Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Quick and Easy Vegetarian Tacos

You know when you get home from a long day and have no idea what to eat? You open the fridge and stare for a while, stumped. Then you spot that one magical ingredient and smile. For me, that magic ingredient used to be marinara sauce. We've all been there, right? Pasta. Night after night. No matter how much you love pasta and no matter how healthy you make it - you know, by throwing in tons of spinach, chick peas, whatever - it's still pasta and it's far from a perfect meal, especially when you have it more than once a week!

Enter my new magic ingredient: beans. Pinto. Kidney. Black. Lentil. Whichever I happen to have on hand work just fine in this tasty taco recipe! The best part is that you can keep most of the (cheap!) ingredients stocked and improvise based on what you have on hand. Oh, and you can whip these up using the microwave and toaster oven if you want! No need to heat stuff on the stove, though that does improve the end result!

What to stock:
  • Canned beans (dry are even better if you can plan ahead!)
    • Black
    • Red Kidney
    • Pinto
    • Vegetarian Refried
  • Taco Shells
    • Read the label to make sure they're free of nasty partially hydrogenated oils
    • Can you find a mult-grain version at your grocer?
  • Cheese!
    • Skip the pre-shredded stuff. It's loaded with preservatives and anti-caking agents, doesn't taste as good as the blocks, and is 2-3 times the price!
    • Go for a local organic Cheddar labeled "RBGH free"
    • Monterey Jack or Pepper Jack work too!
  • Spices:
    • Don't fall for taco seasoning packs. They're usually made from the same ingredients (but tend to contain fillers and extra sodium!) I've listed them in proportional order:
      • Chili Powder
      • Cumin
      • Paprika
      • Cayenne
      • Garlic Powder
      • Onion Powder
      • Oregano
      • Kosher Salt, Red Pepper Flakes, and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
  • Taco Sauce
  • Salsa
  • Greek Yogurt 
    • Use this instead of sour cream!
    • My favorite is Fage 2%
  • Avocados!
  • Lettuce/Tomato/Onion/Sliced Black Olives
  • Tomato Paste and/or Diced Tomatoes are nice to have if you have time to heat stuff on the stove, but it's not necessary.
Super Fast Version (great for 1-2 people):
  1. Preheat Toaster Oven to 300. 
  2. Slice the cheese (and tomato if using) into small pieces and lay flat on inside of taco shells. 
  3. Pop them in the toaster oven for 5 minutes while prepping the rest. Keep an eye. Toaster Ovens can be finicky.
  4. Empty can of beans into microwave safe bowl. (Rinse and drain if desired)
    1. black, kidney, pinto, or vegetarian refried are my favorites!
    2. Season with spices listed above and stir/mash with a fork or potato masher until desired consistency (or don't - up to you!)
  5. Heat in microwave for 45 - 60 seconds, stir, repeat until warm throughout
  6. Remove taco shells from toaster oven 
    1. Add sliced avocado
    2. Spoon mixture into taco shells 
  7. Top with salsa, taco sauce, yogurt shredded lettuce, chopped red onion or scallions, and/or cheese
  8. Take a bite and smile because you just found your new favorite super fast dinner!
20-Minute Version (perfect for a fast taco night with friends!):
  1. Follow steps 1 - 3 above, but use the oven if prepping more than 3-4 taco shells
  2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat. Add 1/2 a finely chopped yellow onion and 1 minced clove of garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft.
  3. Add a can of beans and a couple tablespoons of tomato paste 
    • if you don't have tomato paste, you can substitute salsa or diced tomatoes
    • you can use lentils instead of canned beans, but you'll need to add more liquid (water, veggie broth, or water + liquid from diced tomatoes) and cook longer
  4. Season with spices listed above.
  5. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat, uncovered, stirring every couple minutes. 
  6. Remove taco shells from oven and add sliced avocado
  7. Spoon in heated bean mixture
  8. Top with salsa, taco sauce, yogurt, shredded lettuce, chopped red onion or scallions, and/or cheese!
  9. Enjoy!
Taco night with my roommate, Tandis!

PS: A side of quinoa or brown rice completes this meal nicely!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Blue Potato and Leek Soup (Vegan + Cheese)

Last winter, I got a few pounds of blue potatoes in my Boston Organics shipments. They were delicious, but a few went past their prime before I had time to cook them. Determined not to let them go to waste, I studied up and figured out how to plant them. Fast forward a few months, and I had a full harvest Somerville-grown Blue Potatoes! Fresh potatoes store well for months in the right conditions (cool, dry, and dark), so I decided to save most of my harvest for a chilly winter evening, envisioning a beautiful BLUE potato and leek soup!

