Tahini Miso Dip

Makes 1/2 C

IMG_2084

As a mom, I’m always searching for another goody to whip up in the kitchen that just may WOW my toddler.  She’s a good eater most of the time, and I am certainly grateful for that.  Still, it’s good to keep pushing the envelope, expanding gastronomic horizons, and educating the palate.

I’m also doing a 4-week detox at the moment and miso, while solely my addition to this type of detox, plays a big role in my diet.  Having spent 3 years living in Japan, I’ve come to LOVE miso soup in all its variations and for every meal of the day.  Breakfast, too.  But, it’s so nice when it pops up in a place you least expect it.

A.G., a peer in culinary school, first introduced this to me when I was doing all kinds of experiments with my diet.  It’s expanded and grown over the years, but this time I’ve kept it simple, for those still tender and emerging tastebuds that can so easily be put off (seemingly) forever!

Why miso?

The simple answer is that it’s a true super food.  The details are as follows:

  • Miso is a fermented paste of soybeans, rice, barley or other grain and a koji inoculant.
  • Fermented means that is a probiotic.
  • Probiotic = bacteria.  The good bacteria that create a lustrous environment of strong cells to ward off the not-friendly bacteria.  It’s the immune boosting bacteria that also settles your digestive system.  And, it also makes you happy.  Seriously.
  • Miso is a known anti-carcinogen and is also known to reduce the effects of radiation and environmental toxins.  (Next time you’re going for x-rays, eat miso before and afterwards.  Help your body out!)

In this recipe it’s used completely raw, but when you’re cooking with miso, you want to make sure you don’t COOK the miso.  Heating miso kills all of its incredible healing properties.  So, if you’re making soup for example, add a bit of the water/stock to a small bowl and dissolve the miso in it before adding it to the pot.  Make sure the stove is off and just stir it in.  It’ll work it’s magic, in flavor and healing, on its own.

To be honest, my little one doesn’t love this just yet, but I know it’s totally up her alley.  All she has to do is try it!

You’ll need:

  • 1/4 C organic tahini
  • 2 t yellow or red miso (depending on your preferences…I used red miso.)
  • 2 T fresh squeezed lime juice (or lemons)
  • 1/2 t lime zest (or lemon)
  • 2-3 T water (you could need more depending on the consistency you’re looking for)

To make:

Stir all ingredients together except for the water.  Then, add the water in a slow drizzle to achieve the level of consistency you’re happiest with.  If it’s a bit too tart, you can add a little drizzle of honey or maple syrup to even it out.

Enjoy and smile 🙂

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Grilled Lemony Kale

Makes as much as you make

grilled kale

I’ve been talking about missing kale since I left the States back in January.  Now that we’re back in the Hudson Valley for the summer, I’ve stopped talking and writing about it because I’m far too busy cooking and eating it!  What sweet joy it is to be reunited with kale…Tuscan Kale, Curly Kale, Red Russian Kale…keep it coming!

I had been eager to get Claire to try kale chips since, I have to admit, she isn’t very keen on her dark leafy greens just yet.  (Especially raw greens 😦 ) I wasn’t very eager however, to turn the oven on.  In addition to being reunited with the diverse bounty of the region, we were reunited with humidity.  Kind of makes me wish for the dry, desert heat.

So, when it’s too hot to bake or roast, it’s a perfect time to grill.  Just as I would do for kale chips, I lightly dressed these leaves, still attached to their stems, in olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and salt and pepper. That’s it.  But really, that’s all you need.  This kale is from Blooming Hill Farm, located 20 minutes from where I’m staying.  You could still taste the sweet Earth in every bite and the nourishment is the bonus.

Kale is a super food.  It’s not a trendy super food that will die out to the next trend.  Kale sets the bar for other trends, plain and simple.

