Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pick of the Week: Fennel

I love licorice, which is probably why I adore anise-flavored fennel. It has the crunch of celery, but so much more flavor. I buy a bulb a week, and throw bits of diced fennel into my daily lunch salad.

It was one of my mom's favorite vegetables because she swore it improved eyesight. I'm not about to argue, since the strongest glasses I've ever worn are 1.25 readers. My eye doctor says if not for computers, I wouldn't even need these. The same for my mom, although my dad, who couldn't stand the taste of fennel, could not make this claim. Mom also said it helps digestion, which is why a plate of sliced fennel always graced our Thanksgiving table.

And don't throw away the delicate feathery green fern-like fronds. The flavor is more delicate than the bulb, and they make a wonderful addition to soups and salads.

Select: Look for firm bulbs, without cracks, bruises or brown spots. Be sure the bulb is firm and the fronds bright green and fresh looking.

Store: In the refrigerator in a plastic bag. As I said, I buy a bulb a week, divide it into seven portions, and throw the diced green into my daily salad. Day 7 fennel might not be as crunchy as Day 1, but it's still fine.

Preparing: Trim off the tough outer leaves and the core end.

Roasting fennel mellows the flavor, and is my favorite way to cook this vegetable. Unfortunately, roasted fennel will never win a beauty pageant, but it will steal your culinary heart. I promise it elevates any meal you pair it with, even a simple grilled fish or chicken breast. Serve it and let guests guess what it is.

1 fennel bulb
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Remove tough outer leaves of the fennel, cut a slice from the core end, and remove the stalks and feathery leaves, but please save them to dice and throw into a salad.
  • Cut the bulb in half. Rub the outside with olive oil.
  • Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay fennel on the foil and sprinkle with balsamic.
  • Roast 15 to 20 minutes, until fennel begins to caramelize. Makes 2 servings.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The sweet season

I just got an e-mail from the South Beach Diet folks, talking about four ways to handle sweet gifts. I've expanded on their ideas a bit, because I swear these four tips were not written by anyone with a sweet tooth.

  1. Regift the treat. Instead of eating the sweets yourself, place them on a decorative platter and bring them to a party. What South Beach fails to mention is that if you do this even 10 minutes before you leave your house, chances are some of the regift might be eaten. My advice is to place the treats on the platter as you are leaving for the party, all dressed and ready to go. Then put it in the trunk. Another suggestion is to bring the goodies into the office. Caution: Do this only if you can put them far, far away from your desk, in some corner you will never visit.
  2. Consider a gift swap. Here's the deal: If someone receives a carton of citrus, they just might be willing to swap it for your box of petits fours. Come on: Bring them to a nursing home.
  3. Tell your family and friends that sweet treat gifts are not acceptable this year. Instead, drop hints about things you really want. Sorry, but in this economy, that is rude. So many people are making gifts from their kitchen, and they are doing it with love. Accept graciously and then decide what to do.
  4. The next one will never work for me: It's OK to allow yourself a few bites of a holiday pie or a little dark chocolate. My brain does not compute the adjectives "few bites" and "little." I know everyone says that for a diet to work, you need to incorporate treats into your eating plan. For me, that's almost impossible. One bite leads to another — and another — and another — until that whole box of chocolates is gone. The folks at South Beach say these treats are acceptable if you continue to follow their eating plan and exercise.

For me, there are two solutions to sweet gifts:

  1. Immediately throw them out. Even if they stay wrapped, if I am hungry enough, there is nothing that will separate me from sugar.
  2. If my husband, Jack, wants the treat, I'll give it to him on the condition that he hides it from me.
I really am still a child.

Monday, December 14, 2009

True confessions

This post is for my daughter, Kara, who told me Saturday night -- between bites of pot roast -- that I lie. And she's right, sort of.

Last week was my vegetarian week, and I really did make it through most of the week, until Kara decided to come for dinner Saturday night. I had just gone grocery shopping and had planned mahi mahi for Saturday's dinner. There wasn't enough for three, so the rump roast that would have gotten the slow cooker treatment Monday became dinner Saturday. So Kara, it's your fault.

