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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Curried Chick Peas with Pumpkin and Spinach

In semi-honor and congratulations to Oscar-winning Best Picture of the year, Slumdog Millionaire, I offer you an Indian-inspired vegetarian meal. It was another one of those recipe ideas I've had kicking around in the old noggin for a few weeks. The timing of its creation was meant to be, I also came across a recipe at Williams-Sonoma in a new Essentials of Asian Cooking cookbook that was on display and opened to a recipe for a curried chick pea dish. Once more I've broken down a recipe and simplified it, amped it up and used a few of my own tricks of the trade! Ellie Krieger, eat your healthy heart out! Here is another use for pumpkin, another protein perfect vegetarian dish and another ethnic inspired meal for all of us to add to our repertoires. It's low-fat, packed full of veggies and naturally Weight Watcher Friendly, my favorite cooking style. Serve over couscous or brown jasmine or basmati rice.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Tablespoon Canola, Vegetable or Mild Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion - finely diced or minced
  • 1 Medium Carrot - finely grated/shredded
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons Curry Powder - hot or mild, use more or less to taste
  • 1- 16 ounce can Chick Peas/Garbanzo/Ceci Beans - drained and rinsed
  • 1 & 1/2 Cups Cold Water
  • 1 Cup Pumpkin Puree
  • 1 Cup Frozen Chopped Spinach
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pumpkin Seeds - for garnish (optional)

Directions:
  1. Heat the oil in a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.
  2. Saute the onions until the begin to turn translucent, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the grated carrots to the onions and saute until the carrots begin to release their juices and the onions are beginning to turn golden, about another 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add in the garlic and curry powder and saute for another 30 seconds.
  5. Next, stir in the chick peas, water and pumpkin puree, stirring to incorporate. Season lightly with a pinch of salt and pepper.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and bring the mixture to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes.
  7. Add in the frozen chopped spinach, stir to combine and cook for another 10 minutes.
  8. Season to taste with additional salt, pepper and/or toasted curry powder.
  9. Garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds if desired. Serve over couscous or a whole grain brown rice.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beans & Rice - Tricked out and Amped Up

Had an extremely lazy weekend by my standards. I practically did not leave the house at all on Saturday, except around 10:30 pm to walk the dog. Liz and I have been working a lot; she's been in non-stop rehearsals at OCP for the current production of Turandot. Friday night was opening night and we stayed out late, enjoying the fruits and spirits of everyone's labors. Came home after 1:30 am, and didn't get to bed until close to 3 am. Seems like old times...I slept until after noon! Even more familiar old times. The grand plan was to have a day at home and do some household chores, which held no interest for either one of us. Chores - as though we are the Wilder Sisters and Ma and Pa are making us walk the mile out to the barn to milk the cows and feed the chickens! HA! Fat chance. Instead the only chickens we fed were ourselves, and I'd say after the eating and lazing about, I'm more of the fat cow than the spring chicken...but I digress. We did eventually get some light cleaning completed, in between snacking and snoozing, watching movies and ample viewings of the luscious offerings of the food network babes. There is a connection here, stay with me on this one. After several helpings of food porn, gorging ourselves viscerally on Nigella's chocolate delights and Giada's tempting treats, a sensible meal was provided by Ellie Krieger. Of course by the time we got to her show, Healthy Appetite, we were punch drunk crazy from all the television garbage we had consumed during the day. Ellie's show is good - practical, easy to make dishes that are genuinely good for you without fake props, booze or butter loaded into each dish. What got us going was that in the episode we watched, Ms. Krieger kept saying the phrases, "tricks of the trade" and "amping up the flavors." Normally I would not notice the phrases if they were said once or twice, but after the fourth time in the first recipe, we were ready to play a drinking game, forced to chug back a shot every time the words amped or tricks were uttered. I suppose it's funnier in the context of laying about all day while you are still in your pj's, sporting a fierce Eraserhead style bed head 'do and creating a sink full of dishes, while you also discard the newspaper sections you've casually skimmed though so as to make some sort of appearance of having done something productive...Whew!
There were several recipes that I would like to make, amping them up in my own style of course. One of the dishes Ms. Krieger made was beans and rice which caught my attention. Who doesn't have beans and rice on hand? It's the perfect protein meal, and you can use just about any kind of bean and a healthy mix of the holy mire poix trinity to make it pretty and veggie packed. Plus its a great side dish, hot or cold. My recipe version was as a hot side dish. To serve it as a salad or cold dish, you have to "amp up the flavors" more and/or make a lime juice vinaigrette to increase the taste and keep the rice grains moist.

