Monthly Archives: June 2010

Food for Thought: Wholesome Wave

Wholesome Wave (WW) is an organization that I recently came across and decided to share with you guys because of the wonderful work it’s doing for both underprivileged, urban communities as well as small, rural farms. WW seeks to “nourish neighborhoods by supporting increased production and access to healthy, fresh, and affordable locally grown food for the well-being of all.”  In other words, WW uses farm-to-community programs that allow small farmers to provide their fresh ingredients to urban, underprivileged communities. The benefits are twofold: struggling farmers are able to increase their revenue by supplying these communities with fresh ingredients, while underprivileged communities that normally do not have the money and/or access to fresh produce are now given that opportunity.  One of the most significant programs that WW implements is its Double Value Coupon Program. There are numerous participating farmers markets that are a part of WW.  Individuals that have Federal Food Stamps can not only use them at participating WW farmers markets, but they are also doubled in value. This incentive allows individuals who are on the Federal Food Stamp program access to fresh and local ingredients (also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

A common misconception is that individuals that live in underprivileged communities do not want to eat healthy or fresh foods.  However, the reality is that many of these individuals do want to eat fresh and healthy foods, but they just do not have access to do so (i.e. no local farmers market) or they do not have the money to do so (i.e. the cost of eating fresh foods is more expensive).  Therefore, they turn to cheaper and more readily available alternatives like fast food or over-processed, unhealthy foods.  WW places farmers markets in Urban Food Deserts or “city regions absent of fresh healthy food, and found in low-income neighborhoods, where fast food restaurants and convenience stores are more common than supermarkets or produce stands.”  Creating opportunities that allow people the access and means to buy fresh, local foods is vital to increasing this nation’s health.  WW is always looking for volunteers and new farmers markets to open around the country.  Check out their website for more details!

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Blueberry Cheesecake Squares w/ Hazelnuts

My very dear friend from college recently emailed me asking for dessert suggestions for a special luncheon at her office.  She was planning on baking the strawberry scones that I shared with you guys a couple weeks ago and possibly another dessert.  Because my friend lives in NYC, I wanted to find her another dessert recipe that would be easy for her to make and even easier for her to transport on the subway.  I looked through my favorite baking cookbook called the Essentials of Baking. Seeing as how it’s blueberry season, the perfect recipe popped off the page at me: blueberry cheesecake squares with hazelnuts.  I’d never made these bars before, but since I already had some fresh blueberries on hand, I decided to give them a whirl before sharing this recipe with my friend.  I made a few changes and was pleasantly pleased at how scrumptious these bars came out and how easy they would be for my friend to bring to work.  I wanted to share this recipe with all of you and thank my dear friend for thinking of me and my recipes!

Ingredients for the Crust:

  • 1 1/4 c flour
  • 1/3 c sugar
  • 1/2 c chopped hazelnuts
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, cold and cut into small pieces

Ingredients for the Filling:

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 large eggs at room temp
  • 1/4 c plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 c fresh blueberries

Directions for Crust:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a 9″ square baking pan
  2. Stir the flour, sugar, hazelnuts, and salt together.
  3. Using a pastry cutter or knife, cut the cold butter into the flour mix until pea-size crumbs form
  4. Press the crust into mix into the bottom and the sides of the pan
  5. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes or until the crust looks dry. Set aside

Directions for the Filling:

  1. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add in the flour and beat until smooth
  2. Add the eggs, one a time until the mixture is creamy and smooth
  3. Add the milk, yogurt, and vanilla and beat until combined
  4. Gently fold the blueberries into the batter
  5. Pour the batter into the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes. The filling is done when you give the pan a gentle shake and the center is set.
  6. Allow to cool for 1 hour and then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight
  7. Cut into 16 squares and serve cold. Can be stored up to 3 days in the refrigerator

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Filed under Baked Goods, Desserts

Basil & Mint Pesto

My herbs have been growing extremely well, so I decided to use a bunch of them to make fresh basil & mint pesto that I adapted from a Giada DeLaurentis recipe. Many of the recipes for pesto use garlic, but they normally add it to the food processor raw. This is ok if you’re going to mix your pesto with your pasta and sauté for a few minutes afterwards. However, if you’re like me and you add your pesto to your pasta right after you strain it while it’s still hot, it doesn’t sauté your garlic, but only warms it. Now I love garlic and yes, sometimes I’ll admit I sneak a few raw pieces while I’m cooking.  But, this stuff is extremely overpowering when it’s raw, so I like to sauté my garlic before adding it to my food processor. Also, pine nuts are the customary nuts used to make traditional pesto, but I like to use walnuts. They taste just as great as pine nuts and they’re far more inexpensive. I also like to add fresh mint to my pesto; it gives it a refreshing kick and makes it smell good too. Spinach, parsley, cilantro, sun dried tomatoes, etc… can all be used to make a great pesto. Be creative and use whatever you have on hand!

