Monday, May 31, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Broccoli and Cauliflower

One of the main reasons that I started a food blog is that my sons have asked me to  compile the recipes for the food I have been cooking for them all their lives. They are just about to go off on their own so this has become a living cookbook for this last phase of having my sons at home. And if they are home, they usually want something to eat! So, many of these recipes are things they request and they are often very simple foods - except that I raised my sons on a wide variety of ethnic foods from around the world so they wouldn't be too ethnocentric when they started traveling. But sometimes, the best homemade food is uncomplicated comfort food. And in the ongoing effort to get my sons to eat vegetables, I've tried every way imaginable to prepare them. What I found is that they really love them stir fried or roasted - actually they love roasted food of all kinds.

So, last night, I roasted a chicken. I tried a new way - roasting it for less time (one hour) and at a higher temperature than usual (450 degrees) and it turned out wonderfully. I also roasted sweet potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower. I like to make my oven work hard when it's on so I put the vegetables in when the chicken was halfway done and the vegetables carmelized beautifully. My oldest son loves the way sweet potatoes almost taste like candy when they brown. My younger son loves the garlicky broccoli and cauliflower and asks me to make sure they are very browned. I use garlic powder or dehydrated garlic as it is less likely to burn than fresh garlic. Here's the simple recipes:

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Heat oven to 450 degrees

2 Orange Sweet Potatoes (often incorrectly called Yams), peeled and cut into 1" chunks
2 Yellow Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
5 - 6 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (I like Lousianne)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Sea Salt to taste

Toss Sweet Potatoes chunks in olive oil and place on large baking pan. Sprinkle with Cajun Seasoning, Garlic Powder and Sea Salt. Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes. Take out of oven and turn with a spatula. Return to oven and cook for an additional 10 - 15 minutes or until Sweet Potatoes are browned and a little crusty.

Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

Heat oven to 450 degrees

1 small head Broccoli, florets broken off, stalk peeled and cut into 1/2 wide chunks
1 small head Cauliflower, broken into florets
4 - 5 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 teaspoons Garlic Powder
1 teaspoon Sea Salt

On a large baking pan, toss Broccoli and Cauliflower with Olive Oil, Garlic Powder and Sea Salt. Place in oven and roast for 10 minutes, turn and roast for 10 - 15 minutes more or until broccoli and cauliflower just begin to brown.

Five Element Analysis

Sweet Potatoes are wonderfully earthy. They are so sweet - what else could they be? And carmelizing makes them even earthier. The olive oil adds some of the Wood Element, the Cajun seasoning adds Fire (from the heat) and Metal from the spices and the salt adds just a hint of the Water Element. It clearly needs to accompany some other foods to be balanced, but it is a very healthy earthy food. The ancient Chinese believed that sweet potatoes balanced blood sugar and could help prevent diabetes.

The broccoli belongs to the Wood Element and the cauliflower to the Metal Element. The garlic adds even more Metal and the olive oil adds some Wood. Because they carmelize, there is a little bit of Earth Element added, but the Fire are missing. So a Fire beverage or desert would round this meal out and perhaps a better protein might be pork or fish so that the Water Element is better represented.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bolognese Sauce

I grew up on Chinese food at home except for Pasta Sundays. This was the day that my father got to experiment with Spaghetti Sauce and there were some strange ones that he came up with. He tried all kinds of mixes and jars of premade sauce that he doctored with other things - adding sausage or ground beef and various vegetables like zucchini, which was another disliked vegetable in my youth - now I love it. Although it was fun to watch him experiment, I knew something was missing from these sauces and I've always liked being authentic to a culture.

So, when I was 15, I went to the library and looked up classic Italian pasta sauces. This is when I discovered Bolognese Sauce. What a revelation! The only hard thing about making it was that I couldn't buy the wine, but when I finally gathered all the ingredients and made it the first time with Fettucine pasta - the only kind of wide noodle I could find at the time, I thought I had reached a peak experience in cooking! This sauce was so different, so delicate and oh so good. The tomatoes were not the star of the show, the pasta was and the meat was tender not chunky. Graced with a sprinkling of fresh parmesan, it is still a wonderful meal. 

