Friday, March 30, 2007


Serving familiar vegetables in new ways adds interest and variety to meal time planning. The brussels sprouts pictured above have been sliced and sautéed with shallots and pancetta and finished with Dijon mustard, providing a little zip, and a unique look to an old time favorite. Well, a favorite for some, anyway. Brussels sprouts grow on a plant that is from the mustard family, using a little mustard in the preparation brings out the subtle cabbage flavor of the little heads. Slicing the sprouts from stem to stern allows the strips to sauté quickly, retaining a soft green color.

I sautéed a quarter inch thick slice of pancetta, minced, with a couple of sliced shallots in a tablespoon of olive oil. While that was browning, I washed, trimmed, then sliced about 8 good sized sprouts and added them to the pan tossing to mix with the pancetta and shallots. You may want to add a few drops of water to produce a little steam. Continue tossing and stirring to cook the strips quickly. Once they are done to your liking, crisp/tender but still retaining some green color, stir in a generous teaspoon of Dijon mustard. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.


Fennel was brought to this country by the Italians. This anise/licorice flavored vegetable, with feathery greenery, always intrigued me but it wasn't something I ever had growing up. I admired it from afar, but never brought it home.

After reading about it in food magazines, curiosity got the best of me and I bought a head and shaved it thinly to use in a salad. Fennel is a member of the same family as celery. It provides a nice crunchy element in a salad along with its intriguing anise flavor. Branching out, I decided to give it a stir-fry treatment and after several complicated and disappointing ventures, I've decided this simple, quick sauté in olive oil, over fairly high heat, is perfect for a splendid side to serve with other veggies or a grilled piece of meat, chicken or fish.

Following Crescent Dragonwagon's advice in the Passionate Vegetarian, the mellow flavor of the anise is complemented with a tablespoon of tamari at the finish, along with a piquant burst from a generous dollop of Pickapeppa sauce.

The image above is just one fennel bulb sliced. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a sauté pan. Let it get hot, so that the slices sizzle when added. Lower the heat slightly and cook until the fennel starts to get limp (4 - 6 minutes). Drizzle with the tamari and Pickappeppa and stir fry for another 2 - 3 minutes. Sprinkle with salt, if you feel it needs it, and freshly ground pepper. Garnishing it with a few of the feathery fronds adds a little upscale touch. One bulb serves two people or one, if greedy. Not mentioning any names.

Produce departments, farmer's markets and roadside stands offer many interesting fresh vegetables that add flavor and texture along with good nutrition to mealtime. It's fun to try new ones or use old favorites in new ways. And it's better still, if you use vegetables that are grown organically.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Ah, The Many Possibilities
There they sat in the fridge, beckoning. Insisting that they be used while still firm and fresh and full of flavor. A little variegated eggplant, two crook neck squash, a zucchini and a red pepper. I invited a sweet onion and a handful of grape tomatoes to join the crowd and once washed and sliced, I marinated them in a little olive oil, raspberry vinegar, Mexican oregano, salt and pepper.
After coating all the pieces, I transferred the bowlful of veggies and liquid to a Ziploc bag and placed in the fridge for a few hours. Overnight would work well, too. I decided that a quick run under the broiler would be a nice change from all the roasted veggies I've had lately. Roasting caramelizes the sugars and produces a rich, depth of flavor. Broiling the veggies keeps them crisp-tender without the caramelization effect. Depending on how charred you let them get, it's a completely different flavor experience. I like to preserve as much of the nutrients and enzymes as possible without having them still raw. I found that ten minutes with the broiler pan about 4 inches from the element and with the oven door about 6" ajar worked well with my stove.These lovely young tender vegetables have taken on a grilled flavor from the marinade and the light broiling and are ready to take center stage in a variety of dishes. They can be served as a side dish to complement a meat entrée, used to enrich a chicken or vegetable soup, tossed with fresh greens and a lively vinaigrette, perhaps one using raspberry vinegar to enhance the marinade flavor. If these veggies topped pasta, it would be a marvelously colorful Pasta Primevera or they could simply be a great partner with some rich Lundberg Farms mahogany rice, like so:

The rich brown and black rice, cooked in homemade dark vegetable stock made a toothsome companion to the vegetables. And as you probably noticed, I gave the dish an Italian twist with some fresh basil from the patio and a few rasp strokes across a wedge of Parmesan cheese. I enjoyed a colorful light supper with a glass of Cabernet, some crusty peasant bread, a few brine cured olives—it would do any bistro proud.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Potato Inspiration
A recent trip to the produce market turned up some marvelous little red new potatoes just begging to be made the center attraction. But starch alone isn't a wise menu choice so I added some protein with a couple of hard boiled eggs and a cup of lightly blanched soy beans (edamame).

