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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!

Thanksgiving 2014 - This Year's Theme: Relax. Recipes, Tips, Ideas to Help you Enjoy GivingThanks

GivingThanks

Many people are in full countdown mode and the onslaught of Thanksgiving  is approaching hurricane force: posts, tweets, recipes, emails, newsletters. I want to encourage you to calm down, take a deep breath and if any of this helps, I’m happy.

This name reversal popped into my head as I was thinking about people worrying about "the whole perfect Thanksgiving thing." If we focus on the Giving Thanks part rather than the frenzy must-be-perfect event part, we can calm the noise. In a nonsecular, gratitude and appreciation mode, let's call it GivingThanks instead of Thanksgiving.

  • Don’t forget Kitchen Confidence can be yours. Like a personal trainer to help you up your game in the gym, I can come show you skills you’ll use for a lifetime, recipes that’ll make your friends and family swoon- in the comfort of your own kitchen. All for the price of a night out on the town.

sage 1

 Did you know sage can be easily preserved by drying in a microwave or regular oven?

Important things to focus on:

  • It’s about gratitude and enjoying our connection to others. Celebrating abundance. Football. Food and maybe overindulging.
  • It’s not about being perfect. If you are a giant sweaty stressball when you guests arrive, they're going to feel uncomfortable. If you're an amped-up boozy dictator “sit here” “do this” “eat that” you're no fun. Many of us choose “friendsgivings” to avoid the traumas of forced family fun.
  • If people at your table care more about the spot on the glass or the dustball in the corner, I'm hereby giving you permission to cross them off the list next year.

So, how to relax in the face of the tidal wave of new recipes to try, new craft projects to find time for, the urgings to create the perfect tablescape?

Plan the work, work the plan

Do three things today that will pay dividends next week. Now is the time to:

1. Make your menu. What are the dishes you must have on the menu? For us, it’s Turkey, Dressing/stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, bourbon sweet potatoes (AKA Jack’s Killer Sweets), gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving tends to be a menu that writes itself. Many of us long to try new inventive recipes or twists on classics while many at the table want the meal to be exactly the same as it is every year. Here’s one compromise: Make all the longed for classics, just as you always do. People do crave familiar routines and these create a sense of tradition that reinforces the ritual we love. Allow yourself to add one new dish to try if you’re so inclined and IF you can do so without stressing yourself out. We tried the sage butter sweet & white potato casserole one year and liked it so much, it got adopted. Yes, that means we have three potato dishes but if you have potato lovers at the table and more than a few, not a problem. We’re a small group this year so I may skip this.

Recipes for vegetarians, vegans, and others.

2. Finalize your guest list.

Tips for being a good guest/good host. Now is the time to figure out what food allergies, intolerances you may be dealing with. If a guest has some issue you are not sure you can safely address, have the discussion now and ask them to bring something they can eat and share.

A word about being a good guest:

  • do not show up with food you need to prep. The host will be busy in the kitchen and every square inch of the kitchen, every burner is likely to be occupied.
  • do not bring additional guests unless you are invited to do so first by the host
  • do offer to bring extra serving bowls, glasses, chairs or ask if there’s something they could use help with the day before.LINK: http://blog.jacquelinechurch.com/handle-sticky-situations-prickly-guests-holiday-table/

Tips for handling prickly situations at the holiday table.

3. Delegate tasks.

You need to divest yourself of the notion that you must do it all. Let go of that now. I mean it. You will have your hands full and a stressed host makes a stressful party. You deserve to enjoy the day and your guests deserve to enjoy your company too.

Things that are easily delegated:

  • Cleaning - hire a service to clean a day or two before; or enlist family members to chip in a little extra
  • Flowers or centerpiece (if you feel you need one) I like edible centerpieces. No room on the table anyway. How about a big bowl of fall fruits, apples pears, pomegranates, persimmons. Add drama by plopping them in a tall vase.
  • Wine/booze - everyone who sells beverages wants to tell you must have the perfectly stocked bar now. I’m seldom one to stand between friends and drinks, but in the spirit of simplifying: forget it. Select one good wine that people can drink before or with the meal. Choose one cocktail that’s easy to make (many can be mixed ahead in a pitcher) and offer guests a glass of wine or this year’s cocktail. Boom. If you’d really love to have that new amaro you tried last week but don’t have it int he budget, ask a guest to bring a bottle. After dinner drinks, done.a word about punch: it’s a great idea for serving a large crowd but unless you have a punchbowl and the room in the fridge/freezer to store ingredients and make ice molds, this can be an added stress in the guise of a helpful hint. I have no punchbowl, nor do I have room in the freezer or fridge.
  • PIE - I’m going to tell you that a delicious pie IS within your reach. I will teach you how in a Kitchen Confidence class. BUT, if you feel stressed about it and cannot fathom how or when: there are options: Community Servings; Bread and Salt. Dessert: done! Good deed: done! JJ Gonson's Cuisine en Locale team has a slew of sides, or the whole shebang if you want to have someone else do the cooking for you.

Today's to do items:

1. purchase extra zip top bags and large containers for food prep and leftovers

2. sniff and toss old spices

3. finalize guest list, menu

 

Tomorrow: Dishes to make ahead

  • Cranberry relish - recipe
  • Thanksgiving spice
  • Pie doughs
  • Gingersnaps and other cookie dough to slice and bake - recipe
  • Stock
  • Simple chocolate truffles
  • Rolls
  • Marinated mushrooms
  • Chex mix

roast turkey

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.

 

good-and-cheap-cover-1024x1024

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

Dead Easy Chocolate Snack Cake - Spiked with Chile

When I was freshly diagnosed with my dairy allergy, I was lamenting to a friend that my days of cake were behind me. Not so fast, she said. You've gotta try this recipe for "Amazon Cake." No dairy needed. Well, I've no idea what part of the "Amazon" this thing hails from, but tongue firmly planted in cheek, I gave it a whirl and added some geographic flair.

Amazon_Collage_tagged

Chocolate-chile Spiked Snack Cake

If you recall the boxed "Snakin' Cake" of the '70s this is something like that. Needs no frosting. A dusting of confectioner's sugar if you like. Or ice it, you could even make a double batch and frost it. Here, I've added a hint of heat, a bit of Kahlua, and some espresso. You may easily omit all three - using a full 1C of water.  Ancho chile is a mild chile with chocolatey undertones, it pairs well with chocolate.

Making with or for kids, simply omit the chile and Kahlua. You could pretend that dusting it with confectioner's sugar is making it snow!

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups sifted flour (I use 1 C AP and 1/2 whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tsp espresso powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 C cold water minus 1 TBSP
  • 1 TBSP Kahlua
  • 5 tablespoons corn oil
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • Confectioners’ sugar (optional)

 Directions:

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, sugar and salt.  If using, include espresso powder, chile here.
  3. In a large liquid measuring cup, measure 1C of cold water, replace 1 TBSP of it with 1 TBSP of Kahlua, if using.
  4. Whisk together the oil, vanilla and vinegar with the water.
  5. Whisk into the dry ingredients, blending until completely lump-free.
  6. Pour into a greased 9-inch round cake pan.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top springs back when pressed gently.  Cool before removing from pan (yes this matters)  and dusting with confectioners’ sugar, or frosting if desired.

 

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

 

Bookmark This: Thanksgiving 2013 Roundup - Recipes, Tips, Posts, Pins

I'll be posting something here every day between now and Thanksgiving so bookmark this now and you can check back at your leisure. roast turkey

 Are you wondering about a new side dish or maybe ready to try a new dessert? If you're like me, this is the best and most insane time of year. So much to cook. To taste. To try.

 So here we go, it's turkey time!

- Marron Glacé - kicks off holidays and makes a great hostess gift.

- Perfect Mashed Potatoes - an instructographic

- Potato Ricer - for light and fluffy mashed potatoes and perfect gnocchi

- Strata - perfect for a houseful of guests, savory bread pudding

- Stock tips - how to make turkey stock for perfect gravy

- Snappy Ginger Snaps - fill the house with good smells and never have a soggy pumpkin pie again

- Thanksgiving Spice Blend - a DIY spice mix to make fragrant turkey, delicious uses for many fall dishes

- Cranberry Persimmon Sauce - a new favorite

- Recipes from friends old and new - plus a crazy story that's become a traditional holiday kickoff.

