Friday, July 30, 2010

Bad news for basil lovers...

Summer is the time for basil, and boy do I have an abundance of it.  In Barbara Kingsolver's memoir, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, she talks about her annoyance over a local food writer who gives a recipe for making pesto - in January.  Now is the time to gather up your beautifully-scented basil and pesto away!  *Side note- if you haven't read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle yet, you are really missing out on one of the best food narratives I have ever read.

Since my last post, Lemon Basil Cake, people have been commenting to me about how much they love basil.  I hate to be a downer, but I thought I'd share a bit of sad news, or you can see it as a word of caution, for my fellow basilicum lovers...

About a month or so ago, my fiance Ryan came home with terrible news for me.  He had heard on NPR that there is a basil blight affecting the country's basil population.  Quickly, I ran to my back deck to survey my several plants of what just spells s-u-m-m-e-r to me.  I peeked under their leafs (or leaves? - they're actually both correct), wincing in anticipation for finding that "ugly shade of brown" underneath.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I ran to the next plant, and then the next.  I have been saved!  So far....

Read the article on NPR about this enemy wiping out basil across New York, New Jersey, Ohio, and even Florida.  And if you spot any of this "downy mildew" threat on your beloved basil plants, cut what good leaves you have and for the love of God, immediately proceed to make pesto!  Or, tune into Suburban Spoon for upcoming basil recipes...


Friday, July 23, 2010

Lemon Basil Cake

As I've mentioned before, I am growing several basil plants on mt back deck.  I have been trying to make things, other than pesto, to use it up.

This Lemon Basil cake is moist, delicious, and a fantastic summer dessert.  Be sure to try it!

Lemon Basil Cake

  • 2 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 & 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 & 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp. lemon extract (found at food specialy stores - if you cannot find, use 2 T of lemon zest instead)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup plus 2 T buttermilk
  • 1 & 1/2 cups mixed berries, such as raspberries and blackberries

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in an electric mixer on medium speed, until creamy. Add the eggs, basil, lemon zest, and vanilla extract. Beat until blended.

Add the flour mixture, a third at a time, alternating with the buttermilk and beating on low speed until smooth.

Pour into the prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and cool completely.

Place the cake on a serving plate and top with the berries.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Asian Green Beans

My CSA share for the past 2 weeks has had bunches of green beans.  The fun thing about CSA shares is that you are given items that you may not have thought to buy that week, and you have to be creative.  Bored with plain green beans, I thought I'd try giving them an Asian twist. 

I pulled out my wok, recalled the skills I learned from a Chinese cooking class, and created a delicious accompaniment to the General Tso's chicken I made that night. 

*You can use a regular saute pan if you don't own a wok.

Asian Green Beans
  • 1 pound green beans
  • Canola oil (for wok)
For the sauce:
  • 1 T hoisin sauce
  • 1 T Tamari (dark soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 & 1/2 tsp sugar
To finish:
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 1 T chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 scallions, white part only, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red chili paste

Wash the green beans and drain thoroughly. Trim the ends.
In a small bowl, combine the sauce ingredients and set aside.

Heat the wok on medium heat and add 2 T oil.  Coat the wok all around with the oil.  When the oil is hot (it will shimmer and sizzle when a drop of water is thrown in), add the beans. Stir-fry for 7 - 10 minutes, until beans are bright green and just tender.  Set aside.

Heat 1 T oil in the wok on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chopped garlic, ginger and scallions. Stir-fry briefly for a few seconds until aromatic. Add the chili paste.

Add the green beans to the sauce and toss to coat.  Serve hot, and enjoy!
To learn more about CSA shares, I recommend reading Sharing the Harvest.



Monday, July 19, 2010

Meat Free Monday, by Sir Paul McCartney

Gwyneth Paltrow has a website called GOOP (funny name, I know).  She writes a weekly newsletter about her personal travel notes, recipes, and personal advice.  Now, I don't typically get caught up in celebrity lifestyles, but Gwyneth is, in my opinion, such a beautiful person who lives her life in an admirable way.

