October Cooking Tip – Easy ways to chop Onions, Garlic & Shallots

I realize we all have been chopping onions and garlic for years and yet I often come across people doing it in ways that seem fairly labor intense.  For this reason I decided to offer you a video demonstration that includes some tips to make these food staples even better!

In addition, you may not all know about the wonders of shallots.  At Farmer’s Market they are in abundance at the moment and at a better price than other times of the year.  Like onions they store fairly well in a cool, aerated environment.  I bought a bunch and am hanging them in net bags in my basement. 

Here is some information on Shallots  Give these gems a try!

“Although they are similar to an onion, there are some important differences in how shallots are used in French cooking.

  • Less is more. One or two shallots finely chopped are usually all that is needed to add a subtle, slightly sweet flavor to recipes.
  • Go slowly. If your recipe calls for cooking the shallots in butter or oil, you should do so on a low temperature. Just like garlic, shallots can over cook easily. You want them to come out soft and slightly caramelized, not crunchy and bitter.
  • Marry it well. Shallots are especially tasty when cooked with white wine, cream and butter.
  • Substitute. Although there’s nothing like the real thing, if your recipe calls for shallots and you have none on hand, you can try substituting an equivalent amount of red onion.”

September Cooking Tip – Crème Fraiche

Crème Fraiche is originally a French product and is a fantastic ingredient that can be used for many things.  It is similar to sour cream but has a softer, less sour taste.  I like to add just a dollop to soup, mix it with Greek style yogurt for sauces, or add a little to sautéed vegetables just before serving.  It is usually found in the cheese section of the market, at least at Whole Foods.   

I just learned from a dear friend of mine, Mark Beran of Medovina, how to make it at home.  This is so easy and much more cost effective that purchasing it pre-made.

Mix equal parts of buttermilk and whipping cream, I prefer organic.  Set the mixture on the counter overnight, letting it sit for a minimum of 8 hours.  Stir briefly and refrigerate.  It will keep fresh in the refrigerator for at least 2 weeks or more. 

 Note:  If you prefer it a bit more sour, add a bit more buttermilk.

Fantastic Topping for Chicken, Veggies or Eggs!

Mushroom & Onion Saute
Mushroom & Onion Saute

Here is another idea for putting on top of those fluffy scrambled eggs.  You could also put this on top of  grilled vegetables or baked chicken to add delicious flavor and more nutrients.

Ingredients:

1 TBSP       Butter

½                 Purple Onion, chopped

¼ lb            Mushrooms, chopped (I used trumpets as they have a nice thick texture.)

¼ C             White Wine

1 TBSP       Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

1.5              Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, chopped fine

2 tsp          Crème Fraiche or Greek Style Yogurt

½ bunch   Cilantro, chopped

2 oz            Feta Cheese, crumbled

½                 Avocado, sliced

Salt & Pepper to taste

Preparation:

Melt butter in medium skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and mushrooms and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add white wine, pesto, chipotle pepper and crème fraiche.  Continue to sauté until the vegetables are cooked, approximately 4 more minutes.  Just before serving stir in the cilantro.  Sprinkle the feta on top of the eggs, chicken or grilled vegetables.  Top with this mixture.  Finish with the avocado slices nicely presented on top.

Serves 2

August Cooking Tip – Still Hungry After Dinner?

apples in tree

The other night I made a meal totally of vegetables.  Even though it was tasty, we were both hungry shortly after.  I decided to test something I knew about but never actually tried…

I cut up a Pink Lady apple.  We both ate half and soon after the feelings of hunger were gone. 

Amongst the many benefits of apples, they are low in calories, a great source for pectin, fiber and nutrients.  The fiber slows down the digestive process leaving you feeling full longer where the pectin is great for digestion and an excellent intestinal regulator, in other words it promotes healthy intestinal flora and supports normal colon function.

