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30 Days of Vitamix: Chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie - The Un-chunky Monkey

Yesterday started out with a frenzy of work, the early morning punctuated by the image of some gorgeous brownies topped with salted peanut butter frosting. Occupational hazard of food writing is that you get a steady stream of enticing food images and recipes every minute of every day. I was so tempted. Brownies, after all, are so quick to make. But the day was stacked. I began to think of simply scooping peanut butter with hunks of chocolate. Not that I've ever done that before. Of course I have. Then I remembered Red, AKA my sexy new pro Vitamix. I decided to make a smoothie version of the decadent treat. After all, I could always make the brownies tomorrow.

Smoothie Pro Tips

One of the best uses for muffin tins is to portion things. Here, I've portioned a bunch of banana slices. Once they're frozen, I pop the blocks into a zip top bag and every time I want a smoothie with a creamy base, all I have to do is grab one or two of the banana blocks to start.

Banana_muffin_tin

 

Now on to our smoothie du jour...I wanted to amp up the nutrition of the decidedly dessertish treat.

Pro tip #2

Adding oats to your diet is a good thing. I eat them almost every day and I find that reducing the decision-making in the morning is a very good thing. Knowing I'll have oats one way or another means less options to choose something unhealthy, reducing the likelihood I'll skip breakfast altogether, and a morning base of oats keeps you full and keeps the blood sugar steady for quite a while.

If I am in a smoothie rather than porridgey mood: I often start by soaking the oats in the Vitamix for about ten minutes. (That's about two tweets, one Facebook scan or enough time to burn a piece of toast. Trust me, it's no time at all.)

Here, my oats are resting in So Delicious coconut milk. You could use regular milk, soy milk, almond milk, hemp...whatever.

PB Chocolate smoothie 3

The Un-chunky Monkey Smoothie

PB Chocolate smoothie 1

 

So you can see clockwise from the milk, I started with about 1/2 C; then peanut butter, cocoa, oats, flax seed, bananas and two dates. Plenty of sweetness there. Can you guess what else I added for additional nutrition?

PB Chocolate smoothie 2

 

Baby spinach leaves. They're so delicate in flavor you don't taste them in the smoothie but you're adding fiber, vitamin A & C, plus iron.

The result?

PB Chocolate smoothie 4

 

The Un-chunky Monkey - a very filling smoothie. Given the sugar in the shake and the oats, I found this easy to use in place of a meal. That's to say I wasn't hungry for a long time. It satisifed the chocolate-peanut butter urge, it kept my blood sugar steady and it gave me some protein, minerals, antioxidants, but best of all: Delicious!

 

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 C of milk of your choice
  • 3 TBSP smooth organic peanut butter
  • 2 TBSP cocoa
  • 1/4 C oats
  • ~ 1 TBSP ground golden flax
  • 2-4 dates to taste (2 was plenty for me but I don't love sweet)
  • ~ 1/3 C of frozen banana
  • ~ 1/2 oz of baby spinach leaves (a small handful)

Directions:

  1. Place oats and milk in blender, let soak for 10 minutes for extra smoothness.
  2. Add rest of ingredients, top with a handful of ice.
  3. Blend, adding ice or milk to desired consistency.

 

Remember to follow #30daysofVitamix and my Pinterest board of the same name for more smoothie tips and recipes.

So Glad You Asked! What is Canola Oil?

I'm starting a new feature here, a series called "So Glad You Asked!" - I want to hear from you. I'll tackle topics like ingredients you're curious about, techniques, recipe revisions or whatever piques your culinary curiosity...for example:

  • What coriander is? How to use it?
  • Wondering about a new cuisine and looking for a starter recipe?
  • Curious about an ingredient?
  • Pros and Cons of the latest fad or trend?

All are fair game. Simply drop a comment with your question. If you're curious, you know lots of other people are, too. I'm going to get the ball rolling by answering a question one of my private cooking clients asked about.

What is Canola Oil? 

Some people have shied away from canola oil because they don't know where it comes from. We know peanut oil comes from peanuts. Olive oil from olives. Corn oil from corn. But what the heck is a "canola" anyway?

Turns out - nothing! It's actually a made up name for rapeseed oil, originated by the Canadian rapeseed oil marketers to get around the unfortunate association we have with the word "rape" in English. Rapeseed is from the rape plant -brassica napum -from the Latin rāpum turnip. It's a member of the mustard family - see the color of the flowers below? What does that remind you of? Think of "broccoli rabe"  or "rape" ("rah-pay"), rapini. These are all derived from the same plant and name. In fact broccoli rabe is cime di rape which is "head of the turnip" in Italian. So this whole turnip/mustard/brassicacae plant family - it's one you need to know. First, because, well, brassicas = YUM. Second, they're really healthy. Third, they're easier to incorporate than you may think. Try blanching and freezing in a muffin tin. Then you've got portions ready to go into a soup, stew or smoothie.

Did you know?

Another superfood we all love today goes by a new name, it used to be called Colewort. Do you know what this is? Kale!

In fact, the Colewort family includes kale, collards, cabbages, broccoli, kolrabi ...

rapeseed oil AKA Canola

 

But what about that nasty "scientific" report I heard about? 

There is no shortage of misinformation on this product but I urge you to look at Snopes.com for a handy analysis of this silliness. One of the oft-cited "dangers" goes back to the historic uses of rapeseed oil in China. Taking what was grown primarily for livestock feed (a common purpose for the plant to this day) the seeds were pressed into oil but not refined. Today's Canola oil is refined. What difference does this make? Nutritionally the older version of unrefined rapeseed oil was not healthy for high heat cooking. It contained potentially unhealthy levels of erucic acid. Some animal studies in the 1970s showed ill effects from erucic acid.

Today's Canola oil is a different product. The composition is actually a very healthy oil. Canola oil contains more oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid than erucic.

