Sunday, April 29, 2007

Rice Bowl

I ran across a new veggie variety at the produce market yesterday, a golden zucchini, not to be mistaken for a yellow squash, or summer squash as we northerners call them. This was the identical size and shape of the familiar green zucchini but it was vibrantly yellow, not the pastel yellow of the familiar summer squash with its thin, tapered neck. Varieties of this yellow squash are called Golden Dawn or Golden Girl and I just had to have some.

Late in the afternoon, I was pleased to find a new posting from the top of my Blog Favorites list, Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. Heidi had made a great, fast rice bowl featuring the convenience food, frozen brown rice to which she added asparagus, slivered almonds and a piquant tahini dressing. Check it out.

And do check out Heidi's newly released book, Super Natural Cooking. It's a beautifully rendered compendium of information and easy to follow recipes that puts to rest the misconception that natural, whole foods taste like cardboard. As if any of us actually know what cardboard tastes like. When was the last time you had some for a snack?

Treat yourself to a copy of the book, and broaden your repertoire with whole food dishes that are fast and fabulous. It's only $13.60 at Amazon. The images, layout, information and recipes will provide big dividends for your small investment. Great for gift giving, too.

Spurred on by the lovely image of Heidi's rice bowl, I ran downstairs to the kitchen, intending to replace the rice with quick cooking quinoa, but when I opened the kitchen cabinet and saw several jars of different Lundberg Farms rices smiling back at me, I chose to cook a cup of Japonica (black & mahogany) rice, in two cups of homemade vegetable broth, even though it would take the best part of an hour. I was in no hurry actually, and the deep, rich aroma wafting through the house as the dark rice cooked, was an added bonus.

Tip: I make up a large stock pot of veggie broth on a day when I'm tackling other projects that keep me in the kitchen for a while. Then when the broth has cooled, I mete it out into one and two cup portions to freeze. I also fill a couple of ice cube trays (one tray, 16 cubes = 2 cups) and when the cubes are frozen, transfer them to plastic freezer bags. These are great when you need a couple of tablespoons of liquid to deglaze a pan, finish off a sauce, or thin down a stew or chili. I do the same with lemon juice when local lemons are plentiful. I have plastic bags of lemon cubes and broth, tucked away in the freezer to use at a moment's notice. Shortcuts like this make cooking a pleasure and give the most humble dish a professional finish.

To round out my rice bowl, I chose to include a cup of edamame, lightly blanched in salted water, to add color and protein, and a sliced yellow onion sautéed along with the diced Golden zucchini perked up its sweet, mild flavor. A handful of toasted, slivered almonds and a little freshly minced cilantro rounded out the dish.

and then I had to make a decision about how to dress it.

Let your imagination flow. I chose to use the juice and zest from half a lime, a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil, a couple of teaspoons of the juice from a jar of pickled jalepeños, for heat, and a tablespoon of Penzey's Raspberry Enlightenment, a magic potion that can add a je ne sais quois to a sweet or savory dish.

When the rice was cooked, I tossed it with the edamame, the zucchini and onions, and the dressing, then sprinkled the toasted almonds and minced cilantro over top.

This is the type of dish that lets your imagination run rampant. There are no right or wrongs. Quantities are arbitrary. Use what's on hand. Think color, not only for presentation, but to assure a variety of nutritional benefits. Use rice or bulgur or quinoa or even couscous or a whole grain pasta. Vary the herbs or use a combination. Use colorful veggie additions based on what's fresh at the market. Then experiment with different dressings from simple olive oil and lemon juice, to Heidi's suggestion of a tangy tahini dressing, to peanut sauce. Don't drown the ingredients. Use a light hand with any dressing, let the myriad of flavors from the grain and veggies shine through.

The choices are endless. Different combinations will provide a whole new dish and practice will form the basis for some super one dish entrées that come together quickly, yet give the appearance of hours spent slaving over the hot stove. Presentation is important in any dish, but the real treat is in the eating. Here's a wonderful windfall of flavors and textures combined with vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Healthy whole food eating at its best.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Tropical Delight!
My friend, Helen, gave me a papaya from her neighbor's yard the other day. It was a big piece of fruit and still a bit hard. So I kept it on the counter for a few days to let it ripen.

