Monthly Archives: February 2012

Tell Congress: Label Genetically Engineered Foods!

Genetically-engineered (GE) foods sound kind of innocuous, don’t they? I mean, who is going to argue against crops that resist drought or seeds that yield sweeter, plumper fruit?  The concept starts to get a little worrying, though, when you realize that genetic engineering is increasingly used to create plants that tolerate the massive application of chemicals, usually herbicides and pesticides, which are then liberally used in the crops’ cultivation.   What this does to the resulting agricultural product, not to mention the surrounding environment, is a matter of much-politicized debate.  My own gut reaction is that it cannot be good.

Here in the United States, most of the soy, corn, beets and canola beans (think corn syrup, granulated sugar, and cooking oils), we grow are grown from GE seeds.  We consume these foods without realizing what we are eating, because the FDA does not currently require GE foods to be labeled as such.  So even if we are concerned about the issue, we may have a hard time figuring out how it impacts us or what decisions we can make to protect our families.

Over 50 countries require the labeling of GE foods, including those in the European Union, Japan, Australia, Brazil, South Korea and China. This fact alone suggests that here in the U.S., we need to have a discussion about the role of genetic engineering in our food supply.  Yet, for most of us, this issue isn’t something we can discuss, because the proliferation of GE foods has been largely hidden from view. If the FDA were to require farmers and manufacturers to tell us when a food is the product of genetic engineering, we consumers would be more likely to discuss and evaluate its consumption.

Recently, Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) and U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (OR) drafted a letter urging the FDA to require the labeling of GE foods.  Please consider contacting your Senators and U.S. Representative and asking them to sign onto the letter!  No matter what you think of the safety, usefulness, and perhaps inevitability of GE foods, we have a right to know what we are eating and feeding our families.  Without awareness, we cannot make a choice.

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Filed under Food & Politics, News

Eating Vegetarian in Asheville, NC

Last week I was in Asheville, NC.  Once again, I was struck by the number and quality of vegetarian restaurants.  This is definitely a national trend! Like me, most of the locals I met were not strict vegetarians.  They ate at these places for a variety of reasons, the most common of which was the tastiness of the food.  Often mentioned, as well, was the fact that people felt good about eating fewer animals, eating more vegetables, and trying something new. The best meals I had (yes, I could not resist eating there twice) were at Plant, a recently-opened vegan restaurant on Merrimon Road.  The food there was amazing, especially the grilled tofu topped with a coconut-red-curry sauce and served on a bed of terryaki- glazed broccoli. I also had a (cultured-nut-) cheese plate that I could never have made at home.   Asheville even boasts a drive-thru (!) vegetarian restaurant, Veg Heads, that I am hoping will spark copy-cat offerings near me.   Veg Heads’ menu (mostly soups and sandwiches) was a little more prosaic than at some of the other places I went, but  it was great to have a healthy fast food option.  I love the fact that “eating closer to the ground” has become more mainstream.   As a confirmed omnivore, even I can appreciate the environmental (and perhaps ethical) need to evolve away from a “meat and potatoes” lifestyle.

I would love to hear about any recommended vegetarian restaurants or catering companies in your area.  Is this trend as prevalent as it seems? My e-mail is, or just leave a comment below.  Thanks!

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Filed under Inspiration, Restaurants

Banana Bread

According to John-Bryan Hopkins at, today is National Banana Bread day.  The stars must be in alignment for this recipe, which I whipped up yesterday and fed the kids this morning.  The recipe uses the same dry ingredients as the Pumpkin Bread I posted a few weeks ago.  It happens to be gluten-free, though it is just as good, if not better, than regular banana bread.  My kids scarf it down in every variation- with nuts, without nuts, with dates, without dates.. . I’ve even turned it into Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (well, cake really,) for special occasions.  That variation is included below.  Enjoy!

Banana Bread
1 c. soy flour
½ c. corn (or potato) starch
¼ c. brown rice flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt

¼ c. butter, room temperature
2/3 c. sugar
2 eggs

Scant ¾ c. mashed ripe banana (about 2 medium bananas)
½ c. toasted walnuts, chopped (opt.)
½ c. chopped dates (opt.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 8×4” loaf pan with cooking spray.

Combine soy flour, corn starch, rice flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Briefly attempt to cream butter and sugar (there won’t be enough butter to do this, but at least combine to grittiness). Add eggs and beat until thick and pale yellow.

