Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Plant Based Eating at Your Service

Sesame Noodles with Seaweed and Cucumber
It's a classical story, isn't it? Guy grows up eating just like his family who is in the restaurant business to help people eat well and to make a few bucks that speaks to their success.  They recreate and improve classical recipes which adds to their success as a business and in the public eye. The son wants to step it up a notch so he travels, learns new methods from other countries and he comes back to create his own famous restaurant..  But basically even though he becomes well know for his work, his new updated American Cooking still addresses food in a more upbeat but classical focus and the disconnect between what the body really needs to stay healthy, and what is marketed as current trends or popular eating continues another generation.  Well time to make a change and take a look at the enormous impact of eating the way of classical recipes has on the body.

In reality the body is over 75 trillion cells searching to nourish itself on plant foods.  It needs nutrient dense calories to operate well each day from a certain style and the right amount of the right carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  How do I know this after being the guy who did famous restaurants and followed in the family footsteps?  I read and read and read and then go back and test and read some more.

As is stated in a book, 'Eat to Live'  by Dr. Joel Fuhrman, M.D. " The drug of choice by most Americans is Food. "  And having cooked most of my life, I have spent a decade understanding the difference between the presently marketed American Diet and the one suggested in his work.  And while he further suggests, " Breaking up is hard to do! " (from the American Diet), it is what brings me back to developing and eating in an exciting plant based style every day.  It is said that often Common Sense is not that Common!  Read and see what you think.  Become a Vegetable Alchemist.

Okra in the House

Fresh Veggies about to Roast
It does not take more than 30 minutes of oven time and a few simple ingredients to turn a vegetable like Okra into a roasted feast.  I used the oven for two reasons: 1) I was already using it so why not take advantage of the heat, and 2) oven roasted okra has a totally different firm character in a finished lean dish.  My goal is to build a repertoir of plant based dishes for all seasons and occasions.  This is s great early Summer stew.  Next time, and that will be soon, I will change the herbs for a teaspoon of fresh chopped ginger and pinch of spice mix like Madras Curry.  File and other spices will give the same dish and entirely different flavor point, and a richness that offers me another dimension of taste, making the base recipe more versatile.  Also turning up the oven temp to 425 will increase the roasted flavor and should cut the cooking time in half.  Add and toss all the vegetables in one step at the beginning and remember to toss the vegetables once or twice in the oven so they do not scorch.  Enjoy!
Finished Oven Roasted Okra

Oven Roasted Okra with Tomato
2     cups fresh Okra, cut in half
1     cup tomatoes, cut into half or quarters depending on size
1/2  cup red onion, peeled, sliced thin
1     clove of garlic, peeled, sliced thin
1     teas  thyme, basil or cumin
1     tbl  fresh cilantro, chopped
1     teas of olive oil
salt and fresh ground black pepper

Set the oven to 325 degrees.  Place the cut okra in a 6,8 or 10 inch skillet.  ( I use cast iron as I like the distribution of heat.)  Drizzle with the olive oil and season.  Roast in the oven for 15 minutes .  Add the other ingredients except the cilantro.  Toss and return to the oven 15 minutes.

Taste.  Reseason and finish with the fresh cilantro. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Phyto What?

The word, PHYTOCHEMICAL says a lot .  It refers to a revolution in understanding the amazing benefits of substances in plants that sweep toxins out of cells and prevent damage to cell DNA.  For me in the arugula salad below, the phytochemical freshness of vegetables taste of great health.  I make the time to shop for quality produce.  Quality does not mean expensive, it means a quality grown product.  I add 'priced right' as I am always value minded.  Enjoy.

Arugula Salad with Cucumber, Radish, Tomato and Pine nuts
2    bunches of arugula, washed and torn into bite size pieces
½    garden cucumber, sliced thin and then in half moons
4     medium sized radish, sliced thin
½    cup cherry tomatoes cut in half
3     tbl pinenuts, toasted
3     tbl parmesan cheese,  shaved
3     tbl olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the ingredients in a bowl.  Drizzle the olive oil around the sides of the bowl.  Sprinkle the ingredients with the lemon juice and salt and pepper .  Toss and plate. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Vegetable Bistro

Bistro Styled Carrots
When I think of great vegetable fare I often think of Bistro styled preparations, not fancy plates with huge amounts of complicated cutting and presentations.  Of course we eat with our eyes and when you go out generally in more pricey restaurants you expect a good looking plate.  But more often than not on a weekly basis or at least three times a month I prefer a casual bistro setting where prices are cheaper, the food is excellent, casual, tasty and comes quick and the conversation is lively in an upbeat environment.  So I feel most of the time I would rather use this style of recipe for my own simple home cooking as this was really the origin of the Bistro.

