Sunday, October 23, 2011

Salad Days

one of my earliest culinary memories is of a table side caesar's salad at a local queens, ny restaurant aptly named caesar's.  at 6 years old i fully appreciated and always looked forward to their signature salad with garlic and oil crusted croutons, crisp romaine and creamy, dressing.  the performance by the waiter was mesmerizing and the shirley temples weren't bad either!  almost 40 years later, in my book, there is still nothing better than a great salad.  crisp greens tossed with good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, sea salt and black pepper is simple, elegant and delicious. as a matter of fact i think i recently confessed that i eat this pretty much every evening after my main meal.  if you add vibrant, flavorful vegetables, fruits, cheeses, meats, fish, grains, nuts and seeds (you get the idea), the basic green salad climbs to new heights, easily going from appetizer or digestive to stunning entree.  you can do anything with a salad, as long as you don't try to add all of these components at once.  too many ingredients will always kill the essence of the dish, prohibiting star ingredients from truly shining and getting their due.  when it comes to the salad, we must really tip our hats to that most special ingredient, greens.

yes it is october and the weather is already changing here in nyc as is evident by my steam heater hissing in the wee morning hours (must cover that wicked dangerous hot pipe in the kitchen) and my wearing layers to the greenmarket this morning.  so, why am i talking about summery green salads? this week in florida 3,265 cases of salad bags sold under the the fresh selections, marketside, HEB and taylor farms labels have been recalled due to the risk of salmonella food poisoning.  it already happened with bagged spinach, remember?  i want to talk about this because bagged salad has become more popular than buying freshly picked heads of greens and that's not okay.  

when i began my cooking career i spent most mornings washing and spinning cases of salad greens and herbs.  wild watercress, radicchio, romaine, royal red oak leaf, bibb, buttercrunch, frisee, lollo roso, mache, mizuna, escarole, french crisp, chicory, dandelion, arugula, tatsoi and more.  filling up the big sink i would twist off the root stem and separate the leaves, watching the dirt fall into the water and sink to the bottom.  i would lift the leaves carefully out of the sink and place them into a large stainless steel bowl.  drain and clean the sink, refill and do it again. each variety would be soaked three times, spun dry and then laid in a white bin, lined with paper towels, labeled with the variety and date and kept in the walk in refrigerator.  some days i spent up to 3 hours meticulously doing this.  in my home i still do it and love every minute.

i love dirt. i especially love good mineral rich black dirt.  i love seeing it on my food when i buy it.  it is a sign that it has just come out of the ground. dirt means that it is farm fresh, it contains vital nutrients that will feed my body well and it will taste amazing.  bagged salad has none of this.  bagged salad is produced on an enormous scale, is an industrial food handled by way too many people not paying attention, is then placed in a "petri dish" (farmer john gorzynski's analogy) plastic bag, held in a refrigerated warehouse and then transported long distances to supermarkets. that's called a potential health risk (hello, FDA).  too many handlers not paying attention inoculate the lettuce with potential pathogens and then they are hermetically sealed in an environment that encourages those pathogens to grow. they are kept in that bag sometimes for weeks until the consumer, who thinks they are getting a convenient, pre-washed, healthy food buys it and takes it home.  most people do not wash bagged salad.  that's the idea right?  it's pre-washed. just open it up and go! hey, that sounds a lot like fast food to me. and we don't like fast food.

when i ask people what they eat when they are trying to be healthy they say, a nice, fresh salad.  there is nothing fresh about the salad you are eating if it comes from a bag.  the average head of lettuce (or any freshly picked vegetable) will lose 40% of its nutritional value by the time it hits the supermarket shelf.  the amount of petro-chemicals it takes to wrap it and get it there is a whole different blog all together.....bagged salad, by the time you get it home has lost its zing. the bloom is off the rose as they say.  it also doesn't taste as good as freshly picked greens.  i know some people will say that bagged salads are delicious but i challenge and suggest that you go to a farmers market and buy freshly picked, dirty greens - take them home and give them a nice cool bath, spin them dry and see for yourself.  in my humble opinion there is no comparison.  

i bought lettuce from john & sue gorzynski today.  i adore all of their product but their greens are stellar. my heads of lettuce were picked by john and then put up in a crate by his son tim at the union square greenmarket.  i brought those gorgeous dirt encrusted greens home, washed them 3 times, spun them and tucked them into my fridge until dinner when i will happily toss them with chaffin family orchards late harvest olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sea salt & pepper.  if you have a home with a yard (back or front) and you can plant a garden, please grow greens.  there is nothing better than harvesting what you grow and eating it straight from the garden.  if you are an urban farmer like me i suggest trying something like woolly pockets or a vertical garden system where greens and herbs grow really well.  small scale farming is safe farming because everyone knows what is going on with the product.  the product is real food.  we support real food by supporting real farmers. no farms. no food.  that's what it says on the gorzynski truck and it is the gospel truth.  tonight i will call my Family2Table with confidence knowing that they will be happy, well fed and healthy from the food we are eating and i hope you will to.  be well and enjoy!

here are a few of my favorite salads:

1. warm spinach salad with chantarelle mushrooms, shallots, goat's cheese and bacon vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, finely chopped shallots, dijon mustard and warm bacon fat to emulsify)
***you will need rendered bacon fat for this recipe.
clean chantarelle mushrooms and pull apart into pieces.
in a hot pan sautee mushrooms in bacon fat and olive oil
add cleaned spinach, fold in with tongs and turn off heat
add warm bacon vinaigrette and wilt.
plate and top with soft goat's cheese.
serve immediately.

