Super Bowl XLVII meets Spa-cooking

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I’m pretty sure it’s too late to influence your Superbowl Sunday menu. I take the day as a culinary challenge: can I create Superbowl style treats without going full “Doritos and Papa John’s?” You can be the judge of my success, while the Ravens and 49ers battle on the field.

Last year I hosted a friend from work and her husband. She’s allergic to dairy and he eats gluten free. Clearly standard pizza fare was out. Instead, I characterize our menu as “heavy spa”– not as light as most of my meals, though still rich in vegetables and fruits. We started with a store-bought olive tapenade with multi-grain tortilla chips from Food Should Taste Good. I made “pizza tarts” in small fluted baking dishes. These have cooked whole grains as the base and I was able to make some with cheese (feta and ricotta) and some without. The tarts included some cooked Italian sausage along with eggplant, mushrooms, tomato and a good tomato sauce (such as Cucina e Amore’s Arrabiatta sauce). I sautéed a small shallot and also added Herbs d’ Provence. You can be as creative as you like! These are small volume dishes. I have four of the baking dishes, so I vary each one. That way, guests can experiment and I could serve my dairy-free friend.

Her husband might have been alright with the brown rice and quinoa base, but he opted to stick with other menu items, such as roasted root vegetables with honey-balsamic-fennel herb blend from Rancho la Puerta’s Cooking with the Seasons cookbook. For dessert, we had some fruit salad, made fresh that day.

This year, I watched the game on my own and had less motivation to prepare a lot of food. Earlier in the week I bought an Amy’s Roasted Vegetable Pizza with organic shiitake mushrooms, sweet onions, roasted red peppers and no cheese, some Genoa salami, some deli spanakopita, artichoke bruschetta, and eight large shrimp. I should confess that I went to the store after work and was hungry!

My Superbowl plan was to add some goat cheese and salami to the pizza, do something with the shrimp, and possibly have some spanakopita and bruschetta as snacks. I can now report on the menu as consumed!

  • Multi-grain tortilla chips (same as last year) with the artichoke bruschetta as first quarter snacks.
  • Amy’s pizza as planned, which turned out fabulous and took only about 12 minutes to cook. I ate half of it.
  • Spicy Garlic and Smoked Paprika Roasted Shrimp from my newest cookbook, Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes, by Jeanne Kelley. I used regular paprika and added some Moroccan spice mix I have. The recipe is easy: peel and devein the shrimp. For the small amount of shrimp I had, I used about 1/2 Tb of spices, one Tb of olive oil, one minced garlic, salt and pepper. I could have used a bit less spice and been happy too. Also, add some strips of red pepper, either fresh or, as I did, from a jar of roasted peppers. Combine all of this with the shrimp in a bowl, then roast at 400-degrees for about 8 minutes. Turn the shrimp and peppers, add some oregano and roast another 4 – 6 minutes (or longer as needed). Remove the shrimp from the pan and, if possible, deglaze the pan with some sherry. Pour the pan juices over the shrimp mixture. Enjoy!
  • A little fruit salad.
  • Oh, yes, and some wine.

I won’t claim that this meal was low-calorie, by any means. But I’m pretty sure it had more whole wheat, whole grain, organic vegetables, fresh fruit and quality ingredients that your average sports bar food. Fourth quarter, 6 minutes to go! Ravens 31, 49ers 29! Lights are on and it’s a real game! Go………Healthy!

Tough day at the office – Let dinner be easy

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Sometimes the workday gets the upper hand! Today was one of those days. I made a wonderful lentil-chard-vegetable soup last night and enjoyed some for lunch. So Plan A for dinner was a little more soup with some sort of protein and salad. Heading home at 6 pm, though, I still needed to go by Market of Choice and get some protein for dinner, coffee for the morning, and restock in general. Walking toward my car, I imagined a juicy (but lean) burger or some other version of comfort food to accompany my soup.

I suppose there are children growing up today for whom healthy salads, homemade vegetable soups and lean meats (or none at all) ARE comfort foods. Not me. Comfort foods for most of my life involved grease, starch and sweets. These are not the culiary stars in my new lifestyle.

