Happy New Year! Now Back to the Monday Salad…

Post by: Aleda

Happy New Year Dear Readers!  I hope this new year brings you all love, joy, health and adventure, along with whatever else in life you really need and want.   Personally I am expecting a lot from 2011 after the disaster that was 2010, and at least in one aspect will be getting a lot as I am eagerly expecting my third little rebel.   My family and I have weathered the storm of four family funerals this year, so a new addition couldn’t possibly seem sweeter. But with that wonderful news, after the last two months of holiday food indulgence combined with the pre-cooked meals that my family suffered through while I suffered through grad school finals, it’s time to get back to healthy.  If there are two things I’ve learned through the past year it’s that time is short and you should invest in you health with the same care than you invest in your wealth.  And since I have none of the latter I’ve decided to go for aces in the former.

So.  It’s officially the first Monday of 2011, the day to reckon with reality and get back to the stresses of the regular day-to-day.  It’s hard to maintain healthy habits when your schedule is pulling you in a million directions and that tempting thing with the sugar and the salt and whatever additives is sitting there nice and neat in an easy package beckoning you to go for the quick five-minute pleasure.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with worthy culinary indulgences.  I love food and I am not embarrassed to eat the crap out of it.  I can hammer down a bacon cheeseburger and Smithwick’s (well maybe not the beer any time soon) or a plate of my favorite cheeses like the best of them.  But when it comes to your health, what you eat is your main control. Just like it doesn’t make sense to deplete your savings for a few meaningless trips to the mall, it doesn’t make much sense to deplete your health wealth for  a cheap pre-packaged meal when it can be avoided.  Deplete your savings for that dream trip to Bali, and indulge your food senses with a trip to your favorite restaurant in the city.  But during the in-between, we need ways to manage good, consistent habits.

I’ve discovered the easiest way to do this is to come prepared every week.  That’s why I’m going back to my “Monday Salads”, a ritual I proudly maintained for months and months before the fatigue of a third and fourth funeral, an overloaded class schedule, and a first trimester got me off my game.  It’s a simple concept really; buy enough greens and salad fixings to get you through the always questionable Mon-Fri schedule, and make a big salad. Keep in a big Tupperware or something similar that keeps it fresh and makes it super easy to open, dump on plate, eat and repeat throughout the week.  If you’re like me and don’t consider salad to be enough of a meal, pop open a can of red beans or chick peas and put in a separate container to throw on top for some substance and protein.  I know, I’m not very original here but sometimes the simplest things work the best.

So, happy 2011 and cheers to your health.  On my resolution list this year:  don’t let the cold prevent me from market seeking, and don’t let life keep me from posting.  I think these are two I may actually be able to keep.

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Easy Chick Pea Masala

Post by: Aleda

I love Indian food.  I love it so much I should spell LOVE in all caps.  I adore the flavors and aromas of the spices, I relish in how warm the food makes me feel, and find that a good chicken tikka masala or palak paneer and some naan make for great comfort foods.  Give me an authentic peshwari naan and I’m yours forever.  I still haven’t found one to top the best peshwari naan I’ve had, which was in a tiny Indian restaurant on a tiny side street in London.  Interestingly enough, the waiter’s parents are doctors in my neighborhood in Queens.  Anyway, getting back to topic, I love Indian food. The problem is that I don’t really know how to cook it.  Not yet anyway, but I’m learning.

I do have this one recipe for a chick pea masala that is incredibly simple and delicious and has become one of my signature dinner items, especially for guests.  This time around I made it for my Market Blog partner-in-crime, the ever-lovely Kim for her birthday.  I accompanied the chick pea masala with basmati rice, dandelion greens, and garlic naan and vegetable samosas, and a ginger-mango chutney (the last three of which I purchased pre-made at TraderJoe’s).   Hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?

So, here is my recipe for chick pea masala & basmati rice.  I know there are some purists who will argue that I’m missing ingredients or doing it wrong.  To you I say, I know. But I also say that it’s delicious regardless, and my whole food-cooking-blogging shtick is that I work with what I’ve got, which usually isn’t much.  Enjoy!

Kim's Birthday Feast: Chick Pea Masala, Basmati Rice, Naan, Dandelion Greens, Veggie Samosas and Mango Chutney

Basmati Rice (Serves 4-6, divide in half for less):

2 cups of basmati rice – you may need to rinse the rice 2-3 times before cooking

2 1/2 cups of water

pinch of salt, dash of olive oil

Bring water to rolling boil, add rice, stir.  Reduce to simmer.  I actually find that I like the way this rice cooks better without covering it.  I don’t know if there is an al-dente version for rice, but I hate my rice mushy.  Should take about 20 minutes to cook.  Fluff with fork.

