Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Dessert with a Difference

Last week I posted 7 tips for a budget-wise Thanksgiving. This list included the following tip:

"Why not serve just one dessert, and does it have to be a pie? Could it be whole baked apples stuffed with raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter? Or what about fresh, sliced pears sauteed in butter, brown sugar or honey, finished with a drizzle of cream? Even a simple platter of seasonal apples and pears with a selection of nuts and dried fruits is delicious and economical."

Today I thought I'd expand on a couple of the dessert ideas above and include one or two more.

I'll start with baked apples; keep in mind that children can be involved in the preparation of this simple, fun-to-make dessert and it's hard to go wrong stuffing yummy things into the center of cored apples.

Fancy Baked Apples
1) Prepare one apple per person. I picked up some organic Braeburn the other day for $1.99 lb. At this time of the year, there's really no need to pay more than that for organic apples since they're abundant in fall and well into winter and thus often on sale.
2) Wash apples, remove stem, and with a small, sharp knife hollow out the center of the apples, removing their cores and creating space enough for stuffing.
3) Into a bowl add, per apple, a heaped teaspoon of butter, a little less of brown sugar or honey or orange marmalade, and either some chopped raisins or cranberries, a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and or cloves, and a few finely chopped walnuts or almonds.
4) Bind ingredients with a fork so that the mixture sticks together. If it's too dry and crumbly, add a bit more butter.
5) Either with clean fingers or a teaspoon, take bits of the mixture and shove it into the center of the apple. Pack it in tightly. Now place the stuffed apples onto a baking dish and put a dob of butter on the top of each apple.
6) Moisten the bottom of the baking tray with a little water and cover the apples and tray with tin foil. Bake at 350 degrees until the apples are tender, about 30 minutes or so. The stuffing will have melted into the apple, and some stuffing will melt out onto the baking tray.
7) Remove apples from baking tray with a spatula, setting them on a serving platter.
8) If you wish, you can create a caramel-like sauce with the butter, sugar and honey that's on the bottom of the baking tray by first picking out any clumped, burnt sugar. Next put the tray over a low-heat hot plate and pour a little whipping cream or even sour cream onto the tray; gently stir.
9) If you have any brandy, add a glug if you wish, and turn up the heat as this will help evaporate the alcohol.

To Serve: Pour the creamy sauce from the pan over the platter of baked apples and place in the center of your table. You might like additional pouring cream with your baked apples or scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Sauteed Pears
1) Bosc Pears are firm and thus they're best for baking and sauteing. And they're in season now and so they're plentiful and thus often on sale.
2) Allow half-to-one pear per person. Wash and quarter each pear, removing the core and pips.
3) In a skillet, melt a tablespoon of butter and a half tablespoon of brown sugar per pear. Stir butter and sugar until they melt into one another. Add pear quarters, stir, and place lid on pan. Turn heat to low and allow pears to gently cook in the butter and sugar for about 10-15 minutes.
4) Keep an eye on the cooking process; you don't want the sugar to burn, rather you want the juice from the pears to mix into the butter and sugar thereby creating a delicious sauce.
5) At around the 10-minute mark, add some cream to the skillet and stir it into the pan juices, creating a caramel-like sauce.
6) You could also add either lemon or orange zest at this point or if you have any Grand Marnier or Cointreau, add a splash. Taste-test, and test the pears to make sure they're cooked through but not over-cooked.

To Serve: Spoon pear quarters into a serving bowl and coat with pan-made sauce. You might like to sprinkle the top with some toasted walnuts or toasted almonds or even some chopped chocolate.

Both the above recipes call for butter, brown sugar and cream. If you prefer not to use sugar, use honey, maple syrup or agave instead. If you don't want to add cream, try almond, hazelnut or coconut milk.

If you like my idea of a simple fruit-cum-sweetmeat platter, refer to the post I made back in August. There's a luscious picture of a platter of goodies that would present beautifully on a Thanksgiving table.

If you and your family are gluten-free, obviously a fruit dessert as detailed above would work or you might like to try the Orange and Almond Cake I posted back in April. This post includes a video of the cake which was at the center of my birthday celebration, however it's a fabulously light, flour-free and thus gfree dessert that would go well at the end of heavy Thanksgiving meal.

