processor and set aside. Boil water with salt sprinkled in, add broccoli rabe and boil two minutes. Add spinach and wilt an additional 30 seconds. Drain in a colander and then process in food processor. Heat a tablespoon of oil and saute ginger and garlic until limp. Add the processed broccoli rabe and spinach and stir until heated through. Serve warm.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tip Ten: Go Fish

As the fields green up, there's an accompanying feeling of lightening. Moods, attitudes, and schedules stretch out their kinks and flex to accommodate a smile, or a bike ride instead of a nap.

For me, that has somewhat mystifyingly left me at odds with my usual diet. I eschew meat in favor of an orange, or asparagus. I load up on apples and cashews for snacks. I reach for Vino Verde, or Pellegrino, instead of Cabernet.

Fish jumps into this gap nicely. While it may be lighter it is a solid healthy choice, for fish is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, now the poster child for good fats.

According to a study from the Mayo Clinic: "Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms, and in children may improve learning ability. Eating one to two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death."

Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and herring, seem to have the highest amounts of omega-3s. Saltwater fish in general have higher levels than freshwater fish, but some varieties of trout have relatively high levels as well. Wild fish have been shown to have higher levels of healthy Omega-3s than farmed fish, which have been shown to have higher levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats.

It's not just heart health that benefits. By strengthening insulin sensitivity, omega 3 fatty acids can decrease belly fat and build muscle, which in turn burns more calories. The US Army is currently studying whether supplementing soldiers' diets with fish oil capsules will improve their health, cognitive function and mood.

Of course, there is a downside to eating fish: industrial pollution in oceans, lakes and streams can infiltrate their food, causing toxins such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs to build up in the fish. The toxins are heat-stable, which means that no amount of cooking can decrease levels of toxicity. In fact, some preparations, such as frying, can make fish unhealthy.

To reap the benefits without the troubles, choose wild fish, when you can. And if you can't get fresh, well, don't fret. My friend Sharon, a writer, motorcycle mama and one of the most holistic people I know, once opened a can of salmon when a bunch of us were at her apartment talking writing. She mashed it with lemon and a dollop of mayonnaise, then hit it with salt and pepper. We ate it with forks. I recently opened a can of  Whole Foods brand wild red Alaskan salmon, and it was delicious -- rich, oily and not at all fishy. It was a great counterpoint to a citrusy salad, an easy lunch.

Canned salmon with arugula and red pepper

1/2 can wild salmon
1 T rice vinegar
wasabi (if you can't get fresh, load up on packets that come with sushi -- just one is generally enough to spice a dressing)
2 T orange juice
two handfuls of arugula
1/2 a red pepper
sea salt

Thinly slice red pepper and put over arugula on a plate. Toss OJ, wasabi and vinegar, add a sprinkle of brown sugar if you prefer sweet to tart. Add salmon to plate and douse all with dressing, season with salt to taste.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip Nine: Try Something New

We have been on Spring Break, which is laughable. Spring my eye. It's Almost Spring, a condition akin to unbearable. Bones are still cold, though days are not so much. It is supposed to snow tomorrow. One more dreary day, you think, and I'll lose it.


This week, do something different. Try a new cuisine, a new ingredient, go a different way home from work. Stop at that exotic shop you've been wanting to check out, but always find an excuse not to. If your brain says "I've got to get home, to feed the kids, to go to the grocery" -- well, take them with you.

Let them eat sushi.

For the next few weeks, I'll be offering up a few out-of-the-ordinary tidbits, like this raw veggie Pad Thai that really gives a taste of spring. I had this in London, at Daylesford Organic in Notting Hill, a temple for real foodies if ever there was (more on the British Farm-to-Fork movement in future). They would not share the recipe so I've devised this one, and I think it's pretty good. I did, however, make it a night when my husband was away, lest it bombed, but now I am glad, for I ate most of the bowl.

Please let me know what you discover.

Vegetable Pad Thai
Inspired by Daylesford Organic

2 zucchini
3 carrots, peeled

1 knob ginger
1 tablespoon tamari
1 tablespoon chili garlic
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon tahini
juice of half lime

To assemble
1 bunch green onions, sliced
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped mint
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds
optional: red pepper, roasted cashews

Using a carrot peeler or a grater or a mandoline, make the zucchini into "noodles."