From WebMD

  • Canola oil has 7% saturated fat, compared to 12% for sunflower oil, 13% for corn oil, and 15% for olive oil. There's solid evidence low fat is not the answer, it's the type of fat we should be concerned about.
  • It is very high in healthier unsaturated fats. It's higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except flaxseed oil.

canola

Uses for Canola oil

Rapeseed oil has a light, neutral flavor and high smoke point. It's a great choice for dishes when you don't want the flavor of olive oil or peanut oil. It can be used in salads, stir fries, even baking.

Look at this gorgeous Chiffon Cake made with Canola oil in place of butter.

  • Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat
  • is trans-fat free
  • is a good plant-based source of Omega 3 fatty acids

More info on Omega 3s.

And if you have food allergies, as I do, you need to know what oil your restaurant is using. "Vegetable oil" can be problematic if you have soy allergy, for example. Here's a great post by Amy (Adventures of an Allergic Foodie) that covers some of the fine points. Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know. From what I've read, there's some room for disagreement on whether highly refined oils contain enough particles to trigger a reaction. As Amy discovered, you may have to learn what your body will tolerate. Hopefully you can avoid trauma in the education process.

 

So Glad You Asked about Canola Oil. 

Now, what other culinary questions do you have?

 

30 Days of Vitamix: Lemon Meringue Pie Smoothie

One of the best things about winter is citrus. Enjoying citrus on a cold, snowy morning is one of our digressions from "eating local." I have had lemon chess pie, lemon bars, and lemon meringue pie on my mind. Thanks to my in-laws, I have a big supply of beautiful, organic Meyer lemons. This is a delicious and healthy smoothie that evokes a lemon meringue pie, with a side of virtue.

Enjoy!

Lemon Meringue Pie Smoothie

  • Juice & zest of 1 lemon, preferably Meyer
  • 1/4 C plain soy yogurt (you can use any plain yogurt you prefer)
  • 2 Tbsp oats
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1-2 tsp ground flax
  • 1/3 C frozen banana slices
  • 1/3 C frozen mango chunks
  • 1 tsp honey, or more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • handful of ice

Lemon meringue pie smoothie

 

  1. Buzz up the oats in the Vitamix first, for a smoother texture.
  2. Add fruit, mango for sweetness and banana for custardy texture. Yogurt also adds protein and smooth tartness.
  3. Add ground flax seed, ginger, lemon juice and zest, egg whites. (If you're worried about raw egg whites or immune compromised, omit or use pasteurized cartoned egg whites.)
  4. Top with a handful of ice and set your Vitamix on smoothie.

 

 

 

Tips:

  • Did you know: heart healthy oats are a cinch to incorporate in smoothies? In this one, I buzzed up the oats first for a really smooth texture.
  • Egg whites are a good source of protein
  • Flax seed brings all kinds of nutrition- ALA or alpha-linoleic acid for one. Buy whole flax seeds and store in your freezer. I grind about a half a cup at a time and keep it in a shaker jar on the counter. Shake on/in smoothies, shake on oatmeal in the morning, salads at night.

Perfect Peanut Butter Cookies - Dipped and Salted and Wonderful

It's easy to love a site that delivers consistent recipes you can trust. There are a couple I turn to often, particularly if I'm making something I haven't made in awhile. I know I can trust their straightforward technique and reliable results. Elise Bauer's Simply Recipes is as advertised. Simply Recipes. Check out her chocolate crinkles. I have adopted her recipe as a regular in my rotation and I like to mix matcha powder in the confectioner's sugar. Michael Ruhlman also writes in a confident, clear voice and I enjoy the expert comments and his wife Donna Turner Ruhlman's beautiful photographs. Check out his All Strain cloths. I'm a new convert and I'll be writing about them soon so stay tuned.

Milk and _______

COOKIES - yes? YES. I favor savory and salty more than sweets, maybe that's why I cannot stop eating these peanut butter cookies. This is positively the best recipe I've found for peanut butter cookies. Many of my clients seek Kitchen Confidence help when they'd like to improve their health and their enjoyment of food. Sometimes they think it means they have to give up cookies like these.

PB Cookies2 4 (1)

 

Personally, I don't do deprivation well. If I try to deny myself something I like, I only wind up craving it more. Instead, I've worked on other things, like portion control and exercise. Another new rule is that any "junk" should be homemade. Much easier to control the quality of the food if you make it yourself. Cookies are a perfect example. Buy a box at the store and you're likely to get all sorts of salt and sugar and chemicals you don't need. And they won't be as satisfying as homemade. Ever.

When I bake cookies, I can not only omit the dairy, eliminate contact with tree nuts, for my allergies (very hard to control in store-bought); I can also use healthier flours and make just the cookies I want. The other thing you can do when you follow the "if I make it myself" rule is to freeze dough and just make a small batch at a time. Just because a recipe produces 6 dozen cookies doesn't mean I have to have 6 dozen cookies sitting around making eyes at me.

PB Cookies2 2 (1) PB Cookies2 1 (1)

 

 

I made a couple dozen for sharing and rolled the dough in parchment paper  and popped it in the freezer. When the next craving came on, I did some exercise first then sliced and baked one dozen. Inspiration and good dairy-free chocolate struck, so I melted, dipped and sprinkled with a little bit of crunchy Maldon Sea Salt.

Perfect.

Big Thanks to David Leite, Founder of Leite's Culinaria - another of my favorite and very reliable sites. I had the pleasure of interviewing David years ago, around the time his first book came out. He was already quite well-known but could not have been nicer to talk to. I love his book. His site has one thing many sites do not have: testers! You KNOW a recipe he posts will WORK. This is culinary gold, especially for new or less confident cooks. Nothing irritates me more than when a client shows me a recipe they "failed" at - and I look at it and can instantly see it's a crap recipe. From an untested site.

