Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fall has fell

Like the Facebook friend who pondered "Who turned off the heat in Colorado?" I am huddled under a blanket staring at the gloomy, bone-chilling day. Except for the brilliant yellow leaves on the big ol' cottonwood in the backyard, you might think it was winter already.

I like fall. Growing up in Texas, it was my favorite season because it was such a relief after the droning heat of summer. Of course there it didn't usually show up until November.

Even in Colorado, though, the (admittedly too few) colors of autumn are a fresh new look after the dry brown that usually accompanies the end of summer. But this year was a little different. The flood threw a wrench into the works. The grass peeking out from the mantle of fallen leaves is actually green!

But the real reason I love fall is that it begins the season of bounty. Instead of cooling salads and refreshing beverages, we get to revel in the pleasures of pumpkin, eggnog, huge family feasts focused on food and, best of all, chocolate.

Yes, Halloween opens the season of sweets. From candy corn and pillowcases full of Snickers into the pies of Thanksgiving, candy canes and Christmas cookies, then heart-shaped boxes of goodness for Valentine's Day and baskets of sugary treats at Easter. My family has four birthdays in the spring so the indulgence lasts for a good six months.

How to enjoy this flavor fiesta without packing on the pounds? My strategy this year will be to eat more healthfully at mealtime, packing as many good things in as possible. Cooler weather also encourages cooking, at least for me. Warming soups and stews just seem to fit with sweaters and mittens. It doesn't seem to be a crime to let the oven roast away for a hour or two when the heat is already on.

For the past few days, I've been enjoying the fruits of a long-simmered dish I prepared for the church's annual Sages Luncheon, celebrating the folks who have reached their 80th birthdays and beyond. The Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) was a big hit, but I overestimated the amount of food needed. So, leftovers!

The heartiness of the dish has warmed me for several days and I've thought about ways to incorporate even more flavor. I could have easily added some greens to boost the nutrition without seriously affecting flavor. As it was, the colorful peppers practically melted into the rice after the third reheating. Zucchini might have been nice but certainly would have blended in to the medley without adding a lot of color.

What are your thoughts? I'd love to hear some ideas, cuz I really like the dish and want to bump it up a bit.

The first step is cleverly hidden at the end of the recipe so read it all the way through!
Arroz con Pollo

1 whole chicken, cut in pieces
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1Tablespoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup onion in chunks
1/4 cup green pepper seeded and rough chopped
3 Tablespoons cilantro leaves
1/2 Tablespoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons ghee
1 medium onion, diced
 1 medium red or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 cups diced tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon salt
Optional; 1 cup small Spanish olives
 2 cups long grain brown rice, soaked overnight and drained

For the marinade, combine all the ingredients in a large, non-reactive bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat well. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

The sofrito is all those ingredients whirled in a blender or food processor until smooth.

For the rice, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Drain the marinated chicken pieces and lightly pat dry. In a Dutch oven or large frying pan, heat the ghee over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and brown at least 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and set aside. Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to do this in batches.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, bell pepper, cumin and oregano to the pan. Here is where you could add more vegetables if desired. Saute until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the sofrito and saute 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes, stocl and sea salt and simmer 2 minutes. Stir in the drained rice and, if you choose, olives and bring it to a boil. Return the chicken to the pan and push into the rice. Cover with foil and a tight-fitting lid and bake for 45 minutes. 
Source: Bauman College Natural Chef recipe book

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Heavy sigh

Whew, final presentation done!

I never worried about tests and projects when I was in school back in the Dark Ages (i.e, 1960-80s). But I have been losing sleep for a week now rehearsing and rephrasing and reorganizing my discussion of what I finally titled "Taming the Chocolate Monster: How Sweets Fit into a Healthful Diet."

Of course, with a rainbow of fresh fruit (and vegetables!) and a big packet of raw cacao, how could I lose?

Well, I could've panicked when the Vita-Mix motor blew away my notecards listing the nutrition information I'd carefully prepared.

Or maybe when the end of my 45-minute presentation came somewhere around the 30-minute mark. That's the editor in me, always making it shorter, clearer, more concise.

But I'm pretty sure my fellow chef students and the instructors were too busy salivating over the Cuisinart full of Cherry-Choco Energy Bars.

The reality is that it doesn't take much time to make absolutely delish healthful stuff, and if you fill it full of good stuff, people won't want more.

So, since you couldn't be there to sample, here are the two recipes from the presentation:

Chocolate Super Smoothie

A variety of superfoods combine to create a tasty and healthful morning start or midday energizer. And no one will know there’s spinach in it!