Ingredients:

1 Cup Uncooked Brown Rice - Cook according to package instructions.
3 Tablespoons - (Divided) Mexican or Taco Seasoning (salt & sugar free)
2 Tablespoons Olive or Canola Oil - divided
1 Small Onion - small dice (about 3/4 cup)
1 Medium Carrot - small dice (about 1/3 cup)
1 Medium Celery Stalk - small dice (about 1/3 cup)
3 Garlic Cloves - minced (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1 Small Bell Pepper (red or green or a combo) - small dice (about 1/2 cup)
2 Large Scallions/Green Onions- Whites only, small dice (about 2 tablespoons)
1 14-16 ounce can Black Beans - drained and rinsed
Zest and Juice of 1 Lime
Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste

Directions:
  1. Cooking the Brown Rice: Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under cold running water until the water runs clear. This will flush away anything you don't want in the final dish, and helps the rice cook faster, since its started to absorb water. The ratio of rice to water is 2 1/4 cups of water for each cup of brown rice. Use a 3 or 4 quart sauce pot with a tight fitting lid. Put the rinsed rice into the pot, along with a pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon), a tablespoon of Mexican or Taco Seasoning, and the water. Bring the water to a boil and then immediately reduce the heat to a the lowest setting; simmer, keeping the pot covered and cook the rice, undisturbed for 1/2 hour. Check after 20 minutes to see if the water is absorbed and that it isn't scorched. Remove pot from heat but keep covered and let the rice sit for another 10 to 30 minutes, depending on how quickly you plan to use the rice. Set aside until ready to use or cool completely for later usage.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.
  3. Add in the onions, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until the carrots are knife tender and the onions and celery are beginning to take on a bit of golden color - about 8-10 minutes. Reduce heat to low if necessary to keep the vegetables from burning.
  4. Add in the garlic and the bell pepper and saute until the peppers soften, another 3-5 minutes.
  5. Pour into the pan, the remaining tablespoon of oil and then add in the 2 tablespoons of Mexican/Taco seasoning, stirring to incorporate and toasting the seasonings.
  6. Put the drained and rinsed black beans into the pan and toss gently to combine and warm through.
  7. Add in the scallions and remove the pan from the heat.
  8. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooked rice and the vegetable mixture, folding to incorporate.
  9. Season with the lime zest and juice. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barbecue Chicken Whole Wheat Pizza

What do you get when you toss together rotisserie chicken, barbecue sauce, black beans and Trader Joe's whole wheat pizza dough? A delicious semi-homemade pizza that doesn't take a lot of time or effort to make. Sometimes it can be a blessing to have a few prepared food items on hand to help you pull together a meal that's kind of good for you but also a bit on the "junk food" side of life. I don't think everything I eat has to be made from scratch, organic or completely fat and carb-free but I do want to continue to eat sensibly and keep the sodium, fat and useless calories down to a minimum. Tonight's meal was an easy to make pizza tossed together in about 30 minutes and was full of veggies, protein and fiber. I'm trying to keep up with the Mark Bittman, Food Matters school of thought - eating vegetarian throughout the day and enjoying chicken and other animal based foodstuffs at night, along with whole grain carbs. Sometimes, I don't want to be Julia Child or Chef Tell but I do want to be a bit more creative than Chef Boyardee or Sandra Lee. I want to be able to make a good meal with a little more effort than opening the refrigerator and seeing what's inside. Tune in and read the recipe. Turn on your ovens and preheat to 400 degrees. Drop out of ordering pizza pizza from the Mama's & Papas or Domino's Sugar Factory. This pizza is a prepared pizza dough topped with sauteed onions and zucchini, chicken, barbecue sauce and cheese. You are in store for a food trip that you can feel good about eating and sharing.

