Articles in Cooking
It’s spring in Southern California, and our backyard fruit trees have run riot. Golden yellow loquats the size of my child’s fist hang heavily from two trees, and oranges left over from the winter crop spectacularly cover a 30-foot tree shading my daughter’s playhouse. Our yard looks like a postcard trumpeting the glories of Los Angeles suburbia, circa 1923.
But as with any paradise there’s a dark side. This year, the dark side comes from the loquats. I don’t know what to do with them.
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There are so many loquats that our yard has become a hazard. Fully-ripe loquats drop from our trees every five minutes, and as my daughters play in the yard, they grind the soft yellow orbs messily into the lawn and walkway. Still more are up there, some as high as 40 feet, way beyond the reach of our ladder and picking tool. They’ve become a feast for the flocks of squawking, screaming wild parrots in our neighborhood.
These are another holdover from the 1920’s “California is Paradise” meme. Some of the wild parrots are said to be runaways from the estate of Lucky Baldwin, and the creatures tear the loquats to bits, scattering the seeds and skins across our back yard to mix with the rotting ones.
We have two loquat trees that dominate our backyard, each with slightly different variety of fruit. When we first moved to this house, I had no idea what loquats were and wasn’t even sure they were edible. For several weeks we raked them into huge messy piles and shoved them into the recycling bin. But I couldn’t stand to see this bounty left to rot, so I started asking questions about this small, fleshy yellow fruit. I discovered that loquats are not only edible, they’re downright delicious. My youngest daughter became obsessed with loquats when she was just a year old and ate her weight in loquats that first season.
Don’t sweat the seeds
Over the past few years, I have turned our loquats into loquat cobbler, loquat butter and loquat leather, with varying degrees of success. The biggest problem with loquats is their incredible seed-to-flesh ratio. Each loquat contains one to six large seeds, which means that you get almost as much seed as you do edible flesh in each loquat.
When I first starting researching loquats, I’d read that the seeds were poisonous. Filled with arsenic, and possibly cyanide. The websites were not clear. But like any paranoid mother, I worried that my children might eat them and fall into a temporary coma, just like an unnamed child I’d read about online. Although we’d been eating loquats for several years without incident, I decided to put my fears to rest once and for all by checking with an expert.
I put in a call to professor Jules Janick, director of the Indiana Center for New Crops and Plant Products at Purdue University. He’s not only the co-editor of “The Encyclopedia of Fruits and Nuts,” he is also a kind and understanding voice of reason. Janick told me that loquat seeds are indeed toxic, but then so are the seeds of apples and pears. To put things into perspective, Janick said, “If you ate 3 pounds of them, then it might be a problem.” He also reminded me that the bitterness of the seeds would stop someone from eating them pretty quickly. I realized that my daughter was at far greater risk for choking on a loquat seed than being poisoned by its chemical components.
Backyard loquat adventure
With this in mind, on an April afternoon, I took my loquat-loving youngest daughter to the back yard to begin Loquat Harvest 2013. We planned to fill my daughter’s toy wagon with enough fruit to make loquat leather, but we were quickly distracted by the fun of the collection process. We examined huge spider webs woven between the tree’s broad leaves. We ducked our heads from a torrent of loquat hail that rained down on us as I used our fruit picker to reach an especially high cluster of fruit. But we stopped in our tracks when we discovered a tiny hummingbird’s nest attached to a small wavering branch of our loquat tree. All thoughts of loquat leather disappeared and we marveled at this tiny treasure.
Our loquat tree was not only a source of food for humans and birds alike, it was a home. Our loquat trees now feel like an integral part of our own home, one that we happily share with our feathered friends.
I’m still experimenting with new ways to use the backyard bounty, without creating more work than necessary. The simplest approach is to just eat the fruit straight from the tree, spitting out the seeds, of course. But that’s a LOT of loquats to eat.
Our future is sure to be full of new loquat-laced dishes including loquat jelly, loquat chutney and loquat-chicken tagine. Maybe even a batch of loquat ice cream. But even as my family members stuff themselves with loquats, I think that the bounty of Southern California may simply be too much to keep up with.
I may have to ignore much of the fruit of the loquat this year.
And the real beneficiaries, the screaming, squawking, fat and happy parrots.
8 cups seeded loquat halves (approximately 9 to 10 cups of whole, ripe fruit depending on size)
2 cups applesauce (store-bought is fine)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Wash loquats and remove any blemishes and remaining brown bits from stem and blossom ends. Be sure to use ripe loquats, which are softer, sweeter and less acidic than unripe loquats.
2. Cut loquats in half. Scoop out the seeds and white membrane inside the pulpy yellow flesh. Don’t bother to peel them.
3. Make two batches of loquat-apple purée by adding 4 cups of loquat halves, 1 cup of applesauce and ½ teaspoon of cinnamon into blender or food processor. Process until smooth. (The blender does a slightly better job on breaking down the peels than the food processor, but either will work.) Repeat with second half of ingredients.
4. Place a solid tray liner, usually called a fruit roll sheet or non-stick dehydrator sheet, on top of your dehydrator tray.
