Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cooking from the farm

Here's what we're eating these days: pan-seared fish (at left is sea bass, at right is albacore tuna) with fresh tomato salsa and a side of green veggies with their own veggie-based sauces.
For the salsa, I've been using so-called cherry tomatoes of different varieties, my favorite being the super sweet, orange Sun Gold. After searing the fish and removing it from the pan, I briefly cook a little minced garlic, perhaps onion or shallot, chopped jalapeno or a dash of cayenne pepper for kick, a handful of herbs and the tomatoes just until heated through. Spoon over the fish.
For sides, in these photos it's either broccolini or tiny green beans, locally grown if possible. I sauteed some diced red bell pepper and very thinly sliced fennel bulb to go with the green beans, while the broccolini just got some of the tomato salsa.
We usually include a thick slice of crusty bread from our local artisan bakery (Blue Oven is its name) and a glass of white or rose wine.
All hail the bounties of summer!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Summer Wines and Other Light, Refreshing (and inexpensive) Quaffs

What makes a "summer wine?" It should taste better chilled than cellar (or room) temperature, have a lower alcohol content (12.5 percent or less), be widely available, and not set you back a lot at the checkout counter.
With that in mind, here are some suggestions from one of my favorite wine writers, Food & Wine's Ray Isle.
Vin Gris from Pinot Noir grapes

A lovely rose (pictured):

Cool breezes from the San Pablo Bay, off Napa's Carneros district, help give the 2010 Sean Minor Four Bears Vin Gris ($15) a bright, crisp acidity to go with its strawberry-inflected fruit. (Vin gris is an old French term for rosé that more and more California wineries are adopting.) Minor's bottling is 100 percent Pinot Noir.

More options:

2010 Skouras Moscofilero ($15) With its aromas of honeysuckle and tangerine, this brisk white from one of Greece's top wineries smells as though it might be sweet. Instead, it's bone-dry and crisp, an ideal match for oysters on the half shell.

2010 Waterbrook Sangiovese Rosé ($11) Washington's Columbia Valley isn't known for the Sangiovese grape variety, nor for rosés. As a result, Waterbrook's lightly floral bottling is a nice surprise.

2009 Martinshof Zweigelt ($12) For this spicy Austrian red, wine importer Carlo Huber blends the local Zweigelt variety with a small amount of Pinot Noir to "soften the edges," he says.

2009 Georges Duboeuf Juliénas ($13) In the great '09 vintage, all of Duboeuf's cru bottlings (those labeled from the 10 major towns of Beaujolais) are good. But this fragrant red is the best.

And how about light beers? Food & Wine did a blind taste test of many widely distributed light beers, and here was the clear winner:

Sam Adams Light "Light hoppy note; good, lasting flavor. A real beer."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More blueberries: Prosciutto and Melon with Blueberry Salad

To continue enjoying peak-of-season blueberries, try this refreshing appetizer or light lunch dish. The salty ham (prosciutto) contrasts with the melon, of course -- a classic combo -- and the addition of lightly dressed, fennel-enhanced blueberries adds another, marvelous dimension.

Recipe: Prosciutto and Melon with Blueberry Salad  
Makes 4 servings

1 pint fresh blueberries
1 small fennel bulb, trimmed, cut in half vertically and thinly sliced
2 T olive oil
3 T fresh lime juice
2 T chopped parsley
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
1 teaspoon fines-herbes or tarragon
12 thin sliced of prosciutto
12 wedges peeled cantaloupe or Tuscan melon

Place blueberries and sliced fennel in a large bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together oil, lime juice, parsley, salt, lime zest and herbs. Pour dressing over blueberry mixture and let stand for 15 minutes.
On individual serving plates, arrange prosciutto slices and top with melon wedges. Spoon blueberry mixture over each plate and serve.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Loving Blueberries!

Chicken-Blueberry Salad
It's the peak season for my favorite fruit, now that Michigan blueberries have shown up in our local grocery stores. For about another month, there's no excuse not to eat loads of these perfect darlings every single day. While most of the time I'll have them in cereal, yogurt or mixed in with cubes of melon, with so many on hand it's good to have a variety of ways to enjoy them.
This chicken salad is light, healthy and perfectly balanced with savory-salty-sweet flavors.

