Saturday, December 30, 2006

Land of Plenty
Yet We're
Overfed and Undernourished

Tony Cinecola - NY Times

New Year's resolutions have a tendency to start out with a bang. Lots of good intentions, then we find excuses to slip back into our old ways. With a new addition to my cookbook collection, I've an incentive to stick to my guns about eating healthier this coming year by feasting on some interesting treatments of veggies, grains and beans.

Crescent Dragonwagon has long been a favorite, providing instructions for luscious breads and muffins with her Dairy Hollow House volume of

Soup & Bread. I recently purchased a used copy of the Passionate Vegetarian from Powell's Books.

When the package arrived in the mail, I was floored by the weight. Upon opening the box, I found I'd bought a monster volume of over 1,000 pages, chock full of fun reading and taste tempting renditions of old favorites along with directions and incentives to try lots of new things.

I dug right in, mashing up some baked sweet potatoes with orange juice, orange zest, a dash of Triple Sec, a little brown sugar and a generous dollop of butter. What a hit those were! So good they could pass for dessert. The recipe calls for Grand Marnier but, you know me,

If out, never do without, substitute!

I'm looking forward to exploring some new foods and using old favorites in new ways to keep mealtime interesting and challenging. I'll keep you posted!
I hope each of you has a great new year ahead. Make some positive changes to enhance your life. Remember, one step at a time is both doable and sustainable.
Till next year . . . keep on cooking!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Joys of Winter

Not until I moved to Florida did I know that oranges aren't really orange until someone cleans them, dyes them, then waxes them. Straight from the tree, they're dirty yellow orbs that leave your hands black from handling them. City living deprives me of daily drives down a country road seeing hand lettered cardboard signs in driveways saying: O R A N G E S.

Despite the dwindling supply of oranges as groves give way to subdivisions, I've been enjoying freshly squeezed Florida orange juice every morning recently. I know that I'd have to eat a truckload of oranges to meet my daily vitamin C requirement, but nevertheless, I squeeze, then drink the pale yellow juice quickly, to get as much of the vitamin content before it oxidizes. The cold snap we had earlier this season was just what nature needed to sweeten up the citrus so that it tastes as if it were injected with sugar. The pleasure of drinking that cup of juice offsets the chore of cleaning the juicer each morning. Oranges are on my weekly shopping list while the abundant, reasonable supply lasts. The season is short, even living in Florida.

As I've been busy with holiday baking - baked and delivered over 15 dozen cookies to friends. Not to mention all those I nibbled on as I slipped sheet after sheet into the oven, out of the oven, onto the cooling rack then into the gift tins. At the end of the day I've wanted to keep the dinner making tasks to a minimum, so . . .I've been having high fiber veggie meals at night to offset all the sugar and buttery nibbles during the day. Oh, how we justify! Produce departments in the markets are swollen with wonderful selections, reasonably priced during this holiday season. It's a good time to make a meal with two or three selections.

Baked sweet potato, oven-roasted cauliflower and braised spinach with garlic.

Oven-roasted vegetables are delectable as well as more nutritious as the vitamins and minerals aren't leached out into boiling water. The taste is far superior to steamed veggies as the high heat of the oven caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables, transforming an ordinary carrot, onion, beet or cauliflower floret, for example, into a mouth-watering, nutritious treat. The florets pictured above were washed, then tossed with a spritz of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with a little Italian breadcrumbs and a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes. Roasted quickly in a 425° oven, they browned nicely on the outside but are soft and creamy inside after about 20 minutes of roasting. The spinach was washed then tossed into a sauce pan that was placed over medium heat with a little olive oil and a sliced clove of garlic. As the spinach wilts down from the heat, just turn it over into the olive oil and garlic. Stop cooking once the leaves are wilted down but still bright green. I use tongs to lift the greens into a small mesh strainer placed over the cooking pot to rest while I plate the rest of the meal. The sweet potato can be scrubbed and cooked in the microwave for those in a hurry. But for purists who prefer the oven, start the potato 15 minutes before putting the cauliflower in the oven.