Between the parking lot and my dinner plate I had to run the gauntlet of the entire grocery store, while feeling tired AND hungry. How could I achieve comfort food that was still on the healthier side? Maybe a buffalo burger? Unfortunately, no such luck at the meat counter. I inquired about the chicken-basil patty and learned that along with chicken and basil, it contained sugar! Really? So I got a plain chicken breast and some ground beef for some other day. I bought pears, apples, oranges and a mango in produce. You can never go wrong with fruit! I gathered coffee, juice, milk and wine.

By the time I got to the enormous deli counter, I was running out of steam. I no longer envisioned cooking anything from scratch and the leftover soup, though healthy, was not beckoning. So what could I simply buy and heat up? The clerk offered me a taste of their kale-blueberry-super salad which was pretty tasty and seemed like a great addition to whatever I had for dinner. But maybe the orzo-curry salad? I’ve had it before, but for some reason asked what was in the dressing. Oh, she says, sour cream, mayonnaise and coconut milk….and curry. Hmm, not sounding like a spa food exactly. And for protein? I spied the coconut crusted catfish (which is fun to say) and the spinach-feta-stuffed pork loin. This is the sort of test of commitment that my spa life needed. Which of these belongs on a spa-life small dinner plate?

So what was for dinner on my hard day? I heated the pork loin in a small ceramic dish at 350 in the oven while I opened a bottle of Malbec, cleaned up my new fruits, and put away the rest of the groceries. I finished out my plate with a serving of the kale super salad, and a few slices of an organic apple along the side. Lovely. Easy. Dinner done! I probably should have taken a picture before I ate it. I was just too hungry!

 

‘Tis the Season – Cooking with the Seasons

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Using seasonal recipes brings culinary discoveries and staves off boredom through the gray winter months of the Pacific Northwest where I live. My favorite cookbook for following the seasons is Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express. I’ve mentioned this book before, for its unusual recipe style: descriptive paragraphs rather than lists and measurements. The short recipe descriptions invite creativity and “mixing and matching” to substitute ingredients on hand.
For each season, Bittman offers 101 recipes, guiding me through breakfasts, soups and salads, entrees and desserts. This week I paged through the Winter and Fall sections and selected a number of ideas. I don’t always make the ones I choose, but they never fail to inspire me!

Choices depend on what’s already in the fridge, food I’m hungry for, and often, something new. Something I’ve not done before. This past week my plan included Bittman’s Fall recipes for Cream of Turnip Soup  (I had a spare turnip in the vegetable bin) and Baked Fish with Oregano, Lemon and Olives. From the Winter selections, I planned to make Chicken with Apples and Sage. Unbelievably, the local Market of Choice was out of chicken breast on Monday night, so I scratched that plan. I bought some fish and two red meat items: a large “kebab” of ground lamb and beef and two small pieces of Tri-tip. In cooking for one, I try to get cuts that are 6 to 8 oz. These usually provide enough protein for me for two or three meals. With that plan in mind, here’s how the week’s dinner menus actually worked out.

Monday: Cooked a Red Lentil and Barley soup with chicken broth and stewed tomatoes and cooked the lamb-beef kebab on my stove-top grill. I turned to Bittman once more for a Indian-inspired yogurt sauce from his Winter recipe, Indian-Style Lamb Kebabs. A mixed green salad with smoked Gouda, pears and a pear champagne vinaigrette rounded out the meal.

Tuesday: I cooked again. I made Bittman’s Baked Fish using Ling Cod, and a side dish of Brussels sprouts with bacon and raisins sourced from Bon Appetite’s online recipes.

Wednesday: I needed to make something quick to get to an evening meeting. I recombined some leftover pappardelle pasta with the leftover fish, some spinach, grated asiago and nicoise olives. All went into a skillet with some butter and shallots. Quick and tasty!

Thursday: Enough cooking! I went out to dinner at Eugene’s Cafe Lucky Noodle. I ordered Risotto Balls with Fontina and Almond-crusted chicken over pasta with vegies. I ate two of the three balls and about one-third of the entree. I finished the leftover restaurant food on Sunday night and Monday’s lunch.