5. Spread a layer of loquat-apple purée, about ¼-inch thick, onto the solid tray liner. The fruit leather will have a more uniform thickness if you spread the puree slightly thicker around the edges. Be sure to follow instructions for your dehydrator. Some suggest brushing the tray with a thin layer of vegetable oil to the tray liner before adding fruit purée.
6. Place the tray (or multiple trays if you have them) into the dehydrator and dehydrate at 135 F for 4 to 8 hours, until the fruit leather is translucent and can be easily peeled from the tray without falling apart. It may still feel a bit sticky to the touch, especially in the middle.
7. Cut into strips and roll. Keep in a closed container or bag until ready to eat.
Picking loquats. Credit: Susan Lutz
For me, nothing marks the passage of time so much as the disappearance of favorite restaurants. The pang for lost restaurants hit me recently when reading from my favorite of Julia Child’s books, “From Julia Child’s Kitchen,” where she comments on a place in Monte Carlo that she and her husband Paul had enjoyed in the post-war period through the 1950s.
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She confesses to “almost weeping over the end-of-an-era elegance of the room, with its string orchestra hidden in a balcony, its marble columns, its gilt encrustations everywhere, its flocks of frock-coated waiters, and its diners in evening dress.” When she returned some years later, the historic restaurant had been replaced by a rooftop eatery lacking in atmosphere. Because she avoided sentimentality and was inclined to focus on the present rather than the past, Julia accepted the loss of that restaurant stoically, saying, “it is useless to cry over lost loves.”
While I admire her for being so philosophical about the disappearance of a memorable eating place, I, on the other hand, tend to mope when my favorite restaurants are gone. I miss those vanished places that held great memories for me or simply were convenient and enjoyable spots where I mingled with friends. Everyone, I guess, feels the loss of favorite places, but for me the bygone restaurants in Harvard Square have had the greatest impact. The ordinary passage of time leads to change, so restaurants close because owners cannot meet the costs of rising rents or they simply retire and move on. Picturesque haunts where students and locals mingled, sometimes for many decades, are often replaced by generic and boring chain restaurants.
When I first started working near Harvard Square, I used to go to a place where for a couple of dollars I could get poached eggs on a muffin (or, in the New England vernacular, “dropped eggs”). They came with corned beef hash and a large cup of coffee. And later in the day one could get corned beef and cabbage (aka “New England boiled dinner”) or liver and onions. The worn-out linoleum floor made clear that this was a humble place for hungry people who might be Harvard students, faculty, staff, or the janitors who eased everyone’s lives. The place couldn’t last and it didn’t.
Gone, but not forgotten
The most recent victim of high rents is the Casablanca Restaurant, for years the Harvard Square go-to place to meet friends for drinks and perhaps a mezze plate loaded with hummus, olives, salads, and slices of flatbread. Its Mediterranean theme was carried out not only by a menu of deep-flavored dishes filled with Middle Eastern spices and olive oil, but on walls filled with murals depicting characters from the much-loved film, “Casablanca,” starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. That film is shown annually at a local theater, a tradition with a following so cult-like that famous lines in the film are recited in unison by the audience. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” we say along with Bogart when he catches sight of Bergman, with whom he has a past, entering his establishment. These days, former denizens of the Casablanca Restaurant are missing that joint terribly.
The Wurst Haus is another place that had a long history. It was a German restaurant with an extensive beer menu, and as one online wag put it, “The great thing about the Wurst Haus was that everyone could wear a plaid jacket, horn-rimmed glasses, smoke a pipe and not get beat up.” Harvard professors, pseudo-intellectuals and plain old beer-lovers mingled in an atmosphere of dark-paneled walls and sloping floors in the false security that what had been around for decades would always be around. But, in the 1990s, meat-laden and sometimes greasy German food had given way to the lighter menus expected by a more health-conscious public, thus dooming the Wurst Haus.
This change in public taste may explain the disappearance of Jack and Marion’s, a beloved delicatessen in Brookline, Mass., that gave pleasure to many with its huge menu filled with every single Eastern European Jewish dish in existence, not to mention oversized desserts. Though it closed in 1971, people are still talking about it. They shake their heads sadly, and compare it to other delis in the area that have since moved in, but none can measure up to a place that has assumed mythic qualities.
Sentimental for ice cream
Children are also affected by the disappearance of favorite places. Boston-area kids used to go to a place called Chadwick’s, an old-timey ice cream parlor best known for birthday celebrations. Waiters would ring bells, bang drums and sing loudly to honor the birthday boy or girl who would receive free ice cream that day. And apart from its birthday ceremonies, Chadwick’s was known for its “Belly Buster” sundaes, a mammoth bowl filled with 18 scoops of ice cream that would be delivered to your table on a stretcher.
And speaking of long-gone ice cream parlors, I still think about Bailey’s, a combination ice cream parlor and candy store, where sundaes were served in old-fashioned silver dishes set on silver plates. An abundance of hot fudge was poured on so that it would spill onto the plates, putting you into a quandary as to where to first put your spoon. Bailey’s was close to my office, so I could drop by on days when someone had been mean to me and find solace in a hot fudge sundae. In truth, I was known to show up even when everyone had been nice. The demise of Bailey’s is a painful loss, and to console myself I have tried to recreate its hot fudge sauce, attempting several recipes said to be the real thing, and this is the one that works for me.
