Monday, June 26, 2006

Getting Your Vitamin C?

Interesting article in the current issue of Ode citing recent findings published in the British medical bulletin What Doctors Don't Tell You about the benefits of vitamin C in preventing and possibly curing heart disease. I remember when Linus Pauling's published recommendations for vitamin C were the rage back in the 70's. Research, backed by studies of 11,000 Americans, supports Pauling's findings that the people with the highest intake of vitamin C had the lowest incidence of heart disease. Findings like these obviously will present a real challenge to both the pharmaceutical companies with their plethora of cholesterol reducing drugs as well as to the food industry who have flooded the market with synthetically processed low-fat food intended as heart disease prevention.

As humans, we can neither produce nor store vitamin C so a daily dose is required either through our food source or as a supplement. Most of us find it difficult to eat our 5 - 8 servings of fruit and veggies a day and many of the ones we do eat are not necessarily high in vitamin C or because we've cooked them have lost most of their nutritional value. Using a supplement is a wise choice.

When I was a kid and visited my grandparents for a weekend or during summer vacation, my grandmother had a tendency to spoil me. Not only was I the first grandchild, offspring of her first born, but I made my appearance into this world on her birthday. That alone would have made me special to her but in addition, my mother died of tuberculosis when I was 18 months old and I lived with my paternal grandparents until my Dad remarried when I was about 3 years old. A lot of info to support the statement that I was spoiled.

Part of the spoiling was Gram making waffles for my breakfast. I remember how antsy I was as I waited for that first waffle to cook, watching for the escaping steam to stop seemed to take forever. I still grow impatient waiting for that first one to bake up golden and crisp. At my grandmother's house, my waffles were served with a generous slathering of soft butter, a sprinkle of sugar and then, instead of syrup or jam, my waffle, served in a soup plate, was doused in freshly squeezed orange juice. Gram didn't like the sweetness of syrup and wanted me to have the vitamin C from the oranges. She reasoned that I'd eat more if they weren't too sweet. Don't laugh, but I still eat my waffles with butter, sugar and orange juice. Had some the other day and as happens each time that succulent warm bite of waffle, with the tartness of the orange juice offset by the touch of sweetness from the sugar hits my tastebuds, I'm transported to my grandmother's kitchen and the warmth, security and love I felt as I sat at the table, impatiently waiting for the steam to stop.

I make a batch of sour cream waffles regularly. The recipe below makes four big fat Belgian waffles. When I make them, I eat one and cool the other three on a wire rack, cut them into quarters when cool, wrap them in waxed paper by serving size and then put them into a ziplock freezer bag. When I want waffles, I take a couple of quarters from the freezer and reheat them in the toaster. Believe me, these beat any you can buy in the freezer section of the market.

Sour Cream Waffles

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

1 TBS sugar

1 TBS baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

3 large eggs

Whisk the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Whisk the melted butter, milk, sour cream and eggs in a medium bowl. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour the wet ingredients into the well. Whisk just until smooth, don't over mix. Cook in a heated waffle iron with lightly oiled grids.

Had a very entertaining week reading. Patricia Cornwell wrote a 15 part serial for the New York Times Magazine. I caught only a few episodes so was pleased to find the whole thing published in hard cover at the library. At Risk is a short fast read with an interesting plot twist. No Kay Scarpetta but authentic police procedurals and some interesting new characters.

I found Julia Glass's prize winning novel, Three Junes, a few years ago and have recommended it to many. Even read it twice. Ms Glass has a new novel out and it's equally enthralling. The Whole World Over reminds me of Maeve Binchy's work because of the in-depth treatment of a variety of characters, their problems and surprising interaction. As in Three Junes, Ms Glass weaves the histories and present circumstances of her cast of characters so deftly that the reader is constantly surprised to find the emerging pattern and the final canvas so neatly framed.

