Friday, December 13, 2013

Food is Parenting

the other day, while walking down the street, my 5 year old son, henry saw a child eating a neon blue frosted cupcake. as we strolled passed the child I watched his eyes narrow and focus on the glowing cake.  my 8 year old daughter, sylvia saw it too.  as we walked away sylvia said to me, "that was disgusting. have you ever seen blue like that in nature?" I smiled and said "nope."  then henry quickly chimed in, "I want a cupcake like that. how come we never get cupcakes like that?" to which sylvia immediately responded, "oh henry! have some self-respect!"  I had to stop myself from laughing out loud.  henry is at that age when laughing makes him feel a bit self conscious because he feels as if he is being laughed at.  so, in order to protect my little man's pride, i smiled ear to ear, put one arm around my sylvia tenderly, and walked on feeling very proud, knowing that my parenting choices were making a real impact and that my children were hearing me loud and clear.   i feed my family the way i do and teach my children proper nutrition because i want them to love themselves, to value themselves and to be able to be of value to others. 

when i became a professional cook, feeding my customers was all about freshness and flavor.  as a parent feeding children, my focus is more on freshness, flavor and nutritional value.  my desire to feed them the cleanest, freshest, most delicious local foods, chock full of vitamins, minerals, live enzymes, love and proper nourishment became my quest from the time they were born.   looking back, i realize that should have been my goal throughout life and that eating the way we all eat now, since the kids have come along, is the way to eat before and especially during pregnancy since that is when we actually start feeding our babies.  creativity is also a key factor and will always remain high on my list since chicken will always be chicken and a potato will always be a potato. it's what we are able to do with those ingredients and the creativity we bring to them that takes them to the next level of excitement by allowing them to express their innate flavor and maximum nutrient values while we ask them to also perform exquisitely in our manipulation, preparation or "theater" of taste.  when we retain this creativity in our cooking, we remain engaged with cooking as an art or a craft. this challenges us or pushes us as the "servantless" cooks that we are in order to find the opportunity in every meal. the privilege in every act of culinary expression we put out on the table.  to please ourselves, our friends and our families with the most sensual act of giving that we can perform on a daily basis - in public.  as you can tell from just this last sentence, i consider cooking, prepping, eating and sourcing clean ingredients to be major, super-important, life giving, life sustaining, life changing, comforting, creative, playful, meditative, healing and more. simply put,  food is parenting.

when i became a parent, nothing became more apparent than the importance of feeding and nourishing. as a breast feeding mum i was reminded, every two hours, how essential this was (my son fed every two hours around the clock for 18 months!).   when you are the primary food source you are enlightened to the primal instincts involved in the growing of a healthy child's body and mind.  the physical and emotional attachment to nourishment is an equal opportunity for both parties to witness the miracle of life and growth as nature intended. following the path of Fresh, Local, Organic and Whole beyond the breast is always best.  my kids know the rule of thumb in our house when it comes to what we eat.  if people have been eating it for 200 years...go ahead, it's all good!  parenting (the verb), comes in many different forms.  we might then ask ourselves what it means to parent. in my eyes, to parent is to nurture, to nourish, to feed, to teach, to lead, to inspire, to cultivate, to raise, to look after, to bring up, to rear, to take care of, to love, to cook, to kiss, to play, to wash, to mend, to shlep, to read, to heal, to be get me?

i have waged major wars with my own parents regarding "treats" that they felt compelled to give to my children that are just not allowed in our family.  they claimed that i was depriving my kids of "kid food" and that it was their birth right to have these things just like i did when i was a kid.  my reply to them is "nope. we don't eat that."  i don't apologize and i rarely give in.  some even say  "but it's just junk food! everybody gets to eat junk food once in a while."  to which i respond, "there is junk. and there is food. we eat food."  as the mother of my children, their birth right is to be healthy, happy, safe and loved.  my job is to make sure they have all that and a bit more.  no where does refined biotech sugar, potentially cancer causing genetically modified corn, cottonseed, canola and soy, antibiotics and hormones from factory farmed meat, eggs and milk ever enter the picture.  the health & behavioral problems that go along with cheap, fast, junk are no child's birthright and every parent's worst nightmare.  as a parent it is our job to protect our children from this stuff.  and it is everywhere.

as a parent i feel there is no greater opportunity to teach our children than through the blessings of food, a medium that always conveys a good old-fashioned, farm raised lesson.  we can teach them how to read by taking them to market, we can teach them math by having them help pay the shop keeper or the farmer for the food and then follow recipes with us. we can teach them agriculture, farming and other aspects of the sciences when we take them to buy food from farmers and then teach them about how our body digests and utilizes the nutrients in our good food.  we engage their social skills at the dinner table whether we are home or at a restaurant and we certainly teach them self respect and self esteem when we teach them how to prepare, cook and eat well via proper nutrition.  we teach them that good food will build a strong mind and body. one that will be able to run, jump, play, think and create.  when sylvia commented about the neon blue cupcake being disrespectful to our bodies, i felt vindicated in my "food as parenting" style and how it is helping my children form their healthy sense of self in this often confusing and toxic world.  

think about it, what we put in our mouths and into our bodies is the most intimate relationship we have with another organism from the day we are born.  The food we introduce into our inner ecosystems becomes us. our cells, our fuel, our microbiome, our internal and external self.   what we put in the tank will determine our health, wellness and behavior.  and yet most  people do not even know who's growing their food.  most people don't even know what is in their food!  This brings up the very important concept of priorities.  Everyone has their own set or list in their appropriate order.  in my opinion, especially because of the times we are living in - GMOs, rampant allergies, autism, environmental toxicity, Fukushima (anyone talking about this, hello?) - making solid food choices is more important than ever and therefore sits at the very top of our family's list of priorities. as a matter of fact when we travel, i always search out where the cleanest food sources will be when we get there.  we always travel with our own food and this is also a huge lesson for our children. 