Hot Fudge Sauce
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup cocoa
¾ cup sugar
½ cup evaporated milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
1. Melt chocolate and butter in small saucepan over low heat.
2. Sift cocoa into pan, add sugar and thoroughly mix.
3. Add evaporated milk, vanilla and salt and stir constantly. Sauce will thicken quickly, usually after just 3 minutes of stirring.
If not used immediately, the sauce stores well in the refrigerator and should be warmed up before pouring over ice cream.
Top photo: A sundae with hot fudge sauce recreated from Bailey’s. Credit: Barbara Haber
It never fails to astound me just how heated conversations can become when a carnivore and a vegetarian or vegan talk about their respective diets. Fights have been started, punches have been thrown and families ripped asunder! Can’t we all just get along as conscientious eaters and learn to respect the ingredients?
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Eating a plant-based diet or one that includes animal flesh and the foods animals produce can be a cultural or religious decision, a moral decision, a decision based on dietary allergies, or just a lifestyle choice. With that many options, there are bound to be clashes, even within the groups themselves.
A vegan may have issues with a lacto-ovo vegetarian, because they include eggs and dairy in their diets. A pescatarian includes fish in their vegetarian lifestyle. A flexatarian eats mainly a vegetarian diet, but will occasionally eat meat. And then there are the raw foodists, who don’t eat food that has been heated above 115 F, because they think the cooked food loses most of its nutritional values and is harmful to the human body. I’m not even going to try to explain all the vagaries of the macrobiotic diet, but just know there are a lot of rules.
Losing touch with our food’s origins
A plant-based diet is great for your health, your heart (plants don’t have artery-clogging cholesterol) and even the environment. The United States Department of Agriculture’s new food guidelines, going from a pyramid to a plate model, propose having one half of the plate consisting of fruits and vegetables, with the remaining quarters divided between proteins and whole grains. Without argument, it’s a very sensible and healthy way of eating.
And then there are people like me who will basically eat anything. I try not to eat anything while it is still moving, but if a girl gets hungry I make no promises! I am not a big fan of organ meats, but that is strictly a matter of taste and I don’t like the taste. As humans we need to respect the animal enough to consume it entirely if we have killed it for food. I will respectfully transform those organ meats into a sensational pâté or mousse, and serve it to someone else.
I saw a picture of a sign on Facebook that read “Native Americans had a name for vegetarians. They called them bad hunters.” If most of us had to hunt, kill, clean and preserve our meat, the number of vegetarians would surely rise. We live in a society now where children think meat is a shrink-wrapped package from the supermarket. The origin of that meat is not a thought. Some are not even aware a hamburger comes from a cow or a chicken nugget comes from, well, I don’t really know where the nugget is on the chicken. (Joking, of course.)
While in culinary school I had to take a meat fabrication class, taught by Butcher Bob, an old-school butcher from San Francisco. I remember Butcher Bob took a chainsaw and broke down a half cow carcass as a demonstration. We also had to fillet whole fish, which sometimes contained their last meal in their stomachs, including smaller fish, sand dollars, starfish and more. It was like a treasure hunt. I also learned to cut a whole chicken up in less than minute. But mainly, I learned to respect those animals we killed in order to feed others and ourselves.
In stark contrast, when I taught at a culinary school, meat fabrication classes no longer existed. The primal cuts came in Cryovac packages, so we could not truly show the students the reality of where their meat came from. The only demonstration we did was break down a half lamb carcass, which both fascinated and repulsed students. I had one student who was raised a vegan, and that poor girl turned the whitest shade of pale I have ever seen. Needless to say, I excused her from the demo.
Everyone can make conscientious food choices
The American system of raising animals for food is broken and in need of repair. But that is a subject worthy of another essay, or a book. Actually, just watch the film “Food, Inc.,” or read Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” for excellent coverage of that subject. But you can work around the industrial food system: Buy from small local farmers in your area, or even order online from farms that sell naturally raised and/or organic products.
This strategy works for vegans and vegetarians. Go to local farmers markets to buy organic, local produce. The large amount of pesticides used on our plants is appalling, so it is important to avoid them if you can. Certain pesticides that have been banned in the United States are still being sold by our mega-corporations to other countries, who then turn around and import cancer-causing, pesticide-covered produce to the United States.
There is no right or wrong way to eat, but some ways are gentler on the Earth and our bodies. As an avowed omnivore, a vegan diet would not work for me. But I do eat vegetarian meals often, and even grow organic vegetables in my back yard. Unfortunately, the gophers seem to be enjoying my organic vegetables more than I am this season.
This simple recipe for spicy carrot and yam soup makes a belly-warming and satisfying meal. This version is vegetarian, but can easily be converted to a vegan recipe by substituting the dairy products with coconut, soy or almond milk. The flavor profile would be altered, but the resulting taste would be just as delicious.
Spicy Carrot and Yam Soup
5 ounces carrots, about 4 small, peeled and sliced into large chunks
1½ pound yam, peeled and cubed
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
⅛ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
1 to 1 ½ cups milk, half and half or cream
1. In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, simmer the carrots, yam, broth and spices about 30 minutes, until tender.
