Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yin/Yang Mashed Potatoes and a Happy Thanksgiving

OK, I know I'm into this yin/yang thing lately. But I just can't help it when it comes to mashed potatoes. It's a case of a good idea that just begged to be expanded. And since it's the day before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd add this little idea to the menu, as well as some ideas as to how to not gain weight over the holiday season. Do those two things go together - mashed potatoes and not gaining weight? I'll try to connect those dots.......

This basic recipe is so simple it's hard to call it a recipe. But that's what we need during the holiday season - something simple enough so as not to be stress-inducing. First of all, there's the question of what kind of potato to use. You can actually use russets, but I prefer Yukon Gold when it comes to mashed potatoes. There's something so utterly creamy about the texture of Yukon Gold potatoes, that it takes this comfort food to an even more comforting level, if that's possible.

I'm not going to be good with amounts here, and after all, it does depend on how many you'll be feeding or how much you want leftover. I started with about 2 pounds of peeled potatoes and put them in a large pot of water. I added about a tablespoon of minced garlic - out of the jar this time. (I told you this was going to be a de-stressor!) Brought it to a boil, turned the heat down and waited. When the potatoes were soft enough to be easily pierced by a knife, they were done. You don't want your potatoes mashing themselves in the pot, and you don't want mash-resistent lumps. I strained them through a fine seive rather than a colander in order to keep the garlic with the potatoes.

The only thing left was the mashing, which I've always always done by hand. If you prefer to use your food processor, great! I'm just old fashioned when it comes to mashing potatoes. The only thing we add to mashed potatoes is butter and milk - right? Well, these days I use Earth Balance, and just a dab of butter for that extra rich flavor. You won't notice that it's not all butter, and your arteries will thank you. For the milk, I used buttermilk.

Why buttermilk? It adds a tangy interesting flavor to these potatoes, and despite it's name, it happens to be low in fat. (Whoever named it should be examined!) No, I don't drink the stuff, and in fact have a hard time watching anyone else drink it. But when it comes to cooking, there are some dishes which just shine a little brighter with buttermilk in them.

But then you're left with a problem. What do you do with the extra buttermilk? Well, one possibility is that you make some mashed potatoes.

Huh? I thought I just did!

Ahhhh....but did you use blue potatoes?

I'm reminded of a George Carlin routine where he asked "Where's the blue food?" Other than blueberries, it's hard to come up with food that's blue in color. Except for those lovely, deep deep blue potatoes. I had roasted some of them to go with my roasted veggie medley, but I still had some leftover. I was standing at the counter mashing those Yukon Golds when I happened to notice that bag with a few blue potatoes left in it. Hmmmmmmmm..... I wonder what they'd taste like? So I repeated the above process with the blue potatoes.

Do you know that when you peel blue potatoes, you can get a mostly white looking potato? I had a moment of panic, thinking that all the blue was really in the skin, and that somehow it transfered to the potato during the cooking process. But no! When I cut them in half, there was that almost purple center. And you know what? They made an absolutely scrumptious batch of mashed potatoes! For those of you who are color obsessed, or just want to surprise someone with something different, give them a try. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.And now, how do you keep from keeping those mashed potatoes with you into the New Year? Well, for one thing, you might try going for a long walk before you sit down to eat your Thanksgiving dinner. You'll find yourself a little less hungry that way. Start your meal with a glass of water - a good way to hydrate and an antidote to the wine. Then - and this is the hard part - you have to say to yourself that this isn't the Last Supper. You can actually get by with only one spoonful of anything, and if eaten slowly, you will find yourself full by the time you finish your plate. And remember - only one plateful per meal. You don't really need that second helping!

And speaking of your plate, did you know that the size of the dinner plate in America has gone from 9" to 12"? Back when your parents were your age, dinner plates were smaller. So when people filled their plates back then, they naturally ate less. They also walked more in those days, since not everyone owned a car, and many people lived in houses with stairs. So daily life included a lot more mobility than we have now. These days, we drive a heavy, expensive vehicle about 3 blocks to buy a loaf of bread. Maybe you cut down on your driving when gas prices were skyrocketing, but now that they've gone back down again, are you still walking? Don't give up the habit. It's one that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life.

