French Tarragon


A hardy perennial herb, French Tarragon is grown for its narrow, strap-like leaves. It is valuable in the kitchen and is considered one of the basic necessary herbs for any kitchen. It is especially valuable in sauces and many other French dishes, particularly containing chicken.

Tarragon isn’t as common in the United States as black pepper, basil or oregano, but perhaps it should be. The herb is slightly peppery and has a taste that’s somewhat similar to fennel, anise and licorice. In addition to being quite flavorful, tarragon supplies a small amount of iron and has certain health benefits, as well.

Nutritional Highlights…
In addition to iron, tarragon supplies trace amounts of several other vitamins and minerals, like potassium, calcium and vitamin A.

Research and Medicinal Highlights…
Tarragon has been used for medicinal purposes in the past. Tarragon has been used as a numbing agent and as a treatment for snake bites, though there isn’t definitive proof that it’s truly effective for either. Tarragon might have anti-fungal and antimicrobial compounds, suggesting it can be useful in treating certain types of infections. Tarragon has compounds that fight free radicals, as well. The herb might also be effective in treating diabetes because it helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Utilization…
Dried tarragon is available in the spice section of supermarkets, but the fresh form is much harder to find. If you’re able to locate fresh tarragon, look for sprigs that have straight leaves that aren’t wilted or yellow. You might also consider growing your own tarragon in an indoor pot. Store fresh tarragon in a plastic bag in your refrigerator and use it within a week for the best flavor and quality. Store the herb in vinegar as another way to preserve it — this method also infuses the vinegar with a bold flavor. Add fresh or dried tarragon to grilled meat, stew, scrambled eggs or tossed green salads. The herb also enhances the flavor of sauces, such as Hollandaise, as well as pasta and soup recipes.

A side note…
Russian tarragon is often grown and used as a substitute for French tarragon, despite its inferior taste. Primarily used/grown because it is able to tolerate much cooler temperatures. The taste of Russian Tarragon does significantly improve the longer it is left to grow.

Quick and Easy Pumpkin Soup


This quick-and-easy recipe leaves time to add a final flourish of candied walnuts, thyme and thin parmesan shavings over each colorful bowlful.

INGREDIENTS

2 T olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1 yellow onion, minced
2 (28 oz) cans pumpkin puree
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
6 C vegetable broth
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese, optional

GARNISH

1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C candied walnuts
Small thyme sprigs
Parmesan shavings

DIRECTIONS

Place olive oil in a large saucepan. Add shallots and onions and sauté for 4-5 minutes. Stir in pumpkin puree, salt, pepper, cumin and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parmesan cheese. To serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with sour cream, walnuts, thyme and parmesan shavings.

Makes 6-8 servings.

The Great Pumpkin


The pumpkin is a curious vegetable. In some areas it is treated seriously and grown specifically for the kitchen; in others it is planted for fun, to see who can grow the biggest. For most of us, it is grown to be carved and hollowed out for a Halloween lantern or mask. Whether for decorative or culinary use, pumpkins are definitely worth your time.

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Originally from South America, where they have been part of the staple diet for centuries, pumpkins are extremely popular in North America. They are, in fact, winter squashes but are frequently separated from the other members of the family simply on ground of their size and use. The distinctive name of pumpkin is usually given to the large, round, sometimes orange winter squash.

Some people consider pumpkins rather too large for consumption, but not all need to be big. The smaller ones have been bred for taste and there is plenty of flesh on them for most purposes. Similarly, not all are the color of Halloween or show-bench pumpkins. ‘Crown Prince’ for example, has a bluish-grey skin. The dense flesh, a deep old-gold color, tastes delicious when cooked.

The pumpkin has been used as everything from animal feed to a cure for snake bites, says the University of Illinois Extension. Although the majority of pumpkins in the United States end up as jack-o’-lanterns or in Thanksgiving pie, you can use cooked pumpkin in any recipe calling for winter squash, including soups, stews, stuffed pasta dishes, baked goods, risotto, braises and sautes. Pumpkin is low in fat, cholesterol-free, high in fiber and a source of antioxidants. It is also rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

Nutritional Highlights…

A 1-cup serving of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains an excellent source of Vitamin A, Iron, Copper and Riboflavin.

To absorb the most possible vitamin A, eat pumpkin with a source of healthy fat; for example, try roasting cubed pumpkin with a light drizzle of olive oil.
The iron in pumpkins is nonheme, a form that isn’t easily absorbed by the body. To increase absorption, eat pumpkin with a source of vitamin C, such as with tomatoes or carrots in a stew. Riboflavin is water-soluble, so the concentration of the vitamin will decrease if pumpkin is exposed to water. Instead of boiling pumpkin, try steaming it for less water contact.

