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Archive for Tip Of The Day

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Chop Herbs

Chopping Parsley

Fresh Cilantro

Top: Be sure that herbs are absolutely dry
before you chop them. Photo courtesy
Williams-Sonoma. Bottom: Remove the
woody stems but keep the green portions.
Photo of cilantro courtesy Good Eggs | San
Francisco.

 

Fresh herbs are the avenue to adding a big punch of flavor with few calories to most dishes.

The emphasis is on fresh. While dried herb are a fine stand-by, they don’t deliver the same flavor—and the flavor fades as they age. First…

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HERBS & SPICES

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but that’s inaccurate. There are important differences.

  • Herbs are the leaves of a plant (although stems may also be used). They grow in any climate warm enough to grow vegetables.
  • Spices are from the seeds, roots, fruit or bark, and typically used in dried form. Most originate in tropical or semi-tropical regions.
  •  
    It’s possible for one plant to contain both herb and spice. For example:

  • Cilantro, an herb, is the leaf of the coriander plant; the seeds of the plant, coriander, are a spice.
  • Dill weed, an herb, and dill seed, a spice, come from the same plant.
  •  
    SWEET & SAVORY HERBS

    Most herbs can be used in savory dishes. Think dill, garlic, thyme, oregano, parsley. In addition, there are the so-called sweet herbs, that can be used in both savory and sweet dishes:

  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Licorice
  • Mint
  • Rose Geranium
  • Tarragon
  •  
    There are other sweet herb not often found in the U.S., such as sweet cicely (British myrrh). Stevia, an herb, delivers sweetness in addition to licorice notes.
     
    HOW TO CHOP FRESH HERBS

    Here’s what you should know before you grab a sharp chef’s knife and the cutting board:

    1. Be sure the washed herbs are fully dry.

    If they’re just a bit damp, they’ll get mushy when you chop them.

  • While you can use paper towels to pat them dry, the best course is to wash them in advance of when you need them—even a half hour in advance—and let them dry naturally.
  • Don’t have time to let them dry? Gout the hair dryer! No kidding: We’ve done this more than once with big, damp bunches of parsley.
  •  
    Next up: Different herbs require different chopping techniques.

     

    2. Herbs with edible stems.

    When you throw away the slender stems of herbs like cilantro, dill and parsley, you’re throwing away money. They are just as edible as the leaves.

  • Trim the bottom part of the stems, including any thick portion. If you don’t want to use them in the particular recipe, freeze them for later use in soups, stocks, stir-frys, pestos, minced into plate garnishes, etc. The stems freeze well; delicate leaves, less so.
  • Then, simply chop the stems along with the leaves. Don’t spend any time pulling the leaves off the stems!
  • Green stems from any herb can be cut fine or tossed into anything you’re cooking.
  • Use them in the same way you use bay leaf: When the food is cooked, remove and discard them. Use a spice ball if you like. They are a great addition to sauces, soups and even stir-frys.
  •  
    3. Herbs with big leaves and woody stems.

     

    Herb Keeper

    You don’t need an herb keeper. To make fresh herbs last longer, use a water glass instead. Add the herbs and cover the glass with a plastic bag.

     
    Big-leaf herbs like basil, mint and sage require a different technique.

  • Start by pulling the leaves from the woody stems.
  • Tear them into pieces, or make a chiffonade: Stack the leaves, roll them into a tight bundle and slice crosswise with a sharp knife.
  • Here’s more on how to chiffonade, plus a video from Le Cordon Bleu.
  •  
    3. Herbs with small leaves and woody stems.

    This group includes oregano, rosemary, tarragon and thyme. The leaves need to be stripped from the stems, but the stems are too woody to use.

  • The “hand technique” includes holding a single sprig at the top, pinching the stem with two fingers, and quickly running your fingers down the stem to remove all the leaves.
  • We prefer to use an herb stripping tool. It’s inexpensive and doesn’t take up much room in the gadget drawer.
  • Check your kitchen scissors; they may have an herb stripper built in to the center section.
  • These are small leaves and easy to chop or mince to desired size.
  •  
    4. Chopping or mincing chives.

    Chives, long and stem-free, are in their own category.

  • If you’re good with a knife you can simply slice them horizontally.
  • For us, it’s faster and neater to use our kitchen scissors.
  •  

    HOW TO STORE FRESH HERBS

    You don’t need an “herb keeper” to store herbs. Simply fill a tall glass with a few inches of fresh water, insert the herbs and cover with a plastic produce bag.

    It’s that easy!

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Beef-Buying Tips (What To Ask The Butcher)

    Grilled Bone In Strip Steak

    Lookin’ good: a bone-in strip steak. Photo
    courtesy Remington’s | Chicago.

     

    We recently were taken to dinner at Michael Jordan’s The Steak House N.Y.C., located on the lovely balcony of historic Grand Central Terminal in the heart of Manhattan.

    We wondered if Executive Chef Cenobio Canalizo would give us some advice on the most important considerations when buying steaks and roasts to cook at home. It’s a big expense, and we want to spend our money wisely.