Apples also contain two acids – malic and tartaric – which inhibits fermentation in the stomach thus making it one of the easiest fruits to assimilate.  They help to ease thirst as they are moistening.  Especially green varieties are beneficial in that they cleanse the liver and gallbladder.  Last, apples are high in flavonoids which help in the reduction of heart disease.

So, next time you are still hungry after dinner or are used to snacking later in the evening, why not try one of natures’ amazing  creations?   THE APPLE

Cooking for Health, Nourishment, Relaxation and Connection. Why I Love to Cook!

Quote from the New York Times Magazine, August 2, 2009:

“The more time a nation devotes to food preparation at home, the lower its rate of obesity.  In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.”

Why I love to cook!

I love the creativity of it all.  I get to think – but not too hard – what I could make that is delicious, pretty easy, will impress my friends and family and be healthy. 

I grew up with 2 working parents and although Mom prided herself in making home cooked (sort of) meals, they weren’t always that tasty and mostly had one spice ingredient – Lawry’s salt.  Now I have to give her credit for her efforts but she wasn’t my inspiration.  I ended up being friends with my sisters’ best friend.  I was 16 and she was 21.  Her name was Louise and she was a great cook.  In looking back, I can still hear my Mom say, ‘when did you learn to eat that?’  The ‘that’ included (now) staples like garlic, onion, spices, herbs, and so forth.  All I could ever tell Mom was ‘Louise taught me!’

From there I got into health food – that tasteless, no salt, old dried out herbs kind of food.  I stopped using salt, stopped cooking in aluminum pans, and stopped storing in plastic in the ‘80’s.  Now most of this thought pattern has continued but I have to say I sure have learned how to make food tasty!  At that time I was quite proud of what I cooked but anyone who ate it suffered!  I didn’t know this until about 6 years ago when I made a meal for my sister.  She wasn’t feeling well and laid down for a nap.  Upon awakening she came into the kitchen to see what smelled so good.  (You see she, my brother and I were together, just the 3 of us, for the first time in 18 years!)  I can still hear her remark about those bad meals she and her family had to eat when I cooked for them all those years ago.  I had no idea!

Well, she opened the oven and exclaimed, ‘oh, a whole chicken!’  I kind of looked at her and said, ‘yea, so?’  To think that she was a stay at home mom turned stay at home grandmother and yet she hadn’t cooked a whole chicken in years.  Instead she had the illusion that cooking whole things like a chicken was time consuming and difficult.  The result was that she mostly cooked things like potatoes from a box, reheated a ham, vegetables from a can or frozen package.  Things like that.  On the other hand, I have been working full time and managing a house for 26 years (at that time).  Obviously we had taken different paths on our lives.

Fast forward to today, 6+ years later and I have grown into a better, more self-confident cook.  But let’s not go there just yet…

The true credit for my initial cooking ability came from my friends Jan and Jeff.  I met them in the late ‘80’s when I was working for them in Hawaii.  We became fast friends and I had the pleasure (both socially and gastronomically) of sharing many meals with them.  They both cooked and did so mostly together.  It was, along with a martini, a social event; a place where they would come together after a long days work to catch up, share their day.  This was an experience completely new to me and I loved it.  It opened my eyes to not only cooking but a wonderful way of engaging.  I was hooked and, although single, wanted it to be a part of my life.  I truly enjoyed the connection and delicious rewards that came with the experience.

I left Hawaii in 1990 to move to Colorado and pursue a new career – one as a massage therapist.  Among the many things I brought with me was that fantastic, mouth watering joy of cooking great food and sharing it with friends.

I have continued to do so and have added a great dimension – a partner – a man that is vastly interested in the senses, including taste, and is appreciative of my cooking.  It has enabled me to be more creative (and less neurotic about precise measurements in recipes) and more risk taking.  I put together dishes based on nothing more than an idea and what I have available.  The results?  Mostly I end up with really yummy dishes.  Do I still read and try recipes?  You bet!  They give me inspiration to be more creative.

