Friday, May 31, 2013

What lies beneath the surface of the humble black bean?

There are a number of beans to choose from if you are looking for a good source of protein and fiber.  Today we will be learning about the humble black bean.

The black bean is often over looked because of its color.  It seems suspicious because it isn't as colorful as other legumes.  But let's not underestimate the little bean that packs so much nutrition.

While the human body needs protein, humans cannot live soley on animal protein. The body needs many nutrients that beef, chicken and fish cannot not provide.  Food that comes from plants, like black beans, have what is known as phylonutrients.     These nutrients aren't meant to keep you alive like vitamins which are essential.  Rather they work as an aid in fending off diseases that can attack the body.

The American Diabetes Association,  the American Heart Association, along with the American Cancer Society all recommend legumes as key to preventing disease such as cancer and diabetes.  The reason for this is that legumes, such as black beans, work in the large intestine as a cleaner, helping with digestion, regulating blood sugar levels, and lowering cholesterol.   Black beans, and beans in general, have natural anti-inflamatory properties as well as being a good source of antioxidants.

So what's not to love about the humble black bean?  Are you worried about the often joked about side effects of eating beans?  Not to worry.  Whether you are soaking your own beans or opening a can, the processing of turning dried beans into hydrated beans mean that a good deal of the property that causes flatulence is taken out when the water is drained. 

There are a zillion recipes that include the tasty and healthy black bean.  Everything from black bean humus to black bean salad to refried black beans.

Here's a recipe that it easy and oh so tasty.

Black Bean Fritters and Chipotle Dipping Sauce
1 can black beans, drained
1 small onion
1 medium yellow, red, or orange pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
2/3 cup flour
Fresh ground black pepper
Sea Salt
Olive Oil

Chop the onion and pepper, saute with garlic in olive oil until tender, then allow to cool.  Put beans and onion mixture in large bowl.  Add eggs and mix.  Add flour, salt and pepper and combine thoroughly.  Heat oil in shallow pan.  Using small spoon, drop fritter dough in hot oil and brown on each side.  Place fritters on paper towel to drain.  Serve hot with chipotle sauce.

Chipotle Sauce:
1 cup mayonaise
1 cup sour cream
1 chipotle pepper, minced
3 T adobe sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
fresh ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients and allow to set for a few hours.  Add more or less chipotle according to your taste.  Serve with warm Black Bean Fritters.

And here's a link to entice you to consider some more options for you and your family.  Black Bean Recipes 

So make beans a regular part of your diet.  Three servings a week is what's recommended.  Do your own exploring and find interesting and tasteful ways to make your next bean dish.  


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Garlic... It's not just to keep away vampires.

It is time for garlic to have its own page on 2 Prickly Pears.

Let’s see a show of hands of all you garlic lovers!

Garlic has been used for 7,000 years all over the world.   Its origin began in Central Asia but has a steep history in Mediterranean food, as well as Egyptian, European and African dishes.

Garlic contains a sulfur compound called allicin, which is produced when garlic is chopped, chewed or bruised.  Allicin is known as a powerful antibiotic which helps the body fight unwanted germs and viruses.

The body loves garlic.  It helps the body maintains healthy blood circulation and strengthens the immune system which in turn helps aid the heart in beating properly.  Garlic helps loosen plaque on the artery walls; helps regulate blood pressure and sugar levels in the blood.  It also helps reduce  LDL (bad cholesterol) and increase HDL (good cholesterol)

Garlic also contains germanium which is an anti-cancer agent.  Garlic contains more germanium than any other herb.  Studies have shown positive effects on tumors when garlic is consumed.  It is also loaded with vitamins and nutrients to include vitamin A, B, B2, C, Calcium, just to name a few.

Garlic can thin the blood like aspirin.  Those who take blood thinners or have blood thinning issues need to be careful when consuming and should check with their doctor if they are changing their diet.
MMMMM... Garlic!

Garlic is a well know herb that has used for a variety of ailments such as asthma, hoarseness, and coughs, breathing issues, ear infections and toothaches.   A remedy can be found online for each one of these aliments.  Some tried and true and others handed down through the years.

