Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kale and Collard Greens
Kale chips — an easy raw food snack produced with a dehydrator, a little interesting dressing and fresh kale leaves.
I recently received a four tray dehydrator as a gift. Kale chips were high on my 'first to experiment with' list. I'd watched AnnMarie Gianni make these on a weekly Wednesday food episode of the Renegade Health Show. You can watch AnnMarie prepare this healthy snack on You Tube.
I snacked on the kale chips while preparing lunch today. A colorful, cooked plate of yams and collard greens followed a big, fresh salad of mixed greens, sweet onion, sliced radishes, raisins, sunflower seeds and avocado, dressed with olive oil and a splash of raw apple cider vinegar.
Yams and Collard Greens

I indulged in Crescent Dragonwagon's* holiday yam preparation: mashing the vibrant orange flesh with a little freshly squeezed orange juice, orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier. This is a wonderful counterpoint to the spicy collard greens, cooked with lots of garlic, onion, crushed red pepper and a generous dollop of apple cider vinegar.

An occasional cooked meal, comprised of colorful vegetables, is a nice way to round out a week of raw greens— green smoothies, both sweet and savory, fruit and vegetable salads and shredded cruciferous veggies. Choosing some lightly cooked grains, beans or root vegetables offers a treat to the palate as well as providing a wider nutrient variety.

* The Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon offers a complete compendium of ideas and instruction for preparing vegetables, legumes and grains.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

How Green is My Smoothie?

Actually, a very nutrient dense green smoothie rolled out of the blender a rich, deep, royal shade of purple. Amazing the change that took place when nine frozen blackberries were added to a vibrant green mixture in my blender.

It's Christmas morning, to celebrate the occasion I chose to make a thick, luscious smoothie for breakfast. Sweet with extra fruit, nutritious with dark, dinosaur kale leaves, softened with a big handful of young spinach leaves.

The Purple Passion
One large navel orange, peeled
One juice orange (Valencia) peeled
One banana
5-6 dark kale leaves (stems removed)
Big handful young spinach
One frozen banana
Frozen berries to taste (I used 9 large blackberries).

Blend the soft, juicy ingredients first, then blend in the greens. Finish with the frozen fruit. The oranges I used provided enough juice to make a great smoothie. Add a bit of water if needed.
Note: I don't have a very high-powered blender. Adding the ingredients in layers allows my Kitchen Aid blender to do an admirable job.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Leafy Greens

After listening to another enlightening talk by Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren, I've embarked on a plan to add more greens into my daily diet by including a savory green smoothie as well as the fruit based green smoothie I have each day.

I've been adding a variety of dark, leafy greens to my morning smoothies for quite some time and I've certainly increased the amount of greens incorporated into each drink. While I've increased the quantity of leafy greens, I've also decreased the amount of fruit to keep my sugar intake to a minimum.

Here is an example of a sweet smoothie and a savory green smoothie.

Morning Fruit Based Green Smoothie
1 whole orange, peeled

1 banana (fresh or frozen)

3-4" slice of fresh pineapple (cut into segments)

2 hands full spinach leaves

4 kale leaves (without stems)

vary the types of greens

(a bit of water if needed)

Dinner Savory Green Smoothie

1 large ripe tomato

1/2 Haas avocado

1 Kirby cucumber

1 small zucchini

1 slice sweet onion

2 hands full spinach leaves

4 kale leaves (without stems)
vary the types of greens

dash of sea salt

splash of filtered water as needed

Here's my quick take on Dr. T's advice regarding the essential elements of a green smoothie or green savory:

1. Greens are the key ingredient. Use dark greens, vary the type, use plenty.

2. The base - use soft fruit such as melon, pineapple, ripe pear, banana. For a savory, use tomato or avocado, cucumber or a combination of soft veggies for a base.

3. Dates, raisins or berries can be added for a sweetener with fruit smoothies. Herbs and spices make nice additions to savory smoothies while adding additional health benefits. Think garlic, onion, oregano, basil, chervil, cilantro, etc. A little cayenne, or ground chili to add a little kick?

CAUTION: Dr. T admonishes us to use as little added water as necessary to prevent diluting these important nutrients.

Check out The Truth About Your Food with Dr. Tel-Oren. Here are important facts and information that give us the tools we need to take charge of our lives, our health, our well being.

It's there for the taking (or the listening) free to the public.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Arugula Reigns
Sunday lunch time rolled around before I knew it. One of the advantages to the raw food lifestyle is when hunger strikes, satisfaction can be immediate. While instant gratification has been the bane of many of society's current ailments, in this case it has much merit.

With the raw food lifestyle, instant gratification ranks closely with wonderful flavors, good health and super energy — food preparation is fast, and easy on the budget, too.

To please a lunch guest, who isn't into just high water content food, I also provided an interesting take on the turkey dressing that was such a hit last year.

The bread dressing was simply half an Asiago baguette, tossed with a diced onion and a half cup of walnuts. The onion and walnuts were given a light sauté in cultured, organic butter with a generous pinch of dried thyme, salt and pepper to taste.

The stale bread was processed into small chunks then tossed with the onions and walnuts. Place the mixture in an 8" or 9" cake pan, and roast off in a 350° for about 20 minutes. The salad was simply fresh corn kernels cut from the cobs, sliced grape tomatoes and arugula. The tomatoes were dressed with the juice and zest from half a lemon then tossed with the corn and arugula. This salad contained no oil, but a drizzle of olive oil or better yet, walnut oil, would certainly be a nice touch.