To give you some perspective, the mango on the left is really a good sized piece of fruit, but look at that papaya! Wow. Some papayas grow to upwards of 20lbs. Among the different varieties of fruit, the papaya is known as a nutritional masterpiece. It's rich, not only in Vitamin C, but folate and potassium. The papaya actually contains a higher percentage of Vitamain C and potassium than oranges. It's also a good source of fiber as well as an excellent source of papain, which acts as a natural digestive aid, breaking down protein and cleansing the digestive track. Even the seeds are edible and will add a little peppery bite to salads, sauces or salsas.

As the days went by, I thought of several interesting things to do with this marvelous piece of fruit. The sweet, ripe flesh could star in a fruit or vegetable salad. Or I could purée it and serve over a rice or tapioca pudding. In the end, I puréed half and blended it with a frozen banana for the ultimate smoothie!

A ripe papaya has a golden yellow outer skin and the flesh is smooth, silky and a deep pinkish-orange color with a sweet musky flavor. It's easy to peel with a paring knife or a vegetable peeler works well, too. Scoop the seeds out with a spoon and the fruit is good to go, however you choose to eat it.

Mother Nature certainly does provide a feast of fabulous foods to tickle our palates and keep us healthy. Using a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables gives us the best shot at staying healthy.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Lite Bites
It's been a week for quick, light meals. Even with a busy schedule, with limited time for kitchen duty, it's still possible to eat well. Any of the following makes a great light supper, a super lunch, or any one can be part of a larger repast.
Tomato Basil Soup

This is one of those 30 minute soups that requires very little culinary expertise, few ingredients and very little attention once everything is in the pot. The fresh, clean taste, lack of synthetic chemicals, preservatives and miscellaneous flavor enhancers makes it a sure-fire winner over canned soups any day. This recipe makes six generous portions.

1/2 T olive oil, 1 large carrot, finely chopped; 1 celery stalk, finely chopped; one large onion, chopped, 8 - 10 ripe plum tomatoes, halved (or 4 tomatoes and one 14oz can diced tomatoes. Preferably Muir Glen fire roasted.) Salt and pepper to taste; 1 bay leaf; 1/4 tsp dried oregano; 3 cups vegetable broth or filtered water; 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves; 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over low-medium heat. Add the carrot, celery, onion and
tomatoes, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes.
2. Add the bay leaf, oregano and broth or water and bring to a boil quickly over high heat.
3. Lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are completely tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup in a blender. Strain if desired.
(I like a bit of texture so I don't strain it).
5. Serve the soup with a dusting of Parmesan and a sprinkling of basil strips or add the cheese
and basil to the pot, stir and then serve.

Salad Can Be Fun
Incorporating some novel ingredients makes a salad far more interesting. This salad starts with a base of dark green Romaine leaves and some slivered Vidalia onions. Then diced mango, diced avocado and a few raisins lend color and a bit of sweetness to offset the mildly hot Peppadew pepper. A few raw sunflower seeds add a bit of crunch as well as additional nutrition. The salad is lightly dressed with a tablespoon of ranch dressing thinned out with a drizzle or two of raw apple cider vinegar. There is no added oil in the dressing to compensate for the high calorie avocado. This salad would make a great first course, or a great lunch with a bowl of soup.

Salads with protein make a wonderful one dish luncheon or light supper meal. This salad incorporates tuna and edamame to provide an ample portion of protein along with an interesting combination of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Again, there is romaine, both dark and lighter leaves, a small stalk of celery, sliced and slivers of sweet onion along with some diced mango. To add a bit of crunch and a salty tang , a few roasted peanuts are sprinkled over top. This salad is very simply dressed with a little olive oil and rice wine vinegar, salt and pepper.

Nothing could be more versatile than the many shapes of pasta. And nothing could be faster than a one dish meal that comes together as quickly as a pot of water can boil and the pasta cooks.

