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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Groovy Vegetarian Indian Meal

I wrote a very depressing opening to this and have deleted most of it. It's too personal and you wouldn't want to read it. You'd have to double your Lithium prescription.

I'll be brief: suffice to say it was my fault for watching the HBO movie, Grey Gardens. I knew it would have this effect on me. The look in Edie's eyes, (bravo, Drew Barrymore) when she is standing in the balcony at the end, being recognized for the performer she always was, just like when Peter O'Toole waved to the audience at the end of the brilliant, My Favorite Year...if you knew me, you'd know why I'll now be haunted by those images forever.

The Show Must Go On and here is The Show:

Delightfully Tasty Vegetarian Indian
w/ Homemade Basamati Rice and
Multi-grain Naan bread

This recipe I adapted from many over the years. It's not earth-shattering but it's damn good. Indian food is sublime in the layers of taste AND how wonderful it is for leftovers. Let the Food Network Stars cook up fish we can't pronounce and vegetables we'd never is a real recipe for real people in real kitchens.

Keep in mind I think mild food is for people who need to live, so I cook spicy. Cut the spices in HALF if you MUST, but you will sacrifice taste if you do. As I've said before, I now know the benefits of a vegetarian diet. More energy, better biochemistry...plant-based foods are the way_to_go!

If you haven't cooked Indian before, it can be frustrating, so I've included lots of notes for this one.

Make this drinking loads of wine.

Let's cook!

What you'll need for the VEGETABLES:
  • 3 heaping tablespoons Madras curry powder
  • 3 teaspoons garam masala blend*
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 3 large yellow onions, chopped fine
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger**
  • 2 jalapeno, serrano or dried Mexican chili's, chopped fine***
  • 1 heaping tablespoon no-salt tomato paste
  • 1/2 head cauliflower florets, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no-salt plumb tomatoes, squeezed with your hands
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) no-salt added chicken broth
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces) no-salt added chick peas
  • 1/2 head broccoli florets, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 10 ounce bag frozen corn
  • 1/2 cup whole milk or heavy cream
Notes: *Masala is a blend of black & white peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, long pepper (also known as pippali), black cumin (known as shahi jeera), cumin seeds, cinnamon, black, brown & green cardamom, nutmeg, mace, star anise and coriander seeds. It's a bitch to make at home, so buy it in the supermarket. An essential component to great home cooked Indian. McCormick's brand is the best.

**You only need a 2 inch piece of fresh ginger. Slice the very rough skin off of the ginger and either cut the flesh with a knife into tiny pieces or grate.
***You can use any chili here, just make sure you use one with heat. Dried Mexican chili's are fine. 2 will give you a nice base of heat, but 3 or 4 will really bring up the flavor!

What you'll need for the SAVORY RICE (this one is pretty much the one everyone makes):
  • 1 tablespoon corn oil
  • 3 inch piece cinnamon stick , broken in four pieces
  • 4 green cardamom pods*
  • 1 large yellow onion, very thinly sliced
  • 4 whole peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup pure basmati rice**
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • Salt to taste
Notes for rice:

*Cardamom pods - one of the most fundamental spices in Indian cuisine. They are intensely aromatic and small. Essential to true Indian flavor and imparts no calories or fat to the dish.

**Most common Indian rice by far. You can find it in any store, but look for the ingredients. It should ONLY say: "100% basmati rice", preferably imported from India.

What you'll need for the NAAN:

A credit card. For the first time in a long time, we finally found a GOOD pre-made, packaged Naan. It's called "Fabulous Flats" whole-grain Tandoori Naan. This is them:

You MUST serve the multi-grain with the meal. Very tasty, kinda high in sodium, but I'm SO not making Naan at home. Pain in the ass.

Let's cook!

Start your rice!

In a heavy-bottom pan (make sure you have a matching, tight-fitting lid), throw the oil, the cardamom pods and the cinnamon in the pan and cook over medium heat until they start to POP.

Then add the onions, cook for 4 minutes until soft. Add garlic, cook for another minute. Should smell yummy!