When I teach my cooking classes to parents I like to begin the session by asking a few questions to set the stage.  "how many parents spent a lot of time finding your family pediatrician?"  everyone's hand goes up quickly. then i go on to ask, "how many parents spent a lot of time and did a lot of research on a super safe family car, car seat and stroller?" again, everyone's hand flies up proudly and quickly. they all beam, actually. smiles all over the room.  then i slip this one in...."how many parents devoted all of those hours to finding your family farmer?"  at this point the room gets really quiet and they look quite confused.  not one hand (maybe one or two if i am lucky) goes up and i say..."really...i'm so surprised. you're all such amazing, dedicated, hands-on loving parents and you don't know the people who are growing the food you feed your children.  the person or people who plant, grow, harvest, kindly nurture and then humanely kill and healthfully process the beautiful food you and your family eat at least three times a day."  the crazy fact is that to most, this person is a total stranger!  

think for a minute about those people who spend tens of thousands of dollars on high performance vehicles.  i bet you would never catch them putting junk in that tank. it would ruin the machine. and yet, millions allow junk to go into their children's tanks at every meal.  children have never been sicker, more learning disabled and developmentally delayed and depressed than they are today.  why?  because they are malnourished from disrespecting their bodies with junk and calling it food.  this is why i teach cooking. this is why i help parents learn how to feed their families properly.  i used to think that i was a chef and a cooking instructor. now i realize that i also teach lifestyle and self love.  i parent my students who then parent their children via food and proper nutrition.  we must parent those who, perhaps, were not parented properly with food when they grew up.  parenting is also teaching, yes? food is all about the teachable moment. use it.  every meal you cook.  every meal you eat. every time you sit down with your family is another opportunity to be an effective parent. wow. how lucky we are.

by giving children a solid foundation in proper nutrition and modeling good nutritional habits we are teaching them to love and respect themselves. we are raising little people with big confidence. my 8 year old understands that!  my 5 year old will too, i have no doubt.  i also know that as my children grow older they will use this foundation to make good decisions when it comes to situations that might harm them.  i hope that by teaching my children the importance of good food and nutrition they will respect themselves enough not to sucomb to peer pressure that might harm them in the future.  food is parenting in all the best ways -  food is communication. food is nourishment. food is health. food is happiness. food is love. food is community. food is tradition and so much more.  unfortunately traditions are being lost and food is becoming less important.  families don't always eat together anymore. we spend less of our annual budgets on good, real food, and cooking is becoming a lost art.  all the best parties wind up in the kitchen. why?  that is where the hearth is. the soul of a home beats strongest and truest from the kitchen.  hippocrates said let food be thy medicine.  i say that our best hope to heal is through our children. therefore, in my equation, parenting is my soul food and food is parenting.

there is an old expression that refers to something (an idea, a value, a concept, etc) being "in the water" meaning that it is pervasive, everywhere.  parenting, in my opinion, is "in the food."  to raise children well we must feed them well and teach them to feed themselves, with love and respect.  love and respect for self, love and respect for nature, love and respect for others and love and respect for life.  in doing this we will be raising generations of people who honor the natural cycle of life and consider their bodies sacred and worth caring for.  when we really think about what we put into our bodies we realize that what goes in is what we get back. teaching children why we eat fresh, local, organic, whole foods as nature intended and not genetically engineered science experiments will not only grow stronger healthier children but also produce generations of environmental activists, sustainable farmers and gentle souls who care about the planet they live on and the life that inhabits it.  they are smart people who deserve to know that eating well has a huge impact on the world and why. in august i asked sylvia what she wanted to be when she grew up.  without any hesitation she said, "a farmer's wife." i asked her why and replied "farmers are heros. they work hard to grow our food. i want to marry a hero." smart girl.

i treasure the Family2Table moments in my little home.  we say a prayer of thanks, appreciate each other and then talk about our days.  they are the sweetest moments when i feel most alive. sometimes they can also be the moments when i feel the most vulnerable too, because thank goodness, we are human.  in the end i know that communication, nourishment, health, happiness, community, love and tradition - in other words, real food, will heal whatever ails me.  our children and our planet are our greatest natural resources. love, respect and enjoy them! xx

Monday, December 2, 2013

got broth?

i live in nyc where we are fortunate to experience all four seasons in brilliant fashion.  just like that, right on time, mid november, the weather snaps and the cold arrives.  fall now feels like winter and the chill has set into my bones.  bingo! bones. there. i have said it.  a word that sets some folks on edge and others enthusiastically on fire when pertaining to food. in my house bones are a blessing and a friend because they give us "stuff" that no other food can give. nutrient dense broth and succulent, divine marrow.  (if you never saw or read my bone marrow omelette recipe when it was published by sarah, the healthy home economist, i recommend you click here after you have finished this post).  also, my post, skin & bones, on this blog gets into some rather boney good food.

