Sunday, February 2, 2014

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's SUPER FOODS!

In this blog, you'll learn how to get thyme leaves off the stem, how to select salmon, and approaching your first time making greens. You'll also learn this, that, and the other.

Let's start with the thyme. This guy does it just like I do. Thyme is one of my favorite herbs next to rosemary and lemon balm.


Why don't we have the Thanksgiving meal more often? Seriously. One of my favorite things is rosemary turkey and gravy. I also have a recipe for thyme biscuits.



Over lunch, my mother and I recently discussed fish. We both love salmon and tuna steaks, although she was aghast that I often eat tilapia. Does "fresh" fish really matter if you don't live on a shore?  

Thanks to the Huffington Post--King of Numbered Lists--the top concerns about salmon are summarized neatly:

1. Wild or farmed?
The first choice you should make is whether to buy wild salmon (and all Alaskan salmon is wild-caught) or farmed Atlantic salmon. In most instances, I opt for wild salmon. Why? Environmental groups such as Seafood Watch and the Environmental Defense Fund, have put nearly all farmed salmon on their “red” or “avoid” list. The reason: many farms use crowded pens where salmon are easily infected with lice, may be treated with antibiotics and can spread disease to wild fish (one reason Alaska has banned salmon farms). In addition, it can take as much as three pounds of wild fish (and fishmeal) to raise one pound of salmon. However, there’s some good news. Salmon farmers are currently in talks with environmental groups about improving their practices and there is a proposal before Congress to set standards for aquaculture. Already some farms, such as Sweet Spring in British Columbia, are raising coho in closed pens, that reduce the impact on wild fish. Others, such as Verlasso in Patagonia, are using feeds fortified with the omega-3 EPA, which helps cut back the ratio of pounds of fish needed to feed the salmon to 1-to-1.
2. Should I buy organic salmon?
There is no USDA organic standard for salmon and no guarantee “organic” label means anything except the salmon was farmed.
3. Is fresh salmon better than frozen? What about canned or packaged salmon?
You can order fresh salmon by mail order or find it in your markets from June-September. Most fish is flash-frozen when caught to preserve its freshness and allow for shipping. Frozen salmon is good for up to four months, when properly frozen and thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Canned wild salmon is an excellent and economical choice. Look for BPA-free cans (Wild Planet has these) or better yet, pouches.
4. Does salmon carry PCBs or other toxins?
Wild Alaskan salmon, which spend most of their lives in open oceans, generally have very low levels of toxins. Coastal and farmed salmon, depending on the fish and meal they are fed, may have higher levels. The Environmental Defense Fund lists farmed Atlantic salmon as an “Eco-Worst” choice and recommends people eat no more than two servings a month due to high PCB levels.
5. Do different types of salmon taste different?
There’s a wide range of price, color and taste among the six species of salmon we commonly eat, so it depends on your budget, what's available and the recipe you have in mind. The largest (and often most expensive), the king or chinook, is prized for its high fat content and buttery texture and is rich in omega-3s.  Sockeye, an oilier fish with deep red flesh, is also high in heart-healthy omega-3s but has a stronger flavor and stands up well to grilling. Coho is milder and often lighter in color. Pink and chum are smaller fish and most often used in canning or smoking and are good budget choices. Last, the most common fish you will find at the market, the species known as Atlantic salmon, is a farmed species. It has a rich, fatty taste but is not recommended by environmental groups
Ingredients

  • 1 medium (about 2 pounds) acorn squash, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon(s) fresh thyme leaves
  •  Kosher salt
  •  Pepper
  • 2 tablespoon(s) honey
  • 1 1/2 pound(s) skinless salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 small (about 1 pound) bunch kale, thick stems discarded, leaves chopped
  • 3 tablespoon(s) red wine vinegar

This is what you're getting in doses over 50% of your daily recommended dose:
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin D
  • Selenium
  • Vitamin B3
  • protein
  • phosphorous
Kale
  • Vitamin K
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C

Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the squash on a large rimmed baking sheet, toss with 1 tablespoon oil, scatter with half the thyme, and season with 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Roast for 15 minutes

Push the squash to the outsides of the pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon honey. Place the salmon in the center, sprinkle with the remaining thyme and season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Roast until the salmon is opaque throughout and the squash is tender, 8 to 12 minutes more.

Heat the remaining tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the kale, season with 1/4 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Drizzle with the vinegar and remaining tablespoon honey and bring to a simmer.