2. wild watercress and endive with australian roaring 40s blue cheese, crispy macadamia nuts and sherry vinaigrette (sherry vinegar, dijon, shallots, olive oil, salt & pepper)
toss washed greens with cheese, chopped nuts & vinaigrette.
plate and serve.

3. arugula and enoki mushroom salad with rare, seared, peppered tuna in a ginger lemongrass caesar dressing. (egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, blanched chopped lemongrass, grated ginger, parm reggiano cheese, olive oil).
toss washed arugula and enoki shrooms in caesar dressing.
slice tuna and drizzle dressing on tuna.
**tuna can be seared and held in fridge until serving.  the best way to sear peppered sushi grade tuna is frozen so you get a good sear in a hot cast iron pan and the center remains really rare.

4. frisee with bacon lardons, blanched haricot verts & poached egg (soft boiled is fine).
blanch haricot in salted water and then in a salted ice bath.
add to washed frisee with lardons
toss with olive oil, salt, pepper & lemon juice
top with poached egg or soft boiled egg
break egg and stir yolk into salad.

5. mixed greens with barley, cucumber & roasted red pepper with preserved lemon vinaigrette. 
***preserving lemons is curing them with salt and takes a while. basically what you do is score the lemons into quarters making sure you don't cut all the way through.  pack them with good sea salt and put them in a sterilized glass jar.  pack as many as you desire into the jar so they are crammed in there and letting go of their juice. Fill up the jar with lemons, make sure the top is covered with lemon juice. Add more fresh squeezed lemon juice if necessary. Top with a couple tablespoons of salt. seal the jar and leave out at room temp for a few days. turn the jar and agitate the lemons. after a few days put in the fridge and continue to turn the jar.  you should have preserved lemons in 3 weeks or so.
to make the vinaigrette use the rind and cut into very small pieces. whisk with apple cider vinegar, oil and pepper. fee free to use more lemon juice if desired.
soak barley overnight in water and whey.
cook barley with added salt and cool to room temp.
roast red peppers in olive oil in oven with salt & pepper.
remove skins and cut into strips.
toss barley, cucumbers & red peppers with washed greens and vinaigrette.
is nice with sardines!

6. grilled mustard greens with ripe tomato, red onion and avocado with roasted garlic aioli.
***an aioli is a mayonnaise. puree 1 egg plus 1 yolk with 5 roasted garlic cloves, 1 TBS. lemon juice and a pinch salt. slowly drizzle 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil until emulsified. 
if you don't have a grill you can wilt in a hot pan but the char of a BBQ grill on the greens is really what you want.
toss mustard greens in olive oil salt & pepper and wilt on the grill
plate with ripe tomato (heirloom and cherry tomatoes are best i think) and avocado, finish with sea salt. add a dollop of aioli with washed torn basil and ENJOY!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Food Rules

a friend of mine who is worried about his health rang me the other day and asked what i thought about the movie "forks over knives" and should he become vegan?  i told him that a vegan diet is okay for a week or two detox but that's it. i also directed him to denise minger's extensive piece on "forks" hoping that would satisfy his burning desire to change his diet based on a movie that is ultimately rooted in the flawed research of t. colin campbell's china study.  i also advised him to read "nutrition and physical degeneration" by weston a. price which is data that i believe is rooted in fact and can be trusted.  he told me that he is desperate to find the right diet to restore his health.  hello....who isn't?  the absolute diet for optimum health does exists. it always has. however, please do not forget that we are all individuals and therefore require different nutrients from real foods to keep us at our vital best. if you are looking to restore what is lacking, i suggest working with a nutritionist who will order all the right tests and blood work with significant markers to let you know exactly where you need support.

as a chef, cooking instructor, locavore and mother of two young children i am constantly  asked "what do you feed your family?"  my first response is, "i feed them food."  people look at me as if i have three heads and want to slap me. okay, so maybe i can be a bit snarky at times but you have to understand that there are lots of products out there masquerading as food that are very toxic, scary chemicals.  and what's worse, people are buying them. real food does not come in packages. real food does not sit on a shelf without going bad and real food is not what is making our population so sick and sad. people want me to tell them what i serve for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.  they want me to tell them what they should buy, cook and feed their family. they want me to write them menus and email them recipes and that is what i do.  when it comes to food and "diet," people who are serious about their health and the health of their families want to be told what to eat.  these people want to follow the rules.

okay, i can dig it.  handing the responsibility of making important choices over to someone else can be quite a liberating experience - especially handing it to someone who will never steer you wrong. someone who has spent half her life dedicated to sourcing clean ingredients and putting them together in flavorful, nutritious combinations that would make even the pickiest eater happy.  okay, fine. i'm your chef.  i'm your teacher. i'm your girl.  i'm good to go. but let's get something absolutely clear. i'm a punk rocker and i've never been into rules. however, when it comes to real food i'm serious.  i guess you could say  i'm more of a food rules! kind of person. i celebrate the fresh. i cast my vote for the local. i praise the organic. i rejoice in the whole and i always, always put love into everything i make.

so, as a teacher dedicated to giving her students what they want, cool. food rules, you got it. let's go!

