Congratulations!

My apologies to our readers. The last week has been a bit hectic….. travels to celebrate Easter Sunday with my family in the D.C. area, then back home to New York to celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter with dear friends. Oh, and my other half of Two Dancing Buckeyes gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby. Congratulations, Gretchen!!!! I wish I could be there, but I’ll try to “hold down the fort,” -er, blog, so to speak, while you’re recovering and enjoying your new bundle of joy.

While traveling to Connecticut to celebrate Greek Easter earlier today, we stopped at a service station along route 95 to get a cup of coffee and allow the kiddos to use the toilets. The facilities appeared to be somewhat new, with the typical food service offerings one could expect to find along a highway: McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, and Sabbaro to name a few. While my son was begging for a donut on the way to the bathroom, a sign on the other end of the service station caught my attention: Good-to-Go Organics. Organic food?!?! At a service station? Could this be some sort of mirage? Clearly my brain must be playing tricks on me. But no, there really exists, at least in Milford, CT, an organic food station, serving organic snacks, beverages, and sandwiches to those of us weary travelers tired of having zero healthy options while stuck on the highway.

**For those of you living in and around New York City, you may recognize the name, Good to Go Organics, which has outposts in Central Park and Chelsea Piers.

Contest Winner, Food Tips, and a Guest Blogging Opportunity!

Congratulations to Sherryl, from the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh for winning the pair of two-day registration passes to the Farm To Table Conference in Pittsburgh this weekend. We’ll have a recap of the Conference for our readers after the fact, so check back if you are unable to attend but want to catch some of the highlights.

Thank you to all the applicants for your interest and your wonderful comments, suggestions, and ideas! In fact, we love so many of the ideas and recipes that our readers share with us that we are starting a new feature on our blog that will give you the opportunity to be a guest blogger! If you have any novel ideas about how to reclaim your food or any really great recipes using whole ingredients that you are dying to share, please send them to us at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com. Once a month, we will select an entry (or two) to  feature in a blog post.

Below are two of our favorite comments that were submitted by contest applicants.
The following recipe was shared by Sherryl, our contest winner:
Here’s a quick and healthy summer dish I love when the zucchini is young and tender. Chicken and Zuc’s (serves 4)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, seasoned with salt, pepper, and fresh garlic diced into bite size chunks
4 small zuc’s julienned like fettuccine noodles
1 red bell pepper julienned
1/2 large red onion julienned
4 ripe roma tomatoes diced with inner flesh intact
1 large portobella mushroom diced
4 cloves fresh garlic
1 cup chicken or veggie stock
1/4 cup white wine for de-glazing
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 

Place a large (biggest you have) skillet on the fire on full blast. Allow the pan to start smoking before adding your oil. Once the oil is in, add the chicken, spread it out to allow the pan to stay as hot as possible. Once the chicken is browned on all sides remove from the pan and set aside. Add another splash of olive oil to the pan and allow it to heat back up to almost the smoke point. Add the onions, cook 3-4 mins. Add the red bell pepper and saute for another 4-5 min. By now the onions should be getting some color. Season with salt and pepper, then add the mushrooms, saute until the water that was released from the mushrooms has cooked away. Add the diced tomato and allow the juice to caramelize in the bottom of the pan. When the tomato liquid had cooked away add the zucchini “noodles” and de-glaze the pan with wine. Crush in the 4 cloves of garlic and season with s&p again to taste. Allow the wine to cook down a bit then add 1/2 cup of the stock and return the chicken and its juice to the pan. Simmer until the zuc’s are Al Dente. Serve with garlic crostini and a maybe a spinach salad with pine nuts, red onion, and feta, drizzled with a honey balsamic dressing.

Summer eating at its best!
Cheers!

The following bits of advice are from Judy from the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA.
I try to adapt most recipes to non-fat or low-fat alternatives for healthier eating. The most difficult foods to find substitutes for are snacks but I have managed to find a few that are satisfying and healthier. 
 
My favorite dessert is non-fat plain or vanilla yogurt with blueberries or raspberries when in season.  I don’t add granola as it is sweet enough without it. I also use the Greek yogurts which are healthier for you and have more protein. 
 
I have made my own veggie chips by thinly slicing acorn and butternut squash and baking them. I use very little sea salt when doing so as I’m not to have much salt. These are really tasty and a great substitute for chips or those veggie straws that are so popular right now (these are highly processed and salted).
 
