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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home-Made Chicken Stock

During soup season, I always have stock in my freezer. One pasture-raised stewing hen and a handful of organic vegetables yield 5 quarts of chicken stock. Not only is it cost effective, but this stock tastes much better than anything you could buy in a box or can.

I like to add a handful of dried beans to stocks to enhance their flavor and increase amounts of protein, B vitamins and minerals (including iron, potassium and magnesium). Soak the beans overnight if you can, to make these nutrients more available.

I also like to add dried chili peppers to soup stocks, especially during cold and flu season. I don't think it makes the stock especially spicy, but others may disagree. Leave them out if you wish.

Feel free to substitute other vegetables and herbs, like parsnips or parsley, or whatever you find at the farmers' market or in the fridge.

1 whole stewing hen or pasture-raised chicken, skin intact
1 large onion, cut into wedges
Dark green tops from 1 bunch leeks, roughly chopped (reserve the white and light green parts for another use if you want, otherwise, add them to the pot as well)
2 to 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 to 3 carrots, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, halved in cross section
¼ cup dried white beans, pre-soaked overnight and rinsed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 to 2 dried chili peppers (optional)

If you’ve never worked with a stewing hen before, you may be surprised to find the ovary inside (see photo). If it hasn't been removed already, remove and discard it. Remove any other organs or parts inside the hen.



Cut the hen into several pieces. The more pieces, the better, because it means an increased amount of surface area available to release nutrients and flavor. Place the pieces inside a large stock pot along with the neck and feet, if available.

Add all of the other ingredients to the pot and cover with water. Bring the contents to a boil, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer slowly for 4 to 5 hours. Cool to room temperature.

Strain to remove any solids, pressing to extract all liquids. Use immediately or store in air-tight containers in the fridge for use within 48 hours or in the freezer for several months.

Yield: Approximately 5 quarts

Friday, October 16, 2009

Picking the Perfect Pumpkin





This morning at Greenmarket, one of my favorite farmers gave me a good pumpkin-picking tip:

Pumpkins that have the widest stems also have the most flavor.

I've never picked my pumpkin by the size of the stem, until now. But it may be a little while before I savor the flavor for myself - I'm still working my way through some acorn squash from last week.

So, for now, my perfect pumpkin will pose as a festive decoration until I'm ready to make some soup.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Red Plum Sauce



The plums at my local farmers’ market are like candy: sweet and fruity, with a surprise center. Taking a big, juicy bite reveals flesh of an amazing red. It’s like no other color: ruby red, translucent, with a touch of purple.

Fresh, ripe plums are perfect just as they are. But if you want to make something with them, consider this simple sauce. It has a flavor so complex – sweet and sour and spicy – that you would never guess it contains only three ingredients.

Serve this plum sauce with halibut, duck, pork, turkey, grilled tofu triangles, or sautéed tempeh strips. Or drizzle it over dessert: whole milk yogurt, fruit kebobs, or poached pears.

If you have any sauce leftover, whisk in some extra virgin olive oil and brown rice vinegar to make a plum vinaigrette.

- 2 generous cups quartered, pitted red plums, skin intact (about 6 medium plums)
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger

Puree all ingredients until smooth. Taste for seasoning and if necessary, add additional maple syrup or ginger, or a pinch of salt (optional).

If you have superior plums, stop here and serve a raw sauce. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

If your plums are past their prime, cook the sauce a bit. Warm the plum puree over low heat until the mixture starts to simmer, then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cook it for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it has reached favorable flavor and consistency. Serve immediately or cool to room temperature and store in the fridge for future use, hot or cold.

Yield: 1½ cups

Monday, October 5, 2009

Healthy Halloween Treats

As Halloween approaches, treats take center stage. But even during Halloween, sweets should be limited.

Overindulgence in refined carbohydrates like white sugar and white flour has been associated with stomachaches, headaches, cavities, mood swings, yeast infections, insulin resistance, and increased levels of triglycerides in the blood. It can also aggravate certain medical conditions, like asthma and arthritis, and increase the risk for others, like obesity, heart disease, type two diabetes and cancer.

Consider giving art supplies, stickers or small games (sold as party favors) as treats instead of food.

If you plan to give edible treats, follow these three rules:

1. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Real foods, even if they are not whole foods, are always better than fake foods.

2. For any recipe, use no more than ¼ cup of a natural sweetener: local unfiltered honey, 100 % maple syrup, or date sugar.

3. Limit children (and adults) to one treat per day.

If you’re going to make your own treats, consider
  • My recipe for Dark Chocolate Cashew Cups. These can be made with other nuts, like pistachios or almonds, or unsweetened dried fruit, like cherries or apricot halves.
  • Make a dark chocolate bark by stirring dried unsweetened cranberries and raw pumpkin seeds into melted chocolate, pouring it into a shallow pan to set in the fridge, and breaking it into pieces to serve.

If you only have time to assemble treats, consider giving out portions of
  • Trail mix made from a combination of raw nuts, raw seeds, dried unsweetened fruit, dried unsweetened coconut, and/or dark chocolate chips
  • Whole wheat pretzels dipped in dark chocolate
  • Whole wheat pretzels dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with chopped raw walnuts or unsweetened dried shredded coconut

If you’re shopping for treats at your farmers’ market or local grocery, consider
  • Pieces of seasonal whole fruit like apples and pears
  • Lara bars (made with dried fruits and nuts)
  • Raw almonds in individual portions (available at Trader Joe’s)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dark Chocolate Cashew Cups



These simple treats are extremely versatile: they are elegant enough to serve after a special meal and easy to put together quickly when you are short on time.

High in antioxidants and omega-3 fats, these dark chocolate cups are a healthy alternative to store-bought Halloween candy. This year, share these treats instead.

I use one piece of special equipment to make them: a silicone mini-muffin baking pan. It makes an ideal mold because each cup is the perfect portion size and the flexible material makes them easy to remove. But you could substitute another silicone mold. As baking pans and ice cube trays, they come in all shapes and sizes.

Not surprisingly, the finished product will only be as good as the ingredients. So use really good chocolate.

- 7 ounces 70% dark chocolate
- Raw whole cashews

Roughly chop the dark chocolate and place it in a glass or stainless steel bowl over a pan of slowly simmering water. Cover and heat until chocolate has just melted. Do not over-heat the chocolate or it will become dry and clumpy, instead of creamy and smooth.

Place 3 whole cashews in the bottom of each mini-muffin cup.

Once the chocolate has melted, pour one tablespoon into each cup, covering the cashews at the bottom. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes or more, until set. Carefully pop out each chocolate cup and transfer to a serving plate or an air-tight storage container.

Makes 18 to 20 dark chocolate cups. Yield will vary with size and shape of mold.

Some equally easy and delicious variations:

Dark Chocolate Almond Cups
Instead of cashews, place 3 raw almonds at the bottom of each cup. Cover with chocolate as directed above.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Cups
Instead of cashews, place 3 dried, unsweetened cherries at the bottom of each cup. Cover with chocolate as directed above.

Dark Chocolate Apricot Cups
Instead of cashews, place 1 dried, unsweetened apricot half at the bottom of each cup. Cover with chocolate as directed above. Sprinkle with chopped raw pistachios.