Friday, August 13, 2010

Great Little Bites: Crostini with Summer Vegetable Toppings

I love the versatility of crostini appetizers. Thin slices of toasted baguette, brushed with olive oil and sea salt and baked at 350 for about 10 minutes are the foundation of this easy and versatile hors d’oeuvres. You can make the crostini a day ahead, and cover in an airtight container to top and eat later. They are great for a quick snack, or can be more elaborately topped for a party.

I have been making these lately using farmer’s market vegetables as topping inspiration. Place thinly sliced avocadoes on the crostini, and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cracked black pepper and drizzle with sesame oil for a quick appetizer. Or, try your hand at cooking up a couple of the toppings below for more healthy and delicious spreads.

Fresh Tomato and Basil Topping

2-3 tomatoes, halved, seeded and chopped into small dice

1 shallot, chopped fine

sea salt and pepper to taste

½ fresh basil, chopped fine (plus more for garnish)

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (or fresh lemon juice)

1 tablespoon olive oil

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Spoon onto crostini and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil.

Ratatouille and Fresh Basil Topping

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons oil

2 small zucchini, sliced

1 small yellow zucchini, sliced

1 small eggplant chopped

3 large tomatoes chopped, or 1 large can pomodoro tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon herbes de provence

¼ cup each fresh parsley, fresh rosemary, and fresh basil

½ cup basil leaves, chopped (for garnish)

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet over medium heat, add chopped onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes or until translucent. Transfer onions and garlic to bowl. Add second tablespoon of oil and add zucchini, browning slightly on each side. Transfer to onion/garlic bowl. Add third tablespoon olive oil and add chopped eggplant, browning slightly for about 7 minutes. Return garlic, onions and zucchini to skillet. Add tomatoes and all herbs. Stir and let simmer on medium low heat for about 25 minutes. Note: If using canned tomatoes, you can add the juices if needed. You may also add about a half cup of water or vegetable stock if more liquid is needed with fresh tomatoes.

Let cool. Spoon onto crostini and sprinkle with fresh chopped basil.

Ricotta Cheese with Edamame, Sugar Snap Peas and Haricots Topping

½ cup shelled edamame

1 cup fresh haricots verts, ends trimmed

1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and stemmed

8 oz. ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon each sea salt and pepper

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup chopped chives for garnish

Steam edamame, haricots verts and snap peas for about 8-10 minutes, until crisp tender. Drain and let cool. In the bowl of a food processor, combine all beans, cumin, salt and pepper. Add ricotta cheese and blend with vegetables. Drizzle in olive oil.

Spoon onto crostini and sprinkle with fresh chopped chives.

**Note** this can be made lactose free or vegan by substituting 8 oz firm tofu in place of ricotta, and adding 1 teaspoon nutritional yeast (available at Whole Foods).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Dirty Martini, a Toast, and a Celebration of a Life Well Lived...

Today is my friend Glenn’s 47th birthday. Glenn was an amazing father, husband, friend, and ever-present class parent at our children’s school. His whip smart commentaries and wicked sense of humor kept those of us lucky enough to bask in his orbit in stitches. His conviction to all that he held dear, commitment to his wonderful family, and love of life were an inspiration to all of us.

Glenn is the reason and the inspiration for this food blog. When he was diagnosed with cancer in March 2010, a group of friends came together to cook for him. He was warmed and comforted by all the love, care and concern coming his way, and asked me to write a cookbook of our adventure together. He passed away on April 29, 2010--just 45 days after his diagnosis. I decided, as part of my own grieving and healing process, to start the Healing and Comfort Foods blog to record some of his favorite recipes, and to continue to help those in need of healing and comfort with some heart warming dishes.

Glenn’s partner Ed and his children will be in Provincetown—one of Glenn’s favorite places while here on earth--celebrating Glenn today. I have decided to have a birthday celebration of my own, and will be making dirty martinis—his favorite cocktail!—and delicious crostini appetizers to celebrate this wonderful man. I will toast his brief but full and amazing life, and be grateful that I had such a dear and inspiring friend. Happy Birthday, Glenn!!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Healing Foods: Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts

With no big chill in the weather in sight, I continue to mull over my “uncooking” options in the kitchen. At the farmer’s market, the mounds of fresh zucchini got me thinking about salad options. When I hit the herb stand and then the cheese stand, it all started coming together! My daughters love to take strands of grated carrots, zucchini and cucumber as I am peeling them, and eat the strands like spaghetti. I am all for peeling vegetables into ribbons if it makes them eat their vegetables—and zucchini ribbons with the just picked farmer’s market fare became the main inspiration to my uncooked dinner. I added some fresh herbs to my basket, and some aged parmesan, and went home to experiment with a new salad idea.

