Monday, August 31, 2015

Turmeric....the wonder root!

Have you ever eaten turmeric?  Don't know?  Well, if you've eaten Indian food, namely curries, then you've eaten turmeric.  Most curries include turmeric, cumin, coriander, and chili peppers. 

Raw and ground turmeric
Turmeric, or Indian Saffron, comes from the Curcuma longa plant, and has been used throughout history as a healing remedy, a dye, and as a seasoning.  It is a root spice and has a tough brown skin.  The flesh is deep orange with a peppery, bitter flavor.  It has a fragrance that reminds us of ginger, which it is related to.

No doubt, turmeric is definitely in the class of super foods.  Its health benefits would put most others to shame and intimates the prescription medications. 

The health benefits include (to name a few):

• Helps prevent and treat cancer
• Reduces side effects of chemotherapy
• Prevents onset and progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
• Anti-arthritic
• Relieves muscle and joint pain
• Natural anti-inflammatory
• Antibiotic, antiseptic, analgesic
• Speeds healing of wounds
• Digestive tonic
• Skin tonic, including improvement of psoriasis and eczema
• Slows progression of multiple sclerosis
• Strengthens ligaments
• Blood purifier
• Relieves cough
• Prevents arteries from clogging
• Heals stomach ulcers
• Helps metabolize fats
• Modulates and normalizes the immune system (especially beneficial for those with autoimmunity)

For more details on the benefits of turmeric, I've included a site for you.  

It's hard for us to think about cold and flu season.  I know, it's still summer and let's not rush through it.  However, I'm including a recipe that you can refer back to when the time is right.  It's called a Turmeric, Ginger, Honey Bomb!  This is what you want on your side when the sniffles and aches and pains start. 

Turmeric Ginger Honey Bomb
1/2 cup raw honey
2-4 Tablespoons ground ginger (amount depends on your taste preference)
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
Zest from 1 lemon
2 pinches of fresh ground black pepper***

Stir all ingredients together.  You want a really strong flavor, so give it a taste and adjust ingredients.  Store your Bomb in a glass container and leave in a cool, dry place.  When it's time to use the bomb, boil a cup of water and allow it to cool slightly so you don't lose the benefits of the raw honey.  Stir in a few teaspoons of the bomb in the water and drink.  Don't be afraid to add this elixir to your favorite hot tea, as well.

***As a side note, black pepper should always be taken with turmeric because it enhances the bio-availability of curcuminoids, which simply means the benefits are increased. 

If you shy away from over-the-counter remedies for colds and flu, go ahead and make a bomb.  You'll feel better for it.

But this blog is not just about the medicinal greatness of turmeric.  It is also about how to cook with the wonder spice.

Today's recipe is Turmeric Curry Potatoes:

Turmeric Curry Potatoes

What you need:
2-3 lbs red potatoes (get them from the farmers' market)
4 tablespoons olive oil, separated
2 tablespoons turmeric powder (get the good stuff from an Indian grocery store)
1 tablespoon curry marsala (at the same store as the turmeric)
Sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper

What you need to do:

In small sauce pan, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, the turmeric, the curry, and salt and pepper.  Heat and stir on low for a minute.  (Remember, this is called blooming from a previous blog.)  

Peel and cube potatoes.  Place potatoes, the rest of the olive oil, and the spice mixture in a large mixing bowl and mix well to coat the potatoes.  

Pour potatoes on a prepared baking sheet and roast in a 400 degree oven about 20 minutes or until they are fork tender.  Serve immediately.  

When you are reaching for a spice to step up your food and help you feel better from a cold, reach for turmeric.  You won't regret it.

Now, go out and make something good.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

No More Dry Chicken!

Who doesn’t like chicken?  If you are one who does, isn't it a disappointment when you take a bite and the pieces of chicken is dry, hard, leathery and has no has flavor.   It may look good but it sure doesn’t taste good.   

Well, here are a few tricks to making good chicken.  

Odds are you need to TURN DOWN THE HEAT!!!  When you cook chicken too high and too fast, regardless of the method, your chicken will be dry every time.  What is happening is, while the protein in the chicken heats up it begins to squeeze the water out of the meat.  You have to control the heat.  You want to cook around 150 degrees.  Higher than that you are going to have dry chicken.  Know when to have the pan hot and when to turn it down.  If you are cooking your chicken on a stove top, the best method is to sear the chicken on both sides at a high temperature.  Turn down the heat and let the meat cook through slowly.  Turning your meat often with ensure it cooks evenly and all the way through.  You have to take your time.   But DON'T cook it too long.  If you do your meat will dry out.

