On Elevating a Dish

ingredients for this recipe

I think it is safe to assume that everyone has at least one guilty pleasure food that comes from a can or box. When I grew up, many families used to fully subsist on toaster strudels and kraft mac and cheese in favor of time and Convenience. For me, it was Spaghettio’s and hamburger helper. Once of my clients has mentioned that his Mom had a “special occasion” chili casserole that that used Velveeta as a base and Fritos as a topping. When you think about it, these processed foods are pretty awful, and now I can’t believe that I ate so much instant Ramen as a growing child in need of nutrients. Unfortunately, even with this retrospective knowledge, I still can’t help but crave some of my childhood favorites every now and then.

This past weekend proves case and point. After a long day catering a very fun and intimate dinner party, Rian and I craved some easy comfort. Seeking the only open grocery store at midnight, we loaded up on Annie’s mac and cheese, Chicken flavored Ramen, and Cinnamon toast crunch. While the cereal definitely lived up to its expectations, we were saddened to find that the mac and cheese tasted like cardboard and the ramen tasted like flavored salt. Now that we know better as experienced food snobs, we could recognize how inferior these powdered, dehydrated and condensed versions of food really are in comparison to the real deal.

This was a moment when I realized how being a chef has changed my life and habits. Without even talking about it, Rian and I set about doing whatever we could to improve upon the flavor of each dish and cajole them into giving us the flavor experience we remembered from childhood. The mac and cheese received grated gruyere, chili flakes and garlic while the ramen transformed into a mediocre resemblance of pho with cilantro, mint, basil, scallions and lime juice.

cheese before baking

If only there were a way that we could still enjoy our childhood favorite foods but in a less guilty manner. I finally realized that we can take our favorite aspects of each meal we used to love and then transform them into a more wholesome version. One might sacrifice some extra time but benefit from better ingredients, flavor, texture and nutrition. For example, why not transform the above mentioned chili casserole by using fresh grated fontina and cheddar cheeses, a combination of home cooked beans, and a homemade charred corn crumble topping.

Green Beans with cream and spices

On the topic of casseroles, I find myself to be somewhat of an expert. Hailing from Minnesota, we masters of the slow cooker and “hot dish” meals. My absolute favorite was the classic green bean casserole, which included Campbell’s condensed mushroom soup and a can of crispy fried onions. In light of the coming holidays and my recent revelations, I have decided to experiment with my theory on elevating a classic by creating a What We Eat version of my favorite casserole using only fresh ingredients.

Green Bean and mushroom casserole

 

GREEN BEAN AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

Ingredients
2 lbs green beans, trimmed
8 ounces mixed mushrooms of choice
6 shallots (canola oil to pan-fry)
5 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons flour

2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

pepper to taste

Method:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Thinly shave the onion and and garlic. Caramelize the onion in a well oiled skillet. When the onion has achieved some color, add the mushrooms and cook until they have reduced and become slightly caramelized. Add the garlic and stir until aromatic. Add the flour, smoked paprika, cayenne pepper and nutmeg and stir until aromatic.

Slowly pour the chicken stock and heavy cream into the skillet while stirring to combine. Toss the green beans into the skillet and stir all ingredients until just mixed. Top with an even layer of grated parmesan and bake uncovered for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour a one-inch layer of canola oil into another skillet and heat on high heat. Shave the shallots very thinly. Working in small batches, fry the shallots until crisp and lightly browned. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to dry. Season with salt.

When the Casserole is bubbling and cooked through, remove from oven to let sit for ten minutes. Top with Crispy shallots to serve.

 

Serves 6

Root Veggies on Parade

Beet varieties at the Park Slope Food Coop

Everyone direct your attention to the nearest produce section, brimming with veggies in every odd shape and color of the rainbow. It’s time to familiarize yourself with the scraggily, weird looking veggies, pulled straight from the ground that have settled on produce shelves for the winter. They include such favorites as carrots, celery, parsnips, radish, turnips, beets, potatoes, onions, shallots, garlic and rutabaga… well maybe not that last one but it’s just so fun to say! Besides rutabaga these are some of the most common things we find in the crisper drawer, probably because they last much longer than your fruits or your greens. They’re something we’re confident using two weeks in a row, which makes our job all the more experimental and exciting.

