Friday, March 26, 2010

Health Improvement

Two recent articles of interest concerning food:
The first is great news for promoting healthy (or healthier) eating in America. As part of the health care bill passed Monday and signed by Obama on Tuesday, restaurants chains, notably fast food eateries, will be required to post nutrition facts about foods they're selling us. Hopefully this will cause consumers to realize just how bad certain foods are, and perhaps surprise them at the unhealthiness of certain supposedly good-for-you items, like some salads at fast food chains that have more calories than some of their burgers!

Secondly, this blog post about food subsidies in America shows how backward the US's current agricultural policy is. Rather than subsidizing items with marginal nutritional content, America should subsidize and encourage growing fruits and vegetables. This could go a long way to changing the eating habits of Americans by making healthy foods more affordable and unhealthy foods more costly.

Leave a comment and let me know your opinions and ideas on these issues!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spinach-Cheese Soufflé

Yes, it's has the word "soufflé" in the title, but it really isn't that difficult! The end result is incredibly delicious and the texture light and perfectly, characteristically fluffy. It's very impressive and if the steps are followed, it will be a huge success and a real showstopper! Serve with a simple light green salad.

Soufflé pan
3 T butter
3 T flour
2 c. milk
5 eggs
1 c. grated cheese (cheddar or Swiss work well - something with a sharp, strong flavor)
1 10-oz. box frozen spinach, defrosted (leave out overnight or microwave until not frozen)
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray, grease, or butter the bottom and sides of the soufflé dish so it's ready.
2. Defrost spinach in microwave and squeeze out as much water as possible over the sink.
3. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. (This is to prevent a raw flour taste.)
4. Add milk and increase heat until milk boils. Cook about 5 minutes until thickened (you want slightly thicker than a syrup-like consistency). Once thickened, remove from heat. (This is called a béchamel sauce, or roux.) 
Add grated cheese, the squeezed out spinach, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir until uniformly mixed.
5. Separate eggs, placing the whites into a large bowl, and the yolks into a small bowl. Be careful to not get any yolk at all into the whites, or they will not beat up later! If some falls in, use a spoon to gently scoop it out.
6. Beat the yolks and add to the béchamel, stirring well and quickly while adding them.
7. With an electric mixer, beat up the egg whites for several minutes until they form stiff peaks, as seen below. (They should stand up straight when you turn them upside down.)
8. With a rubber spatula, add about 1/4 of the whites to the béchamel/cheese/spinach mixture. Stir this together to lighten up the béchamel. Then, add the remaining egg whites to the béchamel sauce and gently fold them in. (See note below re: folding.)
9. Immediately place mixture into the prepared soufflé pan and put in preheated oven. 
10. Bake about 30 minutes depending on the oven. The center should not be very jiggly - if it is, keep cooking longer. You can also stick a toothpick or knife into the center of the soufflé. If it comes out clean, it's done. Serve immediately. (Really! It'll deflate within a minute.)

Note: Fold does NOT mean stir! Use the spatula to scoop the mixture from the bottom of the bowl and fold it over onto the top of the mixture. This will eventually incorporate the whites with the béchamel. Do NOT over-mix - this will deflate the egg whites, preventing the soufflé from rising. The whole folding process should take no more than 90 seconds. It's okay if the mixture is not 100% uniformly mixed.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

French Onion Quiche

This delicious tart has such a luscious texture and rich flavor despite so few ingredients! It takes more time than most of my recipes, yet it's not difficult and very versatile. It can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, and thus can be made in advance! Also, leftovers are just as delicious! You can also throw in other pre-cooked, bite-sized veggies into the quiche. Best served with a simple salad.
Serves 6-8

1 pie crust (homemade or bought--I buy it in the refrigerator section near the cream cheese. It comes rolled up, 2 to a package.)
2 T olive oil
4-6 onions (depending on size)
1 1/2 c. milk or cream
4 eggs
salt and pepper
herbs, fresh or dried (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Unroll or roll out pie crust into a pie pan. Prick it all over with a fork. Bake about 12 minutes or until barely golden. Turn oven down to 325°F once you remove the crust from the oven.

