Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Dried chickpeas. Canned chickpeas are the express lane to hummus, however.
Hummus, that simple Middle Eastern pureé of chickpeas, tahini, and lemon juice has taken the country by storm. Hummus is the next salsa, available in supermarkets and convenience stores everywhere. You can even pick up a snack pack at the airport. In my recipe, a generous dose of olive oil helps to emulsify the ingredients so it's smooth and creamy. Adds some delicious flavor too. Some recipes use more tahini then this one. Tahini is roasted sesame seed paste. Think peanut butter made with sesame seeds. Unlike peanuts, sesame seeds have a bitter edge, so I go light on the tahini. If you add too much, the hummus is bitter and a little chalky.

You can make your own hummus easily if you have a food processor. Without it, it's not easy to get a smooth pureé. There are lots of commercial hummuses out there now. Some are good and some are weird and well, not so good. My favorite brand is Sabra. The original and the red pepper are our favorites. My daughter, who once upon a time described hummus as disgusting, is now a huge fan.

Hummus is a great way to get more beans into your diet. Chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) are one of my favorite beans. They are full of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. They soak up flavors and are important is a wide variety of cuisines: Italian, Indian, Middle Eastern. In Italy, they are called ceci and they combine deliciously with pasta, like in this recipe for pasta with chickpeas, spinach, and sausage.

This recipe is super easy because I used canned chickpeas. If you have some time or a pressure cooker, you can cook them yourself. You'll need 1 ¾ - 2 cups cooked chickpeas. You can use the juice from ½ a lemon up to 1 lemon's worth. If you use a whole lemon, it will be fairly tart and lemony. A whole lemon yields about 3 Tablespoons of juice.

(makes about 2 cups)

1 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained but with liquid reserved
juice of ½ - 1 lemon
5 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 Tablespoons tahini
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ - 1 teaspoon salt
4 Tablespoons olive oil plus more for garnish

Add the chickpeas, ½ of the reserved liquid, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini. Process until the chickpeas are a thick pureé. If it's lumpy, add more of the can liquid until it starts to smooth out. Add ½ teaspoon salt, black pepper, and the olive oil. Process until it's smooth and creamy. Check for salt; add more if necessary. Gets better if allowed to mellow in the fridge for a few hours, though it's best eaten near room temperature. To serve, drizzle with more olive oil.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chilean Cheese Toast

The Chilean Andes
And, now for something completely different, a really simple recipe! Last year, I visited Chile and I wrote about my food experiences there. One thing Chileans love is palta, what we call avocado. They spread it on their toast for breakfast. They use it in salads. They stuff them. They eat them by the bushel. Traditionally, Chileans use fresh cheese on their palta toast but it's not that common in the US. Mozzarella cheese is very common so I used that. It's a delicious breakfast or snack.

Chilean Cheese Toast
(serves 1 as a snack, double for breakfast)

Toast a slice of sturdy sandwich bread. Don't use something with lots of holes because you are going to spread the avocado on it. Hole-y bread leaks. :-) Slice half of an avocado. When the bread is toasted, spread the slices all over the toast. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with a little shredded mozzarella cheese. Broil until cheese is melted. Garnish with hot sauce if desired. Stare longingly at the picture of the Andes as you enjoy.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ridiculous Nutrition News: You are not a Mouse

This article is making its way around the Twittersphere right now. It's about how emulsifiers and gums that are routinely added to manufactured foods are messing with our digestion and making us fat and sick. You can go read it if you want, but I think it's just a bunch of over-hyped ridiculousness.

First off, the study referenced was done in mice. You are not a mouse, if you have the brain power to read this sentence. Second, these additives have been in the food supply for quite some time. Xanthan gum, the most pervasive one (particularly in gluten-free products where it imitates the stickiness of gluten) has been in the food supply since 1968. Wait, I feel a Food Babe moment coming on: it is also used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud. My God, what are you thinking, feeding that stuff to your kids in their gluten-free cookies!? #sarcasm Carrageenan is another common gum. It's been in use since the 1400's and it was originally derived from red edible seaweeds. I'm not arguing for food that contains all this stuff. You shouldn't be basing your diet on a whole lot of manufactured food because it's nutritionally neutered. You get your salt, your sugar, your fat, (Michael Moss has written extensively on this) a whole bunch of stuff that nominally counts as food (it is edible, after all) without anything that nourishes. Does anyone really think that calories thickened with gums, flavored with minute amounts of chemicals, and then enriched with minute amounts of vitamins (maybe) is better for you than oatmeal? Broccoli? Salmon? Apples?

But, what really annoys me is the title: How Emulsifiers Are Messing with Our Guts (and Making Us Fat.) No, no, no! Some researchers suspect there is a link because they have seen things in mice (I repeat, you are not a mouse). It is a huge logical leap to say they ARE messing with our guts and they ARE making us fat.