Friday: Cooked the Tri-tip with a modified online chimichurri recipe from Emeril on the Food Network site. The recipe called for flat leaf parsley, basil and oregano, but I didn’t have those items so my version featured regular parsley, sage and thyme. I added the leftover risotto ball and more of my Brussels Sprouts dish.

Saturday: A surprise! A friend called and said she had made some buckwheat grain in chicken broth. She offered to add it to whatever I might have on hand, which was a variety of leftovers and four small corn tortillas. Back to Bittman! Sometimes it’s just a suggestion that inspires! I looked up his taco recipes. He pairs beef with corn. And pork (which I did not have) with an apple/fennel slaw. Thinking about the ingredients I had on hand, I made us each a fish taco with the remaining fish from earlier in the week and a beef taco with the remaining beef. The fish was topped with a fresh slaw of tart apples strips, napa cabbage and red cabbage. The beef was combined with pan-roasted corn and red peppers, with the chimichurri sauce. We accompanied both versions with minced cilantro and fresh avocado. The buckwheat was our side dish topped with a southwest flavored bruschetta.

Sunday? Ate up more leftovers and made some plans for the upcoming week! Hmm. The turnip is still awaiting its fate.

Jicama for the Holidays

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In my recent visit to Rancho la Puerta, I enjoyed a jicama Salad on Romaine with toasted pepitas and cilantro Dressing. I was reminded that jicama tastes good and brings a fresh flavor to winter salads. When friends invited me over for Christmas dinner, I decided to bring a salad featuring jicama.

If you are not familiar with this food, it’s worth checking out. Jicama is a legume, but it’s the root that is eaten, either raw or cooked. It’s consistent texture allows easy chopping into slices, cubes or Julienne style. It pairs well with citrus salads, using orange segments or grapefruit, also readily available in the winter months.

For my holiday feast, I had two options, one from the Cooking with the Seasons at Rancho la Puerta and the other from the sister spa, The Golden Door Cooks at Home. The Ranch cookbook actually has a number of jicama salad recipes. I considered their Mexican coleslaw, with red and green cabbage, jicama and a cilantro vinaigrette. The cabbage seemed a little too casual for a holiday meal. So I went, instead, with the Golden Door avocado, orange and jicama salad with coriander dressing. I served this over a bed of frisee and radicchio. I also garnished the salad with “Bull’s Blood” microgreens which were new to me, and have a lovely green leaf with red stems and veins. The result was lovely, festive and tasty! Here’s where I should insert a photo, but I have to confess that we simply ate it! No photos this time, but if you get the cookbook you’ll find a great picture to inspire you!

Further true confessions: I took a knife skills class at the Ranch and let Santa know that I needed some new good knives and a nice bamboo chopping board for Christmas. Santa was so good to me! I used the knives, board and skills on the tasty jicama. I trimmed off the top and bottom, sliced it into half-inch segments, then into strips and finally into cubes. I supremed the segments from two oranges and carefully also cubed two small avocados. I’m enjoying the new knives and board. I’m also working to implement some of the efficiencies taught by the professional chef. I won’t be auditioning for Chopped anytime soon, but I will be enjoying cutting up more fruits and vegetables!

 

 

Back from the Ranch

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Labyrinth at Rancho la Puerta

Labyrinth at Rancho la Puerta

I returned to Rancho la Puerta spa in Tecate, Mexico for my second December holiday. My first visit in 2011 changed my life! What would this second visit inspire? In 2011, I did not know what to expect. I hoped for sunshine and warmth, some spa treatments, good food, beautiful vistas and rest. While the weather was a big chilly and gray, the rest of my hopes were fulfilled, and more.

I was “trying” to lose weight from a high point of 173 the previous spring. I was down to 168 or so. I’m 5 ft. 3 in. I ate moderately and walked my dog 30 minutes or so most days. I wasn’t looking for a weight loss plan, just a spa experience. I was simply blown away by the beautiful vegetables and fruits in the locally sourced meals. My taste buds were awakened to a style of meal that I had never really experienced! Sure, I’d had good food at restaurants, but tended to look for the meat on the menu. The idea of choosing vegie-rich foods had never occurred to me with my meat-and-potatoes upbringing.

