emerging from hibernation

Good evening readers and eaters! As I mentioned two posts ago, I have an exciting life project that occupies my evenings—hence the lack of recent recipes. I have indeed been cooking and photographing lovely meals to share with you. Warning: this blog is about to grow in its proportion of heart-healthy, veg-filled delights.

Andrew and I are really cutting back on saturated fats these days: it’s not about a fad diet or vegan trends. As we venture into our fifth year of marriage, we’re unhappy with the weight gain we’ve experienced in this brief time—over 20 lbs. between the two of us. Neither of us is overweight, but 20 lbs. in 5 years is a scary trend considering the inevitable metabolic slow in the coming 5 years. A generous topping of high-fat cheese was making its way into too many of our meals.

My two years immersed in Nutrition grad studies taught me that the most realistic way to weight loss is small, simple dietary substitutions. One less soda a day, less fattening milk, etc. For Andrew, this meant switching from sandwiches to soup for most workday lunches. For me, this meant cut-up fruits and veggies as snacks before meals insteaPhoto & Video Sharing by SmugMugd of my infamous feed-a-family lunch portions. Smaller portions, more frequent meals. Now Andrew eats breakfast. We eat smaller dinners and finish the evenings with yogurt fruit smoothies.

So now I must share my thrilling very-recent discovery: ethnic markets. I had heard about the affordable produce prices for years, and finally visited my local Korean and Hispanic supermart. Not only were the prices one-third of what I paid at Shoppers (which I had found less expensive than my other local chains), but the produce was fresh, abundant, and varied beyond my imagination. Where Shoppers has carried three to four moldy eggplants the past five months, Fresh World had hundreds of firm, blemish-free eggplants—five different varieties! I realize I am spoiled in my metropolitan area, but if you have the opportunity to explore an international market, this is a wonderfully affordable way to incorporate far more fresh ingredients into your meals. I left with seven stuffed produce bags  for barely $40.

Sometimes, we’ve just got to stop complicating dishes with steps and stress. Have a simple, fresh meal. Give yourself a break, your body a boost. Here was our light Friday night…Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

Pita and Feta with Vegetables

inspired by Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Very Full Tart” recipe (minus eggs, heavy cream, buttered pie crust)

do substitute/omit ingredients per availability

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

1 medium eggplant, peeled and diced

handful cherry tomatoes, halved

1 sweet potato, peeled and diced (1-inch)

1 zucchini, diced

1 large onion

4 tbsp. grapeseed/vegetable oil

4 oz. feta, crumbled

whole wheat pita for serving, cut into wedges

Preheat the oven to 400F. On at least two baking sheets, scatter the chopped vegetables into an even layer. Drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle with dried thyme or oregano as you like. Roast the veggies about 30 minutes, tossing halfway through, until potatoes are fork tender and browning occurs. Season with ground pepper and sprinkle with feta. If you have fresh oregano or chives, add them here.

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We spooned this vegetable mixture into whole wheat pita pockets, dunking the pita into homemade baba ganoush as well. Surprisingly satisfying.

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radical radishes

“What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.” —Samuel Beckett.

Despite abundant radishes atop this blog page, I never before enjoyed these reddish roots (beyond their photogenic appeal). Oh but my destiny was to find a simple recipe where they would shine!

Friends, those of you popping over here for the convenient, 10-minute dump-and-stir recipe will quickly click over to my prior post. And those Tuscan beans are true winners. Oh but here, my adventurous home cooks, my “I’ve never tried quinoa and it’s about dang time” flavor-seeking readers, HERE is a truly delicious undertaking.

My love for feta cannot be overstated. I think there is surely no more delicious combination to enjoy feta (God bless Gourmet for tossing feta with only brown butter and egg noodles)… and then here is this crunchy, fresh, tangy salad you must double because a One Night Only performance does not satisfy. And it’s charming served cold.

