Friday, May 6, 2011

There's an App for That; Brussels Sprout & Artichoke Pasta

I recently got a new smart phone (Droid Epic nee Galaxy S) and as one is apt to do, I've been exploring the various and plentiful applications available. One nifty free app I found is the MyFitnessPal Calorie Counter. Its a daily food diary that tracks calories consumed, calories burned via exercise.  When I first launched it I entered in my age, weight, height and weight goal (for me, weight loss) and how much exercise I was willing to commit to a week.  It takes that information and calculated how much I should be eating for my goals and how long it will take.  Each day I enter in my foods consumed and exercise done and it tracks my daily progress.

Its got a vast food data bank accessible by typing in a foods name or description, or you can scan its bar code and it will auto-fill the info. Foods and personal recipes not in its bank can be added manually.

It  reminds me of the Weight Watchers tracking system, except this based on calories instead of points and of course, this was free which is a huge plus. Plus its in my phone which means no having to carry around a little pad and pen.  Also I like that it calculates the nutrition facts of my recipes and my daily food intake - I don't have to think about or remember any points. And it lets me know how I'm doing towards my goal - one day when I consumed a rather low number of calories it excitedly proclaimed "if everyday were like today you'd weigh [12 pounds less] by June 5!"

I tend to use programs like this like a personal video game - the goal is to get through the day under the allotted calorie intake number.  Doing things like exercise that burn calories are like finding a hidden bonus within the game.  Weight loss is like advancing to the next level, and as calorie intake levels get lower as I progress its like advanced levels getting more challenging.  

Because its tracking my calories, I'm more inspired to add the low calorie bulk of fruits and vegetables to meals. The other night I made stuffing from a mix and to stretch the recipe and lower calories I added 3/4 of an apple, 1/4 of a red onion and 4 mushrooms all finely chopped.  This upped the fiber and lowered the fat per serving.

Last night for dinner as I kept adding foods to my recipe I watched the calories go up.  This prompted me to double the pasta, and just go ahead and deem the recipe two servings.  It worked out perfectly, and my meal was satisfying and filling and I have a second meal waiting in my fridge.

I used Piazza Italia pre-seasoned sliced artichoke hearts I got in the frozen section of my local grocery store on a whim, but a can or jar I'm sure would work fine as well.  I'm only mentioning the brand because I'm including the nutrition facts as determined by my smart phone app, and those were based on the specific ingredients I used. 

Brussels Sprout & Artichoke Pasta, serves 2
6 fresh Brussels sprouts
1/4 red onion, diced
1 package Piazza Italia pre-seasoned sliced artichoke hearts
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
salt, pepper, assorted seasoning
2 servings Barilla Plus penne

Rinse the Brussels sprouts and chop in half.  Arrange in a roasting pan along with the onion and drizzle with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and season generously.  Toss for even coating and bake for 25 minutes at 350.

Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a small pot or pan and add the artichoke hearts.  Heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally, about 5-8 minutes.  Add to the Brussels sprouts, mix everything together and leave in the oven (turned off, but still plenty hot).

Boil water and cook your pasta.  Drain.  Remove the veggies from the oven, add 1 tbsp butter and the pasta and mix well until the butter is melted.  Season a bit more if necessary.


Calories          420
Total fat            21.8 g
Cholesterol       15 mg
Sodium         1232.2 mg
Potassium          0.1 mg
Total carbs        48 g
  Dietary  fiber   10.5 g
  Sugars              4 g
Protein              14 g
Vitamin A            8.5%
Vitamin C          60.5%
Calcium              4.0%
Iron                    18.7%

Monday, April 18, 2011

CSA 29: Mustard Green Empanada

The U.S. is known as a cultural melting pot, New York City especially. And within NYC, it’s Queens that holds rank as most culturally diverse. It been said "if a place exists, someone from there lives in Queens". And they probably have a restaurant, or at least a bodega that imports products from their country of origin.

