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Southwestern Saute with Salsa Grits

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by Cathy Pollak

southweststirfrySometimes it's all about conveinance and this meal definitely was. The best part, it was full of flavor but ready in minutes. The cheesy, salsa-flavored grits are the base for this simplistic vegetable saute.

By utilizing frozen veggies from the refrigerator and a couple of canned goods from the pantry, this meal was on the table in no time. It's also vegetarian, a good break from all the red meat we seem to eat around here.

In my house, "grits" has always been called "polenta" and there is nothing like real, stone-ground grits (polenta), but in a pinch, instant worked great. There is lots of flavor here, it's really a nice meal. Quick grits can be found near the oatmeal and other hot cereals or near cornmeal in the baking aisle...look for it.

Now, would my kids eat this? No. Too many foods touching each other but for me....the perfect lunch or dinner.

What to do with Bok Choy

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by Amy Sherman

bokchoysaladRecently I learned that bok choy is the number one vegetable in China. It seems to be the number one vegetable in my CSA box lately. It's a very healthy vegetable with a ton of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K plus and is even a good source of calcium and iron, but I have to admit, after serving it steamed or sautéed again and again, I was looking for a new way to prepare it.

As luck would have it, at a Chinese New Year's dinner I stumbled upon a terrific dish at Fang restaurant. It was served raw, as a salad with a soy and sesame vinaigrette alongside some chunks of short rib. Bok choy is very mild flavored but it has great texture. The leaves are tender and somewhat herbal without being bitter, and the stems are very juicy and crisp. I had never considered using bok choy in salad but after trying that dish, I couldn't stop thinking about it.

Looking around online I found plenty of Asian inspired recipes for bok choy salad, and a few takes on coleslaw and even a chopped salad. My idea was to make a more Italian style salad using extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and Parmigiano Reggiano. The result is a salad at once familiar and yet fresh. It's a great choice for a potluck or dinner party, because it is very sturdy and won't easily wilt. You could mix in other greens, add cherry tomatoes or even fresh fava beans when in season.

Cooking with Paiche

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by Amy Sherman

paicheIt’s not everyday that you get the chance to try a fish you’ve never even heard of before. Last week I cooked paiche (pie-chay) a fish from the Amazon, also known as arapaima or pirarucu. Freshwater paiche are huge, growing be up to near 500 pounds, and breathe through lungs rather than gills. Considered a prehistoric fish, the flesh is very firm, but also rich and high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Endangered in the wild from overfishing, paiche is now raised commercially in ponds so wild fish remain protected, and free of any antibiotics or mercury. It’s one of the top fish farmed in Peru, and you may find it on restaurant menus or at Whole Foods, the only retailer currently selling it in the US.

It’s easy to cook paiche for a couple of reasons, because it’s dense and firm it won’t easily fall apart and because it’s rich it doesn’t get dry, even if you overcook it. It has a very clean, buttery slightly sweet flavor and is somewhat similar to sea bass or cod in texture.

Home-Cooked Take Out: A Recipe for Healthier Shrimp Brown Fried Rice

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by Susan Russo

shrimpriceHome-cooked take out (or homemade take-away as the Brits say). It's an oxymoron, but you know what it means.

There are loads of articles in cooking / health magazines touting the benefits of making your own take out favorites. It's no surprise. At-home take out is more affordable, healthier, and often tastes better.

Without a doubt, my favorite take out food is Chinese and Thai, which unfortunately is usually loaded with sodium and excess fat from oil. So I often make my own Chinese and Thai take out favorites such as this Thai Pineapple Fried Rice.

With a few tweaks, fried rice can easily become a healthier take out dish. In this recipe for Shrimp Brown Fried Rice, brown rice and added veggies boost fiber and complex carbohydrates while reduced sodium soy sauce and unsalted cashews keep sodium levels on check. Boldly flavored toasted sesame oil is more flavorful than regular sesame oil, so less is needed without sacrificing flavor.

So tell me, dear readers, what are your favorite home-cooked take out dishes?

Oaxacan Enchiladas Made Simple

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by Susan Salzman

easyenchiladasWe love good Mexican food in the Salzman household. Soft tacos are a weekly staple on our dinner table (using leftover grilled steak or roasted chicken, sauted with a little bit of onion and garlic), served with fresh salsa, sliced avocado, and if time permits, pickled onions.

One of our favorite neighborhood haunts is Monte Alban. Isaac not only eats his entire meal (enchiladas mole), but he polishes off half of Levi’s “Camarones a la Diabla”. We all crave the diabla sauce and if I would let him, Isaac would “lick” his plate clean. We save that behavior for the privacy of our own home!

When ever I find my kids getting bored with my cooking, I ask all of them to list their five favorite meals. Enchiladas always gets a collective thumbs up and is a meal that rarely gets the, “oh no, not that again…I don’t like that anymore”. Enchilads seems like a labor intensive task, but it really isn’t. With a little bit of prep and organization, this meal can be whipped up in 30 mintues or less.

My Menudo Recipe for 2014

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by Brenda Athanus

menudochiliesI don’t want to lose weight, stand in line at the gym, or make short-lived resolutions for 2014 - I resolve to live in the moment.

Days before the holiday I decided that Menudo was my good luck dish for this New Year’s Day. It could have been black-eyed peas or slow cooked green with pot liquor, or lentils with something but I’ve been craving Menudo for months! Menudo is tripe soup with Guajillo chiles, onions, garlic, white hominy and a few other slippery slope ingredients. I planned on freezing 11 little bags of this potion, just in case my luck needs to be topped off…

I thought about creating my Menudo for days. I dragged every cookbook out on the subject and read all about it. I visited with Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy and that was long overdue. This good luck dish was turning into an adventure. Sure, I could have bought a can of Menudo and left it at that, or flown to Tucson, but instead I drove an hour south in light snow flurries to collect the ‘unusual’ ingredients. I had my grocery list and I was ready for some interaction with the human race after being isolated by bad weather.

