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Getting reacquainted with Ancient Grains

May 21, 2015
Beautiful black rice porridge made from ancient grains

Beautiful black rice porridge made from ancient grains

In our fast paced age of information it is refreshing to engage in the practice of eating slow foods like ancient grains. In fact, the only thing fast about ancient grains are how fast they are catching on right now. They are so popular that Cheerios is actually putting out a cereal with a scant amount of ancient grains in them in hopes to revive their market. (Isn’t that a contradictory? Fast cereal with old slow grains??)

I have been eyeing this ancient grain movement with interest and curiosity. I mean I was cooking these grains back in my hippy momma days where I whipped out millet seed loafs with tomato gravy and handed out spelt cookies to all the neighborhood children in hopes of rescuing them from their Oreos. So this movement isn’t new to all of us, but Maria Speck’s book “Simply Ancient Grains” re-introduces us to these old friends (or new) in an easy and engaging way. simply ancient grains

I think the reason I stopped cooking them so much was two fold, they are slow to cook and I have shied away from the highly processed and tainted grains that are low in nutrition and high in carbs. In this book, Maria introduced easy ways of cooking these old slow grains so that you can have them more often and offers fun delicious recipes to get you in the spirit of trying them plus reminded me of their excellent untainted nutrition.

Maria has offered me a new conversation with some old friends and I’m looking forward to making a pot of tea and getting reacquainted by making “barley thumbprints” and “kamut shortbread with hazelnuts”. Or waking up in the morning and enjoying a bowl of “burgundy bulgur with blueberries and orange blossom water” or “coconut buckwheat porridge with cinnamon and buttered dates”. Seriously, after reading this cookbook, it is hard to not want to take out stock in “Bob’s Red Mill” ancient grains. (They carry all of them!)

But to preserve the budget and start the conversation I made the beautiful dish, “cardamom infused black rice porridge with blueberries and pistachios” for breakfast and it was delightful company. (I had the black rice on hand) It struck me as I was eating it, how simple food that has deep history is as nourishing emotionally as it is nutritionally. Thank you Maria Speck for reuniting me (and many others) with some long lost friends.

The only bummer about this beautiful cookbook is that I really really like the pictures of the dishes and even though there are a quite a few lovely pictures some of them are of the vegetable/fruit or grain highlighted in the recipe and wasted a full color page on that. Come on now, if you are going to use expensive color ink on a picture, how bout the recipe at hand? Rant over and off to have another conversation with old friends.

Cardamom infused black rice porridge with blueberries and almonds

Cardamom infused black rice porridge with blueberries and almonds

Cardamom infused black rice porridge with blueberries and almonds This porridge is beautiful, fragrant, delicious and earthy. I loved it! Make sure and always use organic rice. I used Lotus Foods brand.

The night before;
¾ cup of black rice
2 whole cardamom pods
1.5 cups of boiling water
In the morning;
1 cup of whole milk, half and half or coconut milk (Which is what I used, so yummy!)
3 TBLS of maple syrup
3/4 tsp of ground cardamom
1 cup of purple berries like blackberries or blueberries, frozen or fresh (I used blackberries)
2 TLS of chopped nuts of choice (I used almonds)

The night before, place your beautiful rice in a heavy little saucepan and pour the boiling water over it, put the lid on and go to bed. Sleep with dreams of whole grains and a purple breakfast. (I did!) The next morning sneak down to make sure the rice is still there. (It should be) You will be surprised to see the beautiful purple water and that the rice seems uncooked. Fear not! Add the one cup of milk or coconut milk, maple syrup, ground cardamom and bring to a boil over medium high heat stirring often, then lower the heat to medium or whatever it takes on your stove to create a lively simmer. Simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the rice is the softness you desire. (I liked mine slightly chewy) Add the berries and simmer for about 2-4 minutes more or until the berries are warmed and tender. Divide the purple mix between 4- 6 bowls, or 2 hungry ones, and sprinkle with the almonds. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, more milk or maple syrup if desired but I thought it was plenty sweet just like it is. Make sure and take time to smell the beautiful bowl of goodness and chew well.