Rounding out my reading week, I really enjoyed Joseph Kanon's Alibi. The action takes place in Venice and the author uses the history of World War II, the breathtaking Venetian architecture and unique canal system to good advantage, giving this mystery story an intriguing background and moving the story forward with sympathetic characters caught in a web of deceit. Kanon's use of dialog to move the plot along rather than heavy descriptive narrative certainly makes the novel a fast and compelling read.

And I finally got around to watching Syriana. George Clooney continually amazes me with each new film he just gets better and better, doesn't he? While the acting talent in the film is highly commendable, it's the story, depicting a frightening reality of the precarious world in which we live, that should spur each of us to take an active part, regardless of how small, to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, to clean house in our government, to become watchdogs of big business, to become aware of the issues and take part in our world, starting at the community level, then the state level and finally being an influence on how our national leaders represent us. Are we a democracy? A government run by the people?

Until next time. . . Keep on cooking.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Let's Stuff Veggies
With fresh produce abounding in the markets and at farm stands, it's a perfect time to go a little vegetarian. I picked up some lovely red peppers the other day that were just begging to be stuffed and baked. Zucchini or yellow squash boats are great for stuffing as well as big bold vidalia onions and fat firm tomatoes. In the fall and winter, cabbage and grape leaves are wonderful stuffed, too.
I decided to forego a meat stuffing and just fly with a tasty, high nutrition, low fat organic japonica rice filling for my two large, red beauties. I buy Lundberg Farms rice at Whole Foods Market but many regular supermarkets carry a good selection of Lundberg rice, too. While the rice was simmering, I sauteed some diced veggies: 1 large carrot, 1 stalk of celery, 1 vidalia onion (mirapoix) in a little olive oil with a generous pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper. Once the veggies were well coated and starting to soften, I added a splash of red wine (happened to be open) water or broth will do, turned down the heat to low, covered the pan and let the veggies cook down. When the rice was cooked (see cooking directions) I mixed it with the mirapoix, and with the peppers cut in half vertically, stem to bottom, seeded and deveined, I stuffed them, placed them in a baking dish, tossed some Muir Glen organic fire-roasted crushed tomatoes over, covered the pan with foil and placed in a 350 oven for an hour and fifteen minutes. I removed the foil and sprinkled grated mozzarella cheese over each pepper half and returned them to the oven for another 15 minutes. The Japonica rice has such a surprising flavor. Rich and meaty with a sweet finish on the palate. Try it as a side dish to liven up a mild fish or poached chicken breast. But, truthfully, it stands up on its own as a fine main course accompanied by colorful vegetables. Give it a try.
I kept my pledge, and went to see An Inconvenient Truth on opening weekend. If you follow box office reports, you know that Cars raked in the most money this past weekend with over $31 million in sales and the plight of global warming came in #12, with about $1.75 million in sales. It's obvious, as a nation, what has our attention. In all fairness, comparing the two films is doing an apples and oranges exercise. I'm glad that many parents took kids to the movies - hurray for the wide screen. What's sad is how few adults made the effort to increase their knowledge about the situation or bothered to stand up and be counted to show the administration that global warming is a major concern for us as citizens and we want something done about it now, before it's too late to avoid disaster. It's not too late to go.
On a happier note, I also contributed to A Prairie Home Companion being in 11th place at the box office this weekend. What a fun film, particularly poignant if you're a listener to the weekly radio program.
And on the reading range, I finished up Bill Buford's book, Heat, which gives a very detailed picture of life on the line of a busy, upscale, restaurant. I loved reading about the hectic prep work and the pressure of filling orders to perfection in record time along with the super talent and mercurical moods of Molto Maria. Yet when I finished the book, I was more convinced than ever that dabbling in home cooking is fine with me. Home eating is fine with me, too, after being further enlightened by some of the food handling horror stories typical of all restaurant kitchens. Buford's disclosures are mild compared to Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, and I understand Bourdain's new book, Nasty Bits, tells more tall tales from the kitchen floor. I think I'll pass on that one for the time being or I'll never eat in a restaurant again.
In between the heat of the kitchen and the joy of the plated food in the dining room, I read Nancy Pickard's new novel, The Virgin of Small Plains. "An unforgettable tale of love, lust, faith, betrayal and redemption. A powerful, mesmerizing suspense novel__a tour de force!" After reading that blurb on the jacket, how could anyone resist? Least of all me! It was a fun fast entertaining book by a prolific author whom I've not read before.
Someone commented recently that she was reading a book that really didn't interest her, but since she'd started it, she was going to finish it. Horrors!
I follow the advice and wisdom of Nancy Pearl. I give any book the benefit of the doubt for the first (?#?) pages. The formula for (?#?) pages is: Hang in for the first 50 pages BUT if you are older than 50, subtract your age from 100 and that is the maximum number of pages to give any book to grab your interest and full attention. If it doesn't do it, put it down and pick up something else. Remember, "too many books; too little time."
Until next time - keep on cooking!

