Food Bloggers Against Hunger

2013-04-07 19.31.59

The minute I saw Nicole's tweet about TheGivingTable's campaign to get food bloggers to raise awareness for hunger in America, I signed up.  I'm well aware that our food laws essentially work against the goal of keeping healthy food affordable. I first read about it in The Omnivore's Dilemna when Michael Pollan explained it in detail. When the movie Food, Inc. was released, I went to a screening and sat there frozen to my seat in disbelief about how many, many things, in our food system seemed to defy logic. The biggest barrier to access to healthy food is the cost. Government subsidies do not go towards fruit and vegetable producers, but to producers of corn, wheat, and other ingredients that are staples in processed foods. That is why a McDonald's cheeseburger is cheaper than a head of broccoli. That is why, if you rely on food stamps (thee SNAP Program) to feed yourself or your family, you are hard pressed to afford to eat unprocessed foods all of the time. This problem is the focus of a new documentary by Participant Media—the same studio that made Food Inc.—  the film follows three families struggling with food insecurity, and sheds light on hunger in America.

I think the easiest way to eat healthy, and not spend a fortune is to cook at home. That's in part because I've learned how to cook, and possibly because I have no real memory of living on food stamps as a kid, though I did, briefly. I've never had to worry I'd go hungry, and nobody in this country should either. Although, living in NYC makes it hard to plan to eat home (or stick to a budget) all the time, I think it's a good idea to cook something big at least once a week, leaving you leftovers that can be repurposed for another meal or two. I'd do it even if I didn't like to stay home and cook in my free time.

There are tons of resources online to finding budget-friendly meal ideas. And, I'd be amiss if I didn't give a shout-out to Cathy Erway's blog, Not Eating Out in NY, as a resource for recipes and the cost-breakdown of how much it costs per person to make each dish, which will blow your mind, especially if you're used to buying your meals out. This Sunday, I set out to make something that would be cost-conscious and healthy, and last for another meal since I wasn't feeding the proverbial family of four - in my case it's often neighbors and one demanding Chihuahua. I made a Spanakopita, aka Spinach Pie, because it's one of my favorite comfort foods that includes vegetables. It keeps for a couple of days, and all the ingredients are available in any grocery store. I lowered the feta amount, because feta isn't that affordable, and mixed in ricotta which stretches further for your dollar. Plus the leftover ricotta can be used in another dish (Lemon-Ricotta pancakes is what I might do with it). Lastly, the basic recipe, for a baked "pie" wrapped in phyllo dough can be stuffed with so many things - leftover shredded chicken, or other veggies. I hope this post will accomplish three things: 1) Get you to sign the Share Our Strength Petition to support anti-hunger laws; 2) encourage you to cook something at home; and 3) realize that not all food bloggers eat fresh pasta with truffles and artisinal ice cream all of the time. Well, in truth, this blogger might be eating fancy ice cream, but I'm still working on that budget thing.


Spinach Pie - filling
Spinach Pie squared

A Place at the Table premiered on March 1st, 2013.  You should watch A Place at the Table, to better understand the problem, and why we need to push for legislation that will subsidize the things we should be eating, not those that we shouldn't, so that everyone can have access to healthy food. It's available for download at any of these sites:

Amazon: OnDemand: Google Play: iTunes:

SNAP—the nation’s food stamp program—is at risk for severe cuts that would impact millions of families, especially children, that rely on school meals and food stamps to survive. In response to the film, the country's leading anti-hunger organizations, Share Our Strength, Bread for the World, Feeding America, and The Food and Research Action Center, are asking supporters to help spread the word.

Private sector programs and charities aren’t enough. The only sustainable solution is for government policies to change, so we must make our voices heard.

Please take a moment today to tell Congress to support anti-hunger legislation by signing this petition that the folks at Share Our Strength are introducing to protect Federal Nutrition programs for kids.