Let’s start at the beginning.  Kale is a member of the Brassica family, cousins with Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli.  This is a special family of vegetables, responsible for a whole host of health benefits such as promoting detoxification, protecting against cardiovascular disease, and kicking several cancers’ a**!  Excuse my French, but kale really does perform when it comes to prevention and even treatment of various cancers.  The antioxidants, especially lutein and beta carotene, are responsible for this special power.  Kale also has what are called glucosinolates which are specifically “anti-cancer nutrients”¹.  Throw in the potent anti-inflammatory properties that kale possesses and you’ve got a winning recipe to combat oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, 2 main causes that lead to most diseases, including cancer.

Kale is also a super detox food.  The goodie nutrients help protect you from the toxins floating around whether you’re actually doing a detox or not.  Then there’s the fiber and specific sulfur compounds that actually aid in the detox process.  It would be wise to eat steamed kale or throw it into a smoothie before, during or after your detox/fast.

I would be remiss for not mentioning the abundant stores of Vitamins A and C (also antioxidants) and Vitamin K, calcium and iron. That’s a lot of muscle for a dark leafy green.

Ready for the cherry on top?  Claire loved these kale “chips”!  (Hint, hint to you moms trying to get some dark leafy greens into your kids’ tummies!)

You’ll need:

  • 1-2 bunches of kale (depending on how much you want to end up with)
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 healthy pinch of sea salt or my new staple Himalayan pink salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper, optional
  • 1 t lemon zest (from an organic lemon), for garnish

To make:

  1. Turn the grill on and keep setting to low.
  2. Wash and dry the kale leaving the leaves and stems intact. Then drizzle with olive oil and turn to coat the leaves.  You don’t want to use too much oil or the leaves will simply get limp.
  3. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper if using.
  4. Arrange the leaves to line up next to each other on the grill.  After about 2-3 minutes, turn leaves over.  You may need to do this a couple of times until you reach your desired level of crunchy to wilted ratio.
  5. When done (5-6 minutes, really), remove and place in a bowl.  Garnish with lemon zest.
  6. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy all summer long!

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38

Honey Flax Banana Bread

Honey Flax Banana Bread

This was our first baking endeavour in our new kitchen with our new oven.  Besides the fact that I had missed baking, I needed to bake something to bring to our first ever dinner party in UAE…and as a family.  If you’ve never been to a dinner party with 6 kids before, you should try it.  It’s actually quite a lot of fun.  There were also chickens, cats and yes parents, too but that’s all for another post.  (Can you guess where I’ll be getting my free-range, organic eggs from?)

So, I HAD to bake something and since I’ve been working on versions of this banana bread for years now, it has become my default recipe to gift.  The only hiccup was that I could not find vanilla extract anywhere in this country.  When I commented on this seemingly odd fact, my husband reminded me that it’s because of the alcohol content.  So, no vanilla extract but loads of “vanilla flavor”…nein danke.  (If you think you’ll be seeing a recipe for homemade vanilla extract soon, you know me all too well:)

Regardless, the banana bread emerged smelling promising.  I increased the cinnamon to compensate a bit for flavor and did the same with the honey instead of using maple syrup or agave.  The result was, well let’s just say there was a lot of silence and not a crumb to be found.  This is music to any cook’s ears!

Honey is an incredible sweetener.  And, it has an incredible story.  Bees feast on flowers and carry the nectar from their feast in their mouths to the hive.  The nectar mixes with the bees’ saliva, which has special enzymes to turn it into honey.  The flutter of the busy bees’ wings provides enough air to keep the honey from collecting too much moisture, making it just perfect for us to consume!  Read more about it here.

The enzymes are why raw honey is superior to other pasteurized and processed honeys.  Honey in its raw state is chock full of anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  It also has anti-inflammatory properties which should be ringing all kinds of bells as far as health is concerned!  (Remember, inflammation is often the root cause of MANY, MANY oft preventable illnesses.)  And, in case you were wondering, yes, there are anti-oxidants in there, too.  In ancient Egypt, honey was used to dress wounds and more recently, Manuka Honey especially is still being used as an effective treatment for burns.  Honey has a low Glycemic Index which means that the sugars enter the bloodstream slowly and steadily allowing the body time to deal with processing it.  This makes it a much healthier sweetener and one suitable for diabetics…in moderation!

