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Archive for the ‘Home Cooking’ Category

If anyone is getting the winter blues due to over consumption of root vegetables, over-ripe apples, and imported fruits and vegetables from Mexico and South America – here is your wake up call.  In the United States we grow the most delicious, ripe and juicy fruits in the dead of winter.  Citrus!  Because citrus is in season right now you can buy it at low prices.  Recession food anyone?  If that isn’t reason enough to buy citrus, it is also packed with Vitamin C that helps your body fight through the cold season by potentially reducing cold symptoms and the severity of colds.

Grapefruit

I am going to discuss a few of the many nutritional and health benefits of ruby red grapefruit as well as provide you with some ymmy recipes.  First off,  for all the dieters out there, grapefruits are a lower-calorie fruit.  Compared to a navel orange – one navel orange about 3 inches in diameter provides 70 calories and 18 grams of carbohydrates while half of one large grapefruit provides only 37 calories and 9 grams of carbohydrates.  Therefore grapefruit can be part of a weight loss diet by helping to reduce calorie intake.

Ruby red grapefruit has lycopene.  Yes, that same nutrient that was found to be beneficial in tomato products.  It helps reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men and for everyone else it helps can protect your heart.  The pectin in grapefruit also helps protect your heart by slowing the progression of atherosclerosis and even lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in human studies.  This effect was more pronounced with ruby red colored grapefruit.

Limonoids are a group of phytonutrients that inhibit tumor formation.  Limonin’s presence in the body has been shown to prevent cancer cells growth and multiplication.  In grapefruit, and other citrus, limonoids are readily absorbed and used by our bodies making them a great source of this compound and potentially cancer-fighting foods!

I have only named a few benefits of ruby red grapefruit – and trust me there are many more.  Grapefruits are also a good source of folate, potassium, and fiber.  One thing I haven’t mentioned yet is the taste.  They are the best-tasting grapefruits.  They are slightly sweet and not nearly as bitter as white grapefruits.  At their best you can eat them without adding any sugar, though sometimes s very tiny sprinkle helps.  My favorite thing to do is slice one in half, put it in a bowl, and scoop out the yummy fruit sections with a spoon.  Other nice ways to use a grapefruit and its juice is in salads and to make a wonderful vinaigrette.  Think lemon vinaigrette – only with fresh grapefruit juice instead of lemon juice!

Recipe: Mixed Garden Lettuces with Avocado, Ruby Grapefruit, and Pecans

Recipe: Grapefruit Vinaigrette

The above recipes are from one of my favorite cookbooks – Fields of Greens by Annie Somerville.

Here is the nutrition breakdown for one half of a grapefruit (123 grams):

  • Calories:    37
  • Total Fat:    0
  • Cholesterol:  0
  • Sodium:   0
  • Total Carbohydrate:  9 grams
  • Dietary Fiber:   2 grams
  • Protein:    1 gram
  • Other:  Vitamin C – 76% daily value

I encourage everyone (except those on certain heart medications that need to limit their grapfruit intake) to go out and buy some of these before winter has passed us by.  Eat up!

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Some people look at a brown-speckled, overripe, soft banana as having only one place in the kitchen – the trash can.  Others, like myself, look at them as treasure!  I ordered a bunch of bananas earlier this week.  Of course when they arrived they were mostly green with very little yellow coloring.  As each day passed I patiently waited until the bananas cycled through their spectrum of colors.  This morning I awoke to a pleasant surprise.  My bunch of bananas had reached the proper stage for baking one of my favorite things – banana bread!

Brown Bananas

 

For those of you who don’t know me, I generally like a slightly spotted banana over a yellow or green .  Reason being the more ripe bananas are sweeter.  During the ripening process the carbohydrates in the banana change.   This gives the banana a different flavor.  A baker’s trick when using bananas in baked products is to wait until the bananas are spotted, brown, and very ripe in order to get the most sweet banana flavor possible.

