Monthly Archives: March 2011
Cooking with the Seasons03.21.11
This past weekend, in honor of a Spring that shyly approaches, J and jumped into the convertible and headed north to spend our Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. After many wrong turns, we eventually reached our destination: a cooking school tucked into a small strip of businesses right off the highway in upstate Bardonia, NY. Two months ago, we purchased a cooking class at Food Evolution. We were prepared to put our Groupon coupon to the test!
We walked into a warm sliver of a space and were welcomed by our teacher Lori and her assistant Rebecca, two young women who greeted us nonchalantly, completely ignoring the fact that we were very, very late. Their sweet dispositions made us feel as comfortable as the modern yet homey kitchen we had set foot in, stocked with shiny appliances, as well as organic herbs, vegetables, bottles of olive oil and cookbooks. Today’s menu included an array of seasonal dishes that included sautéed kale, quinoa with currants and almonds, roasted chicken with apples, pears and figs, and vanilla-scented poached pears for dessert.
This fabulous kitchen houses Food Evolution, a cooking center focused on a whole food approach which was founded last year by Diane Hoch, a nutritional health counselor. She believes that food supports you physically, spiritually and mentally. As it turned out, the dishes we prepared that afternoon were not only nourishing and delicious, but also helped to define some simple kitchen basics: roasting a chicken is easy, separating the kale leaves from its stems reduces its bitter flavor, and preparing quinoa with a 1:2 (grain to liquid) proportion achieves a fluffy and moist consistency.
While J and I spent most of the afternoon watching Lori and Rebecca in action, the conversation also turned to many aspects of their alternative lifestyle, from juicing to the Dirty Dozen, from hot yoga to gluten-free baking. These choices may initially seem extreme (at least they did to me), but to these two women they were a normal part of their daily life. This attention to health and healthful choices was evident in the food they prepared. The dishes, made with organic produce, spices and meat, were delicious, clean and full of flavor. The kale was delicate and toothsome. The chicken was moist and crispy on the outside, the fruits a tasty garnish reminiscent of the holidays. The quinoa was fluffy and moist, sweet and crunchy.
At the end, I’m not sure if it was the food or the company, but we walked out into the late afternoon light feeling happy and relaxed. Creating wholesome dishes can be incredibly satisfying, forcing you to be more creative in the kitchen or as J said, be a good way to “get out of the broccoli-pasta rut”.
For me, weekends are for sleeping in, seeing friends, catching up on life and most importantly, indulging in the luxury of time. Creating elaborate breakfast dishes is such a treat that I sometimes enjoy the process more than the actual tasting (ahem, NOT). Mangú con huevo, the quintessential breakfast dish from the Dominican Republic is the perfect case in point. Mangú, or mashed green plantains, is made by boiling green plantains and crushing them with olive oil and butter until they’re soft and creamy. In the D.R., mangú is typically served with fried cheese, fried salami (a local sausage), sunny side eggs and avocado. The end result is a feast of textures: the smoothness of the egg yolk balances the density of the plantain, the cheese and salami add a salty crisp and the avocado a cool refuge for your taste buds.
As I prepared this beloved breakfast dish on a recent Saturday, I was reminded of a drive I took with the family through the Dominican countryside, as we made our way to the mountains of Jarabacoa. The morning was rainy and fresh, and we stopped at the breezy roadside restaurant Típico Bonao which lures locals from all over the country to start the day with this dish and an aromatic cup of Dominican coffee. Mangú con huevo brings back this Dominican love, and nourishes the spirit as well as the belly.
Mangú con Huevo Serves 2
2 green plantains
“queso de hoja” cheese (optional)
Chop the ends off each plantain. Make slits throughout the plantain, running the tip of your knife through the length of the fruit. Chop the plantains into 1″ chunks. Fill a pot with water and boil the plantain chunks for about 45 minutes.
While the plantains cook, thinly slice the onion and place the slivers in a bowl with 1 tablespoons of white vinegar, olive oil and salt. Stir these around until the onion gets covered and let it rest.
Check if the plantains are ready by piercing them with a fork. They should be tender when cooked. They will also be easy to peel. Remove their skin and place the chunks in a deep bowl. Pour a 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, a drizzle of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of butter and salt and start to mash with a masher or fork. Work through the pieces, alternating with the liquid, olive oil and butter, until you achieve your desired consistency.
Working quickly, pan fry the onions in a drizzle of olive oil and pour over the mangú. Cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. Next toss the ham, and fry the eggs sunny side up, on a non-stick pan. You can also deep fry the queso de hoja for an authentic latin kick and slice up some avocados on the side. Serve the mangú with the onions, eggs and ham. Eat immediately!