Saturday, February 29, 2020

Leap Into Good Health

This is Leap Year Day - the perfect day to leap into good eating habits. One of the best defenses we have against the corona virus and anything else is solid nutrition. If we eat healthy we'll be healthy.

The first step is assessing what you eat. Too many processed foods - out. The last thing you need is a diet rich with high sodium and high fat along with over processing. Instant or microwave meals can be handy but they can also be deadly too. I know it's easy to pop something for five minutes and then gobble it down. You can still have microwave dishes but try steamed ones. There are many microwave steamers out there where you can cook an entire meal.Start looking into steaming salmon steaks with a wide variety of veggies. Of course we all know about those omega 3''s but few know about their ability to increase white blood cells, vital for fighting off foreign agents such as flus and viruses. They also produce antibodies , sort of like a natural vaccine. what pairs well with a nice piece of the fish? Lightly buttered green beans which are loaded with Vitamins C and K. Asparagus works too.A few stalks will provide you with chromium useful for transporting glucose through the body.  Another healthy meat is chicken but skip the fried, as delicious as it is. Stick to grilled and roasted.

Snacking on the wrong foods can also wreck your immunity.  Again, as with fast food it's so easy to grab the tasty and the quick. One of the best and most flavorful is a small tray of mixed veggies with spiced up Greek yogurt. Have a good mix of broccoli and cauliflower florets.Broccoli is rich in the essential vitamins along with choline, a nutrient essential to a healthy diet. Choline aids in creating a strong gastrointestinal barrier  which keeps bacteria safely confined to the gut.Cauliflower also has its' life saving pluses.The florets are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and also choline. Of course don't forget the carrots. These perfect crunchers (and teeth cleaners) are abundant in beta carotene and their nutrients help to support the body's mucus membrane which lines both the respiratory and intestinal tracts. This makes it hard for bacteria to enter the blood stream. If you want sweet then consider Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup or dark wildflower honey. Even these two sweeteners have antioxidant properties that help strengthen the immune system.

Leap into a diet that boosts your immune system. It will help you deal with whatever germs that are out there. You can protect yourself while still eating tasty foods.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Chinese Restaurants - A Go Or No Go

The coronoavirus has affected everything , from how we live to how we conduct business. Even eating out can be seen as risky. Now the focus on Chinese restaurants since the virus originated in Wuhan, China and everything Chinese is suspect. What should we do?

The dilemma is a double edged sword. If you boycott Chinese or any Asian restaurant, you're seen as racist and xenophobic. Staying away is understandable  since COVID-19 , the official name for the virus - is highly contagious. Families with young children along with the elderly and  autoimmune compromised are especially nervous and again, it's understandable. I hate to say avoid until the virus is eradicated but that may have to be the case. What about Asian markets? Again the answer may be stay away until everything is OK again. Keep in mind that also applies to grocery markets and other ethnic restaurants.Mall food courts are out too, since they're hangouts for all sorts of germs. Maybe the best bet is signing up for Peapod or any food delivery service.  Pick out what you need , by brand and quantity and have it delivered to you. Many swear by these and are satisfied with the quality of produce and meats they receive.

This brings up the question of take out. Can we order Chinese take out by phone or computer? Again, this sounds racist and xenophobic but if you can trust your restaurant, then the answer is yes. They know you and probably realize your fears. Maybe they'll wear plastic gloves when cooking. Face masks may help but they also hold in humidity which breeds germs. Yet all take out should be suspect as well. Can we trust our pizza delivery people or our Panera drivers just as much as we trust our Chinese take out deliverers? They too are human and just as susceptible to the coronavirus as any of us. One accidental sneeze or cough could contaminate our order of pizza sticks or tomato soup. Maybe the healthier choice is the unhealthy choice of frozen and processed foods. We can still get a variety of different ethnic choices.They may not be fresh made but they're just as easy to prepare as ordering  take out. If you do have the time, then you can create some of your take out favorites.

There is no easy answer to eating out right now. Be brave if you want to. Support local businesses. Just b e aware of what's going on in your neighborhoods and towns. Be aware. Be cautious.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Brownsville Texas The Taco Town

For Mexican food lovers,the border town of Brownsville, Texas is heaven. There you can buy different , fresh made varieties , full of a wide spectrum of spices and fillings.It is one of the best places in all the US to eat the best of the spiciest best.

Regular contributor, Priya Krishna, wrote about this Texas border town in yesterday's New York Times Food section.Brownsville is not an easy town to get to, yet it's attracting all sorts of attention.The town is a relatively poor one, despite its' proximity to the chichi Texas resort South Padre Island. Things are looking up, thanks, in part to Elon Musk, breaking ground for the world's first commercial orbital launching site and the darker Casa Padre, a detention center for immigrant boys. The city's Southmost section, is the place for delicious and famed Mexican dishes. It is supported by Brownsville's robust population of Mexican immigrants, many who arrived thanks to the Bracero Project. This was a collaboration between the US and Mexico that allowed millions of guest workers between the years 1942 to 1964.  This brought in skilled cooks whose taquerias served as models for the ones we eat at today.One of the oldest is Vera's, opened in 1955 by Armindo Vera. His is the most traditional, with him smoking cow heads for barbacoa, until it's tender and falling off the bone. He serves it with corn tortillas, onions, cilantro and several different kinds of salsa.

The good food isn't limited to just the US side. The town across the border, Matamoros hosts Marcelos, a family owned restaurant. It, too, is extremely popular, drawing guests as far away as China and Germany. The reason for it's worldwide popularity is the way its' food is cooked. These are family recipes created by Evangelina Rocha and her husband, Abel Mondragon. They and their sons , Adan and Isai create their famed chicharrones verdes, pork skins bathed in tomatillos,green chilies and cilantro, then served inside plush corn tortillas.Their tacos are famed, thanks to the tender loving care put into them. The meat has to be cleaned. The dried beans have to be high quality while the salsa should be made exactly to the recipe.Back in Brownsville there is competition with Sylvia's and Easy To Go Tacos, the last serving flautas, fried rolled tacos stuffed with meat. They also serve tostadas and fajitas too along with borrachos, spicy tamales. Has politics affected the restaurants in this border town? ICE agents do eat at these places. There is the wall being built yet there have been tension between Mexico and Texas for decades, long before Trump came in.

Politics aside , Brownsville will always be the taco capital of the world. It has the best taquerias that serve family recipes , full of good ingredients. This border town knows there are no sides when it comes to delicious Mexican food.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Lent And Fish

Today is Ash Wednesday which starts off Lent. It's when some Catholics and other Christians give up meat completely,Fish is allowed by the church so it's also a good time to try a pescatarian diet.

Alison Roman gives us a good fish recipe in today's New York Times Food section,It is salmon with whole lemon dressing.It's an easy dish to make on any fasting days like Wednesdays and Fridays.The fillet is dressed with a blend of lemon, white wine vinegar, shallots and olive oil. Herbs such as oregano, marjoram and thyme give the salmon a lovely green flavor.It's mixed and then poured  over the fish . After the fillet is baked for fifteen to twenty minutes or until the flesh is an orange-y pink.It's served on a bed of butter or Little Gem Romaine lettuce. Ms. Roman also has sliced cucumbers and radishes for crunch but you can omit these if you want.

