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The Healthy Hedonist is a book of vibrant, healthful, great-tasting recipes designed to satisfy a wide variety of palates. Many of us have had the experience of finishing a meal only to feel heavy, stuffed, and guilty shortly thereafter. A true hedonist, "a person who pursues pleasure," is passionate about food. A real hedonist also wants to feel good. The healthy hedonist anticipates a good meal, savors it, and feels energetic and nourished afterward. Different people have different ideas about what constitutes healthy eating habits. Many are bewildered by the myriad choices available. Some thrive on a vegetarian diet; others do not. Some eschew dairy, while others don't respond well to soy. Some don't eat certain foods or combinations of foods because of their religious or spiritual convictions. Some eat a variety of foods but are not sure what is going to make them feel their best. Many are struggling with weight issues. I came to natural foods years ago when I was a fashion designer. Cooking was a way to relax after an exhausting day on New York's Fashion Avenue. I had a wonderful time playing with newly discovered ingredients like quinoa and lentils and umeboshi vinegar. For the first time, I realized that there was a direct connection between what I put into my body and how I felt. Soon after, I discovered Annemarie Colbin's Natural Gourmet Cookery School, and "for the fun of it" I enrolled in its first part-time chef training program. Annemarie was my first natural foods mentor. To this day, I often repeat her maxim "If it's not real, don't eat it." My love affair with cooking had begun, and my training in fashion design influenced my cooking. I still pay attention to how dishes complement each other -- how they "hang together" -- and I envision garnishes as accessories to a dish. Nowadays I spend my work life teaching and writing about food. This book reflects much of what I have learned over my past five years of teaching, in large part as a response to the questions, concerns, and requests of my students. I teach many kinds of cooking classes to all kinds of people, from those who are conversant with natural foods to those who are more in the mainstream. The recipes in this book are those that my students have loved. Many of us are what could now be called "flexitarians." A flexitarian may be primarily a vegetarian but may eat some animal products on occasion.
Or a flexitarian may be an omnivore who often chooses to eat vegetarian. Some people call themselves vegetarian; then they add that they eat some fish, or perhaps fish and chicken. They too are flexitarians. In addition, some people often have to cook for others who do not have the same eating habits as they do. For example, one of my students was a mother who found herself at a loss when it came to cooking for her vegan teenage daughter. One of my students was a vegan whose wife was not a vegetarian, and he did all the household cooking. Some of my students reported that they had been eating only raw foods for years, then realized that they needed to add animal products as well as cooked food back into their diets.
Many of the recipes presented here are vegetarian, although there are a good number of fish and chicken dishes. Many of these dishes can be made several ways. The flounder with an orange glaze is also delicious when made with tofu. The chicken with mushroom ragout is equally tasty when made with tempeh. The Moroccan stew is succulent whether it is made with braised chicken or with chickpeas for the vegetarian. A spinach and roasted shiitake mushroom salad with a rosemary lemon balsamic vinaigrette makes an excellent starter to a wholesome meal; the addition of crispy tempeh croutons transforms the salad into a light vegetarian entrée.
Most of the dairy in the book is optional. A baby greens salad with roasted red pepper vinaigrette has warm walnut-crusted goat cheese medallions for a tasty flourish -- but the salad is still delicious without the cheese. Some of the soups include a yogurt garnish, but tofu cream can be substituted. It's up to you to decide which version suits your needs or preference.
Many of us have only a limited time to spend in the kitchen, but we still want to make fresh and delicious food. Shortcut methods are offered whenever they can be applied without compromising the taste and healthfulness of the dish. For instance, the roasted red pepper soup is best made with homemade stock and home-roasted peppers. However, if you substitute jarred peppers and store-bought stock, the results are still impressive and the total prep time is under thirty minutes. The whole-grain dough for the pizza crusts takes only forty-five seconds to mix and knead in the food processor. The whole-grain risottos are baked, and the easy polenta is made in a double boiler, so there is no need to spend time glued to the pot, stirring.