1. keep it simple - let ingredients sing and be the star.  don't go bananas with too many components to a dish.  an honest piece of super fresh, wild caught local fish in good butter and fresh herbs is a poem. recite it at least twice a week.  stay away from farmed fish, please. same goes for all meats - grass fed, pastured animals that have a sweet life eating what they were born to eat taste best and contain all the beautiful omega 3s and CLA you are looking for.  a freshly dug potato with butter, sea salt, sour cream and chives will make you so satisfied it's almost ridiculous.  get to a local farmer's market and buy a few local apples. then buy some local raw milk cheese. go home. slice or bite the apple. then taste a piece of the cheese....BANG! that's love. that's simple. 

2. soup. salad. cheese - a good rule for family meal-making. start with a cup of soup or broth made from real pastured meat or wild fish bones. always have some type of salad with your meal.  many parents say "my kids won't eat salad!" i say HA! perhaps not now they won't but when they see you eating it day after day and enjoying it, they will want to be a part of that vibe too. especially if you include them in preparing it.  washing and ripping greens and herbs is a great kitchen project for young ones. (oh yeah, no bottled salad dressings - that's a big rule). they can even dress the salad and learn basic pouring skills with olive oil, vinegar, a squeeze of fresh lemon, sea salt & pepper. cheese is my favorite way to end a meal.  of course we do a sweet now and then for "afters" but generally it's an enzyme rich piece of raw milk cheese.  a seasonal piece of special fruit with the cheese is a great end as well.  when fresh figs come to the table it feels like a birthday.  it is a good idea to shed a light of importance on these dear pieces of seasonal gold so that they are appreciated for the treat they are.

3. fermented foods with every meal - digestion is key.  foods are only nutritious if you are assimilating the nutrients.  you can eat really well and ultimately be malnourished if your gut can't do it's job. one way to help your gut out is to include real fermented foods at every meal.  that could be as easy as a dollop of good yogurt or sour cream on your soup or salad. a side of sauerkraut, a few pickles, a glass of kombucha or kefir.  fermented foods add spark the way citrus can.  check them out, you won't be disappointed.

4. good fats at every meal - healthy saturated fats are making a comeback (thank goodness) and should be eaten with gusto! animal fats from pastured meats (chicken fat, lard, beef tallow), wild caught fish, butter, avocado, properly prepared nuts and seeds (that means soaking in sea salted water and drying), olive oil, coconut oil and high vitamin cod liver oil every day.  good fats will satisfy with less food and keep blood sugar stable for longer ( a must for little people). remember to stay away from vegetable oils especially soy, corn, cottonseed and canola - blech!  they are predominantly genetically modified and hydrogenated. stay away from anything marked low fat, please. as a matter of fact stay away from anything that makes a health claim.  this is marketing and we don't like the taste of advertising.

5. natural sweeteners only, please - use raw honey, rapadura, succanat, palm sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, grade B maple syrup and liquid stevia to sweeten.  please stay away from refined sugars and artificial sweeteners as they tend to break down our immune systems and cause all kinds of problems - especially for children. all sugar free, chemical ridden products are out! 

6. not too many grains and if you do, properly prepared - soaking grains overnight in water with liquid whey, apple cider vinegar or lemon juice will make them much easier to digest.  soaking legumes will also make the nutrients more available and easier to digest.  when selecting breads, fresh baked, organic sourdough is best. if packaged please keep it to just a few ingredients (like 4!) 

7. feed nothing from a package. only fresh, local, organic (even this rule can be bent when you are buying local and farm fresh) and whole. ** if you must feed from a package, please read labels carefully and stay away from unhealthy oils, sugars, soy and other toxins like MSG (hydrolyzed vegetable proteins), etc. 

8. stay out of the supermarket - local greenmarkets are everywhere these days. support your local growers and patronize your local health food stores.  i realize that there are certain things we go to the grocery store for (i personally need d'agostino for my preferred scrub pads to wash dishes).  if 70% of your weekly food is coming from the greenmarket you are looking good!

9. because real (raw) milk is not legally sold in all states -- don't even get me started on this one -- i am not going to tell you that all your dairy should be raw.   i wish i could.  in a perfect world it would because that's the way our great great grandparents had it and that is essentially what i am telling you to do.  eat like them!  you can be creative and source raw milk and i applaud you if you do as there is nothing like it.  but, the next best thing would be to source local dairy that is grass fed and not homogenized.  raw milk cheese is best and always, always buy whole fat dairy.  the war on raw milk has been declared by our government and i am curious to see how far they are willing to take their lies "in the best interest of the people."  discuss!

so those are my very basic food "rules."  i told you it was simple. what's even easier is following all of these rules and not eating the crap that will make you feel horrible...and you know that it does.  it makes you sluggish, your bowels irregular, you get moody, your kids melt down, you get stressed out and chaos ensues. unnecessary.  the cleaner you eat the more difficult it gets to go off your diet and eat the "stuff" you once called food. your body is wise and it will let you know when you eat something that disagrees with it.  OH! okay, i have another really important rule that i forgot to put in the list......listen to your body!  duh.  