Adapted From Modern Greek, By Andy Harris
  • 1 package phyllo dough, defrosted 
  • Olive oil or melted butter 
  • Filling:  2lbs. fresh spinach (frozen could work too) 
  • 8 green onions (or 2 small yellow onions) 
  • 1 glove of garlic minced 
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil 
  • Dill, or a mix of dill and parsley 
  • 1 package of feta cheese (mine was 7 oz) 
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese 
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (optional)

Prep the filling: Wash the spinach, and blanch in boiling water for 20-30 seconds until it slightly wilts. Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking, and leave in a colander to drain well.

Chop the onions and garlic and sauté in tablespoon of olive oil until a starting to soften, about 3-4 minutes. Combine in a bowl with chopped herbs, eggs, cheeses and seasoning. Squeeze any remaining water in the spinach out before adding to the bowl. Mix all to combine.

Assemble the pie: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare the phyllo dough according to the package (normally bringing it to room temperature, and keeping it covered with a damp towel while you work). Take any deep pan you want to use (I used a square 9 inch, but you can use anything as long as it has sides), and start to layer the phyllo dough in the bottom. Cut the phyllo a little bigger than the size of your pan, if you want to fold it over the top, otherwise cut to size (I use the overhang method so the filling doesn't escape). Brush the bottom of the pan with a small bit of olive oil, and continue to brush each layer with a little olive oil to coat. If you use too much it'll be greasy. Be really gentle, the dough tears easily. If it tears, just layer another scrap over it. Do about 6-8 sheets for the bottom layer.

Pour the filling in, and spread evenly around the pan. Repeat the layers for the top, and fold over any that you had from the bottom layer. Sprinkle water on the top to prevent burning, or brush with milk. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden. Let cool before cutting.

A refreshing potato salad for hot summer days

There are many different types of potato salad around the world, not just the bottled-mayonnaise-laden type you buy at a supermarket appetizing counter that most Americans (I know) grew up eating. Basically, wherever potatoes grow, people will have their version of how to eat them cold as a salad. So, when I set out to create my ideal version of potato salad, I decided to borrow inspiration from a smorgasbord of cuisines.

My original thought was to lighten up the mayonnaise dressing on the salad, and go with a vinaigrette dressing instead. I wanted fresh bright flavors to make it the perfect accompaniment to summer meals. Potatoes can feel heavy on a hot day and I didn't want the dressing to weigh them down any more than necessary. German-style potato salad with the red potatoes and the vinegar-y dressing always sounds appealing, but often fails on flavor for me. I also wanted to keep it vegetarian friendly, so quick tricks to up the flavor, like adding bacon, was something I wanted to avoid.

I had seen a recipe for the Potato Gribiche they serve at Rose Bakery, in Paris, and immediately knew that had to be my inspiration, with the capers and the lemon-y vinaigrette. But, it all came together when I decided that I was going to use classic Scandinavian flavors like dill and whole-grain mustard. If you don't like dill (which is really an under-utilized herb in my opinion), you could substitute flat-leaf parsley. But, you really should give the dill a try.

At this point in my cooking, I'm finally (FINALLY) getting out of my baker-dessert mindset and am starting to feel confident without a recipe. I know the components of a vinaigrette and just winged it with what I had. I made a quick lemon-whole-grain mustard dressing and poured that over the warm boiled potatoes and some chopped shallots, capers and fresh dill. I ended up adding just a spoonful of mayonnaise after tasting it without it. It just seemed to tie the ingredients together and add a familiar creaminess and tang that I love about potato salad. After all, no matter how exciting other cuisines are, a touch of home will always feel right too.

Potato Salad It's great warm or cold, and the leftovers work well the next day.

1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes, peeled (if you choose) and diced 1 large shallot, minced 1 garlic clove, minced 2 tablespoons, capers, drained and chopped 1 handful of dill, chopped Whole-grain mustard - lemon vinaigrette (recipe below) 1 heaping tablespoon of mayonnaise

Peel and dice potatoes and put into a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and cook until fork tender. Be careful to not over cook them, or you'll have mushy potato salad.