You could easily make any kind of fish for this Lenten season. Cod is good and it can be prepared a variety of different ways. The simplest is buttered cod cooked in a skillet. The fish is first seasoned with paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder then sauteed. Serve with a side of steamed spinach for a light, yet filling supper. Try it Greek style where it's lightly coated with flour spiked with coriander, paprika and cumin. It's first seared then baked with lemon  juice, olive oil and a lot of minced garlic.One of the best fish to eat during this Lenten season is salmon. It's chock full of Omega 3s and Vitamin B's along with reducing the risk of heart disease. Try them in steak form with a marinade of Worcester sauce , lemon juice and butter. You could also try air fried salmon patties for a different spin on the fish.

Lent is a time of fasting and giving up. It's also a time for discovering healthier eating and healthier foods. Try the fish diet during this period. It may be the first step towards better eating.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lent And Giving Up

Today is Mardi Gras if you're in New Orleans and Carnavale if you're in Europe and South America. It's a night of wild drinking and feasting - because tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. It's Lent and that means giving up the drinks and foods we love. Or will we?

Lent is the period of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It's always a time of giving up.  The practice started centuries ago as a way to extend the amount of vital products such as meat and dairy for the community. Some Christian religions like the Greek , Russian and Coptic Orthodoxy have strict fasting days when only vegetables are allowed. Everything else, from eggs to wine, meat to fish are strictly forbidden. The Catholics have relaxed the fasting rules tremendously and only two days , Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are restricted to total fasting. Then there's the practice of giving up one food or habit that you love. Many go for the first , not wanting to cut back on cigarettes or alcohol. Some do go dry for Lent, which is relatively easy. There are mocktails, made with fresh juice and seltzer and non alcoholic ciders and beers. Yet it can be hard, especially after a long hard day or week. A lot of people are into a glass of wine a day. It relaxes them, and helps them get through a rough period of hard work and bratty kids.It would be hard to give that up especially if someone does have a difficult life.

If you thought giving up a margarita or a Pinot Grigio for forty days is hard, then feel sorry for those that give up anything sugary.We're hardwired to eat sugar since our Neanderthal days. It was our way of discerning what was safe for us to eat (namely  naturally sweet things such as  non-poisonous berries and fruits). Yet unlike alcohol, sweet , sugary things are all around us. Can we really walk into our grocery stores and completely ignore those displays of freshly baked cupcakes and cookies? What about the cookie or candy aisle that's like an altar to our food desires? Lent is a good time to give those up and head on to the fruit section. An apple is just as sweet and satisfying as an Oreo, yet, there's something about that cookie and others that make us feel happy - especially after a rough day. The same philosophy with candy. Yes, those blueberries are fun to pop into our mouths but so are M&M's. Can we give up those? Maybe  - but not for forty days. Ice cream is another food to give up. You can, there are ways around it, namely having Greek yogurt with honey or maple syrup mixed in. This is a really good sub and healthy for you too. Still, it's a hard sell, especially with the wide variety of tempting iced treats out there.

Can we stick to our Lenten promises? The only answer is try.The best bet is see how long you can do it. Maybe you can this year.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Sweets For Mardi Gras

What better way to celebrate Mardi Gras than with sweets. It's a tasty way to celebrate all the bad for you treats before heading into austere Lent. There are so many different ones that you can have a feast of them.

One of the most famous is the King Cake. This is more of a bread, originating in France and also popular in Switzerland and Belgium. The sweet airy breads are actually made for Epiphany , hence the name, and continue well into the Mardi Gras season. The recipe does involve yeast as well as some kneading. Some recipes have cardamon and cinnamon along with citron and raisins. These last can be omitted. A vegan version can also be made. This involves subbing in cow's milk with almond milk and eggs with egg replacers (which can be found in the egg section of your grocery store). Vegan butter is also used and again you can use Country Crock's plant butters.The cake bread is braided and baked and then iced with a simple icing glaze. The fun part is adding the Mardi Gras colored sugars of green which represents faith, purple for justice and gold for power. Remember to add in a gold coin or plastic baby as the traditional "gift". You could also make mini King Cakes using Pillsbury Grand Cinnamon rolls. These are fun because you can add a gift to each mini cake so everyone wins.

Beignets are another Mardi Gras treat which can also be made all year round. Again this is basically a bread recipe, made with yeast and bread flour. Again it does require kneading along with another labor intensive step. Eggs and yeast are mixed together and then the bread flour is added. There's also shortening and frying in vegetable oil. They're then dredged in sifted powdered sugar. You could do a sprinkling of blended green, gold and purple sanding sugars to give them a Mardi Gras vibe. Vegetarians can enjoy their version. Again use egg replacers and vegan or vegetable shortening for texture.Use vegan evaporated milk such as Nature's Charm, made with coconut milk. It can be found at Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. Again, the vegetarian beignets are deep fried in vegetable oil. As for the powdered sugar, some vegans refuse to use it because there is animal bone char in it. You can create your own by mixing ground white sugar  or evaporated cane sugar and cornstarch. Can beignets be fried in an air fryer? Yes! They'll still be crisp and hot. They're cooked at about 390 F for three minutes each on each side.

Enjoy these sweet treats to be made for Mardi Gras. They're a great way to celebrate a decadent holiday. Enjoy them with a cafe au lait or Sazarec or Hurricane cocktail!

Saturday, February 22, 2020

A Vegan Mardi Gras

It's Mardi Gras season, a time for delicious foods and "le bonne temps roule". Yet it can be tricky navigation for vegetarians and vegans. Don't worry. You can still let the good times roll with some tasty meatless dishes, full of flavor and that New Orleans spice.

Jambalaya is always a must for Mardi Gras. This rich rice dish is always full of Andouille sausage, chicken and shrimp, yet these can be subbed in with vegan versions. Beyond Meat has sausages you can use while Morningstar Farms has the chicken strips. The shrimp may be a little hard to get, especially with the holiday just a few days away, You could go to Vegan Essentials, a popular vegan site, and buy the Be Leaf Shrimp. You could also make your own using sweet potato dough that's been boiled into a dulse or seaweed flakes broth. Another idea is loading the jambalaya up with different kinds of beans. Try it with kidney or black beans. Some vegans toss in some cubes of tofu for more protein. Just remember to always include the holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking - peppers, celery and onions. A new Mardi Gras recipe can be made with these and any kind of tofu. Add some tomato paste , garlic and cayenne pepper for some zing.This would be great over rice or even grits for a more Southern feel. Gumbo is another must for Fat Tuesday, Of course it has the holy trinity of peppers, celery and onions  but then there's vegan sausage and jackfruit , an exotic fruit with a meat like texture . It will give a sweet pear and mango. You can eliminate the last if you find that it adds too much of a sugary taste.