The nutrients provided by zucchini are impressive. Summer squash is an excellent source of manganese and vitamin C and a very good source of magnesium, vitamin A (notably through its concentration of carotenoids, including beta-carotene), fiber, potassium, folate, copper, riboflavin, and phosphorus---nutrients shown in studies to be helpful for the prevention of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Zucchini’s magnesium has been shown to be helpful for reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Together with the potassium in summer squash, magnesium is also helpful for reducing high blood pressure. The vitamin C and beta-carotene found in summer squash can help to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol. (see more about zucchini health benefits at

So, with inspiration from my favorite farmers market, I share with you our zucchini ribbon salad with toasted pine nuts, flat leaf parsley and shaved parmesan. Uncooked as a delicious salad or tossed with penne or your favorite pasta—it’s a refreshing summer treat.

Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Toasted Pinenuts

4 small zucchini

½ cup flatleaf Italian parsley, chopped

½ cup pine nuts, toasted in a skillet over low heat until browned, cooled

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

6 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup shaved parmesan (or more if you like it cheesy)

sea salt and cracked black pepper

Peel green skin from zucchini. Begin shaving zucchini lengthwise, with a vegetable peeler into long ribbons. Place ribbons in a large salad bowl, toss in parsley and pine nuts. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss with zucchini. Add parmesan shavings and serve.

Comfort Foods: Farmer's Market Finds

While shopping at the local farmer’s market this weekend, I was able to sample some fresh white peaches and blueberries. It was a Proustian moment that brought to mind my mother’s delicious fruit crumbles and blueberry dumplings. I thought that something sweet, satisfying and so very fresh would be great for my friend Gabrielle—good comfort food as she starts chemo this week. Gabs is lactose intolerant, so I needed to rethink my recipes. After some quick food research, I adapted Mrs. Mountain’s crumble recipe using vegan buttery sticks instead of butter. While I didn’t set out to make a vegan dessert—it was so yummy that I asked a few friends (vegan and non) to give me their thoughts. It was a big thumbs UP from all!

So, while this is one of my go-to comfort foods—you can’t go wrong with super healthy blueberries. They are packed with antioxidant phytonutrients called anthocyanidins, and blueberries neutralize free radical damage to the collagen matrix of cells and tissues that can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, varicose veins, hemorrhoids, peptic ulcers, heart disease and cancer. Anthocyanins have been shown to enhance the effects of vitamin C, improve capillary integrity, and stabilize the collagen matrix (the ground substance of all body tissues). They work their protective magic by preventing free-radical damage--staving off disease and helping to prevent cancer (please see more about the health benefits of blueberries at

If you are not lactose intolerant or vegan, you can use butter in place of the vegan buttery sticks. Get to your local farmer’s market or fruit stand while you can and get your fresh blueberries and peaches to whip us this healthy, comforting dessert.

Blueberry and White Peach Crumble (Vegan or Not)

1-4 oz vegan buttery stick (I use Earth Balance, available at Whole Foods) or 1 stick unsalted butter – chilled and cut into bits.

1 cup rolled oats

1 cup organic brown sugar

½ cup flour

½ cup chopped pecans

2 cups fresh blueberries

2-3 fresh white peaches, washed, cored and sliced (I leave the skin on)

1//2 cup apple juice

In a bowl, mix together butter, oats, sugar, flour and pecans. Blend well until a good, crumbly mixture is formed (don’t be afraid of chunks, they are delicious when baked and crispy!) Set aside.

In a buttered 9x12 inch bake pan, mix blueberries and peaches together and spread evenly. Pour ½ cup apple juice over fruit. Top with crumble mixture, covering fruit. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Healing Foods: Chillin’ with More Cucumbers...and Some Avocado

I love how far and away a love of good food reaches. My lovely friend Miho lives in Australia. She is a consummate foodie, yogini, and an amazing woman who shares my love of eating and food. The recipe below comes from a friend of hers down under who blogs about food. So, to continue to “uncook” in this summer heat, I am adding Miho and her friend’s recipe for Chilled Out Cucumber and Avocado Soup.

Cucumbers, in addition to all that I said yesterday, help hydrate, are full of vitamin C, silica, potassium and magnesium. Adding the avocados increases your potassium and folate intake, which is great for heart health and helping to reduce the risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. And avocados contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that aids in lowering cholesterol.

Added to the fact that this soup is refreshing, chilly, delicious and healthy (and you don’t need to turn on the stove!), it’s a perfect summer meal choice. Thank you, Miho!!

Chilled Out Cucumber and Avocado Soup

3 small avocados

1medium cucumber, seeded and peeled

Fistful of coriander

1/4 teaspoon cumin

Juice of one lemon or lime

2 cups of homemade chicken stock 

1 teaspoon sea salt

Spring onion/mint for garnish

In a blender place all of the ingredients on high until pureed
. If too thick add a bit more lime or lemon juice
. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until chilled
. Ladle into chilled soup bowls and add sea salt and pepper to taste
. Garnish with mint and spring onion.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Healing Foods: Cool As A Cucumber…Unless You Sear the Salmon or Tuna!

This week, I think I have finally come to understand the term “the salad days of summer”. It’s just way too hot to cook. So, while researching foods for my friend Gabrielle that were cool and refreshing, the cucumber came to mind. I love cucumber salads year round—but now that there is such an abundant crop of fresh and local cucumbers at the farmer’s markets, it is a great time to be eating them.