The soup was warm and deliciously filling, but it didn't exactly turn out blue. Nonetheless, here is the recipe:

2 tb Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 leeks, white & light green parts, chopped and rinsed thoroughly
1 cup celery*, rinsed and chopped
1 medium carrot, rinsed and chopped
1 tsp red peper flakes (optional)
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tb dry sherry
1 liter box of low-sodium vegetable broth
1 lb (blue) potatoes, scrubbed or peeled and chopped
1 - 2 tb fresh parsley, chopped
1 - 2 tb fresh dill, chopped
kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Saute the leeks, celery, and carrot in the olive oil over medium for about 10 minutes, or until the softened. (Tip: Keep the pot covered when sauteeing veggies for soup. It locks in the moisture and speeds up the softening.) Add the garlic and some salt and pepper and saute for another 5 minutes. Turn heat to high, deglaze the pan with the dry sherry, pour in the broth and cover. Bring to a boil and add the potatoes. Make sure there's enough liquid in the pot to cover the veggies. If not, add more broth and/or water. Cover and return to a boil. 

Gently boil for about 10 minutes, then lower heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes or more (30 is the minimum to cook the potatoes through, but the longer you cook it for, the more time the flavors have to get to know each other). Add the fresh herbs toward the end of your cooking (maximizes flavor and nutritional value). Blend with an immersion blender or in batches in your blender (or don't blend at all if you prefer a thinner chunky soup!).

Finish with freshly ground black pepper to taste and top with a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, a dollop of Greek yogurt, or a small handful of freshly shredded cheddar (or all 3!).Enjoy!

*Celery is one of the "Dirty Dozen." Buy it Organic or you'll end up ingesting a large side of pesticides with your otherwise healthy veggie! For the full, dirty dozen list in a convenient pocket-sized printable PDF, click here. (courtesy of the Environmental Working Group)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Lies About Milk

My friends and family routinely float online articles about food past me for my thoughts. Today, my mom asked my thoughts on a yahoo article by none other than the Eat This! Not That! guy David Zinczenko. First of all, let me say that I think the well-intentioned Zinczenko routinely oversimplifies his nutritional suggestions, creating false choices for the hundreds of thousands of people who have likely read his books, articles, and magazine (he is the editor of Men's Health). 

He makes some valid points (I highlighted the things I agree with in yellow) in his recent yahoo article, The Truth About Milk, which is copied below. 

But unfortunately, he misses the point. Overall, I simply don't think milk is worth drinking for nutrition's sake. The evolution of how people even came to drink milk is interesting in and of itself and when you examine the societies who drink milk today, America tops the list (arguably because the USDA is in the back pocket of the dairy industry and has been brainwashing us with its health benefits for decades). Part of the reason for that is that much of the world remains lactose intolerant. People of African and Asian descent have strong negative reactions to lactose because they don't have lactase in their stomachs to break it down. America is more diverse now than it was 50 years ago and part of the reason milk consumption has declined is likely related just as much to that as it is to the marketing of cheaper, sugar-filled alternative drink options. I do think (and history and nutrition confirm this) that the right way to consume dairy is in the form of cheese and yogurt (the real stuff, not American cheese or dannon/yoplait yogurt)! The addition of bacteria to dairy helps break down the lactose. Aged cheeses are practically lactose free, as are cultured yogurts, making it more easily digested and more nutritionally beneficial. The stuff I blatantly disagree with in this article is highlighted in red. I also added notes in blue. 

The Truth About Milk

Milk: Healthy and nutritious drink, or fattening, contaminant-filled menace?

You might expect an organization called the Dairy Education Board to promote milk as a good thing. But instead, this advocacy group claims that “Milk is a deadly poison.” Oops. And as Americans have grown more wary of saturated fat, and more concerned about hormones and other substances fed to—and injected into—dairy cows, milk consumption has fallen dramatically. In the post-war days of 1945, the average American was consuming 45 gallons of milk a year. By 2001, per capita consumption was down to just 23 gallons. In 1945, most of America was WHITE and milk wasn't full of puss and then pasteurized to kill the germs in the puss, as it is today! You got your milk from a local dairy by way of a milk man, right??? 
But here’s the thing: Plenty of new research says that we should be drinking more milk, not less. (most of this research is funded by... ahem... the dairy industry!) In fact, swapping soda, juice, sweetened iced teas, and other beverages for milk might be one major reason why Americans are gaining weight at such a rapid pace. (fair enough) Milk not only helps boost protein intake and cut down on sugar, but consuming calcium through dairy foods such as milk may actually reduce the fat absorption from other foods. (Our bodies don't absorb the calcium from dairy as well as we absorb calcium from calcium-rich plant sources! we can also dramatically increase our calcuim absorbtion by pairing it with citrates, so calcium fortified OJ might be a better source than milk!) Who wouldn’t want that? 

Here are four milk myths you might have heard, and why you should consider answering the cowbell more often.
Claim #1: “Milk is a fat-burning food.” (no such thing, especially not from animal sources!)

The Truth: Maybe. In a 6-month study, University of Tennessee researchers (who funded this research?) found that overweight people who downed three servings a day of calcium-rich dairy lost more belly fat than those who followed a similar diet minus two or more of the dairy servings. In addition, the researchers discovered that calcium supplements (what kind of "supplements" are we talking here? I hate how this stuff is over-generalized. As we know, there's a wide variety of supplements availalbe and it's hard to know which ones are best absorbed by the body unless you have a lot of expertise in nutrition and biochemistry! Any walk down the vitamin aisle makes my head spin!) didn’t work as well as milk. Why? They believe that while calcium may increase the rate at which your body burns fat, other active compounds in dairy (such as milk proteins) provide an additional fat-burning effect.  

