Friday, May 23, 2014

Grilling Time!

View of Lake Cayuga, one of the Finger Lakes. Both Wells College and Cornell University overlook this beautiful lake.
Memorial Day officially kicks off the summer season and that means it's time to fire up the grill. Here in Colorado, we grill year round (I usually grill a turkey for Thanksgiving) but once the summer heat hits, it's the only way I cook.
The Original Wells Chicken recipe
So, to celebrate the start of grilling season, I offer "Wells Chicken." I was just back from central New York where I attended my daughter's graduation from Wells College (my alma mater, too). Cornell Chicken is sold out of shacks throughout this part of New York. Two of my college friend's decided that our little college needed its own version. This is what they came up with, and I proudly served it to friends and family last week at my daughter's graduation party. The main difference? Cornell Chicken uses apple cider vinegar and her Wells version uses red wine vinegar. Try them both this summer. Either way, it's a delicious take on grilled chicken.

The real secret ingredient in both these recipes is the egg. Egg yolks are full of lecithin, an emulsifier. It keeps the oil and vinegar from separating in the marinade. Because we eventually cook the chicken, the egg works well for this.

Someday, do try to sample Cornell Chicken in the Finger Lakes. It's a beautiful place, filled with wineries, tree-lined villages, history, and of course, stunning lakes!

Wells Chicken
(For 5 broiler halves, enough for 8-10 people)

½ cup oil
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 egg
juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves garlic, mashed 
healthy pinch of crushed red pepper

Combine everything in a big bowl, making sure to beat egg in well. Add chicken and marinate for up to 3 days in the refrigerator. Overnight is the minimum. Turn chicken a few times to makes sure all pieces are well-covered.

Grill on a slow grill to prevent flare-ups. (More tips on grilling chicken)

For traditional Cornell Chicken, replace the red wine vinegar with apple cider vinegar and don't use lemon juice, garlic, and crushed red pepper.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Inner Life of Broccoli

Last summer, I read this article about a Cornell plant scientist who is trying to breed a better broccoli. Most broccoli is grown in moist, cool, foggy places, like coastal California, and doesn't tolerate warm temperatures, particularly at night. As broccoli is near the top of my favorite veggie list, I was keenly interested in his quest to breed a better broccoli, one that reaches the market sweet and crisp. Though he has successfully bred an improved broccoli, it may be a while before it reaches a market near you. Until then, is there a take-away from this work? Sure is - cook your broccoli soon after you buy it! Like that same day. No, it will not taste like fresh picked but every day it sits in your crisper is another day towards increased funkiness, something most people find off-putting about broccoli. You can steam it, chill it down quickly in ice water, drain, and refrigerate it until you need it. Heat it up in the microwave or quickly sauté it. Steaming is better at preserving nutrients than boiling, so I don't usually boil green vegetables.

Remember the stems are tasty too (in fact, they are often sweeter than the florets), but the lower stem has a thick fibrous layer that should be peeled off. Start from the bottom and pull upwards towards the florets on the thick outer layer. It will peel off in pieces. You don't need to peel all the way up; just the lower part is fibrous.

Also, learn to pick the freshest bunches: not limp and rubbery, and with tight green heads and no yellowing.

Here's a recipe, originally for asparagus, that works just as well on broccoli:

Broccoli with Goat Cheese Sauce
(serves 4, costs $2.75)

1 pound broccoli, trimmed, and cut into florets and stem pieces sliced ¼" thick
1 oz. creamy goat cheese with herbs
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 ½ Tablespoon hot water

Combine goat cheese, mayonnaise, lemon juice, black pepper, and hot water in a medium bowl. Whisk until the sauce is smooth.

Steam the broccoli for about 5 minutes until just tender. Dress with sauce and sprinkle lightly with salt. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Nutrition, Asparagus with Goat Cheese and Dill Sauce

Monday, May 12, 2014

Carrot-Mushroom Loaf

I suppose I should save this for ThrowBack Thursday but I decided it belonged with all the Meatless Monday recipes. :-) This recipe is from the original Moosewood Cookbook, a classic of vegetarian cooking. I went to college in the Finger Lakes and the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York was already well-known for its vegetarian cuisine back in the early 1980's . It actually took me until 2011 to enjoy a meal there but it still feels like the fern bars of the 80's, where you sit among the potted plants and enjoy a lovely quiche.