if all of this seems too overwhelming i would like to suggest changing your diet little by little.  what about this.....? start off by eliminating vegetable oils (corn, cottonseed, canola, soy, etc) from your diet and see how you feel.  these are really disgusting and do not belong in the human body.  trust me.  do this for a month. i dare you to tell me that you don't feel better. then remove refined sugars and artificial sweeteners (goodbye aspartame).  then caffeine. yes, caffeine. your body doesn't really need it - try an organic decaf.  slowly, little by little you take away the bad habits (soda, fast food, packaged snacks) that are doing you no favors and implement the beneficial, real foods that will nourish and replenish.  a good yogurt or kefir, a traditionally prepared sauerkraut, a beautiful raw honey and grass-fed raw milk cheese, nutrient dense pastured eggs with yolks so orange they look like a tropical sunset, wild caught fish and my favorite, grass-fed beef.  before you know it you will be craving pate and making beef bone broth every weekend just because you feel so amazing!  not to mention the fact that these foods are all REALLY YUMMY!

i'm sure i could come up with more rules (elbows on the table?! not in my house!) but why bother, you get the idea. eat and enjoy. that's the important part.  you need to come up with your own rules for you and your family. my 6 year old daughter is already writing new rules for ours....hers are about colors.  "if the color doesn't exist in nature, don't eat it." smart kid.  i am perfectly clear about why we should be eating real food and want you to be as well. i would also like everyone to view meal planning and cooking as an opportunity and a privilege not an obstacle or a chore.  when you realize how unlimited you are in your choices to properly feed and nourish yourself and your family with love and good spirit you will bring your Family2Table not necessarily with rules but with creativity, recipes and ingredients that will restore and maintain your vibrant health and get you shouting food rules! food rules! food rules!  

now just in case you are interested, this is what we ate yesterday.

BREAKFAST:  pastured eggs scrambled in lard with uncured ham steak and heirloom cherry tomatoes. toast grilled in bacon fat. raspberry kombucha and farm fresh milk to drink.

SNACK: toasted seaweed and salmon jerky

LUNCH: thyme roasted chicken with root vegetables and goat's cheese salad.

SNACK: asian pear slices with sharp cheddar cheese.

DINNER: lamb burgers served over stewed lentils with thickened yogurt and sauteed kale.  raw milk vanilla ice cream for dessert with honey sweetened chocolates.

my menu for today.......

BREAKFAST: whole milk raw cow yogurt with sprouted sunflower seeds, crispy almonds, coconut flakes and blueberries (frozen from august).

SNACK: popcorn with coconut oil and sea salt

LUNCH: sprout salad with soft boiled egg, smoked salmon & sour cream with chives

SNACK: almond raisin bread with lots of butter and a big glass of milk

DINNER: buffalo kielbasa and cheese quesadilla (brown rice tortilla) with salsa, sour cream and avocado.

here is a recipe for my favorite lentils that i served with the lamb burgers yesterday

soak 1 lb. dry french green lentils in warm water with 2 TBS whey for 24 hours.
drain and sort through for stones and set aside.
add 3/4 cup tomato paste, 1 TBS grade B maple syrup, pinch cayenne pepper, 1 tsp sea salt & 2 TBS fresh thyme leaves and incorporate for a few minutes in a saucepan on med-hi flame, saute 1 large diced onion 2 carrots diced, 2 stalks celery diced and 1 clove of garlic, crushed, in a good fat of your choice (i use lard or olive oil) until translucent.
add 1 quart filtered water & then lentils (add more water if not totally covering lentils)
bring to a boil and then simmer until lentils are cooked - not mushy (about 30 - 40 minutes).
add salt & pepper to taste, cover and let sit for an hour or two to finish cooking.
lentils will hold in fridge for up to 2 weeks.

if you have any questions about ANYTHING please contact me at

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Snack Trap

it is no secret that i love (real) food. i love to cook and i love to eat.  there are days where i am constantly preparing, tasting & writing new recipes.  however, i am not what i would call a "snacky" person.  i prefer my meals and when i get a hankerin' for something in between i usually gravitate towards a piece of raw milk cheese, seasonal fruit or vegetable, a glass of kefir or home brewed kombucha.  although right now i could go for a small bowl of zerbe's potato chips fried in lard. anyway, this is not the case for most.  from what i can tell, and i am "in the field" everyday observing with a keen eye, americans have become addicted to snacks.   

snacking wouldn't be so bad if everyone was eating real food but they're not. roughly 17,000 new packaged, processed food products make it onto the grocery store shelves each year and most of them are not food.  chemicals have replaced food and are cleverly (read: deceptively) marketed as economical, convenient and healthy!  the marketing is so clever that adults buy the advertising, become addicted to the chemicals they perceive as food and then raise their children on them creating a whole new generation of people addicted to chemicals.  these products posses zero nutritional value and are made with cheap, dangerous ingredients, creating a vicious cycle of hunger and addiction that keeps people craving more and more in order to feel satisfied. this is what i call the snack trap: constantly eating to maintain stable blood sugar levels and instill a feeling of comfort.  the truth is that when you get caught up in snacking on packaged, processed foods this way, your body is in a perpetual state of dis-ease and there is nothing economical, convenient or healthy about that.

