Archives for category: Food

We planted Swiss chard for the first time this year, our experiment of the year. Chard’s vibrant colors are a tip-off that it is packed with nutrients. Indeed, chard ranks third on the CDC’s list of powerhouse vegetables. I am a huge fan of spinach, so it should follow that I’d enjoy chard too. But it’s just a little too tough for my taste. We tried several recipes (thanks Michelle!) and I gamely chewed, and chewed. photo (23)

Then CRR came up with a great idea. Use the chard as a substitute for spinach to make spanakopita. Brilliant (as he will tell you). Credit where credit is due. We dined on chard-akopita last night with the first of the garden beets. A feast for a king/queen!

CRR’s Chard-akopita

2 lbs chard, washed, trimmed, coarsely chopped

2 T extra virgin olive oil

Handful chopped chives or scallion

2 c crumbled feta

1/2 c grated parmesan

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 c finely chopped fresh dill

1/3 c finely chopped parsley

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

18 9×14 sheets phyllo dough

2 tsp milk

Heat saute pan over medium high heat. Add chard and toss with tongs until it is wilted, about 4 minutes. transfer to a colander to cool. Then wring as much liquid as you can from the wilted chard. Add oil to the pan and cook scallions until soft and fragrant. Add the chard to the pan. When it is cool, add cheese, eggs, herbs, nutmeg and salt.

With a pastry brush, lightly coat bottom and sides of a 9×13 pan. Working quickly, lightly oil one sheet of phyllo and place into pan. Repeat with 8 more sheets, alternately each so the phyllo reaches halfway up the sides. Spread the filling evenly. Then top with 9 more phyllo sheets, oiled one at a time and alternated so they reach up the sides. Then gently push the edges down so the filling is enclosed. With a sharp knife, gently score the top phyllo layer, being careful not to cut through to the filling. Using the same pastry brush, brush the milk along all the score marks; this will keep the phyllo from flaking up. Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temp.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

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Guess what food craze doesn’t even crack the top 10 super foods?

Kale. That’s right – the chewy green stuff that chefs and foodies have been swooning over for far too many years.

You may have guessed: I am not a fan. I have had kale many different ways and only found two to be even remotely palatable. My sister’s kale stir fried with garlic and a Whole Foods salad in the Santa Monica branch that had about a dozen ingredients so the chopped kale didn’t overwhelm the dish.

So with glee I noted the CDC’s list of “Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables,” ranked by density of nutrients packed into each bite. Here’s to a healthy New Year!

#10. Collard Greens. One of our garden neighbors plants collard greens in the fall, along with another healthy but often badly-cooked leaf, the mustard green (#12).

#9. Romaine Lettuce. Big winner at our house, almost always the leafy green of choice.

#8. Parsley. Though I typically use parsley as a herb, ie sparingly, I do pack my gazpacho with lots of chopped parsley. Need to find a few more recipes that use it as a main ingredient. Ideas anyone?

#7. Leaf Lettuce. This is our garden mainstay in the spring.

#6. Chicory. Hmm, need to use this more often!

#5. Spinach. Love it, in almost any savory concoction. Still have a couple frozen packets of our garden spinach. Note to self: Find the Malabar varietal again. It was a tremendous producer in 2014.

#4. Beet Greens. CRR scores on this one. His favorite preparation involves steaming the beet greens and flavoring them with a little vinegar. I prefer the beet itself.

#3. Chard. Maybe we will try growing it this year, to elevate our super-food-iness quotient.

watercress

watercress

#2. Chinese Cabbage. Who knew?

#1. Watercress. It’s on today’s grocery list. Love the peppery taste, so why don’t I buy it more often? It scores a perfect 100 percent nutrient density by the CDC. Call it Mother Nature’s multi-vitamin.

And the evil kale? #13.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

 

My son insisted (as only Sam can insist) that the best soup dumplings in all of Shanghai are made at Yang’s Fry Dumpling.