Ingredients:
  • 1 Pound or 1 Ball Prepared Whole Wheat Pizza Dough
  • 1/2 Rotisserie Chicken or other pre-cooked prepared chicken - chopped, shredded or torn
  • 1 Medium Onion - cut into half-moon slices
  • 1 Medium Zucchini - cut into 1/4 inch rounds
  • 1/2 Can Black beans - rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Cup Barbecue Sauce
  • 1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese (I used low-fat 2% shredded cheese)
  • Olive Oil - about 2 tablespoons
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
Directions:
  1. Preheat Oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prepare pizza dough. Scatter some flour onto your counter top and roll out to the desired shape and thickness. I used a half-sheet pan onto which I baked the pizza, so I rolled the dough out to the general length and width of my sheet pan.
  3. Dust the pizza pan with flour or cornmeal. Place the pizza dough onto the pan, and crimp or fold over the edge onto itself to make a crust.
  4. With a pastry brush or your fingers, spread a little olive oil on the crust edge and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Set the dough aside.
  5. In a medium saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer.
  6. Lower heat to medium and add in the onions and saute until they begin to caramelize, 8-10 minutes. If the onions begin to cook too quickly, lower heat and add in a pinch of salt to draw out their moisture.
  7. When onions are done, remove from pan and set aside to cool slightly.
  8. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the pan and turn the heat back to medium high. Saute the zucchini until it is crisp and golden brown - about 5 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool.
  9. Spread the barbecue sauce onto the pizza dough, as though you were spreading pizza sauce onto it.
  10. Arrange the onions, zucchini, chicken and black beans all over the pizza dough, keeping them inside the pizza's interior and up to the crust edge.
  11. Season with a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  12. Top the pizza with 1 cup (or more if you desire) shredded mozzarella cheese.
  13. Bake until the pizza crust edge is puffed up and crispy brown and the cheese is melted, about 10-15 minutes. Rotate the pan once or twice, about every 6 minutes.
  14. Allow pizza to cool 5 minutes before cutting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Soy Orange Ginger Salmon

Soy Orange Ginger Salmon Ingredients:

  • 1 Pound Salmon Fillet (don't bother to remove skin, it comes off after the fish is cooked)
  • 1/4 Cup Rice Vinegar
  • 1/3 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 5 Dashes Hot Pepper Sauce (more or less to taste)
  • 3 Dashes Fish Sauce (optional)
  • Juice of 1 Orange
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1 Tablespoon Minced Ginger (cut a piece and either press it thru a garlic press or mince it over a microplane zester)
  • Freshly Ground Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Vegetable, Canola or Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Orange Marmalade (optional)
Directions:
  1. Whisk together the rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, fish sauce, hot sauce, orange juice, minced garlic and ginger and freshly ground pepper together in a small bowl or jar and set aside.
  2. In a non-stick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Carefully lay the salmon fillet in the pan, skin side up. Sear for about 3 minutes, and then carefully, with a fish spatula or thin flexible wide spatula, flip the fish over, skin side down. Reduce heat to low and pour in the soy sauce mixture. Cover and poach the fish for 6 minutes.
  3. Remove lid and inspect fish, piercing with a thin knife in the center to see if the fish is cooked through. The salmon should be opaque throughout. Carefully remove fish from the pan and plate.
  4. Leave the soy sauce marinade in the pan and reduce down by half its volume. When the soy sauce marinade has reduced down, whisk in the orange marmalade. The marmalade will thin out and will thicken and sweeten the sauce.
  5. If not using marmalade, then use the finely grated zest of 1 orange. It won't thicken the sauce, but will add a lovely "pop" of orange flavor. Pour over the fish and serve hot immediately. Season to taste with additional freshly ground pepper. Bon appetite!

