Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fennel-Carrot Salad with Lime Dressing

Fennel is a cool-weather vegetable that doesn't get much respect in America, but it's a mainstay of French and Mediterranean cuisine. In cooking, it most closely resembles crunchy celery, albeit with a more delicate flavor. Its stalks and seeds taste something like licorice. But its health claims may be its strongest appeal. Fennel is loaded with Vitamin C and a powerful antimicrobial needed to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and boost the immune system.


3 medium carrots
2 fennel bulbs
1 jalapeno pepper
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon honey
1 pinch of sea salt
1/3 cup minced parsley or cilantro


1. Combine lime juice, cumin, red pepper flakes, sea salt, jalapeno in a bowl or mini-food processor. Add minced jalapeno. Whip or blend. Then add olive oil and blend until well mixed.

2. Shred the carrots and fennel with the grating blade of your food processor or a box grater. Toss together with parsley or cilantro until well mixed.

3. Add lime vinaigrette, toss and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cooking with Fennel:

The fennel bulb, foliage, and seeds of the fennel plant are widely used in many of the culinary traditions of the world. Fennel pollen is the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive. Dried fennel seed is an aromatic, anise-flavoured spice, brown or green in colour when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the seed ages. For cooking, green seeds are optimal. The leaves are delicately flavoured and similar in shape to those of dill. The bulb is a crisp, hardy vegetable and may be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled or eaten raw.

Fennel seeds are sometimes confused with those of anise, which are similar in taste and appearance, though smaller.

Its health benefits abound.

Like many of its sister herbs, fennel contains a unique combination of phytonutrients—including the flavonoids rutinquercitin, and various kaempferol glycosides—that give it strong antioxidant activity.

The most fascinating phytonutrient compound in fennel, however, may be anethole—the primary component of its volatile oil. In animal studies, the anethole in fennel has repeatedly been shown to reduce inflammation and to help prevent the occurrence of cancer. The volatile oil has also been shown to be able to protect the liver of experimental animals from toxic chemical injury.

In addition to its unusual phytonutrients, fennel bulb is an excellent source of vitamin C which aids in neutralizing free radicals in all aqueous environments of the body and reducing pain and joint deterioration that occurs in conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The vitamin C found in fennel bulb is directly antimicrobial and is also needed for the proper function of the immune system.

As a very good source of fiber, fennel bulb may help to reduce elevated cholesterol levels. And since fiber also removes potentially carcinogenic toxins from the colon, fennel bulb may also be useful in preventing colon cancer. In addition to its fiber, fennel is a very good source of folate, a B vitamin that is necessary to convert a dangerous molecule called homocysteine into other, benign molecules, thus reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Fennel is also a very good source of potassium, a mineral that helps lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for stroke and heart attack. In a cup of fennel, you'll receive 10.8% of the daily value for fiber, 5.9% of the DV for folate, and 10.3% of the DV for potassium.

Shrimp Stock

A good shrimp stock is the base for just about any seafood dish you want - gumbo, shrimp etouffee, shrimp creole, shrimp bisque, seafood risotta, paella, you name it. It's simple, easy and a great way to up-cycle parts of vegetables you typically discard, such as celery tops. Freeze in 1-pint containers.


Shrimp shells and heads
1 cup coarsely chopped celery with tops
1 cup coarsely chopped carrot
1 medium coarsely chopped onion
3 Bay leaves
A few coarsely chopped garlic cloves
Fresh or dried thyme
McCormick's crab boil (or a hand full of peppercorns)
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 quarts water


1. Place the shrimp shells and heads in a large colander and rinse under cold, running water.

2. Throw all ingredients into a heavy stock pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer for 45 - 60 minutes. Occasionally skim any foam on the surface.

3. Remove the stock from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean container; let cool completely. Refrigerate the stock for up to 3 days or freeze in airtight containers for up to 2 months.

Makes 3 quarts.

~Recipe adapted from Emeril Lagasse.

Wild Caught vs Farm-raised Salmon

Yesterday, the butcher at a Safeway supermarket gave me a great spiel on the merits of the seafood in his case, including factory-farmed salmon.

