Category Archives: Veggies

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)“I want people to realize that when they walk out their front door,” says Phoenix-based nutritionist Monika Woolsey, “that they have a whole world to choose from not just the same six foods that we always eat.” This statement starts the conversation about how do you define Woolsey, named in 2016 by Phoenix New Times as one of city’s 100 Tastemakers. Unsurprisingly, she was the only registered dietitian on the alt-weekly’s restaurant heavy industry list. By i8tonite’s definition, she is a quintessential food person, making a mark in her community through her work. According to her website, she is the team nutritionist with the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Organization, maintaining the needs of 150 athletes from a dozen countries, keeping their energy so they can reach home plate;  and the Caesar Chavez Leadership Academy Garden Project focusing on hunger relief and blogging on community gardens.

She can be thought of as keeper of “indigenous plants” and foods to eat maintaining healthy diet for all. Woolsey states, “We eat the same foods, but it’s important to eat what you know. Recently, I was working with a young Mexican athlete, who’s food consists of corn. We needed to implement that food into her diet, making it easier for her to sustain a balance.”

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)Woolsey has a degree from the University of Boulder, Colorado in kinesiology,but began nutrition when approached by the Chicago Cubs, who needed someone who knew food and was a fluent Spanish speaker to talk to the team. (Woolsey does both and has traveled throughout Latin America.)

Winding down the conversation, Woolsey says, “I’m making mesquite tea.”

With surprise, I quip, “I’ve never known you could drink mesquite as a tea.”

“Oh yeah. During the Civil War, Texan soldiers didn’t have any coffee so they would drink this (brew). They called it ‘apocalypse’ coffee.”

I know who I’m hanging out with when the last day comes.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

What is your favorite food to cook at home?
Slow cooker meals that get better as they sit: chili, ropa vieja, minestrone soup, sauerbraten.

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
At least 8 different seasonal vegetables. Ricotta cheese, milk, and eggs. Sofrito, salsa, Dijon mustard, sriracha, and curry sauce.

What marked characteristic do you love in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Someone who can simply enjoy the meal, and the meal environment, without taking a picture of it, commenting on its nutritional value, or lack thereof.

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a person with whom you are sharing a meal?
Excessive special requests for the host that remove the love and thoughtfulness that went into its creation.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
I’m German. It’s going to be beer! Nothing better on a hot Phoenix day than a Weissbier with a spritz of lemon!

Your favorite cookbook author?
Gran Cocina Latina by Marcicel Presilla. The author is a chef with a PhD in Mediieval Spanish History, and her book approaches the entire Latin continent from a historical perspective. I read it cover to cover last summer, and plan to do so again this summer. This book completely launched my confidence in creating healthy recipes for the Latin athletes I work with.

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My garlic press! I am constantly pulling it out of the dishes, washing it, and using it for the next project!

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
Most of my audience is people new to cooking. I enjoy creating simple renditions of complicated recipes that leave anyone feeling like they can succeed in the kitchen. Recently I’ve been focusing on Latin American cuisine. Not just Mexican, but Caribbean, Venezuelan, Central American, each one is different and each has introduced me to delicious ingredients I take back to my other recipes.

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
Anything, anything, but tofu!

Favorite vegetable?
With a business named “Hip Veggies,” it’s hard to play favorites. But I suppose it would be homegrown tomatoes. Mine are ripening right now, and they rarely make it inside to the salad. I love snacking on them as I pick them. But then there’s corn. Who doesn’t love a fresh roasted elote? Oh my, I had best move on to the next question before you get a dissertation.

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

Chef you most admire?
Tamara Stanger, of Helio Basin Brewing Company, here in Phoenix. She’s blazing her own trail, daring to use native desert ingredients I have not seen other local chefs know how to use. And every time she steps up, she wins awards. Tammy is very quickly raising the bar for the definition of “local food” in Arizona.

Food you like the most to eat?
I like what’s grown locally, in season. Food that was pulled out of the ground the day I get it. My CSA box has sharpened my awareness of what tastes best at different times of year. And I have learned that when you eat with the seasons, there’s always something coming up, just around the corner, that I haven’t had in awhile. It keeps my kitchen interesting.

Food you dislike the most?
Anything with ingredients piled together in some way that suggests they’re only there because they are trendy. I love kale, quinoa, sweet potatoes, avocado, blueberries, and salmon. But please, don’t pile them together in a Superfood Bowl. Been there, seen it on Instagram a million times.

