Sunday, January 30, 2011

Kitchen Experiments

I have some great memories as a kid of concocting food in the kitchen. I'm not sure where my mom was at the time, although I do know that she approved, but I remember mixing all kinds of ingredients together and feeding them to my little sister. Most of it I think was edible, all of it was fun, and I have always thought fondly of those early kitchen experiments as the beginning of my love of cooking and as one of the primary reasons for my comfort and freedom with all things culinary. 

My son is nearing 7 years old, and he has been cooking with me in our home kitchen since he could stand up. Usually he lends a hand with some baking on a weekend morning, challah dough for shabbat, peeling carrots for a snack or some other small tasks here and there. Recently however he has started asking for little bits of ingredients or a small portion of a meal we are preparing to make an "experiment" of his own. On one occasion he took a ball of pie dough scraps, rolled them in a ball, stuffed with a few chocolate chips and topped with sprinkles and baked it in a lovely silver muffin paper. Another experiment was creating some sushi rolls from a handful of rice left in the rice cooker, a carrot and the last piece of nori. And yet another was tofu marinated with orange zest, sesame oil, salt, garlic powder, and OJ, seared until brown. I don't know that he particularly loved eating any of these food experiments nearly as much as he enjoyed making them, but the pride that he displayed in the process and the final creation were fabulous, and I can't help but feel that I am nurturing a very healthy love of cooking for at at least one more generation.

 Marinated and seared tofu:
The Proud boy with his creation:
Carrot sushi roll:

 Pie dough creation and pie:
A few nights ago I managed to get the two kids to lend a hand in making dinner. My son peeled and chopped carrots and potatoes, and my daughter (nearly 3) cut celery and potatoes with a fairly sharp butter knife. Lending a hand with the cooking certainly got them more excited about dinner and I got to be with them rather than trying to occupy them in the other room so I could cook. Please forgive the quality of these pictures. I don't have good lighting for evening photography, but just couldn't resist posting this. Happy cooking and eating!

Any luck cooking with kids? please share!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Food Coops Over the Years

Photo credit: Dave Robbins Photography

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. Between the work I am doing as the Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council, and my new paid work helping to get a new grocery store and food coop in New Haven, CT : Elm City Market off the ground, I've been more than busy. And, let's not forget the family: many sick days and snow days. It's been a full month and there are more than a few half written blog posts awaiting my attention. While I try and find time to finish those I thought I'd share a few links to some food coops that I have either been a member of or have shopped at over the years.

I grew up lending a hand at the original New Haven Food Coop when I was a kid in the 70's and 80's, until it closed and turned into a Meat Market and Hostess outlet (no joke!). When I was in College in the early 90's at Sarah Lawrence, I moved to Brooklyn to dance and teach and joined the Park Slope Food Coop, a fairly unique food coop, one of the few left where a monthly work shift is required of all members and only members are allowed to shop at the store. I loved being part of this coop, and many years later when my son was born, my husband got a job there as one of the few paid employees, so we felt even more a part of it. There was a window of time in the late 90's when I lived in Boston, and I joined and shopped at the Harvest Coop in Cambridge and in Jamaica Plain, MA. This coop was more of a standard small grocery store open to the public where anyone could shop but members had special benefits and discounts.

You may have heard me say more than once that my life revolves around food, and I do mean this literally. When I travel or spend any time in another city or town one of the first things I do is go in search of a grocery store, food market or food coop to explore. I love wandering the aisles noticing the familiar and the unexpected. What little gems might be waiting to be discovered on high up shelf,  in a prepared food case, or on a market table. As a child of the 70's, raised at least partially in a fairly alternative hippy community, I find visiting food coops particularly interesting. Many of them still around today were born of that era; natural food stores with a crunchy granola style and explicit social and communal missions. Some of them have survived, evolving in some ways, but holding onto their roots, others have closed and other new coops have been inspired by these older markets but try to create something new and more contemporary. Some of the new food coops strive to have an affordable mix of natural and conventional foods to help them appeal to a wider audience, many are open to the public: to members and non-members alike, and, all of them are striving to create a member owned independent grocery store in the face of huge corporate expansion.

For me, being part of a food coop has allowed me to have an even deeper connection to the source of my food and involvement in the community I live in. It just feels different to shop in a grocery store that you are a member/owner of. When there is a spill on the floor, I care more about helping to clean it up; if the item I am looking for is always out of stock I am more likely to talk to the manager rather than just buy it at a different store; if the store is doing particularly well or poorly, I feel proud or concerned. In other words, when I'm a member of a food coop, I'm invested in more ways than one, and this helps me and the store, so it is a win win situation.

Here are links to some of the food coops I have been a member at or shopped at over the years:
Park Slope Food Coop Brooklyn, NY 
Harvest Coop Cambridge and Boston, MA
Rainbow Coop San Francisco, CA
Flatbush food coop, Brooklyn, NY
East End Coop, Pittsburgh, PA
Brattleboro food coop Brattleboro, VT
River Valley Market, Northampton, MA

A few other coops of interest:
City Market, Burlington, VT
Willimantic Food Coop Willamantic,CT

Have you been a member at a food coop or shopped at one? 
Please share your thoughts below!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Black Beans and Sneaky Greens

So, finally here it is, the long awaited recipe for Black Beans with Sneaky Greens. This is a great versatile recipe. It is easy and very inexpensive to throw together a big pot of flavorful beans that can be served as a soup, in tacos, with arepas, over rice with a fried egg, or add some diced tomato and hot pepper to spice it up a bit. Cooked beans freeze well, so if you make a large pot full, try freezing a few portions for a quick weeknight meal in the future.