So I dutifully downloaded a list of 10 Yang’s across this city of 24 million. I kept an eye on the street signs as I traveled across Shanghai on business. Meanwhile, I had some pretty darn good soup dumplings (xiaolongbao) elsewhere: from the 6-for-$1 variety at a little shop serving students at Fudan University to the sophisticated crab soup dumplings at a YuYuan Gardens restaurant where President Clinton once dined.

On my last day in Shanghai, as I strolled People’s Square, I finally spotted a Yang’s, barely a hole in the wall. So even though it was 10:15 am, just a few hours after my buffet breakfast, I knew I had to eat a few more soup dumplings.P1000618

At Yang’s, you can watch the dumplings being made by hand. An assembly line of cooks rolls out dumplings by the hundreds. One worker throws a small ball of dough onto the counter and rolls it thin. The next smears the circle of dough with a congealed fatty sauce (this is what makes the soup part, so don’t flinch!) and adds the small meatball of choice: pork, shrimp, crab. Then the dough is quickly pleated into the classic soup dumpling style and transferred to a huge saute pan to cook by the dozen.

The fun comes next. You carefully place a soup dumpling into a spoon, poke a hole into the top with a chopstick and suck out the soupy goodness. Forget what your mother told you about manners and slurp away. The only sound you’ll hear across the room is slurp slurp slurp. Then carefully dip the dumpling into vinegar and savor the meatball and dough.

This is interactive food at its best. Oh, and Yang’s charges 6RMB ($1) for four big xiaolongbao, a bargain in any language.

P1000619Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

The season of spooktacular pumpkins is upon us, an October ritual that brings back so many family memories. When a friend of Sam’s visited for a week, she brought her own memories of making pumpkin pie with her father.

So Tessa and Sam baked pumpkin pie last weekend. They walked over to the pumpkin patch at the Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill Church (“Buy a pumpkin, help the world”) and picked out a sugar pumpkin. They cut up the pumpkin and boiled it and then pulled out my tried and true, battered and splattered Betty Crocker’s Cookbook that my mother gave me when I was a teen.

This is a basic pie recipe that I have prepared since I was 10. I am still drawn to this cookbook for nostalgia – whenever I use it, I think about my mom. There are no fancy recipes in it. Nothing like the fabulous pumpkin desserts that our friend Sandy bakes every Thanksgiving. Or the touch of genius that Laurie puts in her pumpkin pie — diced crystalized ginger. Just solid American cooking.

It was fun watching Sam and Tessa cook together in the kitchen. It was quite a team production. The pie was delicious and a few days later we begged them to make another. As if on cue, the bottom heating element of the oven broke down. We concocted a plan to cook the pie using the broiler – we put the pie pan on the lowest rack, and turned the broiler on for 5 minutes, then off for 5 minutes. Pie turned out great. A cloud of whipped cream cured any small imperfections.

Betty Crocker’s Pumpkin Pie

2 c. cooked pumpkin (see note)

2 eggs

¾ c. sugar

½ t. salt

1 t. cinnamon

½ t. ground ginger

½ t. ground cloves

1 can evaporated milk

Note: Cut a sugar pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds. Place the halves cut-side down in a baking pan. Add 1 cup of water so the pumpkin doesn’t dry out. Bake at 350 for about an hour, or until a knife inserts easily. Cool, then scrape the pumpkin flesh and discard the skin. Puree pumpkin in a food processor until very smooth.

Beat the eggs. Add the pumpkin. Then add the other ingredients and mix until smooth. Carefully pour the custard into a prepared 9-inch pie crust. Cover the edges of the pie crust with foil so they don’t burn. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, lower temp to 350 and bake another 40 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

CRR and I finished our circuit of the Del Ray farmer’s market, a Saturday morning ritual. It can be hard on your wallet – the vendors demand, and get, top dollar for their organic, pesticide-free fruits and veggies and the homemade focaccia and apple cider donuts. Today’s take was pretty light for us – new potatoes, leeks and onions.

