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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Dairy Diary

Well, the weather in New York this week hasn't been that great. It's been raining, the streets are full of puddles, there's a lot of humidity (therefore, my makeup turns into fat drops of the color I use to disguise my lack of natural epidermic pigment, and I constantly look like a clown after his circus performance, but that's another story). If all that complaining weren't enough, you have to watch out for self-centered umbrella holders at every step, so you don't end up with your eyes poked of completely beheaded.
Despite the cloudy days, I tend to love this time of the year (if it weren't obvious by my description above!). Especially this week, when the Jewish holiday of Shavuot is taking place. It's my favorite! It's the celebration of receiving the greatest of gifts and it's commemorated with dairy-based foods. I've already said how I feel about ice cream, but read this if you need me to refresh your memory. I LOOOOVE ice cream!
There's also cheesecake, and in my opinion there's no better recipe than this one.
True, I don't have anything new or tastier to offer you to compete with some of those delicious gelatos and ice creams in the market, nor with that Gourmet cheesecake I linked above. But what I do have to share, are some suggestions to use amazing dairy products in different ways. They are not as indulgent as a tube of mascarpone with 5 pounds of sugar, but they are delicious, innovative and very healthy.
Following up with my last post about immunity-boosting foods, I mentioned kefir. Kefir is a yogurt-like fermented drink traditionally made of cow, sheep or goat's milk cultured with various strains of healthy bacteria and yeast. The result is a super healthy product full of probiotics, calcium, vitamin D and protein. My son is completely addicted, to the point of my concern, as the Easter-European transplanted beverage is the very center of his diet. But thankfully, he's growing, running and coming up with mischief, so our pediatrician isn't worried.
We've been drinking kefir for many years already, but last week, while recovering from the food poisoning case, I decided I needed some extra probiotic help to try to restore whatever was lost in the process. I didn't want to go for cow's milk kefir, as I thought it could have been too much for my delicate gut at that point, so I opted for plain goat's milk kefir. There are water, coconut milk and other types of kefir, but I'm not the biggest fan of their taste, so I stayed within the original concept.
Goat milk is easier to assimilate than cow's milk. Despite scientific research and different theories, the exact reason for that is still unknown, but it is a fact that many people who can't tolerate cow's milk due to sensitivities or allergies, can drink goat's milk without any problems. I went for it and felt great, and then, just in time for Shavuot, I started coming up with a couple of ideas to keep using goat's milk products. 
You can use goat or cow's milk kefir. No need to go crazy if you can't find goat's, unless you have difficulty digesting cow's milk.
Goats are a more sustainable source of dairy than cows, goat's milk doesn't have to be homogenized (so less processing) like cow's milk, and since they are becoming the old-new "it" guys, let's enjoy and benefit from their milk, just as our ancestors did in Biblical times...
Here we go (I apologize in advance for any mistakes, as I'm trying to hurry to get you these recipes on time in case you want to make them this weekend):

GREEN CHILLED SOUP WITH KEFIR

Ultra creamy, with a mild and very refreshing flavor, this soup is full of nutrients from all the fruits (yes avocado is a fruit) and the kefir.
It's easy and quick to make and perfect for warm days.

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegetarian (contains dairy)
  • Free of: soy, eggs, nuts, wheat and gluten
1 honeydew melon, peeled, seeded and cut into 1.5inch cubes
2 avocados, halved and pits removed
3 limes, zested and juiced
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves, rinsed and patted dry
1 cup plain goat's milk kefir
sea salt and black pepper to taste

METHOD
Reserve 1 cup cubed melon for garnish and place the rest in a food processor or blender.
Puree honeydew, avocados, lime juice and zest, and mint leaves (reserve 1 or 2 large leaves for garnish, if desired).
Once soup is completely smooth, add kefir and mix until blended.
Chill for a couple of hours and ladle into bowls and garnish with cubed melon, torn mint leaves and a dollop of kefir.
Serve.

Makes 8-10 portions


WATERMELON-NECTARINE SALAD WITH FETA

Use goat feta if you find it, otherwise, sheep or cow's milk feta work fine. The briny-salty taste of the cheese goes amazingly well with the crunchiness and sweetness of watermelon. The lavender gives it a lovely floral-minty touch.
This is a great salad by itself or delicious atop of pan-seared fish.