Chickens rule the roost and they don’t even know it

May 18, 2015

“The chicken has, quietly but inexorably, become essential.” Donna J. Haraway

Thomas Keller's famous roast chicken

Thomas Keller’s famous roast chicken

The egg comes before the chicken. At least that is how it is in my world. Edition before last, I wrote about the incredible edible egg and now we are going to focus on the humble chicken. Now this uncelebrated bird has some surprising facts to it. For instance did you know that if you added up all the world’s cats, dogs, pigs, cows and toss in all the rats for fun, there would still be more chickens on this earth?

Yes, it is true, this simple creature has captured the world and we don’t even know it. If it had a brain bigger than a walnut, it could rule. Chickens are 50 billion strong and on every continent in the world except Antarctica, and they still make it there in frozen entrees. (The reason that they do not have them there is because they carry a virus that emperor penguins chicks can catch.) So conceivably they have us surrounded, but we can rest easy as the chicken isn’t intending on ruling the world, just looking for a juicy bug to eat.

It seems the chicken has become extremely important to our world and no one has even noticed. It all started in the thick humid jungles of Asia where the ancestor to the modern chicken, the red jungle fowl, hatched into the world. There is evidence that in Southern China chickens lived with humans over 8,000 years ago, making the chicken the first domesticated animal.

From there this ubiquitous bird started its successful march across the world spreading to the Indus Valley, (Pakistan) then to Eastern Europe, Egypt, and when the Romans got a hold of them, they went everywhere! The ancient Polynesians even had them and that has the Archeologists tail feathers in a twist as they can’t figure out how that happened.

They could rule the world

They could rule the world

Why? Because humans love to eat them and their eggs. Chickens are the worlds favored source of protein, be it egg or meat. The meat of the chicken is an intriguing canvas for many dishes that crosses cultures and continents with ease. All countries have their favorite part of the bird and dishes that are cultural stables. The eggs are a nice neat package that can stay fresh for weeks unrefrigerated and they are in every country’s foods as well.

Here is America we love our boneless, skinless chicken breast that are as tasteless and dry as cardboard. I recommend you start cooking with the whole chicken for two very good reasons. First off, the skin and bones add nutrition, moistness and flavor to the bird. Second of all, buying parts of a bird are pretty much guaranteeing that you are buying a chicken that was raised inhumanely in large chicken factories that are hidden from the world in shame.

I buy whole chickens from Lance’s farm vittles (503-322-2226 or at our local farmer’s market) that are grown right here in our own valley and are happy chickens during their short stay on earth. Lance also buys the breed “Red Roaster” which is a slower growing meat chicken that isn’t a monstrosity that the normal Cornish Cross meat chicken is. It also has more flavor. (More flavor is good!)

I feel that everyone should learn to roast a perfect bird. In this following recipe based on a recipe from the great chef Thomas Keller, anyone can. I didn’t believe it could be so easy and good till I tried it and I’m a devotee! Stretch your wings and learn how to trust a chicken for this recipe. It’s not hard and there is a very simple You Tube video that will show you how if you search for “How to truss a chicken.” Use kitchen twine available at almost any store. Make this as a lovely spring Sunday dinner and your status will be elevated to super chicken.

Thomas Keller's roast chicken recipe

Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe

Thomas Keller’s famous simple roast chicken

One farm raised fat chicken, 3-4 pounds
Flaked salt and cracked pepper
2 teaspoons of fresh thyme or rosemary (Or both if you’re feeling crazy!)
1-2 tablespoons of butter
Serve with Dijon mustard if you like

First off, preheat your oven to 450° degrees and lightly grease your baking pan or skillet. (Thomas likes to use a stainless steel sauté pan but I like to use a cast iron skillet) Take your chicken out and rinse it thoroughly and then pat it dry inside and out with paper towels. Thomas stresses that you want the driest heat possible when roasting it to make it turn out moist and delicious.