One of the best dishes to come out of New Orleans is the muffaletta sandwich. This originated in sicily and was brought over with the Sicilian immigrants who helped shape the city. It's a hearty combination of different cold cuts such as mortadella and salami along with different cheeses and giardiniera - a pickled vegetable salad. All of this is layered on a round Sicilian bread. However it's easily converted into a meatless feat. There are some great cold cuts from Tofurky  that can easily pass for what your deli offers. Another sub in is grilled portabella mushrooms. Giardiniera is a easy find, especially in Italian delis, however if you can't find it, try chopped black and green olives. As for the bread, Italian bread or ciabatta rolls work nicely. If you want another Mardi Gras sandwich, then think the Po'Boy.It's usually a shrimp filled one rich with remoulade - a spicy sweet mayo blend. For vegetarians, try oyster mushrooms dipped in a mix of panko breadcrumbs and cornmeal. You can add flax seeds for more flavor. These can be air fried and then popped onto a baguette cut into four to five inch lengths. Slather on  remoulade sauce made with Nayonnaise, the vegan mayonnaise mixed with  Cajun or Creole seasoning, pickle juice , garlic and hot sauce. Add sliced tomatoes, pickles and arugula lettuce.

Mardi Gras is a time for fun and fun eats. Vegetarians and vegans can easily celebrate too with all sorts of good meatless Cajun and Creole adaptations. Let the meat free good times roll!!

Friday, February 21, 2020

Is Cauliflower The New Kale?

There will always be trends in food just as there are trends in everything else. One season a certain food is popular, the next it's not. Is this what's happening with cauliflower? Is this good for you veggie becoming the new kale?

Cauliflower has been around for centuries. The ancient Turks first cooked with it and then the Europeans . Americans have had it on their tables sometimes reluctantly since the early 1900's. Even though it's good for us, our relationship with it has always been iffy. Kids have always hated it, wanting their moms to drench it in melted cheddar cheese while American home chefs have either undercooked or overcooked the creamy white florets. Yet it's becoming super popular thanks to the different ways in which it can be prepared. Maybe it was the Obamas' White House chef, the great Sam Kass who got us on this cauliflower kick. He started with cauliflower steaks , a easy sheet pan dish that can be spiced up in any way possible. America went wild for these. Then there was his cauliflower pizza which took off like wildfire. This healthy crust pie was the best thing to happen to the Neopolitan classic since pepperoni was added. Now you can buy premade crusts made by Green Giant along with ones with toppings. The company also cauliflower gnocchi (! - and definitely a must try!!!) along with riced cauliflower. This is meant to be a side but it can easily be made into a main course. Green Giant mixes it with cheese , along with pairing it with other veggies like sweet potatoes.

 I tried the Green Giant  premade crust the other night and it was very good. This gluten free square has no wheat flour, being made with the veggie and rice flour. I  first brushed it olive oil then topped it with pizza sauce and vegan mozzarella .There was some of the strong brassicae taste, giving it a cauliflower flavor. Yet it worked. I have tried the riced cauliflower and again it's good and refreshingly not glutenous as real rice. Maybe that's why it's outshining kale at this point. It mixes so well with other flavors. It does have a distinct taste but not as overpowering as onions or Brussels sprouts. It blends in  - a plus for any ingredient. Maybe another reason is its' many benefits. Cauliflower heads are loaded with sulfurophanes - molecules that have wide ranging protective effects. One important benefit of them is that they lower estrogen and can reduce the risk of breast cancer. Another benefit is that cauliflower can help in detoxing the liver, thanks to its' phytonutrients. However its' closest cousins, Brussels sprouts and broccoli also have these attributes  and in Brussels sprouts even more so. Maybe they'll be the next big thing.

Is cauliflower having a moment? It sure is, shining bright in home kitchens across the US. Yet how could you not like it?It's wonderful to cook with and wonderful to eat, plus having a load of good for your health benefits.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Making Healthy Appetizing

Anything healthy for you can be daunting - and off putting. Even a healthy, chock full of goodness whole grain bread may not be as appealing as its' white cousin. How to change that? By creating a loaf similar to much loved white sliced bread. Can it be done? yes. Can it be loved? Yes.

Regular contributor Amelia Nierenberg wrote about this problem and its' solution in yesterday's New York Times Food section.It seems that whole grain breads, despite all that they offer are just not as popular as the standard preservative laced ones made by national brands.Even some of brown breads have chemical preservatives or additives plus sugars to make them more appealing. Companies like the famed King Arthur Flour of Norwich Vermont sells a loaf that's whole grained and sliced. It's popular selling 350 loaves a week.Another artisan bread company , The Bread Lab,a research center associated with Washington State University offers a version that is more or less your standard sandwich bread. People love it because it's easy to handle and a way to sneak wholesome ingredients into kids' diets. It's crusty and sliced, exactly what's great for making sandwiches. It's not going to be those bricks of whole wheat whatever that hippies baked back in the Sixties and early seventies according to the director who runs the Bread Lab, Stephen Jones.

How did we wind up being a nation heavily reliant on white bread? It started in the late 19th Century when a new process came over from Europe. The process changed how American flour was milled. It started with roller mills which separate the bran - the "whole" part of the whole wheat from the kernel.Without the bran's oils and proteins the chalky all purpose flour we know today is inert and easy to preserve. Even though it does last longer, white flour is less nutritious as the bran hold's most of the kernel's fiber. Certain chemicals and preservatives are also added to stave off mold and staleness. Luckily the approachable bread movement is changing all that.  Bread eaters and bread lovers can have the best of both worlds. The Bread Lab has set strict parameters for its' loaves. The flour used has to be sixty per cent or more whole wheat. There cannot be any  chemical additives and must contain seven or less ingredients. It also has to cost under six dollars a loaf and not be sold at an exorbitant price as some other artisan bread companies do. Still it can be expensive for families on a budget looking for a loaf as cheap as Wonder Bread which sells for about $1.80 a loaf at some stores.

America is a country that does love natural foods. Yet trying to sell it on the idea of whole grain bread is a hard one.Thanks to the approachable bread movement and the people who make it happen, like Dr Jones , Americans may be switching over to a slice of brown goodness soon.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Backbone OF British Cooking

Mention the titans of British cooking and most people will come up with Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey. Yet there are two other, lesser known forces , Margot and Fergus Henderson. They brought back good British food to an island and a nation torn by outer influences and culinary boredom.

Julia Moskin wrote about this fascinating couple in today's New York Times Food section. The Hendersons are not really known  being not as famous as their fellow Brit chefs yet they are important. They brought English cooking back to England. This is the food that Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets like Coleridge and Wordsworth relished. It is not the food such as toad in thole and mushy peas that people mock. It is simple and elegant, renditions of a pre-Industrial Revolution country.It is taking cuts from whole pigs and dishes rich with cabbage.Their restaurant , St John is evident of that. The menu reflects the best of English cooking and baking. The famed eatery offers saddle of hare along with braised tripe and Welsh rarebit. Desserts are simple , reflecting the heart of the Anglo-Saxon kitchen, with such sweets as treacle tart and Eccles cake , the current filled pastries.There are also other classics such as turnips and beets along with all sorts of brassica, from cabbage salads to butter braised Brussels sprouts.One of their protegees, John Lowe of Lyle's uses  such classic British ingredients as Alexanders a local sort of parsley and bereneal, an ancient grain from Scotland. There is also Sticjhelton a kind of Stilton blue cheese made with unpasteurized milk.

