Saturday, January 21, 2012

Better Late than Never: A New Year's Recipe

Better late than never. These days, between work, baby, and life in general, it has sort of become my motto. I've had to let go of my uber-punctual, schedule-obsessed ways and just take things as they come, do what I can, and accept that I will never finish my to-do list on any given day. Truth be told, it's been a wonderful side effect of the baby madness. There's a lot to be said for taking things one moment at a time.

And so, last night, I finally found myself preparing my good luck black eyed peas. You know, the ones that you're supposed to eat on New Year's Day. Not sure if they still hold any power by the middle of the month but, if nothing else, they tasted amazing. Here's what I threw together last night in order to make good use of some Swiss chard, butternut squash, and onions from last week's market. Easy peasy and oh so hearty on a snowy winter night. Don't have any chard in the fridge? No squash on your countertop? All of the produce used here came from the winter farmers market in Cambridge. They'll be open from 10-2 again today and you can grab all of this and more. Hope to see you there!

**You may notice that lovely little Hop Noir hiding out in the background. This was an impulse purchase at City Feed, and may be my favorite beer of all time. Made by peak organic, a small brewery in Maine, it was an absolute taste treat and a perfect cold weather beer.**

Black Eyed Peas with Swiss Chard and Quinoa

1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch Swiss chard (stems chopped and separated from the leaves)
Black eyed peas (canned here because that's what I bought in a rush on NYE--dried would be better)
1 c quinoa (I used white but red would be gorgeous with this)

Bring two cups water to a boil. Add a smidge of salt and the quinoa. Simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes until the water is fully absorbed. (Check your package directions just in case your particular quinoa calls for something different.) For more flavor, you can use 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup water, or add sauteed onions, or herbs...the sky's the limit here. For this recipe though, I opted to keep things simple so that the chard could shine through.

While the quinoa is cooking, sautee garlic in olive oil over low heat, being careful not to burn. When garlic begins to soften, add the chopped chard stems. After 3-5 minutes, add leaves. (You can tear these into smaller pieces or leave them whole, depending on their size. I usually opt for tearing.) Cook until tender. Add black eyed peas (very well rinsed if you're using canned) and heat through. Serve over a heaping pile of warm quinoa. Enjoy!

Butternut Squash Soup

2 T olive oil
1-2 T butter (optional)
1 Butternut squash
1 onion, coarsely chopped
Fresh thyme (or dried, in a pinch)
4-6 c chicken stock

Preheat over to 425. Split the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds, and roast, cut side up and covered with tin foil, for 45 minutes or until fork tender. When the squash is finished, sautee onion and thyme over low heat in a large soup pot. You can stick to the olive oil here or throw in a little butter--I find the butter adds a depth of flavor without making it overly rich. When the onion is clear and tender, scoop out the squash and add it to the pot along with 4 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender (you can also transfer in batches to a blender of food processor, but if you do not have a handheld blender you should get one immediately--it is quite possibly my favorite kitchen tool). Add more stock or water if the soup is too thick--this will depend on your squash and will be a little different every time. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Hey, Paula

There has always been a special place in my heart for Paula Deen. As a child of the south, I ate my fair share of fried chicken and collard greens with fat back. But, thanks to a very health-conscious mother, I also ate plenty of brown rice, kale, and pressed salad--if you don’t know what pressed salad is, don’t ask. And although these days my diet is much more inclined in the latter direction, the deepest currents of my food cravings will forever be tinted by hot buttered biscuits and deep fried chicken livers. My father and I enjoyed those as a special treat when I was young. By the bucket.

For me, watching Paula cook has never been about the search for new recipes or cooking ideas. Nor is it about nostalgia; although there are many who would consider her a queen of southern food, her dishes don't often bear much resemblance to the cuisine that I knew. Too much of it comes out of cans or packages, or simply smothers the ingredients in bread crumbs and fat.  Really, as with many people I know, watching Paula cook is all about the spectacle. Think two sticks of butter seems excessive for one dessert? Paula will use three. And if that’s not rich enough, how about just straight up deep frying it? Yup. Melon balled spheres of butter, breaded and deep fried. I watched her make them. I watched her eat them. I felt sick for the entire 30 minutes, but I couldn't look away. It's a freak show as much as a cooking show. Something you pull up on Hulu on a lazy Friday night when you’re looking to be shocked and amazed. 

Full disclosure: as conscious as I am of what I eat and where it comes from, the notion of throwing all caution to the wind and eating a concoction made from butter, canned condensed milk, and some sort of flavored powder seems sinfully liberating.  We can have our butter and eat it too, all in the spirit of good, crazy, Paula Deen fun. Who wants to worry about something boring like health? I mean, if it tastes good, let's eat it. By the bucket.