While I am not a full vegetarian, I try to eat more veggies than anything else.  I use the Moosewood Cookbooks and an old favorite from the 70’s:  Diet for a Small Planet.
 

Chicken Soup with Fregula Sarda

March is always a welcome relief to the many months of winter, with its hints of warm, spring days. But it also seems to be the month in which my family develops the last great sickness of our cold season. This week has proven to hit my family hard in the viral department, with my son bringing home some unwelcome germs, then my husband contracting the disease, and now, finally, my daughter. Fortunately, while I type this post, I have not yet come down with this bad cold, and I am extremely happy about that, because as any other mother knows, if mamma falls ill, the whole ship goes down with her!

There’s nothing more comforting than a bowl of chicken soup when you aren’t feeling well. You can feel the warm liquid nutrients working their magic as they pass into your body, working their sickness-healing magic. Science has now confirmed that chicken soup actually helps to break congestion and contains an amino acid called, cysteine, which inhibits white blood cell production and the triggering of the inflammatory response, causing sore throats and phlegm. I guess grandma did know a thing or two.

For this chicken soup, I decided to use some fregula sarda I had in my pantry, which is an Italian pasta, originating from Sardinia. The pasta dough is rolled into tiny balls, resembling Israeli couscous, and toasted twice, which promotes its pleasant nutty flavor and golden colors. If you aren’t able to purchase fregula sarda, then Israeli couscous (or another type of small pasta) would be an excellent substitute for the following soup.

Of course, this soup is delicious whether you are under the weather or sailing atop clouds of health. But if you find yourself with a bit of a cold, this soup will definitely hit the spot. Stay healthy and happy eating!

1-1.5 lbs. chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed
1 small onion, whole
4 stalks celery, cleaned, halved and chopped into small pieces*
5 md. carrots, peeled, halved and chopped into small pieces**
4-5 cloves garlic, peeled, whole
small bunch of fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
salt, pepper to taste
12 cups water
1/2-3/4 c. fregula sarda
small bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped

In a pot, large enough to accommodate 12 cups of water, add the chicken thighs, one carrot, one celery, the onion, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Be sure not to add too much salt at this time. You can add more before you add the fregula sarda. Bring the water to a boil and skim off any fat that floats up to the top. Cover the pot and lower the heat to low. Allow the base of your soup to continue cooking for about 1- 1 1/2 hours. Remove from heat, and discard the garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and bay leaves. I find it works best to do this with a large, cook’s spoon that has holes. Remove the chicken thighs, and allow them to cool slightly before you remove the meat from the bone. Place the chicken back into the pot, along with the chopped carrots and celery. Bring the liquid back to a slow boil. After about 15 minutes, add the fregula sarda, along with about 1.5-2 cups of water. Allow the fregula to cook through, about 8 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings accordingly. Add the finely chopped parsley. Serve with some nice crusty bread.

*Leave one celery stalk whole to make the soup base
**Leave one carrot whole, unpeeled to make the soup base

TDB Give-Away – Free tickets to the Pittsburgh Farm to Table Conference!

We have a pair of two-day registration passes (a $50 value!) to the upcoming Farm to Table Conference being held in Pittsburgh on March 23rd and 24th that we will be raffling off. What better way to usher in the springtime than to get in touch with localized food resources!

To enter this contest, add a comment to this post or the link on our facebook page, or send us an email at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com about how you like to make healthier or homemade versions of common prepared foods, or a tip on your favorite spot to find local food in your area. Submit your ideas to us by Tuesday, March 20th, and we will pick a winner at random. The winner will be notified on Wednesday, March 21st.

Conference features include:

  • Farmers Market & Health Vendors
  • Live Cooking Demonstrations by Chefs and Dieticians
  • Expert Presentation about Health and Local Food Resources
  • Activities for kids (12 and under are free)

For inspiration, and in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, check out a previous post of ours on a homemade version of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Also, with your consent, ideas and tips collected as part of this contest may end up published in a new post on this website. We look forward to hearing from you!

Book Review: “What Einstein Told His Cook”

As a mother of two young children, I rarely have the time, unless I’m half-asleep anyway, to read a book. It may take me a month or two to finish, but slow and steady is better than nothing at all! A few months ago I came across a book at a used book stand in my neighborhood titled, “What Einstein Told His Cook.” It piqued my interest, not only as a foodie at heart, but also my allure to the world of science.

