Saturday, September 26, 2009

Maple Orange Glazed Halibut

Tonight's dinner afforded me a very proud Mommy moment. My 3-year-old little girl completely cleaned her plate without any encouragement or prodding. Not that she's a bad eater - quite the opposite. Still, that she finished every morsel is really the best compliment I could get. And it feels particularly great that this meal was not at all "kid friendly"; that is, it didn't feature typical kid fare, like pasta, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, etc. Tonight's dinner was a wonderful example of just how much children can enjoy healthy, adult foods, if only we let them try them.

I don't typically buy Halibut. It's a very expensive fish. But last week, I saw some beautiful fresh wild Alaskan halibut steaks on sale for only $7.99/lb (Atlantic halibut should be avoided ... it's heavily overfished, and is therefore not a sustainable option). That's even less than I pay for my wild Alaskan Salmon, and that's frozen! I couldn't resist. It's a real treat for me. Halibut is a very sweet, moist, flaky fish. It's also very easy and quick to prepare, and needs very little adornment to make it special. Yum!

Maple Orange Glazed Halibut
1 lb. wild Pacific halibut steaks, cut into 3 portions (about 5 oz. each)
2 navel oranges
1 Tbsp. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
1 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
pinch salt (optional)
safflower oil spray

Juice one of the oranges, and set juice aside. Zest the other orange, and set aside. Then supreme the second orange, reserving the supremes for garnish.

In a small saucepan, combine orange juice, orange zest, tamari, maple syrup, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and then reduce heat to medium low. Reduce the mixture down until it thickens a bit, enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Spray the skillet with safflower oil. Once the skillet is hot, reduce the heat to medium high. Add the halibut portions. Cook for 5 minutes on each side. Then brush the top with the maple orange glaze. Turn and glaze the other side, allowing the glazed fish to cook 1 more minute on each side. Remove from pan.

Garnish the steaks with the orange supremes. I served this with a quinoa pilaf and green beans with toasted almonds.

Serves 3.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Mystery Meat for Lunch

What is it about school lunches? I always thought that it was just public schools that had dreadful cafeteria options, but apparently, even private schools that cost an arm and a leg are still feeding our kids pseudo-foods. What happened to the national health-consciousness trend (think Michelle Obama's organic garden)? Where are all the parents who are buying organic foods in increasing numbers, and where do their children go to school? Are all the statistics wrong, or are parents just ignorant of what goes on outside their homes?

As you may know from my previous post about my daughter's nursery school, we provide our own snacks for her because what is provided there is often questionable, to say the least. I'm not completely happy with the nursery school for a variety of reasons, and I'd love to find something closer to home (it's a 20-30 minute commute), so I've been keeping my eyes open.

Today, after coming out of the grocery store, I noticed a pamphlet on my car's windshield. Of course, I began immediately muttering profanities. Then I realized that the pamphlet was for a Montessori school that will be opening up in our area next year. I read the pamphlet with interest, went home and checked out the website. I was thrilled to see all sorts of great things, like natural material toys, mixed age classes, botany as a core subject area ... what fun! And it's walking distance from home! Yay! I thought I'd found a home for my kids! Then I see the bad news - lunch and snacks are provided by the school, included in tuition. What is lunch? Here is a sampling from their lunch menu:

Chicken Nuggets
Macaroni and Cheese
Grilled Cheese
Ham & Cheese
Mozzarella Sticks
Baked Ziti
Corn Dogs
Hot Dogs
Beef and Macaroni

I can almost guarantee that these are all heavily processed, fatty, salty, sugary foods that are probably frozen or canned. Nevermind that this menu completely excludes vegan children, providing no options for them whatsoever. It's absurd for any child to eat a regular diet of these foods! All those great teaching methods will go to waste on children fed nothing but garbage. Kids need real, fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and wholesome proteins to sustain their energy, their growing bodies and their developing brains. And how will it affect our children if they regularly eat dairy foods full of hormones (known to cause early onset of puberty and reproductive cancers), meats full of antibiotics (which is how most antibiotics are consumed in this country, not by prescription), grain products stripped of their nutritional content (making them pure calories and nothing more), preservatives, stabilizers, artificial sweeteners, high glycemic sweeteners, and many other edible toxins? Will the Flintstones vitamin they took in the morning make up for everything lacking in their diets? For many of us, it matters what our kids eat. That needs to be the case even when our kids are in someone else's care.

Lunch is a part of every school day. In fact, for many kids, it's their favorite subject. That's no joke! What kids learn at the lunch table are life-long lessons, maybe ones that will ultimately affect them more than their ABCs will. A learning institution that doesn't see lunch as a learning opportunity, to teach kids how to get the most from their bodies and their lives, is failing its students, plain and simple.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Pumpkin Pineapple Chicken

A while back, I learned how to cut up a chicken (see here). I resolved at the time to only use chicken that I'd cut up myself, with the exception of boneless chicken. Now that I have a baby to care for, time is not on my side, so that rule has been temporarily scrapped. Please forgive me!