No it's not. I have been a horrid eater recently, plagued by lack of sleep and stress. Add to that my absolute lack of exercise, and I've regressed to my old ways. And yes, many of the pounds I managed to shed have come back. So I'm back where I started.

What trips that switch between eating well and eating everything in sight? How can I be so good for weeks, and then puff, throw it all away? I know I am not alone.

Because of scheduling conflicts, I have not seen my health and lifestyles coach, Heather Pierce, professionally in weeks. I did bump into her Friday night, and promised we would get together after the holidays, when what I should have done is made an appointment to meet with her this week. By saying "after the holidays," I was mentally giving myself permission to keep eating. But I didn't realize this until I just wrote it down.

Now I know why people blog.

Gotta go. I'm off to "Walk Away the Pounds" with Leslie Sansone and her posse. And maybe today, I'll remember to chew each bite of food 20 times. Small steps this week.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On to Day 2 of my no-meat fast – and now it’s confession time. One of the reasons I decided to go vegetarian is because I have so many different kinds of pasta and beans in my pantry, I thought it was time to start using them up.

I found this recipe on, and because I had dried adzuki beans, I substituted them for the canned. They needed a simple overnight soak, and then 30 minutes of simmering, which I did early in the morning.

The next three nights will be really simple meals. Tomorrow night, baked potatoes with toppings; Thursday, a frittata; and Friday, spaghetti, hold the meatballs and sausage. Still haven't decided about the weekend, but I suspect by Saturday I'm going to have to throw some meat into Jack's meal. Or not!


1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
3 cups cooked brown rice
2 16-oz. cans adzuki beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-oz. can light coconut milk
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

  • Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat. Sautè the onion and garlic until the onion is translucent.
  • Add the rice, drained beans, coconut milk and thyme if using.
  • Bring to a simmer then cover and cook over low heat until most of the coconut milk has evaporated, about 15 minutes. (The mixture should be moist but not watery.).
  • Garnish with cilantro leaves. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Vegetarian week

For one week, I am going vegetarian. I'm not making a statement -- I just need to get a handle on my eating and eat a tad lighter this week.

It's an experiment I've thought about doing before, but never quite accomplished. Tonight's meal -- our Monday night family dinner with two of our kids, our daughter-in-law, and soon-to-be son-in-law -- will be a hearty lentil soup recipe I found in "Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen," the author of one of my favorite non-meat cookbooks, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." I could make my mom's version of lentil soup, a family favorite for years, but thought I would give this one a try because it adds spinach to the base. I'll double the batch to have leftovers for lunch. I know my husband will ask, "Where's the kielbasa?" -- the must in mom's soup. Not this week, Jack.

Madison suggests adding a California Pinot Noir to your meal. Great suggestion. Giving up meat, chicken and fish is one thing. Giving up alcohol is something entirely different!

1 1/2 cups brown or mixed lentils, soaked if possible
2 to 4 Tblsp. olive oil, plus extra for serving
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, grated or finely diced
1 red bell pepper, toasted, peeled and chopped, or 1 bottle roasted red peppers, chopped
2 Tblsp. chopped parsley
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tblsp. tomato paste
1 Tblsp. prepared mustard
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 bay leaf
6 to 8 cups water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hefty bunch of spinach, stems removed, leaves washed and chopped
Chopped mint or parsley for garnish
Red wine vinegar to taste
  • If you haven't soak the lentils, cover them with hot water and set them aside while you start the rest of the soup.
  • Warm the oil in a wide soup pot, Add the onion, carrot, red pepper and parsley. Cook over medium heat, stirring now and then, until the onion is softened and starting to color, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, then stir in the tomato paste and mustard, working both into the vegetables and cooking until there's a film on the bottom of the pot.
  • Pour in the wine, scrape up the pan juices, then simmer until partially reduced after a few minutes.
  • Drain the lentils and add them to the pot with the bay leaf and water, using the larger amount if the lentils were soaked only briefly.
  • Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook for 30 minutes. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and continue cooking until the lentils are soft, another 10 to 20 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper.
  • Add the spinach to the soup and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Taste the soup and add the mint and a little vinegar to sharpen the flavors.
  • Four serving ideas:
  • Shave thin slices of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Asiago cheese over the soup before serving.
  • Peel, seed and dice one or two tomatoes -- and stir them into the hot soup at the end.
  • Add a cup or so of cooked pasta to the soup just before serving.The pasta may be tiny shapes like orzo or stars or bigger pieces such as little shells or snails.
  • Puree the lentils until very smooth, then add the spinach and any of the garnishes suggested. Makes 2 quarts.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brown Rice