I think greens should probably be cooked with some sort of "hock" but these really were delicious and better for you. I do prefer greens with vinegar.
Now, here's the deal about this recipe: if you season squash, potatoes, or parsnips, oil them, and bake or broil them, they are an uber fabulous replacement for fries. Cut them as thin as you can. For seasoning, I use salt, pepper, and Cajun spices. I made this recipe as is. It was delicious






Saturday, February 1, 2014

Meat: Long and Cut

Anyone can write blogs about recipes. I, however, teach you something in the process. Unless, of course, you are completely clueless like myself and have cooking skills out the proverbial wazoo. As I made dinner Saturday night I learned more than a few things while preparing my gingery grilled flank steak with cous cous salad.

The first thing you should know is that buying organic, humanely raised animals is worth it. This is why I buy my meat at Bedford Avenue Meat Shop. You should also realize that if you don't eat beef on a regular basis it can upset your stomach in a manner which is unpleasant to others.

(rubbed with fresh ginger)

Secondly, all this cooking and baking is truly an educational experience. I feel like I am becoming the person at the family gathering who will automatically know how to make the pudding from scratch or throw together a Macgyver inspired dressing at Thanksgiving using only baking powder and the dirt from Uncle Darrell's left shoe. 

While cooking flank steak in the pan (I was only able to get a grill as of today) I found myself wondering,"What IS flank steak? Is it the side of the cow? The leg?" 

Flank steak, I discovered, is actually a long, flat cut from the abdominal muscles of the cow. It's what they use for London broil and fajitas. Now if I want to make London broil or fajitas I will know what kind of cut to buy. Of course, if my friend Chef Preston Cravey was in town, I could have just looked at his arm since he has an entire cow tattoo with all the different types of meat. 



I would now like to take the time to discuss orange zest. You can actually zest an entire orange and keep it on hand for any number of things. I would have never imagined such a thing but the rumors are true. For this recipe, the zest went in the cous cous and the orange juice was used as a coating for the steak:



I love this whole use-stuff-for-a-recipe-and-then-save-the-leftovers-for-something-else-so-you-don't-waste-food-and-money thing too. I even cut a few slices of orange and put it in my homemade lemonade which I am now able to make at any time because of a recipe I memorized last year.

And I've always appreciated Kroger, but we were extra pleased that we not only found the cous cous there that we couldn't find at Walmart, but also that it was wheat free for Erik. God bless Lundberg, who even provides coupons on their web site. We love their risotto as well.

We are enjoying this recipe journey. We also feel so much better that we are making local choices and investing time and money into our health.

Oh, and please make up a clever name for this recipe. Not to be redundant, but I'm far too tired. 

Doing the Heart Things

"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." -- Proverbs 4:23

February is National Heart Month. What a fitting description of a month the celebrates love. This month Woman's day goes in depth about heart disease with risk factors you may or may not realize.

I have already broken some of my resolutions (including writing every day--where does the time go, seriously?) but one that I have kept so far is not smoking. As of today, I am 35 days clean. I am going to focus on that positive before disclosing (to you and myself) the other risk factors.

It's pretty commonly known that wine, in moderation, is good for your heart. Is it ironic that for smokers, drinking it often a foyer into smoking? The good news is, I have had wine eight days last month and I did not succumb to temptation.

Often we think of God's commandments as a burden. I lived through my twenties ignoring most of the Bible's wisdom. Today, I was sick and stressed, and above of physically drained. I decided to stay in bed and let the day pass by.

Then I thought again. I was tired physically but even more tired of not pushing myself to improve and move forward. I decided the first step was to get up; the second step would be to put makeup on and to perform a few basic errands. By the end of the day, I felt good about myself. I felt good about myself because I did the right thing.


I have the hardest time with temptation when my body is not well. I struggle the most with fatigue and memory, although other issues related to my medical problems are not far behind. I have cut sugar, prioritized exercise, and cut down alcohol consumption. The sugar cravings have been the worst. I don't even have a sweet tooth, yet going three days without much sugar causes withdraw you wouldn't believe.

But I also noticed the feeling of relaxation. Here are 5 things you may have not known about sugar:

1. Sugar can damage your heart.

2. Sugar promotes belly fat.

3. Sugar feeds cancer.

4. Sugar is an inflammatory agent 

5. Sugar hides in foods that are not sweet.


I first found that out when looking for sausage for a Woman's Day recipe. Every package I checked had corn syrup as a primary ingredient. I finally drove to another store and chose my standard--Aidells




Part of cutting sugar from my life has incorporated the ability to be temporarily unhappy. There are days I really, really want to buy donuts from the vending machine. I can feel the rush of adrenaline you don't realize you're missing when you ignore sugar's beckoning calls. But I ignore it, say no, feel the panic of not satisfying the craving and accept that it will pass. Because it will--and I'll be better off and have what I really want out of life. 

