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Friday, June 15, 2012

Just like Thelma and Louise or Thank You T

The following, is a true story. Just like the classic film Thelma and Louise, it's a heartfelt adventure about friendship, two chicks on the road going through deep life experiences, and an unexpected ending (although no Brad Pitt debut here).

It all started when after 12 years of residing in NYC, and never having driven the Manhattan streets, I finally decided it was time for emancipation and I signed up for zipcar, a car rental service. It wasn't that I was dying to drive, as I love walking in the City and not having a car, but I was hired to teach a baking class in New Jersey and other form of transportation just wouldn't do.
My very loyal, supportive and wonderful friend T--a Jersey girl herself-- offered to copilot my adventure, as she knew I was a rookie (and a bit of an idiot). 

For the first time in my life, I was packed and completely organized on time. Ingredients, recipe print outs, utensils, cookie dough: check, check, check. I got in the car, and drove through First Avenue. "Look at me, look at me," I thought, giving myself an imaginary pat on the back.

I picked T up and we were on our way. We hit lots of traffic when trying to get to the George Washington Bridge. It was pouring, and you know how that goes: more drops=more time stuck in the FDR. It kept raining when we finally passed the broken car causing the bottle neck. I felt really sorry for its driver, but so relieved for myself (one more reason I don't like driving)!

Suddenly, the rain stopped and a blinding sunshine appeared. Hard to drive with so much brightness, but as T and I complained about the light, she spotted a whole arch rainbow. Side to side. It was incredible. Gorgeous.
I kept driving. We passed the toll and I was in awe as I learned the car had its own EZPass. How wonderful! Then we took the wrong exit. I was so glad I wasn't there all by myself...After some turns, T got us back on track. "You are never lost when you are in the car," T quoted her father Z"L. Where was she when I was getting LOST in my CAR in the unsignalized streets of Mexico City when I was 18? That would have given me strength!

We were running a bit late, but we were almost there. We found the main road of the town, we just had to make a turn in Little Meadow Ave (OK I made the name up to protect the real avenue's privacy). Voila! We found the number. Although it didn't look exactly as we pictured the neighbourhood would be. We entered the driveway of the house (well, I kinda drove over its front yard a bit) and a couple smoking right outside the door kept watching our every move. It was all very suspicious...As I was about to park, the owner approached us with a big "WHAT A????" look on his face. T lowered the window and I explained I was teaching a healthy/vegan baking class in his house for his synagogue's sisterhood.

Nope. Nothing made any sense. Finally, he realized we needed to go to North Little Meadow Ave, and his property was actually located on South Little Meadow Ave. He directed us back to the main road and then to the right location.

When we found the right house, T and I breathed with relief. We parked, carried my million ton weighing bags and rang the bell. A very nice lady opened the door. I introduced myself and as I was trying to make my way into her home, she seemed as confused as the people at South Little Meadow Ave. I didn't understand what was going on either. It seemed like a bad dream. Finally, the lady asked me if I was teaching the healthy/vegan baking class NEXT WEEK. I first thought it was a joke. Then I felt as if a bucket of boiling hot, but frozen water had fallen on my head. I turned to look at T. She was livid and more confused than anyone else. I didn't know what to say. Next week's hostess was incredibly nice, allowed us to leave some of the bags in there and pay a visit to the WC. As we got into the car I was so ashamed that I almost cried.
I don't really understand why T is still being my friend, but she was incredible. Right on the spot, in the sweetest of manners she offered to come back with me the next week, when the actual class was taking place.

I felt like a total looser, and the least I could do was treat her to dinner. After the 4 hour ordeal we got back to the City and went for Asian fusion on the Upper West Side.

Our luck began to change. We found a parking spot right next to the restaurant. With no reservation, we entered. First they sat us at the bar, as there were no tables available. In two minutes, the host was back mentioning that there was a cancellation and he offered us a table.
Famished, we ordered dinner in my favorite way: lots of appetizers and side dishes, no entree and a big dessert.
It was all very nice. Then, after we tried to distract ourselves from the really bad first date seating right next to us, I realized I had forgotten to check if there was a meter near our parking spot. I left the table in a hurry and ran to the car. Yes. There was a muni-meter right there and I had ignored it. Freaking out and cursing inside I just thought that night couldn't have been worse. How many mistakes could a person make in the span of 4 hours? My husband would decide to lock me in our room for the rest of my life due to my incompetence and for ever thinking I was capable of doing anything right. How would I explain him a ticket (besides everything else)? As I looked for the paper stating how much I owed, I couldn't find anything. OMG!!!! Thank You!!! No ticket. Phewwwww!!! I fed the meter, placed the receipt inside the car on the driver's window side (as the instructions state. This time I was super careful) and went back to T and the a chocolate passion fruit dessert we had ordered. I dropped her off in her apartment and drove home.
I was terrified to tell my husband about the night's escapades. As he saw how overwhelmed I was, he listened, gave me a hug and cracked up. The laughter felt sooooo good!

