Saturday, December 20, 2008

"Dirty Dozen": Which Produce You Should Really Consider Eating Organic

Interested in cutting your exposure to pesticides found on produce by almost 90%? Who isn't? According to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization, there are twelve fruits and vegetables that everyone should really consider eating organic. These twelve have been labeled the "Dirty Dozen", and are consistently found to have the highest amounts of traceable pesticide residues, significantly increasing your toxic exposure. These twelve are:
  1. Peaches
  2. Apples
  3. Strawberries
  4. Nectarines
  5. Cherries
  6. Pears
  7. Imported Grapes
  8. Sweet Bell Peppers
  9. Celery
  10. Spinach
  11. Lettuce
  12. Potatoes

By eating these twelve fruits and vegetables organic, the Environmental Working Group found that a person could cut their exposure to pesticides on produce by 90%. That is quite significant! They also came up with a list of the twelve fruits and vegetables with the least amount of traceable pesticides. They are:

  1. Onions
  2. Avocados (my favorite!!)
  3. Frozen Sweet Corn
  4. Cabbage
  5. Broccoli
  6. Asparagus
  7. Frozen Peas
  8. Pineapples
  9. Mangoes
  10. Kiwi
  11. Banana
  12. Papaya

If you are only willing to buy some food organically, then consider these two lists when shopping.

Remember that these lists only consider produce. Your pesticide exposure from produce is minimal compared to foods such as meats and dairy, which, according to the EPA, are significantly higher in pesticide residues. Coffee is another culprit. Another point to consider is that imported fruits and vegetables most likely contain higher amounts of pesticides that are now illegal in the U.S. This is one of those ironic (or is it idiotic) situations where we manufacture tons (literally) of toxic pesticides that we as a nation have deemed illegal to use, yet sell to other countries, and then import the foods sprayed with these illegal pesticides. Hmmmm? Real effective! When buying your produce from conventional farmers, pay attention to where it was grown and opt for grown in USA. Most fruits and vegetables have a sticker that will say where it was grown. Another quick fact about those elusive stickers on produce; a sticker that starts with a number 4 is conventionally grown, while starting with a 9 is organic. All of this information is definitely food for thought!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why Go Organic

There have been a few hot words in the past couple of years, one of them being the word organic. All of us have been hearing that organic foods are a better choice than conventional foods, but many ask, "Is it worth the price?" In my opinion, definitely. For some, not so much, especially with this down economy. My husband and I have been eating almost 100% organic, and about 75% local), for about 5 years now, and we do not spend that much more on groceries than anyone else. Since I seem to be having a hard time writing recipes due to my new hobby of drooling over and cuddling with my new daughter, I thought I would write a series of 3 posts about eating organically. I think that deep down in most of our hearts we know it is the right thing to do, for both body and planet. I'll start my series with what organic actually means when it comes to food, and then my top 8 reasons for going organic. The next two posts will be regarding the dirty dozen (the top 12 foods you should really consider eating organic), followed by how to go organic without breaking the bank.

Why Go Organic

Organic foods are required by law to be produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, antibiotics, synthetic hormones, genetic engineering, and other practices such as irradiation and the use of sewer sludge (Organic Agriculture and Production. Organic Trade Association’s Manufacturer Survey (2006), Retrieved from http://www.ota.com/). There are governmental standards for organic farming. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), in 1990, U.S. Congress adopted the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) as part of the 1990 farm bill. Over a decade of public input and discussion finally resulted in a National Organic Program, which was published by the USDA in December of 2000, and implemented in October of 2002. Through a complex process, quite a few dollars, and a lot of inspections, farms can become certified organic. Farms can carry this “certified organic” label, and consumers can be assured that the food they are buying meets governmental regulations for organic farming. Here are my top 8 reasons for buying and supporting organic foods:

1. Avoiding Chemicals: 90% of the chemicals approved by the FDA for food production have not been tested for long term effects before being deemed safe (Environmental Working Group (2006). FDA Monitoring & Enforcing. Retrieved from www.egw.org). 46 of our most popular fruits and vegetables can have up to 192 different pesticides between them (Environmental Working Group and Stonyfield Farm (2006). Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. Retrieved from www.foodnews.org). These pesticides are absorbed into the human body and stored in fat tissues. They can be found in mother’s breast milk, and the urine of our children. Very scary!


2. Organic Foods are More Nutritious: According to certified nutrition specialist Virginia Worthington, after examining 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of conventional produce to organic, she concluded that organic foods contain 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, 13.6% more phosphorus, and 15.1% less nitrates(Worthington, V. (2001). Nutritional Quality of Organic Versus Conventional Fruits, Vegetables, and Grains [electronic version]. Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine, 7(2). Retrieved from www.foodisyourbestmedicine.com). The increase in nutritional value of organic foods is in large amount due to healthier soil. Pesticide free soil is full of life, nourishing the plants that in turn nourish us.


3. Better Flavor and Taste: Organic farming works with the rhythm of the seasons, resulting in foods being grown during their natural cycles which creates the best products possible. The plants are also forced to, in essence, fend for themselves to fight off pests, disease, and the stress of their surrounding elements. One way they may fend for themselves is through the production and use of phytochemicals, which also give very distinctive tastes to certain foods (Beling, S. (1997). Power Foods. New York, Harper Collins). Garlic, onions, and cruciferous vegetables are all examples.


4. Avoiding GMOs: Our local farms are being threatened by loss of diversity due to GE foods. Genetic drift is a serious problem and could wipe out our regional foods, leaving the fate of our farmers in the hands of large biotech corporations. It is estimated that 75% of the food in grocery stores contain GE ingredients. The FDA does not require safety testing, labeling, or even notification of new GE products that go to market. The citizens of the U.S. are guinea pigs to an enormous biotech corporation experiment, and they are not even aware of it. More long term studies need to be done to assure the safety of these crops, and we should be allowed to know exactly what these crops are being genetically altered with (many crops are altered to produce pesticides while growing. These “foods” are actually considered a chemical and not a food). (Genetically Engineered Foods/Crops (2002). Creative Health News. Retrieved from www.creativehealth.farvista.net ).


5. Avoiding Hormones and Antibiotics: According to a Union of Concerned Scientists report (Union of Concerned Scientists (2002). Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in Livestock. Retrieved from www.go.ucsusa.org), 70% of all antibiotics produced in the United States are fed to chickens, pigs, and cows, strictly for growth promotion. When humans consume these meat products, they directly ingest these drugs. Fish are farmed with the same degrading practices, as well as dairy cows and egg laying hens. The only safe way to avoid this is to go organic, hormone, and antibiotic free. Even better, go organic, grass fed meat, poultry, dairy, and eggs. Support animals being able to live like animals, in pastures eating nourishing green grass, instead of being confined to fight their natural instincts. If you are a meat eater, I highly suggest you read Michael Pollan’s (2006), The Omnivore’s Dilemma, part 2, regarding grass fed livestock.


6. Preserving Ecosystems: Organic farming promotes harmony with nature. It nurtures the land and works in a symbiotic relationship with the seasons, not against them. Organic farming takes work, and thought, by using crop rotation, natural methods of pest control, water management, and companion planting, which creates natural, mini-ecosystems that function as nature intended. Preserving and protecting ecosystems is the key to success.


7. Reduces Pollution and Protects Water Sources: No pesticide use means no run off into local water supplies, creeks, streams, and oceans (where everything eventually ends up). Obvious and enough said!


8. Preserves Diversity: This is extremely important. Organic farms have to be diverse to survive, especially in a local market. Diversity means the farmer is not putting all of his or her eggs into one basket, like monoculture does, and can ultimately survive if a crop fails. Diversity also creates natural ecosystems with their own forms of pest control, resulting in no real need for pesticides, and gives the consumer many honest, clean food choices. Diversity also gives us the chance to preserve heirloom type vegetables, and allows us to continue the tradition of passing seeds down through generations.





Thursday, November 13, 2008

Harvest Squash Soup

Autumn is my absolute favorite time of year. The farmer's market is overflowing with an abundance of produce. I love how summer vegetables and fruit linger into November and mingle along side both autumn and winter produce. Hard squashes are a favorite of most during this time of year, so I thought I would share my best recipe for Winter Squash Soup. I developed this recipe last autumn. I wanted something that really let the squash speak for itself instead of being hidden and masked by lots of different flavors such as ginger, curry, or apple. Any hard squash can be used in this recipe, but keep in mind that some squashes are starchier than others, requiring a little more vegetable stock to achieve the right consistency. Kobacha is probably the starchiest, so add vegetable stock accordingly. Though not neccessary to make this soup good, toasted pumpkin seed oil is an indulgence, quite expensive, and well worth every penny. A little goes a very long way, so just a drizzle in each bowl of soup is enough. The oil puts this soup over the top.