I recommend these sites, this cookie recipe and don't worry about having cookies in the house. You know "Leite" is Portugese for milk? How perfect is that?

 Cookie PlatterPeanut Butter Cookies, Chocolate Crinkles, and Bourbon Orange Chocolate Truffles

Jam thumbprints in the back.

Crackly Sparkling Cranberries

This is one of our holiday favorites, albeit it newer tradition. This year, I had a bottle of Basque still cider that I wasn't fond enough of to drink, it was so yeasty and apple-y I couldn't toss it. What to do? Cranberries, of course! The added benefit: at the end of the process you have lovely spiced apple simple syrup that goes so well with Mescal. It would be fantastic with a hot rum or Bourbon drink, too. So really, you end up with TWO terrific products. Now, if you're not familiar with apple ciders I urge you to get to a good wine shop and ask for an intro. There are so many lovely ciders out there now, many made with heirloom apples. They're great with pork chops (in brine or a pan sauce) and they are fantastic with cranberries.

Crackly Sparkling Cranberries

For this recipe, start with whole fresh cranberries. If you have frozen whole cranberries it should work, but I've not yet tried it so I can't guarantee it. Begin this recipe a day ahead as the cranberries will get an overnight rest in their syrup. The active time for this recipe is minimal but you'll want to include resting/drying time and start the day before you plan to serve these.

 

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. Whole fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups Granulated sugar
  • 2 cups (most of one bottle) apple cider
  • Raw or brown sugar (here I used turbinado)
  • a few cloves, a star anise, (a cinnamon stick would probably be great, too.)

Directions

  1. Line a half sheet pan with waxed paper.
  2. Place sugar, spices, and cider in sauce pan, heat and stir to dissolve sugar.
  3. When sugar is fully dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  4. Rinse cranberries, pick out stems.
  5. Syrup should still be pretty warm but not scalding. Dump the cranberries into a container that will go into the fridge overnight. Pour hot syrup over the cranberries.
  6. Rest overnight in the fridge (the cranberries not you, you've got other things to do.)

Next day:

  1. Remove cranberries strain from syrup (and save that syrup!)
  2. Place turbinado sugar on a dinner plate. Take cranberries about a cup at a time and roll around in sugar, then place on prepared sheet pan.
  3. Rolling cranberries in small batches prevents too much dripping and caking of the sugar. Should you get lots of lumps in it, just remove the lumps into the simple syrup.
  4. When all your cranberries have their first coating of sugar, move the tray to a cool, dry spot to rest and dry completely. Should take a few hours.
  5. For the second toss in sugar, you can simply re-roll. I find a light brushing of the simple syrup helps the second coating adhere better.
  6. Let dry completely.

Crackly Sparkling Cranberries

crackly, sparkly cranberries

Spiced Apple Simple Syrup

spiced Basque apple cider syrup

duck_sugared_cranberries

sparkling cranberries and a roast duck

Gather platter cranberry

sparkling cranberries, small chestnut apples and kale surround the Thanksgiving platter

30 Days of Vitamix - Say hello to Red!

I like red for so many reasons. It's lucky. It's life. It can pull me out of blue. It's the color of World AIDS Day, the color of Women's Heart Health. And it's just plain sexeh.

Meet Red

There's my early Xmas/Birthday present: a Pro Series Vitamix in Candy Apple Red. I'm calling her "Red." She's strong. Powerful. Occasionally loud. Gets the job done. I think we're going to be good friends. I hope she'll last half as long as my old handmixer did. (see Ode to a Handmixer.) That little Black & Decker handmixer, bought my first year of law school just died. I mean, like last week. The Waring anniversary blender a couple weeks ago. I thought I could make do with the food processor but I'm telling you, I'm a fool in love.

Red

There's Red. She's a beauty, isn't she?

 

As I registered her, I saw something about an affiliate program. Well, stay tuned on that.

#30DaysofVitamix

I'm starting a new series here: "30 Days of Vitamix". I'll be including posts on using the Vitamix. I'll cover techniques, ingredients to know, tips, and recipes, including some healthy and some boozy inspirations. Frozen Negroni anyone?  Here's a taste of just some of the things we'll be writing about soon.

 

 

Vitamix Collage

Thanks to my wonderful husband for this terrific gift! A great addition to the family!

No Soggy Bottoms! One Perfect Pumpkin Pie with Meringue Topping for Thanksgiving

Who doesn't love pie? I do, and I have had to learn to make them at home since the advent of my dairy allergy. Impossible to eat one out. Pie without butter? Is it any good? Yes. Yes it is. This recipe represents the best of three different recipes and many years of hosting, preparing, feasting. I culled two techniques from the venerable Rose Levy Berenbaum, a crust I love from Amy Traverso and a meringue topping from David Leite. I'll share the full recipe below along with some other terrific tips I've picked up along the way. Won't you join me? Pull up a fork!

two apple pies
two apple pies

Apple Pies for a birthday girl

strawberry_rhubarb_pie
strawberry_rhubarb_pie

Strawberry Rhubarb 

sweet potato pie
sweet potato pie
pm pie
pm pie

One Pumpkin Pie to Rule Them All

Pie Nation, Pie Boxes and more

  • Crust Dust: If you're making a fruit pie, this tip from Pie it Forward is worth the book. Gesine Bullock-Prado makes beautiful pies and some of her best tips can be yours. A soggy bottom is not a good thing. Not in most situations and certainly not in pies.
  • If you're taking a pie to someone's house, the Pie Box is essential!
Pie box 2
Pie box 2

Large enough to accommodate an Emile Henry pie dish

Pie Rules

There are some rules I'd say are non-negotiable.

  1. Make sure the fats are cold, and stay cold.
  2. Work quickly, calmly and with authority. If the fats get warm then pop it back into the fridge
  3. Always let the dough rest before rolling it out. But wait - Dorie Greenspan doyenne of Parisienne food says maybe not? Leite's Culinaria's Renaee Schettler Rossi asks "WWDD"? What Would Dorie Do?