While the potatoes are cooking, chop the shallot, garlic, capers and dill. Set aside. In a large bowl make the vinaigrette. Taste and make sure all the seasoning are correct. When potatoes are cooked, drain well and add to the bowl with the dressing and other chopped ingredients. Toss gently to combine. Add the mayonnaise last and gently combine taking care not to mush the potatoes. Chill if not using immediately.

Lemon-mustard Vinaigrette 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil 3 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar 1 heaping teaspoon of whole-grain mustard 1/2 lemon squeezed salt & pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a bowl and whisk to emulsify.

Carrot coins in cilantro salsa

It's springtime and one of the things you can find at green-markets around looking lovely are big bunches of carrots. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like because carrots aren't trendy and tend to stick around longer than some other seasonal favorites, they often get overlooked for things like ramps. It's like baby got stuck in the corner, and it's not right. Sure, carrots are good for you and a workhorse for stocks, stews, and most slow winter cooking. But, the slender bright orange bunches of carrots you can find in the market now deserve to be the stars of a dish all their own.

Carrot salads are a good start, but I find briefly cooking carrots really brings out their sweetness. The truth is, I don't really love raw carrots, and would choose a celery stick over a carrot stick any day. Sure cooked carrots are tasty slathered in butter, like most things, but I wanted something a little lighter than that. When I was little, my grandma always used to make us take notice if she put together a dinner plate with lots of different colors on it. Little did she know, her choice of different colored foods was actually a good way to measure how healthy dinner was that night. (Although from high school through college mac and cheese from the box was my orange colored food of choice). Orange foods are high in beta-carotene and vitamins A and C. Paying attention to the color of your foods is actually an easy way to make sure you're eating a well-balanced meal. Click here for more examples. I've been paying attention to different ways to prepare carrots to find more ways that would appeal to me, anything but that dreaded bag of mini carrot sticks that I can't seem to escape. Has every woman in the U.S. been brainwashed into thinking the only way to stay thin is to eat nothing but mini-carrots?! Ugh.

I first made this cilantro salsa a few nights ago for some pork tacos that I was making. I was excited that it needed exactly the herbs I had growing in my windowboxes . This sauce is incredible. It would be perfect over any grilled meat or fish, and just the smell of it made me think that I would win over a lot of people if I served it that way. I immediately thought about all the things I envisioned myself doing with this sauce throughout the summer. Then I saw these carrots in the back of my fridge yesterday and I thought this sauce was so good I bet slathering carrots in it would work. I started by slicing the carrots very thin, thinking they'd taste even sweeter the thinner they were. I knew I didn't want to try grating them because grated carrot salads sometimes seem too weighted down with dressing for me, and a grated carrot salad is never as crunchy as a slaw. But these little coins retained their bite even after a brief dip in boiling water. I can't take credit for the pairing, because that is all Debra Madison's genius. I can only take credit for the fact that you now have no excuse to ignore the carrots at the market the next time you see them.

Carrot Coins in Cilantro Salsa Adapted from Debra Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. This salsa is completely addictive and you'll find yourself wanting to put it on everything. If you like capers they'd be great tossed in here as well.

Peel and slice 1lb. of carrots (or less depending on how many your feeding) into paper thin coins. The thinner they are the faster they'll cook. Toss in a pot of salted boiling water for about 5-10 minutes, or until fork tender. Remove and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and toss with the cilantro salsa . Serve warm or chilled.

Cilantro Salsa 1 jalapeño chile, seeded 1 bunch of cilantro 1/2 cup fresh mint leaves 1-2 garlic cloves 1/2 cup olive oil 1/4 cup water Juice of 1 lime 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander Salt & pepper to taste

Chop all the herbs and garlic very finely. Mix in lime juice, water and oil. Then stir in spice and season to taste.