Yet there are problems thanks to Brexit and Mr. Henderson's Parkinson's disease. There are going to be new laws regarding what can be brought back into the country. Kitty Travers, their artisinal ice cream maker and fiercely loyal friend will be affected by this. She travels to Italy to pick Amalfi lemons and France for ripe apricots for her small batch ice creams. Now there are thornier issues about what stays in the United Kingdom and what can be brought in. The Hendersons may use more British raised plants and meats along with indigenous plants that were used in cooking centuries ago. Yet this won't stop them from trying other cuisines. The current chef at St John Bread and Wine is Farokh Talati, the son of Parsi immigrants from India and hosts a pop up Parsi supper club once a month.Mr. Henderson also had to step back from all his restaurants. He can't work fast enough anymore to deal with the demands of a busy restaurant. It is Margot who took over although his presence is clearly felt. They still have good fistful of restaurants which also includes the popular Black Axe Mangal a take on the British love of kebob shops (mangal is named for the late night kebob shops that dot London).

Margot and Fergus Henderson are the quiet backbone of modern British cooking. They update classic ingredients and make classic recipes exciting again. They are the faces of English cooking today.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Are You a Forager Shopper

Do you dedicate one day of the week to go food shopping. Is it more of a treasure hunt for bargains as you drive  from one grocery to another? Then you may be a forager shopper. Is this a good thing? Or bad? There are pros and cons to it.

Many people do spend a whole day foraging for different bargains. Another reason for their madness is that certain stores may have something the others don't I'm familiar with this. I know that Acme has an oatmeal and flax hot cereal that Stop and Shop doesn't have. If I need ingredients for baking I will most definitely head to Stop & Shop which probably has the best stocked baking aisle.Vegan cream cheese? Then i go to Shop-Rite. Yet I won't go to all three stores in one day. To me that's kind of a waste of gas and time. I have a full day everyday. To take away precious minutes from cooking or work is silly. Yet many do this , preferring to have a completely stocked kitchen at all times. An idea like this may work in a big city like Paris or London where there are a variety of stalls that stretch blocks and food shoppers have to traipse from one end to another. New York and other big American cities have long avenues where there are still butchers and green grocers. There's a lot of  traveling  simply because there aren't any fully stocked grocery stores in these areas, only specialized shops.

What about the bargain side of foraging shopping? Do you really want to go gadding about for the best price for tomatoes or pork chops? This can be tiring, especially on the busiest shopping days - Saturday and Sunday.  Then there's the fear of having the store sell out of what you want. The best bet is down loading the stores' apps. These alert you when there are sales and buy one get one free. It's a great way of planning your shopping experience. Also club cards help in discounts too. Many stores such as Stop & Shop, Foodtown and Shop Rite have them in both card and key chain charm form. These give you instant discounts which are always welcome. Another way of catching all the good bargains is scanning the circulars in your local papers. Write up a list of what you need at one particular store and get everything there. If they don't have one item, wait til you go to another store to get it (unless it's immediately needed for that day's eating).

Is foraging shopping a good thing? That depends on the shopper. it can be too much , especially on the weekends. The best bet is sticking to one store at one time. It makes it easier to shop and makes life easier too.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Easy Cooking From The Sunday Times.

Many think cooking a chore. It involves too much time and effort to create a delicious dish.Then there's the endless clean up afterwards. Yet imagine having recipes that are not only flavorful but also relatively easy to cook up. You can. The Sunday New York Times put out a keeper issue One/Pot/Pan /Skillet yesterday of simple dishes.

This is a compilation of all the Wednesday Food section writer's recipes.There are twenty-four recipes that can make for an easy supper, lunch or even brunch.Best of all they're made in either a single skillet, pot or pan.There are meat recipes along with vegetarian options too. Best of all you won't find yourself tied to the kitchen sink for thirty minutes to an hour. These free you up.Another plus is that there are little tips at the bottom of every recipe. The feature everything from pro tips to fun facts and substitutions along with additions and slow cooker instructions. I really like this extra and plan on making many of the recipes. They're the perfect winter ones too. I definitely want to try the shakshuka with feta one. This North African egg dish is a one skillet blend of spicy tomato- red pepper blend and eggs.Cumin and paprika add fire while  crumbled feta on top keeps the dish cool.Another must cook is Kay Chun's baked barley risotto with mushrooms and carrots. This is a mix of different mushrooms, from white button cremini and shitakes cooked in a Dutch oven with carrots and pearl's first cooked on top of the stove and then popped into the oven for thirty minutes.

There are some delicious meat recipes here too. They can easy be made meatless thanks to vegan beef crumbles and Beyond Meat sausages. There is a cheesy baked pasta with sausage and ricotta by Melissa Clark. It's chock full of ricotta and crushed tomatoes all cooked and baked in one skillet.Another  hearty , rib sticking dish comes from Sam Sifton and is based on Los Angeles chef Roy Choi's mother's recipe. It's Korean braised short rib stew or galbijjim. This tasty stew can also be cooked in a slow cooker or even an outdoor cooker. They're marinated in a mix of fresh orange juice, mirin,a type of rice wine along with apple juice and garlic cloves. A variety of mushrooms are added to it as well. Sheet pan lovers will appreciate Ali Slagle's sausage and Brussels sprouts with honey mustard.The name says everything. It's these ingredients plus Yukon gold or red potatoes drizzled with a homemade honey mustard sauce. It's zinged up with mustard seeds. Another sheet pan recipe is roasted fish with roasted peppers. Again this is another Melissa Clark recipe that has hake fillets cooked with sweet red peppers and black or green olives.

One Pot/Pan/Skillet is a must keep. It's chock full of easy , unfussy recipes that you can make any time. Try any of them today and be free from all the clean up afterwards.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Supersized Supermarkets

Imagine a store that feels like it's the size of a football field. It has everything , from all sorts of fresh and frozen foods to books, toys , soaps and detergents. That's what the Keyport, New Jersey Stop &Shop is. Now here's the question - do we need  super sized grocery stores?

As we all know I'm a big Stop & Shop fan.I will always choose my local one, on the Hackensack-Lodi border over my local Acme and Shop-Rite. Don't get me wrong. I like those two other stores. They each have something Stop & Shop doesn't have but for a large variety  especially for baking- Stop & Shop wins hands down. They do have the some of the best  tasting baked goods and a wide range of fresh fruits and veggies, perfect for my cooking needs.I like their in house brands such as Nature's Promise and Taste of Inspiration. Now imagine my delight when I walked through the double the size one down at the New Jersey shore. Mind you I just stopped in for a pit stop and a bottle of water. I walked out with much more. The Keyport Stop & Shop has the dimensions of what seems like a football field. The aisles are twice as long as the Hackensack-Lodi one. It was amazing to get almond milk and see that I had a large variety of choices to choose from. I would have spent an hour just on the natural food aisles alone. Honestly I even spent more than enough time browsing and restraining myself from buying other things like shampoo and paper plates. These last two, like everything else, offered a wide array to choose from.

The thing is with super sized stores is that they may give us way too many choices. I walked in to this Super Stop & Shop with just the idea of one bottle of water. I walked out with much more.I can only imagine what would happen if I lived near it. It's one thing to have a well stocked kitchen ; it's another to have a hoarder's paradise. I know I would buy items and foodstuff I may not need but felt like I would. Does this mean that smaller grocery stores like Foodtown are better to shop at? Yes and no. I've been to some of the Foodtowns, now mostly located at the Jersey shore. They're much smaller than the superstores, reminiscent of the A&P's that once dotted the landscape.They're  easier to move around in. It's not a hike to get from one end of the store to another and then make the trek  out to the parking lot. Then there's the whole concept of choice. A smaller store has less variety , hence less temptation and dithering about what to buy.It's also cheaper. You don't feel the need to try every flavor and every brand. You may not have the wide variety of fruits and vegetables but then again, you don't have to deal with picking over and rotting and moldy unsold produce.

