Friday, October 28, 2011

Healing Foods: Zucchini, Onion and Tomato Tian-Delicious Without Salt!

As I continue to eliminate salt from my diet—I am, of course, shocked at the amount of it that I was consuming on a daily basis. Not only did I salt as I was cooking, but most condiments, stocks, and processed food ingredients contain very generous amounts of sodium. I have had to rethink using canned tomatoes, ketchups and other condiment sauces, chicken, beef and vegetable stock, and other key ingredients as I scour the labels to assess the sodium level in all of them.

The other evening, I was pleasantly surprised (again!) at how tasty a dish completely devoid of my once favorite seasoning can be. I made veal cutlets that were sprinkled with pepper and sautéed in a little olive oil. Once they were cooked, I deglazed the pan with a little white wine, and added my favorite salt free Kitchen basics chicken stock. I added a teaspoon of spicy Dijon mustard to the liquid and let it reduce. With that, I made a vegetable tian of thinly sliced layered vegetables that are roasted with olive oil and fresh herbs. It was delicious—and with the fresh thyme and other herbs added to it—very flavorful. The vegetables, all heart-healthy and nutrition dense, meld deliciously into a tender side dish that you can serve with many different main courses.

My daughters didn’t notice that salt was missing, and ate it all. So, if you are looking to cut down on sodium—here is a recipe that is so yummy you won’t even know it’s not there.

Vegetable Tian

2 medium zucchini sliced thin

1 large onion sliced thin

2 tomatoes sliced thin or chopped into small dice

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons chopped herbs (I use rosemary, thyme and parsley)

pepper to taste

Coat the bottom of a 9X11 roasting pan with olive oil. Spread a thin layer of zucchini, and top with herbs and pepper to taste. Add the layer of onion, and sprinkle more herbs. Add the tomatoes to the top and drizzle remaining olive oil and herbs over it. Bake at 400 for 25 minutes, until vegetables are softened. Serve with your favorite protein (it goes well with the veal cutlets above).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Healing Foods: Butternut Squash Soup and A Wakeup Call

Anyone who knows me knows that I decided to meet 50 with a vengeance. When my daughter suggested that there should be 50 celebrations of my birthday this year, I embraced it. Dining out, cooking elaborate dinners with friends, and toasting myself that I didn’t feel my age with over 36 celebrations so far this year. After a gastronomic trip through the French Alps this summer, and a month spent researching fried chicken around NYC for a comfort food chapter of a cookbook project—I realized that something was not right.

I have had high blood pressure, and been on medication, since my daughters were born prematurely as a result of preeclampsia. In my 30’s, and even into my 40’s, I let the medication manage my blood pressure while I lived my life with gusto—enjoying food and wine with occasional exercise thrown in. At 50, my erratic blood pressure got to levels so high that I knew that I needed help.

My doctor and my cardiologist have both told me very firmly that I need to lose at least 25 pounds, and cut out sugar, fried foods and salt. I also needed to start moving, and managing my stress in a much more consistent way. I know they are right—I can feel it.

I have accepted the challenge to still try to cook things that are satisfying without butterfat, salt, and the usual doses of sugar, cream and chocolate that are staples in my cooking. I also wanted to make sure that the whole family came along on the journey and didn’t feel deprived.

On Sunday, we made a butternut squash soup that has made me very hopeful that this will work. It is loaded with beta-carotene, potassium, vitamin C and fiber, and when pureed into a soup, makes a creamy, satisfying bowl of goodness that is completely dairy free. And its easy—25 minutes from stove to table.

This recipe is going out to help others get inspired to cook delicious and healthy foods. Especially my dear friend who reminded me the other evening that living our lives to the fullest with our children is the best gift we can give ourselves—and them.

Butternut Squash Soup

1 tablespoon

1 large onion, chopped

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut and chopped into large dice (about 3 cups)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage (or 1 heaping teaspoon dried, rubbed sage)

1 quart unsalted chicken stock (Kitchen Basics makes a great one)

Pepper to taste

In a soup pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion until translucent. Add butternut squash, sage and pepper. Stew for about 3 minutes. Add stock and bring to a boil, the reduce to simmer for about 25 minutes until tender. Puree in a blender or food processor in batches until smooth. Return to pot and correct seasonings, adding more stock, pepper and sage as needed. Serve with a green salad and crusty French bread.