Saturday, August 29, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Puttanesca

Penne puttanesca with shrimp, kale and eggplant. (Photo: Alice O'Dea)

I just can’t get enough of tomato-y goodness lately, so when I saw the latest post on my friend Aubrey’s blog, I knew I was going to have to make some puttanesca sauce (say it like this). The name comes from the Italian word "puttana," which means prostitute, and the suffix "-esca," meaning "in the manner of." So, taken literally, this is the sauce of a whore. Or, perhaps, a sauce with everything thrown into it. How could puttanesca not pack a lot of flavor, thanks to the pungency of ingredients such as capers, olives and anchovies?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Summer on a plate

There is definitely a hint of autumn in the Chattanooga air. School is back in session; the temperatures have just started to chill a bit; and when I was at Finley Stadium this week to watch the U.S. women’s soccer team practice, they were handing out cards with the Mocs fall football schedule.

I’m pretty excited about the change of seasons. It’s time to trade in my shorts and sandals for jeans and cozy sweaters. I’m ready for smoky-smelling hair on mornings after sipping whiskey by the fire pit, porch sitting without being hounded by mosquitoes, fall festivals and chilly Sunday food truck lunches at the Chattanooga Market. Autumn is the best season in Chattanooga (the Best Town Ever!), when our landscapes take on breathtaking colors and the weather cools enough so that a good run or hike in the woods can feel breezy and refreshing.

That said, however, I’m not ready to let go of summer’s food. It is fresh and light, and the bold flavors often need little more than to be sliced or quickly grilled before they’re ready for the dinner table. Fortunately, my garden is not ready to give up on the season yet. I came home from my travels to a messy yard that, despite some neglect, is producing plenty of tomatoes and basil, which might just be the best flavor pairing of all time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Mujaddara

I’m finally done traveling for the summer, and I brought an awesome souvenir back with me. It came from a restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, where I had a great dinner with family while I was passing through town. The Olive Tree has been a popular eatery since it was opened in 2009 in the Columbus suburb of Hilliard by Israeli native and self-taught chef David Mor. The menu features dishes from many Mediterranean countries, including Israel, Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Libya and Spain.

Everything I’ve ever tried there has been wonderful, and this visit was no exception. I ordered the mujaddara, which is a lentil and rice dish from the Middle East that, according to Gil Marks in "The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food," is also sometimes known as mujadara, majadarah, mejadara, mengedarrah, mujeddra (in different parts of the eastern Mediterranean), megadarra (in Egypt), mejedra (in Greece), khichri (in India) and enjadar (in Yemen). He says it originated in Persia or India but has since become "the most widespread and beloved rice and legume dish in the Muslim world."

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Longevity and Ikarian stew

Two weeks ago, when writing about gallo pinto, I mentioned Dan Buettner’s"The Blue Zones Solution," which came out earlier this year as a follow-up to the 2008 book that introduced the notion of Blue Zones (if you want an introduction to the concept, you can watch a great TED talk that Buettner did a little while after the first book came out). I still haven’t gotten all the way through both books, but I’ve been reading bits and pieces here and there whenever I’m nudged by things like my niece’s gallo pinto or a story from NPR about "top longevity foods."

This week, I ran across an article in The New York Times about a dinner that food writer Jeff Gordinier had with Buettner after they spent the better part of a day together, discussing how Blue Zones insights might apply to a New York City foodie. This got me curious about Ikarian cuisine (in the article, Gordinier spells that word "Icarian," but Buettner uses the alternative spelling in his book; they appear to be interchangeable) because in the column, Buettner claims to have seduced his girlfriend with an Ikarian stew, and in the book, he says the same stew is "hands-down" his favorite longevity recipe.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Shellfish and pasta

Another week, another family gathering. Last week, I wrote from a retreat in Florida, and this one finds me in western New York, reconnecting with classmates, friends and kin in my hometown. This trip has been another great opportunity to share a kitchen with others and watch as they create their own versions of mealtime magic.

One meal that I’ll definitely be making myself is a clams and pasta dish that my daughter made for dinner one night. Clams are one of those simple weeknight dishes that seem far more elegant than the amount of prep time would suggest.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Gallo pinto

I spent last week at a family gathering, sharing both a kitchen and the responsibility for cooking with some awesome relatives. The menus were incredibly varied and the food was great, and since no one had to cook more than once, everyone got to roll out their favorite meals. It was the cuisine version of the family’s greatest hits.

My niece made a dish I’d never tried before. It was healthy, delicious and brilliant in its simplicity. She explained to us that it was a traditional Costa Rican breakfast and that the woman who taught her to make it told her that custom asserts that once you’ve mastered this breakfast preparation, you’re ready to be a bride. My niece’s version consisted of a mixture of seasoned beans and rice with eggs and a side of bread.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Kitchen Intuition: Staying healthy on the road

When I wrote last week about a midyear check-in, I ignored one little problem: For a lot of people, prime summer travel season is the stretch of days between the Fourth of July holiday and Labor Day (or the start of the school year, whichever comes first). But can our resolve to be healthy survive our summer vacations?

Definitely. In fact, if you think about it, living healthy while on vacation is almost hard to avoid, as long as you stay on top of the food.