As you can probably guess, I am still quite busy with my new little Ellissa. She is my world and keeps me occupied most of the day. I hope to start posting more regularly as she becomes more accustomed to the world, but no promises.

Harvest Squash Soup with Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil
*Serves 4-6 as a first course, or 2-4 as a main course
*Autumn, Winter

-2½-3 lb winter squash such as Acorn, Kobacha
or Butternut Squash
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1 small sized yellow onion, sliced
-1 large clove garlic, smashed
-3½-4½ cups autumn vegetable stock, or more if necessary
-1½ teaspoons smoky paprika
-2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
-1/2 of a cinnamon stick
-Salt and fresh round white pepper to taste
-Toasted pumpkin seeds (to garnish)
-Toasted pumpkin seed oil (to garnish)
Pre-heat the oven to 375̊F. Cut the winter squash in half length wise using a heavy, sharp knife. Scoop out the seeds, and drizzle the squash halves with half of the olive oil. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and place the squash halves cut side down on the sheet. Roast in the oven until quite soft, about 30-45 minutes. If using Kobacha squash, you might find the flesh much starchier than expected, and not as soft. To tell if it is done roasting, scoop a little of the flesh and if it resembles baked potato flesh, it is done.

Heat a heavy, medium sized soup pot over medium heat. When warm, add in the rest of the olive oil, along with the onions and chopped garlic. Cook until the onions become slightly soft. Add in the squash pulp, about 3 ½ cups of stock, paprika, half of the thyme, and the cinnamon stick. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Allow the soup to simmer until the squash becomes very tender, and the soup seems like it is almost pureed, about 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove the cinnamon stick, and prepare a blender.

Blend the soup on high, in batches if necessary, until very smooth. If the soup is too thick, add in additional stock. The amount of stock needed is determined by how starchy the squash is. When finished, the soup should be the consistency of heavy cream. Return to the pan and turn the heat on low to re-warm. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds, a drizzling of deep green, toasted pumpkin seed oil, and a sprinkling of the chopped, left over thyme.



Saturday, October 4, 2008

Update

Hi Everyone. As you may have noticed, I have not updated Seasonal Cuisine in quite some time. I had my baby, a little girl. Her name is Ellissa Riane Faysal. She is now a month old and is as wonderful as can be. If you would like to see pictures, go to www.coryfredbaby.blogspot.com. I will probably not update Seasonal Cuisine for quite some time, maybe another couple of weeks. We are still adjusting, and Freddy has been the main Chef in the house lately, I have been a little too busy. But please check back often.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Our Favorite Summer Dinner


This beautiful platter of summer vegetables and feta cheese has become one my husband and I's favorite summer dinners. It is so easy to do and tastes wonderful. This is a great way to showcase all those amazing heirloom tomatoes available right now at the farmers market. Make sure you use a good quality feta cheese. The one I use is a sheep milk feta made in Israel. I buy it at Trader Joe's, and it is delicious (and free of hormones, even better!!). The secret here is to keep it simple and to season to taste, that is why there is no recipe, just guidelines. Let the vegetables and cheese speak for them selves. I consider items such as high quality extra virgin olive oil and good vinegars to be seasonings, so they should be added to personal taste. We usually eat this with toasted baguette, toasted whole grain country bread, or with whole wheat pita bread. You can put the platter together ahead of time, just do not season the tomatoes until last minute, including the drizzle of olive oil.

Our Favorite Summer Dinner

For the Tomatoes
-Heirloom tomatoes of all kinds, sliced or cut into wedges
-Chopped fresh basil
-High quality extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Decoratively place the cut tomatoes onto a big platter. Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil, salt, and fresh ground black pepper.

For the Feta
-1/2 block of sheep milk feta, sliced
-High quality extra virgin olive oil
-Sprinkling of red chili flakes

Place the feta slices next to the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with red chili flakes.

For the Green Bean and Cucumber Salad
-Steamed green beans, cut into thirds (probably about 1/2 pound)
-1 cucumber, thinly sliced
-1/4 cup of quartered kalamata olives
-Drizzle of red wine vinegar (probably about 2-3 tablespoons)
-High quality extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons)
-Salt and fresh ground pepper

Toss the green beans, cucumber, and olives together. Drizzle with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust vinegar and olive oil to desired taste.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, and Olives


Here is a quick recipe to try. It screams summer, is quite fantastic, and really easy to make. Make sure to add the heirloom tomatoes right at the end so they do not get overcooked. You just want to warm them through. I used a large variety of heirlooms including Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, and Pineapple. If you live in the Central Coast area, there is a man who sells all of these beautiful tomatoes at both the Morro Bay market (Thursdays, 3-5 p.m., Spencer's shopping center), and the Los Osos market (Monday, 2-4:30 p.m., Baywood).

Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, and Olives

-8 oz dry spaghetti (whole wheat or regular)
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only
thinly sliced into half moons
-3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
- ½ cup dry white wine
-Zest of 1 small lemon
-1/4 cup kalamata olives, quartered
-2 cups roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes
-1/4 cup thinly sliced basil
-Salt, black pepper, and a pinch of chili flakes to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the leeks and a pinch of salt. Sweat the leeks until they become soft and tender, stirring frequently, about 7-10 minutes. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid too much browning. Add in the sliced garlic and sweat 2 minutes more.

While the leeks are cooking, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, or until the spaghetti is tender but al dente. Strain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water. Place the hot pasta in a large bowl.

Add the white wine, lemon zest, and kalamata olives to the leeks. Cook about 3 minutes, or until the juices in the pan have reduced by about half. Add in the tomatoes and the reserved pasta water. Cook just until the tomatoes become warm and the sauce is slightly thick. Season with salt, black pepper, and a small pinch of chili flakes to taste. Pour the hot sauce over the pasta, add in the basil, and toss to distribute. Serve hot.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer Corn and Vegetable Soup


Sorry everyone about the long pause in between postings. It may be like this for the next couple of weeks as my husband and I reach our last month of pregnancy. We are about to start month 9 and I'm finding it a little bit harder to stay focused. I have also been working on my book quite a bit, as well as a few other things, so my next couple of postings may just be recipes and not much else. Anyways, the recipe I'm posting today was something I made quite quickly with a whole lot of extra veggies I had in the refrigerator. This soup is a great way to use up all the extras that come from gardening friends. The list of ingredients is a little long, but it is very easy to make and delicious. I used my stripped corn cobs to make a light stock for the soup, but any vegetable stock can be used. Just make sure your stock is not salted. You want to do the seasoning, not the company making the stock. I also like to scrape the corn cobs once the kernels have been removed. Scraping removes the extra bits of corn still attached inside those little individual cells on the cob, and also removes a very tasty sort of corn cream that comes along with the little pieces. This step really makes a differenc in the end product, so don't skip it.

Summer Corn and Vegetable Soup

For the Corn Stock
-3 ears sweet corn, kernels removed and set aside, cobs saved
-1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
-4 cups water

Scrape the corn cobs with the back of your knife to remove the hidden bits of leftover corn kernels, as well as the creamy corn milk. Place with the reserved corn kernels. Put the cobs into a large soup pot along with the chopped onion and the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Strain and set aside to use for the soup. This should make 3 - 3 1/2 cups stock.

For the Soup
-1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter (butter is best when it comes to anything involving sweet corn)
-1 medium red or yellow onion, diced small
-2 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
-reserved corn kernels from cobs, or about 2 cups
-3 - 3 1/2 cups corn stock or vegetable stock
-1 crookneck or Gold Bar squash, diced small
-1 zucchini, diced small
-1 cup thinly sliced green beans
-1/2 cup green peas, defrosted if using frozen
-1 ripe tomato, diced small
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
-1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
-salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the extra virgin olive oil or butter in a soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add in the onion and cook until it begins to slightly soften, about 3 minutes. Add in the potatoes and cook about 3-4 minutes more. Add in the corn and the stock. Bring to a simmer, and gently cook until the potatoes become tender. Remove from the heat. Transfer half of the soup to the bowl of a food processor fitted with an s-blade. Roughly puree and add back to the pot with the other half of the soup. Alternately, smash half of the soup with a potato masher until you obtain a rough consistency, or even use a hand held blender to puree half of the soup in the pot. Return the pot to medium heat.