Add the rice, mix and saute for a minute or two, add the water, bring to a boil. COVER and simmer on LOW for 18 minutes, turn off heat, leave covered until you are ready to eat.

Now make the vegetables mixture!

Get a big dutch oven pan out -- heat up over medium heat and add the curry powder and the garam masala. Toast until the spices are dark. Be careful, as they can easily burn. Stir, stir, stir. Always toast your spices to intensify the taste, always, always, always.

Pour out of the pan, put into a side dish.

Add the oil, heat for 2 minutes, add the onions, cook slowly so they are a nice golden brown, up to 12 minutes. Add the garlic and the ginger. Cook for 2 minutes.

Add the chili's and the tomato paste. Mix thoroughly and cook for a minute.

Add the cauliflower; cook 5 minutes, until the cauliflower has the lovely curry yellow tinge to it.

Add the tomatoes (in can, with juice, breaking with fingers), beans, broth and cook, covered for 8 minutes over medium-low heat.

Take off lid, add the broccoli, cover, cook 5 more minutes. Taste for salt and tenderness of vegetables. If tender, add the corn and the cream and/or milk, mix to combine and serve!

Remove the cardamon pods, the garlic cloves and the cinnamon sticks from the rice, fluff with fork, put a portion on the plate and add the food atop.

Serve with the pre-headed Naan and you are set!

Taste of Indian in your own home!


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Food, Antibodies and Love

1. the quality or state of being specific.
2. Biochemistry, Pharmacology. the selective attachment or influence of one substance on another, as an antibiotic and its target organism or an antibody and its specific antigen.

In food, as in many forms of art, the act of employing specificity is vital. Why? Life is mundane enough, I know, but try to find the source of your current, secret angst and you will find, without a search for a sense of specificity, you are lost and wayward, floating from seminar to seminar with the new Dr. Phil, praying and hoping The Divine will give you the answer, an answer to a question you have yet to define.

The reason so much acting on television is painfully dull is the actors haven't committed, body and soul, to one specific thing, i.e., an urgent, visual need which must be fulfilled by the person across from them at the murder scene or in the bedroom or on the roller coaster at Coney Island (a rather underrated spectacle, if you have yet to see it).

If the actors commit to one specific need, if they employ the act of specificity, their performance will be impossible to turn away from. Doesn't matter one smidge if their choice is the wrong choice; it's the fact they made a clear choice and by God they are going to stick by it come hell or high water.

I mulled over the classic definition of 'specificity' (see the handy-dandy header) and was drawn over and over to the analogy of antibody and antigen. I am inferring my own meaning (which I'm fairly certain is correct), but I feel most would find it hard pressed to deny the act of employing specificity (i.e., 'antibody') will result in a cure for any annoying physical or metaphysical malaise (the 'antigen').

Oh dear, what does this have to do with cooking? A great deal, you will see, but the farther reaching implications are always of a personal nature. We are a very predictable species. Unless an outside tragedy forces us into a sudden bought of self-awareness, most of us prefer to putter along silently, hoping Life will work itself out, the clouds will part, the rains will vanish and the most beautiful rainbow we have ever seen will rise into the sky like a phoenix searching for her elusive and highly sought after perch.

This rarely happens. What happens is we feel pain, we cannot take the inner pain anymore, so we reluctantly admit something has gotta give.

Psychics have told me over the years, "Make sure and be very clear when you ask the Universe to give you something. Be very, very clear." I always interpreted this as meaning the Universe is overloaded, like a massive switchboard from the 40's when Manhattan was Manhattan without all the piss on the streets. They were saying it helps be clear.

Acting teachers have leaned over me on tiny stages for years, spittle gathering in the corners of their clenched lips, repeating again and again until their faces resembled mid-August beefsteak tomatoes, "Be on point! Be true to what you want. Get what you want no matter what."