Next, toss a little salt and pepper in the cavity. Now the fun part, truss the bird. I am not going to explain it here as it might be impossible and with technology available today, just search how to do it on the web. The first video that comes up is an excellent one. Make sure and truss it tight as this is part of the technique to keep the bird moist.

Now put the all trussed up chicken in your prepare pan and rain salt and pepper down on it. Thomas recommends about a tablespoon of each. Some will stick some won’t, don’t stress it. Tuck in the oven for 50-70 mins till done and a thermometer stuck in between the thigh and breast reads 160. I can tell by pricking the thickest part of the thigh with a fork and the juices run clear. Don’t mess with the chicken while it is baking as much as you want to.

When you take it out, add the herbs to the pan juices and then baste the chicken thoroughly. Let it sit 15 minutes then cut the twine, discard and eat the delicious chicken with mustard served on the side. Easy peasy, one two threesy.

Let’s talk dirty….

April 18, 2015

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Rich, lovely compost

Rich, lovely compost

I think everyone has a memory of one of their relatives glaring at them and telling them to clean their plate. My grandpa on my mom’s side was the card carrying member of the clean plate society in our family. He would eye your plate with his somewhat milky eyes and look at you in astonishment and declare, “A starving child from (fill in the blank, but it was mostly from a place in Africa) would kill you for that!” I would roll my eyes and oblige him, till he turned his back and then give it to the dog. Mission accomplished, plate cleaned.

Many years later, I finally realize what he was talking about. I’m not talking about the concept of cleaning your plate, that’s not hard to understand. No, I’m talking about the issue of food waste in the world. I know, it’s a dirty subject but the amount of food wasted globally in a year is more than enough to feed 1 billion hungry people. Let me repeat that…..1 billion people. That’s one thousand million hungry people, fed with what we waste a year.

Beautiful squash grown in our compost

Beautiful squash grown in our compost

Cart’m Recycling did a waste audit a few years ago. They bravely sorted through 7,000 pounds of our local garbage to see what everybody throws away in our community. Food was the most abundant “single source of waste” by a landslide, right here in our little community. That is more food in our garbage than anything else, even plastic.

It seems we aren’t alone though as the average food waste for the United States, (the biggest offender in food waste in the world) is 35% to 40% of our food supply. Another astounding number! To break that down, the average American family of four tosses over 1,160 pounds of food a year — from scraps, spills and spoilage. That’s 1.2 million calories—enough to provide a starving child with a lot of food for a long time. Grandpa was right.

One may ask, “How is throwing out food all that bad? I mean doesn’t it decompose at the dump?” It turns out that landfills full of decomposing food release large amounts of methane gas, which is said to be 20 times more lethal of a greenhouse gas that carbon dioxide. And America’s landfills are full of rotting food, and therefore the single largest producer of methane emissions in the U.S. This is a major contributor to global climate change and reduction of our ozone layer.

One of our local farmers produce grown in compost

One of our local farmers produce grown in compost

Now that I’ve given you the bad news, let’s have some good news. We as individuals can implement small changes that make a big difference in the amount of food we throw away each year. Through a little effort and planning you too can make a big difference.

Of course, reducing food waste starts at home. Shop smart and try not to buy impulse buys as those are the most likely to land in the trash. Implement the “P” word, ya know planning, and make lists before you go shopping to get just what you need. For example, the food waste in most of Europe is low in comparison to the U.S. and U.K because they buy only the foods they need for the meal they are cooking that day. Try to buy only what you need, which is a novel idea here in America.

Another way to help reduce your families food waste is to monitor what ends up in the trash for a few weeks and then make a plan to plug that leak. If you find out you consistently let your salad greens go bad before you use them, buy less or get making more salads. It is also a good idea to go through your pantry and figure out what foods are going to expire soon and plan some meals around those. Use the same tool on your fridge and go through it once a week and discover the foods that are lurking in the back and create a meal around using them up. With the internet at our fingers, it’s easy to put in what ingredients you have and voila! A bunch of recipe ideas will turn up to stimulate your creativity.

