Saturday, May 29, 2010

Polenta Pizza

I'm been craving pizza a lot since last weekend. I have resisted making pizza for myself because I live alone. So, having a whole pizza in the house with no one to share it with is just asking for trouble. But on Tuesday, my boyfriend invited me over for home made pizza. He had made the dough from a sourdough starter. I arrived promptly at 6pm and got to watch him put several layers of toppings on it. It was equal parts absolutely decadent and delicious, and I heaped several slices on my plate. But I ate too much, as I usually do with pizza. I notice that whenever I eat breads I tend to have trouble controlling my portions, and pizza is no exception. White flour acts a lot like sugar in the body, and since I'm sugar sensitive, and sugar causes me strong cravings, then my lack of control around breads just makes sense. But I don't plan to make the leap to no wheat any time soon because it is in so many things, and I'm just not ready for that. For now, I'm trying to eat less of it.

Last night, I was starting to formulate my grocery list, a I do at the beginning of each weekend. I took out a few cookbooks, to get inspired for my meal planning. I brought down three vegetarian cookbooks, hoping to find healthier versions of some of the comfort foods I like. So, I was perusing one of my favorite cookbooks, Cynthia Lair's Feeding the Whole Family, and found a recipe on Polenta Pizza. In this recipe, she prepares the polenta, spreads it into a pan, sprinkling a little parmesan cheese on top, and bakes it in the oven until it develops into a "crust," crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside; and then spreads the toppings on and bakes it again. She put a ton of vegetables on it: zucchini, eggplant, squash, peppers, etc., and very little cheese. But I wanted more traditional pizza fare. I decided on a simple mushroom and cheese pizza. I could also throw in some pine nuts next time, for added crunch. The result? It tasted really good! I liked the polenta texture, though I added a bit too much water and it came out a little too creamy to slice up. But I am told that if I use less water next time, I could cut it into bars and eat it. It wasn't the same chewy texture as a wheat crust, but it held its own and it is much less time consuming that preparing home made pizza dough. The bonus was that I baked it in one of my baking ramekins. So, I was able to make my own personal sized pizza, with no leftovers.

So, here is the question of the week. What is the best pizza topping combo you've ever discovered? Your answer might give me inspiration for my next polenta pizza adventure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Almond Butter Chard

One summer, almost two years ago, I saw a nutritionist who talked me into trying a nutritional cleanse. It was based on the book, “If the Buddha Came to Dinner, ” by Hale Sofia Schatz. The program consisted of eating whole, unprocessed (clean) foods for three weeks to detoxify my liver and give my gut a rest from hard to digest foods. It was not really meant to be a weight loss diet, but it would improve my digestion and hopefully help me feel fuller on less food.

I’m still don’t know what made me even try something like this. In the past, whenever someone mentioned “elimination diet” I would shut down like a steel trap. Because of certain foods I was eating at the time, I was craving food all the time and couldn’t imagine having to control myself on a diet of only a few foods.

That being said, the first week, I ate only vegetables. But the trick was that I could eat ANY vegetables I wanted, even the “bad” ones I had learned about in other diets, like avocado, potatoes, and corn. Being given license, I ate an avocado every single day! Actually, that program went a long way to abolish all sorts of food taboos I had. For example, I can also eat moderate amounts of olive oil and butter (yes butter!) with my food, without worrying about gaining weight or losing control.

Another reason why I was surprised that I’d even try something like this was because I really didn’t like vegetables at all. When I was a vegan for 3 years, in my early 20’s, I lived on pb&j sandwiches most of the time, rarely eating a vegetable that wasn’t on the higher end of starchy, like potatoes and carrots. I didn’t (and still don’t) enjoy eating cold vegetables and didn’t really know how to cook them. One of the benefits of this cleanse, besides making me feel absolutely fabulous, emotionally and physically (more on that later) was introduce me to good tasting veggie recipes. I made soups, roasted roots and greens almost every night.

Towards the end of the three week cleanse, we could add in lean meat and non-meat proteins. One of the recipes I discovered on the cleanse was Almond Butter Chard. . I had truly never eaten chard before this recipe landed in my lap. It is amazingly delicious and simple to follow. Try it and let me know what you think!

Almond Butter Chard

This recipe is a great accompaniment at any meal of the day. I’ve served poached or fried eggs on it, for breakfast, and it goes well with chicken or salmon for a delicious supper.

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 tablespoon onion, diced
4 leaves of chard, washed with hard end of stem chopped off and discarded
1 teaspoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon almond butter
1 tablespoon water (optional)
1 dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Separate chard stems from leaves. Dice stems and roughly chop leaves. Heat the oil on medium, in a medium-sized, shallow skillet. Add the onion and chard stems and sauté until the onion starts to soften. Add the chard leaves and stir to coat. Continue sautéing until mostly wilted. Make a well in the middle of your greens. Add the tamari and almond butter, and stir to make the sauce, as it heats. You might need to add water, if the sauce seems too dry. Then stir the sauce into the greens. Sprinkle cayenne and serve immediately.

