Roasted Chestnuts

Do you snack? Or maybe the bigger question is, do we need to snack? There is no definitive answer to this question, but it does bring up many other questions. Do we snack because snack foods have been introduced? Maybe. Our traditions of breakfast, lunch and dinner are clearly born out of an agrarian society where a farmer needed strength to go out in the field in the morning, a break to replenish while the sun was hottest and then a hard earned meal at the end of the day when he gave thanks for the bounty and shared time and food with the family. Walking and riding behind a plow, mending fences and herding cattle lent no time for snacking and the strenuous work kept the body toned and functioning well with regular use.

Today, we skip breakfast because we don’t need a lot of strength to punch a keyboard and sit behind a desk. Coffee stimulates the brain (a bit) and that seems to work until lunch. Lunch is no longer a replenishment but often the first meal of the day. Dinner is all over the map, literally. And for those who were too busy during the day for even lunch, it may be the only meal of the day. So, what we have done is set ourselves up to snack. Without regular meals and strenuous activity to burn that fuel, we leave ourselves still needing nourishment. But, it has to be quick, easy and satiate our hunger. There in lies the problem. Sugar is the quickest to get into our system so we NATURALLY snack on sugar, and the things that turn to sugar (carbohydrates).

I work just about everyday just like I have described. My goal is to slightly alter the snacks I eat. When I naturally have a craving for something sweet in the morning I try to have fruit. It has just enough sugar along with nutrients that I need. In the afternoon when I want carbohydrates, I pass up the chips and try to have some carrots or celery or other raw vegetable. It provides the same satiation, without all of the added sugar, salt and things I can’t pronounce.

Like Michael Pollan says: “If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, then you are not hungry.”

Chestnuts are still in season and I love them in a number of recipes. Have you ever wondered how to roast them?

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Chestnuts (in the produce section)

Tools

  • Sharp Paring Knife
  • Cookie Sheet
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 425.
  2. With the flat side of the nut down on a cutting board, very carefully cut an “x” on the rounded side. The cuts should be about 1/2 way across the top. Repeat until all nuts are ready.
  3. Place on cookie sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes. The nuts should burst open.
  4. While still hot, peel away the outer skin. Don’t worry, some will not come out whole and others will be shriveled and nasty. Plan to end up with about 1/2 of the nuts whole and ready to use.

 

Gorgonzola Pizza

I hope that some of you made some pizza skins this weekend and have a few left in the freezer. Today requires my full attention so I will make this brief.

Here is the most wonderful and surprisingly delicious pizza that I have had in a long time.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pizza Skin
  • 1 Small hunk or Gorgonzola
  • 2 Small White or Gold Potatoes, very thinly sliced
  • 1 Small Onion, thinly sliced
  • 6-8 Mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons Rosemary, finely chopped
  • Olive Oil
  • Corn Meal
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Small Saute Pan
  • Non-Stick Pan
  • Pizza Peel
  • Pizza Cutter or Chef’s Knife
  • Pizza Stone
  • Mandolin (optional)
  1. Place pizza stone in the oven and pre heat to 450.
  2. Slice the potatoes into very thin coins. I use a mandolin for this, but a deft hand and a sharp knife will suffice.
  3. In a hot pan with a little olive oil, saute the potatoes.
  4. Add salt, pepper and about half of the rosemary.
  5. The potatoes should take about 20 minutes over medium heat. Make sure the potatoes are cooked through, but not too soft.
  6. Remove them to a bowl when they are done.
  7. Add a little more oil, turn the heat down and sweat the onion with a little salt.
  8. While the onions are cooking, in a non-stick pan start the mushrooms. Add a little salt to wick the liquid from the mushrooms.  You should need very little, if any fat. If anything, add a small pat of butter.
  9. Sprinkle some corn meal on your pizza peel and place the pizza skin on top of it.
  10. Layer the potatoes, mushrooms and onion on top.
  11. Evenly add little hunks of the cheese.
  12. Sprinkle the remaining rosemary over top.
  13. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is all bubbly and the crust is golden brown.

 

On this date:  1775 – Congress outlaws tea drinking in protest against unfair British taxation.

 

Butter Salad

I want to wrap up my week of simple recipes today. I waffled on about how lots of the best things in life are simple, gave you some recipes that were simple to prepare and generally was quite simple myself.

I traded some correspondence with a good friend in the Bay Area this weekend. He and his wife live in a wonderful old restored arts and crafts house in the east bay. They have quite a substantial garden. I am always envious of their sustenance. Because of their climate, they grow both a winter and summer garden. Currently, they are harvesting kale, chard, broccoli, peas and lettuce.

Growing a garden is so simple. Think about planting one this spring. There are several books and web sites that can help you along the way. You will not regret it. Regardless of your location, or the amount of space you have, you can grow delicious, nutritious vegetables, fruits and herbs. Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow herbs in a window box. Take a little bit of time and figure it out. Try to not use any chemicals and buy your seeds or seedlings from a reputable dealer. My friends George and Cindy have a great mail order business called The Tasteful Garden. Check them out. They have everything that you will need and lots of great information to help you get started.

