Monday, February 27, 2012

Braised Red Cabbage


A few years ago, doing something nice for myself meant getting a manicure, buying a new accessory, or treating myself to flowers.  Somewhere between then and now, to the dismay of my fashionista friends, I became a simpler person.  Content with a brisk walk and some people-watching.  Happy to listen to music that uplifts me and toss a ball with Roman.  And lately I am more concerned with what goes in my body than external flourishes.  I've discovered there are other ways to treat myself.  

This morning I thought about what to cook this week and I made a list of vegetables that we rarely eat anymore.  

-green beans
-brussels sprouts

I was surprised that the winter months had left me short on inspiration.  So I devised a plan for the week with the idea of varying our diet.  When I brought home this red cabbage, it felt like the equivalent of buying myself a bouquet of blooms.  Red cabbage is unbelievably healthy.  But forget about phytonutrients and antioxidants.  Just rest assured that this cruciferous vegetable does a body good. 


When Roman saw the big purple globe he wanted to eat it immediatley, never mind that it was raw.  Perhaps it was the allure of eating a purple vegetable.  I can't say he loved it, but maybe he will next time.  And until then, we're redefining the definition of treat in this household.

Braised red cabbage with apple and onion

Braised Red Cabbage with Apple and Onion
Adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book

Red cabbage turns blue when cooked unless you add vinegar.  Serve alongside sausage, pork chops or fish, or to keep it meat-free, try it mixed in with whole-wheat pasta.  For extra pop, add some toasted cumin or caraway seeds.  This can be eaten hot or cold.

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 red onion, chopped 
1 1/4 lbs red cabbage (one small head), cored and thinly sliced
1 Golden Delicious apple, peeled, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Melt the butter in a large skilled and add the onion.  Sauté for one minute.
Add the cabbage and apple and cook, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
Combine the salt, pepper, brown sugar, water and vinegar.  Add this to the cabbage mixture.  
Cover the pot and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Potato Soup and two tales

Potato Chowder version 1

When I was five, we lived in a rural part of Massachusetts surrounded by farms.  One afternoon, my sister and I were playing outside when a small, pink pig came toddling down our long dirt road.  My mother had a huge soft spot for pigs (probably inspired by Charlotte's Web) and brought out a bowl of potato soup for the happy little guy.  After an hour or so, a frantic farmer came knocking and we woefully said goodbye to the sweet pig.    

When my mother published her cookbook, my grandmother Ruth's potato chowder recipe had a place of honor.  In her notes, she made no mention of feeding soup to a pig.  Instead, she recounted that the recipe came from Ruth who had actually hated soup as a child.  Ruth's father Abraham wished upon her a husband who loved it.  My grandfather Leo.  Ruth embraced her new married life and learned to love soup- lentil, pea, barley, lima bean and her favorite, potato chowder.

Ruth's potato soup

My great-grandfather Abraham probably saw it as Ruth's duty to make soup for her husband no matter how she felt about the stuff.  The important thing is, she grew to love it and her family appreciated her as a fantastic cook.  In 1967, my mother won over my father with a chicken curry dish from The New York Times Cookbook.  A few months after I met P, I was rolling out dough for calzones and making stir fries.  You know the old adage, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

Potato Chowder version 1

My point is that sometimes cooking does feel like a duty- someone normally has to put food on the table to feed the family.  At times we feel lackluster about the task.  In the drudgery of routine, even the most creative cook can lack inspiration.  When that happens, just remember it's easy to please with simple, fresh ingredients.  Especially when it's a comfort food like potato soup.  Always good to have on hand to feed family, friends, or unexpected fuzzy visitors.  

Potato Soup version 2

Potato Chowder 
This is the recipe that my mother included in her cookbook.  It can of course be adapted many ways.  I did try Ruth's recipe in the photo above but I found it to have too much butter and I prefer my mom's version.  I added the kernels from one fresh corn cob to this recipe, and substituted leek for the onion. You could also add some crispy bacon or pancetta. A sprinkling of paprika on top is authentic to New England kitchens in the 50's and 60's.