Frugal, fresh, fuss-free. . . with richly colored, full-flavored fresh produce just let your imagination run wild. Recipes really aren't needed. The combos are endless and the rewards are great.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Serious Green Juice

Amy Morris gave me three Asian pears when I was at the Orlando Farmers Market on Sunday, encouraging me to juice them by themselves for a real taste treat. I let them ripen a bit on the counter, and this morning decided to use them in my morning green juice.

I juiced the pears by themselves, took a sip, it is delicious, no doubt about it.
But I wanted to expand on the subtly sweet flavor by adding some healthy fresh leafy greens.

Using an abundance of dark, leafy greens daily, is key to good health. I try to have a variety of greens throughout the day. Some juiced, some blended, and some whole in salads. Occasionally, others lightly steamed.

Keeping in mind that these were Asian pears, I added half a lemon, a couple of fennel sprigs, stalk and fronds, along with an inch piece of fresh ginger. All seemed in keeping with an Asian theme. Three big leafy dark green organic leaves of dinosaur kale provided the rich, nutrients that put this drink right over the top for taste as well as nutrition.

TA-DA - the finished product. . . smooth, silky, slightly sweet and filled with good nutrients that the body can use immediately, with no effort or energy expended.
Each ingredient provides its own digestive enzymes, leaving lots of energy to get on with my morning tasks.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday Lunch

After a quick trip to the Orlando Farmers Market today, I came home with bursting bags of produce and immediately began preparing lunch.
Fresh red radishes and young yellow squash quickly grated, sliced cucumber and mixed wild greens along with freshly grown sunflower sprouts made a colorful, tasty plateful of highly nutritious veggies.
The greens glistened with a light drizzling of Myer lemon infused extra virgin olive oil and the flavors of all the vegetables popped with a few grains of sea salt judiciously sprinkled atop.
Quick, easy, tasty, healthy - a gal can't ask for much more!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Punicas Granatum

I have a vague, distant memory of eating pomegranate as a kid. Bittersweet hard little red seeds and rivulets of red juice running down my arms as I tried to pop the seeds into my mouth without getting any of the white pith. That has to be over 60 years ago. It's no wonder my memory of the incident is vague. Pomegranates were not a frequent visitor to the fruit bowl when I was a kid. Nor have they been part of my adult life.

The health benefits and high anti-oxidant content of pomegranates has been highly touted by the food industry of late. Rather amusing, as by the time the food giants get done with their processing, I can't imagine there is a single nutrient left. Not to mention that the processing has changed the molecular structure enough not only to remove all beneficial aspects, but has changed its profile to a product completely devoid of nutrition.
Yet another processed food promoting weight gain and ill health, while contributing significantly to the corporate bottom line. What a shame.

Eating live foods, in their natural form, meaning as found in nature, with no processing, is the only way to derive the benefits each has to offer. Once a fruit or vegetable has been processed: heated, cooked, canned, it has lost its life giving benefits.

Pomegranates are in season and on sale at my local supermarket this week. How could I resist bringing home a couple of red beauties. But how best to peel and de-seed them?

Ah, the benefits of the 21st century technology. I simply turned to the Internet and queried "how to eat a pomegranate". Wow, lots of advice, written, pictorial tutorials and even several YouTube entertaining spots.

After perusing several, I chose to use the advice from MidEast Foods. Check out the step by step tutorial for ease, efficiency and a no mess method of retrieving those dandy little red seeds!

Cut slices from top and bottom and then score around the fruit. Place pieces in a large bowl of cold water and let them rest for 10 to 15 minutes. The heavy seeds will fall to the bottom of the bowl, the white pith floats on the top. Scoop out the white pieces then retrieve the nutritious seeds.

Use caution: the juice stains easily.

Seeds from one pomegranate, ready to scoop into the mouth by the spoonful, or to use in smoothies or tossed with fruit salads. Make your own pomegranate juice, without heating or adding synthetic chemicals. Get the nutrition that Nature intended. It's quick, easy and good!

Ruby Red Pomegranate Seeds

Friday, October 31, 2008

Brussels Sprouts

With a touch of fall in the air, seeing Brussels sprouts on sale this week at the market seemed so appropriate. I remember growing up having these little cabbages boiled to death and then some. And I still liked them!

These little bright green gems were halved top to bottom, layered with wedges of shallots, drizzled with a smidgen of olive oil, seasoned with a bit of sea salt and freshly ground pepper and roasted for 30 minutes in a 425° oven.

Tossing and turning after 20 minutes, produced charred cut edges, caramelized shallots and just the right toothiness to the sprout. Tender, but still offering a bit of give to the bite. The final touch when plated, a light drizzle of Pickapeppa sauce.

Eight good sized sprouts with 3 large shallots resulted in the image above. Enough for two as a side, or a generous serving for one, accompanied by a mixed sprout salad dressed in lemon olive oil and a mellow glass of Cabernet.

Life is good.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Baby Belas

Here's a favorite quick dish that I love to make. Baby portabella mushrooms that have been sautéed in an equal mix of olive oil and butter with minced garlic, onion and thyme.

Start the onions over medium heat, then add the minced garlic and thyme. As the mixture softens, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and let that cook off, then add 8 ounces of sliced 'shrooms. As the mushrooms soften, add an ounce or so of Port wine or any other red wine you happen to have open. I keep a bottle of Port in the fridge for these occasions.

