Today on Earth Day I am cautiously dreaming about what I’ll plant in my new garden this year, what will go in my “foster” garden, and which clever new ways I can organize my herb pots so that they keep me supplied with cooking herbs throughout the summer.
All that, and I am also thinking about food, summer, and recipes - most specifically for my next e-cookbook, Nourish: Summer, which is due out June 1st.
One thing that has changed for me this past year has been paying greater attention what goes on in a typical kitchen for a family with school age children in my neck of the woods. Eleven women - most of them moms - and two men - both dads -have been my recipe testers for the three cookbooks I’ve written, and am writing, thus far. As I’ve received their feedback on the recipes, I’ve used it as a benchmark to write about cooking in a way that makes it so very practical and doable in a regular kitchen with the busy schedule that most families maintain.
This is why I get even more excited when I hear voices who command a much larger audience saying things like, “Cooking is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your diet. What matters most is not any particular nutrient, or even any particular food: it’s the act of cooking itself. People who cook eat a healthier diet without giving it a thought. It’s the collapse of home cooking that led directly to the obesity epidemic.” That is from Michael Pollan, and it is the message at the forefront of the new book he has just written called “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.”
Without Pollan knowing it, I consider myself part of a big team doing “work on the ground” in communities across America to implement a similar message, by educating about food and how to cook in front of groups 2 to 32 in size.
As a result, I’m pretty darn excited to go and hear Michael Pollan speak live in Minneapolis next week as part of the Inspiring Minds series at Beth El Synagogue, with proceeds to benefit an excellent organization in North Minneapolis called Appetite for Change.
I’m so excited, in fact, that I bought two tickets. So, if you’d like to join me next Thursday to get a taste of what inspires me and hopefully get a little inspired yourself,
(...read the rest of the blog HERE and get the full instructions!)
I’ve been writing my own recipes down since the mid-90s, just keeping little scrawled notes of what I had cooked using vegetables in my garden and especially good combinations of ingredients. The shift towards helping other people make healthier foods in their own kitchens began when I assembled a booklet of recipes for our friends Anne and Kelley six years ago because they wanted to start cooking healthier at home.
I also began shifting from just having my own little garden in my backyard, which I learned how to grow from my parents, to promoting local small farmers and thinking about larger food issues. I began learning about what farmers were doing about local food issues, and how much thought and effort they put into growing incredible foods for our tables.
As things have evolved, I still create new dishes for myself and my family, but now a big part of what I do is share what I’ve learned about food – in this blog, by teaching cooking classes, and by serving up the flavors with anyone who happens to come into my kitchen.
Now it’s all come together as I’ve published my first cookbook, an e-cookbook called nourish: winter, part of a series that I’ll release over the next year called nourish: cooking with love in four seasons. It couldn’t be more local, organic, seasonal or healthful. My whole goal is to continue to help people get back to cooking from scratch - making wholesome, delicious and healthful foods. I love sharing ideas and tools for healthy living, about knowing why good food matters, and how it's possible to do something about it at home. I truly believe that not only is good food important, it should taste really good at the same time – not just in my kitchen, but yours as well.
Here's a sample recipe and photograph from the cookbook. Enjoy!
Roasted Delicata Squash
Delicata squash have a light, delicate flavor and a firm texture. Maybe the best part about them is that you can eat them skin and all, saving time and fuss. Serve them as a side dish or atop a crisp green salad dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2-4 servings
2 tablespoons coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
1 delicata squash
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375º. Wash squash thoroughly and dry. Slice into 1/2” rings and scoop seeds out of each slice. (You can also cut off each end and scrape out all of the seeds at once.) Rub all surfaces of each piece with oil – skin and cut edges – and place on an ungreased heavy baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Photo credit: Mike Dvorak Photography
I have lots of opinions about food. Things I love, things I wouldn’t touch, and things I want everyone to go out and enjoy, right now.
One of my very favorite things is the Mill City Farmer’s Market in downtown Minneapolis. Tucked behind the Mill Ruins along the Mississippi River, Mill City Farmer’s Market is what I’ve come to consider the jewel in the crown of metro area farmer’s markets. Of course I know that everyone has their favorites, but this happens to be mine. Here’s why:
1. I love the quality of food I can find there: the Market has chosen vendors who meet the highest standards of local and sustainably grown, pesticide-free and/or organic foods, plus quality goods.
