Mar
16
2010
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Eating Naturally

Still working on using up last season's carrots

Still working on using up last season's carrots

We’re being asked to do so many things when it comes to food and diet these days. The new drive to combat obesity spear-headed by Michelle Obama in the United States is long overdue yet at the same time opens the floodgates for all sorts of new diets suggesting a host of rules and regulations about eating and food preparation. Today it is common knowledge that rigid diets do not serve us well over the long term. They might reduce weight for a time but they won’t do anything for us as the years go by. So what do we do?

At the same time as we are being urged to think about how to eat for healthier weight, we are also being asked to choose in relation to the environment, taking climate change, pesticide use and genetic modification into account. On top of all of this we should prioritize fair trade, meaning the purchase of food products which improve the working and living standards of producers in developing countries.

All of this seems a tall order. You could be forgiven for standing in your kitchen holding your head in your hands. It was with all of these various new demands in mind, the experience of winning over a food disorder and the strong desire to have a natural relationship to food that I came up with The Natural Eater system for thinking about food choices. On the concept page you can read about this values based idea for having a relationship to food that feels freeing and healthy rather than constraining and leading only to short-term health solutions.

With The Natural Eater system in mind, I’m freeing you up with a refreshing little recipe for using up whatever is left and creating a hearty meal out of it. One of the operating principles of The Natural Eater is that food is creativity. For this to be so, it’s important to have enough food preparation skills so that you can look into your fridge or pantry at any given time and prepare something good to eat. Limitation is the mother of invention if you have certain basic food preparation skills. The idea of using whatever is left also relates to another important Natural Eater value which is that food is solidarity with the planet and its peoples and therefore we do not waste it.

I opened my fridge at about 5 pm this weekend and found a few carrots, a carton of champignons, a bit of cottage cheese, a stick of mozarrella cheese and some remaining soured cream.  I had a few other odd ingredients around and wondered whether I should instead shoot off to the supermarket to reduce my thinking time. Then I thought of one of my favorite food programs shown on BBC television for years in which a well-known chef was asked to prepare a meal with a bag of inexpensive ingredients purchased by a regular everday person who would be their assistant. Using this program as my inspiration, I came up with the following:

Carrot & Champignon Lasagne (serves 8 persons)

1 package of lasagne sheets
6 carrots, peeled and grated
dried or fresh herb such as parsley, tarragon or nettle
1 box of champignons, rinsed and sliced
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 dl or 1 cup soured cream
2 dl or 1 cup cottage cheese
500 g or 1 lb mozarrella cheese
3 dl or 1.5 cups milk
canola or olive oil
salt & Pepper

Preheat the oven to 200 C or 390 F. Grease a rectangular pyrex (mine is 30 x 17 cm or 12 x 7 inches)and cover the base with lasagne sheets. Set aside. Prepare the lasagne fillings. Toss the grated carrot with 2-4 tablespoons of herb. I used dried nettle which you cannot find in shops but parsley, tarragon and a host of other dried or fresh herbs work just as well. Drizzle over a bit of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss. Set aside. Drizzle some olive oil into a pan and saute onions and garlic over medium heat for two minutes. Add the sliced champignon and saute for another two minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. In a mixing bowl blend the cottage cheese, soured cream and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the mozarrella thinly.

Assemble the lasagne. Spoon half the carrots onto the bottom lasagne sheets and cover with a new layer of pasta. Spoon half the mushrooms onto the new layer of lasagne sheets and cover with half of the milk mixture. Cover with another layer of lasagne sheets and repeat the layers once more, finishing once you have spooned over the rest of the milk mixture. Cover the surface of the lasagne with mozarella slices, season with salt and pepper and drizzle over oil. Bake for 20 minutes or until the lasagne sheets are soft and the mozarella is lightly browned. Serve with your favorite salad.

I thought the dish would last us for two days. It didn’t. We probably ate one too many portions, but at least you know that this recipe lives up to the taste test!