This epiphany led to my idea of Spa Cooking for One! Initially, I thought I would hire a student cook from our culinary arts program. The cook could come once a week and make some healthy meals up for me. Instead, when I returned from the Ranch, I began to use my newly remodeled kitchen! I bought spa cookbooks, began logging my meals, and becoming creative in the kitchen. The challenge was not finding good recipes. It was finding ways to use up fresh foods and to re-invent dishes so I was not eating the same thing day after day. By end of February 2012, I was down to 155. Through summer and most of fall, I stayed at 150. After this recent trip to the Ranch, I’m at 145. I’d like to continue losing to get to a normal Body Mass Index. I think my overall health and strength will benefit when I do.

MDSCN1460ore amazingly, I love the food I eat. It’s colorful and flavorful and inventive. I’m never hungry. Food has a different meaning for me than it did in all those years of yo-yo dieting and comfort chips. When I spend time in the kitchen, I’m spending time on myself. I’m being healthy. I’m nurturing and enjoying myself. My wish for you in this New Year is that you discover foods that feed your soul as much as your body. Our bodies take care of us in so many ways. Let’s feed them well!

Home again, Home again, Jiggity Jig

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I made the first home cooked meal I’ve had in over two weeks tonight. I can’t tell you how excited I am to cook a healthy meal! Where have I been? I left Oregon for Richmond, Indiana on Sept. 6, returned on the 12th, left for Bend, Oregon on Sept. 14 and returned Sunday night. I made it to the grocery store yesterday, with some recipe ideas in hand. I turned again to Mark Bittman’s Kitchen Express for a quick and easy idea. In the summer recipe section, I chose Grilled Fish with Spinach and Tomatoes (p. 49). I added a quick Seven Whole Grains microwaved side from Seeds of Change. A bright Acrobat Rose’ wine from King Estate Winery and some poached pears (see my next blog entry) finished off my home-made happiness!

Travel presents all kinds of challenges for the spa food lifestyle! In the days before I left, I was busy and stressed and basically trying to eat up whatever was in the fridge without buying more ingredients. Then there’s the airport day with a wake up at 3:30 am, Starbucks at 7 or so in Denver and so forth. My purpose in flying to Indiana was to help my siblings pack up my 89-year-old father to move permanently to his home in Florida. My sister and I stayed in Richmond, Indiana, which is home to nearly every American chain restaurant in existence. We ate at Chili’s, Applebees, Charly’s, and Texas Roadhouse. We managed to skip Red Lobster, IHOP, and Bob Evans. Sadly, healthy and fresh food is not really on those menus. Sure, we could have lived on Wendy’s salads, but we wanted to be waited on and have a drink. I wrote off the trip for any spa-style food!

My trip to Bend, Oregon afforded much better culinary options. I dined at the Jackalope Grill on Friday night. The restaurant recently moved to a downtown location and was packed. The owner, Tim Garling, offered me his seat at the bar where I continued to chat with him and also met an enjoyable and friendly group of successful local folks. I was in foodie heaven! My meal consisted of a parade of tasty small plates. I started off with Berenjenas la Taberna, fried eggplant very lightly breaded and drizzled in honey, over some greens. It was wonderful! My second course was Bacon, Spinach and Blue Cheese Tarte, accompanied by a delightful salad of baby wild arugula. The tarte was a thin and flavorful light portion. I finished this ecstasy of local foods with Grilled Prawns and Chickpea Panisse. The Chickpea Panisse was actually a “french fry” presentation, accompanied by a romesco sauce. Inventive! Delicious. And unlike the restaurants of Richmond, IN, there were not glossy pictures of the food on the simple, written menu! No 2 for $20 deals either! I truly enjoyed my food and my experience!