Another simple, satisfying meal that takes no time to prepare and even less time to clean up after! You don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy the pleasure and the benefits of an all veggie meal now and then. And as a bonus, your colon will thank you.

Book Nook

Don't miss these.

Kim Edwards - The Memory Keepers Daughter

Carl Hiaasen - Nature Girl

Till next time . . . keep on cooking

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Some Like It Hot

The cookbooks that merit shelf space in my house are those that teach, entertain and encourage experimentation. Hotter Than Hell is just such a volume. In simple, straight forward fashion, the author has included a guide to the various types of chilies and other key ingredients used in preparing spicy hot dishes. Ginger, horseradish, mustard, and pepper can all add a little kick to a common dish, adding new interest and a pleasing taste surprise as in:

Red Hot Warm Potato Salad.

The recipe was developed to showcase early spring potatoes. But I never let a little thing like it not being spring slow me down. A chilly day in December seemed a good day for hot potato salad. I simply substituted Idaho potatoes and moved right along. I also used a shallot instead of green onions. Use what's on hand, is my motto. I made a small portion, using 2 potatoes and one egg. Here's the full recipe to serve four generously:

8 small red thin-skinned potatoes ; 3 hard-cooked eggs; 1/4 cup unsalted butter; 2 TBS minced fresh parsley or 1 TBS dried; 1 TBS finely minced pickled or fresh jalapeno chilies; 1 TBS juice from pickled jalapeno or pickle or olive juice; 2 green onions thinly sliced; 4 red radishes, thinly sliced; 1 tsp prepared dark mustard; 1/4 cup mayonnaise; salt and pepper to taste.

Scrub potatoes and cut in halves or quarters. Boil until tender. Meanwhile, hard-cook eggs (15min), then drain. When potatoes are done, drain well; then immediately add butter to saucepan with potatoes. Cover and set aside until butter is melted; then stir to thoroughly combine with potatoes. Add parsley, jalapenos, juice, onions and radishes; shell and chop hard-cooked eggs and fold in. Stir in mustard, mayonnaise, salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve warm. Refrigerate any leftovers and serve cold or reheat gently.

This potato dish livens up a pot of boiled potatoes and it was a great accompaniment as a side with barbecued brisket, worked well with London Broil and the leftovers became a fabulous burrito with jack cheese and salsa rolled into a whole wheat wrap. Good mileage for two potatoes and an egg!

That's thinly sliced shoulder roast (pictured above) cooked quickly in a very hot oven, then sliced against the grain. (See London Broil November archives).

I usually do a little wine pan sauce to go with this dish, but the other day I decided to mix up a little horseradish cream sauce. I prefer horseradish with cold beef, I decided. The sauce worked better with the leftovers the next day. I'll stick with a minced shallot, stock and red wine reduction to go with the hot London broil and dress up the cold leftovers with the zingy cream sauce.

Mustard Horseradish Cream Sauce - Courtesy of Sheila Lukens as it appeared in a recent issue of Parade.

1/3 cup Dijon mustard; 1/3 cup sour cream; 1/4 cup prepared mayonnaise; 1/4 cup well-drained prepared white horseradish.

Hint: To make the small amount shown in photo above, I used 2TBS in place of 1/3 cup and 2 tsp in place of 1/4 cup.

Here's a peek at what I've been up to this week:

The Holiday baking frenzy...what fun!

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New York City
Does the Right Thing

The news is exciting. The New York City Board of Health has stepped forward and spoken out by banning the use of hydrogentated oils in restaurants effective by 2008. One can only hope that by doing so, not only will other cities follow suit, but the food giants, seeing the handwriting on the wall, will eliminate this ominous ingredient from their processed foods regardless of where they are being shipped. Not because they are eager to do the right thing, but because it would be more economical than producing two versions of each item: one with hydrogenated oils, one without.

Are you feeding your family poison?
Poison In the Food: Hydrogenated Oils reveals the raw truth the food companies don't want you to know about health-harming hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids. Read it for yourself.