In a small chopper, mince ginger, add rest of ingredients and whiz. Pour over "noodles," add minced herbs and sesame seeds. Refrigerate until ready to serve; a few hours will meld the flavors and wilt the "noodles" so they are more noodly, but you can only do what you can do.

Garnish with cashews and slivered red pepper, plus additional cilantro and sesame seeds, if you wish, to serve.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Tip Eight: Eat Your Fat

The news on fat is confusing. We're supposed to cut down on "unhealthy" fats, but "healthy" fats are ok.

In the "fat is good" category we hear that fat is necessary as a source of energy, crucial in the absorption of vitamins and body and brain development. (National Institutes of Health) In the "fat is bad" category, we hear that fat can make you fat, and saturated fat in particular can increase cancer and provoke heart disease. There has been stunningly little actual scientific backup to this, and in fact, historically, reducing fat in the American diet via prior Dietary Guidelines has correlated with Americans becoming fatter and more unhealthy. Studies such as the long-running Framingham Heart Study find no correlation between dietary fat and heart disease, similarly between dietary cholesterol and higher cholesterol.

To further complicate the matter, all fat is not created equal (except in calories -- a tablespoon of fat equals about 100 calories, be it butter or olive oil). Saturated fat, from meat and dairy products, solidifies when cold and is tainted with artery-clogging charges: the new US Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting intake to 7 percent of daily fat allowance. A 2010 Harvard study shows that by 19 percent, one of the few.replacing saturated fat with mono- or polyunsaturated fat  decreased risk of coronary heart disease. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, from olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds such as flaxseed and fatty fishes, are liquid even at low temperatures. 

The really bad boy of fat is the Trans Fat, man-manipulated partially hydrogenated fatty acids that are estimated to be 70 percent of the fats that America eats -- mostly in fast food. Studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, among others, show trans fat consumption to increase risk of coronary heart disease; a recent Spanish study linked increased trans fat consumption (the average Spaniard partakes of .04 percent trans fats in a daily diet, the average in America is 2.5 percent) to depression. Trans fats do occur sparingly in red meat and dairy, but don't seem to be harmful like the engineered variety.

The bottom line: eat fat. Not too much. Make it from natural sources. But not too little; reducing fat intake can lead to lethargy, dull skin and weight gain.

Everyone has their own threshold -- you alone can gauge yours. I eat cashews by the handful, and add toasted walnuts and pine nuts to salads and wilted greens. I fry eggs in a little butter or coconut oil (1/2 teaspoon), add avocados to salads and smoothies, try to make fish twice a week. While I don't use olive oil to saute (I'll get into smoke points and healthy cooking with oils in the future) -- I do use it to thicken salad dressings, and coat vegetables to be braised or roasted at low temps. I love to add flax seed oil to cilantro and walnuts for a dressing. We eat full fat local dairy products, but not to excess. Find your balance.

Just make sure it's real food.

Roasted Cashews

1/2 lb. raw cashews
spray can of grapeseed oil
sea salt
rosemary or other dried herb, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray a baking sheet with oil, spread cashews out and mist again with the grapeseed oil. Roast at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Cashews will be golden brown, darker where they lay on the baking sheet. Pull from oven and sprinkle with sea salt and herb, if desired. Toss on baking sheet and allow to cool before eating to regain their crunch.

Healthy Addiction? My jar of cashews, mostly gone...


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tip Seven: Go Green with Cleaners

It doesn't do any good to buy superlative organic produce, or grow your own, if you're going to bring them into the kitchen and dose them with toxins from your cleaning supplies. Which of course you would not do on purpose, but can occur when food and utensils and countertops are co-existing in a kitchen.

When we eat food dosed with toxins, you know what happens.

You are what you eat.

And it's not just our food, but our air that can be contaminated by household cleaners. EPA studies show we spend 90 percent of our time indoors, yet concentrations of many volatile organic compounds are up to ten times higher indoors than out -- and even low levels of toxins in common household products can contribute to health conditions from allergies and asthma to birth defects and learning disorders.