When the mushrooms have cooked down and the liquid has evaporated, take them off heat. The dish above has the mushrooms resting on two slices of ciabatta but another alternative is an open piece of baguette, or use the mushrooms as a side dish.

Top the bread slices with a heaping helping of the mushrooms, cover with thinly sliced cheese of your choosing. Mozzarella is nice...Gruyere is grand and in a pinch, as pictured, Monterrey / Jack does just fine. Slide the slices into a 350° oven for 6 to 8 minutes.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Yogurt Cake

The October issue of the Chocolate and Zucchini newsletter arrived in my inbox the other day and I gave into the temptation to make something baked and sweet.

Bags of King Arthur whole wheat, white whole wheat and artisan flours have been loitering in the fridge and freezer for ages.

I've eschewed baked goods and wheat products on my quest to keep an alkaline system and ward off more evil cells. But Clotilde's lovely description of this simple sweet won me over.

I looked over the list of ingredients, everything a pantry staple, then brought the cold items to room temperature before proceeding. Once I measured the dry ingredients into one bowl, and mixed the wet ingredients into another, adding the dry to the wet was all that was required, simple, fast and easy.

I followed the pan prep directions, lining a 10" cake pan with a circle of parchment paper then I buttered the paper and the sides of the pan.

I placed the prepared cake pan in the fridge while I measured and mixed the batter. (This is a little trick I picked up from a cooking class somewhere along the way — it's a superb little trick, assuring easy release of the baked cake.)

Here is the link for Clotilde's recipe. My variation used organic white whole wheat flour and with no rum in the house, I substituted a tablespoon of triple sec and a few drops of orange oil to give the cake a hint of citrus. As an afterthought, a bit of orange zest would have been a lovely addition. Next time, I might give it a lemon tang or layer in some blueberries. Options are endless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Being prepared isn't just for boy scouts. Cooking is a breeze with a little preparation. No scrambling for items in the cupboards while something sticks on the stove. Prepping veggies, measuring herbs and spices, having the right pans on hand, all makes cooking not only easier, but helps to ensure a successful outcome. Take a few minutes and get organized before you start cooking.

I recently decided to turn a medium sized eggplant into caponata, a sweet and sour Sicilian relish. Not only is this one of my favorite eggplant dishes, but it certainly goes a long way toward providing a variety of vegetable servings in one easy swoop.
While the eggplant roasted in the oven, I prepped the other veggies. With all the dicing done, finishing the process by sautéing the ingredients in layers was a snap.

The finished dish offers a variety of presentations.

Initially, we had it as a topping for bruschetta.

The next day, I added a generous helping of caponata to some marinara sauce, while I boiled some multi-grain penne. The vibrant, piquant flavors of the caponata made an excellent foil for the mellow marinara and provided a delicious meatless pasta meal. Caponata is customarily served at room temperature, but it loses nothing by being chilled or heated — such versatility offers the home cook some fast and easy options.
There probably are as many variations to caponata as there are Italian grandmothers. I made one for years following instructions provided by Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet. Recently, the NY Times printed a recipe courtesy of Martha Rose Shulman. I chose to try this version, and love it! Hope you will, too. Follow the above link to the Times site — Andrew Scrivani's image is mouth-watering!
one large eggplant, roasted
one medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
1 pound ripe tomatoes, preferably Romas, peeled, seeded and chopped
(I just diced the tomatoes - being a whole foods advocate, I kept the peels and seeds!) jw.
3 heaping tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
3tablespoons wine vinegar or sherry vinegar (more to taste)
2 tablespoons sugar
Freshly ground pepper to taste.
1. Roast the eggplant, allow to cool then chop coarsely.
2. Heat one tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet, then add the onion and celery. Stir until the onion softens, about five minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir until just tender, about eight minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another five minutes or so, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, not to worry, this is fine. Season to taste.
3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for five to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Peachy Keen Delight

When your sweet tooth cries for something rich and decadent, think about a thick, cool, creamy, fruit laden smoothie. This isn't a low calorie treat. But it's chock full of fresh, whole foods, nutrient rich and soul satisfying.

Start with a cashew cream base: 1/4 cup cashews and one cup of filtered water, blended until smooth. Then add 2 - 3 pitted and chopped peaches, 1-2 frozen bananas and blend away. The drink can be adapted to other stone fruit or berries - and of course, can be made with almond milk for a lighter version. The cashew cream was a special treat and actually served as lunch one day, keeping the hunger wolf completely at bay until dinner time.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Joys of Summer

A trip to the supermarket turned up lovely fresh baby carrots and little striped beets and handsome stalks of budding gladioli. The flowers and the beets were each only $2.99 a bunch, how could I pass up either?

Feeding the soul, surrounding ourselves with peace, calm and beauty is as important to our health as the food we put in our bodies. In fact, if our state of mind is in a constant state of stress, no matter how well we eat, our bodies won't derive any of the benefits.

I'm making a major effort to de-clutter: mind, body and closets. Spending a little more time just smelling the roses, a metaphor for enjoying the simple things, not worrying about things I can't control and learning to appreciate the life I have.

While cleaning out the closets, I'm working on cleaning out my insides! I've switched from a morning blended green smoothie, made with fruit, berries and greens, to a juiced green lemonade made with greens, apple, lemon and ginger. Following Natalia Rose's recipe in her book, The Raw Food Detox Diet.