With this in mind, last night I had a taste for something simple last night, simple and tasty fun. I had been to the market and brought a number of great looking veggies.  I decided I was in the mood for savory so I
roasted whole carrots as I would meat, and chowed down with a friend !  It was fantastic. The method added that touch of savory umami that sometimes I just crave.  So I am sharing. Umami tells my senses that, Wow! that was delicious. If the recipe is balanced right I do not find myself reaching for something to eat later, nor bored with the flavors after I am half done.

Later this week we'll talk about a theory on calories and the nutritionally minded.  Right now I suggest you find time the next day to head to a good produce store.  Find some terrific stewing carrots and spend ten minutes prep with 30 minutes of unattended slow baking that you deserve. And, yes, carrots are a bit higher in sugar but as a single dish entree when I think of all the foods and all the multiple course meals I have eaten, one dish of well prepared carrots that are a little higher in sugar instead of all those courses from the past. 

Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Cumin
10 ounces large carrots, peeled
1 teas olive oil
1 teas rosemary, dried
1/2 teas basil, dried
1    teas whole cumin, dried
2    tbl chopped green onion (optional)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Set the oven to 325 degree.  Add all the ingredients to a 10 inch cast iron skillet and toss.  ( I use cast iron because if offers solid heat transfer for this roasted dish. ) Place skillet on medium heat and cook about 4 -5 minutes to add a bit of color and get the pan warm.  Place skillet in oven. Set timer to 15 minutes.

When timer goes off pull the pan from the oven, and gently turn the carrots.  Add 1/2 cup of water or vegetable stock.  Turn the oven to 425, and place the pan back in the oven for 15 minutes, setting timer for 15 minutes.  Remove pan from the oven.  Place it on the cook top and turn a burner to medium.  Gently move the pan across the heat to reduce any liquid and intensify the herb carrot flavor.  Sprinkle on optional chopped green onion and enjoy!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Balancing the Act for Garbanzo

Garbanzo: Lean and tasty
A plant  based diet offers incredible opportunity to be creative at the produce stand.  To compliment a few items, I chose some garbanzo beans for a center of plate recipe. You can say 'Garbanzo' or chose the alter name of  'Chickpea'.  Either way the legume is a fantastic protein entree particularly when I use them  in a clean, simple way.  In the past, I have added garbanzos as an ingredient in many ways and cuisines but it was not until I was invited to Key Biscayne, Florida for a few days to water ski and snorkel that I encountered a Chef from the Basque area of Spain who showed me the simplest, most enjoyable way to eat garbanzos with the fewest but most complimentary produce.  Many times garbanzos are overcooked, mushie or done as a compliment to paella, meat, fish or poultry dishes.  This preparation stands on its own, as center of plate, lean and fresh. The nutritional data speaks for itself.

For convenient quickie and to save time I could easily reach for a can.  I always rinse off the canning liquid to get rid of salt and sugars.  But if you want to really showcase something with a little more integrity, use dried legumes and soaked overnight.

Garbanzo in the Basque Style
1/2 lb dried garbanzo, soaked over night
1 cup vegetable stock or broth
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and cut thin

3 tbl finely diced green peppers
3 tbl finely diced white or yellow
1 tbl each chopped parsley and cilantro
3 tbl extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper

Bring the vegetable stock to simmer and add garlic and garbanzo beans.  Simmer gently partially covering with a lid for about 20 minutes.  Remove to a bowl.  Wipe out the pan and return to medium heat.