- Four Thanksgiving Dishes to Please Any Crowd - Elegant or comfy, delicious recipes all and each one is either vegan or vegetarian, or are easily modified to be gluten-free, dairy-free.

- Shaved Fennel Salad - bright, crunchy and lightly licoricey. Perfect foil to the rich baked and roasted menu.

- Orange Bourbon Sweet Potatoes - aka "Jack's Killer Sweets"

- Prickly Guests, Sticky Situations - etiquette tips

Check out my Thanksgiving Ideas board on Pinterest, too.

Whether your hosting or visiting someone else, if food allergies or intolerances are part of the picture, you'll want to review these tips (with advice from Allergic Girl and the Gluten Free Girl) as well as my own. How to Host a Food-Allergic Friend, and How to be a Good Guest.

Lemony Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins

Granola is perfuming the house and the oven's still warm, I thought why waste the energy? Let's try some oat bran muffins.  lemony blueberry oat bran muffins

In our quest for more variety, more whole grains and to buy from companies whose values we support, I've dropped Eden Foods from our list. After they tried to shut down employees' access to contraception under the new proposed healthcare mandates; I stopped buying them. You don't get to be anti-choice and still end up in my pantry. (Btw: did you know some other Hippie companies like Urban Outfitters, you think are cool are actively advocating against things like marriage equality? Mm hm.)

So we no longer have the lovely flaked grains (adore Kamut!) in varieties we once did. But we recently picked up barley flakes and some oat bran. So I decided to start a recent sunny late summer morning off baking.

Benefits of Oat Bran

The benefits of oat bran are many. It contains:

  • fiber - both good for your gut health and also for keeping you feeling full. Lowers cholesterol. May even reduce blood pressure, inflammation.
  • protein - Oat bran is a rich source of phenylalanine - important to neurological health and thyroid function. It's also important for cellular repair.
  • selenium - combines with protein to combat free radicals, lowering cancer risk.

But all this good news is useless if we can't enjoy eating it. I set out to find a muffin that was not packed with sugar as so many commercial ones are. Muffins are one of the easiest things to make at home. They come together so quickly and easily, I often make them when cooking with kids. Make them in pretty papers and the muffins are portable and cleanup is easy. If you don't want to buy these pre cut red parchment tulip papers, you can simply cut regular parcment paper and mold them around a glass or jar before filling them.

Balance

I try to find recipes that are just sweet enough to please Doc and not too sweet for me. This is not as easy as you may think.

I'm including a link to Clotilde's recipe, and my modifications below. You may know Chocolate and Zucchini - Clotilde was an early inspiration to so many with her beautiful blog. If you've never seen it (where have you been?) do go check it out. Promise you'll find something you want to make, today.

Technique tips:

  • I added frozen Maine blueberries to the dry ingredients. When adding frozen blueberries lightly coating them with flour helps to keep them from sinking and keeps them from bleeding so much.
  • Muffins must not be over mixed! You will begin with mixing dry ingredients in one bowl, wet in another. Then combining - very lightly mixing - so there may still be tiny pockets of dry ingredients but no large ones or lumps. Lightly mixed muffins will rise and be delicate, overmixed will be hard.

 

Blueberry Oat Bran Muffins - recipe used with permission. Merci beaucoup, Clotilde!

- 120 grams (1 cup) oat bran (prefereably organic; wheat bran may be substituted) - 120 grams (4 1/4 ounces, about 1 cup) flour  - I used half White Whole Wheat and half Spelt flour - 1 teaspoon baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon baking soda - a good pinch salt - 100 grams (1/2 cup) unrefined cane sugar - 120 grams (1 cup) blueberries (no need to thaw them if frozen) - 240 ml (1 cup) plain yogurt (buttermilk can be substituted; i used nondairy yogurt) - 30 ml (2 tablespoons) vegetable oil (I use extra-virgin sunflower oil) I used Walnut Oil - 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract - 2 eggs, at room temperature

- I added a teaspoon of fresh Meyer lemon zest.

 

Makes about 12 muffins.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F) and line a 12-muffin tray* with paper liners.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar, until no lump remains. Add the blueberries and toss gently to combine.
  3. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, oil, vanilla, and eggs. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, and fold it in gently with a spatula until no trace of flour remains. The mixture will be lumpy, but resist overmixing.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tray, filling each muffin mold by about three quarters (to minimize the mess, you can use a spring action ice cream scoop).
  5. Bake for 12 to 16 minutes, until set and golden. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Today - I'm trying an apple-pear version. Stay tuned.

Here's another picture of the lovely lemony blueberry oat bran muffins.

lemony blueberry oat bran muffins

Kitchen Confidence: Tip of the Week - Tomatoes

Tomatoes are so perfect right now - how can you walk past a farmers' market and not come home with a bunch?  

heirloom tomatoes

 

This week I polled fellow tomato lovers and promised to share a non-scientifically selected batch of top tips and recipes using this seasonal fruit. I got some very good advice, tips, and a couple interesting links.

My top picks:

  1. Storing:Do not place them in the refrigerator! This absolutely kills the flavor. Thanks Kurt!
  2. Freezing: Plum tomatoes are great for freezing whole. Get just-picked flavor even in the dead of winter. Chef Debbi shared this with me last year.
  3. Roasting: Plum tomatoes, cherry tomatoes can be slowly roasted in a 250 degree oven, rimmed sheet pan, few glugs of oil, some herbs if you like and some garlic cloves strewn about.
  4. Scraping: Freeze into a dessert or palate-cleanser. Make granita, or this really cool sorbet. Thanks Jane!
  5. Straining: Tomato water. Chop a bunch of tomatoes and place in a cheesecloth-lined sieve over a bowl. Let it rest overnight. By morning, you'll have clear, deeply tomato-y water. Use in cocktails, in aspic.

plum tomatoes

Spoonful of Ginger Celebrates 9 years of Progress in the Fight Against Diabetes in the Asian Community

Monday March 18, in the beautiful Art of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Joslin Diabetes Center's Asian American Diabetes Initiative will gather to honor key supporters. Nationally recognized local chefs including Joanne Chang, Andy Husbands, Ming Tsai, and Jasper White will share gourmet bites in this eagerly anticipated annual fundraiser. The Joslin Diabetes Center’s Asian American Diabetes Initiative (AADI), strives to enhance the quality of life and health outcomes for the rising number of Asian Americans living with diabetes, as well as working with Joslin in their commitment to finding a cure.

With an incidence of diabetes far higher than that of the general population (nearly twice the rate in the general population and we're gaining faster than other minorities in acquiring it), the Asian American community is especially at risk for this disease, making the work of the Joslin and AADI even more crucial.

Visit the Joslin website for tools, tips, recipes and more.

Living with Diabetes

Living with Diabetes doesn't have to mean living with boring food loaded with artificial sweeteners and substitutes. Here's a cookie recipe from Sue George of Harvard Sweet Boutique, who has Type 1 Diabetes herself, and following it, a meatloaf recipe from Ming Tsai. Both have been approved by the nutritionists at Joslin as diabetes-friendly.

Lo Carb Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Low-Carb Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Sue George, owner of Harvard Sweet Boutique

Nutritional information: 12g carbohydrates per 1 oz. serving

Yields approx. (36) 1 oz. cookies.

 

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 c peanut butter (creamy)
  • 1/2 c light brown sugar
  • 1/2 c sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¼ c flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 c semisweet chocolate chunks

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper
  3. Cream butter, peanut butter, light brown sugar and sugar with mixer
  4. Add egg and vanilla and mix well
  5. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt and whisk to mix
  6. Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture and stir until just blended
  7. Add chocolate chunks and mix well
  8. Bake 12-14 minutes until golden brown

Peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies

Ming Tsai's Chicken-Onion Meatloaf with Sambal-Worcestershire Gravy

 Honoree Chef Ming Tsai also shares a recipe for this savory meatloaf.

