Power Bars for The Women’s March on Washington 2017

January 8th, 2017

 

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.  I’ll be packing these for my bus ride, leaving Gloucester at midnight, January 21st, heading to Washington, D.C.  https://www.womensmarch.com/

white_house_south_side_2011

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars.  They come wrapped in many packages under many names.  Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches.  How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary.  Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter.  Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be?  It’s not a brownie.  It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein.  Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce.  Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient.  Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst.  Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment.  Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them.  Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food.  They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars.  Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one.   Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything.  Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar.  In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms.  The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that.  It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story.  Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor.  When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars.  I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding.  I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious.  Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any.  I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too.  She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative.  These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that.  Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier.  The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them.  I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie.  These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious.  One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon.  For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

 

 

Baron Bars

 

Ingredients

 

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper.  (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.)  Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top.  Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares.  (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze.  This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed.  Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on Kesakeitto

March 27th, 2013

 

This is a reprint of a recipe I love.  It looks like a painting and tastes like a spring garden.  Based on a Finnish recipe called Kesakeitto, or Finnish Summer Soup, this is a small mound of the most delicate spring vegetables pooled in a broth of hot, fresh milk, garnished with smoked salmon and peas.  My version of the dish crosses the Atlantic and backs up a season; I call it “Early Spring Soup in New England.”

 

Small parsnips, baby turnips, tiny yellow beets, broccoli florets, the tiniest baby potatoes, and a dice of carrots, all cooked quickly in boiling salted water, mound in the center of each bowl.

I looked for the best vegetables I could find.  I chopped the larger vegetables like parsnips and carrots, still looking for the smallest versions of them, into a tiny dice.  If a beet or turnip was small enough, I sliced them into rounds.   Along with a variety of vegetables, I wanted a variety of shapes, not just a pile of diced Birds Eye veggies.  The only vegetable I kept whole were the tiny potatoes.

I found a treasure of root vegetables at a Winter Farmer’s Market, but if seeking freshly dug produce isn’t on your to-do list this week, a keen eye at the grocery store will allow you a beautiful palette in your bowl, and probably a delicious one.

All the vegetables are cooked in boiling, salted water, beginning with the vegetables that make take the longest, (in my case it was the potatoes,) to the vegetables that will cook the fastest, using your judgement.  My order went like this:  potatoes cooked for two minutes, then I added the diced parsnip and carrots, then the beets and turnips, then the broccoli.

Half the deliciousness of this soup is the milk broth, simply the freshest, best milk you can find heated with a tiny bit of sugar and flour, and poured hot over the vegetables.  The thirty-eight Jersey cows at Appleton Farms in Ipswich can take a bow here.

I slit open a few snap peas, and saved the tiny beads inside for a garnish, along with some thinly sliced radishes, and fresh dill.  Rosy chunks of smoked salmon crumbled over the top.  I prefer the hot-smoked chunky kind for this, and used the locally cured Sasquatch smoked salmon available at Willowrest in Gloucester, but Steve Connolly also sells excellent hot-smoked salmon.

 

 

Early Spring Soup, based on the Finnish Kesakeitto

 

serves 6-8

Ingredients

4 cups organic whole milk, preferably local

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus 1 tablespoon for the vegetables

8 cups of tiny, fresh vegetables:  broccoli, green beans, cauliflower, new potatoes, zucchini, carrot, onion, asparagus tips, kohlrabi, beets, turnips, fennel, radishes,  and especially peas

water to cover

for the garnish:

1/2 pound hot-smoked salmon

fresh radishes, thinly sliced

fresh peas, or the tiny peas from inside 4-5 snap peas

fresh dill, chopped

fresh pepper, use white pepper if you want to retain the whiteness of the milk

 

Instructions

In a large saucepan stir together the sugar, flour and salt.  Slowly at first, stirring to blend, add the milk.  Whisk until mixture is smooth.  Gently heat the milk, whisking it occasionally to keep the flour from cooking on the bottom of the pan. Do not let it boil.

In a separate large pot, bring the salted water to a boil.

Prep the vegetables, peeling the potatoes, carrots, beets and turnips to keep them tender, and cutting all into roughly equivalent size.

When the water boils, drop in the vegetables that will take the longest to cook, like the potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, etc.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, and then add the lighter vegetables like radishes, peas, and broccoli.  Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon or sieve, and distribute them evenly into heated bowls.  Pour the hot milk over the vegetables but not to cover.  Allow the vegetables to rise attractively in a mound out of the milk.

Crumble the smoked salmon over the top, and garnish with radish, peas, and dill.  Grind some pepper over all, and serve immediately.

 

It Might Take A Fish To Save A Village.