This week, while looking for split chicken breasts on sale for $4.79/lb (good deal for organic chicken!), I noticed packs of chicken that included breasts and drumsticks for $2.49/lb. (also organic). Woo hoo! So, essentially, for the same price as 4 breasts, I got 4 breasts plus 10 drumsticks! What a deal! This recipe makes use of my free drumsticks, a small pumpkin from my CSA, and a can of pineapple bought on sale ages ago. Supremo cheapo!

Pumpkin Pineapple Chicken
2 cups fresh pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed
3 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, rough chopped
1 tsp. ground coriander seed
1 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
salt & pepper, to taste
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 1/2 cups homemade or low-sodium veggie broth
2 Tbsps safflower oil
10 chicken drumsticks
1 cup fresh pineapple cubed, or 1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine pumpkin, garlic, shallots, spices and olive oil in a large baking dish. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

Scoop pumpkin mixture into a blender, adding the veggie broth. Puree until smooth.

In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the safflower oil over medium high heat. Season the drumsticks with salt and pepper. Add the drumsticks to the pan, and cook for 5 minutes on each side.

Add the pumpkin puree to the pan. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the pineapple, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Add the cilantro and adjust seasonings. Serve over whole wheat couscous.

Serves 4-5.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Thai Red Curry with Fish

I love any and all good curries -- Thai, Indian, Caribbean, you name it! I even remember having a fantastic North African goat curry at a hole-in-the-wall take-out place in Queens years ago. Curry is good, honest peasant food, which is to say that it has no airs and it requires no sophistication to enjoy it. It is not an acquired taste. It just tastes good!

I admit it ... I cheat when I make curry, which makes them supremely easy to make and foolproof. When making Indian curries I generally use jarred curry powder or garam masala, and when I make Thai curries I use jarred curry paste. These things can be made yourself, and in general I encourage that sort of thing. But some things ought to be left to the experts, unless you really know what you're doing. In the case of curry powders and curry pastes, there are plenty of perfectly healthy options out there that contain no MSG, HFCS, or other bizarre almost-food products, so this is a short cut I can live with.

A word of caution: curry can be hot, and especially if you are working with jarred Thai curry paste, it most likely will be. If you're particularly heat-sensitive, you might want to try making your own curry paste, and leaving the chilies out, or to a minimum.

Thai Red Curry with Fish
2 Tbsps safflower oil
1 - 1.5 lbs. fish fillets (almost any will work ... Mahi Mahi is what we used, but you needn't use such a firm fish. Stay away from very strong-flavored fish like salmon, tuna, or bluefish), skin removed
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 large onion, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
2-3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped
2 bell peppers (any color), cored and cut into strips
1 bunch leafy greens (kale, beet greens, spinach, chard), washed, ribs removed, and leaves torn into large pieces
14 oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 - 1 1/2 tsps. Thai red curry paste, depending on your heat tolerance
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple, or 1 can pineapple chunks
1/4 cup fresh Thai basil (or other basil), torn
cooked brown rice

In a large stainless steel skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Season the fish fillets with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pan. Cook 2-4 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

In the same pan, add the onions and garlic. Saute until slightly browned, 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and peppers, seasoning with salt and pepper, and saute until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 7 minutes. Add the leafy green and saute until wilted. Add the coconut milk and curry paste, and adjust other seasonings. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes.

Flake the fish or cut into large chunks, and return to the pan. Add the pineapple and basil. Serve over brown rice.

Serves 4-5.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bulgar Lentil Salad

I sometimes forget to use less common grain products, like bulgar wheat, and too often, when I do, I go with well-established applications, like tabouli. Although this is yet another cold salad, it doesn't resemble tabouli at all, so that's a relief to me. I've cooked out of the box ... yay!

I really like the nuttiness of the bulgar, but if you don't care for it, try this recipe with quinoa, barley, millet, or even brown rice. The vegetables can also be switched out for whatever is seasonal when you make it. This particular combination makes for a fun color palate.

We're eating this for lunch this week, but it could be dinner or a side dish. It would work very well for a picnic, now that the weather seems to be cooperating again!

Bulgar Lentil Salad
4 medium beets, cleaned and trimmed of ends
1 cup bulgar wheat
1/2 cup green lentils
2 2/3 cups homemade or low-sodium veggie stock
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsps. chopped dried onion
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 lb. green beans, trimmed of ends and cut into 2" pieces
1/2 pint grape tomatoes
1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
2 Tbsps lemon juice
2 Tbsps olive oil
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)

Preheat oven to 400F. Wrap each beet in foil and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 40 minutes. Allow to cool. Peel the skins, and cut the beets into small cubes.

In a medium covered saucepan, combine the bulgar, lentils, veggie stock, garlic powder, chopped onion, salt & pepper, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.

In a small covered saucepan fitted with a metal basket steamer, steam green beans for only 2-3 minutes, or until bright green, but still firm.

Combine the bulgar mixture, cooked green beans, tomatoes, dill, lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and cayenne in a large bowl, and toss. Season with salt and pepper, if needed. Serve topped with a handful of beet cubes.

Serves 4-6.