Firecooked!
Firecooked!

Happy New Year!!!


I love the holidays, and the special foods that I only eat once a year (sugar cookies!!) but I’m ready to get back to normal eating. I thought I would share a recipe that I think of as a holiday recipe, but really it’s a good winter recipe, especially for those of us that live where warm beach days are a possible in the winter.   The directions below give a really nice presentation, but don't let that stop you from roasting some extra squash and throwing this together for lunch.  I also suspect that dried cranberries or cherries would be a good stand-in for the pomegranate seeds. 


Winter Squash Salad

½ cup pecan halves
1 medium butternut squash
Olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (optional)
½ cup pomegranate arils
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt, Pepper
Baby arugula (3 – 5 ounces)

Heat oven to 425F (use convention roast if you have it).

Toast the pecans (ok if oven is not to temperature) on a pan lined with foil. They will cook quick: 3 to 5 minutes if oven is hot. Watch closely! Let cool then wrap in the foil.

Peel and cube the butternut squash. Microwaving the whole squash for a couple of minutes will make this easier. Place a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan, put the squash on the paper. Drizzle with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with a bit of salt and toss with your hands. Roast until cubes are soft with some brown spots. This should take 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes and whether you are using convection or not. Sprinkle with thyme when they come out of the oven. Let cool.

If you have a whole pomegranate, here’s a trick to seed

Make the sherry vinaigrette: put mustard, sherry, about a ¼ teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper in a container. Using an immersion blender (or whisk), slowly add the olive oil. You won’t need all of this.

If doing ahead, put everything into baggies and/or containers and refrigerate. Will hold for a couple of days. Let everything come to room temperature when you are ready to make the salad.

Assembly: put a base of arugula on a platter, dress with a bit of vinaigrette (easiest to use your hands for this). Dress the squash with more vinaigrette (easiest if squash is in a baggie, just add ~ ¼ cup and work it around)… taste to get the right amount. Put the squash over the arugula. Top with the pomegranate seeds and pecans.

The Traditional Norman Thanksgiving



The essential foods:  Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, and wine. Of course there is pumpkin pie for dessert. Plus some random vegetable (because some of us don't count green bean casserole as a vegetable), and most years, some type of roll. We all do some parts ahead of time, then at the end its 3 or 4 cooks in the kitchen, mashing potatoes, making gravy, getting out serving dishes, doing the vegetables.  If I had to pick one thing to be most thankful for, it's having a family that has fun doing this together.

This year, the random vegetable was carrots. I gotta say, it went over way better than the Brussels sprouts I did a couple of years ago. It is based on a recipe from November 2009 Gourmet but of course I didn't exactly follow it, so I promised to write it down. The original recipe called for a lot more sage, so feel free to be heavy handed with it if you really like sage.  And while this went really well with turkey, it doesn't need to be saved for a holiday dinner.

Holiday Carrots

6 – 8 servings

2 pounds carrots, quartered and cut in 2-3 inch lengths
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons butter
6 ounces chopped shallots (about 4), diced
Salt (about ¼ teaspoon), Pepper (about ½ teaspoon)
1 heaping tablespoon chopped sage
1 heaping teaspoon chopped thyme

Cook carrots in stock until just tender, about 15 minutes. Do ahead: Set aside to cool, then store in refrigerator until ready to finish. If not doing ahead, cook the carrots in a 12 inch skillet, when done put in the serving bowl and set aside.

To finish: melt butter in 12 inch skillet, add shallots, salt and pepper then sauté until shallots are translucent (5 to 10 minutes). Add the broth from the carrots, and let reduce until just a little liquid is left. Add the herbs, then the carrots. Cook until the carrots are heated through (1 to 10 minutes depending on the starting temperature of the carrots.

Discovering a classic....