The recipe truly works as written, despite my skepticism about steaming multiple grains. But I am certain this recipe would not be diminished by using couscous or quinoa alone, as the dressing and veggies pack the [tastebud] punch.

Note: I just scooped a bit of bulgur from the grocer’s bulk bin, don’t worry about purchasing large containers of multiple grains if you’re trying them for the first time. I do not typically enjoy olives, but a few silky oil-cured babies from the olive bar were lovely to savor with the minty lemon dressing. I also added more olives and more radishes when I fell in love on the first bite.

Quinoa and Bulgur Salad with Feta

from Gourmet, October 2005 serves four

active time: 20 min total time: 40 min

1/3 cup quinoa, rinsed well

4 cups water

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/3 cup medium bulgur

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint (or ¾ tsp dried mint, crumbled)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

4 oil-cured (or brine Kalamata) black olives, pitted and cut into slivers

2 radishes, quartered and thinly sliced

2 oz feta, coarsely crumbled (1/2 cup)

2 cups baby spinach, (or shredded Bibb lettuce)

Wash quinoa in 3 changes of cold water in a bowl, draining in a sieve between changes of water. Stir together quinoa, 4 cups water, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, and simmer, uncovered, until quinoa is just tender and germ starts to separate from grain, about 20 minutes. Drain well in sieve, then transfer to a medium bowl.

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While quinoa is simmering, cover bulgur with warm water by 2 inches and soak until tender and chewy, about 10 minutes. Drain well in a sieve, then stir into drained quinoa. Cool grains completely, about 20 minutes.

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While grains cool, stir together oil, lemon juice, mint, pepper, and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and let stand 15 minutes, then stir into grains along with olives, radishes, feta. Serve over lettuce (and keep the spinach / lettuce separate for leftovers).

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Cooks’ note: Grains can be made ahead and kept, chilled and covered, 1 day. Bring to room temperature while dressing stands.

Hooked on quinoa? Try this very different, equally surprising grain salad…

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greetings and bean-ings!

Hi friends, I’ve missed you, too! Where have I been? I have an exciting life-project (which may involve me reading 22 books) that I can’t reveal for some time—sorry for the necessary suspense. How have you been?

Here’s the quick catch up on me since August…

Andrew and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary at our favorite B&B

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I chopped my hair off (my students love the fairy resemblance)

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My sweet sister-in-law got engaged (while I snapped, surprise!, 201 photos)

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For Andrew’s 27th birthday this month, we threw a wildly successful Mad Men party (where Andrew had this genius idea to have everyone else bring the food)

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I honored my Grammy’s memory with her kick-ass thanksgiving stuffing

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And, kind of personal, but it’s been nearly 300 days since my last sinus infection so I lovvvvvvve being chronically healthy now (thank you, Symbicort) and in the kitchen every day!

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I realize last time I dropped in to chat, we were discussing corn, but the weather demands we move on. I don’t know where you live, but Virginia had a sunny, 60 degree Thanksgiving day quickly turned blistery-cold weekend. Let’s warm-up and snuggle up with a hearty, healthy dish before the neighbors start delivering cookies…

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Fresh herbs are vital in this simple stew, trust me. And grab a big, fresh, cheesey loaf of bread to scoop up every last drop.  We serve this with Trader Joe’s Alpine Gruyere bread. Click on the highlighted words should you like a demonstration on technique. In this dish, don’t concern yourself with precise vegetable measurements; the more veggies the tastier.

Tuscan White Beans

Adapted from Ina Garten, serves 6… or amazing leftovers

1 pound dried white cannellini beans, cooked (or about 4 15 oz. cans; I have always used canned)

3 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves; note jarred minced garlic will be too potent in this dish)

1 to 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (I love the rich flavor of Pacific Organic)

1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or aged cheese like parmesan)

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Rinse and drain the white beans. Heat the olive oil in a large pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the pepper and carrots, and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the beans to the vegetables.

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Add 1 cup of the stock, rosemary, salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 12 to 15 minutes, until creamy.

