Archive for the ‘Healthy’ Category

Diet Philosophy and Kickass Oatmeal

Monday, February 9th, 2009

oatmealI’ve been trying to migrate my family’s diet from an embarassment of delicious-but-naughty riches to one that’s healthier, but still delicious. The best way I have found to do this is to focus on getting more healthy stuff into our food, rather than removing things that may not be so healthy. I feel satisfied that we are getting a broad spectrum of nutrients, the good things come to replace the bad, and I don’t have to think about one of my least favorite words ever: “diet.” I don’t stress about a little bacon or butter, but I do belong to our local CSA, which ensures that we regularly need to eat through a wide range of organic vegetables, eggs, grains, and yogurt, and I do go out of the way to make sure our diet includes anti-oxidant and vitamin-rich vegetables, healthy oils and nuts, eggs and fish with Omega-3 fatty acids, and plenty of whole grains and fresh and dried fruits for fiber.

I started eating oatmeal for breakfast a few months ago, and it has developed into a minor obsession, and an important incentive for getting out of bed. I started out with a rolled variety, which cooks in just a minute or two, but I recently discovered McCann’s Quick and Easy Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal, which contains regular steel cut oats just like the original McCann’s, but they cook in about 5 minutes, instead of 30 for the original Steel Cut kind. I think they’re parboiled? Not sure, but they are infinitely better than the rolled kind — more nutty, with a less gloppy texture — and you won’t die of starvation waiting for them to cook. You can put anything you like on or in your oatmeal. Some of my favorites are:

  • Frozen berries — especially raspberries — the oatmeal thaws them out slowly as you eat it
  • Sliced Apples
  • Sliced Bananas
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Raisins
  • Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
  • Toasted Walnuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Demerara Sugar
  • Jaggery
  • Maple Syrup
  • Agave Syrup
  • Honey
  • A little butter or cream
  • Maldon’s Sea Salt — sounds wierd, I know, but try it with unsalted butter and demerara sugar and maybe some raisins and you’ll see what I mean
  • What to Do With Leftover Roast Chicken, Part 1

    Thursday, February 5th, 2009

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    Since my son was born, I’ve become an even bigger fan of things I can cook in the oven with minimal interventions before or after, so roast chicken is in even heavier rotation than before.  I used to be at a loss for what to do with the leftover bits, but I’ve come up with a strategy and a few options.  We eat the dark meat the night I roast the chicken, since the white meat is more flexible as an ingredient.  Then I save the chicken in a gallon freezer bag with as much juice and good stuff as I can scrape off the bottom of the roasting pan.  The next day I separate the white meat and the oysters (the little bits of meat from underneath the chicken) from the carcass and put them aside.  The carcass and any other bits, globs, or pieces go into a pot to boil with a few quarts of water, salt, peppercorns, some onion or shallot and whatever other aromatic vegetables I have, like celery, fennel, carrots, and/or parsley.   After it boils, I let it simmer for about 1/2 hour to 45 minutes, and then I strain out the solids, leaving me with a few quarts of really delicous stock.

    I can now make one of the following two meals for two with minimal effort:

    Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad with Spicy Pumpkin Soup
    Hearty Sausage, White Bean and Kale Soup

    Voila, dinner that no one will complain about.

    Chicken, Avocado and Walnut Salad

    1 clove garlic, smashed
    2 tbsp aged balsamic vinegar
    pinch of salt
    4 tbsp walnut oil
    4 cups salad greens, washed, carefully dried, and torn into bite sized-pieces
    1/2 cup toasted walnuts
    1 avocado, thinly sliced
    2 leftover chicken breasts, diced

    Put the garlic, vinegar, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl. Gradually whisk in the walnut oil. Add the salad greens and toss (I use my hands for this.) Top with avocado, walnuts, and chicken.

    Spicy Pumpkin Soup

    1/2 tbsp butter
    2 cloves garlic
    1 1/4 tsp hot smoked paprika
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1 sweet potato, peeled and roughly chopped
    2-3 quarts chicken stock
    1 can pumpkin puree
    salt and pepper to taste
    cream for garnish

    In a medium, heavy bottomed sauce pan, saute the garlic, paprika and cumin for a minute or two until the raw smell comes off the garlic. Add the stock and the sweet potato, bring to a boil, and simmer until the potato is cooked through. Add pumpkin puree and blend soup together with an immersion blender (or in small batches in a regular blender or food processor, but seriously, just do yourself a favor and get an immersion blender.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a small drizzle of heavy cream in each bowl.