Chef Michael Schlow, Chef Ming Tsai, Me

Chef Michael Schlow, Chef Ming Tsai, and me at the Farmers' Market one rainy day.

Says Ming: "Everyone loves meatloaf—when it’s done right. This meatloaf recipe features dark chicken meat, which not only delivers great taste but is better for you than the usual beef. The gravy is flavored with Worcestershire, an underused condiment that’s a tart foil for the sambal. I often make this dish just for the leftovers—a sandwich of the sliced loaf on toasted bread with crisp lettuce and hot Dijon mustard will make you very, very happy."

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon
  • canola oil, plus more for oiling the pan
  • 3 large onions, diced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 pounds ground dark chicken meat
  • 1 cup cooked brown or white rice
  • ½ cup chopped parsley, plus about
  • 12 leaves for garnish
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 tablespoon sambal or other chile seasoning
  • ¼ cup organic Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups fresh chicken stock or low-sodium bought
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Oil a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
  2. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the oil is hot, add the onions, season with salt and pepper, add the garlic and sauté, stirring, until caramelized, about 10 minutes. Transfer two-thirds of the mixture to a large bowl and let cool.
  3. Add the chicken, rice and parsley, blend and season with salt and pepper. Test the seasoning by sautéing 1 tablespoon of the mixture in a little hot oil or in a microwave for 20 seconds on high power. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the pan without packing it tightly and pat the top smooth. Bake until cooked through, about 45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes, then unmold, and slice. Transfer the slices to a platter or individual plates.
  5. Meanwhile, heat the pan with the remaining onion mixture over medium-high heat. Add the 1 teaspoon of oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the celery, season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring, until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the sambal, Worcestershire sauce, stock and meat drippings, bring to a simmer, and cook to reduce by one-quarter, 3 to 4 minutes. Whisk in three-quarters of the cornstarch slurry in a thin stream, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until lightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the meatloaf, garnish with the parsley leaves, and serve.

Ming’s tip:

The recipe directs you to test the loaf mixture for seasoning by cooking a bit of it. This may seem fussy, but it’s really necessary to ensure best flavor.

To Drink:

A spicy California Zinfandel, like Ridge East Bench.

© Simply Ming in Your Kitchen: 80 Recipes to Watch, Learn, Cook & Enjoy by Ming Tsai with Arthur Boehm, Kyle Books, 2012.

Spoonful of Ginger Fundraiser

WHEN: Monday, March 18th, 2013 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.

WHERE:

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Art of the Americas Wing 465 Huntington Avenue Boston, MA 02115

FOR TICKETS:

Call 617.309.2512, e-mail Kevin.Hudson@joslin.harvard.edu or visit: www.joslin.org/ginger

Tickets are $250 each.

Ingredient Sleuth: Goji Berries (AKA Wolfberries)

I have to admit the popularity of goji berries as a "new superfood!" turned me off to exploring these little orange-red berries. Doesn't help reduce my skepticism that these nutritional powerhouses are now the subject of MLM schemes and connected to tall tales ascribing insane longevity to them. But I kept hearing about them and began to see them at Whole Foods, then realized that finding them bobbing in Ma-La hotpots with other traditional Chinese ingredients like red dates, indicates they are not "new" - though they are new to me, and I'm guessing maybe to a few of you, as well?

Goji Berries

Goji berries

Look Here - Goji Berries, Good for Eyes

Health benefits of berries, in general, include the high levels of anti-oxidants, Vitamins A & C, along with other nutrients which vary by berry. Antioxidants also help boost immune function, protect vision, and may help prevent heart disease.

Goji berries share these health benefits with other berries: they are rich in vitamin A and C - more per weight than oranges - and they have more beta-carotene that carrots. See what eye docs say about lutein and zeaxanthin.

The primary components being studied are polysaccharideslutein and zeaxanthin. Lutein you may have heard of before (kale, eggs and other foods are good sources) but it may be that zeaxanthin is new to you, as it was to me. Both lutein and zeaxanthin have been studied for their potential to protect against age-related macular degeneration but recently the second component, zeaxanthin, was noted to concentrate in the eye to offer more protection than lutein which settles in the eye in more diffuse ways.

Preliminary research suggests brain-boosting brain benefits as well as protection against age-related diseases like macular degeneration and even Alzheimer's (The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease).

Goji in hot porridge

Mixed grains, raisins, goji berries, toasted walnuts.

How to Eat

So how much do you need to consume and how to use them?

I tried to calculate amounts from the medical journal studies I read. 15 mg was the amount used in one study. All the converters I found start at larger increments and there's the whole volume versus liquid thing. Makes my brain hurt. Hey, there's more than one reason I went to law school instead of med school!

I'm going to say it's roughly equivalent to a Tablespoon a day (thanks to all who weighed in - pardon the pun - on my math conundrum posted on FB.) Put them in your cereal, or your smoothie, maybe on a salad as you would craisins or raisins or cranberries. Add to granola.

As mentioned earlier, in Chinese hot pot soups or stews they work well. The flavor of them is described as cranberry crossed with cherry. I find them neither as tart as cranberries nor as sweet as cherries. Think of the tartness of a pomegranate aril in the texture of soft raisin.

Two conversion calculators were some help and may be worth bookmarking later: See GourmetSleuth.com.

Where to Find

Chinese herbalists, groceries and online. Whole Foods carries them as well. Look for Lycium barbarum or Goji or Wolfberry.  I get mine at Nam Bac Hong, the herbalist on my Boston Food Tours - Chinatown Tours. If you are on blood thinners, you should consult your doctor before adding any TCM Traditional Chinese Medicine to your diet as many are known to interfere with those drugs.

Also anyone with food allergies, you'll want to be aware that these are new to the West and some studies are beginning to track allergic reactions and cross-reactions.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning Glory Muffins

I wanted to call these something more than "Morning Glory Muffins" because they seem so much better than the standard MGMs. I love these because they are flexible adapting nicely to tweaks to accomodate what's on hand. They're also loaded with fruit, veggies and nuts. It's sweet enough to please my sweet-toothed husband and savory enough to please me. 

Some versions of this are heavy and leaden. These, while hefty, are still not so dense or heavy that they feel more like penance that a treat. I've seen versions that call for pineapple, and others that have a two step process of cooking down fruits and veg before adding in...pshaw. Part of the beauty of muffins is how easily and quickly they come together. For me, the perfect muffin is one that enables me to add in healthy ingredients while still being tasty enough to disappear without my urging.

Morning Glory Muffins

Oh What a Beautiful Morning Glory Muffins

Adapted from King Arthur Flour

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 C dried cherries, persimmons chopped into bits (can substitute raisins, I had about 1/4 each of cherries and persimmons loitering about in the cabinet, so in they went)
  • 1 C Wholemeal flour (King Arthur has this lovely Irish Whole Meal Flour)
  • 1 C White whole wheat
  • 1 C Coconut Palm Sugar (this palm sugar is fragrant and wonderful, can sub brown sugar)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground clove
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 2 C (7 oz) organic carrot, scrubbed, grated
  • 1 lg apple cored, grated (no need to peel)
  • 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/c C chopped walnuts
  • 1/3 C sunflower seeds
  • 3 lg eggs
  • 2/3 C walnut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 tsp vanilla (I love the Madagascar vanilla from Madecasse)
  • 1/4 orange juice (I used fresh squeezed, then grated the zest of half the orange)
  • 2 TBSP candied orange peel (I had some leftover from candying the last batch of orange peels, you could substitute marmalade I think, or omit)

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375, line a sturdy muffin tin with tulip papers or cut squares of parchment (about 6.5" or 7" squares). Alternately you can line the tin with regular papers or lightly grease.

The secret to light muffins is not to over-mix. Essentially, you are doing just four steps: 1) mixing the dry ingredients together; 2) grating, chopping the fruit, carrots, and nuts; 3) mixing the liquid ingredients; 4) combining. That's it!