Bring back to a simmer and add in the green beans, squash, and fresh green peas if using. Cook about 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables become tender. Add in the defrosted green peas (if using instead of fresh), diced tomato, and fresh herbs. Heat through and season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve hot.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eggs Baked with Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Red Onions

I think eggs are highly under appreciated. They have received a bad rap for raising cholesterol, though now many studies are suggesting otherwise. I have a different concern regarding the egg; its quality. Don't worry, I'll keep it short.

Eggs have always been an important component of the small family farm. Hens not only supply a farming family with plenty of tasty, high quality protein, but also with terrific manure to fertilize growing plants, as well as some pest control. But just like dairy and meats, much of our egg production has left the small family farm to be raised by enormous agribusinesses, losing most of the beautiful qualities an honest egg has to offer. Hens no longer roam free to peck at bugs and fill up on grasses, which is what gives an egg it's bright orange yolk and omega-3 fatty acid content. Instead, they are packed into small cages and fed highly un-natural diets, making their yolks and whites pale, unhealthy, and tasteless. No wonder we insist on omelettes overfilled with meats and cheeses, our eggs have no true flavor. I truly believe an omelette should be about the egg, not the huge mess added to it. Eggs (as well as dairy, meats, and good wine), should have flavors reminiscent of the landscape in which they have been raised. There is a beautiful word for this; Terroir. Terroir means "the tastes that emerge from the natural environment where a food is cultivated" (Trubeck, A. Eating Well Magazine; 3 Questions for a Food Anthropologist. August 2008, pg 16). Shouldn't all food follow this rule? On this note, I am begging you to use good eggs. Most store bought, industrially produced eggs are not worth the $1.69 you spend. Yes they are cheap, but for good reason; they offer nothing in flavor or nutrition. Spend $4.00 at your farmers market, or $3.69 for organic, free range eggs. Forgo the hormones and antibiotics. Taste, savour, and support farmers making a difference; not only in protecting diversity and natural landscape, but human health as well. Consider the true cost of a cheap egg, which ultimately exceeds it's cheap price tag. O.k., I'll stop ranting, most of you know me well and have heard this before.

This recipe is very good and easy to prepare. I would say it easily serves 2-4 as a main dish when served with a side of creamy polenta or rice pilaf. A nice loaf of fresh, crusty bread would also be excellent.

Eggs Baked With Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Red Onions

-1 medium sized red onion, diced small
-3 small summer squash (zucchini, gold bar, crookneck...), cut in half and sliced 1/2 inch thick
-3 medium sized tomatoes, cut into large chunks
-1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
-2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-4 to 5 large, free range, organic eggs
-salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy 9 inch square ceramic baking dish, layer the diced red onion, squash, tomatoes, and herbs. Toss with the extra virgin olive oil and season with a little salt and black pepper. Place in the oven, covered, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables become tender and the tomatoes have released their liquid. Taste the vegetables and add a little more seasoning if necessary. Crack the eggs into the vegetables, letting them rest right on top (they will settle in as they cook). Place back into the oven, uncovered, and cook until the eggs reach desired doneness; about 15 minutes for a medium cooked egg. Remove from the oven, sprinkle a little fresh salt on the eggs, and serve hot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer Panzanella Salad

Panzanella salad is traditionally an Italian bread salad made with tomatoes, onions, stale bread chunks, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Some recipes call for soaking the stale bread in water to soften and then the water is squeezed out, while others prefer the bread crunchy or even toasted. Cucumbers, peppers, and other herbs may also be used.

I personally like to use bread chunks that have been tossed in a little olive oil and toasted in the oven. This allows the bread chunks to soak up the dressing and become slightly chewy. Bread soaked in water first and then squeezed out leads to a soggier salad. I also like to add cucumbers and peppers. In this recipe I used Armenian cucumbers. Armenian cucumbers are long, curled, and a very light green color with shallow grooves running the length of the cucumber. They are quite crunchy with smooth, firm flesh and thin skin that does not need to be peeled. Armenian cucumbers seem to be less watery than English cucumbers, so they do not leech lots of liquid once salted in a salad. But by all means, any cucumber will do for this recipe. I also used an Italian green pepper, which is a long, slightly twisted pepper with thin flesh and a small seed pocket. It does not resemble a green bell pepper at all, but does taste slightly similar. Italian green peppers are a bit stronger and more peppery, but with no heat. They kind of taste like a jalapeno that lacks heat. Again, any kind of pepper could be used here such as red or green bell peppers, or even a jalapeno or Serrano if you like a little heat. The only thing I ask of you if you make this recipe is to use fresh herbs and a high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the olive oil is very important since the bread will be soaking it up.

Summer Panzanella Salad

-1 small shallot, minced
-1 small clove garlic, minced
-1 medium sized Armenian cucumber cut in half
and sliced thin
-1 ½ cups mixed small tomatoes, sliced in half
-1 Italian green pepper, seeds removed, sliced thin
-1 cup toasted or stale bread cubes
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1-1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-Salt and black pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Let sit at least 15 minutes. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary, adding more extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar if desired.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mixed Summer Beans with Shallots and Pistachios


I spent the last four days at my parents house up by Yosemite and while there I went to the farmers market down in Fresno. Kind of old stomping grounds, I use to shop there for a restaurant I worked for about 5 years ago. All the same farmers and all the same great produce. I love my farmers market here in SLO, but the Fresno one does have some extras that we do not have (just yet anyway). Being so hot in the valley, the Fresno farmers market was overflowing with summer produce. Lots of tomatoes, all kinds of summer beans, okra, eggplants, basil, corn, and my favorite, watermelon (I bought one and it was delicious!). Many kinds of stone fruit including peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, and apricots. Lots of berries too. Because it is so hot, the Fresno market does not have many of the items we have year round such as carrots, beets, broccoli, and greens (there were some greens, but they were quite shabby looking), so the SLO market does have an edge. There is a wonderful organic stand at the Fresno market that sells specialty Italian varieties of produce. I bought some terrific basil, Trumpet squash, and red torpedo onions. At another stand I bought the theme of today's recipe; mixed summer beans. I purchased Romano, yellow wax, and green beans. I plan on going back this Saturday since I will be in the area again for 4th of July. I will admit, I LOVE the heat and miss it during the summer months. I love Cayucos, but it is a little cold for me.

This recipe is delicious and quite beautiful. If you happen to see Royal Burgundy beans in addition to green beans and yellow wax, buy them. They will lose a little color once cooked, but they are still gorgeous. The fresh herbs in this recipe are essential, so if you can't find fresh oregano and thyme, then use fresh parsley or basil instead, don't substitute dry herbs. Other nuts can be used as well such as walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Mixed Summer Beans with Shallots and Pistachios

-1 pound mixed summer beans, tails removed
-2 shallots, minced
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
-2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
-1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
-salt and white pepper to taste
-squeeze of lemon

Steam the beans in a steamer basket set over boiling water until tender but still with a slight bite (al dente). Alternatively, blanch the beans in boiling salted water until al dente. When tender, immediately run under cold water or shock in ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color. If using Royal Burgundy beans, the purple color will fade a bit with cooking. Set aside.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the minced shallots. Sweat the shallots until they soften and just slightly brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the pistachios, cooked beans, fresh chopped herbs, and about 1-2 tablespoons water or vegetable stock. Stir to combine and heat through, about 3-5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Eggplant-Tomato Gratin


According to Food Lover's Companion (Herbst, S.H. 2001, 3rd ed.), a Gratin is any dish that is topped with cheese or bread crumbs and browned until crispy under a broiler or in the oven. A Gratin can also refer to the actual cooking vessel of the ingredients, and is usually shallow and wide to allow for maximum surface area of crispy cheese and breadcrumbs. Either way, gratins (as a cooking vessel or as a prepared dish), are beautiful things!

In most instances, thinly sliced vegetables are layered into a shallow baking dish with herbs, seasoning, butter or olive oil, and sometimes cream or stock, and then baked until savory soft, topped with cheese, breadcrumbs, or both, and then browned under the broiler. Sometimes the vegetables can be cut in larger chunks or slices, or even cubed. Potatoes are most commonly used in gratins, but most vegetables will work. Vegetables especially suited to gratins include root vegetables (celery root is terrific), eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and winter squash. Adding cream, butter, and cheese in between layers will create a very rich gratin, while using just olive oil and softer, juicer vegetables are good for lighter, less filling gratins.

