Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge" Roundup on What Would Cathy Eat

Cathy Elton has posted the finalists for her "Heart Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge". 25 bloggers sent amazing recipes, new twists on old holiday classics, and my own cranberry sauce recipe is among them. (Double-click the large photos on the page to access any of the recipes.)

I confess that seeing my photo and a link back to my blog on another food blog I enjoy and respect greatly is a bit of a thrill, whether it sends anyone my way or not. Being the running in for a contest to receive a free vegetarian cookbook is the proverbial icing on the gluten-free cake. I'm not a vegetarian or vegan, but am stumbling my way into that direction, largely because my sweetie is on a meat-free, dairy-free gluten-free diet for health reasons. So a guidebook along the way would be much appreciated. Actually, Paul Pitchford's Healing With Whole Foods is an excellent resource that I am just beginning to appreciate - after letting it sit neglected on our bookshelf for years.

Particularly intriguing among the recipes in the challenge is the apple-yam soup, the sweet potato casserole gratin-style, the quinoa stuffing, the wild rice pilaf...in fact, every single recipe there is a "must try this!" for me. I can't wait to get started.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Shoreline Scoop

Many thanks to the folks at the Shoreline Scoop - A Guide to Family-Friendly Living on the Shoreline for linking to my brussels sprouts post on their Facebook page. In all honesty I'd never heard of the group before nor seen their FB page; I assume they are linked to the Fiddleheads Co-op FB page because the "share" showed up there.

It's a bit of an ego boost to see my article noticed and linked to by a group I don't know: "Someone might read this! People who aren't already my friends!"

It's also a bit of a kick-in-the-pants motivator to post more often: "Someone might read this. People who don't know me and will excuse my irregular habits because 'that's just Janice'."

In any case, I offer a heaping (virtual) helping of those brussels sprouts to the folks at Shoreline Scoop in thanks. And maybe someday (who knows?) a real helping of them as well. Anything's possible.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maple-Mustard Glazed Roasted Brussel Sprouts

(This post is another response to Cathy Elton's Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge at her blog What Would Cathy Eat? )

I grew up hating brussels sprouts...no, that isn't quite right. I grew up loathing brussels sprouts. They were nasty little mushy baby cabbages that were foisted upon me and my siblings as small children. "They're good for you," my mother insisted, with all the love and good intentions in the world. (Bless her.)

And it was not the usual, or stereotypical, case of "the kid hates veggies!" because at the same time I loved broccoli and corn and spinach. Yes, that nasty lump of stuff that came frozen in a block in the 1970's - remember? That pile of nasty, mushy stuff I loved. Go figure. (Disliked asparagus, though. Still do.) Most likely it had to do with the bitterness of the sprouts, whereas spinach was sweeter by comparison.

The strange thing was, one day they suddenly disappeared from the table. I never could quite figure that one out: they were "good for me" when I was 7, but all of the sudden not so much when I was 8? Not that I ever asked the question aloud; heaven forbid I should jinx myself or my mother had simply forgotten them. Whatever the reason, I was grateful, and I managed to successfully avoid them lo these many years.

Last year they made a comeback (of sorts) in my life: as a member of the volunteer produce team at Fiddleheads Co-op in New London, I found myself staring down shipments of organic specimens just about this time of the year. "I hate brussels sprouts" I declared with the definitive arrogance of the closed-minded. "Try them roasted" other members of the co-op insisted, "you'll fall in love with them. Perhaps with a balsamic vinegar glaze, or...."

As yummy as it sounded, I resisted - until my sweetie forced the issue and brought some home at the co-op. Oh, dear. She steamed the first batch. I generously suggested she eat all of them up, sacrificing spouse that I am. *ahem* Then less generously I reminded her that "I don't eat that stuff."

She brought home a second batch. Bless her. Time to try roasting them.

At this point I had already roasted (and grilled) kale chips and all manner of green things, so when I looked up some recipes online, I found the technique was quite similar: rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, baked in oven, sit back and enjoy the compliments. Cathy Elton has a recipe with a fabulous-sounding maple-mustard glaze, but she roasts them whole and so the cooking time was too long, 40-50 minutes. I need mine done in under 25 for dinner. So I checked out a website Cathy has linked to, Leafy Greens and Me, and found a maple-glazed variation in which the sprouts are cut in halves or quarters to speed the cooking time to about 15 minutes. Perfect...except that the glaze consisted entirely of maple syrup, after having roasted the veggies with a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.

So I smashed the two recipes together, added a twist of my own - cayenne pepper - and gave it a go. At dinner that night my sweetie paused just long enough from gobbling them up to tell me how good they were, whilst I was busy on the other side of the table...scarfing down my portion. My self-sacrificing nature disappeared in the irresistable onslaught of deliciousness, and there were no leftovers to be had.