If you're not familiar with edamame except, perhaps at your favorite sushi bar, these lovely little immature green soybeans are often referred to as the super or wonder vegetable. They're the only vegetable that contains all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein, similar to meat and eggs, but with the added bonus of no saturated fat and no cholesterol. On top of that, they taste great. You can find them shelled or unshelled in the frozen food section at the market.

It was a little like overkill to add both eggs and edamame to my little zingy potato dish, but I had two hard boiled eggs in the fridge and decided to add them for the flavor. Once the potatoes were cool enough to handle, after being scrubbed and boiled, I sliced them, then tossed them and the chopped eggs with a little diced sweet onion and a thinly sliced stalk of celery, a minced fresh jalepeño and a few slices of pickled jalepeños.

I whipped up a simple dressing with a teaspoon of dark mustard and 1/2 cup of mayonnaise thinned with a little of the pickled jalepeño juice, then topped the salad off with a sprinkling of minced fresh cilantro.

The added crunch of hearts of romaine provided some greenery along with a fresh crisp taste that complimented the warm potato salad. I've not included quantities. Plan on 4 - 5 little potatoes per person, which is what I cooked for myself and that turned out two generous servings. Increase the ingredients proportionately to the amount of potatoes you cook. The condiments are 'to taste'. Don't forget salt and freshly ground pepper. This is one of those lovely dishes that invites experimentation and will delight you with its versatility.

Fresh young produce at the market and farm stands is certainly a harbinger of spring and offers the promise of months to come of local, fresh from the garden offerings to please our palates and appease our consciences. Buying local is a habit we all should cultivate if future generations are to enjoy the rich rewards we've come to take for granted.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Don't Throw Them Out!
My friend, Helen, and I went to the produce market and we each bought a lovely fresh bunch of red beets with the tops still crisp and green. Helen let me cut the tops from her bunch and then I had a lot of beet greens to use up quickly while they were still in their prime.

I trimmed off the bulk of the red stalks and tossed the leaves into a sink full of cold water, swished them around thoroughly and then drained the water and silt and filled up the sink again with fresh cold water to give them one more rinse. Then I stacked a dozen or so at a time, rolled them up and sliced them (chiffonade).

As a kid, most fresh greens at my house were cooked to death with salt pork and onion. The green turned a deathly black but I still loved them. We ate dandelion greens, fiddle heads, Swiss chard, and beet greens. Whatever was available for a short period of time. Spring did offer some great alternatives to the canned vegetables that showed up on our supper table most of the year.

Remembering how great a little fat tasted with the greens, while I was washing and slicing the beet greens, I sautéed a couple of slices of minced bacon along with two sliced shallots in a little olive oil, in a dutch oven. Once the bacon pieces were crisp and the shallots had released their wonderful aroma, I added the beet green chiffonade and let it wilt down into the bacon and shallots, turning to coat all the pieces, then added the lid to the pot to let a little steam do its magic. Watch the greens don't overcook. Once they've wilted and are tender remove the pot from the hot burner and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper and add a tablespoon of vinegar. I used unfiltered apple cider vinegar.

Meanwhile, put on a pot of well salted water to boil up some penne pasta(or any shape you have on hand). When the pasta is al dente, drain it and mix it into the dutch oven with the beet greens. A grating of fresh Parmesan and a drizzle of your best extra virgin olive oil adds a fine finish to a quick, healthy, delicious, economical meal.

Many would throw out those greens. What a waste that would be as they make a unique pasta topping.

