Summer cooking fantasy

The Greenmarket is starting to get really great now. And I’m remembering why I love living close to Bleecker St (the awesome food portion, not the un-awesome high-end boutiques potion). My summer eating plan is developing as follows: lots of vegetables, assiette de crudités placed on the table in little bowls and plates. Things like grated beets with mustard dressing, braised chard or a gratin of chard stems. A little salad of tiny potatoes and cucumbers. Basically whatever I can get at the market each time I go.

Then some meats. Prosciutto from Faicco’s or the like. Maybe a piece of grilled something if we’re in the mood for heavier meal, purchased at one of the two old-school butchers nearby. Always green salad while the lettuce is still sweet, before the heat of the summer. And cheeses galore from Murray’s, with a baguette. As a family we’re going to attempt to eat every cheese Murray’s sells.

And little olives, and cornichons. Maybe some night, rabbit sausage, and another evening a pâté. For dessert, fresh fruit. To drink, a rosé. Maybe some Lillet to start. All outside in our small garden, surrounded by herbs and flowers. (In this fantasy our compost bin loses its stink).

If I can achieve this, it should be a very nice summer.

Casserole of Late Fall Greens

I have a pile of recipes from the Greenmarket tucked in a corner of my bookshelf. A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon one from 2009 at the same time my fridge was filled with kale and collard greens from my CSA. Since then I’ve been hoping for more kale every week at CSA pick-up. This casserole (I like to call it a kale gratin) is fantastic and so delicious. Better after a day in the fridge and re-heated, as the flavors meld. I won’t stop making this until the late fall greens stop!

Casserole of Late Fall Greens
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2 cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled
2 1/2 ounces of bacon (about 3 strips)
2 cups of cooked winter greens (spinach, swiss chard, kale, broccoli raab, etc.)
1/3 cup freshly grated hard cheese (cow’s or sheep’s milk would be best, I use Pecorino)
1. Prepare and cook the greens, removing any tough stems, and roughly chop. (To yield 2 cups cooked you will need 1 pound of spinach or broccoli raab, 1 3/4 pounds of swiss chard, or 1 1/4 pounds of kale.) Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil and cook until the greens are tender. Drain and squeeze to remove excess water.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 4 cup shallow gratin dish. Toss together the breadcrumbs and 1 tablespoon of melted butter with a pinch of kosher salt and little ground pepper and set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and garlic to a boil over medium-high heat and then turn down the heat and simmer vigorously until the cream is reduced to about 3/4 cup. Take the pan off the heat, remove and discard the garlic cloves. Let the cream cool slightly and then season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.

4. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crisped and browned. Drain on a paper towel and remove almost all of the excess fat from the pan. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and return the pan to the heat. Add the cooked greens with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Evenly spread the warmed greens in the gratin dish.

5. Crumble the bacon over the greens. Sprinkle on the cheese. Pour the seasoned cream over the greens/bacon/cheese and top with the bread crumbs. Bake until brown and bubbly, about 25 minutes. Let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

From the 100-Mile Diet: Local Eating for Global Change, via NYC Greenmarket Recipe Series

Fantastic cookbook for healthy eating

Heidi Swanson’s new cookbook Super Natural Every Day: Well-loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen is out and it’s fantastic. I cooked from it this weekend and made three amazingly delicious dishes. We had millet muffins for breakfast. The little millet crunchies were great. We had kale, coconut and farro salad with grilled grass-fed beef steak on Saturday night. And last night I made the broccoli gribiche with roasted potatoes, capers, and mustard to accompany steamed mussels. Also fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough. If you’re trying to get more veggies and healthy foods into your diet, this book is a great way to do it. I can’t wait to cook more things from it, and to make the same recipes again.

Hidden in our food supply

Great video below from Robyn O’Brien speaking at TEDxAustin about untested GMOs in our food supply. While most of the information was familiar to me, it reminded me once again why I shop and cook the way I do for myself and my family.

There are two old-time meat stores in my neighborhood and I prefer to buy my meat there rather than Whole Foods. But it’s not organic or grass-fed. So those beef cows are most likely being fattened on a fed lot with genetically modified corn. The talk got me thinking about that, and wondering what to do. Stop supporting the butcher whose craft is disappearing? Ask him to buy grass-finished beef? Why has eating gotten so complicated?

Juice is junk food

Perhaps in response to my rant about marketers and bloggers, I received an email yesterday inviting me to join #WelchsGrape Twitter Party! The purpose of this “party” is to spread the idea “Moms can help their families live a heart healthy lifestyle with Welch’s 100% Grape juice made with Concord Grapes.”

One easy and delicious way to add more purple to your family’s diet is to drink 4-oz. of grape juice, which offers a full serving (1/2 cup) of fruit and no added sugar.

This is pretty disingenuous. Grape juice is loaded with natural sugar. I can’t even imagine how you’d drink it if they added sugar. A 64 oz bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice contains 8 8 fl oz. servings. Each 8 fl oz serving (1 cup) contains 40 grams of sugar. One can of Pepsi (335 ml or ~1 1/2 US cups) contains 40 grams of sugar.

40 grams of sugar next to a Pepsi, image from funnyz

Think about that: 1 cup of grape juice is basically 1 can of Pepsi. Official US Guidelines advise a maximum of 40 grams refined sugar for every 2000 calories consumed per day. So give your kid even 1/2 cup of grape juice and you’ve given them more than half the sugar maximum an adult should consume as day. This isn’t right because the guideline is for added sugar, like when you see “sugar” in the ingredients list for tomato sauce. Grape juice has no added sugar, but it’s concentrated to make it sweeter. There is no guideline for how much naturally-occurring sugar you should ingest.

