cookbooks and recipes

October 30, 2011

What are your favorite Cookbooks, I was asked recently. Well, that was a very tough question for me to answer. I love my Bobby Flay collection for his layered flavors and Soutwestern flair. My William Sonoma Savoring India has proven delicious and helpful as I explore vegetarian dishes. The Complete Guide to Vegan Substitutions book I recently purchased has also been great fun to work through.

For baking I love In The Sweet Kitchen and at Thanksgiving I always reach for my tattered Fannie Farmer to check how long to cook the turkey. Daily Soup comes out in winter, Weber’s Art of the Grill in Summer…..and all the others when I need a new idea. Grazing by Julie Van Rosendaal has proven helpful when I need a little something to bring to a talk or meeting. So I ask you – what are your favorite cookbooks?

Amazon has listed their top choices – check them out http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html/ref=as_li_ac-books?ie=UTF8&docId=1000719071&tag=homeplatadva-20.” target=”_blank”>here:

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CSA delivery, Sept 16, 2011

September 21, 2011

Yes another trip to the farm for a bag full of fresh goodies! Today’s harvest included beets, more tomatoes of various shapes sizes and colors, poblanos, Diablo peppers, onions, jalapeno, corn, eggplant and a bell pepper. Sadly the summer crops are waning, the cool nights not conducive to flavor or growth, but the winter crops – squashes, cauliflower and more are not ready. So we will indulge ourselves in this last tomato harvest.

Today, I am making a Kamut (grain), flagelot (french bean) and tomato salad with a tarragon thyme vinaigrette and some green onions. this is truly one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. The tarragon, Dijon and tang of the vinegar was so good next to the nutty hints from the kamut. The flagelots offered a starchiness, while the fresh tomato was so bright next to these flavors. OK, without sounding too much like a food critic, this was really good!

I smoked corn over mesquite in my wok, resulting in the house smelling incredibly like bacon, to toss with black beans, a jalapeno, one of the onions and a little olive oil – smokey sweetness, starchy black beans and the kick of the pepper – a new favorite salsa/side dish.
We had a herbed goat cheese stuffed shrimp with a fresh tomato sauce. Creamy cheese, acidic tomatoes and sweet shrimp were decadent together.  Eggplants are going in Indian eggplant and potato stew loaded with spices. The beets – perhaps I will try pickling them, or just roast them to enjoy as is. I am the only one eating them, so my choice! The rest of the jalapenos are going to be stuffed with goat cheese, corn and green onions, topped with a grilled pepper and tomato sauce.

There really isn’t enough week in the week to eat all of these goodies, and my freezer is full! That doesn’t stop us from scarfing down everything as soon as it is done (sorry no pictures this week – guess we were extra hungry). I hope you are enjoying the last of the summer crops, perhaps starting to think apples and pumpkins, and trying new combinations too.

Bon Appetit!

I was fortunate to get away to Maine this past week for a little R&R. We started our trip in Portland, in the Old Port area. Beautiful waterfront history and many restaurants. First stop – Stonewall Kitchens. A little taste of champagne blueberry jam (not a fan), double chocolate fudge sauce (needed to put this one back), Major Grey’s chutney (bought some), and several mustards. A salted caramel sauce was a contender, but ended up leaving with a blueberry jam instead. OK, off we go to find some lunch. We head to the oldest pub in Portland – Gritty McGruffs. Wooden floors, multiple rooms and a decent menu. Sadly the tips on my salad were tough (guess I should have had lobster, right??), and the salad was nothing special. We head off to walk the town, explore, and then head to our hotel. Dinner resulted in a waterfront very casual Portland Lobster Company picnic table. Great live entertainment, paper plates and plastic wine glasses under a beautiful summer sky. Scallops with applewood bacon and lemon cream sauce, corn on the cob and a baked potato were really very good. Well cooked, and seasoned. My hubby had swordfish that was tasteful, tender and fresh. Next morning a quick coffee and muffin at a little cafe then off to see seals, lighthouses and a city tour. We had lunch at the Dry Dock between tours. Lobster soup (heavy cream with a few pieces of well cooked lobster served lukewarm) a nice salad and a crab melt for my hubby. Despite taking 20 mins to get our food, the crab melt was pretty good.
Dinner we headed to five fifty five on Congress Street. A little more upscale, but for our last night in Portland we splurged. Amazing cucumber and melon soup with a touch of crabmeat. Cool, smooth and well seasoned. My hubby had pepper crusted scallops that were beautifully cooked, and heavily peppered. For me, mussels in a red pepper broth that were delicious. Chived butter on squares of sourdough bread were a nice start with a blueberry gin drink and we finished with a shared trio of ice cream – apricot, chocolate hazelnut and a cherry grasshopper – fresh mint ice cream with little chunks of chocolate and cherry in it – our favorite flavor. Delicious and great service!
Off to Bar Harbor after a great omellette breakfast at Becky’s (see DDD on Food Network – Guy ate here)…..a beautifully set tourist area inside of Acadia National Park. We walked around town, ended up in quirky Geddy’s, full of signs, license plates and good spirits. We shared seafood balls (all cracker and no hint of the scallops, crab or fish they promised) and a lobster pizza on a whole wheat crust. That was really good, and the lobster very tender. Back to our inn to sleep off a full belly.

