Because All Eaters Have a Stake

All of us eaters are activists, whether we realize it or not. We have a major stake in the kind of food system we support with our food choices.

There has been a flurry of activity lately on various food issues, filling my email inbox with alerts on everything ranging from pink slime in school lunches to labeling of genetically engineered foods to ensuring that powerful Monsanto doesn’t tamper with sweet corn. Because there should always be a bit of time dedicated to voicing our support for a healthy, sustainable food system, I wanted to share these with you.

Take a moment today and support the important advocacy efforts below. I know I will!

USDA, STOP USING PINK SLIME IN SCHOOL FOOD

FDA, LABEL GENETICALLY ENGINEERED FOODS

WALMART, SAY NO TO MONSANTO’S SWEET CORN

Have a great weekend!

February Weekly Meal Plan

February is upon us, and though it feels like spring outside, I’m still in winter cooking mode. Here is what I plan to make for dinner next week. A combination of simple weeknight meals (even simpler if you make the lentil soup on Sunday night) and a roast chicken to celebrate the end of the week. I’m assuming various vegetables will be added as side dishes. Don’t forget to consider organic when buying produce for your family. How to make organic choices without breaking the bank is discussed in more detail here.

MONDAY: Winter Lentil Soup with Greens (spinach, kale, chard, etc), crusty bread and a good cheese on the side.

LUNCH NOTE: Make a large batch. Freeze half for future use, send the rest to school for lunch this week.

TUESDAY: Store-bought ravioli of your choice with either a simple marinara sauce and parmesan; or butter/olive oil, sautéed kale and toasted walnuts. Maple-glazed brussels sprouts would make a great side dish.

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My Favorite Food Books of 2011

Life has been a whirlwind the past few weeks since Thanksgiving, filled with traveling spouses, busy weeks at schools, and wonky injured lower backs. I would love to share with all of you details of my experiences learning how to make delicious challah from scratch, and how my kids reacted to roasted pumpkin Thai curry I decided to try out in the midst of the madness. But that wonky lower back is still with me, and time in front of the computer is scarce this week. So instead, in the spirit of the holidays when we all tend to cook/bake more, as well as wrack our brains for those perfect gifts, I though I’d share my favorite food book acquisitions from this year.* I hope this provides inspiration on various fronts.

Happy days to all of you!

Lena

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Bi-Rite’s Eat Good Food: Chicken Soup with Fennel, Chickpeas and Kale

San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, opened in its current incarnation in 1997, is one of the most thoughtful and enjoyable grocery stores in the Bay Area, and my hands-down favorite for shopping and browsing. Bi-Rite’s new book, Eat Good Food, is an accessible, concise and beautifully photographed primer for the home cook. It provides well-curated and informative recommendations on how to create a sustainable, healthy kitchen, with recipes to inspire. It is a perfect extension of Bi-Rite’s foundational philosophy: creating community through food.

This is a grocery store that prides itself on operating like a restaurant, made evident by its attention to detail when it comes to food and service. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the emphasis throughout this book is on how quality and simplicity of ingredients make for better home cooking. But the book, and the market, take things a step further, piecing together stories that illustrate the importance of how food is produced, and how to prioritize practices and farmers that create a healthier food system.

Focusing on themes like “How to Use,”How to Store,” and “How to Buy,”  the book’s chapters are organized much like any market you would encounter: the deli case, the produce department, dry goods. I imagine this book serving as my go-to for remembering which type of flour works best for what purpose, the difference between salt-packed and oil-packed anchovies (remember how much I love anchovies?) and how to make informed food choices in any grocery store. The recipes, interspersed throughout the chapters, are inviting, diverse, seasonally inspired, and for the most part, simple enough for any home chef to tackle.

I selected one of the Winter recipes to try because it is a creative version of a family staple: chicken soup. It also reminded me to step out of our usual routine and try something new. My plan was to start with a familiar food, a sure thing, and take it up a notch by adding unexpected ingredients. Worst case, I assumed they would pull out the additions and stick with the basics. But it turned out to be a best case sort of evening: this soup was a total hit!

Preparation

Adapted from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food

Prep time: 10-15 minutes

Total time: 35-45 minutes

  • 1/2 bunch of kale (or chard, spinach, escarole, etc), ends removed and thinly sliced into ribbons
  • 1 medium head of fennel, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cooked chicken or as desired
  • 1/2 – 1 cup diced carrots (and/or celery)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 2-3 teaspoons fresh herbs if on hand: parsley or marjoram are great options
  • 1 lemon
  • Optional: Several handfuls of croutons, 1 -2 cups cooked brown rice, etc.

Note: The vegetable amounts listed here are meant to be recommendations. Feel free to adjust proportions based on what you have on hand and personal preference.