bones are a foundation, a structure, a skeleton, a frame, a sturdy and strong base to build upon.  the broth we make from bones is an elixir to support all of that in order to keep the structure, in this case our bodies (which includes the mind, y'all) sound and healthy.  in it's most fundamental homeopathic approach to feeding or curing like with like....bone broth on a daily basis will supply the necessary amount of collagen, gelatin, minerals, vitamin C and more that we all need to maintain strong bones and vibrant health.  it is also the foundation of hundreds of great dishes and traditional recipes! 

however, over the years, the practice of making broth, or stock, from animal bones has gone out of "fashion" and people have turned instead to packaged broths and stocks from the grocer's shelves to save time.  convenience is king to americans it seems, but at what cost?  in this case it has cost us our birth right.  packaged broth has absolutely no nutritional value. as a matter of fact, it contains chemicals and additives (the product and the packaging) that are actually hurting us and making us ill.  it is no wonder that we are seeing so many people these days with weak and ailing bones - osteoporosis and the wide spread need for hip and knee replacements, etc.  bone broth made from properly raised animals could quite possibly be the key to feeling good and healing from chronic illness.  as a matter of fact broth is such a hot topic again that there is a new book in the works called "nourishing broth" by sally fallon morell and dr. kaayla daniel and i am hoping to contribute a recipe or two to that!  but enough about why this traditionally key food is so powerfully good for us and onto how to make it and use it!

in my little house on the urban prairie our stock pot is put up every week in order to make roughly 7- 8 quarts of delicious, gelatin rich broth.  we put two in the freezer (labeled and dated) for later and consume 5 - 6 quarts a week.  i alternate between beef, lamb, chicken and fish.  i make veal stock every once in a while on special occasions (and that process is a bit different) in order to make either an onion soup, demi glace for steak (in which i melt an other-worldly australian blue cheese on top of a perfectly rare, seared and peppered grass fed rib eye by pouring hot, reduced red wine, mushroom demi glace over it) or a savory base for my famous lentil stew.  all broths are consumed, salted to taste, for breakfast, first thing in the morning by all members of the family.  we have been doing this for years and find that it is an amazing way to start the day.  4 - 6oz. of hot broth is a gentle, beautiful way to start the day and can keep you going for a very long time as far as nutrients are concerned.  we have also been known to drink our broth as bacon and egg drop soup in the morning.  in this case we heat the soup to a simmer, salt to taste, beat 2 pastured egg yolks in a bowl and slowly drizzle into the broth as we stir it in the pot making what my kids call egg noodles.  we garnish with bacon lardons, thinly chopped scallions and sometimes a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and bacon drippings. again, a great way to start the day with a hot, delicious, nutrient dense breakfast.  

when the weather turns chilly, like it is now, i heat and salt the broth in the morning and then pour it into a 2 quart thermos so it is always ready to take the chill off of whomever requires that feeling of a warm cuddle in their bellies.  that's what good broth will do.  a warm embrace from the inside out.  there is an old south american saying that claims that broth can resurrect the dead.  i have never seen the actual act performed but i can attest to the lazarus effect it provides in someone with a bad cold, the flu or just suffering from being plain, flat out, knackered and tired.  bone broth, and meat stocks are the cornerstone of classical french cooking.  every soup, sauce, stock, stew and more are based on well made bone broths and can turn a plain tasting dish into a spectacular star.

if bone broth is so delicious and so good for you then why has it fallen out of fashion you might ask....well, like i previously stated above, todays american likes their convenience.  bone broth is something that takes a bit of time and effort.  not scary effort, mind you. just a bit of patience and preparation and then it couldn't be easier.  as a matter of fact i liken stock and broth making to babysitting.   in order to make a good bone broth you need to source bones from well raised animals who have grazed on pasture, or fresh, wild caught, non oily fish.  once you have located your source you are halfway there.  i always recommend starting at your local greenmarket.  if that does not pan out then your local butcher shop or fish monger will do.  please ask questions about the bones. you want to know where they came from. how fresh they are....etc.  also, if you do get them from your butcher, ask him or her to cut them if they are too large to fit into your pot - this will also produce more gelatin (especially if you are using a cow or pig foot - yum!).  okay, so now you have your bones at home. good work.  you will need a good stock pot - you can do this in a crock pot too - but i prefer the stock pot in my house. i use a 12 quart stainless steel pot.  you choose what is best for you.

5lbs. (give or take) of bones go in, cover with pure filtered water, leaving a few inches at the top.  with beef and lamb i use a combo of knuckle bones and marrow bones.  sometimes i roast the marrow bones first to eat the marrow then use the bones or sometimes i don't. it all depends on how i feel.  i love marrow - and so does my family - so we tend to eat the marrow and use the bones...but cooking the marrow into the soup is fine, healthy and nutritious.  into that pot of cold water and bones i put 2 TBS. Braggs apple cider vinegar and then let sit for 1/2 and hour to 1 hour.  This will leech more nutrients out of the bones and will not change the flavor at all.  then i turn on the flame - med. high and bring it to a boil  while the pot comes to a boil, the water and bones will produce a green/grey foam that will gather on top. these are impurities from the proteins. please scoop this foam or scum off. we do not need or want this.  my general rule in cooking is that if it foams to the top, skim it off - something is looking to be extracted because it is not necessary and floating to the top to say hello and tell you so. take the hint. keep the broth clean.  there.  when all of the scum has been scooped off the top you may add aromatics.  I will add a rib of celery, chopped, a carrot or two, scrubbed and roughly chopped, one onion peeled and quartered and about 10 black peppercorns.  i then reduce the flame and cover the pot.

