Whole foods

Criollo Tomato Sauce: From Vine to Table

New beginnings

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Do you remember that Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is surrounded by girlfriends who are telling her that she’s gotta have a baby and move to Long Island? My friend Jess sent it to me this past week, and it got me thinking. It seems like motherhood is knocking on my door in the most unexpected of places.

Every Tuesday morning, Gus and I have the same conversation.”Who’s going to pick them up?”,”Can you pick them up?”, “Are you going to pick them up?”. We’re not talking about babies (yet!), we’re talking about our veggies from the CSA, which we have to pick up every Tuesday night. The thing about the CSA that nobody tells you is that these vegetables become a responsibility. First of all, we have to pick them up before 7 p.m. from the Hudson Guild, which means we have to rush out of work (no later than 6:20 p.m.) if we want to see our vegetables that week. I know what you’re thinking: Why stress over these veggies? Well, we paid a nice and hefty fee back when the year began ($530) to get them, so why not do everything we can to enjoy them?

Don’t get me wrong, the veggies have been great. Last week, I prepared a summer squash and corn soup that had the clearest and most beautiful garden flavors I had tasted all summer. The recipe was included in the weekly newsletter we receive from Stoneledge Farm, which lists the produce of the week, and tips for what to do with it. Last week, I got squash, red onion, dill, eggplant, okra, and green beans. For the soup, I sauteed the squash with onions, poured in some chicken broth, blended it, stirred in some corn, and topped it with feta and lemon. It was unbelievable!

I also have to volunteer at the Chelsea CSA during the course of the summer, which takes place during the work day. They scheduled a trip to the farm, which sounded amazing, but it was on a Friday. So, as you can see, it’s a big commitment, and often work gets in the way. But man, I love those vegetables. When we went out of town this weekend, I thought of them often. “I hope they’re OK. I hope that that they’re OK over the weekend”. And you know what? They were. I got home last night and prepared a big, beautiful summer salad. The romaine was perfectly crispy, the red shallots were firm and plump. I was one proud Mama.

Diary of a CSA

Strawberries for a summer spritzer

This year I finally remembered to join a local CSA. For those of you who are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, it’s a Community-Supported Agriculture program that connects you with a local farm so you get fresh, seasonal produce every week straight from the farm. Think of it as a farmer’s market club membership, except that instead of having to go to the farmer’s market, the market comes to you! A few months ago, after some extensive research, I came across the Chelsea CSA, which is supplied by Stoneledge Farm, run by the Kavakos family and located in upstate New York. Every Tuesday night from June through August, I will rush out of the office with paper bags in tow to pick up my vegetable share at Hudson Guild on 26th street. more »

The Herbfarm Restaurant: A Gift of the Earth

Edible herbs and flowers from the garden

My cheeks were flushed. My head swirled in wine-induced hyperreality. I raised the silver goblet of water to my lips to help dilute the copious amounts of wine that were now coursing through my veins. The sixth dish of the night arrived, “Young Milk Lamb”, with luscious and delicate slices of suckling lamb contrasting with a firm and juicy medallion of pastured lamb. They were nestled in a lime green whip of shallot mashed potatoes and punctuated by a spiraled fiddlehead fern, which I had seen at the market earlier that morning. The lamb had been sourced from a farm nearby. “This is the perfect example of sustainability,” said Chris Weber, the 25-year-old chef that headed the kitchen at the HerbFarm restaurant in Woodinville, Washington. more »

Fresh from the market Latino!

Squeeze some lime and top with a little chopped cilantro

You must think I’m turning all health nut on you. I realize that many of my recent entries have been focusing on healthful cooking and wholesome recipes, but that doesn’t mean I’m leaving my Latin roots behind. The truth is that this semester a Consumer Journalism class at school has opened my eyes to some of the realities of our country’s food system. Coincidentally, I’ve come across some interesting articles recently that bring fresh ideas to the Latin kitchen. One of my favorite Latin food bloggers Ana Sofía Pelaez, recently wrote about the benefits of Latin American super-grains amaranth and quinoa. Lorenza Muñoz shed some light on the vegetarian options that abound in Mexican cooking in her latest story in the LA Times. more »

Organics 2.0

Spring is on its way, and with it a bounty of fresh produce

These days, it seems that everywhere you turn, there’s an organic counterpart to a product you’re consuming: shampoo, vegetables, dairy, even cosmetics. Their labels usually market the product as “All Natural” and “100% Organic” and are typically more expensive. But are these products worth the higher cost and most importantly, do they deliver on their claim? Keep reading to discover what you need to know to shop organics the smart way.

It’s easy to shop organic.

In the past few years, manufacturers have leveraged the country’s obsession with healthier eating by producing more organic products. However, for a product to have a USDA-certified organic sticker and be certified organic, it must be composed of at least 95% organic ingredients. Consumers are easily misled by those products with the word “organic” on their label, and often end up paying more for a product that has organic ingredients, but isn’t certified organic.
Diane Hoch, nutritional health counselor and founder of Food Evolution, a nutrition and cooking center in Bardonia, New York, defines the word “organic” in simple terms: “Organic is how nature intended food to be.” When shopping for produce, she suggests looking at the PLU sticker. A number 9 in front of the 4-digit number indicates the product is organic; an 8 indicates that the product has been genetically modified (yuck!).
In shopping for poultry, she recommends you look for “Free Range Organic” on the label or labeling that says “Hormone Free, Antibiotic Free” or “raised on a vegetarian diet without the use of hormones, antibiotics, steroids”. Ideally, beef should be “Grass Fed Organic” and/or purchased directly from a farm.

Organic food means more healthful food.

Organic food is food that hasn’t’ been grown using pesticides or chemical additives. It is food that doesn’t come from GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) that have been developed inside a lab, instead of in an open field. Traditionally, food was farmed in a system of rotating crops that would attract pollinators and give the earth time to replenish itself. Contemporary industrial agriculture subsists on a monoculture focused mostly on the crops of corn and soy. Thus, farmers have had to resort to using chemicals and pesticides in order to grow their crops because the earth is literally exhausted.

Virginia Schiffino, former Associate Professor of the NYU Food Studies Program, believes that organic good doesn’t equal healthful food, since now organic versions of junk food are now readily available. “I’d’ rather buy a nonorganic brussels sprouts than an organic box of cereal,” she says.

You can be eating food that’s organic that doesn’t have organic certification.

When you visit your local fresh market, it’s possible to buy food that’s organic without being organically certified. There are costs involved in acquiring an organic certification, so those producers whose annual sales don’t exceed $5,000 are exempted from the certification. You can often find this produce at your local farmer’s market, or at CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) programs, where it’s possible to visit the farm and ask the farmer directly about the kind of growing methods that are used.

Products need to be made with 100% organic materials to be labeled organic.

In order to be labeled organic, a product must have at least 95% organic ingredients. If it has 70%, the product can be labeled as “made with organic ingredients”. The National Organic Program (NOP) is the federal regulatory agency governing organic food, administered by the USDA. The Organic Food Production Act of 1990 required the USDA develop national standards for organic products, which covers production, processing, delivery and sale of organic products.

When a product is not organic, you can automatically assume that it has some GMO components.

GMO’s are genetically modified organisms that have been altered or developed inside a lab. Food that is not certified organic has at least some traces of GMO’s. High fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils are examples of GMO’s that are commonly found in most of today’s processed foods. To Schiffino, what is more perplexing is that fact that when something is not organically certified, you don’t know why it’s not. “When something is certified, it’s absolutely clear, but when not, the consumer is lacking in a lot of information,” she says. There are parts of the world in which more transparency exists when it comes to what’s in your food. In Europe, for example, labeling requirements specify that manufactures have to let consumers know the ingredients that are GMO’s.

You should stay away from the “Dirty Dozen” to reduce pesticides in your diet.

There’s a list of produce that is more prone to absorbing pesticides because of its soft outer layer. These fruits and vegetables have been labeled the “Dirty Dozen”, which include the following:

Domestic blueberries
Sweet bell peppers
Spinach, kale and collard greens
Imported grapes
Source: Environmental Working Group 2010

Jessica Solt, a writer in New York City has been shopping organic for about 1 ½ years. Her wake-up call came after watching the movie Food, Inc, which led her to realize that the food industry was “being tampered with”. For her, it’s money that’s well spent. “If there’s something you can control, it’s that.”