    He kindly provided us with these…
     
    6 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR BUTCHER WHEN BUYING FINE BEEF

    1. Is it wet aged or dry aged?

    Dry-aged beef has a roasted, nutty flavor, while wet-aged beef can taste slightly metallic. Wet-aged beef lacks the depth of flavor of dry-aged, but it can be more tender.

    Chef Canalizo says most chefs will agree that dry-aged has the preferred flavor; it’s also more expensive.

     

    In wet aging, the muscle (beef) rests in a plastic bag in a refrigerated room. With dry-aged, it hangs to age in the air. When you see the word “aged” followed by a given amount of time, and there is no reference to wet or dry, you can safely assume that it is wet-aged beef.
     
    2. How long was the beef aged?

    Chef Canalizo prefers 21 days of aging. Longer is not always better, he advises. Aging actually causes the meat to decay (a tenderizing process). With too much aging, beef can develop a moldy smell and taste.

    All beef needs at least 3 weeks to start to tenderize. Naturally raised beef needs more than 6 weeks because the animals are more mature when they are processed. The reason most supermarket beef is tougher is because it is not sufficiently aged. (Aging = time = more expense.)
     
    3. Is it corn-fed or grass-fed beef?

    What a steer eats can have a major effect on the nutrient composition of the beef. Grass-fed beef usually contains less total fat than grain-fed beef. Thus, gram for gram, grass-fed beef contains fewer calories.

    According to AuthorityNutrition.com, while grass-fed beef may contain slightly less total fat than grain-fed beef, equally valuable is that it contains a lot more Omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), another fatty acid. Both are very beneficial nutrients.

     

    4. How much fat has been trimmed?

    Chef Canalizo recommends leaving a quarter inch of fat on top of the steak for flavor.

    Many people choose cuts with less fat and less marbling. Marbling is the intermingling or dispersion of fat within the lean, and is a prized feature (that’s why Kobe and Wagyu are the most prized beef in the world).

    The fat adds flavor and helps to tenderize the meat. Also, much of it is “cooked out” before the beef is served.
     
    5. How many ounces is it with the bone?

    Chef Canalizo recommends 14 ounces (bone included) per guest. You should request cuts that are closest to the bone. The meat is sweeter and there’s more flavor.

     

    Roast Beerf

    Our mom’s special occasion go-to dish: a roast beef. She insisted on USDA Prime, and became friendly with a top butcher. Photo courtesy Niman Ranch.

     
    6. What’s the grade/quality of the meat?

    From top down, the grades of beef are USDA Prime, USDA Choice and USDA Select. Additional grades, not available for consumer purchase, are Standard, Commercial, Utility, Cutter and Canner. These latter grades are used in anything from canned chili to pet food.

    According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a quality grade is a composite evaluation of factors that affect palatability of meat (tenderness, juiciness and flavor).

    These factors include carcass maturity, firmness, texture and color of the lean, and the amount and distribution of marbling within the lean.

    Beef is graded in two ways: quality grades for tenderness, juiciness and flavor; and yield grades for the amount of usable lean meat on the carcass.

    While only the quality grade is important to you as the buyer, you should note that in the yield grade, only 3% of all beef produced in the U.S. is USDA Prime. It’s sold only at top butcher shops and top steak restaurants like Michael Jordan’s.

    If you’re not going for USDA Prime, be sure you’re getting USDA Choice, not USDA Select.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Make Almond Milk

    Homemade Almond Milk

    Homemade almond milk. Photo courtesy
    Juice Queen.

     

    Here’s a fun project for the weekend: homemade almond milk. All you need are almonds, water, cheesecloth and a jar.

    Almond milk is a dairy-free milk alternative, favored by the lactose-intolerant, vegans, raw foodists and as a kosher (pareve) milk alternative. Others simply like the creaminess and hints of almond on the palate.

    Almond milk is the number one nondairy milk in the U.S. It can be used anywhere cow’s milk is used, from morning cereal to afternoon smoothies to after-dinner coffee. (Here’s a nutrition comparison.)

    In just five minutes (plus eight hours soaking time), you can make a batch, From there, you can make flavored almond milk, like vanilla or cocoa. You can add a sweetener of choice—agave, honey, maple syrup, noncaloric sweetener, sugar—or drink it as is (it has its own natural sweetness).

    You can even give a cocoa almond milk kit to a child, useful for everything from Show and Tell to inspiring the joy of cooking.

     

    But today’s project is making a batch of plain almond milk. Sure, you can buy it ready made. But making your own is not only fun; it tastes a lot better than the manufactured, shelf-stable product, which typically contains additives and preservatives.

     

    RECIPE: HOMEMADE ALMOND MILK

    Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw almonds
  • Jar
  • Water
  • Cheesecloth
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PLACE the almonds in a large bowl or jar and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Cap the jar or cover the bowl with a dish towel, and let the almonds soak for at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. The almonds will plump as they absorb water. The longer you soak them, the creamier the milk will be. If you plan to soak them for more than 8 hours or overnight, put the bowl in the fridge.

