Thursday, March 28, 2013

Spicing things up

I held two spice classes this week for my food as medicine groups, looking at what benefits certain spices have to our health and how we can incorporate them into our daily lives.

Photo From Wikimedia commons

As well as tasting individual spices, we created a variety of blends from different countries and then tasted them in either applesauce, butternut squash or sweet potato - as vehicles for the spice, so you could get the true flavors.

Tasting stations at the ready!

The key spices we focused on were

  • cinnamon - great for diabetes
  • turmeric - anti-cancer and anti- inflammatory activity
  • black cumin - immune system boosting
  • cloves - toothache, mosquito repellent, anti-infection
  • cocoa - great source of flavonols which increase nitric oxide production, and help heart health
  • Plus we looked at those spices that can affect the Cancer "Master Switch" - NFkB
The blends we made we:
  • Chai tea - India - we actually made a tea-less version
  • La Kama from North Africa
  • Garam Masala - India
  • Golden Milk -India
  • Panch Phoron - India
  • Chinese five spice - China
  • Colombo Powder - Latin America
  • Quatre Epices - France
  • Hot Chocolate - Mexican
We then ended up with a chocolate tasting of 6 chocolates with cocoa contents of >75%.  I'll tell you more about that another day!

It was a great class.  People really started to focus on tasting carefully and identifying different flavor and whether spices predominated or harmonized. 
Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lentil Cottage Pie

One of the dishes I made for the choir retreat this weekend was a lentil pie with potato topping.  It is similar to a cottage or shepherds pie that are popular in England - but is vegan.  I hadn't made it before, but was really pleased with how it came out.  So I thought I'd share the recipe.

The recipe makes enough for 10 people and it can all be prepared the day ahead.  Then you just need to heat it in the oven for 30 minutes, and its ready to serve. Or you can make it in advance and freeze it. The perfect dish for entertaining when you want to not be in the kitchen on the day!


2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, diced
1 head of celery, chopped
300g/10 oz mushrooms, sliced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp dried thyme
3 cans cooked green lentils or 500g/1lb dried green lentils
100 ml red wine
500 ml water
3 tbsp tomato puree

Topping - Barries Mash
5 large sweet potatoes
Non dairy milk
Bunch Fresh thyme

Clean the potatoes and bake them in the oven until soft (approx 45 - 60 minutes).

While the potatoes are baking, dry fry the onions, carrots, celery together in a large pan, until soft and golden.  No oil is necessary. If the vegetables start sticking to the pan, add a little water - 1 tablespoon at a time.  Use a lid to keep the moisture in.

Add the mushrooms and cook with the lid on for a further 5 minutes. Stir in the herbs and add either drained and rinsed canned lentils or the dried lentils.   Pour over the wine and stock.  If using canned lentils, cook for 10 minutes.  If using dried lentils, cook for longer, according to package instructions (normally about 30 minutes).

When the lentils are cooked, remove from the heat and stir in the tomato puree, and season to taste.

When the potatoes are cooked, remove and let cool for a while, until you can handle them.  Scrape out the potato flesh from its skin, keeping the skin for the topping.  Mash the potato flesh well, adding non dairy milk until it is the consistency you like for mash.

Chop up the skins of the potato with the leaves from fresh thyme.

The front two smaller versions didn't have potato skins on top
To assemble the pie, put the lentil mixture in a dish. If there is a lot of liquid, don't add it all. You can always have some as a sauce/gravy to serve.  (The amount of liquid will depend on whether you use cooked or dried lentils and how much they absorbed. There should be some liquid but not excessive liquid.) Top with the mashed potato.  Sprinkle the chopped potato skins over the mash.

The dish can be frozen at this time (when cooled). Defrost before baking. To serve, heat the oven to 190C or 375F and bake for 30 minutes. The potato skins will crispen up as it bakes.

The idea of using the potato skins on top of the mash came from an old recipe I used to make from my aga cookbook. It was called Barries mash.  It's a lovely way to add crunch to mash - and in this recipe, is a great alternative to the usual grated cheese put on top to crispen things up. Instead, the skins get crispy and it add a lovely texture.  I'd never done it with sweet potatoes before, but it works well.

This recipe is vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, no added oil.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Camerata Retreat

We had our choir retreat this Saturday - and the perfect weather for it.

