Anyone can be "the family chef". You just need good recipes and techniques! Chef Amy Fothergill shares her best recipes with you for quick and easy dishes with an emphasis on gluten-free.

Get information here about her cookbook, The Warm Kitchen: Gluten-Free Recipes Anyone Can Make and Everyone Will Love.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Roasted Tomatoes over Polenta and Mascarpone recipe

When Sarah Henkin and I were trying to come up with a menu item for samples at the Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market FoodWise booth, we decided to make delicious, late summer tomatoes the centerpiece. We needed to keep the dish simple since there were some other events happening that day. Roasted tomatoes on top of something seemed like a good option to me.

Since we eat gluten-free, I tend to not think about using bread with tomatoes (although the thought does leave me with pangs of longing for Acme). My standard fallback is usually polenta. I made a similar dish last year with roasted veggies and gorgonzola (see that post here) so this needed to be different.

For this one, a savory mascarpone came to mind. So picture it: firm polenta on the bottom, a thin layer of soft mascarpone seasoned with salt and pepper and then roasted tomatoes with basil chiffonade on top. In theory, I knew it should work. Before serving, we both tried it. Well let's just say I made a lot of people happy that day.

This dish can be served as an appetizer, side or even main course (it almost tastes like lasagna). The combination of flavors and textures is quite lovely and will certainly impress your guests or family. Making polenta is easy; please don't use the tube! Enjoy.

Scrape all of the juices from the pan and put on top of the polenta
Roasted Tomatoes over Polenta and Mascarpone

2 lbs ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon each thyme and oregano

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced (reserve for later; don't add with tomatoes yet)

3 cups water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup polenta
1/2 cup Italian grated cheese
1 Tablespoon Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic granules
Optional: pinch of crushed red pepper

6 oz mascarpone or goat cheese
1 Tablespoon cream or milk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Few grinds of freshly ground pepper
2 packed Tablespoons basil, chopped (don’t chop until ready to serve)

1.    Pre-heat oven to 375ºF.
2.    Place tomatoes in a bowl with oil and seasonings and toss. Garlic is added in step 4.
3.    Place in roasting pan and bake about 18-20 minutes or until softened and browned, stirring after 10 minutes. While the tomatoes roast, make the polenta (see below).
4.    Add garlic to the tomatoes and bake 3 more minutes.
5.    Remove and place in a bowl.

Firm Polenta

1.    Bring water to a boil in a medium to large pot. Add salt. While water is boiling, slowly add polenta in a steady stream, whisking constantly.
2.    Add cheese, olive oil, pepper, garlic and optionally crushed red pepper. Lower heat and simmer until thickened, stirring occasionally.  If bubbling, lower the heat. This should take 15-20 minutes.
3.    Continue to cook until thick and pour into a greased 9”x13” baking pan.  Cool slightly.
4.    In a small bowl, add mascarpone, milk, salt and pepper. Mix until combined.
5.    Spread cheese mixture on top of polenta. Top with roasted tomatoes and basil. Cut into squares and serve.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What I learned about food and eating on my cleanse

I had an amazing experience this summer when I “cleansed” for 10 days. The reactions I received were interesting; some people thought I was going hard core, you know, like water with lemon and cayenne pepper with maybe some celery sticks for dinner. Many people were supportive. All I know is that I certainly felt I have gained some clarity (and lost some weight).

The Clean Program
Before I started, I read the book “Clean” by Dr. Alejandro Junger. A few friends I know had done it with great success. The cleanse itself is called “The Clean Program” in which you follow instructions given in the book. It’s important to read it first as it helps to understand why you aren’t eating certain food or what is happening to your body on a daily basis. Yes, I tried to fast forward to the end but that didn’t work! I think it’s great to do a cleanse if you are a good candidate (always check with your doctor) but I think what is most important, is what you get out of it afterward. Since I wasn’t cooking all of the time, I had more time to think. I learned that:

  • I don’t need caffeine, wine, sweets or even bread to live.
  • I was not drinking enough water, even though I thought I was. They suggest you pee every hour (well at least on the cleanse; I think I drink a lot but still don’t do that. Let me get another glass of water right now).
  • I could live if I was a little hungry and that I could function without a lot of food.
  • My own personal eating was often triggered by situations like “I’m near the coffee shop; I’ll get a coffee. I want to see a friend; I’ll suggest meeting for lunch. I’m at the Ferry Building; I need to get something to eat.”
  • Cooking food over 118F diminishes its nutritional value (oh, that’s why all of those people are into raw food!).
  • It is easiest to digest food in liquid form (hence the shakes and the juices).
  • For some people, the Clean Program cleanse changed their life. It’s one of the few times, after only 10 days, that I looked at food and people eating it, very differently.
  • My eating is in my control. It’s not my age or my activity level; it’s how much and what type of food I eat.
Healthy Eating
If you are reading this blog post and drinking a diet soda or eating something from a bag, stop and think about what you are really putting into your body. If you don’t think there is a connection between our health and what we eat, take a second, step back and really think about it. This cleanse made me do that. I’m not insisting you try this cleanse but I do think we all need to think about what and how much we eat, especially if you are trying to lose weight. So many people think they can’t do it (I’m too busy, I don’t like to cook, it’s too hard…) but most of it is within reach; in the produce section. Eating raw fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds has a huge impact for me. I used to think I had to eat a certain amount of food but was amazed at how I could function on so little.

