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