Friday, May 29, 2009

Kathleen's Struffoli



I am SO excited to be able to introduce the first ever Food for Laughter guest post, written by my incredible friend and gorgeous Italian gourmet chef Kathleen!

When Astra first called and asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I was both honored and delighted. Quickly, though, these feelings of elation turned to niggling worry, as I fretted over what story to tell and which recipe to choose. Ultimately, I decided on the following...

Astra and I first met in a college literature course, and many of my fondest memories from our friendship, quite fittingly, center on the intersection of food and books. For example, to celebrate the end of classes, and my college graduation, Astra and I inundated the English department of our college with a variety of baked goods. First we created the "authorial sugar cookie" (cookies shaped and decorated to look like miniature Brontes, Faulkners, and Shakespeares. Bemused professors looked on as we also began to honor departmental faculty authors with cookies in their image! Eventually, our cookies segued into other surgery confections - donuts festooned with elaborate iced decorations and quotes from favorite poems, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight."

But perhaps the most long-lasting of our culinary and literary crossroads has been our desire to join our food heritages in a unique Jewish-Italian-Southern cookbook, a volume that we often refer to as simply "the book." My favorite memory of attempting to fuse our culinary backgrounds was the day of the Kosher Italian feast. At the time, Astra kept a strict Kosher vegetarian diet and it was my task to modify lasagna and meatballs to fit her dietary habits. For the most part, we found this was a surprisingly do-able task, but we hit a small snag when it came time to cook the sausage needed for the lasagna. I had asked Astra to purchase the sausage, not knowing how to find Italian seasoned vegetarian kosher sausage (quite the feat). Apparently, neither did Astra. As I turned around to grab the ingredient, I expected to see traditional tubular sausages in casing; instead, Astra surprised me with a box of Morningstar vegetarian breakfast sausage patties. The patties wound up floating in the red gravy like little life preservers, waiting for the homemade meatballs to hop on and take a ride. Perhaps this was not the most beautiful, or natural blending of our culinary heritages, but it was, quite definitely, the most humorous!

So, ultimately, in keeping with the tradition of our big cookbook dreams, ethnic foods, and friendship, I decided to present Astra's readers with a dish as "sweet" as the blog's creator - the Italian dessert, struffoli. Struffoli is a standard Christmas treat in my family, and many of my childhood holiday memories center around making the dish with my grandmother and father.

Astra and I have not yet made this dish together, but I look forward to the next opportunity to share the kitchen and to test run another recipe for "the book..."

~ Kathleen





Struffoli

(Although Astra often supplies healthy alternatives to her more decadent recipes, I am not even going to try and pretend that balls of fried dough, coated in honey, are a nutritious option. So, savor and enjoy!)

4 cups flour
1 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter
2 tsp vanilla
6 eggs
Vegetable oil for frying
Honey for coating
Neapolitan Sprinkles (Also called rainbow ball sprinkles or candy sprinkles)
**Some people prefer drizzling melted milk chocolate over their struffoli or adding candied fruits. I am, however, a purest, and prefer the brightly colored sprinkles from my childhood.**

~ Blend flour, sugar, and baking powder together in a large mixing bowl.
~ Mix in the butter with a pastry blender or a fork.
~ Blend in the vanilla and the eggs, two at at time. The batter should be like a very thick cookie dough.
~ Knead the dough for 5 minutes until very smooth, flouring your hands when the dough gets sticky.
~ Put the dough on a floured baking board and form it into a large ball. Dust the ball with flour and cover with a clean cloth. Let the dough sit for 1/2 hour, and then divide into 3 or 4 smaller balls.
~ Roll each ball into 1/2 rolls and then cut the rolls into 1/2" pieces.
~ In a deep skillet, heat enough oil for deep frying. Drop about 12 balls at a time into the oil and fry until golden and crisp.
~ Drain the balls on a paper towel. While still warm, put the struffoli into a large mixing bowl.
~ In a small saucepan, heat the honey and drizzle over the struffoli. Gently stir them, so all the balls are coated.
~ Add the sprinkles, and... the best part... eat!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blackened Onion and Corn Quesadillas



I'm back! First I returned home from the whirlwind drive to and from Maryland for Lisa's gorgeous wedding, and then I pulled into the driveway this morning after my first night shift working from 6:45 PM last night until 7:15 AM...