The next day we went to Jordans – famous for its blueberry pancakes. We are not fans of pancakes, but I did order a waffle with fresh blueberries. Good blueberries, but disappointing log cabin syrup and mix tasting waffle. My hubby’s egg sandwich was nothing special either….not bad, not great. Oh well. Rode them off in Acadia by bicycle – hilly!!   An early dinner at the Terrace Cafe on the water offered really really good chowder, crab melt, boullabaise with fresh thyme, and warm blueberry pie with a very light flaky crust and full of berries. A must eat at place on the waterfront! Next day we had a yogurt, coffee and a muffin for my hubby. Off to see the whales – amazing time with a mom and calf who breached several times, waved and rolled for us like a performer. Heavy fog that lifted in time to see puffins and a great ride on the Atlantic Cat high speed catamaran filled our morning. Sea air always make us hungry, so we headed to the Thirsty Whale, a little bar “hole in the wall”. But what they say is true – good food at the “diviest” places!  A grilled salmon sandwich with a dill mayo and a haddock and asian cole slaw wrap – well seasoned and cooked beautifully. After driving through Acadia, up Cadillac Mountain, Thunder Hole and some walking we were ready for dinner. Off to the Portside Grill. Here we ended on a mixed bag. My hubby’s chowder had an odd tangy flavor to it and his lobster roll tasted flat and water logged. Crab cakes were full of crabmeat, lightly fried and delicious. My salmon was done perfectly with tomatoes, capers and wonderfully cooked green beans with tarragon on the side. We headed to a local ice cream parlor to have a little fig and walnut gelato (for him) and a chocolate pretzel caramel ice cream for me that really hit the spot. Oh, and if you think lobster tastes good in EVERYTHING……well, not in vanilla ice cream. Trust me.

You thought I forgot, or was lost in the cornfields….perhaps taken away by a ground hog with a vengence, but I just got really busy this past week. Sadly the week of July 29 was a bounty of zucchini, corn, peppers, jalepeno, eggplant, mezuna, green beans and more summer squash. I needed to step out on this one and resorted to a favorite standby – grilled veggies. With fish, delish. Leftovers ended up in a lasagna with a little goat and parm cheese (trying to clean the fridge out, you know) The mezuna ended up in a stir-fry with leftover smoked chicken, carrots from the CSA ( I think the week before?) onions and the mezuna. Red curry sauce made this dish spicy and colorful.
The week of Aug. 5th, corn, beets, radishes, a pepper, carrots, more zucchini, cherry tomatoes, arugula, kale  an eggplant and cukes arrived.

Saturday was spent creating and cooking. A roasted tomato sauce with the pepper and garlic roasted in EVOO, salt, pepper and rosemary. Pureed and to the freezer.

