Carrot Salad

Grated Spring Carrot Salad 

Carrots.  One of my favorite kitchen stables and a vegetable for all seasons.  I always watch for tender new carrots when they start to appear in the GreenMarket in spring, so sweet and tender you can grate them without peeling most of the time, but I continue to make the salad through the summer.  Grated carrot salad stands by itself as an appetizer or accompanies other raw vegetables for a plate of spring crudités.

  • makes generous 4 cups

  • 170 calories per cup

INGREDIENTS

spring carrots, 1 generous pound (500g)

scallions, 3 each (80 grams)

parsley, handful (10 grams)

classic vinaigrette, 6 tablespoons (90ml)

lemon, one whole

METHOD

Wash and trim carrots.  Grate if necessary.  Wash, trim, and chop scallions and parsley.   Make the vinaigrette in the bottom of a salad bowl as follows.  First add 1 ½ tablespoons vinegar and stir in a generous pinch of salt.  Then add a generous 4 tablespoons good olive oil and whisk.  Add grated carrot, scallions, and parsley.  Mix well.  Adjust salt and add pepper to taste.  Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

ANALYST NOTE

Do not expect salads to be low fat.  Vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and even the finest, freshest olive oil is 100% fat.  There is plenty of good nutrition in a plate of this carrot salad — carotenoids, fiber, vitamin C, monounsaturated i.e. healthy fats, polyphenols.  Moreover, the carotenoids are better absorbed in the presence of fat.  But despite all this good stuff, current regulatory language does not permit me to label this a “healthy” salad.  Too much fat!

Grated Spring Carrots With Scallion & Parsley,  1  cup (150g):  Calories 170, Fat 15g, Saturated Fat 2g, Sodium 210mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 1g.

Classic Risotto

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

Good risotto requires three essentials – time, patience, and a healthy dose of respect for ingredients.  The last risotto I made was at Thanksgiving.  My brother in law, an aspiring amateur, volunteered me.  He had crafted a non-conventional spread, got caught up in other preparations, and asked me to give him a hand.  All the right stuff was assembled and my job became the time and the patience part.    Once you get the hang of making risotto, you really do not need a recipe because much of the work is coaxing the rice into absorbing just the right amount of broth then stirring in some more cheese and butter.

The process is straightforward.   Melt about half the butter in a pan, stir the rice into the melted butter, let it sizzle softly, start adding broth little by little until at the end the broth is absorbed and the rice is cooked just al dente.  Incorporate the rest of the butter and cheese.  Serve immediately.

When one of the essentials is missing, you get a bad risotto.  Not enough time.  Not enough patience.   Or insufficient respect for the integrity of the ingredients.  My first risotto was not all that good, but with practice you get the feel of it and with each repetition, the risotto gets better.

Classic proportions for four people as listed in my favorite Italian recipe source, Le Ricette Regionali Italiane: Quarta Edizione 1976, are as follows:  400 grams rice, 100 grams butter, 1 ½ liters stock, 80 grams parmigiano.  Optional ingredients:  medium onion, olive oil, white wine, saffron, salt, and pepper.   Translated into common American measure:

2 cups short grain rice, measured dry

               7 tablespoons unsalted butter

               6 cups chicken or beef stock

               1 cup grated parmigiano

Now, you may be asking, what has to be done to a sumptuous, sinfully delicious dish like risotto to make an ugly risotto?  Let me explain.

Way back in 1997, as New York City restaurants were expanding their portion sizes and Americans were expanding their waistlines, four nutrition professionals and an intrepid food writer at The New York Times conducted a calorie counting experiment.  The original article is still available at the Times website “Losing Count of Calories as the Plate Fills Up” and that is where I found it recently.

The purpose of that article was to highlight expanding portion sizes in restaurants.  The signature dish was a risotto, which laboratory analysis determined contained 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.

Under the most benign conditions, risotto is certainly not what you would call a light dish.  Just check out the nutrition numbers below for a classic portion.  Good risotto needs the right amount of butter and cheese to make it decadently delicious.

So I said to myself, what would you have to do to classic proportions to get 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat?  Classic proportions by weight are consistent no matter which source you choose, so establishing a ratio is relatively easy.  Ratios work by weight, so bear with me and we will walk through the weights together.

The ratio of rice to butter for the classic version is 4 to 1.  In other words, four parts rice to one part butter plus the handful of cheese.  In metric units, that is 400 grams rice to 100 grams butter.  Or in common measure about 2 cups rice to 7 tablespoons butter.

It actually took me a while to retrofit the ratio to yield 1280 calories and 110 grams of fat.  When I finally succeed, there was a lot more fat and a lot less rice.  The calories from fat go from 44% for the classic risotto to 77% for this risotto.  Starting with the same 400 grams / 2 cups rice, the butter needs to be increased to 600 grams.  That is 43 tablespoons or 1 ⅓ pounds.  Plus that handful of cheese.  And who knows what kind of fat the restaurant used?  Fresh unsalted butter?  Margarine?  Fats of unknown origin?

So how did it taste?  To my great disappointment, not one of the nutrition professionals or even the intrepid food writer commented on how this risotto tasted so we will never know.  What we do know, however, is that whatever this risotto was, it was not classic.  I love butter.  And I love cheese.  But too much of a good thing can get ugly and that is why I decided to call this risotto ugly.   So back it goes filed under nutrition in the archives of the New York Times.  I plan to stay with a small portion of my decadently delicious and very good classic risotto.

 

One Portion Classic Risotto,  about 1 ½ cups (364g):  Calories 530, Fat 26g, Saturated Fat 16g, Sodium 370mg, Carbohydrate 59g, Fiber 2g, Protein 13g.
One Portion Ugly Risotto, about 2 ½  cups (640g):  Calories 1280, Fat 110g, Saturated Fat 70g, Sodium 350mg, Carbohydrate 55g, Fiber 2g, Protein 12g.

Chocolate Almond Cake

A dense, delicious, intensely chocolate cake.  Serve as is or accompany with whipped cream, frozen yogurt, or ice cream.  The origins for this cake are certainly European, but exactly were remains unclear.  I found one version, gâteau au chocolate et aux amandes, in Elizabeth David’s book French Provincial Cooking.  An internet search brought up multiple listings for an Italian version, La Torte Caprese.  And I found a third version, pastel de chocolate alemendras, in Claudia Roden’s recent book The Food of Spain.  These versions all use bar chocolate.  My version uses high fat cocoa powder (20-25%) because, in my opinion, cocoa powder is easier to source and easier to work with.  Just don’t use Dutch Process cocoa powder because the process changes the acid base balance and may keep the eggs from setting.

  •  cost $10

  • serves 8

  • 310 calories per serving

RECIPE

4 extra large eggs

7 tablespoons / 100 g butter

1 cup / 100 g cocoa powder

7 tablespoons / 100 ml strong coffee

1 cup / 100 g almond flour

½ cup / 100 g white sugar

⅛ teaspoon / 0.4 g salt

a spoonful or two of brandy

Bring butter and eggs to room temperature before starting.  Assemble one large stainless steel bowl for egg whites, one medium mixing bowl, one small mixing bowl for egg yolks, and one 8 inch (20cm) high sided cake pan.  An electric hand mixer helps immensely.  Wash all equipment, utensils, and bowls in hot soapy water before starting.    Line the bottom of cake pan with parchment paper.  Make coffee and put aside to cool.  Preheat oven 325°F / 160°C.   Measure or weigh out sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder, and butter.

Start by melting butter in double boiler or small pan sitting in a larger pan of gently boiling water.  Stir ground almonds into melted butter and add a pinch of salt.  Then, using the medium mixing bowl, dissolve the cocoa powder in the cooled coffee.  Add 1 – 2 tablespoons brandy as needed ensure the cocoa is completed dissolved.  The mixture should resemble a very thick paste and will form a ball.

Now incorporate the cocoa-coffee mixture into the butter-almond mixture.  Keep stirring until the mixtures are thoroughly incorporated and become very smooth.  Do not let the temperature go above 125°F / 50°C.  Transfer back to medium bowl and set aside to cool.  Separate egg whites from egg yolks.  Using the electric mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar in small mixing bowl until yolks froth up and turn pale yellow.  Fold egg yolk mixture into cooled chocolate-butter-almond mixture.

Finally whip the egg whites into a foam that holds a soft peak but does not look dry.  Remember egg whites whip best at room temperature in a stainless steel bowl.  Use electric mixer with the balloon whip at high speed.  Both over beating and under beating produce lower volumes.  Once the egg whites are whipped, move fast because whites start to soften as soon as you stop beating.  Gently fold whites into chocolate mixture a third at a time using a spatula and a cutting motion.  Fold only until no visible streaks of white remain.  Pour batter into prepared cake pan.

Place cake in non-convection oven and bake until the sides are set, the center is slightly soft, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.  Usually takes somewhere between 35 minutes and 45 minutes.  Let the cake cool completely, remove from pan, and transfer to a plate.  Hold in the refrigerator or freeze for future use.  Bring cake to room temperature and dust with grated orange peel or powdered sugar before serving.

METRICS

As one of my dietitian colleagues shared with me in a moment of candor “The last think I want to know when I order dessert is how many calories are in a chocolate mousse!”  Many people feel this way.  So if you are one of those people don’t want to know, read no farther.

There is another way to look at the situation.  Indulgences are a significant source of calories and knowing the count enables you to manage the impact.  This cake is made with whole, minimally processed ingredients and provides nutritional value as you can see referenced below.  The problem is the calorie density.  No more, no less than any other chocolate cake out there, but still significant.  For smaller portions, divide cake in 10 pieces at 250 calories each.  For larger portions, divide cake in 6 pieces at 410 calories each.  In my experience, most people just want to enjoy, so when I serve this cake I keep the numbers to myself.

 

Per Serving (80g): Calories 310, Fat 22g, Saturated Fat 9g, Sodium 65mg, Carbohydrate 22g, Fiber 5g, Protein 8g.
Excellent source fiber and magnesium (cocoa, almond flour).
Good source protein (eggs, almond flour), vitamin A (butter), vitamin E (almond flour), iron (cocoa).
Cocoa is a natural source of flavonoids. 
See nutrition label per serving for fat and saturated fat because values exceed reference limits.

Camembert Cheese and Apples

We all love cheese.  But it is the French who have mastered the art of serving cheese and setting it within the structure of a meal.  Try serving cheese accompanied with fruit after the meal instead of a dessert.  Most people do not complain and for those who do, just serve a “real” dessert too.  If you have never tried, you may find cheese is more satisfying at the end of a meal than something sweet and syrupy.  Cheese is fun to experiment with.  Most people quickly determine which types they like and which types they can do without.  Each cheese has its own unique character and its own finite shelf life.  A hard cheese like parmiggiano or aged cheddar will keep months as long as it is stored correctly.  A fresh cheese like goat should be eaten relatively quickly.  A camembert will keep a while.  The delicate aromas and textures of cheese are enhanced when served at room temperature, so remove cheese from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving.  Pictured below is the local Hudson Valley Camember cheese (5.6 ounces/156g) I picked up at my Greenmarket. Hudson Valley Camembert & ThinCrisps

one camembert cheese       6-8 ounces (150g-250g)

cost $7.00 – $10.00

calories depends on size

serves 6 to 10

140 calories per serving

 Green Apples Fall

Pictured here on the left are the green Pepin apples I also picked up at the Greenmarket.   Thin crispbreads, water thins, or a good baguette are a must.  Crispbreads or water thins are my preference because they provide a surface for tasting and savoring cheese but are less calorie dense than bread.  A plain wooden board makes the best serving plate.  The best garnish is an attractive cheese knife.

RECIPE

camembert cheese, count 1 ounce (25g-30g) per person

box of crispbreads

crisp fall apples, count 1/2 apple per person

METRICS

Cheese is a good source of calcium and protein, but is also high in butterfat and for sodium for some people.  See nutrition information for fat content.  So here is the question — can we eat our cheese and be healthy too?  Guess the answer to this one has got to be it depends …

A serving of cheese on my plate is about an ounce or 25 to 30 grams.  Small is beautiful!

Comparing my cheese plate to the calories in an equivalent dessert say a piece of cheesecake, the camembert does well.  A classic restaurant style cheesecake will run about 550 calories, considerable more than my camembert plate.  More extravagant cheesecakes go up exponentially up from there to 1000 calories or more.  As for salt, comparing my camembert to an equivalent weight of American process cheese, the camembert has less sodium.

Liz Thorpe has written a wonderful book chronicling how local cheese makers across our country have reinvented European traditions for American consumption.  Check out The Cheese Chronicles:  A Journey through the Making and Selling of Cheese in American, from Field to Farm to Table, 2009.

 

Per Serving of cheese,crispbread, and apple (103 g):  Calories 140, Fat 7g, Saturated Fat 4g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 20mg, Sodium 290mg, Carbohydrate 14g, Fiber 1g, Protein 6g.

 

 

Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Mayonnaise

I love sardine sandwiches.  Always have.  I learned how to make them from my mom.  She used red onion, some mustard, some lettuce, and always a robust whole grain wheat bread.  So I was pleased to see two version of the sandwich honored recently in The Sandwich Issue of SAVEUR Magazine and delighted to fine both versions were provided by Michael Colameco, an engaging and knowledgeable New York City food writer and broadcaster.

The moment was right and the version with the horseradish mayonnaise caught my eye.  A can of slightly smoked Portuguese sardines packed in extra virgin olive oil was sitting in my cupboard ready to go.  Next to the sardines was a jar of imported roasted red peppers from Italy.  With some improvisation in the making of the horseradish cream and a quick switch from lettuce to arugula, I put together my amateur’s version.  But I stayed with the whole wheat bread.  We never used rye bread when I was growing up in California.  And it is heresy to admit this, but I have never really developed a taste for rye despite the great selection that is now available to me living in New York.

My amateur version is detailed below.  For Chef Mike’s version, check out SAVEUR #137 The Sandwich Issue for his Sardine Sandwich with Horseradish Cream.

 

makes 2 open faced sandwiches

cost $7.00

calories 660

serves 2

330 calories per serving

RECIPE

2 to 4 pieces thinly sliced red onion (30g)

2 tablespoons (30g) mayonnaise

1 teaspoon (1.6g) horseradish powder dissolved in 1 teaspoon water

2 large pieces (100g) multi grain or whole grain wheat bread

10  arugula leaves (20g), trimmed and washed

4 ¼ ounce tin sardines (120g), packed in oil and drained

1 piece roasted red pepper (85g) cut into slices

Incorporate the horseradish powder into the mayonnaise about 20 minutes before assembling the sandwich and keep refrigerated.  Assemble the rest of the ingredients.  Toast the bread.  Start by spreading the horseradish sauce on the toasted bread.  Place the arugula leaves and sliced onion on next.  Remove the sardines from the tin, divide in half, and arrange on top of the onion slices.  Now garnish with the slices of roasted red pepper.  Finish with some black pepper and an optional dash of salt.

METRICS

There are many good nutrition based reasons to enjoy this sardine sandwich.  In return for slightly “unhealthy” levels of fat and sodium, you get exceptionally “healthy” levels protein and fiber, an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, and a respectable amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  This one really needs to be put in a manageable context.  When going out to a diner or a deli, comparatively speaking the sardine sandwich is one of the healthiest items on the menu.   When deciding between a tuna sandwich or a sardine sandwich, the sardine sandwich definitely has the edge.

How to determine when the risks out way the benefits continues to be a raging debate.  There is a saying I heard first in the business world but which, I have just discovered, can actually be attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire:  The perfect is the enemy of the good.   I am beginning to wish the nutrition experts were better read in Enlightenment philosophy.

 

Per Serving (162g):  Calories 320, Fat 19g, Saturated Fat  2.5g, Sodium  630mg, Carbohydrate  18g, Fiber  5g, Protein  17g.  
Excellent Source:  protein, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, Vitamin D, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B12.
Good Source:  iron, niacin.

Black Kale

As with so many of life’s important decisions, the choice of red, curly, or black kale comes down to your taste, your personal preference, and your pocketbook

Curly kale has broad based deep green leaves and a robust, pungent, fully developed favor.  It is cultivated all year long and is easy to pick up in most supermarket chains.  Some cooks blanch the leaves first, while others add a grated carrot to the pan to soften and sweeten the somewhat bitter taste.

makes about 2 cups (500ml)

cost $6.00 for black kale / $3.00 for curly kale

calories 320

serves 2

160 calories per serving

More exotic and expensive are red kale (pictured on the right) and black kale (pictured on the left).  A little milder and a little less pungent, these kales can be found in green markets starting in fall through early winter and in specialty supermarkets all year long. My favorite is cavolo nero or black kale.  Alternatively called dinosaur or laciniato kale, this blackish-green leafy kale is favored by the Tuscans who have developed a special affection for its distinctive taste and gnarled appearance.  Chicken stock enhances flavor and a splash of balsamic vinegar or lemon juice before serving sharpens the flavor.  Check to be sure that excess stock or water has been completely evaporated so the final dish does not weep.

An excellent choice of greens to accompany a ham, a rack of pork, or a roast beef, keep kale in mind as you plan for the upcoming holidays.  Each pound (½ kilo) kale as purchased yields 2 to 2½ cups cooked.

RECIPE

2 bunches (15 ounces/430g) curly, red, or black kale, washed, stemmed, and chopped into medium sized pieces

2 tablespoons (25g) extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves (10g) fresh garlic, peeled and crushed

1 – 2 cups (250ml – 500ml) low sodium chicken stock

¼ teaspoon (.7g) flake salt

Lemon juice or Balsamic vinegar

Warm oil in sauté pan and soften crushed garlic.  Add kale a handful or two at a time using medium heat and stirring as you add each handful.  Sauté the kale until the pieces start to wilt and the oil is evenly distributed, usually about 5 minutes.  Add the salt and start adding stock or water a half cup (100ml) at a time.  Keep adding the stock until the kale is softened.  Keep heat high enough to evaporate each addition of stock.  If more liquid is required, use water.  Braise the kale for another 20 minutes.   Reduce the heat when the kale is softened and all liquid is absorbed or evaporated.  Adjust seasonings and finish with some lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.  At this point, the kale will hold nicely for at least 30 minutes.  Check before serving to be sure that excess stock or water has been completely evaporated so the final dish does not weep.

Note:  Both piece size and cooking time effect the texture of the final product.  The smaller the pieces or the longer the cooking time, the softer and smoother the kale.  Start with medium sized pieces and about 20 minutes, then adjust according to taste.

METRICS

Kale is not cheap, but it is incredible healthy. MyPyramid classifies kale as a dark green vegetable and recommends 2 cups dark greens per week.   Whole Foods uses the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) to numerically rate foods and kale is on top with a score of 1000.  For those of you like me who love kale and are willing to pay the price, we get both flavor and nutrition with each bite.  The question I wrestle with is how to make this incredibly healthy vegetable appealing and acceptable to those of you who do not share my taste for slightly bitter greens.  I can’t guarantee success, but I know where to start.  A judicious amount of salt, a generous amount of fat, some acid, some culinary expertise, and a few discretionary dollars to invest in healthy greens.