University writing teachers have begrudgingly handed me short stories and scripts, red editing marks on the page like the face of some poor, unsuspecting New England kid who didn't mean to kiss Sue (but he did), despite the small pox warnings, resulting in him sitting in bed for weeks on end watching flaccid acting with flaccid narratives -- these university teachers would exhale as if the act of speaking was the height of physical exhaustion as they said, "You didn't raise the stakes. You didn't make me care. You didn't commit, but your funny, I will say that, but painfully too relaxed in your prose. Read Faulkner. Tonight. I beg you."

As someone who has acted, written, performed, run a university research center, worked for a famous literary agent, rented videos at a seedy store in the Lower East Side, slung hash, bacon and eggs in Brooklyn, took tickets as a theater usher, answered phones for more famous and rich people, worked as a dancing pretzel stick on 42nd street when it was lurid, worked a film festival in the Hamptons and talked to Kathleen Turner on the merits and fears of Edward Albee, poured Jessica Lange coffee and talked with her about Sam (as in "Shepard"), listened to Robert DeNiro complain about Jessica Lange and his late, great father, the painter Robert DeNiro, Sr. (rest in peace you tormented man you) edited student papers, taught screenwriting, taught fiction writing, worked as a journalist for a gay Internet magazine which sold ads to Croatian hustlers who lived in Queens, I have learned something: It helps to know what you want when cooking.

This is not a new lesson, nor is it novel, but it is a very deep and one most of us would prefer not repeating. The cure for ailments of any order is defining what is it which is ailing us and then taking appropriate and specific action to remedy the ailment, but undertaking this heroic act of specificity with great gusto and compassionate force.

The insight may be simple but the action of undertaking such a commitment and the way in which we commit to it is not.

As a novice to cooking (started cooking seriously 8 years ago), I find most recipes do not embrace Julia Child's famous quote, where she said "...the only real stumbling block [to cooking] is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude." The key word here is attitude. Attitude in cooking is gone.

What persists today is careful adherence to careful adherence.

None of us like the truth of how creative change comes from informed, reckless abandon and from a devotion to a specific intention. In cooking, I find food responds when there's a fearless joy felt on the part of the cook. However, food flies to new heights when the cook enters into the cooking with a commitment to make whatever they are going to make and damn the torpedoes. If the dish is a mess it's a fantastical mess but more often than not, when food is cooked from this emotional place, at the very least, it's extremely interesting.

Which brings us to today's heady mix of a meal:

Heavenly Roast Chicken and Three Onion Mango Chutney Indian Salad
with Madras Curry, Yogurt, Serrano Peppers and Charnuskha Seeds over
Romaine and Mesculin greens...

In all fairness and because I'm worried in my next life, karma will force me to be a fat middle-aged man living in Ohio who rototillers his lawn wearing Bermuda shorts and black socks if I am not truthful, this recipe was inspired by the newest edition of Bon Appetit magazine, but it is not a copy. I have changed over 50% of it, so in the eyes of the Recipe Moral Police, I am okay.


Start to finish if you use rotisserie chicken: 35 minutes.

Start to finish if you poach your own breast meat: 45 minutes

(for 4 servings)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 teaspoons water
  • 3 tablespoons prepared Major Grey mango chutney
  • 3 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder, add up to 2 more for extra spice
  • 2 large heads of Romaine lettuce diced small
  • 2 cups Mesculin greens
  • 1 large supermarket rotisserie chicken, or 4 breasts (1.5 pounds) poached meat
  • 2 large mangoes, peeled and diced small
  • 2 medium Serrano peppers, diced small
  • 1 large red onion, diced small
  • 1 large white onion, diced small
  • 2 medium plumb tomatoes, seeded and diced small
  • 4 teaspoons Charnushka seeds
  • 1 cup low-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 large French white baguette, use for both salad and croutons

In the summer, I fully agree less time in the kitchen, the better. If you use rotisserie chicken, there is no cooking. Some chopping and mixing, but that is it.

If you want to do you own chicken, get 4 breasts (approximately 1.5 pounds) and poach in no-salt chicken broth for up to 12 minutes, or until white on the inside.

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing. Major Grey's mango chutney is very sweet. It's essentially a jam. If you like sweet dressing, this is for you. I like to taste my salad ingredients, so I use much less than most recipes.