The mushrooms in this loaf give it umami, that meaty savory flavor. Mushrooms are a rich natural source of glutamates (the "G" in MSG), which explains why a grilled portobello mushroom tastes surprisingly like meat. The carrots provide some texture and a bit of sweetness. The eggs, cheese, and bread crumbs bind it all together. It's delicious served mashed potatoes or some fruit chutney.

Carrot-Mushroom Loaf
(serves 6, costs $8.25)

non-stick cooking spray
½ stick butter or 4 Tablespoons oil (butter definitely tastes better in this)
1 large onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound white mushrooms, chopped (a food processor does a good job)
4 ½ cups grated carrots (about 1 ¾ pounds)
5 large eggs
1 cup fresh whole wheat bread crumbs (about 1 ½ to 2 slices bread)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a loaf pan (8"x3" or 9"x4") with non-stick cooking spray to grease. Set aside.

Heat the butter in a large skillet. When melted, add garlic, onion, and mushrooms. Cook until mushrooms release their liquid and most of that cooks off. Add the carrots, stir well, and remove from the heat. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the carrot-mushroom mixture. Add ½ of the bread crumbs and ½ the cheese, the salt, pepper, and dried thyme. Mix to combine and pour into the loaf pan. Spread the rest of the crumbs and cheese on top and spray with non-stick cooking spray - this helps the top brown.

Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Increase the oven to 400°F, remove the foil, and bake for 10 more minutes to crisp up the top. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen, Ten Speed Press, 1977.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Food Revolution Day 2014 is Coming!

May 16 is Food Revolution Day this year. What is Food Revolution Day? A day to celebrate real food, food education, and community. It's celebrated throughout the world, led by Ambassador volunteers like me. We put together local events to get people cooking. Last year, I participated in a "Chopped" like competition at the Boulder Whole Foods, which was a blast. This year, I'll be celebrating my daughter's graduation from college. I'll be cooking up an awesome BBQ for my family and friends on the shores of Lake Cayuga in upstate NY. If you are looking for an event near Boulder and you have children, I recommend you check out the Lafayette Ambassador's event. Carin Bertelle is leading a cooking demo for kids featuring Jamie Oliver's Rainbow Crunch Wrap. I'm sure it will be a fun and tasty time!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Eating Sustainably

Sustainability is a hot food topic. It's something I've given a fair bit of thought. My mom was an early adopter of Earth Day, in fact, she spearheaded the first Earth Day celebration at my elementary school back in 1970. My personal philosophy of sustainability is a three pronged (like a fork, of course!) approach:

-Your planet. This is the classic definition of sustainability. If we keep producing our food the way we have been lately, will we be able to keep it going for our kids, grandkids, on down the line? Or, will some critical resource collapse, threatening our food supply? A lot of food thought leaders think even without some sort of collapse, we'll have trouble feeding everyone. There are also questions of animal welfare, environmental degradation, public safety, and social justice thrown into the mix. What should we eat if we want to support a long-term ecological balance? This is a very complex question, but when I explored food for health, that went quite far in addressing it.

-Your physical health. Boy, if there was ever a subject fraught with confusion, it's human nutrition. It's seems as complicated as the planet sustainability question. How much fat/carbohyrates/protein should I eat? Which vitamins and how much? What about micro-nutrients, anti-oxidants, types of fat? I don't know. I don't think in nutrients. You don't live on nutrients, you live on food. We don't understand human nutrition well enough to pop a bunch of pills and call it good. We spend way too much time talking about the nutrients in food. Michael Pollan (more about him in a sec) uses the term "nutritionism," which he defines as an ideology that the most important attribute of a food is the nutrients contained within it. This sounds so scientific because we can measure the nutrients in food and then figure out exactly which nutrients are good or bad. Pollan doesn't buy it. Neither do I. As I said, you do not eat nutrients in isolation. You eat food. Pollan, in In Defense of Food, introduced his Food Rules to help us understand what we should eat, while saying nothing about the nutrients in food. He distilled it down to three rules. Yes, only three!

Eat Food
Not too much
Mostly Plants

"Of course I eat food! What else would I eat?" you ask. Food here means minimally processed food, in all its glorious variety. Food that your great grandparents would recognize. Food that doesn't have an ingredient list that reads like a chemistry set. I do not believe that the processing makes the food poisonous. But, as I explained in a previous post, processed foods are carriers of cheap calories which may have some token nutrients added to make it sound like it could be good for you. Any resemblance to real food is purely coincidental.

