Fruit Meets Fennel Salad

I made this kind of late one night last week and it was so good we just scarfed it down.  No pictures or anything! So I thought I’d make it again and share it with you this time. The recipe morphed a bit. The first time I made it I used half a granny smith apple thinly sliced. This time I wanted to use up a grapefruit, pomegranate and some tangerines.

I use and recommend only organic ingredients.

FENNEL SALAD (Serves 4)

  • 2 cups thinly sliced fennel bulb
  • 1 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1 red grapefruit, supremed
  • 2 tangerines, peeled with all pith removed
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced roasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup low fat plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh crushed garlic
  • juice of half a lime
  • 1/4 teaspoon lime zest
  • salt
  • pepper
  • pinch of celery seeds
  • pomegranate arils
First "supreme" the grapefruit by removing the top and bottom and then carefully slicing away the sides.

First “supreme” the grapefruit by removing the top and bottom and then carefully slicing away the sides.

Turn the grapefruit over and continue trimming the peel. Then open the grapefruit and clean the pith and any seeds in the center.

Turn the grapefruit over and continue trimming the peel. Then open the grapefruit and clean the pith and any seeds in the center.

Separate the sections, removing all the connective tissue.

Separate the sections, removing all the connective tissue.

Now peel the tangerines, removing all the white pith. I used Satsuma tangerines which separate very easily from their skin.

Now peel the tangerines, removing all the white pith. I used Satsuma tangerines which separate very easily from their skin.

Wash the fennel bulb and remove the top and trim the bottom. Cut the bulb in half and slice it thinly.

Wash the fennel bulb and remove the top and trim the bottom. Cut the bulb in half and slice it thinly.

I put my sliced fennel in a bowl of cold water with some lemon slices to keep it from discoloring or wilting while I finished prepping the salad.

I put my sliced fennel in a bowl of cold water with some lemon slices to keep it from discoloring or wilting while I finished prepping the salad.

Slice the celery. I cut it at a strong angle to create longer slices and take advantage of the texture. The celery leaves were in good shape so I used them too.

Slice the celery. I cut it at a strong angle to create longer slices and take advantage of the texture. The celery leaves were in good shape so I used them too.

Wash raw almonds in cold water and lay them out in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast at 350 until they smell aromatic and begin to brown. When they are cool, slice them up.

Wash raw almonds in cold water and lay them out in a single layer in a baking pan. Roast at 350 until they smell aromatic and begin to brown. When they are cool, slice them up.

Mix the yogurt, cider vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, lime zest, salt, pepper and celery seed.  Voila! Dressing!

Mix the yogurt, cider vinegar, olive oil, lime juice, garlic, lime zest, salt, pepper and celery seed. Voila! Dressing!

Coat the fennel, celery, grapefruit and tangerine with dressing. Garnish with roasted almond slices and pomegranate arils.*

Coat the fennel, celery, grapefruit and tangerine with dressing. Garnish with roasted almond slices and pomegranate arils.*

*I used an underwater method of seeding my pomegranate which I got from Saveur.com. See the video here.

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Summer Salad Time!

Moon Rising on a Hot New Mexico Afternoon

When the mercury rises and the daylight stretches out in the evening, I’m not interested in turning on my oven and I don’t even want to spend much time at the stove.  I prefer to spend my time enjoying the beautiful weather outside and staying cool when I’m inside.

My husband and I like to make sure we take extra minerals to replace what we’re losing when we sweat and to keep us feeling good even in high heat.  My husband takes salt and potassium while I usually just take a little potassium.

But what I like even better is adding more sea vegetables to my diet.  Sea vegetables provide a great source of minerals and trace minerals in a highly assimilable form.  That is because the plant has already converted the minerals from the earth or sea for us.

Cooking with sea vegetables can be quite easy.  If you aren’t familiar with using them, then I suggest you take a look at some cookbook recipes to get some ideas.  To get you started, here are a couple of my favorite summer salads using sea vegetables.