Add half the dry ingredients and mix briefly. Add the mashed bananas. Mix. Finish adding the dry ingredients, reserving a tablespoon or so if using walnuts or dates. Toss dates and/or walnuts with that little bit of dry ingredients, then stir into batter. Scrape into loaf pan and smooth top. Bake 55 min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on rack.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread  (variation)- Follow the recipe above, omitting dates. Up the sugar to ¾ c. (or 1 cup, if your bananas were not super-ripe). After beating the butter, sugar and eggs until thick, stir in 1 tsp. vanilla and ½ tsp. almond extract. Fold in 2/3 c. semisweet chocolate chips and ½ c. walnuts (opt.) Continue as above.

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Filed under Food, Recipes, Sweets and Treats

Red Peppers Stuffed With Rice and Veggies

The filling for these peppers is savory and nutty, both hearty and surprisingly delicate.  The mushrooms add meatiness, so the dish can be used as a satisfying vegetarian entree or as a side for roasted meat.  Use a high-quality aged (sharp) cheddar and shred it finely to distribute its flavor.  Also, go easy on the salt.  The broth and the cheese may be salty and it is hard to predict how much additional seasoning you’ll need.  You may make these peppers up to a day ahead, and they reheat well in both the oven and microwave.  (The peppers become softer, which some people prefer.)  This recipe makes 4 large or 5 small stuffed bell peppers. Enjoy!

¾ c. brown rice
Scant 1.5 c. chicken or vegetable broth

Olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
Salt and pepper
1 clove garlic, minced

16 oz. white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme

3 oz finely shredded aged cheddar cheese (about 1 c.)
2/3 c. sliced almonds, toasted
2 T. minced chives (opt)

4 large or 5 small red bell peppers
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350° F.

In a small saucepan, cook brown rice in broth according to package directions.  Uncover and set aside.

Meanwhile, coat a large skillet with olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Once pan is warm, add onion, carrot and celery and season lightly. Saute until tender and beginning to brown. Add garlic and saute, stirring constantly, 30 seconds longer. Remove vegetables from skillet and place in a large bowl.

In the same skillet, again heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and season lightly. Saute until beginning to brown. Crumble dried thyme into mushrooms and saute, stirring, until fragrant. Remove from heat to cool.

Spray an 8×8-inch baking pan (or similar dish) with cooking spray. Wash peppers and pat dry. Using a pairing knife, cut off the top of each pepper and carefully remove the seeds and supporting membranes. If needed, cut a sliver off the bottom, leaving the cavity intact, so each pepper will stand up. Season the inside of each pepper with a small pinch of salt.

Add lukewarm mushrooms to vegetables in large bowl. Add lukewarm rice. Gently stir in shredded cheese, toasted sliced almonds, and chives, if using. Once ingredients are well- mixed, taste and adjust seasoning.

Fill peppers with rice mixture. (Note: Any extra can be placed in a buttered ramekin and either baked or microwaved to reheat.) Place peppers in prepared pan. (Peppers may be made up to one day ahead at this point. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.) Bake for 35 minutes or until peppers are crisp-soft and filling is heated through.  Serve immediately.

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Our Founding Father Was a Foodie!!

Check out the pictures from Mount Vernon’s latest exhibit, Hoecakes & Hospitality, on NPR’s food blog, The Salt.  It seems that we are not the first, nor even the second, generation of Americans obsessed with what we eat.  Apparently, Martha Washington had a proclivity for ice cream, and George had a serious coffee habit.   Judging by the time and effort that it took to procue these and other Mount Vernon foods, it is clear that we, with our local markets and power appliances, are merely amateur Foodies.  After all, how many of us would skip eating ice cream altogether if we had to start the whole process by harvesting ice?  And can you imagine using that contraption to distill flavorings for cake?  Take a few minutes to look at the pictures….  and then revel in the simplicity of getting tonight’s dinner on the table!

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Filed under Ideas & Musings, News

Valentine’s Day Meringues

Whipped these up from the egg whites left over after making vanilla ice cream.  I wanted something light that would compliment the raspberry sundaes.  They have a wonderful texture– crunchy, chewy.  I ate several before finally sealing them away for tonight.  Enjoy!