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Stir in the Pecorino, season to taste, and serve hot with fresh bread. We’ve never used spoons.

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corn off the cob: barley risotto

Welcome to a new summer series on A Pear to Remember: corn. Corn is not so exciting—or appealing—when processed for sandwich bread, condiments, granola bars, candy. But let’s consider an ear of corn picked from tall green fields: a 63-calorie vegetable with less than 1 gram of fat, 2.4 grams of protein, and 8% of our daily requirement for dietary fiber. Not so evil.

Sure, we could boil cobs to death and slather with butter. Or, we could slice off the kernals for something a little more exciting. Risotto would not be my go-to summer dinner, unless we’re stirring in seasonal herbs and veggies. The wonderful thing about substituting barley (a fiber-packed whole grain) for arborio rice is how much better it holds up to the cooking process. Risotto is lovely, but there is a fine line before arborio rice becomes thick, gummy and impossible for leftovers. Barley is hearty, more forgiving, and stands up to reheating for lunch. And risotto need not be intimidating: pour, stir, pour, stir, pour and stir under tender—you can do it. Play music, relax.

everyday food, barley risotto, corn, basil, a pear to remember

Here is a substantial summer supper, and a new use for your basil bush beyond pesto.

Barley Risotto with Corn and Basil

from Everyday Food, serves four

1  32 oz. carton reduced-sodium vegetable broth

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

coarse salt and ground pepper

1 cup pearl barley

1/2 cup dry white wine

corn kernels from 3-4 ears or 10 oz. package frozen corn kernels

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

1/2 cup grated (about 2 ounces) Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

trader joes, vegetable broth, low sodium

In a medium saucepan, bring broth plus 4 cups water just to a simmer. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan (or Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add onion, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add barley; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

quaker brand, barley

Then add wine; cook, stirring, until evaporated, about 1 minute.

Add 2 cups hot broth mixture; simmer, stirring occasionally, until almost absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. (I find it’s better to leave a little broth-y than to let the grains overcook and dry out).

Continue adding broth mixture in this manner until barley is tender and mixture is creamy, 40 to 50 minutes (you may not have to use all the broth, but I save it for re-heating the next day). Add corn; cook just to heat through, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in basil and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, with extra cheese.

My servings may look a little corn-heavy (I used four ears!), but it was sweet, crunchy corn I (literally) purchased in the middle of a field from an overall’d Delaware farmer and I wanted to use every last bit.

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plenty: color splash

The long blank wall behind the couch has had me stumped for the 11 months Andrew and I have lived in our suburban condo. Of course we all find things when we’re not looking (like yesterday when I hunted 10 minutes for my ipod that was smack in the middle of the empty kitchen table). I spent last week catching up Mom and Pops in Delaware, and the hot weather had us exploring air-conditioned antique stores throughout the week—the very place I found Mastisse’s “The Parakeet and the Mermaid”, framed decades ago in Belvedere Square where the hubs and I spent much time in Baltimore. The print is my perfect mix of sophisticated and quirky. Hello, wall funk.

Matisse, Parakeet and the Mermaid, Living Room

Pasta is another blank canvas enriched by bright color, and plenty of it. It’s the perfect excuse to return to our Plenty reader’s series, where I interpret select recipes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s enchanting new cookbook.

The printed recipe calls for deep-frying zucchini and whipping up a homemade herb puree. Time limitations and nutrition concerns had me adapting this recipe to a faster, lower-fat version well worth sharing with friends this summer.

plenty, yotam ottolenghi, pasta and friend zucchini salad, crate and barrel bowl, sweedish

Please, if you can, pick up some beautiful buffalo mozzarella (in brine) for this one—it’s where the magic resides. I accidentally grabbed Burrata mozzarella, which has a creamy center, and is easily the last cheese I ever need eat on this good earth.