2. Purée the soup with an inversion blender or in a food processor.
3. Stir in the milk to thin the soup, until at the desired consistency.
4. Adjust the seasoning, if needed.
Top photo: Spicy carrot and yam soup. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee
Most cooks I know either have stopped making stocks or broths to use in the kitchen or never got in the habit in the first place. As one of the few still bucking the tide, I admit that “Three cheers for the dear old stockpot” is not a message I expect to go viral anytime soon. But maybe some people could start seeing homemade stock as a practical option if we could shed a few hoary assumptions about what it entails.
Recipes for poultry, meat and fish stocks in today’s general-purpose kitchen bibles almost invariably surround the lead role — chicken, beef or whatever — with the same supporting characters: onion, celery, carrot and a bouquet garni of parsley, thyme and bay leaf. The idea is that when simmered for some time, these elements will fuse into a subtle whole greater than the sum of its parts, like the actors in a theatrical ensemble.
True enough. But what nobody tells you is that these standard aromatics actually limit the usefulness of the finished whole. They’re guaranteed to taste dead wrong in any kind of cooking outside a certain Eurocentric range. Heretical though it may sound, why not treat simple foundation stocks as something closer to solo instead of ensemble performances?
A stock recipe for foods from all cultures
My own rethinking of stocks started many years ago, when I began noticing the clash of sensibilities between basic European stocks (French, Italian and other) and the flavor palette of many or most world cuisines.
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For a while I took to making up batches of stock for use in specific Asian cuisines. It was an eye-opener that I recommend to any really curious cook. But no one can regularly splurge on the time and money needed for such productions. On the other hand, anyone can occasionally manage a batch of what I call “stock for realists.”
What militates against realism these days is a dimwitted supposition that stocks made from scratch represent monumental exploits of yesteryear, no more suited to today’s home kitchens than the odd brontosaurus shinbone. Well, by stock-for-realists logic, the point is not the role that stock played in the Ritz-Escoffier era or your great-great grandmother’s domestic routine, but the role that it can play in the here and now.
Any cook can regularly ensure a supply of decent, eminently useful stock in the freezer through one of two very simple strategies. Neither involves any added seasonings beyond two or three trimmed scallions (or one trimmed leek) and, if you like, a couple of slices of fresh ginger.
Stock technique No. 1
For Stock No. 1, buy a bunch of the cheapest meaty, or somewhat meaty, bones you can find. A useful default ingredient for chicken stock is backs, sold in packs in some supermarkets. Wings are a good addition (though pricier than they used to be); if you can find chicken feet, they add plenty of gelatin for pennies. Beef stock is unavoidably more expensive. I usually end up with knucklebones and meaty neck bones, possibly supplemented with a piece or two of bone-in shin. In either case, all you do for realist-style stock is plunk the main ingredient in a pot with the scallions and optional ginger, add about a quart of cold water per pound of bones and bring it to a gentle simmer, skimming off any scum from the top as necessary. With supermarket chicken parts, you’ll have a respectable stock in one hour, though you’ll extract more flavor in two hours or longer. With beef, plan on about three hours, or up to four or five for maximum flavor. The pot can be left to tend itself while you do the laundry or Sudoku.
Stock technique No. 2
Stock No. 2 is equally hassle-free but yields a double dividend: a somewhat better-flavored stock for saving, and cooked meat for various purposes. In this case, you want to start with something good enough to be eaten in its own right. You will need one or two whole chickens (preferably cut up in parts, though you can throw them in as is) or a cut of beef like brisket or boneless chuck that benefits from long simmering. Flanken or short rib is good, too.
Again, you simply put the chosen meat in a pot with about a quart of cold water per pound, add the scallions and optional ginger and let it reach a gentle simmer. This time, however, you want to remove the star performer at its peak of flavor. Lift out the chicken just when tender; I’m assuming everyone’s capable of checking after 45 minutes and allowing as much more time as necessary, depending on the size and age of the bird. There will be much variation with different beef cuts also, from as little as 1½ hours (when I’d start testing) to as many as 4 hours.
Whichever method you opt for, the procedure for stock is the same: Carefully strain it off from the solids into a clean vessel, let cool to room temperature and decant into 1-pint or 1-quart containers for freezing. The surface layer of fat is most easily removed if you first put it in the refrigerator overnight.
Sans seasoning reasoning
I can already hear doubting Thomases complaining that stock made by either of these methods is bound to be “pale” and “underseasoned.” Well, that’s just the point. This is stock meant to receive the appropriate seasonings at the point of eventual use, not before. But I assure you that it will lend straightforward depth to any soup, sauce or braised dish. Certainly it won’t have the richness of stock made by browning the chicken or beef before adding water, and will lack the overtones contributed by doses of aromatics. Instead, its flavor will be light and clean — virtues too often disdained by gourmets. Its neutral quality is exactly why it can flexibly suit many different contexts, including ones where canned broth or the heavily flavored stocks now being sold in cardboard cartons would stick out like sore thumbs.