I have discovered an old classic this summer: Ratatouille.  I find myself making it almost every week.  A full five years after the movie came out. A movie that touted not eating garbage (and yes, one of my favorite movies of all time).   Many ratatouille recipes call for peeling tomatoes, salting eggplant, roasting and peeling peppers and making enough for a small army, with an extended baking time. Which seems to be a lot of work, especially since I’m the usually the only one around that wants a dish with eggplant and tomatoes. So I have been making a less refined version, just chopping and sautéing. Yes, you have bits of tomato peel, but this is something I will make for just me when I’m home alone. I’m not too exact on amounts, using what looked best at the farmers market... or what needs to be eaten now. Sometimes I’ll use cherry tomatoes, last time I only had one tiny zucchini. Time before, I used some yellow summer squash. Sometimes I'll add a few mushrooms, or some fresh corn.  It’s all good. I do typically use the skinny Japanese eggplant, because the skins are more tender and they are less seedy. And while I say this serves 2, I can easily finish off most of this recipe all myself. And after making this about 4 times, I’m thinking maybe I do need to make a big batch and freeze some, for the days when zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes won’t be so plentiful at the farmers market. And someday for friends, I might have to try this version from the new French Market Cookbook, no matter how much trouble it is!

Ratatouille
Serves 2

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
½ onion
2 small zucchini
1 small bell pepper (preferably red or yellow)
2 Japanese eggplant
1 large tomato
1 – 2 cloves of garlic
Salt, pepper
Herbs… Basil, oregano, parsley (whatever you happen to have and like)

Have all vegetables out and washed. Put a 10” sauté pan on to heat over medium heat and put in a good film of olive oil. Start chopping vegetables in large dice (about ½ inch to 1 inch chunks) and add to pan as they are cut. Mince the garlic and add. Add a big pinch of salt (maybe as much as a ½ teaspoon) and a good grind of pepper. Turn burner to low or medium low, and let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finish with fresh herbs.

Serving suggestions:

As a side for grilled meat. Or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Add some cooked chickpeas for a one-dish meal.
Over polenta with cheese on top.
Brown chicken thighs, then add and cook with vegetables, like this
Chop vegetables a bit finer and put over pasta, like this
Spread or dip… puree with some mustard, balsamic, hot sauce. like this

Let them eat cake!


My mom asked me a while back, is a little sugar bad for you? My opinion… a little sugar is OK. The problem is that it’s too easy to eat a lot of sugar, and not even realize it. In the US, the average adult get 13% of their calories from sugar, kids get 16%. How can this be? 

Here's how:  Chris (yes, I'm making this all up), is an engineer, trying to be healthy and train for a ½ marathon. Chris works long days, but makes a point to avoid the free soda’s at work, donuts and other sweets that show up in meetings, and hits the gym after work at least 3 days a week. A typical day … Breakfast was a bowl of granola (and since granola is pretty dense, only a ½ cup, way less than the normal serving size of normal cereal), a ½ cup of blueberries and vanilla soy milk. And coffee, black. Lunch was brought in to a meeting at work (budgets are tight, so it was from Subway), so she had a Black Forest Ham Sandwich plus Sunchips. Chris was good and didn’t have a brownie or a Coke, but instead an apple brought from home for dessert. Mid-afternoon (knowing it would be well after 5 before getting to the gym), she had a strawberry yogurt, one of the "healthy" snacks from the vending machine.  On the way home after the gym (now 7pm) Chris thought Chinese food would be good as she hadn’t had much in the way of vegetables, so a quick stop at Pei Wei was made for chicken lettuce wraps and Kung Pao chicken. It was a big serving, so she only had about ¾ of it. Not a bad day, right? Total calories for the day was about 2200 (about right for her size and activity level). But (and this could mean a big gut), the added sugar this one day is about 90 grams.. that’s almost ½ a cup of white sugar.  This is not counting the sugar in the fruit, or the lactose sugar in the milk.  It comes to about 16% of the total calories. This is not a little sugar, and this is avoiding some big and easy adders (had she had the coke and brownie, that could have doubled the amount of sugar for the day. And while there is on-going debate on the role of saturated fats, meats, salt, and fewer vegetables in our diets, every study about “modern” diets includes shows that huge additions of simple refined carbohydrates like sugar is the constant factor in increased rates of tooth decay, diabetes, and heart disease.  National Geographic has recently done a great article on sugar, here's the link.

Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work to get food that is low in sugar. You need to read labels, check restaurant web sites or use other calorie counters (I used MyFitnessPal to get these numbers for the about story). It’s helpful to cook food yourself so you know what is going into it. You need to ignore the advertising that makes sugar filled foods sound healthy.