If you're game, why not try something different, economical and simple for Thanksgiving dessert. The apple, pear, and platter desserts above fit this option.

And for something a bit more fiddly and spendy, but light and gluten-free, you might like to try the last option, Orange and Almond Cake.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sides with a Difference

A friend asked my advice on sides to accompanying Thanksgiving turkey. She had in mind buttered carrots and beans with almonds.

I reminded her that in August, I posted several root vegetable side dishes to go with barbecued lamb. Those sides were:

4) Pan fried baby squash (with blossoms intact).

If you like the idea of caramelized shallots, keep in mind that you could swap out the shallots for regular brown onions. Simply chop onions into quarter chunks for cooking with the brown sugar and butter.

You could also swap out the kumquat marmalade for orange or a lemon or lime marmalade when preparing the beets. And if you don't fancy beets for Thanksgiving, try swapping out the beets for sweet potatoes and or yams; served with marmalade and chives, they're delicious.

If you do like the idea of beets for Thanksgiving, and you plan on buying a bunch, cut the green tops off, wash them, and use them as you would any leafy green. For instance, you could saute them with a little bacon, or saute them with chopped brussel sprouts and bacon, adding some chicken or turkey stock and gently simmering the veggies until tender.

Baby squash with blossoms intact are no longer in season, but you could simply do pan tossed chunks of zucchini with a fresh herb like rosemary or sage; both go well with Turkey.

I also mentioned to my friend that she could toss her cooked string beans in walnut oil and top them with toasted walnuts instead of almonds. Or toss some bacon in with the boiling beans, strain, and top with toasted walnuts, almonds or even pistachios.

Brussel sprouts, as I mentioned above, are extra delicious cooked in either turkey or chicken, stock; it adds lots of flavor to the mini cabbage-like green. For a treat, you might like to top cooked brussel sprouts with prosciutto which it can be spendy, but buy just a few slices and make less stretch further by chopping the rashers into little bits.

If you're a fan of mashed potatoes as a side with Thanksgiving, rather than adding butter and or milk, try adding the some olive oil and the pan juices from your baked turkey, but first pour off the turkey fat. The oil and pan juices will enrich mashed potatoes without adding the dairy-fat calories.

These are just a few simple ideas to make different some of the Thanksgiving sides we're all familiar with.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Make More with Less

With less than a week to Thanksgiving, no doubt you or someone in your life is thinking about shopping and cooking for this annual feeding fest and day of thanks.

As I mentioned yesterday the pressure to grocery shop for foods that you might not normally eat or budget for is great at this time of the year, so today I thought I'd offer some creative, budget-wise solutions to this potentially budget-busting time.

Thanksgiving meal is steeped in tradition in as much as whole roast turkey, mashed potato with gravy, candied sweet potato, beans and or brussel sprouts boiled with bacon, and stove-top stuffing feature heavily followed by fruit and pecan pies.

This I've observed, even though I'm from Australia where we don't have Thanksgiving, and where turkey is rarely eaten, because ever since I've lived in the U.S., I've participated in the Thanksgiving tradition either cooking the whole meal or as a guest at a friend's family feast.

Now honoring tradition is important, yet the core belief associated with this day is the giving of thanks, the expression of gratitude while in the presence of friends and or family with whom you're sharing a meal.

The tradition behind this day of appreciation is not the perfectly baked whole turkey, the buttery whipped potatoes or the "will we put the giblets in or leave them out?" stuffing; these are simply delicious adjuncts representing the bounty of the season, one of many things to be grateful for.

Therefore, if we de-emphasize Thanksgiving as a smorgasbord of turkey, sides and pie, and emphasize the day as one of gratitude within the context of sharing a meal of seasonal foods, there is less pressure to go over-budget on an extravagant menu, and more room for creativity at the store and in the kitchen.

For Instance, consider the adage Less is More:

1) Rather than buying a whole turkey, what about buying organically-farmed turkey pieces, like half a breast or 2 legs and make more of less.