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegetarian (contains dairy)
  • Free of: soy, eggs, nuts, wheat and gluten
2 cups watermelon, peeled and cubed into bite-size pieces
2 small organic nectarines, pitted and cubed
2 plum tomatoes, cubed
12 large basil leaves, or to taste, torn into small pieces
juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
a drizzle of raw honey (about 1 tablespoon, or to taste)
1 teaspoon culinary grade dried lavender
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD
Gently mix watermelon, nectarines, tomatoes and basil in a serving bowl. Squeeze lime juice and sprinkle feta cheese.
Drizzle with honey, sprinkle lavender, rubbing it between your fingers to grind it. Grind fresh black pepper on top, to taste.
Let the flavors mingle together for about 1/2 hour and serve or scoop over fish fillets.
Enjoy!
Serves 6

KEFIR-CHIA PUDDING ON POLENTA WITH ROASTED STRAWBERRIES

This tangy, slightly sweet and multi-textured dish makes a great light dessert. Looks really pretty made in individual ramekins and it's incredibly simple to prepare. Don't be fooled by the steps involved, they are fast and easy. Just plan ahead, as the kefir-chia pudding needs to set for about 8 hours to get nice and thick, but it doesn't need any attention while it happens.
NOTE: I use (and strongly recommend)"de la Estancia" brand organic polenta, because it's ready in 1 minute, although it's not an instant product; it's made without GMO corn and it's delicious. I've seen it in a couple of stores lately.

INGREDIENTS
Pudding
1 cup plain goat's milk kefir
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons raw honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Polenta
1 cup water
1/2 cup goat's milk
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup de la Estancia polenta

Roasted Strawberries
8 ounces organic strawberries, stems removed, and halved
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon honey

METHOD
Pudding
At least 8 hours before assembling dessert (or overnight), whisk in a medium bowl the kefir, chia, honey and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Polenta
In a small saucepan, bring water, milk, honey, salt and vanilla to a simmer over medium heat.

Add polenta in a thin stream, whisking the mix with your other hand. Continue whisking for 1 minute, until polenta separates from the sides of the pan.

Remove from heat.
Place about 2 tablespoons of prepared polenta into each of 6 individual ramekins. Flatten with the back of a spoon and let cool.


Roasted Strawberries
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper.
Cover strawberries evenly with oil, balsamic and honey. Spread on one layer in the prepared pan.

Roast until soft and a syrup forms with their juices, the oil, vinegar and honey. About 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and let cool.

How it comes together
Just top polenta ramekins with some dollops of kefir-chia pudding and place a couple of strawberries on top of pudding.
Don't forget to add some of the juices, They are the best part!




Makes 6 portions.






  • Vegetarian (contains dairy)
  • Free of: soy, eggs, nuts, wheat and gluten

Monday, May 21, 2012

Immunity

Well, just to corroborate the very deep philosophy discussed in my last post, something else happened to me twice during the week (nope, no wrong buses, missed appointments nor olive oil cake): I got pretty sick at the beginning of the week, and once I felt fine, I caught something else by the weekend (yes, that's why you hadn't heard from me...).
The first session was food poisoning, and both, my husband and I got the bug. I suspect it was the filling of our bagel store sandwiches. Thankfully, kids were safe, as they opted for what ended up being a very healthy slice of pizza, given the state of their parents 4 hours post lunch...
I'm sure you're dying to learn the details and intricacies of our adventure, but sorry, we'll keep those precious memories to ourselves...
Two days later, as my body had apparently recovered completely and I was eating normal (well, yes, my crazy foods, but normally...), I caught a respiratory infection that shoot me straight back into bed. It wasn't anything really serious, which I'm thankful for, but I felt achy, whiny, exhausted and completely depleted of livelihood. The doctor ended up prescribing antibiotics, which worked their magic, even if I usually use them as a last resort.
I think my immune system was a bit off after the food poisoning episode, and that's why the infection became so aggressive. The lovely week served me as inspiration, as these days, I've been putting all my culinary energy into immunity-enhancing foods.
Of course I had my fail-proof chicken soup, there's no scientific question about its effectiveness. But there are other foods that are great to prevent and fight disease, and those are the ones I will be cooking with for the weeks to come.
Basically, our immune system gets a boost with certain nutrients, such as vitamins A, C, D and E and minerals like zinc. There are also compounds, such as glutamine and glutathione, curcumin, allicin and many other phytochemicals that can help us prevent and fight disease through many different mechanisms. The main secret is to eat all of them, as their characteristics synergize, and that's when cooking does its magic. Some ingredients may have substances that make other ingredients' nutrients more available, or they may complement it. And that's when consuming real foods as opposed to supplements makes a huge difference. 
Experts suggest different foods, but there are some that have been proven over and over to help keep our bodies stay free of illness or get rid of them faster.
As I mentioned above, chicken soup is definitely one of them, zinc rich foods: meats, asparagus, mushrooms, sesame and pumpkin seeds are great sources of this mineral, which are necessary for the production of white blood cells, our body's army against virus, bacteria and other invaders. 
Garlic (especially raw, is the best source of phytochemical super star allicin), tea (either green or black, contains an amino acid that stimulates the production of virus-fighting compounds), orange-colored vegetables and fruits (rich in beta carotene, which transforms into vitamin A. This vitamin is indispensable to keep skin healthy, and skin is the first defense-barrier of our bodies. Carrots, squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe are great sources of the nutrient). Mushrooms, besides being a great source of zinc, mushrooms increase production and activity of white blood cells, especially Asian mushrooms such as shiitake and maitake. Oats and barley contain beta-glucan, a specific type of fiber that has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Sardines and other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon and mackerel) are anti-inflammatory and can increase airflow and protect our lungs from respiratory infections. Fresh fruits and vegetables are great sources of disease fighting phytochemicals and antioxidants such as vitamin C. Herbs and spices, besides adding lots of flavor, are great concentrated sources of immune-strenghtening substances, such as curcumin in turmeric, capsaicin in peppers, gingerol and shoagol in ginger, and  phenolic acids and flavonoids in oregano and thyme, among many others.
Last, but not least, fermented foods are the best sources of PROBIOTICS, which are live active organisms (such as healthy yeast and bacteria) that keep our intestinal tract free of germs that cause disease. Yogurt (beware of "yogurt" products that are really more dessert than yogurt), kefir, kombucha, kimchi and sauerkraut with "live active cultures" are great additions into our diet to help prevent disease (more on those next post).