I cook most of my food, and carefully watch things like bread and make sure I buy “unsweetened” versions of things like yogurt and soy milk. But I don’t completely shun sugar, because I think a little is OK, at least for me. Most days it’s a little granola on my morning yogurt, and often a square of dark chocolate for dessert. And once in a while, I’ll go all out and make cake!

This is my current favorite cake… Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake. It’s inspired by a recipe in Olive and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox (a pretty fabulous cookbook). I like this because its simple and I almost always have the ingredients around to make it. Although I don’t normally have crème fraiche around, I do recommend getting some (Trader Joes has it) for serving. And only 2 tablespoons of added sugar per serving.

Lemon Olive Oil Pound Cake

Although I don’t normally have crème fraiche around, I do recommend getting some (Trader Joes has it) for serving.

Serves 8

1 cup flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour (or just use more regular flour)
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup of sugar
¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons
¾ cups extra virgin olive oil

For serving (optional)
Crème Fraiche
Fresh berries (add a teaspoon of sugar and let sit for an hour or so to help release the juices)

Heat oven to 325F (or 300F convection bake). Very lightly oil a 9” cake pan (or 9” deep dish pie pan). Cut a round of parchment paper to fit into the bottom, stick it down with the oil, and add a touch more oil to the top.

Mix together the dry ingredients in a small bowl.

Beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl on high speed for 5 minutes. The mixture will get pale and thick. Add yogurt and zest, mix until blended. Then add oil in a steady stream with the mixer on medium speed. Add dry ingredients and mix on low until just blended.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, cake should be golden and center springs back to the touch. Let cool for a couple of minutes in the pan, then put on rack to cool completely.

Serving suggestion… Top with a smear of crème fraiche and a spoonful of berries.

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs, and Bees


There has been a lot of news lately about Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), where honey bee colonies mysteriously die off. It’s been getting worse over the last 6 years or so, and the scientists have not been able to pin down a specific cause. Theories include pesticides, mites, viruses, nutritional deficiencies, and cell phone signals. The latest research is showing that it might actually be a nutrition issue. Comercial bee hives are typically fed high fructose corn syrup in the winter so that more of their honey can be harvested. Numerous studies show HFCS doesn’t kill bees. But when bee’s eat HFCS instead of nectar, they are not getting an enzyme that comes in the pollen that tags along with the nectar, and this enzyme strengthens the bee’s immune system so that it is better able to resist the effects of pesticides, mites, and viruses.  

What does that mean to us? It means that when you start stripping down foods and providing just the base macronutriants, like protein or carbs or fat, you lose potentially important food components. Things often present at very low levels, with unknown interactions with the complex biology of a human being. It’s why I strive to each whole foods. Processed food may not kill you, but you are not eating the things that keep you healthy.

Roy makes wonderful waffles every so often… they are a real treat with berries and maple syrup… or honey!

Buttermilk Waffles

3/4 cup flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup peanut or other neutral oil
2 eggs

After getting out ingredients, plug in waffle maker.

In a large bowl with whisk, mix dry ingredients. Add buttermilk, oil, and eggs and whisk until thoroughly blended.

Pour batter into waffle maker (ours takes a 1/2 cup), close and cook until the light goes out or until done. Remove with a fork and eat immediately.

What’s in a name?


My diet doesn’t have a name. Like Atkins, or vegan, or gluten free. Something that you could easy say when offered the cake (store-bought with frosting that you suspect is made from Crisco and Ivory dish soap)  at the office birthday party… “I’ll have to pass… I’m on Atkins (or I’m vegan, or I’m doing gluten free now)”. Everyone understands (or at least acts like they do), some are even sympathetic. But what about me? To say “I don’t eat foods loaded with refined sugar and artificial flavors and colors because they give me a headache” is too much information; to say “I only eat cake made from scratch using real food ingredients” is too elitist; to say “I’m not hungry” is probably a lie. It’s not that I want sympathy (and I know I’m not getting any when it comes to how much I eat), I just don’t know how to not be rude in these situations. I usually take a piece, eat a little out of the middle, push it around my plate, and try to casually put it down out of site. It would be so much easier to say “I’m sorry, I’m on the cabbage diet… that doesn’t happen to be sauerkraut cake by any chance?”.