Yes, the larger Stop & Shop store is a home chef's dream. It is dazzlingly huge. Yet it's also a bit too much. However it does pose the question  which is better- a larger store with endless choices and more temptation or a smaller one, with less variety and no temptation?

Friday, February 14, 2020

Give Your Heart A Treat

This is the day when hearts abound. They're everywhere , from cards to the shape of  our chocolate packed candy boxes. Yet what about the real deal? What should we give our own hearts? Healthy and tasty foods, from meals to treats.

Since I've been on the cirrhosis diet (by the way, it turns out I have gallstones - which hopefully will break up naturally) I've discovered that healthy foods can be delicious. They're also easy to transform into all sorts of variations. Take plain Greek yogurt. Add maple syrup and put into a Slushie cup and becomes a yummy ice cream. For a savory spin stir in some cumin and onion powder for a really flavorsome dip for raw veggies. It also makes a great party dip for baked potato chips and pretzels.Veggies are other transformable ingredients. Of course the healthiest option is a salad, chock full of all sorts of goodness but veggies are also great cooked. A light but filling winter dish is ratatouille. This classic Provencale favorite is just a mix of eggplant, onions and tomatoes. They're sauteed in olive oil and flavored with garlic and herbes de Provence. It can be good on it's own, with the juices sopped up with a whole wheat baguette or as filling for whole wheat crepes or galettes.Don't discount your mom and granny's stuffed pepper recipes. Fill these vitamin packed gems with brown rice and beans. Season with garlic and oregano to really make the flavors pop.

Of course everyone is on the Beyond Beef bandwagon. The patties and crumbles are supposed to be healthy and good for you , right? Think again, Yes, they're purposely loaded with such mineral as zinc and Vitamin B12. Yes, they get you from eating bad for your heart beef but they have some drawbacks too. According to The Harvard Health Publishing from their medical school the burgers are also heavily over processed and high in saturated fats. A better substitute is a turkey burger which has 170 calories and only seven grams of sodium. Beyond Burger has a whopping 390 grams of the salty stuff while the Impossible Burger has 370 grams. If you do want a fast food burger then stick with a plain one. Ask for one with no mayo or ketchup because these are loaded with salt. Only have it with lettuce and tomatoes and nix the cheese and bacon. As far as with meats at home, think chicken breasts fried in an air fryer. (another treat for your heart an air fryer. This is a very good investment).Just pound the breasts firsts then brine them for a few hours. It's then rubbing them with olive oil first and a dry rub of your favorite spices and herbs. End your meals  with seventy to eighty percent dark chocolate. You can mix this in Greek yogurt or almond butter for a sweet heart healthy dessert.

This Valentine's Day treat your heart to  delicious dishes It's easy to  create tasty and healthy dishes. It;s just a bit of creativity and knowledge of what's good for it and you.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Chocolate Guide Part Two

Tomorrow is the biggest day of the year for chocolate. Yet what's the best to get and what can you make with it? There are a number of different brands and a delicious amount of recipes. Any home baker can create a tasty treat for his or her beloved.

Yesterday Melissa Clark wrote a very informative article in yesterday's New York Times Food section. Readers got to understand the bean to bar movement along with the difference between a bean to bar chocolate maker and a chocolatier. She also explained the cacao percentage and why some 74 percent bitter chocolate is not as bitter as one at 64 percent. There were fascinating comparisons between what African chocolate and South American chocolate tasted like.Yet which brands are the best? She wrote a sidepiece on the best kinds along with some interesting recipes. Of course the best is Valrhona which is also what's known as a B company which requires them to have a positive impact on its' community, its' workers and the environment.One of the oldest is Kahkow now in Brooklyn, started in the Dominican Republic in 1905. There is also Dandelion the up and coming San Francisco chocolate comapny that only has two ingredients cacao and sugar. The big cities such as New Orleans, Boston and Los Angeles all have good chocolatiers such as Acalli, Taza and Letterpress but also out of the way areas also are producing excellent bean to bar creations. There is Fruition, way up in the Catskills and Dick Taylor's tucked away in Eureka, California. Sudbury Mass gives us Goodnow, a chocolatier that blends in maple syrup in their bars.

There are some amazing recipes too. For a truly romantic dessert try Ms Clark's chocolate tahini mousse. It's actually a parfait blend off chocolate and tahini. The second is a tangy mix of the condiment and creme fraiche. The chocolate one is a mix of bittersweet chocolate mixed with an unusual ingredient for mousses - confectioner's sugar. Heavy cream is added to both for body and texture. You can also put candied cacao nibs on for decoration. Then there are the cookies. One is cocoa nib sables with flaky sea salt.It is a lush recipe calling for one cup European cultured butter and cocoa nibs. Think a French version of a chocolate chip that's drizzled with dark chocolate and sprinkled with flaky sea salt like Malden. Another must bake is bittersweet brownie shortbread  - a layering of the best of flavors.The shortbread is the classic recipe calling for one and a half cups of unsalted butter while the brownie is also the traditional recipe. The shortbread is first baked as the brownie mix is created.Then the brownie is slathered on the cookie , sort of like a brownie pie or tart. The whole thing is baked for another half hour before it's cut into bars,

What to get your sweetie? A creamy mousse or mouth watering cookies and bars would fill the bill. What a great way to celebrate sweet love?

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Your Chocolate Guide Part One

The world's most chocolatiest holiday is only two days away and most bonbon buyers probably have no clue as to what to buy. Should they go sustainable for their sweeties? Where was it sourced? Not to worry. There's a guide to help.

Melissa Clark got the enviable job of tasting and writing about the varieties of cacao for today's New York Times Food section.It's a keeper article, very informative with a few recipes to try. (we'll get to those tomorrow).There's an interesting section on how chocolate is made. It starts with cacao or cocoa beans that grow inside pods, surrounded by fleshy fruit. The fruit surprisingly tastes like mango crossed with a pear and lychee (and not what you'd expect) After harvesting there the beans which then are fermented, Chocolate makers grind it down to create a chocolate liqueur. However it gets more complicated with the phrase "bean to bar". This began with the craft chocolate craze that started in 1996 in San Francisco.It was John Scharffenberger who created it along with Robert Steinberg who studied at the famed chocolate shop , Bernachon, in Lyons, France. A bean to bar maker is not the same as a chocolatier. The first makes chocolate from the beans while a chocolatier buys pre-made chocolate then melts and combines it with other ingredients. It's the base of such confections as truffles and praline along with a variety of other sweets.