In sum: It’s a perfect resource for the kind of cook who’s equally happy making Thai soup-noodles or Belgian waterzooi, but can use some practical strategizing in the stock department.
A final postscript: Meat or poultry cooked for my second version of stock will face prevailing foodie prejudices against plain “boiled” anything. I find that just saying “poached” instead does wonders. So does serving the chosen item piping hot with coarse salt, freshly ground pepper, good mustard or horseradish and maybe some capers and pickles. And let’s not forget the Act Two charms of homemade chicken or beef hash, not to mention chicken salad.
Top photo: A large stock pot. Credit: iStockPhoto
Summer Sundays, my mother, who hated the kitchen, would take down a box of Jell-O from the cupboard and declare “Jell-O time,” to the delight of my sister and me. We loved Jell-O. It wiggled and it wobbled, sometimes falling off the spoon but always making us smile. Mom loved Jell-O too, but more because it was convenient and let her make quick desserts. This was especially important when the weather was warm; less time in the kitchen meant more time for the three of us at the beach or camping out under the maple in the back garden and reading (while Dad happily made supper).
Mom had two favorite ways of “preparing” Jell-O for dessert: with canned fruit suspended in it or with canned milk beaten into the Jell-O when it was almost set. She also had two favorite ways of topping it: with a spoonful of Cool Whip (yum) or with a layer of custard made by adding milk to a few teaspoons of orange-colored powder that came from a can (less yum to me, as I never ceased to annoy her by excavating the shimmering layer and abandoning the custard).
Jellied desserts have always been popular, but in recent years they have experienced a renaissance. Yet despite different tastes and presentations, the enduring qualities of gelatin remain; it wiggles and it wobbles, and it makes you smile.
History of jellied desserts
Jellied desserts have long had their allure.
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Sweet jellies were important in Tudor and Stewart feasts. When not dispatching wives and involved in other nefarious things, Henry VIII delighted guests with gilded rosewater jelly at Garter Banquets (the Order of the Garter was the highest order of chivalry in England, dedicated to England’s patron saint, St. George). Such jellies were status symbols because sugar was so expensive and only available to the wealthy.
Renaissance chefs created molded masterpieces such as castles and fortresses for their wealthy patrons, and later, in the 19th century, molded jellies were all the rage again. Making them, like making any jelly before commercialized gelatin was invented, was time-consuming because bones had to be boiled and the liquid clarified and cooled to make the gelatin.
Fruit jellies that focused on the flavor of the fruit became popular in the 20th century. In her book “Kitchen Essays” (1922), a compilation of the essays she wrote for the London Times newspaper, Lady Agnes Jekyll writes, “For sweets, nothing is nicer than this specially good Orange Jelly … soft and shapeless, of the color of a blood orange, and really tasting of the fruit.”
Commercialization of gelatin
The first commercial gelatin came in sheets that required a long soaking before use, but in 1889, Charles B. Knox of Johnstown, N.Y., developed a method of granulating gelatin. In doing so, he turned gelatin into an easy-to-use ingredient that the home cook (not my mom) could turn to for fancy desserts.
That same year, Pearle Wait, a carpenter in LeRoy, N.Y., sold his formula for Jell-O to Orator Frank Woodward. Two years earlier, Wait had come up with the fruit-flavored dessert, and his wife, May, gave it its now iconic name.
After Knox died in 1908, his wife, Rose, set up a test kitchen and developed recipes — printed on Knox gelatin packages and in cookbooks — for the home cook. The recipes also appeared in newspapers and magazines under the heading “Mrs. Knox Says.”
The marketers of Jell-O, also wanting to show how versatile their product was and created free recipe booklets; one booklet had a printing of 15 million copies.
Making jellied desserts
Although jellied desserts are not difficult to make, the wrong ingredient or misjudging the strength of the gelatin may leave you with a sweet, slightly thickened “drink.”
Avoid using fresh pineapple because it contains bromelain, a chemical with protein-digesting enzymes that break down the gelatin’s protein links, resulting in the gelatin not setting. Because heating the enzymes inactivates them, canned pineapple (heated during canning) won’t ruin a jellied dessert. (When Mom wanted to make a special dessert for company, she combined lemon Jell-O, whipped cream and canned pineapple; once, though, she substituted fresh pineapple and had to serve “lemon Jell-O soup” at the end of the meal, much to her chagrin.)
Alcohol can also affect gelatin’s setting properties, but experimenting with the amount of gelatin in a recipe that calls for alcohol can overcome this problem. If using alcohol, consider light and sparkling wines paired with seasonal fruit and present in lovely dishes or wine glasses.
Non-alcoholic jellies can be made in different colors and layered in molds that will delight children, or let each color of jelly set in a glass pan and then cut it into different shapes and arrange on plates.
Perhaps we are all children at heart when it comes to jellied desserts. They wiggle and they wobble and they still make us smile.
Sparkling White Wine Jelly With Blueberries and Strawberries
This beautiful and simple dessert has the added sweetness of fresh berries.
3 cups sparkling white wine
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
¾ cup white granulated sugar
½ cup water
½ cup fresh blueberries (wash, pat dry and leave whole)
½ cup washed and hulled strawberries (pat dry and slice thinly)
1. Pour 1 cup of wine into a small bowl and sprinkle the three envelopes of gelatin over it. Let the gelatin soften for 5 minutes.