It didn't take me long to acquire a taste for this delicious drink. It's certainly hard to imagine a big glass of juiced greens tasting so good, but the sweetness of the apples along with the tang of the lemon and the zing of the heat from the ginger make this glass of green juice a delicious treat.

Green Lemondade
adapted from The Raw Food Detox Diet© Natalia Rose
1 head of Romaine lettuce
4-5 stalks of kale (or other greens such as spinach, beet greens, etc.)
2 apples
1 lemon
2" piece of fresh ginger.

I was fortunate to locate a second hand Breville juicer. This fantastic juicer, with a 600W motor, produces my morning 16 ounces of green lemonade in seconds, allowing me to juice whole fruit without fussing about trimming and cutting. Amazing. Easy clean-up, too.

Green drinks aren't just for St Patrick's Day!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Black Bean Soup

Don't be misled. This image isn't a shrine commemorating aromatics, but rather a sure way to chop and dice with no tears. Light a votive candle and place it close to the action! I keep mine right on the cutting board. It works.

The assortment of onions, shallots, peppers and garlic pictured above was the prep for a little sofrito used to flavor a pot of simmering black beans.

Cuban black bean soup is a favorite comfort food. Easy to prepare and especially flavorful, particularly if you plan ahead and make the soup with dried beans. But often in a hurry, I've been pleased with the results of using canned beans. The secret is to infuse the cooked black beans and rich broth with sofrito, a combination of onions, bell peppers and garlic.

The aromatics used for soup bases varies slightly from one ethnic version to another. The French use mirepoix, a combination of carrots, celery and onion. The Cajun holy trinity is onion, celery and bell pepper and the Spanish influence is sofrito, onions, garlic, peppers.

Each combination of aromatics provides the complex flavors needed to change water into a rich, tantalizing pot liquor boosting the earthy flavor of the cooked beans. Use one of these combinations as the starter for almost any soup, particularly those featuring beans: white, black, pinto, etc.

Make a big pot of this luscious vegetarian soup on a day when you're home doing other chores. Once the beans and water are in the pot and brought to a simmer, they take care of themselves with an occasional stir from the cook. Allow 2 1/2 to 3 hours for this soup, if using dried beans. The sofrito can be made ahead of time, ready to pop in the pot when the beans are almost cooked.

In a big stockpot, bring one pound of black beans, 12 cups of filtered or spring water and a couple of bay leaves to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, stirring frequently for 2 1/2 - 3 hours or until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to keep the beans covered as they cook.

(If using canned beans, heat thoroughly then proceed with instructions).

Meanwhile, in a medium frying pan, heat 1/2 cup of good olive oil over medium heat. Stir in the following aromatics: 2 red or green bell peppers, diced; 2 medium yellow onions, diced; 2 large shallots, sliced. Cook, stirring frequently for 8 - 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Then stir in 1 tablespoon of cumin, 2 tablespoons of oregano and 8-10 cloves of coarsely chopped cloves of garlic. Cook for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly. Purée in food processor or blender.

When the beans are almost done, remove the bay leaves, then stir in the purée, 2 tablespoons of kosher salt and some freshly ground pepper (do this to taste - adding a little at a time). Continue cooking for another 15 - 20 minutes.

This soup is delicious served with rice and/or chopped onions and sour cream. Another highly nutritious, very inexpensive taste treat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Versatile Veggies
After a trip to the local farmers market following right on the heels of taking advantage of the produce specials at my local supermarket, I found I had a fridge full of great veggies vying for star status at the dinner table.

With so much fresh produce, much of it straight from the garden, or grown on my kitchen counter, I had a bit of difficulty deciding what to eat first!

Brussels sprouts, corn with thyme, grape tomatoes dressed with lemon zest and juice.

Fresh radish and broccoli sprouts drizzled with Meyer lemon infused olive oil.

Alfalfa sprouts and garden fresh beefsteak tomatoes with Italian herbs and balsamic vinegar
Separating the leaves from each little Brussels sprouts head is a wee bit tedious, but it really goes quickly and provides a different texture and milder taste than cooking the sprouts whole. I sautéed two sliced shallots in a little olive oil until soft and fragrant then tossed in the leaves with about a tablespoon of white wine and covered them for a little bit to allow them to steam. Then removed the cover and finished cooking until they were just crisp tender and still vibrantly green. A dash of tamari at the finish along with salt and pepper to taste, made a wonderful tasty green accompaniment to the corn and tomato salad.
Cut the corn from the cob and toss with a bit of dried thyme. Sliced grape tomatoes marinated in a little fresh lemon juice and lemon zest are served a top the corn for a wonderful taste treat. The crunchy sweetness of the corn is a perfect partner for the piquant zip of the lemon zest and slightly acidic tomato. Makes a fine salad to serve with any dark green: broccoli, spinach, chard for example.
Growing sprouts on the counter is fast fun and so nutritious. I can't believe I settled for store-bought for years.
Roasted cauliflower certainly satisfies that craving for fried food. The lovely crusty outside with the creamy, mild flavored inside provides a nice occasional cooked treat. After washing and separating the florets, toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roast off in a 450° oven, turn after 10 -12 minutes and continue cooking until tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. The batch pictured above was cooked with a generous sprinkling of crushed Aleppo peppers to provide another flavor layer.
Eating economically and well is simple. Fresh veggies, whether from the garden, the produce stand or the supermarket are the stars at my dinner table, some cooked, most raw.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sushi at Home

Early last month, Kevin and Anne-Marie Gianni showed us how to roll nori on their Wednesday food segment of The Renegade Health Show. I was intrigued. If you have any difficulty following the link, the instructions and video were distributed on July 9, 2008, Episode #92.