Chocolate buyers and lovers should understand some of the language involved. For example what is single origin chocolate?Ms Clark explains it as a chocolate with beginnings in one area. The beans could come from just one farm or several sharing the same terroir (the chocolate industry uses the same terms as the wine industry). A chocolate's origin can tell the eater something. Latin American beans tend to be complex with notes of dried apricots, dark fruit and fresh berries while African ones tend to be fudgy with notes of raisins, coconut and coffee. Then there is the cacao percentage on the label. In ordered for something to be labeled chocolate here in the States it has to be thirty percent. Historically that percentage was always printed on the candy's back. That all changed in 1986 when chocolate giant Valrhona introduced the Guanaja kind which had a seventy percent cacao content. That's confusing too. A company's 68 percent may taste stronger and less sugary than its'74 percent. The percentages include both cacao solids and cocoa solids.If a chocolatier adds extra cocoa butter then that gives the finished product a smoother texture. The overall cacao percentage will increase but not the bitterness.In some ways it just depends on what chocoholics will like and what will appeal to them. A silky texture or semi- sweet flavor.

Finding the right chocolate for your sweetie is a lot harder than you think. As with any complex and layered food, be aware of the variety and what's out there. That should help you find the right treat for your sweet.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Sweet For Voortman Sugar Free Cookies

If you're trying to watch your weight or you just want to cut back, then consider Voortman Cookies. These gems are sugar free yet taste just as delicious as a regular sugar filled cookie. Honest. These are a great boon to those on restricted diets. They satisfy both the sweet tooth and the need for crunch.

Being on a cirrhosis diet I had to give up regular cookies. Not that I'm a big Mallomar or Oreo fan but once in a while I do want a cookie or two as a dessert or a snack.I looked up and down on my local cookie aisle.I found Voortman's with a a big sugar free sign on them. I had to try them, dreading the taste. Turns out the shortbread I bought was just like regular shortbread.I had to try more.
I love oatmeal so I had to get the oatmeal which was amazing. They tasted liked my Mom's old fashioned oatmeal cookies, buttery ,oaty and crunchy,
Of course I had to try anything chocolate too.
I bought their fudge brownie chocolate chip which was a thousand times better than the regular sugar kind. The flavor was a rich, earthy cocoa with a satisfying number of chips.
Voortman is actually a Toronto bakery started in 1951 by two young brothers, William and Henry Voortman, fresh from Holland. They brought Dutch recipes with them and created such classic cookies as their almond windmills and Simply Social sugar cookies. Their array of cookies and wafers are as varied as any other cookie company. They have oatmeal stripes and fudge striped almondettes.They are known for their variety of wafers that include citrus flavors. Yet it's their sugar frees that shine. The flavor comes from maltilol, a sugar alcohol used in gum and mouthwash to sweeten them. I want to tr y their orange creme and lemon wafers along with their fudge stripes next. A bonus is that maltilol is actually O.K. for cirrhosis (however not OK for diabetics).

If you crave a cookie but can't have one because of dietary restrictions, think again. Reach for a Voortman's sugar free cookie. They're even better than the sugar kind,a truly tasty treat for any sweet tooth.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Gifts For Your Valentine's Chef

As much as anyone appreciates a box of chocolates or a pretty necklace or fine tie, a home chef appreciates any gift kitchen. It's easy to win their heart with an intriguing gadget or something simple as a silicon spatula. What's best is that there's so many ideas for a really memorable present.

What would a home chef love? Some of the hottest trends may do the trick. Air fryers are big and they are always much appreciated. There are so many brands to choose from. The Power Vortex is a great one and is perfect for those home chefs who don't want to rely on their stove top too much. Target sells a two quart one , the Dash 900W Compact Air Fryer in cute kitchen friendly colors. Another trend setter every home chef lusts is the Instant Pot. This comes in a variety of sizes and is perfect for the home chef who has a busy work schedule. The mini ones are not that expensive and cute, perfect for just a duo.There are even air fryer and instant pot cookbooks, some with six to eight hundred recipes!!! If you're buying these then think of a smaller bag that has different cooking sprays (Stop & Shop has a good variety of these, from olive oil to butter) for the air fryer and different spices for both. A more practical gift is a surge protector if your beloved doesn't have enough outlets. As for gadgets there are some fun ones. Why not give the 3-in 1 breakfast center that has a griddle, coffee maker and toaster. Or for the herbalist and greens lover, a leaf stripper that give you the important stuff and not the stems.

There's a lot you can buy home bakers. Collapsing mixing bowls are a must. They can hold everything from batter to buttercream frosting for two cakes. Best of all they're silicone which means they're easy to clean and store as they nest into each other. Think a new stand mixer if your beloved is an avid baker. These's are sturdy and can be used for savory recipes such as bread kneading and mashing potatoes too.An absolutely fun gift for any cookie lover is Wilton's cookie press. It's relatively easy to load and comes with a wide variety of discs to create bakery level trees and flowers. Add to the discs by giving a Christmas gift of their holiday themed ones. Frosting bags and new tips are also always appreciated. An amazing must give is Wilton's Master Decorating Tip Set. It has fifty-five pieces decor from simple line making ones to flower nails for creating gorgeous buttercream roses. If you're giving this, then throw in Wilton's Icing Colors 12 count gel based colors that has the four basic colors, red, green, blue and yellow but also such dynamic ones as teal, copper and burgundy. There's even black (!) brown,violet and pink. Imagine the decorating possibilities with this rainbow! A more decadent decorating gift is the cake decorating airbrush kit from US  Cake Supply Company.It comes with ten colors and two metallic shades and is easy as pie to use It's expensive at $89.96 on Amazon but worth it for artistically finished cakes and cupcakes.

A home chef or baker may appreciate chocolate but only if it can be used in baking or cooking. Give Valentine's Day gifts that he or she can use. They'll be much appreciated and gobbled up!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Sweets For Your Honey

Valentine's Day means sweets - and lots of them. You can easily buy a pretty box of mixed chocolates or you can make and bake different treats for your love. Anything homemade will be appreciated - and loved. It's also from the heart which is special and from your kitchen which makes them even more special.

Of course many go for baked delights.  A fancily frosted two layer devil's food cake is always welcome, especially after a home cooked dinner. Think of frosting it with homemade raspberry or cherry frosting for extra dazzle. (Two Sisters Crafting has the best frosting recipes for these flavors). If you're baking for your guy, stout cupcakes with Bailey's Irish cream. For those guys who love to bake, think dainty little cupcakes, dusted with sanding sugar for sparkle. If you're ambitious you can give French macarons a try. They  can be a bit labor intensive because almonds have to be ground for flour and the recipe requires egg whites. A better version would be made with aquafaba, chickpea brine that has the same consistency and proteins as egg whites. Fill with a rich chocolate ganache, an easy make that has heavy whipping cream cooked with semisweet chocolate pieces. Of course a Valentine's Day cake doesn't have to be chocolate. There's no rule saying you can't make an airy angel food and serving it with a light whipped cream and sliced strawberries. You can also make a lovely lemon cake with a homemade vanilla icing. Decorate with candied lemon peels. A crostini filled with fruit is another nice treat, especially if it's served with chilled Prosecco.