when i talk about constant snacking i immediately envision chubby legged toddlers with their plastic snack traps loaded with cheerios, pepperidge farm goldfish, pirate booty and those awful fruit flavored puffs my friend leah calls "baby crack." (have you ever tried to take those puffs away from a toddler?) these snacks provide an unhealthy dose of toxins in the forms of sugar, MSG, food dyes & colorings, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, soy byproducts, GMOs, artificial flavors and fillers that keep kids busy chewing. sometimes i think parents love these foods just because they keep their kids quiet (drugged) so they don't have to engage.....but that's another talk show altogether.  the good news is that if you know how to read labels you will see exactly what is in packaged foods and can avoid them. (see truth in labeling).  by staying away from packaged and processed food snacks, this vicious cycle can easily be broken and snacking can be a fun, healthy, delicious good time for all. by the way, the snack trap is a useful invention for self feeding toddlers that can be filled with healthy and nutritious foods.

when packing food to go it is important to think about what types of food travel well.  summer is a great time to investigate as there are plenty of opportunities for picnics (breakfast, lunch and dinner).   i always pack snacks when we head out for  a day at the park as well as when i take my turn as class mum for a weeks worth of snacks for 25 children.  this can be a difficult task but i have found a solution (see below).  the thing you want to remember about snacks is that they should be nutrient dense, easy to eat and provide energy as well as flavor.  

on a typical day i will have any of the following smart snacks in my bag in order to restore myself and my children when we get to feeling low on energy: bison, beef or turkey kielbasa, raw milk cheese cubes, cherry tomatoes, radishes, salmon jerky, nori sheets or even sushi, dried fruit leather, fresh berries, dried figs, coconut macaroons, cucumber spears with sea salt, pickles, popcorn with coconut oil, sea salt & nutritional yeast, sourdough bread & butter, pate on cracker, a boiled egg, sesame seed crunch bars, a freshly baked muffin or bread, skewers with cheese and fruit, roasted whole beets - eaten like an apple, a peach, pear, plum, melon slices, ham slices, soaked and dehydrated walnuts and almonds, pita chips with guacamole, a container of hummus with steamed carrots and a thermos of real milk, bone broth, water or kombucha tea.  

all of the above mentioned foods can be prepared ahead of time and will sit happily in your bag until needed.  when my daughter or son says that they are hungry it usually means that they are bored (or growing).  my test is to offer them a few choices and if they don't want what i have offered, i then get them interested in an activity.  if after they have been involved in that activity for a little while they tell me that they are hungry again, it might just be time for lunch or dinner.  i remember coming home from school and wanting a snack before i ran out to play. i was ravenous! my snack always included a big glass of milk.  i was instinctively refueling in order to continue on. we need to listen to our bodies. sleep when we are tired, use the toilet when we have to go and eat when we are hungry. it's very simple and we should take our cues from newborns who are comfortable at the breast and not yet aware of anything but the basics to survive. we don't need to eat all day long.  if we eat good meals made from fresh, local, organic & whole ingredients then our bodies will be happy and perform as we need them to. again, i ask you to ask yourselves when making food choices for yourself and your family "have people been eating this for at least a hundred years?"  I guarantee that when you abandon the snack trap and throw away the puffed rice cakes, butter flavored pretzels, soy crisps, booty, 'whole grain" goldfish, part skim string cheese, blue go-gurt and pizza combos and any other disgusting astronaut-like concoction you squeeze from a tube, you will bring a hungrier, more enthusiastic Family2Table who can really taste and appreciate real food prepared with love. 

how to avoid the school snack trap
parents who feed their children real food often have a hard time dealing with the community snack situation at school. some parents choose to home school just so their children do not have to be exposed to poor nutrition.  I totally understand and have been there -- i frequently have to clear my throat and remind parents of where i stand.  

if you are having this problem this is what i suggest.  write a friendly letter (or email) to all of the parents in your class letting them know that your child has a sensitivity to processed, packaged foods.  this sensitivity needs to be regarded and respected as seriously as any food allergy (i.e. peanuts) and exposure to processed, packaged foods will result in health problems for your child somewhere down the road.  exposure to neurotoxins such as MSG, food colorings, soy, GMOs and other chemical additives could produce severe reactions and possible illness.  let them know that these chemicals could also produce adverse reactions in their children as sometimes food sensitivities do not surface until later and you don't want to take any chances.  i do not intend any disrespect to anyone with a severe allergy nor do i take any food allergies lightly.  i only mean to compare in order to convey my concern for the health of our children. 