At first opportunity, I was off to the Asian market to purchase sheets of nori, along with a bamboo mat for rolling ease. The first attempt was pretty much a disaster! Getting the hang of rolling, stuffing in enough slivered veggies to fill out the roll, and assuring enough moisture to prevent the nori from having the taste and texture of roofing paper, is all part of the learning experience.

I long ago learned that success in the kitchen is achieved with practice, so rather than be discouraged when the first batch was almost inedible—I ate the filling, sans wrap— I set about making some changes with the second batch.
To maintain 100% raw, guacamole, or simply mashed avocado, hummus or baba ganouj, can be spread in a thin layer over the sheet of nori. This will add moisture as well as another layer of flavor and nutrients to the roll. It acts as glue to hold in the raw veggies and it adds a touch of moisture to the dry seaweed sheet.
In the case above, I spread the nori sheet with a thin layer of cooled Jasmine rice, using wet fingers to spread it out evenly and thinly. Doing so did remove the dish from the realm of 100% raw, but still kept it vegetarian.
Thin batons of raw veggies, I use whatever's on hand, make up the filling. Red pepper, cucumber, carrots, zucchini, yellow squash, radishes, sprouts, a combination of any or all makes a wonderful nori roll. Left over pieces keep well in the fridge overnight and make a wonderful next-day lunch.
The batch pictured above is served with a dipping sauce of tamari, enhanced with a pinch of Coleman's dry mustard. Make the heat level to suit you! Wasabi is the flavor of choice here, but most commercially prepared wasabi pastes contain green food coloring.
Watch Anne-Marie make these rolls on the video and then give it a whirl. It's fun, quick, easy and a real taste treat. The kicker is, while it's a very healthy meal, it's also very inexpensive!

I had already made great strides in mastering summer rolls. Rolling raw veggies in rice paper wrappers, ready for dipping in a zingy peanut sauce. I use almond butter instead of peanut butter to improve on the nutritional aspect without losing a bit of flavor.

The rice wrappers above are filled with Asian cole slaw. Cabbage, carrots, vidalia onion, sprinkled with a bit of rice wine vinegar and rolled tightly. The dipping sauce is a lively mix of almond butter, aromatics and heat:

Almond dressing: two inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated; 1/2 cup almond butter (peanut butter can be substituted); 5 TBS mirin; 1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar; 2 TBS tamari or soy sauce; salt to taste. Whisk all together in a medium bowl until smooth. Store unused portion covered in refrigerator.

Here are two fun, healthy finger food meals that add variety and interest to everyday meal planning.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beets Rule!

While this is a dish made up of Jasmine rice, rappini and beets, the vibrant, bleeding red from the beets takes over without a bit of effort. Pink rice happens very quickly!

Summer produce finds are fabulous. A trip to the produce market provided freshly picked beets and a big, crisp bunch of bright green rappini.

I washed the beets and tucked them into a little foil packet with olive oil, salt and pepper and let them roast off in the oven while I was cooking something else. (Don't waste energy). They were tucked in the fridge patiently waiting for me to use them.

Driving home from my volunteer shift at the library bookstore this afternoon, I was a half mile ahead of our daily thunderstorm. I'd been in the house but a few minutes, when the skies opened up with booming thunder and flashes of lightning letting us know Mother Nature was alive and well. While the temperatures still hovered at 'very warm', the gray skies and ominous light lent itself to visions of warm comfort food.

The raw, green salad I'd planned with avocado and vidalia onions, took a quick raincheck (no pun intended). Instead, I quickly measured out a 1/2 cup of Jasmine rice and put it on to cook with enough water to cover it by about an inch. While that came to a boil, uncovered, I washed and cut the rappini leaves into a chiffonade.

Next, I started a generous tablespoon of olive oil in a 10" saute pan and tossed in half a chopped vidalia onion and a couple of minced garlic cloves.

As the onions and garlic became fragrant, I added the ribbons of rappini greens. Then, when the water in the rice was level with the top of the rice, I removed the pan from the heat, covered the pot with a linen towel, added the cover, and set the timer for 12 minutes.

Toss the rappini with the onions and garlic over medium heat, keep an eye on them, add a cover to the pan so they steam a bit. While the rice is resting and the greens are wilting, dress a couple of beets. It's easy to rinse off the skins, use a paring knife on any stubborn pieces. Then slice the beets onto a plate, salt and pepper and drizzle with red wine vinegar.

When the timer rings, announcing the rice is ready, drizzle a few drops of Pickappepa sauce over the rappini, toss to mix and then combine with the rice. Dice up the dressed beet slices and add them to the rice mixture. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

This is a simple bowl of fine food. Quick and easy to prepare. Whole foods, filled with nutrients, easy on the budget, and pleasant on the palate.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mostly Raw

Here's my idea of 'the best of both worlds'.