 

Banana bread can be sinfully good if done right.  Many times I have to prevent myself from slicing a third or fourth piece.  In order to enjoy my guilty pleasure without so much guilt, I have modified a basic banana bread recipe.  Whole wheat flour and wheat germ are used to boost the fiber and add essential vitamins and minerals.  Canola oil and unsweetened applesauce replace the butter to reduce saturated fat, cholesterol and calories.  The raisins or dried cranberries are cut to reduce the sugar.  Walnuts  are used for their omega-3 fatty acids but reduced in quantity to cut calories.  To compensate I toast the walnuts so I get more flavor bang for my buck. 

Recipe Link:  Banana Bread with Whole Wheat Flour

BananaBread

 

Nutrition Facts for Recipe:

One Recipe Yields 12 Servings
  
Amount Per Serving
  Calories 238.8
  Total Fat 9.5 g
      Saturated Fat 1.1 g
      Polyunsaturated Fat 4.1 g
      Monounsaturated Fat 3.5 g
  Cholesterol 35.4 mg
  Sodium 191.0 mg
  Potassium 226.6 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 36.3 g
      Dietary Fiber 3.6 g
      Sugars 6.5 g
  Protein 5.2 g

The Good:  My banana bread is lower in fat than the original recipe which had 12 grams of fat.  The fat is mostly mono and polyunsaturated which make it heart healthy!  The cholesterol is half that of original recipe (due to subing out the butter).  Sugar content  is a mere 40% of the original recipe since we cut the dried fruit.  There is double the fiber and protein from using whole wheat flour and wheat germ.  As for micronutrients – this recipe packs 45% of your daily value of manganese, an important antioxidant.  It is a good source of selenium, phosphorus and vitamin B 6 while also providing a fair amount of thiamine and folate.  The walnuts provide omega-3 fatty acids.

The Bad:  This recipe is not low fat (but almost!).  It provides 35% calories from fat.  But remember – fat helps satiety and good fats protect your heart.  It could be lower in sodium – 140mg is considered a low sodium food.  The other thing I should mention is that it can be hard to eat just one slice!

The verdict:  This is a healthy recipe that provides a good amount of protein, fiber, and micronutrients while also being lower in sugar than many other quick breads!  Have a slice for breakfast with a glass of milk and you will be happy and full until lunch time rolls around.

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Tomatoes

Who doesn’t love fresh, richly colored, and vine ripened tomatoes?  They are one of my favorite parts of summertime.  Our farm share has provided us with some wonderful and colorful varieties this summer.

Heirloom Tomatoes
Heirloom Tomatoes

 The varieties clockwise from the top:

  • Light red with green top – Mr. Stripey
  • Orange, round – Persimmon
  • Dark red with green – Cherokee Purple
  • Yellow, round – Limmony
  • Bright red, round, depressed top – Brandywine

New York and New Jersey farmers grow the most wonderful heirloom tomatoes I have ever tasted.  Before moving to the city, heirloom tomatoes were foreign to me.  I was used to the standard grocery store red tomatoes.  Ripened off the vine, white or green on the inside, and devoid of any sweetness or real flavor.  I had never sliced open a tomato to find the interior as deeply colored as the exterior.  My opinion changed instantly after walking through the Union Square farmers market here in NYC one day and tasting the samples of tomatoes.  These tomatoes were deeply colored, some soft enough to melt in your mouth, others a more firm, incredible juicy, and surprisingly flavorful!

Heirloom is a term used to describe any tomato plant that has been cultivated for more than 50 years and is openly pollinated.  Each variety has its own characteristics and best uses.  Heirlooms are best sliced fresh and used in a way to highlight their colors.  On top of a fresh salad, laid on top of pizza dough with basil and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, in a sandwich, or on top of sliced garlic bread.

Nutrition Facts: 1 medium sized tomato (about 123 grams)

  • Calories: 22
  • Fat: 0
  • Cholesterol: 0
  • Sodium: 6 mg
  • Total Carbs: 5 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Protein: 1 gram

Bonus:  One tomato provides 25% of your daily vitamin C and 20% of your daily vitamin A needs.  They provide lycopene which may lower the risk of prostate cancer.  Tomatoes are a very good source of Vitamin K, manganese, and potassium.  Other nutrients they provide include folate, niacin, vitamin E, magnesium, copper, and vitamin B 6.