Surprisingly, the night flew by with rapidity, likely because I had my largest patient load thus far and was kept well occupied jetting up and down the halls with IVs and nausea medications, and even more surprisingly, when I came home this morning, showered, changed into PJs, and finally crept into bed - I couldn't fall asleep! Likely my sleeplessness resulted from the 6 cups of coffee I had required to keep me from napping on the keyboard at 2AM while I was charting "Pt in bed resting, respirations even and nonlabored on room air," all the while wishing just a wee bit that I could be "in bed resting" too...

Now, though, I'm still both well-caffeinated and rather hyper from the general excitement of working in a busy hospital, still delighting in the IV I successfully started at 4AM, or the breathing treatment I learned how to administer...

So, instead of napping, I just fixed us one of our favorite lunches...

I've been making quesadillas for years, of course, but I don't think I ever fully appreciated a quesadilla until my friend Matt, who has kindly shared many of his family's Honduran recipes with me, taught me how to make a version similar to this one... I've fiddled with the ingredients a bit as the mood struck me, but the method I could never even begin to think of altering. As one might guess, given that Matt is a graduate student about to complete a PhD in 18th Century British Literature, the directions with which he provided me were crafted with finely tuned precision, timing the creation of a quesadilla with all the eloquence of a delicately written thesis statement... Without fail, Matt's quesadilla method is indefatigable and always scrumptious.





Speaking of which, stay tuned for another recipe from an illustrious English Lit PhD student... A guest post from the wonderful, famous Kathleen is soon to appear!!



Blackened Onion and Corn Quesadillas

*Note: This recipe makes two main course quesadillas - feel free to adjust the quantities as you fancy...

1 T olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1 T cilantro
2 large whole wheat flour tortillas
1/2 cup low fat cheddar cheese

~ In a small skillet set on medium high, heat the olive oil until it just begins to smoke. Quickly, before the smoking gets out of control, toss in the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to char. This will happen very suddenly, and it will look as though the onions are burning beyond rescue, but never fear...
~ As soon as the onions start to blacken, toss in the green pepper and corn kernels and saute until the green pepper is crisp-tender and the corn is heated through.
~ Season the corn mixture to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the cilantro.
~ Coat a large skillet with cooking spray, and place over medium-high heat. Add 1 flour tortilla to the skillet, and count to 10 seconds before flipping it over. It might be a bit hard to resist flipping it sooner, because it will sizzle quite enthusiastically, but hold out and count for the full 10 seconds... It will be worth it, I promise.
~ As soon as you've flipped the tortilla over to the other side, spread 1/3 of the corn mixture and 1/4 cup cheddar cheese down the center of the tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half up over the filling, patting the filling down a bit to encourage it to spread out.
~ Reduce the heat to medium, and let the tortilla cook just until the cheese is nearly melted.
~ Flip the quesadilla over to the other side, and heat just for a few seconds until the cheese begins to melt out the sides.
~ Transfer the quesadilla to a plate, and repeat the process with the remaining tortilla, 1/3 of the corn mixture, and 1/4 cup cheddar cheese...
~ Top the quesadillas with the remaining corn mixture, and they're ready to serve!


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cornmeal Coated Mahi Mahi or Tofu with Lemon Tahini Dressing



Having a job that involves working 12-hour shifts is surprisingly wonderful. Thanks to the 40 hours that I've already worked this week, I'm able to have the glorious flexibility of driving to Lisa's wedding this weekend without having to fret about scheduling or find myself at the mercy of an unsympathetic boss. One of the downsides, however, is I'm not able to do much spontaneous or elaborate cooking on days when I work for 12 hours, get home in the dark around 8:30 at night, and then have to wake up in the dark to return to work the very next morning. It's taken a bit of adjustment, and, for the first time ever, I just made planning notes for next week's suppers. I also work night shift next week, but that's another adjustment altogether...

Last night, though, I came home pleasantly tired but bolstered by the knowledge that my alarm wasn't going to chime at 4:30 the next morning. Enlivened, too, by the miraculous discharge of all of my patients from the hospital yesterday afternoon, and still savoring the memories of how happily, and with renewed strength, they returned home, I set about cooking a proper, leisurely supper for the first time in quite a few days.



