Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fathers day

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The White House Garden: A Twofer

With the adoption of a healthier American lifestyle that the White House Garden models, we could knock a serious blow to two serious concerns:  obesity and spiraling health care costs .   All for $200--the reputed cost of installing the White House Garden.  Labor is on a volunteer basis and free unless you count in the cost of Sam Kass, the official garden keeper.  Sure there are plenty of externalized costs that Obama detractors will be  happy to calculate.  Like the costs of those cute yellow t-shirts the school kids all wear.    But given our frugal times, this can be held up as a paragon of government spending on any cost-benefit/impact analysis spreadsheet.  

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rotisserie Chicken: Take Three. Italian Wedding Soup

On Wednesday you had your rotisserie chicken.  Next up Caesar salad with diced left over chicken.  Next stop, Minestra Maritata, better known as Italian Wedding Soup.  I've improvised the recipe to take advantage of the left over hot dogs that we got from our farm-co-op.  You might think hotdogs as an off ingredient for this blog but these are from pasture-raised cows and taste all the better for it.  Plus it's much faster to prepare the soup.  In the conventional recipe meatballs are used.

It's been a cold and rainy June her in New England.  After putting my long sleeved shirts away a few weeks ago, I retrieved them along with some sweaters from the closet top shelf.  With the overcast skies and relative chill in the air, it's a good day for soup. 

A culinary fun fact.  The origin of the soup is Italian.  The name was miss-translated in an Ellis Island way--it is literally, Married Soup, meaning that the ingredients go well together and in well-married sort of way.  A culinary marriage made in heaven, Italian style!

Use the broth made from the chicken bones and any left over chicken scraps deemed inedible like the gristly parts.   See my broth blog entry to come :-)

chicken broth
tomatoes - I'm using the last of the jars canned last fall
diced onions
butter, ghee and or coconut oil for frying
hotdogs - diced in small pieces
spinach - washed and cut into small pieces
2 eggs
parmesan cheese - grated
creme fraiche

Saute onions and garlic.  Add chopped up hotdogs.  Add broth and chopped spinach and tomatoes.  Stir in the eggs until thin strands appear.  Add the hotdogs to the soup.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with grated cheese and/or spoon of creme fraiche.

Rotisserie Chicken: Take Two. Caesar Salad

Always spelling challenged, this blog entry taught me two new spellings:  Caesar and Rotisserie. 

Early June is true lettuce season.  Romaine is my favorite and considered one of the most nutritious.  I especially like its crunchyness.  When preparing I cut out the stems and use them for scoopy snacks they way most people use celery sticks.  Julia likes these in her lunch box with some sea salt.

A bit of history and a great culinary story.  This salad originates from Mexico and named after Casaer Cardini, an Italian immigrant working as a chef in Tijuania.  There are many variations of the story as told on Wikipedia but I like the one best told by his daughter, Rosa.  The dish was invented as a result of depleted kitchen supplies.  The improvisation made all the better with the table side preparation by the chef himself. 

For the salad
head of romaine
Parmesan Reggiano Cheese-- 2-3 ounces grated
diced left-over chicken

For the dressing
1 table spoon apple cider vinegar
1 table spoon lemon juice
1 table spoon Parmesan cheese 
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1 clove of garlic
sardines - optional
rinsed capers - instead of the sardines

This is based on the recipe from Sally Fallon's, Nourishing Traditions.
Wash, dry and slice across in bit sized pieces.  Grate Parmesan to sprinkle on top of lettuce or use a vegetable peeler for thin slices.  Combine ingredients for dressing and toss with the lettuce and chicken.  Add the optional croutons at the last minute so they won't get soggy.  

About raw eggs:
Raw egg yolks are a great source of nutrients.  We get our eggs from a farm that has pasture-raised chickens, so I am not worried about using raw egg yolks.  If you are concerned about raw eggs in general or don't have access to pastured [vs pasturized!] eggs, probably best to omit the raw eggs.  

Got Dinner? Rotisserie Chicken. Take One

You know the drill.  It's 4 or 5 o'clock.   Got Dinner?  Pick up a still-hot-from-the-oven rotisserie chicken and some baby spinach on the way home.  Once home put the chicken and any juices and bits you can scrape off the bottom of the container into a covered stove top casserole dish.   A Le Creuset if you are lucky enough to have one.  On a low flame -- just enough to keep the chicken warm and moist.  Saute some onions in another large pot that has a cover. This is much faster if you have some onions cut up and frozen.  Add a little garlic.  Add washed spinach. Baby spinach has the double advantage of tasting better and you don't have the tedious and time consuming task of removing the stems.  Cover the pot. Within minutes the incredible-shrinking-spinach is revealed.  Ready to taste with the addition of vinegar, butter, lemon zest or just salt and pepper.