In addition, recipes use way too much oil. I cut most by over half and use twice as much water, which is sublime. In curry powder, make sure you look for's the spicy version which holds the most flavor. Very tasty.

Make the dressing and put it on the side. Do not put on the greens. It's too thick and way too caloric to do so.

Make the salad. If you have a 4 pound rotisserie bird you'll get about 4 cups. Most recipes say you get 5 cups. I'm not sure how they get that much meat. They must shred the bones.

Mix all of the ingredients on the plate. Add the lettuce, the onions, the Serrano peppers (seed half if you want it less spicy), the mango, the chicken and then drizzle on a little dressing, plop a big serving of the yogurt on the side then add the truly inspired ingredient - the Charnuskha seeds.

Charnuskha seeds are very popular in NYC. They are used on the top of Jewish Rye bread, in Slavic sausages and a very big part of cuisine in Lebanon and Israel. They are tasty, inexpensive and add a great visual and taste layer to the dish.

You can find them at Penzey's: They are worth hunting down.

Here is what Andy's amazing plating served us up last night:

Aesthetically and culinarily delightful.

It makes for great left-overs the next day. You simply have to make sure you let the dressing sit on the counter for 10 minutes and perhaps add a bit of water as it can be very thick (sugar anyone?).

You can also serve this on thick Italian bread with a bit of dressing the same ingredients. A fantastic sandwich.

I tore up pieces of the baguette for the side and toasted some for croutons as well.

Now this is specificity of the highest food order.

Yours in food, love and philosophy...

Mikey Bryan
Your Food Therapist

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

BBQ Sauce, Sugar and Bob...



Bob from The Biggest Loser

I was in Maine for the 4th of July weekend. I had a wonderful time with my family. Such has not always been the case. I was born and raised in a small town in Washington state. Despite the fact I have two sisters, my strongest memories were of living alone with my mother and father from the age of 5 on and eating a lot of ice cream.

I was a boy with hips. Enough said.

My sister, Joy, fled home when I was young and my sister, Pam, got hitched when she was very young and moved to the wasteland known as Yakima, Washington (the town where Raymond Carver killed himself).

Which left me with my parents. My Mother died almost 2 years ago. She was a volatile, loving and ultimately defeated woman. She had a terrible childhood and never recovered. When she'd get drunk she'd ramble on about her youth and most often I had to cover my ears. Her stories would have made Tennessee William's toes curl. The fact she survived in the way she did shocked me.

But like all those who have found humor in tragedy, she had a wonderfully lacerating wit and was smart as a whip. She knew bullshit when she heard it and she always spoke her mind. Although she craved friendship, people were scared of her. She was needy and mean, all at the same time. A walking wound. Looking for love and acceptance from everyone, except from herself.

She did have great hands, though. Soft, like rose pedals, with tiny nails dented in the center from years of housework and cooking.

I don't understand gay men who fawn over their mothers. Italian gay men are particularily annoying. They can't take a shit without their mothers permission. Even when they're middle-aged. Respect my ass. Control is more like it. I'll take my manic depressive mother any day of the week over theirs.

I don't have warm and fuzzy memories of her. I try to recover those memories but it's difficult. I oscillate between memories of her sitting alone in a dark room with a blue ice pack over her face, popping pills and fighting a horrid migraine with the time we saw Airport 75 and screamed at the top of our lungs when the fake looking dummy was sucked out of the cockpit when the plane hit.

And I wonder why I'm gay.

She was dynamic, amazing and downright scary. My father was (and still is) elusive yet distantly compassionate. He never calls and never writes me despite my mother's death. We were not instilled with a strong sense of a family connection, but you'd never know this from my sister, Joy. She's hell bent on making sure we all stay in touch. At first I found her neediness for family exhausting and self-defeating, but she was right to stay persisent. Having a truly extended family is pretty great. Thanks, Joy Lyn.

But one thing I did notice when I was in Maine was how most of my family just loves sugar. I'm not talking the normal sugar overload from the homemade desserts (which are meant as a special treat), but in the food which was considered the main meal.

