Friday, July 23, 2010

Last Night's Dinner

Last night was a great example of our efforts to support sustainable agriculture and follow a macrobiotic diet: we had Cajun-spiced grilled flounder (fresh from the fish stand near Plum Island on the coast) and sweet summer corn salsa, made from grilled corn and cherry tomatoes bought fresh at the Brookline Farmer's Market, tossed with black beans, cilantro and a chili-lime dressing. Grilled heirloom tomatoes on the side and cherries for dessert. Now that's a fresh summer meal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fun with Fennel

My friend Ashley brought back some fennel from the farm, so I experimented with it last night for dinner. The result: grilled halibut with fennel, onions and carrots, topped with a white wine-lemon-shallot reduction and white bean sauce; side salad of grilled fennel, orange, almonds and fresh mint in a light mustard dressing, and mojitos with a homemade simple syrup made from the fresh mint. The firm white fish held up to the strong anise flavor of the fennel and absorbed the light, citrus-infused broth, with the carrots (and tomato and carmelized onions and shallots marinating in the white beans) sweet and soft as the fish, dissolving on the tongue. Served over an arugula salad, the meal followed the "Mediterranean diet" - half the plate covered in vegetables (and the orange for fruit) - and the rest the lean protein of the nutrient-rich white fish and fiber-filled beans. The orange and fennel was also a nice pairing, the tangy fruit drawing out another element of flavor to the strong vegetable, and we washed it all down with the fresh summery cocktail, the mojito. We dined al fresco, of course - the perfect summer meal to celebrate the fennel in different ways on the plate, and leaving our tastebuds satisfied.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cooking Tip of the Day

When baking healthy, substitute applesauce for butter in lighter baked goods such as yellow cake or lemon poppyseed muffins, and use prunes (for 1/2 to all the butter measure) in chocolate cakes and cookies.

Farmer's Beauty

Dried herbs and flowers and produce at the Bethesda Farmer's Market

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Vegan Choices at Breakfast

Lately I've been trying different dairy-free products to determine my preferences, and so far am happy to report that I've found some good ones. Here are my latest recommendations:

Yogurt: So Delicious brand outshines the other dairy-free alternatives by far. A cultured soy yogurt, So Delicious is agave sweetened so it's got a very sweet flavor and rich and creamy texture. I like the vanilla flavor. I've also tried Whole Soy and Co., which I prefer less, as it has a thicker texture and more overwhelming tang flavor - though I'll note I tried the plain flavor with the aim of mixing in vegan ice cream and baking in mind, so other flavors may be better.
Milk alternatives: Almond Breeze brand almond milk is my pick of the lot, better than Silk Pure Almond. When choosing between soy milk I go for Silk Light.
*Note that many powder non-dairy creamers actually contain lactose, so read the label before pouring that in your coffee! I myself am a sucker for the International Delight French Vanilla.

To Market, To Market

One of my favorite parts about summer in Boston is the return of the farmer's markets. Given the array of local growers there are a number of great farmer's markets in the city weekly throughout the spring and summer, bringing the fresh taste of the farm here to brighten our urban life. From bustling Haymarket downtown to the markets in Cambridge and Copley Square, I've visited the lot and seen nice-looking vegetables and homestyle farm-made products at them all.

To find a farmer's market near you visit:

The Brookline Farmer's Market is one of my favorites. Located in a parking lot tucked away off Coolidge Corner, the market has returning family farms that really get to know their customers. In addition to a variety of local farmers selling seasonal produce, the Brookline market boasts the freshly baked bread of Clear Flour Bakery (featured in my previous post "For the Love of Bread"), excellent Chevre goat cheese, homemade ice cream from Trombettas Farm, farm-raised beef from River Rock Farm, Bob's Fresh Turkey, freshly caught fish, eggs, honey and jams, homebaked pies, Taza chocolate, and fresh flowers.

The produce changes seasonally, of course; in early July I found they had some sweet fresh corn (that will be even larger by early August), decadent heirloom and cherry tomatoes, and an interesting array of less common squash varieties, which I slow-baked with green onions and fresh marjoram in Native American tradition. They also have an abundance of zucchini, from which we made mushroom-stuffed zucchini boats and zucchini "pasta" - thin ribbons of zucchini and summer squash (done with a vegetable peeler) sauteed in olive oil until translucent, giving it a quality similar to Asian rice noodles - delectable. I anticipate more peaches and cherries as the summer continues, and of course pumpkins and butternut squash in the fall. The great thing about buying from farmer's markets is that you consequently end up eating food that's seasonally appropriate, and can thus determine your meal plans accordingly. Following the macrobiotic diet, this harmony with nature helps you to feel better ultimately - after all, not only does consuming lighter foods in the summer and richer foods in the winter feel "right," it also dictates the energy levels (from calorie content, etc.) appropriate for the time of year. A fresh fruit salad lends itself naturally to a summer picnic, while butternut squash is perfect for a hearty autumn soup. And thus you'll never be bored, as your menus change throughout the year.
Now Brookline is just one of many good farmer's markets in the area, but the not-so-secret is that many of the same farms visit different markets each day of the week, so if you can't make it to Brookline on Thursday, for example, you can head to Copley on Friday. The Copley Farmer's Market, it must be notes, has my beloved Siena Farms, always rich in herbs and veggies, and the baked goods include the Dutch bakery's coconut blondie bars (I call them Safari bars) and cookies as big as your face. Pretty hard to beat.
Yet possibly the most epic market in the city is of course Haymarket, which is tucked in between the North End and Government Center and has the widest selection of all. My advice is to go early on a Saturday morning to get the fresh fruit and vegetables before the crowds rush in - by mid-afternoon you can find the peppers looking pretty bruised. But the pricest at Haymarket are really the best - where else in the city can you get two pints of strawberries for a dollar? - and there's room for haggling if you're up for it. Our last trip we made off with peppers, onions, two varieties of mushrooms, squash and zucchini, eggplant, cherries, and watermelon for less than $15. I get a thrill from exploring these markets, seeing all the different stands covered in the beautiful colors, finding the best prices and coming home with a bag of fresh opportunities. For that's what each meal is: a chance to explore new recipes, to experiment, and to create.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

American Feasting

Our Fourth of July barbeque spread:
In addition to burgers and grilled sausages for the meat-lovers, our assortment of side dishes included (clockwise from top): pasta salad, blueberry peach fruit salad, grilled shrimp skewers, tomato and watermelon salad, grilled eggplant terrine, shrimp and cherry tomato-fresh basil salad, and German potato salad, with limoncello blueberry cocktail cooler to drink.

Eggplant terrine: layers of grilled eggplant, roasted red peppers, fresh basil, mozzarella, topped with sundried tomato paste and shredded parmesan

Blueberry and grilled peach salad with fresh mint leaves

and the triumphant finish: Flag Cake!