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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.
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
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.
camembert cheese, count 1 ounce (25g-30g) per person
box of crispbreads
crisp fall apples, count 1/2 apple per person
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.
Fresh, local, and in season depends on where you live and what is accessible. During the summer, I have easy access to clams because my local greenmarket is on the south shore of Long Island and offers a constant supply of fresh, local fish and shellfish. All last summer I cooked flounder, bluefish, porgies, tuna, even a swordfish caught off Montauk Point. And all last year I kept looking at those delicate Long Island little neck clams. I never bought them because I’m just not used to clams. Love to eat them and never cooked them. So this year I decided to do it. How else can you keep on learning if you don’t try new things? I pulled out my best reference sources, put together a starting structure, and am ready to share the results. Steaming little neck clams open is easy once you get the hang of it. I used a 3 liter pot (actually the bottom of my steamer) as you can see in the picture below. White wine or dry vermouth can be substituted for all or part of the water needed to steam the clams. 100 grams linguine gripped firmly in the hand measures about ¾ inches or 2 cm in diameter. You will also need a medium sized sauté pan and a 2 liter saucepan to cook the pasta. Proportions listed below are for 2 modest servings.
makes 2 cups
440 calories per serving
2 dozen little neck clams (about 900g measured raw in shell), scrubbed and de-sanded as required
1 cup water (¼ liter) for steaming
4 robust cloves fresh garlic (25g), peeled and smashed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (30ml)
⅛ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon oregano
3 ½ ounces dry linguine (100g), made with 100% hard durum wheat or semolina flour
½ cup chopped parsley (15g)
Assemble all ingredients before starting.
Bring water to boil in the bottom of a large pot. When the water is boiling, add the clams. As the clams open, remove each one carefully to a bowl retaining every drop of the flavorful liquid. Steaming the clams open takes about 5 minutes. As soon as the shells are cool, remove clams from shells. Keep clams in a small bowl and strain the remaining liquid to remove any remaining sand or grit. Put aside keeping clams and juice separate. As the clams are steaming, add olive oil to the sauté pan and slowly soften garlic over low heat. Add crushed red pepper and oregano to garlic oil, letting the mixture steep for about five minutes. Add reserved clam juice, increase heat, and reduce volume to about half. Keep sauce warm.
Cook linguine al dente in salted water. Remove with a pasta fork and transfer to the sauté pan. Retain cooking water. Stir in clams and parsley. If more liquid is required, add some from the pasta cooking water. Serve immediately.
Clams are a significant source of protein as well as many essential vitamins and minerals. Olive oil is a natural source of oleic acid.
Total fat exceeds “healthy” limits, but please remember to put this disclaimer in the context of the great fat debate. Saturated fats are within “healthy” range. Your may be asking where does the saturated fat come from? It is the olive oil. Rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, olive also contains a fraction (14%) saturated fatty acid so a couple tablespoons adds up. Sodium is within the current standard of less than 480mg per serving and 140mg per 100 grams. Now let’s step back a moment and consider carbohydrate metrics. My favorite Italian recipe source, Le Reccette Regionali Italiane, lists 100 grams dry pasta per person. My version reduces that amount by half to 50 grams per person. My preference is less pasta and more clams. But that’s the joy of cooking! It is completely up to you.
References: Le Riccette Regionali Italiane (La Cucina Italiana, Quart edizione: settembre 1976), Fish without a doubt, Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin Company 2008)
Pper Serving (255g): 440 Calories, Fat 17g, Saturated Fat 2.5g, Sodium 240mg, Carbohydrate 45g, Fiber 3g, Protein 25g.
Excellent Source: Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B12, Vitamin C, Folate, Iron.
Good Source: Vitamin B6, Vitamin E, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium, Zinc.
Salads are quicker to make when the dressing is handy, so I have always had a bottle of one of the respectable brand names waiting and ready to go. Then one day about a year ago, I read the label. No extra virgin olive oil! I checked other labels and discovered that most of the bottled dressings had no olive oil. Even the most expensive, most prestigious brands! The best I could find was a mention of extra virgin in the list of ingredients along with other oils. So I started experimenting and ended up with this superb dressing. It is significantly more expensive to make and somewhat more cumbersome to use, but the exceptionally fine flavors and clean taste of the vinaigrette for me at least are worth any extra effort and cost.
makes 14 fluid ounces (400g)
cost $12 per carafe
yield 28 tablespoons
90 calories per tablespoon
300 ml (1 ¼ cup) moderately priced extra virgin olive oil
100 ml (6 tablespoons, 2 teaspoons) sherry vinegar, at least 6% acidity
2 teaspoons flake style salt (5.6g )
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Make the vinaigrette in a standard glass 2 cup (500ml) measuring cup. Measure out ingredients in the order listed. Using the metric side of the cup simplifies the process, but standard cup, tablespoon, teaspoon equivalents are also listed. Beat the mixture into a state of emulsification using a wire whisk and pour vinaigrette into a 14 fluid ounce (420ml) storage carafe with a pouring spout.
Like some cooks and some dietitians I know, olive oil and vinegar need encouragement to share the same plate. There are two options: an emulsifier or brute force. This vinaigrette has no emulsifier and therefore requires a lot of agitation. It is easy to make, but can be cumbersome to use. Once made, the carafe of vinaigrette should be stored in the refrigerator. Olive oil gets cloudy and starts to congeal at that temperature. Bring the vinaigrette to room temperature and shake vigorously before pouring.