Rotisserie Chicken Take Two.  Caesar salad with left over chicken
Rotisserie Chicken Take Three.  Minestra Maritata  aka Wedding Soup with chicken broth

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I got published! NYT Amanda Hesser on Michelle Obama as Commander in Chef

So I kind of threw this out there thinking that getting published was a long-shot at best.  If I got lucky, perhaps I could inspire others.  What I have learned has worked for us and maybe it could help others too.  At worst, if left unpublished, I did it for myself, a personal manifesto of sorts expressing my gratitude and respect to Amanda for writing this and to Michelle, for being and staying Michelle.  

On any typical Sunday, Chris an I split the NYT...he gets the front page, sports and business, I get the magazine, book review and style section.  The rest is up for grabs.   We then proceed to drive each other slightly and not-so slightly mad -- reading from our respective sections.  Mind you I have a fairly limited time horizon for reading on Sunday's.  Basically one Charlie and Lola, which lasts about 30 minutes.  

Last Sunday's Amanda Hesser Op Ed stood out.  "You've GOT to respond to this...".  So I did. In under 250 words.

Here it is world!  My 2 cents.

Friday, June 5, 2009

How to Dress an Olive

Olives straight from the jar? Never! At least if you listen to Steve Jenkins, best known for his all-things-cheese know-how. 

The scoop on olives from The Master himself:  

Drain the olives of their brining solution, wash, then soak in cold water.  Then 'dress' them with extra virgin olive oil, better know as EVOO and herbs and spices, if you please.  These will keep in a sealed container on your counter as long as you keep the olives submerged in the olive oil.  Not to worry even if they get a bit shrived...that just means the flavor is more intense.

Julia has these in her lunch box most days.  I've never heard this, but doesn't it make sense that plain old olives would be even better for you than olive oil given how processed olive oil can be?  

Krispy Kale or how to fall in love with a nutritional superstar

This was a big good it is!  And ridiculously easy.  Julia loves it -- I can credit this to her love of anything with salt and copious amounts of olive oil :-) 

Otherwise it can be hard to fall in love wit kale.  Sure it's a reputed nutritional superstar..full of antioxidants, immunity building properties, even anti-cancer factors. But it's funny looking, has a weird texture and a unappealing name.  #1 it needs to be cooked to change the texture and make it more digestible.  Like spinach cooking helps to neutralize the oxalic acid inside.  It also helps to mix it in other foods like you would spinach--eggs, soups and stir fry.  

If you can find kale at a farmers market you will benefit even more.  According to my traditional foods guru, Sally Fallon, conventionally grown kale concentrates the nitrates from the soil and this isn't good!

Head of Kale
celtic sea sale
olive oil

Give kale a good bath before you use--especially if organic.  Tear leaves into bite size pieces then toss with olive oil and sea salt so that the kale is lightly coated.  Cook at 350 for about 15 minutes until crispy.  Any more and it still tastes ok but shrivels up.  That's it!  


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Amanda Hesser: Michelle Obama as Commander in Chef

Amanda Hesser wants Michelle Obama to cook.

It would be great if Michelle or Barak loved to cook.  But they don't.  One of the things that I think is just so likable about Michelle is that she doesn't seem to pretend to be anything but herself.  Barak too but that's a different subject for another blog.  

What MO does love is good food, and I love her for this AND especially for making it so public.  The previous WH residents apparently did so also--but kept this a well-guarded secret.  So huge kudos to them for saying yes to anti-industrial food in such a public manner.

Full disclosure, I am a fan of Amanda Hesser's.  She is the right person to write this op ed.  I do disagree that Michelle or anyone else needs to become a chef, or even be trained by a chef to learn to feed themselves and their family well.  Although I do think a chef is a far better than the conventional approach: a nutritionist or god forbid, a RD, Register Dietician.  I could go on and on about this...and will, but suffice to say right's great to have this open for a true discussion.  

Friday, May 29, 2009

Homemade goat cheese

It's almost June and this is high-milk season.  Also considered the best milk because the animals are grazing on fast growing green grasses.  We got 1 1/2 gallons for our weekly share...way more than we can drink.  So I'm trying my hand at goat cheese with the simpliest recipe I could find online.  