I have a great friend who always serves fantastic meals to his guests. He has a massive garden and there is always something on the table from it. Most of my favorite meals at his house usually end with a simple salad. He is Italian, and in the great tradition of my favorite culinary  country, he serves the salad last. Nearly every meal I have had with him ends with simple greens, dressed well. Butter lettuce is one of the best.

Serve this after a hearty pasta or a lamb shank. Look later this week for a great lamb shank recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 Head of Butter Lettuce
  • Olive Oil
  • Champagne Vinegar
  • 1 Shallot, minced
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Chef’s Knife
  • Whisk
  1. Wash and pat dry the lettuce leaves.
  2. Tear them into bite sized pieces.
  3. In a separate container, mix two parts olive oil to one part vinegar. Use just enough to make the shallots thin out. A chef once told me that you can never make too much sauce or salad dressing.
  4. Add a little salt and pepper and whisk together until emulsified.
  5. Lightly salt the leaves.
  6. Lightly coat with dressing, toss with your clean hands and serve at once.

 

On this Date:  Born, Rudolf Steiner, 1861 – Father of Bio Dynamics

Simple Pepperoni Pizza

Sunday is meant to be simple. Resting, reading the newspapers and hanging out with the family. My approach to the kitchen on Sunday is to float in and out. If I feel like it, I might make soup or bread or both (or neither). I think that the most important part of Sunday is to relax.

As promised, here is a simple pizza to make with your skins from yesterday.

Ingredients

  • 1 Pizza Skin (from yesterday)
  • 1/2 Cup Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1/4 Cup Tomato Sauce
  • Handful of Sliced Pepperoni
  • Olive Oil
  • Corn Meal
  • Red Pepper Flakes

Tools

  • Pizza Peel (Big, wooden paddle)
  • Pizza Cutter or Chef’s Knife
  • Pizza Stone or Pizza Pan
  1. If you have a pizza stone, place it in the oven and pre heat to 450.
  2. Dust the peel with corn meal and lay the skin out.
  3. Drizzle skin with a light layer of olive oil (optional).
  4. Evenly spread the sauce. I try to buy sauce in a jar with a lid. Our kids will make pizza throughout the week and will always use it. You can make sauce you like or just read the ingredients list and buy one without any junk in it.
  5. Arrange the pepperoni evenly in a single layer.
  6. Cover with a thin layer of cheese.
  7. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
  8. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven with the peel or a large spatula.
  10. Let cool for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

The pepperoni does go under the cheese. Sounds weird but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

 

On the day: Born, John Henry Kellogg, 1852

Simple Pizza Dough

Simple cooking is more than just a recipe with a few ingredients that is quick and easy to prepare. Simple is a philosophy that extends into all aspects of life. Not that some problems aren’t very complicated, but usually the simplest approach to fixing problems is the best. “Bird by Bird” is what my wife always says.

Food that is in season is simple. It doesn’t have to be frozen or canned or processed in any way.

Food that is local is simple. It doesn’t have to be flown or trucked from another part of the world.

Food that is organic is simple. Petrochemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are complicated and expensive chemicals that have to be manufactured, shipped and applied. They are proven to be hazardous and upset the balance of our planet.

Food that is raised on open land is simple. The massive cow and chicken farms that contain animals are unhealthy for the animals, requiring anti-biotics to keep them from getting sick.  This is complicated, dangerous and not nice to the animals.

Eating good food is simple. It has been well documented that lessening calorie intake and eliminating processed foods from our diet is healthy, therefore saving on healthcare costs and enhancing quality of life.

Therefore, cooking whole food, not too much, mainly plants is SIMPLE. And I like simple.

Here is a simple, unleavened (does not need to rise) pizza dough. When cooked, it is as much like a cracker as your normal pizza crust, thin and a little crunchy.

Makes 8-10 pizzas

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
  • 1 Cup Semolina Flour
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt

Tools

  • Large Mixing Bowl
  • Flat Surface
  • Rolling Pin
  • Chef’s Knife
  • Parchment Paper
  1. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Slowly add the water, stirring constantly. I like to use my hands.
  3. Dust a clean, flat surface with flour. (I use a big piece of marble, but most counter tops will do)
  4. Kneed the dough for about a minute.
  5. Cut into 8-10 equal pieces and cover with a clean towel.
  6. One at a time, press down to form a disc.
  7. With a well floured rolling pin, carefully roll out to form a paper thin skin. I leave them in whatever shape they end up, but if you are one of those that thinks pizza should be round, you can cut off excess using a plate as a guide.
  8. Repeat until all are flat. Stack them on a plate with parchment paper in between to keep them from sticking.

If you are not going to have a pizza party, you can freeze them in a plastic freezer bag until you crave a pizza. Stay tuned for a delicious pizza.

