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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.
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
330 calories per serving
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.
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.
makes 2 cups
150 calories per serving
This complex richly flavored dish is best balanced against a simple braised protein like fish or served on its own as an appetizer. A robust, loose leaf spinach works best, but sometimes this spinach can be hard to find. I am lucky enough to have a local grocer who carries the real thing all year round. And since I live in New York City, that means shipping spinach in from California or Texas when local product is not available. Alternatives are bagged, pre-washed, or hydroponically grown spinach. For me the taste and texture of the real thing are worth it, but it is a personal decision. Waiting for local product would have reduced the cost, but what can I say. I was impatient!
Spinach grows best in sandy soil and each leaf requires washing several times to remove any little pieces of grit that may have lodged in the crevices. So spinach whether transported or grown locally can be time consuming. My first encounter with the combination of spinach, nuts, and fruit was in Claudia Rodin’s wonderful book The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. Her version calls for pine nuts but I use walnuts. I always have a few walnuts on hand and I prefer the taste.
1 ⅓ pound spinach as purchased fresh and untrimmed (600g)
1 whole shallot (65g) peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (15ml)
¼ teaspoon flake salt
4 tablespoons chopped walnuts (30g), about 6 walnuts as purchased in shell
2 tablespoons currants (30g)
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (15ml)
2 teaspoon first cold pressed olive oil (10ml)
Trim stems and roots from the spinach, wash thoroughly, chop into large pieces, and spin dry in a salad spinner. Remove walnuts from shell and chop. Refresh currants by covering with hot water and letting them soften for about 10 minutes. Assemble other ingredients.
Sauté scallions in olive oil using a sauté pan that comes with a cover and is large enough to hold all the spinach. When the shallots have softened and turned translucent, add balsamic vinegar and let most of it evaporate. Then add the chopped walnuts, softened currants, and finally the spinach, pressing the spinach down into the pan. Do not add any additional water. Cover and leave over low heat until the spinach softens into a mass. Incorporate the walnuts and currant evenly into the spinach and finish with remaining cold pressed olive oil. Tastes as good at room temperature as it does served hot.
The experts agree that spinach is a healthy food. A dark green vegetable as per MyPyramid. A source of essential micro-nutrients as per Nutrition Facts Label. The experts however do not agree about fat. Using olive oil in classic proportions will always exceed the austere requirement of 3 grams per serving* required by the FDA to label a preparation “healthy.” The role of fat in the diet, especially unsaturated fats and oils, is becoming controversial and consensus has not been reached yet.
My friends and family take a liberalized approach to fats and olive oil and devour my spinach faster as I can wash the leaves with comments like “I can eat this all day!” If good cooking is the art of creating food people love to eat, than smart cooking is using those skills to encourage people to eat healthy food. So wouldn’t that mean that olive oil is serving a noble purpose? But there I go again – me and my simplistic mind!
Per Serving (114g): Calories 150, Fat 11g, Saturated Fat 1.5g, Sodium 125mg, Carbohydrate 12g, Fiber 3g, Protein 4g.
Excellent source vitamin A as beta-carotene, folate, magnesium.
Good source fiber, vitamin C, calcium, iron, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, potassium.
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.