    2. STRAIN the almonds in a colander, thoroughly rinse them with cold water and place them in a blender. Pulse them to break up the almonds. Add 4 cups of water and blend on high until the mixture is very smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. The almonds should break down into a very fine meal and the water should be white and opaque.

    3. PLACE the cheesecloth in a large strainer over a bowl. If you don’t have a strainer, gather the edges of the cheesecloth in one hand so as to create a well. Carefully pour the water and almond mixture into the cheesecloth, taking pains to not let any spill out of the sides. When all of the mixture has been poured…

    4. SQUEEZE the remaining almond meal in the cheesecloth to extract any remaining liquid. You can wring the cheesecloth to get every last drop. See below for what to do with the leftover almond meal. At this point you can taste the almond milk and sweeten to taste. It has natural sweetness, so we don’t add anything more.

    5. STORE the almond milk in an airtight container in the fridge. Since it has no preservatives and isn’t pasteurized, it only keeps for two or three days. Because there are no emulsifiers, the milk can separate. Just shake the bottle.

    If you’ve had commercial almond milk, you’ll be wowed by the fresh flavor.

     

    Make Almond Milk

    Making Almond Milk

    Top: Soaking the almonds. Bottom: Wringing the last delicious drops from the cheesecloth. Photos and recipe courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     
    If you’d like a thinner milk, use more water next time; for thicker milk, use less water.

    If you plan to make almond milk regularly, buy a nut milk bag from a health food store or online. It’s easier to work with than cheesecloth.

    HOW TO USE THE LEFTOVER ALMOND MEAL

    You can toss or compost it, of course. But you can also:

  • Add it to oatmeal, muffin batter or smoothies for extra protein.
  • If you want to keep it for future baking, dry it by spreading it onto a baking sheet and baking it in a low oven (275°F to 300°F) until completely dry, 2 to 3 hours. You can then freeze it for up to 6 months.
  •  
    MAKING ALMOND MILK: BLENDER VS. FOOD PROCESSOR

    You can use either a blender or a food processor to make almond milk. The differences:

  • With a blender, the milk has a silkier texture and subtly sweet flavor notes.
  • With a food processor, the milk is a bit thicker with a nuttier flavor. It may contain some the bits of ground almonds.

     
    ALMOND MILK HISTORY

    In the Middle Ages, almond milk was made in Europe to East Asia. It was a staple because it kept longer than cow’s or goat’s milk; and it was appropriate for consumption during Lent and fast days.

      

  • Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t Toss The Broccoli Stems

    Many people don’t like broccoli stems, as proven by the bags of florets-only in the produce section. But while the texture is different, the stems are just as tasty, with just as much nutrition and cruciferous antioxidants.

    If, for whatever reason, you don’t cook them along with the florets, put them to another use.

  • Cook and purée them.
  • Shave them raw into salads.
  • Steam and add them to omelets and cooked grains.
  • Add them to soup.
  • Toss them into a stir-fry.
  •  
    For the tenderest results, you can use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of supermarket broccoli stems before cooking; they tend to be tougher than just-harvested greenmarket broccoli. Then, you can cook them as you like or keep shaving the raw stems for a salad ingredient.

    In the recipe that follows, the raw stems are sliced into thin circles and turned into their own salad: broccoli stem salad! Who needs lettuce?

    This recipe is by Kate Galassi for Quinciple, a delivery service that brings the week’s best fruits and vegetables to your door.

    RECIPE: BROCCOLI STEM SALAD

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 2 broccoli stems (from 2 large heads of broccoli)
  • ½ garlic clove, crushed
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of chili flakes (crushed red pepper)
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup mixed fresh herbs, such as basil, mint or parsley; or fresh or dried oregano* and thyme*
  • ___________________________________

     

    Broccoli Stem Salad

    Head Of Broccoli

    If you don’t cook the broccoli stems, make a broccoli stem salad. Top photo and recipe courtesy Quinciple.com; bottom photo courtesy Burpee.com.

     
    *A little bit of oregano and thyme go a long way, so don’t use too much in your blend.
     
    Preparation

    1. SHAVE the stems into paper-thin slices with a mandoline. If you don’t have one, use a very sharp chef’s knife to slice the stems as thinly as you can.

    2. WHISK together the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and chili flakes, and toss with the sliced broccoli stems. Season with salt and pepper and let sit for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile…

    3. PICK the herb leaves off their stems. Small leaves, including parsley, can stay whole. Larger leaves of basil and mint should be torn into smaller pieces. Or, chop them all if you like, with a mezzaluna or other tool.

    4. DIVIDE the broccoli salad between two plates and garnish with the fresh herbs.
     
     
    THE CRUCIFEROUS VEGETABLES FAMILY

    Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, a member of the Brassicaceae family of cancer-fighting superfoods.

    “Cruciferous” derives from cruciferae, New Latin for “cross-bearing.” The flowers of these vegetables consist of four petals in the shape of a cross.

    The family includes arugula, bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard greens, radish, rapeseed/canola, rapini (broccoli rabe), rutabaga, tatsoi and turnips.

    They’re low in calories and high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. You can’t eat too many of them, but you can overcook them. You’ll know they’re overcooked when an unpleasant sulfur aroma appears. They’ll also fade in color.

