Thursday, May 25, 2006

Dining Out and Being Green

Having had the chance to travel a bit this year, I have eaten in a number of restaurants -- actually more than I care to. By now, you probably know that I like fairly simple and very fresh meals that I prepare at home. But when I was in San Diego recently someone suggested that I eat a restaurant named Region.

They are a certified green restaurant. I like that idea but I found the menu far too meaty for me. The chef, Michael Stegner, focused on the meat and didn't have a vegetarian entree on the menu, and other than salad fthere were few vegetarian choices. I called ahead and asked what they could make me and it was going to be pasta with any of the available veggies. I figured that would be fine. (And it was delicious with mushrooms and snow peas albeit far too oily.)

What I didn't ask about were the prices. When i saw that most of the entrees were in the $25+ price range it made me feel like I come from some hick town but the truth is that I live in Sonoma County which is Wine Country. Region did not appear to be an incredibly upscale place but maybe it is. Or maybe being green boosts the prices.

In any case, the food was fresh but not especially plentiful. I expect more greens in a $7 salad since at wholesale a pound of great lettuce probably doesn't cost more than $4. By now, you know that I am a salad fiend.

The meal did end on a very sweet note, as I ordered the strawberry rhubarb crisp. It was as good or better than what I would make at home. I would have preferred it without the vanilla ice cream but that was my only gripe there.

I guess that eating at Lark in Seattle gave me a great meal by which to gauge others. Region didn't live up to that for me. If you eat there, please let me know what you think.

Also while in San Diego, I ate at Kung Food -- a vegetarian, organic restaurant and salad bar that has a drive-through window for burgers and fries. It's pretty close to the airport so I stopped there for some sustenance for my trip home to Santa Rosa. Their food really hit the spot. For less than $10, I ate a very filling burger, topped with mushrooms and grilled onions, and a salad. They also offered entrees by the pound (I think around $7) to eat there or to go. I would highly recommend that you stop there for tasty, fresh and filling food that will fit almost any budget.

Angels and Healthy Food

Yesterday I left the safe confines of Sonoma County and headed to the big city, San Francisco, to attend a workshop about Healthy Food in hospitals, cafeterias and other institutions held at UCSF Medical Center. The event was from 1 to 3:30 which couldn't be a much worse time of day for me and the traffic coming home.

I am working on a project to help make the food in the local Kaiser Permanente Cafeteria healthier. It's a concept that just has to happen. But the logistics of making this change are not simple.

I parked in the huge public garage, made sure that I had my cup for tea (as requested by the green team running the event), grabbed my brief case and headed off. It wasn't until I was leaving the conference room and heading back to my car that I started searching for my keys.

I realized within a moment of looking that I just did not have them. I must have left them on the trunk of my car. I knew that no one would steal my car and just hoped to find my keys.

And I did. Some Good Samaritan left them on the front seat with a note and a smiley face, saying that they had found them. The only problem was that they had now locked them in my car.

I had to get the security guard. He showed up but had to get another security guard to help. The two of them managed to get my car open in about 25 mintues.While watching the security guard antics, a chef colleague walked by. I asked him a few questions and I had a chance to learn more about making healthy changes in a cafeteria. He told me that he now uses local, organic produce and while it costs more, people love it.

I got a late start out of SF and managed to get home without too much time in traffic. Having an angel find my keys and leaving them for me makes me realize that all roads lead to healthy food.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Big Time Score

I went early to the farmer's market today as my son needed to get to school early (most likely to do the work that he says that he doesn't have). It gives me the opportunity to get my hands on the "god stuff" right away.
First I got a basket of organic strawberries. And then the rest came to me all from Little (what a misnomer) Larry from Triple Ranch and Farm here in Santa Rosa. He kind of whispered, "Look at this" and held up a beautiful carrot. I had just run out of the real ones (not the precut bagged ones) for my husband's lunch this morning. I had to buy a bunch of those which he hand selected for me. I also scored a purple kohlrabi, small white spring onions and salad mix. Yippee. More yummy salads will be coming my way.
Last night I went to a meeting on spices and created a dish that I called Moroccan Spiced Quinoa. It was pretty tasty last night. The little bit that I had leftover will become today's lunch as I have to drive to San Francisco for a meeting. I'll get to see if the dish is the same or better. Can't wait.
Two more markets are starting tonight. And yours might be happening soon. Find your local farmers and make them your friends, you never know what they might whisper in your ear.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Melon Coupons - Make Me Happy

I like to scan the Sunday newspaper coupon sections to see what the food companies are trying to get people to eat. I have been encouraged lately by seeing improvements in processed products such as whole grain rice mixes produced by Rice-A-Roni and Di Giorno pizza with whole wheat crust. I am a bit amazed as this morning as I saw a coupon for melons - a real food being advertised with a 1 dollar off coupon. Of course it is branded, not organic and most likely hybridized but still, it's real food. Look for Dulcinea seedless watermelons or Tuscan style cantaloupes. Or even better, shop your farmer's market to buy what's fresh and local.