Recipe: Chicken-Blueberry Salad
Serves 4


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3 skinned and boned chicken breast halves
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup shredded carrot
  • 4 cups torn mixed salad greens
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries 

  • Whisk together first 6 ingredients. Reserve half of mixture, and chill.
  • Place chicken in a shallow dish or heavy-duty zip-top plastic bag; pour remaining mixture over chicken. Cover or seal, and chill at least 1 hour.
  • Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Grill over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) 6 minutes on each side or until done. Cut into thin slices.
  • Combine celery and next 3 ingredients; add reserved dressing, tossing to coat.
  • Place chicken over greens. Top with celery mixture; sprinkle with berries.

Friday, July 22, 2011

For snacking, for breakfast? Try these fruit and nut bars

Homemade Fruit and Nut Bars
We all love to snack, so why not have snacks that are not only tasty and satisfying but also give you great nutrition? These fruit and nut bars from my friend Mary Ann Barnes are perfect to pop in a lunchbox or stash in your desk at work. And they also work for breakfast on the go.

Recipe: Fruit and Nut Bars
 Makes 24

8 ounces margarine spread with plant stanols added (for example, Benecol, Smart Balance, or Take Control)
¾ cup egg substitute (or 2 medium eggs)
2 ½ cups firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ cups flour, preferably whole grain
½ cup nut flour (if not available, use another ½ cup of flour)
1 large apple, diced
½ cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup chopped dried apricots

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Coat and 13 x 9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Whip together spread, egg substitute and brown sugar on high speed until light and bubbly.  Stir in baking powder and cinnamon.  Add remaining ingredients, and stir until moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, flattening top with a spatula. 

Bake for 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.   Cool on a wire rack.  Cut into 24 squares. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What REALLY makes us gain weight -- and how best to lose it? (Or not gain?)

Eat more yogurt!
Diets don't work. Counting calories doesn't work. Even dedicated exercise is no guarantee that you won't gain pounds every year until you're a middle-aged overweight or even obese person wondering how I got that way, and what on earth can get these pounds off?
The latest research reinforces what nutritionists have been saying for years: it's what you eat that makes all the difference. And not just HOW MUCH you eat, but what those foods actually are.
For a lengthy discussion of the most up to date research on how to avoid long-term weight creep, check out this article in the New York Times Health section.
Short version: avoid bad foods and pile on the good foods. No surprises what the bad ones are: French fries and potato chips are the main offenders in causing Americans to be fat, followed closely sugary drinks and red or processed meats.

Step away from the fried potatoes
And what are the good foods we should be chowing down at every opportunity? Again, no surprises: fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Slightly more surprising is that nuts are every bit as good for you as we've been hearing, and the big surprise? The one food most associated with people NOT gaining weight over the years is YOGURT. That's right -- eat more yogurt!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Heck of a "Potato Salad"

True, there are no potatoes visible in this photo. That's because the arugula/smoked salmon/sliced apple salad sits atop the potato/sour cream salad below it. This is an elaborate recipe but it makes a large amount that can easily serve 6-8 people, and it was a huge hit as a side dish at my July 4th cookout.

Recipe: Potato Salad topped with Arugula/Smoked Salmon Salad
Serves 6-8
For the potato salad: 
12 ounces small red or white potatoes
1 cup sour cream
2 T Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T capers, rinsed
For the arugula salad:
3 cups arugula or arugula mixed with microgreens
6 ounces smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces

1 Granny Smith apple, cored and very thinly sliced
1/2 cup vinaigrette made with lemon juice, olive oil and cider or sherry vinegar

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until just tender, about 6-7 minutes. Drain and run potatoes under cold water to stop the cooking and cool them. Drain again, then cut potatoes into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl. Mix the sour cream and mustard together in a small bowl, then gently stir mixture into the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in capers. Set aside.
In another bowl, toss the greens with the salmon and apple, then add the vinaigrette.
Spoon the arugula salad over the potatoes, bring to table and serve.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Modern Life: Etiquette for Tipping

What are the rules for tipping your server? Do they apply to bartenders? How about if the owner of the restaurant is your server? And what if you had to wait a really, really long time for your food -- should you express your dissatisfaction by reducing your server's tip?
From Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly, here are his (opinionated, but valuable) "10 Handy Rules for Tipping." I can't agree with all of these ideas -- for intance, I don't tip 20 percent when you order and pay at a counter and someone brings you the food when it's done -- but agree that 20 percent is the right amount these days.