Sexy Spicy Shrimp and Pasta

Sexy Spicy Shrimp and Pasta: The recipe we used for City Food Tours Aphrodisiac Tasting Event for Valentine's Day was modified from the original version published in the Daily News. When Robert and Eric realized we would be cooking for close to 100 people over the course of the weekend, their first thought was that the food would turn from great to a disaster in a matter of hours. Preparing it ahead of time, bringing it to the demo site and then reheating it, plating and serving a pasta dish, for 30-plus guests each day would render the meal inedible, making it a turn-off instead of a turn-on. Putting our heads together, we agreed that there there is nothing sexy about mushy pasta, grey asparagus and rubbery shrimp. The recipe was revised to a pasta salad, albeit an upscale gourmet version of pasta salad, incorporating at least 12 aphrodisiac ingredients to set the mood. My catering chef's hat was was quickly popped onto my head, bringing me back to the catering world again. I was cooking for amore, making people crave my sexy dish! Unlike catering events from the past, the Valentine's weekend of City Food Tour events were on a much more manageable scale and did not require the massive amount of physical labor that I remember with a shudder and a shiver from my days working in the food trenches.

This newer recipe is made in stages, ideal for serving to a large crowd, taking along to a party, or making ahead and serving it at a later time. The dressing can be made in larger quantities and will hold for at least a week or up to two weeks. The shrimp can be cooked to order, purchased pre-cooked, sauteed or boiled. You can use any easy to eat shaped pasta, such as Farfalle (Butterfly or Bowtie), Penne Rigate, Shells, Wheels or Tubetti. You can swap out the homemade dressing for a light mustard vinaigrette. As I have written before, this is an ideal recipe to deconstruct and rework, adapting to whatever ingredients and ideas you may have.













Ingredients for the Dressing:
  • 1 Tablespoon Dry Mustard
  • 1/4 Cup Champagne (flat is best; less bubbles)
  • 2 Tablespoons White Balsamic Vinegar or a Good Quality White Wine Vinegar or Fresh Lemon Juice
  • Pinch of Salt and Dash of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Olive Oil
Directions:

  1. In a large mixing cup or bowl, whisk together the dry mustard powder, champagne, vinegar and salt and pepper.
  2. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuously whisking to emulsify the ingredients. Alternatively you can use a food processor or blender to incorporate the ingredients, but slowly drizzle in the oil so that the mixture will hold together.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed, adding more salt and pepper, vinegar or oil.
  4. Makes 1 Cup dressing.
  5. Dressing will keep for up to two weeks refrigerated in a tightly covered container.

Ingredients For the Pasta Salad:

  • 1/2 Pound Farfalle Pasta - Cooked to package instructions - al dente, drained and cooled
  • 1 bunch Asparagus - Woody ends trimmed & discarded; stalks cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon Saffron Threads - Crushed with the back of a spoon
  • 2 Garlic Cloves - Minced
  • 1 Medium Red Onion - Finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Pound Medium Shrimp - Peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 Pint Cherry Tomatoes - Sliced in half length-wise
  • 1/2 Cup Basil (loosely packed) - Chiffonade (cut into thin ribbons) and reserve several whole leaves for garnishing
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Pine Nuts
Directions:

  1. In a small dish, combine a tablespoon of boiling water with the crushed saffron threads, stir and let stand.
  2. Wash the asparagus spears, remove the woody ends and chop the spears into 1 inch pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to a roiling boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions, generally 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the pasta shape and size.
  3. One minute before the pasta is finished cooking, add the asparagus.
  4. Drain and cool the cooked pasta and asparagus into a colander and rinse under cold running water. Once fully drained add the pasta to a large bowl or container.
  5. Toss the saffron mixture and drizzle a little olive oil over the pasta to keep it from sticking together.
  6. Set aside if using immediately or refrigerate until finishing the pasta salad.
  7. Heat a saute pan over medium high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
  8. When the oil begins to shimmer, add in the onions and garlic, lower heat and saute until the onions and garlic begin to slightly caramelize and turn a light golden colour and begin to smell nutty and fragrant. This should take between 8 to 10 minutes. Stir with a spatula or wooden spoon to keep the mixture from burning.
  9. Once the onion and garlic mixture is caramelized, transfer the mixture to a bowl.
  10. Use the same pan and increase heat to medium high and add another tablespoon of olive oil; add in the red pepper flakes and toast them in the oil for 30 seconds.
  11. Add in the cleaned and peeled shrimp and saute until they turn opaque and pink.
  12. Transfer the peppered shrimp to the bowl with the onion mixture.
  13. When ready to make the pasta salad, add the shrimp and onion mixture into the pasta and asparagus, stirring to incorporate.
  14. Add in the sliced cherry tomatoes and the chiffonade of basil.
  15. If serving immediately, toss the pasta salad with the Champagne Vinaigrette and stir gently to incorporate.
  16. Garnish each plate with some of the toasted pine nuts and top with a whole basil leaf.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lemonade That Cool Refreshing Treat