Have you ever put your chicken in a crock-pot and wonder why it comes out dry even if there is liquid in the crock?  It is because you are cooking it to high.  Start with it on high to get it rolling but then turn it down to low.  You will have moist and juicy every time.

It helps to salt your chicken ahead of time and let it sit.  The salt breaks down the structure of the protein and reduces shrinkage.  Also cook your chicken when it is at room temperature.

Remember the length of time in a recipe is a guideline and not an exact time.  Each piece of chicken is different and so is each oven, stove, grill and crock-pot.

This method it true about all meats.  Seriously, cooking the "you know what" out of the meat at a high temperature is a recipe for disaster.   

Here is what you need
4 chicken breast
1 bunch asparagus
Havarti Cheese
Pepper Jack Cheese
1/2 cup Pepperdoux
Pepper to taste.

Here is what you do:
Pound chicken breast out until they are even.   This will help with evenly cooking them.
Butterfly the chicken breast to make a pocket.  Pepper the inside of the pocket.   Odds are you do not need salt if you salted it ahead of time.   You be the judge.   If you think it needs salt then add a little bit.
Let the chicken breast come to room temperature.
Clean the asparagus and place in a shallow dish with water.   Steam in the microwave for about 4 minutes.  This method can be done on the stove top.  Careful not to overcook.   You still want them a bit crunchy.   The asparagus will cook more when you cook it with the chicken breast.
Dice the pepperdoux into bite size pieces.
Slice your cheese into pieces and place in the pocket of the chicken breast.   
On top the cheese place a row of asparagus.   As many that will fit across.
Next add some pepperdoux.
Fold over the top part of the chicken and secure with a few toothpicks.
In a skillet, heat olive oil.  Once oil is hot place the chicken breast in the skillet.   This is the part you want your pan to be hot so you get a nice sear on your meat.
Turn chicken breast over and sear the other side.
Once both sides are seared, turn down the heat.   Cook chicken breast on both sides for about 2 minutes.  
Turn off heat and let chicken sit for a few minutes.

This recipe is great because you can stuff it with anything.  Swiss cheese and mushrooms would be great.   A variety of peppers with a nice mozzarella.   The combinations are endless.

Remember cook time will vary based on how thick the chicken breast are and how your stove cooks.  However your chicken will turn out perfect every time.   Just take your time when cooking chicken regardless of the method.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Turnips, rutabaga, and's all in the family.

Have you ever been confused about the differences between kohlrabi, turnips, and rutabaga?  Or have you just ever wonder what the heck they are?  Would you know one if you met it on the street?  Well I'm here to straighten all of us out, including myself, on the ins and outs of these three root vegetables.

It's about that time at the farmers' market.  Potatoes, onions, radishes, rutabaga....what?  What's a rutabaga?  And how do you pronounce it anyhow?  Here's how it goes:  root-a-beg-a.  Say it out loud. 


The word rutabaga comes from the Swedish word Rotabagge, meaning "ram root. It is also known as a Swedish turnip or yellow turnip. 

So then what's the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga?  It turns out that rutabagas and turnips come from the cabbage family.  As does the kohlrabi, for that matter, as is cauliflower and broccoli. 

The rutabaga is actually a hybrid of a turnip and a cabbage.  Where the rutabaga tends towards a yellowish flesh, the turnip is white.  Kohlrabi is often called a cabbage turnip. 

These three root vegetables have a sad history of neglect in the culinary world.  They aren't fancy or pretty; they are often misunderstood.  But it seems that more attention has recently been giving to these outcasts.  In fact, all three are great companion vegetables.

Let's take a look at each and see how they can be prepared.  We'll start with turnips.  When choosing turnips at the market, make sure the skin is smooth.  They should be firm with crisp green tops.  They will have a sweet aroma.  For an easy side dish, choose small turnips, which are sweeter and more tender.  Peel the turnips and cut them into wedges.  Slice some fresh garlic.  Heat olive oil in a large skillet and add the turnips and garlic.  Saute until tender.  Add the turnips greens, if you like, and cook until the greens are wilted.  Season with salt and pepper.  Plate and serve with grated Parmesan cheese.