Green cleaning solutions are easy and -- unlike many sustainable practices -- much, much cheaper than the conventional products. Baking soda, which is alkaline, is a cheap and versatile cleaner, as is vinegar, an acid that can dissolve dirt and gummy buildup to be wiped away.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

- a friend in New Zealand advises using hot water, half cup vinegar and dash of commercial detergent for bubbles to clean the floors. She recommends the book Just Add Vinegar for more green clean solutions, which is not available here, but I did find Vinegar, 400 Uses You Never Thought Of, by Vicki Lansky, who also penned Baking Soda, 500 Uses You Never Thought Of.

- stick your sponge in a pan of boiling water or run it through a dishwasing cycle every now and again. This zaps germs, so you're not just smearing them back on your food.

- clean your countertops with a 1:3 solution of vinegar and water; for buildup try sprinkling a little baking soda first to remove grit. Try adding 20-30 drops of an antibacterial essential oil, such as lemon, peppermint or eucalyptus, to cut the vinegar tang. Also does windows, though my Latino friend says they use newspapers to shine glass, backed up by a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water for tough grime.

- pour baking soda down a clogged drain, followed by boiling water, to clear.

- sprinkle baking soda on carpet and vacuum up to deodorize.

- make a thick paste of baking soda and water and spread in the bottom of the oven. Keep damp with a spray bottle of water, let sit over night. The next day, scrape up the baking soda crust and the oven grime comes with it.

-take your shoes off when you come into your home. Stop the dirt, germs, chemicals and grime before they are carried around your house. [PS -- this one is FREE!]

-soak vegetables and fruits in water then scrub with a vegetable brush to remove any chemicals used in packaging or transport. [Also FREE!]

If you're not into do-it-yourself cleaners, there are a lot of products claiming to be environmentally friendly on the shelves now. My friends and I love Mrs. Meyer's countertop spray -- and there's a fragrance for every mood. Method is a brand that is easy to find, though it is not as subtly scented,

The EPA has a program called Design for the Environment which is working to remove chemicals of concern, succeeding in reducing hundreds of millions of pounds of chemicals of concern each year. Their label, below, certifies a reviewed product.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Jaime's salad

A friend of mine recently lent me Jaime Oliver's "Jaime's Dinners," and I am pretty sure I could have dinner with him every night. His sensibility is much like mine, in that healthy, fresh ingredients are the centerpiece, but as to what you do with them: anything goes. He follows a heady spinach cannelloni with an exotic laska, or coconut milk stew. He creates dinners in five minutes, for those who just have a jiff, or luxuriates in the hours it takes to braise tender chicken. He campaigns for healthy, delicious school lunches.

And he treats vegetables like individual primadonnas, accentuating their positives, masking their negatives and extolling their originality and overall worthiness. Take for instance, a dish he calls Keralan salad, though he acknowledges monkeying with it so considerably one might never actually find in in Kerala (which is in India). I further monkeyed with it considerably (I swear I bought the coconut, but couldn't for the life of me get it to shred properly, so ended up tossing on some frozen, and much less than he), though I hope he would still like it. I know we did.

Monkey Salad on Sesame Pan Fried Salmon
Serves 2-3
adapted from Jaime's Dinners

2 red peppers
1 ripe mango
bunch cress, about 2 cups
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Cut the pepper into quarters, seed and slice thinly. Slice the mango into like thin slices. arrange on cress and top with coconut and cilantro.

ginger, about 2 tablespoons grated
zest and juice of 2 limes
3 teaspoons olive oil
pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon rice vinegar

Chop the ginger and zest in a small mini-chopper, add rest of the ingredients and whiz to creamy.

about 1 pound of salmon filets
sea salt
sesame oil

Heat a half inch of sesame oil in a non-reactive skillet and sprinkle in a pinch of salt. When salt sputters, put the salmon in the pan, skin side down. Saute for two minutes, flip and remove skin. When salmon is desired doneness (about 7 minutes for pink), remove from pan.

