Thursday, November 30, 2006

Peasant Food

Perhaps that's not the best appellation for this kind of dish, but I always think of stew-like concoctions as country fare - not served at the squire's place but rather standard fare for his minions. We usually refer to this type of dish as comfort food. There is a subtle elegance to a fine cassoulet, the final dish far surpasses the sum of its parts.

Recently, I watched an episode of Daisy Cooks on PBS, and was treated to an Hispanic version of a cassoulet, made with ham, potatoes, and pink beans cooked to mouth watering perfection in a little chicken broth with a smattering of Alcaparrado (olives, pimentos, capers and brine) to give it a piquant twist. With that fresh in my mind, I wandered into the kitchen on a rainy day and wondered what to have for lunch. No ham on hand, but I found a couple of Boar's Head all beef franks tucked back in the freezer. They seemed a good substitute. I defrosted and sliced them and then tossed them in a saucepot for a quick sauté in a little olive oil. I added two peeled, diced Idahos and let them play tag with the dogs for a few minutes before adding a can of pink beans (rinsed and drained) and enough chicken broth to just cover everything, plus a couple of heaping tablespoons of Alcaparrado along with a smidgen of the brine, then I turned the heat down to simmer and let the stuff stew.

Once the potatoes were cooked, I was ready to eat. This is one of the fastest, comfort food meals I've ever undertaken. Thank you, Daisy. The olives and brine brought just enough zing to the overall dish to make it an amazing taste treat. Most of the broth had been absorbed but there was enough to allow for the dunking of a hunk of whole wheat bread.

Quick, easy, nutritious and very inexpensive. Think of something like this the next time you 'don't know what to cook'!

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Have a Healthy Helping

I'm excited. I ordered Nomi Shannon's book, The Raw Gourmet. To get a jump start on healthy eating for the new year, I'm starting before all the holiday temptations overtake my waist, butt and thighs.

Back in 1995, I'd managed to pack on a lot of extra pounds and was sluggish and feeling my age. I eliminated baked goods, sweets and meat from my diet. I had plenty of fresh fruit for sweets and made wonderful melon sorbets with no added sweeteners. I used eggs, beans and cheese to round out the protein portion of my intake. I'd say that my meals were 50 - 60% raw, accompanied by steamed or roasted veggies at dinner time. I occasionally indulged in a few sautéed dishes like latkes with freshly made raw applesauce balancing out a dollop of sour cream. As the man said, "moderation is the key". Not sure which man that was or perhaps it was a woman, but believe me, avoiding favorite foods entirely is ridiculous - there are no 'bad' whole foods. It's the processed, packaged, plastic, chemically laden, hydrogenized modern wonders that will do you in and certainly contribute to the national obesity epidemic.

While I wait for my new idea book to arrive in the mail, I've pulled out Marilyn Diamond's The American Vegetarian Cookbook, a veritable tome of fantastic ideas, excellent suggestions and recommendations with a raft of information regarding wholefoods vs. refined; fiber, protein, cholesterol, etc. This great resource offers a glimpse into how the body uses the foods we eat to help our immune systems fight disease, but it's also a straightforward volume filled with instructions for easy to prepare meals that will satisfy our appetites while filling us with vibrant energy. Check it out at a great savings.
One of my favorite finds from this cookbook is the goodwich. No, that's not a typo - - it's not supposed to be the good witch. It's an aphorism describing a healthy sandwich. In today's lingo, we call it a wrap. Tortilla based, filled with steamed and fresh veggies,tasty condiments and trimmings, a goodwich is ready to eat in minutes. Tightly wrapped and refrigerated, it's conveniently on-hand when hunger strikes.
Using a whole wheat tortilla for a base,we get the feel of bread without the bulk, (read extra calories) from two slices of bread or a bun. The filling can be any assortment of steamed vegetables, raw vegetables or salads that you choose with low fat condiments such as mustard, tartar sauce, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, fat free or dairy free mayonnaise, etc. and the trimmings are limited only by your imagination and how well you've stocked your pantry: sliced pickles, onions, chopped olives, sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, etc.

Marilyn spends several pages with examples, suggestions and combinations that have proven successful. Even including a diagram on how to layer and fold the goodwich for ease of handling and eating (keeping the drips to a minimum).

Here's one that I whipped together for lunch using my very favorite combination, vine ripened tomato and avocado with alfalfa sprouts. A paltry filling compared to some of Marilyn's combinations.

To see some exciting examples of raw food, check out Heidi and Justin Ohlander's blog Raw Food, Right Now. They've made the transition from surviving on cooked, dead food to thriving on raw, live food. They posted some fantastic recipes for the recent holiday that will give you an idea of how foods we are so familiar with can be prepared and eaten in a whole new healthier way.
Eating 100% raw food isn't eveyone's goal, but gradually incorporating raw whole foods into our diets is a means to take control of our health. After all, we are each responsible for our own well being.

