Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Gifts

This is just a reminder that since most people already have more stuff than they can store, food gifts are always perfect. Everybody has to eat so there's never too much in the pantry. And food gifts that brighten the dreary days of December and January bring joy to the world.  So don't forget to raid your pantry in the Christmas spirit of sharing with others. These gifts may not look as glamorous as a new i Pad  but they'll keep giving just as much pleasure. Nothing lifts a spirit like treats good to grab.

Here are the usual ideas:
Spiced pumpkin seeds
     These crunch up a green salad or winter squash dish,  crisp the top of corn pudding or corn tart, make a zesty snack, and best of all provide crucial nutrients like zinc that aren't in too many other foods.  Zinc is especially beneficial to men.

Maple Syrup
    Only the genuine syrup from a local farm is worth giving and it's getting more valuable by the year. Climate change is warming winters too much for the sap to rise; maple syrup is predicted to become extinct in 50 years. So indulge now. It's the perfect gift for diabetics because this is supposedly a sweetener they can live with. Maple syrup isn't just for pancakes; it's for oatmeal, yogurt, toast, baked apples, Indian pudding, barbeque sauce, muffins and cookies.  It can also glaze a roasted turkey.

   Most commercial supermarket honey is said to be sludge from China impure in more ways than one, so genuine honey from a local producer is a real gift to someone you love. Historically and universally, it's been the gift that signals a sweet relationship, a way to tell others you love them. Plus it's an antibiotic you can use on your throat or dab on a wound in an emergency.  Honey doesn't just add happiness to tea; it makes sour yogurt yummy. Greeks traditionally put honey and butter on their sourdough breakfast bread and that's delicious. With soy sauce and ketchup in equal parts, honey makes a tasty, easy spare rib cooking sauce. Frankly, its uses are endless.

Pickled Beans or Asparagus or Cucumbers
   This is the stuff of cocktail canapes, salads, Japanese suppers, cheese trays and sandwich plates.  Plus there is sweetness in all this sour: pickling creates a nutritional powerhouse because fermenting doesn't just preserve the veggies' original vitamins, it increases the mix.

   Whatever you made last summer or fall, give it now because the commercial stuff is mostly sugar, by design. It has to be made to last a lifetime. But if you have homemade jam without artificial pectin and with low sugar so that your friends can actually taste the fruit, they're gonna love you for giving them a jar. It will have less calories too. Jam isn't just for toast and croissants; it's good to make linzer torte or thumb print cookies and good for glazing a fruit tart.

   Yes, stale bread like Cinderella can become something quite lovely. You just need dense bread, hopefully locally baked and a day old. If it's a baguette, cut it in thin slices. If it's a round or oval loaf, cut it into bite-sized pieces. Either way, put the cut bread into a wide shallow bowl half filled with really fruity olive oil and a mashed clove or two of garlic until it's moist.  Remove from the bowl, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and dry in the oven at 300º for about an hour or so. Check. In the end they should be hard and golden.  Store and present in airtight tins.  The sliced croutons are perfect for soup or fondu, the diced ones for salads. They turn out to be very handy, especially because store-bought croutons can be prohibitively expensive.

Tomato Sauce, Spiced Nuts, Cheesesticks, Cookies
    You get the idea...

and don't forget locally made potholders because nobody ever has enough.

P.S. I like to present food gifts in tins, jars and baskets the recipient can use over and again. They are part of the gift.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Those salt cod recipes: or how Europe cooks our fish

Here's the Italian way to make salt cod. It's a perfect appetizer or hors d'oeuvre for Thanksgiving.  The French version is more a souffle of salt cod and potatoes, a recipe I'll share in another post.

Salt Cod spread on Crostini

1 1/2 lbs salt cod soaked in cold water at least overnigh
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and finely ground pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  1. Put salt cod and garlic in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer 15 minutes or until fish is tender. 
  2. Drain but keep some of that cooking water. Remove garlic, fish skin and bones.
  3. Break the fish into pieces and put in a sturdy bowl. While it's still hot, get a whisk and begin to whip to it into a cream. As you get going, start to add the olive oil in a thin, slow trickle. (If you have a helper, great; if not just stop a sec and drizzle a little in every 30 seconds or so.) Keep whipping energetically until you get a mousse consistency. There may still be a large bit or two but no worries. with some larger pieces here and there. This is easiest done with two people. If the fish stays a little too dry after all the olive oil is in, drizzle in a bit of that cooking water until the mousse is creamy.
  4. Season to taste with salt (be careful here) and pepper and serve on slices of baguette or crostini. You can garnish a plate of these with chopped fresh parsley or a quick shake of crushed red pepper seeds. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The All-American Thanksgiving

The original settlers of New England didn't eat string bean casserole or sweet potatoes with marshmellows. They had other options. And it's really fun to put the history back into Thanksgiving dinner by making a menu from authentic local ingredients. It's no trouble at all either.

Taking cues from the land and seascape and the traditions of the Natives, you start with oysters or smoked salmon or, if you want to demonstrate the real reason America came into being--the abundance of salt and cod, serve salt cod, most easily as fritters. Salt cod remains a European and Caribbean delicacy sought after by gourmets so there are plenty of recipes for its preparation. Most involve that southern New World phenomenon, the potato.

Don't be afraid to bring on a mess of clams or lobsters because we know these were abundant and available when the settlers came. 

The wild turkeys weren't the big breasted Butterballs stuffed into supermarkets today so stick to the heritage birds available from local farms. Or to be probably more authentic to the original, go for a roasted duck or roasted venison.  It seems the Plymouth Pilgrims may have served turkey but it was in pieces cut into a traditional Indian stew of beans and hominy. So if you're going to serve turkey, why not stuff it with beans and hominy for a change?

My most popular Thanksgiving turkey by a landslide was the barbequed one, this in honor of our Southern cousins who love long slow saucy cooking. The night before cooking, you just slather the turkey inside and out, and under the breast skin with your favorite barbeque sauce and let it marinate overnight in the fridge. Then slip it into a 450º oven uncovered for 20-30 minutes so the sauce and skin start to crisp and brown. Slather on more sauce plus 1/2-1 cup chicken stock, reduce the heat to 350º and cook, basting from time to time until the turkey is almost falling apart. Nobody is going to complain your turkey was dry or tasteless, trust me.

Remember how many Eastern American towns have a Chestnut Street? Well, go ahead and get chestnuts. Roast them for stuffing or with the duck. Or roast them with slices of winter squash lightly brushed with butter and maple syrup.  Winter squash would be the traditional local vegetable. Maybe roast it with cranberries, which gets these traditional fruits on the table in something other than sugary cranberry sauce that has no meaning.

If you're not serving your turkey with bean/hominy stuffing, or in a bean stew, think about cooking up a saucy pot of Southern style beans and greens instead of the alien sweet potato marshmallow casserole. Remember the triumvirate of Native American food was squash, corn and beans. You'll want to have them all on a historic table.

Think mushrooms. They're appropriately local.

And finally the dessert. Indian pudding of course. Any version will suggest history. My own personal favorite is a yummy maple syrup laced pudding baked with apples and raisins in a mold so you can turn it out and ice it like a cake with ginger flavored whipped cream. The recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, and like the barbequed turkey, it got itself a huge fan club.

All in all, your traditional Thanksgiving dinner doesn't have to be the same old, same old dull supermarket meal. Put history on the plates this year knowing it will not just be seasonal and local and all that jazz but meaningful and delicious.

In sum: oysters, smoked salmon, salt cod, lobsters, clams, heritage turkey or duck, venison, winter squash, cranberries, mushrooms, chestnuts, beans, some form of cornmeal, maple syrup, and Indian pudding which brings together the staples of the originally shipping trade that powered the original New England: cornmeal and molasses.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yay is for Apples

This is probably prime time for America's favorite fruit: apples. And nowadays their variety seems infinite, from heirloom to newfangled. Traditional New England species are listed in How to Fix a Leek... with a short explanation of whether they're best of eating, cooking or baking. So no need to repeat here.

Apples are more versatile than many of us give them credit for. They don't just have to be dessert in one form or other. They're a great mate for cabbage: slice and sauté tart ones with red cabbage you're going to braise, or add chunks of sweet ones to sauerkraut. (Hint: to really do up that sauerkraut add potatoes, celery seed, juniper berries or caraway seed with the apples and serve with a mess of sausages).