I have been remiss in posting this very thoughtful award given to me by a fellow food blogger, Mary Ellen. She found my blog and shared with me and several other foodie blogs that she follows, the Lemonade Award - for refreshing blogs that she (and presumably others) enjoy. I wish I could say I had a huge reading list of other foodie blogs, or even other blogs in general, but alas, I cannot. I barely have enough time to keep up with my schedule, as I indicated in my last post, a week ago! Nevertheless, I was tickled to have a fan find my blog and to be able to add another great blog to my growing list. Mary Ellen's Cooking Creations blog is absolutely gorgeous and her recipes are original and detailed. Had I not been awarded an honor by Ms. Mary Ellen, I'd give her props for the fantastic mouth watering food photos and the energy to post on an almost daily basis. Perhaps one day I'll be a more consistent and punctual blog poster. Maybe I ought to go the route of twitter...in the meantime, check out her blog and the others she recommends. I'll be trying to find some new people to whom I can pass along the award, along with working on getting the Sexy Shrimp and Pasta Recipe up from the Aphrodisiac Valentine event City Food Tours hosted this past weekend. I've barely caught up on sleep from the weekend's events, but I can report we had a fantastic turn-out; a series of sucessful events - Friday, Saturday and Sunday as well as many clean plates!

The details for the Lemonade Award, should you care to "borrow" this idea, are:

This award is meant to be shared and passed on, so there are a few rules -

- Add the logo to your blog
- Add a link to the person who gave you the award
- Nominate up to 10 other refreshing blogs and list the links. Then, leave a message for each nominee informing them of the award.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Bicycle Chef - LIVE(s)!

Coming to you live and in person! Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Foster's Urban Homeware, 4th & Market Streets. I'll be working with my buddies, Eric and Robert of City Food Tours, doing a cooking demonstration for an Aphrodisiac Tasting Event on the weekend of love aka Valentine's Day. We'll be making a Sexy Spicy Shrimp and Pasta dish for the event. For those of you who can't join us, the recipe was in last week's Daily News on Thursday, February 5th. It will be great to get back into doing a live demonstration again. I can hardly believe that it's been just about two years since I was the resident chef for Williams-Sonoma, teaching cooking classes on a weekly basis. I don't miss the stress and hard work that went into planning each week and semester, but I do miss the cooking show I created for each class. I'm really looking forward to my 10 minutes of fame again!