Pasta and (Not) Fried Zucchini Salad

from Plenty, serves four

3 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices (a mandolin makes this a breeze)

1  1/2 tbsp. red wine vinegar

3/4 cup frozen edamame

1 cup basil, shredded coarsely

1/4 cup pesto (I used storebought)

9 oz. strozzapreti or penne (I used rotelli)

grated zest of 1 lemon

7 oz. buffalo mozzarella, torn by hands into chunks

1  1/2 tbsp. small capers (optional)

1 cup heirloom baby tomatoes (my addition)

squash, yellow squash, mandolin, crate and barrel cutting board

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat a grill (or stovetop grill pan) to medium high—heat a cast iron/heavy skillet over high heat if you do not have a grill. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of the zucchini slices with vegetable/canola oil. Grill the thin zucchini slices two minutes on each side, or until charred and slightly tender. Transfer the grilled zucchini to your serving bowl, pour over the red wine vinegar, stir, and set aside.

staub, staub grill, french blue, grill pan, zucchini

Blanch the edamame for 3 minutes in boiling water; drain and toss into the zucchini and vinegar bowl. (I only had frozen shelled edamame, so I blanched, cooled, and then popped the beans out of the pods into the zucchini).

Cook the pasta until al dente; drain and rinse under cold water. Add the pasta to the zucchini, vinegar and edamame; add the pesto, lemon zest, capers, tomatoes (if using), and mozzarella. Stir gently together, then taste and season with  coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Before serving, stir in the torn basil.

basil, plenty cookbook, mozzarella, zucchini, pasta saladStick around and check out another of Yotam Ottolenghi’s exquisite recipes: Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce. You’ve never seen anything like it.

What is the best cookbook on your shelf?

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10 Things You May Not Know About Me

Spoiler alert to new readers: I love to cook. We talk about that all the time. Here are 10 things you may not know about me:

1.  ELVIS

graceland, 90s, denim

elvis impersonator, denim

this is when demin was “In”.

I have always had an infatuation with Elvis. I watched Blue Hawaii a lot as a kid, and my parents even road-tripped the entire fam to Graceland at the height of my Elvis phase (age 10). I still really enjoy his music, but these days I flip frequently between Al Green, A.R. Rahman,  Dinah Washington, and as of this week: the Swedish soloist Robyn.

this is called Third Position in ballet

2. DANCE

I lovvvvve to dance. Since I stopped studying formally, this passion often gets me in trouble. I was carried out on a stretcher (by some hunky EMTs) from my college house (three fire trucks + one ambulance + two police cars blocking a two lane road for moi) after falling from an arabesque in the kitchen. I only studied ballet for 11 years, but there is not a day in my home without plies or pirouettes (hence three total sprained ankles in four post-ballet years). I worked on learning The Thriller dance for a while and secretly hoped we could break into it at our wedding. Currently, I am learning this dance by Robyn.

3. RETIREMENT PLANS

I would really like to run a B & B in retirement. Andrew is totally on board with this dream. We’ve been to The Ledge House, Victorian Charm, The Baywood, and recently Santosha on the Ridge. harper's ferry, the ledge houseWe’ve loved them all, and immediately scheduled a return trip to Santosha for our four-year wedding anniversary in October.

4. FONTS

I have this thing for fonts, in addition to very strong opinions about how and when certain typeface should be used. I pride myself at naming fonts on signs and menus. It’s not uncommon to hear me mutter, “Oh, please, Papyrus?!”

5.  RELIANCE ON THE INTERNET

Confession: I own 35 cookbooks, one big recipe binder, dozens upon dozens of old food magazines and still I most often search Epicurious.com for dinner ideas. Sitting on my kitchen table at present is Bistro Latino from the local library, I’ve checked it out three times in three years. The grass is always greener, eh?