Half gallon of milk heated to 185.  Let cool and then add 1 tblespoon of apple cider vinegar.  The milk very quickly breaks into curds and whey of Miss Muffett fame.  Strain the curds and gather into a ball to strain further in the fridge and voila...Goat cheese.  Don't throw out the whey though...this is gold in therapetic circles.  "The Whey Cure' seems to be anohter one of those all-purpose cures-what-ails you from believers. 

Now given what we pay for our goat share probably not any cost savings but ofcourse better because it doesn't have any funky stabilizers and whatever else thrown in :-)

Lovin' Lentil Soup

Russo's has this wonderful dish called Keofta that our 6 year old begs for. Really. Think lentils shaped like sausages. Turns out they are made at a Middle Eastern market in Belmont where we get a lot of our pantry supplies from. They graciously gave me the recipe and it's on my culinary to-try list.

Lentils are inexpensive, easy to find, easy to store and packed with nutrients.  Here's a basic spring lentil soup.

So with the left over fat from our lamb sausage from last nights dinner, I sauteed some onions and garlic. The trick to lentils is to soak them in water with a big spoonful of yogurt mixed in. This makes the lentils more digestible.  Add the soaked lentils and a couple of cups of homemade chicken broth to the onion mix and cook until the lentils are tender.  At the end I added some frozen chopped up spinach and left over fern heads. Just before serving  a spoonful of creme fraiche and pesto to each bowl. Chris loved it and Julia had thirds! The fern heads, however, not a big hit :-(

Cuisine de Misere. Take One: Garlic Soup

The French are famous for a lot of things but also notable for being frugal. In a French kitchen nothing goes to waste.  Maybe it's my New England upbringing or maybe it's because most of my adult life I've been on my own but this characteristic resonates with me, especially now.  I love the idea of not wasting anything.  And there has never been a better time to resurrect that French ancestral  cooking of hard times know as Cuisine de Misere.   The French, like the Italians and so many others, have suffered through periods of restrictions and want.  CdM elevates cooking into an art form of turning little or nothing into something a bit wonderful. Think Stone Soup and Loaves and Fishes for the home cook.

Today I'm making garlic soup.  Two large bulbs of garlic roasted with some onions carmelized in bacon fat from this morning's breakfast, chicken broth made from the bones of our store-bought broiled chicken, left over whipped cream from a family cookout this weekend [unthinkable but true] and grated cheese.   And a squeeze of lemon in each bowl.  Oh, left over greens from the Natick Farm from Tuesday for a salad and voila!  Dinner for way under $10. 

Garlic of course is good for just about anything.   Nature's panacea.  This recipe is good enough to serve for pleasure alone.

Loved by all especially the 6 year old.  Truth is, think Chris, being a guys's guy, would rather sink his teeth into some big-agra beef but lovingly applauds my efforts.  

Butter vs Books and the Google

Two culinary heros, Anthony Bourdain.. and Alice Waters, recently clashed in what became the 'books versus butter' discussion. Anthony, or Tony, as his peers call him, exploded over the costs of organic food and rightfully so. Alice, to her credit, countered with a lively discussion of upfront vs backend vs hidden vs true 'costs' of inexpensive food. I think Alice's idea to feed school children breakfast, lunch and dinner is a noble one and probably a very good one IF and only IF she is the designated cook. Otherwise you'll just end up with all the same old politics with nutritionist and dieticians serving the same old stuff. But I digress.

They both had their points but failed to see where they are in agreement. Literacy and good food work well together. Really well. Kids, and anyone for that matter, think and learn much better when well fed. It seems ridiculously self evident that good food optimizes learning and behavior. Having a 6 year old reminds me of this every day. It would be a whole lot easier to give her 'regular' food but we would pay for it in increased irritability, tantrums, meltdowns not to mention sick days and doctor visits. So imagine what a classroom of well-nourished children could look like and what that classroom looks like today in every classroom in the country.

This is one of the great lesssons from Google. When Google was just a struggling company of 50 or so people, they hired a chef. Not just any chef, but a whole-real-organic-food lovin' guy to feed everyone in the company for free!

Bottom line: Good food is good brain fuel.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cheap, cheerful and fast: Fish pancakes

So I'm borrowing a few tricks from the food and restaurant industry.  The food industry has lots of tricks up their sleeves, and I don't see why we can't use at least some of them for out benefit.. Call it Food Marketing to Kids 101:  Name it something fun or associate it with something kids really like.  It works for us... see if it works for you.

