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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Spring!

Gorgeous sunny, perfect spring days in Manhattan last week. I saw Carolina Herrera dressed in her trademark chic. She walked elegantly in her suede stilettos and blond hair as she gently pulled a leash, proudly praising her black poodle for peeing near a tree. I passed her and her dog and smiled to myself. I love NY! Then I picked up my kids from school and instead of the usual protest, they welcomed me with smiles. Precious!
The breeze blew in the scent of the new blossoms crowning the trees. Their branches had been naked for many months. Overnight they are full and colorful. As a friend of mine commented one of those days: "Manhattan smells like flowers. Can you believe it?" This City tends to emit plenty of aromas, but trust me, they are rarely pleasant, so it's a time to rejoice.

Bright yellow daffodils bring sunshine to the sidewalks and, just as every year, they allow me that relieved feeling of the cold season being over.

Colorful tulips are making their entrance, and nice and springy produce is showing up at stands, markets, and who am I kidding? at Fairway.* Asparagus, artichokes, baby eggplants and rhubarb are being stocked. Organic berries slowly become more affordable. All the stores are now decorated with the Easter pastel palette and filled with chocolate, marshmallow and candy bunnies, chicks, and eggs.
And with all that spring excitement comes Passover, with its traditions, preparations and questions. In NYC, "baby's first Seder" onesies, toy plague kits, and wind-up walking matzah balls (yes, seriously) are displayed right across the pink Peep marshmallow bunnies.
Although quite "innovative," these Passover products have been outshone this year by QUINOA, which has taken the central stage of the Passover panorama. I haven't seen yet a current Passover publication in which this ancient seed of the Inca isn't mentioned. Is it allowed? Isn't it? Why, how, where? It used to be a little known grain-looking ingredient famous only among healthy-eating aficionados who praised it as a good source of vegetarian complete protein, iron and calcium. In the last 10 years, it has gained tremendous popularity, probably also due to the increase of Celiac disease diagnosis, as quinoa is gluten-free. Quinoa has gone kosherly mainstream, as some rabbinic authorities have permitted to be eaten during the 7-day Jewish holiday. Of course there are those who don't embrace it nor recommend it, but apparently it's been accepted by many. And I will definitely be preparing it.
Quinoa makes a great tabbouleh when you add to it chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint and dill, lemon juice (fresh, please) and extra virgin olive oil. I also like it with carrots, kale and lots of garlic and chiles. In general, I think it goes well with any combination of vegetables and gets great texture when served with crunchy seeds or nuts! I made the following version last week, in one of those fantastic spring days I was talking about. We enjoyed it very much, even if it wasn't Passover yet and we could have had some couscous instead.
It's full of goodness and it's a great lunch when you want to take a break from the classic heavier dishes of the Holiday.

*Due to an overwhelming credit card bill last month, I'm abstaining as much as I can from visiting that place, my favorite store, my muse, my office...

QUINOA WITH ROASTED GRAPES, SHALLOTS AND ITALIAN EGGPLANT

Serve it warm or at room temperature. Just make sure it's seasoned well before you plate it. Sometimes it needs readjustments with salt, pepper, lemon juice or honey.

  • Vegan
  • Free of: soy, dairy, wheat, gluten and eggs
  • Super ingredients: quinoa (provides complete protein, fiber, and iron), eggplant (rich in antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, vitamins, minerals and fiber), grapes (rich in phytonutrients, especially anti-aging resveratrol), lemon (vitamin C and limonoids), garlic (contains powerful phytonutrient allicin)

INGREDIENTS

1 cup quinoa (rinsed if package instructions specify to do so)
2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more for seasoning
Pinch saffron threads. optional
2 Italian (baby) eggplants (stems trimmed and cut into 3/4-in cubes. Don't peel)
1 cup seedless grapes
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, separated
1/2 cup salted pistachios, shelled (optional)
1 lemon, juice and zest
About 1 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (I used thyme)
About 1 tablespoon raw honey, or to taste
1 garlic clove, minced
Black pepper, to taste


METHODPreheat oven to 400F
Line one rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a medium pot, bring quinoa, water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and saffron to a boil. Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed and the spiral-shaped quinoa germ detaches from the seed.