For a change, why not bypass turkey altogether and bake a whole, natural chicken or stuff and bake a whole fish; maybe consider having a vegetarian Thanksgiving meal.

Instead of serving a selection of carbohydrate-heavy sides like mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, wild rice and stuffing, pick just one or two and make more of less.

What about just one hot side of say, yams with cranberries, and a large spinach salad tossed with walnut oil, pistachios, feta cheese & pomegranate seeds. Make more with less.

Dessert is delicious, but when it comes to sweet treats, particularly at the end of a big, heavy meal, less is definitely better.

7) Why not serve just one dessert, and does it have to be a pie? Could it be whole baked apples stuffed with raisins, walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter? Or what about fresh, sliced pears sauteed in butter, brown sugar or honey, finished with a drizzle of cream? Even a simple platter of seasonal apples and pears with a selection of nuts and dried fruits is delicious and economical.

These are just a few simple ideas I came up with on the spur of the moment.

Imagine the creative ways you could prepare a budget-wise Thanksgiving meal if you allowed yourself the time to think differently about the last Thursday in November.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Budget-Wise Tips for Holiday Grocery Shopping

Next week marks the beginning of grocery shopping for Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

If you're on a budget this can be a stressful time. You may well feel under pressure to buy foods you don't usually eat and that aren't necessarily within your budget.

Today I thought I'd recap some of my top tips for staying on budget grocery shopping and then over the rest of the week, I'll offer tips specific to staying on budget during the holidays.

7 Budget-wise Pre-Shopping Tips

1) Plan ahead; think about the upcoming week -- how many meals will be eaten at home and by how many people.

2) What supplies are already on hand in the pantry and fridge and what items do you need.

3) What's on sale at the grocery store and what coupons can you use (check online for both). As you know I shop at Whole Foods because their values align with mine, so I check out "What's on Sale" each week, and for coupons I check the "Whole Deal."

4) With the previous points in mind, create a basic menu plan for the week--keeping in mind that one or two main meals can be created from leftovers--and write an accompanying shopping list.

5) Make your menu plan and shopping list flexible this way you can accommodate good deals which you'll be more aware of once you're at the grocery store.

6) Plan to buy at least 80% of your groceries as whole, unprocessed foods i.e. in-season fresh vegetables and fruit, fish and or meat / poultry, some dairy, and bulk dry goods with the remaining 20% of your items as packaged, tinned or frozen.

7) Peruse your favorite cookbooks for ideas when you write your menu plan and shopping list, but use recipes as a guideline only, don't feel you have to follow them exactly otherwise your shopping list will end up containing items out-of-season and not within your budget. So improvise, swap out ingredients for produce in-season and on sale.

7 Budget-wise In-Store Tips

1) If grocery shopping is stressful for you, try to shop when the grocery store is least busy i.e. early in the morning or in the evening after dinner.

2) If you impulse purchase when hungry, don't grocery shop on an empty stomach.

3) One-stop shop and then only once a week, otherwise you waste time and money driving around from store to store.

4) Have your list on hand at all times at the grocery store, and stick to it, though allow yourself one impulse purchase within your means, per week.

5) Buy 80% of your groceries from the store's periphery as whole, unprocessed foods--weigh fresh produce so you know how much you'll be paying-- and 20% of your groceries from the middle aisles.

6) Once in the middle aisles avoid prolonged browsing; the attractive merchandising is a marketing strategy designed to encourage impulse purchasing, and not a guarantee of healthful food within your budget.

7) Give yourself a time limit to collect the groceries on your list and to check out.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Raw Cardamom Cookies

As you may have noticed, I've been posting meal ideas this week featuring pungent and warming ground spices -- perfect for spicing up fall / winter meals.

I incorporated my favorites, cumin and coriander, into Wednesday's Spiced Lentils and Thursday's Black Beans.

And today it's cardamom, which due to it's deliciously aromatic sweet flavor, I'm using in a sweet treat.

A few weeks ago I featured several home-made herbal teas, including a spicy chai that make use of cardamom pods as well as a number of other pungent spices.