    That’s because all cruciferous vegetables contain chemical compounds that, when exposed to heat for a sufficient amount of time, produce hydrogen sulfide.

    So, enjoy them on the al dente side.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Serving Raw Mushrooms

    We really appreciate mushrooms. They’re what we call a “bonus” food: extremely low in calories and a versatile ingredient in cooked foods from omelets to rice pilaf to meat loaf to sauces.

    They’re also delicious raw. Our marinated mushroom salad is very popular (recipe below) and we typically serve mushrooms with other crudités and dip. But we were newly inspired by this mushroom carpaccio from Qunciple.com (a produce delivery service like a CSA, but representing the best of many farmers).

    A beautiful presentation, you can make a large platter for a buffet or to pass at the table, or prepare individual plates.

    RECIPE: MUSHROOM CARPACCIO

    Ingredients For 2 Servings

  • 1/2 pound white button mushrooms, wiped cleaned
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 4-6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (we use basil oil or
    rosemary oil)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh herbs for garnish: basil or parsley
  •    

    Mushroom Carpaccio

    A pretty presentation: mushroom carpaccio garnished with basil leaves. Photo by Julia Gartland | Quinciple.

     

    Preparation

    Ideally use a mandolin, which makes uniform slices and can cut them as thin as possible.

    If you don’t yet have a mandoline, it’s a good excuse to get one. They don’t take up much room, and if you cook regularly, you’ll appreciate the convenience it provides in slicing fruits and vegetables, including crinkle and waffle cuts; as well as cheese and chips. You want one that’s slip-free, has multiple attachments (to make different shapes), and the indispensible hand guard. This mandoline has it all.

    1. HOLD each mushroom by the stem and use the mandoline to cut very thin slices off the top of the mushroom cap. Stop before you reach the stem. Remove the stems (they will still have some of the cap attached); you can add them to grains, omelets, sauces, soups or stocks.

    USING A KNIFE: If you don’t have a mandolin use a large, sharp knife. Lay each cap flat on a cutting board and trim one edge, slicing off 1/8″ or so. Turn the cap on its edge so that the cut side is flush against the board and the mushroom is steady on the board. Slice the mushrooms as thinly as you can.

    2. ARRANGE the mushrooms on one or two plates in overlapping concentric circles (start at the outside and work your way to the center). Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, finish the plate(s) with a generous squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.
     

     

    Marinated Mushrooms

    Marinated Mushroom Salad

    Top: Marinated mushrooms in a lettuce cup;
    photo courtesy Taste Of Home. Bottom:
    Marinated mushrooms with a side of dressed
    greens. Photo courtesy A Shifted Perspective.

     

    RECIPE: RAW MUSHROOM SALAD

    This recipe is so flexible, you can add whatever you like: baby corn, capers, fennel, etc. You can also use other than white mushrooms, and it’s even more interesting with an assortment of mushrooms. Check out the options in our Mushroom Glossary.

    Ingredients

  • 1 8-ounce container white mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon wine or sherry vinegar (or more to taste)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh herbs (basil, chives, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme), minced (we use two different herbs)
  • Optional ingredients for color: diced red pepper or pimento, red onions, sliced green onions or chives
  • Optional ingredients for variety: broccoli or cauliflower florets, edamame, sliced olives
  • Optional heat: 1 chili, seeded and white pith removed, finely sliced
  • Baby arugula, baby spinach, mesclun, watercress or lettuce/cabbage/radicchio cups
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CLEAN the mushrooms and pat dry. Place in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the sea salt. Toss to coat thoroughly. Let stand for about 30 minutes so the salt can remove excess water from the mushrooms. Brush any remaining salt from the mushrooms with a mushroom brush or a paper towel.

     
    2. COMBINE the marinade ingredients in a bowl: olive oil, vinegar, garlic, lemon zest, pepper and herbs. Toss the mushrooms in the marinade to coat. (We don’t add salt at this stage because of the residue salt on the mushrooms.)

    3. COVER the bowl refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend (we often let it sit overnight). Taste and adjust the seasonings.

    4. SERVE as desired. We enjoy marinated mushrooms as a salad course, along with dressed greens.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Overnight Oats

    Overnight oats are trending. According to Pinterest, there were 5 million overnight oats pins in 2015, a whopping 211% increase over 2014.

    If your goal is to eat a better breakfast and more whole grains, here’s how it can be ready for you to eat each morning.
     
    WHAT ARE OVERNIGHT OATS?

    Overnight oats are a way of preparing oatmeal by soaking the oats overnight, instead of cooking them. Raw oats are soaked overnight in your choice of liquid: drinkable yogurt or kefir, milk or nondairy milk (almond milk is splendid), water, yogurt/water mix, whatever.

    The soaking turns oatmeal into a cold breakfast cereal, although you can certainly heat it.

    You can use rolled oats, steel cut oats, even instant oatmeal; although given that the latter is ready in a minute in the microwave, we’d focus on the first two.