Heather Pierce to my rescue -- yet again. Heather is my nutrition and lifestyles coach, and one of the sweetest and smartest women I know. She also reads my blog, and after reading my "mental slap" post, quickly sent me a reminder about using brown rice as the basis of quick meals.

I needed Heather's gentle reminder, that when you are most stressed and tired, you really have to plan better. If I had made a big batch of brown rice earlier this week, last night, when I got home at midnight, I could have heated it up with some beans, added some mild salsa, and had a nourishing dinner, with enough leftover for lunch today. Instead, a had a handful of trail mix -- OK two handfuls -- and crashed. This nonsense has got to end.

Heather sent me some recipes form Andrea Beaman, a contestant on Top Chef who healed her incurable thyroid disease with health-promoting foods, exercise and other natural therapies. Andrea suggests preparing a Seasonal Stir Fry with Garlic Sauce Sunday night, and incorporating the leftover brown rice into breakfasts, lunches and dinners the next two days. For example, rice can be mixed with rolled oats, dried cranberries, cinnamon and honey for a breakfast porridge, or made into vegetarian fried rice. Leftover stir-fry can be wrapped into a whole grain burrito for lunch, or brown rice can be pared with steamed veggies for lunch.

What follows is Andrea's stir-fry and porridge recipes. This all sounds so healthy, and exactly the fuel I need to keep me going, since the next two weeks show no signs of slowing down.

2 cups brown rice, soaked overnight
3¾ cups water
2 pinches sea salt
1 onion, cut into thick crescents
2-3 carrots, cut on thin diagonals
8 oz. shrimp (or diced chicken, beef, tofu, tempeh)
2 stalks broccoli, florets plus stems cut in thin diagonals
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 Tblsp. shoyu or tamari
¼ -1/3 cup water
1 tbsp. maple syrup
1½ Tblsp. toasted sesame oil
1-2 scallions, minced
  • Bring rice and water to a boil. Add two pinches sea salt and reduce flame to simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes.
  • Add a small amount of water to a frying pan and water sauté onion for 2 minutes. Add carrots and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add shrimp and broccoli cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Combine garlic, shoyu, water, maple syrup and toasted sesame oil. Pour over stir-fry, cover and cook for 2-3 more minutes. Dish out stir-fry on top of cooked brown rice and garnish with scallions. Serves four.
1 cup leftover brown rice
1 cup water
2 Tblsp. rolled oats
2 Tblsp. raisins or other dried fruit
Dash of cinnamon
1 Tblsp. maple syrup or other sweetner
Splash of almond milk

  • Bring rice, water, rolled oats, dried fruit and cinnamon to a boil. Cover and reduce flame to medium for 5-7 minutes. Add sweetener and a splash of your favorite milk.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pick of the Week: Pomegranate

Before pomegranate juice became the it drink. most of us never gave this wondrous fruit a second thought -- except to decorate a holiday wreathe of dress-up a bowl of fruit.

But what about eating the real thing, a gorgeously colored ruby red fruit with a lumpy round leathery skin? In most cases, it never happens.

I often write about my mom, who taught me just about everything I know about fruits and vegetables. She loved them all, treated them with reverence-like care, but thought pomegranates were just too much work for so little reward. In this case, my mom was so wrong.

I urge you to pick one up and give it a try. Inside each fruit are hundreds of seeds called arils, the prize of the pomegranate. Of course, these juicy small sacs are squeezed and made into juice,. But they are also perfect tossed into both savory or sweet recipes, or added to a salad to punch it up a notch.

