Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wellness Cleanse Week 1

And here's how the Wellness Cleanse is going:

Ground Zero:
The hardest part was leafing through all of the cookbooks to find vegan, gluten-free, sugar-free recipes (alcohol and caffeine free recipes are pretty easy to come by).  I had stacks of cookbooks surrounding me, and I did make a list of 20 recipes or meals I could make. (The difference for me between a recipe and a meal is that for a recipe I needed a book (see the paella) but a meal I could just make myself (see Aloo Gobhi)).  Let the cooking begin.

The trip to Target to replace our blender (which had recently cracked) so I can make smoothies and then to the Berkeley Bowl.  What a great grocery store that place is.  Brown rice flour?  Chia seeds?  Goji berries?  Raw cacao?  All check.

I avoided all vegan substitutes, save the butter, and avoided the soy products as well.  I know, I know; soy can be really good for protein, but I have done a little reading on soy, and it has a bit of reputation for being problematic but also really good for you.  Agh.  Controversy.  So since I am doing this cleanse for only three weeks, I am limiting soy in general but am willing to eat it here and there (see Spring Rolls, Day 2).

I came home with mountains of food.  I am little worried I won't be able to eat all of it this week.

Day 1: 
Breakfast:  Oatmeal with golden raisins and agave (which apparently is okay to have, thank god)
Lunch:  Beet, Apple, and Beet Green Smoothie (with cranberry juice and 1/2 an avocado)
Dinner:  Aloo Gobhi (Potatoes and Cauliflower in a spiced sauce) and Sweet Potato Chips (baked in the oven)
Workout:  90 minutes yoga

  • Not that bad.  I didn't really crave anything, but it was only day one.

Day 2: 
Breakfast: Oatmeal with golden raisins, almonds, and agave.  Decaffeinated Chai Tea with Almond Milk.
Lunch: Shiitake and Tofu Spring Rolls, Curried Sweet Potato Soup, and Good Start Juice (celery, kale, broccoli, ginger, and apple) (all at Plant; I love living in an area with a restaurant that puts on the menu what is vegan and what is gluten free, but I am not read to commit to Cafe Gratitude)
Snacks:  Orange, grapes, a handful of Mary's Gone Crackers Herb Crackers, and two tablespoons of almond butter.
Dinner:  A couple of bites of Coconut and Red Lentil Soup.  Mostly didn't feel like eating.  See observations.
Workout:  60 minutes bootcamp

  • Much bloating. Which makes me  feel like not eating anything.  Afternoon was the worst.
  • Giving up caffeine has been easy, but I am not much of a caffeine drinker anyway.  In the past three months, I weaned myself down to one cup of tea in the mornings, so going down to no caffeine in the morning has been okay.  What I miss is the cup of warm tea, so we're trying this decaffeinated tea with almond milk. 
  • The husband is a champ.  Instead of going to the brewery for a beer-and-hamburger lunch, he met me at the organic cafe for a spring-rolls-and-soup lunch.  I made promises to meet him at the brewery after this was all over.
Day 3:
Breakfast:  Red Grape and Blood Orange Smoothie,  Decaffeinated Chai Tea with Almond Milk.
Lunch:  Coconut and Red Lentil Soup
Snacks:  Popcorn, Crackers, Orange 
Dinner: Super Green Smoothie, marinated artichokes, and a bowl of grapes
Workout:  Took the day off...

  • I have begun to enjoy this cleanse.  Uh-oh.  There is something sort of delightful in trying to figure out what the heck I am going to eat next. 
  • Afternoons are the hardest.  Mostly because I am bored and in the mood for sugar.  That's no good. 
Day 4: 
Breakfast: Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie, Decaffeinated Chai Tea with Almond Milk.
Lunch: Peanut Butter Cup Smoothie (the second half)
Snacks: Marinated artichokes, apple, some leftover Aloo Gobhi
Dinner: Ottolenghi's Multi-Vegetable Paella and a mandarin orange for dessert
Workout:  60 minutes bootcamp

  • That smoothie is a champ. Not only filling, but so tasty and I think it helped the sweet craving (what with two bananas and a tablespoon of cacao powder).
  • Sweet Jesus, this paella. So good.
  • I resisted having sherry while making the paella, which was hard, because I love dry sherry, and it smelled so good.  
  • The husband added some leftover chicken to his paella, and he said it was tasty.  I am glad not to force this cleanse on him.