There’s almost nothing I find more comforting than biting into a warm roasted carrot, which is why, when I surveyed my supermarket this weekend, just as the temperature finally dropped below 60, I ended up with mostly carrots in my handcart. I love the way they’re equally delicious raw as they are cooked and how they add just the right amount of sweetness to a dish.

A few more things you should know about carrots:

  • You don’t need to peel them unless you’re eating them raw.
  • While carrots are very nutritious (vitamin A, C, potassium, etc.) most of the nutrients in carrots actually reside in or just bellow the skin so it’s best not to peel away too much.
  • For candy-like caramelized carrots drizzle a little honey or maple syrup on them before roasting.
  • As we know carrots come in many colors. But when carrots were first cultivated (some ten thousand years ago) they were actually purple, not the orange color we associate them with most today (www.carrotmuseum.com).
  • You really will turn orange if you eat too many of the orange ones!

The second root-veggie I find it hard to resist is beets. When I see them on a menu I must have them, especially when they’re paired with goat cheese… mmmm. I love the sweet smell of the steam when you unwrap their foil. I don’t even mind that my hands will look like an art project for the rest of the day (pro tip: feta juice takes it right off).

A few more things you should know about beets:

  • To steam beets, rinse well, pat dry, sprinkle with salt and wrap in foil. The foil-wrapped bulbs can be placed directly on the oven rack. Just be sure they’re wrap doesn’t have any tears of holes.
  • They take a long time (sometimes over an hour) – so plan ahead! For steaming it’s important to try to pick beets that are relatively the same size so they’re tender at the same time. If you’re crunched for time, use smaller beets or cut larger ones into wedges with their skin on and roast them just like you would any other veggie with salt, pepper and olive oil on a sheet tray at 425 degrees. The skins get nice and caramelized that way!
  • You can eat them raw: shredded like you would carrots or shaved like you would radish.
  • Keep a loose piece of foil or sheet tray on the rack below the beets to collect any spills, saving yourself from that horrible bubbly, smoky mess on the bottom of your oven.

I could go on and on about my favorite root-vegetables because, truth is, I love them all, these are just the ones I’m craving this week:

I saw this carrot recipe in the new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (just hit shelves last weekend and totally worth a peruse) that immediately caught my eye. Because carrots, tahini, crispy chickpeas. But I wanted it to be substantial enough for my whole meal so I decided raw carrots we’re enough and I roasted big chunks instead.

I also added smoked paprika to the chickpeas because it’s delicious.

Carrots

4-5 carrots quartered lengthwise or cut in coins

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

Pepper to taste

Chickpeas

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and patted dry on paper towels

1 Tbs. olive oil

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cumin

¼ tsp. paprika

Dressing

1 medium garlic clove

Juice of one lemon

3 Tbs. tahini

2 Tbs. water, or more as needed

A pinch of salt

Salad

1/4 cup chopped pistachios, roasted

2 sprigs parsley leaves

Roast carrots: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange carrots in a single layer on a large, parchment lined sheet tray. Season with salt, pepper and oil, toss and roast for about 25 minutes, until the carrots are deeply roasted and caramelized.

Chickpeas: Toss chickpeas with oil and seasonings. Spread them on a sheet tray and roast alongside the carrots until crisp and crunchy, about 15-20 minutes.

Vinaigrette: Whisk ingredients in a large bowl until smooth, but not too loose. You may need to add more water to achieve this consistency. Don’t worry this is normal!

Assemble salad: tumble carrots, chickpeas, pistachios and parsley into a large bowl and drizzle with tahini vinaigrette. Enjoy!