Chick Pea Masala (serves 4-6, divide ingredients in half for less):

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 15 oz cans of garbanzos/chick peas

1 bunch green onions, chopped (note – you can make this w/o the green onions and it is still great if it’s one of those nights where you’re searching for what’s left in your kitchen).

2 15 oz cans of chopped tomatoes, or about 4 cups of fresh chopped tomatoes (note – I most recently used canned chopped tomatoes with green chili peppers from TraderJoe’s and it added a nice extra kick if you’re a fan of spicy food.  If not, stick with regular tomatoes).

2 tsp garlic salt

1/2 cup water

4 tsp garam masala, divided (note-if you are not sure how spicy you enjoy food or are unfamiliar with this seasoning, work it in little by little to taste instead of using all in recipe).

Heat olive oil in large pan and begin to heat chick peas.  Add green onions if you have them, if you don’t skip this step.  Heat for just a few minutes, maybe 2-3.  Add tomatoes, garlic salt and water.  Stir.  Season with 2 tsp (out of 4 total) of garam masala.  Keep on medium heat, stir occasionally – about 10 minutes.   Raise heat to bring mixture to a boil, and start stirring in leftover garam masala to taste.  Cook/stir until chick peas are heated and you enjoy the taste and consistency.  If you like it saucy to top rice you may want to add more tomatoes or a touch of tomato sauce, that’s up to you.

All in all prep and cook time should be about 25 minutes for the rice & masala.  And a note for my beloved herbivore friends, this recipe is deliciously vegan.

And the finished product:

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Market Watch: Russo’s Mozzarella and Pasta

Post by: Kim

So I realize that I’m sticking my neck out here and taking you into the belly of the food-centric beast: Park Slope, Brooklyn.  But hear me out.  This is no ritzy grocery store, no trendy, family-friendly eatery, and only has the slightest, well-earned air of pretension.  Tiny and crammed with every conceivable Italian import, Russo’s main draw is not its shelved goods but its cheeses, pastas, olives, and breads.  Prices are moderate, especially considering what you’re getting (you can pick up a still-warm, salted ball of house made mozzarella cheese for about $8) but, much like consuming huge amounts of cheese, this is a special occasion market for me.  I won’t be picking up fresh bread daily or even making a weekly shopping trip but its well worth the train ride when I need a specific, hard to locate ingredient for the holidays or to make a special meal. 

Boxes of fresh pastas are on offer for self service as are an assortment of olives, and a good selection of pre-cut cheeses and fresh breads.

Russo’s provides good quality ingredients at reasonable prices without the trendiness and expense of the recent crop of specialty stores that seem to be taking over the Brooklyn food market.  Although it’s not something I have access to everyday, I like to have a short list of stores like this on reserve for special occasions and long Saturday morning walks that call for a fresh baguette for breakfast à la Parisienne

Russo’s Mozzarella and Pasta

363 7th Avenue, Park Slope (Brooklyn)

(The photos in this post were taken by my husband, Jon)

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Cauliflower Risotto and Other Inspiration

Post by: Kim

Ordering out is way too easy in this city.  I am well versed in those culinary philosophies which specify that greasy takeout Chinese food is the exception to the “made by humans” rule and have wholeheartedly bought into the idea that our kitchens are where the vast majority of our meals should begin.  But then, after a long day at work, that loathsome stack of menus stashed away in the kitchen drawer still has a powerful appeal.  I will admit that I’m fairly easily persuaded to order out after a stressful day at work, but combine this preexisting weakness with several nights of failed meals and I quickly loose all resolve to maintain good cooking habits (sorry, Mr. Pollan).  Over the last few weeks, there have been several botched recipes, pasta ruined by a generous sprinkling of mildly rancid parmesan from the corner store, the little white worms that infested what I thought to be a pristine bunch of broccoli rabe, and the untouched apples awaiting cooking and canning as I’ve been nervously studying my Ball Book of Canning and fretting about acidity.  Meanwhile, my list of culinary to-dos has been steadily growing.  I just haven’t been quite ready to initiate that conversation with my kitchen again. 