Bill Buford's column, Notes of a Gastronome, in the October 12th issue of the New Yorker discussed the changing face of food TV. His closing paragraph speaks directly to the lack of food savvy and dependence on prepared food that has become the state of our nation.
"Never in our history as a species have we been so ignorant about our food. And it is revealing about our culture that, in the face of such widespread ignorance about a human being's most essential function -- the ability to feed itself -- there is now a network broadcasting into ninety million American homes, entertaining people with shows about making coleslaw."

It's food that keeps us free of illness and disease and conversely, it is food that contributes to the myriad of fatal illnesses that plague us today. Why have we allowed the food giants, meat processors, fast food chains and agri-business to jeopardize our health and well-being? It's time to take charge of ourselves and our own. Making small changes daily is a step in the right direction.

Till next time. . . keep on cooking, but try a little raw food!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Cranberry Nut Bread
In keeping with the season, it seemed appropriate to make something with cranberries. With a fresh bag of King Arthur Select Artisan 100% Organic All Purpose flour on hand, a new supply of walnuts and a bag of Florida oranges, cranberry nut bread was an easy choice. The following recipe will make three small loaves, two regular size loaves or one large loaf with a soft, moist crumb.
Fresh cranberries and freshly squeezed orange juice make this quick bread a festive, flavorful breakfast treat or the perfect companion to afternoon tea.
The process is simple when taken step by step.
1.) Butter and flour the loaf pan(s); 2.) whisk dry ingredients in large bowl; 3.)whisk wet ingredients in medium bowl; 4.) chop cranberries and nuts; 5.) add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, gently fold until all is moist; 6.) fold in berries and nuts. DO NOT OVERMIX. 7.)Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in preheated 350° oven for 50 - 60 minutes. Cool on wire rack 8 - 10 minutes before removing from pan. Allow to cool completely before slicing.

Wet: 3/4 cup orange juice; one large egg, lightly beaten; 2 TB vegetable oil; 1 tsp vanilla extract. Dry: 2 cups flour; 3/4 cup sugar; 1 1/2 tsp baking power; 1 tsp salt; 1/2 tsp baking soda/ 1/2 tsp cinnamon. Fruit/Nuts: 1 cup coarsely chopped cranberries (fresh or frozen); 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans.

Till next time . . . Keep on cooking.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

One for Me

Three for the Freezer

It's always fun to restock the freezer -- I get to sample everything that goes in. This morning it was Belgian waffle time. I made these sour cream waffles with white whole wheat flour from King Arthur, hormone & anti-biotic free eggs, organic, cultured butter and fat-free natural milk.

They're quick and easy to make. The first bite, laced with melted butter and Vermont maple syrup cried "heaven" -- with no hint of health food. But for a sweet treat, they're a big step up from the freezer case choices. Try them, even if you use regular flour, eggs and milk -- they still beat bought! Tuck extras away in the freezer. Cut in halves or quarters, they heat up nicely in the toaster.

Sour Cream Waffles

1 3/4 cups AP or white whole wheat flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 stick unsalted melted butter, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, 3 large eggs

Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl to combine and make a well in the center. Whisk the melted butter, milk, sour cream, and eggs in a medium bowl until well combined and pour into the well. Whisk just until smooth; do not over mix.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006



A protein with a light pan sauce;

fresh veggies; an occasional starch.

Master the pan grilled technique*,
Shop with a plan, toss in a little practice, and you'll soon be putting a tasty, satisfying meal on the table in thirty minutes or less.

*Start on top, finish in the oven, add a simple pan sauce.

Classes start in January. Watch for details.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On behalf of. . .




Be a part of our fundraising effort!

The 2007 Entertainment Book makes the perfect gift for that hard to please someone on your holiday list.

And it will save you $$$$ at favorite restaurants - fine dining, casual fare and fast food for starters. But there's so much more. Check it out.
50% off and 2 for 1 discounts - super savings.

Books are available for 156 locations across the country. Surprise someone with the number one discount savings book - and be sure to get one for yourself.
Coastal Poodle Rescue rehabilitates unwanted, abused and abandoned poodles and then places them in loving and responsible homes to live out their lives as cherished family members.
We ensure that each dog is spayed or neutered and examined by a veterinarian. The dogs are placed in foster homes that provide love and patience to help the animals adjust before being adopted. As a non-profit 501(c) (3) corporation, we are 100% volunteer-based, which means overhead costs are minimal. Fundraising proceeds are put to direct use for the good of the dogs. We are entirely supported by charitable donations.
Coastal Poodle Rescue will receive a portion of every sale of Entertainment Books bought under our group ID. It's the easy way to do a good deed!