Not all pasta needs to be dressed in red.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Comfort Food Reigns

You've seen these individual components before, but here they are together providing a delightful supper dish. That's a little serving of quinoa with sautéed corn and grape tomatoes that have been doused with fresh lemon zest and a generous squeeze from a native Meyer lemon (don't let anyone kid you, they don't only grow in Californina) and taking pride of place, none other than my latest favorite veggie—roasted butternut squash with tamari and a light lacing of raw honey. That dark blob in the back? Slices of whole wheat quick bread that I told you about earlier, too.
The only modification I'd make in the future, if I were to assemble this same cast of characters, would be to add something green. The plate is certainly lacking something green. Remember the rule of thumb, fill your plate with colorful food items, avoiding anything white. That's a healthy approach to food selection. Next comes, don't overcook the food. Don't drown it in rich, fatty sauces, and for heavens sake, don't buy it already prepared in a jar, box, bag or can. Cooking from scratch doesn't take much longer than opening a package, and besides, it's healthier, less expensive and tastes so much better, it's worth the extra few minutes.
Find a food writer you enjoy. My new best friends are Mark Bittman , I check out his entries in the New York Times and Crescent Dragonwagon. They provide me with some great new ideas for preparing quick, easy, healthy meals. But my earlier tutors, Julia Child and Jacques Pepin and the local chefs I took classes with, have given me a good background for being able to peruse a recipe and make adjustments or just plain avoid it. Keeping food preparation simple, few ingredients and few steps, not only makes the process simple, but the end product tastes much better, too!
I like the fresh take on whole foods that Heidi Swanson provides in her blog and cookbooks. The savory bean dishes that Steve from Rancho Gordo suggests are high on my list of things to make and eat. Not to mention, purchasing the great heirloom beans and fresh grains Rancho Gordo provides.
Becoming familiar with the list of Superfoods and adding them to your daily/weekly diet will not only improve your health and trim your waist, but it will give you a variety of new foods to eat and fresh ideas to try.
Till next time . . . keep on cooking.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Not to be confused with Tasty Thai, one of our favorite Orlando restaurants. This is a little coconut milk, peanut, basil, adorning some pretty straightforward veggies and rice. Jasmine rice cooked in a combination of homemade vegetable stock and coconut milk and some stir fried green beans, red pepper, sweet onion, garlic and jalepeño pepper finished with a little Thai slurry and a topping of peanuts and fresh basil. Easy, fast and very tasty.

Using familiar vegetables in unusual ways is a great way to perk up dinner time while getting in the daily requirements. This meal could easily add, sautéed shrimp, chicken or pork for the carnivores out there. Sauté the meat first, remove to a plate while you sauté or stir fry the vegetables starting with the hardest ones, onions, peppers, garlic and then the green beans or broccoli florets.

One cup of Jasmine rice, rinsed off and cooked in 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth (use chicken if you like) and 1 cup of coconut milk with a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring the liquid to a boil, add salt and rice. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes before stirring. Finish with 2 TBS fresh lime juice and 1 TBS unsalted butter. Fluff with a fork to serve.

Sauté veggies in a 2 TBS olive oil, add in cooked chicken, pork or shrimp if using, stir fry until veggies are crisp tender 2 - 5 minutes. Meanwhile mix up slurry: combine 3/4 cup coconut milk; 1/4 cup veggie or chicken broth; 1 TBS fish sauce; 1 TBS fresh lime juice; 1 TBS soy sauce or tamari; 2 tsp brown sugar; 2 tsp cornstarch, salt and pepper to taste. Stir slurry into sauté pan and continue to sauté/stir fry for another 2 - 3 minutes. Stir in one cup sliced (chiffonade) basil and 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped. Serve over coconut rice.

This is a simple way to tweak a plain old meal of green beans and chicken. For those of us avoiding a lot of flesh, the combination of red peppers, onions, garlic and greens beans makes a delightful dish smothering the coconut rice. Try it; you'll like it.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Here's that old budget stretcher again. The lentils above are just getting started on their way to becoming a pot of tasty chili. It's amazing the mileage one can obtain from a bag of plain brown lentils. Four cups of lentils with six cups of water or veggie broth or a combination of both, along with some diced onion, minced garlic, a little diced tomato and a few spices, produces a huge pot of lentil chili that is guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, fill your tummy, provide much needed fiber and even supply the neighbors or better yet, the freezer, with containers for later use.