    Spicy Sausage, Kale, and White Bean Soup

    2 fresh Andouille sausages
    1 tbsp olive oil
    1 medium yellow onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, pressed
    1 tbsp tomato paste (I buy it in a tube, so I don’t waste it when I just need small amounts.)
    1 can white beans, strained and rinsed
    2-3 quarts chicken stock
    leftover chicken, diced
    1 bunch kale
    red pepper flakes to taste

    Gently heat the olive oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Squeeze the sausages out of their casing into the pan, raise the heat to medium high, and saute until cooked through, breaking up with a wooden spoon as you go. Add garlic and tomato paste and saute for one more minute. Add white beans and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, add kale and red pepper flakes, and simmer until kale stems are cooked through, about five minutes. Adjust seasoning and serve. Slices of baguette or other bread grilled in the broiler and rubbed with garlic are a nice accompaniment.

    Tomato Sauce with Sausage and Kale

    Sunday, February 10th, 2008


    This is a home-y sauce which cooks quickly. Very easy, healthy and delicious for a weeknight dinner. The olive oil added as a garnish at the end gives it a sweet and fresh taste.

    3 tbsp quality extra-virgin olive oil
    1 sweet Italian sausage
    1 spicy Italian sausage
    1 onion, diced
    1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
    1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes (I like Muir Glen, and I don’t really like anything else…)
    1 small pinch dried thyme
    1 small bunch of lacinato kale, cut into chiffonade
    salt and pepper to taste
    freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
    1 lb pasta of your choice (fusilli or a similar shape would be good here but you can also use ravioli)
    Start your pasta water to boil with plenty of salt. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed, lidded sauté pan over medium-high heat (without the lid for now). Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the pan and swirl the pan to coat. When the oil has heated, squeeze the sausages from their casings into the pan. Sauté for four or five minutes while breaking up the sausages with a wooden spoon. Monitor the heat carefully so that the sausage doesn’t form too much of a fond on the bottom of the pan. When the sausage is just beginning to brown in places, add the onions and cook, stirring, for about 5 more minutes. When the onion is wilted, add the garlic and cook for just about 30 seconds, until the pungent garlic smell mellows just slightly. Pour in the liquid from the whole peeled tomatoes, then squeeze each whole tomato in your hand to crush it before you drop it into the pan. (This squirt-prone operation can be mitigated somewhat by poking a hole with your thumb and one finger to de-pressurize the tomato before you really put the squeeze down. I rarely escape this operation without an errant squirt, so an apron would be a strong recommendation here. This might seem like a complicated process — why not just use diced or puréed tomatoes? Well, somehow they just don’t have the same delicate, slightly brothy-y texture and flavor.)
    Now add the thyme and the kale and stir the sauce to combine the ingredients. Salt carefully to taste. Cover the sauce and simmer for about 7 minutes, until the kale is wilted and the sauce is bubbling. As soon as you cover your sauce, check the time you need to cook your pasta, and time it to be done just about the same time as the sauce.
    Drain the pasta when it’s cooked to your liking, and spoon it into 4 wide shallow bowls. Divide the sauce on top of the pasta between the 4 bowls. Drizzle 1/2 tbsp of olive oil over each bowl, and grate the Parmigiano on top.
    Serves 4.