Monday, November 13, 2006

Remember This?

This lovely loaf of brioche, tightly wrapped in foil, sat patiently waiting in my freezer to become a luscious Sunday breakfast treat.

French toast with sweet cream butter and Vermont Maple Syrup

What constantly amazes me, as I cook, is the splendid reward for spending a little time with a few quality ingredients. Two slices of bread soaked in a beaten egg with a splash of milk, a pinch of sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a few drops of vanilla, sautéed in a little butter, turned into this mouth watering treat in just a few minutes.

If the serving looks small, you must know, this was 'dessert' after a hearty bowl of steel cut oats with brown sugar, raisins and sliced banana, topped off with vanilla soy milk.

Just wanted to share the French toast image...I'm proud of my brioche!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Free Sample!

At my door this morning, tucked neatly in the plastic sleeve that housed my daily paper, was this little packet of instant bouillon. Nestle, what are you trying to do to us? I see they've lowered the amount of sodium per serving by 25% while maintaining the "same great taste". Instead of 900mg of sodium per teaspoon, this innovative, newly released magic pouch of powder only contains 650mg of sodium per teaspoon. But it's not just the sodium that concerns. The ingredient list contains a frightening roster of ingredients that have been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, migraines, to name just a few of the more common diseases that plague the planet since the inception of convenience foods became so prevalent in our kitchens.
Last time I looked, chicken broth comprised simply of simmering a whole or parts of a chicken with aromatics (onion, carrots, celery) four ingredients plus water. Not much effort involved in putting a large pot on the stove, rinsing the chicken and veggies and tossing them together with enough filtered water to cover. Once at a boil, the burner is turned down to simmer, the foam is skimmed and an hour or so later, you have quarts of chicken stock, plus some great chicken for salad or soup.
Sure, it isn't something we do after putting in a long day at work. But it works very nicely when we're occupied at home with other projects. It doesn't require much effort to produce. Not only is it superior in flavor to anything that can be purchased. It's good for us.
This little packet, made up of 98% chemicals and 2% dehydrated chicken, was made in Guatemala.
In addition to the listed ingredients, the packet is stamped in capital letters: CONTAINS SULFITES.
Salt, cornstarch, monosodium glutamate, sugar, partially hydrogenated palm oil, garlic powder, onion powder, and less than 2% of dehydrated chicken, turmeric, (spice and color), spices, artificial flavor, chicken fat, disodium inosimate, natural flavor, TBHQ (to preserve freshness) sulfiting agents.
(16 ingredients).
Check out the sidebar for more information and food warnings about the listed ingredients.
I suppose I could easily be considered anachronistic. But daily, studies are showing that it's what we eat or what we neglect to eat that determines the state of our health. Waiting for disease to strike then treating it with pharmaceuticals doesn't make much sense, when with a little knowledge, a little planning and just a little effort, we can eat our way to health.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


U.H.requested directions for preparing the perfect oven-grilled London Broil.
Thanks to Cook's Illustrated, I've become an accomplished hand at this simple technique for turning an inexpensive piece of chewy muscle into a delicious entrée.
By the way, the term London broil refers to the method used to prepare an inexpensive piece of meat, not the cut. Choosing the right cut of beef is the first step toward success in this preparation.
The traditional cut for London broil is flank steak, but that's no longer an inexpensive cut of beef. After much trial and error, Mark Bittman, who developed this particular technique, determined that an excellent alternate choice is the shoulder cut. The shoulder (chuck) is a bit chewy, but its full beef flavor, low cost and the fact that it can be purchased in a nice thick cut, makes it a favorite for London broil.

A quick and easy, flavorful, no fuss - no muss meal

I watch the specials, and often find a lean, thick piece of beef, labeled shoulder roast or shoulder steak, at $2.79 - $2.99/lb. When cooking for one, even a two pound piece is a lot of meat. I usually cut the roast in half and freeze a portion for another time. One pound of meat is plenty for three meals for me. London broil served cold is great, sliced thinly accompanied by a horseradish/mustard dipping sauce and some rye bread with a side salad, you've another fast meal or use the thin slices of rare beef to top a dinner salad.

Oven grilling is my favorite method for cooking pork, chicken and steak. It's simply starting it on top of the stove, then transferring it to finish off in a very hot oven. The trick with London broil is to use high heat both on top of the stove and in the oven to achieve a uniform, crisp crust.

An oven-safe, heavy skillet, cast iron or stainless steel, works best. The oven should be preheated to 500° for at least 30 minutes with an oven rack placed in the lowest position. Here are the instructions, adapted from the May/June 1998 issue of Cook's Illustrated:

1 1/2 - 2 pounds boneless shoulder steak/roast about 1 1/2" thick, patted dry. Salt and pepper.