January 20th, 2017

fish holder

 

We all know the charms of a fishing village:  the shoreside industries that make a stroll along a harbor compelling, the boats bulging with gear tied up to the pier, nets laid out to dry.  That, and the small family fishing boat, may soon be another casualty of corporate driven fishing policies.  Fishing culture – the vision of a boat chugging into port beneath a cloud of squawking seagulls, the chapel steeple pointing from the town rooftops to the skies, signaling home to the returning vessel – all this will soon be nothing more than photos in a heritage center if more effort is not made to preserve the small family boat and the rich culture that follows, just like those seagulls.

In the Good Food movement of the last thirty years we have learned that our soil, our land, our air, and our food is all healthier when farming is done in a small, manageable scale.  Farm communities are thus healthier, diverse, more interesting places, not simply animal factories or thousands of acres of corn.  The same is true of fishing: fishing on a scale that is human, supporting the small family fishing boat and its community, will make a healthier ocean, and consequently preserve the economies of fishing communities.

The United States fisheries are regulated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the Department of Commerce.  The balance of commerce and healthy oceans has seemed like a tug-of-war since the 1976 Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.  An amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act –  the Sustainable Fisheries Act  – was added in 1996, strengthening the mandate to protect U.S. fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act created the 200 mile limit, declaring that no foreign boats were allowed within 200 miles of U.S. coastline. The Sustainable Fisheries Act’s was enacted “with the fundamental goals of preventing overfishing, rebuilding overfished stocks, protecting essential fish habitat, minimizing bycatch, enhanced research and improved monitoring.” (From the NOAA website.)

The “days at sea” program, enacted in the mid-1990’s, was one part of many actions born from NOAA’s new sustainability mandate.  Under “days at sea,” New England groundfish boats, for example, were appointed a specific number of “days at sea” to go fishing.

In 2010, the days at sea program was replaced in the New England groundfishery (earlier in most other U.S. fisheries) under Amendment 16 to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, by the Individual Transferable Quota System – now called “Catch Shares.”

Catch Shares were a relatively new market-based strategy pushed since the mid-80s primarily by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a few other big environmental groups.  Catch Shares would be – mythically – where sustainability and commerce got along.  The EDF and a few other environmental groups supported this big business agenda of deregulation, consolidation, and privatization.  Starting in New Zealand’s orange roughy fishery in 1986, then the Mid-Atlantic surf clam or ocean quahog fishery, and then Alaska halibut and sablefish fisheries, and now being pushed on most  U.S. fisheries, Catch Shares began to facilitate the big business take-over of the world’s fishing, not just America’s.

Some environmental groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund, believe only those with major investments – can be stewards of the ocean.   Catch Share have thus been the place where commerce and sustainability are being touted as married.  But here’s a fact to consider: some of these groups – like EDF – have received funding from the Walton family, and Koch Brothers and their various tentacles to support their Catch Shares agenda.

Catch Share have become a means by which fishing has become consolidated, privatized, and industrialized.  Many small and medium sized boats, assigned too small a quota to make a living, sold or leased their quota to the larger boats who could afford to buy it up.  The large corporate fleets are the ones left fishing.

As opposed to the industrialization of agriculture under President Nixon, this effort has been done under the cloak of “sustainability.”  It has been supported by certain environmental groups, groups that don’t equate small family boats to ecological sustainability.

We do.  The family farm movement taught us that although not perfect, the greatest potential in achieving our ecological sustainability AND food access goals is to support scale-appropriate independent family operations.

Even the term “fishing community” has been degraded by fishing policy: after the 1996 reauthorization of the Magnuson Act, in an effort to measure policy impacts on fishing communities, not just fishermen, NOAA attempted to define the term “fishing community.”  Under pressure from the northwest corporate-owned factory fleet led by the American Factory Trawlers Association (later renamed At Sea Processors Association), NOAA included in that definition “fishing vessels that process fish far from their homeports.”  An offshore factory fishing boat, therefore, is just as much a “fishing community,” and enjoys the same government considerations, as Stonington, Maine.

Just as we re-learned to accept whatever our local farmers were growing, picking up from our CSA’s or shopping at a farmers’ market, we must re-learn how to shop for local fish.  Fish markets today buy fish from all around the world pushed onto consumers by the globalized seafood companies.  There is almost no such thing as a “local catch.”  As a result, consumers have lost touch with the realities of the ocean’s ecosystems and its “seasons.” Customers are upset if there is no salmon, tuna, and swordfish in the case, no matter where they live, regardless of what fish is swimming in waters nearby.

We must support the small boats fishing out of a harbor, if only to protect that fishing community.  Otherwise all harbors zoned for maritime use will be rezoned for development – hotels, condominiums, and shopping – as fishing moves to offshore corporate trawlers.

Find a Community Supported Fishery, based on the same model as Community Supported Agriculture, in your community.  CSFs are now the best, most reliable way to source truly local seafood that will taste far fresher and sweeter, with less overall ecological impact than anything that flew around the world to get to you,  and you will be preserving the vision of that boat chugging into port trailed by a cloud of squawking seagulls.

Preserving the small family fishing boat may save the ocean’s health, for the exact same reasons saving the small family farm  – preventing farming from being entirely industrialized  – helps conserve the environment.

