Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Healthy Not Boring 2 – Greens

From my Petaluma Post column.  You can find the first installment of this at http://blog.sonomacaterers.com/2012/01/healthy-not-boring.html

Last January I started to write on healthy eating, the holidays have come and gone and we are all feeling just a bit sluggish.  Too much candy and rich food, time to clean out the fridge and feel good about what you are eating again.

I am a huge fan of greens; most people’s first thought is of overcooked mush that grandma put on the table, or that same salad you have had a thousand times because you are supposed to.  These days the greens are young and tender, easy to toss into almost any dish.  Salads can have great variety with just a little thought, but you can also add greens to cooked dishes as another way to get them into your diet without getting bored.

For uncooked greens I love baby wild arugula.  It has a smaller firmer leaf than the classic and is not quite as peppery. With the thicker leaf it also has a bit more tooth in texture.  It always makes me feel like I am eating healthy.

Baby Wild Arugula Salad with Yam Croutons
1 medium yam, cut ¾” cubes, skin on
2 Tbl olive oil
Pinch cumin
Salt and pepper

8-10 oz of Baby wild arugula
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
4 Tbl olive oil
1 Tbl honey
Salt and pepper

Toss the yam cubes with oil, salt, pepper and cumin, and place as a single layer on a baking dish or cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 degree for 10 to 12 minutes, stir, bake another 10 to 12 minutes.  Allow to cool.  Although these are croutons, they are not crunchy; they have a firm skin and soft interior.

Combine the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and honey to make the dressing.  Put the arugula in a bowl with the yam croutons, and toss with the dressing.  For an extra touch try adding toasted pumpkin seeds or Chèvre.

Another great way to use greens is in pasta.  You can find beautiful baby chard in many stores.  Try just a simple garlic and olive oil pasta tossed with fresh baby chard.  It will wilt and melt in beautifully.  Serve with your favorite Italian dish, something like chicken cacciatore.

The Asian greens on the market are a great addition to look at also.  From baby bok choy to red tatsoi.  You can often find what is called Asian braising greens in the bulk greens section.  Try adding to a stir fry with some fresh garlic and light soy.  After sautéing finish with just a touch of Sesame oil for a pop of flavor.

Baby spinach is a main stay in our home.  My husband jokes about the day that I fed him spinach for all three meals.  I find it great to toss into a frittata or an omelet.  Makes a great salad for lunch or dinner, and wilts down for a great side dish to a heavier entrée.  Remember entire bowl of greens can wilt down to next to nothing.

Spinach and Mushroom Frittata
9” skillet
6 eggs
2 cups baby spinach
¼ cup shredded cheese - I like a parmesan or romano
½ cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
2 Tbl oil
Any added things you would like

Place the baby spinach in a glass bowl in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds;
this is a great trick to wilt unruly quantities so they fit into a skillet better.

Beat the eggs well, seasoning with salt and pepper.  Warm a skillet (use a skillet with a metal handle as it will be going in the oven later) with olive oil over medium heat for 3 or 4 minutes, then pour the egg mixture into the pan, it should sizzle slightly.  Add in the remaining ingredients, including spinach, stirring to incorporate everything.

Place the entire pan in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until set and firm.  Remove and cut into wedges.  This is a great as a hot breakfast or lunch dish, and also serves great cold with a salad.

My most recent favorite spinach salad is served warm with fresh pear.  I was going for the idea of a Bistro salad from French cuisine that they serve with a poached egg on top.  I choose to add lightly sautéed chicken livers and crostinis.   You can enjoy without the chicken livers too.

Warm Spinach Salad
10 oz baby spinach
1 small red onion, julienned
1 medium firm ripe pear, I like Bartlett, julienne
3 Tbl olive oil
2 Tbl sherry vinegar
1 Tbl honey
Salt and Pepper

Place the baby spinach in a large salad bowl.  Then sauté the red onion in one table spoon olive oil until tender and it begins to caramelize, then add the pear and sauté lightly.  Finally add remaining oil, vinegar, honey and salt and pepper to the sauté to make the dressing.  When pear is wilted, spoon pears and onions over the baby spinach, and use the remaining pan juices (dressing) as needed to dress the salad.

The next time you are at the market look a little closer at the greens, pick up something new and give it a try.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Holiday Gift from Your Kitchen

From my December column in the Petaluma Post.  A little dated... until the holidays are back! 

The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming!  Actually by the time you read this they will be here and on top of us.  The month of December seems to roll by so fast with family, friends and business events.  Then you have the shopping, gifts, gifts ,gifts.  All of a sudden someone gives you a gift you did not expect, or you are invited to someone’s home and need that hostess gift.  What if you had a couple of recipes that you could make in advance, package, and have ready?  They are also great for those teacher and coworkers gifts.

We have all baked lots of cookies and bars, but you can’t have them ready at hand because of the dual threats of needing them fresh, and hubby eating them.  Over the past few years I have been making a sour cream coffee cake that freezes great.  Just wrap well and pull it out when you need a gift.  It is also great to put aside for Christmas morning.

Coffee Cake
Crumble topping
6 Tbl butter
2/3 cup flout
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse till crumbly, then set aside. This recipe is also a great topping for pies instead of the top crust.

1¾ cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
3 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup vegetable oil

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Combine wet ingredients, and mix till smooth.  Finally, add to dry ingredients, mixing until well incorporated.

Place 2/3 of the batter into an 8” cake or bundt pan, then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and about half of the crumble topping. Add the remaining batter and top with rest of the crumble and cinnamon and sugar.  Bake at 325 degree for approximately 45 minutes, till a tooth pick comes out clean.

