By Jean Alves
When people find out that I am a registered dietitian, they typically respond with one of two knee-jerk reactions; one of these is to begin asking me about the health implications of what they are currently eating, are about to eat, or ate earlier that day. “What do you think about diet sodas?” one might ask, diet Coke in hand. Or, “Whoa, I’m glad you weren’t around to see my breakfast this morning! But seriously, if I only get Egg McMuffins a couple times a week, that’s okay, right?”
The second stock response I often get is, “Oh! Do you cook?” To this query, I typically respond with a vague, “Sure, I try,” or “Meh.” Luckily, people don’t often press the issue as they’re too eager to start filling me in on their own cooking and eating habits and dietary belief systems. What I’ve successfully avoided confessing through my skillful circumlocution, though, is, “No. I don’t know a cookie cutter from a turkey baster.”
As you might guess, this is quite the blemish on the RD resume. And while I really would like to wow dinner guests with a would-make-Martha-Stewart’s-mouth-water masterpiece (something probably ending with “confit”), or get out of buying people actual presents by baking them “Jean’s Famous Double-Fudge Something-or-Other,” I simply don’t have the culinary wherewithal to pull it off.
You see, the oven and I have had an awkward and painful, albeit short-lived, relationship. There was an incident in my early twenties involving apple turnovers that I don’t care to revisit; let’s just say I got (emotionally) burned – burned bad – and my oven door has been shut ever since.
However, my love for food has never waned, and I am always excited for the return of warm-weather months and fresh produce so that I can explore easy, fool-proof recipes. Here are some of my latest favorites that only require a modicum of peeling and slicing capabilities, but stop short of asking you to actually apply heat under or around anything. Perfect for picnics, barbecues, and other al-fresco dining situations, these drinks and dishes will not disappoint!
This mixed drink is easy to make, and the unusual berry-basil flavor combo not only tastes surprisingly delicious but will also convince your thirsty friends that you are a mixology messiah. (I also find there’s a positive correlation between drinks imbibed and accolades offered, so pour generously.) You can find similar drinks on the menus at 28 Degrees in Boston’s South End and Cucchi Cucchi in Cambridge.
3 fresh basil leaves
3 large fresh strawberries
2 ounces vodka
2 ounces seltzer
1 teaspoon sugar
1 lemon wedge
Muddle the basil and strawberries in the bottom of a shaker. Add the vodka, sugar and ice. Shake well. Rub the rim of a glass with the lemon wedge and dip in sugar. Pour cocktail into glass, top with seltzer and garnish with the lemon twist.
The Level 8 Salad
While I may be no Betty-Bakes-A-Lot, I do pride myself on my aptitude as a Level 8 Salad Maker. (Yes, much like Scientology, there are several stages through which Salad Makers must advance. Also like Scientology, the knowledge necessary to gain acceptance into the highest order of Salad Making is only disclosed at sea on the Scientology cruise ship Freewinds.) Don’t be intimidated by this Level 8 Salad. You’ll ascend to new heights of salad-making skills, if not to a higher spiritual plane.
6 cups baby arugula
1 medium to large peach
½ cup diced cucumbers
¼ cup slivered almonds
½ cup crumbled herbed goat cheese
1 shallot, peeled and quartered
1/4 cup(s) champagne vinegar or white-wine vinegar
1/4 cup(s) extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon(s) Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon(s) salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Slice peach into thin slices and place on a warm grill. Grill for about 3 to 5 minutes each side, or until the peaches are soft with faint grill marks; set aside. Place arugula in a large salad bowl. Add cucumbers, goat cheese, almonds, and grilled peaches. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the shallot, vinegar, oil, mustard, salt, and pepper. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the salad and toss lightly.
Much like Forest Gump’s proverbial box of chocolates, you never quite know what you’re gonna get from a gazpacho recipe – some are delicious, and some are duds. While there are a lot of disappointing versions out there, this one from “Barefoot Contessa” is super tasty and reminds me of the gazpacho I had while traveling in Spain. For the full España experience-o, serve it with crusty bread and thin slices of Manchego cheese.
1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded (but not peeled)
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
1 red onion, peeled
3 garlic cloves, minced
24 ounces tomato juice (about 3 cups)
¼ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Separately place each vegetable into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until evenly chopped. (Be careful not to over-process into a puree.) After each vegetable is processed, combine in a large bowl and add garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors will develop.
This recipe comes from a small company in Maine called “Ocean Approved.” In an effort to offer environmentally sustainable seafood products, the founders of Ocean Approved began cultivating their own sea vegetables in order to take pressure off of the wild stock of kelp and other seaweeds and preserve the local marine ecology. You can feel good serving this unique and healthy alternative to the traditional coleslaw knowing that it supports both the local economy and the local fishies! Plus, kelp is a good source of fiber, folate, iron, and calcium, earning this seaweed side dish extra points for nutrition.
1 cup *Kelp Slaw Cut
4 cups shredded cabbage
1 cup carrot slivers
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
Black pepper to taste
*Locally, you can find Ocean Approved kelp at the Whole Foods in the Charles River Plaza (181 Cambridge St., Boston, MA 02114) – look for other Massachusetts and Maine locations on their website: www.oceanapproved.com.
Thaw and drain Kelp Slaw Cut. Mix the shredded cabbage to the Kelp Slaw Cut and carrot slivers, and set aside. In a separte bowl, mix the vinegars, mustard, soy sauce,honey, celery seed, and black pepper for a non-creamy dressing. Add the dressing to the slaw mix and refrigerate until ready to serve.