I prepared one of Zach's favorite dishes of all time, Cilantro and Spice Infused Sauteed Eggplant Salad, some of our refreshing Raw Broccoli Salad, and, for the main course...

Mahi Mahi fillets and tofu "fillets" encrusted in layers of Cajun-seasoned golden cornmeal and topped with lemon-tahini dressing!



Cornmeal Coated Mahi Mahi or Tofu with Lemon Tahini Dressing

1/4 cup tahini
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 tsp granulated garlic
2 T olive oil
2 T warm water
1/2 tsp salt
4 Mahi Mahi fillets (approx. 6 oz each) OR 8 slices firm tofu, each 1/2" thick.
2 eggs
1/3 cup 1% milk
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup cornmeal
Cajun seasoning to taste
2 T olive oil

~ To make the lemon tahini dressing, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, warm water, and salt. Whisk until smooth, and set aside.
~ Whisk the eggs and milk together, and let the Mahi Mahi or tofu slices sit in the egg mixture for 15 minutes or so.
~ Meanwhile, toss together the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, Cajun seasoning, and salt to taste in a large zip-top plastic bag.
~ Making sure each piece is well covered with the egg mixture before removing, transfer the Mahi Mahi or tofu to the zip-top bag with the cornmeal mixture. Shake gently, until the Mahi Mahi or tofu is thoroughly coated with the cornmeal mixture.
~ In a large skillet with the olive oil, set over medium heat, sear the Mahi Mahi or tofu slices for 5 minutes on one side. Flip to the other side, and cook until the Mahi Mahi reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees (or until it flakes easily with a fork), or until the tofu slices are well browned on both sides.
~ Serve drizzled with the lemon tahini dressing!



* Thank you all for being patient with my recently sporadic posting... I drive to Maryland for my friend Lisa's wedding tomorrow, I return home Sunday night, work a 12 hour shift on Monday, and then... I'll be back to normal at last. :-)

The rose bush Lisa gave us as a housewarming present 2 years ago, now still blooming happily in the front garden...


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Delicious Vitamins: Baked Potato Salad



Potatoes have garnered a somewhat unfortunate nutritional reputation, largely associated with what is done to them - deep frying, smothering with butter and cheese, deep frying and smothering with butter and cheese - rather than with what is in them, which actually isn't too shabby. Potatoes are a good source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese - and Niacin.



As niacin (also known as Vitamin B3), is involved in energy production, I likely could have used some extra niacin last night while attempting to write this blog post after work. As my 9 hour work shift had stretched into an 11 hour shift, though, I found myself nodding off embarrassingly early, and typing something slightly less than coherent. Awake and rejuvenated now, though, my niacin molecules are busily at work.

So far, at my new job, I've calmed a patient by describing an IV line as "a little garden hose that brings medicine to the little faucet in your hand," I've discovered that getting to actually pause long enough to eat half of a peanut butter sandwich feels like a luxurious lunch break, and I've gradually learned how to find where the tiniest supplies are kept in the tiniest corners, because when someone is bleeding all over the place you really need to know where the 4x4 gauze is now. (It still astounds me that, if someone were to start bleeding all over the place, they would turn to me to fix them... Quite thrilling and humbling and terrifying all at the same time.)

Niacin, meanwhile, as an essential part of a coenzyme needed for energy producing reactions in the body, has been assiduously metabolizing protein for me so that, if necessary, I could make a mad dash down the hall to grab those gauze pads. Niacin also functions in the synthesis of genetic material, and assists with the normal operations of our central nervous system.

Because the body can convert the amino acid tryptophan into niacin, eating plenty of protein helps prevent niacin deficiency and keeps us from requiring buckets of niacin all the time, but we do still need 14 to 16 milligrams of niacin a day. Niacin isn't a fat soluble vitamin, either, so we can't store it in our bodies for very long.

Severe niacin deficiency is called Pellagra, and causes diarrhea, dermatitis, and progressive mental deterioration. More mild cases of inadequate niacin can still result in loss of appetite, fatigue, heartburn, depression, and irritability, so... We should eat our potatoes! (and our tuna fish, chicken, beef, and turkey, if we choose to do so, and certainly our peanut butter - YUM - and our cantaloupe, and our brown rice...)