What is your favorite non-food thing to do?
Anything related to nature. Hiking, photography, biking, visiting a zoo or botanical garden.

Whom do you most admire in food?
The farmers who put it on our table. They work so hard for so little credit. If it were not for their love of the land and willingness to be out there 7 days a week, often in brutal conditions, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. We take them for granted. They deserve better.

Where is your favorite place to eat?
Anywhere that is likely to create a memory. On a log while hiking a beautiful trail, with family on a holiday, any environment that encourages savoring the experience as well as the food.

What is your favorite restaurant?
My family has been eating at Casa Molina in Tucson, Arizona for over 40 years. The menu hasn’t changed, the décor is the same. Good things stick around for a reason. Try a carne seca tostada with a margarita on their patio, and you’ll understand.

Do you have any tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?
I have never intentionally tattoed myself. However, food has had a way of tattooing me! I have a nice scar on my left forefinger, a souvenir from a bout with a cantankerous bagel. A few marks from splattering grease, touching hot baking sheets I thought were cool. I wear each one with pride.

Recipe: Grilled Butternut Squash with Mexican Pipián Sauce

i8tonite: The Case for Mesquite Coffee with Food Person Monika Woolsey (Or When the Apocalypse Happens)

Serves 2

1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon peanut oil
Salt
1/2 cup 505 Southwestern Green Chile, Tomatillo, Cilantro, and Lime Salsa
¼ cup raw, unsalted peanuts
¼ cup pumpkin seeds

Clean the squash

Peel butternut squash and cut into thin slices; set slices in a small mixing bowl. Set aside the seeds you recover while cleaning and preparing the squash.

Make the pipián sauce

Place reserved squash seeds in a ¼ cup measuring cup. If you do not have ¼ cup of seeds, add enough pumpkin seeds to measure as ¼ cup. Add these seeds and the peanuts to the skillet, and toast them over medium heat. Stir frequently.

When the seeds and peanuts start to pop, turn off the heat and let them continue to cook in the heat remaining in the skillet.

Place seed/peanut mixture in a spice grinder, a coffee grinder, or a food processor and grind thoroughly.

Remove mixture from grinder and set aside.

Cook the squash

Add peanut oil to the squash; toss to evenly coat slices with oil.

Salt lightly.

Place squash slices on a grill (or in a cast iron skillet over medium heat) and cook until both sides are nicely browned. It should take just a few minutes on each side. Remove from heat and set aside in dish.

Assemble the dish

Arrange the squash pieces attractively on a serving plate.

Spoon pipián sauce over the squash slices.

Garnish with cilantro.

Enjoy!

i8tonite: A Road Trip with My Mother, Baked Sweet Potatoes for Thanksgiving

As I do every year, I picked my mother up for Thanksgiving from her San Bernardino home. She will stay with us for a couple of days but instead of Los Angeles, the drive is from Phoenix, a round-trip excursion through the Sonoran desert. We will laugh, and I will tease her about her hearing as she’s asked me the same question three times, which I’ve answered three times.

I will finally state:  “I think we need to get batteries for your hearing aids.”

She’ll roll her eyes in amusement and swat at me, laughing in annoyance, “Brian! You know I don’t wear hearing aids.”

I respond, “Exactly.”

She’s aging and frankly, so am I; these car journeys won’t be happening forever. My mother gave me a love of road trips. We took them often from Duarte, California, where I was born to wherever she wanted to go. Disneyland. Pasadena. San Diego. Santa Monica. The best voyage was when my parents divorced. She wanted her maternal family closer – they lived in South Carolina — and her best friend lived in Baltimore. The ink was barely dry on the papers, and she packed up the red Pontiac Firebird with the vinyl top.  It was game on, a car trip through the southern half of the United States – East Coast bound.

She drove that car – a single woman and a kid — through Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas (two days), all the way to South Carolina in the early seventies. The AM radio was blaring Helen Reddy, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Vicki Lawrence, and The Carpenters. Wolfman Jack’s raspy baritone kept the truckers company and single family station wagons happy on long stretches of nothing. I recall a preacher man who drove his van around the dusty highways, solely to assist stranded drivers with broken cars. After fixing our ruined timing belt, his payment was joining him in prayer. My mother’s not a religious woman, but she believes in God. She was incredibly grateful for his help, so we held hands on the side of the two-lane desert highway and prayed.