Pomegranate: Fruit of the Gods… And for good reasons


The pomegranate, is a superfood with a long and rich history. Native to the East, it can be traced through historical documents as far back as 4000 B.C. The red fruit grows from pretty red flowers and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size. The white flesh inside the thick skin is full of several hundred seeds.

The name pomegranate comes from Medieval Latin meaning “seeded apple.” It has been named in many ancient texts from the Book of Exodus in the Torah, the Quran, the Homeric Hymns, and Mesopotamian records, to name a few. The pomegranate originally came from Persia, or modern day Iran, and the western Himalayas. It has been cultivated for millennia in places such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Russia, and the Mediterranean region. It migrated as far east as China and Southeast Asia and was found along the Silk Road as a symbol of abundance and posterity. It is also grown extensively in Korea, Japan, and Latin America, having been introduced there by settlers or traders.

Pomegranates were highly valued in Ancient Egypt, and were part of the supply of fruits required in a pharaoh’s residence (1600 BC). It was revered enough to have been painted on walls and tombs to symbolize life after death. The pomegranate had many uses, including the fruit as food, the juice as a tonic to kill parasites, the blossom was crushed to make a red dye, and the peel was used to dye leather.

Most of us remember how Hades tempted Persephone with a pomegranate, and when she partook, it bound her to him as pomegranates symbolize the indissolubility of marriage. This is how Greek legend explains the seasons: when Persephone is in the Underworld with her husband, it is winter; when she rejoins her mother every year, we have spring.

Research and Nutritional Highlights…

The pomegranate became popular in the Middle Eastern civilizations 6000 years ago largely because its dense nutrition and juice provided sustenance for long journeys. The superfood status of the pomegranate has only grown in modern times as nutritional research has come to decipher and understand the true power of the pomegranate’s phytonutrients. India’s Ayurvedic medicine has used pomegranates as a source for traditional remedies for thousands of years. For example, the bark of the tree and the fruit rind is used to stem diarrhea, dysentery, bladder problems, mouth ulcers, and intestinal parasites while the seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart.

The seeds in their casings, or arils, are the most desired part of the pomegranate, and they are consumed raw. Pomegranate juice can be sweet or sour depending on the variety, but most are moderate with some astringent notes due to the acidic tannins. Pomegranates are rich in vitamin C, pantothenic acid, potassium, flavonoids, and other natural phenols such as ellagitannins, a powerful antioxidant. The pomegranate also has unsaturated oils, fiber, and many additional micronutrients, if you eat the seeds.

Some miscellaneous uses of pomegranates many may not know include that it is often used as a bonsai tree and that pomegranate juice is sweetened and thickened to make grenadine syrup for cocktails.

Current research underway includes studies on how pomegranate components affect diseases such as diabetes, cancer, rhinovirus, the common cold, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and brain injury.

Potato Gnocchi: traditional and sweet potato


The secret to fluffy, tender gnocchi is to make the dough while the mashed potatoes are hot, add just enough liquid to hold it together, and work it as little as possible. To freeze: place cooked gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet in the freezer, freeze until gnocchi are hard, and transfer to resealable plastic bags. To reheat: add frozen gnocchi to boiling water, and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until heated through. Serve with your favorite pasta sauce and cheese.

2 ½ lb. russet or Idaho potatoes
½ tsp. salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
¾ cup potato starch

Directions…
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Prick potatoes all over with fork, and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft to touch. Slice open, and let cool 10 minutes.

2. Scoop out potato flesh (it will still be hot); reserve skins for another use. Mash potato flesh in bowl or put through potato ricer. Stir in salt, then egg with fork. Stir in potato starch until dough comes together and no longer sticks to fork or your hands.

3. Scoop out 1/2 cup dough, and roll into 3/4-inch-thick rope on work surface dusted with potato starch. Cut rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Set back of fork atop 1 gnocchi, and use fork to roll gnocchi toward you, making light indentations with fork tines. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Bring pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi, and cook 2 minutes, or until gnocchi float to top. Drain, and serve.

Serves 6

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients

For the gnocchi:
1 lb / 4 medium sized sweet potatoes
1 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour (plus about 1/2 cup more for rolling out the dough)
1/4 cup of chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of grapeseed oil

Directions

Start by roasting the sweet potatoes.