Claim #2: “Drinking milk builds muscle.” (I think lifting weights builds muscle and I'm sure I can find a strong contingency of fitness experts to back me up on this one!)

The Truth: Absolutely. In fact, milk is one of the best muscle foods on the planet. Milk is full of high-quality protein: about 80 percent casein and 20 percent whey. Whey is known as a “fast protein” because it’s quickly broken down intoamino acids and absorbed into the bloodstream—perfect for post-workout consumption. Casein, on the other hand, is digested more slowly—ideal for providing your body with a steady supply of smaller amounts of protein for a longer period of time, such as between meals or while you sleep. (if you're looking for amino acids, there are much better sources. try Braggs Liquid Aminos for a start. Use it to flavor soups and stews and in place of soy sauce! It's available in the "healthy/organic section of most grocery stores, sold online, and available at most naturals/health food stores) 
Claim #3: “Cows are given antibiotics. Doesn’t that make their milk unhealthy?”  (um, not to mention the growth hormone RBGH, which has been linked to weight gain and the early onset of puberty. The antibiotics fed to cows are more of a global health risk as widespread use of such antibiotics promotes the growth of "superbugs" that are resistant to andtibiotics. Don't think this is serious business? Pharma companies sell more antibiotics to farm animals than they do to people!)
The Truth: No one really knows. Some scientists argue that milk from cows given antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance in humans, making these types of drugs less effective when you take them for an infection. But this has never been proven. (this isn't the right way to look at the issue of antibiotic resistance. we're not talking about humans being resistant to drugs. we're talking about the bacteria being resistant to them! plenty of viruses and bacteria can/do mutate and cross species. H1N1 ring a bell? see note above)

It is true that hormones and antibiotics have never been part of a cow’s natural diet, and they have been shown to have adverse effects on the animals. Canadian researchers, for example, discovered that cows given hormones are more likely to contract an udder infection called mastitis. If you’re uneasy, you can purchase antibiotic-free (and typically hormone-free, as well) milk from producers like Horizon and Organic Valley at most major supermarkets. The cows will certainly thank you. (skip the nationally distributed brands in favor of local organic dairies. your local economy and the environment will thank you!)

Claim #4: “Fat-free milk is much healthier than whole.”

The Truth: Nope. While you’ve probably always been told to drink reduced-fat milk, the majority of scientific studies (funded by... ?) show that drinking whole milk actually improves cholesterol levels—just not as much as drinking fat-free does. One recent exception: Danish researchers found that men who consumed a diet rich in whole milk experienced a slight increase in LDL cholesterol (six points). However, it’s worth noting that these men drank six 8-ounce glasses a day, an unusually high amount. Even so, their triglycerides—another marker of heart-disease risk—decreased by 22 percent. The bottom line: Drinking two to three glasses of milk a day, whether it’s fat-free, 2%, or whole, lowers the likelihood of both heart attackand stroke—a finding confirmed by British scientists. (in place of other beverages or in addition to?)

EAT RIGHT RULE: If your food can go bad, it's good for you. If it can't go bad, it's bad for you. (I generally agree with this sentiment, but remember that beef goes bad and beef isn't good for you. Dried legumes and grains on the other hand, don't really go bad and are good for  you...)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Veggie Broth 101

Supplies include colander set in large bowl, coffee filter, &
container to store broth in.
The beginning of fall is so bittersweet. The garden's harvests will be over soon... so long to garden fresh tomatoes and farmers markets. Hello to crisp fall mornings and cider donuts! As "hunker down" season crepes in, I do have something to look forward to: soup! My love of soup is a new thing. I used to poo-poo it as a meal with no bite! But what can I say, things have changed and my taste buds and belly have come around to what I now regard as the best meal known to man. As a vegetarian, that means that veggie broth is a really important staple for me. But I swear that veggie broth is just as tasty and way healthier than chicken stock and it's unbelievably easy to make your own from scratch! If you're a city dweller without a car, you know you have to pick your liquids carefully at the grocery store. And even if you have a giant car to haul all that broth around in, making your own stock is a great way to clean out the fridge and save money and the environment (think of all that gas saved from not shipping crates of veggie broth across the country!). Sufficiently convinced that it's time to try your hand at a pot? Good because here's a brief tutorial:
Got the freezer bag idea from poorgirlgourmet
  • Save your veggie scraps! The best way I've found to do this is to keep a gallon sized freezer bag in the freezer. Add veggies to it and when it's full, you'll have enough veggies to make a pot of stock. Things to throw in the bag:
    • green parts of leeks and green onions
    • rough ends and leaves of celery
    • that 1/2 onion leftover from a recipe
    • those baby carrots that have gone white
    • carrot peels
    • potato skins
    • tomato skins and/or seeds
    • seeds of hot peppers
  • Save your herbs (and their stems)! You know when you buy a bunch of fresh parsely and never manage to use it all before it goes bad? You can freeze it and never have that problem again. Fresh frozen herbs have almost as much flavor and nutrients as fresh-picked and so much more than dried! The stems are especially great to use in broth! Here are the herbs to save for your broth:
  • Leeks, mushrooms, corn, onion, carrots, hot peppers...
    • parsley
    • basil
    • thyme
    • oregano
    • dill
    • bay leaves