He was justifiably proud of a recent Greenpeace Green Rating.
Since the CATO project began in 2007, the 20 retailers analyzed within the report have discontinued a total of 67 red list species—over 20% of the total number originally sold. Most of this progress was made in the past two years, which is indicative of a growing trend within the sector to eschew unsustainable seafood products in favor of more responsible and defensible alternatives.

The move to quality, affordability and sustainable seafood is a Big Deal for a national food chain and a step in the right direction for the environment as well as consumers.

According to a Greenpeace press release:
This week Safeway stores in California began stocking a budget-friendly sustainable tuna that provides an alternative to environmentally destructive mainstream options such as Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea.

But sustainable does not equate to healthy, i.e., fish that are free of the many deficits that farming can cause.

As Providence would have it, Marion Nestle, Food Politics, published a letter from anti-fish farming advocates today. It details the many reasons that farm-raised salmon is about the unhealthiest fish in the food case.
The hazards of Norwegian farmed salmon are well documented. A scientific paper in 2004 published in the journal Science revealed cancer-causing contaminants such as dioxins, PCBs, DDT, dieldrin and toxaphene. A 2005 study and another 2006 study both concluded that the consumption of farmed salmon carried an elevated cancer risk. Another 2009 study in the Journal of Cancer Research reported carcinogenis in Norwegian farmed salmon including intestinal tumors and metastases (analogous to that of human colorectal cancer associated with inflammatory bowel disease). In 2011, a scientific study concluded that consumption of Norwegian farmed salmon was linked to diabetes and obesity (no wonder the American Diabetes Association recommends wild not farmed salmon).

While it is specific to Norwegian farmed-salmon, widely distributed by Costco, the overall health hazards prove ubiquitous in this industry.

I chose the wild-caught salmon.

How about you?

Broccoli Rice Gratin

I recently tried a recipe for broccoli rice casserole that was made with evaporated milk and flour to create a cheesy-white sauce. The combination tasted way too much like Velveeta for me. So when I saw wilting broccoli in the vegetable crisper the day before grocery shopping, I decided transform it into my go-to French gratin with ingredients I had on hand. Yum.

Broccoli Rice Casserole


1 cup brown rice (3 cups cooked)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus some to oil the pan
1 large onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, minced
3 large heads broccoli (3 cups of florets)
2 cups shredded cheddar, Gruyere or other cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half cream (or milk)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Tony's Creole Seasoning (or salt & pepper) to taste
Healthy sprinkle of dried thyme (2 tablespoons or to taste)


1. Cook rice according to package directions and set aside when done.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease casserole or gratin pan with olive oil.

3. Saute' onions and garlic in olive oil until they start to caramelize. When sufficiently tan, remove from heat, combine with rice and season to taste.

4. Clean broccoli, breaking the heads into bite-sized florets. Steam until bright green, but just this side of done. When the tooth is right for you, drain, dress with fresh lemon juice and set aside. (If you want to use the stems, peel and steam these longer; dice before adding to the rice.)

5. Whisk eggs with cream. Fold in the primary cheese - in this case cheddar. Mix with rice, onions. Fold in broccoli.

6. Transfer to greased gratin dish. Top with grated parmesan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes, until the body is bubbly and the top is nicely brown.

Serves 6 or 8.

Way to clean out the refrigerator before Thanksgiving!

Slow Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

I've been roasting the last of this summer's tomatoes. When they've shriveled sufficiently, I let them cool, slip off the skins, freeze them on a cookie sheet, then transfer them to storage bags to use singly or by the hand full as I need them.

After two days of being embraced by the heavenly fragrance of roasting tomatoes, garlic, oregano and thyme, I was done preserving for later.

I wanted to eat some tomatoes now.

Really. The tomato flavor is so concentrated, sweet and tart at the same time, it's hard not to eat them straight out of the pan.

What to make?

Well anything that calls for tomatoes - soup, salsa, marinara, red rice, roasted tomatoes chopped with basil in a bowl of cooked pasta, on pizza, on bread.


Thus, tomato bruschetta.