Using a 4-5 quart Dutch oven or similar pot, heat 1-2 tbsp. olive oil and saute fennel for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic, then washed and thinly sliced kale. Cover and cook the kale-fennel mixture, stirring occasionally, until the kale softens, about 5 minutes. Add diced carrots, bay leaf, herbs and broth, adjust heat to medium-high and bring to a gentle boil. Once at a boil, turn down the heat to allow the soup to simmer for 25-30 minutes until the kale is tender and wilted. A few minutes before the soup is done, add in the cooked chicken and garbanzo beans to warm up. Remove from heat, then add in a squeeze of lemon juice if desired, along with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve as is or throw in some croutons, rice or pasta for a heartier version. Don’t forget to save some leftovers for lunch!

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Warmed Fresh Corn with Cilantro

I’m staring out my window at the pouring late June rain (an entirely bizarre weather pattern for San Francisco) and can’t believe that just two days ago I was enjoying this very summery side dish.

The girls and I had arrived home from warm and sunny Southern California on Sunday evening. The plane landed early, with what felt like plenty of time to whip up a quick dinner (due in large part to the well-stocked fridge my awesome husband left behind). We decided on cheese and mushroom pizza as the main course. One look at the bursting crisper drawers made me want to scrap veggies altogether, until the two beautiful ears of corn caught my eye.

Rather than boil or grill (no time for either), I decided to make a pared down version of a classic summer combo in our house, chopped zucchini, corn, onions and herbs. It was a lovely way to welcome our first summer 2011 corn.

As an aside, I heard an NPR interview over the weekend with star London chef Yotam Ottolenghi, speaking about his new vegetable-oriented cookbook “Plenty.” He totally won me over with his simple yet sophisticated approach to vegetables (not to mention his sexy voice!). Apparently, his secret to home cooking is the liberal use of herbs, which have the magic ability to make even the most humble foods shine. The cookbook is in the mail!

Preparation

Serves 4

With a sharp knife, cut kernels from two corn cobs. This is best done over a bowl since the corn tends to fly in every direction.

Finely chop several handfuls of cilantro (or another fresh herb of choice). You want to end up with 2-3 tablespoons of herbs.

Melt butter (to taste) over medium heat in a pan. Add corn, chopped cilantro, several pinches of salt and a few dashes of pepper to the mixture. Sauté for about 5 minutes, depending on how crunchy or soft you prefer the corn.

School Lunch, New Ideas Please!

On more than one occasion recently, I’ve found myself speaking to a parent about food, mentioning this blog, and immediately getting a request for a post on school lunch.We all can agree that a well-fed child has more patience, more capacity to learn and weather the storms of a school day, and arrives home in a much better mood.  Given the fact that kids often have only 20 minutes to grab a seat, eat, drink socialize and clean up, actually finishing lunch poses a major challenge. It took Ava (and us) until the middle of 2nd grade to figure out our general recipe for success.

Now in my ideal world, children would eat a fresh, healthy, sustainably-sourced and delicious school lunch with their peers on a daily basis. But since that vision, at least in San Francisco, is a long way off, many parents stick to packing a bag lunch. At least some of the time. Which means parents and kids are in constant need of inspiration and ideas, especially as we near the end of the school year and burnout is setting in (at least in our household).

Here is a list of our best lunch strategies, in no particular order. Please add yours to the mix!

1. Hot lunch goes over much better than cold. I can get away with a sandwich (either PB+J or salmon salad, sometimes goat cheese + olive spread) at most once per week. I rely on a kid-sized Thermos to keep the food relatively warm.

2. For hot lunch, its all about leftovers. Having food on hand for lunch is as much a motivator to cook a good dinner as anything.

3. Quick hot lunch components we have time to make in the morning include warmed up beans and a quesadilla (which does get cold but she doesn’t seem to care); tortellini/other pasta and Parmesan cheese; quinoa + garbanzo beans; and similar combos.

4. We used to pack a multi-course spread in small portions. That didn’t go over so well, with lots of food coming home and no longer appetizing after hanging around for hours in a lunch sack. New strategy: pare things down to the very basics: water bottle, hot lunch and fruit or vegetable. This seems to be working.

5. If we get complaints about lunch (to the tune of “I don’t want XYZ anymore!”) it has to be accompanied by a replacement option. Otherwise, the options get limited way too quickly.

6. Cucumber yogurt salad, aka raita or tzatziki, plus bread and butter. Mix a delicious plain yogurt with chopped pieces of cucumber, dill, salt, pepper and maybe one clove of garlic diced into tiny pieces. Throw in a slice of whole grain bread and butter plus fruit.

7. Soup! Yes, this falls into the leftovers category. But worth calling out. Split pea soup, lentil soup, chicken soup, are consistent hits.

8. Sushi. I’ll pick up an avocado roll the day before, make some brown rice as a side, and send it to school. Yes, it’s not exactly homemade. But close enough!

I can’t wait to hear what you would add to this list!