6. CRAFTING

I really like to be crafty. Nut wreaths, photo albums, collages, knitting, sewing (though I lack skill and know-how), and last week I tried painting with acrylics. Here’s how it turned out:

painting by lindsey, art

original painting by lindsey

7.  SIDE JOBS

I teach flute. This is a more recent addition to my schedule, and I am loving it. I love to sing, but do not have much of a voice, and my poor student has to listen to me demonstrate “TooooooooooooooooooOOOO” vs. “tew” or “pew”. Then I try to sing scales—it is something else.

8. I’M BETTER AT WRITING

I cannot be videotaped. Like, when my hubby was making his first feature film, he gave me a two-second role as “Sleeping Student”. As soon as a videocamera is near me, I giggle incessantly and start talking even faster than I do normally. If you have ever heard me speak, I know this is hard to fathom. I made a short cooking video for a grad school project and we had to do 30 takes of me trying to keep a straight face while slicing avocado.

9.  VERY VINTAGE

I’m REALLY into old things. Old albums for my record player, vintage vases, retro furniture, old French music, old dresses, old pots for my houseplant fixation, old movies (Bringing Up Baby, All About Eve). Old photos top them all.

10. HUMOR

I spend my time on funny things. There is so much pain and loss around, and so many people I miss all the time; it’s just too easy to be sad. If I get a choice, I like to laugh. Favorite sources include (in no order): Saturday Night Live, The Lonely Island, David Sedaris, Car Talk, Weird Al, Anne Lamott, Woody Allen,  Catalog Living, Carl Hiassen, The Onion, Frasier, Modern Family, Arrested Development, Wes Anderson,  Seinfeld, Andrew, and the Stingray Sam theme song. We saw Stingray Sam at the Maryland Film Festival a few years back: It’s a musical. And a Western. Set in Outer Space. Narrated by David Hyde Pierce. Ingenious silliness.

For more about what goes on beyond my little kitchen, click here.

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the food of our forefathers

Let’s close our eyes and imagine this monumental moment in American history: It’s July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress closes its session for the day and John Adams takes a moment to write his dear Abigail:

The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, curried quinoa salad, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Yes, from our remarkable forefather, and determined by the democratic votes of dear Pear readers, this Fourth of July was one of cornhole, fireworks, and curried quinoa salad. You voted, I made it, neighbors loved it.

While a number of new foods and flavors crossed the Atlantic in the late eighteenth century, the combinations here were likely uncommon. If only I could time travel to Mr. Adams’ day and gift him with a subscription to Bon Appetit

curried quinoa salad with mango, bok choy, fourth of july

Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango

from Bon Appetit, makes 2 servings

1 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces)

1/4 cup canola oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mango chutney, chopped if chunky

1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

2 cups chopped peeled mango (peaches are a perfect substitute)

1 cup chopped unpeeled English hothouse cucumber

5 tablespoons chopped green onions, divided

2 cups baby spinach, chopped

Note: I bought mango slices in the deli section, having not planned ahead for ripe mangos. I also recommend adding any or all of the following for extra sweet crunch: diced peaches, dried fruit (apricots or cranberries), red bell pepper.

It is important to rinse quinoa well before cooking. (I used the steam method and found it makes the quinoa too gummy). Cook quinoa in medium pot of boiling salted water (I used chicken broth for flavor) over medium heat until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally, about 12 minutes. Drain well and cool.

curried quinoa salad with mango, quinoa, le cruset, purple

Transfer to medium bowl.

curry powder, mango dressing

whisk, whisking dressing, blue bowl

Whisk oil and next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

chopped mango, spring onion, scallion

diced cucumbers

dried apricots, chopped

Add chopped mango, cucumber, green onions, any other fruits and veggies you are including, and 1/4 cup dressing to quinoa; toss to coat. Divide spinach between 2 plates. Spoon quinoa salad over spinach. Drizzle with remaining dressing and serve. Or, toss it all together in a big bowl and serve the next day!

curried quinoa salad, mango, red pepper, scallion, dried apricot

I spent my Independence day crying to Mao’s Last Dancer, painting furniture for my music room, and serving this salad to new friends. (Even my father-in-law loved this salad!) How did you celebrate?