you never want the pot to boil. you want it to smile.  if a boil is a laugh and a simmer is a giggle...find the smile.  here is a video to show you what i mean.

i let my beef and lamb broth go for 30 - 36 hours. my chicken, around 20 hours and fish, usually 6 hours.  what we notice here is smaller bones, less cooking time, yes?  generally, i will shut the broth off and let it cool. take out the bones and aromatics, then store in glass jars to cool.  when i freeze my 2 quarts (in plastic as i have had too many glass jars explode on me in my small freezer = nightmare) i will cool it overnight in the fridge, take off the fat in one solid piece then transfer to plastic to freeze.  sometimes i will even reduce the broth further to intensify the flavor before i freeze it.  this is a great solution if you have a small freezer and want to consolidate and concentrate flavor.  then you can add water later when you use the broth and expand the volume.

beef and chicken broth are sipped hot at least once a day by all members of my family. fish broth is almost always used for soups, risotto, curries, pad thai, stew and congi for weekend brekkie. lamb broth is the cornerstone of my lentil stew and slow oven roasted lamb shanks seasoned with fresh herbs, orange zest and cardamom seeds.  i highly recommend broth of all kinds for making rice that has been well soaked.  by using broth you are imparting nutritional value (just like in risotto).  finish with good raw butter and fresh reggiano parmagiano and hip hip hooray!

i will stop now because i could go on forever about broth and how wonderful, satisfying, restorative and versatile it really is.  making broth is a meditation for me -- just like parenting (a subtle hint regarding the topic of my next blog, hello).   oh! did i happen to mention that when you make broth your home will smell amazing for hours and hours? it does.......but before i disappear into my little 9x11 kitchen to thaw some bones and fill the stock pot with filtered cold water and pull out the bottle of raw apple cider vinegar, i want to leave you with this thought....good bone broth is an inspiration and an opportunity to create your next delicious, nourishing meal.  when you commit to making bone broth and having it in your home it is like making a commitment to good health and rich flavor.  It is like preparing and storing an insurance policy in your freezer.  when you have the basis, or foundation for good body health and properly cooked dishes ready to go, you have a home that it ready to heal. so get those bones and fill that pot (and email me if you need help) and get that broth going cause it might just be a long winter and when you call your Family2Table on one of those chilly nights, they will certainly smell the broth and feel the lovin' comin' out of the oven. enjoy!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bathing in Butter

slow cooking in fat is a technique that has been employed for hundreds of years.  we have all heard of confit, especially duck confit, a preparation for duck legs that are submerged in their own fat and slow cooked in the oven for hours until the meat is succulent, silky and falling off the bone. if you haven't tried it, get thee to your nearest french bistro and order it - or better yet, cook it at home! it couldn't be easier.  in my house we slow cook in clean fat all the time.  recently, i posted a picture of our dinner on facebook - something i do often - that sparked quite a lot of interest.  the dish was a simple, locally caught piece of cod that was slow cooked in raw spring butter. the butter was infused with fresh thyme, log grown shiitake salt (an amazing product that i brought home from melbourne, australia on our last trip back this past august) and truffle salt i purchased from my downstairs neighbor, the meadow, a lovely shop dedicated to fine salt, chocolates, bitters and flowers, owned by author and all around cool guy, mark bitterman....but i digress.  the cod was served with a delightful accompaniment of seared cauliflower (i seared it in bacon drippings first -- more clean fat)  and then added it to the butter i cooked the fish in, along with some frozen spring peas that i had put away for when i simply had to have peas.  i recommend putting away those precious vegetables when they are available - thank goodness for modern freezers!  the dinner was beyond flavorful, my children made all gone and today i have received numerous requests for the recipe.  because i have spent over two decades learning and days are now generally filled with "returning."  as weston price said, " teach, you teach, you teach."  so here we go...

the butter bath was made for fish.  you can do it with almost all proteins, fruit and veg. but it was MADE for fish.  in case you don't understand what i mean when i say butter bath, here is a little video of me bathing some lovely halibut to illustrate.

by bathing the fish in butter you achieve a "buttery" (duh),  silky, perfectly cooked piece of fish that will never let you down.  you will be able to watch the progression of the cooking by seeing the flesh go from translucent to solid in color. also, please note the texture of your protein by touching it with your fingers.  i wholeheartedly recommend getting to know the touch texture of all protein in a raw state as well as the different degrees of their cooked state (rare, medium and well).  by adding herbs and spices to the butter you infuse the fish with rich aromatics and flavors that will beautifully take your flavor profile to the next level.  by slightly browning the butter - which will no doubt happen as you continue to keep it on a flame and the milk solids become golden - the butter takes on a nutty flavor, continuing to change the experience.  i like to use fresh herbs, citrus peel or zest, aromatic spices like curry powder, garam masala, cumin, fennel, caraway, etc.  ground spices as well as seeds are fine. experiment and see what you like best. believe it or not, one of my favorite additions to butter when slow cooking fish (and carrots too!) is vanilla bean.