My brother posted a photo from Food Inc, which said:
EAT LESS CRAP:
C: Carbonated drinks
R: Refined sugars
A: Artificial sweeteners and colours
P: Processed foods

EAT MORE FOOD:
F: Fruit and veggies
O: Organic lean protein
O: Omega 3 fatty acids
D: Drink water

This is as close as I have seen to a short description of my diet. Maybe we could abbreviate it, ELC-EMF. Even shorter would be better. Maybe the “ELF” diet???
So if you hear me say “sorry, I will have to pass on the cake, I’m an elf”, you’ll understand.

Bread can be a wonderful, no-crap food. Do not mistake this for Wonder Bread, or for that matter, most bread (even ones that say whole grain) that you find in a grocery store. I like to have bread with soups, and last year discovered soda bread. The base is a traditional Irish bread, which just uses baking soda for leavening. It comes together fairly quickly, from things that I normally have around. This recipe was inspired by a couple of blogs, 101 Cookbooks and River Cottage, but I have cut the size in half. This is just the right amount for 2 of for dinner, with a couple of left over slices (which are pretty wonderful when toasted with a bit of jam). Use whatever nuts or seeds you have around. I generally use a mix of flour, about a 50g all purpose, the remainder white whole wheat. But if I have some rye flour around, I’ll use50g AP, 100g WWW, and 100g rye.  And really, its much quicker to weigh everything to make this!  

Soda Bread

Seed mix (need 6 tablespoons total):
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
Other options: sunflower, poppy, fennel

Dry Ingredients:
250g / 8.8 ounces / 1 ¾ cups flour (all purpose and/or white whole wheat, or part rye flour)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon fine sea salt

210g / 7.4 oz / 7/8 cup plain yogurt or buttermilk
A bit of milk or buttermilk or yogurt

Oven: 400F. Prepare baking sheet with a small piece of parchment paper.

Mix the seeds in a small bowl.

Mix dry ingredients in bowl with whisk, add all but 1 tablespoon of the seed mix . Add yogurt or buttermilk, stir. It should form a soft dough, just this side of sticky (see below for a picture).  If necessary, add another tablespoon or two of yogurt or milk. Put on a lightly floured surface and knead lightly for a minute, just long enough to pull it together into a loose ball but no longer (I sometimes just do thing with my hand in the bowl).

Put the round of dough on prepared backing sheet. Mark a deep cross in the dough with a sharp knife, about half way through. Brush with milk and press in remaining seeds. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (for a double recipe, 40-45 minutes), until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath.

Cool on a wire rack. Best eaten while warm with butter, honey is optional. If there is some left over, makes great toast the next day. After a day or two, the pumpkin seeds will get a green layer… this is not mold, just a reaction with the baking powder. It’s still good to eat.


The importance of Fat



Last year, I talked about balancing your diet, with the intention of doing stories on Protein, Fat, and Carbs. I only got as far as protein. Time to continue the story, with Fat. We have a love-hate relationship with Fat. We love high fat foods but told not to eat them by the likes of the American Heart Association, the USDA, and Cooking Light Magazine. We have been led to believe that Fat will make us fat. But it turns out that Fat is a very complex character. Studies are now coming out saying Fat (at least the kind in olive oil and nuts) is good. There has been a lot of bad science, but it is slowly getting better. Just replacing fat in our diet with simple carbs doesn’t work to reduce chronic diseases like diabetes or heart problems.   There are lots of reasons for this (like we eat more calories total), and simple carbs (without fat) don’t fill you up. And to make fat-free taste good, the product is spiked with emulsifiers, gums, salt, and artificial flavors. Everyone agrees that some fat in your diet is good. Some vitamins are fat soluble, so some fat on vegetables, like an oil based-vinaigrette on salad or bacon in green beans, makes the vegetables more nutritious. The problem with fats is that they are a bunch of different things, and very quickly a discussion of fats brings back nightmares from organic chemistry class. Things like saturated fats, mono-saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, trans fats, omega-3. -6, and -9 fats, long chain and short chain fatty acids. Let’s look at the current fat stereotypes, and try to make sense out of them without needing a degree in organic chemistry and biology.

The good fats: the one that wear white hats. These are fats found in unprocessed foods, like nuts and avocados, olives, salmon and other fatty fish. This is pretty well accepted by everyone. Extra virgin olive oil is also in the category of good to eat.

