Friday, August 26, 2011

Gnocchi with Green Beans and Tomato-Butter Sauce

I'll be the first to admit, I get tired. There are rare weekends where I just don't want to cook. Work gets busy, life gets busy. I found myself just tossing some green beans into the steamer for a quick vegetable. Casting a guilty glance at the kitchen counter loaded with heirloom tomatoes, I stopped. Fresh green beans, heirloom tomatoes. Why am I wasting this opportunity?

Honestly, with very little extra effort, plain green beans became a delicious summer dish. The key to the richness in the broth is a French term, monter au buerre, or "finish with butter." This makes a perfect vegetarian main dish for a Meatless Monday Meal. Even when don't feel like cooking.

1 lb. green beans, stemmed, cut to 1-inch pieces
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbs. olive oil
2 lbs. heirloom tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 stems fresh oregano, leaves only
2 stems, fresh marjoram, leaves only
1 lb. gnocchi
1/2 cup water from the gnocchi boiling
Salt and pepper to taste
1.5 tbs. butter

Start the water for the gnocchi and prep the veggies. This one comes together fast. Steam the green beans for about 5 minutes until crisp tender.

Add the oil to the skillet and heat when you start the green beans. Add the garlic, saute one minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices. Bring to a simmer for about 5-7 minutes until tomatoes soften and the juices reduce by one-third.

Put the gnocchi on. It only takes a few minutes to cook. After about five minutes, there should be enough starch released into the cooking water. Ladle 1/3 cup cooking liquid from the gnocchi pot into the tomatoes to help the sauce "tighten up." Add the herbs and the cooked green beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

As a last step for the sauce, swirl in the butter to "finish" the sauce and add a bit of richness. Skim out the gnocchi onto a platter, top with the tomato and green bean sauce. Garnish with shaved parmesan, if desired.

Congratulate yourself on cooking even when you felt tired.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

98 Percent of Packed Lunches Unsafe for Kids to Eat

How to keep your kid's lunch safer for meal time

Over 98 percent of packed lunches for preschoolers were deemed unsafe to eat in a recent study published in Pediatrics. The study measured the temperature of 1361 perishable items packed in 705 preschoolers’ lunches. Only 22 items were kept stored at a safe temperature for consumption.

Sometimes the source of the issue was obvious; 39 percent of the lunches were not packed with ice packs. In some cases items such as teething rings and juice boxes were used as “cold packs.” Using just a thermal lunch carrier, as 91 percent of lunches were packed in, was not enough, either, to keep foods safe.

Other sources of the issues were a lot harder to understand. For example, 90 percent of lunch items packed with multiple ice packs were still at unsafe temperatures. And, 11.8 percent of lunches were stored in a refrigerator, but still had temperature issues.

So, what’s happening here? How can parents keep packed lunches safer?

  • Pack it cold. Keep it cold.
    Placing warm items into a lunch sack with the cold items may cause them to not stay cold enough to be safe. For example placing a warm apple in the lunch alongside the sandwich that needs to stay cold will cause the sandwich to elevate in temperature, or placing cold lunch meats in room temperature breads just before the lunch goes to school. Pack the lunch the night before, and place all items in the refrigerator overnight, even items that do not have to be refrigerated such as the bread for the sandwich.

  • Think about safe temperature zones.
    Use a lunchbox with two compartments, one that stays cold for only cold items, and place room temperature items like a granola bar in the room temperature compartment. It will be easier to keep the cold items colder and safer.

  • Use the safer types of lunch boxes and multiple ice packs.
    Use a well-insulated cooler-type lunch box with multiple, large ice packs, preferably lead-free with BPA-free containers. However, if you know your child’s lunch will be stored in a refrigerator, the insulated lunch box may prevent the lunch items from being chilled well, too. The key is knowing the lunch box will be placed in the refrigerator promptly if you are not going to use and insulated carrier and ice. In the study, researchers noted that teachers “often failed to use the available refrigerators and left lunches at room temperature for an average of 2 hours before refrigeration.”

  • Keep it cold longer before you pack it. Pack the cold lunch items from the refrigerator directly into the lunch box with ice just before leaving home to minimize the time your child’s lunch is exposed to unsafe temperatures.

  • Toss the leftovers for safety.
    Tell your child to discard the leftover food after eating, so you know your child doesn’t snack on the leftovers later when they are not safe to eat.

  • Consider packing less perishable items. If you are concerned, or can’t keep the lunch cold enough, pack lunch items that are less perishable. Think nut butter instead of meats or cheese. Avoid things like mayo and eggs. Try bananas or oranges, or grapes instead of cut melon. Have your child buy cold, unflavored milk at school if available.

These tips were kindly reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Shu, pediatrician, CNN Health Correspondent and author of Food Fights, Baby and Child Health, and Heading Home with Your Newborn.


Temperature of Foods Sent by Parents of Preschool-aged Children Fawaz D. Almansour, Sara J. Sweitzer, Allison A. Magness, Eric E. Calloway, Michael R. McAllaster, Cynthia R. Roberts-Gray, Deanna M. Hoelscher and Margaret E. Briley Pediatrics; originally published online August 8, 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2010-2885

Monday, August 08, 2011

A Bowl of Eat Local Wisdom: Lemongrass Tomato Soup

Cross-posted on Mother Earth News and Farm Aid's

When my little girl and I head to the farmers market, we leave the house with an empty market basket and open minds. Of course, she already has her list in her head — cheese bread from the local baker, honey sticks from Joli’s bees, and fresh sheep’s milk cheese with rosemary. It’s a great list for a six year old, really.