1.Tip 20 percent. Every time. Pre-tax? Post-tax? In practice the difference is no more than a buck or two, unless you're Joe Pytka. In which case there's a $10,000 wine tab, so it works out. But the idea that a tip is optional, or variable, is a useful fiction, even when the soup goes tumbling into your lap. The owner gets to pretend her prices are lower, the busboy makes rent, and you get to feel like a philanthropist. A win-win for all.
2.Yes, I know your parents still talk about when the recommended percentage used to be 15 percent, and that the practice is considered barbaric in Japan. But it's not 1973, and you're probably not in Osaka at the moment. 20 percent.
3. Yes, this includes the cost of the wine.
4. And extends to tipping the delivery guy if you order in - he's supposed to get less because he drove six miles to your house in a decaying, gas-gulping SUV?
5. And also includes tipping the bartender, even - especially! - if you're in one of those places that charge $16 for a vodka/Red Bull. It is considered gentlemanly to round up this 20 percent to the nearest dollar.
6. You've heard the rumors about how it isn't necessary to tip if you're being served by the woman who owns the restaurant? That it's insulting to tip a sushi chef. Or that in some kinds of places the tips never make it back to the waiters? You guessed it: 20 percent. 7. In a restaurant where you stand in long lines to order, waiters do no more than shuffle food from kitchen to table, and you pay before you are served - surely this is a different situation? A sound point. But still: 20 percent.
8. You are in a restaurant to pick up a to-go order, yet there is a tip line on the credit card receipt? The dude putting the order through didn't refill your water glass, suggest the endive salad or tell you his name is Tim, but he did do something. In this case, 10 percent is probably sufficient.
9. The nice woman at the coffee place who remembers how you like the foam on your double macchiato? A buck in the jar. Which if you end up buying a scone or something will end up being about 20 percent.
10. The parking attendant: Depends on how much you love your car, really. It's best to round up the fee to the nearest dollar and add two.


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Friday, July 15, 2011

Cucumber, Basil and TEQUILA (or virgin) Cooler

Tequila with Cucumber, Mint, Basil and Lime
Cool, summertime refreshment that reaches deep into the garden -- yours or someone else's -- starts with peeled, seeded cucumber, adds a handful of basil and a little mint, just a couple of other ingredients and produces a patio offering that will please you and your guests. Include a shot of tequila in the glasses of those who want the added kick, or substitute vodka if you prefer. Cheers!

Recipe: Cucumber, Basil and Tequila Cooler
(Makes 4 drinks)

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into large chunks
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1/2 - 1 cup loosely packed mint leaves
Juice of 4 limes, divided
Simple syrup or other sweetener, such as blue agave syup, to taste
16 ounces Sprite or other lemon-lime soda (or plain soda water, if desired)
Ice cubes
4 shots of tequila (omit, if you want a "mocktail")
Cucumber slices and mint sprigs, for garnish

Place cucumber, basil, mint and juice of one lime in the bowl of a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Allow mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes ot longer if you have time. (Refrigerate if you are leaving it for more than 30 minutes.)
Put mixture through a fine colander or sieve, pressing on solids to get as much liquid out as possible. Discard solids.
Put liquid in a cocktail shaker or jar. Add remaining lime juice and sweetener and shake well. Taste for sweetness and add more syrup if desired.
Pour even amounts of liquid into four ice-filled glasses and top with lemon-lime soda. Stir in tequila and garnish with cucumber and mint.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why we're stuck with unhealthy eating habits...

Or why it's so hard to reform our food system of eating too much fast food, eating out too much, and not getting enough exercise.

What it boils down to is that we are working too much -- especially true for women, who traditionally have been responsible for taking care of a household's food needs (one way or the other). We just don't have time to make sure we eat healthfully, get enough exercise, and generally live a healthy lifestyle.

Here's a chart that more or less explains the problem:

"Although median wages for two-parent families have increased 23 percent since 1975, the evidence suggests that this is not the result of higher wages. Rather, these families are just working more. In 2009, for instance, the typical two-parent family worked 26 percent longer than the typical family in 1975.
... The 26 percent increase in hours worked mainly reflects increases in work outside of the home among women. In fact, among two-parent families with median earnings, the hours of men were relatively constant over time, while hours worked by women more than doubled from 1975 to 2009. It was this increased contribution to work outside of the home, mostly by women, rather than wage increases, that led to higher earnings for the typical two-parent family. [Emphasis added.]

As blogger Tom Laskawy ( writes:

It's very hard to make change in the food system in an environment where wages are flat. The low and decreasing costs of industrialized food and low-nutrient, high-calorie "food products" have stood in for wage increases for the past several decades. And any call for consumers to cook more runs up against the reality that we (women in particular) are working more hours than ever. And let's be clear: While the division of labor in the home is changing, women still perform 40 percent more housework than men 
In fact, it appears that what wiggle room there is for food-system reform lies in men picking up some serious slack in the shopping and cooking arena. As a father who does a fair amount of both, I know it's possible. But that's not saying it will be easy -- and it does nothing to address the persistent problem of stagnant wages. Perhaps faced with the prospect of doing more around the house, men will begin to organize and agitate for higher wages? C'mon, guys! It's one or the other!