It was a lovely day with it warm enough to eat both lunch and dinner outside  - and then time for a little snuggle under the blankets by the fire to watch the stars come out.

A lovely day and the food went down well. I'll be sharing some of those recipes in the next few days.

Now we are all ready to sing together  at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco on Thursday evening and a late night Easter Vigil service Saturday night.

PS Looking back at these photos - it looks like all we did was lounge around - but actually we did sing!!!  in between our social time :-D
Monday, March 25, 2013

Goldenmilk - improved

Today I made Goldenmilk again, ready for my Food As Medicine classes this week on "healing spices".  I used almond milk instead of the not-so-tasty flax milk that I tried last time and today,  it was good!

It looks as yellow as the daffodils!

Here is the recipe:
2 cups of non dairy milk
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon group cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
Pinch of saffron, optional.

Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Strain into a mug and enjoy.

It is a great drink to have before bedtime if you are having trouble sleeping.  With the turmeric in it, it is also anti-inflammatory.  The ginger helps settle the stomach, along with the cardamom which is anti-spasmodic to the gut.  Perfect as a "retiring" drink before settling down for the night.

I didn't add the saffron - but if are suffer from depression, you may want to consider it as some studies show saffron to be as effective as prozac, against depression.

Let me know if you like it - and I'll let you know what my classes think!  I found it soothing actually.  Not sweet, not bitter.
Thursday, March 21, 2013

Truly Scrumptious - Sun-dried tomatoes

This week I've found a wonderful new product that I seem to now add to most of my meals!  It is a brand of sun dried tomatoes - but unlike many sun-dried tomato products, these are moist.  AND they are julienne cut - so in little strips ( or you can get them in halves, if you prefer). The julienne sliced ones are a perfect size to use and eat.

There are 2 varieties - regular and smoked.  The brand is called California Sun-Dry.

They make other tomato products too, like a salsa, a pesto, a spread and a paste, but the packets of sun-dried tomatoes are the only things I've far!

I sprinkle them on my salads, in my beans, in my soups, on sandwiches, with pasta.....I can hardly think of when I wouldn't use them.  The smoked version I love with beans - in fact, that is just what I've had for my lunch!!!No need to soak, they are moist enough to eat.  But obviously you can soak them if you want to.  

The tomatoes are dried over 7 - 10 days in the California sun shine. They are a great source of lycopene and the packet says that ounce for ounce, sun dried tomatoes have 12 times the amount of lycopene that is found in a raw tomato.  Lycopene is a powerful anti-oxidant and helps protect against heart disease and certain cancer.

Have you tried them?  I rarely used sun-dried tomatoes in anything, until I found these!
Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Black cumin coleslaw

I make a lot of coleslaw at home. We both really enjoy it - especially the crunch of the cabbage and all the other vegetables.  Rarely a week goes by without me making some version or another.  Here is this week's:

In this last batch I added a new ingredient - black cumin seeds (Nigella sativa).  I've just come across black cumin as I've been researching for my class on spices next week. It's a yummy spice - not related to cumin to cumin at all. It went well with the coleslaw.  I'll be writing more about it in the next few days as it has lots of healing properties.

As well as cabbage and black cumin there was also carrots, celery, chives, dried montmorency cherries, mint and sun-dried tomatoes. The dressing was an eggless vegan mayonnaise with lots of fresh lemon juice added.

Sadly today the mint had gone a bit brown, so I pulled all that out - note to self to not add mint if I'm not eating it all in one day! But I'll definitely be adding black cumin seeds to the recipe on a regular basis.

Do you make your own slaw? What is your favorite ingredient?
Monday, March 18, 2013

Goldenberry Raw Chocolate

My friend came over yesterday to make some raw chocolate. She decided on goldenberries with pink peppercorns. There was a nice tartness to the berries with the piquancy of the pink peppercorns.

She also chose a pretty white flower to decorate one side of the chocolate. It is made from a sheet of cacao butter in the design of the flower.  When you spread the melted chocolate to the sheet it melts into the cacao butter design and as it hardens, the design stays on the chocolate.

Doesn't it look pretty.  Perfect for spring.

I made some more lemon chocolate for this weekend - with birds as a transfer. More of that later.  And if you look carefully at the bottom corner of this photo below, you will see a trial corner of an unusual flavor I want to include in my spice class next week, for food as medicine.  It's the little black dots....Any guesses what it is?  It goes well with chocolate, surprisingly!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The birds are coming!