From there, things are really simple. When that gallon freezer bag is full, just empty it into a large pot and cover the veggies with water. Add the following:
Color varies depending on what goes in!
  • veggies from the fridge, such as:
    • bell peppers
    • zucchini
    • string beans
    • leafy greens
    • turnips 
    • parsnips
    • celery root
    • potatoes
    • sweet potatoes
    • tomatoes
    • mushrooms
  • whole black peppercorns
  • 1 - 3 cloves of garlic
  • any fresh herbs you have on hand
  • a dash of kosher or sea salt

    I know this seems like a laundry list of veggies, and it is, but that's the beauty of it. The only ones I would say are must haves are onions (white, yellow, or leeks), celery, and carrots. The rest change for me every time I make a pot based on the season. Last winter, I made a pot almost every week because I didn't know what else to do with all the turnips, parsnips, carrots, and celery root I was getting in my biweekly delivery of locally sourced produce from Boston Organics. The only veggie I would advise you never use? Beets!

    Fill the pot with enough water to cover all the veggies, turn the heat up high, cover the pot, and bring to a boil. Let it boil for a few minutes and lower to a simmer. Let it go for as long as you want. I usually simmer it for a couple hours. The longer it cooks, the more time the flavors have to diffuse into the water. The aromas of the veggies will fill your house. They often tempt me to fish out a few veggies, which have become meals in and of themselves (boiled potatoes and carrots topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt makes me feel all warm inside). 

    Remove the lid for the last 30 - 60 min of simmering to concentrate the flavors even more (the water will evaporate leaving behind a darker broth). Turn off the heat and let cool for a while. (You don't want to burn yourself while completing the next few steps). Strain the veggies through a colander (like you use for pasta), set over a large mixing bowl. Then, you'll want to strain that liquid again. Some people use cheese cloth for this step, but I can't be bothered with the mess that creates and it can be a pain in the butt to secure the cheese cloth over a container. Instead, I recommend a reusable coffee filter (those bronze baskets), which are available at most house-ware stores for around $5.

    Tip: You can salvage more broth (and vitamins) by literally squeezing it out of the veggies! 

    Transfer the double-strained liquid to the storage container of your choice. When I use my largest cast-iron pot, I end up with slightly more than a gallon of liquid. I love using ball jars, but those quart and pint size containers from Chinese take-out work well, too (especially if you're going to freeze it). You can refrigerate the broth for up to a week or freeze it for a few months

    By the way, you'll notice I didn't mention adding any fat. That's because you don't need to saute the veggies at all before you boil them for the broth. You can if you want, but I prefer not to so that I can compost all the boiled veggies after I strain and squeeze all the juices from them. When you make your soup, you'll probably start by sautéing onion (and probably carrots and celery depending on the soup) anyway, so no need to do that part twice! 

    Wednesday, August 18, 2010

    Guns, Gazpacho and Gossip

    I think I've started a bit of a tradition with a few of my best girl friends. After work on Wednesday, I head to the gym for my weekly dose of Body Pump, the only non-yoga class I consider myself a regular at. If you'vs never heard of or been to a body pump class before you're missing out! It's 60 minutes of weight lifting. The instructor leads you through a routine. Each muscle group gets two to five minutes of attention and the reps are set to the tempo of top 40 hits. I've always liked lifting (mostly because it's not running) but body pump takes the fun to a whole new level. I always leave knowing I gave my back, quads, shoulders, triceps, biceps, chest, core and glutes a solid talking to! I've been going to this class for a while and earlier this year, I finally convinced two of my best friends to join my favorite gym of all time. Now, the three of us are regulars at 6:30 Body Pump on Wednesday nights. But that's not the tradition.

    Dinner at my place after class is the tradition! I try to prep ahead or think of a fast and easy recipe... when I'm just cooking for me, I don't mind spending a couple hours in the kitchen, but when I've got two sweaty 20-somethings to feed, I don't have the luxury of debating recipes!  Last week, the cucumber salad and pasta with arugula pesto and roasted tomatoes went over well.  But it's been really tough to think of new ways to eat all the tomatoes coming out of the garden, so tonight... I stopped thinking and started blending!