Hm. Seems we have been given permission to ignore some of the rules. I'M IN!

Unified Pie Theory

So here's my unified theory of pie. It's okay to break rules and pick the best parts of various recipes.

My favorite crust at the moment is from Amy Traverso's Apple Lover's Cookbook. The Double Crust pie is a winner. To that, I add Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie & Pastry Bible. I use the cooked custard technique as well as her terrific technique of crushed gingersnaps to line the bottom of the pie. It helps prevent the dreaded soggy bottom, much like the Crust Dust above for fruit pies. If you can enjoy nuts add pecans to the gingersnaps. 4 (2") gingersnaps and 1/4 C pecan halves. I just use 6 Snappy Gingersnaps.

Also, cooking the pumpkin puree and spices, blending in the food processor makes for a smooth, rich filling.

Finally, I loved the addition of a meringue topping and all who enjoyed it agreed. I have Leite's Culinaria to thank for that inspiration. Pumpkin Meringue Pie. And if you need some pie crimping ideas, say no more.

GivingThanks Daily - Today's tips and recipes for a stress-free Thanksgiving

I've just put my pie dough in the fridge. Made crackers for pre dinner nibbles. (Pretzel crisps from Ivy Manning's great Cracker's and Dips book, a gift for anyone with food allergies who cannot find salty, crunchy snacks in the grocery store.) I'll do some other things tonight and work on tomorrow's post and last shopping list. Picking up the turkey tomrrow! How y'all doing? 

Today's To Do:

1. Create a List of Notes for Thanksgiving 2015 (done)

2. Make ginger snaps (done)

3. Make and freeze or can some cranberry something (done)

(okay, this post is a few days in the making...) 

Your New Cranberry Recipe:

This year I'm adding Cranberry-Raspberry sauce from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry. More soon on that. For now, I'll just say, if you've had any thoughts about preserving, making jam, pickles, charcuterie or wondered what to do with those wonderful pantry items after you've created them, this is the book for you. If you've hesitated because you thought you might not be able to do this without someone showing you step-by-step how to do it; this is the book for you. If you thought you really didn't need one more canning book; this is the book for you.

I can't wait to share more with you. I've got a couple other things up my sleeve. For now, let me say this will be part of our Thanksgiving this year and I could not be happier. Many swooning cooks out there are splattering the pages of their copy of this book. Many are posting lovely recipes. I'm sharing this link from from Kate at SnowFlake Kitchen because her post includes a COCKTAIL which was one of the first things I thought of when I tasted this.  Come on who's got a new Thanksgiving cocktail using some cranberry sauce?

 

Cranberry 4

Sexy Sauce

For now, I promised to share my cranberry sauce recipe.  Remember the "I heart spreadsheets" post yesterday? Here's why #3 makes so much sense. Otherwise I may have forgotten that adding pomegranate seeds was a win.

 

Tomorrow: Pie tips

  • Crust dust
  • Breaking rules (AKA "WWDD")
  • Pumpkin pie to beat all pumpkin pies (I pull together three recipes for the single best, most awesome winning pumpkin pie)

 

More Links for You

 

Are you a traditionalist - same menu every Thanksgiving or a try something new type? I've been dying to try an Asian or a Southwest version. Have to do it on one of the other 364 days of the year though.

What are you working on this Thanksgiving?

I heart spreadsheets. For Thanksgiving? You Bet!

Structure binds anxiety.

Sage words from my past life as a corporate trainer.

 

list

Your Grocery List

I love a spreadsheet for this sort of planning. I actually have two. One is the daily to do items. On it the left most column is the menu, the days between today and Thursday across the top. In each cell is the buy/make/prep note that gets the whole shebang done at the right time.

I have a second list/spreadsheet for groceries. It's so easy to forget if you need 4 eggs for one thing and 8 egg whites for another, you won't have 6 whole eggs left for the strata on Friday. Placing the menu on the left column, it's easy to scan and take a quick inventory of all that you need so you don't over-buy in a grocery shopping daze (8 lbs of butter "just to be safe" will take up precious space in your freezer, trust me on that one).

Your To Do List

Remember yesterday's advice about delegating? This will help you clarify all the things you want, in a perfect world with 36 hours a day, to be done before next Thursday. And, it will help you let go of all the things that you really can let go of. For example, my late night craft project might suggest a need for a glue gun. This is beyond ridiculous. Off the list! It's a great feeling to vanquish the demons that threaten to undermine you.

Don't forget to add actual notes to remind yourself to work out. Take a walk is a nice thought, but it's much more likely to happen if it is on the plan, in the calendar, staring at you from the list.

Your 2015 List

Why start now? Because you'll forget on Friday all the little things that worked or didn't, the mental notes you made to do X the day before, to add more herbs to this, less clove to that, which new dish was raving success or one to never try again. Hat tip to Cheryl Sternman Rule for the excellent advice on this one.

Create a list NOW (yes now) to post on the fridge or somewhere handy, to keep a running tally of reminders for next year. You will thank me later.

Some of my items from last year's list:

  • Calibrate Thermapen.
  • Alsace Cremant goes well with appetizers, priced well, bright crisp flavors great with tiny rich bites (like the turkey liver marsala mousse) and oysters. (Apparently I made a turkey liver marsala mousse last year, must've been a last minute improv because I have no recollection nor recipe!)
  • Shaved fennel, green apple, celery salad better to serve in small dishes than big bowl.

At the bottom of the list: Place a reminder in calendar for October 1 (or April or May 1 if you're pitching stories for Thanksgiving) to have the reminder on the calendar gives you a fighting chance at avoiding last minute panic next year. 

 

Next up:

  • Pie tips and recipes.