These recipes are for the unfussy food that I make on a day-to-day basis in my home kitchen. They are also perfect for entertaining. Many can be made in advance. Best of all, they are inspired by ethnic flavors from all over the world, including India, Morocco, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, Colombia, El Salvador, Lebanon, Greece, Italy, France, Iran, China, Vietnam, and the United States. The recipes will pique the interest of even the most seasoned cook.
I have included low-key but satisfying recipes for a variety of needs. When you want to give your body a break, try the spring tonic garlic soup and the dhal; when you are feeling indulgent, make a batch of the brownies. Since the focus here is on real food, there is no emphasis on low-fat high-carb, or high-protein low-carb, cooking. The recipes call for sufficient salt to draw all the flavors together and sufficient fat for each particular dish; however, most of the dishes in the book are naturally on the lighter side.
Try to cook with ingredients that are as natural as possible. The less refined a food is, the more it nurtures the body. Whole grains, which have their nutrients intact, are more satisfying and filling than refined ones, so the recipes in this book include whole-grain pizza dough, crêpes, pilafs, and pastries. Of course some dishes call for refined grains, such as basmati and jasmine rice, which are more appropriate for some meals.
"Whole food" often means food with fewer ingredients. Real nut butters contain nuts, and nuts only, and perhaps some salt. Shoyu, or natural soy sauce, contains only soy, wheat, water, and salt. Some of the common commercial ingredients to stay away from are hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar substitutes such as aspartame, and chemical preservatives. Read the labels. Chances are that if the list of ingredients includes long polysyllabic terms that you can barely pronounce, it's not a healthy product.
Eat organic as much as possible. Organic food tastes better, and it is healthier. You just have to taste a can of conventional beans after testing an organic variety to understand the difference. Educate yourself on what's out there so that you can make intelligent choices.
Real food also means fresh food -- food that is not canned, processed, or frozen. This does not mean that I have not made a few notable exceptions in putting these recipes together. I use canned organic tomatoes, canned coconut milk, canned hearts of palm, and bottled roasted peppers. From time to time I'll use frozen organic corn and frozen peas, two vegetables that have little water content and do not suffer too badly from being frozen. Frozen peas are often better than their fresh counterparts, since they are frozen while young. When you have to pick your battles, shelling peas is just one step too many! Although I prefer to start with dry beans and soak and cook them, for the sake of efficiency I frequently turn to canned.
If you have a greenmarket near you, get acquainted with your local farmers. You'll be able to purchase vegetables that were picked the day before, vegetables that are vibrant and full of life. In these markets, there is often a more interesting and unusual selection than you can find in a supermarket. After many years of visiting the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, I am still inspired when I see the vast array of luscious vegetables and fruits, fresh cheeses, and breads offered there.
Something wonderful happens when you bring fresh, vibrant food into your home. Whether you're an accomplished cook or a novice, with a variety of great food at your fingertips, you're likely to become a healthy hedonist.
A hedonist ought to have a good time when cooking for friends. Don't be afraid to alter something to your preference, or to mix and match recipes to create a meal. It is your energy that goes into what you cook, so splash blessings on your food as you sauté and stir and simmer. Load your pantry and your refrigerator with tasty, delicious, good-quality ingredients. Celebrate the pleasures of coconut oil and ghee, whole eggs and chocolate. Fill your belly with luscious food. Dare to be a healthy hedonist.
You don't need to give up salt to be a healthy hedonist. Salt draws out essential flavors that would otherwise remain neutral or latent. For this reason, some food gurus believe the art of salting is what distinguishes a mediocre cook from a very good one.
Many people today are afraid to season their food properly because of the misconception that salt is bad for you; true, there is generally too much sodium in many processed and packaged foods. But salt, especially sea salt, is your friend, not your enemy. The proper amount of salt added during cooking releases the flavors of the food without making it taste salty. Salt added at the table, on the other hand, does not permeate the food properly. When you cook your own food, learn to salt to taste, and before long you'll recognize when a dish is seasoned perfectly. Well-seasoned food leaves a rounded flavor on the tongue. In addition, pleasantly spicy foods sometimes feel as if they are overly spicy. Once the correct amount of salt is added -- and that might mean only a pinch -- the constituent flavors are drawn together harmoniously and the food comes alive.
