Monday, October 31, 2011

Something Fishy This Way Comes

An investigation by Consumer Reports alleges that the seafood we are buying is either not what it seems, or could be something altogether different than its label.  This is pretty frightening given that most consumers are wanting to add more seafood  to their diets, in search of a healthier alternatives to animal protein.  The problem is that we believe what we are told most of the time:  if the sign says "halibut" and the price is sky high, who are you to believe otherwise?

Wild Alaskan Halibut

This really is a case of buyer beware.  If you are buying your seafood at a supermarket, chances are you will get something that may not be labeled correctly, and that guy behind the seafood counter is probably the same guy who is sometimes checking you out when you are done with your shopping. Buying your seafood from a fish market should be a better bet, and Whole Foods did pretty well with their labeling.

 In the case of salmon, there were huge discrepancies, when the fish was labeled; some King Salmon was actually Coho, some sockeye was actually coho, and beware of farmed salmon, grown in congested, small "pens", where the salmon are fed corn and soy pellets, and do not have the diet that salmon eat in the wild.  Farm salmon is low in the Omega 3's that we would like to have in our diet and contains the highest levels of PCB's of any animal protein.  The salmon is further insulted, by having color added to its skin. 

Farm Salmon

Farm Salmon before the injectable dye

Buy wild line caught salmon.  The FDA has yet to rule on the genetically modified salmon that the industry is touting as the next best thing; it is injected with a gene from the "ocean pout" a member of the eel family--it will grow twice as large in half the time that it takes a wild salmon to grow.  Problem is, once it's genetically modified, it's not really a salmon anymore.

  The report stated that "grouper" (above) was mislabeled, and was actually tilefish, which has three times as much mercury as grouper.  The FDA advises women of childbearing age and children to avoid tilefish, yet stores are selling it under the name "grouper".  Buyer beware--this is what tile fish looks like:

Filet of sole, a mild fish that is generally available in markets, was mislabeled, or not even the same fish in 1/2 of the Consumer Reports samples.  Some were labeled sole, but were in fact, turbot, catfish or flounder.  All of these fish would cost the purveyor less than the real thing. 

Many fish are on the endangered list, because they have been over-fished.  To find out which fish are fit to eat, click here  go to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site, or here to go to the Marine Stewardship Council.  These sites will fill you in on what you need to know.  Next time you go to the supermarket be prepared, and if it says swordfish, maybe it was this guy once upon a time.

On the Road Again

It's that time of year again, I'm out on the road visiting independent cooking schools, teaching cooking classes, sometimes 2 a day as I cross the mid-west, and then head to the East Coast.  I'm currently in Indiana visiting my son in Bloomington, home of the IU Hoosiers.  Ryan is an IU alum, and sports writer, and if I didn't plan these trips, I probably wouldn't get to see him as often as I do.  I spent last week in West Lafayette, IN at KitchenArt and CooksWares in Cincinnati. 

I'll be heading back to West Lafayette tomorrow for 2 more classes before heading East to Carlisle, PA and The Kitchen Shoppe, ending my book tour in Chapel Hill, NC at A Southern Season.  The theme for this fall's travels is pressure cooking; my book, The Easy Pressure Cooker Cookbook is out, and the students are loving the recipes, easy of use, and the food that comes out a pressure cooker. Risotto in 7 minutes without stirring?  I think I need that!

We all remember the stories about grandma's pressure cooker that exploded, and sent split peas showering everyone within a 2 mile radius; today's new slow cookers are sleek stainless steel pots, with so many safety features it's next to impossible to have anything go wrong. 

 So as I pack up my bags, and get ready for another day, I'll share this risotto recipe that is fast and fabulous from the pressure cooker, I hope you'll go into your local independent cooking school and ask about pressure cookers, and see if this isn't a piece of equipment that you need, I know I'm sold!

White Risotto

Serves 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups Carnaroli or Vialone Nano rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, or dry vermouth
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1/4 cup aged balsamic vinegar

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter with the oil in the pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and sauté for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the rice and toss to coat. Pour in the wine and broth and lock the lid in place. Cook at high pressure for 8 minutes.