Colossal Roundup of Thanksgiving Recipes - Including our Black Pepper- Fennel Seed Biscuits

Good friends Denise and Lenny AKA ChezUs.com have compiled a gorgeous round up of dishes from across the country. They've culled the blogs and compiled a mammoth list of terrific links to recipes for every component of your Givingthanks meal. If you're looking for a little inspiration grab a mug of tea and click away!  

black pepper fennel seed biscuits

 

Black pepper - fennel seed biscuits. These are dairyfree, "buttermilk" biscuits.

Pro tip: Biscuits are an easy thing to make ahead and freeze.

Scones Fit for a Pascha - or Holiday Guests

Delighted to share another recipe I developed for Pascha Chocolates. Find the recipe here on their site. These are free of the top 8 allergens, free of gluten, too. You could make them with regular ingredients if allergens are not part of your family, too.

SCONES_FIN 006

 

These include blueberries but you could use cherries or even dried cranberries for a holiday treat. I also cut them into smaller squares for little hands. Please enjoy!

 

Witches, Marathons and Meetings - Falling for Fennel

Fennel is one of my favorite spices. While actually the fruit of the fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare ) we typically refer to these tiny ridged and fragrant fruits, as seeds. fennel seed

The word “fennel” derives from the Roman for “fragrant hay” and has a lovely scent. I adore the fennel bulb, shaved thin in salads, roasted with root veg, or diced into marinara. I save the fronds to top salads or fish and the middle, green stalks go into my stock bag in the freezer. Fennel pollen is said to be what angels would sprinkle from their wings.

Fennel apple celery2

Fennel grows or is cultivated in temperate climes the world over, but is most associated with Mediterranean and Indian cuisines. Chinese Five Spice powder includes it, as does the Bengali version, panch phoron. Italians call the plant finocchio (also a slang term for cross-dressers) and admire the flavor as well as the quality of aiding digestion.

  • Back in Shakespearean times fennel was thought to ward off witches. Some believe it has magical powers including protection, longevity, purification, and healing.
  • Marathon (Marathonas) is the place where the Greeks defeated the Persians in 490. It is said the fields were abundant with fennel.
  • Puritans brought “meeting seeds” to chew during long sermons, dill and fennel were among them.

Fennel_Collage

Clockwise from top: Bulb of fennel; fennel, celery, Granny Smith apple; fennel pollen pork chops; shaved fennel, green apple, celery salad, fennel fronds, fennel pollen. 

Using Fennel Today

We now know that fennel is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It’s got antimicrobial qualities as well as potassium, and antioxidants. Many cultures value its mild anise or licorice flavor and chew the seeds after eating both for breath-freshening and to aid in digestion. Garnish fish dishes or salads with the fronds. Pork and chicken both love fennel. Try the seeds in your next rib rub. Or how about in biscuits?

Fennel_biscuit

 

Recipe: Fennel Seed - Black Pepper Buttermilk Biscuits

Teaching Kitchen Confidence clients biscuit technique is always a delight. Everyone loves a biscuit! I always recommend Nathalie Dupree's Southern Biscuits cookbook. I've modifeld her recipe ever so slightly to include a generous amount of both fennel seed and freshly ground black pepper. I also modified it to make them dairy-free, but you may feel free to use dairy.

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups AP flour (+ 1/4 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tabelspoon fennel seed, crushed in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/4" pieces
  • 1/4 cup chilled shortening roughly cut into 1/2" pieces
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I use So Delicious Dairy-free Coconut milk, soured with 1-2 tablespoons Bragg's Cider Vinegar)
  • softened butter for brushing

A note on ingredients: I like to use a combination of Nutiva Red Palm and Coconut Oil and Spectrum All Vegetable Shortening.

Directions:

A note on technique: Perfect biscuits require attention to three Ts: Technique, Temperature, Touch. Technique - fold and pat - no kneading! Cut straight down, not turning! Temperature - cold fat. Touch - quick work makes tender biscuits.

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Butter a 9" cake pan or large cast iron skillet.
  2. Measure your shortening and use a butter knife to scoop into 1/4" and 1/2" size pats. I wipe the knife on the edge of a bowl. Place bowl in freezer to harden the fats.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk 2 C of flour, baking powder, salt, spices, baking soda.
  4. Take the shortening out and pinch the pats into the flour, beginning with the smaller chunks. Be fast as you don't want the fat to melt. Snap and rub the larger chunks into the flour.
  5. Make a hollow in the center of the flour-fat mixture and pour in 3/4 C of the butter milk. Mix just until dry ingredients are moistened and you have a sticky dough.
  6. Lightly flour your clean counter, turn the dough onto the counter. If some flour remains in bowl, dribble a little more buttermilk into the bowl to pick it up.
  7. Pat or lightly roll your dough out to about 1/2" thickness. Fold and pat a few times, working quickly and ending with a dough circle about 3/4" thick.
  8. Use a biscuit cutter, dipped in flour, cut straight down, remove biscuit to pan. An offset metal spatula is helpful. Cut close to maximize first batch, the re-rolled scraps will be less tender but still tasty.
  9. Lightly brush biscuits with the leftover buttermilk.
  10. Bake 6 minutes then rotate pan. Bake another 10 or so minutes until they're golden brown. (milk and milk substitutes brown differently, you may wish to turn on the broiler a minute or so to get a nice brown top.)
  11. Remove from oven, brush lightly with soft butter.

These are perfect with Curried Kuri Squash Bisque, with turkey or pork meals, or just on their own. ENJOY.

 

Just in time for Halloween - Chocolate Sundrops

I was thrilled to add PASCHA Chocolates to my roster of clients and delighted to work with them. I learned about their fine chocolates at the Food Allergy Research and Education conference where I was a speaker last June in Chicago. I enjoyed meeting Courtenay Vuchnich and her chocolates so much, I had to tell EVERYONE to try them!

Now you can make these delicious cookies at home. Because they're free of the top 8 allergens (tree nuts, peanuts, eggs, soy, dairy, fish, shellfish, wheat) they're also safe for lunchbox or classroom treats that might get shared. Take a batch to your next Halloween party and watch them disappear. The recipe appears here on the PASCHA Chocolates website. Thanks Roz for the name!

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Aprons inspire - Kitchenwares, Chef Scelfo & Yours Truly in the Boston Globe

How excited was I when none other than @SchmattaHari herself asked me if I'd like to share my opinion on aprons? Pretty darned excited. First of all it's Jill Radsken, smart, funny journalist and owner of the best twitter handle ever. Second, "share my opinion" are probably my three favorite words, maybe even as exciting as "dinner is served." Seriously, though. I'm now on the same page of the  The Boston Globe  with one of the best chefs in town, Chef Michael Scelfo, AND my favorite and most loyal sponsor, KitchenWares -- on the same page! 

 

aprons

Aprons inspire a jump-start in the kitchen - Food & dining - The Boston Globe.

Feels good. Now I better get a fancy new apron, don't you think?

CIS Chix, A Step in the Right Direction, Towards Dinner. My Chat with National Geographic's The Plate

I was delighted to speak with Charlotte McGuinn Freeman and Maryn McKenna of National Geographic column, The Plate. Bring Back Home Economics: Three Food Writers on Teaching People to Cook – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.

The three of us were inspired by the success of Leanne Brown's Good and Cheap, a cookbook designed to address the needs of people receiving public assistance, showing them how to cook on an extremely limited budget. See Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day?

Many of us manage to feed ourselves and our families  well, while many more struggle with the basics. Some lacking money, some lacking skills, for others it's both. Have you ever come home from grocery shopping and wondered what the heck to do with all the random stuff you bought? So often people have mentioned to me that they don't know how to roast a chicken.

Cast Iron Cooking

The topic of how to use a CIS never gets old (see the Kitchn for this recent post and its long comment thread). I love my cast iron skillet and it's the perfect vessel for people on a budget. They're cheap They're nearly indestructible. They are multi-purpose tools that can be used to fry, roast, and bake. In fact, the older they get, the better.

Five steps to roasted chicken

 

On Gastrodiplomacy and Teaching Cooking

One of the ideas I've had for "selling" the need to schools to reinstate home ec is to make it an interdisciplinary learning platform. It's easy to use cooking as a way to teach simple things to youngsters (e.g. which is wet? which is dry? which bowl is the biggest? the smallest?) all the way up to university (culinary anthropology, history, politics of the plate and just this week the first PhD of Chocolate program was announced.)

As if by magic while I was photo editing, magically, this link appeared today in my Facebook stream. Gastrodiplomacy: Cooking up a Tasty Lesson on World Peace. At American University they're doing just this sort of food-centric interdisplinary teaching, though there it seems to be centered around eating out, rather than cooking. No reason we couldn't have both.

During our chat, we lamented the old days of the Food Network. When Molto Mario had the pull-down map and would cook while teaching history, geography. Alton Brown's Good Eats that teaches very basics to fancy stuff in a straightforward and entertaining fashion.

While we think about food, cooking as a life skill and how to reinvent Home Economics, let's first just roast a simple chicken.

Cast Iron Skillet Chix

I realized I keep thinking of this as "CIS Chix" Cast iron skillet chicken. "CIS" is a new term used in the field of gender identity studies and advocacy. It's a way to challenge the assumed majority behind the current thinking of gender. Rather than "transgender" as the "other" we can view sexuality on a continuum from CIS to Trans, CIS simply means someone who identifies with the gender that would be culturally assigned to the sex one has been assigned at birth. So I'm CIS female, identifying myself as female and having been born with those parts.

So dinner + an update from the gender identity front. Learning makes me hungry. Let's go!

 

Step 1 - Get a CIS

They are so very useful and cheap. You will use it a lifetime and then hand it down to some fortunate friend, nephew or niece. In fact, a garage sale is an excellent place to scoop one up for cheap. They're easy to recondition. They're also cheap new. But any way, just get one already.

Step 2 - Get a chicken

Commercial chickens are fed such horrible diets and are raised in such awful ways, that we limit our intake to Lilac Hedge Farms or Bell & Evans from Whole Foods.

Step 3 - Optional step - air dry chicken

Letting chicken rest in fridge nekkid, will allow the skin to dry out. This is a good thing if you like crispy skin. Overnight is best but even 1-3 hours will help. This method of roasting makes it less necessary than regular lower heat roasting but I try to do this when I can because I adore crunchy, crispy things.

Step 4a - Optional - herb butter

Again, totally optional. If you're at all new and feel overwhelmed. Skip it. You can simply rub a little oil or butter and sprinkle with S&P. Really. It'll be fine.

If you are inclined, chop some herbs up, maybe mash some garlic with some salt and then mix with softened butter. Or maybe you have a dried herb blend you could add to butter or oil. You can slide some between the breast meat and skin. And/or simply massage your bird with the seasoned oil or butter.

CIS Chicken 7

Step 4 - Pop the thighs open

The chicken's, not yours. That comes later if you like. Right now simply grasp the drumstick and thigh and bend down/outward from the body. You will feel a pop and see the tip of the thigh bone peek out. This is good. When your bird hits that preheated skillet, the dark meat will instantly begin to cook. This evens out the differential between the breast meat and thigh meat. A common challenge is cooking the thigh meat thoroughly enough without drying out the breast meat. This technique solves that issue.

Step 5 - Preheat oven to 500 degrees with the skillet

Place your empty skillet into your clean oven and preaheat to 500. That's a very hot oven. (Most chickens roasted in conventional ways go into a 350 or so oven.) Once the oven and skillet are preheated, carefully slide that hot pan out and place your chicken right on that dry, screaming hot skillet.

CIS Chicken 6

Now, you will have 30-40 minutes to do with, what you like.