    To make the delicious Gazpacho pictured above, I simply chopped up a 2 medium cucumbers and 4 medium tomatoes and threw them in the blender with a clove of garlic, a pepper from the garden, a few tablespoons each of extra virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and chopped red onion, and a few fresh herbs (basil, parsley, oregano, chives) from the front steps.  Then we popped the whole blender in the freezer so the flavors could meld while the soup chilled a bit.  Impatient and hungry, we munched on some 6 Grain and Pumpkin Seed Bread from local bakery When Pigs Fly (widely available at grocers and farmers markets throughout New England and everywhere else for that matter - they ship!) smothered with Robiola cheese and wild blueberry and black currant jams (and drizzled with raw local honey for good measure).  I highly recommend this combination of cheese, bread, and preserves (or something very similar).  It's like cream cheese and jelly for pretentious grown-ups.  :-P

    While the cheese and bread held us over, we were eager to devour the Gazpacho.  We let it sit in the freezer for about ten minutes and then had a bowl each.  We topped it with some thick Greek yogurt (Fage 2%), diced cucumbers and red onions, and sprinkled it all with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  While we filled our bellies with raw goodness, we chatted boyfriends and newly engaged couples and skimmed a few of my recent cookbook purchases for inspiration for next week!  

    Tuesday, August 17, 2010

    Quick Recipe for all the Tomatoes!

    I have been living off my garden almost exclusively (except for cheese and bread!) for a few weeks now and I'm starting to get a little more adventurous with my use of all the tomatoes. I'll start freezing and canning the excess pretty soon so I can savor fresh marinara sauce mid-winter and I'm doling out a few here and there to lucky friends and coworkers.  The caprese and tomato cucumber salads for lunch every day are tasty, but sometimes you have to mix things up because variety is the spice of life, right?  So tonight, I whipped up a spicy Tomato Avocado Salad and munched on it with some Veggie & Flaxseed Tortilla chips from Trader Joe's and some Byrne Dairy Monterey Jack Cheese from NY.  Can't forget the Fage 2% that topped things off... I've completely sworn off sour cream for my favorite Greek yogurt substitute!

    1 ripe hass avocado, seeded, peeled, and chopped into bite-sized cubes
    2 bright red medium-large tomatoes, peeled if desired, and chopped into pieces to match avocado
    1 - 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons chopped red onion
    1 - 2 spicy peppers, such as jalapeño
    1 - 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    Freshly ground black pepper to taste

    Feel free to replace red onion with green onions if that sounds tastier to you (or if that's all you have on hand).  Chives, cilantro, and garlic would go well in this dish, too.  Eat it with a fork or a spoon or with a bag of tortilla chips! Enjoy!

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    The Garden is Bearing!

    It's the time of year when I get to enjoy the fruits of my labor (literally!), so I figured I'd share a few pictures of the garden over the past couple months and the produce it's bearing.  Things are A LOT bigger now, so more photos to come soon... I promise! 

    Mid-June shot of most of the garden. Tomatoes, Squash, and Corn all look good!
    Basil, Chives, Thai Basil!
    This year, I got really ambitious and decided to plant the whole front yard with veggies.  Keeping the herbs in pots on the front steps to the house meant more room for tomatoes, lettuces, potatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, corn, and beets. The chives came back from last year.  I started some of the basil from seed, but I bought a lot of plants, too.  I love how convenient it is to have them on the front steps in pots. It's easy to find what I'm looking for during my late night kitchen marathons!  I still haven't cooked any Thai Basil dishes, but I'm hoping to get to that this weekend.  The chives get used a couple times a week in salads, eggs, and soups.  And you can bet that the basil is going to good use too, especially now that I have tomatoes coming out of my ears!

    Squash Flowers, Yellow Squash, Cucumbers, & Zucchini
    Fritattas have become my favorite use of the squash flowers, especially now that I have a steady supply of fresh eggs from my grandma's chickens!  I can't wait to get chickens of my own one day.  There's just no comparing fresh eggs to store-bought, factory farmed, uniform, tasteless... well, you get the point!  I'll post a recipe soon for the fritatta.

    Cucumber tomato salad has also been a staple for the past couple weeks!

    Tomatoes and eggplant, too!
    I've got about 6 varieties of tomatoes growing.  I successfully started Big Boy, Roma, and Cherry tomatoes from seed, but they're not fruiting as much as the plants I purchased from Home Depot.  :-(  Maybe next year!  The bunch of green stuff in the corner of the basket is Arugula.  I was travelling for a week for work when we had 80+ degree temps, so the Arugula got really peppery.  I didn't know what else to do with it, so I made a pesto, which came out amazing.

    Figuring out what to do with tomatoes is never a problem for me.  Paired with Buffalo Mozzarella and topped with fresh basil, a dash of kosher salt, and a drizzle of EVOO is probably my favorite way to get them in my belly.  I love making fresh marinara and will certainly can as many jars as possible to get me through the winter!  
    Doesn't that just look like summer?!

    Disclaimer: The container garden you see from my window is my neighbor's!  Tom is an older Italian man who often gives me tours of his pride and joy.  We also trade seeds and plants and he looks after my garden when I'm not around.

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Sunchoke Fritters!