Now for rutabagas.  A ripe rutabaga will have tinges of purple on the skin.  Make sure you get one that is firm and not wrinkly.  It should have a good weight to it. To make roasted rutabaga, first peel the skin off and cut the root into cubes.  Toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Spread it all out on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees until golden brown and soft, about 35-40 minutes.  Garnish with a little chopped parsley.

And, finally, kohlrabi.  I don't know if I saved the best for last or not, but I love mashed stuff.  So today's recipe is Creamy Mashed Kohlrabi.  When selecting kohlrabi, make sure the skin is thin and tender with no wrinkles.  The size is about the size of a tennis ball.  Really large ones will tend to be more fibrous.

What you need:

2-3 kohlrabi, cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 -1/3 cup milk or cream
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste.

What you need to do:

Fill a medium size pot about half way with water.  Add some salt and bring to boil.  Peel and cube the kohlrabi.  Add to the water and boil until kohlrabi is tender.  Drain.

Mince the chive and garlic and add to the butter and cooked kohlrabi in the bowl of a food processor.  Process and add milk to get the desired consistency.  Return the mixture to a pan and heat through as needed.

Serve as a side dish with roasted or fried chicken and a lovely salad.

There you have it.  Another use for a misunderstood and neglected root vegetable.

Now go out and make something good.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Stone Fruit

What do peaches, plums cherries, raspberries and coconuts have in common?   They are all considered a stone fruit.   Yes even raspberries and coconuts are stone fruits.   I was surprised myself to read they were.

The stone inside a peach, plum or cherries are also called pits and not to be mistaken for seeds.  The seed is inside the stone.  The seed inside the stone is also called a kernel.  A stone fruit is also called a drupe.   For raspberries the stone is all the little tiny pits inside the round parts that make up the raspberry.   These tiny pits are called drupelets. 

The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, is a drupe, not a nut.  The type of fruit of a coconut is classified as a simple dry fruit, fibrous drupe.  Everything I read mentioned coconuts can float long distances in the ocean.  I am not sure why that is important to know but since every site talked about it I thought I better add it to. Maybe if you are stranded on a deserted island.  

Here are some other stone fruits…
White Sapote

Peaches are also categorized as Freestone or Clingstone.   Freestone means the flesh of the fruit can be removed from the stone easily.  Clingstone means the flesh is difficult to remove from the stone.   We have all experienced those.  BUT you can ask the local grocer what type they have or if you frequent a farmers market for produce stand they should know the type they carry.   Both are good tasting, just one can be a bit more stubborn when eating or cutting it.  Nectarines and plums also come in Freestone or Clingstone fruits.  Apricots are considered a Clingstone fruit.

Mango Gelato

What you need:
1 cup sugar
4 egg yolks
1 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
2 large mangos
1 tablespoon lemon juice

What you need to do:
Peel and cut the mango into pieces.  Get as much flesh off as possible.  Blend it in a food processor along with the lemon juice.  Strain the mango mix into a bowl to get out the stringy bits.  You should have about 1 1/4 cup puree.

Whisk egg yolks and sugar until pail an lemony colored.  In a medium sauce pan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer.  Turn off the heat and whisk half of the mixture into the yolks very slowly.  Whisk vigorously.  Return everything to the sauce pan over a very low heat and keep on stirring until it thickens.

Remove from heat and strain into a large bowl.  Let it cool for 5 or 6 minutes and then mix in the mango puree.   Refrigerate overnight.

Place the ice cream machine bowl and blender in the freeze and leave over night. 

Add the cold mango cream into the frozen ice cream bowl and process as directed using your ice cream maker.


Monday, August 17, 2015

Cobbler, Crisps, and Crumbles....Oh, and Brown Betties and Buckles, too!

Have you ever heard of apple crisp, peach cobbler, and berry crumble? These are fairly common names in the baking world. Maybe your grandmother or father made apple crisp or a brown betty when the fall apples came out. Maybe you made a peach cobbler when the Colorado peaches first hit the neighborhood market. And let's not forget combining raspberries and blackberries and blueberries during the summer for the lovely crumble or crisp. 

But what's the difference between all these dessert options? Some of the differences are small but reflect the region or culture in which they are made. For example, a crisp and a crumble are just about the same having a topping that is looser and, well, crumblier (is that a word?), while a cobbler is more like fruit with a biscuit-like topping. 