I have found the very best way to reduce food waste is…. drum roll…. to compost. We have been composting for years and it really doesn’t take that much effort, particularly living here at the coast. We have a 5 gallon bucket, yes we do, in the kitchen and we fill it on a regular basis. Hunky hubby drags it back to our compost pile and dumps it, throws some mulch on it like twigs and grass clippings, then walks away. In time, it all breaks down and we have rich rewarding compost to spread around the place.

If you do not have a lot of space, it is still easy to compost with a little more planning. There are some pretty creative compost bins you can purchase or make that don’t take us that much space. There is lots of great information about composting on line but don’t let it overwhelm you, it isn’t rocket science and it is a great way to turn your waste to wanted rich dirt. (Particularly with our sandy soil!) Pick out a simple solution and go for it. It is so rewarding.

Love your mother by being careful with food waste

Love your mother by being careful with food waste

The important point in all of this is to do something about our food waste. It is a big dirty secret that needs our intentions and attention to change. In our abundant country it is easy to overlook this issue and turn the other way. I know Grandpa and all our ancestors would appreciate our effort now to care for our earth for generations to come by cleaning our food waste up.

A sweet dream comes true, in your cupboard

April 9, 2015
The vanilla orchid

The vanilla orchid

It took a few years and some strategy to get to the first and most successful vanilla farm in the U.S. but I recently made it. Nestled in the verdant jungles of the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii where King Kamehameha once walked, this pioneer farm is an inspirational story of a dream made true. Of course there was lots of hard work and ingenuity to make this dream come true, but that’s what makes it such a groovy story. As we drove up the curvy jungle road to the farm, my tummy growled, I had been looking forward to this for a long time.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company

Hawaiian Vanilla Company

The “Hawaiian Vanilla Company” as it is called, serves a delicious “vanilla” luncheon with vanilla in every dish and drink and then an informational (and very entertaining) tour of the orchid farm itself. Jim Reddekopp, co-owner and “head bean” as he calls himself, seats everyone himself and brings them vanilla lemonade or tea, beaming with pride. His children (called the little beans) weave around the tables, helping out and bringing a homey feel to the function. As we dig into the delicious food, their story begins to unfold.

Jim and his wife Tracy Reddekopp hatched this concept during dinner, one fateful night. They had just purchased 10 acres on the big island to raise their 5 children and something else, but that something else hadn’t been made clear yet. Tracy’s mother, an orchid enthusiast, suggested they start a vanilla farm. After all it is the perfect warm climate for the humid loving vanilla orchid. Jim looked bemused as he shared with us. “Something about that idea just clicked in my brain. Little did I know what I was getting into.”

Jim serving us shrimp fried in vanilla butter

Jim serving us shrimp fried in vanilla butter

How lovely is that, to raise kids and vanilla orchids on the same land? A dreamy idea alright, but the doing part, not so dreamy. Vanilla is a mysterious finicky creature which was born in the jungles of Mexico and is the second most expensive spice (just under saffron) in the world. It is expensive because it is difficult to grow and pollinate. The flowers only open for a few hours and if you do not hand pollinate it in that time, you’re out of luck till it blooms again next year.

“Someday I’m going to write a book about growing vanilla” Jim Reddekopp told me as we toured his vanilla farm with a full vanilla filled tummy, “and it could be called, ‘Vanilla, the book of failures.’ I mean we had to start from scratch. When Tracy and I bought this land back in 1998, you couldn’t just google, ‘how to raise vanilla’ you had to figure it out.”

20150216-IMG_6341“I finally found one old Japanese guy, here on big island that had been researching and growing vanilla beans for over 25 years.” He smiled, amused, as he continued, “Mr Kadooka was my real-life Mr. Miyagi,” (the martial arts mentor in the Karate Kid movies) “He was my like my vanilla sensei and he would make me set there for HOURS until he gave me one nugget on how to grow vanilla.” Jim finished “What he was ultimately teaching me was patience and that is most important in growing vanilla and children.”