The fishing village stays just that, a fishing town that always knows its place in the ocean’s ecosystems.

Support local fishing boats, end of story.  Buy local fish, whatever it is.

Le Cirque’s Pasta Primavera

January 20th, 2017

pasta primavera

 

A while back I wrote a series of stories covering the history of relatively well-known recipes.  Trying out my new blog, which is not quite perfect, I am reprinting this story on the history of this 1980’s standard.  The series is called “Stories Served Here.” Watch for “Boston Cream Pie” soon!

In May, 2012, Bon Appetit Magazine invited readers to request recipes from magazine issues “pre-internet,” in other words, readers could ask for un-google-able recipes printed before there was an internet to post upon or search.

By far THE most popular recipe, the recipe that overwhelmed Bon Appetit with requests was Pasta Primavera, published in 1979. Who knew?

Pasta Primavera is a strange emblem of Italian food’s sometimes quiet, sometimes brassy, sometimes crooked march into the mainstream American kitchen.

Created in the U.S., Pasta Primavera (which means spring in Italian) isn’t Primavera at all. Half the ingredient list says spring or at least close – baby peas, asparagus, parsley – but the other half says summer – – broccoli, zucchini, and tomatoes. So, it’s name alone is an issue, but now too famous to resolve.

For centuries Italians have made an art of coupling pasta shapes with sauces, the architecture of a pasta specifically supporting a sauce with complementing elements. The engineering to a bowl of macaroni with peas, ham, and cream, for instance, is poetry, an efficient use of the exact right ingredients – the sweet peas, the salty ham. The cream is the vehicle that transports all over the pasta, the macaroni acting like hundreds of little bowls to hold the peas so they don’t roll away.

In Pasta Primavera, the vegetables are steamed, and then swirled together in a shallow skillet with cream, Parmigiana Reggiano, and fresh basil. The cooked spaghetti is added into the pan, but physics will not allow those chunks of broccoli and straight-edged zucchini to cling to a strand of spaghetti, no matter how velvety the sauce. The dish often looks like a small garden sprouting from the top of a mound of pasta, the vegetables an accessory at best, if not excluded altogether from the strands of cheesy deliciousness. And yet, there is much to adore about this dish, created by one of the world’s most charming Italians.

Pasta Primavera SAID “1979,” maybe because it was about America STILL getting everything wrong about Italian food. And yet, it was created by an Italian – an Italian immigrant who left his impoverished country, like so many southern Italian immigrants, a very young man full of hopes. Siro Maccioni worked on cruise ships which took him around the world, and then to New York in 1956. His good looks, and quickly acquired polish sent him straight up the ranks of fine NY restaurants. By 1973 he was opening his own dining room, which was, of necessity, French/Contintental. Fine dining in those years was being created by toqued chefs named Pierre and Jaques. Italian food, which was really Italian-American food, nothing like what Maccioni or any of the immigrants had eaten at home, had caught on, but mostly by bohemians and artists. Italian-American food was what was being served in tiny places with cheap red-checked tablecloths. The Chianti poured quickly; the cliche was the reality in those years.

Sirio Maccioni, the immigrant of our Primavera story, missed the beautiful basics of his home cuisine, but was sure that the rich and famous, the clientele he had befriended at The Colony Restaurant, needed veloute, foie gras and caviar. So, with French chef Jean Vergnes, Maccioni opened Le Cirque, which was to become the most famous and sought after reservation in the country. Richard Nixon, Bill Blass, Paloma Picasso, Woody Allen, Sophia Loren, Luciano Pavarotti all made Le Cirque a habit. The restaurant also launched a fleet of chef careers like Daniel Boulud to David Bouley.

Before I discuss how this great French/Continental New York Restaurant came to be synonymous with Pasta Primavera, let me give a little background on what had happened to Italian cooking when those immigrants first started arriving on U.S. shores around the turn of the 19th century. John Mariani, in his facscinating book “How Italian Food Conquered the World,” explores this in detail. Here’s a fact to start with:

When Southern Italians first started leaving their native land at the turn of the 19th century for the U.S. they were desperate. They had been required to turn over 4/5ths of the food they farmed to their landlord, and were spending 75% of their income on food. When they arrived in New York, the pay was not much better, but there were plenty of jobs. The big difference came in the price of food, which was abundant and cheap, particularly meat. Suddenly these Italians were spending only 25% of their incomes on groceries. The Italian meatball is the perfect symbol of what happened in Italian American kitchens – what in Italy had been a tiny 3/4 “ ball made with scraps of anything – chicken, fish, even tripe – called “polpetonne,” became in New York a 1/4 pound ball of beef and pork. The Italian mama went from being a scrawny mother scraping together a weak soup for her family’s dinner to the plump matron of the kitchen who suddenly took pride in having the best recipes. Foods that had in the old country been reserved only for feast days – like cream filled pastries and buttery cookies dusted in confectionary sugar – were suddenly available every day. Other Italians opened businesses to serve the needs of these Italian communities, including bakeries and restaurants. These were inexpensive places that began to attract other adventurous, but unwealthy groups, like artists and musicians. The Italian cooks in these places began to realize that the new non-Italian American customer anticipated some version of meat and potatoes in a meal: spaghetti found its purpose as a required carbohydrate beside a plate of meatballs in marinara sauce.