It’s hart to believe any possible heart benefits associated with grape juice outweigh the risks of ingesting so much sugar (with none of the fiber or slower digestive process to access it that you get from eating whole fruit rather than mainlining juice!) If you haven’t yet read Is Sugar Toxic?, get thee to the New York Times post haste:

The fructose component of sugar and H.F.C.S. is metabolized primarily by the liver, while the glucose from sugar and starches is metabolized by every cell in the body. Consuming sugar (fructose and glucose) means more work for the liver than if you consumed the same number of calories of starch (glucose). And if you take that sugar in liquid form — soda or fruit juices — the fructose and glucose will hit the liver more quickly than if you consume them, say, in an apple (or several apples, to get what researchers would call the equivalent dose of sugar). The speed with which the liver has to do its work will also affect how it metabolizes the fructose and glucose.

In animals, or at least in laboratory rats and mice, it’s clear that if the fructose hits the liver in sufficient quantity and with sufficient speed, the liver will convert much of it to fat. This apparently induces a condition known as insulin resistance, which is now considered the fundamental problem in obesity, and the underlying defect in heart disease and in the type of diabetes, type 2, that is common to obese and overweight individuals. It might also be the underlying defect in many cancers.

The whole article is worth a read. Then you can decide for yourself if filling your kids with juice is “heart-healthy” and if you want to join the Twitter party to spread the word. Or you can crash the party with me (if naps coordinate with party time) and point people to some sane information about kids and sugar.

And I don’t even want to get started on the idea that drinking juice counts as a serving of fruit! That’s about as specious as ketchup being a vegetable.

The pastry bag

We don’t let Ollie watch any TV and his computer/iPad/iPhone screen time is regulated. But when he gets the iPad, one of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos, which he picks from ones I’ve favorited. At some point I favorited a video of a woman making a fire truck cake because it’s similar to the one I made for Ollie’s 2nd birthday. He’s watched this one, and many related cake-making videos, more than anything else. Often he mentions “Laurie Gaylin” when we’re in the kitchen, and I had to ask, “Who’s that?” Turns out she’s the woman making all the cakes in his videos. Here’s the fire truck cake:

So Sunday morning I was running around the house, trying to get stuff done before friends came over to watch the Super Bowl. Talking half to myself and half to Ollie, I said, “I’ve got to find my pastry bag!” because I wanted to pipe the deviled egg filling into the whites. (This may seem like overkill but it’s way easier and faster than trying to get that yolky glue off a spoon.)

Ollie casually says, “Or a freezer bag.”

“What?” I ask him, not understanding what he’s even talking about.

“Or a freezer bag,” he repeats to me. “Laurie Gaylin says you can use a pastry bag or a frosting bag or just a freezer bag.”

Fellow bakers, your mouth must have dropped when you read that sentence, as mine did when he said it. The kid is really learning something from all those videos.

(Turns out her name is Laurie Gelman, and she’s the host, not the baker. But who quibbles with a three year old?)

Eating well and working less

Great “A Food Manifesto for the Future” from Mark Bittman containing some concrete suggestions to improve the food supply and with it, the health, of Americans. But I really liked comment #2: I can’t imagine how Americans can possibly eat well until they are working less hours. I’ve been meaning to write about this for ages and am so glad to see someone else raise this issue. In all the discussion of obesity and diabetes, no one seems to mention how much time it takes to cook good food, and how hard that is when both parents are working and commuting long distances. I easily spend ninety minutes a day cooking for my family. Nearly every day. I’m lucky to have the time to do it.

That said I did read recently that Americans watch an average of thirty-four hours of TV a week. If that’s true then clearly there’s some wiggle room in the day for proper cooking, right?

Made up baking with kids


Recently Ollie’s been talking about a time he lived “in England.” Whenever he begins a sentence with “In England…” I know he’ll follow with something that displays his independence and self-sufficiency. Often the stories are about cooking, and he’ll tell me about things he baked in England. Sometimes there are adventures with his cousins, Strawberry and Pumpkin, with whom he lived, and he had some jobs and drove a lot as well. But mostly it’s about cooking.

Lately I indulge his “In England” baking stories and we recreate his favorite recipes. He instructs me on the ingredients he used to create things like “Honeychrists”, a kind of inedible biscuit like hardtack, and “Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins”, which we baked on Sunday.

After the honeychrists episode, I’ve tried to direct a little more, so these muffin cookies were actually edible and quite tasty. Half-way through the measuring, I got a great idea. Ratio, a book and iPhone app by Michael Ruhlman gives you the ratios for ingredients for all kinds of recipe, would be perfect for this situation. (Though he doesn’t have “cookie muffin” listed).

In the future I can guide Ollie knowing the ratios, so if he wants muffins, I can measure 5 ounces of flour and liquid, and 2.5 ounces eggs and butter. He can add the spices or food coloring or chocolate chips, whatever else he wants, and I can be assured that the resulting baked good will probably be edible. I’m looking forward to trying this out, as it’s been so much fun to do this crazy baking with Ollie.

Funny thing about the chocolate chip muffin cookies: they were edible! And because I added baking powder and baking soda, they were puffy cookies, soft and kind of doughy, wide-spread on the sheet and mounded in the middle. Just like you’d expect a “muffin cookie” to be!