Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sardines, Anyone?

Why do so few people eat canned sardines? Almost no one I know does, and in fact, many screw up their faces at the thought. Yet sardines are inexpensive, tasty, and extremely nutritious. They are just loaded with B vitamins, omega-3 oils, and calcium. A NY Times article quoted one nutritionist, who said that sardines were "health food in a can." Everyone  seems to be gobbling down kale and salmon these days, so why not sardines?

I think one of the problems is that they look like small beheaded fish, which they are, while other forms of fish are more aesthetically pleasing.

I grew up eating sardines, so perhaps that's why I don't turn up my nose at them. I usually have a few cans on hand. My preference is for those packed in olive oil or mustard. These fish tend to be somewhat oily, so I usually pair them with something crunchy, such as toast or crispbread (Ryvita and Wasa are favorites). I smear the bread with a dab of mayonnaise, lay down a few sardines, mash them with a fork to make them stick, then add something to cut the oily taste, such as chopped raw onion and a slice of raw tomato. Some need a bit of salt as well.

Go ahead.Try some. Don't be afraid of a little fish.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Importance of Bread

what my mother refered to as goyishe bread
One of the surprises I received when I first moved to Massachusetts was the bread—the entire state seemed devoid of good bread. (Remember, this was in the 60s.) This was a shock because I had grown up in an area that had dense bagels, chewy rye bread, dark pumpernickle, and crusty French bread. Later, I learned that Brookline had decent bread, but by then I had set up my own personal importation procedure. Every time I went down to New Jersey or New York, I would visit my favorite bakery and return with shopping bags full of bread and other baked goods.

Then I got on a breadmaking kick myself. My husband loved oatmeal bread, for example, so I learned how to make that. I liked whole wheat bread and learned how to make that. The kids liked white bread, so I learned how to make that. We all liked various muffins, and I learned how to make dozens of different types. Soon I was baking most of the breads we ate. About 20 years ago, When Pigs Fly opened up, good bread became available in more locations around me. Gradually, other good bakeries also opened, and I stopped my incessant baking.

I am surprised at how much this all matters to me considering the fact that I'm not a big bread eater. My mother, for example, felt as if she hadn't really eaten if she didn't include bread in any meal. I don't feel that way. Still, when I do eat bread, I want it to be good. To my mind, a slice of crunchy whole wheat toast with chunky peanut butter makes a great breakfast—high in protein, fiber, and taste. Good rye bread is essential to certain sandwiches. And lox and cream cheese just doesn't taste right if it's not on a good bagel (those other bagels were referred to as goyishe, i.e. not Jewish, bagels by my mom, who grew up in an Orthodox household. )

So while I don't  eat a lot of bread, I do accept its importance in the scheme of things. I understand why breaking bread is synonymous with nurturing both body and soul. Whether I'm eating a wrap, or focaccia, or pita or pizza, I want the bread to be more than a vehicle for other ingredients; it needs to be good by itself before I consider it good with anything else.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trip Down Memory Lane

Simple Simon and the Pieman
If you are an adult of a certain age, chances are you see the sign above and immediately think "Howard Johnson's." For much of the twentieth century, Howard Johnson's was a common roadside sight. Now, I think there are just two left in the United States.

I was reminded of my visits to Howard Johnson's this week when I wandered through the Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. What a trip back in time! I had forgotten this logo, although I did remember that HoJo's offered 28 flavors.

Part of the fun of the Culinary Arts Museum was seeing parts of my own culinary history that I hadn't thought about in years. Pez dispensers, for instance, were released in this country when I was a little kid, and they delighted me and most kids my age. Carnival food, railroad food, and early airplane food were all distinctive in their day, and the museum reminded me of this.

If you are in New England and enjoy all aspects of food, this is a great place to visit. Check them out online if you can't visit in person. There's a link above.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

I Love Lentils

lentils commonly come in three colors: green, brown, and red
Writing this blog has been fun, but it has made me realize how often I cook the same or similar foods. Half a cup of leftovers? Make a pizza or a quiche. Leftover chicken? Make chicken salad, creamed chicken, and chicken soup.

One other soup I make frequently is red lentil soup. It's quick to make, pretty to see, and very tasty and satisfying. I used to make it using brown lentils and sausage of some sort, but now I make red lentil soup almost exclusively. It has no meat, but it does have chicken broth. (Brown lentils cook quickly and are the softest; they can turn to mush if you're not careful. Red lentils are the sweetest and cook even faster. Green lentils stay firm and are good for salads or cold dishes.)

I can feel virtuous eating my lentil soup, because lentils are incredibly healthful. They are packed with protein, fiber, and iron. A cup of lentils contains as much protein as 3 large eggs, with almost no fat. It is one of the oldest cultivated food, and no wonder. It's hearty, easy to eat, and versatile.

A friend gave me this soup recipe more than a decade ago, and I have eaten it regularly ever since.
  • 2 TBSP oil
  • 1large onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 tsp cumin
  • 4 carrots, diced small
  • 1 sweet red pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups washed red lentils
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • parsley and chopped green onions are optional
Saute the onion, garlic, carrots, and pepper until soft.
Add cumin, lentils, and broth. Simmer until the lentils are soft, which should take about an hour. If you'd like, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and chopped green onions.

This freezes beautifully, so whatever I don't eat the first day or so, I freeze in meal-sized containers. Served with bread or crackers and a green salad, it's a fast feast.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Perfect Crackers

In general, I'm not a big fan of most crackers. The only crackers I recall eating as a kid were graham crackers, and those I associate with school snacks. We had matzoh at times, but matzoh just turns to dust in your mouth.

Then along came Triscuits and I became a convert. They had everything: taste, texture, and lip-smacking saltiness. Nothing came near them until the advent of the Stoned Wheat Thin. I admit, I jumped ship. I have bought nothing but these crackers for many years. As well as having the virtues of Triscuits, they are also a tiny bit larger and thus can hold a small mountain of food. Thus they can be the basis for a light lunch or dinner. Most often the food I pile on is some sort of cheese, but occasionally some chopped liver, egg salad, or hummus and veggies.

Last week, I stopped by a friend's house, and she put out a bowl of small round crackers. I almost ignored them, but I saw her crunching away and decided to try one. Like the ad says about potato chips, I couldn't  stop at just one. In fact, I liked them so much I went out and bought a box the next day. They contain almonds and rice flour, and have no cholesterol or saturated fats. Although they are aimed at people who avoid gluten, they are really delicious. They come in many flavors; I tried the Ranch flavor. These will never replace my Stoned Wheat Thins, because they're too darn small, but they certainly will become a new staple in my kitchen.