It’s also a great sweetener for kids.  (Just be aware that it is advised that honey not be given to babies under one year of age.)  It’s sweet without that artificial-tasting sweet.  Trust me, it makes a difference!

You’ll need:

1 C spelt flour

1/2 C oat flour

1/4 Ground Flax Seeds

1 T cinnamon

2 t baking powder

1/4 t baking soda

1/2 t sea salt

3 very ripe bananas

1/2 C raw honey (if you have it:)

2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten

1/2 C unrefined extra-virgin coconut oil or melted unsalted butter (organic &/or pastured if you have it:)

1/2 C chopped walnuts (optional)

To make:

1. Preheat oven to 350 and line a 8.5″X4.5″ bread loaf pan with parchment paper. (I made 3 smaller ones, but this recipe will make one nice sized loaf.)

2. Mix all dry ingredients thoroughly.

3. In a medium bowl, mash bananas well, add honey and stir to combine.  Let sit for a few minutes before adding the eggs and oil (butter).  Then combine all well.

4. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and add wet mixture.  Stir to combine but don’t over mix.

5. Add mixture to loaf pan and top with walnuts.

6. Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes or until top and edges are golden brown.  It’s a good idea to turn the bread around midway through baking time for a more evenly baked and moist loaf.

7. Enjoy!

Honey Cinnamon Cashew Butter

(with a touch of nutmeg)

Makes about 1 C

honey cinnamon cashew butter

I’ve already learned a few things this year:  1.  Recycled resolutions are just as good as new ones, 2. Writing your goals down is a good practice, 3. Starting the New Year without any kind of hangover is the best way to go and 4. Claire Berlin has a food addiction.  Her addiction is to cashew butter.

I made a bunch of these Honey Cinnamon Cashew Butters as host/hostess gifts over the holidays and was lucky to have a few jars left over.  Now that Claire is past the 1 year mark, nuts and honey are foods that have moved to the OK list.  She seems very pleased with that!  As far as food addictions go, this one isn’t so terrible.  It makes a great nutritious snack with some celery sticks or apples, for babies and adults alike.

Cashews are the lesser known nut in the nut butter melange.  Peanuts obviously, but then almonds took over as the go-to nut butter.  And for good reason!  But cashews, oh cashews are mild, sweet and delicate in flavor.  They are so rich, too.  Cashews are MY go-to nut, especially when I’m making nut milk and butter.  Have you ever tried ice cream made from cashew milk?  It’s heavenly!

Cashews are originally Brazilian though we do get cashews from East Africa as well.  Have you ever noticed that you never see cashews in their shell?  It’s because their shell contains a toxic oil called cardol, which like its relative poison ivy, burns the skin if you touch it.¹  So, they roast the cashews, crack off the shell and roast again and voilà, they’re safe for consumption!

As far as nuts go, cashews have much less fat than other nuts and, most of its fat is unsaturated.  Cashews’ fatty acids contains oleic acid which promotes good cardiovascular health.  They are also high in antioxidants which may seem surprising.  Cashews are high in copper and magnesium.  Copper “plays a role in a wide range of physiological processes including iron utilization, elimination of free radicals, development of bone and connective tissue, and the production of the skin and hair pigment called melanin“²  Likewise, magnesium is responsible for several functions in the body including balancing our calcium intake, as well as regulating nerve and muscle tone.²  And, contrary to what many believe, nuts help you lose weight, NOT gain it!  (Any resolutions coming to mind??)

So, jump start your resolutions and/or goals this year with a spoonful of this sweet, creaminess!  Your heart will thank you, your bones will thank you, your cells will thank you, your waistline will thank you and your taste buds will simply adore you.  Not a bad way to start the new year!

Happy Cooking and Happy New Year, friends!