Back up at the bright yellow “Vanillary” which was an abandoned slaughter house they transformed into a light filled restaurant and store, Jim explained to us some of the culinary principals of vanilla. “The flavor of vanilla is lost in our mouth unless it is carried by a courier that delivers it to our taste buds. The three couriers are acid, (like citrus) fat (like cream and butter) and alcohol. Alcohol tears down the cell structure of the bean pod and seeds and takes the flavor from it all and makes extract.”

Jim went on, “Now to make your own vanilla extract is very easy, except you need patience. The way to make your own bottle of never ending vanilla extract is to take a 12 oz bottle and split your vanilla beans down the center, put them into the bottle and add your favorite alcohol.” (I use a leftover bottle like a salad dressing bottle)

He continued, “First time in doing it, we recommend you use vodka, as it is truly lets the flavor of the bean shine, but you can use whatever alcohol you like.” (I have used them all and I prefer good ole cheap whiskey. It makes the best vanilla extract hands down! And I don’t even like whiskey, so go figure.) Jim looked at us here and smiled wryly, “Here is where you need your patience, if you add one bean to the bottle it will take you and year and a half to get a good extract, 3 beans takes 6 months and 6 beans take 3 months, wait till you get that nice amber color.”

“Now this is your mother bottle, you never want to use it directly in cooking” he said shaking a bottle of vanilla extract at us, ”You take it out of the cupboard, fill another 3 oz bottle with 1/3 of the extract which you will use, then refill your mother bottle with the same alcohol and put back in the cupboard and put the date of the refill on it. The average baker goes through about 4 oz a year, and at this rate, if you use 3 vanilla beans, your mother bottle could last 12 or more years.”

This is such a better way of having vanilla extract! Not only is it cheaper but the store bought ones can have questionable ingredients, like “vanillin”. Vanillin which is the compound most present in vanilla pods, was created since real vanilla is so expensive. At first it was made innocently enough from wood, then modern science got ahold of it and now it is made from waste produced by the paper making industry. It is toxic and doesn’t contain the 249 other compounds in vanilla that form its complex flavor.

IMG_3706Jim finished up with us by saying, “When you make your vanilla extract, you are choosing to make an ingredient that you and your family will treasure and you are also supporting a small business with a big dream. Remember,” and he pointed to a sign hung in the window, “Dreams come a size too big so we can grow into them.” You can have this dream without all the hard work and patience by just making your own vanilla extract. Vanilla pods and lots of amazing vanilla products can be bought at Hawaiian Vanilla’s website. And hopefully someday you can make the pilgrimage out to visit this amazing place too.

Steelhead trout, our NW winter bounty

March 14, 2015
Fresh grilled steelhead trout

Fresh grilled steelhead trout

We live in such a fertile rich valley here that some of our wonders are easily overlooked, like the fact that we have one of the most abundant winter steelhead runs in the NW. Fisher people all know this fact, as steelhead are one of the most sought after game fish in the nation, but to the folks who don’t fish, they are under the radar.

First let’s define what steelhead are, they are a rainbow trout on steroids. (Or maybe I should say on seafood) They are commonly mistaken for being a salmon but they are a trout that goes to sea for 1-4 years, then comes back to spawn in the rivers that they were born in, just like a salmon. It is easy to see why there is so much confusion between the two.

In fact, until 1988 they were considered a type of salmon, Salmo gairdneri, an altogether a different species from the rainbow trout. Then by genetic research and some (ahem) cross breeding for the hatchery stock, their species was changed to the same as rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss.

Steelhead also eat a similar diet to salmon while out to sea like juvenile fish, squid and amphipods (aka krill) so therefore their flesh can be the same intense orange color as salmon and taste very similarly. Though some steelhead who eat less krill will have remarkably light colored flesh and taste similar to a trout. So even though steelhead are technically a trout, I treat them much like salmon when cooking them.