Cucumbers are primarily composed of water but also contain ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and caffeic acid, both of which help soothe skin irritations and reduce swelling. Cucumbers' hard skin is rich in fiber and contains a variety of beneficial minerals including silica, potassium and magnesium.

When paired with seaweed in a salad, you get a great vitamin and mineral infusion as well. Seaweed is an excellent source of iodine and vitamin K, a very good source of the B-vitamin folate, and magnesium, and a good source of iron and calcium, and the B-vitamins riboflavin and pantothenic acid. In addition, sea vegetables contain good amounts of lignans, plant compounds with cancer-protective properties. (Please see more about sea vegetables at

This cucumber hijiki salad is refreshing, delicious, and soothing. The added crunch of chopped celery also brings a calming touch, since celery contains phthalides, which aid in relaxation (and help lower cholesterol!). The seasoned rice vinegar dressing is a perfect sweet/tart complement. So if you are looking for something cool on a day like this one, this is the recipe for you. Serve with baked tofu, seared salmon or sesame crusted tuna (recipes for salmon and tuna below--if your kitchen is air-conditioned!)

Cucumber Hijiki Seaweed Salad

Two cucumbers, peeled, sliced lengthwise, seeded and sliced into half moon slices

Two stalks celery, trimmed and sliced.

1 cup hijiki seaweed, soaked in water for 20 minutes, drained and press to remove water

4 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon sake

1 tablespoon mirin (rice wine)

8 tablespoons grapeseed oil or other neutral oil

sea salt

Place sliced cucumbers, sliced celery and hijiki in a salad bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together rice wine vinegar, sugar, sake, mirin and oil. Add to salad. Adjust to taste with sea salt, vinegar and oil.

Seared Salmon Steaks

2 salmon steaks

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

Rinse salmon steaks and pat dry with paper towels. On a shallow plate, mix cumin, salt and pepper. Dip steaks, one side at a time, into spice mixture to coat each side. Heat skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil and let heat. Add steaks to skillet, searing about 2-3 minutes on each side (a little less if you like your salmon rare in the middle). Remove from heat and serve.

Sesame Crusted Tuna

Two tuna steaks, about 1 ½ inches thick

½ cup sesame seeds (I use a combination of black and white sesame seeds)

1 teaspoon sea salt

½ teaspoon cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon shichimi (Japanese 7 flavor chili pepper, available at Japanese markets)

Rinse tuna steaks and pat dry with paper towels. On a shallow plate, mix sesame seeds, salt, pepper and shichimi. Dip steaks, one side at a time, into sesame/spice mixture to coat each side. Heat skillet over medium high heat, add olive oil and let heat. Add tuna steaks to skillet, searing about 2-3 minutes on each side (a little less if you like your salmon rare in the middle--which is how I prefer it). Remove from heat and slice. Serve with cucumber seaweed salad.

Healing Foods: Lentil Salad

My friend Gabs is preparing for chemo. In addition to a healthy dose of mental and emotional preparation, this also means eating strengthening, nutrient rich foods to help her through the after effects of the treatment. A few of us gathered to cook for her last night, and made some protein dense foods that are packed with the vitamins needed to keep her strong and to add a little more love and comfort to her healing process. The menu included seared salmon steaks crusted with cumin, sesame seeds, sea salt and pepper; a salad of cucumber, celery, hijiki seaweed and a vinagrette of rice vinegar, mirin and sake with grapeseed oil; and a tabouleh salad with fresh herbs, tomatoes and scallions. She will graze on those today while we prepare more superfoods for the weekend.

One of the superfoods on the menu is a lentil salad. This high fiber, protein rich food is loaded with B vitamins, and 6 important minerals (including folate and magnesium). It is a natural, cholesterol lowering legume with no fat. And this salad is a tasty, comforting dish with myriad flavors. It has been in our family for a long time, and since it is a French recipe originally, it has cream added at the end to make a creamy walnut and balsamic dressing. It is just as tasty without the fat—so feel free to omit the cream.

This salad is a delicious main course, but pairs well with seared salmon, roasted chicken or your favorite protein. So good and so good for you too….

Lentil Salad

2 cups lentils (I prefer French lentils, which are smaller in size and a deeper green color)

1 bay leaf

1/2cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup chopped shallots

2 carrots, chopped into very small dice

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

6 tbsp walnut oil (more to taste)

½ cup heavy cream (optional)

sea salt/cracked black pepper

Cover lentils with water. Add bay leaf. Bring lentils to a boil and cook for 20 minutes (lentils should be firm, not mushy). In the last 5 minutes, add chopped carrots. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking process.

When lentils are cooled to room temperature, add parsley, shallots, sea salt and pepper. Whisk together vinegar and walnut oil, add to salad. Adjust seasoning, vinegar and oil to taste. Add ¼ cup whipping cream for creamier consistency (this can also be left out and the salad is just as delicious and less caloric!)