Other favorite carrot recipes:

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1013106-carrot-tahini-soup-with-coriander-turmeric-and-lemon

https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/bas-best-carrot-cake

https://smittenkitchen.com/2016/05/roasted-carrots-with-avocado-and-yogurt/

Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh’s beautiful book, Sweet, highlights a couple unlikely root vegetable baked goods. Of course the one that seduced me wasn’t the carrot cake, which is a personal weakness, but the beet cake! With spicy candied ginger and tangy cream cheese frosting it’s certainly a contender!

The picture in the cookbook made the frosting look light and fluffy. My results were a little on the runnier side, but still tasted delicious 🙂

Cake

2/3 cup walnut halves

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

2 red beets, peeled and coarsely grated

Finely grated zest of one orange (1 tbs.)

1/2 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger (they instruct you to steep these in boiling water for 15 minutes, however, I skipped this step to create a little more intense flavor)

2 large eggs

¼ cup soup cream

½ cup sunflower oil

Frosting

5 ½ cream cheese at room temperature

½ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted (plus more if necessary)

1/3 cup heavy cream

2 1/3 inch piece of ginger grated into a fine sieve placed over a bowl and the flesh squeezed to extract all the juices; reserve the juice.

To make cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper, then set aside.

Toast the walnuts in a skillet in the oven for 15 minutes.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine and aerate. Add the beets, orange zest, walnut and ginger, but do not stir.

Place wet ingredients: eggs, sour cream and oil in another small bowl and whisk to combine.

Pour mixture into the cake pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 30 minutes before removing from the pan.

To make frosting: Place the cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and beat for about 10 seconds until smooth. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add the cream and beat for about 1 minute, until the frosting is thick and smooth. Add the ginger juice, beat for a few more seconds. If the frosting seems a little loose just add a little more confectioner’s sugar. Once the cake is cooled, frost with an offset spatula and slice to serve!

Ottolenghi stirs in a crushed 1500mg vitamin C tablet to help preserve some of the vibrant pink hue

Other favorite beet recipes:

http://www.feastingathome.com/beet-bruschetta-with-goat-cheese-and-basil/

http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/grilled-beet-burgers/

https://www.loveandlemons.com/beet-hummus/

 

Happy cooking,

Charlotte

What’s the Deal with Full Fat Dairy?

When I worked as a primary care dietitian, not a day passed without me recommending the substitution of low-fat or nonfat dairy products for their full-fat counterparts. Whether I was seeing someone with heart disease or high cholesterol, obesity or diabetes, choosing low-fat/nonfat dairy was a no-brainer. However, a growing body of evidence suggests this recommendation may be at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.

There were two main reasons the medical field touted the superiority of low-fat dairy for so long:

  • Saturated fat has long been associated with high cholesterol and heart disease. Full fat dairy is higher in saturated fat than low-fat/nonfat dairy.
  • Low calorie diets are associated with healthy weight management. Full fat dairy is higher in calories than low-fat/nonfat dairy.

What’s changed? The short answer is nutrition science itself. Until recently, nutrition science has focused on isolated nutrients instead of actual foods.

In the case of saturated fat and heart disease, science looked at the effect of saturated fat overall. It did not distinguish whether it came from animal fat (think the fatty gristle on a t-bone steak), dairy fat (think whole milk) or vegetable fat (think coconut oil). All foods have unique fatty acid profiles, each of which may have different metabolic effects. Even a food group’s subsets, like milk, yogurt, cheese and butter, which all fall under the dairy umbrella, have different profiles and different effects. When the full fat dairy group is teased out from the other saturated fat sources, it does not appear to be significantly related to risk of heart disease.

In the case of calories and weight control, science has long held that a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie. Fat has more calories per gram than protein and carbohydrates (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), so therefore reducing calories by choosing lower fat alternatives was thought to aid in weight management. However, new research indicates that full fat dairy is associated with improved weight control. While the reason isn’t fully understood, one hypothesis is that full fat dairy is more filling than low-fat/non fat dairy alternatives, so those who consume the latter compensate by eating more calories (most often from refined carbohydrates) later on.