The following recipe is simple and quick to prepare despite what looks like lengthy directions. The slicing of the vegetables and chopping of herbs takes 10 minutes, and making the breadcrumbs takes 5. Use already prepared breadcrumbs if you like, making prep time even less. My recipe for garlic breadcrumbs makes more than you will need, but they freeze very well and are easy to pull out and sprinkle on almost anything baked to add flavor and texture. Top fresh tomatoes with the crumbs and broil for a great side dish, or use as a binder or soup thickener. I used 2 small eggplants for this dish weighing about 3 ounces each. I prefer small, baby eggplants or thin Asian eggplants over the large globe style; I find them less bitter and feel they have better flavor and texture. If you use a large eggplant, which is perfectly fine, you will probably need less slices to cover the bottom of your baking dish. For my cooking vessel I used a shallow Le Creuset ceramic baking dish (a wedding gift from my wonderful culinary arts students), but any shallow baking dish will work. You can also make individual gratins if you like, separating the ingredients into individual creme brulee style ceramic dishes and shortening the cooking time. The cooking time for this gratin is lengthy (most are), but necessary to create a savory soft texture and to concentrate the juices from the tomatoes.

Eggplant-Tomato Gratin with Garlic Breadcrumbs

For the Gratin
-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-8 slices eggplant, ¼ inch thick
- ½ sweet yellow onion, sliced thin
-9-10 slices fresh tomato, ¼ inch thick
- ½ tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- ½ tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
-salt and black pepper

For the Bread Crumbs
-3 slices bread, toasted until dry
-2-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 tablespoon of gratin herbs
-small pinch of salt and black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 400̊F.

Mix the chopped herbs together, setting aside ½ tablespoon for the bread crumbs.

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil all over the bottom of a 9” by 9” ceramic gratin or baking dish. Layer the slices of eggplant on top of the oil, overlapping if necessary. Season with a small amount of salt and black pepper. Spread the thinly sliced onions evenly over the eggplant. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil and half of the chopped fresh herbs. Layer the tomato slices evenly over the onions, overlapping if necessary, and drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes. Season again with a small amount of salt and black pepper, and the rest of the fresh chopped herbs. Place the gratin dish, uncovered, into the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the sides begin to brown and the eggplant begins to soften. Place a cover over the gratin and continue baking another 20-25 minutes, or until the vegetables begin meltingly soft and tender. Remove the cover and bake 10-15 minutes more to concentrate the juices. Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, grind the dry bread slices into crumbs. Add in the minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, and reserved ½ tablespoon of chopped herbs. Grind again to mix. You will have more bread crumbs than you need, so save or freeze for another use.
Turn the oven to broil. Sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of the bread crumbs over the top of the gratin. Place under the broiler and broil until the crumbs become brown and crispy, and the gratin juices are bubbling. Serve hot, warm, or even at room temperature.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Portabello Mushroom, Arugula, and Pine Nut Salad

Your probably beginning to notice that I love salads. Salads can contain almost anything you like and do not have to be restricted to just greens and chopped vegetables. Salads can be composed of cooked grains, potatoes, and pastas; they can be hot, warm, or cold; and they can contain a variety of textures, colors, and flavors. This salad in particular combines warm, cooked mushrooms with cool, spicy arugula, sweet tomatoes, and creamy pine nuts. The vinaigrette utilizes the warm juices from the cooked mushrooms to give it a depth of savoriness that you could never find in a store bought dressing.
Please do not be afraid of the ingredients list, I know it seems involved. The salad comes together quite easily and quickly. You can also use grilled mushrooms instead of baked, chopped tomatoes instead of cherry or grape tomatoes, and walnuts instead of pine nuts. Roasted and chopped red peppers would also be delicious here. Ahh, the wheels are turning and the possibilities endless. Most of the prep work can be done a day ahead, just do not combine any of the salad ingredients until last minute to keep them from getting soggy. The mushroom can always be re-warmed right before tossing the salad.

Mushrooms
-2 large or 4 small portabello mushrooms, cleaned of any dirt
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
-salt and black pepper
Salad
-2 large handfuls baby arugula
-1 large handful baby spinach
-1 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
-1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
-1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts
Balsamic Vinaigrette
-1 tablespoon strained mushroom juice
-1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
-1 1/2 teaspoons stone ground mustard
-1 teaspoon agave syrup
-3 tablespoons cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
For the Mushrooms
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the mushrooms in a shallow baking dish, gill side up. Mix together the minced garlic, chopped parsley, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Generously brush this mixture over the mushrooms, using all of it. Lightly season with salt and black pepper. Cover the pan with foil and place in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender. Strain the juice that has collected in the pan and save. Set aside mushrooms and keep warm.

For the Balsamic Vinaigrette
In a bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon of the reserved strained mushroom juice, the balsamic vinegar, mustard, and agave syrup. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, while constantly whisking, to create an emulsified vinaigrette. Alternately, combined everything but the olive oil in a small glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake vigorously. Add in the olive oil and shake vigorously again. This will not create a permanent emulsification, but it is much easier to mix up when needed.

To Compose the Salad
Slice the mushrooms thinly on a bias and place decoratively on a platter. Toss the arugula, spinach, tomatoes, basil, and pine nuts together gently. Lightly season with a little salt and black pepper. Drizzle on as much vinaigrette as you like, without saturating, and gently toss with your hands. Pile the dressed salad on the platter with the mushrooms and serve.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Lime and Peanut Bathed Soba Noodles

This dish is actually a soba noodle salad filled with crunchy vegetables, cooling herbs, and a tangy lime-peanut dressing. I just think it sounds nice to be bathed in lime and peanut! I have been making soba noodle salads for a long time, and there are so many ways to vary this one recipe. Use calcium packed almond butter or tahini in place of the peanut butter, and change the vegetables and herbs according to the seasons. Replacing part of the nut butter with a light or dark miso will give the dressing a more dynamic Japanese flavor, while leaving it as is keeps the dish on the South East Asian side.

Soba noodles are a terrific, versatile ingredient. They are Japanese in orgin, and are made from a mixture of buckwheat flour and wheat flour. Sometimes wild yam is also added. Soba noodles have a darker color and heartier flavor than traditional wheat and rice noodles, which also work perfectly in this dish. Using a thin rice noodle would be more traditional to the South East Asian flavors of the other ingredients in the recipe, but I like the additional nutrition and flavor that soba noodles offer.

Buckwheat itself is native to Russia, and the so called grain is actually the seed to the buckwheat plant which is weed like and related to rhubarb. Buckwheat is grown all over as a crop cover to replenish lost nutrients in soil. It thrives is cold climates. The sprouted greens are quite nutritious as well and make a great addition to any salad. They have a very mild, earthy flavor. The grain is very substantial and will fill you up fast. It also digests slowly, so is wonderful for anyone suffering from blood sugar imbalances. Buckwheat is particularly high thiamine, riboflavin, and other B-complex vitamins. It is also high in calcium and phosphorus, as well as other minerals, and boasts quite a high lysine content (6.1%), which is greater than any other cereal grain. Buckwheat is also considered a good blood builder, removes toxic wastes from the body, and is good for the kidneys.

Soba noodles can be used in many different preparations other than this salad. They are great anywhere that a rice noodle or wheat noodle would be used in any Asian inspired dish. I particularly love them in a hot broth with fresh basil, cilantro, and jalapeno slivers added right at the end, finished with a squirt of lime. Very tasty! For the salad, make sure your mung bean sprouts and herbs are as fresh as possible. I love mint and cilantro, but any kind of basil would also be fantastic in this dish. I use shoyu in this recipe, which is an unpasteurized, naturally fermented soy sauce, but you can use low-sodium soy sauce if you like. I also use agave nectar (a syrup made from the same plant as tequila) because of its neutral flavor and low impact on blood sugar levels. Agave can be found in any health food store or Trader Joe's, is an excellent substitute for sugar, and is much more of a whole food.

Lime and Peanut Bathed Soba Noodles
For this salad, slicing the raw vegetables thinly is very important. I suggest using a Benrinner mandolin, but a sharp knife will work just as well. I slice the carrots into thin planks on my mandolin, and them cut them into very fine strips with a sharp knife. You could also grate the carrots on a box grater, or even peel them into long strips with a wide peeler.