Here’s another fascinating fact from Mariani’s book – The marinara sauce that came to be synonymous with Italian-American food? That came from Naples, the bottom of Italy’s boot, which had been home for so many of these new immigrants. In Naples many of the men had been fishermen, or “marinari.” Their wives would see their husband’s fishing boats sailing into port, and run to prepare for them a hot meal; the wives needed something that could be put together quickly, impromptu, at the whim of a fishing boat’s landing: this became a bowl of pasta with a simple, fresh tomato sauce, appropriately named “marinara!”

Back to Maccioni, who became one of the world’s most famous restaurant owners in the U.S., and had for his friends some of the world’s most famous names, including the New York Times food writers Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey. Maccioni admitted to missing the foods from his childhood, but his had become a tuxedoed life of Dover Sole and Chateaubriand. In an interview with Saveur Magazine, Maccioni describes how the first ever Pasta Primavera came to be: In 1977, he and his wife were all on vacation with a group of friends, including chef Vergnes, Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, at a lodge on Prince Edward Island. After too many days of wild boar and lobster somebody asked Maccioni to make pasta. Maccioni’s son described the dish his father prepared as actually being VERY Italian – “It’s called “frigidaire,” he said – when you make a pasta with all your leftovers in the refrigerator! (By the way, in another version of this story Maccioni claims that his wife made the dish that night.) Everyone loved it, Claiborne and Franey so much that they printed the recipe in the New York Times food section. Suddenly, much to Vergnes’s French dismay, the clients at Le Cirque were demanding Pasta Primavera. Vergnes loathed all pasta, and now this was becoming the symbol of his kitchen. Pasta Primavera was at first sentenced to being prepared in a hall outside the kitchen, as Vergnes couldn’t stand to see it. Then, as its inevitability became apparent, the pasta was assigned a drama to be prepared tableside, often by Maccioni himself.

Here’s another fascinating aside: Mr. Vergnes had worked at The Colony, where Siro Maccioni gilded his reputation as a suave host, but left in 1962 to run the commissary at Stop & Shop which wanted to develop a prepared-food service. He was there for 3 years before returning to the boutique fine restaurant scene rising in New York. He joined Maccioni in 1973.

Mariani explains that something happened in the early 1980’s that helped to elevate pasta away from huge portions of meatballs in marinara sauce, allowing Americans to suddenly appreciate the lighter, fresher, more artful Italian ways with pasta, for them to understand better the meal Maccioni was creating that day on Prince Edward Island.

Fed Ex. Fed Ex began flying special ingredients overnight from Italy to the U.S. Cheeses, artisanal pastas, a variety of risotto rice were suddenly available in quality and quantity, and beginning to star in cookbooks, in restaurants, in gourmet shops (Chuck Williams of Williams Sonoma began selling Balsamic Vinegar from Modena in his Beverly Hills store in 1973.) and therefore American kitchens. Whereas the Joy of Cooking in 1964 mentioned olive oil once, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1968 not at all, but by the mid 1980’s Marcella Hazan’s Classic Italian Cooking series devoted four pages to olive oil. With the arrival of all these fresh new Italian ingredients, the American public began to understand the foods that had truly been made in Italian kitchens. Pasta Primavera was never one of them, but its principles – quick, economical, fresh, and delicious – are all there, and VERY Italian.

When Pasta Primavera hit the big time, with the recipe printed in the NYT, people clamored for it, but, of course, no Italian chef or cook had ever heard of it!

Le Cirque and its many sister restaurants are managed by Maccioni’s three sons now. Pasta Primavera can always be ordered. This recipe appeared in an article in The Times by Craig Claiborne with Pierre Franey.

serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer
Ingredients
1 bunch broccoli
2 small zucchini, unpeeled
4 asparagus spears
1 1/2 cups green beans
Salt
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
3/4 cup fresh or frozen pea pods
1 tablespoon peanut, vegetable or corn oil
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced hot red or green chili, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 cups 1-inch tomato cubes
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream, approximately
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts.