Then there are the Betties and the Buckles. (We haven't even mentioned Slumps, Pandowdy, and Sonkers!) After a little research, I've learned that all the various ways of putting fruit together with a crust or streusel or a biscuit sort of all get lumped into the cobbler or crisp category. The differences may be subtle, but, never-the-less, important. The 2 Prickly Pears believe that holding on to traditions and combining the new in the culinary world is a very good way to progress and not lose sight of where we came from. 

So let's break it down, shall we? We'll start with a few short definitions.

What is a ....

Cobbler: this is a deep dish fruit dessert that is traditionally topped with a biscuit or scone batter and then baked. Often this is served warm with a dollop of whip cream or a scoop of ice cream. This dessert was originated in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Peach Cobbler
Crisp: this is a stewed fruit dessert that is topped with a crumbly mixture of butter, oats, flour and white/brown sugar. It is baked until the topping is crispy and browned. In general a crisp is thinner that a cobbler or a crumble. This is also good served warm with ice cream. This dessert was originated in Britain.

Rhubarb Crisp 

Brown Betty: this is a fruit, mostly commonly apples, base between layers of buttered crumbs. This originated in the United States.

Buckle: is a type of cake made in a single layer with berries in the batter (usually blueberries). It most often has a streusel topping.

Blueberry Buckle
Crumble: this is just about the same as a crisp only leaving out the oats. This gives the texture of the topping more of a crumbled pie crust. It will be sweeter and buttery. Fuzzy history, but the name is used in the United States and Canada.

Apple Crumble
Now that I've totally confused you, please feel free to look up recipes on line and find the fruit dessert that is most interesting. If you think about it, all of these really are a loosely defined pie, with the exception of the buckle. With a pie you have a bottom crust and you cut it into wedges, these desserts are scoopable (is that a word?) rather than cut in pieces. But just like a pie they are made even more delicious when paired with ice cream! 

Today I am trying my hand at a Crumble. More specifically, a Plum Crumble. I love stone fruits like plums, peaches, and nectarines. All these fruits are in season right now, but won't be around long. So I'm taking advantages of the plums. 

So, let's get started. 

Plum Crumble

Here's what you need:

For the topping:

1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup sugar
8 tablespoons cold butter cut in pieces
1 teaspoon cinnamon

For the fruit
5-6 plums, stones removed and slices
1/4 cup sugar, plus 1 1/2 tablespoon
1/2 cup cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Here's what you need to do: 

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Combine all the ingredients for the topping in a food processor until a crumbly texture forms.  Set aside.

In medium bowl, combine egg, 1/4 cup sugar, cream and vanilla.  Whisk until combined.  Set aside.

Butter bottom and sides of a 9 inch cake pan.  Slice plums and place evenly in the bottom of the pan. Pour the egg mixture over the plums.  Evenly distribute the crumb topping over the plums.

Place cake pan on a cookie sheet to catch anything that might bubble over.  Bake crumble for 35-40 minutes, until the plums are tender and the topping begins to brown.  Allow to cool on a rack.  Serve warm with creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream.

Take full advantage of the summer fruits, including the berries, while they last.  It's a great time to make a crumble, or a cobbler, or a crisp or a brown betty, or a buckle.

Now, go out and make something good!!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Blooming spices

I (Pam) recently visited a local pub that had the most incredible Creole Grits in the land! The grits made me want to go back for something more. Because the pub is just down the road from where I live it is a good place to stop. You know…working through the menu. My next visit I had the pork skewer…. They were THE BOMB!!!! In that visit I was lucky enough to chat with the chef. Nice guy willing to share a tip or two. What made the pork skewers so great was the curry gravy on them. So the chef and I chatted a bit about spices. I told him I was learning to cook with curry. We all have to start somewhere and though I was doing an ok job, I knew I was missing something. He told me to sauté the curry before adding it to whatever dish I was making. Well there you go. The thing I was missing! So off to the internet I went exploring what sautéing spices meant. Sautéing spices, for those that don’t know, is called a few different things, frying, roasting and my favorite…. BLOOMING.

Blooming is so simple to do, but you have to pay attention to what you are doing.  Here is how you bloom spices.  You want to heat your pan and get the oil hot.  It needs to shimmer, but don’t let it start smoking or burning.  Turn down the heat and then add the spice.  You don’t want a burnt taste to your spice, you want the spice to break open, which will bring out the earthy and/or nutty flavor of the spice.  It doesn’t take long, that is why it is so important to watch what you are doing.