Why I’m telling you all this is because of a concern for where our society is heading.  I am reading more and more about junk food, fast food, pre-packaged food all dominating what we put in our mouths.  Pre-packaged food started in the ‘50’s.  It was marketed as the ‘new way’.  The unfortunate thing is along with it has come a tremendous increase in obesity (fact) and a decrease in communication and relaxing with each other while eating, in my opinion.

The obesity stems from foods that are low in nutrition and high in (bad) fats, sugar, and salt.  These are all ingredients that, in big enough quantities, can mask the disgusting taste of the other cheap denatured ingredients.  It is a sin!  What has made us rise above other animals is our ability to prepare and cook foods, our ability to plan, store, and create meals that enable us to spend time being together (and working) rather than grazing or hunting our time away.  It has provided us the luxury of sitting down, eating and connecting with fellow human beings.

Now I realize people will argue that we still do this while inhaling a meal together at McDonalds but is it really the same?  I think not.  Not only are we missing out on the nutrients but the care, love and pride that goes into a homemade meal.  We are feeding our guts but are we really nourishing any part of our selves?  As for the ‘I don’t have time’ concept, I don’t buy it.  I continue to work full time and manage a house yet I also cook about 80%-90% of the meals.  And they are meals that are healthy, focused on local growers, very nutritious, easy to make and delicious.  This is not to say I don’t enjoy going out to eat but it makes it a special occasion and it allows me to afford to go somewhere that is healthy.

My goal is to introduce you… entice you… encourage you… and to offer you meals that will take you down this fun rewarding path.  Oh and there are some side benefits – you will feel physically better, have more energy, possibly lose weight (if you need to), and save money!  Now what can beat that?

Try out the recipes on my website.  Meanwhile I am putting together an eBook titled 30 Meals 30 Days that will offer you a variety of dinners so you won’t have to plan a thing.  There will be a list of ingredients to keep on hand in your kitchen, a weekly shopping list, and short videos to show you just how easy healthy cooking can be! 

Check back regularly for the launch of the eBook or sign up for our mailing list (no I will not give your name to anyone!).  If you choose to sign up, I will let you know when it is available.  Meanwhile, eat healthy and share good food and great conversation with your friends and family!

Chopping & Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are a great way to add lots of flavor to many dishes.  Although they can be expensive to buy, they are cheap and easy to grow.  As perennials, they will return every year even if you live in a very cold climate.  In my garden I have oregano, sage, chives, parsley, and thyme.  I also have rosemary but it will die in a cold climate over the winter so I keep it in a pot and bring it in during the cold months.  Unfortunately basil will not winter, as often cilantro will not.  I purchase those every spring and keep them in the ground for most of the spring and summer. 

The challenge with herbs is that they tend to lose their flavor fast.  I try to never purchase dried herbs as they often are tasteless.  This video will show you the best way to handle herbs to get the maximum flavor from them.  Oh and one last note – fresh chopped herbs do maintain their flavor if kept in butter.  In the fall, before a cold frost, I usually pick lots of herbs, chop them and mix them with a little softened butter.  I put this in the freezer so I can have fresh (almost) herbs throughout the winter.

June Cooking Tip – A ‘Must Have’ Grater

Microplane Grater
Microplane Grater
A closer look.
A closer look.

 

If you haven’t seen one of these graters, I highly recommend you look into getting one.  I have had mine for several years and it is the best!  Not only does it do a fantastic job grating parmesan cheese but it is the perfect grater for making lemon, lime or orange zest.  The zest comes out nice and fine so when you add it to dishes or salad dressings, you don’t end up with chunks of rind.  I also use this for grating fresh ginger.  Again it is so fine that the ginger blends nicely into whatever you are making.

I purchased mine at Peppercorn, a local cooking store.  Here is the Microplane website, in case you can’t find it in a store near you. 

I hope you like it as much as I do!