if they are persistent in pushing garbage food on the kids please ask them to 1) limit the number of ingredients in the package to three 2) notify you so you can provide an alternative for your child and 3) really read the label and see what is in the package.  oftentimes parents will look at labels and decide that it is not so good for anyone to eat.  another suggestion is to come up with a list of approved snacks that all the kids will enjoy and stick to that list for the year.  when birthdays arise, have a set recipe for a treat that everyone makes to celebrate.   declare your child's classroom a processed, packaged food-free zone! after all, parents want happy, smart kids and toxins are not good mood, developing brain food.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


life would be a sad, boring, flavorless place without fresh herbs.  i absolutely love them, rely on them, am inspired by them, can't get enough of them. i remember the exact moment herbs took hold of my heart and never let go. i was working in a corner shop in tribeca in 1988.  the chef was an incredibly talented young painter turned cook named shelly boris who one day gave me the task of picking and cleaning an entire case of basil.  not so much fun but definitely an a-ha moment for me.  the real love affair began when i was asked to pick and chop a selection of herbs for the herb mayo we made fresh daily for our sandwiches.  as i pulled the beautiful little thyme leaves off the stems, i brought my fingers to my nose and took a deep inhale of the fragrant oil that lingered on my skin.  i did this repeatedly with all the herbs (tarragon, dill, basil, parsley, cilantro, chives) until i had chopped them all and incorporated them into the freshly made mayo.  i ripped off a piece of crusty tom cat bakery baguette, applied a thick layer of the herb mayo, sprinkled with sea salt and took a bite. that was it. i was hooked. in love and forever a slave to fresh herbs.

my grandmother used to say that when she didn't know what to cook she would get a pan of onions sauteing. the smell of the onions would inspire her and within minutes she would know what to do for dinner. for me onions work pretty well but nothing inspires like fresh herbs and right now is the time to go get them! basil becomes pesto for pasta, halibut, tomato salad, corn relish and more! cilantro longs for roasted sweet potatoes with sweet chile sauce and sour cream, rosemary, oregano & mint scream for lamb, chives beg for sour cream and creme fraiche, thyme marries roasted chicken perfectly, tarragon holds hands with scrambled eggs, chicken salad and sauteed radishes, dill runs side by side with egg salad, cucumbers and beets & thai basil, lemon verbena, mint and chives make my coconut milk fish soup sing like Callas.  shall i go on?  oh yes.....

those beautiful lush leaves and flowers lend spark and vibrance to food. versatile and forgiving, herbs lend a hand to breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert. they take a starring role as beverages in teas (hot or infused cold), summer coolers, infused vodkas, fermented beverages and digestives. they serve as natural remedies for what ails us, beauty aides to make us glow and lend a healing fragrance in aromatherapy to tweak our moods and put our mind-body connection back in the game.  chamomile calms and soothes, cilantro pulls heavy metals from the body, mint for IBS and digestion in general, rosemary oil to invigorate and repel lice, oil of oregano to kill yeast and bacteria, sage for blood flow and parsley to detox.  in short herbs inspire wellness, health, happiness and flavor throughout!

it would be difficult to declare a favorite herb. i have a few. i used thyme this morning in my breakfast of sauteed onions and chicken liver with fried egg and ruby red kraut. i also used it last night when i sauteed summer squash with garlic scapes.  as i write this i am sipping an iced chamomile tea infused with lemon verbena and mint and dinner tonight will include halibut in basil butter with radishes and tarragon.  there are always at least a half dozen bunches of fresh herbs in my vegetable bin (all wrapped in paper towel individually) as well as a cabinet full of freshly dried herbs (i have a dehydrator so i dry my own and put them up for the winter).  my usual stock includes thyme, basil, cilantro, tarragon, chives, flat leaf parsley, dill, oregano and mint.  

storing fresh herbs is tricky. some say they must be kept in plastic bags with the air sucked out of the bag. i prefer mine in paper towels. it really depends on your fridge and where you put them. basil can go from lush green to black in less than a day. i have put my basil in a glass of water and then put that in the fridge - it keeps well especially if you still have the roots attached.  i like to use basil right away. i also tend to make herb purees in olive oil as soon as i get my fresh herbs home.  i find parsley, mint, cilantro and basil hold the best this way.  pick and quickly wash and dry the herbs. individually process them in your cuisinart adding good extra virgin olive oil and some sea salt.  these will keep in the fridge for a good 3 to 4 weeks.  these purees can then be turned into pestos (all herbs can make a good pesto), gramolata, chimi churri sauce, pastas, soups, stews, salad dressing, marinades, condiments, a spread for sandwiches, a quick spark to hummus, whisked into eggs for frittata and omeletes and even into dough for savory biscuits, breads and scones.  purees can even be frozen and used later.  a time and money saving way to use fresh herbs!

if you don't use fresh herbs in your cooking i strongly suggest you try them and find out why i am gushing.  not only do i think you will get inspired by their flavor and endless creative possibilities, i also think they can be an exciting addition to your home and family lifestyle.  growing an herb garden - even in a small apartment in manhattan is a beautiful way to engage your entire family in the farm to table process and educate them about new and interesting flavor combinations.  in our tiny 400 square foot, not much sunlight apartment here in nyc, my kids know that you can grab a fragrant handful of leaves from a flower pot and turn a plain dish into something that sparkles like pixie dust. as a matter of fact, my daughter and i play a game called name that herb where you have to close your eyes, take a big whiff and you guessed it - name that herb!  we do this at the greenmarket every saturday and i am amazed at her ability to identify herbs by smell.  children are also very savvy when it comes to identifying herbs in food.  ask them at the table if they know what they are tasting. it's a great way to get a good food conversation started at the table.