Preheat the oven to 400º. On a baking sheet, roast the sweet potatoes until they are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove and let them cool.

Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Place the peeled potatoes in a food processor and puree until they are smooth.
Place the potato puree on a well floured counter. Add in both flours and the salt and gently knead until all of the ingredients are combined. The dough should be soft, but not too sticky. If it is sticky, add in a small amount of flour until it is not too sticky to handle.
Do a test piece:
Pinch off a small piece and roll it lightly in flour. Drop it into the boiling water. When it starts to float cook it for 30 seconds more. Fish it out with a slotted spoon and allow it to cool slightly. If it fell apart in the pot or it is falling apart or melting after it is cooked, knead more flour into the dough. The goal is to use the smallest amount of flour possible because too much flour makes the gnocchi tough. If it was not right the first time, keep on testing until you have it right.

Cook the gnocchi: see the previous directions.

Toast the gnocchi (optional step):

In a large frying pan, heat up the grapseed oil. Place the gnocchi in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes on each side. You want them to be a nice golden brown color.

Not just a Mashed Potato


The potato is one of the most important crops in the world. It is found worldwide and originates from a fairly restricted area in the Andes, spreading up into Mexico.

The potato has grown as a vegetable in the Andes for thousands of years, and the Incas were discovered to be eating it by the Spanish in the late 16th century. Take to Italy, it eventually spread to the rest of Europe. The original potatoes were not particularly hardy, and it took a long time for the potato to catch on in northern Europe and two centuries before it was widespread in Britain.

Because potatoes are so widely distributed, there are hundreds of varieties from which to choose. Many are suited to particular climates, and different types will be found in different countries. The main difference is the timing of the crop and there are two main groups, earlies and main-crop, which are further subdivided into first earlies and so on. The next main difference is use. Some are better for baking or roasting; others are better for boiling or frying; others for salads. Finally, and in some respects the most important criterion, is flavor. Most varieties taste quite different from each other, and many chefs have their own favorites, although this does not stop them from experimenting with different ones.

Nutritional Highlights…

All types of potatoes are high in carbohydrates and contain a moderate amount of calories as well as healthy amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals. The kind of potatoes that may be the healthiest are the potato varieties with darker-colored flesh, such as the Purple Viking, Yukon Gold, and Ruby Crescent. The pigments in these potatoes provide flavonoids and carotenoids that promote good health.

Potatoes are low in calories, contain no cholesterol or fat, are high in fiber, and contain significant amounts of vitamin C and potassium, as well as vitamin B-6 and iron. A medium potato will provide about 110 calories in the form of carbohydrates, and about 8 percent of your RDA of fiber. Potatoes also contain small amounts of calcium, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.

All potatoes are rich in complex carbohydrates, glycogen and fiber. The fiber provided by a potato helps to lower cholesterol and keep your digestive system regular. All potato varieties contain roughly the same nutrients and amounts of carbohydrates.

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes aren’t technically potatoes since they come from a different family of plants, but they are related. Sweet potatoes are available in orange, white, red and golden varieties and contain more manganese than regular potatoes and are high in beta-carotene. Unlike regular potatoes, they don’t contain alkaloids that may provoke an allergic response in some people.

Vegetable Broth/Consommé


2 Leeks — white part only,diced
1/2 sm Celery root (or 2 celery stalks) — peeled and diced
4 Shallots — coarsely chopped
1 lg Tomato — peeled and seeded
3 md Carrots — diced
3 Garlic cloves — coarsely chopped
3 Sprigs parsley
10 Basil leaves
10 White mushrooms — diced
1 Sprig thyme
2 Bay leaves
2 Sprigs cilantro
1 Shot of Sherry (optional)
Freshly ground Pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a stockpot, cover with 2 quarts cold water, and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to a light simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat, keep covered, and set aside to infuse for 20 more minutes. Strain the broth carefully through a strainer.

Carrot Soup


Ingredients

2 tsp butter
1/3 c chopped onion
1 T fresh ginger, chopped
1 lb carrots (pick a color, any color)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper (white if you got it)
3 c Vegetable broth
1/4 c Orange Juice
Pinch Nutmeg, ground
4 T sour cream (optional)
Thyme (garnish)

Directions

1. Melt butter in large saucepan, Sauté onion and ginger for approximately 1 min, until ginger is fragrant. Add carrots, salt and pepper, cook and stir 2 mins.