Another interesting observation -- Pom, the company that introduced pomegranate juice to the US in a big way, now has a pomegranate and tea combo for sale. I saw this at Safeway the other day and it seemed expensive to me. I drink tea all day long whenever I can. It's not likely that I would be paying more than 2 dollars for a glass jar of tea but it's definitely better than drinking some fancy coffee drink with lots of fat and caffeine. It's all a matter of choice (and hopefully it's not choosing your poison).

That leads me to the last thing that I noticed while scanning the coupons (which I consider some kind of reflection of society) was that Smart Beat now has a complete line of foods with Omega-3 fatty acids. They have put them in margarine, mayonnaise and peanut butter. I find it strange that they would add Omega-3s to peanut butter but it might be an easy way to get kids to eat more of them. And children definitely need them for healthy brains. Kids are not likely to eat fatty fish, walnuts, greens, flax or hemp seed or other good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. I'd still rather suggest that they eat a bowl of Bob's Red Mill "Right Stuff" cereal (which contains flax) each morning with cinnamon and raisins than manipulated peanut butter. But perhaps it's because my son doesn't like peanut butter. For me, real food still rules.

But I'll keep looking at the coupons to stay in touch with what's out there, even if a lot of it is scary.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Strawberry Salad Wins Recipe Contest

A few years ago I entered this unusual Baby Greens and Spinach Salad with Strawberry Dressing and Spiced Almonds in a local radio cooking contest for which the featured ingredient was almonds -- and I was one of the winners. You need sweet, dead ripe strawberries to make this. Since the time I developed the recipe I have used the dressing far more than I have used the almonds. All together, though, yumm yumm. Use organic strawberries because I care about your health.

Mixed Baby Greens with Strawberry Dressing and Spiced Almonds
Serves 4-6
This makes one very large salad. You an always use less greens and keep some of the dressing to use in the next day or two. You can use pecans or walnuts if you prefer them.

2 pint baskets strawberries, quartered, reserve 3/4 cup of them
3 tablespoons raspberry, champagne or rice vinegar
1 teaspoon agave syrup or Sucanat
2 teaspoons canola or olive oil (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds
1 teaspoon canola oil
1 tablespoon Sucanat or brown sugar
sprinkle of cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin

6 cups mixed baby greens
6 cups baby spinach
2 tablespoons thinly sliced shallots or spring onion

Combine 1 ½ cups of strawberries, the vinegar, agave or Sucanat, olive oil, salt and pepper in a blender or small food processor. Blend until smooth. Chill until ready to serve.

In a medium saute pan, heat the oil and add the almonds over medium heat. After 2-3 minutes, when the almonds smell toasty, add the Sucanat and stir to coat the almonds. Sprinkle with a pinch of cayenne and the cumin. Remove the spiced nuts from the pan to some parchment or wax paper and let cool.

Combine the greens, spinach and shallots. Toss gently. Mix in the dressing and toss. Garnish with the reserved strawberries and almonds.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

San Diego - Great News

On May Day when people all around the country were protesting, I was flying to San Diego to teach at a cooking school called Great News. It was definitely great news for me. I feel privileged to have made it into their catalog, finding myself listed on the celebrity chef page in the same sidebar as John Ash.
The veggie class that I taught was attended by 40+ people. The kitchen there is fabulous. They have all kinds of great equipment. I got to try out a new pressure cooker, a WMF, and it worked just fine. I'm not sure that I am ready to trade any of my others in for that brand, and I have too many right now as it is.
The store sold out of the 20 copies of my book that they pre-ordered. I had 2 people assisting me, along with 4 volunteers, and a back kitchen dishwasher who I never met but who definitely deserved a big hug for her hard work. They know how to run a successful class. I do wish that the cooking schools in my area were as organized. The school is attached to a retail cookware store that I really didn't get to explore until I went back the next day to return a folder for my class that had mistakenly been put with my folder to take with me. Oooops.
The good part was that I got to look around the store a bit and buy a gift for a friend as well as to replace my mutliple setting kitchen timer which stopped working a few months ago. I was thrilled. It's the little things that can make me happy.
The weather has been overcast and that's jut fine, too.
I have taken 2 wonderful yoga classes. What more could I want, other than some organic strawberries?