 

On this date: Born, John Foster Dulles, 1888

Simple Scallops

Marion Nestle talks about portion sizes today in her new column in the NYU Student Newspaper . This is one of those seemingly complicated issues that actually has a very simple and obvious answer. Unfortunately, I think it’s an answer that most of us tend to ignore. If you want to eat well and lose or maintain weight, eat less. I go on about this about meat. You are much better off with a little chicken thigh than a huge breast, or a slice of steak instead of a massive t-bone. If we put a big plate of food in front of our family, they will feel compelled to eat it.

My wife and I have changed the way we eat in restaurants. We now almost always split both main course and appetizer, or just order appetizers. Not only is it less money but it is less food.  Most restaurants tend to serve you too much food for the main course. There is no rule that says you have to order a main course. Most people will eat what is put in front of them, regardless of the amount.

The biggest problem (pun intended) in this country right now is the large soft drink. An 8oz. soft drink has roughly 100 calories. That is more than enough considering that there is no nutritional value whatsoever, meaning that your body does not effectively use any of the ingredients in that drink to maintain your health and give you strength. So, it may taste good but you are not doing yourself any favors. Now, imagine multiplying that by 8. 800 calories is what you get in a big gulp type drink from your local convenience store. This is a huge problem. Please discourage your kids from purchasing these drinks.

There is a wonderful product on the market now. It is a reusable water bottle with a built in filter system. There are several manufacturers. I think we have found them at Target.  Your kid can carry it to school and refill at the drinking fountain. By the way: 64 oz of water = 0 calories. There is actually a study that shows that you burn a few calories from drinking water.

Today’s recipe is another simple dish and is a “small plate”. Scallops are expensive per pound, but because they are so rich, one really only needs a few to really enjoy their sweet, incredible taste. As with most seafood, the less you do the more the flavor comes out. Right now is a great time for scallops. We had them last night and they were fantastic. It’s important to fill your plate with vegetables to make a complete meal. Last night our dinner was perfect. We had these scallops, along with arugula salad and sauteed large asparagus. We drizzled some of the sauce from the scallops over the asparagus as well, tying the whole meal together.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4-6 Scallops
  • 1 Lemon
  • 2 Pats of Butter
  • Really Good Sea Salt and Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar

Tools

  • Sauté Pan with Cover
  • Tongs
  1. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the scallops, drizzle with a little olive oil and lightly salt and pepper.
  2. Let sit for 10-20 minutes. Not long, as the acid from the lemon will start to cook them.
  3. Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat.
  4. Add the scallops and cook for five minutes per side, covering while cooking the first side.
  5. Remove scallops from the pan and add about 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (less if it is really old and sweet). Let the sauce thicken for about another minute.

Pour Sauce over scallop and whatever else is on your plate.

 

On this date: Born, Rupert Holmes, 1947

One Pan Chicken

Our kids cook. We have 4 boys and 1 girl. Noah has been baking cookies since he was 7. We went from asking him to not cook when we were not home to reminding him to turn off the oven. One day I came home to find a floury mess and a delicious piece of pizza that he had made from my cookbook.

Kids need to know how to cook. They need to be taught about where food comes from, what is good for them and what isn’t. Of course our kids eat candy and drink soda, but they know that lots of sugar is not good. I am not concerned about our children drinking the occasional coke. What I want to avoid is our adult kids addicted to a six pack a day because they didn’t know any better as a child. The food lessons learned when we are little stick with us for a lifetime.

The good news is that the lessons on food and eating are simple. It takes about an hour to teach kids what foods are and where they come from. It’s also fun.  The produce department of your local supermarket or at a farmers market is a great classroom. A field trip to a farm is another. Growing a garden with the help of your kids is the single best way to get them to know and like vegetables. Teachers that grow school gardens with their students report that the kids will eat the things they grow.

It is always easier to show kids than to tell them. That is probably true for most of us. But, there is a simple way to remind our kids HOW to eat. To paraphrase Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma): Eat whole foods, not too much, mostly plants.

Today we continue with a simple chicken dish that can and should be made in one pan. There is a bit of chopping but that is as complicated as it gets.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4-6 Chicken Thighs
  • 1 Large Onion, diced
  • 8 oz Mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, minced
  • Olive Oil
  • White Wine
  • Salt and Pepper

Tools

  • Sauté Pan
  • Chef’s Knife
  1. Sauté the onion then the garlic in a little olive oil (about a tablespoon) making sure to salt the onion lightly.
  2. Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté.
  3. After a minute or two, wedge in the chicken thighs to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Turn the chicken from time to time and stir the onions and mushrooms so they don’t burn.
  5. After about 10 minutes add a big splash of wine. Cook for a few minutes to reduce the wine and cook off the alcohol.
  6. Lower the heat and cover until the chicken is cooked. About 10 more minutes.
  7. Check to see if the chicken is done with a small knife near the bone. There should be no red.

Serve the chicken smothered in the mushrooms and onions.  I like to also serve a simple arugula salad with some shaved parmesan, a little drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon afterwords.