Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Day in the Life Of . . .
What do you eat, Joyce? Well, some days, my meals look like this:

Hawaiian Punch for Breakfast?

No, it's not the customary punch - pink, but it's pineapple and that always says Hawaii to me even though lately I've been treated to home-grown, Florida pineapples. This green smoothie has a pistachio green hue and a light pineapple flavor from the cup of frozen pineapple chunks, with an undertone of the rich, green chard that I blended with a generous cup of filtered water.

Without the rich body that I usually experience by including a banana in my morning smoothies, this has more of a sherbet or Italian ice mouth-feel as opposed to the ice-cream like texture that adding a banana offers. And it's not as sweet. A room temperature, ripe banana would be a good addition. Talk about an energy drink. Local fresh pineapple and big, crisp, green leaves of Swiss chard. There is just an echo of the 'grassy' green flavor from the chard, nicely offset by the sweet pineapple. Starting the day with a big green drink is a good way to get a head start on ensuring that I'm incorporating enough fresh dark greens in my daily food intake.

A few soaked raw almonds for a snack mid-morning adds more protein, fiber and nutrients while satisfying the instinctive need to chew on something. Often the almonds are accompanied by slices of apple or a few grapes.

Then a big salad for lunch, filled with a variety of vegetables, is a great mid-day energy booster.

Mixed baby greens, sliced sweet onion, diced apple, raisins, toasted walnuts, snack sprouts and Gorgonzola crumbles all lightly dressed with a sweet balsamic vinaigrette.

If the urge for mid-afternoon munchies strikes, I often juice a few carrots with an apple or have a glass of Knudsen's Very Veggie juice, the 'spicy' variety with a celery stalk and a few almonds or walnuts. That usually is plenty to tide me over until dinner time.

Then how about a little eggplant salad for dinner? Fresh tomatoes, a mix of sweet bell peppers, sweet onion, feta cheese, and lightly roasted eggplant chunks tossed with a light vinaigrette made with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, capers, garlic and fresh mint leaves.

And to mop up the good juices? Well, occasionally I indulge in some whole wheat bread. I keep pita on hand and the other day, I tried my hand at a loaf of long-rise, no knead whole wheat bread.

This is a neat technique from noted baker, Jim Lahey, but it does require planning as the initial rise is 18 hours and then there's another 2 hours or so for a second rise and then another 45 - 60 minutes of baking time. This is not labor intensive. It just sits and does its thing (developing intense flavor and fantastic texture) and then the dough is baked in a pre-heated pot with a cover for the first part of the baking time, then uncovered for the remainder. The final product is a loaf with a crunchy top crust and a soft, dense flavorful crumb that makes it very difficult to limit oneself to just one slice!

So there you have it. "A Day In the Life Of. . ." Lots of tasty fresh fruit and vegetables. All whole foods, mostly plants, mainly raw.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Zucchini Under Glass

Despite the many times I was admonished not to experiment in the kitchen, I rarely listened. Enough successful outcomes have fueled my self-confidence, propelling me from one culinary adventure to another. Sometimes my bright, innovative food treatments are best not discussed, yet frequently experience pays off, and I can humbly proclaim my experiment a success.

This was one of those occasions when using what was on hand, in a creative way, produced a mouth-watering meal with a definite Mediterranean bent, though it did include a generous two teaspoons of red curry paste, for no other reason than I wanted to spike the mild, sweet vegetables with a bit of heat, and the opened curry paste was at hand. A bit of cayenne would do or a dash of chili powder would be fine, too.

What prompted this endeavor were four young, firm, green zucchini. I wondered what I could do with them that would turn a dollar's worth of produce into several tasty servings. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, basil, oregano — all pantry staples — seemed appropriate complements to the zucchini. I initially thought I'd give that combination a quick sauté in a little olive oil, layer it onto a sliced baguette, top the browned veggies with slices of mozzarella and toast it in the oven to melt the cheese. Not a bad idea. But it was just a glorified vegetarian sub.

My final decision was to layer the zucchini, onions and tomato in a baking dish, terrine style and serve it over a bed of jasmine rice. It turned out to be a good decision.

I started by sautéing a couple of cloves of minced garlic and a thinly sliced onion in olive oil. I had a little red curry paste in the fridge left from the last time I made curry, so I stirred a couple of heaping teaspoon into the onions and oil and let it cook down a bit, then added a good splash of water to get a little sauce going. As that simmered, I sliced the zucchinis and a big Ruskin beefsteak tomato. Using an oven proof glass casserole dish, once the onions had softened, and the curry paste was well blended with the oil and aromatics, I layered the onions, then the zucchini, then the tomatoes and added a layer of thinly sliced mozzarella cheese over the tomatoes and sprinkled a generous tablespoon of Italian herbs (just oregano would do) over the top before repeating with another tier of onions, zucchini and tomatoes. (Pour any leftover pan liquor from the onions over the tomatoes before proceeding with the next step.)