The secret to a good Bolognese Sauce is to cook the meat in milk before adding the wine and the tomatoes. This tenderizes the meat and softens the acidity of the sauce and gives it a wonderful delicacy. The other secret is to use good Italian tomatoes - it took me many years to discover this and before that I was always adding sugar in order to make the sauce taste right. Use San Marzano tomatoes if you can get them as they are naturally sweetened from the hot Italian sun. Also add in just a bit of Tomato Paste from a tube at the end to make it thicker. And the final secret is to use a really good red or white wine. I use one that I would like to drink and then serve the remainder as the first bottle at dinner. Make sure you mince the vegetables very fine - I use my Cuisinart as my kids didn't like seeing signs of anything except meat when they were younger. I have also made this sauce with ground chicken and changed to white wine and it is even lighter and more delicate. My father was delighted with this recipe and it became our Sunday night special until I discovered pesto - but that is another post. Now this is one of my sons' favorite meals with garlic bread and a big salad and was the meal of choice the night before a soccer game.

I now serve my Bolognese Sauce with Papparadelle or Tagliatelle pasta that I buy at the Italian deli. I also use this sauce to make Lasagna with bechamel sauce and parmesan - not ricotta - and it is divine using Barilla No Boil Lasagna noodles. The only change I make is to add another 8 ounces of tomato sauce to make the sauce slightly more pourable and substantial. And as a purist, I have to serve these pasta dishes with authentic Parmigiano Reggiano. Nothing else will do. I hope you enjoy this sauce as much as my father did and the rest of my family still does.

Bolognese Sauce

2 ounces Pancetta diced (optional)
1 pound lean ground Beef (can also use a combination with veal and pork)
1 Onion minced
2 medium Carrots minced
2 Celery stalks minced
2 Garlic Cloves minced
2 Tablespoons Butter
2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Milk
1 cup good Red Wine (you can also use White Wine)
1 28 oz can San Marzano Tomatoes including juice - chopped
1/4 cup Tomato Paste (4 Tablespoons)
1 Bay Leaf
1 teaspoon Thyme (preferably fresh)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Note: If using another kind of canned tomato, you may need to add up to 1 Tablespoon of sugar to sweeten the acidity.

In large heavy pot, melt butter with olive oil and then add in pancetta, onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Stir until lighty softened. Add in ground beef and stir until only slightly pink. Add in milk and simmer for 10 minutes. Add in red wine and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and herbs. Simmer for 1 hour. Add in Tomato Paste and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve over a wide pasta cooked al dente. Stir the noodles into the sauce to serve and pass the Parmesan cheese.

Five Element Analysis

The ground beef belongs to the Earth Element and so do the carrots. The tomatoes are Fire as is the celery and the red wine adds even more. The onions and garlic are Metal but they do simmer for quite awhile so they end up being Earthy, but the Parmesan cheese adds a nice bit of Metal along with the milk, bay leaf and thyme. The wheat in the pasta adds the Wood Element. The Water Element is only slightly represented by the pancetta and salt and the ground pork if using that. So, you might want to consider a desert of dark berries to balance the meal.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I am a snacker and I always have been and of course my choice of snacks if usually savory. There is something so satisfying about a snack - an almost guilty pleasure, and I think in this case guilt is good as you are nurturing yourself! My sons and I have a series of snacks that we love to eat and they need to be easy, fast and fun to eat. One of our classic snacks is bruschetta and it quite often ends up being lunch. It's just so versatile and so adaptable to a variety of toppings. The concept is Italian - crusty grilled bread covered in olive oil and kissed by garlic - yum! It's good all by itself. The Italians often use chopped fresh and very ripe tomatoes, mixed with olive oil, fresh basil, garlic and salt as one their classic toppings. One of simplest versions using tomato is to take a fresh tomato and coat the bread with it as soon as it is crisp out of the oven. This apparently is a Spanish version and has become our favorite accompaniment to eggs fried in olive oil. It is delicious. It starts with a very high quality bread and a good olive oil. I use a La Brea Bakery Baguette and olive oil from Italy or Spain. We often top ours with prosciutto or salami too. Our current favorite topping is marinated goat cheese and roasted peppers. The goat cheese recipe comes from my friend - here's the recipe:


One baguettte, sliced on the diagonal into 3/4" slices
Olive Oil - up to 3/4 cup
1 - 2 large peeled garlic cloves
2 teaspoons sea salt (I use Maldon)

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Put bread slices on a large baking pan. Brush or drizzle olive oil over them. Sprinkle with sea salt. Place in oven and cooked until brown on the edges and crusty on top. As soon as they are out of the oven, take the garlic cloves and scrape the tops of the bread with the raw garlic.
Top with the topping of your choice and it is best topped while warm although they will keep for several hours. If using fresh tomato in the Spanish style, cut the tomato in half and scrape on top of the bread slices until they turn red and soften. Eat immediately!