T: This eggplant recipe is for you! You are an amazing friend. Thank you so much for being my cheerleader, manager, human GPS, advisor, shrink, sous chef, personalized calendar and for believing in me. Anyone else would have left me melting down in the Jersey Shore last summer!!!

Now, back to the recipe: we had a similar dish at the restaurant that night, and I told T I would work on a miso-glazed eggplant for the blog to commemorate the day. A nice glass of sake goes well with this. A toast for my empty brain!
Cheers!

MISO GLAZED EGGPLANT


Besides their high fiber content, the presence of minerals and vitamins and their low calorie density, eggplants also contain important phytonutrients. Many of those plant-derived substances, work as antioxidants, fighting the effects of free radicals in our cells, which help us protect our bodies from diseases such as cancer and heart conditions.
The antioxidants present in eggplant are mostly phenolic compounds and flavonoids. Among the latter is nasunin, a very potent antioxidant found in eggplant skins, so don't discard that part!  
However, if you suffer from diseases such as arthritis, gastro esophogal reflux, eczema, cystitis, lupus or psoriasis, it might be a good idea to stay away from eggplant, as well as from the other members of the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, chili peppers and tobacco), as they ALL posse an active substance that might worsen the symptoms of these diseases.  


INGREDIENTS
  • Vegan
  • Free of: gluten, dairy, eggs, wheat, nuts
  • Contains: soy and sesame seeds
3.5 ounces (6 tablespoons) white miso*
3 tablespoons brown rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
A couple of drops of toasted sesame oil
3 Italian (baby) eggplants
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

*A paste made out of fermented soybeans and rice. Can be found at most health food stores in the refrigerator section.

METHOD
Preheat oven to 500 F.

In a medium bowl, whisk together miso, vinegar, water, maple syrup and a few drops (about 7) of sesame oil. Set aside.


Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut eggplants lengthwise in half (leave the stalks on for presentation, but DON'T eat them) and with a knife, make a few (2 or 3) diagonal slits on the eggplant's flesh. Don't cut through the skin. Repeat at an angle to get a diamond pattern.

Arrange eggplants, cut sides up in the prepared pan. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of each (use 1 tablespoons oil total).

Bake on the lower third of the oven for about 7-9 minutes, until the brown a bit and look softer.

Brush eggplant's flesh with half the prepared miso sauce (about 1 teaspoon sauce each). Bake again for 5 more minutes.

Brush in the rest of the glaze and sprinkle sesame seeds on each top. Rotate baking pan (don't turn eggplants over) and bake for about 5 more minutes. The eggplant should be soft and the glaze golden brown.


Serve!

Makes 6 portions.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sweet and Simple...

I turned 37 last weekend, and I've been having birthday issues for many years already.
Lots of mixed fillings. On that day, I miss my childhood friends and I miss childhood itself. I miss my family and I feel a lot of nostalgia for the idealized version of happy-birthdays-to-me (and happiness in general) stock in my head.
I don't make a big fuzz about celebrating the addition of an extra year to my life, but it does hit me, even if I try to repress it as much as I can.
However, this year I had a lovely, simple and revealing day. It was perfect without perfection. No big things, just lots of fulfilling, low-key happiness.
First of all, my husband responded to my son's demand for yogurt at the crack of dawn, and gave me the marvelous gift of sleeping-till-late. Later, both kids and husband woke me up singing "happy birthday." My kids were so excited about the date, that they passed the emotion on to me.
We then went to the kitchen and I rinsed some cherries. The first ones I've bought this season.
We sat at the table to bite into the jewel-like stemmed spheres. As our fingers got stained with the deep reddish purple of the fruit's juice; we talked, smiled, enjoyed, savored and chewed. Aren't cherries the most perfect of fruits???? Suddenly, a feeling of full happiness invaded me.

"These are my kids," I thought, and I feel so thankful for them, and for the family I now have. Yes, I miss the past (selectively, as I'm thrilled many things are gone, like puberty, braces, a skin growth on the tip of my nose that made kids call me names and make fun of me, or my parents' separation. But I do miss birthday slumber parties, staying up all night giggling and being silly).
Maybe that's the exact purpose of birthdays... but if savoring cherries and the present with my family weren't enough, my husband and I escaped for a couple of hours to my favorite NY spot: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was the perfect date. The two of us, the Steins' collection, and those vibrant Matisse's made me realize how, despite lots of things that go wrong, my life is as intense and full color as I could have ever asked for.
And...it's cherry season! Those delicious morsels of sweet, tart, meaty juiciness are finally back!!!