To make the muffins, cover dried fruit with hot water in small bowl. Let sit while you grate your carrots, apple and measure the rest.

  1. In a large bowl toss the flour, sugar, baking soda, spices and salt. Stir with whisk or fork to combine.
  2. In a separate bowl or large mixing cup combine eggs, oil, vanilla, orange juice, zest, candied peel if using. Drain the dried fruit (I used it in my tagine later that night). Stir drained fruit into dry ingredients (the light coating of the fruit with flour will suspend it throughout the muffins).
  3. Mix in the carrots, apples, nuts. Mix in the liquid ingredients.
  4. Combine with a light hand and a silicone spatula just until the flour mix is all moistened. You're not beating it at this point, just gently folding.

Bake in prepared tin for 25-28 minutes until tester comes out clean. Let rest in tin for 5 minutes then remove to rack or plate to finish cooling. These will be full and domed and browned. The finished muffins are somewhat like carrot cake. Easy to grab and go. If you wanted to make in the morning, I think you could do all the chopping and measuring the night before and then just combine and bake in the AM.

Morning Glory Muffin

Taking Stock: Karwendel Soup

Taking Stock: is a series focusing on soups and stews. Look for others coming soon: Chinese Black Chicken Soup; Curried Kuri Squash Bisque; Karwendel (Lentil & Kielbasa) Soup, Vegan Minestrone with Umami to Spare. Basics of making stock will also be covered and don’t forget this tip sheet on buying a stock pot from my Essential Kitchen Equipment Series

 

Karwendel Soup is one of those recipes floating around the internet - almost exactly the same version - everywhere. I was handed a recipe (the same) but it was hand-written on an index card (remember those?) by Norma Jean. Norma was a woman I used to work with at a liquor store/wine shop in college. She was a sweet woman who doted on her little dog "Cognac". I was delighted to receive a set of vinyl, nearly untouched, from Norma, her son had died young and tragically, and she'd come across these albums and didn't know what else to do with them. They included some Beatles as I recall. Everyone who ever saw them gasped, then fondled them carefully "Where did you find THESE?" Unfortunately, those are now long gone, given up to an old boyfriend's attic when the argument over them was no longer worth pursuing.

I did keep this recipe, however and I think fondly of sweet Norma every time I enjoy this soup. I hope you'll enjoy it, maybe put on some Beatles for dinner music.

Karwendel Soup

This hearty stew comes from Austria. The original recipe as shared with me called for basil. I always thought other spices might be more Austrian, so I replaced the basil with thyme, sage and paprika each of which appear in other recipes from the region.

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz diced lean bacon
  • 3/4 lb. kielbasa sliced 3/4"
  • 1 C finely chopped onion
  • 1/2 C chopped carrots
  • 1/2 C chopped celery
  • 16 oz whole peeled or chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 1 C dry red wine
  • 1 C lentils rinsed
  • s &p, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp each thyme, sage, paprika
  • 1/8 tsp sugar
  • 1 lg bay leaf
  • 2 TBSP finely chopped parsley
  • Mustard

 Directions:

  1. Cook bacon til golden, but not crisp. Remove to a plate, drain all but 1 TBSP fat.
  2. Brown sausages. Remove to plate, skim off fat.
  3. Sauté veggies, deglaze with wine,
  4. Add tomatoes, water, lentils.
  5. Stir in bacon, sausage, spices.
  6. Cover simmer about one hour, until lentils are tender.
  7. Check midway, add more water or stock if needed.
  8. Ladle soup into shallow bowls, dot sausage with mustard, sprinkle with parsley.

 

Serve with crusty bread, lightly dressed bitter greens for a nice hearty winter's dinner.

Karwendel soup

Taking Stock: Sze's Magic Mineral Broth (AKA Antivirus Soup)

Sometimes even smart people make stupid mistakes, like opening a link you should have trashed immediately. Some days your health is failing. Some days, it can be worse than that. When you're in need of healing - either emotionally, or physically - making a giant pot of this "Magic Mineral Broth" is just what the doctor ordered.

My friend Maggie calls good, homemade food "food that hugs you back" - I think this soup fits the bill.

Barn's burnt down, now I can see the moon.

These words of wisdom from a Japanese poet hang on my fridge as a reminder that even in our bleakest moments, we can find goodness, beauty.

We often find it difficult to forgive ourselves, even when we can forgive others. And by "we", I mean "me" of course. There's almost nothing I detest more than being reminded of my own imperfection. But why should that be so? If I were counseling a good friend, I would implore her to judge herself less harshly. Making mistakes only makes us human - what is the harm in that? Well the other day when I opened an email I should have known immediately to trash -- I felt like such an idiot! But I return, once again, to the healing power of food.

Let's try to start a new healthy habit. This is what New Years are all about, after all.

Let us try to judge ourselves less often, and less harshly; to look for ways to heal and nourish, rather than scold and disparage. When we make mistakes, let's learn from them, move through them, and put them in the rearview mirror. After all, you cannot jump those hurdles that are already behind you.

  • Trusted the wrong person? Okay. Remember trust is a good thing. Try to keep from shutting down.
  • Made a bad decision? Okay, don't make the same mistake again. Experience is the best teacher.
  • Clicked on a link in an email when you know better - let it create patience for the next time you are ready to scold your mother, or yourself, for doing so.
  • Got a seriously scary diagnosis? Learn what you can about healing and nourishing.

Yes. I did all of these things. And I've been through them with others.

Antivirus Soup - Rebecca Katz' Magic Mineral Broth

So here's the good news: no virus or malware detected from that link I shouldn't have clicked. And I now have two free apps  to help keep the Mac clean.

While I was running scans (and scans and scans) I made a giant batch of Rebecca Katz' Magic Mineral Broth. The vegetable stock is loaded with good vitamins and minerals, lots of flavor and umami. I discovered it, and Rebecca, when I was caring for my father-in-law Sze who was then just diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer. We needed healthy food he could eat and tolerate while undergoing the harsh treatment.

He is now passed the five year mark and cancer-free. I shared the story at his 70th birthday of discovering Rebecca and all her help, going above and beyond for the panicked stranger on the line (me) asking for any and all help to fight this battle with Sze. She even found us cancer resources in Chinese. I got her book, One Bite at a Time, a special gift for those going through Chemotherapy and Radiation, full of delicious health-restoring foods.

And this magic broth is in my regular rotation. Make a batch when your computer is, ahem, otherwise occupied. Or when you've gotten bad news or had a rough day. Make it for a friend who's down or ill. Enjoy the soothing aromas wafting up from the stock pot. Enjoy a mug of the broth, as I did this recent day while repeating the mantra "never click on suspicious links."

Strain the stock, either simply through a colander or using cheesecloth if you want a really clear stock. Portion into freezer containers and large silicone ice cube trays (see below). Store some in fridge to enjoy in the week, then freeze the rest for future grains, soups, beans, sauces. Think of your magic mineral broth as a supply of nourish yourself goodness for the next time you need food that hugs you back.

vegetables soup

Sze's Magic Mineral Broth

A little faith, a little patience, the value of friends to learn from, gratitude for those who wish to learn from us, for those who accept our nourishment, our friendship, our forgiveness -- all from a humble pot of soup.

Ingredients:

  • 6 unpeeled carrots, cut into thirds
  • 2 yellow onions, peeled, cut into chunks
  • 1 leek, white and green, trimmed, washed, cut into thirds
  • 1 bunch of celery incl heart, washed trimmed and cut into thirds
  • 4 unpeeled red potatoes, quartered
  • 3 unpeeled sweet potatoes (some combo of garnet yam, Japanese sweet potatoes, Okinawan sweet potatoes)
  • 5 unpeeled garlic cloves, halved
  • 1/2 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1  8" strip of Kombu
  • 12 black peppercorns
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 2 star anise
  • 2 dried chiles
  • 1/4 C sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 qts water
  • Freezer scraps - mushroom, parsley stems, leek tops from the soup scrap freezer bag

 

Directions:

  1. Scrub, rinse, chop all potatoes, carrots, onions, leeks
  2. Place, along with garlic and spices, in a large 12 Qt stock pot, with water to cover, up to two inches from rim of pot.
  3. Bring to a boil then down to a simmer, uncovered at least two hours. Check water level and keep vegetables covered.
  4. Broth will develop deep caramel color and rich aroma.
  5. Strain then season lightly with salt and pepper. Let cool then refrigerate (5-7 days) and freeze (4 months) to use as needed.