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kitchen block, help!

Some holidays are at the beach with my folks, others are here in (hot, storm-struck) Virginia. This year it’s the latter, meaning I will not be parading the boardwalk with this modest portion of vinegar-soaked potatoes.

french fries, Gus boardwalk fries, beach, Rehoboth

No matter where I am, I’m cooking. Every Fourth of July, I am tempted to repeat this nutty fruit tart from Vegetarian Times magazine. It is about my favorite dessert ever. Then, out of the corner of my eye, there they are: The Cookbooks. By the dozen on my kitchen shelf, filled with recipes yet to make.

Last year, two hours before heading to a neighborhood cookout, I decided to make something. With few groceries in the fridge, and that tiny kitchen apartment, I resorted to making crackers. Salty blue cheese and walnut crackers.

How did July 1 arrived so fast! At least I’ve still got a few days to plan this year. With the summer off from school and time on my side, I’ve got writer’s kitchen block: so you decide. Fair and square, the dish with the most votes by Tuesday night will rinsed and on the (literal) chopping block Wednesday morning. And I’ll be right back to tell you about it.

Don’t worry, there is plenty more from Plenty to which we’ll return after the holiday!

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plenty: the mighty eggplant

I’m limited in many of the cookbooks of my shelf; vegetarian entrées are less than a third of each book. Imagine my delight when I opened this new cookbook to 120 main course vegetarian recipes. Yes, I coveted Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook Plenty since Christmas when it popped up on all my favorite food blogs.

Consider this new series a reader’s guide to Plenty. The book is packed with abundant photos and paragraphs, the latter of which can appear daunting. When I received the Peter Gorden’s book Salads from a co-worker, I thought I had to roast an entire red onion to use 1 tsp onion juice in the final dressing. It took many years growing comfortable in the kitchen to realize how I could create the dish without four hours devoted to “leaving tomatoes in the sun”. To the discerning palette, some of these steps make a world of difference; the rest of us work and want to get dinner on the table before midnight. I will walk you through some of Plenty’s recipes (four this week alone!) and hope to take the intimidation out of 600-word recipes.

If you purchased Plenty, or plan to, it is surely inspired by the cover photo: roasted eggplants blanketed in a creamy sauce and sparkling pomegranate seeds like jewels. It looks remarkably elegant and utterly original. It is. And it is so do-able, you need to make this  tomorrow—impress the heck of out your friends. I ate my last eggplant the next day, dressed to the nines and refrigerated overnight: it held up perfectly and was delightful cold. (Good thing, since yogurt does not heat well). The ease of achieving this dish: slice, roast, and dress the eggplant for a memorable evening.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce

from Plenty, serves four as a starter

2 large and long eggplants (firm and unblemished)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tsp thyme leaves, plus a few whole sprigs to garnish

1 pomegranate (or package of pomegranate seeds)

1 tsp za’atar (or equal parts dried oregano, thyme, sesame seeds—crushed)

Sauce:

9 tbsp buttermilk

1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I purchased a single serving yogurt cup)

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish

1 small garlic clove, minced (on a microplane or like this)

Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplants in half lengthways, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look; don’t eat it).

Use a small sharp knife to make three or four parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant half, without cutting through to the skin. (I made a few too many! didn’t make a difference) Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.

Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil—keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.

Sprinkle with the thyme leaves and some coarse salt and pepper.

Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned. I increased the heat to 475°F the last five minutes to achieve the proper color. Remove from the oven and allow to cool down completely.

A delightful za’atar substitute from The Internet: crush 1 tsp. dried oregano, 1 tsp. leftover fresh thyme, 1 tsp. sesame seeds.

if you can’t find packaged pomegranate seeds:

While the eggplants are in the oven, cut the pomegranate into two horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl, with the cut side against your palm, and use the back of a wooden spoon or a rolling pin to gently knock on the pomegranate skin. Continue beating with increasing power until the seeds start coming out naturally and falling through your fingers into the bowl. Once all are there, sift through the seeds to remove any bits of white skin or membrane. For the visual learner.