While quinoa is cooking, place cubed eggplant, grapes and shallots in a bowl and add 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Toss with your hands making sure all the fruits and veggies are well oiled. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast for about 20 minutes. The eggplant will be soft and melted, and the grapes' skin might burst, but make sure they don't burn.

In a serving bowl, place cooked quinoa and fluff it with a fork. Add in roasted eggplant mix and pistachios.
Season with the remaining olive oil, add the juice and zest of the lemon, sprinkle in the herbs, swirl in the honey and add the garlic. Mix well, but gently.
Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Serves 4-6 people









Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Math of Food

Ask anyone in the education field and they would agree that cooking is a great way for children to learn mathematics. There's counting, measuring, adding, working with fractions, pattern making, etc, etc...
However, in my personal experience, the height of the arithmetical learning process doesn't occur in the kitchen, but at the table: Nothing teaches kids about numbers--and life--better than dinner time. They don't only learn how to count, they learn how to negotiate, estimate, calculate probability, make predictions and to understand the essence of the human psyche.
You might think I'm crazy (and you might be right), but I'm not wrong, as I've proved my theory over and over. I conduct the same science experiment every night and it always works. I offer my children a balanced, nutritious, wholesome dinner, made keeping in mind (mostly) their food preferences (which I might say are complete opposites between the two of them), and it always has the same result: I have to start bargaining about how many peas they still need to eat, how many more pieces of broccoli should go into their mouths, how many more spoonfuls of soup, so they can finally eat their dessert. I make an offer. They calculate, analyze, feel the territory. They add, count a bit more, subtract, and empirically discover the beauty of fractions. They give me a counter-offer. Our numbers go back and forth until we reach an agreement.
I know...this is wrong for a million reasons, and I should be in charge of stopping it: food treats should not be a prize, no negotiating should take place with kids, etc, etc. But I can't put an end to it, because if a square of chocolate, a cookie (or yes, one cherished Jellybean saved from a party favor bag) will motivate them to eat more veggies, I shouldn't oppose to them learning math in the process. Right???
The following recipe is based in one I originally found in an issue of Gourmet back in 2001. While I'm still mourning my favorite food magazine, I'm glad the recipes are still available online. So here's the link to the original version that I ended up changing a lot for this post. The one at Gourmet is a bizarre sounding combination of a soup. When you read it, it looks more like a smoothie recipe, but it's surprisingly delicious. I'm skipping the banana because my daughter cannot tolerate that fruit and she can feel it even if I disguise it in soup with curry, so I decided to experiment with parsley root. Also, I had a lonely carrot hanging out in the fridge, and I threw it in. I really liked the final result.
The soup is called "One-of-Each Soup" because it uses one of each ingredient, feel free to play around. As for the math, as long as you can count to 1 you can prepare this soup. The numbers that will follow at dinner time are up to your kids and might be harder to calculate....

ONE-OF-EACH SOUP (my version)

  • Vegan
  • Free of: eggs, nuts, seeds, eggs, dairy and soy
With a slight Indian flavor but at the same time a delicate taste, this interesting soup is good at the first spoonful and keeps getting better and better as you eat more of it. It has an interesting quality for becoming yummier at each mouthful.
With a variety of vegetables and fruits, the curry spices and the greet tea, this dish is full of vitamins, fiber and powerful antioxidants.

INGREDIENTS


  • 1 large organic potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 organic celery heart (inner pale stalks with leaves), coarsely chopped
  • 1 organic Granny Smith apple, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 parsley root*, peeled and coarsely chopped, reserving leaves for garnish
  • 1 organic carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 pint (2 cups) brewed green tea, cooled (plus more for thinning the soup if necessary)
  • 1 cup unsweetened rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish the soup
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (5.46 oz) can coconut milk
*Since parsley root is some times hard to find, you can switch it for its identical looking impersonator: parsnip.



