Archive for February, 2013

Lunch Alone: Coconut Lime Spinach

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

This is not a recipe; this is an invitation to a late winter, pawing towards spring, lunch.  I made this simple little bowl the other day after re-reading a column I had written numbering the health benefits to coconut oil.



Lauric acid is what makes coconut oil a nutritional hero; according to multiple web sources including

lauric acid is a saturated fat made up of medium chain triglycerides – short-length hydrogen atoms that behave differently than the bad saturated fats.  Lauric acid is said to lower the risk of heart disease, raise HDL levels, lower cholesterol, have a positive effect on thyroid function, and lower high blood pressure.  Coconut oil is almost all lauric acid.

Dr. Oz and a bunch of sites on the web claim that just 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day will make your hair shiny, your wrinkles disappear, your herpes go away along with the common cold and AIDS.  It’s an antibacterial and an antiviral.  It improves liver, kidney, and bladder function along with just about everything else.

If you’re still unconvinced about the whole saturated fat thing, know that the Sanskrit word for coconut palm is kalpa vriksha, “tree which gives all that is necessary for living.”

Back to lunch.  Eat this alone because it’s embarrassing how simple it is, but it’s too edgy and bright to miss.  One could file it under “simple and delicious,” “vegan,” even “gluten-free,” but I would file it under things to have for a solo lunch in late February.  The lime is sharp as a pirate; the cumin is south of the border, and the coconut oil is plush.  All of it is good for you.

The flowering quince branches are a delicate pennant of spring.





Lunch Alone:  Coconut Lime Spinach

serves 4


1 tablespoon coconut oil

two peppers sliced, either red, yellow, or orange

salt and pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 pound fresh baby spinach

juice from half a fresh lime

1 cup rice, preferably basmati

chopped salted peanuts or toasted sesame seeds


Prepare rice as usual.

Heat a large saute pan to medium high.  Add coconut oil, and allow to melt.  Add peppers, and saute until beginning to wilt and brown.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Toss in spinach.  Stir and toss until spinach begins to wilt.  Squeeze on lime, and cook a little longer.

Serve over rice.  Garnish with peanuts or sesame seeds.


Sweet & White Potato, Gruyere, and Rosemary Galette

Monday, February 18th, 2013


File this recipe under “Worth Pulling Out The Mandoline For.”

Let’s start with the crust:  two disks of buttery pie dough pressed together, between which lay a lusty sprinkle of fresh rosemary, gruyere cheese and black pepper.

That’s how this galette begins.

It’s middle is paper-thin slices of white potatoes and sweet potatoes –  thus the mandoline – occasionally sprinkled with salt and more gruyere.

It’s end is a pour of warm cream steeped in garlic.  Oh, and a little more gruyere.

Bake for an hour and a half at 450 degrees.

Invite friends over, pour the Pinot Noir, and embrace the blizzard.



Sweet & White Potato, Gruyere and Rosemary Galette


1 double crust pie dough (see below)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Gruyère cheese, divided

1 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled

1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 garlic clove, minced

Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs



Preheat oven to 450°.   Divide the pie dough in two, and roll each out into equal 13-15 inch circles.  Sprinkle one dough with rosemary, pepper, and 1/2 cup cheese; top with remaining piecrust, and roll over it to press the doughs together and make them a little larger.  Lay in a 9-inch springform pan, allowing the ends to hang over the edges;  Chill.

Meanwhile, preferably with a mandoline, thinly slice Yukon gold and sweet potatoes.

Layer one-third each of Yukon gold potatoes, sweet potatoes, and salt in prepared crust. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers twice, pressing layers down slightly to fit.

Warm cream and garlic together just until small bubbles form on the top, and pour over potato layers in pan.  Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese, and fold into the center the pastry edges.  Cover pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet.

Bake at 450° for 1 hour. Uncover and bake 25 minutes or until potatoes are done and crust is richly browned. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully transfer to a serving plate, and remove sides of pan.