2. I adore Brenda Langton. With her rich history in the metro food scene serving some of the most honest and responsibly-sourced food from early St. Paul days to Cafe Brenda and now Spoonriver, she has created an amazing food zone at the Market with passion, vision, and a whole lot of work. Mill City Market has become the new standard for organic, quality and innovative local market vendors in large part to her energy and commitment.
3. I love the variety: greens, cheeses, breads and pastries, handmade chocolates and crackers, herbs, wild-caught salmon, and perfect ice cream. I can shop here on Saturdays and stock my fridge for days.
Here are some of my very favorites:
But go, find more gems for yourself, and make sure to buy lots of fresh veggies so you can go home and put together a super-local and delicious summer meal that doesn’t take more than a little tossing in a salad bowl.
(P.S. I would be a big liar if I didn't mention that I get a bag of organic, cardamom-spiced mini donuts from the Chef Shack at least once a summer for utter donut perfection. Just make sure to eat extra salad later to make up for it.)
Super Simple Spinach Greek Salad for Two
two large handfuls fresh spinach (about 4 loose cups)
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
10 Kalamata olives
1/4 red onion, extremely thinly sliced
2 ounces Singing Hills Goat Dairy feta
2 tablespoons best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
juice from 1/2 fresh lemon
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
large pinch sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and spin dry the spinach. Tear into bite-sized pieces into a medium bowl. Top with tomatoes, olives, onion, and feta. Drizzle with the olive oil, lemon and sprinkle on the oregano, salt and black pepper. Toss well to combine and serve immediately.
Every once in a while, you meet a vegetable and just draw a blank. No ideas ~ you can’t imagine what it will taste like or how you can use it. It might happen on the afternoon when you open your CSA (community supported agriculture) share and find a broad, fan-shaped green leaf that looks more suited to shading one’s self from the sun (collard greens), or it might be an ungainly handful of squirrely green stalks (garlic scapes) that you find at the farmer's market. Or it could be a couple of big white knobs that kind of hang out at the bottom of the CSA box, looking lost and more useful for batting practice (kohlrabi).
Here’s my suggestion: try eating them. The why is obvious, right? They’re all incredibly good for you. Collard greens are one of the very best vegetable sources of calcium, protein, and vitamins A, K, B6 and folate. When you remove the stem, they’re incredibly sweet tasting raw, which makes them a great tool for wraps - stuffed with hummus, avocado, cucumbers and red peppers. They’re equally delicious cooked: try braising them (again, cut off the center rib) in a little olive oil, water, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, slowly, for about 45 minutes. Add some smoked turkey to make this even more traditional and to add a smoky flavor.
What about those ungainly garlic scapes? Trimmed off of springtime garlic, they are great tasting - like mild garlic - and like all allium family members, a useful cancer preventative. Use them interchangeably with garlic or scallions: slice them thinly (once you get them under control) and toss them into scrambled eggs, stir-fried vegetables or fried rice, or make them into a delicious pesto.
And lastly, those lovable kohlrabi. Use them just like you would a radish or jicamas: just peel the tough outer skin and thinly slice to use as a vegetable dipper for guacamole or hummus, chop up and throw into that stir-fried vegetable rice, or spritz with lime juice and add right into your salad. Kohlrabi are a part of the notoriously good-for-you group of vegetables called crucifers - rockstars in the antioxident world - protecting us from cancer, contributing to a healthy cardiovascular system, and just generally boosting our immunity.
So, get down to the bottom of the box, and enjoy!
Garlic Scape-Tarragon Pesto
large handful garlic scapes, rinsed and chopped (about 1 cup)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons tarragon, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded ~ optional
freshly ground black pepper
Add the chopped garlic scapes to the bowl of a food processor along with tarragon, sea salt and pine nuts. Pulse several times until it becomes finely chopped. Add the olive oil and purée for 30 seconds or until it becomes a nicely blended sauce. Add cheese (if using) and pulse to combine. Finish by tasting for salt and adding more if necessary and adding several grindings of black pepper.
Use to fill omelets, spread on bruschetta, toss with freshly boiled new potatoes or served with grilled fish.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Spinach has dominated my day so far - in a good way. A few of us talked about it during class this morning at Alotapilates; we bought some from an overflowing box just picked and delivered from the Hjele farm to Local D’Lish this morning which we ate as a salad with brunch; and it will be on our table tomorrow at lunch, wilted and stuffed into crepes with sautéed cremini mushrooms and a little bit of locally made havarti from Morning Star Farm in Cokato, MN.