The easy to love fats with a bad reputation: Bacon, butter, eggs, steak. These get labeled as saturated fats, and we keep hearing they are bad for us. But unfortunately there are not many good, controlled studies which show whether a long term animal-fat laden diet is good or bad. There are population studies that show that red-meat rich diets are bad (but these diets are also likely rich in simple carbs, as in do you want fries and a large coke with that burger?). There are also population studies that show that traditional cultures based on hunting or dairy have good health. Some studies (but not all) show some people that go on very low carb diets (i.e. a high fat Atkins Diet) have improved blood sugar, lower cholesterol, and can reduce weight. These fats are the most complicated. There are a bunch of different structures for these fats, and the make-up of these fats depends on what the animal ate. For example, a cow that is raised on grass has more good omega-3 fats than a cow raised on grain (organic beef and organic milk comes from cows that are raised on grass not grain). Meat and dairy are not empty calories, in addition to protein they have a load of good vitamins and minerals. Personally, I count the fat in meat as a good fat, but with limits. Pesticides tend to accumulate in fat (which is true for humans as well as cows and fish), and modern practices for “factory meat” are pretty gruesome and include some less than desirable components, like routine antibiotic use as well as other chemicals like arsenic in chicken feed. And likely soon, GMO modified salmon. I usually try to eat organic or wild meats and dairy, that tends to limit how much I eat due to availability and cost.

Next in the list is the “polyunsaturated fats”, like canola oil. While has been generally considered a “good” fat, scientist is being to suspect these are problematic when consumed in large amounts, primarily because it throws off the balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats (the more omega-6 fat you eat, the more omega-3 fat you need). Also, they are made from GMO modified crops and are processed like a Hollywood starlet to make them palatable. It’s usually easy to replace these with olive oil. Oils are empty calories, but we don’t eat them in isolation. Oils are a carrier for something else, and need to be looked at in context of what they are mixed with… raw vegetables in a salad or French fries? A bit of oil in granola, or pseudo-butter substance on movie popcorn?

Next are the rest of the vegetable oils (like corn and soy). These are the cheap fats. They get credit for not being a saturated fat, but it’s not clear that saturated is a bad thing. Like canola, they start with GMO plants, then are processed with nasty chemicals (which are mostly removed). They commonly reside the ingredient lists of processed foods. Personally, I try to avoid these as much as possible.

Last, there is the bad-est fat of all: synthetic transfats. This one is sneaky, because as long as there is not too much, foods can be labeled “no-trans fat”. Look for “partially hydrogenated” oil, in the ingredient list. They show up in G-rated foods, like Skippy Peanut butter, and many varieties of Girl Scout cookies. Avoid entirely!

Around the world, healthy diets range from 10 – 40% or more fat (1). Some diets among hunter-gathers (like The Inuit) are almost 75% fat… and didn’t cause heart disease, obesity, or other problems we now associate with fat.

I know for me, a diet of at least 35% fat works for me. I eat low fat yogurt and cottage cheese, full fat cheeses (you don’t need that much), lots of nuts, plenty of avocados (right now, we are getting Fuente’s at the farmers market). Lunch is frequently a salad dressed in olive oil and lemon juice. I sauté vegetables in olive oil (and occasionally bacon or duck fat). I eat a variety of meat, including fish, chicken (with skin), beef, elk (which has virtually no fat), plus some bacon and salami. I think where you really get into trouble with fat is when you combine fat with simple carbs, like French fries, bread, and most any dessert.. portion control is key.

I will finish with a high fat recipe, a salad! This is my interpretation of a dish we had at one of our favorite restaurants in Scottsdale, FnB. The tarator has a Turkish origin, the recipe I used as inspiration was in kilograms and “tea glasses”. It’s similar to a Greek cucumber and yogurt salad (Jajoukh) but with carrots.

Carrot Tarator with Beets

Cook the beets however you like. I generally peel, quartered put in a vacuum bag then cook boiling water for about 15 minutes. You could roast them (like in this salad), or even steam if you like.

Serves 2 as a main dish salad, 4 – 6 as a starter

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces grated carrots (about 2 large)
12 ounces Greek yogurt (use at least lowfat, whole milk is better if you can find it)
¾ teaspoon salt (more to taste)
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 small clove garlic, minced and mashed.