Pie Crust


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

6 to 8 Tbsp ice water




Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to roll into a ball.  Remove dough, and divide into two equal disks.

Loose Ends Tied Up: The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference, Dinner Dealer, and EatYourBooks.

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Part 1. The Roger Smith CookBook Writing Conference.

Before I get to cookbook writing, I want to recommend the Roger Smith Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.  The boutique building acts as a canvas for owner Roger Smith’s artistic expression; his artwork is inside and out.  You can’t take a photo in the place without capturing an edge of sculpture or a canvas-full of Mr. Smith’s Matisse-like levity.  Culture happens in many ways at this address; you can read about all of it on Roger Smith Life.


Caught between ominous weather predictions, I only attended two workshops before catching the last Amtrak to Boston.  Condensed, here’s what I learned:

  1. Self-publishing is no longer considered the self-aggrandizing lesser cousin to house-published; the two are equally respected, just different.
  2.   Food writers and cookbook authors are weirdly willy-nilly about documenting sources, as in “this is the most authentic mole recipe in Oaxaca.”
  3.   The Downtown Take on cooking and recipes: “Cooking is performance art; the recipe is its archive.”

The conference was wonderful,  Run by the hugely affable cookbook author and culinary historian, Andrew Sullivan, the conference is a buoyant, brainy collection of the country’s leading culinary historians, researchers, librarians, app designers, blogging experts, cookbook publishers, food writers, etc.  Come hell, high water, and heavy snows next year I’ll attend all of it.  But many of the panel discussions have been taped; you can go to the conference website – linked above – to watch them.

For the record, the food at the opening reception was excellent.




Part 2.  Dinner Dealer

Dinner Dealer  is an adorably packaged deck of cards representing deals on local restaurants.  It tucks easily into a purse, as does any blackjack and old maid player’s deck.  Each card has the glossy stiffness of an ace of hearts and offers, let’s say $20 off of $50 at Ithaki, or $5 off of $20 at The Farm Bar and Grill.  The emphasis here is on LOCAL.  Chain restaurants aren’t invited to play the game, only those owned by local people doing their best.  It’s also a great way to keep track of restaurants you may have tucked into the “that place was great!  How come we never go there anymore?” category. The whole deck costs $25, and represents 40 restaurants, and over $300 worth of savings.  $1 from each sale goes to a local food pantry.  This is one smart package of local love, a great teacher gift,  babysitter, dogwalker thank you, etc.



Part 3.  EatYourBooks – sign up.   NOW.  Stop reading this –  click here  – EatYourBooks.  – NOW.

If you’re still with me, I’ll explain:  EatYourBooks is an online index service for ALL your cookbooks, food magazines, and blogs.  All you do is sign up, and start telling them with one click per book what’s in your cookbook collection, which magazines are piled in weighty columns somewhere in your house, and which blogs you can’t stop checking.  They will put all in an index for you, so that, instead of wasting hours sorting through old Gourmets and Martha Stewarts, you can see exactly where is that spinach dip you made in Easter, 2004.   It’s kind of amazing, and I just keep asking myself why I didn’t sign up a year ago.  What I could have done with a year’s worth of hours spent tracking down recipes… Don’t understand it yet?  Let’s say I want to make a chocolate cake, but I have no idea what kind.  I go to my “bookshelf,” do a search for chocolate cake, and get every single recipe for chocolate cake that’s in my house right now, in every cookbook and every magazine I own.  Each finding will list the main ingredients, so you can get a sense of the recipe, but you still have to go find the cookbook on your shelf, or the magazine on your bedstand.  It’s worth organizing your cookbook shelves for this.


Tuna with 20 Cloves of Garlic

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013


My teenage daughter alerted me that February 14th is “Single Awareness Day,” or S.A.D.  Who knew?

Wikipedia knew.  A few clicks to the online resource tells me that Single Awareness Day is intended to remind couples that one needn’t be in a romantic relationship to enjoy life.  I’m not sure anyone – or two – has the market on making dinner reservations, what 80 percent of Valentine’s Day is;  flowers, chocolate, and often prescription romance being the rest.