Why are more of us fat? Because we eat more calories. I'm not sure why this is so contentious but it is. Here's an article to support my statement, but let's approach this anecdotally, in a way most of us understand: by examining lunch. Once upon a time, like back in the 1970's, a McDonalds meal looked like a single burger, maybe with a slice of cheese, a tiny-by-today's-standards order of fries, and a 12 oz. coke . Now? A double cheeseburger (for a whole dollar), a larger order of fries and at least a 20 oz. coke. A 12 oz. coke is now the extra small size. Hey, lets pick something "healthy" instead. (I hate the whole healthy descriptor, by the way. It gives some crappy food a pass just because it contains (or does not contain) the nutrient/additive du jour. It allows people to turn up their noses at things that have that label, even if those things actually taste good. It's such a loaded term I am loathe to use it at all. But I digress...) There was recently a piece in the New York Times about Chipotle and the grandiose calorie counts on many of their menu items. Now, I like Chipotle. The founder, Steve Ells, is a graduate of Boulder High, same as my daughter. He gave the commencement address the year she graduated. He's a very smart guy and they treat their employees well. I like the food for the most part. But, the calorie counts are epic. Many of their most ordered burritos come in at 900-1000 calories. That's way more than that puny little 1970's McDonalds meal and a lot more than most of us need in a single meal. When I was a kid way back in the 1970's, we didn't eat out anywhere on a regular basis either. The first McDonalds opened in my hometown in about 1977, when I was in high school. So, things have changed and it's not just the use of emulsifiers.

Maybe the research will pan out. Maybe routine ingestion of emulsifiers is bad for you. You know what? Large doses of manufactured food are bad for you for a whole host of reasons. You don't need to know about that future research because we already know the stuff is crap and we are eating way too much of it.  

Photo Attribution: By Rama (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0 fr (], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 26, 2015

Meatless Monday: Italian Lentils and Polenta

Leftovers! Polenta reheated by panfrying
This is stick to your ribs wintertime comfort food, vegetarian style. Check the end of the recipe for the best way to reheat the polenta if you have some leftovers. Or, make this ahead so you can use the polenta reheating tip to make this dish even better.

Italian Lentils and Polenta
(serves 6)

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 roasted red peppers, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ dried red chile flakes
1 ½ cups lentils
2 ⅔ cups stock
⅓ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ onion, diced

6 cups stock
salt if your stock is unsalted
1 ½ cups yellow cornmeal or corn grits

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Heat up oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the peppers, garlic, fennel seeds, and chile flakes. Cook for 5 minutes. Add  lentils, stock, wine, salt, pepper, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Raise the heat to medium high and cook until lentils are tender and most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in onion. Cover and set aside while you cook the polenta.

In a large pot, heat up the stock over medium-high heat. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly. Switch to a large heavy spoon, reduce the heat to medium-low and stir every few minutes. The polenta is done when it is very thick, thick enough so that stirring it is work. Taste for salt and add some if the polenta is bland. Spoon polenta into bowls and cover with lentils. Garnish each serving with 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese.

You can reheat polenta in the microwave but the best way to reheat it is by panfrying it. You need a non-stick skillet and a couple of teaspoons of oil per serving. To facilitate future panfrying, spread it out on a rimmed baking pan in a 1" layer right after you cook it then refrigerate until firm. Heat the oil in the skillet then fry the polenta until lightly browned all over. The outside will be a little crunchy-crispy and the inside will be delicious creamy. Absolutely the best way to reheat polenta.

Adapted from a recipe in The Best 125 Meatless Italian Dishes by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler and Mindy Toomay, Prima Publishing, 1995.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Unstuffed Cabbage

This recipe is my grandmother's, passed on to me via my mom. Stuffed cabbage is a complicated process: make the filling, blanch the leaves, stuff and roll up the leaves, braise for a long time. Delicious it may be, but you will spend a chunk of your day pulling it off. I haven't made this recipe in years because it's so much work. It is so good and very special...

Six months after my grandmother died, I found a stash of stuffed cabbage buried in the freezer. She had come to visit after the birth of my daughter, and left me with her wonderful stuffed cabbage. Finding that stuffed cabbage was a pretty emotional experience and I relished every bite of my grandmother's last food production in my life.

Besides simplifying the stuffing process, I have modernized the recipe by cutting back on the meat. I replaced some of the meat with cooked lentils. It's still a stick-to-your-ribs, sweet and sour dish. It may not remind you of your grandmother, it will give you some idea of my memories of my dear grandmother.

Unstuffed Cabbage
(serves 8)

non-stick cooking spray
1 large green cabbage
½ teaspoon kosher salt

½ onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup lentils, rinsed
4 cups water

1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, turkey)
½ onion, chopped
1 cup cold cooked rice
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon black pepper

1 ½ Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups commercial beef stock
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes, drained
¾ cup raisins
½ cup crushed gingersnaps (about 6 2" cookies)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar.
juice of 1 lemon, about ⅓ cup
1 teaspoon kosher salt (see Note)

Place all the Lentils ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes until lentils are tender. Drain well and set in the fridge to cool slightly.