My favorite way to utilize fresh, sweet, wonderful tomatoes is in a sandwich I have discussed before.  The prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, pesto sauce and sliced tomatoes on baguette.  YUM!  The prosciutto is optional.  Fresh baguette bread and mozzarella are essential.  You can add leaves of fresh basil or arugula to add flavor.  This sandwich is perfect in the summer due to the abundance of fresh basil at the market for pesto sauce.  I usually make a large baguette and slice it into 2-bite pieces for an easy finger food at lunch, snack time, or a lite dinner served with an arugula salad.  See my article and sandwich assembly guide at this link – Pesto and Prosciutto.

A note about my culinary career – many things have happened in the past month (which is why I have been unable to write as often).  I graduated from culinary school, turned one year older, and went on a long hiking and camping trip out West.  In four days I begin my internship at a catering company here in NYC.  The Cleaver Company, founded by Mary Cleaver, is dedicated to serving seasonal, local, fresh and organic food.  They are also a green company and actively participate in recycling and composting programs.  The company has been compared to Chez Panisse (on the West coast) and apparently it is the company of choice for Alice Waters whenever she is in NY.  I hope to learn how to utilize the freshest local ingredients in a healthful way.  I am also interested in how a catering company plans and prepares for events.  Stay tuned!

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Pickles

Do you know how many things you can make with pickles?  This is a subject I have become keenly interested in lately due to the fact that I have an abundance in my refrigerator.  How did this happen?
 
Earlier this year, in April, Matt and I joined a farm CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through NYU’s food and nutrition department.  We decided to purchase a full share of vegetables.  This means that each week for 26 weeks, that began in June and end in November, I go to the pick up location, which is about a 5 minute walk from my apartment, and collect my share of vegetables.  We also purchased half shares of cheese, eggs, and fruit so every other week we are entitled to 8 oz of cheese, a dozen eggs, and fresh fruit.  All of the food is organic and from local farms in upstate New York.

We initially decided this would be a great way to support the local economy and contribute to preserving organic farm land – not to mention the welfare of the farmers and their families who cut out the middle men and therefore reap more profit.  I was also curious about which foods are harvested at what times in this region.  Maybe the farm CSA contributed to my ease with the Market Basket exercise in class.  As a bonus it turned out to be wonderful that we locked into food prices in April, now that they are rising.  The price per week wound up being $25, which given New York City food prices is very reasonable.  Especially considering that all goods are organic.

Back to the pickles.  Every week we receive a variety of different vegetables… but one thing remains steady.  The cucumbers.  Who knew they grew so well in New York?  Sometimes they are the large salad cucumbers, and sometimes they are smaller thin-skinned cucumbers.  I have been able to manage most of the delivered cucumbers with salad and snacks but this last delivery entitled me to nearly 4 pounds of cucumbers.  Can you imagine?  For two people in a week… that is a lot of cucumber.  I selected the small to medium thin-skinned pickle (saves time since you don’t need to peel them).  Little did I know that they were the perfect kind for pickling.

Pickles

My Bread and Butter Pickles

I returned home, washed, dried and packed all my produce in to the refrigerator.  The next thing I did was hit the books… cookbooks.  I was in search of ways to utilize all of these cucumbers.  Unfortunately, this vegetable rarely takes center stage in a recipe and usually plays back up in various cold salads or garnishes.  Due to all the previous deliveries of cucumbers I was tired of the cucumber salads and had already made raita (an Indian garnish with yogurt, cucumber, and cumin).  I reached for my cooking magazines next.  Bon Appetit, Food and Wine, Martha Stewart,  Diet and Nutrition,  Fine Cooking… nothing until I opened my August edition of Cooking Light.  As I turned through the pages I came across an article titled “Curing & Pickling – Preserve seasonal produce that you can enjoy weeks later with these time-honored methods”.  Perfect!

Within the article I found a recipe for bread and butter pickles.  I knew these were designed to be sweet (which I do not particularly like) and therefore I reduced the sugar to 1/4 of the amount asked for.  I found that these pickles were not very salty, like many store-bought pickles can be, and were delicious!  It was super easy to do and I was able to utilize about 2 pounds of my cucumbers.  In the end I had a container with about 4 cups of pickles.  Since I do not can or jar foods – I had about 2 weeks to use them before going bad.