For more health news, visit Mission Valley Acupuncture.

Have a very happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yin/Yang, Spring-Fall Meatloaf Rebellion

Global warming is getting to me. It's been hovering in the 80s here in San Diego. It's the middle of November already - what's it doing in the 80s, may I ask? Now, for some of you who are shivering with cold, that might seem like a terrific idea. But let me ask you this: What can you trust, if not the calendar? In the northern hemisphere, November is supposed to be cold. Or at least very crisp.

This weather has got to stop!!!!! I mean, here I am hanging Christmas lights in the pepper tree in my yard in weather which inspires people to think about hitting the beach. And next week is Thanksgiving! Whatever happened to "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go! The horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh, through the white and drifting sno-ow"??? Hello? My patients have been coming in complaining of sinus problems due to the Santa Anas, and this heat has given force to the fires burning north of Los Angeles.

So you wouldn't think that this kind of weather would inspire anyone to turn on their oven. But that's exactly what I decided to do. This past weekend, I went to the local farmer's market and found THE most adorable baby squash! The weather said spring, the size of the squash said spring, but the calendar said November. I needed to roast something. Those squash had my name written all over them. Perhaps they brought out the teenage rebel in me, I don't know. But when I found the small white pumpkin in the next booth, I had no other choice. Here was an opportunity I don't get very often - a way to combine a fall pumpkin with spring squash.

So where does the meatloaf come in? Well, I was going to have dinner with some friends and their (almost) 3 year old son. I usually go to their house and bring something, and they usually do the cooking. Well, this time it was going to be baby Andrew and Dad only - and Dad thinks the kitchen is broken if the micro doesn't work. So I offered to bring the dinner. This is only part of the dinner.........the rest will be in the next post - promise!

Now, when I was growing up, my mom used 2 different words to describe meatloaf. If there was no tomato sauce on top, it was meatloaf. If there was, we called it skednick. Don't ask. It's a family thing. I guess it was a way of bring variety to our meals without having to cook something different. I love the word skednick, but I confess I've never made it. I guess I've outgrown the whole tomato thing on meatloaf. But that doesn't mean that you can't dump ketchup over this and call it skednick. Be my guest! For me, though, Lea and Perrins works better. Or making a mushroom sauce would work well, too, but I didn't have the time.

I bought a pound of ground beef, a pound of ground turkey, a pound of ground buffalo, and a half a pound of ground pork sausage. Dropped in an egg. I minced an onion and sauteed it in some canola oil. Meanwhile, I softened up about a cup of oatmeal in a cup of warm mushroom broth. When the onions were done, I dumped them into the meat with the oatmeal, ground some fresh pepper, sprinkled some kosher salt over it and began to play with my food. Mush and squish until it all came together. I had enough so that I could put part of it in a square glass baking dish, and the rest in my favorite little ceramic baking dish pictured above. Pop them both into a 350 degree oven for about an hour.

Now, if you're going to roast a pumpkin, it depends entirely on the size of your pumpkin as to how long you want to roast it. Keep an eye on it, and a sharp knife nearby. When you can pierce it, it's done. It should offer a little bit of resistance. That way you know you haven't created pumkin puree. The rest of the veggies (and yes, that included, in my case, tomatoes) go in closer to the end of the cooking cycle. Think in terms of 15 minutes or so. Some olive oil and a little kosher salt is all you need. When the veggies are this fresh, you don't want to overwhelm them with a sauce. Their freshness plays well against the meatlof which - with the use of oatmeal instead of breadcrumbs - has the consistency of a cloud. Seriously.
Maybe combining spring and fall isn't the worst thing. But I'm really looking forward to winter!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veggie Paella after an exhausting week

Shhh....I stole this photo from Lydia over at Perfect Pantry.

Let's face it, last week was exhausting! I've made it a point not to get political in this blog, but this time I can't help it. No matter what your political persuasion, this election season has been a time of tension. Personally, I couldn't allow myself to trust the polls. I've seen the polls be wrong before, and I didn't dare allow myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.