Here's some pappardelle (or wide egg noodles) with frozen peas, lightly sauced with a bit of butter, some crumbles of goat cheese and a generous portion of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and for a bit of color, as well as a little acid to offset the butter and cheese, a bit of fresh tomato, roughly diced. Fast and fabulous.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil, then salt generously adding 2 cups of wide noodles (or pasta of choice). Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, defrost 1/2 cup of frozen petite peas and add to pasta in pot 3 minutes before pasta is done. Drain pasta and peas reserving a bit of the water.

Return pasta and peas to pot and stir in one tablespoon of unsalted butter until melted. Then add 2 -3 tablespoons of goat cheese crumbles and 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If pasta is dry, add a little of the reserved water to obtain the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Peas and tomatoes are a nice combination, but asparagus and corn are another pastability. Use your imagination and come up with some quick pasta and veggie combinations of your own - fast food the healthy way.

Till next time. . . keep on cooking.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Dollar Lunch

Not long ago, an article that was featured on the cover of a Family Circle magazine came to mind. The headline read: How to Feed A Family of Four For Forty Dollars a Week. That was in 1968 or 1969, I think. I tag these random memories based on where I was living at the time, or how old my kids were, or some unrelated bit of flotsam.

One of the thrifty suggestions was to have the stay-at-home mom split a can of Campbell soup for lunch. Eating half one day, the other half the next day. But when the dad came home, meat appeared at the table. I do remember chafing at the chauvanistic choice of having the protein appear with the bread winner.

The retail price of that same twenty-five cent can of soup is close to a dollar now. And it's not on my list of SuperFoods, by any means. Canned soup, in most cases, is a prime example of processed foods laden with synthetic chemicals, shelf life extenders and even sugar. Yet eating for pennies and eating well, at that, is not something that belongs only to the past. It's easily achievable with a few fresh ingredients and a well stocked pantry.

On a trip to the produce market the other day, I spent a dollar on 3 small ears of yellow corn, grown in South Florida. The silk was still moist and fresh prompting me to eat it right away. It would be the focal point of my lunch. I've been sautéeing the kernels instead of steaming or boiling the full ears. It only takes a few moments to cut the kernels from the cob and toss them into a little heated extra virgin olive oil, and dust them with a bit of French thyme, salt and pepper. The kernels cook up quickly over medium heat and are ready when they've browned a bit and have lost the raw corn taste but haven't become soggy - about 6 to 8 minutes.

The fridge offered up a leftover baked potato, which I peeled, sliced and fried up in a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter. I carefully turn the slices over until each side is brown and crispy. Then I spied half a Ruskin beefsteak tomato sitting on the counter, wrapped in plastic, unused from the night before. I diced it up, and sprinkled it with a little lemon zest, some salt and pepper and the juice from a wedge of lemon.

TIP: Have at least one lemon and one lime on hand in the vegetable bin. A little fresh citrus juice will tweak the flavor of everything from fish or chicken to any vegetable.

Within 10 minutes, I had a very tasty lunch, using my freshly purchased dollar's worth of corn and a left over potato and a half tomato. When the idea came to me to share this meal with you, I added a little cilantro to the plate to round out the colors. The flavor of each vegetable was unique and plated together provided a satisfying lunch for just a bit more than a dollar.

I read an article written about the illustrious retired chef, Frédy Giardet, that stressed, “What’s important to him is to amplify the flavors, not hide them. With nothing, he is able to make something exceptional. It’s easy to make something impressive if it’s complicated. It’s much harder to impress people with something simple.”

Using the best quality, fresh, natural ingredients, simply prepared is doable by the most modest of cooks. Not only is it economical and healthy, but it's fast and delicious. Try a few simple whole food combinations of your own. When you think there's nothing in the house to eat, there usually is plenty. It just takes a little imagination.

Till next time. . . keep on cooking.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Not Too Sweet

It's fun to tinker with recipes that have proven practically foolproof in their printed version. One gets far more cocky, canny and creative with the confidence that our little modifications will be as successful as its mother. And in this case, it worked.

Ever since I watched Mark Bittman whip up the savory dark loaf, leavened with the unique chemical reaction of baking soda meeting the acidity of buttermilk, I've been making light and dark loaves for myself and for gift giving.