2. Place sugar in a small saucepan, add ½ cup water and bring slowly to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 1 minute and then pour over the gelatin-wine mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin.
3. Return the mixture to the saucepan and heat slowly until the liquid is clear. Remove from the heat and add the remaining wine.
4. Pour the mixture into a medium size bowl, cover and refrigerate until it has thickened enough to add the berries (1½ to 2 hours).
5. Gently stir the berries into the thickened jelly and divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes. Chill until set.
6. Serve with whipped cream.
Rosé wine makes a lovely pink jelly in which to suspend jewel-toned fruit.
For a more tart dessert, substitute cranberries for the blueberries and strawberries. Add ½ cup fresh and washed cranberries to the sugar and water mixture. Dissolve the sugar slowly and when the mixture begins to boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for 5 minutes, then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
For an opaque dessert, whip ⅓ cup whipping cream until stiff and fold into the thickened jelly when you add the berries, then pour into serving dishes and chill until set.
For a non-alcoholic dessert, substitute 3 cups of fruit punch for the wine and then continue with the recipe’s instructions.
Top photo: A gelatin fruit salad. Credit: iStockPhoto
In the ’90s, prewashed and bagged baby salad greens changed salad eating in America forever. I was as excited about bagged baby spinach as the next person. No more endless washing of bunch spinach, only to end up with a handful after I cooked it. I averted my eyes from the price tags on the 6-ounce bags and found great bargains at my local Iranian market for big bags packed tight with 2½ pounds of the small flat leaves.
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I’ve had my spinach epiphany, and now I enjoy the time that I spend at the sink stemming and washing my farmers market spinach, in the same way that I enjoy shelling English peas; the prize is worth the task. I admire the feel and look of it as I break off the stems and rub the gritty but lush sandy leaf bottoms where they meet the stems between my fingers. The inner leaves are often light at the stem end, pink or purple in some varieties (I ask the farmer what the variety is, but I never remember the names). The sand departs easily from the leaves when you swish them around in a bowl of water, lift them out, drain the water, and swish them around again in a second bowl. The leaves, no longer gritty, feel plush in my hands.
Delicious spinach plain or buttered up
When I wilt spinach, I have to keep myself from eating it right away if it’s destined for a particular dish. For I love a pile of blanched or wilted spinach unadorned, or enhanced with little more than olive oil or butter, salt, pepper and sometimes garlic. This penchant began in earnest when I lived in France. My neighborhood brasserie was Le Muniche in the rue de Buci — alas, now gone — and my standard meal there was a simple piece of grilled salmon or a plate of marinated saumon crue aux baies roses (raw salmon with red peppercorns), always served with pommes de terre vapeur and a generous helping of spinach, blanched, buttered and salted. There must have been one poor young soul in the Le Muniche kitchen brigade whose only job was to stem, wash and blanch kilos of spinach all day, every day.
Spinach, more than any other green, changes when you cook it for too long, and not for the better. That’s why Popeye had the job of trying to make kids eat their spinach way back in the days when canned spinach was the norm. It loses its forest green color, fading to olive drab, and its flavor becomes drab too, even downright unappealing, a strong metallic aftertaste overcoming the freshness and promise that was once there. Twenty seconds of blanching is all it needs, or a minute in a steamer. You can wilt it in a pan or wok in the steam created by the water left on the leaves after washing, but with the exception of stir-fries I rarely use this method because it’s easier to cook the spinach evenly, in one quick go, if I blanch it.
Plain or Seasoned Spinach
Blanching is my preferred method of wilting spinach because it’s so efficient. People will tell me that I’m losing nutrients in the boiling water, but it’s such a quick blanch — 20 seconds. If you prefer to steam, see the directions below.
Serves 2 to 4
1 or 2 generous bunches spinach
Salt to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 1 to 2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1. Stem the spinach and wash well in two changes of water. Meanwhile, if blanching, bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously.
2. Fill a bowl with cold water before you add the spinach to the boiling water, as it wilts immediately. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for about 15 to 20 seconds.
3. With a large skimmer transfer to the cold water, then drain and squeeze dry by the handful. Don’t be dismayed by how little spinach those lush bunches have yielded. Just enjoy what’s there. It’s so nutrient-dense, a small serving is quite satisfying.
4. Chop the wilted spinach medium fine or leave the leaves whole.
5. To steam the spinach, add to a steamer set above 1 inch of boiling water and cover. The spinach will wilt in 1 minute. Rinse with cold water and squeeze dry by the handful.
6. To season, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons (depending on the amount of spinach you have) olive oil over medium heat in a heavy, medium size or large skillet and add 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves.
7. Cook until the garlic begins to sizzle and smell fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add the herbs if using, spinach and salt and pepper to taste, and stir and toss in the pan for about a minute, until nicely infused with the oil, garlic and herbs. Remove from the heat.
Top photo: Spinach at the farmers market. Credit: iStockphoto
I pause, unsure how my question will be received. “Have you had kale chips?”