For the tomatoes:
2 pounds of tomatoes yields about 1 cup of slow-roasted tomatoes
Fresh garlic, crushed and roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil

For the bruschetta:
Red-wine or balsamic vinegar
Chopped kalamata olives
Tony's Creole Seasoning
Mozzarella, feta or Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil

Toast points or crusty French bread sliced for crostini


1. Wash, halve and core tomatoes. Spray a non-reactive pan with a little olive oil. Place tomato halves face down. Sprinkle with crushed, chopped garlic,  oregano, thyme. Roast at 250 degrees until the skin starts to bubble and blacken - about three hours. When tomatoes are done, remove from the oven. Slip off the skins when they are sufficiently cool to handle and dice.

2. Combine in a small bowl with a two tablespoons of olive oil, two tablespoons of red-wine vinegar, a dash of Creole seasoning and a hand full of roughly chopped Greek olives.

3. Thinly slice bread into "points" or crostini. Brush lightly with olive oil, sprinkle with garlic powder and bake at 350 degrees until just starting to toast - about six minutes. Flip them over and bake for another two or three minutes.

4. When lightly tan, remove from the oven. Then load them up with the tomato-olive mixture. Top with fresh basil and grated cheese. Pop back into the oven and bake a few minutes longer until the cheese melts.

You'll think of a myriad of variations on this; you're only limited by your imagination and the availability of fresh, home-grown tomatoes.

~Adapted from a recipe on Chow Hound

Chicken Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Ingredients for your shopping list ahead of Mardi Gras on Tuesday, March 4: all-natural chickens at Whole Foods, Andouille sausage at Dai Due and Stuffed Cajun Meat Market. Fresh, organic vegetables from your favorite vendors.And King Cake from Sweetish Hill.


1 tablespoon plus 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 pound andouille sausage, cut crosswise 1/2-inch thick pieces
3 - 4 pound chicken, cut up and skinned
1 tablespoon Cajun seasoning
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, chopped (2 cups)
3 ribs celery, chopped (1 cup)
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3 bay leaves
9 cups chicken stock or bouillon
1 bunch chopped green onions, 1/2 cup
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 tablespoon file powder
White or brown rice
Louisiana hot sauce


1. In a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven or large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Saute' sausage until well browned. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside.

2. Season the chicken with the Cajun season and brown on all sides in the sausage drippings left in the pan. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside until ready to use.

Make or reheat a dark-brown roux

When hot, add onions, celery and bell peppers to the roux and cook, stirring until the vegetables wilt. Add the browned sausage, salt, cayenne and bay leaves, stir to mix well for about 2 minutes. Continuing to stir, slowly add the chicken stock until well combined. Bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, uncovered for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Add the reserved chicken to the pot and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

Remove the pot from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the gumbo and place on a cutting board to cool slightly. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Pull the chicken meat from the bones and shred, discarding the bones and skin. Return the meat to the gumbo and stir in the green onions, parsley, and file powder.

Spoon rice into the bottom of deep bowls or large cups and ladle the gumbo on top. Serve with a garnish of green onion tops and hot sauce on the side.

~Recipe from Emeril Lagasse

If you're pressed for time,  Savoie's Real Cajun Roux works. Light or dark mixtures are available at Stuffed Cajun Meat Market and online.

First You Make a Roux

No aspect of gumbo is more important than roux (pronounced rue.) It's a simple concoction of flour and fat used as a thickener. Ah, but how thick? How dark? It depends on the dish and how much love goes into it. A basic roux by Emeril Lagasse makes 2 cups which can be stored in the refrigerator up to 6 months.



1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup vegetable oil


Put the oil into a cast-iron skillet or enameled cast-iron pot over medium heat. Sprinkle a little flour in the oil to test it. If the flour begins to bubble, the oil is hot enough to start. Add all of the flour into the oil, whisking it in - a little at a time - until all of the flour is fully incorporated.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. When oil and flour are fully incorporated, place the pan with the oil and flour in the hot oven.  Cook for 1-1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  When roux is a thick, dark, chocolate color, remove from the oven and add one cup of cold water to stop the cooking. Transfer roux to your gumbo pot one tablespoon at a time to keep the proportions balanced - usually 4 to 6 tablespoons.
Chef's note: Roux can be cooled and stored for up to 6 months in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When it cools, the roux will separate. Before using, stir to blend and bring the roux to room temperature.

If you're pressed for time,  Savoie's Real Cajun Roux works.