Warm Baked Potato Salad with Goat Cheese

7 medium potatoes
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 cup minced parsley
1 tsp tarragon
4 oz goat cheese, crumbled
3/4 cup low fat sour cream
1/4 cup red wine vinegar

~ Bake the potatoes with your preferred method (in the microwave is fastest!)
~ Fold all the other ingredients in with the potatoes.
~ Serve warm or cold...



*On a side note, my schedule next week is a little peripatetic, as I work 12 hour shifts Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, then drive to Maryland on Thursday for my friend Lisa's wedding, then return home to Georgia on the following Sunday, and zoom back to 12 hour days at work on Monday... Consequently, I might not be able to post as regularly as I would like until my schedule returns to normal in around a week and a half... I hope you will forgive me - I will return to regularly scheduled programming as expeditiously as possible! :-) (I'm planning on doing lots of cooking for Zach before I have to be out of town for a few days, so that he'll have plenty of yummy things in the fridge while he's studying for his board exams in my absence, and I know I'll want to do even more cooking for him when I return home, so I'm confident I will have plentiful fun new recipes to share... :-)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Casual Baked Ziti



I just packed my lunch for tomorrow's work-day, tidied up the kitchen, and set up some green tea to steep so that a nice big pitcher of iced-green tea will await Zach tomorrow morning. Now, I aught to be folding laundry or perhaps amending last nights sleep deficit (going to bed at midnight and getting up at 4:30 AM was not especially wise), but instead I want to share a recipe with y'all...

I also want to tell you how delicious niacin is, I really do (after all, two of the foods high in niacin are peanut butter and potatoes - how yummy is that?! :-), but first, tonight, I must seize the inspiration found only in marinara and Parmesan, and share with you a pan full of humble, cozy baked ziti...

First, an apology to authenticity, and to my wonderful, oft-mentioned friend Kathleen, who I freely and happily admit makes a much grander baked ziti than I. My baked ziti uses ground turkey or tofu, for goodness sakes - hardly "proper." There's only a sprinkling of Parmesan, so you could, hypothetically, fix baked ziti every night (not that you would necessarily wish to do so...), without feeling guilty about it. There are olives tossed into the mix, and tonight I fixed the recipe with penne pasta instead of ziti because I couldn't find whole wheat ziti at the grocery on my drive home, and while I suppose this means I should call the end result "Baked Penne" it just didn't seem to have the same jaunty tone...

So, while tonight's "baked ziti" wasn't quite the baked ziti of culinary history, the somewhat nontraditional combination made us so happy that I just had to share the experience...

All together, whole wheat pasta, diced olives, salty Parmesan, and plenty of gooey mozzarella can be just the thing to welcome you home...



A Casual Baked Ziti

14 oz whole wheat ziti or penne
1 lb ground turkey OR 1 lb firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups of your favorite marinara sauce recipe (feel free to use the homemade sauce you have in the freezer, or your favorite store-bought sauce, or a fresh batch you just made in celebration of a leisurely Sunday...)
2 cups shredded low-fat mozzarella, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
1/4 tsp hot sauce
1/4 cup minced green or black olives
1/4 cup diced green bell pepper

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13X9" baking pan with cooking spray.
~ Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain, and set aside.
~ Coat a medium skillet with cooking spray, and saute the ground turkey or tofu, along with the garlic, until the turkey or tofu is lightly browned.
~ In a large bowl, stir together the pasta, turkey or tofu mixture, marinara sauce, 1 cup mozarella, 1/4 cup Parmesan, hot sauce, olives, and green pepper.
~ Pour the pasta mixture into the baking pan, and top with the remaining 1 cup mozarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan.
~ Bake for 30 minutes - until the cheese on top is just beginning to brown a wee bit.
~ Serve deliciously gooey and warm...

(Turning into the driveway after a long day at my incredible new job, I am, as always, ever-thankful that I get to come home to my guy and our kitties...)






Monday, May 11, 2009

Today...



Today... was... drum roll please... my first day at my new job - my first job as a nurse!