My two course dinner tonight was not as exquisitely prepared as the food at the Jackalope Grill. Still, I was pleased at my colorful plate with a base of thinly sliced Roma tomatoes, a layer of bright green spinach wilted in garlic and olive oil, and a simple grilled cod fillet. The dessert was a “backyard pear” poached in Rose’ wine with Tan-Tan Moroccan Seasoning, another find in Bend from the Savory Spice Shop in the Old Mill Shops. I am home again!

Blog or Clean the Kitchen?

Tell the truth now, food bloggers! We’d all rather sit down to write than clean up the kitchen. We’d all rather take another photo of lovely food or ingredients or search our favorite cookbooks or read other people’s blogs than go back in there and wipe down the stove. I’ll confess: I don’t like cleaning pots and pans and I’ve been known to keep cooking all week and just move the pile around until I’ve run out of equipment and must stop to wash up.

I’ve tried all the tricks! “Wash up as you go along.” “Wash up while the food is in the oven.” I’d prefer, “Wash up while you are not in the house and mythical creatures clean the kitchen!” Sigh….

I’ll admit it’s satisfying when I have it all done and the counters are ready for the next wave of food exploration. But that’s not tonight or now. Now, I’m at the laptop and pots, pans, plates, colanders, measuring cups, knives, whisks, tongs and this morning’s coffee cup silently stare from the adjacent room. Open design kitchens….Not for this cook! I’ve got a pocket door and I’m using it!

 

Serendipity and Planning the Week Ahead

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Last week was a busy one, with a number of dinners out. Eating out is a challenge to my spa lifestyle, but one I’ve learned to handle by choosing lean meats or fish and lots of vegetables.  I also usually eat only half of what I’m served, saving the rest for a leftovers lunch. What I miss, though, is planning and cooking so that I have a variety of new foods to eat through the week ahead. On Saturday, I did some market shopping and began to look through my inspiring cookbooks for a Sunday dinner I could make, creating tasty leftovers for the week.

I started with a craving for chicken. I’d had a chicken dish on Friday and realized I really hadn’t cooked chicken in awhile. I went to my current favorite cookbook, La Tartine Gourmande, and it did not disappoint. I found Lemon and Honey-flavored Chicken with zebra tomatoes and haricots verts. (p. 175) Brining the chicken is an option and I’d never done that before. Learning a new technique would be an added bonus! The recipe called for zebra tomatoes and I believe I found them in the heirloom tomatoes at Sundance Market, a local healthy-foods store. At least the tomatoes I bought had stripes and great flavor! This was my starting point.

From there, I started flipping through Dishing Up Oregon. I found three recipes that looked like fun.

Seared Asparagus with Hard-Boiled Eggs, Crisply Morels, and Mustard Creme Fraiche (p. 44). Sundance Market had the Morels and Creme Fraiche. I’ll make this later in the week.

Curried Bay-Shrimp Salad (p. 138). This recipe originated with a local chef, Stephanie Pearl Kimmel of Marche Restarant in Eugene, Oregon. It was an easy, quick Saturday night dish, and I borrowed the “searing” technique from the previous recipe to cook a few spears of asparagus on the side. I have a little shrimp salad left for lunch.

Watermelon Panzanella with Aged Balsamic Vinegar (p. 212). I had seen a panzanella made on a cooking show, so this intrigued me. The recipe calls for a number of ingredients I had on hand: rustic bread, champagne vinegar, honey and arugula. I needed to get some watermelon and mint leaves. The recipe also includes mozzarella, but I’m thinking of using goat cheese since I have a lot of that in the fridge.

Early in the week I bought some small Italian clay cooking dishes (T.J. Maxx Home Goods!) and wanted to use one. I had some leftover ratatouille, so I thought I’d make a “frittata” style dish. I like to use quinoa as a base, rather than a crust. I hadn’t made quinoa for some time, so looked to see if La Tartine Gourmande had directions for me. Under “quinoa” in the index, I found Beet and Quinoa Tabouli (p. 104) and the instructions I needed. This is Beatrice Peltre’s creative take on tabouli. I had bought two golden beets at the Farmer’s Market, so thought this would be a great way to use the beets, use up extra quinoa, and have a hearty summer salad for lunches.