This recipe translates great to anything.  You can use any pan you like, it doubles and triples well.  At the catering company we make it ten times this recipe for our use.  There are great paper pans available that are oil lined and ready to give away, available at Sur La Table and other gourmet kitchen stores.

Feel free to add your personal touch, cranberries, chocolate chip or more.

Another unexpected favorite of my friends is homemade granola.  Make ahead and put in mason jars with a bow ready to go.  If you don’t give it all away it is a great way to start out the New Year.  It is a great recipe to make with your kids


8 cups rolled oats
2 cups nuts- your choice- sliced almonds, pecans. Walnuts
2 cups seeds- your choice -pumpkin, sunflowers, other
¼ cup poppy seeds
1 T cinnamon
½ cup oil
1 cup honey
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups dried fruits

Combine the oats, nuts, seeds, and cinnamon, and mix well.  Then combine the oil, honey and extracts, warming slightly till the honey is thin; drizzle over dry mixture and stir till well combined.  Place on cookie sheets, toast at 350 degree, stirring every 10 to 15 minutes till golden.   Approximately four times, depending on depth.  Allow to cool completely, then add the dry fruit.  Pack in mason jars for gifts.

Let the kids add their favorite dried fruits, cherries, cranberries, golden raisins, chopped up dried apricots.

Mason Jars are really in and with the cold nights what about a ready to go soup in a jar?

Split Pea & Barley Soup
½ cup dried barley
½ cup split peas
2 Tbl minced onions
1 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbl granulated Garlic
2 Tbl chicken bouillon granules
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup macaroni - your favorite

Layer each of the ingredients in a 1 quart mason jar, finishing with the macaroni as the last layer.  Seal with the lid.  Add a nice ribbon and a gift card that says “Add contents to 2 qt water, simmer over low heat for 1 hour.  Optional add ins celery, carrots and canned tomatoes.  Enjoy

Don’t ever think twice about a jar of jam or jelly.  I remember one year my niece and nephew got assorted jars and they thought it was the best gift.  In this age of long hours and being pulled many ways, a homemade gift shows that you care.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I yam what I yam

I've been rather lax getting my columns from the Petaluma Post re-posted here, so look for one a week for the next few weeks.  Enjoy!

I yam what I yam.  But am I really?  Yes I am a yam, not a sweet potato, no really a yam.  So what is a yam you ask, not just an over cooked thanksgiving side dish covered with marshmallows.  I am so much more!

To really confuse things we rarely ever see a true yam in the US, they are a tropical tuber; sweeter than sweet potatoes and often with red or purple flesh, but can be white, with a brown or black skin. For our purposes let’s stick to our local definition.

In the US yams and sweet potatoes are both actually varieties of sweet potato, but are widely different in color and texture.  What we call “sweet potatoes” are usually a lighter colored flesh with a thin light colored skin.  The “yam” is the darker red skin with a vibrant orange flesh (full of beta carotene).  Both skins are completely edible.

For so many years the yam has been put aside to be eaten only one time a year.  My family on the other hand served them year round.  Mom would bake just them like a potato in the oven alongside a meatloaf or other dishes.  We would split them open with butter and a touch of brown sugar for a simple side dish.  But as I have expanded my own cooking I have add them to our regular repertoire.

Baking Sweet Potatoes
Baking a whole sweet potato (approx. 7 oz) will take 45 minutes to 1 hour to bake in a 350 degree oven.  Prick the skin and make sure to place it on a cookie sheet or foil as it will drip a bit.

But who actually has an hour to make dinner.  My favorite preparation is to slice into ½” to ¾ ” inch slices, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and cumin and layout on a cookie sheet to bake.  They take about 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degree.

Using this method I have added them to several other dishes.  One of our favorites is
Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yam croutons.

Arugula and Chèvre Salad with Yams
1 large yam cut into ½” cubes, prepared as above
6 oz wild baby arugula
2 oz chèvre

¼ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl honey
Salt and Pepper to taste

Roast your yam croutons, turning often to allow to brown and crisp evenly (they’ll get brown and slightly crispy on the outside, but stay soft in the center).  While their baking make your vinaigrette by combining the sherry vinegar, olive oil, honey and S&P.  Allow crouton to cook 10 to15 minutes.  You can allow the croutons to cool or toss and serve immediately for a warm salad.  Just toss the arugula, Chèvre and vinaigrette, and finish with croutons.  I often serve this with grilled pork loin or ribs.

I have used the same technique to make yam coins for hors d’oeuvres, when trying to find ingredients for gluten free or vegan items.  Purchase yams that are approx. 1” around and cut at 1/4” and bake till firm.  Try topping with Chevre, tapenade, hummus or almost anything.

Pecan Yam Pie
One of my favorite desserts is made with yams Pecan Yam Pie

1 9” pie crust
1 lbs yams, baked plain, cooled and mashed (yield 1¼ cup)
1 egg
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp clove
¼ tsp nutmeg
¼ cup cream

1¼ cup sugar
1¼ cup corn syrup
3 eggs
1 cup pecans
3 Tbl melted butter

Place the pie shell on a foil lined baking sheet as this could get messy from bubbling over.  Combine the yams, eggs, cream and spices, and whisk well till smooth.  Spoon into the pie crust, spreading evenly.  Combine the topping ingredients, and pour over the yam mixture.  However if you want to get creative don’t put mix in the pecans, instead you can use whole pecans and lay them out in a pattern,  then combine the rest of the topping ingredients and pour over the top.  Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 1½ hours or until a knife inserted comes out clean.  Allow to cool well.

Factoid:  While the origin of the term sweet potato is obvious, it’s like a potato but sweet.  But what about yam?  The story I’ve heard goes, a European explore in Africa asks a native what that potato like thing was, the response was nyami, which means “it’s to eat”.  But the explorer heard Yam and assumed that was the name of the thing.