Monday, November 24, 2014

In Preparation

We are starting to prepare for my favorite holiday. A holiday that is based upon two of my passions: seasonal bounty and sharing a meal. There is no dogma that sets the rules or exclusion of participation – it is the holiday for all.

It is also the original farm to table dinner. We all know the story of gratitude; the pilgrims setting a table of thanks, and no matter how romanticized this version maybe, its essence is eternal. For me this means community where is always room to set another place setting for any last minute stray.

The table and traditions reflects that of the New England farm: cranberries, flinty corn pumpkin and that bird. Pecan pie had to be brought by the relatives in the southeast and greens bean casserole from guests coming in from the west coast (or, an editor from Ladies Home Journal sometime in the late 50’s). When I was living in Australia and yearned to celebrate a very American holiday, during their spring, I had to recognize that cranberries, pumpkin and corn would not be found. The spicy mango chutney complimented the roasted bird and the side dishes that screamed spring satisfied all that gathered. I became less concerned about the trimmings of the table, and more engrossed with the faces expressing pleasure due to the meal consumed and the chairs filled by loved ones.  The true nature of the table should reflect the seasonal bounty found. Spiced by our individuality. Living in recognition that our diversity, and simultaneously, similarities makes this a great day to be shared.

Celery Root and Apple Slaw with Blue Cheese Dressing - yields approx. 8 servings
1 medium red onion
½-cup apple cider vinegar
2 pounds celery root
2 apples
¼-cup chopped chives
2 heaping tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼-pound blue cheese - crumbled
¼-cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Slice the onion in half through its root base – by cutting the onion in this way you prevent it from falling apart -- all the leaves of the onion attach at the root end.  Trim off the stem and peel away its outer layer. Slice the onion into a very thin julienne, which will actually be a half moon shape. Toss the onions with vinegar in a work bowl and let sit for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, peel the celery root by cutting off the root and stem portions to create a flat, stable surface.  Using a pairing or chef knife peel the skin from the celery root. Given the thickness of the vegetable’s skin I find it much easier to use a knife than a vegetable peeler. Slice the celery root into ¼-inch thick panels, and then cut those panels into -inch wide julienne strips. Place in with the onions and toss. Core the apples and slice into -inch thick julienne strips and toss with the onion mixture along with the chives, mustard, blue cheese, oil, salt and pepper.

Serve this salad cold or, I like to warm it before serving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

How to eat

I find it curious that we are still seeking the answer to, what is eating healthy? After all the fade diets and miracle pills have we learned nothing? I have my answer, which is really short and simple: eat a bit of everything and move. Now, here is the caveat to my axiom.

I am a great proponent of learning to say yes to more foods – if I have never seen it before I try it, however, the most important aspect is that all foods created, served and eaten should be recognizable; i.e. understanding its relationship to the earth. There should never be foods that have been overly manipulated and packaged by any industrialized food manufacturer in the kitchen – butter over margarine; oven crisped sweet potatoes in lieu of Tatter Tots.  Any canned item in the pantry must have an extremely brief ingredient list (about four ingredients or less), and definitely, read and understand the label. In the winter months when the selection at the farmer’s markets is slim vegetables are going to be frozen rather than sodium drenched and already overcooked tinned ones. Of course, buying organic and certified humane is of great value, though I am greatly sensitive to the cost unfortunately associated with this choice. But part of eating “healthy” is not consuming the drugs administrated widely to our food supply in order to grow stuff bigger, faster, and fuller.

The ultimate healthy eating is not necessarily going vegan, swearing gluten-free because it is the cure, or cooking a pre-historic meal plan. It is finding the foods and style that are appealing and allowing the plate to be dominated by vegetables that you can live with for the rest of your life. Find the pleasure equally in a slab of baby back ribs or a slab of tofu; indulge in the slice of cake and revel in fruit tossed with some snipped herbs. Healthy eating is meant to keep us healthy both emotionally and physically.

We all must eat consciously and understand the amount of calories we are taking in because no matter how “healthy” one supposedly eats, too much is just that.

Chicken Salad with Peanut Sauce – yields 4 servings
½-pound boneless/skinless chicken breast – cut into thin strips
4-ounces vermicelli rice noodles
½-hot house cucumber – sliced in strips
1-celery stalk – slice into 1-inch strips
½-pound jicama – peeled and sliced into strips
2-tablespoons chopped mint leaves
½-pound (about 4 pieces) chopped baby bok choy
3-scallions – sliced

Bring 3-cups of water to the boil, and add the chicken strips. Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain the chicken through a sieve into a bowl that has the noodles. Allow let the noodles soak in the hot cooking liquid for ten minutes, and then drain.

In a large bowl add all the ingredients, and toss with the peanut sauce. Serve room temperature or cold.

Peanut Sauce
3-tablespoons lemon juice (from a ½-lemon)
3-tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
¼-cup all natural peanut butter
1-tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1-garlic clove
2-teaspoons sesame oil
1-tablespoon rice vinegar
3-tablespoons soy sauce
¼-cup water

Place all ingredients in a blend, and process until smooth.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tonight, we roast

Feeding those we Love
Nightly we set the Table
A crisp day is warmed by their Smiles

Braised Pork Loin with Rice Dumplings – serves 4 to 6
3-pound pork loin
2 large onions – roughly chopped
8-10 whole garlic cloves – carefully peeled

2 celery stalks – sliced thinly
6 stems of thyme
1½-cups cooked rice
2-tablespoons fresh mint leaves – chopped
1-tablespoon thyme leaves – chopped
½-cup chickpea flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven 325-degrees.

Heat a 3-quart casserole dish over a high flame, and add the pork loin. Brown the pork on all sides. Remove from the casserole dish, and immediately add in the onions, garlic, celery and thyme. Cook for a few mintues, and return the pork to the dish. Pour over 1-cup of water, and season with salt and pepper. Cover securely, and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours.

In the meantime, to make the dumpling place the rice, mint, thyme and ½-teaspoon salt in a food process along with ¼-cup of water. Process the rice mixture until particularly smooth. Transfer the rice puree into a bowl, and with a spoon thoroughly mix in the chickpea flour. Form the rice mixture into approximately 14 balls (the size of a walnut – it is easiest if you keep your hands dmapened), and hold on a plate mositened with a thin film of water.

After the pork has cooked for two hours, add in the rice dumplings and replace the cover. Retun to the oven and cook an additional 1-hour. Serve.