4 medium egg whites, room temperature
Pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ tsp. almond extract
2/3 c. slivered almonds, toasted
1.5 cups shredded sweetened coconut, toasted

Preheat oven to 200°F. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat egg whites in very clean bowl with very clean beaters on medium speed until foamy. Add pinch of salt. Turn speed up to high and slowly add sugar (1 T. at a time or as “running sugar”). Continue beating until egg whites are stiff and glossy, 2-4 minutes, depending on your mixer. Beat in vanilla and almond extract. Working quickly, fold in almonds and coconut.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto baking sheets. Bake 3.5 hours. Turn off oven and let cookies cool there. Once completely cooled, store in an air-tight container.

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Valentine’s Night for the kids

Pan-sauteed Sea Scallops

Coconut Rice

Stir-fried Pea Pods

Carrot Coins

Raspberry Sundaes with Valentine’s Day Meringues

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Filed under Food, Special Occasions

Banana Peanutbutter Blitz

I call this a “blitz” for two reasons:  First, it comes together incredibly fast. Second, my children dive into it like they haven’t eaten in a week. It works for breakfast, lunch or dinner–  even desert.  Enjoy!

3 medium ripe bananas
2 T. all-natural peanut butter
1 T. honey
Scant ¼ c. salted roasted peanuts
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Peel and thinly slice bananas and scatter over a serving plate. Drizzle peanut butter on top. (Note: Loosen peanut butter if necessary in microwave, warming at 10 sec intervals until “drizzle-able.”)

Drizzle honey over peanut butter and bananas. Put peanuts in a sandwich bag and crush lightly with the flat side of a meat mallet (or the side of a can). Once crushed to a course chop, add cinnamon to the bag and mix. Scatter this over bananas. Serve.

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Filed under Food, Recipes, Sweets and Treats

Thai Chicken Salad


I’ve been making this for years.  It is one of the few salads that seems to appeal all year long- Good cabbage is easy to find even in colder months, and the salad is, of course,  delicious when garden-fresh cabbage, peppers and cilantro abound.  My kids love it, and left-overs, if any, are great packed for lunch the next day.  To give credit where it is due, this  is an adaptation of a recipe that first appeared in Cooking Light magazine. Over time I’ve modified it to use fewer, more readily available ingredients.  I’ve also simplified it for weeknight cooking.  This makes enough for 3-4 main dish servings.  Enjoy!

½ c. fresh lime juice
6 T. sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ c. tamari

¾ c. salted peanuts (plus more for garnish, opt.)
Rotisserie chix, meat stripped off bones and shredded
10 oz package (or 6 cups) shredded green cabbage
1 c. matchstick-cut carrots
1 small yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into rough matchsticks
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into rough matchsticks
1 c. chopped cilantro
Combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar and shake well to combine. Set aside, but shake occasionally as you assemble the salad to help sugar dissolve.

Place ¾ c. peanuts in a sandwich bag and smash with the smooth side of a meat mallet until coarsely chopped.

Place chopped 3/4 c. peanuts and remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl and use hands to toss lightly until ingredients are evenly distributed. Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad and toss again. Taste. Add more dressing, as needed, tossing after each addition. Sprinkle a few peanuts on top as garnish (opt). Serve cold or at room temperature.

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Umami Spaghetti Sauce

I came up with this sauce in an effort to re-create traditional Bolognese Sauce with fewer and potentially healthier ingredients.  It is also slightly quicker, cooking in 3 or4 hours as opposed to 5 or 6.   This makes enough sauce for 6-8 servings of spaghetti.  Enjoy!

Olive oil
1.5 lb ground beef (10% fat)
Salt, pepper, ground celery seed
Large red onion, very finely diced
3-4 slender carrots, very finely diced
2 slender stalks celery, very finely diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2+ tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 bottle Rhone-style red wine
28 oz. can diced tomatoes
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 c. beef broth
2 T.  tomato paste
1.5 tsp honey
Parmesan rind (2″x3″)

In a large skillet, brown beef in olive oil over medium high heat, seasoning with salt, pepper and celery seed. Remove from pan.  Saute onions on low heat until starting to color. Add carrots and celery and saute until softening, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook 1 min. Add red pepper flakes.

Deglaze  pan with some of the red wine. Move veggies to soup pot and add meat (and any juices). Add tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, beef broth and the rest of the red wine. Add enough water (if needed) so that liquid almost covers solids.  Stir in tomato paste, honey and Parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for 3+ hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve over spaghetti, passing Parmesan on the side.

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