Those of us who use only whole foods have no problem avoiding hydrogenated oils, but millions of people rely on the conveninence of prepared foods that beckon from the grocer's shelves and freezer cases. For those who read labels, attempting to avoid the worst of the additives, take note of the following:

Consumer Health Warning

Do not buy any foods or groceries containing the following ingredients:

Sodium nitrite (meats)
Monosodium glutamate (soups)
Aspartame (diet soda)
Yeast extract (snacks)
Hydrogenated oils
High-fructose corn syrup

Reduce your risk of diabetes, colon cancer, leukemia, breast cancer, heart disease, dementia, osteoporosis and other diseases by learning to identify and avoid toxic ingredients in common foods and groceries.

If reading labels slows the shopping process for you, try perimeter shopping. Avoid all the inside aisles and only buy from the departments and displays along the outside walls of the store. Caution still must be used, but this is where you'll find the foods with the fewest additives. Produce, seafood, meat, cheese, dairy. The inside aisles are jam packed with overly processed, over priced, prepared foods that contain a bevy of ingredients that do you no good and long term, may do you much harm.

Eating is more than a pleasurable past time, it's the method our bodies require to develop, function and stay healthy. For children, in the growth and formative years, it's sheer negligence for a parent to have no knowledge of what is needed to build a sound mind and body that will be free of disease as it matures. Food processors gear their mega-million dollar ad campaigns at kids. Just look at the shelf space devoted to sugared cereals, cookies, candy, and a variety of snacks that have absolutely no nutritional value. But we sure have a nation of fat kids, along with youngsters exhibiting high cholesterol and developing Type 2 Diabetes, diseases once only common in aging adults. We have a responsibility to ourselves and our loved ones to be aware and to buy the right foods.

Take the time to read the labels. Buy, prepare and eat whole foods. Spend some time investigating which foods will provide the most benefit to you based on your age and health. Protect yourself from disease before it strikes, rather than resorting to treating symptoms once you're ill. Good food is good medicine. Don't wait for your city to ban hydrogenated oils -- ban it from your kitchen and avoid it when eating out.

Till next time . . . keep cooking & keep healthy!

Monday, December 04, 2006

How Good Does It Get?

Better and Better . . .

The steam from the oatmeal fogged up my lens in the first image, nevertheless, piping hot oatmeal cooked with a handful of raisins layered over a bed of minced fresh organic Fuji apples, then laced with a sprinkling of brown sugar and a wee bit of half and half provides a high fiber breakfast that will please the fussiest of eaters. Don't shy away from the real thing, instant oatmeal is like eating shredded cardboard with about the same nutritional value -- less actually, because of the sodium and sugar content.

The oatmeal above is the old-fashioned Quaker Oats 5 minute variety. Better yet to cook up a pot of steel cut oats -- far healthier -- but if you're just starting out on the "I want to eat better" kick, the 5 minute variety is a good place to begin.

It's even better for you without added sugar but again, all things in moderation, a sprinkling of brown sugar and a dash of milk or cream will make it more palatable for a lot of folks and if that's what it takes to get started eating well, so be it.

On the eating raw front, I've been alternating a hot breakfast, as described above,with an all raw fruit meal as I had this morning. Diced fresh pineapple, a sliced apple and banana with a navel orange. The four pieces of fruit filled the same cereal bowl pictured above, and filled me as well.

The up side of the all fruit meal? No energy required for digestion. Fruit, with its high water content, slips in and out of the digestive cycle miraculously fast. No sluggish after effects like those following a heavy, cooked meal. All the body's energy resources go into the digestion process leaving us yawning, sluggish and feeling very lazy. Live food will give you the energy boost you need to jump start the morning. A little protein snack mid-morning (a couple of ounces of turkey, a few almonds or walnuts) will get you to lunch time with no hunger pangs and no urge to eat everything in sight when lunch does roll around. Try it and see.

****BOOK NOOK****

Someone asked if I'd stopped reading. Not likely. I tried several new releases this past month, but didn't get past the first 40 - 50 pages with some of them. Those that held my interest, I finished. Nothing particularly weighty, but plenty of reading enjoyment:

November Book List

Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn; Proof Positive - Philip Margolin; The Wrong Man - John Katzenbach; Home to Big Stone Gap - Adriana Trigiani; Hundred Dollar Baby - Robert B Parker.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking.