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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Escarole with Bacon and White Beans

So you have a big head of escarole from your CSA or farmers' market and you're not quite sure what to do with it?  Here's a very tasty side dish that I made last night.  It's simple, healthy and goes well with all sorts of main dishes (we had grilled steaks with it).

Escarole with Bacon and White Beans (from Cooking Light)
Serves 4.

2 bacon slices, chopped (or more if you want)
1 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
6 cups escarole, chopped (equivalent to a 16 oz head)
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (14 oz) can less-sodium chicken broth
1 (16 oz) can cannellini beans or other white beans, rinsed and drained
  1. Cook bacon in a large saucepan over medium heat until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan with a slotted spoon, reserving 2 tsp drippings in pan; set bacon aside. 
  2. Add onion to bacon fat in pan; cook 12 min or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. 
  3. Add garlic; cook 2 min, stirring frequently.
  4. Add escarole and cook 2 minutes or until wilted, stirring frequently.
  5. Add sugar, salt, pepper and broth.  Cook 15 min or until escarole is tender, stirring occasionally.
  6. Add beans; cook for 2 min or until heated through.
  7. Sprinkle with bacon and serve.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Local Veggies

This week's share at Blooming Glen Farm.
"Can I have some more turnips?"

How many times has that sentence come out of the mouth of a 6-yr old?  Luckily for me and Mary Beth, it came out of Jake's mouth last night at dinner.

We picked up our share at Blooming Glen Farm last night.  Turnips, strawberries, kale, escarole, spring onions, lettuce, kohlrabi, bok choy and Jake's favorite, fennel.  So we made a bit of a salad feast for dinner last night--along with some chicken and pesto pasta. 
Jake and his strawberry with a face.
Even before we had dinner, Jake was asking for some sliced up fennel and some water to drink with a fennel "straw" (the stalks are hollow, so you can use it as a straw for some licorice-flavored water).  Then he scarfed down his lettuce, turnips, strawberries and kohlrabi. 
It's so nice to see him really enjoy these tasty and nutritious foods.  And he's so excited to go to the farm and pick them up.

Jake is a very healthy kid.  And I have no doubt that his eating a diet full of fruits and vegetables has a big hand in that. 

So many kids these days don't even know where vegetables come from, let alone know what kohlrabi is.  (Do you know?)  I don't know how many parents I hear complain about how their kids only eat chicken nuggets or mac and cheese. 

I truly believe that exposing children to these foods--whether at a CSA like Blooming Glen or at a farmers' market--makes them more interested and willing to eat them.  Even better, growing your own garden--even if it's a small one--gives kids a chance to have some ownership of the food they eat. 

Sucking on fennel, surrounded by this week's loot.
Along these lines, I saw Michelle Obama on The Daily Show last night.  She is promoting her book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, which helps to stress the importance that gardens and fresh local foods do to fight the childhood obesity problem that is rampant in this country.  See the interview here.  It made me feel good that we've turned Jake on to a view of fresh and local food that will help to keep him healthy and, hopefully, promote it as he gets older.

So if you have kids--or even if you don't--eat local.  Pick up some items at a farmers' market that has probably traveled less than 10 miles instead of buying supermarket produce that travels an average of 1600 miles from field to your plate--losing flavor and nutrition all the while.  You'll be glad you did and you might even hear a request for more turnips!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Movie Star

The age old question continues: Who do you prefer? Mary Ann or Ginger? For those of you too young to have any idea what I'm talking about, try Googling "Gilligan's Island".

While I was always a Mary Ann guy, culinarily speaking, Ginger's my gal.

We think of ginger as a seasoning mainly in Asian foods and, while it's used a lot in those cuisines, its use has spread all over the world--from German to Moroccan to Middle Eastern dishes. Not to mention such standards as gingerbread, ginger ale and more.

Ginger is a rhizome (an underground stem) like it's cousin turmeric (did you read my post that spice?). Pungent, a little spicy, a little lemony, ginger is a uniqe and versatile spice. It's the kind of flavor that work equally well for savory dishes (try Moroccan Ginger-Carrot Salad) and things like cookies and ice cream.

Ginger is known to bring relief to stomach ailments like upset stomach and motion sickness. It also is a good source of antioxidants and is also a natural anti-inflammatory.

Choose ginger in the store that has smooth skin, no mold and feels a little heavy for it's size. As it ages and dries out, it will appear stringy at spots where it is broken. The easist way that I know of to remove the skin is to take a regular old teaspoon and lightly scrape the skin off. Then use the ginger as your recipe requires--minced, chopped, sliced, grated. Traditionally, porcelin ginger graters are used to grate it, but I find that a Microplane does a great job in turning it into a paste that easily mixes into dressings, sauces, etc.

To store fresh ginger, some say to wrap it loosely in a paper towel and keep it in the vegetable crisper in your fridge. Moisture will turn the ginger moldy and the paper helps to absorb it.  I've found that it lasts quite long just by putting it in the crisper--not wrapped in anything. It's said that you can wrap it in foil and store it in the freezer, but I've not tried that. It wll lose crispness, but will still retain the flavor. I've also heard of some people grating it, adding a little water and freezing it as a paste.

The only drawback to using ginger in your cooking (if it really is a drawback) is that it can be easily overdone. If you are folllowing a recipe, use the amount that it says. If not, err on the side of less ginger--just so it doesn't overpower all the other flavors in your dish.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Health Fair Recipes

At the Central Bucks School District health fair last week, I got a number of requests for the recipes that I made as samples.  For those of you who get my newsletter, you already have them, but here they are for those of you who don't get the newsletter (sorry it took so long to post).

MOROCCAN GINGER-CARROT SALAD (from The Blooming Glen Beet)
Makes about 4 cups

Photo courtesy of The Blooming Glen Beet.

1 bunch of carrots, grated (about 3 cups)
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
Juice from 1 lemon
4 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 dash ground cinnamon
Salt to taste
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped
  1. Peel and grate carrots into a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together ginger, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil,  honey, cumin, paprika, cinnamon and salt.  Pour over carrots and toss to combine.
  3. Add coconut, walnuts and parsley.  Toss again and serve.

Serves 4-6

3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 shallots, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups couscous
1 cup water
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp salt
Pepper to taste
3/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
3/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
2 tsp lemon juice
  1. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add shallots; cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, about 5 min.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add couscous and cook, stirring frequently, until grains are just beginning to brown, about 5 min.
  2. Add water, broth and salt and stir briefly to combine.  Cover and remove pan from heat.  Let stand until grains are tender, about 7 min.
  3. Uncover and fluff grains with a fork.  Stir in pepper, almonds, parsley, zest and juice just before serving.


Monday, May 14, 2012


Not used much traditionally in this country, turmeric is one of the world's most popular and most-used spices.  From Southeast Asian to Middle Eastern to South African cuisines, this colorful spice is used for a number of reasons.

Turmeric in it's fresh state.

The flavor of turmeric is not very powerful--kind of a dull mustardy flavor.  It's usually used in conjunction with other spices--for example, as a main ingredient in curry powders. 

Turmeric is a rhizome--a root much like ginger--and is used in many parts of the world in it's fresh form.  We know it better after it's been boiled, dried and ground into a fine, orangish powder.  It adds color in many dishes and is often used commercially for it's color.

As is the case with many spices, turmeric is a good spice to use for it's healthy benefits.  Many studies are still ongoing, but turmeric is thought to:
  • slow or prevent the onset of Alzheimer's Disease.
  • help prevent the formation and spreading of many forms of cancer.
  • help in the treatment of arthritis (it's a natural anti-inflammatory).
  • help in healing of skin conditions and burns (it's a natural antiseptic).
  • help to reduce the risk of childhood leukemia.
  • be a natural liver detoxifier.
So it seems like it's time to join people from all over the world and take advantage of the benefits of turmeric.  It's not just for coloring your dishes!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Be Strong to the Finish

Spinach.  It's one of the most healthy foods you can find--filled with loads of vitamins (especially A & C) and extremely high in antioxidants.  It's also considered to be high in folic acit, iron and calcium among many other nutrients.

But to some, spinach is just an ugly blob of goo sitting on their plate.  It doesn't have to be that way. 

Spinach does not have to be cooked very much (many like to eat it raw) and it only takes minutes to prepare by sauteeing, steaming, wilting, etc--making it a great weeknight side dish. 

Mark Bittman of the New York Times has come up with tasty and easy ways of putting more of this great veggie on your dinner plate. 

While there are many ways of cooking spinach, Bittman uses wilting, steaming, braising and super-slow cooking to create 12 distinct, but simple dishes.  Read about them here.

Fresh spinach should be appearing soon in your local farmers' market (if it hasn't already), so pick up a bunch or two and try these recipes--or your own favorite!

Friday, May 4, 2012

It's That Time Again!

Baseball, flowers poking up through the ground, green leaves showing themselves--all sure signs of spring.  But one of the best signs that we're into that time of year is the opening of our many local farmers' markets.

Cows of Tussock Sedge Farm in Blooming Glen.
(photo courtesy of Lynne Goldman)
Slowly but surely, the farmers' markets in our area are starting up, giving us the opportunity to buy great local foods (and other products).  It's a great time of year.

A number of studies show that supermarket produce travels an average of about 1500 miles from the field to your plate.  That's a long way.  During the food's not-so-excellent adventure, both nutrition and taste are depleted.  That gives us some pretty tepid and bland veggies sitting in the grocery store.  Add in the fuel, refrigeration and packaging used to ship these products so far, you've got a pretty major carbon footprint.

That's why eating locally produced and grown foods makes so much sense.  No long-distance shipping.  Foods that retain their natural nutritional value.  And food that simply tastes so much better than things shipped from across the country. 

There are places in this country that eating local isn't very easy.  But we are so blessed with an amazing array of locally raised foods to choose from here in Bucks County and surrounding areas.  Why would we eat anything else?  Buying from local farmers lets you actually talk to the people who work so hard to give you these great items.  You can ask questions and really know where your food came from.

A Blooming Glen Farm farmers' market display.
Whether it's produce or meats, eating local also gives a much-needed boost to the local economy.  The neat thing is that many of our communities were founded on economies based on farming.  So the local food movement, while forward-thinking, also hearkens back to the past--and brings things full circle.

So go check out a farmers' market this weekend.  Join a CSA (we finally joined Blooming Glen Farm and are very excited about it!).  Stop by a local meat or poultry market.  The farmers, your family, your body and your taste buds will thank you for it!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Optical Solutions

For many of us, trying to lose weight (or maintain our weight) is a challenge.  As you know, there are all sorts of diets--everyone from Valerie Bertinelli to Janet Jackson to Charles Barkley telling us to use their plan.

Most experts agree, though, that simply eating less is one of the easiest ways to lose weight--and quickly.  Still, eating less isn't always so easy.

A recent study has shown that our brain can be tricked into making us want to eat more--or less. 

Part of the study showed that if your plate and food are of contrasting colors, you'll serve yourself less food.  22% less than if the food and plate are of a similar color. 

Would you like seconds?
Also, the size of the plate can come into play.  Those dishing out food onto a large plate served themselves more food than those using smaller plates.  A certain amount of food on a large plate looks smaller to your brain than it does on a small plate. 

You know the optical illusion:  Think of 2 circles--one inside the other.  The inner circle looks smaller if surrounded by a much larger circle; it looks larger if the outer circle is not as large.  The same thing is happening with the food and plate.

In fact, the study also showed that if the plate and tablecloth were the same color, the portion control was easier because the size of the plate wasn't as apparent to the brain.

Of course, these aren't the only reasons for overeating.  Distractions--like TV, computer, music, etc--can take your attention away from what you're eating and make overeating easier.  For many, simply lacking the self-discipline for stopping after one serving is the biggest obstacle.

Is it time for us all to go out and buy tiny plates?  Maybe not, but it is interesting.  And it's good to be aware of things like this.  I guarantee you'll think about this the next time you're spooning food onto your plate!

You can read more about this study by clicking here