Sugar was in everything. In the sauces on the ribs, in the sausages, in the potato salad and in much of the soft drinks and chips we ate. Sugar, sugar, sugar - and one of the biggest culprits was the dreaded HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP sweetener. What is high-fructose corn syrup?

It is a man-made sweetener that has slowly and surely been replacing old-fashioned sugar and become the primary ingredient in processed American foods. High-fructose corn syrup provides the zippy sweet to Coke, Pepsi and Snapple iced tea, as well as many commercial yogurts and even hides inside Chips Ahoy cookies, Wonder bread and many, many salad dressings and bottled BBQ sauces.

For the party, this is how the ribs were made: they were bought at the store, plucked out of their packet, thrown on the grill, cooked to the point of being almost done, then drenched in bottle after bottle of the most popular BBQ sauce on the market: Bull's-eye BBQ sauce, then served.

No reason for the shirtless Bob I really need a reason?

Bull's-eye has, per 2 tablespoons, 63 calories, 302 mg. of sodium, 15.2g. carbohydrates and 11.5g. of sugar. Each rib had at least 20 tablespoons her rib and each person at the party at 2-6 ribs (some of the bigger people 8 ribs). For 2 ribs with a basic slathering of Bull's-Eye BBQ sauce, the totals would be:
  • 1,260 calories
  • 6,040mg. sodium
  • 304g. carbohydrates
  • 230g. sugar
This is not counting the calories in the meat itself or any additional sides.

The basic total number of calories people are recommended to consume each day is 2,000, or, 1,500 if you are looking to drop weight. The number can go up to 2,500 if you are very athletic and need to keep up your energy.

The daily allowance of sodium is 2,500mg and the daily allowance of sugar is roughly 40g.

2 ribs for one meal with no sides or liquids (other than water, tea or coffee) shoots you over the moon with sugar, salt and carbs and allows only 600 calories for the day if you are a moderately-active person.

Most people at the party ate 4 ribs each.

This nutritional breakdown for this BBQ sauce is pretty much similar to all the most popular supermarket brands - from Hunt's to KC Masterpiece to Jack Daniel's. There is a reason you love the taste of these. It is because they are loaded with the kind of crap you want to eat and eat and can't stop eating. It's a chain reaction. Eating sugar and salt makes you want more sugar and salt so you can't_stop.

Why should you give a shit? Do you really have to concern yourself? Also, is the hype over high-fructose corn syrup true?

And how does this affect mood?

Do you know how the 50 year old Oxyclean dude died? The kinda hot bear who was always yelling at the camera? ?

Heart disease.

Why? Because he was fat. Why? Because he ate bottled BBQ sauces and didn't bother to get on a treadmill.

He was 50.


And he died from our nation's #1 killer, HEART DISEASE which is, in almost all cases, PREVENTABLE by EXERCISING AND PUTTING CRAP FOOD AWAY.

If you don't want to age feeling strong and well, stop reading now. You may age, but you'll feel like shit. Your body will hurt, you'll have injuries, you will be taking more pills than you ever imagined and you'll be very, very depressed and MOODY.

It's no secret anymore moodiness and lack of energy is related to what we eat and blood sugar levels, so of course, this directly affects our mood.

Scientific study after scientific study has shown the wear and tear on a person's body when they eat refined sugars year after year. The cells in your body actually change and will not resist insulin's effects (very high sugar levels in the body are toxic to your liver, and it responds by creating massive amounts of insulin), thus, you are creating a toxic by eating what you should not eat and also defeating the very cells which need to fight it off.

What is the result of this process?

Heart Disease.

Premature Death.

Talk about a mood killer.

And what is all the fuss about high-fructose corn syrup? It the fuss legit?

In recent years, studies have shown the human body metabolizes fructose, the sweetest of the natural sugars, in a way that may promote weight gain. Specifically, fructose does not prompt the production of certain hormones that help regulate appetite and fat storage, and it produces elevated levels of triglycerides that researchers have linked to an increased risk of heart disease.

