Monday, February 7, 2011

Winter weather has given me too much time to think... beware: sharp opinion below.

Last week, Mark Bittman, a food columnist for the New York Times, wrote a brilliant article entitled “A Food Manifesto for the Future”. Did you read it? If you didn’t, Google the article, read it, and start your education on food in the United States.

Approximately a week earlier, President Obama made his State of the Union address and told the people of the United States that our food is safe. It was a quick remark made to remind us how lucky we are as compared to third world countries where disease traveled through food ravages areas and causes death, but it sat with me. It still sits with me. Why? Because I don’t fully agree with him. How can our food be safe when the obesity rate in this country is over 20%? How can our food be safe when the runoff from our crops is polluting the Gulf of Mexico to a worse extent than the oil spill? How can our food be safe when we have an overload of corn that we scientifically alter to put in processed food because we have no other use for it (other than to give it to cows, which by the way don’t naturally have the ability to digest grains… they are ruminants. Meaning, they eat grass)?

We are at a food crossroads in this country. If we continue down the path we are currently on, obesity rates will continue to climb, farmers will continue to struggle surviving on government subsidies, and most importantly, our environment will continue down the path of utter destruction (and I mean utter, what do we have if we don’t preserve our planet?).

How do we change our ways? First of all, educate yourself. Know where your food is coming from. Know what it is made of. If you want to eat meat, know the process an animal goes through from birth to death. Read of The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen or watch the documentary Food Inc. Heck, read the article I mentioned at the top of this blog… it isn’t long.

Second of all, love the environment. I know organic is expensive and local food is even more expensive than organic, but costs don’t come down unless people buy. We spend less money on food today than our grandparents did. Why? Because we are buying cheap processed crap that can be mass produced and we refuse to demand better. Make an effort to say no to pesticides and hormones. Buy local so that carbon dumping vehicles don’t have to travel cross country to deliver strawberries in winter to your local Kroger in Ohio, furthermore killing the environment. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Lastly, feed your kids the good stuff. I don’t have to go into the studies done on the connection between the hormones we put in our animals and food that are linked to girls getting their periods at earlier ages or the fact that approximately 15% of children in this country are obese. Make an effort to make dinner, have your kids pack their lunches from healthy stuff found in your kitchen, make every Monday vegetarian. Little things to make a big impact.

Okay, I have spoken my piece. I don't claim to be perfect (I love Peapod and I am pretty sure their delivery trucks aren't hybrids), but I am trying my best to do what IS best. I said it before in an earlier blog… It’s time to put your money where your mouth is and make a change. Need some help doing it? Check out these healthy, winter vegetable heavy meals that are good for the environment and you.

Root Vegetable Hash with Poached Eggs and Parsley Pesto

2 cups fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 small garlic clove, peeled

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 1/2 cups Yukon Gold Potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups parsnips, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups turnips , peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups carrots, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 green onions, sliced

4 large eggs

Blend all ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Toss potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, bell pepper, and olive oil on prepared sheet; spread in single layer. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast vegetables until tender, stirring and turning occasionally, about 45 minutes. Stir in garlic; roast 5 minutes longer. Mix in green onions. Fill large skillet halfway with generously salted water; bring to boil. Reduce heat to maintain steady simmer. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup, then slide eggs into simmering water. Poach eggs until softly set, about 3 minutes.
Divide hash among 4 plates. Using slotted spoon, top each serving with 1 poached egg. Drizzle with pesto.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

French Lentils with Roasted Roots, Caramelized Onions, and Thyme
Serves 6

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 40-60 minutes

1 rutabaga/turnip, peeled and diced small
1 celeriac (celery root) peeled and diced small
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup dry French lentils
3 cups vegetable stock or water (I used my own roasted veg broth)
Sea salt
4 tbsp lemon juice
1 large red onion, diced
4 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (I didn’t have any, so I used about 1 cup reconstituted dry wild mushrooms & am saving the cooking liquid for another time)
1 tbsp mirin (I used Shaoxing cooking wine)
2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
Garnish: fresh Italian/flat leaf parsley, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C and line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil (for easy cleanups).

2. In a large bowl, toss the rutabaga & celeriac with 2 tbsp of the olive oil and arrange the vegetables in a single layer on the baking sheet(s) – don’t crowd them or they’ll just steam. Better to use two pans. Roast for 20 minutes and toss. Return to oven and roast until tender (anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on how small the dice). Remove from the oven and set aside.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, rinse the lentils and place in a pot of vegetable broth and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until tender (about 20 minutes). Remove from heat and drain well. Toss with 1 tbsp oil and 1 tbsp lemon juice and set aside.
4. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onion in the remaining oil until they start to brown (5-7 minutes). Add the mushrooms and mirin and continue to sauté. Add the remaining lemon juice, 1 tbsp at a time to deglaze the pan and caramelize the vegetables. Add thyme and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

5. Fold in the lentils and roasted vegetables and sauté just long enough to heat through. Season to taste and toss with parsley.

Carrot Soup
4 Cups vegetable) broth
4 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into half-inch pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
dash of Tobasco
salt & pepper to taste
diced apples for garnish

Place broth, carrots, onion, ginger, garlic, peanut butter, Worcestershire sauce and curry powder in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender. Cool slightly. Blend in batches in a blender or food processor until very smooth. Add nutmeg, Tobasco, salt and pepper. Serve garnished with diced apple.