That was the first time I posed the question to a patient in a medical exam room. With more than a decade of practicing internal medicine under my belt, I had never felt particularly inspired or successful in counseling my patients about their weight. Then I attended Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives (HKHL), an annual medical conference at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., a gathering aimed at training doctors in nutrition and cooking. Within weeks upon my return, I was “prescribing” my first recipe.
Like many of my patients in the San Francisco Bay Area, John, who is in his late 40s, is overweight. He has never been successfully motivated to slim down because no “diet” has ever worked for him. When I bring up his chart and show him his body mass index (BMI), he says, ”I’m fat, but nothing I try ever works.”
Chipping away at the weight issue
“What do you eat on an average day?” I ask. “Do you eat fruits and vegetables?” John says he loves vegetables and loves to cook. He even volunteers at a local farmers market. But he has a weakness: “Chips,” he says. “I can’t stop eating chips.” John’s idea of chips is the potato variety, soaked in fat, fried and overly salted. I suggest he try kale chips and give him a simple recipe (see below). I tell him he can eat as many as he likes.
A month later, John has lost 5 pounds and is perceptibly happier and more confident. “Doc,” he says, “No doctor has ever given me a recipe before. Those kale chips are so good! Thank you.”
Granted, obese patients need more than a recipe for kale chips to find their way to a healthy weight, but a simple nutritious and non-fattening recipe is a first step and a great incentivizer. By giving John a fantastic-tasting substitute for his beloved chips rather than forbidding him to eat one of his favorite treats, I was able to convey that a different way of eating would allow him to enjoy snacks while feeling healthier and losing weight along the way.
Healthy recipe Rx
When doctors discuss food, it’s usually in the context of nutrition rather than flavor, as in: “You’ve really got to cut back on the junk food.” Well, patients know that, they just may not know what to replace their junk food with. What if doctors began giving out simple recipes for healthful, whole-food alternatives before they handed out prescriptions for cholesterol-lowering medication? Or gave a prescription for exercise and a decadent tasting fruit-based dessert to help control blood pressure?
Traditionally, medical schools do not include coursework in nutrition or, certainly, in cooking, and insurance companies are unlikely to reimburse for nutritional counseling. It’s much faster and easier to write a prescription for a drug, and because it may require no change in lifestyle or self-discipline on the part of patients, they may prefer a pill as well. And if the doctors themselves aren’t the best role models, due to long work hours and the same poor dietary and exercise habits she is asking her patients to rectify, they may not have credibility behind their message.
How do we change this? First, doctors must learn about nutrition and healthy cooking. Showing patients how to shop and cook, and giving them actual recipes should be the next step doctors take. This would instigate a cultural shift and require advocating for insurance coverage, but the change would improve the nation’s health and save health-care dollars in the long run.
Cooking for the cure
Dr. David Eisenberg, a professor at Harvard Medical School, is devoted to this idea. He founded Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives with the goal of turning physicians into foot soldiers in the war against obesity and other nutrition-related diseases. Over a four-day course each March, doctors swap scalpels for chef’s knives, and white coats for aprons, as they attend cooking demonstrations and get hands-on in the kitchen. They leave the conference with a changed perspective and a renewed zeal to talk prevention.
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An HKHL alumnus, Dr. John Principe, completely restructured his Chicago-area practice and now has a teaching kitchen. Principe, who says that he had been “burnt to a crisp by the methods of conventional medicine,” credits Eisenberg and HKHL for saving his career. “The ability to empower people to take control of their health through the simple tools of a knife, fire and water is amazing,” he says. “It’s primitive but essential!”
A sprinkling of other programs around the country are also taking the initiative in teaching doctors how to cook. Dr. Robert Graham, associate program director for the Internal Medicine Residency at New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital, runs a six-week program to instruct medical residents in nutrition, weight management and exercise. Students take cooking classes at the Institute of Culinary Education. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers cooking classes tailored to physicians’ medical specialties, and Tulane University’s Medical School and Johnson and Wales University recently established the first Culinary Medicine collaboration, with the goal of pairing physicians and chefs.
So picture this: At your next checkup, you’ll be weighed in, get your blood pressure checked, and your latest cholesterol and blood sugar numbers. Then your doctor will hand you her favorite kale chip recipe or one that turns frozen bananas into ice cream. It seems far-fetched now, but it would make medical and fiscal sense to make such a scenario a reality in the immediate future.
Dr. Shiue’s Kale Chips
1 head kale, washed and completely dried
a few pinches of salt, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1. Wash whole kale leaves, shake out or dry in a salad spinner, then place on a rack to dry thoroughly. Depending on your temperature and humidity conditions, this can take an hour or several hours. Alternatively, dry thoroughly with towels.
2. Preheat oven to 275 F.
3. Once kale leaves are completely dried, tear leaves off the fibrous central stem into bite-size (potato chip sized) pieces and place onto two baking sheets in a single layer with some space around each leaf.
4. Sprinkle on salt and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, about 1 tablespoon per baking sheet. Toss with tongs to evenly distribute salt and oil.
5. Place prepared kale leaves into the preheated oven, and bake for 20 minutes, turning over leaves halfway through baking.