Remember everything in moderation.  Though garlic is very good for you, over consumption can have some unwanted side effects such as; a distinct odor on the skin and breath, can cause heartburn, upset stomach, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches and dizziness.

Garlic & Parmesan Dinner Rolls
 1/4 C Water
1 C Milk
2 T Olive Oil
1 Egg
4 C Flour
1 t Granulated Garlic (**see note below)
1/2 t Salt
2 T sugar
3/4 C Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 1/2 t Yeast
Butter for the baking pan

Warm water, milk and olive oil to 120 degrees.

Put 1 cup flour and yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer.   Add the warm liquid and combine using paddle at medium speed for 3 minutes.  Add the egg and parmesan cheese, beat for 1 minute.  Add the sugar and the rest of the flour 1 cup at a time and continue to mix until a ball forms.  Change to the dough hook and mix for 5 minutes or knead by hand for 3-5 minutes.  

Turn dough out into a greased bowl and let rise in a warm place for 15 minutes.  Punch dough down.  Using a sharp knife, cut dough in half and half again.  Cut each piece into 4, 16 pieces all together.  Shape into round balls and place in greased baking pan.  Let rise again for 20 minutes.  Lightly brush with melted butter.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Enjoy!!

**FYI: 1 garlic clove = 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic.  Granulated garlic is simply dehydrated garlic then granulated.  Never use garlic salt as a substitute.  

And let’s not forget warding off those pesky vampires.  One garlic bulb will do the trick!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Always Butter...NEVER EVER Margarine!

There is nothing better than a slice of homemade bread still warm out of the over with BUTTER on it.  Notice butter is in caps?  That is because margarine will never pass by these lips!

The myth of butter being harmful to your health is just that.  A myth! It is a natural product that people have been eating for centuries without damaging their health.   Now I am not saying over consumption is ok.  No matter how good something is for you, over eating anything is a bad thing.  So why would you swap something that is healthy and good for you with something that is the color of dish water grey in its natural state and has to be altered to make it look like something real.  Margarine has to be chemically altered to make it palatable and is made with low grade oils that are highly refined. 

The 2 Prickly Pears come from a farming family.  We have a long history of living off the land and eating what is natural.  Synthetic “anything” never had a place at our grandparents table.   Though sadly the 2 Prickly Pears did move away from our healthy eating and believed the hype those were saying about butter, cheese, milk… and many other things. Luckily we came to our senses and found our way back on your path of eating like we were brought up.

We have been told for many moons how great margarine is for you.   The fact is it is more damaging to your health then butter can ever be.  We have been told to cut back on animal fats and replace it with safflower oil margarine.   Studies have shown those who consume margarine are twice as more likely to have health issue which includes heart disease. 

Let’s start with butter.  Butter contains beneficial saturated fats that have been identified as key components of cell membranes, essential for the production of certain hormones and play an important role in the transport and absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Butter also contains vitamins and the type of cholesterol that aids the brain and nervous system development.  Within butter there are natural compounds with anti-fungal, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer properties.  To top it off there was never any real evidence that saturated fats in butter block the coronary arteries and cause heart disease.

Margarine on the other had is not so good!  In fact it seems like it was developed to make people sick! (But that is an entirely different subject!)    When margarine was first developed in the lab, it was made with hydrogenated fats that are known to block your coronary arteries. When the manufactures were confronted with the harmful effects of the hydrogenated fats they reformulated their recipes.  This time they made it with interesterified vegetable oils.  This type of oil under goes high temperature and pressure, using enzymes or acids as catalysts, to rearrange the molecules in the fat. As a side note, hydrogenated fats are now banded in the US. Maybe they should band the interesterfied vegetable oils also!  

Margarine is high in trans fatty acids which triples the risk of heart disease.  Increases the LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreases HDL (good cholesterol).  AND if that isn't enough then it is important to remember margarine is one molecule from being plastic.    