Our steelhead run in the Nehalem from around Thanksgiving till April. There are actually two runs, the hatchery run starts around Thanksgiving till about March and then the native steelhead run starts in January and goes till April or so. The natives are protected are a gorgeous large fish that can get up to 50 pounds, but are mostly around 12-15 pounds. The hatchery fish, which we can keep and eat, are smaller, weighing about 6-9 pounds.

If you have never had fresh NW winter run steelhead, and you love salmon, you are in for a delight! My husband is an avid fisherman and so keeps us well supplied in hatchery steelhead for our winter larder. If you do not have a fisher person to keep you in fish, you can buy them commercially.

The American Indians of the NW have fishing rights to sell a certain amount of steelhead so they can be bought at our local stores and fish marts this time of year. If you see some, buy it! Just make sure and buy the steelhead with orange flesh, it has more flavor. (And of course test for freshness, always! I give fish the “sniff” test. If it smells fishy, then it is old. You want it to smell like the ocean, slightly salty and clean)

My husband and I have cooked steelhead in many ways (in fact he has a couple in the smoker right now) but our favorite way is to grill it after marinating it. Even though steel head is remarkably like salmon it does have a bit more delicate of a nature, so be careful not to overcook. This recipe is one of our old standbys. Ii is excellent with any fish, but particularly steelhead and salmon. Enjoy this winter bounty that we are so lucky to have.

Grilled Steelheasd trout for dinner!

Grilled Steelheasd trout for dinner!

Rum glazed steelhead trout
This marinade is excellent for salmon too.
The marinade
3 Tabls of brown sugar or coconut sugar
3 Tabls of dark rum
2 Tbls of organic soy sauce
1 Tbls of grated fresh ginger (peels on)
The zest and juice of one lime
3 cloves of garlic, pressed
Splash of your favorite hot sauce (I used
1/4 tsp of black pepper
The fish
4 (6 oz) steelhead fillets or steaks
Garnish with sesame seeds
(I used Vivi Tallman’s seaweed sprinkles)

Combine the all the ingredients for the marinade in a medium bowl and whisk up till well combined. Nestle the steaks (or fillets) in the marinade and then cover, and tuck in the fridge for a half hour for super fresh fish or up to an hour if the fish is not as fresh. Turn a few times during the marinating.

Ok, now you have two ways to cook this fish, grill it or fry it, depending on the weather. (And I suppose your desire too) We prefer to grill it. Here are instructions for the two ways to do it;
Grilling; Spray your clean grill racks with high heat oil then turn on the grill to high to get things nice and hot. Put the steelhead steak on the grill (discard the marinade) and then turn it down to med-high heat and grill for 6-8 minutes on each side till you cut into one steak and see it still lightly pink in the center. (Don’t be bashful about cutting into one steak to check where your cooking time is) Take it off the grill at this point, it will cook the rest of the way.
Frying; heat a large iron or stainless steel skillet over medium high heat with 1 tabls of high heat cooking oil in it, like coconut or avocado, and add the fish and marinade to the pan. Cook fish 4-5 minutes on each side or until the fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Place one fillet or steak on each plate, drizzle each serving with the pan juices, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with salad and rice.

The winter art of slow cooking

February 2, 2015
Moroccan Lamb Stew

Moroccan Lamb Stew

The winter has pulled its misty blanket down over the coast and the time of inward has begun. I used to dislike this season and pine for the long sunny days of summer but now I rather enjoy this quiet time full of long luxurious nights and hearty nurturing food.

My favorite of these hearty foods are the slow cooked ones like stews, soup, and braises. These long cooked foods reflect the season in how everything seems to slow down and take its time with a delicious outcome. They need the same thing as winter; patience and a low slow fire. The process of taking humble ingredients such as tattered veggies, a tough cut of meat, spices, and liquid to make an aromatic flavorful dish is nothing short of magic.