Day 5
Breakfast:  Jicama and Lettuce Smoothie (which I didn't like much and ate only 2/3 of), Decaffeinated Chai Tea with Almond Milk, Mandarin Orange
Lunch: Leftover Paella
Snacks: Roasted broccoli
Dinner: Baked sweet potato, Green salad, Mandarin Orange.
Workout: 60 minutes yoga and 1.5 mile run (well, a jog really)

  • That smoothie is a little on the nondescript side, but it made a lot of it, and I didn't like it.  I had to go ahead and chalk that one up as a failure.
  • I felt pretty energetic on the run.  It's been two weeks since I was out there for a run, so that felt good.
  • I made a giant pitcher of sparkling water with ginger juice (from The Ginger People) and muddled mint.  It was fantastic.
  • Yesterday, I had what I thought was a bug bite.  Today I have another one.  Please say these are not hives.  

Day 6: 
Breakfast:  Everything but the kitchen sink fruit smoothie (in other words, leftovers from the week:  grapes, mango, blood orange, fennel, spinach, mint, and chia seeds)
Lunch:  More leftover paella.  I wasn't kidding when I said it made a lot.
Dinner: A platter of morsels and sauces:  Carrots and Hummus, Popcorn, Blueberries, Hearts of Palm, Artichoke Hearts, and Date-Cashew-Chocolate Balls (minus the sugar).  Sparkling water with ginger juice and mint.
Workout: None.  I wanted to go to yoga, but then there were the Oscars tearing me away from my regularly-scheduled 90 minutes of flow.

  • I love the Oscars.  I usually create a platter of morsels and sauces (one of my favorite ways to eat).  Normally I would have an array of pâté, champagne and some delectable treat like riacciarelli.  I watch all of the red-carpet, pre-game shows and the whole show from the first bad joke to the final fumbling thank you.  But this year, I cleaned up that plate.  While there was a high amount of sugar (in the dates) and salt (in the hearts of palm), I tried to balance that with some more moderate fruit (blueberries) and vegetables (carrots).  It was delightful, although the Oscars was mediocre, but that's to be expected (and I will be right back here watching ever minute of it a year from now). 
  • Raw cacao may be cheating, I have realized today, given that cacao has traces of caffeine.  I am fine with cheating if it means I get a tiny bit of chocolate.   

Day 7: 
Breakfast:  Everything but the kitchen sink veggie smoothie (in other words, the veggie leftovers from the week:  jicama, fennel, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, basil, lemon, celery, carrots, red pepper, and flax seeds with a little hot sauce).  Decaffeinated Chai Tea with Almond Milk.
Lunch: The last of the paella.  (Finally!  And he said it served two.)
Snacks: Popcorn, Date-Cashew-Chocolate Balls (minus the sugar), hearts of palm, apple.
Dinner: Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango
Workout: 60 minutes yoga, 60 minutes bootcamp

  • I am rocking the smoothies.  Today's was pretty awesome, especially since it was basically a modification of out-of-season gazpacho with a straw. I'll put it in my next trio of smoothies.
  • Still have these bug bites, but no more have developed.  Maybe they are just bug bites (I did garden this week).