While the lentils are cooking, peel off the large outer leaves from the cabbage and set aside. Cut the remaining cabbage into quarters, core, and slice. Spray a large Dutch oven with non-stick spray. Put all the sliced cabbage in the Dutch oven and sprinkle with the salt. Lay half of the big leaves over the sliced cabbage. Set aside while you make the stuffing.

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Wipe out the lentil saucepan. Heat the oil in the pan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes until the roux is golden. Whisk in the beef stock and dried thyme. Bring to a boil and whisk until the stock thickens slightly. Set aside.

Combine all the Stuffing ingredients in a large bowl. Add the lentils and mix to combine. Spread the stuffing over the cabbage leaves in the Dutch oven. Lay the rest of the cabbage leaves over the stuffing.

Combine the beef stock sauce, and the remaining sauce ingredients in the bowl you mixed the stuffing in. Pour over the top of the cabbage, poking the cabbage at the edge of the pot so that some of the sauce drains down along the edge.

Cover the pot and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove the cover and cook for another 30 minutes until the cabbage is very tender and the sauce has reduced. This is a dish that improves with reheating. Make it ahead, chill it down, then reheat it. The flavors become more harmonious and smooth.

As you probably figured out from my story above, stuffed cabbage (or unstuffed cabbage) freezes very well.

Note: I used commercial beef stock (Better Than Bouillon is my preferred brand in instant broth). If you use homemade or unsalted stock in the box, you will need to add more salt to the sauce.

Friday, January 9, 2015

If in Waterbury, Connecticut...

Grotto cavatelli with chicken, pesto, and artichoke hearts
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I traveled to Connecticut to visit my sister and her family. And see my lovely daughter who is taking an intensive year of math nearby in Massachusetts. And I got to see an old college friend too! It was wonderful visiting Ann and Michael. I need to visit them again. These people know food. As if visiting a dear old friend isn't enough? There's great food too!

They took us to the place for homemade cavatelli in Waterbury: Grotto. This is a treat. Ann was kind enough to purchase two pounds of it for us. We stashed it in the freezer until our daughter came home for Winter Break. Delicioso! It has the perfect bite and these wonderful crannies for holding the sauce.

If you find yourself in the neighborhood, buy some. You will not regret it!

634 Watertown Avenue, Waterbury, CT 06708

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemony Shrimp Risotto

Happy 2015, everyone! Here was the first dinner of the new year in my house, a lemony shrimp risotto. Huge shrimp! You don't need to use such gigantic ones; that's just what I had in the freezer. The hardest part of this recipe is finding the shrimp or fish stock. You can make your own shrimp stock from the shells. It's wonderful stuff. Or, you can use Better Than Bouillon Fish or Lobster Base. This is a very good product. All their bases are quite good for not-homemade stock.

This recipe is adapted from one by Jamie Oliver. That one is sort of a disaster. I think someone edited it in a half-hearted way and it ended up a mess. I'm not going to even tell you where it is because I don't recommend you try following it. Yes, it's that jumbled up. And it's in metric to boot.

The original recipe called for the juice of a whole lemon. My family unit said it was too tart. The zest isn't tart so use all the zest but only half the juice.

Peppadews are sweet and very mildly spicy peppers.  You can find them in jars or at your supermarket olive bar. Most of the olive bars in Boulder carry them. They are very tasty!

Lemony Shrimp Risotto
(serves 4)

7 cups shrimp or fish stock
2 Tablespoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt, if using unsalted stock
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 ⅔ cups Arborio or similar short-grain rice
6 oz. white or rosé wine
1 ½ cups frozen peas
about 1 pound peeled and deveined medium to large shrimp
1 lemon
4 Peppadew peppers, diced or a pinch of crushed red chile flakes
black pepper

Zest the lemon and set aside the zest. Juice half the lemon and set aside the juice. In a medium saucepan, mix together the stock, dried onion and salt (if using). Heat to a simmer and keep it there. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat up the olive oil on medium-high. Add the rice and cook it until the grains of rice chance from translucent to opaque. They turn a milky white. Add the wine and cook until wine has evaporated/been absorbed. Reduce the heat to medium. Add ¾ cup of hot stock and stir until all the stock is absorbed by the rice. You don't need to stir it constantly, but you need to stir it regularly, every few minutes. When the liquid has been absorbed, add some more stock and stir once more. Keep this up until the rice is very nearly done. At 5400 ft., that takes nearly 30 minutes, longer than most recipes say to cook it. I recommend you try the rice so you know how close you are to done. If it's crunchy, not done. If you say "hmm, very close but not quite there," it's time to add the shrimp and peas. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes until the peas are hot and the shrimp is pink and cooked. You don't want to cook the shrimp any longer than necessary because it will get tough. So, there is some timing involved here - you want the risotto just done when the shrimp is just done.

Just before serving, add the lemon zest, lemon juice, Peppadews, and a light sprinkle of black pepper. Taste for salt and season with more if needed. Serve in hot bowls with some shrimp arranged on top, because you want to show off the shrimp, especially if they are as big as the ones in my risotto!