Enter diabetes. As most of you surely know by now, Paula announced last week that she was diagnosed a few years ago with Type 2 (also known as adult onset) diabetes. This is, of course, one of the most serious problems facing Americans and our healthcare system today. And, we must all admit, if Paula Dean’s actual diet bears any resemblance to what she cooks on her show, it is no great surprise that she has developed the disorder. I first heard the news in passing, and while my first thought was of concern for her health, it was quickly followed by the idea this here was an opportunity. Who better to reach out to all of us who love rich, fatty, sugary foods and show us a way toward moderation? There are hoards of us, and there aren't may people better poised to reach that audience than the queen of overindulgence herself.  Her bubbly personality can make just about anything appealing, and here was her chance to really put it toward good use.

Instead, Deen has found a very different way to profit from her disease. She came right out of the gate endorsing a diabetes drug made by Novo Nordisk, along with her two sons, neither of whom have the disease. Score for big Pharma and the Deen family, tough luck for the rest of us. With more and more American's faced with diet-related health issues--including the terrible lack of access to fresh food in so many urban communities--I find it particularly devastating to see such a beloved public figure leave her power on the proverbial plate. As a chef, she could be preaching the power of food to impact health and  quality of life. She could transform the way that Americans relate to their pantries. She could help to turn the kitchen into a place where we think first of nourishing ourselves and our families, even with the occasional dinner of fritters and pudding. Instead, she says to us, head to your nearest pharmacy, and leave a little bit of your money in my pocket while you're at it.

In the recent Times article covering Paula's revelation, Anthony Bourdain is said to have called her the "'worst, most dangerous person' on the Food Network," because of the unhealthy nature of her food. (Many would counter that even the fanciest French chefs rely on a whole lotta butter, but I would say that there's also an element of moderation that goes along with that type of cooking, and it is absent in Paula's world.) His comment, while harsh, reflects a reality that I had previously ignored: while I may view Paula's show as a culinary amusement ride, there are many, many people who identify deeply with both the woman and the way she cooks, and there is nothing amusing about failing to consider the impact that your celebrity may be having on the health of thousands upon thousands of people.

Is Paula Deen personally responsible for our epidemics of obesity and diabetes? Clearly, she is not. Is she personally responsible for turning these issues around? Again, certainly not. But there is no denying that with a shift in her message she could use her considerable power to help the very people who are responsible for her remarkable success. Shame on her if she doesn't.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Year, New Markets

Somehow, over a year has passed since I posted on the growing trend toward winter farmers markets in Massachusetts. And, somehow, I have managed to put together only one post since that time. Yes, it would be easy to feel embarrassed and chagrined at such a poor blogging performance, but I'm inclined to go easy on myself--new babies, full time jobs, and freelancing do not a busy blogger make, at least not around here. But, it's a new year and I'm newly organized, so you can expect to be seeing a lot more action on the Ecofoodie scene. And, although it may seem repetitive, I wanted to start with a quick note about this year's winter market bounty.

Since that second-to-last post, the number of winter markets in Massachusetts has mushroomed, and they are absolutely worth a (weekly) visit. This winter, Bostonians (and near-Bostonians) can find winter farmers markets in Cambridge, Somerville, and beyond, and there are three (yes, three!) markets in Boston proper--one in the Belvedere Arcade at the Prudential Center, one in the South End, and another in Dorchester. Amazingly, every one of these markets will play host to fresh produce from multiple Mass farms, including Red FireEnterprise and Winter Moon, which grows exclusively winter root crops. (If you have not yet tasted a Winter Moon carrot, get thee to a market this weekend and try a sample--you will never buy a supermarket carrot again!) Many of these new urban markets were born out of a desire to improve year-round access to fresh, healthy food, particularly for low-income residents. (The Boston Bounty Bucks program allows SNAP users to get 50% off of their market purchases up to $20, and all of these winter markets are participating.) There's also a wealth of things to do while you shop, from cooking demos, to live music, to educational activities for the kiddos. Personally, my son and I stumbled into a little slice of perfection last week in Cambridge: mama sipped coffee and nibbled an almond croissant while baby danced and toddled to a little acoustic guitar. Saturday morning heaven.

Since the holidays, we've been heading to a different market every week and happily warming our bones with the harvest. Sweet roasted beets and carrots, potato and kale soup, and even a little greenhouse salad mix for a grassy, oh-so-fresh taste of summer. This weekend we'll be checking out the scene in Dorchester, and I promise to post some pics.

To read more about how these markets are changing the face of their communities and to see the full list of market locations and times, click here to take a peek at my most recent article for Edible Boston. Happy shopping, and even happier eating!