Rather than repeat this each time I list an ingredient, I will just say here that I only recommend using certified organic vegetables wherever possible.  I will also tell you that when choosing your vegetables, the biggest is not necessarily the best.  Super big veggies do not have the flavor that smaller ones do.  For instance if I am picking out cucumbers, I’m going to go for one that is not really fat.  The fat ones are more seedy and watery and have less flavor.  I would choose one that is more compact.

I will also remind you that it is far more adventurous to consider the recipe as a guide and play around with the ingredients and proportions until you get what you like best!  However I really do make and test-taste any recipe I give you, so you aren’t going to go wrong following them even if you decide to tweak them here and there according to your own preferences.

 ~~~~~

BETTER THAN AT THE SUSHI BAR SUNOMONO

  • 2 ripe cucumbers or about 3 cups sliced
  • Wakame sea vegetable flakes
  • 2 Tbs brown rice vinegar
  • salt
  • 2 tsps mirin (I recommend naturally brewed and aged with no added sugar or synthetics enzymes)
  • 1Tble toasted sesame oil
  • A sprinkle of toasted black or light sesame seeds

Refreshing!

Wash the cucumbers and slice them lengthwise.  You do not have to peel them if they are organic.  Take a spoon and scoop out the seeds.  There is nothing wrong with leaving the seeds in, but this is a slight refinement that I feel makes this particular salad more appealing.

With a sharp vegetable knife, slice the cucumbers at an angle as paper-thin as possible.  [Note:  I find that trying to use a mandolin or some other slicer-dicer gadget is unworkable and annoying.  They don’t compare to a using an excellent-quality, sharp knife.]

Put the cucumber slices into a bowl and sprinkle them with the salt and mix it up.  The salt will start to draw some of the water out of the cucumber and that’s what you want.  You are ever-so-slightly pickling them.  Let the cucumbers sit that way while you prepare the dressing—about 20 minutes.

Drain off the excess water from the cucumbers and salt.  Taste a slice of cucumber and if it tastes salty you can quickly rinse them in cold water.   Combine the rice vinegar, mirin and toasted sesame oil for your dressing and mix it into the cucumbers.  Add in the wakame flakes and give them time to reconstitute into bigger soft pieces.  Serve with a few toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top.

~~~~~~

NOT YOUR MAMA’S POTATO SALAD (Unless you’re one of my kids!)

  • 1 1/2 pounds red-skinned new potatoes (the smaller the better)
  • 1/4 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1/4 tsp celery Seed
  • 1/4 cup applewood smoked dulse
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 2 tsps mustard powder
  • pinch of garlic powder (I love fresh garlic but I found it is too overwhelming in this salad)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbs brown rice syrup or sweetener of your choice

If you don’t already have your egg hardboiled, do that first.  You’ll want the egg to cool down before adding it into the potato salad.

Wash the potatoes and cut them into bite-size pieces.  I like getting the smallest red potatoes I can find because they are less starchy and more sweet-tasting.  I cut them in halves or quarters if they are bigger so they will cook in about the same amount of time.  Bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil and cook your potatoes until they are tender enough to poke with a fork but not falling apart.  If you need to, you can take them out of the water when they’re done and rinse them in cold water to stop the cooking.