I've lived in NYC my whole life, and the vast majority of that was in Queens, where I still reside. I love my city like a family member; it is so a part of who I am. And I do especially identify with Queens (although while I do have at times a bit of an accent, I reject the annoying Queens speech habit of constantly asking & then answering questions to make a point. Why? Because it’s moronic).

And one of the best things about culturally diverse, working class Queens, is the food. I grew up exposed to all sorts of interesting foods, from all sorts of places and oh, how I love most of them. I often remark there are only 3 things I won't eat: green beans, eyeballs and olives. There's stuff I don't prefer of course, and combinations or preparations I tend to not like, but pretty much I'll try anything edible at least once. Just last week at an almost no-English Korean restaurant I ate unidentifiable sausage accompanied by slices of beef intestine and heart. Korean food is chock full of delicious and often unidentifiable vegetables as well, last week's dinner no exception.

Recently I used the last of my frozen CSA greens, blanched & frozen last autumn. I had 2 cups of mustard greens and limited other ingredients on hand. I felt like I was channeling Chopped, the show where chefs are given a basket of random ingredients and challenged to make a meal of them. So I made what can only, in my opinion be described as a Queens fusion dish. Channeling the cultural influences found along Northern Blvd, the main thoroughfare that runs east and west of my home, I made Greek inspired empanadas. They were awesome. A juxtaposition of Europe and the Americas, healthful and decadent, easy but multi-step.

I used low fat feta crumbles and pre-made empanada disks but I suppose one could make their own dough. And while I used mustard greens, certainly any greens (chard, spinach, turnip greens, etc) can be substituted, just make sure if they start out frozen that you defrost them but don’t add them to the egg hot, otherwise you’ll end up with bits of scrambled egg in your empanada (scrambled egg empanadas are awesome, just perhaps not in this recipe).

Mustard Green Pie Empanada
2 cups chopped, cooked mustard greens, cooled
1 egg
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1 tbsp diced onion
Salt & pepper
3 empanada disks (defrosted enough to work with)
Oil for frying

Sautee the onions in a touch of the oil for a few minutes to soften. Put aside for a moment to allow to cool. Heat your oil.

In a small bowl mix the egg, greens, feta, seasoning and onion together well.
Arrange your disks on a work surface. Using tongs to help avoid excess moisture, divide the greens among the disks. Pinch them shut, allowing any renegade excess liquid to drip out before making the final pinch. Deep fry until golden brown, and then allow to cool & drain on a cloth.


(For best enjoyment, perhaps try some Queens-centric music as an accompaniment. I tend towards rock like The Ramones and KISS but certainly other classic pop genres have also hailed from mighty Queens, such as Louis Armstrong of jazz fame, folk rockers Simon & Garfunkle, and rap/hip-hop trend setters LL Cool J and Run DMC, to the more recent American Idol hopeful Pia Toscano.)

Friday, March 25, 2011

No bake, guilt free, pie

By most popular usages of the term, sugar free, fat free pudding is "guilt free". In fact its not only guilt free due to its sugar free, fat free status - it also delivers a serving of milk, a good source of calcium, vitamin D (if fortified milk) and lean protein.

But that's not guilt free enough. OK its not "bad" for you, and its even sort of good, but I like to live by a 2 positive/1 neutral (or 3 positive/1 negative) rule. That is to say a prepared food should have 2 pluses going for it for each neutral. In this case, its only 1 plus (milk) and 1 neutral (fat free).  I can’t really consider any laboratory creation, as packaged, powdered, made with unpronounceable ingredients product to be “good” for you.

So inspired by personal rule and my flavor selection (cheesecake) I made a healthy no bake crust for myself. It’s something I've been working on for a while now and I think this time I pretty much have it down.  Honestly, I like it better then the modern classic graham cracker crust most people use.

And I believe it happens to be gluten free.  I’m not on a gluten free, or even low gluten diet, but gluten is something many people have to worry about so I thought this distinction was pretty nifty.