The treat I'm sharing today is the perfect accompaniment to spicy chai or even a simple cup of black or herbal tea.

I write a regular column for the Women's Magazine and this month my article explored savoring the little traditions such as lovingly brewing a pot of tea and sharing it with a special someone. As we head into the holiday season this is the perfect antidote to hurried and harried days.

Because I'm not a big fan of baked goods containing lots of white sugar, butter, and processed flour, I like to experiment with raw ingredients when making treats to eat with a cup of tea or as a dessert.

One doesn't need a recipe just a delight in pairing and mixing dried fruits like dates, raisins, cranberries, perhaps a little honey, oats and coconut, maybe chocolate drops and nut butter.

And children will find picking and mixing a selection of ingredients, such as those just listed, lots of fun.

Additionally, treating kids to whole, unprocessed foods, instead of cookies and cakes laden with white sugar and white flour, is far healthier than the empty calories found in most store-bought cookies and cakes.

Raw Cardamom Cookies
1) Explore your pantry for ingredients on hand such as walnuts, almonds, peanut or almond butter, coconut, oats or raw muesli, honey, dates or date and coconut rolls, raisins, cranberries, chocolate drops, or chocolate coated nuts.
2) Pick a selection of the above pantry items -- note my selection in the pic at the top of this post.
3) Now into a food processor toss spoonfuls of say 3 or 4 items, including at least one sticky item like nut butter and or honey or dates. The sticky item will bind the ingredients.
4) Add a pinch of ground cardamom, cinnamon, and perhaps a tiny pinch of ground cloves.
5) Run the food processor till ingredients bind together into a ball. If you don't have a food processor, chop all ingredients on a chopping board, pop them into a mixing bowl and then work the ingredients together with clean, bare hands. (Kids will love this!)
6) Now tip raw cookie mix onto a chopping board and roll it into a oblong log. Wrap in cling wrap and refrigerate for a couple of hours.
7) Or alternatively, tip mix into a round baking tin lined with cling wrap and press with the back of your hand until mix lines the entire tin. Refrigerate.

To Serve: Remove raw mix from the cling-wrap roll and slice either into round pieces, as in the pic above, or if you used a round tin, cut into triangular pieces. Serve with a hot cup of milk tea, herbal tea, hot chocolate or your choice of warm beverage.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cumin & Coriander Black Beans

Yesterday I featured cumin and coriander in a spiced lentil dish.

Today I'm featuring the same spices in a black bean dish.

Select lo0se spices are on sale at WFs this week and I made the most of that sale and bought several ounces of my two favorites.

I buy loose herbs and spices, ground and whole, in bulk, spooning just as much as I need into recycled Ziploc bags which I bring with me to the store from home.

I reuse those bags, over and over, washing them, drying them, and storing them in a utility draw in my kitchen.

I decant ground spices from my Ziploc bags into screw-top glass jars. Spices are best stored in the pantry away from heat and direct sunlight where they will stay fresh for 6 months to a year.

Once spices start to lose their aroma it's an indication that the aromatic oils in the spice, which give them their flavor, have evaporated and this means the spice is no longer fresh.

Ground spices with no flavor are not worth keeping. But throwing food out -- even spices -- is akin to tossing money in the trash.

This is why I buy spices loose, purchasing only a couple ounces at a time; it ensures that I use all my spices within months of their purchase and it ensures that I avoid throwing spices out.

I do tend to use ground spices more often with lentils and beans since pulses tend to be neutral in flavor.

Additionally, spices are pungent and thus as the weather fluctuates from cool to very cold, stews of spicy beans and vegetables are both warming while being budget-wise.

Cumin and coriander with black beans is one of my favorites. I like to add any number of root vegetables to the dish, but as you can see in the pics above this time around, I've simply added chopped onion, garlic and celery.

But consider adding diced potato, sweet potato, rutabaga, swede, carrots, leeks, cabbage to this dish. The addition of lots of vegetables stretches the beans further and gives the meal interest, texture and color.