While the potatoes are cooling down, wash and dice the onions and celery.  Assemble the salad by combining the potatoes, diced hardboiled egg, celery, onions and celery seed in a bowl.  Make the dressing by mixing the sesame oil, mustard , lemon juice, salt and pepper together adjusting the seasoning to suit your tastes.  This is a simple dressing, but you certainly can add more herbs or spices as you desire.  Add the dressing to the salad.  Break up the dulse into bite-size pieces (or I often cut it with scissors) and add that to the salad and combine it all together.  The dulse will easily reconstitute.

~~~~~

Look for these special ingredients in your natural foods store.  I don’t recommend going to the asian food market unless you are able to read the ingredient labels.  The asian food stores will have items like mirin and sea vegetables, but they are not usually naturally brewed or dried and they may have sugar and other unwanted additives.  I also like to order online or from a company called Gold Mine Natural Foods for things I can’t get locally.

Got Sugar?

Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose)

Macro photograph of a pile of sugar (saccharose) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My oh my!  This sugar topic is certainly a hot one!  I have gotten more responses, “likes,” and comments about my sugar posts than anything else I’ve done. Thanks to all for stopping by to read these and taking the time to comment.

And I plan to stir the pot further about sugar right now.

Since I’ve been writing about the evils of sugar, I was curious to see how many items in my natural food store had sugar in them that I would not have suspected.  I don’t know the exact number as there are so many, but here are some that are pretty obvious and some that are not so obvious. [When I say “obvious,” I mean that you probably already know or heard that it’s got sugar in it.]

Obvious:  Most fruit-flavored yogurts and vanilla yogurt have sugar in them.

Not-so-obvious:  “Made from real almonds non-dairy frozen dessert [I almost bought this today until I decided to check the ingredients.  Probably it was wishful thinking!]

Obvious:  Chocolate or vanilla soy milk.

Not-so-obvious:  Original, organic, plain soy milk found in cartons in the refrigerated section of the store.  This one truly surprised me.

Obvious:  Ketchup and cocktail sauce.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic low-fat mayonnaise.

Obvious:  Canned soups.

Not-so-obvious:  Most brands of organic and/or kosher chicken broth, beef broth and vegetable broth in the aseptic boxes list cane juice.

Not-so-obvious-and-just-plain sinful:  Organic miso soup in an aseptic box.  I was offended!

Kudos to IMAGINE FOODS brand of soup broths.  They do NOT have sugar!

Obvious:  Most barbecue sauces.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic lemon herb rub (for fish) with thyme. And sugar.

Obvious:  Many breads and flour products.

Not-so-obvious:  Organic, whole wheat panko bread crumbs.

Not obvious but for a different reason:  Salad dressings.  Some of the natural and/or organic brands have sugar in them and some don’t.  It’s about 50/50 so just check the labels because it’s a TOSS UP!  (Okay, okay. Bad pun.)

All I can really say is read every label no matter what store you are in.  I asked an employee at my natural food store what items had sugar in them that surprised her and she said, “Nothing surprises me here.  This isn’t a health food store.  Have you seen the bakery department?”

We can gripe about the natural food stores and what they decide to sell or not sell all we want.  They are there to make a profit and they have so much shelf space to designate for a product line.  What makes the most difference is what we decide to purchase.  They provide what we will purchase.  It’s as simple as that.

You can find some alternative suggestions below and I’m going to add one more treat to this list–it’s something I just discovered.  Suzanne’s Specialties Brown Rice Syrup products “Just Like Honey” and  “Ricemellow Creme” for a special treat.

Spring Salads

This is a post about salads and some alternatives to the ol’ lettuce and tomato in a bowl routine.  I could have had any number of names for this post, depending on what attitude I wanted to express:  “You did WHAT to your salad?” or how about “Press This!” (inside WordPress blogger pun).  Let’s see how the post turns out and then I’ll name the blog, okay?

BOILED SALAD

Spring has officially arrived and my menus have gotten much lighter.   I am definitely craving a salad but I’m not too excited about a regular Salad 101 creation.  The answer? Boiled salad!

Before you get too many images of a sorry piece of lettuce cooking away in a pot of water, let me explain.  A boiled salad is a combination of very lightly boiled vegetables that are served cool and often with a salad dressing.  I like to make my boiled salads as colorful as possible and I like to use decorative cutting.  I usually choose either three or five ingredients for the salad.