When the outside temperature dips down, even here in Florida we get chilly, I yearn for soups, chilis or chowders—those wonderful one pot meals that have the dual advantage of not only being good, but good for you. Earlier this year, I made a small batch of lentil chili, using Molly Katzen's recipe. It was so good that I promised myself I would soon make a full batch with containers for the freezer. This was the day.

With such a wide variety of lentils available, red, green, brown, etc., the choice is yours, but honestly for this recipe, the brown, grocery store variety is just fine. I continue to be surprised at how good a meal can be without high priced, hard to find items and also, how easy it is to put together a healthy, palate pleasing plate of food with no stress, no fancy techniques, just a genuine desire to eat well and inexpensively.

The 4 cups of lentils along with the veggies and spices cost about $2.00, yet produced a 5 quart pot of nourishing, tasty chili.

Serve the chili with a dollop of aged Balsamic vinegar, as I have, or top it off with freshly grated cheddar cheese. You might even care to serve it over noodles.

Legumes are a perfect way to cut cost without cutting nutritional corners. In fact, planning meals around beans, seeds and grains will give you a nutritional boost while saving plenty at the supermarket.

Rinse and drain 4 cups of lentils, place in large stock pot with 6 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile prepare veggies. Chop one large or two medium yellow onions; mince 4 - 6 cloves of garlic. Dice 4 ripe plum tomatoes or use a 16oz can of diced tomatoes. Measure out spices onto a small plate (mise-en-place). 1 tsp paprika; 2 tsp ground cumin; 1 tsp thyme; 3 tsp chili powder. On a separate saucer, place 3 Tbs tomato paste and 2 tsp salt.
After the lentils have cooked for the first 30 minutes add the prepared vegetables and the spices (not the salt and tomato paste). Stir and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Watch the lentils, as they cook stir from the bottom from time to time. If they get too thick, add additional water or veggie stock in 1/4 cup increments. After the second 30 minutes of simmering, stir in the tomato paste and salt. Let cook for another 10 minutes or so. Taste for seasoning. You may want it spicier, saltier or thinner. Add additional water or seasonings to suit your taste. For a smaller quantity, use 2 cups of lentils and 3 cups of water and lighten up on the spices.

There you have it, a big pot of lentil chili for under $2.00.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Quick Bread Image from the New York Times
Ah, the joys of modern technology! This week in the New York Times Dining section, Mark Bittman demonstrated how to make a savory quick bread via video. I couldn't wait to try it out. I've made sweet quick breads for years: banana, pumpkin, cranberry nut to name a few. While these all can be made with a minimal amount of sweeteners, they, in fact, tend to be made with quite a bit of sugar, either white or brown or some of each, and often additional sweets like raisins, dried fruit, or chocolate chips.
This bread does have a bit of a sweet component, molasses. The molasses lends the whole wheat flour a dark lush pumpernickel shade of brown and leaves just a hint of both pumpernickel and Boston brown bread on the taste buds.
I'm a big fan of homemade bread. But we don't always have the time to wait for the rise and often a second and third rise. This great little technique, using acid (buttermilk) and baking soda as leavening, provides a lovely loaf of moist, dense bread that is a perfect accompaniment to soups, salads and vegetarian entrées. I found it also makes a great breakfast treat, lightly toasted and slathered with soft Irish butter or an afternoon snack, topped with whipped cream cheese and perhaps a dab of pure wild blueberry preserves.
Take a quick lesson by watching Mark's video. They say, a picture's worth a thousand words, these short videos are perfect for seeing just how things are done.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease a standard loaf pan. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl, the buttermilk or yogurt and molasses in another, when the oven is hot and the loaf pan is prepared, carefully and gently, mix the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to over mix. Bake until firm and a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, 45 - 60 minutes. It's simple, fast and delicious.
List of ingredients: 1 2/3 cups buttermilk or plain yogurt; 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour; 1/2 cup cornmeal; 1 teaspoon salt; 1 teaspoon baking soda; 1/2 cup molasses. I used King Arthur white whole wheat flour with excellent results.
Here's Mark's additional instructions for a lighter bread: Use 1 1/2 cups whole wheat and 1 1 /2 cups all purpose flour; omit cornmeal. Substitute honey for molasses. Beat one egg into wet ingredients. Proceed as above. This might be nice to use for tea sandwiches with homemade jams.
Till next time . . . keep on cooking.