Quartered, cooked beets lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt
Roasted walnuts
Fresh dill or other herbs

Heat ¼ cup oil in small skillet over medium low heat, cook carrots for about 15 minutes (don’t brown). Let the carrots cool. Meanwhile, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, yogurt, salt, sugar, and garlic in a medium bowl. Add the cool carrots. To serve, spread about ½ inch deep in a shallow serving bowl (need about 9” diameter), top with beets, walnuts, and dill.

Just 2 things...

I like to focus on what TO eat, as when you get into what NOT to eat it always seems so judgmental.  Or elitist.  And for the most part if you fill yourself with good stuff, you won’t eat as much bad stuff.   The only problem is that there is an entire industry trying to make bad stuff look good.  Not only to taste good, but even to seem healthy.  

If I had to pick just 2 things to eliminate from the diet of all my friends and family, it would industrial corn and soybeans.  In the US, corn and soy (unless organic) are mostly grown from genetically modified (GMO) seeds which are scary on several fronts (environment and health .. click this link for a long explanation), are subsidized by the government so they are cheap, and can be processed into a wide array of foods, many of which are on my “NOT to eat” list.

If you eliminate corn and soy, it takes out a lot of known junk foods: everything that has high fructose corn syrup (soda, a lot of cookies and breads, some crackers, some chips).  It also takes out one of the widely acknowledged evil foods, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (the source of trans fats), and many of those unpronounceable ingredients in processed food:  Dextrose, maltodextrin, modified starches; sorbitol and xylitol and other artificial sweeteners.  

But it also takes out most meat: chickens, beef, pork are all fed a meal that is primarily made from GMO corn and soy meal (as well as other scary things, like antibiotics and arsenic).   One way around this is to eat organic meat.  Yes, you will pay a premium for this, but at least it is becoming more available.  But I’m willing to pay more (and eat less meat) from the reduced risk of antibiotic resistance bacteria, higher omega-3 fats from a grass based diet, and just some of the nastiness of industrial meat production.  Not to mention the issues from GMO foods.  The other way around this is to eat wild game.  I’m am fortunate to have some hunters in my family, and right now, a nice supply of elk.  

I’m still learning to cook very lean meat like elk. Grass fed beef also tends to be lean and sometimes tough.  Last week (those several days of honest to God freezing cold weather in Phoenix) I made up this mushroom soup, and added the elk at the very end, so it was just barely cooked.  It came out very nice.  This would also work well with grass fed beef.  



Mushroom Soup with Elk

Serves 4

1 package dried mushrooms (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions, halved and sliced (moon shapes)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ pounds mushrooms, halved or quartered 
½ cup wine
1 quart beef broth
1 – 2 cups of additional broth, mushroom water, or water
½ cup “10 min Barley” ** or other cooked or quick cooking grain
1 teaspoon fresh thyme or other herb
½ pound elk or other lean red meat, thinly sliced

** The barley is a new item from Trader Joes...  its dry, but precooked.

If using dry mushrooms, soak in a cup of boiling water.

Heat the butter and oil in a large pot, add onion slices and salt.  Saute until the onions are a bit browned (can do in 10 minutes over medium heat, but need to watch and stir often so as to not burn, or can do low and slow in 30 – 40 minutes).  Add garlic and mushrooms, cook until the mushrooms start to give up their liquid.  Add wine, scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.  After the wine has reduced a bit, add the beef broth.  If using the dried mushrooms, chop and add, also add the soaking water (make sure to not get any grit).  Add more broth or water to achieve the desired “brothiness” for the soup.  Add barley.  Bring to a boil, cook for about 10 minutes or until the grain is done.  Add thyme and meat, stir to distribute meat.  Let soup heat a bit, but don’t bring back to a boil.  Serve.

Happy New Year, and get your hand out of the bag


Happy New Year! I have to admit, I’m not the resolution making type. But the new year is a good time to think of changes to make, new things to try. You know I’m a fan of small changes, and I more and more believe that to maintain a healthy weight, the key factor is good habits (which I need to get back to after a somewhat gluttonous week or so!)