Overall observations:
  • I feel great.  I had a friend ask me on the 7th day if the cleanse made me cranky, and the answer really is no.  It has made me a little obsessed with what the next meal will be.
  • I am finding this cleanse to be pretty easy to be on.  Despite the initial legwork of trying to think up or look up recipes for things for me to eat (which admittedly did take me a long time), the desire for sherry the night I made paella, and some day two bloating, this has been pretty easy going.  I hope it stays that way.  
  • Next weekend, I get to go to a family dinner.  I will probably have to bend a little for that meal; I'll keep you posted.
  • I feel lighter all over.  Part of it may be that the scale is 3 pounds down from the beginning of the week, but I just kind of feel good all around.  So far, so good.
  • Didn't crack open the vegan butter.  Hmm, that may have been a waste of five dollars.  Anyone need vegan butter?

    Monday, February 25, 2013

    Ottolenghi's Multi-Vegetable Paella

    Oh, it's trueI love this cookbook:  Plenty.  First of all, what a great name for a cookbook, and vegetarian one at that.  Such a sense of satisfaction right from the start.  Second, it came my way via a dear friend who knows my cookbook habit, so it has a special place in my heart.  Third, it is the source of the amazing eggplant noodle dish I made this summer--that dish alone made it worth its weight, in part for its sheer deliciousness and in part for its sheer ability to provide something wonderful for people who had become dear to me quite quickly.  My, what a cookbook it is.

    Yotam Ottolenghi, our chef and cookbook author, is an Israeli-born chef who has a little deli (actually four of them) in the heart(s) of London; one of them also doubles as a sit-down restaurant that has been earning rave reviews.  While Ottolenghi himself is not a vegetarian, he knows how to make great vegetarian dishes.  If you're a vegetarian and you do not yet own this cookbook, please just click on over to Amazon and purchase it.  I'll wait for you because I am patient like that.

    Okay, good, now that you own this cookbook, let me give you a great recipe for you while you wait for it to arrive on your doorstep.  This vegetarian version of paella gives the eggplant noodle dish a run for its money (but because of the necessity of acquiring paella rice (which is quite dear), it certainly also demands more of your money).

    Paella--vegetarian, seafood, snail-based, or just plain meat-based--is so darned good.  As the dish of Valencia, people get touchy on what makes proper paella, and some may say that this version is, indeed, not true paella  for it doesn't have the requisite meats and/or seafood (which could include anything from chicken, rabbit, duck, snails, mussels, shrimp, sausage).  However, let the purists be, let them scoff as they must, because this paella is wonderful.  And I give you full liberty to tweak and add; I sure did (Ottolenghi used a yellow pepper and a red pepper; he also used cherry tomatoes, and I had regular).  (I made my changes below.)

    Be sure to pick up smoked paprika, and don't, no matter how much you might want to save some pennies by substituting tumeric for the saffron, skimp on the saffron (although the recipe also calls for tumeric).  Those two flavors--smoked paprika and saffron--are the flavors of paella.  Rich, slightly bitter, slightly sweet, slightly smoky, definitely complex.*

    *Click here to read my favorite poem ever about saffron from a wonderful poet, Craig Arnold. 

    But the best part about paella is the rice at the bottom of the pan, called socarrat in Spain. This part of the paella gets a little burnt and a little crispy and a lot fantastic.  It is the stuff of gods, and for that reason Ottolenghi cautions you not to disturb the rice too much.  Take his word for it, and you will be deeply rewarded.

    Finally, a word about one of my favorite shops in Berkeley (although it originated in Seattle and has locations in Santa Fe and Mill Valley), The Spanish Table.  This little place has bookshelf after bookshelf of Spanish cookbooks, Spanish novels and poetry, and Spanish travel books.  In addition to a rich selection of wines (seriously, the entire back of the store is devoted to wines and paella pans), they offer a wide variety of cookware and Spanish foods (including the smoked paprika and the grilled artichoke hearts in my dish). 

    Bonus:  They also sell haunted pirate temporary tattoos, which I did not pick up on this visit.  A true shame.  Next time, people.  Next time.

    In the mean time, enjoy this fabulous dish, and ignore the fact that Ottolenghi says that this dish will feed two.  You'd have to be pretty hungry for it to feed two.  So far, we think it will feed four, and there seems to be one serving left.