Heat a heavy ovenproof skillet for as least 3 minutes over high heat. Generously sprinkle both sides of the steak with salt and pepper and add to pan. As soon as the steak starts to smoke, about 5 seconds (little white wisps appear), carefully transfer pan to oven. Cook for 5 minutes then turn steak and cook until well seared and medium rare (125° - 130° on an instant-read thermometer). Another 5 - 8 minutes. Transfer steak to cutting board and let it rest for at least 5 minutes to allow juices to flow back into the meat.

Meanwhile, place skillet on medium high burner, be sure to keep a pot holder on the handle to remind you it is oven hot. Deglaze with 1/4 cup of chicken broth and 1/4 cup of whatever red wine you're having with dinner. Reduce to half, remove from heat and swirl in a teaspoon or two of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Slice meat very thinly across the grain, serve with wine reduction and any meat juice.

While you're at it, you might as well try the 'quickie baked potatoes'. Scrub one medium sized Idaho potato per person, and zap in the microwave for 5 minutes on high, then place on the top rack in the 500° oven when you put in the meat. The potatoes will be ready when the meat is done and taste as if they've been baked for an hour. Gloria Pépin, Jacques' wife, came up with this innovative idea. It works beautifully.

The grape tomatoes pictured above are washed, cut in half, doused in a little first cold pressed imported Italian olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of grated lemon zest with salt and pepper.

This is another of those delicious thirty minute meals to add to your repertoire.

Thanks to U.H. for asking - hope many of you try it and enjoy it!

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
I took stock and realized I'd been eating too much meat lately. With a cupboard filled with whole food alternatives, I opted for a couple of meat-free days. But making a decision wasn't easy. Barley, quinoa, lentils, black beans, red beans, which would it be? As I tried to decide, I thought of all my non-cooking friends and opted for a tasty, nutritious dish that could be made by the most faint hearted.
Black Beans and Rice!
Here's the good news, you can use canned black beans, canned chicken broth and for the aromatics, add a can of every cook's secret weapon -- Rotel tomatoes and chilies. Use the Mexican variety with onions, garlic, oregano, hot chilies, etc. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt that you can cook up a little rice. But, just in case, here's a quick rundown on cooking rice.
Wash the amount of rice you need, based on how many you're serving, in a strainer under cold running water, let drain. In medium saucepan heat one tablespoon of olive oil over high heat, add rice and stir to coat, add enough cold water to cover rice by about one inch, add salt and bring to a rapid boil, stir again, cover and reduce heat to medium low. Cook for 17 minutes or until all water has evaporated. Turn off heat, leave on burner covered for another 5 minutes. Presto, fluffy rice!
Meanwhile, if you are using canned beans, rinse them thoroughly in a strainer. With canned beans there's no heavenly pot liquor, so add one can of chicken broth for every can of beans, and one can of Rotel Mexican tomatoes. Serve over cooked rice in a deep soup bowl.
If you cook your own beans, pre-soaking for at least 4 hours will speed up the cooking process. As with cooking all beans, do not add salt to the initial cooking. I boiled mine for about an hour and a half and then cooked them with a couple of cloves of minced garlic and a diced onion for another hour or so, then added about a cup of boiling water and a can of Rotel Mexican tomatoes. Salt and pepper to taste. A word of caution: these are spicy hot with the chilies - delicious.
Pizza Fills the Bill

Browsing through the current King Arthur Flour catalog, I ran across a recipe for "Light-as-Air" Pizza. The ingredients were the same as I usually use to make pizza crust with the addition of one teaspoon of baking powder in addition to the yeast. I couldn't wait to try it. They weren't kidding. This crust is crispy on the bottom and the crumb is light and airy not heavy and dense. The pie pictured above has a little too much end crust for my taste. Next time I'll roll it out larger and thinner or make two small pies to eliminate those big 'handles'. But despite the abundance of crust, it was delicious.

The topping is simply a can of Muir Glen Fire-Roasted diced tomatoes,reduced and minced garlic and shallot, salt and pepper. After cooking down, I gave it a few swipes with the immersion blender and then spooned it into a strainer and let some of the liquid drain off before topping the crust. I spread a few drops of EVOO over the crust before adding the tomatoes. I sliced mozzarella thinly instead of grating it and then when the pie came out of the 500° oven, I spread on freshly grated Regianno and a chiffonade of fresh basil and added another drizzle of high quality extra virgin olive oil. Believe me, you won't miss the meat with this one!



Stuart Woods - Short Straw

Philip Margolin - Sleeping Beauty

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!