We jumped into the car and drove around the corner. There, little more than a block away from the happy buzz of the boomers and Gen-Xers at the market, a hundred people quietly stood in line outside the Alexandria social services office. The line stretched around the block. They were waiting for food assistance.

Almost one in 10 Virginians doesn’t know where their next meal will come from. The government has a bureaucratic name for it: food insecurity.

Also known as hunger.

There are dozens of ways to help those who are hungry in this land of bounty. The Boy Scouts have a food drive every year. So do the postal carriers and AARP. My church publishes places you can volunteer to help people who are hungry. Next Saturday, for example, church members are ‘gleaning’ produce that will go to food banks.

In Alexandria, 11.9 percent of the residents are food insecure. That’s 16,600 of my neighbors. Curious about your community? County-by-county hunger stats here.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

I am a big fan of lasagna, an amazingly adaptable dish that I have tinkered with for years. It can also be assembled ahead, a bonus for a working mom.

When no-boil lasagna noodles hit the market, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. No more boiling! No more tearing the wet noodles! I have used them for several years, to great success. A lasagna made recently with whole wheat no-boil noodles elicited a rare “best ever” comment from my son.

Then I saw “Barefoot Contessa” Ina Garten describing her lasagna trick – just soak regular noodles in super hot water for a few minutes. That got me wondering, do they have to be cooked at all?

A quick Google search of chat boards convinced me that, no, you don’t need to boil even regular lasagna noodles if you provide enough moisture in the other ingredients to “cook” the pasta while it is baking.

Why does this matter? $$$ The pasta industry is selling the no-boil sheets for about double the cost of regular lasagna noodles.

I won’t inflict my lasagna recipe on you, mostly because it changes every time I make it. Sometimes I sub thin-sliced sautéed mushrooms for the meat. Sometimes I add spinach for the extra nutrition. I’ve substituted small curd cottage cheese for the ricotta (just drain off the extra liquid).

Last weekend’s lasagna used my fresh-made tomato sauce (a little on the thin side, so 4 cups was perfect with the ‘regular’ noodles) and 1 cup of blanched chopped spinach folded into the ricotta. The noodles cooked perfectly.

Makes me wonder: What other cooking tricks have eluded me all these years?

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening

In another century, 1986 to be precise, I made a beet puree that guests and CRR swooned over. I clipped the recipe from Parade magazine and cooked it several times before the business of life intervened, the recipe was lost and I moved on to other concoctions.

When we started gardening again in 2008, we grew a bumper crop of beets, which forced me to stretch my beets repertoire beyond the tried and true: boiled, skinned, cut into one-inch cubes, spritzed with butter, salt and pepper.

A few years ago, CRR asked about the beet puree. I couldn’t find the recipe in my files anywhere. But the miracles of the Internet brought forth a PDF of the old Parade magazine recipe (see here). I was a little aghast – it called for two sticks of butter! – but I set out to recreate a healthier version. I’ve since made it a dozen times because we always grow plenty of beets. We served it again last night for friends, who loved it.

Coriander Beet Puree

4 medium beets or 3 large

1 medium onion

4 T butter

¼ c. cider vinegar

1 T. sugar

1 T. ground coriander

1 t. salt

Boil the beets til just tender, let cool, then slip off skins and roughly chop. Set aside. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Roughly chop the onion and slowly cook it in a saucepan, covered, with the melted butter for 20 minutes. Add the beets and remaining ingredients, stir to coat, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Puree in batches (I like a little texture to it, but puree it smooth if that is your preference.) Return to saucepan with an extra pat of butter and heat to serve. If it is too thick, just add a little water.

Sandy Johnson is a journalist and a gardener, equally passionate about both. She lives in Alexandria, VA.  Visit her on her blog, Grassroots & Gardening