Apple fritters are an old-fashioned substitute for pancakes as well as a dessert. Here's what you need: 
2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 cup white sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 cup milk

2 quarts oil for deep frying

4 large apples, peeled and cored

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together eggs and milk. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until smooth. Heat oil to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) in a deep fryer or heavy bottomed deep pot or skillet. Slice apples into 1/2 inch rings. Dip apple slices in batter and fry, a few at a time, turning once, until golden. Drain on paper towels and dust with confectioners' sugar.

Baked apples are another old-fashioned treat that newfangled microwaves let you make in less than 10 minutes now.  For this you need large, round apples like Empire, Rome, Cortland. You can also use Granny Smith. And all you need to do is wash and core them. Make a stuffing out of whatever you like: I like chopped walnuts, raisins, dried cranberries, cinnamon, nutmeg and maple syrup. You can jazz to the max with diced apricots, currants, almonds, chopped dates, shredded coconut, bits of butter, butter, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon.  Whatever you put inside, put them in a baking dish, sprinkle them  with fresh lemon juice, pour apple cider or pure apple juice over them so there's about 1/4-1/2" of it in the pan for basting. Put a dollop of honey atop each apple, cover the pan tightly with foil and bake at 350º about 1 hour or until the apples are soft.  OR you can line them up in a microwavable dish, cover with plastic wrap or another dish and let them cook on high for 2 minutes. Test for softness and cook on medium at 30 second intervals until they're done.
Serve with mascarpone, vanilla yogurt or whipped cream for a real treat.

If you're going to make a tart, use a firm tart apple like Granny Smith that holds its shape in the oven.  Don't cook with Fujis: they aren't juicy enough. One of the easier tarts to make is the famed Tatin, the so-called upside down apple tart. Its beauty is nobody will see your crust so it doesn't have to be picture perfect. You need a large iron skillet or an 9-10" metal pie pan and you need to coat the bottom of whichever you choose with bits of butter and brown sugar. You want a caramelized effect. (You can melt the butter and sugar in the skillet to achieve this perfectly.) Slice the apples and lay them in a concentric circle pattern to completely cover the pan. You can fill any tiny holes with bits of apple or currants. For good measure throw on top a pinch of brown sugar, pinches of cinnamon and/or nutmeg and 2 or 3 tiny bits of butter. Make a basic pie crust (combine 1 1/4 c flour, 1 stick cold unsalted butter, then add 1 tsp vinegar and 1/4 c ice water to blend. Roll into a circle slightly larger than the pan and top the apples, crimping the edges by pushing them slightly down into the pan, Bake at 350º about 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and flip onto your serving platter.

And finally, an easy and slightly different apple pie that was my biggest hit in Mongolia because the cookies and sourcream make it irresistible. For the crust you combine about 2 doz. cookies--either butter cookies, gingerbread cookies or graham cracker cookies--with 1 stick of butter, 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/4 c light brown sugar in a food processor until clumps form. Butter a 9" pie pan and pat this crust into it, right up and around the rim.  Refrigerate until ready to fill.
Now in a large bowl combine 2 tbsp flour, 1/2 c sugar, 1/4 c light brown sugar, pinch of ground cloves and 3/4 tsp cinnamon. In another bowl beat a large egg, then whisk into it 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract and 1 c sour cream. Carefully combine this wet mixture into the dry mixture. Peel six med/lg apples like Macs or Granny Smiths and chop them into bite sized chunks. Stir into the batter. Fill the pie pan with the mixture and bake at 350º about 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool before serving.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Notes on November

Frost has finished off fresh fruits and vegetables in most parts of the land. So we're down to root veggies and winter squashes, the berries we managed to freeze in their heyday and the greens from greenhouses. Not local food of the moment would be persimmon and quince.  Persimmon pairs perfectly with turkey and it's orange color is certainly in keeping with the holiday. Think persimmon pudding instead of corn pudding, for a change. Or make a risotto--out of rice or farro--with persimmons, toasted pecans and bitter braising greens like arugula, mizuna or chicory. Right now I'm shaving it onto a very colorful and delicious mesclun salad with pomegranate arils, avocado, toasted almonds and goat cheese.

 As for quince, since it can't be eaten raw and I don't have my Spanish friend Sonia's sensational recipe for Catalan chicken braised with prunes and quince,  I make a kind of vanilla flavored jam/paste of it, my own personal membrillo without all the sugar. It's a real treat on croissants and baguettes, especially with hard cheeses on top.  It's not that hard to make, just requires two steps instead of the one for ordinary jam. Think three quince because these will make a winter's worth of paste. You peel and chop them, put them in a pan, cover with water and boil for about an hour until they finally soften.  I usually throw half a lemon in that water. Next, you drain the quince but keep a bit of the cooking water, and puree the fruit with about 1/3 cup of it. Put this into a large pot with 1 tbsp vanilla extract or 1 whole pod, juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 3/4 cup white sugar and 1 tbsp brown sugar. Stir to blend. (you can really gild this lily with 1 tbsp rosewater because quince itself get very fragrant when cooked.) Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring and stirring. Continue cooking until you get a consistent paste that sticks to a wooden spoon.  Preserve in properly boiled jam jars.  

If you're strictly local, think of this as kale time. Kale with garlic and lemon over penne pasta makes a fast, nourishing and surprisingly rich dish. While you boil enough penne for 4, chop a small red onion, mince 3 garlic cloves and shred a bunch of any kind of kale. Sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil over med/low heat until the onion gets soft. Toss in the kale. (And optionally 1 tbsp pine nuts.) Season with freshly ground black pepper. When the kale softens, squeeze in the juice of a lemon and blend. Add the cooked, drained penne, season with salt and more olive oil, stir to blend everything and serve with freshly grated cheese.  Please keep in mind the more you cook kale the more of its nutrients you destroy. 

More ways to enjoy kale right now are to make a traditional kale, potato and linguiça sausage stew/soup or stuff a large winter squash with the kale stuffing recipe in How to Fix a Leek...and bake an hour at 350º until squash is soft enough to serve. Great beside grilled or braised meat. You can also make a very tasty side dish by adding some shredded kale and a handful of dried cranberries to wild rice halfway through its cooking.  Yum with roasted chicken.

Thanksgiving up next...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The End is Here. Get out the lentils.

It's been a good run into October without a killing frost but produce is getting scarcer at the farmers' markets. It's root time and squash time for sure but there's still plenty of time to enjoy those vegetables: a whole winter. If you want to enjoy the last gasp of other vegetables when winter comes, this is the moment to marry them to lentils in a tasty, nourishing and very healthy soup.

I do mean lentils, the tiny, thin dhal in French green, brown or black beluga, because these cook very quickly without tending. You can have soup in under 45 minutes if you insist.  All you need besides a cup of lentils are two carrots, two stalks of celery, a small onion, 2 garlic cloves, any leftover green or red pepper you may have--no problem if you don't, and flat leaf parsley. If you chop and saute all of them in olive oil until they're soft, all you have to do is add lentils and broth or water.  If you want to go one step further, in the final minutes you can throw in shredded spinach, arugula, even broccoli rabe. You can even toss in small pieces of diced potato.

Of course you're going to need spices, salt and pepper, so spice away to your taste. Mine includes clove, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, chili powder, ginger, oregano and turmeric. (Indians and Nepalis always put a pinch of turmeric in with their lentils and beans because it destroys the gas they can release.)  Your could be thyme, lots of sage, oregano, and a pinch of smoked paprika. Or just cloves, black pepper and orange zest. Once the lentils are soft, you have two choices: ladle yourself a big bowl or let the soup cool and freeze it in plastic containers for the future. It's going to be comfort food in February.

This is the best way to eat protein rich, wall flower ugly lentils.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Don't play Chicken with your life

Now is the time to only by chicken from your local farmer. The CDC has released its report on  that widespread September salmonella outbreak traced to three Fosters Farms processing plants in California. The stain is antibiotic resistant. Forty-two percent of the infected had to be hospitalized after the usual medicines failed. 