Managing Hunger
Yes, I was hungry during the cleanse but I could still work, work-out, be a mom, friend and wife. I had energy and felt good. When I went back to eating regular food, I noticed how much I burped! Guess what I didn’t do on the cleanse? I found I was less hungry and more thirsty. When I was hungry, and it was in between meals, I had some carrots, cukes or a handful of berries or nuts. That really helped. Once I made it to about 5pm, I was fine. Well, except the night when I was at a client’s house and they were cooking steak. I truly felt like the shark in Finding Nemo who tasted the blood! But I made it through. The first week was easier than the second and in my work, by the second week, I had less discipline. All in all though, I felt I did okay.

Earlier in the summer, I had the unfortunate experience of coming down with strep throat. I was basically on a liquid diet for 5 days and did not want to drink coffee; I had tea instead. I found that this was a good test, not that it was intentional, that proved to me I didn’t need coffee. I just drank herbal teas. I would have a decaf chai which I flavored with almond milk and agave nectar or ginger lemon tea. I miss that now!

Juicing and Shakes
In order to aid digestion, two of your three meals are liquid. I usually had one shake and one juice. With my juice, I added some hemp powder. Hemp protein powder is its own whole food source. It has the optimal balance of the Omega 3 and Omega 6 Essential Fatty Acids and is also very rich in fiber, complete protein and branch chain amino acids. It’s green which may not look appetizing but can hardly be tasted. I’m still using it today. I loved shakes with berries for the antioxidant benefits and was able to switch to unsweetened almond and coconut milk pretty easily. Even now, I can have a shake at breakfast and feel full until lunch (as long as I have some water). If I am hungry, my snack might be some nuts and seeds.

One of the suggestions is to drink a vegetable and/or vegetable and fruit juice each day. I’m not talking about orange or something from Jamba Juice. This is the type where you have the special juicer (got my Jack LaLanne at Costco) and you push the veggies or fruit through a shredder to take out the juice. It leaves the pulp behind. After the cleanse, I watched a fascinating documentary called “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” where a man from Australia cures himself by drinking juices for 60 days. From the website, he is described as “100 pounds overweight, loaded up on steroids and suffering from a debilitating autoimmune disease, Joe Cross is at the end of his rope and the end of his hope.” He also helps an American truck driver, Phil Staples, to turn his life around. Phil loses over 200 pounds on the “reboot diet”; completely amazing. He is now an inspirational speaker. Maybe we just need fewer drugs and more juice?

Other Meals
Sometimes my meals were made up of a big salad or quinoa and beans but on other days, I got quite creative. I adapted one of the recipes in the book and made a roasted (i.e. baked) salmon which I served on wilted arugula and spinach with a cilantro pesto. Check this blog entry for the details. Because I was not eating as much, I noticed I didn’t spend as much time prepping. Since I was not able to eat “whatever I wanted”, even when I was home, I had more time. It was really quite fascinating.

I would say the bottom line is if you want to do a cleanse, always talk to a doctor first and make sure you are a good candidate. I called this cleanse “civilized” because I was able to eat some real food. Make sure to read the book first and don’t try to go to the end right away looking for the answers to the test. The stories and information are very interesting. When you step back and think about it, it all makes sense. Plan it in your calendar to make sure you have the time and that there aren’t too many social commitments which would make it difficult. I did mine right before a vacation and eased back into eating 2 days before. If you go off of program for a meal, just start back up the next day. I had to taste some food while cooking and couldn’t seem to resist movie popcorn I had gotten for my kids (but I still ate so much less than normal).

I talked to my brother about it and suggested he just read the book. He asked me “What are the big takeaways” to which I replied:
  • Eat a lot of raw food (fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds)
  • Avoid or limit gluten, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and sugar
  • Drink a lot of water
  • Try to avoid or limit toxins in your food, drinks and environment
It’s not rocket science but it is a change of lifestyle. When I speak to clients, I explain to them that my healthy eating is not 100% perfect and it has taken me 8 years to eat better. I had some mojitos last night and I’m making carrot cake tonight. But, relative to who I was and how I ate in 2003, I feel like I’m on a good path that is working for me and my family. My husband even commented “I am ready to go back to gluten-free”. Yippee!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Roasted salmon with cilantro cashew pesto recipe

Dish Assembly: Brown rice, Wilted greens and Salmon topped with Cilantro pesto.

During a cleanse I did this summer, I was craving something yummy. There was a recipe for salmon in the book but I wanted to make a variation. I was amazed at how satisfying and filling this dish was. I hope you will give it a try! The salmon and greens were on a bed of brown rice.

I ate this for two meals and still had plenty to share with my family. The key to healthy eating when you are busy is cooking in bulk. I roasted 1 1/2 pounds of salmon one day and used it for 2 days after. I'm going to break down the dish into parts. 

Roasted Salmon
Try to buy wild salmon as some of the salmon that is farmed can be dangerous.

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Cut salmon into similar sized pieces (or ask your fish monger to do this for you) so it cooks at the same time. Check for bones. If you feel any, pull out.
Place salmon pieces on a baking sheet lined with foil (this makes clean up much easier) or a greased glass roasting pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in hot oven for approximately 15 minutes or until salmon is mostly firm. Cool slightly before serving. Save remaining salmon for other meals or salads.

Cilantro Cashew Pesto
Place the following in a food processor or blender and process until a paste forms. Add more oil if it's too thick.
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup raw cashews
Juice of 1/2 lime
2-3 Tablespoons safflower oil (or any plain vegetable oil)
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

Wilted Greens
Slice 1/2 onion while heating a medium saute pan. Add 1 teaspoon of olive oil to the hot pan and then immediately add the onion. Add some black pepper only. Cook for about 5 minutes or until onion is translucent and soft. Add 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt.

Add 2-3 cups of spinach and/or arugula to the pan. Toss with onions and cook 1 minute. Turn off heat and remove from burner. Let rest at least 3 minutes.