Posts filed under ‘Cooking Tip of the Month’
“In 490 B.C. in a fennel field some 26 miles from Athens, the Greeks defeated the Persians. An Anthenian runner bearing this welcome news raced back to town. Since then, the length of a marathon race has remained the same as from the fennel field into town, or 26 miles and 385 yards. The Greek name for fennel is marathon.” The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia, Rebecca Wood
Often we think of fennel seeds that are often used in the sausage found on most pizzas. They can also be found in a variety of dishes, especially Greek recipes. In Indian restaurants it is common to find them in small dishes found near the exit door. In this situation, they are eaten at the end of a meal to assist in digestion.
The bulb is a different variety of fennel used as a vegetable. Mostly found in Mediterranean cooking, it is now available in most markets in the United States and is plentiful and fresh this time of year. I enjoy the licorice taste of the raw vegetable. It really adds to the flavor of a fresh green salad. You can cut it very thin to enhance a variety of salads from a mixed green to a salad made mostly of fresh fennel and grapefruit. In addition the fennel bulb can be baked or added to a dish like the chicken recipe this month. When cooked, the strong licorice flavor diminishes quite a bit, leaving a subtle richness in its place.
Generally speaking fennel seeds not only aid in digestion but help in reducing gas and spasms in the digestive system and aids in eliminating phlegm. They are loaded with phytonutrients and contain a great deal of antioxidants so consequently have many health benefits.
If you have never used it, give it a try. You too might find it a wonderful addition to your regular vegetable repertoire!
If you would like to make your soups and chili’s more flavorful, here are two simple things you can do that really make a huge difference:
- Finely chop any vegetables. When vegetables are cut into small, uniform pieces, they cook more quickly and evenly, and also release a good deal more flavor, than large irregular cuts.
- Prepare the day ahead. The nice thing about this is that you can plan ahead and make a soup or chili ahead of time for one of those nights (or breakfasts) that you don’t have the time to cook. In addition, by allowing time, the flavors will have a change to integrate and become richer.
I came across the Vegan Epicurean blog recently and found a great recipe for baked kale chips. I think often we are looking for a substitute for crunchy chips and think this is fantastic. Not only is kale so great for you but the taste is delicious.
Alicia was kind enough to let me post it and share it with you. Enjoy!
“On Sunday when we went to the farmers market I bought an enormous amount of kale for chips. Since I had far more kale that would fit in my little dehydrator I knew I needed to try to bake it in the oven. I won’t have this problem after Christmas when I get my new large dehydrator, but for now the oven was the answer.
I am not going to post the recipe as I don’t really use one anymore. However, I will post the method, which is all you need.
Take the kale and remove it from the stems and tear it into big pieces. I wash the kale and spin it dry. Then I place some of the kale on a half sheet pan and drizzle it with a little olive oil and toss the kale. I use only as much oil as the kale needs to be completely coated with a thin film of oil. Now I add seasoning to the chips and toss to coat the kale evenly.
Typically I use my homemade curry powder. I have also used turmeric, chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, freshly ground black pepper, and smoked paprika. The last batch I made was turmeric, black pepper and garlic powder. These chips were spicy and flavorful.
Place the coated kale on a half sheet pan, in a single layer and bake in a 250-degree oven until crispy. I waited one hour and thirty minutes before checking and they were crispy and delicious. They may have been finished earlier so next time I use the oven I will check the texture at the one-hour mark.
My husband and I eat kale chips everyday now. They are a staple item in our lunch. We both find that we like the taste and crunch of the kale chips. I hope you enjoy them too.”
Coconut oil is an excellent source of fat. It is only one of two that can be heated above 240 degrees and not be denatured. It is great when cooking over medium heat. When baking there is no heat limitation so can be added to any dish. When sautéing, there is a light coconut smell, which I enjoy, however you don’t have to worry about taste for it is completely tasteless.
The benefit of using coconut oil is that it is a saturated fat that contains about 60% medium chain triglycerides or MCT’s. These do not need digestive enzymes to be metabolized and most of the fat is metabolized in the liver to ketones.
“Ketones are your body’s alternative energy source. When glucose stores are exhausted, ketones are synthesized from fats and delivered to the cells, where they are burned for energy… “
Health & Healing, Dr. Julian Whitaker, October 2009
In addition to coconut oil being great for the cardiovascular system, it aids as support for your liver, enhances the immune system and is great for the brain. Research shows that people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases seem to have an inability to get enough glucose to the brain. By providing the body with coconut oil and consequently MCT’s, which are stored as ketones rather than fat, the brain has a greater chance of getting all the glucose it needs to function at a more optimal level.