1 cup almond milk
½ cup (about 10) pitted cherries
½ cup blueberries
1 medium ripe banana
2 cups spinach
1 stalk celery
2 Tablespoons cacao
2 dates (to taste)

Combine all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

By Kathy Leftwich, adapted from incrediblesmoothies.com
Makes 1 large smoothie (2 servings)

Cost breakdown:
Almond milk from 1 cup (5.5 oz.) almonds @ $6/lb =$2.06
Cherries: ½ cup (2.75 oz.) @$4/lb (.25/oz) = $0.69
Blueberries: ½ cup (2 oz.) @ $3/dry pint (8 oz.) = $0.75
Banana: 5 oz @.69/lb (.04/oz) = $0.20
Celery: 1 stalk of about 8 per head @$0.88 = $0.11
Spinach: 2 oz of 8 oz. box @ $4 = $1
Cacao: 2 T (1 oz.) @$18/lb = $1.12
Total (2 servings)= 5.93 or $2.96 per serving

Cherry-Cocoa Energy Bars

Loaded with protein, fiber and healthy fats, these bars make a delicious and satisfying on-the-go treat.

1½ cups pitted, dried dates
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup whole chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries

Purée dates in food processor until a thick paste forms. Add cocoa powder, chia seeds, cinnamon, cloves and extracts. Pulse until well combined. Add almonds, walnuts and dried cherries; pulse until well mixed.
Spread large sheet of wax paper on work surface. Transfer date mixture to wax paper, and press mixture into 1/2-inch-thick rectangle. Wrap tightly in wax paper, and chill until firm (note: I didn't do this for the presentation and the bars tasted more like brownies right out of the oven!). Cut into 8 bars.

By Kathy Leftwich adapted from dramaticpancake.com
Makes 8 bars

Cost breakdown:
Dates: 4 oz. @ $5/lb =$1.25
Cacao:1/3 cup @ $18/lb = $2.75
Chia: 1/3 cup (2 oz.) @$9.99/lb = $1.25
Cinnamon: ½ tsp. @$1.25/oz. = $0.10
Ground cloves: ¼ tsp @2.50/oz = $0.10
Vanilla: ½ tsp @ $2/oz. = $0.25
Almond extract: ¼ tsp.@ $2/oz. = $0.12
Almonds: ½ c (2.5oz.) @ $6/lb. = $1
Walnuts: ½ c. (2 oz.) @$9/lb = $1
Cherries: ½ c (2 oz.) @ $13/lb = $1.60
Total: $10.17 /8 servings =$1.27

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How things happen

What a week!

Our Bauman kitchen (housed in the beautiful downtown First Congregational Church) buzzed with excitement as we moved into the Animal Protein portion of the curriculum, but what we were learning was only tangentially related to the noteworthy events.

On Monday, after a lesson on fish, we celebrated two birthdays with an extracurricular dessert that blew me away: Sublime Pie, made without sugar, dairy or wheat!

Let me add here that this program has consistently amazed me with the flavors of foods I thought I didn't like, From an early kale dish to a cilantro-based salad dressing to seaweed, I have opened my mouth and mind in so many ways. This pie was just the latest taste-bud-expanding experiences. Here is the ultra-simple recipe our lead teacher, Chef Matt Morrow, adapted from (as he put it) some Australian guy's cookbook on raw food:

Photo by birthday girl Brandi MacKenzie www.BeBeingBecome.com

Sublime Pie


3/4 cup macadamia nuts
3/4 cup pecans
3/4 cup dates, pitted and quartered
1 vanilla bean pod, ground
1 tsp. salt

Grind all ingredients together in a food processor, then press into a springform pan. (This super-simple crust could be used in any dessert application.)


5 to 6 ripe avocados (yes, I meant avocados)
1 to 1.5 cups dessicated coconut
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 to 3/4 cup agave nectar or pure maple syrup

Mix all ingredients together in the food processor, tasting for flavor balance. Pour into the prepared crust and freeze for several hours.

Two days later, after a flight of fancy with chicken, we encountered the irresistible opportunity to hear foodie hero Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma, Food Rules, etc.), who was promoting his new book, Cooked, at the Boulder Bookstore just a few steps away. The question of whether to interrupt our class schedule to hear him was really no dilemma.

The choice became even easier when the local bookstore provided free tickets to the event, which popularity prompted to move to... yes, indeed, the First Congregational Church, just upstairs from our kitchen. We had suggested that we cook him lunch, but the handlers thought there would not be enough time, so we continued with class -- it was lamb day -- and adjusted the schedule to fit the lesson and get the stews cooking before heading upstairs for the lecture.

