Archive for July, 2007

Yoga in the Kitchen
July 29, 2007

Yoga in the Kitchen
By Leslie Cerier

A recipe developer for organic food companies, as well as an organic gourmet caterer, personal chef, cooking teacher, Impressionistic nature photographer, organic lifestyle coach, and nutrition consultant, Leslie Cerier takes us behind the scenes and shares her basic tip for getting the most of our time in the kitchen—get creative.

Flexibility is the key to what I call yoga in the kitchen. From my perspective, all ingredients are interchangeable. With almost any recipe, I substitute fruits and vegetables by color, flavor, seasonal availability, texture, cooking times, the weather, my schedule, and what I have in stock. When I teach, I love to encourage people to personalize their menus–whether you have food allergies, crave variety, love to stretch your culinary capabilities, or simply wish to add novelty, cooking can be a creative–and fun–game of mix and match. Reinventing your favorite recipes helps keep them interesting, appealing, and enjoyable.

seasonal cooking
Cooking with the seasons encourages novice and seasoned cooks alike to follow their instincts and get wildly creative with the bounty of the season. Plus, the freshest, local organic produce is also the most nutritious.

One of my key cooking mantras is “let the local organic produce of the season guide the recipe.” My enthusiasm for creating new recipes and preparing menus, whether for my family, catering clients, or cooking classes, has always been inspired by the local harvest. For instance, in August, the farms and markets near my home in western Massachusetts are filled with a multitude of tomato varieties, sweet bell and chili peppers, crunchy string beans, cucumbers, sweet baby carrots, beets, and a wealth of salad greens: baby red kale, arugula, green and red leaf lettuces, mustard greens, tat soi and mizuna (Asian leafy green vegetables similar to spinach). Also available are fresh herbs like oregano, garlic, chives, mint, basil, cilantro, sage, rosemary, tarragon, parsley, and thyme. Simultaneously harvested, these vegetables and herbs become the natural choices to “mix and match” for adding a flavorful spark to savory salads, dressings, quiches, scrambled tofu, sushi rice rolls, pasta, and bean dishes.

The sight of the season’s first zucchini or plump shiny eggplant always inspires me to fire up the grill. Along with ingredient availability, the weather is another factor that affects how and what I cook. When it’s hot outside, I avoid using the stove as much as possible, so outdoor grilling is a welcome and sensible alternative. Quick-grilled vegetables and tofu, refreshing fruit smoothies, and marinated land and sea vegetable salads made with combinations of ingredients like corn, grains, and berries are refreshingly cool–perfect warm-weather fare. To beat the heat, I always bake fruit pies and cook beans and grains in the early morning or at night, when the house is cool.

Come fall, hearty collard greens, spinach, leeks, celery, broccoli, red and green cabbages, parsnips, celeriac, garlic, cilantro, apples, and pears become my kitchen staples. After the first frost, hearty leafy kale is my green of choice, and winter squash varieties like acorn, delicata and butternut take the spotlight in many of my meals. On cold winter days, my kitchen is host to slow-simmering soups, garlicky roasted vegetables, and spicy stews that are thick with potatoes, winter squash, carrots, and yams.

garnishes
An attractive garnish can enliven any dish. For a splash of color, I may add yellow calendula flowers and bright red bee balm and nasturtiums to my summer goat cheese salads and tempeh sandwiches, or toss some toasted nuts on a mixed green salad for contrasting texture. Chopped herbs added to cooked rice or other grains offer a delicate fragrance and a simple pleasure that pleases the palate.

baking with variety
I love making pies all year long and create fillings that reflect the bounty of the season. It might be blueberry, blackberry, peach, or blueberry-peach crumb in the summer; apple, pear, or pear-raspberry in the fall; pumpkin, pumpkin-pecan, or pumpkin-date in the winter, a lemon tart or chocolate mousse in the spring. I also create variations for the piecrusts themselves. Instead of using only whole-wheat pastry flour, I may use teff flour, spelt flour, or a combination of ground flax seeds and teff flour. Some days, I might use hazelnut butter or almond butter for some of the oil in the piecrust; other times, I bake with butter instead of oil. I even alter the piecrust by using different sweeteners and flavored extracts such as vanilla, orange, hazelnut, and almond extract. It is the variety that makes the experience—and the results—enjoyable.

The way I see it, cooking is a daily ritual that feeds your spirit and nourishes your body. However, it is more than a means to an end. It is a celebration of the earth’s bounty. So let’s celebrate.

Leslie’s Blueberry Crumb Pie
This is a fabulous dessert to round out any meal. The piecrust is simple and quick to make with roasted almond butter, a delicious and cholesterol-free substitute for dairy butter.

Serves 8

Pie Crust
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon corn or canola oil
2 tablespoons roasted almond butter
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Optional: 1 tablespoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Mix all the piecrust ingredients in a bowl except 1-teaspoon oil.
3. Reserve 2/3 cup of the dough for the crumb topping.
4. Lightly brush pie pan with 1 teaspoon oil.
5. Press the rest of the dough with your fingers into pie plate.
6. Poke holes in the dough with a fork.
7. Bake for 10 minutes; make filling.

Filling
2 cups fresh blueberries
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon kudzu or arrowroot
2 tablespoons cold water

8. While the piecrust is baking, put blueberries and honey in a 1 quart saucepan. Heat over medium low heat and simmer for 5 minutes for frozen berries, or 1 minute for fresh berries.
9. Dissolve kudzu in cold water in a 1-cup bowl.
10. Stir into blueberries.
11. Taste and add more honey for a sweeter flavor, if desired.
12. Pour into baked piecrust.
13. Crumble remaining pie dough and add to top.
14. Bake for 12 minutes, or until crumbs turn a slightly darker brown.

Recipe from Going Wild in the Kitchen by Leslie Cerier (2005 Square One Publishers)