Cumin & Coriander Black Beans

1) Chop half an onion a couple sticks of celery and a smashed clove of garlic. (Add additional vegetables if you wish.)
2) Toss veggies into a skillet lined with light olive oil; add a teaspoon each of cumin & coriander.
3) Saute over low heat, coating vegetables with spices.
4) Add a couple cups of cooked black beans, stirring into vegetables. Allow ingredients to simmer for a few mins and then add a little water or stock and simmer for a further 30-45 mins.
5) Taste test, adding salt if you wish; you might like to add a heaped spoon of tomato paste.

To Serve: As you can see in the pic below, I've used my black bean stew as the middle layer for a meal that consists of a bottom layer of rice, then a layer of black beans, followed by a fried egg, topped with chopped avocado and whole cherry tomatoes.

You could take the above combination and roll it into a flour tortilla, thereby creating a burrito. Or you could simply serve the spiced black beans with rice and a side salad or with a side of steamed greens.

Or consider popping your spiced beans into the blender with additional stock or water and whizzing them into a soup. Top the soup with banana sauteed in a little butter, a blob of yogurt and fresh chopped cilantro.

Experiment with serving your spiced black beans; they're incredibly versatile!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Spiced Lentils with Pistachios & Berry Jam

You may recall from past posts that I advocate buying dry goods in bulk.

It's a great recession-strategy grocery shopping tip because you pick and pay for only what you need.

In addition to the savings on dry goods purchased in bulk, buy in-season fresh produce; it's plentiful and thus often on sale.

With these points in mind, today I'm offering a meal idea that makes the most of buying in bulk, buying seasonal produce, and buying loose spices, like cumin and coriander, which are on sale at WFs this week.

Spices are a great addition to fall / winter meals because they're warming and invigorating to the system, and if you're chilled this is exactly the effect you want your meals to have.

Spiced Lentils with Pistachios & Berry Jam
1) Buy your choice of lentils in bulk, and then once home, store them in a screw-top glass jar. For this dish, use about 1/2 cup per person.
2) Peel and chop an onion. Smash a clove of garlic and a chunk of fresh ginger; toss into a skillet lined with light olive oil. Add a heaping teaspoon of cumin and one of coriander.
3) Peel and chop a small butternut pumpkin and the same of an acorn squash. Both pumpkin and squash are plentiful throughout fall and winter and often on sale. Pick them up when they're priced low and then make this dish. You could also include sweet potato, yams, and potato, swapping out one for another or using a combination.
4) Toss your choice of vegetables into the skillet with spices and onion and gently stir over low heat so that spices coat vegetables (pic above).

5) Pour lentils into skillet with vegetables (pic to left).
6) At this point you could add water or you could use stock, such as chicken or turkey.
7) Simmer lentils and veggies with water or stock for about 30-45 mins or until lentils are tender but not mushy.
Note: As we head into the holiday season, look out for great deals on turkey wings and drumsticks both of which make great stock.
8) Taste test and add salt if you wish.
9) If you made turkey stock to prepare this dish, you might like to remove the meat from the wings or drumsticks and add it to the spiced lentils.

To Serve:
I served this meal as a vegetarian dish which means I didn't use stock or meat. I spooned the spiced lentils and veg over brown rice and I topped my bowl with salted pistachios. You could swap these out for cashews.

Along with the nuts I added a spoonful of raisins which I'd blanched quickly in a pot of boiling water to plump them up.

I also added a blob of yogurt and the same of berry jam, which could be a cranberry jam or any dark berry or dark cherry jam.

With the addition of all the toppings this is a hearty meal, which if you're vegetarian, you might consider serving at Thanksgiving.

Otherwise, it's a great budget-wise fall / winter meal worth serving any time.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Manhattan Chowder into Spaghetti Marinara

Ah, the beauty of leftovers!

You may recall that last Wednesday I made chicken stock to which I added leek and potato, crab meat and shrimp, creating white chowder.

The following day, I took the leftover chowder, leftover raw shrimp and crab meat, and added a tin of tomatoes (and other goodies), creating red or Manhattan chowder.

Last night, I took the leftover red chowder, added a couple more ingredients and made spaghetti marinara (pic above).