Consider me a convert.

(The glaze recipe below made enough for two different batches.)

1/2 lb (approx.) fresh organic brussels sprouts, stem ends pared and halved or quartered
(smallest ones left whole)
4 T olive oil
sea salt and black pepper (pref. freshly cracked) to taste
1/4 tea or generous dash of cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)

1/4 Grade B maple syrup
stoneground mustard (coarsely-ground) to taste (about 1 T)
1 T olive oil
juice of 1/4 freshly squeezed lemon
1/4 medium-sized onion, chopped

Preheat oven to 425 degrees (F); lightly oil a baking tray. Trim and half or quarter, depending on size, about 1/2 lb organic brussels sprouts (leave smallest ones whole). Toss in a bowl with olive oil to coat, then sprinkle with the salt pepper and cayenne. If any leaves came off the sprouts during the trimming process, add them to the bowl.

Spread sprouts on tray, place on rack in center of over and bake for 10-15 minutes or until fork-tender and slightly crisp on the outer leaves; turn 2-3 times during cooking process to bake evenly. (Any loose leaves tend to cook quickest and become tasty little miniature chips.)

In the meantime combine remaining ingredients for the glaze, emulsify until thoroughly blended and opaque. When sprouts are tender, remove from oven and turn temperature down to 375 degrees. Pour enough glaze over the sprouts to coat thoroughly when tossed on tray (save the remainder for another use). Return to the oven and bake for an additional 5 minutes. Serves two.

Variation: Try freshly-chopped hot pepper in place of the cayenne.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge - Cranberry Sauce

I was living in North Carolina many moons ago when a friend invited me to stay at her place for Thanksgiving weekend. It was a welcome invitation; I had already passed more than one Thanksgiving in NC alone (most of my family was, and still is, in Michigan). There was of course the year I went with three other friends to see an Arnold Schwartznegger comedy, which somehow seems a contradiction in terms, and afterwards we went to Krispy Kreme, watched the donuts pass on the long conveyor belt like so many widgets in an auto factory and realized, as much as we liked one another, that we really wanted to be anywhere other than where we were. (This may account for my loathing of Krispy Kreme products, but that's another story.)

My friend, whom I knew from a lesbian group in Greensboro, (and whose name, I am embarrased to admit, has slipped from my memory), lived in a rented a "cabin" in the woods, a genuinely rustic place with an iron stove, a bed loft, and an art deco front door salvaged from a defunct department store. It was cozy, it was intimate; the space was filled with all manner of women, mostly lesbians, most of whom I also knew from the aforementioned group, on Thanksgiving Day eating, laughing and dancing. It's one of my favorite memories of Thanksgiving.

One of the things I that stood out the most for me was the pot of cranberry sauce simmering away on that cast-iron stove, flavored with orange juice and flecked with orange zest. You could make cranberry sauce? I had loved the jellied version out of a can as a kid in the 1970's (and it seems, looking back, that a great deal of our food came out of a can back then); but it had never occured to me for some reason that one could make cranberry sauce. The real relevation came in the flavor and texture: tart and chunky, it danced on the tongue, and it positively ruined me: I never ate cranberry sauce out of a can again.

Ever since then I make it a point to make at least one batch each year, and I always eagerly await cranberry season. Now I'm surprised more people don't do it; cranberry sauce is ridiculously simple to make. I've already made my first batch of the season, and it seems an appropriate entry in Cathy Elton's Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge . The personal challenge I put to myself when making this was: how little sweetener can I put in this and still be palatable?

Not as much as I thought I'd need, as it turns out. When I first started making cranberry sauce I of course used white sugar, then eventually transitioned to maple syrup and/or honey. But I also remember pouring rather liberal amounts of the stuff into the sauce some years, and I wanted to see if I could do more with less. The result won raves from both my sweetie and my landlord, two very particular eaters; I'm not sure if I'm prouder of the sauce, or the photo I took of it afterwards!

1 lb organic cranberries, rinsed, drained and culled
10 T organic maple syrup
1 T honey (optional)
RW Knudson organic cranberry juice (from concentrate)
2 organic valencia or juicing oranges

In a heavy-bottom pot put the cranberries and add enough cranberry juice to almost but not quite cover. Simmer on low, stirring frequently, being careful to avoid scorching; add the sweeteners and the entire pulp and juice of the two oranges. Add zest from the oranges if desired only if they are organic. Adjust sweetener to taste, simmer until mixture reduces to 1/3-1/2 and has the desired texture (I prefer mine a bit chunky); the sauce should have a rich rose-red color. Cool and refrigerate overnight; the flavors improve and mellow.

