It seems like a millennium ago that I wrote my first article about food, though it's been only two decades. I was a callow baker-entrepreneur, supplying places much like Starbucks-before-Starbucks with cheesecakes and carrot cakes. One day, on a delivery run and newly pregnant, wondering how I was going to birth a baby and be a baker, I read the local newspaper's food section and thought, hey! I could pitch a story on something I knew about firsthand. And I did--a thesis on chocolate chunk cookies.
When I think of how many recipes I've tried, how many food trends I've saluted in those 20 years, I am amazed at the passage of time and the changes in my own cooking, baking and eating. After my chocolate chunk cookies, I moved on to mega-muffins, cinnamon buns and bagels, flatbreads, and low-fat pastries. Then it was quiche, stuffed croissants and endless carrot cakes quickly followed by Caesar salad and sun-dried-tomatoes-and- chevre-with-everything.
In this same chunk of time I have seen Julia Child and James Beard basics make room for California cuisine, nouvelle, Asian, fusion, regional and kosher Cajun. I have seen appliances come and go and come again. When I started, the big three food magazines--Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Food and Wine--ruled. Recently, at a local bookstore, I counted more than 60 English-language food periodicals, ranging from a magazine consisting only of chocolate recipes to one titled Chili Pepper--a publication for those inclined to hot and spicy repasts. Did I mention the television food shows? They are the mass media versions of a Cordon Bleu education--just adjust your dish to make the dish.
Is food important? Yes. Is it high drama or foreign policy? Ah, no. But the thing is, everyone eats. I like to think that certain constants like wanting to eat good things, much like falling in love, will always be something you can count on. Food is about appetite and nutrition, and yet it almost always captures the soul in the process.
Which brings me to today: What are we eating and cooking? I think of today as a place where Martha Stewart aesthetics, the best of Oprah, the Celestine Prophesies, Feng Shui and the '70s health-food trend converge. So here is an eclectic collection of some nice, simple recipes to whet your appetite as you rise to the new day.
Bottled water--bubbly or not--continues to be "in." Here's water with a twist: Serve it in a water goblet, glass tumbler, Champagne flute or festive glass of your choice.
1/3 cup carbonated spring water
1/3 cup lemon or grapefruit juice
Julienned lime zest
Fill 1 glass about 1/3 full of crushed ice. Add the water and lemon or grapefruit juice. Add the lime zest and cranberries and serve immediately.
Per serving (using lemon juice): 23 calories, trace protein, 8 gm carbohydrates, 0 gm fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 0 gm saturated fat, 1 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
Home-Blend Chai Tea
In many Asian languages, chai translates directly as tea; lately, however, it refers specifically to a very trendy way of serving tea, perhaps best described as a tea latte consisting of warm milk and water, spices (predominantly cinnamon and cardamom) and Darjeeling tea. The spice mix or exact type of tea can vary; try adding a pinch of coriander, orange zest or a drop of vanilla extract. If desired, sweeten the chai with honey or brown sugar.
6 cups water or 3 cups cold water and 3 cups milk
4 tablespoons loose Darjeeling tea (may substitute 4 to 6 bags Darjeeling tea)
4 to 5 cardamom pods
1/2-inch cinnamon stick
3 whole cloves
Pinch ground ginger
In a saucepan, bring the water or water-milk mixture to a boil. Add the tea, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover and set aside to steep for 5 minutes.
If desired, strain the tea into cups; discard the foam. Serve immediately.
Per serving (using 3 cups whole milk): 58 calories, 3 gm protein, 5 gm carbohydrates, 3 gm fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 49 mg sodium, trace dietary fiber
I adapted this recipe from a British friend, who assured me that these savory scones are "marvelous" when served toasted the next day. I'm sure this is true, but they have never lasted long enough in my household to find out.
Full of cheddar and with a slight bite from mustard, these scones are great with breakfast coffee instead of a bagel or in place of bread in a sandwich. Use the sharpest cheddar you can find. On occasion I double the amount of cheddar cheese and am rewarded with exceptionally chewy, cheesy bites of heaven.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for working the dough
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into bits
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 to 1/3 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Stack 1 rimmed baking sheet inside of another. Line the top sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt and mustard. Using a food processor, pastry cutter or 2 knives held crisscross fashion, cut the butter into the flour mixture until crumbly. Add the cheese and mix well.