 

But first, enjoy a steaming mug of magic, antivirus soup.

soup collage

 

Taking Stock: is a series focusing on soups and stews. Look for others coming soon: Chinese Black Chicken Soup; Curried Kuri Squash Bisque; Karwendel (Lentil & Kielbasa) Soup, Vegan Minestrone with Umami to Spare. Basics of making stock will also be covered and don’t forget this tip sheet on buying a stock pot from my Essential Kitchen Equipment Series

Essential Kitchen Equipment: A Stock Pot

In my Essential Kitchen Equipment series, I'm going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I'm not talking about the latest gadget. I'm talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum.

Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook, these will: The Sharpest Knife in the Block.

What are the basic pieces of equipment that will serve you well? Sometime people think the reason they can’t or don’t cook is for lack of fancy equipment. Listen, you’re not ordering take out (again) because you don’t have a sous vide machine or slow cooker.

With a very few items you can make delicious, home-cooked meals for one or for a family. You can choose better ingredients, use healthier amounts of fat and salt. You can enjoy cooking and enjoy the results.

Today we’re going to tackle stock pots: what they are, or aren’t, materials they are made from, pros and cons, features of each and I’ll end with some tips.

What is a stock pot?

A stock pot is designed for making stock. What is stock? Simply put, stock is the base for soups and sauces. Broth is “no bones” and stock includes bones. A good stock pot is designed to heat rapidly, to simmer long and evenly. It should be large enough to cover a whole chicken and lots of veggies with room to spare, for example. Boiling lobsters or a large batch of corn on the cob are two other commonly purposes for a stock pot.

Stock Pot

What is the difference between a stock pot and soup pot or a Dutch oven?

Stock pots may, or may not, serve double duty as pot for making soups or stews. The deciding factors will be how much storage and budget you have to devote to cookware and what you plan to use your pot for. The critical difference is the material the pot is made of, and especially the base of the pot. (A Dutch oven is heavy and used for long braises in the oven. We’ll cover those on another day.)

A soup pot must have a heavier base that heats evenly so a thicker soup (think peas or squash) or stews won’t burn as easily. Since your stock pot is typically designed for a higher liquid content the base can be thinner and the material lighter. In general though, go with the heavier, best material you can afford.

Decide whether you will want to use your stockpot most often for stocks, for soups, stews, chili and this will help you determine what sort of stock pot to buy. In my kitchen, I have both a Dutch oven, a pasta pot (which can double as stock pot for many cooks), and a brand new stock pot which I highly recommend.

Shape, Material, Features

Let’s start with shape. Many stockpots are quite tall. Tall is better in as much as the narrower surface of a tall pot will allow less dissipation of water from the stock.

If you’re short like me, tall is also cumbersome. We want to make our lives in the kitchen easier, not harder! Also, if you’re thinking of a tall pot, imagine the heat source at the bottom and how different the top of the pot and the bottom of the pot will heat. Imagine standing at your stove and stirring or picking up and pouring the contents of the pot.

Choose a stock pot that has the volume you desire and the shape that works for you. I’ve seen some that have a flared base, sort of eggplant shaped. I don’t know if it purports to have any benefit but it certainly will take more space to store. Go straight side especially if you don’t have oodles of extra space. Likewise you will find oval pots in many lines. I find it difficult to get even heating end to end since my burner is not oval shaped.

The material from which your stock pot (or any cookware) is made is probably the most important feature in my opinion. Each option has its own advantages and disadvantages   and the choice is yours, people who cook a lot are usually pretty devoted to a type.

Here’s a quick overview of the key choices:

 

Material Advantages Disadvantages
  • Copper
Beautiful, heats rapidly and evenly.$500+ Prohibitively expensive, constant upkeep; if you want a show piece and have a housekeeper to polish, polish, polish for you...
  • Aluminum
Heats quickly, cheaper models available in hardware, home goods stores.$21 w/o cover Earlier research seemed to suggest aluminum and Alzheimer’s connection. FDA FWIW does not currently say it’s a risk. Does not heat as evenly as stainless and will react with some foods discoloring and changing flavor.
  • Stainless steel
Lightweight, heats rapidly evenly, sturdy without being too heavy.As low as $10 Caveat emptor.
  • Anodized aluminum
Heats fairly evenly and quickly. Brands like Calphalon are well made.$125-200.  Anodized aluminum is expensive. You cannot wash in the dishwasher.
  • Coated Carbon Steel, enameled
I had an 8 Qt stock pot Le Creuset (best known for their enameled cast iron Dutch ovens) for years. Lightweight.$80.00 Enamel coating can discolor. The size was not large enough to suit me. The lid sputtered. Paint can chip.
  • ★ Stainless Steel w/aluminum or copper core base
With rapid heating of either aluminum or copper sandwiched in the base, surrounded by stainless steel, you get the best of both worlds. Easy cleaning and clean cooking of stainless.$59.95 Copper core bumps you into triple digits price range. Save copper core for sauce pan. For stockpot, unnecessary.

 

 

Features:

  • Vented lid. Genius. My old stock pot would bubble and spit leaving a fine spray all over the stove top. The new one has a small hole in the glass lid with a grommet.
  • Sturdy handles bolted on not simply pressed and adhered on. Remember you’re going to be picking up a heavy pot with hot liquid.
  • Lids can be glass or made of the same material as the pot. Glass has the advantage of allowing you to see the progress of your stock. If you plan to use the stock pot as a Dutch oven, be sure your lid and your handles are oven safe.
  • Curved interior base rather than absolute straight side makes less likely small bits will stick in perimeter.

Size Matters:

  • A 4 or 6 Qt pot will be sufficient for making soup.
  • 8 Qt is good for poaching a chicken, but can be small for making large quantities of stock.
  • 12 Qt is a good size for home cooks who will be making stock, boiling the occasional lobsters.

Stock Tips:

  • Roasting bones (turkey wings or beef or veal bones) in the oven prior to using for stock makes a richer, deeper stock. In addition to developing fond (foundation, the little sticky browned bits) and flavor, it also yields collagen which makes a richer stock with better mouthfeel. Stock Tips of the Culinary Kind: Wonderful Thanksgiving Gravy Begins Here.
  • When straining stock be sure to place a large bowl or pot under your colander! More than one cook (ahem) has simmered a beautiful stock for hours only to watch it flow right through the colander they placed in the sink, and down the drain.
  • Using an egg white raft to clarify stock is a very cool thing to learn and produces a deep, rich, elegant consommé from a humble stock.

 

My recommendation:

The Chef's Catalog 12 Qt Stainless Stock Pot, a great value for the price. So far has performed really well and cleans up easily.

 

12 Qt Stock Pot Chefs Catalog

 

Taking Stock: Vegan Minestrone with Umami to Spare

Taking Stock: is a series focusing on soups and stews. Look for others coming soon: Chinese Black Chicken Soup; Curried Kuri Squash Bisque; Karwendel (Lentil & Kielbasa) Soup. Basics of making stock will also be covered and don't forget this tip sheet on buying a stock pot from my Essential Kitchen Equipment Series. 

 

This week in Taking Stock I'm going to talk about Minestrone. Minestrone or “big soup” in Italian, like many of my favorite dishes, was most likely borne of frugality. Humble cooks in any culture know how to make a delicious meal from whatever is on hand. An admirable skill, in my opinion.

I am working at developing a new habit: weekly meal planning. One of my goals is to bolster our newish habit of at least one meatless meal per week. Another goal is to incorporate whole grains at least twice a week. For Monday's Meatless Meal, I decided a big pot of Minestrone would be great. I had some wheatberries to use, some great beans. I began looking for a recipe that looked good even without the seemingly critical ingredient: Parmigiano Reggiano.