A Thousand Hills to Heaven, a Story of Hope, Love, Sacrifice, and, Yes, Food

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by Steven Raichlen

thousandhillscoverJosh Ruxin did not write a book about food, although his story takes place against a backdrop of heart-wrenching hunger and Eden-esque abundance, tracing a journey from famine to feast.

He did not write a book about restaurants, although he tells how two American ex-pats created one of the hippest dining establishments in Africa.

He did not set out to write about good and evil, but his book describes one of the most horrific genocides in human history, and the astonishing efforts of both the victims and their persecutors to find forgiveness and redemption.

He didn't even write a love story, although A Thousand Hills to Heaven centers on two people who are very much in love—young Americans you might meet at a party, endowed with the same hearts, brains, and DNA as you or I—but who found the strength to work a thousand miracles in a land God forgot.

And he certainly didn't write a cookbook, but he concludes his story with six recipes that will make you want to head for your kitchen and light your grill to try them.

What he did write is one of the most extraordinary narratives of hope I have read in decades—a book that, just for reading it, makes you aspire to be a better person.

Syrian Lentil Chard Soup

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by Amy Sherman

syrianlentilsoupWhen I was growing up, "leafy green vegetable" meant spinach. At some point swiss chard was added to the repertoire and then bok choy. But that was really it. Oh sure, we had salad every night, but no other cooked leafy greens. Later on I discovered the sharp bite of mustard greens, the silky mellowness of cooked escarole and the spicy bitterness of turnip greens. These days my organic market delivery brings me kale and collard greens too. But I still like spinach and swiss chard for sentimental reasons.

Another category mainly skipped over in my childhood was legumes. We ate Mexican refried beans, chili beans, and baked beans, but that was about it. I guess if I had been raised in the South I might have been exposed to more beans and greens, but I wasn't. In college on a budget I lived on black beans, and in Italy I discovered white or cannellini beans. Out on my own I experimented with lentil stews and soups of all kinds until I discovered a recipe for Syrian lentil and chard soup. That was it. No other lentil recipes need apply.

Lebanese Lamb and Bulgur–Stuffed Acorn Squash

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by Joseph Erdos

lebaneseacornsquashI love Mediterranean food especially from the eastern region, spanning the countries from Greece through Turkey and all the way down to Lebanon and Egypt in the north of Africa. Just thinking about gyros, kebabs, and a platter of mezze from these countries makes my mouth water. It was in college that I first experienced this culinary culture, trying new things like pita bread, falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. Then on a summer break from school I took a family trip to Hungary and was surprised by all the restaurants selling gyros and kebabs. One corner it was a restaurant owned by a Turkish and on the other corner a restaurant owned by a Greek, all selling similar foods but with different names. That's when I realized the close connection between all these countries: they were all ruled by the Ottoman Empire.

Probably the best thing that came from the Ottoman rule was the melting pot of cuisine. One of my favorite restaurants to go for eastern Mediterranean slash Middle Eastern food is Kashkaval in New York City. I really can't tell which country their food represents, but they have everything on the menu from Hungarain chicken paprikash to Turkish meatballs. Their enormous selection of mezze are a feature of the menu and so are their fondues. The one made from Kashkaval cheese, the source for the restaurant's names, is unbeatably good. A vegetarian coworker first introduced me to the restaurant and I've returned countless times ever since always with friends in tow. It's the type of good food that encourages sharing among everyone.

Nori Squares with Crab, Avocado and Rice

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by David Latt

norisquaresOn vacation for a week in Carlsbad, we enjoyed days without a set schedule. When to get out of bed? Maybe 7:30, or maybe not until 8:30. What time for a walk on the beach? Let's see when low tide is. We slept, ate, read, watched TV and went to the movies when we felt like it.

And we had great weather. Bright sunny skies. Temperatures in the upper 60's and low 70's. We discovered new places to eat, enjoyed our favorite coffee shop--Pannikin Coffee & Tea in Leucadia/Encinitas--and bought flowering plants and three blueberry bushes--that had ripe fruit on the branches!--from a great nursery, Cedros Gardens in Solana Beach.

What a great vacation. When we wanted to hang around the room, with our mini-refrigerator, wet bar and the 2-burner electric stove top brought from home, we made salads, soups and snacks.

Restaurant News

The Long Road to a Perfect Cup of Coffee
Southern California
by Anna Harari

coachella1.jpg"Can I get real milk?"

"Honey, you're not in LA, it's creamers or black coffee for you."

He must have been expecting a brat face back because my smile caught him off guard. He had no idea...

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A Memorable Meal in the Berkshires
New England
by David Latt

berkshire1The road to John Andrews Restaurant twists and turns through woods and farmlands. We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy...

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Kampuchea
New York
by Hope Stranger

kampucheadiningroom.jpgAlex and I have been dating for almost four months now.  We have shared several meals and conversations together beyond Casa Mono.  As our relationship has settled into a ‘monogamous’ place, we...

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The Bar Room at The Modern: Not Just Any Cafe
New York
by Brenda Athanus

BarRoomMy friend, Barbara and I were escaping the icy tundra of Maine for a long weekend in New York City to indulge in great food, theater and art.

We started our Sunday morning at the MOMA as the doors...

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