Encouraging more people to eat and enjoy a healthy vegetable like kale is the best kind of healthy eating.  So I choose to focus more on the sourcing and cooking end and less on the limits to sodium and fat end.  To my simplistic mind, flexing a little on olive oil and salt makes good nutrition sense as long as more people eat more kale.

 

Per Serving (130g):  Calories 160, Fat 13g, Saturated Fat  2.0g, Sodium 240mg, Carbohydrate  8g, Fiber  2g, Protein  3g.  
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.

Thanksgiving 2010

THE MEAL

Everyone loves Thanksgiving.  It is our national family social get together and our yearly communal sit down.  Probably the only American meal where we actually sit down and eat the same basic set of items.  Roast turkey and gravy.  Cranberries.  Stuffing.  Mashed potatoes.  Squash or pumpkin.  Checking my facsimile edition of The Original Boston School Cooking Book published in 1896, the menu items are pretty much the same.  The notable exception is oyster soup.  Does anyone serve that anymore?  Certainly not me.  I have made many Thanksgiving dinners for family and friends over the years because the tradition deserves to be honored.  But turkey is not my favorite.  A little too bland.  And sometimes a little too dry.   Do I love the day any less?  Absolutely not!  It just means I put aside my taste for a really gamey bird and cook to please the less adventurous who come to my table to indulge.

Looking at a whole meal has always fascinated me.  Eating is holistic.  People eat meals as opposed to individual items and since Americans eat pretty much the same set of items, Thanksgiving is a perfect meal to look at.  Using recipes from my software data base, prices from various local markets, and some off the shelf preparations, here is the menu board for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

Onion Soup, ¾ cup (180ml)

Roast Turkey with Skin, 6 ounces (170g)

Turkey Gravy, ¼ cup (60ml)

Bread Stuffing, ½ cup (100g)

Cranberry Sauce, 2 Tablespoons (35g)

Mashed Potato, ½ cup (105g)

Green Beans with Almonds, ½ cup (120g)

Sparkling Apple Cider, 8 fl oz (230ml)

Pumpkin Pie, 1 piece (155g)

THE METRICS

total cost  $7.40   ●   total calories 1240 per serving

Let’s talk dollars first.   Any foodie worth his salt can drive the cost up by sourcing specialty items.  Free range grain fed turkeys.  Even better heirloom wild turkeys (my personal choice).  Maybe a bottle of vintage wine…  But Thanksgiving is not complex and perhaps it is more in keeping with tradition to keep the meal simple.  Besides, many people prefer the taste of turkey, not the more gamey flavor of a heirloom bird.  My first surprise was how reasonably priced a traditional Thanksgiving could be.

My second surprise was how much time the analysis took.  What I thought would be a straightforward exercise ended up getting complex.  Some items have incomplete data and due diligence is required every step of the way to determine a reasonably accurate calorie count.  That may be one of the reasons why so few meals seem to get analyzed.

Besides the time commitment, however, there may be another reason meals, especially great meals, do not get analyzed.  Companionship, cooking, setting, sharing, savoring – the magic of a great meal is what my fellow foodies love and cherish.  The risk of analysis is that it can break the magic of the moment.  And that is a valid observation.

But let’s just try a bit of analysis by putting the calories into the context of who may be sitting at table.  Aunt Sally is over 50, never exercises, sometimes indulges in sweets but otherwise eats like a bird – miniscule portions, no skin, no dark meat, no gravy, and a whole piece of pumpkin pie.  Makes sense because her daily requirement is about 1600 calories.  She will also get full benefit of the only deep orange vegetable on the table.  Then there is cousin Jeremy.   On the move, physically active, into sports, early twenties, always hungry.  He eats double portions of everything in sight.  Makes sense because his daily requirement is about 3000 calories.  And then there is everyone else in between, but that is enough for now.  A little bit of analysis goes a long way and I need to get cooking …

Happy Thanksgiving.  Enjoy the meal!