Salad:
-6 oz dry soba noodles cooked according to package directions and cooled
-2 small cucumbers, sliced thinly into half moons
-2 small to medium sized carrots, peeled and cut into fine strips on a mandolin
-1 1/2 cups very fresh mung bean sprouts
-6 leaves crunchy lettuce such as romaine, sliced into thin strips
-1/2 cup cilantro leaves
-1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
-1/4 cup toasted and chopped peanuts (optional)

Dressing:
-1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
-1/2 teaspoon chili paste, or more to taste (I personally like more)
-3 tablespoons agave nectar
-2 tablespoons shoyu (soy sauce)
-1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
-1 clove garlic, minced fine
-3 to 4 tablespoons smooth, organic, natural peanut butter (use more if you like a thicker, fattier dressing).

To Make the Salad:
Combine the cooked and cooled soba noodles with all of the vegetables, but not the herbs. Combine well in a large bowl and set aside. To make the dressing, whisk together all ingredients until completely smooth. Taste to adjust seasoning with agave syrup, shoyu, and chili paste if desired. More shoyu means more saltiness, and agave more sweetness. Pour the dressing over the noodles and vegetables and toss to completely coat. Add in the fresh herbs. Remove the salad with tongs from the large bowl to a serving dish or tray. Sprinkle with the chopped peanuts. Any dressing leftover in the bowl can be used on any other salad.


Sunday, June 1, 2008

New World Quinoa Pilaf

Native to Chile and referred to as the "Mother Grain" by the ancient Incas, Quinoa has been nourishing and sustaining civilizations for thousands of years. Quinoa is not a true grain in biological terms. It is the seed to a bushy plant that is a distant relative of spinach. Quinoa is used however just like most grains, and is a perfect stand in for rice and wheat. It is a small, round, flat seed that varies in colors from beige, to red, to black. It is a whole food, retaining both its germ and bran. When cooked, the germ creates a whitish ring around the quinoa with a little curly tail coming from the grain. I have been passionately in love with quinoa since the day I met it six years ago in a restaurant I worked in. I have been seeing it pop up more and more in cook books and food magazines, which is terrific as it deserves a high place in any whole foods kitchen.

Don't let the modesty of this tiny, mighty seed fool you; it is a powerhouse of nutrition. Quinoa is one of the few grains (amaranth and teff are the others), that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids. Most grains are low in the amino acid lysine making their protein profile incomplete, but not quinoa. Quinoa is high in fiber which helps to protect our bowels and heart; it is packed full of minerals such as magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, iron, copper, and manganese; it is high in B vitamins which are essential for energy production, and it is also high vitamin E, a wonderful antioxidant and cell protector. Quinoa also contains no gluten, making it perfect for gluten sensitive people. It has a rather mild flavor that is quite pleasing, which I think would make it kid friendly. Quinoa goes well with most foods, but especially South American and Mexican flavors. It has an affinity for chilies, cumin, cilantro, lime, potatoes, sweet potatoes, avocado, tomatoes, and squash. Use quinoa in place of rice for a more nutritious meal. Quinoa can also be found in flour form and can be used in place of 25% of wheat flour in most recipes. Quinoa may first be rinsed before using to remove its natural coating of saponin, which is natures bug repellent. The saponin can be bitter and soaping tasting, but I have found that it just depends on the quinoa. I always cook a small bit just to see if this is even necessary, and I usually find that it is not. Saponins are not bad for you, so it is not a big deal, it all depends on your tastes. Quinoa can be found in any health food store or Trader Joes.

New World Quinoa Pilaf
This is not a completely traditional pilaf cooking method. Normally when cooking in the pilaf style, all of the ingredients are cooked together. However, I don't like overcooked summer squash with raw potato if you get my drift, so I tweak the method a little. The quinoa itself is cooked like a pilaf, then the rest of the ingredients are sauteed on the side and folded in.

-1 cup quinoa, rinsed
-1 3/4 cups water
-1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1/2 cup small diced purple onion
-1 teaspoon fresh ground cumin
-2 small Peruvian purple potatoes, diced small
-1 cup green beans cut into 1/2 inch lengths
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 Gold Bar summer squash, diced
-2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
-salt and fresh ground pepper
-lime wedges to garnish

In a medium sized pot heat 1/2 tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add in the diced purple onion and sweat until translucent and beginning to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the fresh ground cumin and cook about 30 seconds to 1 more minute. Add in the rinsed quinoa and stir to coat with the onions and oil. Let the quinoa slightly toast, about 2-3 minutes. Add in the water, a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. The second it boils, turn down to a low simmer and cover. Cook the quinoa until all liquid has been absorbed and the germ of the quinoa begins to curl, about 15-20 minutes. Let rest, covered for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, Heat the rest of the extra virgin olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the diced potatoes. Stir often to prevent the potatoes from sticking, purple potatoes can be rather starchy sometimes and will stick easily. Cook until the potatoes begin to slightly brown and soften on the edges. Add in the cut green beans and a pinch of salt. Cook about2 more minutes. Add about 3-4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) water or stock to the pot and cover. Let steam about 3-4 minutes, or until the potatoes are almost completely soft. Remove the l;id and add in the squash and garlic. Continue cooking until the squash is just tender, as well as the green beans. Season with salt and pepper.

Stir the sauteed vegetables and chopped cilantro into the quinoa. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve with lime wedges.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Red Oak Leaf, Nectarine, and Goats Cheese Salad


I could devour a big plate of salad every single night. Salads filled with greens, vegetables, fruits, and nuts are the perfect vehicles for all foods seasonal and fresh. Every season offers fantastic choices for composing a great salad. Farmers markets overflow with all kinds of beautiful and interesting salad greens, from red leafed lettuces, butter cos, romaines, loose leaf, and arugula.

At my central coast farmers market, red and green oak leaf lettuce is in full swing. Oak leaf lettuces look exactly like their name, like large, long oak leaves. The red variety is actually almost purple in color, with the leaves becoming green the closer you get to the heart of the head. I believe salads should be simple so that the true flavors of each vegetable stand out. This also means using a simple olive oil based dressing as well. The salad below was truly inspired completely by what was available at the farmers market. The first nectarines showed up at our market about a week ago and I just had to use them. I always try to include something crunchy in my salads such as a lightly toasted nut or seed. I lightly toast nuts and seeds to preserve their precious oils and flavors. The Sherry Vinaigrette makes a great all purpose dressing.


Red Oak Leaf, Nectarine, and Goats Cheese Salad with Sherry Vinaigrette
Copyright by Correne Quigley, 2007
-1 head Red or Green Oak Leaf lettuce, roughly chopped or torn, washed, and spun dry
-2 nectarines pitted and sliced thin
-2-4 oz chevre style goats cheese, crumbled
-1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios

Sherry Vinaigrette
-1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
-1 tablespoon raw honey
-5 tablespoons sherry vinegar
-9 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and pepper

In a large bowl or on a decorative platter, place the chopped and cleaned greens in a mound. Decoratively arrange the nectarine slices, and crumbled goat's cheese on or around the greens. Top with a scattering of the lightly toasted pistachios. Alternatively, toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Be careful not to smash all the goat cheese crumbles. Make the dressing.


Combined the mustard, honey, and vinegar in a glass jar fitted with a lid. Shake well to combined. Pour in the oil and season with salt and pepper. Replace the lid and shake again to combined. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the dressing over the salad, and serve the rest on the side.

Monday, May 19, 2008

First of the Year Summer Squash and Romano Beans

Black Beauty, Gold Rush, Zephyr, Rond de Nice, Peter Pan, Eight Ball, Crook Neck, Middle Eastern; yellow, gold, black, deep green, white; long, skinny, thin, scalloped, round, trumpet shaped; only a prolific vegetable could come in such a bounty of enticing names, colors, and shapes. Summer squash, in its most general term, is a highly underestimated vegetable (or fruit I should say). I say underestimated because, like tomatoes which also have the same prolific nature, summer squash is available year round in every grocery store, yet in only 2-3 varieties. It is easy to take them for granted, as if they should be available year round. But like a tomato out of season, summer squash out of season can be watery, soggy, flimsy, and pithy, with no real flavor except that of which it is cooked in. I think my appreciation and love for all foods seasonal began with this fruit, and like so many other gardeners, it was one of the first foods I ever grew. Of course, again like everyone else, I planted about 8-9 plants thinking I could keep up with them. A truly rewarding experience as I shoved summer squash into every willing and not so willing refrigerator. My husband drew the line one night as we sat down to a dinner of sauteed zucchini, summer squash salad, and squash fritters. I am only allowed to plant 4-5 plants at the most now!

