Monday, June 27, 2016

Rejoice! The Fresh Fig Sandwich Returns

Eating seasonally and locally means eschewing the imported tomatoes in winter, even when they look pretty decent, and reveling in the ephemeral pleasures of ramps, fiddlehead ferns and, in New York City, New Jersey tomatoes for the farmers market, bursting with rich juice and flavor.

Now is the time of the fresh fig. If you've never had a fresh fig, go ahead and read D H Lawrence on the proper way to eat one (Birds, Beasts and Flowers: Poems) then get a pint of luscious fresh figs. You can enjoy them the D H Lawrence way, but I think their flavor is ennobled by coupling them with a soft, not too pungent blue cheese in this sandwich:

Fig vegetarian sandwich (for 2)

4 fresh figs, (black mission figs are best) with the tips snipped off
4 tablespoons gorgonzola cheese, at room temperature
olive oil
a handful of fresh basil leaves
fresh lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
half a baguette, split both lengthwise and top to bottom

Spread each piece of bread with the cheese - you should have 4 pieces of baguette
Chop the basil and sprinkle on the cheese.
Slice the figs lengthwise and place on top of the cheese
Sprinkle with olive oil
Squeeze some lemon juice on top
Grind some fresh pepper on top of that

This should sit for about an hour for the flavors to meld, but if you can't wait, dig right in - it will still be delicious.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Real Cooking Competition: Ellie’s Real Good Food

Ellie with guests at her launch party
Television abounds with cooking shows: chefs making Instagram-worthy meals and reality shows where amateur and professional chefs compete to remake processed food or combine ingredients that should never been in the same home, let alone the same plate (salmon cupcakes anyone?).

What I’ve not seen till now is a chef who is also a nutritionist making real food that busy parents or grad students can throw together quickly. Ellie Krieger, a New York Times best-selling author, has a new show, Ellie’s Real Good Food on public television.

At the launch party for the show, Ellie described her approach as “the sweet spot where delicious and healthy meet.”

Talking about Real Good Food
In fact, in Episode 2, Say Yes to Chocolate, Ellie shows how a little good chocolate goes a long way. Keep her hot chocolate recipe in mind for when the weather turns cool (or for cool nights at the beach this summer). She uses just 3 ingredients: good quality cocoa powder, a bit of sugar and low fat milk. You can make this vegan with soy or almond milk, or spice it up with some fresh ginger; this is far superior to the fake chemical laden packets most of us reach for.

Busy Mom AND grad student
My daughter is in graduate school and has very little free time; imagine also being a new mom! Ellie shows a mom who is also a grad student that whisking together your own salad dressing takes just seconds, and it keeps for a week. No more high fructose corn syrup in dressing, or cheap oil.

And for breakfast; I’ve always soaked steel cut oats in milk overnight for cold weather breakfasts, but I never think about oats in summer.

Ellie has a recipe for rolled oats soaked in milk and plain yogurt, with blueberries and chia seeds. It’s a delicious, healthy breakfast, and since you mix it up the night before, you can just grab and go in the morning.


Now that’s Real Good!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

How to Eat Well and b.good

vegetarian brooklyn
Spicy avocado quinoa bowl at b.good
Like many New Yorkers, I have a bias against chain restaurants. I prefer to frequent a local coffee shop than a national chain, and I almost never choose to eat in a chain restaurant.

I have to rethink that bias with the Brooklyn opening of b.good. This Boston-based chain, about a dozen years old but new to me (despite frequent trips to Boston) quiet landed in Brooklyn Heights last month and is expanding to Jersey City, New Jersey and Park Slope, my Brooklyn neighborhood, soon.

This is a chain with a huge difference: each store highlights local purveyors and farms. In the Brooklyn store, this means using the excellent breads from Tom Cat Bakery, whose artisan breads also grace the tables of Le Bernardin, Jean Georges and Bobby Flay restaurants. Pretty rarefied company.

vegetarian brooklyn
Some of the local farms used at b.good and the West Side veggie burger
Eight New York farms provide the produce and meat used at the b.good in Brooklyn, so the food is fresh.

And a family foundation provides micro grants to local community organizations; in Brooklyn, the community partner is P.S. 8, a local public school.  On the b.good app, where you can order food in advance (to go in compostable containers, natch) you can donate the the school; when the store rewards you with free meals or sides, you can donate those to the community partner as well.

vegetarian Brooklyn
b.good's seasonal watermelon and feta salad
The tagline is "real food fast" and the fast casual place- meaning you order at a counter and carry your own food to a table - includes kale and grain bowls, burgers (veggie or meat) and salads. It is ideal for a vegetarian or vegan, and has many gluten free options to boot.

I sampled a wide variety of the b.good offerings and was impressed with how tasty and fresh everything was. The spicy avocado and lime bowl stood out: served on a bed of organic quinoa (or a super-grains mix  or short grain brown rice, kamut wheat, hard red wheat berries, millet and lentils) the salad also included kale, black beans, corn, grape tomatoes, cilantro, queso fresco and chipotle. Equally delicious was the power bowl, with kale lentils, carrots, brussels sprouts, crunchy chickpeas and pepitas, over either grain and topped with a local egg over easy.

vegetarian brooklyn
Hungry yet? The power bowl has easy over eggs

The seasonal salads now include watermelon and feta with arugula, baby spinach  and sundried tomatoes.