    The mixture sits in a lidded jar oats overnight (or for at least 6 hours) as the oats absorb the liquid. When it’s time for breakfast the next morning, the oats are plumped up, soft and ready to eat, cold or heated, plain or with the toppings of your choice.

     

    Overnight Oats

    One of our favorites: strawberry overnight oats. Here’s the recipe from A Pumpkin And A Princess.

     
    You can eat the oats at home or grab the jar on your way out the door. It’s that easy!

    Add Your Own Touches

    You can customize the flavors with your favorite ingredients, by adding anything from nut butter to fruit purée to the jar. For example:

  • Apple Cinnamon overnight oats, add 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce plus 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon.
  • Banana French Toast overnight oats, add ½ mashed banana ½ teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon vanilla extra and 1 tablespoon maple syrup.
  • Almond Joy overnight oats, with coconut, chocolate chips and almonds.
  • Just About Anything Sweet. We’ve seen recipes for Brownie, Carrot Cake, Cinnamon Roll, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Mocha, Moose Tracks, Peanut Butter Cup, Peanut Butter & Jelly…and on and on. If it gets the kids to eat their oatmeal, go for it!
  •  
    Don’t like sweet? Experiment with savory recipes, from caraway seeds to red chili flakes.

     

    Plenti Oatmeal & Greek Yogurt

    Yoplait Plenti: Apple Cinnamon is one of six
    flavors with “overnight oats” in Greek yogurt.
    Photo courtesy General Mills.

     

    RECIPE: OVERNIGHT OATS

    There is no right or wrong ingredient or proportion: It’s how you like your oats. Here’s a guide for your first batch; you take it from here.

    Ingredients For 1 Serving

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 cup liquid, or 1/2 cup each water and yogurt
  • Optional: peanut butter or other “custom ingredient,” e.g.
    1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon flaxseed meal or protein powder
  • Optional flavoring: cinnamon, cocoa, coffee, vanilla extract
  • Sweetener: agave, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, noncaloric sweetener, etc.
  • Toppings of choice: dried or fresh fruit, nuts and/or seeds, granola or other crunchy dry cereal
  • Lidded jar or other container
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MIX the oats and liquid in the jar with the optional peanut butter. Tamp down with a rubber spatula or a spoon so that all the oats get moistened.

    2. PLACE the jar in the refrigerator overnight. It’s ready to eat in the morning. If using peanut butter or other nut butter…

    3. BLEND the peanut butter briefly before refrigerating, just enough so that you’ll have swirls of it the next day. (We whisked it briefly.) When you’re ready to eat…

    4. ADD the sweetener, microwave if desired, and add your toppings of choice.
     
    TRY YOPLAIT PLENTI WITH OATS

    Yoplait Plenti has applied the concept of overnight oats to its yogurt cups, combining oats with Greek yogurt. There are 11 grams of protein and 16 grams of whole grain in every cup.

    The six flavors include Apple Cinnamon, Blueberry, Maple Brown Sugar, Peach, Strawberry and Vanilla.

    It’s a brand-new product, so if your grocer doesn’t have it yet, ask or keep checking.

    Learn more at PlentiYogurt.com.

      

    Comments

    TIP: Spice Up Your Diet With Chiles

    Blistered Chiles

    The Great Pepper Cookbook

    Top: Blistered chiles, particularly padróns
    and shishitos, have become a hot side dish
    (no pun intended). Here’s the recipe. Photo courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco. Bottom: Start your chile adventure with a good book, like this one from Melissa’s.

     

    Here’s a healthy food tip for the new year: Check out the health benefits of chiles and add more chiles to your diet.

    Chiles originated in Central and South America, where they have been cultivated for more than seven thousand years. They were first used as a decorative item, then became a foodstuff and a medicine.

    Christopher Columbus encountered them in the Caribbean Islands and brought them back to Europe, where they were used as a substitute for pricey black pepper from India.

    Ferdinand Magellan is credited with introducing chili peppers into Africa and Asia on his voyages. Now, chiles are grown on all continents, and incorporated them into world cuisines.

    Here are ways to use five popular chile varieties: chiles in adobo, habanero, jalapeño, poblano and dried chiles.
     
    HOW TO BUY CHILES

    Here are some tips from Whole Foods Market:

  • Fresh chiles: Place unwashed fresh peppers in paper bags or wrap them in paper towels. They will keep in the vegetable compartment of the fridge for at least one week. Avoid storing them in plastic bags, which can accumulate moisture and cause the chiles (and other vegetables) to spoil more quickly.
  • Dried whole chiles: Buy dried chiles that are still vivid in color. If they’ve begun to fade, they’ve probably lost their flavor as well.
  • Shopping for dried chiles: Look for the best dried chiles at spice stores or ethnic markets. You’ll not only find a larger selection than in American grocery stores, but the selection is likely fresher and of superior quality.
  •  
    Dry Your Own Chiles

    For a fun project, dry your own fresh chiles; then grind them into chili powder as needed. You can hang them in the sunlight to dry (the most fun) or use the oven or a dehydrator. Here are instructions.

    If you garden, you can grow your own chiles as well.