After searching all over I found a startling paucity of options. Recipes which I could tell by reading would taste like a bowl of veggies in water. Or, recipes that came up in a search for “vegan” turned out to be “vegetarian” which is fine for most of us, but not if you’re allergic to dairy, as I am. The challenge is to make a vegan soup that packs the same umami flavor, savory, satisfying flavor without the Parmigiano Reggiano, bacon or pancetta.

Vegan Minestrone Soup

I knew the secret to my vegan version of this favorite soup would be building layers of flavor and relying on umami from non-meat sources. Two things are commonly found in the base of Minestrone: bacon or pancetta and Parmigiano Reggiano. Both are umami rich foods. My goal was to create a rich and satisfying soup without these easy shortcuts - the fat, salt, & umami that comes with meat or cheese.

There are two main ways to build umami in your cooking: one is selecting umami rich ingredients, the other is to use umami building technique.

One of the reasons many meatless meals can be found lacking is that meat is one of the prime sources of umami. Umami is that mouth-coating, savoriness, the “fifth taste” discovered by Dr. Ikeda in the 1920s. It is a flavor we are hard-wired to crave. This is not to say that things like vegetables are lacking in umami. To learn how to create umami without animal sources is not hard. Let’s take a look at our umami arsenal. You’ve probably got it in your cabinets, fridge or pantry already and you may not even know it.

 

My Plan: 

  1. Building flavor by sautéeing vegetables first to develop fond (“foundation”) those browned-bits on the bottom of the pot created by Maillard reaction - browning that creates flavors - think of browning bread, or searing meat. (This process is often confused with "caramelization" which is something that develops the sugars but not the amino acids of Maillard, and caramelization happens at a much lower temp.)
  2. Knowing what common kitchen items contain umami and how to pick the ones that fit the flavor profile of the dish you are making, is important. In this case, umami rich foods appropriate for an Italian soup would include: Parmigiano Reggiano (not for dairy-free) , maybe anchovy (not for a vegan version), roasted, ripe tomatoes, spinach, kidney beans.
  3. Soy sauce, miso, nutritional yeast, porcinis - all of these help build a strong umami profile.

 

Umami Rich Vegan Minestrone

This "big soup" does indeed have a lot of ingredients. It's also good with fewer, so don't let a missing ingredient or two stop you from starting.

Grains: wheat berries are nutritious and delicious. They lend a toothsome pop and add heft to the soup. You can cook them ahead of time in water or vegetable stock then freeze in 1 C quantities. I soaked what I had on hand the night before, then boiled in stock while I chopped veggies. To quick-soak, pour boiling water over dried wheat berries and let soak for an hour.

Pasta: I par-boiled shells for this batch while I prepped veggies.

Chop veggies in dice roughly 1/4" so that you can get a good variety in each bite, but they're large enough to be distinguishable.Feel free to use different seasonal vegetables throughout the year. Zucchini, eggplant in summer, peas in spring, cabbage in winter. It's a template more than an exact recipe.

❤ items that include a good dose of umami

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 C diced carrots, diced
  • 1/2 C diced celery, diced
  • 3/4 C diced onion, diced
  • 1/2 C leeks sliced thinly
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  •  1-2 TBSP minced fresh garlic
  • 1-2 tsp oregano
  • Heavy pinch rosemary
  • 1 lge allspice berry
  • 2 dried chilies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 C white wine, vermouth or water
  • 1 TBSP soy sauce ❤
  •  1/3 C sun-dried tomato ❤ (pour very hot water over, to rehydrate, then chop and reserve liquid for soup)
  • 1/3 C dried porcini ❤ (pour very hot water over, to rehydrate, then chop and reserve liquid for soup)
  •  13.4 oz carton of kidney beans drained and rinsed ❤
  • 13.4 oz carton of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  •  1 C (or more) chopped tomatoes ❤ (I like Pomi, or maybe you've got some you canned last summer, lucky you)
  • 1 C wheat berries, pre-cooked  ❤
  • Small pasta, 1/2 box, small shapes such as ditalini, elbows, or small shells, par-boiled
  • 4C veggie stock, I  ❤ Magic Mineral Broth (made with kombu, rich in vitamins, mineral and umami)
  • 4 C water or more
  • Three or four large rainbow chard leaves, stems minced and set aside with celery and carrots, leaves sliced in half, then rolled and sliced cross-wise
  • Handful of fresh spinach ❤
  • Parsley, minced.

 Directions:

  1. Parboil wheat berries and pasta separately, set aside.
  2. While grains and pasta are boiling, chop carrots, celery, onions, leeks, and chopped chard stems.
  3. Mince parsley and garlic.
  4. Measure spices
  5. Rinse beans.
  6. Clean and slice chard, spinach.
  7. Sauté mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) and leeks in 2 TBSP olive oil. As they begin to soften add garlic.
  8. Add spices, sun-dried tomatoes, porcini.
  9. When the veggies begin to brown, deglaze the pot by adding the wine (or water).
  10. Add chopped tomatoes, beans, soaking liquids from the sun-dried tomatoes and porcini.
  11. Add the stock, soy sauce, water, chard ribbons, pasta and wheat berries.
  12. Cook for about half an hour till veggies become soft.
  13. Add spinach, parsley.
  14. Taste - adjust seasoning as you like with salt, pepper, chili flakes.

Garnishing & Options:

  • Adding faux parmesan - keeps it vegan and adds umami from Nutritional Yeast and Miso.
  • Adding pistou, pesto or even chimichurri you had in the freezer is nice.
  • If you are not concerned about this being vegan, starting with chopped bacon or pancetta is great. Adding a rind of parmigiano reggiano lends great umami, and salt to the pot. If using it, don't add additional salt without tasting first.
  • Wheat berries, spelt and farro are kissing cousins. (Here's a great chart about all sorts of grains.) And a great breakfast of wheatberries. Tuscans make a zuppa di farro, similar to this one. According to Cesare Casella, "locals say one hundred kernels of farro give you all the energy you need for a day and Romans paid their soldiers in spelt.

 

Vegan Minestrone

Buy a Carafe and Think of Ryan or Derek, and Drink Water.

Today's healthy eating tip comes to you from supermodels. Sort of. I'll make it simple enough for even a brainless beauty to understand. DRINK WATER

water

 

Moisture is the essence of wetness, and wetness is the essence of beauty.  Derek Zoolander

 

Okay my beautiful babies, here's the tip of the day.

  1. Get yourself a nice carafe or an old milk jug, something that you like to look at.
  2. Fill it with water.
  3. Put it on your kitchen counter or your desk.
  4. Drink it down.
  5. Repeat.

 

So simple, even a really, really, ridiculously good looking supermodel like Derek could follow these steps.

8 glasses a day, more or less

The truth is many of us grew up hearing the "8 glasses of water a day!" advice and few of us follow it or even come close. Various factors affect how much water any one of us actually should drink. For example, nursing or pregnant women have different intake goals than the rest of us, if you exercise you'll want to drink more, in a hot or cold climate, high altitude, etc.

Without making it sound too complicated, short of illnesses, the fact is that most of us need to drink more water than we do and few of us could drink too much water.

I don't know about you, but I can't remember what I was walking across the room for, much less track how many of those 8 glasses I've consumed. By putting a pitcher out, it's a visual reminder. I feel better when I drink water. I just forget unless it is right in front of me.

Water not only helps our vital organs function efficiently (this includes eliminating waste, more accurate than the "flushing toxins" that is common misused terminology), water also helps us feel full or at least more comfortable. Many times what we think we recognize as hunger is actually thirst. Try this little experiment yourself. The next time you feel the urge to reach for a snack or head to the vending machine, drink a large glass of water. Do something else for a few minutes to distract yourself from that "hunger" message. Answer some emails or pull up a picture of Ryan Gosling. Then after a few dreamy moments your "hunger" pang will have passed. I bet 9 times out of 10, you will find you've forgotten the "hunger" pangs altogether. It was thirst. ('course you may have pangs of a different sort, but save that for after work.)