So why not try it! It is best to purchase virgin organic coconut oil. It is easily found at most health stores. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and will store for a long period of time. Use it either in place of olive oil or mix the two together.
For more information on the research about MCT’s and the brain check out this site!
I realize we all have been chopping onions and garlic for years and yet I often come across people doing it in ways that seem fairly labor intense. For this reason I decided to offer you a video demonstration that includes some tips to make these food staples even better!
In addition, you may not all know about the wonders of shallots. At Farmer’s Market they are in abundance at the moment and at a better price than other times of the year. Like onions they store fairly well in a cool, aerated environment. I bought a bunch and am hanging them in net bags in my basement.
Here is some information on Shallots Give these gems a try!
“Although they are similar to an onion, there are some important differences in how shallots are used in French cooking.
- Less is more. One or two shallots finely chopped are usually all that is needed to add a subtle, slightly sweet flavor to recipes.
- Go slowly. If your recipe calls for cooking the shallots in butter or oil, you should do so on a low temperature. Just like garlic, shallots can over cook easily. You want them to come out soft and slightly caramelized, not crunchy and bitter.
- Marry it well. Shallots are especially tasty when cooked with white wine, cream and butter.
- Substitute. Although there’s nothing like the real thing, if your recipe calls for shallots and you have none on hand, you can try substituting an equivalent amount of red onion.”
Crème Fraiche is originally a French product and is a fantastic ingredient that can be used for many things. It is similar to sour cream but has a softer, less sour taste. I like to add just a dollop to soup, mix it with Greek style yogurt for sauces, or add a little to sautéed vegetables just before serving. It is usually found in the cheese section of the market, at least at Whole Foods.
I just learned from a dear friend of mine, Mark Beran of Medovina, how to make it at home. This is so easy and much more cost effective that purchasing it pre-made.
Mix equal parts of buttermilk and whipping cream, I prefer organic. Set the mixture on the counter overnight, letting it sit for a minimum of 8 hours. Stir briefly and refrigerate. It will keep fresh in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks or more.
Note: If you prefer it a bit more sour, add a bit more buttermilk.
Here is another idea for putting on top of those fluffy scrambled eggs. You could also put this on top of grilled vegetables or baked chicken to add delicious flavor and more nutrients.
1 TBSP Butter
½ Purple Onion, chopped
¼ lb Mushrooms, chopped (I used trumpets as they have a nice thick texture.)
¼ C White Wine
1 TBSP Sun Dried Tomato Pesto
1.5 Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, chopped fine
2 tsp Crème Fraiche or Greek Style Yogurt
½ bunch Cilantro, chopped
2 oz Feta Cheese, crumbled
½ Avocado, sliced
Salt & Pepper to taste
Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes. Add white wine, pesto, chipotle pepper and crème fraiche. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are cooked, approximately 4 more minutes. Just before serving stir in the cilantro. Sprinkle the feta on top of the eggs, chicken or grilled vegetables. Top with this mixture. Finish with the avocado slices nicely presented on top.
The other night I made a meal totally of vegetables. Even though it was tasty, we were both hungry shortly after. I decided to test something I knew about but never actually tried…
I cut up a Pink Lady apple. We both ate half and soon after the feelings of hunger were gone.
Amongst the many benefits of apples, they are low in calories, a great source for pectin, fiber and nutrients. The fiber slows down the digestive process leaving you feeling full longer where the pectin is great for digestion and an excellent intestinal regulator, in other words it promotes healthy intestinal flora and supports normal colon function.
Apples also contain two acids – malic and tartaric – which inhibits fermentation in the stomach thus making it one of the easiest fruits to assimilate. They help to ease thirst as they are moistening. Especially green varieties are beneficial in that they cleanse the liver and gallbladder. Last, apples are high in flavonoids which help in the reduction of heart disease.
So, next time you are still hungry after dinner or are used to snacking later in the evening, why not try one of natures’ amazing creations? THE APPLE
Quote from the New York Times Magazine, August 2, 2009:
“The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity. In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.”
Why I love to cook!
I love the creativity of it all. I get to think – but not too hard – what I could make that is delicious, pretty easy, will impress my friends and family and be healthy.
I grew up with 2 working parents and although Mom prided herself in making home cooked (sort of) meals, they weren’t always that tasty and mostly had one spice ingredient – Lawry’s salt. Now I have to give her credit for her efforts but she wasn’t my inspiration. I ended up being friends with my sisters’ best friend. I was 16 and she was 21. Her name was Louise and she was a great cook. In looking back, I can still hear my Mom say, ‘when did you learn to eat that?’ The ‘that’ included (now) staples like garlic, onion, spices, herbs, and so forth. All I could ever tell Mom was ‘Louise taught me!’