The high-fructose corn syrup used in sodas and other sweetened drinks consists of 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose, very similar to white sugar, which is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. The form of high-fructose corn syrup used in other products like breads, jams and yogurt — 42 percent fructose and 58 percent glucose — is actually lower in fructose than white sugar.

The reason it's been demonized, it appears, is because it's 'man-made.' Natural-foods enthusiasts and many nutritionists believe the foods humans have been consuming for thousands of years are better handled by our bodies than many of the modern and chemically derived concoctions introduced into the food supply since the early 30's.

I agree it's always better for us to eat natural foods versus man-made, and science is proving this. But still, some of the hysteria over HFCS is over the top. While it's not terrible for you to eat, it's not great either. If you are going to eat sugar (which, many, many studies have show, you don't actually need), then eat the stuff via Mother Nature.

What is this all coming down to?

It comes down to a calorie is a calorie is a calorie -- just like Bob and Jillian of the truly sublime reality TV show The Biggest Loser say (a show I came to late but now am a pretty rabid fan of). No matter what kind of smoke screen you read about, the trick here is to do the following when you eat.

Limit your calories.

You do this by...

Limiting your sugar.

You do this by...

Limiting your eating of processed foods which have LOTS of calories.


Which is why when I saw my family and friends stuffing their faces with calorie after calorie, I kept thinking, "This is how I gained 20 pounds and how I've been losing it."

I was overeating like most of America. And while I don't want to necessarily stop eating ribs in the summer, I MUST for my HEALTH and my AGING BODY cut out the heart-attack inducing sauces, keep on exercising 5 to 6 days a week and enjoy my life.


Here it is:

Try this at home! Love yourself, love your body, age well, stop eating CRAP. This is a mix of some Cooks Illustrated, some Martha, some Rick Bayless and others I've cooked over the years.

What you'll need:
  • 2 onions, diced small
  • Scant 1/4 cup water
  • 2 cups ketchup, no salt
  • 3 tablespoons molasses
  • 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons Frank's Hot Sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons hot chili powder
Mix the finely minced onion, water, ketchup, molasses, vinegar, Worcestershire and dry mustard, hot pepper sauce, and black pepper in a bowl and put aside.

Heat the oil in a large pan. Add garlic and chili powder. Cook a minute. Slowly mix in above ingredients and bring to a rapid biol, reduce the heat and cook over a low flame for 30 minutes until thick.

You can easily triple this recipe for more sauce as needed. Will keep for a week in the fridge!


Your Food Therapist

You have to believe we are magic...
Nothing can stand in our way...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Barcelona - Jam, Salt and Chocolate galore!

My amazing boss just came back from Barcelona where he brought back three amazing food things (he knows about The Food Therapist and my obsession with food).

The first was a fantastical collection of extremely concentrated "Confitura" or "Jams and jellies". They are made by Benedict Monks in Poland ("Monges Benedictines") and transported all over Europe and Spain.

I searched for hours to find the link, but was unable. Here is the name: "Monges Benedictines - Products Artean". They are located @ Illes Balears and have a phone number, but unless you want to call Spain, it's not worth your time. I'll keep hunting for a place online to buy.

The flavors are very intense and best used sparingly and/or mixed with domestic jams to make the taste less intense. I tasted the Grapefruit, Mandarin and Melon preserves. The taste is shockingly intense and extremely aromatic. A wonderful assault on the senses.

He also brought over a sublime collection of salts. I know, I blog often regarding the assault of salt on the body, but these salts are truly extraordinary. One tiny pinch will do you.

When you open the containers you are immediately transported to a land of pure sensation and emotion. The deep and complex smells hit you the moment you open the package. And the tastes are so PURE.

First, the light taste of salt hits you...then a second and third layer of the fresh herbs rise on your tongue and do a little dance in the back of your throat before flowing into your body and making you feel warm and alive.These are the ones he brought me:

Flor de Sal Natural (Natural Salt) - name sorta says it all.