To serve:

Toss salad with dressing. Put a salmon filet on each plate and top with salad.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Blood Orange salad with Pistachios and Pomegranate

Pomegranates are good for the soul. An iconic fruit, they flourished in the garden of Eden and symbolized fruitfulness to Greek and Turkish cultures, and are traditional at Rosh Hashanah.

The ancients thought pomegranate to have healthful properties, and small scale studies have backed that up in the areas of heart disease (the enzymes in the fruit are thought to protect LDL, the bad cholesterol, from breaking down, a process accelerating the formation of the plaque blocking the arteries and leading to heart disease)and prostate cancer. A half cup serving of pomegranate has just 80 calories and is high in vitamin C. Eating the seeds whole provides valuable dietary fiber.

Whether or not this is true, the pomegranate is delicious. In season, which in the Northeern hemisphere is from November to February, I hoard them for decorations, and keep a jar of the peeled seeds in the fridge to sprinkle on salads and yogurt. Out of season, the juice is good for spritzers and champagne cocktails; grenadine syrup, a component of the infamous children's libation Shirley Temple, is sweetened reduced pomegranate juice. Researching this article I came across a recommendation to freeze them for easier peeling; I wonder about keeping a few in the freezer to see if I can extend the season.

In this recipe, the sweet juice is reduced into a syrup with balsamic vinegar, a sweet tart that firmly anchors crunchy fennel, fresh arugula and tangy blood orange, with a sprinkle of pistachio as a bonus crunch.

Its one of those win-win dishes your grandmother used to tout: good and good for you, but definitely not your grandmother's salad. Try it with a heavy meat dish, like the lamb stew I served it with, short ribs or an Osso bucco.

Blood Orange Salad with Pistachios and Pomegranate Reduction
Serves 4-6

4 cups frissee, torn
1 fennel bulb sliced thin
2 blood or naval oranges, peel cut off and cut into thin slices across the pith
1 avocado, peeled and sliced thin
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup pomegranate juice
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

Simmer pomegranate juice until reduced to 1/2 cup; add balsamic and reduce further, to half cup. Let cool.

Mound a cup of arugula on a salad plate and arrange sliced fennel, oranges and avocados. Drizzle with the reduction. Sprinkle with pistachios.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kitchen Reform, Tip six: Vegetable Matters

In my experience, it is far easier to add than subtract. The simple act of withholding makes the forbidden instantly sexy: your mind focuses in, building it into a thing far greater than it ever was. 

So instead of less as a nutritional strategy, focus on more. This week? At the risk of equating Johnny Depp (or Julianne Moore, depending on how you swing) to produce -- vegetables.

Better educated people than me have advised you to eat more vegetables. Your MD. Michael Pollan. Your mother.

And they are right. Researchers have linked increased vegetable consumption with decreased rates of high blood pressure, cardiovascular and coronary heart disease. Specific components of vegetables are thought to protect against certain kinds of cancers, vision, and even boost gastrointestinal health. [Source: Harvard School of Public Health]

But did they add that they should be the best quality you can manage? Local, organic, at the very least fresh, or frozen fresh -- that is the hierarchy to follow. And if you want to keep that cost-efficient, look at what is currently in season. Some vegetables, like mushrooms, are cultivated year-round and can be a good way to bust the winter rut. Luckily, the vegetables researchers advocate as most healthy (though with the exception of the unlucky potato, the consensus is pretty much all of them are beneficial), green leafies such as spinach and Swiss chard, and cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts, are now widely available year-round.

The 2010 dietary guidelines suggest 2-3 servings of vegetables a day; Harvard's School of Public Health agrees, counting a serving equal to one cup, the exception being leafy greens, which generally take 2 cups to get the nutritional value of a serving. Don't raise your hand to order French fries just yet; potatoes are an exception. Due to their high starch content they should be used sparingly. And try not to add too much to your vegetables when you prepare them; the closer they are to their real state the more healthy they are.

There are lots of strategies for fitting in more vegetables. I have one friend who has had many health challenges thrown at her, and she likes to pre-load the plate with vegetables, treating meat and or starch as sides. Another pal, who grew up in Panama, creates salads with nary a leafy green in sight from lovely combinations of colors, and tops them sparingly with cheese. We add a salad to most meals, and when it is left over I put it in a bowl in the fridge to pull out for lunch or snack the next day.