CIS Chicken 10

At 30 minutes, I usually add some greens to the pan. Carefully, with tongs. The greens will begin to wilt in the hot pan and rendered chicken fat (mmm chicken fat). This particular day I added chard (stems chopped, leaves cut into ribbons) and two cloves of garlic, sliced thin. I had these GIANT leaves of rainbow chard so I just used two leaves.

CIS Chicken Chard

I also began my potatoes roasting. Back around step three, you can place potatoes in a pot of boiling water and par cook, till they're tender but not fully done. Then in our final roasting step, you add a sheet pan to the oven with some schmaltz or duck fat or high heat oil (not olive oil, it will burn). Again, the hot pan starts the crisping of the potatoes. CIS Chicken 14When the potatoes are done, drain the water, toss some smoked paprika, salt and pepper with the potatoes you've lightly smashed in the hot pan. Put the lid back on and shake the bejezus out of it. This will coat all those potatoes with the seasoned flour. Scrape all that good stuff onto the pre-heated sheet pan, and back into the oven. Toss them around the pan to get some fat/oil on all the potatoes.

Your chicken will be done around the 40 minute mark. Carefully remove that hot iron pan and beautiful bird - placing on a trivet or the stovetop. (I like to leave a potholder on the handle of the pan to remind myself not to grab it. The CIS will retain heat for a long time.) Let the chicken rest. Resist picking at the crispy bits if you can.

CIS Chicken 12

If you'd like something fresh, you can toss chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, thinly sliced onion with some olive oil and a splash of vinegar. These are purple cherokees and green zebras.

CIS Chicken 15 CIS Chicken 16

 

 

GGF Salad :: Grains + Greens + Fruit = Wonderful

This salad is a fantastic summer meal in itself, a great bring-with dish, and a side for barbecue. To make a quick version, use freekeh (cooks in 20 minutes!) or quinoa or barley. Barley and freekeh are quicker cooking grains, you could also use quinoa (not true grain) or bulgur (wheat) if you like a softer smaller quick-cooking grain . I particularly like the snappy chew of freekeh or wheatberries in this sort of substantial salad.

GGF salad Grains, Freekeh: Greens, Rainbow Chard; Fruit, Blueberries.

For this rendition, I got some beautiful Rainbow Chard, chopped and blanched the stems, chopped two small onions, half a red bell pepper, one mango. I made ribbons (chiffonade) of the chard leaves. No need to blanch unless they're really tough.

Dressing

I used the juice of one lemon. I added approximately two tsp grated fresh ginger, 2 tsp mild white miso, 1 tsp honey, 1 tsp dijon mustard. Whisked in Meyer lemon olive oil to taste.

Adjust seasoning with S & freshly ground black pepper.

 

Directions:

1. Make freekeh. Toast dry kernels in heavy bottom pot, just large enough to hold the completed amount. Add water when kernels begin to darken. I use a 3:1 ratio, draining off excess when it's all done. Pinch of salt. You can make ahead. Cool, cover, refrigerate.

2. Wash Swiss/Rainbow chard. Fold in half lengthwise, cutting along rib to remove it. Dice ribs. Make ribbons or chiffonade of leaves by rolling and slicing in about 1/3" ribbons.

3. Dice and blanch chard ribs.

4. Place chiffonade in dressing and massage. Set aside.

5. Prep your fruit and other vegetables. Here I sliced a bit of sweet white onion, rinsed and stemmed blueberries, diced a bit of red bell pepper, cut cubes of ripe mango.

6. If the freekeh has been made the day before and or cooled too much, heat it briefly in microwave. Add to dressing. Toss everything and sprinkle with crunchy sea salt (like Maldon) and fresh ground black pepper.

Garnish with Chinese 5 Spice nuts if you wish. Or simply zest a lemon over the top and toss.

 

Could You Eat Well on $4 a Day? A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit

Four dollars a day. What could you do with four dollars a day that would feed your family? You might be surprised.  

four dollars

Maryn McKenna brings us this fantastic story of an upcoming cookbook (available now on PDF) that aims to fill in a critical gap between food assistance and eating well on a budget, even a food stamp budget.

Key ingredients missing? Recipes and skills.

This clever Canadian started out offering a free PDF on her site, that literally overwhelmed her site with 200K downloads more than once. She turned it into a Kickstarter (finally a Kickstarter we can get love!) and launched in May. You can buy it here still in PDF form and the book should be published by year's end.

Leanne's blurb says:

I'm a food-studies scholar and avid home cook in NYC, by way of Canada.

I think everyone should eat great food every day. Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill.

Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.

Recipes are simple, and include photographs of steps to show someone exactly how to to prepare the dishes. Honey and Chipotle Glazed Sweet Potato? Yes, please.

 

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Read more from the always excellent Maryn McKenna see the National Geographic series "The Plate".

A Cookbook to Help Food Stamp Recipients Cook Cheaply Becomes a Massive Viral Hit – The Plate: Maryn McKenna.

 Eating well on a little more

For another take on the eating well on less theme, I highly recommend Amy McCoy's Poor Girl Gourmet. Amy's book is filled with delicious foods anyone can make and she gives the budget breakdown of every dish. For example: her Height of Summer Blueberry Crumble (p. 164) serves 6 to 8 for $5 - $10 depending on whether you add ice cream. It works out without the ice cream to about $1.21 per person. Amy's Chicken in Cider Gravy is a favorite here, and her Cornmeal Crust Peach Crostata gets rave reviews every summer.

PGG_bookcover

Coconut Chai Panna Cotta

This is an easy recipe that comes together in minutes. I was inspired by two beautiful mangos, sitting on a platter in my kitchen. I also drew inspiration from Josh Lewin's list of indispensible Indian ingredients. A nice prelude to his upcoming Bread & Salt dinner, you should go if you haven't dined with Josh and Katrian yet. Or even if you have. Thinking about the ingredients I love and the items on hand, I put this panna cotta together.