You’ll need:

2 C raw, organic cashews

3/4 t ground cinnamon

1/4 t (scant) nutmeg, freshly grated, if possible

2 t honey

2-3 T organic coconut oil*

To make:

1. Place all ingredients in a food processor and process until it resembles nut butter.

2. This sounds easy but it takes some time.  You’ll have to stop the food processor several times to scrape down the sides and bottom.  You may also have to adjust the oil for a creamier texture or add more nuts if you want a chunkier, thicker butter.

3. Place in small jars to give away or save it all for yourself!

4. Enjoy, Enjoy!

*Because of the use of the coconut oil, the cashew butter will get hard after it’s been in the fridge for a while.  It can be made without it, but the texture will be much thicker.

¹Rebecca Wood, The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia

² http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=98

Spicy Kale Chips

Yields a bunch of chips (about 3 cups)

That it’s taken me this long to write about kale is a mystery.  It’s arguably my favorite green and it is a staple in my kitchen.  Whether I saute it with garlic, nuts and dried cranberries (or solo!), shred it in soups, make pesto with it, eat raw in salads, or as in this recipe, make it into a ridiculously addicting and nutritious snack, kale always seems to find a way to sneak its way onto our plates from breakfast to dinner.

Rebecca Wood says that kale is the grandmother of the cabbage family.  When I think of that statement, I think of old, wise, strong and hearty and indeed kale is all of those things.  Kale is strong enough to endure frost and snow and its flavor is even sweeter after all that work.  Wait, kale is sweet?  Yes, kale is sweet but lightly, so that the bitter and pungent flavors play well with the sweetness. What you get is mouthful after glorious mouthful of yummy, earthy, warming flavor!

Now for the kale’s wisdom:  As the grandmother of the cruciferous veg, you can bet that it packs a real serious punch against cancer, especially breast, colon, ovary, bladder and prostate cancer.  The fiber in kale also does wonders for reducing cholesterol.  It’s deep green hue means that it is an incredible source of chlorophyll.  Chlorophyll has antioxidant as well as anti-inflammatory properties.  Kale is kryptonite to free radicals and oxidative stress!  And, in the event some of you are still on your detox regimen, “kale is now recognized as providing comprehensive support for the body’s detoxification system. New research has shown that the Isothiocyanates made from kale’s glucosinolates can help regulate detox at a genetic level.”¹  Is that good news or what?

I know that detoxing isn’t an easy process, especially if it’s the first time you embark on that journey.  But, this crunchy snack is sure to help!

If you’ve opted out of the detox route for now, don’t fret, kale really is for everyone!

You’ll need:

Preheat oven to 200°

1 large bunch of curly kale (I’ve never made these with Tuscan Kale, but let me know how it comes out if you give it a go!)

1-2 T extra-virgin olive oil (I used the oil reserved from my garlic confit for added flavor.)

1 t sea salt

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Red chili peppers, sliced or red pepper flakes, to taste

To make:

1. Stem and wash kale and set on clean kitchen towels to completely dry.

2. Spread kale leaves evenly  on a sheet pan and drizzle 1 T of oil on the leaves.  Toss them to make sure all leaves have some oil but aren’t truly “wet”.  1 T is usually enough since you don’t want the leaves weighed down by the weight of the oil.  If you have a super large bunch of kale (lucky) then you can go with the other T.

3. Add sea salt, ground pepper and chili peppers/pepper flakes and toss to coat evenly.

4. Set the sheet pan on the middle rack and set your time for 15 minutes.  Check back and turn leaves over using tongs.  Let the kale cook for another 15 minutes.  You may need to adjust the time depending on your oven’s heat and circulation.  A convection oven tends to produce drier, lighter chips.  (If using a convection oven, you can set temp to 175°.)

5. Remove from oven when done and enjoy right off the sheet pan (I usually do) or wait till it cools before putting it into a serving bowl.

¹http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=38

Pickle Me Pink

Makes 1 pint + 1 C*

Why pickles?  First, because I’ve got to do something with the extra produce I have.  (The beets and radishes made my pickles pink.) Second, it seems the universe wants me to make pickles. Since the idea crossed my mind about a week ago, I’ve seen 3 articles on pickles and fermentation and listened to a segment on NPR with Ellix Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation.  (If this subject interests you at all, start with this book, aka the Fermenting Bible.)