    When I subscribed to Boston Organics in March, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but I was excited to try the biweekly deliveries of locally sourced organic produce!  I had considered subscribing to CSAs in the past, but most of them say they're enough produce to feed 2 vegetarians and well, I'm just one!  The Dogma Box from Boston Organics seemed like a convenient and flexible way to get my fill of locally sourced fruits and veggies and at $29 per delivery, it was worth a shot!

    Soup Before Immersion Blender
    I knew I wouldn't be getting any strawberries, but I wasn't expecting so many Jerusalem Artichokes (aka Sunchokes)!  I don't think I had ever even heard of a sunchoke before my first lb arrived sometime in March or April, but I was excited to try them and whipped up an easy and delicious Sunchoke Potato Leek Soup with the first batch.  I had a few friends over to help me consume this new concoction and everyone loved it, though the day after was reportedly a bit uncomfortable for some...

    These are NOT potatoes!
    I searched high and low for recipes for all the sunchokes that came in my deliveries.  I must admit that a batch or two eventually found their way to the composter instead of my tummy!  My growing collection of cookbooks and shelf full of Vegetarian Times magazines didn't come through for me, but I eventually found and adapted a pretty awesome recipe for Sunchoke Fritters!

    Here are the ingredients and what I did:
    Scrubbed and Trimmed Sunchokes!

    Tip: Soak sunchokes in cold water with a little baking soda before scrubbing and cut off the knobby parts that are tough to clean!  The skins are good for you!

    Thank god for food processors!

    1 lb Sunchokes, scrubbed
    3 carrots
    3 shallots
    2 cloves garlic

    I shredded the above ingredients in the food processor.

    Dry Ingredients
    Then I mixed them with the following pre-mixed dry ingredients:
    Approx 1/4 cup flour (I combined soy and whole wheat pastry flour)
    Approx 1/4 cup corn meal
    Kosher Salt
    Freshly Ground Black Pepper
    Assorted Fresh Herbs to taste (chives, parsley)

    Mix it up!
    1 - 2 eggs to bind the ingredients

    Mix all above ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

    I then grabbed a tablespoon sized measuring spoon and a flat wooden spatula to help make sure I had even flat circular fritters.

    Pan fry using High Heat Safflower Oil (it doesn't oxidize as much as other oils when heated to high temps). Cook 1-3 min per side, until lightly browned and crispy!  

    Into the frying pan they go!
    Transfer to paper towel lined pans and put in oven at 200 degrees to keep warm, if desired.  These pan-fried treats are made a lot like potato pancakes but served up a lot more flavor than the typical latke.

    There were so many that I brought them all to work and left them in our cafe, where they disappeared within a few short hours!

    Tuesday, July 27, 2010

    My Urban Garden Started in an Empty Corner Office

    Tip: Label Everything!
    I moved to Boston (Somerville actually) in March of 2008 and soonafter asked my landlord about planting a few vegetables somewhere in the yard.  There's not a ton of land, but my downstairs neighbors had a small garden in the side yard, so I thought it couldn't hurt to ask.  Ron was more excited about my garden than I was and we talked possible locations.  He pointed me to the front yard since it got the most sun.  I wasn't about to be picky, so I agreed and got to work tearing up the (crab) grass and tilling.  I'd never had a garden before, but I come from a long line of green thumbs and I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty!  How hard could it be to grow a few tomatoes, right? 

    Tip 2: Plastic Doesn't Mold & is Reusable!
    Well, the garden was a hit!  My neighbors would walk by and marvel and I couldn't talk to my landlord without hearing about how great it looked.  I was thrilled when the first zucchini came in.  I didn't realize that the plants would stop fruiting if I let them get too big and I was so proud of how fast they grew, that I let them get HUGE so I could stuff them with quinoa.  What I love about gardening is that I'm always learning something practical (you don't get much more practical than how to feed yourself!).  This year, I wanted to start everything from seed.  I probably spent $100 or so on heirloom varieties without realizing that I didn't know a damn thing about seed starting (again, how hard could it be, right?).  I bought a few books, read the instructions on seed packs and got to it!

    Happy Cucumber and Squash Seedlings
    I did have one small problem.  I live in on the second floor of a large Victorian that is surrounded by trees.  There are tons of windows, but none that get enough sun for seedlings.  My office, on the other hand, is an extremely sunny place, so I brought all my supplies to work and stayed late one night after everyone had left to sow my seeds in the kitchen.  I borrowed a coworker's space heater, watered, and headed home for the night.  And like good seeds do, a few days later, they sprouted.  Trouble was, I started a bit late AND I had to travel a lot in March, April, and May for work... so they didn't get the love they deserved and not many made it to the actual garden.  Successful transplants included roma and cherry tomatoes, escarole, and hmmm... that might be about it! 

    Yes, I transplanted more than just that, but the damn japanese beetles ate most of my young plants.  I eventually ended up replacing a lot of the plants I had started from seed with plants I bought at Pemberton Farms, Home Depot, Lowes, seedling sales at local farms, and farmers markets.  But at least this year, I tried to start everything from seed... and I think I made pretty damn good use of that empty corner office, don't you think!?  And in case you're wondering, those sandwich platters with lids do make excellent "greenhouses!"