I'm all in favor of getting our husbands and boyfriends to take on more responsibilities in the kitchen. If that increases the ranks of healthy foodies in this world, hooray!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Dining at Nana's

The best eats -- by far -- during my short visit to North Carolina were at Nana's in Durham, which is definitely one of the stellar choices in that town. Perhaps it's not quite at the level of the more famous Magnolia Grill, but my brother, his wife and I all enjoyed everything that passed our lips at Nana's.

Nana's melon with ham
I went with two appetizers (instead of an app and entree): Serrano ham with local melons, frisee and roasted pine nuts in lemon-mint vinaigrette topped with local Asiago cheese.
For a second course, I chose House made Pork Belly & Ricotta Ravioli over wilted spinach in a charred Roma tomato sauce with ricotta salata.
Both were excellent -- the melon and ham light and refreshing, and the ravioli rich and filling enough that I did not need an entree portion.

Nana's Ravioli
My sister-in-law ordered Pan Roasted Day Boat Scallops over local creamy summer sweet corn with haricots verts finished in a tomatillo vinaigrette (we all agreed this was the best bite of the night), and my brother tried an off-menu red snapper special.
We did split a couple of desserts, which also were terrific, but I did not remember to photograph them. :-(
Nana's Scallops

Sunday, July 10, 2011

One-dish dinner that's healthy and yummy: Scallops with quinoa and farm-fresh veggies

Combine chewy quinoa with crisp snow peas and savory sea scallops and voila! Delightful summer fare.

Recipe: Toasted Quinoa with Scallops and Snow Peas
(serves 4-6)

12 ounces dry sea scallops, cut into 1/2-inch pieces, or dry bay scallops

4 teaspoons reduced-sodium tamari, or soy sauce, divided

4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons canola oil, divided

1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed well

2 teaspoons grated or minced garlic

3 cups water

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup trimmed and diagonally sliced snow peas, (1/2 inch thick)

1/3 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 cup thinly sliced scallions

1/3 cup finely diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1.Toss scallops with 2 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce) in a medium bowl. Set aside.

2.Place a large, high-sided skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon canola oil and quinoa. Cook, stirring constantly, until the quinoa begins to color, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add water and salt and bring to a boil. Stir once, cover and cook over medium heat until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. (Do not stir.) Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in snow peas, cover and let stand for 5 minutes more.

3.Meanwhile, whisk 3 tablespoons canola oil, the remaining 2 teaspoons tamari (or soy sauce), vinegar and sesame oil in a large bowl. Add the quinoa and snow peas, scallions and bell pepper; toss to combine.

4.Remove the scallops from the marinade and pat dry. Heat a large skillet over medium-high until hot enough to evaporate a drop of water upon contact. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons canola oil and cook the scallops, turning once, until golden and just firm, about 2 minutes total. Gently stir the scallops into the quinoa salad. Serve garnished with cilantro, if desired.

Source: Eating Well Magazine

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Luscious cocktails made with wine

Watermelon Sangria
To go with summer's lighter foods fresh from the garden or farm, cocktails made with wine instead of hard liquor can lighten up your alcohol consumption, too. In fact, "mocktails" made without any alcohol are a great option with summer's bounteous, fresh ingredients, too.

A recent cocktail from my garden started with peeled and seeded cucumber pureed in the blender with a handful of basil and a little mint. I let this mixture sit for a few minutes, then poured it through a strainer to remove the solids. Combining that with lime juice and sweetener -- I used a combo of agave, Splenda and simple syrup to keep calories down -- I poured it over crushed ice. If you want any alcohol with this drink, I'd suggest tequila.

Here is a link to a slide show on the Food & Wine website that includes recipes for 10 wine-based cocktails, including this one for Watermelon Sangria.
Also pictured, and in the Food & Wine article, is an orange-infused white wine drink)

Recipe: Watermelon Sangria (will serve 4-6)


2 pounds seedless watermelon, peeled and cubed, plus 1/2 pound watermelon cut into balls with a melon baller and skewered on picks
1 bottle dry white wine
6 ounces vodka (optional)4 ounces Cointreau or other triple sec
4 ounces Citrus Syrup
 In a blender, puree the watermelon cubes. Pour through a fine strainer into a pitcher. Add the white wine, vodka, Cointreau and Citrus Syrup. Stir and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Stir again, then pour the sangria into ice-filled white wine glasses and garnish with the skewered watermelon balls. 
Vin d'Orange Cocktail