    One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
    Two Years Ago: Buttermilk Squash, Bacon, and Sage Risotto
    Three Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

    Ottolenghi's Multi-Vegetable Paella
    Adapted from  Plenty

    Serves 2 generously [Okay, really this serves 4-5.  Don't let Ottolenghi fool you.]

    3 tbsp olive oil
    ½ yellow onion, finely chopped
    2 small red peppers, cut into strips
    ½ fennel bulb, cut into strips
    2  garlic cloves, crushed
    2  bay leaves
    ¼ tsp smoked paprika
    ½ tsp ground turmeric
    ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
    1 cup paella rice (I used Bomba rice, but you can also use Calasparra rice)
    6½ tbsp good-quality medium sherry*
    1 tsp saffron threads
    2½ cups vegetable stock
    3/4 cup shelled fava beans or peas (fresh or frozen)
    12 cherry tomatoes, halved
    5 small grilled artichokes in oil from a jar, drained and quartered
    15 pitted Kalamata olives, crushed or halved**
    2 tbsp roughly chopped parsley
    4  lemon wedges

    1. Heat up the olive oil in a large shallow skillet, and gently fry the onion for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and fennel and continue to fry on a medium heat for about 6 minutes, or until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for 1 further minute. 

    2. Add the bay leaves, paprika, turmeric and cayenne to the vegetables and stir well. Then add the rice and stir thoroughly for 2 minutes before adding the sherry and saffron. Boil down for 1 minute, then add the stock and teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to the minimum and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes, or until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Do not cover the pan and don't stir the rice during the cooking. 

    3. Remove the paella pan from the heat. Taste and add more salt if needed but without stirring the rice and vegetables much. Scatter the tomatoes, artichokes and beans or peas over the rice and cover the pan tightly with foil. Leave to rest for 15 minutes. Take off the foil. Scatter the olives on top of the paella and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with wedges of lemon.

    *I went ahead and used the sherry, even though my current diet says no alcohol.  The alcohol cooks out.  Or so I told myself.
    **I forgot the olives.  All was still okay with the world.  But I bet they would have been good...

    Sunday, February 24, 2013

    A Trio of Smoothies

    Part of this Wellness Cleanse has inspired me to be creative with the smoothies.  I like smoothies quite a bit, and I find that you can easily toss all the goodies in the blender, pour the results into two big glasses or jars, and either drink them down right then and there or save them for lunch or a snack at work.  Plus, they are an easy way to get more vegetables (especially) and fruits into our diets, which most of us are sorely lacking.  Finally, if you know you're rushed for time in the morning (as I generally am because I always, and I mean always, underestimate the amount of time I have), you can make it the night before, throw it in a jar, and then grab it as you bolt out the door (hoping to god that you have your phone and your keys).

    Here are three smoothies I had this week with all kinds of notes about them.  They are intended to be meals in and of themselves, and not just snacks (although the second one down could be just a snack...).  All servings are for one, but like I said, you can easily split all of these into two separate servings throughout the day. 

    Blood Orange and Red Grape Smoothie
    2 blood oranges
    1 cup red grapes
    1/2 banana
    2 tablespoons chia seeds
    1 cup water
    5 romaine lettuce leaves

    Some notes:
    • Any oranges will do, but I love the color of blood oranges.  Plus, I thought they might be a nice complement to the red grapes.  Now some say that blood oranges have a little more vitamin C than regular oranges... and I can get behind that.
    • Do go with red grapes, as we're trying to go with all the good stuff here.
    • As for the seeds, any seed will do:  chia, flax, sesame, hemp.  Omega-3 is what we're trying to hit here.  Even The Chicago Tribune has something to say about seeds.
    • Any handful of greens will also do; I wanted something tame, as this was the first food in my system on a Thursday morning, but romaine is actually pretty darn nutritious.
    Nutrition Facts:
    Calories: 430
    Total Fat:  11 grams (Saturated Fat 1.2)
    Cholesterol: 0
    Sodium: 12 mg
    Carbohydrates:  85.2 grams (Fiber 21.5)
    Protein 10.9 grams
    Vitamin A:  22%
    Vitamin C: 342%
    Calcium:  33%
    Iron:  17%