I've just been watching the bluebirds flying around...they always nest in our vineyard in one of our birdhouses and we love seeing their family develop.  But not all the birds here are quite as sensible. Yesterday I saw the house finches checking out unsuitable ledges around our porch. They always try and build nests there, putting twig after twig on them, but they always fall off or are blown off!

Poor Snoopy seems to be having a few issues with his bluebirds and their new nest:

Friday, March 15, 2013

Golden Milk

I tried making non dairy golden milk today.  Golden milk helps you sleep - I made it at lunch time so we'll see if I nod off this afternoon! And it also helps with pain and inflammation, boosting the immune system..and many other things that turmeric is attributed too.

It is basically a non dairy milk mixed with turmeric.  Various recipes either leave it like that or add a combination of other spices. I added ginger, cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

I made some flaxseed milk to use. I've made it a couple of times before and wasn't a great fan, but Ithought I'd try it again with this, as the spices are reasonable strong.

However, you can still taste that 'flaxiness'...which is a little off-putting.  I think a nut milk would have been better, or soy milk. As I heated it, it seemed that the flax milk separated a little, which isn't so appealing to the eye!

So, the outcome is that its a good idea - but mine didn't actually turn out that great!  Here are a couple of recipes for you to try:

Golden Milk Version 1
1 tbsp fresh minced ginger
1 tsp turmeric powder or 1 tbs fresh, minced
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp ground cardamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups non dairy milk
Sweetener - amount to your taste

Combine the first three ingredients and bring to a boil. Removed from the heat and let steep for 10 minutes.

While steeping, add the other spices to the milk and bring to the boil. Simmer for about 5 minutes.  Add the turmeric mixture and simmer for another 5 minutes.
Strain and add sweetener of your choice.

Golden Milk Version 2 - this recipe came from Yum Universe
2 cups of non dairy milk
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 whole black peppercorns
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon fresh ginger
Pinch of saffron, optional

Add all the ingredients into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and enjoy.

I'll try it again tomorrow with a nut milk instead. Let me know if you give it a go.  I love the spice combination, just chose the wrong milk!
Thursday, March 14, 2013

Eat with your eyes

When we were on holiday in Mexico a few weeks ago, we had this beautiful outdoor setting for one of our dinners.  I loved the way they had taken individual flowers and arranged them so prettily.

Creating an attractive setting really helps with your enjoyment of a meal.   This is particularly important if you aren't feeling hungry as a result of treatment like chemotherapy or something like that.  If you are in that situation, see if your partner/friend can help encourage your appetite by making things look pretty and inviting.  Even putting a vase of flowers on the table can make a difference, or some candles....

Remember, we first eat with our eyes, then our noses and finally our mouths - so stimulate your eyes first, and the rest will follow!  Make the environment attractive, both the setting and how the food is arranged on the plate.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Health benefits of Chai Tea

Chai tea has many wonderful healing spices in it.  However frequently when you buy it, it includes dairy products and refined sugar.  Instead you can make your own and tailor it to your own tastes.  My own taste is that I don't like tea, so I make mine without green or black tea.  But there is still plenty of flavor in it as I include 7 different spices in my recipe - plus orange peel.

(Sorry - I forgot about photographing it and nearly drank it all!)

The spices have powerful healing capacities, not just by being antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, but also because they can switch off the Cancer Master Switch in the cells, namely the nuclear factor kappa beta (NFkB).

The spices in this recipe which have this activity are:

  • black peppercorns
  • cardomom
  • cloves
  • cinnamon
  • anise
  • nutmeg
  • and ginger

When free radicals, infections, or agents that damage DNA (eg carcinogens, toxins, etc) enter the body, they are all capable of activating NFkB which is a molecule inside the cell. On activation, NFkB increases inflammation and inhibits cancer cell death.  While pharmaceutical companies are busy looking for drugs to turn off NFkB, we need look no further than spices as many of them have this NFkB switching off capacity.

And Chai tea is an easy way to get 7 spices all in one drink.