Instructions
Trim broccoli and break into florets. Trim off ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, then cut into 1-inch or slightly longer lengths (about 1 1/2 cups). Cut each asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Trim beans and cut into 1-inch pieces.
2. Cook each of the green vegetables separately in boiling salted water to cover until crisp but tender. Drain well, then run under cold water to chill, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
3. Cook the peas and pods; about 1 minute if fresh; 30 seconds if frozen. Drain, chill with cold water and drain again. Combine with the vegetables.
4. In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil and add the mushrooms. Season to taste. Cook about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet and stirring. Add the mushrooms, chili and parsley to the vegetables.
5. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and add half the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 4 minutes. Add the basil.
6. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the remaining garlic and the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through.
7. Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost (but not quite) tender, retaining a slight resilience in the center. Drain well.
8. In a pot large enough to hold the spaghetti and vegetables, add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Then add the chicken broth and half a cup each of cream and cheese, stirring constantly. Cook gently until smooth. Add the spaghetti and toss quickly to blend. Add half the vegetables and pour in the liquid from the tomatoes, tossing over very low heat.
9. Add the remaining vegetables. If the sauce seems dry, add 3 to 4 tablespoons more cream. Add the pine nuts and give the mixture a final tossing.
10. Serve equal portions of the spaghetti mixture in hot soup or spaghetti bowls. Spoon equal amounts of the tomatoes over each serving. Serve immediately.

Power Bars for a Protest March

January 8th, 2017

white_house_south_side_2011

I’m reposting this recipe in case anyone is looking for a good snack to take to a protest march.

Power Bars, nutrition bars, energy bars, fitness bars, meal bars, granola bars. They come wrapped in many packages under many names. Athletes eat them; people consider them a smart snack at work, and moms pack them in their kids’ lunches. How healthy are they, and should we just be baking our own?

Along with fish tacos and caesar salad, fitness bars (the term I’m choosing here) are perhaps one of the foods that could define the 21st century lifestyle, and were probably born in the 1970’s as muesli and granola entered our culinary vocabulary. Running, biking, workouts, fitness, and the gym became as much a part of our lives as going to the movies, and granola bars got fitter. Grocery store shelving is evidence of how healthy the industry is, at least in sales.

But what should a fitness bar be? It’s not a brownie. It should be low in fat and sugar, and high in carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. Most nutrition websites insist, like all prepared foods, we should be looking for a short list of ingredients we can pronounce. Sugar, even in the form of brown rice syrup, shouldn’t be the first ingredient. Isolates are promoted as an easy, digestible way to pack in protein, but they are controversial at best, demons at worst. Soy and whey isolates are manufactured proteins that, because of the process in which they are produced, create a highly acidic environment. Cancer loves an acidic environment; it’s an easy jump to why isolates are bad guys, but commercial fitness bars are often packed with them. Also, 90 percent of the soy in this country is genetically modified; all that soy in commercially produced fitness bars, even in the form of an isolate, is a GMO product.

There is a great site called “Fooducate,” which has an app that immediately provides nutritional information for a food. They have a long, hefty analysis of all kinds of nutrition/fitness bars. Once quick glance at these sites makes you realize homemade is a much better nutritional choice, if not a good economic one. Special K Protein Meal Bars, billed as a healthy “meal” bar,” for an example, is filled with transfats, sugar, inulin – not real fiber – BHT a possible carcinogen and TBHG which can cause nausea and delirium, artificial everything. Fooducate assigned it a D, the lowest score.

I grabbed a Cliff Bar and a Larabar off the shelves, took a bite of each without studying the ingredients, and tasted pure sugar. In fact, the Cliff Bar’s first ingredient is Brown Rice Syrup, but a further read made me think the bar was all cane syrup and soy, ingredients that repeated themselves in twenty different forms. The Larabar was nothing but cashews and dates, but it tasted like that. It was sweet, gummy, and not very satisfying.

I discovered Kate Baron and her Baron bars while working on this story. Baron is a competitive runner, an organizational psychologist, and a certified holistic health counselor. When the website “Trailblazer” published her regimen, the crowds demanded the recipe for her homemade fitness bars, something she calls Baron Bars. I’m now a fan.

Baron is loose with her recipe, but offers a scaffolding. I made my batch almost exactly as they are written here, using wheat germ instead of wheat bran, and equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg, which was absolutely delicious. Baron recommends Pumpkin Pie Spice, but I didn’t have any. I think mace might be a nice addition to the spice blend, too. She sometimes uses sunflower seeds, and recommends you be creative. These bars are definitely on the chewy side of a granola bar, but I like that. Some recipes use straight granola, which has a lot of oil in it, and some recipes have you toast the grains in oil in advance, definitely making them crunchier. The sweet, toasted taste of granola has its place, but, I eat these bars recognizing the halo of “fitness” that comes with them. I want a healthy taste, and I don’t want to feel like I’m eating candy or a brownie. These bars, extremely low in fat and sugar (1/2 cup of each distributed among 20 bars), and have the wholesome, healthy taste I want in something that nutritious. One bar contains 224 calories, 11 grams of fat, 29 grams carbohydrate, and 7 grams of protein.

My best baking test is how well something tastes with a cup of coffee; these are outrageous with a hot cup of French Roast in the afternoon. For those stronger than I, Kate’s husband, Michael, eats his bars slathered in peanut butter.