Zucchini linguine martini bikini Fritters

P7310198.JPGI made zucchini fritters the other night. A fine thing to make to use up some of the mid-summer abundance of squash. While I was standing there with my box grater, grating up zucchini I kept hearing Vince, this hysterically energetic infomercial guy who sells some chopping kitchen gadget. At one point in this particular commercial while he's demonstrating all the things you can grate, he says things like, "fettuccine, linguine, martini, bikini". Hey, what about zucchini, that rhymes too! (This guy has a ton of ridiculous lines one of my favorites being, "stop having a boring tuna, stop having a boring life" that I can't seem to get out of my head, probably cause his commercial is on once a morning while I'm trying to watch for the weather.) Anyways, if you haven't seen Vince in action, it's kind of funny in that infomercial way. Watch it here (localappetite does not endorse the use of this product, only the use of this kind of enthusiasm for cooking). P7300187.JPG In case you hadn't guessed by now, I've been on a one-dish kick this summer. It's insanely hot in my kitchen and basically when I have the time to cook, I'm not making entire meals. Something fresh and tasty that utilizes my CSA produce is basically the only thing that has been motivating me this summer. I've just been rounding out the meals with more cheeses, eggs, dips and fruit. It has been a good way to handle eating at home without being in the kitchen for too too long. I was a little hesitant to fry for these fritters. But, Nigel Slater's entry on the same in The Kitchen Diaries had been in the back of my mind for some time. The only essential step to this process is the time to allow the zucchini to sufficiently drain (see photo above) otherwise you'll end up with soggy fritters that will fall apart when you try to cook them.

The one surprising thing about this recipe was that it added an extra step, which although I followed, I think I would recommend you omit it. Instead of simply mixing the grated drained zucchini in a bowl with your binders, egg and flour, and then frying, he writes that you should saute it all in a pan first and then add the flour and egg and then make little balls and fry in a second pan. I thought he might be onto something (maybe it added extra flavor or helped to further dry out the squash?), but after cooking the recipe through, I think it was an unnecessary step, leaving you with an extra pan to clean. I wouldn't want to do that to you. Either way you do it, you'll end up with light and moist zucchini fritters, if you don't flatten them too much into more of a pancake shape. As you know zucchini works well with almost anything, but either feta or Parmesan would be interesting. I used dill for the seasoning, but definitely just go with what you like or have on hand. And just like zucchini itself, this dish is versatile and will go with whatever else was on the menu for that night. Or, if you're like me, it's ok to just eat this and save room for dessert. It's too hot to eat a big meal anyways, right? P7300193.JPG

Zucchini Fritters Adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

3-4 zucchini, grated Salt 1 small onion, chopped 1 clove of garlic, minced 1/2 cup grated cheese, your choice 1 handful of fresh dill, chopped 1 egg, lightly beaten 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour Olive oil

Coarsely grate zucchini and place in a colander. Salt liberally and allow to drain for about 30 minutes. When ready to use take handfuls of it and squeeze out any additional water before placing it in a bowl.

Mix drained zucchini with the rest of the ingredients. It will be a slightly stiff mixture. Heat a heavy pan with enough olive oil for frying. Drop mounded tablespoons into the pan and allow to brown. Keep your eye on them as the oil gets hotter (they will cook very quick at the end) and take care when flipping the fritters as they fall apart easily (a spatula and a fork together worked best for me).

Deconstructed Elote aka My New Favorite Summer Salad

Elote is the Mexican name for grilled corn on the cob smothered with crumbly cheese, lime juice and a bit of cayenne pepper. It is a specialty in the Yucatan peninsula and lucky for me available in various restaurants and flea markets around Brooklyn, if you know where to look. However, if you haven't had one of these, please stop reading and go find one. It truly is one of the best street foods I can think of. It transforms a cob of corn into an explosion of flavor. I would make this treat for myself on a regular basis if I had access to a grill, but since I don't (sob, sob) I used to just wait until I went out for Mexican food to have it. That all changed last night. I think I'll probably make this little beauty of a salad at least once a week, or as long as I have access to the fresh ingredients. My corn on the cob actually came from my CSA. Now if we could only grow avocados up there...
On the issue of eating locally, I have been thinking a lot about how cooking different cuisines can work with a sustainable cooking philosophy. There are always going to be certain essential ingredients that are not going to be available locally if you're preparing dishes from regions and countries with a different climate. In summer I tend to cook a lot of Mexican or Mediterranean dishes, and things like citrus, or olives, or certain cheeses aren't locally sourced in the Northeast where I'm located (as far as I know). It's in these situations I think there is room for flexibility. The goal is to support sustainable food and food purveyors by voting with your fork, but it is not to suffer in the process. I think eating local is the right thing to do, and if everyone did it there would be a change in our broken food system. But, I also think allowing yourself to purchase things that are unavailable in your region is alright too. Phew. Glad I got that off my chest.