Roasted Tomato Sauce

Zucchini ended up in a chocolate buttermilk cake that was moist and rich, no hint of a veggie inside. A caramel icing topped this sheet pan cake to be shared with family. The beets were caramelized in orange juice and maple syrup and cooked down. Then a little triple sec added, again cooked down until syrupy. This was added to the middle of a bundt pan cake with walnuts and baked. Wonderful dense cake with a unique twist from the beets. However the beets did stick a bit on the bottom and broke the cake, but that’s ok – this one was for us…..glazed with a little of the caramel icing leftover from above cake. The beets were sweet, adding nice color when you cut the cake.

pound cake with beets on top made in a bundt pan.

The carrots were cooked with a leek, broth and harissa, a red chili pepper and spice mix paste used in a lot of African foods. Wonderful flavors and heat, with the fresh carrot taste just beaming through the soup. Corn will be enjoyed in a salad with the arugula, radishes, cukes and some tuna, perhaps with a lemon vinaigrette. And a glass of wine….which should be a nice Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, but will more than likely be something red. I think there is a bottle of Cab Franc open.
The eggplant? hmmmm  need to think on that – one is not enough for moussaka, but it is a large enough one to have twice. May eggplant fries with our steaks tomorrow? We’ll see.

Next week we are giving our share to my in-laws as we won’t be able to pick up ourselves. But I will be back to tell you all more the following week, and may have some great food stores from Maine! Is it blueberry season yet? Have a great week, grill, eat local and enjoy! Peaches are right around the corner!

Calcium and Bone Health

July 11, 2011

As we age, our bones become weaker due to a loss of minerals, causing what we all know as osteoporosis. Women are more prone than men to have weak bones, especially over the age of 50. Exercise (weight bearing) and diet can help prevent bone loss as can supplements. Adults over the age of 50 need 1200 mgs of calcium a day for good health. Don’t overdo it though – more than 2500 mgs can be harmful.
We all know dairy can be a great source of calcium – milk, yogurt and cheese. But there are a lot of nondairy foods that offer a great punch of calcium too – especially important if you are lactose-intolerant. Salmon, tofu, rhubarb, sardines, dark greens, okra, beans, broccoli, peas, Brussel sprouts sesame seeds, bok choy and almonds are all great nondairy sources of calcium. There are also a lot of calcium fortified foods available, like orange juice, cereals, and breads. Read your labels to see if your favorite brand is fortified.
Vitamin D and C are very important in absorbing calcium, Vitamin D-rich foods include egg yolks, saltwater fish, liver, and fortified milk. Vitamin C helps the body absorb calcium and is available in many forms including citrus, tomatoes and berries. On the flip side, caffeine can inhibit your body’s ability to absorb calcium and should be avoided for at least 30 mins after taking calcium for maximum absorption.

Having said this – a perfect bone healthy breakfast includes vitamin D fortified milk over a healthy fortified cereal, strawberries and almonds with a glass of orange juice. Try a cheese omelette made with whole eggs and spinach with a side of vitamin D fortified toast and almond butter. Yogurt over whole grain waffles with berries and almonds instead of syrup is delicious too.
For lunch, try anchovies or sardines in a white bean salad with low fat pudding. Salmon burgers made with red peppers, scallions and topped with a yogurt dill sauce is divine. Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup is a classic, healthy combo.

For dinner try spinach lasagna or a tofu stir fry with broccoli, peas, carrots and sesame seeds. Strawberry rhubarb pie a la mode for dessert, or try vanilla yogurt layered with fresh fruit and toasted almonds for creamy goodness.

Yogurt or soft tofu can work blended into your salad dressings, and as a topper for baked potatoes. Soft tofu can replace ricotta in stuffed shells, baked pasta dishes and even cheesecake. Experiment with different cheeses for more flavor and variety. Muenster, swiss, gruyere all melt nicely. Try gorgonzola with pears, or manchego or goat cheese in a salad. Use 2% or evaporated skim milk in your favorite cream soup and sauce recipes to cut the fat but not the flavor.

Whether you are lactose intolerant or live on a dairy farm, calcium comes in many forms and flavors. Adding vitamin D and C for maximum punch and a few weights for strong bones helps ensure you will enjoy a healthier retirement. Bon Appetit!

Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, is an essential part of our diets, aiding in the prevention of anemia, promoting cell production in the skin and helping prevent dementias such as Alzheimers. Choosing foods with higher concentrations of folate (see below) can help you get the recommended 400 micrograms you need to stay healthy.

Collards, mustard greens, kale, spinach, Brussel sprouts, asparagus and broccoli all have great stores of folate and can be added to soups, stews, pastas, or eaten as is. Replace lettuce with baby spinach. Add greens to soup, pasta or stews – think Italian Wedding soup. Roasting Brussel sprouts makes them sweet, especially when finished with a drizzle of honey. Saute greens with olive oil, walnuts and yellow raisins, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar to finish. Hate bitter greens? Drop in boiling water for a minute or two, drain, then saute to cut the bitterness.

Adding chopped greens to stuffed shells or lasagna ups the nutritional value and tastes great! Who doesn’t like lasagna? Use the same filling to stuff chicken breasts or pizza dough. Broccoli and asparagus can be eaten as a salad (mayo, curry powder and raisins is a favorite of mine), sauteed, steamed, and grilled.

Pinto beans, edamame, black eyed peas, black beans, and lentils are economical, full of fiber and protein. Used them as a main meal option. Red lentils sweeten a dish in place of carrots. Using different beans in hummus adds variety when used on a wrap, served as a dip with veggies, or spread on a sliced baguette, topped with roasted onions, artichokes or anything your heart desires. White beans pair nicely with rosemary – which by the way, herbs offer an extra punch of folate! Black beans pair with cilantro, cumin and a hint of espresso. Bake red beans with green pepper, celery, tomato, and a little chorizo for a twist. Saute black eyed peas with dark greens and bacon or smoked turkey. Mix beans into a pasta dishes, salads, or stew, such as Cassoulet.

Top any dish with an avocado and fruit salsa (mango, citrus or even papaya), adding a little olive oil, red onion and cilantro – delicious on fish and chicken! Bake fish in foil with orange slices and fresh basil. Replace vinegar with orange juice for a citrusy dressing.

Nuts and sunflower seeds add crunch and earthiness to any dish – as long as you are not allergic! Peanut butter in asian dipping sauces enhance chicken, shrimp or steak. Tahini in dressings or drizzled on roasted vegetables is wonderful. Almond based cakes or cookies are easy and delicious. Chop nuts to coat chicken strips or fish cakes (salmon and pistachios match nicely). Sprinkle wheat germ over your morning cereal or yogurt for added nutrition.

See it really can be easy to eat well. Try searching the internet for folate dense recipes and cook healthier meals everyday. Bon Appetit!

Wow, the season is flying and we keep seeing amazing produce fresh from the farm. This week the farm gave us mezuna, shell peas, garlic scapes, green beans, strawberries, arugula, radishes and zucchini/summer squash. As there weren’t many strawberries, those will stay in my cereal bowl. The green beans will be sauteed and enjoyed next to the fish I will pick up tonight (the other half of farm fresh in our house).

Garlic scapes. Ummm…..yeah. Long strands of green with a little flower looking end to it.

Mezuna and garlic scapes


I needed to look this one up. I found out this is the top of the garlic (grows from the bulb) and is actually edible. Using it to impart a milder garlic flavor to dishes, I found out the most common use was in a pesto. I only had 4 strands, and couldn’t make enough pesto to coat a piece of toast, so I decided to chop them up and use as I would garlic. The mezuna is a green that can be eaten as a salad or tossed into dishes much like spinach, kale or swiss chard. It wilts quickly, is mild in flavor and has a very delicate leaf to it. Using some leftovers, I decide to do a sautee of the scapes, 1/2 chopped white onion, 2 ears of corn off the cob, 1/2 jicama chopped, and 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes in a little butter. Add a little salt and pepper, fresh basil and then the mezuna at the end – delicious and colorful. A perfect side dish to the egg stuffed meatloaf I made the night before.