I was expecting the language to be a bit dry at times, but I was pleasantly surprised how well the author, Robert L. Wolke, imparted such humor into complicated matters of food chemistry. It made me stop and think how much more I would have loved high school chemistry had I had the opportunity to work with a more enthusiastic and witty personality! But I suppose that goes with any subject in school, no?

“What Einstein Told His Cook,” delves into subjects, such as the process of refining sugar (you may be surprised to learn that “raw” sugar sold in organic and health sections of most supermarkets, really is still refined), the most efficient way in which to squeeze the most juice out of a lemon, and why you can’t use a liquid measuring cup to accurately measure dry ingredients.  There are some wonderful recipes dispersed throughout the book, ranging from a champagne gelatin dessert and homemade gravlax, to an autumn mushroom pie and ricotta fritters.

By all means, if you are interested in learning why various chemicals in your kitchen react in certain ways, or are simply curious to know how your microwave works to heat food on a molecular level, this book is a must-read. I know I enjoyed it!

Food Travels

For those of us located in the northern regions of the U.S., a winter vacation down south is a welcome blessing. For most, the sun, sand, and water are the highlights. But, I have to admit, despite enjoying all of the following, the food is most certainly the spotlight on my personal stage. My family’s latest excursion was to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Truly, this little island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, is a gastronomic extravaganza. Numerous restaurants line the tourist-laden walking streets, serving everything from Cuban and Mediterranean food, to “authentic” Mexican.

On my quest to experience some truly authentic Mexican food, I ventured off the tourist-laden walking street and into the downtown neighborhood of the island. I honestly never believed my husband would ever utter the word, “amazing,” to describe eating a Mexican dish, but sometimes pigs can fly, eh? Hands down, the food we ate at “El Charco,” was by far the best Mexican cuisine I have ever consumed in my life. Simple plates of handmade corn tortillas, piled with slices of chili relleno peppers, cheese, and strips of beef or chicken were served, along with various homemade sauces.

After stuffing our bellies, we ventured through the neighborhood and came across a make-shift corner restaurant, roofed with a draped plastic tarp and outfitted with a single plastic table and two chairs. I saw a sign that read, “tamales,” and despite having just eaten an enormous meal, purchased one tamale, lovingly wrapped in a banana leaf. Ok, so there’s no way I could have eaten it right then and there, so I saved it for breakfast the following day. My god! Was that tamale good. I had only ever had tamales wrapped in corn husks before. The banana leaf allowed more steam to remain inside the tamale while cooking, so the corn masa (dough) was much more moist. Nothing to say but delicious!

The best way to gastronomically experience a city while on vacation, is to venture into the local market places. I found the best breakfasts of poc chuc (a flattened piece of pork, served atop rice, with homemade corn tortillas), empanadas, and freshly squeezed juices all for about 1/4 of the price of the high-priced tourist restaurants. Butcher’s stands, with various cuts of meat, hung from the ceiling, and numerous stands sold colorful fruits and vegetables. I had seen mini bananas, or bananitos, sold in some New York City markets before, but had never tried them. I bought a bunch at the market and was pleasantly surprised to discover a much sweeter, intense version of a regular banana. And they were the perfect size for both my children! We ended up mashing some together with milk for breakfast one morning. Yum!


Then I came across what appeared to be a small, football-shaped fruit with fuzzy brown skin. I had seen men selling some by the side of the road and was intrigued by the fruit’s bright orange flesh. I decided to buy one from the market and finally taste one. When I returned back to my hotel, I inquired to one of the porters for the name of this alien fruit. The porter gave a large smile and said, “mah-meh.” I cut open the fruit and was surprised to find a single, elongated seed in the middle. I took my first bite and was pleasantly surprised by its intense sweetness, with a consistency much like that of papaya.
So wherever your travels may take you, try to eat as the locals do, and avoid all the tourist traps. Be curious, explore, and ask as many questions as the language barrier allows you! Happy travels and, as always, happy eating!!!