Again, this is a direct result of factory farms feeding antibiotics to their animals, giving us so much of them in our sandwiches and suppers, they have no more anti affect.  So you really are playing chicken if you don't buy local. Live safe.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Red Alert

This is the moment I get giddy foolish about all those red bell peppers piled up at farmers' markets and selling for pittance a pound. This is mostly because imported ones in the supermarkets all year long are ridiculously expensive and overgrown. They look much too picture perfect. It's also because red peppers are a terrifically tasty source of Vitamin C and with less and less sunlight, we need more and more vitamins from our food. I'm foolish for red peppers because they can so quickly be turned into so many seemingly gourmet dishes that are embarrassingly easy to make.

My favorite, because you can make a big batch and freeze it to enjoy all winter, is the red pepper coulis (that's sauce) in How to Fix a Leek.... Essentially red peppers sauteed in olive oil with spices until they're soft and smushy, at which point they get doused with vinegar, fresh herbs and salt, heated and pureed. I use this instead of ketchup because it takes steak and burgers off the charts. I use this instead of tomato sauce on pasta. I use it for omelets, on top of polenta and black bean chili. I slather it on baked potatoes and imagine it would perk tofu to the max.

Even easier and just perfect for right now are roasted peppers, indulging in lots of them while they're cheap. All you have to do is roast or grill the peppers until they soften. If you don't have a grill, you can put them on a gas burner set on low and turn them with tongs to get them lightly charred. You can put them in the oven or toaster oven at 450º if you don't have too many and not too big one for about 15 minutes. You can do a combination of gas stove grilling and oven roasting. It all works.

You pop the hot peppers into a brown paper bag, roll down the top to close and let them steam for 20 or so minutes. This step makes peeling their thin skin a cinch; the roasting and bagging will blister it so you can grab hold and pull it off.

Now all you have to do is cut the peppers into the size serving portion you want: half. quarter, strips--removing the stem and seeds (rinse) and arrange them on a serving plate. Lightly dress them with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a double splash of really fruity olive oil. Season with a pinch of dried oregano,  freshly ground black pepper and your best sea salt.

That's the basics. From there you can improvise away. I made two batches this week for two different dinner parties and threw capers on both. I minced a raw shallot and sprinkled it over one batch; I chopped a small amount of cilantro and strew it over the other. I used a little bit of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley to color the peppers with those shallots.

Finally, I rained down tiny bits of cheese on the platter: one time soft goat cheese, one time shredded Parmesan because that's what I had. It didn't seem to matter. Both times the plates were emptied lickety split.  I had been planning to put some of those peppers on an olive roll with fresh goat cheese for next day's lunch. They'd also have been sensational on that roll with salami and fontina cheese.

You can toss plain roasted peppers with cauliflower and pitted black olives for a great vegetable dish right now. You can serve strips of them with grilled sausages or chop them into lentil soup you can freeze for later.

There's just so much you can do in a snap, you should grab red bell peppers before it's too late and you have to wait another whole year.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The government shut down means only eat local farm food

Here courtesy of Buzzfeed, if you didn't see it, and Mark Bittman who referenced it, are food items the FDA is telling Americans to avoid, well, like the plague because they may very well be deadly. These are all coming from abroad, notably from countries that have yet to clean up their acts.

Large shrimp.  Go for the small cold water northern shrimp that can't be farmed.
Any tilapia or any unnamed fish in some fishstick or unidentified fish with chips.
Chilean farmed salmon. Go wild. Go local or go eat something else.
Shellfish. Most of it is coming from China. Enough said. Get it from your local New England fishmonger.

And finally, since the FDA is not inspecting imported vegetables either these days, they are advising people to be extremely cautious about eating these vegetables raw. They suggest soaking them in a vinegar/water solution before you dare. Here they are:
tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, avocados, melons, papaya and mangoes.

The best way to be extremely cautious is to get your tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons from your local farmer. Or else realize this is October and buy yourself winter squash, Brussels sprouts, local potatoes and New England cranberries.

And by all means, now that all inspections are off and chicken is coming from China too, only eat chicken purchased at your local farmers' market or equivalent.  Winter markets do have them.

Monday, September 23, 2013


Late September after all the rains can turn the taste buds toward mushrooms. They're sprouting all over the place, including farmers' markets where you can pick from a grand variety. And why not? Mushrooms are purveyors of nutritional benefits few other foods can manage, particularly hard to come by Vitamin D.

Mushrooms are also friendly with whatever ingredients you may have lurking in the fridge or pantry. Sauteed in a bit of butter with chives and leeks--all in season right now, they make a spectacular omelet if you use farm fresh eggs. Sauteed with shallots and radicchio--also in season, and kissed with a bit of cream, they really perk up pasta. Garnish heavily with chopped flat leaf parsley, freshly ground black pepper and grates of good Parmesan cheese. Put them on a goat cheese pizza with garlic and arugula.  Make a mushroom, celery, shallot and sage risotto using beef broth. Make mushroom soup from a miso or seaweed base, tossing in diced carrots, ginger and firm tofu. Sauté some with chopped broccoli and kiss with sesame oil. Possibilities are endless at this point in time.

Thanks to a major agricultural grant program, mushrooms have become a family farm cash crop in upstate New York and Vermont. Mostly shiitakes which are symbiotic with oak bark. A few downed logs and some spores, even in the short growing season, has yielded about $11,000 a year. And they sell out, trying to meet the demand of restaurants and gourmet markets. Here's hoping others take to the dirt and bring on the mushrooms.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Save the Day

The tsunami of fruits and vegetables flowing through our farmers' markets right now is overwhelming. What to do with all this magnificent food? Well, enjoy what you can and then start thinking about tomorrow, about preserving it for those dreary days of scarcity called winter. Now is the time. And it doesn't take much time to insure you will have a nutritiously rich treasure chest for the lean months.

Make the last jam: peach, plum, apricot. Make extra for holiday gifts.
Save these last fruits in crisps (See How to Fix a Leek... under peaches) that take a second to prepare and freeze beautifully--I always make them in those disposable pie plates, cover with foil and then slip into a large baggie-- and make a dazzling dessert for Thanksgiving when everyone expects apple pie. Save the plums in basic cake (see How to Fix a Leek...under plums). To serve, heat the oven to 350º, slip the frozen crisp or cake in (still covered in tin foil), and cook until it's defrosted--10-12 minutes.

Hang on to all the luscious tomatoes flooding the stalls by making a major vat of spaghetti sauce you can freeze in small containers. The preparation is seriously simple: just cut up stuff and throw it all in a pot, let the pot simmer for hours and that's it.  There's a recipe in the October section of How to Fix a Leek... You can add ground beef and pork, or sausage to make it extra hearty. Just think about slurping up all those fresh vitamins and antioxidants in February.

Even simpler is Provencal tomato soup. This recipe is in my other book, Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, but it's wonderfully basic: butter up some onions, coat them with thyme, chop up tomatoes and throw them in with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to your taste, a bit of minced fresh parsley and voila! a goldmine of excellent nutrition that freezes fantastically. Serve it in January with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Use tomatoes to save the eggplants and peppers pouring in. Make ratatouille (recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking uses cilantro instead of basil but you choose). It freezes well and can be used later as a vegetable or better yet, when you're really harried, as perfect with penne pasta. Defrost it, reheat it on simmer with a tad of fresh olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and pour it over the penne.  Add grated cheese and go. To make this dish extra hearty, add sauteed pepperoni or hot sausage to the heating ratatouille. Or stir in some marinara sauce.

Those red peppers so cheap now that will be so expensive shipped in to the supermarket later? See the red pepper coulis in How to Fix a Leek...It freezes perfectly in small plastic containers and can be defrosted to serve as a steak or burger sauce, a pasta sauce, the base of a white bean's uses are many and its vitamin contribution astronomical. So don't forget to save red peppers.

And then of course there's all that zucchini. Of course there's zucchini bread and stuffed zucchini boats that will freeze if cooked. The zucchini pie recipe in How to Fix a Leek... will also freeze if wrapped in tin foil and stored in an airtight freezer bag.  Slip it frozen into a warm oven to defrost and serve. If you're really drowning in zucchini right now, you can make a fabulous pasta sauce by sauteeing up a mess of onions and garlic plus a small red pepper minced, tossing in a handful of pine nuts, a healthy helping of oregano, chopped fresh basil leaves, chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, freshly ground pepper, coarse salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Cook it down to mush and then puree.  Serve over spinach pasta with or without chopped sausage and garnish heavily with grated cheese. Summer will taste mighty good in March.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Meal of the Moment

The incredible Sturgeon Moon with its highest of tides has  brought us the highest flow of produce into our farmers' markets.  It's all here now, from apples to zinnias. Raspberries linger, blackberries burst and blueberries just keep coming to go with the new crop of peaches.  And it's the sweet spot for corn and tomatoes. Such exuberance makes an exhilarating meal, a right now moment of magnificent plenty when the food is so fresh, its flavor so strong, you barely have to do more than skin or chop it to eat royally.  