Here is a recipe that originally came from Jeanne Wallace
Chai Tea

4 cups water
1 teaspoon cardamom pods – green
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon whole cloves or 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoon cinnamon chips
1 teaspoon dried orange peel or 4 teaspoons orange zest
2 whole star anise
1 teaspoon nutmeg chips or 2 whole nutmegs
2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger or 1 tablespoon dried ginger pieces
½ vanilla bean, chopped fine or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teabags or 4 tablespoons green or black tea leaves (TEA is optional!)
Coconut nectar or other unrefined sweetener to taste (optional)
Non dairy milk

Make the spice mix: bring water to boil, add spices but NOT tea, if using.  Reduce heat and simmer on low for 20 minutes or longer for a spicier flavor.  Remove from the heat. Add tea and steep for 3 minutes.  Strain into a pitcher or container.  Keeps refrigerated for up to 10 days.
To make one cup of chai, combine ½ cup of non dairy milk with ½ cup of the spice mixture.  Heat and add sweetner to your taste.  Can be served iced in the summer.

Let me know how you tailor it to your particular taste.
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Making hazelnut butter

I've mentioned before on this blog about how I love hazelnuts and as I was looking at some recipes, I came across one for hazelnut ice cream.  One of the ingredients was hazelnut butter, but I've never seen that in the stores.

So a quick rummage through my fridge led me to a small handful of hazelnuts.  There were probably only about 20 or so left, but they were tasty.  I thought I'd give them a whizz and make my own hazelnut butter - not enough for ice cream, but just a test to see how it would work.

I used my immersion blender fixed onto it's dry food grinder.   The dry food grinder makes it really into a tiny food processor.

It blended those hazelnuts brilliantly - and quickly!  Yes, no other ingredients - just handful of hazelnuts and switch on the machine.  Yummy, creamy hazelnut butter in about a I just need to buy more hazelnuts and make some more and then make the ice cream!

I wonder what nut butter I should try next.... I've done almond, cashew and now hazelnut...maybe some green pistachio for St Patricks Day????  What is your favorite nut butter?

(PS I HATE peanut butter! Ugh, even the smell is ghastly!)
Monday, March 11, 2013

Kiwi Guacomole

For last week's "Food as Medicine" group, we were focusing on fruit and one of the recipes we made was Kiwi Guacomole.  Adding a kiwi to the guacomole reduces the fat density of the guacamole and also adds other nutrients - especially Vitamin C as kiwis as high in Vitamin C.

Another benefit of adding the kiwi - aside from nutrition, and taste, is that the Vitamin C from the kiwi stops the avocado going brown.  I had some for three days and it was still green with no brown at all.  The Vitamin C was acting as an antioxidant to the guacamole.  Seems like we should eat it and get those benefits in us!

So here's the recipe.  Adding 2 kiwis makes not as firm as regular guacomole so if you like it firmer, just add one.

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
2 kiwi fruits, peeled and halved
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 chopped onion
1 medium tomato halved
1/2 cilantro leaves

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend briefly just on the lowest speed.  You don't want to liquidize it, so just go slow. Alternatively, you can do more cutting of the ingredients and then just mash them up the in a bowl, using a potato masher or pastry blender.

You can also add white beans to this, to thicken it, or garden peas.  I often add other veggies - all of which reduce the fat density and make for a healthier guacamole.
Friday, March 8, 2013

Good things come in lemon packages

So here is the dessert I have made for this evening's dinner with friends.  I've called it "Good things come in lemon packages".

It is individual lemon sparkle cheesecakes - dairy free, gluten free, refined sugar free along with a couple of pieces of homemade raw lemon chocolate - also dairy free, gluten free and refined sugar free.

Both are small in size, but that's all desserts need to be - a little taste.

The raw lemon chocolate is the one I showed in my blog post yesterday - with dehydrated lemon rind.  It is like a bark but I added a little bird motif to the other side - especially suitable this time of year as the birds are all getting busy and thinking about nest building.

Making the cheesecake was an interesting lesson in portion size. I have made it before as a large cheesecake but this time, as I was making it in little pots I made only a 1/3 of the recipe.  One third of the recipe yielded 10 little pots!  That means the full cheesecake would make 30 servings.  At most, we tend to cut a full cheesecake into 12 pieces - not 30.

I tied on little spoons for the pots of lemon sparkle as I am taking these to a friend's house for dinner and didn't want to be stuck with only large spoons that won't fit inside!  And yes, the 'sparkle' in the lemon sparkle cheesecake? There's a little surprise in the cheesecake that gives it a "sparkle"!  Can't tell you what it is as it will ruin the surprise for this evening!