    Chicken, Bok Choy, and Shiitake Mushroom Stirfry with Brown Rice

    Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

    Growing up in Woodstock NY in the ’70s, I ate my fair share of tempeh, homemade yogurt, and stirfries heavily seasoned with any old spices or condiments that happened to be hanging around, particularly large doses of tamari (Japanese wheat-free soy sauce). In general, I’m not a huge fan of the whole Moosewood school of cooking, but every so often, I get a craving for something inauthentically Asian, by way of the health food store. My version here contains chicken (so there, vegetarians!) as well as bok choy, shitake mushrooms, and toasted almonds. You can be very creative with stirfries, but there are some key principles to follow:

    • Remember that each of the ingredients has its own optimal cooking time. After you’ve finished your prep, come up with a game plan for adding (and in some cases, temporarily removing) ingredients so that nothing is over- or under-cooked.
    • Just because it’s in your fridge doesn’t mean it belongs in your dish. Try to use ingredients that complement one another in flavor, sweetness, color, and texture.
    • Watch how much soy sauce/tamari etc. you use! Rather than indiscriminately dumping in more of any condiment when you need to add moisture to the pan, I like to mix up a batch of sauce that tastes balanced to me, which I usually make somewhat diluted with either water or broth. Then I add that instead of a squirt of soy sauce. That way you don’t wind up with any one flavor dominating.

    I like it with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top, proving that you can be nostalgic for anything.

    For the rice:

    Start the rice first, since it takes a while to cook.

    1 cup brown rice
    2 1/4 cups water
    pinch of salt

    Combine in a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid (don’t cover just yet though.) Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

    For the stirfry:

    2 boneless chicken breast, cut into 1/8 inch slices
    1 lb baby bok choy, washed, ends removed, and sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
    20 large shitake mushrooms, sliced
    1 bunch scallions, washed and sliced into wedgy-julienne (long diagonal slices, turning the scallion after each cut so that the layers of each slice will separate )
    1 small red jalapeno, cut into fine dice
    1 tsp vegetable oil

    1/2 cup toasted almond slivers

    For sauce:

    2 tbsp soy sauce or tamari
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 tbsp agave syrup
    1/4 tsp toasted sesame oil
    1/3 cup chicken broth

    Combine all sauce ingredients except chicken broth, and taste. Should taste balanced, a little sweet, a little sour, a little salty. Add half the sauce to a bowl with the sliced raw chicken to marinate, and then add the chicken broth to the remaining sauce to use during cooking.

    Heat a large saute pan or a wok over high heat. Add vegetable oil, then the chicken, and brown lightly on all sides until chicken is cooked through. Remove from the pan and reserve. Add mushrooms and bok choy and saute for several minutes, until bok choy leaves wilt and their stems turn bright green and soften. Add sauce as needed to prevent sticking or the bottom of the pan getting brown & crusty. Add jalapeno and scallions, and saute for two more minutes, until the scallions soften. Add toasted almonds and serve with brown rice.

    Serves 4.

    If you have leftovers, combine the stirfry and rice, and saute in a little extra vegetable oil with an egg for some tasty fried rice.

    June Farmer’s Market Supper

    Monday, June 25th, 2007

    Carmelized Scallops, Sugar Snap Peas with Mint, and Roasted Beet Salad

    The McCarren Park Farmer’s Market is starting to get exciting! The fish guys have been here for a few weeks (although sadly, no weakfish), but now my favorite weird vegetable guy is back, along with stalwarts RonnyBrook Farm, RedJacket Orchard and Dines Farms, among others. To celebrate, I made a super-plain, super-fresh dinner of fresh vegetables, herbs, and scallops.

    If you want to make everything, the beets take about 1 1/2 hours, so start them first, then do the prep and cook the scallops and peas once the beets are finished roasting.

    For Beets

    1 bunch small- to medium-sized beets, greens and tips trimmed off
    3 tbsp chopped chives
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    1 1/2 tbsp walnut or olive oil
    salt to taste

    Preheat oven to 350. Wrap beets individually in aluminium foil. Roast 1+ hours. When beets are done, a knife should pierce them easily. Remove beets from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Remove skins, and cut into regular cubes. Dress in remaining ingredients.

    For Scallops

    10 large sea scallops, muscle removed (the little tough bit stuck to the side)
    1/2 tbsp butter
    kosher salt
    pepper
    1/3 cup white wine
    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
    1/2 lemon

    Heat a heavy-bottomed medium-large size saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Add half the butter to the pan, and swirl to coat the surface. Place scallops in the pan on one flat end, in order from largest to smallest (so that the larger scallops cook for slightly longer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Do not shake the pan or move the scallops in any way for 2 minutes, then carefully turn them over (tongs are the best scallop turner,) sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for another two minutes. Remove scallops to a warm plate, add the remaining butter, and cook the garlic in the butter for 30 seconds until just barely beginning to turn golden. Add wine and swirl over the bottom of the pan to deglaze, then use a rubber spatula to bring up any bits of scallop or friedness. Reduce to about two tbsp, and spoon over scallops before serving. Serve with lemon wedge.