Come mid May to early June, farmers market stands everywhere are over piled with summer squash of all kinds. Look for, and even ask for, more interesting and unknown varieties such as trumpet squash (a sort of bulbed squash with a long, slender neck and golden green color. The flesh is a golden yellow with a butter flavor.); or Eight Ball (a perfectly round, very dark green ball of squash that does look quite similar to an eight ball). Don't be afraid to buy outside of the conventional zucchini and crook neck, you will be pleasantly surprised. When cooking such a tender food, the most devastating thing we can do is to overcook. Please do not overcook your squash, I am begging you! A few minutes in a saute pan is all it needs. Avoid adding extra water or too much moisture to summer squash, unless it is the form of a beautiful homemade dressing. Summer squash made into a raw salad is also a terrific way to utilize this abundant fruit. Just slice thin, or peel into ribbons, dress with a little lemon juice and a good glug of outstanding cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, a summer herb such as basil, salt, and fresh ground black pepper. A terrific side dish for a BBQ. Add a few quartered grape tomatoes and some toasted whole grain bread spread with goat's cheese for a satisfying lunch. Your options are limitless.

The recipe below contains another prolific, truly summer vegetable with a general name; fresh summer beans. In this recipe I used the very first Romano beans available. Romano beans, also known as Italian flat beans, are a delicious, meaty, tender alternative to the classic round Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake green bean. Romano beans are flat and wide, with a round bean inside, and like other summer beans and wax beans, they come in a range of greens to yellows to purples, and need minimal cooking. Look for them at your market, or even grow your own. They grow exactly like other fresh bush beans and the seeds can be found just about anywhere. Make a small spot for them in your summer garden and you will have plenty! They are wonderful with lots of olive oil and garlic, or lightly steamed and mixed with cucumbers and tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Their flavor is delicate, so keep it simple. Romano beans are also a classic addition to any summer minestrone (see the Spring Minestrone entry from Monday, April 28th).

Sauteed Summer Squash and Romano Beans with Tarragon

-1 generous tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-4 summer squash of any kind, washed, cut in half, and sliced about 1/4 inch thick
-1/2 pound Romano beans, cut into thirds
-1 large garlic clove, minced
-salt and fresh ground pepper
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon


In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. When hot, add in the sliced summer squash and Romano beans. Season with a little salt and pepper. Saute about 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the squash and beans begin to soften on the edges. Add in the garlic and saute 2 more minutes, or until the squash and beans are tender but still slightly crisp to the bite. Turn off the heat and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the chopped tarragon and serve. This is also fantastic with toasted pine nuts added at the end of the saute.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Golden Sunshine Slaw


Vibrant and colorful, golden beets and carrots are loaded with powerful antioxidants, especially beta-carotene, the vegetable form of vitamin A. Antioxidants, as well as phytochemicals, are what give colorful fruits and vegetables their distinctive colors and smells. Thousands of these chemicals are already known to researchers, with thousands more probably unknown . Plants produce these chemicals to help them fight off pests, disease, and pollution, and in turn, when we eat these foods, the same chemicals offer up the same protection for our bodies. Antioxidants and phytochemicals from whole foods are finally being recognized for their cancer fighting abilities. I say whole foods because antioxidants act differently when they become isolated in a supplement. An isolated antioxidant will not offer the same protection in supplement form as it will in whole foods form. One carrot, or one beet, has thousands of different protective properties within it, and all of them need each other to work efficiently. When one property is removed and isolated, it no longer has the help of the thousand other chemicals, and will not offer the same effective protection. Whole foods are always better than supplements.


I won't go into all the different antioxidants and phytochemicals within a beet or carrot, you will probably get overwhelmed. The most important thing to note is that all colorful fruits and vegetables are packed with these naturally occurring chemicals, and should be the backbone to any whole foods way of life. Reds, oranges, greens, purples, whites, and yellows; each color offers thousands of different protective properties. My best nutritional advice to anyone is to pay attention to the colors you eat throughout the day or week. Ask yourself, "did I eat something purple today?", or "did I have an orange fruit of vegetable?". Eating a range of colors guarantees a balance and variety of nutrients. In my perfect world, organic, in season, colorful fruits and vegetables would be the base of my food pyramid (but then again, my perfect world would not have a food pyramid! That is a different argument though).


On to the recipe! This slaw is the radiant colors of sunshine, hence the name. The colors are dramatic, the flavors bright, and the texture refreshing and crisp. Serving beta carotene rich foods along with a little fat helps the body to absorb the beta carotene more efficiently. Beta-carotene converts to vitamin A in the body, and fat from the olive oil helps to transport the vitamin A into our cells. Other fat soluble vitamins include D, E, and K. The olive oil also helps to slightly soften the fibers of the beets and carrots, as well as heighten their wonderful flavors. Fat is also a flavor transporter. If you can get hold of rainbow carrots (carrots in all different colors such as red, white, orange, and yellow) use them! Don't peel them, just give them a good scrubbing and then slice. The colors of this salad will be even more magnificent. We eat with our eyes first, so I believe food should be beautiful, and if you are using gorgeous farmer's market, in season produce, you won't have to do much to accomplish this. This slaw is great when served along side the Rosemary-Garlic Smothered Potatoes. I would say this recipe serves 2-4.


Golden Sunshine Slaw


-2 medium sized golden beets

-2 medium sized carrots

-Juice of 1 Myer lemon

-Juice of 1 orange

-1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar

-1 teaspoon agave nectar

-1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard

-1/4 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

-1/4 cup lightly toasted sunflower seeds

-Salt and fresh ground white pepper


Remove tops and woody bottoms from the beets. Save the tops for another use if desired. Peel the beets and the carrots. Using a sharp mandolin, such as a Bennriner mandolin, slice the beets into very thin circles. Make three different stacks of circles, and with a sharp knife, finely slice the stacks into very thin strips (like angel hair pasta but thinner). Place into a large bowl. Slice the carrots length wise on the mandolin the same thickness as the beets. Again, make three stacks, and slice thin to create very fine ribbons of carrot. Place into the bowl with the beets. Lightly season the beets and carrots with a little salt and freshly ground white pepper. Toss to coat.


In a separate bowl whisk together the citrus juices, apple cider vinegar, agave, and mustard until well combined. Add the olive oil to this mixture in a slow, steady stream while constantly whisking to create a semi-emulsified dressing. Pour about half of this dressing over the beets and carrots. Toss to coat. Taste to adjust seasoning of salt and pepper. Let the salad rest about 10 minutes and taste again. Add more dressing if needed, but about half is usually sufficient. The leftover dressing is great for green salads. Toss in the sunflower seeds and serve. This slaw will stay fresh about 2 days.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Rosemary-Garlic Smothered Potatoes


Potatoes are an all time American favorite, as they should be, they are native to the Americas. Even so, the potato was not introduced into North America until the 18th century. According to Elizabeth Schneider, author of Vegetables, from Amaranth to Zucchini (2001, William Morrow, pg 500), the potato took the long route to North America via Irish immigrants instead of coming straight from their native South America. There are over 2,000 varieties of potatoes grown throughout the world, yet in America, only about four are regularly grown and consumed. Fortunately, because of farmers concerned about diversity and chefs looking for more interesting vegetables to put on their menus, our potato portfolio is expanding.

Small, petite potatoes are all the rage, as well as potatoes varying in colors from red, to gold, to white, to purple. It is good to experiment with all kinds to find the ones you enjoy the most. Just because the color is pretty does not mean the flavor is all that interesting. A potatoes texture can vary just as much as its color and shape. Some potatoes, such as reds, are waxy in texture and hold their shape well once cooked. Waxy potatoes are excellent for steaming, boiling, and roasting. Starchier potatoes, such as russets, have a fluffy, dry texture and fall apart more easily once cooked. Use these as mashed potatoes, or in potato gratins where their starch content is necessary to hold the gratin together. Blue or purple potatoes are quite popular because of their unusual, interesting color. Their flavor can be quite good, and they are a little more on the starchy side. They fall apart a bit easily when boiled and turn an odd gray color, which is unattractive for a mashed or pureed potato. Use these in a mix of roasted potatoes or roasted vegetables to bring out their unique color. The distinctive Fingerling potato is also a new favorite. They are quite pricey, are always small, and have an elongated, slightly twisted shape. They come in all colors and flavors and are firm when cooked. They are great for potato salads, roasted, braised, or sauteed.

