Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Top Five Foods We Can’t Live Without

When McKenzie’s in Bellingham, it’s just one more excuse to have a dinner party, or three.  Such has been the case this week, with several impromptu gatherings one right after the other.

On Sunday, a friend and his seven year old daughter came to dinner for braised chicken or black bean tacos.  She’s a vegetarian and wise beyond her years, enthusiastically hopping onto the dance floor, lip syncing to the Black Eyed Peas or showing off her tae kwon do.  She’s also a curious cook, eagerly pitching in to make dinner, rolling and pressing homemade corn tortillas.  It’s fun having kids around, especially in the kitchen.

Homemade corn tortillas make all the difference, by the way.  They couldn’t be easier.  Even a seven year old can do it.  Save yourself some hassle and buy a tortilla press like this one.

Monday Night Football seemed like a good excuse to make bison burgers and sweet potato fries.  We’re not sure who won (or even played), but by the end of the night we’d planned to build a pizza oven and knew a lot more about best and worse kissing experiences.  Good party.

Tuesday night, we asked a videographer friend if he would mind shooting some footage of us for our website.  We invited over a few other friends, made several versions of our favorite pizzas and hammed it up for the camera. 

These three dinner parties provide good examples of our food philosophy—eat real food and share it with those you love.  For the past three days, we’ve laughed a lot and learned more about our friends.  We say it often, but food truly is more than just food—it creates a vehicle for developing sensory memories and nurturing relationships.  

We’ve gotten into the habit of playing a version of 20-questions during dinner parties, which sometimes helps us learn as much about ourselves as about our dinner companions.  Depending upon the mood of the evening, the questions range from, “What’s the best decision you’ve ever made?” to “What are you most proud of?”  

But our favorite ubiquitous question is, “If you could only eat five foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?”  

It’s funny to see how people respond.  Some people rattle off a list right away and some debate with themselves for the entire evening, never able to narrow it down.  

We have rules for the answers. 

No combination foods, like pizza.  But homogeneous foods, like bread, are allowed.  There are some gray areas, like the friend that added falafel.  That’s still up for debate.  You can give a general category, like cheese, without specifically saying the type of cheese, like manchego.  And if you choose something like ice cream, it can’t be coconut chocolate chunk with almonds.  It has to be vanilla or chocolate or root beer.  Everyone gets water.  

Hey, it’s our game.  
In our informal poll, cheese and ice cream come out on top, and avocado often makes the list.  Beer also comes up frequently.  It’s known as liquid bread, after all.  

 Here’s our list of the Top Five Foods We Can’t Live Without:  

Pears (McKenzie). 
Wine (Lisa).      

Yes, we have basically the same taste.  You’re not really surprised, are you?

As long as we’re giving you our list, we might as well tell you why they’re good for you.  



Choose breads from whole wheat or whole grains, which contain a host of good-for-you nutrients including B vitamins, Vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron and fiber.  Research shows eating more whole grains reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.  

Be careful!  Many breads are deceptively marked “wheat” or “seven-grain.”  Don’t be fooled by marketing.  Look at the ingredient list, and if the first ingredient listed is not whole wheat flour or another whole grain—the word “whole” must be there—then the bread is actually made from a processed flour and won’t contain the same amount of fiber and micronutrients.  

Also, while you are already looking at the label, make sure the bread you’re choosing does not contain high fructose corn syrup.



We love cheese.  And luckily, in small quantities, cheese is good for you, since cheese is a good source of calcium and protein.  Just don’t overdo it.  

Keep an assortment of cheeses on hand for last-minute guests or for when you just don’t feel like cooking dinner.  Hot, browned cheese toast on chewy whole wheat bread paired with a salad and a glass of red wine can be mighty satisfying. 



Eggs are one of nature’s most-perfect foods—filled with choline, folate, iron and zinc, all for only about 80 calories.  Eggs are a great source of protein and relatively inexpensive.  Choose eggs from a local and sustainable farm, if at all possible.  It’s better for you, the chicken and the environment.  And it tastes better.  

Eggs are also a quintessential go-to fast food, whether poached, boiled, fried, over-easy, over-hard or scrambled.  A poached egg over spring greens makes a perfect summer supper.  Or put that same egg over a spicy stew of eggplant and tomatoes and you have shakshuka, a Middle Eastern specialty.  See our recipe, below.  



Avocados  are delicious.  

Once vilified as being ‘fatty,’ the smooth and creamy fruit is now considered a nutrition power-house, rich with good fats, vitamin E, vitamin C, folate, fiber, iron, potassium, lutein and beta-carotene.

They can be used in myriad recipes, from cupcake frosting to yogurt dips.  We like them best layered on our egg sandwiches or tucked into our fish tacos. 



A pear isn’t really just a pear, or a body shape.  Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, Concorde, Forelle, Seckell—each has their own flavor and texture.

Pears are high in fiber and a good source of potassium and vitamin C.  Try substituting pears for apples in your favorite recipes.



Like dark chocolate, red wine is a sublime indulgence that doesn’t really need validation.  But when the doctor says it’s good for you—it’s even better. Red wine contains anti-aging antioxidants like polyphenols that help to reduce inflammation in your body—good for your heart and your skin.  Stick to one glass of red wine a day for women and two glasses a day for men.

And now, one of our very favorite recipes containing a few of our favorite runner-ups—eggplant and tomatoes.  Shakshuka.


This thick and savory tomato stew showcases beautiful farm-fresh eggs poached right in the sauce.  It’s the ultimate comfort food and can be easily scaled to feed a crowd—the simple ingredients make for an easy impromptu dinner party.  


Serves 6

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste*
3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra as needed
1 eggplant, cut in large dice
1 red onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, cut in large dice
1 small Calabria pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, tomatoes diced
1 fresh tomato, diced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 farm fresh eggs
4 ounces goat cheese, cut in 6 discs
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

*Season vegetables with sea salt and freshly ground pepper as you cook, adding a little bit at each step until desired level of seasoning is achieved.  

Heat heavy-bottom pan over medium heat.  Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat until shimmering.  Add about ½ of eggplant in one layer in the pan.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is tender and brown.  Remove eggplant with a slotted spoon and drain on a plate covered with a paper towel.  Repeat with remaining eggplant.

Add another 1 - 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add onion, red bell pepper, Calabria pepper and garlic.  Cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are translucent and peppers are tender.  Be careful not to burn the garlic.  Reduce the heat to low if necessary.  

Add diced San Marzano tomatoes with the juice, fresh tomato, coriander and cardamom.  Add back in reserved eggplant.  Cook at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until Shakshuka is thick and flavorful.  If too much sauce has evaporated (it should be the consistency of thick pasta sauce), add a little water to thin.

Break each egg into a small bowl or ramekin and then slide into the sauce.  Add goat cheese.  Cover Shakshuka and simmer about 3 – 4 minutes or until whites of eggs are set.  Sprinkle with parsley.  

Serve with lots of fresh pita or bread, for soaking up the sauce.  

Enjoy, preferably with those you love!