In the recipes here, I indicate an amount of salt that is close to the amount I think the dish needs. The recipe will usually need one or two pinches more to draw out the flavors; it is impossible to include that tiny amount in the recipe, and it may vary depending on the ingredients. I call this extra amount a "grandma pinch," which means a good fat pinch, not a speck. (If you tend to be heavy-handed, however, make your pinch a baby pinch.)
The best sea salts available, Celtic Sea Salt and Fleur de sel, are harvested by professional salt farmers in northern France, along the coast of Brittany. These are wind- and sun-dried only, with nothing added or taken out. The minerals remain in ionized form, in the same balance they have in the ocean, which is the same balance of minerals that we need in our body. The eighty or so trace minerals are responsible for the light gray color, and the grains are a bit moist. Fine-ground Celtic salt is my choice all-purpose salt, for both savory and sweet recipes.
Fats make up a part of a healthy diet. To be physically and mentally healthy, to insulate and to keep the body warm, you need a certain amount of fats. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K need dietary fat in order to be used by the body.
All fats are made up of a combination of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. We cannot say one oil is good because it is monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. The length of the fatty acid chain -- whether it is a short, medium, or long chain -- is more telling about the nature of the fat.
Avoid refined oils whenever possible. The use of high temperature and chemical solvents, as well as exposure to light and oxygen, in the processing of nearly all refined oils destroys much of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and also creates rancidity and oxidation. Refined fats suppress the immune system. Polyunsaturated oils, which are highly unstable, are not suitable as cooking oils for the most part. Consuming large quantities of polyunsaturated oil increases serum cholesterol.
It's actually difficult not to get enough omega-6 oils in a normal diet; they are readily available in nuts and seeds. In nuts they include natural antioxidants to protect them from going rancid. Polyunsaturated oils become toxic when they are exposed to heat, light, and air. Oxidation causes the formation of harmful free radicals. Most important, refrain from consuming any products containing "partially hydrogenated" oils, which are molecularly altered and produce trans-fatty acids, fats known to be disease-causing.
Omega-3 fatty acids are best obtained from eating flax seeds or consuming some flax oil daily, and by eating fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and herring.
The oils that I advocate for cooking are stable oils that can take heat without becoming rancid or oxidized. These include extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and organic butter and ghee. I use small amounts of unrefined sesame oil and toasted sesame oil; and I use unrefined nut oils, such as hazelnut oil and walnut oil, in salad dressings. Extra-virgin olive oil is a stable liquid with a high percentage of oleic acid, which makes it ideal for cooking and for salads. It is also rich in antioxidants, which prevent it from becoming rancid. It is over 70 percent monounsaturated and 16 percent saturated fat.
Organic butter is a stable fat made from cream with a wide range of short, medium, and odd-chain fatty acids as well as typical saturated, monounsaturated, and some polyunsaturated fatty acids. Butter contains fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, and E. Butter has short- and medium-chain fatty acids (15 percent) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has strong anticancer properties. It is rich in selenium, a vital antioxidant. All of these properties are only in the fat part of the milk. Butter and cream contain little lactose or casein and are usually well tolerated even by those who are sensitive to dairy. All the recipes use unsalted butter.
Ghee is especially well tolerated by most people, because the milk solids are removed. In traditional Indian medicine, ghee is considered the most satvic, or health-promoting, fat available. You can purchase organic or hormone-free ghee, but it is easy to make at home. As the ghee forms, the milk solids sink to the bottom of the pot, leaving only the pure stable fat, which is suitable for high-heat sautéing.