Dressings and pickles are made in house; the mustard and ketchup are from Sir Kensington, a wonderful NYC based maker of artisan condiments.

We tried a couple of veggie burgers (also made in house) including the vegan West Side with avocado and fresh salsa, and the Elizel with asparagus and sharp cheddar. You can get any burger with a beef patty, turkey or vegetarian.

b.good also has breakfast bowls, kid's meals and cold pressed juices and smoothies.

Warning: this could be habit forming.


n


Monday, May 16, 2016

The Best of the New York Baby Show

The Thule RideAlong with windscreen

When I was in the weeds, cranking out kids and worrying about every developmental milestone and crumb of nutrition, I was easy prey for marketers. Just about every infant or toddle safety device seemed necessary to me, and every child conveyance was in my arsenal: umbrella stroller, jogging stroller, infant car seat, baby car seat, infant carrier, sling, backpack, Baby Bjorn.

Now that my kids are a little older, I can look at some of these items with a critical eye and consider what I really needed versus what I bought blindly. So I searched the New York Baby Show last weekend for the top contenders.

Bike with mom and dad
What jumped out at me was the Thule RideAlong, a front carrier bike seat that has an optional windscreen. I love to bike and when our children were younger, we tried out a variety of bike seats and trailers. The rear bike seats that we used had a few flaws; most importantly, that the biker (me) couldn't see the baby behind her. Cycling around New York City is fraught enough that craning your neck to check on the baby made it untenable.

Plus, all manner of schmutz would pelt my daughters and dirt would fly in their tender eyes. This bike seat, which mounts in front of the biker - genius! - so mom or dad can keep a watchful eye on the baby, also has machine washable padding. The seat can also be locked to the bike frame so no one can steal it.

But that windscreen - what a great idea. The clear screen lets the baby watch the action without dirt, or pollen, attacking her.

A better pouch: Once Upon a Farm's cold pressed fruit
Easy feeding for babies
After breastfeeding my kids, I fed them organic baby food, which back in the day came in jars. Now there are several brands that have organic baby food in pouches, which are easier (and cheaper) to transport, so they save on environmental costs, and don't shatter in your bag. Once Upon a Farm uses cold pressure, much like cold pressed juices. The advantage is that heat doesn't kill nutrients

Kiddylicious vegetable crisps - you might have to fight your kids for them
The pouches have to be refrigerated, but they stay fresh for up to four hours out of the fridge; if you need to bring food for later, you can freeze a much and let it thaw in your bag. I tried the mango, which had intense fruit flavor and was delicious.

Snack food for little kids - and adults
Pirate's Booty was all the rage when my children were little - it's made from kale and spinach! But, truth be told, it has a bit of a strange taste. Kiddlylicous makes vegetable crisps that crunch, but are so much better than potato chips. The sweet potato chips actually have small amounts of Vitamin C and Iron, and the carrot ones have some protein and calcium to boot. They have no gluten, high fructose corn syrup, lactose, or GMO ingredients and they are low in fat and salt.

Thanks to Momtrends for inviting me to the New York Baby Show. Opinions expressed are my own.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Bread from the Source: What is Your Jam?

Avocado toast demands a quality bread
With all the attention given to gluten free products, it seems almost old-fashioned to think of artisan bread. But while commercial loaves often have little reason to be part of a diet, high quality bread made with whole grains and heirloom wheat surely deserve their place at the table.

I have a sourdough starter that has been bubbling away in my refrigerator for six or seven years, but not everyone has the time or the inclination to bake bread. But my bread guru, La Brea Bakery (I used their recipe for sourdough starter, from organic grapes, and I bake all my breads based on their cookbook) just introduced a Reserve line of artisan breads, made from single origin heirloom grains.

La Brea calls this initiative Wheat with a Purpose and partners with Wheat Montana, a 3rd generation farm in Montana, to produce this high quality bread.

The bread is sold nationally, in regular supermarkets, not just gourmet food shops.

If you go to the website, you can find out when the wheat was planted and harvested, and find wine and cheese pairings. The Fortuna wheat loaf goes well with goat cheese and non-vintage champagne.


The hole trinity: sourdough starter, bread dough and the La Brea Bakery cookbook
But you know what? It also paired well with natural peanut butter and sparkling water. Or a nice jam.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Is Jenny Craig for You?

The unopened box: what's inside?
Dieting is not my usual way of losing weight, I step up my exercise, or cut out alcohol and lose a few pounds. I also have a sensitive tummy so frequent stomach viruses also keep the weight off.
But I know that that’s unusual and as I get older, I’m finding that keeping weight off gets harder. So I was eager to try the Jenny Craig five day kit starter kit,  exclusively at Walmart.

