Monday, November 17, 2008

Turkey Fest '08

What could be better than good friends, good food and a little kickstart to the holiday season. Every year, my friends and I throw a pre-Thanksgiving potluck turkey fest--ringing up a little warmth and cheer before we all head home for the real deal. Typically the one hosting the festivities, I love spending a good part of the day (and usually the day prior) in the kitchen doing some serious, cold-weather cooking. There's something a bit more soothing about cooking during fall and winter -- dishes sometimes take slightly longer to cook, but it's certainly worth the time. Braving freezing cold weather or being active in a warm kitchen (I swear, prepping for a big dinner is a workout in itself!)...I'll take the kitchen thanks. Anyhow, some good 'ol standbys made a repeat appearance on the menu this year - obviously our turkey mascot this year was on hand, recipe to come). This post kicks off a bunch of tasty, not-too-time-consuming, deceptively healthy recipes for the holidays. Stay tuned for tips and tactics throughout the month on how to navigate your way through the holiday season, absolutely doing it up without going overboard and kicking yourself come January 1. Nothing's worse than feeling like you have to be strapped to a treadmill for a month straight in order to work off a few too many holiday benders. Something I often remind people of is that you can always find healthful balance and an upside to your holiday spread -- Thanksgiving staples like sweet potatoes and squash are loaded with antioxidants, beta-carotene and fiber; green beans are packed with vitamins K, A and C; even your favorite pumpkin pie brings value to the table stacked with antioxidants and beta-carotene. True, those sweet potatoes can be loaded with butter and marshmellows, the green beans smothered in mouthwatering bacon grease, the pumpkin pie isn't complete without a buttery-flaky crust. The key is -- drumroll -- moderation. I know, I know, it ain't sexy or fun, but it's true. Have the good stuff, just head into the game with your head on. Play smart and take small amounts of your favorite, heavier dishes. Zone in on lighter basics like roast turkey, salad, cranberry sauce and veggies. And if you're facing really dire straights at the in-laws, a friend's or relative's, remember it's one portions let you leave room for dessert which is a T-giving must-have in my book. And if dessert really isn't all that worth it, wait for something that really is -- trust me, I guarantee you'll have your pick throughout the month.
Ok, to start off some holiday recipes, I'm posting up course 1 -- an appetizer that has evolved into an annual tradition among my friends. I created this a few years back out of a love for all things butternut squash, parmesan cheese and cherry. Sounds odd, but you'll be coming back for more.

Butternut Squash Bruschetta w. Pine Nuts & Sour Cherries
1 medium-large butternut squash (roasted, peeled and cubed)
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 tsp olive oil
1 can cannelini beans (white beans), rinsed and drained
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup sour cherries, jarred in natural juices and drained
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped (1-2 Tablespoons)
½ - ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
salt, to taste
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino romano cheese

1 crusty French or whole wheat baguette
additional olive oil for brushing

Preparation: Cut butternut squash in half, brush with olive oil and roast at 350 (cut side down) for about 30-35 minutes, or until about ¾ the way done (still slightly hard, but able to be cut). For an easy shortcut, places both halves in the microwave for 7-9 minute. Allow squash to cool, peel/cut skin off and cut into small chunks. Heat oil in a deep frying pan/saucepan and sauté onion until translucent. Add in cannelini beans, squash, chicken broth & rosemary -- decrease heat and bring to a medium-low simmer. Add salt to taste, add in cherries, parmesan and pine nuts, cook until majority of broth evaporates and ingredients become warm and “stew-like” – squash should be slightly mashed/slightly chunky.

Cut baguette into thin slices about 1" thick. Arrange on a cookie sheet and brush lightly with olive oil. Toast in oven at 350 for 4-5 minutes. Place a spoonful of squash mixture onto bruschetta toasts and arrange on a serving tray or plate.
Makes 2-3 dozen bruschetta
pics, beginning and end:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Meeting the 'Naked Chef'!

What an incredible chance meeting this morning walking through the Union Square farmer's market. I'm a huge fan of one 'naked' chef who's doing some incredible things across the pond. I had the pleasure and good luck of running into British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver this morning while he was filming some greenmarket footage. Why am I such a fan of Jamie? He's taking the way Brits view food by storm...and it's working. He recognized the growing problems with Britain's (and the U.S.'s) growing waistlines and increasing dependence on convenience and processed foods. Over 60% of Americans (and Brits) are overweight or obese and only 27% of Americans consume 3 or more serving of fruits and veggies daily -- umm...that's just damn scary. Through a number of different avenues - from his blogs, website, hit tv cooking shows and non-profit programs like Fifteen, Jamie is working to get people in the UK back in their kitchens -- getting excited by fresh, good-for-you ingredients, simple nutritious (and delicious) dishes. He's making good, fresh food cool again and he's been leading the charge in reforming the school food system in Britain, getting not only kids, lunch ladies and parents on board, but also the Prime Minister. His latest campaign, Ministry of Food, serves to re-educate Brits town by town, one community a time, in healthier ways of cooking -- encouraging people to spread the word, get friends and family involved...let's make cooking freaking fun again people!
I have to say, what he's been able to do overseas in such a short time is impressive and damn exciting (I admit, I was little gitty chatting with him this morning). The guy's just plain cool. Check him out on the Today Show this week - he's in town promoting his new cookbook, Jamie at Home.
In a single sentence this morning, Jamie summed up why he's doing what he's doing and it directly echoes why I write this blog and do what I do when working with clients and the media through Nourish. In speaking about the lack of healthful eating habits and the growing overweight epedemic Jamie stated: "The UK is f*cked and America's even worse." Classic line and unfortunately dead on. What can we do to take the momentum he's grown in the UK and really infuse our society? I'm hoping that President-elect Obama will help make better eating in this country a priority over the next four years...because it absolutely is one. My vote's an overwhelming 'yes'. What's something simple you yourself can do to get cooking again?