I am now officially a nurse in the Medical-Surgical department of a large rural hospital here in Georgia.

The awe of feeling fortunate enough to have embarked upon my dream job, the first step in my career, the career where I feel I was meant to try, in my humble way, to give back to the world that bears my footsteps, is astounding.

I am grateful beyond measure... So much so, that, on this rare occasion, I am overcome with joy and emotion, and at loss for words.

In the spirit of health promotion and my new field, the Delicious Vitamins series shall return soon... (Following my 4:30AM arising and my second day at work tomorrow! :-)


Friday, May 8, 2009

Spinach and Tomato Tart



Some dishes, like the pan-seared grits in my previous post, come with long, elaborate stories filled with memories and anecdotes...

Others are simply A Very Posh Tart... which needs little else for an introduction...





Spinach and Tomato Tart


1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed slightly
1 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
8 oz baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 large tomato, diced
2 eggs
1 cup 1% milk
Pinch of nutmeg

~ Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
~ Gently fit the puff pastry sheet into an 8 or 9" pie pan. There will be a bit of overhang at the 4 corners, but this will look quite pretty when the pastry puffs up...
~ In a small skillet over medium-high heat, saute the onion in the olive oil until limp and translucent.
~ Remove the onion from the heat, gently toss the onion and spinach leaves together in a large bowl, and set aside.
~ Sprinkle the feta cheese across the bottom of the puff pastry.
~ Spread the spinach and onion mixture across the top of the feta cheese.
~ Scatter the diced tomato over the spinach leaves.
~ Whisk together the eggs, milk, and nutmeg, making sure to beat the eggs well, and pour the mixture over the filling in the pie pan.
~ Bake for around 50 minutes - until the filling is set. Serve warm or cold...




Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Pan-Seared Parmesan Grits



Let's talk about Southern food.

Better yet, let's talk about grits - because if you're talkin' Southern food, there has to be grits involved. Grits have now become ubiquitous enough to appear on the pages of culinary periodicals, but they might not necessarily be a staple in everyone's pantry (as opposed to mine, where grits is stored in a large 5-pound sac...) I once met a newly hired employee at a restaurant where I used to work, who, having just moved to the Deep South from New York, had never tasted grits, and was horrified on his first day to find one of the restaurant managers preparing a morning staff breakfast including a large batch of a dish which, in his mind, had been named after parking lot gravel.

Let me assure you, if you haven't yet sampled grits, that despite its inglorious name, a batch of grits will taste nothing like stone... If grits are well known to you, then you already have experienced the serene, creamy depths. In my family, when I was a child, oatmeal was "exotic" - a bowl of grits was what materialized beside my orange juice at the breakfast table every morning. Sometimes my grandmother would stir some cheddar cheese into my little cereal bowl filled with steaming grits, sometimes it would be garnished with simply salt, pepper, and a bit of butter (still my favorite way to eat grits), and sometimes she would prepare a sweet version with brown sugar and cinnamon, but I always knew there would be grits on the table - warm, soothing, comforting, assuring a small child that all was right with the world.

With such a regular quantity of grits floating about, what to do with the leftovers? For, while grits spooned hot out of the big stove-top pot are almost pudding like in texture, once the leftovers are scooped into a bowl and swept into the fridge, the next morning they are decidedly solid - they become, in all actuality, southern Polenta (one of the many reasons my ever-glamorous friend Kathleen - a fabulous cook graced with generations of Italian culinary history - and I are convinced that we should someday jointly write a Deep South, Jewish, and Italian cookbook, highlighting the many similarities we keep discovering in our kitchens).



For my grandmother, though, the solution to leftover grits was based on a simple philosophy - find a way to put every bit of leftovers to delicious use. My grandmother was born in 1914 (and still makes grits and toast for herself and my grandfather every morning!), and, having lived through the depression and years of rationing, never wastes anything. I am grateful to have been raised under her careful, frugal tutelage, learning from the wisdom and fortitude she gleaned while living through much harsher times than I have ever known. As a traditional southern cook, my Grandmother, without fuss and aplomb, would simply slice and - you guessed it - deep fry those thick wedges of leftover grits.