When a fly won’t land on something you know that is bad.  No margarine...only butter!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Herbs and Spice and Everything Nice

The 2 Prickly Pears know that everyone uses spices when they cook.  We all have the standards in our cupboards, like salt, pepper, dried oregano, a little dried basil, maybe some cinnamon and allspice.  How do we go about getting the best flavor out of our spices?  And how do we combine them to make the food we cook come alive?  That is the topic of today's post.  So let's get started.

To begin with, let's talk about those dried herbs and spices in your cupboard.  Just how old are they?  If you don't know the answer to that, then we're betting they are too old to add any good flavor to your cooking.  There isn't anything wrong with using dried herbs and spices.  While fresh is always best, it can be difficult to get them year-round.  Consider going to the bulk section of your grocery store.  Often you can find dried herbs and spices there and you can get them in the amount you need with less risk of them growing old on your shelves.

When you can get fresh herbs, please do.  If you grow your own, then you might think of using the ice cube tray method of freezing them for future use.  The ice cube tray method??  Just chop your herbs up, place them in ice cube trays, fill with olive oil, and freeze.  Once frozen, you can pop them out of the tray and store in a zip lock bag.  Take one or two out as you need them for that fresh herb taste.  Easy!!

We've thrown around the words herbs and spice here and maybe we should define our terms before we go on.   People often use the words herbs and spice interchangeably.  That's okay, really.  But just so we are clear, herbs are aromatic leaves of plants, while spices are seasonings from bark, buds, fruits, flowers, roots, seeds or stems of aromatic plants and trees.  For example, mint leaves come from the mint plant and can be used fresh in beverages and desserts.  Cinnamon is from the bark of very specific trees.  And un-ground allspice is an actual berry from a tree. Fennel seed is found in the bulb of the fennel plant, as mentioned in a previous post. 

Many spices used today are from antiquity.  They have been around for a very long time.  Our earlier example of cinnamon is a testament to this.  It was used by the ancient Egyptians as part of their embalming mixtures, also as anointing oil.   Today we combine cinnamon with ginger and clove as a part of pumpkin pie or with sugar and nutmeg in apple pie, or with cardamom and ginger in chai.

Coriander seed, most commonly used to make a curry, was found in the tomb of Tutankhamun (King Tut), and taken to America towards the 17th century.

Many spices and herbs are used not just for culinary purposes, but also for medicinal purposes.  Here's a site for more information on that:  Medicinal uses of common culinary herbs.

Now let's talk about how to use and combine spices and herbs in cooking in ways that may be surprising.  We'll start with Nutmeg.  Nutmeg can be used in everything from dessert, to savory soups and stews, to hot cocoas and toddy's.  Use this lovely spice sparingly as it is has a powerful flavor profile.  Nutmeg has what would be considered a "warm" flavor.  It goes well in cream sauces and with cheese dishes.  To get the fullness of nutmeg, grind it fresh, but remember, a little goes a long way.  Always add nutmeg at the end of cooking time.  If cooked too long, it will turn bitter.

We love love love Sweet Basil!  Sweet Basil is a basic ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Sweet basil goes well with olive oil, oregano, garlic, onions, tomatoes,  chicken, pasta, eggs, and green leaf salads.  Try a Caprese Salad which is simply fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and olive oil.....DELISH!!  It's a great summer time salad.  Always add basil at the end of cooking time.  If cooked too long, it will turn bitter.

Do you understand Paprika?  We remember it being used to garnish deviled eggs, but not much else.  We're embarrassed to say that the jar of paprika in the cupboard was there far too long, maybe our entire childhood.  But paprika is an interesting and unique spice.  Paprika is ground pepper.  In fact, the name itself means pepper.  The peppers used are dried and ground to a powder, and range from sweet red peppers to cayenne or a combination of each.  It can be used as a coloring for rice dishes; it can be used in sausage, soups, stews, and most popularly in goulash.  The varieties are everything from sweet to spicy when used for cooking.  The cooking process brings out the flavor.  If using paprika as a garnish, no flavor is imparted.  Paprika is produced predominately in Spain, the Netherlands, and Hungary.  Consider making stuffed cabbage leaves and adding a large dash of paprika to your stuffing.  It really makes the dish pop!