Candy is always welcome and there are so many recipes you can make. One of the easiest is haystacks. These are mounds of chocolate and toasted coconut blended together. Some recipes also add almonds, peanuts and rolled oats. The purist recipe is the best although you can make it with white dark, or milk chocolate. You could also mix the chocolates too for a colorful spin.A variation would be nut clusters made with any of the chocolates and nuts added. You can try just one kind like peanuts or almonds or a mix that includes cashews and walnuts. Chocolate dipped fruit is always welcomed. Ganache can be used or just plain chocolate chips.Remember to add coconut oil so the chocolate will have a glossy finish when dry. Most would go for strawberries but chocolate covered blueberries and pineapple are also good.A different spin is caramel. Homemade caramel is surprisingly simple to make.You'll need butter, Karo syrup (or any corn syrup) evaporated milk and vanilla extract. This is all cooked down into creamy squares of deliciousness. For added decadence dip the squares in bitter chocolate for a really lovely rich flavor.

Create something sweet for your honey this Valentine's Day. He or she will appreciate the work and love that went into it. A home made sweet is really the sweetest gift of all.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Valentine's Meals For Your Sweetie

One of the best Valentine's Day gift is something homemade. Any sweetie will appreciate either a homemade meal .Even if you can't cook you can come up with an easy and delicious table for two.

A lux breakfast in bed is always appreciated. A simple dish would be scrambled eggs with ham . Put it on croissants for a richer look and taste. Another easy breakfast dish is eggs Benedict. This is simply poached eggs on English muffins with a lemon- butter sauce. It's mixed with egg yolks for richness.It's the perfect dish to serve with mimosas , or Bellinis, peach nectar blended with champagne. If you're lucky to have lunch together, then think of a charcuterie platter. This is one for the easiest but also the richest tasting of all lunch time dishes. Start with buying a beautiful wooden charcuterie plate. (you can always reuse it at parties and holidays). Have an array of good Italian cold cuts such as mortadella, hard salami and prosciutto. Sopressata, a spicy Southern Italian dry salami is another good meat, perfect on sliced Italian or French bread. Cheeses are a must. Brie is perfect, especially on French bread but Gruyere and smoked Gouda are also good choices. Have a chilled Cabernet or Zinfandel  to sip with this tasty mix. You could also go old school with grilled cheese and tomatoes. Cut the grilled cheese into a heart . Get creative and drizzle sour cream into a heart shape onto the soup's surface.

Of course a Valentine's Day dinner is a big deal. Just remember that's it's just as easy to make surf and turf at home than ordering it at a restaurant. Keep in mind that the seafood could be anything from shrimp to lobster to crab. As for the beef, any cut will do, from a flank to a T-bone. Serve with a side of buttery string beans almondine and/or sauteed spinach. Cornish hens are another tasty and romantic night dinner. Spike up the flavor with a rub of powdered garlic and paprika and serve with brown rice. Want to impress with a night of exotic flavors? Then try tagine, the Morroccan hot pot of different ingredients and spices. The recipe does call for tagine pot , a kind of skillet with a triangular lid but you can also use a deep skillet or even a crock pot. A chicken one calls for a whole roaster cut up  and cooked with tomatoes, peas and carrots. Almonds and dried apricots are also essential to give it a true Moroccan vibe. You could also make a veggie tagine by subbing in chickpeas and butternut squash. If your sweetie is a vegan, then think about a Beyond Meat burger with all the trimmings. Use a cumin spiced Nayonnaise , vegan mayo with tomato slices and soy bacon. Serve with a big helping of air fried sweet potato fries with a home made tomato paste based ketchup.

Nothing says love more than a home cooked meal.It could be breakfast, lunch or dinner. As long as it's home cooked by a home chef with a heart and a kitchen full of love.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A Childhood Favorite Dave Tanis Style

If you're  full Piedmontese or even a fraction of the nationality, you grew up with bollito misto. It was spoken in  almost mystical tones by my Mom and her aunts, my great aunts.It's a variety of different boiled meats and veggies topped off with salsa verde, parsley sauce. Now David Tanis takes one of my family recipes and updates it.

Bollito misto or boiled mix is a big deal.It's usually served at both Christmas and New Year's along with special occasions like baptisms , confirmations and engagement parties. it's a melange of both sausages and various cuts of beef. There are also veggies involved and of course, the most important part bagnet vert , Piemontese for green bath, the parsley sauce. Mr. Tanis received most of the recipes from Chef Danielle Glantz's friend and home chef, Gaia Bonaden , a food and beverage consultant from Torino, Italy. grew up, as I did with the recipe. Her family used a tail to snout philosophy , If you make this you can start with several beef cuts along with veal cheek and tongue along with oxtail. Sausage stuffed pig's feet and cotechino sausage ,a fennel laced mix of pork and red wine are also served. A stewing hen or capon is sometimes added too (my family never added any poultry) It wouldn't be a Piedmontese dish without the veggies. Mr. Tanis includes carrots , fennel bulbs ,golden beets, turnips, rutabagas and Yukon Gold potatoes. I would use Swiss chard if I could find it now too along with cardoons.

Of course bollito misto is nothing without the sauce. This is one heavy on the parsley. There's also basil, which my family recipe doesn't include. ( I  plan on making a vegan version and I am debating about using the basil or just amping up the parsley). Salt brined capers along with a pinch of red peppers are added for more flavor and a zing of heat. There is also horseradish and vinegar added. I remember that we served the horseradish on the side because not everyone liked its' strong taste. Will I add it to my salsa verde? Debatable. There are also scallions which also are a debatable point.Mr. Tanis includes Ms.  Bonaden's salsa rossa.bread soaked in vinegar laced with garlic cloves, tomato paste and two cooked bell peppers. Cayenne and paprika are also added for fire which will also liven up the flavors of the meat and veggies.Mr. Tanis serves all of this buffet style , but it's great family style with people reaching here and there for what they want. He also starts with small cups of broth - brodo with what seems to be tortallini. There's also an endive salad with hard boiled eggs and another Piemontese must have anchovies. I don't know if I would make this . To me it seems a bit much. He ends with a pear and frangipane crostini tart. It sounds and looks delicious but  after bollito misto, dessert is kind of redundant. I'd probably just serve  espresso with grappa and maybe a fresh fruit platter

It's amazing to see this childhood recipe again, especily in the NY Times Food section I intend on making my version to celebrate it. Try bollito misto for a different take on a buffet dinner. You'll enjoy it, guaranteed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Actual Naked Chefs

Jamie Oliver may be the Naked Chef but there are actual naked chefs out there. No kidding. Nudists do cook - and cook hot , splattery dishes as well as create icy cold desserts. How do they do it? Very interestingly.

Nude chefs (again, maybe two words that should not be together) was the subject of Food section regular, Priya Krishna wrote about for today's New York Times Food section. She visited Lutz, Florida,a Tampa suburb where there is a colony, Lake Como. Surprisingly enough this 200 year old (!) practice is becoming popular again. The Chicago Times wrote about nakations - clothing free getaways and Bon Appetit magazine published "9 Rules For Naked Dining :The Etiquette of Nude Resorts". Many have embraced nudism. To them it feels freeing and creative. At Lake Como, visitors and regulars can have a full service meal at the Bare Buns Cafe which has meals, snacks and drinks. There is also the Butt Hutt, which not only serves drinks but also offers karaeoke and dance lessons. Luckily the chefs and the bartenders have to wear clothes, simply for health reasons.