S.A.D., according to Wikipedia, may be a response to the Hallmark-ization of the calendar.  Common activities during Singles Awareness Day, Wiki says, include single events, traveling, volunteering, treating oneself to popular activities, gathering of family and friends, and gift giving for oneself. One increasingly popular activity is to travel to Brazil and witness the Brazilian Carnival, coupled with the fact that Brazil doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14, but in June. 

Kinda makes ya wanna be single.  I think there’s a “grass is always greener” lesson embedded here, somewhere between Brazil and a table for two.  By the way, ask your favorite wait-person how they feel about Valentine’s Day.   Which would they prefer, one table of 8 or four tables of two?  Valentine’s Day means greeting the table times four, saying the specials times four, taking the orders times four, including being in four different places at once, because everyone wants to eat at 8:00 p.m. on Valentine’s Day.  Valentine’s Day isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, romantically involved or not.

Naturally, a S.A.D. menu would include messy foods with lots of garlic, dishes one wouldn’t dare eat across from a romantic partner.  I offer a menu here that’s both single and Valentine worthy.   The famous Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic recipe made famous by Patricia Wells is recast as Tuna Steaks with 20 Cloves of Garlic.  Found in my current favorite book, The Food Thesaurus, this recipe hails from the Mediterranean; the tuna and garlic beg for a side of piperade, or onion, yellow peppers and tomato stewed in olive oil.  The combination is nothing less than seductive, which makes this dish a magnificent dinner for a Valentine or for just you.  The garlic, by the way, browns to sweetness, and is no threat to an incoming kiss.



 Tuna with 20 Cloves of Garlic

serves 2, or 1 with leftovers


2  8 0unce tuna or swordfish steaks

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided for the piperade and for brushing fish


3 tablespoons peanut oil

20 cloves garlic, thickly sliced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 small onion, sliced

1 yellow pepper, sliced

1 medium tomato, or 3 canned plum tomatoes, chopped

red pepper flakes

salt to taste

1/2 cup loosely chopped fresh parsley



Brush swordfish or tuna steaks with oil and season them with pepper.  Heat a grill or large saute pan to high.  Either grill the fish or sear it to medium rare, approximately 4 minutes on each side, or until opaque but pink in the middle.

Meanwhile, in a small pan heat peanut oil to hot but not smoking.  Add the garlic, and saute until golden.  Add red wine vinegar and stir to deglaze.   Season with salt to taste.  Pour over fish, and serve with piperade.  Garnish all with more fresh parsley.

To make the piperade:

Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a medium pan to hot but not smoking.  Add onion, and saute until soft and sweet.  Add pepper slices, and saute until softened.  Add tomato, and simmer for five minutes.  Add more olive oil if the combination becomes too dry.  Season with red pepper flakes, and finish with fresh parsley.  Serve hot or at room temperature beside the fish.




Linguini with Capers and Lemon; The Mediterranean Diet

Friday, February 8th, 2013



Remember the Mediterranean Diet?  Do you still eat like a Greek widow or have you stashed all that away with Atkins and South Beach?

In 1993 Oldways Preservation Trust launched a symposium in conjunction with the Harvard School of Public Health, declaring The Mediterranean Diet the optimal diet for good health.   We were still living with no-fat Puritanism then; it was the age of The Snack Well, that monster unleashed by the USDA when in 1977 the U.S. Senate changed the warning on their Dietary Goals to, “for good health, reduce fat.” All fat.  Even the good stuff. (Gifford Dun.  A symposium:  Dietary Fats, Eating Guidelines, and Public Policy.  The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 113, supplement 9B)

The Mediterranean Diet, as put forth by Oldways and Harvard, reclaimed not just a healthy way of eating but a healthy way of living, one that celebrated good food, particularly fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil and fish, and one that wasn’t shackled to fat content.