If you've been following this blog for some time, you know I do have a bunch of favorites, but if I had to choose, if anyone ever asked, forced, coerced me into picking my #1, I would say cherries. They definitely are my most favorite fruit. Do use the same frase every post???
However, I'd have to say, I find it sad to use them as a cooking ingredient. Not because I don't appreciate their nutritional attributes, such as their high potassium content (a great blood-pressure reducer), or their excellent concentration of phytochemicals like querecetin (an antioxidant that helps control blood pressure), beta carotene, vitamin C and anthocyanins (antioxidants that together, might work fighting and/or preventing cancer). Cherries also help reduce inflammation, they are one of the only food sources of sleep-regulating melatonin, and it's been suggested that their anthocyanins may help decrease fat storage in our bodies. The darker the cherries' skins, the higher the antioxidant concentration. But it truly is because all this goodness, their texture and their sophisticated sweet, tart and mildly fruity flavor that I don't like cooking with them. I don't even like pitting them, as their plumpness gets lost. If I have cherries, I just want to eat them as they are; unaltered.
If I were cooking or baking with them, I wouldn't be able to resist. The dish would never be ready, as I would inhale the bite-sized gems right during prep time.



I guess I can't give you a recipe for how to eat fresh cherries, which by the way, are the most nutritious, as their vitamin C content decreases (or disappears) with the application of heat. However, I can give you a very tasty recipe for a sauce to serve atop of meat.
It's BBQ season already, and although my husband will NEVER be found commanding a grill, he'll always be right next to it, with a plate in hand, ready to get the first steak. So, he'll love me for serving him this dish tonight (although it'll be roasted, not grilled). I'm not a big carnivore, but red meat saves my marriage, as he could have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once in a while it's a great source of iron and protein.


LONDON BROIL WITH CHERRY SAUCE
To avoid any temptation to devour the cherries (and save myself and you a nice amount of work), I use frozen pitted ones. Cherries are in the "dirty dozen," food list of the highest pesticized produce, so pick a bag of organic cherries in the freezer section if you can find them.


INGREDIENTS

MEAT:
1 1/2 pounds London broil
5 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
5 or 6 thyme sprigs
sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

CHERRY SAUCE
1 (10 ounce) package frozen pitted sweet cherries
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons white miso paste
1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
3 thyme sprigs
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

METHOD

MEAT:
In a roasting pan, place London broil and season it with salt and pepper on both sides. With a pairing knife, cut 5 slits (about 3/4-inch long) along the meat and place garlic cloves inside them.

Drizzle vinegar and oil over the meat and place thyme on top. Cover with foil and marinate in refrigerator overnight or for at least 4 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 F and roast meat uncovered for about 30 minutes, then cover and cook for another 30 minutes (but beware that time will depend on the thickness of the meat).
Pour cherry sauce on the meat just as it comes out of the oven. Serve.
 
 
CHERRY SAUCE
In a small saucepan, bring frozen cherries, vinegar, miso, garlic, thyme and a bit of pepper to a boil over medium heat.

Lower flame and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until it thickens a bit. Remove thyme sprigs and mash the cherries slightly with a spatula or wooden spoon. Taste for seasoning (miso is usually salty enough to forgo any salt, but you might have to adjust).

Pour salt on cooked London broil and serve.

Sauce can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

Serves 4 people

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ode to Garbanzos

Do you know how sometimes you meet someone and at the beginning you don't think much of him, and as you get to know her better you realize how fabulous the person is?
At some point, you can't seem to think of life without them.
And if that weren't enough, they keep surprising you even more. Your admiration never seems to end.

Well, that's my love story with chickpeas.

Yes, I have some other favorites. It's no secret how fascinating I find chia to be, how much I enjoy ice cream, how I choose dates instead of other sweeteners whenever I can, how much I love Mexican mangoes or raw honey. But I hold a special place in my heart (and my whole digestive tract) for the humble garbanzo.
I don't remember the first time I tried the chick-beaked bean (yes! that's where its name comes from), as I'm sure it was during my early childhood. It was always there, just like in a romantic novel, I kind of ignored it until it proved its magnificence, and then I couldn't go back.