Here is an example of a boiled salad: cauliflower florets, kale, carrot flowers (more about that in a minute*), radish wedges and celery.  That’s five.  Each veggie is cut into smallish bite-size pieces and boiled.  To do that, bring spring water to a boil with a good pinch of sea salt.  Get your veggies cut up.

*Here is a YouTube video I found that does a great job showing how to make carrot flowers:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-InmfjjDOdY  (except I don’t peel the carrot if it’s organic)

1.  Start by boiling the cauliflower.  What you want to do is boil the light-colored vegetables first so they aren’t dulled by the greenish or orange-ish cooking water from boiling the other vegetables and so they aren’t influenced too much by a strong-flavor such as onions if you had that in your salad. For this combination here, I would boil the cauliflower, then the celery, then radish then carrots then kale.

2.  Do not over boil the vegetables.  Just drop them in the water and cook them a little bit–less than if you were serving them hot boiled or steamed.  They will appear brighter than when they were raw and at that point, pull them out of the boiling water.  You want most of them to still have some crunch but that “raw quality” is slightly altered by boiling.  Your dark leafy greens can be a bit more cooked because while you definitely want them to be a bright green, you still want to be able to chew them!

3. When you take the vegetable out of the boiling water, put it in a colander to drain.  If you think you overcooked it, you can run cold water over it to stop the cooking but I don’t like to do that because it reduces some of the flavor.

4. When everything is boiled and drained, place the veggies in a serving bowl or platter.  You can serve your boiled salad at room temperature or slightly chilled with a dressing of your choice.

5.  Save that cooking water!  You now have a flavorful soup base.

PRESSED SALAD

This is a cooking tool called a “salad press” or “pickle press.”   A pressed salad is not cooked at all, yet it is not just like a raw salad because it has been processed by pressing it in some sea salt for a period of time.  This is actually a pickling method, only it is done for a very short time to make an ever-so-lightly pickled or pressed dish.

To press salad, you can choose things like lettuce, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, radishes or anything that can be cut very small or that is “press-able.”  Chunks of cauliflower or broccoli, for instance, are not very press-able.  Use them for boiled salads.  Again, I like to use three to five ingredients for a pressed salad.

Here’s a simple pressed salad using cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, red onion and parsley.

1. Cut the cabbage into thin bite-size strips.  Cut the carrots into thin matchsticks.  Cut the cucumbers in half.  Remove the seeds with a spoon if you wish. I don’t remove seeds because I like my foods to be “whole.”  I also don’t peel my cucumbers because I buy organic and use the skins of my veggies.  Cut the half-cucumbers into slices.  Cut the red onion into thin slices.  Cut the parsley into small pieces.

2.  Put all the cut veggies into the salad press.  Add sea salt and start mixing the salad around with a utensil, chopsticks or–I just use my hands.  You will add enough sea salt to make the veggies start sweating or glistening.  The salt is pulling some of the water out of the vegetables.  Don’t worry, you’ll rinse the excess salt out later.

3.  Tighten the press down so the veggies are snug and the pressure of the press is helping to get the water out.  If you don’t have a salad press, just use a flat plate and a weight such as a heavy jar or a brick or rock.  They will do the same thing.

4.  The time you will press the veggies will depend on what veggies you use.  If you press a lettuce salad, it will only take 20-30 minutes and lettuce needs very little salt to “process” in the press.  With cabbage it will take longer–an hour or more.  You can decide how “pressed” you want your salad to be by how you like the taste and texture.  The thinner you cut your veggies, the less time they will take to press.

5.  When the salad is done pressing, you will see excess water in the press and you should drain that off.  Then rinse the salad itself in cool water and gently squeeze out the excess water by hand before serving.  You can serve the pressed salad with a dressing or not.  I usually don’t feel it needs one.

These two methods will help you lighten up your menus for spring and summer!  If you try them, let me know how they turned out for you.  I welcome your feedback and your questions.

NEW! 

For additional free recipes, cooking tips, and food information, you are invited to join PATTY’S CLUB!  Just go to my new Patty’s Club Page https://mycookinglife.com/pattys-club/ and follow the directions.

My Obsession

It is Thanksgiving Day 2011 and I have been toying with the idea of writing about cooking for thirty-five years or so.  I’ve considered cookbooks, novels in which cooking takes a major roll (á la Like Water for Chocolate), poetry, newspaper columns about cooking, and painting and drawing about cooking.  That last is not really “writing,” but you get the idea.  And that whole time the one thing I did do was cook!  A lot!