Quick release the pressure and remove the lid, tilting the pot away from you to allow the steam to escape. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the cheese. Taste the rice for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Allow the rice to stand for 2 minutes and stir again. If the risotto is not quite cooked, give it another minute over medium heat. Serve in shallow bowls, and drizzle with some of the balsamic vinegar.

 Wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween from the crossroads of America.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Going Bananas

Dr. C. celebrated his birthday yesterday and I made him a fabulous dinner, but his favorite seemed to be the experimental birthday cake that I made him; a caramelized banana upside down cake.  It's too good not to share with you all, and I think it could be amazing with a flambe of dark rum, but since I've been known to light off the smoke alarms around here, we chose the warmed cake with vanilla ice cream....heavenly!

Caramelized Banana Upside Down Cake
Serves 8

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 ripe bananas, sliced 1/2-inch thick
Coat the inside of a 9-inch round baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, combine the butter and brown sugar, and spread into the prepared pan.  Arrange the bananas on the butter sugar mixture and set aside while making the cake. 

For the Cake

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract
1 large egg
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the vanilla, eggs and banana, beating until the mixture is combined.  Add the sour cream, flour and baking soda, and beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth. Carefully pour the mixture over the bananas, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.  Remove the pan to a wire rack, cool for exactly 10 minutes, and turn the cake out onto a plate.  The cake can be stores at room temperature for up to 4 hours, after that refrigerate the cake.  To serve, warm the cake in the oven, and serve with vanilla ice cream.  

 Buon appetito and Happy Birthday Dr. C!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It's in the Bag

Friday was my Specialty Produce Farmer's Market Bag class at Great News, and what a bag it was; packed with fall bounty it was such fun to put this all together for a great class.  From left, sugar pie pumpkin, Valencia orange, fennel, spaghetti squash, pomegranate, romaine, Easter egg radishes, and golden beets.

Romaine salad with roasted golden beets, Valencia orange, pomegranates, crumbled goat cheese, with orange balsamic vinaigrette.

Pumpkin cupcakes with orange cream cheese frosting.

Pear Upside Down Cake

So, if you weren't able to come to class, but have a bag, here are a few recipes for your bag this week.

Grilled Caesar Romaine Salad
Serves 4

Two heads romaine, tough outer leaves removed, washed thoroughly and dried
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup crushed garlic crouton, either home made or store bought

Preheat the broiler for 10 minutes, line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
Cut each head of romaine in half through the center, and arrange the lettuce on the prepared baking sheet.
In a food processor or blender, blend together the oil, garlic, Worcestershire, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, and pepper, until it is thickened.  Using a silicone brush, brush some of the dressing over the lettuce leaves, and sprinkle with 1/2 of the cheese.  Broil for 3 to 5 minutes until the cheese begins to melt.  Remove from the broiler, arrange each romaine onto a salad plate, drizzle with a bit more dressing, some cheese, and finish with the crushed croutons.  Serve warm.
(Do-Ahead:  You can prepare the dressing ahead for 3 to 4 days, wash and spin the lettuce dry and keep in zip lock bags with paper toweling for up to 2 days)

Farfalle with Pumpkin and Italian Sausage
Serves 6
To prove that pumpkin isn't just for pie, try this amazing pasta dish and wow your family!
 For the Pumpkin:
One 3 pound sugar pie pumpkin cut into quarters
To prepare the pumpkin for roasting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and arrange the pumpkin on a baking sheet, cover with foil, and bake for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake another 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin is still firm, but soft in the center.  Cool the pumpkin until you can handle it and remove the seeds, (it's easier to remove them once it's cooked) and separate the flesh from the skin.  Chop the flesh coarsely, and set aside.  (the cooking times will vary depending on how large your pumpkin is) The pumpkin will keep frozen in air tight containers for up to 3 months.
For the Sauce

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from its casing
1/2 cup sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
6 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 cups coarsely chopped cooked pumpkin (see above)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound farfalle pasta, cooked 3 minutes short of al dente, saving a bit of the pasta water if needed
 1/2 to 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