I rarely, if ever, deep fry anything anymore, but it is wondrous how one can achieve practically the same results with a bit of cooking spray and a nice big skillet... Grits may be associated with the lavish, heavy aspects of southern cooking, but, in actuality, a bowl full of grits is a perfectly respectable way to begin the day - I choose coarse, stone-ground corn grits for added fiber and nutrients, and fix them simply with low-fat milk or soymilk, and the occasional sprinkle of Parmesan for special occasions.

Then, the next day... Gently slice the leftovers, season them with salt and fresh ground pepper, and give them a crispy, golden exterior and a softly creamy interior...



Pan-Seared Parmesan Grits

5 cups water
3 cups 1% milk or soymilk
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups stone-ground corn grits
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

* First, make the grits and have them as usual for breakfast. You could make the whole batch and put them straight in the fridge to chill for pan searing later, but I find it much more enjoyable to have the whole grits experience - traditional soft grits for breakfast one day, and the sliced version the next morning...

~ In a saucepan, bring the water, milk or soymilk, and salt to a boil.
~ Reduce the heat to medium-low, whisk in the grits, cover, and simmer for around 7 minutes, stirring and recovering frequently until the grits are thick and creamy,
~ Remove from the heat, and stir in the Parmesan.
~ Enjoy some for breakfast, nice and warm, and then place the leftovers in a square dish in the fridge...
~ After the grits are well chilled and firm (letting them chill overnight is best), turn the square container upside down to flip out a solid square of grits.
~ Using a sharp knife, cut the grits into 3/4" slices.
~ Season both sides of each slice with salt and black pepper.
~ Coat a large skillet with cooking spray.
~ Over medium high heat, sear the slices until well-browned on each side.
~ Serve immediately, "piping hot..."


Monday, May 4, 2009

Chilled Blueberry-Cocoa Dessert Soup



Soups in the spring and soups for dessert may seem slightly antithetical to the traditional notion of soup as a robust, calescent bowl of wintery comfort, but thankfully culinary experimentation has long since proven limits simply do not exist when it comes to food. Vegan souffles? No problem! Healthy, light tiramisu? Got it! Blueberry soup? For dessert?

Absolutely...

I adore soup. It's an enticingly healthful way to capture nutrients, steeping all your ingredients in a filling broth, and soups thus inherently lend themselves to light, cleansing meals.

When a Southern spring has bountifully bestowed 80 degree weather on us already, though, I don't always want to fire up the stove-top long enough to simmer a pot of soup for a few hours...

and since Zach and I have made it all the way to spring still managing to adhere (quite contentedly as well!) to our New Year's plan of switching to primarily fruit desserts, here comes a berry fruit dessert soup - in honor of the berry theme for No Crouton's Required (created by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen and Holler of Tinned Tomatoes, and hosted this month by Lisa...)



Gather some blueberries... Bring in a hint of chocolate... Indulge with a little whipped cream or granola on top... Let's have a picnic, shall we?



Chilled Blueberry-Cocoa Dessert Soup

2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
2 cups plain fat free yogurt (or the dairy free yogurt of your choice)
2 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup 1% milk or vanilla soymilk
2 bananas
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar

~ In a food processor, whir all the ingredients together until smooth and frothy.
~ Cool in the fridge until chilled, then ladle into bowls and serve with with whipped cream, sliced strawberries, or granola (or all of the above!) on top!


Saturday, May 2, 2009

Delicious Vitamins: Almond Shiitake [Un]Fried Rice



Ready for some Riboflavin?

Whenever I think of vitamins, leafy greens and citrus fruits always leap into my mind. While plentiful leaves and oranges await us on this nutritional tour, I have found it interesting to start with the beginning of the Vitamin alphabet, which quickly leads us to the B vitamins - all of which have such an extensive variety of food groups in which they are contained.

For instance, almonds. Now I know almonds are healthy - they're a terrific source of protein and unsaturated fats - and I know almonds, almond butter, almond milk, and chocolate covered almonds are insanely delicious, but when I'm nibbling on an almond I don't typically muse, in an absent-minded sort of fashion, "hmmm, I'm getting a fantastic dose of riboflavin right now..."