In a small bowl, mix the egg with 1/4 cup of the milk. Stir the egg-milk mixture into the flour mixture until a soft dough forms, adding additional milk if required. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead for just a couple of seconds. Carefully transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet and pat it into an 8-inch circle. Cut it into 6 wedges and separate. Lightly brush the scones with milk and bake just until the tops are brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Carefully transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly.
Per scone: 241 calories, 9 gm protein, 19 gm carbohydrates, 14 gm fat, 66 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 412 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber
Tuscany Bread Salad
(4 main-course servings)
Today there are countless varieties of this popular bread salad. I first tried it at a restaurant in Toronto called Sarduccis and have attempted to re-create it. And although it makes a wonderful side salad, it is best as a main dish. This is one of those occasions in which the salad is more than the sum of the parts.
For the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup vegetable oil
For the salad:
3 to 4 slices Italian bread
1/3 cup olive oil
3 ounces prosciutto or pancetta
1 pound green beans, ends trimmed, steamed or blanched
4 plum tomatoes, diced
2 carrots, grated
1 cup cooked or canned white, pinto or kidney beans, drained
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
3 ounces Asiago cheese, grated
4 to 6 cups mixed lettuces
For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk together the red wine and balsamic vinegars, salt, sugar, pepper and garlic. Whisking constantly, add the olive and vegetable oils in a steady stream. Set aside.
For the salad: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the bread on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil. Bake until crisp, 12 to 18 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, saute the prosciutto or pancetta, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate; set aside to cool.
Break the bread into pieces and place in a large bowl. Add the prosciutto or pancetta, green beans, tomatoes, carrots, pinto or kidney beans, onion and Asiago cheese. Drizzle the salad mixture with about 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Place the mixed lettuces on top of the vegetable mixture and toss immediately prior to serving. Drizzle the salad with the remaining vinaigrette and serve.
Per serving (using canned beans): 665 calories, 25 gm protein, 46 gm carbohydrates, 44 gm fat, 32 mg cholesterol, 8 gm saturated fat, 1,736 mg sodium, 12 gm dietary fiber
You know what ramen is--those inexpensive cellophane packets or plastic foam containers of instant "oriental-style" noodles in salty broth. Although ramen comes in many flavors--chicken, mushroom, beef or shrimp--they are pretty similar, except perhaps for the hue of the broth. It is incredibly cheap and it is everywhere. In fact, there is an official ramen Web site (among many other sites) to satisfy ramen's cult following and capitalize on rampant ramen recipe swapping.
How can you take something instant and end up with a bit of flair and a heap more nutrition in minutes? Much the same way that folklore's "Stone Soup" became a banquet for a whole village.
This "recipe" is far from written in stone. Change or add anything you wish. For a "hot-and-sour" variation, stir in 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar.
1 package ramen-style soup, any flavor
Water (according to package directions)
1 handful snow peas, ends trimmed
1 handful cooked shrimp
2 tablespoons thinly sliced mushrooms
4 canned baby corn ears, drained
About 1/4 cup thinly sliced tofu
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 tablespoon minced scallions
1 teaspoon garlic-black bean paste
Hot chili sauce to taste
In a 2-quart saucepan, add the soup from the packet and water according to package directions. Bring the soup to a boil and stir in the snow peas, shrimp, mushrooms, baby corn, tofu, garlic, ginger, scallions, garlic-black bean paste and chili sauce to taste. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until heated through, about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly.
Per serving (using beef-flavor ramen): 260 calories, 17 gm protein, 28 gm carbohydrates, 8 gm fat, 84 mg cholesterol, 2 gm saturated fat, 900 mg sodium, 5 gm dietary fiber
Marcy Goldman is a professional baker and food writer living in Montreal. She can reached at www.betterbaking.com.