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Two easy, fresh summertime suppers

Pan-seared salmon with bean/tomato salad
1. Tortellini (or ravioli) with a savory vegetarian sauce, and 2. Pan-seared salmon over a green bean-tomato salad.
For the pasta, start with purchased filled pasta cooked according to package directions. Make a one-pan sauce by sauteing chopped aromatic vegetables in olive oil, add liquid (chicken or vegetable stock work nicely) and any other veggies you have on hand, toss with the drained pasta and top with a little cheese. The sauce pictured turned out fabulous thanks to chopped fennel bulb -- something I consider a magic ingredient -- and a few delicate fiddlehead ferns that I was happy to find at the farmers market.
Tortellini with Fennel, Fiddleheads and Mushrooms
For the salmon dinner, select thick fillets, salt and pepper both sides and sear quickly on both sides until brown, just a couple of minutes. Reduce heat and let the fish cook for another few minutes. Be careful not to overcook salmon (or most fish); you can always put it back in the pan if you feel it's too rare, but there's no way to fix something that has been cooked too long. Make a salad of cooked green beans -- fresh from your garden or a farm stand, if possible -- with chunks of fresh tomatoes, chopped herbs, oil, vinegar, and any seasonings you like. Pile some salad on the plate and place a salmon fillet on top.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Chicken Breast: Master Cooking Lesson

This basic technique for cooking boneless, skinless chicken breast works just as well for other meats/fishes, such as salmon fillets, boneless pork chops or turkey breast cutlets.
The concept is simple and virtually foolproof for stovetop, one-pan cooking. For most meals, I'll add a steamed green vegetable such as broccoli and crusty bread. If you prefer, substitute a green salad and/or some rice or potatoes.
Step 1: Brown chicken on each side

Simply put: preheat a large frying pan (I use nonstick for easy cleanup) over medium-high heat, adding cooking spray or a bit of canola oil when the pan heats up. Season your meat/fish on both sides with salt and pepper, then brown one one side for 3-4 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for 2 minutes. (Step 1)
Remove chicken to a plate and tent with foil.
Reduce heat to medium and add a cup or two of chopped veggies -- many possibilities here. Be sure to include one or two aromatic vegetables, by which I mean onion, garlic, shallots, leeks, carrot or celery. Also good to add at this stage are sliced mushrooms, chopped fennel and/or diced peppers. Stir-fry for 4-5 minutes, until the veggies are tender.
Step 2: Remove chicken, cook veggies
(Step 2)
Now add your liquid ingredients for more flavor and to blend the flavors in the pan. Chicken stock is my standard, but you can experiment with orange juice, tomato juice, white wine or even water. Heat the sauce through, then put the chicken back in the pan along with any juices that have accumulated in the plate. (Step 3)
Step 3: Add liquid, then return chicken to pan

Finally, if you have one large piece of meat, I'd recommend slicing it on top of the veggies on a serving platter. Be sure to adjust seasonings before you remove the food from your pan, adding more salt and pepper to taste.
 (Step 4)
Step 4: Serve!

As I noted, this technique is great not only for chicken but for almost any protein-based, simply sauced meal you can cook in a frying pan.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Have a little bubble with your rose wine?

Yes, rose is a fine summer choice, whether still or sparkling.

Here's an excerpt from a recent piece in the LA Times about a variety of sparkling roses now in the market. Most of them go for $15-$20 a bottle, although a few can be had for as little as $12. Click here to read the entire article, and to see the author's list, which includes:

Nonvintage Louis Bouillot Crémant "Perle d'Aurore" Brut Rosé
NV Lucien Albrecht Crémant d'Alsace Rosé (sold at many Whole Foods stores)
2009 Luís Pato Casta Baga
2007 Raventós i Blanc Cava de Nit Brut Rosé

"If you believe as I do that more than any other type of wine, rosé is a mood, then your average sparkling rosé represents a very good mood indeed.

"Sparkling rosés are part of an ever-growing class of wines in pursuit of a cheery disposition, seizing on the built-in appeal of pink and adding the incomparable pleasure of effervescence, which can't help but brighten an already sunny experience. Like still rosés, a sparkling rosé aims to please rather than transport. So leave the cerebral whites in the cellar until Labor Day, off the more ponderous reds until the next equinox. For a summer afternoon, for any party involving a grill, a picnic basket, a pool or a cabana, pink fizz is the way to go."
  SOURCE: Los Angeles Times