Flor de Sal Mediterranea (Mediterranean Salt) - A heady and intoxicating salty blend of rosemary, savory marjoram, thyme and oregano. You can smell and taste each and every herb. Amazing. I'm gonna use this on fresh summer salads, on fish and chicken and perhaps on a bed of olives, mozzarella balls and fresh basil with sliced tomatoes. YUM.

Flor de Sal Hibiscus (Hibiscus Salt) - Shockingly red salt made of organic hibiscus flowers. Now THIS is the salt you want to use with mild grassy cheeses, such as goat and some basic Swiss cheeses as well as rocket salads (or, in the states, 'young' arugula salad, which is European for 'rocket').

Flor de Sal Olivas (Olive Salt) - One tiny taste of this and you are transported to Greece. You can taste the feta, the olives, the sweet tang of a ripe tomato and smooth mozzarella. Yow, yow, yow. The color is a sea green and blue. A dream come to life.

Flor de Sal Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Salt) - This one is the shit. I am telling you, when I opened up this salt and smelled the coriander, caradmom, turmeric and fenugreek, I sorta reeled. But it was when the undercurrent of chilis, black and cayenne peppers rose into the air and swam around my head like something out of my most feverish Bollywood fantasies, I realized I had found my salt. I can tell there are also cloves and cinnamon in there as well. I can't WAIT to cook up some outstanding vegetarian Indian dishes soon!

It's worth the time and money to buy these online. The official site is not very efficient, so go to this UK link to buy:

The last food item he brought back was this heady chocolate infused with European flavors I've never had before. The company is called "Cacao Sampaka" and are located here:

Unfortunately, they are not in the states and only in Berlin, Tokyo, Barcelona and other European countries. But they are worth ordering through their site.

They have many different chocolates, but here is a sampling:
  1. Single bean origins
  2. Dried fruit and nuts
  3. Cocoas and spices from the Americas
  4. Herbs and Flowers
  5. Liqueurs
  6. Fruits and preserves
  7. Truffles
  8. Gastronomic innovations
I tried deeply rich chocolate with balsamic and fresh mint; one with caramel and peanut and one made with deep dark cocoa. The flower collection looks amazing, as does the fruits and preserves. The deep, rich dark chocolate is top notch, as is the very subtle flavors infused inside.

As with much of European cuisine, the tastes are very simple and considered in the entire dish, not as a stand alone. American's love big, bold and brassy foods full of sugar and salt, but not Europeans. It's so refreshing to taste such a deep, dark chocolate and THEN taste the other layers of taste.

There you go! A tiny taste of the culinary treasures lurking in the side streets of fabulous Barcelona!

Mikey Bryan
Your *Spanish* Food Therapist

Monday, July 6, 2009

Cooking Quick and Dirty

"When baking, follow directions.
When cooking, go by your own taste."

Laiko Bahrs

I spent the 4th of July in Maine with my extended family. Some are from Detroit, some from Georgia, Idaho and Alabama, some from Maine and some from Florida. I'm the only one from a big city.

I love how down-to-earth and damn unpretentious a lot of my family it. I'm not sure if it's because most of us are Southern or rural raised, but there is a direct and easy-going attitude to my extended family I love.

Living in NYC is a bit of a hyper existence. Everyone in the city thrives on ambition, career and work, work, work. Very little time is devoted to family and home life, which is why the city is so depressed and cynical.

The simple act of getting on the train in NYC after being in New England was very telling. Everyone ran to the train, pushed people out of the way and were plain rude, yet there were plenty of seats on the train. Why are they so frantic? Why are they so blatantly rude and then shocked when you tell them they are rude?

The city will never change. People in Manhattan will still live for the next 'big thing' or look for the next 'fashion trend''s too bad, because if they were to slow down, they'd be able to enjoy their life a bit more instead of always running for that elusive prize at the end of the road.

The joke is there is no prize (but you can't tell them that, Lord know, 'cause they know it all).

What I learned up in Maine and New England is when people have been cooking a long time cook, they cook by taste. And they cook SIMPLE.