If you truly are still hungry, treat yourself to something healthy and tasty. Or unhealthy if you're craving it, but enjoy it - really enjoy it. Denial doesn't work. And drink more water after. Get the pitcher or carafe refilled for your "re-set" and go on about your day.

Bubbles

In the photo above, I also included a soda siphon, for making bubbly water. Many people find it more refreshing than flat. Treat yourself to a pretty new one like I did  Santa brought me. You will enjoy using it and probably drink more water as a result. Using a soda siphon is a nice way to wean yourself of bad colas, too. Try mixing half and half until you back your taste buds away from the overly sweetened drinks they're accustomed to. You can do it!

Q Ginger Moscow Mule

If you really like soda, I recommend splurging once in a while on one of the crop of new sodas that are small batch, locally made with fine ingredients. Usually, they have real sugar not the crap in the big ones. I adore the Q sodas. Try one of those and, again, really enjoy the expensive treat of a finely made soda. Then go back to water for the majority of your hydration.

Also in the photo above, a beautiful bowl of lemons from our in-laws (Thanks guys!) - adding lemon to your water, especially if you can get your hands on beautiful Meyer lemons, is another way to mix up your water habit. By the way, hydrating doesn't only mean water. Something like cold hibiscus tea is refreshing, tart, and caffeine-free. You can control the sugar yourself, and it's loaded with good nutrition, too.

You may have noticed I used the word "treat" quite a lot. It is intentional. Wellness and good health are treats. Feeling good is a treat. Treat yourself well and remember:

...wetness is the essence of beauty.

 

By the way, did I mention? You look mahvelous!

 

 

The Sharpest Knife in the Block - Essential Kitchen Equipment Series

In this occasional series, Essential Kitchen Equipment, I'm going to share overviews of what I consider to be the items no kitchen should be without. I'm not talking about the latest gadget. I'm talking about maybe a dozen or so simple items you must have to make your kitchen hum. Of course one could spend endless amounts on all sorts of fancy equipment and gadgets. Most of those will not make you a better cook. 

 

One really fundamental barrier or enabler in terms of producing good meals, with joy and efficiency, is knife skills. Buying a good knife or a bad one, is one of the best or worse kitchen purchases you can make. If one buys cheap knives at the supermarket, one might be called "not the sharpest knife in the drawer." Maybe you remember the Ginsu infomercials?

Heck, most of those fancy gew-gaws won't even make you want to cook. They make me feel foolish. A good knife. A good cutting board. A proper pan or pot.

Think of the meals you've most enjoyed, possibly cooked by a Grandma, Bubbe or Amah. Chances are the most comforting, delicious memories were not created with sous-vide machines or molded plastic corn zippers, probably not even with slow cookers.

In cooking with Shop, Cook, Eat -Better   clients, we focus on the basics. Yes, we do some fancy stuff, too, but I really love working with clients that want to learn or refresh basic skills. So this series was borne of the need to share basic buying info. I'll cover aspects such as:

  • What it is - e.g. sauté pan vs skillet; Dutch oven vs Stock Pot
  • What are the options or varieties - e.g. which is better wood cutting board or plastic?
  • Benefits or drawbacks of one or another option
  • My recommendations
  • Suggestions for where to buy, both online and brick and mortar

Fairly often, we'll have friends over for dinner and I like to have drinks around the island while I'm doing final, or sometimes not so final meal prep.

I'm tickled when someone stops mid-sentence to say "Whoa!" while I'm chopping and chatting. I forget that for many people, things that take me very little time, seem daunting. But as Kathleen Flinn says in this excellent video: anyone can do this!

People sometimes think they need to invest heaps of money in huge knife sets. The fear of knives drives others to use cheap, dull blades. These are far more dangerous!

Since knives are the most essential equipment in the kitchen, I thought I'd begin here with basic knife skills tips and recommendations.

About Knives

1. Sharper knives are better. Sharper knives are safer. (And if you're a little clumsy like me, sharper knives actually make cleaner cuts that hurt less and heal faster, too. Just sayin'.) You might enjoy Kathleen's first book The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry.

2. Take a class. Here's one coming up in Newton at Stoddard's. You could also take one with me! Or check your local Adult Ed center or culinary store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur la Table.

3. Get your hands on a good book. Two solid books I recommend:  A great kitchen resource, with large, clear photos and overlaid arrows and graphics to really give you a step-by-step explanation of various cuts. This is for any cook from the novice to the expert. Learn the difference between brunoise and batons. Understand why different cuts are important and when to choose which.

 A cookbook that has recipes to reinforce basic skills. This is more of an enticement or a seduction, than pure lessons. Just look at that cover photo! Don't you want to make that food and eat it?

4. Knives I love. I'm often asked "which knife is best?"

I use my Globals more than any others I own. I also love my Zwilling J.A. Henckels 8" Chef's knife. And the Chef's Choice offset serrated blade. Ultimately, you want to look a few key factors (the material the knife is made of, the construction, the weight and feel in your hand) then pick the one that fits best in your hand. That is the one you will use most often.

I like the high carbon /stainless steel knives over ceramic. Each maker has their own manufacturing specs and it's interesting to visit websites of each and "tour" their processes. Links below.

Knives

Top to bottom:

  • Global Chef's knife - small and light, it fits my hand perfectly. I use this most often. It's perfectly balanced: (bonus party trick: balance the knife on your finger blade on one side, handle on the other.)
  • Zwilling J.A. Henckel's Chef's Knife - this is heavier and best when I'm doing lots of chopping. The weight of the knife actually makes cutting easier when you're doing lots.
  • Chef's Choice Serrated, offset - the simple offset really helps ergonomically, too. A gift from my chef brother-in-law, I use this for bread and for tomatoes.
  • Global paring knife - this is a small paring knife, handy for tight work, like cutting the core of a small tomato, those jobs when a larger knife is too cumbersome.

Avoid buying a whole knife set, you will undoubtedly end up with knives you cannot or will not use and sets are quite costly. Buy one good knife at a time and you'll be so glad each time you use it.

If you really want to invest in a special knife, there are custom knife makers that will create a knife for you that will be a work of usable art. These we leave for another day. I'm addressing the basic knives that most of us will be looking to buy for every day use.

Storing Knives

Knife blocks are good, too, but if you have a lack of counter space, the magnetic knife bar is invaluable. I also like that it seems handier, and imagine rummaging through a drawer if a homicidal stalker entered your kitchen. HA! My knives are at the ready!  Okay I watch a lot of crime shows...

That's not really the reason to use the knife bar, but think about that drawer for a minute. In a drawer, nothing protects the blade! And, you will be more prone to cutting or nicking yourself as you rummage for one or another tool. On the knife bar, it's always at the ready, no drawer to open. When I was the knife, I simply slap it right up on the bar.

knifebar

 

I also have a knife block on the counter, that's fine, too but I'd happily get another knife bar and reclaim that space.

Honing vs. Sharpening

Most people don't do either often enough. And the two terms are used interchangeably and incorrectly, so naturally, confusion ensues.

The basic difference is whether you're taking away any material (sharpening) or straightening it out (honing).

A sharp knife is a safe knife and and to use a sharp knife, you hone it. I know - it's a mess, isn't it? To keep it simple, just run your knife on a steel (called a sharpening steel or a honing steel, y'know just to keep it all perfectly muddy) each time you use it. Then once a year or so, take it to a professional service to get the blade realigned.

For a very good explanation of both see Honing vs. Sharpening.

  • Hone, wash, use. Get in this habit and you'll thank me later.

Also, get rid of any glass cutting boards you may be using! They will dull your knife and make your cutting dangerous and un-fun! More on cutting boards shortly.

Knife Lore

  • If you give a knife as a gift, always give it with a penny. That prevents the luck from being severed. I've also heard the recipient is to give a penny to the giver.
  • Some believe a dropped knife should never be retrieved by the person who dropped it, but only by the next person to enter the room.

What's your go-to knife?

Have a knife question?

Favorite knife superstition?