Back to the dish. I got the idea for this salad after reading Mark Bittman's article last week in the NY Times Dining section. It was another one of his mega-lists of quick and genius flavor combinations. If you missed it, go and read it here. I know I'm going to use this list again and again when I'm having a cooking block. It's no coincidence that I picked his idea for deconstructing elote for a corn salad as my first dish. It is perfect for a picnic, or when you don't have access to a grill. Or for someone who just wants to eat with a fork.

Basically, you take the corn off the cob and quick roast it until it gets a bit brown in a skillet. This will cause a wonderful toasted corn smell to infuse your kitchen. Combine that with the essential components of elote, fresh lime juice, creamy queso fresco, and some heat (either cayenne pepper or chilis) and you have elote in a bowl. I added a few ingredients to plump up the salad, which just made it a bit more into a meal. Once done, take your salad and a cold cerveza onto your fire escape and you can almost pretend you are sitting in a plaza in Mexico as the sun sets. Buen provecho!

Deconstructed Elote Salad
I mixed the leftovers with some cooked shrimp for lunch today. Options are endless.

3 ears of corn
queso fresco (to taste)
fresh lime juice (about 1 big lime or 2 small ones)
1 jalepeño, deseeded and minced
cherry tomatoes (about 1/2 cup)
1 scallion, chopped
cilantro (small handful)

Take corn off the cob with a sharp knife. Place in a pan with some olive oil and cook stirring to avoid it sticking, till the kernels have a toasted look to them. Place in a
bowl and mix with the cheese and lime juice. Chop all the other ingredients
you're using and mix together. Easy Peasy.

A Simple Red Pickle

I really like pickled things. There are some vegetables I like even better pickled than raw, such as red onions. Lucky for me making pickled red onions is a snap. They will keep in the fridge for a few weeks (or more) to help add something extra to a sandwich, a salad, or whatever needs jazzing up. I have not ventured into the world of canning, yet, but these types of pickles do not need preserving that way. You can pretty much quick pickle almost anything, but red onions are the ones I think everyone should try. Yes, I know it's been done before. And, yes I know this isn't going to be an amazing culinary creation that will make you a bit hungrier as you read this. But, I can tell you that having this jar at your disposal, really does brighten up an otherwise dull dish. It's a condiment in the spirit of Fight Back Fridays as it is definitely better for you than any store bought, corn syrup loaded, preservative-laden, condiment you can purchase.

These red onions are tangy, and sweet. They have the satisfying pickle crunch that people love. They're acidic, and depending on your pickling spice of choice, possibly spicy. And, they're EASY!! Before I made these quick pickles I never would have guessed, how easy. Take a red onion, or two, or three. Get out your sharpest knife, or a mandoline if you have one. Slice the onions as thin as you can get them. P7210116 Next, you have to prepare the pickling liquid. There are probably a million variations of spice and flavoring for this kind of thing. One constant is the acid. Either apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or even rice wine vinegar if you were doing an Asian-inspired pickle. This time I was going with a recipe I found in my awesome Greek cookbook, The Olive and the Caper, by Susanna Hoffman, so I used the red wine vinegar. Put one part vinegar to one part water into a pan with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. I used raw cane sugar, but I have tried brown sugar in the past, which was very sweet and delicious too. I threw in a bay leaf for flavor. You can throw in some peppercorns, or other whole spices of your choice. Bring the vinegar-water-spice mixture to a boil. P7210126 Once the sugar has dissolved, it's ready. Pour over the onions to let them marinate before refrigerating. P7210132 After about 45 minutes, you can use them right away. The flavor will get better over time though. So, pour the rest into a jar with a lid, and store in your fridge to use over, and over again.