Are there any recipes that have transformed your thinking about a certain food? Please share!

Friday, May 14, 2010

D-lightful Sunshine

I moved here from the other side of the mountains, where it is sunny most of the time, and usually 5-10 degrees warmer in the spring and summer. I moved here because I have very fair skin. It burns easily and I sometimes get a rash and blisters when I’m out too long. I always loved it when it rained there because it cleaned the cars and roads, and made the air fragrant with the smell of dirt and grass. So, 17 years ago, I packed up and moved towards the clouds and rain. And I’ve been here ever since.

I’ve come to appreciate the sunshine a lot more since then. One problem with living here, though, is that I, and almost everyone else I know, have become vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is absorbed through the skin when we spend at least 15 minutes a day exposed to the sunlight. About 6 years ago, in the middle of winter, I was feeling very tired and sleepy all the time. My doctor tested my vitamin D level, and it came back a 6. The “normal” range is somewhere between the 30’s and the 80’s. So, I’ve had to take daily supplements every since, as have most of my friends who’s vitamin D is low.

Recently, we’ve been treated to sunnier, warmer weather these past several days, in Seattle. When the sun comes out, the sun-deprived suddenly perk up like sunflowers! Sometimes it makes me long to move back over the mountains to the high desert, where I grew up, because I appreciate the sun more now that I don’t have it as much. But I’m sure if I moved back I would quickly regret it as my fair skin sizzled to a burnt crust.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Minibreak on Mother's Day

It is a few days before Mother’s Day and, as I do every year, I’m packing up the dog and driving down to Richland to spend the weekend with my folks. I just watched a TV show last night about a mother who has a bad Mother’s Day. Her kids wake her up at 5am with a sloppy breakfast and spill the food all over her and the bed. When she goes to the bathroom to clean up, her husband rushes off to a drug store, with the kids, to hunt for a last minute gift she will “cherish.” So, she takes off to her mother’s house to seek refuge from her disappointing Mother’s Day. She gets there, plops down on the couch and orders her favorite childhood food, interrupting her own mother’s relaxing day.

I have to admit that I also get quite spoiled when I visit my parents. It is very different from any other vacation. I don’t bother making too many plans, like I would if I were visiting some place new. From the moment I arrive, I can always rely on certain rituals. As mentioned in an earlier post, Mom will always offer me poached eggs and crackers for breakfast (the answer is yes). My dad will always ask me what the road conditions were like on the pass. And mom will make all the meals, preferring to cook alone. Mom likes things her way. One of my favorites is her bean soup. Sometimes it will be on the stove when I walk in the door, and I’ll instantly start salivating. It was one of the first recipes I asked for when I moved out of the house. The beans make for a hearty supper and liquid smoke gives it an earthy flavor.

Sue’s Bean Soup

1 ½ cup dry pinto beans
1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 quarts water
3 chicken bouillon cubes
3 beef bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
2 yellow onions, sliced thin

Put everything in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer for at least 3 hours with the lid on. Or, if you need to leave the house, after it comes to a boil, put it in the oven at 300 degrees for 3 hours.

This little vacation away gives me a chance relax and step out of my life, with its daily interruptions and the endless “to do” list, that awaits my return home, and gives me some time to get inspired and make plans.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Dog in the pea patch!

I bought a house 2 years ago, after finding I was lacking two things that a condo couldn’t offer me: a garden and a dog. I am happy to say that I now have both. I can no longer remember life without Dollie, my sweet, floppy-eared, 9 year old basset hound. She has an amazing talent for commanding a room, well developed from her previous life in a rescue home with 10 other dogs vying for the treat when the house mother came home every night. Now, Dollie can put on a major show when I get home, full of glitz and fanfare (aka howling and much jumping around). There would probably be rockets, too, if she had the resources (and the opposable thumbs). Needless to say, she’s a great joy in my life.

As for my other reason for buying a house, I had always wanted a garden but felt that I had less than a green thumb. However, during the start of my first spring a friend suggested that I try to grow peas, which were an easy plant to start out with. To be honest, I was quite surprised when I opened my first pack of pea seeds only to find, well, peas! With pack in hand, I sat down and seriously studied the directions, and then set to work planting my first seeds. I waited several weeks (you plant seeds in February, when the ground is still cold), but finally little sprouts came up, and I had several weeks of the sweetest bounty of peas I ever tasted! That was last year, and now I’m well into this year’s pea season. I might even grow another vegetable when it gets warmer, like tomatoes or onions. I’ve also become a believer that absolutely ANYONE can grow a vegetable. The only pest I have had to worry about so far has big floppy ears and thinks my garden is her own personal sandbox. Thank goodness, the peas seem relatively hardy, and also that she hasn't tried to eat them yet, which is surprising since she'll eat anything from raw sweet potatoes to tea bags.