"Not too much" is another way of saying don't overeat. Your body can't deal with more calories than it needs. Things go wrong. Maybe not right away but eventually. Things like diabetes, heart disease, cancer. In today's food environment, it's not easy to figure out the right amount. There is SO much delicious food out there. Be mindful of how much you eat. Steer clear of the empty calories, which are not limited to processed foods. A fancy chocolate torte isn't any healthier than a bag of cheap chocolate chip cookies. Either one can trick you into eating more than you should. I'm not saying it's easy but it is an important part of a healthful diet.

"Mostly plants" is fairly obvious but it's a tough one for many folks. On average, Americans eat over 200 lbs. of meat (beef, poultry, pork, lamb) per year, which works out to about 8 oz per day per American. That's a lot of meat so shifting to a more plant-based diet is a big switch. However, the rule isn't "all plants." You can eat meat, even  hamburgers and steaks. Eat them less frequently. Savor them when you do eat them. There's convincing evidence that the Mediterranean diet pattern, with much less meat than the American diet, is quite healthful. Diversify your diet by subtracting some meat and eating more fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. A little meat is a great way to make many plant foods more tasty.

Turns out that these three rules go a long way towards answering the planet part of sustainability. Just shifting to more plants is a big win for the planet. Plants are more sustainable than animals because plants require less resources to produce, and plants are good for your health. Eating just enough but no more is just right for you and the planet. And minimally processed foods require less resources to produce because processing isn't free, environmentally speaking.

-Your sanity. If your life would be miserable without  steak, ice cream, cheese danish, bacon, know that if you tried to resist these things for the rest of your life, you are going to fail. Your diet (as in what you eat day to day, not a regime for losing weight) is unsustainable if you "fall off the wagon" into a vat of ice cream. Decide how much is enough. Julia Child was one smart lady. She not only taught us about cooking French food, but thinking about food like a French person too. She believed we need to practice moderation in eating but she also knew that food brings us humans great pleasure. If you take away all the pleasure, that's not moderation, just misery. We each need to find the balance between all-out pleasure and long-term health. When I go on vacation, being a foodie, I eat what I like. That's part of why I travel - to experience new food. But, I know I can't eat like that all the time - it's not sustainable, health-wise. Life is about balance.

In food, it's essential to find the intersection of healthy and tasty for you. This may require some work, doing things like exploring foods you've never eaten before. There is a whole lot of fantastic food out there - fantastic at all three levels of sustainability. Base your diet on these foods and you will live well and feel good about it too!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Carrots with Tequila

I don't drink much tequila but I keep it on hand because it is an excellent cooking liquid. It imparts this sweet, herbal flavor that goes so well with many ingredients, here carrots. It's also the cooking liquid in my recent mahi-mahi roasted with tomatoes. You could use wine but for Mexican cuisine, tequila just seems right. Unlike wine, it contains enough alcohol to flame. If you aren't comfortable doing this (it is quite dramatic), it's not absolutely necessary. The alcohol will evaporate, though not all of it cooks off, even if you flame it.

Some important safety tips if you want to try your hand at flaming:
  • Never pour the liquor from the bottle into the pan. If the bottle slips out of your hand, you are going to have serious trouble on your hands. Measure what you need into a measuring cup and pour from there.
  • Stand back as far as you can when you ignite the alcohol. The flames go pretty high and you don't want to be near them when that happens. And if you have anything flammable hanging over your stove, remove it before flaming.
  • It's safest to remove the pan from the heat, and use a long match to light the alcohol. If you have a gas stove, you can add the alcohol, then carefully tip the edge of the pan towards the flame to light the alcohol. It should ignite quickly.
  • You should always have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen in case of an emergency.
Carrots with Tequila
(serves 4)

1 pound carrots
2 Tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced fresh dill
salt and black pepper
¼ cup tequila

Cut the carrots into ¼" coins. Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium skillet with a cover. Add the carrots and toss to coat in butter. Cover the pan and cook until just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Stir once during cooking. If the carrots start to brown, turn down the heat. Add the dill, salt, and pepper. Mix seasonings in and increase the heat to high. Add the tequila and set tequila on fire. Shake pan until the flames die out, then serve.

If you don't want to set your carrots afire, only cook carrots for 10-15 minutes until still crunchy, and keep the pan heat around medium when you add the tequila. Cook the carrots in the tequila for 5 minutes to cook off some of the alcohol and finish cooking the carrots.