Because I'm a fool for this occasion, I can't pass it by so I invited 10 people for dinner and served them all the glory of the land around us at this very moment.  Abundance is the fuel of sociability; our need to know there's food so we're going to survive is primal and it determines how we behave. Last night was the golden opportunity to let loose with colorful and tasty bowl after bowl. 

Here's what was in them:
for starters while waiting for everyone to gather, a bowl of plump high bush blueberries, a block of local cheese, a bowl of olives and a bowl of nuts.  

When we moved to the table it was hors d'oeuvre variee time: a vivid display of farm produce ripe and ready to dig into: 
green beans Armenian style with garlic, tomatoes and dill (recipe is in the first How to Fix a Leek edition and now in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking), 
French carrot salad which is essentially grated carrots and tons of chopped parsley dressed with oil and lemon juice and the slightest hint of fresh ginger (recipe without ginger in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking);
Corn and Green Pepper Salad with purple new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, tons of fresh cilantro, an avocado, kidney beans and pimento stuffed green olives halved--dressed with fresh lime juice and a blend of corn and olive oil or tomatillo salsa (which I had made fresh). Corn salad recipe in VEggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking; tomatillo salsa in How to Fix a Leek.
Fresh olive bread and a plain baguette.

Plates were piled high. Everyone was now wildly happy and the wine was flowing along with nonstop conversation. Note: food not rich or fancy, just fresh and fine.

Okay,so we finally got to clear away the salad plates and out came the main meal:
cubed local lamb cooked Palestinian style with onions, garlic (two whole heads), chard, chickpeas and fragrant spices (cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, cloves), served with a squirt of fresh lemon juice. And
the juiciest tomatoes chunked on a platter filled with fresh chopped basil and a sprinkle of local goat cheese, a sprinkle of precious sea salt and a dash of fruity olive oil, Plus
fresh cucumbers in yogurt with garlic, mint and dill.

I can't begin to describe how high that raised enthusiasm. And there was  more on the way because right now the land keeps on giving. For dessert:
blackberry clafouti (recipe in How to Fix a Leek), clafouti being a cross between cake and pudding
peach crisp with pecan topping (recipe in How to Fix a Leek)

I stopped counting how many wine bottles had been opened. The conversation never stopped. People lingered for two hours, coming at 6 and leaving after 11.  The exuberance of the market right now has been in all the emails today. What a high tide time!  And it can easily happen to you.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Get watery right now

In these dogs days of hot and humid, the body needs water, lots and lots of water. And that's why Nature has just given us berries and melons galore. They are 90% water. Just what we need.

So get to the market and get those melons and berries.
And cucumbers while you're at it. They too are 90% water, which is why they've been traditionally eaten at a time like this which is all the summer time in sweltering countries. They provide an elegant way to  keep the body hydrated and cool.

This is also the time cultures that understand how to properly fuel the body eat salty foods--capers, olives, anchovies, that also help retain water while we sweat. Use them liberally in salads you douse with olive oil, another trick. Mediterranean peoples eat lots of oily dishes at times like these because the oil provides a lube job to the muscles.

Fresh tomatoes with olive oil and olives! Yogurt and cucumber! Keep thinking salt, water and oil.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Farmers' Market Fast Food Lunch

Photo of a shopping spree. At the local farmers' market. Then lunch in 15 minutes. A version of Salade Nicoise, with smoked Maine mussels substituted for tuna. Everything in this lunch was from the local market except the black olives: fresh eggs, new potatoes, tomatoes, purple scallion, green pepper, green beans, cucumber, dill and flat leaf parsley. Plus local smoked mussels.  While the eggs and potatoes were being boiled with the green beans added for the last two minutes, everything else was chopped and assembled.  It was all dressed up with a whisked mix of olive oil 3 to 1 with balsamic vinegar and a minced garlic clove. Then plenty of freshly ground black pepper, a huge pinch of sea salt and what a happy meal!  Served with local bread and cheese. Topped off with local ice cream and bakery cookies. It's all about shopping.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Phyto for the Right-o...

Most of us eat food because it's what keeps us alive and we want the nutrition it provides. Those who care about how much their food nurtures them and keeps them strong will want to know scientific studies have revealed Nature's great gift to human nourishment, phytonutrients, has been given to us on a use it or lose it, fast food basis. Freshness is everything.

In her new book, Eating on the Wild Side, Jo Robinson explains that the thousands of phytonutrients in our fresh food--some of them are Vitamin C, Vitamin E and beta-carotene, not unimportant fillers--dissolve very fast once a plant is snapped from its roots, i.e. harvested. So there's virtually little to no nutrition left in the supermarket produce after it's traveled thousands of miles from the farm to the check out. And you do not get any benefit taking these nutrients extracted one by one into separate pills: it's their synergy in the plant that energizes you.

As it happens, the foods we most count on for the phytonutrients that bolster our immune system and fight our aging process are the very ones most likely to have died in transit. They're best eaten as soon as picked, which means grab them at your local farmers' market and go. I'm talking about asparagus, spinach, broccoli, kale and leaf lettuces. Also oregano, thyme, basil and parsley, especially parsley. Today is everything; tomorrow is too late. Go make green sauce right now. A recipe is on the parsley page of How to Fix a Leek...

Additionally, Robinson assures us we don't have to forage in the wild to find foods full of these lifesavers. Familiar foods will do, if we so to speak nip them in the bud. Scallions are as nutrient dense as wild onions and cherry tomatoes remain close to their Andean ancestor in packing a phytonutrient punch.

In sum, the most nutritious element of vegetables and fruits could easily be DOA.  Many farmers' market growers might not know, she says, they have this advantage and use it as a marketing device.Well, now you know.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fast, Fresh and Fabulous

Sadly, all the farmers I've seen at markets this July have grown the exact same things so there's not much variety to work with. Too bad.
And shame on the farmers for denying us the pleasures of, say, creamy yellow potatoes like Yukon golds or carolas or butterballs. And the vivid purple potatoes that add dazzle to a dish. Sad not to have French breakfast radishes to roll in butter or soft goat cheese and then sea salt.

But of course there's plenty of the usuals and here come tomatoes worth the long wait. So here's a fast way to process them into something tasty, eye-catching and perfect for the heat:
Panzanella, Italian bread salad.

6 slices Tuscan (which is salt free) bread or a Baguette, crust off
2 med Red onions
1 lg green bell peppe
4 med/lg ripe tomatoes (remember, cracking around the stem indicates honest sun ripening)
1/2 c shredded Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
12 pitted Kalamata olives
1 lg bunch fresh basil leaves, stemmed and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup most flavorful olive oil (this makes a difference)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

Whisk the garlic, salt, vinegar and olive oil into a dressing. (If you like really salty flavor, add two anchovy filets, mashed.)

Cut the bread into bite size chunks and soak them 15 minutes in ice water. Drain and squeeze with your hand to dry them. Crumble the bread into a large serving bowl.

Slice the onion into thin rings and add to the bread. Core and wedge the tomatoes and add also. Dice the green pepper into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad. Add the olives, cheese and basil. Stir to mix evenly.

Pour on the dressing, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Maybe you can serve with this total Carrot Soup, chilled or warm. 
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 med yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp either dill or caraway seed (your taste)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 tsp ground Cayenne or Arbol chili
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
7 lg carrots, cut into thin disks
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (if you used dill seed) or coriander (if you used caraway)

Combine everything but the last ingredient in a large saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat 20-30 minutes, until carrots are very tender.

Cool 5-10 minutes and puree. Add the fresh herb and serve.

What a vividly memorable summer setting: orange soup with red, green and black salad.  With room left over for ice cream.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Fast Food

Colorful berries and fruits have begun pushing cold weather greens to the side at farmer's markets now, so this is a reminder of what wonderful--and of course nutritious and environmentally healthy--fast food they can be.