A great transition meal, mostly raw with a bit of cooked accompaniment. Black beans mixed with succulently sautéed slices of Vidalia onion with big hunks of sweet orange bell pepper and slivers of seeded and deveined jalepeño pepper topping organic Romaine lettuce. Then a little pseudo guac (chopped tomato, garlic and avocado with lime juice) graces the top. Optionally, a few dollops of salsa and a bit of sour cream gives the dish a nice Mexican nuance.

The combination could fill a whole wheat wrap or tortilla to make a fabulous burrito, too.
Simple, quick, nutritious. A can of beans, rinsed well, an onion, a pepper, some lettuce. The guacamole topping is just a small tomato, half a Hass avocado, a clove of garlic and the juice of half a lime. All sitting nicely on torn hearts of Romaine.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Buerre Noisette

Ha, and you thought those green things were called asparagus! Well, they are and those little brown bits you see in between the very generous sprinkling of freshly ground pepper are the results of browning butter (buerre noisette). The French words for brown butter are so much more interesting, don't you think? Noisette is hazelnut and that shade of brown is what we are attempting to achieve with this simple sauce preparation.

As I was trying to indulge only one (moi) with a slightly decadent Sunday lunch, I used a mere two tablespoons of full cream butter. The recipe or technique can be increased proportionately to serve more. Heat the butter gently in a small skillet set over medium low heat. Let the butter melt through stages. While this is a simple preparation it does require a bit of watching once the butter starts to separate and the bits start to brown. It's amazing how quickly beautiful brown butter can become black, burned butter! The goal here is to allow the butter to acquire a lovely hazelnut-brown shade. As the butter reaches this point of perfection, add the juice of half a lemon and a pinch of sea salt, swirling as you go. Then remove the pan immediately from the heat and pour over the intended food.

Buerre noisette is fabulous over a piece of mild white fish or splendid to grace a lightly steamed green veggie as I did with this young asparagus. A few, rich calories for Sunday lunch is a mild indulgence, considering the plate of greens graced in butter was my entire lunch, accompanied by a crisp, cold glass of Riesling.
Just following the healthful admonition to "eat more greens"! Try it, it's swell.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Raw, Fresh and Fabulous

Requiring only a few minutes for washing and dicing, ripe, juicy summer veggies turn into a dish bursting with flavor, ready to be an appetizer or fill in as a main meal. You could call it Gazpacho without the liquid, guacamole/salsa, Pico de Gallo with a twist, call it any of these, but make it and enjoy this fine, fresh, palate pleaser.

After dicing tomatoes, sweet onion, jalepeño, mince some fresh cilantro, then add a diced avocado.

Gently fold all together with the juice of a fragrant, ripe lime. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Enjoy this as a luncheon salad mixed with fresh Romaine, scoop it up with torn pieces of fresh whole wheat tortillas or corn chips. Enjoy as a side or topping for refried beans or a burrito. I've oven toasted triangles of corn tortillas, brushed with olive oil and dusted with kosher salt, then used them to scoop up this wonderful, fresh salad with a Mexican twist. Homemade corn chips are quick, easy and impressive!

Raw foodies will enjoy this salad as is. Vegetarians might like to include the grain products. Everyone will enjoy the fresh from the garden flavors. This simple mix is a constant in my kitchen, providing a quick lunch or a great accompaniment to dinner. Juicy, sun-ripened tomatoes are probably my favorite vegetable. I can't imagine a day without one.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Alfalfa Sprouts
Day four of my first sprout growing experience. Imagine, here's a jar filled with fresh, crunchy energy, packing its own digestive enzymes along with a myriad of nutrients. Back in the '70's we joked about the hippies eating veggies, growing sprouts, living a lifestyle hard to fathom if you were on that upwardly mobile track, where having the butcher cut two-inch thick Porterhouse steaks to grill on a Saturday night was deriguere.

Memory can still savor the mouth-watering aroma of those steaks on the grill. But better judgement keeps them just a memory. And not simply better judgement. I suspect to have a 2" thick Porterhouse steak cut from grass fed, free roaming livestock, devoid of growth hormones and antibiotics would be a pretty pricey proposition today.

Back to the sprouts. Armed with a small package of organic alfalfa seeds from the local health food store, and the purchase of a dozen wide mouth, quart Mason jars and a package containing three yards of cheesecloth, I was ready to join the ranks of millions of folks who regularly produce fresh sprouts in their kitchens.

Simple instructions gleaned from the web, actually I was motivated to try my hand at this from a recent post on Apartment Therapy. There are a host of websites waiting to lend a hand. Sproutman or Sproutpeople are good places to start for instruction, advice and supplies.

Two tablespoons of seeds, soaked overnight, then rinsed and drained twice a day produced this wonderful jar of crunchy, sweet, nutritious sprouts. In the past, I've either included sprouts in a veggie wrap or topped off a big salad with a generous handful of store-bought sprouts. Knowing they "were good for me" but not all together happy with the musty aftertaste.

These fresh little guys, with no preservatives added, are sweet and flavorful and make a wonderful side salad on their own. I filled a small dish with sprouts, drizzled them with heavenly imported Tuscan olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some freshly ground pepper. The fresh lemon juice was a good match for the fresh taste of the newly grown sprouts.

I tried the sprouts as a stand alone salad again, but this time with a drizzle of the award winning Pasolivo lemon flavored olive oil that I picked up at the olive grove in Paso Robles last month. The softness of the Meyer lemons with the Tuscan olive oil was a better match for the young sprouts, not as astringent as straight lemon juice. This will be my new favorite snack and side salad.