Life has been busy the past few weeks - leading a few tours for City Food Tours, working at the 'gog and my shifts at Williams-Sonoma and then trying to get in my gym time. The weather in the Philadelphia region has favored us with gorgeous spring-like temperatures allowing me to take advantage of biking around the river. It's been too cold to ride much lately. I rode more last winter than I have this year, so any ride I can get is a treat, even a quick 16 mile, one loop around the Drives. It's better than a trip to the gym any day. The winds were forceful which made it difficult to ride faster than 13 miles an hour. The good thing about a harder, shorter ride is that it was a thorough workout. Makes me feel strong. Consistently working out and taking yoga has made a tremendous difference to my overall well-being, something I've been more aware of over the past two months. Not that Tom (I'M NOT GAY But I am a CRAZY Scientologist) Cruise, is right, but he was onto something when he said that exercise is important for your mental well-being. Look, don't get me wrong here, I've been diagnosed with depression; I've been in therapy for the better part of 20 years; I write about the depression a lot; I have taken depression medications to help with the low and dark periods in my life. It's truly made a difference for me. I believe that medication and therapy are both extremely important and should be used as often as necessary. However, my current life plan of therapy, Weight Watchers and exercise yields great results. There is no condoning Mr. Cruise's outbursts however. I do like the results that my routine has provided. The other great benefit besides my current 67.2 pounds lost? All the extra energy I have. Wellbutrin never did that for me.
While trying to keep to up with my three jobs, Weight Watchers and going to the gym, I've also been attending Free Library of Philadelphia Author lectures. I saw three authors in as many weeks -Steve Lopez, talking about his One Book One Philadelphia 2009 novel, The Soloist. Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and her current book, Things I've Been Silent About: Memories. Both authors were fascinating writers of great reads and providers of much to information to ponder. Last week I went to hear New York Times Food Columnist and Cookbook author, Mark Bittman, aka The Minimalist. He gave a talk about his new book, Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with more than 75 Recipes. Mr. Bittman is my culinary idol, more than my favorite trio of culinary goddesses, Ina, Martha and Nigella. He is down to earth; cooks and writes recipes that I love; and his writings have inspired and taught me countless facts about food origins. During and after his talk I could hardly contain myself because I was so excited have seen and listened to him in person. His new book contains salient points about the American Diet and its excessiveness in all aspects - food and energy consumption; our over-bloated food dependence on animal based proteins; our continual need to SuperSize ourselves and our plates. Among the many striking things Mr. Bittman said was this gem - "If you shop too much, you are a shopaholic; if you work too much you are a workaholic; have sex every time you think about it, you're either a sexaholic, sex addict or nymphomaniac; but if you eat too much, you are an American!"

There was much in Mr. Bittman's lecture/reading that hit home for me, but nothing more so than his own discovery of his weight catching up to him and wrecking havoc on his health. Similar to what happened to me, Mr. Bittman discovered at age 57 that his weight had risen to an all-time high well over 200 pounds. His cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar levels were dangerously high. He would have to go on medication to control it all. Rather than be dependent on well-meaning medicine, he refocused his attention on his diet. At the same time, he started to become more aware of reports issued by the United Nations and other Global agencies that described the looming global food and energy crisis. He saw a connection to food over-production, energy consumption and the world's obesity problems. Changing his own dining habits on a small level, Mr. Bittman started consuming more plant-based foods and fewer animal based meals. Out went sugars, worthless white carbs such as white rice and sliced bread, behemoth bagels and cakes. Within a month he lost weight, without even realizing or trying. After several months, he was down more than 40 pounds and his health was back on track. Mark Bittman is decidedly anti-diet, pro mostly vegetarian, or as he said, less meatarian, and does not necessarily advocate eating local or organic as part of one's plant-based diet. As he said during the talk, "if you are buying a whole wheat rice-puffed cereal, sweetened with brown rice syrup, or eating organic 'Snackwells', it's all still crap if it's processed food." The further away you get from the foods natural state, the worse it is for you. Like Michael Pollan's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food Matters is a wake up call to the world, on a much more accessible and personal level. Plus, there are practical recipes along with Mr. Bittman's insightful and pithy commentary. I'm sure I'll be recipe practicing and sharing over the next few months. He mentioned a breakfast couscous dish; an idea that I've been meaning to write about for almost a year now. I'm curious to see if his recipe and the one I've been making are similar. Go buy this book and remember to eat your veggies!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Whole Wheat Pasta & Snow Peas with Lemon, Mint and Ricotta Sauce