    GET A BOOK

    The best way to add more chiles to your meals is to start with a book that shows all the possibilities. Our favorite cookbook in the category is The Great Pepper Cookbook, a thorough guide to choosing and cooking with peppers.

    From mild to hot and hotter, the book explains how to choose, prep and cook 37 varieties of fresh and dried chiles. The recipes are splendid and the photos are gorgeous. They make you want to prepare every recipe.
     
    EASY MILD CHILE RECIPES: CHILE VERDE WITH CHICKEN & CUBANELLE CHILES

    To start you off, here are some pairings with mild chiles that favored by Steve Lindner, Executive Chef and Founder of Zone Manhattan.

    Chef Steve uses the cubanelle chile to make a version of Chili Verde, a stew from northern Mexico. Originally made with pork, it can be made with chicken as well. Serve it with a whole grain and vegetable sides.

    Ingredients

  • ½ pound chicken thighs
  • ½ pound cubanelle chiles, sliced
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Garnishes: cilantro, grated jalapeño, lime zest, sliced green onion
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUBE the chicken and sear in a pot. Add the onion and garlic.

    2. COVER with the wine and vinegar. Simmer until soft. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Serve with garnishes.

     

    PEPPERONCINI RECIPE: COCONUT & SHRIMP CEVICHE

    You can do much more with pepperoncini than add them to a Greek salad. Coconut and shrimp are a popular combination, but you can make ceviche with scallops or any fish. Here’s more about ceviche.

    Ingredients

  • ½ pound shrimp, cleaned and split in two
  • 1 orange, 3 limes and 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 5 pepperoncini chiles, thinly sliced
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup toasted coconut
  • Garnishes: cilantro, shaved baby cucumbers, sliced green onion
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE the first four ingredients and marinate for several hours or overnight. Taste and add salt as desired.

    2. TOP with the coconut and serve with the garnishes.
     
    IS IT “CHILE” OR “PEPPER?”

    Chiles were “discovered” in the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus, who called them “peppers” (pimientos, in Spanish) because of their fiery similarity to the black peppercorns with which he was familiar.

    However, there is no relationship between the two plants (or between chiles and Szechuan pepper, for that matter). “Pepper” is a misnomer, but in the U.S., it seems to have taken over. Some people use “chile pepper,” a bit of a correction, still not accurate.

    Here’s more on the history of chiles.
     
    IS IT CHILE, CHILI OR CHILLI?

    The term “pepper” is not used in Latin America. There, the word is chili, from chilli, the word in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. The original Nahuatl word is chilli. The conquering Spanish spelled it chile.

    In the U.K., chilli is the popular spelling. In the U.S., many people use chili, a seeming middle ground between chilli and chile.

     

    Cubanelle Chile & Feta Sandwich

    Chiles Nogada

    Top: Cubanelle chiles are so mild that you can add them to almost any sandwich. Simit + Smith combines them with feta, lettuce and tomato. Bottom: Chiles en Nogada, poblano chiles with walnut sauce, are another mild chile dish. Here’s the recipe from Pom Wonderful.

     

    Now that you know, the choice is yours. We choose “chile” because it’s the spelling by which Europeans were introduced to the chilli, and the best variant of that word.

    How many types of chiles have you had? Check them out in our Chile Glossary.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Roasted Garlic, A Healthy Garnish

    Baked Garlic

    Roast Garlic

    A bulb of roasted garlic is a delicious
    accompaniment to grilled meats. Photo
    courtesy Sushi Roku Katana | West
    Hollywood.

     

    Originating more than 6,000 years ago in central Asia, garlic took the culinary world by storm, spreading from culture to culture. It is used in cuisines on all the world’s continents and is one of America’s most popular herbs*.

    A member of the onion genus, Allium (the Latin word for garlic), garlic’s cousins include the chives, green onions/scallions, leeks, onions and shallots. Its botanical family, Amaryllidaceae, comprises flowering plants, most grown from bulbs (including, not surprisingly, the amaryllis).

    Garlic is not only a delicious flavor to many people; it is also one of the healthiest foods you can eat. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, boost the immune system, and may even fight Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

    Here’s more on the health benefits of garlic.

    The most common use of garlic involves crushing or mincing a few cloves and adding the raw garlic to a recipe. But you can cook entire bulbs or whole cloves of garlic as a side or a garnish to please your favorite garlic lovers.

    There are two principal ways to do this, each delivering different flavors and textures. Roasting an entire head of garlic is the simpler of the methods.

    Both produce a rich, sweet, mellow flavor that appeals even to people who don’t like the flavor of garlic in recipes.
    _________________________________________
    *An herb is a plant that is used to flavor or scent other foods.

    RECIPE: ROASTED GARLIC

    A head of roasted garlic is served as a hearty side with roasted meats and poultry.

  • You can scoop it from the head with a utensil, or squeeze it from the cloves onto bread or toasts—a different approach to garlic bread!
  • You can give each garlic lover his/her own roasted garlic head/bulb, or share a number of bulbs at the table.
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 350°F.

    2. CREATE a “hinge” on the top of the garlic bulb/head by slicing horizontally into it. Stop before you cut completely through. Then close the hinge and wrap the entire head in aluminum foil.