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Baron Bars

Ingredients

4 cups whole oats (not quick-cooked)

1 cup wheat bran or wheat germ

1 1/2 cups chopped almonds (salted or not)

1 cup raisins or any dried fruit you like

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup honey

4 eggs

1/2 cup canola or olive oil

1 tablespoon cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon salt (sea)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix all ingredients together until combined.

Line a 12” x 18” cookie sheet with parchment paper. (Kate says it’s fine to use other size sheet pans here, but you want the bars to be 1/2 inches thick.) Wet your hands, and press the batter around in the pan to be even distributed.

Bake for until toasty brown on top. Mine took about 15 – 17 minutes.

Remove from oven and cut into desired size squares. (Kate is generous; hers are 3” x 5”.)

Place in a tupperware container, and freeze. This helps the bars hold together, even after they have thawed. Enjoy right from the freezer or thawed.

Hainanese Chicken Rice – what to eat in January.

January 7th, 2017

chicken-rice-half-bowl

#45 on the list of world’s best dishes “Chicken Rice” is #1 on the list of the world’s plainest names, but it is exactly what you want to eat right now.

Also called Hainanese Chicken Rice or the national dish of Singapore.

Poached chicken over a rich, chicken-y rice, zinged-up with lime-chili sauce, fresh scallions, sesame oil and soy sauce, freshened with cucumber slices, “Chicken Rice” is both ridiculously simple and seductive sublime. It’s southeast asian home-cooking. Every Chinese coffee shop, Singapore restaurant and street vendor sells a version of “Chicken Rice.” The fast food chain “The Chicken Rice Shop” claims to be serving “grandmother’s traditional Hainanese secret recipe chicken rice,” and is franchised all across Southeast Asia.

Pay attention to the popularity here, and don’t be deceived by the simple name. If you have never tried it, “Chicken Rice” bears no resemblance to any soup or casserole from this quadrant of the earth. Hainanese Chicken Rice has a market on deliciousness that nothing in the American repertoire can challenge. (You don’t see Ma’s Chicken Soup on the list of the world’s 50 Best Dishes.)

This is the season when so many of us retreat from figgy pudding to the fresh, bright flavors of Asian cuisine, that fluid exchange of sweet and salt, brightened by fresh. “Chicken Rice” offers all those tastes, but has the added advantage of being soulful. By soul I mean broth. This dish is all about the power of chicken broth without being soup.

The chicken is poached in water, which becomes the stuff with all that folkloric goodness. The rice is then cooked in that unstrained broth – retaining all the flu-defeating, antibiotic properties chicken fat is famous for, creating power rice – rice that glistens with chicken-y richness. The chicken is removed from the bone and laid to rest over the rice. The brightness comes next:  a lime/chili sauce covers the chicken, then fresh scallions, and then a quick shower of toasted sesame oil and soy sauce. Cool, crisp cucumber slices come in as the finisher taste.

 

chicken-rice-table

 

Many of the traditional Hainanese recipes call, (naturally – we’re talking about Southeast Asian home cooking) for an older chicken that might be tough but full of flavor. I just happened to have made my “Chicken Rice” with Seaview Farms laying hens. They were exactly that – a little tough but unbeatable flavor, which made my broth that much more delicious. If you are lucky enough to find an older chicken, skip the ice bath in the poaching part of the recipe, and simmer the chicken for at least an hour, or until it is tender. (Seaview Farms seems to have a good stock of these frozen hens.)

 

chicken-rice-whole-dish

Hainanese Chicken Rice

serves 6

Ingredients

For the chicken:

1 3-4 pound chicken
2 teaspoons salt for rubbing chicken
2” fresh ginger, smashed
3-4 scallions whole

For the Chile Sauce:

2 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons poaching broth
4 tablespoons sriracha sauce
4 cloves garlic, grated
1” fresh ginger, grated
2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
For the dish:

2 cups jasmine rice (or long grain white rice)
4 cups of the broth from the cooked chicken (unstrained)
1 cucumber
1 bunch scallions
1 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
dark soy sauce or black vinegar for drizzling
toasted sesame oil

Instructions:

Have a bowl of ice water large enough to hold the chicken ready. Rub the chicken liberally with salt. Put the knob of ginger and the scallions into the chicken cavity. Place the chicken in a pot large enough to poach it. Cover with cold water, and bring to a boil. Lower temperature, and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the leg joint loosens easily, and the chicken is definitely cooked through. Remove chicken immediately to the ice water bath.
2. In a medium sauce pan add the rice and 4 cups of the broth. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice has absorbed all the liquid.

3. Remove the chicken from the bones as neatly as possible.

4. To make the sauce, simply whir all the ingredients in a blender.

5. Take 1-2 cups of the remaining broth and warm in a sauce pan.

5. To serve, spread the rice out on a platter. Lay the chicken over the rice. Spoon the sauce over the chicken. Spray the scallions and cilantro over the chicken. Drizzle with soy sauce and sesame oil. When serving, if the dish seems to have cooled too much, spoon some of the hot broth over each portion.