Back to the original question – what can you do with pickles?  I made my own tartar sauce – I combined homemade mayonnaise, chopped pickles, pickle juice, and chopped scallion – and served it with grilled fish sandwiches.  I made a tuna salad with lots of chopped pickles, a few tablespoons of pickle juice, and homemade mayonnaise.  A side dish of German-style red potato salad with string beans and dressed it with an oil and vinegar dressing that had chopped pickles and pickle juice and lots of fresh ground pepper.  A bulgar wheat salad with fresh chopped corn, tomato, scallion, fava beans and what else but pickles!  Tonight we are having a few friends over for dinner and as an appetizer I plan on serving pickles with a grain mustard, sharp cheddar, and crackers as an appetizer.  Who knew there were so many possibilities with pickles?  Before this week, I don’t remember the last time I even purchased pickles.  Let me say this… when farmer’s caught onto the idea of preserving vegetables this way after an abundant harvest to enhance the flavor and extend shelf life, they were onto something good.

FInd my recipe for pickles (without the extra sugar) in the recipe section or click the following link:

Bread and Butter Pickles

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Final Challenge Results

Rules: One mystery protein is selected by head Chef.  Each person, individually, must envision and then creat a main course.  Presentation of entre to the head chef is timed for 2 hours after each person’s start time.  Your score is determined by technique, flavor, originality, and presentation.

Mystery Protein: Veal breast

Dish:  Pan-fried crisp veal cutlet with a creamy tarragon mustard sauce served over a bed of sauteed greens.

Results:  My scores were great for presentation, originality and flavor.  I lost a few for technique simply because by breading pulled away from the cutlet a bit upon cutting (apparently this can be overcome by breading the protein 30-40 minutes before pan-frying to allow the mixture to fully adhere – which I didn’t know). 

Thoughts:  The best part was that working with only one mandatory ingredient and only one dish to prepare seemed like a cinch compared to the previous challenges.  It was interesting to see all the various preparations that people did.  I saw a few rolled/stuffed veal presentations that looked promising.  There were a number of veal stews or ragus served on their own or with a form of cooked potato.  One very ambitious student decided to do his veal ragu with handmade pasta!  Given our time constraints, I thought this was very aggressive.  He was not the only one who rolled pasta.  Another student made a free form type of veal lasagna layered with a bright green herb sauce.  Overall our class performed well and of all the practical exams, I actually found this one the easiest and least stressful… perhaps going through mock challenges AND the previous 4 practicals all helped prepare me.

As you can tell by the description I wasn’t going for a health-consious dish.  My goal was flavor, color and varying textures.  The star was a crispy pan-fried, golden brown, large butterflied veal cutlet.  I drizzled the top with a creamy pale yellow mustard sauce that had flicks of bright green from the tarragon.  I also placed a teaspoon of finely diced tomatoes in the center/top of the cutlet for a shot of color.  The veal cutlet was perfectly framed by the bed of bright greens peaking out from beneath.  I sauteed spinach and mesclun with some shallots and extra virgin olive oil, then seasoned with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper.  Yum!  Of course Matt sampled my leftovers for dinner that night and cleaned the plate.

What did I learn from these challeneges?  That there are a lot of things to consider when putting together a plated entree.  Besides just picking your protein and sides.  You have to think about all the colors on the plate… if there aren’t any you’re in for boring brown or yellows that don’t get the same wows as bright greens and reds, for example.  You have to think about the textures… this is a component of taste and varying textures cause you to percieve each food in a different way.  You also gain more satisfaction from a meal with different textures and flavors than one that has just one.  Also to be considered is how the flavors and ingredients in each part of the dish play on each other.  Food for thought!

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Crab Cakes

Tonight, in preparation for my market basket day tomorrow in class, I decided to dive into a recipe…. without a recipe.  Crab cakes to be exact.  I love them!  Who doesn’t?  They used to be my number one most favorite thing to order at a restaurant.  And I never make them at home.  I know the idea behind making fish cakes – shredded fish, egg, some sort of bread crumb, seasoning, a source of moisture, and chopped veggies for texture and additional flavor.   Of course we have learned the technique in class and made a few variations.  Now after dining on my crispy, delicious crab cakes served over mixed greens tossed with a lime vinaigrette, I’m wondering why I don’t make them more often??  Success!!!  The consistency, flavors, spice and tastes all worked very well.  I have posted the recipe in the recipe section (which I actually wrote down, something I rarely do while experimenting).