2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Thinly slice onions into rings or half rings and add to pan. Caramelize them--cook them for about half an hour, stirring occasionally. Their natural sugars will be brought out and they will melt down and become quite tender, aromatic, golden and sweet. Add salt and pepper and any herbs, if desired.

3. In a bowl mix together milk and/or cream, eggs, salt and pepper, and beat well with a fork.

4. Place onions into pre-cooked pie crust and pour egg mixture over the top. Put in 325°F oven for 45 min - 1 hour until solidified throughout and just set in the center. The more cream you use, the faster the cooking time will be. Using all 2% milk, for instance, will take a decent amount of time longer to cook.
before cooking

cooked and ready to eat!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mango, Avocado and Black Bean Quesadilla

I basically lived off of quesadillas for a while in high school. They're quick, easy and healthy, and very versatile too! I made this one using mango and avocado that were going bad in the fridge.
Serves: 2

4 tortillas (any size/type you like)
1 15-oz. can black beans
1 mango
1 avocado
1 cup grated cheese (cheddar works well, but whatever you like)
Salsa or sour cream, for serving (optional)

1. Drain and rinse well the black beans.
2. Peel mango. Cut flesh away from pit and cut into long slices.
3. Preheat a non-stick pan with a little butter or olive oil over medium heat.
4. Cut avocado in half. Take out pit. Score avocado in long thin slices and use a large spoon to pull it out of the peel.
5. Layer mango, avocado, black beans, and cheese on two tortillas. (Remember, you'll have to flip this soon, so don't use too much filling!) Top with another tortilla and cook in pan until golden brown. Flip and cook 2nd side until golden brown. Cut into wedges with a pizza slicer or knife and enjoy!
Before cooking

Notes: This is very flexible and you can use whatever veggies (or various fruits) you like or have in the quesadilla! It's also good with cumin (or other spices) sprinkled inside while assembling the quesadilla, as my brother Ethan did! Experiment and enjoy! Bon app y'all!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mediterranean Fried Rice

This is a great way to use leftovers. It's super healthy, incredibly quick, and basically any veggie or ingredient could be put in it! Let me know what you put in yours and how it turns out! 
Serves 2
2 T olive oil
1 onion
Couple cloves garlic, minced
2 c. leftover rice
2 eggs
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
Any amount and combination of veggies or meat (leftovers are easiest!)

1. Heat oil over med-high heat in a pan. Add onion and cook for 5 min. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
2. Add veggies and/or meat and cook until cooked through or until heated (if leftover and already cooked).
3. Add rice and cook 5 minutes. Add eggs and scramble them in the pan and mix well until cooked. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in a little red wine or balsamic vinegar, too, if desired.
4. Top with feta cheese.
My version below has beet greens, carrot, onion, feta and garlic.

5-Course Meals for Tots

Teaching Kids to Eat Healthily
Check out this great article from Time magazine. It highlights the importance of teaching kids how to each healthily from a very young age, something I think is incredibly vital and lacking in the US. Doing this would go a long way to improving diets in America and ultimately lowering healthcare costs.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Molasses Whipped Sweet Potatoes

from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies
This dish was served at the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Luncheon. While it does take an hour to roast the sweet potatoes, that time is completely inactive and the end result is unbelievably delicious and full of many layers of flavor! I highly recommend this for a delicious side dish that'll wow anyone. And you can say you're eating like a president!
Serves 4

3 lbs. sweet potatoes (3 medium-big ones)
2 T. butter
1 t. salt
¼ c. orange juice
1½ t. brown sugar
1 T. molasses
1 t. cumin
2 T. maple syrup

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Put sweet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast in oven about 1 hour, until easily pierced with a fork.
2. Once done, peel sweet potatoes while still hot. The skin should come off quite easily. Mash potatoes with a potato masher or fork until desired consistency. (I like pretty smooth but not like baby food.)
3. Add all remaining ingredients and mix well. Serve warm.
Notes: This recipe can easily be made a couple days ahead of time! Seasonings can obviously be modified and adjusted according to personal taste. This could even be sweetened a bit more and served as a bread pudding, pie or cake for dessert. One of Michelle and Barack's favorite foods is sweet potatoes, so bon app y'all!