I use 5 minute oats and slivered almonds. I don't think either make a big difference but thought it worth mentioning (although for a truly gluten free version, use oats you know for a fact to be gluten free as I’ve read some conflicting info).  I toast the oats in my big cast iron skillet, dry. And I use XlyoSweet sweetener, a low calorie sugar alcohol made from the fibrous part of plants (corn cobs and birch trees, YUM!) The flax gives it a nice nutty flavor, which blends well with the almond and of course increases the healthful factor significantly.

My raisins were kind of old so I soaked them in hot water for about 5 minutes. The moistness is key. Definitely strain them though, if you soak yours. Moist is good, too wet is bad.

The "cinnamon mix" is a blend I keep on hand at all times. Its 3 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp cloves, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp salt. It’s great to use just about anytime, for savory or sweet foods, and really added that extra something to this recipe.

No Bake Crust
1/2 cup 5 minute oats, toasted
1/4 cup almonds
1 tbsp flax meal
1 tbsp sweetener
1/2 cup raisins
Sprinkle cinnamon mix
Pinch of salt

Put the dry ingredients in a food processor and process for about a minute. Add the raisins & process for another minute or so. Press into custard cups.

Fill with instant pudding, prepared as directed on the box, or any pie filling appropriate for a no-bake pie crust that you might like. 

It’s so good, and it’s actually good for you, delivering whole grains, healthful oils, fiber and protein. The raisins keep it sticky and moist as well as adding to its sweetness and the toasted oats and flax make for a good depth, with the smooth almond flavor to balance it all out.

Friday, March 18, 2011

St Patrick's Day

This year was the first in more then I'd care to admit that I missed the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade. I was bummed to say the least. It was a long day at work, and I had a headache and I tore my skirt. I went home tired, paradeless.

I needed to at least have a good, and St Patrick's Day inspired, dinner to restore my spirits. But not the fatty, salty Americanized popular fare: no corned beef for me, thanks. It’s a silly tradition - in that it’s not a particularly Irish food. Go to Ireland and try to find somewhere that serves corned beef & cabbage. You won't find it... Although as fatty and salty as it is, I wouldn't blame you for trying pretty hard. Real Irish food is awful. Any society that was happy to eat only potatoes was not coming from a place of great culinary tradition. There is a reason why you never hear much extolling the greatness of Irish Cuisine. Heck even Irish eateries in the US serve American food like burgers and grilled chicken Caesar salad. And before you get all huffy thinking "no! They always serve traditional Irish shepherd's pie!" I ask you think about what a "shepherd" is... They aren't shepherding cattle to make pie with ground beef like the American’s do. They herd sheep.

But true Irish shepherd's pie with lamb isn't as good as American shepherd's pie with beef, because somehow the Irish, with their magically undelicious cooking skills can make awesome lamb taste downright awful.  And check the ingredients label on that “Irish Soda Bread” you picked up at the grocery store.  Does it list yeast?  Yeah?  Then it is not actually traditional Irish soda bread, which is leavened with baking soda.  It’s simply another example of Americanizing, and improving, traditional Irish poison food.

The Irish do make one thing perfectly though. No American, or any other culture’s for that matter, versions comes close. I am of course talking about Guinness.

Give me a tall glass of black with a creamy head on top, any day. I love most beers and can always happily find one to suit my mood, and meal, if I'm eating while drinking. But if a place has Guinness on tap I look no further. Hands down, it’s my all time favorite. And I’m not alone – Guinness is and has long been one of the most popular beers on the planet.

And handy fact – not only is it an excellent source of iron, Guinness, ounce for ounce, is a light beer. It's got less calories then a Bud or Coors, Corona or Miller. And its not because it’s a stout, most stouts are very caloric. Heartland Brewery, which has locations throughout NY, has a wonderful oatmeal stout, as does Murphy's, an EU brand (its "Irish Stout" but owned by a Dutch parent company, Heineken). Both are super high in calories. But not so Guinness.

I made a marinade out of one of my Guinness Extra Stouts - a thoughtful gift from my beau the first time he came to my home, but I prefer Drought; Guinness is stout enough without the extra.