Salty Snacks, my Downfall. Until Now. Hello DIY Cheezits Recipe.

I could walk right past buckets of candies and sweets if there were the teensiest pile of potato chips at the end of the line. Yessiree, the salty crunchy thing is what gets me. Between my dairy allergy and having been forced by a cracked tooth to swear off my beloved popcorn, I was adrift. And I was drifting in the wrong direction. If you make it right and don't eat it by the boatload, or covered in butter, popcorn actually qualifies as a whole grain. I'd call it a healthy snack.

But you know, once you see the cost of a cracked tooth, "cheating" on your dentist and ignoring her advice loses a lot of its appeal. So I started on potato chips. Saturated fat and salt and oh, so, delicious. Hep me jeezus, it was a slippery slope. I had to do an intervention when an ENTIRE bag of (not single serve) of Chili-flavored Kettle chips evaporated in my hands.

I have seen the devil and he looks like a never-ending bag of chips.

Back from the Precipice

So it is with much fanfare that I bring you my new favorite snack discovery. [cue heralds and horns, waving of banners, and such] Salvation looks like a crappy processed snack food, but it's not!

Nacho Daddy's Cheezits

Dairy-free Cheez-its

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What's a good snack without a pun? A lost opportunity, I say.

So I named these guys the punny name to indicate their dairy-free status. Get it? "Nacho" Not Yo"....okay. Now that I've gotten that out of my system...here's the ÜBER-simple, fast and delicious snack. But first, let's review these additional benefits:

  1. they're salty
  2. they're crunchy
  3. they're spicy (or you can make them not so)
  4. they're dairy-free (you could probably use cheddar if you're not true vegan or allergic)
  5. they're cheesy
  6. I've included whole grains (grainiacs rejoice!)
  7. and they're easy-peasy to make at home

You know you want some, come on.

Nacho Daddy's Cheez-its, Dairy-free

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nacho Daddy's Cheezits

Modified from a couple vegan blogs, but don't let that dissuade you.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 C Earth Balance butter (cold)
  • 3/4 C Daiya cheddar shreds
  • 1/4 C organic spelt flour
  • 1/2 C organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp paprika or pimenton
  • +1 TBSP cold water
  • Maldon sea salt flakes for topping, or good sea salt

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients but water in food processor; pulse, until you get large crumbles.
  2. Add water by teaspoon till dough comes together in a ball, usually you'll use about 1 TBSP. Depends on moisture in the air and your flour.
  3. Knead for a few minutes, let rest half an hour in fridge. (I have also skipped the rest, with little noticeable result. The dough comes together so quickly, I don't think there's a lot of gluten developed.
  4. Preheat 350 degrees.
  5. Roll out half of dough between waxed paper or on silpat silicone sheet. Leave other half in fridge to stay cool.
  6. Dust with flour to prevent sticking - see tea ball trick.
  7. Roll to 1/8" thick cut with fun smallish cutter (I have a little star cutter that was part of a set.) Or, use pizza cutter to make into squares or diamonds.
  8. Bake 10-15 mins checking often -- remove at the perfect crisp but not burnt stage.

 

teaball trick

Remember the teaball trick, works for flour and for confectioner's sugar.

Offset spatula may be helpful to transfer to cookie sheets but it's not necessary.

These are so good to nibble and munch. I think they'd be terrific floating on a mug of hot tomato soup. Mixed into my Remixed Chex Mix they could take the place of the Goldfish crackers. Great with a cocktail.

Next batch, I'm going try flax or my pimped up flaxy gomashio. Stay tuned salty-crunchy fanatics!

Eat Better - a Smoothie Surprise. Cocoa-loco Smoothie.

Even Rich would like this smoothie - the Passionate Foodie is not so passionate about veggies. Yesterday I told you about the benefits of eating flax. Here's a delicious and fun way to incorporate flax in a smoothie that is not only delicious but really good for you. It is an antioxidant powerhouse, and a good reason to keep frozen blueberries on hand, as well as baby spinach. Yes, it has spinach!

Baby Spinach

 

 Cocoa-loco smoothie

Modified only slightly from the Eat Right America Chocolate Smoothie. I call it "cocoa-loco" because it's crazy-rich with antioxidants, and it's surprisingly not "green" tasting while providing benefits of spinach nutritionally.

This an excellent way to start your day, especially on those days when you have little time to "make" breakfast. Pour it into a go-cup and you're off. No regrets from eating a fat-laden fast food sandwich.

Smoothie mise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Spinach
  • Blueberries
  • Soy milk
  • Banana
  • Dates
  • Cocoa
  • Flax

 

Directions:

  1. Take a big handful of baby spinach leaves - the tender early growth of spinach is sold under the local Olivia's brand at Whole Foods. (Olivia's is a local packager not grower, and they have a good reputation and commitment to local non-profits.)
  2. Put spinach in a blender. Add 1 1/2 - 2 C of frozen blueberries. (blueberries are very high in antioxidants, Manganese, good source of fiber)
  3. Add 1/2 C soy milk (I like Eden brand, I think coconut or almond would work well here, too.)
  4. Slice up one small banana into blender. (Tip: I keep a banana or two in the freezer, just toss it in, peel and all. As it thaws, in just minutes, the skin will slice off easily and the frozen banana is great for rich, luscious smoothies.)
  5. Add 2- 4 dates, depending on type and size and your desired sweetness (good source of fiber)
  6. 2 TBSP cocoa powder
  7. 1 TBSP ground flax seeds

Blueberries

 

More on blueberries, baby spinach and recipes using both.

Some of our favorite players here ina Playah style greens and grain salad.

salad

New Year, New Habits, and Baby Steps. Pimp Your Gomashio!

Gomashio will be familiar to those who enjoy Japanese food. Goma- is sesame, shio-  is salt. The seasoning usually consists of sesame seeds and salt ground together, and is sprinkled on things such as noodles, salads, broiled fish or tofu. DIY Gomashio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Japanese kitchens will have a grinder that looks like this one, where Americans would have a salt shaker or pepper mill.

DSC_0010_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often mix Gomashio with Shichimi and top edamame with the blend, like so:

 

gomashio edamame

A tasty snack.

As a firm believer in "baby steps" I'm sharing one of my favorites with you today. "Pimp" or upgrade your gomashio to enhance your foods - Asian and not - and add nutritional benefits of flax seed. Either in a spice grinder, or a Suribachi, (a Japanese grinding bowl with unglazed ridged interior, used as a mortar and pestle) you must grind the flax to enjoy the benefits of them (otherwise they just sail on through). If you don't have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, you can buy flax seed already ground but know that it is prone to turning rancid pretty quickly so you may want to store in the freezer and just put a small amount in a shaker near your S&P.

Mix ground flax with water before adding to recipes and after it sits a few minutes, you'll see it become sort of gooey. That is the result of the soluble fiber, one of the chief benefits of flax.

Benefits of Flax

Mounting evidence shows flax may help reduce your risk of:

  • heart disease,
  • cancer,
  • stroke and
  • diabetes.

Rich in alphalinolenic acid (a form of healthy omega-3 fatty acid), and lignans (phytoestrogens that function like antioxidants), ground flaxseed are often recommended in anti-cancer diets. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. Flax is a good source of Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Thiamin and Manganese.

While many of us might not have thought about eating flax, you can easily incorporate it into many of our familiar foods. There seem to be enough reasons for us to do so.

Check vegan recipes especially, which often rely on flax to replace egg as a binder. Recent studies have dispelled the belief that flax seeds lose their nutritional benefit when exposed to heat. Go ahead and bake away!

Other ways to add flaxy-gomashio:

  • top grilled, stewed, or baked vegetables
  • sprinkle on roasted potato
  • sprinkle on hummus
  • sprinkle on a salad

To add simple ground flax:

  • stir into oatmeal or sprinkle on cereal
  • grind and add to baked goods
  • add to smoothies, waffles, pancakes
  • make flax crackers or even Monster Cookies from Robin Asbell's Big Vegan.

 

Read More about Flax:

 Learn more about how I can help you Shop, Cook, Eat - Better.