    For Peas

    1/2 lb fresh sugar snap peas
    1 tsp butter
    1 bunch purple scallions, cut into julienne
    a good handful of mint leaves, pulled from their stems and cut into chiffonade
    salt

    Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add peas and saute for several minutes, until the peas turn bright green and lose any trace of “uncooked” taste. Just as they’re finishing, add scallions and mint and saute for about 30 more seconds until scallions lose their sharpness. Remove from heat and add salt to taste.

    Serves 2.

    Mediterranean Salad

    Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

    Kind of like a Greek salad. I assembled it on a platter surrounded by triangles of toasted pita bread, and served hummus on the side.

    For Salad

    4 cups washed and well-dried mesclun mix
    1/2 cucumber, washed with soap and water, dried, 1/2 peeled in alternating stripes, and sliced 1/8 inch thick
    1 ripe medium tomato, diced
    20 medium-large mint leaves, washed, dried, and cut into chiffonade
    12 kalamata olives
    1/3 cup toasted Marcona almonds*
    1/2 cup creamy Israeli feta, cubed

    For Dressing

    1 clove garlic, pressed
    juice of 1 lemon
    1 tbsp rice vinegar
    3 tbsp snipped chives

    2 tbsp olive oil

    For Finishing

    Maldon Sea Salt

    Layer the salad ingredients in a platter or bowl. In a bowl, combine the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, and chives. Whisk with a fork while gradually drizzling in olive oil. Pour dressing evenly over salad, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately. You can either toss or just serve in vertical sections.
    Serves 2.
    * Marcona almonds are a Spanish variety of almond with a slightly richer taste, somewhat like a Macadamia nut.

    Lemony Roast Chicken

    Monday, April 24th, 2006

    Easy, inexpensive, and highly delicious, roast chicken is the preferred Sunday night supper around our house. The basic recipe I use is a slight variation on the one my mother has made since I was little. Between the two of us, my mother and I have roasted a hundreds of chickens, and here in print for the very first time are our tried-and-true methods. Roast chicken is great with any number of accompaniments, but my favorites are mashed Yukon Gold potatoes or yams, roasted Cipollini onions, and a simple green salad.

    Chicken Procurement

    The first step is selecting a chicken. It’s easy to see the difference between naturally-raised chickens and their factory-farmed counterparts – factory farmed chickens are unappealingly yellow, unsavory and fatty looking, and ooze gross liquid from their packaging, where natural chickens have creamy skin and a much more firm, dry, and plump appearance. I prefer Bell and Evans chickens. They’re air-chilled, raised on natural feed, and allowed to roam freely. Also tasty are Whole Foods chickens. Don’t shy away from spending a few extra dollars for a high-quality chicken. It’s simply not worth wasting your time with inferior ingredients, and even spending up, you’ll still be paying $7-8 for a whole bird, which will easily feed four normal appetites. I usually buy a 3.5-4 lb chicken.

    Salt Cure (optional)

    If you have 12-24 hours before you need to cook the bird, I recommend a simple salt-and-pepper cure to improve the chicken’s flavor. I only started curing chickens about a year ago, and it certainly is not a requirement, although it definitely has a positive impact on the outcome. To cure the chicken, combine 2 tablespoons of coarsely flaked sea salt (Maldon is my favorite) with about ½ tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper. Remove the chicken from its packaging, and remove the neck and any other extras from inside its body cavity. (Note on the odd bits: I throw the neck in the pan to generate more tasty chicken juice, but you could also use it to make a quick stock. You can reduce this further and combine with pan drippings later to make really fantastic gravy, see recipe below.) Place the chicken in a small roasting pan. A Pyrex pie pan, an All-Clad sauté pan, or a cast iron skillet will all do nicely. Fold the wing tips under the body. Using your fingers, detach the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs. Trim any large pieces of fat away from the neck and cavity areas. Rub the chicken inside the cavity and under the skin with the salt and pepper mixture. Cover loosely with waxed paper and refrigerate until you’re ready to roast. DO NOT salt-cure unless you have at least 12 hours before cooking, or the salt will not have time to adequately disperse through the chicken and you will have a salty bird.