While my chicken marinated I boiled some cubed potato. I dredged the chicken at the last minute. It formed a lovely crust but it all fell off so I'm not sure if it was a good idea or not, but then again it shielded the chicken itself from the cooking surface of my lovely cast iron skillet, resulting in a soft, moist, evenly cooked chicken with no tough exterior. The flaked off flour crust tasted like crunchy chicken skin, which was nifty and gave me something to munch on while I made my gravy.

I strained my potato & pan fried it along with the chicken. After the chicken & potato were cooked I deglazed the pan with some Guinness and thickened the gravy with slurry made with Guinness.

And then finally I made myself a beautiful black & tan. It wasn't my cleanest line ever but it was a decent effort. I used a Sam Adams dark lager, because that's what I had, but ale would be traditional. I personally think Killian's and Guinness make the best black & tans, and certainly the prettiest, but really feel free to use whatever beer you like for your “tan” layer.

I make my black & tan with a special wide flat Guinness spoon, with a handy notch to steady it against the glass, but any spoon will work. First pour in your lighter beer. Fill the glass half way. Don't worry if there's a head on it. Balance your spoon on the edge of your glass, concave side down, curved side up. Slowly pour the Guinness over the spoon so it floats on top of the first beer. Take a moment to appreciate its beauty before drinking.

Guinness Chicken with Potato
1 bottle Guinness Extra Stout, divided
Several splashes hot sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
Salt & pepper
Skinless chicken breast
Whole wheat flour, divided
Butter & olive oil
2 small potatoes, cubed

To make the marinade whisk together some Guinness, oil, hot sauce, brown sugar, salt and pepper.  Add your chicken and let sit.  Chop your potatoes and boil them in salted water.  Melt some butter in some oil in your skillet over medium high heat.  Take the chicken out of your marinade and dredge both sides in flour, then add it to the pan.  Strain your potatoes and add them tot eh pan as well.  Let them all cook together, occasionally stirring/flipping the potatoes so they brown evenly, and flipping the chicken to allow for cooking about 7-9 minutes each side.

Once you have removed the chicken and the potatoes from the pan, pour in some Guinness and use a spatula to move it around, scraping up any yummy bits stuck to the bottom.  In a small bowl mix a small amount of Guinness with a few spoonfuls of flour to form slurry.  Add this to the simmering Guinness in the pan, stir and allow to cook several minutes until a nice thick gravy has formed.  Salt to taste.

Pour your gravy over your chicken and potatoes and make your self a black & tan and enjoy. 

It’s not “traditional” Irish food, but its Irish inspired.  And unlike actual Irish food, it’s edible.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CSA 28: No Guilt Pasta

Last night was pasta again, but this time no guilt. Along with the standards of [high protein] pasta, tomato sauce and grated cheese, I included my seasonal veggies. One red turnip was chopped and boiled with the pasta and a serving of curly leaf kale and baby spinach was mixed into the sauce. I also threw in some not so fresh herbs that were in the fridge too, since they really needed to be used.

I tossed the kale into the boiling water for the last minute of the pasta & turnips cooking. Stirring the pasta and vegetables, it looked so fresh and tasty - I considered for a moment not adding tomato sauce, of just enjoying it as it was. But no, it needed the tomato.

I realized then, in my reaction, the importance of preserving summer fruits. I had so many tomatoes last season and I didn't learn to can, which bothered me (and is certainly on next summer’s agenda). But no worries, Classico (one of the few sugar free commercial pasta sauces out there) is readily available in nice reusable mason jars, so I can still grab some of summer, albeit a bit processed. Winter vegetables are so repetitive, so slow cooked, so starchy, so solid.  Even winter greens like kale, is a tough, heavy duty vegetable compared to
delicate summer produce.  Summer vegetables are lighter, fresher, juicier. After weeks of turnips and potatoes and beets and carrots and sweet potato, I wanted a vegetable that started off squishy.

Plus adding tomato sauce adds healthful bulk to the meal, making it heartier, and more filling while adding nutrients.

I mixed the pasta, the veggies, the sauce, some herbs, and some freshly grated Parmigiano- Reggiano cheese into one big jumble. It was delicious.  And easy.  And carried no guilt over the huge pile of vegetables in my ‘fridge.