In the U.S., I've noticed that marinara sauce is typically a tomato sauce, yet in Melbourne, Australia, where I spent my young adult years, our first and second generation family-owned Italian restaurants always include seafood in their marinara sauce.

The word marinara is derived from the Italian "marinaro" which means "of the sea." Because Melbourne is on the ocean and fresh seafood is therefore abundant it could be that our Italian restaurateurs add seafood to their marinara tomato sauce because, well, why not!

Certainly there's more flavor in a marinara sauce when seafood is added, and more interest too, plus you can easily whip up seafood marinara from Manhattan Chowder.

You'll note in the pic above that my bowl of pasta is liberally doused in olive oil. This is another trick I learned eating at family-owned Italian restaurants in Melbourne: olive oil is never under-used; rather it's the basis of the Mediterranean diet and cooking.

Olive oil moistens pasta that would otherwise be dry and it ensures succulence. When living in London, I was introduced to late-night suppers of luscious spaghetti olio by an Italian-couple friend.

Natzarrio didn't cook much, according to his girlfriend, Donatello, but he was quite adept with a packet of spaghetti, a couple cloves of garlic, and copious glugs of olive oil, which is about all there is to a bowl of spaghetti olio or oiled spaghetti.

My mother would add melted butter to cooked pasta, and to her bolognese sauce. A huge mistake because the butter would add a fatty coating and make her pasta and bolognese sauce dishes unnecessarily heavy.

Because olive oil is not a saturated fat like butter, it reacts differently on the palate -- it's not cloying. And it's not as rich as butter therefore it's easier to digest.

I love butter, but olive oil is better, and on pasta it's the best.

Manhattan Chowder into Spaghetti Marinara
1) Pour leftover chowder into a pot. Turn heat to low. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tinned tomato paste to the chowder, stirring gently. The tomato paste will enrich the chowder and thicken it too.
2) Add a handful of de-pipped and chopped Kalamata olives.
3) Meanwhile, boil a pot of water. Add spaghetti and a good glug of olive oil (this keeps the spaghetti strands from sticking). Boil pasta till it's al dente -- firm but not hard.
4) Drain spaghetti in a colander. Run it under the hot water tap and flush out the starch water.
5) Return spaghetti to the pot and hot stove, stir over heat until water has evaporated. Turn heat off and pour olive oil over pasta, coating it well; season with salt and pepper to taste.

To Serve: Portion spaghetti into bowls, pour extra olive oil over spaghetti, now spoon marinara sauce over spaghetti. Top with grated Parmesan or Romano (optional) and serve with chunks of crusty bread and a side salad or a side of something green like wilted spinach.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chunky Manhattan Chowder

I had stock, some mahi mahi, a few shrimp and one crab leg left over after making the Crab and Potato Chowder featured in yesterday's post.

Because that chowder had a potato and leek base, it was easy to add to the leftovers to make Manhattan chowder.

Manhattan chowder originated probably with Portuguese immigrants in the NE of the U.S. adding tomatoes to chowder rather than milk or cream.

If you've been to Portugal you may have had their traditional tomato-based fish stews, which are more rustic but just as delicious as French Bouillabaisse, and very like a Manhattan chowder only choc-full of seafood.

I had one of these fish stews in a Portuguese sea-side town that has since become a very popular holiday-destination.

Albufeira's main beach is a great long stretch of sand. At one end a sheer cliff rises up from the beach and atop that cliff there was (it's probably not there anymore) a small restaurant with plastic tables and chairs, some of which were outside abutting a thigh-high stone wall at the edge of the cliff.

I, and my partner at the time, sat outside at a table by the stone wall and admired the spectacular view straight down to the beach and across the darkening ocean to Africa invisible on the horizon.

My stew, when it arrived, was rich with tomato and fish-broth flavor. It was filled with chewy crustaceans including spiny langoustine or scampi still in their shell. Found in the waters south of Portugal, langoustine is the feature crustacean in Portuguese fish-stews.

I attempted to recreate the rich flavor of the Albufeira fish stew in today's Chunky Manhattan Chowder (pic left).