Once the spice has bloomed you are ready to cook with it.  Here is my version of coconut curry rice.   My first try at it.

Coconut Curry Rice

What you need:

1 cup rice – preferably Basmati or Jasmine rice
1 (14oz) can coconut milk
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

What you do:
  • Bloom your curry, garlic, ginger and turmeric in a sauce pan with about 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • After the curry, garlic, gingers and turmeric has bloomed, add your coconut milk and bring to a lower simmer.  Be careful not to burn it. 
  • Once the milk has heated add the rice and the rest of the ingredients, cover, and reduce heat to low.
  • Cook about 15 minutes.
  • Fluff rice and let sit for 5 minutes

If you like a spicy dish add a hotter curry.  I like to add a bit of paprika to my curry rice.  If you do too, add the paprika to the pan at the same time you add the curry.  Blooming paprika is a great way to get that flavor out.

In this dish you can easily had your favorite sautéed veggies and a favorite protein like chicken or shrimp.  The possibilities are endless.

Spices good for blooming
Red pepper flakes
Black mustard seed
Dried Chilies

Monday, August 10, 2015

An apple a day...

We are back and we are so happy to be blogging again.  We know, we know, we know, we've said this before.  You must forgive us for our long absence. Summer is here and life is quite busy.  We have been working very hard on getting our recipes in order for our cookbook.  This has kept us busy, but we've missed our friends all around the world as we develop our ideas for the blog and the cookbook.  

So here we are, ready to do our research and give you all sorts of information on the ins and outs of preparing foods with style, fun, and enthusiasm.  

It's August now, and that means we are at the height of Summer.  The harvest has just begun and your neighborhood farmers' market has potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and onions, not to mention sweet corn. In about another month we will start seeing acorn squash, and bushels of all our favorite root vegetables.  That can only mean that canning season will soon be upon us.  

Possibly the most popular fruit will also become available.  Namely, the every popular apple.It may surprise some to learn that apples appear on the scene as early as June. Maybe you have an apple tree in your back yard, and maybe you've already seen apples getting ready for picking.  In any event, orchards will be busting with all sorts of apple goodness, such as apple cider, apple pie, baked apples and, of course, carameled apples. YUMMY!  

So today we are talking apples. Have you ever heard the expression, "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"? The expression originated in Whales. It's original wording is:

"Eat an apple on going to bed, And you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread."

Truth be told, the word "apple" was once used to mean any fruit.  But not to be underestimated, the prolific apples is loaded with good things like Vitamin C. They also reduce tooth decay by cleaning one's teeth and killing off bacteria. It has also been suggested by Cornell University researchers that the quercetin found in apples protects brain cells against neuro-degenerative disorders like Alzheimer's Disease.

Statistics say that there are some 7,500 varieties of apples in the world. That's a lot to choose from when planning to make a pie or a crisp or cobbler (We'll talk more about those deserts in a later post.)  We're not going to list all the types of apples here, but if you are interested, here's a list with descriptions.

With all the possible options for cooking and baking with apples, how do you know which to select for your dishes?  Even if all you know is that some apples are tart and some are sweet; some are softer, some are harder, you know enough to get started.  Apples can be sorted by baking apples and cooking apples.  Here's the breakdown for you.

As children we remember having apple butter from the store.  It was in a glass jar that was shaped like an apple.  It was always good on buttered toast.  So today we picked apple butter as our recipe.  It's easy.  A whole bunch of apples, a few seasonings, and a crock pot, that's all you need.

Homemade Apple Butter

Here's what you need:
8 lbs any kind of apples (feel free to mix and match)
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Here's what you need to do:
Peel and core apples, cutting them in large chucks.  Place apples in slow cooker.  Combine cinnamon, sugars and sea salt, then pour mixture over apples.  Set the slow cooker on high and leave to cook for 1 hour.  Then set the slow cooker on low for 8 - 10 hours.  Stir occasionally.  During the last hour remove the cover and continue to cook until the apple butter is thick.  Taste and adjust sugar and salt as needed to taste.

Allow apple butter to cool.  It can be put in jars and given as gifts, but make sure to keep some for yourself!!

Make good use of the apple season.  Find an orchard near you and pick your own.  Enjoy what nature has to offer.

Now, go out and make something good!