Monday, June 12, 2006

With Alberto, the first tropical depression of the season, breathing down our necks, it seemed a perfect day, albeit a little hot and humid, to put on a pot of soup. A package of heirloom cannelli beans from Rancho Gordo has been beckoning to me from the second shelf of the pantry for ages. Encouraged by a recent post from Heidi Swanson using Calypso beans to produce a pot of succulent soup, I ventured off in my own fumbling direction. The soup is on its final leg and the house is redolent with a subtle smoky scent from the teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika that I added to the mirapoix while it simmered away before joining the beans in their rich pot liquor. The beans will easily hold their own as is, but I think a chiffonade of baby spinach leaves tossed in just before serving along with a generous helping of freshly grated parmesan cheese will elevate this simple bean soup to an impressive plateau just right for dinner on a blustery, wet evening. I've a nice cabernet waiting to be uncorked that should make a fine accompaniment. Anyone in the neighborhood is welcome to stop by.
White Bean Soup
One pound cannellini beans cooked
with a chopped onion and 2 bay leaves
2 carrots diced
1 onion diced
2 stalks of celery diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 package fresh baby spinach, washed and slivered(chiffonade)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Wash and sort beans, cover with water and rest overnight (if using canned beans rinse off thoroughly before proceeding from * and use broth instead of water to add some flavor)
Cook beans along with a chopped onion in dutch oven. Add filtered or bottled water to cover beans by at least one inch (maintain this level while cooking).
Beans will require at least 2 hours to become fairly soft. Meanwhile saute the diced onion, carrot and celery (mirapoix) add a little broth or water and cover to finish cooking along with the spoon full of smoked paprika. After beans have cooked for a couple of hours, * add mirapoix, finish cooking beans until they are fork tender then add salt and pepper to taste. DO NOT ADD SALT TO BEANS AS THEY COOK. Remove bay leaves. Puree a couple of cups of the soup either in a blender or use an immersion blender, to give the soup some added body. Just before serving, add the chiffonade of spinach, give it a few minutes to wilt. Ladle soup into individual bowls and serve with a generous helping of grated cheese.
I was browsing through Elizabeth David's, French Country Cooking over the weekend and that probably provided the impulse to make the simple bean soup. The famous chef and food writer wrote: "Good cooking is honest, sincere and simple, and by this I do not mean to imply that you will find in this, or indeed in any other book, the secret of turning out first-class food in a few minutes with no trouble. Good food is always a trouble and its preparation should be regarded as a labor of love."
And speaking of a labor of love, I've just started reading Bill Buford's book, Heat. Buford, author,editor, amateur cook and food lover, joined Mario Batali at his famous restaurant, Babbo, working as a kitchen slave and lived to tell the tale in this newly released volume. The first few chapters give promise to a wonderfully humorous and enlightening look at the behind the scenes workings of a fabulous 3 star New York eatery along with the inside scoop on one of today's most prominent young chefs, with an illuminating exploration of why food matters. Can't wait to get back to it.
I was fortunate to follow up on a recent compelling book review for Ivan Doig's The Whistling Season. Here's another wonderful author that I'd never read. Whistling Season is his 11th novel. Why I hadn't been introduced to him before now is a mystery but I'm happy to report this volume is a wonderful story set at the turn of the century in the plains of Montana. Oops...that's the turn of the last century, of course! Doig reminds me of Wallace Stegner. If you haven't read Stegner's prize winning Angle of Repose, put it on your must read list.
The rain appears to have let up for the moment. Time to puree the soup and walk the dog. Hope everyone keeps dry. Till next time...keep on cooking!