Dun Gifford founded Oldways the year he launched the Mediterranean Diet.  By all accounts, Gifford was an uber-charismatic man who lived many lives:  He survived the Andrea Doria sinking as a child, was legislative assistant to Edward Kennedy, and campaign coordinator for Robert Kennedy.  Gifford was beside Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen when Kennedy was shot, and was one of the group who wrestled Sirhan-Sirhan to the ground.

In the 1980‘s, few people described themselves as foodies; glassblowing and pottery were artisanal, not food.  But Gifford had traveled extensively in Greece, Italy and Spain, and was part-owner of the Harvest restaurant in Cambridge.  He became passionate about the beautiful food he had experienced in his Mediterranean travels, and convinced of its cultural merits.  Gifford was determined to defeat the 1980‘s trend that made dining an unpalatable, exhaustive game of fat hide-and-seek.  He wanted to revive not only the nutrition, but the culture these foods symbolized: slow, respectful meals among friends, wine included.

Gifford died in 2010, but his partner Sara Baer Sinnott continues the Oldways work.  “Health through heritage,” is the banner still snapping at the Oldways offices on Beacon St. in Boston’s Back Bay.

Here are some interesting anecdotes about the Mediterranean Diet:  The first study recognizing that something was going on in southern Europe was done by the Rockefeller Foundation in 1948.  Greece had invited the foundation to do a post-war analysis of Crete, examining if industrialization may or may not be a fit there.  It was a “comprehensive survey of the demographic, economic, social, health, and dietary characteristics” of the members of 1 out of every 150 households, run by Leland Allbaugh, published as a monograph in 1953. (Marion Nestle, Mediterranean diets:  historical and research overviews.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 61, number 6(s).)

In that study Greek Red Cross nurse volunteers inventoried and weighed the kitchen contents of 128 Cretan households for periods of seven to ten days, concluding that “olives, cereal grains, pulses, wild greens, and herbs, and fruits, together with limited quantities of goat meat and milk, game, and fish have remained the basic Cretan foods for forty centuries, no meal was complete without bread…Olives and olive oil contributed heavily to the energy intake…food seemed literally to be ‘swimming in oil.’  Wine was consumed with the midmorning, noon, and evening meals.” (Nestle)

In the early 1960‘s Cretans had one of the lowest incidences of chronic disease and the highest life expectancy in the world; the Mediterranean Diet (capital M, capital D) “is used in practice to refer to dietary patterns” these families were putting on their tables in those years.  (Nestle)

American physiologist Ancel Keys, developer of “K-rations,” was at Oxford University in 1951, and was invited by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to chair their first conference on nutrition in Rome.  When Keyes asked a Roman Physiologist about the new epidemic of coronary vascular disease, the Italian answered, “we don’t have that here.”  Alarms rang for Keyes, and he scurried to the Mediterranean with his wife to take random serum cholesterol levels.  He found olive oil running in their veins, metaphorically, except for members of the Rotary Club, who were eating a heavier diet of red meat. (Keys Ancel, Mediterranean Diet and public health, personal reflections, Supplement to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, volume 61, number 6(S).)

These observations moved Keyes to the Seven Countries Study, the first epidemiological longitudinal study linking diet to coronary heart disease.  Keys remained a lifelong advocate of the Mediterranean Diet, and maintained a second home in Southern Italy.  Here he describes his interpretation of the Mediterranean diet, as practiced in his village:

“The heart of what we now consider the Mediterranean diet is mainly vegetarian:  pasta in many forms, leaves sprinkled with olive oil, all kinds of vegetables, in season, and often cheese, all finished off with fruit, and frequently washed down with wine…No main meal in the Mediterranean countries is replete without lots of verdure.”  (Keys)

Oldways Preservation Trust understood not only the nutritional legitimacy of the Mediterranean Diet but also its power to preserve cultures: by purchasing couscous and artisanal pastas from countries that hem the Mediterranean, a consumer helps preserve those cultural traditions.