Spinach is an easy entry into eating dark leafy green vegetables since it is mild tasting and delicious, whether served raw or lightly cooked. In the spring, it is usually one of the first local greens to make an appearance at the markets since it prefers cool growing conditions and doesn't mind spring rains.
For being so delicate, spinach packs a big nutritional punch: it is extremely high in vitamins A, K, C folic acid and B2, as well as the minerals manganese, magnesium, calcium (yes, really!) and iron. Spinach is also loaded with antioxident-rich phytochemicals that are especially good for eye health - age related macular degeneration in particular and cancer protection, especially stomach, skin and breast cancers.
In order to get the most nutritional benefit out of your beautiful, local spinach, eat it both raw and cooked to maximize vitamin absorption and phytochemical benefits (raw to get the vitamins, minerals and enzymes; cooked to get the phytochemicals). Either way, be sure to prepare it with a good healthy fat, such as cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and raw almonds or walnuts in a salad, or by cooking it in a little coconut oil or organic butter to access the fat-soluble nutrients.
Buy fresh spinach when it looks bright green and fresh; store it loosely packed in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator where it should last for about four days. Wash fresh spinach by swishing in a bowl of cold water to removed trapped sand particles and dry in salad spinner or by wrapping in clean cotton towel and refrigerated until ready to use that day.
Visit Mark Bittman’s article from last week’s NYTimes Magazine to find a whole matrix of recipes for eating cooked spinach, or try this salad below which totally simple and truly delicious.
Spinach Salad with Grapefruit, Avocado and Walnuts
Four large handfuls (about 8 loose cups) of fresh organic spinach (tender stems are fine to include), washed and dried
2 tablespoons top quality extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 wedge of a fresh organic lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado, pitted and flesh cubed into 1/2” pieces
1 ruby red grapefruit, peeled and sections cut into bite-sized pieces, preferably organic
1/2 cup walnuts (halves or pieces, preferably raw but toasted if you like. Can substitute raw pecans or almonds.)
Place spinach leaves in a large bowl; drizzle with olive oil, squeeze the fresh lemon juice all over and sprinkle a large pinch sea salt evenly on top (about 1/4 teaspoon). Add a generous grinding of black pepper. Toss well to evenly coat the spinach leaves, then top with the avocado pieces and grapefruit chunks, sprinkle with the walnuts and serve.
This is the time of year when thinking about fresh local foods in Minnesota can be a little dismal, so I’m going in the other direction and embracing citrus from the southern US - and WOW - are they glorious right now.
Murcott tangerines, pixie tangerines, ruby red grapefruit, Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, Valencia and navel oranges: all juicy and delicious, all very opposite of a grey Minnesota day.
Citrus fruits are a fantastic way to get your daily Vitamin C, and are an excellent source of flavonoids as well as B vitamins, carotenes, pectin and potassium. When we eat the whole citrus fruit - which is much preferable to drinking the fruit in a juice version, we’re getting a good source of fiber, too. Even the membranes surrounding the juicy flesh as well as the pith (the pale white inner peel) are loaded with good things for us: it’s where the highest concentration of flavonoids are located, which are plant-based compounds that provide a broad array of antioxident and positive biochemical benefits. Flavonoids work in conjunction with Vitamin C, an antioxident vitamin that is essential for tissue growth and repair, maintaining the immune system, keeping our skin, joints, gums and connective tissues healthy, and contributing to our overall health, especially in times of stress.
It doesn’t really seem like an accident that citrus fruits hold so much allure in the winter - and not just because of their vitamin content. How about the vibrant colors and that incredible aroma released when you peel or cut into the skin of an orange? Doesn’t it just make you think of sunshine and positive thoughts? In fact, the essential oil of sweet orange and other citrus is proven to improve mood and decrease anxiety, and is finding widespread use in palliative care programs in mainstream medical institutions, including the Penny George Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital here in Minneapolis.
When you’re buying citrus, pick the fruits that have a sweet fragrance and seem heavy for their size, which is the best measure of a juicy, sweet insides instead of dried out flesh. Opt for organic whenever possible - citrus fruits are one of the most heavily sprayed fruit crops - especially if you plan on using the zest, or the brightly colored outer skin. Pesticide residues on conventional oranges can transfer to the flesh when cutting or peeling, and the peel can contain artificial orange color, Citrus Red No. 2 which is a possible carcinogenic and can cause allergic reactions.
Whether it’s an orange, grapefruit, tangerine or mandarin, make sure to enjoy plenty of citrus this season - in the year of Tangerine (as determined by Pantone, the color experts) - to stay healthy, look young, and to feel better all the way around!