I taught cooking for over 25 years in various cities where I’ve lived.  I taught out of my home, at natural food stores and other places.  I have invented recipes and even invented a no-tomato pasta sauce and a vegetarian alfredo sauce that was actually manufactured for a brief time in a Brooklyn food factory.  That’s a story for another blog.

I also wrote a column about natural foods in the now defunct Philadelphia Bulletin under the name of a local co-op.  It was a Q & A column.  We wrote the questions and the answers until people started actually sending in questions.  I have the columns in a portfolio I keep of my freelance writing adventures and not too long ago pulled it out.

And there was this Q & A column in which I once recommended making peanut butter and sauerkraut or peanut butter and pickle sandwiches.  That used to be a favorite with my kids, but I wonder how many people actually tried that?!  I know what you might be thinking—“No wonder the Philadelphia Bulletin shut down!”  No, it shut down years after my column ended.  Really!

I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement along the way that has made me pretty self-assured about my cooking.  Years ago my friend named Anne Marie bought me a book about how to write a cookbook and wrote me an incredible letter validating my talent and she continued to bug me about writing this for years.  But I never did it.

I used to cook for other people too. I did it for money but mostly I just loved doing it.  I had several friends who cooked for other people because we were studying and teaching Macrobiotics and eastern philosophy and healing.  So I cooked macrobiotic, vegetarian meals for friends and for people who were ill with degenerative diseases.  Many of them did better eating healthy food and some healed and some didn’t.  At that time I didn’t have the full picture of what would cause a person to heal that I have now.  That too is another subject.

Those wonderful people, friends and their families also urged me to start a catering business or open a restaurant.  I’ve always thought that would be way too labor intensive and really I considered it might ruin cooking for me.

I guess I could have gone to cooking school, and I did study with some fabulous teachers off and on in my life who remain an inspiration to me.  I never stopped studying cooking and have done it all sorts of ways via television cooking shows, books, friends and dining in all kinds of restaurants.

Probably the outstanding thing about my obsession with cooking is that I absolutely love my own cooking!  And this is annoying to some people who think I should not be the first one to compliment my own dishes at a meal.  (Sorry Dan, I can’t help doing that!)  It’s like being the first to “like” your own posts on Facebook.  Which I sometimes do also.

For instance today I’m going to my church for a big, beautiful Thanksgiving Dinner.  My friend Robin asked me to make the salad.  For a week now I’ve been imagining how various ingredients will taste together.  Now the salad is made and I taste-tested it to see how my chosen ingredients worked out together.  My first thought when I tasted it was, “I’ll probably mostly eat this salad at the dinner.  It is soooo good!”  So you see, I do love my own cooking and making and tasting this holiday salad pushed me over the edge to start writing!

The salad:

  • Red and Green curly leaf lettuce
  • Celery diced pretty small
  • Bits of sun-dried tomato
  • Fresh ripe pears skinned and diced
  • Roasted pecans flavored with a small dose of maple syrup (100% real stuff) and coated with a mix of cinnamon, cardamom, Hawaiian sea salt (I bought Hawaiian ‘cause I was thinking about my friends Kim and Ruth who now live in Hawaii and with whom I have shared many Thanksgiving dinners in the past) and some paprika.
  • The dressing is a simple red wine and olive oil vinaigrette that has salt and a dash of liquid stevia in it.
  • Garnished with a little shredded extremely sharp, stinky cheese if you like that.  (Sorry, I already threw the wrapper out and now I can’t remember the exact name of it.  It has holes like Swiss but it’s not Swiss and it’s not Havarti.  I will find out and let you know.) 

I won’t apologize for not including measurements!  I don’t measure hardly ever and you don’t need to either.  You just go by your taste and experience of what works.  That is the adventurous way to go.

Finally after all the years, I realized that the idea of creating aesthetic, delicious dishes and meals is my personal expression, my art.  And I realized that I have a viewpoint about many, many aspects of life that is manifested from my experiences, adventures and love of cooking.  So this is what I’m writing about—how I see and experience life through the viewpoint of cooking.

I hope you enjoy My Cooking Life and would love to have you contribute to it with your feedback, your own stories, or let me interview you!  At this point I have no idea how often I will be blogging but my target is at least once a week.

Much love,  Patty

PS:  I still love peanut butter and pickles on whole wheat toast!