Please, let's not forget garlic!  Where would we be without garlic in our culinary endeavors?  We'd be in trouble, for sure.  Did you know that China produces the greatest amount of garlic in the world, with an annual yeild of 13,664,069 tons?  Yikes!!

Garlic is a one of those savories that is a must in cooking.  Use fresh whenever you can, but if needed, use granulated garlic.  Stay away from garlic salt because you want to control your salt in cooking and there are many fillers including sodium in garlic salt.  But when you have fresh available consider roasting a garlic bulb with cracked pepper and olive oil.  All you have to do is cut of the top of the bulb, put it in a ramakin, sprinkling it with cracked pepper and a good dose of olive oil.  Wrap in aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.  Squeeze the garlic clove out and use as a spread on bread or crackers.  You will find that the garlic turns sweet and buttery in texture.   

Garlic is a wonderful antibiotic.  We don't know if it's true, but neither of the 2 Prickly Pears have ever been bitten by a vampire and we eat a lot of garlic.  Draw your own concllusion.  For great flavor add garlic to sauces, soup, pot roast, spaghetti, you name it!  OH!  Don't forget!  Never refrigerate your fresh garlic.  It will last longer on your counter top.  Plus you can add life to your garlic if you leave the stems on.  You can find this at your local farmers' market.

We could go on and on about all the many spices and herbs available to you for enhancing all your cooking.  Instead we have a few links that will give you the breakdown of how spices and herbs are used, along with their benefits:

Here's a quick reference for you to use:

cumin, cayenne, chili, parsley, pepper, sage, savory, thyme
basil, bay, chili, cilantro, curry, cumin, garlic, marjoram, mustard, oregano, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
anise, basil, caraway, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, oregano, poppy seeds, rosemary, saffron, sage, thyme
basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chili, chives, coriander, cumin, dill, garlic, horseradish, lemon peel, marjoram, mint, mustard, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
allspice, basil, bay, cinnamon, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger lemongrass, mustard, paprika, rosemary, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme
chili, curry, dill, marjoram, parsley, savory, thyme
basil, chervil, chili, chives, curry, dill, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme
anise, basil, bay, cayenne, celery seed, chives, curry, dill fennel, garlic, ginger, lemon peel, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, thyme, saffron, sage, savory, tarragon, marjoram
allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, ginger, mint
basil, bay, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, curry, dill, garlic, marjoram, mint, mustard, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme
basil, caraway, celery seed, chervil, chives, coriander, dill, marjoram, oregano, paprika, parsley, poppy seed, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Salad Dressings
basil, celery seed, chives, dill, fennel, garlic, horseradish, marjoram, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper, rosemary, saffron, tarragon, thyme
basil, caraway, chives, dill, garlic, lemon peel, lovage, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
basil, bay, chervil, chili, chives, cumin, dill, fennel, garlic, marjoram, parsley, pepper, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme
allspice, angelica, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, ginger, lemon peel, mace, nutmeg, mint, orange peel, rosemary
basil, bay , celery seed, cinnamon, chili, curry, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, gumbo file, lemongrass, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme

There are so many spices to know about and to use in your everyday cooking.  

The 2 Prickly Pears encourage you to be bold and try something new out!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What exactly is in that box of processed food you just opened?

Just like you, every now and again, we find ourselves faced with what to make for dinner.  The day has been long and the humans have been challenging.  It's time to find something good to eat that takes absolutely no time to prepare.  Old cheese on broken crackers isn't going to cut it again.

Let's just get a box out of the cupboard or maybe the ready-to-heat meal out of the freezer.  We've all done it and we'll all do it again.  Sometimes it is a guilty pleasure we are seeking.  That box of Mac n Cheese is awfully tempting.  Just a few minutes and comfort food can be enjoyed.

We're not here today to talk anyone out of anything.  We are here to talk about what is in that box that is so nicely packaged for our all-too-busy lives.