Makes 11/2 cups
1 pound unsalted butter, preferably organic
Warm the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it has melted completely, about 5 minutes. The butter will start to gurgle as the water evaporates, and the top will be covered with foam. Simmer uncovered over low heat until the milk solids start to brown on the bottom of the pot, 10 to 15 minutes. (Check after 10 minutes and then frequently after that, by pushing aside the foam and tilting the pan to see if the solids have browned.) As soon as the solids turn brown, remove the pan from the heat and let the residue settle to the bottom. Then carefully pour the clear liquid through a strainer lined with a double layer of cheesecloth into a heat-resistant container. Discard the solids.
Ghee will stay fresh on the kitchen counter 4 to 6 weeks; in the refrigerator for 4 months; and indefinitely in the freezer.
Sesame oil contains a high percentage of omega-6 fatty acids. It also contains sesamin, a natural antioxidant that enhances its stability, making it suitable for stir-fries. I also use it for Asian dressings. Toasted sesame oil, which burns easily and should not be used to cook with, is wonderful as a condiment.
Canola oil is almost always refined, so I use it only once in a great while, when I need a flavorless liquid fat.
Coconut oil is a completely stable oil and does not need to be refrigerated. The smoking point is fairly high, 350°F. Coconut oil does not get absorbed by the food as much as other oils do, so food cooked in coconut oil does not taste greasy. It is the perfect oil for high-heat sautéing or pan-frying. It is semisolid at room temperature and melts at 76°F.
Health Properties of Coconut Oil
Long vilified, coconut oil is finally getting the attention it deserves for being the incredibly healthy fat that it is. Coconut oil is a traditional food in many areas of the world, from India, to the Pacific Islands, to Southeast Asia. Coconut oil is a highly saturated fat, made up mostly of medium-chain fatty acids. The length of the chain is a key factor in determining the way dietary fat is digested and metabolized and how it affects the body: Medium-chain fatty acids are broken down and used predominantly for energy production, and thus seldom end up as body fat or as deposits in arteries or anywhere else. They produce energy, not fat, and have a neutral effect on blood cholesterol. Coconut oil does not increase platelet stickiness.
Coconut oil is composed mostly of lauric acid, which is a highly protective fatty acid found in mother's milk. Coconut oil, or some derivative of it, is used in hospital formulas to feed the very young, the critically ill, and those with digestive problems. Coconut oil does not oxidize, even when heated to high temperatures, and it does not create free radicals in the body; rather, it helps fight them. It is so resistant to free radicals that it acts as an antioxidant, helping to prevent the oxidation of other oils. Coconut milk, which contains about 24 percent coconut oil, is also a good source of medium-chain fatty acids. For sources for coconut oil, check the Resources section in the back of this book.
There are two types of coconut oil: extra-virgin and deodorized. Extra-virgin tastes and smells like coconut, so use it when you want a subtle coconut flavor. The deodorized oil is excellent for all cooking purposes. I have included my favorite brands of both types of coconut oil in the Resources section.
The less processed they are, the healthier and more delicious dairy products are. The Weston Price Foundation and its affiliated physicians (see Resources) offer compelling data on the superiority of raw milk, which is non-pasteurized and non-homogenized.
The cream in milk normally rises to the surface. Homogenization is a process in which the fat particles are distributed throughout the milk so that they cannot rise. However, homogenization makes fat and cholesterol more susceptible to rancidity and oxidation.
Pasteurization is a process in which a liquid is heated to a certain point in order to destroy bacteria. However, when milk comes from contained herds that are pasture fed, it is not tainted in the first place. Raw milk and raw-milk cheeses contain a full complement of enzymes, and they are more easily digested than their pasteurized counterparts. Raw milk contains lactic-acid-producing bacteria, which protect against pathogens. Pasteurization destroys the enzymes that help the body to absorb calcium in milk. It also alters milk's mineral components, such as calcium, chlorin, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and sulfur. The present-day level of sanitation in modern milking methods, such as the use of stainless steel tanks and efficient packaging and distribution, have rendered the need for pasteurization virtually obsolete.