TDB Homemade: Shrimp Cocktail Sauce

Who doesn’t love shrimp cocktail? I often have a supply of pre-cooked shrimp in my freezer, just waiting to be thawed out for a quick snack or dinner ingredient. I do not, however, stock my fridge with cocktail sauce because (as my mother taught me long ago) making it on my own is just as quick and easy as opening a jar. There are just two ingredients that are necessary – ketchup and horseradish. Now, granted, commercially prepared ketchup is not always one of the most highly regarded condiments on the shelf when it comes to healthy eating, but there are quite a few brands now that make it organic, low salt, low sugar, or all-natural, and almost every home has some of it sitting around. And, to be honest, I think this cocktail sauce is just as good as any kind I’ve had in a restaurant or out of a jar. Try it, and see if you can tell the difference! So here’s the basic recipe:

2 Tbsp. ketchup + 1 Tbsp. horseradish — stir it together in a small bowl, and it’s ready to serve.

Add more or less horseradish to your liking. Other items may be added to enhance the flavor to your taste, such as hot sauce, a twist of lemon, Worcestershire sauce, or wasabi powder, but I don’t find any of those necessary and usually stick with what’s simple.

So, here you go – something quick and easy that you can make in less than 30 seconds. Serve with cold cooked shrimp, and enjoy!

Golden Lentil Stew

By the ends of winter, I am most definitely in need of some color in my life. That’s why I love this recipe, with all its warm yellow and orange hues. It’s not only healthy, but extremely easy on the eyes and the wallet, for that matter. Turmeric lends a rich color to your food and is considered to have numerous potential health benefits from its anti-inflammatory properties, which may include inhibited growth of certain cancers and the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.

Feel free to include some orzo, or some other small shaped pasta to this stew if you desire, but it’s certainly hearty enough without it. If you are unable to find yellow lentils, which are usually sold in specialty Italian and Middle Eastern markets, you could substitute red or orange lentils, however, the consistency of the stew will change slightly. If you prefer to keep this dish strictly vegan, you could always substitute the chicken stock with vegetable stock. Serve with a dollop of thick yogurt and some crusty bread.

Yield: 6-8 servings

5 Tbl. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, halved, and chopped into small pieces
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh cilantro, plus 1 Tbl. coarsely chopped
1 c. yellow lentils
2 Tbl. tomato paste
1- 2″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. ground coriander seeds
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/2 c. pitted dates, chopped (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
2 Tbl. parsley, chopped coarsely

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or medium stock pot on medium heat. Add the spices and allow them to simmer in the oil for 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, and ginger. Allow the vegetables to sautée for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and chopped cilantro with a sprinkle of salt into a thick paste. Add the paste and cinnamon stick to the pot, along with the lentils, and give everything a good stir or two. Add the tomato paste, stock, and water. Stir and cover. Allow the stew to cook for about 20 minutes before adding the canned chickpeas. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Cook for another 15-20 minutes. If you so choose, add the chopped dates and lemon juice, and cook for another 5-10 minutes. Add the finely chopped cilantro and parsley. Serve and enjoy! As always, happy eating!

TDB Homemade: Ginger Ale

I’ve had my eye on a water carbonation system, namely a Soda Stream, for quite a while now. So you can imagine my joy when my husband gave one to me for Christmas. I enjoy a good glass of bubbly water every now and then to give me a little lift. I just don’t enjoy lugging bottles of the stuff from the grocery store up to my apartment; a dilemma not faced by my suburbanite driving counterparts. (Sometimes I do envy you all!) Sparkling water is a fantastic alternative to sugar-laden sodas. You get the fizz without any of the calories or potentially harmful ingredients, like phosphoric acid and caffeine.

For a long while, I upheld the myth that carbonation actually leached calcium from your body. Honestly, it was the main reason holding me back from consuming numerous glasses of the stuff on a daily basis. But after doing a bit of research, I am happy to share with you that carbonation is not the calcium-leaching culprit it has been made out to be. Many sodas contain phosphoric acid and have been linked to an increase in bone fractures among children and postmenopausal women. Now, I’m not going to tell you not to have a soda here and there if you so choose. The problem occurs when it becomes your main source of liquid on a daily basis.

I have not consumed soda pop regularly since my childhood years, as I now find it to be overly sweet and harshly carbonated. Occasionally my husband has the urge to stock the refrigerator with cans of cola, but soda is not a regular commodity found in our home, and our children, except for the occasional Italian soda at a restaurant, have never consumed the stuff. If parents realized their children’s teeth were getting an acid bath of phosphoric acid, followed by a nice coating of liquid sugar, they probably would not be so willing to whip out the “pop” from the fridge door so easily. (I won’t even go into the time on the subway when I saw a mother give her baby cola in a bottle! Yikes!!!)