Processed foods include more things than you might think.  If it's boxed, bagged, canned or jarred and has a list of ingredients on the label, it is considered processed.   That means that the following items on the grocery shelves are included: 

  • Canned Goods
  • Frozen Foods
  • Refrigerated Foods
  • Dehydrated Foods
  • Aseptic Processed Foods (a process to make those pesky germs die)

We are a society that looks desperately for convenience and ease.  As children, the 2 Prickly Pears didn't know about dehydrated potatoes.  We sure knew what it meant to stand at the kitchen counter, holding a paring knife and peeling potatoes we stored in the root cellar.  Maybe those days are gone for most of us.

The 2 Prickly Pears are giving you a task.  The next time you go to the grocery store take one minute and read the label on the meal "helper" box.  Pick any one.  There are dozens.  Once you've read the list, answer this question: "Did I understand each ingredient and know its purpose in being there?  If the answer is "no,"  then it doesn't have a place on your table. 
Let's begin with the guilty pleasure mentioned earlier.  The humble, comforting, and much loved, Mac n Cheese.  Ever wonder about the color of the cheese sauce in a box mix?  Well, that color comes not from the cheese, itself.  It comes from the color additive added to the powdered cheese.  That additive is call Yellow 5 and 6, also called tartrazine, and is a synthetic, water-soluble, very inexpensive dye used as a food coloring. Its purpose is to make us believe we are eating fresh cheddar cheese.

In order for the cheese packet to live as long on the self as the pasta, additives must be included.  This is true for the dry mix as well as the pouch with the already prepared cheese sauce.  What can be done to make sure of extended shelf life?  The answer is Cellulose Gum.  This is a cheap thickener and emulsifier that can also improve shelf life.  It is farmed from trees and cotton.  A little cellulose gum goes a long way.  It is important to note that cellulose gum cannot be absorbed by the human body.

It's now time to talk about sodium.  Way back when, when preserving food was useful for long winters when food, especially meats, was more difficult to come by, humans used salt to dry their food.  Nowadays, we use sodium as a preservative in food for several reasons.  To begin with, sodium in foods prevents fermentation.  The deli meat you buy in your grocery store is high in sodium so it will last longer under the glass and lights of the deli case.  Sodium also is used as a binder, enhances color of food, acts as a stabilizer and improves the taste.  While sodium is doing all of that, it is also contributing to health problems.  High levels of sodium is a known factor in heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and weight gain. 

According to the CDC,(Center for Disease Control), more than 75% of the sodium Americans consume comes from processed and restaurant foods.

These few aspects of what makes up boxed Mac n Cheese is only the beginning.  Here's a list of other additives found in many processed foods. 

With cancer and heart disease all around us, researchers are now studying the dangers of processed foods which are more of a staple in our home than a loaf of bread or carton of milk.

Here is a breakdown of the difference in nutrional values of boxed vs homemade Mac n Cheese:

The 2 Prickly Pears are not trying to convince anyone out of eating processed foods.  We wish to shed a little light on the downside to having too much processed food in our diets.  While it might be more "convenient" to open a box or can or toss a frozen dinner in the microwave, in long run, it is better to make a from-scratch, homemade pan of Mac n Cheese.  We offer you a simple, tasty, and easy recipe.  It's yummy and has your added love to make it completely worth your while.

Homemade Creamy Mac -n- Cheese  
Makes eactly 6.5 servings
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Cups milk
8 ounces cheddar cheese, grated
Pinch of salt and pepper
  • Cook elbow macaroni according to package.
  • In a pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Once melted, whisk in the flour to form a roux. Cook for a few minutes on medium heat until the mixture turns a light tan color.
  • Slowly whisk milk into roux. Whisk continually until milk is incorporated. The mixture should get nice and creamy. Try to whisk out any lumps that form.
  • Add grated cheese to sauce and season with a tiny pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Once cheese is melted, stir in elbow macaroni and stir until well combined.
When shopping for your favorite foods, consider reading labels as a way to have a better handle on what you are serving when using processed food.  Make sure you include lots of fresh vegetables and fruits for a good dose of needed nutrients.  Only indulge in those guilty pleasures once in awhile.  

Planning ahead makes scratch cooking easy to manage and healthier in the long run.