May
27
2009
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Packing a Pre-Summer Health Punch

lima_beans

My favorite butter beans

I’m not giving you my little secret for getting through that warm weather day foodwise until it really is warm. Here in the Mälar islands it is windy and although we are all trying to wear summer clothes, the odd sweater creeps out even with the best intentions of being summery.

So, even if the early summer weather is playing tricks on us with wind and rain, as it is supposed to do if we are going to have a good harvest, there is some great healthy Nordic-style food to be enjoyed in the spirit of getting fit and energized for the season. If you’ve been out for a long walk in the park in this sort of weather, you’ll be hungry and this is just the dish for you.

If there are three ingredients that I find to be very Nordic, they are root vegetables, oily fish and beans. All three have played a major role in the kitchens of this part of the world and all three are clear winners when it comes to your health. The question is can you combine these successfully to create a meal with fantastic taste and a real health punch.

As I found myself out on my deserted island with just those three ingredients and a hungry husband to feed a few days ago, I came up with the following which is a delightful meal on windy, cool pre-summer days when you are trying to give your body something really good. Years ago, I learned that with food limitation is the mother of invention and you should always remember this when trying to find inspiration in your kitchen. Here is the recipe.

Mashed Root Vegetables with Sardines and Butter Beans
Serves 4

For the mashed root vegetables:
6 medium potatoes
2 large carrots
50 grams butter
1/2 dl milk
A pinch of ground muscat
Salt/Pepper

For the bean topping:
1 large zucchini, julienned
380 g lima or butter beans (cooked)
4 tbsps canola oil or olive oil
1 clove garlic

2 cans sardines (including at least 4 whole sardines)

Peel the potatoes and carrots. Cover with water in a pan and add a pinch of salt. Bring to boil and cook on medium heat until you can easily pierce with a fork. Drain away the water. Mash the vegetables with a fork or potato masher. Add butter, half of the milk and place over low heat, blending together the ingredients. Add the remaining milk, if needed and season with muscat, pepper and salt. Cover and keep warm.

Saute the garlic and zucchini in olive oil for 3-4  minutes on medium heat. The zucchini should not be too soft. Add the cooked beans, saute for a further 2 minutes and season with salt and pepper.

Assemble on individual plates. Spoon a large ball of the mashed root vegetables into the middle of the plate. Spoon the bean and zucchini mixture over and around the mashed vegetables and top with a sardine, preferably broken into two pieces.

Artistic, delicious, full of energy, divine! Remember to check the Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook and Paavo’s Bytes for more recipes!

Dec
03
2008
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Just Right with Rutabaga

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

Rutabaga & Kale - Staple Nordic Winter Foods

I recently asked my friend, Paavo from Finland who caters to some of the more illustrious tables of Manhattan, what some of his favorite memories of Christmas food from Scandinavia were. I expected something elaborate and well, frankly, upmarket, but certainly not Rutabaga Casserole. I shouldn’t have been so suprised, Paavo is, after all, a master of suprise.

So what is rutabaga? It is what I have previously called turnip or yellow turnip in this blog; a marvelous mixture between a turnip and a cabbage (thus deserving of its Scandinavian name, kålrot, which literally means cabbage root) that will henceforth be known as nothing other than rutabaga in this blog.

Rutabaga has had a hard time in northern Europe.   In hard times it has been a food of last resort, making it a food of no resort during good times. Its rehabilitation has been tough in Germany where it earned a reputation as famine food. In Scandinavia those associations are not quite as strong and there has been some creativity around rutabaga. After all, it comes from this part of the world – it is thought to have spread its way westward from Siberia and Finland during the 17th century – so we ought to know how to handle it!

Aside from its original taste, rutabaga is both nutritious and eco-smart. It is a good source of vitamin C, folate and fiber. The down side is that it is a high GI food, but on the other hand low in fat. As with everything else, consume in moderation. On the environment side, it grows in cold climates, reducing the need for pesticides.