I love taking recipes apart and putting them back together in lighter and healthier ways. Case in point, there's a fantastic and simple recipe in the new Giada De Laurentiis' new cookbook, Giada's Kitchen - New Italian Favorites, a whole wheat linguine with green beans, ricotta and lemon. The original recipe is fairly light and easy to make. I'm not claiming that I can make it better, but I can make it work for me with what I have on hand. In the process, if that also means that I can tweak it enough to lower the fat and calories then you can be assured I'm going to attempt it. Working from memory and using the ingredients I had I recreated the recipe with tasty results. The beauty of this recipe, no matter which version is used, is that it is extremely adaptable. Snow peas, peas, asparagus, or broccoli can be substituted for the green beans. For added colour and flavor add minced parsley, mint and/or basil. Low-Fat part skim ricotta can be traded out for a non-fat ricotta. Toss in diced tomatoes or halve cherry or grape tomatoes. Top with sauteed shrimp. Spice it up with red pepper flakes. I like this recipe so much because it is infinitely adaptable to the seasons and while seemingly rich it is also light enough to be a side or appetizer, spring through winter.


Whole Wheat Pasta & Snow Peas with Lemon, Mint and Ricotta Ingredients


  • 1 Pound Whole Wheat Pasta - spaghetti or linguine
  • 1 & 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1 Small/Medium Onion - thin half moon slices
  • 3 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/2 Pound Snow Peas - blanched and julienned
  • Zest from 1 Lemon & Juice from 1/2 Lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 Cup Non-Fat Ricotta
  • 1/4 Cup Parsley - roughly chopped & several whole parsley leaves for garnish
  • 4-5 Mint Sprigs - roughly chopped & several mint sprigs for garnish
  • Freshly Grated Parmesan, Locatelli, or Gran Pandano Cheese for topping finished pasta (optional)
Directions:
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. While the pasta water is boiling, heat the olive oil in a non-stick saute pan over medium heat until the oil begins to shimmer.
  3. Add in the julienned onions and saute until the onions begin to lightly caramelize, about 6-8 minutes.
  4. When the onions begin to take on some colour, add in the garlic, stirring to incorporate and monitoring the heat. Don't burn the garlic, caramelize it to bring out the garlic's sweet, nutty essence.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add in the blanched and julienned snow peas if using (or at this point add in blanched broccoli florets; frozen baby peas; or blanched and 1-inch cut pieces of asparagus.)
  6. Season the onion mixture lightly with a pinch of salt and a few dashes of freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
  7. Meanwhile, cook pasta until it is al dente. Before draining, reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
  8. Drain the pasta and return to the cooking pot.
  9. Add in the ricotta, lemon zest and lemon juice; stir to incorporate.
  10. Thin the ricotta with some of the reserved pasta cooking water.
  11. Add to the pasta the sauteed onion and snow pea mixture and half of the chopped parsley and mint. Toss to combine, seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  12. Plate and garnish with additional parsley and mint.
  13. As a splurge and for added flavor, top with a good quality freshly grated cheese.
  14. Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Finally Snow!

Wednesday was a beautiful snowy day in Philadelphia. A storm came through the area on Tuesday and left 2 to 3 inches of snow in the City, flocking everything with a powdery cotton candy coating. Snow can turn even the most mundane things into works of nature's art. It was a bright sunny day on Wednesday and I found many things to photograph. Here's a smattering of a few places, mostly around Rittenhouse Square and at Logan Square that caught my eye.

Giant tulip tree in the courtyard at St. Mark's Church - 16th & Locust Street

Snow person on the steps of a brownstone apartment building - 18th & Spruce Street


Dog Statue at the 18th & Rittenhouse Entrance to Rittenhouse Square


The view from Parc looking towards Rittenhouse Square - 18th & Locust Street

Detail of the Logan Square Fountain statue

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Beef Barley Stew braised in Lancaster Milk Stout Beer

Today was a day for comfort foods. Not because it was cold or dreary, but because it is still winter and I needed to make a big batch of something delicious. I was just given a "new" large slow cooker. I was talking with some friends about the merits of cooking in a Crock Pot and that I regretted not having a larger one to use. I have a small one but inevitably whatever I make usually has to go into a large Dutch or french oven or stock pot as I make too large much food to fit into my wee slow cooker. My friend, Dana and I were talking about this and she realized she had one collecting dust under her bed and that she should pass it along to me. It's gathering dust no longer because today I whipped up a batch of Beef and Barley Stew braised in Lancaster Milk Stout Beer. The stew cooked in the slow cooker for hours and turned into an inky deep, dark and delicious meal as its aroma permeated the entire house.