So all of a sudden we don't like fish anymore.  One of those things that we learned at school.  So now we have fish ....pancakes!  Just in time for Lent when our only act of official observance is to try to remember not to eat meat on Fridays.  [We are post-Catholic...or collapsed Catholic at best.]  As of this writing, I'm on to Fish Pancake 3.0 ...and the good news is that the variations on the fish/pancake theme are many and only limited by your imagination and what is left over in your larder/cupboard/pantry/frig.   A Shepard's Pie for fish.  It's a good way to sneak in all those good-for-you extra veggies.    Another trick from the food industry, all those add-ins double your servings and bring down the cost of your meal.  A lot!  The difference is of course that these add ins are easy to pronounce and don't sound like chemistry class and you even know what they are and they aren't toxic sludge and might even be good for you.  But I figure it's been around $10 each time I've made this meal!  The primary cost is of course the fish so buy what's on sale and enjoy! 

The basic/boiler plate recipe borrowed from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions

1 1/2 lbs of white fish 
2 pastured eggs , lightly beaten
2 small onions, finely minced [or leeks, garlic, finely diced chard]
1 cup of real bread crumbs [or finely grated and sauteed potato]
2 tblesp Dijon-type of mustard 
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 bunch of fresh cilantro [or finely diced and sauteed chard, spinach, greens]
1 teaspoon of grated lemon rind 
sea salt or fish sauce and pepper
1/2 cup of ghee of clarified butter for the frying 
creme fraiche

Place fish in a pan with filtered water and simmer gently until fish is tender. Remove fish and break up fish into very small pieces in a larger bowl.  Combine with eggs, onions, bread crumbs, mustard, cayenne pepper, cilantro and lemon rind.  Season to taste.  Form into cakes.  Saute in ghee until a bit crispy on out outside.   Top with a lovin' glob of  creme fraiche.  

Enjoy! Bon Appetite! Mange! 

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cheap, Cheerful and Fast: Spanish Omlette

Years ago I was lucky enough to visit Madrid and stay with a real Spanish family. The mother did not speak English and I spoke no Spanish but we all seemed to somehow communicate over the vast amounts of food she prepared for us. This recipe is the Spanish equivalent of Mom's Apple Pie. Like most 'peasant' food, it is easy on the wallet, easy to make and sustaining.

So this is another recipe that calls for culinary improv or clean-out-your-frig thinking.  Maybe it's our celtic heritage, but adding potato to this or any other dish means no leftovers.

We're big meat eaters here so I've added sausage to this basic recipe to meat it up a bit and garlic because I add garlic to just about everything. For best results use the best eggs and sausage you can find/afford.

4-5 organic potatoes sliced very thin
5-6 eggs scrambled
1 onion sliced very thin
sea salt to taste
teaspoon of fresh thyme
pinch of pepper to taste
1/2 lb of sausage precooked removed from casing and crumbled

melt ghee in a le creuset or other stove top casserole add and saute potatoes until tender. remove and place aside

melt ghee and sautee onions and garlic until soft, add potatoes back in and make the mixture flat

lightly beat eggs and add thyme, sausage, salt, pepper to taste and add mixture to the pot covering the potatoes

cook for 10 minutes or so until eggs are cooked, lifting up edges during cooking to let liquid seep under.


Places I love: The Lovely Russo's

It's deep winter here in Boston. We've just made it through our umpteenth sp? snowstorm and as I write the familiar sound of snowplows fills our kitchen. All the berries we picked and froze last summer are long gone and not much else around here is 'local' much less organic. Nothing is more cheery this time of year than a trip to Russo's. It's a feast for all the senses but in the dead of winter an orgy of color. Our friends Susan and Bob turned us onto Russo's a while ago as the go-to place for Boston food lovers who are either priced out of Whole Foods or want to support a local business or just want good produce at a great price. Little here is 'organic' or 'local' but frankly this is New England, it's March and well, with the economy all seems so irrelevant. Russo's is a lot like an ethnic market to where you can find lots of wierd wonderful stuff or things you won't find anywhere else. And it's friendly too. People who shop here are food people so if you can, relax and enjoy the camraderie. Recently we met a woman in line who chatted us up after seeing carambolas in our cart...she was from Guatamala grew up with caramboloa trees in her front yard.

Ahh, the cheese section. Mark, the manager, got his training from non other than the esteemed Formaggio in Cambridge. His training shows. I could spend all day here!