FRIED BARLEY WITH ASIAN MUSHROOMS
This recipe was obviously inspired by Chinese fried rice. I used very little oil, lots of in-season vegetables, especially Asian mushrooms, to take advantage of all their goodness (both nutritional and umami), and cooked barley instead of rice, to benefit from the beta-glucan in the grain. The egg, which is optional, adds some protein and a nice variety of vitamins and minerals. I sliced the garlic and cooked it all very fast over high heat to try to keep as much allicin as possible (this compound is sensitive to temperature, so it's better to eat it as raw as possible). It ended up being very flavorful, comforting and hopefully, our immune system will be super strong now...
This recipe serves 2, but by all means, scale it for as many people you want.
To cook barley, just simmer 1 cup barley (I only found pearled barley, but buy the unrefined kind if you can) in 3 cups water for 1 1/4 hours.  

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegetarian (contains eggs, soy and gluten), nut, wheat and dairy free
  • Full of immune-boosting super ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 large organic egg, lightly beaten (optional)
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced (organic)
1 (2-inch long) piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 small (or 1 large) organic carrots, diced
7 asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch long pieces
7 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and cut into quarters
3.5 ounces maitake mushrooms, tough stem removed
2 cups cooked barley
Soy or tamari sauce, to taste

PROCEDURE
Drizzle 2 teaspoons of oil on a heavy 10-inch saucepan or wok and place over high heat. Once oil is hot, add egg and cook until set, about 1 minute. Transfer egg to a plate and slice it it while garlic and ginger cook.

Add 2 more teaspoons of oil and stir fry the garlic and ginger until golden, but not browned, about 1 minute. Add in carrots, asparagus and mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes, until mushrooms soften a bit, adding more oil if needed.

Add in barley and stir fry it with the vegetables for 1 minute. Return cooked egg into pan and add 2 teaspoons soy sauce. Taste and add more if needed.


Serve or let cool and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

Serves 2.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Everything Happens Twice...