I was reading one of her past newsletters where she talks about Meat Free Mondays (the UK's version of  She cites a letter from Paul McCartney himself detailing the pull for Mondays void of meat.  Read his letter below, and check out GOOP for a good read on wholistic living.

--Ok, here’s the story on Meat Free Monday. In 2006, the United Nations issued a report which stated that the livestock industry as a whole was responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the whole of the transport sector put together.

I found this interesting particularly because people at the UN are not a vegetarian society and therefore, could not be accused of bias. They pointed out the following facts:

* The Livestock industry produces gases that are extremely dangerous for the future of our environment.

* The two main gases, methane and nitrous oxide, are considered to be more harmful than CO2 (methane is 21 times more powerful than CO2 and nitrous oxide is 310 times more powerful than CO2) so the data suggests that this is causing a highly dangerous situation for ourselves and, more importantly, for future generations.

* Methane also remains in the atmosphere for 9 to 15 years; nitrous oxide remains in the atmosphere for 114 years, on average, and is 296 times more potent than CO2 - the gases released today will continue to be active in degrading the climate decades from now.

* Livestock production is land intensive: a recent report by Greenpeace on land use in the largest meat producing state in Brazil found that livestock (cattle) production was responsible for vastly more deforestation than soya.

* A third of all cereal crops, and well over 90% of soya, goes into animal feed, not food for humans. Eating less meat will free up a lot of agricultural land which can revert to growing trees and other vegetation, which, in turn, will absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

* Livestock production is water intensive: it accounts for around 8% of global human water use. The estimated 634 gallons of fresh water required to produce one 5.2 ounce (150g) beef burger would be enough for a four-hour shower. For comparison, the same quantity of tofu requires 143 gallons of water to produce.

* Livestock production is the largest source of water pollutants, principally animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops, and sediments from eroded pastures.

* The meat industry is set to double its production by 2050 so even if they manage to lower emissions by 50%, as they have promised to, we will still be in the same position.

With this in mind, my family and I launched Meat Free Monday in the UK, an idea which has been gaining support from people like Tom Parker-Bowles who, after a lifetime of denigrating vegetarians, recently wrote in his Daily Mail column, “I wince at the memory of my boorish antics” and who pronounced himself “intrigued” by MFM: “There’s no doubting the plain common sense of the message…Meat Free Monday is something to really savour”. Another supporter is Al Gore who stated that initiatives like Meat Free Monday “represent a responsible and welcome component of a comprehensive strategy for reducing global warming pollution and simultaneously improving human health."

Even a number of schools have already done this in the UK with great success. The town of Ghent in Belgium has a meat free day and, amazingly, Sao Paulo has one even though Brazil is a large exporter of meat. In Sweden, the government is now labeling food to give the consumer the opportunity to understand the dangers of indiscriminate food consumption and there are many more examples appearing online.

The point is that so many people these days are looking for ways to “do their bit” for the environment. We recycle - something we never would have dreamt of doing in the past. Many people now drive hybrid cars but most people understand that we cannot leave this important issue to the politicians of the world. Recently, at the Copenhagen Conference for Climate Change, this issue was not even on the agenda and so I believe it is once again left to us, the people, to do it ourselves.

It’s amazingly easy to take one day in your week, Monday or any other day, and not eat meat. When you think about it, there are so many great alternatives, for instance, in Italian cooking, so many of the dishes are vegetarian already and Thai and Chinese cuisine are the same. All it means is that you have to think a bit about what you’ll eat that day but, in actual fact, far from being a chore, it’s a fun challenge.

Having been a vegetarian for over 30 years, I find it very simple and in fact, tasty and most enjoyable.

So there it is! Next Monday - don’t eat meat and do your bit to save this beautiful planet of ours. For more information, ideas and lots of meat free recipes, go to the official Meat Free Monday website.

Thanks Goopsters! Thanks Gwyneth!