Cathy Elton's "Healthy Thanksgiving Challenge"

Cathy Elton has posted an intriguing challenge to other food bloggers on What Would Cathy Eat? to make a heart-healthy Thanksgiving dish, post it on our own blogs, and be eligible for a drawing to receive a copy of Myra Kornfield's The Healthy Hedonist Holidays. I don't know a thing about the cookbook, but she had me at the title. (Who says healthy eating can't also be pleasurable and sensual? People who have never attempted it, I'd guess.)

Yes, I'm looking at you, Mr Bourdain.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BBQ-Style Tofu

(Kristina, one of the newest volunteers at Fiddleheads Food Co-op, told me that she missed seeing recipes posted on the co-op's Facebook page. I definitely dropped the ball on that one. So this recipe is dedicated to her.)

Years ago my sweetie introduced me to tofu (and tempeh - but that's another story); and for a few years we were very nearly vegetarian...until the day I decided I had had it with the both of them. To be honest, I can't even recall why it happened.

Fast forward to the present, and both protein sources have taken up a place in my cooking and my refrigerator once again. Once more, I can't even recall why. It just happened.

I think of it as "trying to make friends" with them, and the relationship seems to be growing apace - encouragingly if not always fabulously. I'm sure the difference is in my attitude toward them, and in the fact that I am cooking more creatively. Rather than feeling the need to please my sweetie, I please myself, follow my own curiosity, and am usually gratified that the end result is pleasing to her as well. (I barely managed to photograph the portion above before we gobbled it up.) It helps that I don't try to make them "be meat"; rather, I try to approach tofu and tempeh for what they are, for their own unique qualities. (Full disclosure: We still eat meat. Just less of it; and what we do it is almost always Four Mile River Farm pasture-raised, antibiotic-free, steroid and hormone-free beef and pork. But that's another post.)

FYI, the term "bbq-style" refers to the sauce, a richer version (I hope) of the bottled bbq sauces we used when I was growing up in Michigan; I am not trying to imitate North Carolina bbq (pulled pork) or any other regional specialty. (Pulled tempeh, anyone?)


3/4 lb organic tofu (I use Bridge from Middletown, CT)
minced yellow onion (optional)
olive oil or other light vegetable oil for pan

BBQ Sauce (about 1 cup):

1/3 cup organic ketchup (I use Muir Glen)
3-4 tablespoons organic dark or blackstrap molasses
1 large (3 small) garlic cloves, crushed/minced
1-2 tablespoons minced onion
2 tablespoons olive olive
2 teaspoons (or to taste) prepared stone-ground mustard
1 krimson spice or other small fresh hot pepper, about 1", seeded and chopped
(or substitute cayenne or pepper flakes to taste)
1/4-1/2 cup water

Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients, adding water last to bring the total to 1 full cup; emulsify thoroughly after each addition. Adjust seasonings to taste. Sauce should be opaque, and not separating. (I made the sauce while browning the tofu; you can make it beforehand and keep in the fridge, but bring it to room temperature before using, and give it a righteous stir if ingredients have separated.)

Cube tofu, then brown on all sides in cast iron skillet or other heavy pan on medium-high heat. Add the minced onion if desired. Make sure the pan is hot (not smoking) before adding tofu, so skin is "seared"; if too cold, the skin sticks to the surface of the pan.

When tofu is golden brown on all sides (and onion translucent), pour 1/2 cup of the sauce over the tofu. Store remainder in the refrigerator for use another time.* Turn heat down slightly to medium (or just below)**; toss with spatula to coat thoroughly. Turn as necessary. When most of sauce has been absorbed and thickened (tofu may be somewhat blackened at the edges), turn down very low and cover for a few minutes to let tofu continue absorbing flavors, or serve immediately.

Served two very hungry women (with veggies and sides, of course), two servings each.

*I did try the rest of this sauce a few days later in like fashion on a block of tempeh; that idea still needs work. Next time, I'll try baking/broiling the tempeh in the oven instead of pan grilling.

**Please note that I am using an electric range which is certainly older than myself. Unfortunately it's not old enough to be "antique" or charming enough to be "retro".

Monday, July 18, 2011

84 High Street Cafe

The first time Judy and I ever ventured into 84 High Street Cafe in downtown Westerly several years ago, we wanted to have a "celebratory" dinner. What we were celebrating, and who recommended the place, I have quite forgotten (a friend of Judy's, I think?). Every other aspect of that first experience, however, is pinned firmly in place in my memory. We disagreed on what to order, which was not unusual, as we nearly always split an entree when we go out. Judy, being a frugal soul, voted on the rotisserie roasted chicken dinner at $12.99. (Or was it $11.99?)