Back in University, a classmate once told me that often, random events happen twice in a short amount of time. For example, you bump into someone you haven't seen in a while, twice in the same week. And for some reason that got stuck in my head (I wished I'd kept more valuable information, but well, at least there's something I remember from my youth!). And I tend to think about it often. Especially when things happen twice...
During my semester at Tel-Aviv University (and before I'd met the authoress of the above-mentioned theory), many, many years ago, I got into the wrong bus twice during the same week. The first time, not knowing what to do, I waited until the last stop and even this day, I have no idea where I ended up being. The driver told me he was done for the day, parked the bus and left. I didn't know what I was supposed to do. It was dark, empty and I realized I was completely alone and no one knew where I was. I was lost. I felt the tingling in my eyes as I was about to cry. I then realized I couldn't afford the tears. I needed myself in there. Weeping wasn't going to do anything for me. I grew up a bit that night...Eventually, I found a cab after an hour and a half. I almost kissed the driver who agreed to take me all the way back into the city. That same week, despite the previous experience, I managed to get in the wrong bus again. First, I denied it to myself. It couldn't happen twice, and especially after just having gone through it! I couldn't be that dumb, could I? So I wasted more time and more stops in the wrong direction pretending it was all in my imagination. Then I faced the truth, got off and made my way back full of shame.
The other day in my yoga class, a woman was telling how twice that week, she had showed up the wrong day at her doctors' appointments. One of those times she waited to be called in for two hours, until she realized she wasn't going to be called in until the following week. I felt so bad for her (I could relate, as I recently showed up the wrong day to see my ophthalmologist, but only once). A couple of hours later, that SAME day, I arrived to my childrens' school for "security patrol" duty.
I signed in, got a walkie talkie and a neon orange net vest. With all the gear and the responsibility on, I started followed the assigned route. Phew...after an hour of walking around on alert, looking for anything suspicious, my job was done. It was over now, until next year. I came back to the security guard to return the equipment and he sweetly told me: "you might get a laugh about this, but..." (he was smartly preparing me so I wouldn't cry instead), "your patrol isn't scheduled until next month." 
So now, the showing up on the wrong date happened twice the same day and now I'll have to show up for patrol twice within a month.
But don't feel bad. It's not all sad and bitter. There are also some sweet things that happen twice within a short span.
One Friday morning I started craving rosemary-olive oil cake like a madwoman (nope, not pregnant). It had been a while since I had last baked it. I would usually use Mario Battali's delicious recipe from his Babbo cookbook (here's a link to the recipe). However, this time I wanted something denser and moister (I know I sound like a maniac, but for some reason I really wanted that cake). I stopped at the store right after school drop off and bought some fresh rosemary, even if I knew I wouldn't be able to figure out a recipe and actually bake it that day. I had guests coming over the next day and I still had a lot to cook...
That afternoon, I brought the kids over to my friend T's for a play date. She was having company that evening and had a cake in a covered pedestal crowning her table. I peeked in and she said it was her olive oil cake. Ahhhhh! Twice in a day!!! "It's really easy to make," she assured me. "It's like a pound cake, but I make it with olive oil." She printed me her recipe and when we got home, I chopped my rosemary, prepared the rest of the ingredients and substituted for whatever I didn't have. I just used a bowl and a whisk. After an hour in the oven (and while finishing up the remaining lunch items for the next day), both my daughter and I dug in (on Sunday she gulped down a total of 3 slices for breakfast...). Satisfying that craving felt like putting down a fire. It was sweet, and twice in the same weekend...
It happens, that maybe that particular cake craving, was a very wise way of my body finding a solution to all my twice-repeated stupidity. According to whfoods.org (one of my very favorite nutrition-ingredient websites), "rosemary contains substances that are useful for stimulating the immune system, increasing circulation, and improving digestion." And...not only that, as the pine-scented herb was used in "ancient Greece by students, who would place rosemary sprigs in their hair when studying for exams." In those days, rosemary was thought to stimulate and strengthen memory. They seem to have been up to something, as modern research has shown rosemary "to increase the blood flow to the head and brain, improving concentration." How's that? Maybe if I eat rosemary twice a week, I might not have to go through all those duplicate humiliating and time-consuming events anymore!

ROSEMARY-OLIVE OIL CAKE (inspired by T's, although a bit modified...I just can't help it)

You can use the lemons and the left-over rosemary to season chicken, fish or pasta, and then you'll use the same ingredients TWICE in one day.

INGREDIENTS
  • Vegetarian (contains eggs and honey)
  • Free of: refined flour nor refined sugar, wheat, dairy, soy and nuts
  • NOTE: substitute spelt for gluten free flour mix if needed. Or substitute eggs for 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons ground chia mixed with 1 1/2 cups of water, if desired.
  • I used orange blossom honey to keep it going with the citrus flavor.

3 jumbo (or 4 large) ORGANIC eggs
3/4 cup (5 oz) extra virgin olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
2/3 cup (6.5 oz) orange blossom honey
1 1/3 cup (5.5 oz) whole spelt flour
1 1/4 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/3 cup (4.5 oz) unsweetened apple sauce (or orange juice)
1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
zest of 2 lemons

METHOD
Preheat oven to 325 F. Oil a 9-inch round baking pan, and cover bottom with parchment paper (I used a Bundt pan, but I DO NOT recommend it, as the cake got completely stuck to it). Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and honey until mixed.