2. Stir in broth; bring to a boil. Reduce heat ; cover and simmer until carrots are tender (about 30 mins).

3. Process soup in a blender until smooth. (Work in batches). Return to saucepan; stir in orange juice and nutmeg. Reheat, stir occasionally. Thin soup with additional broth, if necessary. (If you want a creamy consistency, thin with cream). Garnish with sour cream. and a few leaves of thyme.

Vegans: Replace butter with vegetable oil and omit the sour cream

Carrots


WIld carrots appear throughout Europe and well into Asia. The exact origin of domestic carrots is obscure. They probably originated in the countries of the eastern Mediterranean, possibly even Afghanistan. The original ones were various colors, including white, yellow, purple and red. These colors are slowly being rebred and reintroduced to the culinary world and even some supermarkets. The orange carrots were developed in Holland and France at a much later date.

Although carrots bought in supermarkets are more or less identical, there is a lot of variety available to the Culinarian. Not only are there early carrots (often grown in frames) that are round, almost like radishes, there are others that are long and tapered. Others are just long but are cylindrical, with parallel sides and round ends. Shorter varieties are best for immediate use in the kitchen, while the longer ones store better.

Nutritional Highlights…

As any rabbit knows, carrots are a fun, delicious and nutritious food.
A single serving of carrots is about 1 cup and contains 52 calories. Carrots have no fat and no cholesterol. As a low-calorie, low-fat food, carrots are a good choice for people watching their weight.

Macronutrients
Carrots are mostly carbohydrates, with 12 grams per serving. Of the carbs in carrots, 4 grams are fiber. Carrots contain 1 gram of protein. They are also a low sodium food, containing 88 milligrams of this nutrient in 1 cup, an amount equal to only 4 percent of the recommended daily allowance.

Micronutrients
Where carrots really shine is as a source of vitamin A. Other micronutrients found in carrots include calcium, thiamin, niacin, iron, vitamin B-6, vitamin E, riboflavin, folate, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, choline, phosphorus and potassium. A 1-cup serving of raw carrots also provides 4 grams of fiber. Adults need 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, but the National Institutes of Health reports that most get roughly half that amount.

Research and Health Highlights…

The high levels of antioxidants in carrots, especially vitamin A, help promote good health overall and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Carrots’ big claim to fame in the health department, however, is their effect on vision. The high doses of vitamin A, a type of carotenoid, work synergistically with other components in carrots to improve vision overall, but are especially beneficial to night vision. Another phytonutrient in carrots, falcarinol, has been linked to protection from colon cancer.

Vitamin A
One medium carrot contains 204 percent of your daily recommended value of vitamin A, a vitamin found in animal and plant-based foods. In plant-based foods, this vitamin is produced by your body from the nutritional compound beta-carotene. This vitamin, also known as retinol, is responsible for maintaining the health of your eyes. Vitamin A helps your eyes retain their ability to adjust to changes in light and maintains necessary moisture and mucus levels of your eyes.

Vitamins K and C
Carrots are also a good source of vitamins K and C.

Potassium
If you are hoping to raise your potassium intake, consider eating more carrots. One carrot contains 400 mg of potassium. The Institute of Medicine recommends that all adults consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day. According to the health website Organic Facts, potassium is the third-most-abundant mineral in your body. It may help reduce your risk of stroke, high blood pressure and anxiety. It helps to control your metabolism and improves the health of your muscles, heart and nervous system. Potassium also regulates electrolyte absorption and is necessary for proper hydration.

Spinaci alla Romana


This is a recipe I learned during culinary school. We were able to use golden raisins once at school, and I thought it gave a Je ne sais qua to the overall color of the dish. The raisins and pine nuts are there for texture, and in my opinion are Optional.

Ingredients ..
1.5 lbs Spinach. Trimmed, rinsed, and de-stemmed
2 T Olive oil
2 slices Bacon – fat rendered
handful Pine nuts – Optional
handful Raisins
Salt/Pepper to taste

Directions.
1. Trim and wash spinach. Blanch. Rinse. Pat dry.
2. Heat oil, render fat from bacon. Eat bacon.
3. Add spinach, pine nuts, and raisins. Saute. The pine nuts and raisins only need to be heated, and the spinach will cook down quickly. Once you get to this step, dont take your eyes off the spinach as it will be okay one second and overcooked the next.

Season to taste

Serves 4-5
Roman-style Spinach (Rome, Italy)

Variations:
Chopped garlic may be sautéed in the fat before the spinach is added.
Lean prosciutto, sliced thin, then diced, may be added.