A few tricks to keep in mind with making crab cakes or any other sort of fish cake include:

  1. Purchase good quality crab meat!
  2. Finely chop and pre-cook any onions, peppers, or other vegetables you will be adding to the crab cakes.
  3. Remember the larger the cake – the longer the cook time!  I keep mine about 1/2-3/4 inch thick and 2 & 1/2 inches in diameter (or smaller if you are in a hurry).
  4. If your crab cakes are not easily forming into patties – add some flour to the mixture, a teaspoon at a time, until desired consistency is reached.  But do not overdo it!
  5. To get that nice, crisp, brown crust you must coat the crab cakes in bread crumbs (I like panko) right before frying, use enough vegetable oil to cover the entire surface of the pan at 1/4 inch depth, and preheat the pan and oil over med-high heat.
  6. Remember they cook quick, about 1-2 minutes per side.  If they are turning black before then turn down the heat of your pan!
  7. Drain on paper toweling after removal from the pan.

Viola!  You have a crunchy, crispy, crab cake!  Not so hard right?  Don’t forget that even more important is the taste… I make a mini crab cake and fry it up as a “test” then adjust seasoning as needed.  Hey maybe the mystery protein tomorrow will be crab…

Crab Cake Recipe

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Meatloaf

When most people hear this word their first instinct is to utter some sort of guttural sound like “ugh” and follow it with a repeat of the initial word with a sound of disbelief – “Meatloaf?!?!?”  I used to feel the same way.  The word induced a flashback to a mound of meat, wet and glossy from the heat of the oven, sliced onto a plate with a squirt of ketchup.  I think the real nail in the coffin was “loaf” at the end of a word beginning with meat.  That kind of word will never make people jump out of their seats and run to the dinner table.

This is unfortunate.  Meatloaf is a vessel for so many interesting combinations of meats, vegetables, herbs and seasoning.  Recently there has been a burger revolution.  It has evolved from a hunk of ground beef between two pieces of white bread to creations like a lamb curry burger on English muffin with cucumber raita.  Why not the same flavors baked into meatloaf?  There are sliders, the mini burgers.  Why not bake meatloaf in muffin tins for mini loaves?  There are gourmet burgers with Kobe beef, gourmet mushrooms and shaved truffle.  Why not shave truffle on a Kobe beef meatloaf?  To me, meatloaf is the low-carb, super moist, less clean-up, no grill required, version of a burger.  Yet it remains in the shadows.

Let me tell you a story.  A very simple and delicious meatloaf was one of the first things I learned to make for myself.  It was easy, healthy (my version), and fed me for several days at a time.  It was one of the first things I cooked for Matt.  Which in retrospect, was completely unromantic and not sexy.  Yet whenever I cook meatloaf now, he recalls this first meal I cooked for him and how delicious it was.  Obviously I made an impression.  And why not?  It’s comfort food.  It reminds people of home and family meals.  If guys love burgers then logically they should love meatloaf.

My questions remains.  Why has meatloaf been left behind?  We are witnessing the evolution of the burger in restaurants all over the country.  Gourmet fast foods served from trucks and updated comfort foods are creeping onto menus.  My prediction is that we will see a meatloaf revolution.  Mario Batali will make an Italian style mix of beef, pork and veal formed into meatloaf, baked, and served with a spicy tomato sauce.  Eric Rupert will create a poached ground fish loaf with a red wine reduction that will send taste buds soaring.  Alice Waters will add to her menu a locally raised 100% organic beef meatloaf flavored with organically grown roasted tomatoes and herbs.  Emerill will add his special seasoning, chopped peppers, some onions and then BAM – it will be dinner!

Equally important as the meat is the potatoes.  I served garlic smashed potatoes.  Yum!  But any potato dish that you can execute well will do.  Now let us all watch and wait, myself anxiously, for the meatloaf revolution.

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