Saturday, August 29, 2009

Food Face

Yesterday, I was reminded of a very fond childhood food memory. Although I was never a terribly picky eater, every child needs some encouragement to eat sometimes. So, my mother came up with a fun and creative spin on serving food that did just that. We made faces out of food. Most often, we'd cover a plate with cottage cheese, and then decorate it with things like raisins for the mouth, olives for eyes, apple slices for ears ... you get the idea. It can be done with lots of different foods.

I'd forgotten about food faces until my mother came for a visit yesterday and made one for my daughter. She loved it so much that she asked for another one today for lunch. So, this is what we did:

Eyes - Hard-boiled egg sliced in half
Nose - Cherry tomato
Mouth - String beans
Cheeks - Potato rounds
Hair - Shredded carrot

Note: The tomato, string beans and potatoes were all taken from the potato salad that I was planning to serve her for lunch.

For younger kids, you might need to make these for them, but as kids get older, they can make them for themselves. It can really get them interested in cooking, and eating. Even a 3-year-old, like my daughter, had some input. It was her idea to shred the carrot for the hair.

Eastern European No-Mayo Potato Salad

I know mayonnaise is all the rage in culinary circles, but I can't stand the stuff! It's flavorless and gloopy, and it must be the bane of the potato's existence. I think even the most mayo-crazy foodies might agree that what passes for potato salad in most cafeterias and delis is only made worse by the gobs of mayo slathered all over those innocent potatoes. Poor things! Well, no potato salad of mine will ever have to endure such torture.

While in college, I had the pleasure of tasting a fabulous alternative to American potato salad that really spoke to me. It was made, of course, by someone's grandmother. A Croatian friend of mine had a grandmother who lived to feed other people, and she was quite a good, homey cook, so I was happy to oblige. One of the dishes she made was a potato salad with green beans and tons of garlic. Instead of mayo, this salad was dressed in a clean vinaigrette that added brightness and flavor to the dish. Quite a welcome change!

This is my approximation of what that wonderful Babba used to make, with a few added ingredients of my own.

No-Mayo Potato Salad
1 lb. thin-skinned potatoes (any color), scrubbed and sliced 1/4" rounds
20 fresh string beans, trimmed of ends
3 large cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 very small red onion, or 2 shallots, sliced thinly
1/2 pint grape or cherry tomatoes
2 Tbsps. fresh parsley, chopped
3 Tbsps. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsps. red wine vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

In a large covered pot with a metal steamer basket, steam the potatoes until they are just cooked. In the last 3 minutes, add the green beans to the pot. Allow to cool.

Combine the potatoes, string beans, garlic, onion, tomatoes and parsley in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper until well emulsified. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well. Serve cold or room temperature.

Serves 4-6.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summertime Grilled Chimichangas

It's amazing to me how few vegetables I need to buy at the store in the summertime. The CSA has provided very well for my family this year. Looking at what was in the fridge, I threw together this recipe of very seasonal, colorful stuff. It's super easy, and it's very toddler friendly (if your kids are like mine, they might open up the tortillas like a present and eat the insides). It's also healthier than your average chimichanga, which is deep fried and full of greasy meats. This is much lighter, and much more figure-friendly. Hope you enjoy them as much we did!

Summertime Grilled Chimichangas
1 ear of fresh corn
6 flour tortillas (whole wheat or sprouted grain)
1 can aduki beans, drained and rinsed
3 Tbsps diced red onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 bell pepper (any color), diced
1 large heirloom tomato, seeded and diced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
6 oz. shredded monterey jack cheese
safflower oil spray
1 lime, cut into wedges

Steam the ear of corn for five minutes. Cut the kernels away, and reserve.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or large cast iron pan over high heat. Working with one tortilla at a time, add small amounts of the beans, onion, jalapeño, bell pepper, corn, tomato, cilantro and cheese in the center. Fold two opposing sides over toward the middle, and then fold in the other sides. Spray the pan with a film of safflower oil, and reduce the heat to medium. Grill the stuffed tortillas seam side down for 2 minutes. Turn and then grill for another two minutes. Enjoy!

If you need to keep these warm while grilling the others, you can put them on a cookie sheet in a 200F oven.

Serves 3.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Healthy Italian Hoagie

My husband often reminisces about his days in Hoboken, New Jersey, when he could walk to the corner store and get himself an Italian sandwich, piled high with capicola, prosciutto, and fresh mozzarella. I'm not sure that gobs of salty, fatty meat would win as much esteem with my heart, but I can nonetheless appreciate a good sandwich.

Given that it is Jersey tomato season, and eggplant and basil are also plentiful, I thought I'd take a crack at my own version of an Italian sandwich, healthy style. So here goes:

Healthy Italian Hoagie
1 whole grain Italian bread or French baguette
homemade basil pesto
safflower oil spray
1 small eggplant (you could use the ordinary black variety, but the skin is tough on those. I used my zebra eggplant from the farm. Japanese eggplant would also do nicely, though you might need two of those), sliced thin, lengthwise
salt & pepper, to taste
1 large heirloom tomato (any color), sliced into thick rounds
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced

Cut the bread lengthwise into two halves. Toast in the oven at 400F for 5-10 minutes.

Spray a large cast iron skillet with safflower oil, and heat over high heat. Coat the eggplant with oil on both sides of each slice and season with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, reduce heat to medium and grill eggplant for 2 minutes on each side.

Slather both halves of the bread with a generous amount of pesto. Then pile the grilled eggplant, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper. Cut into individual portions.

Serves 3.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Roasted Tomato Soup with Lemon Basil

My daughter cheers for tomato soup year round, even in this sweltering heat we've been enduring. Somehow, she hasn't taken to gazpacho, which would be the more refreshing choice, I think. This week, since we were inundated with tomatoes from our CSA, and we picked an interesting assortment of specialty basils at the farm, I thought I'd try a new twist on tomato soup. The result is a sort of Thai-American fusion soup.

For a more traditional tomato soup, substitute standard basil and heavy cream for the lemon basil and coconut milk. If you can't find lemon basil, you could use lemongrass or just plain lemon juice.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Lemon Basil
8-10 medium ripe tomatoes, rough chopped
2 Tbsps olive oil
2 stalks celery, rough chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, smashed
4-6 shallots, rough chopped
2 Tbsps lemon basil leaves
salt & pepper, to taste
1 14 oz. can light coconut milk

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large baking dish, toss the tomatoes with the oil and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Add the celery, garlic and shallots, stirring to combine. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Add the lemon basil and adjust seasonings, stirring to combine.

Cool completely. Pour the tomato mixture into a blender and puree. Pour puree into a stock pot or dutch oven. Add the coconut milk and heat the soup through. Adjust seasonings. Serve hot.

Serves 4-6.