We've added a lot of really simple vegetable recipes here in the past you can revisit: like cauliflower puree, roasted toasted Brussels sprouts, and frissee salad with lardons. I'll post a few ideas to get you started this week, and we'll spotlight them in months to come.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Apple Puzzle

There's no puzzle about what is the best treat for your sweet tooth: real fruit!

But getting kids to choose fruit over the myriad other sweet temptations can be tricky. Here's a sneaky way to make an apple fun, and keep it fresh in a lunch box to boot!

Apples turn brown when they are cut because the enzymes and iron phenols in the fruit oxidize when exposed to air, basically causing the surface of the fruit to "rust." It's a protective mechanism against pests and pathogens, but doesn't really change the taste of the fruit. It's not very pleasing however, and while immersing the fruit (potatoes, bananas and pears, to name a few, are also prone to this "enzymatic bruising") in water or lemon will retard the effect, they can also make the fruit less pleasant to eat.

Try this at home!

take a clean apple

make a cut straight across, next to the core

make the same cut

on each side

of the apple

the pieces will look like this

gather them back up to reform the apple

secure with a rubber band

Voila! No oxidation!


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

House-made Cherry Yogurt: TEN TIMES less added sugar!! *

*Disclaimer: This recipe makes grown women smack their lips and run their fingers around the lip of the jar for the last slurp. Kids can down an enitre jar before breakfast.

After dissing the national brands' cherry yogurt, I felt I had to offer a palatable alternative. I had some frozen cherries from our spring harvest in the freezer and raw milk from the cow down the road. Pie cherries are tough without adding sugar -- they're tart right from the tree, yet ours are rather a hybrid. They have a pleasant tartness to them, without being downright sour. As for the milk, the dairyman breeds both Jersey (for their exemplary sweet cream) and Holstein (who are high producers) and mixes the milk to a quite satisfactory end. Add a little local honey, and I was in business.

Let's be clear, I have no idea the sugar and fat content of this yogurt -- those Jersey's blow the fat content out of the park -- I can attest, however, that there is little added sugar. I added Erythritol, a sugar naturally occurring in plants, that has no calories and no bitter aftertaste, to the cherries while cooking, and just two tablespoons of honey to the milk to sweeten the plain yogurt base. I cannot, however, claim it is organic, because I just don't know. With the exception of the plain yogurt, I can however tell you that the ingredients are from a 5-mile radius.  Next time, when I have some of my yogurt to add as culture, it will be truly local.

You can make this, though, with frozen store-bought cherries and organic milk. Or any fruit you like. You don't even need organic milk. The point is, this is great tasting yogurt with VERY LITTLE added sugar. Two tablespoons, for 48 ounces of yogurt, or 1.5 grams per six ounces of yogurt. That is ten times less added sugar than the store-bought brands.

You also do not need a yogurt maker for this recipe, there are plenty of websites online with oven methods. I happen to like mine, a EuroCusine model which I paid roughly $20 for. The yogurt comes out thick and creamy, like the new Greek style yogurts we are happily seeing in stores. If you choose to use a yogurt maker, follow the instructions for plain yogurt; my quantities are based on the jars that come with the EuroCusine model. I find full fat milk works best; if you use less fatted varieties, lengthen the cooking time according to the manual.

Cherry Yogurt

For the cherries
4 cups tart cherries
4 teaspoons Z Sweet, or granulated erythritol

For the yogurt
42 ounces whole milk
6 ounces plain yogurt, I like Greek-style
2 tablespoons honey

Cook the cherries and sweetener over medium heat until the cherries have softened and a thick syrup forms, about 10 minutes.

Heat the milk in a large, non-reactive pot over medium heat until the milk begins to boil. When it begins to swell up the walls of the pan, off the heat and add the honey and the yogurt, whisking fully to incorporate. Cool in an ice bath or just on the counter until the mixture is 130 degrees.

Put a tablespoon or two of cherries in each jar. Pour milk mixture over and set yogurt maker to 10 hours. In the morning, you will have yogurt. You will also have cherry sauce left over for your pancakes and ice cream.