in my opinion, thyme and rosemary are the hardiest potted herbs. they grow like stink week and will be the gift that keeps on giving if you remember to cut them back and water them.  children love to help at mealtime. asking them to pull herbs for a meal will make them feel very helpful and important.  they will also be more likely to try something new if they had a hand in growing it and making it.  keeping herbs will be a family project that everyone will benefit from. if you have cats, grow catnip too!

before i give you some of my favorite herbalicious recipes i want to turn you on to something.  when you clean and pick your herbs always save the stems (this need not be done on the inside of a double album cover i.e "frampton comes alive").  stems can be used to impart flavor to many dishes. for example, i stuff my stems inside the cavity of a chicken when roasting or use them as a bed to roast meat and fish upon.  stems can be used to flavor braises and sauces just like using a vanilla bean (pods already removed) to flavor cream and custard.  herbs are packed with flavor and it is up to you to get the most out of them. 

last wednesday sylvia and i went to market. i asked her what treasure she wanted to find. she quickly said lemon verbena.  she also said "laura ingalls says that miss beadle the school teacher on little house on the prairie smells like lemon verbena and i want to smell what she smells like."  we found a beautiful bunch of lemon verbena at cheryl rogowski's farm stand and i gave it to sylvia to smell.  "well?" i said. "what does miss beadle smell like?" she replied "ice pops with honey." so we went home and made them. we call them miss beadle pops and we hope you enjoy them when you bring your Family2Table.


radishes with tarragon - clean and quarter radishes. melt good butter in a saute pan. add radishes and saute till brown but not too brown. add sea salt, pepper and fresh whole tarragon leaves. saute for another minute and transfer to a serving bowl. serve hot or warm.

herb roasted tomato sauce - pre heat oven to 425 degrees. empty 2 cans of organic whole tomatoes into a roasting pan. add 6 whole cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 TBS balsamic vinegar, sea salt, pepper, 6 stems thyme, 1 long sprig rosemary, 6 stems oregano. put into oven for 1 hour - 1.5 hours or until the liquid has reduced and tomatoes are roasted with color. remove herb sprigs (let whatever leaves fall into the sauce remain). using a hand blender, blend sauce till smooth.  use immediately or cool and hold in fridge. use hot or cold.

lemon and thyme roasted chicken - (4lb.- 4 1/2lb. chicken) preheat oven to 450 degrees. salt and pepper chicken inside and out. fill cavity with large bunch of thyme and 1 whole lemon cut into quarters. place chicken in roasting pan in oven, legs first. after 20 minutes reduce heat to 400. after another 20 minutes reduce heat to 350 and rotate chicken in pan.
after another 20 minutes take chicken out of the oven and let rest for another 20 minutes before portioning. 

coconut milk fish soup - for each quart of fish stock use one can of organic coconut milk. combine coconut milk with fish stock. add julliene carrots, thinly sliced haruki turnips, diced summer squash, freshly shelled english peas, whole cilantro leaves, whole thai basil leaves, chopped lemon verbena leaves. bring to a simmer until vegetables are soft and herbs have permeated the soup. salt and pepper to taste.

watermelon and feta with torn basil - cut watermelon and feta into bite sized pieces and place on on top of the other. garnish with a piece of torn basil and serve.

miss beadle pops - bring a quart of water to a boil.  place a large bunch of lemon verbena into the water and turn off the heat. add 3 TBS raw local spring honey and cover to steep.
strain the herbs when cool. add to ice pop mold and freeze. (optional - add lemon zest from 2 organic lemons for texture).

rosemary roasted new potatoes - preheat oven to 425 degrees. cut potatoes equal size. toss with olive oil and chopped rosemary. sprinkle well with sea salt & pepper.  place into oven for 30 minutes. turn potatoes for color on all sides. roast for another 30 minutes until golden on all sides. 

baked herbed goat cheese & apple - preheat broiler. slice a hearty apple (johnagold, mutsu, winesap) into a 1/4 inch round. add goat cheese and press down to cover. sprinkle with fresh herbs - thyme, dill, chives, taragon, basil - salt & pepper.  drizzle with olive oil and put under broiler until golden. serve with a simple tossed green salad dressed with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt & pepper.  (optional - substitute apple with roasted beet or crostini).

basic lentils -  saute onions, 1 crushed clove of garlic carrots and celery till translucent. add herbs - thyme, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, chervil and lavender - add tomato, add 1/2 cup wine and reduce. add 2 quarts of stock (veg, chicken or beef). add lentils (about 2 - 3 cups). bring to a simmer for 1 hour. shut off flame. when cooked, add salt and pepper and let sit in liquid and finish cooking.  cool and hold in glass jars with liquid.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Skin & Bones

when we came home from the park last saturday, the kids were wiped out. it was really hot outside so i gave them sour cherry rocket-shaped ice pops to cool them off while i got dinner on the table.  i had already roasted chicken thighs earlier that day meaning dinner was only a few side dishes and a salad away while my husband and i chatted and listened to music in the kitchen together (heaven). we started putting the food out on the table. the kids had finished their pops and were playing nicely with toys when we noticed that it had gotten very quiet in the living room/tv room/bedroom/family meal room, etc. my husband motioned for me to check out what was happening at the table: our kids were busy devouring the chicken. 