There are a few secrets to making this magic happen in the pot. The first important trick is to brown the meat. This adds an intense rich depth of flavor to the dish that isn’t achieved any other way. The important safety tip to this is to actually brown the meat and not sweat it. If you sweat it, it makes for very tough meat in your pot no matter how long you cook it.

Brown your meat at high heat and in small batches with stew pieces so make sure the pieces have plenty of room in the pot to brown. The easier way to do this is with a whole piece of meat like a lamb shank or a chuck roast. Using a whole piece of meat will technically make it a “braise” opposed to a stew. (I love braises!) If you don’t have the patience to brown the meat right, just don’t do it at all. This way you won’t get tough chewy meat but you won’t have the depth of flavor either.

Next you want to de-glaze the pan with a flavorful liquid, like broth or wine, add your spices and veggies, tuck the meat in and wait. The secret for a flavorful stew or braise is cooking it for a long time at a very low heat with the lid on. This condenses the flavors like no other way of cooking.

I recommend a heavy pot like a cast iron dutch oven. If you don’t have one, invest in one. Seriously, they will change your life. You can spend as much on a dutch oven as you want from the fancy pants “Le Creuset” at $250 to the work horse Kirkland (Costco) at about $80. I have the Kirkland and just love it. (You can use a slow cooker for these meals as well just set on low for 6-8 hours.)

I also recommend using dried herbs and spices. Fresh herbs do not hold up to the long slow cook and virtually disappear. If you want to add fresh herbs, do it at the end to preserve the flavor like I have done in this Moroccan lamb braise. It is such a brilliant dish and even though it has many spices in it, the long slow cook brings them together in perfect balance. (And the aroma while it is cooking will fill your senses!) Settle in and enjoy a lovely slow winter’s meal.

Moroccan Lmb Shanks

Moroccan Lmb Shanks

Moroccan slow cooked lamb shanks
This dish is easily made vegetarian by subbing cauliflower and sweet potatoes for the lamb and cooking it just till the veggies are done. You can sub in almost any meat (no fish) but lamb is best. Lamb is available at Mother Nature’s from a local meat farmer. Serves 4

1 TBS of cumin
2 tsp of coriander
1.5 tsps of salt
2 tsps of fennel seed
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of smoked or sweet paprika
1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks
OR 2 pounds of lamb stew meat
2-4 TBS of coconut oil or another high heat oil

1 large onion finely chopped
2 TBS of tomato paste
2 cups of broth, chicken or beef
1 15.5 oz can of garbanzo beans
1 cup of dried apricots, cranberries or chopped dates
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 TBS of finely grated fresh ginger
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1TBS of honey
Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro

This is going to be fun and delicious! Mix the first 6 spices together in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate till blended. Rinse your meat and pat it dry then roll it around in the spices till well covered. Heat up the oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven or other heavy stew pot and brown the meat on all sides. (This is a breeze with the shanks but if you are using stew meat, you will need to do it in two batches so that it will have room to brown) Transfer the meat back to the spice plate after browning.

In the same pot, add a bit more oil and sauté the onion, reducing the heat to medium, until the onion becomes fragrant and translucent, about 5 mins. The onions will pick up all the left over spices and simply have you dancing over the pot! Add the broth and deglaze your pot by cooking for a few minutes, then add the beans, dried fruit, tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, ginger, lemon zest, juice and honey and bring to a boil stirring often. Last but not least, add the lamb and all the rest of the spices in the pie plate, then reduce the heat to a low enough setting that the stew just barely simmers. Cover the pot and go read a book. Simmer till the meat is super tender and falling off the bone, about 3-4 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve with cooked quinoa or cous cous and sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

Beating the tight pants blues with rosy grapefruit

January 12, 2015
Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette

Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette

I have a personal question to ask you, how’s your pants fitting? Mine are tight. Yup, it’s that time of the year when we all get the opportunity to start new and take the tight out of our pants. One of my favorite ways to combat the battle of the bulge is to break out the grapefruit. Their bright color and brilliant flavor seem to cut through the layers of fat and melt them off.