Next time you make a dessert, think about how much we really need. It's great to have a little something sweet at the end of the meal with friends, but we only need a taste.
Thursday, March 7, 2013

Lemon Raw Chocolate

I'm making dessert for a friend's dinner party tomorrow.  The theme for my dessert is lemon as we still have loads on our trees and I love making food with our own produce!  I've made a nice little dessert - gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free etc, , but wanted a little something to go with it.

So I decided to make some lemon raw chocolate.  hunting around in my cupboard, I found some dehydrated lemon peel that I had dehydrated some time ago. Perfect! Adding anything liquid or moist to chocolate is dodgy - so dehydrated peel is much better than fresh zest.

The photo shows it in the process! More later when its set.

I calculated the cocoa percentage - and its around 65%.  The chocolate is raw too so full of lots of nutrients.  Sugar free as well!  I think a little taste will pair beautifully with the dessert.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Eating a variety of fruit

One of the four food groups in a plant based whole foods diet is fruit (the others are vegetables, legumes and grains).  Fruit was the focus for our first meeting today with a new Food as Medicine group.

We spoke about the different phytonutrients in different fruits - from flavonoids, bioflavenoids, antioxidant activity, lycopene, carotenoids, anthocyanins etc and fiber, minerals, vitamins etc.   Then we cooked together to create a fruit based lunch. Here was the menu:

  • kiwi guacomole - adding two kiwi to one avocado gives a good boost in Vitamin C to the mix and also reduces the fat density
  • goldenberry chutney - this is a great tart chutney that you can use as a dip or spread or condiment.  Dried goldenberries are mixed with onion, jalapeno pepper, ginger etc to make a vibrant chutney
  • pear soup - made with sweet potatoes and pears, this is a great source of pectin fiber and carotenoids
  • rainbow salad with strawberry dressing - red lettuce with blueberries, cherries, blood oranges and the dressing of strawberries and vinegar
  • quinoa and goji berry salad - with spices of cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cilantro....
  • raspberry crunch to go - a layered dessert (or breakfast) in a small pot with lid, made from buckwheat, raspberries, raspberry cream (made from raspberry flour and cashew nuts) and then a crunchy nut topping.

My favorites are the goldenberry chutney and the raspberry crunch.

We definitely all ate a rainbow in one meal!  Did you eat a rainbow today - ie fruits and vegetables from all colors of the rainbow? As I drove to the class, I even saw a rainbow. How fitting!
Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Grape skin flour experiments

I got some new fruit flours this past week so have been keen to get trying them out.

I got some grape seed flours and also some grape skin flours.  My first two tries with the grape seed flours I didn't really care for, but when I tried the grape skin flours, I really like them.  The grape skin flours are made by WholeVine Products.  They are naturally gluten free.

You may recall that I've made my own fruit flours before - mulberry, apple, raspberry, strawberry, but these ones were purchased - even though we have a vineyard! Maybe this year I'll make my own grape flour!

Anyhow I wanted to make some savory crackers to have with a glass of wine.  I thought about different spices and flavors and which ones go well with different wine varietals and the result is:

  • sauvignon blanc and caper crackers, and
  • merlot and mustard crackers

I love them both and so did my taster friend yesterday!  I'm really quite excited and want time to try lots of other things.  I'm going to be making some for my new Food as Medicine group this week.  I hope they like them as much as I do!

If they like them, I'll share the recipes.
Monday, March 4, 2013

Freezer and cupboard soup

Do you make freezer soup/stew?  I love it! It's a way of clearing out and creating a new dish at the same time.

The idea behind it is that you use up some ingredients that have been open and lingering in the freezer or cupboard for a while, and put them all together to make a delicious soup or stew.

This one I made from the ends of bags of frozen corn, peas, edamame, and spinach.  In went a box of Pomi tomatoes, some cooked brown rice,  and a little water.

Then comes the exciting bit - spices.  Here's what I added this time:

  • 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of chili powder
  • couple of pinches cayenne

It was the nutritional yeast that really made it.  It has that cheesy flavor that, to my mind, went so well with the rice.

So open up your freezer and use up a few things!  Create your own combination of spices to add and make soup to last you a few days.  Every time you make it, it'll be different!


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