But Oldways has expanded beyond the Mediterranean.  Having developed “Heritage Food Pyramids” for different cultures – Asian, Latino, Vegetarian and African – Oldways hopes to remind or re-introduce these groups to foods and a way of eating that is their heritage, dishes that have sustained these people for centuries and from which they perhaps have been distanced.  In response to National African Heritage and Health week in early February, Olways ran programs in fifteen different cities promoting the African food pyramid, and teaching its recipes.

Oldways works with consumers, health professionals, nutritionists, scientists, journalists, chefs, food professionals, and government policy makers.  Oldways holds conferences, symposiums, and culinary overseas trips in which they introduce food professionals to “nourishing traditions around the world.”  A recent trip to the island of Pantellaria introduced guests to the nutritional benefits of capers, for which the island is renowned.  Capers, even in the small amounts that season meat or pasta, are a great source of antioxidants, flavonoids, and vitamins.

There are zillions of caper and pasta dishes that look more beautiful, with tomatoes and basil that aren’t in season now, but I think this pasta dish is faultless, sharp with that beloved vitamin C and flavonoid duo, lemon and capers, the exact dinner to send a sharp elbow into winter’s side, and gain some Mediterranean points.


Linguini with Capers

serves 4


4 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

1/2 cup white wine

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed if salted, or drained from brine

juice and peel from two lemons

red pepper flakes


1 pound linguini

1/2 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese



Heat a large skillet to medium heat.  When the oil is hot, add shallots, and cook until softened.  Pour in wine, and reduce heat to a simmer for five minutes.  Add capers, lemon peel, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes, and swirl around in pan for a minute on medium heat.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add linguini and cook accordingly.  Drain, reserving a few tablespoons of the water.

Add cheese to the lemon and caper mixture, and pour all over pasta.  Toss well, adding the reserved water.  Keep tossing until all is blended and the sauce has become creamy.  Serve immediately.  Add extra cheese if desired.



Native Shrimp with Cabbage over Linguini

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013


Pandalus borealis.  Northern Shrimp.  Maine Shrimp.  Native Shrimp.  The teeny shrimp with gigantic sweetness from cold New England waters, one of the last few authentic New England foods that truly declare a season, they arrive in fish markets and recipes by all these names.  We need these shrimp.  We need their season – fishing started January 23rd.  It comes in the middle of winter when the calendar is blank – everyone has gone skiing –  and dinner inspiration is on a low simmer.  This truly local food comes along to sweeten life.



Unlike years past, in an effort to keep the Maine shrimp fishery healthy, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has set a catch quota of 1.4 million pounds, a quarter of last year’s 5.3 million pounds.  Buy them when you see them.


This recipe comes from another New England native, Laurel Tarantino.  Laurel cautioned me that the colors aren’t beautiful, but the dish is amazing.  She’s right about the amazing part; the cabbage and onions caramelize, providing a luscious sweet backdrop for the sweeter shrimp. The unique shrimp flavor infuses cabbage and linguni delicately but conclusively; a little minced garlic just reminds there’s a little Italian with this very local catch.   This just may be the best Maine Shrimp preparation I’ve tasted, and I think it’s beautiful, too.  Thank you, Laurel!


Native Shrimp with Cabbage 

serves 4




1 small green cabbage, shredded

1 Spanish onion, sliced

4 – 5 cloves of garlic, minced

4 tablespoon butter

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

salt and pepper

1 pound native shrimp, deheaded and shelled

1 pound linguini

drizzle of olive oil



Heat a large pot of salted water to boil for the linguini.

Heat a large skillet to medium.  Melt butter to bubbling.  Add onion and cabbage, and lower heat to medium-low. Cook for about fifteen minutes or until caramelized.  Add red pepper flakes and taste for salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according the timing on the box.

Add garlic to the vegetables, and cook another five minutes.  Add shrimp, and cook covered for five minutes at the most, but check to see if shrimp have lost their pinkness and are done.

Serve cabbage and shrimp over the linguini.