If you want to try to change just one habit, here is a recommendation: Don’t eat out of a bag. I know, this might seem almost un-American, as so eloquently stated on the Cobert Report.  But to help your mind make a connection with your stomach, make sure that you see what you eat.  If you want some chips, get a bowl, dish some up, put the bag away. If you get some fast food, take everything out of the bag before you eat it.

If you would like to try one new thing, start thinking of vegetables as being the main dish of a meal, the meat and starch as being a side. I find this thinking helps me keep the vegetable inventory under control. And helps me eat that half plate of veggies every meal.

For an example of a good vegetable main, I am sharing the recipe that I made for our Christmas dinner (yes, there was turkey to go along with it!). I adapted it from the December Fine Cooking issue, where I changed out onions for leeks (because I had a bunch of leeks), half and half instead of cream, and fresh (whole grain) bread crumbs instead of Panko. And re-wrote the instructions so the made better sense to me. So I don’t think I’m starting the year by violating copyrighted material.

Carrot and Sharp Cheddar Gratin

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 leeks, diced about ¾ cup
Salt
½ cup half and half
1 heaping teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pepper
1 ½ lbs carrots, peeled, cut cross-wise if large, in ½ inch pieces

2 ounces sharp Cheddar, grated

Crumbs:
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 ounce fresh bread crumbs, ~1 slice of bread
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

Heat oven to 350F. Oil a 7x11 baking dish (or similar).

Heat oil in 10 inch skillet or medium sauce pan, add leeks and salt. Sauté until leeks are starting to brown, about 7 minutes. Add half and half, mustard, and pepper, stir well with wooden spoon to get any browned bits. Add carrots, bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender-crisp, about 10 minutes.

Mix all the crumb ingredients together in a small bowl.  (side note - the food processor does an excellent job of making crumbs... Any bread will work, as long as its not too sweet, as it will brown too quickly)  

Pour the carrot mixture into the prepared baking dish, scatter Cheddar over the top, then top with bread crumbs. Bake until the carrots are tender and crumbs are golden brown, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let rest a bit before serving.

Less is more

First: yes this ironic coming from me. But with 2 kitchens, I have discovered something: you might have enough stuff in your house to equip 2 kitchens.  Sure, there are a few things you will want to duplicate, because they are perfect and you use them everyday.  But beyond the basics, having more stuff in your kitchen will not made you cook more. Or be a better cook.  In fact, having more stuff will slow you down. If you have to dig through the utensil drawer to find your favorite spatula (and in those of you fortunate to have large kitchens, look through 3 utensil drawers to find that spatula), it delays getting dinner on the table – no matter how many time savings gadgets are in that drawer. 

So apply those same rules that you are supposed to use for your closet:  if you haven’t used it in a year, get rid of it.  Yes, make exceptions for those special event type pans, but don’t put them in prime locations.  If it doesn’t fit (your dishwasher, your lifestyle, or your cupboard), find it a new home.  If you never run out of something because they are all in the dishwasher, you probably have too many.   If you love a pan but don’t use it, try using it differently.  For example, I received a really nice ceramic pie pan as a gift.  I loved it.  But it was a little deep for a pumpkin pie. Apple pies have been replaced by apple galettes in my kitchen.  It moved to the 2nd kitchen and gets used for quiche and cakes (since I don’t have quiche or round cake pans), used for serving, used for holding breading for chicken. It even has been used for pumpkin pie.  It does the work of 5 different cooking tools!

Don’t stop with the pots and utensils.  If there is food that has been in your house for over a year … realize it needs to go, no matter how healthy it is (or was), how enticing it looked at the store, or how well intentioned a gift it was.  If you have to dig through your freezer and dig through your cabinets to find what you need to get dinner on the table, dinner will take longer to make. 

The real irony:  Having fewer options will make you a better cook.  If you cook the same things over and over, you get good (and fast) at fixing that thing.  If you don’t have a pan or ingredient the recipe calls for, you will learn to be creative.  If only I was good at applying this logic to my closet. 

I will close this rant with a simple recipe that I learned from my mom. 

Ice Tea:  

Use whatever tea you like.  I generally use green tea, and sometimes mix green tea and ginger tea.  This works for black tea too.

6 – 8 tea bags (depending on how strong you like your tea)
2 quarts of water

Put the water and tea bags in a pitcher.  Put in the refrigerator.  The next day, remove the tea bags.  The tea is ready to drink. 

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