Although it is difficult to find raw milk in the United States, there is a growing movement of people who are buying milk directly from farmers who feed their livestock only grass (see Resources). If you have an opportunity to purchase this type of milk do so for the sheer pleasure of tasting such delicious dairy. Many stores now carry non-homogenized milk from cows raised on natural feed. That milk is used to make good cultured products, such as yogurt, cultured buttermilk, and cultured cream. Look for yogurt labeled "with the cream on top." I have noticed a huge increase in the quantities and varieties of raw-milk cheeses that have become available in recent years. A lot of it is imported and of good quality. Many of my students who are sensitive to milk and cheese find themselves reacting well to raw-milk cheeses.
The next best choice is organic milk, which comes from a cow that has been raised on organic feed and, most importantly, has not been injected with bovine growth hormones. This milk is widely available.
No matter how big a kitchen, there may be no need to crowd it with superfluous gadgets. Here's a rundown on the most essential pieces of equipment:
With these items in your pantry, you'll just need to pick up the fresh ingredients for any recipe in this book.
Nuts and seeds, such as sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, pine nuts, and hazelnuts, are best kept in cold storage in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent them from going rancid. If you don't have the space, keep only small quantities on your pantry shelf and replenish them frequently.
Flours, such as whole-wheat flour, spelt flour, whole-wheat pastry flour, unbleached white flour, cornmeal, oat flour, rye flour, and semolina flour, are also best kept refrigerated or in the freezer to keep them fresher longer.
Sesame oil, toasted sesame oil, walnut oil, hazelnut oil, and organic butter.
Miso: one dark, such as barley, rice, or hatcho; one light, such as sweet white; and one mellow barley miso for a tasty all-purpose variety.
Additional pantry supplies are listed in Sweet Snacks and Desserts.
Proper cutting techniques make the difference between having a good experience in the kitchen and struggling.
A round is a circular slice. To make rounds, cut across a cylindrical vegetable -- a carrot, daikon, cucumber, or jalapeño -- at even intervals. The basic round cut can be varied by cutting the vegetable on an angle to create elongated or oval disks. This is a diagonal cut. This cut exposes a larger surface area, so the vegetable will need a shorter cooking time.
Half-moons are used for elongated vegetables like carrots and parsnips. Cut the vegetable in half lengthwise; then cut each half crosswise into half rounds. Quarter moons are made the same way, except that you cut the halves lengthwise into quarters, then cut them into pieces.
To make matchsticks, first cut the vegetable or fruit into thin diagonal slices of the same length. Then stack the slices and cut them into long thin pieces.
To dice is to cut a vegetable into uniform pieces. First cut off a slice to make a flat base so the vegetable sits solidly on the cutting surface. Then cut the vegetable into slabs -- 1/4-inch, 1/3-inch, 1/2-inch, or 1-inch, depending on the size dice you want. Stack a few slabs on top of each other and cut them into julienne of the same width. Now cut the matchsticks into cubes. Be sure to cut the same width at each stage: For example, 1/4-inch slabs are cut into 1/4-inch julienne, which in turn become 1/4-inch dice. When a recipe calls for small dice, cut into 1/4-inch; 1/3-inch is a medium dice, and 3/4-inch is a large dice. Tiny 1/8-inch dice is also called brunoise.
Onions are singular vegetables. Peel an onion by cutting off the stem and the root ends, leaving enough of the root to hold the onion together. Halve the onion and peel off the skin and the underlying layer.
Thinly slice an onion by cutting the halved onion lengthwise, from the root end to the tip.
Slice an onion crosswise for half rings, which are attractive in a salad.
To dice, lay one half cut side down, root end away from you. Make even slices the width that you want the dice to be, without cutting through the root end. Then turn the onion and cut into dice.
A medium onion weighs about 6 ounces and yields 1 cup chopped. All the recipes in this book call for medium onions. A medium clove of garlic yields 1 teaspoon minced. Large cloves can be considered 2 or even 3 cloves, and a small clove might be considered a half clove. Adjust accordingly.