before i write up the recipe for the cod i would just like to say that besides an animals own fat -- butter, ghee, olive oil and coconut oil are all great examples of fat to slow cook and bathe in.  as a matter of fact, i love to fill a saucepan with good olive oil and put it on a warmer (never cook with olive oil on high heat) and then toss in sliced celery and julienne carrots.  i add fresh herbs, chili flake, a split vanilla bean and 1 TBS. of rapadura sugar.  i let that go for a few hours. what i get is a heavenly smell and perfectly cooked vegetables that will hold for weeks if i need them to.  what is killer is to then saute some greens in butter until they are almost done - then hit them with a bit of these veggies and the olive oil to finish.  holy smokes!  oh! by the and submerging in good fat will also preserve the freshness of your food and extend it's life.  fat has long been used as a way to preserve food as well as increase nutrient value. fat is good and it will not make you fat. it will however get your Family2Table in a hurry when they smell the butter calling.  enjoy! 

okay, as promised.....

slow cooked cod in raw spring butter with shiitake mushrooms and truffle salt served with cauliflower and peas.

note:  i have replaced the shiitake salt with real shiitake mushrooms because that product is not available in this country (as far as i know).  the following recipe is for 4 portions.

fresh atlantic cod (7 oz. per portion)
grass fed butter (kerrygold, gold package is fine)
1 TBS. picked fresh thyme leaves plus 6 springs
1/2 lb. shiitake mushrooms
truffled salt (or truffle oil)
1/2 head large cauliflower
frozen spring peas (a bag of frozen organic peas will do nicely)

1. heat a pan on med high heat and place 2 TBS. bacon fat from good pastured bacon.  if you don't do bacon i suggest using butter or coconut oil.

2. cut cauliflower lengthwise so you have a flat surface to sear and get color on.

3.  place cod portions on a plate and sprinkle with sea salt, fresh thyme leaves, truffle salt and a few turns of fresh white pepper (i prefer white pepper on fish)

4.  when pan is hot place cauli in the pan and caramelize the cauli on both sides till you can pierce the cauli through.  remove from pan and set aside.  dump that fat and wipe the pan.

5.  reduce the flame to low and add 5 TBS. butter -- yes, that's right....5 TBS. good grass fed butter - you might even need more as you go.

6.  when the butter stops foaming, add the seasoned fish and let cook for a few minutes, add the chopped shiitakes, let those cook in the butter and then start bathing the fish in the butter.  feel free to add more butter if you need to.  cook till the fish is done.  could take up to 15 minutes.

7. remove fish and set aside.  

8.  add cauliflower to the fish and mushroom butter, add frozen peas (that amount depends on you but i generally put in 1/4 - 1/2 cup and cook till the peas are done.

9. to plate, put a piece of fish on each plate, veggies on the side and butter over the top.  drizzle the truffle oil over the fish and feel the effect! garnish with springs of thyme and enjoy!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

To Market To Market!

this morning i woke with the usual enthusiasm and excitement that is typical of a saturday.  not only does saturday mean that my husband is home from work for all of us to enjoy for two whole days, but it also means that i will be going to the market to see what my treasured friends and farmers have harvested for my family!  because we are a family that goes with the FLOW (fresh, local, organic - most of the time, and whole) and eats with the seasons, summer is always chock full of our favorite farm fresh treats.  saturday mornings are the best!

as i dressed for my trip up hudson street to our local west village market at abingdon square, i began to fantasize about what i might find at this time of year.  Cucumbers, greens, herbs, radish, cherries, beets, perhaps the end of the sugar snaps from the farther upstate NY farmers, field tomatoes from the jersey farmers, many varieties of squash, freshly dug potatoes and much more.  I checked my computer to see if Dave from Muddy Farm sent his usual email last night detailing what he will be bringing to market today. he also treats us to the wanderings of his most hysterical brain.  i truly appreciate a farmer with bizarre sense of humor who is also not afraid to talk politics, religion and philosophy on the same page.  you can get on lots of farmer's mailing lists and they will happily let you know what they will be bringing each market day. it's a wonderful way to plan your weekly menus and start the creative juices flowing.  there is that word again....flow. it's a great word because it suggests constant movement which is how a healthy body operates. living, breathing organisms require vibrant, living, growing nourishment with living, nutrient rich foods to support the constant flow of cellular growth.  life, death, repair.  cycles. breathing in and out.  food being grown according to that flow, in harmony with nature. that is how we attain and maintain a healthy balance and a happy life.  our food source is our fuel source. our energy force and our life force.  freshly grown and properly grown is how we need to source it!

my first stop is always with my friend and favorite farmer nevia who is the owner at bohditree farm. her daughter uni is usually with her and my daughter sylvia has been working with them on saturday mornings.  they allow sylvia to help them with setting up the stand and restocking the vegetables as they are purchased.  two hours of work gets sylvia a bag of vegetables of her choice.  sylvia is 8 years old and working is very important to her right now.  she is starting to recognize her efforts as having value and the need to put her efforts to good use is a real feeling of pride and accomplishment...not to mention the fact that her mama worked the greenmarkets 25 years ago and she wants to follow in mama's footsteps!  the other nice thing about the kids putting their hands on useful "tasks" within our community is that they feel a connection and responsibility to the neighborhood and create a social bond with their neighbors within the context of offering & selling healthy food.  helping out at a local greenmarket is a golden opportunity for any child to participate in a socially conscious and connected role as helper in their community.  not to mention the fact that they also learn great math skills by weighing food and attaching value to it.  the adding, subtracting, making change and interacting with customers is a huge plus for self confidence!

