Healthy Cooking Tips From Farm to Table

(Image credit: Michael Weschler Photography/Bedford Post)

By Diane Henderiks

The Bedford Post Inn is a quaint, luxury 8-room inn located in the beautiful Westchester town of Bedford, N.Y., about an hour from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan. Superstar Richard Gere, his lovely wife, actress Carey Lowell and their business partner Russell Hernandez joined together in 2007 to rescue and restore this historic property dating back to the 1860's. According to Carey: "Owning an inn had never even crossed our minds. Just came from a crazy whim of Richard's. We live in the neighborhood and passed it often. It was a sad derelict building rotting on the side of the road."

At the helm of The Farmhouse, the fabulous farm-to-table restaurant at the inn, is chef Jeremy McMillan, a charming and talented chef who is former chef de cuisine for executive chef Missy Robbins at A Voce Columbus Manhattan. Jeremy uses local and season items whenever possible and the inn prints the menus in-house so changes can be made daily depending on what's available and in season from the local suppliers Amba Farms and JD Farms. I was curious as to whether Richard and Carey have input on the menu or types of foods served.

"Yes we are always giving our two cents. We eat mainly fish or chicken and love Italian and Mediterranean foods. We always give Chef Jeremy our feedback, but ultimately we trust him to create delicious, wonderful menus and food. He doesn't disappoint."

Now let's get Jeremy's take on healthy cooking and eating.

Diane: Do you see a trend with diners seeking better-for-you options on the menu?

Jeremy: Absolutely. In the summer it is easy, there are so many great farms in the Hudson Valley that cooking lighter isn't an issue. We try to keep our pasta portions smaller, as well, and serve them as a traditional mid course so that diners don't feel guilty about the carbs.

Diane: What's your definition of healthy eating?

Jeremy: Simple, clean and fresh are always best. When something is ripe and in season, not only is it the most flavorful, but it also has the most vitamins and nutrients. As it turns out local and organic makes a big difference in the nutritional value of the food, as much as in flavor - which is what we are focused on, so it is a win-win.

Diane: What is your secret to cooking healthier without sacrificing flavor?

Jeremy: Great olive oil. I started cooking years ago at an incredible bistro in Scottsdale for Matt Carter at Zinc Bistro… The food was always pushing limits on flavor, but traditional bistro cooking isn't shy with cream and butter…We progressed at Zinc and lightened things up to fit the area and the weather. At Bedford Post we take light and clean seriously and use very little butter or cream, aside from baking. The olive oils we get from great importers like Gustiamo in the Bronx allow use to add extra flavor and not miss the butter.

Diane: What is your favorite healthier dish on your own menu and why?

Jeremy: As fall approaches, any easy choice is the Wild Mushroom Minestra. We rotate the dish through the seasons, adjusting the garnishes and mushrooms as they are available. Right now there are some amazing mushrooms available: porcini, chanterelle, lobster mushrooms, cauliflower mushrooms, chicken of the woods, etc. The broth of the soup is a vegetable stock that we fortify with the rinds left over from parmigiano reggiano which adds some serious umami, without the need for added meat or salt.

Diane: How about an update on what's new and exciting in your world?

Jeremy: Last summer the owners built us an outdoor kitchen with a wood oven and two custom grills which run on charcoal and wood coals…It is an amazing sight to see and gives flavors you can't mimic. When anything new comes into the back door of the kitchen it immediately goes outside and we try grilling, oven roasting, hanging it over the smoke until we find a possible use. Our favorite items seem to be fruits…Grilled cherries with the pits ( tasted of an incredible, warm, smokey cherry pie ), lychee cooked in the skin until the inside melted, the seed popped out and it turned into a soft, smokey drink. We smoke everything we can get our hands on. All of our meat and fish are cooked on the grill. I can't imagine ever cooking another way again.

Recipe: Mushroom Minestra (serves 4)

For the Parmigiano Broth: any reserved mushroom scraps 1 cup mirepoix, small diced (carrots, onions and celery) 2 each parmigiano rinds 1 cup white wine 2 cups water 1/2 cup ground parmigiano 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the basil pesto: 1/2 cup basil leaves, picked 1 tablespoon pignoli nuts, lightly toasted 1 garlic clove 1 tablespoon ground pecorino 1/2 tablespoon ground Parmigiano 1/4 cup olive oil

For the Minestra:

1/2 cup porcini, cleaned and sliced 1/2 cup chanterelles, cleaned and pulled 1/4 cup morels, cleaned and split 2 tablespoons baby shitake 1/2 cup oyster mushrooms, cleaned 1 tablespoon pignoli nuts 2 cups reserved parm broth 2 teaspoons pesto

For the broth: Saute mushroom scraps and mirepoix in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft, deglaze with white wine and reduce by half. Add water and parmesan rinds, simmer 30 minutes. Strain and reserve liquid. In a blender, add broth and ground parm, finish by drizzling in olive oil, keep warm.

For the basil pesto: With a mortar and pestle, grind pignoli and garlic until minced. Add in basil and grind until mixed, slowly drizzle in olive oil until paste forms, finish with cheese and adjust seasoning with salt, reserve.

For the minestra: Saute mushrooms in olive oil until cooked through, add in pignoli and toss. Place in bottom of a bowl, pour broth over and garnish with quenelle of pesto. Drizzle with olive oil.

Diane Henderiks is a registered dietitian, the founder of and a "Good Morning America" health contributor.

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