    Super Green Smoothie
    1¼ cups chopped kale leaves
    2/3 mango, cubed
    2 medium ribs celery, chopped
    1 cup water
    1 cup ice cubes
    ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
    ¼ cup fresh mint, chopped
    ¼ cup cilantro, chopped
    pinch of salt

    Some notes:
    • I wish I had let this stay in the blender longer.  I couldn't drink this one with a straw.  Very chewy and very green, and it really did seem like I was drinking my salad for dinner.
    • Less fiber in this smoothie than the one before, but check out the vitamin A, calcium and iron. 
    • It is very green.  
    Nutrition Facts:
    Calories: 161
    Total Fat:  1.4 grams (Saturated Fat 0)
    Cholesterol: 0
    Sodium: 289 mg
    Carbohydrates:  37.2 grams (Fiber 7.6)
    Protein 5.3 grams
    Vitamin A:  335%
    Vitamin C: 275%
    Calcium:  24%
    Iron:  30%

    Peanut Butter Cup
    4 ice cubes
    2 bananas
    2 tablespoons peanut butter
    1 tablespoon cacao powder
    1 tablespoon chia seeds
    1 cup spinach
    1 cup almond milk

    Some notes:
    • Um, yummy.  However, given how sweet it is, and how much of a sweet tooth I have, I am not surprised that I found this one to be so good.  
    • While this one wins no awards for calories or for fat grams, it was brimming with protein, so it kept me full longer.  I basically counted it for breakfast and lunch.
    • However, because it has so much (naturally occurring) sugar, this one has to be a rare occasion treat. 
    • You could probably mess around with yogurts with this one if you were eating dairy.
    Nutrition Facts:
    Calories: 525
    Total Fat:  26.3 grams (Saturated Fat 4.8)
    Cholesterol: 0
    Sodium: 371 mg
    Carbohydrates:  71.6 grams (Fiber 16.2)
    Protein 16.4 grams
    Vitamin A: 69%
    Vitamin C: 48%
    Calcium:  45%
    Iron:  24%

    Saturday, February 23, 2013

    Wellness Cleanse Getting Started

    So, I decided to do something crazy, or at least crazy for me.  I decided to try the 21-Day Quantum Wellness Cleanse.

    I had been eating well in this new year, but about two weeks ago, I just settled into some not so great eating habits.  The words "nachos" and "morning buns" come to mind (although not at the same time).  I blame the Superbowl, stress, laziness, and just general lack of mindfulness about what I was eating.  Plus, I wasn't really feeling like cooking, so I was letting the husband take the reins.  He is an amazing cook, and most of his meals center on meat (specifically of the grilled ribs and brisket variety).  I wanted to change that all up a bit. Plus, I really just wanted to start cooking again.

    I did a little searching around and I found this book by Kathy Freston, Quantum Wellness: A Practical and Spiritual Guide to Health and Happiness.

    The basic premise is this:  go gluten-free, sugar-free, and vegan; axe out caffeine and alcohol.  Yep.  All five at once.  For 21 days.  Then be gentle with yourself--in other words, do some exercise, meditate, and even slow down to rest.

    I felt as if this was something I could get behind, indeed.   But then, I discovered that I have some issues with the book.  I already practice yoga and think I have a pretty good relationship with both food and with my own spiritual self (such as it is), so some of the self-help aspects of the book are tricky for me for to reconcile; however, the book certainly gave me the kick in the pants that I needed concerning nutrition.  (I like having someone tell me what to eat, what not to eat.)

    The recipes at the back of the book were a turn off though.  Almost all were soy-based and were often about substitution or an attempt to recreate a meat-based dish rather than just good food (see Tofu Scramble with Tempeh Bacon or Tempeh Tuna Salad or Scampi-Style Tofu Wrap).  Uh-oh.  I just want really good vegetables.