The dark bread gets its deep color from molasses which also provides some sweetness to offset the robust whole wheat flour and corn meal. The molasses also assures a moist crumb. The light bread is made with white whole wheat flour. An egg and honey replace the molasses.

I recently baked a dark loaf for a neighbor's birthday, adding a dish of raspberry butter* to go with it. That was a hit. With another birthday to celebrate, I decided to experiment with the lighter version. I added a half cup of mini chocolate chips, a half cup of slivered almonds and a 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract. The sensuous almond flavor intensified as the loaf baked and the kitchen sooned smelled better than any commercial room deodorizer could offer. Natural's always better.

Both breads freeze well and toast beautifully in a wide slotted toaster. The dark bread is delicious with an herbed cream cheese and both are a treat with fruited compound butter.

* Raspberry butter. Cream together a quarter pound of soft(room temperature) unsalted butter with a half cup of defrosted frozen raspberries and a tablespoon of raw, unfiltered orange blossom honey. Once blended, works beautifully in a food processor, either scoop the pretty pink butter into a ramekin and chill or form into a roll using waxed paper, then chill. Once cold and solid, the roll makes slicing little pats simple and gives the servings a professional finish. Either way, the butter tastes the same—delicious.

Next gift giving time, think about giving a gift from the kitchen. It's much appreciated and sends the message that you care.

Till next time . . . keep on cooking.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Raw Almonds — An Endangered Species

A lot of us purchase raw, unprocessed almonds for snacks, to make nut milk or even almonnaise, a healthy substitute for egg based mayonnaise. Raw almonds are a source of superior nutrition. They provide an excellent source of plant protein, B vitamins, essential minerals, unsaturated fats and fiber. They have no cholesterol, are relatively free from pesticide residue, and are NOT PASTEURIZED.

Now comes the news from the Almond Board of California (ABC) that almonds will soon be pasteurized, subjected to heat, which makes them 'cooked' but the packaging will still proclaim them to be RAW. Excuse me? How can they do that?

Beginning this fall, pasteurized almonds will be packaged as raw. ABC can see no difference between a live food and one that has been depleted of its life force by being heated. Worse yet, an unsuspecting consumer will be duped. The world-wide hue and cry to "read the labels" loses all meaning when the labels lie.

Whether you eat raw almonds or not, speaking up about this disgraceful proposed practice is imperative. Today, almonds; tomorrow, who knows what? I don't want my almonds pasteurized, but more importantly, I want to know what I'm buying. The label can't lie.

Take a moment to send a comment to the Almond Board of California shaming them for thinking they can scam the buying public and no one will notice! Here's what I told them:

I've been using raw almonds to make almond milk for over 20 years. I purchase a lot of raw almonds, and I cannot understand the thinking involved regarding the plan to pasteurize almonds and continue to sell them as 'raw'. Where will all the nutrition be? Up in steam? No, thank you. If this is a CYA tactic because of an isolated case of contamination, it's extreme. Is big business so married to the bottom line that it has lost all sense of morals? Don't tinker with what nature intended us to eat! Leave my raw almonds, raw. Don't cook them, but if you do, don't tell me they're still raw.

Food industry giants have played around with our food supply, substituting synthetic chemicals for real food to the detriment of our health. The selection of live, whole foods dwindles daily. Unless we speak up for ourselves, corporate greed will continue, unchecked, cutting one corner after another. It's our food, our purchasing power and our lives at stake. Statistics show that the increase in debilitating and fatal diseases has risen to near epidemic proportions since we've allowed our grocery shelves to be filled with products devoid of nutrition and laden with synthetic chemicals, with all the life force cooked right out of them, all in the name of profit.
To blatantly deceive the consumer by mislabeling a product, as in the case of the almonds, is criminal.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Some Dare Call It Pizza

As I rummaged in the freezer compartment, moving various mystery packages, I must learn to use labels, I came across a ball of pizza dough. My little creative light bulb lit up like a beacon and I set about caramelizing onions, mincing olives and pre-heating the oven to a toasty 500°.