To make the sauce: Whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle za’atar and plenty of pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.

What would YOU serve alongside this eggplant extravaganza? share in the comment section.

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pizza: it’s what’s for dinner

Let’s get in the mood with a scene from a beloved childhood film. In this clip from Back to the Future II, we glipse at the McFly family in the Future: the year 2015. Ha!

I am impressed the writers in 1987 foresaw caller ID. Still waiting on Black & Decker to release The Hydrator.

Yes, it’s a cherished dish since I was born in the 1980s when Mom, Dad, Jason and I would lay the picnic blanket on the family room floor to watch TGIF around a piping hot pizza box. Even on a scorching summer night, 26 years later, pizza is still the ultimate end-the-week dinner. Now that I’ve wrapped up nutrition classes, it seems an apt time to talk about up-ing the nutrient value of our favorite foods. Let’s start perfecting the pie.

OVERLOAD

Carry-out pizza, despite the presence of carbs, veggies, dairy and in one serving, can be nutritionally void and calorically perilous. Fat and salt reign. The sodium overload in the sauce, pepperoni, and cheese cancels out much hope of absorbing calcium. Pizza also often lacks fiber so crucial to our diet; I found a way to include it in my version, with a flavor just as appealing.

RETHINK PIZZA

What do we love about pizza? The crust’s crunch, rich tomato flavor, the alluring salty cheese? Here’s just one way to enjoy this essence without sacrificing our heart’s health. Using an appropriate portion of salty cheese provides ample cheesiness and significantly decreases the saturated fat. I added toppings high in vitamins, low in calories—then baked it to that golden brown we all adore.

Heart-Healthy Pizza

A  Friday Night Linvention

1 cup baby spinach leaves (use arugula for peppery kick)

1 cup mixed basil and mint leaves

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bell pepper, sliced thin

½ cup shaved parmesan cheese (pecorino, romano, asiago are all great options)

1 prepared pizza crust (mine was only about 9 inches diameter; whole wheat is a great choice)

budget tip: purchase a wedge of romano or asiago cheese and shave with a vegetable peeler. this can be several dollars less than pre-shredded parmesan.

Note the sodium per serving size on this Trader Joes’ pizza crust! It would have been all too easy to eat this entire pie. It’s not just about fat: it’s about the whole picture.

Preheat the oven to 450F.

In a food processor (a 2-cup machine is sufficient), puree the spinach and herbs with 2 tbsp olive oil. If you don’t have a food processor, finely chop all of greens and stir into the olive oil. A traditional pesto with nuts and cheese would add much more fat than I desired here.

Spread the pesto over the crust. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on the sauce along with the peppers. Sprinkle a pinch of kosher or sea salt over the tomatoes—this will help them roast in the oven. Scatter the cheese in between the tomatoes and peppers, leaving the tomatoes exposed.

Bake directly on the rack according to the crust’s package directions, or until the cheese browns. I place a large baking sheet beneath the pizza to catch any dripping oil or cheese as it bakes. Cool slightly before cutting; I prefer a long knife instead of a pizza wheel.

Other ideas:

Rather than high-sodium pizza sauce, top your crust with thin slices of salted beefsteak tomatoes (and herbs if you like) and bake until the tomatoes begin to dry out. Top with ½ cup of salty cheese, and the veggies/meat of your choosing and bake until brown. Of course, the tricky part is not eating the whole pie! Serve with a salad and munch on fruit or nuts before dinner. Eating a salad (tossed with peaches or berries) while our pizza is in the oven helps with smaller portions.

Pizza is a favorite is our home, and we’re always playing around with new ways to make it memorable in our own kitchen. Find more pizza inspirations here and recent medical news on life-saving fiber from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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