    But then I found this website, The Former Chef, and she had also done the cleanse and recorded it here, here, here, and here.  Perhaps even more than by the book, I was inspired by what this fellow blogger had to say.  I appreciated the no-nonsense approach to vegan substitutes and was inspired to ignore most of them on my trip to the Berkeley Bowl.  (I did buy a vegan butter (which is basically margarine but a tiny bit better for you; however in the five days I have been doing this, I haven't cracked open the package)). And I like how she recorded her progress (which I will have been working on as well).  Plus, she says:
    "I’ve always wanted to try to do some sort of cleanse diet but I’ve been put off by the ones where you only eat one type of food (the soup diet! the cookie diet!), prohibit carbs, or where you only drink a lemonade with cayenne pepper for 10 days. Consequently, I’ve never done it because I know I’d only last about six hours."  
    Um, yes. I wholeheartedly agree.

    So I started. 

    I'll keep you posted on how it goes, once a week (in much the same style as The Former Chef--hey, she was an inspiration and she deserves the credit here).

    If you're wondering what a sugar-free, gluten-free, vegan, alcohol-free, and caffeine-free diet looks like, you can see that it's not as hard as it seems at first, it can be delicious, and it got me cooking again.

    Friday, February 22, 2013

    Coconut Red Lentil Soup

    This little legume number comes to you by way of a friend of mine who made it for brunch about a month ago.  Three of us sat down around a table laden with Acme Bread, a big leafy green salad, and a beet salad.  But this soup stole the show:  The sweet raisin bombs of sweet sweetness!  The heavy ginger!  The delectable curry!  The filling legumes! (Yes, there were quite a few exclamation points there, but well worth it.)  I think we spent a good fifteen minutes just talking about the soup.  Even long after I left my friend's apartment (with a gorgeous view of the city), I knew that I had to make this stew.

    Fast forward a month, and I finally have gotten around to making it.  This red lentil soup is fantastic, very filling, and perfect for a cold or rainy (or even snowy, but we don't get those out here) day.  The recipe (or at least as I adapted it below) is also gluten-free and vegan, which actually matters to me right now (more on that in a later post, I promise).  

    In the mean time, let's learn a little more about the lentil, shall we?

    The mighty lentil has been around a long time.  As in, since the beginning of the domestication of crops.  Gazzow.  Lentil seeds dating back 8000 years have been found in archrological sites in Syria and about 7000 years ago in Israel.  Oh, and let's not forget that little Biblical tale where Esau gave up his birthright for a pot of lentils.  This is a legume with a history.
    Given that lentils are little protein bombs, it's no surprise that vegans and vegtarians (and protein-conscious meat eaters) devour them like gangbusters.  While small, these nutritionally mighty lentils are easy to get behind:  Thirty percent of their calories come from protein alone, but these little guys are packed with fiber, folate, iron, and vitamin B  (they also have a hell of a lot of molybdenum, but you knew that).  Lentils can help lower cholesterol, help reduce the risk of coronary disease, and help manage blood sugar levels.  Don't you feel as if you should go boil up a pot of lentils right now?

    Green lentils keep their shape when cooked, so save those for salads; the brown lentils soften up quite a bit and are great in soups.  But the softer and milder-flavored red and yellow lentils basically fall apart upon cooking, and they make great bases for stews, purees or just plain old wonderful dal.  In this soup, pair the red lentils with yellow split peas to have that fantastic marriage of porridge-y lentils and chewy split peas.  

    Finally, a cool fact:  the word lens in Latin is lentil.  The reason we call lenses as we do is because the shape of a lens is basically the same shape as a lentil.  Or so says Wikipedia, at least.  I love words.

    Okay, enough chatting about lentils.  Go make this soup, as in right now.  You'll be glad you did.