 

While I’ve found some particularly persuasive motivators for getting back in the kitchen recently (the cooler weather, Dorie Greenspan’s blog archives, dreaming of taking that ballsy step of purchasing a whole box of tomatoes at the famers market and canning my own tomato soup, and imagining that one day I could have the kitchen of Paule Caillat), the biggest turning point in any culinary funk is probably just to muster the confidence to cook a really delicious meal.  Something you’ve made a thousand times before will do so long as it never fails to satisfy.  So tonight, with takeout menus safely hidden away, I fell back on an old favorite, one of the recipes that I had been so proud to master but which, although intimidating, was actually astoundingly simple.  I really don’t remember where I first found the recipe for cauliflower risotto but I’ve made the stuff so many times that the motions are almost automatic.  The original version called for sautéing the cauliflower but I am completely devoted to the taste and texture of roasting which lends a deeper, more complex flavor to the rice.  You can also add some toasted sliced almonds over the top of this dish if you can find them. 

 

Roasted Cauliflower Risotto

For the cauliflower:

One large head cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the risotto:

5 cups vegetable of chicken broth

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups Arborio rice (or any other short-grained white rice)

1 ½ teaspoons salt, plus more to taste

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

3 tablespoons butter

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Spread the cauliflower florets on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of salt (about ¾ teaspoon) and pepper).  Toss gently to coat.  Roast the cauliflower in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, depending on the size of your florets.  Be sure to turn the cauliflower half way through roasting. 

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with the broth and a liter or so* of water and bring to a boil over high heat.  You can also use bullion here if you can’t find decent broth but be sure not to add too much salt when seasoning the cooked rice or the flavor can be overwhelming.  When the water and broth begin to simmer, add 4 tablespoon of olive oil to a large skillet or pot.  Sautee the onion until translucent then add the minced garlic and cook for about a minute more, or until the garlic becomes fragrant.  Add the two cups of uncooked rice directly to the onions and garlic.  Stir well to incorporate and cook for several minutes until the rice loses some of its shine.  This means the rice has begun to absorb the oil.  By this point, your broth and water should be at a rolling boil.  Pour about 2 cups of boiling liquid into the rice and stir frequently.  When the rice has almost fully absorbed the liquid, add another two cups and repeat the process until the rice is almost al dente (it should stick to your teeth when tasting).  Still adding liquid as needed, add 3 tablespoons butter, salt, pepper, and the hot pepper flakes.  Check your cauliflower; it should be lightly browned on the bottom and at the tips and yielding but not mushy when gently squeezed.  Add the roasted cauliflower to the rice with about half of a cup of the broth/water and stir well.  Cook until the rice is no longer chewy but still firm, about 5 minutes.  Your rice should have darkened considerably from the browned bits of cauliflower.  Stir in the cheese and taste.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  If the rice seems too sticky or stiff, add another half cup of the broth mixture. 

*If at any point during the cooking process you find you are running out of liquid, add about 3 or 4 cups of the broth mixture to the rice at once and bring more water to a boil in the time it takes for the rice to absorb the extra liquid.

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Market Watch: Trade Fair

Post by: Aleda

Today I went to my local Trade Fair in Richmond Hill, one of eleven Trade Fair stores located in Queens.  I love this supermarket.  The diversity of food selection is a reminder of why I love living in Queens so very much.  Trade Fair prides itself on carrying a wide range of ethnic foods and delicacies that fit the neighborhood of the individual store.  The Richmond Hill Trade Fair has a “smörgåsbord” of international delights, specializing in foods from Central America, the West Indies, South Asia and Indonesia.

There are large fresh produce sections both inside and outside of the store.  They have a huge selection of sodas and juices from Latin America, the West Indies and the Caribbean. I know as a pusher of healthy eating soda should be low on my list, but when it comes to the crazy fruit flavors of sugary beverages from Latin America and the Caribbean I just can’t help myself sometimes.  I’m a sucker for a Guyanese lime rickey.

This Trade Fair also has an amazing selection of spices, marinades and seasonings.  I have a spicy Jamaican coconut mango marinade that I am absolutely in love with.  Shelves upon shelves of chutneys beckon me.  There is literally a whole aisle length hanger of different dried peppers and there are aisles Indian spices and foods that always make me want to get adventurous in the kitchen.   You can find an abundance of delicious Mexican pastries and cookies, some pretty legit bags of chicharron (one of my husband’s faves), a whole section dedicated to Latin American cheeses, and a section for Halal foods.  There is also what seems to be a running sale on Goya beans, five cans for three bucks, which is the best stock up price I’ve found in town.

And the produce.  Oh, the produce.  It feels like every time I go to this store I find a new piece of produce I’ve never heard of.  Today I purchased fresh red beans, a first, and some jackfruit, also a first (although I must admit in the chaos of dealing with two toddlers I  grabbed them thinking they were breadfruit).  You can find a large selection brown root vegetables like yucca, incredible prices on plantains, bok choy, collard greens, tomatillos, swiss chard, star fruit and so much more.   There is always a good selection of fruit; today I got kiwis three for a dollar and oranges at eight for two, and another plus is that they carry Red Jacket Orchards organic apples at really cheap prices, satisfying my desire for the rare organic/local/affordable trifecta of produce shopping.