Obviously I didn't have langoustine, but as I mention above, I did have leftover chicken stock, one King Crab leg, and combined with mahi mahi, white raw shrimp (pic above) and a can of peeled tomatoes, a chunk of parsley and a bay leaf, I have to say, the flavor was pretty darn good.

And so here is the method for ...

Chunky Manhattan Chowder
1) Pick a selection of fish and or shellfish to suit your budget and palate. For example, WFs has raw shrimp on sale at the moment (pic at top), and they have a great selection of Whole Catch frozen fillets like mahi mahi, sole, Alaskan salmon.
2) Remove shell from shellfish then chop fish /seafood into chunks.
3) Smash and then chop a clove or two or garlic; add to a skillet lined with olive oil. Turn heat to low and allow garlic to infuse the warming oil.
4) Turn heat up, but don't allow garlic to brown or burn, now toss in seafood and gently stir for about 5 mins or until all the fish has sealed.

5) If you have an open bottle of white wine, add half a cup and allow alcohol to evaporate before pouring in enough chicken stock (or leftover crab & potato chowder) to cover seafood.
6) Open a tin of peeled tomatoes (either chopped or whole), and pour that in too. Add a chunk of parsley, and a bay leaf.
7) Turn heat to low and simmer for about 30 mins. Don't boil or the seafood will disintegrate into dry and chewy little pieces.
8) Before serving, pick out pieces of parsley and bay leaf, then taste-test, adding salt and ground black pepper to suit.

To Serve:
Ladle into bowls and serve with chunks of warm crusty bread and a little green on top, i.e. a piece of parsley.

You might like drizzled, extra-virgin olive oil over the chowder. I added a squeeze of lemon juice to my chowder; it really enhanced the flavor. So a side-plate with lemon pieces would be a great addition too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crab & Potato Chowder

A reader sent me a message asking for a chowder recipe, one she could freeze and then serve to her two young boys.

Chowder is exactly along lines of the "warmer, heavier meals using root vegetables, grains, and stocks, made into hearty casseroles, stews and soups," I said I'd be focusing on as we head into the coldest months of the year.

Chowder in the US is available in 3 varieties:
1) Corn, which has a maize or corn and potato base
2) Clam, which is milk based, and
3) Manhattan, which has a tomato base.

The original chowder was essentially a fresh fish and shell-fish stew, probably made on the wharfs by Breton fisherman in Newfoundland.

And like Bouillabaisse, a thick fish stew which originated in Provence, France, the origins of chowder are thus also French.

What I take away from the above is the understanding that chowder is stew-like and it sometimes contains fish, shell-fish, vegetables, herbs. Sometimes it's made with a fish or chicken stock, sometimes a milk or tomato base.

In other words, there's room for creativity and innovation when making chowder.

Because, Jo, my reader, wants to freeze her chowder, I'm steering away from a milk base stew. I don't think milk in savory dishes freezes well; it tends to separate.

Keeping in mind that root veggies abound right now, I'm starting with a potato and leek-base soup made with chicken stock (pic above).

You may have read my method for preparing Celeriac, Pear & Leek Soup last week. If so, you'll note that this combination of ingredients sounds like another soup I referred to, Vichyssoise, which contains potatoes and leeks.

Like corn and potato chowder, the leeks and potato will create a thick, flavorful base into which I'll add some shell-fish and fish.

Today, Whole Foods has a sale on Golden King Crab Legs (pic below), so I bought two legs, plus a handful of White Raw Shrimp (also on sale this week). And in my freezer I have a Whole Catch packet of Mahi Mahi. I've unfrozen one fillet and I'll add that to my chowder as well.

Now, Jo is a working mum, so I don't want to overwhelm her with detail. Therefore, my recipe includes shortcuts for those readers who don't have the time or inclination to make stock. And it also includes options so that you can make my chowder recipe work for your palate, wallet and schedule.