A rough cut is made by cutting the vegetable without regard to shape. This cut is used for stocks, and for soups and sauces that are going to be pureéd. Though the shape doesn't matter, the size of these cuts should be more or less uniform. For a vegetable stock a rough cut is fine, but do not cut the pieces more than an inch thick so they can fully impart their flavor during the cooking time.
To mince is to chop into very fine pieces. Garlic, shallots, and fresh herbs are often minced. This is easiest to do with a chef's knife, which has a slightly curved blade. First slice or chop the vegetables or herbs into small pieces. Then position the blade above the pile of chopped pieces, with the tip of the knife resting on the cutting board. Using the palm or fingers of your other hand to press on the back edge of the blade, chop the pieces rapidly by rocking the blade back and forth, keeping the tip on the board. Continue chopping, inching left and right, until the pieces are uniformly very small.
To shred means to slice leaves very thin. This cut is often used on cabbages and leafy greens. To shred cabbage, first quarter the cabbage and cut out the tough centers. Then lay each quarter on a cut side and thinly slice across, working the knife from one end of the quarter to the other, until it's all shredded. For Napa or Chinese cabbage, pull off and discard the outer leaves, then thinly slice across.
A chiffonade is made by very finely shredding leaves, most often leaves that have been stacked and rolled. Stack same-size leaves together, roll them up tightly, and then slice across the rolled leaves until the roll has been transformed into wispy little shreds. This technique is used on basil and on large leafy greens such as spinach and chard.
A roll cut is a basic cut for long thin root vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, and daikon. Place the peeled root on a cutting board, and make a diagonal cut to remove the stem end. Roll the root over and slice through on the same diagonal, keeping the knife where it was for the first cut, creating a wedge shape. Repeat until the entire root has been cut.
If the vegetable is thicker at one end, roll it only a quarter of the way around and then make the diagonal cut. The result will be an irregular piece with angled edges facing different ways. Continue to roll partway and slice on the diagonal. The cut and size varies depending on the angle at which the vegetable rests in relation to the knife.
Cutting parsley and cilantro: Wash these herbs and dry them well, keeping the bunch intact. Hold the herbs by the stem on an angle, leafy part on the board. Angle the knife downward to shave off the leaves, avoiding cutting the stems as much as possible. Pull out any big stems that you may find in the pile. Chop the pile of herbs to the desired size. Refrain from turning your herbs into "grass stains," which is what happens when herbs that have not been dried properly are minced until they are unrecognizable.
Peeling and cutting ginger: The easiest way to peel ginger is with a knife. Anchor the ginger on a cutting board and cut the skin off. (A few tiny protruding knobs may be sacrificed.) Slice the ginger lengthwise into thin slabs. Cut the slabs into matchsticks and cut the matchsticks into tiny dice. If necessary, you can mince the diced pieces even more.
Peeling a tomato: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cut out the core of the tomato by inserting the tip of a paring knife about one inch into the tomato just outside of the core. Rotate the tomato as you cut with a sawing motion until the core is cut free. Discard the core and drop the tomato into the boiling water. Let it cook for 15 to 30 seconds, depending on its ripeness. Remove the tomato with a slotted spoon and let it cool for a minute. The skin should peel right off. To seed, cut the tomato in half and squeeze out the seeds. Scoop out the remaining seeds with your fingers or a spoon.
About leeks: Use only the white and light green parts of the leek. Save the dark green part for making stock. It's easiest to remove the dirt from leeks after you cut them. To cut leeks, slice them lengthwise down the middle of the white part and cut into the desired size pieces. Then wash by placing the cut pieces in a bowl of water and swishing them around. Lift out the pieces, leaving the dirt behind. Repeat this process one more time if necessary, until no dirt remains.
Trimming fennel: Cut off any protruding tops from the bulb. Shave off any discolored or bruised parts. Cut the bulb in half lengthwise, and remove the hard core with a paring knife. Lay the fennel cut side down and thinly slice with a knife, or use a mandoline.