The kit, which retails for $44.98, includes 5 days of prepackaged meals. There is a lot you have to add, which means you get plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. So it’s not cheap, but it’s very convenient, particularly if you are also cooking a meal for your family or bringing lunch to the office. Actually, it’s cheaper than going out to lunch.

The contents of the starter kit
The kit also includes a free month of consulting with Jenny Craig diet experts, $50 in coupons for future plans, and $25 off for both you and a friend if you get a friend to sign up.

The packages are color coded - yellow is for breakfast, green for lunch, orange for dinner, blue for snacks and magenta for dessert. 

A disappointment was that the kit, which includes 20 meals, has limited vegetarian choices. The starter kit is a sampling, and of the five dinners, three had meat. And the sole vegetarian option was the same thing, twice, cheese ravioli.

The ravioli with sautéed spinach and chopped fennel
However, it was quite good ravioli, and I was surprised that cheesy ravioli, in a tomato sauce, could be part of a weight loss program. 

In the accompanying literature, it mentioned that the dinner should also include a half cup of green vegetables. I thought my idea of sautéed spinach was unique, but that is actually the serving suggestion on the box. However, I enlivened mine with chopped fennel fronds to give it a little Mediterranean flair.

Make your salad fun
One of the lunches was canned chicken, which you have with a garden salad and applesauce. I made this for my mom, stuffing the chicken into a couple of tomatoes and using some of the applesauce in the dressing.  It looked so good I made my own vegetarian version with canned tuna instead of chicken.

Garden salad
2 Campari tomatoes
1 1/2 cups greens -I used spinach - or swap out 1/2 cup of the greens for 1/4 cup chopped celery (1 stalk) and 1 small chopped carrot

Core the tomatoes and remove some of the flesh. You want to create a cavity for the chicken or tuna. Chop the tomato flesh and add to the greens.

Pack the chicken or tuna into the tomato cavities and serve with the greens. Drizzle the dressing over everything.

Dressing:

2 tablespoons applesauce
1/2 teaspoon miso
1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk everything together or blend with an immersion blender. Makes enough for 2 salads



For the cereal breakfast, I used 2 strawberries from my mid morning fruit snack, and about half a cup of nonfat Greek yogurt.
What’s for breakfast?
The starter kit had 5 days of breakfast, all things a vegetarian can eat. But, each meal included 8 ounces of skim milk. I can barely choke down the milk needed to moisten cold cereal, so I figured nonfat Green yogurt would be a great substitute. A container of Greek yogurt (5.3 ounces) has about 97 calories, and a glass of skim milk has 90.

I did have my milk with the apple cinnamon oatmeal; rather than make it with boiling water, as suggested on the package, I added milk and microwaved it. It was filling and delicious. And I used some of my milk allotment in my coffee.

Lunch time
Four of the five lunches had meat, but I did try the tortellini soup. With this you eat a huge 2 cups of garden salad, with dressing. 

I made kale salad, figuring it takes longer to eat, so you seem for full.  I marinated the chopped kale in dressing for 2 hours to soften it, and added some roasted broccoli and cauliflower.

Easy roasted vegetables
Cut up a bunch of broccoli and a head of cauliflower.
Spray a roasting pan with a light film of olive oil. Add the veggies, spray with a little more olive oil and sprinkle with smoked salt.

Lunch; you make your own garden salad
Roast at 425 for 35-45 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your vegetables.  Can serve hot, or at room temperature with salad greens.

Snacks
There is certainly enough food with the Jenny Craig diet. I really liked that you have snacks between meals, and even dessert. The daily morning snack was what I usually have: a serving of fruit and 6 ounces of non-fat plain Greek yogurt. So yes, I was double dipping on my Greek yogurt.

Dessert: the s'mores bar was nice and chocolatey, and only 140 calories
Mid afternoon snacks varied: string cheese one day, fruit, string cheese and almonds 2 days, fruit another day and fruit and string cheese another. I haven’t had string cheese since my kids were little but it’s handy to portion out the right serving size.

The included Jenny Craig desserts - called after dinner snacks - were just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth.


Note: I was provided a free Jenny Craig Weight Loss Starter Kit. Opinions expressed are entirely my own.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Celebrating Mothers' Day: Night at the Movies

My first Mother's Day as a mom, my daughter was about 9 months old and my husband didn't realize that it was his responsibility to head to the jewelry and chocolate stores.

He came around, and my kids eventually stepped up to the plate, but in the past few years, I've been invited to some fun Mom's Night Out events, including a recent screening of the Garry Marshall movie, Mother's Day.

The show was at the Battery Park Cinemas, which are connected to the Conrad Hotel in Battery Park City. This is a part of downtown Manhattan where I think I'm on vacation - great water views, fabulous playgrounds, a suburban size Whole Foods and upscale food court.

Mother's Day (the movie) is larded with stars, including Jennifer Aniston, Timothy Elephant, Julia Roberts and Kate Hudson. Jen and Julia are 2 of my faves, and I can watch them in just about anything.

The night was hosted by Brianne, of Stroller in the City. Fandango provided the movie tickets and Lindt Chocolates sent us home with truffles.

Happy Mother's Day to all!