Strawberries and raspberries are a human's dream come true: just nab and nosh. You don't have to do anything but enjoy their sweetness.  Remember to pick the red berries because strawberries will not continue to ripen once they are picked and don't wash any berry until the moment you're ready to eat it. Water rots berries.

A splendidly vibrant and nutritious lunch can be pulled together in no time out all from vegetables now piling up in the bins and baskets. Consider a table/plate of colorful salads: carrot and parsley, beet and dill, fennel and olive, cabbage and chicken, yogurt and cucumber-- with crusty bread and a platter of local cheeses, finished with a bowl of berries. Simple, sophisticated, slimming.

The cabbage and chicken salad recipe, from Vietnam, is in How to Fix a the end of June so no need to repeat it here. To make carrot salad, just grate a few carrots into a bowl, chop an almost equal amount of parsley and add that, season with salt and pepper, dress with fresh lemon juice and olive oil.

You do have to boil or bake beets to get a salad or pickle but that's not too difficult. Cool and peel them. Slice each into thin disks and put in a wide, shallow bowl. Slice a purple onion or Vidalia sweet onion into very thin disks, break these into rings and add to the beets. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of allspice.  Make a dressing that is 3 parts cider vinegar to 1 part olive oil and moisten the beets. Then chop fresh dill all over them.

For a fennel salad, cut off the stems off a large bulb, but keep a few of the frilly fronds for garnish. Core the fennel, wash, dry and chop it into bite sized pieces.  Combine in a serving bowl with 8-10 pitted black Kalamata olives and 1/2 cup roasted walnut pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Dress lightly with pure olive oil blended with 1 tbsp orange juice. Chop some of those frilly fronds and sprinkle on top.

The yogurt/cucumber salad known in Greece/Turkey as tsatsiki and in India/Nepal as raita is also in How to Fix a Leek... It take about two minutes and lasts (stored in the refrigerator) for days.  This is typically used in hot climates to cool the body so it's a perfect summer side dish.

And finally, tomatoes are almost here. So don't forget that summer special, real Greek salad. The authentic farmer's salad--and it's called farmer's salad in Greece is simply sliced cucumber disks, chunks of fresh tomato, strips of green pepper, black olives, crumbles or chunks of fresh feta cheese--available at farmers' markets--olive oil and fresh lemon juice.  Nothing else.  Nothing expresses the yumminess of summer better than that. And it's so easy if you shop right.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Yo Farmers: a word from the complaint department

Dear Farmers:
If I or anybody else wants to buy our food wrapped in cellophane packaging, preweighed and priced, we can go to any supermarket or convenience corner store in the country. We don't go to the Farmers' Market to buy greens pre-bagged in amounts you want to dump, often amounts far larger than we want or need.  So please get over this and let us do what we go to the super farmers' markets instead of ordinary supermarkets for: to smell, feel and choose our food in the amount we want.

And btw: salad mix is not supposed to be all your overgrown lettuce, herb tops and other garbage bagged up for sale.  If we want to cut each lettuce leaf to serve a salad, we can buy a whole head. Salad mix should be baby greens, period.

Sorry to be crabby but somebody has to keep pushing for some quality control. It's in everybody's best financial interest. Besides, those bags just add to the garbage we're trying to reduce.  Duh...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Top of the Crop

Vegetables are starting to flow into farmers' market stalls, energizing not just the markets but our bodies as well. There's wonderfully nutritious greens--kale, broccoli rabe, chard, arugula, lettuces--and colorful roots--carrots and beets, peas of all variety. Even if you don't want to cook in this extremely hot, humid weather afflicting much of the east and west, you can still enjoy these veggies without much effort.

Snow and snap peas make wonderful substitutes for bread and crackers as a scoop for your favorite dip, especially hummus. Carrots can be quickly grated and blended with plenty of fresh parsley into the most refreshing and colorful salad: douse with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to serve. Shred kale off any thick stems and simply boil it with rotini or tube pasta, drain, douse with fresh lemon juice, good quality olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Garnish with minced green garlic and sit down to a surprisingly rich dish.

Most importantly right now, don't tell the farmer to tear off the beet or carrot tops, and don't throw away those shelling pea pods either.  These are good friends. Simply put the carrot greens in water you're boiling for rice or pasta and scoop them out when you're ready to add them. They'll magically flavor the grain, especially rice. Chop them into store-bought chicken broth too.

Beet greens are very very tasty chopped and sautéed five minutes in olive oil with a bit of diced red onion and a lot of garlic. Sauté the onion first for five minutes to soften it. Add the greens, garlic and freshly ground black pepper, stir and sauté over medium/low heat for 5-8 minutes. (You don't have to be exact.) Season with sea salt and serve. They are great with grilled  or steamed seafood. Sometimes I cut up a cooked beet or two to mix in with them for extra glorious eating. I served these a few nights ago at a dinner party beside a huge central dish of Sardinian style paella: seafood and sausage with tomatoes and Fregola instead of peas and rice.

Use those shelling pea pods to flavor your rice or pasta water like the carrot greens.  There is, in fact, a very old Italian recipe that relies on this technique. Peas with pasta in my book (available at stores and on Amazon, hint hint) Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. It really is peas with pasta and NOT the other way around. Amazingly tasty eye catching dish with no sauce!

Serves 3 (double to serve 6)
1½ lbs fresh shelling peas in the pod
2 soft lettuce leaves (red lettuce works great)
¼ tsp coarse sea salt or other salt
1 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley (you will need a dozen sprigs)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ tsp freshly ground or cracked black pepper¼ tsp sea salt
1cup tubettini/ditalini tiny pasta

Wash peapods carefully in cold water. Shell them, saving the pods.

Put the pods in a large saucepan or small stockpot with lettuce and cover with 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil and add coarse salt. Cook over medium low heat for about 20 minutes. You are trying to get highly flavored cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, rinse and dry the peas. Remove the leaves from the parsley sprigs and coarsely chop them. (A small food processor works as well as a cleaver.) Discard the stems.

Remove the peapods and lettuce from the boiling water, saving the water. Bring it back to a boil and put in pasta in. Cook according to package instructions, which should be about 12 minutes.

In a medium size heavy gauge saucepan or casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped parsley and garlic. Sauté 1 minute. Add peas, black pepper and salt. Cover the pot and cook 5 minutes.

Add broth to the peas, cover the pot and cook over low heat about 15 minutes or until almost all the liquid has evaporated.

Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the peas. Blend well. Cook 1 minute over low heat. Add more salt and/or pepper if you wish and serve immediately in shallow bowls.

Then go buy the book so I can earn a living.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Quick Trick for Busy June

The babies are busting out all over Eastern farmers' markets as June breezes by. Wee green garlic, spring onions and potatoes smaller than a ping-pong ball dominate the stalls. And often sit there because nobody knows what to make of them. 

It shouldn't be a secret that these can be turned into delicious treats in a jiffy. Cut the top half off the garlic and onion stems, scrub the potatoes and pile them onto a foil covered baking sheet. If you don't have too many, that baking sheet can be the one in your toaster oven.
Sprinkle olive oil like dew and scatter salt like pollen. Then roast at 450º for 10 minutes. Crank up the black pepper mill to season and serve.

What you'll get are crusty skinned potatoes whose pulp melts in your mouth and sweet caramelized garlic and onions to go with them.  Optionally you can toss on some dried rosemary too. Perfect with an omelet or a piece of grilled meat. And only available right now.

Monday, May 20, 2013

And a Little Guile shall Lead Them

I recently spent three hours at a large conference table listening to more than two dozen people speak up about their work supporting local food. It was mostly enthusiastic talk of research methods, strategy development and comprehensive plans--the stuff of self-satisfied policy wonks who don't have boots in the ground. And it was all talk about the supply side of local food: getting, sustaining and distributing more of it.

Since we all know how wonderbar supply side economics and its trickle down is, I finally spoke up to point out the elephant in the room: demand. As long as local people remained enthusiastic consumers of canned goods, fast food and the industrial lettuce of gigantic supermarkets, strategies and plans to increase the supply of local food were simply feel good food for NGO fans.

A few people nodded in agreement, a few said things had changed. I'm still trying to find which ones. Yes, more people frequent farmers' markets now and more of them look local, but no, most farmers haven't ever changed what they grow to sell: large white potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and thick skinned industrial tomatoes. California people can eat a lot of local food because California small farmers grow a lot of different foods.