I topped this last layer of tomatoes with freshly grated Parmesan and then covered the whole dish with a layer of fresh whole wheat bread crumbs that had been tossed with a tablespoon of olive oil.

The casserole baked off, uncovered, at 375° for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile I steamed, to perfection, a little pot of jasmine rice.

The final dish turned out to be a great Saturday night supper with plenty of leftovers. Another example of whole foods simply prepared, yet turning a few farm fresh vegetables into fine fare, frugally.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Simple Yet Sensational
A bright, light salad starts this luncheon menu. Hearts of Romaine, sweet Texas onion, Kirby cuke, half a Haas avocado, hunks of fresh pineapple, snack sprouts, sunflower seeds, raisins and a smidgen of blue cheese crumbles, tossed with a little extra virgin olive oil and a generous splash of Bragg's apple cider vinegar provides a big bowl of flavor along with a healthy helping of nutrients.
The entree features two bright, vibrant veggies that have been lightly coated with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted off in a 425° oven for about 20 - 25 minutes. The asparagus cooks much more quickly than the sweet potato, so I sliced the tuber in 1/4" pieces and gave it a quick 5 minute blanching in a small pot of boiling water. Then I drained the potatoes well before brushing the slices lightly with olive oil.
Roasting tip: Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil and brush it lightly with olive oil before adding the vegetables. Then just brush the olive oil over the top or spray with a misto-o bottle. Generously dust with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Turn the veggies after the first 10 - 12 minutes then continue roasting until they are tender crisp when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Plate attractively and sprinkle with lemon juice before serving.
The salad and roasted veggies make a great vegetarian lunch or light supper but could serve equally well accompanying a meat or fish entrée. Uncomplicated preparations of fresh garden vegetables, some raw, some quickly roasted until crisp tender — simply sensational.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rapini and Pine Nuts
Eager to use a fresh bunch of crisp, green rapini , I washed, chopped and sautéed it in olive oil, minced garlic and a sprinkling of crushed red pepper. Meanwhile, I toasted a couple of tablespoons of pine nuts, added them to the rapini, and put a large pot of water on to boil for pasta.

Once the water boiled, I added two cups of mini penne, and tossed in 4 sun-dried tomatoes. When the tomatoes had softened up I removed them with a slotted spoon and set them aside allowing the penne to finish cooking just to the al dente stage, about 8 - 9 minutes. When the softened tomatoes were cool enough to handle I sliced them up and added them to the pan of rapini along with the drained penne and mixed well with a little of the reserved cooking water.

A little thinly shaved Parmesan Regianno tops off this easy dish of pasta, rapini and pine nuts. The sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and the hint of crushed red pepper gives the whole dish a depth of flavor that belies the quick prep time. Leftovers heated up nicely the next day. Once again proving that good meals don't have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming to prepare.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Ready to Roll
Here's a twist on an old favorite, the BLT. This one could well be called an ALT. Avocado replaces the bacon providing a rich, creamy, unctuous mouth feel along with great flavor and a good dose of vitamins and minerals, including some healthy fat.

A whole wheat wrap with a little almonaise, slivered Romaine leaves, diced tomato and Haas avocado sprinkled with a light dusting of Sea Seasonings — Triple Blend Flakes of Dulse, Laver and Sea Lettuce— provides a tasty, healthy, lunch.

Don't be put off by the high calorie count of an avocado. This little wonder is a dynamite, heart healthy food. An avocado provides an extremely high amount of potassium as well as a healthy blend of calcium and magnesium, Vitamins A and C, zinc, phosphorous and iron, to name a few of the nutrients available from this little green oval. Whether you choose the California or the Florida avocado, adding a bit to sandwiches, salads and salsas is certain to kick up the flavor a notch, but will also provide the body with essentials to help stay healthy. To learn more about the nutritional value of foods, check out this informative site, The World's Healthiest Foods.

Pocket Filler

Broccoli florets, shallots and sweet red bell peppers*, tossed with a little olive oil, dusted with an Italian herb blend from Penzey's, and a pinch of red pepper flakes, roasted off in a 400° oven for 20 minutes, is a mouth-watering combination sure to please even the 'meat and potato' skeptic.

Eaten as a main course, served as a side dish, or used to fill a whole wheat pita pocket, these oven roasted veggies offer such great flavor that it easily puts to rest the mistaken notion that healthy food is blah food.

* Oven roasted red peppers from a jar work just fine with this combination.

Filling meal time with fresh fruit and vegetables is quick, easy and healthy. Try a few meals without meat or dairy. It will help save the planet, while doing wonders for your health.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Green Beans and Almond Salad
Nothing like a little inspiration from one of my favorite cooks and food writers.