So I made these easy, no canning necessary pickles.  Additionally, I’ve got some sauerkraut fermenting a la old school.  The difference is that these {beet and radish} pickles are sitting in vinegar, that was hot when added to the veg, and then they are refrigerated.  The vegetables get sterilized in this “acetic acid environment”¹.  Lacto-fermented cucumbers (sour pickles) for example, get brined in water and salt only and sit at room temperature for extended periods of time.  The “pickling” occurs as a result of the lactic-acid bacteria present on the veg.  Therefore, the latter encourages bacterial growth; lactobacilli, the good, happy, friendly bacteria that will do wonders for your health.

Those colonies of bacteria not only benefit good digestion, but they also enhance the nutrient density and enzyme content of foods. They promote a favorable pH in your gut that can prevent the proliferation of unfriendly bacteria while encouraging the absorption of protein and minerals.  Some have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and cancer fighting elements. These strains are pretty potent in fighting bacterial infections such as Strep, Staph, Salmonella, and E. coli.² “Some have even shown impressive effects against viral infections including polio, HIV, and herpes, and can also produce hydrogen peroxide which has the potential to kill undesirable Candida yeast and prevent it’s overgrowth.”²  These are your probiotics!

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding fermentation.   Consequently, there’s also a lot of fear involved.  I have to admit, I too had my reservations.  We are actually talking about creating an environment for our food to GROW and MULTIPLY bacteria.  Anyone reaching for the Purell yet?

In Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon poses this question, “Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?”³  It is a valid question and it deserves some more investigation.

This is what I learned.

  • Not all ferments are created equal.  There are a ton of different organisms involved depending on what you’re fermenting.  Mostly we’re talking about bacteria but there are ferments that also include fungi.  Also, usually fermenting is an anaerobic metabolic process, energy produced in the absence of air, but not always.
  • What gets fermented?  Everything!  Most cultures have some form of fermentation.  Coffee, wine, fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, grains, it all gets fermented both to preserve the food and for safety.
  • Wild fermentation describes ferments that are based on organisms that are present on the foods you’re fermenting.  All veggies contain lactic-acid bacteria that acidifies the environment and it’s these good bacteria that get to work when fermenting vegetables.
  • Cultured foods involve the introduction of organisms or a colony of organisms to the food such as in the production of yogurt.  (You’ll also see cultured butter and kefir which are similarly produced.)
  • Pasteurization kills all the beneficial bacteria of fermentation.  This means if you want the real thing, you either have to make it yourself or get if from someone who does because you can’t buy it raw in the supermarket.  (At least not in NY.)
  • Enough cultures around the world have traditionally used this method to preserve their food and their health which to me is good enough reason to keep up with that tradition.

Does any of this tickle your fancy?

To help you get started, here’s another great resource.  Your first step is waiting for you below!

Good luck and happy pickling!  And please report back with your experiments!

You’ll need:

1 C small radishes, rinsed and trimmed

2 C beets, roasted and sliced (I had 4 medium-ish beets that came to about 2 C)

1 C water

1/2 C red wine vinegar

1/2 C apple cider vinegar

1 T maple syrup or honey (I actually used date sugar once and was not disappointed.  Any good sugar will do here though.)

2 t sea salt

2 bay leaves

1/2 t peppercorns

1/4 t cumin seeds

1-2 cloves garlic, smashed

To make:

1. In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegars, maple syrup and salt to a simmer until salt (and sugar if using) has dissolved.

2. Chop the vegetables into the sizes you wish.  Add them to clean and dry mason jars and divide the bay leaves, peppercorns, cumin seeds and garlic among them.  (I only added the garlic and cumin seeds to the radishes to taste the difference.)

3. Pour the vinegar mixture into the mason jars, let cool then cover and refrigerate.  Give the pickles about 24 hours to settle before digging in.  They will be tasty on their own or added to salads or as a condiment to a rich, meaty dish.