Pollan is, quite simply, who I wish I could be. He investigates a subject thoroughly, no, exhaustively, visiting places and people that know about the subject and generally immersing himself in all there is to know about it. Then he writes approachable, readable, engaging prose that conveys all that he learned.

And he seems to be a genuinely nice guy. We learned this when he came downstairs to visit with us in the kitchen. Having been told his schedule was tight, we hurriedly prepared a "to-go" container of our lamb stews that had been simmering. No, he wanted to sit and enjoy his meal (a habit that seems to be fading into history). While the class confronted The Lamb Chop (and seven people on a siz-burner stove), Pollan chatted with staff and enjoyed our stews before popping into the kitchen for a photo op. (Sorry you had to run off, Michael, the lamb chops were delish.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Moving On Up

Moving On Up I've been idle on this forum for the past four years and am now moving in a new direction, both professionally and bloggingly. Quite honestly, I felt that sending my random thoughts into the blogosphere for various friends, relatives and spammers to enjoy was at best irrelevant and somewhat like masturbation, pleasuring only oneself. Now that I have decided what I want to be when I grow up, I see more purpose in sharing my "wisdom" with the world. I cannot take full credit for this inspiration. Dave Carson, a noted Boulder architect and member of my beloved Community UCC, suggested that I share the process of going back to school to learn a new trade. That still seemed like the above-mentioned self-pleasure, but many others have asked how I am enjoying the classes. My standard reply is that, even after nearly 40 years of playing in the kitchen, I did not know how much I didn't know about food. And so, after having people clamor for the recipes of two things I made for said church, I decided to revive my dormant blog and share some of my journey of becoming a Natural Chef through Baumann College. The program is focused on nutrition and eating well, that is, the way nature intended us to eat. The basis is SOUL food: Seasonal, Organic, Unrefined, Local. (I got 1 point off my homework on that question because I said the S was for Sustainable, which I think it also needs to be.) The program is about 5 months of thrice-weekly classes, and we are about six weeks into it, having learned some foundations like knife skills, sanitation measures and tons of other useful stuff. What has impressed me so far is how little we know about what we put into our bodies. In the name of efficiency and good ol' American capitalism, food has strayed far from being something to nourish and truly feed us. So often now, we look for the fastest way to get something into our mouths/stomachs, not paying much attention to where it came from and how it got here. The processes and additives turn what we think is good food in something akin to poison. The best example is a yummy, seemingly healthful protein bar I used to enjoy. The second ingredient is something called soy isolates, which I recently learned in class is created by a process so lethal that the factory workers are allowed to spend only a few hours in its presence, and then in full hazmat-type garb. And this is from a company called Nature Valley! I could (and probably will at some point) fill these columns with the horrors the food industry is literally shoving down our throats, but the good news is that it is not so hard to go back to our roots (really!) and make food that does nourish, not poison. Here are two examples from class: Olive Tapenade 1 cup mixed olives 1/2 Tablespoon capers 1 garlic clove, crushed 1 Tablespoons parsley 2 Tablespoons olive oil Put everything except olive oil in a food processor or blender. Pulse it a few time until everything is finely chopped. Add the oil and whir it around a bit. Serve with whole-grain crackers or veggie slices. You can doctor it up to fit your tastes and what's in the pantry. In my last batch, I also used some olives and artichoke hearts from the grocery olive bar, sun-dried tomato pieces and a splash of balsamic vinegar. It disappeared in a flash! Even faster on the hoovered scale was the trail mix balls I adapted from the school's Vital Snack Bar recipe. I think I used too many nuts so they just would not become bars, so I rolled them up and pressed in the nuts that fell out. Feel free to play around with these ingredients, using different nuts, seeds, spices, or dried fruit. The original called for Maca powder, which I couldn't find; protein powder, which I don't usually care for; and coconut, which some don't like. 1 cup lightly toasted nuts 1/2 cup medjool dates, quartered 1/4 cup dried cherries 1/4 cup dried figs 2 Tablespoons cocoa or carob powder 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp. ground cloves 1 Tablespoon orange zest Water as needed In a food processor, grind nuts to finely chopped. Set aside in a separate bowl. Put dates, cherries and figs into food processor with the cocoa/carob powder, spices and zest. Pulse to blend into a thick paste, adding tablespoons of water as needed to make it come together. Add nuts back in and process until it forms a ball. Press mixture into a 9x13 pan (use a smaller pan if a thicker bar if desired). Allow to chill for about an hour, then cut into bars. I am excited to share my love of food and talent for writing with my friends and random folks who happen upon this. I'd love to hear your comments!