Monday, April 28, 2008

Fresh Broccoli Salad for Cooking to Combat Cancer 2

I doubt there's anyone within reading range of this recipe who has not been touched in some profound way by cancer. Whether it's you, a loved one, a colleague, a parent of one of your child's friends, or someone else in your circle of known or loved, you have undoubtedly come into contact with some facet of this terrible disease.

This past February, I lost a cherished uncle to cancer, after a long, brave struggle. He was 57 years old. Stage IV when he was diagnosed in 2001, he carried on through countless surgeries and chemotherapy treatments, enduring thanks to an absolutely indomitable will; an amazing sense of humor; and the bottomless love and commitment of his wife, sons, siblings, family, neighbors and friends, and countless others. His medical team at various NYC hospitals and medical facilities made an extraordinary effort on his behalf, and justly so -- he was an extraordinary person.

When I learned of the opportunity to take part in the Cooking to Combat Cancer 2 event, only a few hours before the deadline approached, I dropped everything and immediately prepared something to post. Thanks, Chris, for the chance to take part in the fight against cancer in this way.

Fresh Broccoli Salad

Broccoli is a great way to add cancer-fighting phytonutrients like sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol to our diets. This recipe helps broccoli make the transition from winter veggie to fresh spring salad. Do yourself and your family a favor and make some today. Leftovers keep well for the next day's lunch.

  • 4 cups broccoli florets, cleaned and broken into bite-size pieces

  • 6 red radishes, cleaned, halved, and thinly sliced

  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

  • 1/4 of a fresh lime

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • Additional olive oil if necessary

  1. Place broccoli florets in a large nonreactive mixing bowl. Add radish slices and toss.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and vinegar. Squeeze in fresh lime juice. Add garlic and mustard and whisk to combine.

  3. Pour dressing over broccoli in bowl and toss to coat. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Cover salad and let sit in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour.

  4. Toss before serving. If the broccoli has absorbed all of the dressing, drizzle with a little additional olive oil before serving.

Makes 4 generous servings

Friday, April 25, 2008

Fruit to Be

Spring has finally arrived in the Northeast! Talking a walk around my backyard yesterday evening, I was amazed at how quickly the apple trees had sprung their buds. Seems like just yesterday, literally, they were dormant and gray. The branches are loaded with leaves and blossoms, and bumblebees were braving the twilight to investigate. Humans aren't the only creatures that welcome the heralds of spring!

The blueberry bushes, on the other hand, are not as prolifically florid as the apple trees, I'm sorry to say. We had a great crop last summer, but this summer may prove to be an off year. I was happy to see that the most productive bushes were nicely budded, though. Five different varieties of blueberries growing in a row, and the most productive are bushes producing big, juicy berries that are ideal for fruit salads and pancakes -- and birds.

Unfortunately, apparently overnight, wild rose canes had completely overgrown the middle three bushes, but since I'd left the netting on all winter (ah, a case where procrastination really did pay off!), they stayed in an arch entangled in the net over the top of the bushes. I was able to painstakingly trim them off in 12-inch sections in about 2 hours. Fingersore but satisfied, when I was done, I finally rolled the net off so the growing blueberry branches won't entrap themselves as they continue to leaf out and bloom. The net will go back on come July, when the berries start to ripen.

In the bushes behind the apple trees, which are directly behind our blueberry stand, a family of blue jays builds their nest each year. They were keeping a close watch over my rose-pruning operation last night. They're expert net-evaders, so they, too, have a vested interest in my horticultural skills, or lack thereof.

Before we know it, there will be nascent berries where the flower buds are now. I'm already dreaming of pancakes.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oven-Dried Grape or Cherry Tomatoes

I love tomatoes. Really love them. To me, the anemic orange croquet balls marketed as "tomatoes" all winter long in the supermarket are no such thing. They're the "-oid" equivalent of a tomato: mealy and dry and curiously uniform. A tomato, on the other hand, is something that you can pull off the vine and bite right into, wiping juice off your chin. Something you can slice and nestle between rounds of snowy fresh mozzarella, sprinkle with tender basil leaves, and drizzle with emerald-green olive oil. A tomato-tomato is what you slice half an inch thick and eat between slices of white country bread slathered with mayonnaise. Can you imagine doing such a thing with those other objects? Hardly.