How much dressing you use depends on the size and composition of the salad and of course on your personal preference. For a small salad appetizer, 1 tablespoon or ½ serving is usually enough for me. Extra virgin olive oil gets very expensive really fast. This carafe was made with a moderately priced oil $16.99 per 500ml. Sometimes I use an even more moderately priced oil $11.99 per 500ml and the carafe only costs me about $9. Going even cheaper, say $15.99 per liter (34 oz), the cost drops to under $7. Expensive extra virgin olive oils start about $21.99 per 500ml and goes exponentially up from there.
Salad greens and intensely colored raw vegetables are loaded with carotenoids and other fat soluble phytonutrients. Full fat salad dressings increase absorption rate so any oil based dressing is preferably to fat free dressings. Extra virgin olive oil is a natural source of both monounsaturated fat and polyphenols. Research on the antioxidant effects of dietary polyphenols has been promising and the FDA actually permits a qualified health claim for monounsaturated fat from olive oil and reduced risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).
My vinaigrette has a good sodium profile. The 2014 National Salt Reduction Initiative sodium target for salad dressing is 570mg per 100g and my homemade version has 560 mg per 100g. For comparison sake, a commercial off the shelf brand can be as high as 1500mg per 100g or more ….
While the health arguments are comforting and provide rational justification, the real reason I continue to make my own comes down to it just tastes better!
Per Tablespoon (14g): Calories 90, Fat 10g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 80mg, Carbohydrate 0g, Fiber 0g, Protein 0g.
A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.
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
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.
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.
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.
October is the month to pull out the soup pot. Mine is made of bonded stainless steel, holds about 3 quarts (3 liters), and has been on the shelf since spring. October days in New York are cool, crisp, and can be spectacularly beautiful. Except when it rains. And sometimes it rains a lot. Either way makes good soup weather. Bean based soups are easy to make but time consuming because beans require soaking time. Quicker and just as satisfying are lentil and split pea soup. Today it is going to be green split peas. October is a good month for roots, bulbs, and tubers and no split pea soup would be complete without carrot, onion, and potato. Some recipes call for ham hocks, pancetta, or bacon. These are delicious, but my recipe works with just vegetables. A freshly chopped garnish at the end, aromatics added during the cooking, and the right amount of salt are my flavoring agents of choice. Yes, I use salt and I am going to tell you why. But first the recipe.
1 pound (450g) dry split peas, rinsed, drained
2 small or 1 large yellow onion (250g) peeled, chopped
2 medium or 1 really big carrot (170g) peeled, chopped
1 potato (160g) scrubbed, quartered, eyes removed, skin intact
4 cups (1 liter) low sodium chicken stock, brick pack is fine
4 – 6 cups (1 – 1 ½ liter) additional water
2 teaspoons Kosher style flake salt (7g)
Aromatics – thyme, oregano, garlic (optional)
Garnish – fresh scallion, fresh parsley, freshly ground black pepper
Put split peas into the soup pot, add potato, carrot, onion, stock, and water. Bring to boil, partially cover, and gently simmer over low heat for about an hour or until the peas are completely soft. Add salt and aromatics about half way through the cooking process. Pass the soup through food mill. Alternatively, blend using an immersion blender or an old fashioned stainless steel egg beater. Add more water for a thinner soup and adjust seasoning. Garnish with fresh cilantro, parsley, scallions, and black pepper.
makes about 12 cups (3 liters) ● total cost $5.00 ● $1.70 per liter
portioning information ● 150 calories per cup ● 230 calories per bowl
On to salt now. Nothing is new about salt being controversial. What is different this time around is the substance of debate. Salt the mineral is tangible, visible, tactile, and real. Sodium the element is elusive, conceptual, and measureable only by calculation or laboratory analysis. Leaving aside the legitimate debate over health consequences of too much sodium, the measurement logistics are challenging.
When the 2010 Dietary Guidelines are finally released later on this year, sodium recommendations will probably be set lower than under previous guidelines. New York City formed a partnership at the beginning of 2010, the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), to guide a voluntary reduction of sodium levels in packaged and restaurant food by 2014. Meanwhile, the restaurant and food industries continue the search for culinary salvation – a sodium free substitute for salt.
As a cook, I love salt. Powerful, robust, an exceptionally effective flavor enhancer, salt does the job. Because of its strength, salt easily overwhelms other more delicate flavors so I have always used a light hand and treated salt with respect.
Salt added in the proportions noted above meets current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) criteria for low sodium and falls below the proposed 2014 target set by the NSRI guidelines for soup. In fact the amount could be increased to just under 2 ¾ teaspoons flaked Kosher style salt and still meet both standards. Serious cooks know that salting to taste is more a matter of personal preference than a function of software analysis. Those of us who salt intuitively may need to be more attentive to tracking our use. As sodium comes under increased scrutiny, our approach to measurement may benefit from analysis. More to come on salt and sodium …
Nutrition Facts per 1 cup serving* (240g): Calories 140, Fat 0g, Saturated Fat 0g, Trans Fat 0g, Cholesterol 0mg, Sodium 230mg, Carbohydrate 24g, Fiber 8g, Protein 10g. Vitamin A 40%, Vitamin C 10%, Calcium 2%, Iron 8%. Excellent Source: vitamin A as beta-carotene, fiber. Good Source protein, thiamine, folate.
*Serving sizes are reference amounts defined and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration). A 2,000 calorie diet is used as the basis for general nutrition advice; however, individual calorie needs may vary.