The Power of New Year’s Day Lentils – 2017 needs them.

December 29th, 2016

Sook's Lentils 2

Almost every culture has their what-to-eat on New Year’s Day that promises the best for the new year.

Mine, borrowed a zillion years ago from my Italian friends, is lentils, greens, and pork – gastronomic code for luck, good health, and prosperity.

Grateful every day, I take my New Year’s Day lentils seriously.

2017 looks like the most lentil-challenged year in a while, maybe ever, so I am reposting the best lentil recipe I know, borrowed from Sook Bin, a dental pathologist and a great cook who has lived in Ipswich for a long time now.

Make a lot of these lentils. Double, even triple the recipe. We need the luck. Serve them on a large platter, and invite people in to share. Spread luck thickly.

On a bed of Bibb lettuce, the healthy greens are included. Put a pork roast beside it, grilled sausages, even a platter of prosciutto, and prosperity is covered.  Consider it duty; in 2017, we need the power of lentils.

 

Sook’s Lentil Salad

Ingredients:

1 pound Du Puy lentils, roughly 2 cups

1 cup dried currants (you could also use raisins or other dried fruit such as cherries or sweetened cranberries, coarsely chopped)

1/2 cup capers

1 medium red onion, diced

Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon maple syrup

1 tablespoon strong mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoons pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Optional add-ins: Arugula (Sook recommends this as it best balances out the sweetness of the dried fruit) Walnuts Goat cheese Fresh herbs: flat-leaf parsley, basil

Directions:

1. Rinse lentils well, drain. Place in a pot and cover with a 3-4 inches of water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. Check lentils for doneness after 15 minutes, but they should take no more than 20 minutes in total. Overcooking the lentils is the death of this dish. Be careful!

2. While the lentils are simmering, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake vigorously to combine.

3. When the lentils are cooked, remove from heat, drain and place under cold running water to stop the cooking process (you don’t need to do this if you cook it 17-18 minutes). Place lentils in a large serving bowl and toss with dressing. Add capers and currants (or other fruit). If using other add-ins such as herbs, greens, or cheese, wait until just before serving. Otherwise, this salad keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple days.

Almost every culture has their what-to-eat on New Year’s Day tradition that will promise health, luck, and prosperity in the new year.  Mine, borrowed a zillion years ago from my Italian friends, is lentils, greens and pork.  Mostly lentils.  This has worked really well for me for a long time now, but 2017 is promising to be the most lentil-challenged year I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever.

 

“this pale blue dot,” words from Carl Sagan for 2017.

December 27th, 2016

2017

 

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

 

– Carl Sagan, from Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

sending love, health, peace, and good local food from Howlets & Woodbury Hill

December 24th, 2016

2016-xmas-mantle

2016-wreath

2016-xmas-studio

2016-xmas-tree

2017-xmas-fruit

fruitcakes

little-xmas-tree

2016-martha

2016-limpa

2017-xmas-greens

2016-xmas-redfish-al-saor-feast-of-7-fishes

2017-xmas-window

2016-dove

Sasha’s shed on Woodbury Hill.  xoxo

Harriet’s Un-Fruitcake

December 15th, 2016

un-fruitcake

 

A bunch of years ago I knew a woman named Harriet, a semi-professional cook who worked on developing recipes. One of Harriet’s self-directed tasks was to rewrite fruitcake into a chunky, modern loaf that people begged to receive, instead of what it is, the opposite of all that.

Ingredient by ingredient, Harriet broke fruitcake down, eliminating the most heinous parts (green things) replacing the trademark ingredients with better (candied cherries with maraschino) preserving what worked – pecans. Then she added chocolate.

unfruitcake-3

For the person who likes the idea of fruitcake but not the real deal, here is Harriet’s Un-fruitcake recipe.  I tripled the recipe, because I wanted some small loaves to give as gifts.  Tripling produced two 8″ x 4″ loaves and six individual loaves.

 

unfruitcake-2

Harriet’s Un-Fruitcake

Ingredients
10 ounces pitted dates, whole
1 8 ounce jar maraschino cherries, drained and dried
1 1/2 cups whole pecans
1 ounce grated unsweetened chocolate
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup honey for glazing

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease well a 9” x 5” loaf pan
In a large bowl put dates, cherries, and nuts. Sift dry ingredients, and add to dates. Add chocolate, and toss well, so that fruit and nuts are coated.
Beat eggs with extract until light and fluffy. Pour over fruits and mix well. Pack into loaf pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean. If it starts to brown too quickly lower temperature to 300 degrees and cover the cake with foil.
Let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to finish cooling. Brush top with honey.

Olives Ascolana

December 14th, 2016

oa

“The olives.”

“OH! The olives.”

“Oh. The olives. They are so much work. Should we make the olives? They are so much work.”

“But, ooooh, the olives, they are so delicious.”