Selecting: The skin should be shiny and bright red, and although the leathery texture looks as if it needs a good moisturizer, there should be no signs of shriveling. When it comes to this fruit, size really does matter: Buy the biggest one you can find, because they have the most seeds. When you pick it up, it should feel heavy for its size.

Storing: When you see pomegranates at the market, they are ready to eat. They keep in the refrigerator a few weeks, or remove the seeds and freeze them up to a year.

Removing the seeds: A few years ago,I stumbled across the Pomegranate Council's Web site -- -- and learned a very easy, no-mess three-step process for removing the seeds.
  • Cut off the crown, then cut the pomegranate into sections.
  • Place the sections in a bowl of water, then using your fingers, roll out the seeds into the water. You only want the seeds; discard the skin and the membrane.
  • Strain out the water. Voila! Hundreds of ready-to-eat juice sacs.
And now for a recipe from the Council's Web site, that I promise is worth the effort. It makes a glorious presentation, but beware that it is a pretty pricey meal. This just might be our Christmas dinner this year.


1 large of 2 lbs. firm-fleshed, 1/2-inch thick halibut
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil or butter
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup pomegranate juice or 3 Tblsp. pomegranate paste
Tblsp. slivered candied orange peel, purchased or use the recipe that follows
Tblsp. fresh lime juice
1/4 tsp. ground saffron, dissolved in 2
Tblsp. hot water


2 Tblsp. chopped walnuts
Tblsp. pomegranate seeds

  • Rinse fish in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel and rub both sides with 1 teaspoon salt. Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large frying pan and brown onion and garlic. Add all ingredients except the saffron water, lime juice and garnish ingredients, and cook for 3 minutes. Mix well and remove stuffing from heat.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lay fish out on the baking dish. Place a layer of stuffing on one end of the fish about 1 inch long and gently roll from the stuffing end and pin closed if necessary. If you are using halibut pieces, roll each separately. Pour the saffron water, the rest of the oil, and the lime juice over the fish. Place in the oven and bake 10-15 minutes (until the fish flakes easily with a fork), basting from time to time.
  • Arrange the fish on a serving platter. Pour the sauce from the baking dish over the fish and garnish with walnuts and pomegranate seeds. Makes 8 servings.

Candied Orange Peel

2 large oranges, 1/4 inch of top and bottom cut off
4 cups sugar, divided
3 cups water
  • Cut peel on each orange into 4 vertical segments. Remove each segment (including white pith) in 1 piece. Cut into 1/4-inch-wide strips. Cook in large pot of boiling water 15 minutes; drain, rinse, and drain again.
  • Bring 3 cups sugar and 3 cups water to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add peel. Return to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until peel is very soft, about 45 minutes. Drain.
  • Toss peel and 1 cup sugar on rimmed baking sheet, separating strips. Lift peel from sugar; transfer to sheet of foil. Let stand until coating is dry, 1 to 2 days. Wrap and freeze up to 2 months.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The mental slap

Holiday stress has officially taken hold. Between my job in public relations, my side job selling the most gorgeous jewelry from Bali, and my life, there is little time to cook.

Which means I am not eating correctly. I am constantly exhausted, and for me, that translates into little exercise and making poor food choices. What a diffference a few days can make. Last week I was determined to eat correctly this holiday season. This week I am desparately trying to find time to fit in a healthy meal.

This is not good news for my body. But I am not giving up. Instead, I need to plan. I cannot leave the house like I did yesterday without eating breakfast. In fact, what I really need to do is eat three healthy meals a day, and include easy snacks to keep my blood sugar level. And drink water. This is so not rocket science.

And when I reach for something I really should not eat, I will give my hand a mental slap. I learned this trick years ago, and if you remember to do it, it works. As you see your hand reaching for something loaded with sugar and calories, imagine your other hand giving it a good slap. And make it a hard one. There are times when it can actually hurt. Or is that my mind screaming that it really wants that chocolate chip cookie? Whatever, the mental slap can be effective.

I obviously need some help!