While I'm instead contemplating contentedly how crunchy and yet simultaneously silky that singular almond might be, however, I am getting a delightfully whopping supply of riboflavin. While dairy products typically contain the highest levels of riboflavin (also called Vitamin B2), almonds have one of the highest riboflavin contents of any plant food. One third of a cup of almonds encompasses 0.37 mg of riboflavin, and while 1/3 cup is A Lot of almonds, 0.37 mg is also A Lot of riboflavin given that the recommended daily intake is 1.7 mg and you needn't attempt to consume your day's intake in one food - or one sitting!

(Significant amounts of riboflavin are also found in beet greens, pork chops, eggs, spinach, ground beef, turkey, asparagus, and strawberries.)

Why, though, should its high riboflavin content tempt me to sample another almond? Well, my body requires riboflavin to help release all the powerful energy packed inside that dainty little almond, since riboflavin acts as a coenzyme in digestive reactions just like its cousin Thiamin. Riboflavin, a sociable sort of fellow, is also needed to activate several of the other vitamins bouncing around in our almonds and in the rest of our meal, namely Vitamin K, folic acid, and Vitamin B6. Furthermore, Riboflavin boosts the immune system, and might have a protective effect against esophageal cancer (an important factor for someone like me who likes to drink scalding hot tea, which can predispose you to esophageal cancer). As if Riboflavin hadn't already proven its usefulness, it also enables the eyes to adapt to light and has even been used to delay the progress of cataract formation. Since Zach and I have both managed to suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome over the years (likely from handwriting and typing Way Too Much Schoolwork), I've been quite interested to learn that riboflavin has demonstrated usefulness in carpel tunnel syndrome treatment as well.

Equally exciting, riboflavin facilitates absorption of iron from foods, mobilization of iron throughout the body, and retention and utilization of iron within the body. (So, if you're a vegetarian, next time someone asks you "but, but, are you sure you're getting enough iron in your diet?" you can smile and reply, "Why yes, I am, and I make sure to include plenty of riboflavin in my daily diet to enhance iron absorption" - and whoever was formerly bugging you will now be all impressed and leave you in peace. :-)

Lapsing into nostalgia for a moment, ever wonder why milk doesn't often come in clear containers anymore? Milk is an important source of riboflavin for much of the population, and riboflavin is actually destroyed by ultraviolet rays - so if you were enjoying a glass of milk that had briefly paused on the porch in an old-fashioned bottle, you were getting quite shortchanged on your riboflavin. Alcohol also destroys riboflavin, but we can still raise a toast to riboflavin in moderation... or simply raise an almond instead!







Almond and Shiitake [Un]Fried Rice


1/2 cup coarsely chopped almonds
2 T olive oil
3 spring onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped
12 oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and caps thinly sliced
1 T dry red wine
2 T soy sauce
1 T minced fresh cilantro
2 cups cooked brown rice

~ Briefly toast the almonds on a baking sheet in a 400 degrees F oven until golden brown. Remove the almonds from the oven, and set aside.
~ In a wok over high heat, stir-fry the spring onions in the olive oil until they are limp.
~ Add the bell pepper, and continue to stir fry just until crisp-tender.
~ Add the shiitake mushrooms, and keep stir-frying until the mushrooms are tender.
~ Reduce the heat to medium, pour the red wine and soy sauce over the mushrooms, then stir in the cilantro and rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until heated through.
~ Remove from the heat, season to taste with black pepper, and stir in the almonds.
~ Serve immediately, while the almonds are still nice and crunchy...

Other recipes with plentiful riboflavin:
Almond Citrus Cake
Asparagus and Barley Risotto
Double-Almond Oatmeal
White Asparagus Soup
Whole Grain Strawberry Corn Muffins
Whole Wheat Pasta with Tzatziki and Lebna Sauce

* Almonds and other such deliciousness can also found in the upcoming cookbook authored by the witty, brilliant, gourmet-chef and baker Ricki of Diet Dessert and Dogs, which will be published on May 15! I have been counting down to the cookbook's release date for quite some time - I am so proud of Ricki for accomplishing such a milestone! One glance at Ricki's beautiful blog will instantly reveal why I am so excited about the gorgeous, healthful desserts in Ricki's cookbook, Sweet Freedom... and Ricki is even generously giving away 8 copies of the cookbook!!