The sparse new organic crowd is coming up with kale, French baby carrots, Tokyo turnips and braising greens--a euphemism for bitter, spicy weedy plants. There's even raw milk. But states like Maine which seem to have nothing else to do are busy both trying to ban raw milk and trying to keep local food out of its school cafeterias where locals might learn about the braising greens and heirloom tomatoes visitors and vacationers who went to school elsewhere rush to buy.

It seems the education about nutritious, non-toxic food and the value of having it close at hand has for the moment to fall to farmers. They need to bravely plant more of what people need to eat: less large white potatoes and, say, more burdock, more mustard and collard greens, more fava and other beans. Now that we know how poisonous garlic coming from China is, why not double the crop to exploit the news? And dandelion greens? Hello.

Growing the same things over and over only solidifies the dangerously unhealthy habit of eating the same things over and over, poisoning the body by the overload. Lack of change also stunts economies. I know a very successful cheesemaker whose output has been drastically stymied because she can't find people to raise goats and supply the milk to her. "They're afraid to do something new," she said, "and if I spend more time raising and milking goats, I won't have time to make cheese."

We are now all part of an international network of news, commodities, hopes and hard facts. It's been the onset of immigrants from seemingly exotic places with seemingly exotic tastes that's led a farmer here and there in white bread places to start producing goat meat. Meeting growing demand by growing a supply was a good financial decision. No reason we can't also produce and eat pea shoots like the Chinese, fava beans like the Italians, the original purple potatoes from Peru and those very healthy dandelion greens.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Treasures for the taking

Welcome May and all the farmers' markets now out of cold storage. They may seem to have slim pickings right now but what they have could be life saving. Given the nasty news that keeps leaking out of the industrial agricultural complex, (and you can find references throughout this blog), your local farmers' market is the only place you can trust right now for these edibles. Happily these treasures are available even this early in the season:
Maple Syrup
Lamb and Beef

You may also find the spring tonics your body needs after the long sluggish winter:
Dandelion greens
Fiddlehead ferns
Nettles (be careful and don't touch until you've subjected them to heat)
Pea shoots

If you can't figure out what to do with these, the easiest way to enjoy them is to steam them with fresh lemon and put them over small pasta with olive oil, salt and pepper.  If you want to add pieces of smoked salmon, why not?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Chicken: Let's cry Foul!

Thanks to the intrepid and great food blogger Tom Philpott the secret is out. So we all know how not to play the game of chicken any more. Read my tips.

If you care at all about your own health and the lives of those you love, and you don't want to turn your dinner into Russian roulette--a form of the old game of chicken, you will no longer dare to buy a chicken or a chicken part from anyone but your local farmer or a friend.

It seems all Michelle Obama's noise about healthy eating has been nothing but window dressing to cover up the nefarious acts of her husband's corporate sycophancy. With little notice, Obama's changed the agricultural safety inspection rules to give the four megafirms involved in industrial poultry production in this country even more profits. At our expense of course.

Obama and the vile Vilsack who heads the Department of Agriculture have agreed by law to remove almost all the Federal health and safety inspectors at mega poultry processing plants--down from 4 to 1, and to simultaneously allow the processors to speed up the production line by 1/3. Ergo: more chickens, less safety. More money for Tyson, more bacterial infections for us.

Salmonella threats and feces splattered chicken are already running riot in the big plants, so we can now look forward to them running totally amok, bringing us ever more public health epidemics in 2014 when the new regulations or lack of regulations goes into effect. That's Obamacare in a new light.

There's nothing we can do about this new and revolting corporate handout except this: Don't buy industrially processed chickens. Boycott the big boys. Support your local farmer. The life you save could be your own.

And, hey, local farmers: cluck up and start raising more chickens. Opportunity just knocked. All the folks who aren't vegetarians need your help in this fight!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Hanging on thru April

Yes, April is the cruelest month, bringing nothing really new to market just when we're all ready for something new. And this year it has brought only the same old scary news about our continually corrupted industrial food supply. Monsanto has now succeeded in surreptitiously slipping into the critical budget bill a lovely little rider excusing/excluding it from any court rulings against GMOs. And since it has so far succeeded in preventing GMO labeling on supermarket packaging, I'd say we have even MORE reason to shop for all the food we can find at our local farmers' market. Shake the hand that feeds you. Transactions don't get more transparent, accountable and trustworthy than that.

California is of course ahead of the curve. Spring has sprung and its farmer's markets stalls are buried under piles of spring onions, green garlic, nettles, dandelion greens, pea shoots and other fabulous spring tonics like asparagus and rhubarb. These plants with go-go energy that propels them up bravely through thawing ground are just what our bodies need to spring energetically into the new season. 

But there is spring lamb. And fresh batches of chard. So here's a transition from winter to spring dish I've been playing with that uses them both. It's/was a traditional dinner for farmers in Palestine. (Those who lived/live by the sea ate mostly shrimp and fish.) The original recipe I saw, from old women in the Gaza Strip remembering the kitchen tables of free Palestine, called for medium grain rice. Not having that I used Basmati and didn't like the final effect. The next time I tried my precious Sardinian pasta, fregola, tiny toasted dots and it was perfect.  But I realize you don't want to go hunting down a rare ingredient, so I am suggesting barley, farro or a short, starchy paella rice instead. The cooking times will be wildly different. Note that, please. And enjoy.  This is wonderfully aromatic

Lamb, Chickpea and Chard Stew
an adaptation of Palestinian Fogaiyya

Serves 4

1½ -3/4 lb boneless lamb stew meat, lean if you can get it
2 tsp ground allspice
1 lg yellow onion, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp olive oil, 1tbsp reserved for the end
1 lg cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
5 cardamom pods, cracked to release the seeds
½ tsp ground nutmeg
1 lg bay leaf
2 tsp salt, divided (1 tsp of coarse sea salt if you have it)
3½ -4 cup water or vegetable broth or combination of the two
½ cup paella rice or barley or Farro
1 14-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 bunch chard, thick stems removed, washed, leaves chopped
Freshly ground black pepper to your taste
6 garlic cloves
½ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Lemon wedges for garnish

Coat the lamb with the allspice.
Cover the bottom of a heavy gauge lidded pot with 2-3 tbsp of olive oil and warm over medium heat. Add onions and sauté 2 minutes to soften. Add the lamb. Sauté until meat is brown, 5-7 minutes.

Add cinnamon, cardamom seeds, cloves, bay leaf,  and nutmeg. Stir to blend.
Add the water/broth (use 4 cups if you plan to use farro), bring to a boil, cover and lower heat. Simmer 90 minutes or until lamb is tender.

If you are using barley, add it to the lamb after one hour of its cooking.

Once the lamb has cooked 90 minutes:

stir in 1 tsp salt, black pepper, chickpeas, farro or paella rice if not using barley.
Raise heat to bring to a boil, then immediately lower to simmer and cook until grain is soft. If you need more liquid, add water. (Rice will need 12 minutes but farro 15-20)

Remove bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Add chopped chard leaves, stirring them in as you go. Continue to simmer.

Mash or mince the garlic cloves with 1 tsp coarse sea salt.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a small frying pan and brown the salted garlic, 1-2 minutes. Add to the stew and blend. (This seems to be a Palestinian kitchen custom.)

Remove the stew from the heat. When ready to serve, stir in the lemon juice.  Put a lemon wedge in every bowl.  

Serve with warm pita.
And think: Spring!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Egging us on

Spring is here but not much else is in a farmers' market. Except for that wonder of wonder foods: eggs! And wouldn't you know it: this is the moment we celebrate them in all their glory. The Easter egg.

There are many theories about why many cultures feast on eggs at the first sign of spring. The most obvious is that like spring, they represent new life. And like life they are round with no sign of beginning or end. (okay, roundish). Another theory dating to early Catholic Lenten practice is that eggs were considered a rich luxury food that had to be abandoned during the lean weeks of Lent, so Easter was the moment to splurge.  And the Mother Nature theory is that hens in colder climates weren't laying eggs in the snow but started again around the spring equinox.

As the symbol of renewal at this moment of spring fever, eggs get the royal treatment on a Seder table and in an Easter basket. They're roasted or boiled, dyed or painted, stuck whole (cooked of course) in the ring shaped Easter breads and cakes of Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. Chocolates are stuffed and molded to look like them.