Don't be fooled by the label "New potato", which most people have come to understand as meaning any small potato. A new potato is actually the very first harvest of a potato plant while the foliage is still green. New potatoes can be be both small and mature and are easiest to find in late spring through summer at a farmers market. New potatoes will have very thin, delicate skin and juicier flesh. A potatoes natural season is late spring and all during summer, but once harvested and properly cured, they can be stored throughout the autumn and winter until the next crop arrives. This ability to store well makes the potato a great autumn and winter food when other foods are scarce.

Prepare the more unique potatoes and small potatoes simply. Their delicate flavors can be overpowered easily. Potatoes have a natural affinity for flavorful fats such as good olive oil and walnut oil, as well as almost all herbs. Just a little extra virgin olive oil, flaky salt, and parsley will make an amazing side dish out of almost any small potato.

Rosemary and Garlic Smothered Baby Red Potatoes
For this dish I like to use potatoes no bigger than the size of a golf ball, but any potato can be used, just cut them into the appropriate sized chunks. Fingerlings would be perfect for this dish as well. If you happen to come across a variety of potato called German Butterball, buy some, they are wonderful and would be great here. They have a papery skin and beautiful yellow, buttery flesh. This recipe would serve between 2-4 people as a side dish.

-15 small red potatoes about the size of a golf ball.
-4 large cloves garlic, minced
-1 heaping tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 - 3/4 cup water of vegetable stock
-salt and freshly ground pepper (I like to use white pepper)

Scrub the potatoes clean if any dirt is still clinging to their skins. Cut the potatoes in half length wise to create the most surface area possible.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add in the potatoes, cut side down, and immediately shake the pan to keep the potatoes from sticking. Let the potatoes become golden on the cut side, shaking the potatoes often to keep them loose, about 7-8 minutes. When golden, turn off the heat and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Return the pan to medium heat and add in the garlic along with a little salt and pepper. Add in the garlic and saute for about 2 minutes to soften. Add in the rosemary and about 1/2 cup water or stock. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pan. Let the potatoes cook until they are easily pierced with the tip of a knife yet still slightly firm. If the liquid in the pan dries up before the potatoes reach this point, add in the last 1/4 of liquid to finish. Remove the lid and turn up the heat to finish reducing any liquid that remains in the pan. Swirl the pan to coat the potatoes in the garlic, rosemary, and reduced liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve hot or warm.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Whole Wheat and Rosemary Crackers

Making homemade crackers is much easier than most people believe. I love to have crunchy snacks hanging around for quick eating, especially since I seem to be snacking more than usual (I think this may be due to being almost 6 months pregnant). By being homemade, I can control what goes into my crackers, which means minimal processed ingredients and no trans fats.

Below is my favorite cracker recipe. I had a craving for wheat crackers one day, threw a couple ingredients into a food processor, and these Whole Wheat and Rosemary crackers were the end product. These crackers are packed with good for you ingredients such as walnuts and flax seeds for omega-3 fatty acids, and protein; whole wheat flour for B-vitamins and fiber; and olive oil for heart healthy fat and vitamin E. You can use either golden or dark brown flax seeds in this recipe, but don't use the already ground flax seed meal that can be found in some stores, there is a good chance it could be rancid. I buy whole flax seeds and store them in my freezer so they stay as fresh as possible. Flax seeds make a great binder in most baked products, but they will lend a little flavor. Flax seeds are a great source of fiber, and an even better source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially when uncooked. Omega-3 fatty acids are very sensitive to heat. Once baked, these crackers will last for quite a few days in a zip lock bag. My good friend Cherie says they are great for back packing trips. I like to eat them with garbanzo bean or white bean hummus and sliced tomatoes when they are in season. Cut them into any shape you like before baking, and make sure to chill the dough before rolling out, otherwise it will be too sticky.

Whole Wheat and Rosemary Crackers copyright 2007 by Correne Quigley

-1 cup walnuts
-1 cup whole wheat flour
-1 tablespoon golden flax seeds
-½ tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
-Sea salt and pepper
-3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-¼ cup of fresh water, or more if necessary

In a food processor fitted with an S-blade, grind the walnuts into a fine meal. Add in the whole wheat flour, flax seed, rosemary, a good pinch of fresh sea salt, and a few grinds of fresh pepper. Grind again to mix and slightly chop the rosemary and flax seed. With the machine running, slowly add in the olive oil, followed by the water. Add enough water so that the dough just forms a ball in the food processor, about ¼ of a cup. The dough should be moist but not sticky. Form into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill until firm.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. Lightly flour a clean surface. Roll out the disc of dough to desired thickness. Thicker dough will yield softer crackers. 1/8th of an inch is about good. Cut into desired shapes, rectangles are always nice, and place on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Bake until the crackers are lightly brown on the edges, about 15 to 20 minutes. Keeps fresh for a few days when stored in a plastic bag. Great for camping trips!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Ginger and Garlic Stir Fried Snap Peas


Stir frying is one of my favorite cooking methods. It is usually quick, tasty, and interesting, especially if you are a fan of assertive flavors such as ginger, garlic, and chilies. Snap peas, and also snow peas, are both great for stir frying because they hold their shape well during cooking, are easy to cook in whole form, and are the best when served crisp-tender (tender to the bite but with a little bit of crunch still left).


Here is a quick spring pea identification lesson: Shelling peas, or English peas, are thick, full pea pods with distinctive tender whole green peas inside. Usually these peas are shelled from the pod and then used, and the pod can be used for soup. Snap peas are pods that are a little less full, and a bit smaller than shelling peas, but still contain a whole green pea inside. Both the pod and pea are eaten together as one whole unit rather than separate, and usually the pods need to be de-stringed. Snow peas are wide, very flat pea pods with just the start of green peas forming inside. These too are eaten as one whole unit, and also need to b de-stringed. Snow peas are what we typically see in Asian stir frys. Any of these peas could be used for this recipe.


The issue with stir frying is that it needs to be quick and done over high heat. This can take some practice. My advice is to have everything that will be used in the stir fry cut and ready to go before the pan even goes on the burner. Have everything close at hand so that you can go straight from one step to the next without hesitation. This makes stir frying a whole lot easier. I also feel that a gas stove is the best for stir frying. The heat can be controlled easily, and gas stoves usually have enough power to keep the wok hot. When stir frying, add the ingredients to the pan according to how long they will take to cook. For dense ingredients, such as carrots, broccoli, and onions, slice thin or cut into small florets and add in the beginning. For aromatic ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and chilies, mince and add more towards the end to keep them fragrant and fresh. Eggplant, sliced peppers, cut green beans and peas, and summer squash can all be added in the middle of the stir frying process, again, depending on what ingredients are being used. Add delicate greens and herbs right at the end, along with any sauce ingredients. Most any vegetable can be stir fried, so try this recipe with any of your favorite seasonal vegetables. some of my favorites are summer squash with the addition of Thai basil, broccoli florets, sweet potato slices, green beans, and asparagus.


Ginger and Garlic Stir Fried Snap Peas


-2 teaspoons coconut oil or olive oil (I prefer an unrefined coconut butter or oil for stir frying)

-3/4 pound de-stringed snap peas

-2 whole scallions, sliced thin

-1 generous tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger

-1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic, about 4 cloves

-3 tablespoons vegetable stock or water

-1 teaspoon chili paste (optional if you like a little heat in your stir fry)

-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

-2 teaspoons sesame seeds

-Salt to taste


Heat a large, flat bottom wok over medium high heat. Add in the coconut oil/butter and as it melts scoop the oil up the sides of the pan to coat. Add in the snap peas and stir fry continuously until the peas begin to turn a bright green and ever so slightly soften, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the scallions and again stir continuously until they begin to wilt, about 30 seconds to a minute. Add in the minced ginger and garlic. Stir fry continuously until the ginger and garlic become very fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add in the vegetable stock, stir to coat the peas, and cook for about2 minutes more, or until the peas are a crisp tender. The stock or water will help to soften the peas just a little and to moisten the whole mixture. Add in the chili paste if using. Turn off the heat and mix in the sesame oil, seeds, and salt to taste.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Hearty Spring Minestrone


A steaming bowl of well flavored broth filled with hearty beans, whole wheat pasta, and fresh vegetables; how could you go wrong? Minestrone soup is welcome at most tables, is adaptable to any season of the year, and can be a meal in itself.