The serendipity of all this is that I use up ingredients I already have, supplemented with a few additions. Plus, I would be able to cook the main dish for tonight, the casserole for later, and the beets at the same time and temperature in the oven.

Tonight, Sunday, I started the chicken brine in the morning, prepped the green beans and scrubbed some potatoes for a side dish. I cleaned the new clay crockery dishes too. I ran errands in the afternoon and came back a bit later than planned. Still, I marinated the chicken as directed and put it and the foil-wrapped beets in the oven around 7:30. I friend dropped by and we walked my dog for 30 minutes while the Lemon and Honey chicken baked.

I still had 20 minutes to go on the chicken when I got back, so prepped my quinoa-ratatouille casserole. I layered quinoa in the bottom, added some chopped celery and red-onions (on hand), goat cheese, then the ratatouille. I mixed an egg and about 1/8 cup of low-fat milk and poured it over the mixture, then topped it all with chopped basil and sage and Comte cheese. I baked at 375 degrees for 45 minutes by the time it looked bubbly and golden on top. This dish goes into the fridge for breakfast and lunches this week.

The chicken dish came out of the oven around 8:30 for a respectfully late “French” style dinner. It was really delicious! I ate one of the chicken thighs with the vegetables and two small fingerling potatoes. This leaves three drumsticks and a thigh, vegetables, and five or so potatoes to enjoy or recombine into other meals through the week.

Still to make: Beet and Quinoa Tabouli and the Watermelon Panzanella! I love trying these new flavors and enjoying all the bright produce of summer!

Classy Condiments and Jams: Making flavor easy

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How do I end up with so many jars of condiments and jams?! Easy. Some are called for in recipes, so I buy a jar. Sometimes I see an interesting new condiment and buy a jar. Then there’s the occasional party food, another jar. I suspect you feel as bad as I do when I have to throw out a nearly full jar of something exotic that’s been lurking in the back of the fridge for two years. Ick.

Now, as a “spa cook for one,” I have a whole new outlook on what I can do with fun condiments. Condiments are defined as “relish, vinegar, or spice, used to flavor or complement food.” At its root, the heart of the word is “to season.” These products are a great way to add a garnish, a flavor, or even the whole flavor of a dish. I follow my spa principle of “food should be pretty” when buying condiments and jams. The jar should be pretty. Even better, the label should have history, be imported or have strong local connections. It should not say Kraft.

Here’s a few examples from the jars in the fridge tonight:

Piquillo pepper and artichoke bruschetta, by Cucina & Amore: This bright orange, tasty topping is great by itself on rustic toast. Tonight I added it to a creamy potato-kale soup to add a bite of flavor. It will be great as a base on toast for a poached egg for breakfast. One caution about bruschetta: these can vary greatly in calories per serving, so read the label. Look for something in the 50 calorie or less range so that flavor doesn’t literally outweigh your good health goals.

Blackcurrant Dijon Mustard (Moutarde au cassis de Dijon), by Edmond Fallot. This a  beautiful purple-pink stoneground mustard that adds class to chicken sausages. I haven’t strayed too far from that, but could see applications with seafood as well.

Dundee Apricot Preserve, by James Keiller & Son. The Keiller preserves and marmalades are from the UK and are traditional on toast for tea. These are well-made preserves with lots of fruit. I mix them into pork dishes as a sauce.

Meyer Lemon Pear Marmalade, by Earth & Vine Provisions. This tangy marmalade is from Loomis, California, between San Francisco and Reno. I love the pairing of lemon and pear. Since jams and marmalade are basically fruit and sugar, you can use any jam or preserve to add fruit and sweetness to any dish: from sauces to salad dressings to sorbet! I used this one to make my crowd-pleasing lemon sorbet. I added lemon zest and some lemon juice, with a low amount of sugar (3/4 cup in 1 qt of mix). The resulting sorbet was fabulous!!

Kir Royale Jam, by Stonewall Kitchen. The Kir Royale Jam was the basis for my first sorbet, where I used the black currants and sugar of the jam as the flavor. This intensely dark jam comes from Maine, by way of T.J. Maxx. Yep, T.J. Maxx, where condiments go before they die! Just check the dates and the labels. Don’t be afraid to try the unusual foods that show up at your favorite “got it all bargain store.” Plus, you won’t have to pay the $5.99 and up prices at your local market.