This is not supercilious celebration. The egg may be our most perfect food. It comes in its own packaging straight from the source and can last a long time in proper circumstances. It can be boiled, steamed, fried, baked, even roasted. It's the critical binder for the delights of cakes, puddings and cookies. It's the key ingredient in genuine Caesar salad dressing, aioli and mayonnaise. It keeps the coating on the fried chicken.

It's a treasure chest of nutrients. The egg is perfect protein. It has the Vitamin D of sunshine that's hard to find in other foods. It's got calcium and enough magnesium to help us absorb it. It's loaded with trace minerals critical to our health: potassium, phosphorus, selenium, folate. And it's got the goods to keep our eyes from degenerating.

Yes, it's got some fat and cholesterol but by now science has discovered it's all good. Eat eggs.  Science has also discovered it's best not to eat industrially produced eggs which often come with their own salmonella and other horrible toxins. So get them from your local farmer whose chickens ate up the energy of your locale and purvey it back to you this way.

In lieu of all that messy egg dying, especially if you don't have kids, fill your Easter basket with elegantly marbled Chinese tea eggs. A recipe is in How to Fix a Leek...  Greet the morning of Resurrection with a frittata, an omelet you can bake in the oven in a pie pan and slice in wedges to serve 6 or 8 at once.

Greet any morning with a hard or soft boiled egg, a piece of seeded toast and some fruit for the perfect launch to a healthy day. Whip an egg into grated potatoes and onions to make potato pancakes for lunch (served with applesauce or sour cream). Lay a fried egg on a Spanish braise of chickpeas with garlicky greens for a meatless meal. Put yolks into rice pudding and whip the whites into meringues for dessert. Make an angel food cake. What you can do with a few eggs is joyously infinite.

Here's something I've been working on that uses eggs to advantage:

Leek Patties
 (Supposedly Bulgarian)

Makes 8, serves 4

6 lg leeks, white and light green parts only
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced
2 eggs, beaten
½-2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs
1 tsp coarse sea salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp corn or canola oil for frying
1 lemon

Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and crosswise and rinse to clean.
Put leeks in a large saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to simmer and cook uncovered about 25 minutes, until leeks are soft.
Drain well. Wrap leeks in a heavy towel to squeeze out as much excess water as possible.

Coarsely chop the leeks. Put in a bowl with the chives, salt and pepper. Stir in the breadcrumbs. (Enough to take up any remaining moisture in the leeks.) Blend in the eggs. 

Make 8 patties that are about ½ inch thick.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Arrange the patties in the pan so they don’t touch (you may have to do this in two batches) and cook until brown on the bottom side, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes so both sides are evenly browned. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels.

Serve with a squirt of lemon juice and a wedge of lemon.
Optionally sprinkle minced fresh flat leaf parsley on the plate.
Can be served warm or cold as an appetizer, lunch or side dish. It's as versatile as an egg itself.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Those Other Greens

Late March makes for slim pickings at the Farmers' Market but spring is here and hope is on the way. Very soon now, our local farmers will be putting out herb plants for our gardens, our kitchens and our bodies.  Don't overlook these medical marvels.  Buy a few and find room for them in your life.

Here's are brief, very brief, reasons why you'll want at least the most basic and commonly available potted herbs.

This is the most common of all herbs and sadly, the one most frequently consigned to the side of a plate as garnish. No no. Parsley is incredibly nutritious and deserves to be eaten like any green vegetable, even its cousin, celery. It's loaded with hard to come by Vitamin K, full of Vitamin C and A, and even graced with a little iron.
Parsley contains oils that may inhibit cancer cells particularly in the lungs--just like kale and mustard greens. It's also packed with valuable antioxidants. Eat all you dare.

You can get curly parsley or flat leaf, also known as Italian parsley and best for cooking. When you see the words "green sauce" that usually means parsley based.  How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market has two green sauce recipes, one for mussels and one for chicken, so I won't repeat them here. Lots of chopped parsley brightens any dish of beans. And don't forget, the perennially popular Tabbouleh is traditionally made with as much parsley as bulghur.  It's in there as the summer coolant, vitamin pack and breath refresher.

Our word sage comes from the Latin for this plant, salvia, which comes out of the word  "save." That show the respect the ancients had for this very medicinal plant. It's one of the oldest known natural remedies. From the boondocks of history to our own time, sage has been used as a powerful antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory and relaxant.  It appears particularly effective against night sweats and the hot flashes of menopause.  It's often brewed into a tea and the American Indians burn it to purify a room or a person's aura. The Medieval English included it in their famous song round: "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme."

In the kitchen, sage complements that earthy plant, mushrooms. It's often pared in autumn with butternut squash. I think it adds an appealing mysteriously smokey flavor to turkey, sometimes even grilled chicken. And you can burn it instead of incense.

The helpful properties of dill were already known back in ancient Egypt, a lot of them for such a seemingly delicate plant. Dill magically removes a lot of the acid that causes heartburn, essentially by strengthening the esophagus that can send it straight to the stomach for processing. It helps fight insomnia and its seeds when chewed are an instant remedy for bad breath. Dainty as its fronds may be, dill contains a lot of dietary fiber, and even more crucially, magnesium, a vital mineral for calcium absorption and a powerful antidote for diarrhea. Speaking of calcium,  a tbsp of dill has almost as much as a tbsp of milk.

In the kitchen, the fresh taste of dill brightens omelets, green salads, green beans, grilled fish, crab meat, and anything with beets or cucumbers. The seeds are a key ingredient in pickling.

This is a gift to us from the Greeks who prized it for its anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. It helps remedy indigestion and cure yeast infections. It reduces stomach gas and can calm a churning stomach.
Marjoram is a sibling.

Oregano is of course the key herb for traditional Italian tomato sauces, and therefore pizza and meatballs. It's liberally sprinkled on grilled fish in Greece. It's key for tasty corn chowder and does wonders for potato salad.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


Well, as far as I can see, with one working eye, the blog news is that organic tomatoes really do have more nutrients, farmers' markets are a bargain priced alternative to low income families, most wine is contaminated by fungicides so if you can find organic go for it but don't stop enjoying wine with your meals, and eating grains with beans, lentils, vegetables, fruits, eggs and yogurt is really good for you. In a major medical study recently released, the so-called Mediterranean diets trumps our junk food red meat fiesta yet again.

So here's hoping our farmers are planning right now to plant all sorts of legumes and lentils, root veggies and greens galore to put sunshine inside our bodies.  And here's hoping markets share their wealth with the financially challenged too.

Meanwhile, as spring breaks through in warmer latitudes and winter continues to grip the north and challenge farmers to bring anything to the market, here is something I've been working on as a goodbye salute to the cold season.

Polenta and Kale Layer Cake
Serves 6

2/3 cup polenta
3 cups water
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp minced roasted poblano pepper
Pinch of red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
¼ cup shredded or grated mozzarella cheese

*carnivore options
2 bunches kale
1 med white onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp pine nuts
¼ tsp salt
½ cup ricotta cheese (fat free is fine)

2 lg sweet potatoes
¼ tsp salt
2 cardamom pods, cracked or ¼ ground cardamom.
2 tbsp mascarpone

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
pinch of nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil for the pan

Grease an 8 or 9” springform pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and set aside.
Preheat oven to 375º.

Peel and coarsely chop the sweet potatoes. Put in a pot and cover with water.
Add the salt and cardamom pods. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and cook until potatoes are soft, 12-15 minutes. 

Remove cardamom pods. Using a slotted spoon or spatula, put the sweet potatoes in a food processor. Add 1 tbsp of the cooking water and hold the rest. Add the mascarpone. Quickly puree.  Set aside.

Remove kale leaves from their thick stems. Wash and drain carefully.
Combine kale, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Using the pulse button, chop the kale into small pieces as though making pesto.
In a small skillet, heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium/low heat. Add onions and black pepper. Sauté 5 minutes until onions are soft. 

Stir in the chopped kale mix. Sauté 3-5 minutes until kale is soft but still bright green. Remove from heat. Add salt and ricotta and blend well. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine 1 cup sweet potato water with 2 cups water. Add salt and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornmeal and continue whisking until it is absorbed and the mixture starts to thicken, 5 minutes.