henry goes right for his favorite food, what he calls the "skeel."  that's skin to you and me.  he systematically eats all of the crispy skeel off the chicken and then moves on to the meat. sylvia loves skin too but really concentrates on the bones, getting all of the meat off and even eating the cartilage, marrow and connective tissue.  i love this. from the time they were able to eat solids i put bones from beautifully pastured animals in their hands and encouraged them to gnaw away.  at the ripe old ages of 3 and 6 years they are expert bone handlers and love all things skin and bone related.

some of you might be asking yourselves at this point....why is emily so into skin and bones? why is it so important for her kids to like chomping on this stuff?  skin and bones are economical, nutrient dense, delicious foods that we all need for proper healthy development and growth.  they impart vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are sorely lacking from our diets because unfortunately we have forgotten how vital and energizing they are. as a culinary society we have classified them as "fattening & inconvenient."  instead we have traded natural skin & fat for gluten rich breading and get most of our soups from cans and boxes (which are hardly ever from good clean pastured meat sources).  my other delight with skin and bones is that my family knows how to handle food in its whole state, understands where cuts of meat come from (chickens don't have fingers, remember?) and is not "put off" or grossed out by anything that tastes delicious. we get our hands dirty at the table and that is FUN!

evidence that we have lost the fine art of utilizing skin and bones in our diet is the rise of joint and bone diseases in our country.  we must feed like with like.  in her book Deep Nutrition, Dr. Catherine Shanahan divides the foundation of world cuisine into four pillars citing meat on the bone as number 1.  "when cooking meat, the more everything stays together - fat, bone, marrow, skin other connective tissue - the better." i agree. one of the things we used to say in the professional kitchen is "the flavor is in the fat."  we would say that every time a customer would order a piece of meat or fish (especially chicken) "no oil, no butter, no skin." we would say "NO FLAVOR!"  beside there being no flavor, there were far less nutrients as well as we have discussed before -- fat soluble vitamins need an activator to make them available to the body.  

we have a saturday lunch tradition at my house. we roast a belle rouge chicken from violet hills farms. it is one of the best tasting chickens you'll ever have. when we have finished lunch we put all of the bones in a bag and store in the freezer until we have enough for the stock pot.  even if the kids take a roasted chicken leg or thigh to school for lunch (and my husband to work) they always bring home the bones for the stock pot.  they know that those bones give us soup and broth to sip with our meals (my kids used to sip broth out of their sippy cups as much as they sipped milk). broth not only packs a nutrient dense punch but also aids in healing the gut lining for those who are dealing with "leaky gut" issues - allergies, eczema, etc.  who can honestly say that they don't feel better after a rich pot of homemade chicken soup?

i tend to alternate my stock every week rotating chicken, beef and fish (fish always depends on what racks and heads i can get from my fisherman on wednesdays at the market). most times you can get racks and heads for free if you ask! fish broth with coconut milk, cilantro, red pepper and green onion is a real treat in this house.  the meat that falls off the bone is amazing in fish cakes.  stock in the freezer keeps for a few months (if it lasts that long) and will insure a quick soup when needed or extra flavor to a sauce. adding bone broths to grains and pastas will certainly improve their nutritional and flavor profiles. finish with butter (good healthy fat) and my goodness you have created a thing of beauty! i generally soak my bones in cold filtered water and raw vinegar for an hour before i turn on the flame, skim off the scum and then add aromatics.  I let my beef stock go for 30 hours, my chicken for 20 and my fish from 8 - 12 hours. the house smells divine. my yield is 7 quarts. A quart of good soup is at least $10 and my ingredients are never more than $20 for the lot. That's good math! we never boil we only simmer.  the fat we get off the top of the stock is great for cooking! (we had scrambled pastured eggs cooked in beef tallow just this morning). oh! and by the way, bones are sexy...did you know that? after we remove our bones from the pot my husband and i have a great time searching for marrow, bits of meat, succulent fat and connective tissue to eat together. odd bits of concentrated flavor and love. the joy we get from harvesting these buried nutritional treasures always brings us a little bit closer (wink, wink). 

skin and bones also come into play with fish.  when buying canned salmon and sardines (and i hope you do) please buy the ones with skin and bones intact. the bones are small enough that you don't even realize that you are eating them and the skin provides a flavor and mouth feel that is brilliant.  these extra nutrients (calcium, vitamin c and much more) provide you and your family with the nutrients we all need to flourish.

i could go on about how eating marrow and all of it's yummy rich goodness gives me amazing energy or how lamb chops with their succulent fat make me happier than almost any other food.  i see how my family acts after a good meal of meat on the bone with everything intact and i just want to hug the world for making it so simple and delicious.  why is thanksgiving such a lovely holiday? i say it's the turkey and all it's skin and bones that bring that warm, loving family glow to the table.  "skin and bones" is an expression that conjures a very negative image of a sickly, hungry, unhealthy person and certainly not how we should strive to look. i propose we change that image and think of skin and bones as  delicious, nourishing, healthy traditional foods that we need to reacquaint ourselves with immediately! skin and bones from well raised animals are what i recommend serving to bring your healthy, beautiful Family2Table.