No Guilt Pasta
1 serving pasta
1 turnip, chopped
Bunch of curly kale, stemmed & chopped
Handful baby spinach
Herbs (thyme, sage, parsley)
Salt & pepper
1 cup tomato sauce
Fresh grated Parmigiano - Reggiano cheese

Boil pasta and turnip in lightly salted water. When they are just about done, add the kale so it gets about a minute or two to boil. Strain. Add sauce to the pot, over low heat. Add herbs, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Mix in pasta and veggies. Mix in cheese. Serve.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Restaurant Review: Bradley Ogden, Las Vegas

I spent the weekend in Las Vegas. Not my first visit to the fine city and surely not my last. It was a quick trip, taking advantage of a three day weekend.

I traveled with my beau, Matt, who had never been to sin city before. Like all tourists we each had an agenda of "must see" places and plenty of "would like to see" alternatives. For him, number one on the "must visit" list was The Gun Store, a firearms store with an indoor range and package prices for trying out the guns. I shot a glock handgun and an AK47 semi automatic assault rifle... Which really isn't much different then shooting an old school .22 rifle (my gun of choice). It’s easily clear why it’s such a popular militia gun - light weight, easy to aim, and easy to shoot. It was fun that it was a pink AK47, and adorned with a Hello Kitty sticker (to discourage men from opting for the steeply discounted Ladies Package). Matt also shot an AK47 (although not the pink one) and another machine gun, a SAW. Gun guys apparently shy away from "cute" when comes to firearms.

My one "must" in Vegas was to dine at a celebrity chef's restaurant. And oh the choices we had! Well over two dozen famous eateries called to me and I dragged Matt over to peruse the menus at almost all of them. Some I rejected on price alone, like 3 Michelin Star Joël Robbuchon's place at the MGM ($155 per person prix fixe (before wine, tax or tip) for 10 courses was no doubt a steal for quality but a bit too pricey for my budget) some I rejected based the chef’s home base (I can eat at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain in NY, so Mesa Grill in Vegas just didn't make the priority list). And I rejected Thomas Keller's Bouchon, described in Las Vegas magazine as "as close to perfection one can get" simply because I'd been there before (although I assure you, the afore mentioned quote is the gospel truth). Other's on the chopped list included Guy Savoy's (another 3 Michelin Star chef), Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak ($92 Wagyu steak is no doubt delicious, but a bit pricey and anyway, I ate at Craftsteak when it was in NYC). Emeril Lagasse bugs me on TV so we passed on him and Mario Batali's place just didn't call to me. I'd been to Todd English's Olives on my first visit to Vegas years ago and found the menu featured too many of the Mediterranean fruit.

I decided on Bradley Ogden. I'd heard of him and tend to prefer his culinary emphasis on fresh & seasonal foods, but me being a diehard New Yorker and Mr. Ogden being a California chef, I'd never tried his food before. The 3-course, $55 pre fixe didn't hurt the decision making process either. I was flip flopping on choice right up to the last moment as we walked past restaurant after restaurant on our way to dinner. But ultimately I stuck it out and we went to Bradley Ogden’s.

It was the right choice.

The restaurant was gorgeous in an elegant, understated way, with dark wood & natural stone - a nice contrast to the artificial over opulence of faux white marble that makes Caesar’s Palace, where the restaurant is located. The staff, including our waitress and the (female) sommelier, were dressed in men's style suits, complete with necktie. Another nice contrast to the world immediately outside the restaurant's walls, where bikini clad Pussycat Dolls danced in cages over the slot machines and cocktail waitresses in leotards & bolero jackets serve drinks to gamblers.

We were taken to our table and greeted by a very friendly waitress who chatted with us briefly about NY (she apparently had lived in Kingston for several years). We ordered our appetizers and entrees and drinks - Syrah for me (I had to remind myself: in Vegas California wine is a green choice) and Diet Pepsi for
Matt. Big points from him on getting Pepsi instead of Coke. And points to our waitress for never letting him find the bottom of the glass - refills appeared as soon as his soda level reached about an inch.