As for this bigger kid, I’ve finally learned not to make a list mental or otherwise. What ends up on the dinner table on Saturday night just … happens. Almost always, it’s one ingredient that catches my eye. One flavor that makes my imagination work, and the recipe comes to me in that moment.

One of the first farmers we visit at the market is a Thai family. Over the years, they have added new ingredients to our menus weekly; small green Thai eggplants, water spinach, fiery peppers, amaranth leaves, and some kind of greens that have no name in English and taste heavenly sautéed and paired with fish. Their table is a weekly source of inspiration for me, and this week is no exception, offering up lemongrass and cilantro.

Across the way is one of my regular stops, heirloom tomatoes in a rainbow of colors beckon next. The farmer knows me well due to my pumpkin addiction. Come fall, I’ll buy over 100 lbs. of his exotic squash. He nods at my kiddo and puts in an extra pint of heirloom cherry tomatoes just for her along with my four ears of corn and three pounds of heirloom tomatoes.

Two more stops, one for a head of red Russian garlic. I promise the farmer there that if he would just bring in the scapes in spring, I would buy these. For now, he’s been giving them away to restaurants, not realizing consumers would buy them. The last stop is the farmer on the end who only comes to market in August with fifty different varieties of peppers. I get a basket of the sweet ones that include chocolate-colored peppadews. He hands a curly, red sweet one to my kiddo and puts in a couple of extra hot pepper varieties for me.

Along with the ingredients for my recipe, somehow my basket is overflowing with a tiny heirloom melon that smells heavenly, a larger watermelon, peaches, berries, and beans to shell later.

On the way home, the kid and I stop at the grocery store. We won’t even need a hand basket. We’re here for just limes, ginger root and fish sauce, and a pound of sustainable seafood — a few things that cannot be sourced locally. The final ingredients come from home; okra from a friend’s garden and three kinds of basil, lemon verbena and mint from my own.

As I serve dinner that evening, a tangy, tart and spicy Lemongrass and Tomato Fish Soup, I realize our meal is a reflection of all my Eat Local food values in single bowl:

1. Buy as much locally, in season as possible from small, family farms.
2. Grow what I can myself.
3. Cherish bounty from friends’ gardens.
4. Buy only ingredients that cannot be grown locally at the store, buy USA products first before sourcing from other countries.
5. Buy organic when possible.
6. Embrace the cultural diversity of the farms in my food shed.
7. Support farmers who grow heirloom and rare varieties.
8. Buy only sustainable seafood.

Smash a bit with a mortar and pestle:
2 cloves garlic
4 stalks lemongrass
½ bunch cilantro
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into three pieces

Add to:
8 cups vegetable stock.
And simmer for 20 minutes. Strain off the solids and return liquid to the pot.

Mix in a small bowl:
1 tbs. fish sauce
1 tbs. soy sauce
1 tbs. sugar
3 tbs. white wine vinegar
Juice of three limes

1 lb. sustainable white fish, cut into four portions.

Add to the infused vegetable stock. Bring back to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes until the seafood is cooked.

4 large tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped into small wedges
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
4 okra sliced

Add to the soup, simmering for another 10 minutes. Place one piece of fish in each bowl, add soup and vegetables.

Garnish with:
Leaves of basil, mint, cilantro, lemon verbena, sliced hot peppers, and wedges of lime. Serves four.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Too Hot in the Kitchen: Cold Dishes for the Heat Wave

Yesterday the thermometer shot up to 113, a new record high. I can contain the excitement over setting a record, but I can't contain my newfound desire for fall. Heading into the kitchen and firing up the oven is about the last thing on my mind. It's already like an oven all around us.

We're eating a lot of salads, smoothies, and cold drinks around here. Popsicles for dessert. The oven is taking a summer vacation other than roasting a few items early in the day. Here's what's not cooking in the kitchen lately besides me:

Fried Green Tomato Salad with Roasted Corn, Okra and Tomatoes
3 green tomatoes, sliced
1/4 cup corn meal
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. canola oil

4 ears of corn
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 pint okra
1 tbs. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbs. fresh basil

1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

2 cups salad greens

Preheat the oven (if it needs it lately) to 400. Shouldn't take long.

Cut the kernels off the corn cob over a baking sheet, keeping the milk that comes off the cob. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. Slice the okra horizontally, 1/4 inch thick. It makes little star shapes that way. Salt and pepper to taste, toss with the olive oil. Roast for about 15 minutes, or until just golden on the tops. Stir once or twice during roasting. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Toss with the chopped basil.

Mix the cornmeal with the salt and pepper. Dredge the tomato slices in the cornmeal mixture to coat. Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the tomato slices and brown on each side, about three minutes per side. Set on paper towel to drain while you prep the salad plates.

Whisk the dressing ingredients together.

Place 1/2 cup greens on each of four salad plates. Add the tomato slices. Top with 1/4 cup of the roasted corn mixture. Drizzle with the dressing. You will have leftover corn and okra, but this is a great side dish and one less thing to cook tomorrow, when it's even hotter outside.