Variations: Experiment with tasty seasonings, including cayenne pepper with a squeeze of lime juice, Bragg Nutritional Yeast and nori furikake.
Top photo: Baked kale chips. Credit: iStockphoto
When spring comes to Maine, it always reminds me of the moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when the film morphs from black and white to color. That’s how strong the sensations are when the grayish piles of snow melt and the landscape suddenly turns emerald green.
Many head to the beach to walk the rocky shoreline, but I go to the woods. I pack the dog into the car and head to a secret spot where ramps, or wild leeks, grow. We tromp down steep hills, careful of the thick patch of slippery dry leaves, and follow a stream overflowing with spring rains until we come upon a patch of brilliant green leaves popping out of the ground.
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There you are in the woods, with the scent of mulch, spring air and the mineral freshness of flowing water when your nose fills with the bite of raw onion. Ramps, allium tricoccum, are a member of the lily family; the leaves resemble longer, wider, more elegant lily of the valley. If you’re out foraging and you pull up a leaf and your nose is not assaulted by the strong scent of onion, then you don’t have a ramp. Carefully dig through the earth and you’ll discover a white, scallion-like bulb, covered in a thin, brown “skin” attached to the green leaves.
Ramps a growing food trend
The late wild foods expert Euell Gibbons called ramps “the sweetest and the best of the wild onions.” Early Native Americans used them as a medicinal herb to “cure” coughs and colds and made a poultice from the juice of the bulb to remove the itch and sting of bee bites. Ramps contain a good amount of vitamins C and A.
These days ramps are all the rage. You find them on the menu at cutting-edge restaurants and at farmers markets, gourmet grocery stores and vegetable stands, where they can sell for more than $20 a pound. Ramp salad, ramp tart, ramp sauces, ramp pasta, ramp pizza … Ramps are to 2013 what sun-dried tomatoes were in the 1980s.
The thing to understand about ramps is that, like truffles, another foraged food, a little goes a long way. When raw, ramps have an overwhelming smell like a cross between wild onions and dirty socks. But cooking them brings out their delicate and unique flavor. I like to describe their taste this way: Imagine taking a leek, a clove of garlic, a sweet Vidalia-type onion, a scallion and a shallot, put them all into a machine and extract the single-most distinguishing flavor element from each. Ramps taste like the best of the allium or the onion family with a depth of flavor that can highlight even the most ordinary foods: grilled cheese and ramp sandwiches, a ramp and spring mushroom tart, ramp soup, ramp pasta sauces, and ramp purée used much like pesto.
When you add ramps to a hot skillet with just a touch of olive oil, something extraordinary happens. The leaves hit the heat and begin to puff up like they’re alive and dancing. As the scallion-like bulb softens and becomes tender, the greens wilt, softening into the fragrant oil. Crack a good country egg on top of the sautéed ramps and eat them with crusty bread.
For lunch or dinner, make a French-style bistro salad flavored with ramps. Top spring greens with a poached egg, sautéed ramps, paper-thin slices of Parmesan cheese, a slice of proscuitto, and toss with a thick, mustardy-chive vinaigrette.
I also love making a simple ramp butter: blanch ramps in boiling water for 30 seconds, refresh them in ice cold water and dry thoroughly. Blend with butter and place a small dab of ramp butter on grilled steaks, leg of lamb, swordfish, scallops, sautéed shrimp or risotto.
Bistro-Style Salad with Ramps, Poached Eggs and Proscuitto With a Mustard-Chive Vinaigrette
You can prepare the ramps and vinaigrette several hours before serving. Poach the eggs for 3 minutes, just until the whites set and the yolk is still runny. When you cut into the egg, the yolk coats the salad with its creamy richness.
For the salad:
4 cups mesclun greens or a mixture of bitter greens like frisée, radicchio and arugula
1½ tablespoons olive oil
12 ramps, washed and thoroughly dried, with the root end trimmed off
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thin slices proscuitto, less than ⅛ pound
8 paper-thin slices Parmesan cheese (cut with a vegetable peeler)
4 very fresh eggs
For the mustard vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1½ tablespoons white or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
¼ cup olive oil
For the salad greens:
1. Clean the greens and dry thoroughly; set aside.
2. Heat a medium skillet with 1½ tablespoons of olive oil over moderate heat. Add the ramps and let cook for about 2 to 3 minutes, or until the greens have puffed up and the white scallion-like bulb is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside.
For the vinaigrette:
Whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning. The recipe can be made ahead of time up to this point. Cover and refrigerate the greens, ramps and vinaigrette.
To poach the eggs:
1. Bring a shallow skillet full of water to a boil over high heat.
2. Meanwhile, toss the greens with the vinaigrette and place on a large platter or in a shallow bowl. Arrange the proscuitto slices on top of the greens and arrange the ramps on top. Scatter the cheese slices over the salad.
3. Reduce the heat under the water to moderate and carefully crack the eggs into the water, one at a time; cook for 3 minutes. Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and place carefully on top of the salad. Add a grinding of black pepper and serve.
Top photo: Bistro-Style Salad with Ramps, Poached Eggs and Proscuitto With a Mustard-Chive Vinaigrette. Credit: Kathy Gunst