When it comes to standard staples like pastas & sauces, breads (non-bakery), and cereals I still rely on TraderJoe’s; the standard American packaged fare in Trade Fair (and pretty much every other chain grocer in my area) generally cost more money and have more unsavory ingredients and additives.  But, when it comes to produce, spices, baked goods, deli goods, and ethnic specialties Trade Fair is a definite go.

Trade Fair is open 24 hours.

Trade Fair

130-10 Metropolitan Avenue, Richmond Hill, Queens

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Sweet & Delicious Acorn Squash

Post by: Aleda

Acorn squashes are adorable, delicious, filled with good nutrients, and they are fairly inexpensive and really filling.  This recipe is so easy that a toddler can do most of the prepping.  I know this because my two toddlers did just that.

First, start with your acorn squash.  They look like little green pumpkins about the size of a toddler’s head, as per exhibit A to my left.

Cut the squash in half from top to bottom.  This can be difficult, so use a good long strong knife.  You may have to puncture it a bit first to loosen it up.

Place the squash on a plate or cutting board on spoon out the seeds & fibrous insides in the middle.  You can put this into a bowl on the side to clean the seeds later and bake as a tasty snack the same way you would pumpkin seeds.

While you or your tiny helpers are working on gutting the squash, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.   When you’re finished gutting the squash it will look like this:

Ok, so now you’ve split and gutted your acorn squash.  Here is how to sweeten it up and cook it in 6 deliciously easy steps:

1. Run the knife through the inside of the squash just a little bit to help the ingredients absorb

2. Melt about 1 tablespoon of butter and spread it over the insides of both squash halves

3. Add a pinch of salt

4. Add 1 teaspoon of sugar to each half

5. Sprinkle with a touch of cinnamon

6. Drip a small amount of maple syrup on both halves, about a half a teaspoon give or take each.  (If you don’t have maple syrup fret not, you don’t need this ingredient for it to be sweet and delicious).  I myself use a maple/agave blend that I am totally in love with.

Here is what you’re fully prepped sweet & delicious acorn squash will look like:

Now that you’re finished prepping the squash, fill your baking pan with about a quarter inch to a half inch of water so that the squash skins don’t burn and the squash doesn’t dry out.  Put the squash in the pan skins down and bake for about 1 hour – 1 hour and 15 minutes.

And you’re done!  Let it cool a little bit and then stuff your face to your heart’s desire.

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Market Watch: Nams Village Farm

Post by: Aleda

Today on my marathon errand running tour de force down Metropolitan Avenue I finally stopped by Nams Village Farm in Queens to check out the produce.  Nams is located in Middle Village (or Maspeth, depending who you ask), which has an extraordinary amount of little mom & pop food stores from fruit & vegetable stands to Polish specialty stores to Italian delis, making it actually feasible  to go to four or five stores that are locally owned and internationally delicious to pick up a few days worth of groceries without having to walk more than a few blocks.  This is the kind of shopping that reaffirms that I will be a New York City lifer.

I like Nams.  The fruit was fresh but not overly ripe, they had fresh nuts for the baking, a decent selection of fresh herbs and root vegetables, a small cheese selection covering the basics, and European fruit juices.  It’s small, clean and quiet, and filled with older women perusing the produce, which to me is always a good sign because let’s face it, my generation doesn’t know how to feel a melon or judge an eggplant the way my grandmother’s does. I also liked the laid back vibe of the staff, I never once felt like my kids were being too obnoxious (which they totally were) or like I was taking too long or in the way, and the woman at the register was super sweet.

Nams carries all the produce basics as well as some surprises (see long squash to the left).  It’s a good spot if you’re just looking to pick up the fruit and vegetable items that you’d find in most any kitchen, and to see what in the stand might surprise you for an unexpected cooking adventure.  For the record, I did not have the courage to buy the long squash.  If you have an extensive recipe calling for a few or more uncommon pieces of produce, you’re better off going to a bigger store with international selection.   But for a laid back summer shopping trip, Nams does the trick.

Here is a pic of what I acquired for a mere $6: 3 grapefruits, 2 oranges, 1 giant garlic, 3 shallots, 1 green tomato, 1 large red bell pepper, and 1 vidalia onion that is literally the size of my toddler’s head.  Not too shabby if you ask me.

Nams Village Farm

7412 Metropolitan Ave, Queens

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