From there I got into health food – that tasteless, no salt, old dried out herbs kind of food. I stopped using salt, stopped cooking in aluminum pans, and stopped storing in plastic in the ‘80’s. Now most of this thought pattern has continued but I have to say I sure have learned how to make food tasty! At that time I was quite proud of what I cooked but anyone who ate it suffered! I didn’t know this until about 6 years ago when I made a meal for my sister. She wasn’t feeling well and laid down for a nap. Upon awakening she came into the kitchen to see what smelled so good. (You see she, my brother and I were together, just the 3 of us, for the first time in 18 years!) I can still hear her remark about those bad meals she and her family had to eat when I cooked for them all those years ago. I had no idea!
Well, she opened the oven and exclaimed, ‘oh, a whole chicken!’ I kind of looked at her and said, ‘yea, so?’ To think that she was a stay at home mom turned stay at home grandmother and yet she hadn’t cooked a whole chicken in years. Instead she had the illusion that cooking whole things like a chicken was time consuming and difficult. The result was that she mostly cooked things like potatoes from a box, reheated a ham, vegetables from a can or frozen package. Things like that. On the other hand, I have been working full time and managing a house for 26 years (at that time). Obviously we had taken different paths on our lives.
Fast forward to today, 6+ years later and I have grown into a better, more self-confident cook. But let’s not go there just yet…
The true credit for my initial cooking ability came from my friends Jan and Jeff. I met them in the late ‘80’s when I was working for them in Hawaii. We became fast friends and I had the pleasure (both socially and gastronomically) of sharing many meals with them. They both cooked and did so mostly together. It was, along with a martini, a social event; a place where they would come together after a long days work to catch up, share their day. This was an experience completely new to me and I loved it. It opened my eyes to not only cooking but a wonderful way of engaging. I was hooked and, although single, wanted it to be a part of my life. I truly enjoyed the connection and delicious rewards that came with the experience.
I left Hawaii in 1990 to move to Colorado and pursue a new career – one as a massage therapist. Among the many things I brought with me was that fantastic, mouth watering joy of cooking great food and sharing it with friends.
I have continued to do so and have added a great dimension – a partner – a man that is vastly interested in the senses, including taste, and is appreciative of my cooking. It has enabled me to be more creative (and less neurotic about precise measurements in recipes) and more risk taking. I put together dishes based on nothing more than an idea and what I have available. The results? Mostly I end up with really yummy dishes. Do I still read and try recipes? You bet! They give me inspiration to be more creative.
Why I’m telling you all this is because of a concern for where our society is heading. I am reading more and more about junk food, fast food, pre-packaged food all dominating what we put in our mouths. Pre-packaged food started in the ‘50’s. It was marketed as the ‘new way’. The unfortunate thing is along with it has come a tremendous increase in obesity (fact) and a decrease in communication and relaxing with each other while eating, in my opinion.
The obesity stems from foods that are low in nutrition and high in (bad) fats, sugar, and salt. These are all ingredients that, in big enough quantities, can mask the disgusting taste of the other cheap denatured ingredients. It is a sin! What has made us rise above other animals is our ability to prepare and cook foods, our ability to plan, store, and create meals that enable us to spend time being together (and working) rather than grazing or hunting our time away. It has provided us the luxury of sitting down, eating and connecting with fellow human beings.
Now I realize people will argue that we still do this while inhaling a meal together at McDonalds but is it really the same? I think not. Not only are we missing out on the nutrients but the care, love and pride that goes into a homemade meal. We are feeding our guts but are we really nourishing any part of our selves? As for the ‘I don’t have time’ concept, I don’t buy it. I continue to work full time and manage a house yet I also cook about 80%-90% of the meals. And they are meals that are healthy, focused on local growers, very nutritious, easy to make and delicious. This is not to say I don’t enjoy going out to eat but it makes it a special occasion and it allows me to afford to go somewhere that is healthy.
My goal is to introduce you… entice you… encourage you… and to offer you meals that will take you down this fun rewarding path. Oh and there are some side benefits – you will feel physically better, have more energy, possibly lose weight (if you need to), and save money! Now what can beat that?
Try out the recipes on my website. Meanwhile I am putting together an eBook titled 30 Meals 30 Days that will offer you a variety of dinners so you won’t have to plan a thing. There will be a list of ingredients to keep on hand in your kitchen, a weekly shopping list, and short videos to show you just how easy healthy cooking can be!
Check back regularly for the launch of the eBook or sign up for our mailing list (no I will not give your name to anyone!). If you choose to sign up, I will let you know when it is available. Meanwhile, eat healthy and share good food and great conversation with your friends and family!