Sylt Lingon, Lingonberry preserves, an Ikea Food. Ikea! This is another great place to get quality condiments and jam for not much. Lingonberries are tart and a pretty ruby red. I add a tablespoon to my breakfast oatmeal, adding sweetness and color. They are great on goat cheese with toast or crackers. I suspect they will make the base for my next adventure in sorbet.

Confiture de Cerises noires, from France. This is a great and simple black cherry “confit.” The ingredient list is short: cherries, sugar, lemon juice and pectin. Period. Like the confiture I enjoyed in France, this has whole fruits and a fairly runny liquid. Use it as a lovely topping with cheese. This one is so special (and expensive for the size) that I’m probably going to keep it as a star, rather than a supporting actor in dishes.

Artichoke Antipasto, by Trader Giotto’s. It looks pretty good. It jumped into my basket recently at Trader Joe’s. That happens a lot at Trader Joe’s! I’m keeping this one closed till I finish off a couple of others. I’m not sure why it’s it the fridge right now! I see possibilities in a tart or tartine, possibly a pasta dish.

So take a look in the back corners of your fridge and see what you have! Toss out a few and try the rest in new ways. If it’s pretty and colorful, it should find a home on your plate.

True Confession: I can still eat meat and potatoes

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I just have to say….I still love meat and potatoes. After writing about my culinary upbringing as if meat and potatoes were history, I felt I should set the record straight. Tonight’s dinner menu? Steak au poivre with a sherry-shallot-cream sauce, mashed new potatoes with garlic olive oil, steamed green beans with a little butter, and a small sliced tomato, served with a glass of the recently opened French Cahors dark red, a blend of Merlot-Malbec-Tannat. The steak au poivre recipe came from Mark Bittman‘s handy Kitchen Express cookbook (p. 144). Rather than detailed recipes with ingredient lists, the book offers 404 paragraph-style descriptions of seasonal dishes. It’s a great way to have a general “good idea” to work from and make it your own.

My meat and potato meal was not exactly Mom’s meat and potatoes, granted. Can it still qualify as spa food?

What qualifies food as spa food? The cleanest definition: Spa food is what you get at a world class destination spa. Ergo, recipes from cookbooks written by the chefs at world class destination spas also define spa food. Spa food is made from fresh, local foods. Spa food is predominantly vegetables and fruits with small portions of lean meats, poultry or seafood, and sometimes cheese. Overall, the portions are moderate (meaning no bigger than you need) and the flavor and seasonings are high, leaving one feeling very satisfied and not hungry. Spa food is often served in courses, with a small soup or salad followed by a moderate sized main course, and a small and tasty dessert to seal the deal.

My personal definition of spa cooking  follows those guidelines. I cook a lot of dishes from the inspiring spa cookbooks and other “locavore” cookbooks I’ve collected. I try to keep portions per meal small. I often cook 2 – 4 servings so that I have leftovers for lunches or repurposing. For example, tonight’s steak was a thin cut eye round and about 3 oz. I cooked four potatoes, mashed them with a little 2% lactose-free milk and ate about half. Likewise the green beans were kept crisp and green. I cooked a handful and ate about half. Eating half is one of my techniques for having a bright and colorful plate, and not over eating. This also ensures me of leftovers that can be repurposed in new ways.

Remember those fava bean purees? Turns out it takes awhile to eat up a cup of fava beans pureed in two versions. This morning I added a cup of chicken stock to the puree that included goat cheese, blended it into soup and took it to work for lunch. I also took the rest of my blueberries (leftover from making ice cream) and two apricots. I sliced up the apricots, combined them with the berries and some thinly sliced orange bell pepper for a fruit salad, adding thin slices of a few leaves of basil and mint. For a dressing, I finished off the lemon vinaigrette made from the La Tartine Gourmande recipe for the fava bean tartine!

Next step for the mashed potatoes and green beans? Hmmmm, I’ll have to think about that!

 

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