This time, as we crossed the Colorado River, the border between California and Arizona, I was driving. She was the passenger, and the music was coming from an iTouch playing singalong Cher, Dusty Springfield, America and maybe Florence and The Machine. I threw in Elvis for my mom. The road has expanded from one car in each direction to a six-lane thoroughfare, at times almost eight – half going east, the others going west.  I’ve rented a car, so I don’t have to worry about breaking down. I will call the rental company and be on the road in no-time.

Yes, it will be a good holiday.

Baked Sweet Potatoes (No recipe) (“It’s not Thanksgiving without them,” my mother’s declares)

Find the largest sweet potatoes you can grab. Wash and then dry thoroughly. Determine where the top of the tuber is and poke a line along the length of the skin. Then do the same with the center width (You should have a cross.) Rub with vegetable oil, wrapping in aluminum foil. Bake for about an hour or until done. Serve with crème fraiche (my favorite) or butter (my mother’s favorite). Throw some chives and serve.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The End. Go Eat.

I8tonite: Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago

I discovered Charred Broccoli with Lemon and Asiago absolutely tasty. Tasty enough that there aren’t leftovers the next day.  I now believe roasting is the best thing for anything even broccoli which I like but isn’t necessarily my go to. So, when in doubt — roast. (My new motto.)

I discovered the recipe in “Family Table: Favorite Staff Meals, From Our Restaurants to Your Home”, compiled by Union Square Hospitality Group’s Culinary Director, Michael Romano and written by Karen Stabiner, with a forward by Danny Meyer, chef and owner of the just mentioned company. (Yes, Danny Meyer of Shake Shack fame.) I briefly worked for him as a waiter at Union Square Café back in the late eighties. Written in 2013, the cookbook’s recipes are staff meals from his restaurants that are part of the said conglomeration. These establishments include some of the Big Apple’s gastronomically acclaimed: Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, The Modern and others. (Sadly, Union Square Café will be moving from its current space of 30 years to another area of Manhattan due to high rents.) Traditionally, staff meals are served at the beginning of the dinner shift and end of lunch.

El Teddys. Courtesy of I Loved New York

Truth be told,  taking all the romance out of the cookbook, along with the “familial” sappiness  — the  staff meals that we were given before or after our shifts came from leftovers that didn’t sell – too much chicken, Bibb lettuce getting ready to turn, fresh pasta that needed to be boiled so it didn’t go to waste.  Working at the now defunct Soho Kitchen & Bar (SKB), we were served pizzas and salad pretty much every staff meal.  The kitchen quickly needed to use up any dough from the day before and replenish with freshly made.  The salad was at least a couple of days old but it was still had a good crunch going on. At El Teddy’s, torn down in 2004 — we were allowed to eat any of the appetizers such as chicken achiote, machaca or steak arrachera burritos, any of the salads or the quesadillas which included huitlacoche (corn fungus), nopales and a puerco.  We could order as much as we wanted as the back of the house had already made the dishes with fresh ingredients for that day’s clientele. (We were eating yesterday’s.) At the Cajun/Mexican fusion of How’s Bayou – it was mostly leftover fried chicken, jambalaya, gumbo, day old enchiladas, reconstituted black beans, red rice and sometimes something green. (Not complaining about any of this. It was free food and truly delicious. The pizza at SKB was some of the best I had. I learned a lot about life, cooking, drinking and made some of the best friends ever while working in restaurants. I loved it.)

This brings me back to this recipe and cookbook…yeah, I don’t think any of the staff at my restaurants would have eaten this as “family meal”. It would have would have been sitting under the heat lamps drying out…but now that I’m older and definitely stockier — it’s pretty stellar stuff.

Charred Broccoli

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches of broccoli cut into trees with stems. Trim off about two inches from the bottom.
  • ¼ olive oil.
  • 2 lemons.
  • Several dashes of red pepper flakes.
  • Italian hard cheese such as asiago, pecorino or parmesan. Two to three cups grated.
  • Maldon salt, fresh cracked pepper. (Okay, you can use kosher….but I love the Maldon stuff.)
  • ½ cup of Panko bread crumbs.

Let’s make this puppy:

Preheat the oven to 450 – 475 degrees. Toss the broccoli, olive oil and breadcrumbs into a large bowl coating the broccoli really well. Spread into a single layer onto a baking sheet and roast for 10 to 15 minutes, charring the ends of the broccoli but not burning them.

While the broccoli is cooking, zest the two lemons into a large bowl and add the grated cheese stirring well until mixed.

Once the broccoli is cooked, toss the broccoli in the bowl mix with juice of a ½ a lemon. Serve.

The End. Go Eat.