Add in spelt flour, baking powder and salt and whisk until incorporated.


Pour in apple sauce (or juice) and sprinkle in rosemary and lemon zest. Whisk a couple of times until rosemary is evenly distributed in the batter.


Pour into prepared pan and bake for 40-60 minutes. Cake is ready when it bounces back when gently pressed in the middle or once a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the middle of the cake.

Don't even think of using this kind of mold. This is how it stayed until I had to butcher it!

 Let cool for about 10 minutes and un-mold.
Let cool completely and serve.
Cake freezes really well for up to 1 month if double wrapped in plastic.

Serves 6-8

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Having issues

I have issues. My husband has issues. Issues and issues of old and current magazines, which means, that we have issues. Our issues combine food magazines, Brazilian news, financial research, fashion, reviews, gossip (yes, those are mine, as my husband does not have those issues), and others. Yes, we do have serious hoarding issues of something that would be easier and faster to find online than under the piles of glossy printed paper, but it's really hard to detach from all those things that deep inside we know we'll never get to read or learn.
Their accumulation shows us how time passes by and how it's impossible to ever catch up. We have to admit that they are in the past, and that is a difficult task. Letting things, people or events go is painful.
However I'm proud to report that recently, the Spring Cleaning Bug bit me, and for the first time in my twenty-something years of life (OK, add 10 or 15 to that), I've felt the urge to organize our home. I went crazy at the Container Store believing each and every one of their organizational promises. And little by little, those issues have been making their way into the recycling bin. Ahhhh it feels good (and quite unique, in my unaccustomed case)!
It must be the magic of spring and that hope of renewal and growth... And although I still have a long way until I'm finished (maybe next Spring I'll get the fever again?), I'm hoping I can grow the habit inside me. At least, I'm in the right season to grow something, right? (and with my black, decrepit thumb, I'm sure it won't be plants)...
Along with my spring organizing (that might be gone by tomorrow even if now I'm stating that I'll keep it up), I've been enjoying other seasonal gifts: the amazing sprouts, micro greens, blooms and shoots that have made an entrance into the markets.
I'd have to say that our favorites so far, have been the ramps that I first got at Union Square, and later found at freshdirect.com. It was nice to buy them online to avoid elbowing my way through the chefs buying them in the hundreds at the farmers' market.
Ramps are members of the allium family (the onion, leek, garlic, scallion, shallot and chive clan). They are an early spring vegetable, with a very short season (so hurry up and buy some. You won't regret it!). They are also known as wild leeks or wild garlic.
Their flavor is a combination of onion and garlic, but despite their strong taste, there's something delicate in them. Their bulb makes them look exactly like scallions, but their soft green leaves at the end of their stems make them easy to distinguish (they look like as if scallions were mermaids). With the exception of the hairy-looking things (roots) at the top of the bulb, the whole thing is edible.
I've been roasting them, and we've been devouring them. I've served them atop of lentils, pasta and mixed with other roasted vegetables (asparagus, mushrooms, eggplant, zucchini), or you can use ramps in place of onions or garlic in any recipe.  Add them raw to salads or cook them into soups.
Like the rest of the stinky allium dynasty, ramps are a great source of heart-friendly allicin (although this compound decreases in concentration with heat, so go ahead and munch on them raw if you want to take maximum advantage of the phytochemical).
Ramps are also rich in vitamins A and E, antioxidant nutrients necessary for healthy teeth, skin, bones, and immune and reproductive systems. Ramps, and alliums, in general, also provide minerals like manganese, iron and chromium, which participate in the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates.

My advice: RRUUNN to your closest green market, specialty store or if you are in the NY area, just freshdirect them. I'm so nice, that I'm adding their link to save you time and effort!!

ROASTED RAMPS
Too simple, and too delicious. Unfortunately, just like our magazine issues, ramps are time-sensitive, so try to catch up today, or just like the present, they fade soon.
Ramps are delicate, so there's no need to turn them into  carnival queens with seasonings.

INGREDIENTS
1 bunch ramps (approx
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
fine sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
Wash ramps and cut off the bulb filaments, and if necessary, peel with your fingers a layer or too from the white parts.

Place ramps on prepared sheet and drizzle them with oil.

Mix with your hands so all of them are covered evenly.



Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for 20 minutes, until you can hear the leaves sizzling in the heat and they brown and caramelize.


Attack!!!