Add oregano, pepper flakes and minced poblano pepper. Continue cooking over low heat 2 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add mozzarella cheese, stirring as you go and continue cooking 3 more minutes so all cheese is melted.  Polenta should be thick and creamy now.

Cover the bottom of the oiled springform pan with an even layer of the polenta.
Cover the polenta layer with an even layer of the kale mixture.
Top with an even layer of the sweet potatoes.
Top with the grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Cover the pan with aluminum foil. Bake at 375º for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking 15-20 minutes until top is lightly brown.

Remove from heat. Cool in the pan 10-15 minutes. Remove sides of the pan.
Serve cut in wedges like a cake.

*Carnivores can add ½ cup chopped chorizo or pepperoni to the polenta or ½ cup chopped garlic sausage to the kale.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Taking a break.
Had emergency eye surgery.
Still only a one-eyed hack.
Do stay tuned.
Spring fling coming soon....
Meanwhile happy lunar new year to all.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Crank up the oven and raid the larder

Mid February, with the fiercest blizzard on record, is the time to crank up the oven as high as you can get it to go, to raid your pantry and put together a delicious treat from the region of Alsace, Flammekueche. Which across the border in Germany is Flammekuchen. The idea is cooking in the hottest flames, cooking up what are typical leftover or extra ingredients in Alsace: onions, bacon, flour and cream. That's not a hard shopping list to fill even now.

Forget quiche, the cheesy onion bacon tart from the neighboring province of Lorraine. Flammekueche is a thin crusted, creamy onion pizza topped with shreds of bacon. Vegetarians can substitute olives for bacon and enjoy it too. So here you go....

Flammekueche for 4-6 

for the dough:
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 pkg (1/4 oz)highly active yeast (speeds things up)
1/4 cup tepid water
1/4 cup milk at room temperature (cold will kill the yeast)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

This is a cinch if you have a food processor with a plastic paddle. If you have a mini one, make it in two batches and combine the dough balls at the end. 

Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt and highly active yeast in the bowl of the processor.
Turn it on and slowly pour in the water, milk and olive oil.
Continue processing until a dough ball forms.
Remove dough and place it in a large oiled bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough sit for an hour until it doubles in size.

For the topping:
2 lg yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
Fresh ground black pepper to your taste (don't be shy)
8 oz fromage blanc or ricotta cheese
2 tbsp creme fraiche or sour cream or mascarpone
1/2 lb slab bacon
2 tbsp rapeseed or mustard or any tangy oil (use olive as a last resort)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
pinch of coarse sea salt to serve

While the dough rises, put the onions in the food processor with the steel blade installed. Finely chop the onions. Add a large pinch of salt and let them sit so the water comes out of them.

Cut the slab bacon into matchstick pieces.

Go do something else for a while.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, fold it over itself twice and put it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl. Let it sit a few more minutes.

Heat the oven to 500º.  You need it to be as hot as you can get it.

Drain the onions and put them in a medium size bowl. Stir in the caraway seed, black pepper and two cheeses. Blend everything well.

Oil a rectangular cookie/baking sheet.  Get everything ready.
Roll the dough into a very thin rectangle to fill the baking sheet. Ideally the dough is almost as thin as a piece of paper. You can keep rolling it in the pan too: use a small bottle or can if your rolling pin is too big.

Cover the dough entirely, leaving no empty edges, with the creamy onion mixture.
Scatter the bacon all over the top.
Lightly sprinkle nutmeg across the top.
Drizzle the 2 tbsp oil over the top, evenly.

Do not put this into an oven that is not at 500º. Put it in the hot oven and bake 12-15 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and brown and the bacon is brown too. Every oven will be different.

Remove from the oven. Lightly sprinkle with coarse sea salt and serve immediately cut in large squares.

This is Alsatian pub food great with beer or strong white wine. It's a winter wonder.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Scare Aware

Here is an early Valentine you can share with those you love.
Because you wouldn't want to poison or cheat them, would you?

Well, then beware the supermarket and head for your local farmers' market even in midwinter.  The United States Pharmacopeial Convention has let loose a little data from its long study of fraudulent grocery store products, fraudulent in that they don't contain what the label says they do. That's illegal but who can keep up with all those products on all those shelves?

Some of the substitutions are seemingly harmless although disgusting, while others are downright dangerous. So for peace of mind-- and body too, for you and ones you love, buy these particular products from your local market. I chose the ones I know are readily available.

Milk (in some places terrible things are used to thicken it)

Honey (Said this earlier but it's not just Chinese junk in those bottles)

Coffee (problems lurk in what's sold already ground and packaged)

Fish (widespread, ahem, bait and switch. Almost all fish now, even in restaurants, is mislabeled or pretend, and some of the unacknowledged species can be toxic.)

Maple syrup (high fructose corn syrup and beet sugars)

Jams (chemicals used to make plastics sometimes used to thicken)

Olive Oil (nothing new here; what's in the bottle may not be a virgin or Italian or in the worse case not even olive oil.)

Friday, January 25, 2013

Something snappy and simple and different

Novelty is a good antidote to winter blahs so here's a simple sunny eat from the Mediterranean: a chickpea flour pancake. It's street food called Socca in the south of France from Marseilles east to the border, particularly popular in Nice. In Italy where it's wildly popular in Genoa and Liguria, it's known as farinata or in dialect as faina. In Tuscany it's known as cecina (made of chickpeas). It's also popular across the water in Algeria where it's known as karantita, made with cumin instead of rosemary and served with harissa, the Maghreb hot sauce.  

What you'll want to know is that it is extremely simple, very cheap, extraordinarily tasty and the perfect no worries food because it's gluten free, fat free, meat free, dairy free, nut free... . In other words, everybody can enjoy it.

Socca is a flat, crisp pancake meant to be eaten right out of the oven or while still warm.
It's so addictive you probably won't have to worry about leftovers as waste. It's a good appetizer to pass around while you plate up the main meal. It's a great after school snack or, perhaps with a side of yogurt, a healthy breakfast.

So if you're out of ideas and fresh vegetables right now, perk up with this pancake.

Socca is normally made in a 12-14" pizza pan. If you don't have one, use a well seasoned cast iron frying pan--one that will survive the heat of the oven.  If like me, your well seasoned metal pan is only 6-7", you can either half the recipe or make two separate pancakes one after the other. The 12" pancake will serve 8, or 4 if people fight for seconds. 


1 cup chickpea flour
1 cup warm (130º) water

2 tbsp olive oil (good quality improve the flavor of the final pancake)
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (do this to your taste)
1 tbsp dried rosemary leaves (Lightly crush with your fingers to release the oil)
2 tbsp olive oil for the pan
coarse sea salt to finish (to your taste)

Preheat your oven to 475º.  Put the cooking pan in while it heats so the pan gets very hot.

Sift or strain (push it through a hand held sieve) the flour so its fluffy without lumps into a medium size bowl.

Whisk in the warm water, constantly whisking to make a smooth batter.
Whisk in the olive oil and then the ground pepper.  Add the rosemary leaves.
The batter should be about the consistency of cream.

Cover the bowl with a towel and let the batter rest 15 minutes. You can let it rest for hours if you don't need it right away, no problem. Just don't heat the oven yet.

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and coat it with 2 tbsp olive oil, swirling to evenly distribute it.  Pour in the batter to make a crepe like pancake.

Return the pan to the oven.  Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the pancake is crisp and the top is lightly browned.  Remove from the oven. (If you want the top browner, just flip the pancake for a minute in the hot pan.)

Immediately sprinkle on coarse sea salt to your taste, slice in wedges and serve.

P.S. If you tuned in looking for the French onion apple tart, I withdrew it temporarily because I want to see if precooking the onions makes a better tart.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A few recipe corrections

This is not exactly an oops but on the Peruvian Locro, you can omit the evaporated milk and the stew will be just as delicious. It actually looks more appealing to the eye than the version made with milk. To make up for that lost protein, I added a bit more queso fresco and more roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish. (Don't forget, quinoa has protein in it.)

The real oops in the Locro recipe is that it's probably better to use not 2 lbs of squash but more like 1 1/4 lbs.

In the Libyan pumpkin dish, sugar pumpkin turns out to be just as good as red kuri squash so I apologize for dissing it. You can probably use any winter squash. I just haven't had time to test every one of them in this recipe.