    Bet you can't wait to see the pics of the garden now, right?  Coming soon, I promise!

    Sunday, July 25, 2010

    Remember My Trip to Hawaii? Well, Here's the Post!

    A Day at the Beach
    I'm learning that in the world of blogging, doing is better than thinking.  The perfectionist in me keeps wanting to post things in the order they happen, as they happen, with pretty pictures and everything.  But let's face it, I'm busy and new at this whole blogging thing.  My trip to Oahu was in March and I've held off on posting about my garden because I wanted to get this one done first!  Shame on me.  From now on, I'm not going to be a perfectionist about fromseedtostomach!

    Oahu was amazing.  It was my first time to Hawaii.  One of my best  friends from college moved there a few years ago shortly after marrying a naval officer who got orders that sent them both to paradise.  I had an open invite, a place to stay, and a best friend to visit and it took me like 3 years to finally take Laura (on the right in this picture) and her husband Will, up on their awesome offer!  When Laura was asking me about what I wanted to see/do while in town, I told her that all I cared about was checking out the local farmers markets, eating lots of tropical food, and sticking to my budget!
    The Farmers' Market was awesome.  I took too many pictures to post here, but you can check them out on flickr.  There's a set for the farmers market and a set for Oahu.

    In Hawaii, I fell in love with papaya.  Sure I had eaten papaya before, but never in a smoothie or with Greek yogurt.  I couldn't (and still can't) get enough of this delicious candy-like fruit!  I know it has to travel great distances to get to my plate, so I've tried to keep that in mind and not go overboard, but they're SO tempting!
    My appreciation for flowers also skyrocketed as I saw all kinds of beautiful flowers I had never even imagined, let alone seen in real life!  I took so many pictures of gorgeous flowers that I made a set just for flowers on my flickr photostream!
    So what did we buy?  Thought you'd never ask!  I got an amazing Land of Organica organic mango sorbet.  Laura introduced me to spicy pickles from the pickle man and picked up a few jars of amazing pickles.  We both tried corn sprouts for the first time and I bought a bag that I never did anything with!  I fell in love with Taro Salad from Taro Delight (where the taro farmer told me all about taro!).  Laura got some beets that we roasted and tossed with goat feta and mixed greens in delicious salad for dinner that night!  Oh, and Laura got a lavender scone (I thought that sounded nuts, but it was SOOO good!).
    Alii Kula Lavender Booth
    While the KCC Farmers Market was certainly a major highlight of my trip, I would be remiss not to mention the amazing cookies from Honolulu Cookie Company.  I've never been a huge fan of shortbread, but I sampled every cookie at least once.  I think my favorite was the lilikoi (passion fruit)!  So yummy.  Oh, and I got to see some family in Oahu, too.  My step-aunt and her family moved out there a few years ago and I felt so lucky to get to try Aunt Lynn's Okinawa Sweet Potato Pie and her lilikoi jam!

    Oh, and I can't write a post about Hawaii without mentioning the shaved ice.  You can bet I ate that at least 3 times... with the condensed milk and the sweet azuki beans and tropical flavors every time!  I almost forgot to mention the KONA COFFEE!  I don't consider myself to be a coffee connoisseur at all, but there's no denying that Kona Coffee is some of the best coffee on the planet!

    I can't finish this post without airing one grievance.  When I started planning my trip, I had visions of roadside produce stands selling pineapples, coconuts, and mangoes.  I was REALLY disappointed that I had to go out of my way to find all the stuff that the fertile land in Oahu bears, especially when there were plate lunch trucks pushing steak plates on every other corner!  Gross.

    PS: Pineapples grow in bushes on the ground, not in trees!  (Can you tell that was news to me when we drove past the Dole Plantation on the way to the North Shore?)

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Visualizing our Food System | food tech connect

    In my professional life, I market books about computing and IT. In fact, I'm heading to LA right now for SIGGRAPH, the biggest computer graphics conference in the world. So it was a bit serindipidous when, at 36,000 feet on board my Virgin America flight, I discovered (via @civileater via @MichaelPollan on twitter), this amazing graphic that visualizes our food system on a blog that made me feel like my two worlds just collided! You have to check out the graphic and the blog and tell me what you think!

    Visualizing our Food System | food tech connect

    Thursday, July 1, 2010

    A Month of Meals from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Part 2.3 – Farewell San Fran - Gather Restaurant Review

    This is another long overdue post that I’ve been thinking about for months!

    The Bay Area is home to so much great food and Gather’s got to be at the top of the list for anyone interested in sustainable, local, organic, vegetarian, grass-fed, and/or delicious food!  Christina (mentioned in previous post) and I tracked this place down after doing a quick yelp search for veg-friendly places in Berkeley.  We knew there’d be plenty of choices, but after taking a quick look at this place on our phones, it was a no-brainer.  This place was love at first yelp. 