So, what’s a dairy eater to do? Here are my recommendations:

  • Enjoy full fat versions of the dairy you currently consume if you’d like. Be moderate. Three servings of dairy a day is plenty. That could be one cup whole Greek yogurt for breakfast, a small whole milk cappuccino midmorning and an ounce or two of cheese crumbled atop a salad for dinner. At home, I’ve stuck with 1% milk because, after years of nonfat, anything more than that tastes too creamy. Similarly, 2% Greek yogurt is rich enough for me so that’s what I stick with for now. This is what I mean with “if you’d like.” The research isn’t strong enough yet to necessitate a complete overhaul.
  • Fermented plain full fat dairy like yogurt and kefir seems to be the most beneficial of all full fat dairy products, so extra points for regularly including these foods in your diet.
  • Avoid low-fat/nonfat and full fat dairy with added sugars or sugar substitutes. I know fruited yogurt is a go-to kids snack. Parents should think of these as dessert for their kids just as they would ice cream.
  • Unfortunately, research still doesn’t favor butter. Use it sparingly and substitute olive oil whenever possible.
  • The bulk of your diet should be vegetables and fruit (at least half), whole grains, nuts and seeds, legumes and other lean proteins like fish and eggs. These foods are indisputably good for you.

One final note. Nutrition science is so young. The direction of research today indicates that full fat dairy isn’t the no-no we once thought it was but that doesn’t mean we should accept this as indisputable fact for life. Nutrition science will continue to evolve so it’s important to be open to new developments but at the same time be skeptical about where your information is coming from. As Dr. David Katz, Director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, says:

“It is the least substantiated, most uninformed opinions about how to eat that will come at you with the greatest conviction. That’s your first clue that something is awry, because true expertise always allows for doubt.”

xo Laura

 

Pumpkin Pie Spice and Everything Nice!

There are a lot of things I love about the fall. Football, colorful crunchy leaves, thick socks and most of all – the abundance of pumpkin EVERYTHING. As I was going through Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cook book, “Sweet”, I stumbled upon a delish spice cake recipe that uses pumpkin pie spice! So in the spirit of Halloween, I had to test it.

Growing up, my mom would make the most delicious spice cakes every year (she’s an amazing baker and constantly gets asked to make her famous rum cakes, spice cakes and chocolate rolls). So, as I try to channel my mom and Ottolenghi, here is what I came up with! Of course I had to give it a flare, so I added toasted hazelnuts, fresh sage and dates to the batter. And let me tell you, the kitchen smelled AMAZING.

Recipe

¾ cup butter, at room temperature

¾ packed cup dark brown sugar

¾ packed cup light brown sugar

finely grated zest of 1 large orange

3 large eggs

½ cup sour cream

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 heaping tsp pumpkin pie spice (YUM)

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ tsp salt

½ tsp baking soda

1 tsp apple cider vin

 

Rian’s Mix In’s (add anything you like! )

2 tbsp chopped fresh sage

¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

½ cup sliced dates

1 tsp flour

 

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375 Degrees. Grease a standard 9×5 loaf pan and line with parchment paper, then set aside.
  2. Place the butter, sugars and orange zest in a bowl and beat until lightened and smooth.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, sour cream and vanilla extract until smooth

4. In another separate bowl (lots of bowls!), sift the flour, pumpkin pie spice and salt together.

5. In alternate batches, slowly mix the egg mixture and flour mixture in with the butter and sugars. When almost combined, stir the baking soda and vinegar in a small bowl until it fizzes and add to the mixture.

6. In my version of the recipe, I added in toasted hazelnuts, dates and chopped sage to the batter! Stir the additional ingredients with a pinch of flour. This will ensure that they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake. Mix to combine.

7. Scrape the mixture into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-55 minutes.

8. Allow the cake to cool and serve with a glass of wine or a hot coffee (I prefer the wine). I smothered mine with homemade butternut squash and cream cheese icing, but the cake itself can stand alone. Enjoy! And have the happiest Halloween!!

xoxo,

Rian

 

 

Work-Life Balance In the Culinary Industry