    3. PLACE the packet in the oven and bake for at least 45 minutes. It’s ready when you can squeeze the bottom of the bulb and the sweet, caramel-colored garlic oozes out the top.

     

    RECIPE: GARLIC CONFIT

    Confit is a method of preservation whereby a food (usually meat, as in duck confit) is cooked slowly in fat. It is then submerged and stored in the fat, where it will last for months.

    You can adapt the technique to garlic. Using peeled garlic cloves instead of the whole bulb, the confit method develops a flavor similar to roasting, but is more conducive to using as a garnish.

    Use the garlic confit as a topping or side garnish for meat, poultry and grilled fish; with eggs; to top burgers and sandwiches; as part of a condiment tray with pickles; or any way that inspires you.

    The garlic-flavored oil that remains in the dish after cooking is a quick flavor booster in almost any recipe that requires oil—including a vinaigrette for the meal’s salad course, or bread-dipping, or marinades. We like to use it in mashed potatoes and to cook eggs.

    You can freeze or refrigerate the confit for future use, so don’t hesitate to make a large batch at once. Bring some to garlic-loving friends.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 225°F.

    2. PEEL the garlic cloves: First soak the unpeeled cloves in cold water for five minutes to loosen the skin. Slice off the root and tip with a sharp paring knife, then use the tip to lift off the papery skin.

    3. PLACE the peeled garlic cloves in an oven-safe dish with high sides, then cover completely with olive oil. You can also add aromatics to the oil—chives, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme—lemon zest, or chiles.

     

    Roasted Garlic

    Russian Red Garlic

    Top: Garlic confit, glistening cloves roasted in olive oil. Photo courtesy Apronclad.com. Bottom: Beautiful Russian Red garlic. Photo courtesy Chef Seamus Mullen | FB.

     
    4. COVER and bake for at least an hour, or until the cloves become soft enough to squish between your fingers. Remove from the oven and drain the oil into an airtight jar or other container. Store in the fridge.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Grain Bowls With Roasted Vegetables

    Grain Bowl With Squash

    Grain Bowl With Squash

    Top: Grain bowl with delicata squash.
    Bottom: Wild rice bowl with kabocha squash.
    Photos courtesy Good Eggs | San Francisco.

     

    Did grain bowls originate in healthy “salad” food chains? All we know is that in the last few years, grain bowls have become a go-to light and nutritious meal, whether you buy yours from a food shop or bring it from home.

    Make one of your new year healthy food switches a weekly grain bowl. The options are endless, and you’ll get to try different grains and explore other ingredients, including different varieties of squash. (Squash and grains are a great marriage.)

    Grain bowls can be served at lunch or dinner; hot, warm or chilled. They can be:

  • Meatless for meatless Monday
  • Topped with small amounts of meat, poultry, fish or seafood
  • Vegan
  •  
    You can top it with your favorite garnishes (olives, please!). You can use up leftovers.

    No time to cook grains? Look at precooked grains; add or substitute canned beans.

     
    GRAIN BOWLS: HOW TO MIX & MATCH

    The formula is simple: cooked grain topped with vegetables and proteins, drizzled with dressing, and garnished.

  • Grains: Make them whole grains, and expand your experience. Barley? Couscous? Kamut? Quinoa? Peruse the choices at your regular food store, and seek out natural food stores for even more options.
  • Proteins: beans/other legumes*; crumbled/shaved/shredded cheese; fried, hard cooked or poached eggs; fish/seafood; meat or poultry; tofu.
  • Vegetables: marinated, pickled, raw (avocado, cucumber, radish), roasted, steamed, wilted.
  • Garnishes: baby arugula, capers, cherry/grape tomatoes, dried fruit (apricots, dates, cherries, cranberries, raisins), fresh herbs, green onions, green peas/edamame, hummus, kimchi, nuts/seeds, olives, plain yogurt, sprouts, sundried tomatoes, watercress.
  • Heat: chile flakes, chipotle, hot sauce, minced jalapeño.
  • Dressing: lemon/lime wedges, regular or flavored oil and vinegar, tahini.
  •  
    RECIPE: WILD RICE & ROASTED SQUASH SALAD

    This recipe, from Good Eggs, takes 15 minutes of prep time and 30 minutes of cook time. It specifies kabocha squash; but as mentioned above, you can take the opportunity to try any squash you like.

    Ingredients

  • 1 kabocha squash (or substitute)
  • 1 cup wild rice
  • 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
  • 3 tablespoons parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup arugula, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup feta cheese
  • 2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  •  
    *The difference between beans and legumes: All beans are legumes, plants with pod fruits. But the category also includes peas, pulses (like lentils), even pod-based vine nuts like peanuts.
     
    Preparation

    1. PREHEAT the oven to 400°F. Using a sturdy knife and a steady hand, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds. (Save ‘em to roast if you like!) Slice kabocha halves into 1” thick wedges and arrange in one layer on a baking sheet. Toss with a pinch of salt and a bit of olive oil—just enough to coat each piece—and place the sheet in the oven. They should take about 30 minutes to cook.