Mezuna sautee

Egg stuffed meatloaf with veggies


Next – the peas were shelled, and pasta cooked. A little vegetable broth, lemon juice and zest, fresh basil (I wanted to do mint, but not a favorite of my husbands) and shallot were sauteed. We had some smoked salmon from Alaska we had been saving (it was canned, don’t get grossed out) so I decided to add that in to the pasta mix with the peas. Top with a little grated Asiago – yum! On the side, I had an arugula salad with orange sections, pecans and an almond oil vinaigrette and two very happy people for dinner. The lemon countered nicely with the smoked salmon, and the peas were nice bright green and delicious.
As for the zucchini – still debating whether to do a pancake, sautee it , roast, grill, or cut it into long strands like pasta, eaten raw. The radishes I love anyway, but was told by a fellow CSA’er that they are good roasted. I may have to try that one. I know the French sautee radishes in butter, so why not. In the meantime – get to your local farm stand, create your own delicious-ness, and please share your recipes and ideas, or any questions with me at Home Plate Advantage….I love to hear what others are doing out there. Bon Appetit!

Olive Oil Overload

May 14, 2011

I was looking in my pantry and realized I have 6 bottles of olive oil. Now seriously, is this necessary? So I decided to taste them, catargorize them and well, quite frankly justify my obsessive compulsion to buy gourmet food items.

Since the NE Food Show, I am more aware of the subtleties of olives, much as grapes will vary from region to region, and I decided to set up a little tasting station in my kitchen. The contenders were all Extra Virgin varieties and included:

Fillipio Berio in a can – grocery store variety, used for all my cooking
Manzanilla Unfiltered, from Spain
Alili from Morocco (a Marshall’s find)
California Olive Ranch (a new find at Shaw’s)
PONS Organic from Spain
Olivaylle Non Plus Ultra Olive Nectar from Australia (another Marshall’s find)

The tasting was set up in small dishes, with a whole grain crusty bread to dip. I started with the PB Grocery store brand and realized how “thick” this was, as it coated the back of my throat. It was olivey in smell and taste, with a strong peppery finish. Needed a little sip of something to continue on this one.

Next I moved to the Manzanilla – expecting something heavier, being unfiltered, this olive oil was light, with a slightly nutty beginning, a peppery olive flavor to finish, but all subtle in flavor. No coating of the throat, even when tasted alone. This oil had a slight fruitiness to it, thinking it would be nice on fish, salads or tomatoes.
Now not sure what to expect, I moved to the California Ranch oil, which had a light “green” smell to it, but a very strong green flavor (think grass. There was almost an unripe olive flavor, a bitter edge and strong grassy flavor. This would definitely need a strong partner, as in lamb or beef to compete.
A bit nervous, I moved to the Alili, which had a nice citrusy smell to it. This oil was very smooth, very light and held a citrusy note to it. A delicate salad, fish or even fruit would pair nicely. Lovely overall, and delicate, delicious, and subtle.
On to the PONS…..not having any idea what to expect. I dipped, dabbed and tasted this oil to find a very light flavor with a nice peppery finish. The smell was olivey, but light and was very subtle in its flavors. Not sure I liked this as compared to others, but for cooking a delicate meal, it would be perfect. A good replacement for light olive oil.
Last but not least the oil from down under. What to expect? Where would this oil take me? Dip, dab, taste…..wow! A very unripe, very green twiggy flavor and smell. This would need to be paired with very strong flavors as well…overpowering in its greenness…..I would use this one with caution. They have a great website with recipes, so feel free to experiment at http://www.olivaylle.com/. The Cuban recipes look interesting.

As I type this blog, I can still taste the flavors of the oils every so subtle on the back of my tongue. But I am surprised, and yet should have known, that different varietals, different countries would all produce quite different flavors. And though this exercise was meant to be a justification, it tells me I am way behind on my purchases and need to do more research (i.e. buy more oils). At least olive oil is heart healthy, right? But how much will be too much? To you my reader, please experiment on your own, share your findings with me…there are so many to try, and so little pantry space….a good place to start is http://www.oliveoilsource.com/ to learn more.
Are you a fan of EVOO? Do you benefit from the heart healthy side of this oil? What flavors and brands do you like? I think I need to make a nice salad tonight with the Manzanilla oil. Thanks for reading and always taste theoptions out there…..you just never know what you may find.