Buoyed up with confidence at the ease of growing this first batch of sprouts, I'm eager to try sprouting other seeds and beans. I bought a dozen Mason jars, so I have no excuse for not soaking something else soon.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Eggplant Again!

Yes, eggplant again. And why not? It's such a recipe workhorse. Its versatility makes it a natural for experimentation. I recently received a recipe for a meatless, fat free, dairy-less version of lasagna using eggplant in place of noodles; spinach and mushrooms in place of cheese or meat for the filling. It was interesting and I thought I printed it out. But alas, when I decided to give it a go today, I found not only had I not printed it, I'd not saved it and even emptied the delete file. So efficient!

A quick spin to the Cancer Project section of the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) website proved fruitless, too, as the recipe section hadn't been updated. Lack of direction hasn't deterred me yet. Experimenting in the kitchen is great entertainment. I envisioned what I'd read: eggplant layered with mushrooms and spinach using a simple marinara sauce. PCRM's version had no cheese, no oil, no breadcrumbs and, if I remember correctly, an assortment of herbs and spices to kick it up.

My version would use olive oil, a little cheese, a lot of garlic and a generous helping of sautéed onions, along with my quick version of a simple marinara sauce, all laced together with baby Bela mushrooms, fresh baby spinach and a medium Italian eggplant. This recipe filled an 8 x 8 pan.

This dish requires a few separate prep steps besides washing, slicing and dicing. It takes about 60 minutes to prepare and 45 minutes to bake. But, this is a cook once; eat twice (or maybe more) dish. Worth the effort for the spectacular flavors and the healthy take on an old fat-filled favorite—lasagna.

Steps: make marinara sauce; grill or roast eggplant slices; sauté onions and mushrooms; wilt spinach; toast breadcrumbs; assemble; bake.

Ingredients: Balsamic vinaigrette (olive oil w/Balsamic vinegar & Italian herbs, salt & pepper)

Simple marinara sauce*

(or buy a jar of commercial stuff, if you must!)

1/2 pound sliced baby Bela mushrooms (or any 'shroom you prefer)

1/2 large sweet onion, diced

10 oz bag of fresh baby spinach, washed and sliced in ribbons (chiffonade)

1 large clove garlic, minced

Blend of Italian herbs (basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme) or just basil

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (1 TBS reserved)
1/4 cup Italian Fontina or Mozzarella cheese, diced small
1/2 cup panko, pan-roasted in olive oil and butter.
Salt and Pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°

1. If making the marinara sauce, do that first. See directions below. If using commercial sauce, heat and keep warm on a low burner until ready to assemble dish.

2. Wash and slice the eggplant in 1/4 inch slices (there should be about 12 slices). Brush one side of each slice with the vinaigrette and place on a foil lined cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn, brush the slices with vinaigrette and cook for another 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from oven and set aside. (An alternative to oven roasting is to grill the eggplant slices on an electric grill pan.)

3. While the eggplant is cooking and the marinara is simmering— on to the mushrooms. In a large 12" skillet, sauté the minced garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until fragrant, then add the diced onion and sauté for a few more minutes, seasoning with a dash of sea salt and a few grinds of black pepper, then add the sliced mushrooms. Mix carefully to incorporate the onions and garlic. Continue to cooking gently on a medium hot burner.

I like to wash the mushrooms at the last minute and give them a quick spin dry in the salad spinner. There are many opinions about water on mushrooms...but considering where they grow, a quick wash at the last minute does wonders for my peace of mind.

4. While the mushrooms are cooking, wash the spinach and slice it up in batches. Once the mushrooms are tender start adding the spinach to the pan in two batches, allowing the first batch to wilt before adding the balance. Carefully mix the wilted spinach with mushrooms and onions and a generous pinch of Italian herb seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Once the spinach is wilted and combined, remove from the heat to retain the bright green color of the spinach.

5. Using a 10" non-stick sauté pan, heat one tablespoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of butter (just enough to give a rich flavor but not enough to even count the fat calories!) over medium heat. Once the oil and butter have melted , stir to combine, then add the panko. Spread the crumbs out to cover the bottom of the pan and keep stirring them so all get dressed and continue stirring as they toast up, brown and nutty. What a heavenly aroma. Watch them carefully, they will brown quickly and you want just a light golden hue. Remove them from the hot pan into a little bowl until ready to use.

Now that all the components have been prepared, it's time for assembly.

6. Spread a generous layer of marinara sauce into the bottom of the pan. Arrange eggplant slices in a single layer on top of the sauce. Follow with all of the mushrooms and spinach forming a nice thick layer. Then cover the mushrooms with the rest of the eggplant slices. Top this layer with the grated parmesan, reserving one tablespoon. Then evenly dot the entire top with the little diced squares of Fontina or Mozarrella. Cover the top with a thin layer of marinara sauce.

7. Combine the reserved tablespoon of grated Parmesan with the toasted bread crumbs and spread evenly over the top. Use a tablespoon to carefully cover the top layer of sauce.

Cover the pan with foil and place in 350° oven for 45 minutes. Remove foil for final 15 minutes to brown the top. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve with marinara sauce on the side, underneath, or over the top. Enjoy.

* Marinara Quick Sauce

1 28-ounce can Muir Glen organic fire roasted diced tomatoes

2 cloves garlic minced

2 TBS olive oil

pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)

1 tsp Italian herbs (or basil)

Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste.