So, I don't eat fresh tomatoes from the first frost of winter to roughly the beginning of summer. With two admitted exceptions. The first is the rare breakdown of willpower when the hothouse tomatoes overwhelm me in a moment of seasonal-affective weakness and I forgo making a car payment to serve fresh tomato slices on burgers in the middle of January.

The second is that I routinely purchase pints of grape tomatoes, which seem to be perennially on sale -- and of almost universally excellent quality -- in my local grocery. I don't know why these little sweeties manage to taste like real tomatoes when their ugly big sisters fall so short, but they do. They're consistently delicious, and other than the occasional moldy one in the bunch, the quality is top-notch. So I buy these to help me bide my time until tomato season comes around.

Unfortunately, my family members do not all share my level of enthusiasm for grape tomatoes. Consequently, I'm frequently left with an extra pint that's starting to dimple or go soft before I'm ready to eat them. I tried a few times to roast them, thinking I could increase their versatility a bit. But each time I was left with a baking tray full of skins and mush, an incarnation that my family considered -- rightly so -- even less appetizing than the original.

But thinking more carefully about the process of roasting something so filled with moisture, I finally came up with the right technique. These aren't roasted so much as dried -- that's low, slow heat -- and the end result is absolutely delicious (we think).

The next time you're faced with a container of dimply grape tomatoes, or your grocer has them on sale, or it's suddenly TOMATO HARVEST season, try this. You can use the oven-dried tomatoes for pasta dishes or salads, or toss a few with bocconcini and extra-virgin olive oil, coarse salt, and red pepper flakes. You'll see why the French call tomatoes the "love apple."

Oven-Dried Grape or Cherry Tomatoes

  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes

  • Olive oil for drizzling

  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt (kosher salt works well)

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled (or 1 teaspoon fresh, chopped)

Preheat oven to 225 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Wash and spin-dry tomatoes. Pick over and remove any that are blemished or moldy. Cut tomatoes in half and place in a nonreactive mixing bowl.

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper to taste, minced garlic, and rosemary. Toss to coat. Pour tomatoes out onto baking sheet and arrange in a single layer. Place sheet in oven and cook at 225 degrees F for about 2 hours. Turn tomatoes with a spatula and return to oven. Check again in about 1 hour. Tomatoes are done when they appear to be mostly dry. Tomatoes should still be tender and pliable, not hard or charred.

Store these in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container and used within 2 to 3 days. (They are not true "dried" tomatoes, so they'll spoil at room temp.)

Feel free to scale this recipe to accommodate your tomato booty.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Curry-Roasted Cauliflower with Red Onions

As much as I've been looking forward to the vegetables of spring (hello, asparagus!), there are a few hearty winter staples I am reluctant to say my farewells to. Especially this particular preparation, Curry-Roasted Cauliflower, which I discovered only a few weeks ago, and which became an immediate favorite in our household. I've had roasted cauliflower and curried cauliflower, but the combination of the two is simply wonderful, and the vinegar adds the definitive touch.

Feel free to increase or decrease the spices according to your own preference, but do use a good-quality curry powder, either store-bought or homemade. Also, only fresh -- not frozen -- cauliflower will do.

This is excellent hot or at room temperature, and leftovers reheat well the next day.

Enjoy now, during the last few days of cauliflower season!

Curry-Roasted Cauliflower with Red Onions
  • 1 head fresh cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets and cleaned
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 11/2 teaspoons coarse salt (kosher or sea salt work well)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place cauliflower florets and onion slices in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, combine cumin, curry powder, paprika, pepper, oil, and vinegar. Whisk until all ingredients are well blended. Reserve 2 tablespoons of this mixture and pour the rest over the vegetables. Toss to coat.

Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray or brush with oil. Pour vegetables out onto sheet and arrange in a single layer. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast vegetables until fork-tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, turning with a spatula about halfway through.

Remove vegetables from oven and let stand for five minutes on baking sheet. Place in serving bowl and drizzle with reserved dressing. Toss again and serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6 as a side dish.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cranberry Orange Nut Muffins

One of only a trio of fruits native to North America, tart little cranberries pack a nutritional wallop. High in antioxidants and a good source of fiber and vitamin C, cranberries contribute a lot of flavor for a small caloric price—only about 50 calories a cup. And current research shows that compounds in cranberries called proanthocyanidins may actually help prevent pesky urinary tract infections by keeping bacteria from adhering to the walls of the bladder and urethra—and this applies to cranberries in juice, sauce, and fresh or dried berry form. What’s not to love?

These muffins nestle the tart fresh cranberries in a sweet, orange-flavored crumb. I stock up on bags of fresh cranberries when they're in abundance around Thanksgiving and store them in the freezer. When I need them for a recipe like this one, I just toss them in whole—no thawing or chopping required.

If you can’t get your hands on fresh cranberries, you can substitute dried, sweetened cranberries. Just soak them in a bit of orange juice for half an hour before you’re ready to add them and don’t add the additional 2 tablespoons of sugar called for with the fresh berries.

Cranberry Orange Nut Muffins

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup fresh cranberries

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons orange zest

2 eggs

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Large-crystal sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 6-cup jumbo muffin pan or 12-cup standard muffin pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, 1/2 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Roughly chop fresh cranberries and place in a small mixing bowl. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar and orange zest; set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, lightly beat the two eggs. Add orange juice and oil and stir to combine. Make a well in the center of dry ingredients and pour in wet ingredients. Stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Fold in cranberry mixture and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared muffin pan and sprinkle tops with sugar if desired. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes for jumbo muffins or 15 to 20 minutes for standard muffins. Let cool for 5 minutes in pan and then remove to rack.

Makes 6 jumbo or 12 standard-size muffins

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Joys of (Organic) Plain Yogurt

Plain yogurt, like Brussels sprouts, beets, and kale, is one of those foods that makes me feel slightly virtuous each time I eat it. Not because it’s a struggle to choke down these foods, I hasten to clarify, but just because there are so many health benefits associated with them.
Although in the past I’ve purchased store-brand plain nonfat yogurt or that produced by the big-name commercial yogurt manufacturers, I recently decided to experiment with two plain nonfat organic yogurts, both available at my local large-chain store where I shop for groceries.

The two I tried, Brown Cow and Stonyfield Farm, were both available in 6-ounce and 32-ounce sizes. I purchased the latter. I’ll admit that in this day of high and rising dairy prices, it pinched a bit to pay about a dollar more per container for the organic yogurt. (Since then, however, I made a happy discovery. Both brands feature printable coupons on their Web sites.)
Once I tried the yogurts, though, all concerns about the price difference fled. Turns out that there’s no comparison between the store brand and the organics. The latter were far creamier, richer, and did not give off nearly as much liquid as the store brand and even the big-name brand did. But even more dramatic was the flavor difference. Both of the organics were milder, smoother tasting, and much less sour than the others. Tart, yes, it’s yogurt after all, but missing was the acidity that makes eating plain yogurt, even when mixed with fruit or applesauce, sometimes so unpleasant, especially for children. Really, the flavor was a surprise to me, and it has been the biggest factor in my continued purchase of these brands (I tend to alternate between the two, week to week).

Now, I don’t eat my yogurt straight up, out of the container and into the bowl. (I said virtuous, not ascetic!) I layer my plain nonfat organic yogurt on top of about 1/2 cup of frozen unsweetened raspberries or strawberries (it’s still too early for fresh here on the East Coast) that have been microwaved to thaw them so they’re nice and juicy. (If you eschew the nuker, just macerate your berries with 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and let them sit on the countertop, covered, to thaw for half an hour or so.) Drizzle the yogurt with a teaspoon of honey if you like – I do – and fold the berries into the yogurt. Enjoy!



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