Add the olive oil and then the peppers and red onion.  Saute lightly for 3 minutes.  Add the garbanzo with any simmering broth, the herbs, and lemon juice.  Cook another 3 minutes.  Season to taste, and finish by cooking 2-3 minutes longer.  The beans will be slightly crunchy.  Add a bit more stock and cook a bit longer if you want them cooked through completely.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

And Along Came Ferran

the dynamic duo !
looking at food with a different lense
Not long ago Chef Ferran Adria of ebulli restaurant fame came to Chicago to promote his new book. There is no doubt that his research and continual persistence to open doors showcasing food in relative ways makes more opportunity for thinking of the simplest eating and its effect on our longevity and daily health, a far different topic than fancy plate cuisines.

Last month I headed by Ferran's event with a couple of friends to talk about food, its history and the impact of molecular gastronomy on cooking, chefs, the public and the future.  During that afternoon with Ferran  I confirmed with myself that there is no better impact for the future of food than the impact of eating right, not by marketed food companies selling what does not make you healthy but what is convenient, but by what is really healthful for the body.   From snacks to breakfast lunch and dinner it is important to understand the impact of fresh food on your body.  And it only takes understanding that to want to make the time to put together or chose more healthful eating.  The Health and Science section of THE WEEK, April 18, 2014 recently highlighted an article from the Washington Post and its conclusion from The University College of London tracking 65,000 people over 12 years.  Take a look, the results are staggering.....

slightly steaming offers a lot of carrot flavors
But the real exciting impact of this study just confirms my joy of eating this fantastic Tostada de Zanahorias from a favorite local tequila spot in Chicago, Big Star.  So as they say, 'Have at It' and try your hand at constructing this fantastic Taco of Carrots: steamed carrots, peanut and arbol chile salsa, red onions, pea tendrils, queso fresco, fresh mint and cilantro.  I had to have three after an hour of pilates workout!  Flavor, texture, crisp satisfaction and energy galore! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Sometimes Fitness needs a Prize

One block at a Time!
For me sometimes staying fit every week is not all that easy.  I like to eat, love to socialize, enjoy a few cocktails, a beer or wine from any of the millions of opportunities and places to imbibe.  Combine it all and it is easy to have an off balanced body and a foggy mind that goes with it.  Exercise or being active is the key to keep the whole from being out of order. I find whether it is a half hour of stetching, a run, swim, bike a mile or even something more expansive like a sport or heading out to ride a horse, proactive health is a whole lot better than reactive wellness.  Today it's a mile run in the hood. Why and what I eat later depends on the activity. I find this simple pasta dish a great reward for running to refresh the body and burn the calories. Keep a few basic Chinese condiments on hand that will add a little variety and fun to eating. You can see from the recipe that some condiments I use that to replace the salts I lose while running as well as the meat replaces protein I burn. Last minute addition of cucumber adds that freshness!  

Tasty Pasta after a Run
1 lb ground pork
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced fine
a look at the final moment!
1 tsp ginger, minced
1 teas canola oil
1 medium tomato, cored, blanched, peeled, chopped fine
2 tsp black bean sauce
1 tbl soy sauce
1/4 cup of Shao Hsing wine, optional
1 tsp oyster sauce
1  lb pasta of your choice, cooked
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/2  peeled, diced cucumber
1 teas apple cider vinegar per bowl

Warm a 10 inch saute pan or walk to medium heat.  Add the oil, ginger and garlic.  Cook two minutes.  Add the pork and stir to coat.  Cook evenly 3-4 minutes.  Add the tomato, black bean sauce, soy, wine, oyster sauce and green onion.  Cook 3-4 minutes.

Spoon a quarter of the warm cooked pasta into a bowl.  Top with one quarter of the meat sauce, the scallions, cucumbers and 1 teaspoon per bowl of cider vinegar for a little exciting zip!  Bring a friend or two or enjoy the planned overs.....

Never Underestimate the Versatility of Tea

the tea bags about to be removed
It was Sunday yesterday, and sometimes a meal on a Sunday is a way to wind down from the weekend and wind into the week.  What I make on a Sunday completely depends on what I ate and how active I was, how late it is and how much time I want to spend making a snack or dinner.   Last night it was mind over matter.  I did not want to shop and I felt like just standing there, cutting veggies and thinking about the upcoming week. I always challenge myself to not throw out produce and it seemed like a time to create a brothy soup. But what to do for stock?  Then I realized that I had lots of great teas, so I found a tea that had a bit of robustness and simmered with with my assortment of veggies. I did not want something smoky or even green.  I wanted a touch of richness so Rooibos it was.

