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.


Monday, February 7, 2011

Tip Five: No Sugar Added

Kitchen Reform: A weekly plan to help your kitchen get a healthy  groove on.

We've heard about the evils of sugar. But it's not until you see it, or feel it, that it's real. Take, for instance, an innocent trip to Dunkin' Donuts. A bonding moment for grandparents and children, until the second iced chocolate doughnut (with rainbow sprinkles) hits the bloodstream, and suddenly a little blond bomb goes off, jumping from the back of the couch yelling "Why do we always have to do what you want to do first?" (I'll just say here, that the answer is cheese. A big block of it, some fat and protein to temper the blood sugar high.)

Maybe this is just my kid: many deny sugar has this revving effect and science hasn't proven it. Some systems may just be more sensitive than others. But behavior aside, let's review what science has shown about sugar. Excess sugar contributes to cavities, weight gain, and diabetes, but also is linked to suppression of the immune system, autoimmune diseases, Alzheimers, arthritis, asthma, heart disease and migraines. Cancer has a big sweet tooth as well, and has been linked to breast, ovarian, prostate and rectal cancer. It can weaken eyesight and lead to premature skin aging.

Yes that's right. Wrinkles. Sugar really is evil.

The average American living at the turn of the century -- when heart disease and cancer were rare -- ate just five pounds per year of added sugar: today, that number is 130 pounds, meaning an additional two to three pounds per person per week. [Source: USDA] When you consider that the American Heart Association recommends that men limit added sugars to 150 calories a day, or nine teaspoons, and women to 100 calories a day, or six teaspoons, it seems a big undertaking.

How do you know how much added sugar you're eating anyway? A tablespoon of sugar equals four grams of sugar and about 16 calories, which sounds pretty innocuous. But take that further: An 8-ounce can of Coke has 27 grams of sugar, 100 calories (and seriously, who ever drinks just 8 ounces of soda? The American daily average is 28 ounces!).

We expect that soda has sugar. But look further -- a 6-ounce Whole Foods organic cherry yogurt has 29 grams of sugar, and 150 calories. Dairy has naturally occurring sugar, you say, and you would be right. But the same amount of plain yogurt has just 12 grams of sugar. So is the organic yogurt real food? Or a sugary treat? The line blurs.

Not to pick on this little container of yogurt, but it is a fine example of the conundrum shoppers face. (And it is in my fridge.) It's a reputably healthy brand, one of the top marketers of "healthy" foods in the country. It's "organic." And nowhere in the label does it say "sugar." The second ingredient, however is "organic evaporated cane juice," which is sugar. The label tells us that its fat calories are 0, but not what the sugar load is. But if you do the math, it is extraordinarily high: 77 percent of the calories in this healthy treat are sugar calories, and 56 percent are sugars added to the sugar naturally occurring in yogurt.

Experts from Harvard say a good rule of thumb is to read the label, and if sugar is at or near the top of the list, or several sources of added sugar are sprinkled throughout, take a pass. They also have a list on their website of the names for added sugar that can trick us on food labels.

Here are a few, from the U.S,. Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
  • Agave nectar
  • Brown sugar
  • Cane crystals
  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
There are sugars that are better than others, however. Less refined sugars, like molasses, have nutritional value and help the body handle the rise in glucose and subsequent rise in insulin. Refined sugar, on the other hand, has no nutritional value at all, needs no digestion to go straight into the bloodstream. Think of it like injecting the cupcake directly.

The sugar high, quite simplified, goes something like this: You eat sugar, getting an initial burst of energy your body scrambles to process by producing insulin, which transports the sugar from the bloodstream to the cells and your blood sugar level drops -- the proverbial "crash." So your adrenal glands kick in with some cortisol to help you back up. Over time, the adrenals become overworked, and the whole process makes you exhausted -- plus the excess cortisol, besides weight gain, can trigger chronic disease. The sugar our cells cannot use may also be converted to triglycerides and stored as fat, bad news not just for our waistlines but a host of other ailments, including high cholesterol.

There really is no good news here, other than the fact that so much of nature's own food is tasty, sweet and satisfying on its own that, over time spent without sugar, your taste buds will appreciate more and more. Stevia is a no-calorie sweetener that works for coffee and tea; more on sugar substitutes in future. Try boiling down blueberries, peaches or other sweet foods to use in place of syrup.

For cooking, molasses, honey, raw sugar, in small quantities, will suffice. Make it a challenge to see how much you can cut back. Share recipes here, and we'll post them in the future.

After all this talk about yogurt, I made my own Cherry Yogurt with TEN TIMES LESS added sugar -- check it out!! Also check out Holli Thompson's Halloween post for some great ideas, or try her Goddess Shake.

Your children will thank you.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Winter Fruit

Easy, quick idea to make any meal a party and sneak in some health benefits too!

Cranberry Pomegranate Sauce

1 bag cranberries
1 pomegranate, seeded
2/3 cup raw sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice

Combine in pan. Wimmer over medium-low heat for 15 -20 minutes, or until cranberries pop and a thick sauce forms. Cool and serve.