I first heard about Olives Ascolana through a conversation at the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives that sounded something like the above. Rafaela Terzo and Angela Sanfilippo reckoned with them, fearful of their tediousness but tempted by their awesomeness.

oa-pitted

Olives Ascolana were created in the Marche of Italy. They are a traditional dish made with the overly large pale olives native to this Adriatic-lined Italian region where Rafaela Terzo was born and raised. She has lived in Rockport for years now, raised her son there, but still speaks with a musical Italian accent. After hearing Rafaela and Angela assess them, I needed to make The Olives.

oa-stuffed

 

oa-breaded

oa-frying

This is one of those wonderful old world recipes that slows clocks. It consumes time, demands focus, even asks for a little knife finesse. But, like embroidery or model building, it consequently creates its own bell jar of time and space. These olives ask for about an hour away from the world, an hour of carving the pits from their fruits, creating a stuffing, and frying in hot oil. In a world mostly delivered by tweets and posts, we could all use a slow hour.

The recipe should really include at least two people, one to pit the olives, and one to make the stuffing and talk to the person pitting the olives. Even better, do this with friends.

The result is a gorgeous bowl of olives Ascolana. The crunchy fried exterior shatters to fleshy, succulent olive and warm meaty centers. Serve this for a holiday party and you will be a star; your party writ as epic. Even smarter, make them in the hours of New Year’s Eve when everyone is waiting for midnight, certainly one of the slowest evenings of the year.

I made these with the largest olives from Pastaio via Corta on Center St. in Gloucester.  Pitting them is a bit of a thing.  I actually made a video, but lost it, so I have tried to write it out.  The Silvia Colloca site has a good video for explaining this.  Also, you can prep these olives right up until frying, and freeze them for a later date.  What a treasure to have in your freezer.

This recipe has been adapted from Made in Italy with Silvia Colloca, a pretty fabulous site for Italian recipes.

 

oa

Olives Ascolana

makes 30 olives

For the Olives

30 large green olives,

4 eggs

2 cups plain flour

2/3 cup dried breadcrumbs

sunflower oil, for deep-frying

For the Stuffing:

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 small brown onion, roughly chopped
1 small carrot, roughly chopped

1 small celery stick, roughly chopped

2/3 cup pork sausage meat, removed from its casing

1 chicken thigh fillet, cut into cubes

1/4 cup diced mortadella

2/3 cup white wine
salt flakes

2 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs (see below)

2 tbsp freshly grated parmigiano or pecorino

1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

finely grated zest of ½ lemon

Instructions:
1. Place the olives in a bowl of cold water for 30 minutes to get rid of the briny flavor. Dry them and set them aside.

2.  To make the stuffing, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cook until softened. Add the pork, chicken meat, and mortadella and brown well. Pour in the wine and cook over high heat for 1–2 minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated, then reduce the heat to low.  Season with salt and cook for 15–20 minutes or until the meat is cooked through.

3.  Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, then set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

4.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor and whir for 10–15 seconds or until it looks like a thick paste. Scrape the paste into a large bowl and add the cheese, parsley, nutmeg and lemon zest. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

5.  Beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then mix 3 tablespoons of the beaten egg through the stuffing (reserve the rest for later). Rest for 30 minutes.

6.  To prepare the olives: take a small paring knife. Working slowly, in one complete motion, start cutting across the top of the olive. Cut across, beneath the dimpled top. Keep the knife moving, and continue moving the tip of it slowly down the whole side of the olive. Now, under that olive flesh, set the length of the blade against the length of the pit, and move the knife to circle the pit that way, carving the pit out from under the olive’s flesh. You should come all the way around the olive, and then be able to just pull the pit away, leaving the flesh in one piece.  (I actually made a video of this, but somehow lost it; watch for a new video soon!)
7.   Using your fingers, roll 1-2 teaspoons of filling into a ball, and then tuck it inside the olives.  Depending on the thickness of your filling, you might end up just pressing it in, but you should be able to do this with your fingers.  They should be plump with stuffing.

8.  Roll the filled olives in the flour, then in the reserved beaten egg, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Roll them one last time in egg and breadcrumbs to create a super-crunchy double coating. You may need to replace the breadcrumbs halfway through rolling, as the wet egg mixture will inevitably make it a bit too sticky to be workable. Likewise, you may need to add an extra egg or two if the olives absorb more than you predict.

8.  Half-fill a large frying pan or deep-fryer with sunflower oil and heat over medium–high heat to 180°C or until a cube of bread browns in 15 seconds. Add the stuffed olives in batches and fry for 3–4 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

To freeze, arrange the stuffed and crumbed olives on a tray without touching.  Freeze for about 2 hours, and then remove them to a ziplock bag for further freezing.   They keep for up to 4 weeks.

Any leftover stuffing mix can be turned into mouthwatering meatballs or filling for tortellini; Rafaela says that this mixture is the most traditional tortellini filling.