    One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
    Two Years Ago: Celery and Wild Rice Chowder
    Three Years Ago: Swiss Chard Flan

    Coconut Red Lentil Soup
    Adapted from my friend, who adapted it from Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks, who adapted it from the Esalan Cookbook

    Serves 6-8

    1 cup yellow split peas
    1 cup red lentils
    7 cups water and/or vegetable broth
    1 medium carrot, diced
    1 medium red pepper
    3 tablespoons fresh peeled and minced ginger
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    8 green onions, thinly sliced
    2/3 cup golden raisins
    1/2 cup tomato paste
    2 tablespoons curry powder
    1 teaspoon ginger powder
    1 14-ounce can lite coconut milk
    Salt and pepper, to taste

    1.  Rinse the split peas and lentils until the water is clear (or close to it).  In a large dutch oven or a deep pot, put the lentils and split peas, cover with the seven cups of water/vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to simmer and add the carrot, red pepper, and 1/2 the ginger.  Cover and simmer until the split peas are soft (about 30 minutes).

    2.  In a separate skillet while the legumes are simmering, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the green onions, remaining ginger, and raisins.  Saute for 2 minutes, then add the tomato paste and saute for another 1-2 minutes, until thick.  Add the curry powder and the ginger powder to the tomato mixture.

    3.  Add the tomato mixture and the coconut milk to the lentil mixture and mix well.  Simmer, uncovered, for about 20 minutes.  The stew will thicken. If it gets to thick, add more water or vegetable broth.  If it's too thin, simmer longer.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

    Thursday, February 21, 2013

    Blood Orange, Goat Cheese, and Beet Salad

    How did I spend my January, you may wonder (or maybe not, but let's assume you have, given that I have been away from this here blog)?  I spent, at least the first part of it, cooking for friends.  It's one of the ways I know to do something substantial for those I care about.  From salted ice cream for a friend who is facing some pretty big challenges to beet salad for two friends whom I adore but see not often enough, I cook.

    I met these two women ten years ago, and we started doing these brunches with one another.  It almost sounds like a "thing," but in reality we do them about once a year.  But when we do, there is something kind of special; it's as if no time has passed.  Sure, I see each of them individually, and they see each other, but there is something different about the three of us in a room.  There is much laughing, often some crying, but mostly a good deal of talking and listening to one another.  We have shared career foundations, but one has branched out and away.  We all live in different areas--one on the peninsula, one in the city, and me here in the East Bay.  The past ten years have seen major changes (a divorce, a marriage, and two children), but something lovely has developed as well: a true friendship, which I appreciate so dearly.  Despite our differences--one is gluten free, the other loves bread, especially if it comes from Acme--over the last ten years, we have spent some lovely weekend mornings together, the three of us.  I am already looking forward to next year's.

    This past brunch included the most amazing Coconut and Red Lentil Soup (made by one of my dear friends and which I just made and will post soon, but in the mean time, feel free to get a headstart here), and a satisfying salad (made by the other dear friend who stands by her own salad-making rules and I can see why:  one leafy green, one fruit, one nut, and one cheese).  My contribution was this little beet and blood orange salad. 

    It's a surprise for most people. It looks like just a beet salad, but then, sweet glorious citrus in the dead of winter, there's a burst of acid and sweet in the blood orange.  A mix of beets (chioggia, golden, and red) would be nice, but boil the beets separately and wait to mix the salad until the last minute so that the red beets don't bleed all over the others.  You might also prefer to roast your beets.  I used goat cheese, but you could just as well use feta.  I also imagine that tossing in some rosemary, dill, mint or even just that workhorse parsley at the end would not only add a little color but some great flavor.

    May you have a lovely morning for which to make this salad.  I know I certainly enjoyed mine.

    One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
    Two Years Ago: Buttermilk Squash, Bacon, and Sage Risotto
    Three Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

    Blood Orange, Goat Cheese and Beet Salad
    Serves 6

    6 medium beets
    salt and pepper
    Red wine vinegar (1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon)
    6 blood oranges
    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    3 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

    1.  Trim off the beet tops, leaving 1 inch of stem and the root end intact.  Wash them and put them in a large pot of boiling water.  Boil until the beets are tender when you insert a knife in the middle (about 30-40 minutes).  Drain the water from the beets.  Let the beets cool until you can handle them, then slip the skins from the beets.  Cut the beets into wedges.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon vinegar and let stand for 10 minutes.