So, what are you planning for your garden this year? Have you planted anything yet?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Eggs: poached with crackers

Eggs are one food that is particularly comforting and nourishing to me. For years I’ve eaten 2 each morning for breakfast. Yes, that is a dozen eggs a week and my cholesterol is no worse for it. An egg is a completely whole food, in and unto itself. Eggs are also an excellent, sticks-with-you-for-awhile source of protein, but they are also one of my primary comfort foods. My grandmother made poached eggs served over crushed crackers for my mom and her sisters. She used the crushed saltines to make the breakfast go further in her big household, but my mother loved the dish and fixed it for me growing up. Since then, I still sometimes let (truth: beg) my mom to make it for me and she will kindly break out the saltines (now the whole grain variety).

My mom makes the perfect poached eggs! It is possible that I am biased, but, so what? I’m a bit of a perfectionist about them now because of it and am afraid to order them at a restaurant because they’ve always turned under or overcooked. Here is my mother’s recipe for poached eggs. The secret is the timing and the vinegar, which makes the whites firm and keeps them from spreading all over the pan.

Bring to a boil 2 inches lightly salted water in a small skillet or sauce pan. Add a splash of vinegar. Once boiling, carefully crack each egg and drop it into the water, setting them apart in the pan so they don’t touch. Set the timer for 2 minutes 20 seconds. If water is going to boil over, slightly turn down the heat. When buzzer goes off, carefully remove each with a slotted spoon. Option: service with a small amount of butter and 6 saltines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

That's good sauce!

Even though Richland, the Southeastern Washington town where I grew up, was first established in the early 40’s, it wasn’t all that small by the time I came in to the picture, about 30 years later. We had two high schools and a few restaurants designated as “hang outs”, such as the Spud Nut Shop (amazing donuts made from potato flour), Zips (burger joint) and Tastee Freeze (ice cream stand).

The restaurants in Richland didn’t have a lot of diversity. That was one thing I found very exciting when I moved to Seattle, as an adult, and got to experience the tastes of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Puerto Rico and Russia. Richland had one “Oriental” restaurant and a ton of Mexican restaurants. That region of the state has a huge Latino population, for various reasons, but mostly because their parents and grandparents moved here as migrant farm workers and then settled in to raise their families. Most of the established Mexican restaurants originally opened to serve that section of the community, but we lucked out that a place so far north of the border had such good, authentic Mexican restaurants and food.

My family loved Mexican food so much that my mother often made it for us at home. She had a great recipe for salsa. I can remember the three of us sitting in the living room, each with our own bowl, sitting around a bag of chips, and calling it dinner. The simple flavors of salt, chiles, tomatoes and onions would awaken the taste buds served on a crispy bite of tortilla chip. It was so good, my mom will now admit to occasionally adding just a little too much Tabasco, just so my dad and I wouldn’t eat it!

When I asked her for the recipe, I surprised to see that not all the ingredients were fresh, including a big can of diced tomatoes and a can of green chile salsa. So, I searched for fresh equivalent of the ingredients in the can, which was Ortega brand green chili salsa. Sadly, Ortega no longer makes that food anymore. So, I went to the grocery store and perused the Mexican foods aisle and found a small can of Herdez (made in Mexico) brand salsa verde. It only had 5 ingredients and no preservatives. When I used that in her salsa recipe, it tasted a lot like the original.

I found a recipe online that most closely resembles the ingredients in the canned salsa, at Big Oven. I changed it slightly, cutting out the garlic and halving the recipe to end up with just about the right amount needed for Mom’s salsa recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Mom’s salsa - revised

• 1.5 c Water
• 1 ¼ tsp Salt
• 2 Fresh serrano chile peppers
• ½ lb Tomatillos; husks removed
• 1/4 c Fresh cilantro; (fresh
• 2 tbsp Onion; finely chopped
• 1 lb. and 12 oz Diced tomatoes, drained
• 7 oz. can Green chiles (mild to med.)
• 6 Green onions, sliced thin (include greens)
• 1 Lime, sliced into wedges (optional)

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water and half the salt and bring to a boil. Add the garlic, chiles and tomatillos and cook, uncovered, until soft, 8-10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid. When cool enough to handle, stem the chiles and tomatillos. In a blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the chiles, tomatillos, reserved liquid, cilantro and remaining salt. Process to form a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the chopped onion. Let the salsa cool to room temperature (End Big Oven recipe). Then add diced tomatoes, green chiles and green onions. Mix and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve chilled with optional lime wedges (my additions).