    2. PUT the rice in a pot with 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. When the water boils, cover the pot and turn down to a simmer until the rice is cooked (about 25-30 minutes). While the rice and the squash cook…

    3. WASH and dry the watercress and arugula. Chop them very roughly and set aside. Toast thewalnuts until they’re golden brown (about 4-5 minutes in the toaster oven or 3 minutes in the oven—they’re deceptively fast toasting nuts). Chop once they’ve cooled.

    4. CHECK the rice. If it’s fully cooked, turn off the flame and let it sit for a few minutes in the covered pot. If all of the water is absorbed but the grains are not yet cooked, add a bit more water and continue to cook it with the cover on for a few more minutes. When it’s done, scoop the rice into a bowl and place in the fridge for a few minutes.
    Step 5

    5. CHECK the squash. When it is fully cooked (golden brown and tender) after about 30 minutes, remove it from the oven. Let it cool slightly if you don’t want to wilt the greens. In a bowl, combine the rice, squash, greens, sesame seeds, parsley, walnuts and feta. Dress with a couple splashes of rice vinegar, a bit of olive oil, and a few drops of sesame oil. Mix gently with a large spoon.

    6. ADJUST seasonings (salt and pepper) to taste and serve.

     

    A SQUASH ODYSSEY

    What do these have in common: acorn, Australian blue, banana, buttercup, butternut, calabaza, carnival, chayote, delicaza, gold nugget, hubbard, kabocha, orangetti, red kuri, spaghetti, stripetti, sweet dumpling and turban?

    They’re all winter squash—but you probably guessed that from the headline. Do you know how delicious they all are, though? We went on a two week squash odyssey and found a personal favorite (carnival squash, so good we ate the rind; sweet dumpling squash was our runner-up).

    Squash Is A Guilt-Free Food

  • It’s good for you, with tons of vitamin A (one serving has four times the RDA—and 52% of vitamin C) and a good source of vitamin E (alpha tocopherol), thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, potassium and manganese.
  • The calories are just 80 to 100 per cup, depending on variety.
  • Read more about these gorgeous vegetables in our Squash Glossary.
     
    WHAT ARE KABOCHA SQUASH?

    Kabocha is also called Japanese pumpkin, especially in Australia and New Zealand. It is the variety of squash used in tempura. You may find different varieties in farmers markets. We’ve included photos of three varieties.

    Many of the kabocha in the market are kuri kabocha, a variety bred from seiyo kabocha, buttercup squash. It has a strong yet sweet flavor; its texture and flavor have been described as a combination of pumpkin and sweet potato. The rind of a kabocha is edible.

    Kabocha is available year-round but peaks in the late summer and early fall.

    Squash History

    The ancestors of all squash originated, and were domesticated, in Mesoamerica, some 8000 to 10,000 years ago. That’s 4,000 years earlier than the domestication of maize and beans, other local staples.

    Christopher Columbus brought squash back to Europe, along with tobacco, potatoes and tomatoes. From there, the vegetable was dispersed around the world.

     

    Gray Kabocha Squash

    Red Kabocha Squash

    Sunshine Kabocha Squash

    Top: gray kabocha squash. Center: red kabocha squash. Bottom: sunshine kabocha squash. Photos courtesy Good Eggs.

     
    In 1541 squash was brought to Japan from Cambodia on Portuguese ships. The sailors then went to Japan, where they introduced the squash as Cambodia abóbora, (Cambodian pumpkin). The name was shortened by the Japanese to kabocha, and kabocha became the generic term for all squash. [Source]

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Quick Microwaved Mug-Scrambled Eggs

    Mug Scrambled Eggs

    Mug-scrambled eggs, ready in less than three minutes. Photo courtesy American
    Egg Board.

     

    You should start the day off with a protein-based breakfast. Many of us don’t, opting for toast, a bagel or a bowl of Corn Flakes. Yet, you can have a better-for-you breakfast of scrambled eggs, without turning on the stove.

    For a quick and easy breakfast in less than 3 minutes, try this microwave egg scramble from the American Egg Board, IncredibleEgg.org.

    Just toss the ingredients into a mug! Prep time is 1 minute, cook time is 2 minutes. You can even prepare the mixture the night before, cutting your morning time to

    To blend the ingredients, you’ll need a mini whisk or an Aerolatte or other milk frother. However, in a pinch, a fork will do.

    RECIPE: MICROWAVED MUG SCRAMBLED EGGS

    Ingredients Per Serving

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Optional: minced fresh or dried herbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional garnishes: 2 tablespoons shredded Cheddar cheese
    or salsa
  • Preparation

    1. COAT a 12-ounce, microwave-safe coffee mug with cooking spray. Add the eggs, milk, herbs and salt and pepper to taste; beat or whisk until blended.

    2. MICROWAVE on HIGH 45 seconds; stir. MICROWAVE until eggs are almost set, 30 to 45 seconds longer. Note: Microwave ovens vary. Cooking times may need to be adjusted.

    3. TOP with cheese and/or salsa; season with salt and pepper.

     
      

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