Next, the decision was how to add umami to this tea base Spring dish, that fifth sense of 'yummy' other than the usual salt, sour, sweet and bitter that tells your tongue and palate you are eating deliciousness you  authored! Since I was not using meat or shellfish  or meat or shellfish stocks those sources were out.  I had no open tomato paste and only limited mushrooms so that was not going to make this fabulous.  Then I remembered that carrots, sweet potatoes, edamame and a touch of soy.....enough said.  30 minutes of chop, slice, dice, simmer and plate.  Yum!

a tasty easy almost no cost meal with tea
Take a look at your frig!  I found I needed to use up a small amount of tofu, and ended dicing one half cup each celery, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, leeks, cabbage with three cloves of chopped garlic.  I made about 4 cups of the Rooibos tea with four tea bags and after peeling and cutting the beet, I simmered it gently til almost done, added the carrots for five minutes, then stirred in the cut up veg blend. Simmer, simmer 15 minutes with partial lid.  Salt, fresh ground pepper, a touch of soy, the tofu and a dash of vinegar and my one dish meal was garden to frig to table to spoon to mouth!   I got to thinking this morning that if I was in the mood for a salad I could have cut all the veggies in match sticks, then tossed with the same items, made a fantastic dressing by just warming the tea  with a touch of olive oil then tossing and re-season to taste. Either case, I easily had enough for two.  Tea, the fascinating power of tea.  Happy Monday.  The Vegetable Alchemist

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Tale of two Kales

I have always been interested in bistro styled vegetarian fare.  It's practical, generally priced favorably, colorful, flavorful and usually just hits the spot.  Usually, but not always.  I realize the body loves vegetable and plant based recipes.  However you have to get the MIND to want to say it's okay!  The key here is two fold: 1) you have to identify what exactly your body is craving when you eat as if you are smart and drill down on that inner voice, that is most times what the body needs nutritionally 'and, 2) It has to meet your taste receptors in a way that satiates so you don't walk away with you mind telling you that you are still hungry and need to eat again and again.

Its fantastic that American kitchens are trying more and more to add veggies like kale to menus and home recipes.  It is packed with vegetable protein.  But you have to understand the nature of what makes it tasty.  I always enjoy a variety of cole slaws that can come from many ingredients: kale to cabbage and other vegetables.  Important is the cut of the vegetables and the dressing that satiates.  In one picture here is perfectly cut julienne veggies with baby and coarsely chopped kale.  The deal breaker was the lemon vinaigrette that was so tart it was hard to digest the coarse chopped kale.  Even a touch of honey would have made it all more palatable as the composition was excellent, although the more mature kale could have been cut much finer .  

The second kale slaw was simply finer chopped kale but with the peanut dressing adding umami and this style of emerald kale cut finely, it definitely was the reason I ordered a second dish.  So I give you a slaw with that dressing from the 'kitchn' .  Use kale and  take the time to chop it finely so it's more tasty.  Don't over dress the greens.  Then go about trying the more colorful kale above and improve on the lemon vinaigrette with your own thoughts for umami possibly with a touch of honey and fine short strips of nori to add depth.  Happy Thursday.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Rolex fuels thoughts in creating a Fantastic Asparagus Sandwich....

Roasted Pencil Asparagus Sandwich
Well it's Friday and I'm just back from working at the Rolex in Lexington. The watch company sponsors a three day event in its own name where timing is everything. Each rider gets challenged in dressage, cross country eventing and finally jumping on the last day. That is if you are in the top group of the best clocked scores of the two previous days.  Makes me hungry just thinking it. 

Dressage: Last Minute Competition Prep
Even though today is a bit rainy and dreary in Chicago, it's Spring! I got a few hands of the the first tiny asparagus of the seasons from a Farmer's Markets on the way back. A toss with drops of EVOO, a touch of Himalayan or Sea salt with fresh pepper and I am ready.  At 5 minutes in a preset 400 degree oven lunch is on....clean, tasty and a mouthful of Spring wonderfulness in each bite!  Opps, almost forgot.  I rubbed a bit of fantastic grain bread with a touch of honey mustard just before I sandwich the pile of green gustos into the pocket.  fresh, natural and from the farm to the Vegetable Alchemist.  Eat well, stay active, have fun!