    2.  Cut the tops and bottoms off of 4 blood oranges.  Cut away strips of the peel end to end, removing the peel all the way down to the flesh.  Cut the oranges into wedges.  Set aside.

    3.  Make a vinaigrette by squeezing the juice from the remaining two oranges.  Add to a bowl with 1 teaspoon vinegar.  Season with salt and pepper.  Whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil.  Taste and adjust vinegar, oil, and salt and pepper as needed.

    4.  When ready to serve, layer the beets and oranges.  Spoon the vinaigrette over top.  Sprinkle with goat cheese.  (Avoid mixing as much as possible to reduce the bleeding of the red beets.)

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013


    Oh, it has been too long, my friends.  The new year came and went, and then so did January, and now most of February.  How quickly it came and went, indeed.  

    Let's rewind the clock for a moment to talk about one of our favorite New Year's dishes, which could become one your favorite mid-winter dishes, as crabs are still in season (I saw a whole stack of them gleaming at the Berkeley Bowl yesterday).  

    Cioppino is the quintessential San Francisco dish.   Wander into any touristy restaurant in town right now, and they will have a steaming (and overpriced) bowl of this fisherman's stew on the menu.  Avoid the prices and make your own.  

    The story goes that this dish originated with the boats out at sea; the Portuguese and the Italian fishermen would chop up the leftovers of the day's catch and stew them to falling-apart consistency in wine, olive oil, and tomatoes.  Really, how can you go wrong with that?  Nowadays, serve it with some sourdough bread (another San Francisco staple), and you have something divine to sop up the boozy sauce of this wonderful stew.

    This recipe is one that the husband grew up with and makes once a year.  The recipe takes awhile, and the smell of that much vermouth with tomatoes ushers in the new year for us now.  We generally serve it with a light salad starter and a decadent dessert.  And be prepared to get your hands dirty.  There ain't no pretty way to crack crab legs.  Tuck in with a napkin, a nutcracker, a good deal of wine, and go to it. We sure did.  

    One Year Ago: Chicken with Charred Cauliflower and Red Peppers
    Two Years Ago: Buttermilk Squash, Bacon, and Sage Risotto
    Three Years Ago: Frakh Ma'amra (Mediterranean Pigeons or Squabs Stuffed with Couscous)

    Recipe courtesy of the husband's father's former girlfriend, who copped it from who knows where...

    6-8 Servings

    1 cup olive oil
    2 large onions
    1 large bunch parsley, trimmed of stems
    2-3 large garlic cloves
    2-2 1/2 (28-ounce) cans of plum tomatoes
    2 (6-ounce) cans of tomato sauce
    2 bay leaves
    salt and coarsely ground black pepper
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/4 teaspoon dried basil
    2 cups dry vermouth
    4 cooked and cracked crabs
    1 pound white fish (halibut), cubed
    2-3 pounds of clams and/or mussels in the shell

    1.  Heat oil slowly in a large, deep kettle.  Chop onion, parsley and garlic together until very fine and saute chopped mixture until lightly browned.

    2.  Add tomatoes (crush with your hands), tomato sauce, bay leaves, salt and pepper, oregano and basil.  Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.

    3.  Add vermouth, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.  While the broth is simmering, pick the belly meat from the crabs.

    4.   After the vermouth has simmered for 20 minutes, add most of the crab meat, leaving claw meat in shell. (If cooking early and reheating, add claw meat only when reheating).  Set aside remaining crab meat.

    5.  Add white fish and clams/mussels in shell.  Cook about 20 minutes until shell fish have opened.

    6.  Serve in soup bowls with a sprinkling of the remaining crab meat on the top of the stew.  Serve with sourdough bread.