So next time you prepare your sofrito, try to make it with organic celery instead.

Cooking with the Seasons

Preparing the Kale Sautée

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”.

“The sky is clear, prepare yourself for warmth”

Warm goat cheese salad

It’s 40 degrees in New York City today! The sky is a bright blue, sunlight is flooding my living room and it feels like Spring is actually peeking its head. Oh, sun, how I have missed you! After weeks and weeks of gloom and gray, it’s refreshing to see that buildings outside my window actually have color: red, sand, white, yellow. This week, Punxsutawney Phil predicted an early Spring. Only two more weeks of winter? I can’t wait! And even if it takes a little longer to arrive, it’s not too early to kick off Spring, at least in our kitchens. Here’s a clean Paris-inspired recipe that’s bright on your plate and good for you, too.

Salade de Chèvre Chaude (warm goat cheese salad)
Makes 2 servings

Salad green (mesclun, spinach or romaine)
2 carrots shredded
any other veggies that turn you on or you have in your kitchen
rustic bread
goat cheese

1 shallot finely diced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard

Combine dressing ingredients and adjust seasonings to your liking with salt, pepper and sugar. Set aside. Toast the bread. Top the slices of bread with goat cheese and stick in the broiler for 2 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and soft. Toss salad greens and veggies with the dressing. Top your salad with the toasted bread and cheese. Eat immediately!

The Clean Experiment

Crazy Veggie Toss

I’m on a roll. The past week and half, I’ve dedicated myself to cooking and eating “clean”. I figured, it’s the beginning of the year, perfect time to establish new habits, so why not try something different? I was inspired by Clean, a book by Alejandro Junger M.D. (viva Uruguay!), that crossed my path on January 1st (was this a sign or what?). The book focuses on a detox program that promises to heal and clean your body. But it also gives an in-depth explanation about toxins and practical advice to decrease exposure to them in a very clear and descriptive way.

When it comes to detoxes and cleansing, I’m your #1 skeptic. I believe that the body is intelligent enough to activate its natural cleansing functions so I was a little hesitant to even pick up the book. But when my friend JP told me it was written by a fellow Hispanic, I figured I should give him chance. Well, looks like I’m almost done with the book and I’m still not sold on the detox program. Yet, the one thing it has definitely done for me is build my awareness.

As an experiment, I spent the last 10 days cooking as clean and simply as possible, focusing on whole foods whenever possible and going back to basics: lots of fruits and veggies, more seeds and nuts, less animal products, more water. Immediately I noticed a huge difference in my energy. Not only did it soar, but I felt very balanced, both emotionally and physically. I haven’t really deprived myself of anything ( I had some Baklava for dessert!), just have paid more attention on preparing more simple and nourishing foods.

This conscious way of nourishing myself has made me more creative in the kitchen, too. This week, I made everything from roasted beet and carrot salad with thyme and goat cheese to an Italian-inspired kale and white bean soup. I’m devoting myself to the Clean Experiment for the next few weeks. Throughout my journey, I plan to share with you some of the best recipes I come across, in hopes that you too can restore your energy and balance. Happy cooking!

Crazy Veggie Toss Serves 4

1 bunch of Tuscan kale

1 tomato cubed

1 red onion cubed

2 carrots grated

3 cloves garlic minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

Herbs: could be thyme, rosemary, or cilantro for a latin kick (get creative!)


2-3 Sausage (I used a sun-dried tomato and rosemary chicken sausage from Whole Foods) cubed

Parmesan cheese

Stem and devein the kale. Roughly chop and rinse with cold water. Warm the olive oil in a deep pan, add the onion and carrots and heat until soft. Add the sausage and cook until browned. Add the garlic and tomato and cook until soft. Taste for salt. Add the herbs and the kale. Add a splash of liquid (water, broth, wine) until the mixture acquires your desired consistency. Cook for 20-30 minutes. Serve over pasta, chicken or a filet of grilled fish. Top with some grated parmesan cheese. If you want to make it veggie-friendly, just omit the sausage. ¡A tu salud!

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