 In a large skillet, heat the oil, and saute the sausage breaking it up, cooking it until it is no longer pink.  Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of fat, and add the onion, sage, and reserved pumpkin, sauteing until the onion is softened.  Season with salt and pepper, and stir in the nutmeg. When the pasta is cooked, add it to the skillet, keeping the heat at medium, and toss in the sauce, add some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce appears to be dry.  You will want to cook the pasta in the sauce, so that it absorbs the flavors in the pan.  Add 1/2 of the cheese and toss again.  Serve the pasta in bowls sprinkled with the remaining cheese.  

Sugar Pie Pumpkin can be used in place of butternut squash in most recipes. 


Many people erect memorials to themselves, and others donate enough money to an institution or charity and have their name slapped on a building. I came across a different memorial last weekend that won't make the headlines, nor will it attract visitors, like many memorials do, but it has been in my heart, and on my mind all week long and I need to share it with you. 

Dr. C and I joined about 1500 members of our church for what they call "Community Serve Day", a Sunday when church members volunteer at sights to clean up, or paint, or pack boxes for needy families; there were all sorts of choices, but we were asked to help with a project, which I knew nothing about, an apartment complex run with a charity here in San Diego called Casa de Amparo, this complex will help transition foster children after they turn 18.  Casa helps them to find housing, jobs, or job training, and our mission was to help to clean and fix two apartments that were owned by George.
 George and our Team Leader Patty

My husband and I were assigned to cleaning kitchens in two of the apartments; we worked and scrubbed and painted, and it was a great day seeing children, grandparents and parents working together to help make these two apartments into a home for someone.  I've said it before here, but it bears repeating, we all have a story, and George's story has touched me to the core.  Meet Richard:

George met Richard when George was serving dinner in a homeless shelter and 13 year old Richard asked for a blanket; abandoned by his parents, George began taking Richard home with him, and eventually adopted him.  Richard was a star athlete at Oceanside High School here in San Diego, graduated, and served in the Army.  Richard served two tours in Iraq, and was killed by a roadside bomb in 2007.  Richard's life insurance policy paid for the apartment building that we were working in, to help other foster children to transition into the community, and grow.  The story broke my heart, but also lifted my spirits to know that unconditional love and George taking a risk, gave Richard a better life, and George wants to help other children in the foster care system to find a better life.  (this is the link to Richard's obituary in the LA Times)  

All of us had an amazing day at this site, as you can see by the group shot at the end of our day, but to the person, we all wanted to come back and do some more ---how often are you touched that deeply to want to make hard work a habit? I have to admit, Dr. C. and I were sore in places we didn't know could get sore!  

I tend to live in a bubble most of the time, places like Casa de Amparo are charities I hear about, and may donate to, but I don't get dirty; I'm willing to get dirty to help children like Richard start out their lives in a clean, safe environment.  I learned a lot of lessons last week, probably more than I learn in a month of Sundays in a church building, but none was more significant than the fact that we can all make a difference by helping one person at a time. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Calling all Kids (and their parents)

I spent a few days last week with my granddaughter, 25 month old Princess Poppy in Connecticut.  Before I got there I sent a few things for she and I to do while her mom and dad enjoyed Paris.  One thing I hoped we'd be able to do was bake cookies; although she has a "pretend kitchen" I brought along a silicone rolling pin for her to use, and a Wilton Plaque of Halloween cookies.

  I ordered two cookie mixes from King Arthur Flour, one vanilla sugar cookies, and the other gingerbread.

On Friday we baked gingerbread cookies; we pressed the dough into the cookie plaque and then
Poppy got to decorate them with sprinkles---I think she liked that part best, just getting her to say "sprinkles" was priceless.
If you know anything about King Arthur Flour you know that their products are awesome, and both cookie mixes passed the kid and adult tests!
I'll be back later this week with some recipes for fall dinners; there is a windy rain storm blowing through San Diego tonight, and it feels like winter is coming!