So what about those times, like when your stomach is a bit queasy, when a can of soda feels exactly what the doctor ordered? You could go to the store and buy a can or two, but why not make a delicious and healthier option at home? Trust me, it’s not as difficult as you may think. And anything you make from scratch is always more delicious than the store-bought version! May I suggest to you a homemade ginger ale? Ginger possesses numerous health benefits, such as gastrointestinal, nausea, and motion sickness relief, as well as anti-inflammatory effects and possible protection against colorectal cancer. Not so shabby for a little spicy, underground rhizome [rootstock]!

Being a fan of ginger ale, and not wanting to buy the artificial caramel color and high fructose corn syrup version, or shell out almost $8 for a four-pack of high-end, organic ginger ale, I opted to make my own version. What I like most about making homemade ginger ale, is that you can vary the sweetness or spiciness, depending on your palate. I also included another drink recipe below, which incorporates ginger ale, kiwi, and mint. And when Halloween falls upon us once again, the kiwi drinks makes a fantastic “witch’s brew,” which can be consumed with or without a splash of alcohol, depending on the size of witches in your home. Cheers!

Ginger Ale:

1 -5″ piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8″ rounds
1 c. sugar
1 c. water
carbonated water

Add the peeled, sliced ginger, sugar, and water to a small saucepan. Give it a good stir. On low heat, slowly bring the water to a boil, stirring every minute or so, to make sure the sugar is dissolving nicely into the water. Allow this process to go on for about 10 minutes, or until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the heat and allow the ginger to seep into the simple syrup until the liquid has cooled. Pour the ginger and the syrup into a glass container with a top and store in the fridge. The ginger syrup should stay well in the fridge for a few months, just like any other fruit preserve. However, I seriously doubt it will last that long!

To make the ginger ale, pour about 2 Tbl. of the ginger syrup into a glass. Add about 8 oz. of carbonated water. Give it a gentle stir and you are ready to take your first sip of homemade ginger ale…….ahhhhh! Refreshing, isn’t it?!?

Kiwi Ginger Ale with Mint (aka Witch’s Brew):

6 kiwis, peeled and roughly chopped
5-6 c. ginger ale (see recipe above)
large bunch of fresh mint, leaves removed from stem

Place the kiwi and mint into a food processor and process until there are no large chunks of kiwi remaining and the mint is finely chopped. Pour the kiwi mixture into a large pitcher and add the ginger ale. Add some vodka or rum, if you desire. Refrigerate until chilled. The drink will separate in the fridge, so just give it a good stir before serving.

An Easy Borscht

Beets are a lovely addition to your winter diet. There is something about their bright hue that seems to add a touch of color to a dreary, grey day. And usually anything with color is a welcome addition to a child’s diet. My toddler daughter likes to call borscht “strawberry soup.” Beets are rich sources of potassium, iron, and vitamin-C. Their lovely red juice can be a blood purifier, may lower high blood pressure, and can aid in the breakdown of kidney stones. In fact, beet juice has been touted to counteract anemia and iron deficiency, and has even been credited to help defeat cancer in some patients.

There are numerous versions of borscht; some with meat and some completely vegetarian. But I think I could safely say I prefer a vegetarian borscht, that is, unless I have some leftover roast lingering in the fridge. If at all possible, buy organic beets, since they are root vegetables and readily soak up pesticides from the ground, as well as from above ground, exposing your body to more chemicals that I’m sure you would like to keep far, far away. This soup is fairly easy to make and extremely uncomplicated. Just be sure to wear an apron and a set of gloves while preparing the beets, or you may just become bright red from head to toe!

4 medium beets, peeled and grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small pieces
2 c. chicken stock
6 c. water
2 Tbl. fresh dill, finely chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 tsp. sugar
salt, pepper to taste
Greek yogurt, or sour cream
olive oil

Prepare the beets and other vegetables, separately; set aside. In a large saucepan or small stock pot, heat some olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the chopped vegetables and then the grated beets. Sprinkle the sugar on top. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Allow the mixture to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the 2 Tbl. of dill, chicken stock, and water. Stir everything together. Turn down the heat to low and cover. Be sure that your soup does not boil too rigorously, or else you will have little spouts of beet juice just about every where on your stove top and over your floor. Allow the soup to cook for about 45 minutes. Taste and season accordingly.

Serve warm with a dollop of thick Greek yogurt or sour cream, and a small handful of freshly chopped dill. (The cooked dill will become dull in color, and adding some fresh dill boosts the soup’s overall appearance.) Alternatively, you could serve this soup chilled for lunch.