I think we have become deaf to a few realities: we spend more than what we have to gain what we don't want to satisfy desires that don't favor excellence. We complain about people on welfare or disability who could work and meet the requirements of the American Dream if they just "tried harder" but complain about our aches and pains and lack of funds while eating another helping of ice cream and upgrading our teenager's gaming system.

All of these attitudes about money, health, and success--what are the consequences?

I grow weary of our nation's emphasis on happiness. The banner waved is so often "whatever makes you happy." Whatever happened to "do what's right and eventually the joy in your life will replace old habits and desires?"

Life is hard. The pay off for making good choices is not as immediate. Instant gratification is easier. Commitment, faithfulness, loyalty in the face of adversity--none of these things are easy. But they are desirable to me. 

I look back at the list of avoiding heart disease: eat right, stop smoking, exercise, use restraint. I think of the Lord's precepts: be honest, work hard, love your enemies, persevere.

I would like 2012 to be a year where my heart, all around, is the strongest ever.




Friday, January 31, 2014

Blissful Balls of Alcohol

I never knew that bourbon was whisky. Upon attempting my first lot of bourbon balls, I was relieved to discover that, since we already owned an unopened bottle of Jim Beam, an unnecessary trip to the liqueur store could be avoided.

All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Bourbon is a big Springsteen fan since it's always born in the USA (or it's not bourbon) and it's a sweet version of whiskey because it has to be made with at least 51% corn.

Liqueur education aside, these bourbon balls are crazy good.

This version of bourbon balls that originally incorporated corn syrup and dyed-green almonds, is rolled in real pistachios and replaces corn syrup with heavy cream.



These balls are crucial for holiday celebrations with disgruntled family members, Kentucky Derby parties, and PMS--in that order.

Ingredients

  • 7 ounce(s) (about 3 cups) Nilla wafers
  • 1/2 cup(s) roasted unsalted almonds
  • 6 ounce(s) (about 1 cup) semisweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoon(s) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup(s) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup(s) bourbon
  •  Finely chopped pistachios, almonds, or pecans, for rolling

Directions

  1. In a food processor, pulse the Nilla wafers and almonds to form fine crumbs.
  2. Place the chocolate and cream in a medium microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high, stirring every 30 seconds, until the chocolate is melted and smooth, about 1 1/2 minutes total.
  3. Stir in the sugar, then the almond cookie crumbs and bourbon. Immediately roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls, then coat in the nuts. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

The gluten-free version involves Glutino Vanilla Creme cookies.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thinking Outside the Squash Box

Experience and education won't only make you a versatile individual; proper application of life-skills will also save you an exceptional amount of time as evidenced by how much time I wasted at the supermarket looking for a squash that I would accidentally find in the frozen foods section.

So make note of this: puréed cooked winter squash is something that comes in a box. There is no finding the gourd and going through the grief of chopping into pieces and blending it and for that, I was grateful.



In other words, there are two reasons this recipe is called Freezer Vegetable Lasagna. 

The second reason is another matter of convenience in that this dish is simple to freeze and serve at a later date.

Until I met my boyfriend, I never realized how much stuff you can and should freeze. Growing up with Grandma I learned several refrigerator habits:

1. Don't bother finding Tupperware. When you're finished with soup, just put the entire pan in the fridge with leftovers.

2. Dairy and meat really won't spoil if left on the counter for hours. Just put it back when you remember it's supposed to be refrigerated. It'll be ok.

3. Things that go in the freezer are as follows: stuff you buy in the frozen foods section of the store, ice.

The concept of packaging cooked foods and then placing them in hibernation was completely foreign to me or something people who didn't mind eating gross expired meat and dairy products did. 

Isn't that ironic? Humanity and it's habits.

ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon(s) olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 ounce(s) lowfat cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup(s) lowfat sour cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) cayenne pepper
  • 1 package(s) (16-ounce) frozen leaf spinach, thawed and squeezed of excess moisture
  • 4 ounce(s) (about 1 cup) part-skim mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 2 ounce(s) (about 1/2 cup) feta, crumbled
  • 1 package(s) (12-ounce) puréed cooked winter squash, thawed
  • 6 no-boil lasagna noodles

directions
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, season with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper, and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Remove from the heat and stir in the cream cheese, sour cream, cinnamon, cayenne, and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Stir in the spinach, then 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup feta.
  3. Spread 1/2 cup of the squash on the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish. Top with 2 noodles and spread a third (about 1/4 cup) of the remaining squash over the top. Dollop with a third (about 1 cup) of the spinach mixture. Repeat twice with the remaining squash, noodles, and spinach mixture, finishing with a layer of spinach mixture.
  4. Sprinkle with the remaining feta and mozzarella, cover tightly with nonstick foil, and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake until the noodles are tender and the top is golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Serve with a salad, if desired.
Squash is one of the foods that I used to decline but now enjoy. Among the others are tomatoes and country ham. It is also the only food that, after I've eaten it, makes me feel energetic. The reason may be due to the amount of zinc found that helps produce serotonin. Other benefits include sugar regulation, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

But for this recipe, it was interesting to line the bottom of the dish with something orange instead of something red. Adding the spinach made the results very Notre Dame. 




Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Power Ploughing

Ploughman's lunches are as English as blood pudding, shepherd's pie, and afternoon tea. A traditional pub meal, the components central to a Ploughman's Platter are crusty bread, cheese, pickles, and chutney. Although images of hunks of bread and hearty slices of meat may invoke thoughts of farmers with their dented pale or pub patrons gathered around their ale, there isn't a lot of evidence to support that Ploughman's Platters date back much further than the mid-twentieth century when the Milk Marketing Board promoted the meal.

Regardless, bread, cheese, meat, and a medley of condiments make for a delectable lunch and an aesthetically delightful combination.

Choosing the presentation for a wine pairing, picnic, or patio party is as diverse as the platter. There are a variety of options to make serving the meal as enjoyable as eating it.

Selecting the board will accentuate where you are, who you're serving, and what you're serving and direct the ambiance of the meal as efficiently as a compass. Having a game night? These boards from BryanBuildsNC are a perfect accent in handmade, checkerboard maple.


There are literally hundreds of cutting boards on Etsy alone--you can purchase cutting boards in shapes, with engraving, or rustic pieces that appear to be fresh from the forest to the table.

Crusty bread is best with a standard cheese or meat if your additional fare is favoring exotic. My favorite condiments for a Ploughman's Platter are chutney, whole grain mustard, and infused olive oil for dipping. If the cheese and meat are the stars of the show, you may be replacing a cheddar or Havarti with brie or goat cheese alongside anchovies or pâté. If that's the case, keep your other fare simple or light by incorporating more fruits and olives or hummus. 

Woman's Day offered a beet salad recipe, which I had never considered but seems like a refreshing and healthy option. You may also consider a variety of textures like crisp radishes or pickled eggs instead of boiled eggs.



Edward Fitzgerald translated "a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and thou," obviously in celebration of the Ploughman's Platter, for it is now up to you to decide whether you will enjoy a traditional pub beer with your plate or refine your fancy in favor of wine. If this is a business lunch you may forgo the spirits all together for San Pellegrino sparkling water, sweet tea, or ginger ale. 



For my Ploughman's Platter, I found a lovely little tray for only $3.00 are our local department store, Roses. This was really super easy to carry from our apartment to the patio. We found an olive bread from our local bakery and a sofi aware winning plum chutney from Virginia Chutney Co. Then we added an assortment of cheeses from chipotle Gouda, cheedar, goat cheese, and Havarti and paired it with salami and pepperocini.



It was a pleasure to enjoy with a local Cabernet Sauvignon as it complimented nicely with light pepper and currant notes.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pork and Polenta

The biggest difference between bone-in and regular cuts of pork will be the flavor and the juiciness of the meat. I buy my pork at a local market where the meat is all natural--free of additives and hormones. The flavor and texture are noticeably different.

This night's meal was supposed to be served with polenta, which is often mistaken as Spanish in origin. The concept of polenta, a corn based porridge, is thousands of years old and stems from Roman culture. Polenta was originally made with millet and spelt--grains found for bread-making in the Old Testament of the Bible. Corn was not introduced to Europe until 1650, therefore polenta was not made from corn until hundreds of years later.

So if you invite Goldilocks over for dinner, this may be the dish you'd like to serve. I don't care all that much for blonds, so I nixed the polenta for mashed potatoes.


Pork pairs well with a creamy chardonnay offering notes of crisp apple. I had the pleasure of visiting Ankida Ridge Winery last Christmas. Richard Leahy, author of “Beyond Jefferson’s Vines” writes…“If you want elegance and finesse in Virginia chardonnay, here’s one you don’t want to miss.”