1 1/2 cups chopped onion (about 2 onions)
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup sliced carrots
1 clove crushed garlic
3 tablespoons butter
4 cups diced potatoes (about 3 medium)
2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon tarragon (I left this out)
1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese

Saute onion, celery, carrots and garlic in butter until onion is transparent.  Add the other ingredients except for milk and cheddar cheese.  Cook until potatoes are tender (about 10-12 minutes).  Add milk and heat without boiling.  Serve sprinkled with cheddar cheese.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Zucchini Carrot Apple Muffins


Moving back from Italy with a toddler, we were awe-struck by the snack culture of kids in the United States.  Even "healthy" grocery stores are filled with shelves of portable organic kid-friendly snacks in flashy containers.  Bite size rabbit crackers, pureed vegetables kids can eat on-the-go, juice boxes complete with Sesame Street characters.  In Italy, none of this was available so I had been making Roman small pancakes with pureed fruits and vegetables for a healthy snack on the way to the park. (We got a lot of strange looks.)  This summer, Roman tried some of the packaged stuff.  Some of it's OK in a pinch, but in truth it's all heavily processed, complete with cane sugar and other filler ingredients lurking inside the fancy marketing.  So it was back to the kitchen for me. 

Delicious with sun butter

This is not a case of hiding vegetables - Roman knows they're there because he helped me make them.  Plus he likes to practice the word "zucchini".  I came up with this recipe last week on a mission when it felt like Roman could use some extra vitamins.  I added ground flax seed, almond meal, coarse bran, and none of that stopped these muffins from having a nice cake-like quality.


I've said before that I am kind of a health nut.  Not the kind that subscribes to a certain diet or fad.  I've just always felt passionate about feeding myself and my family a healthy diet.  It feels like an insurance policy.  So a quick muffin recipe that all three of us love is like a gift.  Then suddenly he's refueled and off with the tambourine and a song.  Another gift.


Zucchini Carrot Apple Muffin
Makes 12
Delicious on their own or with a smear of sun butter (sunflower seeds) or peanut butter.  

1 zucchini
1 carrot
1 apple
1 cup (145 g) white flour
3/4 cup (95 g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (27 g) ground almonds or ground hazelnut (Bob's Red Mill)
1/4 cup (10 g) coarse bran or wheat germ
2 tablespoons (2 soup spoons) ground flax seed
1/2 cup (70 g) brown sugar 
1/4 cup (59 ml) canola oil (you could use olive oil)
2 eggs
3/4 cup (177 ml) milk (you could substitute almond or soy milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small bowl, grate the zucchini, carrot and peeled apple.  In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ground almonds, coarse bran, flax and brown sugar.  Combine your liquids, then add them to the flour mixture, stirring to combine.  Fold in the grated fruits and vegetables.  Spoon the batter into 12 muffin tins and bake for 30 - 35 minutes at 350 F (180 C) degrees.  

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What he eats


I still remember the day Roman turned six months old and we introduced solid foods.  It seemed like a major event.  I carefully mashed up a banana, sat him in his high chair and with a video camera rolling behind me, offered him a spoonful.  He swiftly rejected it.  Non-event.  I tried again over the next few weeks with other mashed fruits and vegetables to no avail.

At first I felt distressed that he did not take to food immediately. Wouldn't he inherit our love of gastronomy?  I knew he would come to the table in his own time, and when he did, a few months later, it was for meat sauce.  I hesitate to call this a bolognese at the risk of offending the purists, but it's a close cousin.  I've made this meat sauce at least twice a month for the last year and a half.  It's adored by Roman and his older cousins who call it their all-time favorite pasta sauce.


I hope I'm helping Roman form a healthy relationship with food.  Learning to eat, to taste, to savor -- these are all building blocks in his repertoire of life skills.  I want him to smell the onions simmering in olive oil and get excited about what might come out of that pot.  That's what I remember most about Saturday mornings as a kid.  It's not just food.  It's an investment in the next generation of foodies.


Roman's Favorite Meat Sauce
We love this with any shape of pasta, over polenta or even on a whole wheat bun like a sloppy joe.  It freezes well, so I freeze small portions that can be defrosted overnight in the refrigerator.  Feel free to replace some of the water with red wine.  What makes this meat sauce so good is actually the vegetables.  The finely chopped carrot, celery, onion and garlic provide a wonderful backdrop of flavor.  I have tried it with every meat combination possible: beef, pork, and veal, beef alone, even turkey (although that was not my favorite).  You can also add some diced pancetta or bacon before you brown the ground meat. Top with freshly grated parmesan cheese if you like.

1 onion
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 pounds (700 grams) ground meat (if you wish, use a combination of beef, pork and veal.)
1 28 ounce (800 grams) can of stewed, pureed tomatoes
2 cups water (500 ml)
salt to taste

Begin by cutting the vegetables into chunks and chopping them into very fine pieces in a food processor.  In a large pot or dutch oven, heat some olive oil (you don't need a lot). Sauté the chopped vegetables with a little salt for about five minutes.  Push all the vegetables to one side of the pot and add your ground beef.  Break it up with a wooden spoon as it browns.  Add the tomatoes, then refill the can with water and add this to the pot.  Now gently simmer the sauce for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until most of the liquid is absorbed.
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