    From the moment we walked in, I was getting ideas.  The look of this place was right up my alley.  Simple wood.  Clean lines. A visible kitchen. Slate and chalk and brushed metal. Oh my. On the way to our table, after we passed the breastfeeding woman, I noticed that Gather was practically decorated with giant ball jars filled with grains and beans.  Seriously… why hadn’t I thought of that? I had been spending so much money on those expensive OXO pop containers for all my dry pantry staples! By now, my canning jar collection has exploded and I’m in love with my cabinets!

    But I digress.  As we poured over the menu, one thing was abundantly clear: this place rocked!

    Stream of consciousness: Yes of course this goes with that.  Oh Yum. I want to know how to make that. 

    Everything on the menu just made sense. Gather supports local farmers and clearly spends a lot of time considering where to source their ingredients (or maybe it doesn’t take that much time to find great sources when you’re in California!).  Gather’s proud of their ½ vegetarian menu and I was thrilled to see lots of vegan options and even some good-looking meat (not that I’d order any, but if I suddenly decided I wanted to eat something with legs again, I might hold out for a return trip to this place).

    The simple one-page menu changes frequently based on what’s available but looks to be consistently organized into Small Plates, Soups and Salads, Artisanal Plates, Pizzas, and Large Plates.  The prices seem fair for the careful planning that goes into every dish.  I started with a vegan split pea soup.  I love it when restaurants serve vegetarian things that should be vegetarian to begin with but are often spoiled with the addition of a ham hock.  So that was a no-brainer and it was delicious. 

    Then Christina and I split the Vegan “charcuterie.” There was asparagus with a lentil salsa, toasted ciabotta with avocado and fried tofu skin, heirloom carrots on a bed of cashew ricotta, a potato sunchoke chanterelle salad, and roasted beets with blood oranges and fennel!  Words cannot even describe how delicious everything was. What I can say was that the cashew ricotta helped me understand how vegans can live without cheese. I still don’t think it’s for me, but hey, it’s food for thought.  Tee Hee.

    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    A Month of Meals from the Atlantic to the Pacific: Part 2.2 – San Fran Continued!

    It’s been almost a month since my last post and over 2 months since my time on the Pacific, so I think it’s about damn time I finish what I started and tell you about the rest of my San Francisco adventure!   Drum roll please…

    I can’t even start this post without a little shoutout to the girl who introduced me to Berkeley.   Christina (the same one from Milwaukee) moved to Cali not too long ago and is always down for delicious fun, so emailing her seemed like the natural starting place for my Bay Area planning to begin.  Sure enough, she came through with not one, but two, awesome ideas. 
    BART logo 
    As soon as I was done with work on Monday, I (literally) ran from my hotel in Union Square to the Powell St BART station and boarded the next train to Ashby Station in Berkeley, where Christina was waiting curbside in her big black SUV.  We headed straight to the Takara Sake Brewery to learn about and to taste lots of Sake.  I’d never even had Sake before, so this was a whole new learning experience for me and I loved every minute of it!  Christina and I watched an informational video about the history and tradition that goes into brewing every batch of sake.  While it wasn’t the most captivating movie I’ve ever seen, it was pretty interesting.  Then it was time for Sake tasting! 

    SHO CHIKU BAI NamaThere were a few different tasting menus available to choose from, but since this was my first time ever trying sake, I played it safe and went with Menu (A), aka the Variety Course.  Sierra Cold was up first.  It was a Ginjo type, which means that it’s made from premium ingredients using rice polished 40% or more.  This is, of course according to the handy “How to Enjoy Sake: Easy Guide to Sake Tasting” brochure I picked up at the brewery.  My notes say that Sierra Cold was fresh like water.  The handy info sheet that I took my notes on says that it’s 12% alcohol and a +5 on the sake meter, which indicates that it’s a dry sake.  #2 was ShoChikuBai NAMA.  This was my favorite of them all and go figure.  It was 15% alcohol and unpasteurized!  It’s a Junmai type, meaning it is composed of rice, water, and culture with no other ingredients or additives such as alcohol or sugar.  It’s also a +5 on the sake meter and the description says it’s bold and yeasty in front with a fruity and refreshing taste.  I thought it was very smooth.  Next up was the ShoChikuBai CLASSIC.  This one was served warm and was very acidic.  While the description says that it’s a well balanced and full bodied mild (+3) Junmai type, my taste buds revolted and I scrawled “YUCK” in big letters on my note sheet.  Then there was the ShoChikuBai NIGORI Sily Mild which was another Junmai type.  This one was 15% alcohol and -20 on the sake meter, which meant it was sweet.  I was indifferent towards this one and was told it goes well with spicy food.  Next we got to try a Hana Flavored Sake and I opted for the Lychee, which tasted good, but was artificially flavored (booo).  Then was the Koshu Plum which tasted like cough syrup.  Last, we got to choose one and I opted for the Shirakabe Gura Junmai Gingo, which was pretty good but a tad pricey. 

    Christina bought a couple bottles of her favorites and we popped in the Sake museum before heading to dinner.   All in all, the sake brewery tour and tasting was a great experience.  I’d definitely recommend it to anyone living in or visiting the Bay Area.