Marinated Goat Cheese

1 log of goat cheese
1 garlic clove minced
1/3 cup Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
Put goat cheese in a covered container. Pour olive oil over and put in garlic cloves and seasoning. Shake to cover and refrigerate, turning occassionally for 1/2 hour up to several days. The flavor develops over time.

Roasted Peppers

2 - 3 Peppers - red, yellow and/or orange cut in half, seeds removed
1/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
Basil leaves to taste - chiffonade into thin ribbons
1 large or 2 medium garlic cloves minced
Optional:  Small piece of salted anchovy, mashed or 1/4 teaspoon anchovy paste

Turn oven to 450 degrees. Place peppers cut side down on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with olive oil and roast until they start becoming black and blistered - about 10 to 15 minutes. Put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or another plate for 15 minutes to soften. Then, peel off skin and slice into ribbons. Add remaining olive oil, garlic, basil leaves and salt and anchovy (if using). Let marinate for several hours or overnight.

Five Element Analysis

The bread and olive oil is from the Wood Element, garlic from Metal and salt from the Water Element. That's the basic Five Element composition of Bruschetta. With goat cheese, you add more Metal and with Roasted Peppers you add Fire. Adding cured and salted Meat adds more Water which helps enhance that element and if you use anchovy, it brings in even more. It is also a snack, which makes it more of a Fiery food. The Earth Element is not represented here so that needs to be added - perhaps something sweet would be good. I often bring in figs or dates to go with the cured meat to make it a more balanced snack.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Broccoli and Ham Quiche

I just got back from a month long trip from Europe and I'm very jetlagged! It's the only time that it is hard for me to cook. I also usually feel rather ungrounded and need to cook to find my roots again. This is the time when I go for easy and light and I have no problem with using some premade ingredients like pie crust or puff pastry - two of my favorite freezer items to always have on hand. As usual, the refrigerator was pretty empty, but I also always have lots of breakfast foods on hands for my sons to make as eggs are their go to fast food. So, perusing the contents of the fridge, I found eggs, ham and some fairly wilted broccoli. In the cupboard, there was a red onion languishing. Luckily, the milk was still good so I made a quiche. It's one of those dishes that makes me happy. Of course, you can vary the ingredients within in any way you like and I have made all kinds of quiches. I don't like using cheese although you can, just cut back on the ham and broccoli and add one cup of cheese of your choice - the most classic is Gruyere. I used a Whole Foods Gluten Free Pie Crust that I prebaked but you can use any frozen piecrust - just make sure it is deep dish. Of course, you can always make your own and I do when I am not tired. I used whole Lactaid milk, but cream or half and half makes it much richer. It's not as good with low fat milk, but it's still good. I made a cabbage salad with red peppers and green onions to go with it and my son's brought home an Emerald City Salad with Kale and Sugar Snap Pea Salad from our local PCC health food store and it turned out to be a fabulous meal. Here's my favorite quiche recipe:

Ham and Broccoli Quiche
1 prebaked pie shell (only lightly browned)
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups whole milk (or cream, or half and half or lowfat or combination)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup chopped ham
1/2 red onion, sauteed in 1 Tablespoon butter until lightly carmelized
1 cup broccoli florets, cut up and lightly steamed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together the eggs and milk along with the salt and pepper until mixed thoroughly. Put aside. Put pie shell on baking sheet. In the bottom of the pie shell, sprinkle red onion, ham and then broccoli. Pour egg mixture over. Carefully place in the oven and bake for at least 30 minutes, but possibly up to 45 minutes or until top is lightly browned and filling is barely set in the center and set on the sides.
Cool for 10 - 15 minutes before cutting into wedges.

Five Element Analysis

Eggs belong to the Water Element as they hold the potential for new life and are very nutritious. Ham adds even more of the Water Element. Milk or cream belongs to the Metal Element. Broccoli is from the Wood Element, as the florets are like little trees and a wheat pie crust adds even more Wood. I used a gluten free crust that was made from rice, tapioca and cornstarch so this added more of the Metal Element and a little of the Earth Element too. The carmelized onions contributed some additional Earth. The only thing missing is some Fire and that can be added with a sparkling beverage or coffee or tea. I added some red peppers in the accompanying salads and served strawberries for desert to create a Five Element balance.