from nevia i purchased 5 lbs. of kirby cucumbers to make pickles.  our family loves pickles and we really enjoy the process of lacto-fermenting the pickles ourselves and watching how they take on their exciting flavors.  these pickles are also loaded with enzymes, vitamins and probiotics.  i take much pride in knowing that my children are maintaining proper gut health just by eating pickles with their meals and snacks.  we are just finishing up 2 jars of garlic dill with jalapeno spears and 1 jar of tarragon chips.  i bought 3 different types of herbs from nevia today and we will be experimenting with new pickle flavors based on those herbs: shiso leaf, purple basil and more tarragon - my personal favorite.  the brine will be very simple.  filtered water, celtic sea salt, herbs, garlic, a spice perhaps and the cukes.  after 3 days we will taste and they will probably be done after 5.  they will keep indefinitely in a cool place but i doubt they will last very long. we tend to also give these quart jars to friends as gifts when we go visiting.  we will also ferment some chinese long beans today.  i love fermented dilly beans and this will be my take on that.  i plan to do them with Shiso leaf, one clove of garlic and a nice piece of ginger.  that takes care of the kirby cucumbers and the chinese long beans -- the long beans were originally purchased with the intent of accompanying tonight's monkfish dinner.  i generally like to saute and blister the long beans in rendered bacon fat and serve with smokey chunks of bacon lardons.

i also purchased sour cherries.  this is a personal favorite of mine. i can eat these all day long.  today i will set aside half of the quart plus that i purchased for raw eating and then pit & stew the other half as a topping for tonight's dessert of raw vanilla maple ice cream i made yesterday.  see how i skipped to dessert already?!  i have raw vanilla maple ice cream on the brain today.  what else did i buy and how will i use it....i found those sugar snap peas i was after.  my son henry adores these simply steamed with a drizzle of either olive oil or more than a drizzle of melted raw butter and lemon sea salt from cyprus.  talk about a gift!  we have a specialty store downstairs from our apartment, called the meadow, that sells fine sea salt, flowers, chocolates and bitters.  a very cool place for a foodie to live above, i confess.  i also purchased 4 lbs of assorted summer squash.  my favorite is a variety called avocado squash.  it looks like the inside, buttery flesh of an avocado and has that same, buttery, sweet flavor.  it can be sauteed, steamed, fried, seared, shredded and made into cakes, sliced thinly and eaten raw with just olive oil and sea salt or whatever you desire.  squash is versatile and forgiving.  it also makes great soup!

lacinato kale and sungold cherry tomatoes also found their way into my market bag this morning.  the kale will be chopped roughly and sauteed in coconut oil. i will add course ground sea salt and eat plainly and simply, savoring each flavorful bite.  that is what is so powerful about this food we buy at the farmer's markets -- it is so fresh and full of vital energy that we need not do much to it to make it an unbelievable experience.  each ingredient is a star that deserves to be showcased in it's full beauty and splendor.  i do not recommend tossing this type of food into a pasta all at once, creating a dish that does not sing the praises of each individual ingredient.  I usually go with the four ingredient rule but i prefer three when i can.  from PD & E seafood i happily purchased $20 worth of monk fish which will be our early dinner -- when my husband and the kids get back from the pool in about half and hour. that's $5 in fish per person plus veggies and assorted aromatics, seasoning...i reckon that will add up to $6.75 per person for the best tasting, freshest dinner ever.

i predict that my greenmarket haul from this morning will feed us all week.  a little here, a little there.  a meal. a snack. etc.  i didn't even mention some of the other vendors today who were rockin' their peaches, nectarines, melons, corn, lettuce, etc.  there was so much to choose from that it could have been a crazy race to see how much i could spend and carry.  but instead i will pace myself by enjoying a few things that are at peak right now and also by fermenting and putting up some others that we can enjoy beyond it's season in a different state.  the summer is a time of seduction and endless variety but we are able to bring all of that diversity and deliciousness from the markets and farms to our Family2Table with intent and creativity. our mission, to design plates that nourish the body, feed the soul and celebrate each individual ingredient which is as special and unique as each individual member of our family.  enjoy!

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Heart Burgers

july fourth has come and gone, but it did not leave without stamping it's indelible mark on me.  the backyard BBQ tradition of burgers and dogs left me feeling nostalgic and all a'buzz about  one of my favorite foods....the burger.  when i think back on my life there is almost always a good memory that somehow involves a burger.  sitting at the counter of seymour's luncheonette in flushing, queens eating a burger and drinking an egg cream.  laughing with my dad at the candlelight diner in commack over a twin burger deluxe - that, by the way was two burgers with fries and all the fixins - and yes, i could put it all away by the time i was 9 years old. i will never forget enjoying a juicy, rare cheeseburger and a cold pint at the corner bistro in the west village at 1am after a gig with my band and on the very morning of the day i got married.  like a good friend,  a delicious burger has always been there when i needed it.

the burger is a simple, yet complex dish.  it can involve many different ingredients but usually takes the same "form." the patty. it can be a convenient hand-held sandwich or it can stand alone on a plate, sometimes on a lovely pile of well dressed greens or properly prepared grains. sometimes it's not even called a burger when there is no bun but a chopped steak!  imagine can be served hot, straight off the grill, out of the broiler or crusty and seared off of a cast iron skillet or griddle -- but sometimes it makes it way into lunch boxes, bags and tiffins as a cold, day old delicacy to be dipped in tasty condiments like ketchup (tomato sauce in our house), dijon mustard, pickled relish or eggy house made mayo.  honey mustard, chili mayo, herb mayo, caper & dill pickle mayo -- aka tartar sauce, russian dressing, vinaigrette, vegetable & herb puree, tapanade, salsina, ranch dressing, caesar dressing, blue cheese mousse, demi glace...i think you get the idea.