I scoffed at that and, with a chutzpah that astonishes and amuses me now, announced that I didn't want something I could get at any grocery store. This was meant to be a special occasion and I was therefore ordering the pan-seared filet mignon. At $18.95 it was an astonishing amount for us to spend on a single meal out at the time. (Nowadays it seems to be simply the going rate at even the most lackluster eateries.) But I carefully reasoned that it really wasn't that much more than the chicken dinner and furthermore, I was going to pay for it. An offer even Judy couldn't refuse, and irrefutable reasoning to boot.

The fact that I was willing to spend that amount of money on the meal suggests that what we were out celebrating, in fact, was my having gotten a job.

Thankfully, my willfulness on this occasion was rewarded. Two pan-seared medallions arrived on the plate, in a pool of dark portobello brandy demi-glace, accompanied by mashed potatoes garnished with thin, light and crispy vegetable "fries", and grilled summer squash. The tenderloin was as rare as I had requested it, pink and juicy, of the quality that elicited a many groans of pleasure and still sits happily in my memory as one of the best meals I've ever had.

Admittedly we don't go back to the cafe as often as we should, or would like to, given the quality, but we have never been disappointed on any of our return trips. That time we were in the front restaurant but generally we dine in slightly more casual bar area; I say "slightly" because the elegance of the decor still puts most bars in the area to shame, but the welcome we always receive from staff makes us feel very much at home. There is never the least snootiness about the restaurant or its staff.

Yesterday Judy and I were driving home from a gorgeous and memorable day spent Jamestown, RI. We had packed a picnic lunch: potato salad Judy had made the night before, her best ever; boston lettuce from the co-op and tender chard leaves from our garden; chopped fresh tomato with olive oil, parmesean and fresh basil as a dressing; and Wild Planet sardines in spring water (mild and slightly sweet, similar in flavor to tuna, they were a revelation compared to the oil-packed variety and the first time I've ever enjoyed sardines). After a day of hiking on the island, exploring graffitti-covered Fort Wetherwell (which has become a strange sort of work of art in its own right), discovering live starfish in a crevasse between the rocks and looking out over the intensely blue-green water foaming against the granite cliffs of the island, etc; the last trace of lunch was mysteriously vanished from our bellies. We were ravenously hungry in the way we can only be when we've spent the day in the hot sun and strong salt-laden breezes of the ocean. Which meant that we wanted seafood; good, fresh seafood, thank you very much, and not fried. Yes, I know that a piece of fish can be both "fresh" as in freshly caught, and "fried", but I've never understood the appeal of destroying a perfectly good piece of fish by coating it in batter and dunking it in a vat of hot oil. (On the other hand, I have polished off plates of potatoes and onions given the same treatment. Call me a hypocrite.)

We left the island, not seeing anything that appealed to us, drove to Narragansett and were given directions to a seafood place in town that the locals assured us was a good one; upon arriving we were informed that all the seafood was fried. We were by now hungry enough to rip open a box of oyster crackers simply to have something in our stomachs.

"We could go to Westerly," one of us said to the other.

"We could," the other replied.

Downtown Westerly offers a plethora of dining options; and we probably went to every one of them (excluding those we assumed we could never afford), looked at the menus, hesitated, changed our minds, quibbled with each other and wandered from place to place; none of them were quite hitting the spot, mentally at least. Only those damned oyster crackers kept our blood sugar levels from plummeting to dangerous lows.

"We could go to 84 High Street again," one of us said to the other. "We've never been disappointed with it."

"We could," the other replied. "The portions are always generous."

And there we were, perusing the menu; if either one of us balked this time our only option left would have been the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. Fortunately our eyes lit upon the "thai shellfish stew: shrimps, scallops, littlenecks and crabmeat in a red thai coconut cream broth with julienned vegetables, tomatoes and roasted red peppers." While we waited on the mail course we slackened our hunger and thirst with rosemary-flecked bread, garden salad (all dressings made in-house; I chose blue cheese), beer (Judy) and root beer (me.) The beer menu offers several craft beers on draft as well as Guiness (my partner eventually went with a black-and-tan); but the root beer deserves special mention. I don't drink alcohol, except the occasional sip from Judy's glass, and finding non-alcoholic options when dining out, aside from water, iced tea, and mass-produced sodas can be a bit of a challenge. 84 High Street offers Saranac root beer, and any establishment that offers non-alcoholic options, besides juice and water, so I'm not left staring at Judy whilst she enjoys her Guiness automatically gets points from me.

As it happens, that rotisserie chicken, which I'm sure is much better than anything I could get at the grocery store, is now $15.99, and the filet mignon medallions are $24.99.