Roses and a Queen

 

Culinary rosebuds figure in the cuisines of ancients Romans, Persians, Indians all use them and rosewater is distilled essence of rose is a favorite ingredient in baking. Gulab jamun is an Indian sweet of fried balls of sweetened condense milk drizzled with rose scented syrup.

Cardamom, those little green pods in the photo, are a wonderful addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Known as the Queen of Spices you might be surprised at the diversity of ways you can employ cardamom. Along with rose, it's a component of ras al hanout the complex spice blend that gives tagines of North Africa their unique fragrance. It appears in rices, curries, puddings and cookies.

Cardamom is in the ginger family the aromatic pods have notes of camphor, eucalyptus and pine. Hand-harvested and air-dried, it's nearly as costly as saffron. It's native to India's Ghat Mountains and Sri Lanka. In India one of the first foods babies are fed is cardamom-scented rice. Try dropping a pod or two in the next pot of rice you make or substituting cardamom for cinnamon in cookies. coconut chai panna cotta 2

Coconut Chai Panna Cotta

Panna cotta literally means cooked cream. It's an easy dessert, especially well-suited to dinner guests and warm weather. Why? It needs to be made ahead of time! Panna cotta is a favorite of mine as it's easy to make dairy-free. In this version I use a combination of canned coconut milk as you find in Asian markets and coconut based milk alternatives you find in regular grocery stores.

Chai spices are warm and often contain cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg. Here's a lovely story and recipe from my friend Raghavan Iyer.

A note about vanilla sugar: Have you ever used whole vanilla bean? It's wonderful and the great thing about the fragrant pods is that you get dual use from them. Usually recipes will ask you to scrape the sticky middle out of the pod - but don't throw away the pod itself! Drop it into a jar of sugar and put in the cabinet. In a short time, you'll have vanilla sugar. Use one bean, whole or scraped to 2 cups of sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 1 14 oz can coconut milk, divided
  • 1 packet gelatin (you could also use agar agar for a totally vegan version)
  • ~ 1/2 C milk substitute (like So Delicious Coconut Milk)
  • 1/4 C vanilla sugar (or regular sugar + 1/4 tsp vanilla)
  • 6 dried rosebuds (culinary)
  • 8 green cardamom pods
  • 1-2 TBSP chai spice (here I used the last of my Arvinda's blend)

Directions:

  1. Reserve about 1/2 C of cocunut milk in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over it, whisk to dissolve.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring remaining coconut milk/milk subst (to fill 2 C measure) just to boil with with sugar, chai spice, rosebuds and cardamom pods. Do not scorch, reduce heat to medium.
  3. Stir until sugar has dissolved and milk has become infused with the spices, just a few minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, whisk in the dissolved gelatin (which will look like snow-white mashed potatoes at this point.)
  5. Strain into small cups. Decorate if you wish with rose petals, chill.

coconut chai panna cotta 1

Serve with slices of fresh, ripe mango.

 

Dried Herbs and Spices - Homemade Blends and Resources

People, here's the thing: we all do it. You pick up a spice intending to make some new dish that will dazzle...and you just don't get around to it. Or, you do, but then it wasn't dazzling enough to become a regular thing and here it is six months or maybe a year or two after the "use by" date on the bottle. And yet, we never throw these away. I found a bottle of some "chili spice" in my mom's cabinet that dated from around the time of the first moon landing. There's probably something in my own spice cabinet older than small children I know.

So, one of these snowy days when you've done all the jigsaw puzzles you have and are sick of Netflix, take a box or bag over to the cabinet and begin. If it's too overwhelming, just do one shelf.

I dump the contents and save bottles that can be reused.

five spices

Favorite DIY Spice blends

Making your own spice blends is fun. It's a kick to have your own Chinese Five Spice powder on the next roast chicken or to sprinkle into your next fried rice. Or, make some of these killer spiced nuts.

 

Chinese 5 Spice nuts

 

DIY and better for you "Sazon" 

Make the best yellow rice, season grains, add to soups and sauces to bring some umami and color to a dish. This has turmeric, a bit of dried garlic, some kombu.

Turmeric_OPT Turmeric - terrific for you with anti-inflammatory and other benefits. Turmeric can stand in for saffron in a pinch, but also stand on its own merit in many dishes.

 

Thanksgiving Spice

You may have heard of a spice blend called Bell's Seasoning. I decided one year to make my own. It's a quintessential Thanksgiving fragrance, perfect on turkey, chicken or pork. Sage is the driving force of this one.

spice blend

Fajita Spice

This is a blend I used when marinating meat for burrito or taco night. Making chili? Red beans? Toss it in! Great on pork, chicken, beef. It changes from batch to batch but always includes cumin, various chili powders like ancho, chipotle, and oregano.

Fajita Spice

Tuscan Herb and Garlic Salt

This one is a blast to make because your kitchen smells divine: rosemary, sage, garlic and salt. You'll be singing like a Nonna and dreaming of Tuscany. I follow the recipe on Lynne Rosetto Kasper's Splendid Table whenever I see great looking sage. Sprinkle this over beans, in soup, on a roast chicken. Simple to do, you simply chop all these fresh ingredients together with salt and let it dehydrate - or use your dehydrate function if you have one on your stove.

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Quatre Epices

This sexy little blend enlivens lamb, beef or chicken. It's a classic French blend of warm and slightly sweet spices. I follow Deb Krasner's recipe (try her Red Barn spice, too) and bump it up to Cinq or five spices.

Quatre Epices

Gomashio

I add flax to the traditional sesame salt grinder common in Japanese households.

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Shopping for dried herbs and spices? Don't go to the grocery - latimes.com.

What is the oldest spice in your cabinet?

Drop me an answer in the comments and the oldest one gets a batch of my next custom spice blend!