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Meatless Monday: Cheryl Sternman Rule Entices With Ripe

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Eat your vegetables, they're good for you. Really? That's the best slogan we could come up with? Vegetables are good for you, but "I don't want people to think of it as medicine. It takes the fun out of it," says Cheryl Sternman Rule.

Rule, who blogs at 5 Second Rule, means to put the fun back in. Her new book Ripe treats produce to the same sense of naughty decadence usually associated with cupcakes and cocktails. Paired with Rule's awesome recipes, bite-sized essays, anecdotes and kitchen tips are Paulette Phlipot's glam photos.

It was Phlipot who came up with the idea of arranging the book's featured produce not seasonally, but chromatically. Ripe gathers all things alive and yellow together, from corn to squash blossoms. In the red section, rhubarb coexists with red pepper chili. Phlipot illustrates each with a centerfold-worthy image.

That's the idea, to make Ripe -- and the produce-packed recipes in it -- "tempting to people who might not otherwise pay attention to a book about fruits and vegetables, people not reached by health and environment and obesity that other people are reached by. I try to shy away from giving advice. People have to come to produce on their own if they're going to appreciate it." Spoken like a mom.

Rule, who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband and two sons, believes in the power of enticement. Her sons, now 10 and 12, "had typical kid diets when they were younger. We struggled with how much to force foods they were not naturally inclined to like. We kept serving the food we liked that was beautiful and knew would be good for the family. Over time, their palates just expanded on their own."

Rule serves up beautiful food at home, on her blog, a finalist for IACP's New Media and Broadcast Award and now with Ripe. Rule is, by her own admission, a classic omnivore. So what prompted her to write Ripe, her meatless celebration of fruit and vegetables?

"I eat mostly produce," she says. "The most vibrant and colorful food out there is produce." One look at Ripe will convince you.

Though Rule has professional culinary training and experience, "I'm not suited to be a stand-on-my-feet-all-day kind of cook." She came to food "more as a reader than as an eater. I always loved reading food magazines."

Writing is the best way Rule feels she can contribute, "to get people to eat food that's good for them and that they enjoy." Ripe gives her a whole new venue to talk up the fruits and vegetables she loves. But only those she loves. "Lima beans always turned me off," she says. They did not make the cut. Passion, at least for Rule, cannot be faked.

As she writes, "I'm hoping you'll pick up that pomegranate because you genuinely want to eat it, not because it's rich in vitamin C or because studies show it blah blah blahs."

While she doesn't dole out advice, working on Ripe has made her "more mindful of the food choices I make. I talk about it with my kids. My older son has been into Meatless Mondays. He's heard people talk about it, a friend of his went meatless for a month, there's one day a week we don't eat meat -- it's not difficult to do."

But the real argument for Rule is one of aesthetics. "Meat isn't pretty."


Spinach Smoked Gouda Frittata with Tomatoes

From Ripe by Cheryl Sternman Rule

This spinach-laden frittata with just a hint of smoky cheese comes together in minutes and offers ultimate time-of-day flexibility. Serve it morning, noon, or night with toast, roasted potatoes, and a little fruit. A last-minute dribble of balsamic vinegar delivers a subtle, acidic pop.

4 eggs
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
4 cups (packed) baby spinach leaves (5 to 6 ounces, 110 to 140g), rinsed and spun very dry
¼ cup (30g) shredded smoked Gouda
1 medium tomato, sliced
Good balsamic vinegar, for serving

Set an oven rack 5 inches (12 cm) from the heat source. Flip on the broiler.

Whisk the eggs, cream, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Swirl the oil along the bottom and up the sides of a 9 ½ -inch (24cm) cast-iron or ovenproof, nonstick skillet. (You may use a pastry brush.) Set the skillet over medium-low heat, add the shallot, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach, one handful at a time, turning with tongs so it wilts. Crank the heat and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the spinach weeps and its moisture then evaporates, tossing a few times. (You want it relatively dry.) Lower the heat again.

Add the egg mixture, cheese, and tomatoes and cook until the frittata is three-quarters set, about 5 minutes, tilting the skillet now and again so the runny eggs slide toward the edges.

Broil until puffy and browned, 3 to 5 minutes, watching carefully. Let cool for 5 minutes. Serve wedges warm or at room temperature, with balsamic vinegar for dribbling.
Serves 2 to 4.

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