Cubing butternut squash: Cut the squash at the point where the neck (the straight part) meets the rounded bottom. Peel the neck with a Y-shaped peeler or a knife. Cut it into 1/2-inch-thick slabs, and cut the slabs into batons. Cut each baton into 1/2-inch cubes. Peel, seed, and halve the rounded part. Cut each half into wedges. Cut each wedge into 1/2-inch pieces.
To thicken yogurt: Place 2 cups (preferably whole-milk) yogurt over a cheesecloth-lined strainer set in a bowl. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let the yogurt drain for at least 2 hours and up to overnight. Two cups of yogurt will become 1 cup thickened yogurt ("yogurt cheese").
To prevent minced garlic from burning while sauteing: Place the oil and garlic in the cold skillet and heat them together. The garlic will slowly become golden, and you will be able to control the cooking.
Cleaning out your spice grinder: To get rid of the potent odor of whatever spice you have ground, place a handful of white rice or a piece of bread in the grinder, grind it, and then discard.
Making bread crumbs: Remove the crusts and cut a loaf of bread, preferably sourdough or whole-grain, into cubes. If the bread is a couple of days old and a little firm, process the cubes in a food processor until crumbs form. If it is fresh and spongy, slice the bread and put it in a 200°F oven for a few minutes to dry out a bit before processing. Make a large batch and freeze any leftover bread crumbs in a resealable bag. Bread crumbs defrost almost immediately.
Toasting nuts and seeds: Spread nuts or seeds on a baking sheet and toast in a preheated 350°F oven until lightly golden and fragrant, 8 to 10 minutes. Pine nuts take only about 6 minutes. Alternatively, dry-toast the nuts or seeds in a heavy-bottomed skillet, stirring frequently, until brown spots begin to appear, about 3 minutes.
Skinning walnuts: Walnuts have a loose skin that often dislodges when they are chopped. After toasting them, rub the walnuts against a strainer for a minute or two (place the strainer over the sink or a wastebasket) to loosen the skins. Remove the walnuts from the strainer, leaving the skins behind.
Skinning hazelnuts: To remove the skins from hazelnuts, toast the hazelnuts in a preheated 350°F oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until the papery skins start to loosen. Wrap a few of the warm hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub them against one another to loosen the skins. Transfer the cleaned hazelnuts to a bowl. Repeat several times with the remaining nuts until most of the skins are removed.
Storing greens: Keep fragile herbs and lettuce, such as basil and arugula, fresh by storing them in the refrigerator with the stem ends in containers of water. Cover the leaves with a plastic bag.
Bell peppers, any color
Place the pepper directly on the grate over a gas burner. Turn the heat to high and cook until the skin is blistered and charred. Use tongs to turn the pepper over, and cook each side until the whole surface is blackened. This should take only a few minutes. Place the pepper in a plastic or paper bag, or under an inverted bowl, for about 15 minutes to steam the skin loose. When the pepper is cool enough to handle, remove the charred skin, using a paring knife if necessary. Don't run the pepper under water to remove the skin, as that washes away a lot of flavor. (I like to have a small bowl of water nearby to dip my fingers in; this makes slipping off the skin much easier.) Discard the seeds and stem, and cut the pepper into thin slices.
Another method is to halve the pepper and remove the stem, seeds, and white membranes. Place the pepper, cut side down, on an oiled or parchment-covered baking sheet and place it in a very hot oven (450°F) or under a broiler. Roast or broil until it is evenly charred, turning it as necessary. Remove from the oven or broiler and cover immediately; steam and then remove the skin as described above.
1 head garlic
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Peel the excess papery skin from the head of garlic. Slice the top fifth off the head and place the garlic on a piece of foil. Drizzle the oil and salt over the exposed area. Wrap in foil and cook until softened, about 45 minutes. Let cool a few minutes. Squeeze the garlic out of the cloves into a bowl, and mash it.
Copyright © 2005 by Myra Kornfeld