This isn’t just wishful thinking, it is actually true. Grapefruits contain naringenin, a flavonoid that balances out blood sugar levels and helps to prevent metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with weight gain around the waist. Researchers reported naringenin has this effect because it signals the liver to burn excess fat rather than store it in the body. (Super important for the muffin top elimination program!) Eating half of a fresh grapefruit before a meal was found to produce a significant weight loss, according to studies.

There are many other healthy benefits to this fruit as well. It is obvious they are loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants but what most people don’t know it that grapefruit also are bursting with lycopene, which tomatoes are famous for. Lycopene is a cancer fighter called a carotenoid. Among the common dietary carotenoids, lycopene has the highest capacity to help fight oxygen free radicals, which are compounds that can damage cells and cause cancer. (BTW, lycopene is only found in pink and red grapefruit, not the white)

Grapefruit! The great fat melter

Grapefruit! The great fat melter

Grapefruits are also a champion in reducing the bad cholesterol, LDL. If you eat a grapefruit everyday for 30 days you could possibly lower your LDL by up to 15%. Another magnificent fact about this wonder fruit is that is prevents kidney stones. If you ingest 2 cups daily, it will change your urinary PH level to the point where it will significantly reduce the formation of those little painful buggers. (This is true of orange and apple juice too) The nutritional benefits of these fruit are too numerous to list but just knowing the fat burning fact has me signed up eating one a day.

It is important to note that this powerful fruit has some drugs that it doesn’t play well with. If you are taking immunosuppressants like cyclosporine and calcium channel blocker drugs, such as felodipine, nifedipine and verapamil, or statin drugs, you should avoid grapefruit. The compound we were talking about earlier, naringenin, messes with the way your body absorbs these drugs which can cause big problems so make sure and read about it and stay informed.

On a lighter note, grapefruit are a relatively young fruit in the great spectrum of produce time. They were created in the 1700’s by crossing a Jamaican sweet orange with an Indonesian pomelo (both very ancient fruits) in Barbados. If you have never had a pomelo you aren’t missing much. They are large grapefruit looking thing that is super tart, pulpy and thick skinned. This cross was a great improvement on this old cranky fruit, believe me.

Grapefruits hopped over to Florida in the early 1800’s and became quite a sensation. Soon there were grove upon grove and now the US leads the world in grapefruit production with Texas being at the top of that pack. It’s no wonder, as the grapefruit is as delicious as it is nutritious. Avocados and grapefruit are a refreshing combo that highlights two fruit that are in season. Try this easy and tasty grapefruit salad to beat the tight pants and winter blues.

Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette

Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette

Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette
You can make this meal an entrée with the addition of cooked shrimp. I prefer our local bay shrimp that are sustainable seafood. Serves four.
The salad
2 washed ripe avocados
2 washed pink grapefruit
1 large shallot, minced
A head of butter lettuce
OR enough spinach for 4 servings
1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds (optional)

Grapefruit vinaigrette
1/4 cup of grapefruit juice
1/4 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Zest of a grapefruit
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1-2 teaspoons of honey, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste (A pinch is good)

Start this salad by preparing the grapefruit. We want nice fat pith free grapefruit slices, so cut the peels off the grapefruit then cut the segments out of the grapefruit over a bowl so you can catch all the juice. When you are done cutting the segments out of the grapefruit, squeeze the juice from left over grapefruit in the juice bowl.

When you get done with this process you should have enough grapefruit juice for the vinaigrette which you make now. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small canning jar, put the lid in tight and shake-a shake-a till well mixed.

Set out four plates and layer with the washed and separated butter lettuce or spinach. Now cut the avocados in half, remove the seed and cut into slices, lengthways and arrange on the greens alternating with grapefruit segments in a pin wheel design. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the avo slices to prevent them from turning brown and the rest of the salad. Sprinkle with the minced shallot and pomegranate seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper then serve up some health in the new year.

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