But then last Tuesday night, a miracle happened. Americans, old and young, Republicans, Democrats and Independents from every corner of this country, cast their ballots and voted for change. I had patients who told me that they were registered Republicans who could not, in good conscience, vote for McCain and Palin. I have a dear friend who has always been a registered Republican, who told me that he liked Obama and had voted for him.

The collective sigh of relief was heard not only in this country, but could be heard around the world. And once again, the world looks upon our country as the miraculous place it is. Not just because we voted for an African-American, which was miracle enough for people, but also because of the way the transition is taking place. We've heard stories of people in other countries who are amazed at the incredibly gracious concession speech made by McCain on election night. I've heard audio clips of people suggesting that their countries could learn something from that.

And on and on it goes. Life does not seem to have returned to "normal" yet, but the tension is gone. I look around my house and realize that so much has been put on "hold". I spent a few hours today poring over paperwork, throwing out old envelopes with "soy milk, eggs, cereal, onions, pork chops" scribbled on the back. I emailed people I've been meaning to get back to and phoned the neighbor regarding tree trimming. I can't stop smiling.

So when I saw this post over at Lydia's Perfect Pantry, I decided it was time to treat myself to something festive. Oh, how I love paella! I had never seen a vegetarian version of it before, but it looked so good in that photo that I had to restrain myself from trying to stab the computer screen with a fork. And don't you just WANT that pan??? Puh-leeez! (Actually, you can post a comment on her blog to be entered to win it!)

Now here's the thing: She says you can use bomba, Valencia or Arborio rice. I couldn't find bomba or Valencia rice, but I had Arborio rice, so I opted for that. It's not that it was a mistake, exactly, but I can tell you that if you decide to use it, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe. It tastes good, but it turned out a little too gluey for me. And as for the number of servings? HAH! is all I can say! Serves 6-8??? You could serve the Turkish army with this dish!! And I mean as a main course - not as a side dish! So far I've brought it to a pot luck with 9 people, all of whom loved it, and I brought some over to my neighbor's house this evening and three of us ate it for dinner. And she got the leftovers, and I have another pan of it in the fridge!

Oh, and the reason I stole Lydia's photo? Because none of mine turned out. I don't know why, but they didn't. I think I was still in a post-election fog of euphoria. So rather than post this recipe photo-less, I opted to grab a great photo and use it.


Inspired by Paella! Spectacular Rice Dishes of Spain, this vegan recipe is a dramatic centerpiece to a meatless meal. Serves 6-8.

1/4 tsp crumbled saffron threads
Kosher or sea salt
4 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of smoked sweet paprika (pimenton)
6 cups vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade (I used Swanson's Garden Vegetable Broth)
8 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 lb thin asparagus spears, chopped into 1-inch pieces
2 medium onions, quartered
4 artichoke hearts (canned or frozen), quartered
3/4 cup dry red or white wine
1-1/2 lb mushrooms (a mix of white, cremini, cepes, etc.), brushed clean, stems trimmed, very coarsely chopped (or, if small, left whole)
1 cup canned chopped tomato (I use Pomi)
3 cups bomba, Valencia or Arborio rice
12 strips piquillo or roasted red pepper, for garnish

In a mortar or miniprocessor, mash to a paste the saffron, 1/4 tsp salt, parsley, garlic and smoked paprika. Heat the broth in a large pot over the lowest heat.

Preheat oven to 400F for gas oven, 450F for electric.

Heat the oil in a 17-18 inch paella pan, or in a shallow casserole of similar size, over 2 burners if necessary. Saute the asparagus and onions over medium heat until softened, then add artichoke hearts and mushrooms, and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add the mushrooms and tomato, and cook 1-2 minutes. Pour in the wine, and boil away most of the liquid, then stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in the hot broth and bring to a boil. Add the mashed saffron-parsley-garlic paste, taste for salt (it will likely need a bit), and continue to boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy and sufficient liquid remains to continue cooking the rice, about 5 minutes. Arrange red pepper strips like the spokes of a wheel, on top of the rice.

Transfer to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the rice is almost al dente, 10 minutes in a gas oven, 15 minutes in electric. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let sit 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked to taste.