I was given a sample sip of wine before my glass was poured - a practice I'd never experienced when ordering by the glass.

Before our first course came out we were treated to a tiny beet something, a muse of the chef. It came on a small square spoon-like thing that confused us.
The treat itself was too small to use a fork with, too squishy and complicated to pick up with our fingers and the serving dish was too deep and wide to eat directly off of. I looked around, saw no one was watching and then suggested we just lick it off. Inelegant perhaps, but an effective way to tackle the task. It was delectable.

Then came our first courses. For me Bradley Ogden’s "signature Ceasar salad" - which consisted of six full Romaine leaves, each individually dressed and then stacked and toped with two perfect parmesan slivers. Homemade croutons were scattered around the leafy tower. Matt got the twice baked Maytag blue cheese soufflé. Two smooth creamy disks with cranberry relish and walnut brittle. It was strong start.

Next, entrées. For me roasted salmon over lemon rosemary gnocchi and tons of tiny long stemmed mushrooms and pearl onions. When ordering the waitress had mentioned the salmon would be medium rare, almost seeming rare. I was very agreeable to that. What came out though... It was the smoothest, most perfectly (and evenly) cooked salmon I have ever had. The consistency was like custard and the flavor hovered between raw salmon and fully cooked, but in a way different then a typical "rare". The gnocchi added a lemon compliment but in a rich, savory way, and the mushrooms were delicate and mild.    It was the perfect salmon dish.

Matt opted for the Duroc pork loin - a generous serving of two boneless loin chops in a pool of garlic cheddar cheese sauce with broccolini and spaetzle. The pork was seasoned and grilled with a delicately pink center, and all the rich flavors made for a hearty meal unlike what one tends to think typical of fine dining, but a welcome addition to a busy day and chilly February weather.

Dessert was bananas foster cake with banana ice cream and German chocolate mousse. Both were beautifully presented so much so that we actually paused for a moment to just look at them. It was the first course we thought to photograph, although the previous ones had been perfectly nice plating. The sommelier had recommended a dessert wine to go with my bananas foster - a banana muffin and dollop of banana ice cream on top of a fudge sauce and doused in bananas in caramel sauce. It was a lovely amber liquid with slow legs and tasted like something in between a port and a brandy; it was the perfect choice. It added a new dimension to the dessert.

The mousse was a dark oval encased in a perfect fudgey frosting (how did they plate that?) and was as rich and sweet as it looked. It was garnished with a dark chocolate straw.

At this point we were full and satisfied and truly in awe of how good our meal had been. And then came along our waitress with a huge grin and another plate.
Two shot glasses filled with butterscotch pudding, whipped cream and a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds were irresistible despite us being ready to burst from the feast we'd just experienced. It was smooth, creamy and mild, delicately sweet.

And thanks to the prix fixe, and that Matt only drinks soda, the bill was down right reasonable.

I don't know if Mr. Ogden was cooking that night or not but the food certainly confirmed all the numerous awards displayed directly outside the restaurant (I guess any place with a filled (and current) trophy case should be excellent).

Thursday, February 3, 2011

CSA 27: Chicken & Potato in Sage White Wine Sauce

Last Tuesday, dinner was big bowl of Pasta Guilt. But not for the reason you might think. Or at least not the "pop" reason. I am not a demonizer of carbs.  Our brains run on carbohydrates, they are the most important part of our diets (well, after water). I eat high protein pasta anyway.

No, Pasta Guilt could be replaced with Broken Oven Blues. I had several pounds of potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, beets and other root vegetables. And not just any root vegetables, but local seasonal organic root vegetables. And not only did I have all those root veggies, I knew I was getting more that night. And more I got, 21 pounds more! (My mom took some, or at least plans to.)

But root vegetables are best baked. Yes I can, and do, boil potatoes. And I sauté them. And I put them in the slow cooker. But really, without an oven I'm stalled.

My range still works, thankfully. And eventually my oven heats up... It just takes 5 hours or so. But really, its 5 hours before I even start cooking, and who's got that kind of time?