a great burger can be made from grass fed beef, pastured meats like lamb, turkey, pork, veal, venison, elk, bison, wild boar, wild salmon, tuna, organic beans, seeds & nuts etc.  fish burgers are amazing and we ate them all the time as kids. our mum called them salmon croquettes and we enjoyed them with spaghetti and tomato sauce.   the burger possibilities are endless really because guess what.....the best burgers are the ones you grind yourself. kidding.  if you have a kitchen aid, the grinder attachment is a must have.  if you don't have a kitchen aid there are a few inexpensive table top grinders that will do nicely.  i still have a hand crank grinder that attached to the end of a table just like my grandmother sylvia used to make her famous chopped calf's liver.  can i tell you something else...burgers are fun to play with.  organic fresh or dried herbs, spices and aromatic vegetables are all ways to make the burger stand up and receive the applause it deserves. you can even combine your ground meats for a more interesting flavor and nutrient dense burger.  For example, we here at chez duff do something fun with our burger in that we grind grass fed beef, beef liver, beef or bison heart and bacon all together to make an outrageously delicious amalgam of savory meat and fat and cook it just right -- medium rare in my humble opinion -- we also cook our burgers very often in bacon grease for even more smokey goodness.  of course there is not as much ground liver in the mix as there is heart because liver is very strong in flavor.  but this is a great way to get liver into your kids or even adults who have an aversion to liver but are in need of the very essential nutrients that liver provides.  it also reminds me of a dish i used to do in a restaurant where we would sear a sushi grade tuna steak that had foie gras inserted into the center of the steak -- which is basically an unground burger with liver in the middle.  it was beautiful!

playing with your burger ingredients will allow you to find the perfect blend you prefer and will help you to explore the possibilities.  for instance, building your perfect burger could be as easy as dried sage in ground turkey meat and searing in a pan or grilling on the BBQ. top with a good quality, organic ketchup or homemade fermented ketchup and you're good to go. or, you could be that person who goes for what we call "burger with the lot." i am married to an aussie and discovered this burger while cooking at a mulberry street restaurant dedicated to australian cuisine.  burger with the lot is a perfectly cooked patty of the protein your choice on a bun, topped with......melted cheese, bacon, a slice of pineapple, thinly sliced sweet red onion, roasted beet root slices - can be fermented or pickled,  dill pickles and a fried, sunny side up egg.  did i forget the ketchup?  i am sure there are a few of you who are making a face right now as if this sounds like the weirdest most not tasty burger ever but i implore you to try this combo.  not only is it delicious but it is fun!  the egg on the burger is one of the best treats ever.  as a matter of fact a fried egg in butter on top of anything is just plain awesome!  try it next time you make pizza...holy runny yolk yum!

some of my favorite burgers are oregano crusted lamb burgers stuffed with feta cheese, sage crusted turkey burger, spicy pork burgers with chipotle mayo, wild salmon burgers with tarragon or with dill mayo, tuna and basil burgers with wasabi mayo, grass fed beef & bison heart burgers with curry pickled red onions and raw cheddar.  playing with the condiments is always a fantastic idea to zing things up without muddying the flavor of the protein.  people always ask me what i put in my meat and i say...meat.  i do not do onions, garlic, breadcrumbs, egg, etc.  i save that for meatloaf and let the burger speak loud and clear.  i tend to gussy up the condiments or get wild with my toppings.  herb roasted vegetable puree is a lovely touch on a burger -- a ratatouille that will not slide off.   sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, sprouts, sauteed greens, raw cheeses plain and melted, cooked and raw onions, sliced avocado, guacamole, cole slaw, dried tomatoes, raw tomatoes, oil & herb cured think i like tomatoes?

major important reminder: do not cook grass fed meats on a very high flame or high heat.  you can start these burgers on a high-ish flame to get some color on them but them reduce the heat or find a cooler spot on the grill and cover to finish.  grass fed meats cook differently than grain fed meats and you do not want to ruin this beautiful, nutritious product.  If you would like to learn more about grass fed meat cooking i suggest reading any of shannon hayes' wonderful books -- or searching out her blog at   now get thee to the greenmarket and pick up some quality grass-fed, pastured, organic or wild caught protein and build those burgers.  simple or fancy your burgers will get the Family2Table with an energy that has raised generations of healthy, happy folks who hold the burger in high esteem and continue to build life long memories around the culinary tradition of good eating.  enjoy!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crispy Pork Pad Thai

as you might have guessed, i don't do take out much.  once upon a time, every once in a while, i did. and when i did it was always asian food. chinese, japanese, vietnamese, thai, korean, etc.  stepping so far out of my culinary culture, i always deferred to the professionals for authentic preparation and taste. after all, i did grow up in a home where we went to eng's kitchen every sunday night for chinese take out. it was tradition.  when i became aware of the standard ingredients that were being used in most asian restaurants and the big shift in our food supply, i brought production of those foods into my home as well.  with good research and lots of practice, any cuisine can be mastered.  for the past, say, 13 or 14 years, i make my own "take out" at home.  for all the reasons that you think - poor quality ingredients, GMOs, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, chemical preservatives, stabilizers and additives like MSG, etc - i prefer to make everything in house. as a mum, i am the nutritional gate keeper for my entire family and while i don't want us to miss out on the flavors we love, i need to be sure that those flavors are also packed with nutrients and free from harm to our growing, lovely bodies, brains and emotional states.  with all the right moves, a family favorite like crispy pork pad thai can easily become a staple in your home too.  a crowd pleaser from the word crispy, this dish will not disappoint and when you gather your Family2Table you will never take out this beautiful, loving feeling again.