Rock on ya’ll!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meatless Monday - Grilled Eggplant with Pesto and Pasta

Coming up with ways to use seasonal produce is always a fun challenge for me.  With an abundance of basil in my garden, I always have pesto on hand.  This delicious meatless meal will definitely satisfy!

Grilled Eggplant with Pesto and Pasta (serves 8)
Preheat grill or grill pan to medium-high. 

Brush both sides of eggplant rounds with olive oil.  Season with salt & pepper.

Grill both sides of eggplant for about 3 minutes, until grill marks appear.  Slice into 1/2" by 2" slices.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pot of salted water to box directions.

Combine pasta and eggplant, stir in pesto.  Just before serving, gently stir in mozzarella cheese.  It will melt into gooey goodness!



Friday, July 9, 2010

Zucchini Bread

As you've read, nothing excites me more than summer produce.  A visit to the farm stand is one of my most treasured times, I am in my element among the bright colors and fresh fragrance.

Zucchini is one of those vegetables that just signifies summer (or late spring) for me.  I love using it in kabobs, stir-fries, and bread.  Zucchini bread is great for breakfast, lunch or dinner!  Martha Stewart even suggests you use zucchini bread as a base for chicken salad for hors d'ouevres.

It's not only versatile, but it's good for you!  Zucchini is not only a source of Vitamin C, but also has good amounts of folate, potassium, and vitamin A.

Zucchini Bread (makes 2 loaves)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 & 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cups plus 2 T vegetable oil
  • 2 & 1/2 cups grated zucchini (a food processor with a fitted blade works very well for this)
  • 2 & 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 T walnut oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spray 2 loaf pans with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with a whisk for 2 minutes, until light.  Beat in the sugar.  Stir in the zucchini, vegetable oil, and vanilla and incorporate well.

Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl with the wet ingredients, a bit at a time.  Stop and stir to incorporate every so often.  Add the nuts and walnut oil.

Pour mixture into the prepared pans.  Bake for approximately 1 hour.  Cool on baking racks before you remove from loaf pans.

Slice, serve, and enjoy!


Monday, July 5, 2010

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Pineapple and Avocado

I have to admit, I am not always a super-adventurous foodie.  I love to try new things, but have always been weary of fish.  I can throw back a tuna tartare with the best of them, but when it comes to cooked fish, I have always been hesitant.

Ryan loves fish and often wishes I would try making it.  During a recent trip to Whole Foods, I bit the bullet and purchased 2 Mahi Mahi fillets.  I knew this was one of the milder tasting varieties that I have sampled before and not been adversed to, so I rolled up my sleeves and bit the bullet.  Actually, I doubt I was wearing sleeves, it was 90+ degrees outside, but you get the idea...

A success!  Not only was it tasty, but Ryan could not have been happier.  He even came home during his lunch break today to tidy up his mess in the basement.  I took that to say, "I really appreciate the yummy fish!"

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Pineapple and Avocado

For the fish:
  • 2 Mahi Mahi steaks or fillets (about 6 ounces each)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
For the topping:
  • 1 fresh pineapple, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and diced
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 T fresh lime juice
  • 1 tsp grated lime peel
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper

Rinse Mahi Mahi in cool water and pat dry. Combine oil, lemon juice and ginger and coat both sides of fish. Refrigerate for up to an hour.
Heat grill to medium-high, about 350 degrees.
Combine topping ingredients and set aside.
Add fish to hot grill for 5 minutes on first side.  Flip, and grill 5-10 more minutes on second side, until internal temp is 160 degrees.
Remove from grill to plate and top with pineapple and avocado.  Serve with white rice or polenta.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Food for Thought... Coconut Water

For thousands of years, coconut water has been revered as a natural source of nutrition, wellness, beauty and hydration. It has been used as an intravenous fluid and saved many lives. 

Coconut water has more potassium than a banana and is more hydrating than a sports drink, containing 5 essential electrolytes - sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. 

It contains no fat, no cholesterol and no added sugar.

Coconut water... it's something to think about.

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