Sauté minced garlic in olive oil in 3 quart sauce pan over medium heat to sweat the garlic. Do not brown. Add crushed red pepper, if using, and herbs. Then carefully add tomatoes with a very little water. (Just enough to rinse out the can). Simmer gently for 20 - 30 minutes.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Comfort Food

Salade Aux Épinards

It was a dark and stormy night. Clouds dipping low, loud rumbles of thunder. Then came the rain, pounding on the rooftops, cascading over the parked cars, quickly flooding the low lying land. But inside it was cozy. The cold salad, originally planned, ended up taking a back seat to a quick dish that combined wilted baby spinach leaves, shallots, and sliced boiled potato flecked with melting cubes of rich, nutty Havarti cheese.

I've been browsing the Elizabeth David Classics again. Love the simple instructions for taking a few ingredients; always whole foods, frequently fresh from the garden, and presenting them full of flavor, with the simplest preparations.
She may often mince ingredients but never her words. Simple, straightforward instructions, written with the assumption that the reader has some culinary capabilities. I love being given the benefit of the doubt.

The dish above is an adaptation of one of her salad instructions from A Book of Mediterranean Food. As written, the salad is intended to be served cold or at least at room temperature. I prepared it as a hot dish and found it every bit as good as a cold salad would be. Given the nasty weather outside the window, a warm bowl of comfort food hit the spot.

Elizabeth David's instructions read: "Plunge some cleaned spinach into boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain it, mix with some sliced cold potatoes and thin slices of Gruyère cheese. Dress with a spoonful of cream and the juice of a lemon."

That's it. No long list of ingredients. No fancy equipment. No particular talent needed. Just simple, easy to follow instructions for a tasty dish with three main ingredients.
I find it interesting that other than instructions for macerating vegetables, salt is never mentioned. I boiled the sliced potato in salted water. Rather than boil the spinach, I prefer to sauté it in a little olive oil with sliced shallots and garlic cloves. With no Swiss type cheese in the fridge, I debated between a mellow Italian Fontina or the nuttier Havarti. Either would have been fine, yet neither lent the same piquant layer that Ms. David achieved with the Gruyère. I compromised by adding a sprinkling of dried red chili flakes to the spinach preparation.
Substitutions are a matter of personal taste as well as working with what's on hand. Note: I skipped the spoonful of cream, as well. The generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice with some freshly ground tellicherry pepper brought out the slightly earthy flavor of the mild baby greens.

A lovely dish comprised of a boiled potato and a half a bag of baby spinach. Imagine something so simple, yet so good. Fast and easy, too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Two Dollar Meals

The specials at the produce stand and my local supermarket this week included eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, and sweet onions.

Here are two of the simple meals I made with part of my purchases.

I really enjoy simple vegetable meals. They come together quickly, offer a wide variety of tastes and textures and lend themselves to many different preparations.

These grilled eggplant/tomato stacks are a good example.

I used one small eggplant and two good sized Ruskin tomatoes, some torn green leaf lettuce and a thin slice of mozzarella cheese for each stack. I made up a little balsamic vinaigrette and brushed the eggplant slices liberally with it before grilling them in an electric grill pan.
Once the eggplant slices were nicely browned and had softened, I removed them from the pan and quickly grilled the thick tomato slices which were also brushed with the vinaigrette.

While the vegetables were grilling, I sliced mozzarella cheese and trimmed each slice roughly into a round. I used the corner scraps for the smaller pieces of eggplant. It's nice to try to have the tomato slices and the eggplant slices about the same circumference, but it isn't anything to stress out over. Close enough is good enough.

The tomatoes will grill quickly, watch them as they shouldn't get soft and mushy — a couple of minutes per side, to just heat through and let the vinaigrette infuse the tomato will do.
Once they are done, use a spatula to transfer a slice of tomato to the top of a slice of eggplant, cover with a slice of cheese. When the stacks are all prepared, carefully transfer them back to the grill pan over moderate heat and add the lid. Cook for a few minutes to let the cheese melt.

While the cheese is melting, tear some clean, fresh, crisp greens into bite sized pieces and toss with the vinaigrette. Place the finished stacks on the greens to serve. I topped off the stacks with a sprinkling of Italian herbs and a bit of crushed red pepper.

With an abundance of red, ripe, Ruskin beefsteak tomatoes on the counter, I decided to marinate some cauliflower, broccoli (I used about 1/3 of each head) a sweet onion and a tomato in the same balsamic vinaigrette.

After cutting the veggies I tossed them with salt and pepper and the left over dressing. It didn't seem quite enough, so I sprinkled on a bit more olive oil, then let it rest at room temperature for about an hour. The veggies shouldn't be swimming in the vinaigrette but there should be adequate liquid to lightly coat each piece.

I transferred the veggies to a broiler pan, and gave them a total of 12 minutes under the broiler. The rack was about 4 " from the heat. I turned the pan and the vegetables about halfway through. Pierce the thickest parts with the tip of a paring knife to test for doneness. I was looking for a nicely browned appearance with a tender/crisp finish.

I plated the vegetables with a few Calamata olives, some whole wheat pita bread and a light shaving of Parmesan cheese.

Another two dollar meal, with enough left over for a light lunch tossed with red leaf lettuce and a few snack sprouts. As good, if not better, cold as it was warm. It doesn't take a lot of money to eat well.