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c fresh mint leaves
  • 1 c  fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 c walnuts
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 1/3 c olive oil

Directions:

  1. Coat a pan with olive oil and saute garlic over medium heat until garlic browns slightly.
  2. Strain the garlic from the olive oil and set aside.
  3. In a food processor, combine the mint, basil, walnuts, cheese, lemon juice and sauteed garlic until smooth. Add salt and pepper to flavor.
  4. While the mixture is still pulsing, gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is creamy.
  5. Add the pesto to just-cooked pasta and serve immediately.
  6. Garnish with more Parmesan cheese and fresh basil and mint.

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Filed under Main Course, Pasta

Food for Thought: Staying Fit

I’ve decided to revamp my blog by starting to write some Food For Thought posts on some of my other interests that include wine, healthy living, being green, etc… My goal is to engage my readers more and to get their feedback on the issues I discuss. With that being said, let’s get started!

One of my passions is healthy living and staying fit.  I always try to workout 4-5 times a week.  I play on a volleyball team once a week with my sister and then the other 4 days are set aside for cardio and weight training.  I’m grateful to have a gym that has really great classes like zumba, boot camp, body pump, etc… In this day and age, it’s very easy to work 40+ hours a week and get stuck in the rut of going home, eating dinner, and plopping down on the couch. Implementing a workout routine into your daily schedule can be a bit challenging, but with time, you will become acclimated to it. Your body will also crave it. Exercising gives your body the energy it needs to work those 40+ hours a week and also lets you relive the stress that ironically is usually caused by working those 40+ hours per week.  Here are some of my tips on maintaining a consistent, weekly workout schedule:

  1. Change Your Workouts:  Doing the same thing every time you go to the gym becomes monotonous and doesn’t challenge our bodies. Switch it up!  Take a spinning class, run outside, take a yoga class, go hiking, lift weights, etc…
  2. Maintain a Schedule: For me, I never workout on Fridays or Sundays, unless my schedule was so crazy during the week that I had to skip multiple workouts. Pick a schedule and stick to it.  If a co-worker asks you for drinks on a Thursday night, but that’s during your favorite spin class time, ask if you can meet up on Friday or if you really want to grab that drink (which we all need sometimes), make sure you sub your Thursday workout with Friday or Sunday for example.
  3. Be Realistic: If you never workout, don’t try to start working out 5 days a week. Start out small working out 2-3 days per week. With time and discipline, you’ll be able to and want to start setting aside more time for exercising.
  4. Drink Water: Drinking water is so important for our bodies. Water is bland though and not as fun as drinking a cup of blueberry coffee from Dunkin Donuts. I love drinking Vitamin Water because it tastes great and it’s loaded with nutrients that are beneficial to your body and health. Most health drinks now come in zero calories as well, so you can still get the same great taste without the added calories, just make sure they are zero healthy water drinks (this definitely excludes diet sodas that are chalked full of artificial sugars).
  5. Set Goals: Set goals for yourself. If you want to start running, start out running short distances mixed with walking, different speeds, and inclines. If you’re lifting weights, start out with those 5lb dumbbells and when those sets start becoming too easy for you, bump it up to 7.5lbs.
  6. Be Patient: Easier said than done right?  I was active during high school and that just spilled over into college and beyond. Exercising for me is a stress reliever: it makes me feel good at the end of the day.  If you don’t love to exercise, chances are you won’t automatically love it after a week of working out. Be patient and remember to go at your own pace and to set your own schedule!
  7. Remember to Relax: Just like our bodies need exercise to stay healthy, they also need rest and relaxation to remain sane. Overloading your schedule with work and exercise is not good either. Balance is key and that is where maintaining a balanced schedule comes into play (see #2). Remember to take the time to rest, relax, and unwind. For me, this is sharing a nice meal and a glass of wine with my hubby.

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Dandelion Greens Gratin

I recently spotted some dandelion greens at the farmer’s market and decided to give them a try.  Dandelion greens are very nutritional, much like spinach, kale, or chard. They have a bitter taste to them, so when you cook them, you have to offset their bitterness with something rich like cream, cheese, yogurt, etc… I found a wonderful recipe for Dandelion Greens Gratin from Fine Cooking and adapted a few of the ingredients including substituting plain yogurt with heavy cream and mozzarella cheese with goat cheese. I had every intention of using goat cheese, but the horrible, rotten, no-good, under-par grocery store closest to my house did not even carry goat cheese (do you believe that?). Since this recipe is Italian in nature with olive oil, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, etc… I decided to improvise and use another Italian, semi-soft cheese. Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 tsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 lb. dandelion greens (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1 c breadcrumbs
  • 3 Tbs. plus 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 c mozzarella cheese
  • 1-1/3 c plain yogurt
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1/4 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt for seasoning

Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees and spray an oven dish with cooking spray.
  2. Fill a pot three-quarters full with water, add 2 tsp. salt, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  3. Trim the greens of their lower stems and submerge the leaves in a large bowl of water, swishing to release any grit. Transfer directly to the boiling water and cook until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Taste a leaf after 3 minutes; if it’s still tough or stiff, cook for 1 or 2 minutes more.
  5. Drain and spread the greens out on a rimmed baking sheet lined with a clean dishtowel to steam and release moisture, 10 to 15 minutes. Use the dishtowel to gently wring the greens and get rid of any remaining moisture.
  6. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, 3 Tbs. of the Parmesan, and a pinch of salt.
  7. In a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the yogurt and garlic to a boil, about 5 minutes. As soon as the mixture has come to a vigorous boil (but before it boils over), remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  8. Add the lemon zest and season with 1/4 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper.
  9. Transfer the greens to a cutting board and chop them coarsely. Put them in a large mixing bowl and add the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan and the mozzarella cheese. Using your fingers, mix well. Spread the mixture in the prepared gratin dish.
  10. Pour on the yogurt and stir gently with a spoon to distribute evenly. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top the gratin evenly with the breadcrumbs.  Please note: there will be a lot of liquid; some of the crumbs will dissolve in it. The liquid will reduce in the oven and the top crumbs will get crisp.
  11. Bake the gratin until the crumbs are browned and the liquid has reduced below the crumb level, about 30 minutes. Serve warm.

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WV Panhandle Farm Tour

Green is the color of tranquility and relaxation. For me, I honestly think this is true. Standing in the middle of a lush, green field invokes feelings of relaxation and dissipates thoughts of work or the stresses of traffic that are all too common when living in a metropolitan area. After going on a Slow Foods organized farm tour in the West Virginia panhandle this past weekend, it’s not hard to see why many farmers love their work, love the land they’re working on, and love the environment they’re surrounded by.

My friend Laura and I participated in a Slow Foods DC organized farm tour. We went to four different farms in WV and learned anything and everything from small-scale farming in your backyard to hundreds-of-acres-been-in-your-family-for-generations farming. What all 4 farms had in common was that they were farmed by people who absolutely loved and appreciated their land. Most people can’t say that the weather, not their work performance, often determines whether they’ll get a bonus that year. Most people don’t have to worry about a late-season frost or a dry summer without rain. Most people worry about getting caught in a downpour while walking to work or leaving their house not appropriately dressed for the ailments. For farmers, they constantly worry about something they have no control over, but luckily, many farmers know how to abate any unexpected weather predicaments that might occur.

For example, one farmer told us that WV had received a frost in May that caught them by surprise. They were able to turn the sprinklers on the crops after the frost and salvage most of their crops before they were destroyed. And it’s not just Mother Nature that farmers have to contend with, they also have to deal with bureaucracy and all that she imposes and/or restricts. While I know very little about farming, compared to many of the people we talked to this weekend, what I do know is that farming is an extremely arduous profession. But like one of the farmers said, it is truly rewarding – a far cry from what many of us say at the end of our workday.

Standing outside on this one particular farm, I looked around in every possible direction and let out a sigh of utter relief: there wasn’t a highway, a shopping plaza or a Walmart in sight.  It was green and it was pure beauty; totally cut off from the hub-bub and stress of city life, it was perfect.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel the same way when they see and/or visit the green, rural countryside?

Please remember to support your local farmers! Check out Local Harvest for a list of farmers markets in your area.


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Filed under Misc.

Strawberry Bread

I was inspired to use my fresh, picked strawberries to make strawberry bread after going on a farm tour this past weekend and eating some bread that one of the farmer’s wives made for us (more to come on this farm tour later). I found a great recipe from the Joy of Cooking. The strawberry bread I had this past weekend was darker in color which leads me to think she used brown sugar instead of just regular sugar like the Joy of Cooking recipe. However, both breads were moist with subtle undertones of strawberry and cinnamon. Top this bread with some butter for a quick breakfast treat or eat it after dinner with a chilled dessert wine.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c unsalted butter
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 c chopped fresh strawberries

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9 x 5″ loaf pan.
  2. Beat the butter until soft, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and continue to beat until fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground cinnamon.  With the beater on low, add the flour mix and the sour cream alternating between the two, starting and ending with the flour.
  5. Gently fold in the strawberries.
  6. Place the batter into the pan and bake for about 50 minutes are until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Serve warm with butter or freeze for later use.

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Filed under Baked Goods, Bread