Finns are the grand masters of rutabaga, particularly in the form of Rutabaga Casserole which is a classic during the holiday season. It’s got a bit of cream in it to give it that festive flavor. However, if you want a superb light rutabaga recipe that got 5 stars from my family (can you believe it?), you’ll want to try my low-fat rotmos or Mashed Root Vegetables. This dish is an exciting alternative to the much less interesting mashed potatoes and healthier too! Here are both the casserole and mashed root veg. recipes.

Rutabaga Casserole

1 medium rutabaga, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 medium potato
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup dry bread crumbs
2/3 dl or 1/4 cup cream
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 egg
3 tbsp butter

Cover rutabaga and potato in water with a dash of salt and cook until soft.  Drain off the water and mash. Mix the bread crumbs with cream and allow to soak for a few minutes. Add nutmeg, salt and egg. Fold this mixture into the mashed root vegetables. Pour into a casserole dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with nutmeg. Bake in 350 F or 175 C for about one hour until lightly browned on top.

Mashed Root Vegetables or Rotmos

1/4 medium rutabaga, peeled and roughly chopped
4 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and roughly chopped
Salt/Pepper for seasoning

Cook the root vegetables until soft. Drain and save the liquid. Mash by hand or in a blender so that the vegetables are smooth. Return to the cook pan and over low heat blend in a few tablespoons of the liquid until the rotmos has reached the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper.

For more recipes visit The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook!

Oct
22
2008
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The Rotten Cookbook for Good Health

Yummy Vegetables!

Tummy Trim Vegetables!

Oh dear. “What is she thinking now?”, you might wonder. Isn’t a title like “The Rotten Cookbook for Good Health” just naturalness gone too far? No, not really although I do agree that a book with that title might not make the bestseller lists.

This was just my crazy little way of calling your attention to the value of controlled fermentation in the kitchen for good health. Cultivating good bacteria in order to mature foods in ways that are good for our stomachs and that appeal to our palates is a very old art used in many parts of the world, including in the Nordic region. Lactic fermentation of root vegetables and cabbages is one good example. This technique was originally a means of preserving the vital nutrients that these vegetables could provide until the next warm season could deliver new nutrients. What is lactic fermentation? It means using the watery liquid (the whey) that is left when you drain out the creamy part of yogurt or other forms of ‘live’ dairy product. What is a ‘live’ dairy product? It is one that contains live bacteria good for maintaining your digestive flora (check the labels!).

When I thought of “The Rotten Cookbook for Good Health”, I thought of a whole host of foods that would fit in. All kinds of interesting combinations of tasty vegetables that could be fermented and bottled, wonderful sourdough breads, home-made yogurts and more. The idea just gets bigger all the time!

Now let’s get down to practicals. During the past days, I have made classic Nordic fermented root vegetables. A serving of this a day is guaranteed to keep your digestion in good form! Here is the basic recipe:

Tummy Trim Vegetables
(makes 3 liters or 3 quarts)

2 kg or 4.4 lbs root vegetables and cabbages of your choice (I used white cabbage, swede, carrots and turnip) roughly chopped
1 liter or 1 quart yogurt or buttermilk (filmjölk in Swedish) drained through a cheesecloth overnight
Salt
Water

Place the chopped vegetables into a large clean glass or ceramic container that can be sealed. Pour over the whey (the milky liquid) that has been separated from the cream. Mix the vegetables into this liquid and place a heavy weight on them (I use my limestone rock paper-weight) so that they are compressed and just covered with the liquid. Seal and leave to ferment in a warm place in the house for 12 hours. Open and add salt water if the vegetables are not covered in liquid. The recipe for salt water is 3 tsps to one liter or quart of water. Place the weight on the vegetables again and seal. Leave in the same place to ferment for 3 days this time. After this time you can bottle the vegetables and liquid as you like and refrigerate or keep in a cool place. In contrast to most foods, these just improve with time! Consume as a side dish with almost anything. For extra seasoning, add in paprikas, onions and your favorite herbs such as rosemary or dill on the first day of fermentation. This makes a mean “rotten” side salad!

Visit The Nordic Wellbeing Cookbook for a further selection of great recipes!

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