So I had a big bowl of pasta and tomato sauce for dinner. And it was high protein pasta, so it was a pretty well balanced meal. I also actually measure out my pasta and only ate one serving. (My trick is to place 7 identical containers out then to evenly divide the 7-serving box of pasta among them. I'll eat one, cover the other 6 and store them - already portioned means no cheating or laziness next time.) And despite the guilt of eating pantry foods while fresh veggies beckoned, it was delicious. I stirred in a nice dollop of fat free ricotta cheese to up the decadence factor.

But by this week, I've settled into ovenless potatoes. I made some more sweet potato bread by splitting the baking over a few days: bake the sweet potato a bit one day, then some more the next day, then make bread. And while I was baking the potato for bread, I baked an extra for future eating, just to have one cooked.

This time I did boil my potato. And I fried my potato. I quartered 5 small potatoes in salted water, while grilling a piece of chicken and preparing the sauce ingredients. It was an incredibly quick meal to cook and seemed fancy but was quite simple and one of those meals where it was all done at the same time (I wrote the recipe to reflect the order I did things in to get it to time perfectly). I used chardonnay as my wine for no real reason except that I had an open bottle. I used whole wheat flour, because it’s all I stock in my kitchen. It tasted fine, but no doubt while flour would form a prettier sauce.  And if you don't have sage, I bet fresh rosemary or thyme would taste just as good in this recipe.

Chicken & Potato in Sage White Wine Sauce
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
5 small potatoes
1 bunch fresh sage
Olive oil & butter
Adobo (all purpose seasoning)
White wine

Salt & boil a pot of water. Heat contact grill & season chicken. Quarter potatoes, into even, easy to eat sized pieces, add to water. Boil. When the grill is ready, start cooking chicken. When potatoes are fork tender, drain. Place back on heat and add the olive oil & butter and toss the potato to coat. Let the potatoes fry in the fat for a few minutes, tossing occasionally. Chop the sage leaves (dispose of the stems). Remove the potatoes onto a plate, leaving all the fat in the pot. Add the sage. Add a few spoonfuls of flour and stir. Let cook, stirring constantly for a minute or two. Add a few generous splashes of wine and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Season with salt. Stir and then let simmer a few minutes. Place chicken on top of the potatoes. Pour sauce over the whole thing.

No pasta guilt here… but maybe a bit of butter guilt.

Monday, January 24, 2011

CSA 26: Sweet Potato Bread

There are many reasons I joined a CSA. Certainly my health was a major reason. But the health of the planet was another. Organic farming is healthier for the land and eating locally and seasonally is an easy way to reduce my carbon footprint.

My CSA is just about 100 miles from my home, which for most modern, and certainly city-dwelling locavores, is considered a gold standard radius for local eating. Sure some extremists might have a smaller radius, but really 100 miles is pretty tight. I try to get as much food from within this range as possible. But I'm not super strict; I will expand my radius as needed, while always bearing it in mind. So I will always choose New York apples and avoid Washington. I favor New England maple syrup over Canadian, and Florida citrus and avocados over their Californian cousins. There are a few items I will make exceptions for (Guinness for example) that simply aren't available in local form. But to a large degree I do make some culinary sacrifices.

I will not buy Chinese garlic for example. And my banana and pineapple consumption has taken a major hit. I will eat these things if served to me - I did not hesitate for example, recently cutting into and savoring the Honduran pineapple presented to me. But I do not buy them anymore.

Mostly I'm happy with my choice to live like this. After all, why have morals if you aren't going to live by them?

But sometimes, I really miss bananas. Banana is one of my favorite foods. Raw banana, banana in cereal with milk, banana & cinnamon in oatmeal, banana bread, banana pancakes, banana and marshmallow fluff moon pies, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, banana pudding parfait, banana smoothies, banana ice cream; Oh how I do love banana.

But bananas are foreign fruit and I've made a moral choice. So no, I have no bananas today (or tomorrow, or the day after).