Recently, Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks posted a lovely soba noodle and asparagus recipe with peanut dressing. It was the inspiration for this dish. Which is really nothing more than a copy-cat effort with substitutions. But it reaffirms my constant comment that making substitutions and performing variations on a theme is a good talent to have in the kitchen.
As long as it's not while you're baking. Then, adhering to the written directions and specified amounts is paramount to a successful outcome.

I like to include almonds or walnuts in dishes, adding the nutritional lift of protein along with the flavor and crunch these tasty guys provide. Peanuts aren't actually nuts they are legumes, which means, while tasty, they don't pack the nutritional wallop of a true nut. I've been using raw almonds and almond butter in place of peanuts and peanut butter and this is a good example of how to substitute one for the other.

With green beans currently in the markets at bargain prices, using them as the veggie for this salad was a no-brainer but the asparagus that Heidi used would do equally well. I whipped up the following luncheon dish in under 30 minutes. But, be advised: the green beans had already been washed, trimmed and blanched the day before.

I keep organic soba noodles, purchased at the local Asian market, on hand. As I'm usually cooking for one or two, I buy a neat little package that has the noodles divided into perfect portions of 3.1 oz little bundles. These are authentic Japanese buckwheat noodles and are simply made of organic wheat, organic buckwheat and water. Other than waiting for water to boil, they are virtually instant. Once added to the boiling water (much care should be taken as they boil over easily) they cook in 3 - 4 minutes. Drain and rinse and they're ready to go. You can add them to stir-fries, soup stock or eat them hot or cold with a dipping sauce or in a salad as above.

Green Beans and Soba Noodles with Almond Dressing
2 " piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 cup creamy, almond butter
5 TBS mirin
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 TBS tamari
1 tsp kosher salt (I like the large flakes) but sea salt is fine, too.
1 pound of trimmed, washed green beans
1/2 cup sliced almonds, dry toasted
2 sliced shallots or fresh green onions
soba noodles 3- 4 oz (one stack)

Preparation requires 4 simple steps:
1. make the dressing;
2. blanch the green beans;
3. boil the noodles;
4. assemble.

1. Make the dressing: Using a small holed grater, grate the fresh ginger over a medium bowl catching all the juice and the pulp. You should have about a heaping teaspoon. To the same bowl add the almond butter, mirin, vinegar, tamari and salt. Use a whisk or fork to combine well.

2. If not already blanched, add the green beans to a large pot of lightly salted boiling water. Cook for 4 - 5 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. If beans are being prepared at time of salad preparation, carefully remove the beans from the boiling water with a large skimmer, reserving the pot of hot water. Return the water to a boil and proceed with soba noodle directions.

3. Bring a medium pot of cold water to a boil, add soba noodles (watch for overboil - lift pan from burner momentarily and turn down the temperature, maintaining a full boil.) Boil for 3 -4 minutes, drain in colander and rinse under cold water.

4. In a large bowl, toss the green beans, noodles and sliced shallots with as much dressing as desired. Add it slowly, napping all the ingredients. Scatter almond slices over the top to serve.

This is delicious at room temperature. Refrigerate if not eating immediately.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Freeze the Fruit!
When the supermarket or produce stands offer outstanding bargains on fresh fruit, don't hesitate to stock up. Freezing the fruit is simple. Our local Plant City strawberries are here, abundant, red, ripe and ready. They are easy to prepare for freezing. I wash the berries, carefully remove the green stem and layer them on paper towels on a cookie sheet and slide into the freezer to allow them to freeze individually. Once frozen, I pop them into a plastic storage bag. This simple method is not intended for long term storage, but it's a way to take advantage of good prices without waste. The fruit I've prepared this way has been fine for 3 to 4 weeks.

With the abundance of producing papaya trees in the area, I've been inundated with more fruit than I can immediately eat. I follow the same routine with papaya, peel it and cut it into cubes and lay the cubes out on a lined cookie sheet or cake pan and place in the freezer.

This week, I indulged in two beautiful canteloupes (granted they weren't local).These two big beauties provided more melon than I could manage before fermentation set in. I peeled, seeded and cut one into cubes—placed the pieces on paper towels in a couple of 9" cake pans and popped them into the freezer, when the pieces were frozen, I just transferred them to a couple of quart plastic bags and found they make a terrific smoothie addition.

The cantaloupe puréed with a couple of room temperature bananas and a good handful of chard gives this light green smoothie a mild pleasant taste similar to a creamsicle.
Swiss chard has a much milder flavor mixed into smoothies than one would guess. Alternating the greens in my morning smoothie helps to provide a wider variety of nutrients and eliminates the boredom of having the same old — same old.

Try chard or kale in place of spinach for a pleasant surprise and a great taste treat.