Monday, June 05, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth
Check it out, this documentary is a must see for every responsible citizen. See and hear for yourself just what all this Global Warming buzz is about, how it affects each of us and what steps we can take to avert a disaster. Join the millions nation-wide on opening weekend at a theater near you to show both your concern and indicate your support for immediate changes. Pledge to be there, buy a ticket and be counted! The film will be screened at several locations in the greater Orlando area opening on Friday, June 16th. Call friends and family, get a group together, spread the word, this is too important an issue to ignore.
On a lighter note, A Prairie Home Companion, the movie opens this Friday (6/6) at Enzian. Robert Altman and Garrison Keillor - can you think of a better combo? If you've never visited Lake Woebegone now's your chance to see it as well as hear it. Meet the Men's All Star Shoe Band and Guy Noir. Get acquainted with a place where "the women are smart, the men are strong and all the children are good looking." Garrison Keillor never fails to entertain, week after week with his successful PBS radio show - now's a chance to put faces to the characters. Just to see the dynamite cast that's lined up is worth the price of admission!
I had a light week in the reading department. I was completely captivated with Geraldine Brooks' Pulizter Prize winner, March. She has cleverly given a back story and answer to: what ever happened to the father in Little Women? Her well researched depiction of the horrors of the Civil War laced through the lives of some very interesting characters makes for a satisfying page turner. Marmee and the little women make a splendid backdrop to Mr. March's story, both familiar and sympathetic. Ms Brooks' previous novel, Year of Wonders, a tale set in the time of the plague, is a great read also.
I finished My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir. The book includes some great photos taken by her talented husband, Paul Child. After so many years of watching Julia's TV shows, starting with The French Chef on WGBS in Boston, I could hear her distinctive voice and precise enunciation in every written word and her marvelous sense of humor came through along with her dedicated, serious approach to her quest, making French cooking do-able for the American cook.
I cut my culinary teeth with her Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Still have it and still consult that faded, food-stained volume which now retails in the $45 range. My copy was a Christmas gift in 1967 and ran a grand total of $9.95 (no sales tax in NH). The book is more than a collection of recipes, it's a textbook, teaching techniques and processes. Once mastered, one can cook successfully and with great confidence. The following passage from the memoir leapt off the page at me, so I filed it away to share:
". . .nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn't use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture. . . But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience."
So how about some onion soup - ala Julia?
1 1/2 lbs of yellow onions sliced (about 5 cups)
3 TBS unsalted butter
1 TBS olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
3 TBS flour
2 quarts of boiling beef broth or stock
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry vermouth
S & P to taste
3 TBS cognac
Rounds of toasted French bread
Grated Swiss or Parmesan Cheese
Cook the onions slowly in the butter and oil over low heat in a covered saucepan for about 15 minutes. Uncover and raise heat to medium, stir in salt and sugar.
Cook for 30 - 40 minutes stirring frequently until the onions have turned an even deep, golden brown. Then sprinkle in the flour and stir for 3 minutes.
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid, add the wine, season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 - 40 minutes.
Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into soup bowls over the rounds of bread and sprinkle with grated cheese.
Note: This is not the version of onion soup with the gloppy cheese top - that's gratineed.
Hope you'll try it, it's a winner. Till next time. . . keep on cooking!