While the stew braised and bubbled, I headed outdoors for a mid-winter bike ride on a glorious day - a gift from the winter gods. The temperatures climbed into the mid-40's and the sun was bright. Donned my biking gear and my new bike shoe booties to keep my tootsies warm. They actually work - no more toe Popsicles! I got in a double loop around the river, 24 miles total! I watched the birds walk and sit on the ice floes and watched a woman feed several dozen Canadian geese, ducks and a pair of white geese while she sat along the river banks in the brush. I also ran into an old friend and walked and talked with her for about a mile and a half. It was a fantastic day made all the better because I had a scrumptious meal awaiting my return home.
This recipe is meant to be cooked in a slow cooker for 4 to 6 hours. For best flavor, sear and brown the beef and saute the vegetables before putting them all into the slow cooker. You will need a large dutch oven or stock pot as well as a slow cooker large enough to hold all of your ingredients - 5 to 8 quart capacity. A darker beer will work better than an ale or light beer, I suggest using a Porter or Stout. If you don't have beer, hate it or wont' use it, then a good dry red wine will work too. Can't handle the booze? Soda Pop might be an option. Use 1 can of Coke, Dr. Pepper or a snappy root beer or sasparilla soda. The stew will be sweeter, but the flavors will still be great.
Beef & Barley Stew braised in Beer Ingredients:
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil - Divided
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 2-3 Pounds Boneless or 4-5 Pounds with Bone Pot Roast or Chuck Roast (an inexpensive cut of beef intended for braising and slow cooking)
  • 2 Large Onions - cut into half moon slices
  • 4 Large Carrots - peeled and cut into large dice or chunks
  • 3 Large Celery Stalks - cut into large dice
  • 2 Medium Parsnips - peeled and cut into large dice or chunks
  • 6 Garlic Cloves - roughly chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Dried Mixed Mushrooms or 1 Pint Fresh Button Mushrooms (if using fresh, cut into quarters)
  • 1 16 ounce Can Low Sodium Beef Broth
  • 1/4 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 1/4 Cup Worchestire Sauce
  • 4-5 Dashes Hot Sauce
  • 1 12 Ounce Bottle Dark Stout Beer (such as Lancaster Milk Stout or Guinness)
  • 3 Bay Leaves
  • 1 Tablespoon Dried Thyme Leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons Dried Parsley
  • 1 Cup Uncooked Pearled Barley
  • 1 Cup Water
Directions:

  1. In a Dutch oven or heavy bottomed stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers
  2. Season the beef with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.
  3. Sear and brown the beef on all sides in the oil, allowing a good crust to form.
  4. Remove from pot and put the browned meat into the bottom of the slow cooker. Set aside.
  5. Using the same pot heat the second tablespoon of olive oil and add in the onions. Saut̩ the onions until they begin to caramelize Рabout 6 minutes.
  6. Add to the pot the carrots, celery, garlic and parsnips. Reduce heat to medium-low and allow vegetables to sweat for about 5-8 minutes.
  7. Remove the vegetables and add them to the slow cooker with the beef.
  8. Still using the same pot in which you seared the beef and sauteed the vegetables, pour in the bottle of beer, beef broth, soy sauce, worchestire, hot sauce, dried mushrooms, bay leaves, thyme and dried parsley. Season with several grinds of freshly ground black pepper.
  9. Bring the liquid to a boil. Once its reaches a boil, carefully pour the broth over the vegetables and the beef that is in the slow cooker.
  10. Cover the slow cooker insert with its lid and cook, covered for 4 hours on high or for up to 8 hours on low.
  11. During the last hour of cooking, add in 1 cup of dried pearled barley and 1 cup of water. Stir to incorporate and recover the crock pot.
  12. The stew is done when the meat is falling apart and/or off the bone and the barley is tender. Serves 6-8. Serve hot over mashed potatoes or creamy polenta!