So here I am, in a mid-winter funk, thinking I need to get my diet in order, and faced with a fridge full of sweet potatoes and the looming knowledge that in just a few days, I'll have a whole new batch of winter veggies. And it occurs to me - banana bread is just a basic baking powder bread (as opposed to a yeast bread) with a mass of sweet squishy banana added. So why wouldn't sweet potato work? It is also sweet and squishy.  And I was right, it does work. So I made myself some healthful, delicious, moist, sweet potato bread, the perfect breakfast solution for a busy week.

I roasted my sweet potato first (bake at 350 until they start to ooze), and scooped the insides out and mashed them before adding the other wet ingredients. For my seasoning blend I used a kitchen staple I whip up: 3 teaspoons cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/2 teaspoon cloves and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. I always have this blend on hand for breads, muffins, oatmeal and sweet potato or pumpkin dishes.

While my love for banana bread is in no way diminished, or forgotten, this bread is a tasty alternative. It’s got the same moistness and same level of sweetness as banana bread. And it’s reassuring to my diet that it’s loaded with whole grains and the loaf as a whole has 4 servings of vegetables in it. A couple slices with fresh salted butter are a quick easy on the go breakfast.

Sweet Potato Bread
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oats
1/4 cup flaxseed meal
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinn-blend

1 egg
2 sweet potatoes, baked, peeled & mashed
3/4 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix dry stuff in a big bowl. Mix wet stuff in a small bowl. Add wet to dry and mix well (it will all mix in, no matter how dry & doubtful you may find it at first - keep mixing). Pour into a greased loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

(Almost the) Best Whole Wheat Bread

I grew up eating homemade bread. It was delicious, but it was also so not like everyone's at school. It was a love-hate relationship.

Both my mother and my grandmother made bread regularly.  I remember having all sorts of homemade breads, rolls and biscuits. I learned at a very young age how to cut a straight slice of bread to make a sandwich. I am one of those people who can say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” and truly mean it as a compliment.  But there is a joy to hand slicing homemade bread: a thick slice is a small meal in of itself, especially with a layer of butter or a drizzle of honey.

I had someone say to me a few years ago “you make bread?  I never knew you had a bread machine.”  They were dead serious.  It just never occurred to them that bread could be hand made. (Surely they just never thought of it, since daily bread pre-dates the industrial revolution by thousands of years.) I’ve always known the simple acts of mixing and kneading and rising and punching and rising and baking.

I have several bread recipes. A favorite is from a recipe card printed "From the recipe file of Helen Griffin" (my mother) with the recipe for Best Whole Wheat Bread in my grandmother's handwriting. I've made it, it is a very familiar bread, certainly a recipe they both used, or at least very close to it. That's a cool thing about it - it is the best tasting whole wheat bread, but it’s also an easily modified recipe. I adjusted down for size and had to alter some ingredients due to what I had on hand. When I made it last I accidentally tripled the yeast I meant to use (whoops!) and my oven got pretty wonky on me as far as heating up, but it came out ok.  Below is with the proper amount of yeast.  To make oat flour, put 5 minute oat meal in a food processor, blender or mini-chop.  It’ll turn in to flour in about 45 seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together:
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar

Mix well and set aside. It’ll smell yeast-y, this is a good thing.  In a big bowl, mix:

2 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flaxseed flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt

Then in a small-medium bowl, mix:

1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil

Add to the flour, along with the yeast, and mix well. Towards the end, it'll be hard to think you can keep incorporating the flour, it'll just be a big doughy ball, but keep trying, it'll all mix in.

Turn out onto a floured board, flour your hands and knead for 2 minutes.

Put into a clean bowl, bigger then the dough ball. Place in a warm spot, cover with a clean cloth (I use a linen napkin) and let rise about 45 minutes to an hour; it will double in size.

Punch down, roll into a loaf shape and place in a bread pan. Punch a bit more. Let rise, covered, again.

Place in a cold oven and turn it on to 400°. After 15 minutes reduce to 350° and "cook until done" as the recipe card says. The old way to tell is to knock on the loaf, if it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Try not to eat the whole loaf at once.  This will be difficult.