I made a bunch of baked goods (BROWNIES, some LEMON/LIME SQUARES a few CHOCOLATE PIES) and cooked up some meals before the big shin-dig (spicy ENCHILADAS and MEXICAN RICE, TACOS, BALSAMIC CHICKEN and ITALIAN PASTA), but when it came time for the party we had to cook in BULK and there was no messing around.

My niece autumn made a great FRESH PASTA SALAD and a tasty COLD PEANUT NOODLE SALAD w/ spaghetti.

What did she do? She went into the pantry, found a bunch of pasta of the same shape, cooked it up and drained it. Then she chopped up two bunches of scallions, some peeled carrots, radishes and then poured in a bottle of Italian dressing. Salt and pepper and good to go!

Same thing for the Asian salad but she added peanut butter and scallions and dry roasted peanuts. There you go!

This kinda cooking is how most people eat. Food snobs in NYC forget this. I'm a food snob, I'll admit it, but at the same time, I'm always lookin' to cook like everyone else cooks! And I learned you can cook the way everyone does but you can add flavor by not relying on the easy way out!

The only thing Autumn needed to change is not use the bottled dressing and cut way back on teh peanut butter. There is so much shit in that it's unreal. Sugar, sodium, preservatives...terrible stuff for your body.

The other day I was watching Rachael Ray. She had this truly hideous recipe for grilled hotdogs and a tomato/sugar/mustard sauce that was the most unhealthy thing I'd ever seen, yet there she was, serving it up on TV.

This is why people are obese. She has a responsibility to help people with their weight, and yet there she is (on a program funded by Oprah, I might add), adding sugar and salt and fatty pork to American's dinner table. And people cook her stuff because it's cheap and easy!

Not good.

My brother-in-law, Ken, made a bunch of big old RIBS. You want simple? I'll give you simple. He bought 26 pounds of ribs (at only 99 cents a pound!), grilled them, adding BBQ sauce at the very end and served. Why did everyone eat them? Because they loved the sugar in the sauce.

Again, like Autumn, he was looking for simple and easy. If he wanted an alternative, he could make the sauce in advance and have it handy the day of so he wouldn't feel overwelmed. By using bottled foods, you're putting chemicals and preservatives and sugar and salt into your body you simply don't need.

There was classic potato salad with fresh dill (with way too much mayo - you don't need a lot of mayo for potato salad...a dab of low-fat will do ya), a soggy but tasty Mexican salad (never put lettuce in a dish, soggy greens is not pleasant), a dreamy mozzarella, Parmesan and fresh tomato and basil salad (simple, fresh, easy, no oils needed) and some bland potatoes, simple grilled corn sausages.

Again, the idea here is people want to cook fast and easy. And they will only do that if have the sauces and the ingredients nearby...and Lord knows you can't say anything during because everyone is running around like a chicken with their heads cut off at any big party.

That's why I've decided Wednesday is going to be about how to make you OWN HOMEMADE SAUCES for SUMMER COOKING so you don't rely on the bottled crap. You can have the easy cook-out you want without adding all the sugar and fat and salt by pouring on bottle after bottle of pre-packaged crap!

But the funny part was the favorite sandwich of everyone's was the one with the easiest ingredients. It was a sandwich of sliced turkey, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, fennel and a nice thick spread of goat cheese with a thin layer of pesto in the center. Now, how easy is that?!

If they used real turkey (which, again, they didn't because they didn't want to be bothered) and made the pesto themselves they would have raised the taste factor. People are rabid over goat cheese, not sure why, but it did work on this, except I would have used something a bit less 'grassy' tasting.

The thing is everyone loved it because it was fresh tasting, complex, smooth and fun to eat. This is also a meal which can EASILY be made vegetarian. I'm all about trying to eat less meat nowadays.

This is what Wednesday's post will be about. How to make quick, convenient SAUCES and TRADITIONAL DISHES for big cook-outs and get-togethers instead of relying on bottled food and flavor enhancers so you're food goes from good to great.

Here is to a summer of tasty and healthy eating!


Mikey Bryan
Your food therapist...