METHOD
In a medium saucepan, bring cold brewed green tea, vegetables and apple to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, until tender.


Stir in ric and coconut milk, 1 tablespoon olive oil, curry powder, and salt and heat just until hot (do not boil).
Puree soup in a regular on immersion blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Thin soup with more green tea, if needed.
Finish soup with a swirl of olive oil and garnish with the reserved parsley leaves. 
Serve hot.

Freezes well.

Serves 4


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Homentaschen


We moved to Manhattan at the end of May. It was a sunny week back in 2000, and trying to get oriented, I walked around the neighborhood. I needed to discover the supermarket (big disappointment compared to the suburban mega stores with wide aisles, shiny floors and 243 varieties of Clorox), the bank, a place to buy produce, a kosher butcher, and whatever new interesting things all the little bodegas carried. I wanted to understand why there was a Duane Reade in each and every block and peeked in some delis to figure out what they were. I was taking in so much newness... 
Among my findings, I was surprised to see hamentaschen--those filled cookie triangles traditional of the Purim Jewish holiday--pretty much in all those shops (OK, not in the bank). I grew up knowing them as a seasonal and symbolic item, not as a mainstream NY food displayed together with black & white cookies and the iconic bagels. I guess it was one of my first "only in NY moments." 
Last Sunday, my friend Nancy Wolfson-Moche of "you are because you eat," invited me to teach with her a michloach manot workshop for children at her studio. These food packages, which are traditionally gifted in the Purim holiday usually contain hamentaschen. The food baskets are given to family, friends, and there's a priority to gift them to people in need, either financial or in need of a hug. It brings a bit of the festive spirit into everyone's life.
Some send lavish baskets full of bells, whistles and tissue paper, but I love making them with my kids simply using paper bags, markers, stickers and ribbon.
We all had a great time baking the hamentaschen and decorating the boxes at the workshop. It was a really fun day. 
The kids were incredibly proud and a scent of accomplishment and warm cookies perfumed the air. Of course, some hamentaschen broke, others burnt, some overflowed, but others were perfect, and all were delicious.

I created the following recipe especially for the occasion, but it's such an easy, tasty and wholesome one that I needed to share it with you. I know there's not much time, but trust me, they are really quick to whip up. Try them out for Purim, or do the NY thing and bake them any day of the year.  

HAMENTASCHEN

Dough
INGREDIENTS:          
1/2 cup (125 grams) pure maple syrup
1/2 cup (120 grams) extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons (8 grams) (measured before ground) chia seeds, ground
3 cups (300 grams) gluten free whole oat flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
METHOD:
Mix maple syrup, oil, vanilla and ground chia in a large bowl by hand with a spatula. Add in oat flour and salt and mix until the dough forms.

Portion dough into 3 pieces and wrap separately in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 1/2 hour.

Berry filling

INGREDIENTS
1 cup frozen organic blackberries or raspberries, thawed
2 tablespoons chia seeds, whole
2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
Juice of 1/2 lemon
METHOD
In a 16-oz measuring cup, place berries, chia, maple syrup and lemon juice and crush with a fork. The mixture should be very chunky.
Let set for about 20 minutes.

Shaping and Baking
While dough chills and filling sets, preheat oven to 350 F.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Roll out dough in between 2 layers of plastic wrap to a 1/4 or 1/2-inch thickness.

Remove top plastic and cut dough into circles (about 2.5-inch diameter) with a cup or a cookie cutter.

Place about 3/4 teaspoon filling in the center of the circle and pinch sides forming a triangle.


Bake for about 15 minutes, until dough looks drier and firmer to the touch (be careful when touching!).
Let cool and package or serve.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Happy Purim!