please know that pad thai can be as simple or as complicated as you are willing to let it be.  it can include whatever you have in the house or whatever you decide to buy at the market.  there are some traditional ingredients and there are some must haves in terms of making the sauce. just know that whatever you decide to create for you and yours, is the right dish for you. as always, a recipe is a blueprint - take what you like and leave behind what you don't within reason (baking being the exception to the rule).  the ingredients listed below for this dish are what i had in the house last night -- and this morning since my family wanted me to make it again for them to take for lunch.



soaking rice noodles in filtered water is where we start.  you can soak them the night before or get them into water the day you will use them. i generally like to put them in cold water that morning that i will use them. if the noodles float back up, just put a plate on top to weigh them down.  i also recommend getting a jump on the cutting, chopping, julienne-ing and lime squeezing. as a matter of fact. go ahead and make the pad thai sauce a day ahead and leave it in the fridge. this sauce is multi-purpose and can stay in the fridge as a vinaigrette in a squeeze bottle for up to one month without a problem so go ahead and get started on that right now! 


1/4 cup fish sauce, 2 TBS. nama shoyu or some type of traditionally brewed organic soy sauce, the juice of one lime, 1 tsp. ume plum vinegar then emulsify into a vinaigrette using toasted sesame oil. an easy way to do this is to combine all acids in a glass jar, then add the oil, put a lid on and shake.  viola! asian vinaigrette!


once that is done and all your mise en place is laid out nicely, get your pan hot and put a pound of ground pastured pork into it to render and crisp.  i sprinkle a little bit of salt on the pork and cook till crispy but not overcooked.  there is a line and you do not want to cross it so watch what's going on and turn down the heat if you need to after you have a bit of crispy.  when that is done, using a slotted spoon, take out the pork and set aside. leave the pork fat in the pan and add to it, 2 TBS. of coconut oil. it will smell so good you will swoon, i promise. now, add some minced garlic and ginger. 

everything laid out and ready to go.

more swooning will ensue as that blooms and you start to smell the mingling of pork fat, coconut oil, ginger and garlic. be still my heart this be a potion of love!  get that temp up high again and now go ahead and add two eggs and wreck em! yeah, really make em look nasty and let em cook into the fat, ginger and garlic.

lift the noodles out of the water and let the water drip off. then place them in the hot hot pan and add chili flake and chopped peanuts. i don't touch the ingredients yet, i just let it all cook and then i start to layer in my prepared veggies placing the ones that take longer to cook on the bottom.

then i get to picking up my tongs and turning all of this to incorporate and get well mixed. i still let it cook for another 4 minutes or so before i hit it with the sauce!  this will bring about a heady perfume to stir the soul. at this point you will be incredibly hungry and will have to keep everyone in the house from attacking the pan...but WAIT! hang on, we're  almost finished.


at this point i add fragile stuff like herbs (cilantro, thai basil, mint) and frozen or fresh peas, bean sprouts, enoki mushrooms and then i add in the pork that was set aside.  then i add some chicken stock to moisten cause it should be wet and lovely, not sticky and gluey.  i turn down the heat, add a sprinkle of sea salt and then dish it up.  i always squeeze and bit more fresh lime and garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.  it's a quick dish to put together once everything is prepped. i would say, no more than 15 minutes once that pan is hot and the pork has been cooked. so go ahead and give it a try and let me know what you think.  it you're ever having difficulty, please give me a buzz and let me know what's happening. we can always trouble shoot together. enjoy!

all purpose asian vinaigrette
make this in your squeeze bottle and store in the fridge.
will last up to a month but i guarantee you will use it all before then.

2TBS shoyu
1 TBS rice wine vinegar or Ume Plum Vinegar
the juice of 1 or 2 limes
1/4 cup fish sauce
3 TBS. sesame oil

Shake to combine and TASTE.
adjust with whatever your mouth needs
(mine usually needs more lime juice)

Pad Thai without pork

Soak Pad Thai Noodles in water to soften before frying

1 or 2 eggs
sliced garlic
grated ginger
chopped nuts (we use peanuts but almonds or brazil nuts are great too)
chili flake
julienne carrot, cabbage, red pepper, zucchini, broccoli
chopped scallion
bean sprouts
enoki mushrooms
thai basil (if you can't find this, regular basil is fine, so is mint)

- Heat a sautee pan until very hot
- add coconut oil and sesame oil till just smoking
- add garlic, ginger and egg (break egg up)
- add drained noodles
- add nuts and chili flake
- add vegetables
- Turn with tongs to wilt all veggies and so egg, ginger and garlic does not burn
- after a few minutes more add asian vinaigrette and mix to combine through
- add some stock (chicken, meat, veg) and mix through
- turn off flame and add fresh herbs
- serve with extra slice of lime for squeezing