Chickpeas are discrete. They don't care about being the center of attention, but they are always supportive of other ingredients, complementing them on their qualities. From garlic, to chocolate to curry to fresh herbs, chickpeas are always a great match. Savory or sweet, hot or cold, mashed or whole, at any season, for breakfast, snack, lunch or dinner, they can always be there to help, even in the convenience of a can. They might not sport fancy "super food" signs on their packaging, nor the prices commanded by such products, but they are precious.
Just like all legumes, garbanzos are rich in protein and are an amazing source of fiber, especially the insoluble type, which protects our colon after being metabolized by the healthy bacteria in the gut (remember last post about kefir? Well those bacteria).
Chickpeas are great food to achieve satiety (avoiding overeating, by producing the sensation of fulfillment of hunger with less amount of food) and they are also good for regulating blood-sugar levels. They can help lower LDL- (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides.
If that weren't enough, these Middle Eastern and Indian natives contain omega-3 fatty acids and protect our cells with their high content of antioxidants such as flavonoids, phenolic acids and the mineral manganese. 
In the kitchen, they are chameleons. They can be creamy and smooth when pureed or crunchy when roasted. They are great in stews or in soups and are a great addition to salads. They respond really well to sour flavors, to spice, to heat, and to sweet. When paired with whole grains, they can make a full meal with complete protein and fiber.
I use them as a base for healthy and delicious icing for cakes and cookies, and last week I made a salad by combining them with fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, shredded carrots, fresh dill and mint, cooked wheat berries, sunflower seeds, a bit of cumin and some raisins. A keeper!
I try to always store a can of chickpeas (I prefer Eden brand, as they are BPA free) in my pantry for emergencies, but I try to cook a large batch of them once every two weeks.
I soak them in water overnight and the next morning I rinse them and put them in a crock pot with fresh water, covering the beans for about 2 inches. I go about my day, and when I come home, I season them and...they are ready. I freeze the left overs when there are any, but there's so much to do with them and they are such an easy-to-incorporate ingredient, that I usually end up using them all. Hummus, couscous, salad, roasted with spices as a snack, a quick lunch with veggies, etc etc.
I thought by now I knew them pretty well, but as I mentioned above, these little guys don't cease to surprise me.
A couple of days ago, my friend Debra Waldoks emailed me about her newest favorite dish. "Socca," she wrote, and she thought I would like it. I've worked, eaten and discussed food with Debra before, so I knew I could trust her. Filled with curiosity, I googled the South of France specialty (which is also enjoyed in Italy but called farinata) and realized I had all the ingredients in my kitchen to make a home version of this street food. I turned my oven on as hot as it can go, and proceeded to make the chickpea flour pancakes.
I'm a huge fan of crepes, and socca isn't only a delicious version of them, but it's also easy to make, it's gluten, egg, nut, dairy and soy free and features chickpeas at the top of their grandeur, as their Provencal creators might say. It has a bit of a falafel flavor, but with a very different texture. it can be eaten all by itself, right out of the oven or used as a base for pizza, salad or anything else you can think of. Just try it!

I can't wait to experiment further with it. Maybe a sweet version coming soon? Will let you know....
I only wished I were enjoying it near the beach in Nice, but since unfortunately, I don't have plans to be there this summer, I'll conform with eating them near the East River, and not near the Cote d'Azur.
In the meanwhile, I leave you with the basic recipe that I got by combining one published in the New York Times a couple of years ago and one by David Lebovitz, who included it in The Sweet Life in Paris.


SOCCA (FARINATA)
INGREDIENTS
1 cup (4 ounces) chickpea flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
4 to 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves, optional

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin, optional


Heat oven to 500 F. Put a nonstick 12-inch pan, or a 10-inch cake pan (preferably non-stick) a or cast-iron skillet in oven.


Sift chickpea flour into a bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk in the water slowly, eliminating any lumps that form.



Stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil, chopped rosemary and cumin. Cover, and let sit while oven heats, or refrigerate overnight. The batter will be loose, similar to crepe batter.


Once oven and pan are super hot, pour in 2 tablespoons oil into heated pan, and swirl to cover the bottom evenly. Pour in half of the batter, and bake for 10 minutes.

Check and see if socca looks firm, is starting to blister and the edges are a bit browned. If not, let it cook for 2 more minutes and check again, until it looks as described. 

Slide socca off the pan into a cutting board. Slice into pieces or break with your hands. Prepare the rest of the batter the same way.
Eat hot or warm, and if you want, top it with whatever your heart desires or just as it comes out of the oven.


Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Where can you find chickpea (also called garbanzo) flour? Health food stores, Whole Foods, Fairway or online in http://www.amazon.com/ or http://www.bobsredmill.com/