The French call it Pissaladiere (Provençal Pizza). I watched the crew at America's Test Kitchen prepare this a good while ago. I guess, stuff on a crust qualifies as pizza. This version calls for niçoise olives and anchovies. I hate to disappoint my readers, but I had to forgo the anchovies for lack of supplies! I didn't have any niçoise olives either, but I did find four Calamatas floating in a jar, a half dozen colossal blacks and a few tiny Spanish salad olives. What a way to clean the condiment shelves! I minced up all the olives together and had a generous 1/2 cup to use as topping.

Meanwhile, the onions were giving off a wonderful rich inviting aroma as they caramelized in extra virgin olive oil, salt and a teaspoon of brown sugar to speed the process along. I used one fist sized sweet onion and two medium yellow cooking onions, sliced thinly and sautéed in a tablespoon of good olive oil over medium heat and sprinkled with a half teaspoon of kosher salt and the brown sugar. Once the onions have released their liquid, lower the heat and keep an eye on them, giving them a good stir from time to time, scraping up from the bottom to release the fond (that's the browned bits). See, in no time, we can all begin to speak like an experienced chef!

Instead of rolling out the dough to a thin disk, I stretched it gently into a 12" stoneware dish that I normally use for baking foccacia. This seemed to be foccacia-esque enough to qualify. I brushed the dough with olive oil and then layered on the minced olives,* followed by the caramelized onions and then sprinkled on a couple of tablespoons of crumbled goat cheese. I distributed a generous pinch of Herbes de Provence over the top (just thyme will do). Gave it a good grind of pepper and popped it into the hot oven on the very lowest rack for about 25 minutes.
*If using anchovies, chop 8 fillets, and scatter over the olive layer. Use a few whole fillets to garnish, if desired. I never desire anchovies. But that's my provincial Provencal taste. Cosmopolitan types will want the depth of flavor these little fishies afford.

This was the perfect accompaniment to a salad, rounding out the meal with just the right mouth feel of chewy crust, and salty topping.

The salad has a marvelous variety: hearts of romaine, unwaxed cucumber, sweet onion, grape tomatoes, roasted beets, toasted walnuts and crumbled goat cheese. It's lightly dressed with a drizzle of very good olive oil and a sprinkling of unfiltered apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper. Eating healthy isn't hard — you just have to be determined.

Till next time . . . Keep on cooking!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Where Have All The Farmers Gone?

I headed out for the Orlando Farmers Market on Sunday, filled with excitement and packing several canvas bags to cart my wares. I arrived to see this sparse setting. Few vendors; fewer patrons. So much for buy local!

The sole vendor with produce had a nice selection of healthy looking products, allegedly from Plant City. I didn't want to challenge the bananas with the familiar label. Certainly doubt those were grown locally. But the strawberries, peppers, cabbages and oranges were at least grown within a 50 mile radius.

The DelMonte produce boxes neatly stowed underneath the display tables made me slightly suspicious that local might apply more to the vendor's supplier than the actual source of the produce.

The floral and plant people had some great bargains that the enterprising vendors had nursed from seed and seedlings. But you can't eat these.

I'm trying to support the local farmer. I'm trying to eat locally grown foods which are not only better for me, at least in theory, but purchasing items that haven't had to be transported all the way down this long peninsula is saving on petroleum usage, too. But the elusive farmers are making it difficult.

I spoke with the manager of the market, she wasn't very encouraging. She said there are very few local farmers to begin with and fewer still who are interested in carting their wares to this venue. I would add, this market has poor attendance. That, coupled with market day being Sunday, may have a big influence on the lack of interest by the farmers. The poor attendance may be because it's Sunday.

The Orlando Farmers Market not only moved from Heritage Square to Lake Eola about a year ago, but changed market day from Saturday to Sunday. The move and day change does not seem to have been a successful decision.

This was the produce selection at our Farmers Market



March reading included a lot of favorite authors and a couple of new ones, new to me, anyway. These are the books I finished!

Mercy Among the Children. . . . David Adams Richards

Bad Blood . . . . Linda Fairstein

Money As Sacrament . . . Adele Azar-Rucquoi

Nineteen Minutes . . . . Jodi Picoult

Whitethorn Woods . . . . Maeve Binchy

Christine Falls . . . . Benjamin Black (John Banville)

Till next time. . . keep on cooking!