It's a different matter for nude home chefs.A part time Lake Como resident, Jack Clark feels it liberating to just cook without clothes. It's freer and makes him more creative. He does wear oven mitts (!!) to protect his hands from burns and to protect them from splatters. They came in handy when he had to drain pasta for his linguine and clam sauce for his dinner party. Dinner parties on that point are also easier. There's no worry about what to wear and how you look. It's also less constraining after you've had a full meal. There are no binding waistbands or the discreet opening of top buttons after eating too much. Cooking though will have its' hazards and pitfalls.One, nudist, Karyn McMullen, another Lake Como denizen, has to take a big step back when taking food out of the oven. Her husband Jayson stays a good ways away from the grill when barbecuing and mostly refrains from frying. He does wear an apron when that happens.Another homeowner there, Nancy Rehling wears a tee shirt when cooking to protect her skin from any splatters. She already has scars from fried fish , boiled over soups and cheese which is the worst since it sticks and burns.

Will nude cooking catch on? Yes, in the nudist colonies. It's a freeing and carefree way to let loose in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Gimme Some Natural Sugar

We have been hard wired to crave sweets since our Neanderthal days. Yet all that processed sugar, whether in drinks or treats can be damaging. What to do? Go natural. There are plenty of all natural sweeteners that you can use.

It is hard to give up sugar, especially when you have to.Luckily there are many choices to help you go through the withdrawal process. (Keep in mind that refined white sugar is just as addictive as cocaine).Many right now are using stevia as their go to sweetener. Some are even attempting to grow the plant in their backyards which you can if you live in warm conditions where it thrives. Stevia is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar and can help in reducing weight and cavities. There are some great products out there made with it. One, Zevia Soda is a must buy if you want to wean yourself off regular sodas. It's made with 100 per cent stevia and comes in a wide range of flavors. I've tried both their black cherry and cola flavors and really enjoyed them. They also have ginger ale and their take on Dr. Pepper., Dr. Zevia. Can you bake with it? Yes! It just takes eighteen to twenty-four packets to create one cup. There's even stevia confectioner's sugar that you can buy on Amazon. Use this when you want to create fluffy buttercream icing.

Another must have is maple syrup. It has a lovely buttery sweet taste that can work in anything. One of my new favorites is a homemade maple "ice cream."It's taking plain , unflavored yogurt, and mixing it with a tablespoon of maple syrup in one of those Slushie cups.It  turns into a creamy kind of frozen yogurt. You can also bake with it. Just use 3/4 cup  for every one cup of sugar. Keep in mind that it can also be used for marinades for all sorts of meats.Try it blended with rosemary for a different glaze for chicken or salmon. Honey is the original sweetener, going back thousands of years  in first sweetening oat cakes. I like it in sweetening  up tomato sauce  with dark California wildflower honey instead of sugar because it doesn't leave that sweet candy taste. It gives the blend an earthy flavor that melds with the tomatoes and various spices. It's the same reason I use a teaspoon or two of it in my Mom's chili recipe too.Baking with honey is another good idea. It adds a much more mellower flavor than refined white sugar. Keep in mind that honey is a liquid and that's going to throw off any baked good's texture. You'll have to reduce the liquids amounts by two tablespoons to get the right batter and dough consistency.

You can get off sugar. Use natural sweeteners and you'll be surprised at how good they taste and how versatile they are. Try them and seen.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Diet Fun

Can a diet be fun? Surprisingly yes, if you're creative and know what to mix and blend you can.It's just a matter of being open and experimenting. It'll make a new lifestyle change exciting.

This has been my mantra now that I'm on the cirrhosis diet. I have to admit it was more than daunting at first. Let's face it , giving up sugar and salt  is life changing.It's giving up cookies and the occasional cupcake. The salt is even worse. I have to give up my beloved pretzels and bacon along with the occasional bag of chips. Salad dressings, thanks to their high sodium content are also off the table. The one that kills me is the veggie broth, my always go to  when I feel sick or just want a very light meal. Luckily one of my favorite soups, Well Yes comes in  lower sodium and thankfully tastes the same. Other soups aren't so forgiving so it's up to me to get creative about them. I found a recipe for homemade veggie stock that sounds delicious , I can see adding whole wheat fusilli and chickpeas for a much healthier version of pasta e fagiole. I could also add Beyond Meat crumbles for a heartier chowder like soup. As for the salad dressings, I can use vegan Nayonnaise which tastes like the real thing. It's a low sodium sauce that can be blended with turmeric or cumin, both liver building spices. I also plan on cooking with those spices. I live them already and am looking forward to using it to flavor lentils and chickpeas.

As for the sweets, I was more than ecstatic to discover that very dark chocolate actually helps in slowing down cirrhosis. I went out and bought the seventy-five percent bars. These have a slightly sweet flavor but tastes more like baking chocolate - which I love. I decided to cut and then grate it into a cup of almond butter. It's the perfect sweet snack - and almost decadent in its' flavor.I plan on mixing it with plain Greek yogurt which I can also have. The Slushie cup I used for my Pepsi slushies can be used for making a kind of ice cream with these ingredients. I can't have the regular kind due to all the sugar but I can have this. I also plant on chopping and pureeing different fruits and mixing it with the yogurt for different iced treats. (Greek yogurt can also be used for dips for veggies too). As for candy' even the sugar free is out of bounds. Yet there are grapes and blueberries to enjoy and snack on. I can melt the  dark chocolate and dip strawberries and other fruits in it.  As for cakes, I'm looking into whole wheat ones sweetened with honey. This will be the rare treat, made on birthdays and holidays. There is an oatmeal cookie made with blackstrap molasses - again this last is acceptable, that I'm looking into too.

This diet won't kill me. Thanks to being creative , it will save me. There's so many ingredients I can play with to create delicious meals and treats. I'm looking forward to all these changes.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

A Good Old Fashioned Celery Soup

What do you do with a bunch of celery? Use it in salad? or as a crunchy snack. However it's winter and that calls for soup. I decided to try an update of my Mom's recipe.

Unfortunately I didn't have it. Mine is a mashup of improvising on a recipe I found on The Daring Gourmet blog. I varied it and add whatever I could remember of the family recipe.
It starts with celery which I had in abundance from making lobster salad with the lobster balls I made last Monday.
I sliced the stalks and the heart into chunks the way my Mom did.
It was sauteed in organic butter (I know I shouldn't have this on a cirrhosis diet. but I felt it would add a rich flavor to the potage)
Half went in, (about  a quarter cup)
A third of a cup of a flour was added to create a roux with the celery. This thickens it. The Daring Gourmet called for a whole onion and garlic to also be sauteed. I nixed these and added a heaping tablespoon of onion powder by McCormick.
I let all this cook down for about ten minutes before adding an entire container of vegetable stock.
This is Acme's Signature line and it's a rich broth. Then it was Almond Coconut milk
And three cups of Almond Breeze's almond coconut blend. 
It was cooked down for another ten minutes as another dash of onion powder was added for more flavor and an extra three teaspoons of flour was added to thicken it. I didn't add salt but freshly ground pepper for more flavoring and bite.
It was a delicious hot bowl. The celery chunks cooked down for still crunchy on the inside , soft on the outside texture. There was also a lovely buttery aftertaste and a smoothness to the soup.

This celery soup, a mashup of recipes, is the perfect dish for a cold February night. Make it for dinner to ward off the chill. It's lovely and green, a reminder of Spring and summer to come.