4. Enjoy!

*Please note that this is what I had on hand so these are the yields that were produced.  This recipe can easily be altered if you should find yourself with more or less produce to pickle.

¹ The Art of Fermentation, WNYC New York Public Radio, The Leonard Lopate Show

² http://naturalbias.com/a-great-source-of-natural-probiotics/

³  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/lacto-fermentation

P.S. I like the suggestions that I found in Nourishing Traditions because Sally Fallon deals with much more reasonable sizes than Sandor Katz does in Wild Fermentation.  Since I’m new to this, I’m sticking with small batches.

Summer Squash Fritters

Makes A LOT (I think I got 3 dozen out of this batch.)

That saying, “don’t plant zucchini unless you have a lot of friends” couldn’t be more true!  They have a way of taking over a garden. Around this time, I am usually inundated with all kinds of squash from friends trying to unload.  So when that happens, it forces you to get creative.  Let’s be honest:  How many stir-frys or pasta with sauteed squash can you possibly have?  Baking muffins or a quick bread is an effective way of using some of your squash.  Pickling them is also a great choice.  (More on pickles in the coming weeks.)  Shredding and adding to salads or sandwiches works, but so does converting them into fritters.

In our last CSA box, we got a boat load of squash and after said stir-frys and pasta dishes were done, I just threw what was left into the food processor and started adding goodies to create a fritter bursting with flavor but that was light as opposed to heavy and oily, despite being pan-fried.  Seems impossible, but you’d be wonderfully surprised.

Thinking about what to write about squash, I found that there’s not a lot of research done on the health benefits of squash, especially summer squash.  They’re not dark leafy greens after all.  Yet, they shouldn’t be ignored…how can they be ignored when they’re all over your garden or taking over your fridge?!  And, that’s a good thing because  they’re fiber rich which is good for gut and colon, and also means they’re protective against colon cancer.  Fiber aids in digestion which helps move things, especially toxins, out of the body. They also help lower cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory, thanks to Vitamins C and A.  As for minerals, magnesium and potassium make an appearance but the star of the mineral show happens to be manganese.

Manganese helps the body metabolize protein and carbohydrates, participates in the production of sex hormones, and catalyzes the synthesis of fatty acids and cholesterol.  The manganese in zucchini also increases the levels of superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme responsible for protecting mitochondria against oxidative stress. Finally, manganese is essential for the production of proline, an amino acid that allows collagen to form, thus allowing for healthy skin and proper wound-healing.“¹

Suddenly it seems like a good thing that these squash are taking over our gardens and refrigerators!

You’ll need:

3/4 C farmer’s cheese or ricotta

1/2 C scallions, chopped (about 3 scallions)

1/4 C basil, chiffonade* (I had some Thai Basil from the CSA so I used 2 T basil and 2 T Thai Basil to mix it up.  Super yum combo!)

1/4 C flat leaf parsley, chopped

1 C spelt flour

1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano

3 eggs, lightly beaten

4 C squash, shredded

2 t lemon zest + more for garnish

1 t sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil + more as needed

To make:

1. In a bowl, add the cheese, scallions, herbs, salt and pepper and combine well.  Add the flour in steps, slowly incorporating it into the mixture and follow with the Parmigiano.

2. Add squash and eggs and stir well until thoroughly combined.

3. Heat 2 T of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Using a tablespoon to measure, drop batter into skillet and pan fry for 4-5 minutes before turning over and cooking for another couple of minutes until golden brown.  Remove fritters and place on a wire rack over a sheet pan (alternatively, you could line a plate with paper towels, but they may get soggy this way) to cool slightly.  Repeat and add oil as needed.

4. Enjoy!

*Chiffonade means to cut/slice into strips or ribbons as opposed to chopping which is more random.  Basil lends itself to this cut.  I haven’t gotten that far on the knife skills page, but I’ll get there!

¹http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/8-health-benefits-of-zucchini.html