Crab & Potato Chowder
1) You can either begin by making your own stock or you can use a box of Organic Chicken Broth. If you make your own stock, add a couple bay leaves, a sprig of tarragon, and several black peppercorns into the pot, covering the chicken pieces with water and simmering it for about 1 hour.
2) Pour stock (or two boxes of broth) into another pot, add 2-3 washed and chopped potatoes, and two chopped and washed leeks. If you wish, add a cup of frozen corn kernels.
3) Simmer stock and veggies until veggies are soft. At this point you can pulse the lot in a blender or not. If not, then your chowder will be extra chunky.
4) You now have a soup base which you can cool and freeze. When ready to use, simply unfreeze.
5) Meanwhile, saute your choice of fish and or shellfish-- like raw shrimp, fresh or frozen crab meat, fresh or frozen clams--in a little oil and chopped garlic until tender (don't overcook). Add the cooked fish to the unfrozen soup and gently simmer together for about 30 mins.
6) Or follow step 5, adding your choice of seafood, which you've sauteed in a little garlic oil, to your freshly made soup base, simmer together, and then cool, freezing the chowder for consumption later.

To Serve: Either you're serving your chowder freshly made, or you've unfrozen and heated it. Add half and half or full-cream milk; the quantity is up to you, depending on how creamy you like your chowder. Obviously the milk and cream are optional. Season, and sprinkle the top with crushed crackers, toasted croutons, or serve chunky pieces of bread on the side.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

4 Reasons to Shop & Cook by the Seasons

Recently, I've been emphasizing in my posts the benefits of shopping for and cooking with seasonal produce.

With this in mind, hopefully you've noticed that as the seasons have transitioned so too have the kinds of meal ideas I've posted.

For instance, last week the soups I wrote about contained fall /winter vegetables.

And as we head into the coldest months of the year, you'll note that my focus will be on warmer, heavier meals using root vegetables, grains, and stocks all combined to make hearty casseroles, stews, more soups, and legume-based meals.

Today I thought I'd share, in brief, a section from the book proposal I've written based on this blog. The section is titled 4 Reasons to Shop and Cook by the Seasons and I begin the section with the following:

The four seasons are nature's way of providing our diets with diversity while also providing an effective way to balance our systems so that we can cope with the heat of summer and the cold of winter.

Changes in growing conditions from spring to summer and then fall to winter are considered essential for balancing the earth's resources and its life forms.

But today it's so easy for us to forget about seasons when we eat. Modern food processing and worldwide distribution of food make certain seasonal foods are available year-round so that our grocery-store shelves look much the same in December as they do in July.

In-season fresh produce has the most flavor, nutritional value and it's plentiful and thus affordable. It makes sense to buy what nature has provided in abundance for the above reasons -- that is, for budgetary, practical, sustainable and health reasons.

4 Reasons to Shop and Cook by the Seasons:

1) Budgetary: The advantage of buying fresh produce when it's in season and therefore abundant is the savings. Compare the price of in-season produce with produce that has been imported from out of the area, even out of the country, and you'll quickly note the difference.

2) Practical: The practicality of purchasing seasonal foods follows from the budgetary advantage: If it's abundant, it's most likely on sale; therefore it makes good sense to buy in-season produce rather than higher-priced out-of-season produce.

3) Sustainability: Produce that's abundant and on sale is often local or regional. Purchasing in-season local food sustains the commercial infrastructure of one's community by supporting the regional farmers and food producers, plus it reduces product carbon footprint. Food trucked a short distance uses less fuel in transport than food from out of state or abroad.

4) Health: In most areas of the world it is hot in summer and cold in winter and just as we wear cool clothes in summer and warm clothes in winter, there are foods that cool the body and foods that warm the body. As a result of consumer habituation to choice, i.e. summer fruits and salad vegetables in winter, the notion that it is not as healthful to eat those cooling foods when it is cold may seem odd to some. However, there is wisdom in nature, therefore it follows that there's good judgment in choosing and consuming the foods that nature provides at specific times of the year.

It feels timely to share the above information. More than ever, people are feeling the need to be mindful of a grocery budget, and given that it's flu-season, mindful of their health.

There is good reason--4 in fact--to take advantage of the value-added pricing of abundant seasonal produce available at your grocery. So this week, I'll list produce on sale at Whole Foods, where I shop, and then offer some simple, healthful meal ideas using that produce.