Black Beans with Sneaky Greens *
2 large onion or 4 cups coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic peeled
1 1/2 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
16 cups water
4 cups dried black beans
4 cups finely chopped kale, collards or spinach (large stems removed)
  1. In a blender or food processor, puree onions, garlic, oil and salt.
  2. In a medium soup pot over medium-low heat, saute the onion and garlic mixture until very fragrant and no longer raw smelling, about 15 minutes. Stir occasionally and be careful not to brown.
  3. Rinse beans and add to the pot along with the water.
  4. Simmer beans for 3 hours or until tender and the sauce has thickened. If it is very thick and the beans are still firm, add water. If the sauce is still thin but beans are tender, continue to simmer on very low heat until sauce has thickened. Stir occasionally to ensure that the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Once the beans are tender and the sauce thickened, add the chopped greens and simmer till tender, about 20 minutes for kale or collards, 4 minutes for spinach. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and serve.
*You do not need to soak the beans ahead of time to make this dish, and the taste improves when the beans are made a day or so ahead of time.

To make Tacos:
6" soft tortillas (flour or corn)
plain low fat yogurt
shredded lettuce
optional additions: hot sauce, onions, mojo sauce, grated cheese, salsa
  1. Warm tortillas
  2. Top with beans, yogurt and lettuce
  3. Enjoy
Quick and delicious condiment

I often make a quick and flavorful onion hot sauce to accompany my tacos: finely dice a small onion, squeeze the juice of one lime on top (or a few tablespoons of white vinegar if you don't have a lime), add a sprinkle of salt and sugar and some hot pepper, (either diced fresh pepper, red pepper flakes or a squeeze of hot sauce). Mix and let sit for 10 minutes to soften the onion. Spoon over tacos as desired. 

Here are some dishes I have made over this year clockwise from top left:
burrito with lime and hot sauce, arepas with lettuce and beans (this actually got a fried egg on to before it was eaten), garlic and kale rice topped with black beans and cheddar, broiled and then spooned over a roasted half of a poblano pepper.

 Are you cooking with beans these days? Please share your favorite dishes by commenting below!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Kid approved, Black Beans with Sneaky Greens!

The day before Christmas Break I visited Edgewood School in New Haven, CT to try out my Black Beans and Sneaky Greens recipe at lunch and see what the kids thought. My son goes to school there, so it was fun to see some kids that I know and ask them and others for their opinions on the recipe. I submitted this recipe to the USDA healthy kids recipe contest, part of Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign together with the New Haven Public School's Food Service Director, Tim Cipriano and a team of parents and students.  Over all, the beans were a big hit, especially when we served then in a soft taco tortilla with some yogurt and lettuce. The kids didn't know it but I'd cooked a whole bunch of kale into the beans (hence the name "sneaky greens"), so they got a double dose of veggies!

Full Disclosure: the "cream" so many kids said they liked was low fat plain yogurt. The "chip" that some kids had was a triangle of whole wheat flour tortilla toasted with nothing on it. The beans were cooked with lots of garlic and onion so they were very flavorful.

Check out their comments:

Recipe coming soon.......

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Best Apple Cake I've Ever Had

Crumbs. That's all that was left of this cake by the time I found my camera. While digging through my freezer in search of bits of food I might turn into a meal last week, I discovered a bag of ground pecans mixed with spices from a nut crust I made a while back. It was dated 2007 which was shocking, but I tasted the nuts and they didn't smell or taste rancid, so I immediately started devising how many recipes I could make from this beautiful gift from my freezer. It is beyond me how I could have forgotten about such a cherished and expensive ingredient as pecans. All I can think is that it was meant to be just so that I would discover this wonderful cake!

Apple cakes are standard fair with Eastern European Jewish Grandmas, so needless to say I've eaten quite a few of them. They are simple, easy cakes to make, and since they are made with oil, rather than butter, they are moist and stay that way for many days. I have a few apple cake recipes that I use but I have never loved any of them that much. Last week while flipping through my binder of recipes I've clipped out of magazines or newspapers over the years I spotted one from the NY Times (also from 2007, I think it really was meant to be). The recipe, Teddie's Apple Cake was first printed in the Times in 1973 (the year of my birth). The picture was enticing, and I knew it could handle an extra cup or so of ground nuts, so I set off baking.
I altered the recipe a bit, adding some whole spelt flour, cardamom, a little less sugar and a few other things. The cake had a wonderful crispy but light sugary crust and a deliciously spiced tender crumb. I have been on a long and strong baking kick over the past few weeks, I promise some good savory foods soon, but for now, enjoy just one more sweet this holiday season.  Happy New Year!

The Best Apple Cake
adjusted from the original Teddie's Apple Cake

Butter for greasing the pan
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups oil
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar packed
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups apples, pealed, cored and cut in thick slices or 3/4-inch cubes
1 to 2 cups chopped or coarsely ground nuts (walnuts or pecans are best)
1/2 cup currants or raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.
  2.  Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon, cardamom and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, nuts and raisins and stir until combined. 
  3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature.
tube pan for the apple cake

Have you had any great baking successes lately? Please share!