    Preparation

    When you’re ready to cook the bird, preheat the oven to 500°. Slice 4-5 cloves of garlic and quarter 1 organic lemon, and place inside the cavity. I used to truss chickens (to the delight of more perverse acquaintances, I often trussed them in their own skin, making a slit in the lower breast skin on one side and slipping the opposite drumstick into the hole) but I find that you can roast in less time with more even results by leaving the legs be. You’ll also be rewarded with more crispy skin. Next, and it is helpful to have an assistant at this juncture, pour 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil into your hands and rub it all over the chicken. Shake about 1½ teaspoons of paprika over the top of the chicken for an even dusting, followed by 1-2 tablespoons dried thyme. If you did not cure the chicken, season well with salt and pepper.

    You’ll notice this recipe does not call for stuffing the bird with bread-based stuffing; as a matter of fact, I’m fairly opposed to this practice as it means longer cooking times and drier birds. I love stuffing just as much as the next person, I just prefer to bake it in its own dish, as opposed to up a chicken’s butt.

    Before you pop the chicken into the oven, press down on one of the back legs and note the texture of its motion as it returns to its original position. Make a mental note of this, as this is what “raw” feels like. As you become more practiced, you may be able to use this as a method for determining when your chicken is done.

    Roasting

    Place the chicken in the oven with the rack set so the bird is right in the middle. Roast for about 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350°. Roast for another hour or so. For your first few chickens, I recommend checking for doneness by piercing the spot where the thigh joins the body. Clear juice indicates that the bird is done, whereas pinkish or bloody juice means back to the oven. Keep up with the “pressing the back leg down” test to see how the motion and feeling changes as the chicken approaches done-ness. Resist the urge to open the oven door where possible, however, as you’ll lose heat very quickly.

    Once the chicken is done, remove from the oven and cover with a tent of aluminum foil. Allow it to rest for at least 15 minutes.

    Carving

    To carve, place the chicken on a cutting board. If you have one with a gutter around the edges for catching juice, use that one, otherwise be prepared to waste tasty juice and paper towels. Using a sharp kitchen knife, slice away the skin between the leg and the breast until you can tell where the connecting joint is. There’s a “sweet spot” where you can easily slice through the joint, separating the leg from the body. Angle the knife toward the body and rotate the leg a bit to get the best access. Once you’ve removed both legs, slice diagonally between the drumstick and the thigh to separate. Place on a a warmed platter, and keep covered with aluminum foil. Next, slice away the wings with a small piece of breast meat. Again, there’s a sweet spot, be patient and poke away with the knife until you find it. Next, slice from the top of the breast along the bones of the rib cage to remove the breast in one whole large piece. Slice across the breast into 1/2 inch slices. Repeat with the other breast. This is as far as the civilized usually go, but the truly enlightened know that the best bits of all are hidden on the back — flip the carcass over and feel around for the juicy “oysters.” These are best removed and consumed kitchen-side.

    Now pour the carving-juice back into the pan, and use it and a whisk to loosen tasty drippings from the bottom of the pan. If there is a lot of fat, tilt the pan so that the juices accumulate in one corner. The fat will rise to the top, where you can skim it off with a spoon. Pour the pan juices over the carved chicken, and serve immediately.

    Fancy Gravy

    In a small sauce-pan, combine the chicken neck, a stalk of celery sliced into pieces, a small sliced onion, a sliced carrot, a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, 3-4 cups of water, and a few peppercorns. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer for 45 minutes, then strain out the solids. Continue to simmer until volume is reduced by half.

    When the chicken is done, pour carving juices back into the pan and place over medium heat. Add 1/2 cup white wine and whisk the sticky drippings up from the bottom of the pan. Add 1-2 tablespoons flour and whisk for a few minutes more. Add wine or stock gradually until you achieve desired volume (about 1 cup usually), whisking continually. Gravy is done when it thickens, after 3-4 minutes. Taste and correct seasonings.