Minestrone soup has many interpretations depending on geographical regions, whats available at the market, and the person preparing it. It almost always has some kind of bean, pasta, and mix of fresh vegetables. Minestrone can be finished and served with a drizzle of flavorful extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, or swirled with a pungent pesto. Any way you make it, consider the season you are experiencing, let the farmer's market inspire you, then prepare. In the summer, use a light broth with diced summer squash, fresh tomatoes, green beans, yellow wax beans, whole basil leaves, orzo pasta, small white beans, and a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. In the autumn, consider peppers, butternut squash, cranberry beans, leeks, a small shaped pasta, and a dollop of basil pesto. In the winter, go with root vegetables such as turnips, leeks, rutabagas, carrots, potatoes, celery root, hard squashes, large white beans, whole wheat pasta, and a grating of fresh Parmesan. Below is my recipe for a spring minestrone, but please, adapt to your tastes. Good vegetables in the spring include asparagus tips, cleaned and quartered small artichokes, fava beans, carrots, cauliflower, and spinach. And remember, there are many more options than what I listed above, so be creative.


Hearty Spring Minestrone


-1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

-1 leek, white and light green parts only, cleaned, cut in half, and sliced thin

-1/2 fennel bulb, diced small

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1 large carrot, peeled and dice small

-9-10 cremini mushrooms, sliced

-2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme

-6 cups vegetable stock

-2 canned plum tomatoes, diced small

-12 snap peas, de-stringed and cut into thirds

-2 large handfuls fresh spinach

-3 cups cooked, whole wheat pasta such as spirals, or elbows

-1 15oz can rinsed kidney beans

-1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

-Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste


In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add in the leeks and fennel, and sweat for about 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables begin to soften around the edges. Add in the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more. Add in the carrots, mushrooms, and chopped fresh thyme, and cook until the mushrooms begin to wilt and release their liquid, about 3 minutes. Add a good sprinkling of salt and pepper. Add in the vegetable stock and diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, or until well flavored and the vegetables are tender. Add in the snap peas, spinach, pasta, and beans. Bring back to a simmer and cook until the snap peas are tender but still bright green, about 5 minutes more. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. Finnish with the chopped fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil or sprinkling of Parmesan.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Savory Roasted Spring Vegetables


Roasted Vegetables are my quick fix dinner. Their versatility makes them appropriate for any season, they are easy and quick to prepare, delicious, and beautiful. All you need are sturdy seasonal vegetables, a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of herbs, salt and fresh ground pepper, 30 minutes in the oven, and you have a great side dish or even full dinner. I don't know anyone who does not enjoy roasted vegetables.

Since they can be suited to any season, it is hard for a dish of roasted vegetables to become boring. Here is quick list of options for each season, along with good accompanying fresh herbs:

Spring
  • Beets, Cauliflower, Carrots (whole when small), New Potatoes, Baby Artichokes, Fennel, Spring Onions, Butter Turnips, Whole Red Radishes, Asparagus.

  • Herbs: Thyme, Oregano, and/or Savory added at the beginning. Parsley, Tarragon, Chive, and/or Fennel Frond added when the veggies come out of the oven.

Summer

  • Summer Squash (just wash and cut in half), Fennel, Potatoes, Peppers (in large chunks), Eggplant, Corn Cob Pieces, Garlic Cloves, Halved Plum Tomatoes.

  • Herbs and Seasonings: Thyme, Marjoram (really good with summer squash), Minced Garlic (the garlic works here because most summer vegetables need little roasting time), all added at the beginning. Parsley, Basil, Cilantro, added at the end.

Autumn

  • Sweet Potatoes, Any kind of Potato, Winter Squash (butternut chunks, acorn round, kobacha, sweet dumpling, pumpkin), Beets, Cauliflower, Carrots, Chunks of Peppers, Eggplant, Whole Garlic Cloves.

  • Herbs and Seasonings: Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Marjoram, Whole Bay Leaves, Fresh Ground Dried Chilies, Fresh Ground Cumin, all added at the beginning. Parsley and Basil added at the end with Eggplant and Peppers.

Winter

  • Potatoes, Onion Pieces, Winter Squash, Sweet Potato, Celery Root, Turnips, Rutabagas, Whole Garlic Cloves, Carrots, Cauliflower, Cabbage Wedges, Fennel (if you have good winter weather).

  • Herbs and Seasonings: Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Whole Bay Leaves, Paprika, Mustard, Winter Savory, all added at the beginning.

I'm sure there are other options I have missed, so be creative. It is hard to mess up roasted vegetables. A few rules to follow are; always cut the vegetables in larger chunks so they do not dry out, drizzle with olive oil for moistness and flavor, salt right before putting in the oven (if you add salt an hour before roasting, the salt will pull out moisture from the veggies, making them crisp up more in the oven, which can be good for potatoes if you like oven fries), and cut everything the same size so they cook in the same amount of time. Roast vegetables between 350 degrees (for harder, denser vegetables that need longer cooking) and 400-425 degrees for shorter cooking vegetables.

Savory Roasted Spring Vegetables

-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

- 1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into large florets

-3 medium sized carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise

-2 large spring onions, cut in quarters through the root

-3 red or golden beets, peeled and cut in quarters

-2 bulbs fennel, cut in quarters through the root

-1 tablespoon fresh chopped savory

-salt and fresh ground pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Toss all the cut vegetables, except the beets, in a large bowl with the olive oil, most of the savory, a sprinkling of salt, and fresh ground pepper. Pour out onto a sheet tray lined with baking paper and arrange in a single layer (use two sheet trays if you need to). Toss the beets with the left over savory, a little more olive oil if the bowl is dry, and salt and pepper, arrange on the sheet trays as well, away from the other vegetables (the beets will turn everything red or yellow). Roast in the oven, stirring about every 10-15 minutes, until tender and caramelized, about 25-30 minutes. Serve hot.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Berries n' Cream Steel Cut Oatmeal


Breakfast has always been a bit of a challenge for me, actually eating it that is. I am now finally in the habit of eating breakfast every morning. One of my most favorite breakfast foods is steel cut oats, which are more nutritious than quick cooking oats, and definitely more nutritious than instant packaged oatmeal. The more you process a food, the less nutritious it becomes. But, instant oatmeal is always better than a sugar cereal, so I am not denouncing it.

If you have the inclination, and time, steel cut oats are worth it. They make a substantial breakfast, have a wonderful chewy texture, and sweet, true oat flavor. They are not hard to prepare by any means, they just need to cook for about 20 minutes with occasional stirring. Steel cut oats, or Scottish oats, are whole oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces. Oats are great for helping to lower cholesterol (as is any whole grain), are high in soluble fiber (which helps to remove cholesterol), have good amounts of B vitamins, calcium, and protein. Oats are good anytime of the day depending on how they are prepared. In countries where oats are an important food source, places such as Ireland and Scotland, oats are eaten as a simple porridge just flavored with a little salt and fat. Oats have a natural affinity for many foods. Examples are berries, bananas, apples, pumpkin or butternut squash, nuts and seeds, cinnamon, and root vegetables. Berries happen to be my favorite, and since organic strawberries have shown up at the market, I can't seem to get enough of the following recipe; Berries n' Cream Steel Cut Oatmeal. I don't actually use cream, but you can if you like, it will be much richer than my version. I like to use a thick, homemade almond milk, or full fat soy milk. If this was to be prepared on a weekend, say for company, I would set out a basic, piping hot pot of cooked steel cut oats and put all the garnishes on the side, like a buffet, and let everyone make their own. It's hard to say how much milk and sweetener a person likes in their oatmeal, it's quite personal actually.When finished, this oatmeal turns a beautiful purple and smells heavenly with berries. This oatmeal is a great start to any day. The below recipe serves two if you have a hungry husband and are yourself pregnant, or 4 with other foods along side, like toast or scrambled eggs.

Berries n' Cream Steel Cut Oatmeal

-1 cup organic steel cut oats
-3 cups water
-pinch of salt
-4 cups of berries, fresh or frozen (defrost before hand)
-soy milk, almond milk, cow's milk, or even real cream (you will need much less if using real cream)
-real maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, or brown rice syrup

Place the oats, water, and salt in a 4 quart saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Simmer the oats, stirring often, until quite tender and the oatmeal is very thick, about 20 minutes. Set up a large bowl of the berries, a pitcher or two of chosen milks, and a bowl of chosen sweetener/s. Ladle the very hot oatmeal into each bowl and let everyone garnish their own. Alternatively, add the berries to the oatmeal and stir in while still on the heat to slightly soften the berries. Serve as above. I like to add frozen blueberries and blackberries to the oatmeal while still on the heat, stir in to defrost and soften, stir in strawberries and maple syrup off heat, and then top with a good pouring of fresh, homemade almond milk.